Guest Post: Excerpt of ‘Killer Coffee Beans’ by Shaun Young

Author Shaun Young shares an excerpt of his soon to be released book ‘Killer Coffee Beans’

Via Shaun Young’s Twiiter

Guatemala Countryside – 6:09 P.M. (7:09 P.M. Kansas City)

Sabi followed Vane through the front door of the house, out to the porch. She placed herself in the rocker then watched him. Vane cradled the gun in her lap then crossed her hands over it as though she was trying to hide it. Sabi leaned against the post next to the steps facing her.

“Go ahead. Who is Sabi and why does he need to hide at my house?” She asked while lazily rocking in the chair.

“Okay. I’m not sure where to start.”

“Why don’t you start by telling me why a guy that drifts in and out of British accent. Sometimes sounding European and sometimes sounding American is in Guatemala? And why that guy is lugging around all this computer equipment?”

“If I answer questions for you will you answer questions for me too?”

“We’ll see. Get started,” she said as a light breeze blew her hair moving it gently.

“Okay. I was staying at a resort on the coast.”

“I knew that.”

Sabi shot her a look, telling her not to interrupt him with his eyes before he continued. “I’d only been there a few days. Before that, I was in Bolivia, before that, Sierra Leone and before that, Togo.”

“Togo? You’re making that up.”

“No, it’s a real country. Look it up. It’s in Africa on the west coast, very small. Nice on the coast, but when you get inland a little, there’s not much and it’s a lot warmer. Anyway, you are starting to get the picture. I’m always moving. I’ve been home three times in the last two years. I go from one hotel to the next.”

“Why?” She asked. She had stopped rocking and scooted forward in the rocker.

He held up a finger, “I’m trying to explain. I’ve never told anyone this story. I have one friend that knows parts of what I do and other than that, it’s my boss and Momma.” Sabi stopped talking, moving from the post he was leaning against to the opposite side of the steps. He sat down leaning back against the other post. “I was educated in England then went to university in America. America is where I received my degree in international finance. My dad was a big wig in the Ministry of Finance at home.”

“Where’s home?”

“Oh. Turkmenistan. So I get home, dad gets me a good job at the biggest bank in our country. In less than two years, dad is convicted by the government for a bunch of crap. Basically dad was on the take. The trial is like the first one ever in our country to be televised. Within a week of his conviction, I’m fired.”

“I guess I can understand that, but it doesn’t seem right.”

“I knew it was coming. There was a lot of talk at work during the televised trial. Not much I could do about it. So I’m out of work. The government took everything from my Momma and dad. Momma moves in with me and I’m now the man of the house with no way to support her. Two weeks later, I’m down to next to nothing in money. A guy shows up in front of me on the street, asking if I want a job in international banking. “Sure,” I say. He tells me to be in front of my building the next morning at nine and someone will pick me up. I’m out there a little early, waiting and right on time, this limo pulls up in front of me and this man tells me to get in. I get in, there’s another guy in there. I’m thinking he’s interviewing too when the first guy hands me a hood and tells me to put it over my head.”

“You get into a limo and they want you to put a hood over your head?” She says not really asking a question.

Sabi nodded his head. “Yeah. So, I have to wear this hood the whole time. And it wasn’t really an interview. Basically, the guy tells me that he was friends,” Sabi used his hands to make air quotes as he says friends, “With my dad. He says he will give me a job and he’ll make things easier on my dad. He says Momma will be taken care of. And he will even make sure my two brothers are able to stay in school, one in England, one in America. I have to do what he says.”

“Shit. I thought I got dealt a bad hand. Go ahead.”

“So it turns out, this guy is a big-time opium smuggler. He needs to be able to launder his money now that the government threw all his contacts in jail. I spent about three months, traveling all over the world to conferences. I learned how to catch money launderers. Then I came up with a system to use, to beat their system of catching people like me. One of the things involves me moving all the time. Hence, I’m in your country.”

“Okay, that explains why you’re in Guatemala, but not why you’re at my house.”

“You don’t think I’m a bad person after hearing that, do you? I did what I could to help my mom, dad and brothers. I never planned to be involved in something like this.”

“No, I don’t think you’re bad. You’re not doing good things, but…” Vane shrugged her shoulders.

