Birth of the Storm by Valerie Storm


Birth of the Storm
Demon Storm
Book One
Valerie Storm
 
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Shadow Spark Publishing
Date of Publication: 6/13/2022
ASIN: B09ZZ9HJPZ
Number of pages: 355
Word Count: 89,417
Cover Artist: @Ginkahederling 

Tagline: Do you want vengeance or peace?
                Can’t I have both?

Book Description: 

A bolt of lightning. And a dream of vengeance.

For wolf-demon Kari, these define her every waking moment. Her parents are dead, slaughtered by human hands, forcing their only daughter to masquerade among their killers to save her own skin. 

Now she dwells among them, hiding her lightning-based abilities and plotting a terrible revenge, believing her schemes are all she’s good for now. But when she discovers unexpected solace among a group of humans who look past her monstrous nature, Kari finds herself questioning everything. Her mission. Her dreams. Even the hatred festering in her heart.

Is it possible for a creature like Kari to find happiness in a world that despises her?

Or will the specters of her past force her down the path of vengeance in the end?



Excerpt

She could feel her mother’s mind-presence throbbing quietly, brushing the edges of Kari’s consciousness, yet she did not respond. On the other side of the bodies, the man helped the woman to her feet. She smiled at him and brushed herself off. The other two humans who were not yet dead were offering weak cheers at their success. The one with the wounded leg had fallen to the ground, and his weaponless companion was tying white wads of something around the bleeding wound.

Shift, Kari.

Kari’s attention snapped back to her mother. Her breathing was shallow, evidenced by the very weak rise and fall of her chest, as she commanded again: Shift. Now.

Kari didn’t understand. She turned back to her father, forcing herself to look beyond the reddened snow surrounding him. He would get up soon. It was one hit. He’d taken worse swipes from a bear.
KARI.

Her mother’s voice screamed in her mind, before it cut off suddenly, a syllable half-formed. Kari let out a whimpering sob and retreated into the shadows of the cave. She shifted into her humanoid form and came out on all fours as a tiny, cowering, and very naked girl. The cold air chilled her skin, but her demon blood kept her comfortable. Her wolfish tail was small, barely more than a stub that flicked uneasily; her miniscule ears, too tiny still to see and only a couple of shades darker than her blonde hair, bent backward.

I did it, Mother! Mother?

Kari’s mind was full of buzzing silence, devoid of any thoughts except her own.

From the ground, she lifted her head. Her mother’s eyes remained yellow in death, though blank and lifeless. Kari’s hands shook and her throat burned as something wet invaded her eyes. Tears.

“Dear, are you okay?”

The woman was at Kari’s side, her voice soft. Flinching, Kari pulled away and glared, baring her teeth. The woman looked taken aback, but kept her voice soft.

“Poor thing,” she continued to speak. Her eyes trailed down Kari from head to toe, eyes widening at the sight of her bare body. “You must be freezing! What are you doing out here all alone? What’s your name?”

As she pulled off her overcoat, the men approached. The one with the bitten arm supported the limping one.

 “What is it, Anne?” the man with the hammer spoke, stopping beside the woman. He froze when he saw Kari, who was flinching away from the woman’s coat. She raised her gaze to his face.

He was an older man, his face lined with wrinkles, and his short, russet hair laced with gray. He looked weak, Kari thought blankly. How could he have beaten her father? She glared at the hammer in his hand.

It is because of their cowardly use of weapons, either to outrange or out-brute demons. They have no real strength of their own.

Distracted, she allowed the woman—Anne—to place her coat over her thin shoulders. Warmth enveloped her, and so did a repulsive human smell.

“It’s true, there really was a girl out here?” the man with the hammer muttered to himself. To the woman, he said, “She’s in shock. Come on. We can take her home and see if she recovers from whatever’s happened to her out here.”

“We’d best hurry. We have to drag Billy’s body down with us, too,” the limping man said.

“Yar, I’d hate to leave him up here,” the one supporting him muttered.

You killed them. You killed them. YOU KILLED THEM.

Kari’s angry thoughts were tangible, choking her, but she swallowed them back. She wouldn’t have a chance of surviving a fight with all of them. Her mother had wanted her to change forms—why? Her fingers twitched and she tried to keep her eyes and thoughts away from her parents. Their blood would paint the snow. Kari clenched her trembling fingers into fists.

