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out of darkness

Voices of Mystical fiction & Fantasy


Volume ONE

Jennifer Lynn

Candace Carrabus

Kevin P. Sheridan

George Sirois

Camille Faye

T.W. Fendley




The Labyrinth: Copyright @ 2017 Jennifer Lynn

The Night of Two Cats: Copyright © 2017 Candace Carrabus

Brick in the Wall: Copyright © 2017 Kevin P. Sheridan

When the Gods Came to Us: Copyright © 2017 George Sirois

Eleazar Awakes: Copyright @ 2017 Camille Faye

Jaguar Hope: Copyright @ 2012 T.W. Fendley


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.


Silent Partner Publishing

Chesterfield, MO 63017

www.silentparnterpublishing.com


Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.


Book Layout ©2017 BookDesignTemplates.com


Out of Darkness: Voices of Mystical Fiction & Fantasy, Vol. One/ T.W. Fendley, editor. -- 1st ed.







Contents


The Labyrinth
A Bree MacLeod Story
5

The Night of Two Cats 16

Brick in
the Wall 42

When the Gods Came to Us 63

Eleazar Awakens
By the Author of Voodoo Butterfly
74

Jaguar Hope
The Zero Time chronicles

87











Jennifer Lynn

The Labyrinth
A Bree MacLeod Story

Bree MacLeod walked the spiraling path of the labyrinth, the frost-covered earth crunching under her square-toed boots. A wintry silence scowled back at her, scolding her disruption, as the image of a woman sleeping seeped to fill her Otherworldly vision. Ancient with flowing hair the color of dark, rich soil, the woman rested, eyes closed and wrapped in blankets of midnight purple. With each step upon that frozen earth, Bree saw the woman draw her blankets more tightly and snuggle deeper into her loamy bed.

The voice of Emily, Bree’s aunt and foster-mother, rose out of memory. “The earth is the body of The Mother. Bare your feet when you walk upon Her. Let every step be a tender kiss upon Her flesh.”

“Not today,” Bree rued. She frowned at the dark leather encasing her feet as she watched her breath etch its path through the near-freezing, February air. To her inner vision, the frozen exhale hovered before her then fell joyfully to the ground, bouncing away to join the glittering party of frost spirits.

Ice gripped the stones edging the pathways of the labyrinth. As Bree spiraled inward, they glinted, painting her world white. A cold breeze ran prickling fingers up her back. Shivering into her heavy coat, Bree inhaled deeply. A dense, earthy cold filled her lungs and she pulled her scarf tighter around her neck. Snow is coming.

At least her hands were warm. The candle flame flickered through the clear, glass globe she carried. She had lit the candle in honor of the goddess Bríghid, the Mother of her lineage and her primary Teacher in the Otherworld. For today was Bríghid’s Feast Day, the first day of Imbolc, the Celtic season of Spring and the time of the returning light.

Heat from the small flame of the candle spilled through her cotton gloves to her palms. Bree chuckled. She had endured far colder Februarys during her childhood in Cape Breton. But over the past few years, she had adapted to the milder climate of Saint Louis. And she had risen early this morning, leaving behind the warmth and comfort of her apartment to arrive at the labyrinth well before sunrise. She chose to walk beneath the rising light to honor Mother Bríghid and to welcome Her gift of rebirth. Now, spiraling deeper into the labyrinth, she was grateful for the little warmth the candle gifted.

Gwen would still be in bed, asleep, no doubt. Bree could see her partner snuggled deep into the flannel sheets and woven blankets of their bed. Gwen usually joined Bree on these walks to honor the Turning of the Great Wheel of Life. Bree remembered how awkward, even painful, it had been at first to have another person in that sacred space with her. How Gwen’s every move had shrieked through her awareness, shattering the quiet of the labyrinth. Bree never thought she would get used to sharing these walks. But, today she missed the gentle presence of her lover in the ritual. She smiled. She knew now – Gwen’s soul song soothed her, its warm, thrumming a gentle counterpoint to the inner silence the walking demanded.

But not today, Bree grimaced.

“Tell Mother Bríghid hello for me.” Gwen had wrapped Bree’s scarf tightly around her neck and tucked the edges carefully under the collar of her coat. Pulling the zipper fully closed, she had kissed Bree warmly. “I’m sure She will understand – this isn’t my holiday.”

Isn’t it?

Bree wondered. Gwen was the first person outside her own family with whom Bree had discussed her spiritual practice. Gwen had been more than simply interested. She had asked question upon question and even requested a healing session with Bree. Six months later, Gwen joined Bree in her celebrations for the first time. With each passing year, Bree realized she had begun to think of these walks as their tradition.

She’s right, Bree sighed. Bree was the Bean feasa, the wise-woman, the shaman. She was the Daughter of Bríghid. This was her path, her walking.

The pathway spiraled beneath Bree, flowing to the right. Frost-covered earth still crunching beneath her, she stepped into the open center of the labyrinth. Shifting the candle to her right hand, Bree placed her left hand on the bark of the birch tree growing at the very heart of the labyrinth. Leaning forward, she offered the tree a kiss.

“Blessings of the rising Light of Imbolc upon you, Ancient One.”

Bree rested her forehead against the bark. Nothing. No voice whispered back from the tree spirit.

She must still be sleeping, too. Bree frowned and looked up at the clouds darkening the sky. Snowflakes drifted down and spilled across her face. She closed her eyes. And why not? Seems even Béira thinks it is still winter.

A voice – feminine, ancient, loving  – rippled through her. “Look beyond the outward manifestation. Seek always the Truth within. From there the path spirals and carries you true.”

“Mother Bríghid?” Bree’s voice was a whisper.

She allowed her inner vision to engage. Golden light shimmered in the depths of the birch tree before her. Rising out of its roots, wispy tendrils curled upward, twining along the branches. A song pooled and throbbed, summoning the returning life force and awakening the sap within the tree to flow.

