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82% price cut! Davis Ashura epic fantasy A Warrior’s Path (The Castes and the OutCastes)

Great reads in our Free, Quality 99-Centers, and Kindle Lending Library categories. Just use these links to search for Fantasy titles:

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“Great characters with a perfectly paced narrative. If you like fantasy, do yourself a favor. READ THIS BOOK!” – Amanda Triplett, Progressive Edits

A Warrior’s Path (The Castes and the OutCastes Book 1)

by Davis Ashura

A Warrior
4.5 stars – 60 Reviews
On Sale! Everyday price: $5.49
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled

Here’s the set-up:

“The characters, dialogue and action are mature enough to satisfy readers at the older end of the YA range, and the author weaves them all into an attention-sustaining tale…the milieu is markedly original…first rate world-building.”  Kirkus Reviews

Two millennia ago, a demon thundered into the skies of Arisa, casting down the First World. She was Suwraith, the Bringer of Sorrows. And on the same night as Her arrival, there rose about the world’s great cities the Oases, a mysterious means by which Humanity lies protected against the might of the Sorrow Bringer. It is a temporary respite. Throughout the rest of Arisa, Suwraith’s Chimeras boil across the Wildness, the wide swaths of land beyond the boundaries of the few, far-flung cities, killing any unfortunates in their path and ruling all in Her name. But always She seeks more: Humanity’s utter extinction.

Into this world is born Rukh Shektan, a peerless young warrior from a Caste of warriors. He is well-versed in the keen language of swords and the sacred law of the seven Castes: for each Caste is a role and a Talent given, and none may seek that to which they were not born. It is the iron-clad decree by which all cities maintain their fragile existence and to defy this law means exile and death. And Rukh has ever been faithful to the teachings of his elders.

But all his knowledge and devotion may not save him because soon he must join the Trials, the holy burden by which by which the cities of Humanity maintain their slender connection with one another, and the only means by which a warrior can prove his worth. There in the Wildness, Rukh will struggle to survive as he engages in the never-ending war with the Chimeras, but he will also discover a challenge to all he has held to be true and risk losing all he holds dear. And it will come in the guise of one of Humanity’s greatest enemies – perhaps its greatest allies.

Worse, he will learn of Suwraith’s plans. The Sorrow Bringer has dread intentions for his home. The city of Ashoka is to be razed and her people slaughtered.

Click here to visit Davis Ashura’s Amazon author page

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Last chance to discover Greed Manifesto by John W. Mefford – Now just 99 cents!!

Last call for KND free Thriller excerpt:

GREED MANIFESTO (Greed Series #4)

by John W. Mefford

GREED MANIFESTO (Greed Series #4)
4.7 stars – 20 Reviews
Kindle Price: 99 cents
On Sale! Everyday price: $3.99
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
Here’s the set-up:

Everyone needs a guardian angel—except when that angel is cloaked in vengeance, immune to human qualities of remorse or compassion, seemingly carrying a torch for justice, yet driven by a tenacious indignation.Set against the awe-inspiring backdrop of San Francisco and all of its fleeting secrets, Michael Doyle attempts to reboot his life, only to see death drop inches from his feet. Awakened from a seemingly catatonic state and emboldened by a spirited friendship from his past, the former journalist is compelled to chase down the truth behind a murder–and the natural beauty connected to it.

But what he uncovers isn’t what it appears to be on the surface. He discovers innocent lives around the globe are marked with a deadly price tag.

Robbed of his memory, beaten to an inch of his life, yet unwavering in his quest to cease an act of terror, Michael races against time to pursue an enemy bound by an unspeakable cause.

GREED MANIFESTO spins a tale so wickedly conceived, you won’t believe what you’ve read. Until you do.

GREED MANIFESTO can be read as a stand-alone novel, or as part of the Greed Series (#4).

And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:

Chapter One


I’m conscious…I think.

A brisk, cutting wind slapped my left side, churning in my ear like I’d been engulfed by a giant wave. Thumping heartbeats hammered my chest cavity. Sticky eyes peeled apart, unsure what I’d see, where I was.

Shooting a glance left and right, I leaned against a wrought-iron railing, my back wedged against a massive stone building, my butt planted on a city sidewalk, legs splayed out like I’d been taking a nap.

