An atmospheric debut novel that spans place and time, Kerri Schlottman’s TELL ME ONE THING (Regal House Publishing; January 31, 2023) examines power, privilege, and the sacrifices one is willing to make to succeed. Against the backdrop of a rural Pennsylvania trailer park, and the complicated world of Manhattan during the AIDS epidemic, it delves into New York City’s free-for-all grittiness while exposing a neglected slice of the struggling rust belt, traversing decades from the 1980s up to present day.
Outside a Pennsylvania motel, nine-year-old Lulu smokes a cigarette while sitting on the lap of a trucker. Recent art grad Quinn is passing through town and captures it. The photograph, later titled “Lulu & the Trucker,” launches Quinn’s career, escalating her from a starving artist to a renowned photographer. In a parallel life, Lulu struggles to survive a volatile home, growing up too quickly in an environment wrought with drug abuse and her mother’s prostitution.
Decades later, when Quinn has a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art and “Lulu & the Trucker” has sold at auction for a record-breaking amount, Lulu is surprised to find the troubling image of her young self in the newspaper. She attends an artist talk for the exhibition with one question in mind for Quinn: Why didn’t you help me all those years ago?
While writing, Kerri Schlottman—who has a background in art and writes from a place of authenticity—was inspired by Mary Ellen Mark’s famous 1990 photograph, “Amanda and Her Cousin Amy,” which depicts nine-year-old Amanda smoking a cigarette in a kiddie pool in rural North Carolina. Upon Mark’s death in 2015, NPR interviewed Amanda and asked her why she allowed herself to be photographed. Her reply was: “I thought, ‘Hey, people will see me, I’ll get attention, it will perhaps change things for me.’ I thought it might be a way to get out, but that was not the case.”
Weaving back and forth between Lulu’s and Quinn’s perspectives, TELL ME ONE THING explores life-shaping moments in each of their stories—doubt, love, pain, and ambition—and unknowingly links one to another through a fierce determination to better their circumstances.
Brimming with characters that won’t soon leave you, TELL ME ONE THING captures a portrait of two Americas by an exciting up-and-coming writer to watch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kerri Schlottman is a Detroiter turned New Yorker who works to support artists, performers, and writers in creating new projects. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The Dillydoun Review, Belle Ombre, Women Writers Women’s Books, Muse Apprentice Guild, and The Furnace. She placed second in the Dillydoun International Fiction Prize, has been longlisted for the Dzanc Books Prize for Fiction, and was a 2021 University of New Orleans Press Lab Prize semifinalist. You can find her at www.kerrischlottman.com, on Twitter @KerriLeeJC or Instagram @kerri.schlottman.
Remmy grows up with Beth in Bellhammer, Illinois as oil and coal companies rob the land of everything that made it paradise. Under his Grandad, he learns how to properly prank his neighbors, friends, and foes. Beth tries to fix Remmy by taking him to church. Under his Daddy, Remmy starts the Bell Hammer Construction Company, which depends on contracts from Texarco Oil. And Beth argues with him about how to build a better business. Together, Remmy and Beth start to build a great neighborhood of “merry men” carpenters: a paradise of s’mores, porch furniture, newborn babies, and summer trips to Branson where their boys pop the tops off of the neighborhood’s two hundred soda bottles. Their witty banter builds a kind of castle among a growing nostalgia.
Then one of Jim Johnstone’s faulty Texarco oil derricks falls down on their house and poisons their neighborhood’s well.
Poisoned wells escalate to torched dog houses. Torched dog houses escalate to stolen carpentry tools and cancelled contracts. Cancelled contracts escalate to eminent domain. Sick of the attacks from Texaco Oil on his neighborhood, Remmy assembles his merry men:
“We need the world’s greatest prank. One grand glorious jest that’ll bloody the nose of that tyrant. Besides, pranks and jokes don’t got no consequences, right?”
Buckass naked in hot, hand-boiled bathtub suds, playing with his tin New York dairy truck and some
Spur Cola bottles, he heard old Rooney’s brakes set to squelching.
“Aww shit.” He was six years old. “Aw shitty shit shit.”
They didn’t have no school buses back then, you see, just one room schoolhouses dotting the countryside like peppercorns tossed sparingly over a pot of boiled taters. And if you weren’t gonna walk five miles to school one way, you’d better get your ass in line for old Rooney’s flatbed truck when it pulled up to your street corner when them brakes squelched out loud.
Remmy jumped up quick as a cat scared by a cucumber and ran out without drying himself. “Rooney! Rooney!” Momma Midge cried after but it was of no use.
It started to go and all of his classmates and Elizabeth too stared at him with suds all down his naked body as he
sprinted across that hot dirt road and it picked up on his feet till the soles went black and he caught the truck just barely and plopped buckass naked on the back with the rest of them.
The other kids stared. One snorted.
Rooney slammed on the brakes with a fresh squelch and craned his head out the window. “The hell, Remmy?”
“The hell, Old Man Rooney?”
“Don’t you the hell me, boy, you’re buckass nekked!” The kids giggled then. Specially Elizabeth.
Remmy blushed a bit. He was naked, but not quite old enough to be ashamed. Not quite. “So?”
“So you can’t go to Sunday school nekked, Remmy!”
“You can’t go to Sunday school without me, Old
“Well… well you’re nekked though.”
“Well so what? Skin and mind ain’t the same.”
“Don’t get smart with me now. Don’t you start.”
“Honest, Old Man Rooney, I’d rather go to school naked than to stay home covered but dumb.”
Rooney shook his head. “Go put on your britches. I’ll wait.” Remmy scooted off the back of that pickup and got about five feet before he heard the kids pointing and laughing. He looked down — some of the limestone dust in the back of that flatbed had stuck to his butt, and now he had a white ass to offset them black soles. Full white moon and hooves of black. Like a whitetail buck.
