The Darkest of Lore

Blog of Author/ Editor Lori Titus

Connor Titus: The End is Now and The Guardians of Man

About a year ago, Crystal Connor and I teamed up for a project that we thought would produce one novel. What we ended up with was two co-authored books revolving around a small town after a worldwide catastrophe.  What starts out as a blackout turns into a much worse situation, with paranormal forces at work and a battle for mankind in the balance. I asked Crystal what it was like to work as part of a team for The End is Now and The Guardians of Man.

 

 

1) How did you come up with the idea for the story?

Dude I totally cheated. When you sent the writing prompts, every single one of them fit perfectly with a short story I wrote and published a year earlier call The Parish. It’s the 2nd story in my anthology …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! I wanted to expand that story so I sent you the same disaster from The Parish set in a different town.
Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined that the story would end up as large as it did requiring two books and two author’s to tell it.

2) Of all the characters, who was the most surprising to you?
Oh my gosh I am going to have to pick two! The first would have to be Khrystle. When she introduced herself to me I didn’t like her and I was already planning her death from those early chapters. But after you read them, added to it, then sent it back you made it impossible for me to kill her which made me despise her even more. It’s silly I know but it felt if she pitted us against each other and I resented her for that. But then… Oh but then. Much later in the story you developed her character in such a way that she broke my heart and made me cry. I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t believe it. I think that Khrystle is the character in our books that is basically the Y in the fork in our road to Mt. Empyreal. Going off the copy that we worked on together and what I wrote alone she is the one who pulls our books apart changing them from simply from In the Foothills of Mt. Empyreal and turning them into The End is Now and The Guardians of Man.

The second character that totally blindsided me is Marradith from your Hunting in Closed Spaces series. I was reading that series last summer but once we started I stopped. For some reason I cannot read and write at the same time. There was a scene I wrote and when you sent it back you mentioned HICS and from there she sorta just showed up in my version of the story. I had to go back and research her because I really didn’t know that much about her back story and family history because I started reading the series in the middle. I had to change her to fit into the narrative of my version of events but I’m sure I did her justice and that you’ll be pleased with my interpretation of her.

3) Was there anything about working with a co-author that was easier or harder than you expected?
Actually, it was way easier than I expected. All the horror stories you hear about the perils of co-authoring a book, the ego issues, which author will be the lead narrator, scraping one idea in favor of another never happened. Working with you really has been too good to be true. I mean I still pinch myself that we actually pulled this off. I was a little worried that one of us wouldn’t be 100% happy with the way the books turned out but that solved it own problem fairly early one.
The one thing that was hard, and I need to back up a bit because I’m not sure if everyone knows this but at first we meant to co-write just one book. But when we decided to use the part we wrote together as the foundation for our own individual books that we would write independently without sharing information, that part was really hard for me. We had been talking about it and working together every day for almost four months. To go from that to complete radio silence as not to influence each other, even though that was my idea, it was surprisingly tough.
I was like “ok now what?” It was almost like a break up, I mean we weren’t even talking to each other on Facebook. And then I went through a real break up, you got another job and thru that we kinda found our way back to each other. Once you got settled in and I stopped eating my own weight in ice-cream we were able to talk to each other about our books without revealing any information. Coming up w/bench mark deadlines and reporting weekly word counts really helped get things back on track.
Another thing that was really hard was keeping this project secrete for an entire year. For those who are reading this, we’ve never seen or heard of two authors co-writing two books with the same catastrophe, told in the same town with all the same characters but told two different ways. Because it’s such an original idea we treated it like a trade secret. Being so excited about something that you can’t take about is surely a form of torture.

4) With the new books out, what are you planning to work on next?
I am going to be spending sometime in The Realm of Nine, which is the next series I have simmering in the back burner while at the same time working on another stand alone novel called The Family.

5) What do you find easier–writing about a lot of characters, or just a few?
Okay, see what had  happened was… lol. I tend to have a lot of characters in my stories, I don’t know how that happens, it makes things a bit hard because I end up with a lot of people who become hard to ‘control and keep track of’ once the story gets to the point where as an author I am no longer in the driver’s seat.

6) Do you plan to write epic stories, or does it just work out that way?
It just turns out that way, even my short stories have a way of turning out epic, just on a smaller scale.

