Spotlight & Excerpt: The God Queen + Giveaway

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The God Queen
by M.L. Tishner
(The Rebirth Saga, #1)
Publication date: October 22nd 2019
Genres: Fantasy, New Adult, Science Fiction

The God Queen returns. So, why is everyone squelching her power?

In a backwater Earth town, Rei Ettowa dreams of traveling across the stars to destroy Infiernen – the knight who murdered her brother.

When Rei discovers she is the reincarnation of the prophesied God Queen, she relishes her newfound ability to channel lightning for revenge. Unfortunately, blazing through a battlefield clashes with the Federation’s plan for Rei and the others like her. All the gods are to be trained as diplomatic figureheads to sway voters, not agents of war. Infiernen must remain untouched.

Unable to let go of her brother’s murder, Rei finds Infiernen. But instead of killing him, Rei discovers a secret the Federation has been keeping from her about her brother.

Now Rei is mad as hell. Her enemies must pay. But who are they? And what else is the Federation hiding from her?

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Chapter 7

Bronx stood in a golden forest. Shimmering leaves that reflected the sunlight covered the ground around him, yet he saw no sun. Black tree trunks reached the height of at least three men before the first golden branch appeared. A gentle breeze moved through the woodland, carrying with it the soft scent of lavender. He took a few steps forward, daring to venture in further. The soft ground absorbed the sound of his footsteps. He didn’t see a single living thing around him, and the silence wrapped him like a cocoon.
The crack of a branch echoed in the distance, and Bronx whipped around but saw nothing. He wasn’t alone.
He snapped awake. Crona peered down at him. He must’ve dozed off. Documentation was the most boring part of being a combat medic for the Federation, but Bronx preferred the monotony over returning to the battlefield. He wasn’t ready for that yet.
“Interesting read?” she asked, gesturing to the mountain of paperwork.
“Yeah, the snoring was a good indication.” She pulled out the chair opposite him and sat down.
He chuckled. “It’s the only way to let people know. In case they’re curious about what I’m reading.”
“I’m well aware of the practice. I believe I have done my fair share of snoring after reading some captivating reports on supply chains.” She snorted, taking a handful of papers and placing them in a folder.
“Must run in the family, then.”
“At least on Mom’s side. From what I knew of your dad, he would have actually stayed awake for this sort of thing.” She cocked her head to the side. “Professor of Anthropology, right?”
Bronx nodded but bit his tongue. Crona never met his father, but he knew hers. He never got along with his half-sister’s father and was quite certain that anything he said in his presence would come off as an insult.
He returned to his paperwork.
From where they were stationed on the planet Gliese VI, they saw little action in the current civil war with the Dominion. However, they were close enough to get the wounded from nearby planets, the ones still fighting to be free of the hold of their leader, Sovereign Anekris Praymer. Bronx currently filled out a form in the medical wing for a soldier who was flown in the day before. First Petty Officer… something Prue; he couldn’t recall the soldier’s first name now. He’d been brought to Gliese VI because it was the closest facility and currently lay in a bed, the steady beep of his heart monitor the only sound that echoed in the medical wing.
It wasn’t a very large facility with its six beds and various monitors and machines, with desks for the medics on the far end. Despite being underground, the shiny metal plating surrounding them made it easy to keep clean and avoid infection.
“Manca! Sandern! I was just looking for you two. I have news!” Kazimir Ettowa entered the medical wing with a large piece of paper. He ran a free hand through his unruly black hair, his blue eyes bright.
“Your family, Kaz?” asked Crona.
Kaz nodded and handed the message to Bronx.
Found them. Had a little run-in with Negander while on Earth. Will be arriving on Gliese VI within the hour. Have Bronx bring a stretcher.
“What does it mean?” asked Crona, who read it over Bronx’s shoulder.
“Obviously, someone’s hurt,” Kaz said.
“Or worse,” said Bronx quietly.
“No need to be negative just yet.” Crona pointed at the time stamp on the message. “Let’s go. They’ll be here soonish, and I want to welcome our new friends to the party.”
“I’ll help with the stretcher,” Kaz offered.
Bronx threw other necessary supplies—a pulse scanner, gauze, and tools for stitches—into a bag and slung it over his shoulder. He joined Kaz in helping with the stretcher
