Mad Magic by Nicole Conway #CoverReveal @chapterxchapter, @Month9Books @ANConway

Cover Reveal: Mad Magic by Nicole Conway

 

Hello readers! Welcome to the Cover Reveal for

Mad Magic by Nicole Conway

presented by Month9Books!

Be on the lookout for this upcoming YA title!

 

What do you think of the cover?

 

 

After being orphaned, high school student Josie Barton only has one person she can turn to when things get rough—a mysterious legal guardian who calls himself her Benefactor. “Ben” takes care of everything for her. He pays her bills, provides food, clothes, and even a cell phone. But there is one thing Ben doesn’t know: Josie Barton sees scary imaginary creatures everywhere she goes. Even her apartment is being haunted by an invisible monster! And just when Josie thinks things couldn’t get any worse . . . she meets the guy from across the hall.

Zeph Clemmont is a man of many faces. He’s a changeling with enemies in all the worst places, fighting to undo a magical curse that could end his life. He loves a good argument and has incredible magical power, but he may have met his match in Josie. So far, she’s the only one who seems able to rein in his childish tantrums and magical explosions. Zeph will have to swallow his pride and finally let go of all his dark secrets if he really wants to break his curse. And with Josie at his side, he might actually stand a chance this time.

Mad Magic by Nicole Conway
Publisher: Month9Books
Release Date: September 2017

 

 

Nicole is the author of the children’s fantasy series, THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES, about a young boy’s journey into manhood as he trains to become a dragonrider. She has completed the first two books in the series, and is now working on the third and final book.
Originally from a small town in North Alabama, Nicole moves frequently due to her husband’s career as a pilot for the United States Air Force. She received a B.A. in English with a concentration in Classics from Auburn University, and will soon attend graduate school.
She has previously worked as a freelance and graphic artist for promotional companies, but has now embraced writing as a full-time occupation.
Nicole enjoys hiking, camping, shopping, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She also loves watching children’s movies and collecting books. She lives at home with her husband, two cats, and dog.

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 I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

SUMMONER RISING by Melanie McFarlane @McFarlaneBooks #ReleaseBlast #OfTheTrees #Month9Squad #Month9Books


I am so
excited that SUMMONER RISING by Melanie
McFarlane releases today and that I get to share the news!
If you
haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author Malanie McFarlane, be
sure to check out all the details below.

This blitz
also includes a giveaway for a
DVD
of THE CRAFT, US Only courtesy of Month9Books. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter
at the bottom of this post.
 
 
 
About The Book:
 
Title: SUMMONER
RISING
Author: Melanie
McFarlane
Pub.
Date:
March 28, 2017
Publisher:
Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 300
Excerpt from, The Book of Summoning:
Law One: A summoner is responsible for all creatures it lets through from
the netherworld.
Dacie Cantar wishes someone had explained the Laws of Summoning to her
before she watched a shadowy creature crawl out of a painting at the local
arcade. At least it explains the strange things she’s witnessed since moving in
with her great-aunt, after her mother’s untimely death. But who wants to be
followed by shadows the rest of their life? Add that to being stalked by a
strange boy at school, who just might be her Tovaros (aka soulmate), it’s about
all Dacie can handle in her new life.
As she nears her seventeenth birthday, will she be ready for her new
responsibilities, or will the shadows that stalked her mother until her death,
finally consume Dacie, too? And then there’s Law Two…
Excerpt:
When we pull up at the front of the house, everything is dark. Katya must
be out. I stay quiet as I close the door and walk onto the front porch.
 
“Don’t be mad,” Tryan says grabbing my hand and pulling me back against
his chest. He looks down into my face. “Demons aren’t trustworthy,” he says.
“Just remember that.”
 
I relax my body against his and Tryan leans down and kisses me. His lips
are soft and gentle, and I melt against him. The stress of this last month
melts away.
 
A shiver runs through my body and Tryan mistakes it for a chill. “Let’s
go inside,” he says, pulling my hand toward the door.
 
As Tryan grabs the handle, the door creaks open. It’s not locked? He
looks back at me with a frown creased across his brow. I push past him into the
house.
 
“Katya?” I call out into the darkness. Nothing. Lights flicker into the
kitchen through the open patio doors on the other side of the house.
 
“Come on,” Tryan says pulling me outside with a finger to his lips. “This
way.”
 
We slowly creep around the side of the house, following the flickering
lights to the back yard. Between the tall fence and the wooden siding of the
house, we’re sitting ducks. We slow down as we reach the back corner and Tryan
grabs my hand.
 
“Let me go first,” he says. “Please. Trust me.”
 
I nod and hold back as Tryan passes in front of me. He peers around the
corner, then holds up a hand for me to stop as he disappears into the backyard.
 
I shuffle around the corner, but Tryan is nowhere to be seen. Lights are
hanging along the fence to the back of the property, flickering on and off.
 
“Tryan?” I whisper. No answer. I look back. Where is he?
 
 “Tryan?” I call out a little
louder this time.
About Melanie: 

 

Melanie McFarlane is a passionate writer of other-wordly adventures, a
little excitable, and a little quirky. Whether it’s uncovering the corruption
of the future, or traveling to other worlds to save the universe, she jumps in
with both hands on her keyboard. Though she can be found obsessing over zombies
and orcs from time to time, Melanie has focused her powers on her YA debut
There Once Were Stars, and her YA urban fantasy Summoner Rising.
She lives with her husband and two daughters in the Land of Living Skies.

Giveaway
Details:

 

1 winner will receive a DVD of THE CRAFT, US Only.



a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

 I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

PROJECT EMERGENCE by Jamie Zakian #BookRelease #ReleaseDay @demoness333 #OfTheTrees #Month9Squad #Month9Books

 

I am so
excited that PROJECT EMERGENCE by Jamie
Zakian releases today and that I get to share the news!
 
If you
haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author Jmaie Zakian, be sure to
check out all the details below.
 
This blitz
also includes a giveaway for a
DVD
of Passengers, US Only or the complete eBook set of Fire
In The Woods
, International, courtesy of Month9Books
. So if you’d like a chance to win,
enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.
About The Book:
 
Title: PROJECT
EMERGENCE
Author: Jamie
Zakian
Pub.
Date: March 14, 2017
Publisher:
Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 292
An ancient Hopi myth says people arrived on tiny silver pods that fell
from the sky.
But the truth is far more terrifying.
Two-hundred fifty-eight teens are sent from a dying Earth to a
terraformed Mars as part of the Emergence Program, mankind’s last hope before
solar flares finish off their planet and species. Among the brave pioneers are
sixteen-year-old Joey Westen and her twin brother, Jesse.
After only minutes in space, something triggers a total ship lock down.
With the help of their roommates, the Matsuda twins (notorious hackers
and shady secret-keepers), Joey and Jesse stumble onto an extremist plot to
sabotage the Emergence Program.
But Joey and Jesse didn’t travel to the deepest pits of space and leave
their mother behind to be picked off in a high-tech tin can. They’ll lie, hack,
and even kill to survive the voyage and make it to Mars.


Excerpt:
Beads of sweat formed between Winslow’s palm and the device, but he held
tight. All his screens, which provided invaluable data, sat as black as the
infinite cosmos before him. Flying blind, in ancient throughways created by …
only God knows who—it unsettled and disturbed the mind. 
 