7) What do you think has changed in your writing the most over the last two years?
I am more comfortable of doing things my own way, of going against the grain. Due to the sheer size and plot complexity of the Spectrum Trilogy made it such a great learning experience, that just having it done plus the positive feedback, has catapulted my self-confidence as a writer straight thru the stratosphere …

8) What kind of stories do you like to watch or read when time allows?
I like horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. I also love the high impact over the topic action sequences that are a staple in really good Korean action and sometimes drama films.

9) How have your family or friends reacted to your new project?
My mom is super excited, ever since The Darkness my mom has always read the very first print ARC copy. She loves it. At the time of this interview the Mt. Empyreal project was still secret so they don’t know about these books yet. They will find out a month before they go on sale by way of a cover reveal.

10) How would you spend a day if you were not allowed to write or work for 24 hours?
By sleeping and watching movies!

 

____________________________

©2014 Lori Titus

 

 

Connor Titus: 2 Writers1Name

About a year ago Crystal Connor and I talked about our own writing projects and possibly working together. She asked me for some writing prompts and I sent her a few words: candlelight, book, snow.

What she sent me back was the beginning of an awesome story, one in which inhabitants of a small town were trapped inside their homes because of toxic snowfall.

Trading our story back and forth, I wrote bits, she did, we discussed the story, and things got rolling. We only set out to write one book, and somehow ended up writing two co-authored books, each with our own take on the events of a town in the mountains called Fate’s Keep. As of the date that I am writing this, neither Crystal or I have read each other’s copies. Silence is killer! We’re dying to read each other’s book, and we hope that you will be too!

Jaidis Shaw will be doing the cover reveal for our books on April 18th. Follow the link for more information for the blog tour Crystal and I will start shortly:    http://junipergrovebooksolutions.com/cover-reveal-connor-titus/

 

 

 

 

 

Souls

This is a story that originally appeared in William Pauley III’s collection of horror stories, Toe Tags.

This version of the Nayjeed was taken down and completely restructured, a new story about the same monster.

If your  flesh and breath were borrowed, what would you do to make something your own?

 

Enjoy the story:

http://blackpetalsks.tripod.com/yellowmama/id1129.html

Cassidy.

What a long time away!

Since it has been a while since I posted, I’ll tell you that I have several things in the works, but since some of the projects include other busy bees, I can’t tell you too much about them yet.

But… I do always have what I call side projects, and this may be quickly turning into one. And not the usual fare, either. It’s an untitled story so far, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

***

Leaves circled the yard in mini hurricanes of red and yellow. Despite her coat, Cassidy shivered, pushing her hands as far as they’d go into the shallow pockets of her worn coat.

The trailer sat near the edge of town. A beaten white pickup sat behind it, and almost obscured bt the treeline, an old Toyota with a cracked windshield, missing the front two tires.

The truck – an old service vehicle that could have been any make was still usable. Cassidy had good memories of it, as she’d used the pickup to get her first license. The Toyota was a complete loss. It hadn’t been used for anything but storage for years.

Cassidy told herself that she needed a plan, some sort of idea about what she should take and what she would leave. It had been four years since she’d been inside the trailer, and she wasn’t sure what might be in there that she would want. But she wasn’t comfortable with the idea of having everything scrapped, either.

The one time she’d entered her Mother’s home, and was old enough to remember it, she was unpleasantly surprised with the way she was living.

Twenty years old, and this place still reduced Cassidy to the sixteen year old girl she had been at that visit.

The smell of cedar, the woods, the wind were comforting. It was the closed, cylindrical space of the trailer that frightened her. Too much like a prison cell.

Or a tomb.

***

Cassidy’s fear of small spaces was not something that she remembered from childhood. Her father said that the first panic attacks and bouts of claustrophobia came about in her teen years, sometime after that day in the trailer with her Mother.

“We tried to get you to tell us what happened,” Father said, “but you never would.”

Worse than facing her father was dealing with her stepmother, Nancy, with her crow-like eyes and pinched mouth. “What really happened to you out there, Cass?”

“Whatever it was that happened, is between me and my Mother,” Cassidy said. If she could remember what, maybe she would sound more convincing.

***

Nancy had raised Cassidy as far back as she could remember.

Cassidy always knew that her biological mother, her father’s ex-wife, existed, but she might have well been a myth for all that she knew of the woman. Nancy was up with her in the morning, cooking breakfast, nursing her when she was sick, attending parent-teacher conferences. She bandaged scraped knees, told stories, gave out hugs without prompting and called her endearments in Spanish. Cassidy knew the meanings behind the lilting words long before they were explained beause of the look in Nancy’s eyes when she spoke them. Nancy read her stories at night,  and she would listen breathlessly to Where the Wild Things Are and Harry Potter.

