Three modern teens, a 200-year-old diary, a literary mystery to solve.
Twelve-year-old Hyperion Frances Keats, great-great grand niece of poet John Keats, hates tip-toeing around her older sister's “medical diagnosis”. Why is Isabella so determined to turn her back on what makes her unique in a sea of wannabes? Is popularity more important than the truth?
The sisters and boy-next-door Will find themselves in the middle of a mystery after discovering a 200-year-old diary written by the girl who inspired the sonnet “To A Lady Seen For A Moment At Vauxhall.” The teens aren't the only ones after the answers found in the pages from the past, though. The LBT Brotherhood – a secret society dedicated to preserving the Romantic Poets three creeds of love, beauty, and truth – want the secrets contained in the diary to remain lost to time and will stop at nothing to silence Hyperion, Isabella, and Will forever.
Hyperion Keats has been around poetry her whole life, and even if she wanted to, she can't escape it since it's not just her name 'Hyperion' that screams poetic, it's the fact that she's the great-great grand niece of the poet John Keats. When poetry fanboy Will moves in next door and Hyperion gives him the honour of showing Will the famous 'Keats' house with her 'normal-named' sister Isabella, they stumble upon a mysterious diary written by the girl who inspired the sonnet "To A Lady Seen For A Moment At Vauxhall". Finding out who this girl was is only half of the mystery, especially when a mysterious car seems to be following them, intent on keeping what they've found hidden forever. Hyperion Keats was a fun and page-turning mystery that definitely keeps the reader guessing until the last page. At times I had to wonder where the story was heading, especially with some actions taking place and then not being mentioned for the next few chapters, but everything came together in a perfectly thrilling conclusion that definitely opens up for more adventures from Hyperion and Isabella. All of the characters were well-rounded. Hyperion was the perfect character to follow through the story, a mixture of little sister wanting to take the spotlight (and the boy) away from her sister, and young Nancy Drew. Isabella was the perfect addition for an older sister, and the surprise medical condition (which I won't give away as it might spoil some things) was perfectly written and when thinking back through the story it is easy to see some actions that Isabella did that fits in with that condition. And then there's Will, the boy who's got his own dark shadows which are revealed towards the end of the story (again no spoilers here). Hyperion Keats was a quick and interesting read and I would recommend this to anyone who loves mysteries like Nancy Drew. I look forward to reading more of Hyperion and Isabella's adventures.
Today we are excited to have the wonderful Hyperion herself joining us on the blog. Okay first question, Hyperion. You're name is quite different, is there a meaning behind it? My full name is Hyperion Frances Keats. Hyperion is a poem by my great-great add a couple more greats uncle John Keats. He's famous now but he wasn't back in the day when he was actually alive. Frances also has a long Keats family connection. My parents got “literary” when picking out baby names so I got saddled with Hyperion instead of something more normal.
So, if you could pick a normal name what would you choose? I used to want to be called Ashley or Sarah but I've gotten used to my unusual name. It has character which can't be said for a lot of names.
Is there a reason that you'd want that name? Everyone knows how to pronounce Ashley or Sarah. Not everyone knows how to pronounce Hyperion. I could be a little more anonymous and not stand out so much.
What about your family? How do you feel about them being connected with John Keats? I grew up around literary and family history so it's not a big deal. People make it a big deal – especially our new neighbor Will – but being related to Keats isn't a big deal to me.
So having a name connected with the literary icon of Keats, does it affect how people see you at school? Not really. Thankfully, most kids at Polk middle school just think my parents got creative in the baby naming department because you don't study the Romantic Poets till high school. My sister Isabella is in high school and hasn't found any down side to having a famous ancestor either. Maybe I'll get lucky too.
You seem to be handling things well, but if you could change one thing about your life, what would it be? I wish my parents wouldn't favor Isabella over me. She has a 'medical condition' she doesn't want to talk about. She's not dying or anything, but Mom and Dad are so used to focusing on her that they forget about me. I don't like feeling like an afterthought or “shadow sister” to Isabella.
Thank you Hyperion for taking time out of your busy schedule and letting us all get to know you a little bit more.
About the Author
Molly Zenk was born in Minnesota, grew up in Florida, lived briefly in Tennessee, before finally settling in Colorado. She graduated from Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL with degrees in Secondary Education, English, and Creative Writing. She spent six years using those degrees teaching High School English, Poetry, and Creative Writing before going on “hiatus” to focus on being a stay-at-home/work-at-home Mom. Molly is married to a Mathematician/Software Engineer who complains about there not being enough “math” or info about him in her author bio. They live in Arvada, CO with their young daughters, one dog, and one cat.
Today I'm proud to be a part of the 'Corvids: Winter tour', hosted by Dark World Books. To view other stops on this tour just click on the banner.
