Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall @gameoverstation #knightmarearcanist #YA #fantas

KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST by Shami Stovall, YA Fantasy

Author: Shami Stovall
Publisher: Capital Station Books
Pages: 360
Genre: YA Fantasy

In a world populated by mythical creatures, those who bond with them are known as arcanists—their magic stemming from the connection they forged. Phoenix arcanists gain flames and healing, unicorn arcanists speak with horses and manipulate poison, or even basilisk arcanists who control flesh and stone.

But those wishing to bond must first prove themselves.

Gravedigger Volke Savan, desperate to leave his tiny home island and impress the most beautiful girl he’s ever known, breaks every tradition of the bonding ceremony just to become an arcanist. But when the only creature who will bond with him has a sinister requirement, Volke is put to the ultimate test of worth.

A fast-paced flintlock fantasy for those who enjoy How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell, Unsouled (Cradle Series) by Will Wight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.




            I outlined a fresh grave for the cemetery as bells rang from the isle’s tower, signifying the start of the celebrations. The soil reeked of ammonia and rot, but the crisp morning breeze washed the scent away, dispersing it over the ocean. I removed my shirt, allowing the wind to cool me while I worked.
            Every ten years, the people on the Isle of Ruma gathered to watch the fledgling phoenixes bond with a few chosen mortals. Lamplighters did their duty despite the glorious sunshine, each lamp’s fire representing the flames of phoenixes. Merchants cleared their horses and carts from the main road in anticipation of the crowds.
This was my second Day of Phoenixes. A decade ago, on my fifth birthday, I missed the bonding ceremony to attend my father’s trial. He was convicted of murder, but because he hadn’t been born on the island, he was taken to the mainland for final judgement. That was the last time I saw him.
            Although the last Day of Phoenixes had been inauspicious, I intended to change that. Once I had finished digging a shallow grave, I would make my way into town.
I slammed the shovel’s head into the dirt and scooped deep. The cemetery sat near the edge of the island, far from those gathering to observe the hopeful students trying to win the favor of the phoenixes.
            Tradition stated that anyone who handled sewage, waste, and dead bodies wasn’t allowed to attend the bonding ceremony, which was just my luck. After my father was sent away, I could’ve been given to any profession for apprenticeship. I could’ve gone to the carpenter and learned the craft of woodworking, or I could’ve gone to the silversmith and learned the art of fine metal work, but misfortune hounded me like a shadow. I was given to the gravekeeper, slated to dig corpse-holes until the end of time, forever exiled from the festivities.
            I still intended to go. Even if it meant ignoring the traditions of the isle—something unheard of on our tiny spit of land—no one could stop me from proving myself to a phoenix. No one.
I scooped another mound of dirt and tossed it to the side.
            “You look deep in thought, Volke,” my fellow corpse-hole apprentice, Illia, said. “What’re you planning?”
            “I’m waiting for the trials to begin.”
            “And then what?”
            “You’ll see.”
            Illia sat in the shade of a cypress tree, her legs crossed and her chin in both hands. Most people hated the thought of sitting on graves, since it was supposed to bring bad luck, but Illia wasn’t like most people. She leaned back on a headstone and exhaled as the ocean wind rushed by, catching her wavy brown hair and revealing the scars on the side of her face.
            She held a hand over the marks, like she always did. The moment the wind died down, she pulled some of her hair around to cover her scars, hiding the old knife wounds that had taken her right eye.
            I finished one half of the grave and huffed.
            Illia and I lived in a tiny cottage on the edge of the cemetery, apprenticed to Ruma’s sole gravekeeper. We both held the glorious title of gravedigger. Like me, she had no family. Well, we had each other, and Gravekeeper William, but he hardly counted.
            For ten years, Illia and I had considered ourselves brother and sister, and siblings always know each other’s mood. Illia displayed all the telltale signs of irritation—narrowed eye, rarely blinking, her mouth turned down in a slight frown. She hated the fact I was keeping secrets from her. If I didn’t explain myself quick, she’d exact her revenge.
            “I don’t want to become the next gravekeeper,” I said as I threw a mound of dirt off to the side.
            With an eyebrow sarcastically raised, Illia asked, “So you’re going to impress a phoenix and leave this place, is that it?”
            “That’s right.”
            “Only two phoenixes were born this year,” she said, wagging her finger. “And the schoolmaster has already picked his two favored disciples to win the right to bond. No one wants you to take a phoenix from either of those try-hards.”
            “I don’t care.” I scooped out another clump of dirt, my grip on the shovel so tight it hurt. “Bonding with a phoenix is too important. Besides, no one on this isle likes me anyway. Why should I start caring about their opinions now?”
            “Hmph. I should’ve known you’d say that.”
            Of course. Anyone who bonded with a mystical creature, like a phoenix, became an arcanist—a powerful wielder of sorcery, capable of great magic based on the creature they bonded to.
            Arcanists were the pinnacle of society, the most influential people, and revered by everyone. Some arcanists could control the weather, or devastate armies, or make the land fertile. Even the weakest and laziest of arcanists were well-thought-of and important members of powerful guilds, shepherding humanity to greatness with a mere flick of their wrists.
            What I wouldn’t give to become an arcanist. They were things of legend.
            More significant than a gravedigger, anyway.
            “You’re not the only one with plans today,” Illia said. She waited a minute before adding, “Aren’t you going to ask me what I’ll be doing during the bonding ceremony?”
            I shoveled another chunk of dirt, taking some weeds with it. “All right. Tell me. What will you be doing?”
            “It’s a secret.”
            She stood and brushed herself off with a few gentle pats to her dress. Then she crossed her arms and stared at me, no doubt waiting for me to pester her about the secret just so she could say, see how annoying it is when you do it?
            “I’m sure you’ll have fun doing whatever it is you have planned,” I said with a shrug.
            “You’re not the only one who wants to become an arcanist, Volke,” she replied, saying my name as though it were venom. “But there might be easier ways than embarrassing yourself in front of everyone.”
