A New Number and the ROM

I gotta do a happy dance, ladies and gentlemen, for two reasons.

One, my day in Toronto with the kids went beautifully.  There were a couple negatives that came out of it: I got toxed and I got hurt; and  my son didn’t realize the extent of my disabilities and it hit him hard.  The bonus of that is, now he knows.  If he wants to understand what happened on Wednesday better, he needs to come talk to me.  If he does, it won’t be so big in his head.  Mortality is big on his mind right now and I hesitate to think what he is thinking.   As for me getting toxed and hurt, well, we knew that would happen going in and prepared for it so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

The really big things were good, great things.  We laughed, talked, dove into history – dinosaurs, Canada’s native people, tattoos.  Oh, the tattoo one was so impressive.  

Check it out:  Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession.

I didn’t get very many pictures in there because there was no way to do any of it justice but this one I took because I cannot imagine the patience and talent it took to do these things.

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Aztec Princess and Zombies, Artist Unknown

Paños, Prison Handkerchiefs, were expressions of Chicano identity, one of the earliest.  Chicano is the cultural identity of Mexicans living in the U.S.  In the 50s and 60s, prisoners would tear up their sheets and draw prison experiences on them.  Prison officers started giving them white handkerchiefs.  

This particular one is from the 2000s, in California.  

Can you imagine the patience and talent it took to draw something like that?  Now imagine what it took to draw on the handkerchief?  It blows my mind.  

Something else that totally blew my mind was the Chihuly exhibit.  

Check it out here:  Chihuly

It was absolutely amazing, I can’t even begin to tell you.  If you have a chance to see an exhibit of his, take it.  We got the total ROM experience when we went and I have to tell you, it was worth the money.  

I did take some pictures, and a couple videos.  I’ll share one of the pictures, my favourite.  I loved the Persian ceiling installation and the seascape he did.  But this, the picture I took, is the very first thing you see when you walk into the exhibit.  

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Chihuly Exhibit, the ROM. 

Isn’t it fabulous??  Enormous glass balls that evoke thoughts of Christmas, planets, solar systems, the elements.  It’s an amazing exhibition by an incredibly talented man and his team.  

And a pretty awesome picture, taken by me.  That’s my son, he’s about 6’1″ (around 182.5cm), just for scale.  

And the other reason I’m so happy?

I am now a college freshman!

Amazing, eh?

I am going to challenge my poor MCS/FMS soaked brain to complete Fanshaw College’s Business program.  I am doing it online and I am having certain measures taken to allow for my disabilities so that I can actually succeed and achieve the diploma this program will give me.

Why am I doing this?  

Well, because I have a business in mind, one that has already attracted people even though I’ve not yet gone past the building an idea stage.  I think that in owning a business, one should be able to run it.  And for me, that’s a daunting task.  Learning at Fanshawe will help me do what I want to do in the best way possible.  

I am disabled but I’m not incapable and it’s high time I got that through my head, eh?😉  

I will still be writing, of course.  I’ve started editing A Year in the Life of S. Claus.  I’m going to send it in to Sterling & Stone to see if they’ll publish it.  I need at least a first edit done.

Have a great evening, folks!

Muah!

Demon Plague is LIVE!

Good morning, folks!

I am pleased to bring you the second book in my Highland Wolves series:

Demon Plague

Just look at the cover!

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I know the back is a tad difficult to read but it is readable.

Isn’t it gorgeous?  I love having vibrant, compelling covers.

I say that with zero modesty and a whack of pride.  I spent hours on it a few days ago.   Cried over it even.  

I have to tell you, even though I publish through Amazon/Kindle it is so exciting to see my books available for public consumption!

It’s a lot of hard work to get them there.  The research, planning, character development, writing, editing, editing, editing, editingformatting, cover planning and development.  I could hire someone to do the cover, I suppose, but I like seeing it come together.  

Just in the writing, it’s a huge relief to write THE END at the end of the document.  It’s a milestone but now, to see it for sale (and soon to see it in print), it’s breathtaking.  

Sure, a traditional publisher picking up my books would be wonderful, (or heartstopping) but for now, I will continue to do it this way.

You can see HW2 in print here and on Kindle here.

I hope you enjoy them!  If you missed the 5 day promotion in which HW1 and Lizendale were free on Kindle I’m so sorry but you’ll have to purchase them now.  ;)   Both books are also in print, of course, (Highland Wolves 1 can be found in print by clicking on “See all formats” or by clicking here).