The beeping from Prue’s heart monitor grew erratic, and the petty officer breathed irregularly with labored and painful sounds that stopped as quickly as they began.
Bronx dropped his bag, sat down at the edge of Prue’s bed, and took off his gloves, unsure why he did it, as if his actions were not his own. His heart hammered in his chest, knowing what was about to happen, and yet he didn’t fight it; some part of him knew this was the right thing to do.
“Uh… Bronx—” began Crona as she approached him, but it was too late.
Bronx reached out and took the man’s hand. Some force pulled on what felt like a string. Teasing him, taunting him. He tugged on it hard and everything unraveled. Dread pooled in his core. He knew what he’d freed—a soul. A plume of black smoke appeared above Prue’s body, curling upwards before it dissipated in the air. Prue took one last deep breath and with a heavy sigh, he died.
“Shit,” muttered Bronx as he regained control of his body, releasing Prue’s hand like it burned him. He leaped from his seat and backed away, knocking over a tray of scalpels and tongs. The metal clanged as each of the pieces hit the ground. This was not the first time, but he always prayed it would be the last. He looked over at his sister; Crona said nothing as she put a hand to her mouth, stunned.
Bronx felt his sister approach. “Are you alright?” she asked.
Bronx’s eyes darted in her direction. His face lost all feeling, his legs weak. He’d done it again, and this time, there’d been witnesses. Shit.
Bronx rubbed his face. “I—I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“I’m sure you had a good reason,” Kaz said.
“That’s the thing.” Bronx paced, adrenaline rushing through his legs. “I didn’t have a good reason. I just felt compelled. Like I could ease his suffering if I did something.” He rubbed his face again’.
“Well, you certainly eased his suffering. As well as any other ailment he would feel in the future,” mumbled Crona, leaning on the bed next to Prue’s.
Bronx glanced back at his sister. “You’re not funny.”
“I’m not trying to be. This is serious.”
“Of course this is serious. A man just died.” Bronx’s voice shook. He took a deep breath. “Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here. Everything I touch dies.” He sat down in a chair next to Prue’s bed and put his head in his hands.
“That’s not true!” Kaz said.
Crona approached him, getting as close as she dared. She reached out to him, but he pulled back. “Bronx, I’ve managed to hug you loads of times before, and you haven’t killed me yet.” She pointed to her eyes. “I can see the future, remember?” She reached out quickly and pinched his cheek. “See? Haven’t killed me yet.”
Bronx pulled back and swatted her hand away. “Stop it.”
“No, you stop it.” She tried to lock eyes with him, but he refused to meet her gaze. “I’m sorry Prue died. I know you didn’t do it on purpose, but face the facts. Look at the bigger picture. You kill people with a touch—that’s your gift. I know you have no idea what you’re doing, but we will get through this, and you will learn how to control it.”
“Your sister’s right, Bronx.” Kaz hadn’t moved from his position at the foot of Prue’s bed. “We’re all still figuring things out. I know we sound like we don’t understand since our powers aren’t as deadly, but we are on your side.”
Bronx stared at his sister, his pulse rising. He knew she was right, and he hated it. It frustrated him. He wished she would just leave him alone on the subject. He may no longer wear the uniform, but his own Daer instincts still kicked in.
He took a moment to take several calming breaths before responding. “You’re both insufferable.”
Crona shrugged. “And you’re acting like a little shit. What do you want me to do? Agree with you? Oh, woe is you, Bronx! Yes, everything you touch dies. Maybe you are a freak.”
“That’s a bit much, Crona,” muttered Kaz.
“Stop it!” Bronx snarled.
“No,” she said flatly. “Because it’s not true. You are not a freak; you are doing so many good things here. Not everything you touch dies. You’re the one with the magic touch. You have a higher success rate of saving people than any other corpsmen. I know, I’ve seen the stats.”
He refused to meet her gaze. He knew he was being stubborn, but he didn’t want to listen to her.
Crona rolled her eyes, then turned to Kaz. “Come on. He stops being fun when he’s like this.” She walked to the stretcher. “I’m sure Manden and the others will be here soon.”
Bronx removed his other glove and threw both away in the trash with enough force to tip it over. “I’m coming.” He grabbed a second clean pair, put them on, and stood to help Kazimir once more with the stretcher.
“But first, can you help me put him into cold storage?” He gestured to Prue. “I’ll worry about the paperwork when we get back.”

