A Powerful Experience and Important Life Lesson

StopBullyingSign

 

When I have moments of doubting my inner-strength, or when I feel that I am not completely in control of a situation, I think back to a moment in my life that makes me feel strong and proud. This is the day I stood up to my bully and came out on top. It was also the day that I answered back to my manager and stormed out of my workplace.

The bully was, of course, my manager. She was not the only bully in my place of work, but she was the one who stood out to me as being the most vindictive and manipulative of them all. She and four or five other members of staff spent a year making my life a misery. They concocted situations to set me up to fail, built up a case of fabricated evidence against me to use as ‘cause for dismissal’ and gradually knocked me so low that I ended up on anti-depressants and absolutely hated myself.

They had taken away everything I had worked for and by doing so, had turned me into a scared, nervous, paranoid individual who was no longer capable of performing my duties. I was told it would get worse unless I demoted myself. So I did. Then I was told that my new position was being made redundant. That was the last straw.

The fight had left me up until this point. But as soon as they had accomplished their goal (of arranging my official leaving date), their bullying behaviour eased off. This gave me the freedom to watch them more closely and witness them using similar tactics on other members of staff. Many of these staff members proceeded to quit. I watched and I waited. I wrote things down. I built up a case. I spoke to my colleagues and listened to their sides of the story. I identified a pattern in the abuse that the manager and her followers were inflicting on their colleagues. Another thing I noticed was how they were successfully moulding my replacement (in the supervisor position I had been in before demoting myself) into a similar version of themselves. It made me sick.

Two weeks before my official last day, my manager seemed to remember my existence again. She took me somewhere private and attempted to assert her authority over me again. She used scare tactics and tried to make me feel small and stupid and insignificant. This time, it didn’t work. I had grown stronger in the short time that she had forgotten to terrorise me. That was her mistake.

Whereas in the past, my face would go red, I would fight tears and admit my (imagined) failings and agree with her that I was a useless waste of space; this time I stood tall and proud. I lifted my chin and looked her in the eye. I did not back down. I was assertive, tactful, polite and diplomatic. I was the master of my emotions. My manager, seeing that she had lost control of me, proceeded to lose control of herself. Before my eyes, she unravelled, becoming apoplectic with rage. The words she uttered were disgraceful and her body language was threatening. And through it all, I affected indifference. She was giving me gold; she was giving me a reason to report her.

Then, in the middle of it all, she said something which made me realise that she still had power over me – “Now get back out there and DO YOUR JOB!”

She was my manager. She could make me do whatever she wanted. She could make me return to my duties (after an upsetting ordeal), where I would be expected to scrape and bow to her every whim, and she was free to go back to her cosy office and laugh at me with her supporters. She was abusing her power – I knew it and she knew I knew it. She also knew that I would never question this, as I was afraid of the repercussions…

Except, this time, I wasn’t afraid. I had finally come to accept what my friends and family had long been telling me; she was only a person. One person should not be able to control another person. My life belonged to me.

After all, I was leaving in two weeks and had no job to go to. What difference would it make if I left two weeks early? No, I might not receive my redundancy pay, but then, it was a measly amount anyway. Why sell my integrity for money? Why allow this woman to destroy me? What job is worth that?

So I looked her right in the eye, said goodbye and proceeded to the staff room to fetch my bag. My manager visibly panicked and threatened to report me to head office. I told her that was fine, because I would be speaking to them about how she had bullied me for the past year. She tried to argue, but it made no difference. I had decided to separate myself from a toxic situation.

Where before there had been no tunnel, now there was not only a tunnel, but an explosion of light at the end of it. I walked out of the door without a backwards glance. In that moment, my manager realised that she had lost and I had won.

She no longer had any control over me.

I am now bathing in the light that was at the end of that tunnel. And, you know what? It’s bright out here.

 

In the Entertainment Industry? It’s You or Them

Entertainment 1

 

I cannot wait to take the plunge and properly start my business. There are many reasons for this:

  1. I have ambition
  2. I have ideas
  3. I crave success
  4. I want to leave some kind of mark on the world – is ‘legacy’ too strong?
  5. I want my future to be in my hands
  6. I want to do what I enjoy – Working fulltime, that’s eight hours a day and forty hours a week, at least. Why spend that time being an employee in a job I don’t enjoy, when I could be doing something I love?
  7. I have had some bad experiences as an employee and would love to become the amazing boss I never had
  8. I love to create
  9. I want to build a solid foundation that will make enough money to support me and my family
  10. I want to make certain people proud of me – not least, myself!

Sounds good to me. That is a fairly rose-tinted list, I admit, but I am fully aware of the hard work, dedication, sleepless nights and all manner of other hardships that come hand-in-hand with starting your own company. Bring it on. One attraction of being your own boss is that you take control of your own future and have the liberty of calling the shots, which may not be possible when you work for others. You have the potential to earn more money and the opportunity to increase your revenue by hiring employees. It’s also a great way of being able to do something you love; you can even turn your hobby into a business. Identify what skills you possess that can be sold as a service.

These can be your best and most marketable assets. If you’ve been working in the entertainment industry but want to start your own company, what are your options? Look at your experience, skills and knowledge of your industry. What can you bring to the table? Whatever sector you are in, you can find a way of turning it into a business. Take what you already do and expand on it so that you are offering a brilliant service or product. Team up with other people or hire employees, so that you can capitalise on your combined skills – not to mention contacts.

Dancing

  • Teach a dancing class. You can visit schools or hire your own studio. If you have a dance studio, you can also make money from other dance teachers using your space to teach other genres of the discipline
  • You could form a dance company and tour across the country performing your own shows
  • Become a dance movement therapist
  • Become a choreographer

Writing/Publishing

  • If you have a head for business and you know what sells, you could open a publishing house or literary agency
  • Use your writing skills to teach writing courses, or start an agency for either proofreading, editing, writing books, copywriting or screenwriting
  • If you love books, then become a bookbinder, restorer or even a bookseller

Acting/Performing

  • Start a drama/acting school
  • Become an event entertainer – comedian, magician, tribute act etc. You can be hired to provide entertainment at weddings, corporate events, festivals, parties. You may have to start small, but with hard work, dedication and talent, you could eventually tour with your own show

Photography

  • General or social – weddings and portraits
  • Advertising and editorial – advertisements, magazines and photo libraries
  • Press and photojournalism – newspapers and other news publications
  • Fashion – photographing models and clothing for magazines and catalogues
  • Corporate (industrial/commercial) – company promotional material
  • Scientific or medical – recording scientific research, or medical conditions and treatments
  • Fine arts – from landscapes to architecture, sold to members of the public

Musician

  • Lyricist
  • Composer
  • Write and produce musicals
  • Give instrument lessons
  • Start a recording company

Art/Design

  • Start a company in graphic design, web design, media services, costume design or set/exhibition design
  • You could also open an art gallery, become an art restorer, art valuer or art therapist
  • Set up a company, providing artwork in your niche(s); be it illustration, paintings, sculpture etc.
  • Start a fashion line in clothing, jewellery, costume etc.
  • Start a company providing theatrical makeup artists and hair stylists

Filmmaking

  • Set up a film or television Production Company
  • Make advertisement videos for companies
  • Make trailers for films
  • Make TV/Internet documentaries or programmes

Singing

  • Teach singing classes
  • Become a music therapist
  • Become a vocal coach

Other

  • Start an events company
  • Use your practical skills to become a prop maker
  • Instrument maker or repairer
  • Entertainment/Talent Agency – Representing actors, singers, musicians, TV presenters, writers or speciality performers such as lookalikes or voiceover artists. Clients can range from new acts to major stars
  • Printing company – printing books, scripts musical scores etc.

