What’s Better Than Releasing Your First Book?

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The answer: Releasing your new and improved first book!

When I wrote Noble Courage almost ten years ago, I was a very green writer with the dreams of being a bestselling author. I fantasized about my series becoming a movie series  or some blockbuster television series. I had my cast lined up and I could see the whole book in motion picture within my mind. I did have high hopes.

The problem was that I chose badly when I submitted my work to a publisher. This company did not care about my book, me as a writer, or my aspirations. They just wanted my money. I haven’t sold a single copy in many years because they didn’t care enough about anything to do it all right the first time around. Luckily, I never signed my digital or movie rights to them and I am free to publish ebooks as I wish. I’m wiping my brow…that was close!

Long story short, I finally had an editor look through my manuscript and make some suggestions and some changes to Noble Courage. These have been a long time in coming! Her efforts in cleaning up my baby do not go unappreciated!

And so after waiting and waiting, I am finally able re-release Noble Courage and feel proud. Holding my head up high, I am preparing for a great promotion! A Kindle giveaway! I have the machine, still in its original packaging, not even opened (Although I am dying to look at it!).

As soon as Noble Courage is made “live” with the new manuscript and cover, I will be putting it on sale…this is supposed to happen tomorrow, 12-15-14!

So what’s this promo all about? Well, if you do me a HUGE favor, I will do one for you! I’m looking for reviews, guys. There are some pretty scary ones on Amazon that have to do with typo errors and such. I’m offering you a copy of my book next to nothing and I’m asking you for a review in return. When you leave your thoughts on Amazon, I will enter your name into a drawing for the Kindle on December 21st!

Please note that there is only one entry per person. Amazon does have to approve your thoughts before it will post. If you have issues with that, please email me: darktowerfamily@yahoo.com. If you have already left a review for Noble Courage, feel free to review any of the other books and it will still count! I do not want to feel like I’m punishing anyone for being a great fan!

Let’s have a great time with this…help me make it a GREAT event! Please share me, reblog me, and talk about me all you want! I will smile!

Today is the day! Brand new COVER REVEALS!

cover reveal

Some of you may know that I am a 41 year old student earning a bachelor degree in natural medicine. It is a very aggressive program that has taken 99% of my time this last year! Alas, my writing has suffered so much and my brain is now overflowing with conversations between characters. This obviously gets me down when I can’t just get it all out! So I finished my last assignment, my editor finished helping me revamp Noble Courage, and I decided it was time to make new covers for the Aspen Series books!

My goal was to make them representative of the series while still making them match and look cohesive. One day, I happened to be watching “The Deathly Hallows 1 & 2” and the animated story of The Three Brothers came on. It was a concept that really spoke to me! The back silhouetted figures against rich backgrounds told the story and I fell in love.

So while my last book of the series is still under construction, I managed to deck my other books in these amazing cloaks of story telling. And it seems, as of late, that Aspen has been screaming at me daily to create a Christmas story indicative of the Medieval times. And so, I am working feverishly on the creation of “The Christmas Spirits”. I think it has a very cool storyline that you will all love…even if you don’t read Medieval fiction.

And so, without further ado, I am revealing to you the new and improved Aspen Series!

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I am still working on covers for Tales of Elgolan No. 1-5. I will show you those when I get them finished! So how great are these?!? My plan is to have the new covers uploaded every where by the 10th of December so they will be ready for Christmas! The Christmas Spirits should be on Kindle before then if all goes well!

On December 15th, I plan to launch a huge promo where I’m giving away a Kindle! Stay tuned for that!

Currently, all my books are available on Amazon.com and can be downloaded from the Kindle store immediately. Please remember that it takes time to get covers changed and Noble Courage will get a makeover on the inside too as my editor just finished sprucing up the story.

I’m thankful for so many things in my  life! Aspen is one of those. Her voice has helped me in so many ways! Thank you for being a fan and a reader! I appreciate your support more than you know!

Hear Ye, Hear Ye! AWARDS TIME!

This has been a great week! Thank you to all who have interacted with me in comments, reblogging, and liking my work! Some posts take a HUGE amount of time and others don’t. But I’m all about giving back and extending my hand of friendship to those around me. The fact that you read my work and talk back to me about it means the world to me! Thank you!

