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First Chapter Reveal: Night in Jerusalem by Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy

Night in Jerusalem

Title: NIGHT IN JERUSALEM
Author: Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy
Publisher: PKZ Inc.
Pages: 246
Genre: Historical Romance

A bewitching love story that is also an extraordinary portrait of Jerusalem, its faith, spirituality, identity, and kaleidoscope of clashing beliefs, Night in Jerusalem is a novel of mystery, beauty, historical insight, and sexual passion.

David Bennett is invited to Jerusalem in 1967 by his cousin who, to the alarm of his aristocratic British family, has embraced Judaism. He introduces David to his mentor, Reb Eli, a revered sage in the orthodox community. Despite his resistance to religious teaching, David becomes enthralled by the rabbi’s wisdom and compassionate presence. When David discloses a sexual problem, Reb Eli unwittingly sets off a chain of events that transforms his life and the life of the mysterious prostitute, Tamar, who, in a reprise of an ancient biblical story, leads both men to an astonishing realization. As passions rise, the Six Day War erupts, reshaping the lives of everyone caught up in it.

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First Chapter:

Hail pounded the windshield of the sherut as it made its way through the night to Jerusalem. The driver pulled to the side of the road, startled. He peered at the windshield. It was fractured, but to his astonishment, still intact.“In twenty years I never see such storm,” he said in his best English.

He lit a cigarette and offered the pack to his passengers. David refused; the three Israelis accepted. Sitting up front, an elderly woman took out oranges, which she peeled, divided, and shared, using her dress to wipe the juice off her hands. The taxi filled with the pungent smell of oranges mixed with cigarette smoke. David cracked open a window.

The storm reminded him of the monsoon in India. Like many of his generation, he had gone there searching for revelation. He had hoped it would let him shake off the feeling of isolation that plagued him wherever he went. His upbringing had given him every comfort that money could buy, except the comfort of belonging in his own skin. At times the loneliness hid long enough to fool him into thinking it was gone, but then, like a familiar ghost, it would find its way back and fill him with despair. After a year of traveling, he had returned to England, only to discover that nothing had changed.

Now, stuck in a taxi on a desolate hilltop outside Jerusalem, enveloped by smoke while waiting out the storm, he regretted leaving Hampshire’s gentle slopes, which were always so green and welcoming, where sometimes after a rain, like a gift from heaven, the sun would come out followed by a sudden rainbow.

He was trying to ignore his reservations about coming to Israel. He wished he had not allowed his cousin to persuade him to come “just for a visit.” Although Jonathan, at twenty-eight, was only a year older, David viewed him as a more mature, elder brother, as well as his best friend. They had grown up together in the south of England in an aristocratic family, enjoying the privileges of great wealth, but subject to the remoteness from society that it can sometimes bring. When Jonathan had left for Israel, David’s loneliness had become unbearable.

After an hour, the storm stopped. The driver told everyone they would need another car to take them to Jerusalem, as he could not see out of his cracked windshield, and that their only option, given the hour, was to hitchhike. The passengers stood at the side of the road for what seemed like an eternity. David was certain he would be there until morning, when an army truck loomed out of the night and juddered to a stop. The driver, a young soldier, helped them aboard, before continuing cautiously down the steep, winding road to Jerusalem.

David was the last passenger to be dropped off. He thanked the soldier for stopping and delivering them safely, surprised by the informality of it all. Just after midnight, standing before a two-story stone building in Abu Tor, with only the moon shimmering through the clouds for illumination, he could just about make out the number of the house. The flat Jonathan had arranged for him was upstairs. He could not find the light and, after blindly climbing the staircase, he felt his way to the top-floor door and fumbled under the mat for the key.

Inside the flat, a lamp had been left on for him, with a note attached to a bottle of wine on a small, wooden table.

Welcome to Jerusalem. See you in the morning, eight o’clock at Cafe Cassis. It’s down the hill to Hebron Road, then right to Rehov (Street) King David, and right again on Rehov Ben-Yehudah. The cafe will be on your right, just a bit further up at the corner. It’s less than a fifteen-minute walk, Jonathan.

P.S. If you want a bath, turn on the red switch outside the loo an hour before. Hope you remembered to bring toilet paper.

The shutters on the windows and doors were closed. The room had a vaulted ceiling and contained a dark, birch armoire that matched the headboard on the double bed. A tufted, deep green armchair was the only other piece of furniture. The room felt as ancient as the city.

Chilled from the storm, David lit the gas heater, then clicked on the red switch for hot water. The bathroom had a commode with a chain flush and a small sink with an even smaller mirror above it. He felt the rough, brown toilet paper sitting on top of the commode and understood why Jonathan had told him to bring a suitcase full. He was grateful there was a deep bathtub with a hand shower.

Restless while waiting for the water to heat, he changed into warmer clothes and decided to take a first look at the city he would live in for the next month.

Outside, the narrow, winding roads of Abu Tor had been soaked by the storm. The stone houses were dark and there were no streetlights. The place seemed uninhabited, with only feral cats out searching for food. Wandering the neighborhood deepened his sense of isolation. He knew nothing of Israel, did not speak the language and, besides Jonathan, knew no one in the country. How could a month here relieve his despair?

Had Jonathan been there to meet him at the flat, he would have felt better, but Jonathan lived near the University of Jerusalem, where he was studying Judaism. Tonight he had gone to a seminar in Haifa and would not be returning until the morning.

David climbed up a steep road, unable to see anything but the stone wall beside him when, suddenly, at the top of the hill, Jerusalem’s Old City revealed itself. The lights peering from stone houses built neatly into its hills shimmered with golden hues against the night. It was, as Jonathan had promised, mysterious and beautiful.

Soaking in a hot bath gave him a restful night until he was awakened at six by a loudspeaker calling the Muslims to prayer, “Allah, Akbar…” Sleepily, he opened the shutters and doors which led onto the roof and there, again, was a panoramic view of Jerusalem. He felt the warmth of the sun as it rose from behind Mount Zion, with no sign of last night’s storm. The clear, blue sky amplified the city’s magnificence. He could see a crescent of cypress trees and, below it, the walled Old City with its minarets and church spires. He looked out at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the golden dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque glittering in the sun. To the far left stood the King David Hotel. He felt a surprising surge of excitement.

He had an hour before meeting Jonathan at Café Cassis and, eager to get a feeling for the city, decided to take a leisurely stroll to the café. By seven o’clock, most of the businesses were open. He passed the King David Hotel and a small cafe where the smell of coffee and freshly-baked pita bread filled the street, already bustling with people, rickety buses, Volkswagens and Mini Minors.

Arriving at the café, he immediately spotted a bearded Jonathan sitting reading the Jerusalem Post. Jonathan jumped up and hugged him.

“Great to see you! I’ve been so looking forward to you being here. I can’t believe you’ve finally shown up. How’s the flat?”

“Fine, the views are spectacular.”

“Well it’s yours for two years, if you like. The chap who owns it is on sabbatical in Argentina. He’d be delighted to get the rent.”

“I’ve committed for a month,” David reminded him, so as to not get Jonathan’s hopes up. “You look very Jewie with that beard. Do you have to have one to study Judaism?”

“Very funny.”

“How are the studies going?”

“Really well, actually. How was your trip to India?”

“A bit challenging. After one of their downpours, my car got stuck in the mud and started sinking. I thought I was going to be swallowed up. I took it as my cue to leave.” David looked at the thick, muddy coffee Jonathan was drinking, “I hope they’ve got more than that to drink.”

“How about a cup of tea?”

“Perfect. Do they serve eggs with sausages?”

“Yes, more or less.”

Jonathan introduced David to Uri, the owner of the café, then, in Hebrew, ordered their breakfast.

“It’s good to see you, Jonathan. I’ve missed you,” David confessed.

“By the way, I’ve arranged for you to meet with the rebbe tomorrow.”

“I know how you feel about him, but frankly, I’m not much interested in meeting him,” David said, as gently as he could, not wanting Jonathan to feel his good intentions were unappreciated.

“David, I’m just asking you to be open-minded. The rebbe has helped so many people. They come from all over the world just to meet him. Why not give him a try? You’ve got nothing to lose.”

“Why are you so keen for me to see him? What’s so special about him?”

“That’s something you’re going to have to find out for yourself, but I promise, once you meet him, you will be hungry for more.”

“More of what?”

“You’ll see. He’s helped me enormously,” Jonathan said emphatically.

David sat quietly, absorbing what Jonathan was saying. He felt envious of his enthusiasm and that he had found his place in the world.

“Jonathan, I don’t know if this is …”

Before he could finish, Jonathan interrupted, “Give it a try. There’s no harm in looking into your own heritage.”

“It’s not my heritage. I know absolutely nothing about it. You know how it is at home. All we do is make an appearance at the Synagogue on Yom Kippur, when of course, it’s a delight to spend quality time with the other closet Jews.”

“Sarcasm has always been such a part of your charm, David.”

“Have you forgotten that my mother thought you ‘troubled’ when you told us you were coming here? And how we were instructed ‘the situation’ was ‘best kept to ourselves.’ Heaven forbid it would jeopardize her luncheon invitations from the queen.”

Although it was all true, Jonathan reasoned, “David it’s what we were born into. Why not give it a chance. Nobody is asking you to commit to anything.”

“Good, because I have no intention of becoming more of a Jew, or anything else for that matter. This country is like any other country, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not here on any kind of pilgrimage.”

“I’m so glad you haven’t changed.”

Uri brought David his tea along with their breakfast of scrambled eggs, a few thin slices of salami and a crusty roll. Jonathan caught David eyeing the salami with suspicion. “Think of it as fine-pressed sausage.”

Reb Eliezer Ben-Yaacov, known to everyone as “Reb Eli,” sat quietly in the study hall of his synagogue in Mea Shearim while his Torah students debated the meaning of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. The previous night’s storm had kept him awake, leaving him weary for today’s studies. Whenever the rebbe couldn’t sleep, he sat and read his favorite verses from the great Tzaddikim, those awakened souls who had come to such a tenderness towards the world that they saw only its beauty. But last night, despite his reading, he had been unable to stop worrying about his youngest daughter.

It had been ten years since his wife had died. Still, he felt God had been generous with him. He was blessed with five children. He had all that he needed, and, three years previously, to his surprise, he had been named Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Based on his growing reputation as a sage, people came from all over the world to seek his guidance. But he could not resolve his concerns about his own daughter. He lived among the Hasidim, and whenever he walked by, the women would become suddenly silent. He knew what they were saying about Sarah. “Blessed with beauty, cursed with misfortune, a woman born luckless, without mazel.”

Sarah was just twelve years old when her mother died. His eldest daughter, Dvorah, had taken on the burden of being her mother. She already had three children of her own. She did her best to look after Sarah as well.

Reb Eli was delighted when Sarah married Yossi, a kind, scholarly young man from a pious family. But after three years of marriage, she was still childless when her devoted husband was stricken with a rare form of cancer and died. All in Mea Shearim gossiped, “Poor, beautiful Sarah had so many bees, but no honey.” The sadness in his daughter’s eyes weighed heavily on him.

Reb Eli was brought back from his troubled thoughts by Chaim, a slight young man from a family of fourteen children whose curiosity and devoted scholarship made him one of the rebbe’s favorite students. “Chanukah honors those times in our lives when sun and moon, the direct light of God and the reflected light of our tradition are at their nadir. It is a time of trouble, fear and sadness. The work of Chanukah is to dispel darkness with the kindling of lights. That is what we must contemplate throughout these eight days,” Chaim said, answering the question the rebbe had forgotten he had asked.

The rebbe nodded his head in approval, grateful to Chaim for reminding him of the inner work to be done.

Ever since Yossi’s passing, Sarah’s nights had been restless. She woke often, feeling tired and dull. The storm the night before had awakened her with the sound of fierce rain and hail beating against the window. Watching the rain, she had remembered how her mother always said whoever is born or married in the rain will be blessed with mazel.

The storm had flooded the classroom at the girl’s cheder where she taught biblical studies. It had damaged the dilapidated roof and left the floor waterlogged. Her class was moved to her sister Esther’s room, where the two classes were combined. The students sat paired together at each desk, giggling. Nevertheless, Sarah was grateful when Esther offered to take over both of their classes so she could take the remainder of the day off, as she was feeling intense cramps from the onset of her period.

It was five months since her husband had died. A childless widow at twenty-two, she felt her monthly bleeding was now wasted on a barren woman. She returned to the courtyard where she lived just across from her father’s house. She climbed the stairs to the small flat she had shared with Yossi. After closing the drapes of her bedroom window, she removed her marriage wig, allowing her lustrous, auburn hair to spill over her shoulders. Undressing from the drab mourning clothes she had worn since Yossi’s death, she slid into her warm bed, wearing only her soft, white slip.

Sarah looked at the clock. She had a few hours before she was to bring her father his four o’clock tea. Catching an afternoon nap felt tender and peaceful. She fell deeply asleep, dreaming she was floating out to sea.

Late in the afternoon, Jonathan escorted David into Mea Shearim, where bearded men strolled the streets in long black coats and fur hats, with curled locks of hair hanging over their ears. The women were dressed in dark skirts and coats that covered them from the neck down to their clumsy Oxford shoes. Their hair was hidden by tight scarves or identical wigs. Walking separately, segregated from the men, they appeared weary, and old beyond their years.

The Hasidim stared suspiciously at David. His clean-shaven face, short brown jacket, jeans, and loafers screamed “outsider.” By their glares, it was obvious they didn’t like strangers coming into their neighborhood. Most of them belonged to the ultra-orthodox sect known as the Satmars.

David was repelled by the sight of “these people,” and told Jonathan he felt he was visiting a strange planet of clones. He wanted to get out of there right away.

Jonathan was disturbed by his reaction. “David, you know nothing about the Hasidim. Judging them by their appearance? That’s so shallow.” Trying to put him at ease before meeting the rebbe, Jonathan explained that Reb Eli, although orthodox, did not belong to any sect.

Alone in his study, Reb Eli thought about the promise he had made to his friend, Phillip Bennett. He had known the Bennetts since childhood when his family had sent him to England from his home in Germany.

In November 1938, five days after Kristalnacht, the renowned Reb Yaacov Wolfner had decided to send his youngest child, Eliezer, who was almost fifteen, to England through the Kindertransport, an organization that rescued Jewish children from Nazi Germany and found them foster homes in England.

“How strange,” he thought, “that we forget so easily what we did yesterday, but remember so vividly what the heart felt long ago.” It was now nearly thirty years since Reb Eli’s last Shabbat dinner with his parents and siblings. He remembered his father had invited two young rabbinical students as guests. He could still hear the songs and chants. He could still taste the sweet challah bread his mother had baked. He remembered how the Shabbat candles had magically turned their home into a haven of peace and beauty; how he had cherished the days when he was able to study alongside his father.

At Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station, Reb Yaakov held his son’s arm tightly, not saying a word. All around, families were tearing themselves apart, pushing their children into railway carriages under the hostile eyes of the SS, fearing this would be their last time together. Children cried out for their parents even as the train carrying them to England pulled away from the platform.

Several days earlier, his father had explained why he had to leave Germany. He was being sent to England where he would be safe. His father had assured him he would be well cared for, as his friend, the Chief Rabbi of the Emergency Council in England, would place him in a good home. He promised to send for him as soon as the Nazi regime was over and told him always to remember where he came from, and to live by the teachings of the Torah.

When young Eliezer arrived in Harwich he was driven to Hampshire, where the Bennetts took him into their home. He remembered the drive up the long road to their estate, how he stood there staring in awe at the majesty of it all. It was grander than anything he had ever seen. When the Bennett family came out to greet him, he was too intimidated to speak. It was only when their son, Phillip, reached out his hand, that he was able to say hello.

The Bennetts were generous and compassionate secular Jews, careful to keep their philanthropy anonymous, especially all they did for their fellow Jews.

Phillip Bennett and Eliezer were close in age and befriended each other immediately, despite their different enthusiasms. For Eliezer, it was the study of Torah; for Phillip, it was rugby. Their common interest was chess, a game at which Eliezer excelled. When war broke out, they would hike out into the fields in search of German paratroopers, missions which Philip insisted be kept secret from his parents.

Each time they went out, Eliezer would pray they would not run into any Nazis. Other than his fear of Nazis, Eliezer learned to enjoy their outdoor adventures. He loved Hampshire’s open, green fields and narrow, gushing streams, often writing to his parents about the English countryside. He looked forward to when they would come for him, so he could show them how beautiful it was. He also let them know the Bennetts had arranged for him to continue his religious studies. Phillip and “Eli,’” as he soon became known, became firm friends.

When the war ended, Eli learned of the fate of his family. They had been taken to Auschwitz and murdered. At twenty years old, he was left orphaned and bereft. He yearned for his family and the life he had known. Germany was no longer a place he could call home. As welcomed as the Bennetts made him feel, and as close as he was to Phillip, Eli desperately needed to return to his own ground. Like so many displaced Jews, he found himself drawn to a new beginning in the Promised Land. In 1946, with the Bennetts support, Eli left for Jerusalem, where he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a rabbi.

During the early, struggling years of the new state of Israel, and through its wars, Phillip had sent generous support, both to Reb Eli, who had started a family, and to the nation. Now, it was Reb Eli’s turn to be generous.

He had been taken by surprise when Phillip, who professed to be an atheist, told him of his nephew’s desire to learn about Judaism. Jonathan was the son of Eleanor, Phillip’s younger sister, whom he knew well from his time in England. She had married an aristocratic Jew, secular in his ways, yet committed to supporting Israel as insurance against an anti-Semitic world.

Reb Eli had become very fond of Jonathan, though he remained something of an enigma to him. He could not understand how a young man, coming from such wealth, without religious upbringing, could suddenly decide to come to Jerusalem to study Judaism. Was it a rebellion against his family, or was he simply searching for a spiritual path? Or perhaps it had to do with the loss of his father at a young age? Eleanor had told him how much the boy had suffered. For the past three years, Reb Eli had observed Jonathan closely. He appreciated his devotion to his studies, yet remained curious about his motives.

Then, two weeks earlier, Phillip had called asking for help for his only son, David. “My son is lost. He doesn’t know where he belongs. He can’t seem to find himself. Eli, see what you can do. Jonathan has promised to help as well.”

As much as he wanted to help Phillip, he doubted there was much he could do. So many families, especially from America, begged for his help with lost souls. Young people who had no roots were like trees that fall in the first wind. How could he give them the spiritual foundation their families had failed to provide? Most of the time, he could do no more than offer them blessings and prayers. But this was Phillip’s son. He owed Phillip so much. This would have to be different. Reb Eli prayed that the hand of God would guide him.

Promptly, at four o’clock, Sarah brought him his tea, with two biscuits. The rebbe’s heart ached at his daughter’s appearance. Her once sparkling eyes were now dull and empty. She moved like a woman who had been thwarted by life. Lost for words of comfort, the rebbe gently asked his daughter how she was feeling. “I’m fine, Abba,” she said quietly, then left to join her sisters in the kitchen to help prepare the evening meal.

You’re on your own now,” Jonathan said when they reached the courtyard of the rebbe’s house.

“I haven’t a clue what to say or what I’m even doing here,” David muttered nervously. “Aren’t you at least going to introduce us?”

“No need. Just be brave and honest. See you later.”

Other than what Jonathan had told him, and his father’s story of how he had lived with the family during the war, David knew little about the rebbe, except that he was now the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and had remained a close friend of his father.

He felt awkward and out of place knocking at the rebbe’s door. A young Hasidic man greeted him and ushered him into Reb Eli’s study.

The rebbe was sitting by a large table, facing the door. “Please,” he motioned for David to sit across from him in the worn, upholstered chair. Reb Eli’s blue eyes were gentle and inquisitive. His head of prematurely white hair and his full salt-and-pepper beard added to David’s impression that he was meeting an Old Testament prophet. He sat in the chair and waited for the rebbe to speak, anticipating many questions. Instead, Reb Eli sat silently, periodically closing his eyes in meditation. Not knowing what to say or do, David remained quiet. After a while, a wave of peace washed over him. He became aware of the flow of his breath and the beat of his heart. He heard himself say, “I have so many questions.”

“Questions are good, they are all we have, because there are no answers,” the rebbe countered in a tone tender enough for a small child.

In the kitchen, Sarah and her sisters had been washing and cutting fresh-bought vegetables, when Esther asked if one of them would mind running to the macholet for some garlic. Miriam suggested Sarah should go because she had “had a long rest in the afternoon.”

Sarah left for the corner market. Outside the house, in the courtyard, she was looking down when she spotted a pair of brown loafers walking past her. She looked up, curious to see who belonged to these foreign shoes. David, engrossed in his thoughts, walked by without noticing her. Sarah glanced into his face and saw the refined shape of his head, how his hand gently brushed away the dark-brown wisps of hair that had fallen on his forehead. She felt a sudden queasiness in her stomach at noticing so much about a stranger. Trying to dismiss the incident, she rushed to the market, then back to the kitchen where she began mincing the unpeeled garlic cloves until Miriam cried, “Sarah, you forgot to peel the garlic!”

The setting sun covered the city in warm, mellow hues of amber and purple. David was glad he had decided to walk back to Abu Tor. The meeting with the rebbe had left him longing for things he could not name. He was baffled by the rebbe’s silence. Why had he not spoken? Was it because Reb Eli sensed he didn’t want to be there, or was it just that the rebbe had nothing to say? Perhaps this renowned rebbe was simply bored with one more seeker?

What puzzled David most was why he wanted to see him again. What for? More silence? The rebbe had already told him there were no answers, so what was the point of seeing him again? It would be best to tell Jonathan the meeting had served neither of them well.

At the bottom of the hill at Abu Tor, near the water mill, lay the border between Jordan and Israel, marked by a military post manned by Israeli soldiers. On the other side of the road, Jordanians stood watch at their post. Each monitored the other, day in, day out. Watching the sunset hover over the Old City, David couldn’t help but think how bored the soldiers must be, having to stand watch all day, with only each other for company. He saw one of the Jordanians signal for a cigarette. An Israeli soldier put one into a pack and threw it across the road, to a perfect catch. For the moment, their differences dissolved. They became simply two men watching a magnificent sunset, sharing a smoke.

David and Jonathan walked through the ancient tree-lined streets of Baka, a neighborhood of traditional stone houses where Jonathan’s girlfriend, Nilli, lived. The houses had been built with Jerusalem stone, a pale limestone with mixed shades of pink, sand and gold that were glowing in the sunset. David admired the buildings and asked where the stones came from.

“They come from local quarries. All houses have to be built with them, by law, to preserve Jerusalem’s antiquity. It’s why the city is known as Jerusalem of Gold,” Jonathan said.

He pried as gently as he could to find out how David’s meeting with the rebbe had gone. “He’s pretty amazing, isn’t he?”

“He said nothing. What’s so amazing about that?”

“He doesn’t have to say anything. His presence tells you everything you need to know,” Jonathan said, trying not to sound preachy.

“Is that it? I just get to sit there in his ‘presence’?”

Jonathan laughed. “Didn’t you have enough of good conversation in England? I should think by now you would have learned the limitations of language.”

“I don’t think I will be seeing him again.”

“Don’t be so quick to judge. It’s worth giving it some time,” Jonathan said in his older brother tone.

Jonathan was eager for David to meet Nilli and their friends. Feeling out of sorts, David was hesitant about meeting everyone and tried to excuse himself by insisting he was “too grubby” in his jeans and sweater and wasn’t properly dressed.

“I wouldn’t worry about that. Nobody here bothers about fashion. It’s considered gauche,” Jonathan boasted, not letting David off the hook.

Arriving at a small stone house with a painted blue door, David was greeted by Nilli. She had a lovely, open face and smile, with bright blue eyes. She embraced David with a warm hug, “Jonathan has told me so much about you.”

“I hope some of it was good,” David smiled.

Her warmth put him immediately at ease. The door opened into the living room, where three people sat on bright oriental pillows around a large brass coffee table.

Jonathan introduced Nilli’s roommate, Anat, and Nilli’s brother, Gideon, and his girlfriend, Ronit. Anat and Gideon were dressed in military khaki. They each had an Uzi lying beside them. Gideon shared his sister’s eyes and smile. Ronit seemed shy and awkward, traits David later discovered were due to her lack of English. Anat was a sensual beauty, with long blonde hair tied in a ponytail. She spoke English with a perfect British accent. David thought she looked amazing in her army fatigues. Her skirt came just above her knees revealing her shapely legs. The uniform accentuated her slim, curved body. Anat let David know immediately she considered herself smart, tough, and well-informed. When he asked if she had studied in England, she told him “I’ve never left Israel. I make it my business to learn a language in its proper accent.”

“Anat makes it her business to know about everything that interests her,” Nilli boasted about her friend.

Jonathan warned him, “Don’t be surprised if she knows more about England than we do. Anat is a phenomenon. She reads everything in sight, in four languages, and she’s got a photographic memory so she retains all of it. I wouldn’t bother challenging her on any subject. It will just make you miserable.”

“I shall play it safe then, and keep quiet,” David said with good humor.

Anat proceeded to prove to him that everything Nilli and Jonathan had said about her was true. She was not only beautiful, but brilliant and provocative.

The evening continued into the early morning. They had wine with Mediterranean salads, pita bread, olives, cheese, fruit, and nuts. Afterwards, Anat rolled some hashish into a cigarette, offering it to everyone. David, feeling at home with the group, was the only one who accepted. Jonathan had to get up early and left soon after. The rest of them continued talking until three in the morning. They all wanted to know about David’s travels and what had brought him to Jerusalem. The hashish relaxed him. He opened up about his adventures, and how Jonathan had persuaded him to come to Jerusalem to meet Reb Eli. Feeling that he had been talking too much about himself, he shifted the conversation.

