Novel Monday: A New Path – Chapter 8

POD A New Path Ebook Cover 09


After Shizuka’s father suffered a terrible accident, she took on the challenge of apprenticing to the nobility of Ambermarle in the hopes of learning a new career that could cover for his medical care. Breding Manor surprised her with more than just career opportunities.

Two potential romances with the Lord’s oldest son Ammad and his willful daughter Nabeela promised a new path that Shizuka could never have imagined.

A New Path is a sweet romance where second chances lead to something wonderful for everyone involved.

A New Path

By Meyari McFarland

8. Awakening

Hazy darkness met Nabeela’s eyes when she rolled over and peered towards the window in the far wall of her bedroom. It was dark enough that she couldn’t see the rich velvet drapes. They were blood-black shadows alongside the grayness that was her window. She sighed, relieved. A few more hours to sleep was so welcome.

She rolled over and pulled the blankets up until they completely covered her head, soft cotton sheet and thick silk-edged comforter like a cocoon other than the breathing hole she left. A couple more hours and then she’d get up. It was too early now. Nabeela relaxed back into the warmth of her bed, rubbing her face against the silk-covered pillow as darkness caught her in velvet paws, dragging her back to sleep.


Nabeela swatted a hand towards the voice, only dimly recognizing that it was Shahzad. He poked her in the shoulder hard enough to make her grunt but not hard enough to make her poke her head out of the covers. Whatever nightmare he’d had, she still had time to sleep. She didn’t need to get up yet and she wasn’t going to until it was morning.

Shahzad switched to gripping her shoulder so that he could firmly shake her, tugging her out of her comfy slumber. Nabeela whined at him as she tried to burrow completely under the covers in a vain attempt to escape from reality. A few more hours, that was all she wanted. After the last month she deserved to get to sleep until the sun had properly risen and the world was fully lit.

It wouldn’t work. She knew that. Sleeping in never did work once someone came and shook her until her mind started working again. Nabeela could feel her night shirt twisted around her waist like a too-tight waistband digging into her flesh. Her sleep pants were rucked up, one to the knee, the other caught around her calf. And hair tickled her nose reminding Nabeela that she hadn’t bothered to properly brush and braid her hair last night.

“Nabeela,” Shahzad huffed as he shook her hip firmly enough that there was no pretending to be asleep until he went away. “You need to get up. Piyari needs you.”

“What?” Nabeela squawked as she struggled to push the blankets back, her heart leaping straight to her throat in fear for Piyari.

The sheet caught under her side, trapping her left arm by her side, while the blankets tumbled further over her head. Somehow, she’d kicked them loose from the foot of the bed while she slept. Nabeela struggled free of them, throwing off the blankets which slithered off the bed and onto the floor at the same time she tugged the sheet free so that she could sit up.

Shahzad snorted at her when she finally managed to get her head and torso free of the blankets. Her hair tumbled over her face much like the blankets had but less tractable when Nabeela pushed it back. She blew a wayward strand out of her face to stare up at him.

“What happened?” Nabeela demanded.

“Did you sleep at all?” Shahzad asked. “You’ve got dark bags under your eyes.”

“Shahzad,” Nabeela scolded him as she kicked her way completely free of the tangled sheets. “What’s wrong with Piyari?”

The sheets had pulled completely free at the foot of the bed, revealing the thick old mattress that Nabeela intended to have restuffed sometime this summer. Somehow she’d managed to pull one of the bed curtains free from its hooks, too. She tugged her sleep shirt back into place so that it wasn’t wrapped too tight around her waist, grateful that at least her sleep pants hadn’t bunched up too badly.

Her discarded clothes peeked out from under the lump of blankets that she’d thrown off the bed. The sheer chaos of her bedroom made Nabeela’s cheeks heat, especially as Shahzad shook his head in just the same way that Mother always did when she was disappointed in something that Nabeela had done.

“Nothing at the moment,” Shahzad said. He folded his arms so that he could tuck his fist under his chin while smiling at her. “Duke Laughing Seal said that his apprentices reported that she had a long cry last night but she seemed to be okay this morning when Ammad and I went to check on them. But that’s not the issue. Father decided that she’s to be assigned with you for the next week. Piyari’s waiting for you to show up. She’s been waiting for several hours now. You overslept.”


Nabeela pulled the bed curtains out of the way so that she could see the window on the other side of the room. Instead of predawn darkness made even dimmer by clouds, fog and rain, bright sunshine poured through her window. Dust motes danced in the beams of light as if they were delighted that they finally had some brightness and warmth.