So I want to give out some kudos to those who have been amazing this week. Now I want to do this each week, so you can rise through the ranks the more you visit and comment! I know, I know…I can’t hand out cool presents each week, but there are times I will do a random give-away for those who participate on a regular basis. I’m unpredictable that way.

Take a moment to take a peek at these awesome bloggers! Follow them, talk to them, love them!

Without further ado…Here are my awards for this week!

Royal Subjects: Award for following my blog!

photo attribution: guttenberg.org

photo attribution: guttenberg.org

 

Knights of the Crown: Award for comments on my posts!

Photo Attribution: Unknown

Photo Attribution: Unknown

 

Allies of the Kingdom: Award for reblogging my posts!

photo attribution: wikipedia.org

photo attribution: wikipedia.org

 

King’s Herald: Award for liking my posts!

Photo Attribution: Midsommer Actors via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo Attribution: Midsommer Actors via Flickr Creative Commons

 

Thank you sooo much for your love and support! I couldn’t keep going without you!

If you feel so inclined to read my books, you can find them all HERE! Just know that I appreciate you reading!

The Benevolent Light on StoryFinds!

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So a fellow writer, Cheryl Alleway, turned me onto this site for authors called Story Finds. This is geared toward allowing authors to showcase their work to a whole new audience of readers. My books are listed there and The Benevolent Light was chosen to be featured in their Medieval Romance Week! You should visit me there, read the excerpt of said featured book, and watch the trailer!

There is also a poll that will be taking place the 23rd through the 30th of March! Yes, that is next week as well! This is where you can go to vote on a cover to help that author win a little more exposure! So I would assume that all you readers will head over there on Sunday to vote for The Benevolent Light’s cover, right??

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Story Finds is a great way to connect authors and readers. The best way to support an author is to be supportive of events and spread the word. Your word of mouth means everything to starving artists everywhere! The best part about that is it only takes one or two seconds to “share” an author with your friends so you really invest very little time in showing your support! But I guarantee you that it means the world to that person who dedicates hours upon hours to fill your mind with images and stories with their words. A “like” is just not enough, guys. They are appreciated, but that “share” is the frosting on that cake of success.

If you really love an author, your thoughts on the books you have read are vital. Don’t think of it as a formal review. We want your honest, constructive thoughts. Keep in mind that if a book just isn’t your style, don’t just head to Amazon and bash it. You are entitled to your opinion, but being nasty to someone who may not deserve it could ruin their writing career. In any book, you should be able to find at least one positive thought…even if it is that you liked the cover.

Be loving, be kind, be supportive! That is what makes the world go ’round! Don’t forget to visit me on Story Finds!

The Art of You Part 5

Have the courage to be yourself.

Have the courage to be yourself.

 

 

I could hear noises, like voices muffled together as if I were swimming under water and people were talking above in the air. I had dreams that were bold and vividly colored. Some were frightening, some were not. I could hear myself try to speak out and I felt like I was screaming out loud. My body ached and my head was being squeezed tight. It felt like people were grabbing me, pulling me, and pinching me. Lines of fire ran through my skin like streams of hot electricity.

Fatigue came to me often and no matter how hard I tried, my eyes would not open.

And then it just happened one day. They opened. The light was excruciating, as if standing in the darkness and having fireworks explode like the sun in your face. I remember blinking to protect my eyes and slowly, the world began to materialize around me again. I felt stunned and unsure of where I was at. What had just happened?

“She’s coming around, Jack!” someone called out.

“Do you think she will be okay?” Jack’s accent bit into my ears.

The blood pressure rose and the memories of the night in The Narrows came flooding back in. What in the world was he doing here?

“She is healing well. Thank the Lord there were no broken bones or internal bleeding,” an unknown voice piped in.

I tried to speak and sounded gravelly and dry.

A cup was pressed to my lips and I sipped eagerly to wet my parched throat.

“What happened?” I managed in a whisper.

Closing my eyes against the pain of the light, I could hear his voice speaking to me. “Well, Davis here hit you with the car. I’m terribly sorry about that. I swear it was all an accident.”

The panic in his voice was evident. Perhaps he was afraid I would sue him or perhaps he was more afraid I would embarrass him.

“But you’re going to be just fine!” he added quickly.

“Oh,” was my soft reply.

I allowed my eyes to open a crack and the white light all around contrasted sharply with Jack’s dark hair and eyes, the black shirt on his body. It turned his skin pale and showed stubble where there hadn’t been any the last time I saw him. He looked like an angel sent to help me and since I was helpless it only made sense that I let him.

