What’s Ashley Reading?: Hamnet

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell

First line: A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.

Summary: In 1580, in England, a young tutor named William Shakespeare meets the daughter of his employers. She is a strange girl who wanders the fields with her falcon on her arm. Against the wishes of their families they marry. Agnes has a reputation as a healer. People flock to her for cures. However, when their son, Hamnet, falls ill to the bubonic plague there is little she can do for the boy. With the heartache and loss Shakespeare writes one of his most epic plays.

My Thoughts: This book was beautifully written. It was almost poetic in its writing and style. I listened to most of this and the reader was so soothing. I think this would be a perfect book for book clubs, fans of historical fiction or literary fiction.

This brings to life a major part of Shakespeare’s life, his family. Very little is written or talked about since his most famous times were in London and on the stage. I loved learning about Agnes (or Anne) and their children. Life was so simple back then but also very tragic as well. I knew very little even though I have read several of his plays and watched many documentaries and movies of his life. The fact that we can still see some of the places he lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon is astounding since over 400 years have passed.

My favorite chapter, and the one that will most likely stick with me, was the one about the flea. O’Farrell spends a whole chapter on the flea that brought the plague to the home of William Shakespeare and eventually killed his only son. It is hard to imagine how something that started thousands of miles away could affect so many. The tale was fascinating. Who would ever consider writing about the flea?! It is genius.

FYI: Winner of Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Xochitl’s Book Thoughts: Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

First line: A convenience store is a world of sounds.

Summary and Thoughts: In Japan, convenience stores are essential to the Japanese lifestyle. They are on every block, sometimes two facing each other. Keiko Furukura sees convenience stores to be a part of her as much as they are a part of Japan. Odd since birth, Keiko has always found trouble fitting in. She took everything literally and always seemed to get in trouble no matter what she did to correct her behavior. At the age of eighteen she started working part-time at a new convenience store in hopes to blend in to normal society. There she learns how to interact with people only as a convenience store worker. It’s also there that she learns to copy the clothing style and mannerisms of her coworkers. Eighteen years later she is still doing her usual routine much to the distaste of those around her, despite her being perfectly happy as a convenience store worker. In fact, she believes she can only live and breathe as a convenience store worker. An opportunity with an ex co-worker means she can finally pretend to please her family and friends’ wishes, but she’s not sure if she’s truly happy about it.

This was a quick read as it was small with only about 170 pages. It was also quick in that I didn’t want to put it down. I found the main character to be hilarious and relatable without her even trying to be. You can tell she is coded as an autistic character with a lot of self-awareness. She knows what it takes to be a normal person in society and that her odd behavior has made those around Keiko want her to be ‘cured’, but she can’t. I got frustrated along with her when some of her attempts where met with criticism. What is she supposed to do when no one is clear with her? This book also helped me understand Japanese cultural norms but also understand why someone like Furukura would be frustrated with what society thinks she should do. It was refreshing to see marriage not be the end or desirable goal. To me, this book was a good way to show that Japan still has some ways to go in terms of understanding and educating themselves about people with autism. For a quick read, I was able to learn so much and be entertained.

FYI: Main character has violent intrusive thoughts.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Death In Her Hands

Death In Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

First line: Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.

Summary: Vesta, a seventy-two year old lady, is walking her dog through the woods when she finds a note about Magda. She is dead. But there is no body. Vesta is intrigued by the note. She is sure that she is smart enough to figure out who killed Magda.

My Thoughts: I immediately wanted to read this with the description and the cover. It seemed like something I would absolutely love. As soon as I started it I was confused and wasn’t sure how to feel. It was just intriguing enough to keep reading but I never knew what was truly going on.

Vesta is a solitary old woman who decides to solve a mystery. She knows no one in the area so she just makes up names and characteristics of the suspects. Everything plays out in her head. And over time things start to change. Her remembrances change. Her views on reality change. I just do not know what I just read. It did keep me reading until the end but I was disappointed in its ending.

FYI: It was a 3 star book until the ending.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Playing Nice

Playing Nice by J. P. Delaney

First line: It was just an ordinary day.

Summary: Pete is a stay-at-home dad while his partner, Maddie, works. One day after arriving home from dropping his son, Theo, off at the daycare he gets a visit from a man who tells him that Theo is his son. It is a lot to take in. Miles tells him that there was a mix-up at the NICU when Theo was born. It seems that Pete and Maddie’s son was switched with Miles’ son. They have each been raising the others’ child for the last two years.

As the couples meet and discuss the situation they feel like they got lucky that each is so amendable. They are getting along well and working out the details. But can they trust this other couple with their son? As time goes by they see that things going on in the Lambert’s house is not as they seem.

My Thoughts: I think this is Delaney’s best book so far! It was really fast and had a good story. It’s terrifying but a real worry that sometimes mistakes like this may happen. With understaffed hospitals and so many children to be taken care of, it could easily happen.

