Snippet: A Night in Obsidius

With the upcoming release of Soul Resurrected, I thought I'd share the snippet that I wrote for J.A. Belfield's stop on the Soul Avenged Blog Tour last February.  For those who may not yet be familiar with the story, Obsidius is the much-feared prison in the demon realm where tortures and punishments are doled, mostly by these big scary ass Enforcer demons.  Even the toughest supes have nightmares about this place. In the story, Logan is sentenced to fifty years in the place--reduced to half the time, thanks to his brother, Gavin, signing up to be his Brozszius, a demon advocate, to share the punishment.  (click HERE for glossary)

I cannot write this place without Avenged Sevenfold's Nightmare playing an endless loop inside my head.  It's the perfect song for this inferno of pain and suffering.

*~*~*M. Shadows*~*~*~  Le sigh ...

As an added treat for the Gavin fans, this is written from his POV.  So without further delay, I give you ...

A Night in Obsidius

The bone gavel cracked against the sound block.  Its echo traveled Gavin’s spine and for a brief moment, tested his nerve.  Jaw clenched, he leveled his gaze in the direction of the high demon official who’d just committed him to fifty years in the most feared prison of the Underworld.


Only the craziest bastards were sent to Obsidius.  Gavin questioned his own sanity as held out his hands, allowing the Enforcer Demon to shackle him.  What the hell kind of freak volunteers to spend five decades in hell’s prison?  No doubt his brother was thinking the same thing.

Gavin looked beside him.

Logan—the youngest of Wrath’s sons—stood with a frown, his gaze cast downward, away from Gavin.  “Why?”

“Because whether you believe me or not, I am your brother.  You are a son of Wrath.  We are bound by blood.”

“They say that even those who survive here never escape the hell.”Logan’s voice carried a chilling edge of intrigue, more so than despair.

“All the more reason I’m glad to have cut your sentence in half,” Gavin said before the yank to his bindings jerked him forward.

A century of misery had been doled out to Logan for killing a high-ranking demon official who murdered his mother.  As his brother’s Brozszius, or advocate in the demon realm, Gavin agreed to half of the punishment.

A door on the opposite side of the Orcosii’s court opened to a dark corridor and silence.  Only the drag of chains against the concrete sliced through what felt like a momentary suspension of Gavin’s existence.  Like the final breath just before death seeped out from the shadows to swallow his soul.

As if being sentenced to five decades of torture wasn’t enough, the Enforcer that led them down the path to this twisted Disneyland of pain had to be one of the meanest looking bastards in Orcosia.  Enforcer Demons, their breed designed to dish punishment as both tormentors and mercenaries, were often hired as bounty hunters in the human realm.  Covered in a black carapace with a medieval looking weapon like a double sickle sword, they were about the most intimidating beasts Gavin had ever seen—and Wrath Demons weren’t easily intimidated.

Pulling a set of keys from its holster, the Enforcer stopped before a black door that Gavin estimated to be about ten feet in height.  Heat bled through the gaps—an ominous sensation that crawled over Gavin’s skin.  The patterns of rot etched into the wood looked almost like the blackened souls of the victims punching through from the other side, eternally trapped within its threshold.

No going back. 

Not that he would.  No brother of Gavin’s was going to take a full term punishment in this place.  Even if Logan hadn’t yet accepted him as his own blood, Gavin couldn’t bring himself to let his brother suffer an unjust sentence.

He shot one glance at Logan, whose face remained stoic as ever.  Christ, did the kid ever show the slightest bit of fear?  His nerves must’ve been fashioned with some impenetrable grade of steel only found in the ‘batshit crazy’ bin of demon body parts.

The door swung open to the orange glow of flames in the center of a circular path.  Hell’s fire burned much hotter than the earthly variety—the same brand of pain that his brother Ferno carried, making him the one of the more dangerous Wrath Demons.

Impervious black doors lined multiple levels overlooking the pyre that licked the boundless darkness above them.  Ash rained from the sky like snowflakes and for a moment Gavin wondered if they were the vestiges of victims who’d been burned alive.  With a sharp exhale from the corner of his mouth he blew the hot cinders off his cheek.  Screams echoed from all directions, a blanket of suffering that settled over him as he scanned the surroundings, squinting his eyes to keep the ash out.  The cries weren’t the shallow screams of new horrors, but the tired wailing of long-lived agony.

The words of his Divine Matron drifted through his mind.  Stay strong.  Stay true.  And above all else, never let it break you.  She’d also called him insane.  But then, for whatever reason, Cefirina had always harbored some distaste for Logan.

His vision told him at the very least, he’d survive it in the end.  But fuck if it didn’t give him a single clue as to what happened in between.  The down side of being half-seer:  half-ass predictions of his future.

This would be the first of many nights.  Daylight never touched Obsidius—only nightmares that arrived in a relentless stretch of midnight—or so the rumors went.  He’d be tortured in ways he couldn’t even begin to imagine.

The clinking of chains tapped an unfaltering cadence as they clambered the black tarry-looking stairs to the second level.   Gavin peered over the railless ledge at the other Enforcers moving below with purpose, like oversized warrior ants at a flesh picnic.  The one leading him came to a halt in front of two adjacent doors.Dread churned in Gavin’s stomach.  Their chambers were side by side—meaning his brother’s sufferance would be his own.

Logan stood behind his assigned Enforcer who unlocked the door, and glanced over at Gavin.  “See you on the other side.”  Not an ounce of humility in his voice.  His eyes appeared focused and unfettered as if his mind was resolved to the possibility that his immortal body might be sacrificed for the gruesome torment that awaited him.

Gavin nodded and entered his own chamber.  In spite of the fire that burned outside of the room, a cold emptiness lingered on the inside.  Gray stone walls didn’t carry evidence of life like many prisons with markings and chipping.  Instead their dull, smooth surface told a story of forgotten death.

The slab of concrete in the center of the room, with spattered flecks of blood, would serve as Gavin’s bed for the next fifty years. A tug on his shackles brought him standing before the Enforcer Demon.  His binds were removed and the Enforcer paused, a silent command that prompted Gavin to climb atop. The uneven surface bit into his flesh—a far cry from the plush mattress and satin sheets of his own bed back at the manor.  One by one his hands and legs were bound at the corners.  The flicker of light from outside the room faded to complete blackness and the thump of the door.  A soft white glow blossomed from somewhere below Gavin, casting enough light to see his reflection in the mirrored ceiling.What kind of twisted bullshit … and yet at the same time, it didn’t surprise him.

Lifeless, beady eyes of Gavin’s captor obstructed his view and stared down at him like those of a shark—undeterred by emotions, driven by instincts.  Sick fucks were masters of both physical and mental torture.  There’d be no mercy.  No admiration for volunteering on his brother’s behalf.  Only pain.  The kind of dark shadows that nested deep inside the soul and remained dormant.

Wrath demons didn’t register pain like most species of the Underworld—their bodies were designed to endure physical destruction.  Yeah they had nerves and could sense an assault to the flesh, but their wounds healed so quickly, the agony tended to be short-lived.  Obsidius had methods of punishing all breeds of demon though, with centuries of effective torture tactics, perfected to break a victim—by any means.

The Enforcer pulled a small blade from a side holster and as he held the gleaming metal in front Gavin’s face, tipped his head.  Goddamn if those beady eyes didn’t squint into something of a smile.  The blade disappeared from Gavin’s view and he lifted his gaze once more toward the ceiling.  In the reflection, the Enforcer zipped the blade across his chest, the sound of tearing trailing his movement as he sliced away Gavin’s black t-shirt, exposing his bare skin.  He tried to imagine what his flesh might look like near the end of his punishment.