All around her, golden light spilled. Bubbling up out of the earth, it seeped slowly across the land and melted the cold of winter with its touch. Familiar eyes shone within that light. Bree smiled and opened her eyes.

Golden brilliance flashed and Bríghid stood before her. “Beannachtaí, mo Ghrá… Blessings my Love.”

Bree placed her left hand over her heart and bowed. “Mother Bríghid.”

Warmth spread along the back of Bree’s neck, then spilled through her torso and down her arms and legs as golden light flooded her awareness. “Do not fear change, mo Ghrá, my Love. Change comes to awaken you, to summon you to become the Truth within you. Embrace the change, Daughter, and know – I am ever with you.”

Golden light flashed, sending a wave of warmth cascading through Bree. Rising to stand, she was alone in the center of the labyrinth. Only the birch tree stood silently before her. Small, grayish-white buds stretched from the branches, reaching for the light and new beginnings. Bree stepped closer and stared at the tender shoots. She shook her head.

Were they there before? Did I simply not see them?

The candle still burned in the globe. Balancing it safely in her right hand, she leaned forward and offered the tree a parting kiss.

“Thank you, Ancient One. Blessed is the Mystery.”

Something whispered through her awareness… a pressure, a sigh, a gentle exhale of life. With a smile, Bree nodded to the birch tree then turned to face the spiraling pathway. The white stones glinted, waiting, as Emily’s voice echoed out of memory.

That is a great Truth of the gift of the labyrinth – the way in is also the way out.” Her aunt had leaned forward and smiled. “The great secret is, both are Love.”

Bree stood considering the stone-edged path before her. “Do not fear change,” she reminded herself. She shifted the candle globe to rest in both hands. As frost-covered earth crunched anew beneath her boots, Bríghid’s voice whispered through her once more.

And walk the path of Love, always and all ways.”





Curious about the changes that unfold for Bree MacLeod? Read more of her story in Being Here, available from Ravenswood Publishing and Amazon.com. To purchase your copy, click here: getBook.at/BreeonAmazon.

For more from Jennifer Lynn, visit her at ThroughShamansEyes.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter @Circlejlj.




JENNIFER LYNN


Jennifer Lynn is a soul midwife, a modern-day mystic and a shamanic practitioner specializing in Celtic mystical techniques and practices. During twenty-plus years of training and experience, she has studied extensively with Tom Cowan, Caitlín Matthews, the Invisible Druid Order, the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, the Foundation for Shamanic Studies as well as with mystical practitioners internationally.

An award-winning, published poet, Jennifer gives voice to her Bardic craft through poetry and prose. Her writings explore the rhythms of life while honoring the Goddess and the Sacred Conversation. Dance through the moon turnings with Jennifer – read her blog at www.ThroughShamansEyes.wordpress.com.

Jennifer is also a Chinese medicine practitioner and a Minister of the Circle of the Sacred Earth, a church of animism fostering shamanic principles and practices. She currently resides in Saint Louis, Missouri, under the Fleur-de-Lys, nestled amongst the waters and the oak tree











Candace Carrabus

The Night of Two Cats


A Witting Woman Short


The night of two cats followed the day I took Benjamin’s virginity.

I’d been at the annual metaphysical fair, reading people’s cards and doing energy clearings and healings. After one session, a woman said she felt like she’d had a full-body massage. After several, clients cried with relief at having their blocks released.

I’m good at what I do. And I love it.

But a persistent sense of not being where I was supposed to kept gnawing my gut, even though business was brisk. Not like I wasn’t supposed to be at the convention center that day, but that I wasn’t doing what I should with my life.

When a tall hunk’s shadow fell across my table, I knew something special was about to happen. Against my rules about not reading people for free and not taking in strays—basically the same thing—I gave the man a quick scan and saw dark patches clouding his sacral chakra. He introduced himself with a breathtaking smile and asked for a reading. It didn’t take a psychic to know Benjamin’d never had sex. That he needed to for his own good. For the good of the world. If he didn’t, someone might get hurt.

So I took one for the team.

Benjamin’s a firefighter who works out, so it’s not like this was much of a hardship. We grabbed a room at the adjacent hotel. I pulled up my mental shields and enjoyed the ride.

A couple of hours later, his windswept gray eyes were slightly rolled back in his head. “Heather,” he said, stretching like a well-fed panther. “Thank you for the best afternoon of my life.”

It had been good for me too.

But that’s not what’s important.

After a salad for supper, I sat on the back porch enjoying the warm summer night, watching a sliver of moon set, mulling over what I should be doing with my life. You’d think by thirty-two, I’d have figured this out, but no. I thought my talent for reading people was it—and that’s a really cool thing—but…there was doubt, like I wasn’t quite there. It didn’t make sense because I’d worked hard to achieve what I had, made a decent living, and liked helping others.

The new moon is all about manifestation, and sitting on the back porch staring up at the sky wasn’t the best way to use this powerful energy. If the moon was trying to tell me something, I wasn’t listening. It was easier to stick with what I knew then venture into the unknown.

As I sat, that loose-jointed, languid sense of rightness descended despite my doubts, a combination, I supposed, of doing good for people, having a wad of cash in my wallet, and a solid pounding. Benjamin was excellent. No finesse, given his lack of experience, but plenty of enthusiasm. And endurance.

I might consider seeing him again. You know, to check his chakras.

In harmony with my body, my mind drifted, opened. I’d been dreaming of animals constantly lately, seeing them everywhere from cats peeking out of windows to dogs in the backs of trucks, and they all seemed to be watching me, but I didn’t allow my thoughts to wander there. Resistance sat in my belly like a small lump of undercooked pasta. My rescued pit bull who thinks she’s a lapdog, Mina, sat beside me. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals, always have. I’d bought this little house in a so-so neighborhood so I could keep Mina. Rentals that allow critters are scarce. She nudged her nose under my arm so I’d put it around her, which I did, of course. No psychic ability required to understand her intent.

