Book Reviews

Looking for a Last Minute Christmas Gift?Book of the Month – “Everlasting”

Every month, I will do my best to read and review one book (non-fiction, fiction, poetry, etc.) from an up-and-coming author. These authors are often times my friends and fellow bloggers. They “gift” me their books and in return I offer up 100% honest and genuine reviews. If you would like for me to feature your book, please see my original post on the matter here: Now Offering: Book Reviews.

Book of December: Everlasting

Author: Valerie Cotnoir

Everlasting

Brief Summary

There once were two magical lands: Memiana, the home of the humans, and Orutia, the home of the fairies. It was hoped that the union of King Zechariah of the humans and Queen Crystal of the fairies would bring the two lands together into an era of peace. Alas, it was not to be. This book follows the life of King Zechariah’s and Queen Crystal’s daughter, Mertia. Mertia is the only hope of reconciliation between the two broken lands, but there’s only one problem. No one knows that the princess is still alive, not even Mertia herself who grows up unaware of her own heritage. However, once she learns the truth, she can never return to her former ignorance. Mertia must make alliances with humans, elves, dryads, and fairies alike if she even has a chance at overcoming the new King and reclaiming her throne.

Review & Star Rating

4-star2

Valerie Cotnoir does an amazing job in her book at bringing back the classic fantasy fiction genre. In our current young adult novels, fantasy can mean just about anything. We have epic fantasy, like Eragon, with its royalty, magic, and dragons, and we have modern-day fantasy, like City of Bones, with its cell-phones and mystic rune powers. In her novel, Cotnoir invites her readers to journey back in time to the era of Grimm Brother fairy tales with her classic fantasy that involves magic, fairies, dragons, evil royal uncles, and yes, even true love. While the ending may have been a bit expected, I think that it adds to this genre. We reread fairy tales, not because we expect to be surprised, but because of their classical nature that continuously draws us in. Likewise, readers may guess at the ending to Everlasting, but they will love it all the same! There is just something about this book that reminds me of when I first sat down to read a collection of fairy tales.

Recommendations

In particular, I highly recommend this book for young adolescents (middle school/lower high school). The writing style is engaging enough to stimulate their brains, but simple enough that they will be able to understand and follow along on their own. They will love the play on the classical fairy tale and appreciate the new twists and turns.

Support an Author

©KaylaAnnAuthor

© KaylaAnn and KaylaAnnAuthor.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to KaylaAnn and KaylaAnnAuthor.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Short Stories

An Unexpected Tide

When they started to sing, I knew it was over.

The other men, the sailors, the first-mate, and even the Captain, were enthralled by the voices that arose from the sea as if they had already forgotten the life they had sacrificed to its waves.

But I had not forgotten. I knew that her eyes, demanding that I show her no pity, would remain with me for the rest of my life.

I just did not expect the rest of my life to be so short.

When the voices came up out of the water, I did not hear the sweet seduction that the other men claimed to have heard. I could hear what was underneath, the anger and the pain and the desire for revenge.

As we began to sink, I saw you rise from the water. Those same eyes, now tinged red from the salt, staring at me. You added your voice to the mix and while I heard you anger, as you looked at me, I wondered if I also heard something else: a mixture of pain and sympathy.

When the men realized what was happening, they quickly tried to save the ship, some even armed themselves with guns. The first mate shoved one in my direction, “Take this, minister!”

“I’ve got all that I need,” I said, revealing the small book still held in my hands.

“Let it be on your head then,” he snarled, shoving the gun in his waist.

When the shots rang out, you and your kind dove beneath the surface but we could still hear your singing. Water ran up from the bowels of the ship and over our feet. The men panicked, climbing ropes and masts, attempting to escape the sea.

With one last look up to the sky, I braced myself and ran, over the deck and into the water. My body splashed the water much like yours once did. Behind me, the ship quickly capsized and sank, pulling in the water and sailors surrounding it like a whirlpool, including me. Even though I pulled, I could not escape its suction. With one last gulp, my face was pulled under into the dark sea.

**************************************************

I watched him, the religious man, as he struggled against the waves. All around me, my sisters sang in triumph as we watched the men drown and die.

I felt a twinge of regret course through me as I watched the minister and remembered how he had spoken up for me. I remembered his eyes that had shown no pity only a great sense of sorrow and anger at the men who would throw me overboard simply due to superstition.

Without thinking, I swam toward him, my powerful tail propelling me quickly toward the sinking ship. With one hand I reached out to the unconscious man-

Another hand grabbed my arm, “What are you doing?”

It was her, the one who saved and then made me, the one who led my sisters and I to our revenge. Her husky voice was as harsh as her nails in my skin.

“This one is innocent,” I said, trying to pull my arm from her grasp.

“None are innocent. He watched as they tried to kill you. Did he stop them? No! Leave him to his fate.”

I glanced once more at the man. It was true, he had watched, he had not stopped them from throwing me overboard. I could let him die, it would be the exact same thing that had happened to me, but could I live with myself if I did?

Yanking my arm free from her grasp, I held his face in between my long, webbed hands. Acting on an instinct as old as time, I pressed my lips against his and breathed out long and slow. To my surprise, I saw his chest rise and fall.

Behind me I could hear my sisters muttering in disgust and protest. In my peripheral, I could see that they were turning tail and leaving me alone in the vast ocean with only this man beside me. It did not matter.

Again, I kissed him and breathed into his lungs. To my surprise, his eyes opened, tinged red by the salt water, much like man. When he raised a hand to touch my face, his fingers were webbed and beneath his torso, his legs had melded his a strong tail, even longer than mine.

