Friday, June 27, 2014

An Interview with Heather Greenis - Author of The Natasha Saga

Today I welcome author Heather Greenis, whose most recent installment in The Natasha Saga - Natasha's Legacy - was recently released by MuseItUp Publishing. Heather stops by for an interview, which I'm sure you'll enjoy.

1.      What inspired you to write The Natasha Saga?

A dream inspired the story. My dreams can be rather wild. I combine anything and everything.  This was a combination of something we did and two television programs during the week. I couldn’t get the characters out of my mind, so it’s about them.

2.      Tell us something about your most recent book, Natasha's Legacy, that most people probably don't know.

This is the last book, the conclusion to the saga. It’s actually one big book that I broke down into sections. Natasha’s Dream, Diary, Hope, and Legacy.

3.      Tell us something about yourself that might surprise your readers.

I’m shy in public until you get to know me. I’m outspoken on social media. Friends hosted a book launch for Natasha’s Dream. I had to read a short passage. It was the worst three minutes of the night. I don’t even like reading to the dog.

4. What was the first book you ever read? 

It was probably something from Agatha Christie. I read most of her books as a kid.

5.      What, if anything, are you currently reading?

I’m reading The Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden - it’s intense. I’m also reading books by Lin and Kat Holmes, both of whom are MuseItUp authors. I normally have a Muse book on the go. I plan to pick up one of yours, Kevin. The Landfill has my attention.

6.      If you had to compare one character to each of the four seasons, who would they be and why? For example, is there a character that reminds you of summer, and so forth?

Natasha - Winter
Stewart – Spring because he’s calm and nurturing.

7.      Have you ever considered writing outside of your genre and, if so, what would it be?

I plan to. The Natasha Saga is Mainstream. There are two stories within one. The main story begins in the mid 1800’s. I’m not planning another historical novel in the near future. I want to write something light and fun. Well, lighter. I’d love to write something a little bit spooky, but I don’t know if I can pull it off. I have a plot idea, but I’m not sure I’m capable of writing it. I have no desire to write horror. I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

8.      What can we expect from you following The Natasha Saga (current projects, future works, etc.)?

I have a few ideas in my mind but, knowing me, they will change more than a few times. I’m the master of “wouldn’t it be cool if...” A true Aquarian, my imagination keeps my mind busy. Give me a minute of down time, and it’s wandering. 

Leave a comment below, and I'll randomly pick one person to win all four books in The Natasha Legacy! 

You can also check out Heather's author page at the following link.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A review of "Run" by Blake Crouch

" This is why I read Blake Crouch...Great pace, storytelling, and characters"

****Four Stars

I've read Crouch's first two books in his Wayward Pines series and, while waiting for the third and final book to be released next month, I decided to check out one of his older works. Run is a like a combination of "Night of the Comet" and "The Purge." The first third of the book moves at an incredible pace, barely giving the reader time to breathe, which I loved. The story slows a little in the middle but takes off again later, sprinting all the way to the end. Crouch is excellent with his pacing, but his storytelling and characters are just as strong. He really pulls you into the story and entertains the hell out of you from beginning to end. I finished this book in two days, which is unheard of for me. There were many times where I just couldn't stop. I had to see what was going to happen next.

This book, however, isn't without its faults. For one thing, Crouch's style is different (more choppy and sporadic) than his most recent books (Wayward series). Additionally, there was a lot of repetition in this story, whether it was Crouch's use of the same words, constant descriptions of landscapes, etc. I also found a few too many coincidences, especially when it came to getting characters out of seemingly impossible situations.

In the end, though, I enjoyed this book immensely. Crouch has become my favorite author, and I plan on checking out many of his other books.

Friday, June 6, 2014

2014 Summer of Zombie Blog Tour with author Erik Gustafson

I've been lucky enough to be part of this tour in the past (as a host), and this annual event is even bigger this year with over 30 authors participating. I am hosting author Erik Gustafson today, who is offering a special teaser/prologue for his book The Dark Trek Home.

