The Life Raft: Rise Above the Tides & Rescue Your Dreams
Yep, life is the ultimate test.
After my first solo book deal with my dream publisher turned to dust, I was devastated. After a few months of licking my wounds, I stepped back and realized: Hey, this book isn’t what I thought it was (previously about money and emotions)! So I rewrote my baby and give it a brand-new, spankin’ name.
Then, after some tossy-turvy nights and serious self-reflection (uh, needless self-torture), I decided to forgo traditional publishing and become an indie author.
Blackcat-Whitecat: The Land of Lost Dreams
Here’s an excerpt from the first in a series of sci-fi/fantasy novels I’m writing called Blackcat-Whitecat about two immortal cat beings that exist in a dimension far beyond what most humans know. When Earth cats start mysteriously dropping like flies, Blackcat Majico and Whitecat Arcelia are sent to investigate – leading them to discover that the psychic dream bond between humans and cats is crumbling. As the story builds, Blackcat Majico and Whitecat Arcelia find themselves hunting down a demon angel called Lahash who’s stealing human dreams. On this Earth mission to save both species, Majico and Arcelia get pulled deeper and deeper into the complex, intertwining lives of humans, past and present, famous and not. (I’d love to know what you think of it, and if you dare to read more . . . )
Florence, Italy, Earth, in the year 1346
Father Bartholomew sat aside a table carved with roses, his thighs sagging over the chair’s edges.
It took both hands to lift the heavy decanter of lead glass wrapped in tan and black cowhide, adorned with golden images of knighthood helmets and shields.
He poured the fine Bordeaux, part of a precious cargo that had landed on the stone doorsteps of his Florence monastery that very morning——a pricey import of thirteen cases from a well-organized and flourishing papal vineyard in Avignon, France.
I’ll have Adelaide and her filthy little boy sell it for double at market. He watched the red liquid sloshhhhing into the goblet, his pupils swelllling.
Suddenly, his mind traveled the path he knew they’d have to take, up and down the narrow streets, handkerchiefs over their mouths as she and her son passed the dying townsfolk. Black, oozing gashes, and swollen lumps on their necks, and all over their bodies. Unnatural bloodshot eyes, bleeding noses, and bloody vomit. Bartholomew shivered. Can’t take the risk myself. This mysterious plague is growing. Filthy and fast.
A rat skittered across the floor. The priest didn’t mind. Better a hundred rats than one devil’s cat.
Oh yes, he’d heard the rumors about that convent in nearby Ferrara. The Benedictine nuns were keeping cats on the premises. “Cats are excellent mice and rat catchers,” their Mother Christine de Pizan had insisted, her wrinkled and shriveled face animated with passion. That made him even more suspicious. So he helped himself to a tour of the grounds one day, and caught one of her nuns, a mottled-colored cat on her lap, her hand stroking it. As soon as she saw him, the nun shoved the thing off her. “Just cleaning our rat-catcher, Father. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, even in our animals,” her voice high, quivering. But he didn’t believe her. Not for a moment. In fact, the priest, a well-read man, suspected something far more sinister afoot. Companions. These nuns, these women are using them as companions. Just as the witches. He knew that cats set a bad example. Wild. Haughty. Disobedient. And this disease that was spreading? He couldn’t shake the branch in his gut that was growing stronger every day, wrapping and squeezing itself around his beating heart: that these cats were the ones spreading the disease, and making humans sick. And look at the Muslims and the heretics, who love these despicable creatures. What further proof does one need?
Father Bartholomew raised his cup toward the empty chair beneath the arched, open window of the corner stone tower. Fingers of a fading sun reached across half his face. Outside his castle window, he could hear the sleepy chirrrrrrpps of a family of sparrows tucked safely in the green leaves of tall climbing vines.
“To the Almighty!” he toasted.
He wiped drops from his mouth with the sleeve of his cloak, before ripping off a chunk of bread to sop up his pottage — a thick brew of egg, meat, and carrots. A sharp kah-klunk at the door interrupted his meal.
“Pray dear Adelaide, is that you with my lamp?” he asked in a thin Italian accent.
The stew-soaked bread was nearly in his mouth, when another louder KAH-KLUNK came.
“Oh for God’s sake, come in woman, I’m having my supper!”
He twisted his lips like a spoiled child as his next bite tumbled back into the bowl. The priest dabbed his mouth with a spotless cheesecloth napkin, then took another swallow of the rich, blood-red wine.