As I was drifting to the brink of sleep again, a thought popped into my mind. Where were the kids? And just as I thought it, a panic of my own thundered in my ears and I tried to get up, which resulted in the room spinning and the light splintering my brain. What about my kids?

I must have muttered something in my struggle because Jack put his arms over my shoulders and gently pushed me back onto the pillow, hushing me.

“I was able to let your kids know what happened,” he said with a slight grin holding up my cell phone.

I let out a groan and relaxed. I was sure they would think the stalker had killed me. And in all realities, that was what happened!

“How long have I been here?” I asked.

There was a pause and I thought I heard Jack suck in a deep breath before he answered. “Just about three days, in and out. The concussion knocked you out and a doctor here was available to keep you medicated so your head could heal.”

“I’ve missed three days of working?” I tried to sound angry and ended up sounding lazy and pathetic. So I shut my mouth and let out a long sigh.

“Look, Miss Kramer…” he began.

“Just call me Ruby. I’m sure formality is out the window by now,” I cringed at the thought of seeing me anywhere near naked.

“Ruby, don’t worry about anything. I have everything under control. You just need to focus on getting better,” he said and placed his hand on the crown of my head. The pressure of it felt safe and I drifted off to sleep again.

It wasn’t until the next evening that I felt more awake and less sore. Without the sunlight, I could open my eyes without my head killing me. Jack helped me walk to the bathroom to do my business even. He tried to come inside, but I refused. So he agreed to wait outside the bathroom door in case I fell. I thought about locking it anyway, but I suppose I didn’t want to tempt fate.

What was the strangest of all was that I wasn’t in the hospital. I was in a hotel room. I could tell because of the smell. There was no kitchen, but it was more of a suite. Jack had mentioned a doctor tending me, so perhaps I was moved here after they knew I would be alright.

I was never one for using a toilet where anyone could hear me. It was mortifying to say the least. And knowing he was right outside the door just made me blush with embarrassment. But the bladder wasn’t going to hold on any longer, so I sat and let go, my head falling into my hands in defeat.

Jack acted as though nothing had even happened. I slowly emerged from the bathroom and he smiled, helping me to the couch. I’d had enough lying around.

“Can I get you some tea?” he asked.

I shrugged. “Sure, that would be nice. Thank you.”

Minutes later, he sat beside me with a steaming cup of a sweet smelling tea for me.

“Where’s yours?” I asked taking the cup between my palms.

“Still steeping,” he replied and went to get it.

I sipped gently and the warm liquid flowed down my throat and warmed my belly like a blanket thrown over my shoulders.

He sat again and we both sipped quietly, an awkward silence building.

I cleared my throat. “So why here?”

He looked at me intently then, almost suspiciously. But he licked his lips and answered, “I wanted to escape my life.”

I reeled back as though he had slapped me just then. “You? Escape?” I asked incredulously.

He laughed and set his tea on the short table before us and sighed. “Sometimes life just gets to you and you need to get away from it all. Cameras, autographs, rehearsals…” his voice trailed off like he meant to finish the sentence and other thoughts grew to be in the way.

“I would never have thought someone like yourself would ever know about a tiny little place like this. It is paradise though.”

Jack has a wistful look to his face and he nodded.

“This is my paradise,” I whispered.

“I can see why,” he smiled and clapped his hand on my knee.

“Where are your kids?” I pressed.

A shadow seemed to fall over his features. “They are just- uh- in the next couple of rooms,” he replied with a shake of his head toward the rooms. “They are at an age where they want their privacy and nothing here had larger suites, just adjoining rooms.”

“Oh, I see. You should go take them out to do something tonight. I will be just fine and I think you are due.”

He shook his head to the negative. “We played hard a few days and they have been enjoying the beach out there. They recognized you, you know. From the rocks where they were jumping.”

“Why didn’t you jump too?” I asked him cocking my head to the side.

He laughed loudly and he sounded so free. “Well, someone had to stay with the boat to keep it from floating away.”

I figured there was more to it than that. Perhaps it unnerved him as much as it did me.

“I didn’t think anything could bother someone like you,” I laughed back with him.

“I’m just a person as you are, Ruby. There are things I like and things I don’t. If I cut myself, I bleed just as you do. Sometimes I wish I were still just a face in the crowd,” he replied sobering and I felt a cad.

