Lantern Fest and Jungle Survival

Lantern Fest and Jungle Survival

We spent over two months in Chiang Mai Thailand at the end of 2018. I spent most of that time at cat cafes, eating mermaid donuts, and working on books. I edited a huge 19th century treatise on the Genius of Solitude I’ve been obsessed with since finishing my PhD thesis. We celebrated both Halloween and New Year’s… and also the local Lantern Festival (which took place around the same time as Thanksgiving. It’s about letting go of misfortune, turning hopeful thoughts towards next year.

Epicurus wrote, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

And this is true: we should always be grateful for being where we are. But that doesn’t mean we should not ask for more, because to imagine, to dream of what is not, is the central gift of human genius.

(I also spend some time working on a nonfiction book on creative confidence… which I will write eventually).

Here’s a video I made during Lantern Festival and some pictures… we also spent a weekend in Pai, which is up near the Burmese border. Lots of happy shakes and fire dancing and jungle vibes.

 

The other really interesting I did was a jungle survival trek: our guides caught and cooked our food. We slept on the ground in a homemade shelter. The others at bamboo worms (yuck) and when we packed up our sleeping bags we saw several large tarantulas under the leaves, probably using our body warmth (AAAH! – I hate spiders, but actually proximity to them made me slightly less terrified.

Why I hate Bali

Why I hate Bali

We’ve been in Bali for two months – I begged my wife to come back so I could speak at a conference even though we were here last year and she didn’t have a good time. I loved it, the first time: it’s basically paradise. It’s an exotic adventure. Bali is very spiritual and artistic; there’s tons of temples, beaches, waterfalls and art.

I never did go swimming in the sea or learn surfing, but I did get to spend time with my digital nomad friends (building a community when you travel full-time is difficult, so when you actually have friends to hang out with, it’s a big deal). This trip, however, has been more challenging. It’s been a shitshow since we got here, with a string of crazy AirBNBs, bug bites, ATMs eating credit cards, and also days and days of rain. I wrote up a full article on my other blog called “Bali: paradise or purgatory.”

Most of that was written BEFORE we crashed our scooter and my wife had to get stitches on her knee; also before she got sick and had a really bad cold (she’s still coughing now). Me personally, despite all the bad luck and some scrapes and bruises, and despite itching from bites all the time and even rubbing myself off with a towel that was covered in red ants and getting bit all over, I STILL like it here. The sunrises and sunsets are amazing, they do a mean brunch, there are lots of fresh juice places and beachside resorts.

Here’s the email I sent out when we got here:

We arrived just in time for Nyepi, Bali’s “day of silence” – a 24 hour total shut down. We’re not supposed to turn any lights on or even use the stove. It’s kind of like a purge: Around sunset the “Pengrupukan” ceremony begins in the house compounds with the noisy banging of pots and pans and bamboo tubes along with burning of dried coconut leaf torches to drive out the demons.

Most Hindu Balinese villages make ogoh-ogoh, demonic statues made of richly painted bamboo, cloth, tinsel, and styrofoam symbolizing negative elements or malevolent spirits or even characters from Hindu mythology. After the ogoh-ogoh have been paraded around the village, they are burned in the cemeteries.

We are surviving on toast and instant noodles, watching the rain fall, and hanging out with the beagle and obnoxious cross-eyed black cat that came with the AirBnB. It’s a day of quiet and self-reflection. I’m contemplating the final scene of my novel “Selfie” so I can share it with you, then I’ll work on finishing book 2 of the Taste series.

I did manage to finish The Emerald Tablet and also Selfie, and made some progress on the sequel to Taste, but for weeks I’ve been feeling strung out, anxious and completely overwhelmed… I am making progress on my website and mid-edit with 5 new cowritten novels. I need to make covers for them and I’m the bottleneck before we can launch; and I have a novel up on preorder that needs to get written.

