The Negotiator

The Negotiator by Avery Flynn is just 99¢ for ONE DAY ONLY!

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The Negotiator, a sexy, romantic comedy standalone by Avery Flynn is just 99¢ for ONE DAY ONLY on Amazon!

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Wanted: Personal Buffer
Often snarly, workaholic executive seeks “buffer” from annoying outside distractions AKA people. Free spirits with personal boundary issues, excessive quirks, or general squeamishness need not apply. Salary negotiable. Confidentiality required.

Workaholic billionaire Sawyer Carlyle may have joked he needed a buffer from their marriage-obsessed mom, but he didn’t need a waiting room filled with candidates to further distract him. (Thanks, bro.) But when a sexy job applicant shooes his mom and the socialite in tow out of his office, Sawyer sees the genius of the plan. And the woman. In fact, Miss Clover Lee might just get the fastest promotion in history, from buffer to fake fiancé…

This free-spirit might look like hot sunshine and lickable rainbows, but she negotiates like a pitbull. Before Sawyer knows what hit him, he’s agreed to give up Friday nights for reality tv, his Saturdays for flea markets (why buy junk still baffles him), his Tuesdays and Thursdays for date nights (aka panty-losing opportunities if he plays his cards right). And now she wants lavender bath salts and tulips delivered every Monday?

Yup, she’s just screwing with him. Good thing she’s got this non-negotiable six-weeks-and-she’s-gone rule or Sawyer may have just met this match…



Date Published: March 19, 2017
Publisher: Asdee Press
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Murder never entered the picture until Fritz Van Derzee decided, at long last, to clear his name. Who stuck a jeweled stiletto into his desktop after stabbing him to death? Fritz’s daughter, Emma, recruits her former professor Lyssa Pennington to find the killer.
And where’s the ten million Fritz was falsely accused of embezzling? Tompkins College President, Justin Cushman, hires his old friend Kyle Pennington to trace the missing money.
While Lyssa uses charm and tenacity on the long list of suspects, Kyle reconstructs the college’s old homegrown finance system. As they converge on the killer, Lyssa and Kyle may be the next two casualties.
Light and Fun, C.T. Collier’s novel Stuck will have readers captivated by her characters.
The characters are real and very well developed, they make it easy for you as the reader to be drawn into.
This novel was very easy to follow. There was something wonderful about how simple it was. I didn’t have to overthink things, but it kept me guessing enough in the mystery aspect.


About the Author

C. T. Collier was born to solve logic puzzles, wear tweed, and drink Earl Grey tea. Her professional experience in cutthroat high tech and backstabbing higher education gave her endless opportunity to study intrigue. Add to that her longtime love of mysteries, and it’s no wonder she writes academic mysteries that draw inspiration from traditional whodunits. Her setting is entirely fictional: Tompkins College is no college and every college, and Tompkins Falls is a blend of several Finger Lakes towns, including her hometown, Seneca Falls, NY (AKA Bedford Falls from It’s a Wonderful Life).
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Goodreads: C_T_Collier
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Constantine A History

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Who is Constantine, King of Dragon Kings? It’s a question asked by many. Here is your chance to learn some of this enigmatic leader’s history – and get a unique look inside the Dragon Kings.

This is a short story involving Constantine from the New York Times bestselling Dark Kings series from Donna Grant.

The Nostradamus Code


YA Sci-Fi Thriller
Published: July 19, 2017
Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing
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On a settlement planet far into the future the worldwide economic crash has turned New Stockton into a city broken by political corruption and pervasive organized crime. Scotland Murrow’s journalist father has gone missing while investigating a twelve year old murder case. The victim was found with an encrypted file, known as the Nostradamus Code, imbedded in his thumbnail leading Scotland to believe that the file contains the secret to his father’s fate. Aided by his reformed junkie friend and a journalist who may have her own secret agenda Scotland scours the city’s seedy underbelly, traverses the unchartered outlands and breaches a fortified Citadel as he peels away layer upon layer of the Nostradamus Code to confront his biggest fears and uncover a plot to bring down the most powerful man on the planet.