I knew from the beginning when everything was going so well that there was going to be a lot of drama hitting Pete and Maddie soon! It kept me guessing and shaking my head as more craziness continued to appear. I was so shocked with the way every little interaction was spun and twisted to fit the needs of the Lamberts.

And I loved the ending. It wasn’t exactly mind-blowing but it was satisfactory and gave perfect closure. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants a book they can easily finish in a weekend. It is easy to lose yourself in the drama and need to find out what happens next.

FYI: Check out J.P. Delaney’s other books for more great reads!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Unwind

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

First line: “There are places you can go,” Ariana tells him, “and a guy as smart as you has a decent chance of surviving to eighteen.”

Summary: A Second Civil War was fought over the rights of reproduction. Under the new Bills of Life children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen can be unwound which means their organs will be harvested and given to patients who need new parts. Every part of the Unwind will be used so technically they are still “alive” but just in another form.

Connor has been trouble for his parents for years but he never thought that they would actually choose to unwind him. Risa is a ward of the state. She lived her whole life in a state home learning how to play classical piano but when it comes time to test her she does not measure up to the set standards. Lev was raised knowing he was born to be an Unwind. He is called a tithe. But on one fateful day these three get thrown together and their lives will change forever!

My Thoughts: I absolutely love everything that Neal Shusterman has written (at the last the ones I’ve read so far)! He is a genius. He writes books that really make a person think. It is great that there are books like this and his other series, Scythe, for kids to read. The stories deal with tough topics and decisions. And the worlds he builds are just unreal. I am blown away by his story telling and his plots.

It is easy to get caught up in the story. I was listening to this as I took a trip to Kansas City and one of the discs had trouble loading and I was yelling at it to start working. I needed to know what happened! Luckily it started playing.

Each of the characters is unique and have difficult stories to tell. Shusterman brings in minor characters that give even more insight into life in the days of Unwinds and the recipients of the organs. And at one point we get to experience the consciousness of an Unwind while he is being unwound. It was disturbing.

I cannot wait to start the next book and see how the story continues. It is scary, realistic and very thought provoking. I highly recommend this.

FYI: It does have some graphic moments and can be a little disturbing for some people.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Lions of Fifth Avenue

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

First line: She had to tell Jack.

Summary: Laura Lyons and her family had recently moved into the superintendent’s apartment in the New York City Public Library. It seemed like a dream come true to be surrounded by so much history and knowledge. But even with everything seeming so perfect she knows something is missing. She takes a chance and applies to Columbia Journalism School. When she is accepted she doesn’t realize how much her life will now change.

Eighty years later, Sadie, Laura’s granddaughter is working in the same library. She has been preparing an exhibit when books, very valuable books, begin to disappear. As she helps search for them she worries that the blame may be put on her because of her family’s past. It seems that the past is repeating itself.

My Thoughts: I am so happy that Davis went back to her old style of writing. I love her stories that have intertwining stories from different time periods. She does them so well. I was really disappointed in the Chelsea Girls when she diverged from this format. It did not have the same magic as her other books have had.

The author does a wonderful job of bringing the landmarks she writes about to life. They almost become a character in the story as well. These buildings have so much history. I would love to one day be able to visit them. And the fact that there are all these secrets or unknown parts of each building are fascinating. Who knew that there were apartments in the New York library? I for sure didn’t. It would be a dream to live in such an iconic location.

I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a gentle read with a little mystery thrown in. The history and story are easy to get lost in.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Rhys Bowen and Beatriz Williams.

What’s Ashley Reading?: He Started It

He Started It by Samantha Downing

First line: You want a heroine.

Summary: When their grandfather dies, he leaves a dying wish. He wants his grandchildren to recreate and follow the same road trip they took together 20 years before. He wants his ashes taken with them and scattered in the desert where their trip ended.

Family road trips can be stressful. But made even more stressful when everyone is hiding a secret. However, in order to earn their inheritance, they must complete his request. Money is a motivator. So even with all the fighting and secrets they know they must finish the road trip at all costs.

My Thoughts: This book was messed up! It was one crazy twist after another. When you think you’ve seen it all you are proven wrong. At the end I kept flipping the page over because I couldn’t believe the book ended as it did. It was a wild ride. I did not like any of the characters. They treat each other terribly and most of the people they meet. It’s like watching a train wreck and you can’t look away. I had to know what was going to happen next. The one critique I had was the cigarette situation. It seemed so petty but that may have been the point. It made me dislike the characters even more.

I did like though that the sites they visit are real. Take a look. They are pretty neat actually. I would even add them to my next road trip.

FYI: Very dark, crazy read.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The First Actress

The First Actress by C. W. Gortner

First line: If great talent can arise from adversity, mine must have been forged in the cauldron of my childhood.

Summary: The most famous actress of her time, Sarah Bernhardt, rose from obscurity to stardom in France. She was the daughter of a high-class courtesan. She is raised in a convent until her mother decides to start her in the family trade even though Sarah has hopes of being an actress. With the help of influential men like Alexandre Dumas she gets her chance to shine of on the stage and become a worldwide superstar. But even with stardom comes tragedy too.

