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Avoiding the ‘catches’ with free

One thing I’ve learned so far is that free doesn’t mean top drawer .Free is a dangerous word. Paying for the program is expensive too, especially when trying to find programs that turn blog posts into e-books. Know what one gets to avoid the ‘catches’.

Desingnrr cost $27, and got difficult to use. In the promotional videos and the teaching ones, they made it look so easy! That might be part of the trip wire, trying to hook viewers into buying by showing them the ease of program use. After two days, I emailed the owner for a refund, through their Facebook Page. Thank heavens for screen shots.

One of the programs recently used by me, Bloxp, is a disappointment.

Here’s why:

  1. It wouldn’t recognize my My Blog or any of its other pages on Google+. I kept getting an error message to check the link.
  2. Even though WordPress worked, I had to eliminate unwanted posts. They set a 250 post limit.
  3. After uploading the content, the link wouldn’t flip to share it.

I did read the tips after I sent an email to the owner explaining my trouble. It made my Scam-Buster’s Survival Guide look good though.

Below were some other sites with catches.

  • Wix is a complete system that enables setting up websites, blogging and marketing. I discovered that I can write ebooks and newsletters too, so long as they are three pages, otherwise one has to upgrade to a paying tier. Right now, I pay $15 a month for landing pages, newsletters, and email marketing through GetResponse.
  • Bluehost charged me that much monthly to maintain My Writing Site, with this came SEO services and access to other WordPress plugins. The SSL certificate was another whopping $59 a year, required by Google. Until recently, their biggest problem was phone support. It took me most of the day and all three of my phone batteries to discover that one had to go through another department to get service. Now that the prices have increased, it might be economical to look to Bravehost.
  • Angelfire-Lycos only allowed six websites on its free tier. The other perks came only after signing up for a paid package. As a user, this blogger got disappointed with the whole site. Page set up was difficult. The same picture ended up on all other pages. Getting rid of unwanted themes and layouts made me mad. They never disappeared, Even the plain page frustrated me. It went back to the unwanted one. Uploading ads and video are difficult.They don’t appear well on the free tier or at all.
  • Bravenet used to be free, before people started stealing their content. Now, the premium package used by me cost $99 a year. I moved to that after paying for two years.With this price came a 10 website limit with all the bells and whistles, including email marketing and blog support. Navigation and page set up is easy, especially with video and ads.

Know what one gets when they either upgrade or downgrade to avoid disappointment. Remember that one gets what they pay for to avoid the ‘catches’.

The Crystal

This was the third story to  The Eros Chronicles.

“I thought we would lose you, Princess,” Mary said, sitting at a table in the Inn.

“Thank goodness we weren’t in full court dress. Those skirts and trains are a mile long.”

“Imagine hiking them up to use the privy.”

The queen choked on her herbal mint tea trying not to laugh, dribbling on her lavender blouse.

“Glass of water for Her Grace,” the server said.

“Sorry, Mother. Are you all right?”

“Yes. It’s warm in here.” Dabbing her blouse, She wiped her forehead.

Everything went smoothly, but Cassandra couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that something bad would spoil it. Mother’s word was law, so not showing up because of a vision of a glass of black water was not an option. They were only psychic snatches anyway.

“Your eyes are glassy, Your Grace,” Mary said, as her hand passed over the glass the queen drank from.

Her hand glowed as it passed over the top of the glass.

“Black Poison.”

*****

Wiping her eyes, she stumbled over an encyclopedia on the hearth. Looking at the label, she placed the cube in the viewer. Rubbing the soreness from her neck, Cassandra threw another log on the fire. Not one cube had a cure for the Black Poison coursing through her mother’s veins.

“The Forbidden Forest. I’ve never seen this cube before.”

*****

Cassandra held the cube in her hand as she raised it to her father’s side. “Father, I found a cure for the Black Poison, but it’s deep in The Forbidden Forest. May I have your permission to retrieve the Crystal?”

There was a ten-minute pause before he spoke, which felt like an eternity. “I wish I could go with you, but I doubt whether I could handle a second round with the Silver Mirror. I almost went insane the first time. Besides, I can’t leave the castle unprotected from the Cleaners. They’d jump at the chance that I’d be lax in security with your mother gravely ill. I’ve cancelled the six appointments we were to attend for the next two weeks.”

Cassandra suppressed a yawn. “I’ve spent the last few hours writing letters of regret for Mother’s 20 charities in between viewing cubes. She’ll need the time to recover.”

Her father yawned too, standing to stoke the dying fire. “I’ll send a message for the Five Masters to accompany you. They’ll be on the next shuttle. This is from your mother.”

She took the brown leather book. “How is she?”

“Still unconscious. She’s in The Quartz Chamber until we can treat the Black Poison.”

Cassandra sat beside her father near the fire in his oak paneled study, watching the flames. This morning, she dreaded touring the northern provinces on Eros. The weather was as

unpredictable as North Texas and colder too for early fall. She didn’t want adventure like this. She longed to be back on Earth. At least at her grandmother’s nothing happened that often, not to this extent anyway. If only she were able to interpret what that vision she had earlier that morning meant about the three people in it, one with eyes staring at the sky, and two tangled in vines, Mother wouldn’t be fighting for her life now.

“Get some rest. You’ll need strength for your journey tomorrow,” her father said.

“I’ll try, Father.” Kissing him good night, she rose, curtsied, and returned to her room, ordering Mary to pack her camping gear. Sighing, she slipped into her dorm shirt.

*****

  “Your Highness, Wake up! The King has requested I bring you to the throne room at once.”

She sat up, eyes wide, throwing back the off white satin comforter. “Is something wrong with Mother?”

“Her condition hasn’t changed. Put this on.” Mary said, standing at the foot of the oak four-poster bed with her pink robe. Cassandra slowly took it from her slipping it over her head and tying the sash. She stood, putting her feet in the matching silk slippers. Cassandra knew how to potty, wash her face, and brush her teeth in five minutes if she were in a hurry or running late. Her hair, which Mary had tightly French braided in one long braid last night, only needed the ends brushed back She did this in three-and-a-half minutes. Mary stood at the door, tapping her foot waiting to open it.

Cassandra’s puffy eyes burned from lack of sleep. The only reason she would be up before the second sun rose is if the Five Masters were waiting.

“Ahh, There you are, Cassandra. I present The Five Masters,” her father said, with his regal voice. There they were: Shawn, The Shadow Master, Charles, the Wise, Annie the Archer, Sarah, the Seer, and Shayla the Scout. The women curtsied and the men bowed as they were introduced. Cassandra nodded, smiling. She knew them by their pictures on the cubes. Her stomach lurched. Could the three people she saw in her vision be in this room? She sighed, praying that wasn’t the case. Cassandra’s visions weren’t always accurate.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we know the difficult task that lies before us. I’m sure the journey from the outer planets was a tiring one, so while I put on more appropriate attire, please accept our hospitality. The King has breakfast prepared in the Formal Dining Room. We will meet at the library in thirty minutes.”

“Thank you, Princess,” they all said, bowing.

“See that they are kept comfortable, Mary,” Cassandra said, turning toward her apartments.

*****

Cassandra sighed as she laced her brown hiking boots. She had plenty of time before meeting The Five Masters in the library. Even though she had butterflies in her stomach, she forced herself to drink the orange juice and eat the fried egg, sausage, and cheese on toast one of the chambermaids left on the oak table in her sitting room. A rarity in the royal diet, it was forbidden because her father had high cholesterol. The animals were raised on organically grown fat free food, so meat and vegetables were pesticide free and had no cholesterol. Her success in The Forbidden Forest depended on how well she studied those cubes. She didn’t need the gut busters she ate back on Earth weighing her down during this mission. Every royal she read about had a destiny to fulfill that started as a ripple in a pond or a gentle breeze, finding the Crystal was her ripple. Wiping sweaty palms on her jeans and tugging on her tunic top, she prayed to St. Jude before heading to the library through a secret passage.

*****

“Princess, you’re early. Forgive me for nodding off,” blushed Charles the Wise. The others appeared, taking their places on the burgundy sofa. Charles, being smart, had a large head and brown owl-shaped eyes. He stood about six feet and was the tallest of the quintet.

“Your Highness, We must get started. The first of Eros’s twin suns set at noon. If we take horses, we should reach the edge of the Forbidden Forest by nightfall.”

Cassandra nodded. “ Excellent idea. Anne, you lead. I haven’t done this before, so don’t hesitate to advise.”

“Agreed,” they all said, at once.

*****

“Perhaps you would like to rest?” asked Shawn, the Shadow Master.

“I thank you for your concern. Don’t worry. Traveling at full gallop is the one thing the Queen allowed. I won’t rest till I see the edge of the Forbidden Forest.”

Shawn chuckled.

“It’s wise to enter that place during daylight. No one can see the traps at night,” Sarah,

the Seer said.

“What can you tell me about The Hall of Echoes and The Silver Mirror, Sarah?”

“One must enter that place with a clear head. The Silver Mirror thrives on fear and self-doubt. Screaming from the trapped inhabitants in The Hall of Echoes will drive you mad.”

Cassandra wanted her to say more but recognized the far away look in those hazel eyes and didn’t press. They galloped without speaking for two hours. Shawn rode alongside her on his chestnut horse. She jumped when he spoke. His voice almost hypnotic, eyes nearly glowing.

“You’re wondering how the King got his dark powers, right?”

“Yes. I didn’t have time to ask him before we left.”