You can look at all my books on my Amazon Author page.  

What’s next?

Next, I will be diving into the research for HW4 and I will be editing A Year in the Life of S. Claus.  I am seriously considering submitting it for publishing at Sterling and Stone because of a little book I read put out by them called SANTA: EXPOSED by Guy incognito.  There was a line in the book saying “what if Santa has deals with all the toy companies al over the world?” and it made me want to give them Ari.  First though, it needs at least one run through.

I will begin plotting for NaNo too, I think.  Or at least, I’ll start looking for ideas.   The YA tiger shifter is too short to do it as November’s NaNo, unless I make it a series of 2 or 3 shorts.   Something to consider.

Plus!  I have a college application in for Fanshawe’s online Business Program.   Busy busy, just the way I prefer it.  

I am out of here!  Have housework to do and some rest (it’s been a busy, toxic last week and I’m exhausted) while I plot out what’s going on over the next few months.  

Have a wonderful day!  

Muah!

 

Everyone Loves Free Books!

Good evening!

Since I will be publishing Demon Plague: The second Highland Wolves Book on August the first, I have decided to put the ebooks Witch Hitlist, the first of the series, and Lizendale, a stand alone, very dark paranormal drama up for free!

Phew, that was a long winded sentence.  Sorry about that but you get the point.

FREE BOOKS! 

Which is a good thing, right?

That, dear readers, is my gift to you.  They are for free, across Amazon/Kindle in Canada, the US and the UK.

I do want you to love the first book so that you’ll want to read the second.  And I want you to love my writing so you’ll want to read any book I write.  

I am a writer, after all.  ;)

I do hope you enjoy them because the simple fact is that I write to evoke emotions and paint pictures in my readers’ minds.  Not to make a pretty penny, that’d just be a major bonus.  

The links below are the Canadian ones.

Witch Hitlist

Lizendale

Have a wonderful night!

A Swan Song

Good evening!

I just had to share some of my favourite pictures with you.  I know that it’s been a while so I will catch you up but first, these completely and totally awesome photos.  

Last weekend, when I was in Grand Bend, I turned from the BBQ and what did I see?  

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Swans and their cygnets!

They wandered into the backyard to pick at the weeds and grass, not entirely sure why they went for a walk, they have a pond about two blocks away.  We were quite delighted to see them for the cygnets were adorable in their ugliness and the parents fierce in their protectiveness, though they were quite relaxed here.  They stayed about ten minutes before wandering off across the street.  

This summer, my daughter decided that her dog needed to live with us full time, rather than her dad, so she could train her and try and get some of her worse behaviours under control.  It’s fallen to me to walk the dog first thing in the morning, invariably just as the sun is coming up.  

So I’ve been appreciating the walks.  I get to see things that a lot of people don’t that early in the day.  We go to the same spot, because it’s easier on me to take her out on the long leash and mostly stand there (sometimes we walk, but it’s before breakfast and before my pills).  I was watching the progress of a large thistle bloom until the municipality mowed everything down on the hillside, I listen to the birds waking up and take time to look for the little things.  Which led to two of three of my most favourite pictures ever.  

 

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This snail resting on the slab of sliced off tree.

Which the dog decided to explore…

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And, thankfully, decided wasn’t food.

My third favourite picture is one I took just this evening after we dropped Girlkid off at work.  We went to the beach to take a gander at the water.  I love the beach when it’s windy and on the edge of being stormy (and when it is stormy).  The colours and movement of the water are amazing.  

The Boyfriend sat down to enjoy the view while I wandered down to the water’s edge then up the pier and around to the boardwalk.  Came up from behind him and saw a picture that had to be taken.

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It was a peaceful moment.

So, those are my favourite moments from the last little while.  

And now, time to catch up!

I decided not to write July Camp, for reasons that are my own, and chose instead to edit HW2.   I’m 43 pages from the end!  That means that it will be published, barring any unforeseen circumstances, on August 1st.  

And THAT means free books! The HW1 ebook will be made available for free for three days (maybe more, depends on mood and options *laughs*).  I will probably make Lizendale for free too.  And then I will begin the research for HW4 and the slow, painful process of editing both HW3 and A Year in the life of S. Claus.  

I don’t have the plot set for HW4 and I am hoping that the research will give me some inspiration for the rest of it.  