She blinked several times, her mind churning against the bone deep certainty that it was still predawn, that she still had hours to sleep. A few seconds later Nabeela gasped. Today was the day she was supposed to visit the village. And there were projects in the kitchen plus tax preparations and she needed to make sure that the full staff was properly introduced to Piyari.

Piyari, who didn’t know her way around. Who didn’t speak Urdu. Who was waiting for Nabeela to come and get her because Father trusted Nabeela to take care of her until her proper path was determined.

“Oh no!” Nabeela groaned while scrambling out of bed and tugging at the disordered sheets. “Why didn’t anyone come get me?”

“The servants tried to wake you up,” Shahzad said as Nabeela gave up on the bed. She ran for her closet and pulled out a red and green outfit at random. “They said you sounded like you’d woken but you never got up.”

“Father’s going to be so disappointed,” Nabeela whined. She really couldn’t call it anything but a whine. “There’s so much to do and it’s a beautiful day, too. I can’t believe I overslept this badly!”

“Neither can I,” Shahzad said.

He grinned, honestly grinned for the first time since Mother’s death, when Nabeela glared at him. She swatted in his direction with the outfit, skirt and sleeves flailing through the air. Shahzad ducked his head to hide the grin and then half-ran for the door when she did it again. Nabeela made sure the door was securely latched before hurrying back to her dressing table.

This late in the morning Nabeela knew that there wouldn’t be anyone available to help her get ready. That meant that her hair would have to be brushed and braided if it was to look even halfway appropriate. The more formal styles Nabeela had been trying to pick up over the last month were beyond her hair styling skills, especially when she had no one there to tell her how the back looked. A simple braid with ornate pins would have to suffice for now.

The outfit she’d grabbed turned out to be one of her simpler sets. Nabeela nodded. The rich red skirt was sturdy, good for work and walking, while still appropriately decorated with embroidery. The matching red kameez ended at exactly the right spot over her hips. It fit perfectly which always made her feel more confident. She pulled the outfit on, nodding approvingly at her reflection in the mirror as she added a gauzy green shawl wrapped around her neck to cover the lower neckline of the kameez.

“I look good,” Nabeela muttered while putting on her bracelets, earrings and two favorite necklaces. “Which is good. I need it, today.”

She really did.

The instant Nabeela had escorted Duke Laughing Seal and Duchess Chin-Sun to the suite they’d been assigned to, Duchess Chin-sun had latched onto Nabeela’s arm, dragging her right in while chattering about the trip and checking the room and how nice it was to be warm after the long, cold, foggy sea voyage.

Duke Laughing Seal had, to Nabeela’s embarrassment, waved both their servants and the household servants away with a little smirk that made Nabeela blush. That was the sort of smirk that implied threesomes, not frank conversations about how everyone in the household was handling Mother’s death and Father’s illness.

“All gone,” Duke Laughing Seal had said once the door shut.

“Oh, good,” Duchess Chin-Sun said. She finally released Nabeela’s arm, patting her elbow fondly. “Now, I know I was teasing earlier, dear, but you really should consider what I said.”

“A-about Piyari,” Nabeela said, her voice breaking on the first word as dramatically as Shahzad’s voice tended to. “I am taking it quite seriously but she only just arrived today, you know, Your Grace.”

“I know, I know,” Duchess Chin-Sun said. “But certain sorts of people make decisions very quickly and quite frankly? You remind me of my husband in that. You’ve always been quite decisive. It’s apparent that your attraction is a great deal more than mere fondness. Ammad’s the sort to need time to get to know someone before he falls in love.”

“Love?” Nabeela squeaked. “Duchess!”

“Looks like it to me,” Duke Laughing Seal said with such a serious expression that he might be discussing Ambermarle’s defenses rather than a silly little crush.

Her cheeks had flared so red, redder than the outfit Nabeela now wore. That would have been bad enough but both Duke Laughing Seal and Duchess Chin-Sun seemed determined to give her lectures about being aware of her own heart and always living true to her emotions. By the time they’d stopped giving Nabeela advice mixed in with stories of their courtship, it had been well past midnight and the halls had been nearly empty.

The smell of dinner was long gone, replaced by the damp scent of fog and misty rain. Nabeela had leaned against the wall, her head tipped back against the smooth-planed wood as she tried to forget all of the Duke and Duchess’ cute stories of their early courtship and marriage.