The Corvids: Winter
(The Corvids #2)
Francesca de Lorimar, the beautiful Gypsy necromancer from Ravenswood Glen, is called to investigate a murder at Talus Hall and exorcise the unruly poltergeists which nightly ravage the mansion. During her quest to unravel the truth, Francesca discovers scorching secrets about herself, her parentage, and of power, as she stumbles headlong into first love and battles the ancient evil which stalks The Corvids.
The Corvids is a four-part paranormal romantic suspense series. Delve into the depths of darkness, magic and love in this murder mystery/coming of age quartet!
Arabel Spade, a young girl living in the strange and mystical land of The Corvids, determines to solve a brutal series of murders using her unique paranormal abilities. Through her perilous journey, Arabel learns about herself, the dark secrets which stain her family history and the passions and rigors of first love.
Where did you come up with the inspiration behind the book? This book is the second in the series, and the series was inspired by my love of corvids as well as an old folktale told to me by my grandmother from Russia. My grandmother told me of a man running after his body at his own funeral, trying to catch up with the casket to get back inside of his body. Book one opens with this imagery. I’ve always loved the supernatural!
What inspired you to write your first book? I was inspired to write my first book after completing “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron. The novel fairly flew out of me, completed in three months! I was living in Hollywood at the time, so the novel is completely inspired by that fabulous city.
What books/writing have influenced your writing? I’ve been inspired by many books and many authors! I love anything by Jeannette Winterson or J.D. Robb and am a big fan of the old gothic murder mystery/romances from the likes of Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Dorothy Eden– seriously old school!
What was your favourite scene to write? My favourite scene to write was a reunion scene, but I can’t tell you whose reunion!! Too many spoilers
What was the hardest part of writing your book? Killing off characters is always the hardest part
How do you overcome writer's block? I overcome writer’s block by getting myself inspired – usually by re-reading something I love. I’m lucky though because I generally don’t suffer from writer’s block. Anyone who has ever completed “The Artist’s Way” knows that writing is a process and does not actually require one to ‘be in the mood’ or to be struck by creative impetus in order to write. As Julia Cameron says, you just have to ‘show up at the page’. Creativity is always available!
What are your current projects? My current projects see me tied to The Corvids for the next two years! Next I’ll be writing The Corvids: Spring, which is the story of Daphne Grace, and after that it will be The Corvids: Summer and the tale of Allegra Lourdes, whose story wraps up the series.
What book are you reading now? I haven’t started reading it yet, but next up will be “Thankless in Death” by J.D. Robb. I love the “In Death” series!
If you could have dinner with any fictional character who would it be and why? If I could have dinner with any fictional character, I think I’d pick Jonathan Strange from the book “Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norrell” because he is such a fascinating, magical character!
Do you have any advice for other writers? Advice for writers? Keep reading and explore different genres for inspiration. Also journaling is great and any exercises from “The Artist’s Way” might be beneficial.
Francesca saw the body before she smelt the decay of death.
She knelt down beside the cold flesh and closed her eyes. Flashing images assaulted her senses immediately. She watched in dull horror as the spectacle of the poor girl’s death played out in glorious color, all of the abysmal details glaringly vivid. Horror closed over Francesca; a great fist of unrelenting enmity clasped her tightly.
The dead girl was young. Too young to die leaving a life unlived in her wake.
Hovering above the corpse, Francesca utilized her preternatural vision to discern several small intersecting red and grey lines - denoting possession - and she glanced around immediately to seek out the corresponding Dorojenja wheel of death. Francesca could feel the pull of the wheel’s malicious intent as it greedily trolled energetically for further souls to ensnare.
Xavier immediately pulled his mount to a stop in front of the gruesome display.
He jumped from his horse and knelt in the snow beside Francesca and the dead girl. His eyes closed, Xavier efficiently created a sacred circle of Gypsy magic and performed a counter-spell ritual to immobilize the curse, utilizing his athame. Zander quickly joined in with the work.
The throat of the girl had been slashed viciously. Multiple jagged lines had been cut gleefully across the expanse of her now cold, lifeless skin. Her innocent blood soaked the snow, glistening deep ruby red and dark, inky black.
A sacrificial victim, the young woman had been dressed in a long, heavy, brown hooded robe and she wore nothing underneath. The large cowled hood had been thrown back to reveal the torn throat of the victim and the harsh, angry slashes against her pale skin.
The dead girl did not appear to be much more of an age than Francesca and Francesca keenly felt a terrible sense of loss at her untimely demise. The sorrow permeated the most profound depths of Francesca’s gentle heart.
