Review: Forced Conversion

Forced Conversion
Forced Conversion by Donald J. Bingle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a future not too far removed from now, the technology of virtual worlds has been perfected to the point that people, minds, can be digitized and given a choice of their own particular paradise. There are those that rebel against this idea as unholy and abominable because of religious belief that it either destroys or imprisons the soul in a computerized purgatory whose only escape can be a damning virtual suicide. The majority of humanity sees it as the answer to all problems of want, and thus is instituted the Mandatory Conversion Act whereby all people must convert (digitally) or die.

While I was initially put off by the main premise of this book, the excellent writing style and plot pacing kept me reading. I’m glad it did, too, because the ending was not what I expected. The characters are compelling, and flawed, but seem real. The various viewpoints on the main concept of Conversion are fairly well discussed. There might be a hint of bias against the religious side of things, but if so, it was mild enough for me not to get my hackles up. The after-affects of the Forced Conversion act on the world are very interesting thought experiments, and made this book a Very Good Read.

Normally this would be a three start book for me, but I’m giving it the fourth one because the ending was excellent and successfully caught me by surprise. That’s hard to do!

Happy Reading!

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Review: Fire with Fire

Fire with Fire
Fire with Fire by Charles E. Gannon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Meet Caine ‘Mary Sue’ Riordan, all around astounding guy who gets everything right because… reasons. This book is good, but not great. I give it three stars, however, because it ends on a high note that made me want to pick up the next one, and I felt it deserved credit for improvement along the way and for not leaving major plot points lying around for the next book. I see potential for the sequels to be better.

The book is well written gramatically. The plot is exciting, if a bit on the miraculous side in some instances, and a bit choppy at the front. The characters are well developed (by the end). Not a whole lot of detailed science, but enough that a good imagination can work with it to follow the story.

The book begins when Riordan’s astounding journalistic nosiness puts him in a situation that forces him to be a super-spy (think Bond crossed with Triple X). He goes through a bunch of hoops to show the people of Earth (and space colonies) we are not alone… but his shang-hai-ing spy bosses already knew that, they just couldn’t say it for… reasons (silly ones IMHO).

NOTE: What follows is a heavily sarcastic, possibly spoilery review of plot points and style – mostly for me to remember later. Read at your own risk. If you are easily influenced by negatives, then don’t read it at all, because I do recommend the book.

(view spoiler)

The main character is, unfortunately, a Mary Sue. Go Google that if you don’t know what that is.

Oh, and dear God, the foreshadowing. It will slap you in the face, point to the thing you are supposed to be seeing while holding your cheeks and saying LOOK! Then the characters will say “Oh, noes, that’s going to be something bad someday….. dum de dum de dum… we all go on our way.” Bad. Ungood. Ick. Thanks, but a bit less obvious next time would be really appreciated.

Evil Exploitation Empire of Exxon. No. Next.

Bad Good-Guys who make people do things they don’t want to do. They are so evily evil, and they have Mary Sue under their heavy handed thumb! Problem was, there was no real reason for Riordan not to say shove it up your a$$ sideways. His character was perfect at everything except saying no to the bosses leash. Did. Not. Fit. Personality.

No explanation for the really evil guy’s love of olives. It was so over emphasized that it seemed it must mean something, but no ‘explains’ were given. Grrr.

(hide spoiler)]

The back end of the later half of the book is much more entertaining. Once you get into alien political intrigue stuff, it really took off for me. I liked the aliens and trying to figure out their motivations.

View all my reviews

The Search – A Short Story

Moonlight Overwatch

The Search

A Short Story
by J.D. Beckwith

The dusk, always stealthy in its approach, crept upon him as he listened to the silence ringing in his ears. His calls were fewer now as his hope faded. The only sounds he heard were of the last scampering of the diurnal wildlife as it made its way to evening burrows and hideaways before the light faded and the nocturnal denizens of the wood began to stir. The dusk began to play tricks on his eyesight. Long shadows and piled leaves created a fake contrast that made the lighter colored portions of the underbrush stand out in a way that mimicked what his mind was looking for, but hoping not to find.