That’s when I saw them approaching from the dark sea. Both women and men with swinging tails and swaying hair. They were similar in looks to my sisters, the Sirens, but different as well. They rose up from beneath us with a song on their lips. But their song was not like the sirens, there was no hate, no revenge, no anger.

There was only forgiveness, peace, and understanding in their words. In their song, they welcome he and I, they praised me for my forgiving nature, for my rescue of the innocent man, and offered us both a place in their family.

His hand in mine, I realized I was not a siren. I was a mermaid and while some might deserve death for their actions, it was not my duty to insure it. Instead, I would protect those like me, the innocent.

 

*****************************************************************

Hey Everyone! A huge thank you to everyone who has stuck around and read all four parts of my “Siren Series.” If you missed a part, be sure to check them out below:

On the Godless Sea

In the Depths

We are Coming

An Unexpected Tide

I had a lot of fun writing these short stories and I hope that you enjoyed them. Be sure to leave a comment below with your thoughts!

©KaylaAnnAuthor

© KaylaAnn and KaylaAnnAuthor.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to KaylaAnn and KaylaAnnAuthor.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Writings

We are Coming

“We are coming.”

It is the cry of my people that I hear reverberating through the water. A low and angry melody that fills my ears as my new family swims by my side. The water is salted by the fresh tears they shed on my behalf.

We cut through the water as if it were light as air. I can feel the powerful muscles in my tail as it slices through the ocean. My hair, once bound in societal expectations, now stream-lines over my naked shoulders.

So, this is freedom.

As we approach the ship, we slow. By some unspoken rule, I know that I must wait. I watch as she, the one who breathed new life into me, surfaces and breaks the water. At first, all we can hear are the shouts of men on board the ship as they stare at her with wonder. They seem to believe that a mermaid is a token of good fortune.

Then she begins to sing.

Her voice, husky like mine, is soft and alluring. She sings words of promise and sensual fulfillment. She sings of clear skies and calm seas. She sings of love requited. She sings.

Then, one by one, we, her sisters, join her. We surface slowly, individually, blending our voices into hers. We harmonize, layers and layers of voices overlapping and mingling with one another. We sing of love lost and love gained. We sing of torn ships, brought down by the unbiased sea. We sing.

We float toward the ship and cling to the sides of the wood. We slowly scrap off the barnacles and other organisms growing there. With nails, strong as coral, we softly burrow into the wood, so calmly that they do not notice. Still, we sing.

The men lean over the sides, some have removed their shoes. They are thinking about jumping, about joining us. They do not see or hear the water that now flows in through the holes we made. They do not realize that their ship is sinking. Still, we sing.

Our voices grow and the men shift. Do they hear it? The subtle turn in our song. We sing of betrayal, we sing of pain, we sing of canon balls tied to ankles, we sing of cheers heard at death, we sing of salt water coating and burning our lungs. We sing.

The ships sinks and the men finally understand. It is not bad luck to have a woman on board, but it is bad luck to throw one over. The men run, desperate to save their ship, they are shouting orders, but it is too late. Our voices grow and block out their fear.

Their bodies fill the water, much like ours once did.

And still, we sing.

******************************************

Hey there! I hope you enjoyed the third installment in my short “Siren” series. For a more complete experience, once you reach the line, “Then she begins to sing,” play the song below and listen to it softly as you continue to read rest of the story.

If you are interested in reading the first two parts, check out these links:

“On the Godless Sea”

“In the Depths”

“An Unexpected Tide” will be the fourth and last part published next Thursday!

Did you enjoy this installment? Let me know in the comments!

©KaylaAnnAuthor

© KaylaAnn and KaylaAnnAuthor.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to KaylaAnn and KaylaAnnAuthor.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Writings, Short Stories

In the Depths

My body hits the choppy waves with a large splash.

Right before I submerge entirely, I hear whooping and hollering from the deck above.  How those savages cheer on my death, wrapped up in their own ignorance and fear.

Then the noise is gone, as is the light.

These canon balls chained to my ankles care even less than the men upon that ship that I cannot breathe. I struggle, even knowing how useless it is, but I cannot help it. I do not want to die. I pull through the water with my arms, my arms that they cruelly left untied as if to mock my efforts. I am not strong enough to pull against these weights, I continue to sink.

The water gets darker, but still I sink through the depths. No longer do I only feel the pressure from within my lungs, but the water that surrounds me is also pressing in. It slams against my head, squeezing against me like a vice. Still, I continue to sink. Unable to stop myself, I try to gulp in air but only swallow water. The salt burns as it snakes down my throat. I start to choke and black spots speckle the dark water that surrounds me.

I never thought this was how I would die.

Out of the depths, I hear a sound, the sound that truly signals my demise. I hear the singing of angels and demons mixed together. Their voices are heavenly, but their tune is dark and full of rage. At first, I am afraid, but then as the voices cascade over me, I no longer fear death and willing allow my heavy eyes to close.

There is pressure on my lips and suddenly, my lungs expand with air. The weight from my ankles is released.

There is pain in my legs, the pain of slashing and tearing and burning. Once I was cold, but now I am hot as the heat radiates up my skin, crawling up my thighs, racing between my ribs, tearing into my mind.

The voices continue their song, it grows louder and beneath it, there is a hum that speaks a warning.

I can breathe, but the pain, make the pain stop . . .

Silence.

The pain is gone. I open my eyes, shocked by many things. The first is how clear my vision has become. The second is how clearly I can see the creatures that surround me. Hundreds of women, with pale skin and iridescent tails float in the space around me. Their hair, dark and light, swirls around them and reveals bright golden eyes. When they smile, their teeth are sharp, but their eyes are kind.