Gavin sucked in a breath through his nose, rolled his shoulders back against the rough concrete, flexed his arms and gave a sharp tug of his bindings.  “Let the fucking games begin,” he muttered.

Grab a copy of Soul Avenged (Sons of Wrath, #1) here for 99 cents:

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Based on a request from one of my lovely readers, I haz decided to share an excerpt from Soul Resurrected.

The book releases October 31, 2013.

In the meantime you can add it to your Goodreads shelf:




Wearing only her nightclothes, she left the room and walked the quiet halls toward the Wreck Room she’d learned of, where the demons worked out.

Light bled through the cracks in the door as she pushed it open, but Calla halted as she stepped inside.

Logan stood before a sparring dummy—punching, kicking, until it knocked over.

He picked his silent opponent up off the floor and went at it again, grunting with each powerful punch that had the thing shimmying like a dashboard hula girl.

Sweat glistened across his skin as his muscles flexed with each movement—every hit executed flawlessly. A black ball cap, turned backward, hid his short cropped hair, above the black wife beater and warm up pants he wore.

Consumed by the contraction of his muscles and the precision of every hit, Calla’s fascination stole away her earlier anger.

The guy had a way of making a girl forget how much of an asshole he could be—or anything else for that matter.

What the hell had she gone there for?

As if he’d heard her thoughts, he stopped abruptly, mid-swing, and turned around.

Those brown eyes narrowed on her and his lip curled. “What are you doing here?” He faced-off with the dummy again. “Leave.”

Discomfort flooded her insides, turning her muscles stiff “I … I was just …” She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “I’m sorry.”

He accosted her faster than she could blink.

She backed herself all the way up to the wall. Her heart thrummed, pulse racing, as he boxed her in with his arms.

Chest heaving, his eyes radiated fury as they flickered red, emitting waves of authority that begged for her to look away. “Sorry for what, exactly? For getting me stabbed? Having my brother enslaved by a fucking succubus? Or do you mean you’re sorry for getting my other brother kidnapped by a goddamn psychopathic demon hunter?”

Tingles danced along the rims of her eyes and for all the effort of holding them back, tears spilled onto her cheek. Damn him.

Logan smirked and shook his head.

God, she wanted to claw his eyes out for it, as her sadness quickly turned into something primal, lodging deep within her gut, that couldn’t’ve given a damn that the male boasted three times her strength. “You’re a bastard, you know that?”

His jaw clenched. “What did you just say?”

“I’ve met a lot of repulsive creatures in the last few years, but you’re by far the worst of them all.” She swiped at her nose. “You hate me. I get it. So why don’t you cut the crap? You want me to leave? Fine. Happy to.”

She pushed herself off the wall but was thrown back against it, the collision knocking a small bit of wind out of her lungs and forcing a cough.

Like missiles warning fire, Logan’s massive arms replanted either side of her head, his face so close his breath hit her. Red flickered in his eyes. “You’re right. I’m the worst.” He inhaled a deep breath through his nose and spoke on the exhale. “Do you know what humans are to a Wrath? Blood in the water. Like sharks, we wait in hiding for that one moment when no one’s around. You’re all alone. Vulnerable.” His pelvic bone thrust against her. “A ripe fruit. Ready to be eaten.”

A cinnamon scent drifted past her, and weakness in her knees beckoned her to collapse. Her sex ached for him to grind against her again. She licked her lips. Touch me, she wanted to say to him, as if one single caress of his finger across her skin would take away the overwhelming need to be screwed right where she stood.

For some reason, she suddenly didn’t care who’d stroll in and see them.

The more the merrier.

His eyes met hers again, and as if lust took physical form, his lids seemed heavier, his lips so kissable they taunted the distance between them. “You’ll fall prey to my pheromones.”

That voice, so deep and powerful, tickled her stomach and she wanted to laugh at the thrill washing through her insides.

Fangs protruded from his lip and Calla wondered what it’d be like to feel them at her throat. “See, I don’t even have to try to make you want me. You’d let me fuck you right here against the wall if I wanted.”

Fuck. The word echoed in her head, and her body broke out in sweat. She bit her lip as visions of the raunchiest sexual experience she’d ever witnessed passed through her mind.

Every one of them starring Logan.


Oooh!  That's it ... but only a month to go and you'll have the whole thing!

Also, for those of you who may have missed it, check this out:

These would be the LIMITED EDITION prints of the cover that I'll be giving away during the Soul Resurrected Blog Tour (NOVEMBER 6-DECEMBER 6) signed by the very sexy Julian Christian.

Wanna know how you can win one?

Follow the tour!  This is one of many prizes you could score if you stop in on the participating blogs.

Sons of Wrath #2 Snippet

So as you know, I'm introducing some new characters in Sons of Wrath #2, including a couple that unexpectedly popped up in the story: “Nice job." Gavin's lips tightened as he nodded. "But I think we’re going to need to up our security. First that little shit who broke in earlier and now this.”

Lifeless, black orbs of the ghoul met Gavin's stare.

“I’d wanted to avoid this, but I think it’s time to call on Xander.”

The ghoul’s shoulders slumped and he rubbed a mutilated hand down his face. “Ah hell, boss. Sure about that? I mean, with all these ladies you got staying here.”

“We know nothing of these creatures. Xander is a loose cannon, but I know whose side he’s on. Let’s not forget it was a nephilim who armed our trespasser earlier. Until we find the kid, our security is at risk. Time to fight fire with a goddamn blowtorch.”

“Sir, nephilim at least have human motivations. The fallen …”—the ghoul swallowed a harsh gulp—“well they’re worse than demons. No disrespect to ya, boss.”

“I understand. Right now I have two brothers overseas and one out of commission. Having him here will only be temporary.” Gavin pointed at the ghoul. “And you’re still head of security.”


“Prepare the others.” Gavin huffed, his gaze trailing over each of the ghouls surrounding him. “This place is about to get shaken and I am not looking forward to sharing the news with Ben. Nothing spells a shitty night on the horizon quite like a pissed off troll.”

Have you read Soul Avenged yet?

Grab your copy here:

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Sneaky Peek of SoW: Soul Avenged

I'm pretty damn excited today for two reasons... One, it's Friday. What is it about this day of the week that makes me want to sit outside and sip on a margarita?

And second, I get to share a small excerpt from my WiP, Soul Avenged (Sons of Wrath, #1).  You'll finally get to meet Ayden, the badass who's been going fist-to-fist with some of the other MC's in my head.

This won't be very long, just enough to give you a taste of what I've been up to while locked away in my crazy secret laboratory.  So find a comfy chair, grab your drink of choice and have a read.  Comments are welcome.

Most of the musical inspiration for this series came from Paramore and NIN, but I had to include this song as it fueled the excerpt and the scenes that followed.  I recommend turning down your speakers...


Ice water.

The frigid sensation sliced through Ayden’s veins, leaving a numb trail in its wake as she stepped through the remains of the abandoned factory - one of many havens for the crack addicts and prostitutes.

A vile stench assaulted her nose, a potent blend of piss, sex and rotted meat, as garbage crunched beneath her boots.  Foundation had collapsed all around where she stood, crumbled as if the building would fold into the depths of hell.

