This is a novel, The Seer of Serone, by James Priest, telling of tiny magical beings dwelling the world over. They are kirins.
It is a quiet summer’s day in the domain of Yorl and Moger kirins, tree-dwellers in the central part of North America. Speckarin is magician to the Yorls, living on Rogalinon, a towering and majestic oak. His apartment is carved into one of its larger branches, his door opening onto the gathering platform.
But this story opens far from that idyllic setting, at Stonehenge, the hanging stones, the citadel of kirin magic. There Fairmean, a depraved magician, commits an act of pure and unadulterated vengeance, imperiling every kirin on Earth.
How did you first find inspiration for “KIRINS: The Seer Of Serone”?
The Seer of Serone is the sequel to my KIRINS trilogy but I wrote it to be enjoyed as a standalone adventure, too. I made the characters and their world small because as a child I loved and collected miniatures, and I have always loved fantasy and science fiction. I set out to write a fantasy in the classic tradition: epic storyline, an immersive, all-new world, great characters, powerful and mysterious magic, action, plot twists, an immediate threat, romance, and heroism. And the books are suitable for readers 10 to 110. No vampires, zombies, gore, drugs, or post-apocalyptic landscapes. No obscenities or erotica. No superheroes, just heroes.
Why did you decide to have this fantasy series take place on modern day Earth?
Most fantasies are set in a mythical world or in the past or future. I wanted to challenge myself to write a fantasy set in today’s world.
When writing a series with a unique, fictional civilization, how did you create the backstory and details for this world?
To set the series in today’s world, I had to create a backstory that would explain how a rich, unrevealed fantasy world could exist all around us on present-day earth. My writing nook overlooked a serene lake and woodland. I visualized a fantasy civilization that might populate that landscape, living joyfully just beyond the reach of human senses. I imagined that those creatures—kirins—were once friendly with humans. But humans, being human, came to treat kirins cruelly. Kirins dissociated and intentionally concealed themselves from humans using magic that both races once shared but humans have long forgotten. Still, there has been a persistent longing within many kirins to reunite with their old allies, human beings, while ancient memories of kirins persist in every human culture through myths about magical little people—faeries, leprechauns, menehune, and the like.
What inspired you to stay committed to creating this series over the span of many years?
I love writing and creating, and when you love doing something you never want to stop. But most importantly, I wanted to see my stories come to a satisfying ending.
You were working full time when you began this series and describe writing as “a second career”. How did you balance these careers?
I was practicing medicine full-time when I wrote the original trilogy, and it took four years to complete. I wrote early in the morning, at night, on weekends, and on holidays. I was never happier than during those four years when I was writing, having a busy, fulfilling medical practice, and spending time with my family. Someone once asked my wife how many hours a week I wrote. Her answer surprised even me: forty, she said. I never kept track of the time because it never felt like work.
James D. Priest, M.D., majored in English at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. He studied English in the masters program and received a Doctor of Medicine degree at the University of Minnesota. He spent three years in Japan as a physician in the Army of the United States caring for casualties from Vietnam, and four years in orthopedic residency at Stanford University. He practiced orthopedics in Minneapolis for twenty-one years. He has authored or co-authored approximately thirty medical articles, and received the Minnesota Medicine Outstanding Writing Award.
When her elderly patients start dying at home days after minor surgery, anesthesiologist Dr. Kate Downey wants to know why. The surgeon, not so much. “Old people die, that’s what they do,” is his response. When Kate presses, surgeon Charles Ricken places the blame squarely on her shoulders. Kate is currently on probation, and the chief of staff sides with the surgeon, leaving Kate to prove her innocence and save her own career. With her husband in a prolonged coma, it’s all she has left.
Aided by her eccentric Great Aunt Irm, a precocious medical student, and the lawyer son of a victim, Kate launches her own unorthodox investigation of these unexpected deaths. As she comes closer to exposing the culprit’s identity, she faces professional intimidation, threats to her life, a home invasion, and, tragically, the suspicious death of someone close to her. The stakes escalate to the breaking point when Kate, under violent duress, is forced to choose which of her loved ones to save—and which must be sacrificed.
Perfect for fans of Kathy Reichs and Tess Gerritsen
Interview with Tammy Euliano, MD
Author of Fatal Intent
Tammy Euliano, MD, is a practicing anesthesiologist and tenured professor of anesthesiology at the University of Florida. In addition to a prolific list of academic publications, YouTube teaching videos, and numerous teaching awards, she has also written award-winning short fiction. Fatal Intent is her debut novel. Tammy lives in Gainesville, FL, with her husband. For more information, please visit https://teuliano.com and follow the author of Facebook.
I love the premise for Fatal Intent. Did the inspiration for this book take place over a long period?