“Luuuuuucyyyy! Here kitty kitty kitty kitty!” His call rang out, echoes carried around the hills and valley nearby. His hope of finding the wayward cat had faded much earlier. She never wandered this far from the house on her own, so calling was probably a vain hope. He knew this, but his feeling of responsibility would not allow him to stop until he had done his due diligence in looking at least this far. His guilt would take him even farther tomorrow in search of closure. He knew she had to be dead, but until he saw some evidence – evidence he knew would hit him like a punch to the gut if he found it – he would suffer the gnawing pain that comes with an overactive imagination. He would worry about all the bad things that could have happened to her, and feel the guilt for the situation – unavoidable as it may have been – that may have been the cause of her suffering.

He could take an animal’s life when needed. He hunted for food, and on rare occasions for sport. He could exterminate nuisance animals without a qualm, but it was always quick and painless. To see an animal suffer in pain, however, was gut wrenching for him, especially if his own actions were involved.

He once shot a deer while hunting, but failed to bring it down. He tracked it for six hours afterward, following the blood trail for miles. It led him across two creeks, through briar and cane thickets, up and down steep hillsides and onto posted land. He had known the animal was suffering because of him, so he could not allow himself to stop until he found it and put it out of the misery he had caused. He had almost been arrested for trespassing by the property’s owner because of it. Even if he had not been able to talk his way out of it, he would have accepted it as part of his penance. Mistakes have consequences and must be corrected, even unintentional ones.

The light continued to fade as he waited to hear a response. He made his way around to the back side of his property line, finishing up the circuit. He had been out here searching for about five hours now, ever since he had realized that she had not done her usual ‘let me back in’ begging at the door. Her bad litter box habits had been the reason for her expulsion from the house recently. He let her back in at night, but had to put her in a room to herself to keep the other cats that shared his home from sharing ‘her’ litter. She refused to use a dirty box, and the alternate choices she made were random and increasingly unbearable. The transition from indoor to outdoor cat had been iffy at best, and today something had happened. He was afraid he knew what it was, but he was not certain.

As he began making his way clear of the woods, he walked into a large spider web that stuck to his face and hair. He swatted it away and spit, channeling his inner not-so-stealthy warrior as he became a ninja for a moment. After that, he picked up a nearby fallen limb and waved it in a figure eight motion in front of himself as he walked the faintly defined trail back toward home.

Light was fading quickly now as the sun dropped below the nearby hills, sending all but the tallest treetops into full shadow. He was startled by a sudden rush of a squirrel across his path as it made a mad dash up the hill to his left. It climbed a tree where it seemed to have a nest built and jeered at him until he passed out of sight.

He made his way several hundred yards through the woods, leaves crunching underfoot loudly; their wet mildew smell wafted up by the slight chill breeze to his nostrils each time he stopped to listen. He paused mid-stride as a sound caught his ear. He listened carefully, his pulse quickening with hope, straining his ears and eyes to try to locate the source. After a moment, he started to call out again, when the sound returned. It was no longer drowned out by his noisy footfalls, so he heard it clearly. His heart dropped and tears welled up in his eyes as a shiver ran down his spine. It was the sound of a pack of coyotes howling. They were not far away, but far enough that he didn’t have to worry for his own safety. His fear about what had happened to Lucy was now replaced with an almost dread certainty. If they were out this early, then they must be hungry. It had still been dark when he had put her outside that morning, so this pack would probably have still been roaming. He clamped his mind down on the dark thoughts that imagination started to show him, and forced himself to focus on the trail. The light was fading quickly now, and it was time that he got himself home.

He continued to wave his stick in front of himself as he made his way along the path. The mosquitoes that had been harrying him had finally been driven away by a drearily cold breeze that pushed through the valley where he walked. He had been sweating in the warmth of the day as he exerted himself climbing hills and sliding down inclines, but now his sleeveless shirt was proving to be less than what was needed. It was the last day of October, so the weather was unpredictable and the temperature could be hot or cold, sometimes both, in very short time spans. The growing dark was proving to be a swing toward the colder side, and would be colder still as night set in fully with no cloud cover to retain the mild daytime heat.