Identify a niche – something that isn’t being done that is needed, or something that is already available but could be improved. Make it unique to you. Do it differently. Have a motto/philosophy/mission statement. Have a burning passion for what you do. Ensure that there is market for your business. Network and collaborate. You can start off as a sole trader and later form a limited company or a partnership. Now, that’s a lot of choice and suffice it to say, I haven’t chosen yet.

Right now I am copywriting for small businesses; blogging for myself; publishing and promoting my own novel; illustrating, publishing and promoting a children’s book; organising various book launches; and working as a digital and social media apprentice. With training and more experience, in the future I could open a publishing house, run an editorial service, teach an illustrating course, set up an event-planning business or become an SEO consultant. Oh the possibilities! But first, let’s see where tomorrow takes us.

Did you spot anything in my list that has made you think, “I could do that”? Did you think of anything that could be added to that list?

If you want to do it, do it! Do the research, get the knowledge and skills, make the business connections, get the funding, start your business!

 

Journey Over Destination

live-for-the-journey-not-the-destination

 

As I said in a previous post, I am in the early stages of my career. I have so many interests and so much to learn, but not enough hours in the day to get through it all. If I want to know or master something, I want it now! But as I am finding out, the journey can be as fun, if not more so, than the destination.

Yes, it’s good to have goals and ambition, but don’t forget the stepping stones that will take you there. Some of the best times you can have in your life is learning new skills, meeting new people and watching your efforts culminate bit-by-bit to bring you the success or recognition you are working towards.

I know that I want to run my own business and in a small way, I am already (my company name is Alisah Creative). I want to write, paint, draw, film, direct, animate, design… I could go on but the ache in my chest grows with each addition. I am still learning and because I am slowly being exposed to more and more possibilities, I find myself confused. If I am interested in so many things, how do I choose just a few areas to focus on? What I do now will impact the rest of my career, which is all very well and good, but at the end of the day, I still haven’t decided on my destination.

I can’t very well go through life without a goal, because then I’ll just end up getting lost, floundering in the middle of nowhere. But by the same token, is it wise to map everything out? Will I become so focussed on one goal that I will miss opportunities elsewhere? What if I fail in my chosen venture?

There is no set answer – everyone is different. I’ve always been scatty, that’s who I am. I don’t think I could be a creative genius (self-proclaimed, admittedly) if I was well-ordered and neat. But could scatty be my undoing in my business ventures? You can’t get anywhere without a business head these days. Luckily I do have a business head, but that’s a subject for another post.

So my plan is this: I will continue to be scatty when it comes to creating; that’s a given. In learning and self-improvement, I shall grasp every opportunity that arises and seek out those which don’t; I shall soak in everything that interests me, as well as the boring bits – then, I will re-learn it from another angle. If I choose to learn things that are relevant, interesting and useful, then they will add value to me as a person as well as an entrepreneur and business woman (an employee, I shall not be). I shall be doing what I do best: creating. I will be creating a new and improved Amy Lisa Holmes.

Gradually, my knowledge, experiences and skills will shape me into the career-person I aspire to be. Change begets change: As I grow, so will my world, because I will be living my life in a style that reflects the work I am doing.

This is my recipe for my own success. Rather than deciding that I will be only an author or only an artist, I will embrace it all. I will become everything that I want to be (as long as I turn out to be good at it, of course). Naturally, with everything I do, things will click into place. I might discover a passion for something unexpected and apply all of my acquired skills to embracing that new passion.

But then again, I might turn out to be rubbish at everything and end up back working in retail. But I don’t want that, so it’s not going to happen.

 

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Collaborate to Grow

collaborate

 

I am in the early stages of my career and where life will take me, I do not know. What I do know however, is that I am going to take control of my future to the best of my ability. When I do not have the required knowledge or skill, I will endeavour to master it, or find people who can help me. It’s all about collaboration, especially in the creative industry. You cannot do everything by yourself.

Take me – I’m a writer, author, (very new!!) blogger, artist, illustrator; the list goes on but it’s long-winded and wordy and will probably bore you. While I can paint and draw and all of that nonsense, I am, by my own admission, a rubbish photographer. So any photos of my paintings and illustrations are not fully capturing what I am trying to depict – namely, my own magnificent (haha) skill and the beauty of the piece itself. These photos are blurry, wonky, with bad lighting and the odd finger thrown in at the edge of the frame.

I need to sort it out! I know several photographers; I’m just too lazy to gather all of my work into one place for it to be photographed properly. But I need a lovely portfolio, so this, I must do! Once I get my act together and work with a photographer to properly portray my artwork, then my portfolio will magically grow overnight and people will actually be able to see what I’ve been up to – and may even (fingers crossed) like my paintings enough to tell other people and maybe even buy one. Is it wrong to say that? Nah, we’re all here because we want to further our careers in some way.

On another note, the children’s book that I am currently illustrating, I am also promoting and designing (this is on top of my full-time job, so I am unable to dedicate the time I would like). But the other day, in a conversation with an animator/director/designer/all-round-creative-genius, I came to realise that there are so many more possibilities to be explored with the project, which I am not capable of doing – at least, not yet. Unfortunately I do not have all of the know-how, experience or resources to accomplish all of the ideas bursting from my head. But that seems to be about to change…

So here’s the deal, Mister Creative Genius will teach me a few tricks and skills and help me put things together and in the future, I will help him with some of his ventures – which is brilliant for me because he is an amazing man to work with and I want to get involved with his projects.

Collaboration. Networking. Making friends. Finding common interests. Enhancing each other’s skills. Adding to each other’s knowledge. Doing favours. It’s not as difficult as I used to think – back when I was a few shades greener and a lot more shy than I am today.

You never know where all this will take you, but I am eager to get out there and do it. If you collaborate, you will grow, which is what I intend to do!

 

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Prue and Ely Finally Meet – Excerpt from ‘In Shengale Forest’

Tower

 

“Hey!”

Choking, I look down. At the bottom of the tower, a figure is waving up at me.

“Hey. I’m here to save you!” is the shouted explanation.

I sniff and wipe my tears away. I can’t believe I was crying! Honestly, how much of a wimp am I?

“Who are you?” I call down. It sounds like my vocal chords have been ripped across a sheet of sandpaper; the tough kind that is used to tame a lump of stubborn metal.

From here, I can’t make out much of my ‘rescuer’, especially as the sun is sinking below the trees and shadows fill the outside world. From the sound of it, my visitor is a man. What am I, a damsel in distress? Because I’ve been leaning out the window, my hair has dried in the wrong direction and is covering my face. I blow it out of my eyes, feeling a tad indignant; I can rescue myself, thank you very much.

“And what makes you think I need saving?” I shout. “My hair isn’t long enough to pull you up. Rapunzel’s probably in the next tower.”

I chuckle at my amazing wit. Oh ho-ho, someone should find me a stage. That said, my situation is remarkably similar to Rapunzel’s.

“Look! Can we do all this later? Zibruxia won’t be gone for long and I’m sure she won’t be happy to return to find us exchanging pleasantries,” the man replies. “So how about you find something you can use as a rope so you can get out of this little mess you’ve made for yourself?”

Oh my, did I just hear that right? What nerve! I have made no mess. This is entirely down to other people interfering with me. No, I am not taking the blame for this. I open my mouth to tell him just this, but then I think again. Having a shouting match out of a tower window isn’t really my style and besides, Zibruxia might hear me. If I’m honest, I need this guy’s help and arguing with him over little details will only land me in stickier mud – possibly a higher tower.