“The histories of Eros don’t say it, but your father was the only member from the House of Lancaster to survive The Hall of Echoes and the Silver Mirror, but just barely. His dark powers and madness came from the anger he held against his father, Prince Edmund.”

“Could the madness I read about be treated another way?”

“By using flowers called Forget Me Nots ground in a tea. The Cleaners burned our fields.”

Sarah galloped alongside Cassandra. “Forgive the intrusion, Princess. Shayla, our scout, pathed. She awaits at the edge of The Forbidden Forest.”

“Good.” Cassandra’s voice quivered, but she tried sounding upbeat. She was hungry, tired, and sore from riding so long with no scenery. What frightened her most awaited her in the Hall of Echoes. She must master her emotions if she were to survive this mission and save Mother.

“I ‘ll enter the forest after dinner.”

Shayla had red hair, glowing red eyes, and a cat like instinct to land on her feet.

“Sarah said it was better to enter during the day. The traps are easier to spot.”

“I do my best tracking at night.”

Cassandra dismounted and prepared the protection spell. She felt uneasy, but didn’t know why. “I leave you to it.”

*****

“You need to eat, my friend. You can’t win if you don’t keep up your strength,” Charles said, as he placed his hand on Cassandra’s shoulder.

She toyed with the dry beef and vegetables on her plate. “I’ll try, but my stomach has butterflies.”

“Use the relaxation technique I taught you,” he said, kneeling at eye level.

“Retreating to my quiet place? I used that when Mother tested me on spells and

incantations every summer.” Closing her eyes, Cassandra took a deep breath. She conjured a lagoon with clear blue water and a waterfall. The scene calmed her stomach, enabling her to eat her dinner without feeling queasy. As the last rays of Eros’s second sun dipped below the horizon, Cassandra felt uneasy.

“I’ve checked the horses in the cave, Cassandra. I’ll leave you now,” said Shayla.

Cassandra waved, and said, “Safe journey.”

“Safe journey,” Shayla bowed, heading toward the woods.

“It wasn’t your fault what happened to your mother, Cassandra, Sarah said, “Stop

blaming yourself.”

“I only saw a glass of water in my vision yesterday morning. Can you tell me how you

learned to interpret your visions?”

“It’s different for everyone with second sight. You’re under a lot of strain, so that limits

what you see and how much.”

“Oh, Ok.” She had this creepy feeling that some of the team would not survive, but

whom? What did vines have to do with her vision of death?

“You’re right to keep what you see to yourself. Revealing everything is as dangerous as

knowing ahead of time.”

Protection spells weren’t animal proof, so Cassandra slept between Sarah and Annie.

Charles and Shawn slept on either side of them. Cassandra remained awake as the light from

the fire faded.

*****

Cassandra rose, needing to use the bathroom, before heading to the bushes behind the cave. She covered Sarah, who slept soundly on her side.

“Cassandra, I can’t wake Sarah!” Annie shouted.

“I can’t get a heart beat or pulse. Charles, what do you think?”

Charles touched Sarah’s wrist, frowning when it felt like ice. “She’s

dead.”

Annie inspected the ground, turning pale, voice quivering. “She d-died in her sleep.”

Cassandra saw a lot of dead animals at the shelter where she worked during the school year, but she never saw a dead body before. Her face turned red and her voice shook as she spoke.

“I k-knew there was a possibility that a few of us w-wouldn’t survive, but I n-never expected someone to die so soon.”

Shawn covered Sarah’s corpse with her burgundy cape. “I’ll bury her in the cave after everyone eats their breakfast.”

“We can’t take the horses into the forest. They’ll slow us down getting spooked from the shadows,” Charles said stoking the fire.

“T-There’s plenty of grass for them to g-graze while we’re g-getting the Crystal. I-I’ll extend the p-protection spell there,” Cassandra said, putting dried eggs and sausage on the plates. Her voice still uneven.

Everyone stared at his or her breakfast, watching as it returned to its dry state. They returned it all to the rations bag.

“Uh, Perhaps you would like to say good-bye before we leave?’ Shawn asked.

Cassandra nodded. “Every time I see that cave, I’ll remember her.”

*****

The forest was as quiet as the grave. The silence made Cassandra uneasy.

“The trail stops here, but where is Shayla?” asked Annie, firing her arrow into a tree.

She heard a rustling of leaves in one of the black oak trees and fired another arrow. Everyone

jumped back when a large mass of wiggling vines fell to the ground with a human arm pointing right.

“I’m afraid we found Shayla,” wailed Cassandra. She recognized Shayla’s long, muscular arm.

“Don’t touch those vines!” yelled Charles. “They’ll strangle the life from you!” But it was too late. The vines grew around Annie’s muscular, tanned body, cutting off her air. Her bow and arrows lay beside her. Her blue eyes open.

“Shayla must’ve thought it’d be safer to sleep above ground,” Shawn said.

Cassandra picked up the weapons through a veil of tears. “We’ve got to move on. We’re burning daylight. There’s the bridge. It looks dangerous.”

“We’ll use the rope I bought. Cassandra, You take the middle. Charles and I will be on either end.” She nodded. They headed across the bridge. Cassandra had to use her relaxation technique to walk across. When they were just outside The Hall of Echoes, she spoke again.

“I must enter alone. I don’t want to loose anyone else. If I don’t return by nightfall, go back the way we came.”

“Take my cape, Cassandra. It’ll protect your reflection from being captured by the mirror,” Shawn said, handing it to her. Even in daylight, the castle still looked imposing.

“Remember to clear your mind of emotions, or the shouting will drive you mad,”

Charles said, as he patted her shoulder.

*****

Cassandra cleared her mind, entering the dank Hall. The red line twisted around a well worn off white pole. She followed, even though she felt ridiculous. No one told her the walls were covered with mirrors. It wasn’t hard to avoid looking at them or to ignore the screaming from their captors. The floor needed a good sweeping. It lay covered in dirt and dust, but the red line showed through like a beacon from a lighthouse on the checkerboard linoleum. Taking a deep breath, she continued her journey to the center of the castle.

“I made it,” she said, putting Charles’s black cape around her shoulders. “Now to get that crystal.” Placing her hand on the tarnished latch, she opened the creaky, weather beaten oak door, pushing the thick cobwebs to the left. Seeing the long shadows from the window on the East wall, she moved quickly to the center of the room focusing on the floor. She did not want to be in the castle or the forest after dark.

The mirror glistened in the fading sunlight. Its ebony frame had silver vines and leaves. Cassandra stood in awe of its beauty, but her heart banged against her rib cage. She smiled when she saw her lagoon with its clear blue lake and steep waterfall in its reflection. She frowned as the image faded to the Forbidden Forest at night, the thing that she feared most. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw the vines come to life. In another minute, she’d be trapped. Yanking the hood over her eyes, she sighed when she saw the vines shrivel and cease moving toward her.

“That was close,” she said out loud, as she kept her gaze on the floor. Stepping over the

dead vines, she entered the mirror. The gleam from the crystal was so bright, it blinded her. It was warm to the touch, so she used black leather gloves to remove it from its stand and place it in her hip pocket.

Cassandra heard voices shout in the castle and the mirror. “Freedom! At last, we are free!” The ground shook. Large cracks formed on the walls and floor inside the mirror.

“Time to go,” she said, jumping through the mirror as the glass cracked. She kept going in spite of the sting in her right ankle. The red line in the floor began to fade, becoming a crack. She had to jump over the broken pole and dodge the falling glass from the walls. She limped outside the castle where Shawn and Charles took her by the arms. They walked sideways across the bridge with her weight supported by their shoulders. They watched the castle fall in a cloud of black smoke. Shawn and Charles surrounded Cassandra to protect her from the billowing black dust.

As she sat on the ground to remove her frayed boot, the grass turned from black to green.

“I bet the crystal had something to do with this,” Cassandra said, wincing as Charles tended her wound.

The gash across her ankle throbbed, oozing black liquid from the wound. Removing the crystal from her pocket and taking the dagger from her belt, she scraped the side of the glowing jewel, sprinkling the dust on the black ooze. Her foot healed. Placing her boot back on her foot, she stood, holding the crystal over her head. The forest turned green. The well-worn path was easy to follow as the sun set.

“I-I think we should bury A-Annie and S-Shayla in the cave with S-Sarah,” Shawn said,

picking up Annie’s body. Charles cut Shayla’s body out of the oak tree.

“Th-They’d like that,” Cassandra nodded, wiping tears from her cheeks.

She picked so many wild flowers, she had to carry them in the hood of Charles’s cape.

After they ate, all three visited the cave where the three women’s graves were and cried. Cassandra said a rosary and laid the flowers on the graves. They slept under the stars, shielded by the protection spell. They broke camp at daybreak, arriving at the castle before noon.

*****

“Beth, I told you not to put that there!” yelled the Queen as her favorite hat fell from the

top shelf in her wardrobe.

Cassandra suppressed a giggle, hugging her mother. “You’re sounding better, Mother.”

The Queen, still pale and weakened from the effects of the black poison, sipped her herbal mint tea, then said, “I heard you had quite an adventure,

Cassandra.”

Cassandra finished chewing her hamburger, then spoke. “That I did, Mother.”

“Won’t you stay, at least till Friday?”

“I can’t. I have to tell the families of Sarah, Shayla, and Annie of their deaths right away.”

“When will you return?”

“I was going straight from the memorials back to Earth. College starts September 20.”