When I look down, I am not surprised to find that my legs are gone, replaced by a scaled tail that swishes beneath me. My sharp teeth grind against each other in my mouth as I continue to breathe easy within the depths.

“You are one of us,” she says, her husky voice coated by salt.

Far above us, we see the shadow of a ship sailing away, carrying my would-be-murderers. The woman in front of me flicks her eyes toward the bow of the boat, and raises an eyebrow. I understand.

This is my initiation.

Without a second thought, I turn tail and glide through the water toward the ship with my new family at my side.

We are coming.

Woman's long hair head above the water at Banana Beach

 

***This short story was written in response to a prompt that I found on Pinterest.***

SOMEONE WRITE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!<<Okay, Im writing it now

©KaylaAnnAuthor

© KaylaAnn and KaylaAnnAuthor.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to KaylaAnn and KaylaAnnAuthor.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Contests

Flash Fiction – Results!

The Flash Fiction Contest closed on Friday and I had all weekend to read over the submissions and let me tell you, there were some really amazing pieces!

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The Winner of the Flash Fiction Contest goes to . . .

Savannah the voice behind Rejoicing in Hope!

Although there were several pieces in the running for first place, I kept coming back to Savannah’s post time and time again. Only 6 words long, her flash fiction slams into the reader’s heart and steals their breath while they are left wondering what happened. So here it is:

“Single Mother: Now she’s just single.”

Author’s Bio:

At Savannah’s foundation, she is a Christian, a wife, and a mommy. She enjoys writing, coffee, Hallmark movies, and going on adventures with her little tribe. She says, “I have a Bachelors in English, a GED in life, and a Masters in making mistakes. I’ve learned the hard way that I’m not perfect, and I hope to use my own failures and experiences to help and encourage you.”

Rejoicing

Her blog is a little bit of a lot of things but it is centered around making her and her readers better: better Christians, friends, spouses, individuals, and forces for good. Her blog might challenge you, inform you, encourage you, or maybe you’ll just have some fun! As a newer blogger she looks forward to branching out and meeting other bloggers on this wonderful world of WordPress! So be sure to click the link, stop by, congratulate her and say hi!

 

 

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A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who participated, re-blogged, and commented! You guys are awesome and I’ve had another blast reading your pieces!

 

I haven’t decided when or what my next contest will be on. What kind of contest would YOU be interested in participating?

Contests

Contest Time Once Again: Flash Fiction

That’s right, you heard me! I am hosting a third contest through my blog!

In October 2017, I hosted a Poetry Contest that was not only a success but also a ton of fun! I got to meet amazing poets from around the globe and enjoy their work. In December 2017, I held a Blogmas Contest that really encouraged bloggers to interact with one another.

Now, I am hoping to connect with some writers (poets or no; new or old followers) who are ready to write some Flash Fiction!

What is flash fiction? It is a story told in 100 words or less. Some of the most poignant stories can also be the shortest. One of the most famous works attributed to Hemingway is a six-word short story:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Doesn’t that just send chills up your spine?

Here is a sample of my flash fiction.

“Unexpected phone calls carry the brevity of life.”

Your story does not have to be that short (although it can be), but it does need to be under 100 words. Anything over 100 words is automatically disqualified.

RULES:

  • To be eligible for this competition you must be subscribed to my blog (i.e. following and receiving emails.) Not subscribed yet? No worries! Go to my home screen and click FOLLOW (I’ll receive a notification when you do :D)
  • Leave your flash fiction submission in the comment section.
  • I will be using a point system to chose the winner (this one is similar to the poetry contest system but it is a bit different):
    • You will receive 5 points automatically for subscribing (everyone must subscribe to be eligible)
    • You will receive another 2 points for sharing the contest on your your own blog and linking back (apparently WordPress removed the reblog button and replaced it with “Press This”)
    • Your flash fiction will be rated on a 1-10 scale based on creativity, structure, content, theme, and overall awesomeness.
    • Technically someone can still win without sharing my contest, but sharing would provide additional points for any submissions that are tied.
    • You can only submit one flash fiction per blogger.
  • Last date for submissions is March 16th!

Prizes:

  • The WINNER of this Flash Fiction contest will receive:
    • Their flash fiction and their blog/bio will be featured on my site. This will be a great chance for you to get some publicity on another blogger’s site.
    • It will also include a short author interview!

I can only hope that this contest will be as successful as the last. I am anxiously awaiting your amazing submissions. Good luck!

Happy Writing Everyone!

 

The Flexibility of Fairy Tales

The Poor Miller’s Boy and the Cat

. . . Where did all the time go?

Summary

There once was a miller who was getting old in age who had three field hands. He told these three boys that whoever brought back the best horse would inherit the mills when he died as long as they swore to take care of him for the rest of his life. Two boys were friendly with one another and hated the “simpleton” who was the third boy. When the three set off on their journey the other two boys abandoned the third boy while he slept. When he woke up, he was found by a cat who promised to give him the most magnificent horse if he stayed with and served her for seven years.

Image result for the miller's poor boy and the cat

The years seem to pass in a matter of days for the simpleton boy and he returns to the miller without a horse although the cat promises to bring one in three days. The other two boys (who apparently also took seven years to find horses) return with one lame horse and one blind horse. While the miller initially dismisses the simpleton boy, after three days, he accepts the boy as his successor when the cat (now a beautiful human princess) returns with six gorgeous horses and one utterly magnificent horse. The story ends,

“The princess said that she would give him the horse and that the miller could just keep the mill for himself. She took faithful Hans by the hand and got into the coach with him and drove off . . . Then the two married, and he was so rich, so very rich, that he had more than enough money for the rest of his life. So don’t let people tell you that a simpleton will never amount to anything in life.”