The only things in this room that can possibly be used as rope are the bed sheets. Ha-ha, cliché or what? This is what they do in films. But as much as I’d like to be original, wanting to stand apart from the crowd isn’t going to be a great help any time soon, so I grit my teeth and rip the bed sheet into strips. I can’t bring myself to rip the embroidered blanket though – it’s too gorgeous to be destroyed for anything as trivial as an escape attempt. And besides, I can use it while on the road, so to speak.

I really hope these sheets will be long enough and strong enough to hold my immense weight after all the food I ate earlier. I knot the strips together and tie one end to the leg of the bed, which looks sturdy. I give it a tug and it holds. Looking around, I feel a pang of regret that I will doubtless spend tonight sleeping on dirt and thorns.

“One more thing!” I can’t leave without the toiletries I’ve been provided with, so I wrap them up in the embroidered blanket and throw the bundle out the window. My ‘rescuer’ dodges out of the way just in time and I back away from the window so he can’t see the grin on my face. That’ll teach him to blame me for being kidnapped.

As I hoist myself onto the window ledge, I take one last look at the circular room. That’s when I catch sight of the apple crumble, alone on the tray and congealing in its dish. A shiver runs down my spine. Or is it up my spine? Whatever. My spine shivers.

I swing my legs over the window ledge. Oh my giddy aunt, it is mighty high up here. But I’m not going to scream because my ‘rescuer’ will hear me and I can’t be doing with any more embarrassment right now. I grip the sheet tightly and keep my eyes fixed on my hands. And then I drop from the ledge.

ARGH!

Thankfully, my heart jumps into my throat at the exact same moment that I scream, choking it to silence. Below, my ‘rescuer’ remains oblivious to my terror. For a moment I just swing there, paralysed with fright. Then I open my eyes and realise that I’m still alive, still holding on to the ripped-up bed sheet. I slowly place my feet on the wall of the tower and lean in, so my weight is on the wall. So far so good, the world hasn’t ended yet. I arch my back a bit and slowly lower my hands to the next knot in my self-made rope. It’s actually quite fun, as long as I don’t look down. But by the time I’ve scaled halfway down the length of the tower, I am regretting that I didn’t rip up that beautiful blanket to make my rope longer.

“It’d better be worth its weight in gold if I ever get down from here,” I grumble through gritted teeth as I dangle at the bottom of the last sheet. I am still a long way from the ground. Can I jump?

“Let go and I’ll catch you,” the man below me offers helpfully.

“Nah, I’m too heavy.” I doubt he would go to the trouble of letting me squash him when we’re not even on first name terms yet. “I’m okay just hanging around.”

“Don’t be a fool,” he protests. “I’m stronger than I look.”

Pshh, he’d better be. What I can see from this vantage point leaves much to be desired.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“What? Not this again.”

“Just tell me your name and I’ll let you catch me.”

“Fine! My name is Ely. Now would you please let go of the… is that a ripped up bed sheet? Cliché or what?”

I grin; this guy is funny.

“Hi Ely, I’m Prue,” I say. Then I let go.

 

 

<- This an excerpt taken from ‘In Shengale Forest’, the first book in the ‘Prue Peppiatt’s Dreams’ series. Read the first extract here and the second here. Copyright to Amy Lisa Holmes at Alisah Creative ->

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Beware the Song of the Nightingale – Excerpt from ‘In Shengale Forest’

nightingale

 

<- This an excerpt taken from ‘In Shengale Forest’, the first book in the ‘Prue Peppiatt’s Dreams’ series. Copyright to Amy Lisa Holmes at Alisah Creative ->

 

I sit back to rest against an aqua-green tree trunk. That’s when I hear the music.

It’s so sweet, like a lullaby; filling my chest with a happy feeling. It sounds almost like a woman’s voice. A woman, in the forest? Could it be the nurse-angel from earlier? Almost as if I am sleepwalking, my body picks itself up and staggers through the trees. Where is the voice? A golden glow appears up ahead, glittering upon a small pond. My chest burns with excitement as I get closer. The music grows louder. There are tears in my eyes, blinding me. But I don’t need to see. All I need to do is to listen… forever and ever…

Words drift towards me, dancing on the wind.

 

“Beware the song of the Nightingale.”

 

I look down in surprise when I feel a cold wetness spreading up my legs. Suddenly, the music is gone and the golden glow is wiped away, leaving the world silent and grey. I am standing in the middle of the pond. And I am not alone.

A ripple moves towards me on the surface of the water. Something is coming and it’s so big and powerful that the ripple is turning into a wave. The water pushes against me and I try to step back, but my legs won’t move. The mud is up to my ankles, cementing me to the bed of the pond. As I struggle, clouds of mud and weed float up and spread across the water, concealing whatever creatures are lurking within.

The waves come closer. It’s almost here. I manage to free one leg and I kick at the water to force the other one free.

The waves grow taller, towering above me, until it is no longer a wall of water, but of teeth.

I scream so loudly I nearly burst my own eardrums. My second leg is freed just as the creature of teeth roars and gnashes its pointy-whites, snapping its jaw shut over where my arm was a second ago. I kick hard, but only sink into the water. Muddy pond water streams through my nose and I choke for air. I can’t get away, the monster is too fast. It roars again and something else roars in response. My heart sinks even further. There are two of them!

The teeth snap at me again and I fall backwards. Water splashes over my head and up my nose. I snort and cough, my nose and throat stinging. This is it. This time, death has caught up with me. There is a trembling movement in the air above my head and the monster lets out a bellow. This time, its scream is one of pain. I look up, my heart thudding against my chest. The teeth are inches from me. In the centre of the fanged mouth, an arrow is lodged, deep in the flesh of the throat. Blood sprays across my face as it howls again.

Time to make an exit. I half swim, half crawl to the edge of the pond. When I pull myself up onto dry land, I look back at the monster. It thrashes around, its great fish-like tail slapping the bloody water in every direction. Slowly, it seems to accept defeat and shudders, going still. As I watch, it begins to sink as the murky depths of the pond make its claim.

There’s no sign of another monster. So what made that second roar? And where did the arrow come from? I peer around, scrunching up my eyes to see in the fast approaching twilight. A movement catches my eye, moving fast through the trees, away from me.

“Wait!” I shout. Who would bother to save my life and then run away? Well I’m blooming going to run after my saviour… so that’s what I do.

But it’s as if the forest has conspired with my mysterious rescuer, doing everything in its power to keep me away…

The tree branches whip me in the face as though they are trying to hold me back…

Roots curl at my feet, sending me staggering all over the place…

Then a huge animal jumps into the path before me and I skid to a halt to avoid what could have been a painful crash.

 

 

<- This an excerpt taken from ‘In Shengale Forest’, the first book in the ‘Prue Peppiatt’s Dreams’ series. Read the first extract here and the third here. Copyright to Amy Lisa Holmes at Alisah Creative ->

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Ely’s First Battle – Prologue from ‘In Shengale Forest’

Sword Fight

 

<- This is the prologue to ‘In Shengale Forest’, the first book in the ‘Prue Peppiatt’s Dreams’ series. On sale soon. Copyright to Amy Lisa Holmes at Alisah Creative ->

 

 Prologue

Ely held his breath, his eyes scanning the darkness. He could see nothing but moonlight striking shadows against the glistening cliff-face. But he knew they were there, coming closer. He could hear their careful footsteps, their halted breath.

The waves lapped against the rocks. The air was sticky, clinging to the skin and leaving behind a fine, salty coat. A muffled curse drifted across the water as the owner of the voice slipped upon the slimy ground, kicking a stone into a rock pool. The plop of the water echoed around the cave.

Ely tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword, his heart pumping faster as the moment of reckoning approached. They wouldn’t get away with it this time, not on his watch. Any moment now they would turn the corner and he would see their faces for the first time; the miscreants who had been stealing from King and Crown.