So it’s possible I just have too much going on, but it’s also probable Bali, while seeming like paradise on earth, is actually anxiety-inducing. (Hard to believe, looking at the pictures, right?) We loved Gili island, where some of these were taken, but between terrible traffic, unreliable and slow internet, and a compromised immune system (it’s dirty here…) it’s no longer one of our favorite places.

Mantra: “Everything is working out perfectly.”

I’m overwhelmed because I’m doing new things and stepping into my discomfort zone; starting to figure out retargeting FB ads, still need to finish several site redesigns and autoresponder sequences I know aren’t working… started all this over a year ago, but feel like I’m growing forward.

 

In a few days we’ll move to JAPAN – somewhere I’ve dreamed about living since I was young and for some reason never made it. I’m excited to be in Osaka, near several cat cafes, for a month or two before heading to Europe.

Worlds Between

Worlds Between

After the Kreon pillaged our planet, they gave us two choices: Join the academies, to be brainwashed into submission, or work the mines for the Kreon. To resist is death. To love is treason. Falling for the enemy is illegal… but it might just save the planet. When I find the one thing the invaders want most – a lost artifact from a dying princess – I must marry an alien prince or watch everyone I love die.

I

wake to a deep thrumming sound. My hand reaches for the knife under my pillow as I pull the threadbare quilt off. I step toward the door, avoiding the creakiest floorboards and taking deep breaths to calm my racing heart. There’s enough morning light filtering in through the small window to see my little brother, still asleep on his mat.

I whisper a prayer as I open the door slowly, lifting it up so its normal grating doesn’t betray me. I hear the large drone overhead again and slip outside to follow, barefoot on the cool grass. Our valley is still half-shrouded in mist. I keep to the shadows of the forest as I scan the early morning sky, trying to sniff out the smell of engine oil over the strong scent of pine and damp earth.

Just when I think I’ve lost it, the drone whizzes above me, a few feet over the tree line. I hold my breath as I watch it zoom toward our cabin. But then it wobbles and changes direction. Downward. I take a deep breath and start running. As I close in on where the drone is dropping rapidly into the forest, I slow my pace so I don’t trigger any of my own traps.

I hear the instant the battery in the drone gives out, then its rotors go silent. I wait behind a large tree until the metallic beast hits the forest floor, but peek around to see it flailing in a small clearing. Thin legs slide out of its main body and reach toward the ground. It crawls eastward like a giant black spider, trying to head back to the Kreon base.

Electricity flows through me as I sprint toward the machine and drive my knife into its center. It makes a loud metallic screech before going silent again. I crouch over it, listening to the surrounding forest. I don’t like being this exposed. I hold my breath until finally I hear the birds start their chirping again, then quickly disable the cameras by sawing through the wires with the tip of my knife. Once its dead, I take a deep breath and grab the machine in both arms, pulling it tightly to my chest and risking a rare smile. This one weighs a lot. Which means more parts to sell.

I take a while to make it back to the cabin; the weight of the machine keeps me from moving too quickly. My chest tightens as I listen for anyone following me who might have heard the death of the drone. Although well into the harvest months, I shiver only slightly in my thin nightclothes. My blood is still warm with adrenaline, and the winters are fairly mild in our valley anyway. This makes hunting easier since the game doesn’t head for warmer climates like up north. My father chose it well. Almost like he knew what was coming.

I bump open the door of the cabin with my shoulder and use a foot to kick it shut again. Jamie is standing in the middle of the room glaring at me.

“I didn’t have time to wake you.” It’s the only thing I can think of to say. I’m tired of apologizing to him for the things I have to do to keep us fed and safe.

I cross the room and heave the drone onto the sturdy workbench. It used to be our family dinner table, back when our parents were here and we were an actual family.

I turn back toward my little brother. Although his brown hair is mussed with sleep, the serious expression he’s giving me makes him look just like our father. I swallow the bile rising in my throat as I remember the last day we saw our him, almost a year ago. It’s his fault Jamie is afraid every time I leave the cabin without him. He thinks I’ll disappear too, and he’ll be all alone.