To have one’s physical life ended in such a vicious manner! And then to further suffer the cruelty of eternal possession to the forces of darkness and evil was a fate Francesca was certain no one deserved. She despised the forces who had stolen the girl’s life-force. No one deserved to die like this and most certainly not this young, innocent girl.
Francesca telepathically followed the trail of red and grey lines to the pulsating source. The wheel of death beat out a sharp series of harsh, staccato notes of displeasure, soiling the environment. Peering intently, Francesca determined that the Dorojenja wheel was indeed placed next to the roaring bonfire, and was hexed properly to ensnare the sacrificial victims to its torturous call. The wheel had been coated with invisibility rendering its presence impossible to detect through regular vision.
Francesca, with her advanced training and preternatural vision could barely see the shield. But she could feel it, and she knew what sordid stains decorated its face.
The intersecting lines and numbers. The headless dove. The blood.
Francesca attempted to block the noise from inside of her head as best as she could. The screams of the possessed filled her with their sobs, their unrelenting terror. The dead girl had joined a large number of souls, many more than Francesca had ever known to have been collected within a Dorojenja wheel of death. She felt the trapped energies pulling at her, desperately seeking a last audience, desperately seeking release from the torment.
Francesca sent the image of the wheel and its location to Xavier. He frowned as he addressed the group.
“We shall disperse the Sending & Seeking Spell immediately to source out Arabel’s presence. We’ll soon see if she is being held against her will by these Dorojenja members. Advancing upon their meeting under the cover of our current energy void - assisted by a severe Blocking Spell – we shall disperse in two’s to encircle the members of their party. Once we have ensnared them within our boundaries, Zander will unleash a hostile energy void, regressing the ages of the members to that of toddlers. We shall easily capture their party with an Immobilization Spell. ”
Xavier released the potion Daphne and Francesca had created.
The potion filled the air with a colorless, spinning vortex as the herbs swirled and danced excitedly in the frigid air. A line of magic assembled itself into a seeking circle of energy as the herbs took hold of the destination Xavier programmed them with. The herbs would thoroughly track and trace the Dorojenja and search out Arabel’s presence among them, if she was indeed held captive.
Francesca shivered involuntarily. The screams inside of her head from the dead girl had increased, both in intensity and volume. Inundated with misery, Francesca felt all of the victims – so many other young girls - pressing now, against her very temples, screaming and wailing and screeching. Francesca clasped her small hands to her ears, fighting once more to control the harsh, disturbed track of her inner audio. She sent golden waves of solace toward the ravaged and violated girl.
The screams continued, moaning from the depths of eternal torture.
Stella butted her head lovingly up against Francesca’s arm, letting her know telepathically that she was going to fly up to the top of the nearby forest branches where she could observe the Dorojenja without being noticed.
Zander was busy creating the hostile energy void filled with regressive properties while Xavier monitored the Sending and Seeking Spell fragments for clues. Francesca wrapped the psychic edges of the protective energy void Xavier had called into being closer around herself, much as she would enclose herself in a warm blanket. The wrath and pain of the wheel of death became suddenly muted and Francesca felt the energy void extending its reach farther out as the group broke down into pairs.
Without discussion, Francesca found herself coupled up with Simon.
Xavier and Zander had moved to the right of the bonfire and Bertrand and Lorenzo were circling around to the left. Which left herself and Simon. Francesca ventured a quick look at the golden curled young man and was comforted at once by the calm assurance she spied within his compassionate hazel eyes.
Simon took hold of Francesca’s hand briefly. She watched as colors of green and gold encircled her upon the contact. Francesca’s eyes closed of their own volition for a brief moment as the energy created between the two of them warmed her instantly. They moved in unison toward the roaring red flames of the bonfire and the amassed group clustered in celebration of dark lust and black magic. Francesca set her jaw firmly.
Saul Porchetto would pay for this latest desecration, she vowed to herself.
About the Author
Lisa Ann Brown
Lisa Ann has been involved with storytelling and entertainment, in one form or another, her entire life. Beginning her creative journey as both a writer and an actor, Lisa Ann spent many years immersing herself in innumerable books, countless theatre productions and earning a degree in Musical Theatre. Shortly after college, she attended the Vancouver Film School to learn the finer points of screenwriting. This study culminated in the writing of a few feature length scripts and an overwhelmingly potent desire to move from Canada to Hollywood. Once ensconced in East Hollywood however, creative inspiration lured Lisa Ann away from screenwriting and returned her to her original writing intentions: to be a novelist. In three months, Lisa Ann had completed her first novel, I Raid, and there has been no cessation of her novel writing ever since. Moving back to Canada, she spent many years working as a talent agent in Vancouver before retiring from the film industry to focus on writing full-time. Lisa Ann derives great personal satisfaction by delivering her characters through the twisting arcs and unexpected tribulations of their imaginary lives. She strives to keep her readers on edge while enjoying the suspense and surprise of their literary journey. She resides in picturesque Vancouver, BC, Canada where she is happily nestled in between the Pacific Ocean and the Coastal Mountain range.