AND I have decided to go back to school.  Hopefully, I’ll be starting in September.  I plan on being a busy girl.  The government finally acknowledged that I AM disabled (we knew that, eh?) and that relieved so much pressure in my head, released a huge cloud of depression and anger that was hanging over me that I wasn’t even wholly aware of.  

Happy days!

Time for me to go to bed.  Have a grand night and a great weekend!

Muah!

 

A Glimpse

Welcome to the world of 19th century building remodels.  This building was built around 1895, I think.  There’s a shop downstairs and three apartments above.  My landlord doesn’t appear to care too much about it.  

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Super steep stairs no one cares about.  

 

These are how I, owner of body with a degenerating SI joint and DDD in the lower back, (AND FMS), get in and out of my home. 

They’re a challenge and I’m always up for a challenge. 

Right?  

*laughs*

And speaking of challenges, I mentioned before I am working on a brand new kind of project for me: a video blog!  

This  vlog will be me talking about living with chronic pain, as I’ve said.  It is NOT about the effects, because we know and… I’m repeating myself.  I want to help people build lives worth living and I want them to understand that they are not alone with their pain.  

I will be talking about: 

  • Acceptance.  This is forgiving; being at peace with who and what you are, what you’ve been given; and it means that you understand right here, right now, that your body is flawed, NOT YOU.  
  • A technique called Turning the Mind.  This is a technique I learned in DBT that was pivotal in helping me learn to deal with my pain.  And it was something I seemed to know instinctively.  And I will talk about DBT. 
  • Goals, dreams & a Life Worth Living.  I capitalize Life Worth Living because I think it’s extremely important.  People with chronic pain forget how to live.
  • Chronic pain.  What it is; chronic vs acute.  I will touch on the effects on sleep, family and the mind and emotional state of the one its afflicted.
  • MCS, FMS, Osteoarthritis, Nerve Damage, Degenerating Disc Disease  
  • I will talk about whatever my viewers want or need me to talk about.

The first video will be an introduction to me and why I’m an authority on these subjects.  Why I have the audacity to think I can help people.  

I want that first blog to go out on June 1st.  That’s six weeks from now.  I am working my butt off at understanding YouTube and doing the research for the first few blogs.  I can’t promise quality, given my *cough* equipment but hey, I consider the content more important than any high tech options.  

So far, I’ve had everyone I talk to about it say something along the lines of “I’d love to see that” and that gives me impetus and motivation.  

And now, I am going to give my brain a rest with daydreams and fiction.

Muah.  

Camp Day 18

Hi!

Grrrrrr   This story pissed me off.

Not being able to write at all pissed me off.

However, my brain is working on the vlog I wish to start.  So I’m going to do that.

April is NOT a good month for braining for me.  The competitions and the changes in weather really screw me over.  

As I said, I’m going to work on the vlog.  It’s going to be about living with chronic pain.  Not the effects of it; people who live with pain know that it fucks up their sleep, their lives, their relationships and their brains.  I want to talk about how to live with all that and how to build a life worth living, a life that is happy and positive and worthwhile.  I will be posting about the vlog more as it gets closer to the inaugural video.

My total word count is 26,011.  I don’t know if I can get further than that.  Maybe I’ll look at my notes and see if anything inspires me.  

I can’t even brain enough to figure out how to end the story.  This was a very weird premise to begin with.  

I am sorry to disappoint but I promise that when I write another addition to the Alphabet of Death, you’ll be the second to get a copy!

Muah!

 

Kicking Ass and Slaying BWitches

 

“What is Keraunophobia?” Josie leaned on the rake she was using and finally asked the question that had been bugging her since the Truth & Dare game they’d played the night before.  Neither of them cared that they acted like silly teenagers on a sleepover.  On the rare occasion Josie managed to get away from work and her family, they were silly teen girls.

Kate Keighley, who had been expecting the question, smiled sheepishly.  “It’s a fear of thunder and lightning.  It’s terrible, right?  Sounds like something a five year old would suffer from.  Or your dog.”  She chuckled at the large dog playfully hunting squirrels around her acre and a half.   Not that the squirrels knew Ralph wouldn’t hurt them, they didn’t know he was just enjoying the unseasonably warm early spring day.  The vegetable garden they were clearing took up a solid half of the acreage, her small cottage was tucked into the middle of her land and all around there were flowers, berry baring bushes and fruiting trees.

Josie stared at her friend of twenty years.  “Seriously?  You’re afraid of thunderstorms?”  There was none of the judgement Kate generally heard, Josie was genuinely curious.  “How come I didn’t know this?”  They’d known each other since the first day of college.

