A Bargain Beyond

A Bargain Beyond

a free short story by Kit Campbell

 

They told us to never go into the forest. They said that was where the wild ones lived, creatures who had once been like us, but who had abandoned civilization to seek power no mortal was ever supposed to have. It had driven them mad.

But sometimes the danger you have been warned against your entire life is preferable to the danger staring you in the face. Probable death is always more attractive than certain death.

As I left the burning remains of my village behind me, I could hear the hammering of hooves in my wake. We’d tried to defend ourselves, to make a stand, but we’d been quickly overrun.

The pounding grew louder as I fled. I plunged into the trees, not heeding the foliage tugging at my clothes. I still carried my sword in one hand, but it hung uselessly by my side. I ran on, not caring where I was going, only following the instinct to get away.

After a long time, the sounds of pursuit faded. I stopped, panting, doubling over from lack of breath. I straightened, taking in my surroundings. And that was when I saw her.

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Warped

Warped

A free short story by Erin Zarro

 

The office was huge. Open space, desks crammed together, no cubicles, or privacy, for that matter. The sounds of computer keyboards being typed on, phones ringing, and people talking made me want to go somewhere and hide.

This was my new job. It wasn’t the perfect job, but I needed one and an opportunity had presented itself. Although, when I thought too hard about it, the details were fuzzy.

“Andi, so glad to see that you’re here. Let me give you the tour.” A woman with her hair in an elegant updo smiled and gestured for me to follow her. She wore a navy pantsuit. Her makeup — blue eyeshadow and hot-pink lips — clashed horribly with her choice of clothes. I tried not to stare. “My name is Leslie. I will be your supervisor.”

I tried to smile, but that lipstick gave me a nervous twitch. “Nice to meet you.”

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Still Waters Run Deep: Part 5

A free serial story

by Siri Paulson

 

This is Part 5 (the conclusion) of a serial fantasy story. Previous installments are available here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

 

Payut fell to his hands and knees on the flagstones of the temple courtyard. The clang of the gate closing still echoed in his ears. He cried out as memories overtook him, rushing over him like a river in a monsoon, sweeping him along…

He is curled on his mat, listening to the slow breathing of the younger boys around him. Something has woken him early; even the most devout of the monks must still be asleep. He tries to ignore it, to close his eyes and return to his dreams. But it comes again – an insistent pull inside his mind, gentle, yet with a hint of immense power behind it. A power that keeps pulling until he follows.

He stands, all gangly limbs, and pads out of the bare room into the central courtyard of the Grand Temple. The tropical night is warm and damp. It is strange being alone, without the chanting of …

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The Contract

The Contract

a free horror short story by Erin Zarro

 

“Do you agree to the terms?” the doctor asked with an accent I couldn’t place.

The question startled me. I’d been thinking about all the things I could do if I wasn’t dying – I could live in Europe like I’ve always wanted, I could go sky-diving, I could learn how to pole dance, I could have a love affair. And other things like take the Russian class I’ve always wanted to. And crocheting….fly fishing…there were so many things I wanted to do. And I needed to be alive to do them.

“Let me make sure we understand each other,” I said. “You said you could give me new life.”

“Yes.”

“Will it hurt?” I asked as a flash of fear went through me.

“Not any worse than dying,” he replied.

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Still Waters Run Deep: Part 4

 

A free serial story

by Siri Paulson

 

This is Part 4 of a serial. Previous installments are available here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

 

The city that Payut walked through was empty and not-empty at the same time. Its wide canals and narrow streets lay vacant, free of the chaotic bustle that flickered at the edges of his memory. The people had fled, driven away by the imbalance in the five elements that sickened the land. But he was not alone.

He would turn down a street where nothing moved, but the echo of large wings faded away ahead of him. Or he would catch motion out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned, only blank windows and closed doors met his gaze. Crossing a bridge over a canal, he saw something moving under the water, long and dark, bigger than the boat he had left at the city gate while getting past the guards. It paced him until he reached the far end of the bridge, then disappeared.

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The Penitent

The Penitent

A supernatural flash story by Erin Zarro

 

 

 

“I have killed, Master,” The Penitent Agatha said. She sat in a circle of flickering flames.  “See that girl?” She pointed to the limp, pale figure of her latest kill, naked and still bound with rope. “Her screams were a symphony to my ears. Did you enjoy the music she made as she died?”

“And I will enjoy the music your daughter makes when she dies, Penitent,” a voice whispered.

It was him.

She placed her sweaty hands on her lap and bowed her head. “Master, I can’t kill my only daughter.”

The candles snuffed out and Agatha found herself surrounded by darkness. What was happening?

“Penitent,” a voice said, loud and sharp as a blade. “Do you not want your dead husband restored to life?”

Agatha took a deep breath, then let it out. “But she’s my flesh and blood, Master. I’ll kill anyone else, just not my daughter!”