But they got him to class, they did. Him and the others. He sat down and tried his best to wink at Beth. He winked and he winked and fidgeted in his chair, the limestone working his buttcheeks like sandpaper.
Beth never did wink back no matter how much work Remmy’d put into winking her way. He’d give anything just to be able to fall asleep in the safety of her older, softer arms and wish the world and its scaffolding and fist fights away. Oh and its hate too, yup. But she didn’t seem fond of that idea, the winking and the kissing and the holding, or even the noticing him, really, busy as she was with her maths.
Maybe she’d seen enough of him for the day, all things in mind.
Remmy’d been in the second grade at the time and learning from Miss Witt in the one-room school. Miss Witt said, “Well it looks like we got six students and four oil people today.”
The children of parents not employed at Texarco laughed and pointed at the rest. The children of oil parents blushed. That included Beth.
“Missing one oil person,” Miss Witt said. “Where’s Jim Johnstone?”
“Probably painting himself black with tar,” Remmy said.
“You quit,” Beth said to Remmy.
Beth being one of them oil people put him in one of them tight spot dilemma problems, it did. Remmy went to school there along with a few other kids, learning his grammars, how to make his thoughts into clean words, but mostly just winking at Beth Donder and hoping she’d wink back.
She was five years older than him, which made her twelve or something. That combined with his oil people comments made it damned near impossible he’d get a wink out of her. He remembered the news came in on a Sunday morning in the middle of the Sunday school and the winking and her age.
Jim Johnstone came running in hot and sweating like a creek-dipped mink in his winter wear, that look on his face like he had bad news nobody else knew about and he’d only tell you once you begged him good and long to reveal his secrets. Except it must have been extra bad cause he said,
“Miss Witt! Miss Witt! Turn on the radio!” She turned it on.
“—C. Hello NBC. This is KTU in Honolulu, Hawaii. I am speaking from the roof of the Advertiser Publishing Company Building. We have witnessed this morning the distant view a brief full battle of Pearl Harbor and the severe bombing of Pearl Harbor by enemy planes, undoubtedly Japanese. The city of Honolulu has also been attacked and considerable damage done. This battle has been going on for nearly three hours. One of the bombs dropped within fifty feet of our KTU tower. It is no joke. It is a real war. The public of Honolulu has been advised to keep in their homes and away from the Army and Navy. There has been serious fighting going on in the air and the sea. The heavy shooting seems to be—” Static cut off the broadcast. Then the voice went silent. The kids did too.
Remmy didn’t like how quiet it was so he got up and went into the corner of the schoolhouse and dropped his britches — which showed his limestone-white ass — and started peeing in the mop bucket.
Miss Witt shouted, “Good Lord, Remmy, what on earth! Why are you doing that?”
“Cause I got good aim,” he said. “Why else?” The kids laughed.
Remmy turned his aim a bit while they was laughing and sprayed a little on Jim Johnstone’s notebook just cause that boy liked being the bearer of bad news. Miss Witt sent him home early and, though happy that he made the kids laugh instead of thinking about the new war, in later years Remmy would say to me, “I couldn’t believe I did that. I guess I always enjoyed the power of a good prank.”
They had rationing after that. You couldn’t buy sugar or coffee or gasoline or anything without a stamp, which you got from the ration board. It mattered how far you had to drive to work which messed up his Daddy John’s milk jug gathering, since Daddy John had finally saved up enough to ditch the wagon and get a la bumba of a car.
Forced Daddy John to take more time building homes and sheds and things for men in the oil fields. Daddy John wasn’t that close in to begin with, but Remmy hated the government for taking away his dad even further and hated Texarco for keeping him. It took away too his chance of one day having Beth to rock him to sleep safe away from shouting and wars like a good mother, curbing travel like that. See, you had to ride with somebody else wherever you went so you didn’t drive so many cars. If you wore out your tires, you had to get a permit for another one — one at a time instead of a set. Couldn’t get meat, so Remmy’d shoot squirrels and rabbits with his slingshot and cook them, and that’s no lie.
Remmy stole stories from the one room school house — for one, cause they were expensive, books, and for another, cause boys made fun of other boys for reading and so he needed to read in private, and for a third, cause if he didn’t like the book — say it tried to sound smarter than it really was deep down — and if rations got real bad, he could always use the front pages to wipe his ass.
They’d had themselves a farm — a peaceful place out away from the oil fields and out away from the milk driving, where at least one Saturday a month Remmy’d been able to play out in the yard with Daddy John. He missed the smell of that farm — the sweet corn and shitty smell of good fertile soil. But because of the travel curbing, they moved in from the farm. Moved in to the big city: Odin, Illinois. Traffic was awful when you had a twenty-four street town. They sold most of it, his parents and the farm, but they brought a couple pigs along. Them pigs was an anchor for a while, keeping Remmy joined to that heavenly garden on earth. Other people had pig pens in the back. John David — Remmy’s Daddy — raised them so they could have some pork.
When the pig got turned into pork, the anchor was cut loose and he was free floating in Odin. Midge — Remmy’s Momma — kept chickens so they could have those, but they weren’t half the people pigs were. The chicken coops went in the side yard, and those chickens never really settled down either after the move. Remmy got it: foxes everywhere.
Shoes was hard to get all of a sudden. Hell, when he was on the farm he’d loved going barefoot, and as soon as he needed shoes to walk around town on account of moving into town on account of the war, he couldn’t get good shoes also on account of the war, which wasn’t fair no matter how he looked at it. Had to sole them and put heels on them over and over again, wishing he had Moses’ shoes that never wore out. Couldn’t buy hardly anything. So everybody dug in and did what they could do.