He stopped to catch his breath as he crested a steep hill up which the rough track, a deer trail, had taken him. Home was probably less than a quarter of a mile away now, but the terrain was hard to navigate. The wind gusted through the swaying sage grass and leafless blackberry vines that choked the small clearing on the hilltop. Shivering as it chilled his still sweat soaked clothes; he pushed on with more urgency. The sun had now completely set, and the trees seemed to loom inward around the clearing. He made his way along the pathway the deer had left in the brush, snags on his arms made him slow his pace as briars tattooed their presence into small bloody points on his bare skin, and occasionally even his face. He stopped to move one particularly large specimen out of his path, pushing it away at its base with the toe of his shoe while separating it from its neighbors with a pinch of fingers carefully placed to keep from grasping the thorns.

As he paused to complete this intricate operation, he froze stock still as he heard swishing in the grass not far from him. It was hard to see, but a slight movement on his right caught his eye. He squinted and edged his head forward to try to make out what it might be. It was then that he heard an unfamiliar sound. At least, it was unfamiliar in that he had never heard it directly himself, only through recordings and television. It was the low, base, guttural, chuff-chuff-chuff growl that can only come from the throat of a very large feline. The sound sent an uncontrolled shiver radiating through his body. He became rooted in place, astonishment and fear gripped him as adrenaline surged without volition through his body. He mentally berated himself for having been so ignorant as to go into the woods without a weapon. Hell, he’d even dropped the spider stick he’d been carrying to deal with the briars. Despite the fact that no known large predators, other than perhaps a bear, inhabited the area, some instinct in him told his logic to go to hell. He was about to make a dash for cover in the nearest point of the tree line when he saw a shadow leap into the woods to his right and away from him. He couldn’t see it, but it was big. Bigger than anything he’d ever encountered in the woods. Bobcats were known to be in the area, but this was five or six times that size. He’d never heard of a cougar or mountain lion in this area, but there were old stories of panthers, even though they were many decades old, maybe even a century.

He backed away slowly, being as quiet as possible. The wind was in his face, so he made sure to keep it that way. His mind plotted an alternative path back to his house. It would be through a soggy area near a creek, and a cane thicket would have to be navigated, but it would keep him downwind of the animal. There was a very steep hill, almost sheer, that he would have to climb as well, but it was better than the alternative. The light was almost gone, and it would be pitch dark by the time he reached the creek.

As soon as he could find a large stick that was not rotted through, he picked it up so that he would at least have some form of defense. It probably wouldn’t do much good, but it made him feel better to have something in his hands besides wishes.

He retraced his steps back down the deer trail to the valley and headed east, going slowly to keep from making too much noise. He kept a wary eye to his right and up the rise in the general direction of where the object of his fear had been. He began to follow a small wash that wound northeast and would eventually take him to the creek where he could turn east toward home once again. He made his way slowly and carefully, mindful of twigs that might snap underfoot. He paused to listen often, trading the remaining minutes of flickering twilight for caution and stealth, though his pounding heart made it hard to hear anything.

He came to the cane thicket. Using his makeshift quarterstaff held vertically in front of him, he pushed slowly forward, trying to maintain as straight a line as possible. He kept his head tilted down between his shoulders to keep from getting slapped in the face by the sharp edged leaves of the cane. That did nothing for his bare arms, of course, which would be an itchy mass of small stinging cuts later. He frog-stepped forward to keep from getting his feet tangled in the tight-packed foliage which had become nearly impossible to see in the gathering shadows as he made his grinding way ahead.

Eventually, he found the creek, but the finding left him with a one waterlogged shoe and a left pant leg soaked to the knee in cold water. From there, he turned right and skirted the edge of the water carefully until the cane transitioned back into trees.

The light was completely gone now, and the darkness in the ravine where the water ran was so total that he had to feel his way to keep from running into trees. He held his makeshift club in front of himself horizontally, and slowly rotated away from anything it made contact with. His only guiding was in the form of the soft glow of distant skyline glow from cities and towns across the mountains. Stars showed through the open canopy; bright but useless points of light that merely taunted him in his lack of night vision. He began to get nervous that he might become lost and wander too far past the point he needed to turn back southward. He had never been in this part of the woods after dark, even when coon hunting. He was wandering in the dark like a blind man in a strange place. Low limbs slapped him in the face as the stick he held aloft bent them forward, and then released them like miniature catapults.