Cassidy felt loved.

It wasn’t until later, after years of asking questions that she never got complete answers to, that she began to wonder about where her mother was and why it was forbidden to talk about her, that Cassidy began to doubt Nancy’s place in her life, or that she had a right to be in it at all.

What she did get from her parents was as condensed as a child’s version of a classic book, so far away from the real events, void of the sex, blood and pain that made the story anything resembling the original version. It wasn’t until she was able to do her own research that the pieces came together, and Cassidy finally demanded to meet her real mother.

***

Cassidy wasn’t even the name she was born with.

Finding out that part of her history, sitting in front of a computer in the local library made her feel lost in a way that she couldn’t name.

Cassidy was the maiden name of her Father’s mother. She was born Pamela Ann in a small town in central California, a stopping spot between the end of one interstate and an unfinished highway, that she had never heard of before.

 At the time of her birth, Cassidy’s parents had been married five years. But not long after, things began to fall apart. There was a record of domestic disputes.

That wasn’t a surprise. Cassidy suspected that her parent’s marriage had met an unhappy, messy end.

What surprised her was the mention of Nancy Palmero, her stepmother, in a news story about an attempted assault.

———————————

©2013 Lori Titus

EYE CANDY

This article caught my attention, and it’s a good conversation starter. How much is just the fantasy of wanting to see attractive heroines in fiction, and where does it cross the line into being degrading? And from a man’s perspective:

http://hikikomoiegaku.com/2012/08/01/feminist-writings-women-in-media-vs-the-male-gaze/

Transformation

While FlashesintheDark.com gets an upgrade from my friend and technical/marketing/editing guru, Tony Smith, many other things are brewing …

First off, on the internet radio side: Tonia Brown and I are host to author Rebecca Hamilton of The Forever Girl Series very soon.

We also will have an interview with another author, and I’ll tell you who she is when we solidify a date.  Paranormal fans,want a hint? How about the word: Dulcie?

Also, Victorya and I should have a new episode of That’s F*cked Up. We took a breather to get some things sorted. Not to worry, we have plenty to talk about!

Marradith #2 has been driving me to distraction, and guess what happened? Up pops up the prologue for the third installment. I may have to write out of order for a bit. Hmmmmm.

And speaking of writing, I am writing a lot, but on different things.  At this rate I’m surprised the characters are not bleeding into my dreams, but I’m glad to get them on paper and out of my head.

Along with Rebecca’s novel,  The Forever Girl which you can find here: http://tinyurl.com/bqkdsfx  ,  I am also reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone: http://tinyurl.com/cz2trbe .

What are you guys reading this summer? And for my writer friends, what are you working on?

Four Little Birds: By Lori Titus

     Chloe fantasized about killing herself. There were so many ways that she could do it.  Any  number of household items would do the trick nicely.  Six years earlier, when she was seventeen years old, she’d attempted suicide. Despite the pain and the blood loss, the cut she made across her wrist was too shallow to kill her. Now, she knew better, knew just how to make the cut that would open her artery.

    Standing alone in the kitchen, she took a knife from the cabinet and held it up to the light. She could see her reflection in the blade. For a moment, she thought of fairy tales, the stories she read as a child. Swords and daggers were always the key to some great mystery, the symbol of faith and sacrifice.

     Chloe blinked. She had no greater purpose to commit herself to. And she’d long ago lost faith in anything. She put the knife down on the chopping board.

     From the refrigerator, she gathered her ingredients: cubes of beef, carrots, potatoes. And of course, the onions. She peeled back the skin and chopped the onion first. Chloe had learned that the one time she could truly be left alone in the house was when she was cooking.  It was something that the children could understand; that she had a need to eat and be satiated, that she needed it to be strong and healthy.  And they wanted her well.  So they never asked questions. It did not seem to concern them that she cooked inordinate amounts of food for one person, or that the meals  took so long to prepare. 