“Will you come with us?” the woman asked, reaching out for Kari’s hand. Her eyes were soft bark, her face framed by waves of similar colored hair.

How could you do this? Kari wanted to scream. How could you kill my mother?

They thought she was human, one of them—that was the only reason Kari was still alive. Her wolfish ears were so tiny, hidden away in her locks of golden hair, so these idiotic humans did not yet suspect that she was anything other than one of them. Even her tail was too small yet to draw attention.

That was why; her mother had wanted Kari to blend in with them. Her mind screamed, wild and scrambled with panic; how safe could she be with the humans that had killed her parents?
Kari’s anger was quickly fading into a deadened feeling, her stomach empty and fluttering with unease.

Mother and Father are… she couldn’t complete the thought. Her body trembled, and every breath took energy she didn’t have. She wanted to slump into the snow and freeze to death.

“Perhaps we’d better leave her, Anne,” the man with the hammer mumbled, gently caressing the woman’s shoulder. “She’s mad. And I’m surprised she’s not bitten by the frost. No matter how long she’s been out here, she should be dead.”

The woman clicked her tongue angrily. “How dare you! Abandon a child out here to this horrid weather? No! Why else would we have come all the way up here, and Billy have given up his life?”

The man with the hurt arm grinned. “At least we got some good furs for it.”

Kari stiffened beside the woman.

No. No, no, no…

“Ah, don’t say that,” the man with the hammer murmured. “Billy was a good man.”

Anne shot them a glare before turning back to Kari. She reached forward and gently laid her fingers on the back of Kari’s hand. Her skin crawled from the touch and her focus slowly returned.

“Your nails are so long,” the woman murmured.

Yes. Long and strong enough to rend flesh, at least. Kari could slice her throat with them.

Yet her mother ordered her to shift so that they would not kill her. Kari must remain alive, if only for the sake of her mother’s last command. She jerked her hand away from the woman.

“My name…Kari,” she croaked.

The man with the limp made a noise of dissent. Anne ignored him. “Kari is your name? You poor thing. Are you alone?”

Kari gritted her teeth.

“Come on, Anne. It’s getting late.”

“Come, Kari. My name’s Anne. We’ll get you home and fed and warmed up. How does that sound?”

Kari allowed the woman to tighten the coat around her body but bared her teeth again when the woman bent to pick her up. Looking concerned yet determined, the woman instead gestured for her to follow.

Kari’s humanoid feet crunched in the snow, the sludgy frost seeping between her toes. The woman looked back at her intermittently, her face soft with compassion. Kari’s jaw tightened so much it ached.

I will kill them, Mother, she whispered in her mind, though the soundless void was enough to make her breath hitch. I will kill them for you and Father.



About the Author: 

Valerie Storm was raised in Tucson, Arizona. Growing up, she fell in love with everything fantasy. When she wasn’t playing video games, she was writing. By age ten, she began to write her own stories as a way to escape reality. When these stories became a full-length series, she considered the path to sharing with other children and children-at-heart looking for a place to call home.








 

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Catch Me If You Can by Ifeoluwa Babatunde


Catch Me If You Can
Ifeoluwa Babatunde

Genre: Psychological Thriller
Date of Publication: April 26, 2022
ISBN: 9798819411285
ASIN: B0B188N1RP
Number of pages: 253
Word Count: 40,000

Book Description: 

Catch Me If You Can is a unique and thrilling suspense novella that tackles themes of mental illness and murder. When the shy and quiet Nigerian American student Victoria stumbles into Eli at school, a friendship begins to blossom that pierces her loneliness and quiets the mental illness that lurks just beneath her awareness. But when she uncovers a shocking secret about Eli, it forces her into an impossible choice that will change her life forever.

Roped into a morbid pact to unleash their destructive urges and bring death to innocent victims, Victoria spirals into a twisted cycle of murder and mayhem. With Eli by her side, the pair feel unstoppable. But their actions can’t go unnoticed for long, and as the Law begins to close in on their trail, Victoria grows increasingly unstable. Her mental state teeters on the brink – and it will only take one small push to tip her over the edge. 

