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46. Ascending Series : SciFi Fantasy, Adventure by S.R. Cronin ➱ Promotional Tour with Giveaway


One of One
46. Ascending Book 1
by S.R. Cronin
Genre: SciFi Fantasy, Adventure

Celebrate the superhero in us all in this unique exploration of the connections we forge.

Somadina, a young Nigerian telepath, faces a crisis. Since being forced into a frightening marriage, her sister, Nwanyi, has disappeared into thin air. Not even Somadina's gift can help locate her sibling. Terrified and desperate, she reaches out to fellow telepath, Lola--a Texas scientist--for assistance.

Lola, however, has been steadfastly ignoring the disturbing phenomenon in her mind for decades, and has no intention of embracing it now--much less for a total stranger. But once it becomes apparent Nwanyi is a pawn in a dangerous political game, the stakes rise for everyone, and Lola is forced to reconsider.

Can these powerful women overlook their differences and use their unique gifts to stop a fanatic willing to kill anyone to alter his nation's future?

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Shape of Secrets
46. Ascending Book 2

You can't outrun the past in this mystery adventure where things are not always as they appear

Zane, a young man with the ability to change his appearance, is starting his first job at Penthes Pharmaceuticals. However, it's not what he expects. Soon he is drawn into a world of corporate secrets and dangerous knowledge.

The deceptions are only beginning. A sales trip to the South Pacific leaves Zane dealing with an unsolved murder, an unsavory boot camp manager, and new friends with abilities as surprising as his own.

Can he use his unique talents to unravel the mysteries he's been presented with? More importantly, can he find out who framed his friend for murder before it's too late?

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Twists of Time
46. Ascending Book 3

Uncover the startling truth before time runs out in this complex search for an ancient treasure.

Alex is a former basketball player who has always been able to bend time. These days he teaches physics and parents three quirky children alongside his unusual wife.

When the administration at his high school wants to reignite its history with organized hate groups and return to an era of white supremacy, Alex can no longer remain the quiet bystander. He must stand up and fight for what he believes is right.

Further complications arise when Stan, an old high school rival, needs Alex's code-cracking skills. Just when Alex has his hands full at school, he's drawn into a treasure hunt. Stan and a handful of ex-grad students lost an obsidian box years ago containing instructions to find an important discovery. As they reconstruct what happened the night the artifact went missing, they need Alex's help to find the last two hidden relics containing the remaining clues to the treasure.

As both of Alex's situations grow more dire, it becomes clear he must tap into the abilities he left behind. Can he manipulate time for the people and causes he cares about most?

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Layers of Light
46. Ascending Book 4 

Celebrate those who light a candle in the darkness in this compelling and eye-opening tale.

Teddie is into country music, her old pick-up truck and getting through high school with as little drama as possible. Yet somehow her best friend, Michelle, talks her into spending a semester in Darjeeling, India. The thrilling adventure turns treacherous when a seedy underworld threatens her friends.

As she fights to understand a depravity she never dreamed existed, a stranger makes her an unexpected offer. He'll train her to find the missing girls, but she will have to trust in abilities she barely believes exist and summon more courage than she thinks she has. And there will be no going back.

Given the choice between this and abandoning her friends to their horrifying fate, the decision is simple. She must rise to the challenge.

But how can she make such a commitment when she doesn't understand what it is she can do?

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Flickers of Fortune
46. Ascending Book 5

Cling to the edge of your seat in this high-finance, high-stakes adventure.

What do we do with knowledge of the future? Clairvoyant Ariel has been doing her best to ignore it, finding the whole thing a nuisance. But when she comes across people using similar abilities to get extremely rich, her interest is piqued.

Then she discovers a second collection of gifted people. They care about ensuring the survival of the human race, but that doesn't stop them from being dangerous and crazy, too. Soon Ariel becomes the object in a game of tug of war between the two groups, as they fight to have her--and her particular talents--on their side.

She can't possibly help them both. Aligning with either could be a terrible idea. But how can she stay out of it when so much is at stake?

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One of Two
46. Ascending Book 6

Join an extraordinary family on a heart-pounding adventure as they face mortal danger.