He learned that Gideon was a high-ranking pilot in the Air Force. Anat was an army lieutenant, an atheist and an archeologist, studying to get her doctorate at the Hebrew University. Ronit was an army code decipherer and Nilli was a medical resident serving in Hadassah Hospital’s emergency ward. They were all curious about his meeting with Reb Eli, although none of them were religious. They knew that the rebbe was well-respected and admired for his plain-spokenness about the Torah and the Talmud and was known to be deeply immersed in the teachings of the mystics, which especially interested Gideon.

David didn’t know if it was the wine, the hashish, or just the early morning hour that made him feel a deep kinship with these people. Whatever it was, it felt good. Nilli made him promise he would come by whenever he felt the need for company. “Abu Tor is a short walking distance from Baka. You can stop by anytime.”

Gideon, who listened more than he had spoken during much of the evening, asked David if he would like to see Jerusalem from the air. He offered to pick him up on Saturday to go flying in a twin-engine Cessna that was available to him from the Air Force. David eagerly accepted.

The next morning, the phone rang at eight, waking David from a deep sleep. It was Jonathan asking him to meet at Café Cassis.

“I’m a bit sleepy. Didn’t get to bed until four. Mind if we meet later?” David mumbled.

“I won’t be around later; tied up all day at school. Why don’t you get up and nap later? You’re on holiday, after all. Come on. I’ll have Uri put the kettle on.”

David found Jonathan seated at the same table, reading the Jerusalem Post.

Uri, the owner, brought over a cup of tea, with a glass of milk on the side. “If you want more tea, I bring you.”

“Hungry?” Jonathan asked.

“I think I’ve had enough of the finely pressed sausage, thank you.”

“It’s an acquired taste. You’ll get there,” Jonathan assured him.

“I’m quite happy as I am, thank you,” David said, as he removed the tea bag brewing in his cup. “I wish you had told me to bring along some decent tea as well.”

“I didn’t think there’d be much room left, after the toilet paper. First things first, you know.” Jonathan whispered.

“Enjoyed last night,” David said, adding a little milk to his tea.

“Good. What do you think of Anat?”

“Smashing.”

“Any interest in getting to know her better?” Jonathan inquired matter-of-factly.

“Not particularly.”

“How come?”

“A lady who carries an Uzi is not my idea of a romantic date.”

“Don’t be absurd. Everyone carries an Uzi here. They all serve in the army.”

“I don’t, and neither do you,” David reminded him.

“You’ll get used to it.”

“God, I hope not,” David moaned. “Seriously, I think Nilli and all your friends are great and lots of fun. I’m just not ready for any sort of romance.”

For as long as Jonathan could remember, David was never interested in “romantic entanglements.” In England he’d had many girlfriends, but never a steady one. Jonathan decided to let it ride. He was concerned about David and didn’t want anything to become a source of friction between them. He was grateful he was in Jerusalem and had met with the rebbe. When Jonathan was growing up, his mother had spoken of Reb Eli with great respect and appreciation, telling him how much he had helped her find the strength to deal with the death of his father. Jonathan was also grateful to the rebbe for taking him under his wing. Reb Eli had become a great inspiration to him, and he hoped the rebbe would be able to help David, too, find his way in the world.

“Well, I’m glad you found Nilli and my friends engaging,” Jonathan said, keeping the conversation light and cheerful.

“Gideon has invited me to go flying with him on Saturday.”

“Really, that’s quite impressive. Gideon is not one for wasting time with insignificant others. Frankly, it took him a year to warm up to me. Must be he took a real liking to you. I have to admit, that makes me feel a bit put out.”

“Don’t be. I’m not the one sleeping with his sister,” David reassured him.

“I take your point. Thank you.”

“I like Gideon. I suspect there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye.”

“There is.”

When Sarah brought in her father’s afternoon tea, he asked her if she would sit with him for a moment. Pleased to have her father to herself, she sat down on the old, worn chair, the chair she shared with so many others who hungered for his wisdom and guidance. Reb Eli was a man of few words. He never talked much about himself or divulged anything about those who came to see him. Idle talk and gossip were unwelcome. Everyone’s confidences were well kept in his inner world, which belonged to him alone. Even Sarah and her siblings knew little about their father’s past, other than he had spent several years in England during World War II. Like everything else, details about their father or others were never given or discussed.

He was used to counseling all sorts of people. He had given comfort to so many. It pained him that he could not find a way to reach his own daughter. He sat quietly praying for the right words to come to him.

Sensing her father’s concern, Sarah knew the best way to put him at ease was with a direct question. “Why do some people have more difficult lives than others?”

Sarah’s question was filled with loneliness and despair. It tore at the rebbe’s heart. He spoke to her in his gentle manner. “When it rains, you can shout for the sun, but neither the sun nor the rain will hear you. There is either your acceptance or your rejection. The first leads to peace; the second, to suffering. God pursues you with peace, offering each moment for your appreciation. There is no profit in rejection, but with acceptance comes tranquility and hope for the future.”

“How do you find tranquility and hope?” she asked.

“The mysteries are an open secret, Sarah. It is we who must come out of hiding. Some days are bright, others are dark. We should not make a drama of the light, or a tragedy of the dark. Just embrace each as it is, knowing that happiness comes when we live each moment in peace. The whole of life is impermanent; there is no certainty. There’s no salvation to lift us out of it, and no reward for suffering. Thinking otherwise is like pursuing the wind. You are a wise and learned woman, Sarah. You know these things. You must try to live them.”

“It’s not easy, Abba.”

“I know,” Reb Eli said quietly.

At that moment, Sarah longed to be five years old again, sitting in her father’s lap while he gently stroked her hair. Not since she was a child was that permissible. Being observant of the orthodox law, girls over twelve were not permitted to have physical contact with any male, even with their brother or their father. It was forbidden. By twelve, she had lost her mother to cancer, and she had lost her father’s physical affection. This would have to come from female family members and friends. The only man once permitted to touch Sarah was her now dead husband. Sarah wished she could find comfort in her father’s words, but she could not. Neither could she find solace in her sisters’ arms. Her loneliness weighed heavily on her body and her soul. She found comfort only in books. Books were her special friends. She loved the way they opened the outside world to her, leaving her imagination free to dream and experience whatever thoughts and feelings came to visit her. Sarah and her eldest sister, Devorah, kept secret her frequent trips to the library. When Sarah married Yossi, he too became her secret-keeper.

Yossi was not like any of the other young men among the Hasidim. He was more open and willing to give his wife the freedom to seek any knowledge she desired, even if it meant going to the city library alone. Sarah had known Yossi since they were toddlers. As long as Sarah could remember, Yossi and she were good friends. Although she was a girl, Yossi would debate the meanings of the Torah and Mishnah with her. Sarah and Yossi’s marriage had been arranged and both were content and agreeable to the match. Their marriage was like their friendship: tender, respectful and loving. Yossi agreed Sarah would not have to cut her beautiful hair, which is expected of married women. Luckily for Sarah, Devorah worked in the mikveh where Sarah would always arrive last for the Friday cleansing ritual. With her sister as the only witness, she would neatly tie up her hair, then immerse herself twelve times under the water, in honor of the twelve tribes of Israel. Thereafter, her spirit and body would be cleansed.

Whenever Sarah left home, she would wear the customary sheitel, neatly tucking every strand of her own hair under the coarse brown wig, styled with bangs, just like the other married women. At night, Yossi loved to brush her long, thick auburn hair. Then, when it was permissible, they would be intimate. All other times, they slept in their separate twin beds.

Now that Yossi was gone, Sarah knew she had not only lost a husband, but her best friend. She knew no one would be as kind, gentle and accepting of her as Yossi had been. She tried to acquiesce to God’s will that she be left childless and alone. She understood the only suitor who would be willing to marry her now would be one of the elderly men who had been widowed, such as Itzhak, the loner across the courtyard, whom she had caught spying on her from his window. Sarah preferred her aloneness to being with someone old enough to be her father.

The rebbe knew his words had failed to soothe his daughter’s wounded spirit. He was at a loss. How could he bring comfort to her? All that was left for him was to accept his helplessness about it. He closed his eyes and did what he knew best. He prayed.

His thoughts shifted to David, who would be arriving shortly. He found David to be earnest and sincere. He wished he had come at a better time, when he wasn’t so preoccupied with his own concerns. Nevertheless, he would pray and ask Hashem to show him a way to reach this lost young man.

For his part, David had made up his mind to challenge the rebbe: no more sitting in silence. If the rebbe had no answers for him, he would not waste his time. He approached Mea Shearim determined to be a force to be reckoned with. He entered the rebbe’s study and sat down on the chair with a thud.

“Reb Eli, I’ve been thinking…”

“So have I,” interrupted the rebbe. “How would you like to join me every Thursday evening at eight? You will ask a question each week, then we will contemplate your question, which you will take into consideration until the following week, when you will come in with another question. Do you agree to do this for at least eight weeks?”

As if speaking with someone else’s voice, David heard himself mutter, “Yes.”

“Good, now take a moment and ask your first question.”

David felt himself go blank. “I can’t think of one just now.”

“Then I have one for you,” replied the rebbe. “Why is it a young man like yourself is not married or betrothed?”

Feeling as if he had been knocked off his feet, David tried to catch his balance, and mumbled, “I don’t know.”

“Do you enjoy being with a woman?”

“Yes, of course…,” David answered, nervously, wondering how the rebbe knew he had a problem. His shameful secret must be written all over his face, he thought. Every time David got intimate with a woman, he would ejaculate prematurely. Each relationship added to his humiliation and left him feeling more inept than before. David would repeatedly tell himself he would do better next time. Next time always proved to be the same. The women were just as embarrassed by his predicament as he was. They would ignore it as though nothing had happened, as if that would ease his shame. To avoid any further distress, he always found an amicable excuse for breaking off the relationship. Confronted by the rebbe, David sat quietly for some time. Reb Eli waited patiently, giving him the time he needed to gather the courage to speak. “I have trouble holding myself,” he confessed, in a whisper.

The rebbe was as astounded about his inquiry as was David. He had no idea why he had asked that particular question, and was just as amazed when he heard the answer come out of David’s mouth. Feeling this was divine intervention, he offered David the only assistance he could muster. “Can you be here Sunday evening at eight?”

From her bedroom window, Sarah spotted David walking across the courtyard, wearing the same brown loafers and jacket. Once again, she felt an odd twinge in her stomach. What was this modern man, dressed in European clothes, doing in Mea Shearim? Perhaps he was visiting a distant relative? There were several Hasidim who were visited by outsiders, but not often. This was the second time in two weeks she had seen him. She became preoccupied with what he was doing in Mea Shearim, and wondered why he should have such a peculiar effect on her. Then she caught herself and dismissed her thoughts as idle nonsense, caused by her unsettled state. She felt like a stranger to herself and a burden to her family. Nothing made sense to her anymore.

Every Friday night, all twenty-five members of the rebbe’s family gathered for Shabbat. They would sit in their customary places at the Shabbat tables, Sarah with her three sisters, her two sisters-in-law, and their children at one table; Reb Eli at the head of the men’s table with his two sons and sons-in-law and his three eldest grandsons. His eldest daughter, Dvorah, would light the Shabbat candles as the women covered their eyes and chanted the prayer welcoming the shechinah, the peace of the Shabbat bride, to their home and heart. At the conclusion of each Shabbat, the rebbe’s grandchildren would line up before him and he would place his hands over each of their heads for a special blessing.

Sarah felt bereaved. She would never bring forth a child for her father’s blessing. She was aware how her sisters, who knew of her anguish, avoided looking into her eyes.

At the end of the meal, Reb Eli gave Sarah a nod, her cue to start singing. Nothing pleased him more than the sound of Sarah’s voice. It created a peace that filled the room and touched his soul. Afterwards, the children sang traditional Sabbath songs, with all of the family joining in.

As the women cleared the table, Sarah heard Reb Eli ask her brother, Yaacov, to arrange for Shimon to come see him. She knew summoning Shimon meant a visit to the “House.” She wondered which of the young men was having personal issues and needed help.

After Shabbat, she went back to her flat. Since Yossi’s death, she had stopped going to the weekly mikveh. She preferred, instead, to light her own Shabbat candles, carefully placing them on the windowsill from where she could watch them flicker while she enjoyed her meditation. But tonight, her thoughts flowed to the first time she had followed her brother, Isaac, to the House. She remembered how her mother had wept copiously at the dining room table, the night Isaac was caught caressing his best friend, Moshe, in the shower of the men’s mikveh. Her mother, who was weakened by illness, had pleaded with her father to “have Shimon take Isaac to the House.” When her father refused, she begged until he became weary with guilt. Seeing the fragility of his wife, he could not deny her and, despite his reservations, arranged for Isaac to be taken there. Sarah had just turned twelve and wondered why it was so wrong for her brother to have shown affection for Moshe. She was also curious about the House and why Isaac had to go there.

The previous week there had been so much whispering between her parents that it piqued her curiosity so much that she decided to follow her brother and Shimon, secretly, keeping her distance. She watched them enter a house in the heart of Machane Yehuda’s open souk on Agripas Street, the main market in Jerusalem, which was a short distance from Mea Shearim, and deserted at night.

Her first glimpse of Madame Aziza was from a bench across the street where she sat looking up at the balcony, through panes of glass doors and windows that were draped with white laced curtains. She could see the silhouette of a woman who was elaborately dressed. It would be years before she learned who she was.

The lights from the House sparkled against the darkness of the night. When scantily dressed young women with flowing, bright scarves appeared, Sarah became mesmerized and watched spellbound as they danced sensually before Isaac. She watched her brother go off with one of the girls, but couldn’t see where they had gone, or what they were doing. She imagined the girl would dance for Isaac and, if he were nice to her, she would let him kiss her so he wouldn’t have to caress Moshe anymore and make her mother cry.

After that night, Sarah imagined she, too, could dance with beautiful scarves in the same graceful way that would please men. Thereafter, whenever she heard about one of the young men having a personal problem who needed a visit to the House, Sarah would wait until her sisters were asleep, then dress and escape into the night and walk the narrow streets to Madame Aziza’s house to watch from the bench and marvel at the exotic dancing of the young women.

It was during that time that Sarah’s life changed forever. Her mother had been struggling with her illness for years. Watching her slip into the hands of death became unbearable. Toward the end, she and her brothers and sisters would take turns looking after her. Each afternoon, from two until four, her father would be with her. At night, when everyone was asleep, Sarah took to escaping to the privacy of her father’s study to lock out the world and pretend to be one of Madame Aziza’s dancing enchantresses. Alone, in the solitude of her imagination, she, too, became a beautiful dancer. She imagined being married, dancing to the delight of her husband, and giving him many sons, which would please Hashem who, perhaps, would spare her mother from dying. Sarah’s secret world was not to be shared with anyone.

God did not spare her mother. And at fourteen she discovered the truth about what was going on in the House. Her sister, Esther, explained that her husband, Yitzhak, was having difficulty performing his husbandly duties, so it was arranged for him to be taken to Madame Aziza’s house. Esther was not happy with the arrangement, but Yitzhak’s problem was keeping her from conceiving. She told Sarah that men went to Madame Aziza’s house where they paid women to help them overcome such problems. Sarah was shocked and embarrassed by how stupid she had been not to realize that Madame Aziza’s was a house of prostitution. She feared what her sisters would think if they knew she had been sneaking out after dark to watch and enjoy harlots dancing, imagining herself to be one of them.

Lying in bed, Sarah wondered if Isaac, with his four sons and two daughters, and her sister Esther, with her three sons and two daughters, were grateful to Madame Aziza. It was only she who was left devoid of children and without a husband. Perhaps this was beshert for having secretly stolen away to live vicariously as one of Madame Aziza’s seductresses.

Flying high above Jerusalem at sunrise, David looked out of the window of the Cessna, spellbound by the glistening light that bathed the city. “It’s magnificent,” he said.

Gideon smiled proudly, as though Jerusalem belonged to him personally. “For thousands of years, so many have fought over her.”

“Her?” asked David.

“Do you know of another city that has given birth to three such religions?”

“No, thank heaven. I imagine it would just cause more conflict and wars.”

“Perhaps, but none would be as Jerusalem.”

Gideon circled lower, giving David a closer view of the curving domes, soaring minarets, and the Western Wall of the Temple.

“There’s the Old City.”

“Do you think there’s any chance of peace?”

“That’s a question for our neighbors.”

“Surely they believe in peace?”

“They’re too afraid democracy and education will corrupt them, especially their women. Liberated women are their worst nightmare. Our own orthodox have the same problem.”

Gideon pointed into the distance, “Over there is Hebron. It’s where our patriarchs are buried.”

David asked, “Do you really think that’s what it’s about for the Arabs? Not wanting their women to be liberated?”

“Mostly. With the Christians it’s different. With them, we are a constant reminder that even though their God was born and died a Jew, we don’t go along with their story.” Gideon was quiet for a moment. “I believe that’s why they found it easy to kill six million of us.”

“You can’t blame the Christians for what the Nazis did.”

“And who were the Nazis before Hitler came along?”

“What about the Christians who helped save Jews?”

“Too bad the Pope wasn’t one of them.”

“The world has changed. You have your own country now.”

“Exactly, and we intend to keep it. Do you really believe being British excludes you from being a Jew?”

“Frankly, I’ve never given it much thought.”

“Being Jewish is not something the world will allow you to opt out of.”

David felt he had been insensitive and wanted to explain himself. “I’ve never had any desire to be part of a tribe. I think each of us has to find his own way in the world. I just wish I could find mine.”

David was pushed back in his seat as Gideon pointed the plane skywards.

“I understand,” said Gideon as he turned the Cessna upside down into a roll.

David felt his stomach rise to his chest. Queasy, he began gagging.

“Being in the world without roots, and not belonging somewhere, is like flying through life upside down,” Gideon said evenly, turning the Cessna back over.

“I see what you mean,” David said, grateful to have his stomach and equilibrium back in place.

“Feeling better?”

“Sort of.”

Tsipi’s was a dive in a back alley in the heart of town. Most of the people there on this Saturday night were young Israelis, drinking with friends, or dancing to their version of a rock band. The air was rank with cigarette smoke and David’s throat became irritated. He ordered a beer to soothe it. It was dark and tasted of malt.

Anat seemed to know everyone there and introduced David as “my friend from England.” She was dressed in a dark blue mini-dress, which David thought was nearly as seductive as her army uniform. He wondered if he had been set up to go dancing with her. Earlier in the evening, everyone had an excuse for not joining them. Jonathan and Nilli said they were too tired; Gideon and Ronit had to get an inhaler from the pharmacy for Ronit’s mother, who was sick with bronchitis.

Anat was a good dancer and made sure everyone knew it. She seemed to know every move he was going to make. Her body was right there, in rhythm with him. David wondered if she desired him as much as he did her. He suspected she had dressed up to impress him, which flattered him. He tried to keep up with her dancing until he felt weak with hunger, as he hadn’t eaten since lunch. He asked if she knew where they could get something to eat. She suggested Mickey’s. “It’s the only place open at night that serves good food.”

Mickey’s was a small, crowded restaurant with bare Formica tables. A couple had just finished eating and were leaving when they walked in. Anat introduced David to the proprietor, Mickey, a burly forty-year-old Syrian Jew who could barely speak English. By the way they spoke rapidly in Hebrew, it was obvious they knew each other very well, and shared a warm friendship. Mickey was a charismatic man with a hearty laugh. David felt an immediate liking for him. Within minutes, Mickey, who was also the cook, brought out salads, warm pita bread, chicken and lamb kabobs. Everything was delicious. Anat ate and drank like no one David had ever seen. She was insatiable. For dessert, she ate three flans that she washed down with three cups of Turkish coffee. Finally, David burst out laughing.

“What is it?”

“You eat like a bloody horse. I’ve never seen anything like it. Where does it all go?”

“I’ve been this way all my life. I just burn it off. In an hour, I’ll probably be hungry again.” She licked her lips, continuing to devour the last of her third flan.

“She eat always like this. Where it go, I don’t know,” Mickey said, laughing.

Walking through the city toward Abu Tor, the streets were empty and still. In the distance, near the windmill, all that could be seen were the lit cigarettes of the sentries at the border post, flickering like lightening bugs.

Given the provocative way Anat had danced, David thought she would expect to be invited up to his place. Although he desired her, her heightened energy made him anxious. He feared he was not up to dealing with her.

“How was flying with Gideon?”

“Amazing. I don’t believe I will ever forget it. He has quite a way of making his point,” David admitted.

Anat laughed, “So you’ve discovered Israeli men don’t have your refined manners?”

“Yes. I’ve gathered as much.”

Arriving at the house in Abu Tor, Anat simply followed him up the stairs to his flat, in continuation of their walk. There was no need for an invitation.

David tried to hide his nervousness by asking her if she was still hungry.

“I might be a horse, but I’m not a cow. Do you have any hash?”

“Jonathan made me promise not to bring any. He said I would be deported if I got caught with it.”

Anat laughed. “Jonathan takes his Judaic studies too seriously. He might find God sooner if he smoked some himself.”

“I have a bottle of wine, compliments of Jonathan. Would you like some?”

“Sure.”

While he searched for a bottle opener, Anat opened the doors to the roof, looking out at the city. “Great view. It’s a bit chilly, but do you mind if we have our wine out here?” she asked.

“Not at all. It’s the best room in the house.”

He brought out the bottle with two glasses. He poured Anat a full glass, his, only a third, as he had already had several beers at Tsipi’s.

“It’s bad luck not to have a full glass,” she teased.

“Only if your intentions are to pass out.”

Anat pointed toward Jaffa Road, a wide, winding road below the King David Hotel. “There’s Gai Ben-Hinnom where Jews, Muslims and Christians believe, on Judgment Day, the Gates of Hell will open and devour all us sinners with fire. It’s one of the few things they all agree on.” She pointed to the far distance, at the left. “Over there is the archaeological park. I was there today, on a dig.”

“Find anything interesting?”

“Only if you find used prophylactics interesting.”

“Could be, if they belonged to Moses or Jesus.”

“Two of history’s most sexually repressed men,” Anat replied, dryly.

“How do you know that?”

“Jesus, alias Yehoshua Ben Joseph, and Moses were both Jews who would have followed the tribe’s sexual laws.”

The wine was warming David, taking the chill off the night air. Amused by her audacity, he coaxed her on. “All right, but how do you know they were sexually repressed.”

Anat shot him a look. “Do you honestly believe a man who had great sex would bother running around trying to convince everybody he was the only Son of God, or had personally received God’s hand-written laws on top of a mountain?”

“Why not? Men can have ambitions as well as desires.”

“Not when they’re having great sex.”

David suddenly felt challenged. He stood staring out into the night.

As though she could read his mind, Anat said, “Don’t worry, we’re not going to sleep together.”

David looked at her, not knowing what to say or expect.

“At least not tonight. I like men, but prefer women,” she said, shrugging.

He didn’t know whether to feel rejected or relieved.

David lay awake thinking about Anat. He was intimidated by her sexuality, but also fascinated by her free spirit and daunting intelligence. He had never met anyone like her. He wondered if Jonathan and the others knew she preferred women lovers, and why she had confided in him. He became anxious, thinking perhaps she sensed he had sexual issues and was someone she could easily manipulate.

Earlier, out on the roof, he had asked her why she preferred women. She had answered simply, “For the same reasons you do,” then adding, “I find women more interesting intellectually, as well as sexually.”

Her directness was equal parts frightening and exciting. He wanted to know her better. Perhaps, with her, he could get over his sexual problem. The truth was, he desired her as much as he found her intimidating.

The streets in Mea Shearim were busy on Sunday afternoon, when the shops re-opened after the long Shabbat. The men hurried about their business while the women shopped for the coming week.

The last rays of daylight came through Sarah’s bedroom window. She had been reading Martin Buber’s I and Thou throughout the Sabbath and couldn’t pull herself away from it. She pondered Buber’s premise that man separates himself from God when he views himself as “I” and others as “Thou.” Reb Eli had a great affinity for Buber’s work. His books were among the few non-religious volumes he kept in his extensive library. Sarah also loved Isaac Bashevis Singer’s stories about Jewish life in Poland, and the heart-rending dilemmas faced by his characters. Singer had no illusions about the human condition, nor did he offer simple, happy endings. He presented the complexity and relentless challenge of being human, something she, too, had come to understand.

Just as it became dark, Sarah spotted a man striding purposefully into the courtyard. She immediately recognized him as the outsider who had aroused in her such unusual sensations. She moved closer to the window, hiding behind the heavy curtains so she could study him more carefully. She was able to see the angular features of his face, and, again, the way his hand swept the hair from his forehead. When she saw him enter her father’s house, she immediately sensed he was the reason for the rebbe’s summoning of Shimon. She was intrigued by this outsider. Where did he come from? Why would a secular man require a visit to the House? Sarah knew she lived in a confined religious society, and that there were many things she didn’t know about the outside world, beyond what she read in books. Her curiosity heightened as she waited by the bedroom window, in anticipation of seeing Shimon escort the stranger to Madame Aziza’s house.

