Monday, November 27, 2017

Reader's Review: "Grave Dealings" by R. R. Virdi

Synopsis from Amazon:

Don't make deals with the paranormal. They're better at it than you, and they never play fair.

Paranormal investigator and soul without a body, Vincent Graves, did just that—a deal made in desperation. Now it's coming back to bite him in the middle of a case.
He has 57 hours to investigate a string of deaths involving people who've made some devilish bargains. Too bad devils don't deal in good faith. It'd be easy enough, if he didn't have to deal with things such as:
  • Being hunted through the streets of Queens by a dark elf with a motorcycle fetish.
  • Ending up the target of a supernatural hit.
  • An old acquaintance dragging him to a paranormal ball where he could end up on the menu.
  • And having one of his closest guarded secrets brought to light...

    Not great for a tight clock, because if he doesn't get to the bottom of this case in time, Vincent and company might just lose their souls.

    Dirty deals are never done dirt cheap. And the supernatural always collect—big!
  • >>>>>>>

    My Review:

    Hang on to your feels!

    I have been an ardent fan of Virdi’s writing since the first Grave Report book. The first two books, I would say, were a constant roller-coaster of thrills and wild romps through monsters and lore, with plenty of opportunity for sarcastic clap-backs and goofy nerd references that had me giggling in between intense scenes of comical peril.

    This one was different. GRAVE DEALINGS is a bit darker, more somber and serious in tone, and so much in-depth character development and introspection that I found myself taking it in far more slowly than the other two books. Vince receives the longest time limit of all his cases so far, and yet he spends a good long time in the Neravene with Lyshae, which skews the proportion of time for him, so even though he had supposedly so much extra time, he really wasn’t able to use it much on the case itself before it was gone.

    Something else Virdi does in this book that makes it distinct from the other two is that we really get a sense of a long game. It’s no longer about Vince living from case to case; things happen that broaden the story arc to encompass more than just Vince and his strange “life”; there are political machinations happening that will affect Vince not just in this particular adventure, but sometime in an installment to come.

    Basically, if you make it through Book Three, you are a True Fan—and you are locked in for the long haul.

    Oh, and by the way, (minor spoiler), Vince’s new host isn’t a random recluse with very little social life like Norman; it isn’t someone under close watch in a protected environment like Charles.

    The body he’s taken on (or put into, as it were) was someone very close to none other than Camilla Ortiz. So there is that extremely sensitive dimension he has to deal with, along with the strange case of the friends around his host experiencing extraordinary fortune in their business endeavors, while certain people connected to them suddenly drop dead. 

    This monster he chases is particularly diabolical, and the peril he faces is more intense and threatens more than just the life of his erstwhile host—Vince’s very survival is threatened.

    The thing that I love most about this book is that it serves as irrefutable proof that Virdi unequivocally has what it takes to avoid the muddle of a long series that takes on a formula. He has managed to create three very distinct adventures. Just when you think you are comfortable enough to start predicting how things are going to turn out, Virdi throws in another plot twist, another threat that completely thwarts what we think ought to happen, yet setting up a whole new way of resolving the conflict.

    Yet again, Virdi pulls off the seeming impossible, and for that, GRAVE DEALINGS earns a *****5 STAR***** rating, and just in case I have been too reticent, I would also like to append an Upstream Writer Certified ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED. This book was absolutely stellar through and through, I love the way GRAVE DEALINGS functions in the longer arc, and I am definitely looking forward to many, MANY more adventures in store as the series unfolds!  

    Further Reading: (Intense/Urban Fantasy/Paranormal/Supernatural)
    The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
    The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
            -Someday I'll Be Redeemed
            -I Still Have A Soul
            -I'm Still Alive 
    The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
            -Foul is Fair
            -Street Fair
            -A Fair Fight 
    The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
           -Leopard's Heart
           -Wolf's Path
           -Tiger's Shadow
    Talented Series--Amy Hopkins
         -Dream Stalker
         -Barrow Fiend 
    The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
           -Dangerous Ways 
    The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
           -Who Can You Trust? 
    Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
         -Escape From Neverland
         -Dance Into The Wyrd
    Tales of the Fallen--Katika Schneider
    Judah Black Series--E. A. Copen
           -Guilty By Association 
    Alexi Sokolsky: Hound of Eden--James Osiris Baldwin
            -Burn Artist 
            -Blood Hound   

    Saturday, November 25, 2017

    NaNoWriMo Update: "The Last Inkweaver" New And Improved!

    Something else I've been doing...
    Composing a new mock cover, with fun new fonts!
    What do you think of this one?

