WANDER THE LIBRARY

Welcome to the growing library of the Wordsmith’s books! She Will Become is currently in beta reader phase while From Ashes Arise remains a work-in-progress.

She Will Become is a New Adult novel about relationships and how they serve to move us through life, no matter where we are in the universe or what God we believe in. This is a story about love and loss, drama and intrigue, emotional connections and learning who we are by navigating the tangled web of relationships that make up the foundations of our human lives. It is in and through the quality of our relationships and the mirrors they represent that we discover and become our truest selves.

When Tristen Callayas, 22, confesses to her best friend Ani that she has been in love with her for the last eight years of their life-long friendship, she hopes only that Ani’s blatant homophobia won’t destroy them. When she is rejected and fully ejected from Ani’s life Tristen is cast into a mire of doubt and suicidal thoughts. Unable to find solace she decides to end her life. In the course of attempting such a drastic end to her misery she finds an abandoned mansion housing a beautifully carved wooden box and a mystery involving a woman who disappeared a hundred years earlier. Following the puzzle pieces and discovering the box contains a portal to another world entirely, Tristen throws both caution and fate to the wind and finds Abiniam, a rustic world filled with as much beauty as pointless violence, ruled by the dual fists of a repressive religious Ostian regime and the wayward, emotionally distant King Reese Westphalia.

Abiniam and its peoples offer up a new chance at life, love, meaning and purpose. Through the relationships she establishes and builds with a host of characters – from Gwyneth, her beautiful handmaid who bears an uncanny and haunting resemblance to Ani; to Genevieve, the woman whose disappearance led Tristen to Abiniam; to Fahl, the king’s personal servant who hails from the war-savaged southern lands of the Uwate Mountains and whose self-avowed belief in the opposing religion sets him distinctly apart; to Endecai, Gwyneth’s quietly observant younger brother; to Bastian, the Master Rabani/”Ost’s Chosen Illuminator” so obsessed with fulfilling a thousand year old prophecy he will stop at nothing short of burning anyone Tristen has come to love and care for on the Purification pyres to obtain his goal; to King Reese himself, a man full to bursting with inner torment over the “sinful” callings of his heart versus living up to the ideals and responsibilities ruling over a kingdom engaged in a four hundred year war entails – she learns more of what it truly means to love and be loved, to see the world through a lens unclouded by misery and angst – through the filter of human compassion and self-sacrifice. How will Tristen navigate these relationships? Will she affect as much change upon the people of Abiniam as they bring about in her over the course of the story?

Click the tab labeled “She Will Become” above to read the first chapter!

 


From Ashes Arise

An erotic dark urban fantasy.

Teresa Parker grew up in the foster care system, having been abandoned by nameless and faceless parents as a baby. Taken in by a family that promises adoption when she is fifteen, she is rapidly disabused of all notions that love without ulterior motives is love at all. Suffering at the hands and manipulations of her foster-father, and having dreams of turning into some strange giant bird of flame and gold feather who maintains vigil over an equally strange and endless rainbow colored sea, Teresa is quickly drawn into Allentown’s ugly underbelly of drugs. The drugs dull the dreams and she ages out of the system at eighteen, moving from recreational drug user to full time dealer to support her growing habit. Fifteen years later the dreams return, and so does her younger foster brother Seth. However, being fifteen years her junior Seth doesn’t remember her nor she him. They know each other only as client and dealer until one night they hook up and Teresa remembers who he is, and what his father did to her. Confused and horrified at the connections between the dreams and Seth Teresa avoids contact until the dreams become too much for her drugs to handle. She returns to Seth and finds unlikely aid in his strange friend Errol. Only Errol has the answers she needs to make sense of her dreams and the intense fever that has wracked her body since the lascivious night she spent with Seth. Who is she? Why is she dreaming of being a bird, and what does it all have to do with Seth and his family? Errol’s answers confound and terrify her for they speak of worlds and lives beyond her own. He has come to save her, to take her back and restore all that her disappearance has cast asunder but time is limited. Will she come to believe in time to save herself and everyone that Errol claims depends upon her?

Click the tab labeled “From Ashes Arise” above to read the first chapter!

She Will Become: Chapter One

CHAPTER ONE

Only The Beginning

Of all the ways I never expected to arrive in a foreign world, plummeting straight out of the sky to splash land in a washing machine ocean had to be first. One moment I’d been sliding my hand into the silken red interior of a box containing a door to another world, the next I was careening out of the clouds with only a few seconds of darkness in between to mark the passage between universes.

