In The Land of Huckleberries and Wokas – Now Available on Kindle

Now Available on Nook and Kindle

Click to preview or purchase on Amazon Kindle

In The Land of Huckleberries and Wokas, a Native American adventure novella, was expanded from a short story that placed 32nd in the YA category out of 12,000 plus entries in Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition.

Young Snow Bird is taken from her people in a raid and forced to leave her marshes and people behind. A young brave in the raiding party offers help but he cannot help all of the women in children. She must decide if she can leave them and search for help.

Preview:  The stories weren’t just stores, after all. Snow Bird had listened all through her childhood to scary tales of braves raiding camps and taking slaves, but she had never truly feared such a thing happening. When others told her these stories, her father patted her head and smiled, reassuring her that the elders used stories to keep the children close to camp.

Yet now she sat with her hands bound in front of her while her captors drank from the river. They had rushed into camp and attacked those around the dinner fire. With knives tied to their wrists and clubs to swing, they had hit and stunned the adults in a confusing blink of the eye.

Kindle Link

Nook Link

Advertisements

Fire Eyes – Short Story

Fire Eyes….

 

She wasn’t afraid at all. The wolf met her gaze with penetrating amber eyes and slowly slinked her way, sniffing the ground. She leaned back on a log next to a tiny shade creek. The water shhhh-ed over its pebbly bed and the insects buzzed. Even with the large animal in front of her, she felt complete peace.

Sunshine danced all over like it was reflecting off a disco ball, glimmering through a light morning forest mist. The wolf blinked, turned and disappeared into the mist and trees, leaving her with a longing to jump up and follow him.

 

Avery’s eyes jolted open. It’d just been a dream, a very real dream.

7: 08 am. There wasn’t much point in trying to go back to sleep. Sighing, she crawled out of bed, made a stop in the bathroom and padded into the kitchen to tell her dad about the wolf dream.

Then she remembered. It always hit her hard to see that empty spot at the kitchen table. Dad wouldn’t be there reading his paper ever again. The stupid tears came, the fluttering of her heart. It was so unfair how this tore her apart over and over. Like losing her dad once wasn’t enough.

The emptiness of the house overcame her, new again every day. Eighteen and on her own. Alone. She went back to her room, cranked up the radio and slid back into the still warm covers.

Four hours later, she tried restarting her day with a quick shower and a bowl of granola before heading out to her favorite hiking trail, the one place where she could feel her dad and remember without it hurting…quite as much.

Inside her car, she found a note that said, “That orange light means to add gas. I put in five gallons.” She could hear Ke’s always laughing voice in her head. He’d even drawn a smiley face on the note. She looked down the hill at his driveway, thinking she’d invite him on her hike, but his car was gone. He was quiet and kept to himself but he did keep an eye on her, even checking that her car had gas. Five gallons was plenty to drive to her hiking spot and back into town.

Once she arrived and parked at the trail head, she got out and took a minute to soak in the sun, the smell of pine and moist grass, and listen to the faint breeze up in the trees.

The air felt about mid-eighties in the sunshine but she’d be in the cool forest soon. She pulled on a sweater and then her backpack filled with food, water, her camera, sketching paper and pencils. She often wondered if the tiny places and nuances of the forest would simply fade away, unmarked by mankind, if no one found and enjoyed them.

Once she entered the sun-spotted world of ferns, moths and tiny creeks crossing her path, she forgot about life that involved houses, roads and other people. In that world, she felt lonely. But out here, physically alone, she didn’t.

She found delicate wild strawberries growing in a small patch of sun and clicked a picture of the tiny berries just starting to change to pink. Higher up, a trickle of water ran across the path. Right where it entered, she photographed a fern arching over the water and a waterskipper skimming underneath. The pictures would help her draw later.

Something snapped right behind her, then something bumped against her hard. Instantaneously she felt something grab her, trapping her arms down.

Just as she screamed, a stinky hand clamped down on her mouth, pushing her top lip into her teeth. Still, with her mouth forced shut, she yelled, straining her throat and making her eyes water.

“Hush! Or I’ll hurt you even worse.”

Despite the threat, she yelled into his hand, even as he kicked her feet out from under her and dragged her backwards roughly, right into the brush on the other side of the trail. Avery fought back. Like hell she was going to listen to him. She thrashed, kicked and made as much noise as possible. The man cursed and pulled her through more branches.

“I’ll make you sorry, stupid little-”

A growl and streak of dark silenced him. He stopped pulling and she pushed her chin down to see a large, dark gray wolf snarling at them, its face close to the ground like it planned to lunge. She flinched, trying to throw her hands up over her face, but her arms were trapped. Helpless, she could only look right back into the wolf’s amber eyes, glowing like fire because they were so bright against his dark fur.