I shuddered and felt a biting wind penetrate my core. I rubbed both arms. No coat, only a green, ribbed sweater. Then I felt the top where a thin T-shirt clung to my neck. I had on jeans, looked like designer, and some trendy brown shoes, a couple of minor scuffs.

I squeezed my eyes shut for a second and tried to recall how I got here. I couldn’t focus, and I touched my chest. My heart felt like it had just been shot from a cannon, and quivers began to rock my core.

A throng of young people skipped my way, full of energy and enthusiasm, the opposite of my current state of mind. Arching a stiff neck with the support of an unsteady hand, I found a black sky. It was night, but a street light illuminated my space like it was two in the afternoon. Something wasn’t right. Beyond the tremors, I hurt like I couldn’t recall hurting before. I couldn’t recall much of anything, actually.

Giggles, laughter, and flamboyant voices filled the air that still swirled in my left ear. A shaky fist rubbed blurred, watery eyes, then I zeroed in on the person closest to me—a young girl, maybe in her early twenties, bleached hair so blond it was almost white. She moved closer, her feminine stride confident, full of life as she told some animated story to her friends.

“It was like so…how should I say? Lame. After that, he just couldn’t get it up.” Screaming laughter followed. I tried to roll my eyes, but realized my head throbbed.

The girl’s straight, blond hair fell down to her shoulder blades, the last three or four inches a rainbow of colors. Pink and purple, and I think I made out blue on one side. Pink-fingernailed hands gripped a waist-high jacket, which she constantly flapped open. Underneath was a purple half-shirt that exposed her flat stomach. She wore a gray miniskirt with gray fishnet stockings and matching gray leather boots. Or was that faux leather?

The group moved closer. Not a single head turned my way. I must have been invisible. It seemed strange, sitting on a city street, observing people. The girl was only a few feet away. All I noticed was the hair. The platinum-blond base looked frayed, frizzy, almost lifeless.

I wondered if she ever noticed me, or cared.

They skipped away, and I realized I’d let their presence distract my thoughts, and the pain. Shit! I brought up a jittery hand and touched the back of my head. It felt matted, like I’d taken a shower and gone to sleep. Had I simply dosed off on a cold slab of concrete?

How the hell did I end up here? I looked around again and realized my surroundings were unlike any I’d ever seen. The streets had sloping, dramatic hills, although I couldn’t see too far in the nighttime sky. I only leaned against the iron railing because of the severe angle of the hill—my entire balance was off-kilter.

My brain became more lucid, but I still couldn’t get my bearings. What the fuck was going on? I felt dizzy, heard my stomach growl. For some reason, fluffy pancakes flashed in my mind. I craved pancakes, with melted butter, drowning in syrup.

I glanced away, finding a substantial crack in the sidewalk and began to pepper myself with more questions…where am I…how did I hurt my head…why had I fallen asleep on a city sidewalk? I couldn’t answer a single one. I realized I’d stopped breathing, and I forced out a breath. A cloud of smoke brushed my hand and disappeared. Keep breathing, everything is okay…

What? I couldn’t recall my name!

Now I wasn’t sure if my shaking had more to do with my inability to decipher my surroundings than the teeth-chattering cold.

Another thought. I fought through the shakes and touched each pocket. I found an iPhone with a metal casing in my back pocket, pulled it out and tapped buttons to find my contacts. I thumbed through dozens of them, but nothing connected. An Arthur, a Brandon, a Carrie, a Marisa. No name looked familiar. Whose phone was this? I was getting fucking annoyed.

Intense pressure plowed through my veins, which sent a lightning strike of unbearable pain into my skull. I touched my head again, on top, and found a knot the size of an egg. I squeezed clumped hair. Dark burgundy smeared between my fingers. The smell of copper. Is that blood? I winced, struggling to recall…anything. I must have been in a fight, or just flat-out assaulted. It was all a fucking guess. I had no clue. Was anyone else hurt? Another waft of blood passed my nose, this wave combined with salt. Panic gripped my gut. As my breathing picked up and my pulse raced, a tingling sensation crawled up my spine. Attempting to keep it together, I swallowed hard and bit down on my lower lip.

A single thought consumed me—I’d literally lost my mind.



Chapter Two

One Month Ago

Stuffed into a body-molding silver dress on four-inch fuck-me pumps, a voluptuous waitress sauntered past my table, shot me a glance, and even gave me a quick wink.