Shimon stood five feet, two inches tall and had a big round belly and wispy red hair and beard. David thought he looked like an Irish elf. A man of good cheer, Shimon took his mission of performing mitzvahs like that of a general who had been given orders to lead his troops to victory. David was a new recruit who was about to assume his God-given, manly duty of bringing children into the world. Shimon, as the liaison with Madame Aziza’s house, discharged his task with honor and pride. He was most eager that David, the son of a friend of the rebbe’s, should benefit from his good deeds. Shimon’s English was limited, so to demonstrate his sincerity, in hopes of gaining David’s confidence and trust, he stood up and enthusiastically embraced David as soon as he entered the rebbe’s study.

David instinctively pulled back. Shimon’s goodwill gesture embarrassed him. David’s eyes pleaded for Reb Eli’s help. The rebbe rose and said simply, “This is my nephew, Shimon. He will take good care of you. Until Thursday. I wish you a good night.”

Bewildered, David stood looking at Shimon, who was smiling, saying repeatedly, “Don’t worry, everything good, everything good.”

He followed him apprehensively through the dark, narrow streets of Machane Yehuda’s Souk to the two-story stone house on Agripas Street. Shimon, still smiling, opened the door, ushering him in. Climbing the pitch-dark staircase, he cautioned David to “be careful, just count twenty steps.”

On the second landing, Shimon knocked briskly on the door. A woman in her late fifties appeared. She had long dark hair, with coal-black eyes. She reminded David of the fortune-tellers who roam India. Shimon introduced him to Madame Aziza, who graciously invited them in.

Burgundy velvet drapes with gold tassels adorned the windows of her parlor. A gold-leaf tapestry covered the walls. On the floor were oriental carpets in deep reds, blues and gold. The largest had corners containing dragons with snakes around their necks. David wondered whether this woman was going to read his fortune or perform some magic healing ritual that would keep him from coming every time he was aroused by a woman. Speaking in a soft, melodic voice, her well-spoken English was colored with French and Arabic accents. She offered them drinks from her cabinet of wine and spirits. Shimon requested Turkish coffee. To keep it simple and quick, David asked for the same.

Madame Aziza made polite conversation, inquiring where David was from. He told her he was visiting from England. She asked him if he was married or divorced. He said neither, wondering why all this concern about his marital status. He began thinking perhaps she was a matchmaker, when a young, exotic looking woman with red lips and nails appeared from the kitchen, carrying a brass tray with a finjan of dark black coffee and an assortment of small pastries. She served them with her eyes locked into David’s, then quickly disappeared. Shimon helped himself to the sticky pastries, which had the scent of cardamom. David slowly nursed the muddy coffee. Sensing he was not a Turkish coffee drinker, Madame Aziza offered him “English tea.”

David assured her he was fine with coffee.

Madame Aziza looked curiously at him. “You’re a handsome young man.”

Feeling self-conscious, David replied, timidly, “Thank you.”

“Please help yourself to some pastries. They’re very tasty.”

Accepting her offer, he reached for one with nuts in it. Feeling like the center of attention, he ate self-consciously.

Shimon sat grinning from ear to ear. He sipped the remains of his coffee, informed David that the number four bus across the souk on Jaffa Road would drop him off at Abu Tor, then left abruptly.

Soft, Middle Eastern dance music filled the room. Madame Aziza’s eyes flashed as she turned to an opening door and said, “Now, for your pleasure.”

From a narrow hallway, four young women floated into the room and began dancing. David sat mesmerized, not knowing what to do. He watched as they danced before him, swaying their hips, shoulders and arms like slithering snakes.

Madame Aziza put her hand gently on his shoulder. “Let me know when you decide which one pleases you the most.”

Finding it difficult to believe that Reb Eli had sent him to a whorehouse, David asked incredulously, “Is this a bordello?”

Madame Aziza smiled. “This is a house that nurtures men’s passions and desires.”

“I’m really not ready for this,” he admitted awkwardly.

“There is nothing to be ready for, just relax and enjoy,” she said, gently reassuring him.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to take some time to consider your generous offer.”

Her voice took on a motherly tone. “There is nothing to fear here.”

“I’m sure. It’s just that I would like to think about it,” he said, adamantly.

Madame Aziza looked at him in her nurturing fashion. “You may visit us whenever you are ready. I will make sure you have the very best. I desire only what is good for your happiness.”

“Thank you,” David said, as he quickly left.

Walking along the Mount, near the University of Jerusalem, Jonathan howled with laughter. “The rebbe never ceases to amaze me. Why on earth did he send you to a brothel?”

David could not bring himself to reveal his sexual issues, but when Jonathan went on and on questioning why Reb Eli would send him to a whorehouse, David felt compelled to tell him.

“Because I told him I come too quickly,” David whispered.

Astonished, Jonathan repeated David’s words, “You told the rebbe you come too quickly?”

“Yes.”

“Why did you tell him that?”

“Because it’s true.”

Seeing that this was no laughing matter for David, Jonathan quickly changed his tone. “Why haven’t you ever told me?”

“What could you do about it?”

“Surely there are remedies …”

“There are no ‘remedies,’ so spare me any advice,” David said, becoming irritated.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be insensitive. I just wish …”

“There’s nothing you or anybody else can do. It’s something I have to live with.”

They walked on quietly around the Mount, looking out at the city.

“Look, David, perhaps if you had a steady girlfriend, it would just work itself out,” Jonathan offered, gently.

“What makes you think I haven’t thought of that?” David snapped.

Jonathan adopted an apologetic tone. “I don’t mean to be intrusive. I really want to help… For God’s sake, we’ve been closer than brothers.”

“Then let it be!”

They continued walking in an uncomfortable silence. David felt humiliated and angry, emotionally naked now that his long-kept secret had been exposed.

Remembering the Rebbe’s invitation and hoping to break the silence, Jonathan cheerfully announced, “Reb Eli has invited us for Shabbat dinner at his home.”

Going to the rebbe’s house for dinner was the last thing David wanted to do. He moaned, “Oh, joy.”

“I think you’re making more of it than it really is. I’m sure, given time, it will sort itself out.” Jonathan said, hoping to put David at ease.

David felt the remark was flippant. “How easy to say when it’s not your problem.”

Madame Aziza has helped many young men. Why should I be opposed to that?” said the rebbe. David looked at him in disbelief. Seeking help in a bordello just didn’t sit right with him. Perhaps these Hasids were comfortable with it, but he certainly was not.

Feeling the need to challenge Reb Eli, David argued, “It’s not a very holy approach.”

“When I first arrived here, I felt the same way. But when I saw how much she helped someone close to me, I came to a different understanding. After all, women who choose to sell their bodies come from the same source as you and I. They are just as holy as we are. The Torah tells us that to give pleasure is a mitzvah, but it is silent on how we should do it. It just tells us the no nos.”

The rebbe had done it again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that I was holier or superior to anyone. It’s just that using a woman that way doesn’t feel right.”

“One should never use another. The Torah teaches us to be kind and honor everyone, not just people we like or respect. There are things we can never know or understand about each other. The Torah recognizes this and gives us principles to live by that cultivate our happiness and wellbeing.”

Reb Eli muttered something in Hebrew, and then translated. “ʻThere is nothing on this earth that has not been here before or will not be here again.’ Do you know where that proverb comes from?”

David shook his head, humbly.

“King Solomon.”

“I know nothing of the Torah,” David admitted.

“You have the rest of your life to learn,” Reb Eli said, his eyes twinkling with warmth. He stood, cupped David’s hand into his, and smiled, “I hope you will honor us at our Shabbat table tomorrow evening.”

Looking out of her window, an hour before she was to bring tea to her father, Sarah saw David approaching for the second time in a week. Her curiosity heightened, she told herself she would go down to the kitchen, ostensibly to get a head start preparing the evening meal.

She could hear murmuring from her father’s study. To get closer, she decided to set the large table in the dining room, which was adjacent to the kitchen. As she carefully laid out the dishes, paper napkins and utensils, she could hear David’s voice. Making as little noise as possible, she was able to distinguish his British accent, which she found more eloquent than her father’s. She was enthralled by the tone and gentleness of his voice, and moved closer to the door, listening as he spoke of his reservations and concerns about going to Madame Aziza’s house. She found herself comforted by his direct but gentle manner of speaking. She continued to listen, unaware she was holding her breath. By the time she heard her father invite David for Shabbat dinner, she felt queasy and dizzy. She rushed to the kitchen and squeezed a fresh lemon into a glass of water to revive herself.

Soon after David left, Sarah made certain not to look her father in the eye when she brought tea with milk and biscuits into his study. Sensing something was amiss with his daughter, Reb Eli invited her to join him for tea.

“I’ve left the potatoes boiling on the stove,” she said, hoping to excuse herself.

He asked if she would turn the stove off, then come and join him for a moment. There was something important he wanted to discuss with her. Sarah anxiously obeyed and returned to the study, fearing the rebbe had discovered her eavesdropping.

“Sarah, how would you like to go abroad for a holiday?”

The offer was so unexpected, she responded by asking directly, “Why?”

“You’ve always had a desire to travel. I thought a trip to Europe would please you. I can arrange for you to stay with good friends of mine and perhaps, if you like, Esther could join you.”

Feeling guilty and embarrassed at having just spied on her father’s private conversation, Sarah did not know what to say, and answered without looking at him. “Please don’t worry about me Abba, I’ll be all right.”

Reb Eli was left once again feeling at a loss with his daughter. He prayed every morning and night for guidance, assuring himself, “Everything comes with time and patience.”

Alone in his study, the rebbe sipped tea, which he always found soothing. He was grateful to the British for teaching him the simple pleasure of a good cup of tea. He thought about Phillip’s son, David, whose intelligence and sensitivity were more heightened than in most of the young men he had counseled. He remembered the many times Madame Aziza had been effective in helping them overcome difficulties they had with their sexuality. At first, he had dismissed having anything to do with her. He knew the complexities of human nature and doubted it was possible to change the focus of desire. It wasn’t until she helped his youngest son to be willing to marry and have children that he learned to appreciate her gifts. He, himself, had never met her and knew little about her, other than that she had brought with her from Egypt wondrous secrets for awakening and healing the senses of complex young men.

A more pressing matter from Egypt was on his mind. Abdel Nasser’s inflammatory speeches and the escalation of raids against Israel made him fear that another war was imminent. He prayed Hashem would remember how long the Jews had suffered, how long they had been exiled from their Promised Land. He prayed to Hashem to bestow peace and awaken the hearts of all of Abraham’s children.

About the Author

Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy

Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy worked as an actress and writer in film and television in the United States and Israel. Night in Jerusalem is her debut novel, which she has adapted to film. She lives in Ojai California with her husband and daughter.

She writes, “I lived in Israel in the 1960s, a naive twenty-year-old, hoping to find myself and my place in the world. The possibility of war was remote to me. I imagined the tensions in the region would somehow be resolved peacefully. Then, the Six Day War erupted and I experienced it firsthand in Jerusalem.

I have drawn Night in Jerusalem from my experiences during that time. The historical events portrayed in the novel are accurate. The characters are based on people I knew in the city. Like me, they were struggling to make sense of their lives, responding to inherited challenges they could not escape that shaped their destiny in ways they and the entire Middle East could not have imagined.

I have always been intrigued by the miraculous. How and where the soul’s journey leads and how it reveals its destiny. How two people who are destined, even under the threat of war and extinction, can find one another.

Israel’s Six Day War is not a fiction; neither was the miracle of its victory. What better time to discover love through intrigue, passion, and the miraculous.

Writing this story was in part reliving my history in Israel, in part a mystical adventure. I am grateful that so many who have read Night In Jerusalem have experienced this as well.”

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

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First Chapter Reveal: I, Walter by Mike Hartner

I, WalterTitle: I, Walter
Author: Mike Hartner
Publisher: Eternity 4 Popsicle Publishing
Pages: 224
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0973356154
ISBN-13: 978-0973356151

Purchase at AMAZON

This is the life story of Walter Crofter, an English commoner who ran from home at the age of 11.  After two years living on the street, he ended up on a Merchant Mariners boat in the service of the Crown.

On his first voyage, he rescued a girl from pirates.  A very important girl, who stole his heart before she was returned to her home.

This is the story of his life.  What adventures he had at sea; what took him off the waters, and what happened to him as he lived his life and stayed true to his character.

First Chapter:

“I, Walter Crofter, being of sound mind….”  Bah, this is garbage!  I tossed my quill on the parchment sitting in front of me.  People may question my sanity, but they should hear the whole story before judging me.  I’m sitting here, now, at the age of 67, trying to write this down and figure out how to tell everything.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get it right, though.  Too many secrets to go around.  However, this is my last chance     to offer the truth before I die.  The doctors say it’s malaria, yet I’ll be fine.  Perhaps.     But if the malaria doesn’t kill me, my guilt indeed will.  Maybe if people know the facts surrounding my life, everyone will have a better understanding.

I dipped the tip in the inkwell again, and wrote:

I was born September 2, 1588, and named Walter.  I didn’t belong in this Crofter family, who were storekeepers in London and not farmers as our surname might indicate to those who study this sort of thing.  My parents were courteous and even obsequious to our patrons.  Yet they received little or no respect.  The ladies came to us to buy their groceries or the fabric for their dresses, but as seemly as they comported themselves, and some even called my father ‘friend,’ it was not out of regard for him.  I was forced to run.  Well, “forced” might put too harsh a point on it, like that of a sword, but others can judge for themselves.

By the time I reached the age of 12, I’d found another family that was more     “me”.  They weren’t rich, but they were comfortable.  The parents had several children, including a girl my age who was named Anna.  Within two years, we had come to know each other quite well, and were getting to know each other even better.  Her father caught us getting too close to knowing each other better yet, and showed up at my parents’ house with a musket in his hand, telling them if I ever came near his daughter again, he’d use    it on me–and then on them.

I paused to dip the pen and wipe my brow.  Even though I was wearing a light cotton shirt, it was bloody hot in early August in Cadaques.  My wife, Maria, entered    the room and looked at my perspiring face and what I had just written.  Between fits of laughter, she smiled at me with wide lips and said, “You can’t possibly write this.  You’re not the only boy a doting father ever had to chase away.  Nobody cares about this sort of thing.”

“It will at least give a pulse to this writing,” I replied.  “It’s too boring to say          that I left because I was mismatched with my own family, so much so that I was positive someone had switched me at birth.  Or that I thought I was ready for more in life than what I could find at home.  Nobody would read that, not even me.”

“I agree, so tell the story that really means something.  All of it.”  She sighed softly and placed the parchment she had been reading on the desk in front of me and kissed my cheek.  The gleam in her eyes shed 20 years off her age and reminded me of    a much gentler time.  God, how much I love her.

I said, “Before I met you, I spent my life like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.  I’m just trying to make my story more interesting.”

“I’ve heard the accounts of your life before you met me.  Or I should say found me.  It was anything but boring.  So, if you insist on including in the story lines like those you just wrote, make sure they’re the only ones.  If you don’t, I’ll consider adding my own material.”  She winked.  “You know I’ve had good sources.”

She turned and walked away, laughing loudly as I called after her, “Yes, dear.”

I dipped the quill and put it to parchment again.

In my earliest days, I remember my father, Geoff, being a bit forceful with other people.  I also recall my brother Gerald, nearly five years my senior, and myself being happy.  Or at least as contented as two boys could be who were growing up in the late 1500s in England, and working every day since their seventh birthdays.  It was a time when boys were earning coin as soon as they could lift or carry things.  The money   could never be for themselves, however, but for the parents to help pay the bills.

Father lived as a crofter should.  He was an upright man and sold vegetables off   a cart like his grandfather did, and he also dabbled in selling fine fabric for the ladies of status.

One afternoon, when I was eight years old, my brother came home and got into a heated debate with my father about something.  When I ran to see what was the matter, they hushed around me, so I never got the full gist of the argument.  But whatever it was about, it was serious, and the bickering continued behind my back for five straight days.  When I awoke on the morning of the sixth day, Gerald was no longer at home.  And he never came back.

Soon afterwards, my father lost enthusiasm for his business and became generally passive.  I assumed this was because of Gerald’s leaving, and only on occasion would I see flashes of my dad’s former self.

At the start of my tenth year, our family moved closer to London.  We rented    the bottom floor of a three-story building in which several families lived in the upper floors.  My father said we relocated because he needed to be closer to more business opportunities.  But my mom didn’t believe he’d made the right decision, since he was  now selling food out of a cart and not inside a storefront.  One night, she greeted him at the door when he came home.  She was wearing a frown and a dress that had seen better days.

“Did you bring in any decent money?” she asked him before he had time to take off his coat.

“I told you, it will take some time.  It’s not easy to make good money these days.”

“Especially when you let the ladies walk all over you.”

“I know, I know.  But what am I to do when they aren’t running up to me to buy what I’m selling?”

“You at least bring home some food for us?”  My father had carried in a bag under his arm.

“It’s not much, a few carrots and some celery.”  He handed her the bag.

“What about meat?”

“We’re not ready for meat yet.”

“That’s true enough,” my mother said.  “But you should at least try to feed your family.  Walter’s growing, and so are our other children.”

“Leave me be, woman.  I’m doing the best I can for now.”  He sat in his chair, leaned his head against the wall, and fell asleep.

That same debate played out between my parents for the next two years.  Except for the summer months, when food was plentiful; then the arguments subsided.  But for the rest of the year, especially during the winter, the same discussions about money continued on a daily basis, and they were often quite heated.  I lost two younger siblings during those two years.  One during my tenth winter and the other during my eleventh winter.  Neither of the children was older than six months.  I always suspected hunger    as the primary cause of their deaths.

Just before my twelfth birthday, my father started taking me with him when he went to work.  My closest living sibling was nearly six and not feeling well most of the time, and the family needed the money I could bring in by helping my father, who was bland and wishy-washy, particularly when selling fabrics.  I had no idea what he was like before, but in my mind his lethargy explained why our family was barely making ends meet.  Our lives had become much harder since Gerald left, and part of me blamed him.  I’m going to thrash him if I ever see him again and teach him a lesson about family responsibility.

It took me less than a week to realize that the people my father was dealing with, as with those in Bristol, had no respect for him.  They regularly talked down to him.  Rather than asking the price, they regularly paid what they wanted to pay. And he took it without a quibble.  And when he tried to curry favor, he would never get it.  His customers looked upon him as a whipping board, at least that’s how it seemed to me.

I remember when we got home in the dark after a long day of work in late November, and my mother started in on Dad.

“Well?  Have you got the money for me to buy food tomorrow?”

“A little.  Here.”  He fished a guinea from his pocket.

“A guinea?  That’s it?  That won’t feed us for a day.  You’ve got to start working harder.  With what you earn and what I bring in sewing clothes, we can barely pay the rent, and there is nothing left over to heat this place.  And it’s going to get colder, Geoff.”

“I know, Mildred, I know.  I’m trying as hard as I can.”

“You haven’t worked hard since Sir Walter Raleigh left favor.  You can’t wait for him forever.”

“He’ll get favor back.  And when he does, I’ll be right there helping him.  You’ll see, we’ll be fine again.”

She groaned.  I was aware that this was not the first time my mother had heard this from my father.  It’s great talk from a man trying to get ahead.  But after several years of the same song, it loses its credibility.  She had enjoyed respectability in the early days when my father grabbed the coattails of the then revered Sir Walter Raleigh, and it was hard not having this luxury now.  She hadn’t planned to be satisfied with being a shopkeeper’s wife, and she wasn’t even that, at present.  She changed the subject, not her tone.

“I overheard the ladies gossiping on the street today.  They were talking about seeing Gerald’s likeness on a ‘Wanted’ poster.  A ‘Wanted’ poster, Geoff.  There’s a warrant out for our son’s arrest.  What are we going to do?  What can we do?”

My father stared at the wall.  “Nothing.  He’s an adult.  He’ll have to work it out for himself.”

I watched quietly as my mother cried herself to sleep, her head on my father’s shoulder.  No matter how bad things got, they loved each other and wanted their lives to be better, the way I was often told they were before my birth.  Maybe this is why I wanted to get away from them as soon as I could.

I didn’t usually watch my parents fall asleep.  But, that night I did.  And, after they were sound asleep, I left.  I had no plans.  I didn’t know where I was going.  I just left in middle of what was a dark, chilly night.

I could hear the dogs barking around me as I scurried along the roadside.  It felt as if they were yelping at me and coming towards me.  I began running, faster than I’d ever sprinted in my life, my speed assisted by my sense of fear.  Every time I heard a dog, or an owl, or any other animal, or even my own heavy breathing, my pace increased until I was exhausted and had to stop.  This continued throughout the night until the sky started to lighten and I found a grove of overhanging bushes and crawled inside for some sleep.

I scavenged for food during the day and swiped a few pieces of fruit from merchants along the way.  This became my means of subsistence.  I left a coin when         I could, as I’d pick up an occasional odd job, but I was always out of money.  I also tried begging, and while I did survive on the street, I found life difficult.  Yet for nearly two years I stayed with this vagabond existence before deciding to make my way to the sea.  Too bad my internal compass wasn’t any good.  Turns out I was moving more to the west than to the south.  But before long I was on the shores of Bristol.  And my life changed forever.

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First Chapter Reveal: Rock Haulter by Stephen Hayes

Rock HaulterTitle: Rock Haulter
Author: Stephen Hayes
Format: ebook
Length: 433 pages
Publisher: Stephen Hayes

Purchase at AMAZON

The second installment in the Magic Crystals series, immediately following the events of ‘The Seventh Sorcerer’.

The original villain is back, only this time he is on a different mission, taking orders from the evil and cunning Hammerson Sorcerers, and his path will intersect those of John Playman and his friends on Rock Haulter.

A desperate race must ensue, Moran and the powers of the Hammersons against the Chopville teens. The prize will be the most powerful of all the Magic Crystals and a control over the balance of life, but such extraordinary power is heavily protected. There is no guarantee that all will live to see the end.

The danger faced this week will be greater than anything faced in ‘The Seventh Sorcerer’, but that won’t stop the teens from having a good time, as only teenagers can. But beneath all that, a far more serious situation is simmering.

It is only those closest to the Sorcerers who understand how delicate the peace between the Woodwards and Hammersons is, and how quickly that could change.

———————————————

CHAPTER 1

Separation

The weekend, at last! Don’t you just love that feeling you get when you wake up on a Saturday morning and realise that you have two days ahead of you where you don’t have to do anything—no dangerous stunts, no school acting as an unimportant sideshow, no nothing. I wasn’t sure at first, during the week, if this weekend was really worth looking forward to, but we had all done enough work to deserve a couple of days off.

The usual procedure in our house on the weekend was to be woken up by the sunlight coming through our window. It would usually wake either me or Peter, and whoever woke up first would wake the other. Well, not this morning; the sun had long since risen but it hadn’t woken either of us. Instead, we received a much more ruthless awakening.

“Up and at it, folks!”

Harry!”

“Wakey, wakey,” came Simon’s loud voice, “hands off snaky.”

I was sitting up in bed; before I really knew I was awake. It felt like some sort of dream, or more like some sort of nightmare. I shook my head and rubbed my eyes, then looked towards the bedroom door. Harry and Simon had come crashing into the room. Peter was already out of bed and looking around for his socks.

“We’re awake,” he snapped. “What are you two doing here?”

“Early morning wake-up call,” said Simon brightly, “not that it’s early or anything.”

“It’s nine o’clock,” yawned Peter, “and what are you so excited about?”

“A warm day,” I suggested. “Can you two leave so we can change, at least?”

“Nah,” said Harry, shutting the door. “You two haven’t got anything we haven’t seen before—or have you?”

The door banged opened again and James walked in. He was dressed, but looked tired and irritable. Perhaps Harry and Simon had already woken him up.

“Thank you, you two,” he said to them. “These two need a lot of room to change. You’d be surprised.”

“What, unleashing the python, eh?” asked Simon.

“Oh go away,” sighed Peter.

James steered the two of them out of the room. Make no mistake, Harry and Simon had never done that before, and we didn’t appreciate it at all. Harry and Simon didn’t even live with us; they were twins who lived several blocks away, on the other side of the river, but they were both in our class at school. James was the next door neighbour, but it was certainly more normal for him to wake us up.

We had a weird setup at home. Numbers 15 and 16 in Lopher Lane were a little closer to each other than what met the eye from the street. The Playmans lived one side and the Thomases lived on the other, and the two families had built an underground link between the houses, hidden in cupboards under the stairs in each house. That, people called weird, but people who lived in our little country town of Chopville always did strange and very individual things to their houses.

Both our families were quite welcome to cross the tunnel into the other house whenever they liked, so long as it was at an appropriate hour and wasn’t going to wake anyone up. But then again, almost all the bedrooms in both houses were upstairs. On the Playman side, my parents had the closest bedroom to the stairs, then my sister, Nicole. My brother Peter and I shared the next room along the hall. In the Thomas house, the parents of the family, Marge and Charlie, were again closest to the stairs. Felicity and Jessica, who also shared a room, were directly opposite, and James’s room was the next along.

Anyway, Peter and I changed for the day, which was supposed to be quite warm, and went downstairs to meet James and the twins in the family room.

“Should go wake up the girls,” said Simon. “Nicole’s still asleep—I looked in on her on our way to your room.”

“She had her door open,” said Harry. “She’d closed it by the time we were coming back down.”

“You must have woken her as you went past,” said Peter. “No wonder, with your big feet.”

“So what’s doing today, boys?” asked Dad, who was reading the paper at the kitchen table.

“Day at the stretch,” said Simon, “should go down well.”

“And you’re that eager to get yourself wet?” asked Hilda.

