Near the village of Heatheredge
It had taken thirty-two years, but he was home.
Cailean breathed deep of the chill dawn air, ripe with pine, morning dew…and promise. A hint of heather teased his senses. Deep in the wilds of Sutherland, Scotland’s most rugged and remote region, he stood in an empty moorland field. Hands resting on the hilt of the sword he’d driven into the peaty soil, he watched the April morning break in blue-grays above the mist-covered treetops. Soon, the rich golden blooms of gorse and broom would glisten in the sunlight. The village on the far side of the woods would waken and the ancient road that curved through its heart would prove scarcely wide enough to accommodate the throng of visitors. Visitors like him.
Cailean tracked his gaze along the breeze swaying heather. A tiny whirlwind leapt to life near the trees, then jolted toward him. He watched in amusement as the whirlwind batted the pink heather then jumped away. Its breeze reached him and he tensed in anticipation when the cooling mist danced across his bare flesh between kilt and boots. The wind abruptly softened and swirled around him as if in a lover’s embrace. Cailean smiled. Even the cold Highland air welcomed him home.
“Heatheredge,” he murmured, “I am yours.”
He glanced at the path that led to the village and watched swirling mist rise in thick folds along the field’s edge. Within the murk, a dark line of near impenetrable pines obscured all but the trail’s beginning. Above the fog, Clan Mackay’s impressive seat, Heatheredge Tower, speared the mist, rising from the trees like a citadel that pierced the clouds. At gloaming, he would stride through the stronghold’s gates and be welcomed as a friend and ally.
Cailean pulled his sword from the earth, then whipped the blade high, slicing air and invisible foes.
The Subconscious Zone
Everything had culminated in that point in time: his belief that he came to life for a higher purpose, his belief that he was ordained to change the future course of mankind, his bipolar disorder and its manic episodes, the panic attacks that started it all, his belief that there is no absolute right and wrong, his curiosity to experience how it feels to take somebody’s life, his passion for driving fast, and his belief that if we leave the hell of our minds, we have no limits.
He saw the barrel of semiautomatic assault rifle sneaking out from the lowering right window of the 2014 Dodge Ram. He was on highway 290 eastbound driving to work at the Chevron corporate office in downtown Houston on February 24, 2015. He was late, as he was on most days, hence there was traffic but nothing like the morning rush hour traffic. The highway had three lanes. Krishna was in middle lane, and the Dodge was in the left lane. The gunman was in the passenger seat of the Dodge, and Krish was in easy shooting range, as close as six to seven feet. It could actually be a guaranteed shot, Krishna thought.
Krishna always knew that if we stop controlling our mind and just leave it alone, it had no limits. He had been practicing this for a while. He almost turned off his conscious mind and let his subconscious or reflexes take over. He just became an observer instead of a doer. It was almost like autopilot mode, since the subconscious was supposed to take over the game. Krishna called it subcon zone. Krishna knew this phenomenon happened in all people involuntarily during emergency situations, but he started practicing in getting
Tara Taylor Quinn
“They’re back again.” Charlotte Powell stopped mid-sip of her second cup of morning coffee.
Her long-time friend, former college roommate, and one-third business partner in Boxes and Boughs, Gavin Elliot, pushed aside the red panel curtain over the bay window and looked out into the snow-coated morning.
“How many mornings is this? Three? Four?” Charlotte cupped her mug between her palms and joined him. Sure enough, two children, a taller, thinner girl with frizzing brown hair peeking out from under a grey knit cap and a young, wide-eyed little boy stood at the end of the walk to the three-story Victorian fixer upper as if gazing upon Santa’s Workshop. “Poor things must be freezing.” She could almost hear their teeth rattling from inside as the snow drifted around them.
“When I was their age you couldn’t drag me out of bed before eight.” Gavin glanced back at the antique clock that had come with the house. “It’s barely seven.”
“Clearly they’re on a mission.” Charlotte had had enough of the mystery. “I think it’s time we found out what it might be.”
“You’ve got that final appointment with the Hudsons today,” Gavin reminded her. He scratched his dark, crisply trimmed hair back and then scratched the tip of his broken nose, a product of being forced to take boxing lessons as a kid. “She wanted more ornaments on her tree and she thinks the outside wreath is dying.”
“Yeah, I know.” With only five days until Christmas landed on their heads with all the weight of Santa’s sleigh, Charlotte was more than aware of their packed schedules. “That’s what partnerships are all about, right? Worst case I can call on you or Lacey as reinforcements.”
She set her coffee down on the hall table, grabbed her coat and scarf— Christmas Town, Maine’s winter was being extra surly this year— and popped open the front door. “Good morning!” She darted down the wooden steps and dug her gloves out of her pockets.
The girl’s chin went up as she grabbed hold of the little boy’s hand and tugged him closer. Protective. Determined, Charlotte thought as the early morning chill froze her cheeks. And given the way the girl’s hands were fisting in her brother’s too big coat, fighting a case of nerves.