Chapter 8

The medical wing sat at the end of a long and shiny metal-plated hallway where the Federation soldiers slept. This floor was only for women, while the men stayed below.
Bronx and Kaz carried the stretcher down the hall as Crona ran ahead to a different tunnel to grab the keys to their vehicle for the long drive to the hangar. The tunnel to the hangar was still underground, but without the metal plating. Its long row of UV lights along the low ceiling was the only hint of technology present, aside from the few cars parked at the entrance. The musty smell of fresh earth and car exhaust was more pungent here, but the stench lessened once they started driving.
As Crona drove, Bronx decided to push his current problem out of his mind and tried to think about what awaited him at the other end of the tunnel: Rei Ettowa.
When he had apprenticed with Niklaryn all those years ago, he frequently saw his mentor sneaking glances at a picture of his little sister. Niklaryn never told a soul about her, but he trusted Bronx. Bronx had heard so much about her that he felt he already knew her, yet he never thought that he would meet Rei after what happened.
Part of him expected to see the same young girl from the photo—with pigtails and missing front teeth—but he knew she was only a few years younger than him and was prepared to meet a young woman. What he hadn’t prepared for were the questions she was bound to ask about the day her brother died.
“Bronx?” Crona’s voice rang through his head like a bell. “Oy! Wake up!”
Bronx snapped out of his reverie to find that they had already arrived at the hangar. It was hidden deep within Mount Environ, several kilometers away from their base. The underground tunnel they had just traveled through allowed a veil of secrecy for the comings and goings of their soldiers. Bronx jumped out of the bed of the vehicle and approached Manden’s ship.
According to their friend, the Luciernaga was several thousand years old and resembled a hodgepodge of scrapped ships, metal pieces—some of them gold—and a few ion cannon stations that appeared to have been placed randomly, yet had been essential. Bronx swore the end result made Luciernaga look like a face with the cockpit as the eyes and the front hatch as its mouth.
The hatch opened like a long tongue, and their redheaded friend strode out to greet them. Crona ran to Manden and almost knocked him down with a big hug. Kaz followed with a hand extended.
“Are you kidding?” Manden pulled Kaz in for an embrace. “Come here, you.”
Bronx stayed behind as usual.
“Bronx,” Manden said, giving the medic a nod.
“You look familiar,” said a young man who came into view from the hatch. He was as tall as Bronx with brown hair and light eyes. For a moment, the medic thought a ghost had come back to haunt him. Niklaryn? he wanted to ask. The newcomer’s violet eyes flashed. He was someone different, and yet it still took several moments for Bronx’s heart rate to return to normal.
“Do I?” asked Bronx. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“Arram Bronto.” The young man extended a hand to Bronx, who only stared at it.
“Bronx, doesn’t do hand shaking,” muttered Manden.
Arram pulled his hand back. “Sorry.”
Bronx shook his head. “I’ll explain later.”
“Okay.” Arram stepped out of the way, clearing the path for Kaz and Bronx to enter the ship. “You’re a Daer Knight, right?” he continued.
“I was once.” Bronx readjusted his grip on the stretcher, his heart pounding in his chest. This was the moment; he was going to meet her. The stretcher must be for either Bernie or Rei.
“He still is a Daer,” added Crona.
“Well, I-I’m sure Rei will be excited to meet you,” was all Arram said as his eyes stared at the floor, the muscles in his jaw flexing.
“Where is she, by the way?” interjected Crona.
“She’s probably with Bernie,” Manden said, walking toward his ship.
He, with Kaz helping on the other end, continued hauling the stretcher up the ramp into the first room of the ship—the cargo hold.
“We’re in the infirmary.” Manden’s voice echoed from the belly of the ship. The infirmary sat behind the cargo hold, currently filled with plants from every corner of the star cluster. A mix of lilac and magnolia filled Bronx’s nose.
The men maneuvered the stretcher around the mesh metal staircase that led up to the rooms, kitchen, and cockpit.
Bronx sneezed as they ventured through what appeared to be a small forest, lightly brushing against several pots of vines overflowing onto the floor. He continued to the infirmary where Manden and Bernie stood on either side of a bed.
“I didn’t want to leave her alone in case she suddenly woke up. That’s why I didn’t come out earlier,” Bernie said quietly. She turned and saw that the combat medic had entered. “Hey, Bronx, Kaz.”
Bronx didn’t answer. All his thoughts focused on the unconscious woman lying before him in blood-splattered clothes. Rei Ettowa appeared to be asleep, her dark hair framing her face. His pulse raced.
Not long after Niklaryn was gone, he dreamed about a beautiful woman who made his heart stop with a smile. Time had since obscured many of the details, but he clearly remembered Rei’s face.
He never told anyone about it, thinking that she was some subconscious fantasy. But somehow his brain must have created the woman of his dreams from memories of Rei. Thank the gods Nik wasn’t here. He knew he shouldn’t have impure thoughts about his mentor’s kid sister—no matter how attractive she may be.
He pulled the pulse scanner out of his bag, placed it on her neck, and read the little screen. The lines blipped, showing a strong and steady heartbeat.
He lowered his face toward hers to better hear her breathing—slow and steady. He pulled away, using all his willpower to not lean in closer. His eyes glanced over the rest of her body, trying to the find the source of the blood on her clothes.