“I’m sorry, of course you do. I just meant…” but I wasn’t sure what else to say. How did I really mean it?

“I see you and what a free spirit you are, unowned by contracts and money…free to look as you wish and dress in what you like. You have no pressures to fit in a certain stereotype and I love that about you. What I admire is your ability to step out and be who you are in your red lipstick and flowers in your hair, rocking the camera when you sit poised and ready to strike.”

His smile of sincerity made me take pause and my cup lowered to my lap.

“I just see art in everything. The camera helps me notice the magic that is always around. Most people just don’t see it that way. The camera helps me bring little things like drops of water to the forefront, I suppose. Sunsets are such a cliché thing to photograph, but the right one at the right time could take someone’s breath away,” I said still staring at him, barely breathing. I wanted to tell him that he took my breath away, but I wasn’t sure if it was his looks that attracted me or his public figure.

“That is a magnificent talent to have,” he said softly. “I think I have forgotten to notice little things like drops of water.”

I got up and found my backpack. I prayed the camera escaped without injury as I pulled it out. “I’ll show you,” I smiled. “What do you see?”

I pointed at a vase with dried sticks and branches in it. There was a heavy round rock that had been polished to shine and be a focus of the room.

“I see décor.”

“Okay…” I got down on my belly, a hard thing to do since I hurt so badly, but I did it nonetheless. Carefully, I aimed the lens at the rock, zoomed in to where I wanted it and snapped. Then I turned the camera on its side and rocked it backward toward me a bit. Focused, zoomed out, focused again, and snapped.

Gingerly, I picked myself up and made it back to the couch. I hit the review button and the photos showed up on the little screen.

“You see décor, but I see a planet sitting in your hotel room. See the stripes and striations of the rock under the polish? The shadow just right on the other side? And this one is just a testament of Mother Nature, with the clay vase of the earth and salvaged limbs from a tree that give a sense of peace just having them in the room. It is all magic. Life is art.”

He smiled then as the wheels of his mind started turning. He let out a small chuckle. “That is amazing,” he breathed.

I stood and walked a few paces from him and he looked at me in wonder. Suddenly, I spun as fast as my body would allow, pointed the lens at him and snapped. He looked relaxed and calm, with a lamp shining on one side of his face, leaving the other in shadow to be a mystery.

Showing him the photo, I pointed at the screen. “This is the art of you. No poses, no pretend. This is just you.”

The look on his face was pure shock. I had shown him a side of himself that he hadn’t seen before. In the fast paced life of fame, he had forgotten who he was.

Gently, he took the camera from my hands and pointed it at me. Immediately I shielded my face from his view. “Oh, no you don’t,” I laughed. “I take the pictures. They don’t take me.”

“Now Ruby, I let you take a photo of me…well, actually several of them. It’s my turn,” he said sternly.

“I have no makeup and I look awful!” I declared.

“Come on, hands down.”

Slowly I lowered my hands, a grin of unbelief on my lips. Here I was, in Jack Harrington’s hotel room where he wanted to take a photo of silly old me. I thought of the look on his face when I exposed him on camera and introduced him to the guy he was. My body softened and I was so happy to be there at that moment.

I heard the shutter snap closed and I dreaded to look at myself. He hit the button and my face, forties wrinkles and all, stared back at me. But the light was fully on my face from where I was sitting and washed me out a lot, erasing some of the age in my face. It took me back to a time where I had taken photos of myself for my husband. Photos that I was proud of in that they captured the beauty that came from me, inside out.

I glanced back up at Jack, tears glossing my eyes over. “I’m tired again. I think I will go back to bed. Thank you for the tea.”

I stood to go and he grabbed my wrist. My head snapped back to look at him.

“What did I do?” he begged an answer.

I pulled my arm back. “You did nothing, I promise. I just struggle sometimes.”

He followed me to the bed. “Tell me…”

I just wanted to get into bed, bury my face and cry a little bit. “I don’t want to.”

“You will feel better, that’s my promise,” he kept on.

I slid into bed. “I lost my husband some time ago. There are things that remind me of him sometimes and I can’t help but feel his loss. It is like an instant feeling of loneliness no matter how many people are around.”

“My picture showed you that?”

“The grief never stops, Jack.”

The Art of You Part2

Parade America 169

 

 

 

 

 

 

He looked straight into the lens of my camera. I was several hundred feet away from the man and he still saw me. I gasped and turned in the opposite direction.