However, the bowed
windshield provided him a spectacular view without the instrument panel aglow.
Leaning over, he searched for the orange glimmer of Earth, but after
ninety minutes in hyper drive, the scorched planet was far from view. The
bright streaks of distant stars overshadowed any hope of glimpsing home.
 
“Do you really think that woman can stop the … ” Natalia glanced around
then leaned in to whisper, “attack.”
 
“We’ve made it farther than all the other expeditions. That gives me
hope,” he replied softly.
 
“We had a great run though, didn’t we?” Natalia smirked as she tucked a
stray hair behind her ear. 
“Remember that time—”
 
“This sounds an awful lot like a goodbye speech, Kozlov.”
 
“Ooh, Kozlov,” Natalia drawled. “You haven’t called me by my last name
since I was a cadet. Geez, you must be serious.”
 
“We have to have faith.” Winslow looked to the men and women stationed at
the far end of the control room, then to the shining rod in his grasp. “The
human race can’t end with us; we’ve come too far. We have to persevere.”
 
“You know. After you told me about the other ships, I almost resigned
from this voyage.” Natalia turned her chair from the control panel, facing him.
“Do you know why I didn’t?”
 
Winslow clicked his chair around, staring at Natalia. A pink tinge
flushed her cheeks, her nails drumming out a steady beat on the armrest. She
looked so anxious. Risky test flights, solar flares, bombs, nothing shook her
nerve so far. Yet right now, her lips trembled.
 
“I’m in love with you, Gerald. If we’re gonna die in thirty minutes, I
thought you should at least know that.” Her eyes darted away, and she repositioned
her seat.
 
His jaw dropped open. He tried to speak, but his words bunched in his
throat. Natalia stole a glance and a hard thump rattled his chest. He never
noticed that sparkle in her blue eyes, which gleamed against her olive skin,
until now.
 
A wisp of brown hair fell from behind her ear, and his heart skipped
faster. He looked to his watch, his hold on the jammer tightening. Only twenty
minutes left. What-ifs and could-bes didn’t much matter anymore, these were
most likely his final moments.

 

 
He unfastened his safety belt, scooting to the edge of his seat. A smile
threatened to invade his lips, but he held a straight face. The shuffle of
crewmembers faded as he pulled the lever beneath Natalia’s seat, spinning her
chair to gaze upon her face. An unexpected flutter ran through his stomach with
her stare, her smirk. It drew him in, brought him to one knee. Their lips found
each other, and he kissed her, softly, under the glow of starlight.
About Jamie: 

 

Jamie Zakian is a full-time writer who consumes the written word as
equally as oxygen. Living in South Jersey with her husband and rowdy family,
she enjoys farming, archery, and blazing new trails on her 4wd quad, when not
writing of course. She aspires to one day write at least one novel in every
genre of fiction.


 
 
 
 
 
 
Giveaway Details:
1 winner will receive a DVD of Passengers, US Only.

 

1 winner will win the complete FIRE IN THE WOODS eBook set,
International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

Friday Reveal Blood Road by Amanda McCrina @9inchsnails #BookReveal #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

 
Today Amanda McCrina and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for BLOOD ROAD which releases April 25,
2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to
receive a eGalley!!
A quick note from the author:

 

 
The funny thing about historical fiction—or
historical fantasy, in this case—is that it often reveals more about the
present than it does about the past. It provides a lens through which we can
understand and contextualize our own experiences. BLOOD ROAD is a tribute to my
love of Roman history, but it’s also very much a product of its time. It’s a
story about corruption and injustice and empire and a young soldier who stands
up and resists, and writing it gave me the opportunity to ask hard questions
about my own present and the part I play.
 
 
Title: BLOOD
ROAD
Author: Amanda McCrina
Pub. Date: April 25, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 329
Find it: Goodreads
| Amazon | B&N
| TBD
Nineteen-year-old Torien Risto has seen
dissidents dealt with before. He knows the young local girl who just knifed him
will hang for assaulting an Imperial officer, unless he can stop it.
Someone inside the provincial government
is kidnapping Imperial citizens and selling them across the desert to the salt
mines, silencing anyone who tries to intervene. The girl’s brother is one of
those who has been taken. Rejected by the corrupt courts, she’s waging a
personal war against the Empire.
Determined to save her life, Torien sets
out in search of answers on the Salt Road, the ancient trade route running deep
into the heart of a desert—territory claimed by the hostile Mayaso tribe.
Now, Torien is no longer sure where his
own loyalty lies, or how far he will go to break the cycle of tyranny,
political bullying, and social injustice in an empire that seals its borders in
blood.

 

 

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONEHe could see the sky in pieces between the tenements, bruised purple now with dusk.

At first he was glad for the darkness, because it meant they would be firing the beacon in the lighthouse at the point. He leaned on his saddle-horns, craning his neck to look down the narrow cross streets, trying to catch a glimpse of the great light burning in the distance. By means of the lighthouse he could reorient himself. But the cross streets twisted away into deep shadow between the tenement blocks, and there was the irksome thought at the back of his mind that if they had wandered so far into the city as not see the lighthouse, then they had wandered so far as to be where Imperial control was more a matter of theory than practice—at least at night.

Earlier, when the young summer sun was glaring white in a blue- glaze sky and the air under the awnings still and close and hot enough one could feel one’s skin baking in it—the tenements shut out the harbor breeze—the streets had seethed with people: sellers of figs and dates and pomegranates and honeyed almonds and goats’ milk and flavored ices and sour wine; and potters and silversmiths and leatherworkers and basket-weavers at their shopfronts; and housewives browsing the market stalls; and slave girls with water in sloshing panniers over their shoulders; and naked children playing sticks-andhoops along the foot-stones; and now and then a mounted official in white linen, shouting and swearing until the crowd shuffled aside to let him pass. Now in darkness they were alone in the street. It was as though the rest of the city had died with the sun. The air was dry and rapidly cooling, heavy with silence like a bated breath. He would not mind the darkness if not for the silence. In a city such silence was unnatural.

“Do you suppose they’ll look for us?” Alluin said. “Or just wait until our bodies turn up in an alley in a week or so?”

“I imagine they’ll expend the effort for me, if they wouldn’t otherwise trouble about you.”

“So there is some benefit to your acquaintance, after all.”

“If not for my acquaintance, you’d be just finishing the first course at the officers’ dinner.”

It had been his idea to explore the city. Alluin was city-born and indifferent—all cities were the same when you got down to it; there came a point when unwashed bodies and stray dogs and bad wine in dirty shops ceased to be as interesting as bed. But he, Torien, still had 3 Blood Road a provincial awe of big cities—an itching, impatient need to see and hear and know. He had been determined not to idle away his time in Modigne behind the fort walls. True that he and Alluin had no more than a smattering of bastardized Modigno between them, and that Modigne was a rabbit’s warren of nameless, ancient streets, built and overbuilt in incongruous layers—in daylight that had seemed far less important than it did now. In daylight it had been enough to know he was an officer of the Imperial army, and a Vareno nobleman, with sufficient coin on his person for any foreseeable difficulty and a sword at his hip in the event his coin should fail. It was remarkable how in darkness one saw things more clearly.