I used to hear the thoughts of animals. They have them, just like us. Pictures, though, not words. I’d given that up long ago after telling my aunt that her Siamese cat, Mr. Sam, was unhappy with his food, that he didn’t like the way it made him feel. My aunt scoffed, and my mother grounded me for being impertinent. Shortly after, the food was recalled. But not in time for Mr. Sam. He died. My aunt was inconsolable. Somehow, I was blamed. My mother told me to never, ever, ever do anything like that again.

I’d been only six. Trying to help. I’d cried as much as Aunt Lucy.

But after that, I learned to block them.

Again, not what’s important. Mina’s essential, of course, but it was the night of two cats. The night when everything changed.

The air was cooling, a tumbler of red wine hung from my fingertips, and my eyelids were getting heavy when a long yowl sounded from the bushes toward the back of the yard. Mina’s ears pricked forward, and she lifted her nose to sniff for scents, but she didn’t leave the warmth of my side.

Stray toms love to talk in the dark, but they usually move on quickly, particularly when they smell canine. This one, though, he strolled right up the walk and rubbed against my calf like he already owned me. Mina’s eyes grew wide, but she didn’t bark or growl. She’s not one to make a fuss. Instead, she leaned into me.

“Nope. Uh-uh,” I said. “Move along.”

The cat was a big solid gray. Copper eyes sparkled with secrets in the starlight. Probably not a stray, but I’d never seen him before. Then again, they can patrol a couple of miles of territory, and this guy looked like he was the boss. He sat at my feet, tail twitching, and meowed again.

Oh, all right. “Hello, Tom,” I said.

He gave me a squinty-eyed feline smile, barely tolerating my calling him a low-minded name that likely wasn’t his. He glanced over his shoulder, voiced a quieter chirrup, and walked away, tail high and inviting. Fine. Mina and I don’t need a cat. And yet…

“Hey,” I said. “What’s the rush?”

He paused and sat. Perhaps there was no rush. Perhaps I’d had too much wine.

“Come over here so I can pet you.” I shouldn’t encourage him. Definitely too much wine. Or the fantastic sex had shook loose a few synapses.

He kept his back to me. Two could play hard to get. I set down my empty wine glass and rested my elbows on the step behind me.

“Here kitty.”

He held his ground.

I frowned into the dark, hadn’t turned on the porch light to avoid attracting bugs. He almost blended in with the slate stones of the walk.

He chirped again, more insistent this time, and strutted off, disappearing into the night that claimed the back half of the yard.

“I’m not playing this game.”

He padded back and sat again, his copper eyes glinting. The little ball of pasta unraveled, and I peered into the darkness with a sigh.

Knowing I would probably regret it, I rubbed my hands together, called up protection energy, and followed.

I didn’t have far to go. Tripped over him where he’d stopped at the edge of a dense bank of fragrant hydrangeas. With Mina at my heels, I hopped from foot to foot in a flailing dance to keep from stepping on either cat or dog or falling into the bushes.

As it was, pink and purple sweetness exploded around us when I smacked a flower cluster. Petals flitted to the ground and over both animals like fairy dust.

Once I balanced myself, I bent to pet Tom and brush him off. He pushed into my hand and started to purr, then darted under the shrubs. I stood there, hands on hips, wishing that knot of resistance had held firm, knowing full well I would follow.

Before getting to hands and knees in the damp grass and feeling around where I was as likely to get snake bit as anything else, I ran to the house and grabbed the flashlight by the back door. The resistance had been replaced by a twist of urgency that had me on my belly under the low-hanging branches in search of Tom and whatever he was leading me to.

Which, as it turned out, was another cat. A skinny calico.

I kept the flashlight angled to one side so I didn’t blind anyone. Mina hunkered down and army-crawled in beside me. Ever since I adopted her, she’s been glued to my side as if she’s always belonged there.

But the second cat.

This is what’s important.

She was near dead.

“Shit.”

I glared at Tom, but he ignored me and didn’t give off an especially worried vibe, like he knew I’d take care of this.

What could I do? She’d been mauled by a dog or something, didn’t even try to lift her head when I felt her throat for a pulse, which was barely there.

“Shit, shit. Tom, did you know about this? Is it yours?”

I get emotional about this sort of thing—another reason to keep out of animal heads—and don’t always make sense, but yelling at the gray made me feel better, even if it did none of us any good. Obviously, he knew about it or he wouldn’t have brought me to her.

The cat had birthed a kitten, managed to lick it dry, and she nursed at the mother’s slack belly.

Mina crept forward and sniffed the tiny thing, calico, like her mother, and gave me a sideways glance that concurred with my own feelings.

I almost said shit again, but there was no point. With the flashlight off, I laid one hand over the cat, calling on my angels and guides and the sweet healing energy of spirit to give her a peaceful transition over the rainbow bridge.

Two breaths and a long sigh, and she was still.

Hot tears pricked my eyelids. I snicked the flashlight on. Now what?

Now what was the dead cat stood.

And stretched.

I scooted back. Mud scraped my belly where my T-shirt rucked up.

Her wounds were gone.

She walked to Tom, who licked her face, then she sniffed her baby.

That’s when I realized she was still lying on the ground.

Mina whimpered.

I blinked and held my breath, looking from the body to…the spirit?

Spirit cat nudged the kitten then looked at me with the clearest green eyes I’d ever seen. Love and regret and longing and hope rolled into me in equal parts. If I hadn’t already been on the ground, the strength of those feelings would have knocked me down. I wanted out and away from this. Where’s a goddess-damned lump of resistance when you need it?