The bright morning sun blazes through the wild, amber grass where the dew sparkles like diamonds. A twelve-year-old boy has been trailing behind his father down a narrow, trampled path that leads to a wooded area. The trees grow densely together like prison bars. The man, tall with eyes as blue as a robin’s egg, is clutching two long fishing poles in one hand and a large tackle box, coated with dried fish scales, in the other.
The boy has played with whatever he has happened across, from long blades of seedy grass to random rocks and sticks. Both are wearing similar jeans and flannel shirts.
The youngster stoops to lift a large rock causing the weight of his backpack to shift. He yanks at the strap, and the pack stays in place. With a mischievous grin, he hurls the rock into the grass as far as his skinny arm will allow.
“What was that?” the kid shouts, trying to sound alarmed. When he doesn’t get the reaction he wants, he adds, “I think someone is following us, Dad!”
“We better…,” the dad says. He turns to smile at his son, bursting into a sprint. “Run!”
He takes off after his father and tries to keep up. They run until they reach the trees, where they stop and laugh together while catching their breath.
They continue their journey.
Before the sun can finish rising above the forest, the two come upon a small clearing, the space of which is nearly consumed by an oval, grayish-blue pond. The boy is sure the small body of sleepy water is just a little wider than even his father could cast a line. Bony, leafless limbs lean out over the water from thick trees that cuddle in close around the banks.
“Here we are, Son!” the father announces, pulling his blue Iowa Cubs baseball cap off and running his hand through his wavy brown hair.
The boy pulls the strap down off one shoulder and lets the backpack plop onto the damp sand. His dad had promised him the fishing would be great, but the boy wants to explore. He notices that there isn’t much room to walk the edges because the trees are so close to the water. He decides the most interesting terrain is at the far side of the pond. There is only a small cliff on that side. He can see clumps of weeds hanging over the shadowy edges that he will check out later. He knows he has to first fish with his father for a while.
Feeling thirsty, he asks, “Can I have a pop, Dad?”
“Let’s find a spot first and get settled,” his dad says. “You know, Dave, this is the same pond your great-grandfather used to fish when he was your age.”
“Cool.” Dave thinks that is a neat piece of information, even though his great-grandfather had died long before he had been born.
His dad smiles and tells him to grab the backpack. They continue walking along the sand, weaving through tall cattails, until they arrive at the first bend. They find a little more room to spread out. An old log on the bank provides a perfect place on which to sit.
“This is the hot spot,” the man announces.
Dave shrugs and leans his backpack on the thick green moss covering the log.
A few minutes later, they’re both sitting on the dead tree with their lines out in the water, a bobber on Dave’s line.
“Ready for that pop?”
“Oh yeah!” Dave answers while he watches the little red bobber gracefully dance with the current. With the sunlight glaring off the water, it’s difficult to keep track of his bobber. Each time he loses sight of the small red ball, his heart skips at the prospect of getting a bite. He has always liked fishing—so long as there’s action.
As Dave sips at his cold pop, kicking sand into the water, his dad stands still then walks a few paces away, holding his rod out over the water. “Won’t be long now,” he tells his son.
* * *
Underneath the pond’s surface, a long, mysterious creature slithers out from a shadowy water-filled tunnel and swims along the bottom. It scans the waters through bloodshot, brown eyes the shape of teardrops as it absently pulls up fistfuls of mud and squishes the goo. Toward the surface, it sees refracted light filtering downward. It knows the sun is rising, but that is not what stirs the beast.
The fishers on the surface are causing infinitesimal, yet enticing, vibrations in its den.
Company is here.
Another creature, long and pasty yellow, follows the first one out of the tunnel and swims through the water. It circles the pond and returns to the other creature.
The stirring above piques their excitement. The pair remains motionless for a moment, suspended in the dark water, eyes gazing toward the surface. Anticipating; pondering. Eager for some action.
They scour the murky water with purpose.
The bottom of the fishpond is nearly pitch black, but that doesn’t prevent the dark forms from finding what they hoped would be there: a thin line barely reflecting the smallest glimmer of light.
They follow it to its end.
In the darkness of the depths, they float on either side of a small hook dangling a long nightcrawler. The hook attaches to a long transparent line that connects to their real prize.
Toothy, animated grins surround the worm.
Their twisted smirks are disproportionally wide for their narrow, oblong heads. Rows of small, pointy, decaying, broken teeth line their mouths.
Finally, the larger of the two reaches out and grabs the invisible line.
With just two of its thin fingers, it gives the line a little tug. Both giggle, and bubbles race upward from their mouths. The smaller of the two puts a wrinkled hand over its mouth as it laughs and nods its misshapen head.
* * *
Dave sits daydreaming about to exploring the woods at the far side of the pond when his line twitches. “Dad! I got something!”
