Pro magic tip: demons always show up when you least expect them. As I shoveled a barrier of snow in front of my shop, three of them appeared on the roof, roaring against the wintry moon.
I took a few steps back, the cold snow seeping into my boots.
The demons focused on me, their spinning, blue nebula-like eyes glowing, their smooth black horns dull in the moonlight. Four-legged, with the build of a pit bull and the teeth of a shark, they stalked down the side of the building—an old brownstone in the heart of the city—growling at me. Their claws scratched against the brick and left long white marks.
“So it's gonna be like this, huh,” I said.
I let down my hood, and the wind blew my hair about. The chill tore through my face, and I could hardly feel my cheeks. My eyes watered in the bone-chilling cold.
Fourth demon encounter this month. The magic suppressant charms weren’t working.
“Darius,” I said, throwing a snowball against the window. “Get out here and see what you did.”
Darius’s lanky frame was a shadow in the front of the shop, and he was sweeping the floor. I threw another snowball.
He stuck his half-braided, half-afroed head out of the door, shivering in the cold.
“It’s too cold out here to be playing, cuz,” he said.
And then he heard the growling and looked up slowly.
“Damn,” he said, shaking his head. “Why does this always happen around two o’clock in the morning?”
“You only have one job,” I said, gripping my shovel tightly. “Protection spells are not supposed to be that hard.”
“Ain’t my fault,” Darius said, shuddering. “You know I can cast that spell with the best of them.”
He grabbed a puffy coat with a fur collar, threw it on, and joined me in the snow. His hands glowed with warm fire, and the flames bloomed all the way up his arms, suffusing his face in an orange glow. He yawned.
Darius was my cousin. A wizard.
Not the kind you’re probably imagining in your head right now—you know, the wizard with a pointy hat, a star-swept robe, and a gray beard, but a black, eighteen year-old wizard who loved South Pole jackets and who routinely forgot to do his chores—namely, casting a protection spell around my shop. A wizard whose magic and lack thereof always got his big cousin into trouble. But he could throw fire and cast spells like a boss whenever the Somnients showed up, so I usually forgave him.
“At least these bad boys didn’t show up when the sky was really dumping snow on us,” Darius said.
The beasts landed in the snow and inched toward us, breathing smoke and sulphur.
Click here to grab your copy of Dream Born.
Here is another snippet from my upcoming series, Moderation Online. If you missed last month's snippet, check it out here.
CITY OF NEW EATON, Middle Rind
Kendall Barnes walked the streets of the Middle Rind with a giant knife and fork in his back pocket.
He emerged from a dirty alley into an avenue of cereal box and soda bottle skyscrapers lit up on every floor.
Rivers of people moved up and down the sidewalks. Walking alongside them were anthropomorphic candy bars, boxed dinners, doughnuts, and other processed foods, each with bright packaging and droopy eyes, adding artificial color to the area.
The humans smiled as they walked in half-struts, half-waddles, mumbling to themselves and licking their lips. Many were overweight and obese.
The foods (called Gourmans) were at least one to two feet taller than the humans and, with the exception of a few wide ones, were mostly skinny and lean. Some mingled with the humans, laughing and cracking jokes; others looked serious and as if they were on their way to somewhere important.
Enormous, three-story tall LED screens on every building streamed glitzy commercials fighting to catch the attention of the crowd.
In the street, traffic zipped by, each car and hovercycle leaving a trail of sparkling, colorful light behind it.
Kendall took in the busy street and snapped his fingers in a jazzy rhythm. He inhaled, taking in every delicious smell of his city, then he exhaled, smiling.
“Gonna be a good night.”
He had chosen his long white t-shirt, jean shorts, and green basketball shoes specifically for tonight. Under his shirt, he wore a smooth, golden chain that his friend, a french fry, had given him. He was determined to be the coolest-dressed black guy at the Festival of the Harvest.
Kendall skipped into the street and joined the flow of people. A TV dinner blimp floated overhead, casting an elongated shadow over everything below. A female voice echoed from a megaphone on the blimp’s bridge.
“Attention citizens: The Festival of the Harvest will begin shortly. Nonpareil Square will be closed to traffic for the rest of the evening. You may have also noticed pipes along the street . . .”