    Greetings! I'm on the home stretch of the inimitable #NaNoWriMo challenge, and "The Last Inkweaver" is going splendidly! I'm in the middle of Chapter 8 right now, at the point in the story that was only Chapter 3 in the first draft!
    As a reward and a bit of a check-in for you all, I've taken two excerpts, one from Draft 1 of "The Last Inkweaver", and the approximate scene from Draft 2. One notable difference in the scene is that in the first draft, I thought it would be tantalizing and romantic if the boy she liked would go with her... But in the second draft, it worked out better for her to make the discovery by herself. Enjoy!
     Draft 1

    I gasped. My first glimpse of the Hill since the Wall grew taller than I was! Everything was quiet and grave. Sparse, gnarled bramble grew over scorched earth. At the top of the Hill was the broken shell of the cottage. Belak glanced at me. "Are you ready?" he asked.
    Bathed in the light of the lantern, I felt safe. "Yes."
    We stepped over the threshold and into the cottage.

    Cold, white ash covered everything. Not even the rains had washed it away, almost as if the Wall had preserved the cottage from Mirrorvale, and not Mirrorvale from the cottage. Blackened stumps and spires bespoke a table, chairs, benches, a bed. I shivered and huddled closer to Belak. He moved forward to examine the heap of stones that once was the hearth. I was left in the corner by the former bed. A large section of roof covered the area, but a small movement in a gust of night wind drew me forward. Was it a whisper I heard? I leaned forward and impulsively pulled at the thing.
    A sudden shifting of the rubble, a warning voice, Belak's arms pulling me out of the way—

    We stood at the front of the house as the entire back section collapsed right where we had been standing. My arms clasped tightly to my chest, and my dress felt softer than usual. I noticed with alarm that one of the buttons had come undone. I closed the gap before Belak could notice.
    He whistled softly. "Good instincts, running to me like that, Shereya."
    I sighed with relief. "If you hadn't called when you did..." I trailed off.
    Belak looked at me strangely, shining the lantern light on my face.
    "I didn't call," he stated. "It must have been the wind."
    I blinked; everything within me confirmed there had definitely been a voice that caused me to turn. If Belak hadn't spoken, then who had?

    Draft 2

    The hill rose up only a short ways from where I stood, and at the top--exactly like in the dream I would have--stood a small cottage, dark and weathered. I blinked.
    The cottage vanished, and in its place, a pile of rubble with only a few burned-out walls left. Had I imagined the cottage just now? I stepped closer. There was no wind, but tiny, pale flakes of what might have been ash still wafted through the air like dust motes. The closer I got, the more the pile of rubble remained, so I knew that this was the real thing.
    My vision warped again, the way it did when a flash happened, so I stopped to watch.