She turned and trotted through the dense hydrangea branches as if they weren’t there. I snapped the flashlight’s beam to Tom. It shone right through him. With a twitch of his whiskers, he followed the calico and disappeared.

I scooped up the kitten and took her inside. What else could I do? At least she didn’t telegraph anything to me. I checked to make sure she was still breathing. Mina trotted with me, jumping every few steps to try and sniff the baby.

Keeping her cradled to my chest with one hand, I used the other to dump a pair of shoes out of their box, stuff an old T-shirt in, and rummage in the back of the bathroom closet for a heating pad. Once I had that going, I carefully placed the kitten on the soft cotton bed.

Then I put the box and heating pad inside a larger box. I didn’t think she’d be exploring anytime soon but needed to keep her safe.

Mina watched me closely. I imagined her saying, You’re not doing it right. Let me help. I can do it. But in pictures, of course, of Mina snuggling with the kitten, Mina licking the kitten, Mina carrying the kitten…

I shook my head. “Stop it,” I said, unsure whether I was admonishing her or myself or the angels.

Why would a dog want to care for an orphaned kitten?

Why would I want to care for an orphaned kitten?

Stupid question. I didn’t.

Me and cats. Just. No.

Of course I would take care of her. Tom had led me to her, and now she was my responsibility. I didn’t have to like it.

I called my friend Jess who works at the local animal shelter where I got Mina.

“How do I take care of an orphaned kitten?” I asked before Jess could say hello. “Newborn,” I added. “Hours old at most.”

Jess didn’t chide me for my rudeness. She’s all business when it comes to animals. “How many are there? What happened to the queen?”

“Just one little calico. The mother died. Looked like she got attacked by dogs.”

There was a pause, and I knew Jess was taking a moment to compose herself, a moment when angry thoughts about strays and people not neutering their pets and a list of other grievances against heartless humankind were whipping through her brain. I’d done enough readings on her to know.

“You’re going to need milk replacer and nursing bottles and probably an eye dropper in the beginning. Did she get to nurse at all?”

“I think so.”

“Sure you don’t want to bring her here? You’re going to have to feed her every couple of hours for a while.”

Surrendering her to the shelter was the obvious, logical approach. My life is already full. But me and logic aren’t really on speaking terms. I made a respectable income with the psychic readings and did most of them out of the front room. If a client wasn’t cool with my bringing a kitten with me when I went to them, they could find someone else.

Plus, there was Tom, the transparent gray. How do you refuse a request from a spirit cat?

“I got it,” I said.

“I figured. And I’m glad. We’re already up to our eyeballs with orphans. I have what you need here. Want to come pick it up? She’ll be okay for an hour or so.”

Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot. It was empty save for Jess’s Jeep. The outside light came on. From the back came the sound of dogs barking.

The front door swung open. For half a second, I thought it smacked me in the face. Something slammed into me.

I staggered back. Jess grabbed my forearm.

“What’s wrong?”

Blinking and rubbing my forehead, I said, “I don’t know. Feels like I ran into a wall.”

Then, the images came, randomly and with force. Picture on picture of people and dogs and cats and horses and more people and crates and carriers, and with them, feelings. Abandonment, fear, confusion, hope, despair, surprise, anticipation, sadness…

“Oh my God,” I said aloud, and inside my head, shit, shit, shit.

Jess pulled me through the door and guided me to a waiting room chair which I gratefully sank into. Keeping my eyes shut and breathing deeply through my nose, I pulled up every mental block I’d ever used and repeated a mantra to shield myself until the shouting receded as if behind a closed door—a door I slammed and put my back against. That’s what it had been like, walking into a room full of everyone yelling at once.

After a minute, I asked, “You said you have other orphans?”

“Yes.”

“Puppies?”

“Yes.”

“Was the mother a spotted terrier mix? Dumped here already in labor?”

“Wow, you’re on fire tonight. But I thought you didn’t read animals?”

I groaned. On fire, yeah, that’s what I was. “I don’t.” An image of Tom bounced to the front of my mind. He winked. If I ever got my hands on him again, I’d wring his goddess-damned see-through neck.

Jess sat beside me. “Heather, are you okay? I have a pot of coffee going in the office if you need some.”

“That would be good.” I followed her in, needing the fortification of her strong brew.

The near-espresso-strength java cleared my head. I should have brought the little calico here. Maybe it was her. Whoever was to blame for the sudden onslaught of animal thoughts, I didn’t want it. Wouldn’t have it. I wouldn’t. My life was great. I’d been wrong when I’d thought I was on the wrong track. My direction was just fine, thank you very much. The universe had better be listening.

Jess had supplies packaged and a printed sheet of instructions ready. I didn’t tell her what I was hearing and seeing and feeling. I hadn’t succeeded in completely shutting it out though I was leaning on the door with all my might. One voice was especially persistent.

A dog. A worried dog. Worried about his owner.

And wasn’t that just like a dog? To be worried about the owner that abandoned him? Yet, this was different. Rubbing my temples and taking a deep breath, I let the door open a crack. It wouldn’t hurt. I was already here. Surely one time wouldn’t hurt…

“Do you have a dog here because something happened to its owner, like he got sick or something?”

Jess didn’t hesitate. She knew the story of every one of her guests, as she liked to call them. “Most are the usual. Strays and unwanteds.”

Logic chose that moment to assert itself. Don’t, it said. Don’t do it. I kicked logic into a box and sealed the lid. “Do you mind if we walk through?” I asked.

Jess stood. “Of course not. What are you getting?”

“Not sure.”

She led the way down a hall to the room that housed adult dogs. Once inside, she walked slowly, giving me time to read the inhabitant of each kennel.

“He’s at the end,” I said.