Telepathy creates as many problems as it solves, as everyone in the secret organization x0 would admit. Those problems become much worse when budding psychic Lola discovers another group of telepaths associated with a powerful media empire. This group is willing to destroy anyone capable of challenging them.

Soon, Lola’s family and friends are in danger. Fortunately, they are gifted with astonishing abilities of their own. Yet, none of them know how to fight. It will take every power they posses, and the allegiance of a helpful warrior, to bring down the arrogant adepts who do the bidding of a man hell-bent on promoting destruction.

Can the talented people Lola cares about learn to trust each other and work together in order to save the world?

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14 excerpts from the book One of Two by S. R. Cronin

Maurice woke up in the trunk of a car. He’d always been a positive sort of guy, so he made himself focus on what was good about the situation. Well, it was a large trunk. It was probably a luxury car. Could have been worse. And, he was the only person in it. Plenty of space and no unpleasant dead bodies lying next to him. He’d seen this sort of thing in movies, and no dead bodies was always good.
His hands were bound loosely behind his back, but he could wiggle his legs around for comfort and there was no duct tape over his mouth, so breathing was easier. Better yet, it felt like he’d been drugged, presumably in his sleep. The lingering effects were effusing him with such a nice sense of serenity.
On the down side, the wall that x0 was holding around him was as impermeable as ever. And he was in the trunk of a car. That was definitely a minus. He drifted back to sleep.

The invitation for this appearance was presented as a chance to explain her side. Yet now that she was about to go on the air, every instinct told her this was a huge mistake. 
She looked into the dimly lit area off stage and saw the well-dressed Latina with long black hair who’d greeted her as the producer of this show. In spite of an otherwise strong, almost regal, body, the woman walked with a cane. A small amount of underlying pain was evident in her eyes and the rest of her mind was a gauzy grey. Odd.
Lola’s misgivings were so strong she considered walking off stage, feigning illness. Then the words “on in five” blared, the stage lights grew brighter, and the chirpy host she met a few minutes ago walked to his seat. The next thing Lola knew, he was saying, “Meet today’s guest, Lola Zeitman, a quiet geophysicist from Houston who stirred people up with her little article called ‘Face Painting for World Peace.’”
As he said the words, Lola finally picked up a clear thought. This interview had no other purpose than to make her look like a fool.
Telepathy isn’t as useful as you’d think. 

The phone rang, annoying him with its interruption. Then he guessed who was at the other end of the line. I hate goddamned telepaths. He picked up the phone.
“You’re correct. My name is Olumiji and we’re quite capable of changing a password before you use it. But we didn’t. I trust you’re enjoying our website?” 
The deep voice resonated with the melody of Africa.
“I’m finding it interesting, thank you.”
“Wonderful. My group and I have decided it’s a waste of valuable time for us to play hide and seek with each other, simply because we have different philosophies. Needlessly dangerous as well, don’t you think?”
“It hasn’t been dangerous for me.” 
There was silence.
“What is it you want from me?” Warren asked.
“We’d like to meet you. Have you over for tea, so to speak. See if there are areas in which we can work together while we eliminate our mutual fear of the unknown by learning to understand each other.”
“No thank you.”
There was more silence.
“You don’t even want to meet us?” The man sounded genuinely baffled.
“Not really,” Warren said. “We’re not looking for new friends. My telepaths have work to do, and I don’t have time for play dates.” 
His eyes flicked to the screen. He’d been logged out. 
Don’t underestimate their technological capabilities.
“Correct. You’d be well advised not to underestimate any of our capabilities.” 
Warren winced. 
“But suit yourself. Perhaps the monads who choose to tell you about their encounters with us over the next few days will suggest you reconsider.”
“Encounters? How do you know about the monads?” 
Warren got no answer. The line went dead, then the screen went dead, and then the lights went off.
“Cheap trick.” For once he hoped every telepath out there could hear him. 

