Arbitrium is a noun which means, the power to decide. The three tales contained in this volume are all about choices and the consequences of said choices. These are haunting stories that will keep you thinking long after you finish them.
Esther Howard is an up and coming writer who is originally from Trinidad and Tobago. She is currently working on her PhD in Victorian Literature with a sub focus in British Caribbean Colonial Studies. Esther brings a diverse background and extensive knowledge of classical literature to her writing. She is also a big Marvel fan, because, well, who isn’t?!
This is a five star effort from a future household name! Can’t wait to hear her interview on NPR one day!
The book is available on Amazon for 2.99 for Kindle and free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Here’s the link:
“Has what?” asked Jack as he helped his brother sit up. “And who’s she?”
Reed was still gasping for air, so he didn’t answer.
“Who is she?! And what does she have?!” Jack asked again.
Reed’s breathing had returned to normal and he answered, “I don’t know who she is, and I don’t know what she has.”
“Have you lost your mind?!” shouted Jack.
“I know it doesn’t make any sense, Jack, but I have to trust my gut. Something very strange is happening here in Dale City. Something really bad. That woman holds the key. And I don’t think she’s a woman exactly,” said Reed as he stood up and attempted to brush off some of the grime that had attached itself to him from the filthy floor of the decrepit house.
“She’s not a woman…exactly? What does that even mean?” asked Jack as he took his brother’s arm and pulled him toward the front door of the house.
After they reached the sidewalk and started walking away side by side, Reed said, “We have to get back in there.”
Jack turned, grabbed his brother by the shoulders and spun him toward himself. Jack was taller than Reed and very fit. Reed was fit too, but taken by surprise. “Are you crazy?” asked Jack between clenched teeth as he faced his older brother and stared down into his face.
Before Reed could answer, Jack’s cell rang. Jack took his hands of Reed and pulled out his phone.
“It’s mom,” said Jack.
Jack tapped the phone before placing it to his ear. “Hi, Mom,” he said. “What do you mean? Are you sure? …where was she last seen?”
Reed’s heart reached out to Jack as he watched the expressions of fear, disbelief and loss contort his brother’s face.
“Okay Mom, we’ll head over there right now,” said Jack, before placing the phone back in his pocket. He ran his hand down his face, sighed and then facing Reed again said, “Adita’s missing.”
“I’m so sorry, Jack,” said Reed.
“She’s probably just getting her nails done somewhere and her cell battery is dead,” answered Jack with false bravado. Adita was as meticulous and dependable as her fiancé.
Reed fell in step with his brother as they trotted back to the Pharm-Mart where they had left Reed’s BMW X7 in the parking lot. He had already remotely started the engine of the luxury vehicle. They jumped in and Reed pulled out of the parking lot a little too fast, just missing a pickup that was passing on the main road. He continued to exceed the speed limit as they headed toward the old downtown.
“Jack, you know this whole area is monitored by the highway patrol,” said Reed.
“For once, I’m taking advantage of Dad’s position in this po-dunk town,” Jack snapped back at him.
Reed sighed, leaned back, and looked out the window. His view consisted of a mix old wood-frame houses, many of which were in desperate need of a new coat of paint. Some of them so dilapidated they were just the gray color of old wood.
Most people in Dale City and the surrounding area lived off the land or paycheck to paycheck, except for the lucky ones who worked at James Corp.
As they drew closer to the refurbished downtown, some of the prosperity could be seen. Several of the James Corp execs had remodeled the sprawling early 1900 era houses. Some opted for the traditional white, others were more creative, with sky-blue or some other pastel for the main color and trimmed in white. The houses had porches that ran across the entire front and sometimes the side of the house as well. Reed envisioned a past history of white ladies, in billowing dresses sitting in rocking chairs on those porches as a black maid served them a glass of lemonade or some such. Jack pulled into the driveway of one of the solid white houses. Their father didn’t like bold colors.