Perfect for anybody who loves thought-provoking suspense novellas that are filled with twists and turns, Catch Me If You Can is an imaginative read that will satisfy morbid curiosities and leave you with something to ponder.



Excerpt

There is a vivid boundary that distinguishes the normal from abnormal, and the typical from atypical. If the setup is altered and the circumstances become unusual; often then, the behaviors cease to belong to the category of normal. Fascinatingly, the world of abnormal is less exposed, but once it lays bare in front of the human brain, there is no possible escape to the normal world.

It is mostly believed, that things that are avoided for a longer time soon suffer the fate of becoming rotten and useless. Similarly, the human brain is that vital organ of the body that stays in the normal world only if it is given constant social interaction. It gets upset if not given the optimum condition to thrive in. Once it is obstructed in creating such connections, it goes into a deep recess. Then, after searching to interact with the normal world for a long time, a moment comes when the brain accepts the defeat and then starts cooking up strategies to wrestle with the world that shirked it. The human brain, after a long time’s effort, learns to live on its own and, then, even if the normal world wants to embrace it again, it resists the urge. Rather, it starts living in a different dimension; a dimension that is a miraculous creation of one’s brain; a dimension that cannot be viewed by a normal eye. A dimension that takes refuge in alternatives.

Nevertheless, a human brain is naturally hardwired to interact and develop connections and links with the world in which it lives; these connections are vital for the brain and the heart to develop and maintain feelings for other human beings. To understand such atypical working of the brain, it is imperative to develop a sight that can discover and unveil the unusual. It is because the brain is practically implemented by the eyes. The congruency of the brain and the eyes is key to normal human functioning; the eyes see what the brain wants to see. Likewise, it is very much possible that what the brain instructs the eyes to see is not what a normal brain would normally instruct. Therefore, the perception of the world depends upon the way the brain perceives things.

With the change in perception, the world becomes a different place to live in. Widely, the perception cuts into two halves; the one being the normal perception and the other – the abnormal perception. The owners of each can only see the world that comes along with their insight; understanding the other world is merely a task impossible for each of the clashing views.

A very obvious human psychological notion believes that if a person is impeded on his path to the destination, he resolves to find an alternative path; a path that can make a person feel like he is smoothly going down his way to that destination. Likewise, the human brain, when unable to grow in normal conditions, starts looking for alternate ways and those alternate ways often lead to a different world.

The curtains were drawn tight and not a single ray of light was able to fight its way inside the room. The room was encompassed by darkness with a small fluorescent tube as the only source of light that diffused throughout the whole room. Yet, the sharp light flowing out of the tube was falling directly into the baby’s eyes, making her weep in annoyance. Her small, dark hands and feet were flailing frantically, and her face had gone pulpy red, crying. Some painful minutes slipped past when a lady clad in an all-white suit and black ribbons appeared at the door, looking horrified as ever.

The wailing was now a harsh echo, and the baby was about to lose her breath. Hurrying along into the room, she gently stroked her small curls and inserted a nipple in her mouth. Seeing her flooding eyes, the maid quickly turned off the switch

It was her fourth birthday and her parents had bought her a piano; she was not happy to see it.

The previous year she was gifted a set of children’s books, and she had clearly told her parents to buy her a bicycle the next year. Riding a bicycle was her favorite sport; at least her brain told her so. However, the parents had decided not to heed her request whatsoever. They always told her that she would get sick if she journeyed outside to ride. She was astonished to see other children playing outside, all immune to sickness.

She had cried a lot that day, but her tears never affected her parents and all she could do was take her piano and go back to her room. Entering, she looked at the closed window. She was in thought for a few minutes, dumping the piano in the box that lay under her bed. The box had many such toys; all of which she hated. It was filled with toys that she never played with.

The sun was beaming beautifully that day. The light, fluffy clouds hung low as if they were about to squeeze through the closed window. She was watching the view with her slender fingers curling around the cold windowsill. It was about mid- noon and the kids were all coming out in groups to play. Every day, she used to see them come out and play for hours upon hours until sweat would melt their sprightly vigor. All the children bore the happiest of smiles and at times, they would look up at her, beckoning her to play with them. All she would do was blink away in utmost surprise and then draw the curtains tight. After going straight to her bed, she would take long breaths as her heart would start somersaulting with a wild desire to go outside and play. Thinking for a minute, she would jump out of the bed to seek permission from her parents. But then something in her heart would stop her from going, and she would come back to her room, crying in little hitched breaths.