            I finished carving the outline of the grave, determined not to be sucked into asking her what she meant. I had too many things on my mind to get into an argument. Besides, I knew she was right. It was irksome being excluded from secrets, especially by family. But I didn’t want to run the risk of her trying to dissuade me.
            Another round of bells sounded in the distance. I threw my shovel to the side and turned toward the cemetery cottage. “I have to go. Whatever you do, don’t get into trouble.”
            Illia replied with a smile. “Never.”
            Something about her sarcastic tone told me she had trouble planned, but there wasn’t any time to go into it. I jogged into the cottage, ran up the rickety stairs, and then dashed straight into my room. It was technically a storage closet that Gravekeeper William had converted into a sleeping space so that Illia and I wouldn’t have to share the second bedroom.
            The cramped room fit my cot, a chair, and a trunk for my clothes. That was it.
            I squeezed myself in, ripped off my dirty trousers, and then dressed in a clean white shirt and black pants. Although I owned nothing fancy—everything in my trunk had been Gravekeeper William’s at some point—I still wanted to make an effort. The phoenixes bonded with individuals they liked the most after the Trials of Worth were over. I needed to impress them, and I couldn’t do that with grave dirt on my clothes.
            Once dressed, I combed my disheveled hair, even though it never cooperated. For some reason, it always puffed out and tangled at the ends, defying gravity just to make me look foolish. And the blackness of it—an inky hue taken straight from the midnight hour—wasn’t common on the isles. Everyone else had red or blond hair, so other kids made fun of me.
            Coal head. Ink brush. They weren’t clever kids—any dumber and you’d have to water them twice a week—they were just mean. No one harassed me after I grew tall, however. Six feet meant I stood out in the group, and not in a wimpy way.
            When I finished the last of my brushing, my hair puffed back out.
            Satisfied I had made myself halfway presentable, I laced up my boots and headed downstairs to the kitchen. I grabbed a small canteen of water and the cleanest rag we owned before rushing out the front door.
            The vast ocean sparkled in the distance, so blue it put the sky to shame. The winds brought waves, but nothing strong enough to reach far inland—just the melody of water lapping across the white sand beaches.
            With the breeze in my face, I ran down the dirt road until I came to the cobblestone streets of the city. I pushed my way through the crowds of people swarming toward the town square.
            Our small island didn’t have much flatland, so the one city—creatively named Ruma, like the island—was the only place to live. The two-story houses were smooshed together, most with stores downstairs and homes above. Despite the congested living arrangements, people went out of their way to keep the place lively. Potted flowers, colored cobblestone for the roads, wrought-iron fences in the shape of fish for the balconies—Ruma had a special beauty waiting in every nook and cranny.
            The crowds made their way to the Pillar to watch the bonding trials begin.
            The Pillar—nothing more than a sheer column of pointed rock jutting straight up into the sky—was well over one hundred and twenty feet tall. It could be seen from anywhere on the island, the reddish stone shimmering in the sunlight. A single tree grew at the top, its branches forever swaying in the ocean winds, its roots laced over the rock, its fruit rare and delicious.
            That sole charberry tree was what had attracted the first phoenixes to our island centuries ago. The spicy fruit tasted like a chili pepper, but sweeter and juicier. Phoenixes loved them.
            The base of the Pillar was the starting location for the Trials of Worth—the tasks given to the wide-eyed hopefuls wanting to prove their value to the phoenixes. I continued through the crowd, my head tilted back, my gaze locked on the Pillar. A staircase wrapped around the column of rock, all the way to the top.
            “Hey,” someone yelled as I shoved my way deeper into the excited masses. “Isn’t that one of the gravedigger kids?”
            I ignored the remark, sidestepped the slow-moving families, and nimbly maneuvered through a group of schoolchildren. If I bonded with a phoenix, I wouldn’t have to stay here anymore and listen to their whispers. All new arcanists traveled to the mainland to join a guild for training.
            A third round of bells chimed, and my pulse quickened with each step. I didn’t want to be late for the trials.
            The whole population of Ruma packed the streets, shoulder to shoulder. No one missed the Day of Phoenixes unless they were specifically excluded, like the garbage men. Everyone wore their best attire, children tossed red flower petals, and the theater troupe wore costumes made of bird feathers while they pranced around pretending to be phoenixes. It took all of my willpower not to crane my head to get a better look as I ran by.
            “—and today is a day of glory,” the schoolmaster’s voice boomed across the town square.
            Schoolmaster Tyms was a naturally loud individual—Gravekeeper William described him as a regular blowhard in love with his own voice.
            I slipped between two elderly men and stayed off to the side, making sure to remain in the shadows cast by the morning sun. Hundreds of people crowded the center of town, but their gazes never turned in my direction. They all kept their attention on a wooden stage near the Pillar—a platform only a few feet off the ground—where Schoolmaster Tyms stood squarely in the middle, his arms raised.
            Whenever he glanced in my direction, I ducked. Schoolmaster Tyms didn’t care for anyone except those who attended his lectures, and he especially hated those with “unsavory” professions.
            “I’ve mentored two extraordinary people,” Tyms said. “Both are talented beyond their years and worthy of a phoenix.”
He walked to the edge of the stage, lifting his arms even higher, his wrinkled face pulled back in an unnatural smile. I had seen corpses do a better job at conveying emotion.
But I didn’t stare at him for long because on either side of him, perched on ornate bird stands, were two phoenixes.
            I stood transfixed, taking in their lustrous scarlet feathers and golden eyes. They had the build of herons, delicate and sleek, but every time they moved, soot fell from them and drifted to the ground. Fire flashed underneath their wings as though their whole bodies were made of flame. Their tails hung down two feet and twisted a bit at the end, like a peacock.
            They were young, not even a year old, but that was old enough for them to leave the island. Mystical creatures didn’t reach maturity unless they were bonded to a person—I was certain they were giddy for the ceremony as well.
            “We’re honored to be here today,” one phoenix said, her voice sing-song and brilliant.
            The other added, “We can’t wait to see our potential partners.” He lifted his head as he spoke, his voice soft but distinct.
