Christmas Puzzle by Kenneth Weene

Hello everyone. Today the author Kenneth Weene has joined me in exile. Kenneth, the man who gave us the quote, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single frustration”.  Yes, Kenneth has written a very special story for us today called Christmas Puzzle. Thank you for joining me today Kenneth! Everyone enjoy and have a very Merry Christmas!
The cold, wet night was made more miserable by the reflection of Christmas lights in the puddles. The blare of carols echoed flatly off buildings. The racket of harried cab drivers filled the streets.
Matt Desmond was interviewing witnesses. Their stories were the same, not so much the same as would raise a flag, not as if they had been practiced. It was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Pieces fit; and when they did, the picture got clearer.
Matt Desmond liked puzzles. Twenty-three years on the force, the last fifteen and a half working homicide, and that was what he liked about his job—the puzzles.
He had loved doing puzzles with Sally. They would spread the pieces in the middle of the living room floor while Jaquie groused about the mess and his teaching their only kid to be as big a slob as he.
“Daddy, when I grow up, I’m going to marry you,” Sally would peep.
Matt would laugh and say, “I love you, too, Sally-Sweet.”
He had shared her tea parties and gone to her school assemblies and games. Not a lot of fathers did, especially not fathers who were also cops; but Matt and Sally were different.
And they talked—about everything. He never told her she was too young, too little. When she asked, he shared cases: Maybe he shouldn’t have, but Sally never seemed upset. They were just puzzles, and she loved puzzles.
Then without warning, those days were gone. Sally was gone. That was a puzzle Matt had never solved. Neither had the entire New York City police department.
“Maybe somebody’s got her in Mexico or Haiti or one of them other countries?” Morrison’s comment had not been helpful. What the hell could the light of his life be doing in some other country, some other world? Matt had thought of drugs and whorehouses and wept.
The girl whose body was splayed on the road—bones broken and her body contorted—appeared to be about the same age as Sally, as she had been—fourteen-fifteen?
Matt hated days like this, days that reminded him.
Dumb kids.
“Just exactly what happened?” he asked the next one, a young guy who was scarcely bundled against the cold.
“Dunno. Didn’t see.”
“Your friend dies and you ‘dunno?’” Matt tried to mimic the boy’s tone. He took note of the piercings; for Matt they were just another offense.
Nose, both ears—not even the same size holes, chin, left eyebrow, and that big thing in his tongue. What the hell is the matter with them?
“That’s right, Chief. I dunno. See I was in the can taking a dump. I mean you wouldn’t want me going out here.”
 Matt grimaced. “Over there,” he commanded pointing in the direction of the kids he had already questioned.
The next was a girl, maybe a bit older than the dead girl maybe not. Thin, dull-eyed, long hair needing a wash. Something insubstantial about her.
“Who the hell’s Ralph?” she responded to his first question.
Matt pointed to the piercing-pocked youngster he had just questioned.
“Oh, Slim Jim, he was in the john. Missed it all.”
“What was he doing in the john?” Even as he asked, Matt regretted the question.
The girl didn’t crack a smile. “Taking a crap.”
“You call him Slim Jim?”
“Cause he eats them, Slim Jims. You don’t want to be around him when he farts.” Her tone stayed flat, her face unchanged.