“I know. Sometimes I’m not happy with myself. I don’t like what I’m doing now, but I don’t know another way out. Momma. My brothers and dad. I didn’t want to steal the money, but I don’t know any other way to get out and save my family.” Sabi hung his head down between his knees.

He started sobbing quietly and turned away from her. Vane moved from the chair and knelt behind, him placing her hand on his back. She rubbed his back in a circular motion, “Sabi, you’re not a bad person.”

“You don’t understand.” He said between sobs, his shoulders heaving up and down. “I haven’t had anyone to talk to in so long. Always being careful what I say. Looking over my shoulder. This is the first time I’ve been able to let my guard down with anyone in-” He trailed off, trying to remember the last time he openly talked to someone.

“You want to take a break for a little bit? I could tell you my hard luck story if you’re interested…

This is an excerpt of ‘Killer Coffee Beans’ by Shaun Young which will be released on August 1st. You can find more information via Shaun’s Twitter.

Guest Post: Review of ‘Gangsters, Geezers and Mods’ a novel by Stephen Pennell

Introducing author Stephen Pennell who shares a review of his novel ‘Gangsters, Geezers and Mods’.

Book review by Richard Whitehead, formerly of The Times.

I first came across Stephen Pennell’s writing years ago in the Aston Villa fanzine Heroes and Villains and admired his work then – now he has truly delivered on that potential. Gangsters, Geezers and Mods is a slice of tough working-class Brummie life rooted in a love of the Villa, but also with a devotion to Mod culture and a great deal of crime – some shockingly violent and murderous, some reminiscent of Dickens’ Artful Dodger. It is a gritty account of friendship, love, betrayal and revenge, but among those sweeping themes there is an attention to minute detail that engages and absorbs the reader. Starting with a touching tribute to his parents, the protagonist tells the story of his life and loves with wit and honesty, dwelling on his various obsessions with a tinge of nostalgia that will resonate with many. As the narrative evolves into a pacy and suspenseful crime thriller, relationships between the characters are explained in such a way that the consequences seem perfectly natural – inevitable even – and unlikely alliances make just as much sense. In a moral vacuum of inner-city depravity, one fable battles against the odds to triumph – true friendship will overcome football rivalry and racial differences and transcend them all. This book is a remarkable alliance of fiction and memoir, done so skillfully that you are left wondering exactly what is true and what isn’t. Having checked with Steve, I have discovered that much of it is true – he’s certainly had a livelier life than me!


Gangsters, Geezers and Mods is highly recommended for lovers of the second city, the Villa, Paul Weller – and anyone who just likes a really well-written book. The best thing to come out of Birmingham since Jack Grealish.

You can find more information about ‘Gangsters, Geezers and Mods’ here

The Bag -An Excerpt

Hello Friends, today I am sharing a pair of flash fiction excerpts from a fellow blogger and author. Enjoy…

cch217

Hello all you lovely readers and writers. I have two flash fiction, short story collections and I’m getting ready to pull together a third…because ‘hat trick’. (Which may make a good title: notes for later.) The following is an excerpt from a short story found in Down The Rabbit Hole: Another Experiment in Flash Fiction. My first collection is Haunted Hydrangeas: An Experiment in Flash Fiction containing twenty-four selected works ranging from a quick 200 word flash fiction piece, to an elaborate 3074 word short story. With out further interruption here is the beginning of TheBag: Enjoy -Megan

The Bag

The Trail

The trail had gone cold. That was the frustration which James Newton was feeling. He saw the target disappear into the woods but the trail went cold as soon as they hit the rocky cliff. If he had been more steadfast into making the…

View original post 2,455 more words

The Tweet Machine Basics for Authors and Bloggers

The world of social media is the glue that holds all of my authoring and blogging efforts together. In particular, Twitter is a weird and wonderful vessel that sails the seas of social media and can be used as a valuable tool in both marketing and finding your own crowd. Everything I’ve learned from the Tweet machine can both be applied to all writers and bloggers who make up the wider writing community.

To begin with, my advice for any prospective writer or blogger is to get yourself a Twitter account. The potential reach you can achieve doesn’t compare to anywhere else, so if you aren’t on Twitter you will most probably struggle to reach potential readers.

You’re going to need a handle (username). This can be creative or simple. Both work fine and yet again another important attribute outside of the trio looms.