“Fine, I’m sorry, Jamie. How about I let you work on this one, instead of parting it out? It’s one of the biggest we’ve caught.” I tilt my head as I watch Jamie’s expression soften. His curiosity has always been his weakness. A weakness we both share. My stomach clenches as the bribe seems to work. Although this will appease him for now, I know Jamie won’t stop bugging me to go out beyond the woods. And I can’t keep him confined to our little valley forever.

I look back at the large drone. The excitement of finding it drains and leaves my body feeling weak again. This hunk of Kreon metal would’ve gotten us almost a month of supplies in trade. But keeping Jamie safe and happy was more important.

I’ll just have to find another way to get food this week.

As Jamie looks over the drone and pulls out our stash of tools from under a floorboard, I go outside to get breakfast. Underneath thick rosehip bushes I pull up a wooden hatch covering our cache of foodstuffs. Lying on my belly on the cool morning grass I look down into the hole. My heart sinks as I pull out my small flashlight. Our only flashlight. It flickers but finally illuminates the near empty box at the bottom of the dirt-chilled hole. I reach down and grab the last chunk of cheese and a bag of dried meat.

I’ll have to go to the trading camp soon. Dread burns in the pit of my stomach as I turn off the flashlight and tuck it into my waistband. I close the makeshift cellar and stand up. Back inside I slice the meat and cheese thinly with my knife. Jamie and I sit on the edges of our sleeping mats and eat in silence.

“We’ll need to sell this drone, won’t we?” Jamie asks as he wipes his mouth with his sleeve. He gazes at the worn floorboards in front of him.

“No way, this one’s yours. I promised you the next drone. I’ll show you how to take this one apart and fix it.” I force a smile. “It seems different from the others, so it should be an interesting one.” I used to be able to lure smaller drones out of the sky with a mirror and then disable them quickly, but that trick stopped working, and it had been nearly two months since my last catch. The truth is, this larger model worried me. What was it doing here?

Jamie looks up at me, his deep brown eyes showing a maturity well beyond his eight years. “But we need the food.”

I nod. “I’ll figure something else out.” I reach over and his hair. He pulls back growling. I laugh. “Don’t I always figure it out? We haven’t starved yet, and we’re still living free.”

Jamie gets up and stomps over to the drone. “Yes, I know you will, Rya. You always have.” He holds up one of the drone’s broken rotors. “But I’ve learned all you can teach me about fixing and repairing drones, comms, and generators. There’s nothing else to do out here, in the middle of nowhere, and you still won’t let me go hunting with you.” He pouts as he unscrews one of the drone’s emergency legs.

I stand up and lean against the wall next to the workbench. “I know you’re getting bored, but it’s dangerous out there and we need to be careful. You’ll get to go hunting with me soon.”

“You’ve been saying that for years,” he grumbles.

I lean over and pop out the brain chip out of the drone with my knife and hold up the gleaming silver square. “And besides, even though you think you know everything about machines, you still haven’t learned hacking.” I wink at him and place the chip with others in a wooden box I keep high on a shelf.

“What’s the use of learning all that if I’m hungry all the time?” Jamie slams the tools and the drone leg onto the bench and storms out of the cabin.

I sigh and rub my temple. His dark moods are getting worse, and I have no idea what to do about it. I look over at the faded picture on the shelf of my brother and I standing in front of our smiling parents. It’s the only picture we have of our former life. Mom was angry when Dad came home with the polaroid camera, she said it was a wasted trade. I’m glad he insisted. Without this photograph, I’m afraid Jamie will forget them. At night, in the dark, I try to picture their faces from memory, but I feel them slipping away from me as well.

Anger wells up inside me as Jamie’s dark mood spreads. It feels like a physical presence in the cabin, thinning the air and making it hard to breathe. Why did they have to abandon us? I want to grab the frame and smash it on the ground, but I slam my fist onto the workbench instead, sending tools scattering across its surface.