“Too obvious,” I said, then turned my head without acknowledging her overt flirtation. I jiggled ice against a crystal glass half-full with whiskey and Coke and took a sip, feeling eyes glaring at me from across the table.

“Seriously?” Marisa sat back in her chair, arms folded, her leg kicking like a Rockette. Her crazy chestnut hair, expertly highlighted with subtle blond streaks, was corralled into a large bun, a plethora of curls dangling around her face.

I peered into Marisa’s honey-brown eyes, and my heart paused. Looking down at the plush carpet, I thought about why I was at the Fairmont Hotel, lounging in the piano bar late on a Friday night.

I licked my lips and took another fortifying swig of my drink, searching for the courage to continue. I raised my head and saw two girls walking directly at me, both wearing long, flowing gowns like they’d been performing in one of the banquet halls. They even wore silk gloves pulled up to their elbows. Their gait was so smooth it appeared they hovered over the salmon rug. The Alpha of the pair, a sultry-looking redhead, eyed me. I looked down, then shifted my eyes just enough to see if she was still staring my way.

They moved closer, and I saw a handkerchief flutter to the ground. Instinct took over. I picked it up and handed it to the redhead, who was only an inch shorter than me. Her face was so coated with makeup she looked like a clown, one that might make kids cry.

“I knew there were still a few gallant knights left on this planet.” She closed her eyes and brought her hand to her forehead.

I just stood there and tried to muster some semblance of a conversation.

“Uh, yeah, I guess there are.”

“Would you like to buy a lady a drink?”

The direct question caught me off guard. I wasn’t ready to play this game, not this quickly. I think she sensed my hesitancy.

“Oh, I get it. You must hit from the other side, right?

“I, uh…what?”

Before I could catch up with her quick assessment of my sexual persuasion, she and her follower had glided away.

“Gallant knight, my ass.” I plopped down in my chair, and wished I was at home, veggin’ in my sweats, tuned into a mindless ESPN event, one hand holding a beer, the other a remote.

“Michael, people aren’t perfect. Everyone has flaws. But once you open up and get to know them, you accept their flaws, even love them for it.” Marisa put an elbow on the table and raised an eyebrow, followed by a knowing grin.

My heart fluttered. “But no one has all of your qualities. You’re the perfect combination of sexy, cute, compassionate, beautiful, open-minded, confident, witty. And did I say sexy?”

She giggled in her special way, her dimples lighting up the room. “You said sexy and beautiful. Kind of the same thing.” Marisa winked, and I could feel the warmth of her love from the inside out. Her bronze skin reflected the soft lighting in the bar at one of the swankiest hotels in the city by the bay. I wanted to eat her up, to make love to the only woman I had ever loved—could ever love.

But I knew that would never happen again. My Marisa had passed away eighteen months ago at the hands of a conniving, murdering animal—my half-brother.

I guess she read my thoughts.

“Don’t feel sad, Michael. We all have our time, and my time ended. It’s so unpredictable, you know.”

A lump formed in my throat as I ogled every inch of her, admitting to myself that I could see what no one else in the room could.

“Unpredictable, as in you being murdered by my brother?” My anger swelled like a torrent river.

“Life. None of us can ever determine how we go, or when we go. So you’ve got to make the most of it while you’re here.”

I drew in a deep breath. “But I’ve tried. I’m just not sure I can do this without you. I don’t want to.”

“Oh, Michael, you just turned thirty-seven, but you sound like you’re three years old.”

I chuckled so hard I rocked back in my seat. An older couple sitting two tables away turned my direction.

“I just can’t look at another woman like I look at you.”

“I would say I’m flattered, but it’s been eighteen months. You’ve grieved far too long. We had a love no one can replicate. But I can’t keep you hostage the rest of your life. That’s not fair. I will always love you, Michael. And I know you will always love me. Open your heart, and you’ll feel alive again. Pop said—”

“I know…live your life and live it with no regrets.”

“It’s time.”

Suddenly, a splintering crash. I snapped my head left only to see a red-faced bartender with scrunched shoulders looking like he’d just peed his pants. He must have dropped one of their expensive bottles, maybe a Dom Perignon, given his stressed expression. The bar patrons offered him a light applause, and I turned back to Marisa to share a laugh.

She was no longer there. I bit the inside of my cheek and sipped my drink.