Hurtling earthward, dropped from the clouds like some errant package without a rescuing parachute, the arctic-cold wind whipped past my face numbing it immediately. Ice crusted in my eyelashes, clogging my sinuses. I let loose a terrified scream and flailed my arms frantic for purchase. There was nothing to grab onto, nothing to arrest this dizzying uncontrollable plummet. The wind roared in my ears and tore at my clothes, numbed my flailing fingers and stealing every precious ounce of heat.

A great blue-black wall loomed ahead, growing larger and more threatening with every passing second. A storm swell of terror overtook my heart sending it into glitching horrified awareness.

Water! Waves! Ocean!

I hit the water with a sound like thunder crashing between my ears. Frigid water stole my breath and ability to move the instant it closed over my head. Years of childhood summers spent swimming in murky back-wood ponds and spring-fed lakes of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains had honed my aquatic skills, but nothing compared to the wild raging of these ocean waves. Weighted down by the jeans, t-shirt and thick zip-up hoodie I’d worn to protect against the early fall chill back home on Earth, I sank toward the horrifying dark of the depths with terrifying speed. Oh, the irony of my choice of attire! Pumping and churning the water with my arms and legs got me no closer to the surface. Panic set in as my lungs ached for oxygen too long denied.

The cold settled into my bones faster than I’d ever imagined possible. My eyeballs were ice cubes just barely able to discern a spot of bright sky far above, shrinking, receding. I couldn’t move my arms anymore; my legs hung like icicles from a frosty overhang. Ani was right; I’m an abomination. Divine forgiveness is off the table, was probably never even on offer. Perverts like me don’t deserve love or mercy. Just this abysmal, crushing, icy darkness. Here is where I die.

Surrendering came easy. I should have stuck to my original plan, ignored that damned abandoned mansion. Don’t they say bleeding out from sliced wrists feels warm, comforting? The aching, lethal cold squeezed out the last of my thinking narrowing my consciousness to pinpricks of light. Two tiny bubbles ascended lazily away from me before my eyelids came down for the last time. If the black depths of the ocean below had evoked a primal sense of terror, the inky blackness waiting to take me rendered the opposite. Finally, solace, the end of almost twenty years of misery. My body twitched only minutely as my soul tried to shake off its mortal dressings.

Then … something lighter than air brushed across my hands and face, tangled around my feet and ankles and tugged upward. I didn’t know what it was and didn’t care. It was too late. I was going and had no intention of ever coming back.

~*~

Consciousness came back to me slowly, rolling in and dragging me up from some unknown, unknowable depth. Where was my body or, rather, why did it feel as if it were a small distance away? Was this what death was – awakening to sensations that made absolutely no sense?

“Do ye know who she is?” A strange voice obliterated the illusion like a match struck to ward off the complete darkness.

I’m alive!

That terrible freezing ocean hadn’t claimed me after all. The realization brought with it a welter of confused emotion. Rage at the denial of the peace I craved, elation at being spared. On the heels of this, I fought the onset of panic. If I wasn’t dead then why couldn’t I move, breathe, see? Why could I feel my body but not control it? I was a giant, bodiless brain tethered to a dead weight body cast adrift in a sea of unending darkness. Fear swelled, the necessary kick start, a key to wind the clockwork mechanism of my biology. Faintly, my heart began to beat.

“I d’know. Edrin said ‘e pulled ‘er up in ‘is nets. ‘E thought she were dead. Still, no need tae leave a poor drowned girl t’float, aye? But once ‘e got ‘er up ‘e saw she was still breathin’ sommat an’ brought ‘er ‘ere t’me. I ‘ave no idea, but she’s got a foreign look to ‘er, I say,” another voice answered the first. His thick accent added another layer of confusion to my addled waking.

“Oh, ayuh. The girl’s a might fairer than we Western lot. Mayhap she was tryin’ tae sail across from the Northern Tor, eh? She’s got their look. ‘Tis peaceful up there but who knows… people leave their folk sometimes. ”

“I’d say ayuh. I’m glad Edrin brought ‘er out o’ t’water but what’m I supposed to do wit’ ‘er? I dinna see any marks on ‘er – she’s not ‘urt, no bones broken, nothin’ like that. She joost lays there a’sleepin.”