The crappy excuse of a man shoved her toward the animal.

Avery screamed in terror, flailing. The wolf jumped the out of the way as she fell onto the ground. Just as she scampered away, the wolf jumped at the man and knocked him over onto his back. Scampering, gasping, she had no idea what to do but run.

She didn’t see a path or even look for one, but instead pushed and clawed through branches and thorns, trying to get away. It took a long time to break free from the briars and bushes into an opening. It was dark forest with a pine needle floor arching up a hill under the tall evergreens. There wasn’t anything that looked like a trail, not even a deer trail. Now what?

Another, different kind of panic slammed into her. She turned around, scared but knowing she might need to backtrack.

“Avery!”

She ran right into someone. “Ke!”

“What’s the matter? Are you lost out here?” His voice calmed her. His strong arms held her up.

Without a second thought, she slipped her arms around him and held on tightly, searching for words. She needed to explain, maybe warn him. “There’s a man… why are you way out here?”

She looked up and noticed, for the first time, that his brown eyes were more of an amber with flecks of red and gold.

“It’s okay, I promise. I told your dad I’d watch out for you, remember?”

Her legs had gone to putty minutes before. She hardly cared she was hanging in his arms like a rag doll, gazing up at his handsome reddish brown face, at his eyes that told stories and kept secrets at the same time.

He pulled her closer and cradled her head into his neck, supporting her. “Shh, it’s okay now. We’ll head down to the back road and circle back to your car. I’ll get your stuff later, after we call the police.”

The police. That man. “What will we tell them?”

“The truth. You’re not sure what happened to that guy, just that something seemed to grab him and you got away. There’s bear and cougars out here. Maybe someone’s half wild dog. You never know. But you’re safe, and that’s all that matters.”

Her mind couldn’t fit the pieces together, but she did remember one thing. Ke had promised her dad he would look after her.

Trust him, Avery. It came in the breeze weaving through the ancient trees, in the light whispering high above.

Trust him, Avery.

She looked up to the amber fire eyes again. Protective and fierce. Soft and yet strong.

“Thank you,” she whispered. His eyes acknowledged her before he buried his face into her hair, a wild and messy mass of red curls she was sure, and held her tighter. Only then did she wonder if he had been scared for her.

Her heartbeat slowed and she felt at peace, just like in her dream.  Somewhere above the wind moved branches and sunlight suddenly danced all around them.

 

“The Look” – A Romance Mini

(First appeared on Books-n-Kisses)

The pouring rain outside made it feel more like late evening than six in the morning. Annalisa stared out into it, her back to the office door. Sounds banged and clicked in from the busy shop outside as she tried to jumpstart herself.

The sound of the door swinging open did it. The outside noise jumped in volume, then dimmed again as it slammed shut. She spun around.

“We don’t need some change agent coming in here. We can handle this ourselves!” A very fit man with a long sleeve shirt and jeans threw a stack of papers onto her desk. Some slid across it and hung over the edge on her side. Spotting her, he stood mid gesture and blank faced, watching her push the papers back into a somewhat neat stack.

The day went from bleak to super charged in 2.3 seconds, and not because he’d burst into the office. This guy needed to be in a clothing ad, maybe for outdoor gear. He had a movie star, Brad Pitt type face, and she imagined running her hand along his jaw, checking for stubble.

She sat and leaned back in her chair. “What kind of ideas do you have?”

“Who are you?”

“Looks like I’m the person you’re looking for. Mr. Rici brought me in to see how we can improve the processes out there.” She glanced down at his papers to keep her eyes away from his tall and lean figure, the piercing blue eyes set in a firm face. Soon she realized he had thoughtfully written out several process improvement ideas with calculations on how much time each would save.

Sometime during her scanning, he asked, “Do you have a name?”

She finally looked up and realized he’d sat down and had been watching her for several minutes. Evaluating her. Memorizing her. His face had softened considerably and now he stared at her in wonder. She’d been about to compliment his ideas but got caught up in gazing back at him.

Oh, yeah, her name.

“I’m Annalisa Gildhart, and you?”

“Dan.” He extended his hand in a polite gesture that threw her. His shake was firm but not too hard…and they didn’t break the physical contact right away. He nodded toward the papers. “You know, people aren’t expecting you to listen to our ideas.”

She smiled, thankful for his honesty. “I’m here to help, believe it or not, and that means working with you to keep this place running. These are great ideas, Dan.”

A slow smile spread across his face, and the flirtatious tilt to it made her think he’d reacted more to her smile than her words. Still, he looked much more at ease.

It was her that was tingling inside.