The moonlight glared upon them as they came into view, lighting up their features. A sorry looking bunch: their hair was far too long for polite company and between the dozen of them was sported a vast collection of scars and bandages which were barely covered by the stained, ripped cloth upon their backs. No better than pirates, although what they got up to at sea, Ely could only guess at. His father had never said much about pirates.

Ely turned to look at the men who had joined him in the defence of the town and treasure; fishermen, a blacksmith, farmers, an innkeeper, several barmen – none of them bred for battle, but a battle was what he was about to give them.

“Wait for them to approach the chest,” Ely whispered, “then we’ll let them have it.”

The men grinned, several showing blackened teeth. Ely cringed inwardly; these weren’t his usual comrades-in-arms. He knew they were out for blood tonight, driven to desperate measures to stand up for what was theirs. For too long the townspeople had lived in fear of the smugglers; avoiding the cave that harboured stolen goods, for fear that they would go missing, as many men had. Too many husbands and sons had disappeared after curiosity led them to the cave. Too often, their town had been looted by these fortune-hunters and now their families were after revenge. And Ely, well, he wanted to prove a point to his father; that he was good enough to lead a battle.

The smugglers loomed up, their hulking shadows creeping up the walls of the cave. As they stood at the entrance the moonlight was blocked from view and so, darkness stole over Ely and his men. Excitement burst through Ely’s chest and spread through his bones, filling him with a heady feeling. He steadied his breathing, trying to calm the erratic beating of his heart. This was it. The smugglers stood around the chest and one of them stooped to pull it open. It was now or never. Ely gave the signal and jumped out from behind his rock.

With a roar, the rest of the men followed suit, quickly surrounding the smugglers. Shock and horror shone on the faces of their victims, but Ely’s men did not hold the advantage of surprise for long. Their makeshift weapons of pitchforks and steel pokers were no match for the swords of the smugglers and within moments, the attackers became the attacked. The smugglers fought with a fury, hacking down the spade of a farmer and the hammer of the blacksmith. They were used to fighting dirty. The farmers and fishermen, the blacksmith and the barmen quickly surrendered and backed away, giving in to the shift of power.

But Ely didn’t notice. He was locked in a fight with a brute of a man, whose strength and prowess with the sword was becoming Ely’s undoing. The force of every clash shuddered up his sword into his body, making him weaker with each blow. Breathing hard, his mind a blur, Ely slashed his sword wildly, forgetting his lessons in control. His combatant yelled as the sword sliced him beneath the eye. Blood poured from the wound, making him look even more dangerous. It was only a flesh wound, but it was enough to make him angry. Roaring like a rhino, he struck out, aiming for Ely’s neck. Ely threw his sword up just in time, but the blow was so powerful that his knees buckled. Desperation made his arms strong, keeping the striking blade away from his neck, but only by inches.

His assailant grinned and pushed harder with his sword, bearing down on Ely. Gradually, Ely’s arms weakened. This man was just too heavy, too strong. The man leaned his bloody face closer, leering. Then, still holding his blade to Ely’s throat, the brute drew back a fist and punched Ely in the jaw. Ely stumbled but regained his footing. He blinked through the pain which was shooting through his face. The sharp, metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. Sweat rolled down his forehead and into his eyes, stinging, blinding. This was it. This was how he was going to die. As if to agree, his attacker moved forward, raising his sword to deliver one last, fatal blow. There was a roaring in Ely’s ears, no longer the roaring of the sea. It was death, making its claim.

But it wasn’t death. The roaring grew louder, surrounding him, lifting him. His attacker seemed to hear it too, for he looked up, fear in his eyes. Then suddenly, he stumbled and fell to his knees, his sword clattering to the floor. Ely staggered back and looked down at his attacker. As he watched, a dark stain bloomed like a flowering rose across the top of his shirt, the quiver of an arrow trembling in its centre.

Ely sagged with relief, before realising he might be in yet more danger. Where had the arrow come from? He turned around. The cave was full of men, fighting. And the great roaring noise filling his eardrums came from the clashing of sword on sword and man shouting at man. But it wasn’t just the men from the village fighting the smugglers, no. The cave had filled up in the last few moments; they had been joined by men in uniform. The King’s Men had arrived.

That was his cue to leave. They had everything in hand. None of the men from the town appeared to have been harmed. It had turned out beautifully, but for the slight complication that his plan had almost failed. But no matter, he was still learning. And he had to escape before the soldiers realised he was there.

He edged around the outskirts of the battle, pausing only to assist the soldiers when the fight wasn’t going their way. He cut down three smugglers, but with each soldier he rescued, he risked drawing attention to himself. No, he had to leave. Already the battle was slowing down. More and more soldiers were turning his way, peering into his face, some of them even gawping. One man took a step towards him, recognition lighting up his eyes. Abandoning all pretence, Ely put his head down and ran towards the passage that led back to the village, back to his horse.

“Stop him!” someone shouted. “That’s him, Captain Watson!”

Footsteps thundered up the passageway, laboured breathing growing louder. Ely lengthened his stride, cursing his wretched luck. He thought he had shaken them off two towns’ back. How had they found him? Damn their trackers; they had been trained well.

His horse , Lunar, was waiting at the end of the passage, saddled up and ready for a quick getaway. At least he’d had the foresight to plan that far ahead, despite everything else that had gone wrong. Lunar whickered in greeting and he leaped onto her back. She was off and away within a heartbeat. When his pursuers reached the end of the passage, all they could see was dust.

“Darn it,” one of the soldiers spat, “Captain Watson ain’t gonna be happy that we lost him again.”

“He ain’t half a wily one,” said the other.

“I bet I know where he’s going though,” the first one grinned.

“Oh yeah,” his friend raised an eyebrow, “and where’s that then?”

“That road he’s on,” the soldier pointed at the spiralling dirt track, in the direction of distant mountains, “it goes through Alaric Valley, right into Shengale Forest.”

 

 

<- This is the prologue to ‘In Shengale Forest’, the first book in the ‘Prue Peppiatt’s Dreams’ series. On sale soon. Read the second extract here and the third here. Copyright to Amy Lisa Holmes at Alisah Creative ->

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The Hitman’s Last Job

Gun

 

The moment he laid eyes on her, he knew he was a goner. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful, with all that dark, wavy hair, haloing a perfect face of translucent skin and rosebud lips; but also that she was so young. Hell, she couldn’t be older than his sister. But he had orders and if he didn’t do it, someone else would. At least he would give her a painless way out, a rule some of his colleagues did not follow. He would make it quick. She would never know a thing.

But even so, as the girl emerged from the homeless shelter, he lowered the gun. How could he put an end to that beauty? What had she done to deserve such a fate? Surely someone who had just spent her Christmas morning feeding the homeless couldn’t be a bad person? The usual marks were drug barons and murdering psychopaths. He cleaned up other people’s messes and prided himself on making the world a better place for it. But now, well, he couldn’t see how killing this girl would improve anyone’s world.

She was an innocent, she had to be. Maybe The Agency was wrong. They must have given him the wrong name. He clung to this thought with relief. It had to be a mistake. He picked up his phone and dialled the latest number he had memorized.

“It’s Agent Winfrey, I’m coming in,” he said, his voice gruff from misuse. He eased his body out of the crouch he’d been frozen in for the past hour. That was one thing he wouldn’t miss; staying outside all night in the cold to keep a watch on his mark. When he was free, he was going for an office job, where there would be heating and coffee-machines and pleasant people to befriend. Oh, for a normal life.

 

When Winfrey arrived at The Agency’s headquarters an hour later, the boss himself met him in the foyer.