      Maybe it was because time moved differently for them. Upstairs, in the room they shared, they played in their own world. Very little about her concerned them, other than the fact that she was around when they asked for her. Still, she could feel them, like a low grade buzzing in the back of her head. The oldest, Michael, ordering the others around as usual.  He couldn’t be much older than ten – Chloe smiled at the thought – but he had all the wisdom of an old man.  Selia the next oldest, was eight. She spoke very little, her blond hair falling in ripples around her long face and pointed chin.  Peter was seven. He spoke with his eyes, with his exaggerated motions, but rarely with words. The others said this was because he’d lost some of his hearing after a bad ear infection .  The youngest, Nina, was the one who really controlled the rest, Chloe always thought.  It was those big brown eyes, the roundness of her face.  Her dark hair spilled over her shoulders like a veil.

     Chloe swiped at the corners of her eyes with a paper towel and put the meat in a pot to brown.  Only a year before, Chloe lived a different life.  She’d lived in a small apartment in the city,  a few blocks away from the University.  A bartending job on nights and weekends brought in good money, enough that she handled her simple expenses easily.

     She looked out the window. The wind gusted. The sun played hide and seek behind the clouds as it had all day, casting long gray shadows across the expanse of land.  The house sat at the edge of an old farm. The ground was fallow now, brown, resting. It seemed it was always that way, as long as Chloe could remember. There were no stalks of corn or rows of squash, if there ever had been. She had it in her mind that the ground was cursed. That was why nothing could be produced from it.

    Chloe shuddered. The day before she’d heard the weatherman saying that it would snow early this year. She hated the snow, because it meant she was imprisoned in the house. The coming of snow meant that she would have to go and get provisions.

     That was the worst thing of it, because she remembered how she’d been brought to them each time. Though time seemed to blur and stretch before her, the night when she first came to the children was always vivid in her memories.

 ~*~

    Chloe remembered. She was walking home after work, because she’d had a couple drinks after closing time with some friends. The line between friends and customers was sometimes blurred at Vinny’s.  The regulars began to feel like old chums. Now and then someone would buy her a drink in lieu of a tip. Her car was in the parking lot, but it was only two blocks to her place. So rather than risk it, she decided to walk back to her apartment. “You sure about that?” Tom asked. He was the guy who bought her drink. She’d caught his glance a few times, and she could tell that he liked her. He was harmless, but she knew he wouldn’t mind the chance to get her back to the apartment alone, and see if he could make something more of the evening.

     “No, I’ll be fine,” she insisted. “See you next Thursday, right?”

     He looked rejected, slipping his hands into his pockets. “Yeah, sure.”

     She was halfway home when she heard it; the gentle rushing of wings.  A crow landed on the ground a few feet from her. The bird tilted its head, regarding her with its black eyes. It cawed, and then took flight.

     Chloe was relieved to see the lights of her apartment building come into view. The downstairs neighbor always kept her house brightly lit. Her own apartment upstairs was black, and the parking lot was lost in shadow.

     “Lady.”

     She heard the voice. At first, she thought that she imagined it. Then a shadow detached itself from the side of the building. The little girl wore a faded dress with a pink sweater over it. She stretched out her brown eyes, her hands crossed before her. “Lady, help me.”

     “What are you doing here?” Chloe asked. “Where is your Mommy?”

     Something flashed in the child’s eyes.  “Yes. Where is my Mommy?”

~*~

 When Chloe woke again, she heard the flapping of wings. She was laying on a wood floor.  Looking upwards at the ceiling, she realized that she was in an attic. In the dimness, she saw a child. It was the little girl from earlier.  She sat Indian style, only a few yards away.  Chloe blinked, not believing her eyes.

     In the girl’s hands was a pigeon.  It struggled in her grasp. She cooed to the creature. Bringing it to her lips she broke its neck, greedily lapping the blood up with her tongue, even as some of it dripped down her chin.

     Chloe screamed.

    “She’s awake,” came another voice. The others came to stand before her. Children, three of them – two boys and a girl. “I’m Michael,” the oldest, and tallest of the brood said. His hair was long and brown, falling over his forehead, leaving his eyes in shadow. He crossed his arms.

     “Where am I? Why am I here?” Chloe demanded.

     “Shhhh,” the girl soothed.  Her blond curls fell forward as she kneeled down beside Chloe.

     Chloe tried to move, and became panicked when she realized that she couldn’t  get her limbs to respond.

     “You’re not going anywhere,” Michael said coolly.  “Don’t try to struggle. It will just make this whole process uncomfortable for you.”

 The blond girl was holding Chloe’s left wrist. Her fingers traced the blurred line of her scar.

     “Ah. So you’ve wanted to die before. Would you like to die now?”

     Chloe tried to shake her head, but it was no use. Tears came to her eyes. “No!” she cried.