Certain things, anyway—other things than the way back to the fort or the direction of the harbor light.

The street, so narrow now that Alluin had to rein in his horse and fall in behind, plunged into a honeycomb of tight-packed adobe huts, each no wider than the span of Torien’s arms, joined to its neighbors by rickety wooden ladders running an uneven line from flat rooftop to flat rooftop. He took the downward slant for a good sign: he knew, from studying the maps on the wall of the headquarters at the fort, that Modigne, built as it was along a volcanic crater, went down to the ocean like the insides of a bowl, and so for the street to be sloping downward meant it must be working its way however haphazardly to the harbor.

He leaned on the saddle-horns, lifting himself a little to see if he could pick out the lighthouse below.

There was a rustle on the rooftop above. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a darker shadow take shape against the darkness. He recognized the glint of metal in time to jerk around in his saddle, hauling on the reins as he turned. He took the blade in the back of his left shoulder rather than in his throat.

He had braced for it and did not slip from the saddle, though for a moment he thought he might: his knees, pressed against the horse’s ribs, went as weak as water. He lost the reins from his left hand. Above him, he heard very clearly the patter of footsteps as the knifeman fled across the rooftop for the nearest ladder. Just as clearly, he heard the thin cry and the muffled thump as the knifeman lost his footing on the ladder and fell back to the roof.

Silence followed.

Torien brushed away Alluin’s hand and propped his right shoulder against the wall. He nodded to the hut. “Bring him,” he said—calmly, though his heart was pounding. “That fall won’t have killed him.”

He saw Alluin’s face as a pale blur in the darkness. “Tor—”

“It’s nothing. It’ll wait. Our friend won’t.”

In truth, his knees were still trembling, and he was speaking through clenched teeth because he knew if he unclenched them they would chatter. There was blood seeping through his tunic and jerkin, and he was conscious, as he hadn’t been at first, of the knife blade sunk to its hilt just beyond the cuff of his shoulder. His body was revolting against the thought, sickness threatening in the pit of his stomach.

Lamplight blossomed inside the hut. Low voices filtered out through the reed curtain in the doorway. Torien dipped his chin again, with effort. Alluin swore and swung from his saddle and drew his sword. He pushed into the hut through the curtain, and Torien heard him issuing orders in a clumsy hybrid of Modigno and Vareno—heard the crash of pottery breaking, the scrape of wood dragging across stone, a child’s whimper. A moment later, Alluin’s head and shoulders and sword hand emerged above him from inside the hut. Alluin pushed himself up on his hands from the opening, landing lightly on his feet on the roof. Picking up his sword, he vanished beyond the roof edge.

Torien leaned carefully back against the wall. He glanced down the street. There were no other doorways lit, no other sound than the clatter of Alluin’s hobnailed boots on the rooftop above. In Choiro, there would have been a crowd by now. Modigne lay as still and silent as a plague city.

Alluin reappeared at the roof edge. He had sheathed his sword. He was handling the knifeman along by the shoulders—no, not a man, Torien thought, certainly a boy: he came barely to Alluin’s chest. His arms and legs, silhouetted black against the sky, were thin, stick-like things around which his tunic fluttered shapelessly.

Torien pushed up from the wall and gathered himself together and dismounted. The ground was springy under his feet. He wavered for a moment as his heels touched, swallowing back the sickness. There was a ringing in his ears. He blinked in the sudden brightness of lamplight as Alluin flung aside the curtain in the doorway and shoved the boy before him out into the street. Behind him the hut’s occupants—a man and a woman and an assortment of half-dressed children—gathered silently in the doorway to watch.

The boy had stumbled and fallen in a heap of skinny limbs and wool rags. He caught himself on his palms. He adjusted the cap on his head and sat back awkwardly, keeping his knobby legs to the side. In the dim light, Torien could see enough to know the left ankle was broken. There was blood dribbling from the boy’s nose, and he was sucking breath low and softly through his teeth. His eyes darted over Torien’s face, lingering for a moment at Torien’s shoulder. He looked quickly to the ground. He was, Torien judged, eleven or perhaps twelve—not yet old enough to face execution for an assault upon an Imperial soldier. He would go to a slaver’s block instead. There would be an examination to determine the guilt of his family.

He caught Alluin’s eye and jerked his chin to the sullen family in the doorway. “Wine if they have it. Water otherwise—and something passable for bandage cloth.” The pain had started, and he was leaning into his horse’s shoulder for balance.

The woman in the doorway said something in Modigno. He recognized the word for wine. He said, “What did she say?” Alluin’s Modigno was bad, but better than his own.

“They have wine, but it’s for a wedding,” Alluin said, “for her sister’s wedding—I think.”

He was irritated and impatient now. “Water, then. Tell them I’d have paid for wine.”

Alluin stood at his shoulder and unbuckled his cuirass while the woman went into the hut. “Do you want to do this inside?” he said. His voice was quiet.

“Not until I know he acted alone.” Torien nodded to the boy, who had sat motionless all this while, studying the ground as though he were reading something written there. “You. You speak Vareno?”

The boy looked up incuriously into Torien’s face. He had determined not to speak: Torien could see as much from the set of his mouth, the hollowness of his eyes. His thin brown hands were clenched to fists on his lap.

From the doorway, the man spoke up in rapid Modigno.

“He’s reconsidered about the wine?” Torien said. The shoulder was hurting fiercely.

“He says he knows her family,” Alluin said.

“Whose family?” There was a moment’s silence in which he suddenly understood.

“A girl,” he said, stupidly. “He says he knows her family and will tell us where she lives,” Alluin said.

“Also, he would appreciate very much his lord’s kindness if his lord would consider a pittance in return for the service.”

The girl flung up her head suddenly to spit at the man’s feet. The man seemed embarrassed. He hunched his shoulders and looked at his hands. The woman came out from the hut with a water jug and a cloth. She held them out to Alluin at arm’s length, making a quick, nervous gesture with her hands. Alluin shook his head. “Hold them. Quedas—hold them, you understand?”

“Give them to me,” Torien said.

“Don’t give them to him,” Alluin said. “He’ll drop them when I do this.”

He jerked the knife from Torien’s shoulder. Torien folded to his knees. The street swam around him. He heard Alluin’s voice as though it were carrying to him underwater. He shook his head. Alluin was prying the cuirass from his shoulder and tugging the jerkin down his arm. The night air through his blood-soaked tunic was sharp and cold; he shivered. The girl’s eyes were on him. She was watching with the same flat-eyed incuriosity. There was blood trickling over her lips from her nose, but she made no move to wipe it away.

“Her ankle,” Torien said. For some reason, her silence shamed him.

Far above him Alluin said, patiently, “What?”

“Tie up her ankle. And tell the Modigno he can show us where she lives, because I don’t trust the word of a coward.”

****

The Modigno walked ahead, self-consciously, shoulders still hunched in embarrassment. Alluin followed on foot, leading his horse by the reins. The girl huddled in his saddle with her hands outstretched to the horns, her face buried in the horse’s mane, her bare legs dangling limp against the horse’s belly. Torien rode at the rear. The street, which turned this way and that through the honeycombed huts, ran steadily downhill all the while, and he knew they must be close to the water because there was a stiff salt breeze rising to his face. It cut through his soaked tunic like a knife. His fingers were numb on the reins. He had knotted them in the horse’s mane to keep himself upright in the saddle.