Graffiti spattered the walls, giving the impression that gangs were the real threat - ‘We don’t die, we multiply.’

Right.  Like gangs own any part of this city anymore. 

The old Packard Plant - a ghostly haunt for tormented souls.  Shitholes were cropping up everywhere, much more rapidly than ever before.  Detroit once a thriving city, brought to ruins.  Grey and lifeless like the suffocating overcast that loomed during daylight.

A Beretta, loaded with silver bullets and a silver parrying dagger rested at one of Ayden’s hips, a silver bullwhip at another, as she moved past comatose bodies and decaying corpses.

Feeding grounds, like a bait pile.

Deadened eyes, zombified, slowly tracked her movement in the darkness, squinting, as though craving the light that hers didn’t need to see.  Humans so strung out on drugs, they failed to recognize the half-eaten carrion were once their own kind.

Not that knowing would stop them.  They’d apparently chosen to face danger rather than kick their addiction, roaming the streets every night in search of their next high.


They were already dead.  Death just hadn’t come to collect yet.

The blissful sigh of a hopped-up junkie reached her ears.  She snarled her lip.  “Enjoy it while it lasts, asshole.”

It’d be one thing if they were homeless.  Hell, she might’ve fired a warning shot to evacuate.

The homeless didn’t come here though.

Neither did the police - making it the perfect spot to get wasted and hustle some money.  Shots fired would’ve been nothing more than a momentary distraction before their minds slipped back into their ignorant state of euphoria.

Screw ‘em.

For any other girl, the place promised very bad things - an opportunity for a sadist to live out wild fantasies without ever getting caught.

But for Ayden?  Humans posed no threat. Their fragile bodies would shred like paper dolls against the work of her hands.  Lucky for them, she sought something else to sate her thirst for bloodshed, something far more threatening than their most psychopathic criminal - and she’d tracked it here to the surrounding cornucopia of human flesh.

Flash Fiction - In Dreams

As promised, here is another flash piece based on characters from my newest WiP, Soul Avenged.  I really need to do something nice for Zayne, because even though his part is small in the first book, I somehow managed to take everything away from him...

Ordinarily if I opt to include a song in my flash stories, I'll just post a link, but because this video is so freakin' awesome and Trent Reznor is too damn hawt, I decided to break my rules a little.  So enjoy...uh, just...don't forget to read the story.

In Dreams

My fingertips glide down the concave glass. Darkness lies on the other side of it. Pitch blackness that I cannot see beyond.

Laughter taunts me from my curiosity and I smile. Her voice. It drowns out the sound of my thoughts and moves through my body, commanding me to follow.

I twist to a stand, greeted by a cloudless sky and an open field. Somewhere, cloaked in swaying reeds, she hides. Like an aimless breeze, I drift through the meadow. Hollow stalks crunch beneath my boots and the conspicuous black of my clothing is a dead giveaway.  She chuckles then hums a familiar tune and I change direction, following a siren’s promise.

I dare not call to her and risk losing the game. Instead I continue through the tall grass, reaching out for the soft wisps of her song that trail behind her, carefree as a child chasing after butterflies on the wind. A flash of black catches my eye and I kneel to the ground. My hand swipes at the dagger on my hip. I lean forward, crawling toward the object that sits on a blanket of green, instinct beckoning me all the while. Closer, I come. Still, it lies.

I sneak from behind, unsheathe the dagger and slip the blade beneath its neck. Long locks tumble over bare shoulders. The song silences.

“I knew you’d find me, lover. You always do,” she whispers.

My hand replaces the sharp edge of the dagger and I tip her head back, seizing her mouth. As many times as I’ve kissed her, the sensation steals my breath. She pulls away and turns to face me; a wily look in her eyes.

I brush the stray hair from her face and place my hand against her cheek. Her skin is cold but smooth, soft as rose petals. The floral scent drifts past me and I close my eyes, wanting to devour the space between us. An ache blooms in my chest.

She places her hand over mine and kisses my palm. “How I’ve missed your touch.”

My fingers curl around her jaw and I move over her, forcing her back against the ground. I bury my face in her neck and suck in a deep breath. The tangibility of her taut flesh threatens my restraint. The tip of a fang pricks my lip. Drops of blood fall onto her throat, the skinny trickle disappearing around the curve of her neck. I lick the blood, spreading it outward and suckle the salty flavor. She moans and arches, begging me to take what she calls mine.

The black dress she always wears tickles my musings of what lies beneath, every crest and dip of her body, permanently etched in my memory. Her leg wraps around my back and I'm tangled in black tulle, drunk with the divine taste of her skin on my tongue.  Ambrosial.

As I pull away, her gaze captures my attention, bringing the world back to focus. “What is it?”

“The sun used to reflect in your eyes.” Her finger lightly sweeps over my eyelids. “Here,” she says then kisses the lingering sensation left by her cold touch. “Where has it gone, love?”

That familiar desperation suddenly settles over me. “Come with me.”

“God, I would…” She smiles, but the tear that streams down her temple reveals sorrow. “I can’t, Zayne.”

Eyes that mirror the bluest skies trail upward. A tumbling wave of storm clouds rolls in overhead, casting that blue into darkness. Contentment gives way to dread. Her eyes find me once more and widen with urgency.

“You have to go now.”

I shake my head. “No.”

“Please Zayne, I fear the consequences if you stay much longer.”

I finally catch sight of our surroundings:  golden fields speckled with multi-colored flowers and patches of green, turned grey and withered. Lifeless.  Cracks erupt in the barren field as if the world would split and swallow us whole.  Shimmering edges of the horizon quickly disappear into the dark landscape, indiscernible against everything else.  A smothering gloom closes in on the two of us.

“I can’t leave you here.”

She exhales a shaky breath and another tear falls, landing on the dusty bed of dirt where it’s absorbed into the ground. “I’m so alone. The air suffocates," she whispers, fingertips caressing my jaw.  "The granules keeping time here fall cold against my skin and evaporate into eternity without you.”

I hold the dagger to my heart. “Then I will stay with you.”

Her stiff fingers cover my hands, eyes locked on mine. “I would push the blade myself if I could.”

The steel breaks through my skin.

Her eyes, trapped behind a diaphanous shield of tears, soften with resolution.  “But I love you more than my own selfishness.” The dagger transforms into a snake, wriggles loose from my grip and slithers away. “Here is where I’ll stay. In dreams.”

“Please Shey."  Pain bursts through my chest and travels through my blood, like venom, searing my veins in its wake. "I have nothing on the other side. I am nothing.”

A smile displaces her sad expression. “You’re wrong love. You are everything.” She leans upward to kiss me.

I close my eyes and reach to embrace her, arms crossing over one another, grasping the nothingness in between. I open my eyes to the dark room.  Bolting upright, I glance around.  “Shey!” I cry out for her. Only the howl of the wind outside answers my call. The empty darkness consumes me, fucking suffocates, as it crawls across my skin and I claw at the sensation.  Mocking shadows watch from their corners, amused. A hollow deep inside my chest begs for breath while silence crushes my skull.  My hands ball into fists at my temples.  Shey.

The gold picture frame on the nightstand beside the bed carries a soft glow in the darkness. Her face. That smile. Gone. I lie back to rest, eyes shrouded in blackness, and pray that dreams will return me to her.

For in the mourning, I will wake and the soothing melody of her song will fade with every swallowed pill.