Now I had heard of these movie star types from Hollywood that loved coming to Idaho. And why wouldn’t they? There is a little of everything here. I mean, you walk ten steps in any direction and scenery changes from urban to rural, from mountains to desert, from prairies to bluffs. Everything is here in this little state except the ocean, so we have lakes instead. Wildlife is abundant and recreational land is generous.

I suppose it had just shocked me. It isn’t everyday that a man you see on the big screen, one who wins award after award and lives the big life just shows up on a boat dock in a small removed town. He just seemed so…out of place.

And were those his kids? My head screamed at me.

I let out my breath after finally realizing I had been holding it for a while. That was my cue to head back to my little apartment.

There was no way I was about to stow my camera now. If I could get a great shot or two, it would be worth some dollars for my collection. Nope, that baby was staying out the rest of my trip.

I passed the grocery store and stopped in for a salad and water. Of course, I wandered the aisles a while and chose a few things that probably were not the best for me. I didn’t really care that much.

The first thing I did was race out to the balcony and act as though I were just watching the scenery, but I was combing through all the people to see if he was still out there or if he had just been a figment of my imagination. There were no bodies on the docks in the marina any longer. I put my camera up to my eye and brought the beach into focus. I didn’t see him at all.

Fearing I was crazy, I walked back inside and pulled the drapes. I lowered the Murphy bed that sat snug in the wall until it sat firmly on the floor. Grabbing my camera and plopping my body down on the soft mattress, I hit the review button.

There he was. I could not have been crazy. There was no denying that this was the very sexy, very handsome actor I followed on the screen. Jack.

I sighed and dropped my camera to the mattress. I had one photo of him and it wasn’t the best. I knew I could do better. These pictures could pay my mortgage for several months!

I sat there and plotted in my head when I should wake up, where I should go first, and how I could track Mr. Movie Star down. He would never know I was there, my lens was that good. Except that he seemed to know when my camera had been pointed at him earlier, but that was purely a coincidence.

I laughed out loud at my own stupidity and fell over backwards on my pillow.

“Just work twice as hard, Ruby. You don’t need his photos,” I told myself.

The evening went by quickly, compliments to the television. I ate my salad on the balcony as I watched the sun set behind the mountains. Every few minutes I would snap another shot as the colors developed above the tree line. The surface of the water became like diamonds, glittering and sparkling at me. I shivered when the breeze tickled my skin and the heat from the sun dissipated for the day.

Leaving the sliding door open and closing the screen, I surfed the guide for a movie. I figured I would look to see if one of Jack’s movies was playing. There were a couple on, a superhero flick that was about over and a mushy romance of star crossed lovers. I plugged in the channel and sat back to enjoy the next couple of hours.

Taking out my phone, I sent a text message to my boys: Made it safe and sound. Love you guys.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when my phone buzzed a few minutes later: Cool. Luv u 2.

I smiled and plugged the thing in to charge.

I was running away. Finding it near impossible to move, I kept struggling just to put distance between myself and whatever was following me. It was just black. Just empty. It had no shape or identity, but I was quite afraid. Out of nowhere, a voice shouted out to me and grabbed my arm. I screamed and was moved roughly to the side as the blackness devoured everything. I looked over at the man who grabbed me and it was Jack. He spoke to me and I couldn’t understand his words. It was like he was speaking a different language. We slipped into a building, dark and deserted. He was still talking to me, his mouth moving and nothing coming out. I tried to read his lips but I just nodded in agreement instead. A loud crash sounded and he shouted out to me, taking my hand and running with me again. The blackness seemed to find me no matter where I went or how much I tried to hide from it. But every time it sought me out, Jack would grab my arm and take me down another path to another hiding place.

It was still dark when the lilting sound of the waves filled my head and I woke up. I wondered briefly where I was at and then it all came rushing back and my breathing returned to normal. Grabbing my phone, I hit the button on the face and it burst into light searing my retinas. I blinked to relieve them and focused on the time. It was only four in the morning. The sun wouldn’t even be peeking for another hour and a half at least. So I rolled over and closed my eyes in hopes that I would sleep again.

But alas, I merely tossed and turned until the sky began to lighten. That was when I slid out of bed and hopped in the shower. I dressed quickly and towel dried my hair a second time, letting it fall where it wanted to in the casual pixie cut that adorned my head. It was a lazy cut, but easy when being casual and fun when I wanted to be fancy.