He could have ordered the Modigno to show them instead to the harbor light, of course, or to the fort itself, and they could have delivered the girl into the prison on the hill, and very soon now he might have been enjoying the comfort of his own quarters and a skin of wine to ease the pain in his shoulder—but it might easily be a month before the girl’s case went to the governor, and he was due to report at Tasso in a week, and he had too many questions of his own to let it go like that.

Only after they had gone on for near half an hour, the adobe huts having given way to ramshackle wooden shanties and the street sunk in soft, rank mud, the air heavy with the smell of brine and rotten fish, did it occur to him that most likely the Modigno had no idea about the girl’s family and no idea where she lived—had grasped for the chance to make a quick coin and come away with more than he had bargained for, and was looking for the opportunity to dart down an alley and vanish into the night.

He had opened his mouth to say this to Alluin when the Modigno swung about suddenly and said something in his own tongue, gesturing with his hands. The shanty at his back was threesided, sheltered from the street by a tattered sailcloth curtain, unlit.

“He says it’s here,” Alluin said.

The girl shifted in Alluin’s saddle. A shudder ran through her shoulders, but she did not raise her head.

“Tell him to lift the curtain,” Torien said. He was cold and aching and the Modigno was a fool, but that was no reason to abandon caution.

The Modigno lifted the curtain. The shanty was empty. There was a fire pit dug in the bare-dirt floor, but the coals were dead.

The Modigno spoke very quickly in his own tongue, his eyes going from Alluin to Torien and back again.

“He seems to think we think he’s lied,” Alluin said. “He wants us to ask the girl.”

“Tell him the girl’s our concern.” Torien dismounted, cradling his left arm against his stomach. He was too tired for anger. Anyway, it was pointless to threaten reprisals: they would not find him again if they tried. He fumbled at his belt and withdrew a bronze from his wallet. He flicked the coin in the Modigno’s direction. “Bayas—go.”

The Modigno dropped to his heels to dig out the coin from the mud. He made a mockery of a bow as he straightened: it had occurred to him that they had been essentially at his mercy. His shoulders were straight as he walked away back up the street.

Alluin pulled the girl down from his saddle by the waist and held her before him, as easily as though she were made of straw. “I’ll have a look around. The harbor can’t be far.”

“No. We can spend the night here.”

“That shoulder needs more than water, Tor, and sooner is better. Though I appreciate your faith in my medical ability.”

“I don’t like the idea of splitting up. It won’t do my shoulder any good if you end up in the harbor with your throat cut. And I couldn’t drag myself back into a saddle right now if I wanted to.”

Alluin was silent, studying him. He had the girl’s shoulder in one hand, his reins in the other. He let go the girl’s shoulder, reluctantly. “Adienta—inside,” he said. And to Torien: “I’ll see to the horses.”

Weak moonlight filtered through the roof of the shanty, which was nothing more than a reed lattice tied down with leather strips. The girl sat down against the left-hand wall, stretching her bad leg straight before her. She watched silently and unmoving while Torien crouched on his heels at the fire pit and searched one-handed through the ashes for salvageable tinder. By the time he had built up a decent pile, and had found flint and iron to strike a light, Alluin had ducked in from the street with a saddle on each arm.

“I’d have done it if you’d waited,” he said. He deposited Torien’s saddle against the right-hand wall and sat down with his own against the rear wall.

Torien unbuckled his helmet and leaned his head back against the wall. He sat with the helmet on his lap, his eyes closed. Beyond the crackling of the fire and the rattling of the lattice in the salt breeze, the silence stretched vast and hostile. “If you speak,” he said, “it goes better for you.” He opened his eyes and looked at the girl across the fire pit. In the firelight, he could see the details of her bony bronze face. She was older than he had thought at first—older than he’d thought when he’d thought her a boy. It was possible she was fifteen. The smallness of her limbs and the sunkenness of her cheeks made it hard to tell. She was looking into the flame in silence, her eyes halfclosed, her face magnificently blank, but he knew she had heard and had taken his general meaning by the way her shoulders tightened against the wa

ll. “Tell me if there were others,” he said. “Tell me how many.”

When she said nothing, he said to Alluin, “In Modigno. Tell her if she doesn’t answer to us now, she’ll answer to the governor in court—she and her family.”

The girl jerked her chin, suddenly. “No others,” she said. “I understand what you say.” Her eyes came up to his. Her voice was low but hard. “I do it alone. No family. The cobarte he lies when he brings you. No family. He says it because he wants your coin.”

“Why did you do it?”

She turned her face back to the fire.

“Answer me,” Torien said.

“I go to the slavers anyway,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if I answer you.”

“Possibly you’ll go to the slavers. Possibly they’ll decide you’re old enough to face execution. My word means a great deal, either way.”

“I do not care,” she said.

“My word can spare you an examination.”

“I do not care.”

He glanced over to Alluin, who shrugged very slightly against the wall. Torien could sense his discomfort in his silence. He looked back at the girl. “Speak now and I’ll listen,” he said. “Come tomorrow in the city prison, it’ll be too late.”

She said nothing. He saw there was no use in it. He said to Alluin, “We’d better set a watch.”

“I’ll watch,” Alluin said. He seemed thankful for something to do.

“I’ll take it over in a few hours,” Torien said. “Wake me if you need to.”

He did not sleep. He lay against his saddle, carefully still on account of the shoulder, watching the sky through the cracks in the lattice and waiting for sleep to come, but his mind was moving on and on through the streets of Modigne, and in the silence he was restless. At length, he got up. The fire had died to embers. Across the room, the girl was huddled shapeless in the darkness. He could not tell if she was asleep. He went over to the doorway, where Alluin sat cross-legged against the corner post. “You sleep,” he said. “I can’t.”

“Your shoulder?” Alluin’s voice was tight. “You should have let me go for help, Tor.”

“It’s fine. It’s just that I can’t sleep and you might as well.”

“Next time you’ll listen to me. Next time when I say I can see enough of Modigne from the fort walls, and you say—”

“You talk like you’re the one who took the knife.”

“That’s the difference between us,” Alluin said. “I don’t have to take a knife in my back before I recognize a bad idea.”

Torien sat with his back against the post, his sword unsheathed across his lap. Through the gap between the post and the curtain, he could see the horses and the moonlit street beyond. He watched a cat come noiselessly down the street. It saw him as it approached the shanty, and it paused and watched him and went on again when it decided he was no threat. Behind him, in the shanty, Alluin was breathing long and steadily in his sleep. It was perhaps midnight or a little past. He heard a noise like a muffled laugh or a cough, and he started, fingers seizing instinctively on his sword grip. At his movement, the noise stopped. Across the room, the girl was struggling to hold herself still against the wall. Her shoulders shook with trapped sobs.

He pulled himself up to his feet, supporting himself on the sword. He crossed the room to her. She heard him approaching and drew herself stiffly up, but she did not raise her head. He knelt beside her. In the moonlight through the lattice, he could see the tear streaks on her cheeks. Leaning on the sword, he said, quietly, “Tell me why you did it.”