I apologize for hovering so much. I only did it to protect you.”

“I know. I’ll be back for Christmas. Grandma’s going on a cruise.”

“What about your birthday?”

“Oh, Uncle Jacob sent you this,” Cassandra said, handing her an engraved off-white envelope. Uncle Jacob, Grandpa Philip’s manservant, was in his eighties, but he was a sharp man. She never could beat him at chess. When he got too old to manage the upkeep of Manning Estates, he retired, building himself a cottage similar to those found in Thomas Kincade’s paintings and calendars on the grounds and turning the mansion into a museum, giving tours.

The queen smiled as she read the letter, and then frowned. “Did you try to scan this?”

“My visions aren’t that good, yet. It isn’t polite anyway.”

“Don’t forget to say good-bye before leaving.”

Cassandra hugged her mother. “ I won’t. I’m glad you’re feeling better.”

*****

“Another day, and your mother will be her old self again. The crystal worked,” her father said, smiling into his teacup. It pleased her to have her father take tea with her in her sitting room in jeans and a t-shirt..

“I wondered how long it’d be before Mother snapped at Beth, her maid,” giggled Cassandra, as she placed a stack of clothes in the American Tourister suitcase.

“When will you leave on your tour of the outer planets?”

“Tomorrow. I have to tell the relatives of the three masters that didn’t return.”

“You’ve earned your freedom. Don’t forget your mother. She missed you.”

“We said our good-byes at lunch. I need to finish packing if I want to catch the shuttle,” she said, putting down her empty cup and rising.

Her father stood, walked over, and patted her shoulder. “Safe journey.”

Cassandra gazed in the mirror on Queen Anne legs. Her eyes glowed red.

Laura’s Quest

This story was written first, but came second in The Eros Chronicles.

“Look what my father left me for my birthday!” Laura exclaimed. She hated shouting over the blaring music at the Masquerade Ball to Dr. Harris, her friend, mentor, and college counselor.


Laura pulled a long gold chain from inside her black shawl. Dr. Harris, dressed as Long John Silver, grinned, showing charcoal blackened teeth, motioned toward the patio doors where they could speak more freely. The gold caught the light as it spun from its chain. The red and green petals flickered like the traffic lights after ten at night when traffic light rules were relaxed.

“It looks like it has some history. Do you remember The War of the Roses?”


“Yes, it’s connected to the House of Lancaster, I think,” Laura sounded hoarse. “We studied the English Kings in my Western Civilization class last year. King Henry VIII represented the Tudor line.”

“Did your father leave any information about its history?”


“Whatever he knew, he took to his grave. Mom hoped it might help stop these nightmares I’ve been having. The Will stated that I receive this when I turn 21, honoring his last wish.”

Laura suppressed a yawn placing the medallion back inside her shawl. The loud rap music wasn’t helping her throbbing head. People started wandering out onto the terrace, staring at her jewelry.

“I know a more private place where we can talk. There’s a small conference room to the left of the bathrooms next to the buffet tables,” he said, motioning her to follow. Her legs felt like lead and her eyes stung from the smoke drifting in from the open windows form the cigarette smokers.

He closed the door to the tiny sitting room, lowering his voice. “Tell me about these nightmares,” he said, motioning her to sit on one of the flowered couches.

“I see a castle under siege. The left tower is blown away, and then I hear a baby crying. Everyone is dressed in black. I wake up before I see who’s in the coffin in front of me being lowered into the ground, which has the same rose on this medallion. I must have seen this long ago.”

Dr. Harris nodded, acknowledging what Laura said, adjusting the black patch over his left eye before sipping his glass of punch.

“Anything from the Schubert Home for Girls?” he asked, handing back the medallion.


Laura sighed, rubbing her eyes and shifting her feet. She whispered, “Any records of my adoption were destroyed in the fire. The surviving staff won’t say anything or vanish after talking to me.”

Dr. Harris thought for a moment. “Be careful, Laura. Did you tell anyone about these
nightmares?”

“My mother knows. She thinks they’re stress induced. Midterms are coming up.”
He rose. Document everything, but keep it in a safe place.”

Laura nodded to the large back of the retreating, bowlegged pirate. For a man in his early fifties, he moved fast. Dr. Harris was a man of few words, but she trusted him as her mentor, teacher, and advisor. Why had he left so quickly? Her throat felt scratchy, like cotton. She drank three full glasses of red punch, mixed with Canada Dry before it felt good to swallow again.

Laura jumped at a tap on her shoulder. “Want to dance, Morticia?”

“Move it, Blackbeard.” The excess liquid hit her bladder like a tsunami. She looked around for a bathroom, sighing when she spied a restroom sign near the buffet tables along the wall. Laura rubbed her throbbing temples, longing for a night of uninterrupted sleep. Her eyes burned, and she headed for the restroom to splash cold water on her face. What sounded like a body slamming against the bathroom door convinced her she was not in a party mood. She waited for the commotion to stop before stepping into the hall. Hands grabbed her from behind and yanked her into the shadows.

“If you want to stay alive, keep silent.”

“Who is this person? Why are those men dressed in black?” she thought, to herself frantically. To her shock, the deep male voice, using a sinister tone, whispered in her ear. Her body stiffened. Her heart hammered against her ribcage.

“See those men dressed in black? They’re Cleaners. They ‘clean up’ messes you know– kill.”

“I’m ex — ” she started.

“Lower your voice! Do you want them to hear you?” His tone left no doubt what the Cleaners would do if they heard her.

“Who are you? Where are you taking me? I’m exhausted. I have no time for games!” She whispered back, unsure of whether to be frightened or not. She saw a man’s thin, long fingers as he kissed her left hand, putting his cape around her shoulders.

“Trust me. This is NO game, Princess. I have to get you to a safe place,” he said.

“Don’t call me that. I’m not going anywhere. I don’t know you! Put me down!”

“Sorry, Princess Laura, you’re coming with me,” he said, placing a white handkerchief with chloroform over her mouth and nose. He scooped her limp body into his arms, carrying her into the shadows.

***
“Laura, Wake up! Dr. Harris is on the phone. It’s urgent.”

The foggy memory of Friday evening’s events returned. How did she get here? She sat up noticing she was still in her costume.

She rubbed her eyes. “What day is it?”

“Sunday evening,” her mother said, smiling. Laura took the phone. What happened to Saturday?

“Could you come to my office? I have some information on your medallion.”
“I need a shower and some food first. I’m starving. I’ve been asleep for the last two
days.”

“Get here as fast as you can.”

“I’ll do my best.” Laura shifted on the bed, catching the white card that fell to the brown rug. She showered and checked to make sure she still wore the medallion. What had happened to Saturday? Who was this James Manning?

“Took you long enough. Did anything happen after I left the party?”

Dr. Harris looked different in Levis and a red t-shirt with Oklahoma in white capital letters. He unlocked his office door and held it open for her to enter.

“A man assaulted me outside the bathrooms. I think.”


She sat in a brown leather chair next to the oak bookcase. Four stacks of yellow paper stood chest high on the large matching desk. But somehow, everything seemed changed.

“Do you know about Cleaners?”

Dr. Harris turned around, face pale, brown eyes wide. “Who told you?”

“James. I think. That was the name left on paper in my hand when I woke up.”

“The medallion, where is it?”

“In the safe at home.”

The color in her professor’s face returned.

“You have some information about my adoption?”

“I can help with that.” Laura’s eyes widened as she recognized the voice from Friday evening in the shadows. Her breath caught in her throat as James approached. He had the clearest olive colored skin she had ever seen. James, also wearing jeans and a blue shirt, stepped inside, closing the door.

“You won’t find any details because you weren’t born on Earth, but a parallel universe,
Planet Eros.”

Laura jumped up, fists clenched. “You’re lying! I don’t believe you! Prove it!”

“Laura, please calm down,” Dr. Harris said, in his soothing voice. Hesitating, she looked at him. She shuddered when he shot her a warning look meaning he was serious.

Laura stiffened, unclenched her fists, and sat back down. James’s six-foot frame knelt in front of her, kissing her left hand. Laura noticed his brown eyes, curly chestnut hair, and athletic limbs for the first time and those long, thin fingers. He placed her hand on the side of his face.

“I have those same memories. Let me show you, Princess.”

Laura slumped over, exhausted from the flood of memories. Her mouth felt like cotton.
“Can I have some water, please?” she whimpered, being weak from their minds merging.

Dr. Harris, a type 2 diabetic, always kept water and juice handy. He reached to his left, pulling bottled water from the little oak fridge, handing it to James.
“Sip it.”

“Your nurse uncovered a plot to have you killed after your birth. She moved you to the
second tower. Your mother, Queen Amber, and father, King Philip, were killed in the explosion you see in your nightmares. Dr. Harris, the youngest of Philip’s brothers, found a way to travel using a time key, the medallion.”

Only one thing made sense to Laura. “You’re my cousin, right?” James nodded.

“You must return to Eros to fight my brother, King Edmund, and reclaim your birthright,” said Dr. Harris.

“I can’t leave. I finish my Master’s in English next May. I manage The Pantry. Who will replace me? What about Mother? Won’t my leaving like this make everyone suspicious?”
James placed a hand on Laura’s shoulder. “Say nothing to your mother.”

“I can pull some strings to withdraw you and get a replacement at The Pantry. I’ll say you are vacationing in Europe while you study for your orals.”

