Did Slipping the Past beat the competiton and take first in the RWI's More Than Magic contest?
Yes, I checked out the competition, and they're good--really good. Holding my breath and crossing my fingers. Slipping the Past is one of my favorite stories and I'd be thrilled to see it take first.
In honor of finaling, I'll post an excerpt.
And may the best writer win.
Post Apocalyptic Child’s Jump-Rope Rhyme
A storm’s a coming, it hides the sun.
Here come the reapers,
Run child, run.
Jump once to save your life,
Two to save your soul,
Three to find some rest and four to stay whole.
Five they’re gonna get you,
Six you’ll get away
Seven is for your freedom and eight to live another day.
New Stratus City, NY 2059.
“Stuff this in your jacket.”
Jocelyn’s fingers closed before she realized what Nate crammed into her hand. She shoved the gun back at her brother. “I don’t want that and I’m not going in there to help you do whatever you’re planning to do with that thing.”
“Do you want to eat?”
“We can ask for spare change.”
“Too cold,” Nate said. “Nobody’s out tonight. I’m not planning anything violent, it’s backup. Besides, I don’t have any bullets.”
“Do you know what they’ll do to you if they catch you in possession of that?”
Jocelyn swallowed her words before she regretted them. Whatever she said, he’d do the opposite. Leave it to Nate to find the damn thing and hang onto it. She’d told him to leave it. Obviously he listened well.
When legislation made guns illegal to possess, many people dumped their collections for fear of losing their souls. The pistol’s carved grip seemed too fancy for the gun to be anything more than a display piece. It definitely hadn’t been used in a crime as she’d have known the moment she touched it.
She crossed her arms and shivered, pulling her hands back into the sleeves of her jacket. They’d lived on the streets for the last two months, ever since the last Enforcer discovered their location. Jocelyn never imagined it would come to this, hiding between garbage cans, trying to stay warm and alive while her brother committed armed robbery.
“Damn it, Nate. It’s not worth it. I’m not that hungry.” Her stomach contradicted her and rumbled so loud it sounded like an armored division moved down the block.
“You’re a terrible liar.”
He was right, but she wasn’t about to admit it. Her stomach ached. Most of the credit they made in the last week went to purchase a seat on the solar train, where they could be warm. But that ride only went so far. Eventually security would catch them and insist it was one circuit per ticket. They always did. As for the food ... tomorrow the community kitchen would have hot chow. “I can wait.”
“You haven’t eaten real food in three days.” Nate sighed. “I promised Mom I’d take care of you. I don’t go back on my word.”
“She’s gone. She’ll never know. I’ll be okay.” A rush of dizziness hit and Jocelyn sank to her heels. Nate’s energy flared like a starburst.
“Nate--don’t.” The longer they were on the streets the more chances he took to keep her safe. The Enforcers were already after her. He didn’t need to become a fugitive too. If it weren’t for her, Nate would be home, sleeping in a real bed, not picking food out of the trash or committing crimes.
She should’ve left him before it came to this, but she worried about the trouble he’d get into on his own. At least this way she could try to keep him from doing something stupid. Which at the moment, she seemed to be failing at miserably.
“I’m going in there to take what we need. We can’t help being hungry,” he said
“Sit with me and stay warm. I’ll be fine.” She reached up and grabbed his hand.
“No.” He pulled away. “Stay here, out of sight.”
“Don’t go in there. Something doesn’t feel right.” That wasn’t a lie. Whatever triggered the unease gnawed at the corners of her consciousness. It was there, flashing danger alerts through her brain, waiting for an opportunity to strike and the last person she wanted to be a target, wouldn’t listen to her.
“I’ll be okay. I’m only going to nick some food and credit. Small stuff.” Nate tucked a loose strand of her hair into her hood. “I'll be right back. Nobody’s going to get hurt.” He turned. His boots crunched on the snow as he walked away, stringing her nerves tighter.