“This was our agreement, Penitent. You are not allowed to change it.” Twin balls of amber flared. She wanted to curl inside herself, get away from his eyes. “You’ll do as I say. Bring me your daughter’s corpse tomorrow. This one will do for now,” her Master said.

She took a deep, cleansing breath and steeled herself for what was to come.

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Sneak Peek for Shards

To celebrate our upcoming release of Shards, coming out of December 1st, we thought we’d give you a peek at the story! This section is from the middle of chapter 3. The story itself is urban fantasy. If you want more, the very beginning of the book is included in the Best of Turtleduck Press, Volume I collection.

A bit of background: Eva has literally run into Michael at college and has felt some sort of odd connection with him. Gabe and Rafe are her bosses, who run an eccentric bookstore just off campus.

~

It had started drizzling and Eva pulled the hood of her sweatshirt up. Hopefully the rain wouldn’t get any heavier before she made it to work.

“Which way are you heading?” Michael asked, digging an umbrella out of his bag. His was blue with butterflies on it. Eva stared. “It’s my roommate’s,” he explained with a shrug of his shoulders. “Man loves an oddly colored umbrella, and I couldn’t find mine this morning so I just grabbed one of his.” He put it in his pocket. “No sense using it quite yet, but it helps to have it handy, just in case.”

Eva pointed in the general direction of the bookstore.

“I’m going that way too.” Michael offered Eva his arm and she took it, curling her fingers around his warmth. It was oddly comforting.

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Still Waters Run Deep: Part 3

A fantasy serial by Siri Paulson

 

This is Part 3 of a serial. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Enjoy!

 

The overhanging jungle ahead of Payut’s little boat parted, and he saw the Tao Phree River swallow the stream that bore him. His hands trembled on the paddle. Every element in his body cried out for him to turn upstream, away from the city. Even fighting the current would be better, easier.

But there was no-one else to do what needed doing.

His boat reached the river. He clenched his hands, raised the paddle, and swung the boat’s nose downstream.

The current swept him along, too fast, towards the golden spires of the Grand Temple that rose in the distance. A raft loomed up ahead, a whole family huddled on it – father, mother, children, two or three grandparents, several of them with poles out, pushing the whole rickety contraption against the river’s pull. Payut leaned hard on his paddle and barely missed them. He saw their faces, watching as he swept by.

“Not safe!” the father shouted.

Payut thought at first that he meant the near-miss, but then the other man waved, pointed, and Payut understood. The city.

He couldn’t explain that he knew. Couldn’t explain the mix of emotions and needs that roiled in him. So he only called “Thanks!” and …

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Still Waters Run Deep: Part 2

A fantasy serial by Siri Paulson

 

This is Part 2 of a longer story, but it’s written so that you can start here and go back to read Part 1 afterwards if you prefer. Enjoy!

 

#

 

The shallow waters of the stream, thick with reeds, stretched as far ahead as Payut could see. He sank his paddle into the muddy bottom and pulled. His little boat slid forward along the bottom a few hard-earned handspans and stopped again.

Payut glanced up at the sun, already twinkling in and out of the thick jungle trees as it began to sink, and sighed. He’d lied to himself, thinking he could take his usual back route to the monastery through the waterways at this time of year. The monsoon wasn’t due for days.

And if he hadn’t lied to himself about his supply of earth charms in the first place, he wouldn’t be in this predicament.

Reluctantly he nosed the boat around, back the way he’d come. He would have to take the river, the mighty Tao Phree. A ripple ran through the still waters in his mind, and he smoothed it down. There was nothing to fear, not this time. Not after so many years. The ripple vanished and his mind was clear again.

Little by little the stream grew deeper, until he could …

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Still Waters Run Deep: Part 1

A fantasy serial by Siri Paulson

 

Another town, another floating market. Payut settled his conical straw hat more firmly on his head and paddled closer, already planning what he would say. The market thronged with narrow boats, hawking fruit and rice, fans and sarongs to the townspeople on the docks. Every town market smelled almost the same, with small variations if one went far enough up the waterways – a different spice mixture here, a different oil there. This one smelled of incense and fresh fish and deep-fried bean curd. His stomach gurgled.

As he brought his boat in to an empty spot on the docks, children were already crowding close. “It’s the charms man!” they shouted, overlapping each other in their excitement. “What did you bring us?”

Payut smiled. “Dolls and toy soldiers, fans and tops. I even have an emperors-and-footmen board for sale.”

A little girl called down, “Don’t you have any charms?”

Payut kept his smile in place. “Of course. Love charms, schoolwork charms, charms to make you faster at martial arts or steady your hand at weaving sarongs.”

An older girl, who looked very like the first, frowned at him. “What about health charms?”

Here it came. “You don’t need any health charms, Little Sister. You’re the very model of the five harmonious elements.”

The little one shook her head vigorously. “It’s not for her. Mama is sick.”

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