Another tremor ran through her shoulders. She bit her lip. Alluin’s untroubled breathing was loud in the silence.

“Give me the truth and I may be able to help you.”

She shook her head, once, sharply, her eyes squeezed shut. “You lie. I know you lie.”

“I don’t lie.”

“All Vareni lie. I know this.”

“Maybe. But I’m Cesino blood through my father’s line.”

“Then to your people you are a traitor.”

She said it flatly, without interest, as though it were as obvious as the weather, and he understood the absurdity of trying to explain to her, in that moment, how one could feel loyalty to homeland and to empire without hypocrisy. He said, instead, “I’m trying to help you.”

“Why do you want to help me?”

“I care to see proper justice done.”

“I know your justice.” She lifted her face to his, finally. Her voice was thick with anger and tears. “I know what you mean when you say justice. You take Mahlan when he does nothing wrong. I know what you mean by justice.”

The curtain rustled in a draft of cold salt breeze. Torien was on his feet and spinning to the doorway in one motion, his sword ready in his hand. Behind him, Alluin sat bolt upright, flinging aside his cloak. He drew his sword and scrambled up, his back to the wall. The figure in the doorway stood frozen at Torien’s sword point. For a moment, there was silence in the shanty. Then Torien jerked his chin over his shoulder and said, “Sit—slowly. Linta.”

He kept his blade leveled at the newcomer’s throat while the newcomer slid down beside the girl. He said to Alluin, “Light.”

Alluin dropped to his knees at the fire pit. There was another stretch of silence while he coaxed a flame from the spent tinder. In the moonlight, Torien could see the newcomer’s arms tight around the girl’s shoulders, head bowed against the girl’s head. He lowered his sword. After a moment’s consideration, he sheathed it. He turned on his heel and went to the curtain and looked out into the street. It lay empty and silent as before. The horses stood tethered at the post. He drew the curtain shut. There was a tightness in him that had nothing to do with the wound.

Feeble light sprang over the shanty walls.

“It won’t last long,” Alluin said.

“Use this.” With one booted foot, Torien prodded the bundle of sticks that the newcomer had let drop in the doorway. The girl watched him over the newcomer’s shoulder. Her face was set as hard as stone, but he saw the flicker of fear in her eyes. He crouched on his heels, facing her, the fire pit at his back. “No family? So it’s not only Vareni who lie.”

The girl said nothing. The newcomer straightened slowly against the wall and looked at him. He saw the girl’s face in near-exact duplicate, but duplicated as it would be in twenty years’ time: bronze skin prematurely lined, lips cracked by the sun, dark eyes sunken with hunger and hardship and grief. There was neither fear nor defiance in the woman’s face, but rather a resignation which shook him. “I give you what you want. Do not ask it of the girl.”

“You can give me satisfactory answers. Otherwise the girl goes before an Imperial court for sedition and attempted murder.”

The woman looked at the girl, the girl at the floor. Neither spoke, but in the firelight Torien watched the color drain from the woman’s face.

“Dependent upon her age, the penalty is enslavement or death, so I advise you to consider your answers carefully. Who is Mahlan?”

The woman was silent. The girl raised her eyes briefly from the floor.

“Silence does your daughter no good,” Torien said.

“My son. He is my son—Mahlan.” Her mouth contorted as though the name pained her.

“Where is he?”

“They take him,” the woman said. She swallowed. “This spring when the harbor open they come and take him.”

“Who?”

She said nothing. Her fingers were tight around the girl’s arms. They were bony fingers, bent and blunted from work, the knuckles swollen, the nails split. The backs of her brown hands were traced over with lines like dry leather.

“Vareni?” Torien said. “Answer me.”

The woman closed her eyes. “Of the jente.”

He did not know the word. He darted a glance to Alluin, who was sitting and watching from the other side of the fire pit. “One of the crime lords,” Alluin said, quietly.

Torien said to the woman, “This jente took your son?”

“When the harbor open, they take him.”

He supposed in her mind and in the girl’s the Imperial governing authorities were partially culpable in that they had not stopped it; and he supposed he had made more accessible a target than the jente for the girl’s retribution. It was a stupid reason to be knifed in the street, and a stupider reason to be executed. He was irritated. “You should have gone to the governor. He might have explained to you the difference between justice and vengeance before the girl need hang for it.”

“I go to your courts.” The woman flung up her head. “I am a citizen. My daughter she is a citizen. My son he is a citizen. I go to your courts for justice. They say to me I have no case, and they tell me if I am not silent then they will silence me. Always it is the same. Always you pretend you do not see, because the jente he pays you not to see. I know what is justice and what is not justice. What you hang my daughter for it is not justice, and you know this too.”

“How many others besides your son?” There was a moment’s silence. He could sense Alluin frozen behind him across the fire pit. He said, “You say always like it’s common practice. How many others?”

The woman drew up a little. Her eyes were flat, her mouth tight. She thought he was mocking her. “There are hundreds the jente take. You know—”

“I know nothing. I’ve been two days in Modigne, and despite the fact I just took a knife in my shoulder, I hope to be shipboard and gone tomorrow.” He kneaded his temples with his fingertips. “So the jente takes them—why? As slaves?”

“He sells them into the salt mines in Tasso. I hear it from the sailors.”

“And you say the governor knows and does nothing.”

Anger flashed across the sun-cracked face. “I say because I know. We tell him what happens. We tell him the jente he takes us to be slaves in the mines. We ask his protection. ‘We are citizens,’ we say. ‘Help us against the jente.’ But the ones who speak out he gives their name to the jente, and the jente he kills them or he takes them to the ships. I have seen this. The jente he kills us in the street, and your governor and your courts and your garrison they do nothing.”

“Every ship coming into or going out from an Imperial port is inspected—slave ships more closely than the rest. Every manifest is reviewed, every cargo taxed. So many kidnapped citizens would hardly escape notice. It would take more than the governor turning a blind eye. At the least, it would mean the city guard, and the harbor master and his agents, and the harbor master at Tasso, and every level of the administration at the mines. This jente can’t have bought them all.”

“The city guard always they belong to the jentes,” the woman said. “Anyway, the jente he doesn’t use the slave ships. I see it myself. In the night they put the slaves on trade ships—hundreds of slaves into hidden holds. In the day they fill the ships with jugs of wine, jugs of oil. That is what the harbor master sees. They put water in some of the jugs so it doesn’t show on the manifests that they carry water for the slaves. I don’t know about the mines.”

Torien was silent. The girl was looking at him over the woman’s shoulder—unblinking, contemptuous, as though she were daring him to call it a lie. Alluin sat motionless behind him, waiting for him to speak, because in the end the decision was his alone, but he knew Alluin’s thoughts like his own, and he knew Alluin, too, was thinking of the empty streets outside the shanty and the silence like a bated breath—fear hanging over the city like a plague.

He rocked back on his heels and got to his feet. The shanty spun as he stood. “This is what will happen. In the morning, I take ship for Tasso. You’ll go with me down to the harbor, and you’ll show me the jente’s ships, and I’ll investigate crew and cargo for myself. If I find nothing to convince me of this slaving business, then I’ll leave it for the governor’s court to decide your fate. Otherwise I’ll do what I can from Tasso to see this thing ended and those responsible made to pay for it—Modigno and Vareno alike. In any case, I swear to you I’ll see justice done. If you’ve told me the truth, you’ve nothing to fear by that.”