It did. The idea of managing the end-of-life has fascinated me since way before any kid should think about such things. We had a debate in my 5th grade class about the fate of Karen Ann Quinlan, a young woman in a persistent vegetative state whose parents wanted her ventilator disconnected, while the State of New Jersey disagreed. I don’t recall what side my 10-year-old-self argued, but the question never left me. Medical technology and the ability to keep the body alive has far out-paced our ethical ability to deal with the implications.
In medical school and residency, the question resurfaced repeatedly, while watching families’ extended mourning in the ICU, and anesthetizing patients for innumerable procedures despite little to no hope of a meaningful recovery. Meanwhile, the absurd cost of medical care in the US frequently made the news, especially expenditures in the last few months of life and final hospitalization.
You’ve written award-winning short stories. What was your experience writing a full length novel vs shorter fiction?
I started the novel first, and only moved to short fiction when I realized (1) I needed to work on craft and (2) getting published wasn’t a linear path. I learned that having writing credits might help me find an agent. The jury’s still out on that part, but it definitely taught me to write efficiently. It’s great practice for completing character and plot arcs, all in a single day instead of months (or years).
How long have you been writing fiction?
Do stories about lady bugs and lions written in first grade count? I dabbled a bit, but didn’t really start writing until around 2014 when I resigned my administrative duties at work and purposely made time to write.
What kind of person is the character Dr. Kate Downey?
She is caring, compassionate, loyal, intelligent and skilled, but also plagued by guilt and maybe a little imposter syndrome. She is tenacious but confrontation-averse and much too willing to accept blame, even erroneously assigning it to herself. I think she’d be a great friend to have, but maybe a little slow to warm up.
I love what you’ve done with the story and the dialogue leaps off the page. What is your creative process for creating characters?
Thank you for that. Honestly, the characters seem to just appear in my mind. For the sequel, I’m having a little trouble with one of the new characters who can’t decide whether he or she is a good guy in a tough spot or a bad guy faking it. To figure the character out I’m having them write a diary post about their motivations. When that doesn’t work, I use a massive white board and create a mind map of their life and interactions. It’s one of the funnest parts of writing for me, except when they won’t cooperate, like now!
Dr. Kate Downey has a lot situations going against her. What motivates her to keep going and clear her name?
With her husband on death’s door, her career is all she has. If she isn’t working crazy hours, she has time to think, and wallow. Furthermore, being a physician is all she’s ever wanted to be, if she isn’t a doctor, who is she? And she wants to stay in her current hospital because Greg once worked there. Her colleagues knew him. In a way, he still exists as long as she’s there.
Will this be a stand alone or develop into a series?
It began as a stand alone, but I really liked Kate and her crew and wondered if I could keep writing them. Realistically though, what are the odds an academic anesthesiologist would stumble across more than one murder mystery in her career. But then, there is Murder, She Wrote and Miss Marple and any number of other series with an amateur sleuth, often cozies but I thought it might be possible. When Oceanview bought Fatal Intent, it was a two-book deal, so that sealed it. But in the meantime, the reviews I’m receiving frequently mention a desire to see Kate again, hence the sequel with the uncooperative character.
What’s next for you?
The sequel to Fatal Intent in which Kate Downey, Aunt Irm and Christian face another series of challenging circumstances is due asap. I’m also working on another series. Pre-covid I wrote about a bioengineered virus that destroyed the fertility of humans and other primates. Sort of Children of Men-ish, minus the soul-crushing fate of mankind that PD James described. Anyway, I LOVE the themes, the characters and the challenging topics raised, but have yet to interest an agent or publisher.
By day, Tammy Euliano, MD is a Professor of Anesthesiology and Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Florida where she cares for obstetric patients, teaches medical students and residents, performs research, and invents cool stuff. She’s been honored with numerous teaching awards, more than 100,000 views of her YouTube teaching videos, and was featured in a calendar of women inventors (copies available wherever you buy your out-of-date planners).
By night, she plays games with her family (now remotely), cuddles her dogs, reads, and writes medical thrillers.
Vacations are for exploring our amazing world. She has dragged her family of five to all the major US national parks, Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, the Galapagos, the Mediterranean, Europe and New Zealand. Trips are spent soaking up the history and culture while also experiencing nature, often in extreme fashion.
Someone’s found a body at Pohakuloa, the army’s live-fire training area. Bearing all the marks of ancient ritual sacrifice—the murder is the grisliest of Detective Koa Kane’s career.
The bizarre case draws Koa deep into his own Hawaiian roots. As Koa probes the victim’s past, he must sort through a rich roster of suspects—grave robbers, native activists, thieves, and star gazers. Koa surmounts a host of obstacles as he pursues the murderer—an incompetent local medical examiner, hostility from haoles (Westerners) and sovereignty advocates, and myriad lies.