Laura slammed her right fist on the arm of the oak chair. “I didn’t want this. I know nothing of being a princess or defending a planet full of people from some dark prince.”

“You’ll learn. We must make sacrifices, Princess. It’s your duty to defend Eros and its people. I ‘ll miss my prize student.”

“You’re not coming? Why?”

“Edmund has sworn to kill me if I return to Eros. There weren’t to be any heirs to claim the throne.”

“Were those Cleaners responsible for killing my father?”

Neither man spoke for at least five minutes. Dr. Harris sighed, then smiled. “Thankfully, no. By putting the medallion in a painted box and in a vault at the bank, your identity was safe until the Halloween party last Friday.”

“They might know your identity if you had your student I.D. card at the party,” James said, still kneeling by the chair, still holding her hand.

“I only had the invitation.” Laura let go of his hand, avoiding his penetrating gaze.

Dr. Harris fumbled with his keys and stood up. I need to get home before my wife gets suspicious. She hates it when I’m late for dinner. I don’t like reheated spaghetti.” James stood.

“You need to make it look like you left for Europe yesterday.”


“Be careful who you speak to. And don’t mention the medallion. Good luck.”


James sighed. “I’m glad you’re not a packrat.”

Laura put the last pile of clothes in a box. The full measure of the last few hours hit her. She may never come home. She looked around the small room with its dark oak furniture. Now that most of her things were in storage, the room looked bare.

“That’s the last of it, except for the bed, dresser, computer desk, and TV. This is the only home I’ve known since aged ten.”

James patted her left shoulder. “I’ll drop these boxes at the Salvation Army later. Get some rest. We leave tomorrow evening.”

Laura nodded, close to tears. For the first time, the torment Laura felt surfaced as she saw her pale face in the faded light of the mirror. A lump lodged in her throat when she saw the three brown envelopes on the dresser sealed with the royal insignia. Her lip quivered as she looked at James. Unable to look away, she held her arms out as James reached for her, kissing the top of her head. They continued to gaze at one another for what seemed like an eternity. She gasped as his left hand came in contact with her cheek to brush away a tear. He held her tighter, stroking the back of her head as she wept softly.

“I’d better go. The Salvation Army closes at seven,” he said hoarsely, as he kissed her forehead, backing away. “I’ll be back tomorrow at sunset.”

After he left, she sat down on the bed with a knot in her stomach. Her head throbbed. This was the longest she went without food. She wiped tears away as she walked to the kitchen past her mother’s room.

“Dr. Harris has withdrawn me. I have something to do.” Laura suppressed a yawn.

“Are you okay? You look awful.”

“Have a seat.”

“What is it? Who are you?” Mom adjusted her pink robe. A trembling hand raked her salt and pepper hair as she stared at the strange man in the kitchen.

Laura made introductions. “Mom, This is James Manning, my . . . traveling companion. James, this is my mother.”

“How do you do, Madam?” he said, kissing her hand with a slight bow. “I’ll wait for you outside, Laura.”

After pulling out black dining table chairs, both sat down. There was a long pause before Laura spoke. Her voice cracked. “This envelope explains everything. Open it after I’m gone, read it, and destroy it. Give the second envelope to Dr. Harris. He’ll know what to do. This last envelope has my will in it. If I don’t return in a year, open it.” Laura fought tears, as she sipped her iced coffee.

“We have to leave. It’ll be dark soon,” James pathed.

“I have to go. I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too. Will you be coming back?”


“If I succeed, I will.”

“Take the medallion,” her mother said, opening the black lacquered box.


Laura put the medallion around her neck. She hugged her mother a long time, kissing
her warm cheeks.

Her mother started crying. “I wish you didn’t have to leave.”


Laura cried too. “I have to. You know that.”

“Take care of yourself.”

She wiped her face with the back of her left hand. “I will. I promise.”

“We have to leave, Princess. I can’t block the Cleaners for long.”


“I’m coming, James.”

Laura pried her mother’s arms loose. Stepping back, she looked at her a long time, not moving. She wanted her mother’s face to remain in her memory.

Laura twitched as James pathed, “Come on, Laura. We must go, now.”

“I’m coming.” She turned and ran out the back door, bumping into James.

“You okay?”

“I’ve been elevated from commoner to queen in less than 24 hours. I’m returning to a planet and people I have no memory of, against a dark prince with evil powers and you ask how I feel?”

James patted her shoulder and sighed. “We better find that gate.”

He was right. Fretting over the past was useless. It was more important to reestablish the House of Lancaster to the throne of Eros by defeating her Uncle Edmund, but will her new subjects accept an outworlder from Earth as their queen? Whistling arrows broke Laura’s reverie.

“We’ve been discovered! I forgot to cover the medallion.”

“I know a faster route to the gate,” James said, motioning toward the shadows.

“My leg! I’ve been hit!”

A gray mist surrounded them. The only light came from their glowing medallions. Laura shivered from the chill. She felt James pick her up as he did before, placing his cape around her shoulders.

“Where are we, James?”

“On Eros. Look.”

Laura gazed in awe as the mists cleared. “It’s exactly as I saw it in my vision.”
Laura inhaled the fresh air, sighing as she recognized her surroundings. Even in its battle-scared state, Castle Serenity stood regal in the light of dawn. As the first sun rose, it glistened like crystal.

“Once the castle is cleaned up and the tower rebuilt, it’ll look even better, Laura.”


Laura noticed her black Converse sneakers were missing and the maroon cape around her shoulders too. “Why are my feet bare? And what happened to your cape?”

“I tossed them into the mist to throw the Cleaners off track.”

“Does Edmund know we’re here?”

“He thinks we’re dead. We have to clean that wound, Laura.” James walked into the woods, entering a secluded cabin hidden by redwood trees behind the castle. Laura forgot the growing wound on her lower left leg, purple and oozing. She yawned, figuring the fatigue of time travel caught up with her.

She looked around the two-room cabin with its rustic wooden furniture. “I can’t wait to take a nap. I’m so sleepy.”

“You have to stay awake, at least till Elise cleans your wound. That purple on your leg is advancing poison.” James said, putting Laura on the soft feather bed by the window.

Elise was as quiet as a cat. She spoke, startling both of them. “James, how good to see you, my friend. Who is the lady you bought with you?”

“This is Laura O’Reilly, of the planet Earth. Laura, may I present Lady Elise, the apothecary.” Elise curtsied, not out of respect, but duty. Unkempt from living in the woods, Elise had platinum blonde hair and expressive brown eyes. Underneath the spattered mud on her pink rose print tunic, were an hourglass figure and muscular legs.

Properly washed and gowned, she would make a wonderful addition to Court at Serenity. Laura nodded, pretending not to notice her scowl as the word Earth was mentioned.Convincing those on Eros that their queen has returned would not be easy.

“Laura was hit by a poison arrow,” James said, showing Elise her leg.

“I have some medicine prepared. We must clean that wound first. Give her this to bite on. There will be pain.” Elise poured water into a porcelain basin on the washstand by the bed. She walked to the other room and took a jar of green goo off the shelf over the black kettle in the fireplace, spooning some onto a white cake-sized plate. She lit a match to heat the goo, holding it over a flame. Laura opened her mouth to speak, but a warning look from James made her close it.

“Why didn’t you introduce me as Queen of Eros? That woman is treating me no better than a peasant.”


James placed the piece of wood between her teeth. “All in due time, my lady. There may be ears in these walls.”

Nothing prepared Laura for the pain she felt when her wound was cleaned. She screamed as green goo met purple ooze, fizzed like soda, and burned like acid. James gave Laura a bear hug, tenderly stroking the back of her head. As Elise swiped the leg a second time, Laura howled louder.

“That should do it. All done, Laura,” Elise smiled, trying to sound sorry for causing her
pain. Elise rose from the floor, turning her back to leave the cabin, but James’ abrupt manner stopped her.

“Get a switch,” he said, standing and grabbing Elise’s arm.
Elise stared in disbelief, unsure of what she heard.

“Obey me at once, Elise,” James repeated. ” Go!”

“All right,” she said, meekly. Elise moved quietly to the door. She pulled a switch from the nearby tree across from the window. Before she came back inside, she removed the leaves from the long, thin vine. Elise’s hand shook as she handed the switch to James, then went to sit in a corner by the bed, staring out the window, face pale.

“Wh-What are you going to do?” Laura asked, sniveling. James put the switch on the washstand. He embraced Laura again, ignoring her question, as he pulled a leather pouch from his pocket.

“Drink this,” he soothed, putting the milk bladder to her lips.

Laura knew, from her readings of the Arthurian legends, what he held before her was a milk bladder filled with sleeping herbs. She wasn’t fooled by his manner. He wanted her knocked out so he could flog Elise. She pushed his hand away. “I don’t want that thing.”

James’s voice softened, as if he spoke to a stubborn child. “I made this just for you, Laura, my sweet. You’d hurt my feelings if you didn’t drink it. It’ll fill your empty tummy and make you feel better. It’s been twelve hours since you were fed,” he coaxed, lifting her to his lap.

She found herself unable to stop the next sentence as she continued gazing into James’s eyes. “W-Will you stay with me, until I fall asleep?”

“Of course,” he said, smiling, as he rubbed the nipple against her bottom lip. Laura willingly accepted the offering. “Good girl.”

Her sucking slowed as the potion in the warm, sweet liquid took hold. Laura jumped as Elise tripped over her feet, falling with a loud bang on the wooden floor as she tried to escape.


