Piece of Mind by L.R. Braden
Stale, slightly ionized air flooded my lungs, bringing with it the scent of disinfectant and…something else, sharp, sweet. Panic flitted around the edges of my exhilaration. I exhaled. I’d been dead another eighteen months.
The scientists didn’t like us using that term, but what else could I call it? Hibernation? Dormancy? Suspended animation? None of those were strong enough to fit the empty silence of the limbo where we waited.
What piece of myself have I left in that cold, dark place this time?
“Back with us, Mr. Thompson?” A voice floated out of the darkness, but not the inky void of that other place. Not even close.
I opened borrowed eyes, blinked.
Dr. McCarthy perched at the edge of her steel stool, watching me, waiting to see if I remembered how to speak, how to move, who I was. The gray at her temples was more pronounced than I remembered. Skin sagged from her cheeks like deflated balloons, silent testament to the time that hadn’t passed for me, proof of her indispensability.
One hand poised over the tablet in her lap, she leaned closer. “How do you feel?”
I raised one smooth, pale hand, translucent skin bright under the ceiling lights. It tingled as motes of dust brushed against it, asteroids pummeling my senses compared to the nothing that came before. Purplish veins swelled when I made a fist.
“Alive.” My lips snapped closed, cutting off the deep baritone voice I didn’t recognize as my own.
“Do you know where you are?”
I blinked twice, slowly, relishing my control over the flash of light and dark as the room flickered in and out of existence. Medical tools lined the otherwise bare walls. An endless vibration thrummed through me, and I dug into my memory for the cause.
“Still on the Ark.” The unfamiliar voice cracked, shattering the last word.
Her mouth twisted to one side. “I’m afraid so. What do you remember about your life on Earth?”
“I lived in…an apartment, in…” I wracked my brain, sorting through labels until I found one that felt right. “New York.”
“Very good.” She smiled and nodded encouragingly.
“I—” More images flitted by, but I couldn’t hold them. “I was a—” My fingers tightened on the chair as I groped for some way to end that sentence, but all I found was a gaping hole where the information should have been.
Liquid trickled down the side of my face, and I was momentarily distracted by the need to identify it.
“It’s all right, Mr. Thompson.” Dr. McCarthy set one cool palm over the back of my clenched fist, and the low moan I hadn’t realized I was making subsided.
“I can’t remember what I did before,” I said, waving my free hand, “this.”
Her smile returned, small and sad. “You were a writer, Mr. Thompson.”
About Far, Far Away:
In a land far, far away… In a distant galaxy… Once upon a time…
These are all ways to begin fantastical tales of love and adventure. Gateways into the realms of imagination. In this anthology, we bring together authors from all over this world to transport you into the worlds they’ve created.
Travel through space and experience infinity three hours at a time. Explore dangerous caverns for the source of a deadly disturbance. Get stranded on a mysterious island from which no one returns, then learn to survive on a distant planet while you hope for rescue.
In this far-reaching, magical collection love allows you to see in colour, time is vast but fragile, and changing minds and hearts in Ancient Rome is only one stop on an epic journey across time, space, and reality.
Stories Included in the Anthology:“Piece of Mind” by L.R. Braden
It’s 2021. The pandemic drags on and we’re all stuck inside. Blegh. Reality sucks.
So why not take this opportunity to escape into fiction?
A year ago we ran a contest and we asked writers to submit stories set in other times, places, and versions of reality. Then we had our judges pick the best ones to include in this anthology.
Therefore, the seven stories you are about to read are windows into other worlds, but also into the minds of eight extremely creative and talented individuals. We’ve included their bios and a few words from each of them so you can get to know the people who have created such imaginative stories to take us far, far away, if only for a little while.
So pack your bags, or don’t because you won’t be needing them for this journey. Instead, sit back, relax, and turn the page to find distant galaxies, alien cultures, mysterious magical islands, unknown planets, the value of colour, the fragility of time, and the fickle nature of fate.
Publisher Website: http://www.mirrorworldpublishing.com/
Publisher Blog: http://www.facebook.com/mirrorworldpublishing
Publisher YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-d6tf8fpn4_mjraKjM-hUQ
Jotto had been leaning forward, paws on the table as he looked across at Dru. Now he stood, drew himself up to his full height, his ears almost touching the sloping reed roof, and said: “It’s been, what, four or five moons since Zarda first suggested a return to the Expanse. Why have you not Seen this before?”
