I Know You’ll Lead Me Home

I don’t have much time tonight, but earlier today I was able to take a bit of time and look through some videos an old friend of mine posted. He’s a young, Christian, upcoming musician, and his songs are marvelous examples of what we as humans were created to do… worship and glorify our perfect God. One song in particular I found incredibly encouraging, and felt the urge to share with my readers. I hope you all enjoy it as I did.


Under Heaven

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

I have to keep it quick tonight, but I wanted to spend a moment reflecting on this passage. Our youth pastor taught on it this morning, and it was exactly what my aching heart needed to hear. God is so good, and His timing is perfect. Which has a lot to do with this passage.

These “times” or “seasons” that Solomon talks about in these verses happen to each of us, to varying degrees. We all face changes in our life. Shifting of circumstances, opening and closing doors, hard times and happy times. These changes tire us, and frustrate us because – whether we’re in a good season or a bad one – we never know when it will end. We can’t stop the changing of the times, just as we can’t grab a shifting shadow and pin it down. And the reason this frustrates us is that God has “put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end”… or, more simply, He has placed in our hearts a knowledge of and longing for eternity. We crave that time when change will come to an end, and we will live forever in the presence of an everlasting, unchanging, perfect, Holy God.

Now, I personally have been in a rather long season of hardship, trial, and testing. It’s been a time barren of fellowship, family, and a lot of other things I wont get in to. My whole family has kind of been left as scorched earth, barren and wasted, unable to heal without the help that hasn’t yet arrived. We are doing all we can to trust God and press forward in the direction He’s aimed us, but there are still long stretches of discouragement we must fight through. This last week was especially bad, and Saturday the pinnacle of bad days. I went to church with the weight of the world on my shoulders this morning, praying that somehow God would encourage me to press onward. My youth group has been going through a series on Ecclesiastes, and as always, God knew what He was doing. He opened my heart to our pastor’s teaching, and fed my soul with the gospel truth of this passage.

Our hearts long for eternity, but we must live our lives in a fallen world, filled with change and instability. This passage tells us that life is constantly changing, going from one season to the next in a never-ending cycle. So where can we find the hope to press on in this monotonous, heavy circle? In God. Because, while everything else will change, God remains the same. He created the change! It’s much like fighting with sea sickness. As the waves toss you about and your stomach starts to churn, you must fix your eyes on a stable point, perhaps a lighthouse in the distant shoreline. This steadies you, gives your mind a reference to set you straight. As Christians, we must keep our eyes locked on the solid point of Jesus in the rolling waves of trial. He will get us through. We can’t hope in the changing of circumstances, or the end of a season. Our only hope is to grab onto our everlasting God that will never change, and hold on for our life. As our pastor said so eloquently: “The only hope in an ever changing world, is to hold on to an everlasting God.”

And so, dear friends, I will leave you with the words of James. I hope they encourage you as much as they did me.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

-James 1:17

Heart to Heart

I promise, I am still working on Flesh and Blood. But I want to take a moment to talk about something very close to my heart. Something of great importance.

Lately, some of my friends have come under attack for their Christian beliefs. This, unfortunately, is normal. You can’t live the Christian life without having to go through the flames sometimes. We accept that, and while I hate to see any Christian under fire and I step in to support them whenever I can, that’s not what bothers me. The devil is at work in this sinful world. We are meant to be “lights in the darkness”. The very fact that our God had to die a horrendous death tells us that this life isn’t an easy one. Our hearts are ready for worldly attacks and personal insults, while painful, do not stir me to the point of putting my foot down.

The reason I felt the urge to post today is not because of the hurtful things I’ve heard said about my friends. It’s because of what I’ve heard said about my faith. The biggest point of argument as of late has been that Christianity is an “oppressive” religion. Now, the claims these people have made are, to an extent, true. Many Christian people can be very oppressive towards others. But before you label the entire religion of Christianity as oppressive, let’s read up on the facts.

As Christians, we are taught that certain things are wrong. Worldly. Sinful. Of the devil. Against God. However you want to phrase it. Things such as alcoholism, sensual relationships outside of marriage, homosexuality, and worship of other gods are forbidden and grievous to God. This is because man was made in God’s image, but given the gift of free will. God created a certain order, established the way of life in which He wanted us to live. He began the world under this order, an order that was meant both to keep us happier and healthier, and to glorify Him in the most beautiful way we could. By stepping outside of these boundaries and worshiping other gods or using our bodies in ways that they were not built to be used, we are sinning.

We are taught that certain attitudes or actions are against God, things like pride, covetousness, anger, hate, selfishness. These things are against God because they do not glorify Him or reflect His image. These are sins, and we are taught to avoid them because God is a just and holy God, who cannot allow sin in his presence. We are also taught to keep ourselves away from those who partake in these activities, because – whether we like it or not – the people we surround ourselves with influence us.