“Adam,” said Agent Leroy, using Winfrey’s Christian name for the first time in five years. “I trust it is done? Congratulations are in order, champagne?”

Winfrey shook his head. “There’s a problem, sir. I think I’ve been given the wrong mark.”

Agent Leroy’s jaw hardened and he motioned for Winfrey to follow him into his office. Winfrey went cold as Leroy closed the door. He was going to die, right here in this office.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I didn’t kill her. I think I was given the wrong name.”

Leroy’s eyebrows didn’t even twitch, a sure sign that he had known this truth all along. Of course he knew; his spies were everywhere. Winfrey had sensed at least five guns trained on him back at the homeless shelter, waiting for him to fail. And he had failed, so why wasn’t he dead already?

“You didn’t kill her? But you were given orders. Do you want your freedom, Winfrey?”

Winfrey had to force himself to remain composed. “You know I want it. It was the thought of freedom that got me through the last ten marks. But they all deserved it. You can’t tell me this one is the same as them? I find it hard to believe she would harm anyone.”

Leroy’s teeth bared. “It is not for you to question the rules. She is a threat and needs to be eliminated. That is all you need to know. Now get out there and finish the job.”

Winfrey looked away.

“Problem?”

“It doesn’t sit right with me, is all.”

“Fallen for a pretty face, have you?”

Winfrey shrugged, “It’s not that she’s pretty, it’s that she’s good. I watched her all morning feeding the homeless and giving out blankets and clothes. Something doesn’t feel right.”

“True, something isn’t right. In fact, it’s very, very wrong. And the only way for it to be fixed is if she is dead.”

Winfrey looked at his employer, schooling his face not to reveal his shock. How could Leroy be so cold? Granted, it was his job to be cold and show no emotion. If his enemies smelled a whiff of weakness they’d be on him. But still, how could he show no empathy towards this girl?

“I can’t do it, sir.”

“Then you won’t get your freedom.”

“Give me another mark, someone who deserves it.”

“They all deserve it, Winfrey,” said Leroy through gritted teeth. “The terms of your contract state that you serve my orders until you have killed your one-hundredth mark. I have given you orders and the mark, so do it and walk away. You’ll never have to think about it again, just like I taught you.”

Winfrey forced his face to remain passive, hiding the emotional battle within. This was one thing he’d learned in his time with The Agency; don’t let them see the real you, or they’ll break it.

“Understood, sir,” he said, nodding sharply. “I’ll finish it now and be back for that champagne.”

Leroy surveyed him for a moment and then slowly smiled. It was a smile of teeth, none of that crinkling around the eyes, with all the botox he had drummed in. “I’m giving you one more chance. You know what will happen if you breach your contract again.”

Winfrey nodded again and let himself out of the office. He knew what would happen if he failed; the same thing that would happen if he succeeded.

On the other side of the door, he exhaled once and continued on his way before any of his colleagues had a chance to see his distress.

Now what was he going to do? He couldn’t very well get away with not killing the girl, for that would only make things worse. One of his colleagues would finish her off in a very nasty way and he would meet the same fate. And he’d already established that he didn’t want the girl dead. Isabella Cartwright. Just repeating her name in his head got his temperature up. What was wrong with him? She couldn’t be that special. She was only human. Maybe it was because he’d been alone for so long. Five years was a long time for any man. But then, he couldn’t have a family or friends while he was working for The Agency. That would all come when he earned his freedom. And that meant killing the girl.

Still arguing with himself, Winfrey drove back to the alleyway opposite the girl’s apartment and sat there for a moment, staring up at the tall, imposing building. There was no point going inside, as, despite it being Christmas day, it was busy enough that someone would notice him picking the lock. He would just wait for the girl to come to the door and then he’d do it. His freedom depended on it.

For hours he waited in his car and as day turned into night, he became aware of another presence. Someone else was waiting for the girl. When he recognised who it was, he swore and banged his fist on the steering wheel. Why did they have to come along? He got up and walked over to their car, making every footstep of his approach resonate on the frosty ground. There was no point in being stealthy about it; they already knew he was here. They barely glanced his way when he tapped the barrel of his gun on the passenger window. It slid down and a nose poked out.

“Barrow, Humphrey. Fancy seeing you here,” said Winfrey to the husband and wife team in the car. Humphrey glared at him, but her husband lifted an eyebrow.

“Not exactly what we hoped to be doing on Christmas day, Winfrey,” he said wryly.

“We had to leave the whole family around the dinner table because of you,” Humphrey said through gritted teeth. “Thanks very much.”

Winfrey gave a small mock-bow. “Not a problem. Think of it as my Christmas gift to you.”

He laughed as Humphrey told him where he could put his unwanted gift. He loved winding her up, which wasn’t difficult. “Not to sully the mood or anything,” he gave Humphrey a pointed look, who had the grace to blush, “but why are you here?”

“Just following procedure,” said Barrow smoothly.

Winfrey cocked his head to one side and put a hand to his chin, as if in thought. “That’s funny. I didn’t notice you guys on my turf when I was taking out my other marks.”

“That’s because the boss didn’t think you would mess up those ones,” said Humphrey vehemently. Beside her, Barrow sighed at his wife’s lack of tact.

Winfrey feigned surprise. “Oh I see. So you’re here to make sure it gets done?”

Barrow nodded curtly, “That’s right.”

Winfrey noticed that Humphrey seemed about to say something cutting, but her husband put a silencing hand on her knee. Winfrey grinned at them both and pretended not to notice.

“Well, I’d best crack on then so you can get back to your dinner,”

“If all goes well, you should join us,” said Barrow.

Winfrey hid a smile. So Barrow was going to act like nothing was wrong, was he? As if it was as simple as Winfrey finishing the job so they could all go back home for a jolly Christmas celebration? Hardly likely, when their orders were to kill him, whether he finished the job or not. He could read Humphrey like a book. She was no good at lying, especially when she knew she was about to kill someone. Too bad, he had thought them friends.

“Well then,” Winfrey smiled, “I shall see you around the dinner table.”

He headed back to his car and collected everything he thought he would need. He had prepared for this moment. Despite his fanciful daydreams, he had not believed for one minute that Leroy would allow him to drive off into the sunset with knowledge of The Agency spinning around in his brain. No, the plan had always been to kill him. This facade of freedom on the horizon had been a ploy of Leroy’s to lull Winfrey into a false sense of security. Ah, the thought of freedom had been nice, but not enough to build a life on.

His rucksack of emergency supplies was on the backseat. He did a quick double-check. Did he have everything? Well, it was too late to make changes now. It would have to do. As long as his getaway car hadn’t been discovered, he’d be fine. But before he could escape, he had to create a diversion and why not kill two birds with one stone and rescue the girl while he was at it? She was only going to meet a sticky end if he didn’t take action.

Usually he was as silent as a whisper and proceeded unnoticed as he went about his business. This time, he allowed his colleagues to catch a glimpse of him scaling the wall of the tall building. They had to know he was in there and they had to be suspicious enough to investigate.

Isabella Cartwright. She was in the apartment, she had to be. Winfrey had seen no movement at the windows all day, but that wasn’t to say she was not at home. She had to be. She called to him, her presence so magnetic that he couldn’t help but answer.

When he reached the top floor of the building, he went from window to window, searching for one that wasn’t locked. He found one that overlooked the hallway. Perfect. He slid it open, hardly making a sound in the stillness of the night. Then, feeling the watchful eyes of Humphrey and Barrow upon him, he slid his body slowly through the small opening. There was a rustle and a knock. Damn! He’d forgotten he was wearing his rucksack. It was caught on the latch and now his body was bent into a strange position as he attempted to free himself.