Off to the side, I spotted a youngish-looking woman in a sequined, slate blue dress moving toward the bar. I think she looked my way. Or did she just adjust her earring? She had that look. She was naturally pretty, with wavy, golden blond hair that hung just below her shoulders, and a flawless complexion. Jennifer Aniston, maybe ten years ago. She seemed pleasant, approachable even. There was something there. Some substance, and a pretty face.

How should I introduce myself? I can’t just walk up and say, “Hi, I’m Michael Doyle, what’s your major? Or, what’s your sign?” I literally had no clue how to approach another woman.

I closed my eyes and heard Marisa’s voice: “She’s not another woman. She’s just a woman. It’s okay. Let it go. Let me go.”

I could just sit and wait for the place to clear out, and maybe when there are only two of us left listening to the piano, she might wander over and ask me if I’m free for coffee tomorrow.

Man, I was either desperate or clueless. How do you expect to meet people, dumb-ass?

I chuckled at myself and decided to observe a while longer. Surely, a woman with her confidence and beauty wasn’t alone. Essentially, I gave myself a good excuse to do nothing. Wait for the inevitable reason to not act.

Ten minutes passed, but she only sat there—alone—and drank a glass of red wine, occasionally glancing at her cell phone. She was maybe thirty feet away, but I could see she had on very little makeup, certainly not like that redhead or the many waitresses patrolling the scene.

I tried not to gawk, but her simple look was radiant. Small ripples of muscle covered her shoulders. She crossed a leg; an open-toed, blue heel dangled off her smallish foot. She seemed playful. The blue dress wasn’t form fitting, but I could tell she was petite, at least smaller than Marisa. Dammit, stop comparing everyone you meet with Marisa! I chided myself.

Meet? Who was I kidding? I was only a step above a peeping Tom right now. Actually, I could hear my buddies calling me a chicken shit, or worse.

“The Natural,” my quick nickname for the cute blond sitting at the bar, toyed more with her phone, possibly reading text messages or posting this or that to some type of social media site. I was, after all, living in San Francisco, Silicon Valley a stone’s throw away, the heartbeat of American innovation. Here, most people under the age of forty don’t follow new trends, they establish them.

Fortunately, I’d been able to land a job at one of the newer high-tech startups funded by a couple of former executives at Google and three former NFL players. Our company was called Playa—as in the slang term for “player.”

A handful of former Stanford graduate students had been able to take old film footage, digitize it, and then give users—rather “playas”—the ability to manipulate any player on the field, call a new play, even change the outcome of a play. Essentially, it allowed for lazy humans sitting in their living room to play puppeteer in a game setting with real humans, not some cartoonish figures. Our latest innovation actually placed a camera on the helmet of the real-life quarterback, allowing the playa to feel like they were dropping back for a pass, scrambling for their lives, and over the outstretched arms of a six-five, three-hundred-pound defensive end, connecting with a receiver in the corner of the end zone to win the 1983 NFC Championship game.

We—actually the real technology experts in the company—had truly blurred the lines of make-believe games and reality, at least compared to games played in the past. We’d formed a partnership with the NFL and had visions of expanding our technology into the NBA, MLB, and even FIFA, the international governing body of soccer.

Life on the West Coast had grown on me, a far different day-to-day existence than my previous life back in Franklin, Texas. Then again, life back in Franklin was all about my partnership with my lifelong partner, Marisa.

From the moment I’d rolled out of the driveway following Marisa’s funeral, I’d only had limited interactions with friends from my former adopted hometown. I traded a few phone calls with Arthur—just enough for him to sell my house and give away the furnishings. Brandon and I exchanged a few text messages, discussing the splashy headlines he’d written for a few salacious stories published in the Times Herald—where I formerly held the associate publisher position.

A small piece of me missed the hustle and bustle of the newsroom, and the hunt for the truth. But when I dug deeper into my professional motivations and desires, the memories only uprooted sadness and guilt that I’d allowed my job to interfere in my relationship with Marisa. Sometimes, I could even make the leap that I was the reason she’d been murdered. In our “talks” since her death, she tried to convince me differently—both when I was inebriated and completely sober—in a setting much like tonight. She always had a way of calming my nerves, releasing me from a guilt trip, boosting my confidence.

Damn, she was the absolute best.