Before either Dru or I could reply, Elver cut in. “Dru is only included in these meetings as a courtesy to Zarda. The understanding was that he would listen and say nothing. Yet here we are, taking his babbling seriously.”
“It isn’t—” Dru began.
Kalon silenced him with a wave of his paw. “Zarda, have you Seen this too?”
I shook my head. “No, Lord. But if Dru—”
“Dru is an untrained youngling,” said Kalon, flicking a dismissive ear. “If you, a Fate-seer, have not Seen this, then why should we believe it?” He stepped away from his throne-stool and paced from one straight-sided wall to its opposite, ears twitching with thought, while everyone else fell silent, waiting. “I see no reason to change our plan,” he declared at last, strutting to the end of the table where Dru’s overturned stool lay. He ran a paw through his grey mane, extended his one remaining wing, and went on: “As agreed before we were interrupted…” A fierce glance at Dru dissuaded any further dissent. “Zarda, Jotto, Shaya, and Urxov will form the scouting party. They will be accompanied along Death River by nine other flyers—”
“May I request, Lord, that the other two half-growns who are nearing maturity be allowed to fly with the escort?” Jotto lowered his head and set his ears to full apology as he dared a further interruption. Before Kalon could object, he plunged on: “My own pup, Tonil, and Myxot’s Yaver would consider it an honour to accompany Urxov on his Proving Flight.”
The rumble in Kalon’s throat might have been a growl, but Jotto’s clever reminder that this would be Urxov’s Proving Flight at least prevented him from biting anyone. “Yes,” he said, tugging on his beard, his voice gruff, “yes, that is an excellent idea, Jotto. Though Urxov, of course, will have the more dangerous flight, as part of the main scouting party. They will have to live on the Expanse for a whole moon, discover what they can of conditions there, and fly back here as quickly as possible with their report. The other flyers will stage along the route in threes till they reach Falls Camp, so that messages can be relayed if needed. They will all leave at dawn tomorrow, while the Spiral still shines overhead. May its sacred lights watch over them and return them safely to us. So it has always been.”
“Hi, Nikki.” A strange, hollow-sounding voice came from somewhere behind me.
I turned and saw a young boy dressed in a blue uniform standing at the foot of my bed. I dropped the ball and fell against my dresser, knocking my kerosene lamp over. I quickly picked it up before the oil spilled out onto everything.
“W-who are you?”
He fit the description of the ghost we were looking for. Only now, I wasn’t too excited to see him. My knees were shaking.
“My name is Oggie.”
“Oggie? Jesse’s friend?”
I couldn’t think of anything real smart to say. In fact, my mouth didn’t want to work real good at all. I wanted to run away, but I stood frozen.
“I just want to talk to you.” He sat down on the edge of my bed as if to make himself at home.
“Are you a g-ghost?” I asked in a shaky voice.
“No, silly. I’m just a soldier. Don’t let this jacket fool you. I ain’t no Yankee.”
“So you’re the ghost from Battlefield Ridge?”
“I told you, I ain’t no ghost.”
“Then how’d you get in my room without anyone seeing you?”
He looked around. “I don’t know. Do you know where my regiment is?”
“No, I don’t know nothing about no regiment. I just know I’m here in my room talking to a ghost.”
“Why do you keep calling me that?” He glanced around again. “My name is Ogden Watkins, and I’d appreciate it if you’d just take me back to my regiment. I have to find where I buried that tin box.”
“What box?” I asked.
“The box I put my mother’s Bible in.”
“Whoa. You need to start from the beginning.”
“The beginning of what?” He looked confused.
“Okay, I know your name, but what happened to you? Why are you lost?”
He scratched his rough and dirty mess of brown curls. Then he stood up and inched closer to me. “I can’t remember.”
I backed toward the door. “How do you know my name?”
“I followed you from the graveyard,” he said. “I heard the other kids call you Nikki. For some reason I know you can help me, but I don’t know why or how.”