To give yourself the best possible chance at Twitter success you need to be honest, friendly and decent. Why, you say? Because that’s how I got several thousand followers in just a few years, so you need:

A real profile picture of yourself;

A friendly bio that describes who you are, what you do. The more inviting, fun and friendly the better;

A pinned Tweet – a tweet you can put at the top of your profile that relays what you currently have available/currently writing, what’s coming soon or even a link to your book or blog;

To engage with others by commenting, offering help and advice, being friendly, supportive and decent;

To be honest. Trust me most twitter types are drawn it.

This also includes a following strategy that consists of:

Following those who follow you;

Unfollowing those who no longer follow you;

Following those who interest you.

Now you might be asking what exactly do I tweet about? My mantra is to tweet about anything as long as it informs, inspires, entertains or provides some level of value – this will normally lead to some engagement but if not it’s probably due to lack of visibility because of a low follower count. I will typically add at least one hashtag to that tweet also.

Popular hashtags for authors and bloggers include: #author #writer #blogger #writingcommunity #amwriting #amreading.

Twitter is a wonderful arena full of folks just like you, and together the voice of authors and bloggers is louder trust me.

For absolute beginners it might feel like nobody is listening or seeing your posts. This is only reflective of your current following. At the very beginning tweet less and spend more time commenting on the tweets of others. Explore hashtags and search for folks who you have a common interest with.

Twitter takes some time and effort to work out and has a very specific psychology to master. As long as you are approachable and lightly social, you’ll be okay but remember, it takes time and above all, good conversation between you and others. Before you experience any type of external success (book sales/blog views) your audience will need to feel like they can trust you. This can only be achieved long term and through genuine interactions. I call this the ‘Algorithm of Trust’.

This post is an exclusive excerpt of self help book ‘Consistent Creative Content: A Guide to Authoring and Blogging in the Social Media Age’ which is available now.

Guest Post: Excerpt of ‘Ironside & Aegis: Origins’ by David E. Bruno

Introducing author David E. Bruno who shares an exclusive excerpt of superhero book ‘Ironside & Aegis: Origins’.