Well, it's that time of year. Yep, it's birthday time and since a lot of things have happened to me in the last year of my life I have decided to celebrate this momentous day with a 'big birthday bash'.
Over the past year I have had a lot of ups and down. Shadow Embraced, my debut novel, was released (which was definitely an up), while I have also had a major career and life change, which means returning to school next year, but if all goes to plan (which I'm hoping it does then it will be for a course I have a lot of interest in).
To signify me getting a year older and with this new life stretching out before me, I have decided to jump head first into a photography challenge, the 365 project. This means that I have to take a picture every single day and I'm not aiming for just any picture. Since photography is the course I am studying at the moment and will be a part of the course I'm hoping to get into next year, I'm aiming to do serious pictures and hopefully see my skills (and photographs) improve over the year.
Now, getting down to the good stuff. As I said, this is going to be a 'big birthday bash', and what would a birthday bash be without prizes? I have two prizes to award, a $15 Amazon gift certificate and a copy of Shadow Embraced (with a swag bundle). All you have to do is enter the Rafflecopter below.
Foreign, or rather unfamiliar, would be the word I would use
to describe how I felt.
Faintly, I could hear the glimmer of voices surrounding me in this dark haze,
caressing my ears like skin against silk. I felt like I was in a cocoon of
sorts, protectively enveloped, quietly drifting in some far-off place. I wanted
to stay that way forever.
But we all know that what you want never really seems to happen in the real
Something’s not right in Mia’s head.
The first thing is that her name isn’t Mia. In fact, she has no clue what her
name is—who she is. All that she knows is that she’s not like the ones who
found her: Dante with his kind blue eyes, Amy with her child-like demeanor,
James with his questioning gaze.
The one she cannot decipher no matter how hard she tries.
As Mia tries to fit in with these people, a strange occurrence is amidst
outside. And as she finally remembers who she is …
Well, let’s just say that things get a little more complicated.
(YA Paranormal Romance Novella) Excerpt:
I opened my eyes but had to squeeze them shut against the harsh lights. My lids felt swollen, heavy with fatigue. My eyes burned, tears leaking from their corners.
It was the most uncomfortable of feelings.
I must have been dreaming.
Although the word seemed alien to me, almost as if I had never heard it before, I instantly understood its meaning. The voice that had spoken was warm, making me feel as if I were suddenly sitting in front of a fireplace, wrapped in a heavy blanket, flames crackling. The heat of the word practically licked my skin.
Again, I tried opening my eyes, this time a bit more cautiously. Blinking, I slowly adjusted to the artificial lights, now able to see.
I found myself staring back into a pair of bright blue eyes, a look of wariness in their depths. For a brief moment I couldn’t look away as I stared up at him. Then he cleared his throat and glanced away, as if uncomfortable with my gaze. With the spell of his eyes broken, it was then that I noticed I was lying on the ground—no, on hardwood floor.
And with not one, but three interested faces peering down at me.
I sat up, then winced at the abruptness of my movement, bringing my hand to the back of my head.
Pain, my mind whispered.
I directed my eyes toward the person who had spoken such kind words. It was the first person I had noticed, the one with the blue eyes and the warm voice. His voice was deep and calming, and as I sat there I tried to think of the emotion I should be experiencing. Inhaling softly, I closed my eyes, ignored the painful throb in my head, and waited for the proper term to flutter into my mind.
“Where did you come from?”
Satisfied I had found the correct word, I opened my eyes again to the voice speaking to me. It was a pleasant voice, reassuring to say the least, and immediately captured my attention.
At that moment, I didn’t notice the black hair atop his head, a striking contrast against his blue eyes that looked like I was staring into an ocean. I didn’t notice that the corners of his eyes crinkled up when he smiled kindly at me, complementing the single dimple in his right cheek. By just looking at him, anyone could tell that he was someone who knew how to laugh. But I didn’t notice any of that.
All those things I would notice later.
Available from: (only $.99!)
About the Author
A dreamer, Christina Channelle holds two degrees in health
sciences but has always had a passion for writing. You will find her reading
other young adult novels, or typing up a new story on her computer. When not
writing, Christina spends her free time at the movies, listening to music, or
eating sushi. She's a reality TV junkie and has a close relationship with many
characters on TV that have been a topic of many heated discussions among
friends. She resides in Ontario, Canada.
Her next project is the YA Paranormal Romance, REAP, to be released October 11,
Synopsis (From Goodreads):Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her… She spends her life trying to avoid ghosts, make it through school where she’s bullied by popular Justin and his cronies, keep her one remaining friend, and persuade her father that this is real and that she’s not going crazy.