His father steps closer to Dave and monitors his son. “Wait for the bobber to stay under then give it a good jerk.”
“I know!”
To Dave’s dismay, the bobber pops back to the surface.
“Ya gotta really let it take the hook.”
The bobber submerges.
“Now, Dad?”
“Now, Dave!”
Dave jerks back on the pole just as he has watched his father do many times before. The line goes taunt and he pulls back a second time to compensate for the resistance, making the pole bend. His blue eyes gleam with excitement. He has only caught a few fish in his short life, and most of those were little ones. Dave assures himself that the mother of all fish is on the end of his line this time. “Dad, I got it!”
“Reel ’er in!”
The muscles in his arms burn as he turns the handle as fast as he can. His heart races. After a few cranks, the line slackens and the little red bobber bounces to the surface. “Aww, shoot!”
“You’ll get him next time, son!” his father assures him. “Probably need to put another worm on now, though.”
Dave continues reeling his line but stops when the bobber is nearly to the shore.
“Hey! Look, Dad a turtle!” Dave points out toward the center of the pond.
His father squints through the bright sunlight reflecting off the water. A small, dark bump is floating on the water; the water surrounding the protrusion is dark as well. “Um, maybe. I can’t tell what that is.”
“Can we catch it, Dad?”
“What would we do with a poor tur—” His father’s eyes widen, and Dave looks back out at the turtle. It rises further out of the water.
“It’s big!” Dave shouts. Now the distant object looks more like a dark yellow Army helmet. That’s a weird turtle, he thinks.
The helmet-shaped object rises out further still. It has a long, scaly forehead with deep-set brown eyes that stare back at him while it weaves in and out of the waterline.
“Holy cow!” He looks up at his father and grabs his sleeve.
The expensive rod and reel set that Dave’s mom had bought his father for his birthday five years ago splashes into the water. His dad doesn’t even look down. Instead, he presses his son up against his leg and shuffles backward. “I think we better go.”
A second head appears next to the first one, surfacing like a submarine.
“You dropped your pole, Dad!” Dave squirms off his dad’s leg and bends down to save the pole before it disappears into the water.
A huge splash diverts his attention.
Dave can’t take his eyes off the confusing sight. He sees what he thinks are fish jumping out of the water, except these fish are gigantic. It reminds him of dolphins or sharks leaping out the water on a Discovery Channel show.
However, these fish are hydroplaning across the surface.
The two are standing transfixed as the displacing water rushes off the two incoming torpedo-shaped objects vaulting across the pond.
The cool spray of the water hits Dave’s face and he screams.
His dad grabs him, slings him over his shoulder, pivots around to face the forest, then books into the trees. He quickly loses his footing in the tangled underbrush, falls to the ground, and then rolls behind a tree trunk.
Dave somersaults through the tall grass.
The father hears growling but doesn’t dare look back.
The boy jumps up on his dad’s back and tries his best to brace himself by holding his dad’s broad shoulders, but he jerks around as his dad sprints.
Dave glances over his shoulder to see what’s chasing them. At first, all he sees are their blue baseball caps on the ground. Their discarded hats quickly escape his mind when he sees two spicy-mustard–colored animals of sorts, dripping wet on the shore. They stand erect on disproportionately long thin legs with arms stretching down to their knees. Their small, barreled torsos remind Dave of spiders walking on two legs. Their bald and misshapen heads remind him of popcorn because of oddly placed bulges. And he shivers at the sight of their intensely deep, brown eyes. Worse still, their disfigured faces seem to be sporting grotesque smiles.
The boy bounces back and forth, as his father dodges between trees, all at once overcome by fear and intrigue.
Barely needing to bend, the taller of the two monsters reaches down and picks up both of the fallen ball caps and holds them up to narrow slits above its mouth. The hats are absurdly small next to the mysterious figure’s huge head. Its face wrinkles twice, and it tosses the hats into the underbrush. The second monster, however, bends down and picks up one of the hats.
“Dad, you gotta see this!”
His dad doesn’t stop to look; he just huffs and grunts.
The two creatures run toward them. Their long legs propel them over the underbrush effortlessly. The leathery-yellow things gain ground at an alarming rate.
“Dad, go faster!”
“Hang on, Son!” his dad yells. Dave knows his heart is pounding, but he realizes he can also feel his dad’s heart pounding though his back.
His father bursts out of the forest and finds he’s knee-deep in wild, overgrown brush. The grass slows him down as he trudges through the thick weeds—the long stalks bending under the weight of his boots.
Dave keeps an eye on the wooded area. Even though the creatures are out of sight, he somehow knows they’re out there still, watching them. Maybe even snickering at them. The trees seem to share the knowledge of some ominous secret as if they are on the side of the monsters, camouflaging the predators.
He swears he hears humming or singing drifting out of the woods.
“Dad, they’re not coming,” Dave’s words came out choppy, bouncing in rhythm to his father’s strides.