She was a young girl now, average as the rest; a broad nose perching on her dark face and eyes that had a river of indifference in them. She would always keep her mouth from smiling; she thought she had no reason to smile. Today, she strolled past the closed window and watched boys and girls laughing as they walked outside. A woman jogging past the busy road watched her smiling, and, as usual, after receiving no smile in response, she moved on. Getting such smiles from the people outside was not anything new to her; at first, she would get apprehensive, but now she felt nothing. She would often give people a heart attack by staring blankly at them. Looking outside the window now failed to bolster any kind of desire to move outside. Probably because she had learned to adjust to her routine.

There was a tall mirror that ran down from the top of the gray wall to the full length. Her mother had bought her this mirror when she turned thirteen. It was her favorite thing in the room. At times, she would stand in front of it and stare for hours, until her sight turned dizzy.

In her home, she had just her mom and dad. Most of the time, Mom would be busy in the kitchen and Dad would always be out for work. This meant there was no one else but her mirror which had promised her utmost companionship. Once, her mirror had suffered from a small crack, and she had cried quite a bit. Her father took it to a shop and fortunately, as the crack was in the golden frame bordering the mirror, it was fixed up. She had never been so happy in her life.

The day her mirror came back to her, she made up her mind to protect it with her life. And she had. She had also taken out the presents she once dumped into the box; there was a piano, a set of books, some flowers, plastic figures, and things like that. Her mind had learned to seek the happiness which she had previously thought could only be achieved by going outside, in the things that were in her room. Now, she did not bother to draw away the curtains and look out the closed window.


About the Author:

Ifeoluwa Babatunde is a passionate author and dedicated wordsmith who loves to craft gripping stories that force readers to think. As a Senior Data Analyst and college professor by day and a writer by night, Ifeoluwa enjoys nothing more than a good thriller or horror novel, and she hopes to capture her readers’ imaginations with exhilarating books that are intertwined with thought-provoking themes. 

A first-generation Nigerian American and current PhD student, she enjoys reading mysteries, psychological thrillers, and all things horror.

Catch Me If You Can is her debut novel. 








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THE INDIGO by Heather Siegel


THE INDIGO
Heather Siegel 

Genre: YA magical realism, fantasy, paranormal mystery
Publisher: Stone Tiger Press 
Date of publication: 6-1-2022
ISBN: 979-8-9858240-2-5
ASIN: 979-8-9858240
Pages: 250
Word count: 68,000
Cover Artist: Rob Carter

Tagline: Stay connected

Book Description: 

Jett, a 16-year-old girl librarian from New Jersey, does not believe the neurosurgeons that her mother is brain dead. For one, her mother’s comatose body seems like an empty shell, as though she has left the premises of the hospital room. For another, there was that split-second weird time Jett swore she lifted out from her own body and travelled to an indigo-colored, starry space, where she felt the presence of her mother.  

The bad news is that only her friend Farold believes her. The good news is that he is a quantum physicist in training and has some ideas about how to help Jett get back “up there.” Also, did someone say handsome quantum physicist who may or may not give off a more-than-friends vibe?

As Jett’s caretaking Aunt threatens to pull the life support plug on her mother, Jett must find this mysterious indigo place again and return her mother to her body before it’s too late, while staying connected to her own “empty shell” below– a feat made more difficult when antagonistic otherworldly forces intervene. 

Offering astral projection cosmology with lifecords, parallel universes, and wormholes, THE INDIGO is a wild trip through one person’s consciousness “above,” their interconnected reality “below,” and the psychological and fatal dangers of being disconnected from both.

The book is a clean read with light romance recommended for ages 13-16, and for anyone who enjoys magical realism and paranormal mystery. 