Kendall looked to his left and saw a line of green metal pipes rising up from a sewer grate. They ran parallel to the street and extended for several blocks to Nonpareil Square, where searchlights crisscrossed the dusk sky and music played from loudspeakers on the high-rises.
“Please be mindful of the pipes,” the voice said as the blimp finished crossing and the street brightened again.
Kendall had never seen the pipes before, and he wondered what they were for. As he walked past, he heard a strange bubbling sound coming from them.
An ad flashed on one of the screens and pulled him from his thoughts. A curvy blonde in a striped bathing suit appeared on the huge display. She smiled, ran her fingers through her hair, threw her head back, and laughed as bubbles rose around her. Green text scrolled across the screen: NUTRIZEEN. UNLOCK THE TRUE YOU.
Kendall swallowed and looked down at his stomach. He probably weighed three times as much as the woman on the screen. In New Eaton, being skinny was rare, but desired.
He rubbed his belly and said, “Heh heh. One of these days, I'm going to shed this negative six-pack.”
He had heard of people getting Nutrizeen injections that changed their lives completely. Their weight just fell off, leaving behind firm, fit, god-like bodies. The injections were invitation-only, and the Triumvirate claimed that they were still testing their effectiveness. Humans often talked about what they would do with brand new, athletic and fit bodies; it was a common topic around bars. Kendall himself often daydreamed about all the things he could do if he got an injection. In his mind’s eye, he saw himself with chiseled abs and thighs strong enough to crush a small watermelon. He saw himself on the beaches of Cola Bay, diving into the waves and swimming a mile without getting tired, then retiring to a beach house where he’d sit on the balcony with a drink in his hand and watch the sun sink into the clouds . . .
Three jets burst across the sky toward Nonpareil Square, shattering his fantasy with the thunderous roars of their engines.
Kendall put his hands over his ears and looked up at the huge, lumbering jail-ship shaped like a bag of chips that followed the jets. Then he joined everyone on the street as they cheered.
“There they are,” Kendall said, pumping his fists. “I'm ready to rock this festival, you best believe!”
He quickened his pace toward Nonpareil Square, and could feel the rest of the crowd doing the same.
Food City is Book 1 in the Moderation Online series, a new LitRPG series. Click here to grab your copy.
As always, if you’d like to support me, check out my Patreon page.
Here's a snippet from my newly renovated upcoming series, Moderation Online (formerly known as Eaten). Cover will be ready later this month. Enjoy!
EARTH, North America, 2067
“Dr. Brotherton, while I appreciate that you're using breakthrough technology to treat my husband, I'm not so sure that a video game will cure him.”
Dr. Peter Brotherton suppressed a sigh as an African-American woman dabbed her moist eyes with a tissue. Two children clung to her dress with worried looks on their faces.
Through the hospital waiting room window, rain fell slanted across the blustery sky, and moonlight bathed the hospital grounds below in a pale gray.
It had been raining for the last week. Dr. Brotherton wished for sunlight, clear air, and a blue sky in which to give the bad news. But the rain fell, a relentless staccato against an undertone of thunder.
“I understand how you feel,” Dr. Brotherton said, choosing his words carefully.
Jamilla Barnes sobbed, heaving loudly. She was obese, with a round face and long dreadlocks.
Dr. Brotherton let her cry. He felt for her, like he did for all of his patients’ families, but his heart stopped breaking for them many years ago. He clasped his hands together and spoke softly.
“Your husband suffered a massive heart attack. We were able to stabilize him, but he has not woken up yet.”
“When will he wake up?” Jamilla asked.
“It’s hard to say,” Dr. Brotherton said. “It could be days, weeks, or months.”
Jamilla shook her head and wiped her eyes. “I’d like to see him.”
“I’m happy to let you in the room,” Dr. Brotherton said, “but I need to warn you about what you’re about to see.”
Here came the bad news.
The news no one ever wanted to hear because it sounded so strange.
And he was going to give it for the twentieth time this week. With no coffee in his system, no painkillers to deaden the sharp edge of burnout.
“Kendall is already inside the video game,” Dr. Brotherton said. “We have him hooked up to it, so there a lot of wires and technological things in the room.”
“My husband has a heart attack and you put him in a video game?” Jamilla asked.