Dan leaned back and studied her. Change always made people nervous, but he almost looked like he’d be willing to drop the old us-against-you routine. Oh, she hoped he’d keep that attitude and prevent a hotbed of tension. Everyone would have to work together or this place would be closing within three months.

“So you might be around a while?” The smile lifted even more on one side.

“Yeah.” She was local too, but kept her answer short.

They were smiling across the desk at each other when someone else rapped on the door and cracked it. “Mrs. Gildhart, you’re on. Everyone’s gathered for the morning meeting.”

She pulled in a deep breath as she rose, then grabbed the papers. She’d like to show them she was on their side and wanted their ideas.

Dan gave her a reassuring smile. “This revamp is starting to look much better than I anticipated.” The gleam in his eye sent shivers up her back as she stepped out of the office.  Annalisa agreed. She just hoped she could concentrate on work with him around… but, wow, those jeans looked good on him.

Copyright Kristen James, all rights reserved. If you like the short stories and previews on my blog, try my Kindle freebie, Embers of Hope, Flickers of Passion

The Perfect Christmas (Short Story)

The Perfect Christmas   by Kristen James    First Published by Skive Quarterly

 

Could this be a retirement-age crisis? Mark mused as he strolled down Sixtieth Avenue in the biting cold. Funny, he never imagined himself having one, but then, who does? He’d made it to sixty without any major breakdowns, and thus far had attributed that to his stoic prejudice against marriage. Only now did he question that.

A little late, he’d decided. But with Christmas bearing down on houses and shops with glaring lights, giant snow-filled balloons, and overly extravagant lawn figurines, he suddenly wished he could have a quiet evening celebration with someone. Not a wife. Not a big family. So he wasn’t sure what he wanted, and that was the crisis part.

Rushing around him, everyone else apparently had plenty of shopping to do. That he didn’t wish for. He’d enjoyed his time alone over the years when others were forced to migrate to family gatherings for long dinners.

He turned the corner and crossed the street to his office building. Though it was dark, he wasn’t done for the day. He’d taken the walk for a diversion, to waken himself and refresh his mind for another session. By putting in a few extra hours today, he would be done and could have an extended weekend to relax.

The itch for company? He used to find a companion here and there. They’d date for a few months – sometimes almost a year.

He saw the homeless woman standing outside his building and paused, ceasing his conversation with himself as well. She wasn’t blocking the entrance and he could enter without speaking to her. However, since she’d first appeared a week ago, he felt a need to see her face, hear her voice. Silly. Holiday hoo-ha catching up to him.

He passed inside and took the elevator up, wondering all the while what the woman looked like. She’d been facing the other way, dressed in a shabby, faded blue coat and black ski cap. His colleagues wanted her gone, taken care of, taken somewhere else. He’d contemplated giving her money for a hotel, at least for the holiday, but where would that lead? She’d simply be back on the street in four days.

He stepped out of the elevator and walked to his office, now thinking of the proposal sitting on his desk. There were a few letters to write, a phone call to make, and some loose ends he’d been pushing back.

That woman did look a bit like his sister. Sitting at his desk, he scanned papers with his eyes but couldn’t make his brain comprehend. He’d searched for his sister on and off all through his life. If alive, she’d be his only relative, and that wasn’t something he needed or wanted. But, maybe, it would be nice to know how her life turned out.

Sighing loudly, he threw up his hands in surrender. His mind must be aging as well as his body. Well, he supposed it wouldn’t ruin anything if he came in the next day to finish up. And what were his plans for the next day? For the weekend? For Christmas?

He took his trip in reverse, and somewhere between floor fifteen and one, he determined to give the homeless woman something. An old, solitary man like him had nothing to lose. Only everything to give. Maybe he should donate more; give his time, perhaps and do something besides ignore the imminent end to his existence.

Outside, the woman was still turned the other way, toward the busy street corner, holding her sign. Yes, very much like his sister, he thought with each step closer.

 

***

 

A car slowed, but only to let out a shopper. She tried for a smile, but the classy businesswoman didn’t even look. People stared right through her. They threw glares behind her, actually, and she realized another beggar must be edging in on her corner. She turned, not sure she could get him to leave. No, she would probably have to leave.

A man in an expensive coat and neat, gray hair stood lifeless ten feet away from her. He stared right at her, but his lined face wasn’t repulsed. Instead, tears streamed down both cheeks.

“Susan! My word, Susan!”

He rushed and embraced her before she could really see him. Who knew her? That voice . . . she slowly comprehended, but didn’t believe.

“Susan? You know your own brother, don’t you?”

“Mark? Can it be?” She felt weak and dizzy, but light. Could that be happiness? She wasn’t sure she remembered anymore. “Mark?”

“Yes, it’s your brother Mark. This is wonderful – you’re here for Christmas! Let’s go celebrate.”