    The cottage stood, and the path up to it was unobstructed, proving that the scene I watched happened before the construction of The Wall. Night hung over Mirrorvale, and by the state of the tree beside the cottage, I could tell that it was probably the height of Blossoming. From where I stood, in the middle of the hill, I could see a trail of villagers bearing shovels, forks, and torches, marching toward the cottage and yammering angrily. One torch-bearing man--charged up the hill, right past me, and pounded on the door, hard enough that I could see the window panes rattling. He withdrew several paces as the door opened, and a young woman emerged. As with the Wordspinner before, I could not distinguish her face, even as other details stood out to me clearly in this scene.
    “Who among you requires my services?” she asked patiently, as if the angry mob before her did not so obviously intend to do her harm.
    “Nobody wants you here, witch!” Shouted a man with a pitchfork.
    “Away with your sorcery and magic!” cried another.
    The man who had knocked pointed at her. Only I was close enough to him to see the way his hand shook, and the fear in his eyes.
    “You have worked your vile craft among us long enough.” He declared, “We have seen through your lies, Inkweaver, and we don’t want you here anymore. Take your curses and leave us!”
    The Inkweaver stood up straight, her benign smile tightening on her face. “What part of my work is so vile? How have I cursed you? I have only sought to help and to mend, to give what is needed--”
    “We decide our own needs!” the man cut her off. “The way you do things is not natural! The stories you tell have been banned by the King himself! You will leave, or we will force you out!”
    The crowd cheered at this, and I heard cries of “Burn the witch!” and “Set fire to everything she’s touched!”
    The Inkweaver nodded patiently. “I understand,” she said, and the words nearly brought me back to the present, with the way they reminded me of when Matthias said the same thing to me. In this case, however, I felt that the Inkweaver’s understanding was much deeper than that of Matthias.
    “I will go,” The Inkweaver continued, “but I have one last message for you all.” She spread her arms wide, as if amplifying her voice with her hands, and said in a clear, strong voice, “Good people! I am leaving now. You say you do not want me, but I know that you have need of me still.”
    The mob grew restless, the longer she spoke, but not one of them came a step closer.
    “Hear me now!” The Inkweaver’s voice came stronger, filling the hillside and resounding over the whole village below. “You will not see me for a time, but I will return when you search for me!”
    Whatever reservations or magic barriers held the crowd back up to this point suddenly broke, and I found myself surrounded by torches and angry, shouting villagers as they converged on the house and the thatched roof before me burst into flames....
    There in the corner, a blackened, hollow area with many stones that might have been her cooking fire, a kitchen for her. Beside that, some large stumps and a smaller bits of charcoal that might have been a table and a chair. The side of the house with the one remaining fraction of roof attached was also less harmed than the rest, containing the blackened metal frame that used to be her bed amid the ashes of her mattress and pillows. Here, the whisper seemed to come from everywhere around me, above me, below me—
    A breeze swelled, stirring something amid the ash in the corner. I tensed, not dating to so much as breathe. Was the house not as empty as I had so easily assumed? I advanced slowly, step by careful step. Another breeze caught some of the ash and swept it away from something cloth, folded deliberately and distinct from all the dilapidation and destruction around me. As the ash swirled away, I heard a phrase that sounded like “Good luck…” but what would it be wishing me good luck for? I stepped forward as yet another breeze revealed a scrap very much like a piece of fabric, but what sort of fabric could withstand a fire such as the one that devastated the rest of the house?
    Special…” murmured the voice… or was it back to “subtle” again? I pulled my arms close and shivered, but the fabric scrap in the ash heap held my attention. What was it about this scrap of fabric that had preserved it for so many years? According to Mistress Needle, one needed an extensive regimen of maintenance to keep even a simple garment looking fresh for even five years, let alone ten! I bent down. Had the fire that destroyed the Inkweaver’s cottage simply exposed its hiding place, perhaps? But why would an Inkweaver hide this particular piece of cloth?
    Once there was a young girl who lived with her mother and father in a village far away…
    I winced as the sharp, hissing voice seemed to pierce my head. A heavy gust of wind caused the precarious wall bearing the last section of roof to creak and moan. A small rain of dust sprinkled down from the roof.
    “This house could collapse completely at any moment!” I told myself aloud--but my voice sounded strange compared to the whispering echo in my ears. I sounded flat, almost cut off when I spoke in this still, heavy atmosphere. I bent down and reached out toward the piece of cloth. The dry ash came away easily under my fingertips, revealing a wide swath of cloth, at first looking like several different patterns and pieces woven together, but as I picked it up, I realized that it was woven in this manner. A slow rumble built behind me, as a strong gust of wind screamed over the house. I heard a snapping crack, and the wall above me swayed and quaked.
    “Look out! Get out of the way!” a voice screamed in my ear, with the same commanding tone as the Inkweaver in the vision I had seen. But as I crouched there on the floor, my body refused to follow the commands of my mind. I could see the wall lean, tilting wildly, but without settling like it had been. Another rumble and a roar, dust falling all around me as I threw my arms over my head--

    I sat up in bed, gasping for breath, stifling a scream before it could escape my throat. My heart pounded wildly, and I could not get my breathing to settle. The cloth I gripped in my hands turned out to be the blankets I spread over me. I glanced at the window next to my bed. Twinkling stars shone out of a clear Greyfrost night sky. My heart finally slowed, and I could catch my breath. I looked around my room, for a moment as disoriented as if I was having another vision. Slowly, my brain began to try and piece together the bizarre sequence of events. One moment I had been--where? In the Inkweaver’s cottage? On the other side of The Wall? I rubbed my face. Hadn’t it been almost the middle of the day by the time I had done that? How had I gotten home? Had the entirety of yesterday been a dream?


    What did you think? A bit more engaging the second time around, perhaps? The "vision" she witnesses here is even the scene I had put into a prologue (of all things!) that was basically a thinly-disguised info-dump. All in all, I'm feeling much better about this version! And I'm closing in on the goal of 50,000 words!

    Catch You Further Upstream!

    Monday, November 13, 2017

    Hit List: Top 10 Vincent Graves Moments from "The Grave Reports" by R. R. Virdi

    Vincent Graves. Those who know him, love him. Those who don’t know him--have no idea what they’re missing. A man reduced to literally a soul and begrudgingly whisked through time and space at the behest of a higher power, if there’s anything Vince consistently carries with him, it’s the sarcasm, the nerdy references, the brash impulsiveness--and at the bottom of it all, the unshakable belief that he can use his constantly-repeating life to make all the difference in the world, even if he has to break a few supernatural rules to do it. It’s that heart that drives us back to him and keeps us thirsty for more--and it’s moments like these ten (in no particular ranked order) that live in our imaginations and keep us giggling even when the peril is at its greatest!