Looking at this young boy’s confused face, I was no longer afraid. His name was Ogden…Oggie for short. Even if he was a ghost, which it was apparent that he was, he was more lost than he was scary.
About the Book:
Publisher Website: Mirror World Publishing
Enter the Giveaway:
Winner’s choice of a Kindle copy of one of the books in Rita Monette’s Nikki Landry Swamp Legends series. Go to Amazon to learn more about the books in the series
Meet the Author:
Laurence Raphael Brothers is a writer and a technologist. He has published over 25 short stories in such magazines as Nature, the New Haven Review, PodCastle, and Galaxy’s Edge. His WWI-era historical fantasy novel Twilight Patrol was just released by Alban Lake. For more of his stories, visit https://laurencebrothers.com/bibliography, or follow him on twitter: @lbrothers.
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Jackie rushed Babu from the church. Outside, a cold March gale cut through the thin jersey of Jackie’s skirt and ruffled the flaps of her headscarf and trench coat.
Babu gripped her upturned coat collar to protect her neck. Her eyes were sad and watery.
What was Babu not telling her? What was she hiding?
As Jackie drove her clunky Oldsmobile home, Babu, silent and contemplative, clutched her purse and stared out the window. She let out a weary sigh now and then.
Jackie wasn’t sure where to begin in asking about Babu’s past. Despite their language differences, she and Babu typically communicated without a problem with simple day-to-day banter, but to communicate with Babu about what she had picked up from Mrs. Kevich and what she had said would take a lot more Russian nouns and verbs than Jackie had in her arsenal.
David’s translation services were out of the question. She didn’t want him to know any more about Babu than what he and she had learned after the possession fiasco. It was bad enough that David hadn’t been thrilled that to get rid of the demon, Babu had used a crystal paperweight, a pewter letter opener, and a channeling technique to open up a portal to send it back to the underworld and that his holy water and scripture reading had only agitated it.
Babu had assuaged the situation by saying these things were just instruments and that the real power came from the heart. And that’s where Jackie had left her questions about Babu’s life in Russia, never wondering what it was like before she had given up her pagan ways.
But now Mrs. Kevich’s accusations brought so many questions to mind. Was Babu the one who had frightened Mrs. Kevich as a girl? Did she cause those people to suffer and die? And why did Mrs. Kevich call Babu and her witches?
Even if Mrs. Kevich kept quiet about what she knew or thought she knew, it was more than that which troubled Jackie. Babu had the gift to heal just as Jackie did. What if they had this ability and many more paranormal abilities because they were witches—like a genetic thing she could never put behind her?
Jackie gripped the steering wheel and bit her lip. Her stomach grew queasy. As much as she dreaded what she might uncover, she had to find out more about Babu, more about herself, before her relationship with David went any further. A priest married to a psychic was maybe tolerable, but a priest married to a witch—an abomination!
About A Bestiary Alphabet:
From Al-Mi’raj to Zlatarog, The Bestiary Alphabet features a different mythical creature for every letter of the alphabet, lovingly drawn and illustrated by the talented Felix Eddy.
Like the medieval bestiaries of old, the Bestiary Alphabet collects mythological creatures from all over the globe. Some are household names, others are delightful obscurities, but all will move and inspire you to dream of a world that you have never seen. Felix Eddy’s trip through the alphabet will show you the magic, mystery, power and beauty in all the things that might have been.
A Bestiary Alphabet is an illustrated guide to mythological creatures for a general audience.
Follow the Tour:
Hardcover: 92 pages
Publisher: Mirror World Publishing
Publish Date: October 17, 2019
Read an Excerpt:
The al-mi’raj is a Middle Eastern beast that looks like a very large yellow rabbit with a long black horn growing from its head. Sometimes called simply a-mi’raj, they are said to kill and eat horses, and are very deadly to humans. They are featured in Islamic poetry and said to live on a mysterious island somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
Highly skilled traveling witches were the only ones able to destroy these creatures and prevent them from returning to an area. In fact, it’s likely that these “highly skilled traveling witches” actually spread rumors of these creatures so they could use their “skills” to exterminate them— for a price. They didn’t have to stretch the truth too far, though, because the al-mi’raj was possibly based on real life “attack bunnies”.