Chapter One
Excerpt from the Global News Grid, 25-11-98
Still no updates on the whereabouts of renowned Public Eye, Elliot Murrow, who was formally declared missing on Tuesday the 18th by the Global News Grid.
For close to two decades Murrow broke exclusive stories for the GN Grid that shone a spotlight on the corrupt and avaricious in New Stockton’s government and industry. No stranger to extended periods of undercover work, Murrow’s unwavering dedication to the truth resulted in the resignations of bureaucrats, the closing of pollutant factories, the capture of mob bosses, the collapse of child prostitution rings and even on one occasion a public enquiry into the spending habits of every member of the upper house of government.
During his outstanding career Elliot Murrow made a lifetime’s worth of influential enemies with ways and means of disposing pests. Mr. Murrow was working undercover for the Global News Grid at the time of his disappearance.
A spokesperson for the NS Peace Keeping Force said that they are too tied up with maintaining law and order on the streets of New Stockton to conduct missing person’s inquiries.
I lift my eyes from the article on my slate and take in Denholm’s gaze from across our dimly lit sitting room. I can tell from his dilated pupils and hesitant speech that he’s just returned from an extended visit to an opiate den in the squalid districts but he’s doing a good job at acting sober and concerned for my dad.
“You’re sure he’s missing?” He asks, slurring his words slightly. “I mean, couldn’t he have just lost track of time while on an assignment.”
“Dead sure,” I tell him. “He was due back over a week ago. He usually checked in if there was a change to his plans. This is the longest he’s ever gone without any form of contact.”
“Have you reported him missing?”
“Did that a few days ago for all the good it will do.” The Peace Force doesn’t search for missing people. One less person to worry about in the rapidly decaying metropolis of New Stockton is a blessing for all of the authorities.
When I’m being brutally honest with myself I don’t expect I’ll ever see my father again. Whenever he’d read a report of a Public Eye who’d disappeared or died suddenly his jaw would set in grim resolve and his eyes would glaze over with a thousand-meter-stare. This is how good Public Eyes died. It’s just inevitable. An unexplained disappearance. Throughout his career with The Globe News Grid he’d been beaten up, arrested, kidnapped, and tortured. He blamed himself for what happened to my mother twelve years ago. She had awoken to the sound of a thud coming from the living room. She went downstairs to investigate and was shot three times by an intruder. Hearing the shots my father scurried down the stairs and fired off a couple of rounds of his air gun catching the intruder in the eye and sending him fleeing into the suburban streets. I was only five at the time. It was a long time before I could make the connection between what my dad did for a living and a man entering our house with murderous intent. My mother’s murder was deemed by the official Peace Force to be the result of an “interrupted break-in”.
My father and I left our nice house in the outer district and embarked on our semi-nomadic life of moving from one ramshackle flat to another in New Stockton’s inner city region. We’ve been in this flat on the forty second floor of Candlemere Heights for the past four years. It’s the first place since our house in the suburbs that actually felt like a home.
Denholm sinks further into the faded brown leather armchair. “What are you going to do about it? You gonna look for him?”
“I have to. I need to know what happened to him.”
“What was he working on?” Denholm asks, his gaze drifting toward the kitchenette. The munchies are well on their way as the effects of his dose wear off.
“I’ve been going through his slate to see what files he was working on recently.” I walk to the desk in the corner by the window and grab my dad’s slate.
Denholm focusses his fuzzy head at the device in my hand. “He left that behind?”
“He never took this with him on a story,” I reply. “Too many details in here that would give him away. Especially if he was undercover.”
“Makes sense.” He rises from his chair and saunters behind the counter in the kitchen area. “Keep talking. I’ll just fix myself a sandwich. You were saying he was working on… “
“Seems like he was investigating two stories, the reason behind the economic collapse of ’87 and an old murder case where a body was discovered in a wasteland on the outskirts of New Stockton about twelve years ago. According to his notes the victim was David Kohn, inventor of The Nostradamus Algorithm.”
“The program that predicts the future,” Denholm mumbles loudly with his mouth full of bread.
“During his post mortem examination it was discovered that David had a chip hidden in his thumbnail that contained a very cryptic cypher.”
“I remember that!” Denholm shouts, spitting fragments of sandwich out onto the counter. “Nobody could break the code. Didn’t fit in with any parameters of any cryptographic programs! I always wanted to have a go at cracking that code myself but I never got around to it.”
I flip through the pages on my father’s slate. “I think my dad got somewhere with it from what I can see in his notes.”
“Maybe cracking the code got him into trouble. Somebody might want it to remain un-cracked.”
“How would anyone know if the code was partly cracked?” I ask.
Denholm takes a contemplative bite of his sandwich. “Yeah, I don’t know,” he says with a shrug. “He wasn’t the type to go bragging about it.” He swivels around and pulls open the fridge. “Unless he mentioned something to his boss at the Globe. Mr. Whatsit.”
If my dad gave his boss an update of where he was with the story would he mention that he was on his way to breaking the code? Maybe. “I don’t think Kiefer Gray would sell my dad out, though.”
Denholm takes a swig from a bottle of mandarin juice. “These are tough times, Scotland. People do all sorts of pathetic things to get by.”
“I should go and talk to him,” I say, grabbing my keys from the mantle. “You wanna come?”
“No, you go.” Denholm’s eyes shifted uneasily from left to right. “I’ve got some business to take care of at the office.”
The “Office” for Denholm was the seedier side of New Stockton’s Ex District. So called because it used to be the financial district, after the collapse it was known as the Ex Financial district and now people just refer to it as the Ex District. Denholm deals drugs and uses his extensive medical knowledge to patch up injured criminals who can’t go to any official doctor without alerting the Peace Officers. Though only eighteen he learned everything he knows from his doctor mother who administered to injured and dying criminals until it got her killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout about six months ago.
I step out into the bare concrete hallway and hope at least one of the elevators is working today. Forty two floors is a long way up and I’m in no mood for a jog down the stinking stairwell crowded with kids either bored out of their minds or high on the cheapest opiate available on the streets.
