New Release and Two Free Books!

Over the past few years, I was a part of a Rockford writing club called the Prompt Club. It was the brainchild of Mary Lamphere, who not only compiled the list of prompts for the year, but also scheduled our meeting times/places and printed folders and bags for the members.

Despite it being called the Prompt Club, I don’t think I was ever on time. The one time I was, I had the night wrong. #soitgoes There were such talented writers in our club! It was very inspiring to be around such a group.

At any rate, three years of Prompt Club times twelve 1000-word stories a year adds up, and I had over forty short stories languishing away on my flash drive, where they’re not entertaining anyone! I write humorous articles quite a bit, and five of my stories ended up being published in the amusing book series “Not Your Mother’s Book” a few years ago. I have two in NYMB on Sex, and one in each of the following categories: Parenting, Family, and Being a Stupid Kid. Some of the funniest stories went on my blog as well, the Life and Times of Poopwa Foley. However, I also love to write paranormal, creepy stories and had many, many of those too.

I assembled my favorites and bought a cover from Go On Write. Fun fact—I ordered a cover from them last Thursday at 1:42 p.m. I received the completed cover ready to go THREE MINUTES LATER—not kidding! Check them out!

The Amazon fairies did their magic and published my collection of short stories this past Saturday. It’s called “Weird, Wicked Tales…Creepy Stories for All Hollow’s Weird, Wicked Tales - High Resolution - Version 1Eve.” I have gotten great feedback from early readers, and I’m really excited about the stories. Take a look for yourself, if you’re in the mood for some spine-chilling tales!

If that wasn’t enough, I have made Baylyn, Bewitched (a mystical, magical witchy romance) free for the Halloween season. Why? Because Halloween is so friggin awesome, that’s why! Baylyn, Bewitched is a book I co-wrote with my sister, along with the second book called Cat, Charmed. We had a blast co-writing and are proud of the finished books.

41j-aIQTHsL__UY250_Another book I wrote is free today and tomorrow. It’s called Knew You’d Come, an erotic time travel/paranormal novella. This story is near and dear to my heart because it contains several things that make me happy…time travel, ghosts, romance, and of course, hot, smexy times.41zTJz4riFL__UY250_

A tiny sample:

She transcribed the recording but the typed up transcript of the conversation came off as frightening. Creepy. The tone and timbre of his voice, however, had been patient. Kind. Loving, if a little perturbed. Oddly, she had felt exhilarated hearing his voice. It had sounded so familiar to her and lit a flame in her that she had not even known was there.

That was frightening.

Then there was the fact that she wanted to hear his voice again.

That was frightening, too.

But the quiet joy in her heart—the little voice in her head that whispered “You found him. You found him, finally.”

That was the most frightening of all.

This All Hollow’s Eve, get your scare on. Try my book of creepy short stories, Weird, Wicked Tales. If that’s not up your alley, give Baylyn, Bewitched a try. If you’re looking for something smoldering hot, grab your copy of Knew You’d Come.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween – Here’s a Free Read!

Alls Fair_Love & Warlocks_Updated_Cover

“Why the hell am I here? Why me?”

“Talking to yourself, even for a witch, is generally thought to be a bad sign. Unless you’re casting a spell.”

Adanna jerked her hand away from the thick, wooden door handle and glanced over her shoulder at the person who was speaking. The curtain of her hair obscured her view somewhat, but she saw enough to know she did not recognize the handsome warlock with thick, dark hair and gray eyes. At least, she assumed he was a warlock. Most covens frowned upon making their otherworldly selves known to humans, even though they all lived in the same world.

“Not casting a spell. Do I know you?”

“Probably not.” He offered his hand. It was a human custom, but most were.

“Anton Burke. I’m from New England. Salem, to be exact. Weather’s certainly nicer here at this time of year.”

Salem. Humans, of course, were obsessed with the town, as so many (non) witches had been executed there, several centuries ago. It was a particularly troubling period in their history. And witches, despite their disdain for humans, were just as enthralled with the area.

“It’s pretty mild in Savannah, with the exception of July and August. Your coven is the one that’s taken over all of New England, isn’t it?”