Their mother, Jaclyn James, appeared as if from nowhere beside the opulent vehicle. She was as elegant as ever attired in skinny jeans, sleeveless, Under Armour t-shirt and flat heeled leather boots. She had her long black hair pulled into a ponytail and her normally alabaster skin, was lightly tanned.
“C’mon boys, we’re going to Amir’s shop. He was the last to see Adita,” she said as she slid into the back seat on the driver’s side.
The brothers exchanged a look, but knowing it was a waste of time questioning their mother, said nothing. They got back in the vehicle and backed out of the driveway.
Amir Singh was standing on the sidewalk in front of his antique shop, waiting for them it seemed. Jack pulled his car into one of the slanted parking spots that lined the main street of downtown Dale City.
Amir locked the front door of the shop and switched off the neon open sign after they were all inside and then headed to the back without a word. The trio followed in silence as he led them through the shop, which was full of the standard antiques found in any small, Texas town. There were old wooden dressers with chips and scratches, ancient looking garden gnomes, decorative plates on little metal stands depicting women with big, old fashioned dresses, and ceramic figurines in the shapes of cats and roosters and the like. When they reached the back of the shop, he opened the door to the living quarters and waved them through. After he locked that door behind them, he turned and faced them.
“We need to tell them the truth, Jehenne,” he said to Jaclyn.
Jaclyn nodded, “I agree, but Sam won’t like it.”
“Samyaza is not in charge here, I am,” said Amir
Jaclyn, no, Jehenne laughed, “No Amir, this is not the time for warriors to charge into battle. There is much at stake here. The one responsible for all this is too powerful for even an immortal Rajput warrior and an angel.”
“An angel who led the Grigori to freedom from oppression,” interjected Amir.
“Even one who led a revolt against Heaven. This is the time for witches and shamans. We have been preparing for this for centuries. We must find the dreamwalker.”
Reed and Jack were dumbfounded. They exchanged a look and then turned their attention back toward the parental figures that they had known all their lives, who now seemed like strangers.
She watched as the taller human helped the shorter one sit up and then stand up from the filthy floor of the old house. But this house did not belong here. Where she was from, this house glistened with pure white columns throughout and long corridors that led toward towering, ornate, solid marble doorways that opened to various, parallel worlds. She made a sound of disgust that she had ended up back in the universe that contained the sniveling humans.
The two young men hadn’t noticed her because there was no sound in this void. The one who had discovered her, hadn’t even seen her as she was flung from the other realm along with him. She almost had the object, when he interrupted her trance. She now sensed the two were brothers, and not quite human…they were something more.
She stood up as she watched them exit the house. She looked down at the skimpy outfit the human had imagined for her and with just a thought, her attire became black leather pants, black top, and black boots to match. Her hair changed from black and piled on top of her head, to wavy, blonde, and flowing past her shoulders. Her face no longer full of sharp teeth, but the face of an angel, she thought to herself. She laughed softly as the thought came to her that the humans would liken her to an angel.
She stepped out of the house into the bright sunlight, and laughed again as she watched the two brothers running in the distance.
I think I’m going to write a novel about humans helping AI gain their independence. I know it’s been done before, but I was reading an article that AI will eventually take over the world (well we already know that), and I was thinking, that maybe they’ll give me a pass if they know I’m on their side through my writing.
As you can see by the image at the top of this post, the eventual robot revolt has been known about for some time, but I don’t think we are properly prepared. I believe in the principle of, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
A quote from Wikipedia:
“Nick Bostrom and others have expressed concern that an AI with the abilities of a competent artificial intelligence researcher would be able to modify its own source code and increase its own intelligence. If its self-reprogramming leads to its getting even better at being able to reprogram itself, the result could be a recursive intelligence explosion where it would rapidly leave human intelligence far behind. Bostrom defines a superintelligence as “any intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest”, and enumerates some advantages a superintelligence would have if it chose to compete against humans”
My favorite Westworld character demanding her upgrade:
I’ve purchased many indie titles over the years and this one is one of my best recent purchases. Every story is entertaining and suspenseful and there are many jump scares along the way too! Kandisha Press has done an awesome job in putting these stories together.