“Yeah, and because it’s humiliating.  ” Kate stopped raking out the flowerbed she was working on.  She knew there was another frost due but she wanted to uncover the spring bulbs just a little bit, so they’d have a chance to soak up the sunshine due around the side of the house in about an hour.  “There’s one due tonight.  I’m hoping to get all this done before the rain soaks the ground.  I’m sure there’s one more frost due before winter is done with us completely.”

Josie helped with enthusiasm because, when the harvesting began, she always got a share to eat and to sell.  The pair had done a ritual for Ostara the night before, thanking the God and Goddess for the return of the light and asking for blessings on their endeavours over the next few months.  They were each solitary witches but they liked to do the Quarter rituals – the Equinoxes and Solstices – together.  Ostara and the Spring Equinox are closely tied and they combined the rituals with the rise of the full moon.

Later, long after Josie had gone, and they had made a date to go hiking in the woods nearby, and the moon had risen on its third night of being full, Kate stood skyclad in her backyard.  A small fire burned brightly, warming her naked body from the front as the mists cooled her from the back.  She lifted her arms and called her prayer and spell out to the sky.

“I call to thee, the Sisters Three –

Badb, Macha, and the Morrígan.

Strength I need, the power I seek

To guide the seed, the plant, the fruit.

 

I do not do it all for me

For families in need and Sister Josie.

Grant me what I ask

For me, for three, for charity.

 

For what I sow, what I reap

I shall not all keep.

I beg of Thee, bless the

Till and toil, the seed, the soil.

So I will it, so mote it be!”

Energy surged through Kate’s palms, down her arms and through her chakras, making her gasp and writhe with pleasure.  She stood there a moment longer until thunder rolled in the distance.  She barely contained the shriek that rose to her lips and studied the sky.  It was clear as far as she could see so she relaxed and took it as a sign.  It was the first time she’d ever asked for help like that but the lands around her, including the garden, had taken a hard with the shifts in weather and she wanted to ensure the plethora of fruits and vegetables she was used to.

Her garden did indeed grow.  She had staggered the growing of plants such as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, forcing the first wave to bloom and fruit early.  She preserved much of it, shared with Josie all that she could take then after keeping some, she sold most, both preserved and fresh, and gave whatever was left after the farmer’s market each weekend to a battered woman’s shelter.

Harvest came and she and Josie cleaned the plots of the last of the growth and performed their Mabon ritual, thanking the God and Goddess for all that was given.  Later, Kate again had a bonfire, this time she thanked Badb, Macha, and the Morrígan for their aid, though she somehow managed to take almost all the credit.

The Morrígan stood on the edge of Kate’s property as Nemain, Badb and Macha.  “The wee girl thinks to take the whole of the credit for her bounty this year. Reckless human.  How dare she?”  Nemain lifted a hand to punish but Badb laid a hand on her wrist.

“Hold, Nemain.  Wait until the harvest next.”

Nemain stared at her sister.  The sister who encouraged confusion and fear in battle, the one who encouraged battle.  “Badb?”

“She is high on her success.  Give her a year.  She pays us tribute and has been loyal thus far. Even if she does not share her worship with the one she calls sister, she is still worthy of our patience.”

Macha nodded in agreement.  “Aye, Sister, let her be.  For now.”

So the sisters faded away.

The next year went on as this one had.  And if, during the second half of the season, thunder rolled more often in a clear sky, the crops were still abundant.  Once more, Kate stood under the Mabon moon, skyclad before a fire, as was her wont.  She spoke conversationally to the triple Goddesses.

“I thank Thee, Babd, Macha and the Morrígan for bestowing such blessings upon me!  My magic, my abilities and affinity for the earth, gave us so much we could barely keep up.  It was wonderful.  The larders here and at Josie’s are full, the shelters and food banks are happy.  I am so glad to be such a powerful witch!”

Nemain growled and even Babd, who felt that there was a time and place for battle, was furious.  But it was Macha, the goddess of war and sovereignty, who held them back.  “There is a time and a place,” she reminded them.  “There are better strategies and ways to teach a lesson than merely smiting her where she stands.”

After a moment, the sister grinned at each other in dark delight and once again faded away.

It was nearing the end of July and Kate stood with her friend and stared at the garden.  “I don’t understand it.  The last two years of have been so lush, what’s with this mess?”