Dave’s dad ignores his son and trudges on through the tall grass, not bothering to look back and verify his son’s claims. “Where’s the damn path?” he mumbles between breaths.
“That way,” Dave screams as he points toward the left, not realizing he is outside his father’s line of sight.
Nevertheless, his dad runs in the same direction Dave is pointing.
They stumble onto the open path and pause, the dad gasping for breath, his torso rising and falling as Dave clings to his back.
“I see the truck!” The father says.
Dave cranes his neck to see. It hurts his side to hold his head at such an odd angle, but before his stomach muscles give out, Dave sees the blue truck glimmering in the sun.
“I can run the rest of the way, Dad.”
“Okay . . . Son.”
As he slides down from his father’s shoulders, Dave gets a good look back down the path. At the edge of the path, right where the trees begin, the two creatures stand perfectly still. Even from this distance, the creatures are still massive and intimidating.
“Dad,” Dave whispers.
His dad finally turns around. In the open light of the clearing, looming on the threshold of the forest are the two unholy animals standing upright and measuring at least eight feet tall. Their heavy arms hang down like broken branches. Their fingers are gnarled and thick; misshapen talons stuck into the ends of mangled flesh. Their bald heads are large and equally contorted, but still look small for the beast’s enormous size. The worst part is their eyes. Even from a distance, the dark eyes emit a fiery glow. Eyes that make Dave’s stomach knot and lurch.
“What the hell are they?” The dad mumbles.
The creatures continue to observe their prey.
Dave’s dad grabs his hand, and they take off for the truck.
The duo of yellow demons gives chase. Their lumbering gait is surprisingly fast on the path, as if they are skimming above the weeds and growth; effortlessly, just like when they moved through the water.
Dave is ripped away from his father; he flails with his hands and feet, straining to grab anything—the edge of the fabric of his dad’s flannel. Anything to reconnect him. Instead, he lifts into the air where he is cuddled into cold hands.
He kicks and screams in the grip of the creatures huge hands. A sickening stench drifts out of the creature’s mouth, and Dave grimaces.
“No!” Dave tries to pull free, but the arms of this creature envelop him like a straitjacket.
Dave watches helplessly as the other creature slaps his dad across the back of the head, causing him to stumble and then vanish into the grass. Dark red blood splashes across the blades of grass. Dave sees his dad rising on his knees out of the weeds. The creature towers over him.
The monster grabs his father at the base of his ribcage and drives its claws deep inside his father’s chest. Blood darkens his shirt as his head rocks from side to side, his mouth hanging open. His eyes roll back.
“Dad!” Straining to pull away from the wall of cold flesh, tears burn his eyes.
Dave hears laughter but doesn’t know where it’s coming from.
The monster twists its hand deeper into Dave’s dad and lifts the weak form. As it hoists his father off the ground, Dave thrashes again to free himself, but the monster restraining him is too powerful.
His dad half-lifts his face; stringy blood-dampened hair clings to his brows like muck. His glassy eyes appear confused, as if he is lost, but Dave knows he’s searching for him.
The monster holds the man off the ground so the two are eye to eye. It raises its free hand high above its deformed head; the creature’s bloody fingernails gleam in the sunlight as the monster wiggles its fingers and slices through the father’s neck.
Dave screams, but his voice is cracked and dry. He pisses himself. The creature holding him flips Dave over his shoulder, exactly as his father had done before, and trots back down the path.
“No!” Dave manages to shout. He wants to go back to his father.
Dave beats on the creature’s lumpy back and cries.
The creature sprints through the woods. Dave, still weeping, prepares for his fate. He knows that as soon as this animal stops running, it will kill him. As the monster nears the pond, it spins Dave off its shoulder and cradles him in its thick, smooth arms, as a mother would hold her baby. Without pausing, it dives twenty feet over the water and splashes into the pond.
Dave’s fists strike the beast anywhere he can as it swims. His punches are futile, and his arms burn with fatigue. His pounding turns to slaps. He gulps in water as the beast swims deeper.
Everything goes dark for Dave. He faintly sees bubbles rising from his mouth, his arms and legs are tingling and are feeling heavy. He goes limp.
* * *
Deep under the surface, the creature swims into the dark opening from where it had originally emerged. It glides through the narrow tunnel holding the flaccid boy until it surfaces in a gloomy hidden cavern, the repulsive place it has learned to call home. The air is thick, chilly, and completely dark. Rolling Dave off its shoulder, the monster lets him tumble onto the rocky surface.
The creature’s eyes adjust quickly. It crawls onto the shore next to Dave and sits there watching the boy.
The beast is eager to start.
* * *
Dave inhales loudly, coughs, and spits up water. He opens his eyes but still can’t see anything. Thinking he is blind, he gropes with his hands but feels only air. Blackness smothers him like a wool blanket. His teeth are chattering. The surface on which he lies is ice cold and damp.
Out of the darkness a low and crackly voice says, “Take us home.”
Dave shivers.
                                                                         *   *   *   *   *