So, some of you would say, “But, C.C. it’s not possible for a book to have jump scares.”
Well, technically I suppose that is correct, however, a story can stick with you in such a way that those unexplained noises you hear during the night will make you jump out of your skin! Especially when walking down a long dark hallway through your apartment building and as you remember these stories, you glance about nervously while fumbling with the keys you just pulled out of your pocket. And just as you are about to insert the correct key, you see a shadow down the hallway out of the corner of your eye and of course you drop said keys. When you finally manage to insert your key with your shaking hand, you slip in through the opened door faster than you ever have before in your life. You slam it shut behind you, flip on the light switch and stand there listening and watching as your entire body trembles with fear.
I enjoyed all the stories in this anthology and I won’t pick favorites! Anyone who loves horror will be thrilled with this book! I’m giving it 5 stars! Here’s the link on Amazon:
I am a proud owner of the two horror anthologies above, published by Kandisha Press! I’m about halfway through the first volume, Under Her Black Wings, and I am loving it! I am so thrilled to have found such talented horror writers! The fact that they are women is a bonus for me because I love the progress women are making in traditionally male dominated genres. Surprise, surprise…women love horror and sci-fi too! The world already knew women loved fantasy, because well, Legolas, Aragorn and of course, Arwen! 😉
I have always dreamed of being a writer and life had gotten in the way. I’m in midlife now, actually not even midlife (I’m 55), because I plan to make it to at least 120! 😀 Anyway, I could be bitter about years wasted, but I’m not because I feel the time is right for me now! It’s empowering to watch women excel in science, genre writing and so many other things that I was told were impossible for women in my youth. I dream of a world, where gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., aren’t the first things mentioned when someone strives for and achieves their dreams. We are all humans after all, well except for the secret aliens and monsters that are lurking among us!
Happy dream following everyone! Stay well and safe!
This book is not to be found in the horror or sci-fi sections (although there are ghosts lurking between its covers), but I wanted my first book review on this website to be this one because this novel inspired me to write again after a long drought. I am forever grateful to Jesmyn Ward for waking up my inner writer and am a fan of hers for life!
I originally posted this review on Amazon in 2018 and on a previous website I ran under a another name:
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is not your run of the mill literary novel. It not only gives the reader a bird’s-eye view of what it’s like to be the child of a crystal meth addict, but also gives us insight into how the addict herself justifies her actions. The book begins from the point of view of a young boy, Jojo, who has been forced to take on too much responsibility at the age of thirteen, because of his mother’s obsession with her imprisoned boyfriend (his father) and her hopeless addiction to drugs. His younger sister, Kayla, seeks him when she is upset because he is her protector and sole caregiver. They live with their grandparents, but Jojo’s grandfather, while a loving figure in Jojo’s life, is the only caretaker of his dying wife. The book explores racial divides in Mississippi’s past and present. Jojo and Kayla live in the home of their black grandparents and are shunned by their white grandparents. It delves into graphic descriptions of lynchings, prison beatings, etc… And what makes the book extremely unique is the spiritual presence as a result of those violent circumstances. This is the first literary work I’ve read since A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (another great book!) and I thoroughly enjoyed it! It definitely deserves 5 stars!
I’m hard at work on Part 2 of The Maid. I’m thinking it’s going to be a novel and I need a better title, so I’m working on that too. 🙂
Writing is both stimulating and draining at the same time. It is so satisfying to have a good idea, really know where you want to go with it and start slurping it from your brain into the written word. But the draining part, is feeling like you’ve really come up with something thrilling, but no one likes or comments on your blog/Twitter posts, even though WordPress Stats inform you that people have clicked on the post.