“Welcome to Boxes and Boughs. I’m Charlotte. Is there something we can do for you?”
“I’m Addison Carver.” The girl’s brown eyes glistened as she pursed her lips. “This is my brother Wesley.” She looked beyond Charlotte to the sign promising the perfect Christmas. “We want to hire you.”
M C Raj
‘Mom, see who has come,’ Nyree shouted in excitement as she stepped into her house with her boyfriend from the college.
Helen didn’t share the same excitement as Nyree. She walked out slowly from her study to see who’d come with her daughter. She’d become used to welcoming many young men. There was, however, a difference this time. The young man standing beside Nyree looked very handsome, and she felt stunned for a minute. She remained motionless for some time without knowing why. All her organs became numb in unison, as soon as she saw him.
“Mom, why are you looking at him like that? I know he’s very handsome. The moment I saw him I fell flat for him. Now you don’t fall in love with him too,” Nyree teased with her usual playful nature. “It will complicate matters. Come on, mom, meet him.”
She moved slowly towards him and extended her hand, her thoughts scattering in different directions.
“Hello, Helen, I am Iniyan, from India.” He seemed to have picked up some English manners from the New Zealanders.
“Your face looks very familiar. Have I seen you before?” Helen asked.
“You must have seen me on the TV. Will you not allow me in”?
“Oh, I am very sorry, son. Come in. Let us sit and talk.” She held on to his hand as she led him to the sofa and sat next to him.
“I have got my masters in the Maori art forms and am part of a performing arts group in Massey,” Iniyan explained with pride in his voice. “We are occasionally featured on Maori TV. Recently, we gave a show, also on the New Zealand TV. It was much appreciated.”
“Ha, tell me that.” Nyree put her arm around his shoulder. “Yes, I watched part of it. Many of my friends spoke highly of it.” She kept watching him without batting an eyelid.
“From which part of India are you? I have some friends in India,” Helen asked.
“I am from a small town called Sira. It is on the way to Mumbai from Bangalore.”
“I’ve been to India only once and do not understand much about its geography. You two keep talking.” Helen wanted to be alone for a moment to get her thoughts together. “I shall bring something to drink. What would you like? Coffee or Tea”?
“I’ll have coffee. First, a glass of water, please?” Iniyan replied nervously.
“You can take water from the tap here, Iniyan. It is not like in your country. The water is safe.” Helen went to the kitchen to make some coffee. She needed to remove herself from his unsettling presence.
C J Laurence
He captivated me entirely. His entire essence called to me as a glimmer of light beckons a moth. My body hummed in delight from his touch. The delicious strokes of pleasure from between my legs left me revelling in new levels of joy. His lust-filled gaze trailed down my heaving chest, sending shivers running through me. I found myself transfixed on his taut, muscled arms gripping my thighs—the image alone almost released me from his sensual assault.
He plunged himself in and out of me, faster, deeper, each urgent thrust pushing breathless gasps from me. With his chiselled cheeks and burning blue eyes, he brought me to my sweet edge in seconds. I collapsed back on his desk, panting and swimming in an ocean of decadence.
He glued his lips to mine as a groan vibrated through him. He stilled for a few seconds before he lay on top of me. His laboured breaths still resonated with something inside me.
As he sorted his clothes out, I propped myself up on my elbows, biting my lip with a seductive bat of my eylashes.
“So,” he said, a cheeky grin tweaking the corners of his mouth. “How do you think your appraisal went, Kyra?”
“I think it could have been better.” I flashed him a wicked smile.
“I look forward to seeing your notes on improvement.”
He moved back towards me with a mischievous grin, those succulent lips of his inching their way towards my neck. Like prey to a vampire, he had all the access he required. I couldn’t help the moan of desire escaping me as he grazed kisses across my skin…
You’re late…you’re late. Where the heck are you? Out of the corner of her eye, Marité Muro scanned the hallway of the chapel. To her mounting frustration, several attendees standing next to a column blocked her view. She could stare forever and accomplish nothing. Neither the people nor the column would move out of her way. Reality does stink. She didn’t have X-ray vision or mental superpowers like the superheroes in her favorite comics and fantasy novels. Her human anatomy had its limitations, and just to reinforce that concept, a painful stab attacked her temples as a multitude of sparks filled her vision. Half-blind, she tangled the tip of her elegant new shoe with the footed base of a nearby massive candleholder, and she nearly flew forward. Mumbling a curse that would’ve shocked her mother, Marité froze in place, waiting for her vision to clear.
Thanks to the futile search, she’d almost made a fool of herself in front of everyone and, worse, had missed key aspects of a ritual she didn’t know well. She should be following the ceremony. Any minute, the spotlight and all eyes would be on her, which meant ignoring the stupid voice that wouldn’t stop nagging in her mind. The incessant taunts had begun as soon as she took her place by the baptismal font: Go ahead. Turn around. Check the crowd, silly girl. How else will you know? Well, screw the voice. She had an important role and should appear focused on the celebration—same as Brian, her partner in the ceremony—or at least pretend.