“Hello?” A woman’s voice came from within the dark apartment. “Is someone at the door?” There was movement in another room and the click of a light being switched on. Light spilled out from below the gap of a door, illuminating him. Sweat rolled down Winfrey’s forehead as he slipped his knife out, slashed at the cord attached to the window, pulled it shut and leapt into a cupboard. And not a second too soon, for the light of the hallway snapped on as Isabella Cartwright came to investigate.

“Who would have buzzed anyone in when everyone’s away for the holidays?” she muttered to herself. Winfrey’s heart beat frantically at her words. Her voice was like honey and the finest wine. And then, there were her words. They were alone in the building. This was too perfect.

Isabella opened her front door and peered out into the darkness. Then she sighed and came back into the apartment. Watching her through a crack in the door, Winfrey’s heart pounded as she came closer to his hiding place, as if she could sense him. She was frowning at something he couldn’t see. Then she bent down and picked it up. Winfrey gulped. It was the cord he’d cut off his rucksack. Isabella turned around and faced the empty hallway, fear written across her face.

“Hello?” She balled her fists and squared her shoulders, ready for attack. Despite all of the other emotions powering through Winfrey’s brain, he couldn’t help but admire her spunk. But she was no match for him.

Isabella seemed to decide that there was nothing wrong, for her shoulders relaxed and she sauntered over to a small sideboard to open a draw. Winfrey strained his eyes to see what she was doing. Was she getting her purse? Her cigarettes? No, he already knew she didn’t smoke. Suddenly she whipped around and pointed something in his direction. Holy crap; that was a gun! Winfrey nearly gave himself away by jumping back on instinct. But he was trained and hardened for moments like these – not that a delicate little flower like her had ever pointed a gun at him before – and so stood his ground. Isabella walked slowly towards his cupboard, her gun trained on the spot where Winfrey’s head was. He wanted to move, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t take his eyes off her beautiful face.

“Drop your weapons and come out with your hands above your head,” she ordered, coming to a halt before him. All that separated them was a flimsy sheet of wood, through which he was sure she could hear his pulse racing. Well, it was the make or break moment and he didn’t have long, with Humphrey and Barrow prowling around outside. Still, this was never going to be an easy thing to pull off; he would just have to rethink his strategy. He could still disarm her and knock her out in time to escape. He just had to get her to lower that damn gun.

“Promise you won’t shoot me and I’ll come out unarmed,” said Winfrey, using a voice of authority.

Isabella flinched at his voice, but her voice was firm and steady when she replied, “I’ll decide that when I see what I’m dealing with.”

Winfrey raised his eyebrows. Maybe she was more dangerous than he had realised. Appearances were definitely deceiving. He wanted to kick himself for disobeying orders. But still, he had to believe that The Agency was wrong about her.

Moving slowly, he pushed the cupboard door open with his foot. His hands were above his head, holding the knife he had used to free himself from the window. He felt rather than heard Isabella catch her breath as his face came into view. His heart stilled. She did not lower the gun.

“Drop it.” Her eyes flicked towards the knife.

He opened his hand and the knife dropped to the floor. Isabella kicked it towards the front door.

“Keep them up,” Isabella bit her lip, drawing Winfrey’s eyes straight to them. Now all he could think about were her lips, so rosy and perfect. “Where are the others?”

“What others?” Surprise slashed through him. How did she know about Humphrey and Barrow?

“The other weapons, where are they?”

Oh. He shrugged. “Everywhere. It might take you some time to dig them all out.”

Isabella grinned. “I’ve got time.”

Winfrey’s thoughts returned to Humphrey and Barrow, his imagination on fire. Even now, they could be making their way into the building, hoping to catch him unawares. He had to get this over with.

“No you don’t.”

Isabella’s grin slipped and the finger on the trigger twitched. Winfrey held his ground.

“Why not?”

“Because as we speak, assassins are on their way to kill you. We have to leave.”

“We?”

“Yes. I’m here to rescue you.”

“Have you escaped from a loony bin?”

“That’s not the kind of thing I’d expect from you,” Winfrey was disappointed. “I thought you had more respect for those worse off than yourself.”

Isabella fidgeted, the gun lowering slightly. “I do. Look, this is a high-pressured situation and I’m not exactly watching my words right now.”

“But still…”

“Shut up and tell me why assassins are trying to kill me.”

“Woah. You don’t even seem surprised.”

“Of course I’m bloody surprised. I’m just used to hiding my emotions. It wouldn’t do me any good if every Tom, Dick and Harry knew how I was feeling, would it?”

“No, I suppose not.”

Suddenly the barrel of the gun was pressed against his chest. Winfrey held his breath to hide his shock. He hadn’t even seen it coming.

“Start talking.”

“We don’t have time for this.” And besides, he couldn’t explain even if he wanted to. His brain was turning to mush. She was standing too close. He just wanted to reach out and touch her. His fingers were aching to run through all that silky brown hair. Her rosy lips were begging for his tongue to caress them.

“Who’s the one with the gun?”

“Believe me, your enemies have got a lot more than guns up their sleeves.”

“Tell me what’s happening.” For the first time, a pleading note entered her voice, pulling at Winfrey’s heart-strings. That was strange, he thought he had left his heart behind five years ago.

He sighed. “Look, I don’t really understand. All I know is that you’ve caught the attention of some people you really don’t want to notice you. You’re supposed to be my job…”

“Job?”

“My mark.”

“What?”

“I’ve been ordered to kill you.” Winfrey waited for Isabella to jump back in horror, or to pull the trigger and be done with it. But neither happened; she just narrowed her eyes. He took a deep breath and continued with his confession; his first proper confession for five years. “But I decided I couldn’t go through with it, so I’m rescuing you instead. There are at least two more Agents outside, waiting for me to execute my orders…”

“You mean, to execute me?” Isabella’s voice was sharp.

Winfrey nodded, shame washing over him. “When they realise I’m not going through with it, they’ll move in and take us both out.”

Isabella smiled. “The way you talk, it’s like you think you’re in a movie.”

“It’s just the lingo of the business.”

“And so you continue,” Isabella laughed.

“You’re too calm,” said Winfrey, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I tend to get like this during emergency situations. It’s like everything slows down around me.”

“I get that too.” Winfrey was almost excited; this was something they had in common.

Isabella raised an eyebrow at him. “What I don’t understand is why you don’t go through with the job. Why don’t you kill me, then the other Agents won’t have to bother.”

“Because I don’t want to.”

“Why? I’m assuming you’ve killed others.”

“True. But I don’t want to kill you.” His words rang out into the silence of the apartment. No one spoke for a moment.

“I still don’t understand.”

“Neither do I. Look, the only thing you need to know right now is that I’m dead, whether I kill you or not, so I may as well stick two fingers up at them, while escaping with you.”

“You make it sound like you’re a prisoner on death row.”

“Sometimes, that’s what it feels like.”

Isabella nodded, as if she had made a decision. “So, rather than escape by yourself and leave me to the dogs, you’re taking me with you?”

Winfrey stopped in his tracks. To be honest, he hadn’t really thought about what he would do with her after tonight. Where would she go, once he had gone into hiding on his little island? “I thought that if we were both facing the same doom, we were in it together. You can go wherever you want after tonight.”

“What if I want to go with you?”

Winfrey’s heart leapt in his chest, surprising him again. It had been absent these past five years and now tonight of all nights, it was getting involved with his decision making. Tonight truly was the beginning of his freedom. “Why would you want to come with me?”

“I don’t know,” Isabella shrugged, a look of innocence on her face. But Winfrey knew she was up to something. She wasn’t as innocent as she looked.

“Look, whatever your decision is, hurry up and make it before they get here. They’ll be suspicious by now. Usually I’d be in and out quicker than this.”