     “Selia,” Michael snapped.  “You’re frightening her. We will all have a little drink from her. Be careful. You know what happens when you get greedy. We don’t want a repeat of the last time.”

     The girl discarded of the pigeon, coming to stand with the others. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “My name is Nina,” she said, smiling.

     “Enough with all that,” Michael said. They all drew closer, forming a semi-circle around her. “There’s time for her to know all of us later.”

      Selia put Chloe’s wrist into her mouth. The coldness of her lips and soft tongue were shocking, like having her skin plunged into ice water. Selia bit down , her teeth sinking easily into Chloe’s flesh.

~*~

     When Chloe woke gain, she was laying on a narrow bed.

She was still in the attic.  In the darkness, she could hear them – the children. Though three of them slept, their minds were active. She could see in the darkness, shapes floating near the ceiling. Their bodies levitated as they rested.  Their forms were dark, and she thought of the crow she’d seen on the street, just before she was snatched. That was one of the children, she knew it now, down to the marrow in her bones. They could change form.  Chloe felt Nina before she saw her. The little girl got up on  the bed. Climbing onto her body, Nina placed her cold head on Chloe’s breast.

     “What will you do with me?” Chloe asked.

     Nina smiled. She moved , settling into the crook on Chloe’s arm.

     “Children are rather like pets, don’t you think?” Nina said softly.  “People expect that children should belong to someone that will guard and provide for them. It’s a limitation that comes with possessing these bodies. I told Michael so. But one gets tired of roaming.  So we took these bodies because they were available.”

     “What are you?”

     That brought a laugh from the girl’s lips. “A form of demon, I guess. You can feel us now, in your blood. You know that, don’t you?”

     “Yes.”

     “We need someone who can do things for us. Vouch for being a parent.  Someone who can go out alone without being questioned.  We need a Mother.”

      “You’re saying that you won’t kill me?”

     “If you do what we say, you’ll be fine.”

     Chloe shook her head.

     “You’ll see, it won’t be bad at all. You’ll bring us what we need.”

     “I saw you eat a pigeon,” Chloe blurted.

     “That was nothing,” Nina said. “We raise pigeons. They make good snacks. Just like you humans like chicken.”

     You humans, Chloe thought. Demon. Nina admitted that she and the others were not human.

     “You’ll see,” Nina said with confidence. “I picked you for a reason. Sleep now,” she said, hooking her small arms around Chloe’s waist.

     And though it was against her will, she was asleep in moments.

~*~

      Thunder cracked through the air, shaking Chloe from her thoughts, and rattling the house. She listened. The children were talking upstairs, but they didn’t seem concerned by the coming storm. Of course, the weather would not scare them, Chloe thought bitterly. They aren’t really children

      Michael’s voice came to her then, strong, clear as if he spoke into her ear.

     Go where I tell you.

     Chloe turned off the fire beneath the pot, and took a ring of keys from the kitchen drawer. She almost forgot to grab her jacket as she headed outside. She was greeted by the smell of dirt and ozone in the air. A fat drop of rain hit the top of her head as she opened the door to the truck.

~*~

      Joshua Redmond rolled down the window of his SUV. He liked the smell of  rain. A group of dark clouds gathered on the horizon, angry boilers by the looks of them. The rain was only drizzle, but he saw at least one lightning strike.

     It wouldn’t be long.

     He always made it home quicker when he took the back roads, and this gloomy afternoon was no exception. On a good day, he usually left a job site by five. But today, he told his crew to do what they could in the morning to cover the house they were working on, and go home. The men were done well before 2:00. He was looking forward to a quiet evening, a hot dinner and some football on television.

     He was a quarter mile from home when the rain started to come down in sheets.

Joshua slowed the car to a crawl. Peering out from behind the windshield, he saw a truck sitting on the left shoulder of the road. The emergency lights were flashing, reflecting against the muddy water puddles on the ground. He thought about passing, waiting until he got home to make a call to the local police station. He would have if he hadn’t have seen the profile of the driver—long dark hair against a shoulder, and a red parka.

     A woman.

     Joshua parked, got out of his car, and approached the truck. He tapped against the glass.  The woman inside jumped. She’d been looking down at something in her lap.

The woman rolled down the window—he saw her cranking the knob back and forth, and gave him a sheepish grin.

     “Sorry to scare you,” he said, hands shoved in his pockets. He was already getting soaked, despite his boots and jacket.