Josie took in the thin, scraggly plants that each held only a few, tiny vegetables, and the choking weeds and shrugged helplessly.  “I don’t know, Kate.  It’s so weird.”

“I’ve tried so hard to keep up with the weeds but they’re still…” she waved a hand.  “Look at them!  It’s impossible.  I swear, every time I pull out a seedling weed, two spring up full grown in its place.  It’s like, well, magic.”

“Did you piss Someone off?”

“I don’t think so.  I have left offerings and thanks and the Solstice went off without a hitch.”

Josie nodded, remembering.  They’d had a little too much wine and, well, it was a good thing her husband was familiar with and accepting of the depth of her relationship with Kate. “I don’t know… It kind of looks like you did.”

“Lammas is coming up in a couple days, maybe I can make things right.”  She paced, thinking.  “There’s a weed killer potion I could try too.  I’ll need to go up the mountain for some of the ingredients.”

“I think Dale will let me out tomorrow.  He’s home with his friends tomorrow, watching baseball.  He and some of them are betting on one of the teams while the other half are betting on the other.  Or something like that.”  Josie grinned.  “If I make them enough food, I could probably stay the night to help you prepare.”

“Oh that would be great.  Meet here at ten?”  When Josie agreed, Kate looped her arm through her friend’s and walked her back to the car.  “If you need any help with the cooking, let me know.”

She paused as a thought popped into her head.  “I have a jar of those pickled cherries Dale likes so much.  And I’ll even give him a jar of pickled cherry tomatoes.”

“Oh, now he’ll now you’re bribing him but he’ll love it.  They love those pickled cherry tomatoes on sliders.”  Josie grinned as she opened her car door.  She leaned forward and kissed her friend smack on the lips.  “I’ll see you tomorrow at ten.”

That night and next morning, Kate checked the weather forecast carefully.  She checked the government site and her own weather radars, placed on the mountain near here where she took her hikes, and found that there were no storms due for several days.  She sagged with relief for she would not go out if there was even a hint of rain in the schedule for the next twelve hours.

At 9:45, as she was packing water, snacks, and the containers and bags she needed for collection in a bag she got a call from Josie.

“What’s up, buttercup?  Shouldn’t you be leaving?”

“DJ started puking suddenly an hour ago.  She’s complaining of a pain in her side and her temperature is up.  Her appendix looks about to burst to me and nothing I am doing is going to stop it.  We’re on the way to the hospital.”

“Okay, Jos, I’ll come down as soon as I get the things I need.”

“You shouldn’t go alone!  You know that I hate it when you do.”

“I have a spare battery and GPS messenger beacon, like I always do.”   There were the sounds of vomiting and whimpering in the back.  “Bye, Josie.  Love you all.”  She hung up, knowing Josie had forgotten her.

Kate drove up to the national park and waved her membership card at the gate’s sensor.  It opened and she drove on up to her favourite parking spot.  Opening her door, she exchanged her running shoes for hiking boots then stood up and applied her favourite, homemade bug repellant.  She’d have to apply it again once she sweated it off, but she figured that didn’t matter for commercial, chemical laden sprays were far worse for their ability to cling to your skin through the sweat of the day.

Her backpack was strapped on, belt around her waist and all.  It was a little heavy but it’d lighten up as she drank the water.  Of course, she’d only fill it up again with her collections.  The padded metal frame rose above her head with a light sleeping bag attached to it.  She grabbed her favoured cedar walking stick and locked up her car.

Something rumbled in the distance and she looked up sharply as she suppressed the slight shudder of fear.  The sky was clear and bright.  She double checked the radar app on her phone and there wasn’t a storm or even a cloud in sight.

Kate shrugged, decided it must be a truck in the distance, and set off on her hike.

Again and again she heard the rumbles of thunder.  Again and again, she checked her app.

Suddenly, the sun dappled woods became dark and heavily oppressive.  Kate looked up and screamed.  The sound was short and cut off abruptly.  She gave a shaky laugh. “It’s ridiculous.  There was nothing on the radar.  It can’t be about to storm.”  She stared up at the clouds with a mutinous expression.  “You are not real.”

A fat rain drop hit her right between the eyes as lightning lit up the woods so bright Kate was seeing spots whether her eyes were open or closed.  Thunder ripped through the woods, so loud it tore through her skull from one ear to the other and she felt it in her bones.