There are a few diseases that afflict rabbits, causing lumpy growths or making their fur matt up painfully, appearing like horns, or like bumps where a horn fell off. These rabbits are often driven mad with pain from their twisted and matted fur, which can make them unusually aggressive. While it’s doubtful that a rabbit could kill a horse, even if it was mad with pain, certainly a rabbit that was acting insane and rushing at people would cause some real alarm— perhaps enough to start the myth of a monstrous horned rabbit.
Horned rabbits have been translated into modern use by a number of fantasy writers and game companies. They are featured in video games and role-playing game books, both as monsters and as humorous creatures, called “horned rabbits” or “bunnycorns” or “unibunnies”.
Meet the Author:
Felix Eddy is an artist from Upstate New York. She is the illustrator of several books, including Dragonbait, The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum, Bark’s Mulberry Socks, and Witches Witches Everywhere. You can find out more about her work at www.felixeddy.com.
Enter the Giveaway:
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Print Length: 286 pages
Publisher: Mirror World Publishing (https://www.mirrorworldpublishing.com/)
Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Adventure
Follow the Tour:
Zarda, Fate-Seer of her people, the Drax, has chosen to join the wingless and their broken-winged dams on their long and dangerous journey into exile. But Kalis, the Prime she has abandoned, dispatches flyers to hunt her down and offers a reward to anyone who will give her up.
When their path takes them into the Crimson Forest, horror and death stalk the exiles beneath the vines. As the pain and hardship of banishment begin to take their toll, Zarda wonders which of the exiles will be the first to betray her, but nothing can prepare her for the discovery that awaits her beyond the furthest reaches of Drax territory; a discovery that has the power to alter the course of history.
Exile’ is the sequel to ‘Unreachable Skies’, and Karen is currently working on the third book in the trilogy.
Read an Excerpt from Exile:
“If you go through the Deadlands, you will all die.”
As I picked my way between strewn belongings, and smouldering campfires that did little to warm the icy dawn, it was the voice of Shaya, the Chief Hunter, which carried to me above the sound of breaking waves, whimpering younglings, and complaining females. Just two days ago, every wingless youngling, and every female who had produced one, had been sent into exile by our Prime, Kalis, urged on by his favourite adviser, Fazak. Yet already the arguments had started!
My nose alerted me to the stink of a shallow waste-pit and I edged around it, stepping over a broken beaker, and continued on toward the squabbling voices. As Kalis’ Fate-seer I was expected to return to my dwelling on the Spirax peninsula, a few nines of wingbeats across the bay, but a Vision had shown me that my future lay with the exiles and, after visiting my Dream-cave, I had flown to their makeshift encampment.
The females, their wings broken by Kalis’ new Elite Guard, had been netted over the river along with their younglings, and had been left on the claw of reed-tufted sand that jutted into the ocean from the Manybend estuary’s north shore. As I’d circled over the nines of fires, their spiralling layout had shown that someone had taken charge of setting the camp properly, and my sole concern had been finding somewhere to land without being seen. In the end I had set down on the beach to the north, wetting my feet as I landed at the edge of the incoming tide. Taking care to make sure I would not leave any traces of my approach, I had walked along the tideline till I reached the promontory at daybreak. I had intended to find my friend Doran and make myself known to her, but the sound of raised voices had drawn my attention, and I had instead made my way across the camp to the ridge of snow-covered ground that separated the hook of sand from the mud of the Deadlands. I smelled cooking – branmeal bubbling in a pot to my left, meat patties warming in a pan to my right. My stomachs rumbled a protest that I was not stopping to eat, but my attention was on the group at the foot of the slope where Shaya stood, and the arguments that I could now hear more clearly.
“The Deadlands are frozen, Shaya, just like everywhere else. I don’t see why we can’t walk straight across them to the Ambit river. We can head for the Eye, or even the river upstream from there where it narrows and will be easier to cross.”
I didn’t recognise the speaker, though I knew from her copper tunic that she was an Artisan. As Shaya set her ears to a more aggressive angle and began to explain the dangers of the Deadlands – the thin ice masking mud that was deep enough to drown in, brambletrap that would feed on any creature living or dead – I spotted Doran’s russet fur and green-and-black Healer’s tunic amid the crowd. Forgetting that I had changed my appearance by dyeing my fur and changing my tunic from Fate-seer black to Trader blue, I made my way over to her and said, “Doran, what’s going on?”