The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.

Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don't miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie

Friday, May 30, 2014

Cover reveals for upcoming books

I've shared these elsewhere, but I've yet to post them on the blog, so here we go. My sci-fi novella, Shifting Alliances, will be released in e-book format by MuseItUp Publishing this fall. The cover below is for the print version I will be putting out myself. I have also drafted the first two books in The Three Dragons Saga, which is a young adult fantasy series.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Offering my short story, Three Miles Below, for free today!

Today I am offering my short story, Three Miles Below, for free to anyone who is interested in reading it. This is a survival story with a hint of science fiction thrown in. While I would love to get more reviews for the book, leaving one is not mandatory. It's a gift from me with no strings attached. I wrote this story after going through the most difficult period in my life. The birth of my second son inspired me to write again, and this is the end result. Just leave a comment or email me (, and I'll be happy to gift you a copy in whatever format is convenient for you. Thank you.

"When an earthquake hits, Mackenzie and two of his co-workers are forced to take shelter in a refuge chamber three miles below ground, uncertain of the damage around and above them. Weighing their options, the three must decide whether to stay put or take their chances climbing to the surface, though making it to ground level is just half of the battle."

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Review of Dragons of Autumn Twilight: Chronicles, Volume One (Dragonlance Chronicles)

A great start to the series...and I can't wait to read the second book.

I usually write long reviews, but I'm going to keep it simple with this one. This was a fun and entertaining read, and it really fulfilled my craving for a classic sword/sorcery book along the lines of Dungeons & Dragons. I absolutely loved the characters (all of them are engaging in their own way), so it's nice to know that more books follow. Otherwise, it would be a big letdown, because I found myself forming an attachment to each one of them.