Still, she couldn’t stop thinking of Michael. Why aren’t you here?
How about a little peek? the voice insisted. Shifting her gaze to the left hallway, she tried again, seeking a body, a shadow, some movement, anything that might indicate her cousin’s arrival. Nope. Nothing. Zip.
You’re going to ruin it if you don’t show up. How could he miss the triple christening when it meant so much to everyone? The entire family had flown in from the Old Country, not to mention friends from all over. Forget the relatives, she had dreamed about this occasion for weeks, had bought this pink chiffon dress and complementary shoes, hoping to regain his attention. She wanted him to see her among adults, doing adult things like a young lady. Maybe then she’d impress the indifference out of him and the uncomfortable disaffection would end. Not so long ago, he would’ve insisted on driving her. He would’ve been full of advice on the ride over. He used to be so protective and supportive, so affectionate, but lately—
The clinking sound of the swaying censer and Father O’Leary’s voice grew louder. He’d moved from infant to infant, performing the sacramental rite: dabbing bits of salt in their mouths, sprinkling the tiny foreheads with holy water, and lastly anointing them with chrism. And now it was Rebecca’s turn, the gorgeous child cradled in her arms. Marité glanced at the beaming parents standing off to her right, Raquel and Matthew Buchanan, her sister and brother-in-law. Dismissing her earlier preoccupation, Marité sent a silent prayer on their behalf for a life full of well-deserved happiness. They’d struggled enough.
Father O’Leary recited the questions to the godparents, and Marité answered in unrehearsed unison with Brian. The sound of his deep voice, full of emotion and self-assured, rang in her ears as spirals of thick church incense wafted around her with its heady scent. A dreamy feeling overcame Marité. Each I do response seemed to roll out of Brian’s lips in slow motion. The words echoed throughout the room, then ricocheted inside her mind in giant swells. A sense of déjà vu transported her to a distant time in a faraway chamber, richly ornate and full of golden lights, nowhere she knew or had seen before… The experience didn’t last; it ended with the last question but left her shivering. She looked Brian’s way.
He leaned forward. “Lil’ godmother?”
“Forget it. It’s nothing,” she said quickly. Whatever she’d seen, Brian obviously had not. No point in pursuing it further.
Brian MacKay, Matthew’s best friend and ex-war buddy, was the happiest person she’d ever known in all of her fifteen years. His smile could brighten the gloomiest day. In these days of the Vietnam War, men who survived the jungle came home either physically damaged or with broken spirits, sometimes both. Not Brian. His cheerful disposition had carried him through exhausting physical therapy sessions—she’d heard Raquel and Matthew talk—and conquered his wounds. She watched in awed respect as he moved or walked about, displaying his faltering step like a badge of honor and the ever-present cane like a scepter.
Despite the seven-year gap between them, Brian didn’t condescend to her. He treated her as an equal, and she liked that quality best. When she learned Brian had agreed to become Rebecca’s godfather, she’d been overjoyed and honored. The sacrament would not only bind them to the child but to each other, as compadres in a very special lifelong relationship, almost like parents. Her thoughts pivoted to her absent cousin…and yep, she was back to where she’d started.
“What is it?” Brian nudged her arm. “That frown’s ruining your purdy face.”
Marité knew he’d tried to keep his voice down but was also certain folks in the last row heard him. “Shhh,” she whispered, and, suppressing a rising giggle, she bumped him with her shoulder.
Brian jerked up to his full height, snapping two fingers in mock salute. “Yes, ma’am.”
Rebecca must have found their exchange entertaining, because she decided to join the fun. Her rosebud lips puckered, releasing a loud half-raspberry, half-spit bubble.
“Not very ladylike,” Marité murmured. Brian snickered, and the priest shot them both a warning glare.
Her sister, Raquel, heard the sound and flicked a signal to Matthew. As a lighted taper was presented to Marité and Brian, Matthew retrieved Rebecca in exchange, rescuing everyone from the priest’s displeasure. With little Rebecca’s explorations in sound effects successfully silenced, Father O’Leary nodded, and the baptism proceeded in its ordered sequence.
The thunderous boom of a kneeler dropped carelessly on the floor reverberated throughout the chapel like a discharged cannon. Marité tossed poise out the window and turned, peering above and beyond the curious guests to the source of the commotion.
You know how to make an entrance, don’t you?
With hands pressed against the last pew, Michael leaned forward. His shoulder-length hair, falling in the direction of his hands, concealed his features. On her next breath, Marité evaluated the situation in the room: a pale Aunt Coralina directed a wife-to-husband plea for serenity to Uncle Jonas, whose gaze emitted ice-blue fury toward his irreverent son.
An unexpected censuring scoff out of Brian startled her, and Marité pivoted, beginning to feel like a spinning top. The frown of disapproval was a rare departure from Brian’s affable countenance. Confounded by it all, Marité flipped back around just as Michael looked up, tossed back his leonine mane in obvious defiance, and smirked. Ignoring everyone present, he glared at her. A chill ran down Marité’s spine.