Sounds like I’m arguing that Christianity is oppressive, right? Well, here’s where my argument comes in. While we are called to keep ourselves apart from people who are continually falling into sin, John 13:34 says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (emphasis added) Sounds contradictory at first, does it not? But if one looks deeper, there is a much greater truth to be found. These two commandments are speaking of very different things. We are called to protect ourselves by making our closest friends the people we know are stronger in their faith than we, so that through them our own faith will be strengthened. But do you hang out only with your closest friends? No. We are called to learn from and spend the greater part of our time around those who will be good for our mind and soul. However, we are called to reflect God all the time. Furthermore, we are called to love as we have been loved by God!

So what exactly does that phrase mean? Let’s take a look. Christians do not claim to be perfect. In fact, we know the exact opposite is true. We know that if it was not for Christ’s death on the cross in our place, we would not be allowed in the presence of God. We are sinful, fallen people. We also know that God counts no sin as greater or less than any other. In other words, God sees my disrespect towards my parents as just as grievous a thing as committing murder. So in God’s eyes, that makes every Christian just as sinful, worldly, and needy of His grace and love as any non believer.

Our sins are covered by Christ’s sacrifice. That is the only difference between a Christian and anyone else. And Christians are called to love the way we have been loved. This means we are not called to mock, tease, taunt, or oppress anyone. The Christian faith is not an oppressive one. Christians are told specifically to love the people of the world. This includes those of other religions, atheists, homosexuals, and every other group of people. We are told to live as a light in the darkness. In but not of the world. We are called to accept people as they are and love them as Christ loves us, no matter who they, what they’ve done, or what they believe. We are to be living proof of God, and God is love.

So why is it that everyone labels us as oppressive? The answer is simple. Christians are people too. Our sins are covered by Christ’s blood, and therefore we have been accepted as sons and daughters of God. But we are still humans with a fallen nature. When we accept God’s gift of grace, God enters our heart, and begins the process of sanctification – changing us to be more like Him. When He enters our heart, we fall in love. We seek Him, run after Him, long to learn more about Him. And when you love someone, you want to please them. This is how He changes us. But sanctification is a process. We are not made perfect over night. We still fall, and give in to our sinful flesh. And when this happens, it is most often shown through the sins of pride and self-righteousness. When we give in to these sins, we are far more likely to oppress people. Rather than show love and reflect God’s image, we become like the people we are oppressing… lost souls devoured by a fallen world.

It is a pity that many Christians cannot control themselves perfectly. But the fact that they are not perfect does not mean that Christianity is oppressive. Please hear me now, as I am not trying to start an argument or sound self-righteous or oppressive myself. I am simply doing my best to explain why this argument is both invalid and hurtful. In closing, I would like to share the passage I have been meditating on for weeks now. A passage that every Christian knows. A passage that has caused grief to many a Christian mind when they’ve come across it in their daily readings, because it cuts them to the core with its truth.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

-1 Corinthians 13

Throwing You a Bone

Special thanks to Michelle Black for introducing me to “Tagxedo”! Prepare yourselves for a flood of word art photos in the near future, because I may be a bit obsessed!

Alright, I know I’ve been promising Flesh and Blood for a while now. But how does a bone sound? I have been working on it, I promise! Word count is currently over 3,000 words, and it would be done… if it weren’t for all of technology revolting against me. If I didn’t know better, I’d say every piece of technology I own has come together, formed a union, and gone on strike. I’m currently using my mother’s computer whilst attempting to bring mine back to life. Anyways, back to the bone. I decided to give you a sneak peek into Flesh and Blood, throw you a bone for your patience. So, without further ado, here it is!

My fingers tingle as I grip the steering wheel tighter. My mind buzzes with excitement, and… well, alright, a little bit of nerves too. I’ve longed to do this for so long, but after everything I’ve done to my poor characters… planning to spend a day with them might not have been such a wonderful idea. After all, as their author, I’m responsible not only for them, but everything that’s happened to them – good and bad.

I turn on my left turn signal, the entrance to the barn parking lot dead ahead. Well, too late to turn back now. I make a mental note to keep an eraser in my pocket, just in case. They’re your characters Hannah. If anyone can control them, it’s you. I think to myself. I know I can control them, even if it comes down to threats. No character would dare hurt their author. But the purpose of this is to hang out without controlling, forcing, or threatening them. And as strange as it sounds, part of me is worried they’ll be disappointed.

I quickly park the car, steel myself against the heat, and walk down the hill to the barn entrance. No one’s around, just as I’d hoped. Even our stable guy, Juan, is out for lunch. Perfect. I walk briskly down the aisle, whispering hello to each fuzzy muzzle as I walk past and kiss my boy through the bars before unlocking the tack room door and stepping inside. My purse is slung over my shoulder, and in it, my pencil and notebook containing Ben and Jesse’s story. How strange it is, having entire worlds, hundreds of lives resting in your purse, frozen, just waiting for you to open them and give them life. The great burden placed on an author… we literally carry worlds on our shoulders. Or at least, those of us with purses do.