            I wanted to hold one in my arms and feel the warmth of their magic coursing through my body, but touching a phoenix was forbidden. Only once they bonded with a person were they allowed to be handled.
            The phoenixes tilted their heads as two individuals walked forward. The two were around my age, fifteen, the age of adulthood. They wore robes of glistening white, tied at the waist with silver ropes made of silk. Fancy outfits made on the mainland, betraying their wealth.
            Tyms motioned to the rich newcomers. “On this Day of the Phoenixes I’ve selected Zaxis Ren and Atty Trixibelle to take part in the trials.”
            Of course they would be picked. Ever since we were kids, they were always favored by the schoolmaster.
            I cursed under my breath as Zaxis walked to the base of the Pillar.
            He stopped under the metal archway, a century-old artifact which had been shaped into a phoenix and gilded. The arch signified the start of the trial. Anyone who passed beneath it would become a participant.
            Zaxis smiled at the crowd with the smuggest expression a human could muster. His red hair shimmered in the sunlight and fluttered about with the wind. It wasn’t long enough to tie back, and I took a small amount of pleasure in watching him clumsily pat it down every few seconds, only for a stray hair to poke him in the eye again.
            Zaxis’s family, the Ren House, stood at the front of the crowd, their personal soldiers keeping the “riffraff” a couple feet back. They cheered for Zaxis and threw flower petals. I had never been cheered for anything, yet all he did was show up. Life wasn’t fair sometimes.
            “Thank you,” Zaxis said as he flashed a toothy smile. “Thank you. Once I’m bonded with a phoenix, I’ll make all of Ruma proud with my many accomplishments. I’ll become the world’s most renowned arcanist, loved by all.”
            I balled my hands into fists and gritted my teeth. He already assumed a phoenix would choose him and that he would make one of the world’s greatest arcanists? Of course he did—he wasn’t expecting any competition.
            Then Atty stepped forward, and the crowds hushed.
            Unlike Zaxis, whose insufferable attitude knew no bounds, Atty held herself with regal sophistication. Her long blonde hair, tied in a neat braid, didn’t twirl in the winds. She held her head high, her slender neck adorned with a silver necklace depicting a charberry tree. I had always admired her poise and grace, like a pauper admires a member of royalty, even when I was young.
            If things had been different—if I wasn’t a gravedigger—maybe I could’ve courted Atty. No doubt she would be disgusted to have someone like me approach her now. But once I bonded with a phoenix, perhaps I’d have the courage.
            “Thank you, Schoolmaster Tyms,” Atty said, her voice a sweet relief after a long day’s work. “It’s a privilege to prove myself worthy of a phoenix. If I become an arcanist, I swear to dedicate myself to becoming a helpful ruler, one all of Ruma can be proud of.”
            Atty’s family, the Trixibelle House, owned most of the buildings on the island. They sat on nearby balconies, each of them poised on chairs and cushions, cheering for Atty, along with everyone else on the island.
            Although I wanted a phoenix for myself, I almost joined in on the clapping. Her answer was perfect, and when the phoenixes exchanged glances, I knew they thought the same.
            No one else stepped forward.
            While other people could offer themselves to the phoenixes, it was frowned upon. The schoolmaster knew best, or so they said—for centuries the keepers of knowledge were deemed the wisest and most capable of determining who would become the best arcanists. It was tradition. And for the last few decades, the schoolmaster hadn’t even made it a competition. He simply chose the exact number of students equal to phoenixes, ensuring his recommendation carried more weight than gold.
            And the Isle of Ruma knew the importance of picking the right people to become arcanists. If the competition was open to everyone, someone with ill intents could gain vast magical power. The schoolmaster was supposed to weed them out and put forward only the best, most deserving people. That was why no one else entered the competitions. Following traditions is the way of the isles! Our island’s motto.
            But even if I was noble of spirit, Atty and Zaxis studied and trained eight hours a day under the care of Schoolmaster Tyms. Everyone else, myself included, had work and chores. Atty and Zaxis were lucky. I wasn’t. How could I ever hope to match their knowledge and skills?
            That didn’t matter, though. I wouldn’t make excuses. The phoenixes could, in theory, bond with anyone they found worthy. And I would show them just how worthy I was by passing each of the three trials.
            “Once our hopefuls walk through the archway,” Tyms said, gesturing to the gold phoenix arch, “they will officially become participants in the trials. For the first task, each hopeful must walk up all one hundred and twelve steps of the Pillar to the charberry tree. Then they will pick a fruit to present to the phoenixes and return down the stairs.”
            Every Day of Phoenixes had the same three trials. The charberry tree was the first. Only one stairway led to the tree—the spiral stairway made of stone steps that wrapped around the Pillar. The steps were hundreds of years old and worn smooth from use. Oh, and no railing, which was why I never felt safe standing on them, as falling from anything past the tenth step meant serious injury, possibly death.
            “And with that, you may begin,” Tyms shouted.
            Both Atty and Zaxis bowed to the crowd before turning and walking through the archway.
            This was it.
            My moment.
            I ran through the crowd, pushing people out of the way when I needed to, even knocking over a few men of the Ren Family as I dashed toward the arch. My heart beat so hard I almost didn’t hear people screaming for me to stop.
            “Hey!” a woman barked.
            “What’s he doing?” someone else shouted.
            “Stop him!”
            But before anyone could grab me, I raced through the archway, dashing past Atty and Zaxis.
            “What do you think you’re doing, Volke?” Zaxis growled. “Good-for-nothing gravediggers can’t enter the trials!”
            I had my foot on the first step of the Pillar when I glanced over my shoulder. “I already passed under the archway. That makes me a participant.”
            “What? That’s not allowed!” Zaxis glanced over his shoulder. “Right, Master Tyms?”
            Tyms blubbered and flailed his arms. “How dare you, Volke! You walk back through that archway this instant. You’re disgracing all of Ruma with your disrespect!”
            I ran up the steps, taking them two at a time despite the lack of railing.
            Today I would prove myself to a phoenix. I would prove myself to all of Ruma.
            I was more than just a gravedigger.
I wouldn’t stop. Not now, not ever.