The voices went back and forth, one deep and weathered, the other fair and almost singsong. I listened, thinking I should speak, or perhaps even open my eyes to see these apparent saviors. Trying, I  discovered that while I still couldn’t move, I had more of a sense of things around me. Shivers wracked my body, the tremors coming to me as though traveling along a fine wire stretching several feet. Cocooned and connecting this feeling with the deeper-voiced speaker’s words, I concentrated and soon identified the unmistakable itch of rough wool against bare skin. Warm, slightly yielding solidity developed along the backs of my legs, butt, and upper body. The sound of waves gently lapping at the shore some distance away and, high above me, gulls screaming gave further clues to my whereabouts, but only just.

Heat returned slowly, absorbed from whatever was beneath me. Nerve endings tingled, quietly and then with the fierce itch of being swarmed by an army of flesh-eating ants. Each limb, full of agonized irritation at being brought back to life, became distinct entities connected to a larger whole. Within seconds, I could wiggle my fingers. Something tickled at the back of my throat, and I coughed. Immediately, my gorge rose. Hitching in a breath, I struggled to either sit up or roll to the side. My muscles screamed in weighted and painful protest, refusing to do my bidding. My soft yet urgent moaning elicited gasps; hands were quickly laid on me, rolling me onto my side. I gagged puking up seawater. Snorting and spitting the dregs of vomit from my sinuses left the bitter tastes of bile and grief lingering at the back of my throat.

Fully conscious now, I took a ragged inhalation and dragged my eyes open. The faces above me were blurred, clearly human and roughly masculine in shape to match the voices. Surprised concern slurred their speech. Unable to understand them, I croaked the first word that came to mind.

“Genevieve…” Meager energy expended, I closed my eyes and fell back into the dubious mercy of forgetful darkness.

~*~

“What updates does Ohjion deliver?” Awake again yet just as unable to move, this time, I could feel every inch of my body immediately yet had no strength to show it.

A woman’s voice, higher in pitch with educated inflections, asked the question.  Unlike the men’s voices of earlier, this one was barren of accent save for intonations that rang distant chimes of home. It called me up from the depths of the blackest black. I was slow in rising to it.

“Nothin’ new, milady,” answered another, this one a woman whose voice betrayed older age and idle concern. “The chirurgeon couldna find anythin’ wrong wit’ her, but she’s nae got a native look. Ohjion said this could be a sickness from wherever she’s come.” There was a momentary pause. Someone tsk’d in thought.

“Do you remember when I came here, Chani? I was immobile. I could not even open my eyes or move or even speak for months.”

“Oh, ayuh, I remember. D’ye think she’s from -.” The first woman cut her off muted excitement giving her consonants a razor-edged rasp.

“Perhaps, but I’ll jump to no conclusion. There’s no denying the similarity of the situations, though. She doesn’t look a bit like anyone here – mayhap some of the Northern Tor folk like the fishermen guess. She’s either taken ill from one of their sicknesses or, of course, she may have come from the portal in the box, but I cannot allow myself the hope.” The last few words were cracked and full of strangled emotion.

The conversation dropped into a heavy silence. In the absence of the women’s lilting speech fragments of the younger woman’s interjection piqued my attention. Portal. Box. No denying the similarity. May have come from… The words, important somehow, pried at my fugue. If only I could just remember why.

Hazy, incongruent Images oozed into the gaps. A woman, screaming vitriol, the sounds of gagging. Night-darkened sky, a car idling on the street behind me. Wet grass in front and beneath me, the acidic stench of vomit wafting up from it. A meandering trail through the woods leading deeper to older forestry in mottled deep brown lichen stripes and gray bark. Ancient, sturdy pine, birch, aspen, and oak all unexpectedly giving way to ground littered with uprooted and overturned brick paving and chunks of cement stones. A driveway and crumbled walls dead-ending at a wide circle in front of a massive, sprawling wood and brick mansion whose last good days had been over a hundred years earlier.