 

Review

Another not-so-well known fairy tale, perhaps even less known than the Frog King. Perhaps one of the most interesting things happening here is the role reversal in which it is the princess who comes to the rescue of the helpless male.

The obvious moral of the story: Faithfulness is rewarded

  • Throughout the story it seems like Hans is just caught up by the cat and her magical home. However, in the last paragraph the princess focuses on the phrase “faithful Hans.” Therefore, we can assume that perhaps Hans was not simply swept away by the princess’s magic; instead, he intentionally remained and served her.

The not-so-obvious moral of the story: Don’t judge a person by their appearance.

  • In the last sentence of the story, the Grimm brothers warn their readers to not judge a simpleton’s abilities or accomplishments. Can it be assumed that they are arguing against judgement of any kind? Perhaps.

The interesting involvement of time, or lack thereof.

  • Time is a curious thing in this story. The narrative itself is only four and half pages, yet the story is supposed to cover 7+ years. Time quite literally flies in the story as seven years passes in a matter of days. Time becomes insignificant and malleable. Does Hans servitude mean as much, is his faithfulness as important when seven years is hardly a wrinkle in time?

What do you think of this story? Have you read it before?

Redemption, Uncategorized

Redemption Pt. 4

 Redemption Pt. 4

This short story, called “Redemption,” was published in The Dazed Starling in 2015 and incorporates magical realism. All words and ideas are copyrighted by KaylaAnn. I will be sharing it in four consecutive parts. This story may include material not suitable for younger audiences or those easily triggered due to violent, sexual, scary, supernatural, or mature content.

I recommend a re-reading of the story as a whole! Consider the parts in italics as separate. I would GREATLY appreciate your comments on how the story builds and resolves, or any other comments on content and entertainment value.

This is part four – The Ending.

 

 

“Her blood pressure is sky-rocketing!”

“I don’t understand, she’s never had this response.”

“Get an IV in her STAT!”

Why are they worried about me? Don’t they understand He’s dying? Somebody help Him!

 

There’s a faint beeping in my ears. It echoes the beating I feel in my chest and fingertips. My body feels heavy, as though someone filled me with boulders. Even my eyes feel heavy. I try to remember. There had been art class, and then I had been taken to therapy. Then Lilith came to my room. I groan.

“Did you hear that? Maybe she’s waking up!”

But that wasn’t all. Someone else had come. Gabriel. He took me somewhere, then there was the room, and the memory and someone was hurting. Someone was in a tremendous amount of pain, for me. He was trying to take away my pain. I try to open my eyes.

“Galia, sweetheart, can you hear me?”

“Her vital signs are good.”

“What happened?” The angry voice belongs to my mother. I can feel her hand in mine.

“You and your daughter were both aware of the side effects and risks of electroshock therapy. She responded badly to her last session, but I believe we are making progress.”

“Progress!” My mother’s voice leaps at least two octaves higher. “You call being medically dead for a whole minute, process?”

“I will give you some time with your daughter.” I hear the door open and close.

Electroshock Therapy. Of course. I fell apart after that night. Adam Bret got away with it. The cops said I was drunk and his friends claimed it was consensual. Even my own friends deserted me. Who wanted to hang out with the girl who couldn’t cope because some guy didn’t call her the day after? Who wanted to be with the girl who couldn’t handle her liquor? I was asking for it. Everyone knew I was a slut, no one would believe I had been a virgin. They all said it, behind my back and to my face. I heard it so often that I started to believe it. Six months after I took some pills, but I didn’t take enough. My mom found me and brought me here. I was the one who requested shock therapy. I had heard it could take away memories. But it also caused hallucinations, like my dreams of Hell and Heaven. But were they really hallucinations or were they something more?

I remember the writing on the wall. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. My fault, but was it really? I remember the room where Gabriel took me. The room where I found Him. The One who was willing to die so that His blood would cover those screens that were constantly displaying my sins. No. Those were not hallucinations. I was dead for a whole minute, wasn’t I? Maybe it was in that minute I was given a chance to see something. A choice to be more than I am. A second chance. To trust and believe. My mom squeezes my hand. I feel a small drop of water hit my fingers.

My eyes flutter open. “Mom?”

Her watery eyes fly up, “Galia? Baby, you’re awake!”

I clear my throat. Yes I’m finally awake for the first time in what feels like years. I squeeze her hand as tight as I can.

“I’m ready to go home now.”

 

 

Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me and read all four parts! I hope you enjoyed the reading! I would also like to tell everyone that redemption is available for everyone. God loves you, no matter what you’ve been through and no matter what you think you deserve. You are loved by God.

Redemption, Uncategorized

Redemption Pt. 3

Redemption Pt. 3

This short story, called “Redemption,” was published in The Dazed Starling in 2015 and incorporates magical realism. All words and ideas are copyrighted by KaylaAnn. I will be sharing it in four consecutive parts. This story may include material not suitable for younger audiences or those easily triggered due to violent, sexual, scary, supernatural or mature content. This is part three.

 

 

 

“Blood pressure is a little high. Is she still sedated?”

Don’t they hear me screaming?

 

I jolt up into a sitting position. It is night time. A bare branch scratches my foggy window, but I pay it no attention. It is a nightly sonnet that I often fall asleep to. My arms remain strapped to my sides in a tight cocoon of heat. The heat bothers me, I toss and turn uneasily. The feeling of déjà vu’ consumes me, but I push it away, as I wish I could push away the restraints. My skin has a slight tingly feel to it, like a foot that has fallen asleep after being sat on for too long. The door behind me opens and the winged Craftmaster, the Light One, walks in. Her presence is soothing and I feel the heat in my face drain away, leaving me feeling refreshed and cool.