Oh, I forgot to mention Hilda and Violet; our grandmother and James’s grandmother respectively, both on our mothers’ sides. It was a bit sad, but out of both families, only two grandparents were still alive. I didn’t know much about most of the others except that both our grandfathers on our fathers’ sides had been blown to pieces in a war about thirty years ago.

“Life goes on, does it not?” Simon said pompously, tapping his forehead in a suggestion of wisdom—or maybe he was just indicating the cuts on his face.

Harry and Simon both had a fair few cuts and bruises on their bodies. Last week’s events had involved all of us getting hurt in a few ways. Harry and Simon had the most physical injuries out of the lot of us, and there had been a lot of us involved. Harry had a nasty cut across the shoulder, Simon looked as though he’d been whipped several times across the face and James had a cut across his forehead, courtesy of a misplaced pine tree. These wounds looked bad but they had all scabbed over in the days since, and would probably be gone in a couple of weeks.

“It’s not that warm yet,” said Marge, who was making some tea for Dad and Charlie. “You sure you want to leave just yet?”

“Might hang around for a bit longer,” said Peter, taking a seat at the table. “So, how was life at the Maivis residence last night?”

“Can’t say it was uneventful,” Harry grinned. “Oh our grandparents tried and tried to stop us coming out today, but Grandpa says he would like to go fishing in his underwear today.”

“Now there’s a sight I hope I never see,” laughed James.

“Fishing in underwear,” I said, shaking my head. “That’ll be disastrous.”

“Hope he’s wearing a shirt,” said Peter.

“I doubt that,” said Harry, shaking his head as well. “It’s this childhood thing he has; apparently he and his dad used to go out on the Jade River in their underwear, and he likes to bring back old sentimental memories. Probably could have picked a better day to do it, though.”

“Sounds interesting,” said Violet, wearing a roguish expression so far out of her character that I was hard put not to burst out laughing.

“The man will get sunburnt,” said Mum, tutting slightly. “What did they say it was going to be today?”

“Low to mid forties in this part of the state,” said Simon. “Dry too, so maybe some bushfires if we’re unlucky. Making up for lost ground after those couple of days, I think.”

“Morning all.”

Felicity and Jessica were now climbing through the cupboard into this house. Neither of them looked irritable as though they had been rudely roused by the twins. In fact, they looked surprised to see Harry and Simon, although Harry and Simon had stayed over here loads of times when they wanted to get away from their grandparents.

“Morning,” Harry said to the pair of them.

“Where’s Nicole?” asked Jessica. “We’re leaving here in fifteen minutes.”

“She’s awake,” said Harry. “We woke her.”

“Did you?” said Marge, frowning.

“Didn’t mean to,” said Harry, shrugging. “Her door was open and all we had to do was walk past. She must be a very light sleeper.”

“You reckon?” said Peter darkly. “Nicole sleeps like a log; dead to the world half the time. Even if you put a smoke alarm in her room and a fire broke out, she’d just sleep on like a log.”

“Only shows how big your feet must be,” I said. “We’ll call you both Thumper from now on.”

Peter and James laughed loudly.

“That’s enough, boys,” said Dad. “Have a look at this.”

He handed his copy of the Chopville Daily Telegraph (the local rag) to James, who scanned the front cover.

“Are we mentioned in here?” he asked, looking at Dad, while the rest of us stared at James.

“What would we be doing in the paper?” asked Peter.

“The front page, it’s all about Moran’s arrest,” said James.

“Three quarters of the whole paper, I think you mean,” grimaced Dad. “Nutters have the whole story wrong; it basically puts it as though Amelia did the whole thing singlehandedly, and Stella Hammerson had apparently hung around to watch. I think Marc and Lucien might have got on the bottom line, though.”

“That’d be right,” said Harry. “So we’re not in there then?”

“Doesn’t look like it,” said James. “Nice picture, but—have a look.”

He held up the paper for us to look at. The headline of the article stretched across the top of the page in large, black letters. Below it was a picture of a tall man, who looked horribly familiar, and was struggling with several police officers.

“When did they take that?” asked Jessica.

“Would have been yesterday,” said Simon, “after he woke up. He couldn’t have done that while he was unconscious.”

James handed the paper back to Dad, who hid himself behind it again.

“Look, it was nice dropping in,” said Harry. “Are we going to get moving yet?”

“Might as well,” said Peter, standing up. “We’re not waiting for anyone, are we?”

“If you want to wait for us,” said Felicity. “We’re meeting Natalie and Lisa down there in about fifteen minutes.”

“So Nicole had better hurry up and get out of bed,” said Jessica.

“In which case, we’ll be hitting the road,” said Simon. “See you later, Mr. And Mrs. Playman and Thomas—and you two,” he added to Hilda and Violet.

“Nice to see you two,” said Dad. “Better behave yourselves.”

“What are we risking?” asked Harry. “Mr. Hall’s not gonna be down at the river—is he?”

“He has no effect outside hours,” I said hopefully.

“He doesn’t have much effect in hours either,” said Peter slyly.

Mr. Hall was our English teacher at school. None of us liked him, and he didn’t like any of us. It was hard to remember how many detentions each of us owed him, but Harry and Simon were in debt for about the next three-and-a-half weeks, and Peter and I owed him a few more as well. One of Peter’s was to go for three hours, while all of Harry and Simon’s went for three hours, and none of us had done anything wrong—well, maybe a little.

“Suppose we’ll see you two down the Stretch,” said Harry to Felicity and Jessica.

“Yeah. If you see Natalie or Lisa down there, tell them we’re waiting for Nicole to get out of bed.”

“We might see you down there too,” said Charlie, looking round his paper. “We’re meeting Rob and Bob down there. They’re working all day and need a little masculine assistance.”

Rob and Bob were friends of the family. They always got around town in their work machinery; hardly ever left them actually. Just last weekend, I’d run into them digging a hole in the depths of the park, though I hadn’t mentioned that to anyone else yet due to the fact that I’d been with Stella Hammerson at the time; and that had been at a time when I’d been the only one who trusted her at all.

I led the way to the front door, the other four following. It looked as though, like last weekend, we were going to spend the whole day down at Hamster’s Stretch Reserve. Whenever someone said ‘The Stretch’, they were referring to a little park situated in the middle of Chopville. Well, I couldn’t honestly say that it really was just a little park; it had a large forest part, plus an opening where the Jade River flowed through. That was normally where we would hang around, at the river. Within the park, there were four footbridges which crossed the river, aside from the rest of the bridges across it in Chopville, and we spent the weekends in summer, when it was warm enough, just finding more adventurous ways of jumping off the bridges, and had sure come up with a few in our time.

“What would Rob and Bob be doing down there?” asked James. “Since when have those two been in the water?”

“Not sure,” I said, and it was true; all I knew was that they were digging a hole, but they themselves weren’t too clear on what it was for.

“Can’t be too important, can it?” said Peter. “They’re probably doing what they usually do: Cut trees down and sell the firewood. Great blokes, screwing over both the local council and the environment at the same time.”

We were already on the street by this point. We turned out of Lopher Lane into Main Street, the main road through Chopville, or as we liked to call it, the trunk of a very tangled tree—that’s what Chopville was like. The five of us walked most of the way to the park in silence, in my case just enjoying the feeling of the sun on my shoulders and the freshness of the already-warm air.

We met Marc and Tommy, a couple more friends a year older than us five, at the gates. They had just been in Grillion’s Canteen, which was located right outside the park. It was a clever place to do business in the summer; not so clever in the winter, but since he was still here after twenty-eight years, he had to be doing something right.

“Morning, you two,” said Simon brightly. “How’s things?”

“Pretty good,” said Marc cheerfully. “You guys going swimming today?”

“Yep,” grinned Harry. “You gonna join us?”

“I can for a while; I’m pretty well protected at the moment.”

“He’s got his secret weapon with him,” said Tommy conspiratorially.

“So have we,” said Harry, “but I doubt we’ll need to use them.”

“If you’re saying what I think you’re saying—”

“Probably,” Harry cut Peter off.

So the now-seven of us entered Hamster’s Stretch Reserve, which was pretty quiet until we reached the clearing. Many people, young and old, were jumping off the bridges (about a full second of plummeting from the foot bridges to the water) and doing all sorts of stunts as they went. People were already rowing their boats out into the centre of the river for a day of fishing.

“Everyone’s making the most of this weather,” I said. “Not sure if it’ll go cold again.”

“It’d be funny if the weather went cold when people are in the river,” said Peter. “It’d freeze up and trap ’em all.”

“We’d better make sure you’re in there when it happens then,” said Harry darkly.

We made for the nearest bridge, but spun around when a call sounded from the gates. Jessica, Felicity and Nicole had arrived. They had either run the whole way or only been a couple of minutes behind us.

“Are you three staying for the day?” asked Tommy.

“Probably,” said Jessica, smiling at Tommy, “it’s perfect weather for it; it’s already pretty warm.”

“Is anyone else coming?” asked Marc.

“Natalie and Lisa should be around here somewhere,” said Felicity, looking past us at the two nearest bridges, to see if Natalie and Lisa were anywhere nearby. “Perhaps those girls from your class are here somewhere too.”

I had a quick glance around the river, but couldn’t see anyone who might join us. I did spot Ather Hignat and Ugine Wilwog, but they would only join us to give us trouble. If our school years had gifted us with any fair-dinkum enemies, Hignat and Wilwog were it; Hignat never missed an opportunity to taunt, and Wilwog was, if you’ll pardon the expression, built like a brick shithouse.

“We were just about to go get wet,” said Harry. “You wanna join us?”

“No one here wants to get wet with you, Harry,” said Peter, grinning wickedly at him.

“Unless it’s in the river,” said Jessica. “As long as you promise not to distort my meaning, let’s do it.”

We all laughed as we continued our path up on to the bridge from which we usually jumped.

“Oh Harry, Simon,” said James, pointing almost straight down into the river. “There he is.”

Harry and Simon hung themselves over the side of the bridge to get a good view of their grandfather. He was sitting sprawled over the top of an inflatable ring that had been tied by rope to a shrub on the bank nearby, sunbaking topless, and talking casually to his wrinkled friend who I didn’t recognise.

“I’m gonna be sick,” said Harry, closing his eyes tightly.

“Where are we supposed to jump with those two ready to break our fall?” said Simon irritably.

“Guess we’ll have to move further out,” said Peter a little nervously. We always preferred to jump reasonably close to the banks; it was only adults, bigger kids and stupid kids who jumped in the centre, but it looked as though we were about to join that club. None of us wanted to pick another bridge, and none of us wanted to jump off the other side; that would put the sun in our eyes all morning.

We all lined up on the side of the bridge, now a good distance from the bank and the figures close to it, and prepared to jump in unison, except for Peter. Peter wasn’t fond of jumping in the river; he would do it eventually, and he could swim just fine, but it usually took a few of us tossing him overboard to get him going. It had become a regular game over the years. Now he stood off to the side and began to count us in, but before he could reach one…

“Do you guys need a count in?”

A few of us jumped, and Nicole and Tommy both lost their balance and had to grab on to Peter, who was nearest, for support. The result was our number on the side of the bridge being reduced by three. We turned to see Lisa running towards us, and Natalie was taking the bridge at a jog behind her, and for several seconds I found myself unable to take my eyes off her bikini-clad form. Natalie and Lisa were good friends of Nicole, Felicity and Jessica, and since we all usually hung out together, had become friends of ours as well.

“Well done, Lisa,” said James happily. “Two of our jumpers are gone thanks to you, so you and Nat will just have to take their places.”

“And Peter was already counting us in,” added Simon.

“Peter? Where’s Peter?” asked Lisa, stopping short of Marc, who was on the end of the line.

You bloody wankers!” Peter’s voice shouted as Nicole and Tommy started swimming towards the bank again.

“There’s your answer, Lis,” I said, laughing slightly. “Looks like we won’t need to throw him in after all. So, should we jump now?”

“Yeah!”

So the nine of us lined up along the side of the bridge, ready to jump off, watching and waiting for Nicole and Tommy. By the time they had joined us, Peter was still on the southern bank.

“Should we wait for our count-in boy?” asked Harry.

“We’ve been waiting all day,” complained James.

“The day’s only young, my friend,” said Simon in a passable imitation of wisdom, tapping his forehead again.

“I’m coming!” shouted Peter, running up the hill at top speed towards the bridge. He reached us within a minute, panting heavily. “Next time, just nail my feet to the bridge so maybe I’ll be able to resist certain people ripping me off.”

“You’re talking about Nicole and Tommy, Pete,” said Harry. “Their weight would be enough to rip you off your ankles, I’m sure.”

“Oh shut up.”

“So should we jump?” asked James impatiently.

“Yes,” said Simon, “’cause I’ll be jumping on my own if there’s another interruption.”

“You do that,” I agreed, “’cause here come Katie and Sophie.”

“Bloody hell,” said James, exasperated. “There’s gonna be about fifty of us by the time we start jumping, the way things are going.”

Katie and Sophie were two girls from our class at school who we’d had very little to do with up until about a week earlier. They had been dragged into the drama of the previous week by virtue of being Harry and Simon’s girlfriends respectively. A bit embarrassing, considering we always made fun of the twins for not being popular with the women, and now they’d got themselves one each before the rest of us could score anything. Not really surprising though; they were both better looking and more confident with girls than Peter, James or I were.

“We’re just about to jump,” said Peter, “or at least these guys are. You two gonna join them?”

“You’ve already jumped, by the look of it,” said Sophie to Peter.

“You make it sound like I had a choice.”

We prepared to jump for the third time, but were once again interrupted. Four boys, who had been about to jump off the other side before spotting Harry and Simon’s grandfather below, asked if they could join us; Craig Hardy, David Rockson, Daniel Dasher and Liam Stammerus. We accepted them willingly enough, given that we were fairly familiar with them from school, and three of them we knew from soccer (Harry, Simon, Peter and I all played soccer in the local under sixteens team).

“I don’t wanna think how big this bomb is going to be,” I said shakily. “We are bombing, aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” said Harry. “How many of us are there now? Not counting Peter, since he’s not jumping.”

“About seventeen,” said Tommy, counting around.

“Wait for us!”

“Twenty,” muttered Marc as Erica, Kylie and Serena came running onto the bridge to join us. They, like Katie and Sophie, had become involved with us just in time to help us against Marc’s father the previous week; though unlike Katie and Sophie, they weren’t dating any of us, despite the fact that Erica was very smitten with James, and he and Peter were each fond of Kylie and Serena respectively. Serena and Erica were fairly new in town; Kylie had been first to befriend them, and somehow the three had been absorbed into our larger group.

“Okay,” said Peter as the three girls appended themselves on the furthest end of the line from where I was.

“I’m not jumping, so on three—”

“I don’t even wanna think how many joints we’ve had today, you know,” David interrupted, and a few of us laughed.

“If there’s another interruption,” said Simon warningly, “then I’ll—I’ll—”

“Throw yourself off a bridge?” suggested Sophie.

“Er, yeah, that sounds okay,” Simon muttered.

Then finally, at long last, we jumped. We fell for a long second as usual, before hitting the water at roughly the same time. I only heard something deafening just before my sense of sound was completely lost under the water. When I had managed to get my head above water and had rubbed my eyes, people started poking their heads up here and there, rubbing their eyes and staring around. As the current pulled us away from the bridge, I distinctly saw that many people on the other side of it looked rather angry.

I swam alone to the bank and climbed, dripping, onto it. By this stage, it looked as though everyone was up.

Some of them were now following me towards the bank.

“Yo, John!” Peter called from up on the bridge, “Up here!”

I jumped up and ran, with the little strength I had left in me after swimming against the current, up the hill and onto the bridge to join Peter. Tommy caught up with me just as I reached him.

“What did it look like?” he asked.

“Pretty damn good,” said Peter enthusiastically. “It had a sort of ripple effect, and it spread diagonally from where you hit. Come see.”

Apart from the nearest boats on the river, which were all carrying some water now, the only proof of what we’d done was the annoyed looks many people were throwing in our direction. This included Harry and Simon’s grandfather; he had been dry before we’d jumped, but he wasn’t dry anymore. As we watched, more of the group of nearly two dozen began piling back onto the bridge.

“We’re the most unpopular people here now,” said David happily. “Let’s go sit down for a while.”

“Are you mad!” exclaimed several of us.

“It’s only—what is the time anyway?” asked Harry.

“Not even eleven yet,” said Serena. “Let’s jump again.”

“I’m gonna jump with you this time,” said Peter. “I’m already cold and wet; too late to back out.”

A few of us laughed as all twenty-one of us lined up on the other side of the bridge again. James counted us in this time, then we all went for it. For once, I was one of the last people to surface. By the time I got my head out of the water, just about everyone was shouting. Everyone around me who’d jumped, and loads of people around us were furious.

“The second time you’ve splashed us all unwillingly, how dare you!”

“But we were willing!” shouted Harry, though it looked as though he was finding it very hard not to laugh.

“You ought to keep an eye on the calm waters,” said Simon, “cause there ain’t much of it ’round here.”

“Don’t get smart with me, kiddo!”

“It’s all in the name of fun!”

“Have fun in another river next time!”

“There are none!”

“Find one! We’re trying to enjoy ourselves here!”

“Find another river to do it in. Maybe a river of excrement would be suitable since you don’t seem to like water!”

“It’s a free country!”

Exactly!”

“Let’s just move,” said several people impatiently.

So we swam across to the opposite bank from where we had come in and sat up on it. Well most people did; a few people, including me, jumped back in the water and held on to the side of the bank to stay with the group.

“This is pretty good,” said Marc, who was in the water next to Daniel, “don’t mind getting back into the swing of normal life.”

“Tell me about it,” said Tommy, who was on Marc’s other side.

“At least as normal as it’s possible for things to be in this place,” said Daniel.

It was hard to tell whether Daniel had any idea exactly what Marc and Tommy meant, but even if not, he still had his reasons. Chopville was not the same as any other country town around here, nothing like any of them. It wasn’t so much its infrastructure (well, sort of), but more the people living in it, and what they did to parts of it. Marc, for instance, lived in a house which has the appearance of an outside toilet; lonesome on a block of land on the down-side of the street, but the house itself was very large underground. It even had a network of tunnels below and around it. That wasn’t the strangest thing of all, however.

“It wasn’t that strange,” said David. “Well—okay, a bit, like the weather going weird, and the Sorcerers going funny earlier in the week, but that sorted itself out.”

“Not that it’s our business what happens with them,” added Liam.

“You’d be surprised,” said Marc softly, “how much we had to do with the weather and the Sorcerers, and all.”

David, Liam and Craig laughed.

“Come off it, Marc,” said Liam. “You’re just like the rest of us; you’re a normal person. You’re not like those stupid Sorcerers. You know they’ll all be going to hell—the Lord doesn’t look too kindly on people like them.”

“He’s telling the truth,” said Sophie crossly. “Marc knows what he’s talking about.”

Liam and Craig had to look up at her, since they were in the water, and she was on the bank between David and Simon.

“What do you mean? He—how—”

“It’s a long story,” sighed Katie.

“That’s what a person says when they want to get out of telling it,” said Craig. “Can’t you think of any decent tale to fit the situation?”

“I’ve got a killer tale for you,” said Peter coldly, “but you won’t really understand it unless you read through some of the stuff Lisa and Natalie collected from the magic display last Monday.”

“Maybe if you hang around us a bit more over the next few weeks,” suggested Marc.

“Is that how long it’ll take to explain?”

“No,” said Marc, “but my brother, you know Lucien?”

“Who, the vice-captain at school?” asked David.

“Yeah, he said that a lot more will happen—worse stuff, once the Sorcerers get back.”

“Get back? Where’d they go?” asked Craig. “I just heard they got their magic back yesterday and turned the weather back to normal. I didn’t hear about them going on a holiday.”

“Four of them went to undo the damage they did, or at least the damage his dad did,” said Tommy, tapping Marc on the head and causing both of them to lose their grip on the bank.

“Was that your dad in the paper this morning?” asked David, staring down at Marc. “It said the man’s surname was Moran.”

“That’s him.”

“It said he would probably cop several consecutive life sentences,” said Liam.

“Will he?”

“Thank God for that.”

“He deserves it.”

“Sure he does,” said Liam sceptically. “It also said his two children were in police custody and have to be found new homes.”

“We are?” said Marc, blinking. “Well that’s news to me. Lucien and I have been at home the whole time—no calls at all. I guess it’ll be okay though, as long as I don’t have to leave Chopville.”

“I can ask my parents,” said Tommy. “They’ve got to know you a bit.”

“Wow! Okay, thanks man,” said Marc.

“Can I just get back to the Sorcerers for a moment,” said Liam. “Your brother, Marc, how does he know this about them?”

“Oh, he’s got links,” said Marc simply.

“Very reliable connections,” said Harry. “It’s largely thanks to his intelligence that half of us are even here.”

“What? You mean he could order to have us banished or something?” asked Liam stupidly; a few of us had to laugh.

“He is pretty smart,” said Daniel, “at least from what I’ve heard. Probably responsible too considering they made him vice-captain.”

“Instead of captain,” added David. “Nothing against him, but really—”

“I’d like to see you as vice-captain,” snarled Peter.

“I reckon I might have a fair chance at it in a few years,” said David heatedly.

“Don’t listen to him,” said Liam, giving David a get-a-hold-of-yourself look. “All we’re saying is you can’t take all the credit for catching that maniac, Marc, it’s—”

“But it’s the truth!” shouted Tommy. “Marc did most of the work!”

“Oh, well, most of the work,” said David, staring furiously down at the pair of them, “it was your dad, remember. How eager you must be to land your own father in prison (he snorted); what evidence is there that you were even there?”

“Amelia and Stella,” said Simon, “whenever they get back.”

“Look, let’s just give it a rest, shall we,” said Serena irritably.

“Come on,” said Craig, “I’ve got no idea what to believe any more. Let the man speak.”

“I’m not saying anything here,” said Marc flatly, “Not now, I’m too exhausted; there’s too much to tell.”

“And you wouldn’t understand anyway,” said Peter. “You’ve got to see Lisa’s documents first, that’s what prodded us in the right direction.”

“But look how many of you there are here,” said Liam, staring around at us all. “Surely, between you all, you can tell some of it. What’re we supposed to believe? If it’s not how the paper said it is, don’t you think we all deserve to know why we nearly died last week?”

“Get a hold of yourself,” snapped Harry.

I have!” shouted Liam, contradicting himself completely.

It was an odd feeling, one that was both good and bad at the same time, and one that would last me for the rest of my life. It was hard to define exactly, but it felt like a sort of separation, where those of us who had been involved in the magical events of the previous week had developed an almost unbreakable bond, while the group at large had been seemingly isolated from those around us. Even that didn’t feel like a great description for it, but that was all I could come up with at the time. As it turned out, Craig, David, Liam and Daniel would soon enough be part of that bond.

“Listen here, all four of you,” said Felicity. “We don’t mind telling you later, but right now we’re trying to enjoy ourselves.”

“There’s plenty of time for storytelling,” added Natalie.

“Until we’re told, that’s how we’re going to think of it,” said David, “nothing more than a story.”

“If that’s how you want to think, then you might as well get walking,” said Peter furiously. “Go on, get moving.”

David, Liam and Craig looked at each other.

“See you then,” said David, staring around at everyone beside him, then down at Liam, Craig and Daniel.

“You three coming?”

“Yes,” said Liam, climbing out of the water and pushing Sophie out of the way.

“Well, you guys were pretty fun to hang around with,” said Craig. “We might come back for another jumping session later.”

“Don’t even think about joining our super bomb,” said James.

“Fine then,” snapped Craig, and he joined Liam and David up on the bridge a minute later, leaving the rest of the group in silence for a moment. Daniel, who was still in the water, looked up at the three on the bridge, shrugged, and stayed where he was.

“Super bomb?” Simon repeated, grinning at James. “Is that like, ‘weapons of mass wetness’? I ought to trademark that one.”

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Filed under First Chapter Reveals

First Chapter Reveal: The Seventh Sorcerer by Stephen Hayes

The Seventh SorcererTitle: The Seventh Sorcerer
Author: Stephen Hayes
Format: ebook
Length: 345 pages
Publisher: Stephen Hayes

Purchase at AMAZON

On the surface, Chopville appears not unlike any other small town in rural Australia. However, its underbelly is more than extraordinary.

Amongst its modest community reside six people from two very different families — they make up the six most powerful people in the world today. Branded as “Sorcerers”, they are the only six people in the world with true magical power. Yet these two families do not cooperate together and although there is no open fighting in the year 2010, things weren’t always that peaceful.

John Playman knows this as well as anyone; at the age of 14, he is familiar with the concept of magic, having been raised in a family heavily involved in the magical war 30 years earlier, even though he has never met any of the Sorcerers himself. This year, however, all that is about to change; John and a group of his school friends will find themselves in an unprecedented situation and carrying a responsibility almost too great to comprehend.

John and his cohorts struggle on two fronts with their hormones raging and with the discovery of whom among them is to become the Seventh Sorcerer.

———————————————

CHAPTER 1

The first day of school. It brought the same mixture of emotions every single year; the gloom of yet another summer break now at a close, the relief of once again being back in that routine of working all day and procrastinating all evening, and the refreshing determination that comes from kidding yourself that this year, this year, you’ll do better.…

Fifteen minutes before the bell sounded to indicate the beginning of Home Group found three of us standing outside the doors to Administration where, tacked on the wall, a large sign displayed a number of class lists. It was good news; we had all been put into the same class, we three plus the terrible twins. James Thomas, a tall, tubby, blond boy who had a mind bigger than any part of his body, was closest to the sign, and when he announced the good news, my brother Peter and I cheered in triumph. Peter was small and skinny with pale skin, jet black hair and an embarrassingly high-pitched voice, and when he cheered it was easy to think he should still be attending primary school. Yet he was only a month and a half younger than me; the reason such a thing could exist was due to the fact that I was an adopted child.