But then Justin is murdered and everything gets a whole lot worse. Justin doesn’t know who killed him, so there’s no obvious person for Taylor to go after. The clues she has lead her to the V Club, a vicious secret society at her school where no one is allowed to leave… and where Justin was dared to do the stunt which led to his death.
Can she find out who was responsible for his murder before the Darkness comes for her? Can she put aside her hatred for her former bully to truly help him?
And what happens if she starts to fall for him?
Bryony Pearce has created a ghost story with a twist in her debut, The Weight of Souls. Taylor Oh is far from popular, in fact, she is often the butt of the popular kids jokes because she's different. But she can't tell anyone why she's so different, even her best friends who are one more lie away from giving up on her. Taylor is cursed to see the spirits of murder victims, and if the spirits touch her she must find their killer before the darkness comes and claims her instead. Taylor goes out of the way to avoid the spirits if possible, but when one of the popular kids, Justin, is murdered and he doesn't know he's dead, let alone who's killed him. Taylor has to try and get in with the popular kids and uncover the mysteries around a secret society in order to find his murderer before the darkness comes for her.
Right from the premise I was intrigued by this novel, and I wasn't sorry. Taylor is a brilliant character who is struggling between having friends and living with this curse (as well as trying to convince her father that it is a curse and she's not crazy). The tension that the novel opens up between Taylor and Justin adds for wonderful suspense and chemistry between them once she is forced to help him or be doomed to take the darkness on herself.
The plot never slows down and there are plenty of twists and turns as Taylor tries to uncover who Justin's murderer is, especially when Justin doesn't even know who killed him (or that he's dead at the beginning), leading to a surprising revelation when the murderer and reason is revealed… but I won't say any more here as it will give too much away.
The Weight of Souls is just another wonderful addition to Strange Chemistry's ever building book list and I look forward to Taylor's continuing adventures in future books. I would recommend this to anyone who loves a great mystery or ghost story, especially books like Marlene Perez's Dead is the New Black series.
entire village knows Neima’s grandfather is a madman. For years the old man has
prophesied that a great flood is coming, a flood disastrous enough to blot out
the entire earth. He’s even built an enormous ark that he claims will allow his
family to survive the deluge. But no one believes the ravings of a lunatic… …until the rain starts. And doesn’t stop. Soon sixteen-year-old Neima finds her
entire world transformed, her life and those of the people she loves in peril.
Trapped on the ark with her grandfather Noah, the rest of her family, and a
noisy, filthy, and hungry assortment of wild animals, will Neima find a way to
survive? With lions, tigers, and bears oh my, elephants and flamingos too, along with
rivalries and betrayals, a mysterious stowaway, and perhaps even an unexpected
romance, FORTY DAYS is not your grandfather’s Noah’s Ark story. FORTY DAYS is approximately 45000 words, the length of a shorter novel, and is
the first installment in a two-part epic story. It does contain a cliffhanger
Readers looking for a traditional, religiously oriented version of the Noah’s
Ark story should be warned that FORTY DAYS may not appeal to them. The novel
will, however, appeal to lovers of apocalyptic fiction, historical fiction, and
romance, as well as anyone who’s ever dreamed of having a baby elephant as a
Neima, her family, and her grandfather Noah have found themselves trapped aboard an ark as a great flood destroys all life in the world. As their time aboard the ark lengthens, food begins to run out, wild animals grow restless, and family tensions become as much of a threat as the flood outside. In the second and final installment of Neima’s Ark, the stakes are higher, the conflicts are greater, and Neima finds herself facing a choice as impossible as the destruction all around her.
Forty Nights is a continuation of the story begun in Forty Days, and it’s recommended that you read Forty Days first for the best experience. Forty Nights does, however, contain a character guide to refresh readers’ memories. The Neima’s Ark series is a historical, feminist reimagining of the story of Noah’s Ark rather than a religiously oriented one, and the novels are best suited for readers who are comfortable with new interpretations of biblical stories.
THE NEIMA’S ARK SERIES:
Parent takes a story I would have immediately shrugged off and turned it into a
story with a surprising amount of reality and despite being religious based is
not at all religious. Stephanie somehow created a paradox… When I think of a
word to describe this story I think, layers.