I shake my head at myself as I rub my hand. Jamie is right, we’re barely living as it is. Our small cabin consists of one room with two thin mats, a workbench, and a shelf of books. I walk over and drag my finger over the worn spines. Almost all the books are Earth history, from ancient times up until the first invasion thirty years ago. If I were found with these, the Kreon wouldn’t hesitate to put me to death. But these books were my dad’s hobby and I can’t part with them. He said the history and stories in them would be important to us one day. I flip through the pages, letting the musty smell and the feel of the leather bindings calm me down.

I can’t let myself think too much, so I quickly put my day clothes on and sheath my knife into the leather holster around my waist. I grab my backpack and head out to look for Jamie. It doesn’t take me long to find him. Although he complains all the time about not going hunting or scavenging with me, he’s also afraid to go too far from our cabin. Instead, he goes up. I blink against the brightness of the blue sky, scanning the treeline surrounding the valley. I find him in one of his favorite tall pine trees. Securing my pack around my shoulders, I climb up after him.

I sit on a thick branch across from him and look out at the little valley we live in. “You can almost see past the ship today,” I say, nodding towards the horizon.

Across the valley, a gleaming alien leg rises from the trees like a metal serpent and continues up through the haze created by the refineries. It ends where it attaches to one of the city-sized Kreon ships. Below it lie the remains of a sprawling human city, now abandoned except for the refineries, and darkly shadowed by the hovering space craft.

“Yeah, the smoke isn’t as bad,” Jamie grumbles under his breath.

I smile.

“Why don’t you come down and get your chores done. I’ll check only the closest traps today and wait until tomorrow to go to the traders. That way we can work on that drone together tonight.” I bump his foot with mine. “What do you say?”

He frowns but looks over at me. “All right. But before it gets dark, I want to show you how much my aim has improved.”

I narrow my eyes. “Agreed. But you still can’t go with me tomorrow. I know you’re getting good with your bow, but there’s more to hunting than just the actual shooting part.”

He starts to climb down the tree. “Like what? I know how to avoid the drones and watch for human and Kreon traps.”

I close my eyes for a second before heading down after him. “Yes, and you’re getting fantastic at those things. But knowing isn’t the same as doing. It takes practice, and we need to start nearby first.” Especially if the Kreon are getting more active in our section, I think, remembering the large drone. “I’ll take you soon, Jamie. I promise.”

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Selfie (Device Kids 1)

Selfie (Device Kids 1)

When Brianna discovers her little sister has cancer, she’s willing to try anything to save her: even if it means getting her science fair group to hack a new medical technology that involves microscopic robots. After creating an underground app that lets students alter their appearance, they suddenly find themselves in a bidding war between tech companies and at the mercy of the government, which sees them as criminals. Then a few of their “mods” go haywire and give them permanent abilities that border on the supernatural. As society crumbles around them–disintegrating into an age war between adult and the teens–they go on the run in a quickly shifting reality, where all things are possible, but nothing is certain.

“Wake up, Honey,” my dead mother’s voice whispered in my ear. “Wake up.”

I groaned, rubbing my eyes and blinking them open. I felt a sinking sensation in my chest when I realized I was alone. I fell asleep with my earbuds in again. Mom’s gone, I reminded myself, then quickly pushed the thought to the back of my mind. I was done going to school with puffy eyes from crying. People had almost stopped looking at me with pity.

Music,” I said to my phone. It was on my desk resting on its wireless charger. “Upbeat.”

I pressed my thumb and ring finger together so the phone knows I’m talking to it. It took me years of groveling to convince my parents to let me get the implant. The procedure was almost painless; just a quick prick on the thumb. A few days later, my parents told me mom’s cancer. She did three months later. Now it was a permanent reminder that I’d been too self-absorbed to notice my mom’s weary eyes and frail movements.

A fast tempo song starts playing through the nearly invisible wireless earbuds that I keep in almost all the time.

Schedule?” I asked out loud.

“Another wonderful day of school,” mom’s voice said into my ears. “Don’t forget the social studies paper that’s due in 3rd period.”