The door bings and slides open. Nav Dhalla stands menacingly in the middle of the lift with his feet planted wide and his hand outstretched. Since I’m eager to get to the Globe I don’t argue with him and hand over a five. I don’t mind being extorted out of a five every once in a while because if it weren’t for Nav’s boss these old elevators would probably never run.
“Busy today?” I ask, breaking the elevator silence.
“Nah, too many people using the chutes and taking the stairs,” Nav says mournfully. “If it weren’t for the old or the sick we’d hardly have any paying customers at all.”
The ground floor of Candlemere Heights is packed, as usual, with stalls selling all of life’s necessities. The sounds and smells hit me like a punch in the face as soon as the elevator doors slide open: spices, herbs, fruit, fish, buyers haggling with vendors, vendors yelling about their wares. It’s all here. I’d never have to leave the building if I didn’t want to.
Outside it’s chilly and grey. It’s always grey. The sky above could be clear blue but on street level there’s nothing but grey. The buildings stretching eighty to over a hundred floors high surround you at every turn so you’re always in the shade no matter what side of the street you walk on. What sliver of natural light might actually trickle down to the street is obscured by the hundreds of makeshift chutes and bridges running from building to building at every story. Life in New Stockton doesn’t just happen on street level.
I push my way through the bustle and head toward the Pipe station at the end of DuPont Street. The line-up for the Pipe is surrounded by sleazy pushers and the usual child pick-pockets in filthy rags two sizes too big for them but, like most experienced public transport users, I keep my hand in my wallet pocket and my deadpan face pointed forward.
A ten minute Pipe ride brings me right outside the fortified offices of the Globe News Grid. I tell the armed guard at the gatehouse that I’m here to see Kiefer Gray. The guard scans my cred card and disappears behind a door. After a minute or two he reappears, hands me back my card along with a visitor tag and tells me to head on up to the top floor.
The elevator doors slide open to a hum of activity. There must be about sixty or seventy people working on this level. Some are hunched over slates, entranced by their reading, some are typing furiously and others are on video-links engaged in loud and frenzied conversations.
The sights and sounds of this are familiar to me. I’ve been here many times with my dad. Over the years I got to know some of the other Public Eyes and would sometimes amuse myself on a guest slate while my dad finished off a story or accessed the Globes secure reference database. There was always a sense of urgency in this room. Urgency and purpose. It was that sense of purpose – that feeling that I could make a difference to this failed nation – that made me want to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a Public Eye too. Besides it’s not like I had a scrap of training for any other job and my formal education is as non-existent as every other kid who isn’t from an uber-rich family.
I head over to Kiefer Gray’s corner office. Two glass walls overlook the hive of activity that is the epicenter of the Globe News Grid. Gray’s desk is positioned at a forty five degree angle to the two exterior windows that gaze out onto the sprawling metropolis of New Stockton from the ninety seventh floor.
I walk past the sliding glass door and Mr. Gray raises a finger to indicate “one minute”.
“Just get it to me in the next forty five minutes and we can get it into our next broadcast,” he says to whoever’s on the other end of the line. He taps his slate screen and turns his attention to me. “Sorry about that. Another Public Eye who thinks he can bring this planet crashing to its knees. You’d know about that.”
It’s an obvious jibe at my dad and I feel my body tense. If my dad were with us now he’d laugh off the remark and make some stinging retort but right now I frown back at Kiefer Gray and watch his face crumble in embarrassment.
“I’m sorry, Scotland,” he says. “That was in bad taste. It’d completely slipped my mind that he was gone. It always seems that he’ll just pop up out of nowhere and hand in a Diogenes Prize-winning story.” He waves his hand to a chair. “Take a seat and forgive an old man his rotten sense of humor.”
I sit in the comfy leather and chrome chair and observe the man in front of me. He isn’t old at all, probably just over fifty. He just looks his age and that’s unusual for somebody with money. His hair is a bristly grey frizz, his eyes are surrounded by lines and dark circles and his waistline hasn’t been regularly sucked or vibrated into shape by some contraptions I’ve only ever seen advertised on the grid.
“What can I do for you?” he asks, his voice low and sympathetic. “I assume it’s about your dad?”
“Yeah, I’m trying to get a handle on what happened to him,” I reply. “Was he working on anything that might’ve got him into deeper shit with the rich and powerful than he already was?”
Gray’s face hardens into a frown. “I’ll be honest with you Scotland; your dad was working on a story I had no intention of publishing.” He exhaled slowly and shook his head gravely. “He was obsessed with an old murder. Ancient history. No use to me. I want what’s going on now. I told him I can’t use this old stuff but he kept delving into it. He didn’t file a decent report to me since mid-summer.” Kiefer Gray remembers who I am and stops himself from uttering any harsher criticisms of my dad. “Pity, he was always such a good Eye. One of the finest.”
“Is there any chance of getting a look at any reports or files that he was working on?” I ask.
“Why?” Gray’s casual demeanour suddenly morphs into alert tension. “What would you want them for?”
“I figured if I knew what he was working on and how much progress he’d made I might be able to piece together his last movements.”
“I don’t have anything,” he says rising abruptly from his chair. “Truthfully, any file he handed over in the last two months was promptly deleted. It was useless stuff, nothing worth saving.” He stands by the sliding glass door and I take this as my cue to leave. “Just an embarrassment to the man he was, frankly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Scotland. Time and tide and all that. I have a News organization to run. I don’t have much time to help boy scouts track down their errant fathers.”
I storm out of the building, my head full of rage and hatred for the man who was once my father’s closest friend. I’m not even sure what a boy scout is but I can tell it was used as an insult. A condescending, patronizing insult. What a grade-A asshole!
I walk past the Pipe stop and keep marching. I need to blow off some steam and try to get a bead on the situation as it stands now. I was relying heavily on Kiefer Gray being an ally but now that’s out of the question I don’t know where to turn.
Drops of rain begin to fall, I pull my collars up and continue to stomp through the New Stockton streets. I’m about ten blocks away from the Globe’s building when I notice somebody walking in step with me on the other side of the road. If I were going to follow somebody on foot I’d shadow them from across the street too.
About the Author