I had to move beyond this mental or emotional barrier, to figure out a way to live my life with no regrets. While I’d been mildly successful in carving out a new routine in this foreign world, I knew I had only a single toe in the frigid Pacific Ocean. I had yet to go all in—in my new job, even with my new work buddies. The lady department was a complete disaster, and I did nothing about it. Whispers from my guardian angel reminded me that I couldn’t sit on the sidelines for the next fifty years.

Remnants of whiskey and melted ice swirled in my glass, and I wondered if I’d seen Marisa, spoken to Marisa, for the last time tonight. Was I prepared to leap headfirst into chilly, turbulent waters, a vast sea of uncertainty, to find another mate? I wasn’t sure if I deserved happiness, at least not in the category of relationships. Shit, there I go again.

The same busty waitress dropped off a bowl of mixed nuts, but this time she made no eye contact. I ordered another drink and popped a couple of cashews in my mouth.

Without warning, screams rippled through the hotel, bouncing off scenic ceilings, massive columns, and enormous tiled floors. I glanced all around me and saw nothing, then jumped up to look beyond the bar. Heads swiveled, everyone searching for the source of the medical emergency or drunken fight in progress. A nearby agonizing groan jolted my senses, and I swung back to see a man in a white tuxedo shirt lunging, or falling over, the decorative railing next to my table—his eyelids flickering like a candle about to be extinguished.

I jumped back a couple of steps, and he crashed chest-first into the table, sending nuts, glass, a candle, a drink menu sailing. The man slid right and face-planted on the floor next to me. The table teetered for just a second, then slammed onto the hairy man, the stone edge crunching his head.

More screams, high-pitched and otherwise.

“Holy shit!” I yelled.

It wasn’t the blood trickling down the side of his temple that created the stir. Nor was it his nearly unconscious state—his arms twitched slightly.

We were all frozen, staring at an ax buried between the man’s shoulder blades.



Chapter Three


Someone must know who I am. Someone must care that I exist.

I flipped the phone back around, and a ten-digit number popped into my mind. I punched in 214-224-7333 and tapped the green circle. My pulse doubled, anticipating a voice I’d recognize, my connection to a lost world that seemed so distant but at the same time was about to suffocate me.

It rang four times, five times. No one answered. Finally, an electronic message told me to leave a voicemail.

“Whoever hears this, please call me back. I’m desperate. I have no idea who I am, but I believe…I feel like you’re the person who can help. Please call.”

I punched the line dead and pinched the bridge of my nose. The lack of human connection only accelerated my anxiety. I had to find my anchor. Surely I had one. We all did, right? I wasn’t dreaming, but I could feel a yearning deep inside. I loved someone with all my heart. Her name wasn’t coming to me. My name wasn’t coming to me. It would be okay. I released a breath and tried desperately to keep my emotions at bay.

But it didn’t take long for my impatience to return, which now bordered on full-fledged irritation, and I couldn’t help myself. I punched in a text to the same number:

Me: R u there?

About thirty seconds passed.

The person on the other end: Who is this?

Me: I know this is crazy, but I don’t really know.

The person on the other end: Omfg

Me: What?

The person on the other end: Can u not

Me: Not what?

The person on the other end: Just no

Me: No what?

I held a breath, my eyes glued to the tiny screen waiting to see three dots light up—which meant the other person was typing something, anything. I needed a response.

Two minutes passed. Three. Then five. My only connection to the world around me was ignoring me. It felt unworldly, like I’d been transported to another place, another time…hell, even another planet, where steep hills covered the landscape and I never existed.

I couldn’t let go. Who this person was, specifically, I couldn’t recall. I struggled to see images, remember a voice or a scent. Nothing. My heart pounded harder, like it was drilling for oil. I scanned my surroundings again, more hills, a few tall buildings, distant lights, a strange metal trench splitting the street. The cold wind smacked my focus back to the three-by-five-inch screen. The phone was silent—like my memory.

Ten minutes. Fuck! Where was she? Didn’t she understand I needed her? My emotions were about to explode, my pulse now racing out of control. I braced myself against the building and struggled to get to my feet. My knees buckled for just a moment, and most of my weight fell against the stone edifice. The phone slipped out of my hand; I grabbed for it and missed. Kicking up my left knee, the phone bounced off my thigh, giving me an easier target, and I snatched it out of the air. I was lucky. My lifeline to the rest of the world was still intact, but in just a few seconds, I’d gone from feeling cold down to my bones to breaking out in a fierce sweat.