    1. Scaring The Bejeezus Out Of The Old Groundskeeper

    We first meet Vince Graves in Grave Beginnings… literally bashing his way out of a grave. If that’s not a totally fitting introduction for a character, I don’t know what is! 
    It’s not just the fact that he knows all the statistics and “insider information” about being buried in a coffin, though… It’s when he gets out, and there’s this old man standing there--Vince has the gall to greet him with the well-timed phrase, “Well whaddya know? You really can dig your way here from China!” Whereupon the groundskeeper clutches his chest and keels over… and so the fun and games begin! 

    2. "Supernatural Douche Kitty."

    Hands-down my favorite line from the first book, Grave Beginnings. And absolutely a fitting insight into his character. See, the supernatural don’t fight by what we mortals consider “fair.” Things like inanimate objects, gravity, empirical senses--everything is fair game when you’re tracking a supernatural entity! This was the moment, though, where things began to really take a turn for the “holy altered state of reality, Batman!” Vince is on the trail of discovering the monster who killed the person whose body he currently inhabits (yeah… it takes some getting used to…) when said entity decides to throw him off--by animating a bronze tiger statue in front of a nearby Asian restaurant! Vince responds with his customary dry wit, understating the visual of a full-size tiger made of metal chasing him down the streets of Manhattan by referring to it as a “kitty.” And from that moment on, I knew I was going to love this series forever.

    3. “You Just Fell Out Of A Building!”

    One of the qualities of Vince’s strange life that we see established over and over again is the fact that his position in the afterlife means that the body he inhabits has the ability to heal from most traumatic injuries. (Those not beyond the scope of medicine, that is) Case in point? Vince gets cornered in a penthouse on a hotel in Grave Beginnings--and the building is on fire. This wouldn’t faze him much all by itself, but in this particular incident, there happens to be someone with him, a supremely capable but supremely mortal person. Vince pulls some last-ditch fire-escape stunt for the person, but winds up doing a free-fall himself. He comes to in a hospital, and his erstwhile “partner” can’t figure out how he could have possibly survived--and Vince is faced with the conundrum of exposing secrets that no average mortal should know, or lose this one important connection to the mortal world--something he values more than his supernatural counterparts. 

    4. The Scrooge

    One thing that readers might not know, although it becomes pretty clear as you read: author Virdi is a massive foodie. Hence you will see at least one food item come front and center in each of his books. In Grave Measures, it’s cereals such as Lucky Charms and Captain Crunch. In Dangerous Ways, the main character leases the ground floor of the building he owns to a baker. But the real piece de resistance and the testament to culinary exploits in literature belongs to Grave Beginnings and its introduction of the gut-bomb known as “The Scrooge.” According to the description, this dish contains the following:

        - Hamburger bun
        - 2 Pancakes (one on top, one on bottom, just within the bun)
        - Thick pile of Bacon
        - Burger patty
        - Chicken breast
        - Scrambled eggs
        - Fried potatoes
    And the whole mess is apparently slathered in syrup. You are a true fan if you have entertained the desire for this to exist, if only so you can try it JUST ONCE.

    5. Interrogating a Wraith in A Towel (Vince, not the Wraith)
    Not his proudest moment, probably, but definitely memorable! When the supernatural entity Vince is trying to identify in Grave Beginnings ends up pegging him as an impostor first, Vince discovers he has to be on his guard at absolutely every moment, or risk losing his host—and that includes the Wraith that attacks him in the midst of a shower! He might be butt-naked, but Vince isn’t unprepared when it comes to getting the information he needs from slimy, soul-sucking supernatural sleazeballs! (An epithet he would be proud of, I’m sure!) It’s a hilarious scene involving iron chains, salt, an unexpected mortal witness, and absolutely zero clothes on the part of our intrepid monster-hunter/paranormal investigator. When Vince Graves is on a case, he doesn’t let petty things like clothes keep him from seeing that justice is done!

    6. Church
    Technically, Church serves as Vince’s supervisor, his contractor, his conduit to the powers-that-be in the celestial realm. And generally, Church meets Vince in a church, any church. Described as someone very modelesque in his features and painfully geeky in his fashion choices (pocket protector and all), Church nonetheless possesses attributes that allow him to remain enigmatic and intriguing in spite of his plainness. He appears instantaneously, he reads minds, he chooses Vince’s cases, so he possesses some level of omniscience--and he bears the brunt of some of Vince’s most colorful curses. But there is something else that Church receives from Vince: a healthy dose of care. Church might be bland and impersonal in most of his dealings with the mortal world, but it is obvious he cares about Vince, and by that token, is made to care about the things Vince cares about. Church is the one who keeps Vince living, over and over again, who equips him, or drops hints when Vince is being too stubborn, and bears with the sarcastic remarks, blatant rebellion, and a whole lot of abuse with the deadpan patience of a saint. But deep down, if there was no Church, there would be no Vince. (BONUS: >Minor spoiler< Church makes a cameo in Dangerous Ways. You’re welcome.)