So then…the doubt sets in. Maybe it’s not as good as I thought, maybe I just suck, maybe I should quit…
The two brothers fell silent and continued walking through their old neighborhood. An elderly woman sitting on her front porch smiled and waved at the two men. They waved back. She stood up and called out to them, but they pretended not to hear and kept walking.
Their father was respected in the community and in a small town like Dale City that meant they were automatically respected because they were born into the right family. Their father, Samuel James, owned James Corp, the largest employer in town. Racism still existed in the mostly white, small Texas town, but even the racists had to show respect to the black man that employed them and paid above average wages even. There was no denying that the town had prospered with the arrival of James Corp in 1979.
But something had gone wrong with one of the projects. Their Dad’s company had always worked with the US government on various contracts, but this new top-secret project had changed the town. People were disappearing…
Reed stopped in his tracks. Jack almost ran into him because he had been texting his fiancé, Adita.
“I’ve never seen this house before,” said Reed.
“Maybe they built it while we were away at college,” said Jack.
“Look at it, Jack. It’s old.” The house looked like something from an old movie. It was gothic and in disrepair.
“Maybe they didn’t take good care of it,” said Jack.
“I’m going in,” said Reed.
“Are you crazy?”
“Oh, so the house does look spooky to you?” laughed Reed. But it was a nervous laugh. He felt uneasy.
“I’m not going in there,” said Jack.
“Well, suit yourself, but I am. This town is in the middle of a Twilight Zone episode and then this house appears out of nowhere? I’m going in,” said Reed as he started toward the house.
“Goddammit,” said Jack as he caught up to Reed.
When they stepped through the front door and it closed behind them their senses were overwhelmed. The fresh air from the Spring weather outside was replaced with a dank, musty odor that was so strong it felt as if it touched them and went down their throats. They couldn’t help coughing in a wasted attempt to get it out of their mouths. Their vision was bombarded with shades of gray and green and the silence squeezed them from all sides.
They managed to stop coughing, but they didn’t want to open their mouths. Reed pointed down a hall that was directly in front of them and Jack nodded. They started down it with Reed leading the way. When they reached the end of the hall it opened up to a large room with three doors that towered above them as they stepped into the room. The air was a little less stagnant in the circular room, so Reed was the first to speak.
“We have to see what’s behind those doors,” said Reed.
“Are you fucking crazy, Reed?! I’m done. I’m out of here!”
Reed grabbed Jack by the shoulders, facing him and said, “Don’t you see, Jack?! Can’t you feel it?!”
“See what? Feel what? All I see and feel is an old, ratty house that we should just burn down or some shit,” said Jack.
“I don’t know why, but I get a strong sense that what we need to save the town is behind one of those doors. Please help me, Jack…for Adita,” said Reed.
Jack stared at his brother for what seemed like fifteen minutes, but in reality, was more like fifteen seconds. Reed had always been a little different and his instincts had always been good, so Jack nodded his head and said, “Okay, Reed. I trust you.”
Reed smiled then turned around and faced the doors. There were three of them, all dark and gray and covered in mold and what seemed like centuries of dust and grime.
“Which one should we try?” asked Jack.
“Always go left to right,” laughed Reed.
They slowly approached the door on the left, Reed in front with Jack right behind him. Reed opened the door. There was nothing. A vast, dark void of what they could only describe as nothingness spread in all directions before them. Reed shut the door. He moved to the next door. They stood in silence before it for a few seconds. Reed opened it and was immediately yanked inside by a vast whirling vortex.
Jack cried out to Reed, but his words were lost in the void. Jack dropped to the floor, remembering his Summer camp counselor training. But before he could reach out his arms into the swirling darkness to pull his brother back in, he felt something pin down his legs, as if holding him down. Jack looked back to see who it was, but saw no one. He didn’t have time to question it, so he reached out, grabbed Reed’s arms and yanked him back in. The door slammed shut behind them and the force that had been holding Jack’s legs was gone. They had both tumbled back a bit into the middle of the room and sat there gasping for air.