My pencil quickly scrawls across the page, and I pray that the plan we’ve hatched up works. I write a short scene into their story, in which I give them a transportation device, and schedule a meeting here in my world for noon. One last period, and I set the notebook on the floor before me, glancing at the clock. Just a couple seconds more, and they should be here. My fingers cross behind my back, and I send up a silent prayer. Please let this work… I don’t want to have raised our hopes for nothing! As the clock strikes noon, my book begins to quiver, the pages fluttering as if a breeze had reached out its fingers to ruffle the edges. The words swim and twirl across the pages, as though riding waves of water. My eyes widen, and a small smile flickers across my lips. It’s working! I blink, and then they’re there, standing before me. They’re just as I imagined them! …. DUH! I nearly smack my forehead at the thought. Of course they are. I made them.

For a split second, the three of us stand there, quietly gawking at each other. And then, at the same moment, Jesse and I let out an excited squeal and lunge for each other, wrapping our arms about each other in a giant bear hug.

“I can’t believe I finally get to see you! Feel you! Touch you! Smell you!” I bubble, giggling with glee.

“Ah! I know! This is so cool! I can’t believe it worked!!” She laughs back, smiling from ear to ear. When we’ve calmed a bit – or at least stopped jumping up and down like school girls – I look to Ben. He steps forward, smiling broadly, his eyes dancing like stars in the night sky.

“Ben!” I shout, throwing myself at him in a hug. He returns it softly, and I’m struck most by his smell… like gunpowder, rain, paper, ink, sweat, and campfire. I like it. It’s strong, reassuring. Safe. And everything I love. Well, except horses of course. But that won’t soon be a problem.

“Hello, Hannah. Lovely to see you again!” He says calmly, as Ben does.

Quick Update

Alright my dears, only have time for a quick update tonight, but I wanted to make sure I gave you something.

I am working on Flesh and Blood again, and hope to get it up this week. We’ll see though, it’s another busy one. I have also been feverishly editing my beloved “Breaking Shadows: Part One” (which I believe I shall re-title “Breaking Shadows: Bold”), brainstorming up some additional scenes for it, writing bits of “Terra Firma: Seek” and “Breaking Shadows: Part Two (which I am also changing, and shall now call “Breaking Shadows: Fractured”), reading the WIPs of friends, caring for a lame horse (yes, that’s right, LAME again), working, and managing the first issue of The Cardinal Chirp Summer Edition. (If you are so inclined, you can read it here.)

As I’ve worked on Flesh and Blood, and thought deeply on my characters from Breaking Shadows, I’ve been simply amazed by how much God can teach ME through my own writings. He certainly moves in mysterious ways, and has given me great sources of encouragement these last few days. I look forward to sharing them with you when I finish Flesh and Blood! But until then, dear readers and writers out there, a question. Has there ever been a time where God has used one of your own written works to show you something, or encourage you in a difficult time? Or you heavy readers that don’t write as much, has He ever used a fictional work to open your eyes to some of His wonders? I’d love to hear about it!

Just to Hold You Over

Alright my fellows. This week is shaping up to be quite a doosey. It does not appear that I will have time to post again over the weekend, so I’ve decided to share a treat with you to hold you over until I can return with Flesh and Blood. Just for you, I am posting three sizable sneak peeks into my current WIPs! However, there are two motives behind this post. The first is to entertain until I return, as I said before. But the second is to put you to work. I want to know what you like, what you hate, what you want more of, and so on. So read away, and leave me a comment when you’re done!