It was then that I looked at myself in the mirror. Who was that old woman staring back at me? How could I have possibly changed so much in such a short amount of time? The youth in my features was being replaced with deeper lines around my eyes, rounded cheeks and a slight redness to my skin. Of anything, my eyes stayed the same, large orbs like the green of the ocean, twinkling and bright when I was happy, dull and dropping when I was sad. They hadn’t been very bright for a long time…so long, that I had forgotten what they looked like any other way than sad.

I sighed. All I could do was plaster my face with makeup. It was an improvement, but it would all sweat off by noon. I shook my head.

Feeling like I could start my day, I decided to head to the beach and snag some pictures of the sunrise.

I walked around to the Mile High Marina’s boardwalk and stumbled my way down the dock floating in the water. The sun was rising, the golden light of morning washing over the lake, the sand on the beach changing colors from a blue-gray to orange and then to gold. There were large puffy clouds drifting over the horizon that looked like vanilla pudding against the morning’s blue sky.

Closing my eyes, I breathed deeply of the fresh air, still just a tad chilly. Nowhere else on the planet could it possibly smell so clean. A boat’s motor roared to life somewhere in the maze of docks behind me and to my right. I spun in surprise, but I couldn’t tell which boat was going out. The waves started sloshing as the boat’s engine disturbed its calm.

Shoving my camera to my eye, I focused in on one boat and then another and another, until I saw a little movement aboard one vessel. Slowly, it started to back out of its resting place. It was a large boat with fancy yellow stripes on it that ended in smart swirls of happiness. There was a tall canopy of red over pristine white seats. As they came out of the no-wake zone, the boat suddenly lurched forward, the water crystal sheets coming off the bow, the sun catching the droplets in mid-air like jewels.

I heard myself laugh and set the camera to the action setting. Then, I pointed the lens at them and held the button down, listening to the sound of the click, click, click of the shutter as it took one photo after another.

It felt like the small town gave a stretch and a yawn and the inhabitants slowly began to crawl out into the glory of the summer morning. Butterflies fluttered about and the occasional bee buzzed by. I basked for hours before deciding I would go for a drive.

NaNoWriMo (from 2012) LOL!

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So I have had some people asking me about working more on my NaNo from last year. It was my first stab at something more contemporary for adults/young adults and I was really enjoying writing it! But alas, I didn’t make it to the finish line last year and hadn’t picked it back up until just recently. I released the newest book of The Aspen Series and just needed to work on something different and out came the zombie story that sat unfinished on my laptop. Earlier posts would catch you up as I had posted chapters 1-6. Here is number 7! Happy reading! 😀

Chapter 7

August 4th, 2016

It felt as though she had contracted the flu. Natalie’s body ached, her head hurt and she thought she might throw up.

“I must be dehydrated,” she muttered to herself and took a water out of her pack. It was the last of her water, besides what was up in the pan in the closet. The water felt cold running down her parched throat. She drank deeply and sank back down onto the pillows and blankets, but was afraid to sleep anymore. Afraid of what she did not understand. Afraid he would come for her again while she was vulnerable. Even more afraid that maybe the same fate had befallen her friend. The image that had been burned into her mind scarred her. She could not imagine Derek as a monster.

When Natalie started awake again, it was almost noon by her watch. A groan escaped her as the room swam before her eyes when she tried to sit up. The pounding in her chest was proof she was still alive, but she felt dead. Or at least among those close to death.

She let out a cry of pain when she moved to get up. Instinctively, she grabbed at her leg and bit down on her lip reflexively.  Pulling her blankets aside, she could feel the heat coming from her wound. This could not be good.

The swelling that had come on overnight had filled in the leg of her pants so they felt tight. Quickly she shimmied out of them and donned a pair of shorts. It was her last clean pair of anything.

Removing the elastic bandage, she gasped in surprise at how bad the bite had become just in the few hours she had been sleeping. The gaze was stuck to the outline, where the teeth had penetrated the skin and she found she just had to pull it off. She shrieked in pain and tried to catch her breath.

The swollen mess of skin was double the size it had been, easily, than when she went to bed. Finding some ibuprofen, she downed four tablets. She had to get out of there, find a doctor, and get home. She redressed the bite with gauze and ointment before she closed up her bags. Finding it difficult to walk, she made it to the door hoping the man was not out there waiting for her.