It took me a month to crack my aPhone’s built in AI, Gloria. Then I hacked into the firmware and patched over it with my mother’s voice. I spent months in my room, watching old family videos and creating the vocal databases. I built an app that could listen to hundreds of videos at once, and match sound bits to corresponding words. But I still watched them all. Mom teaching me to ride a bike. Mom at Megan’s 6th birthday, helping her blow out the candles. Mom reading us a story when we were little, with long blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes.

“You also have several emails from students wanting help for tech class, some offering the usual rate and some a little higher. Also, Jens wants to know whether you have time for some WOL after school.”

Shit, I thought. I forgot about the paper. I grabbed my phone and ran a program to search for a pre-2000 high school level social studies paper stored in offline data caches and skimmed through the results. I found a Word doc about familial structures in Ethiopia, downloaded it to my phone and changed the name and date.

Brianna Harmond. 10th Grade.

Then I sent it to the printer in Dad’s office. I picked it up on my way to the kitchen to grab breakfast.

“Morning Bree.” Dad was already sitting at the table with toast and a glass of juice, reading the morning paper. Megan was there too, eating cereal. I closed the magnetic loop between my thumb and finger again and ordered breakfast. “Coffee. Toast.”

I grabbed a slice of toast and put it in the machine just as the lever went down, and put a mug under the coffee machine spout.

Megan rolled her eyes. Dad peeked over the top of his paper.

“Would it really be that hard to press the button?” he said.

“What good is technology if we don’t use it?” I said. “Besides, if it saves me a few seconds here or there, and that adds up to some serious study time.”

“As if you ever study,” Megan said. I shot her a look that shut her up. Her hair was a mess, so I braided it before scarfing down my breakfast. My sister still went to the middle school down the street, which started an hour later than the high school. I was going to be late again. Mom would have made sure I was up, but dad rarely remembered. I kissed Megan on the top of her head, and gave Dad a tight hug. Then I went out through the garage and grabbed my skateboard.

“Bye!” I yelled behind me. I lifted the skateboard to my lips, whispering the secret password. I’d programmed it to respond only to an ASMR version of my voice, which included not just the sound, but the subtle physical vibrations as well. Last year I’d bought a device a classmate had made in his garage that powered the wheels and a self-guided navigation system.

“School,” I said, pressing my fingers together. Gloria communicated with the device on the skateboard, and also tapped into the traffic cams and signals. It wasn’t foolproof, but the system would usually get me to school in one piece while I stood there listening to music and reading novels on my phone.

I usually wore dark blue or black jeans because they hid the oil or ink better—I had a habit of wiping my dirty hands on my clothes, and clean laundry was far from assured with mom gone. I did it when I was desperate enough, or my room started stinking from all the clothes on the floor. Megan did it most of the time. Converse sneakers, a leather jacket and a navy scarf completed the outfit. The jacket had hidden pockets, and the scarf still smelled like Mom. It was my armor, and I wore it proudly, even if it was a weird ensemble.

School was a joke. We had instant access to all of the world’s wisdom—the history of mankind’s greatest achievements—and our phones can use the information better than we will ever be able to. Why struggle trying to figure out geometry or algebra, doing the sums and adding up things in our minds, when our phone can solve the same problems in a nanosecond? Why even learn to hold a pencil or write by hand? Who does that anymore?

They were still teaching us stuff they thought we needed to learn twenty years ago to have a successful future, but it was already completely irrelevant. Sometimes I risked detention to contradict the teacher or question the standard answers in our textbooks. What we should be learning is how to do more. How to solve real problems. How to think creatively and use our devices to actually improve the world. At least that’s what most of my friends thoughts.

So we cheated out way through classes to keep our teachers and parents of our backs, but saved our brains for the real challenges. The interesting stuff happened between periods or after school. We were inventing or trading technology that was more advanced than anything you could get on the market.

I kicked up my skateboard and stuffed it through the loops of my backpack, just as my best friend Amy ambushed me from the side and put an arm around my neck.

“What’s shakin’, Bacon?”

“That doesn’t even rhyme,” I said, but I couldn’t stop myself from smiling.