The images-cum-memories poured in faster and faster as if someone was trying to fast forward through a lengthy film reel. Abandoned rooms filled with outdated furniture covered over and forgotten, left to rot under decades of dust and animal droppings. A parlor room in no better condition. Sumptuous decorations and plush upholstery dulled by age, and a huge fireplace commandeering most of one wall. A painting of a woman above the fireplace; a scrapbook filled with pages and pages of yellowed newspapers clippings and dozens of sepia-toned photographs all documenting the mysterious disappearance of a woman more than a century before I was born. A small box; touching, lifting, opening it. Inside, a note in looping handwritten script: “There is yet another world beyond the wood. If you have the true sight, look again and behold the choice before you.” Replacing the note, a vision: the vibrant blue of a morning sky and beyond that the mountainous expanse of an entirely different world.

A flood of tears cut tracks through the cement sealing my eyes shut. A whimper escaped my lips, so low only I heard it. With the sensation of sand falling away from my eyelids, I blinked rapidly and squinted straight up into the turned profile of a young woman with a pale mien, hair loose, long and curling past her shoulders in a mahogany tumble. I blinked again to clear away the tears, trying to focus. That hair looked familiar – the color, the texture, the profile of her face. Could it be?

“Genevieve?” I whispered, unable to say anything else. Elated amazement overcame me. I wasn’t crazy or dead, and neither was the woman in the portrait. I didn’t know how it was possible yet here she was, close enough I could have reached out and touched her.

“Milady! She’s opened her eyes! Look!” blurted the second speaker. The young woman above me sharply turned.

“You know my name?” Those emerald green eyes narrowed in shocked consternation, bounced back and forth between my face and the other woman.

“Oh ayuh, milady. Did no one tell ye? That’s why the fishermen brought her here instead o’ stayin’ in Cosco. The only word she spoke when they found her was yer name,” said the as yet disembodied voice. I blinked recalling the struggle to feel the rest of my body, the tingling heat and the sick convulsions of my stomach and lungs.

Genevieve looked away for a moment. Fright widened her eyes framing them with mahogany lashes. “How do you know my name? Where do you hail from?”

“Freedomsburg,” I croaked. My throat had gone tight with barely suppressed tears. I’d done it – solved the mystery! Genevieve was here, wherever here was.

Genevieve flinched and leaned even closer. “What did you say?”

“Freedomsburg,” I croaked again wishing my voice would cooperate. I had so much more to say.

“Freedomsburg? But how?” She drew back at my answer and exchanged a glance with her companion. “Chani, how?” Her voice wobbled with the question.

“I don’t know, child.”

As the older woman professed her ignorance, I thrust aside other memories that came bubbling up behind those that had led me here. I didn’t want to think about what and who I’d left behind, or why. I should have been celebrating surviving my plunge into the ocean. Instead, I had no choice but to lay here, half-mute and struck dumb by unfamiliarity.

Those snippets of memories came regardless, barreling past any objections. Freedomsburg was home and had been for almost all of my life. Freedomsburg was Mom, Dad, Jordan – family. Freedomsburg too was one failed relationship after another. First David, then Brian’s face went by, blurred at the edges in passing, both proof of sexual confusion, ambiguity at best. I’d never felt for them one iota what I’d felt for her. Ani. Sister from another mother, the other half of the diaper-duo, my boon companion through school and then some.  How could I have been so stupid?

Oh God, what have I done?

“Who are you? How do you know this place – Freedomsburg?”

I almost lost the question in the tumultuous onslaught of memories.

“My name is Tristen Callayas. I know Freedomsburg because that’s… it’s where I came from – where we both come from.”

Genevieve paled and swayed in her seat. “It can’t be.” Her protest came from a mile away as she withdrew into herself. Seconds later she was back and staring down at me with a daunting intensity. “How is it that you came to be here?” She shook her head when I started to answer. “I don’t mean how you were brought here to the castle. How is it that you are here on Abiniam and not Earth?”

The older woman gasped as if she was late in comprehending the situation. I gaped up at Genevieve wishing I could do anything except lay here and bear the weight of her penetrating stare. A strange flush of shame warmed me.

“I found your house, the scrapbook, the box.” I stopped as a wave of fatigue rolled through me. Genevieve turned an unhealthy shade of pale and brought a hand to her forehead.

Wincing, she asked, “When? Pray, tell me, when did you find these things?”

“Milady?” The older woman raised a note of concern. Genevieve waved her off.

“No, Chani, I must know the answer to this question. Tristen, when did you find the box? What year?”