Kate screamed in fear and crouched, her arms wrapped around her head.   She stayed like that, shivering and tense with anticipation until she realized that her eyelids were red with light.   Opening one eye cautiously, Kate was shocked to see that the sun was out and there was no storm cloud overhead, no evidence that there’d ever been one.

“I need to eat something, obviously.”  She found a log and sat down on it after removing her pack.  She pulled out a bottle of water and a bag of homemade trail mix.

After a brief rest, she set out again, looking for a specific plant she knew was on her trail.  Lightning suddenly forked out of the sky and struck a tree several yards in front of her.   The tree exploded and with the light having blinded her she wasn’t able to duck as splinters and shards of the tree came flying at her.  Small bits struck her face, embedding themselves under several layers of skin.

One thick piece stabbed her in the thigh and knocked her to her knees.  Kate cried out as she fell.

 

And the Morrigan continued to torment Kate until she was driven near mad. 

Camp Day 13

Good afternoon!  

This month is very difficult for writing for me but I’m a little bit ahead of schedule.  The stats on campnanowrimo.org say I have to write 1458 words a day to hit 50k on the 30th.  

Technically, that’s ahead (it takes 1667 from day 1 to day 30) but to me it’s behind.  I like 2k a day so I should be at 26k, not at almost 24.  

Oh well.  I have to work with the way I feel.  

I am trying to push through though because of the project I am working on.  In order to complete the weekly pieces on schedule, I will have to work regardless of how I feel quite often.  

James is 2480 words so I will get to letting you read.  I am going to scrub off the heebie jeebies. 

Enjoy!  

Muah!

Japanese Game of Justice

The sign almost said JAMES JOSEPHSON.  It said JAMS JOSFSON and the Japanese man holding it was smiling large and nodding hopefully at every well-built male he saw.

James, the guy in question, ambled through the arrival gate and started looking for his ride.  He found the sign and approached the driver.  “Konichiwa!” James said cheerfully.  He was quite happy to be a contestant on this game show that Japan was for.  The prize was ¥500 million, which was about $4.3 million US dollars, and it was totally tax free.

The man with the sign looked James up and down and stifled a sigh.  This man was not what he expected, but then, he had not been told what to expect, just that he was to pick up a contestant for the show.  He had done this before and the contestants had always looked like athletes.  This one looked like he ate too many American cheeseburgers and sat around on his ass. “This way,” he said in heavily accented English and a barely there bow.  He left James to bring his own bag.

Adjusting his grip a little bit with a barely muffled derogatory comment on the service, James followed the man out to the parking lot. He hoped there was a limo to take him to the studio.  The car was tiny, a boxy little Japanese wagon, and James barely managed to squeeze his 6’2” self into the back seat.  He finds a tray with a selection of bottled drinks and packaged snacks on the seat next to his.

“Eat, eat!” His driver says.

James woke up some time later, naked and shivering, and crammed into a cage.  All around him were other cages, all containing other people, equally naked, cold and pissed off.  Each cage was about twenty inches square, they were bolted to the floor, and there was no space between them.  There were rows and rows of cages.  He estimated that there were ten cages in his row and ten rows in the …cave? “What…what are we doing here?”  James spoke through chattering teeth.  “I thought…”

“Yeah, we all thought.” A man closest to him on the left sneered at him.  “What did you do to earn this?”

“What do you mean?” James asked with confusion.

“I mean that all of us are crooks, cons and, like in her case,” he pointed, “killers.  What is your dark, dirty secret?”

James shrank back against the bars of his cage.  “I…I… I don’t know what you mean.  I play contests, that’s all.  I win a lot but I’ve never hurt anyone.”

“I play contests, that’s all,” someone else mocked.

“Bullshit. You’ve done something.”  The woman to his right came close and pressed her face between the bars.  It mangled her features and she glared at him with her eyes bugging out and her mouth stretched over her teeth.  “I know a killer when I see one, asshole, and you are a killer.”

“I am not!” He nicknamed her Jane, because he was lacking in imagination.

She reached across the space between them and jabbed him with her finger.  “You are!  I can see it in you.  What a clever little psychopath you are.  Hiding, hiding behind your games, cheating whenever you can.  Lying little asshole.”

“You don’t know anything about me!” he cried.

The first speaker stabbed him in the back with his finger.  “Lying bastard! You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t hurt someone somewhere.”

“Ouch!” James jumped away.  He decided to call that guy Stabby Joe.  “How do you know that?  What do you know?”

“There’s a Jap over there that speaks English.  He heard them talking.  We are the scum of the earth, our captors think, and they were hired to punish each of us.  If we make it to the end, we earn our freedom.”