Something akin to a grimace darkened his face but did not dim his handsome features. He had the kind of rugged good looks that screamed bad boy, the kind that caused red-blooded women to tumble into his bed and ask questions later. Her grandmother’s lessons to always read people before interacting echoed in her head. She pushed away the memories, the reminder of who she was, what she was.

“Yeah. It’s easier that way, I guess. So many small covens; it just wasn’t, you know…”

“Personal?”

He smirked. “Economical. Hard to support all those mini empires. Made more sense to create one mega-coven. More money, more control over issues and stuff.”

“I heard your coven now stretches all the way to South Carolina.”

“You sound suspicious.”

Adanna shrugged. “I’ve belonged to the Savannah Coven my whole life, and we’ve always been pretty small-town. Seems hard to believe all those covens were willing to be swallowed up by Big Brother, so to speak.”

“Times are changing. Most of the covens were run by older witches. They were tired, wanted to retire. And there aren’t enough marked Supremes to take their places. What else were they supposed to do?”

Adanna raked a hand through her long locks and focused on steadying her temper. Why it flared at the mention of the conglomerate of covens along the east coast, she had no idea. What did it matter to her if an abnormally larg group of witches and warlocks wanted to band together under one Supreme? Everybody knew witches needed someone to manage them, or at the very least, help when they ended up in hot water, which happened more frequently than it ought to.

***

Like it so far? Keep reading by downloading the rest from Amazon – FREE – only until Friday!

All’s Fair: Love & Warlocks

All's Fair_ Love & Warlocks

Happy reading & happy Halloween!

 

Tami Lund Headshot 2014

 

Tami Lund writes romance, drinks wine, and wins awards. If you want more, check out her website: http://tamilund.com

 

Do the weird thing. Life is fra-geel-ay.

IMG_20161114_112851311_HDRBecause I am a nerdy geek, I did a nerdy, geeky thing with my sister, Jenny. To begin celebrating the holiday season, we took a five hour car trip to Cleveland Ohio, where we went on a tour at the house where the holiday must-see movie A Christmas Story was filmed! We had no idea what to expect. Would it be cheesy? Embarrassing? Would there be only one person there besides us? As it turned out, it wasn’t cheesy or embarrassing at all but in fact far more nostalgic than we ever dreamed.IMG_20161114_112909033~2

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They charge $11 per person for the tour, and in our group there were fifteen. The tour guide said that the closer it gets to Christmas, the lines and groups are incredible—approximately twenty to twenty five people per hour all day long, with lines around the block. The tour guide was knowledgeable and told us entertaining, behind the scenes information. For instance, the snow wasn’t real! Watching the movie now, would you have ever been able to tell? Also, Darrin McGavin, who played the furnace battling father, is the only one who got royalties from the movie!

We stood on the landing where Ralphie wears the horrifying pink bunny outfit. That was a dream come true. The tour took us upstairs, where we saw the phone Ralphie’s mom used when she made the phone call that got Flick in trouble. As a matter of fact, when you pick up the phone, you can hear a recording of the conversation. The bedroom Ralphie and Randy shared was open for viewing, as was the bathroom where Ralphie solves the “drink more Ovaltine” puzzle and where he is also punished by having to hold a bar of Lifebuoy soap in his mouth. IMG_20161114_113145721

We saw the kitchen where the Bumpus’ dogs demolish the turkey, where mother hasn’t eaten a hot meal in nine years, Randy eats like a little piggy, and where he later hides under the sink because he thinks Daddy’s going to IMG_20161114_113343260kill Ralphie. We also went outside into the back yard where Ralphie has his imaginary shootout with Bad Bart and breaks his glasses. Let’s not forget the most important thing of all…the crate containing THE leg lamp.

When the tour was over, we were allowed to enter the Christmas Story museum and see costumes and props from the movie. We found out there were six different Red Ryder BB guns used in the movie. There were lots of pictures of behind the scenes filming—fans of the movie would love it.IMG_20161114_115709099~2

We next went to the gift shop. My Discover card is still rather warm to the touch from our shopping. I mean, they had everything you could hope for in souvenirs. I bought a t-shirt, a leg lamp ornament, and horrid red Christmas sweatshirts that features the leg lamp on them and says “Fragile”, which I forced my long suffering husband to wear not only to Christmas with the family, but also to our corporate Christmas party. We needed to get our money’s worth out of them before they’re put away for the season.