After what felt like an hour, he came to a point that was relatively clear of obstruction. He could make out the trunk of a very large tree against the distant glow of the skyline. He decided this must be the grandfather oak that he remembered. Even though it rested at the edge of the creek near the base of the steep hillside that dropped off at the edge of the open field above, its top still matched the trees on top of the hill for height. This meant that there was a steep but climbable path just past it on the right. He was almost home. Once he got to the top, his house should be a visible light source not too far away.

He made his way around the base of the tree slowly, and gazed upward to the right to try to pick out the gap in the skyline that might show him the path upward. Just as he identified where he believed it to be and began probing forward still using his stick to avoid obstructions, he heard splashing in the creek behind him at a distance.

Fear speared his already pounding heart once again, and he lunged for the hill. He scrabbled upward, grabbing small trees to help his climb, and using the stick as a pole where nothing else was available. His breath began to feel hot in his lungs as he panted from exertion and fear. He almost tumbled back as some loose dirt beneath his left foot gave way and sent him reeling. He saved himself from falling in a most painful way by grabbing a nearby vine which happened to be a saw briar. It tore at the flesh of his right hand as it slipped through before he finally gripped it tightly enough to hold. He grunted with the pain of it, feeling blood flow from his palm and along his wrist as he hung flopping with his right foot caught on a root. He swung himself back around, chest down on the steep slope and clawed with his left hand for purchase in the dirt an leaves on the hillside.

He could hear snuffling sounds below him. Suddenly, a startling cacophony as the howls of an entire pack of coyotes let out an eerie, mournful, howling that chilled his blood. They were not more than twenty feet below him. Fear and desperation pushed every thought and discomfort from his mind as he madly scrambled back to his knees and found purchase once again. Through blind flailing and luck he grabbed a small scrub tree in his left hand and pulled himself to a leaning stand and began to climb the hill again.

The sound of the pack beginning to make its way up behind him drove him on with a speed he never knew he was capable of achieving, even though in his current state of mind it seemed way too slow. It felt like he was living out one of the dreams where you need to run but your body only moves sluggishly or not at all.

He could now see the lighter skyline atop the hill about eight or so feet above him. Unfortunately, in his haste, he had deviated from the climbable path onto a narrowly edged portion of the hillside that fronted an even steeper incline, almost vertical. He felt along the edge, looking for a way to climb up; encountering the exposed roots of a large tree anchored at the top of the hill that also made a barricade of the ledge. The wash of water over time had exposed them, and made a cave-like indentation into the bank itself beneath the tree, but there was no way around it. Using one of the gnarled roots, he tried to pull himself upward. He managed to gain purchase on a small scrub tree on top of the ledge, but ended up with a face full of dirt as it uprooted and he fell backward. He grabbed at the large root, just barely keeping himself from toppling back down the hillside off the narrow foot ledge.

He pulled himself back up, scrabbling on all fours onto the narrow slanted bank ledge, using the roots for handholds. He was about to try to climb up again when his right foot was caught in vise-grip and his leg was pulled sideways. One of the coyotes had caught up with him and bitten into the toe of his hiking boots. It had not pierced the leather, but the grip was tight to the point of pain. It shook its head fiercely, its doglike growling intense from the darkness, trying to dislodge him from his now desperate grip on the tree root. It pulled him backward until he was stretched face down on the ledge. He kicked out with his other foot at his attacker wildly, and connected with its muzzle in the dark, eliciting a sharp yelp as it released him. He thought he could hear it sliding down the hillside in the leaves, but he couldn’t be certain.

He started to get up and try to climb again, but a deep threatening growl from only a few feet away caused him to go into a defensive crouch instead. He had dropped his climbing stick in the almost-fall earlier, so he had nothing to defend himself with but his bare hands and his booted feet. He decided he needed more cover so he scrambled backward trying to get as much of his upper body into the crevasse of the washed out root ball. The stray thought of snakes crossed his mind, but he had no other choice. He wedged his head, back and shoulders under the tree root, almost on his back, pulling his legs up as tight as possible with the right leg cocked back, ready for another good kick.