Shami Stovall relies on her BA in History and Juris Doctorate to make her living as an author and history professor in the central valley of California. She writes in a wide range of fiction, from crime thrillers to fantasy to science-fiction. Stovall loves reading, playing video games, entertaining others with stories, and writing about herself in the third person.

Website: https://sastovallauthor.com/
Blog: https://sastovallauthor.com/blog/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/@GameOverStation/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SAStovall/


Monday, June 3, 2019

High Flying by Kaylin McFarren @4kaylin #timetravel #thriller

HIGH FLYING by Kaylin McFarren, Time Travel/Thriller

Author: Kaylin McFarren
Publisher: Creative Edge Publishing LLC
Pages: 280
Genre: Time Travel Thriller

 …ten minutes to survive the past.

Skylar Haines has struggled with personal demons most of her life, going to dark extremes to subdue anxieties rooted in her tragic past. On a perpetual hunt for the next adrenaline hit, she discovers a passion for flying and becomes a hard-edged stunt pilot, verging on obsession. In the sky, following her most daring airshow, she encounters a mysterious storm and almost collides with another aircraft, sending her into a perilous dive. Guided by a mysterious voice, she manages a safe landing but finds herself transported to another time. Eight months before she was born, one week before her father was murdered.

Though baffled by her circumstances, Skylar soon arrives at a single certainty: Before her lies a remarkable chance to change her family’s destiny drastically for the better — or possibly even worse — depending on the choices she makes, before her window of opportunity closes.