Patrick Temple Hickey has written for TV shows on BBC and Ireland’s RTE. He contributes editorial and single panel cartoons to various newspapers and magazines all over the world and has graphic stories published in independent anthologies such as Slambang, The Shiznit and Don’t Touch Me. His first YA SCi FI novel, The Nostradamus Code, was published with Double Dragon Publishing in July 2017.
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The Pirate’s Witch

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The Pirate’s Witch by Jennifer Blackstream is .99 Cents for a Limited Time!

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Praise for The Pirate’s Witch –

“This is hands down one of the most gripping and beautiful love stories I’ve read. Tear jerking, heartbreaking, so deep and romantic! I loved it!” – Amazon Reviewer

A fast-paced tale of kidnapping, desire, and second chances by USA Today bestselling paranormal romance author Jennifer Blackstream.



Tyr is going to die. Unless he can capture the elusive firebird and deliver it to the ogre king, the one-handed pirate will become a gruesome example of what happens when you cross the ogres. With only his wits and his charm, he must now seek out the one woman who can help him catch his prey. Failing that…. Well, a pirate only asks politely once.


Ingrid is an earth witch with every intention of staying on earth. No pirate, no matter how dashing, will lure her away from her home onto a floating deathtrap. Unfortunately, she underestimated Tyr’s determination. And now he’s underestimated hers…


He claims to value no one’s life more than his own. Ingrid has three days to change his mind. Or change her own…