     “No problem. Just trying to get a signal. My cell phone never seems to work.”

     “Yeah you can kinda forget about getting reception out here. Do you know what’s wrong with your truck?”

     She threw her hands up. “I don’t know. Engine? Fan belt? It’s always something with this piece of shit.”

      He grinned. The truck looked like it was made in the late sixties. The girl appeared to be about twenty two, by his guess.  She was very pretty—big round eyes and a little silver stud that poked through her eyebrow. It made her wonder if she had piercings or tattoos elsewhere? He felt a shiver down his spine thinking of it.

      “Where are you trying to get to?”

      “Home,” she said with a sigh and a shake of her head.

      “Where do you live?”

     “Holt Road, off the 20.”

      “Well, at least it’s not far.” Joshua paused, looking up the road.

     “Look, if you want to get home quick, I can drive you. I don’t think anyone is going to mess with your truck. That way, you can call someone from your line at home.”

     “If the electricity is on,” she said.

      He shrugged. “Yeah, there’s that. What do you say?” He switched feet, impatient for the woman to make up her mind. The icy rain was making its way down his back.

      “If you don’t mind,” she said.

       “Not at all.”

        “Come on, let’s get in my car then. I’m Josh. What’s your name?”

         “Chloe.”

~*~

      Josh turned the heat in his car up nearly full blast. Chloe was shivering, and after a few moments she began to relax. He smelled her scent. Something soapy, probably the shampoo she used. For a while she kept her eyes on the road, her hands nervously clutched in her lap.  He turned the radio on and kept it low. Lady Antebellum crooned in the background.

     “So you live on Holt. That must be the old Bishop house.”

     She blinked. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

     He shook his head. “Wow. You know, I’m not a superstitious person, but I don’t think I could live there.”

     “Why not?”

     “Oh. Chloe. Are you kidding me? If you’re not, I’m sorry…”

     “I don’t know anything about the house‘s history. Why don’t you tell me?”

       “Well, I guess whomever sold it to you was going on the hard sell. Do you have any family, anyone living with you?”

“No.”

“Then maybe you won’t have any problems.”

~*~

     Chloe could feel the children in her mind.

     Yes. Good. Bring him to us, Michael said.

     Selia was watching. She could feel the touch of Nina’s dark eyes fastened upon her. The smallest boy, Peter, whispered something about flying, and if he were allowed to go.

None of them were paying attention to the conversation between Chloe and Josh until he uttered the words Bishop House.  “Come on, you can’t tease me like that and then not follow through,” Chloe said. “What is it they didn’t tell me?”

     “Well, a whole lot. My family has been in construction for generations. My great grandfather built that house, so you know, we always hear all the scary stories people have. But this made the news. You’d have heard about it if you were living here at the time,” Josh paused, tapping the steering wheel with his index finger. “Seems things happen up there in fours.”

     “Fours?”

      “There was  a young family that lived up there,” he said. “The husband was military. So the wife was here alone. She had four children- two boys, two girls.”

     The children were screaming.  Chloe had to push the noise down to hear as Josh continued the story.

     “The youngest boy was sick one winter. That much we know, because she took him in to see a doctor. He had a really bad ear infection. She was told that he had developed a mild case of pneumonia, but that the infection in his ear was so bad there was some loss of hearing on his left side. People speculated a lot about that. Why hadn’t she brought her child in earlier? Did she feel guilty about neglecting her little boy?

     “She used to write her husband. At some point she started talking about having trouble sleeping. She was hearing voices. By the time the husband got her last letter, it was too late.”

     “What happened to her?”

      “She gave the children hot chocolate to drink, laced with sedatives. They were pills from her own prescription. Not enough to kill an adult, but easily enough to stop a child’s heart.  She put them to bed. And of course, they never woke up.”

     “Two girls, two boys,” Chloe whispered.

      “It’s hard to imagine a mother doing such a thing on purpose, and she was an educated woman. She poisoned those children. And then she took her husband’s hunting rifle and killed herself.”

     “Why didn’t she just take the poison herself?” Chloe asked.

     “Beats the hell out of me. You don’t hear too many stories about women shooting themselves. Maybe she was ashamed of what she’d done? Who knows. At least, she didn’t shoot the poor kids. Hopefully they weren’t in pain. Weird thing is, they never found the children‘s bodies.”

     “Never found them…?” Chloe said.