“So, tell me about the accident.”
“What accident?”
“Your friend, she’s dead.”
“Not my friend.”
“But you were here.”
“Duh. Yeah, we were all here.”
“What happened?”
“We was car surfing, she wanted to try, she slipped. End of story. End of her.”
“What’s her name?” So far nobody had known.
“Don’t know. Never seen her before. That’s how it happens.”
“How what happens?”
It was gnawing at Matt: the absence of caring, of involvement. Not a tear, not a smile, not even a grimace. He glanced over at “Slim Jim.” The boy was staring at him. They all were. They weren’t talking, not the way kids should, not the way Matt expected.
“How we join up. People drift in. People drift out. Some stay. Them that stay got names; the rest don’t.”
“Everybody has a name.” One name kept repeating itself in Matt’s head, “Sally, Sally.” He would never give up loving her, wanting to find her. That was what had ended their marriage. Jaquie had had enough. Matt figured any sane woman would have. No, it wasn’t that I missed her so much. I did. I do. But I can’t put it together. I got to figure—
“Sure,” the girl responded, “we all got the names our Moms and Dads gave us, but those aren’t our names, not once we’re here.”
“And you don’t know her name?”
“Nah. Not here long enough.”
“What about you?” Matt asked. “You got a name?”
“Sure. They call me Homer.”
“Homer? Why’s that?”
“’Cause I tell the stories.”
“What stories?”
“’Bout the first ones.”
“The first ones?”
“Yeah, the first ones.”
Uncomfortable, Matt did something he often did, something of which he was usually unaware. He pulled out his wallet and flipped it open to the photograph, the one he always carried. The one that gave him a moment of—not peace, but respite. Yeah, it gave him relief.
Sally and him at Coney Island. That had been the summer before. They had ridden the Cyclone and eaten hotdogs, and laughed. He had felt good, young, alive. Father-daughter time. Then she had told him about Harris, her first love, her first lover. Matt had taken it well, only threatened to kill the bastard twice, cut off his balls—well that was a few times.
But they had laughed. At the end, they had laughed and asked one of the Japanese tourists to take their picture. That had been outside the House of Horrors. “Monsters, Zombies, Vampires,” the loudspeaker had proclaimed in tinny loudness. And Sally held the orange-rag dog he had won throwing rings at soda bottles.
“I hope your mother won’t be too jealous,” he had said; and they had laughed some more.
Coney Island: that had been her choice. Not Great Adventure or a water park. Sally loved New York. Matt figured that came from him, certainly not from Jaquie. His ex had remarried and moved to Atlanta. What the hell was in Atlanta?
Then Sally was gone, disappeared. Matt had found Harris, just a kid who had a new girlfriend. No leads. Nothing.
“Where’d you get that?” Homer demanded, breaking into Matt’s reverie. Her voice was louder, but it contained no hint of emotion.
“You know her?”
“Sure. That’s Her.”
Matt stood dumb.
The girl reached out for his wallet. Matt handed it over. 
“That’s Her,” she repeated.
“Mrs. Drac. You know, Her?”
“That’s my daughter. Do you know—”?
He had no time to finish. The girl had wrapped her arms around him. With strength that belied her slight frame, she pulled him to her and sank her teeth into his neck.
Then Matt understood. He thought of weeping, but his feelings had died. At least his Sally hadn’t forgotten. She had sent for him. It would be a good Christmas. That much he finally understood. 