Did the victim stumble upon a gang of high-tech archaeological thieves? Or did he learn a secret so shocking it cost him his life and put others, too, in mortal danger? Will Hilo’s most respected native detective catch this fiend in time, or will the killer strike again—with even deadlier consequences?
Hawai‘i County Chief Detective Koa Kāne strapped in, and the US Army UH-72A Lakota helicopter lifted off the Hilo tarmac. An anonymous 911 call to the Hawai‘i County Emergency Command Center had reported a corpse at Pōhakuloa, the Army’s remote live-fire training area, or PTA. Sergeant Basa had alerted Koa, and was now sitting next to him as the chopper headed for the Army reservation in the Humu‘ula Saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, two of the five volcanoes that form the Big Island of Hawai‘i.
The chopper turned west and climbed toward the saddle. Koa barely noticed, though. The mad dash to catch the chopper had aggravated the pinched nerve in his neck, and he sat stiffly erect to avoid further jolts of pain.
As they passed over an ambulance heading up the Saddle Road, Sergeant Basa leaned over, shouting above the roar of the engines, “That’s the county physician and the crime scene techs down there. I told them to get their butts up to Pōhakuloa.”
Koa spotted flashing lights in the distance and felt a spark of excitement. A crime scene did that to him. He counted ten vehicles: military police jeeps, EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) vehicles, a tracked ambulance, and a fire truck. As the helicopter approached, Koa saw that the vehicles were spread out along a barely visible jeep trail that meandered east of a sizable cinder cone. Yellow tape marked a path cleared by EOD personnel. Several men stood near an oval pit at the end of the tape.
As the chopper settled between two MP vehicles, a military policeman dressed in camo with a silver first lieutenant’s bar broke away from the cluster near the pit and hurried toward the chopper. Jerry Zeigler’s ferret-like face and crooked nose identified him as the commander of the military police detachment at Pōhakuloa.
“Hello, Jerry.” Koa shook hands with the twenty-five-year-old military police officer. Though they came from different backgrounds, they shared a common bond. Both had grown up dirt poor. The Kāne family had been respected in ancient times, but Koa’s father and grandfather had been virtual slaves at the Hāmākua Sugar Mill. Zeigler had been a South Dakota farm boy. Both had known hardship growing up, and both had been rescued by the US Army—Koa with the Fifth Special Forces Group and Jerry by the military police. They’d worked together a half-dozen times when the Army had pitched in on disaster relief, and bonded while helping folks after a big earthquake hit the west side of the island, wrecking hundreds of homes and schools.
Koa remained smiling even as Jerry’s vigorous handshake sent a blazing streak of pain radiating down his right arm. Without being obvious, he placed both hands behind his neck and arched his back. The pinched nerve was getting worse, just as the doctor had said it would. He dreaded the thought of spinal surgery, but it might be better than the damn pain. He wasn’t supposed to feel this old at forty-three.
Mercifully, the helicopter pilot shut down his twin engines and Koa could make himself heard. “You got a body?” he asked Jerry.
Zeigler nodded. “Stay inside the yellow tape. There are unexploded shells all over the PTA and tons of them around this area.” Zeigler led the policemen between two yellow tapes. “Got Sergeant Basa’s call about eleven thirty this morning, and we put an observer up in a chopper. My man had no trouble spotting the probable site, but it took us awhile to get here. The bomb disposal boys blew a dud on the way in,” he said, wending his way across the uneven ground.
“The 911 caller nailed it. It’s in a lava tube, mutilated and decomposed—a human male, but it’s gonna take a medic to reconstruct much more. Nobody but me has been in there, and I didn’t venture far or touch anything.” Thousands of lava tubes— underground passages where lava once flowed but then drained away—permeated the Big Island, some extending only a few feet while others ran for miles and were wide enough to hide an eighteen-wheeler. Koa, like all Hawaiians, knew his ancestors buried their dead in lava tubes, often in mass graves, but he’d never been to a murder scene inside one of these natural tunnels.
Zeigler was a good cop, and Koa listened as the MP related what he’d seen. “There are some odd boot marks on the ground outside the mouth of the tube. The ground’s been chewed up, recently too. You’re lucky it rained . . . the boot heels left clear impressions. As for the body, it’s been there for days, that’s for sure. I figure someone stumbled on it, got frightened, and fled.”
Keeping his core tight and his shoulders back to minimize the stress on his neck, Koa climbed down into the pit with an electric torch. He examined the disturbed ground and boot marks. The heels had cut deep, leaving sharp impressions, rounded on the back and flat toward the toe with horseshoe-shaped taps on the heels. Cowboy boots for a man on horseback. The man—he guessed it to be a man from the depth of the marks—wore specialty boots, likely handmade and expensive. He wondered if the boot tracks could be traced to a boot maker.