“Seen it, I see,” a voice called out to the three of us.

We turned to see a tall, dark-haired boy standing close by, leaning lazily against the wall of the building. He had the appearance of one waiting for someone, or something.

“There you are, Harry,” said Peter, grinning broadly. “We’re all together, and we were all worrying this morning that the teachers might finally work out how much easier it would be for them if they separated us all.”

“Very true. The only trouble is, I’m not Harry,” said the boy, one half of the terrible twins, and apparently the wrong one.

“Oh, well where’s Harry?” asked Peter, shrugging; that was one of the first times any of us had mixed up the twins. Everyone else did it frequently, as they were identical to the last freckle, but we knew them well enough by nature to tell them apart quite easily.

“Oh, I’m him too,” said the boy, either Harry or Simon now; he was doing a very good job.

“I’ve got time tables!” shouted a boy from behind the glass doors beside us, as a moment later said doors burst open, expelling the other twin and identifying quite clearly who was who.

“Only joking, Pete,” said the first twin, “I am Harry.”

“I thought you three would be here by now,” said Simon. “I got you these. You’ll be kickin’ yourselves when you see the teachers we’ve got.”

We spent several minutes looking over our time tables, which showed the times, locations and teachers of each of our lessons.

“Mrs. Gall, Mrs. Worlker,” James listed off, running his finger down the Wednesday column.

“Oh no,” groaned Peter. “We’ve got Hall again.”

“Oh please no,” I moaned, quickly checking my own to be sure Peter wasn’t playing a bad joke. “Not again. What for?”

“English,” sighed Peter. Hall taught English, French and Science; more subjects than any other teacher in the school.

“Just to throw a bucket of petrol on the fire,” said Harry, looking through his own timetable, “we have him for Home Group as well.”

“No,” moaned Peter and I, almost in unison.

“Relax,” said Simon easily, somehow managing to maintain much higher spirits. “We have two Home Group teachers this year.”

“We do?” asked Peter. “How does that work?”

“Two teachers take us for Home Group,” I said stupidly.

“I kind of figured that, John,” snapped Peter.

“We have Mrs. Worlker as well,” said James. “She has us for History, look.”

“They alternate,” said Harry, “Mrs. Worlker on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Mr. Hall on Wednesdays and Fridays.”

“What about Mondays?” I asked.

“Easy, we go home,” said Peter spiritedly.

“We have them both,” said Harry. “I think it must be to get us in working mode for the week, they need two teachers.”

“With people like you lot in the class, no wonder,” said James.

“It’s nearly five past,” I said, glancing down at my watch. “Where’s Room 12?”

“Don’t tell me your memory of this place has leaked out of your head over the holidays, John,” said Simon. “You’ll know Room 12 in no time; we’ve got half our classes in there this year.”

Home Group was a ten minute class that preceded each school day. Each class would go to an assigned room where the roll would be called and announcements would be given to the students. This morning, however, periods One and Two were cancelled. Instead, an entire school assembly took place for an hour in the gym, during which the principal, vice-principal (who was known to be pretty thick at the best of times), and the new school captains and vice-captains, all got up and made very boring speeches. The time from the end of that assembly to Recess, which began at exactly 10:51 AM, was taken up by Home Group in Room 12.

“This room stinks,” said Harry loudly. He was sitting along with his brother in the row in front of Peter, James and me. “Don’t you reckon, old chap?”

“Yeah, it does, old chap,” Simon replied.

“We ought to set up a petition to get a new home room, don’t you reckon, old chap?” asked Harry.

“Or at least a decent air freshener, old chap,” answered Simon.

The twins often called each other ‘old chap’ in the classroom so that nobody could tell who was who, and it was nearly always effective.

“Look who,” Peter growled, nudging me in the side and nodding at the door through which students were still entering.

I followed Peter’s gaze, not liking what I was seeing. Ather Hignat was our arch-nemesis, and had been ever since we’d met him at the commencement of primary school. I’d forgotten after so much time how it had all started; I only knew that he’d hated Peter and me from the very beginning. He had only turned on Harry and Simon when he learnt what their surname was, and had tried to get James on his side for a while before he found out what James’s surname was; for some reason names seemed to matter to him. Now, he was sitting down with Ugine Wilwog, the only one stupid enough to fall in line with him. The way they had walked in together, especially with Wilwog towering over the shorter Hignat, Wilwog could have passed for Hignat’s bodyguard.

“I’m not putting up with any crap from them this year,” spat Harry, who had turned to see what Peter had pointed out to me. “If he makes another crack about our family, I’ll show him a real brute.”

“You tell it like it is, old chap,” said Simon loudly, slapping Harry over the shoulder.

“First Hall and now him,” I muttered miserably, “what’s next, Hammerson?”

“Geez, I hope they wouldn’t be brave enough to make her repeat year-nine,” said James, shuddering.

Mr. Hall was out in front of the class, and when it seemed that everyone was sitting down, he tried to get the class’s attention. When it came to teachers like Hall, whom very few students liked, everyone chipped in to make their lives as difficult as possible. Such was the case during the roll call that morning.

“Is everyone here?” asked Hall.

“I’m not,” said Simon in an undertone. “Who’s gonna answer if they’re not here? Idiot.”

“Call the roll and find out,” Sophie called out from across the room, and the class roared with laughter.

“Your first warning, Crow,” said Hall, doing well to maintain his patience, which Kylie wasted no time in pointing out to the class.

“And to interrupt like that would most likely make you a patient, Kylie,” Harry called to her across the room.

The class exploded with laughter again. Even if the jokes weren’t that funny, the class would laugh loudly, just to make teachers like Hall angry. It wasn’t until then that I noticed, in the seats beside Harry and Simon, two girls who did not seem to be enjoying the students’ domination over the teacher. They both looked awkward, and I had only just noticed this when it struck me that I’d never seen these two before. That was significant, because in a small country town like our little Chopville, you knew everyone, at least by sight, if not more personally.

“I do believe some certain person in this room wanted me to call the roll, so if you would all shut up for once in your lives—”

“We shut up our books and pencil cases in a hurry at the end of every lesson,” Katie interrupted, seizing the moment.

Pretty much everyone laughed again. A few people clapped and cheered, raising their hands in noisy agreement.

“Just be thankful none of your names are on the board yet,” snapped Hall, finally losing some patience.

“Yeah, that would involve you dragging yourself out of that comfortable-looking chair, wouldn’t it?” said Peter, grinning broadly.

Yet another explosion of laughter met this, and Hall’s face went very red.

“Good on ya,” I said, slapping Peter over the back.

Hall had a way of trying to keep himself a level above the students, which he did by calling us all by our surnames instead of our Christian names, which may have also contributed to the feeling that we were all his enemies. The only exception to this was when he called the roll, which he did at top speed, barely giving students time to respond. He got half way down the roll today before being interrupted at Harry’s name.

“I’m here this time, sir—I deserve an award, sir—”

“Excuse me for talking while you’re interrupting, Maivis. Simon—”

“I’m here too, sir, and you stopped talking when he started,” said Simon, waving a textbook wildly around in the air to prevent Hall continuing with his roll call, which I expected would land him in detention instantly. Then again, it was Mr. Hall taking the class, so he, Harry and Peter were already facing detentions, plus Kylie, Katie and Sophie if he picked on them too.

The call went on, but Hall only got another two names in when, this time, he interrupted himself.

“John, what are you doing here?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” I said quickly, and wondering, for only a moment, if I had accidentally gone to the wrong class. “Maybe if you sign a note, I could possibly go home, and I’ll invite the rest of the class … except Hignat and Wilwog.”

Most of the class laughed, but Hall ignored me. I sighed; now I could expect a detention too.

When the roll call ended, Hall finally got around to introducing the two new girls, Serena Forgrey and Erica Tyanon, city girls new in town. Bad luck for them, I thought, because it usually took a while for us country folk to warm to city people when they stopped by.

Once that was done, it was time to sort out our locker arrangements. Hall told us all to go down to the year-nine/ten locker bay, and to be sure that we returned in ten minutes. As the students began filing out of the room, however, he started shouting again.

“While I have the chance, Crow, Cunkourd, Knight, Playmans and Maivises, remain behind for a moment.”

“Which one of us?” I called.

“And us?” asked Harry.

“Both Playmans and both Maivises. Hurry up.”

“What was I doing wrong?” I asked Peter.

“Existing,” called Hignat from outside the room. “Being an impertinent little—”

“That will do, Hignat,” Hall shouted, aiming his voice towards the door.

The seven of us stood together by Mr. Hall’s desk. I glanced around as we waited for Hall and noticed that none of the others looked nervous. Katie stood just to my left. She was a lot like Peter in appearance with her dark hair and eyes (though her hair was a lot longer than Peter’s); she was even short and slim like Peter, though not as pale. Kylie was, though; she was a little wider than Katie and a little taller, with very light skin, light blue eyes and light blonde hair almost as long as Katie’s. Sophie was about the same size as Kylie, though slightly slimmer, with short, curly brown hair and dark eyes like Katie. Erica and Serena, apparently unsure where the year-nine/ten locker bay was from here, had stayed in the classroom and were observing us. I couldn’t help but grin as I noticed that Peter seemed to be watching Serena out of the corner of his eye.

“This is only the first day of a very long year,” Mr. Hall started. “You have no idea, none of you, how rude you were all being. Disrespectful, atrocious behaviour. See those up there, the rules of the classroom; the very first rule, no speaking over the teacher—”

“But technically, we weren’t speaking over you, sir,” I said, remembering what Simon had said earlier and stepping on Peter’s foot behind Hall’s desk.

“Yeah, you stopped whenever one of us started,” Peter added, catching onto my line of thinking.

“And anyway,” I added, before Hall could speak again, “you weren’t actually teaching us anything.”

“I’m not after smart language from you, boys,” barked Hall.

“I could make a good essay out of that,” mused Peter.

“Why haven’t you yet then?” snapped Hall, probably not wanting Peter to answer.

“Because he’s always too busy doing your stupid detentions,” laughed Harry.

“Don’t you start,” roared Hall, rounding on the twins so fast that both Peter and I jumped. “What were you trying to do with that bloody book—”

“Language, sir,” said Kylie in a very annoying voice which, though not loud, cut through Hall’s rant at once.

“I was just about to say, Cunkourd, yourself, Knight and Crow would be let off with warnings, while these four boys will be meeting me back here at half past three for their detentions. But now, you and these four boys will be meeting me back here at half past three for your detentions, and Crow and Knight will be let off with warnings. And, if you don’t turn up to—”

“We know how it works,” said Harry and Simon in unison.

“Can we go now, before we get all the crappy lockers?” asked Sophie impatiently.

“You may.”

Hall led the nine of us quietly to the year-nine/ten locker bay. There were three locker bays in this school, and they were some of the most dangerous places to be in Chopville when they were full. Students were pushing and shoving in order to get lockers closest to the doors, or closest to their friends’ lockers. The four of us squinted around for James through the crowd, and at last heard his voice coming from somewhere close by.

“Over this way, guys.”

Outside the classroom, the five of us generally hung out with five year-ten girls who were a year older than us: Nicole, who was the older sister of Peter and I; Felicity and Jessica, the two older sisters of James; and two other girls who, like Harry and Simon, were unrelated to us Playmans and Thomases, Natalie Fletcher and Lisa Pont. It was only coincidental (but convenient) that the year-tens had been sent to the locker bay at the same time as us.

“We saved these four lockers for you guys,” Jessica called up from the floor when we reached them.

It may not have been the most convenient spot, but at least we were all together. Harry and Simon had the two end lockers, with Harry’s on top, and they were right next to one of the exits, which I suspected would cause a few accidents later in the year. Peter and I had the next two, with mine on top of his.

“Boys,” said Jessica, standing up, “meet Tommy. He’s new in town. Tommy, this is John, Peter, Harry and Simon.”

“I’m Harry,” said Simon. Peter and I burst out laughing. “Shut up, you two,” he added to us in a mock-angry whisper.

Tommy had the locker to the right of Felicity. He was taller than most of us —about the twins’ height—with dark skin, hair and eyes, and a nervous expression. Another boy was rummaging around in the locker below him, a boy who, as far as I could see from where I was standing, looked just like me, though perhaps a bit taller.

“And who’s this?” asked James.

“Oh… Marc?” said Lisa.

He looked up at us. “Don’t mind me,” he said, slightly nervously.

“We’re just sorting ourselves out here,” said Tommy, his dark eyes roving over us all.

“You made a new friend here, Jessica,” Simon teased immaturely.

“A new male friend, Jessica,” Peter added.

“Get stuffed,” Jessica muttered bemusedly. “Tommy’s new here, he’s all right.”

“Quite all right,” said Peter, nodding and grinning.

“And what about Marc?” asked Simon.

“What about me? I’m his friend too,” the boy on the floor called up at us.

“I guess you got a far better welcome than the two new girls in our grade,” said Peter.

“There are new people in your grade too?” asked Nicole. “What are they like?”

“Don’t know,” I shrugged. “The class was too busy giving Hall hell. We never got time to know the new people.”

“What did he want with you four and the other three anyway?” asked James.

“Answer that yourself,” I said darkly.

“Except Katie and Sophie got off,” said Peter. “We’ll be back in that stinking room after school.”

“I think we’d better go,” I said, glancing down at my watch. “If we don’t get back to Room 12 in time, we’ll probably get more detentions.”

The following half-hour was spent in little organisation. Hall had a list of students and elective subjects, which he taped to the board out the front of the room. He made no attempt to control the class, however, probably thinking it would be our own problem if we didn’t use this time to work out which classes we would be doing that semester. Once everyone was doing their own thing, Peter and James leaned in close to me so the three of us could talk without being overheard by those sitting around us.

“So, you’ve got a detention with Kylie,” James hissed at the two of us.

“Yeah,” said Peter. “Bet you wish you were with us now.”

We knew why he had said that. The three of us had done a deal with each other and the twins; if we became interested in a particular girl, we would share the information with each other immediately. James currently had his sights set on Kylie Cunkourd, though she had no idea, as far as we were aware.

“Oh really,” said James, who was staring at the back of Kylie’s head in the next row. “I bet you wish you had my locker, John. Guess who’s in the locker on my right?”

I shrugged uneasily. While James was after Kylie, I had my sights set more dangerously, because I liked, of all people, Natalie. I had liked her for a few years now; well, as long as I’d ever liked girls anyway, but I’d never been too sure why. We always used the word ‘like’ whenever we spoke of our crushes because none of us were quite stupid enough to assume it was true love—and yet I, at least, was stupid, because in my own mind I thought of my feelings for Natalie as love. I couldn’t justify doing so, though. All I could say for sure was that I had wanted her for longer than either James or Peter had ever wanted any particular girl before. The boys thought it was because her father was the richest man for many miles in every direction, though I knew my feelings ran deeper than that. She was about my height, skinny and pale like Peter, with long dark hair like Katie’s and dark brown eyes. She was very attractive, of course, at least to my eyes, but I desired her as much for her quiet personality as I did for her body. I didn’t think I would ever get her, though. She was older than me, and she was my sister’s friend more than mine, but this did mean that I got to see more of her than James did of Kylie.

“How about you, Pete?” I muttered. “Got any interests yet? How about Serena?”

“You don’t like her too, do you?” asked Peter, still in a whisper, as Serena was sitting right behind us, probably trying to eavesdrop. James sniggered.

“I don’t,” I said, smirking, “but you do.”

“How’d you know?” asked Peter, slightly embarrassed.

“Men’s intuition,” I replied, not caring if Serena could hear us now.

“How come I haven’t got it?” asked Peter, obviously realising he didn’t have to whisper anymore.

“Because you’re not a man, boy,” laughed James. “How many times do we have to tell you?”

* * *

“How was your period?” asked Lisa over the noise that filled the locker bay at Recess.

“Painful, but I cleaned it up pretty quickly,” said Peter. “How was yours?”

“Couldn’t be better,” said Harry sarcastically, making it clear that nobody needed to respond to Peter’s tasteless remark. “I’m wide awake now.”

“You guys will be happy to know we have your Home Group teacher for Science,” said Jessica from the floor.

“You have Hall,” Peter and I said together, laughing.

“When have you got Science?” asked Simon.

“Period Two tomorrow,” said Natalie.

“Straight after we do,” said Peter. “Bet he’ll be in a bad mood, so watch out.”

“What have you got next?” asked Jessica.

“Maths and English, with Hall again,” said Peter. “Like we haven’t had enough of him for one day.”

“Whenever you boys are ready,” said Felicity, “we can get going.”

“Just waiting on Harry,” I said.

Harry was having a few problems of his own. His locker appeared to be far too small; it just wouldn’t stay shut long enough for him to lock it, and his books kept almost toppling out.

“Ya wanna swap lockers, Simon?” Harry asked, trying to push the locker door shut again.

“Nah, I think I’ll keep the one I’ve got,” said Simon. “Thanks for the offer though.”

“Give it here,” said Peter, moving up beside Harry. While Harry held the locker shut, shoving with all his might, Peter clipped the padlock on.

“Okay, can we go now?” asked Jessica.

“Can we come?” asked Tommy, who was standing right behind Natalie; she jumped, startled.

“Yeah, sure,” I grinned. “Jess will be happy for you to come. You can come too, Marc.”

I glanced at Jessica, who glared back at me.

“You okay, Tommy?” asked James, looking him up and down with concern.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he shrugged, and yet I had noticed it too; Tommy didn’t look fine at all. As we made our way around to our usual hangout spot in the back of a toilet block not far from the canteen, Tommy kept looking nervously around him. He seemed to be trying to make himself look small and hard to spot, but he succeeded only in making himself even more noticeable.

“You look like you might be on the run,” Simon observed, grinning at him.

“Tommy’s made a few friends,” said Nicole. “They seem just about as friendly as that Hignat guy you guys keep going on about.”

“I’ll bet they’re racist,” said Peter instantly, squinting at Tommy’s dark complexion.

“They think I’m weird because … well, I am weird, I guess.”

“You’re not weird,” said Harry. “Believe me, I know weird.”

Tommy shook his head. “Yeah, I am. I’m certainly not normal.”

“Why’s that?”

“Don’t ask,” said Marc in a low voice. “That’s the problem; some guys in our class were bugging him about it just before class ended and they wouldn’t let it drop. Sebastian mainly, and you know what he’s like; dickhead if ever there was one.”

We had all reached the toilet block now and were leaning against its wall.

“Okay, fine,” I said. “We’ll start with the basic questions then. Where did you come from, Tommy?”

“I … I moved down from Sydney,” he said, but even this answer sounded carefully thought out.

“Geez man, what were you thinking?” asked Simon, laughing. “Choosing this joint over Sydney?”

“My parents, they’re sick of the city, wanted country life, they did.”

“And you were born in Sydney?” asked Natalie.

“Oh no,” laughed Tommy, a little more easily now. “No. I was born in Germany.”

“Oh, okay then,” said Peter slowly, taken aback. “How old were you when you moved to Australia?”

“Well,” said Tommy slowly, the easiness gone in a stroke, “I suppose you could say I was four, but … it’s hard to explain, and it’s pretty private anyway.”

“Spill the beans,” said Harry. “We can keep a secret.”

“No you can’t,” I said. “You two are the worst of the lot of us. You don’t have to say, Tommy—”

“Yeah, he does,” said Harry, grinning.

“Knock it off, Harry,” said James, “and don’t you start, Simon.”

“I would tell,” said Tommy quickly, “but I’m just not sure how. I’ve never explained it to anyone except my parents—both sets of them.”

“Both sets?” repeated Lisa, looking confused.

“Okay, look,” said Harry, leaning forward and looking uncharacteristically serious. “No pressure here, mate. You tell us whatever you feel you can; we’ll just listen. Okay?”

Tommy considered the matter for a few seconds, then said, “All right. Well, I was born in Germany, right. Both my parents died in a plane crash when I was about three, but I somehow survived it.”

“Not bad,” said Simon, impressed. “Our parents died in a plane crash when we were only youngsters, too, only we were lucky enough not to be on it with them.”

“Yeah,” said Tommy distractedly. “Well, I was adopted by another set of parents, but things were different. Well, when I was really young, the thing is, with my dreams, I realised that they weren’t real … I realised, they were real.”

“Say that again?” said Nicole vaguely.

“Sorry,” said Tommy, shrugging. “I realised that my dreams weren’t really dreams; they were really happening. This is the confusing bit. My sleeping patterns weren’t normal, not at that age anyway. I only ever slept at night when I was younger, which was lucky. That’s normal now, of course. That’s like you guys, at night and only at night—”

“Not us,” interrupted Harry, “we sleep in Maths.”

Harry had transformed back into himself again.

“Not now, Harry,” snapped Natalie.

“Ruin the effect a little,” said Tommy, but he was grinning; he didn’t seem awkward about anything anymore. Perhaps he had wanted to talk about this for a long time. “Anyway, at first I thought … well, I was too young to think properly. When I was about four, I realised how weird my dreams were; they weren’t normal. They were all set in the same place, where there was nothing around but a few trees. I was actually somewhere else, able to walk around and change things and everything. If I scratched the trunk of a tree, the next night the scratch would still be there. I didn’t know that then, though. It wasn’t ’til I got to about four years old that I found out my dreams weren’t actually dreams.”

“It took four years?” said Peter, astounded. “But someone would surely have noticed if you fell asleep and disappeared to somewhere else.”

“Well, not really,” said Tommy, “because I’ve actually got two bodies that I switch between.”

“What?”

“How can you have two bodies?” asked several people.

“I still don’t get it,” said Nicole.

“In other words,” said Tommy, “I don’t dream. I live. I have a body in this time zone, here in Australia, and one in Germany. I switch between them when I sleep. With me?”

“Sort-of,” said Felicity vaguely.

“And someone believed you?” asked Simon. “I wouldn’t believe it if a four-year-old told me that.”

“I didn’t need to make a big deal of it,” said Tommy, “and honestly, I didn’t really believe it until about five years ago, anyway; I just assumed I was having very vivid dreams. I don’t know exactly how I stayed alive all that time, but when I could walk, I just kept walking, and I eventually walked right into a country town somewhere in New South Wales. People started raising alarms; there were lost child notices everywhere. I didn’t need to tell anyone I was German, although they would have known, because I couldn’t exactly speak English, and for a long time my folks back in Germany didn’t understand why my English was so much better than theirs. I was eventually adopted by a second set of parents out here.”

“How’d you work out what was really happening?” asked Lisa.

“I started by sending an email from Germany to here and replying to it,” he said. “Then I arranged for my German parents to Skype with me here; they got a little freaked out when I told them stuff about myself a stranger shouldn’t have known while the German me was asleep in the room with them. The two sets of parents got talking and eventually organised to come out here to try to prove it. That was the only time my two bodies have ever been together, one always awake, one always asleep. They were really suspicious when I knew things that had happened when I was supposed to be sleeping. Nobody really believed me though until the DNA test results came back. So, my life here is pretty normal. When I’m in Germany, I don’t do a lot, though I do more now; I email homework to myself so I have something to do over there. I don’t go to school over there; it’d be too much to handle.”

None of us knew exactly what to say for a moment, which made Tommy a bit nervous again.

“Blimey,” said Jessica. “That’s … very unusual.”

“That’s what I was saying,” said Tommy, shrugging and looking quite as put-out as he had earlier; most of the rest of us glared at Jessica.

“Weird,” I said slowly. “Not that that makes you weird as a person,” I added quickly, seeing the look on Tommy’s face. “I’ve never heard of a case like that.”

“Never mind, Tommy,” said Peter. “Here in Chopville, we’re used to strange things like that, because Chopville’s the base of the six Sorcerers.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Tommy. “That’s another reason why I’m here. Both sets of parents want answers, because they think what happened to me may have been dark magic. I haven’t seen any of them yet, though.”

“Yeah, you have,” said Natalie. “That girl who was sitting in front of you before is Amelia Woodward, this generation’s sorcerer. Well, one of them anyway.”

“Don’t worry, Tommy,” said Harry, “we won’t tell anyone that. I swear.”

“You know, Tommy, technically, you’ve got a cursed life,” said Peter. “Only a sorcerer could have done something like that to a person. No one in Amelia’s family, I’m sure.”

“That leaves me with just one more problem,” said Tommy.

“What’s that?” asked Lisa.

“We’ll fight them off,” said Marc, who’d already surmised what Tommy was about to say, and he was spot on.

“Yeah,” said Tommy, “I’ve got to get rid of the rest of those guys. I don’t want to have to explain this to everyone; they’ll think I’m mentally unwell or something.”

“That’s okay, we’ll keep them away,” said Marc reassuringly.

“We’ll get rid of them,” said Felicity. “They’re midgets; we can body slam them.”

“How small are you talking?” asked Harry.

“All but Sebastian would be about Pete’s size,” said Lisa.

“Pete’s size?” I asked, smirking at Peter. “How about one of you girls give us a demonstration then.”

“No! No!” said Peter quickly. “I wasn’t built to fight.”

“They’re just a bunch of girls,” said Harry. “They’re not even heavy. Don’t be a sook.”

“Baby!” hollered Simon.