Gray mist encroached the edges of my vision. I was tempted to ignore Genevieve’s question and surrender to the darkness tugging at me, At least there I’d be safe from the pain clamping my heart in an ever-tightening vice. I certainly wouldn’t be looking up into the face of a woman whose very sanity inexplicably seemed to hinge on my answer to her question either.

“Two thousand twelve.”

Genevieve’s breath rattled as her remaining color drained away. Her eyes dropped and seemed to roll back into her head evoking worry she might faint. She clenched the blanket at my shoulder.

“A hundred and ten years! I don’t – I don’t understand!” she whispered harshly, turned away and covered her face with shaking hands. Instantly sorry I’d spoken the truth; I struggled to sit up. I’d had enough of laying down, of being spoken to like I was an invalid (even if I felt like one). I also wanted to see the other woman in the room.

My muscles were leaden. Why was I still so weak? What had I done to myself in sticking my hand in that stupid box? Or was this a result of my crash-landing in the ocean and the fight to survive?

Several seconds of struggling, I finally got my elbows beneath me. I propped myself up on the pillow and looked around. The other woman was much older than Genevieve or me. She sat on a stool close to the foot of the bed. Almost grandmotherly with gray hair pulled up into a tight bun on the crown of her head, her face was smooth except for the deep lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth. Bright sky blue eyes caught and met my gaze above a tight, strained smile. Most of her attention was on Genevieve.

“We were beginning tae think ye’d never wake, lass. I’m glad tae see you alert an’ speakin’, at last,” the woman murmured.

“How long have I been here?” I glanced at Genevieve sitting eerily silent and motionless on her stool, still covering her face with her hands.

“Wit’ travel time? Jus’ a tick past a mont’, lass. The fishermen who found ye said the only time ye ever came ’round was tae clean out the water ye’d swallowed and tae call out the Lady’s name. Tha’ was the day they found ye. Ye’ve been here since, sleepin’ and seemin’ like ye’d never move again.” Now she looked to Genevieve and frowned. “Milady, would ye like tae return tae yer chambers?”

Genevieve roused herself, responding as if she was returning from a distance greater than what lay between here and wherever home was.

“Yes, thank you, Chani. This news all been – well, it’s quite a shock. I’m sorry Tristen; I must go and collect myself. I will return later, or you may have Gwyneth, your handmaid, send word when you are ready to be up and about.” She went to the door just beyond the end of my bed. I fumbled for something to say and fell short.

“I’m sorry Genevieve. I didn’t mean to cause you any pain by coming here,” I murmured thinking, I came here to get away from pain, not bring it with me. She glanced back as Chani opened the door for her, a dismal sadness in her eyes.

“None of us means the harm we inflict,” she imparted softly. “Rest well now, we’ll speak again soon.  Chani will send Gwyneth to attend you.” Both women slipped through the open door and were gone leaving me awake and alone in this strange new world for the first time.

Frazzled, I flopped back to the pillow. The silence that followed the women’s departure left me too much space to think and remember things that should have stayed buried in the darkness. Genevieve had asked how I’d gotten here, but not the why. What would I have said if she had?

Struggling against latent bonds of grief, I scrubbed my face with my hands. On the other side of my fingers, the door opened and closed with a quiet snick. It was a little easier to sit up this time, and I gasped at the unexpected sight that greeted me.  A young woman stood at the end of the bed. Near in age to me, she was about my height and slender with perfect curves beneath a plain blue dress. A tumble of raven curls framed her face and disappeared over her shoulders. Her face was stunningly beautiful – narrow, with sharp cheekbones and chin; a petite nose and the warmest, most expressive green eyes I’d ever seen. Her eyelashes were thick and full, caressing her cheeks when she blinked, and her lips – oh God! Pink and luscious, slightly parted as she returned my stare; she licked them and cleared her throat. I couldn’t look away even if I’d wanted. This girl, whoever she was, resembled Ani almost exactly.

 

From Ashes Arise: Chapter One

Chapter One

She pressed a kiss to the globular underside of Letti’s luscious breast as the prostitute rolled and leaned over her to snort another stubby line of coke. The caramel-skinned woman pinched her nostrils shut and sniffed several times before flopping back next to Teresa on the mattress.

“Girl, if you want another go around you got to give me a minute to recover. Shoo!” Letti grinned as her pupils dilated; her teeth were bright in the orange wash of street light spilling through the window above the bed. Teresa snorted, pinched Letti’s nearest nipple, and then reached out to the same table holding Letti’s smack for her pack of cigarettes.