“I don’t see a wound,” he said.
“Just a graze from a bullet. I already patched her up.” Manden pointed to Rei’s other side.
“Very nice.” He admired the tiny stitches. It was no surprise knowing Manden’s history on the battlefield. “And the rest of the blood?”
“Unlucky victim,” Bernie said.
Bronx helped Manden move her to the stretcher; he double-checked that the gloves reached his sleeves so that not an inch of skin was exposed. One could never be too careful.
“What happened?” Bronx took one end of the stretcher while Manden held the other, leading it out of the infirmary and through the cargo hold.
“As I said in my message,” Manden said, “we had a run in with the Negander. They attacked the town, trying to get to Rei and Arram. Bernie, Hotara, and I managed to save them in time; however, the Negander had already killed Sagitan and his wife.” He gazed down at their unconscious newcomer. “This little lady was angry. Her powers came out for the first time and fried them.”
“It was quite a sight,” Bernie said.
“She used too much energy and passed out,” Manden said. “It happens to people like her at some point in their lives.”
“Where is Hotara?” Kaz asked.
“I sent her to Tas’und’eash. With any luck, she can rally the rest of the Volocio to help with our cause.”
The group continued out of the ship and back toward the vehicle. Arram took Rei from Bronx and helped Manden carry the stretcher.
They brought Rei to the medical bay and laid her down on an empty bed. Bronx made sure it was far away from where Prue had passed earlier.
He placed a heart monitor on her finger and waited for the steady beep to fill the silence in the room. Arram stood nearby, his eyes never leaving Rei’s face. Bronx imagined how concerned he must have been.
“Come, Arram.” Crona linked arms with him. “They’re still serving dinner in the mess hall. You look like you could use some food.”
“I feel uncomfortable leaving her here,” he said quietly.
“I’ll stay,” offered Bronx. “I’m still on duty here.”
Arram nodded and allowed Crona to lead him out the room with Kaz following.
Crona stopped at the door and quickly glanced in Bronx’s direction. “Should I bring you something, too, Brother?”
Bronx shook his head. “I know where Ayres hides his snacks. I’ll be fine.”
Manden stayed behind, watching Bronx thoughtfully. The redhead always did that when he studied one of them—as though he were trying to see more of Bronx than what was there.
“Yes, Manden?”
He cocked his head to the side. “I’m desperate to know what you’re thinking.”
“About her.” Manden gestured to Rei lying between them.
Bronx couldn’t shake the feeling of having met her before, but that was impossible. “Well,” he finally answered, “she’s a great conversationalist.”
Manden chuckled. “Jokes aside, smart ass. I really want to know. I’ve been looking forward to the two of you meeting for a long time.”
The medic shrugged. “Kind of hard to have a meeting when one’s unconscious.”
Manden waved his hand dismissively in Bronx’s direction “Bah. Details.”
“Does this have to do with him?”
Of course it did. Everything in Bronx’s life the last few years always came back to that man, and a part of him resented it.
“I’m sure you’ve felt some of his memories. As dreams, perhaps?”
Bronx clenched his sweaty palms, which stuck to his gloves. “Dreams?”
“Your sister once told me about dreams she had before her powers manifested. Kaz, too. That’s what they are. Memories. I watched Rei go through hers, so I’m just taking a leap here.”
It was bad enough Bronx shared the same gift and the same face as the man in question. But Manden suggested they had the same taste in women. The idea didn’t sit well with him, but his body already betrayed him whenever he looked in her direction. His pulse elevated and his mouth had gone dry.
Manden still watched him, waiting for a response. But Bronx didn’t want to talk about that, so he stuck with a truth he was comfortable with.
“I’m relieved she’s here and she’s safe.”
“You remember me telling you how I knew Niklaryn? We were close friends. Close enough that I was the only person he told about her. Not everything—only that she needed to be protected. He made me vow to protect her if something happened to him.”
“You’ve done a great job doing that all these years,” Manden said dryly.
“Niklaryn forgot to give me the minor yet crucial detail of where she was hidden. I knew Earth, but that was it. Then there was the problem that no one else knew about her, so who could I ask? It turned out your wife hid her all along.” Bronx laughed. The universe really wanted them to meet. He believed it was some cruel joke.
“You’ll have a chance to uphold that vow now, Bronx. I don’t know how she’s going to react when she wakes up. The last few days have been overwhelming for her. You saw how Arram is handling things and he just lost his grandparents. Rei lost everyone she knew and grew up with. Infiernen and his Negander destroyed her entire town. Her powers manifested out of pure rage. She brought down countless Negander and turned them into charred husks.”
Bronx’s eyes widened, and his heart stopped at the mention of Infiernen. He hunted her, too? It made sense. The Negander had been hunting Bronx and the others for years now.
He studied Rei. He didn’t think she would be so dangerous—almost as dangerous as he was. The idea of no longer being the only one with lethal gifts gave him a little comfort, especially if it meant protecting the others against the Negander.
“You and I are the ones with the most battle experience,” continued Manden. “We’ve seen the most. We also know what happens to those who experience trauma and have no support group to help them through it. These two are the only survivors of that massacre. Just be prepared.”
“Of course.” Trauma was something Bronx knew plenty about.