Excerpt Quantum Meeting:

Day 787. I sponge Mom’s stringy arms and pronate her elbows. Suction saliva from her white gums, careful not to disturb the psst-psst of the breathing tube. I attach cotton-ball-size muscle-stimulation pads, all forty of them, to her biceps and triceps, her deltoids and extensors, her flexors and hamstrings. As the pads pulse against muscle atrophy, I crayon Chapstick on her lips, rub cream down her pointed nose and waxen cheek skin, brush her dark hair splayed over the starched pillow. I leave the waste bags for the nurses but check the connections out of habit — the tubes to the catheter and colostomy bag, the one to her nutrients. Then I sit, holding her hand, pretending to talk to her for the sake of passersby, even though I know she’s not listening.

Not even in the room.

Her body is an empty vessel. A coat on a hanger waiting for her arms to slip in. A mollusk on the beach, abandoned by its host. An empty carton of milk I’m here to make sure they don’t throw out.  

Because when I find her — and bring her back — she will need her container.

They’ve told me it’s dangerous to think this way. Psychologically damaging, Aunt Margaret has claimed. A byproduct of grief, the therapists have said. Denial is a natural defense mechanism, Dr. Horn has counseled. “But we can’t ignore the reality of what the scans tell us.”

He means the X-rays of Mom’s gray folded matter. The regions of her brain that still incite spontaneous reflexes — causing her arm to jerk here, her leg to twitch there. “All seemingly normal manifestations of brainstem function,” he’s told me repeatedly. “But should not be confused with actual brainstem function. Without which she has little chance of waking up.”

I can’t fault him for thinking this way. The guy’s a neurologist — his business is brains.
But I know there has to be more to us than our bodies and brains.
Call it what you want — a consciousness, a soul, a spirit, a light being. It’s the thing countless comatose patients swear gave them the ability to live whole other lives while on respirators. The thing that philosophers and spiritualists spent their lives writing about. The thing that makes us who we are. And maybe even fuels the brainstem.

And Mom’s brainstem went missing two years ago the moment she crashed her car.

An accident, Aunt Margaret had said on the phone. Black ice. A telephone pole. Coming to pick up you up in five. . . .

I flew down the stairs of our apartment and rushed into intensive care, still in my red plaid pajama bottoms, dried toothpaste stuck to my cheek. Mom lay behind a wall of glass, and I heard fragments: Her chest had banged into the steering wheel. Glass shards had lodged in her cheeks. She’s lucky to have made it out alive.

But define “alive.”

For a week, I watched machines automate her breathing, feed her, monitor her. I felt numbed, stunned, dazed. Most of all, empty. Like something in my chest cavity had gone missing, its hollowness threatening to suck my heart and lungs deeper inward.

I thought it was coming from me.

Then one night, following Dr. Horn’s delivery of yet another brain spiel — this one replete with pictures of axon and dendrites that looked like tree branches — they let us through the glass wall.

I plunked into the pink pleather chair and held Mom’s limp hand in mine; ran my thumb over her beige polish, chipped from washing beer glasses at Sharkie’s Bar and Grill. The emptiness opened like a black hole, and I yearned for my best-friend sister-like Mom, just 17 years older than me. The woman who wore my jeans and tried on my life, from basketball tryouts to friendship blips. The woman who let me inhabit her dreams of traveling the world.

“How much tragedy can one family take?” Grandma Eloise was saying. “First, I lose one daughter, and now another?”

“I know, Mom, I know.” Aunt Margaret sniffled.

They were speaking of Grandma Eloise’s oldest daughter, who had died as a teenager — Mom’s oldest sister. And I had sat there, unsure of what to say. Not only because there seemed to be some kind of dark cloud hanging over us, but because they barely noticed I was in the room.

So, when they decided to go to the cafeteria, I said, “I’ll stay here, then.”  

Aunt Margaret turned, her yellow, roller-set waves bouncing like in a retro TV commercial. “Jett, I’m sorry. Did you want to come with us?”

“It’s OK. I’m good,” I said, because I knew they were just trying to salve their own pain, even though you couldn’t have paid me a million dollars to eat a bite of food in that moment.

So off they went, leaving me and Mom and my emptiness, and because everything felt so empty, I climbed into bed with Mom, spooned to her side — admittedly feeling sorry for myself in this new orphaned state — and blubbered away into her bony shoulder.