“Are you sure? Remind me what you got in English again, B-?”

“B+. Gloria,” I tapped my fingers together, “What rhymes with Bacon?”

Gloria began listing off rhyming words, shaken, taken, kraken, as well as near matches.

“It almost rhymes, if you say it right. The robot will never understand.”

Amy wasn’t quite as into tech as I was; she focused on the things only humans could do, like creative writing or art. I knew it wouldn’t be long before AI could handle those tasks decently as well, although robots that could simulate human facial features and movements were still a long way off.

“Finish your paper?” Amy asked.

“In a manner of speaking,” I grinned.

“Asshole! I spent three hours on mine.”

“Three hours you could have been writing a novel, or something actually useful.”

“So you keep saying. I don’t mind the work; keeps my brain sharp. Someday the power will go out, and you’ll all be screwed.”

“I don’t think being able to write a high-school social studies paper qualifies as a life-saving survival skill,” I laughed.

We had science class in first period. Mr. Leister was organizing his papers in the front of the class, when I heard the 3D printer at the back of the room warming up. I looked back to see the beginning of what I was pretty sure would turn out to be a life-size, anatomically correct plastic dildo. We were supposed to get a code from the teacher to use the printer, but I saw Brad sniggering with his friends. He must have hacked it and uploaded the design. I rolled my eyes at him and he blew a kiss back to me. Yuck. Sure, somewhere in the dark nether regions of my brain I had to admit that he was mildly attractive, but he was just such an immature asshole.

Brad grabbed the dildo when it was finished printing, then looked around the room to see what kind of mischief he could get into. I saw the twinkle in his eye when he spotted David, sitting quietly and studying, like the perfect nerd he was. I’d known David since 2nd grade, and we had what you might call an awkward history. We’d sort of been friends for a couple of years when we were younger. I even went to his house once for a parent-supervised play date. Then one day he asked me out, but instead of having the balls to do it himself in private, he sat at my lunch table and passed a message down through five of my friends. How’s a girl supposed to react to something like that? I tried letting him down easy, relaying the message backwards through my peers, but he continued passing the message, as if it wasn’t meant for him. He finally got up and left the cafeteria with red cheeks and wet eyes. We haven’t spoken since, though sometimes we say hi when we pass each other in the halls. I’m pretty sure we both do that so we don’t feel like we are bad people. At least that’s why I do it.

Brad went over to David and started waving the plastic dick in his face. I felt a protective sort of urge rising in me, but I squashed it down. We were seniors in high school. He didn’t need anybody to stand up for him.

“Hi I’m David, I love my books so much I get a hard-on every time I crack one open. Sometimes when I’m alone I even use them to jerk off, like this.” Brad picked up David’s book and folded it around the dildo, moving it up and down and making moaning noises. I felt bad for David, but Brad did this kind of stuff all the time. It wasn’t my problem.

“That’s enough,” said a voice calmly. I thought it was Mr. Leister at first but he was still ignoring us. I looked around and realized it was Greg Masters. My Greg. Although of course he wasn’t really mine, he’d been dating Melissa Riley, the queen of our high school’s popularity chart, since Freshman year. And they were a perfect match; even though she was a total bitch and Greg deserved someone better. Melissa was unquestionably the hottest girl in school, and Greg was the gorgeous captain of the basketball team. Neither of them had as much as looked at me in almost four years. I’d never seen Greg stand up to a bully like Brad before. Not for someone like David. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t remember anybody standing up for someone like David before, which I guess explained the stupefied look on Brad’s face.

Brad hesitated and I saw him calculating his options. Even though he had a reputation as a badass, with his ripped jeans, black T-shirt, messy dark hair and eyebrow piercing, and even though Greg was pretty much the nicest guy on earth, he was still built like an athlete. Plus he had that sense of invincibility that kids from money always carried around with them. The whole class was watching now, and I realized I was holding my breath with them.

I wanted to start chanting, “Fight, Fight, Fight!” like they do in the movies. There are very rarely real fights in our school. But the glint in Brad’s eye told me he was in a daring—or self-destructive—mood.