He glanced around the desolate area. Who would be out here? A hunter? Only a fool would hunt in the restricted area with all the unexploded ordnance around. And why would a hunter be down in a pit? He peered at the dark opening. Why would a hunter have ventured into this particular lava tube? Koa saw nothing unusual about it. He searched the ground for anything that might give him answers. Not much. Just the heel marks and disturbed rock.
He directed his beam of light into the lava tube. He didn’t like caves—they held too many unpleasant surprises. Carefully, he picked his way into the darkness. A putrid smell assaulted him instantly. “Oh God,” he exclaimed, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and fastening it across his nose and mouth. Then he saw the body.
Koa stepped closer and stopped short. Even as a veteran of the Special Forces in Somalia and a witness to more than a few murder scenes, he struggled to suppress his nausea. Control. Stay in control. Block emotion. Concentrate. He clenched his teeth until they hurt. His nausea receded.
It was a horrendous crime scene, and Koa sensed that catching the killer would require all of his resources. He’d have to focus his military and police training, his intense powers of observation, and his own criminal experience—as a teenager he’d killed the man who’d tormented and ultimately killed his father and gotten away with it—to find the perverted killer who left this corpse.
In the dozen years since 2003, when he’d left the Army to join the police, Koa had heard about ritual killings, but had never actually seen one. Until now. The naked body lay with its legs toward him, feet slightly separated. The trunk was bloated from putrefaction. The skin had blackened. The genitals had shrunk into the body, but the deceased was unmistakably male. The sight, the smell, and the walls squeezed in upon Koa.
The victim’s arms had been drawn out to the sides. The upper arms were swollen, but below the elbows the flesh had shriveled. Bones protruded from shredded hands and smashed fingers. Slash marks cut wide ribbons across the distended chest. The incisions must have been deep, he judged, for the swelling to open up the flesh in those straight, wide tracks. A sharp knife or, perhaps, a straight razor. Something with a real edge. It wasn’t easy to slice human flesh. The killer had been strong. Koa looked around for a knife but saw none.
The face had blackened to pulp, much of it bludgeoned beyond recognition. The lower facial bones had been shattered. Nose broken. Jaw smashed. Most of the teeth knocked out. The killer must have directed numerous blows at the victim’s mouth. Dental identification would be difficult, maybe impossible.
An empty socket leered at Koa from the left side of the dead man’s face. A gaping blackened hole surrounded by withered flesh. The hole on the left side of the skull seemed to fix upon him. Koa’s own eye, his left eye, began to hurt. He shook his head to dislodge the false pain. Mutilated hands, battered faces—he’d seen those before, but desecration of an eye was something new. The killer must have gouged out the eyeball.
But why? Why pluck out the left eye? Some savage had derived great pleasure from acting out this rite. That was Koa’s job, to stop people from acting like ancient savages.
Koa swung the light back and forth, searching for any other evidence. Trying to absorb every aspect of the scene. To miss nothing. To avoid being misled by false clues. No clothes. No shoes. Where were the victim’s clothes? The killer must have taken them.
Farther back in the cave his light revealed piles of small rock fragments. A blackened spot. Remnants of charcoal. A fire ring. A long-doused fire. It looked as though it had been there for ages.
The light fell on a peculiarly shaped dark gray or black rock next to the victim’s left leg. It was rectangular at one end, angled in the middle, and tapered to an edge at the other end, like a cutting instrument. A man-made shape, not a natural rock form. Some kind of primitive stone tool. The ancient fire and now this strange rock. Maybe this place had some historical significance. Koa made a note to call the state archaeologist.
He stooped down, keeping his back straight, and directed his beam of light to examine the object more closely. Dried blood covered part of the dark gray stone.
Blood? He examined the floor around the corpse. Blood was only in one small place, where a puddle had congealed and dried. He looked more closely. Not much blood. Odd. There should be more blood—a lot more blood—given the carnage wreaked upon the body.
Koa walked out into the sunlight. Tearing the handkerchief from his face, he sucked in the clean, dry air. Questions ricocheted in his mind. It was always like that at the beginning of an investigation, and he’d learned to let the questions accumulate unanswered. Questions opened the mind to unlikely possibilities. That and his own secret criminal history were what made him such a good investigator.
Robert B. McCaw, a seasoned attorney and veteran of many headline-grabbing cases, blends his decades-old passion for Hawaiian history with a life-long enthusiasm for crime fiction to create the compelling protagonist, Chief Detective Koa Kāne, in Death of a Messenger. A former US Army officer and judicial clerk at the US Supreme Court, McCaw’s firsthand military experience, legal expertise, and immersion in all things Hawaiian lend the characters in this richly layered thriller unparalleled authenticity. An avid photographer and part-time resident of the Big Island since the 1990s, he and his wife split their time between New York and Hawaii.