With renewed excitement, Jake Brennen and Skylar Haines approached two silver Pitts high performance biplanes, designed around Vedeneyev M14P engines. Their trusted mechanic limped wearily toward them, wiping crumbs from his thick handlebar mustache. Ethan Edwards had been named after the main character in The Searchers, an unlikely hero. But according to Ethan, he’d already become one with the endless hours he put into keeping their planes in the air.
        Unfortunately, the grimace on his narrow face reflected the concern in his voice. “Jake, I know Skylar is an excellent pilot and has been going to airshows for years, but do you really think it’s a good idea to let her tackle those stunts alone?” The forty-four-year-old grease monkey had become a father figure to Jake after his dad died twenty-some years ago, and he never minced words when it came to voicing his opinions.
        “Skylar says she’s ready to do it,” Jake assured him. “We’ve been going over these stunts for several days now.”
        “In the air?”
        “Yes, of course. We went through the whole routine twice. I’m pretty confident that—”
        “You of all people should know that it takes months to perfect maneuvers.”
        “I realize that. But Skylar’s got her mind set on doing this, and I believe in her abilities.” Jake glanced at her and smiled. “If I didn’t, we wouldn’t be here.”
        Ethan followed Jake to his plane, shaking his head, and Skylar trailed close behind. “Honestly,” Ethan grumbled, “I just hope you’re not making a huge mistake.”
        “I agree with you there,” Jake said, settling into his seat.
        “Okay, fine…if that’s the way you want it. Come on, Skylar. I’ll help you get strapped in.”
        “Thanks, Ethan!” Jake called out.
        A short, middle-aged woman with shoulder-length brown hair approached Skylar, waving her hand excitedly. “Miss Haines! Miss Haines! Please wait. I’ve been trying to reach you for two days now. I’m Samantha Jackson. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to meet you in person.”
        “Exciting?” Skylar’s lips held a faint smile.
        “Why, yes. I read about you in the newspaper this morning and understand you purchased one of my books. Women in Flight? I wrote it four years ago.”
        “Really? In the newspaper? Somebody actually wrote a story about me? Was Jake mentioned too?”
        The kindly woman smiled. “Jake Brennen was interviewed about the airshow and said you were performing today. I’m sure your family is very proud of you, Miss Haines.”
        Skylar almost laughed out loud. Her grandfather had no interest in any aspect of her life, especially after having her arrested for stealing his motorcycle. Moreover, the hostility between them had increased exponentially when he insisted she be sent away to reform school. At the time, he claimed he was doing her a real favor and she did him a better one by leaving town.
        “Anyway,” the writer added, “I want to wish you good luck today, not that you’ll need it. Mr. Brennen said you’re one of the most talented pilots he’s ever worked with.”
        “What? He actually said that?” The stupid smile, which had left her face while the woman was speaking, reappeared.
        “Indeed, he did. You can see for yourself right here.” The woman handed her a torn section from the local newspaper. “You can keep that if you’d like.” The story she was referring to filled most of the page and continued on the backside. Skylar took it, folded it, and slipped it into her backpack, promising herself to read it later.
        “I also thought you might also like to know that I’m working on a new book,” the woman added. “It’s all about female stunt pilots and—”
        Skylar was only half-listening. “You don’t say?” Her attention had drifted to Jake in the neighboring plane. He had his sunglasses on, covering his stunning green eyes, and was adjusting the headset on top of his shaggy blonde hair.
        “When you have some free time,” the woman added, “I’d love to sit down and talk with you. Maybe even include your story in my new book.” She handed Skylar a business card and smiled.
        “Yeah, sure. Why not?” Skylar shook the woman’s hand. Then she watched her walk away. She glanced at the ivory business card’s elegant scrolled lettering and made a mental note of the woman’s name before adding it to her backpack.
        Unbelievable. Skylar smiled to herself. Jake was certainly full of surprises today. She’d have to remember to thank him for the compliment—one that she was determined to earn today.
        “Looks like you have a new fan,” Ethan said, reminding her of his presence. His face was serious as always, but his blue eyes were brighter than usual.
        “I can’t imagine why.” Skylar glanced toward the stands, filled to capacity with spectators. The realization of what had taken place made her cheeks flush. “Jake’s the one with all the talent, not me.”
        “I don’t think so,” Ethan said. “Far as I’m concerned, you’re both gifted.” As they reached her plane, he laid a hand on her shoulder. “I just hope you know what you’re doing, kiddo.”
        “Yeah, so do I.” An unseasonal breeze had picked up, sending a chill down her spine. Her hands trembled and her arms ached, reminding her of her hidden obsession and Jake’s disturbing remark during breakfast.
        “I don't understand why you wear long sleeves all the time…even when it’s unbearably hot. I hope you’re not shooting up drugs or something.” He smiled, and she shook her head. She tried to smile back, but failed miserably. She wasn’t about to tell him that she was emotionally scarred by childhood abuse and had anxiety-driven roadmaps on her arms to prove it.
        “You okay, sweetheart?” Ethan brought her back to the present. “Cause if you’re not, there’s no way I’m sending you up.”
        “I’m fine…honest.” She could hear the scared little voice in her head disagreeing. Eight maneuvers were not part of the original plan. At least, not until two weeks ago. With very little preparation, a lot could go wrong, and Ethan knew it better than anyone.