Rocco and Orro laughed on the other side of the room, ready to finish off Aegis as they had Ironside.
But Ironside was not dead—not yet. He slowly opened his eyes and turned his head toward Aegis as she held his shoulders up from the floor. He whispered, “Find Rick and Phil and protect them. Shield them. Go… now.”
“I’m not leaving you. I’m not leaving you. We win or die together, remember?” Aegis cried.
He inhaled shallowly, barely able to speak. His organs bulged from the opening in his gut. “Save yourself. Save them. I’m done… overloaded… exploding… dying. Go!” Ironside’s eyes began to glow bright white. Defying his injuries, he slowly came to his feet. Aegis had seen this before and knew he needed space. She limped to the side, away from both Ironside and their foes. But this time was different. He was injured. Ironside’s skin turned blood red, and his hair became pure white and stood on end. His body lifted and hovered inches above the floor. He held out his arms as static energy crackled from his fingertips and jumped to the walls. The gap in his abdomen began to glow again, bright as the sun and sizzling like bacon in a pan.
Aegis’s heart pounded as she witnessed the metamorphosis of her man. He’d become something else—something she’d teased him about before. He’d become a true demigod—and he was losing the battle for his life. Power coursed through his body in seemingly infinite intensity, yet he lacked the power to heal the damage that had been done by Rocco. “No!” Aegis shouted. “You can’t do this alone, Ironside. We can do this together. I love you!” She wailed at the horror show unfolding before her eyes.
Ironside caught a brief glimpse of her. Steam rose from his burning, dying eyes as moisture boiled off of them. In a calm, measured manner, he said in a strange, deep, metallic timbre, “Don’t cry for me, babe. You gave my life meaning. You are my purpose and you saved me. We came here to save the world. Now let me use what’s left of my life to save you.” He paused as he struggled to grab another breath before addressing her one final time. “I thought I told you to run.”
Finally heeding Ironside’s demand, Aegis burst into tears. Still in pain from being ripped from Orro’s shoulders, she sprinted as fast as she could out the door past Rocco and Orro, who became indifferent to her. The brothers stood in awe at the revival of the man they’d thought to be dead. Aegis had been weakened, and they could terminate her later. To finally slay Ironside, they needed to attack as a team.
Ironside glided silently in the air over to Rocco who unleashed the only weapon he had left, his punch. Ironside tilted his head to the side, raised his hand, and grabbed the fist flying toward him. With an ethereal squeeze of a single hand, he crushed Rocco’s armored fist. It was both graceful, and devastating.
“AHHHH! What the hell are you?” screamed Rocco as he hunched over and pulled his mangled hand inward.
Orro screamed, “My brother! You’re gonna die, little man!” Before Orro could move, Ironside flew at lightning speed toward the sword, as if by the force of his will alone. The sword lifted from the floor to his hand like iron to a magnet. He then flung it toward Orro. The sword spun like a boomerang and struck Orro in the leg just below his knee, severing the lower half.
“AHHHH!” Orro shouted as the bottom half of his golden leg separated and fell to the floor. He crashed to the ground and grabbed at his wound, attempting to stop the bleeding. The severed calf twitched and flopped in pool of blood.
“Wanna go for a walk, big guy? Oh, I see. Some other time then,” cracked Ironside in his deep, metallic timbre. “You should’ve been nicer to us.”
Ironside turned back to Rocco and recalled what Max had told him. All of the Agency’s creations had a weakness—areas of unarmored flesh. He needed to find them. Ironside hovered around Rocco in search of the spot as the giant favored his smashed hand. He found it: a small patch of normal-looking skin was visible in the middle of Rocco’s red back.
“Lookie here. Don’t worry… ” Ironside grabbed Rocco’s neck with one hand and thrust the other into Rocco’s back. Rocco let out an agonizing cry as Ironside effortlessly removed his spine and pieces of ribs. “… I got your back, Jack,” Ironside quipped with the bloody body parts in hand.
With his spine extracted, Rocco fell silent and limp as he converted from armor to regular flesh. Blood rained onto the floor as Ironside held up the body with one hand and the spine with the other. With grim satisfaction, Ironside released Rocco, letting his parts fall to the floor. “Invertebrate worm.”
“This isn’t possible!” cried Orro as he sat on the ground and wailed in pain. “You killed him! My only brother!” He paused and took several deep breaths, trying not to bleed out. In a deep, slow tone, he asserted, “It’s my turn now.” Orro trembled as he unleashed the full force of his ocular beams. Ironside shuddered as he was thrown backward, absorbing the energy. His power increased exponentially. Every cell in his body hummed as the energy multiplied. Static sparks crackled from his skin. Ironside’s whole body pulsed as a corona formed around his perimeter. He had become amplified beyond his limits—a reactor on the verge of a meltdown. The crack in Ironside’s abdomen began to widen and grew deeper as he careened wildly around the room.
Orro released the beam and smiled at his achievement with horrible satisfaction as he rested on the floor. Knowing that he had beaten Ironside, he savored the vengeance achieved for the death of his brother. It was only a matter of time until Ironside fell, this time for good.

This is an exclusive excerpt of ‘Ironside & Aegis: Origins’ which is available now.

You can find more information about David E. Bruno over on Twitter

Guest Post: Excerpt of ‘The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse’ by K.R.R. Lockhaven

Introducing author K.R.R. Lockhaven who shares an exclusive excerpt of ‘The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse.’

The sun couldn’t have possibly cared less that its light was scattered into wondrous brushstrokes of oranges and violets across the heavens. It didn’t give a flaming shit if a deep, fiery crimson along the horizon made chests swell at its splendor. Indifferent to the majesty of its radiant brilliance, which spoke of a vast infinity of possibilities, it continued to carelessly produce heat and light through nuclear fusion. It didn’t give a floating fuck whether or not the glory of its rising made anyone come to believe that magic was real, or that life was, in fact, beautiful and worth living.
Harris Reed, unmindful of the sun’s apathy, was thoroughly impressed by the lovely sunrise as he headed to his first day at his new job.
Harris knew for a fact that magic was real.
He was headed to the Site.
The gravel road he had been instructed to take meandered through a still forest and up a gentle incline. He drove his barely running car with a song in his heart and a whistle on his lips, bursting with excitement at the prospect of finally arriving…

This title is available now in audio, ebook and paperback formats and can be found here. You can find K.R.R Lockhaven on the Tweet Machine.