“Sit, girl!” She landed on the hard wooden stool by the window with a thud, sniveling from the pain on impact. Laura squirmed on James’s lap trying to fight the affects of the potion, but her limbs were like lead. She blinked, but had difficulty keeping her eyes open.

“I — want — my — mother!” Laura wailed.

“It’s all right, love. I’m here. Sleep. I’ve got you.” James’s face softened as he moved Laura’s head to his left shoulder after she emptied the milk bladder. Holding her tighter, he rocked, stroking her auburn hair, rubbing her back, and clicking his tongue. He kissed her forehead as her eyelids drooped. Darkness engulfed her as her vision blurred and faded.

Laura raised her head off the pillow, still groggy from the potion. From the long shadows in the cabin, the second sun would set soon. How long had she slept, eight hours? If she added Earth time, it would be at least sixteen. She couldn’t remember the last time she used the bathroom.

Every cabin she knew had an outhouse somewhere or a chamber pot under the bed. The way her bladder felt, she wouldn’t make it outside. Laura let out grateful sigh as she found the porcelain pot under the bed. Someone was kind enough to place a screen within reaching distance of her arm. It had pictures of Grimm’s Fairytales on it. Was it Elise?

“You’re awake. How does your leg feel?” James asked, through the screen. When he heard what she was doing, he chuckled. Laura giggled too. She always kept Wet Ones packets in her jeans pocket. She used that in the place of paper and put the lid on the pot when she finished. Pulling up her pants, she rinsed her hands in the bowl of water on the washstand by the bed.

“To answer your question, I can walk on it,” she said, adjusting her shirt as she stepped from behind the screen, holding the lidded pot.

“There’s a trench just beyond those trees in the back.”

“Thanks.”

Laura didn’t mind walking around the back of the cabin to the trench. She found a tiny vegetable garden, which grew peas, carrots, and tomatoes on the opposite side of the cabin’s front door. Under the bedroom window, herbs grew. Laura knew the herbs were the same as her mother’s garden by the shape of the leaves: mint, basil, oregano, and cilantro. Some she didn’t recognize were off to the side. These were probably used for medical ailments. She picked some wild mint to use for later. The meadow held an abundant array of wild flowers, stretching to the nearby village of tiny stone cottages. Houses in the shadows had lights inside and smoke rising from the chimney. Laura picked a colorful bouquet of blue bonnets, daisies wild pink roses as a peace offering to Elise. She saw the woman with a brown shawl around her shoulders getting water by the stream. No doubt, she was hiding the scars from her flogging. Laura put the empty brass pot back under the bed and went to look for aloe on the mantle by the fireplace. Clipping a large leaf, she wrapped it in her handkerchief and walked to the stream.

“These are for you, Elise,” said Laura, handing Elise the bouquet. “I wanted to thank you for your hospitality and to apologize.”

“You know what happened, then.” Laura nodded.

“I can stop those cuts from hurting.”

“I deserved what I got. It’s the law on Eros, Lady.”

“If I weren’t doped up, I would have stopped him.”

“I didn’t know who you were, Lady. I would have gotten it worse if I had and still mistreated you.”

“Hold still. The water will sting.” Lady Elise winced as Laura applied cold water to clean the dried blood from her back with the spare handkerchief. She yelped as Laura used a few Wet Ones packets to clear out any foreign objects from the cuts.

“Now I know how you felt,” Elise said, through gritted teeth.
“This aloe I found should inhibit scarring.”

“That feels better. Thank you, m’lady.”

Laura wished she had packed a few extra sandwiches before going through the gate to Eros. The warm milk she drank was gone. She wondered what food would taste like in this place. It had been a while since she ate anything cooked over an open fire, or on the outdoor grill at home. Laura’s thoughts drifted to her mother. Would she have the will to carry out the instructions in that first envelope or cry for two days?

“This is ridiculous,” she thought, to herself, “if Mom can handle Dad’s death, she can certainly handle my absence. God, I miss her though.”

James smiled as he came up on them. Something was up, though. Laura sensed it the moment her gaze met his.

“There you are. Laura, we must get inside the castle before dark.”

“You’re not staying for dinner then? I made rabbit stew.”

“I’m sorry, no. Laura, we must leave now.”

Laura knew better than to argue. Her safety came above all else now that she was queen. She quickly wrapped the aloe, putting it back in her left front pocket, doing the same with the damp cloth, putting it in the left back pocket.

“I’m ready. Elise, thanks for everything. I won’t forget your kindness.”

Amber

This story was the first of three. It was supposed to end after the last one, but I found the story undone. There may be others written in the future that associate with the alternate universe.

Amber grasped the silk train of her princess gown.  She wanted to forget her busy schedule for one night—especially her job and her ex-fiancée, Robert Frost. Even though she changed her cell, pager, and home phone numbers, she had the uneasy feeling he was stalking her. She swore he lurked near The Pantry yesterday before her mother came. Someone with dirty blonde hair and the creased tattered blue jacket ducked behind the back alley where she took the trash before closing time at 7 p.m. A physical confrontation with him made her blood run cold.
He wouldn’t come here,” she thought to herself, rubbing the goose bumps on her right arm. “He’s been suspended till the spring term.”
The one with her mother rejuvenated her spirit. Smiling as she stepped onto the curb, she remembered the shocked, pale look on her mother’s face as she stood in The Pantry Office, hands on her hips as Amber closed the door. She was tired of hearing her mother’s voice on the phone every day.
Her mother had put her brown Gucci handbag on the oak desk. Pulling out the black swivel computer chair, she sat down, smoothing her black skirt. “Why haven’t you been answering my calls? Where have you been all week?”
Amber leaned against the big oak desk, folding her arms. Her heart hammered against her ribcage, but she kept her voice low and even when she spoke. “Mother, I’m grown. Can’t you get a life? I don’t monitor you 24/7. My cell phone and pager are for emergencies, not tirades about my imperfections. I moved on campus to get away from your scrutiny. I don’t now or ever intend to live up to your high standards. My good grades were never enough.  You were never satisfied, always wanting more.  If your life were as perfect as you wanted it, you wouldn’t be nit picking over mine trying to change things.”
Her mother’s lip quivered and she turned pale. Tugging at her white silk blouse with the pearl buttons, she stared at her daughter for what seemed an eternity. Amber met her gaze, determined to make this her mother’s last phone call, tirade, and visit. Picking up her purse, she turned on her heel and strode from the office without a word.
Her boss applauded; along with a few other employees who “pretended” not to listen. When she opened the door, everyone scattered. Her cell phone and pager remained silent that night, except for two or three wrong numbers.
She wanted to have fun, in spite of her trouble with Mother and break up with Robert. The unfamiliar high heels, together with the heavy weight of the dress caused her to stumble and turn her ankle. She stood for a moment, fighting back tears of pain and anger. Why couldn’t she get the courage to tell the district manager, Gladys Lehman, she wouldn’t come to her stupid masquerade party? The manager’s daughter didn’t feel well and Amber had to represent The Pantry because proceeds from tonight would help them meet their budget short falls. She limped to the seat by the door, wishing she had stayed home.
“Are you all right?”  Amber’s heart skipped a few beats at the deep baritone male voice behind her. She turned around, glad of her mask. This man’s eyes glowed yellow in the dim light.
“I’ll be fine.  I just need some ice,” Amber said, blinking back tears, as she elevated her right foot on the chair next to her.
“Your foot is swollen. Let me see. My name is Philip,” he said, removing her shoe.
“Ouch!”
“It doesn’t seem to be broken.”
Amber grimaced. “So much for dancing.”
“Sorry.  I’ll get some ice. Stay here.”
It amazed Amber how Philip blended with the shadows. In no time, he returned with a Ziploc bag wrapped in a kitchen towel, placing it on her ankle.
Amber gritted her teeth.
“You didn’t even want to come.”
“What do you mean?”
If you had your way, you’d be wearing your favorite faded jeans watching ‘Law and Order’ with a pint of Fudge Ripple instead of wearing a silly princess costume with ankle busting heels.
“I need some air.”  Amber felt light-headed.
“You can’t walk on that ankle. Let me help you.” She sighed, putting an arm around his
neck, allowing Philip to carry her through the open French doors to the patio.
Amber laughed. “What did you do?  Read my diary?
“You keep a diary?” Philip asked, setting her on her good foot. She knew this man from somewhere, but the memory was vague.
As if sensing her thoughts, he moved in closer, removing his owl’s mask. Amber smiled as her hand touched his clear olive colored skin.  She gasped as his smooth, warm hands came in contact with her face.
“Would you kiss me, Amber?”
“Jade…will..be…looking….for… me.”
Philip whispered softly, stroking her auburn hair, nuzzling her neck, and kissing it. “No, she won’t. Kiss me.”
Her knees buckled as his other hand caressed her bare back. Could this be the same person she met at the Psychology Clinic? She would’ve fallen if Philip’s strong arms hadn’t steadied her. The thought of kissing him sent a warm sensation through her body. His hypnotic gaze enchanted her. His eyes shining like new copper pennies. Before she knew it, Philip lowered his head, pulling her closer. When their lips met, time stood still. Visions of a black Composition book and someone being hurt by an arrow smacked her in the back of the head. Where was that book? Whom did the arrow hit?
“It’s amazing what you’ll find in the shadows.” Robert grabbed Amber’s arm.
Jumping at the sound of that voice, Amber got goose bumps. She struggled against his iron grip.