“What’s upsetting you, Mom?”
Her mother’s sigh could be heard in New York. “It’s your boss.”
“My boss?”
“Yes, and this compound he’s building.”
“It’s ugly? He’s not paying his bills? What’s the problem?” 
Violeta kept her voice nonchalant, but her instincts were moving toward red alert.
“He has people there working 'round the clock now. His construction managers are all outsiders, of course, but the workers, many of them are local, and they talk.”
“Some people like attention. What are they saying?”
“That it’s a fortress. Or a prison. I’ve heard rumors of both. Don’t get me wrong. Everyone understands a U.S. company is going to have a security system. But who has their windows made from unbreakable bullet proof glass? Who puts in escape tunnels? Who wants security checkpoints along the perimeter and elevated platforms with assault weapons mounted to turn full circles.”
“That does sound extreme. Are they making this up?”
“These are people I trust, Violeta.” Her mother’s voice went from defensive to secretive. “They’re not broadcasting these things in bars, trying to get free drinks. They’d get fired. They’re sharing their concerns with the local police. I hear about it at work.”
Violeta’s mom Alma had worked as a police dispatcher since her husband was killed. Most thought the job had been offered to the widow as a form a charity, but over the last decade Alma had proved herself to be an asset to the force.
“Okay. I believe you. Honestly, I’m not much of a fan of Reel News these days. Um, I guess you should know I’m not quitting because I’m trying to get information for people who have concerns about Warren Moore. How about I see if I can learn anything for you while I’m at it?”
“I was hoping you would. The chief of police was impressed when I told him your New York news company was the same as these people. I know he’ll be happy for anything you can find out.”
My worst fears about this building project could be true. What in heaven’s name does Warren want with such a place?

As soon as Ariel heard her mother’s voice, she knew it was a bad time for a phone call.
“Honey, I’m in the cell lot at the airport, waiting to pick up Zane. Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine mom.”
“Good. It’s chaos here at the airport. Talk later?”
“This is quick. I’m bringing two people with me to Houston for Christmas.”
“You’re what??” Then, with less irritation. “Wait, is one of them this young man?”
“I wish. These are friends of mine from Ireland, and it’s kind of a long story.”
Lola took a breath and reached out to her daughter. She got that Ariel wasn’t happy about this and felt bad about springing it on her parents. She got that these two wouldn’t be dissuaded from coming. They, too, had abilities that could be useful in the days ahead.
“Did you just read my mind, mom?”
“An emergency decision, dear. This is not good timing for guests, but we’ll make the best of the situation. When do you get here?”
“You know Teddie has people coming too, right? c3 people. They get here Tuesday.”
“It’s all going to be okay. mom.”
“Are you telling me that as a psychic, or as my daughter?”
Lola heard Ariel laugh.
“As your daughter. Our futures over the next few months couldn’t be more confusing. I hope there will be more clarity once I get there.”
The phone bleeped with a text message. Lola said goodbye as she made her way into the mass of cars picking up holiday travelers. She avoided those pulling out of parking and the others grabbing overstuffed luggage out of their car trunks, then sucked in her breath and hit her brakes as a small child darted out in front of her. 
A traffic cop whistled and motioned at her to keep moving. Where the hell was Zane? He’d texted her, but now he was nowhere to be seen.
“Do you see Zane?” 
“No,” Teddie said. “But I see Xuha.”
“That’s not helpful. Look outside the car, please.”
“I am, mom. I see Xuha standing over there on the curb.”
Lola squinted where Teddie was pointing. A young man wearing Zane’s jacket but looking remarkably like a taller Xuha was waving at them with a pleased grin. 
“Oh for God's sake. This is no time for comedy.”
Xuha stared at his double for a second, a strange look on his face. Then he broke into a laugh as he jumped out of the car to help Zane with his bag. The two of them climbed into the back seat still laughing as Zane’s features dissolved into his own.
“Thought I’d start my visit off with some of that absolute honesty you’ve been insisting on, mom,” he said. 
“Can you do me?” Teddie asked. 
“Of course, but it’d be better with a wig. You’d be surprised how much difference hair makes.”
Lola glanced in the rear view mirror as Zane began to resemble Teddie.
“Would you like to be bright pink?” 
“Oh please! No wait, lime green.”
“Sorry, I can’t do colors I don’t have pigments for. You’ll like the pink, trust me.”
Lola heard Teddie squeal with delight. She shook her head as she merged onto the highway that led home.
This could be the longest holiday ever. 