The highlights of our trip were many. We talked about kids, writing and husbands. I was informed that I snore, but “very lightly.” I might have misheard because I was pretty high on painkillers from a dental procedure. And we were eating potato chips in the car when driving out to Cleveland; my sister misjudged how quickly a toll gate would come down. It turns out it comes down VERY quickly. It hit the top of her minivan and cracked off. We spit out chips and cough-laughed for almost an hour over that, calling ourselves Thelma & Louise (but in sensible shoes). We also had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, which was awesome. I got a piece of Lemon Raspberry cheesecake and if that wasn’t a Christmas miracle, I don’t know what is.

All in all, this was one of those unusual trips that turned out to be so much more fun than we ever imagined, and we’re already planning our next nerdy geek adventure.

A day in the life

You may or may not know (or care) that I’ve spent the last two years self-publishing a series as Marci Boudreaux–my sweeter self. I chose to self-publish because in the span of just a few months, three–THREE–indie houses I was with closed and left me with rights to almost all my books.

I didn’t want to deal with that again, so I ventured into self-publishing. And I loved it, but it is a lot of work and there isn’t that feeling of acceptance that comes with having a publisher (even a small one) believe in your writing. Recently, I decided to try my hand at the submissions game again.

And I immediately remembered why I hate this effing game.

Rejection is the real name of this game. Constant, unwavering, soul-crushing rejection. If you are lucky, you get a kind word to go with the form letter…if you get a form letter at all. Many editors and agents just don’t respond if they aren’t interested, leaving you hanging on to a thread of hope that they just haven’t read your manuscript yet and will be reaching out at any moment to tell you that you are brilliant!

After a recent string of rejections from agents and publishers, I confided in a friend that I feel like maybe this isn’t “my path.” Like maybe, I’m not cut out for this after all. I have thick skin, I know rejection is the norm and acceptance is the high we authors are addicted to and always seeking. I know all this.

But I guess I’d forgotten out hard it is to hear “no” ten times in a row and keep believing in yourself.

That sounds pouty, doesn’t it? Maybe it is. Maybe I am pouting just a little (maybe even a lot), but bear with me. That’s also part of this process we authors go through. Rejection stings. Even when you are prepared, even when it is part of the game, even when you know you should wear it as a badge of honor to prove that you’ve tried.

burnout [Converted]

Rejection. Hurts.

But we have to keep believing that we are talented. That if we keep working hard maybe more people will buy our books. That someday a big publisher or agent will see that we do have something to offer.

I’ve asked myself more than once during this particular rejection cycle why I keep going. Why do I keep banging my head against this wall?

Because I believe in myself. Because I know I’m talented. I know I have something to offer my readers–even if I haven’t found the right agent or publisher–I have wonderful readers who always say nice things when I meet them at book events or chat with them online.

Maybe I won’t ever be rich or famous or even more than moderately successful, but I have to keep trying. Because this is my path. I didn’t choose it. It chose me. And I’ll keep walking it until I get to the end.

I just hope that end isn’t another brick wall to bang my head against.

**Cover Reveal with a (Vampire) Bite**

Blood Courtesans: Awakenings
Publication date: January 17th 2017
Genres: Adult, Paranormal, Romance

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Enter a world where vampires are real, rich, hungry and meet the women who become their blood courtesans. Come let the fangs slip into your blood and awaken you to a whole new life. A boxed set of NEW stories in this popular series.

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The perfect shade of red.

There are hypochondriacs, then there’s me. I live on a whole other plane of existence.

“Are you sure it’s a pulled muscle?” a slithery voice asks me, when I’m sure that the reason my shoulder is sore is because my wild boar of a dog yanked on his leash. “Are you sure it’s your gall bladder?” it asks, when I have a stomach ache, but I’ve already had a scan that shows significant gallstones, a surgical consult, and a scheduled date for surgery.