“Robert, what are you doing here? Let go! You’re hurting me!”
Ignoring her pleas, he yanked her arm again turning her roughly to face him. “I have no access to you for six months and I find you kissing this person.”
She wrinkled her nose, at the strong smell of alcohol on his breath. “We aren’t engaged anymore, remember?”
Philip’s eyes glowed yellow. “The lady is with me. Let go of her arm,” he pathed.
Robert’s movements were robotic as his gaze never left Philip’s. He slowly released his deathlike hold on Amber’s left arm.
“Go home. You must rest.”
“I . . .must . . . go . . . home?” Philip handed Robert his Jason mask and creased tattered blue jacket, which were on the floor, steering him to the patio doors.
Amber stared as Robert left, yelping as she stepped back. “What did you do?”
“I gave him a hypnotic suggestion.  It’ll wear off in the morning.”
Amber ‘s stomach growled. She tried rubbing the cold from her arms, but that made her shivering worse.
“Come with me,” Philip said, scooping her into his arms.
“The buffet tables are in the front hall.  What are you d-d-doing?”
Putting Amber on the couch in what looked like a conference room, Philip pulled a leather pouch from his shirt pocket, removed the cap, and placed it to her lips.
“Drink.”
Amber turned up her top lip, pulling her head back. “What is that thing?”
“It’s a milk bladder.”

“What’s that?”
“A tightly sewn pouch that can old liquid. See, it’s milk.”
She tasted the offering on his finger.  Both were startled as they heard two male voices in the hall coming in their direction.  Philip placed her on his lap, covering her clammy skin with his cape.  She refused the milk, turning her head to the side. He pinched her left thigh, ramming the nipple into her mouth to stop her from screaming.  He snapped his fingers, dimming the lights.
“Aw man—no computers in here!” said one of the frat brothers.
“Let’s try the third floor,” said the second frat bother.
Amber turned red as tears streamed down her face.
“I’m sorry I hurt you, Amber,” he pathed soothingly, rocking her and rubbing her left thigh with one hand while catching her free hand.
Unable to ignore her gnawing hunger, she sighed, accepting the warm, sweet liquid. Philip smiled, humming softly. In a few minutes, the bladder was empty. Amber squirmed, trying to stay awake. She heard heels in the hall. Philip helped Amber sit upright, put on his owl’s mask and placed the milk bladder back in his shirt pocket before the doorknob turned.
“There you are, Amber. I’ve been looking for you.”
“Jade, I thought—I thought you left.”
Philip cleared his throat.
“This is Philip.  Philip this is Jade Flannigan.”
“A pleasure, Miss Flannigan,” he said, standing and taking her hand, kissing it with a slight bow.
“What happened to your ankle?”
“I hurt it thanks to those high heels you forced me to wear.”
Jade avoided her roommate’s glare. “I’d offer a ride home, but  I’m on the clean up committee.”
“I’ll make sure she gets home safely.” Amber sighed, without Philip to carry her, there was no way she’d get up those steep stairs to the apartment.
Amber saw the questions in her friend’s face in spite of the clown make up she wore.  The last thing she wanted was facing third degree over Philip.
Jade smiled, speaking after a long pause. “Goodnight then.”
Scooping her off the couch, Philip said, “The party’s breaking up. I’d better get you home.”
“I swear that woman is inconsiderate. I ought to slug her for making me wear these
heels.”
“Surely she meant well.  The costume suits you.”
To avoid the crowded foyer, they left using the shadows. The crisp night air made Amber shiver. The black cape Philip ware was large enough for them both.
“I’ll be home and in my warm bed before Jade has time to question me,’ Amber thought, to herself, smiling. A few cars with stereos blaring startled her as they went past the trees that hid the limo. The wind blew stronger now. Philip placed Amber on the seat and squeezed in beside her, placing her back on his lap as he did in the conference room.
“Take us home, Jacob.”
“Very good, Sir.”


“Where am I? This isn’t my apartment,” Amber said, as she lain on a soft mattress.
She struggled unsuccessfully to sit up on her elbows, groaning as her sore, tired body
fell against the white satin pillows. Philip knelt by the four-poster bed, removing her right shoe.
“Don’t be afraid. I promise I’ll answer all your questions if you stay the weekend,” he
said, elevating her foot.
The room was fit for a princess with its old oak furniture and satin comforter. Even with the large bed, there was room for a wardrobe, dressing table, full-length mirror, and a round table by the window. “It isn’t proper.”
“How much sleep would you get if you went home right now?”
There he goes again,” she thought to herself, adjusting her skirts with a shaky left hand.
Amber couldn’t remember the last time she had a quiet weekend with no interruptions. She was grateful that her cell phone and pager remained silent even though they were on during the masquerade ball.  They were short two people at the Pantry because of flu season. Her supervisor expected her to work double shifts stocking shelves.  She had to study too.  Thank goodness Amber enjoyed challenges.  Her schedule would wear anyone out.  She grinned and nodded in agreement as she turned her pager and cell off.
Between her job, Jade’s non-stop chatter, and her Master’s classes, something had to give. Philip cupped her chin, kissing her longer this time. Amber pulled away.
“I’ll stay on one condition, no physical contact unless it’s necessary.”
“Why can’t you allow yourself to be loved? Let go once in a while.”
Amber’s voice cracked as she spoke. “I did that with Robert and look where it got me.”
Philip took her left hand, brushing a tear from her cheek with his right. “I’m not him.”
“I know, but I don’t want to take this too far.” The truth was, she didn’t believe in having sex before marriage. It was dangerous enough that Philip could sense what she was thinking and feeling. She tried not to think of how wonderful she felt when he held her in the shadows and in the car. Why did this feel right to her?
“I’ve never forced myself on any woman. What happened on the patio during the party was totally natural, no special powers. I sensed that you wanted to see me, touch me, and kiss me. Your body language gave you away.”
“What about the ability of fading into the shadows and the glowing eyes?”
“I can control my emotions, Amber. What I did to Robert was better than knocking him to the floor.”
Amber rubbed her left arm. The red mark where Robert grabbed her would be a bruise in the morning. “He certainly deserved it, though.”
Philip kissed the hand he held palm side up, and stood. “Get some rest.”

A loud popping sound woke her. Not remembering where she was, she looked around the room for anything familiar. She sighed when she recognized her costume hanging on the bedroom door.  She heard the noise again. It sounded like a gun.
“What’s going on?” she asked, limping to the window to investigate, alarmed to find bars on the window.  Also, four men dressed in green military fatigues with guns, searched the bushes below. The sound of electrical fizz sent a chill up her spine.
“This place is a fortress. Why does Philip need so much protection?” she asked herself.

Even though no one was in the room, she sensed someone watching her, waiting. Was it Philip? Why was he interested in her when so many other beautiful women with brains on campus were eager to stand at his side and share his bed? Her father often said she was beautiful and smart, but every parent thinks their child has brains, even if they didn’t use them.

Robert managed to keep his grades high enough to stay on the football team, maintaining his scholarship. He was by no means her academic equal. He fumed when she told him her plans to enter the Master’s program two years ago. The only reason he stayed at this local college was to keep an eye on her, since he didn’t possess enough talent to play pro ball.
Philip frightened her because he saw through her defense. He could’ve done more than kiss her last night. Her weakened condition made her vulnerable to passion, its delights and its dangers. He had an old world charm that faded with each succeeding generation after 1960. Not very many men would kiss a woman’s hand or bow when they introduce themselves. His ability to read her mind unnerved her. While he knew what she thought, she wasn’t able to find out what he thought unless he told her.

Okay, so she wished to stay home instead of attending the party. That’s exactly what her mother expected after one of their fights. It would’ve been too easy to be found, especially with Robert lurking nearby. The mere mention of his name made her shudder.
Rubbing both arms, she hopped backward. Putting the burgundy curtain back in place, she turned and hopped to the bathroom.

“Why were there bars on the window in my room and men with guns searching the
bushes below me? It feels like I’m in Israel.”
Philip sighed, putting down his fork, standing. “I was hoping you’d wait till after breakfast to start firing questions at me. I have powerful enemies.”
“Is that why you have a force field?”
After seating Amber at the table, he squatted at eye level.  Amber squirmed, feeling uncomfortable at being so close.
“I’m a prince of Eros, Amber. I wanted to avoid my birthright by blending in as a college instructor of humanities. By coming here, I caused a rip between the two worlds. My younger brother, Prince Edmund, is using that rip in time to eliminate me.”
“Where’s Eros? Is that some parallel universe or something?”

“Yes. Why doesn’t that surprise you?”

Amber remained silent.  All the strange events of the last eight hours began to make sense. Philip’s other worldly quality would scare anyone enough  to make them turn tail and run. His dark powers attracted her. It unnerved her that he could use his powers to bend her to his will.  She decided to emotionally keep her distance. She ate her food despite the butterflies in her stomach. She couldn’t shake the feeling that by staying with him, she put herself in danger.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, until the guard fired the gun under my window.”
“What were you dreaming last night?”
Lifting her cup, she spilled her coffee.
“That’s what you did before your screaming alerted security.”
Amber pulled at her turtleneck sweater, finding it hard to breathe. So, he was watching her! “Now you’re spying on me too? For a man that asked me to trust him you’re not scoring many points.”
Philip stood up, eyes locked on her. “Sorry. I wanted to make sure your ankle was high enough. Now that we’re being honest, Amber, the only thing keeping me from carrying you back upstairs is your wish to wait.”
Amber blushed, tugging on the neck of her blue sweater again. “Guess I asked for that one. I loved the series ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Mother said I should stop watching all those ‘Phantom of the Opera’ movies too. I’ve seen all but the 1983 mini-series with Jane Seymour and the 2004 Andrew Lloyd Webber movie version. They used younger actors. I read that they changed the ending too. Current shows don’t have intermission. It would’ve been a better film if they used the original Broadway cast.”
He returned to his seat opposite her. “You never answered my question about my being from a parallel universe.”
“You mean about my not being surprised? It might explain my ability to read people, especially when they’re lying.”
Looking at her empty plate, she wiped her mouth, blotted the coffee on the placemat and stood up. “May I go outside? I’m not used to inactivity after eating all that food.”
“Let me get a few guards to go with us.”