“Oh, sorry Greg, I had no idea that David here was your secret lover. He must be if you’re going to defend his honor.”

“I’m just sick of listening to your voice,” Greg said, standing up. “It’s getting on my nerves.”

“What are you going to do, get all your basketball buddies to gang up on me?”

Greg sized him up with a smirk, slowly rolling up his sleeves to his elbows. Even his forearms were sexy.

“I don’t think I’m going to need any help with this,” he said.

“Guys, this is stupid,” David said, standing up also. “It’s no big deal. Let’s just sit down.”

Suddenly Brad tossed the dildo at the front of the room, where it just missed Mr. Leister’s head and smacked against the chalkboard. Then he sat down quickly, so when Mr. Leister turned around he only saw David and Greg.

“So this is where the taxpayer’s money is going,” Mr. Leister said, picking up the dildo. “Does this belong to one of you?”

“It was Brad,” I said, before I could stop myself. Greg and David nodded.

“That’s ridiculous!” Brad shouted. “It was totally David. You know how clever he is with coding and stuff. Bree is just protecting her boyfriend Greg, because she’s so into him.”

My cheeks burned red. Was my crush that obvious? I was mortified, but I covered my embarrassment with anger. I kicked Brad’s desk as hard as I could. He flinched when it hit him in the knee with a satisfying thud.

“Only my friends call me Bree,” I said. “You can call me Brianna.”

“Are you asking me to call you?” Brad said. “Sorry, you’re not my type.”

At this point I was ready to murder him, but Mr. Leister clapped his hands and yelled, “Everybody, sit down. Now.

I sat and crossed my arms together, frowning. Amy shot me an are you crazy  look and I shrugged back. Mr. Leister liked me anyway—science was the only class where I got straight A’s, mostly because Mr. Leister valued practical application and demonstration projects. So instead of just taking a test, I could build something or make something work.

“I was just thinking about how to divide you up into teams for this year’s science fair,” Mr. Leister said, adjusting his glasses. “I appreciate you making it easy for me. Brianna, David, Brad and Greg—you’ll be on one team.”

Wait, what? My blood was already pumping with adrenaline from the incident, and now a deep panic was settling into my bones. The science fair was months away, and teams would have to cooperate with each other on a project. I would have taken any other punishment, but the science fair was something I actually cared about. It was an opportunity to get noticed early, maybe even a get out of jail free card if you got an early entry into some internship or college program. I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet, but I sure as hell didn’t want my project jeopardized by shit-for-brains Brad. Plus, unlike Greg, my family didn’t have the money to send me to some fancy school.

Amy raised her hand but didn’t wait to get called on. “Excuse me, Mr. Leister, but Bree and I need to be on a team together. We’ve already got a project in mind we’ve started working on.”

I was grateful for her quick lie, but my face fell when I saw Mr. Leister clench his jaw. We’d pushed him too far this morning, and he wasn’t going to be forgiving.

“In that case, Amy, you can join Brianna’s team. I’m sure they can use all the help they can get. And remember, your science fair project is mandatory and will account for 30% of your final grade. I want to see creative, forward thinking projects: but big ideas aren’t enough. You need to have a working prototype in time for the fair.”

I gripped the edge of my desk as the rest of the class divided themselves up into teams. I was still in shock. At the time, I was just worried about my future. I didn’t realize then that our little team would soon topple governments and kill nearly everyone in our high school. But that came later. First came the announcement.

 

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The Emerald Tablet

The Emerald Tablet

Book three in the Scarlet Thread series is now available! It’s set in Egypt and based on real historical and alchemical literature surrounding the “emerald tablet” – supposedly written by the hand of Thoth. Get it now on Amazon!

Summary

I’ve met Zeus, and made him bleed. But the war is just beginning. A tangled knot of forbidden romance binds my actions; Zeus is using my feelings for Sitri against me. Somehow I need to kill one and save the other. We search Egypt for answers, and nearly destroy Cairo. I’m getting stronger, but the gods are taking off their gloves. This fight could end us all.