    7. Graves, Interrupted
    In Grave Measures, Vince has the misfortune of reanimating the body of a mental patient. So rather than trying to pass for a sane man among a bunch of “normal” human beings, we see Graves in a setting where he can basically be open about things that he would normally keep quiet--and nobody is really fazed because they already assume he’s crazy! Watching him interacting and observing the different patients around the asylum, we see that his focus is pretty much unchanged: these are people who need to be saved, and it still hurts when people start dying while he’s still in the midst of the investigation. Having Vince in an enclosed space, though, rather than roaming the streets of Manhattan, provides more time for introspection, and the peril is less physical than mental, giving us a more intimate glimpse into the man he really is, rather than an outer show of bravado he put on quite a bit in the first book.

    8. Little Ghost Whisperer
    Want to see what a man is really made of? Watch how he acts around a little kid. While in the mental hospital in Grave Measures, Vince meets a young girl named Lizzie--and she sees ghosts. What is more, she knows that he’s not really who he pretends to be… because she’s already seen the ghost of the dead man. For once, Vince finds somebody in the mortal world who has a quirk that he doesn’t, giving him the chance to see what it’s like when somebody interacts with the part of the spirit realm that others (including him) can’t see. Lizzie is awesome because she brings out the protective softie in Vince, and also has plenty of gumption herself, meeting his sarcasm with simple innocence that completely disarms him at every turn.

    9. All The References

    A second common trait from the author lovingly included in the books is all the nerdy references! Some are blatantly sourced... others are subtle quirks of character that seem funny at first glance... then laugh-out-loud hilarious when you’ve actually seen the show or film referenced.
    Here are a few of my favorite references, from both Grave Measures and Grave Beginnings.

    “What’s with the twenty-four hours? I’m not Kiefer Sutherland.” 
     (Complaining to Church about his time limit; Grave Beginnings)
    I ran my healed right hand through the blonde locks and sighed. “Man, still not a ginger.” (Getting his first good look at his borrowed body, Grave Beginnings)

    With all of my paranormal experiences over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised if the statue came to life and started yelling at me. I was very short on time and didn’t need to be yelled at by Robin Williams.  
    (Visiting his "host's" place of employment, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Grave Beginnings)

    “A… genie? Like the blue genie from Aladdin?” she said, disbelievingly. 
    “Yeah, except it isn’t blue, doesn’t have a friendly temperament, and is not voiced by Robin Williams.” (Trying to explain Djinn to an unsuspecting federal agent, Grave Beginnings)

    It was like that scene from Jurassic Park. Don’t move and the T-Rex won’t spot you. (Trying not to get spotted, Grave Measures)
    I spoke in my best Luke Skywalker impersonation. “Your overconfidence is your weakness.” I smiled to myself. (Getting one-up on an opponent, Grave Measures)

    “I serve the Mother of Spiders, Vincent Graves.” 
    Where was Admiral Ackbar when you needed him? 
    (Stumbling right into a perfectly obvious trap, Grave Measures)

    “It’s a frickin’ Nazgul!” 
    (Naming the ominous "shadow creatures" plaguing the mental hospital, Grave Measures)

    My voice sunk to a deep bellow and I roared. “You shall not pass!” 
    (Defeating a "shadow monster" plaguing the mental hospital, Grave Measures)

    I answered [her glare] with an exaggerated flourish of hands. “Proceed, Bones.” 
    “Damnit, Jim, I’m an agent, not a doctor!” 
    (Preparing to perform a covert autopsy on a recently-deceased body, Grave Measures)

    “What are you two doing here?” 
    I threw my hands up in the air and shouted, “Captain Crunch!” 
    I panicked. Can you blame me? Maybe I should’ve dropped my pants and shouted pudding? (Getting caught in the act of a covert autopsy, Grave Measures)

    “Good job, Robin,” she quipped. 
    I glared. There is no reality, no train of thought, no plane of existence where I am not the goddamned Batman. 
    (Defeating a particularly vicious supernatural nasty, and only getting partial credit from his partner, Grave Measures)

    10. Out-Foxing A Kitsune

    Every paranormal investigator/monster hunter needs an informant. In Vince’s line of work, he runs across plenty of beings who are information brokers, like Gnosis the gnome (his contact in Grave Beginnings)—but also sometimes his dealings with the supernatural realm cross over into territory of much greater power, such as his acquaintance with Lyshae, a Kitsune with immense power and connections. Gnosis is short, so Vince finds him easy to intimidate. Lyshae? Not so much. She is extremely clever, and loves to pit her abilities with illusions and her powerful connections in the supernatural world against Vince’s smartass mouth and his knowledge of the mortal world. Anytime Lyshae shows up, you know Vince is in for some really entertaining mischief! He outfoxes (heh, pun intended!) her several times in Grave Measures, the book that marks her first appearance—but Lyshae isn’t one to give in easily, so you know she is going to return many times before the series is over!