They had paper drives. Remmy took his paper around to people’s houses and tied it in bundles and stuck it up on the wagon and sold it, hoping the money would help Daddy John not work so hard and then maybe have some time to the family. Never really worked, though. What’d they sell the paper for? Well for cardboard, for shipping crates for the war. Some of them crates had munitions, stuff for the war. Oh, yeah, they had a pants factory. Pants for the army. Cause you can’t go to war with your horse running loose out of its barn, the other seven-year-olds boys all said. Specially the streakers.
Remmy had to admit that he knew something about that.
Yeah it was the big plant that’d done the bottled cola there, Spur Cola from Bellhammer, Illinois? Remmy watched that plant close one day in the war for the pants and watched them take all of those bottles — just a bunch of them — and he followed them out and saw people dump them into a specific mine shaft. Yeah, that cola plant’d shut down and turned into a place for making pants that kept the horses of the respective army men in their respective barns. That and saltpeter.
Well when they abandoned that coal mine around the same time, everybody dumped their trash down in there, down in the mine. So it seemed right when the time came to do so to lower all those full and sealed Spur Cola bottles down that shaft. Remmy watched them do it just to make room for the pants, and he was just a little boy, so he wasn’t strong enough to go down in there and get them bottles, but he reminded himself of the place: the old railroad, the groundwork of the truck stop, the shoe factory, and the bottle factory near the mine. He did. Because he asked The Good Lord, “Good Lord, will you help me remember this place?”
And The Good Lord said back, “Remmy, I will.
Remember me, Remmy.”
And Remmy said, “Good Lord, I will.”
So Remmy memorized it and The Good Lord both. Some days he’d come back and mark the spot with his toe or a flag made of a stick and a rag or write his name in the dirt there with his piss just to make sure he still knew all them bottles were hid down in there. And one day he’d come back and dig up all those bottles, cause there wasn’t another Spur Cola in the world but in Bellhammer, Illinois, and therefore one day those Spur Cola bottles would be prime rare antiques, and so he’d dig up all of them and sell them one at a time on the big city auction block. A regular old Sotheby’s, yes sir. And then he’d have enough money to buy his Daddy John a vacation for just the two of them in some castle somewhere in Ireland or Germany or Camelot — somewhere where they have those old castles and throw jokes like jesters at all the dumb tyrants around the world. He wanted to build the biggest castle out of the world’s greatest joke. Best part about throwing jokes and pranking tyrants is that there ain’t no consequences for a good joke, and yet they change people’s minds. Kind of like the joke he’d told about the castle he’d built the year before out of the Lincoln Logs in the back of the horse wagon, back when he’d gotten lost and Daddy John had shouted. That was before they’d moved in from the safety of the farm — their Little Egypt castle. Before everything went to hell and they’d treated each other like Bloody Williamson.
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.
But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral . . . for all the wrong reasons.
Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review. No payments made between me and the publisher.
I’ve been planning to read this book for months, I have the copy since last year but I can’t find the time due to work stuff. My job can be that crazy, lol. Anyways, I’m glad to finally find time read and finish this. What made me push through as well is when there’s the #blacklivesmatter movement and I would love to support in a way that I know of, so yeah, reading their works. And, to be honest this book is so relatable. It breaks my heart when I read this. What’s happening in the world right now is almost the same as what is written in this book. It opened my mind on this kind of political issues.
I love the book in every way, I enjoyed every part of it and how the author Angie Thomas, written every single scenario. It got me hooked. I don’t want to stop reading the moment I started it, if I had to stop? What I’ll do is to make sure there’s no other house chores so that I can peacefully read without hindrances. LOL. The main character in the story is someone people can look up to. She’s a strong young lady, a fighter and a person who really cares for people who matters to her. She fights for what is right instead of being silenced by the people around her. She fought until her voice is heard and I think, that’s the mind set that we needed nowadays. We need to speak louder so that people can hear us, right?
More people should read this book. We were given a chance to take a peak on what’s happening because of discrimination in our society. I think, this book can help us in some way. And I do hope, that one day, our world will just be a place with full understanding. That each other’s lives matter no matter what they’re ethnicity or color.
I will surely suggest this book to anyone. Not just here on my blog but also to my friends who I talk to everyday or, to someone who is asking for a book recommendation. I assure you, this is worth it.
Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.
Shadowland is a book about stretching your imagination into another universe that’s here on our own planet. There are creatures that live among the world’s population, without detection. What happens when ordinary people come face to face with them?
In the 1990s, a dark discovery was made deep in the shadows below Raymond and Sandy Watson’s quaint little home in Cleveland, Ohio. Ray and his band of cohorts; he was not sure if they all qualify as friends; delve deep into the Shadowland to discover its secrets. In the process of pursuing the mysteries below Ray’s rec room, they battle with issues of greed, friendship, loyalty and love while trying to outsmart and outrun death. Some are winners. F.L.I.C.K.E.R. Some are losers.
Wanting more from Shadowland than they initially obtain, Ray’s group enlists the help not of hired mercenaries, but a team of experts from E.F.F., Environment First and Foremost, and archaeologists from the Cleveland Natural History Museum. Everyone was searching for treasure but for very different reasons, some for the historical perspective of finding ancient artifacts and others, like Ray, for the pure power of the riches. Team leaders Laura Hatch and Bernie Edelman command the excavation with volunteers from the museum led by the minuscule Dr. A. E. Slattery and a team of Cleveland State University archaeology students led by the tall beanpole Professor Engstrom. What they find does include a long list of archaeological treasures, but also death and darkness in Shadowland.
The group’s journey into the world of science fiction reveals a secret world that they try hard to understand. They must work together to preserve not only their own lives, but perhaps the fate of the world. In the present day, does Shadowland still exist in the depths of the earth?