There were some minor issues I had with the book, such as the story dragging in some places, multiple viewpoints in the same scene (not staying with the primary character's point of view), and different scenes bleeding into one another (no scene break in some instances). However, it didn't diminish my reading pleasure enough to give it four stars. I would probably rate it 4-1/2 stars, but it's still deserving of five stars when all is said and done.

I also plan on reading some of the other related series, which provide background/back stories for some of the individual characters. There are so many books to read, which is a good thing!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A free tween fantasy short story - "The Monster Inside"

Here is a short story that I wrote several weeks ago. It's a tween fantasy I hope you'll enjoy. 

The Monster Inside
by Kevin Hopson

            “What if Mom finds out?”
            “If this works,” Ann said, “she won’t even care.”
            Michael coughed as he sat opposite of her on the creaky boat. Ann continued to row, allowing her little brother to rest.
            “Take a nap,” she insisted. “I’ll let you know when we get close.”
            “I don’t think I can sleep,” he replied, easing back and stretching out his legs. Michael’s feet nearly touched Ann given the cramped quarters. “You know I don’t like the water.”
            “I’m well aware of it,” Ann said, her head turning to look the other way.
            In the distance, a massive mountain jutted out of the sea. Positioned only a couple of miles off the coast, Firemound Island was a spectacular sight. The island’s crimson colors were a beautiful backdrop against the dark blue water that surrounded its rocky borders. Halfway to their destination and with several hours of light left, Ann felt confident they would be home by nightfall.
            She focused again on Michael, who looked peaceful with his eyes closed. His dark hair—once thick and long—was spotty at best, like fuzz atop the head of a newborn bird. Behind him rested Sutport, the banks of the quaint fishing town still within view. Located along the Alderton Sea, Sutport enjoyed the largest harbor in Belwich County.
            Michael shuffled his feet, his eyes opening and squinting at the bright sun overhead. “What did you bring to eat?” He asked with a hand against his forehead.
            “Mom baked some fresh bread this morning,” she answered. “It’s in the basket. I can get it for you.”
            “No,” he said. “I can do it.” Michael grabbed the basket and immediately dug in. He sat up a little more, breaking apart small pieces and chewing them at a frantic pace. “Do you think this is a good idea?”
            “No. It isn’t healthy to eat so fast.” Ann tried to keep a straight face, but her shoulders eventually bobbed from laughter.
            “You know what I mean,” Michael said, cracking a smile.
            “Why are you asking me? I’m the one who needed convincing. You’ve been pulling my arm for weeks.”
            “I know.” Michael paused. “It’s just that things can change. What sounds good at first can be scary when you finally go through with it.”
            “So…you’re scared?”
            “I guess,” he responded.
            Michael shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe it’s the unknown.”
            “But Firemound Island will save you,” Ann said with a reassuring voice. “That’s why we’re out here.”
            She remembered the day vividly. Having heard rumors of Firemound’s healing powers, thirteen children from Sutport—all of them suffering the same disease as Michael—set sail for the island nearly a year ago. However, only one of them returned. The young boy who did rarely talked of the incident. Despite coming back in no better health than when he left, the boy said he witnessed magic there. He refused to discuss the fate of the other twelve children, but family members of the lost girls and boys claim to have seen the faces of their loved ones at sea. People see what they want to see. That was Ann’s belief, anyway.
“What if I’m meant to die another way?”
            “We’re all destined to die,” Ann commented. “You should only focus on things you can control, and finding the cure is something we have control over.”
            Michael didn’t respond. Ann could tell the wheels were turning inside his head, and she had a good idea what her brother was thinking.
            “The sea creature?” Ann brought it up before Michael had a chance to say anything. “Is that what you’re worried about? You actually believe in the myth?”
It’s why parents with sick children were so reluctant to make the trip to Firemound Island, including her own mother. They feared the whole family would meet their demise.