Jocelyn leaned against the brick. Idiot. What did he think he’d accomplish? He’d get her one meal and lose his soul over it. Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn. Why wouldn’t he listen? She’d be okay. She’d come out of worse situations than this.
Bells jangled from across the street as he entered the store. Jocelyn’s stomach twisted into knots. Heat blew up from the grate where she sat on her heels, but it didn’t help the foreboding chill that blanketed her body. She raised her wrist to her mouth and chewed on her jacket’s frozen cuff.
“Be safe. Be safe. Be safe.” She rocked and focused. Nothing. Only that feeling as it grew stronger. “Get out, Nate,” she whispered, mentally reaching for him. No contact.
Nate, listen to me.
The wind whistled between the buildings, but nothing else.
“Damn.” She’d have to do it. She couldn’t let him take the chance. A distant vehicle alarm screeched, but Jocelyn ignored the sound and intensified her focus. This time she directed her push at the store clerk and a less resistant mind. “You won’t see a gun. You’re going to give him the credit as change for a purchase.”
“Come on.” She felt it, the moment she caught its attention. A chill slithered up her spine. Jocelyn bit her lip. A reaper approached. Huddled down by the trash, she should be unobserved, but he’d zero in if she jumped.
She wished she knew how close it was, but it didn’t matter. She’d no choice. There was one way to get Nate out and it meant helping him rob the store. One deep breath and she balled her fists. Energy bloomed around her and her spirit lifted from her body. She shot through the solid wall of the convenience store and rushed inside the clerk.
Using the clerk’s eyes, she studied her brother as he scrolled through digital postcards and waited for the customer at the counter to leave. She opened her mouth to warn him, but the customer before her spoke.
“I had it right here.”
She surveyed the counter and the man in front of her. He had a massive bottle of high-octane rum and a pile of empty credit chips. He rummaged through his pockets, picking out lint, a couple of pinched cigarette butts and a condom. Jocelyn tapped the counter. She glanced at her brother again and her stomach convulsed. No time for this.
“It’s in here somewhere.”
Another alarm wailed. Closer. Her heart jumped, triggering a slip of control, enough to lose her grip. Her energy broke free and lifted toward the ceiling. Not now. Jocelyn pushed, forcing reentry. Blood trickled from the clerk’s nose. She raised her arm and wiped it on his sleeve.
“That’s nasty. Why don’t you use a tissue,” said the man in front of her. Jocelyn shrugged, holding the sleeve to her nose. His lip curled and he took a step back, putting distance between them. “Do you have any idea how dangerous blood exposure is? I don’t want any disease you might have.”
“Sorry,” she mumbled. Her mind drifted away from the man and to the window, where vehicle alarms wailed. From a block away, the street lights snapped off one at a time, sending the already dangerous neighborhood into feral darkness. No, please. Not now. One thing drew that much energy and it was charging up for a fight. She’d been right. They needed to leave.
“What’s out there?” The customer staggered away from the counter and toward the window. With his back to her, Jocelyn seized the moment, grabbed a handful of chips from the register and shoved them into a bag. Outside, more lights died. Closer. No, no, no. Just a little more time. Let me get him out of here.
Nate eyed the man at the window and stepped forward, setting a digital postcard on the counter. A feeling of weightlessness pulled at her and Jocelyn refocused, barely maintaining control. Thirty more seconds.
Static fuzzed across her vision. She shoved the bag across the counter as her brother slipped his hand into his pocket.
“You forgot your change.”
Nate glanced down at the bag and back up. His eyes widened. “Joce?”
“Run,” she croaked.
“Reaper!” The customer lurched away from the window, stumbling back. The lights in the store blinked off with an electric pop, dropping it into darkness. Outside, hundreds of vehicle alarms screeched. The customer raised his hands into the air. “I’m innocent.”
Jocelyn froze, unable to draw a breath. A man in dark silhouette stood on the sidewalk outside, a glowing globe in his hand and blue luminous eyes stared at her.
“Get back in your body and get out of here,” Nate said. “I’ll distract him.” He pulled the gun from his pocket. “He can only take one of us.”