Author Bio:

Mari, a native Hoosier, currently lives in southern Germany where she entertains people with her adventures as an American expat in the Land of Beer and Pretzels on her blog as well as the adventures of her pugs, Abner and Roxy. When she’s not writing, Mari cooks, snowboards, dances to the beat of her own drum, reads late into the night, and binge watches Netflix with her husband. The God Queen is her debut novel.

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Audio Spotlight & Excerpt: Halfway Hunted, by Terry Maggert

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Title: Halfway Hunted

Author: Terry Maggert

Narrator: Erin Spencer

Length: 6 hours 56 minutes

Series: Halfway Witchy, Book 3

Publisher: Maggert and Spencer

Released: Apr. 3, 2018

Genre: Paranormal Fantasy

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Some prey bites back.

Welcome to Halfway; where the waffles are golden, the moon is silver, and magic is just around every corner.

A century-old curse is broken, releasing Exit Wainwright, an innocent man trapped alone in time. Lost and in danger, he enlists Carlie, Gran, and their magic to find the warlock who sentenced him to a hundred years of darkness.

The hunter becomes the hunted when Carlie’s spells awaken a cold-blooded killer intent on adding another pelt to their gruesome collection: hers.

But the killer has never been to Halfway before, where there are three unbreakable rules:

  1. Don’t complain about the diner’s waffles
  2. Don’t break the laws of magic
  3. Never threaten a witch on her home turf

Can Carlie solve an ancient crime, defeat a ruthless killer, and save the love of her life from a vampire’s curse without burning the waffles?

Come hunt with Carlie, and answer the call of the wild.

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Left-handed. I like dragons, coffee, waffles, running, and giraffes; order unimportant. I write the Halfway Witchy, Messenger, Starcaster and Shattered Skies series, as well as contributing to many anthologies.

If I’m not at home, then I’m on the road, and if I’m on the road, I’ll be at a book event. I’ve written thirty-three novels and counting. I don’t sleep, but you probably guessed that already. If you want me to visit your town for an event, let me know when and where. See you out there.


Narrator Bio

Erin loves audiobooks! As an actress, they have allowed her to creatively stretch by playing all kinds of characters, all kinds of ages and all kinds of accents! She voiced roles in the Audie award winning title, Illuminae and was also nominated for a Voice Arts Award in the romance category. She has narrated over 100 titles and as an audiobook director has worked on at least 100 more. She has worked for most of the major publishers and also enjoys working with indie writers who are some of the most talented writers out there! Follow her on Twitter @ErinSpencerLA or find her on Facebook, Erin Spencer Actress.