We reached the last dog, a mutt with some shepherd and who knows what else. He stood when we stopped at his door, tongue out, tail slowly wagging, eyes hopeful.

“Stray,” she said. “No collar, no chip. Doesn’t match any description of missing dogs. Been here a week. I call him Butch.”

“His name is Duke.”

Her head whipped around. “How do you know?”

Darkness. A loud crash. Pain. Blood. Flashing lights. No, I begged, please. Just go away. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. “He was in a car wreck. His owner was taken away in an ambulance. He’s been trying to find him.”

My heart ached for them both.

“But—”

“You need to search out of state.” Sand and a ball bouncing on waves. “Maybe California, but anywhere coastal.” I pressed my fingers against my temples again though the usually soothing motion wasn’t helping.

“It’s okay,” I said to the dog. “If anyone can find him, Jess can.”

Duke wagged his tail and sat, satisfied he’d gotten his message across.

I chewed the inside of my cheek, worrying what all this meant.

By the time I got home, exhaustion made my steps slow. Tom had done something to me—awoken the dormant ability or smashed through my carefully crafted barrier. Either way, I had to get rid of it, and fast, or I’d be incapacitated. Sensing all those animals’ feelings would keep me in bed if I let it. I’d never felt anything so intense, so unrelenting, so…thrilling.

No, logic said. Not thrilling. Awful. We don’t want it.

Go away, Logic.

Another part of me wondered, would it be so bad? I’d had to learn to protect my thoughts from people except for when they wanted me swimming around in their heads. Surely I could do the same with animals?

“Okay, kitty, time to eat,” I said as I walked down the hall to my bedroom.

No kitty in the shoebox.

Shit.

That’s when I realized Mina hadn’t greeted me at the door, either.

“Mina!”

Her tail thumped the kitchen floor in answer. I kept an old comforter there for her. I rushed down the hall.

She curled on her bed, unmoving except for the happy tail, the kitten nestled against her chest, sleeping.

At least I hoped she was sleeping. I held my breath until I saw the tiniest rise and fall of her side.

“Okay, girl.” I patted Mina’s head. “You can help take care of her. But I’m going to have to feed her, and she needs that now.”

A little while later, I’d gotten a few milliliters of milk replacer into her, an amount Jess said was enough for now, and held her against my shoulder, gently patting her back, trying for a burp. Then I would have to stimulate her bowels until she was old enough to handle that on her own.

And then I’d get to do it all again every two hours.

Mina waited on her bed, and I put the kitten between her front legs.

“You keep an eye on her. I’m going to check on something.”

I wanted to make sure there weren’t others I’d missed earlier. Two spirit cats hanging out under the hydrangeas had been distracting.

Flashlight in hand, I crawled in. It didn’t surprise me to find the queen’s body gone. I didn’t have an explanation for it but was too tired to attempt figuring it out. Nor were there any other kittens.

I dragged my ass back to the house.

Tom the gray sat in the middle of my kitchen table, tail curled around his feet, copper eyes glowing. I put the flashlight in the drawer and slowly reached out.

And met soft fur and solid cat. How could he be solid one moment and transparent the next?

As earlier, he pushed into my hand and began to purr.

I dropped into a chair, resisting my earlier urge to strangle him. “You’re a strange one.”

Indeed, he said. But in my head, not out loud. And with words, not pictures. Just when you think you know something…

“Come to make sure I’m taking good care of the kitten?”

Thank you, he sent into my mind. But that’s not what’s important.

“I suppose you’re going to lecture me about allowing this…this…” I waved my hand through the air. “Whatever this is to take over my life? Is that what you want?”

If I thought I was going to discuss existentialism with Tom the spirit cat who could communicate with mental telepathy, I was wrong. He jumped down and went to the back door.

You’ll figure it out.

I opened it, then shut it behind him even though he obviously had no use for doors. Or invitations. I didn’t bother to watch whether he walked into the dark or dissolved. It simply didn’t matter.

Kitten in hand, I went to bed, setting an alarm for the next feeding. Mina jumped up and got as close as she could, the two of us sheltering the kitten between us.

“What should we call her?”

Mina wormed a little closer, and my eyelids drifted closed.

My cell phone buzzed. I forced my eyes open. It was Jess.

“You were right,” she said before I spoke, the excitement in her voice bringing me fully awake. “His name is Duke, like you said, and he’s from North Carolina. He was in the car with his owner.” I heard papers shift. “Peter Anderson. They were on a highway when a drunk crossed the median and sideswiped them. The car rolled down an embankment, and Duke was thrown clear.” She paused to take a breath. “Peter is still in the hospital, but he’s got Duke plastered all over the local social media.”

“He’s going to be okay?”

“Of course he is. He’s going home!”

“Not Duke. Peter.”

“Oh, right. Yes. He was pretty banged up but he’s going to be okay.”

I made a mental note to send healing energy to Peter Anderson in North Carolina. “How do you think Duke ended up in the midwest?”

Jess was quiet a moment, then said, “You tell me.”

And so it begins. With a grimace of resignation, I rolled to my back and shut my eyes, picturing Duke, reaching out to him, focusing narrowly on only him. It was easy enough to catch more glimpses of his story. The other dogs and cats at the shelter, thankfully, stayed quiet. Maybe I could do this.

“He stayed near the accident site but got picked up by a trucker coming this way.” The pictures were jumbled, flashing by like a slideshow on fast forward. “As soon as he could, he escaped, but by then, he was several states away and lost. He was heading back east when you picked him up.”

“Awww. Sweet boy. I’ll get to work arranging transportation home tomorrow…today. I already PM’d Peter. He’s ecstatic.”

My hand found Mina’s head and rubbed her ears, thinking how terrified I’d be under the same circumstances. “And very relieved, no doubt.”