    I could go on, but my fondest hope is that these ten miniature samples have whet your appetite for more, and you’ll be heading onto Amazon, iBooks, or Barnes & Noble to pick up your own copies, just in time for us to announce BOOK 3 IN THE SERIES!(Surprise!!) Grave Dealings is now a thing that exists, and I am SO FREAKING EXCITED!! Let the shenanigans continue!

    Find out more details on his website: or on his Facebook author page!

    (If you're still not sure about the books, check out my reviews for  Grave Beginnings, Grave Measures, and Dangerous Ways... which also include Amazon links for those three books!)

    *This post is part of a Blog Tour in honor of the release of Grave Dealings. Be sure to check out these other "stops" in the tour as well! (Will update as links come available)

    Friday, November 10, 2017

    Flash Fiction Friday: "Arthur and The Egg" Part 2

    Part 2
    Click >HERE< for Part 1
    In record time, Sam and Arthur had scrambled into Sam’s small car and sped toward the edge of town.

    “How in the world could this happen?” Sam shrieked.

    “I don’t know!” Arthur wailed, watching the real live dragon wag its head and roar.

    “Oh man, oh man,” Sam veered off the exit that would take them to Echo Cave. “Half the city’s probably freaked out by now. The cops’ll be here before you know it.” He caught Arthur’s frantic gaze and glared at him.

    How is this my fault?” Arthur shrieked at his friend. “Believe me, I wish that thing was invisible just as much as you do!”

    “Well, just goes to show you how effective wishes are, because it’s—“ Sam pointed to the massive beast just ahead as they pulled into Echo Cave Park. “Gone!” He slammed hard on the brakes, sending Arthur rocketing forward in his seat.

    “Ow!” Arthur rubbed his head. “What was that for?”

    Sam was still watching the huge dragon in horror. “Arthur, it’s gone! The dragon just disappeared!”

    Arthur squinted at the massive claws digging up the ground less than a mile away. “What are you talking about, Sam, it’s right there.”

    Sam shook his head. “No it’s not! It was there a minute ago—you and I both saw it—but now it’s completely gone, like one of those optical illusions or something.”

    Arthur frowned at his friend. “How are you this dense?” He muttered. “It literally hasn’t moved. Keep driving!”

    “You know what? No!” Sam took the keys out of the ignition and folded his arms. “I’m not moving. If you want to keep imagining that there’s a dragon there, go ahead and walk over there, and I’ll believe you!”

    Arthur scowled and huffed out his nose. “Fine! I will!” He flung open the door and stepped out, slamming it hard behind him.

    The dragon picked up its head and turned toward the sound. Arthur looked back toward his friend, but Sam shook his head.

    Arthur felt his heart creep up into his throat as he stepped slowly and calmly through the trees, closer and closer to the dragon with dark-brown scales. It sat on its haunches, with its long tail curled against its legs. The long neck with the blunt head bent down over something in front of it. Just beyond the dragon’s bulk, Arthur could see what remained of Echo Cave: a charred husk, like a very deep crater, with shards of The Egg laying in huge pieces around it.

    Guess it really was an egg, after all! Arthur thought. He reached the very edge of the clearing when he saw what absorbed the dragon’s attention: his dad’s truck, still parked just where he left it the day before.

    The dragon made a breathy sound, sharp and hissing—and with a low growl, it turned its head and looked right at Arthur! He froze where he stood, not daring to move a muscle as the dragon’s head leaned closer. Arthur could feel the movement of its breath as it stopped and peered at him, its snout nearly touching him. It gave one small sniff, and then lunged so fast, Arthur was in the air by the time he screamed. The dragon caught his shirt between its teeth, and swung him through the air till he slammed down on the hood of his truck. Arthur tried to scoot backward, up the windshield and onto the roof, while the dragon waited with claws splayed, bracing itself for—Arthur didn’t quite know.

    “Hungry!” a voice grunted.

    Arthur looked behind him, only for the dragon to grunt again, prompting him to turn back to the creature almost salivating over him.