Hands clasped behind his back, his pointed-toe slippers shiff-shiff-shiffed across the dustless, rough oaken floor. It took both of his slender, long arms to open the door, as heavy as a woman’s traveling trunk. The door creaked spookily, the hull of a ship drifting and lost in a midnight sea.
“Yes?” Bartholomew’s smooth, hairless face scanned the empty hallway.
“Hello? Adelaide?” He squinted through his glasses. Nothing.
He yelled again. “Adelaide!”
He closed the door. “Stupid woman.”
The sun was dropping faster, the room losing light.
Now I must rush my bloody supper, he realized. A flare of anger bubbled in his veins.
Back at the tiny table, he reached for his cold, soppy bread. He was about to fill up his mouth when he felt something cool touch his neck. Drips of stew dangled from his hand, suspended between bowl and body. His eyes flew to the empty chair beneath the open window.
The chair? Gone! Then he realized, No, not gone . . . moved! Indeed, the chair that was once across from him, now sat in the far-right corner. The last remaining daylight unsifted itself from the room.
He sensed something to his left. His gaze slowly shifted to the wine carafe – it was floating above the tabletop, drifting toward him! It hovered a moment before pouring itself into his cup.
The priest dropped his food.
“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy . . . “ Bartholomew stood and backed away from the table, legs quaking. He made a run for the door, heart thrashing against his ribs.
“Thy kingdom hufffff . . . come, thy will be hufffff . . .”
Something yanked the priest by his collar, dragging him back to his chair at the rose-carved table. He tried to scream.
“Eat!” commanded a voice of silk and steel, an exquisite, ancient blade. Bartholomew felt ice brush his cheek.
“EAT!” the voice bellowed.
The goblet of Bordeaux quivered in simpatico with the priest’s nerves. He had trouble even swallowing his own saliva. He grabbed the cup with both hands shaking. Gulpppp. Drops of crimson splattered his snowy-white collar.
“Betterrrr,” said the voice, now calmer.
“Am I losing my mind?” the priest asked.
Clipped, mad laughter rang in his ears. He watched in fascinated horror as the carafe ascended to replenish his cup.
“Drink, Father. Then we will talk.”
Obedient Bartholomew drank. Am I dreaming?
The sun was gone. The priest’s body shivered, eyes straining to see in the newborn darkness. The star-pocked sky reflected itself in the glint of his spectacles. He noticed the moon was half-eaten.
His eyes shifted to the edge of the table and the — the chair! Back in its usual place beneath the arched window.
He didn’t think it was possible for his heart to beat any faster; yet, it was ready to burst from his chest.
What is that? He squinted harder. A bird?
Giant feathers swelled bigger and bigger until they filled the entire open, arched window. Bartholomew strained his eyes harder.
“Are you sent from the Almighty, himself?” The priest paused, voice quivering. “Or the— the devil?”
A throaty chuckle stabbed the air.
“Neither. But you may know me as an Angel, my Monsignor.”
Bartholomew fell to his knees.
“Divine messenger of God, I knew you would call upon me someday. I knew it!”
His prayer beads and cross began to sway from his neck like a noose in a gusty wind. Then something touched the top of his head.
“No need to prostrate yourself, Bartholomew. I need a soldier who can stand beside me — not beneath.”
The priest’s eyes widened with honor, pride. He instantly imagined himself as Head Cardinal, right-hand man to the Pope.
The Angel laughed again.
“You and I think much alike. But let me show you more . . .”
Bartholomew felt a force touch the center of his forehead. Vision after vision flew by . . .
A woman on the edge of a village, dark hair with wisps of gray, sea-green eyes, sitting in a corner, a blackcat curled in her lap . . .
Another gray-haired, older woman feeding a host of wild forest cats . . .
A hissing, bony whitecat backed into a corner of a cobblestone alley by something unseen.
The priest took a swallow of his own saliva, and the taste of hatred burned his throat. But it made him feel alive.
“Ohhhh,” he replied. “Yes-yes. The evil. I see it everywhere. Others ignore it. Of course, of course!” He clasped his hands in restrained giddiness.
“Yesssss,” said the silky voice. “The vermin. Witches and their filthy, foul creatures.” Flicccck. Fliccckkk. Fliccckk.
The priest couldn’t make out the sound. But it reminded him of soft black velvet flickccck, flicckk, flicckkking in the still air.
“This world needs you, Bartholomew. God needs you. Even if most humans are too blind and weak to see it, you and I, we can. We know what’s really happening. This is our gift. From God.”
The priest nodded appreciatively. “But— what can we do? They will think me insane.”