– – – BOOK EXCERPT – – –
Ray stood transfixed, inside a ring of fire. He was looking up at a giant statue. In all his childhood nightmares, in all the fire and brimstone preaching he had endured as a child, in all of his adult life, he had never imagined the ugliness that towered above him. The stone creature was gigantic…forty, fifty feet, maybe more in height. The feet of the beast were cloven. The body nude and muscular. The face was frozen into a sneering smile. Long flowing tangled locks adorned the head, crowned by what looked to be horns from the ground level. The statue seemed to stare down on this mere human with an arrogant air, despising the puny surface creature at its feet. Ray had trouble focusing on the statue, with the fires surrounding the stone Goliath flaring to new heights. Ray had to squint to get a better look at the face. Wait!!! What was that flash? Ray tried to lock out the devilish dancing flames from his view. He tried to ignore the demonic shadows that darted about, just out of reach and conscientiousness. He tried to concentrate on the face staring down in disdain. “There it goes again,” he said out loud. The right eye of the beamouth gleamed when the flames hit just right… not gleamed, sparkled. The right eye sparkled like a diamond.
Robert B. McKnight has had a long and varied life.
Bob is a 1958 graduate of The College of Wooster with courses at Case Western Reserve University and Illinois University. He served in the U. S. Air Force as a recreation specialist and combat defense air policeman. He was stationed in Texas, Montana, Illinois and as far as Reykjavík, Iceland.
He has written articles for magazines, written humorous greeting cards for American Greetings, designed a brochure and catalog for an industrial sales company, sold advertising and written for The Cleveland Press newspaper. Most recently he has written, produced and directed commercials for an ad agency including one that was Emmy-nominated.
To round out the various types of employments, he has also spent some time bottling produce in a factory, driving a tour bus and selling appliances .
In the theatrical world, Bob started out by winning a play-writing award in college. He has now directed over 100 plays and shows and written five produced plays and musicals. He was the director of the Willoughby South High School drama department for several years.
Bob is a sports enthusiast that currently lives in Ohio with his wife Carole not far from daughter Michelle’s family of five and son Douglas’ family of three. He coached softball for 14 years and basketball for 4 years in youth league. He enthusiastically follows all Cleveland sports teams, plus Ohio State football.
Falkier Inalumin has
spent the past six years imprisoned by the king whom he had served under
as a scribe. He hadn’t attempted to escape even when the opportunity
arose until one night when a stranger comes to break him out of prison
After his escape, he is granted the power of the
Dragon Sword, a weapon imbued with the power of one of the Ancients who
created the world. He is also tasked with assembling a suit of armor
imbued by the rest of the Ancients so that he may kill Rakar Gorxand, a
man who had been granted a set of armor by the Ancients which was
corrupted by the evil he was chosen to eliminate.
On this first
leg of Falkier’s journey, he becomes a mercenary, learns a sword style
which allows him to fight without sight, and faces off against a man
with the power to weave the fabric of the universe.
The men woke early the next morning. Swagin had drunken himself stupider the night before, so Falkier and Jofalk had needed to haul the Dhorn into a room above the tavern. They doubted that he would notice they had paid their bill from his pocket with an additional small fee for themselves. The burly man’s face showed the wearying effects of the previous night as he and Jofalk saddled their mounts in the light of early dawn. Falkier would have offered to help out except that he had no idea how to prepare an Aoun for travel, and the tavern owner’s young son was helping Jofalk with his bay.
Watching the men get ready to leave, Falkier pondered over all that had happened in the last two days. He’d been rescued from prison by a mysterious man, became an accomplice to the deaths of six men, been saved from being captured or freezing to death in the woods twice, joined a band of mercenaries, and received a sword from his dreams. The sword was slung over his shoulder, a weight that was becoming more familiar than when he had woken with it the previous morning. He was still unsure how it had gotten there. If his dream was to be trusted, it was a sword given to him by the Ancients, but for what purpose? And why had they picked him? Though his imprisonment had been unjust, he was still an escaped prisoner and far from the most moral person in the world to deserve such an honor.
The cloth wrapped around his hand was stained with blood. The X-shaped wound had started to scab over, but he kept the cloth on it in case it opened again. He had been perturbed when he discovered that it had been ultimately unnecessary and would mean nothing if he was rejected by The Archer, but Swagin had been adamant that Falkier would be accepted since he needed to repay a debt. Jofalk had asserted that, as Archer’s protégé, he could convince their leader to accept a new member. The Archer could be very welcoming to people when he wanted to be, and Jofalk knew how to hit his soft spot. Falkier held onto that idea as he mounted Olorn with Swagin.
The Bronze Bulls mercenary guild was located in an abandoned stronghold a day’s ride northeast, so they hoped to get there by nightfall to allow The Archer to evaluate him. According to Jofalk, Archer had started the Bronze Bulls not long after Falkier had been imprisoned following a botched assassination attempt. After narrowly escaping with his life, Archer’s reputation as the perfect assassin was marred and nobody would hire him. He had been training Jofalk for years and decided to expand his horizons by bringing together a group of young non-nobles who had shown the potential to be great warriors. Swagin had been the first recruit and had been initially paired with Jofalk to help him acclimate to the mercenary life. Upon seeing how well they complemented each other, they were permanently made a team, and The Archer modeled his following choices after them. Since then, the Bulls had slowly grown to a point where it could compete with other mercenary guilds.
The Bulls competitive edge stemmed from their ability to be customized to the task at hand. Whereas most mercenaries were simply strong-arming fighters, every member of the Bulls had a skill that they specialized in, like spying or robbery. Jofalk’s specialty was assassination at range while Swagin’s skill was unarmed combat. As a unit, they could handle most combat situations, which is why they were given their escort mission. The two were also sent on missions where the employer seemed unlikely to pay, as both made more than adequate debt collectors.
Swagin had revealed, while deep into his drink the previous night, the real reason they had not escorted their employer back was that he’d failed to pay, so Swagin beat him bloody, took the gauntlets, and left him in the woods. Falkier had been taken aback by that revelation but didn’t find it unexpected considering their line of work. Their sharing of this information had actually made him more comfortable trusting them.