Death of a Messenger is the first novel of the Koa Kāne Hawaiian Mystery series.
Ashia ‘Ash’ Cox isn’t your average teenager. She’s a sixteen-year-old con artist headed for greatness – until celebrity criminal Harry Holmes destroys the family and life she loves.
Taking matters into her own hands, Ash links up with Esther Crook – a legendary con who has her own motivations against Holmes and his associates. After a little persuasion, Esther puts together a new crew using Ash as ‘the insider’. The crew feel the heat of the criminals on one side and the encroaching crime agencies on the other, but as the heist unfurls, who is really doing the conning and who is pulling the strings?
With plot twists aplenty, Crooked raises the stakes in crime fiction as the plot equally surprises – and cons – the reader.
I had a good impression while reading Crooked Honest Criminality. The whole realm and art of “the con” is very fascinating. It provides a good insight into the criminal enterprise of the con artist. The characters kind of remind of the classic movie, Oliver, who also was an estranged orphan. Full of action, adventure, and dialogue, Crooked will keep you turning the pages until the very end. You’ll have to read it to find out what happens next!
Bronwen John is a Civil Servant with a Creative Writing degree from the University of Wales. She has previously published four poetry anthologies which include; The Kardomah Kid (2011), Mind The Gap (2013), The Lotus Blossom and The Kardomah Kid (2017), as well as a children’s book, The Mystery of Smugglers Drift (2017). She lives in a tiny village in Dyffryn Cellwen, Wales.
“I suggest you do,” he says in a voice which suggests there may be ramifications if I choose not to.
My only remaining thread of control is severed when he hangs up the phone. I take a deep breath and wait for him to call back, which is something he does when he feels he may not have made his point as clearly as he might. I lay there staring at the dust that has collected in the corners of my phone. The screen stays black, and after a minute or two passes I feel safe again. I place the phone on the duvet and turn my face into the darkness of the pillow.
For a moment I am gripped by anger, a feeling that twists in my chest like a coiled rope. I have spent a good part of the last ten years trying to remove this feeling from my life. I have been told on a number of occasions that if I cannot leave it behind, it will eventually consume me. I’ll be tossed into the black hole of its throat like Jonah and his whale. Gobbled up in one. My final resting place will be the belly of the giant beast and, unlike Jonah, I’ll never be seen again.
The last person who told me this was Sara. In fact, she told me plenty of times that I needed to change aspects of myself. For some time I listened to her, convinced that my macabre back story was reason enough to be the person I’ve become. It was only latterly, when I had an awakening, that I realised that her criticisms of me were actually a product of her own insecurities. Her insecurities moulding me into an angry and self-pitying person. A person I never used to be, nor ever wanted to be. And so, over the last year or so, the words I had listened to so attentively were rubberised and deflected, unheard, back to where they came from.
And of course, as I am sure you can now guess, Sara is gone.
And I feel the real me returning.
M Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author who was born Yorkshire where he still lives today with twins, James and Annabel.
His debut novel, The Radio was shortlisted for The Novel Prize 2012. He has spoken in schools, colleges, prisons and universities about creative writing and storytelling and appeared at various literary festivals including Sheffield’s Off the Shelf and Doncaster’s Turn the Page festival.
His second novel, The Page was released in February 2015.
His much anticipated third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear was released in September 2015 and tells the story of a character struggling with mental illness. All profits from this novel are donated to charity to raise awareness of mental health issues. This was accompanied by the short film, Hidden which was directed by Simon Gamble and can be seen here.
While rummaging through the attic, high school senior, Jack Davies, is surprised to find his never-before-seen birth certificate, revealing a startling bit of information that changes his life. The story his mother told about his birth, he discovers, is revealed to be a lie, shattering long-held beliefs and the trust he had for her. Jack becomes obsessed with discovering the truth, leading him down a dangerous path. Faced with unanswered questions and confounding obstacles at every turn, Jack finds himself deeply enmeshed in an intricate world of national security and international intrigue. Relationships are tested as his every move is tracked by a group of mysterious people. Who are they? Whose side are they on? Who can he trust? And, most importantly, who will he ultimately become?
Jack walked toward the student parking lot. It was late in the day for a final exam, and he didn’t encounter any acquaintances on the five-minute walk to the parking lot. The driver of the Taurus spotted Jack entering the parking lot and turned on the ignition. Jack got into his car and backed out of the spot. His mother was expecting him home before dinner. He became preoccupied with thoughts of the important phone call he was scheduled to get the following morning.