James’s eyes hardened and he snarled.  “Then I guess I’ll have to kill you all, just like that little half Jap bitch Tahlia in high school.”

Jane crowed gleefully.  “Oh-ho!  I knew it!  I knew you were a killer!”  Freezing water suddenly pelted them from sprinklers above them and they all screamed in shock.  She turned her face up to it and closed her eyes.  “Drink, asshole.  It’s the only water you’ll get today.”

James reluctantly did as she told him to and tipped his head back.  The water wet his dry throat and he gulped it down. The water shut off before his thirst was slaked.  He smacked his lips then noticed his mouth was a little slimy and there was an acrid taste left behind.  “What the hell?”

“Oh, just wait, newbie.  It gets better.”  Someone shouted.

A few minutes later, his gut cramped.  Hard.  He doubled over, as best he could in his small box, and wrapped his arms around his middle. He swore loudly as the cramping turned into convulsions in the lower intestines.  “No, no, no” he moaned.

His neighbours laughed between their own convulsions.  It wasn’t their first time and wouldn’t be as intense as what James is about to go through.  He cursed them as he tried not to shit himself.  The convulsions worsened and he squatted.

The moans and groans of pain echoed in the room, warring with the drips landing in the puddles.  James tried and tried but he couldn’t help it and his bowels evacuated themselves brutally, in a messy, chunky stream of liquid.

“Ha, ha!” crowed Stabby Joe gleefully, even as his own bowels let go.  “Serves you right.”

Suddenly the lights went out and came back on.  A hush settled over the prisoners.

“What’s going on?” James whispered.

“Shut up!” Jane hissed.

Someone screamed at them in Japanese and the few people who understood it stuck their arms between the bars, cramming them both through the same space.  Others followed suit and two men pushed a trolley between the rows.  The trolley held a large pile of steel manacles.  He cuffed each prisoner.

James struggled and the man grabbed his thumb.  He bent the thumb back toward James’s elbow and James screamed as he was driven to his knees.  The manacles were snapped around his wrist.  The next three people to James’s left were given the same treatment.  Every time someone fought the restraints the following three people were hurt as well.

When the man was done, several others lined up at both ends of each row of cages.  Each person was sexless and faceless behind heavily padded black leather jackets and pants, leather gloves and black motorcycle helmets with deeply tinted face masks.   They carried cattle prods.  James shuddered as he stared at them.  One turned to face him and the dim overhead lights reflected in their face mask, giving the impression of eyes.

There was more screaming of incomprehensible words and a loud buzzing echoed through the cave.  The doors of the cages swung open and the prisoners surged forward.  Most of them took a second to stretch, revelling the small freedom.  They were yelled at again and the doors began to sing closed.  Everyone moved out of the way then, once the doors were closed, they were prodded out one end of the row, one row at a time.  They were led and followed by the faceless people.  There were others watching over the groups and they made their role clear as the group emerged into the bright, blinding light of day.

As sunlight pierced James’s pupils someone made a run for it.  There was the sound of a shotgun being racked and then the boom of the firing.  A thud of the body landing on the ground was followed by silence.  James decided to let these events play out.

They were herded to a field, guided by a few zaps of the cattle prods and then several prisoners were shoved to their knees on the damp ground until the others got the hint and knelt on their own.  Tents lined one side of the field and a large wall of fabric stretched across the end the prisoners faced. Solid, wood, scaffold-like towers stood at each corner with armed gunmen standing in each.  Bleachers lined the side opposite the tents and the final edge of the field held

Several small, very old women scrambled among the prisoners, shoving small wooden bowls of soupy rice at each person.  James stared at the contents of his bowl, trying to figure out the contents.  Chunks of white, fibrous vegetable and a brown stringy meat.  “I’m not eating this,” he said, setting his bowl on the ground.

“Suit yourself,” Jane said as she reached for the bowl.  Stabby Joe beat her to it and she screamed wordlessly at him and launched herself at him.  Gunshots boomed again and those with cattle prods rushed in.  Jane subsided, returning to her own seat with her hands over her head and her eyes lowered to the ground.  “Okay.  Okay.  I’m sorry.  I’m good.”

They halted, the cattle prods less than an inch from her skin for a long moment then pulled back and marched out of the crowd.  Jane sagged with relief then glared at Stabby Joe.  “I will get you.”