A second growling throat joined the first in the darkness. He grabbed the root above his face and braced himself for the attack that he knew was coming, but could not see. His heart raced with adrenaline and fear and his breath came in ragged gasps, hot in his throat. The snarling intensified and one of the coyotes let out a barking growl as it lunged at him from the dark. He screamed a guttural cry of inarticulate fear and rage as he kicked out repeatedly at the dark shape that had sunk teeth into his pant cuff and was viciously twisting and pulling. He connected with it several times, but could not dislodge it before a second coyote gripped him on the shin of his left leg. He could feel the hot pain of teeth sink into his skin even through the tough denim of his jeans. He screamed in pain, snatching the leg back despite the razoring pain it caused as he jerked it loose from the animals grip. He began spastically cycling his legs at the beasts, finally tearing his right leg loose from the grip of the first attacker. He kept it up, and eventually the dogs backed off, growling their displeasure at being thwarted in their aims.

He kicked out several more times at empty air, thinking each new growl and snarl was the precursor to another attack. His mind became numb as the pain in his leg began to overcome the adrenaline overdose that his body had been supplying. He was exhausted, scared and in pain, with no idea what to do.

He lost track of time as he huddled in place. He flinched at every growl and snarl as he cowered into the makeshift cave. He lived alone and knew that no one would be looking for him, at least not for a while. His only hope was that the animals would grow tired of this fight and leave for other, easier prey.

It wasn’t long before the outlines of the trees began to stand out more clearly. The light of a full harvest moon began to filter through the mostly leafless treetops. The air was cold now, and he began to see the faint wisps of vapor from his breath in front of him. He could also now see the outline of two black shapes that stood a scant yard away from his curled and prone form. Occasionally, the light of the brightening moon would glint from their eyes, giving an evil aura to their presence. He began to feel around him, picking out small clumps of slate rocks from around the tree roots. Once he had several gathered, he started tossing them at the coyotes, yelling as he did so. His precarious wedged-in position threw off his aim and most of the impromptu missiles fell well short of their targets.

He was trying to pry out more rocks to throw when the animals suddenly charged him again. The bright moonlight aided his sight now so that he was able to aim a kick, connecting with a snout and sending it yelping backward. It slipped on the narrow ledge and went scrambling downward, leaving only the one behind. It snapped at his legs, but he once again held it at bay with a rapid cycling of his feet. It backed off, and he was beginning to hope it might leave, when yet another pair of eyes shown from behind it, and then a third set. The odds were rapidly turning against him.

He prayed silently for help. He knew that that should have been his first step, instead of the last one made out of desperation. It always seemed to work that way with him; he asked for forgiveness and a chance to do better next time. Plans he prayed for in advance, but sudden problems he forgot about praying for until he’d done all he could do himself. This particular problem was a very distracting one, so his mind failed to ring that bell until it went into desperation mode.

He could see the three shadows with the slightly glowing green-yellow eyes stepping closer. They began to dance in and out, trying his reactions and looking for an opportune way to get to a better bite of his prone form. He kicked repeatedly, yelled, threw dirt – all to no avail as they kept feinting and trying for purchase on him. One snapped at his toe again, sinking its teeth into the rubber sole and started pulling back with frenzied head shakes. He began to feel the shoe loosen as he tried to kick it off. If he lost the shoe, it wouldn’t be long before he lost a foot too. He decided to chance an attack of his own using a fist sized chunk of dirt he had managed to rip from the root ball. He sat up and brought the clod around with a side arm swing that connected with the coyote’s face with a dull thud, the clod disintegrating on impact. The animal squalled in pain and surprise, releasing his foot.

The sudden lack of resistance let him wrench is leg back, but also upset his balance, rotating him half-way around. The second coyote had been waiting for just such an opportunity and lunged forward, snapping at his right shoulder. He screamed at the pain of sharp canine teeth sinking into his flesh.

Instinct kicked in and he swung both hands to grab the dogs head as it began to try to pull him away toward his waiting pack. He could feel the dogs ears and under his palms, so he did the only thing he could think of – he grabbed tightly and tried to use his thumbs to gouge out its eyes. He half-succeeded, sticking his left thumb into the dogs left eye, and with as much force as he could, squeezed.

With a yelp of pain and a jerk, the coyote broke off, bouncing back into the path of another that was moving in for the attack. The man took that opportunity to get to his feet and placed his back to the tree behind him so that he was no longer prone. He held his left hand over his damaged right shoulder and could feel the blood soaking into the torn rags of his shirt. He knew now that they were not going to leave him alone. He was cornered, wounded prey, and they would not leave a sure meal in hopes of finding another. His only chance was to try to climb again, get to the top of the hill and maybe climb a tree.