The lawyer invited Violeta to have a seat in the grey leather guest chair in his top-floor office. He still had his suit coat on, and he checked his phone for messages as his admin left to get Violeta a cup of espresso. The combination of courtesy and rudeness was intimidating in a way Violeta couldn’t explain, but she felt it was intended to be so.
“I see Warren often as I handle my responsibilities. I talked to him earlier this morning. If he wanted to tell me something, why didn’t he say so?”
The lawyer smiled. “He felt this message was better conveyed in, um, a more formal setting.” 
There was something cold behind the smile and Violeta felt a flush of fear. This morning was not starting off well. The tiny cup of espresso was placed in front of her, then the admin closed the door as she left the office.
“Am I being fired?” 
The man looked up from the device in his palm. “No, not today.” 
There was the smile again. He waited. She waited. He waited some more.
He doesn’t know how well I can play this game. Violeta began to peek into his thoughts, when he chose to speak.
“It’s important to Mr. Moore that he be able to trust all of his employees, particularly those, like you, with whom he has personal contact.”
Violeta felt her insides turn squishy. Had they discovered her contact with Lola? How?
“Mr. Moore recently received a disturbing report about you, and has asked me to clarify the situation.”
It took every bit of training Violeta had to keep the panic off her face and the fear out of her eyes.
“It regards your mother.”
“My mother?”
“Yes. We understand she works for the police department in your hometown in Argentina. Is that correct?”
Violeta allowed herself to exhale slowly. 
“It is. She’s worked there since my father was killed in 2000. She does clerical work. Why would Warren care?”
The lawyer pursed his lips. 
“Mr. Moore is building a rather extensive office complex in Ushuaia. He’s chosen to keep this development quiet for now, as I’m sure you know.”
“Of course. I heard about it from my family. To the best of my knowledge it’s no secret there. Was I not supposed to talk to my mother about it?”
“Talking to one’s mother is fine. Suggesting to one’s mother that one will spy on their employer is not.”
“I did no such thing!” 
As soon as Violeta said it, she realized she kind of, sort of, had. 
“I mean I was just, you know, humoring her. She gets a little, I don’t know, excited about things sometimes.”
The lawyer nodded, and Violeta felt the emotional temperature in the room go from freezing to merely chilly.
“That’s what Mr. Moore hoped was the case. Nonetheless, it presents him with a problem. The Ushuaia chief of police understands Reel News wants no publicity regarding the construction of this facility. A formal announcement about it will be made when Mr. Moore feels the time is right. He needs to be sure you are on board with this.”
“Of course I am. I’ve said nothing to anyone in New York. It was obvious Warren preferred discretion on this.” 
“Excellent. I’m happy to hear that. Unfortunately, there are those in Ushuaia who feel your mother is not showing the same good sense.”
Violeta fought the urge to squirm.
“She’s become a focal point for unfounded local suspicions. People in small towns do tend to amuse themselves with gossip, don’t they? Mr. Moore has decided he has no choice but to ask the chief of police to fire your mother and any other locals showing a lack of discretion. He wants me to ensure you understand why.”
“I see.” 
Violeta knew getting fired would devastate her mom, who relied on her job for far more than money. 
“Is there anything I can do stop her from being let go?”
“Not really, no. The remaining question is whether two members of your family need to lose their jobs over this. Does Reel News have your absolute loyalty?”
“Of course they do.” She said it without thinking.
He stood as he answered, pushing a small button on his desk, as he gestured to the door. It opened on cue, and Violeta understood she was being dismissed. 