“No, they will listen. And together, we will fight this vermin that tries to hide, that pretends to be something else.”
Father Bartholomew raised his head, eyes vibrating with curious fear. In the faint moonlight, he could now see the voice. A raven-haired man with chiseled cheeks, bluish pools for eyes, and black wings that soared high above his head.
“I— I— . . . “
“Yes, Bartholomew. We have met before.”
“My dreams,” whispered the priest. “Is this–this . . . another dream?”
“No. This . . . is real. More real than anything you’ve ever seen. Touched. Smelled. This is where reality begins, Bartholomew – and the illusion – the dream you’ve been living, falls away.
“The veil has been pierced, my friend. Here, drink to our mission to right this world. Once and for all. Let us drink to the destruction of this foul species . . . and any foolish human that tries to protect them.”
Lifting his goblet, “Yes, uhh—“
“La–?” the priest blinked a nervous smile.
“Lahassshh . . .” the voice came from nowhere, yet echoed through the room. The priest felt surrounded.
“Lahash? Yes, of course. To Lahash, my Lord’s messenger!”
Lahash laughed, then sprung from the table.
A strange noise, he thought. Father Bartholomew peered between the table legs. But instead of feet, he saw two cloven hoofs. Although he’d never seen an angel before, this frightened him. Something about it didn’t feel right.
“Let’s seal our souls, Bartholomew,” said the Angel, his wings reaching out.
“Whattt?—” He felt himself floating out of his body, as his mouth released a muffled, pointless scream.
* * * * * * * * *
Outside, the Sun was a ball of hot-ginger, and had just kissed the Earth “good morning.” Inside, Bartholomew was still asleep, dreaming.
Dark-dark-dark. All dark.
What’s that? Bwackkkk, bwack, bwack. Groans. Cries. “Stopppp, pleeeas—.” Bwackkkk, bwack, bwack. Cracccckkk.
Something moved out of the shadows toward Bartholomew. Fast. A prehistoric bird-like gargoyle, his skin a leathery dull ash and face animated in pleasurable rage.
“What are you doing?” Bartholomew protested, voice squeaking. “Who are you hurting?
The ashen gargoyle flew toward him, closer.
He could reach out right now, touch me, kill me if he wanted to, Bartholomew realized.
Then, for no obvious reason, the creature titled his ugly head as if listening. From the shadows, a door opened; it was filled with wisps of red fog.
Bartholomew’s rapid breaths ignited like fire in his chest. Say nothing, he realized. Nothing more. Or you, you’ll be next.
“Well, priest, WHAT do you want me to tell him?” asked the bird-gargoyle, screwing its neck around, its beady-black eyes tearing into the priest’s soul.
“Nothing,” Bartholomew whispered in terror. Anything to get away. But secretly, he was thinking, green cats. Green cats? He had no idea why.
The hideous creature stared down the priest. Then a fang-filled smile cracked his ugly face. Without warning, he turned and headed back toward the open door of blood-red fog.
He’s going to torture them . . . Bartholomew realized. But what? Why? Whom?
* * * * * * * * *
Bartholomew’s eyes flew open. It had only been a bad dream. His fingers caressed the familiar animal skin stretched across the planks of his bed.
The chilly dawn began to prick at him. He yanked the quilt to his chin, rolled onto his side and faced the rose-carved table: There was his exquisite carafe, streams of Bordeaux wine running like veins across the delicate images of the knights’ gold helmets and shields; two empty goblets; and a bowl of dried-up stew swwwwarmmming with flies.
Bartholomew jolted up, his eyes narrowing in on the fresh chiseled hoof-marks across the oaken floor, and following them until they stopped beneath the open arched window.
What’s that on the ledge?
Bartholomew rose from his bed. He looked down and realized he was still dressed in his brown robe, cross and all. He had never changed into his proper sleep clothes – a first for him. His hands tried in vain to smooth the rumpled robe. He shuffled over to the table for his spectacles, then turned and shuffled toward the window.
He leaned in closer. A baby sparrow. Dead.
Its twigged claws in mid-grasp, its crisp-feathered body baking in the sunlight. Father Bartholomew used the bottom part of his cross to scrape it off the ledge.
He stuck out his neck, and watched the bird’s body tumble far into the forest below.
Veins of sweat began to trickle down the priest’s face. He clasped his giant cross and dropped to his knees. He could feel the etched hoof-marks on the floor digging into his flesh.
“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be—”
But suddenly, he didn’t see any point in finishing. Another rat scurried across the floor.