Flash Fiction- Savior

I was going to post this as a Flash Friday, but I've got another post scheduled that I'm going to post this now.  I absolutely love Florence and the Machine.  When I heard this song, a story instantly formed in my head.

 What the Water Gave Me


She broke through the surface, falling deeper into the abysmal blackness.  Her hands were bound at her back; rocks tied to her ankles; the pockets of her dress filled with stones.  Fire claimed her lungs as she struggled not to breathe.  Convulsions wracked her body with an urgency to swallow the first sip of death.  The bastards hadn’t even given her warning.

Wriggling her upper body, Ginny fought to free her hands.  Numbness blanketed her limbs and she could hardly sense her fingertips.  Winter’s frost had finally stretched beyond the river bank.  Muscles in her legs burned with the dull ache of exertion as she kicked her heavy feet.  A scream rattled in her brain.  And then suddenly fell silent.

This is where I will die.  Ginny looked up at the surface above her; out of reach and drifting farther away.  An unexpected calmness swept through her body, warm and merciful, as liquor through her veins.  Deeper she fell; keeping her eyes on what little light from the moon reached down to her and slowly dimmed.  A dark and lonely casket awaited her below. 

Her descent came to an end at the bottom of the river.  She closed her eyes; her lips parting while the fluids seeped through with the fervor of taking new life.  The first breath beckoned her lungs.    

Something hooked beneath her arm.  Ginny’s lids flew open.  Up she rose. 

Panic swelled inside of her while the last bubbles of oxygen expelled from her like a hydraulic blast that trailed below her.  Spasms shot through muscles, begging for air while she dangled from the arm of her savior.  He stopped, peering down at her through the waters.  She frantically shook her head and squinted her eyes; the promise of rescue still so far away.  No please! 

With a jerk of her arm, he pulled her in to his bare chest.  The stranger held her suspended a few feet beneath the surface.  She squirmed in a desperate bid to save herself.  He tipped her twitching head back and pressed his lips to hers.  She stilled.  The sweet breath of life filled her lungs.  An intense craving to suck every last drop of air in his body consumed her.  Tightening her knees around his waist, she held close; hungry for more of him.  He willingly gave her what she needed, never resisting.  Her chest swelled with enough breath to carry her to the surface.

Ginny opened her eyes.  Captivating orbs of violet stared back at her through the murky darkness.  She peeled herself away from the stranger; her body now sated with oxygen.  He continued his ascent, dragging her through the waters beneath him. 

They broke the surface and the bitter cold of winter stung her face.  Ginny gasped and coughed, kicking with heavy legs to stay afloat.  Ice seeped into her bones and she shivered, trying to keep herself from sinking again.  Light from the full moon danced off the caps of the agitated waters.  The stranger pulled her to him.  She wriggled from his grasp and kicked away.  White puffs of frosty air rose with each heaving exhale; not a single vapor emerged from his mouth, as if the cold had no effect on him.  His violet eyes studied her and he tipped his head, as if curious.  It was then that she noticed his unearthly beauty: a square jaw and wet strands of black hair that hung over his eyes.  Divine.  Rivulets trickled down the ridges of his chest muscles.  He’d just saved her life.  But why?  The weight tugged at her, pulling her head below the water.  In spite of her protest, he reached for her.  She emerged once more in a choking fit. 

“No!”  She rasped; her voice weakened by the crushing wall of icy fluid closing in around her.  But he pulled her to him.  His body radiated warmth and Ginny’s writhing gave way to the overwhelming comfort of being wrapped in his arms.  She calmed and rested her head against his shoulder.  “Who are you?”

He stroked her long auburn locks of hair that clung to her drenched clothing, peeling the stiff and frozen strands from her face.  “I am Nic.”

Nic.  An odd desire settled over her; sudden and out of place in her current state.  Ginny lifted her head; her eyes riveted by his soft lips only inches from her face.  How badly I want to kiss them. 

“Then I will kiss you,” he said.

Her parted lips welcomed his.  With one arm firm around her waist, he grabbed her hair, gently tipping her head to expose her throat.  Ginny closed her eyes while his opened mouth explored her neck; his hot breath falling against her skin.  Mmmmm.  His moan rumbled.  “The taste of human flesh is exquisite.”

Her lids grew heavy.  “What are you?”  she whispered, delirious.

Voices rose in the distance.  As if the world had silenced and sounded again.  She snapped her head forward, looking past Nic to the shoreline.  There stood the men with torches.  The same men who threw her into the waters to drown.  “They’ve come,” she said.

“Then go, love.  Let them see that you are pure.”  Nic released her from his grasp; the warmth dissipated into the frigid waters.  He gave one final kiss to her cheek.  “I shall see you again.” 

Ginny felt the gravely bank of the river beneath her feet and smiled.  Flush with the heat from Nic's body, she stumbled toward the men.  They stood lined at the slope, the flames of their torches flickering against the black sky.  She lumbered onto solid ground; hands still bound behind her and stones bulging in her pockets.  The rocks tied to her ankles dragged behind and her wet stockings slipped against the frost.  Sopping fabric from her dress clung to her body.  Ginny stood upright, facing the men. 

An elder with grey hair stepped forward and rested his hand on her shoulder.  His mouth formed a hard line.  Shadows from the flames danced across his face.  “Witch!”    

Ginny's eyes grew wide.  Shaking her head violently, she backed away.  The men rushed toward her, clutching flailing limbs as she fought them off.  “No!  I lived!  I lived!”

“It’s not your soul that lives, child,” said the elder, “you rose from the waters with breath in your body and warmth on your skin.  Only a witch is capable of such magic.”

Tears spilled onto her cheeks.  “I was saved!  Someone saved me.”

“Your sins will burn along with your body.”

Ginny craned her neck, looking back toward the river as the men carried her away.  Standing in the shallows, the stranger with his violet eyes watched; a wicked grin stretched across his face.  His voice carried on the chilly air, “I’ll wait for you, love.”

“He’s there!  Do you not see him?!”  Her struggle was futile.  A thick wooden post impaled the ground, already garnished with kindling.  The men held her against it, winding rope that bit into her skin. 

“Please!  I was saved!”  She sobbed.

The elder stood before her.  “You will never be saved, child,” he said, and tossed the torch at her feet. 




Short Story: Promise

Well, I debated whether or not I should post this short story.  It's not pararomance.  But then I thought, what the hell?  It's just a blogpost.  And probably more interesting than reading one of my rants! Next, I debated how to post it.  My limit on this was is precisely 3,997 words.  I considered breaking it up into two posts, but that didn't really seem fair to leave a short story hangin' like that.  So I'm posting the entire thing.  Just a warning - a few explicit words sprinkled in.

Thanks for stopping by to read!  And please don't hesitate to leave a comment.


 “Dale, tell me something.  What’s a God-fearin’ man like yourself doin’ out this late?” Sheila asks, leaning over the bar.  Hard to believe she was Prom Queen in high school, looking down at me with a missing eyetooth. 

“Last one.”

“Last one.”  She echoes, pointing a finger at me then turns to the small fridge below the bar.  She pauses and shakes her head.  “Danielle must be workin’ late tonight.  I can’t believe she hasn’t called up here lookin’ for you yet.”

“A date.” I grit my teeth and take a swig of beer.  It’d taken loads of self control not to put up a fight when she told me she’d be going out with some boy from school.  “Girl is eighteen years old with the stubborn will of her mother.”

“Well, who’s the lucky boy?”