Gabriel contacted Warren late Sunday night to tell him the teacher Maurice had been found. Warren was delighted, until he learned the teacher, too, was surrounded by a wall of impermeable energy.
“This group is stronger than I feared.” 
“Maybe not,” Gabriel said. “The wall around the woman has weakened. It means they’ve had to move resources to protect the elder.” 
“Well then, get more info from her.” 
“It’s still strong,” Gabriel said “and we’re not sure she has much else to offer. We’re encouraged they can only do so much at once.”
“Yes, that is good news. You do fine work, Gabriel. I don’t mean to imply otherwise. I just think you’re hindered by the careful way we’re going at this. How much more effective would you be if you had the old man sitting in a chair in front of you?”
There was a second of silence. Warren supposed Gabriel was reading his mind.
“I don’t think kidnapping anyone is a good idea.” 
“Bullshit. It doesn’t have to be kidnapping. I can find ways to finesse this. We need information. Would having this Maurice in a room with you help you get it?”
“Of course it would. A lot.”
“I thought so,” Warren said. “Then this nonsense has gone on long enough. I’m sending a car to your place tomorrow morning at six. You’ll fly on my jet to San Antonio. Most of the Entelechy is still here in New York, so take two of your best monads with you. When you land, another driver will take you to Maurice. There will be some muscle with him; they are totally at your disposal. This shouldn’t be hard. He’s an old man. I want to know everything about this organization. Do what you need to do.”

“So how is tomorrow looking?” her mother asked.
“It isn’t.” She watched her mother’s eyes widen in fear. “Wait. I don’t mean it like that. I mean I can’t see the next minute or tomorrow.”
Alex had come in from the garage and was listening. 
“I have a sort of window I see through. It starts several days out, nothing closer. It would be nice to know if it will rain tomorrow, but I can’t do that. I can tell you there’s a fifty-percent chance of rain on Saturday.”
“I can tell you that,” Zane said as he came into the kitchen headed for the coffee pot.
“Okay,” Alex said. “How about you tell us about next Christmas. How likely is it we’re are all here and happy?”
“I can’t do that either. The furthest I see is around six months, and I don’t do that far well. I can tell you next June is all over the place, with lots of wildly different scenarios.”
Teddie joined the family. “What you do isn’t as useful as I thought.” 
“I know. But touch makes everything more clear. Come here.” Ariel opened her arms and Teddie smiled as she walked into the hug. Ariel held her sister tight for a full minute, while Maurice and Yuden came into the kitchen.
Ariel nodded as she let go. “I think I can make sense out of this, if I can get more.” She turned to the elderly Yuden. It was surprising how imposing a woman less than five-feet tall and over eighty-years old could be, particularly in her pajamas. But Yuden oozed a silent dignity.
“I see you in so many of Teddie’s possible futures. May I hug you, ma’am?”
A giant grin broke through the wrinkles. 
“To tell my future? As they say here, hell yes.” She threw her arms around Ariel.
The rest of the family got in line, followed by Maurice, and then Xuha and Vanida, who had joined the group.
Ariel grabbed a paper and pen, and began writing. 
“Your futures all intertwine so much that what I can’t make sense of in one place I can get in another.”
“Are we going to be okay?” Lola asked.
“Probably.” Ariel flashed her mother a grin. 

Monday night, Lola and Alex sat on the front porch, huddled together against the chilly December evening. Lola’s twinkly Christmas lights made a festive backdrop to a serious conversation.
“I’m scared, Alex. We’ve got something dangerous coming at us. We've got to trust each other and tell each other everything.”
Alex began his litany of reasons for why he’d never talked to Lola about his ability to slow down time, and Lola was wise enough to let him finish. She knew most of the facts already. She even understood them, and that made it hard to stay angry.
“No more,” was all she said when he was done. “Everyone under this roof has to understand. No more secrets.”
“You sound like you’re getting ready to lead an army.” 
“I think I am. Xuha’s already come up with a name for us.” She laughed. “I’m afraid he’s going to make us t-shirts next.” 
He wrapped both of his arms around her in the way she’d always loved, the way that made her feel so safe. 
“Reporting for duty, commander.” He whispered it in her ear. 
They walked into the house a few minutes later and found Teddie, Xuha, and Maurice in the living room. All three faces looked up, relieved to see neither Lola nor Alex was upset. 
“We have new house rules,” Alex said.
“Figured as much,” Teddie replied. “We’ve already been talking.”