My Thoughts: Before reading this I had never heard of Sarah Bernhardt but after finishing it I want to know even more. Her life had so many ups and downs. She achieved so much in a time when women still had very little power. She used her skills and strong will to rise. She may have had help but she knew who she was and what she wanted and took it. And she used her influence to help others like during the Franco-Prussian War, another event that I knew very little about.

Unfortunately, most of Sarah’s work was on the stage and before motion pictures and sound but there are a few examples from early recordings that can be found on Youtube. Even though her acting would be out of date in the present at the time it was revolutionary. She changed the way actors spoke to the audience and portrayed the characters on stage. We are lucky to have any piece of her and her skills available for us to see.

Gortner is a phenomenal historical fiction author. He really makes the story gripping. He brings the women he writes about to life. I learn more about the time period then I have ever known while being entertained by the story.

FYI: I highly recommend Gortner’s last book, The Romanov Empress, about the mother of Czar Nicholas II of Russia.

Writing Challenge Winner: Red Strings by Olivia Kasych

Olivia is a 15 year old writer who has participated in many of the library’s writing challenges, including last summer’s Voyager Writing Challenge and this spring’s Bad Guy Writing Challenge. Red Strings is the sequel to Olivia’s first short story, Neutral Zone, and dives deeper into the motivations of the tormented villain, Vic!

Read Olivia’s first story here:

Check out her sequel below!

“What makes you think I was gonna kill him?”

Vick can admit that he is not the best person, but he certainly is not stupid. He knew the oblivious, helpless person he and Terrace quite literally stumbled upon was not to be killed. He may want the end of the AWs, Alternate Worlds, but he is not that evil.

“You brought us here anyway,” Vick accused. The first AW was not his ideal battle terrain, mostly because anything multiverse travelers, like himself, killed there killed its counterpart everywhere else.

“No I didn’t! You did!” Terrace yelled back up at Vick. Vick smirked. Even if he was not suspended on a swing, he was still taller than the short creator.

“I don’t recall ever thinking to put myself at a disadvantage.” Vick was not happy. He lowered himself to the ground. He stared directly into Terrace’s ever changing eyes.

“It’s not like you don’t make mistakes,” Terrace said. “We’re both human, Vick.”

“Human, huh?” Vick spat at him. The red markings wrapped around his arms glowed with a fiery intensity. Vick scowled at Terrace. He felt his familiar red strings flow down from the marks to his hands. He shot them toward part of the back porch. The strings wrapped themselves around the poor porch and paused. He shot Terrace a crazed grin. “What part of me is human?”

He gripped his hand into a fist. He swung his arm at Terrace as if he was throwing a shot-put. The strings strained and yanked the porch out of the ground. In a blur of wood, the porch was on a direct course toward Terrace. It landed with a huge ​Crash!and…

missed Terrace. Vick knew that would happen, but was not in the mood. Terrace had teleported over to the fence gate.

“Missed me!” Terrace teased. Vick was fuming. He angrily directed his strings toward the nearest fence post, tore it out of the ground, and threw it at Terrace. He could not care less if he killed anyone else, he just wanted to wipe off Terrace’s smug grin.

He retreated his strings. Though he really wanted to make sure Terrace was at least scared, he did not want to stick around longer. ​Let Terrace take care of his own businesshe thought, teleporting away from the destroyed yard.

Now, one may expect Vick to have some sort of huge base where he would monitor the whole multiverse. That is not the case. Because of the stereotypical villain, Vick’s “base” is in a small cabin in AW 27, another “magic filled” AW.

Vick’s teleportation destination landed him in the kitchen of said cabin. He took a peek in the fridge for anything that looked edible. Believe it or not, destroying useless worlds worked up an appetite. Vick took the leftover pancakes from breakfast and closed the fridge.

“Back already?” Vick heard someone say from the living room.

“Not like you’ve been anywhere,” Vick grumbled. “Dumb creator teleported the both of us to the original. I gave him a bit of a job to fix.” Vick heard laughter. He made his way to the living room and found the new(ish) recruit, dressed in all black, playing with a knife.

“The original’s found out, huh?” Blood laughed.

“Yep. Scared the kid out of his skin. You should have seen it, turned him white on the spot.” Vick started gnawing on one of the pancakes.

“My turn?” Blood asked excitedly, his eyes flashing red as if to seal his intentions.

“Go aheath,” Vick said, half a pancake dangling out of his mouth. “Whehe’s Lethon?”

“Lendon’s probably in his room,” Blood answered. “Later!” Blood teleported out of the room.

Vick finished his pancakes and sighed. Blood joined them —that is, the team— about two years ago. Vick never thought about time because it did not mean much for a multiverse traveler like himself. It changes too much from AW to AW that Vick just stopped caring.