“I still sense something bothering you. What is it, Amber?”
“When you kissed me last night, it bothered me when I felt as if time stood still.”
“Once the tear heals, we only have to eliminate the Cleaners that exist here.  I’ll be safe then.”
“How long will that take?”
“It’s shrinking about five to ten inches a day. Not long now.”
Philip pulled the golf cart into the rose garden along the west wall, shutting off the
engine.  Amber picked a pink rose, inhaling the sweet fragrance.  Even though she tried not to notice, she felt Philip’s penetrating gaze again.  To hide her nervousness, she put her hands in her lap.
“Why was Robert at the party, Amber?” he asked, hands in his lap.
She didn’t answer immediately.  Running a hand through her hair, Amber tugged at the collar of her navy blue turtleneck sweater.  Even with a chill in the air, she wiped her sweaty palms on her acid washed blue jeans. This place looked like the one in her vision.
“He got suspended last December in a hazing incident that injured one of the pledges in his fraternity. The university handbook outlawed hazing. Josh’s leg was broken in three places when he jumped from the roof of the administration building.”
“Something else is bothering you. What is it?”
“I don’t think I should tell you.”
Philip touched Amber’s arm. Tell me, please?”
“I-I‘m getting cold.  We’d better go in.”
He grabbed her arm. “Amber, I don’t like this distance between us.”
“Stop it, Philip! You’re hurting me!”
“Just tell me what’s bothering you.”
“Please! Don’t ask me that again,” she wailed.
Everything she experienced in the last few hours hit her hard.  She never dreamed she’d be living what she read in a science fiction novel.  The shock chilled her to the bone when she pieced the visions she had together. They met before. Dr Harris, now an associate professor of English, shut off the voices that screamed in her head at age ten when people said one thing but meant another. If she hadn’t gone with that twelve year-old boy, who knows where she’d be now? Her stomach lurched. She vomited in the grass twice. Why won’t the visions that haunted her day and night just go away? Philip wiped her glistening forehead and the corners of her mouth.
Her voice cracked when she spoke, eyes round as saucers. “I know who you are! You’re the-the twelve year-old boy I met in the doctor’s office 11 years ago!”
He smiled, taking her hand. “I told you we’d meet again.”
He grabbed her to keep her from falling out of the golf cart. At that moment, darts whistled through the air.
“I’m hit!” yelled Amber.
Philip’s eyes glowed yellow. The male cleaner dropped to the ground after piercing his chest with the dart in his left hand.  The second man shot himself with his own laser gun.
“I’m so tired.”
“You must stay awake.  I have to get you back to Eros.  That’s where the antidote to the poison on the dart is.”
“How do you get there?”
“Under the house. To go through the gate, I have to solve a riddle.”

“What’s the political situation on Eros?”
“We gave the land on the West Bank to the Palestinians.”
“Is there a Saddam Hussein?”
“He talked parliament into using nuclear energy to power homes and businesses.  North Korea, China, and India did the same thing.”
“What happened to Osama Bin Laden?”
“He was jailed and executed by the Saudi’s for his radical beliefs.”
Amber sucked in her breath as Jacob rubbed purple liquid on her left leg.
“That should slow the poison until we get to Eros, my lady. You were a fool using your powers in the open, my prince.” Jacob’s tan face reddened, his corncob eyes turned ice blue as he glared at Philip.
“You won’t be going this time, Jacob. You need to put the force field back on when we go through the gate.”
Jacob, tall and wearing a black suit, patted Philip’s shoulder. “Safe journey, my friend.”
Amber grabbed Philip’s hand, squeezing it. “You’re worried about that riddle, aren’t you?”
“It changes at every gate. I only get three guesses, if they’re wrong, I forfeit my life.”
She patted his hand. “I hope I can help you solve the riddle.”
Philip wiped his hands on his brown slacks, pulling at his white sweater.  “I hope we don’t run into any Cleaners.”
Amber’s lip quivered. She blinked back tears unsuccessfully. Wiping her face and nose with the back of her hand, she sniffed.
Sitting on the bed, Philip took her in his arms. “Go ahead and cry Amber, my love.  We will get that antidote.”
Amber’s sobs shook her body, lasting for ten minutes.  Reaching into his back left pocket, he wiped Amber’s tear stained face with a white handkerchief, with a red rose stitched in the upper right corner. “Blow your nose.”
She did, putting the material on the oak nightstand. Her voice was uneven. “Don’t go.”
“I won’t,” he said softly, kissing her forehead and holding her tighter. Another vision came to her of a field and a castle gleaming in the sunlight. Was this on Eros?
“May I–May I lie in your lap, Philip? I can’t stay warm.”
“Ok, but why not just get under the covers?”
“Because I can’t hear your heartbeat from there.”
Philip wrapped Amber in the quilt on the bed lifting her to his lap.
“You might hear better from my chest. Doesn’t this violate the physical contact rule?”
“For someone who can read minds, you are dense. I’m cold, scared, and want comfort, ok. This is under the ‘unless necessary’ part.” She squirmed, trying to avoid the hard metal buttons on his shirt that irritated her cheek and temple. Philip undid them with his free hand.
“Better?”
“Yes.”
“Promise me something, Amber.”
“Ok, what?”
“I want to share your feelings. Don’t hide them from me.”
“I promise.”
Philip cupped her chin. “Look at me—look at me when you say that.”
“I promise not to hide my feelings from you, now kiss me. We need to seal the bargain. I’m not the only one needing comfort right now.”

Afterwards, there was a long pause before Amber spoke again.
“Isn’t that rose on the handkerchief from the House of Lancaster?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
Dr. Harris said that Anne Boelyn’s baby boy was still born here on Earth, but on Eros, he survived long enough to produce an heir. He wasn’t fit to be king, so he came to Earth. One of his off spring married my grandmother on Dad’s side. My father was born, and then came me. We are distant cousins.”
“You do know your history,” he smiled.
“Is there another Amber on Eros?”
“No.  I need a few things before we go.  I’ll return before dark. Go to sleep.” he said, removing her arms from his neck, standing and running a hand through curly, black hair.
His answer came too quick. Amber knew that Philip was avoiding the question. She remembered a portrait hidden behind some burgundy curtains of a ten year old that looked exactly like her at that efficiency long ago, but dressed in a white princess gown. Jacob helped him prepare for his return to Eros. She decided to let his lies slide, for the moment, at least.  It was more important to handle the task, solving those riddles, not arguing with him over this mystery woman, if she existed at all.

Amber stared out the window at the blooming roses below her. While she looked forward to seeing Eros, it hadn’t occurred to her that she’d never see Earth again, until now. Philip had to solve that riddle if they were to survive. She wiped her sweaty palms on her brown leggings smoothing the creases from her flowered tunic top. She turned as she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“It’s time to go.”
Philip led Amber down a dark corridor The light from the torch in Philip’s right hand revealed cobwebs that hung low from the ceiling and several dead rats on the ground. “There’s the gate.”
“Where’s the riddle?”
“Above.  I can’t read these symbols. They don’t exist on Eros,” Philip said, running his hand across the top of the frame.
Amber grinned. “It’s the International Phonetic Alphabet.  I learned it in speech class as a senior in high school and again when I minored in English as an undergraduate in college.”
“Do you know what it says?”
Amber nodded.  “What uses four in the beginning, two in the middle, and three at the end?”
“I’ve never heard that riddle.”
Amber stiffened, wrinkling her nose at a ghastly smell from behind.
“You won’t live to answer it, Prince Philip.”
Philip turned around to see a Cleaner with a dart gun aimed at Amber’s throat.
Amber pathed, “You can do it, Philip. Answer the riddle!
He stepped toward them.  “Come any closer and she dies.”
Which key is it?  There are four here with pictures,” he pathed back.
Does one look like a man?”
“Yes.”

“It’ll save time killing you if you answer wrong!”
Amber stared straight ahead, ignoring the Cleaner’s cocky attitude.

I’ll bet this place is booby trapped.  He’ll be killed by the gate’s defenses.
Arrows whistled through the air, missing the Cleaner’s arm as Philip tried using the key that hung under the penguin’s picture.
“Two more wrong guesses and it’s over, Philip,” sneered the man.
I’ve never heard of a penguin walking on three legs.”
“That’s Prince Philip to you!” she snapped.
Stay calm.  Remember what I said about adrenaline and that poison racing to your heart.
Amber took a deep breath to steady her nerves.
“Whatever, make your second choice.”
Philip tried the rabbit key.  This time, an iron gate crashed from the ceiling.  It missed Amber’s right shoulder by a hair, but one bottom peg pierced the Cleaner’s foot, making him wail in pain. He put the gun on the ground and tried removing the peg. While the Cleaner howled, Amber kicked the gun to Philip, which he hid behind his back.
Rabbits don’t use their hind legs to walk.”