“You make it sound so cold.”

“It is cold.”

“You’re not cold though.” She leaned forwards and rubbed a soft finger against his cheek. All the blood-vessels in his head awoke at her touch, sending a rush of dizziness over him. The hairs on his body stood on end and he tensed, fighting every instinct which was telling him to kiss her. She still held a gun to his chest.

“Decision time,” his voice was a growl. “Can the weapon and run with me, or shoot me and run alone.” He held her gaze. Her eyes never left his.

She stepped back and slipped the gun into her belt and pulled her shirt over to cover it. “I’m better with company,” she said.

Winfrey flashed her a grin and picked up his knife, sliding it into his back pocket. “Excellent decision. Now, help me. Where’s the kitchen?”

“What? Now is not the time to be making a sandwich.” Isabella said as she followed Winfrey through the apartment.

Winfrey ignored her and busied himself with turning the gas on at the stove.

“Are you being serious? You’re going to blow up my home? You really are mental, aren’t you?”

“Look, we need to fake our own deaths or they’ll chase us until they kill us.” He pushed her out into the hallway and proceeded to rig up the kitchen door with some string and a lighter, so that when the door was opened, Humphrey and Barrow would get a nasty shock.

“Yeah, but still.”

“Either way, you’ll never be able to come back. I suggest you grab some things and I’ll meet you in the bedroom.”

“Excuse me?”

Winfrey grinned, knowing how that had sounded. “Pack some essentials and even sentimental rubbish if you want, then meet me in the bedroom so we can jump out the window.”

“This is crazy.”

“Not your average Christmas, I’m guessing?”

“I certainly won’t forget it.”

Winfrey closed the kitchen door and paused in the hallway. He stared into her dark eyes, almost losing himself in their depths. “I won’t forget it either.” He smiled. It was his first real smile in a long time. It came from somewhere deep inside. Somewhere he thought had been broken beyond repair. “Now quickly, go.”

Isabella blinked, as if awoken from a spell. She sprung into action, pulling a bag from the cupboard and filling it with inanimate objects.

Winfrey watched her, amused. “I don’t think you’ll need that vase where we’re going, sweetheart.”

“Firstly, I’m not your sweetheart. And secondly, you said I could take sentimental rubbish. Well, this is sentimental.” She hugged the vase to her chest, her eyes daring him to argue. He rolled his eyes and waved her on. She disappeared into her bedroom and he could hear drawers opening and closing. Damn, he should have just knocked her out. Now he’d be carrying her and enough bloody luggage for a fortnight’s holiday. Women.

Winfrey stared through the peephole in the front door. Where were Humphrey and Barrow? They should have come to investigate by now. He bet Humphrey was dying to give him his curtain call. Although there was a domed glass roof above the central staircase, the moon was hidden behind a cloud. He couldn’t see much in the darkness, but he was sure he could see movement on the staircase. Was that them? His finger flexed on the trigger of his gun. He’d teach them to ambush him. The surprise would be on them.

A muffled thud distracted him. What was that girl doing? Probably trying to fit a giant mirror or something into her bag. Well, he wasn’t having any of that. It was time to go, now that the assassins were nearly at the door. He could hear their footsteps now. Funny how they weren’t trying to be quiet. He opened the bedroom door…

And was deafened by a gunshot. A bullet whizzed past his ear, burning his flesh. He raised an eyebrow. “Not your best shot, Humphrey.”

“Shut up,” Humphrey snapped. “I missed on purpose.”

Winfrey bit back the scathing reply. Now was not the time to be winding her up. Not when Barrow was holding Isabella in a death grip, a gun digging into her forehead.

Winfrey didn’t need to be told to drop his own gun. He released it like it burned. It clattered across the wooden floorboards, towards the wrought iron bed.

“What was the plan, eh, Winfrey?” said Humphrey scathingly. “Rescue the girl, escape and live happily ever after?”

Winfrey nodded apologetically. “I’m afraid so.”

“And you thought we didn’t see it coming? Did you think we’re stupid?”

Winfrey shrugged, biting his lip, a guilty look on his face. “It’s starting to look that way, isn’t it?”

“Stop talking to the boy and shoot him, dear,” instructed Barrow. Isabella was white, her eyes wide with terror. But she was watching Winfrey intently. She was an intelligent girl, she must know he wasn’t planning on getting them killed. He decided to take a chance. He winked a tiny wink and saw understanding in her eyes. She still had her gun. And he still had his knife.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Humphrey snapped, taking her eyes off Winfrey so she could glare at her husband.

It was just the chance he had been waiting for. As quick as a bullet, he pulled his knife out of his back pocket and threw it towards Barrow. It struck the hand holding the gun. With a howl of pain, Barrow dropped the weapon and fell to the floor. Taken by surprise, Humphrey shot wildly in Winfrey’s direction, missing him by centimetres. Winfrey leapt for his gun, while Isabella pulled her own out and held it to Barrow’s chest. Barrow froze and Humphrey faltered. Winfrey smiled as he raised his weapon so it was level with Humphrey’s face. He ignored the two black-clad assassins who had just entered silently through the front door. So they had been the distraction, had they?

“Now, I’m not a bad guy. I’m willing to let you go, to live, if you promise not to double-cross me again. Let me take my freedom – freedom I have earned, and I won’t kill you. Yes?”

Behind him, Isabella coughed.

“And let me take the girl, she’s nothing to you. Then you can get back to your Christmas meal and I can get back to escaping. Sound like a deal?”

Humphrey’s lip curled. “I wouldn’t make a deal with you if you were the last man on earth. For goodness sake, you murdered your own wife!”

There was silence as Winfrey registered what she had just said. Behind him, he knew Isabella was doing the same. She was probably feeling pretty betrayed right now. As for him, he was shocked. How did Humphrey know that? He thought only Leroy was privy to that information, it was how he’d lured him into The Agency, after all.

“Give it a rest, Humphrey. You should know not to listen to malicious rumours.” Winfrey tried to laugh it off, but the damage was done.

“It was bad enough when you were just an assassin, but now you’re a murderer?” Isabella shrieked. Winfrey didn’t have to turn around to know that her gun was now pointed at him. Humphrey’s delighted grin said it all.

“Your logic is flawed, sweetheart.” Winfrey spoke through gritted teeth.

“Don’t. Call me. Sweetheart,” she said loudly.

Winfrey’s heart sank. He knew he was about to die. She was going to pull the trigger.

Humphrey’s grin widened; clearly she was thinking the same thing. Winfrey turned to face Isabella. He smiled sadly at her.

“Together in our doom, I suppose.”

To his surprise, she winked. Then she altered the direction of her gun so it was pointing at the kitchen door. Humphrey and Barrow watched, frowning. Then her finger squeezed the trigger and everything slowed down. Winfrey ran towards Isabella and threw her over his shoulder. He whipped his grapple and hook from his pocket and flung it at the open window. It caught neatly on the windowsill, just as his feet cleared it.

Behind him, the sound of an explosion made his world go silent. He couldn’t hear the screams he was leaving behind. He couldn’t see the bullet hit the door handle, forcing the door open. He couldn’t see the lighter on the string light itself, igniting the gas-filled kitchen. He couldn’t see the assassins being blasted across the apartment, shock barely registering on their features.

All he could see was his freedom… and Isabella.

 

 

<- This is the second chapter in the ‘Revenge of a Borborn’ series. Read the first chapter here. Copyright to Amy Lisa Holmes at Alisah Creative ->

 

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Of Leaves and Chocolate Strawberries

chocolate-strawberries-and-red-roses-for

 

 

Cassie stood in the middle of Thorpe Park, frowning.

“Where are they?”