Vick never asked Blood why he joined the team, but Blood always seemed to know where Terrace and Cerulean were. Vick just went with it. He was sure Lendon knew —he was the head of the team and he knew just about everything about each of them.

Lendon was originally from AW 17, which also had magic. Vick does not know much about his origin either, but does know Lendon is pretty powerful. Vick has seen him

level a city in seconds. He has also fought Terrace and Cerulean to a stalemate, which Vick has yet to do. Vick is not patient enough for it.

“Yo, Vick!” yelled someone. Vick snapped himself out of his thoughts and looked up. He saw another member of the team. He wore a blood red sweater and black jeans. He stared at Vick with his cyan eyes burning through his shaggy black hair.

“What do you want, Dultin?” Vick grumbled.

Dultin took playful offense as he flopped on the couch next to Vick. “Why do you always assume I want something whenever I talk to you?”

“Because you do.” The day before, Dultin asked Vick to help him find one of his guns. Dultin claimed it was his “favorite” and “couldn’t live without it.” They almost got caught by the police in five different AWs and Vick came home sore.

Dultin came from AW 30. His father was a police officer and taught Dultin everything about guns. Dultin said it was his “calling” whenever he told the story. He claimed he brought a gun to “show and tell” in Kindergarten and accidentally shot and killed one of his classmates. Vick was wary about the credibility of the story, but did not put it past him to do so.

“Okay, you got me,” Dultin said, raising his hands up as if he was getting arrested. “I only want to know where Blood is.” Vick forgot that Blood and Dultin had bonded over the past two years.

“Fine.” Vick closed his eyes and searched the entire multiverse for Blood. Luckily, he had a good idea about where he was. “Upmost. AW 10.” Dultin was stood up to leave. Vick grabbed his arm. “Let him be for a bit. He’s playing with the original.”