Author Miranda Stork – Vigilante of Shadows

Today is the official release of Vigilante of Shadows! The beginning of a new series from Miranda Stork, the action begins fast and hard with a murder, an immortal murderer, and a bright young police officer caught in the action. Oh, and shadowpeople and a demon. Did I not mention those? Vigilante of Shadows sets the series off on a path that will be humourous, horrifying, and just a little bit steamy. A path where this time…the whole of humanity hangs in the balance.
Aodhan clutched uselessly at his head, groaning. He knew it was useless, because the voice was not inside his head. It followed him, skimming across buildings and land. It had followed him since he was sixteen, and it still followed him today, like a memory too horrific to be forgotten…
Aodhan is a shadow-demon, hardened and cold after years of being alone, after his love, his Entwined, was cruelly taken away from him. He has closed his heart to the world, and now spends his life ridding the world of men like those who took his beloved away, an immortal hit-man…
Arianwen Harris is a young DCI, working for York City Police. When a known criminal is found viciously killed, she finds herself trailing a hit-man who has seemed to escape clutches again and again…but she begins to find herself drawn to his dark charms and roguish good looks…
As their two worlds collide, Aodhan and Arianwen find themselves coming together to escape a far greater enemy, one that threatens to create a world far worse than the one they live in. As they battle to hold back the oncoming forces, fate has another plan; one to draw them together and heal their broken pasts together…
He paced along speedily, hands shoved deep in the pockets of his jeans. The sounds of the night surrounded him–distant cat song, the steady hum of far-off cars, the soft sound of wind whistling underneath people’s windows. He loved being out at night, not because it was a time when his ‘kind’ were more active, but simply because it was so much quieter than the day. The sounds of people rushing around disappeared, and left a peaceful calm with the soothing darkness.
Of course, there were the voices in his head, but that was another story.
He shrugged his shoulders up, cutting off the wind whistling around his neck. He wasn’t particularly cold, but the noise was annoying when your ears were so sensitive that a pin dropping could sound like a two-ton weight.
Aodhan’s mind went back to the girl from the bar. He hadn’t meant to be so brisk with her, but it was really best that no-one got that close. He…didn’t do well with people any more. They always brought back memories of simpler times, of her. And besides that…he killed people. People who wouldn’t die if they hadn’t found out about them…
Aodhan was a demon.
A rare demon, as well, a shadow demon. He had been born to a Scottish clan just over eight-hundred years ago, to humans. Contrary to what he saw people believed in the media and books, demons were actually born to humans. There was no line of them, like vampires or werewolves. They were simply…random.
When he had been born, there were no noticeable signs of what he was. He just looked like any of the other babies born to them, strong and healthy, but definitely human.
As he grew older, he had shown great proficiency with all weapons, learning faster than any of the other boys in the clan. Even some of the boys older than him had a hard time keeping up. He was never big-headed about it though, simply trying to fit in with everyone else. However, the clan talked about how the strange-eyed boy was so much quicker and stronger than others twice his age, and whispered about ancient gods coming back to the earth. His looks weren’t too odd for his clan, everyone having black, brown, or auburn hair. But his eyes were odd. All others in his clan had mostly blue eyes; some of them had brown eyes. But he had startling clear green ones, more like a cat than a human.
When he was thirteen, he suddenly began developing strange growths near his temples. After going to see the clan’s wise woman about it, she simply cackled, and whispered, “Those who are given the gift of darkness, should not fear the unknown.” He had shaken off the wise woman’s words, telling himself that she had finally gone crazy.
The growths had developed further, until they started to look like small dark horns, about the length of his thumb. They curled close to the curve of his head, smooth with small ridges forming at each stage of their growth. Luckily, Aodhan’s hair grew wild and long, allowing him to cover them up as much as he could.
By the time his twentieth year was reached, he was a well-loved member of his clan. He was kind and helpful to all, and helped to fight off their enemies more times than he could count on both hands. But he was holding a dreadful secret from his clan. Since his horns had grown, he had also noticed many other things.
He had begun to…see things. Shadows.
When he was out hunting in the forest near to their home, he would think that he had seen someone moving in the trees behind him. But when he swung around to face them…nothing. Then he would hear a soft chuckle, his name being called on the wind. At night, in his bed as he tried to sleep, he would see black figures running around the walls.
He had tried to tell the wise woman of the village again, thinking them to be spirits sent to drive him mad, or something worse. She simply shook her head at him, and chuckled, rocking herself to and fro. He had got used to the shadows by now, drawing the blanket up over his head so that he couldn’t hear their taunting murmurs….
Aodhan suddenly stopped walking, snapping out of his daydream. He was sure he had seen one of…them. Looking all around, he scanned the buildings with his vivid eyes. The problem with them was that they could hide anywhere they chose–walls, buildings, floors, anywhere–especially at night.
The red brick buildings around him looked empty, the few alleyways just leading alongside the backs of houses, a small number of bins scattered about. No-one else was walking near him on the pavement, no sound anywhere.
Just as he was about to turn around and carry on walking, pulling his jacket up again, he heard something behind him. Something whispery and cold.