“Don’t care.”  I run my tongue over my teeth and frown.  “One date don’t make him her boyfriend.”

Sheila belts out a throaty laugh and I cringe.  Must’ve breathed in years of bar smoke to sound that hoarse.  Her rasp forces me to cough.

“Only took one date for you and I, remember?”

Her words take me back to high school and for a moment I’m sitting in the back of my pop’s Bonneville, scrambling to get her bra unlatched.  Our first and only date.  I scowl at the thought.  She saunters away with a wily grin and a wink. 

One last guzzle and I push the bottle back toward the edge of the bar.  Sheila nods at me while I drop bills on the counter and head for the door. 

A tired, blue Chevy pick-up parked behind the building awaits me while I fumble with my keys in the darkness.   John Remy’s Dodge flickers as he makes his way to the front of the bar, locking his door with one of those keyless contraptions.  It takes a moment for her to kick up, but when she does, the old Chevy roars to life, sounding strong as ever.  They don’t make them like that anymore. 

A few stop signs and some back roads and I’m home, pulling into the long dirt driveway.  Danielle’s car is parked on the approach where she left it before Romeo picked her up.  His real name is Troy, a detail I won’t care about until I have to. 

The house is dark, cold and empty.  I toss the keys on the counter and head for the living room.  Settling into my recliner, I wait for her to get home.  “Nothin’,” I say, flicking through the few channels we have.  Sleep tugs at my eyelids and I glance at the clock; it’s after 11pm.  Danielle promised she’d be home somewhere around 10:00 if I let her out on a school night.  Although disobeying orders is clearly a trait she could have gotten from me, it isn’t her style. 

The news report is irritating background noise to the worry brewing inside of me.  I close my eyes and try not to think about it; she probably just lost track of time having fun.  How could I deny her a night out when she hardly socialized?  The girl needed to get back to herself after having lost her mom a few years back. 

I think about her mom sometimes.  Jenna Randall, prettiest girl in school; should have been Prom Queen over Sheila Benson.  Danielle was only nine years old when doc Breece gave her mom one year to live.  ‘Bout when I began spending more time up at the bar than home, refusing to accept that life with Jenna was about to get complicated.  The memories lull me into a state of light dreaming. 

A blinding glare of headlights crawls up the drive and wakes me.  Knots in my stomach tighten and ease.  I’m not sure if it’s anger or relief that’s consumed me more.  I peek out of the window; two shadows sit embracing each other inside the vehicle.  “Gotta be kiddin’ me.”  I grumble and roll my eyes. 

I’d left the house lights off intentionally, hoping to catch her sneaking in.  Not that I’d chew her out for being late; just need to make it clear I don’t approve.  The doorknob clicks and the sound of sniffles carry through the dark room.  I call out in a whisper, “Dani?”  She responds with a gasp.  Sobs erupt.  I abruptly turn the light on.  My breath hitches.

Her beautiful angel’s face, streaked with tears and smeared mascara, is bruised like a red plum. 

Without a word, I race back toward the door, opening it in time to catch the fading headlights disappear onto the road.  I grab my coat and keys, ready to chase after the little prick.  Danielle’s soft voice calls out to me.

“Daddy, it wasn’t him,” she says.  “It wasn’t him.”  Her eyes divert to the floor where she slumps, pulling her knees into her chest.  She’s got bruises on her arm and a cut across her cheek.

“Who was it?!  Who did this to you?!” I shout with a fury I didn’t know was in me.  She says nothing, only tucks her head into her knees, rocking as she weeps and chokes on snot gathered in her nose.

My heart pounds inside my chest.  A tugging sensation draws me to her, and I fall just short of where she sits; my useless arms outstretched.  I don’t know what to do.  Agonized wails fill my ears and suddenly I can’t breathe.  I’m 24 years old again, cradling a screaming baby that I can’t seem to quiet.  Tears collect in my eyes and with no warning I grab her into my arms.  Her body stiffens for a moment then she lays her head on my shoulder and cries out.  Her suffering rakes through me like a jagged knife.  She’s trembling, so I carry her to the couch and cover her with an afghan.  I whisper in her ear,“Please Dani, tell me who did this to you.”

She snivels and chokes.  “Charlie Hatchett.”  Her face is buried in my shoulder while I try to grasp what she’s said. 

Charlie Hatchett?

The name sends jolts of lightning up my spine.  I’d graduated from high school with Charlie years ago when everyone knew he wouldn’t amount to much in life.  A loser of the worst kind.  His father was the meanest bastard in all the county, and the whole town knew that Charlie was his favorite punching bag.  Back then, no one interfered with family, just let him keep beating the hell out of his son.  Charlie was quiet; not much for fighting back. 

I kiss the top of her head and squeeze her tightly.  Rage courses through my veins and burns like acid.  “How?  What happened?”  I’m certain the question will unleash another wave of tears. 

She whimpers, pushing me away and curls into herself.  “No.  I can’t.”  She shakes her head.  “I can’t.” 

I don’t force her to talk.  A hurricane of confusion swirls in my head while I sit next to her, stroking her hair behind her ear.  A half hour passes in silence while I stare at scattered patches of purple forming on her skin.  Fury clouds my senses.  Kill. 

Her trembling stops; she’s fallen asleep.  Careful not to wake her, I slip off the couch and stalk to the kitchen.  I swipe the keys off the counter.  The Chevy’s tires skid against the gravel as I head out.  I stop at the party store for a 6-pack.  Ed Price hands me change; his eyes fixed on me.  “Take her easy, Dale,” he says.  Back in the truck, I polish off an entire bottle in the parking lot then take off again.

I drive roads that are as familiar to me as they are suddenly foreign.  The beer tastes good, cooling my dry throat that, like most alcoholics, never seems quenched.  I punch the roof then take another swig.  “Motherfucker!” 

Good thing about small towns, cops don’t patrol the back roads much. 

I head in the only direction I know I’ll find someone up this hour.  I’d driven this familiar route so many times after Jenna’s funeral; seems natural that I’d turn right at the second stop sign toward Rip Jenner’s.  He’s an old buddy from high school, a year older than me and a good friend to talk to sometimes.

At a stone’s throw from Gratus road, headlights approach from behind, tailing the back of my truck and flicker.  Cop?  I pull off to the side of the road, keeping my eye on the rearview mirror.  Troy’s shiny, red pick-up truck slows to a stop behind mine.  I wait for him to walk up.  He doesn’t.

I climb out.  With my hands in my coat pocket, I stroll up to the driver’s side of the truck.  Troy doesn’t bother to look at me.  Bloody strands of his blond hair are plastered to his forehead.  His left eye festers with cuts and bruises.  An opened wound, in need of stitches, extends from the corner of his lip to his ear, like the slice of a knife.  Hard to look at.

“I knew you’d go out.  Danielle told me that you drink sometimes,” he says while his eyes shift back and forth.  “I wanted to come inside with her.  But she swore you’d think I did this.  She thought you might try to kill me.”

Yep.  “What happened at Hatchett’s?”  There’s nothing friendly about my tone.

Troy is silent.  He loosens his grip on the steering wheel and stares through the windshield.  “There’s a place….in the woods.  Like, the trees ‘been cut out just for the view.  The harvest moon seems so close you could touch it,” he says, glancing upward.  He winces.  “I had no idea it belonged to Hatchett’s.” 

My pulse races while I study the cut on his face.