Breaking Shadows: Part One

Chapter 1

“Ben! What happened?” I shout as my brother runs madly towards me.
“Keep it down, Jesse! Get a move on!”
He barely slows as he speaks, and I jump up from my hiding place to follow.
We fly down the alley, and expertly jump the little wall. We run silently, our bare feet hardly making a sound as we navigate the wet ground, following back streets that we know by heart.
It’s not until we pass under a small, flickering street light that I see it.
“Ben, you’re hurt!” I gasp.
“I’m fine Jess. Don’t worry about it. We’ll loop back a couple times to be sure, but I think we lost them.”
Once we’ve made sure no one is following us, we head for the shack. Everyone is waiting inside, as they should be. I pull my collar up a little higher, and step inside.
“Ben! Jesse! What’s the word?” Jon is the first to speak. I can barely see the men’s faces in the moonlight.
“It’s too well guarded. We’ll have to go with plan B.” Ben says authoritatively.
Some men groan, others sigh or shake their heads. Not again.
“We’ve got to split up. Security is getting pretty tight. It’s too dangerous to stay together.”
Slowly, the men begin to disappear into the night.
Ben and I are last to go, and we slowly make our way to an abandoned barn on the outskirts of town.
I lift the door to the storm cellar, and follow him down the stairs. For a moment I grope along the shelf at the end of the staircase, and finally my hand finds the box of matches. I strike one, and light the lantern.
Ben sits on the small cot in the corner, and in the light I can see it. His shirt is sopping in blood, from the shoulder down to where it drips from his fingers.
His face is pale, and I see the pain in his eyes.
“Oh my God, Ben!”
I run to his side, grabbing a rag and bowl of water from the table on my way.
He winces as I peel the fabric back.
I reach for my pocket knife, and cut his shirt from his body.
When this is done, I set in on cleaning the wound.
He gasps as I touch it, and reaches for his shoulder.
“I’ve got to clean it Ben.” I say gently. I hate that it hurts him. But it has to be done.
He lies back with a sigh.
“I don’t know how we’re gonna pull this off, Jess. The people are too afraid to join us. We just have to find a way to give them something, ANYTHING to believe in!” He says.
“Ben, stop worrying about everyone else! You’ve got to take care of yourself!” I cry.
I set the blood soaked towel aside, and begin ripping strips of cloth from a flower sack in the corner.
He sits up, again wincing at the pain of moving.
I bandage his shoulder and chest as well as I can, then pin it into place.
“Thanks, Jess.” He says tenderly, trying to smile at me.
He lays back down, pain written over his pale, white face.
I crawl beside him, careful not to bump his arm. As I lay, I listen to his ragged breathing and try to keep from worrying too much.
My stomach rumbles, reminding me how long it’s been since we last ate.
Beside me, I hear Ben begin to hum softly, like he always does to calm me.
He strokes my hair, what little I have left.
“You did good today, Sis.” He whispers.
He continues humming as he kisses my dirt and mud streaked forehead.
“Rains will flood the earth,
Fires burn the hearth,
Blood be spilled like wine,
I’ll lose what once was mine,
But flowers still will grow,
Light burst through shadow,
So child rest tonight,
My child, sleep tonight.”
He sings softly.
I curl up close to him, like a little girl, and slowly drift to sleep.

Breaking Shadows: Part Two

Chapter 1

“There is no frigate like a book
to take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
that bears a human soul!”
“Mommy, what about me? Can I come too?” My small voice sounds innocent, even to my own ears.
“Come where, son? I’m not going anywhere, not really. And even if I was, of course I would take you with me!” her voice soothes me, and her warm, gentle hand caresses my hair as I sit on her lap.
Ever since Dad… Left… Mom hasn’t been the same. She doesn’t talk much, unless it’s her poetry. She looks out the windows a lot more, and I think that she wishes she had gone with him. Sometimes, I imagine her suddenly sprouting wings and flying out the window, like the sparrows that I’ve always loved watching. But, even though that would be really cool, I don’t want her to go.
I rest my head on her chest, breathing in her scent. She always smells like summer, even on the coldest, harshest winter days. I don’t know why, but she just does.
“I love you, Mommy.”
“I love you too, Judas.” She says, squeezing me tight.