I gripped the phone until my knuckles turned white. Fifteen minutes had passed. I looked up and noticed two flags waving off the stone building. On one I think I read Fairmont Hotel, but I wasn’t certain.

I’d officially run out of what little patience I had.

Me: R u still there? I really need your help.

The person on the other end: I don’t know who u r asshole!!!

My hopes and my head dropped. I was alone, and I couldn’t remember a damn thing. Something must have happened to me. I felt my egg-shaped bump, then clenched my teeth and closed my eyes. Focus. Look within and find that missing link that allows everything to come back to you.

My breathing calmed, I touched my face then scanned the back of my hands. I was young. The number thirty-seven popped in my mind. Was that my age? Good gosh, I was pathetic. I needed a mirror to find out who I was, what I looked like.

My wallet. What had I been thinking? I slapped each pocket searching for a wallet, driver’s license, credit cards, any form of identification. All empty. No wallet, no keys, no money. Was I homeless, destitute? I looked back at my shoes. Doubtful. Maybe I’d been mugged, knocked unconscious, all of my things stolen. That seemed the most logical. I just needed to find a police station, and they’d help me piece my life back together.

Unless this was all a dream, or maybe I’d been pulled through a time warp, and I existed as a different person in a different world.

Didn’t feel right. I wasn’t even sure if I liked sci-fi crap.

Fuck it. I started walking—trudging, actually, considering the angle of the hill I was climbing. After about twenty steps, I paused at a corner. A few cabs whizzed by, but I couldn’t make out the names, hoping to see a city reference. My mind was still scrambled to a degree. I checked my phone and finally noticed the time: eleven forty-eight p.m.

A renewed sense of purpose overtook my thoughts, and I just started walking. I ignored the throbbing head pain and used my arms as pendulums to help propel me forward. Keep moving. The blood rushing through my body made me feel alive, human. I’ve done this type of activity before. I must be in decent cardio shape. Up and down hills I marched with relentless motivation, moving along Pine Street then veering left onto Masonic Avenue. I kept my focus on the sidewalk, the next step. I didn’t look around. I didn’t make eye contact with any of the few late-night stragglers. I was on a mission, like I had some place to be.

I did have a purpose. I must have a purpose.

I crossed a small bridge, then noticed a park off to my left. The name, Buena Vista Park, was imprinted in gold, wooden letters. Like everything else, it meant nothing to me. But I wasn’t dissuaded. I persevered, like a ship steering toward a beacon of light. My light was inside me, an instinct that told me to keep moving. Another right onto Turk Street—another dark hole in my memory. Screw it. I kept walking, like someone was waiting on me. Maybe that love I’d felt earlier was real, and I’d find my way back home—to her.

I hung a right onto Frederick, dotted with more homes, all sorts of colors. I tried not to gawk, not to observe too closely. It would only remind me of what I couldn’t remember. My mind was singularly, even obsessively, focused. Keep walking. I will get where I needed to be.

Some type of green patch off to my right, a kid’s playground. Looked like some teens messing around on a swing set, a few yells, some cursing. They must be drunk.

Left on Willard Street. The hill was ominous, but something told me to not stop until I reached the top, about a hundred yards or so.

While the pace and lengthy trek had sparked hope and given me purpose, my legs now felt like thick, lead bricks. My head pain was more intense, and I was hungry. I struggled to lift my legs the last few steps. Finally at the apex, I bent over and leaned on my knees.

What drew me here?

A bird, possibly a blue jay, swooped past my face, gliding off to the right. Startled initially, I spotted a trailhead across the street, opening onto a strange land of vegetation in the middle of the concrete jungle I’d been traversing. It magnetized me, and I ambled over.

I was immediately engulfed in a foreign world, filled with lush trees, wild plants, flowers, vines, and darkness. Only splinters of light invaded the sanctuary. There were no homes, no buildings of any kind. The area was hilly, secluded. I trudged through the vegetation, wishing I had a machete. I imagined myself swatting away dense, invasive foliage.

Was that a memory? I couldn’t tell.

These new surroundings intrigued me. Keeping my lonely existence in the back of my mind, I plodded up another slope toward a slice of light. Finally at the top, I could see the city beneath me, but not very far. A dense fog huddled over the city like a layered, fuzzy blanket.