“Grow up, Simon,” said Natalie. “Stop yelling.”

“Sorry,” Simon said. “Got carried away.”

It looked pretty grim for Peter for a moment, but he was saved by the bell.

 

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Filed under First Chapter Reveals

First Chapter Reveal: Magic’s Daughter by Ann Gimpel

Magic's DaughterTitle of Book: MAGIC’S DAUGHTER
Genre: Spicy Paranormal Romance
Author: Ann Gimpel
Website: www.AnnGimpel.com
Publisher: Liquid Silver Books

PURCHASE MAGIC’S DAUGHTER HERE

SUMMARY:

Destined to be surrounded by magic yet have none of her own, Cassie walks a thin line between love and danger. Her mother is dying and her boyfriend has turned into something which terrifies her. By the time she wakes up to the danger she’s in, it’s nearly too late.

Cassie’s friend Jeremy warns her about her scumbag boyfriend, but she’s not listening. Deeply disturbing events unfold. Her life hangs in the balance. With few choices left, she and Jeremy join forces to battle the darkness threatening them. Meanwhile, Cassie warms to Jeremy in ways she never could have anticipated. Love was there all along if she’d just opened her eyes and looked.

FIRST CHAPTER

Cassionetta Ceobbinn sat in her old Subaru and rested her forehead against its steering wheel. Her electronic design work had ground to a halt an hour earlier and a headache pounded behind one eye. The garage of the Capitol Hill mansion rose around her, silent as a crypt. Her mother’s Aston Martin sat off to one side, gleaming white in the semi-darkness. Cassie girded herself to open her car door, grab her things, and go inside. “It’s my house, goddammit,” she muttered to boost her courage. “So what if he sent me a text message not to come home.”

The garage lights came on, blinding her. The door leading into the house crashed against the wall. Before the ringing in her ears subsided, her live-in boyfriend stomped to her car. Well, the live-in part was still accurate. The boyfriend part seemed to have evaporated like so much smoke.

“You weren’t supposed to come home tonight,” he growled. “I texted you hours ago. You can just turn that piece of shit you drive around and go stay at your mother’s office.”

Fury boiled up from her guts. She took aim and opened the car door hard into his midsection, hoping she could clip a ball for good measure.

“Oooph. You little bitch.” He jumped back, rubbing his stomach.

You bet I am. High heels slapping the concrete floor, she jumped out of her car and stood eyeball to eyeball with him. “This is my mother’s house, Tyler MacKenzie. I live here. Or have you forgotten?” Cassie yanked her shoulder bag and computer case off the passenger side of the front seat and stormed past him.

He grabbed her arm before she reached the steps leading into the kitchen. “I have people over. It’s the full moon. I’m leading a séance. Your presence would disturb the energy.”

She twirled to face him, breaking his grip. “You mean you have mother’s clients over. Where is she, by the way?”

He shrugged. “Don’t know. Haven’t seen her.”

Cassie turned away from him. He closed his hand over her arm again, hard enough to make her squeal. “If you don’t let me go,” she snarled through clenched teeth, “I will call the police.”

His fingers loosened marginally. “But, sweetie…”

She heard compulsion beneath his words. Cassie didn’t have any magic of her own, but she recognized it in others. When Tyler had wanted her to fall in love with him, he’d used honeyed words all the time. They’d only stopped once she’d let him move in.

“Can it.” She twisted her head so she could lock gazes with him. “Let me go. Now.” His hand fell away. “I want you out of here tomorrow—”

His eyes narrowed. He shoved long, red-gold hair out of his face and sneered at her. “Fat fucking chance of that. We’ve had this conversation one too many times for my liking. I’m here, and I intend to stay. There’s nothing you can do about it. Unless you want to meet with an unfortunate accident.” A nasty laugh bubbled past lips she’d actually thought were full and sensual. “Of course something like that could happen anyway. If I were you, sweetie, I’d watch my back.”

Cassie shuddered. She swallowed, but her mouth was dry. Maybe she’d underestimated Tyler. Once they’d stopped getting along, she’d seen him as an inconvenience, not a menace. He’d never sounded quite like this before though. There’d been threats, but they’d been subtle, veiled in double entendre.

She squared her shoulders and turned to face him. It was the kiss of death to let bullies know they were getting to you. “I’m done with your crap.” She infused as much venom as she could into her voice. “I will call the police. You threatened me.”

He snorted. “I’d just deny it. They’ll believe we had a lover’s spat. Women are so emotional.” His blue eyes gleamed with an unnatural light.

She blinked. For a moment, he looked like a demon one of her mother’s psychic friends had raised by accident. Cassie knew enough about demons—interdimensional beings which traveled from world to world wreaking havoc—for the idea of them to scare the shit out of her.

Don’t be ridiculous. Ridiculous, ridiculous echoed in her head. I’m seeing things.

Her heartbeat sounded loud in her ears; her hands fisted at her sides. “You’d better get back to your séance. Wouldn’t want any of those high rollers to get away.”

Her face twisted into a grimace. Thank Christ he spun on his heel and trotted smartly back into the house. Tyler cut an elegant figure with his richly-embroidered gypsy cape, broad shoulders, and classically handsome Nordic features. Flowing ruby silk pants rode low on his slim hips. No wonder she’d been taken in by him.

Fuming—and scared half to death—she followed him into the house, but turned a hard left before she hit the kitchen and took what had once been the servants’ staircase. It had been stupid to fall for Tyler, one of the dumbest things she’d ever done, but there was no going back. She couldn’t unravel time and choose not to tumble into his arms and his bed. That part was a done deal. If she listened to him, his residency at chéz Eleanora was a done deal as well.

Shit!

Worry for her mother filled her, obliterating her fears for her own safety. Eleanora Ceobbinn was—or had been—a well-known psychic, but she’d apparently made one too many trips to the far side of the veil. She was still alive, but she hadn’t spoken a word in nearly a year, rattling around their old house like a ghost.

Eleanora had come from money—and made plenty on her own—so at least that wasn’t a problem, but her mother was definitely fading. It was almost as if someone—Tyler?—were feeding off what little energy she had left. Unable to shake her earlier sense of foreboding, Cassie shivered. If she hadn’t been holding onto her purse and computer bag, she would have wrapped her arms around herself.

Maybe because she was thinking about her mother—and the house had a mind of its own—she wasn’t surprised to find herself beneath a full-sized oil painting of Eleanora. Lush dark hair ended at knee level and her haunting violet eyes seemed alive. People had told Cassie she looked like her mom, but she’d never thought so. Eleanora was beautiful—and ageless. Cassie had the hair and the eyes and the striking six foot height, but the effect wasn’t nearly the same.

She still had no idea what had gone wrong the day her mother checked out. She’d come home from work to find Eleanora sprawled face down on the Oriental carpet in the séance room, candles smoking black gouts of greasy flame. If there’d been clients, they were nowhere to be found.

Her mother had regained consciousness, but that had been about all. Cassie had known better than to lug Eleanora around to a bunch of other doctors with their uncomfortable questions and pained silences after the first one had asked, “Your mother does what for a living?”

Cassie dragged herself away from the portrait. When she was a little girl, she’d believed her mother’s painted eyes were the gateway to a magical world. She’d asked Eleanora and her mother had smiled shrewdly. “Stranger things have happened, child,” she’d said. “It’s best not to test this one.”

Cassie pulled a key out of her bag, unlocked her bedroom door, and then used the voice activated electronics she’d designed to spring the second lock. She was almost positive Tyler was stealing from her, but that wasn’t why she kept her door locked. Even the marginally gifted could wreak havoc if they got hold of your things. Her father, Francis Statton Braxbury, a British seer, had taught her that before his visits to Eleanora had petered out.

Cassie locked her door behind her and tossed her things in a chair. She kicked off her high heels and sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing sore arches. This thing with Tyler was way out of control. He’d shown up right before her mother’s accident. Lost in the first flush of sex with a new man, it had taken a while for it to occur to her that it was a shade too convenient when he just happened to be there to snap up all her mother’s clients.

That had been nearly a year ago. Tyler had dropped any pretense of a relationship with her after the first few months, but he’d been marginally friendly—and even polite—until recently. She shook her head, trying to figure out what had changed. It had actually been useful to have him help watch Eleanora, which was why she hadn’t tried harder to get rid of him.

Most of her non-Eleanora time was devoted to developing an electronic version of the Ouija Board because she hoped it would be a way to reach her mother. Usually her circuitry was spot on, but for some reason this project had dragged on for months, dogged by one setback after another. It was like everything she’d learned getting her degree in electrical engineering didn’t work quite right. She was still stuck on the basic circuit board design. Until it worked right, there wasn’t much point in designing software or hunting for a microprocessor.

Speaking of which … I need to hunt for Mother. Cassie got to her feet, stuffing them into slippers before heading into the hall. She glanced around nervously before locking her door. Tyler had moved into the guest suite at the north end of the ground floor, but the mood he was in, it paid to be vigilant.

Mrroww. Hector, Eleanora’s large, black tomcat, landed lightly not ten feet from her, tail pluming as it swished back and forth.

Cassie jumped. “Where’d you come from?” She bent to scratch his head. The cat arched his back in pleasure. “Do you know where mother is?”

Mrroww. Swish, swish.

“I take it that’s a no.” She turned a wall dial. Crystal sconces lining the long hallway brightened. Polished hardwood with Aubusson runners stretched before her. Leaded glass panes lined the hall. Priceless paintings graced the walls at intervals, interspersed with elegant bronze sculptures. Cassie checked her mother’s bedroom. Empty. Eleanora’s wonderful, earthy scent lingered. It made her sad. If ever she needed one of her parents, it was now.

I need to stop feeling sorry for myself. I’m twenty-five, for God’s sake. Time to fight my own battles.

Not finding Eleanora anywhere on the second floor, Cassie mounted the stairs to the third. She heard faint chanting coming from downstairs and wondered whose dead relative was on the hook tonight. She believed in the spirit world, and she’d always trusted Eleanora to hold the gates. Her faith in Tyler’s ability to do the same was pretty truncated.

Oh my God. Is that how he’s planning to hurt me? By proxy?

Her heart slammed against her chest. It was hard to breathe around the thickening in her throat. Some spirits could do a lot of damage, mostly through suffocation or running people off cliffs…

“Stop it.” She spoke out loud to get a grip on what was starting to feel a lot like out-of-control panic. “Just find Mom. Make sure she’s okay.” It did occur to her that if Eleanora was truly missing, it would give her the perfect excuse to clear out all the New Agers at the séance and call the police.

There were seven bedrooms on the third floor. Eleanora was in the one at the far end of the hall, staring out its large windows into the night. Cassie left the bedroom lights off. Enough illumination filtered in from the hall which was twin to the one on the floor below. “Mother?” She crept forward and laid a hand on Eleanora’s arm. Her mother flinched and shook her off.

Cassie’s eyes flooded. Even though her mother wasn’t really rejecting her, it still hurt. Especially now that she felt so alone and vulnerable.

Mrroww.

Cassie looked around. Hector sat in the doorway, ears pricked forward. She hadn’t realized he’d followed her.

Eleanora turned and walked to the cat. Maybe his non-human frequency was easier for her to respond to. He twined himself around her legs, purring for all he was worth. She reached down and petted him and then drifted into the hall like a sleepwalker. Cassie thought about trying to talk to her mother again, but gave it up for wasted effort. Either Eleanora couldn’t hear her, or she couldn’t answer. Maybe both.

Dressed all in black, as always, Eleanora’s skirts swirled around her. Cassie followed her back to the second floor and breathed a sigh of relief when her mother went into her bedroom and shut the door behind her. The snick of the deadbolt was loud in the silence of the hall.

Mrroww. Hector’s tail swished faster. He looked annoyed. The cat lifted a paw and left a long scratch in the wood next to Eleanora’s door.

“It’s okay. You can sleep with me.”

Cassie strode the few feet to her own room and unlocked the door. Hector raced inside. Who knew? Maybe the séance made him just as uncomfortable as it made her. The rise and fall of voices from below hadn’t abated. She pulled the door shut and secured it, wishing she’d inherited some sort of magical ability. Almost anything would be helpful. Telepathy to read Tyler’s mind. Clairvoyance to peek into the future. Medium skills to raise spirits to protect herself—or harm him.

She strode across the room and pawed through a bottom drawer, coming up with a dog-eared card. It was one of the last birthday cards her father had given her before he’d declared her too old for such nonsense. She dug a small, flat crystal out of the envelope. Her father had said if she ever needed him to hold the crystal in her hand and think of him. He’d told her to plan ahead because results wouldn’t be immediate, and she might have to do it more than once.

Cassie stared at the clear stone with amber flecks deep inside. She set it down, unzipped her black wool skirt and let it pool around her feet. Her green cashmere sweater came next. She bundled both up and took them to her closet where she hunted down some hangers. Grabbing purple sweats off the floor, she pulled them on and returned to the table where she’d left the crystal. Her hand hovered over it before she picked it up again.

What about fighting my own battles?

To hell with that. What about being so stubborn I end up dead?

Hector jumped onto the bed and groomed himself. She flopped down next to him and kicked off her slippers. She didn’t want to bother her father in London unnecessarily—cripes, she hadn’t seen him since she was ten—but the escalating tension between Tyler and her was more than a little unnerving. I need help, but it’s not fair to involve anyone else. Cassie blew out a tense breath. Her magical heritage had been quite effective at sealing her off from casual friendships. She’d always been afraid something would slip, and the person would think she was crazy.

Rubbing her temples—the headache was behind both eyes now—once again she considered involving the police. Even if she got them to chase Tyler off, unless she hired a bodyguard, he’d probably worm his way back into the house. And then he would kill her, as retribution for calling in the law if nothing else. Tyler had a pretty sweet deal. One he planned to hang on to. He’d made that patently clear in the garage.

Wonder why it’s taken me so long to figure out how toxic he is?

Feeling like a gullible idiot, and a weak one at that, she let the stone warm in her hand and thought of her father.

Cassie didn’t realize she’d fallen asleep until her standard ringtone—“Ode to Joy”—sounded from the depths of her shoulder bag. Staggering muzzily across the room, she located the phone and punched answer without focusing on the display.

“Cass?”

Her eyes widened. “Jeremy? What time is it?”

“Past midnight. Sorry to wake you, but—”

She picked her way back to the bed, cursing when she stepped on one of the high heels she’d discarded earlier.

“Are you all right?” He sounded worried.

“Uh, yeah. Just stepped on something sharp. Give me a second to get back under the covers. It’s cold in here.” She pulled the duvet up to her chin. “Okay, all set. What’s up?”

“I just got this feeling…” His voice trailed off again.

Cassie sat up straighter in bed, not feeling sleepy at all anymore. Something in her friend’s voice was … unsettling. Jeremy was almost her only friend; she’d known him forever. Psychic like her mother, he definitely marched to his own drummer. “Whatever it is, just spit it out. Sometimes it’s easier that way.”

A sigh rattled through the cellular network. “It’s hard to explain, but I felt something and thought you were in danger.”

Cassie sucked in a breath. For the briefest of moments she considered telling him everything but then reined herself in. No point in getting Jeremy riled up about Tyler’s threats. This wasn’t really his problem. Besides, she was embarrassed about fessing up to her own stupidity. Yeah, I was so desperate for a guy to want me, I didn’t read the fine print.

“Cass? You’re pretty silent over there. It is not making me feel any better.”

“Huh? Oh,” she managed to force out a light laugh. “Tyler held a séance earlier, but I’m sure they’ve mostly left by now. I could go look—”

“No!” The single word thundered in her ear.

“Okay, okay. You don’t have to shout at me.”

“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to.” He cleared his throat. “I probably shouldn’t have bothered you. Promise me you’ll stay in your room until daylight.”

“Sure.” Confusion and an uneasy sensation made her feel ill.

“Call me tomorrow.”

The sick feeling did not get any better. Jeremy had never felt the need to check on her before. “I’m spending all day working on e-Ouija.”

“Okay, I’ll call you. Sleep well, Cassie. Sorry to wake you.”

“Jeremy?”

He wasn’t there. She clicked end call and shut off her phone. To her surprise, she could barely keep her eyes open. Then she realized he’d probably cast a spell to make sure she stayed in her room. Damn it. Last thing I need in my life is two meddling men using magic to control me.

— Excerpted from Magic’s Daughter by Ann Gimpel

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First Chapter Reveal: The Knights of Galaria: The Crystals of Power by O.S. Gill

The Knights of GalariaTitle: THE KNIGHTS OF GALARIA: THE CRYSTALS OF POWER
Author: O.S. Gill
Format: Paperback, ebook
Length: 310 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace

PURCHASE AT AMAZON

For Kaz Silverwynd, graduation from the Galarian Knight Academy begins normally, but an the attempt on the life of Xul Xandu, the newly-appointed head of the Confederation of Nations, pushes Kaz and his team into an epic and dangerous adventure. The action ranges from the floating city of Civitas to the underwater empire of Aequoria to the moon colony of Ourea. Kaz leads his band of knights on a perilous journey to stop a madman from achieving his ultimate goal – the conquest of the world of Galaria. Added to the already volatile mix are the legendary Crystals of Power, a collection of beautiful but deadly jewels that could tip the scales of power toward good or evil.

———————————————

CHAPTER 1

     Kaz fidgeted in his uniform. He hated these things, ceremonies, galas; reasons for people to dress up and endure longwinded speeches that lasted for hours. True, this was his day. He shined at the top of his class as valedictorian. The seven long years that he and his friends spent at the academy were finally coming to an end. He felt nostalgic; reminiscing on the first day he came to Civitas to join the academy. He was all of eleven then, and the grandeur of the big city was a far cry from the tiny island he used to call home.

It wasn’t even in the realm of his imagination then that he would be standing here, graduating at the head of his peers and about to enter the corps as a lieutenant first class. His father would have been so proud, after all this was his dream for Kaz. It saddened him that his father would never see the man he’s grown into, having passed away two years ago. But, being a Commander General in the Corp himself, Kal Silverwynd would have been overjoyed at his son following so closely in his footsteps.

Kaz was just putting the finishing touches on his uniform which he knew, outside of the air-conditioned comfort of his dorm room, would keep him at a slow broil in the afternoon sun. After all, the plaza in front of the building that housed Corp’s headquarters wasn’t exactly known for its cool breezes; located at the foot of the one hundred storied government building and surrounded by multiple high rise buildings. But he knew he would have to grin and bear it if he was going to make a career out of wearing this very same uniform, sans the ceremonial medals and sash.  He thought however, that the designer could have created a more humid friendly uniform for this time of year. Apart from that he thought that it was very well made.  It consisted of a long white trench coat over an undershirt and a white pair of slacks. The trench coat extended to the knees and flared at the bottom.  It was closed by folding the left side over the right and then buttoned by eight rather large buttons that ran from just below the right shoulder down to just above the right knee.  The sleek white made anyone wearing it look regal, and the naval blue stripes running down the sides of the arms and legs made even the lowest ranking officer look and feel important.

He was almost finished; the only thing left was his father’s sword. He reached into the closet and retrieved it. This was his sword now rather, as he would use it from today onwards because he was officially becoming a knight. He had spent the better part of the morning polishing it, making sure it was show worthy. It was the best designed and most formidable rapier in the Corps. The long sleek shaft was made of Incendian steel and marked with blue engravings that were in the ancestral language of his family who were from Vegrandis Terra. Or at least that’s what he was told. He himself never actually learned the language. The hilt was an intricate array of broad rings that protected the hand of the bearer. It was bejewelled with blue quanzanite.  The engravings were also lined with blue quanzanite. Kaz was an excellent swordsman and with this rapier he knew he would be the best in the corps.

He was now thinking about the day and the tenseness that had surrounded the academy over the last year. The newly formed Confederation of Nations had seen difficulties in the form of a power struggle between different factions. Although a leader was finally selected, there were still some underlying tensions. What would eventually become of the academy and the Corps remained to be seen.

Kaz put these issues out of his mind. There would be plenty of time to ponder such things after he was made a knight, he thought. Now he checked himself in the mirror. His dreadlocked hair was neatly fashioned in a ponytail. His uniform was neat and showed no sign of wrinkle. He was noting to himself how clear his dark tropical skin had become over the years of living in this cooler climate. He imagined that it would only take a week on his native island to return to his natural dark complexion.

Suddenly he had the sense of someone approaching him from behind. He spun around quickly on the intruder, only to be greeted with a kiss on the cheek. “Have I ever told you how dashing you look in this uniform?” The words came from Kara Ravenstorm, Kaz’s squad mate and girlfriend.  She was also one of the very few people who could sneak up on him.

“Well, you may have mentioned it once or twice” said Kaz, smiling as he gave her a hug. “You look beautiful,” he said eying her. Kara’s uniform suited her well. The female uniform was similar to the males’ except the coat buttoned down the middle and then separated at the waist so that their trousers were completely visible.

Kara herself was always ravishing Kaz found, even though he knew his opinion may have been a bit biased. She was about four inches shorter than he was, about 5’5 or so. Her complexion was olive and her eyes slanted. Her ears were also pointy, as was the typical feature for the elves of Zanru.  She was a princess of Zanru and as customary in the royal family she went to the academy to receive military training. Her father expects her to return home for her royal duties upon graduation, but she would much rather stay in Civitas and have a career in the Corps, especially since she had already attained the rank of second lieutenant. She wore her hair short with two long braided pony tails that extended from the hairline just above the neck, to her waist.

“Well, we need to be off, the ceremony will be starting in twenty minutes,” she reminded him.  “Yes, I’m ready,” said Kaz. And with that they hurried down the corridor to the stairs.

The cadet dormitory was across the courtyard from the administrative building of the academy, which was adjoined to the Corps headquarters. And it was through there that they would have to pass to get to the ceremony. As they walked through the immense halls of the administrative building, Kaz had flashbacks of when he was brought here on his first day at the academy. He remembered how in awe he was. The huge marble floor of the rotunda, the magnificent stairway that led to the upper level offices. The large seal of the Galarian Knight Corps embedded on the floor. And the statues erected in the main hall of the greatest knights that had gone before. He remembered being captivated by the entire sight.

They moved through the administrative building and were now headed down the corridor that connected with the bottom floor of the headquarters. The headquarters of the Galarian Knights was certainly something to behold. It was an immense structure one-hundred stories tall. It housed all of the high ranking officials of the Corps along with diplomatic offices for countries around the world and the offices of the Civitas government.  The building, along with the academy was founded some five-hundred years prior when the Knight Corp was established. At the end of the last Great War, the countries across the world decided that to keep the peace they would do away with their armies and form a global unit tasked with policing the nations and keeping the peace. The creation of which was led by the then Chancellor of Civitas, Duke Von Maelstrom and the leadership has been kept in the Von Maelstrom family for every generation since.

They were halfway through the ground floor of the headquarters, when someone ran past them. “Vogt!” Kara shouted out. The person stopped and turned around. It was their friend and squad mate Vogt Von Maelstrom.

Vogt was the nephew of the Supreme Commander Bishop Von Maelstrom, and his heir apparent. The Supreme Commander had adopted him after his father Baron, which was Bishop’s brother, had died. A lieutenant first class like Kaz, the two always had a friendly rivalry going and were always trying to outdo each other.

“Why are you two just standing around? We’re late,” Vogt said slightly alarmed. “We have a clear fifteen minutes before the start of the ceremony,” Kara said, looking at the time on her watch.  Vogt was always a stickler for punctuality and would prefer to be early rather than just making it in time. “Relax,” Kaz said reassuringly, “Today is all about us.” Vogt looked unconvinced as he removed his spectacles to clean them, and nervously brushed his short blonde hair with his hand. “Well then, we better get going before you start to hyperventilate,” Kara chuckled. And with that she held him by his right arm and Kaz by his left, and the three walked out in tandem.

The plaza was already full by the time they got there. Most of the graduation class was already seated.  “I can see my mother down there in the reserved section,” said Kaz. “Well there’s no mistaking uncle Bishop up on the stage,” chimed Vogt. “Can you see your parents Kara?” he asked. “No, my parents couldn’t make it,” said Kara. “They’re on official business in Tandoor, but I see my elder brother and sister.” Though she understood the responsibilities of heads of state, she couldn’t help but feel disheartened at her parents missing this day.  After all, she hadn’t seen them in the two years since she last was home.

“Zarak and the others are over there,” she said, pointing in the direction of their squad mates seated in the second row. They made their way up the aisle, Kaz stopping to kiss his mother on her cheek. She of course did not have far to travel to make it there. Being the ambassador of Vegrandis Terra, her office was just upstairs, so Kaz got to see her fairly often. “I’m so proud of you,” she whispered to him.

When they reached their seats they were greeted with hugs and handshakes from the others. Zarak, Remus, Tanu and the Vor de Leigh twins Eri and Evet.  They each were from different regions from across the world and they each were very talented at what they did, and Kaz was very happy to have had them on his team for the past few years, although they would soon be splitting up, going into their different special fields.

Zarak Tol, the six foot four inch tall Divi from the Divum islands in the north east of the continent was looking to have career in reconnaissance, where he would carry the rank of second lieutenant. He was winged as all Divi were, with about a twelve foot wingspan from tip to tip. He sat with his white wings tucked neatly behind him and his long blonde hair smoothed back.

Tanu Tanu was from Incendia and was looking to have a career in the sniper division.  He was a gunnery sergeant and there was none at the academy better than him with a photon rifle. There was no mistaking him as an Incendian, they were typically short, and he was five feet tall. Red skinned, with yellow irises and pointed ears. Their canines protruded more than the other races, making them look more like fangs.  His long jet black hair was braided into a ponytail that was almost to his waist. And he was wearing his customary white cowboy hat with the naval blue band around it that matched his uniform although it wasn’t actually part of it.