        “All right,” he said. “I’m holding you to that.” She gave him a quick smile before climbing into her seat. Apparently, he sensed her fear as he continued to reassure her, while strapping her in. “Just follow Jake’s lead and his commands. Keep an eye on your airspeed and altitude. Stay a comfortable distance away from each other. And break off if things get sloppy. Is that clear?”
        Skylar whispered quietly. It’s just you and me now, Roxy. Let’s do this right.
        “What’s that?”
        “Yes. I understand, Ethan.”
        “I’ll be listening.”
        “Okay. Sounds great.”
        He patted her shoulder and winked. “You’ve got this. In fact, I bet you ten bucks no one’s going to be as incredible as you two. Just remember that, Sky, and you’ll forget about all your fears.”
        She managed a weak smile. “Okay, you’re on. But you still owe me six dollars from poker.”
        “What do you say? Double or nothing?”
        “You’re incorrigible.”
        Ethan checked her straps and gave her a thumb up salute. She returned the gesture, confirming she was ready to go. Then she heard Jake’s voice on her headset. “So, how’s my girl doing?”
        “As well as can be expected,” she said. In all truth, Skylar was a jittery mess—anxious to get this show over and on with her life. She closed her eyes and exhaled all the breath from her lungs for a count of five. Then she repeated the relaxation technique, holding her breath. You can do this, you can do this, she kept telling herself.
        “Heck, you’re far better than that,” Jake said. “You’re friggin’ amazing…for a woman anyway.” He was grinning, motioning his head towards the empty seat in front of him. “What do you say? Care to tag along?’
        She touched her necklace and smiled. “That’s the plan.”
        He mouthed the words I love you, and she instantly relaxed.
        There were moments like this when she was tempted to repeat the words. When for three seconds, she didn’t believe in the notion that love gave someone the power to destroy you.
        She was only six years old the day her mother asked her, “What’s more beautiful than life itself…devours you inside…makes you laugh and cry all day…and makes you do anything, anytime, anyplace?” Of course, the answer to her riddle was love. But after everything her mother had gone through, Skylar was frightened to say it.
        So is that why she was doing this now? Why she was willing to risk her life to please the only man she truly cared about?
         Jake’s voice came back on the radio, directing her step by step. “Okay, Skylar, let’s do this just like we planned. Remember…pay attention to our distance. Do everything like we practiced. I’ll count us through. You got this! And don’t forget, sweetheart…this is all about timing and having fun too. Is that clear?”
        “Yes. Crystal clear.”
        “Okay. Ready to go?”
        “Then let’s do this. Nice and easy.”
        Jake taxied his biplane off the grass and onto the runway, and Skylar followed close behind. Then the airshow announcer’s voice erupted over the loud speakers in the stadium. “Our next act, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, are the Twin Arrows from the Ace Flying Circus. Let’s give these two a big round of applause.”
        A cheer rose in the air, and Jake’s voice came through Skylar’s speaker. “Roger, Mitchell Tower.” His plane rolled forward and Skylar trailed behind him, increasing her air speed as she pulled the stick towards her. She looked at the tower and knew that Ethan was keeping an eye on her from there. For the first time all day, the announcer said nothing. The crowd hushed and even the children watched silently as the two old war planes took off full throttle, one after the other. They swooped upwards and their engines roared.
        The wings made it difficult to see, but Skylar witnessed bits and pieces of Jake’s first maneuver—enough to know that they were perfectly executed. He flew out of the spectator’s view allowing her center stage. Now it was her turn. The plane responded instantly to her touch and she became a sculptor carving the air. Spins and turns, drops and climbs. Her individual routine had been flawless. To finish, she climbed high above the runaway. The hangars, taxiways, and crowded tarmac became the size of miniature replicas. When the plane could climb no more, it stalled and fell to one side, dropping into a spiral heading straight for the ground. Instead of recovering and pulling out of the dive, Skylar let the ground rush toward her until she knew the crowd feared for her life. And because she had spent countless years watching airshows, she knew the audience had exploded with cheers when she added power and regained control. She climbed back into the sky feeling electrified, brimming with adrenaline.
        Jake met her in his plane directly over the runway, front and center for the cheering crowd. They climbed in unison, turned on their tails, then stalled and dropped in opposite directions. They proceeded to fly the identical acrobatic routine: tailspins, four-point rolls, flat spins, figure eights, snap rolls and hammerheads. Flying together, they were a reflection of each other—perfectly matched in speed, altitude, and control. 
        The other pilots could do these stunts too, skillfully even. But each time Jake was in the cockpit, he became an artist. Everyone who watched him knew they were seeing something remarkable. But this time, Skylar was right there with him, matching every move. The feeling was pure energy and naked spirit.
        They flew out and around to get enough distance and speed to do their final stunt. Descending even lower, it appeared as if they were going to land. Then Jake yelled, “Here we go!” He dropped even lower and did a smooth barrel roll directly under Skylar. They kept the bellies of their planes in perfection position from one end of the runway to the other—blasting by the audience, a plane and its reflection.
        Jake called, “Clear out!”
        Just as they had rehearsed, Skylar broke off to the right and went into a climb. She couldn’t see him, but she knew that Jake was completing his barrow roll and would soon follow her into the sky. 
        The exhilaration she felt was beyond description, beyond anything she had experienced before. Skylar could almost hear the cheers erupting from the ground below, as she soared higher and higher. She was heading straight toward a cloud bank that hadn’t been there before—not when they started their routine. It was like a wall that reached higher than she could see.