“No, no, I’m still buzzing everywhere from that tongue of yours.” She lit a smoke and tossed the lighter back on the table. Gauzy white smoke peeled away from the glowing head and climbed toward the ceiling. She added more smoke, sending a cloud up into the air on her next exhale, and watched idly as the air current caught the smoke, swirling and diffusing it.

The two women laid next to one another in easy silence, companionable in their post-orgasm recovery. Teresa finished her cigarette and stubbed it out in the nearby ashtray. Rolling to her side she flicked Letti’s thimble-sized nipple, giggling as it went from a puddle of molten chocolate to Hershey’s kiss at the stimuli. Letti mewled in pleasure but made no move to claim further affection. Disappointed, Teresa dipped her head and gave the nipple a hearty swirl of her tongue, grinning when she felt an acrylic-nailed hand bury itself in the hair at the nape of her neck.

“Girl, you got to do it quick coz I got to go. Paying johns be wantin’ head,” she laughed, panting between words. Her thighs parted and Teresa’s fingers found the gap easily, fingertips nudging, pressing, rubbing until Letti’s body was convulsing under her. Her dark-skinned bed partner squealed as her orgasm crashed through her. When she had calmed enough to move, she pushed Teresa’s hands away and shifted until she knelt between the white girl’s legs.

Teresa laughed, twining her fingers in Letti’s fine Hispanic curls. “That’s right baby. Pay for that last line of coke Mama bought you.” The orgasm Letti brought her to would have paid for an ounce of cocaine twice over, she thought as she shivered and rode the sexual high.

She saw Letti out the door a meager twenty minutes later, time enough to see Letti wash up from their activities, don her skimpy street clothes and knee-high leather boots and touch up her makeup. Letti kissed her as she slipped out the front door, her lips tasting of cheap waxy lipstick. Her drug-store perfume filled the air with a scent that verged on obnoxious faux-flowers but the affection in her gesture was genuine. “Thanks mami, I really needed that fix. You’re a real life-saver, you know.” Her Latino twang made the words sing. Teresa shrugged them off.

“I see a need, I fill a need. It just so happens I really like what your tongue can do so it’s mutually beneficial.” Teresa crooked a grin up at the taller woman. Letti hooked her finger under Teresa’s chin and brought her head up until she could and did look directly down into her eyes.

Oye, keep yourself out of trouble. Ain’t too many out there like you, looking out for some crazy street tramp like me, comprende? Those college boys you like to sell to? They no good, spending they daddy’s money on shit they can smoke, snort or swallow ‘stead they education. You tell that Brian and his friend Seth to find some other place to find they smoke ‘n ecstasy, hear?” Teresa nodded but Letti’s eyes narrowed. “You ain’t gon’ do it, I know. Too much money in that ecstasy and meth’ shit to close that door, huh? I get it, but you be safe mami. I don’t come here just for the fixes.” Now she grinned lasciviously and licked her lips. The tension momentarily abated, Teresa laughed.

“Go give some head, bitch. Come back when you miss me.” She playfully shoved the prostitute down the front steps to the walk. Heels clicking on the pavement, Letti gave a wild wave in good-bye before disappearing down the street. Teresa closed and locked the door behind her and then checked the porch light. She had turned it out when Letti had knocked as a sign to any lurking customers that she was unavailable for business. If you wanted a fix you needed to head elsewhere, and she didn’t care where. Teresa ‘Rezz’ Parker was a small timer that had been around long enough to build up a reputation for being careful and staying under the local fuzz’s radar and so didn’t have any affiliations with any of the gangs that were constantly warring over neighborhoods all across the city. She liked it that way; her income stayed high with a steady parade of regulars treating her entryway like a well-used revolving door most Friday and Saturday evenings and her neighbors knew well enough to keep their noses in their own front yards lest some hooligan take it upon himself to rearrange how their shrubs were planted in their neat little gardens. It also helped that she made it a point every year to give out the best Halloween candy on the block.