The woman’s fingers were tight on the girl’s arms. “I tell you the truth,” she said. Her voice was low and hard, and in it he heard what she left unsaid: that she knew the value of Vareno oaths just as she knew the value of Vareno justice. The truth made no difference to whim.

He ground out the fire under one boot heel. “I’ll take the watch,” he said to Alluin. It was perhaps four hours to dawn, and he knew he would not sleep.

 

 
Amanda McCrina has studied in Italy,
taught English in Japan, and currently tutors Latin in Atlanta, Georgia. She
received her BA in History from the University of West Georgia, and is now
pursuing her MA. She writes stories that incorporate her love of history, languages,
and world travel. She drinks far too much coffee and dreams of one day having a
winning fantasy-hockey season.

 

 

3 winners will receive and eGalley of BLOOD
ROAD, International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

SHERLOCK BONES Series by Jennifer M. Eaton #ReleaseBlast @month9books @LaurenBaratzL

 

 #ReleaseDay #TantrumJr #TantrumBooks #Kidlit #Month9Books

 



I am so
excited that the SHERLOCK BONES series
by Lauren Baratz-Logsted releases today and that I get to share the news!
 
If you
haven’t yet heard about these wonderful books by Author Lauren Baratz-Logsted,
be sure to check out all the details below.

 

 
This blitz
also includes a giveaway for a
pair
of Great Dane socks and Dog or Cat treats for your Fur Babies, US Only
courtesy of Month9Books
.
So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of
this post.
 
Title: THE
ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK BONES: DOGGONE
Author: Lauren
Baratz-Logsted
Pub.
Date:
February 21, 2017
Publisher:
Month9Books
Format: Hardcover,
eBook
Pages: 150
The Adventures of Sherlock Bones turns snooping on its floppy ear when
one day, Dr. Jane Catson, a surgeon injured in the Cat Wars has an afternoon
nap interrupted by a most unusual occurrence.
On the front lawn of her home, rather loud footsteps disturb her peace as
Sherlock Bones, a Great Dane in a deerstalker claiming to be the greatest
detective in the world arrives.
After a quick critical examination of the intrusive dog whose enormous
body blocks the entire sun from view, Catson has her doubts. But that’s not
all. The monstrously-sized creature makes an even more astonishing claim. He
has come to live with her!
Before Catson can collect her thoughts into an intelligent rebuttal,
Sherlock Bones has made himself quite at home, inventing things like a jetpack
for her Castilian housekeeper-cook, a turtle named Mr. Javier and placing his
gigantic food and water dishes next to hers.
But there’s no time for protest. The great detective and Dr. Catson have
caught themselves their first case: A suspiciously dead human in a nearby
abandoned building. Can Sherlock Bones and Dr. Catson crack the case before the
killer strikes again? Or will their differences get in the way of solving Case
File No. 1? One thing’s for sure, that would be a doggone shame.
Title: THE
ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK BONES: DOG NOT GONE
Author: Lauren
Baratz-Logsted
Pub.
Date:
February 21, 2017
Publisher:
Month9Books
Format: Hardcover,
eBook
Pages: 150
After being introduced to Sherlock Bones, the Greatest Detective in the
World, in Case File #1: Dogged to Death, Dr. Jane Catson – surgeon and veteran
of the Cat Wars – is back to share an all-new mystery adventure with readers.
Despite all of Jane’s resistance, Bones is now living with her and her
housekeeper/chef, the turtle with a jetpack, Mr. Javier. This time out, the
mismatched duo’s investigations lead them to a case involving murder, of
course, and – wait for it! – Utah. If there’s one thing readers can be certain
of it’s that in this world, the animals are always smarter than the humans.
Also, did we mention…Utah?
 
 
 
 
Excerpt:
 
“You can’t be serious!” I practically shouted, outraged.
If a murder really had been committed, I couldn’t believe he wasn’t going
to do anything about it. I also couldn’t believe that I was arguing with him
about this. I’d never wanted to get involved with him and all his craziness in
the first place.
“Oh, but I am, my dear Catson.”
My dear … Who did this dog think he was?
“And why is that, Bones?” I demanded, determined not to let my right eye
squint.
“Because I am tired of not getting credit.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Here’s how this kind of case always goes: a crime, usually murder,
occurs. The professional, public detectives—the so-called ‘experts’—are called
in. They fail to solve the case. Then I am called in. I solve the case, but
they take all the credit. End of story.”
As he spoke, his eyes shifted sadly from me to the floor to studying his
toenails.
I found myself, for the first time, starting to feel sorry for him. Then:
“Wait,” I said, this time letting my right eye go ahead and twitch.
“You’re not going to investigate, you’re going to let a murderer run
free—because your feelings are hurt? Because you feel you don’t get enough
credit?”
“Well,” he said, now looking slightly embarrassed, “yes, that is exactly
what I plan to do. Or rather, not do.”
“You can’t be serious! If you think you can help, it is your duty to do
so!”
“I suppose … ” His eyes met mine. “Do you want to come with?”
“Come with where?”
He eagerly un-crumpled the crumpled piece of paper.
“There,” he said, pointing to an address.
I thought of my lunch, which was still sitting on the table. I thought
longingly of the cushion in front of the bay window, my nap long overdue. And
then I thought of the adventure of potentially aiding to solve a murder. I must
confess: I was curious. It also occurred to me that perhaps since returning
home from the Cat Wars, my life had been a little dull.
“Fine,” I said, mildly exasperated with myself.
“Great,” he said, all smiles once more. “I’ll go get my hat.”
About Lauren:

 

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of over 25 books for adults, teens
and kids, including The Sisters 8 series for young readers which she created
with her husband and daughter. She lives in Danbury, CT, with that husband and
daughter as well as their marvelous cat, Yoyo.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Giveaway
Details:
 
(1) winner will receive a pair of Great Dane Socks (pictured below) and a
Bag of Wellness Brand Dor or Cat treats, US Only.

 



a Rafflecopter giveaway




I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

THE TICK TOCK MAN by R.M. Clark #CoverReveal @vandalrmc #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books



Today R.M. Clark and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for THE TICK TOCK MAN which releases May
2, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers
to receive a eGalley!!


A quick note from the author:

 

 


The Tick Tock Man is my
first foray into the world of speculative fiction. Here in New England, we are
fortunate to have many wonderful clocks around. We have clocks in church
steeples, parks, above banks and other locations. My idea for this story came from
a simple “what if”. What if there were a community of “clock
people” who kept all these great clocks running? Furthermore, what could
go wrong? Then I made something go wrong and the story “clicked.” The
Tick Tock Man takes place primarily in this fictional clock world, but the
issues, conflicts and resolutions are not unlike those in the real world.

 

 
Title: THE
TICK TOCK MAN
Author: R.M. Clark
Pub. Date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: TantrumBooks
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 237
Find it: Goodreads
|
Amazon | B&N | TBD
When the clocks in town stop,
thirteen-year-old CJ discovers an unusual “clock world” where most of
the citizens are clock parts, tasked with keeping the big clocks running. But
soon the seemingly peaceful world is divided between warring factions with CJ instructed
to find the only person who can help: the elusive Tick Tock Man.