She laughed. “No doubt.” Her voice was serious when she said, “You did a good thing tonight, Heather. A great thing. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

Thinking about all those animals, that rush of emotions, the cries for help. Anticipation trembled though me, not fear. I ran my fingers over the kitten’s back. Tom had led me to her and that had led me to Duke. Who was I to argue with a spirit cat? And then there were the people, the ones who cared deeply for animals and could be reunited with lost loved ones or matched with new companions. It wasn’t a huge leap from what I already did. But…

“Heather?” Jess said.

“I’m here.”

“I know you’re busy, but maybe you could help find forever homes for more of my guests. When you have time.”

“I’ll think about it.” I couldn’t commit to taking this on. It was too much.

We disconnected.

And yet, I searched for that niggling sense of not doing what I was supposed to be doing, not being where I was supposed to be. Along with Tom the gray, it had disappeared. How I would make time, I didn’t know.

Mina sighed.

Kitten burped.

I smiled.

Tom jumped on the bed. I nearly fell out of it. “If you’re going to come and go like this, I need some sort of warning.”

If you’re really going to listen, I won’t come and go like this, and you won’t need a warning.

I stared at him. “I don’t want to listen to you guys. It’s too hard.”

That’s why you need to do it. His copper eyes didn’t blink, didn’t waver.

I was losing a staring contest with a spirit cat. “I’ll think about it,” I repeated. “Especially if you go away.”

Excellent.

He left.

Need to sleep on it, I thought, and drifted off for the little time left before the next feeding.

A minute later, my alarm sang. It wasn’t really a minute, more like an hour and a half, but it seemed like only a few moments. Sunrise slid through the window casting a square of light against the far wall. I stretched, my knee joints popping. Mina yawned, her long, pink tongue curling. Kitten let out a tiny mew that made Mina sit up and blink as though she’d forgotten about our little charge. I forced myself to the bathroom, trusting Mina to keep an eye on Kitten. Needed a name for her.

Needed coffee.

Kitten came first.

After splashing water on my face, running a comb through my tangled hair and a toothbrush around my sour mouth, I shuffled to the kitchen to prepare the milk replacer. I’d just made it back to the bedroom when the doorbell rang. Mina woofed but didn’t leave Kitten’s side.

“Good girl,” I said.

I thought of not answering. Nothing fabulous ever came from a person ringing the doorbell at five o’clock on a Sunday morning. Anxiety brought ugly imaginings of family and friends in car wrecks. I shook them off and opened my senses. It wasn’t a cop, of that I was sure.

I padded to the front, listing and squinting to spy through the side light. Half a blue-jeaned leg was all I could make out, and that didn’t exactly narrow the possibilities.

When I opened the door, Benjamin stood on the stoop, a paper bag in one hand and two large to-go cups balanced in the other. The cheerful morning sun slanted across his face from the side, causing rusty sparks to glimmer in his gray eyes.

“What the—?” was all I could manage.

“I know it’s early—”

“Very.”

We stared at each other.

“How?” I asked, apparently unable to form a complete sentence.

He grinned—how had I missed that dimple yesterday?—and shrugged.

“I kind of followed you home.”

“Kind of? Like a stray?” I had rules about strays. Look what talking to Tom had gotten me.

“Just like a stray.” He leaned closer. “But you already know my name.”

“And that makes it okay?”

He studied his loafers. Who wears loafers anymore?

“I brought coffee.”

He pushed his hand closer, the one big enough to keep hold of two cups at one time. I inhaled deeply.

“Smells good.”

“And croissants.” He lifted the bag. “And scones. Wasn’t sure what you might like.”

“Croissants and scones are good. Coffee is better.”

Still, we stood there. I fought a giggle. The rising sun revealed happy creases at the corners of his eyes, a few silver hairs sprinkled in with the rest, things I hadn’t noticed in yesterday’s sexy rush. Benjamin wasn’t as young as I’d thought he was. And nothing about him, or should I say, his chakras, screamed virgin this morning. He wasn’t, of course, but I no longer believed that had anything to do with me.

Everything had everything to do with Tom, I thought, remembering those burnished traces of red sparkling from Benjamin’s eyes.

I swung the door wide. “Put that stuff in the kitchen. I have a kitten to feed.”

He didn’t say anything, but a decidedly feline smile crept up one side of his cheek as he crossed the threshold.

And I knew right then I had nothing to think about, never had. Of course I would go back to the shelter. Turns out, the important thing about the night of two cats was a new direction, the joyful new purpose I’d been seeking.

Now, I have a house of two cats. Or one cat, one dog, and one spirit cat who keeps me on course as I make the world a better place, one pet at a time.


Candace Carrabus




If you enjoyed The Night of Two Cats, pick up the first Witting Woman novella, The Man, The Dog, His Owner & Her Lover for free at Amazon or Smashwords

More info at www.candacecarrabus.com and on Facebook















Kevin P. Sheridan



Brick in
the Wall

Joey Reeves sat on the brick retaining wall in his yard, the hood on his black sweatshirt pulled up over his head to where only his nose, cheek and chin were visible from the side. He wore a set of headphones over the hoodie; one phone positioned over the left ear and the other cupped to the side of his head behind the right eao. His head hung low, his hands balled in fists in the pocket of his sweatshirt, and his feet dangled over the edge of the wall. His mind overrode the music drowning out the spring day as he contemplated life – his life – and what was really going on in it and why it was worth living.

The portion of the wall he sat on was six feet high. The wall eventually terminated at ground level to his right because the height lessened as the driveway below him followed the hillside up to his street. The wall ended in the side of his house to his left and served to level out the ground around his home. It was new as of three years ago, constructed of interlocking concrete, brown colored blocks that could be fashioned to accommodate bends and turns, and this one did curve with the driveway. Joey’s dad, Stefan Reeves, his real dad, built this wall. Joey had helped by moving dirt and gravel, but the blocks were too heavy for him. His dad positioned every seventy-pound block into place. This wall became Joey’s preferred place to sit and think, contemplating anything and everything, but mostly thinking about his dad.