As they reached the crest of the hill out of the valley, Swagin turned his head to Falkier. “Prepar’ fur a hasslin’. We got sum king’s boys comin’ dis way.” Three men were riding towards them. Falkier could pick out black tunics bearing a silver crescent moon, the royal sigil of Grent Corine. Surely they were looking for the escaped prisoner. He pulled his shirt up to cover his nose and shrank down behind Swagin. Maybe they wouldn’t notice him and they wouldn’t bother stopping the mercenaries. If only he could be that lucky. The rider in front, a thin man with a groomed dark brown mustache, raised his hand to halt them.
“Good morning, men.” The man’s comrades, one with hair black as coal and the other a shaved head, fanned out to his sides, further blocking the road. Falkier could see each had a sword hanging from his hip.
“Marnin’.” Swagin nodded his head to the man. “We dun’ want any troubil. Jus’ travla’s minin’ ar businuss.”
“A man escaped from the prison west of here a few days ago. We are searching for him so that he may be captured and brought to justice.” Falkier could feel the men’s eyes staring at him. They know. They’ve got to know it’s me.
“Dun know anathin’ ‘bout anathin’. Jus’ headin’ home afta’ visitin’ a friend o’ ars in Tise Dews.”
“There is a reward for anyone who has any information about the man or his whereabouts,” the blackhaired man added. “Three bronze spades for information, six iron marks for turning him in.”
“Six iron marks?” Jofalk cocked his eyebrow. “The price an escaped prisoner is usually only a few spades. What did this man do to deserve such a reward?” Falkier was hoping that this reward wouldn’t sway the mercenaries to turn him in. His heart in his throat, he tried to shrink himself even farther, trying to avoid the rider’s attention.
“The man’s crime was sedition, but during his escape, he killed six guards,” the mustached rider answered. “This is a dangerous man we’re dealing with.”
“Pris’ner showed up yer guards? Boy, does that make m’feel like m’taxes er spent well.”
“Your taxes?” The mustached man’s voice carried restrained anger. “Neither of you sound like you’re Corinian. If I had to guess, I’d say Dhorn and Sadetian.”
“Thas right. Ah was born in th’ mowntuns o’ Dhor Isten, but me ‘n Jofalk work ‘ere in Grent Corine.” Swagin reached into a pocket in his vest. “’Ere’s m’ papers t’prove it.” He handed a folded piece of paper to the man. Jofalk did the same.
The riders paused to look at them, nodded, and handed it back. Falkier couldn’t help but think that it would have taken far longer for them to have read foreign workman’s permits. Though the five countries of the continent held an alliance, you had to get the permission of a foreign government to work outside of your native country. Falkier had crossed paths with those documents as a scribe for Lord Siphem, and he knew they were very wordy. Either the riders did not care that Jofalk and Swagin had permits, or they were unable to read.
“Now, as ah said, we know nuthin’ ‘bout nuthin. If we see yer boy, wull b’ sher t’let ya’ know.” Swagin kicked Olorn to continue on, but the riders continued to block the way. “Hold on a second. What’s the deal with your friend here?” The mustached man gestured towards Falkier. Falkier raised his head to look at them. If they hadn’t arrested him yet, they probably didn’t have a description of him. “Why have you been so quiet?”
“I figured that Swagin and Jofalk were more than capable of giving you men all the information you required. As you can likely tell from my accent, I am Corinian, and so I don’t have any work or travel papers to display.” Falkier managed to keep his voice confident and calm, despite the pounding of his heart.
The mustached rider nodded. “You are right. As a Corinian, you don’t need to show us foreign work or travel forms.” The two men at his side drew their swords in unison. “However, as of three years ago, Corinians are required to carry identification with them at all times to be presented immediately to any law official. You wouldn’t know that, though, since you’ve been in prison until yesterday.” He gestured to his men. “Seize him!”
Falkier found himself rolling off the back of Olorn as Swagin leaped from his seat, bellowing, “No king’s boys er gun’ take m’ blood brotha’ Falkeer while Ah’m livin’!” He threw himself at the shaved man, completely ignorant of the piece of iron the man brandished. Falkier got to his feet in time to watch as Swagin knocked the sword away with his forearm and slammed his other fist into the man’s face. Olorn’s heads hissed as they snapped at the black haired man with long, razor-sharp fangs. Jofalk directed his horse away from the commotion, nocking an arrow to his bow. The mustached man dismounted and drew his sword, ducking an arrow in the process. He dived away from the rampaging Dhorn and Aoun, locking his eye on his prey, Falkier.
Falkier pulled the sword from its scabbard, the weight foreign to his hand. If it really was a sword meant for him as the dream said, shouldn’t it be more comfortable to hold? The knuckle-bow on the thumb side of the hilt seemed out of place and close to unnecessary. Why make them bladed to begin with? The only time a bladed knuckle-bow would make sense is if you were hitting someone with it, and isn’t the point of a sword to keep a little more distance from your opponent?
Falkier would have other times to question how functional his Ancient-given weapon was for him, as the mustached man swung his sword at Falkier’s feet, causing him to step back out of the way, barely blocking the follow-up swing. He swung at the man, who easily parried and struck at Falkier’s leg. Clearly, he’d been trained in swordsmanship.
Falkier winced as the blade sliced across his thigh, blood soaking the leg of his trousers. He struck back, stabbing at the man’s stomach. The mustached man moved the blade out of the way with a flick of the wrist and smacked Falkier’s wrist with the flat of his blade. Falkier’s grip faltered for a second, but he recovered enough to pull his sword back in front of him. All the while, the mustached man watched him, smirking. Was he playing with Falkier? The man blocked Falkier’s next couple swings with ease, retaliating with a few nicks on Falkier’s arms and legs. This is pointless. He could kill me without breaking a sweat. He must need to take me in alive, so he’s just letting me wear myself out.