        Skylar heard a crackle on her radio and then Jake’s reassuring voice. “Honey, that was amazing! I knew you could do it.”
        His praise was a salve for her soul. “Thanks for believing in me, Jake.”
        “You would have loved this, Roxy,” she said quietly. “It was just like we talked about.” All of her dreams were coming true, exactly the way she imagined. With Jake’s help, she had accomplished a remarkable feat, and now her name would be synonymous with female stunt pilots all over the world.
        The wall of clouds was getting bigger at a rate Skylar had never seen before. Even intense thunderstorms didn’t grow this rapidly, and there were no storms forecasted in this area.
        “Jake? Do you see this?” Skylar couldn’t believe the size of this weather system in front of her. She couldn’t even begin to see the top or either side.
        The radio crackled but he didn’t respond.
        “Jake? Can you hear me?”
        Static erupted in her headset but then cleared. “Baby, listen. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”
        “Jake? Is that you?”
        “I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to say this out loud—”
        “What are you talking about? Jake? Is something wrong?”
        “Skylar…I…you.” Static blocked out most of the words. “Sky…do…hear me? …get what…saying?” The static was increasing. “…honest…love you!”
        “Jake! I can barely hear you. Can you hear me?”
        He kept talking, obviously unaware that the call was breaking up. “…Skylar…want…know…”
        “Jake! I can’t hear you! Jake! Repeat.”
        “Get…here…quick.” The static was getting louder. “…proud…believe…long to…say…here…why…you.”
        The static ended and silence filled her ears. It was time to get back on the ground. “If you can hear me, there’s a weather system approaching and it’s a biggie! I’m on my way back.” Then she added, “Taking it nice and easy.”
        However, nature had a different idea. It was as if the wall of clouds had swallowed her whole, darkening the cockpit in an instant. The plane danced and swayed in the turbulence, constantly buffeted by the increas­ing wind. Skylar’s head hit the canopy and her knees slammed against the sides of the plane. She had entered the eye of the storm and was being thrown around like a toy plane. Lightning flashed across the sky, followed by the crash of thunder. She tightened her grip on the controls and released a ragged breath.
        Holy shit. Skylar was in the bowels of a storm with no end in sight. She could only hold on and pray that the plane wouldn’t break into pieces. The turbulence grew wilder, tossing her around like a rock in a can. She regained control of her plane for seconds at a time. When she could, she started a turn in an attempt to break free from the storm—to exit the way she came in. She kept an eye out on the windscreen to stay oriented, but it was hard to keep her head still long enough to see clearly.
        The dark ominous sky revealed glimpses of white clouds sliding behind fast-moving black curtains, giving her a sliver of hope. Then, from out of nowhere, a red and white plane descended from above, headed straight at her. We’re gonna crash!
        Skylar gasped and veered her biplane to the left. They were bulleting past each other, but there wasn’t enough time to get out of the way. Her right wing clipped the tail of the other aircraft, sending her plane into a nose dive.
        “Oh, my God!” she yelled into her radio. “We collided!”
        The radio was quiet.
        “Jake! Can you hear me? It’s Skylar! I’m going down!” She was spiraling and plunging straight down, holding on for dear life.
        Why wasn’t he answering? Where the hell was Jake?
        Skylar had the stick close to her chest pulling up for all she was worth. “Ethan, are you there? Ethan, it’s Skylar! Why isn't anyone responding? I’m going down!”
        A man’s voice came through the speaker. “Skylar. Let go.”
        Who was that? It was an unfamiliar voice.
        “I can’t recover the controls!” she yelled. “I collided with another plane! Help me! Please help me!”
        “Skylar, listen. You know how to do this. You just need to let go.”
        “I can’t! The controls were damaged. I’m going down!”
        The man’s voice remained calm. “You can do this. Your plane is fine.” He might as well have been ordering dinner at a restaurant. “Listen to me. You’re in a stall. Let go of the stick. Let the wings do their job.”
        Her knuckles were white.
        “Skylar, listen to me,” he repeated. “You know how to do this. Let go!”
        She blew out a deep breath. The ground was getting closer by the second and her nerves were jumping. She needed to act before it was too late.
        Against everything her brain was screaming, she followed stall protocol. She pushed the stick away from her and shoved in the throttle, increasing her descent into the ground. As soon as she heard the power of her engines, relief poured over her. She pulled back on the stick and felt the gloriousness of her wings taking hold, creating lift and allowing her aircraft to fly.
        I’m going make it!
        “Nice one, Skylar! You did it!” The stranger cheered.
        She leveled off and the sky around her lightened, allowing her to see the runway below. She had fallen a long way. “Thank you. I…couldn’t…I have…”
        “Just land and be done with it,” he said. “That was quite a ride!”
        “Coming around.” She headed for a final approach and used the time to breathe and wipe the tears from her eyes. There was nothing she could do about the shaking. Her whole body was trembling.
        “Jake? Ethan? Are you there?”
        The radio remained silent.
        Skylar touched down with a gentle bounce. She taxied off the runway and pulled around to a stop in front of a black hanger that she didn’t recall seeing before. But then after that harrowing experience, everything in the world seemed new.
        She shut off the engines and the airplane shuttered. The propellers slowed and stopped with a jerk. Silence. She started to remove her headset but stopped and said into the mic, “Are you still there? I can’t thank you enough.”