“Put that away. You’re not sacrificing...” Her hair stood on end as the reaper pulled energy from the air. “Shit.” She recognized the sensation, something she’d felt only once before.
“Get down.” She reached over the counter and shoved on Nate’s shoulder. He ducked his head, covered up with his hands and fell to his knees. Jocelyn dropped behind the counter and stared at a baseball bat. Small chance that it would help, but it was nice to know she wasn’t defenseless. “Now he’ll take us both.”
“Reapers can only hold one soul at a time,” Nate snapped back from the other side of the counter.
“Do you think that’s going to stop him?” The window exploded. The fragments pelted Nate’s back and tinkled on the industrial linoleum like chimes. He rose to his feet, spun and lifted the gun, pointing it at the opening. “Now, Joce. Get out!”
“No. You’re not playing the hero.” Cold air poured into the store, fogging the interior. The air charged with static and her hair rose. Again. “Nate!”
The reaper sent another wave blasting through the storefront. Nate flew backward, slamming into a beer case, coming to rest on the floor in a heap. Her vision blurred. “Nate!”
Not now. Her control snapped. Jocelyn ripped free from the clerk and exploded through the wall. Her soul slammed back into her flesh like a runaway train, sending her glasses flying over the curb. She didn’t bother to retrieve them. She’d need them later, but not now. Now she needed to see. She sucked in a breath, opened her eyes and searched the shattered store front. Sharp pains pierced her skull like fragments of slivered metal.
The reaper stepped forward and peered in through the broken glass, soul-cell still in hand. No. Nate was right. He could only take one soul and she’d be damned it was Nate.
“Leave him alone!”
The reaper turned his head and his eyes locked onto her. “You,” a deep voice boomed. He stuffed the egg-sized globe in a pouch on his hip and strode toward her, eating distance between them. His long duster fluttered behind him, giving him the appearance of the mythical reapers, minus the sickle. Except there was nothing mythical about him. He was real and coming for her. “You’re under arrest for past crimes enforced under the Galactic Codex.”
Still disoriented from the jump, Jocelyn crab-crawled backward. She found her footing and scrambled to rise. That wasn’t one of her more brilliant moments. She’d felt him nearby and should have gotten out instead of going into the store. But she couldn’t leave Nate and he wouldn’t have left without the credit.
Did the reaper know she’d been inside the clerk and what they’d done? Had he seen the gun? The way he’d moved for her brother made her certain he had. She braced against the wall, her pulse raced and her mouth went dry. “You’ve got the wrong person.”
“No, I haven’t.” The streetlight over her head snapped on, separating her form from the shadows. Jocelyn closed her eyes, unable to take the light. He closed in, drawing the staff off his back. It pulsed in an array of oranges and blues, lit from his energies.
Enforcers were identified from birth, their talents cultivated, their brains enhanced to increase the power of their gifts. Then from the age of five, the children were given Ki-staffs and taught to use them with lethal accuracy. One hit and she was done. Jocelyn knew she wasn’t going to escape, but Nate, she had to help him. She focused and jumped into her brother. His eyes were open and fuzzy. He rubbed the back of his head and stared at the fragmented window, trying to summon the strength to climb to his feet. She relaxed. If she could distract the reaper long enough, he could get away.
“Get back here.” The reaper seized her energy and yanked her back into her body.
“Please let me go. I’m not a criminal.”
“Says the fugitive with a warrant.” The streetlight overhead fragmented and showered down. “Look at me,” the reaper growled.
Jocelyn swallowed and complied. Her gaze drifted from his boots, up muscled thighs, up, up to a face cloaked in shadows. Who? Her knees began to quake. The energy radiating off him buzzed through her like a live wire. The muscles in her body locked and her breath caught. Something about him.
“I’m innocent,” Jocelyn spluttered.
“Innocent people don’t have warrants.” He stepped closer and tossed a cube on the ground.
A holographic image of the document floated before her. She stared through it and at him. Jocelyn sucked in a breath. No. She’d heard he’d recently relocated from off-world. “Gabriel Solaris.”