The tension is extremely layered. We get internal tension among the
characters, tension relating to the animals, and tension from the storming
raging outside. It’s not even supernatural elements, it’s all practical points
like food and animal needs. The characters are also well defined and fleshed
is slow and imperfect, but it's realistic and believable. I can honestly say
that this love story is one of if not the best one I've read so far…a very
thrilling read full of some great twists…[the ending] was everything I could
have asked for and more, it was a perfect ending to an imperfectly perfect
Flye, Zach’s YA Reviews
Everyone’s shouting, and I don’t know where to rest my eyes and ears, until—
The lamp in Father’s hand wavers, his arm sways as a body—whose, I can’t tell—knocks against him, and then the flame is flying, falling—
—exploding against the floor in a surge of heat and light. The bottom of the lamp cracks, the oil spills and the fire licks it up, spreading across the floor, leaving us no choice but to back away in panic. The men shout garbled commands, but Shai’s shrieks of terror drown them out. And then come lower, heavy bellows of pain because—oh—Uncle Ham’s tunic is on fire. He leaps from side to side as though he can outrun the flames, but he only fans them higher, his voice and the expression on his face twisting in agony till I can’t bear to see or hear and—
It’s gone. The fire’s gone though the heavy smoke lingers, obscuring the shapes of Uncle Ham flat on the floor, his lower half swathed in a blanket, and another form bending over him.
About the Author
Stephanie Parent is a graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC and attended the Baltimore School for the Arts as a piano major. She moved to Los Angeles because of Francesca Lia Block's WEETZIE BAT books, which might give you some idea of how much books mean to her. She also loves dogs, books about dogs, and sugary coffee drinks both hot and cold.
1- ebook of Forty Nights & $10 Amazon Gift Card
Summary from Goodreads: Fifty
years ago the Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In
his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society. He created
the Hole where sinners are branded according to their sins and might survive a
few years. At best.
Now LUST wraps around my neck like blue fingers strangling me. I’ve been
accused of a crime I didn’t commit and now the Hole is my new home.
Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain.
Now every day is a fight for survival. But I won’t die. I won’t let them win.
The Hole can’t keep me. The Hole can’t break me.
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter.
My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.
CHAPTER ONE OF BRANDED
I’m buried six feet under, and no one hears my screams.
The rope chafes as I loop it around my neck. I pull down, making sure the knot is secure. It seems sturdy enough. My legs shake. My heart beats heavy in my throat. Sweat pours down my back.
Death and I glare at each other through my tears.
I take one last look at the crystal chandelier, the foyer outlined with mirrors, and the flawless decorations. No photographs adorn the walls. No happy memories here.
I’m ready to go. On the count of three.
I inhale, preparing myself for the finality of it all. Dropping my hands, a glimmer catches my eye. It’s my ring, the last precious gift my father gave me. I twist it around to read the inscription. Picturing his face forces me to reconsider my choice. He’d be heartbroken if he could see me now.
A door slams in the hallway, almost causing me to lose my balance. My thoughts already muddled, I stand waiting with the rope hanging around my neck. Voices I don’t recognize creep through the walls.
Curiosity overshadows my current thoughts. It’s late at night, and this is a secure building in High Society. No one disturbs the peace here—ever. I tug on the noose and pull it back over my head.
Peering through the eyehole in our doorway, I see a large group of armed guards banging on my neighbors’ door. A heated conversation ensues, and my neighbors point toward my family’s home.
It hits me. I’ve been accused and they’re here to arrest me.
My father would want me to run, and in that split second, I decide to listen to his voice within me. Flinging myself forward in fear, I scramble up the marble staircase and into my brother’s old bedroom. The door is partially covered, but it exists. Pushing his dresser aside, my fingers claw at the opening. Breathing hard, I lodge myself against it. Nothing. I step back and kick it with all my strength. The wood splinters open, and my foot gets caught. I wrench it backward, scraping my calf, but adrenaline pushes me forward. The voices at the front door shout my name.
On hands and knees, I squeeze through the jagged opening. My brother left through this passage, and now it’s my escape too. Cobwebs entangle my face, hands, and hair. At the end, I feel for the knob, twisting it clockwise. It swings open, creaking from disuse. I sprint into the hallway and smash through the large fire escape doors at the end. A burst of cool air strikes me in the face as I jump down the ladder.
Reaching the fifth floor, I knock on a friend’s window. The lights flicker on, and I see the curtains move, but no one answers. I bang on the window harder.
“Let me in! Please!” I say, but the lights darken. They know I’ve been accused and refuse to help me. Fear and adrenaline rush through my veins as I keep running, knocking on more windows along the way. No one has mercy. They all know what happens to sinners.
Another flight of stairs passes in a blur when I hear the guards’ heavy footfalls from above. I can’t hide, but I don’t want to go without trying.
Help me, Daddy. I need your strength now.
My previous desolation evolves into a will to survive. I have to keep running, but I tremble and gasp for air. I steel my nerves and force my body to keep moving. In a matter of minutes, my legs cramp and my chest burns. I plunge to the ground, scraping my knee and elbow. A moan escapes from my chest.
Gotta keep going.