“Make you’re final guess, if you dare!” yelled the Cleaner, through gritted teeth.
“That’s using your brain!
Amber saw her chance. Grabbing the gun, she limped to Philip’s side without fear.  The Cleaner still had the peg in his foot.
“Where’s the…Oh, no!”
Amber turned up her lip at the haggard, unkempt man with red eyes.
Philip smiled, showing the man his gun. “Looking for this?”
“Go ahead!  Kill me!  You still won’t solve the riddle!”
“I bet I can.  You’ll die without my firing an arrow.”
Philip tried the key under man’s picture, the door clicked.  The ground split open.
“Man is the only other choice.  He uses all fours in the beginning as a baby, walks on two as a man in the middle, and uses a cane at the end. That makes three.”
“You got it!” Amber yelled.
“Once we go through this gate, it can’t be used again. I read it in the library.”
“Will we make it back?”
“Someday. Castle Serenity is across the field.”
As the hole in the floor got wider, Philip grabbed Amber’s hand and pulled her through the gate.
“How did you solve that riddle?” Philip asked, as the gate disappeared.
“I heard it in my freshman English class in high school,” she smiled.
“Let’s get that antidote.”

This was the second of the three stories in this series.

“The House of Yes” a dark comedy and a tragedy

After watching The House of Yes on Laff.com, it left me wondering where the laughter was in this film? To me, this movie is a tragedy on two fronts and did not belong on a comedy network. After researching the title, it’s a dark comedy.

The saddest part of this movie is that no one said the word no to Jackie O, Parker Posey. It was always yes, or letting her behave the way she did. It was unclear what incident pushed her over the edge. Perhaps it was the fact that she went dressed as Jackie O on that fateful day in 1963, complete with cooked macaroni and ketchup for brains on her pink outfit, an exact replica right down to the pillbox hat and the nylons, to an Ides of March Party. The smartest thing her mother did, other than making sure the gun remained hidden, was threatening her with being readmitted to the psychiatric hospital if she did not calm down.

Granted, the bond twins were supposed to have are special, they somehow instinctively knew the other had been physically hurt or when they woke from a bad dream. The bond between these two is inappropriate because they had sexual relations after they re-enact the tragic assassination of JFK. Lesly, Tori Spelling, said it right that the above was not funny. Later, the audience realizes that her outfit offended party goers so much that they shunned her the entire evening. He tried leaving for college and his sister shot him, but he didn’t die. My problem with the final re-enactment of JFK’s assassination is how did Jackie O know where the gun was hidden or where the live ammo was?

Anthony, Freddie Prinze, Jr., was another tragic figure too. He was secretly carrying a torch for Lesly. He actually has relations with her while mother watched from the shadows. With the older sibling away at college, he is forced to leave college in order to care for his mother and sister. Unlike the older sibling, Marty, played by Josh Hamilton, he realizes the sister’s instability when someone new got introduced to the family Incidentally, Jackie O tried having him beheaded like the historical figure Marie Antoinette by using a guillotine.

The mother, Geneviève Bujold, had a secret of her own. It came out during the end of the movie. Maybe Jackie O saw what happened to her father that night he was supposed to have left. Her character was cold and calculating when dealing with Lesly. Once the secrets were revealed, including the real fate of their father, she made no effort to call the police. If I were the older sibling, carrying a spare set of keys in my pocket and a cell phone in my pocket is paramount.

At least the voice over was in this version of the movie on Laff.com

The ‘not so treasured’ moments in Rio

Now that there were only a few days left in the Summer Olympics, it was time to focus on the not so great moments. Frankly, it made me wonder whether some of the athletes weren’t ejected from competition because of their reaction. The latest incident was really disgraceful with Irish boxer, Michael Conlan, flipping off the judges.

To me, this was one of the ultimate ways to disgrace oneself other than those accused of doping. Of course, this man puts his own pro boxing career in jeopardy when he gave the Olympic judge the finger. What good did lashing out at Vladamir Putin on Social media do? Regardless of the outcome, one showed more class if they walked away without that crude gesture to the judge. The digital footprint didn’t disappear when the link was deleted.

The doping situation in the beginning of the Olympic games had both the Russia team and one person from Kenya under suspicion of using enhacing drugs to improve their performances. Lilly King wagged her finger at her Russian competitor, Yulia Efimova, because she was under suspicion. A good chunk of the Russian team didn’t get to participate because of their faild test results. Maria Sharapova was baned for two years because of her failed tests in Australia. Even though Sharapova didn’t think her punishment was fair, it fit the crime. She could have been banned for life. This was just as bad as selling and using crack, cocaine and heroin. This spilled over into the members from their country in the Para Olympic Games. That whole team got sent home. These allegations were swirling around since the Olympics in Sochi.

It was worse for Major Michael Rotich, who promised a half-day warning on those drug tests for his team for more than $1000. The monitors caught him on film, which was being investigated. Rotich went back home after he was informed of the allegations. About 40 Kenyan athletes or more failed their drug tests according to the BBC. This came after they were removed from the Anti-Doping watch list before the Rio games.

Unsportsman like content seemed rampant at Rio. For Lily King’s wagging finger at her opponent, the press called her out on it. Just because she wasn’t the one being investigated for doping, it didn’t mean she should have made that gesture to her Russian competitor. It wasn’t just this and the rude gesture the Irish boxer made. America wasn’t responsible for the Zitka Virus outbreak. I appaud U.S. Women’s Olympic Soccer player Hope Solo for ignoring that from the Rio crowd. The image she posted on Instagram didn’t help, but everyone was concerned about it.

This, at least, was not as bad as John McEnroe. I wondered how long his tantrums would be allowed until they reprimanded him for it. Not only was he ejected from the 1990 Australian open he was winning, he was fined over $6,000, for his outbursts. Another well-deserved punishment.

The crowd in Rio can be brutal though. They turned against their competitor, Argentina too when they mocked Neymar’s injury showing he had a plastic spine. What about the unacceptable behavior of the crowd when French gold medalist, Renaud Lavillenie won in the Pole Vault competition was booed by the host country again for the second time? This blogger agrees that the behavior was bad.

 

 

Sources:

Pissed Off Irish Boxer Flips The Bird At Olympic Judges, Ed Mazza, Overnight Editor, The Huffington Post, August 17, 2016

Russia is kicked out of Rio Paralympics because of widespread doping, Martin Rogers USA TODAY, Sports 11:43 a.m. EDT August 7, 2016

Head of Kenya’s track team exits Rio amid doping allegations By Roman Stubbs The Washington Post,  August 7, 2016

Argentine Fans Mock Neymar’s Injury with Chant and Plastic Spine, Soccer Gods, Fusion.net

Boo 2: Frenchman Booed Again by Olympic Home Crowd By Raf Casert, NBC NewYork, August 17, 2016

 

Gabby Douglas’ critics need to chill out!

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By hooking VCR and DVD player right, TWC tech kept 9 rating

Yesterday, was a busy moment for me. In addition to church service, there was an appointment with a Time Warner Cable technician to reboot the cable box. Some of my favorite channels were missing. Most of this didn’t bother me as long as “Doctor Who” was accessible on BBC America on Saturday night.

While my mother visited Saturday, the above channel went out and panic rose in me. Normally, one got “This channel will be available shortly Reference code $0012”, which meant the digital signal was available within seconds. That day, this message appeared on screen: “This channel will be available shortly Reference code $0011”, which was an unfamiliar code. Friday night, while watching the Hallmark Channel, this code showed up and the movie broadcast viewed by me never returned. It was still showing this code Saturday and Sunday.

Several other of my favorite channels were missing too, even on the basic tier. Some were: CN, Boom, Sprout, and Freeform, This was what prompted me to contact customer service. The attempt to reboot the cable box was unsuccessful mainly because of my inability to reach the white cable cord being handicapped and confined to a wheelchair, disconnecting it and reconnecting it after they sent a signal. Another person tried to help me by doing this a few hours later. He felt stupid when I relayed the reason for the above condition. It should’ve been in the notes.

At least they were able to get a technician out this Sunday past. Normally, they only worked on weekdays and were only available on weekends until 12 p.m. A call like mine normally got scheduled for Wednesday at the latest. Even though the church an dropped me off last, it was still in time to get the second automated message reminding me of my appointment of the technician’s arrival between two and three that afternoon.

The technician told me the signal coming into the apartment was excellent, the problem was the box. Once channels began missing it was the beginning of a dying box. It was time to get a new one. The new box was half the size of the old box and had an adapter. It took a little bit longer to boot up after the diagnostics screen was set. The tech would have left my VCR and DVD players unhooked if I hadn’t asked why those chords were left loose. Trending topics were also on television. Reviews were part of my writing. He didn’t know how to rehook them. He learned though basically because my DVD player played through my VCR The ironic thing was he did it right without messing up my settings on both. Now watching “The Peanuts Movie” was paramount. Most of the time, I fell asleep and woke up at the ending. This secured his 9 rating.

The best thing about older equipment was that it was built to last. This was one reason why switching to a high powered television and DVR wasn’t necessary at the moment. The bad news was like all equipment it needed replacement when it broke down or was no longer serviceable. My brother told me the Blue Ray player that he was to pass to me no longer played either type disc. The player also didn’t have the three prongs with the red middle that hooked to my TV either. If nothing was broken, why fix it?