    Hungry!” said the voice again, but Arthur had no way of knowing who was speaking.

    “Who’s there?” Arthur attempted to call over his shoulder.

    “Arthur!” That voice was definitely Sam. The dragon didn’t turn away from Arthur sprawling on his truck, but it didn’t back off either.

    “Be careful, Sam!” Arthur called. He could see his friend in his periphery, standing just inside the clearing, only a few steps away from the backside of the dragon.

    “What’s wrong with you, man?” Sam paused uncertainly. “I saw you walking and then all of a sudden you went flying. Did you break something?” Sam scanned the ground at his feet as if he expected some kind of land mine or spring-loaded launch pad.

    The dragon loomed closer, a steady growl building in its throat.

    Hungry!” said the voice again, so quiet it seemed to come from behind him. “Feed.”

    Arthur hardly dared to breathe. “It… It’s the dragon,” he stammered to Sam. “It’s right here. Can’t you see it?”

    Sam glanced around the sky, as if the dragon hovered over the treetops. “I’m telling you, man, that thing is one hundred percent—“

    Just then, the dragon slammed its claws down on either side of the truck, causing a small earthquake.

    HUNGRY. MUST. FEED!” Snarled the voice.

    The dragon looked about ready to eat him; Arthur threw up his hands protectively. “Okay, okay!” He squeaked. “Don’t hurt me!”

    The dragon actually backed up a few feet. It tilted its head to regard Arthur.

    Protect Master. Keep Master safe. Master feed.”

    The voice was gentler, not as insistent now.

    “All right, whoever you are!” Arthur called to the hungry person behind his truck. “I’m going over there.”

    Sam began walking toward him. “Dude, what are you talking about?”

    Arthur’s voice caught in his throat as he watched the dragon swing around to confront Sam, who kept right on walking. The dragon opened its mouth and roared.

    KEEP MASTER SAFE!” the voice declared.

    “WHOA!” Arthur tumbled off the truck and scrambled around to put himself between the dragon and his friend. “Sam, stop! SAM, STOP! WAIT! NO!”

    Sam squinted at him. “What the heck, man?”

    “Wait!” Arthur addressed the dragon now. It sat and watched him, amber-colored eyes blinking slowly. “You… you talk?”

    The dragon huffed and shuffled its foreclaws. “Master speaks. Master hears the voice of his hatchling.”

    Arthur felt his knees wobble and buckle. “Master…” he gasped. “You… you mean me? I am your master?”

    Sam snorted behind him. “What’s going on, Arthur? What are you master over?”

    “Shut up, Sam!” Arthur snapped. “I just saved your life, so just hang on a sec while I figure this out!”

    The dragon lolled its head over to the truck, cradling it protectively between its claws.

    “Thing has scent of Master. Master loves thing, imprinted on thing. Hatchling has imprinted on Master’s scent, will serve and obey Master.”

    “Saved my life?” Sam was muttering behind him. “From what? That would be the first time I’ve seen you take initiative. What’s out there that could have killed me, huh?”

    Arthur ignored Sam as he watched the dragon. “Say, are you invisible right now? Why can I see you?”

    “Master wished Hatchling to be invisible, but not even Dragon cannot hide from Master. Master will always know where Dragon is.”

    A slow smile unfolded on Arthur’s face as Sam still complained and rambled on behind him. “Do me a favor,” he said to the dragon. “Make yourself visible, but only to my friend here.”

    The dragon turned his head to regard the taunting fellow behind Arthur. “Is friend? Is kind to Master?

    Arthur nodded. “Yes; he’s a butthead sometimes, but he’s nice to me. Please, could you do it?”

    “I obey Master.” The dragon sat up, planting its claws in front of him.

    Arthur knew exactly the moment Sam could see him because the jabbering ceased. “I take you in, give you a bed, and it turns out all you give me is trouble because now we’re way out here and Echo Cave looks like it had a bomb go off and—HOLY WHAT?”

    Arthur turned around to face Sam. His friend stood, staring over his head as if his eyes would roll right out of his skull.

    “Wha… tha—ho-ly…Wh-what??” Sam spluttered.

    “Now do you believe me?” Arthur needled, even though he had to admit, it was a little bit strange to go from having nothing at all to having a dragon who would obey and protect him.

    Sam—after he had sufficiently recovered from the shock of actually seeing the dragon materialize right in front of him—wasted no time in pointing out, “What are you going to do with a dragon?”

    Arthur shrugged. “I don’t know; anything I want, I guess?”

    Sam climbed into the bed of the truck, while the dragon regarded him in a manner not unlike suspicion. “I mean, no offense—but it’s not like the dragon can find you food or a steady job or anything that you really need.”