She twisted an ear my way, gave me a sniff, and looked me up and down. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
I took a quick look round. Nineties of females were attending to their younglings, cooking meals, or still rolled in blankets, sleeping. Those in the group surrounding Shaya had their attention on what she was saying. Only Doran had an ear twisted my way. “It’s me,” I hissed, “Zarda. I promised I would join you, didn’t I?”
“But you’re…” she said as she waved a paw from the neck of my tunic to my feet, “you look so different.” She sounded disappointed. “I’ve been waiting for you to come. I thought that having Zarda the Fate-seer join us would help all these drax to face what lies ahead. But if they don’t know it’s you…”
It had not occurred to me that I might help anyone’s morale. “I came because I Saw that I should,” I said, “and because Kalis no longer listens to me. Besides, if Dru is to fulfil his destiny and defeat the Koth, he’ll need help and guidance from a Fate-seer, especially—” No. Only members of the council knew that Dru had the Sight, and we had agreed to keep it secret for the moment. Doran had no need to know – not yet. I dismissed what I’d been about to say with a flick of an ear that told Doran it was of no importance, and spiralled a paw across the front of my tunic. “I can’t be Zarda here. I know Kalis isn’t interested in anything I have to say, but he is a stickler for tradition. I’ve left him without a Fate-seer and he won’t be happy. He’ll send the Guardflight to look for me – maybe even his new Elite Guard. And I think we can both guess what will happen to me if they find me.” As I finished talking, I turned my head to indicate the pathetic figure huddled in a blanket, sitting alone in the shadows beyond the encampment fires.
Doran flicked an ear in sympathy – the other was still turned toward Shaya and the ongoing argument – and ran a paw over her tunic. “I never liked Varna, but to lose her wings like that…” She shuddered, then leaned toward me to confide, “She howled through the entire first day. Only subsided to a whimper when Limar threatened to bind her mouth shut. Dru kept taking her beakers of soup from Limar’s cauldron, and showed her things he’d found on the beach, but she snapped and snarled every time he went near her. In the end, he stayed by the fire over there with Limar.” Turning back to face me, she waggled an ear in apology. “I suppose you’re right, you can’t be seen to have joined us. Not yet, anyway. I just hoped…” she said, indicating the group arguing with Shaya. “Perhaps if the Fate-seer had been able to step in, these silly females wouldn’t be proposing to cross the Deadlands on foot.”
Book 1 in the Trilogy:
Unreachable Skies, Vol. 1
Meet the Author:
Brought up in Staffordshire, England, Karen now lives in West Sussex where she is enjoying her retirement. When not writing, she enjoys reading, watching films, local WI and U3A activities, volunteering with the South Downs National Park Volunteer Rangers, and spending time with friends and family. She has also flown in a Spitfire!
Karen has written articles on films and British history for a number of British magazines including ‘Yours’, ‘Classic Television’, and ‘Best of British’. In 2009, her essay on ‘British Propaganda Films of the Second World War’ was published in ‘Under Fire: A Century of War Movies’ (Ian Allen Publishing).
She also wrote a number of online articles and reviews for The Geek Girl Project (www.geekgirlproject.com), as their British correspondent.
Karen’s short stories have appeared in anthologies by Fiction Brigade (2012, e-book), Zharmae Publishing (‘RealLies’, 2013), Audio Arcadia (‘On Another Plane’, 2015), Luna Station Publishing (‘Luna Station Quarterly’ December 2015), Horrified Press (‘Killer Tracks’ and ‘Waiting’, both 2015; and ‘Crossroads’, 2016), and Reflex Fiction (‘Voicemail’, published online 2017). She also won second prize in Writers’ News magazine’s ‘Comeuppance’ competition in 2014 with her short story ‘Hero’.
‘Exile’ is the sequel to ‘Unreachable Skies’, and Karen is currently working on the third book in the trilogy.
Enter the Giveaway:
Enter for a chance to win either Vol. 1 or Vol.2 of the Unreachable Skies series – winner’s choice.