Dultin seemed to understand and sat back down.

~~~~~~~~~

Blood did not come back in the next hours.

Vick started assuming the worst. He could barely think, mostly because Dultin was constantly assembling and taking apart one of his handguns. Vick grew tired of the constant clinking of metal. He stood up.

“Fine!” he groaned. “We’ll look for him. Get your things. I have a trap.”

Dultin shot up, giddy to leave. “You think it’ll work? It’s about 11 pm original time.”

“It definitely will. Terrace wouldn’t miss.” Vick opened a portal. “Come on.” Dultin hopped into the portal as Vick followed, sealing the portal after entering the location.

They ended up in a field surrounded by forest. The clearing was almost miraculous.

Occasional dandelions popped up every once and awhile. It was about noon in that AW.

“You’ve never seen me destroy an entire world, have you?” Vick asked Dultin. Dultin shook his head no. “Well, today’s your lucky day.” Vick’s markings glowed blood red. Vick knelt on the ground and put both hands on the grassy field. He again felt his strings flow into his hands, but this time they slipped out and into the ground like worms. Vick got up. “The trap’s set.”

“What did you do?” Dultin asked with genuine curiosity.

“Each world has a ‘soul,’ so to speak,” Vick explained. “My strings can locate and destroy that ‘soul,’ leaving the world to rot and disappear. The process takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Quick and efficient. The only flaw is that Terrace can sense when my strings are close to the ‘soul’ and can get rid of them the same way I distribute them. That is our opening.”

“Which world is this, anyway?” Dultin asked, loading a pistol with one of his homemade bullets.

“AW 2,102,” Vick replied. He rolled his eyes. “There’s too much of the same trash.”

“Darn right.” Dultin laughed.

The pair of delinquents were treated to a bright flash of light. When the light diminished, Vick saw four silhouettes. Two obviously belonged to Terrace and Cerulean. The third was the original, Vick figured. Vick could not figure out who the fourth was. He seemed to be part of Cerulean’s shadow, dressed in all black as he was.

Then he caught sight of his face. Vick stared at him, a spike of disbelief shooting through his insides. He wondered what happened in the last few hours that caused this.

Dultin started laughing. The laugh turned dry, shooting imaginary daggers into their adversaries. “Yes, Vick, the trap worked,” he said. He directed his now loaded gun at the “shadow.” “Alas, it worked too well. We caught a ghost, and now it’s time to dispose of him.”

Dultin’s smile turned toxic. “Goodbye Blood.” Dultin loaded and fired his pistol in half a second, aiming it directly at Blood. There was no time for Blood to dodge. ​Better off without himVick thought.

A mind-numbing screech of metal was heard. Blood had decided to deflect the bullet, using a knife to cut the bullet before it hit him. The two pieces of the bullet fell harmlessly on either side of him. Sadly, the pieces did not hit anyone else.

Vick did not waste time. Arms glowing, he sent his strings toward Terrace and Cerulean. They wrapped around their necks, daring to choke them to death. Vick pulled and their eyes grew wide with fear. They started choking and clawed at the strings to try to get air.

They were cut free soon after. Vick glared at Blood, who had freed them. Vick redirected his attention to Terrace. The short creator had eyed him and was holding his paintbrushes. “You got the other three?” Vick half asked Dultin.

“Can’t wait to kill that traitor,” Dultin hissed.

“Just don’t kill Derick.” Dultin scoffed. Vick could not worry about that. He had to keep Terrace from saving the AW. And he had a great idea. In the long time that he and Terrace have been fighting, he knew he put others as more important than himself. That was his flaw. Vick wondered if Terrace would ever learn after being exploited so much.

Vick’s strings shot toward Derick. The “poor kid” did not know what hit him. Vick pinned Derick’s arms to his sides and suspended him in the air. Vick shot Dultin a look. Dultin smiled, pointed another one of his “special” guns at Derick, and fired.

Terrace looked terrified. He froze and looked up at Derick in disbelief. Cerulean displayed similar emotions —even crying, to Vick’s delight. Blood just stared at Dultin. The gaze held back a hurricane of emotions, ready to be unleashed.

Vick watched as Blood almost doubled over, clutching his side as if he had taken the bullet. Vick smirked. “Dultin, what was in the bullet?” he asked playfully, getting everyone’s attention.

“Well!” Dultin responded excitedly. “That was one of my special concoctions! It locates magical bonds in the recipient and exploits the connection!” Dultin stared at Blood. “I wanted to use it on Cerulean, but you —you lying traitor— deserved it more.”

Derick started coughing. He was struggling to get out of the strings, but to no avail. Vick only tightened his bindings. Derick was staring at the ground in fear. “C-Cerulean? Why’s the ground red?” Cerulean and Terrace gave him a terrified look.

Vick smirked. “Looks like someone forgot why they were here. Forgetful creator,” he teased Terrace while shaking his head. Vick turned his attention to Derick and shot him a crazed smile. “That’s what a world looks like before it’s destroyed. Terrace was being slow, as always.” He nodded at Dultin. “Hope you all enjoyed your little late night expedition. I sure did.”

“Burn…in…hell,” Blood said, still holding his side in pain. “You know…you didn’t.”

Dultin’s instinctual course of action was to shoot Blood with another one of the special bullets. The bullet passed through Blood’s head without spilling any blood. Derick let out a strained yelp in pain. Vick dropped the now passed out kid from his strings. Terrace ran to catch the kid in time and, unfortunately, did. Vick almost signaled Dultin to leave when Cerulean also dropped. This shocked Vick. Any new connections like that shine like a beacon to Vick. ​That connection is nowhere near newhe realized.

He motioned at Dultin that it was time to leave. They both teleported out of there, just as the ground started collapsing. They arrived back at their base and just… stood in the living room.

“That traitor!” Dultin yelled, kicking over the living room couch. “I swear, I’m going to kill him after ghosting us like that!”