Falkier looked at the longsword in his hands, a supposed gift from heaven he was destined to wield. He was no great warrior, how could he ever do anything with this piece of metal. He couldn’t even find a comfortable way to hold it.
Touch the black gem in the pommel and say ‘Vatinp, yqab’, a voice growled in his head. It was the voice from the woods before he blacked out.
Falkier obeyed, putting the fingers of his right hand on the pommel. Despite the freezing air around it, the gem felt slightly warm. “Vah-tinp, ee-cob?” Falkier said, the words feeling odd in his mouth. Whatever was supposed to happen, didn’t.
No! ‘Vatinp yqab!’ Say it with more confidence!
Falkier took a breath and focused. “Vatinp, yqab!”
Warmth flooded through Falkier’s body, and his wounds stopped bleeding. He watched in amazement as the sword transformed in his hand. The leather of the hilt took on a scaled appearance. The blade broadened into that of a falchion, the end becoming rounder and the top edge becoming blunted. The thumbside knuckle-bow disappeared, while a hook grew downward from the hilt over the blunt edge. The hook bore a jagged edge that gave it an appearance resembling the jaw of some sort of carnivorous beast when paired with a matching adornment that extended along the bladed edge. Falkier’s eyes and mouth felt strange, almost like they were also going through some sort of transformation.
The mustached man’s eyes widened in terror. “Are you some sort of demon?” His stance quickly became more aggressive as he began striking at Falkier.
The newly-transformed sword felt easier to handle, and Falkier was able to protect himself, catching the man’s blade across the blunt edge. After a few more swings, Falkier managed to hook the man’s blade. He twisted his wrist and wrenched the sword out of the man’s hands. The sword clattered to the ground, and Falkier rushed him, punching the knuckle-bow that still remained on the bladed side of his sword into the man’s throat. The man wheezed as he collapsed to the ground. Falkier put the point of his sword to the man’s throat.
“So this is how you managed to kill six men on your own,” the man croaked. “Demon magic.”
“I was not alo-“
The man spat at Falkier. “Kill me, you worthless cheat. I would rather die than listen to you try to corrupt my ears with your lies.”
Falkier drew the sword back to deliver the final blow and stopped. He’d never killed anyone before. Swagin and Jofalk had already finished the other two men off and were rummaging through their possessions. He looked into the man’s eyes, defiant and prepared for what was to come. The sword descended, opening the man’s throat. Watching the man’s body collapse in a pool of blood, Falkier ran his tongue across his teeth and was surprised to find all of them sharp and pointed. He raised his sword and looked at himself in the blade’s reflection. His eyes were the color of polished brass with slits for pupils. Smiling confirmed that his teeth had all grown to sharp points. I really do look like a demon.
Not a demon, the voice growled, a dragon. Touch the black gem again before your comrades can see.
Falkier obeyed, and the warmth rushed out of his muscles. The sword remained a falchion, but the leather hilt lost its scaliness and the hook lost its jagged edge. Falkier looked at his reflection on the blade again and was relieved to see that his eyes and teeth had returned to normal as well. What is going on? What happened? Who are you? There came no response.
“Gud wark, Falkeer.” As Swagin approached, Falkier could see that his hands were bloodied and his handwraps hung tattered from his wrists. “Strip ‘em o’ his valubuls quickly so w’can git goin’ ‘gain. Gotta be quick if’n we wan’ t’be home by night.”
Falkier sheathed the sword and kneeled down to the man, careful to avoid the blood pooling around the body. Falkier dutifully searched the man’s pockets and found a purse full of tarnished bronze coins bearing the image of a shovel. Spades were the second least valuable coin after the copper penny, so the purse wasn’t an amazing find. Falkier also stripped the man of his swordbelt and a chainmail byrnie he’d worn under his tunic. Falkier strapped on the swordbelt, replacing the man’s scabbard with his own, and put the byrnie on underneath his two layers of borrowed clothing, leaving the prison shirt underneath. He stood to see Swagin sitting on Olorn rewrapping his hands and Jofalk putting an arrow back into his quiver.
As Falkier remounted Olorn, he saw the bodies of the other two men. Falkier’s opponent lucked out getting away with just an opened throat. The man with the shaved head’s face was broken and bloodied, while the other man had his throat ripped out and a hole through the side of his head where an arrow had been ripped out. These three men had only been doing their duty, trying to seize a prisoner, and they paid with their lives.
“Why didn’t you two give me over to them?” Falkier asked his companions. “Surely, you figured out that I was the person they were looking for. You could have made some money from it.”
“We knew you were a prisoner from the moment we met you,” Jofalk replied. “It wasn’t our job to hunt you down, and you clearly needed help.”
“Yah, you was ah pitiful thin’, you was,” Swagin added. “An’ now tha’ yer one o’ us, der ain’t no price we’d take fer ya’.”
“Then all I can do is thank you.” All the worrying that Falkier’d done had been for nothing. They’d known all along that he was a wanted man, so he’d had nothing to worry about by trusting them. It would have been nice if they had given him a sign they were on to him sooner, though, but that’s the past now. He touched the cut on his hand they’d given him. “Maybe I’ll stay with the Bulls even after I manage to save your lives.”
The three men turned their backs to the bloody scene and continued riding down the road. The sun had not yet reached its peak, but they still had a way to go. Falkier couldn’t help but think to himself that his future laid ahead somewhere down that road. He looked at the Dhorn and the Sadetian he rode with. If they were any indication of what his future as a mercenary was going to be like, the future was bright as the sun in the sky above them.