“The way your mom describes how you see the future is so cool. Touch me first. I want to know what will happen to me.” Xuha made one of his exaggerated comic faces, this time a look of amplified eagerness.
Ariel directed a fierce look of annoyance at her mother.
“We’re in the middle of a crisis here,” Lola said. “We’ve got a no secrets policy now. We tell everyone everything because we have to work together.”
“That won’t be possible,” the blind Irishman said from the place where he’d settled in on the couch. 
Lola looked at Cillian more closely. He was a tall, unusually attractive man in his mid-forties, with a rich brogue and the demeanor of someone of wealth and importance. He spoke like he was accustomed to being listened to.
“I beg your pardon?” 
“Ariel will need to be selective about what she tells you. It’s a pity you chose to share her feyness with the group, but she and I will find ways to manage that. She needs to check with me before she says anything more.”
Lola knew she was tired. Hungry. Not used to strangers in her own house telling her what to do. She tried to soften her voice before she spoke, but didn’t do a very good job of it.
“Ariel is my daughter and she will do no such thing. Her family is in danger and needs her help. What she does or doesn’t do is not your concern. I’m not even sure why you’re here, but you may stay if and only if you don’t think it is your prerogative to tell us what to do.”
The rest of the room went silent.

On the last day of the year, Violeta woke to the bright, cloudless blue of a cool day calling her to come out for a walk. Her days of hiking through the woods were over, but there was a park nearby with paths. Her mother helped her prepare for the outing, happy to see her daughter get out.
Tourists were everywhere this time of year and they filled the park. She didn’t used to mind them; their money helped feed her and kept her dressed in judo gis throughout her growing years. But walking in crowds was more stressful now. 
She strolled along for about fifteen minutes when her body let her know a rest would be good. She looked for a bench, but the few she saw were occupied. Some may have made room for her if she asked, but it still hurt to see the pity common on the faces of those who accommodated her. No, she could sit on the ground. 
Unfortunately, getting up and down wouldn’t be graceful, so she hunted for a place out of view. Fifty yards away was a small hill. Stepping through the grass, she set out for her private spot.
She hadn’t quite cleared the hill when it became obvious what was on the other side. A small fence marked the edge of the park. Behind it, a six-foot-wide trench discouraged leaving the grounds, as did the numerous No Trespassing signs in many languages. The real showstopper, however, was the ten-foot-tall cinder block wall beyond, with its two feet of barbed wire on top.
Nobody in town had ever been this concerned about intruders. Violeta was willing to bet she’d found Warren Moore’s new business complex. No wonder all of Ushuaia was talking about it.

Ken called Alex the morning of New Year’s Eve because he needed to borrow a tool. Alex was pretty sure it was a pretext. Ken was the shop teacher at Alex’s high school and he already owned every tool ever invented. 
Ken and his wife Sara were friends of the Zeitmans. Alex was pretty sure they watched Reel News, yet Ken and Sara had more open hearts and minds than many, at least in Alex’s opinion. He suspected the phone call was to offer support, 
“Guess you’ve seen us on the news lately?” Alex decided to broach the topic.
“Ha. You guys have a way of igniting things, don’t you?” 
The affection in Ken’s voice was clear. Alex breathed a sigh of relief. 
“Is this still fallout from that peacenik article Lola wrote?”
“It is. Ken, this has gotten way out of hand. We have no idea how to stop this nonsense now.”
Ken didn’t say anything for a few seconds, and Alex wondered if he’d pushed the friendship too far. 
“Is there something they want from you?” Ken asked, and Alex realized he’d been trying to think of a solution. “I say ‘never give in to a bully,’ but you could be fighting someone about three weight classes above you.”
“I wish they did want something. It’s more like someone at Reel News wants to ruin our lives. I’m starting to think they can do it, too.”
“Have you heard anything from the school?” 
“Not yet. I expect them to look for an excuse to cut me loose, though. If this keeps up, they won’t have a choice.”
“It’s just wrong. I’ll pick up that oil filter wrench tomorrow, okay? Can’t believe those damn mechanics tightened it like that.”
As Alex hung up, he wondered if Ken really needed the wrench. Nah. Ken hadn’t changed his own oil in years.