She gazed around, seeking a familiar face. Maybe they were in the shop? She made her way over, her brisk pace matching the accelerated thud of her heart against her ribcage. The shop was swarming with other teenagers, who were probably on their own school trips. Cassie peered amongst them but could see no sign of her allotted ‘friends’ for the day. They were only hanging out with her because Sandra’s mum knew Cassie’s mum. Cassie supposed she was lucky to be free of them and their snide remarks. Oh well, she would just have to endure the rides alone. At least she could have a chocolate fondue without being judged.

Cassie reached to get her purse from her backpack, but her fingers grasped at thin air and her heart plummeted. Her backpack was gone! Cassie groaned. She had left it in Sandra’s safekeeping while she had gone to the loo and now the horrible girl had run off with it. That was Cassie’s jacket, money and her phone, gone. No chocolate fondue for her, then.

Cassie stormed out of the shop and was bombarded with sounds of screams and laughter, but she let it wash over her as she scanned the immediate area for Sandra and her posse. There was no hope of finding them in this crowd. Cassie’s shoulders slumped and she trudged down the slope, barely noticing as she was jostled in all directions. What was Sandra’s problem? Yes, she was jealous of Cassie achieving better grades, but how was that Cassie’s fault? Maybe if Sandra paid attention to her studies rather than ogling at Greg Richards all day, her grades would be up to scratch.

A loud shout brought Cassie back to the present and she looked up in time to see something hurtling towards her. Oof! The air was slammed from her body and she skidded across the dusty path, straight into a bush.

“Get off me you idiot,” Cassie lashed out at her assailant.

A beaming face looked back at her. The boy unscrambled his limbs from hers and jumped to his feet.

“Sorry about that, Cass. Occupational hazard,” grinned her attacker. He offered Cassie his hand but she slapped it away and pushed herself up.

“What are you playing at?” Cassie glared at the boy, whose grin only widened under her wrath.

“Come on, Greg, I wanna go on The Swarm,” said his friend.

Greg waved him away. “Gimme a minute, I’ll catch you up.”

He waited for his group of friends to move off before stepping closer to Cassie, his grin sliding into a frown.

“You alright, Cass? You look a bit pale.”

Cassie shrugged and started walking in the opposite direction to Greg’s friends. She’d dreamed of Greg Richards noticing her, but not in this way.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe that’s because I’ve been abandoned, without my money or my jacket and some loser thought it would be funny to assault me.” Not to mention it was coming up to winter and she was freezing.

“Assault is a big word,” Greg raised his eyebrows. “Want me to get him for you, do some proper damage?” He cracked his knuckles, making Cassie flinch.

“You’re alright, go join the other idiots. I’m going on the Zodiac.”

“Yeah, me too.” Greg fell into step beside her.

“No, I mean, the Vortex.”

“That’s what I meant too. I love that one.”

Cassie glowered at Greg through her eyelashes and quickened her pace. Cool kids didn’t talk to nerds. Was this a joke? When Greg easily matched his speed to hers, Cassie broke into a run, with Greg in hot pursuit. Together, they thudded through the maze of fencing that formed the queue for the ride. When they arrived at the Vortex at the same time, panting, Cassie looked at Greg and laughed.

“You run like a girl.”

“I’m more into cross-country than short-distant sprints,” Greg wheezed, pressing his chest.

“Yeah, sure. And I’m a badger’s uncle.”

Greg came closer, looking thoughtful as he gazed at Cassie. The breath caught in her throat as she stared into his dark eyes, forgetting her annoyance.

“Yes, you’re right,” Greg announced, his wide grin returning. “You look exactly like a badger’s uncle.” He jumped out of range as Cassie swatted at him.

Just then, the Vortex ended its spin and came back down to earth to allow its victims to wobble towards freedom. Dread lurched in Cassie’s stomach. She wasn’t a fan of rides.

“Here,” Greg shoved a handful of leaves at her, pulled from the surrounding bushes.

“What?”

“They’re for throwing.”

“ I’m not throwing leaves.”

“It’s fun.”

“Why?”

“Because every time the ride goes high, you drop one and then someone else has to catch it.”

“What’s the point in that?”

“It’s just fun. And it will distract you.”

“From what?”

“Your fear.”

Cassie wasn’t about to admit that she was scared, but she kept the leaves in her hand as she walked onto the Vortex’s platform and climbed into her seat. Greg sat opposite her in the circular arrangement of chairs. She smiled at him for the first time and was rewarded with a smile which warmed her from the inside. Then the platform lowered and Cassie’s feet dangled in mid-air as the ride jolted into action, spinning slowly around. Cassie’s mouth went dry.  Greg stuck his tongue out and she replied in kind, suddenly feeling better. What could happen with Greg here? Bad things didn’t happen to the popular kids.

The Vortex rose high into the sky and Cassie’s stomach was left behind. All she could see was the sky. Then she remembered her handful of leaves and let one go. As she was swung back down, she saw Greg dropping one of his leaves on his journey up. Laughing, she reached for it, but came nowhere near. On her way back into the sky, she released another and watched Greg swipe at it. He threw another leaf and Cassie, giggling uncontrollably now, leaned towards it, forgetting the restraints which held her life in its embrace. She dropped her last leaf against the wind and watched as it whipped away. Something slapped her ear and her hand leaped up and caught it. It was a leaf. She held it tight.

When the ride was over, Cassie forgot her relief in the wake of her achievement.

“I caught a leaf,” she cried.

“It’s one of mine,” said Greg, examining it.

“How do you know?”

“I marked it.”

And sure enough, when Cassie turned it over, she saw an ‘x’ indented in the thick, spongy green flesh.

 ***

They spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the rides. Cassie’s courage grew with each one; she had to prove to Greg that she was brave, not that she knew why, as she had never cared about his opinion before. Later, when it was nearly time to meet the teacher, they walked past the chocolate fondue stand. Having missed lunch, Cassie’s mouth salivated at the sight and Greg noticed her staring.

“You want some food?” he patted his wallet.

Cassie blushed and shook her head. “No thanks, I’m not hungry,” she lied. She wasn’t a charity case. Just then, she recognised a face staring right at her. Her eyes narrowed. Sandra. She and her giggling friends were sitting on a bench, Cassie’s backpack just visible amongst them. Cassie marched over and picked up her bag. Before today, she never would have dared do this, but now she was on a role. She was facing her fears.

“Thanks for watching my bag. It’s been easier to enjoy all the rides without having to lug this thing around.” She smiled sweetly, trying not to laugh at their shocked expressions, then walked back to Greg, whose smile was just for her.

“You had fun today,” he said.

“I always have fun,” Cassie bristled.

“I never saw you smile, before today.”

“I’m smiling inside.”

“You should smile more on the outside, it suits you.”

Cassie’s heart skipped a beat.

Then Greg presented her with a skewer of chocolate covered strawberries. “I got the strawberry one as it’s healthier.”

Cassie raised her eyebrows.“Healthier? With all that chocolate?”

Greg waved it in front of her face. “Come on, you know you can’t resist chocolate. Open wide.”

Reluctantly, Cassie obliged. Greg dabbed the hot, melted chocolate onto her mouth.

“’X’ marks the spot,” he smiled, his dark eyes soft. “I guess I’d better clean that off.”

He leaned down and licked Cassie’s lips, removing all traces of chocolate. Her thoughts froze as the oxygen left her lungs. Greg slid his free hand through her hair, resting it under her chin to tilt her face up to his. He looked her in the eyes, breathing hard, as if they’d been racing again.

“And I can’t resist you.”

When Greg kissed her, Cassie’s heart soared higher than any rollercoaster ride.

 

 

<- A short story. Copyright to Amy Lisa Holmes at Alisah Creative ->

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