            Michael nodded his head. “I don’t know if I believe it completely, but it’s possible.”
            “Sure. Anything’s possible.” Ann wanted to voice her opinion, but she decided to bite her tongue instead.
            Michael suddenly turned to his right and, on his knees, bent over the side of the boat. Ann quickly made her way over to him, initially putting a hand on his shoulder. When he proceeded to vomit, she released her grip, giving Michael the space he needed. Once he finished, she rubbed his back, attempting to comfort him.
            “Are you okay?” She asked.
            “I think so,” he answered. “I guess you were right about eating too fast, especially when I get sea sick so easily.”
            Ann hoped it was a case of sea sickness—and not the disease—that was bringing on Michael’s episode. Out of breathe and trying to recover, he turned his head toward the front of the boat, his eyes growing wide. Ann twisted her neck to look.
            “What is that?” Michael inquired.
            Ann couldn’t believe her eyes. “A whirlpool,” she said with a weak voice.
One had formed about fifty feet in front of them, effectively pulling the vessel in its direction. Ann needed to reverse the boat’s momentum, and quickly. As she stood up to reposition herself, the craft tilted to one side, causing her to lose balance.
“Michael,” she screamed.
Her brother fell into the water. She didn’t see him at first, but Michael’s head popped up a few seconds later. Unfortunately, he was a good fifteen feet away, already past the bow of the boat and quickly heading toward the vortex. As much as she didn’t want to leave the boat behind, Ann had no choice. She made her way to the front of the vessel and dove into the water.
“Oh, God,” she gasped. The chill of the water shocked her body.
Unlike Michael, Ann had always been a good swimmer. Adrenaline pumping, she raced to catch up to her brother. His head dipped up and down in the water, sometimes going under temporarily before breaking the surface again. No matter how hard she swam, she couldn’t close the gap between her and Michael. He’ll drown. He’ll never survive this.
In a rare moment, Ann found herself thinking negatively, practically giving up. Michael had been sucked into the whirlpool, his body circling the current like water in a drain. He went under, disappearing from her sight. It was Ann’s turn. She could only go where the water wanted her to, so she stopped fighting it. Never before had Ann been so scared. Emptiness consumed her, starting in the stomach and crawling up through her mouth until she could barely breathe. She feared for Michael’s life, and ultimately her own, as her head went below the water.
* * * *
            “Ann?” Through darkness, a voice called out for her. “Ann,” the voice said again.
She felt a cold hand on her face, forcing her to wake. Ann opened her eyes. A blurry image knelt before her, eventually clearing up as her eyes adjusted to the light.
“Michael,” she shouted. Ann sat up and wrapped her arms around him. “I can’t believe it’s you.”
Michael squeezed her tight and then released his grip, backing away from her. “Look at this place,” he said, standing with his arms in the air. For someone who had just come face to face with death, Michael was in surprisingly good spirits.
Ann examined her surroundings. They appeared to be in some sort of cavern, but it was unnaturally bright, almost as if an artificial source illuminated the walls of the cave. The array of colors—turquoise, fire orange, and burnt brown—stimulated her senses. A body of water entered through an opening in one of the large rock walls, reflecting the images overhead and making it hard to tell what was up and what was down.
“Are we dead?” The way she said it almost sounded sarcastic, but Ann couldn’t have been more serious.
“No,” a deep voice answered.
A monstrosity emerged from the water, one that towered over her. Gray in color, it possessed a turtle-like face with a long neck and tail. The creature had six limbs, which consisted of four legs and two giant fins that acted like wings on each side of its body.
Ann got to her feet and pulled Michael close to her.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” the creature said.
Uncertain if she could believe him, Ann continued to hold Michael’s head to her chest. “Where are we?”
“Beneath Firemound Island,” he answered.
“How did we get here?”
“You don’t remember?”
Ann shook her head. “I got sucked under, and I woke up here.”
“It’s no surprise,” the creature said. “These waters have a secret. It’s their way of keeping it.”
Initially confused by the comment, Ann understood what he meant. “If we don’t remember how we got here, we can’t tell others how to find it. Is that what you’re saying?”
The creature nodded. “Yes. Only those who are invited are allowed to enter.”
