Note: excerpts may contain sexually explicit scenes of a homoerotic nature.
EXCERPT FROM “In My Arms Again” by Nell Iris:
As I feared, the effect of the fever-reducing tea wanes even quicker this time, and soon the stranger grows restless. His legs move under the covers, his head whipping from side to side, and he mumbles something I can’t make out. I hurry over to his side and kneel by the bed. Carefully, I place my
“Honored stranger.” I keep my voice low and movements slow, so I won’t scare him. His eyes move rapidly under his eyelids and he turns his head toward my voice. It’s the most reaction I’ve gotten from him so far.
He struggles to free his arms from under the covers, and I lift the rabbit fur to help them out in the open. He calms a little when his arms are no longer restrained, so I take the opportunity to study him.
His color is much better than before; the grayish tinge and the fever roses are gone. I lay my wrist against his forehead and sigh in relief as he’s no longer burning up.
I sit back on my heels.
Curious. Very curious.
Maybe my fears that the tea hurt him were unfounded. Instead, it seems as though it has helped him, but at an accelerated pace.
Never in my life have I seen someone with such a high fever recover so quickly.
I brush away a strand of hair from his face. “Who are you?” I whisper.
When he seems to be sleeping restfully again, I get to my feet, but as I turn to leave, a tug on my sleeve and his faint voice stops me. “Do not leave. Please.”
The sound of his voice makes me jump, even though it’s more like a whisper than anything else. I look down on him; his arm out, hand holding my sleeve, eyes still closed.
“Do not leave,” he repeats.
“I will only fetch you some water, stranger. You must be parched.”
He tugs on my sleeve again as if to stop me, but after a moment he releases his grip. Crossing the floor with a few hurried steps, I pour fresh cool water from the flagon into a bowl.
His eyes are still closed when I kneel next to the bed again, but I can tell he’s awake by the way his head tracks my movements.
“I will lift your head and help you drink,” I explain before touching him again, and he tilts his chin down, giving me permission. I slide my hand around his neck, cup the back of his head, and ease it off the bed. He drinks in deep gulps until the bowl is empty, and when I lower him back down to the pillow, he sighs.
“Thank you, Hunter.”
I stiffen at his words. “Do you know me?”
Slowly, he moves his hand from his side and lays it on his chest. “I feel you,” he says.
“How?” My head is spinning with all the questions this man’s arrival has brought. For every passing hour, they multiply, and I can no longer keep track of them all.
The stranger doesn’t answer my question — somehow I knew he wouldn’t — so I try another approach. “I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage. I know not who you are.”
His pries his eyelids open, long eyelashes fluttering like a hummingbird’s wing. Even in the dim light of the cabin — cast only by the flames in the hearth — I can make out the color of his eyes: so dark they’re almost completely black, generously sprinkled with flecks of gleaming gold, and despite the obvious tiredness, his gaze is bottomless and intense. It pulls me in and settles some of the restlessness in my chest at the same time.
And when he looks at me, I understand what he’s talking about.
I can feel him, his presence. As though his heart beats next to mine in my chest. As though his breath mingles with mine when it leaves my mouth, as though I see myself through his eyes. As though I know him.
“My name …” His voice falters.
“… is Vinge,” I finish, a gasp escaping at my own words.
EXCERPT FROM “The Murky Depths” by Kassandra Lea:
The rumbling that woke him was reminiscent of a freight train barreling down the tracks and heading straight for him. Keston blinked, mindful of a subtle throbbing in his head and a growing ache in his back. Lulled by the rocking of the water and the words upon the page, Keston had fallen asleep in a rather awkward, uncomfortable position.
And while he’d napped the gloriously calm fall day decided to play a dirty trick on him. Ugly dark gray storm clouds had kidnapped the sun, banishing the brightly glowing orb behind a guarantee of rain. Another rumble of thunder rattled his teeth and the flash of lightning that streaked across the sky sent his heart racing.
What was it his mom always said about being out on an open body of water during a storm?
“Crap,” he growled. Keston scrambled for the paddle as the first fat raindrop landed on his cheek, coursing down like a year he didn’t remember crying. The once gentle rocking was becoming stomach upsetting and mixed with his actions threatened to capsize him. “Crap, crap, crappity.”
Why didn’t you check the weather forecast, you fanned fool? Instead of being a sitting duck for an electric charge you could be sitting safely before a fire while letting the storm rage on. Even sticking to his original plan would have had better results, he’d simply have raced back through the woods with prayers of no branches falling on his head. Being soaked head to toe he could accept.
Which might happen sooner than he hoped.
The wind picked up, forcing the trees to dance and tearing the leaves from their branches. Keston pitched dangerously to one side and narrowly avoided taking an unwanted swim by shifting his weight the other way. His belongings slid back and forth along the bottom of the canoe. Lightning. Thunder. His pounding heart prodded by fear and adrenaline. And then it hit, the deluge of rain, almost like having a bucket of water dumped over his head, or perhaps this was how coaches felt after the end of a great game when the players got all excited and doused them in Gatorade or whatever.
