Genre: Contemporary fantasy/paranormal
Publisher: Mictlan Press
Date of Publication: March 15, 2016
Number of pages: 345
Word Count: 100,000
Paperback and all ebook formats
Cover Artist: Shelby Robinson – artwork
Jennifer Stolzer – layout and design
How Far Would You Go To Get Your Life Back?
Stuck in the afterlife on an island encircled by fire and hunted by shadows bent on trapping them there forever, Irene and Andras struggle to hold onto the last vestiges of their physical selves, without which they can never return to the land of the living. But it’s not just external forces they’ll have to fight as the pair grow to realize they have different goals. Irene still clings to the hope that she can somehow return to her old life—the one she had before she died—while Andras would be only too glad to embrace oblivion.
Meanwhile, Jonah desperately searches for a way to cross over to the other side, even if doing so means his death. His crossing over, however, is the one thing that could destroy Irene’s chances of returning home.
Too many obstacles, too many people to save, and the thing Irene most desperately wants—to return to her old life—seems farther away than ever. Only one thing is clear: moving on will require making a terrible sacrifice.
Irene could hear voices. She shushed Andras and cocked her head. “I think there are people up ahead,” she said. The land, transitioning from black sand to short black grass, sloped upwards as it moved away from the shore, the white trees growing more plentiful until they turned into densely-packed forest.
Irene started forward with Andras behind her and followed the sound. The black grass crunched softly under foot as they mounted the gentle slope and approached the edge of the wood. Irene stopped to touch a tree—though it was knobby and gnarled, the surface was smooth as silk, without texture. Irene wasn’t sure what that meant, except she was pretty sure it wasn’t actually a tree.
At the top of the rise they stopped short in surprise as they came upon a scene straight out of a medieval tapestry. In a clearing amongst the gleaming white trees—these with dense clusters of bright pink leaves—stood a massive oaken dining table, large enough to seat thirty or more. Around this table, seated upon massive, hand-carved chairs like mini-thrones, were richly dressed men and women, resplendent in long and lavish flowing robes and gowns of velvet and damask in shades of vermilion, plum, garnet, hunter, and the like, all edged with embroidery, lace, and fur. The women wore Renaissance style hats of one or two peaks from which trailed gauzy veils, and the men wore large, floppy, velvet and ermine hats.
The table was heaped with luscious fruits and roasted meats and goblets of jewel-colored liquids, possibly wine, though the platters were covered over by a layer of fallen pink leaves, which fell lazily from the trees like tinkling musical notes, giving the impression that the platters hadn’t been touched for years. Bird-song permeated the grove, sweet and gentle, filling Irene with a sense of peace and tranquility.
Irene had a strange yearning to join the party at the table—to sit down with them, to drink from one of the cups, and to sample the food on the table. Her stomach rumbled—not with hunger so much as longing—and Irene put a hand to it, as if she could quiet it with the gesture.
The men and women around the table had been talking languorously, though Irene couldn’t make out their words—she thought they might have been speaking a foreign language—but as they became aware of Irene’s and Andras’s presence, the conversation slowly trailed off and then died.
“Uh, hello?” Irene said, cautiously, stepping forward. There was no trace of friendliness from the people. In fact, the atmosphere of the entire area seemed to be growing less friendly by the second. Even the bird-song had stopped.
Thirty pairs of eyes slowly swiveled to face Irene and Andras.
Irene gasped and stepped back. Now that they diners faced her, she could see what she hadn’t been able to see before: each person had the head of an animal—a goat, an ox, a horse, a fox, a cat, a crocodile…
A horse-headed woman in an apricot-colored robe rose to her feet. “You don’t belong here,” she said harshly, her frigid tone turning Irene’s blood to ice.
“I’m sorry… we got lost…” Irene said, clutching her bag tighter as alarm snaked through her.
“This place is not for you,” said a jaguar-headed man in carnelian robes, also rising to his feet.
Irene took a step back. The naked hostility was apparent now.
“I think we should go—” she said in an undertone to Andras.
There was a movement at the table, and then something whistled through the air, striking Irene on the shoulder hard.
“Ow!” she cried, as the projectile dropped to the ground—a rock. “Hey!” she cried angrily, rubbing the bruise, but then another rock hit her, this time thudding dully against the side of her head. Andras grunted and flinched as he, too, was hit.
“You don’t belong here,” the men and women at the table said, each rising one by one. More rocks followed. Irene backed away hastily.
“Alright! Alright! We’re going!”
The diners were all standing now, intoning “you don’t belong here” in unison as rocks rained down on Irene and Andras.
“Come on!” Andras shouted.Following his lead, Irene turned and ran, rocks pelting her head, her shoulders, her back, her legs as she fled
Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats. She is the author of the Afterlife Series, which includes Hereafter (Afterlife #1) and Thereafter (Afterlife #2) and several short stories including “Welcome to OASIS” (“Dear Robot” anthology, Kelly Jacobson publisher) and “The Well” (“Scratching the Surface” anthology, Third Flatiron Press).