Dr. Brotherton pursed his lips. “It’s deeper than than that. Come with me.”
Kendall Barnes was an obese black man who lie in a spacious hospital room. He was hooked up to a ventilator.
A coal-black VR headset lay over his eyes. A heart rate monitor blinked over the space where the eyes were. A long wire connected it to a server in the wall, which glittered behind a glass panel. Monitoring screens were mounted all over the room, measuring brain function, sleep patterns, and heart rate.
For Brotherton, this wasn’t anything new. Kendall looked like the wave of a thousand patients he’d seen this year. Obese, diabetic, lucky to be alive.
“All over the world, we have seen an epidemic,” Dr. Brotherton said. “I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but we’ve been seeing heart-related diseases killing people, almost as if a time bomb exploded.”
Poor choice of words.
“It's not like we haven't treated heart disease, but this is worse. It's devastating,” Dr. Brotherton said. “The medical societies of the world have committed to stopping this, so they partnered with gaming companies, and leading psychologists. They developed a virtual reality game experience, and we are hooking up victims’ brains to it.”
“I don’t understand,” Jamilla said, caressing Kendall’s forehead. “I signed the consent papers, but I wasn't aware of—”
“It’s quite simple,” Brotherton said. “It really is, Mrs. Barnes. In order for Kendall to live with heart disease, he’s got to make drastic lifestyle changes. But we’ve been telling patients this for decades and it hasn’t worked. This virtual reality experience—called Moderation Online—immerses them in a world that teaches them the importance of eating right. It's an ingenious game design that subconsciously steers patients into making nutritional decisions at the neural level. We have seen a tremendous amount of success from initial tests. We see drastic weight loss and lasting good habits.”
Jamilla buried her head in Kendall’s chest.
“I’ve been told it’s a paradise,” Dr. Brotherton said. “The science behind it is to take healthy foods such as vegetables, turn them into characters, and assign them names and personalities. Have you ever heard of role-playing games, Mrs. Barnes?”
Food City is Book 1 in the Moderation Online LitRPG series. It is a fantasy that takes place in the world of food. Click here to sign up for my email list so you can know when it launches.
As always, if you’d like to support me, check out my Patreon page.
This month is a snippet from my first novel, Magic Souls, which has received a new cover and a new launch.
It was the morning of the biggest presentation of my legal career, and I spent ten minutes practicing my speech in front of a potted ficus. The bronze faces of the partners stared down at me from the wall, and I tried to imagine my face among them. If my presentation went well, I’d become a mid-level associate at the Hanover Law Firm—the most prestigious law firm in the city—and I’d finally get my own office instead of having to share a cubicle.
I hurried through the hall, swung into the conference room, and discovered that the meeting had begun without me. The partners sat around a long cedar table, watching a plasma TV mounted on the wall. They swiveled their heads toward me.
“You’re late, Bebe,” said Annette Farwell, my arch-nemesis with stilettos and perky breasts. Her designer suit made my blouse and skirt look like consignment items. She wasn’t supposed to be in this meeting. She smirked at me from the head of the table, lacing her fingers together so that everyone could see her glittering maroon nails. “I’ve been working on this case for six months, and I don’t appreciate you interrupting my presentation.”
My PowerPoint slides hovered on the TV screen. Only at the Hanover Law Firm were the partners so busy that they couldn’t tell when attorneys were stealing cases from each other.
I nearly turned green when I saw Tucker Salinas sitting at the table. He looked sexy in his black suit and red tie, and I could smell his lavender cologne across the room. His wavy hair and brown skin made him stick out in the room full of pasty white people like me.
“Wasn’t this your case, Bebe?” he said.
Annette raised her voice to cover mine. “Of course Bebe helped me. When she wasn’t on Facebook, she was wonderful. But time management is her weakness. It’s just like her to be late.”
I wanted to say, I’m late because you rescheduled the meeting without telling me, but what came out was something between a pout and a nervous laugh.
The managing partner shot up. “That’s all I need. It’s a tough decision—both of you do a great job. But on the basis of this case, Annette, we’re going to go ahead and promote you to mid-level associate. Bebe, we’ll discuss your performance at a later date.”