    A churning, wet rumble erupted from the spot just underneath the dragon’s seat. It bent its head to rest its snout gently against the windshield, so that Arthur could stroke its smooth head-plates from his perch on the roof of the vehicle.

    “Is hungry,” it murmured to him. “Master will feed now?”

    Arthur suddenly became very aware of how hungry he was. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t think there are many animals left in these woods anymore. You probably don’t eat trees or leaves or things like that.”

    “Is new hatchling. Does Master give Hatchling trees to eat?”

    Arthur shrugged. “If you’re hungry enough, go ahead—“

    Before he had finished speaking, the dragon leaned over and wrapped its large jaws around the trunk of a nearby tree. With a small jerk of its head, it snapped the trunk in two pieces, leaving the jagged stump behind and chomping chunks off the end of the felled tree, exactly in the manner of someone biting off the end of a carrot. Very soon, it had consumed the trunk and munched happily on the foliage till all that was left was a scattering of debris.

    Tree is good,” the dragon murmured.

    Arthur chuckled. “Well, that was easy enough! Don’t eat all the trees, though,” he warned the beast, “because if you do, you’ll have nowhere to hide.”

    What else does Master give Hatchling to eat?”

    Arthur glanced around. Besides the trees, there wasn’t much in the area—and with the destruction of Echo Cave, it wouldn’t be long till people started to wonder how it came to be that way—and as soon as the wondering began, discovery of his secret wouldn’t be far behind. What he needed was a way to dispose of the evidence, to remove any kind of motivation for people to come to this area.

    He turned back to the dragon. “Umm, what else can you eat?”

    The dragon swung its head around, prompting Arthur and Sam to dodge out of its way as it surveyed the area with wide, blinking eyes.

    “All things looks tasty,” it murmured. Opening its mouth wide, it bit off a chunk of Echo Cave. The sound it made as it chewed was like sitting too close to an industrial-grade jackhammer. Arthur covered his ears until the beast swallowed.

    “Master gives Hatchling stone to eat?” it asked, glancing sidelong at the shards of polished rock piled off to the side.

    Arthur was only half-listening to the voice in his head. Sam’s cell phone jingled, and he went back to answer it. “Huh?” he said to the dragon. “Oh… sure, I guess.”

    The dragon hatchling attacked the pile of rubble with vigor. Arthur saw Sam waving to him, so he slipped out of the truck bed and joined his friend.

    Sam wagged his head as he watched the dragon. “Man, that is beyond cool, right there!”

    “Yeah,” Arthur responded lamely, scratching the back of his head. “I just hope nothing happens to it while I’m not here.”

    “Which might be longer than either of us like,” Sam waved his cell phone. “That was your mom. She’s worried about you being gone all day, especially when you didn’t come home last night.”

    Arthur winced. For as angry Esther tended to get at her son, she also fretted over him with equal ferocity. “Yeah, I’ll just… Lemme say goodbye to the dragon.”

    He trudged back to the clearing. His new pet had polished off the shards of Egg in the time it had taken him to talk to Sam.

    “Hey,” he said, not quite sure how to address the animal.

    The dragon swung its head around to look at him. “What Master wish for Hatchling to serve him?”

    “Huh?” Arthur had a difficult time following the roundabout sentence. “Oh, er, no, it’s nothing I want—well, except… have you got another name besides Hatchling?”

    The dragon swung its tail, splitting a crevice into the side of Echo Cave.

    “Hatchlings have no names. Master must give Hatchling his name.”

    Arthur raised his eyebrows. “Really? So… You wouldn’t want to be called Spike or Flame or anything like that…” He scratched the top of his head.

    Over by the car, he heard Sam holler, “Arthur! We need to go now!”

    Arthur looked up at the hatchling. “What do you want to be called?” he asked abruptly.

    The young dragon fidgeted with its claws, raking furrows in the dirt. It bent its head down to nudge the truck gently.

    “Hatchling only wants Master to love as much as Master loves this thing. Hatchling will take the name of this thing.”

    Arthur squinted. “Wait, well—that’s a truck…”

    The dragon perked up right away, laying its head down in front of Arthur. “Master will give the name Truck?”

    The young man scuffed his sneaker in the dirt and wagged his head. “You’re kidding me; you want to be called Truck?”

    “Yes; if Master wills it.”

    “All right, then,” Arthur responded with a shrug. “I’ll call you Truck.”

    Great news! Arthur's adventure doesn't end here! To read the full story, along with more than a dozen sample chapters, short stories, and drabbles--all having to do with DRAGONS--Check out DREAMTIME DRAGONS, available in Ebook format on Smashwords and Amazon! (Print version coming soon!)