        “It was nothing. Glad to help.”
        “I don’t know what got into me. I’ve never panicked like that before.”
         “No problem. Happens to the best of us.”
        “But I’m used to emergencies. I’ve done it a thousand times. I do stalls for a living!” She hesitated, embarrassed to admit such a thing. “Well, thank you. I really can’t thank you enough.” Then she realized she didn’t have the foggiest idea who he was—this guardian angel who saved her. “Can I ask who this is?”
        “The name’s Haines,” he said. “It was my plane your clipped up there. But I managed to bring her down safely.”
        “That was you! I don’t know how that happened. You just appeared and I only had a second to react. I’m so glad you’re okay. That I’m okay too…thanks to you.”
        “Like I said, glad to help.”
        “Wait a minute. Did you say Haines?” She must have misheard. Or perhaps it was the near-death experience confusing her further.
        “Yep, that’s right. Dylan Haines.” He paused, then he asked, “Have we met before?”
        “Um…I…” Skylar looked around and realized that she wasn’t sure where she was. None of this was making sense. She pulled off her headset, thinking she could see better without them. She looked around for Jake. Where was Ethan? The airshow was still going on and groups of people were gathered here and there, filling the open spaces outside.
        Leaving her backpack behind, she climbed out of her seat and hopped to the ground. Where was everyone? Where was Jake? She was having trouble believing her eyes. A short distance away sat the brick traffic control tower and administration building. People were milling about, going in and out of the buildings. And she knew these buildings well. She saw them every day. She also knew that they had been remodeled a few years ago. But the building in front of her had clearly not been remodeled. It had the old windows and doors, and the addition that gave them more offices wasn’t there.
        What was going on here?
        Draped across the black fa├žade was a huge white banner with black letters. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
        Welcome to the ’98 Reno National Championship Air Races & Air Show!
        What? 1998? Was this some kind of joke? Skylar looked around, half expecting someone to jump out and yell, “Gotcha!”
        All the buildings around her looked the same but different. Everything was just a little bit off. She took another look around. The hangers were there, but where was the shed? She used that shed daily for tools and wash pails. The small maintenance building was there, however, the large newer side wasn’t. It was just a parking lot.
        Skylar scanned the whole airport and realized it wasn’t making any sense. This wasn’t right. None of it was right!
        Antique planes of every make and model were lined up in neat staggered rows. Pilots were checking engines, climbing in and out of cockpits, and studying the reader board for their positions. Red and white checkered canopies had replaced the black vendor tents that had been there this morning. The grandstands were still filled to capacity, yet none of the faces looked familiar. Not even the faces in the “Employee Section.” And there was still no sign of Jake and Ethan. Plus Jake’s biplane wasn’t there and his hanger was nowhere in sight.
        Was she losing her mind?
        A striking man with wavy brown hair and an athletic build strode up to her, wiping his hands on a rag. “So, you must be Skylar. It’s good to meet you. And all in one piece.” A bright smile stretched across his face.
        She returned his smile and realized that she recognized him. Her brain started filing through faces and names, searching for something to remind her who this man was. Then a picture came to mind. She knew a picture of this man. That was it! Skylar had seen his face in her grandfather’s album. Only, that album was filled with photos of her father.
        He looked exactly like a picture of her father. But that was impossible. Wasn’t it?
        Skylar looked at him a little closer. Same hair. Same sea blue eyes. If her father had a twin, this would be him. But wait…it couldn’t be. He didn’t have a twin and this man looked to be 25-years-old.
        The world came to a standstill. It was 1998. Her father would have been twenty-five in 1998. This was crazy, and so was being here, in this place—in the same year and place where her father had died.
        Skylar kept her clammy hands clenched at her sides and squeezed her eyes tight. This is all a dream…just a dream. Either that or she was dead. She must have crashed and died on impact. That was it! She was…dead. She opened her eyes again, but everything was the same. Still 1998. 
        She broke out in a cold sweat. A tingling sensation began in her hands and feet and then quickly spread to her entire body.
        Her father stepped forward and reached out a hand. “Skylar? Are you all right?”
        She simply stared, mystified. “This…this isn’t real. It…it can’t be,” she stammered. “It’s…a dream. Just…a dream.” He was tilting off center before her eyes, blurring into fuzzy grayness, disappearing as the world went black.


KAYLIN MCFARREN has received more than 45 national literary awards, in addition to a prestigious Golden Heart Award nomination for FLAHERTY’S CROSSING – a book she and her oldest daughter, New York Times/USA Today best-selling author, Kristina McMorris, co-authored in 2008. Prior to embarking on her writing journey and developing the popular THREADS psychological thriller series, she poured her passion for creativity into her work as the director of a fine art gallery in the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon; she also served as a governor-appointed member of the Oregon Arts Commission. When she’s not traveling or spoiling her pups and three grandsons, she enjoys giving back to her community through participation and support of various charitable and educational organizations in the Pacific Northwest, and is currently the president of the Soulful Giving Foundation – a non-profit focused on cancer research, care and treatment at hospitals throughout Oregon.

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