Sniffing Out Murder


Cozy Mystery
Date Published: July 2017
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One dog with two names, twice lost, yet always found. Two newly orphaned boys who love their dog and love each other so much they vow to stick together against all odds. Enter super sleuth Mina Calvi, the quasi-grown up Italian import who likes cats more than dogs. When she tries to locate the owners of a lost dog, Mina is drawn into tracking down a murderer in spite of her loneliness, absentee boyfriend, and the fact that even with an espresso machine worth more than a diamond ring, she still can’t manage to make a good cup of coffee.
De Fiore stared at the only living room wall deprived of artwork. They hadn’t exchanged a word since Tom loaded Leo and Buddy into his truck, and after promising a small detour to pick up dog food, headed home to his large place with the fenced yard.
Millie had walked back to her small place, her eyes red rimmed from the suppressed crying and the exposure to bright light.
The mood was anything but pleasant. Why? She had no way of knowing a kid was squatting in Kalinda’s house. She hadn’t set foot in there since the woman left weeks ago. But De Fiore should have known. He checked out the place often, and he was a detective after all. Apparently he didn’t detect squat until—until what?
“De Fiore, how did you catch Leo? How long had he been hiding there?”
“He wasn’t there the other day when I stopped by to check on the landscape.”
“That was the same day Buddy was spotted wondering around the train tracks in San Clemente. Yes, that fits. Leo said he ran away to go looking for his dog. Poor kid. We need to find his brother, let him know what’s going on.”
“Tom is going to try to locate him. I’ll call Kalinda and ask her how to get in touch with the construction crew. He’s obviously traveling with them.” He glanced at Mina, his voice slightly mellower than his attitude. “How do you do it?”
“Do what?”
“Turn something as uncomplicated as transferring a rescued dog from one shelter to another into a possible murder investigation and a big hot mess that touches many lives here and abroad?”
“Oh, wait, wait. What are you talking about? I get the murder investigation, and you can thank me later. But hot mess? Here and abroad? Seriously?”
He kept staring at that same wall. Avoiding her eyes. Why?
“The phone.” He slipped his hand inside his jacket and pulled out a phone from the breast pocket. Diego’s phone.
“You found it. You found it. Oh, thank you, thank you…” She leapt from her chair to grab the phone. The detective moved it out of her reach. “No, I didn’t find it. It’s the other way around, and I can’t let you have it. Sorry. Gave my word.”
“Come on, De Fiore, stop with the games. I’ve been searching for it. It’s very special. It’s the one I lost yesterday when I was chasing Buddy. I fell, hit my head, and it must have slipped out of my jeans pocket. Where was it?”
De Fiore shook his head, and there was not a trace of a smile when he said, “That’s how I found Leo. He had the phone.” He paused and then spoke in a slow and staccato pattern. “He-was using it. Your boyfriend’s super special, high-tech, state-of-the-art phone was being used in random efforts to reach—friends? Family? Except that’s not what the phone is programmed to do.”
He kept it at a certain distance from himself, as if afraid the device would cause him bodily harm. How ridiculous was that? Probably trying to give her a guilt trip. She who thrived on eternal guilt.
“This cell has now been disabled and will be picked up at my office tomorrow and properly disposed of, after being dissected and carefully analyzed of course. If you don’t get the dozen of nefarious consequences that may have been set in motion by the kid’s actions, I suggest you ask Diego to explain it to you.” He sighed. “All the calls originated from Kalinda’s house.”
It all sounded preposterous, right off some B spy movie, which in turn made the whole thing even more plausible.
“Is he mad at me?” she asked, troubled by De Fiore’s accusations.
His answer left no doubts. “You’ll have to ask him yourself. There are lots of rumors floating around with the passing of the Gran Dame. And none are good.” What did he know about Diego’s deceased boss? “I need to get going. You behave kid, and let me do my job. Look at me, Mina. I mean it. You need to lay low. It was suggested that you go about your usual routine but avoid at all cost going anywhere near Kalinda’s place. Got that?” He paused, waiting for her answer. “I was asked to relay the message to you. And I promise I’ll keep you informed regarding the Cordero case.” He shook his head. “What am I saying? What case? See what I mean? Your disease is contagious. Didn’t even get to say hi to Aria. I’m leaving; don’t get up. Sit and stew on that promise you just made.”
Mina sat until she heard the front door close. What promise? He did all the talking. She never agreed to anything. She headed upstairs to let the cats out of the bedroom.
About the Author

Best selling author Maria Grazia Swan was born in Italy, but this rolling stone has definitely gathered no moss. She lived in Belgium, France, Germany, in beautiful Orange County, California where she raised her family, and is currently at home in Phoenix, Arizona–but stay tuned for weekly updates of Where in the World is Maria Grazia Swan?
As a young girl, her vivid imagination predestined her to be a writer. She won her first literary award at the age of fourteen while living in Belgium. As a young woman Maria returned to Italy to design for–ooh-la-la–haute couture. Once in the U.S. and after years of concentrating on family, she tackled real estate. These days her time is devoted to her deepest passions: writing and helping people and pets find the perfect home.
Maria loves travel, opera, good books, hiking, and intelligent movies (if she can find one, that is). When asked about her idea of a perfect evening, she favors stimulating conversation, Northern Italian food and perfectly chilled Prosecco–but then, who doesn’t?
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The Seeds of Dissolution