Vick was also mad. Blood was the last person he saw deserting and flipping sides. Honestly, he thought that if Dultin ever had therapy, he would be first. Dultin did what he did because he thought it was fun. Vick always saw that as a poor reason, so he always thought Dultin would desert.

He, Lendon, and Blood all had solid reasons, he assumed. As already mentioned, he did not know much about either of the two, but he pieced together that Blood has something against Cerulean. Vick did not know what, but after what happened with the bullets, he knew it was deep.

Lendon was still a mystery. Vick had no idea of how he even got so powerful in the first place. He just remembers when Lendon recruited him to his team. Vick could feel his power. It emanated from him like a radio signal that Vick could pick up and listen to. He remembered feeling uneasy as his fierce orange eyes stared into him as he spoke.

Vick was snapped back into reality as Dultin toppled the couch again. He was still angry about Blood. Dultin stormed off to his room. Vick figured he should go to his room also. He thought about telling Lendon, but Vick had a feeling he already knew.

Vick went up the staircase in the back of the room toward his room. It was the first door on the right. He opened the door to his bland room. He never bothered to decorate. He didn’t like clutter, and didn’t see any reason in doing so. He wasn’t in his room much anyway.

He was, however, exhausted. He plopped on his bed and went out like a light.

He was in a white and black area. He didn’t bother looking around. He knew where he was. The landscape swirled with the white and black colors, but nothing else could be seen. He also knew that. He did not know why he tried every time. Where was he? Well, he was home. His AW.

There was nothing. Vick did not know what happened, but what was supposed to be an actually livable space with other people only turned out to be him. He could not count the number of times he had false hopes about someone being out there and disappointed when there was not. Sometimes, the area would play tricks on him and the blackness would shape like a person and then disappear.

He always dreams of being here. He cannot remember ever having a “good” dream. He always looked at the other AWs in disgust. They had so much when he had nothing. That is why he is so numb.

He simply does not care.

He did not always have the marks, either. They were blood. When he was stuck there, he would often think and dream about death. That was the only way out he saw. He would constantly dream of killing himself and the like. One time, his dream did not go away and he found the markings on his arms. The strings were painful at first, it was like shaping his own blood, but he grew numb to it.

Leaving was a complete accident. Vick remembered wishing to be somewhere better and he was instantly in a forest. He instantly knew he was not home. He heard birds and excited shouts. He followed them to a campsite with about five tents. Kids were running about as parents watched loosely while conversing with each other.

Vick was mad. He did not know that was out there. Why did he not get any of that? Why did he have to live in that nightmarish landscape while they had everything? His markings glowed blood red

Vick stared up at his ceiling. That was the first world he destroyed. It was the 3,979th AW. He never regretted destroying it. He knew it had only been an hour. He could never sleep for long and hunger was never a concern for him. He could go a very long time without eating and be fine. Eating was more of a “hobby” to him, so to speak. He did not care if it was abnormal. Nothing about him was normal anyway.

He really only joined because he was tired of his place and he thought it would be interesting. He doesn’t mind working for Lendon but made sure to tell Lendon that it would be no deal if he could not do as he pleased at times. Lendon agreed to it and welcomed him aboard. Vick made a point to destroy the world they were in before following Lendon. That was AW 1,249.

Terrace was an almost immediate acquaintance after he left his AW, but before Lendon (which was almost one and a half years after he started). Terrace was very confusing to him. He did not try to kill Vick, but also reversed the destruction of the AW. Confusion turned to anger and Vick decked Terrace before teleporting away. He hit a few other AWs before going back to his home.

Vick was not patient. He was, however, very easily distracted by his thoughts. A few days could go by and he would not have noticed unless something happened to or near him. He called this one of his “trances.” He blamed it on his sociopathic behavior. He luckily never did this during a fight. Plus, he never liked patience. He saw it as useless and wasteful. If he wanted to wait around, he would not have left.

Terrace also lacked patience, in his eyes. Their fights never lasted long and he could tell by the way Terrace used his attacks. Surprisingly, Vick found that attacks say a lot about a person. Vick deduced that Terrace was an outgoing person and would never kill anyone.

Someone was saying his name. He got off his bed and sauntered down the stairs to the living room. “Look who decided to show up!” Dultin smirked. Vick saw both Dultin and Lendon looking at him. Lendon looked like he had a plan. He was wearing his normal green shirt, grey pants, brown boots, and orange gloves. His aura hung around him like a magnetic field.

Vick took his seat on the fixed couch. “What’s the plan?” he asked.

“Thanks to Dultin’s… experiment,” Lendon started. “We know three of our four adversaries have a magic bond of varying magnitude. Any magic bonds strengthen both/all participants, thus decreasing our chances of defeating them. If we single out the one without any magic ties to the others, we should be able to lure the rest into any trap we may set. For instance, if we kept Terrace locked up here, we could count on the other three coming to us. But, we would have to keep Derick out of it.”

“Why though?” Dultin asked. “He’s weak and inexperienced.” He pointed a finger gun at Vick’s head. “Just one well placed shot and—” He jerked his hand back in recoil as if he shot Vick. “Well, no more problem.”

“Dultin, he’s the original!” Vick hissed. “We can’t kill him.”

“We don’t know what he may be capable of,” Lendon continued. “I intend on finding out one way or another. After we successfully capture Terrace, we will be able to ‘take out’ Derick. I’m thinking of the Prison. Thoughts?”