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Moon Rose Publishing
I was born in Guisborough, North Yorkshire in 1987 and have lived in various places around Britain, including Newcastle and Glasgow.
My writing is inspired by various writers, including the vivid characters of Charles Dickens, the imagination of Stephen King, and the gothic imagery of Anne Rice.
My love of horror began at an early age, when I was only three or four. I could read proficiently at the age of three, and devoured fairy-stories, but I always had a bent towards the darker stories, such as the Brother’s Grimm’s tales…Red Riding Hood was always a firm favourite, although I always felt sorry for the wolf, despite him having tried to eat everyone!

Irish Author Jonathan Dunne

Good morning! Welcome to Exile on Peachtree Street. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Irish author Jonathan Dunne. His debut novel, Balloon Animals, is so amazing. It is great to have him join me today in exile.
Jonathan, please introduce yourself in 50 words or less.

I’m Jonathan Dunne (Jon to friends and beautiful strangers). Balloon Animals is my book. A tragic-comedy with larger-than-life characters that make up for my own average being.

Didn’t we meet in Amsterdam a few years ago?

I once worked in Holland, sorting tulips (the flowered and human kind). I stayed 3 months in an old ramshackle hotel on the freezing coast with a bunch of drug-addicts. I was the only alcoholic so I kind’ve felt proud of that. Everybody else went around with saucer-eyes, just like owls they were, but I wise the wise old toad. I visited the Red Light district one night but I’m sure that I didn’t meet you there. Then again, it is Amsterdam…

Okay, it must’ve been another good looking Irishman. At least we have both been in Amsterdam at different times. So, tell me Jonathan, what books are you currently reading? Who are your favorite authors?

Dickens by Michael Slater and Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

What inspires you?

On my FB page I’ve got one inspiration: Sofia Vergara (Gloria from Modern Family)

What are your writing habits?

I repeat an age-old mantra, thus inducing myself into a mind-bending stupor. I insist on writing sitting down. I occasionally listen to film soundtracks to heighten the atmosphere but no lyrics as they tend to jar the written word. I don’t know why that is. Having two sets of words going on at the same time jams the signal. I write in a cabin next to my house. I lock myself in until I have cabin fever.

What lead to the creation of Balloon Animals?

My daughter and I were going for a walk in our adopted town here in Toledo (Spain). She happened to have a red helium balloon that day. She accidentally let go and it sailed upwards over town. She bawled her eyes out and I was completely useless but to just watch as it ascended until it became nothing but a passing bird. I compensated by telling her “Granny caught the balloon and that she was happy to receive such a thoughtful present”. My mom died in 2009 – so that was the seed: that image of the red balloon against a blue sky, going somewhere from somewhere. The rest is fiction. I see writing as a series of dot-to-dots on a child’s activity book. Eventually you have enough seeds to join and get the bigger picture.

Why did you write it?

It had to be on paper.

Is it your first book?

Yes but I’ve been writing since I was a kid and publishing the occasional short story. I’ve written a few more novels that will remain hidden for now. I realized I was a writer when I joined the items on mom’s shopping list to create a narrative plot: the carrots were soon blaming the turnips for the murder.
Do you have more books planned?

Yes, my next book should be out sometime in late Spring 2013, at the rate I’m going. It’s called Living Dead Lovers – My Sick Romance. In a nutshell, it’s about a hell-raisin’ fiery-tongued gypsy psychic medium who falls in love with one of her dead clients – a philandering racing-driver. That’s all I can say for now. Let’s just say that she finds herself in a predicament.

What message do you want readers to take from Balloon Animals?

Whatever they pick up from it…

Any plans to be in Atlanta soon?

Thought you’d never ask, Hunter…

Thanks for joining today Jonathan. Continued success to you. Cheers~

Here is my 5 Star Review of Jonathan’s novel book:
This book is so well done I thought it was an autobiography when I first started reading it. Mr. Dunne takes the reader on a flight of fantasy in many ways. You will be captivated by the humanness of Johnny Rowe, from the first chapter. Congrats to Mr. Dunne for being one of the brave new wave of fiction writers that demands we, as readers, take a look–this is where an imagination can take you.
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