He scramble-jumped upward, throwing his left arm painfully between the small crack he could now see between the tree trunk and the sheer wall about six feet upward. It wedged in and he pulled with his elbow and clawed the dirt with his right hand, trying to scramble for purchase with his feet on the mostly vertical roots below. He managed to gain about a foot before a weight attached itself to his dangling right pantleg.

He grunt-schreeched in fear as he flung dirt and debris down on the animal now latched onto his leg. His fingers found the buried edge of a small root and grasped at it, desperate. He dug his fingers into the dirt surrounding it. He could feel one of his fingernails being torn off from the pressure, but he had to pull himself up. The added weight of the attacking coyote hanging from his pants suddenly released as the animal lost its grip. He used the momentum to pull himself higher.

Now he hung precariously at a slant on the side of the hill. He yelled in pain as he pulled himself forward up the hill; his damaged shoulder muscles screamed in protest. He slowly brought his left leg upward out of reach of the still snapping coyotes below him. He took a quick breath, and put all his weight on the root in his right hand while swinging the other over to join it.

He now had to find some way to climb up three more feet of almost vertical flaking rockface. The yips and howls of the coyotes below became frantic as their quarry seemed to be getting away. He chinned himself up on the root he had dug his fingers around. If anyone could see him, he would look like a caricature of spider-man, both legs bend at the knees trying to stick to the wall by sheer force of willpower. He shifted his grip slightly for better purchase with his uninjured left hand. Then, another quick breath, and he made a lunge upward with his right. He was rewarded with a face full of loose dirt and almost lost his precarious hold.

Three more times he tried this without success. His arms were beginning to quiver with fatigue. He knew if he didn’t do something quick, he would end up back down among the pack. He decided to try the grab with his left hand, hoping there was something to grasp on the other side, and that his shoulder would hold. He lunged upward and to his vast relief found another root to grab about two feet above. He clutched it, and pulled himself slowly upward. When he was as high as he could manage, he began to kick out a small area of the wall with his right foot. He managed to create a small area to put his foot into, then slowly tested it by releasing the weight he was holding up with his agonized right shoulder.

Once more lunge and he would be able to reach over the top of the ridge and hopefully grab onto something on the top strong enough to pull himself up by. He said another quick prayer for strength and was about to throw his right hand up when a shadow appeared above him, blocking out the skyline light. One of the coyotes had found the way up and came to the top of the ridge where he climbed, looking down at him with snarling fangs bared in the light. There was nowhere to go and no way from him to hang on much longer. His quivering arms and legs were about to let go.

He was a dead man. He stared at the shadowed face of the animal that was his doom. The pale full-moon light glinted from its eyes, and its snarling fangs also could be seen as it twisted its head at him as if in an evil gloat.

The man knew the majority of the pack waited below, and he had no chance against them in his weak and injured state. He couldn’t fight the many below, but maybe he could fight the one above. Besides, if this was to be the last thing he ever did, it would not be an act of surrender. With the last of his energy, the man swung his right hand upward, intent on grabbing the snarling dog himself to use as leverage for his climb. As his hand came down on the top ledge, it missed the animal who had whirled back suddenly. He grabbed at small sapling that smacked his wrist and, not knowing how much time he had to act, immediately lunged upward again with his left hand, finding more shrubs to grab.

Amazed that he was not yet being attacked, he hurried to pull himself up onto the ledge. He pulled himself up just high enough that he could swing a leg over the top and rolled enough to allow him to turn his left handed pull into a push. He rolled painfully onto his right shoulder, and then his back, was now firmly on the top of the hill. He quickly rolled another half turn and scrambled to his feet, preparing to defend himself from an attack that never came.

Instead, about ten feet to his right, he heard a cacophony of snarls and yowls unlike anything he had ever heard. He crouched low and moved forward, circling away from the noise. As he cleared the brush of the tree line into the open field he could see two shadowed forms circling each other. They were soon followed by a third form that came up the path that he himself had failed to follow up the ridge. Seeing that the odds were becoming uneven, the large of the shadows sprang forward with blinding speed. It let out an ear piercing scream that was a mix of half cat yowl and half terrified woman. It landed atop the first smaller shadow before it could even move, and a single sickening crunch of bone could be heard as it bit into the coyote’s neck, killing it in a single bite. It immediately rounded on the other coyote and ran toward it. The coyote, seeing its pack-mate dispatched so quickly, turned and began to tear back the path it had just come up.