“Stop!” Their voices bounce off the buildings. “Lexi Hamilton, surrender yourself,” they command. They’re gaining on me.
I resist the urge to glance back, running into what I assume is an alley. I’m far from our high-rise in High Society as I plunge into a poorer section of the city where the streets all look the same and the darkness prevents me from recognizing anything. I’m lost.
My first instinct is to leap into a dumpster, but I retain enough sense to stay still. I crouch and peek around it, watching them dash by. The abhorrent smell leaves me vomiting until nothing remains in my stomach. Desperation overtakes me, as I know my retching was anything but silent. My last few seconds tick away before they find me. Everyone knows about their special means of tracking sinners.
I push myself to my feet and look left, right, and left again. Their batons click against their black leather belts, and their boots stomp the cement on both sides of me. I shrink into myself. Their heavy steps mock my fear, growing closer and closer until I know I’m trapped.
Never did I imagine they’d come for me. Never did I imagine all those nights I heard them dragging someone else away that I’d join them.
“You’re a sinner,” they say. “Time to leave.”
I stand defiant. I refuse to bend or break before them, even as I shiver with fear.
“There’s no reason to make this difficult. The more you cooperate, the smoother this will be for everyone,” a guard says.
I cringe into the blackness along the wall. I’m innocent, but they won’t believe me or care.
The next instant, my face slams into the pavement as one guard plants a knee in my back and another handcuffs me. A warm liquid trails into my mouth. Blood. Their fingers grip my arms like steel traps as they peel me off the cement. The tops of my shoes scrape along the ground as I’m dragged behind them until they discard me into the back of a black vehicle. The doors slam in unison with one guard stationed on each side of me, my shoulders digging into their arms.
Swallowing hard, I stare ahead to avoid their eyes. My dignity is all I have left. The handcuffs dig into my wrists, so I clasp them together hard behind me and press my back into the seat, unwilling to admit how much it hurts.
Did they need so many guards to capture me?
I’m not carrying any weapons, nor do I own any. I don’t even know self-defense. High Society frowns on activities like that.
The driver jerks the vehicle around and I try to keep my bearings, but it’s dark and the scenery changes too fast. Hours pass, and the air grows warmer, more humid the farther we drive. The landscape mutates from city to rolling hills. They don’t bother blindfolding me because they escort all the sinners to the same place—the Hole. Twenty-foot cement walls encase the chaos within. There’s no way out and no way in unless they transport you. They say the Hole is a prison with no rules. We learned about it last year in twelfth grade.
To the outside, I’m filth now. I’ll never be allowed to return to the life I knew. No one ever does.
“All sinners go through a transformation,” one of the guards says to me. His smirk infuriates me. “I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of stories.”
I don’t respond. I don’t want to think about the things I’ve been told.
“You won’t last too long, though. Young girls like you get eaten alive.” He pulls a strand of my hair up to his face.
Get your hands off me, you pig. I want to lash out, but resist. The punishment for disobeying authority is severe, and I’m not positioned to defy him.
They’re the Guards of the Commander. They’re chosen from a young age and trained in combat. They keep the order of society by using violent methods of intimidation. No one befriends a guard. Relationships with them are forbidden inside the Hole.
Few have seen the commander. His identity stays under lock and key. His own paranoia and desire to stay pure drove him to live this way. He controls our depraved society and believes sinners make the human race unforgivable. His power is a crushing fist, rendering all beneath him helpless. So much so, even family members turn on each other when an accusation surfaces. Just an accusation. No trial, no evidence, nothing but an accusation.
I lose myself in thoughts of my father.
“Never show fear, Lexi,” my father said to me before he was taken. “They’ll use it against you.” His compassionate eyes filled with warning as he commanded me to be strong. That was many years ago, but I remember it clearly. My father. My rock. The one person in my life who provided unconditional love.
“Get out,” the guard says while pulling me to my feet. The vehicle stops, and I’m jerked back to reality. The doors slide open and the two guards lift me up and out into the night. A windowless cement building looms in front of us, looking barren in the darkness.
The coolness of the air sends a shiver up my spine. This is really happening. I’ve been labeled a sinner. My lip starts to quiver, but I bite it before anyone sees. They shove me in line, and I realize I’m not alone. Women and men stand with faces frozen white with fear. A guard grabs my finger, pricks it, and dabs my blood on a tiny microchip.
I follow the man in front of me into the next room where we’re lined up facing the wall. Glancing right, I see one of the men crying.
“Spread your legs,” one of the guards says.
They remove my outer layers and their hands roam up and down my body.
What do they think I can possibly be hiding? I press my head into the wall, trying to block out what they’re doing to me.
“MOVE!” a guard commands. So I shuffle across the room, trying to cover up.