“Not if I get you first, skank.  And when I do, I’ll make sure your last act in this world is to get choked out while I fuck you.”  He grabbed his genitals and shook them in her direction with an over-the-top moan of pleasure.

She flipped him the bird while James looked at her appraisingly.  Yeah.  He could do that.

A moment later, two men got up on one of the towers by the long stretch of fabric.  They both had megaphones.  One spoke in Japanese and the other followed in English.  “You have ten tasks to complete to get to the castle.  If you survive the castle, you will earn your freedom!”

More Japanese then more English.  “This is a fight to the death!  You are all criminals.  All have one goal: survival with a clean slate.   If you win, you can go anywhere in the world and begin a new life.”

“What about the money?” James wondered aloud.

“Money?” Stabby Joe laughed.  “You thought that was real?”

James was crushed.

“On your feet!” the English speaker screamed at them.

The prisoners surged to their feet and pressed forward.  As they were jostled and crowded, Stabby Joe spoke hurriedly to James and Jane.  “If we work together, we can get to the castle.  From there, it’ll be each to his own.  Deal?”

“Deal!” James and Jane said together seconds before a horn sounded.  The four rows in front of them started running while the five behind them forced them forward.

James ran for it, swearing because his hands were still manacled together.  The three of them ran, stumbled, slipped through the mud.  There were already dead and dying bodies littering the ground.

They fought their way through the ten challenges, killing more than two dozen people between them.  Injured, they finally stood in the castle courtyard.  James had a broken rib that shifted every time he took a deep breath.  One wrist was sprained, two fingers were broken and he had several deep bruises forming, including the one that covered half his face and forced his eye half shut.  He thought he probably had a crack in his cheekbone.

Jane grinned savagely at him.  “We did it!”

“Yes, we did.”  James grinned back.

“And now, you’re on your own.  And your ass is mine, slut.”  Stabby Joe leered at Jane.

“I’ll rip your dick off with my cunt,” Jane snarled at him.

Guards with semi-automatic rifles stood in a circle around them to protect the medics who went through patching them up, though only just enough to stabilize broken fingers and stop the bleeding one all three of them.  They were given water and food.  And through this, all around them, people cheered and shouted at them.  TV cameras caught every expression and high powered microphones heard every word.  Viewers present and around the world placed bets on the winner.

“There are three more tasks inside the castle!” The words came over the loudspeaker.  “Only one can survive!”  The audience screamed in delight and encouragement.

James thought castle was too grand a word for the big boxy building.  It was two storeys, stacked like a cake that had one layer smaller than the other.  There were barred windows cut into the cement block walls and no other doors.  More guards paced the walkway on top of the first storey.  Three jumbo screens on the top of the building showed their faces to the people in the stands.

James, Jane and Stabby Joe were dragged forward and positioned in front of the three entrances at the base of the castle.  The voice over the loudspeaker counted down from ten with the help of the screaming crowd and the three contestants were shoved into the rooms.  The doors dropped down behind them with a bang.

James immediately turned around and felt all over the door, looking for a way to open it.  There was nothing. He couldn’t hear the outside anymore either; he couldn’t hear anything at all.

With sliding steps and his hands straight out in front of his face, he started forward.  Three steps in something skittered over his foot.  James shuddered and stifled a scream.  “A bug,” he muttered.  “That’s all.  It can’t hurt me.”  He repeated the mantra, willing himself to not panic.  He took two more steps and heard a whisper of sound.  It sounded like a screen being pulled to one side.  James strained to hear anything, anything at all.

A moment later, he heard it.

In the dead silence of the room, it sounded like whispers or silk sliding on silk.  For a moment he entertained romantic notions of a sexy, scantily clad woman, waiting to touch him.  Then reality hit him.

Or, rather, bit him.

Something sharp stabbed him on the top of the foot.  It felt like a bee sting.

And again on his ankle.

James felt tiny feet clinging to the hairs on his legs, crawling up his body.  A wave of multi-legged creatures swarmed over him.  He tried swiping them off and they clung to his hands.  He felt tiny strands of silk sticking to his fingers and screamed.

The sound seemed to embolden the spiders more and hundreds of them rose up his body in a tidal wave of legs and bites.

He screamed again and they climbed in his open mouth.  They bit him everywhere they touched him.   The pain and venom from the sheer number of bites drove him to his knees and eventually to all fours before he was finally laying on the floor.  The spiders continued to bite without mercy as the audience outside screamed their delight at his death.