She quickly unbuckles the jacket and slides it over my head. “Are you alright?”

I shake my head, “I don’t know. I think I had a nightmare.”

Her eyes are sad, but she says nothing. Her wings flutter behind her softly, creating an artificial breeze. I can see the powerful muscles beneath the feathers tensing and relaxing with every beat. “Do you know where you are?”

“Of course,” I say.

“Do you know who you are?”

“Galia,” I answer uncertainly.

“I asked who you are, not your name.” She lays a hand on my right shoulder, but I flinch away. She’s seen my records; she should know how I feel about touch. Besides, she is so clean and pure, she shouldn’t be touching me. Can’t she see how filthy I am?

“Come with me,” she holds out her hand.

“Why?”

“You have seen one option, but there is another.”

I stand, reach for her hand, and stop. I can smell the sulfur on my palms; surely she would not want the same smell on her. As if sensing my hesitation, she grabs my hand in her own and pulls me toward the door. She opens it and we walk through.

We step out into a new land. We stand in the middle of a large never-ending meadow. The yellow and green grasses reach up to my waist and wave their long stems in greeting as the breeze rolls over. The grass tickles my bare calves as if to invite me to roll around in their embrace. My fingers lightly caress the tops of the stems as if I were playing the keys of a piano. I have been released from my restraints. The sky above is a blue that I have never before seen. It is brighter than I have ever seen, almost white, and yet deeper than the ocean. It is a blue that has never been discolored by even the thought of pollution. It is daytime, yet I can see thousands of stars above me. They are all the brighter in the pale blue sky. I see the Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt, the Bear, and so many others that I do not know the names of. Somewhere off to the right side of the sky I see a swirling mass of blue, purple, green, and red stars.

I can no longer smell the sharp odor of sulfur. There are perfumes here that I cannot even describe. They float along the air. I smell the sweet scent of baking bread, warm and fresh. It is the smell of baking day back at home. There is the smell of roasting meat with spices that make my mouth water. Beneath that there is the hint of burnt hot dogs. A smile tugs on my lips as it makes me think of Fourth of July and the time my dad forgot the meat on the grill. The syrupy scent of crushed grapes makes me close my eyes in delight. Although I see no sun in the sky, my skin tingles in the warmth of the light. The heat here is comforting and in no way oppressive. I feel as though I can stay in this moment forever. I stretch my bare feet. My toes span and pull up the soft cool dirt. I smell it then, the earthy aroma that brings me back to childhood that reminds me of digging up worms with my friends.

When my eyes finally reopen, I do not know how long I have been here. The Light One still stands beside me. Her face is uplifted, and light shines on it, blurring the facial details. Or does the light come from within her?

“Who are you?” I ask out of curiosity.

She turns toward me, “You may call be Gabriel.”

“Gabriel?” The name stirs a memory in my mind. “How do I know that name?”

“I appear in various forms,” Gabriel’s hair shortens and her stance grows. Suddenly her figure is more male than female and although his face still shines blurring specific details, I can tell he is a man. When he speaks, it is with a deep base. “Come with me.”

He walks across the meadow, making a temporary path in his wake that I follow with ease. Behind us the grass springs back into place as though we were never here. We walk for several minutes though I never grow tired or weary. I seem to have an abundant source of energy, as the soles of my bare feet dig into the soft warm earth with every step. We make our way over a small hill and finding ourselves on the other side, my mouth gapes open in surprise. Blocking the path in front of me in a steadily flowing stream that stretches to the east and the west as far as my eyes can see. The water is as clear as diamonds that sparkle and shine in the light. I can see the river bed nearly ten feet deep. The mud is covered with smooth rocks and moon-colored pebbles. There is an overwhelming urge to lie down beside the river. I glance at Gabriel to ask him for permission, and see that he has already sat down upon one of the large rocks by the river.

Without thinking I strip off the coarse standard-issued dressing gown, standing naked in the field. I run and jump into the river, completely submerging my brown body beneath the water. I open my eyes and see a new world. There are bright green plants growing down here and schools of rainbow-colored fish. The water wraps my body in a cool and refreshing blanket that holds me up in its gentle arms. To my surprise, I do not feel the need to breathe. I contemplate never resurfacing. For minutes I play tag with the guppies and collect the smoothest of pebbles in my fingers. There are oysters down here, opening their pink mouths, offering me their jewels. Above me I see Gabriel’s shadow and know he is waiting.

I surface to the warm meadow, and feel no regret. I walk out, my back straight and strong, before lying down on the soft grass letting the sun bake-dry my tanned skin that has long since missed the light. I should feel embarrassment for my bare body, but I feel none. After all there is no one here to see. Gabriel is neither man nor woman to judge my appearance, he is beyond that. Besides that, he is not even looking in my direction. Lazily I gaze at my surroundings. In the far distance I see a city of glass with tall skyscrapers and spirals that tower into the sky. The light is stronger there, almost as if that is where it originates from. I strain my eyes. Are those gates I see? Constructed of golden bars and decorated with pearls the size of beach balls?

“What is that place?” I finally ask.

“Paradise,” he says simply.

I look around. “Isn’t this paradise?”

He smiles gently at the horizon, “We are still on the outskirts.”

“Can we go there?”

Gabriel looks at me, “We have to go somewhere else first.”

Curious I stand and dress.