All of a sudden, shouts sound from the street. They get louder and louder, and then guns start going off.
The sound hurts my ears, and I cover them with my grubby little hands.
Mom gently pushes me off of her, and I slide down onto the floor. What is going on? Why is everybody yelling?
I crawl into the corner, watching fearfully as mom blocks the door with a cabinet, then runs to shut all of the curtains. I’ve never seen mom so scared, not even when they said that Daddy wasn’t coming home.
“Mommy! Mommy, what’s wrong? Why is it so loud?” I yell, tears starting to fall from my eyes.
“It’s a riot, Jude. Bad men are trying to take over the town.”
My eyes grow wide.
“The same bad guys that hurt Daddy?”
“Yes, Jude. Now come on, stop crying. Let’s go down to the cellar, okay?We’ll be safer there.”
“But Mommy, it’s dark down there!”
“I know Jude, but that’s why…”
Mom stops talking when the door handle jiggles. She stands beside the table holding the cellar half-open, having already thrown the rug aside.
“Judas! Look at me! Get down there! Quickly!”
I jump at my mother’s harsh tone. She NEVER raises her voice at me, not unless something really bad is happening.
I run to her, but it feels like I’m out swimming in the pond back at the farm. I can try as hard as I want, but the water is pushing me back, and I can’t move any faster or I’ll fall down.
Before I can reach her, something starts ramming the door in.
“MOMMY!” I scream, too scared to move, my knees knocking together as I begin trembling.
She drops the door back down, and kicks the rug on top as she runs to me.
I cling to her arms as she kneels beside me, crying and blubbering like a scared little kid because that’s what I am.
The cabinet falls over, and glass breaks all over the floor. Mom curls around me, trying to protect me from the pieces flying through the air, and over her shoulder I see them.
Five tall men with guns bust in, breaking the door too.
When they see me, they start laughing and pointing fingers.
“You! Where does your allegiance lie?” They ask of my mother.
She pulls my hands loose of her dress and stands up tall, facing them.
I’ve never seen anything like these men. They have guns, but they don’t look like soldiers. They have big, fuzzy beards, and their hair is messy. They’re really muddy and dirty, and they don’t smell very good. But maybe what looks weirdest to me is that not only do they not wear uniforms… They don’t even have shoes!
“My allegiance lies with no one. I only live for my son, now that my husband is gone. He’s all I’ve got. And as long as I can care for him, I don’t really care who is in charge.” My mother states strongly, starring the men in the eyes.
How can she be so brave? It makes me mad at myself. I’m supposed to be the man of the house now that Daddy is gone, and I’m crying in the corner? I swiftly wipe away my tears and stand, trying my best to look big and tall like mom.
“Oh, good. Then you wouldn’t mind serving us some dinner, seeing as we just took over the town, eh?” The man in front says with a mean look.
“I don’t have much, only what a widow can find with a child in tow. But anything I have is yours, as long as no harm comes to the boy.” She says, and somehow, her voice sounds nice, and yet as mean as that dog that tried to bite me once.
“Yeah, yeah. Just get to cooking!”
I don’t like these men, or how they’re talking to my mom.
I wonder what Dad would do if he was here right now? I bet he’d walk up to that first one, and punch him right in the nose. Then he would yell at them to get out, and chase them down the street.
I ball my fists, thinking that’s a pretty good plan. But when I step forward, Mom puts a hand on my shoulder, and pulls me close. I look up at her, furious now that she’s holding me back. I try to tell her that I can take care of it, but I can’t before she starts talking.
“Judas, go fetch me some water for these nice men, okay?” She says, her voice clipped and short.
“But, but…” I try to argue.
“Now!” She says, pushing me towards the door.
I run down the side of the house, to the little water pump, and fill the small pail beside it.
When it’s full, I lift it carefully, trying not to spill it. But it’s so heavy, and my fingers hurt from holding it.
By the time I’ve dragged it back to the door, only half of it is still in the bucket. The other half is all over my pants, and my cheeks turn red as I climb the steps to the house.
When I walk back in, the men are sitting around the table, where their guns are in a big pile, and mom is busy in the kitchen, making something on the stove. Whatever it is, it smells really good, and my tummy starts rumbling.
I drag the water over to her, and she bends down to kiss me on the cheek. Her body looks different though. Kinda… Wound up. Like a spring!
“Do whatever they ask you to do, okay honey?”
I nod, knowing that I can’t disobey her or I’ll get in big trouble.
I walk back to the table, quietly watching the men. One of them, I guess he’s the leader, has his yucky feet up on the table, and he’s playing with a little pistol in his hands.
Three more chew on their fingernails, pick at the wood of the table, or tap their fingers impatiently. The other one gets up and starts walking around, looking at my stuff.
I watch him as he grabs a couple of things here and there, looks at them, then puts them back down. I don’t know why he’s doing it, but I leave it alone, trying to do to what mom said.
“So, what happened to your husband? If you don’t mind my askin’.” The leader guy says. But it doesn’t sound like a question. It’s more like he’s telling her what to do.
“He was killed in the war.”
“And what side would he have been a fightin’ for, ma’am?” He asks.
Mom doesn’t answer for a minute, and then I hear more glass break.
I look back over to the guy that’s walking around, and on the ground in front of him is the only picture we had of Daddy… Shattered in pieces.
I feel my face get really hot.. Hotter then it’s ever been before. My little fingers close up in fists again, and this time I intend to use them.
“HEY! THAT WAS MY DADDY’S PICTURE!” I scream at him.
I start to stomp over at him, but the leader guy calls me.
“Hey, did your Daddy ever use a gun like this?” He asks when I’m right up in front of him. I wrinkle my nose. His breath smells really funny.
His hands cover up the little pistol, and I lean over curiously to see it.
All of a sudden, something hits my face really hard. I feel myself flying through the air, and then my back hits the wall.
My nose hurts really bad, and so does my head. The room spins around me, and I feel like I’m going to fall over.
I start to cry, blood pouring out of my nose and onto my hands and shirt.
The men laugh at me, making me cry harder.
“What do you think you’re doing? You’re supposed to be in there makin’ dinner!” I hear that evil voice again, and blink my eyes clear so I can see who he’s talking to.
Mommy is next to him, and when she sees me on the floor, her eyes get big. Really big. Then, she turns and punches him in the nose.
I’ve never seen her so mad. Her face gets really red, and she yells a word that I’ve never heard before at him.
She starts to attack him again while he tries to get up, a hand on his nose.
But then I hear a gunshot, and she screams.
My eyes go wide, and I see mommy crying on the floor. There’s blood everywhere I look.
I’m so scared, but I just can’t move. I don’t even feel my heart beating.
The man gets up, and the other ones start grabbing my mother.
One grabs her hair and starts lifting her by it, and another grabs her arms to hold them behind her back.
The one that dropped the picture is behind her, and he laughs again when she shrieks in pain after he kicks her knee.
Then I see that that’s where the bullet must have hit her.
I want to scream, I want to punch them all, I want to steal their guns and shoot them. But nothing happens. My body just won’t move, my voice won’t come out.
Then the man she hit is in front of her face, all screwed up in pain… And he has a gun pointed at her.
“MOMMY!!!!! NO!!!!!” I scream as the gun seems to explode in his hands.
She drops to the floor, a pool of blood all around her. I can’t look.
I somehow get to my feet and run out the door. I feel sick. I think I’m gonna throw up.
But the men come stumbling after me, and I keep running, screaming for help.
At the end of the street, I see a couple of men in uniform, and they have guns. I know they’ll help!
“HELP!! HELP! THEY KILLED MY MOM!” I scream at the top of my lungs.
They look up, and I stop short when they lift their guns. I drop to the ground. Why are they trying to shoot me?!
Then I hear the shots… But nothing hurts. Am I dead? Did I die? What happened? I open my eyes when rough hands pull me up, and the soldiers are in front of me.
“Are you alright there, Sonny? What’s this about your mother?” The one crouching in front of me says.
I lead them back to the house, trying to wipe away the tears that won’t stop coming.