Remus Bane was seated next to Tanu. The sergeant major was the team covert and martial art specialist. He was from Ourea, one of Galaria’s four moons and the only one that was habitable. The Luna, as his people were called, were a warrior race, though a civilised one, and most were trained in Ourean martial arts from a very young age. They also looked more feral than normal humans, though Remus was only eighteen so his facial hair wasn’t as heavy as most Ourean men. He always liked to wear his hair short and spiked.

And then they were the Vor de Leigh twins, Evet and Eri. The brother and sister were born in the northern city of Quelos. The Quelians were a race of humans naturally susceptible to magic, as were the Vor de Leighs who were raised by their grandfather a Master Wizard. They were identical and had red hair, Eri’s long and curly and Evet’s short and cropped. They both had grey eyes and freckles.  They were going into the special abilities division in the Corp with the rank of junior sorcerer. Their uniform also differed slightly from the others. The knights in Special Abilities regiment wore hooded cloaks rather than trench coats although the colour scheme was the same.

“Wow, I can’t believe that even Tanu got here before you guys,” said Eri, intentionally trying to fret Vogt. “Well, we had to make an entrance didn’t we,” Kara quipped. “We’ve been here for a little while,” said Zarak, “I really wish they’d get on with it.” “Hold on, I think it’s starting,” interrupted Vogt. “Well then that’s my queue to take my seat,” said Kaz, who as valedictorian was to be seated on the stage along with the other speakers. He went up the steps and took his seat to the left of the podium on the very end.

Bishop Von Maelstrom was making his way up to the podium. Kaz was noting to himself, how in shape he looked for his forty-five years. He was six feet three inches tall and of sturdy build. His black hair was slicked back and greyed at the temples and his moustache thick and curled at the ends.

“My fellow knights, faculty, students and honoured guests…” his speech began. Kaz was already zoning out and looking around him. Some of his professors and drill commanders were sitting to his left. He noticed a distinguished looking older gentleman in a red robe sitting six seats away, right next to the podium. Kaz recognised him as Xul Xandu the newly selected General Secretary of the newly formed Confederation of Nations. He was a frail old man, with a pointy nose and white hair only at the sides and back of his head. But Kaz new that he was well loved and respected the world over.

”..let me present to you Mr. Xul Xandu,” said Von Maelstrom, finishing up his speech. Xul took the podium to a rousing applause and began speaking, what he said Kaz was unsure of because he had zoned out again. My, how he hated these things. He was now looking into the crowd. He looked at Kara and she gave him a wink. Tanu was making faces. He was now taking in the skyline around him on this bright beautiful day.

Then he felt something. He couldn’t quite explain it, but he felt as though something was wrong. Kaz, from very young had a unique skill of observation and also sensing peril. And right now peril was exactly what he was sensing. But why was he? Was it something he’d seen? And where was it? He scanned the skyline again and nothing. But there must have been something he was sure of it. He concentrated, looking and the buildings in front of him. Then he saw it, the glint of sunlight reflecting off of something at the top of the ten storey building at the opposite end of the plaza. It was a sniper, he was sure of it. And it looked like he was aiming at Xul. He didn’t think, he just reacted, and he sprang from his seat and darted toward the General Secretary. He caught him in a full on tackle and Xul buckled, tumbling towards the floor of the stage.

Kaz felt the projectile pass him before he heard it, the sound however was deafening as it exploded on the wall at the back of the stage. The assailant was using high charged photon blasts. The next three seconds felt like an hour. At first everything Kaz heard was muffled and he felt surreal.  Then everything became clear suddenly and sharply. He heard the screams of the crowd and people scampering for cover. He knew if the sniper was using high charged photon, then he wouldn’t be very safe behind the table where they had landed. He knew it would take the rifle five seconds to charge at that strength and he had maybe two left.

Suddenly he heard two shots ring out, but they weren’t directed at him. He peered over the table and saw that Tanu had drawn his photon rifle and fired upon the snipers position. The assailant took off. “Get after him!” Kaz shouted to Tanu.

#

      Tanu gave chase; first he leapt ten feet in the air. He could have done this of course because the force of gravity in Incendia was twice that of the rest of the world, because of the gravitational effect that Nyx the night moon had there. So his leap was four times that of any of the other races under normal gravity. While still in the air, Zarak grabbed him by both shoulders and they both flew off to the rooftop to apprehend the culprit.

The sniper had already cleared the building he was on and was running along the one behind it by the time they got there. He was fast. Tanu figured one good shot in the leg with his rifle set on stun should bring him down. He took aim. Before he could line up the shot however, the assailant looked back and fired several shots in their direction. His aim was uncanny. This caused Zarak to swerve to his right and hit a communications dish. They fell and rolled to a stop. “You alright?” asked Tanu. “I’m fine, just winded,” Zarak replied, “Don’t let him get away.” Tanu sprang into action. He ran to the end of the rooftop and took a giant leap over to the adjacent building. At the same time the sniper was clearing the chasm between roofs two buildings over. His jump rivalled that of Tanu’s.

Tanu knew at this rate he would never catch up to the assailant. He had as much range on his jump, and he was definitely faster, the distance between them was growing by the second. He got down on one knee and steadied his photon rifle. He centred the cross hairs on the assailant. He realised then that the quarry was about to take another leap. He changed his aim to where he judged the sniper to land. The sniper leapt, one long lingering leap, or so it felt to Tanu. Just as he was about to land, as his foot was about to touch down on the top of the roof, Tanu fired. Perfect! It caught him across the knee. Tanu watched as his legs buckled and gave way beneath him. With the speed he was travelling before he was hit, the velocity caused him to bounce once or twice, and then he slid about twenty feet and came to a stop.

At this time Zarak had caught his breath. He picked up Tanu and they made their way to the roof that the sniper was on. “Don’t move one muscle!” exclaimed Tanu as he and Zarak landed. They saw that his rifle had landed a good few feet from him so he posed no immediate threat.  He was wearing a black trench coat and black pants and combat boots, on his head a black wool hat. There was something plastic and strange looking about his face. He looked like he was devoid of any emotion. “Who are you?” asked Zarak. The sniper took a long glare at them and did not say a word, and then Tanu and Zarak saw something happen that took them by surprise and they had no time to stop it. The sniper brought his jaws to a clench, then his head moved sharply from side to side and his neck contorted. When he came to a stop his face had a blank look on it (well a bit more blank than it was before) and a metallic liquid was coming from his mouth. “He’s an android?” said Tanu quite puzzled. “Why would an android want to attack the General Secretary?” Zarak said in a most confused manner. “Let’s find out shall we,” said Kaz who was now landing next to them riding a hover cycle along with a team of knights who were patrolling the area.

#

     Kaz walked up to where the android lay. “I guess he would rather expire than divulge anything,” he said to the others, “Must have been programmed that way.” He knelt and turned the android’s head until he could see the back of his neck. The machine’s faceplate came off in his hand, revealing the true face of the machine. It was plain and ovular, with green glowing eyes that were fading out as the android lost power. “The serial number has been scratched off,” He said, “Whoever’s behind this was going to lengths not to be caught.” An android’s serial number is like a birth certificate. On Galaria, androids were once used as common house appliances and were regarded as such. About one hundred years ago they gained independence through a law that dictated that beings with artificial intelligence were free thinking and had a right to exist without master. These freed androids founded a city in the desert a few hundred miles north of Civitas called Andros. They have an android president and are a recognized member of the Confederation of Nations. This city was now an attractive tourist hotspot with many casinos and hotels and several forms of leisurely entertainment. There was also an industrial district where androids were continued to be made for the growing demand of a workforce on Galaria. They would be paid and allowed to live freely in whatever city they worked in. They were also stamped on the back of the neck with a serial number which would contain the factory information and date of creation.

Kaz checked the pockets of the android’s coat. “There’s nothing in here,” he said. “Nothing that can tell us who sent him and why he was trying to attack Xul Xandu.”  Zarak stepped up beside him. “How are we going to find out?” he asked. “Well all androids have a processor chip that they need to survive,” Kaz said. “It’s like their heart, and the information contained in the bios should tell us which factory made him.” “I’ll have the Corps analyst come over and retrieve him and get us that information,” he was saying this while paging forensics with the directive and coordinates for retrieval.

The analyst team arrived quickly, as they would have been just a few streets over at the headquarters. They gathered what remained of the android and took him to the lab. “Let’s get back to the others and report in,” said Kaz. Zarak and Tanu followed him and they made their way back to the plaza.

On their arrival, they saw that the once packed seating area of the graduation was now scant. The area had been secured by Knights and Xul Xandu had been removed, presumably to the headquarters for his safety.

The others were still in sitting in the plaza waiting for them to return and with them was Baron Von Maelstrom. “It apparently was a hired android assassin sir,” said Kaz, as he disembarked his sky cycle and he filled in the Supreme Commander on all of the details of what had happened on the rooftops. “I see,” said Von Maelstrom, pondering heavily. “Well, we’ll wait until the gents in analysis give us a report, until then there is little to go on at this point. You all should go and get ready for the graduation party.” “But sir!” Kaz protested, “We need to get on top of this, and find out who orchestrated the attempt on the Secretary.” Baron Von Maelstrom gave his subordinate and student a smile and spoke to him reassuringly. “Kaz, I understand your eagerness to get out into the field and do your job, you’re a Knight now and after all these years of training that would come natural.” “But,” Kaz interjected.  “No buts young man,” the Commander cut him off. “This is a day that you and your peers have earned. Also, there is absolutely very little any of us can do until we get that report. Go to your party, relish in your accomplishments and I expect you to report for duty first thing in the morning to start on this mission.” The Supreme Commander, ever the natural leader, gave Kaz a look that was as kind as it was firm. “Yes sir, I understand,” said Kaz, not daring to protest anymore.

And with that he, Zarak, Tanu, Vogt, Remus and Evet made their way to the grand ballroom on campus where the party was being held.  The girls were allowed to wear evening gowns to the ball and had gone off to change. The guys remained in uniform.

The grand ballroom of the academy was located on the north side of the campus. It was an old and opulent building, dedicated to the school a few hundred years prior by the Ravenstorm family from Zanru, Kara’s ancestors. It also bore their name. As the young men walked through the massive doorway into the foyer, they could see that the other students, family members and faculty had already gathered there. The atmosphere in the ballroom was tense, as people were discussing the events in the plaza. The entire setting had an uneasy feel to it as if the patrons feared something else might happen.

“Well if you need me I’ll be at the buffet table,” said Tanu, who was walking away from them and not distraught like the other patrons.  The perennial glutton, they knew not to expect to see him until it was time to leave. A waiter was passing with a tray of Tandoorian champagne, everyone but Zarak took a glass.  He had issues with items of intoxicating content in the past, particularly banga, a natural fermented fruit which was plentiful in his homeland of Divum. “I think I’ll just have water,” he told the others. They nodded understandingly. “Isn’t that Jade over there?” Evet said to Vogt, pointing in the direction of their classmate, who was chatting with some of her girlfriends. “Why so it is,” Vogt replied, eyeing the Aequorian beauty to whom he was trying to take out for the past two weeks but they could never get the timing right. “Let’s go over and say hi,” he said while cleaning his spectacles. Evet did not need to be convinced. He was more than happy to play wingman if it involved talking to a group of pretty girls. And off they went.

As Kaz looked around the room, he saw a myriad of faces belonging to people that he had befriended, conversed with or simply seen across the quad over the last seven years. Some of them he would see more often if they were stationed in Civitas. Others he may only see on certain ceremonial occasions. And some he may never see again as they took up stations across the world. Just then he noticed someone approaching from his left. It was his mother, looking very elegant in her long flowing blue gown. Her dreadlocks, usually almost to her knees were pinned up and styled on this occasion. “I’m so proud of you all,” she said kissing them each on the cheek. “Thank you Mrs. Silverwynd,” said Remus and Zarak almost in unison. “Thank you mother,” said Kaz. “I’m afraid I must cut this evening short however, I have some affairs of state to attend,” Ursula Silverwynd told her son and his friends. “I understand, I know how it is, I will see you later,” said Kaz to his mother. Indeed he did, when he was growing up, his mother was always engaged in her work. This was something he had grown accustomed to. And with that she was off.

“I think I’ll go get some fresh air,” said Remus. “Okay,” said Zarak and Kaz as they watched him head upstairs and out onto balcony. The others knew he was not the most social of people, in fact the only reason he probably showed up was because of the occasion. But parties and events on a whole were not usually frequented by Remus Bane.

“May I have this dance?” Kaz heard someone say as they tapped him on the shoulder. It was Kara; she was wearing what had to be the most beautiful red dress Kaz had ever seen (not that he often gave critique of dresses, red or otherwise). He had never seen her looking so radiant, probably because until now he had mostly seen her only in uniform. “Well if you insist,” he said smiling. An Aequorian waltz was playing and it was one of the very few formal dances he knew, so he was thankful for the timing.

This left Eri and a rather awkward looking Zarak. It was awkward probably because he has admired the young sorceress for a while now, but lacked the confidence to have ever expressed this to her.  Taking in how she looked in her yellow gown, and with her almost glowing red hair pinned up, he was totally in awe. “Well let’s not be outdone shall we?” Eri said extending her hand to Zarak. “I don’t know,” said Zarak, “Divi aren’t the best dancers, even with the wings tucked away. I guess we’re more coordinated in the sky.” Eri gave him a reassuring smile “Well we’ll figure it out together,” she said, “It’s not as though there’s a spell that I can caste to make us masters of the Aequorian waltz, at least I don’t think so. I would have to ask my grandfather about that sometime.”

Kaz was thinking about how graceful Kara looked dancing. This was another thing that came from her upbringing. Royalty was normally well trained in the arts, languages and social skills. Kara was more so that most. He had never met anyone so well rounded. She also had this look on her face, almost like it was the best night of her life. Or maybe he was thinking that because it was his. Whatever the reason it was something that he would have loved to have gone on forever.

The waltz came to an end much sooner that Kaz was hoping for. The crowd applauded. “Where are the others?” Kara asked, looking around for her friends. “Well Zarak and Eri are on the other end of the dance floor,” Kaz said pointing in the direction of their two friends. “Vogt and Evet are over by the base of the stairs talking to Jade and her friends. Remus is on the balcony. And I’ll give you three guesses as to where Tanu is,” he said with a smirk. “I’ll only need one,” she chuckled, “Let’s get the others and join Remus shall we? It’s such a lovely night; I think we should take in a view of the city.” Kaz agreed, signalling to Zarak and Eri to meet them over by the stairs.

“Sure Vogt is a pretty good sharp shooter, but I’m much more effective with my quanzanite orb,” they heard Evet bragging as they walked up to the small group.  He was trying to impress the girls with his tales of heroics. “You really must excuse my brother,” said Eri coming up from behind, “He’s not usually this modest,” the sarcasm was thick in her voice. “No but I thought I would tone it down a notch just for tonight,” said Evet unfettered. They all laughed.  “We were all thinking of going up to the balcony to take in the view,” Kara informed them, “You all are more than welcome to come.”

“Why that’s an excellent idea,” replied Jade, “It was starting to get a bit crowded in here.” Her two friends nodded in agreement. Kaz couldn’t quite remember their names, but he knew they were in a younger class and he could tell like Jade they were Aequorian. Which wasn’t hard to miss because Aequorians were easily identifiable by their slightly fin shaped ears which were also gills. Other than that they looked like humans in every way.  Jade herself was a tanned complexion with short brown hair. She had fine features and light-brown eyes. She had always had a pleasant demeanour about her as well; in fact Kaz could not remember ever seeing her without a smile.

They all headed up the wide winding stairway. Kaz looked over at the buffet table which was down and to his left. He saw Tanu was still making his rounds, obviously elated at the available feast. They made eye contact and Kaz signalled that they were headed outside. Tanu made a gesture indicating that he would join them in five minutes. Or at least that’s what Kaz thought. He could have easily been saying after five more servings. “I guess we would know in five minutes,” Kaz was thinking to himself.

They walked through the wide doorway leading to the massive balcony, which had a panoramic view of the city. They could see Remus was standing at the far end of the platform looking towards the sky. “Missing home?” Kaz asked approaching him. “I guess,” Remus replied, “It’s kind of hard not to at a time like this and when you can just look up in the sky and see your city’s lights.” Ourea of course could be seen very well from Galaria. It was one of the three moons visible during the day. On mornings it could be seen in the eastern skyline, but at this late hour in the evening, because of Galaria’s rotation, it was in the west heading towards the horizon. The lights in Lunar City, its capital were just beginning to come on and lit up that portion of the sky. “When was the last time you were home” asked Kaz as he arrived next to his long time friend. “Summer break, two years ago,” remarked Remus, “The space elevator was down last year, so I didn’t get a chance to go.” “Yes, I remember that, it was down for maintenance,” said Kaz. He could see that Remus was really missing his home.

“I’ve never seen the city from up here,” said Kara, “It’s absolutely marvellous.” They all agreed. The cityscape was stretched out before them on all sides. The financial district to the south had the highest concentration of tall buildings; a vast array of shadows and lights. The industrial district was to the west, a cluster of much smaller buildings, but spread out over a larger area. The massive tower of the Knight headquarters was obstructing their view of the east and the residential area that was located there. And over to the north, the Atlas Mountains, or at least the very summit of them.

The reason they could only see the tops of these mountains, was because Civitas was a floating metropolis, hovering over the site of the original city which was destroyed during the last Great War. Bombarded and left in ruin and radiation, the city as it were, was uninhabitable. But left unattended the site which was quanzanite rich would have been open to every pioneering industrialist the world over, to drain its reserves dry. A decision was made to create a second city on the site above the radiation. At first the idea of using massive pillars was introduced. But then it was argued by engineers that much weight over the course of time left to the elements would be too much for any known material. So the decision was made to create a massive carrier and build the city upon it. It was kept afloat by using solar powered quanzanite crystals. The energy was so renewable that they would never be without power and the city could remain in its state for as long as there were people to maintain it. This new city was now known as Civitas Tabernus, but people simply referred to it as Civitas.

It was totally dark now. Kaz was relishing in the glow of the city lights and wondering about the future. He was thinking of the apartment he would move into when he left the dorm, and of his new post as Lieutenant First Class, and that he already had his first mission. Never had the phrase ‘what will tomorrow bring’ had so much meaning to him until now. Kara came up beside him and took his hand. She gave him a smile, which he returned. The air was starting to chill now; Kaz could feel himself starting to get goose-bumps, and he could see Kara was as well. He put his arm around her. “Hey Eri,” he said, “What can you do about the temperature?” The young sorceress put her hand on her chin as if she was beginning to ponder. “Let me see….” she said. She paused for a moment, and then exclaimed “Okay, I got it!” She was always happy to be casting one spell or another. She muttered something from the ancient language of her native Quelos, Kaz couldn’t determine what, not that he would have understood even if he had heard it properly. At the end of her incantation, she put two fingers to the side of her lips and blew.

Then, as if protruding from her lips, a stream of golden mist formed. It got thicker as it flowed, and soon it was surrounding them all. All at once it felt warmer, like a summer’s morning. The feeling made Kaz think of lazier times, when he would visit his home and go sailing during long holidays from school. They were all embodied in the glow, and even though they could feel the wind picking up now it made no difference because they were kept warm by Eri’s spell.

“Aye, it’s freezing up here!” Tanu shrieked as he came onto the balcony, “Have you guys lost your minds?” “Oh, do be quiet and step inside the mist,” Eri said to him. “Oh ho, didn’t see that,” said Tanu as he dashed into the warm mist. “Civitas sure is pretty from up here,” he observed.

They continued to talk and reminisce of the days gone by at school. They laughed as they remembered how scared Tanu was his first time aerial training. Or when Remus, Vogt and Evet were in a training rescue mission and had to be rescued themselves.  They were solemn when they remembered the day they received the news that Kaz’s father had passed away, and how sad they all were, for he was a beloved vice principal.

It was getting late now; there were no more hints of sunlight in the western sky. Night was fully upon them.  “We should probably head back to the party,” said Vogt. “It probably looks like the valedictorian and his friends abandoned it,” he joked.  “Yes, we probably should,” said Kaz, agreeing with his friend.

All of a sudden the wide doors of the balcony swung open, and what would seem like the entire array of attendees poured out onto the large terrace. People were gushing out of the main hall seemingly trying to get an impressive vantage point.

“What’s going on?” Kaz asked one of students that were walking past them. “Why didn’t you hear the announcement just now?”The young knight replied. “They’re getting ready to set off the fireworks.”

Kaz had forgotten about this part of the graduation gala. Although he himself had never been to one, he had seen the fantastical display of lights on the night of the ceremony from his dorm room.  He and his group were still close to the edge of the balcony. They turned and walked back to the rail before that spot was taken up.

No sooner had they gotten to the rail, the light show began. They were two large rockets to start off, that exploded high above them and spread out over the sky in a massive white and blue light, the school colours. They lit the night sky and gave the illusion of daylight all around. They were followed by a series of rockets that exploded and made intricate designs across the sky. Some that spun like pin wheels and some that took the shapes of animals and objects.

This went on for a good few minutes and then it all settled down. Then they heard a rumbling. One last rocket, this one bigger than all the others that had gone before was racing through the sky. Kaz had seen this before, he knew what it was going to be and it was always breathtaking. The large rocket got to its apex and detonated. At first it wasn’t obvious what it was going to be, just a series of large explosions then smaller ones as light scattered across the sky. Then, a new series of explosions added colour and definition to the picture that was forming.

It was the seal of the Knights of Galaria. The massive shield, with two swords crisscrossed behind it; the picture of the world on the shield was in front of a massive ‘G’. The banner across the bottom read “For Honour and Galaria”; all of which was in vivid detail.

Kaz and everyone else were thoroughly impressed. They thought this was a magnificent way to finish the night.

“Well, I believe I’m off to bed,” said Kaz to the others. “We have an early start tomorrow.” “Yes, I believe I will turn in as well,” said Vogt. The others nodded in agreement, for they knew that tomorrow they would embark on their first official mission. And what a mission it was. Someone tried to assassinate the General Secretary of the Confederation of Nations and they were the ones assigned to find out whom. Oh what an adventure tomorrow would bring and they couldn’t wait.

They said their goodbyes to classmates, professors and training officers alike and one by one left the chilly balcony. Kaz walked Kara back to her dormitory. “Are you ready for tomorrow?” she asked, fixing the collar of his uniform.  “I hope so. But I can’t help but feel a little nervous,” he replied. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fantastic, we all think so,” she said. And with that she gave him a kiss. Now it certainly wasn’t the first time they’ve kissed, but it was particularly nice tonight because it seemingly alleviated whatever jitters Kaz was feeling about tomorrow’s mission.

“Good night Ms. Ravenstorm,” he said as he stroked her cheek. “Good night Mr. Silverwynd,” she said with a smile. And with that Kaz was off to his dormitory to receive a much welcomed rest. It had been a long day and he knew tomorrow would be filled with many uncertainties as he began his charge as a Knight of Galaria.

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First Chapter Reveal: Tickling Daphne H. by Veronica Frances

Tickling Daphne H.Title of Book: TICKLING DAPHNE H.
Genre: Erotica, Adult Fiction
Author: Veronica Frances
Website: www.ticklingdaphne.com
Publisher: Blue Note Publications

PURCHASE TICKLING DAPHNE H. HERE

SUMMARY:

Tickling Daphne H. follows the ticklish journeys of Daphne, Dave, Carol and Harold, exploring how tickling deeply affects the lives of these four people.

The story deals with the many different faces of tickling; the addictive and torturous, the pleasurable and erotic and the humorous and romantic.

This is the very unusual love story of Daphne and Dave, two people facing their tickle-demons together. It is primarily the journey of Daphne, a 21-year-old very ticklish woman. Daphne finds herself in a world where every important person in her life has a tickling fetish, including her boyfriend Dave. She finds herself constantly surrounded by feathers and wiggling fingers, unable to escape the taunting sounds of her own laughter. She is also unable to escape her own mixed-up feelings about tickling.

As Daphne’s relationship with Dave grows, she must learn to face her fears and deeper feelings about tickling, for the sake of their relationship and herself.

Mr. Breeze is back; so is Michael Ryan and Rover, the magical dog.

MR. BREEZE fans can rejoice. REVELATION, Morrie Richfield’s much-anticipated sequel to his novel MR. BREEZE, has arrived. Readers new to the strange but inspiring tale of a super being and his attempt to set mankind on a straight and moral path for its very survival can immerse themselves in what critics and readers alike are calling an “inspirational fantasy” with important lessons for all of us.

In MR. BREEZE, published in 2011, Richfield introduced readers to Zackary, aka Zack, aka Mr. Breeze, an ancient being who claimed to be mankind’s creator and who still exerts a powerful force on the human race and its very existence. Zack appeared on earth as a powerful man who did miraculous deeds. He chose journalist Michael Ryan to tell his story in a book that, he hoped, would show mankind how to stop its self-destructive ways and bring paradise on earth. With man’s fate hanging in the balance, Zack disappeared, leaving humans to their fate and Michael wondering what his role really is.

REVELATION moves the action two years into the future. The situation looks bleak. Mankind has slipped back into its old, destructive ways and Michael has become a dissolute recluse. There are people who view Michael as a savior and others who see him as a threat to be eliminated.