This morning was different, and there was a lot to contemplate. Things had gotten worse. His stepfather and mother constantly fought, but today his stepfather had hit her. Joey tried to intervene but was punched in the stomach for his efforts. The blow to the stomach was hard enough that Joey thought he was going to throw up. At fourteen years old, he was ill-equipped to deal with an overbearing and controlling stepfather, let alone his mother’s need for a man in her life. She was unable to protect Joey. So, doubled over from the blow and tears of anger in his eyes, he had run out of the house and come to the wall to sit and contemplate what he was going to do – run, fight, or die. These seemed to be his only options and fighting could lead to the last.

He pulled his headphones over the one ear that was not covered to drown out his mother’s crying and the notion that he had somehow made this worse for her. The wall was strong, stable and cool below him, and represented everything the nucleus of his current family did not. This wall was the last thing his real dad had done before vanishing, before leaving him and his mother three years ago.

Because of the music pulsating through the headphones, he felt it before hearing it. At first, the tremor was barely perceptible. He pulled a hand from his sweatshirt pocket and laid it on the top of the wall. The tremor became stronger, and he pulled his hand away thinking that it was an earthquake. He pulled the headphones down around his neck. Then the tremors stopped and all was still. Even the usual noises of birds chirping and squirrels running through the trees and dead leaves on the ground were absent. It was dead silent; the hairs on the back of his neck began to tingle.

Earthquakes were not uncommon for this area. Joey lived near the New Madrid Fault in the hill country of far Western Kentucky. Every year the local news would run a story or report in the paper of the number of tremors that the Kentucky Geological Survey would pick up on their instrumentation each day. He knew this because he had done a report one year for a school assignment. They thought we were overdue for the big one.

Joey was about to resume listening to his music when the bricks from under him suddenly jumped. The force of the hit caused him to clear the wall from his sitting position and land hard on his behind. He quickly stood and backed away from the wall to stand on solid ground. He waited and listened, his senses on full alert. He could hear grinding of brick on brick. It started as a rubbing sound of two bricks together and then more of a vibration. Joey walked around the wall to the facing side and located the brick that was moving. It was pushing out, or being pushed out, near the center of the highest section of wall. He stepped back just in time as the single block exploded outward, shattering into a cloud of brick, dust, and soil. He approached the wall, hair no longer tingling, but instead standing on end as if some force had grabbed hold of him. As the cloud of debris cleared, Joey could see the gaping hole in the wall. It was black and without form beyond the edge of the brick and soil surrounding it. He leaned closer when suddenly a large eye opened and looked through the hole at him.

Joey’s immediate instinct was to run, but his curiosity overrode his flight response, and he only jumped back away from the wall. After standing there staring at the hole, he managed to gain control of his heart rate, and he slowly stepped forward to the opening where the brick once existed. The eye had disappeared. Relieved, he waited a moment longer and decided it would be a good idea to get his mother. Suddenly, a large claw thrust through the opening. Joey was close enough that one of the talons on the claw managed to hook the hoodie on his sweatshirt, ripping the fabric and pulling the headphones from around his neck. Joey backed away and the claw clutched the bricks above where it came through the hole. Its talons dug into the upper layers of the brick leaving behind long, deep channels as the claw dragged itself back into the hole.

Joey turned and ran away from the house and wall when something grabbed him and wrenched him backward off his feet. He closed his eyes and curled into the fetal position and braced for his back to make contact with the wall. Instead, when the collision didn’t happen, he realized that the force holding him was pulling him through the wall, through something soft and smooth and not like a wall at all. He felt like he was being dragged through a fabric that was almost fluid-like, but that didn’t intrude on his lungs and drown him. He opened his eyes and saw the world he knew rapidly disappearing, replaced with darkness. A moment later the darkness was replaced by sunshine and his back made impact with something hard, driving the breath he had been holding from his lungs. He emerged from the fabric-fluid, lying flat on his back and looking up at a blue smoke-filled sky. A much taller wall made of different, larger blocks of stone extended upward from his feet. He could see men scurrying around on top of the wall and a large creature scaling it, its talons digging deep into the stone for purchase.

Joey rolled to his side, found his footing, and began to run back to what he thought would be his home. Instead, he saw a field full of men and creatures of all different and strange types, yelling and fighting. A large fireball sailed high over his head toward the wall now behind him where the large creature was still ascending. He saw that the wall was actually part of a much larger structure, a castle, and the fireball exploded on the upper courses causing men and stone to be thrown outward from the ramparts. He began to run in the opposite direction and a number of arrows penetrated the ground in front of him. He quickly dodged to his left and ducked, looking for cover, but found none. He began running down a path, dodging arrows or stones exploding outward from the castle wall.

When Joey stopped running, he paused to catch his breath in a large grouping of trees along a wooden fence just off the path. He bent forward and placed his hands on his knees and drew in huge gulps of air. He could still hear the battle raging in the background between men and creatures he had never seen before. Another path that led to a village was built along the northern slope at the foot of the castle. The wooden fence appeared to border and serve as protection for the village. The fence failed to serve this last, as the marauders had obviously made their way through the village first. Joey saw columns of smoke rising high into the blue sky and heard the screams of the living mourning over the loss of loved ones. He looked around and found an opening in the fence where the other path led, just off the main path he was on.

He replayed what happened in his mind. He could only conclude that he was there, on his wall at home, and was now here. He had no idea where here was, how he had gotten here, or the dark place between the two. He wondered if this was another dimension or world or place in time. None of this made any sense. Besides, such things were simply not possible except in science fiction stories. He just didn’t know what to think, and a little voice in his mind began to ask him how he would get back. He resolved to head for the village entrance, taking care to stay close to the fence for fear of being seen. Maybe someone there was friendly and could help him find his way home.