“Mom!” I yell into the empty house as I jump out of bed. I sigh when the familiar chair and fireplace greet me.
I sit back on the end of the bed, rubbing my eyes, trying to erase the images of my mother’s pale form, laying limp in my arms while I hold her in a pool of blood. Every night, it’s the same. The same awful nightmare that I can never wake up from.
The same awful nightmare that keeps me going, keeps me hunting those evil monsters that dare call themselves revolutionaries.
I flop back on my bed, as usual hoping to get a little more sleep… Even though I know I won’t.

Someday, someday I’m gonna make those vermin pay. And they’ll never, ever see it coming.

Terra Firma: Seek


I will myself forward, inching away. Pain and smoke envelop me. All I want to do is stop, give in to my fate, but the fear drives me ever onward, away from the gunshots, the screams, the flames.

My body burns. I feel as if I’m dead already, and yet my arm still reaches, pulling me forward ever so slowly. The scent of burnt flesh and gunpowder assaults my nostrils, and the smoke burns my eyes… but I feel none of it. Almost as though my mind were separated from my body.

Suddenly, my travel is stopped entirely as two large, black boots appear beneath my nose. I somehow gather the strength to lift my face, and can see only the round, black hole of a gun’s barrel.

I take a last, shuddering breath, and everything goes black.

Chapter One


Behind closed eyes my mind slowly starts to function, and I gradually come to realize I’m awake. My body feels stiffer than usual, probably from the hard training yesterday. The numbness of sleep slowly turns to pins and needles in my extremities, feeling returning to my limbs.

As my mind clears and I gain control of my body, I take a deep breath. The light beyond my eyelids is darker than usual, instantly alerting me to the fact that something isn’t right. I inhale again, taking in the precious oxygen my brain requires to think this through. Like every morning, I twitch the skin around my left wrist and ankle, feeling for the metal cuffs that terrified me that first day. Nothing.

I try to remember what I was doing before I fell asleep, and clearly remember following my normal routine. I also remember opening the window a crack, and shutting it. It’s just one of many tricks we’ve learned. We have a normal routine, but always do one strange thing. Drop a brush, put on shoes and then remove them, something small but unusual so that we can be sure we aren’t just remembering some other night. I allow myself to relax. Either I’ve risen early – not likely after last night – or Dirus has pulled one of his stunts.

Since I’ve been strong enough to carry myself, Dirus has trained me beneath Mordacis’s watchful eye. They’re hard men, and I’ve come so far that they expect me to show no weakness. Mordacis is… well, for the sake of time, we’ll call him my father. He’s not exactly “touchy-feely,” but I know he loves me. As I love him.

Which is the only reason I allow them to subject me to this. See, Mordacis is getting up there in age, and for reasons mostly unknown to me, he has a lot of enemies. Big ones. The kind that would not only slit his throat if they had the chance, but that constantly strive to make that happen.

I’ve only ever witnessed one attack, but it was brutal. Had we not been there, they would have killed him for sure. After that, I asked to become part of his elite force of protectors. Part bodyguard, part assassin, and entirely devoted to his well-being. Besides… I kind of owe him.