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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Rattling Chains + Giveaway

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Rattling Chains, by T. Strange

Book 1 in the Bound to the Spirits series

Word Count: 71,784
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 294



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Book Description

Ghosts are popping up where they shouldn’t. Harlan, a ghost janitor for the police, suspects there’s a serial killer on the loose—but no one believes him.

Harlan Brand is a medium who was abandoned by his parents at a school for the psychically gifted. He grew up lonely but safe from the ghosts that terrorized his childhood.

But now, at twenty-one, he’s out in the real world. He works as a ghost janitor for the Toronto Police Service, cleaning up after crimes and hauntings in the Greater Toronto Area. Adding to the anxiety of leaving the ghost-warded safety of his school, the cop assigned as his partner seems to hate him, he’s having confusing feelings for a BDSM club owner who brings out his deepest fantasies and ghosts are popping up where they shouldn’t.

Using the ghosts as clues, Harlan begins to suspect there’s a serial killer loose, but no one believes him. Harlan will stop at nothing to discover who—or what—is preying on his city.

Reader advisory: This book contains mention of implied rape and implied violence, references to murder, torture and body horror.


Harlan stared at the scuffed, dented metal strip across the bottom of the doorway. Behind him was worn linoleum, with a pattern so familiar that he could have drawn it from memory. Ahead was a concrete sidewalk. It was scribbled with cracks, and there were piles of sodden leaves gathered anywhere the wind couldn’t touch them, dark spots where people had spat out their gum, cigarette butts, candy wrappers and so many people.

Inside—order, sameness, routine.

Outside—chaos, change… Excitement.

Harlan wasn’t looking for excitement or change. He wanted very much to turn around, away from the physical and mental threshold the doorway represented and vanish into the building that had housed him since he had been five years old.

“Do you need a push?” Tom asked, gently.

It was still difficult for Harlan to think of him as Tom. He’d known the man since he was eight as ‘Mr. Addison’.

Mr. Addison had called Harlan into his office a few days before. There had been a paper on his desk with an official-looking stamp that Harlan hadn’t been able to identify before the man had covered it with his broad, hairy hand.

‘Am…am I in trouble, Mr. Addison?’

Mr. Addison had laughed and said, ‘No, of course not! Please, call me Tom. You’re an adult now, and I’m no longer your teacher.’

Those words had dropped something heavy and poisonous deep into Harlan’s guts and it had stayed there for the last three days. It had been there while he’d packed his few belongings, while he’d said goodbye to everyone he’d ever known his whole life—everyone who gave any kind of shit about him, anyway.

Harlan shook his head. No, he didn’t need—didn’t want—a push. He wanted that letter to have never arrived. He wanted to stay in the Centre, the only home he could really remember.

After leaving him there, his parents had visited for a few years, and it had been strained for all three of them. Then Harlan’s parents had had a new baby, one without ‘the’ ability. They’d visited once a month, then twice a year—his birthday and Christmas—then just sent cards. And after a few years…nothing. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard from them, but it wasn’t a relationship he intended to pursue, in or out of the Centre. They’d made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with him—and the feeling was mutual.

He didn’t really consider anyone at the Centre his family, but it was his home, and he was being forced to leave with only his tiny, overstuffed duffle bag. Most of the things inside were just silly little presents the other kids had made him, not even personal items. He was also holding an envelope that Mr. Addison—Tom—had pressed into his hand with great importance, telling him there was three thousand dollars in it.

Harlan had never had to worry about money before. The resident children were given allowances, to spend or save as they chose, and some kids snuck out of the Centre to buy candy—or cigarettes and alcohol when they were older—but Harlan had never been tempted to leave. He’d been given everything he needed there, and they’d kept him safe. A cigarette that smelled bad and made him cough or a beer that made his head swim and made him sick in the morning weren’t worth the risk of stepping beyond the Centre’s encircling walls. He would have been happy to stay forever, maybe even eventually become a teacher like Mr. Addison… Tom. But apparently that wasn’t his decision to make.

“Harlan? Is everything all right?” Tom asked.

No. Everything was not all right. It would never be all right again. “Fine, Mr.— Tom.”

Tom grinned at Harlan—the smile of a man who would, in just a few minutes, be shutting himself back in the safety of the Centre, closing out the rest of the world.

Harlan tried to return the smile, close-mouthed, afraid that if he opened it, he’d throw up.