Carefully cracking the door, she peered out into the gloom of the basement and saw no one. She sighed and opened the door so she could get through. With one glance back at the message on the wall, she made her way to the stairs. The thought of dragging herself up that flight of steps about made her want to cry.

She hefted her bags as far up as she could and then crawled to them, repeating that to the top when one bag fell to the floor under her. It was the one with her money. A cry of frustration escaped her and she dropped her forehead to the edge of the step feeling her chin tremble.

“I have to go back,” she said aloud. “I need my money.”

So she turned around and sat, then scooted herself down all those stairs. The closer she got to the bottom, the more she smelled the damp and mildew scent. It hadn’t occurred to her that it was starting to mold down there, but it made sense.

Hobbling to the bag, she flung it over her shoulder and returned to the foot of the stairs. Keeping it hooked with her arm, she made it back to the point where she was almost free.

The man had moved the door to come inside, but he hadn’t put it back. But she could tell that it was a hot, yet overcast day. Climbing out of the hole, the gray light from the clouds hurt her eyes. It almost looked foggy all around her, as if she had entered another world completely. Nothing around her looked familiar anymore.

Down the road she went, the pain in her leg was almost too much to bear. It was a hard sensation to explain, she tried thinking of ways to let a doctor know what she was feeling. It was slow progress, and she tired easily. Her bags seemed like they weighed 50 pounds each!  The stopping to rest every so often was the best thing she could do in order to keep going.

As she dragged herself along, she kept her eyes open for anyone else. It was so desolate. Not even any evidence that there were others among her, alive or dead.

The light in the mid-afternoon was overcast and gloomy. It would be the perfect scene for a vampire movie or some horror flick. Natalie swept her eyes from side to side over the road and her ears open for any sounds of movement. But all she could hear was the sound of her step and drag motion, her heavy breathing in her ears. It was another humid day, yet not as hot. But then again, maybe being stuffed in a little room would make any ventilation impossible, but would heat up with her in it…like a lobster in a pot slowly cooking to death.

The road ended abruptly, disappearing into the ocean before her. Using her hand like a visor, she scanned her surroundings for another path and caught a glimpse of the newer hospital that had been completed a few months earlier that stood proud on the edge of a small mountain in the distance. It looked like the only way to get there would be to find her way through the brush and trees. The roads all pointed to the valley that no longer existed.

It smelled strongly of fish and seaweed, the heady scent of a salty brine tickling her nose. The steeple of the church appeared to have all but been swallowed by the unforgiving sea. Out in the distance, she could see a few logs floating, bobbing like buoys in the waves.

“I wonder if those are people out there,” she whispered. “I don’t understand where the aid is. They must know we are in trouble. They would have to!”

It was still a long way to get over to the hospital, it would probably take her until nightfall to get there, she supposed. So, she squared her aching shoulders and stepped forward on her good leg, the pain in her bad leg let her know it was not doing so great.

Natalie ventured off the road and into the vegetation growing all along the side of the hill she was on. The tall trees loomed ever nearer with every step, gaining height and the fear that there would be more people in the trees where she couldn’t see them grabbing at her. She tried to put that thought out of her head. Perhaps that man was a chance meeting. Maybe he was the only one like that.

One tree to her right, three to her left and she was enclosed within the canopy of forest that could help her or hinder her journey. She found a felled branch a handful of steps into the forested area. It was strong and would support her weight. Holding it at her right side, she used it almost like a crutch and walked a bit easier but her bag kept sliding off of her shoulder when her bag would smack against the pole. After hobbling along like that for an hour or perhaps a little more, she took the bag and hung it where a twig had broken off. It was not the best solution to her problem, but it took pressure off of her body. She slipped her arms through the loops of her backpack so she was wearing it over her back, feeling weightless.

A horrid stench invaded her nostrils. It was a smell that she had only known once. The gruesome smell of death. She looked carefully before each step not knowing what she would encounter. It all hit her like a wall, like when you come upon trash that has been sitting in the sun for days, maybe even weeks and she vomited.

Memories flooded her with nothing to stop the assault.