The Taurus followed the Accord, the driver carefully staying sufficiently back to avoid arousing suspicion. After exiting the college, the Accord turned right onto Rockaway Avenue, a main thoroughfare that cut through several suburban towns. Rockaway Avenue had an eclectic mix of old shops and newer, trendy stores. A health foods store sat adjacent to a shop that sold antique toys. When Jack was a boy, he had loved to watch the Lionel train set displayed in the window. The sturdiness of the train cars and the authenticity of their appearance mesmerized him, as did the fantasy of hopping on board and being whisked beyond the confines of his community.
Jack turned onto Valley Mill Turnpike, a single-lane road that ran through a stretch of woodland. Jack was about seven miles from his home. About two miles onto Valley Mill Turnpike, Jack noticed that the Taurus behind him was getting much closer. That guy is in a big-time rush, Jack thought. The Taurus, gaining ground, was now about a car length behind. Jack gently tapped the brake to slow the car, hoping the Taurus would pass.
After a few seconds, the Taurus began to pass. Jack glanced into the Taurus as it pulled alongside. He noticed three people in the car, all of whom were staring directly back at him. It struck Jack as a look of scrutiny, as though to confirm their find. The female passenger, sitting in the front passenger seat, had a piercing, frightening gaze. She waved to Jack to stop.
Jack’s mind was racing. His fear that this group would seek him out had materialized. But he knew he must try to avoid them, lest he expose Cathy to danger. He believed he had no choice but to dodge them and call her. He also knew he should not use his cell phone.
Jack hit the accelerator and his car lurched forward, pulling in front of the Taurus. The Taurus regained speed and, again, came up just behind the Accord. The driver was clearly skilled at this activity and, at once, was able to maneuver his car beside Jack’s. Another wave by the woman to slow down. Jack needed to get away. As he fixed his gaze on the road in front, the driver of the Taurus, in anticipation of Jack’s plan to try to race ahead, pulled his car in front.
Jack was now behind the Taurus. Both cars were moving at sixty miles per hour. Jack knew that a string of about ten stores, including a gas station, was just two miles up the road. Just then, the Taurus started to slow down. Suddenly, the deceleration became abrupt, and Jack couldn’t help but get too close for comfort. He slammed on his brakes. Panic!
Jack tried to steer around the Taurus, but it shifted to the left, a deliberate attempt to prevent Jack from passing. The Taurus was slowing to a complete halt, and Jack was unable to steer past it. His only choice was to put the car in reverse and try to back out of the area. Jack took a deep breath and threw the car into reverse. The Taurus, now also in reverse, followed closely. Jack desperately wanted to turn the car around, and thought he had an opening. He spun the wheel and the car veered toward the shoulder. But Jack was no match for the driver of the Taurus. Before Jack could put the car in drive, the Taurus lunged back, tires screeching, until it was positioned directly in front of Jack.
Jack slammed the gear shift into park and bolted from the car, leaving it running, and darted directly into the wooded area behind him. The lanky man from the back seat and the woman scrambled from the car in pursuit. In the meantime, the driver of the Taurus repositioned both cars to the shoulder of the road.
Jack had no choice but to use his phone now. His hands trembled as he fidgeted for it, and the uneven terrain made it impossible to maneuver through his pockets. Then he realized his phone was on the passenger seat of his car.
The man shouted to Jack to stop. The woman, not far behind, screamed, “We’re not going to hurt you.” In the face of this madness, Jack found her tone oddly believable. Fearing no possibility for escape, Jack was left with no choice but to confront them.
He wheeled around, screaming, “What do you want from me? Who are you?”
They stood about twenty feet from Jack, separated by a small clearing in the thicket of trees.
“We are not here to hurt you. We need you to come with us,” the woman repeated.
Jack succumbed to a strange, paradoxical mix of panic and curiosity. He didn’t know these people, though he had been aware they might seek him out. But he could not reveal this awareness to them. And he didn’t know if he was in danger. “What if I don’t? You can’t do this to me.” His wobbly voice managed a trace of defiance.
“Actually, we can,” the man declared. His tone was powerful and convincing. That was it. With those three words, the man’s authority — an unequivocal dominance over Jack — became deadly certain.
Jack stood there, frozen, while the pair walked toward him. He suspected he wouldn’t be hurt, but he couldn’t be positive. He was at once consumed with energy and sapped of it.
“Where are we going?” Jack asked, relinquishing himself to a fate over which he knew he had no control.
“Back to the car,” the woman replied. “You need to come with us.”
The woman led the way back to the highway. Jack followed, not wanting to provoke the man, whose presence loomed directly behind. Along the path lay rocks and tree branches. One of these might be used as a weapon, he thought. His mind raced; is there time to grab something? But other than a small tussle with a class bully in the third grade, Jack had not been especially schooled in the ways of physical confrontation. In fact, among the best of his social talents was conflict avoidance. No, he’d surely lose out in a physical struggle.