The Prison was an abandoned military base near their cabin. Each holding cell had soundproof walls and security cameras. It was easy to monitor and there was no way to know if anyone else was in there with you. Vick saw it as perfect. He nodded his head in approval.

“Finally!” Dultin said.

“Very well,” Lendon said, looking between the two killers. “The plan will start as soon as possible. Places, everyone.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Vick was out again. He had the task of luring out Terrace, which would be very easy.

Another AW, another seed planted. Vick waited.

Terrace came alone. ​PerfectVick thought. Terrace did not have time to react when Vick strangled him enough to make him pass out. Vick dropped Terrace off in one of the cells in the Prison.

Not even a second later, Dultin came back with a passed out Derick. Dultin paraded him around down to his cell like a hunter carrying a deer he killed home. Vick thought for a second that Derick was dead, but they were all still there so it was not the case. ​Now, we wait, Vick thought. And wait they did. An almost 40 minutes.

Cerulean and Blood turned up near their base— glorified house. Vick could feel them coming in the Prison’s direction. He told Dultin to get ready. “This is exciting!” Dultin replied, playing with a switch in the control room of the Prison. The two entered the complex. Dultin and Vick watched them through the various security cameras placed in the maze-like hallways.

The moment came. “Now!” Vick shouted at Dultin. Dultin slammed the switch down and a sliding steel door slid between the two. The now separated pair tried to open/destroy the door, but nothing happened. They continued on their separate ways. Vick radioed Lendon: “He’s all yours.”

Lendon was waiting for Cerulean. He did not give any details on what he would do, so Vick and Dultin watched the security tapes intriguingly. Cerulean walked back the way he came. He took a left near the entrance and stopped at another crossroad. He took another left and a right at another crossroad. All along the walls are doors leading to cell after cell after cell. “Close the left door,” Vick told Dultin. At the upcoming intersection, the left door closed. Cerulean’s only options were right or backtrack. Cerulean took the right.

That was where Lendon was. Cerulean stopped and started backing away from him. Dultin was about to close the door behind him, but Lendon made a magical barrier, blocking Cerulean’s escape. Vick heard Dultin snicker. To be honest, Cerulean’s terrified face was hilarious, but Vick shut him up.

“Poor Cerulean,” Lendon sneered. “A weak shell of a human that wanted too much. Now look where that got you. Your so-called ‘friends’ are gone and it’s all your fault.”

“No, no!” Cerulean said, still deathly afraid. “I couldn’t have known!”

“Maybe,” Lendon smiled. “But, think about it. If you didn’t split yourself, maybe you could’ve found them and left by now. That’s not done by now because you’re weak and pathetic.”

“No… no!” Cerulean shook his head. Cerulean was frozen still by an orange glow around him. “That’s not true!”

“Oh, quit lying to yourself. It’s tiring, really.” Lendon walked toward Cerulean. Cerulean tried moving away, but the orange magic held him in place. Lendon tilted Cerulean’s head toward him so they made eye contact.

“No!” Cerulean tried looking away, but couldn’t. A blinding orange light filled the security camera. After blinking away the after effects, Vick saw only Cerulean in the corridor. He walked over to the dropped radio and radioed the duo in the control center. “Open the doors,” he said. He stared directly at the security camera.

They saw his eyes and immediately opened the doors. His eyes glowed the same orange as Lendon’s. ​Well, he can possess people now Vick thought. He cracked a smile. “He’s certainly full of surprises,” Vick said aloud.

“You bet!” Dultin said. “This just got better!”

“It sure did,” Vick said as they continually stared at the cameras. ​One more to gohe kept to himself.

Lendon was approaching Blood. Blood must have sensed him because he said: “What do you want, Lendon?”

“Blood!” Lendon said as Cerulean. “I found the switches to the doors and opened them. We should continue looking together.”

“I’m not a naive fool, Lendon!” Blood continued without turning around. “Leave me alone! I’m not going to be part of your team anymore!”

Lendon laughed. “That’s crazy Blood!” Cerulean’s voice said. “Why would I want you back? You obviously can’t be trusted.” Blood finally turned around.

“Cerulean?!” Blood shouted in surprise. Lendon stared at Blood.

“It would be easier to kill you now!” Cerulean’s voice took a dark turn as Lendon lunged for Blood’s throat. Blood sidestepped Lendon. He threw a knife in his direction. Lendon latched onto it with magic and used its momentum to fling it back at Blood. The knife destroyed the door behind Blood.

“No way!” Dultin yelled.

“What?” Vick asked.

“That’s where I put Derick! How did he know?!”

Cerulean did not convey any emotional reaction. Blood helped Derick out of the wreckage. “ ‘Really accurate hunches’, huh?” Derick teased.

“Hey, I got you out, didn’t I?” Blood responded. Blood shoved Derick behind himself. “Go find Terrace. I’ll deal with Lendon.”

“Who’s—?” Derick began to ask before he started glowing orange. He was struggling against the translucent bindings.

Lendon smirked. “You’re not going anywhere,” Cerulean’s voice said.

“Let him go, Lendon!” Blood threatened.

“Sure.” Lendon threw Derick against a wall. The wall was damaged on impact and debris went everywhere. Blood tried to protect himself from the blast, but Vick could see clear cuts in his sweats.

Derick was not unscathed. He had a huge cut on his cheek and Vick bet that he had popped his arm out of socket. He had many other minor cuts everywhere. He struggled to get up, using the wall as some sort of crutch. He looked at Lendon. “Why?” he asked. “Why Cerulean?”

“Cerulean’s not here,” Lendon smirked. Blood walked up behind Lendon and tried to hit him with the blunt end of his knife. Lendon froze him and sent him flying into one of the

other cells. “You’re very annoying, Blood.” He sighed. “It’s not like you’ll actually try to kill me. Though you might’ve wanted to kill him, you can’t kill Cerulean.”