Guest Post: Excerpt of ‘Hunted’ by A.J. Calvin

Introducing author A.J. Calvin who shares an excerpt of urban fantasy novel ‘Hunted’.

“Follow me. The man who wishes to meet you is waiting.”

Now that I know who this man was, and why he wanted so badly to meet with me, I understand why I was able to follow Trey without hesitation. I was drawn to the caller, albeit unconsciously, because of his own ability—the same ability with which I have been graced.

Trey led me past the entrance of Dark City Hall, to an alley that was perhaps a half block away on the same side of the street. We walked to an unmarked metal door that led into one of the buildings from the alley. There was a woman standing outside, dressed in a full length blue patent-leather jacket that contrasted starkly with her fair skin. Her hair was cut short, falling to her prominent cheekbones, and was dyed a garish red-orange. The street light at the end of the alley fell upon her face in such a way that her eyes appeared almost colorless, though I assumed they must be a light blue. Trey introduced the woman as Carmine.

“So, you’re the girl the boss was trying to contact,” she said in a flat, somewhat smirking tone. “I wonder if you can handle it?” She broke into a harsh laugh that elicited a frown from Trey.

Muttering something under his breath, Trey pulled a ring of keys from his jacket pocket and jammed one into the doorknob. He yanked the door open in an angry manner that startled Carmine from her laughter.

“Was it something I said, Trey?” she asked in a mocking tone. “I’m sure Ms. Chandra Grey will be fine once she’s accepted what he is. It’s the acceptance part of it that will be difficult, as you well know.”

I had the distinct feeling that Carmine had very few friends. She was clearly trying to frighten me, although her words only managed to instill an even greater curiosity within me.

“You must go inside alone,” Trey said, ignoring Carmine and holding the door open for me.

I simply nodded, and did as he said. In that moment, I wanted to understand Carmine’s cryptic remarks; I needed to know more about this man that I had agreed to meet, and why she had wondered if I could “handle it”. Curiosity had replaced my initial fear, and as I stepped through the doorway, I felt no anxiety.

The door closed behind me, and I found myself in an office area. There was a wide metal desk, and a few filing cabinets against the wall opposite the door. To my right was a round table with a few folding metal chairs scattered around it. I noticed that two of the chairs had been pulled into the center of the room, which was otherwise bare. The room was windowless, and the only door leading into or out of the room was the one I had just stepped through.

To my left was a man. He stood slightly taller than I did, and was slender. What caught my eyes—and my breath—was his appearance. He looked to be close in age to me, perhaps a year or two older, but his hair was completely white. It was combed neatly to one side.

When I had first stepped into the room, his eyes were closed, and he kept them that way until I had time to study him. When at last he opened them, I couldn’t help but gasp with surprise—they were not human eyes that looked back at my own. His eyes possessed silver irises.

“Do not be alarmed,” he said in a soothing tone. “Now you understand why I must have you come to me. My appearance makes it difficult to walk about the city undetected. No amount of dye will color my hair, and I have tried upon occasion to use contacts to hide my eyes, but to no avail. I cannot draw attention to myself, so when I wish to meet someone, I must arrange it so that they come to me.”

His voice, so calm, had a relaxing effect on me. “Why did you wish to speak with me?” I asked, surprised that my voice remained steady. My insides felt as though they were doing backflips.

He smiled, and gestured to the two chairs in the center of the office. “Let us sit down, for this may take some time,” he replied. “Are you comfortable?” he asked once we were seated facing one another.

“I think so,” I said after a moment. “I’m not sure what is going on. I don’t know why you called me here, or how you know who I am. And I don’t know what you are either.”

He chuckled then. “Yes, I suppose I do have some explaining to do,” he replied. “I called you here because you possess a great talent, one that you undoubtedly don’t know that you have. I happened to notice you a little over a week ago—you were in this area of town, with some friends, going to dinner I presume. I could feel your power then, and I knew I must take this opportunity to teach you how to use it.” He shook his head slightly, wonder spreading across his face. “You can become very great, Chandra Grey…You do not need to live an average life; you can become so much more than ordinary.”