He entered the village, eyes darting this way and that, looking for possible threats in this strange place. The people took no interest in him. He made his way to a wooden structure and stayed close to it, keeping in its shadow for cover. He noticed many of the buildings were made of wood, but some were also constructed of stone. At one intersection, an overturned cart was burning. The cart’s contents had spilled onto the ground, and a man and woman were quickly moving about to collect their wares that were not on fire. They placed them in a pile a safe distance from the burning cart.

Suddenly, a creature like the ones fighting other men from the battle at the castle rushed into the intersection and headed straight for the man and woman. Joey got his first really good look at it. This one was taller than a full-grown man, but contorted in the face with sharp, jagged teeth and skin that looked leathery, thick and pale. Tattoos showed below the scant, ornate coverings apparently made of bones and strips of leather that fashioned them together in a crude design. The brow was boney, protruding forward above its two bulbous eyes for protection. The hair was stiff, short, and thick, starting at the top of the head and growing in a column down the length of the spine like a mane and terminating near the small of the back. The arms and legs were long and muscular, and the torso was compact and round with its back slightly humped.

“Watch out!” Joey yelled.

The man turned just in time to block the blow from the creature’s sword. He struggled with the creature but was no match for the larger, more agile opponent. The woman swung a burning piece of wood and struck the creature on the back, burning a patch of the mane. But the swing was weak, and the blow only served to agitate the assailant. The creature back-handed the woman with his free hand and continued his advance on the man as she fell to the ground unconscious. Towering above the man, the creature raised his sword high to bring the killing blow down on the man. Joey heard a low twang and whoosh of air, and saw an arrow penetrate the back of the creature’s skull and exit through one of its eyes. The creature froze in position for a moment and then collapsed in a heap next to the man.

A man entered swiftly from the same passage as the creature. He had long dark hair and a beard and wore a long, black leather coat. In one precise move without breaking his stride, he stowed his bow on his back next to a quiver of arrows like the one protruding through the creature’s skull. A long sword was sheathed at his side. He approached the woman, removed his gloves and bent down to her side, checking for signs of life. Once satisfied she was okay, he turned to the man and extended an arm, pulling the man upright.

“Thank you, kind sir. I owe you my life.”

The bearded man never hesitated, “You can repay me by taking care of your woman and leaving this village and the Eastern Eaves.”

“I will. Thank you.”

The man turned to tend to his woman and prepare to leave. It was almost as if he knew the man who had saved him. Joey had come out from the shadow of the building, less concerned for his safety and more interested in this turn of events. He maintained a short distance between himself and the bearded man, but stood directly behind him. The man seemed familiar.

The bearded man turned and faced Joey. Joey’s eyes opened wide, “Dad?”

Stefan Reeves stood before his son. Joey blinked several times and finally raised his hands and rubbed his eyes. This can’t be possible, he thought. I must be dreaming. If he hadn’t been so surprised, he probably would have burst into tears. His dad was always bigger than life, but here in this place, killing creatures and helping people in distress seemed more than Joey could ever have imagined. The emotions finally translating to action, Joey rushed forward and pounded his fists into his father’s chest. Stefan grabbed Joey’s shoulders and pulled him close into a hug. Joey initially struggled to break free, but eventually hugged his father back as the anger over his father leaving him subsided. The embrace was warm and comforting for both of them.

Into his father’s chest Joey said, “Why did you leave?”

“We have a lot to discuss, Joe, but it’s not safe out here in the open. Let’s go to my place.”

Joey pulled back from the embrace and looked his father in the eyes, “Your place?”

“Of course. You don’t think I’ve been living outside all this time do you? Come with me.”

They returned to the side passage from which the creature and Stefan had entered moments earlier. Halfway down the passage, they stood in front of a stone building. It was a little smaller than the wooden structure whose shadows helped conceal Joey’s entrance into the village. A thick wooden door hung in front of a large opening that could accommodate something as large as a dump truck. Inside, Joey saw that his dad had setup a shop that seemed very modern for the apparent times they were in. Stefan proceeded through the shop to a set of stairs in the back leading to living quarters on the second floor. It was smaller but much more comfortable than downstairs.

“Why did you leave?” Joey asked, “Why are we here?”

“All very good questions,” Stefan said, “but that’s not really what’s important right now. Right now I need to get us back home.”

“You can get us back home? When do we leave?”

“We leave after we talk, depending on your answers to my questions. I believe I have found the location where I entered this world. It’s on the southern side of the castle wall. Did you come through in that location?”

“I’m not sure…maybe. I do know that there was a large creature scaling the castle wall above me where I was laying on the ground after being pulled through the wall you built at home. I think it reached through the wall and grabbed me somehow.”

Stefan thought a moment. “Okay. We should be able to see exactly where the creature scaled the wall to see if that matches my location and where you came through. We should be able to find the portal leading back to our world.”

“Portal? I knew it! This is like another dimension isn’t it?”

“I think so. What I know for sure is that it’s not our world but it seems to be connected somehow. I’ve spent the past three years trying to find a way back. Just when I think I have found the portal, you show up. That may mean we don’t have a lot of time.”

“Why is that?”

“Do you remember that sensation you got when you were grabbed by that force and pulled through the wall?”

“Yes.”

“It was the same for me. I think we need to find that again. I hadn’t felt that tingling sensation until just before you came through. Did you fall through the wall?”

“Sort of,” Joey replied. “I was initially pulled and then it sort of felt like falling when I found myself lying on my back looking up.”

“Okay. We may need a ladder to get a little higher on the wall. You apparently didn’t hurt yourself when you came through, so I am guessing you weren’t too high off the ground.”


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