Looking past Harlan, Tom waved. “Ah! Your ride’s here!”

A sleek, black car with tinted windows drew up beside them. The driver climbed out, circled the car and opened the door closest to Harlan without speaking.

“You’ve got everything?” Tom asked. The too-enthusiastic, bubbly voice that had encouraged Harlan as an eight-year-old didn’t have the same effect at twenty-one.

Harlan shrugged, throwing his bag into the back seat and climbing in after it.

Tom sprawled one elbow on the roof of the car, leaning way down until his face was uncomfortably close to Harlan’s. “Great! And don’t worry—the car’s been specially treated. Didn’t want to stress you out too much on your first day! Give me a call if you need anything.” His voice was positively saccharine, and Harlan wanted to punch it.

Tom slammed the door and rapped on the trunk as though he were dismissing an ambulance.

Harlan didn’t look back.

He closed his eyes when he saw the first ghost. He’d seen plenty, first as a kid, then when his parents finally realized what was going on, in the controlled environment of the Centre. As a child, he hadn’t understood that other people couldn’t see his ‘visitors.’ They’d been excellent playmates, until one wouldn’t go away. Harlan had been too afraid to sleep, jumping at noises no one else could hear, having screaming fits with no apparent cause.

His parents had taken him to psychiatrist after psychiatrist, desperate to deny that their son might be a medium. They’d wanted something medical, something they could cure with pills and therapy. They hadn’t wanted their son to be one of those people.

Answering the doctors’ questions, Harlan realized for the first time that he really was the only one who saw the ‘see-through people’. He’d always thought his parents were just ignoring them.

The psychiatrists tried to convince Harlan—and his parents—that it was just a phase, imaginary, nothing to be afraid of. The ghosts didn’t go away, no matter how hard Harlan tried not to believe in them. Finally, the Centre had called Harlan’s folks. He’d found out later that one of the psychiatrists they’d seen had taken pity on Harlan, contacted the Centre and informed them she had a patient who was potentially a medium. The Centre had invited Harlan and his parents for a tour. His mom and dad certainly didn’t believe in that sort of thing, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence, but they had run out of options and Harlan wouldn’t even go into his bedroom without screaming. He hadn’t slept in days, and the whole family had been desperate.

Young as he’d been, Harlan remembered his first step past the threshold of the Centre. It was…silent. There were no voices here—unlike everywhere else, where they surrounded him like a wall of sound, people he could and couldn’t see clamouring for his attention. There was no one but those he knew were really there—him and his parents. He realized he’d never felt this blissfully alone before. There had always been ghosts. And now they were gone.

He closed his eyes and breathed it in—the silence, the solitude.

He startled when he felt a soft touch on his shoulder. A few minutes of peace had been wonderful, but he knew it couldn’t last.

An older man—even older than the grandparents Harlan was no longer allowed to see after he’d frightened them by passing on messages from people who’d died long before he was born—was kneeling in front of him.

“You must be Harlan.”

Not wanting to speak, to shatter this beautiful silence, Harlan nodded.

The man smiled. “Do you like it here, Harlan?”

“Yes! Very much!” Harlan had said. He’d been afraid that if he didn’t speak up, didn’t answer this man’s question, he might have to leave. He’d wanted to stay…as long as possible. Just a few more minutes.

“There’s someone I’d like you to meet. If I’m right, she won’t be much of a surprise to you. And if I’m wrong, you can go on home.”

Harlan nodded again, fighting to keep his face blank. He didn’t want to go home, where it was always noisy and crowded with people only he could see or hear, never mind the thing in his bedroom—

The man offered Harlan his hand to shake, just as seriously as he would an adult.

Harlan shook, just as solemnly. The man’s hand was pleasantly cool and dry, and he didn’t squeeze too hard. Harlan wished his own hands weren’t so clammy.

“I’m Dr. Cunningham, the director here at the Centre. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Harlan.”

Harlan tensed—just another doctor, more tests to see what kind of crazy he was. And that was a pity, because it was so lovely here. Harlan didn’t think he was crazy, but his parents did, so he must be. They just hadn’t found anyone who could prove it.

Dr. Cunningham laughed. “Don’t worry. I’m not… This test will be different than any you’ve done before. I promise.”

Standing, Dr. Cunningham gave Harlan’s parents a reassuring wave before immediately returning his attention to Harlan. “Would you like to come with me?”