Much of my time is spent by his side, watching over him as he did me. The rest is split between training and missions, taking out those he assures us are the most dangerous. I’ve quickly become his favorite, not only because I excel in training, but because our close connection makes me more focused and passionate than any of the other protectors.

Officially, we’re known as the Praedatoria… but most people just think of us as ninjas. Our training is harsh, comparable to none other in history. It’s also constant. Dirus is infamous for his “pop quizzes”… such as the one I assume myself trapped in at this very moment.

They can happen at any time, but his favorite trick is to take us at night, while we’re sound asleep. He then traps us somewhere, anywhere he pleases. We’ll wake up in unfamiliar terrain, and have to fight our way out of some nearly impossible situation, one that involves real dangers. The individual challenges are never more than what we’ve been trained to handle. He makes sure of that. But we are expected to handle a broad collection of these challenges, back to back, show no weakness, and escape within 24 hours. The punishment for going over is swift and brutal, but well deserved. Any Praedatoria that is giving his all will rise to the challenge. To fail is a disgrace.

Just last month we lost a new trainee, Felix. Literally. He was chained to a rowboat with no oars, and sent out to sea. We tried to find him after the time limit had passed… but only found an empty rowboat. We all felt bad about it, but he was too good-natured a kid for the team anyways. It takes a certain control, a disconnect from emotion to succeed, and he just didn’t have it. The only thing that made us think twice about it was that we all knew Dirus hadn’t liked Felix to begin with. I think we all made a mental note to stay on his good side that day… a difficult rule, as he doesn’t seem to have one.

But, I’ve wasted enough time. I can’t hide from Dirus’s test forever.

I open my eyes. It’s pitch black, no light source anywhere. I suddenly feel the closeness of the walls, my own body heat radiating back to me as though the walls were mere inches away. My left hand carefully feels around beneath me, and I appear to be laying on some kind of wooden planks. Maybe a table. As I press my arm outward, I quickly meet a corner. I raise my arm, and just two or three inches above my nose is the lid. A box. Of course. He’s been teaching us to find weak spots by hand for weeks.

I attempt to move my right limbs against the fourth wall, but neither budge. My left hand feels for my right wrist, and finds it bound by thick, heavy rope. I don’t bother searching my leg, knowing it will be the same. Instead, I feel my pockets, taking inventory of the weapons Dirus left me with. I find my knife in my left pocket, as it always is. Thank goodness. It makes quick work of the rope, and I replace it.

I once more feel for the walls of the box, only slightly larger than a coffin. With my left hand, I touch the wood, following the grain, fingering the rough texture cautiously. In a moment, I’ve found a sliver of space, a tiny crack, where the wood feels slightly thinner. The weak spot.

Just as I start to withdraw my fingers, something causes me to pause. Around the crack, the wood is wet. Shoot. I think to myself. Deep breaths, Tera. You can handle this. It’s just a test. No big deal. It’s not supposed to be easy, but Dirus wouldn’t put you into a situation you couldn’t handle.

I flex my muscles, and place both feet against the crack. I fold and condense myself until my back and shoulders are braced against the bottom of the box, my feet pressed solidly to the soaked wood, and my arms out against the corners for balance. My eyes squeeze shut as I suck in a breath, taking in as much air as my compressed lungs will hold. Who knows how deep he’s got me. I want to wait a moment longer, but I know I don’t have time to waste. There’s no telling what nightmare awaits me at the surface.

Another deep breath, and I take the plunge. The wood shatters under my explosive force, and water instantaneously fills the cavern. I hastily gather my wits, open both eyes, and shove off the bottom with both legs. For a moment, I rocket upward, gliding through the water. The flavor of my lips tells me it’s salt water. Great. It’s still dark, except for a square of light at the surface. Here is where I place my aim, beginning the arduous task of swimming to freedom. Or, more likely, a lack of it in the open air above.

I grit my teeth as my left arm and leg strain, attempting strokes and kicks with my heavy, useless, stiff right limbs. In most physical endeavors, metal limbs make me stronger. But underwater? They might as well be millstones tied about my neck. My lungs shriek for air, my muscles already leaden from exertion. Curse you Dirus. Only you know of my weakness. Only you would use it so treacherously against me. Just as I feel I’ve reached the utmost limits of my strength, my fingers reach the placid surface.

I close my eyes as my lungs lap in the precious oxygen, but within a breath I’m coughing, the thick, rancid smell of smoke burning a trail up my nostrils and down my throat. My eyes flash open, and I find myself peaking up through the floor of a burning building. I know Dirus would not leave me another exit from this watery grave, not in a test. So I brace myself, and use my right arm to push off the floorboards and hurl me up into the flames.

Smoke assaults my eyes, nose and lungs, burning, blurring and choking. I shove back a coughing fit, jumping to my feet and surveying the area as the water dripping from my body evaporates with a threatening hiss. The exit is straight ahead, maybe 30 feet away, and ensconced in flames. I swipe the water from my brow, and take a step. Then I hear it.