“But are you sure?”

Because it’s not enough to constantly worry about the aches and pains that come with being 50 and menopausal, I also have a big side order of anxiety deluxe.

Other people: My leg hurts. If it keeps up, I’ll go to the doctor and have it looked at.

Me: I have a blood clot, and I’m going to die.

Other people: Geez, what did I eat today? I have terrible indigestion and gas.

Me: I’m having a heart attack, and I’m going to die.

Other people: Boy, this is a terrible headache. I’ll take a couple of Tylenol and it should subside.

Me: I have a brain tumor, and I’m going to die.

You may be noticing a pattern. My counselor calls this catastrophizing. I call it “Monday.”

I joke about my health anxiety. I have to, in order to stay sane. There are several tricks I have in my arsenal now to get through the day. Sometimes the fact that I get through the day without calling my doctor in a panic or speeding to the ER is a major feat.

Sound generators (ocean waves, white noise, tubular bells, etc.) help as well. Recognizing ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) tends to defeat intrusive thoughts. Watching funny videos is always good too, especially the little clips I have of my little grandchildren. Watching American Housewife. (looking at you, Katy Mixon.)

Occasionally, though, I get an A plus in imagination and creativity when it comes to my anxiety. For instance, the other night I was battling for space on our bed with our pig of a dog, and when he finally laid down, my covers were pulled down. Since the light was still on, I was able to see a giant reddish bruise right between my boobs.

Cold fear shot through me. I couldn’t remember injuring myself, so obviously, the only reasonable thing to conclude was that I was bleeding internally. Lips numb with fear, I wet a piece of the top sheet and rubbed at it, and it disappeared. My tired but still slithery brain said that I was just dissipating the blood, and I was quite confident I’d be dead by morning. I decided against calling the ambulance just then.

Morning came and the alarm went off as usual. After I took a shower I noticed the bruise wasn’t there anymore. I had been given a reprieve and was going to live, temporarily at least.

After lunch I brushed my teeth in the bathroom at work, and just for shits and giggles, decided to look and ensure the bruise was still gone, just in case I should forget entering sales and begin writing my obituary. I pulled up my shirt and to my absolute horror; the bruise was back, only bigger. And redder.

I hyperventilated for only a minute or two while I was wetting a paper towel, just in case a wet paper towel was good for curing internal bleeding.

Funny thing, though, once again it disappeared. Not only that, there was a red stain on the paper towel.

Wait just a gosh darn minute.

It was then that I remembered that while I was getting ready the day before, putting on makeup, a small chunk of red lipstick had crumbled off the tube and dropped. I hadn’t found it on the bathroom floor.

However, my bra caught that small crumb of lipstick right between my boobs, where the warmth melted it onto the inside of my bra, where it caused a big, red “bruise”.

lipstick

I let out a high pitched giggle. I wasn’t about to die, after all. I could put off writing my obituary and instead write this article.

Thanks for the welcome to Love, Lust, and Laptops!!

Welcome the latest addition to LLL!

Guys!! We at LLL are so very excited to announce author and margarita drinker extraordinaire Christine Cacciatore is going to be joining us as a regular blogger! Stay tuned! Her first post will debut on Monday!

chris

If you aren’t familiar with Chris’s work, you have homework this weekend!!!  Check out her exciting list of books and learn more about her now!

Go, go, go!

But not before giving her a big welcome and waving hello! And maybe having a drink to celebrate.

Welcome, Chris! We are so happy you are here!

Trying to Figure Out the Hardest Job in the Universe

Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the universe. Some would argue it’s the hardest. And when something goes wrong–say one of your kids commits suicide–well, it makes you question everything you thought you learned. Everything about yourself, your abilities–as a parent, as a human being.

All those years of trying to get it right, of working toward a positive outcome, of reading, studying, planning, hoping, praying; all of it was washed away over the course of one tragic evening during which the child I raised made the ultimate bad decision. In my case, it was thirteen years’ worth of on-the-job training.