“You have to believe me. I’m innocent.”
“You have the right to remain silent.”
“Please, listen to me.”
“In 1670, you murdered a family in their sleep.”
“It was your soul.”
“How can you be certain?” Keep him talking.
Yeah, that. Jocelyn shook her head and pushed against the wall, trying to free herself from his energy lock. She carried the warrant from birth to adulthood and started running from the day she turned eighteen because of it. “I didn’t do it, I could never kill anyone.”
The blue flame in the reaper’s eyes intensified. “In 1860 you murdered your husband and cut him into pieces, feeding his body to swine. They caught you fleeing with your lover across Confederate lines and hung you both.”
No. She couldn’t have done that. A paper-cut made her ill. “You’ve definitely got the wrong girl.”
The look on his face said he wasn’t buying it. Jocelyn bit her lip and held his gaze. Please see I’m sincere.
A face superimposed Gabriel’s. She blinked. The heat in her belly moved lower and made it impossible to catch her breath.
His mouth became harder and the image of the other man vanished. “There’s more. Do you want me to list everything or are you done delaying the inevitable?”
“No. Please let me go. I won’t--didn’t do anything like that. I’m a good person.”
“You can’t fight who you are.”
“That isn’t who I am.”
He took another step and she swallowed and shook her head. Waves of his aura washed over her. God, he was beautiful. Beautiful and familiar. “I couldn’t have done those things.”
She studied him, feeling as though it wasn’t the first time she’d looked upon him. His shoulders had to be at least twice the width of her brother’s. Aside from the obvious black hair, strong jaw and straight, sharp nose that bespoke his Roman ancestry, she knew the color of his eyes behind the blue glow, and that he had a scar on his hip. She knew his smile would stop her heart and his touch would send her into orbit. They were linked. Oh God. She swallowed.
“It’s you. You may not remember in that body but you’re marked by your deeds. Your energy leaves a trail. Even your eyes don’t lie.”
“You’re wrong.” She didn’t remember the crimes, but him, she knew him.
“Am I? In 1102, soldiers raped you and your sister, removing your eyes with a hot poker to keep you from identifying them.” He stared. “You later poisoned them. The only crime deemed self-defense. Forgiven.”
She studied his boots, unable to take that knowing gaze. Jocelyn never knew the reason for her light blindness, but what he said felt like the truth. She shivered. Her diabetes? No. The doctors couldn’t diagnose why the lenses in her eyes remained open. Her eyes were healthy and she wasn’t completely blind, only in the light. Even then, she wasn’t without sight. In the day she traveled using the crowds, hiding behind solid glasses, jumping from body to body on the street, viewing the world from the sight of others.
The reason she lived in the city.
“I’m never wrong.” He stepped forward and put his staff under her chin to raise her gaze to his. More of his energy zipped through her body, warming her in a strange way. Liquid heat pooled between her thighs, soaking her panties. Not fear. Not the reaction she’d expected. She inhaled his scent and another flush of heat moved through her.
“You’ve jumped for the last time. Your crimes are documented and you’ve been tracked.”
Jocelyn heart thumped. Not when I’ve just found you.
He lowered the staff and leaned in until a cloud of his breath brushed her cheek. His hand came up and touched her jaw, sending jolts racing through her. The pad of his thumb stroked her cheek and made it hard to catch her breath. The image of another man with amber eyes danced across her vision.
Don’t leave me. I can’t live without you.
“I know you,” the reaper said, drawing his brows together. His hand moved from her face and toyed with her hair, letting the strands slip through his fingers. “Like blood, but darker. It’s always been red, except that one time.” He lifted it and sniffed. “Smells like sanitizer.”
“Bathroom soap dispensers will do that.” She gave a nervous laugh as her heart threatened to explode in her chest. The closer he got the faster it beat and the more she wanted to touch him. No--not wanted--needed. Jocelyn curled her fingers, resisting the urge. What was wrong with her?