I was unsure of how to respond to this statement. I don’t know if I had ever considered myself completely ordinary; throughout my life I had managed to excel where my friends could not, but I had attributed this to hard work and dedication. To hear something like this from a complete stranger—one who had admitted to following me for over a week—was a bit unsettling, to say the least. When I managed a nod, he continued.

“I watched you go into the church last Sunday,” he admitted. “It was an opportunity I could not pass up. I sent one of my…underlings to copy down your phone number from the guest book, and bade him contact you. That was a mistake, and I apologize for my miscalculation. I understand that he had you quite scared.”

I nodded again. “Yes,” I replied slowly, “If the calls did not stop, I was going to report them to the police. I thought…Well, I thought I had a stalker. You aren’t really a stalker, are you?” Immediately, I regretted my words. You don’t say something like that to someone you’ve just met! I screamed at myself internally, before thinking, A stalker would never admit to it.

I was surprised when he laughed. “I don’t believe I am a stalker in the sense that you mean,” he said. “I do not intend to harm you in any way, and I did not contact you because you happen to have a pretty face. You have an ability that few humans possess. I must know what your decision will be, regarding being trained as a summoner.”

Summoner. This was the first time I had heard of the word, and it sounded strange to me, yet somehow grand and powerful. I was intrigued.

“What’s a—?”

“Summoner?” he asked with another laugh. “I am a summoner, though not a very powerful one. You can become much more than I could ever hope to be—the amount of raw talent you possess is very rare indeed.” He paused a moment, reflecting, before going on. “Are you familiar with demons, Chandra Grey?”

This is an excerpt of urban fantasy book ‘Hunted’ by A.J. Calvin which is out now.

You can find more information about the book here and you can find A.J. Calvin on Twitter.

Guest Post: Excerpt of ‘Heroes Of the Shadow. Blue Scar Indeabinito’ by S.S. Frankowska

Introducing author S.S. Frankowska who shares an excerpt of epic fantasy novel ‘Heroes Of the Shadow. Blue Scar Indeabinito’.

“INDEABINITO WAS A VERY OLD WORLD. It has existed for millions of years. Over the first centuries, new races were born. After all, the kingdom was inhabited by twelve different races, one being the human race. The other eleven races were characterized by abilities which humans were unable to possess. Still, the position of people in this world was extremely privileged. They have been treated as a race that everyone else should watch out for. A race that others have to look after, with no one allowed to hurt them.
At the head of the kingdom were always human queens and kings. They held meetings in which all races took part. The king and queen were always ready to hear the voices of other races, but ultimately it was up to them to make decisions.
There came a moment in the history of this world when the last ruling couple made a mistake. Worrying about the future of their children, putting their good above the good of the kingdom, they mislaid their trust and irreversibly changed the course of Indeabinito history. With their actions, they introduced into this world something that had never been there before. Magic. A force that allowed humans to measure themselves with the abilities of other races.
Of course, at first no one dared to oppose humans. Everyone knew that their firstborn son embraced to seek the power that did not come from this world, but they remained silent. The second son of the royal couple grew into a wonderful man. Nobody doubted that he would be a worthy successor to his parents. Therefore, after the unexpected death of the king and queen, when their ship sunk because of a storm, all races were glad to welcome the nineteen-year-old king. The second son. Nobody knew what was happening to the eldest son of the royal couple. They were worried about his disappearance, but nobody was eager to find him. The whole kingdom celebrated the coronation.”

This is an excerpt of epic fantasy ‘Heroes Of the Shadow. Blue Scar Indeabinito’ (Chapter 16: Victor’s Story) by S.S. Frankowska which is available now.

You can find more information from S.S. Frankowska on Twitter and via the Heroes of the Shadow website.

Guest Post: Excerpt of ‘Wings and Shadows’ by Dominika Pindor

Introducing author Dominika Pindor who shares an excerpt of YA fantasy novel ‘Wings and Shadows’.