“Anything else of immediate help?” Alex asked his daughter.
“Not really. We know something unusual happens over the next few days that sets this in motion. The less we react the better. Oh, wait a minute, dad. Your school will be looking for ways to fire you.”
“Forgot to mention that one, huh?” 
“Sorry. And finally, nobody goes on a cruise. Nobody goes on vacation. Nobody goes anywhere near South America.”
“Check in on how that’s working out for you,” Cillian said.
“Ignore him,” Lola said.
“No, he is right,” Alex said. “We should monitor this. We’re learning about working with Ariel’s visions.” He reached out his arm to his daughter. “Are we at least below fifty-fifty for not ending up in Argentina?”
Ariel held on to her father’s wrist for several long seconds before she answered.
“No, you’re closer to sixty-percent now.”
Cillian broke into a loud coughing spasm.
“Get him some water,” Lola told Teddie in a stage whisper.
“I’d stop coughing and behave better if you made it a little Christmas brandy instead,” he whispered back.
Lola rolled her eyes, marched into the kitchen, and came back with a bottle and a glass. She poured three shots into it and placed it in his hands.
“How’s that?”
Cillian swirled the liquor around, feeling its weight. Then he took a sip and smacked his lips.
“Plenty of it, and not the cheap stuff, either. Thank you, lass. You’ve bought at least three hours of my best behavior.”
“Great. Let me know when the meter runs out.”

She got out of bed, tiptoed into the hallway, and peaked around the dining room curtains. The first thing she saw was smoke. She rubbed her eyes awake and looked again. Either there had a been a freakish hail storm or there was dry ice laying on the front lawn. So it was mist she was seeing. Mist someone was creating. Why?
She squinted into it. A dozen people were on the lawn, dressed in grey cloaks, swaying and crouching in fear. Some were moaning in pain while others were grunting in anger. There was no obvious source of their troubles. Rather, it looked like an amateur acting workshop devoted to expressing negative emotions. Had this been staged to wake her and Maurice and make them afraid?
Alex came up behind her. As he looked out, a tall hooded man raised a dagger high above his own head and started to wail at the top of his lungs.
“What is this shit?” 
“Maybe we should call 911,” Teddie’s voice was behind them. 
“I wouldn’t, unless you think they’re going to hurt us,” Zane said. “This has got to be what Ariel saw. Something to make our family look eccentric.” 
“Make us look eccentric? We’re not the ones dancing around on the lawn making strange noises.” 
“How much do you want to bet that isn’t the way the story gets covered?”
“Maybe if we all go back to sleep they’ll get tired of this and go away,” 
“The last thing we want is call more attention to them.”
They were all speaking at once. Lola looked through the window. “If they get loud enough, a neighbor will call the police. Then what?”
Zane nudged in beside his mother and studied the scene. The man with the dagger was waving it in the air, and his sounds were becoming shrieks. Several of the others began to screech too. 
“I could go out and spray them with the garden hose,” Zane offered.
A lone, grey hooded figure emerged from the bushes carrying a tray holding a small, lifeless orange animal. The tray was laid in front of the dagger-holding shrieker as the four family members tried to get a good look at it through the mist.
“Please tell me that’s a dead chicken.”
“I wish. It looks more like the Nelson’s cat.” Lola said. “Hopefully only drugged.” 
The groans and screeches began to coalesce into chanting. It was a little free form, but the gist seemed to involve begging the Zeitmans to come outside and accept their sacrifice.
“They want us to stop the murder of this pet, by appearing with them,” Zane said. “They’re trying to force us to engage in this nonsense.”

Sherrie Cronin is the author of a collection of six speculative fiction novels known as 46. Ascending and is now in the process of publishing a historical fantasy series called The War Stories of the Seven Troublesome Sisters. A quick look at the synopses of her books makes it obvious she is fascinated by people achieving the astonishing by developing abilities they barely knew they had.

She’s made a lot of stops along the way to writing these novels. She’s lived in seven cities, visited forty-six countries, and worked as a waitress, technical writer, and geophysicist. Now she answers a hot-line. Along the way, she’s lost several cats but acquired a husband who still loves her and three kids who’ve grown up just fine, both despite how odd she is.

All her life she has wanted to either tell these kinds of stories or be Chief Science Officer on the Starship Enterprise. She now lives and writes in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where she admits to occasionally checking her phone for a message from Captain Picard, just in case.

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