The large shadow, obviously the big cat the man had originally been trying to avoid, followed after it. His stunned amazement at his sudden reversal of fortune left him standing in the field, labored breath coming in puffs of mist floating on the cool moonlit air. He could hear the horrible sounds of animal warfare echoing from the trees down below the ridge as the big cat took on the entire pack of coyotes.

It only took a moment for him to realize what an idiot he was being just standing there, and he took off in a quick lope across the field toward his house. He could see the light of the jack-o-lantern on his back porch grinning at him through the darkness, laughing at his efforts to finally reach a safe haven. He ran full tilt for a few hundred yards before the exhaustion caught up with him again, and he slowed to a slow, loping walk-run, clutching the stitch in his side.

He was less than one hundred yards from his house when he was slammed in his side, spinning him around, stumbling and falling sideways on the ground. He immediately tried to jump up, but found himself face to face with a vision out of his nightmares.

A face loomed down on him, framed by the moon behind it, and emitted a low rumbling growl that was more felt than heard. He had expected to see the visage of a cougar, or panther, but not this. Although it had the form of the lithe body of a black panther, what he saw in its face was something… other. She opened her jaws, revealing a sharp-fanged set of teeth dripping blood and saliva from the fight it had just been engaged in with the coyotes, and it hissed a hot breath into his face.

He instinctively lurched backward and put up his right arm for protection, but never once did he break eye contact with it – with her. He knew that now, but he didn’t know how he knew. The eyes were the most mesmerizing thing he had ever seen. They showed deep blue even in the darkness, as if imbued with an eerie inner light. The pupils were slit like that of a cat, but the eyes were not the typical almond shape of a cat, but more rounded, closer to that of a person. There was an intelligence here. They stared into his own eyes – and through them – into his very soul. The fear he felt melted. It was replaced with a peace that he would have been hard pressed to explain in words. The beauty of this creature was like nothing he had ever seen – no, seen was the wrong word – it was like nothing he had ever felt. If beauty were an emotion, this creature would be the embodiment of it. How could he have ever been afraid of her? He felt nothing but joy at the sight of her now. He reached out and gently touched her muzzle, feeling the hot breath on his wrist, the whiskers, stiff as wire, and the smooth softness of the fur along the side of her jaw.

“Lucy?” he asked hesitantly.

She backed away from him, continuing to stare into his eyes for a moment. He felt the answer. It was her, but not as she had been. Before, she had been just a pudgy gray, tan and white calico, but now she was something radiantly other.

She shifted her gaze to his right shoulder where the coyote had bitten him and leaned down to sniff the blood. She nuzzled the tattered shirtsleeve aside and, with a gentle swipe of her tongue, licked the wound. The pain in his shoulder lessened immediately, and as he looked, the wounds themselves began to glow with the same ethereal light of the cat’s eyes as they rapidly healed themselves. The light faded and no evidence that they had ever existed remained.

The cat that had once been Lucy looked at him again, closed her eyes, leaned her head into his and nuzzled him affectionately. Then, as quickly as she had appeared, she turned and ran into the darkness, her black form hiding her from sight almost in an instant.

He sat on the ground dumbfounded for quite some time. He found himself staring at the full moon and imagining it reflected from the eyes of a panther that had once been a calico, and that had saved his life. How was it possible? Maybe it was the full moon, or Halloween, or the nine lives of cats. He had no explanation for the things he had witnessed this night, but, as awful as some of them had been, he would never think to wish that it had never happened.

His heart and mind finally had to give in to the demands of his body as he began to shiver from the cold dampness. He climbed to his feet and made his way into his home. Two excited and somewhat irritated meows greeted him – with ulterior motives, of course – as they demanded he rectify their lack of supper. Cats, after all, will be cats.

Review: Ensign Sue Must Die!

Ensign Sue Must Die!
Ensign Sue Must Die! by Clare Moseley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best mashup/parody stories I’ve ever read! It’s a great plot mixed with humor and has all the nerdy things! Go read it!

View all my reviews