Science Fiction / Fantasy
Publisher: Space Wizard Science Fantasy
Date Published: November 2017
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On a bright August day, the sun disappears.
Sam van Oen barely escapes freezing to death in his house, as his watch stops and fire ceases to burn. He is pulled into the Nether—a nexus between ten alien cultures—where he meets Rilan and Origon, two maji who can control the musical foundation of the universe. While coping with anxiety attacks prompted by his new surroundings, Sam must learn to hear and change the Symphony, and thus reality, in order to discover what happened to his home.
But more freezing voids like the one that started his journey are appearing, and Sam’s chances of getting back are fading. The Assembly of Species is threatening to dissolve and the maji are being attacked by those they protect, while rumors grow of an ancient, shape-changing species of assassins, returning to wage war.
The Dissolution is coming.
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-From the start, I was calling the voids “Drains,” because of their function. It frustrates me others insist on ignoring or even suppressing my terminology for the phenomenon. It is to be much more descriptive than “void.”
Journal of Origon Cyrysi, Kirian majus of the Houses of Communication and Power

Sam was reading when the sun dimmed.

He looked up from his book in time to see the overhead light blink off, then on. The music playing on his laptop—Beethoven’s 7th—croaked a discordant jumble of notes before the screen went black. His bedside clock flashed, the red numbers fading away as a breath of air left goosebumps on his arms.

“What the—” Sam pushed up from the chair as the overhead light faded again. His breath caught in his throat, like he had swallowed a lump of ice. His room was not large, made smaller by the piles of boxes, and now shadows rose between stacks of waist-high containers. He wormed through them in the dim light, heart racing. Was this really happening, or was he having an attack? Why now? It took two tries to pick up his grandfather’s pocket watch from where it rested on an end table beside his bed. His hands were shaking, and thump of his heartbeat nearly overpowered the rhythmic ticking transmitted through his palm. He tried to listen to only the mechanical beat—let it inform his body with the regular beat of time.

Calm down. Stillness evaded him, left him unsteady. Which is perfectly reasonable. Everything is going dark in the middle of the day. At least the watch was working. He made sure to keep it wound, here in the safety of his room.

Sam watched the sky outside the window shade into twilight. His other hand fingered the lid of a small shoebox. His collection contained grass clippings, shells, sand, and other things, bought by friends and customers of his aunt. They reminded him of favorite sights and smells. The shoebox, though, contained things more precious than the rest: half a belt, stiff from water damage, and the heel of a woman’s left shoe, sheared off cleanly.

No. Can’t think of them now. They’re gone, and I can’t change it. He shivered at another gust of cold air. His room felt like late January instead of August. He eyed the window. The thought of opening it—of going somewhere he didn’t know—made his hands sweat, but he had to find out what was happening. His hand left the box, moving to the windowpane. He hissed and shook his fingers. The window was colder than the house—no need to open it. He breathed out and raised his watch to his ear, hearing the steady beat.

Is this all in my head? He hadn’t heard a transformer blow, and there was no storm. It was so quiet his rough breathing was like a train. He rubbed his arms, and a quick touch on the laptop’s case nearly numbed his finger. His cellphone was powered down and wouldn’t restart.

Aunt Martha will know what to do. Get to safety. Sam weaved through the precise stacks of boxes, trembling. She would be in her sewing shop. Sam wiped sweaty hands on his shorts before pulling a coat from the closet and socks from a drawer. He dropped his watch in a pocket of the coat, but kept one hand on it. If the power outage kept up, he couldn’t log in for his shift in technical support. What will they think? Will they fire me?

The chill air in the hall made him regret the shorts, but he shrugged his coat on, then leaned against the wall, pulling his socks on carefully. They’d just distract him, if the seams were going the wrong way, and there was too much going on already. He closed his eyes. Don’t shut down. Keep moving.

The dark wood-paneled hallway was cold even through his socks, and Sam made a detour to the front door to get his sneakers, adjusting his feet in them, making sure the laces were the same length. It took two tries with his shaking hands. The dark was deepening outside, and by the time he got to the other end of the house, he was using his sense of touch more than sight to navigate.