With the aid of Fuzee, a partly-human
girl, he battles gear-headed extremists and razor-sharp pendulums in order to
restore order before this world of chimes, springs, and clock people dissolves
into a massive time warp, taking CJ’s quiet New England town with it.

 

Excerpt

Chapter OneSomething wasn’t right.

I’d planned on sleeping in Thanksgiving morning because, hey, it was Thanksgiving, and that meant no school and no stupid alarm to wake me up. Well, that was the plan.

At precisely eight a.m., the clock sitting a mere two feet from my head wailed.

Thunka thunka thunka thunka.

Stupid clock. That wasn’t even a real alarm sound. It was just an invented strange noise to annoy me. I checked the buttons on top. No alarm set and no radio. Maybe it was a dream? Just to be sure, I gave the clock a good whack.

All was well. Back to sleep.

Bonka bonka bonka bonka.

Now it was nine o’clock. I sat up and grabbed the clock with every intention of tossing it against the back wall. What a pleasure it would have been to see it smash into a million pieces. I win!

But, this clock was a birthday present from Uncle Artie. He’d said it was “a special clock for a special kid.” I didn’t like being called “special” because that had a different meaning at school. But it was a cool clock.

Until now. I mean, what kind of noise was that? Certainly not the alarm sound I was used to.

I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t help but wonder what crazy not-real-clock noise Uncle Artie’s “special” clock would make next. So I got out of bed.

Since it was Thanksgiving, I was not at all surprised to see my mom up and in the kitchen. The turkey was on the counter in a large pan. Her arm was halfway up the turkey’s you-know-what. Not what I wanted to see this early in the morning, thank you very much.

“Good morning,” Mom said. “You’re up early.”

“Couldn’t sleep.” I wanted to mention the special-but-stupid clock that made strange noises at weird times, but she had grabbed another handful of stuffing and stuffed it “up there.”

“We’ll need a few guest chairs from the basement when you get a chance. Nana and Papa are coming over, of course. Plus Grandma and Grandpa Boyce. And Uncle Artie too.”

“Sure thing, Mom.” I was barely awake and she was already asking me to do math. Nobody was coming over for quite a while, so I wouldn’t need the, let’s see, two-plus-two-plus-one chairs for several hours. I had tons of time.

What better way to spend it than on the couch watching TV? It would probably be the most fun I would have all day, with both sets of grandparents coming over. It was annoying enough that they had different titles: “Nana and Papa” on the Barnes side, “Grandma and Grandpa” on the Boyce side.

Then there was Uncle Artie. He wasn’t really an uncle but that’s what we always called him. I’ve also heard him called a “distant cousin,” whatever that means. He said his job as an “importer” took him around the world to some pretty exotic places such as Vienna and Timbuktu and South America. No matter what faraway land he went to, he almost always brought us back a clock. We had wooden clocks, metal clocks, cuckoo clocks, and some that were just too odd to describe. Mom would open a package from him and say, “Hey, look. It’s a clock. Imagine that.”

Each clock came with a wonderful story, so my parents loved to get them for just that reason. Unfortunately, both of them hated having all those clocks, with their constant ticking and chiming, so we kept them stashed away in the spare room upstairs until Uncle Artie came to visit. And since he was on his way, I sat up, knowing what was coming next. In three … two … one.

“CJ! Your Uncle Artie’s coming over, so you’ll need to set the clocks out.” Mom could sure belt it out when she needed to.

I knew the drill. I went to the spare room, pulled the special box out of the closet, and lugged it down the stairs. The crescent moon clock went in the living room, replacing a family portrait, which was fine with me since I looked like a dork in that picture, anyway. There was a special cuckoo clock for the bathroom that was pretty cool. The doors on the upper level opened at the top of the hour, revealing either a boy dancer or girl dancer. I set the correct time and adjusted the weights at the end of a long chain to keep the gears going. Six clocks later, I had completed the task, finishing it off in Dad’s basement shop with a clock made from a circular saw blade.

Uncle Artie’s favorite saying was, “You can never have too many clocks.” On this Thanksgiving Day, it was certainly true, even though I was sure my parents would disagree. Not me. Although I never paid a lot of attention to the clocks, I felt something strange as I took each one from the box and hung it in its rightful spot. The crescent moon clock had two huge eyes, one on the crescent side and the other on the orange side that completed the circle. The eyes were painted on but I swear they followed me as I moved around the room.

I double-checked the time on the cuckoo clock in the bathroom and admired the details in it. The entire clock was a house from a German village, with people dressed in lederhosen on the lower level. Lucky for me it was the top of the hour and the clock chimed, revealing the bird from a door at the top and children dancing in the two small doors just below it. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? What awesome detail!

I completed the clock replacement task, storing the non-clock items in the same box and returning it to the spare bedroom. That practically wore me out, so it was back to the couch. The smell from the great stuff Mom was cooking drifted into the room, reminding me I hadn’t eaten yet.

“I made you some scrambled eggs.” Mom smiled as I entered the kitchen.

“Thanks. I’m starving.”

She held out a plate then pulled it back, still smiling. “Just as soon as you bring up the chairs from the basement.”

This wasn’t fair, but it was the second time she’d asked. The third time would not be as charmed. On my way to the basement, I realized my early morning math was wrong. There were four chairs already in the dining room, so I only needed four more. I could easily get them all in one trip.

I passed Dad’s shop right at 10:30 and the heard the blade clock begin to make noise. I turned on the shop light to get a good look and, sure enough, the blade was slowly turning. Clockwise, not surprisingly. Even stranger was that the numbers never moved as the blade turned. A few seconds later, it stopped and went back to normal. Another clock I had never paid much attention to was suddenly freaking out. I hurried back upstairs with two chairs on each arm.

I got my scrambled eggs, finally.

***

At 11:00, things got even weirder. Dad was up by now, sitting in front of his computer, but that wasn’t the weird part. When the hour struck, the crescent moon clock made a strange clicking noise, and those crazy eyes began to wink at me. The painted-on lips between the four and eight went from a Mona Lisa smile to a full-blown grin. I wanted to say something to Mom or Dad, but who would believe me? I went into the bathroom, and the boy and girl dancers in the German village twirled next to each other while the bird stayed home. This was quickly moving into “bizarre” territory. It didn’t help when my watch—another gift from Uncle Artie—started chiming a sound I had never heard before. I took it off and stuffed it in my pocket. Problem solved.

***

I played video games in the back room, trying my best not to look at or listen to any of the suddenly crazy clocks in the house. It was working too, as I finished off another level of Mortal Warfare IV.

“CJ,” my mom called. “Please set the table.”

“Okay. Just one more level.” I sat up as the battle intensified.

“Now would be better. They’ll be here in less than an hour to watch the football game.”

“I’m on it.” I made it past the gatekeeper to complete the level, which allowed me to save my spot in the game.

I grabbed plates and set them out on the table. I took one plate and placed it on the TV tray next to the window. That’s where I would sit. The rule was: adults at the big table and kids somewhere else. Sometimes it was a card table when my cousins showed up. Since I was the only kid this year, I would have to settle for a TV tray.