“Tera! Tera help!” The raspy, strangled cry comes from behind and above me. Of course Dirus. Because I haven’t proven my loyalty and ability to protect a teammate yet. You’d better have something for these burns when I get back there. Without hesitation, I bolt for the stairs I noticed while scanning the room. Every step ignites a new burning agony on my left side, my chest, my face, and I fight to suppress a scream. I desperately brush it all out of my mind, as we’ve been so thoroughly taught to do. While I may be writhing on the inside, I know that not a trace of my pain or fear touches my face. If Dirus thinks it necessary I injure myself rescuing some bogus, helpless teammate, I’ll rescue some bogus, helpless teammate.

Upstairs, the heat is even heavier, threatening to flat out crush me. The man, still calling out my name, is cuffed and bound to a chair in the middle of what appears to be a giant hayloft.

Desperate to take as few steps through the flames and embers as possible, especially on such a weak structure as this, I vault into the air, flipping twice and landing on my feet, having covered half the distance. I can feel my metal joints grinding, not working in the smooth, practiced manner I’m accustomed to. Great. Salt in the gears. This is not going to end well.  I repeat the movement, landing at his side, knife drawn.  Thank heavens for the gymnastics training. And they said I’d hardly ever use it. In one smooth motion, his rope binding is in a heap at my feet, catching fire instantly. I again flip over top of him, sheathing the small tool at the same time. As I turn to face his back, I whip a bobby pin from my hair, and pick his lock in record time.

One hand closes around his wrist and jerks it across my shoulders, the other buries the pin in my braid once more. I half carry, half drag the bulky body down the collapsing stairs, and make a break for the door. Creaks from above warn me of how close our escape is cutting it, and as I throw both our bodies against the door, the roof gives way.

Sparks rain down on us, scalding our exposed flesh and blinding me momentarily. As soon as the light has dimmed, I glance up. The sound of gunfire rings in my ears, slicing through the cracking and snapping of the fire behind me. Before I duck for cover, I see them. Bathed in shadows, silhouetted by flames, they stand off about 10 paces. Caedo.

One of Dirus’s own inventions, made through some secret process for only one purpose. To push a Praedatoria to their breaking point. They’re only used in the highest levels of training because they’re extremely dangerous and unpredictable. I’ve fought them before, but never this many, and not when I’m this tired. Not to mention poorly armed. Think Tera. Think. What do you have to work with? If it comes down to it, you have your knife. Your right arm can use the embers, or even the burning boards as weapons. But you’ve got to get one of their guns. If you can lure one down alone, or even just ahead of the pack, it shouldn’t be too hard to take them out and use theirs. But… how? I feel the worn, smooth handle of my knife, run my burnt thumb over the small button of its leather sheath gently.

“So Tera, what’s the plan?” The deep voice beside me is such a surprise, I nearly jump out of my skin. I’d forgotten about my bogus teammate. Great. I’ve got to get him out of here too. Probably can’t even hold himself up.

“The plan? Stay alive, kill the Caedo, and get back to Cassus Tenebrae as quickly as possible.” I state bluntly. Who does he think he is, anyways? Obviously Dirus instructed him to be the helpless damsel. Damsels don’t ask questions. And I’m not a fan of jabber-jaws.

“Well, I’m no strategist, but may I suggest drawing them closer? I’m not a master of hand to hand combat, but I can hold them off long enough for you to snag some weapons.” His voice is calm, falling just short of the tone a leader might use to give orders, with a heavy undercurrent of mockery he’s unsuccessfully tried to cover up. I look at my strange companion, finally taking in his muscular build, the firm set of his jaw, the confident glint in his eyes. He’s more like a commander than a damsel. What are you trying to do here, Dirus? What’s the point of this?

“Are you sure?” I ask, barely masking my surprise. Dirus never gives us help. Ever.

“I’m positive. Tera, it’s not like I’ve never seen Caedo before. And I can see you’re too worn down and beat up to do it yourself.” His voice is kinder this time, and the look in his green eyes reminds me of something, someone. But who?

My Deepest Apologies

Regretfully, I must be the bearer of bad news tonight. Please don’t shoot the messenger!

I know I promised you the first Flesh and Blood post with Ben and Jesse this week. But due to family and work things popping up, a horse that’s gone lame (AGAIN), and working to turn out the first edition of the Summer Chirp this coming weekend, I have had no time to finish it and it doesn’t appear that I shall until next week sometime. I will plug away at it as I can, but it will not be done this week. (Insert sad face and sounds of despair here.)

So, to ease the pain of this horrendous news… I leave you with cute puppies.

I know no amount of cute puppies can make up for slumming off your time with Ben, but I do hope perhaps this his filled a bit of the void I myself created!