There is a small wooden building a few feet ahead of us. It has come from nowhere and yet I do not question it. Gabriel opens the door and waits for me to enter. I look into the frame, unable to see anything through the darkness. I look at Gabriel, thinking to ask him to go first, although I do not want to seem like a coward.

“Do not be afraid.”

I swallow down the egg in my throat and nod, although I wish we could go back to the river. I trust him. Holding this trust in my heart, I walk into a large white room. The room itself is probably fifty feet by fifty feet. Each of the four walls is twenty feet high with a vaulted ceiling. The room is light and airy despite the fact that there are no windows. Strangely enough, there are long white curtains at each corner that could shield the walls from view. Suddenly, the walls turn on. Or at least that is how it appears. The walls are covered with screens. Most of the screens take up a fourth or even half of the walls. One wall remains mysteriously blank. I watch in morbid fascination as I realize who stars in each image.

Me.

There I am as a child stealing my friend’s toy. A small infraction. On another screen, I’m in middle school, cheating on that one Spanish test and then lying about it when I was caught. I can see my brother and I fighting, screaming horrible things at one another. Our parents had found my stash of weed. I blamed him and he took the fall because he wanted to help me without getting me in trouble. I watch the screen, and as if someone knew, the sound blared on.

“I’m your big brother, let me help you. You know this stuff will get you into trouble.”

I watch the screen in dismay, watching the scene unfold. I shook his hand off my arm, “Screw off, Jared! I know what I’m doing. Just because you’re a goody-too-shoes with no friends except your stupid books. You don’t know anything about the real world.”

Jared set his jaw, “If I find any again, I’ll tell mom and dad you’re a junkie.”

“Fine, you stupid tattle-tale. I won’t do it again, okay?”

Jared left the room, but the me on screen didn’t. I watch as she walks to the drawer and pulls out the small zip-lock baggie. I turn away from that screen.

I see all those instances when I disobeyed my parents, smoking on the roof or sneaking out the window in the short skirt my dad thought I threw away. Again and again, I see myself reflected in the images: disobeying, lying, stealing, lusting, and acting out. There is the party where I drank myself into a stupor and woke up on the bathroom floor with vomit on my face. All my so-called friends had done was to turn me over to make sure I didn’t drown in my own spit before leaving me to return to the party. I remember I had to walk home that night, and had been violently ill for weeks after. It didn’t stop me though. As soon as I was better, I was back at the next hang-out.

Suddenly, I am glad that Gabriel waited outside. I do not want him to see this, any of this. These are the moments in my life that I am embarrassed of, although there is a worse memory that has not appeared. A memory that I do not want to relive. As if sensing my thoughts, the wall with the one large empty screen lights up. Though the videos continue on the other screens, their sounds have been muted. All attention is focused on this one wall in front of me.

There it is, that night I have tried so hard to forget. I watch myself on the screen. The music blares out of speakers I do not see. I hold my hands to my ears, but I still hear it. I’ll never forget that song. Cursing and obscene suggestions shriek along with the unoriginal tune. On the screen is the image of me dancing up on one of the tables with a red plastic cup in one hand and frizzy crimped brown hair falling in my red-rimmed eyes. I can see him in the background, the monster from my nightmare, Adam Bret. His eyes follow the dancing girl that I used to be. I want to scream at the projection. I want to grab myself and shake her until she realizes what she is doing. I slam my fist into the wall, hoping to shatter the screen. There is not so much as a crack. The video continues to play. I fall to my knees; helpless to stop what I know is coming. I watch powerlessly as Adam approaches me in the screen, gently taking my hand is his and motioning his head toward the stairs. To my everlasting shame, I followed him, smiling at the attention.

Somehow I fall into the memory. I remember it. I can smell it. I can feel it!

My skin was sticky with sweat and spilled beer. My hair smelled like burnt hair spray and my eyelashes stuck together with every bat. But Adam Bret didn’t seem to notice these imperfections. He was smiling at me like I was the only girl on this planet, and he was a senior! I was just a sophomore. I saw the other girls’ looks as I followed him up the stairs. I told myself they were just jealous. His sweaty palm grasped mine, guiding me up the stairs and down the hall. I remember wondering how he knew where to go.

We enter a room. His room. He turns on a CD and puts his hands around my waist. We’re dancing and it’s Heaven. He’s whispering things in my ears. Things I don’t understand because all I can hear is a loud buzz in my brain. Then his hands are no longer on my waist, but at my zipper. Suddenly he’s pushing me down, and he’s holding me down, and I’m saying-

“No! Get off!”

But he’s not listening and all I can smell is his cologne.

 

My head jerks down. No. I am not there, I am not there! The screen plays on, but I am not there. I had fallen into the memory of that night, that horrible night. I walked home alone. No one believed me. Not even my friends. I was just some girl who regretted it afterward so I cried “wolf”.

I look away from all the screens; I do not want to see anymore. Surrounded by all my faults, I feel insignificantly small. Lilith was right. If anyone belongs in Hell, it is me. Not for my sin, but for my stupidity. Isn’t that some kind of sin? I curl into a ball, willing myself to disappear. I know that any minute now a crack will open up below me and swallow me whole. I will plummet back into the burning Hell. Maybe I will spend an eternity with the others crying out Mea Culpa, Meal Culpa! A wail escapes my lips like a moan.

Yet there is no crack that swallows me up.

Someone lays a hand on my shoulder; I assume it is Gabriel, having heard my cries. I jerk my shoulder out of his grasp

“Leave me alone, Gabriel. I don’t want you to see this.”

“You are never alone,” a new voice says. The voice wraps me in a blanket of warmth and is as smooth as honey.