Her respirator lulled me into a sleepy state, and my mind drifted, thinking about her running off as a teenager at 17 — just a year older than me now — to marry a guy outside the enclave of this small town. Then that got me thinking about my dad, the man I barely got to know, but whose hands for some reason I could see peeking out from his electrician’s coveralls: coppery skin freckled like mine with wispy red hair, as he meticulously spliced the wire of a lamp cord. Cut before the damage. Splice by twisting. See his hand twisting a lightbulb in, electricity zipping through its filament. We can travel as fast as this . . . in our sleep. . . . We can meet in Hawaii, where the sand is black, and the rocks are as large as grapefruits.

 I must have drifted off then, Mom’s empty container against mine, the respirator wheezing rhythmically, everything hazy and meshing and sucking me under.

Just think of where you want to go, my dad said, still coming to me in snapshots. His freckled hands on a tabletop. Suntanned face. Fiery hair. A woman beside him laid down cards splattered with ink. Palm trees swayed outside, and contentment purred in my chest like a vibration.

Deeper and deeper I drifted under, as darkness surrounded my eyelids and tunneled around me, churning into a black liquid — the way dreams work — until it ended in a circle of purple-blue light large enough to fit through.

I poked my head through and found the air was watery, indigo-colored, and pocked with millions of crystalline white stars. I wanted to climb through the hole and swim out into the starry space. But when I looked up, I saw rectangles hanging in the sky.

They were outlined in what looked like glitter — the kind I recognized from my childhood drawings, when I’d outlined geometric shapes with glue and glitter and blown the excess off. And inside were movielike images:

Palm trees in one.

The stairwell to Mom’s and my old apartment in the other.

Where do you want to go? My father’s voice sounded again, only this time my chest tightened and pulled, as though there was a rope attached to the center, and I suddenly got scared feeling . . . wondering . . . knowing. . . .

This wasn’t a dream.

I was somewhere outside of myself.

Definitely not in my body.

And Mom . . . she wasn’t in bed at the hospital. She was behind that rectangle . . . that door.

I could sense her, alert and awake, black hair not splayed on a pillow, but tucked behind her ears and parted down the middle, revealing a white line of scalp; cheeks not waxen and pale, but flushed from moving around the kitchen . . . pulling me to her.

But because it all felt so real, and because I didn’t know what would happen if I did dive through that hole, I jerked my head back. And the next thing I knew, I was yanked backwards and my whole body stung as though I were a human rubber band snapping back.

Just in time to find Aunt Margaret back from the cafeteria, shaking my shoulders.

“Jett, Jett, wake up,” she called.

“Should I call someone?” Grandma Eloise asked.  

My eyes popped open, and they gasped.

“You scared us, you were in such a deep sleep,” Aunt Margaret scolded. “You’re not supposed to be in bed with her.”

“I went to find her,” I tried to explain. “Mom isn’t here. . . .”

“What? Nonsense.” Aunt Margaret said. “You were having a bad dream.”

“Honey, we are all under tremendous stress,” Grandma Eloise said.

“But there are doorways up there,” I insisted. “We have to find her and bring her back. . . Look, there’s no one inside.”

“Honey, we don’t know what you are saying,” Grandma Eloise said.

“Jett, this is hard enough on all of us.” Aunt Margaret’s tone steeled.

My mistake, I’ve come to realize, was continuing to insist, back at Aunt Margaret’s, and for months afterward, describing all I could remember, and lugging home research and stories from the library about people leaving their bodies: about the idea that a person could ostensibly be in two separate places at once.

“That is absolutely enough. I will not have that kind of nonsense talk in my house,” Aunt Margaret snapped finally, and the next thing I knew I was seeing Dr. Karr, a grief counselor, and being asked to review more charts from Dr. Horn. And when a year later, I still wouldn’t relent about the purple hole and the doorway to Mom, and the fact that anyone can tell she is simply not in this room, the grief counselor suggested medications, and eventually whispered to Aunt Margaret terms like “grief delusions” and “detached from reality.” This led me to understand two things:  

Not only can I not convince people to open their minds, as a minor in the State of New Jersey, 10 minutes from the state’s largest psych ward, I need to watch it, or I might never find Mom.


About the Author: 

Heather Siegel is an award-winning writer and creative with interests in the arts and animal welfare. She teaches academic and creative writing, holds an MFA from The New School University, and lives with her family in Southern Florida.