He met Aunt Martha coming from the small one-room addition that served as her workshop. She held a flickering beeswax candle in her hand. It’s not just in my head.

“What happened?” he asked. His aunt—or great aunt, she had never told him, and he never asked—only shook her head at him. Her posture was precise as always, like the romantic ideal of a noblewoman. He didn’t know exactly how old she was, except that her once graying hair was now almost totally white. She moved slower than when he first came to live with her, but the clothes she made for shops on Market Street in Charleston, and his job, would let him afford college. His aunt wanted him to go to a real college instead of online, but it was so much easier to learn at home. Since he had started taking classes, he didn’t have to deal with the crowds at high school, or worry if he forgot his homework.

“Do you think the power plant has a problem?” Sam tried again. If his aunt had something to say, she would, but nothing could get her to talk when she didn’t want to.

“If it were, all the lights in the house would go out at once,” she replied. The rounded syllables of “house” and “out” served as a reminder of her Charlestonian heritage. “Haven’t you looked outside?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” He swallowed. Something was trying to catch in his throat, and Sam put out a hand to steady himself on a wall. His other hand snaked into his pocket to stroke the comforting curve of his watch. He couldn’t feel the ticking over the pulse of his heartbeat and his panting breaths.

They watched the candle flame dwindle to a speck, and Aunt Martha cupped her hand around the flame—so close Sam worried she might burn herself. She only nodded impatiently at him to move.

“To the living room, boy.” She still called him ‘boy,’ even after ten years. He moved, but she was at his heels the whole time, urging him on. If she hadn’t been using both hands for the candle, she probably would be poking him in the back. Her closeness was a comfort, in the dark and cold.

The formal living room was a contrast with the rest of the house, filled with overstuffed furniture, throw pillows and doilies—all the accouterments one would expect from a little old lady. Sam shivered violently, and knocked against the curio cabinet with the creaky leg, making the little porcelain figurines inside shiver with him. His aunt was staring at the ancient fireplace, unused since the last big snow, eight years ago.

No dressing down about being clumsy? She is worried. “Wh-what do we do here, Aunt Martha?” Sam’s body tried to shiver him to warmth, but even his coat wasn’t holding in the heat. Are the chills from the cold, or from the panic?

“Hush,” she said. Then, still shielding the candle, barely alight, she cocked her head toward the hearth. “Lay us a fire.”

Sam knelt obediently. Aunt Martha kept a well-stocked hearth. There was a pile of old newspapers, some kindling, and even a small cord of wood, just in case. He placed the fire as quick as he could, hands numb with the cold, stopping every few seconds to rub them together. He snuck a glance up at his aunt, but she watched the tiny candle flame, eyes narrowed. She was shivering, but only just, only what her proud bearing would allow. He laid the fire quickly. Like Dad taught me. It took his mind off what was happening, and he felt his shoulders unknot just a little, until he thought about what had happened to his parents—the similar temperature, the speed of it. No. Keep it together.

“Good,” commended Aunt Martha, and slowly, creakily, she knelt beside him, both hands still around the candle. He could barely smell it any longer, in the cold. He steadied her as he could, surprised she didn’t wave him away like normal.

Aunt Martha bent forward, hands creeping carefully to keep the flame from guttering, until the little light was just below a corner of newspaper. They both watched the fire—so slowly—blacken the newspaper. It should have caught in an instant and devoured the kindling, but the flame barely moved, unnaturally slow, like the fire was a slowed down recording.

Sam’s aunt sat back with a grunt as the newspaper finally lit, and the fire gradually grew. Her hands trembled as she took them away, and Sam saw the candle was completely extinguished. He reached out to the flame, feeling his hands tingle. His aunt did the same.

“Can we make it bigger?” Sam asked. It was an effort just to speak in the freezing air.

Her voice was soft. “There is cooking sherry in the kitchen, but I believe we must leave, instead. We shall warm ourselves, then I shall drive us into town and see if this condition is prevalent over the entire region.”

Sam’s mouth went dry. “I can’t,” he whispered. Crowds. People. I haven’t been in the middle of the city in years. It’s probably changed. I won’t know where to go…

His aunt only rubbed her palms together slowly. “You shall.” She wobbled as if she might fall, and Sam supported her. She put one hand to her chest and swallowed. Sam could see the discomfort she tried to hide. I can’t let her down. His breathing was fast. People he knew were one thing, but so many, all together…

More warmth was what they needed. “Let me put more wood on.” Sam’s joints creaked in pain as he moved.