“But we’re here,” Ann pointed out.
“Yes. The boy is sick. Is he not?”
“How would you know that?”
“I don’t,” the creature replied, “but the sea does. It has a sense for these things.”
Ann pondered for a moment. “The whirlpool,” she said. “That was the sea’s way of inviting us in?”
“It felt more like a near-death experience,” Ann said with a hint of irritation. “I didn’t find it welcoming at all.”
“I apologize,” the creature said. “It wasn’t meant to scare you, but it served its purpose, nonetheless.”
“How is it we didn’t drown?” Ann inquired.
“The sea ensured your safety. It allowed you to breathe temporarily while under water.”
Ann took a deep breath, trying to take all of it in. “Do you have a name?”
“Kentim,” he responded. “And you?”
“I’m Ann. This is my brother, Michael.”
“A pleasure to meet both of you. How are you feeling, Michael?”
Ann could sense her brother’s reluctance to speak. “Go ahead,” she insisted.
“I’m okay,” Michael said.
“But you could be better?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“What if you could be cured of your disease?” Kentim paused, allowing the question to sink in. “Would that interest you?”
“Of course,” Michael answered.
“I guess my real question is what would you be willing to do in exchange for it?”
“What are you getting at?” Ann intervened.
“As I said,” Kentim stated, “these waters are special. They have healing powers, but it comes at a price.”
“Which is?” Ann continued to press him.
“You can never go back to your family,” Kentim said.
Ann stepped forward, keeping Michael close. “Why?”
“While the waters will rid Michael of his disease, they will also change him. He will become one with the sea, unable to return to his normal life.” Kentim took a few seconds before continuing. “Let me show you.” He looked off to the side, staring at the water. “Rah.”
A human head popped out of the water. A boy, who Ann recognized as one of the twelve missing children, walked onto the rocky shore next to them and smiled. He was different, though. Gills lined both sides of his neck, and his arms had some sort of webbing attached to them.
“Rah was stricken with the same disease that Michael now fights, but he’s been cured,” Kentim said. “However, the sea has altered his way of life.”
“But he can breathe out of the water,” Ann said.
Rah dove back in, staying submerged this time.
“Only for a few seconds at a time,” Kentim acknowledged. “Land life is no longer suitable.”
“So this is where the children disappeared to?”
“You made them do this?”
“Of course not,” Kentim replied. “I gave them a choice. The same choice I’m giving your brother, Michael.”
Ann thought about the lone boy who returned. Given what she knew now, she understood why he came back. “Why would they choose to do this?”
“I can’t say,” Kentim said. “I never asked any of them, nor did they tell me. I just assumed they wanted a second chance at life.” He glanced at Michael. “What do you think, young man?”
Michael stuttered, eventually spitting out the words. “I’m tired of being sick,” he said, “but I would miss my family. It would also break my mother’s heart if I left her.”
An idea came to mind, forcing Ann to speak up. “What if both of us stayed?” Michael looked at her with confused eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Kentim said. “The invitation applies to Michael. You were only brought here out of courtesy to him.”
“I don’t want to leave you,” Michael said to Ann. He began to cry.
Ann knelt down beside her brother, turning her back to Kentim. “Listen to me,” she whispered. “You don’t have to do this, but think about Mom.”
“I am,” he said with a light voice.
“I’m not talking about you missing her or vice-versa,” Ann said. “Mom would give her life for you. So would I. As much as she would miss you, she would want you to do this.”
“But I’m scared,” Michael said.
“I know you are, but you’ve been so brave through all of this. Please don’t give up now.”
“What is your answer?” Kentim interrupted.
Ann embraced her brother, both of them shedding tears.
* * * *
Ann and her mother made their way to the dock. It was their special day of the week, and they hadn’t missed it once in six months. Ann carried a picnic basket in one hand and a blanket in the other. She laid the quilt on the wooden walkway, taking a seat along the edge of the pier. Her mother sat beside her. Ann reached over to touch her hand. She turned her head and offered Ann a warm smile, welcoming her touch.
A splash of water suddenly caught their attention. Ann looked out at the sea, noticing a boy’s head bobbing above its surface only a few yards away. He laughed. Ann felt her mother’s grip tighten. As she glanced over, her mother continued to look straight ahead, focused on the little boy. The smile on her face widened. It was a sign of contentment. A sign of happiness. Michael was with them again.