She felt a tug on her energy. Her aura mingled with his and warmed. Deep pinks swirled into his blues and oranges. The blue light in his eyes faded and revealed the true color. They were--“like honey in candlelight.”
“What?” he said.
“Nothing.” But it wasn’t nothing. Everything came into focus. He was right about knowing her. They’d been linked for more than one lifetime and would continue to be if he didn’t imprison her for the past crimes.
He tucked his staff away, studying her face, keeping eye contact. “You’re a criminal.” The tone of his voice said he wasn’t convinced. Perhaps she had a chance?
“That isn’t who I am.”
“Then who are you, Jocelyn Miller?”
“I...” She stared into his eyes, sinking into the depths. “I’m innocent. Give me a chance to prove it.” She knew in her heart the truth. She was no more a killer than her brother. A single tear trickled down her cheek. “Please.”
He was also wrong about one other thing. It was more than knowing. Reaching up with a shaky hand she touched his jaw. The prickly growth of a day’s worth of whiskers grazed the pads of her fingers. Much more.
“I loved you once,” Jocelyn said.
He captured her hand and held it against his face, staring back. Before she could blink, he leaned in and grazed her lips with his. Sparks of energy whirled around them. Jocelyn sighed against the light kiss, wanting more, needing more.
Gabriel slid the fingers of one hand into her hair and captured her mouth to intensify the kiss. The breath sucked from her lungs and her knees gave.
He released her hand and wrapped an arm around her, pulling her tight to his body while his lips devoured her every sane thought. No. It couldn’t be.
She still loved him.
He released her from the wall and backed away. “I’ll give you a week.”
That kiss had been more than a kiss. Did he know? Did he feel their connection? “You’re letting me go?”
He shook his head and frowned. “No, I’m delaying the inevitable. Damned if I know why.” As the last word left his lips, Gabriel disappeared, teleporting away to who knew where.
Jocelyn screamed. “Nate, no.” She threw her arm up to block the bat headed for her head.
He stopped the swing of the Louisville Slugger inches from her face and lowered it. “What? Where’d he go?”
She slid down the wall to her butt, no longer able to stand, some from shock, most from the kiss sapping her strength and turning her into a noodle. “He’s giving me a chance to prove my innocence.”
“Reapers don’t let their quarry go, Jocelyn.” Nate ran a hand through his hair. “Did I see right? Did you kiss that reaper?”
“Have you lost your freaking mind?”
“It appears I have.” Jocelyn began to giggle as all the stress from the confrontation dropped on her.
The lights on the solar-lamps popped on and she slammed her eyes shut, covering them with her hand. “My glasses.”
Nate stuffed them into her hand. She slipped them on and jumped into Nate, glancing around the street. Red and blue lights flashed in the distance. “We need to leave.”
“I think I’ll keep this.” He hefted the bat over his shoulder. “You never know when one of these will come in handy.”
“Handy? You almost brained me. More like dangerous.”
“Speaking of dangerous--you’re getting stronger, Joce. I’ve never seen you jump like that, not as you did with the clerk. You controlled him.” Nate glanced both ways and rushed her down the street.
“Desperation. I didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself.”
Jocelyn nodded. “I know. But I’d be alone without you. You’re all I’ve got.”
Or was he? Gabriel. He’d done something to her. She felt normal. The dizziness disappeared with him. Even more amazing, she wasn’t exhausted from the jump. Whenever she traveled for more than visual leaps, it left her without energy or strength to do little more than sleep. “I think the reaper did something to me.”
Nate stiffened under her hand. “Did he hurt you?”
“No, not that. I think he took my diabetes.”
“You can’t take a disease away.” Nate ducked into an alley and pulled her in with him, pressing back against the wall as squad transporters raced by.
“I think he did.”
“Whatever that reaper did, he didn’t do it for you. They never do anything for their target’s benefit.” Nate grasped her under the chin. Look at yourself, you don’t look any different.”
Jocelyn pushed his hand away. “I don’t need to look at myself. I feel it.”