First Page

I could feel the broken bones in my arm scrape together under my skin, like wooden blocks covered in sandpaper. Puriel lifted me up from the pile of rubble that used to be my childhood home and carried me to the black sports car. It was so quiet, I thought my ears must have been damaged, but then I could hear Puriel’s voice. He was asking me something, something about how to drive the car. I shrugged and rolled my head. I’d been in JDRI since I was nine, and driving lessons were never on the curriculum. I looked around for Sitri, why wasn’t he driving? Then I saw him, or at least the dark furry shape he’d become. The impossibly large, wolf-like creature. He was waiting for us in the middle of the road. Howling at us to hurry.

Puriel finally grasped the mechanics of the vehicle, and the car screeched out of the suburban cul-de-sac. I could hear sirens getting louder, and we passed several police cars and an ambulance. I blinked against the harsh flashing lights as they sped by. Puriel kept checking the skies through the windshield. I looked up as well, expecting a helicopter, but instead I saw a flash of wings and a glimmer of silver shapes, illuminated by the early light. The sun hadn’t risen yet, so I only saw silhouettes against the dark sky, but I knew what they were. Hunters. Dozens of them.

“Why aren’t they attacking us?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Puriel said. “But Zeus isn’t going to want us to reach Nevah. Not with the shears.”

The Golden Shears. 

I looked down, and sure enough, my pale fingers were still clenched around the golden metal, almost like they’d melded with my fist. My arm looked like a spiked hammer. The shears radiated power, and I could feel a pulsing – a throbbing through my whole body. I didn’t know if it was my own heartbeat, or the shears.

My hands felt sticky, and I realized they were covered with bright blue goo, that shimmered when I turned my arm. Zeus’s blood. Pure divinity, straight from the source. I shuddered, resisting the urge to wipe it against my clothes.

“Do we have a towel or something?” I asked.

Puriel looked physically pained, and his eyes were coal black, with unusually wide pupils. He stared at my hands with more than just concern. It was hunger, I realized. This much energy, right here, it was taking all his strength to restrain himself.

“You… want this?” I asked, holding my wrists out.

Hunger took over his face, and for a moment I thought he was going to lose control and bite my hand off. Instead he reached for my hand and held it up to his mouth. He gently kissed my fingertips, and I felt his tongue flick over my skin. It should have been erotic, but it wasn’t. I knew this disgusted him as much as it disgusted me. But after what we’d been through, he needed strength. It must have taken a tremendous amount of willpower to resist Zeus, and Puriel had refused him. He’d given me the shears, and I’d stabbed Zeus in the thigh. Nobody could question his loyalty now. He’d had his shot at redemption, and he’d chosen us.

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Reviews

This book is imaginative, spellbinding and fulfilling. I continue to be amazed with Mr. Murphy’s ability to describe and create such visual imagery. This story has so much to offer and I look forward to the next installment to see where this story leads. ★★★★★

I fell in love with this series after reading the first book. There is a great range in characters, from the ones you love, to the ones you love to hate. And this book along with the other in the series, sucks you right in so that you can’t put it down until the last page. ★★★★★

I flew through this trilogy in 3 days unable to put it down. The dedication to the plot, even through the weight of research, gives you such abundant insight into the characters and deities that litter the series. You’re caught up in such a whirlwind of passion, humor, and adventure that when you finish the 3rd book and realize the Author isn’t finished with this tale you mourn the months/years that it will take for him to discover and reveal the end. A must read for any young adult or adult that is young at heart. ★★★★★

This has to be one my favorite Derek Murphy series. I LOVE this alternate universe with Gods, humans, and hybrids, and how it branches out into Egyptian mythology as well. Given that this is the third book in the series, the characters have already been established. Due to this, I feel like the book moves at a much faster pace, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Derek Murphy has created such a rich universe in his books, that I feel like I am completely immersed in it when I am reading his books. Other than that, I cannot WAIT for the next one. ★★★★★

 

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