To make it worse, while I’m grieving the loss of one kid–and doubting everything about myself–there’s still another to take care of. My son left behind his sister, who happened to have idolized him like any self-respecting younger sibling would. For the last nineteen months, I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance my own grief with ensuring she’s happy, well-adjusted, managing her way through this new life we’ve been forced to forge.

My daughter is now twelve. She’s in seventh grade. A year younger than he was when he made that horrible decision, but now in the same grade. I have no idea if it was the age or the grade or if both had a factor in his choice, but that hardly matters. I’m left to pick up the pieces—we’re left to try to make our way down a new path that has been twisted beyond recognition, and the suspension bridge leading to the way back has been cut, collapsed in on itself and plummeted to the ground a thousand feet below.

We’re all changed since that day; that’s inevitable. And none of us have changed in the same way. My husband golfs more—a lot more. I blog—a lot more. And cry. A lot more. My daughter, well, she’s quieter, more reserved, but bits of harsh, teenage personality flair up every now and then. I suspect these startling flair ups are as shocking to her as they are to me. I also believe they are a bit of stress relief, which I know she needs, because like her father, she keeps everything bottled up inside, tucked away near her heart, in a tiny box reserved specifically for emotions she doesn’t like to deal with. Unfortunately for her, those emotions aren’t very good at listening and following directions—much like the teenage mind she’s trying to lock them into.

I, of course, don’t think it’s a bad thing to let those emotions out. I believe they need to escape every now and then, they need to breathe, they need to cry, shout, scream, whatever it takes to help her find her equilibrium again. As much as I hate crying, I admit I always feel a bit cathartic afterward. I find I’m better able to handle tough situations such as when my daughter tells me she doesn’t like having anything to do with me because I’m so different since “it” happened nineteen months ago.

Thank God for that random, out-of-nowhere crying jag while I was driving in my car earlier in the day, because otherwise there was no way in hell I would have been able to hear something like that without losing my shit.

But I didn’t break down or go ape shit, much to my own surprise as well as my daughter’s. She fully expected me to have a meltdown or scream at her; I’m still not sure which. All I know is I took her completely by surprise by talking about the subject entirely rationally and calmly, and hopefully with a bit of intelligence to boot. Maybe I’m finally managing to become the parent I thought I was before my son died.

I told her everybody grieves differently. It’s okay if I cry at the slightest provocation or if her dad golfs all the damn time or if her grandma visits her grandson’s grave on a weekly basis or if her grandpa talks to him every night before he goes to bed—even if it’s a one-sided conversation. It’s okay because we aren’t curled up into balls in the bedroom, hiding from the world. We’re living, even if it’s differently from the way we were nineteen months ago. We’re making our way in this world, we’re figuring it out, and the process isn’t really something to be concerned about so long as we’re doing it. I let her know that if she wants me to do something differently, I’ll give it my best shot, because that’s what parents do. We try our damnest to make our kids’ lives easier/better/safer/happier. That’s part of why our jobs are so freaking hard, because we don’t have all the control; all we can do is our best and hope it’s good enough to overcome some of those external factors.

And sometimes good enough isn’t enough.

She left the table after my little spiel, and I didn’t call out to her or yell at her and demand she stay or even ask for a response. I finished my dinner and then began to clean up. And a little while later she came back, hovering in the hallway outside the kitchen, and said, “You know how you said everyone grieves differently? Well, I grieve differently than you, and I need you to respect that.”

And you know what? She’s right. And I told her so. And I promised to try.

This grieving process has turned into a learning process. Learning how to live again. Learning how to be a parent and a daughter with the dark cloud of a lost son/sibling hovering over our lives. Learning how to communicate with my remaining child, the one who is suffering as much as I am—just differently.

Because we all grieve differently. And that’s okay.

Tami Lund Headshot 2014

Tami Lund is an award winner, wine drinker, and writer of happy endings. Because life sometimes sucks, and we all need an escape. Check out her website here: http://tamilund.com

Halloween Short Story

October is my favoritest time of year! I love the change of season, hot cocoa by a fire, falling leaves, pumpkins…and of course, Halloween!

Even though I usually write romance, I can’t help but get into a crreeeepy spirit this time of year.