I look up into the face of a man. He is ordinary, ordinary stature, brown skin, brown hair, hazel eyes, and yet, he is extraordinary in every single way. His very face seems to shine with a light that comes from within. His eyes are bright with kindness that I have never encountered before. Yet deep within the same eyes, I can see sorrow and grief and pain, deeper than all the pain combined at the asylum. He seems to understand the agony I feel without saying a word. His cheeks are dimpled with laugh lines that mostly hide the sorrow lines under his eyes. He radiates love and safety.

And purity.

I hide my face in my knees. “Please, you shouldn’t be next to me.” Can’t he see how filthy I am? My sins are literally on display for him to see. It’s then that I notice now the sound of the TVs is gone, as though the speakers were suddenly disconnected.

He kneels beside me, lifting my face to his. Silently, He lifts me to my feet. He is gentle, but insistent. My hands in His, I can feel pure strength coursing through His arms. Yet, there is something odd about His hands, some strange feeling in their grasp. Once steadily on my feet, He releases my hands and walks over to the corners of the room. One by one He reaches up to grab hold of the curtains and I realize what felt different about His hands. In the middle of each of His palms are identical two inch holes. I gape in astonishment as He pulls the white curtains over the screens on the walls. He does this to each wall, until all the curtains are closed. Yet still I can see the screens. Though the images are blurred, they are still there.

I bury my face in my hands, tears springing from my eyes. Curtains are not enough to hide my faults. My hands are pulled away from my face by the man with the kind eyes. He motions to the curtains as if to say watch.

I watch as the top of the curtains darken and stain with some dark red liquid. Then the coppery smell hits me and lingers on my tongue. I realize it is blood. Streams of blood turn into rivers that turn into torrents coursing down the white sheets. The bright color bleeds down until the entire curtain is covered in a red hue. I can no longer see the screens even if I tried. In amazement I turn to look at the Man. I gasp aloud. The holes in His hands look fresh as though they had just happened. Blood pours over His wrists and fingers, pooling on the floor, joining blood from His side and feet. The pain in His face is unbearable and only rivaled by the love in His eyes. I am unable to look away.

“You are never alone.” He smiles, “I love you.”

He falls to his knees with that same smile on His face as the blood pools around him. I splash in the puddle to reach him. “Somebody help him!”

 

 

Be sure to stop by my page tomorrow for Part Four the Conclusion of Redemption.

Redemption

Redemption Pt. 2

Redemption Pt. 2

This short story, called “Redemption,” was published in The Dazed Starling in 2015 and incorporates magical realism. All words and ideas are copyrighted by KaylaAnn. I will be sharing it in four consecutive parts. This story may include material not suitable for younger audiences or those easily triggered due to violent, sexual, scary, supernatural or mature content. This is Part Two.

 

 

“Strap her down, I said. It’s time to start the procedure.”

Then they do.

 

It is night time. I don’t really remember how I got here. Last thing I remember is the room with the table and wires and the blank place in my mind that is like Heaven. Oh well.

A bare branch scratches my foggy window, but I pay it no attention. It is a nightly sonnet that I often fall asleep to. My arms remain strapped to my sides in a tight cocoon of heat. I wrap myself in endless hugs, a constant flow of unending love, yet still, I feel cold. Softly I sing to myself, songs that fill my mind with images of playgrounds and jump ropes and of white bows tied affectionately into my dark braided hair.

Knock, knock, knock!

I crane my neck, turning it around to look at the door behind my head. “Who’s there?”

No answer. Perhaps it was only the branch, changing its all-too-familiar tune.

Candy apples on a stick,” I sing, “make my tummy go 246.”

What is 246 anyway? I have never understood the saying, but I continue anyway. “Not because I’m dirty –”

But I am, aren’t I?

Knock, knock, knock!

I twist my neck, “Go away. Let me finish my rhyme.”

Knock, knock, knock!

My lips turn down and I huff irritability. Using my feet to propel my shoulders forward, I swing my body into a sitting position and then stand. I wobble to the door on sleepy feet. I reach the door, but my hands cannot grasp the knob. A bubble of laughter boils up my throat as I imagine the door knob frowning in disapproval at my trapped arms. The knocker refuses to come in, but I cannot go out. I turn around to go back to my bed.

The Dark One stands in my way. I don’t know how she got in here. There is no other door besides the locked one behind me. Beside her on the wall stands a mirror that I have never seen before. I look away before my reflection can catch my eye; she often stares back at me, but only in confusion. Her eyes always ask the same question: “Who are you?”

“What are you doing here?” I ask her, not sure if I am addressing the Dark One or my reflection.

“You see much, but not enough,” her rough voice announces. The Dark One and my reflection speak with one voice. The black-eyed Craftmaster walks around me, until she is behind me. “I will show you your fate.”

Her hands grasp my left shoulder, shoving me toward the mirror. Without meaning to, my eyes glance up and catch their counterparts in the reflection. Wide, scared, brown eyes like melted chocolate chips stare back at me. The Craftmaster in the mirror is even stranger than the one that stands in my room. Her pitch black eyes are set deep in a bluish-white and sickly face. Her coal black hair is shorn at shoulder-length with uneven ends. Her long finger nails curl into claws and a long black tail with a barbed end wiggles around her feet like a cat’s.

“Walk forward,” she commands.

I do not want to. What will I see? Yet she leaves me no choice and forces me toward the mirror. My reflection reaches out whether to push me away or to pull me in, I don’t know. I am not surprised when the glass bends around my body, allowing me passage, not to the other side of my room, but to another place entirely.