I turned back around and stared into the dark forest. I heard leaves ruffling, then two birds fluttered overhead. A branch snapped—at least I think it did. I’m sure animals roamed this oasis, but of what variety? Rabbits, squirrels certainly…anything bigger, I wasn’t sure.

I thought about a zoo breakout, where dozens of wild animals had escaped, including a lion, creating panic and havoc in a city. Was that just a random thought or an actual memory? This time I hoped it was my active imagination. I didn’t want to think about a grisly seven-hundred-pound beast with claws that could rip out my heart lurking a few feet away, ready to pounce and devour me for his late-night snack. He’d chew off my neck and…

What was I thinking? Geez, I was really losing it.

Out of nowhere, I heard rapid sounds, leaves crunching, like someone was running. I narrowed my eyes, straining to find the source of the sounds in the forest, but saw no movement. It could be one of those tiny creatures frolicking around with an animal friend under the safety net of a dense layer of vines, or maybe they were on the hunt. Survival of the fittest.

The sound ceased. I lowered my head, curious if the little runt would appear right under my feet. I could use a little friend, even if they weren’t my species. Then again, I could just live here, start swinging from tree to tree. I’d adopt the name Tarzan. Eventually, though, I’d long for my Jane.

Suddenly, leaves crunched; they were getting closer. Heavy steps, branches flapping. Was that a yell or some type of moan? I lowered my body like a linebacker and looked inward. Nothing visible. Had my fried brain finally created a new, fictional world just to keep me from going stir-crazy? I listened again. The sound stopped. It was nothing, just a sound mirage, or maybe the wind whistling through the immense trees.

I took in a breath.

“Michael!” I heard it before I saw anything. I jerked my head around, and I was tackled head-on, which sent us tumbling down a vine-covered hill, twisted and tangled, both of us yelling out of fear, out of pain…God only knows. Slipping, sliding off enormous dewy leaves.

Finally, the falling stopped. I felt my body parts, and they were all intact. But a girl sat on top of me. The lighting was poor, but she had dark hair.

“That shithead. When I get the chance, I’m going to kick him in the nuts,” she yelled, then brushed off leaves and pulled things out of her mouth and hair.

Her legs wrapped around my waist. Did I even know this person?

“Let’s get the hell out of here, Michael.”

“You said my name.”

“Huh? Quit screwing around.” I could only make out her silhouette. Her head swung back and forth—like she was searching for someone—her dark hair flipping side to side. One swing smacked me in the face.

“You said my name.” Blood rushed to my brain. I hoped, prayed this was real, not a fantasy I’d pulled out of my ass to avert a mental breakdown.

I found my hands grabbing each side of her waist. She had trim, tight abs, but this didn’t jog any memories. I still couldn’t make out her face. Her youthful voice was lower than most girls’.

“Michael, are you okay?”

“I don’t know who you are.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” she exclaimed, irritation in her voice.

“It’s a long story, but the good news is, you know me, right?”

“Know you? I worked for you. Are you tripping on some West Coast acid or something?”

“West Coast?” My head began to ache. I was lying at a downward angle, head first. I attempted to prop myself up on my elbows, while this person who says she knows me, worked for me even, straddled me like a horse.

She said, “I’m not going to deal with your…uh, situation right now.”

“Umm…” I tried to get her attention, so I’d be allowed to crawl out from under her and we could have a sane, adult conversation. But she continued surveying the hills and shrubs surrounding us, her mind apparently elsewhere.

“Look, Michael—”

“I like hearing my name. Michael. What’s my last name?” I sounded like a five-year-old, but I didn’t care. I finally had an identity—if she wasn’t bullshitting me.

She mumbled something.


She looked left to right twice more, the grip of her legs around my waist on the verge of cracking a rib.

“Hey, can you ease up a little? Jesus, I need to breathe.”

Another indecipherable mumble.

“Listen, can you act like I’m here? I’m a real-life person with a real-life brain. And while I do have a bulging knot on my head, I haven’t broken any bones—not yet anyway.”


“Huh?” I peered around, wondering what she saw. Maybe she didn’t like my sassy attitude. “Hey, I’m sorry if I came across like a—”


A split second later, I saw a fist the size of a HoneyBaked Ham two inches from my face.

Lights out.


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