“We were….just hanging out.  You know, talking.  And he came out of the woods, carrying a rifle.  He forced us to get out of the truck.  I told him I was sorry; I didn’t realize we were trespassin’.  He didn’t say anything, just led us to his house.”  Troy takes a breath.

“He started hitting me with the butt of his gun.  I blacked out; I don’t know how long, but I woke up in his basement with my hands tied behind my back.  I carry a pocketknife, so I cut myself loose and snuck up the stairs.” 

He glances away and when I am able to see his face again, I’m certain he’s got tears in his eyes.  Do I want to know what happens next?  Every bit has to do with my Dani.  A blast of frigid air steals my breath.  He continues.  “I heard Danielle screamin’, cryin’, beggin’ for him to stop.  Had her tied to his bed.”  Troy grits his teeth.  My stomach sinks; bile rises to my throat.  “He wasn’t expecting me.  I pushed him off of her and just hit ‘im.  Over and over I hit him until my fist hurt.  I finally knocked him cold, cut Danielle loose and we ran back to my truck.”

I imagine a football hero like Troy ain’t accustomed to crying in front of another man, so I turn away while he collects himself.  I swallow a harsh gulp and clear my throat.   

“I’m…so….sorry, Mr. Garrett,” he says.

“Go home boy.  You did good.”

I walk back to my truck; the pain threatening to ruin me.  Another beer helps to smother the images now burned in my mind.  I chug it, letting the numbing buzz clean the slate and I continue toward Rip’s.

The light in the pole barn is still on.  Bow season starts first thing in the morning and Rip has no intentions of missing it.  Two other trucks are parked in the drive, belonging to Caleb Knox and Jeremy Heinz; childhood buddies and big time hunters.  I’m not much for bow season, so I know my visit will come as a surprise.

I approach the door, carrying the last beer of my six pack.  Caleb’s voice rattles on about the Big Buck Contest; an event that happens every year for the biggest buck in the county.  No one won last year, though lots of big deer were shot.  Tradition is, once the winner is determined, all the other hunters throw down their tags.  It’s not a condition of the game, just a gesture of respect to let everyone know the hunt is over.  Rip ain’t stupid enough to give up one of his tags.

I walk through the door and conversation stops. 

“What gives, Hoss?  Decide to become a man?”  I don’t respond to Caleb’s comment; he don’t mean anything by it. 

My unopened beer swings from my hand; the first thing Rip notices…I don’t plan to stay longer than one.  I’m not sure if it’s the rage that clings to my face, or maybe I look like I’ve arrived without purpose that tips him off.  Rip knows I’m not here for a social call. 

“Ain’t you boys got families to get home to?  Go on now, git,” he says in a surly tone.

“I’m not goin’ anywhere until you tell me we’re partnerin’ up for the hunt,” Caleb argues.

“I told ya before, I ain’t givin’ up my tag; go find your own big buck.”

A feisty scowl colors Caleb’s face red, but is no match for the confidence that Rip always carries while he’s waiting for a fight.  “I’ll see you first thing.”  

Jeremy pats me on the shoulder as he passes toward the door.  “Good to see you, Hoss.”  I nod and tell him to say hi to his wife, a cousin of mine. 

Both men leave.  It’s just me and Rip, sitting on folding chairs.  Flames crackle in the wood stove.  How do I begin?  

Rip asks the burning question.  “How’s Danielle?” 

It’s not unusual, he asks every time I see him, having treated her like a niece all these years he’d raised three boys.  But the sound of her name is a bullet through my heart.  I force air through my nose, desperate to keep from breaking down in front of him.  Pressure fizzes when I twist the cap off my beer.  Rip watches me take a hefty gulp. 

“Went on a date tonight.  Chief Duckett’s boy.”  My tone is flat.   “Got caught trespassin’.”  I pause for a moment, clearing my throat that has begun to dry again.  I take another sip.  “Hatchett’s place.”

A serious expression creeps across Rip’s face and furrows his brow.  I continue on before he asks any questions.  “Hatchett beat Troy pretty good.  Give em’ a scar ‘longside his cheek.  And uh…Danielle.”  Dani.  I shake my head and try to breathe evenly.  My cheeks burn and I know tears are itching to follow.  It doesn’t take much for Rip to catch on. 

Aside from the crackle of the embers, it’s quiet.  Rip snorts, then spits.  His bulging lip is filled with a dip of chewing tobacco.  “So what are you going to do about it, Hoss?” 

“I ‘spose I need to get with Chief Duckett; get this bastard out of our town.”

Rip sneers and sits upright in his chair.  He folds his arms, looking me square in the eye.  “You know Duckett can’t do nothin’ about this.  Kids were trespassin’ and lucky Hatchett didn’t shoot ‘em on the spot.  Same thing happened to Tanner’s girl; she still ain’t been found.”  His words stick with me for a moment, remembering the 14 year-old who’d gone missing.  The whole town searched the woods, including Rip himself, and found nothing.  “Nope.”  He shakes his head.  “Only one way to justice in these woods, Hoss, and she don’t waste time bein’ merciful.”

I know what he’s saying to me, but the words jumble in my head.  I take a sip of beer to straighten them out, with the buzz of alcohol swimming through my veins.  “I ain’t never shot a man before.”

Rip grins.  “No different than shootin’ game.” A muscle in his jaw ticks.  “Still got that thirty-aught six?”

“In the truck.” I stare down at my last swill of beer.  Only one way to justice.  No different than shootin’ game.  Rip’s making sense to me; maybe I’ve had too much to drink.  I look up at him.  “Got any Wild Turkey?” 

He tosses me a half fifth of bourbon.  “Good luck tomorrow,” I say to him, walking toward the door.

“Same to you.” 


The warmth of the alcohol keeps the chill off.  I’m perched 250 yards across the field from Hatchett’s.  Through the window, he sits in his recliner, eating a clump of meat.  Like a vulture.  The years haven’t changed him a bit; still a scrawny, pathetic-looking bastard that I could have finished off after Troy’s beating.  Quiet and patient, I wait, letting the liquor do the convincing. 

I pull back the sleeve of my coat, revealing an iron cross on my right forearm; a tattoo I’d gotten while Jenna’s cancer was in remission.  By the time she’d relapsed, I wished I could cut it right out of my skin.  Since then, I’ve made good with God for Danielle’s sake.  Dani.  On my other forearm is Danielle’s name, etched in English letters.  With a light sweep of my fingers, I’m reminded why I am lying on the cold, pebbly ground; tall grass around me, peeking through a gap in the foliage with my sights set.

As if on cue, Charlie moves from the living room, up the staircase.  I peer through the scope of my gun, watching for the perfect moment, waiting for the perfect shot.  His cool composure tells me he’s thought nothing of the events from earlier.  Fucker.  Psychopaths seem to have a knack for dismissing the memories that haunt their victims for a lifetime.  A blinding haze of wrath consumes me.  His indistinct figure is momentarily protected by the obscure glass of the bathroom.  Though I could kill him from this vantage point, there is a growing need to see his bewildered reaction when the bullet shatters his bones. 

Dani.  How close she’d come to this place, not knowing that death loomed in the shadows.  My hands tremble and I grip the stock.  The warmth of my buzz dissipates with the October frost.  He appears in a bedroom window.  I take a deep breath and steady my finger on the trigger.  

I shoot.


I shield the sunlight with my hand and open the front door to Chief Duckett, who stares back at me with bleak eyes.  Sleep had eventually come for me the night before, though not so much on my own terms, but with a little help from the remaining third of bourbon. 