The light was out and would remain so until the following night. Now… now she wanted to smoke and hit the hay. It was still early in the night but her romp with Letti had worn her out. She punched in the security code on her alarm system’s keypad on the front wall and ambled her way down her front hall to the parlor, turning off light switches as she went. She closed the parlor up, checking the many lockbox containing her various stashes to make sure they were secure and stowing away the sizable payment she’d just received for delivering an ounce of Columbian coke. With business finally concluded for the night Teresa retreated upstairs to her bedroom where she flopped onto her bed, not bothering to change out of the athletic shirt and dingy sweats she’d donned as Letty was prepping for the night, and rummaged in her bedside table until she found her glass pipe, lighter and snuff canister. Another minute passed while she packed the pipe’s deep bowl full of the most potent Moroccan hashish on the market and took her first deep and appreciative hit. She sucked the smoke down into her lungs and held it there, eyelashes fluttering in pleasure over clear, apple-green eyes. Then she grinned and exhaled, blowing out a voluminous cloud of opaque smoke that drifted up and away above her head.

It took only seconds for the fog to fill her head, making her brain feel heavy and ready for sleep. She blinked in sleepy satisfaction, reveling in the gradual warmth that radiated from her middle, suffusing her limbs with welcome languor. Her toes tingled and she wriggled them in her socks. She enjoyed smoking for these effects but she imbibed more for the dreams it kept at bay. The dreams….

She shuddered in remembrance, however vague. The dreams of the bird had begun shortly after her eighteenth birthday, filling her nights with the strangest collages of imagery so vivid she’d become lost for a time in trying to decipher what she saw. Eventually she’d grown tired of the ceaseless fantastical nature of dreaming herself to be some majestic, fiery-feathered bird and seeking to obliterate what she could not control she’d gone looking into the world of illegal drugs. The last time she could recall having even the briefest dreams of the bird had been in her early twenties. She was now verging on a miraculous thirty-four. Years of smoking pot and hashish every night in that interim had reduced her memories of the dreams to hazy, disconnected, fragmented images that made no logical sense and defied symbolic definition. Yet what hazy memories she did retain still carried with them a strong sense of captivating familiarity and gut-clenching dread. She thanked her lucky stars her usage had grown into a self-supporting business which kept her in constant supply of the very things that kept her sane.

Teresa took another long, powerful hit and blew it out then smiled as her thoughts began to grow fuzzy at the edges and she mentally drifted, thoughts covering immense distances in light-year leaps from subject to random subject. Another deep drag had her coughing roughly. Deciding she’d had enough, she tamped the embers out with the pad of her thumb, tucked it back into her bedside table drawer and curled onto her side. Sleep claimed her quickly, almost lovingly.

 –

She woke gasping, heart hammering in her chest and ears. Images of a rainbow-hued sea, each wave crashing upon the rocky shore just inches from her feet a different color than the last, lingered against the matte black of her closed eyelids. That dream. That damned dream! She sighed into the darkness, exhaling raggedly against a pounding heart beat.

How…? Why now? She pushed the sweat-soaked hair from her brow and sat up, shivering in the cool air. Had she gone back in time to her twenties somehow? How was it possible that the dream had not changed at all in ten years?

It had all been the same: that vast, immeasurable rainbow-colored sea over which hung a massive golden sun-like orb whose light did nothing to warm her skin but did cast everything she could see in a bright, healthy-seeming glow that encouraged a sense of deep ease. However, soon after she was delivered unto these foreign dream shores inevitably came a sense of impending doom and as the anxiety and dread grew within her the faster and louder her heart pounded in her chest until she could no longer hear the low susurrus of the waves over the cacophony of her terrified heart beat. Then suddenly the rocky swell of ground beneath her feet began to tremble and quake. The sea churned, waves that had cascaded to the shore in an easy, soothing rhythm only minutes earlier now crashed in and over and against one another so that the waters appeared to swarm with invisible beasts that fought and gnashed teeth in a vicious battle. Waves that had once been a serene violet or searing flame red lost their vibrancy and mutated, beautiful hues leached and transformed into putrid washes of greens and browns, mottled mustard yellows intermixed with streaks of a bruised purple-black. The trembling of the ground increased as these new colors flooded in, no longer just sending minute vibrations up through the soles of her feet but quaking so hard she could barely remain standing. One last, nearly cataclysmic roar of sound and motion blasted over her and she went down on her knees, rocky shore digging angry, jutting stones into the tender flesh of her knees. Overhead the sky broke open and rushing wind tore her breath away. The great golden orb darkened until everything she could see through the lashing of her hair disappeared into murky shadow. Howls and shrieking cackles of glee reached her ears and she cringed, fingers scrabbling at jagged edged rocks until her nails broke leaving her nail beds raw and suppurating. A cry of terror – a plea for rescue – swelled in her lungs until it burst from between her lips but instead of words launching up and out into the void around her what echoed back was the ululating screech of some wild, exotic bird but the screech was quickly cut off as an unseen hand descended to smother her mouth and nose until she could not breath. Her lungs screamed for air but the smothering hand did not relent; she slid down into the oblivion of unconsciousness with only the panicky stuttering of her heart beat to accompany her.