Jack pressed the pair for information. “Who are you? What do you want from me? Take my car. Take my money. Just please let me go.” As Jack’s pleas faded, so did any semblance of his resistance, and the pair offered nothing. No hint of purpose. No gesture of reassurance. The remainder of the short walk to the car occurred in silence.
As the group neared the car, the man told Jack to get into the back seat with him. The driver and the woman assumed their original positions in the front. She turned to Jack and instructed him, “You need to call your mother. Where’s your phone?”
“It’s in my car,” he responded.
The woman retrieved Jack’s phone from his car and handed it to him. Then she advised him on what to say: “Tell her that you were asked by Mr. Dwyer to help with a project at the department tonight.” Holy shit, she knew his computer instructor’s name. “If she asks what the project is, tell her the department is planning the installation of new hard drives on the school’s computer system during the summer, and you’ve been asked to help with preparation.” Jack felt a sense of terror — she knew about that too! “Tell her you’ll be home close to midnight, but she shouldn’t worry if you’re running late.”
“Is all that clear?” the man in the back asked with stinging bluntness.
The man’s stare was laser-like. “Be convincing,” he said, which sounded to Jack like a warning.
Jack hit the call button and stared at the woman as the phone rang.
The driver, who had not turned around during the entire time Jack had been in the car, kept his sights on the road ahead.
“I got her voicemail,” Jack informed the group.
“Perfect,” said the woman. “Just leave the message and tell her you’ll be home late tonight.”
Jack delivered the message as directed. The slight hesitancy in his voice was not enough to create concern for the group.
“Unfortunately, we’re unable to answer any questions right now,” she confirmed. “But I assure you our aim is not to hurt you.” Then she exited the car, walked to Jack’s car, and got into the driver’s seat. Jack watched as his car made a U-turn. The Accord drove alongside the Taurus and stopped. The window rolled down, and the woman instructed the driver of the Taurus to follow her back to the college.
The trip back to the college was made in silence. Despite her cool assertiveness, the woman’s presence eased Jack’s fear. There was a cold, menacing steeliness without her, and Jack believed there could be harsh consequences if he showed any sign of resistance.
As they arrived at the college, Jack realized he had yet to hear the driver utter a single word. Jack watched as his Accord passed by the student parking lot and headed for the visitor lot. The majority of students at New Jersey Central College commuted to school, but about a fifth of the student body was from out of town. Parents and friends who visited were directed to park in the visitor lot. Jack knew that cars could be parked there for days without being ticketed by college security. Apparently, Jack’s abductors knew this as well.
The woman parked the Accord and returned to the Taurus. Jack observed her placing his car keys into her purse, which had been on the front floor of the Taurus. The Taurus pulled out of the visitor lot, through one of the smaller gates of the college and then back onto Rockaway Avenue.
As the Taurus left the immediate area, Jack, impelled by trepidation, dared to question his captors again. His tone was pleading. “Who are you? Why are you doing this?”
“Everything will be made clear in due time,” the woman replied, icily. “Now, please, no more questions for now.”
Jack knew the car had been heading north, but he was unfamiliar with the route the driver was taking. After what felt to Jack like a distance of about seven or eight miles, the car pulled onto a small side road. It was desolate, eerily so under the circumstances. The lanes were narrow, not much wider than the car itself, and the quick succession of twists and bends in the road made it impossible to see beyond a few yards.
The car drove about five hundred feet up the road, then pulled off onto a dirt shoulder. The woman turned around and faced Jack. Jack’s fear — this terror produced by a sense of imminent doom — caused his mind to scramble, scanning everything, anything for any possibility of escape. But there was no way out, and the fear manifested in jolts to his system. He could feel his heart beating in his chest. A strange numbness gripped his hands and descended toward his wrists. The tips of his fingers tingled and were overwhelmed by a paralyzing weightiness. A stinging electricity coursed through him.
“I can’t tell you where we are going or why. And I’m not free to answer any questions right now. I need you to wear these for the remainder of the trip, though,” the woman said, handing Jack what appeared to be a pair of sunglasses with shields that wrapped around the sides.
Jack slowly extended his hand to take the glasses from the woman and asked why he should wear them. “Just put them on, please. It’s for your own protection.” Jack sensed impatience in her voice, but with a hint of sensitivity. She was a model of efficiency. There was nothing wasted about her. Her words were delivered methodically without a syllable to spare. Her hair, shoulder-length with just a hint of a wave, had fallen back neatly into place despite a run in the woods. Jack felt his heart pulsing.
Jack discovered these were not ordinary sunglasses. They blackened out all traces of light. He had no idea where they were going.