My mom’s cell phone rang, and she talked with the phone squeezed against her shoulder as she mixed something in a large bowl. She stopped mid-mix and put the bowl down. “I’m sorry to hear that.” Her voice was all serious. She walked out of the room before I could hear any more of it.

I returned to my table-setting duties, grabbing forks, knives, and napkins. The smell of turkey and all the fixings hit me hard as I placed the silverware around the table. Maybe all this work would be worth it. I took another whiff. Maybe.

Mom returned to the kitchen, put the phone down, and stopped stirring.

“Mom, you okay?”

She looked up at me with moist eyes. “Uncle Artie is in the hospital and can’t make it for Thanksgiving. He hasn’t missed one since your dad and I have been married.” She dabbed her eyes with her apron. “Fortunately, it’s nothing serious and my parents are heading there right now, so they can’t make it until the weekend. I’d better go tell your father. Looks like we’ll only need five plates at the table.”

No Nana and Papa Barnes? No Uncle Artie? I truly hoped Uncle Artie was okay, but this was my big chance to sit at the head of the table, something I’ve always wanted to do. The head chair was bigger and had arms, and it felt like a throne. Uncle Artie always got the honors while I was stuck with the TV tray under the window.

I followed Mom out to the garage where Dad was cleaning out the van, getting it ready for our traditional late-afternoon drive. Dad didn’t seem too bummed to hear the news about Uncle Artie or his in-laws. He barely looked up as he polished the dashboard. “Yeah, well, sorry to hear about Uncle Artie. He’s never down for very long.”

The time was right to pounce. “Mom? Dad?”

Dad turned toward me and nearly bumped his head on the visor. “Yes?”

“I wish Uncle Artie was coming today, I really do.” I tried my best to act like I was crying. It must have worked because I felt my throat tightening. “His are some tough shoes to fill, but I bet he’d want me to sit in his spot at the head of table. After all, he gave me this watch for my birthday last year.” I pulled it out of my pocket to show them. “And we have the same middle name and everything.” I, Carlton James Boyce, was merely guessing at his middle name, hoping neither of my parents knew the truth. “Please? I think I’ve earned it.”

Neither of them thought about it for too long. “It’s all yours, kid,” Dad said as he leaned on the roof of the van.

“Remember your manners at the table,” Mom said. “Uncle Artie would want it that way.”

Manners? Oh, please. Uncle Artie smoked a lot, drank a lot, and sometimes swore a lot. In spite of all that, he was my favorite relative. Over the years, besides the watches and clocks, he had given me several toy cars, baseball cards, stuffed animals, and even a five-dollar bill. These gifts were always “our little secret.” Plus, he told the greatest stories.

Grandma and Grandpa Boyce arrived a little later, and each gave me a quick hug. It’s a terrible thing to say, and I know I’m supposed to love my grandparents without question, but Mom’s parents—the “good ones” who actually liked me—weren’t coming. If Mom and Dad ever found out I felt that way, I’d be grounded for a month—Dad’s typical punishment.

Dad and Grandpa went to the living room to watch the game while the women got the food prepared. I tried to help, but I mostly got in the way.

Everything was ready just before two o’clock, and I grabbed the spot at the head of the table, with Grandma and Grandpa to my right and Mom and Dad to my left. Everyone sat down except Grandpa. He placed his hands on the table and leaned toward my dad.

“I guess this doesn’t rate as a special occasion, eh, George?”

“How’s that, Pop?” Dad said.

“The Hoffhalder. It’s a Thanksgiving tradition, isn’t it?”

“You bet it is.”

The Hoffhalder was a large mantle clock that sat in the corner of the dining room on what mom called the buffet. The Hoffhalder had been in the family for decades, and Dad would only wind it on special occasions. Uncle Artie always had the honors when he came over.

“I’ll do it, Dad,” I said.

“Can he handle it?” asked Grandpa. “He’s just a child.”

I’m right here! I thought. And I’m not a child anymore. I’m thirteen.

“Sure he can,” Grandma said. “Now, make Uncle Artie proud.” She gave me her patented don’t-screw-it-up look.

“CJ, just be careful, okay?” Dad said.

“Sure thing.” I had seen it wound a thousand times. I took the key from the drawer of the small desk nearby, carefully opened the glass in front, and put the key in the keyhole near the number four. There was another near the number eight. I knew it wound clockwise on the right and counterclockwise on the left.

“Whatever you do, don’t overwind it,” Grandpa said. He gave anyone who ever got near the clock got the same warning.

I started winding. One turn. Two turns. Then it started to get tight, so I stopped. I placed the key in the left hole and began to turn in the other direction with my left hand. One turn. Two turns. It wasn’t getting any tighter. Three turns. That was odd; it usually tightened up by now, but I figured it had just been a while. Four turns and still not tight. I switched to my right hand to finish it up. Five turns. Surely it would start to get tight. Then I heard a faint click, and the key wouldn’t move anymore. Uh-oh.

“Everything all right?” Dad asked.

I pulled the key out and put it back in the drawer. “Everything’s great.” I looked at my watch, and then spun the Hoffhalder’s minute hand around until the time was five minutes until two. After closing the glass, I gently moved the large pendulum at the bottom, and the Hoffhalder began to tick. Whew! All was well.

When the Hoffhalder chimed, it made a beautiful sound. In fact, it seemed to be the only clock sound my family liked. It was a perfect combination of bells and gears and springs working in harmony. We now had three minutes until it would chime on the hour, and everyone at the table waited patiently for the moment to arrive. As the last thirty seconds ticked off, Grandpa nudged Grandma. “Here it comes,” he said in a low voice.

The Hoffhalder struck two and began to chime. Once. Then another.

But the second chime lingered way too long and the pendulum began to swing wildly, knocking into the side walls. The chime sound turned into a grinding noise, and the pendulum stopped.

“CJ!” Dad yelled. “What have you done to my clock?”

“He overwound it,” Grandpa said while making a turning motion with hand.

“Clearly,” said Grandma. “And I’ll bet Uncle Artie is rolling over in his grave as we speak.”

“Artie’s not dead,” Mom said. “Just in the hospital.”

“I’m sorry, everyone,” I said. “I didn’t mean to. Honest. It was an accident.”

“You’re grounded,” Dad said.

“For how long?” I asked.

“A month.”

“A month? Mom?”

“Don’t you think that’s a little harsh?” she said.

I looked around the table, and three sets of eyes were on me. Mom reached out and touched my hand. At least someone was on my side.

“That clock’s been in the family for four generations,” Grandpa said. “Built by the finest clockmaker in Germany.”

“And smuggled out on a steamer ship during World War I,” Grandma added. “Truly one of a kind. Irreplaceable.”

I knew the details by heart, and it just made matters worse. “I’ll get it fixed, okay? I have some money saved up.”

“Sounds like you snapped the mainspring,” Grandpa said, adding a “break in half” motion with his hands.

Grandma leaned over and got as close to me as she could. “It’ll never be the same.”

“A month,” Dad said. He put a finger in my face to make his point. “For breaking my clock.”

He continued to glare at me as Mom began to serve the turkey. We ate in near silence.

I had ruined Thanksgiving.

 

 
R. M. Clark is a computer scientist for
the Dept. of Navy by day and children’s book writer by night. He lives in
Massachusetts with his wife and two sons.

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