He was soaked instantly.
And it was a cold rain, one that dropped the temperature significantly in a matter of seconds. Gone was the beautiful autumn day replaced with a chill that left each breath as a puff on the wind. Keston shivered, somehow managing to wrap his fingers around the paddle. He gripped it tightly and dipped one end into the lake, which by now was tossing him about as if he was a rubber ducky in a child’s bath.
The waves were getting worse.
He might have started crying in panic, it was hard to tell. The rain came so hard, falling in a torrential downpour that it made it nearly impossible to see the shoreline. Thanks to the brilliantly colored leaves he had a vague idea of which direction to head, but it was a battle unlike any he’d fought before, and he’d be lying if he thought he stood a chance.
EXCERPT FROM “Weekend at Bigfoot’s” by Addison Albright:
(Wilson Banks is interviewing Emma Pearson, a Bigfoot witness)
“Could you explain in detail how he ‘looked’ startled?” Specifics like that were what would bring Wilson’s story to life.
Her head tipped to the side and her lips pursed as she pondered the question. “Besides the body language—he’d stopped short and recoiled—he wasn’t ‘scary close,’ but he was close enough for me to get a decent look at his facial expression.” She tapped her eyeglasses. “I didn’t need these back then. My vision was perfect.”
Wilson nodded, and she continued. “His eyes bugged like he was terrified.” She laughed. “He was afraid of me.”
Eyes “bugging”—and facial expressions in general—if her memory was accurate, would be a difficult feat to achieve with a costume. Possibly the fake Bigfoot’s head was more makeup than mask. But that would be virtually impossible to do with short notice. More likely her memory had slowly altered over the years.
“The eyes and the gasp are what jump out in my memory.”
“Was the gasp audible?”
“Yes. He also made a noise when he tripped while running away from me.”
“Can you describe his sound?”
“I would have been hard put to describe it at the time, but years later when I watched Star Wars, I couldn’t help wondering if whoever’d developed the voice of Chewbacca had heard a Bigfoot and mimicked the sound.”
Wilson smiled. Considering her Princess Leia hairstyle, the Star Wars tie-in could probably be taken with a grain of salt. “Did he look like Chewbacca, too?”
“It’s kind of the reverse. More like Chewbacca looks like someone wearing an exaggerated, extra hairy Bigfoot costume.”
He chuckled. “I like that. I’ll never be able to watch the Star Wars movies again without thinking of you.”
She grinned, then continued her narrative. “I was shaken, but I was also impulsive, and…” She rolled her eyes. “After pulling up my pants, I took off after him.”
“Wow.” That could have ended badly.
“I didn’t catch him, obviously. He was surprisingly fast once he’d gotten over his initial shock at discovering me.”
“Did you chase him far? Did you get lost?”
“No to both. It became clear very, very quickly that he could outrun me. So instead, I went to investigate the spot where I’d first seen him, because he’d made a noticeable noise running away, and I should have heard his approach. So I figured maybe he’d been squatting or sitting, too, and had only just stood up and taken maybe a step or two when I spotted him.”
“That makes sense. What did you find?” It was curious that Marvin hadn’t mentioned anything about physical evidence she’d gathered.
“A little patch that would have been a forager’s paradise. I could see where a bunch of mushrooms had been ripped off, a huckleberry bush had been stripped of berries, and a patch of miner’s lettuce had been torn up. There was barely enough left for me to identify it.”
Wilson’s brows shot up. “Interesting.” And indeed it was. Although it wasn’t tangible evidence she’d been able to bring back with her, it was, if she was to be believed, compelling. Because it was either an extraordinarily elaborate ruse, or it had been a bear. Except a bear would have run off on all fours, rather than re-standing to run after tripping. “And easy to see why you came to your conclusion.”
“Right? And please believe me, I’ve never been the kind of person who is easily tricked.”
“I believe you. And because I’m pedantic, I want to clarify. When you refer to your Bigfoot as ‘he’ and ‘him,’ are you using the male pronoun in a generic way, or was there something about the…creature you saw that makes you think it was a man?”
“He had…” She reddened and cleared her throat. “Dangly bits. And trust me, you couldn’t miss them.”
Wilson coughed. He kind of wanted to shake the hand of whoever had come up with a costume with that kind of attention to detail.
“Using language that I wouldn’t have known at the time, but looking back I can apply it, let’s just say he was proportional, and a ‘shower,’ not a ‘grower.’ Or at least I sure as hell hope that’s the case, because damn, my sixteen-year-old self was astounded and maybe a bit traumatized, and my sixty-six-year-old self is still rather impressed.” She grinned sheepishly, and Wilson laughed. He could see Jerry’s headline now…Bigfoot flashes teenager, scars her for life! Normal men pale in comparison!