     “Not a one. We only know what she did to them because of her suicide letter. But she never explained what she did with the bodies.”

     Nina’s voice came to Chloe, low and clear as a bell. The Mother was a barrier to us. She was a sensitive. She felt us in the house. We wanted the children. Four young bodies to inhabit. There was no place for one like her, a human who recognized demons, even though we didn’t have a physical presence. So we made her do something to bring the children to the brink of death. And then, we made her kill herself.  You had better be quiet. Because we want this man beside you, and if you don’t bring him to us, we’ll kill you both. 

     Chloe could feel a stirring in her blood, heat. Something constricting her veins.

     She bit her bottom lip, holding back the urge to scream. She dug her fingernails into her palm and then asked a question.

     “What else happened in that house?”

     Josh saw the change in her expression. “Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

     “I’m not. Just tell me…what else.”

     He shrugged. “I don’t rightly know,” he said. “Just that the Bishop place has a bad reputation, from far back.”

     Chloe looked up, and saw a flash of wings in the air.

     Something black hit the driver’s side of the windshield. The glass cracked. Josh hit the brakes. The tires squealed as they skidded against the rain slicked road. The car went into a spin.

~*~

     “He’s beautiful, Michael,” Nina said.

      They stood together in the attic. The others floated around them in the rafters; Peter and Selia were in their bird form, sailing back and forth through the air.

     Joshua laid at Nina’s feet. He was bloody and unconscious, unharmed. Chloe had administered a drug to him by injection, as Michael ordered her. Chloe stood wide eyed.

     “How did we get back here?” she asked, hoping one of the children would answer.

The last thing she could remember was driving in Josh’s car, and him speaking the word, Bishop. Michael looked at her with a smirk. He reached out to touch her, caressing her forehead with his fingertips. “Shhhhh. Don’t worry. This will all be over soon.”

    Nina stepped forward, taking Chloe’s hand.  “Come. Let’s go to one of the rooms downstairs. You should get out of those muddy clothes and shower. And when you lay down, you’ll sleep, and feel better when you wake up.”

     A tear fell from Chloe’s eye as she turned away from Josh. Had she dragged him all the way back to the house through the mud? Was that why every part of her ached? She was soaked to the bone, so cold that her teeth chattered. Nina led her away, and as they continued down the stairs, Chloe heard Josh screaming.

~*~

     Chloe stood naked in front the bathroom mirror.

     The shower was on full blast, the delicious steam swirling around her. She cried. She wanted to scream. The children were very happy. She could hear them in the background, a low rumbling in her skull. She thought about breaking the mirror. It would take one shard to do it. She shook her head.  She had done this before–lured men here to their death for the benefit of the children. She couldn’t remember the details, but the knowledge was there, like cold metal pressing against her skull. How long could she go on this way?

     After her shower, she put on a robe and slipped into bed. Sleep was what she craved. Oblivion, but just for a while. She skimmed the edge of the sleeping world, where shadows danced behind her eyelids, and then morphed into the black wings of birds.

     When Chloe heard tiny footsteps, she did not open her eyes. She knew the gait all too well. Nina slipped into bed, pressing her little girl’s body against her, seeking warmth. She whispered in her ear, so close that Chloe felt her lips.

     “Thank you,” she said softly. “You have been so good.”

     Chloe muttered something in reply, but it sounded garbled, as if she were trying to speak under water.

     “Hush,” Nina said, and clasped the woman’s wrist with her tiny hand.

~*~

     Nina woke.

     She sat up.

     Pulling the robe away from her skin, she ran into the bathroom, to look at her body. She had forgotten what it felt like to be so tall. She marveled at her generous breasts, the curves of her hips. With a giggle, she noticed a tattoo on her back that she’d never known was there. She traced the contours of her face with her fingertips, stopping to touch the silver stud above her eyebrow.

     Walking back into the bedroom, she noticed the body of the child she had inhabited. What a small, powerless form. She stretched, enjoying the tension in her muscles. The child’s body would have to be taken care of, she thought, her lip curling in distaste.

     Michael came into the room. No longer a boy, he inhabited the body of the man called Joshua. He stretched his arms out to her, and she embraced him.

     “Adult bodies again,” he said with a grin. “Do you like this one?’

     “Of course,” she said with a smile.

     “We’ll find other bodies later, for Selia and Peter. We won’t need to take children anymore.”

     She shook her head in agreement. “We can make children of our own.”

 ______________________

©2010 Lori Titus

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