“Mornin’ Dale.”  His voice is ragged.  “I’m gonna need to take you up town with me.  Got some questions to ask you.”  I nod.  No point hiding what’s obvious:  I killed a man in cold blood.

“Just need to tell Danielle I’m leaving.”

Chief nods and waits for me outside.  A sense of sadness overwhelms me as I walk toward Danielle’s bedroom.  I carried her there when I got home last night; grateful the smell of beer and bourbon hadn’t been so pungent to wake her.  I don’t want to leave her in such a state

Curled up in a ball, she’s wrapped in warm blankets and I enter the room.  Her long golden locks catch rays of sun.  So peaceful.  I glance at a picture of her mother on the nightstand.  Is her expression pride or disappointment in me?  Danielle startles when I touch her arm and she sits up in bed.  I’m guessing she wonders why I’m home and probably thinks I’ve come to grill her for more answers, but I don’t say a word.  Instead, I grab her hand, noticing the softness of her skin through my calloused fingertips.  What do I say to herHad she been given a choice, what would she have decided?

“I have to leave,” I say.  She nods, likely thinking I mean for work.  “I’m going to call nana and see if you can stay with her for a bit.”

Pretty blue eyes, wide with bewilderment, stare back at me.  “What?  Why?  Where are you going?”  She straightens herself in bed.  I open my mouth to speak; my words falter.

“I uh….” I look away from her.  “I’m in a little trouble.”  Her tearing eyes fill me with regret.  This is the price for what I’ve done.  

“What kind of trouble?”  Her question beckons my own tears and I’m grateful when comprehension suddenly hits her.  She leaps across the bed, embracing me tightly and sniffles.  I let go of the breath I’d been holding.  She doesn’t hate me.  I hold her in my arms, wishing the world was a different place; that I had been a different father and known the feelings I’m suddenly smothered with.  Forgiveness.  Love.  Salvation.

“He ain’t going to hurt you again, baby.”  My voice breaks at the end.  I gaze at the picture of Jenna.  Her smile reaches out to me.

Danielle walks me to the door, forcing Chief Duckett to look away, gasping at the sight of her.  She hugs me one more time and tells me she loves me.  I follow Chief to the car.  We arrive at the station and I don’t bother lying to him.  He’d gotten the story from his boy the night before and was the first to discover chunks of Charlie’s skull scattered all over the bedroom floor.  Instead, I detail everything up until the end.


The entire town is at my court proceeding.  I can’t read the faces around me.  Will I be spit on when I walk through those doors or offered glimpses of sympathy?  The verdict is read: first degree murder reduced to voluntary manslaughter, meaning I get thirteen years in prison.  Will they burn slow or fly by as the last thirteen have?  The bailiff glances up a few times while shackling me.  His lips form a hard line.  Danielle smiles from the crowd.  She knew I wouldn’t miraculously walk out of here with freedom’s grace.  I bow my head and try not to look at her too much.

An object lands at my feet.  I focus on it.  A lump forms in my throat.  It’s a tag with Rip Jenner’s name.  He stands among others and within minutes, dozens of tags litter the courtroom floor.  The room is silent.  I look around to see stoic faces, all telling me the same thing:  the hunt is over.  I give a sharp nod without saying a word. 

Danielle smiles through tears, leaning her head on my mother-in-law.  Her bruises have begun to heal.  I smile back at her.


An old timer in prison once asked me if I’d do it again.  My daughter is 31 years old now.  I wasn’t there to watch her graduate from high school; never got to see her accept a college degree with honors; I missed the nervous giggles, arm in arm, walking her down the aisle and watching her receive the first kiss from her husband, Troy. 

But of all these pieces of broken life, this I know for certain:  I kept the promise I made to her dying mother; the same one I made to Danielle the first time I held her as a new father.  Although I’m not a perfect man, I will always love and protect her. 

I step out into the sunlight, a free man.  Danielle hobbles over to me with a bulging belly leading the way.  Her smile is radiant and seems genuinely happy while she stretches her arms for a hug.  I kiss her cheek, then reach down and touch her belly. 

“I was hoping he would wait for you,” she says, placing her hand on mine.  “It hasn’t been easy begging him to hold off for grandpa.”

“Grandpa.”  I smirk.



Funeral for a Fish

Throughout high school and college, I’d been given many opportunities to test my hand at nurturing.  I think it was then that I decided I should never have children.  I recall a plant given to me once – one of those hard-to-kill types.  I was delighted to see it live beyond the first week.  When the second week went by and it was still green and full of life, I figured it was time to start celebrating some milestones.  For every week that passed, I rewarded myself with a little shopping trip.  It was my incentive to keep the thing watered and happy.  I didn’t go all out, maybe a pair of shoes, a dress or some make-up.  It was always just something little to keep me wanting more, which was ultimately good for the plant.


One afternoon while sitting at my computer, diligently doing my homework, I heard a noise coming from the other room.  A faint rustling.  A mouse?  Creeped out, I padded to the living room and looked around, only to find nothing there.  So I went back to what I was doing.

Sometime around midnight or so, I heard the noise again in my sleep.  In case you’re wondering, I sleep like a black ops agent, so every noise wakes me.  It stopped me in my tracks (wherever I was making tracks in dreamland).  Though my spine tingled at the thought of what might be lurking in my dark apartment, I got up anyway to investigate.  Grabbing a rolled up magazine, armed and ready to swat someone or something in the head like a fly, I headed for the living room. Nothing.  What the hell is going on??

With hardly a wink of sleep that night, I scrambled out of bed the next morning to double check.  There wasn’t a single shred of evidence to justify the noise.  How maddening.

It wasn’t until about dinner time the next evening, when I sat down with my meager college-budget entrée of canned vegetables and salsa, that I noticed the noise again.  Louder.  A few of the leaves had fallen off of my plant, and lay strewn about on the floor.  That’s strange.  I picked them up and threw them into the pot.  (I suppose I was thinking the leaves would make good compost, but I guess that’s kind of like someone throwing a pile of clipped toenails onto my bed at night while I slept).

The noise was awfully close to the plant, so I moved it out of the way, praying that I wouldn’t find a little critter; a discovery that I simply could not deal with like a mouse or a trapped squirrel flapping lifelessly in my heater vent.  To my shock and horror, I found a pile of dried up leaves heaped behind the plant.  It had been shedding all of this time, and I didn’t have a clue.  Son of a bitch!  You’ve been deceiving me all the while!  I reached for one of the leaves and it easily broke, falling to the floor with the others. I shook the plant and more leaves fell.  What the hell?  Was this plant just making believe I was doing a good job?  As I stood there, contemplating my failure, a blast of heat suddenly hit my shins.  At the time, I lived in an apartment where heat and water was paid, so I kept the temp to 80 degrees, just because I could.  Although I had been watering the thing every day, the heat had been effectively drying it out. No!  Disappointed in myself again, I placed the tree out by the dumpster, hoping some aspiring greenthumb might pick it up and save its life.  That was the end to my weekly shopping trips.

Four years later, I became pregnant with my oldest daughter. Needless to say, I was a little concerned.  When the nurse handed her to me at discharge, I glanced up and asked, “Are you sure about this?”

She smiled.  “You’ll be fine.”

And she was right, human babies are much easier to take care of than plants or animals.  Who knew?

On my daughter’s third birthday, my husband and I decided to take on a little more responsibility, though I was completely nervous about the idea.  We bought my daughter a fish.