Along this strange trip, Michael meets new friends and reunites with old companions, the most significant of which is Rover, an abused dog whom Zack endowed with superpowers. Rover becomes Zack’s messenger to Michael, as Michael tries to get Zack’s original message out to the world: If mankind doesn’t straighten out, he will destroy the human race.

Richfield plays down the description of REVELATION as an “inspirational fantasy.” He calls it a “self-help book, a textbook, a reality series on paper. It is what we see when we look in the mirror.”

If MR. BREEZE focused on Zack and his message, REVELATION focuses on Michael, following his struggle to understand his role in Zack’s master plan and to find his soul, Richfield says. “Michael’s final revelation is that we just don’t learn. Without the threat of destruction, we go back to our old ways. Our time is almost up and we need to do something. We need to show Mr. Breeze the human race deserves a chance to continue to exist.”

– See more at: http://www.pumpupyourbook.com/2013/02/23/pump-up-your-book-presents-revelation-virtual-book-publicity-tour-win-100-visa-card/#sthash.cSEU8eOS.dpuf

FIRST CHAPTER

It was a lovely spring afternoon in New York City. Even though it was such a beautiful day outside, it was a bit gloomy inside the Hamilton family brownstone on the Upper East Side. Daphne Hamilton was very depressed and in no mood to attend her 21st birthday party that her stepmother Carol had planned for her. Daphne had a really bad fight with her boyfriend Dave the day before.

Dave and Daphne had been talking about having a life together, but the fight they had made Daphne feel doubtful about their future, though Dave was not doubtful at all. He was planning on being at her party, no matter how bad a fight they had. Daphne was unaware of the fact that he felt really bad about the whole thing and was planning on attending the party. She felt so foolish about how she had behaved. She felt certain he wouldn’t even want to see her, let alone attend her party.

Daphne was angry with Dave for always trying to tickle her. She didn’t understand why he kept trying to nibble her earlobes and touch her in so many ticklish places, when she had made it clear that she did not want to become intimate until she turned twenty-one. She was adamant about remaining a virgin until after her 21st birthday. Besides being extremely ticklish, she was afraid tickling would lead to sex and she just wasn’t yet ready.

She had always wondered why Dave was continuously trying so hard to tickle her. She suspected perhaps there was something more to his obsession with tickling, but she was afraid to bring it up. She was afraid of being tickled by him; afraid she would lose control and end up deep in his arms, in a place that was reserved for the night when they would first make love.

She was so hoping they would make love after her party, but she felt so silly about the way she had acted, pulling away from him and giggling like a child, as his fingers lightly tried to probe her and seek out all her giggle spots. She never even allowed herself to say the word tickle in front of himbecause she just knew in her heart it would lead to more. So, she never talked about tickling with him, even though it was quite obvious he wanted so badly to tickle her. She felt so horrible. How could she possibly go to her party feeling like that?

Daphne’s stepmother Carol knew Dave was coming to the party, but wanted her stepdaughter to be surprised. Carol had no idea Daphne had barricaded herself in her bedroom, face down on her bed, her long curly auburn hair draped across her pillow. She finally turned her head to look out the window, her beautiful blue eyes slightly swollen from the tears that had drenched her fair-skinned freckly cheeks. Her 5’7”, 175-pound body was tired from all the crying she had done. She was dressed very casually in an oversized pullover green shirt, blue jeans and blue Bart Simpson socks.

Carol loved Daphne dearly, but wanted her to finally find her own place and get married to Dave, the man she loved. Although Carol also had trouble letting Daphne grow up and go out on her own. It was a source of great confusion for Carol. She wanted Daphne to leave home and get married, yet she was afraid for her, as she knew Daphne had issues with Dave that really needed to be worked out.

Daphne felt like she needed more independence and didn’t like that she was still living home at twenty-one. She worked for her father’s business and was financially secure, with a full real estate license. She and Dave were planning on moving in together at some point. She had decided to continue living at home until they found a place together and came to the mutual agreement that it was time to take that next big step.

Daphne was pouting up in her room. She sat down in despair on the chair by her dresser, brushing her hair lightly, when her stepmother walked in. Carol looked so chipper, in a bright orange cotton pullover shirt and blue jeans. She was wearing pretty beige sandals, which seemed to add a bit of a bounce to her step.

Carol was a feisty, young looking confident woman in her mid-fifties, standing at about 5’4”, with medium-short reddish hair and a light to medium complexion. Her height often fooled people into thinking she was passive and unassuming. Carol was anything but passive and unassuming. She was loving, but strong and could be extremely tough and single-minded when she wanted to be.

“Daphne? Why aren’t you getting dressed for the party?” Carol asked, surprised to find Daphne moping around and feeling sorry for herself on the day of her party.

“I’m not going to the party,” Daphne replied.

“What do you mean you’re not going? Your father and I have been planning this party for weeks.”

“I am not going! Dave and I had a really bad fight yesterday and I’m feeling lousy and ugly. I don’t feel pretty or special and I just don’t want to go.”

Carol stood behind Daphne and put her hands gently on her stepdaughter’s tense shoulders.

“Daphne, you are not ugly. Now I don’t want to hear you talking like that. So you and Dave had a fight. All couples fight. Don’t let a fight with a guy decide whether you are going to your 21st birthday party.”

“Mother, you don’t understand!”

“I’m afraid I understand better than you think. Now come on, get dressed.”

“I said I am not going!”

“Young lady, you are not going to miss your 21st birthday party, not after all the work your father and I have put into it! You’re going!”

“NO!!!! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” Daphne yelled, folding her arms and sitting down on her bed, where she proceeded to pout and act like a five- year-old.

Carol stood there, looking at her stubborn, now fully-grown stepdaughter and dreaded what was coming next. Carol had bought Daphne a beautiful new white dress for the party and she was not going to allow her stubborn stepdaughter to get out of trying on the dress and wearing the dress to the party. In fact, Carol was not going to allow her to miss the party, the party she and Daphne’s father had spent so much money and time on. That kind of disrespect just simply wasn’t tolerated, at least not by Carol.

Daphne’s mother died when she was four. Even though Carol was Daphne’s stepmother, Daphne had always thought of her like a real mother and began calling her Mother immediately after Carol married her father when Daphne was six. They had always been very close, but Carol was a woman who knew how to get what she wanted and she wanted Daphne to try on the new dress, to wear the dress and to go to the party.

Carol thought she would try to convince Daphne by showing her the beautiful new dress and by helping her to try it on. She hoped that would work, because one way or another, as far as Carol was concerned, Daphne was going to go to that party, even if she had to force her.

Meanwhile downstairs, Daphne’s father Harold Hamilton answered the door to find a very handsome young man standing there, with a big smile and a bouquet of a dozen red roses.

Harold was a very tall man in his mid to late fifties, standing at 6’4”, clean-shaven, with broad shoulders, a medium complexion, a medium to broad build and salt and pepper hair. Physically, he had a very dominant presence about him, but was a kind and gentle man at heart.

Dave Parker was an extremely sensitive and nice guy. He would be twenty-four in three months and stood at 5’10” with jet-black hair. He had a medium build, fair skin and a very good, clean-shaven complexion. He looked very young for his age. He was wearing a tuxedo and looked like a centerfold from a teen magazine. He was very smart and mature for his age and was pursuing law with everything that he had.

Daphne had met Dave at a bowling alley one night two years ago, when she was out with her friends. She was just nineteen. To her, he was a handsome and captivating older man of twenty-two. He was working his way through law school by working at the bowling alley in the evenings. Daphne’s parents approved of Dave because he was so smart and had a lot of potential to become a fine lawyer and also because he loved Daphne so much. Dave came from a very wealthy family, as did Daphne, but Dave wasn’t a stuck-up rich guy. He loved bowling alleys and wanted to work to help his parents with his college tuition. Dave’s parents lived in Florida and he had relocated after he was accepted into a New York City law school.

Dave needed to talk to Daphne about their fight. Daphne was always putting down her slightly plus-sized body and he had lost his patience with her. He loved her body and hated when she put herself down. That was how their fight had started. Then, as he tried to tickle her, it escalated.

He also needed to talk to her about something else that was very important to him. Dave had a very intense tickling fetish and he had never felt comfortable sharing that information with his girlfriend of two years. He had been talking to a therapist about it and he was just beginning to accept that he did not want to shake his fetish. Tickling was a big turn-on for him and he was finally able to fully accept that fact.

Daphne was always pulling away from him because his touches and nibbles tickled her. He was usually an extremely patient man and respected her boundaries, but he was trying to find the courage to tell her the truth about his fetish and how important tickling was in his life. He had been very patient with her because he loved her and he had been sacrificing his love of tickling for two years, never revealing his true obsession with it. He had put his love for her ahead of his own needs and he felt it was time to tell her the truth.

He was also dealing with the fact that he had a mild dominant side and that he wanted to eventually restrain Daphne while tickling her. His therapist wanted him to be honest with Daphne about his fetish and his dominant side and he was ready to do that, even though it might stir things up a bit between them.

Daphne and Dave had a rather unusual relationship. They had taken their relationship extremely slowly and started out as friends. They had somehow managed to be together for two years and not fool around until recently. Daphne had a lot of self-respect and Dave loved her for it and was willing to take things slowly. Because they had agreed to wait until after her 21st birthday to make love and because she was still a virgin, he knew he couldn’t truly tickle her in the way that he wanted to. He knew it might lead to a level of intimacy that she just wasn’t ready for, so he didn’t force the tickling on her, or his dominant side, mild as it was.

He had kept her in the dark about his secret tickling desires and it was eating him up inside. Luckily, he was so busy with school that he didn’t have much time to brood about how non-physical their relationship had become. He knew that would change after she turned twenty-one and he was ready to welcome that change with open arms.

He was now ready for so much more. He loved her so much and he felt bad for losing his patience the way that he did, regarding her body-image issues and her unwillingness to be tickled. He wanted to help her explore her ticklish side and he was ready to confront her about it that night, after her party. He loved her with all his heart, but he wanted to tickle her and hoped that after he shared the truth with her about his fetish, that she would let him and stop pulling away all the time.

Dave stood nervously outside the Hamilton’s front door. Harold shook his hand and let him in.

“Hi Dave, it’s nice to see you, but the party isn’t until much later,” Harold commented.

“I know. I came early for a reason. I wanted to surprise Daphne and have a talk with her. I feel really bad about our fight. Oh my, it’s only 4 o’clock. I guess I am a bit early. Isn’t the party at 6 o’clock?”

“No, the party was moved to 8 o’clock. I have an important meeting at the office tonight, so Carol was able to move the party later.”

Dave looked embarrassed that he had shown up more than four hours early.

“I guess I can leave and come back later. Gosh, I feel kind of silly being all dressed up so many hours early. I guess I was so upset over our fight, I wasn’t thinking.”

“Nonsense! Why don’t you come in and we can have a little chat before I leave for the office. Daphne should be down in about an hour or so, maybe longer. You know how women are when they’re getting ready,” Harold commented.

Dave chuckled. Harold led him into the very large kitchen and put the flowers into a vase. Dave was seated on a stool and Harold was fixing the flowers, finally leaning up against the kitchen counter.

“Dave, I’m so sorry about the fight that you guys had. I think Daphne is pretty upset about it.”

“Well, it’s my fault sir. I should have been more patient. Daphne is so special and beautiful, but for some reason, she doesn’t seem to think so. I like women who are not real skinny, but she thinks because she doesn’t have a supermodel body that she is unattractive. When I told her she was beautiful, she didn’t believe me and I’m not even sure how the fight began. I just know I want to make things right.”

“If you want to tell me about it, I am willing to listen,” Harold offered.

“Well sir, it isn’t just that she hates her plus-sized body, it’s that she keeps pulling away from me all the time. All I tried to do was nibble her earlobe. I always try to nibble her earlobe and kiss her neck and she always pulls away. And then I play with her feet……I’m sorry sir, perhaps that is too much information.”

“Nonsense, Dave!! You and Daphne have been together for two years now. You know I feel that you are the right man for my daughter and I’m sure Carol would agree. Dave, you have been with Daphne for two years and you mean to tell me you still don’t know why she pulls away from you?”

Dave began to smile, looking down at the floor, as he felt so bashful and shy speaking to Daphne’s father about such a personal subject.

“Dave…..,” Harold began, standing really close to the blushing young man. “You do know how ticklish my daughter is, don’t you?”

Dave was beaming.

“Of course I do, sir. When I try to nibble her ear………”

Dave stopped himself.

“Yes Dave, what happens when you try to nibble her ear?”

Dave was almost chuckling, as he spoke.

“She giggles and pulls away. I’m afraid it tickles her, sir. I suppose I try to tickle her a bit too much. She just runs away. She giggles at the slightest poke of my finger.”

Harold chuckled.

“Yes, Carol is the same way. Isn’t it delightful?”

There was a moment of brief silence, after the forbidden and somewhat taboo subject had been broached. Then there was laughter and the loud, boisterous sound of male testosterone echoing throughout the kitchen.

“Dave, I am so relieved to hear that you are aware of my daughter’s predicament.”

“I certainly am, sir. I don’t know if I should be discussing this with you.”

“Dave, I like you. I trust you with my daughter’s heart. I am very aware of how ticklish Daphne is and how frustrating it must be for you sometimes.”

“Yes sir, but it is kind of wonderful,” Dave replied, with a very large grin on his face.

Dave and Harold were in such close proximity to one another, neither one aware of the fact that the other had a very severe tickling fetish. Harold had always had an all-consuming tickling fetish and he tickled his wife Carol for many years, until one day, she forbid him to tickle her anymore.

Carol also had a tickling fetish, having grown up in a family that used tickling as a form of reprimand. She and her younger sister Debbie were tickled by their mother whenever they misbehaved.

One of the things that brought Harold and Carol together was their love of tickling. Carol was a tickler, but was also deathly ticklish herself, just like Daphne. Carol forbid Harold to tickle her once she went into menopause because she became so much more ticklish and the thought of being tickled frightened her terribly. Harold rarely allowed her to tickle him and that had always frustrated her.

Harold was completely clueless about how ticklish his wife had become, because she led him to believe she had lost all her sexual desire. As much as Harold loved her, he was frustrated and spent a lot of time at the office, putting a slight strain on their marriage.

Dave was completely unaware of Harold and Carol’s tickling fetishes. He only knew that Daphne was ticklish and that she never allowed him to tickle her. Just as Dave had felt uneasy confiding in Daphne about his tickling fetish, Daphne felt just as uncomfortable telling Dave all about her parents’ obsession with tickling. She certainly felt uneasy discussing her own ticklishness with him. Dave was very aware of Daphne’s fear of being tickled. He knew it was time to help her overcome her fears and he was ready to discuss it with her.

Harold looked at Dave and smiled.

“Yes, it is wonderful when a woman is ticklish. Dave, my daughter will have to be the one to discuss this with you and you should make her discuss it with you.”

“I believe you’re right, sir. We have just never really talked about it.”

“Well, see that you do talk about it. Communication is very important in any relationship,” Harold pointed out.

“You’re right, sir. I have let Daphne get away with this for far too long. I must confront her about this.”

“Dave, I love and respect my daughter and this is an issue between her and the man she loves. I would love to advise you further, but that would not be fair to Daphne.”

“I understand sir and I will do my best to make things right.”

“That a boy!!” Harold exclaimed, patting Dave firmly on the back. “Listen, I have to leave for the office. I will see you later at the party. Carol is upstairs with Daphne and she is making some big deal out of a new dress she bought for her. Why don’t you take a seat and Daphne will be down soon. Oh, I almost forgot, the bathroom down here is out of order.If you have to use the toilet, use the one in the hallway upstairs. Just knock first in case Daphne is getting dressed.”

“Thank you sir. I would like to wash up.”

“I’m sure Daphne will be very happy to see you. I won’t tell her you’re here, so she will be surprised. See you at the party,” Harold said, leaving the premises just in time, as things were about to get a bit crazy upstairs.

Dave sat down on the couch and watched television, as trouble was brewing up in Daphne’s room.

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Dave had been watching TV for several minutes and decided it was time to use the bathroom. He made his way upstairs and was surprised to hear the yelling coming from Daphne’s room. He continued up the stairs and stopped just outside of her room, where he was able to peek discreetly around the corner.

He was shocked to see his adorable Daphne yelling and screaming at her stepmother. He was just as shocked to see Carol being so argumentative. Carol was usually such a reserved woman, although he knew she could be quite forceful and outspoken when pushed.

Dave was stuck. What should he do? Should he get involved? As the yelling between the two women increased to great volumes, he decided to just stay put and see what unfolded. He wanted to be there for Daphne, but he was a little intimidated by Carol. After all, she was Daphne’s stepmother and he felt she needed to be in charge of the situation. So, he stayed discreetly outside the bedroom where he had a perfect view of what was going on.

He also knew how close Daphne and Carol had always been and didn’t feel right interfering.

At this point, Carol knew she would have to force Daphne to go to the party and she had no problem doing that. Daphne was being so mean and disrespectful and she was hurting Carol’s feelings. Carol knew she could not let her get away with that kind of behavior.

“I am not going to this stupid party!” Daphne yelled.

“Oh, but you are!” Carol replied, firmly.

Daphne recognized that tone in her stepmother’s voice. That was the tone Carol got very rarely, but when she did get it, anyone who knew her knew she was going to get her way. Carol meant business and Daphne looked a bit nervous all of a sudden.

“Fine, I’ll go!” Daphne conceded, standing up and facing Carol, whose slim, extremely well toned body was parked right in front of her.

Thank God, Carol thought to herself. Now she wouldn’t have to force her stepdaughter to do anything. What a relief, or so she thought.

“I will go to the party, but I am going just as I am!” Daphne announced defiantly.

Carol knew the trouble wasn’t over yet. The party was a dressy occasion. Men had to wear suits or tuxedos and women had to look nice. How could she let Daphne go to the party dressed in an ugly, oversized green shirt, blue jeans and Bart Simpson socks?

“Young lady, you are not going to the party dressed like that! Come on, take a bath and you’ll feel much better.”

“I am fine! I don’t need a bath!”

“Daphne, you are going to get dressed and take a bath. Now take off your clothes. Please don’t argue. I am losing my patience.”

By now, Dave was growing really concerned. He didn’t want to embarrass Daphne by interfering and he couldn’t seem to get up the courage to go inside and confront the situation. Carol was insisting Daphne get undressed and he was more than just a little bit thrilled about that.

He wondered how Daphne’s body looked under her oversized clothes. She had not taken off her clothes for him yet because they had agreed to wait until the night they would first make love. He had been under her shirt many times, until she would giggle and push his hand away. She was always wearing a bra and she always kept her pants on.

Since they had decided to wait until after her 21st birthday party to be more intimate, and being that her birthday party was just around the corner, Dave remained ever so patient. He was angry with himself for wanting a sneak preview of her naked, sexy, voluptuous body. He had a feeling Carol just might make that possible for him a bit sooner than expected. He was a man after all and a very horny man at that, and if he could get a little preview of coming attractions, why not? He felt guilty for feeling that way, but his male hormones made him want to see her naked body and his patience had started to wear very thin.

He knew clothes would soon be coming off and he just couldn’t pull himself away from the door, the large frame keeping him well hidden from view. Daphne and Carol were so intensely involved in their dispute that they wouldn’t have noticed him anyway.

“Look at this beautiful dress I bought for you. I am not sure it will fit. Why don’t you try it on?” Carol suggested, trying to sound really positive.

Daphne looked at her stepmother with disgust and almost growled at her. Dave felt Daphne was being kind of rude, which really wasn’t like her at all. Carol was just about at the end of her patience.

“Young lady, you are going to try this on!”

Daphne tried to resist, as Carol held the dress against her. Daphne seemed nervous and fidgety. Dave didn’t understand why she was so uptight.

“Hold still Daphne! Look how pretty! Come look in the mirror.”

Daphne stood in front of the mirror, as Carol grabbed some measuring tape from the dresser drawer.

“Daphne, either try on the dress or be measured. It’s up to you.”

Daphne didn’t budge.

“Daphne, if you don’t try on the dress, I will have to measure you.”

It almost seemed like Carol was threatening Daphne with the measuring and Dave wasn’t sure why. What was the big deal about being measured? Carol just continued her mission, not seeming to care very much about what Daphne wanted.

“Okay Daphne, have it your way!! Arms out to the side,” Carol ordered.

“No!” Daphne protested, pouting and looking so defensive.

Now Dave really felt Daphne was acting childish and could understand a little bit why Carol was losing her patience. He felt his girlfriend was acting very strange. He had never seen her quite so uncooperative and uptight, except when he tried to nibble her earlobe, or touch her in certain forbidden ticklish places for too long.

“Young lady, I said lift up your arms!” Carol ordered, her patience continuing to wane.

Daphne raised her arms out to the side and lightly giggled, as Carol measured her. Daphne began flapping her arms up and down, as if she were going to sprout wings. She was trying so desperately not to laugh. Her tiny little giggles were barely audible, but Dave thought he heard a few giggles pass through the tense atmosphere.

HMMMMM…….how interesting, Dave surmised to himself, becoming more than just a little bit amused, when he realized that the measuring seemed to tickle her. He suddenly realized the reason for her being so uptight and why the measuring might be unpleasant for her.

He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head to the side, totally enthralled in Daphne’s strange behavior and tiny giggles. His eyes were intently focused on her, as she tried to fight her overbearing stepmother.

She bitched and complained as Carol measured her and she just couldn’t hold in her giggles any longer.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeheeeeeeeheeeeeeeheeeeeeehahahahahaha!!!!!!!!”

“HMMMMMM…….this seems to be tickling you. Does it tickle?” Carol asked.

“Eeeeeeeeee-heeeeeeeehahahahahaha, YES! OH PLEASE MOTHER, I REALLY HATE WHEN YOU MEASURE ME!!! IT TICKLES!!!!!!”

Dave was ecstatic, as he was finally getting to see his beautiful girlfriend being tickled. He was finally getting to hear her laugh for more than two seconds and he was getting to hear her actually respond to being tickled. He had never really been given the chance to hear her respond much, because she was always pulling away from him before he had the chance to truly hear her delicious giggles and laughter.

His girlfriend was indeed extremely ticklish, with the most adorable laugh he had ever heard. He was even more excited hearing Daphne admit that it tickled her. Daphne had never used the word tickle in his presence and it just sounded so sexy and real, coming out of her sweet little lips. Daphne fought Carol every step of the way, making it increasingly difficult for Carol to measure her.

“Look how babyish this looks! I am not wearing this child’s dress! I am a woman now……eeeeeeeheeeeeeeeheeeeeheeeeee!!!!!!!” Daphne protested, sounding much more like a ticklish child than a woman.

“Oh really! Well, you are still living under my roof and I say you are wearing this dress! Hold still young lady! You are making this very difficult!”

Dave felt guilty watching this very private and ticklish stepmother-stepdaughter moment. Daphne just wouldn’t stop moving around and Carol had to keep touching her to hold her still. Daphne’s shirt was incredibly lightweight and she could feel Carol’s nails moving around, as Carol kept having to reposition the measuring tape on her ticklish, fidgety body.

It appeared to Dave that Carol didn’t mean to tickle her, but at that moment, he was still blissfully unaware of Carol’s tickling fetish.

He knew Daphne probably hated being measured because of her body image issues. He loved her curvaceous, slightly plump and softly rounded body. He wished she could see herself in a much more loving and positive light and that she could see herself the way he saw her and love herself from the inside out.

“AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!! MOTHER, STOP THAT!!!!! YOU’RE TICKLING ME! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!”

Daphne’s nipples hardened, as the ticklish measuring continued to drive her crazy. Carol seemed to notice that she was not wearing a bra.

“Daphne? Are you not wearing a bra?” Carol asked, causing Daphne to nod sheepishly. “Well, no daughter of mine is going braless to her 21st birthday party. You say you are so grown up. Well, grown-up women wear bras. Now hold still young lady!” Carol reiterated, as she wrapped the measuring tape around her, in some very ticklish places.

“AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! PLEASE MOTHER………..AHAHAHA!!!! IT REALLY TICKLES………TEEEEEEEE-HEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!”

“WELL, IF YOU WOULD HOLD STILL, MAYBE IT WOULDN’T TICKLE SO MUCH!!!” Carol commented sternly.

Dave’s arousal was escalating, as she was being tickled and measured, from armpit to buttocks.

Now he knew for sure just how ticklish she truly was and he was lucky enough to witness the incredible phenomenon. Daphne was one ticklish, hot babe and she was all his! He felt very lucky and truly blessed. He had always loved her, almost from the first moment he saw her, but the fact that she was so extraordinarily ticklish, made him love her even more.

“I think it is the right size. Okay, all done,” Carol commented ever so casually.

Daphne lowered her arms. She tried to walk away from the mirror, but Carol stopped her.

“Don’t turn away from me young lady! We have to get you ready for the party! Now take off your clothes!”

Daphne pouted, turning her back angrily on her stepmother.

“I AM NOT GOING TO THE PARTY AND I AM NOT WEARING THIS DRESS!”

“WE’LL SEE ABOUT THAT!” Carol exclaimed, a wicked gleam forming in her eyes.

Dave somehow knew there was more trouble soon to come. He still felt uncomfortable showing himself and getting involved. His ambivalent arousal kept him in his place, hidden from view behind the large doorframe. He just continuedwatching, as this very unusual stepmother-stepdaughter scene unfolded, right before his very voyeuristic eyes.

— Excerpted from Tickling Daphne H. by Veronica Frances

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