“No,” Aunt Martha said, putting her shaking hand on his. “Let it die, and then we shall leave.” The fire was already losing against the cold.

“Let’s stay here,” Sam suggested. “We can get more fuel, make a bigger fire.”

His aunt attempted to rise but fell against him, and Sam caught her awkwardly. “You must go,” she said. He was suddenly aware of how much willpower she must be using to stay conscious, to fight the cold that sapped their strength. She’s been strong for me, all these years. Now she was tiny, leaning against him. Her bright green eyes fixed him in place. “You save yourself. The keys are by the door. Get to the car.”

“I don’t know how to drive,” he said.

“N-no excuses.” His aunt shook, and one hand tried to reach for him, failed. She made a small sound he had never heard from her.

“Aunt Martha?” It was like a rock had lodged in his chest. She never submitted to anything. She couldn’t now.

“Go.” Sam barely heard the whisper. Aunt Martha’s eyes flickered and her head fell against him, unconscious.

With his remaining strength, he pushed her closer to the nearly extinct fire and wiggled onto the hearth. Something is deeply wrong with the world. His heart beat too fast, and his stomach clenched. The air’s too thin. It was as if the very energy around them was leaving, electrical and natural. He struggled to grasp his watch, raise it to his ear. Even the watch was ticking slowly, winding down. He put it back in his pocket. Their only hope was to get warm enough. Then he could wake his aunt up. She will wake up.

He prodded the weak flame with the thinnest piece of kindling, hoping to spark the fire back to life, but it wouldn’t catch. His hand spasmed, and he dropped the sliver of wood. He had no strength to pick it up again. Can I get to the kitchen, to the cooking sherry? His legs wouldn’t respond. Wouldn’t unbend. Sam’s head nodded forward. Just a moment to rest…

Sam’s eyes snapped open and he jerked his neck up, wondering how much time he had lost. Ice crystals cracked around his mouth, nose, and eyelids. He tried to move, and fell to one side. He was slumped half in the fireplace, his aunt’s head on his leg. His fingers and toes ached as if tiny needles bored into them.

He reached down, but when his fingers brushed his aunt’s white hair, the strands broke with a tiny crack and fell, like little ringlets of glass. He jerked back, then touched her wrinkled forehead. It was colder than his hands, and he winced at the pain in his fingertips. The skin there was dark. He brushed ice from Aunt Martha’s skin. Sightless eyes stared back. No.

He should feel something, but his hands and his mind were numb. His aunt had put up with him and his fears for ten years. Should have obeyed instead of questioning. Sam’s eyelids dragged him down to sleep. It was pitch dark, save for a hint of light hidden in the pile of barely-burned wood in the fireplace, like a little campfire in a cave. He was drawn to it.

Take the heat. He reached out to the little light, hoping to delay the inevitable. His aunt’s body was a cold weight against him. He wouldn’t waste the extra time, however small, she had given him. He wanted to be far away from here, somewhere safe.

The tiny light winked out, and he heard a plunk of a bass string snapping in his head, shattering into a thousand harmonious notes. Warmth flowed into him, then away, leaving him colder than before. He gasped as a thick ring of light erupted on the hearth, barely as high as his kneeling form. Two colors intermixed and rotated around the edge of the ring, one color bright, the other shiny, like circlets of gold and silver. In the ring’s center was a pool of blackness.

Sam reached out to the glowing circle. His mind was sluggish, but he craved the glow. Instead of intersecting anything physical, his hand passed through the darkness, to someplace warm. That was where he needed to be. It was not cold there. The world was not dying there.

Another hand, warm and alive, caught his arm in a vice-like grip. Sam’s eyes widened, and he pulled back instinctively, but the thing on the other side of the circle was stronger. He grabbed for his aunt’s body, trying to bring her along. His numbed fingers slid across her frozen shawl, down one arm, clutching. His hand closed on nothing as he was pulled head-first through the hole in the air.

About the Author

William C. Tracy is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has two self-published novellas available: Tuning the Symphony, and Merchants and Maji, both set in his Dissolutionverse. The Kickstarter for the first novel, The Seeds of Dissolution, will run in August/September 2017.
He also has a masters in mechanical engineering, and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He has trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003, and runs his own dojo in Raleigh. He is an avid video and board gamer, a reader, and of course, a writer. He and his wife also cosplay, and he has appeared as Tenzin, Jafar, and in several steampunk outfits.
In his spare time, he wrangles three cats and a bald guinea pig, and his wife wrangles him (not an easy task). They both enjoy putting their pets in cute little costumes and making them cosplay for the annual Christmas card.
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