Harlan had heard plenty of stories from ghosts about how to tell if someone was dangerous, what would get a person killed and who to trust. Dr. Cunningham felt safe and genuine.

He nodded, allowing Dr. Cunningham to take his hand and lead him deeper into the building. They left his parents behind, but he didn’t mind very much.

This part of the building was different. The front part, where they’d come in and where they’d left Harlan’s parents, had carpets and art on the walls, like a hotel lobby. Here, the floors were bare concrete, the walls plain white with pipes visible overhead.

Dr. Cunningham’s shoes clicked as he walked. The sound, the way the doctor walked with confidence, as though he belonged here and expected everyone to know it, made Harlan feel special. He belonged here, too, and he’d take any test they wanted to prove it.

Maybe reading Harlan’s excitement as nervousness, Dr. Cunningham gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “Don’t worry. The dormitories are far more comfortable. This is the lab, and you won’t be spending much time here. That is,” he said, smiling down at Harlan, “if you pass this test, which I very much think you will.”

The doctor winked, and again Harlan felt as though he was being included in a wonderful secret, one not even his parents knew.

“We have a ghost in here.”

Harlan stiffened. He’d never had a grownup talk about a ghost like it was real, and he felt a surge of bitterness when he realized the doctor had just been making fun of him like everyone else did.

Dr. Cunningham gave Harlan a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. She’s quite safe. She won’t hurt you.” He laughed. “She actually used to work here, in the lab. She always talked about becoming a research ghost when she died.” His face turned grim. “She should have had many years ahead of her, but… Well, she still works here, just in a different capacity. You don’t have to be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid.” He was, though—afraid that Dr. Cunningham was teasing him and afraid that he wasn’t. Ever since that horrible woman had taken over his bedroom, ghosts weren’t fun anymore.

“Good lad.” Dr. Cunningham gave Harlan’s shoulder a brief squeeze. “I’ll be right here with you the whole time. When you’re ready, step onto that pad.” He pointed at a metal circle set in the concrete floor. “This whole building is warded against ghosts, except for a few select places like that one. You won’t run into any by accident here…if you choose to stay.”

Harlan bit his lower lip, hard, so he wouldn’t cry. He wanted to stay. He had to pass this test.

“If, at any time, you get scared or you want to stop, just step outside the circle and she’ll disappear again.”

“W-what do I have to do?”

“Just talk to her. Say ‘hi’. It’s only polite. She’ll tell you a special word that will let me know you’ve really seen her.”

“I just have to talk?”

Dr. Cunningham nodded.

Harlan drew in a slow, deep breath and briefly closed his eyes. He could do that. He’d always found it easier to talk to ghosts than to ‘real’ people. He could never tell what the living were thinking or feeling, but ghosts kind of…projected their feelings, whether they meant to or not.

Breath hitching in his chest, Harlan stepped forward onto the pad. He realized he had his eyes closed and had to force them open. His hands were trembling.

She appeared slowly, not just popping into his view the way ghosts sometimes did, and he suspected she’d done it on purpose so she wouldn’t scare him.

“Hello. Are you Harlan?”

He nodded, just a tiny tilt of his head. He’d learned to hide when he was listening to a ghost, and he almost never spoke to them out loud anymore. He glanced back at Dr. Cunningham, but he just gave Harlan an encouraging nod. He didn’t look at all angry or mocking.

“It’s very nice to meet you. I’m Gwen. Are you ready for the word?”

He nodded again, a little more confidently.

“The word is ‘ludicrous’. Ludicrous. You’ll remember?”

“Yes,” he said, shyly.

She waved and started slowly fading.

He stepped out of the circle and turned to face Dr. Cunningham again. “She said…ludicrous.”

Dr. Cunningham beamed. “You passed the test.”

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About the Author

T. Strange

T. Strange didn’t want to learn how to read, but literacy prevailed and she hasn’t stopped reading—or writing—since. She’s been published since 2013, and she writes M/M romance in multiple genres, including paranormal and BDSM. T.’s other interests include cross stitching, gardening, watching terrible horror movies, playing video games, and finding injured pigeons to rescue. Originally from White Rock, BC, she lives on the Canadian prairies, where she shares her home with her wife, cats, guinea pigs and other creatures of all shapes and sizes. She’s very easy to bribe with free food and drinks—especially wine.

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