Travel resumed. Jack felt the car make several turns in quick succession. He believed this was a deliberate strategy to confuse him. Until they had stopped, he knew they were headed north, but this jarring sequence of turns was disorienting. He knew only that there was no stretch of extended highway driving.
About twenty minutes later, the car slowed, pulling onto gravel. The front passenger door opened and the woman stepped out. The two men remained in the car. The woman opened the rear passenger door where Jack was seated. He made no move. The woman reached in and placed her hand under Jack’s elbow. “Please come with me,” she demanded, her tone firm but noticeably polite.
Jack slowly extended one foot out the door and felt a gravel incline beneath his feet. With the glasses still on, Jack was escorted by the woman for about twenty yards. He heard a door in front of him open and was told to go up one step and enter a house. The wooden floor felt like the floor in his kitchen at home. Its hard texture was offset by a suppleness that muffled the sound of shoes making contact with it.
Jack was advised by the woman that he was heading to a room in the back of the house. She led him straight for a few feet and then made a turn to the left. He surmised that a kitchen was to his right from the faint hum of what sounded like a refrigerator motor. He was also aware of the presence of other people in the house, not from voices, but from the dampened creaking of the floor. Another turn, this one to the right, then up five steps. The steps were carpeted, as was the hallway they entered on this elevated floor.
A door opened in front of Jack and he was asked to enter. The woman escorted Jack about five steps into the room, then guided him toward a folding wooden chair. Once seated, Jack heard the door to the room close.
“You can remove the glasses now,” she said.
Jack squinted as his eyes adjusted to the light. The room was almost bare and small, about ten by twelve feet. In front of Jack was a small wooden table made from lacquered pine, flimsy in its construction. A plastic pitcher of water and two plain drinking glasses sat on the table. A small puddle of condensate had accumulated at the base of the pitcher. Jack was in one of four wooden-slatted folding chairs. The room had no windows and nothing on its bleak, beige walls. The light was dim, emanating from four recessed low-wattage lights in the ceiling.
“Would you like to use the restroom?” the woman asked, her tone softer than at any time earlier.
“Please help yourself to some water if you like,” she offered.
“I’m not thirsty.” Then, after a beat, “What am I doing here?”
The woman glanced quickly at the door. Her eyes were in a constant state of alert, radiating a confident vigilance. This woman has never known panic, Jack thought. She checked her watch, then fixed her gaze onto Jack. “We brought you here to meet your father.”
Barry Eisenberg is an associate professor of health care management in the School for Graduate Studies at the State University of New York Empire State College, a health care management consultant and a former hospital administrator. He and his wife, Amy, live in New Jersey. They have three grown children and one grandson. Primal Calling is his first novel.
Howdy. It’s the blurbs! Every Saturday I’ll try to share with you a book blurb or premise that I was impressed with. It may be one, or a few. Still haven’t decided yet. The first impression of an authors work is the book cover. Then the blurb. Usually if the book has at least, a half-way decent cover, I’ll proceed to the blurb. If it sounds cliched, uninteresting, boring, I’ll pass. If it passes the test then I’ll download a sample. If the first few pages draw me into the story then it’s a purchase!
BlueInk Review: “A Die Hard sequel for the #meToo era … chockfull of thrilling action … a page-turning thriller.”
Deb Bollinger has no time for corporate training.
Her company’s top engineer at just twenty-seven, Deb has blocked off her day for the one project she truly cares about: the launch of Carebnb, an app that finds spare beds for the homeless. When she’s told all employees must drop everything for some busywork exercise called Blackquest 40, it’s an easy no.
Trouble is, her bosses aren’t really asking.
Blackquest 40 is the mother of all corporate trainings. A near-impossible project to be completed in forty straight hours. No phones. No internet. Sleeping on cots. Nobody in, nobody out. Deb finds the whole setup creepy and authoritarian. When a Carebnb issue necessitates her leaving the office, she heads for the door. What’s the worst that could happen?
Armed commandos, HVAC-duct chases, a catastrophic master plan that gets darker by the hour Blackquest 40 is a fresh take on the Die Hard formula, layering smart-drones and a modern heroine onto the classic action tale.
I was very intrigued after reading the blurb for Blackquest 40. I’ve never heard of the author, but the blurb gave me a good summary of the story and piqued my interest in the main character Deb Bollinger. The author sounds pretty witty which further drew my interest into the book. In todays market the field is pretty crowded. That makes it ten times harder to stand out among the myriad of talented authors. I love it when I find something truly witty, original, and something with a unique twist. Check out Jeff Bond! Thumbs up!
Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. His books have earned multiple starred reviews from Kirkus and BlueInk and been featured in The New York Review of Books. His 2020 release, The Pinebox Vendetta, received a gold medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters. (Who share his Kindle account, as you might guess from peeking at his bookshelf.)