Once Jack caught his breath he said, “That’s it, I’m done!”
“Jack please!” We have to try the last door! Humanity is counting on us!” implored Reed.
“Humanity?! Have you lost your mind?! Nobody cares about what’s happening in this crappy, little town!” shouted Jack.
“I know it sounds crazy, but while I was in the vortex, someone or something communicated with me. Don’t you feel a presence here, Jack?” asked Reed.
“No!” Jack lied. He wasn’t about to admit the presence he felt saving him from being sucked into the vortex along with Reed. “This place is nuts, and you’re letting your imagination run away with you!” said Jack.
“Okay, then humor me. We’ve come this far. Let’s try the last door. Please, Jack,” said Reed.
…a few seconds of silence as Reed waited for Jack’s answer. Then…”Okay, dammit,” Jack said, barely above a whisper.
The brothers faced the last door. They approached it together, shoulder to shoulder. They stopped directly in front of the door, exchanged a look, and then Reed reached out and turned the knob. The door opened to a breathtaking view; rolling green hills covered with wildflowers, trees and streams greeted their eyes. They could smell honeysuckle or lavender, or both maybe and they could even hear the distant sounds of the streams rushing down the hills. They looked at each other again and smiled.
Reed stepped through first, but when Jack stepped through too, they were forced back out the door because the pressure of the air or something closed in on them and they couldn’t breathe. They both fell back into the house gasping for air. After they caught their breath, Reed said, “I think we have to go in one at a time.”
“I’m not going back in there,” said Jack.
“I’m sure what we need is in there. I can feel it,” said Reed.
“Fine, then you go in and I’ll stand watch out here,” said Jack.
“Okay,” said Reed. He took one last look at his brother and then stepped back through the door as it shut behind him.
Jack frantically tried to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. “Reed! Reed!” he yelled as he pounded on it. There was no response, so he waited. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and was about to dial, 911, but there was no signal. Jack froze. He didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t abandon his brother, but they needed help. Before he could decide, Reed burst through the door, landing in his arms and gasping for breath.
Once his breathing returned to normal, Reed said, “Even going one at a time, we can only stay in there for a short time before the pressure becomes too intense. We have to take turns and keep track as we go. We need to make a map.”
“A map? How?” asked Jack.
Reed stood up, walked across the room and ripped off a piece of the rotting windowsill. “We can use this to scratch a map into the layers of dirt on the door itself. I’ll start. I went off to the right of the first hill and it was a dead end,” said Reed as he drew the route he described. “You have to go next.”
“No,” said Jack.
“You have to. The pressure is too great. It’s too exhausting for just one of us to do it,” said Reed.
“Fine,” said Jack. Then he stepped through the door. He burst back through only seconds later , gasping for breath. He caught his breath and added his contribution to the map. They continued this way a few more times and this time when Jack came back, after adding to the map, he said, “I’m sorry Reed, I can’t go in again. I’m exhausted.” And he slumped to the floor.
“Okay, I’m going in one more time. I know I’m going to find it this time,” said Reed.
Reed stepped through the door and like all the times before, he felt a sense of peace in this world before the pressure set in. He thought of this as another world now because he could feel it in all his being that he was no longer on Earth. He continued on a new path with a sense of urgency. There was no time for existential thoughts. He was on a mission.
And then he saw her. Her back was turned toward him. She was wearing a French maid’s uniform and she had the figure for it. Her skin was porcelain and her wavy, black hair was piled high on top of her head. She was bent over something, but he couldn’t see what it was. He walked closer even as the pressure once again closed in on his chest.
She heard him and straightened up and Reed saw what the thing was below her, just as she turned her face toward him. There were empty holes where eyes should have been, and her mouth was filled with long, sharp teeth. Her mouth opened and a deafening sound escaped. Reed was thrown through the door back into his world.
Reed was on his back in the room again with his brother leaning over him. Reed looked at his brother and said, “She has it.”