Teresa always woke at the same point, gasping and quivering with apprehensive fear and confusion followed quickly by an almost overwhelming sense of urgency and total despair. She felt it now and could not stop her gaze from darting from one shadowed corner of her bedroom to another. Every nerve-ending in her diminutive body tingled pin-prick sharp, goading her into movement but to where? Who was there to call? It was just a dream, she told herself, even if you weren’t supposed to feel pain in dreams, were you? She was in no discernible danger no matter the linger sense that she was; her bedroom was as dark and empty of phantoms as it had been when she’d turned out the lights and gone to sleep. Had it not been her security system would have gone off and woken her long before the dream had come on let alone ended.

Gradually the pounding of her heart eased and she calmed. The normal sounds of a night bound house settling its old bones filtered in, faint creaks and groans punctuated by the sporadic hiss of tires over pavement as some random early morning traveler drove past her house. Her eyes adjusted until the shadows cloaking the room resolved into the solid edges of her bureau, clothing rack, closet and bedroom doors outlined by her alarm clock’s luminous digital display. A yawn of weariness stole her attention for a microsecond; she smacked her lips and tried to wet them with the tip of her parched tongue. Her mouth tasted of her bed-time smoke – slightly dirty and mildly skunk-flavored. Thirst coated her teeth and tongue and reached down her throat, striving for the dehydrated cells of her body with enough force to propel her from her bed to the bathroom where she gulped down a glass of water – this being utterly clear and still in the shallow depth of the tumbler, she was relieved to note – then caught her reflection in the mirror.

She winced at the image the polished glass sent back to her. Her hair, cut in a disheveled pixie cut and dyed black with an inch or more of her natural flame and gold-tinged rooted standing out in sharp contrast, was heavily sleep-mussed and matted flat to her head where the sweat had soaked through. Eyes slightly red-rimmed around irises the color of freshly harvested Granny apples peered back at her through a veil of weary resignation above a narrow, almost aquiline nose and high, sculpted cheekbones. Full, luscious lips pressed thin with the efforts of observation formed a stoic line above her chin, that same tension tightening her jaw muscles making a knife blade out of her already gaunt jaw line.

Her neck was slender, sloping gracefully into petite shoulders and thin arms that could have been sensual if only she would consume a regular, balanced diet and bothered to exercise at all. Her breasts were small globes that barely filled her palms when cupped, tipped by vivid pink nipples and aureole the diameter of a nickel. Her ribs stood out reminding her of a flesh-covered xylophone missing its mallet. Below the furious jut of her rib cage her belly was a slightly convex hollow dotted by the shallow indent of her navel. Her hip bones were like daggers reverse sheathed and ready to puncture the errant hand; her buttocks rounded and topping spindly thighs and even skinnier calves. At the juncture of her thighs her skin gleamed beneath light stubble of flame and gold; she laid a hand over the delta of her sex and trailed her fingertips through the bristle to probe at the hooded knob nestled within the folds. Her flesh prickled at the sensation but no spark of desire followed and she reluctantly withdrew.

It was always nearly impossible to find a speedy return to slumber after awakening from that damned dream and over time, she had learned that a quick orgasm and a few puffs on the pipe were enough to soften the anxiety and nudge her already sleepy mind back toward the precipice from which all sleepers must plunge into the inky, unknowable depths of the subconscious. However her body seemed intent on refusing to respond to the usual physical stimulus; she turned away from her reflection after first shooting it the dirtiest look she could muster at four am and headed back to her bed where she wriggled back beneath sweat-dampened sheets and dug her pipe out of the bedside table drawer. When she had finished and the contents of her bowl were a fine white ash that she blew into the air next to her bed she wriggled about and settled back in, determined she would sleep sans dreams. This time she did.