Annette draped her palms over her mouth and sucked in air. “I can’t thank you enough for recognizing my hard work.” She schmoozed around the room, shaking everyone’s hands. The partners ignored me as they filed out, and when I tried to meet Tucker’s eyes, he looked through me, too.
“It’s nothing personal,” Annette said after the last attorney left. She primped her bun with one hand and packed her portfolio with the other. “You’ll get your promotion in due time.”
I blocked the door. “You stole my case.”
“It’s so nice to finally hear you speak. I couldn’t tell if you were shocked, or if you were participating in one of your silent vegan protests again.”
“This is wrong, Annette. You never worked on this case.”
“You shouldn’t have left your computer unlocked.”
“You’re committing fraud.”
“You’re the fraud.” Annette stepped toward me. “And if you think I’m a bitch now,” she said, “I dare you to tell the partners. Then I can tell them how you broke company protocol and kissed Tucker Salinas.”
“How do you know that?”
Sure, I had kissed him. I’d had too many cocktails at happy hour—super embarrassing—but he hadn’t kissed me back.
Annette saw me thinking and laughed. “You know the rules. Any kind of personal contact is grounds for termination. I’ll make you wish that you’d dropped out of law school like you should have, and wonder why you didn’t major in English, spend the rest of your life writing erotica, and contribute to society in some meaningful way other than being a tool for my personal advancement. Go on,” she said, pointing to the door, “tell the partners.”
I didn’t know what to say. Annette pushed me aside and slammed the door behind her, leaving me alone with the lingering smell of cologne, legal pads, and betrayal.
Magic Souls is an interactive urban fantasy styled after Choose Your Own Adventures, but for grown ups with a storyline that changes as you read it. Click here to relive your childhood.
As always, if you'd like to support me, check out my Patreon page.
New Character Introduction
Ren Flanahey tucked a pile of school books into her backpack.
She joined a stream of children into the dark hallways of Empire Middle School Hive Three Thousand and Two.
The hall sloped upward, and wrapped around in a large circle. The walls were orange and glistening like the walls of a honeycomb.
She walked quietly with the other students, who walked with sullen faces. A drone bot with a television flew overhead, and a teacher’s head appeared on the screen.
“Students, as the weekend approaches, I would like you to take time to appreciate the glory of our empire.”
The drone sped ahead, repeating the message.
“Yes, we celebrate the glory of our empire,” the children said mechanically.
Ren said the words without feeling them, without meaning them, like she had for seventeen years.
Someone nudged Ren.
Her friend, Harlow. Well, more than a friend.
He was built like a young soldier. Bald and tattooed on the face—swirls on his cheeks—he was buff and handsome.
“Spaceship Calc was brutal today,” he said.
“Yeah,” she said, running a hand through her hair.
She had spilled soda on her uniform at lunch, and there was a gruesome stain near her stomach. She turned so that he didn't see it.
“Glory be to the empire,” Harlow said.
“Glory,” Ren said.
“When is your emergence?” Harlow asked. “I just got mine. I've been assigned.”
The time when all of her friends were plucked away, sent onto career tracks in the military, teaching, or science fields. With the hive lottery system, she would never see them again.
She would never see Harlow again.
She knew she shouldn't have gotten attached. No one got attached. It made life easier when Emergence happened. But she'd done it, and now she felt pain, pain unlike anything she'd ever felt in her life. She wanted to cover her ears, to grab his hand, to run, far, far away, over the top of the hive city and into the flat plains so they could get away, be free, free—free—before the somber reality of adulthood sunk in. The somber reality that she was never free, never would be, and that her life was predestined.
“I ship off tomorrow,” he said.
“Oh,” she said.
They walked outside into the moonlight.
The hive city seemed to swirl up into the stars. The lights of embedded pod homes glittered against the earthen walls. The twin moons, red and yellow, were bright in the gray sky.
A line of pod trams waited. The children lined up and entered. The pods zipped away on circular tracks, upward into the city.
The air was crisp, the moonlight pale on her skin, and the goosebumps on her arms popped up the moment she walked into the night air.
“This is goodbye,” Harlow said. “It's been great.”
“So you just leave?” she asked.
They walked to a line.
“It's better this way,” Harlow said. “We’re not even supposed to be dating. Or talking. Glory must first be to the empire.”