Nicole Janicek already
has stared down a high school shooter, a cult of criminal
ex-Scientologists and six months of frigid darkness at South Pole
Station in her young life, but now she risks it all attempting to ride a
rocket to Mars in 2022. After the Red One mission quickly aborts in the
skies over the North Sea, Nikki gets a surprise phone call from Elon
Musk, CEO of SpaceX. What follows is a euphoric, historic, tragic and
heroic mission to establish Mars Colony A, dubbed by some in the media
as “Mars Colony Agatha” when misfortune strikes. While doubters predict
the perilous mission will morph into “And Then There Were None” by
Agatha Christie, Nikki and her crew are determined to write their own
story. Through it all, Nikki is surprised to learn how strong her
connection to those she loved on Earth remains despite the chasm of time
— EXCERPT —
CHAPTER 4 THE LINK
September 11, 2022 — Launch-Minus-11 Day
Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Cruising stealthily in a black Musk-designed Tesla sedan from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base toward nearby Kennedy Space Center, Nikki stared out the tinted window at the Atlantic Ocean and recalled her last disastrous visit to Florida in August 2019.
It began with her defying The Bridge leadership’s orders in Fort Lauderdale and nearly ended when she was struck by flying debris as Hurricane Felicia raged in Miami Beach.
But she lived.
And now she was back, and free, and here by her own choice.
She was ready to leave Earth on her own terms; saddened by her parents’ objections, but determined to blast her life so far past the ordinary.
Thirty-eight Raptor engines, quietly waiting on iconic Launch Pad 39A, would propel her beyond her imagination and into a cold, beautiful and deadly reality.
Dozens of Space Shuttle liftoffs had cleared that same pad; two missions had ended in explosions, deaths and parental heartbreaks.
But Nikki truly believed she would survive to see Mars up close.
Her extensive training in Antarctica had steeled her spirit for this all-in mission to deep space, and now Musk’s unexpected lifeline after the Red One splashdown only convinced her further that she was destined to actually land there in 2023 at age 26. Wow.
KSC headquarters rose about 10 stories in the foreground with massive American and NASA flags draped down one side. The boxy building was surrounded by sprawling parking lots dotted with palm trees, but Nikki’s eyes initially were drawn to the sleek, futuristic SpaceX sign on an adjacent rectangular building. The left leg of the X in the logo shot up diagonally and arced away, like the trail of rocket smoke.
Beyond all of that, at the edge of the ocean, the stainless steel Super Heavy Starship gleamed as it aimed toward the bright blue sky. From Nikki’s vantage point more than a mile away, it looked like a child’s toy, and in a way it was. Musk had been experimenting with rockets of all sizes since his aloof engineer father literally left Elon to his own devices during a rough South African childhood split from his mother and siblings. In reality, the full SHS stack stood 387 feet, 82 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.
This was beyond freedom.
Where this rocket would take her, there would be nothing but red dirt, ice and murderously thin air. No government. No police. No trees or animals. No streets, with or without names. Just a brand new, very old and very empty world, apathetic to the arrival of six human beings, one of whom remained an 11th-hour, L-minus-11 stranger to the other five.
Nikki scrolled through their names on her phone one more time:
1. Commander Xander Vermilyea. Really? Internal rhyme? Nikki still dabbled in poetry, but that name in the email Elon’s assistant sent her sounded more like a Muskian prank.
2. Pilot Jo Guigere. Not Joe. Not Josephine. But female, Nikki presumed. Awesome.
3. Engineer Ulysses Parker. She wondered if his middle name started with an S. like the old Civil War general and president who now graces $50 bills.
4. Dr. Susan Wilkes. Nikki tried to suppress her brain’s urge to stick with the 1800s theme, add “Booth” to her name and charge her as an accomplice in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
5. Specialist Edward Etergino. “E Squared” immediately came to her mind as a possible nickname.
And what would they think of Specialist Nicole Janicek, the late and unexpected wildcard crew member with the red streaks in her hair?
If I can find a way to get along with the person who shot me for six months at South Pole Station, I’ll find a way to get along with these people, Nikki vowed.
But first, she was scheduled to meet face to face with the visionary who designed the car she was riding in and the spaceship that would drive her to Mars.
Jane Rushmore, blonde and personable, ushered Nikki into an eighth-floor suite where Elon Musk, hipster-techno-casual in a black short-sleeved shirt and jeans, quickly looked up from his phone and grinned. The SHS pierced the blue horizon in the massive window behind him.
Still star struck, Nikki hesitated for half a beat before crossing the surprisingly drab, outdated carpet to shake his hand in the large, rectangular room.
“Welcome, Nikki. How was your flight?” he asked, guiding her toward a pair of recliners. “Come relax. Can I get you anything?”
“Good, no, I’m fine,” she replied as they both sat down across from one another.
“Most people I know try to avoid flying on September 11th out of, you know, extremely warranted superstition, but we’re L-minus-11, so …”
“It was no problem,” Nikki said, struggling to form more than simple sentences in this surreal moment.
“How old were you in 2001?” he asked, still grinning.
“Four,” she said, finally allowing herself to exhale.
He nodded as if he already knew that. “Back then I was one year away from launching SpaceX in a California office about the size of this room and look how far we’ve come. I’m still renting space … this time from NASA.”
“But now you’ve got a rocket on that launch pad right there ready to take six people to Mars,” Nikki pointed out while gesturing toward the window.
“Can you believe you’re one of them?”
“No … this all seems like a dream.”
“I’m glad you said dream and not a nightmare.”
“Oh, I’m scared,” she admitted.
“So am I. Perfectly normal. This is gonna be big … truly the start of something monumental in human history. Deep space travel and establishing a human base on Mars.”
“What do you see as my role in this mission … other than trying not to die?” Nikki asked, smiling as she realized she just echoed Thomas’ parting words to her.
Elon fed off her smile and practically bounced in his chair as he talked, with his hands in constant motion.