Five of us sit in the holding room. One by one, they pull people into the next room, forcing the rest of us to wonder what torture we’ll endure. An agonizing amount of time passes. I lean my head back and try to imagine a place far away. The door opens.
A guard escorts me out of the room, and I don’t have time to look back. As soon as the door closes, they pick me up and place me on a table. It’s cold and my skin sticks to it slightly, like wet fingers on an ice cube. Then they exit in procession, and I lie on the table with a doctor standing over me. His hands are busy as he speaks.
“Don’t move. This will only take a few minutes. It’s time for you to be branded.”
A wet cloth that smells like rubbing alcohol is used to clean my skin. Then he places a metal collar around my neck.
Click. Click. Click.
The collar locks into place, and I struggle to breathe. The doctor loosens it some as I focus on the painted black words above me.
The Seven Deadly Sins:
Lust ⎯ Blue
Gluttony ⎯ Orange
Greed ⎯ Yellow
Envy ⎯ Green
Pride ⎯ Purple
“Memorize it. Might keep you alive longer if you know who to stay away from.” He opens my mouth, placing a bit inside. “Bite this.”
Within seconds, the collar heats from hot to scorching. The smell of flesh sizzling makes my head spin. I bite down so hard a tooth cracks.
“GRRRRRRRRR,” escapes from deep within my chest. Just when I’m about to pass out, the temperature drops, and the doctor loosens the collar.
He removes it and sits me up. Excruciating pain rips through me, and I’m on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown. Focus. Don’t pass out.
Stainless steel counters and boring white walls press in on me. A guard laughs at me from an observation room above and yells, “Blue. It’s a great color for a pretty young thing like yourself.” His eyes dance with suggestion. The others meander around like it’s business as usual.
I finally find my voice and turn to the doctor.
“Are you going to give me clothes?” A burning pain spreads like fire up from my neck to my jaw, making me wince.
He points to a set of folded grey scrubs on a chair. I cover myself as much as I can and scurry sideways. Grabbing my clothes and pulling the shirt over my head, I try to avoid the raw meat around my throat. I quickly knot the cord of my pants around my waist and slide my feet into the hospital-issue slippers as the doctor observes. He hands me a bag labeled with my name.
“Nothing is allowed through the door but what we’ve given you,” he says.
I hide my right hand behind me, hoping no one notices. A guard scans my body and opens his hand.
“Give it to me,” he says. “Don’t make me rip off your finger.” He crouches down and I turn to stone. I don’t know what to do, so I beg.
“My father gave this to me. Please, let me keep it.” I smash my eyes shut and think of the moment my father handed the golden ring to me.
“It was my mother’s ring,” he’d said. “She’s the strongest woman I ever knew.” With tears in his eyes, he reached for my hand and said, “Lexi, you’re exactly like her.
She’d want you to wear this. No matter how this world changes, you can survive.” I turned the gold band over in my palm and read the engraving.
You can overcome anything… short of death.
“You’re going to take the one thing that matters the most to me?” I say, glaring into the guard’s emotionless eyes. “Isn’t it enough taking my life, dignity, and respect?”
A hard blow falls upon my back. As I fall, my hands shoot out to stop me from smashing into the wall in front of me. The guard bends down and grabs my chin with his meaty fist.
“Look at me,” he commands. I look up and he smiles with arrogance.
“What the hell?” He staggers a step backward. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“Nothing,” I respond, confused.
“What color are they?”
“Turquoise.” I glower at him.
“Interesting,” he says, regaining his composure. “Now those’ll get you in trouble.”
Reality slaps me across the face. I have my father’s eyes. They can't take them from me. I twist the ring off my finger and drop it in his hand.
“Take the damn ring,” I say. I walk to the door. He swipes a card and the massive door slides open to the outside.
“You have to wear your hair back at all times, so everyone knows what you are.” He hands me a tie, so I pull my frizzy hair away from my face and secure it into a ponytail. My neck burns and itches as my hand traces the scabs that have already begun to form. Squinting ahead in the darkness, I almost run into a guard standing on the sidewalk.
“Watch where you’re going,” he says, shoving me backward. His stiff figure stands tall and I cringe at the sharpness of his voice.
“Cole, this is your new assignment, Lexi Hamilton. See to it she feels welcome in her new home.” The guard departs with a salute.
“Let’s move,” Cole says.
I take two steps and collapse, my knees giving out. The unforgiving pavement reopens the scrapes from earlier and I struggle to stand. A powerful arm snatches me up, and I see his face for the first time.
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About the Authors
Abi and Missy met in the summer
of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After
college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still
found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went
to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable
hobby has now become an incredible adventure.
2 grand prize winners with photo and notebook of
Matt with signed paperback (INT)