The dust cleared and Blood was staring Lendon down. “… heh heh…” he laughed. “Who said I was trying to kill you?” Blood looked like he would drop down any moment. He threateningly raised a glowing red knife at Lendon. “By now, Derick’s been looking for Terrace. You really are unobservant idiots.” He eyed the security camera on the wall, which was directly at Vick and Dultin.

Vick was mad. He did not like that he was that easily distracted. “Where is he?” he wondered aloud while searching the cameras.

“There he is!” Dultin pointed at one of the screens. Derick was walking quickly; it seemed as if he already knew where Terrace was. Vick realized he was heading in the right direction.

“I’ll go stop him,” Vick told Dultin. “Keep watching Lendon, just in case something goes wrong.” Dultin puffed up in resistance, but did not make any moves to challenge Vick.

Vick teleported to where Derick was last seen. He did not want to accidentally hit Terrace’s cell while he tried to stop Derick, so he concocted a plan. His arms glowed red as he pursues Derick, who was getting dangerously close to the cell. He shot his arm forward, his strings lashing out toward their target. They grabbed onto Derick, promptly stopping his progress and incapacitating him.

Derick let out a surprised shout as he was yanked backward. Vick’s strings pulled him back like a fishing rod being reeled in. Vick grabbed Derick and teleported the both of them to the one place that Vick knew would do nicely.

The landscape swirled around their arrival. Nothing made a sound. The endlessness was welcoming Vick home. “Home sweet home,” he said.

“Where—?” Derick tried asking before a tight squeeze from his bindings shut him up. He seemed to be shaking from pain. Vick has almost forgotten about his injury earlier.

Vick laughed. “You’re lucky,” he said. “You’re the first to see this place. There is nothing here. This AW has no number anymore. Such a fitting place for someone like me.” Vick’s strings let go of Derick. ​It’s not like he can do anythinghe figured.

Derick hit the floor immediately. He used his right arm to help himself up as his left hung limp. He managed to get himself into a sitting position. “This… is where you’re from?” he asked. Vick shrugged, not interested in the slightest. “Do you have any family? Friends?”

“What part of ‘there is nothing here’ do you not understand?” Vick snapped. His markings glowed in his anger.

Derick flinched at the retribution. “So, you’re really alone here? That’s—”

“I don’t want your pity. I don’t care anymore.”

Derick looked a bit annoyed at Vick’s interruption, but thought a bit before talking again. “It hurts, doesn’t it? Being alone like this?”

“What did I say about pity?” Vick spat daggers. “And what would you know?”

“Nothing,” Derick shrugged. “I’ve never been secluded like this. As for my knowledge, only you have. Only you can find a way to deal with it.”

“It doesn’t affect me anymore.”

Derick laughed. “That’s like saying history is nonessential. Vick, being numb is not coping. It’s blatant ignorance. You can’t say you’ve moved on without, well, ‘moving on.’ It’s obvious you haven’t.”

Vick laughed. The longer it went on, the crazier it was. “That’s what Terrace has been saying all this time. I don’t need two of him.” Vick’s strings reattached themselves around Derick and lifted him into the air. Vick opened a portal back to the Prison underneath him. He slammed Derick down through it and jumped in after. Vick’s strings receded.

Derick hit the floor with the satisfying sound of bones breaking. Derick shakingly stood up and trudged over to one of the cells. Vick was about to follow when he saw Lendon, the real him, get flung into the cell Derick passed. The door cracked open and, well, curse their luck, Terrace jumped out of the cell. He caught notice of Derick and immediately generated his paintbrushes and painted him into some state of health. Derick looked surprised, but didn’t say anything.

Blood walked toward them with a limp. He had with him a non possessed Cerulean looking emotionally unstable. Blood devil stared at Lendon. “Don’t you dare mess with Cerulean like that again!” Lendon only hissed his denial.

Terrace looked between Vick and Lendon. “Your plan didn’t work,” he said. “Good job! Bravo!” he teased.

“Terrace,” Cerulean rolled his eyes. Terrace shrugged and teleported out of the Prison.

Cerulean and Derick followed, leaving Blood alone.

Blood stared at an overhead security camera. “You’re so lazy, Dultin,” he said shaking his head. He left promptly.

Vick sighed. He knew they lost. He caught Lendon’s smile.

Vick knew it was not over yet. Not as long as they three were there would it ever be over. Vick also smiled. He would be seeing them soon.

VERY soon.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Dilemma

The Dilemma by B.A. Paris

First line: It’s the cooling bathwater that wakes me.

Summary: Livia has been planning her fortieth birthday party for twenty years. She wants it to be perfect. Everything is in place and it looks like it is going to be a beautiful day. She does not want anything to spoil it. But she has a secret she has been keeping from her husband. She knows she should tell him but she doesn’t want to ruin the day. So she decides to wait until after the party.

Adam, Livia’s husband, wants Livia to have a great birthday especially since she has been planning it for so long. He has a big surprise for her but when he learns something that may ruin her life he has a dilemma on whether to tell her or wait until after the party.

My Thoughts: This wasn’t a thriller in the traditional sense. No one is murdered. It is just lots of miscommunication and secrets that cause problems throughout the plot. I really enjoyed it. I was very anxious about how it would end. I made myself not look at the end so I didn’t find out what happened. It was hard not to. I needed to know. This is a book that I really had to put down so I could sleep. Even after that I kept thinking about it. So immediately I had to finish it in the morning.

I did get a little annoyed with the characters and their misunderstandings. So many secrets involved in this. Lots of messed up relationships. But it gave the book a lot of shock factors. I know I gasped a few times. B. A. Paris is a really good author for a fast paced thrill ride. Give her books a try if you haven’t already!

FYI: My favorite so far has been Behind Closed Doors.