Here is a short free Halloween read for you. This is definitely NOT romance. If you don’t like creepy things, maybe don’t read this one.

**Even though this is a free short story, please don’t use/copy without my permission. If you know someone who would like to read this story, direct them to this blog or to my website. Thank you!!**

 

The Lemon Drop

by Marci Boudreaux

 

My mother’s voice echoed through my head. “Never take candy from strangers.”

Her face, sweet and kind, filled my mind. I remember how she used to crease her brow as she gave me stern warnings borne from maternal worry. When I left for college, she told me not to walk alone at night. Not to leave my drink unattended at a party.

But she forgot to remind me to never take candy from strangers.

I wish she were here now.

But, I’m alone. Stumbling toward my car. Fumbling for my keys. Feeling like I was leaving a frat party instead of a gas station. The parking lot reminded me of a dystopian sunset—the area was encased in the orange glow of the low-pressure sodium lights high in the posts. Any moment zombies could come dragging themselves from the darkness at the edges of the lot. Rabid dogs could come charging. Giant spiders could descend from above and wrap me in a web.

Any of these things could happen and they’d make so much more sense to me than the reality of what was happening.

“Here,” the old man behind the counter had said as he handed me my change, “have a candy.” He had held his wrinkled hand out. His fingers had trembled as I looked over the various colored treats wrapped in clear cellophane.

After a moment, I chose a yellow piece.

He had smiled and winked. “Lemon. That’s my favorite.”

I had unwrapped the little lemon drop and popped it in my mouth before gathering my cold bottle of water and bag of salty chips. I still had an hour before I made it home for a long weekend and needed a snack to hold me over. Mom would have food waiting, she always did, but I needed sustenance now.

The citrus flavor burst over my taste buds and saliva instantly began to flow. It was much more sour than I expected. So tart that my tongue felt a little numb. I swallowed as my mouth filled with spit.

Holy cow! What kind of candy is this? I thought as I stepped off the sidewalk and stumbled. My water fell from my hand and rolled way. I watched as it seemed to go in slow motion. My body was starting to feel disjointed—like medicine head, only ten times worse.

Then I heard Mom say in the echoes of my mind, “Never take candy from strangers.”

I opened my mouth and spit along with what was left of the candy slid down my chin. My keys. Where were my keys? Oh god. Where? Where did I put them?

I patted along my pockets, but my hands felt like water balloons. Every time I touched myself, tingling waves rolled through my fingers, through my palms, and up my wrists.

I reached my car door but couldn’t open it. My keys. Where are my damn keys?

Like my hands, my legs began to feel too heavy, too thick. I tried to keep walking. If I couldn’t drive away, I could run. I could run to the road. Flag someone down. But who? This road was the shortcut. The country road. The out of the way, no traffic road.

Falling, I blinked when my cheek hit the pavement. That should have hurt, but other than that crazy wave of pins and needles, I felt nothing.

The old man kneeled in front of me. I could see it now. The menace behind the crooked smile. The filth of his teeth. The crazy in his dark eyes.

I hadn’t seen it before. How had I missed that?

“Yeah. Those little lemon ones are my favorites,” he said.

I tried to scream but my throat was too tight. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t make a sound. But I did feel the burning hot sensation of a tear leaving the corner of my eye and trailing down the side of my nose.

He scooped me up off the ground. A bitter scent filled my nostrils reminding me of when I was a kid and my dad would come in from working on his truck. Oil or some other fluid. I couldn’t place it. I’d always hated it, but now I inhaled deeply.

My dad was kind. He was gentle. He’d sit next to me at the kitchen table and coach me through my algebra. Even now, in college, I’d call him when I was stuck on a problem. I wanted to call him now.

Dad. Help. I think I’m in trouble. Daddy?

He didn’t come. He didn’t help. As the old man eased me down, the dampness of more tears trailed down the sides of my face and landed in my ears. They tickled as they pooled there but I couldn’t reach up and wipe them away. I couldn’t move any more now than I could when I hit the ground.

I stared up at a high ceiling. There wasn’t much light, but it seemed like a garage—the kind a mechanic works out of. There was a different smell now. I couldn’t place this one. Metallic. But not oil or transmission fluid. Not anything I recalled smelling on Dad.