“I really see you as the link, the communications link between Starship and Earth on the burn to Mars, and then between Colony A and Earth from Sol 1 on,” Musk said, referring in space jargon to the crew’s first day on the Red Planet. “You’re considerably younger, more charismatic and less of a technical person than the rest of the crew, so I really see you as the person to help tell the story of this mission, human to human.”
“Wow,” Nikki beamed.
“It’s an important role … getting on camera, wearing GoPros, shooting videos and sending video emails — v-mails — to interact with especially young people and children in classrooms on Earth,” he continued. “Think of yourself as the first travel guide on Mars, encouraging the next generation to want to help set up a city there some day. Because this mission will be far more effective and inspiring if we maintain that human connection with Earth every mile and every step of the way.”
“What can I say? I’m humbled and amazed to do that,” Nikki said.
“Fantastic. Now when I say interact, as you know, there’s about a 20-minute delay in communications between Mars and Earth, so the videos will be more like a one-way video letter, if you will, and then you’ll receive the reply from Earth.”
“The less glamorous role for you would be to get extremely involved in keeping the common areas and cabins clean aboard ship and in the Martian hab environment …”
“Housekeeping?” Nikki asked with a smirk.
“Your word, not mine,” he replied with a laugh. “But essential either way.”
She nodded, biting her tongue and smiling. “Anything else?”
“Oh, there’ll be many other tasks, I’m sure, but one very real thing to keep in mind is you are the most expendable crew member. I know. I’m shamelessly blunt. But that’s a fact.”
Nikki picked up her jaw, tilted her head and understood.
“I know. I totally get that.”
“It just means that when there are dangerous situations or choices or truck runs to be made, you should be the first to raise your hand.”
Nikki’s eyes met Elon’s and didn’t blink.
“I will do that.”
“Good. Even if any of the other five tries to be the hero and insist, you remind them what I’ve told you here today. This mission is all about sacrifice. It has no chance of succeeding without it.”
“I’m so ready,” Nikki told herself and the leader of SpaceX. “You have no idea how awful it felt to come crashing down and lose that opportunity.”
“On the contrary, I know exactly how it feels. I’ve seen my share of exploding rockets. And that’s why I reached out to you … someone who would appreciate this second chance like no one else.”
Nikki took a deep breath and grinned. “I do appreciate it and I thank you for tracking me down. I’m truly blown away by all of this.”
“You’re welcome,” Elon said, standing up and offering her a hug. “And officially, welcome to the mission.”
Nikki accepted his embrace and smiled.
“Thank you. What’s next?” she asked.
“Dinner with your commander and crew. You better enjoy real Earth food while you can get it. And after that, I have a little surprise movie for all of you. It should be an inspirational and bonding experience.”
Jay McLean is an international best-selling author and full-time reader, writer of New Adult and Young Adult romance, and skilled procrastinator. When she’s not doing any of those things, she can be found running after her three little boys, investing way too much time on True Crime Documentaries and binge-watching reality TV.
She writes what she loves to read, which are books that can make her laugh, make her hurt and make her feel.
Jay lives in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, in her dream home where music is loud and laughter is louder.
For publishing rights (Foreign & Domestic) Film or television, please contact her agent Erica Spellman-Silverman, at Trident Media Group.
Exile, Betrayal & Vengeance
Jayson lives among the shadows of Hestoria, his sole purpose for staying alive – to protect his half of the Seer’s crystal. Exiled from his homeland for loving the king’s daughter, Ivanore, Jayson is now pursued by two opposing factions: the Vatéz (League of Magicians) who intend to use the crystal for their own selfish gain, and the Guilde, the ancient guardians of the crystal.
Meanwhile, Ivanore flees from her father to Hestoria in search of Jayson. As the Seer, she is plagued with visions of him being tortured and is determined to rescue him. When the Vatéz capture her, however, she unwittingly jeopardizes everything Jayson has vowed to protect. He must now make a terrible choice: Should he save Ivanore or save the crystal?
Hidden, Defiant, & Fallen
Ivanore the Seer lives under lock and key in the castle of Auseret, a reluctant captor of her brother, Arik, now the Minister of Hestoria. Unwilling to use her powers to assist him in locating the crystal or the missing Guardians, Arik schemes to trick her into leading him right to the enemy’s lair.Meanwhile, the Guardians live peaceably with Jayson on a sprawling farm outside of the Vatéz’s realm.
But Jayson is not the man he once was. Broken and beaten down by years of separation from his beloved Ivanore, Jayson must find the will to keep the Guardians safe in an increasingly violent land. When the unthinkable happens, both Ivanore and Jayson battle their own demons to protect the crystal from falling into Arik’s hands—and to keep all of Hestoria safe from the Vatéz.
Laurisa White Reyes wears many hats these days: Editor-in-Chief of Middle Shelf Magazine, published author, professional editor, educator, and homeschool mom to five kids. She has a Master’s Degree in English and is the founder of Skyrocket Press.
Ashael is a hunter-gatherer woman, apprenticed to Bhearra, the healer and spiritual leader of their
The Zanthar are invaders from another world who extend their own lives by stealing the life-force of everything around them. They were last seen on KalaDene 200 years ago. They have returned, looking for The Vessel, a being prophesied to hold the life-force of the land.
Iwan is a slave to the Zanthar, descendant of those taken as slaves the last time the Zanthar visited this world. He is sent out as a spy, while his mother is held hostage to ensure his compliance.
When Ashael meets Iwan in the forest, neither realise that she is the one the Zanthar are looking for. The fate of KalaDene and all of its people rests on her shoulders.
Bio – Shona Kinsella is the author of Ashael Rising,
(Unbound, 2017) the first in her series, The Vessel of KalaDene. She is also
one of the editors of the British Fantasy Society’s fiction publication,
Horizons.When she is not writing or
wrangling her three children, she can usually be found with her nose in a book.