“Screw the empire,” she whispered. “What would it be like to live like they do in other galaxies? To be free?”
Harlow shushed her.
“You want to get us killed?”
“You didn't say that when we were alone yesterday,” she said.
“The military needs me,” Harlow said. “And I have to listen. We all do. Maybe you'll be chosen and we’ll cross paths in a few decades, Ren.”
She turned away and ignored him.
“Fine,” she said. “Goodbye.”
“Glory be to the empire,” Harlow said.
She didn't reply.
She didn't want to say anything.
Her boyfriend of five weeks, who had kissed her already, was leaving.
A drone bot hovered over her and the teacher looked at her.
“Glory be to the empire,” she said reluctantly, and scowling.
When she turned away, Harlow was gone, disappeared into another crowd.
The line thinned out and she approached the pod tram, a silver ball designed for ten.
She climbed onboard with the other sullen children, and she became one of them.
The Mavericks Together for the First Time
Keltie Sheffield waited in the airlock as the escape pod cleared the outer doors and the inner airlock doors opened. The escape pod was a circular ball of metal that looked painfully uncomfortable to travel in.
She wrinkled up her nose.
It smelled like space, too. Like burnt rubber and popcorn.
“Smells pretty bad, huh?” she asked.
She turned around. Eddie Puente was at a control panel, entering some commands. He ignored her.
Ever since they had been left alone, he didn't acknowledge her. He seemed nice enough to start, and they even chatted for an hour. But it must have been something she said, because he stopped talking to her. Like a switch got flipped and she couldn't figure out why.
He avoided eye contact and acted as if the pod hadn't even entered the airlock.
The pod touched down on the ground with a clang.
Grayson piloted, and seeing him, she laughed. He was so tall his head was almost touching the ceiling. He was laughing, too.
Devika was frowning. But then again, Keltie had never seen her smile so that was nothing new.
There was someone else with them in the pod, but she couldn't see who it was.
The pod doors opened, letting out a large whoosh of air.
And then Keltie heard it.
A crazed, revving-like sound.
Keltie ducked as a small black cloud darted over her head. A red eye glinted in the center of the cloud. Seeing it, her heart jumped, sweat beaded on her forehead, and she balled her fist.
“No,” she whispered. And then she yelled, “No!”
A Planet Eater. The alien race that started all of this, the race that killed her best friend before her eyes!
She ripped a crowbar off the wall and banged it as hard as she could.
The alien winced.
“Go away!” she shouted. “Go away!”
She banged the crowbar harder and the Planet Eater flew away, sputtering as if the sound were hurting it.
“Eddie, open the airlock!” she shouted.
Eddie watched with his mouth wide open.
“Eddie!” Keltie said.
The alien sputtered again.
“I'll do it myself,” Keltie grumbled, running for the airlock controls. “You killed Claire. You'll pay, I swear to God—”
She heard gunshots in her mind.
Then she was back on Kepler.
In her spacesuit.
People were screaming.
Her best friend, Claire, was running next to her.
Bullets were flying everywhere. Planet Eaters covered the sky like ink.
A hand on her shoulder pulled her from the flashback.
She kept swinging the crowbar, denting the pod.
“Keltie,” someone said.
“Keltie,” the voice said.
The alien retreated to the corner of the airlock, and it shrunk to half of its size.
Someone grabbed her crowbar.
She tightened her grip. But soon the crowbar was gone and it clanged against the floor.
Grayson had grabbed her.
“Keltie, it’s all right,” he said.
“What do you mean it's all right?” she yelled. “Do you remember what they—”
“He's not gonna hurt you,” Grayson said.
“He's telling the truth,” Devika said. “It seems to be docile.”
Keltie shook her head at the alien. She pushed herself away from Grayson.
A petite Asian woman stood behind Devika. The encounter had scared her.
“Hi,” the woman said. “I'm Michiko. And that's Clark.”
Clark swirled in the corner of the ceiling and hovered under a skylight, almost disappearing in the blackness of space outside.
Keltie backed out of the room. Took one last look at Grayson, Eddie, Devika and Michiko.
She thought she knew these people.
Now they were harboring evil aliens!
It was too much to take. She ran out of the room.
Click here to grab your copy of Planet Eaters. Or, grab the whole series in one click.