I walk into what looks like a hospital waiting room, yet it is at least the size of a football field. The cold white speckled tile beneath my feet is cracked and dying weeds push through. Spots of dirt and blood splatter the floor and walls. The chairs are wooden stools with splinters that stick out like thorns and cause their occupants to wince in pain with every movement. The occupants themselves are a mess. Nearly all of the stools are filled and even more sit on the floor or lean against walls. They sit or stand without saying a word, although most emanate moans, sobs, or even the occasional scream. While some are bloodied, others are clean and seemingly unharmed. These are the ones who sit on the floor, rocking back and forth, back and forth, crying softly into their knees.

“What is this place?” I ask. “Who are you?”

“My name is Lilith. Welcome to Perdition.” She smiles gleefully at the scene around her.

Without meaning to, I find myself walking through the crowd, taking closer looks and scrutinizing the individuals. A thin woman with skin pulled tightly across her cheek bones repeatedly stabs the crook of her arm with an empty needle. Can’t she see that there is nothing to shove in her veins? A man sits against the wall with a dark grey cloud surrounding his body from the torso up. There is no way to make out any distinctive features except for the glow that emanates from the middle the fog. Chapped and dry lips wrap themselves around several lit cigarettes. How can he even breathe? Next to him, an old woman shoots dirty looks. She is seemingly normal, apart from the empty cavity in her chest where her heart should have been. Man, woman, woman, man, again and again, these ghost-like human beings pass before my eyes. They begin to meld into one another, yet even as the individuals fade, a thought stands out.

“Where are the children?” I ask.

Lilith hisses, “No child will ever end up here.”

“Why not?”

She huffs irritably,” Curiosity is a sin, or do you not know that?”

On we walk through the broken and haunting crowd. I no longer look, there is no point. We are reaching the end of the room. Sticking out of the wall is a small reception area. There are no flower plaited pens, no sign-in sheets, not even an elderly receptionist in a floral shirt. A short man with red skin, black eyes, and three horns sits naked behind the desk. His body is covered in a layer of fur, successfully clothing him. Still, my eyes cannot linger on him for long. I sneak another peak and his eyes snare mine. They are filled with pride, wrath, envy, greed, and other emotions I cannot describe. He releases me to glance approvingly at Lilith. She does not return the glance, only continues haughtily on, pushing on my left shoulder through an open door and into a long hall. Behind me I hear the man-demon call out, “Now serving number 106,534,231,001.” There is the slamming of a door that reverberates in my mind.

 

“On my count. One, two, three.”

A buzz of electricity echoes in my ears.

 

The hallway stretches out before me, growing steadily colder. Ice freezes over the dirt ground and creeps along the corridor walls. I struggle not to slip and fall.

There are several doors every few feet. Different sounds come from one after the other. There is the sound of wild animals tearing each other apart behind a prison cell door. From another, comes the sound of endless scream after scream. One of the doors remains open and glancing inside I see what appears to be an never-ending family reunion, the family sitting down at dinner, arguing and yelling. When they reach for the food, their hands pass through. When they reach for their drinks, the liquids vaporize into mist. It is the last room on the right however, that causes me to stop completely in my tracks.

The door opens up to what looks like a hospital sanctuary. In the front of a room lies a large cross which has fallen to the floor. The stain glass windows are shattered in several places. The dull rainbow-colored glass has been grounded into the carpet that is torn up in sections. There are no pews, only boards which to kneel upon. Nails stick out along the board, piercing the knees of several occupants who kneel before the fallen cross with blood trickling onto the floor. Tears of blood stream down their cheeks as they moan and gnash their teeth together; spit flying from their mouths. Letters on the top of the front wall, written in a liquid looking suspiciously like blood, reads “Mea Culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” Immediately I understand: My fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.

“What have they done?”

“There is such a thing as the Unforgivable Sin,” she says cheerfully. “Move along.”

I don’t want to. I dig my feet it, knowing there are worse horrors ahead of me. “No, I want to go back.”

“There is no going back. This is where you belong.”

I can feel the blood drain from my face, “N-no. I can’t belong here.”

“Of course you do.” She grabs my arm, her nails digging into the soft skin. She drags me down the hall, the ice melting and dripping down the walls as we delve deeper into a level of heat that causes all of my pores to open and gush out their tears. I struggle against her, digging my feet into the hard earth that yields no help. “Let me go! I don’t belong here!”

Lilith stops, “Who are you to say that you do not belong? Do you know who you are? What you deserve?”

My eyes are wide with fear. “I don’t know, but not this.”

Lilith’s face twists into that of a man’s, or I suppose I should say, a boy’s. He was just about to turn eighteen when I had the misfortune of coming across his path two years ago. His dark green eyes are filled with greed and desire. He grabs my wrists, pushing me up against the hallway wall. “You know you deserve this Galia. You brought this upon yourself.”

But I am no longer thinking of where I am, but of that night. My fists pound against his chest, “No, no, no!”

Lilith is back and pushes me through the door at the end of the hall. The smell is sharp and overwhelming. Clouds of it fill my nostrils and lungs. I start to cough and squint my stinging eyes shut, trying to block the flow of tears. The heat is intense, and I scream, feeling the blisters popping out all over my skin. Electricity seems to race through my veins, zapping each nerve that it hits. With great effort, I force my burned eyelids open. The room is a cavern and the cavern is on fire. I crouch at the edge of the lip of the cave. Below me lies a pit that has no bottom and is consumed by fire and smoke and darkness. Beside me Lilith bows with her face low to the floor. Before me, out of the pit rises a shadow the size of giant.

The scream tears my throat and blood splatters my lips.

And finally, I understand. I am in Hell.

 

 

 

Be sure to stop by my page tomorrow for Redemption Pt. 3!