Natalie heard it coming but she had been paralyzed with fear. Her brain told her to get down into the cellar, to wake the others in the house so they could get to safety, but her feet were firmly planted in front of the window and her eyes were transfixed on the fury of twisting wind coming her way. She tried to call out to them, she opened her mouth but nothing came out. As the funnel cloud reached her, the screeching wind and rumbling ground told her she was going to die. It screamed it at her. But all she could do was stand there.

It ripped her house apart, debris flying through the air. She did scream then. Her arms flew up instinctively to shield her face. Her efforts to protect herself failed and the last thing she remembered was a board coming at her just before her head exploded into pain and everything went dark.

Having no idea how long she had been unconscious, Natalie woke and had forgotten everything that happened. She carefully scrambled to her feet and felt the world swim before her.

Looking out over what was left from the house, she felt deflated and lost. Slowly, she took it all in. The destroyed chair next to the sofa that was not damaged at all, the walls that were torn apart on her left side and in tact on the right. It was insanity how Mother Nature could just destroy one thing and leave another.

Stepping over boards and torn up carpet, she knew she needed to get some help. Her roommates had been in the area of the house that had been destroyed. She could see that many houses had suffered the same fate.

It felt hard to breathe after that first encounter with a tornado. Neighbors began popping out of the rubble, some crying hysterically, some in shock just like her. Walking to person after person, she begged for help to find her friends but no one seemed to see her or hear her, they just kept staring at their property and mumbling to themselves.

“I need your help! Please help me find my roommates. I have three of them. They may be buried at my house and needing help to get out!” she screamed at a police officer who had materialized to keep people calm and to keep unaffected people out.

“Ma’am, you need to take a few deep breaths. Come sit over here and drink some water,” he said with a kind voice.

“I don’t need water, I need to find my roommates! One of them is my boyfriend!” she yelled batting the officer’s hand away when he reached for her shoulder.

“Look, sweetheart, we will get to you. There are a lot of people hurt. We can’t do anything about the ones who are dead. We should look at your head. You are bleeding pretty good there,” the officer said.

Tears sprang to her eyes. She felt so small. So insignificant.

“I will go help them myself,” she replied wiping the tears off of her cheeks.

Natalie spent the next few days calling her friends’ names while she moved beams and boards, shingles and doors. She scavenged for what food she could find and the Red Cross finally arrived with some canned goods and clothing for the people in her neighborhood. Most of them were college students peppered with a few home owners. At that point it didn’t matter, none of them had a place to go.

“It is all my fault,” she told herself.

With no word having been said about the people missing, she could only assume they were dead. But, she hadn’t found their bodies so there was still hope. Later that day, she found Anne and Malcom’s bodies beneath a bunch of mangled wood. Three days of digging and she found them. But Thad was nowhere to be found.

She sat there and cried, mourned her friends’ deaths. All she had to do was yell for them and she didn’t. They were gone because she was weak, afraid, and pathetic. By nightfall that evening, she had her two dead friends out of the mess and onto the road. They smelled pretty bad. Like cleaning out the fridge and finding a bowl of moldy surprise waiting for you, they had been lying in wait for her to uncover them.

Two days later, she could smell something that made her stomach turn. It invaded her nose and wouldn’t leave no matter how far away she walked. It gagged her and made her feel queasy.

She went for a walk, one of many, to try to clear her sinuses. She was a few hundred feet from her house when she saw a hand sticking out of a nest of clothing and some furniture. Uncovering the body, she found Thad. He looked like he had been beaten in a rough fight and left for dead. Well, he was dead. The smell of him got to her, the sight of the insects crawling over him made her sick, but the grief was enough to kill her.

“No, no, no!” she moaned through her sobs as she brushed him off and took his face in her hands. “I’m here, Thad! Wake up now!”

She thought of the times they had dreamed about getting married after graduating school, the talk of children while they were studying late into the night, the conversations of opening their own law firm together and passing it down. He was her whole life. There was nothing else in Oklahoma that mattered to her. Her life seemed to drain out of her body the longer she held his face and tried to talk him into coming back to her.

When there was nothing left inside, she stood up and took Thad by his arms dragging him back to the house. By the time she got back, she was dry heaving from the rancid smell of rotten meat.

It was the insensitive burial by the clean up crew that really got her. She didn’t really feel like she said goodbye to him. But then again, how do you say goodbye to the one person you loved with all your heart? How do you move on with life when you invest everything you have within in another person and they are just gone one day?

She struggled to concentrate through her classes once they resumed. None of it really mattered to her anymore.