It was almost…almost like…blood.

No!

I gagged. The taco from the drive through I gone through before leaving the city lurched up.

“Oh, careful now,” the old man said and turned me on my side. “Don’t want to drown in your own vomit.”

My body jerked involuntarily as he tilted my head over the side of the table. The floor was dirt so the bile and bits of undigested food landed in a puddle but didn’t splatter much. The dirt was darker in some places. Stained.

Flipping me back over, he smiled as he wiped my mouth. “All better?”

I couldn’t answer, but I wanted to beg. Beg for mercy. Beg for help. Beg to be let go.

He stroked my hair like my mother would when I got sick as a child. “Now don’t you worry. I can clean that mess up in no time.”

I wasn’t worried about the mess. I was worried about what was going to happen to me. Nothing good, that much I knew. But then he stepped away. I couldn’t turn my head, but my eyes tried to follow him. I couldn’t see him. Where had he gone?

Had he left? If I could roll over, maybe I could get off the table and crawl away. Maybe there is someone close. Someone who could help me.

Something snapped. Like a surgeon’s glove. Then again.

My hearing seemed to have increased, but I had to hold my breath because the rush of air in and out of my lungs started to drown out everything else. I stopped breathing.

Listened.

Material moved.

Soft footfalls on the dirt floor.

Then he started whistling.

An old song that my grandfather had on vinyl. He used to put the old records on as he painted landscapes. He wasn’t a good painter. I knew that even as a child. But the song took me back to his house. A tiny clean space with bad paintings on every wall and songs from the ’40s playing from scratchy records that spun and spun, the needle moving closer to the center with every quick pass.

Grandpa died four years ago. I didn’t keep a single one of his paintings. Why? Why hadn’t I taken just one? If I had, I’d hang it in my dorm room. Above my bed so I could see it every night and think of that time with him—back when my world was small and safe.

The whistling grew louder and the old man reappeared.

Don’t hurt me. Please.

I gasped as my body finally made me breathe again. As I did, more tears fell.

He smiled.

“Do you know why lemon is my favorite?” His breath was rancid as it hit my face. My stomach turned again. “Because the little girls who choose lemon take the longest to die.”

I wanted to scream. I did inside my mind but my voice still didn’t work. My muscles were frozen. The only thing I seemed to be able to control were my eyes and my breathing. And I looked everywhere my eyes could see when he left my side again.

When he reappeared, I noticed he had on long gloves. The snapping sound I’d heard.

He lifted jumper cables and smiled. “Do you like fireworks?” He touched the cables to a car battery and laughed when sparks flew. “Whew! Got a live one here!”

He tossed the cables aside and went to work on unscrewing the caps along the top of the battery. “Know what makes lemon taste so sour? The high level of acid. Yep. Lemon is my favorite.” He started whistling that damn song cheery again. This time, hard as I tried, I couldn’t conjure up images of my grandfather. Or of his paintings.

This time, I couldn’t stop staring as the old man tipped the battery and poured the clear liquid into a glass jar.

“That should do it.” He lifted the bottle up and smiled at me. “Have to use glass. Acid doesn’t eat the glass.” His smile widened. “Will eat you from the inside out, though.”

I tried to move. Tried to roll away. Tried to beg and scream.

I was frozen as he pulled the plunger of a large syringe, sucking the battery acid into the syringe. Showed me the full needle. Flicked the side like a television nurse, then focused on my arm. I couldn’t see what he was doing, couldn’t feel the prick of the needle, but he chuckled.

“You’re a bleeder, aren’t you? No worries. No worries. I’ve got bandages.”

He tore one open. It wasn’t flesh-colored. It had colorful little horses on the surface, as if that would magically make the injury better. My breathing increased—I no longer had control. My eyes darted back and forth—seeking, searching, but finding nothing.

My body started to warm. I couldn’t feel pain, but I could feel heat. Pulsing through me with every erratic heartbeat. Warming me, burning me. From the inside out.

There was no pain. There was only heat and fear.

And my mother’s voice.

“Never take candy from strangers.”