I took the time to decorate the fish tank with little knickknacks, adorning the gravelly bottom with places to hide for those times I’d be inducing a stroke by chasing him with a big green net.  Putting my skills to the test, I bought a tropical fish, instead of your run-of-the-mill, fifty-cent goldfishes.

There were so many variables that spelled trouble for me:  the heat had to be at a certain temperature, the pH had to be right, the filter had to be efficient and the amount of food had to be just enough.  This fish required more comforts than a diva on tour. But I managed to get my daughter from newborn to 3 years old, so I was willing to cater to this aquatic prima donna.

The fish did okay until one afternoon, while I was cleaning my daughter’s room, I noticed that he began to just sort of drift with the water current.  Limp?  Hard to tell on the other side of the glass.  The only time he moved was when he managed to get pulled by the suction of the filter; flipping around the bottom of it for dear life to avoid being sucked into oblivion.  I tapped on the glass.  Was this some newfangled meditation exercise among tropical fish?  He didn’t flinch and eventually made his way to the surface, where he flipped upside down; the universal signal for ‘this ain’t workin’ out.’


In a panic, I scooped him out of the water, thinking that a couple seconds closer to his last breath might force him to realize how much he enjoyed life.  I dumped him back into the tank and he continued to float.  Unmoving.  Dead.  Desperate to keep my daughter from making the discovery on her own, I plucked him from the tank and quickly flushed him down the toilet.

She didn’t seem to notice the huge, empty fish tank at first.

But when half the day went by, and I began feeling cocky and victorious, she approached me, innocently asking where her fishy went.  The guilt was overwhelming.  So I did what any parent would do in the same situation.  I lied.

“Maybe he’s just hiding,” I said.  It worked briefly, she ran back upstairs to see if that was the case.

When it was clear that he was not hiding, she returned.

“Well, maybe he buried himself under the rocks.  Fish like to do that sometimes.”  Like when their lifeless carcasses are being sucked into the gravel by the force of the filter system. This was too much.  I had to do something.  I couldn’t sit here and relive the moment over and over again, knowing that this was entirely based on my repeated failure to sustain life.  I wasn’t interested in telling her that he’d kicked the bucket, subjecting myself to the incessant questions that would surely follow.

Goldie, as my daughter so appropriately named him, was a black and white speckled molly.  While my husband kept her occupied that afternoon playing in the backyard, I hustled out to pick up another one.  I arrived to the pet store, utterly distressed to find that there were no black and white speckled mollies left; only orange and white. “What the hell kind of fish store doesn’t have black and white mollies!”  I grumbled, tossing my shopping basket into a stray cart as I stormed past the bewildered employees.

Luckily there was another pet store just down the road from the first.  I suppose they remained competitive with one another thanks to people like me, who have a knack for encouraging animal suicide.  I hastily grabbed a molly; took him home and without giving him the proper introduction into the water, still stagnant from the last corpse, I dumped him out of the plastic bag.  Mission accomplished.  I called to my daughter out in the backyard.  “Hey!  I found Goldie!”

In the middle of kickball, she ran to the house and up to her room, elated to find her beloved black and white fish swimming happily about.  All was good again.  I smiled at my husband who smiled back at me.  It’s not easy being a parent, but sometimes you just pull it off.


The screams shattered my deep slumber the following morning as I awoke in alarm.

“Goldie isn’t swimming mommy.  I think he’s sick!”

I looked to the ceiling and sighed.  Why must you torment me so?  OK it was time.

Reluctantly, I grabbed the net and scooped him up.  She followed me to the bathroom in procession, asking, what are you doing?  And where are you taking him?  When we arrived at the porcelain casket, hardly recovering from its last punishment, I told her that just like her favorite movie, Nemo, this fishy wanted to go back to the ocean to be with his family.  Tears welled in her eyes.

“What do you mean, mommy?”

Using the cartoon, I compared the fish’s love for his mother to her own, and explained how he could conceivably give a damn about some female who defecated a clump of gelatinous eggs into a plastic novelty stuck in the gravel for all the other fish at the store to feast upon.

Her acceptance surprised me.

At any rate, we bought another fish the following day.  After 3 weeks, he too met his ultimate demise and I went through the same ritual with my daughter.  I let her say a few words and pretend to kiss him before we flushed him down the toilet.

Another day, another fish.

I seemed to be having a hard time accepting that I was just not meant to care for anything that wasn’t 99% genetically identical to me.   As you may have guessed, this fish didn’t have a happy ending.  He too went belly up and once again, we went through the burial process.

Eventually, I had to start alternating fish stores each time I bought a new one.  The employees began to recognize me and I could hardly stand to hear the lectures, recommending that I check for fungus, test my heater, let the water run through the filter for a while before introducing the fish, not feed them tablespoons of fish food all at once, blah blah blah.  I did all of these things.

Perhaps I wasn’t buying the right fish.

This was beginning to get expensive, so I told my daughter, "Look, after this one, we really need to stop buying fish, OK?”  I don’t think she honestly believed that I would let a big beautiful fish tank sit empty on her dresser, but she nodded anyway.

I arrived at the fish store, again, and asked the guy if they had a special breed of tropical fish.  “One that could survive if, by chance, it was thrown out on to the hot summer pavement and run over by a Mack truck.”  He looked at me strange but offered a hardier version.  Unfortunately, the one the clerk suggested wasn’t made of adamantine, so its odds were slim out of the gate.  We took the new guy home.

I was thrilled to see that he was living beyond the first week, but I had been through this level of disappointment before, so I didn’t get too excited.  Two weeks later, he was still there.  And two weeks beyond that, I couldn’t believe I was still having to feed him every morning.

On my way to grab some laundry out of my daughter’s room one afternoon, I caught her running from her bedroom to the bathroom with the fishnet, dripping contaminated fish water as she scuttled along.

Horrified, I nabbed her arm that hovered over the toilet.  “What are you doing!?!”

She looked up at me with the same expression I imagine I had on my face when my mom caught me stealing a drag off one of her cigarettes.  Crap.

“He wanted to go home to his mommy, so I was going to let him go see her,” she responded, as though she shared joint custody and was sending him off for the weekend.

I’d just made my morning rounds a few moments earlier, so I knew the fish was doing well.  “No honey, we don’t just send fish to their mommies unless they are really sick.  And he wasn’t sick.”

“Well, he misses her.”

“Let’s put him back.”

She huffed and said, “OK, mom.  The truth is, I don’t want this fish anymore.  I want a new one.”

There it was.  She had become so desensitized to the whole Circle of Life thing and it was all my fault. Perhaps I should have explained the real deal to her instead of going on about the emotional attachments of animated Disney characters.

I caught a glimpse of the fish; his eyeball peering at me through a hole in the netting, looking as if to say, Can we move this along?  I’m beginning to feel the sensation of death creeping up on me.

So we put the fish back in the tank and I finally sat down to explain the process of life and death to my daughter.  She was a little teary-eyed to learn that her fish – all 4 of them - weren’t happily swimming the seas with their mother; but by now were likely nothing more than a mass of decayed tissue floating on the surface in a clump of greasy pond scum before it is skimmed off and sent through our pipes as the tap water she brushed her teeth with that morning.  I think the explanation left her with some unanswered questions, but I felt better having come clean with the truth.

Our fish managed to survive the rest of the year.  With one success under my belt, I decided it was time to move on to something else.  We retired the fish tank and have begun shopping for a puppy…..