“When I turned onto Welling Ave, the crowds began to disperse, and by the time I reached Scott Street, I was alone. At the intersection, I pressed the greasy button on the traffic light pole and leaned against it as I waited for the red circle to turn green.
“I don’t mean to bother you, dear, but could you assist me with these? It’ll only take a moment.”
The voice came from an old woman, who had seemingly appeared out of thin air. She was short, perhaps five feet at most, and stood wearily hunched over her walker. The overflowing bags of groceries she had been referring to were draped over the rails, making the thin pieces of metal strain underneath their weight. I recognized her as Mrs. Riley, my mother’s old college professor. We had met a few times when I was younger, but I doubted she remembered.
“Sure. How can I help?” I couldn’t bring myself to say no. Aside from the large mole on her cheek, she looked just like my grandmother.
“Carry these,” she said, pointing to the three fullest bags, each of which was filled with at least half a dozen cans. I picked them up and she grinned. “Thank you, dear.” The dear came out sounding like deah. Then she coughed, covering her mouth with one papery hand.
“Are you alright ma’am?”
Mrs. Riley chuckled. “Me? Oh no, can’t say I am.”
I raised my eyebrows, expecting her to elaborate. She didn’t. We continued walking, heading towards the assortment of worn-down, brown apartment complexes where I lived. The street was empty, except for a few vehicles parked along the sidewalk—six cars, all different shades of black, and several white trucks.
“Where are we heading?” I finally asked, curious to find out how much longer I would have to carry the bags, which were growing heavier by the minute.
“Over there, dear.” She paused to lift a wrinkled finger and pointed it towards one of the shorter buildings in a nearby alley. “Distance won’t bother you?”
There was a broken wine bottle on the sidewalk, and I had to pause to step over it. “I’m fine, ma’am. No worries.”
“You know,” the woman said, unwilling to lapse into silence, “ you look just like my Lillian.”
“Hm?”
“My granddaughter. She has red hair as well; it’s the most beautiful color, if you ask me.”
“I appreciate the compliment ma’am. I was never too fond of it myself,” I said. That was true. My hair color was one of the only things kids in middle school would laugh about. I recalled the moment—sometime in seventh grade—when I had asked out a boy I liked. His rejection still echoed through my head every time someone brought up my hair color.
We rounded the corner and walked into the alley. It wasn’t a pleasant place. A swarm of flies hovered above one of the dumpsters, which was backed up against the wall a few feet to our left. That explained the nauseous stench.
“Hope you don’t mind the smell,” Mrs. Riley apologized.
I couldn’t reply; the odor was making me dizzy. To my surprise, it seemed to have no effect on her at all. I suppose that’s what happened when you spent your entire life in such a place. The wheels of her walker rattled on the uneven ground, and a single tomato fell out of a grocery bag. I bent down to pick it up, although my own bags were threatening to spill.
“Ma’am, how much longer do we have to walk? These bags are getting awfully heavy.”
She paused for a moment before answering. “We’re almost there,” she told me. I glanced up from the ground and realized we were nearing the short brown building she had pointed out a few minutes before. Of course. I had known our destination all along. The question had been unnecessary. I smiled to myself, hoping to ease the strange feeling that was flaring inside my gut.
There were three doors on this side of the building. The one in the center was the main entrance that likely led to the upper apartments. The others were doors to the ground floor apartments—14 and 15. We stopped at 15. The woman left her walker, climbed up the single step, and began fumbling for the keys. Her hands were visibly trembling.
Arthritis, I thought, remembering one of the lessons Huma’s mother—a doctor—had taught me. The poor woman had arthritis.
“You can put the groceries down, dear. I will take them inside once- oh!” Her keys fell to the asphalt, startling a rat that had begun sneaking in our direction. I picked them up and handed them to her. “Thank you dear. Thank you so much.” She coughed again. “Leave the bags on the ground. I’ll take them inside once I open the door.”
“Got it,” I said and did as she asked. The keys jiggled in the lock, and the door finally swung open.
“Thank you,” the woman said again, a warm smile spreading across her face. “Would you like me to call a taxi cab for you? An Uber, perhaps?”
“No ma’am, I’ll be fine,” I replied, glancing at the bags. Would she be able to carry them in by herself? She would have to unless she was going to call someone to do it for her. I decided not to pry; her business wasn’t mine. I turned around to go…
And then I stopped dead in my tracks.
A large black SUV stood in the center of the road. It was positioned sideways, creating a barrier between the alley and the main road.
More importantly, cutting off my way out.”

This is an excerpt of ‘Wings and Shadows’ by Dominika Pindor which is available now. You can find Dominika on Twitter.

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