That wasn’t going to be her. It wasn’t. Nabeela knew it. Piyari was too bright, too beautiful, to settle for the very first person who expressed any level of interest in her. Yes, Nabeela would love to spend huge amounts of time with Piyari. Who wouldn’t? She was beautiful, sweet, demure and forceful enough to deal with Nabeela’s family without being rude. That was rare.

Just as Nabeela had managed to get her flustered heart back into something like order again, one of the servants had cleared her throat, startling Nabeela into a gasp and whirl, fist in the air to hit the next person who bothered her. Noriko had stepped back, eyes wide.

“Oh, Noriko,” Nabeela said. She thrust her fist behind her back, blushing for the millionth time that night. “What’s wrong?”

“I think that’s my question to you, Mistress,” Noriko said. “Are you all right? You haven’t reacted like that since you were a little girl.”

“It’s… been a very long day,” Nabeela sighed. “Is there a problem?”

“No, it’s good news for once,” Noriko replied, patting Nabeela reassuringly on the shoulder while pushing her towards the hallway that led to the private quarters. “Your father finally admitted that he needs to rest properly. He wanted me to tell you that he’s going to stay in bed tomorrow, no protests or disagreements out of him in the morning.”

“That’s good,” Nabeela said.

Even she had heard the nervousness in those two simple words. Father had refused to rest without protest the entire time he’d been recovering. She’d spent a portion of each day taking her turn cajoling him into taking breaks, staying bed, passing duties off to someone else, just as Ammad and Shahzad had.

As good as it was for Father to finally, finally, finally show some common sense regarding his injury and illness, Nabeela couldn’t help but worry that it was a sign of a turn towards the worse. She hadn’t said anything. Instead, Nabeela had allowed Noriko to push her towards the kitchen for one last check with the staff without protest, not that Nabeela’s mind had been on her last duty of the day.

Yes, Father actually taking care of his health was important. Worrisome given how stubborn he’d been about getting out of bed, but important. And yes, Duchess Chin-Sun had a point that Nabeela was obviously smitten. But a crush wasn’t the proper basis for a marriage and Nabeela had no idea what Piyari thought about the idea.

The girl had only just arrived in the household! She had a thousand, thousand things to learn before she could know how she fit into here. Throwing her into an immediate romance was a tremendously stupid idea and Nabeela had no intention of doing so. Piyari deserved better than a casual fling and frankly, Nabeela wasn’t interested in starting a relationship that might not go anywhere. There was simply too much going on in her life at the moment for romance.

Nabeela sighed, staring at her shaking hands as she tried to put her rings on and failed.

“I’m lying to myself,” she whispered. “I should just… talk to her.”

Her reflection in the dressing mirror showed a woman with a grimly determined expression and hair that desperately needed an expert’s touch. Bits and strands of hair stuck out as though she’d allowed a two-year-old to do the braid. Nabeela’s shawl was askew. Her kameez had shifted so that it didn’t sit right.

“I’m a mess,” Nabeela groaned.

“Mistress?” Piyari said from the doorway.

Nabeela shrieked, nearly falling over in her startlement. She hadn’t heard Piyari come in. For that matter, she hadn’t heard Piyari knock even though one of her hands was still clenched into a fist for tapping against the door. Piyari’s eyes were wide, her mouth in that perfect ‘o’ that was so very tempting, as she stared first at Nabeela’s face and then upwards towards Nabeela’s hair.

“Piyari!” Nabeela asked, desperately smoothing her kameez and then her hair. “Did Shahzad send you to make sure I actually got up?”

Piyari started giggling as she nodded. Her eyes swept the room, taking in the mess of blankets on the bed and Nabeela’s scattered clothing before settling on Nabeela’s hair. She shook her head disapprovingly even though her lips twitched with suppressed laughter.

“May I brush your hair, Mistress?” Piyari asked. “Master Ammad said that you should look your best before visiting the village.”

“Please,” Nabeela sighed. “I really didn’t intend to oversleep this way. Normally I have one of the servants help me with it. I can never get it to behave. I always wore it down or in a ponytail before… Never did learn how to do it properly.”

“Come sit down then, Mistress,” Piyari said. “Is it too thick for the styles you want?”

“Too wavy and unpredictable,” Nabeela said. “The front tries to curl while the back goes as straight as yours. The sides have odd waves that just… go everywhere when I let my hair loose. I keep threatening to cut my hair short but Father looks like I stabbed him each time so I don’t do it.”

Piyari hummed. She unbraided Nabeela’s hair, carefully spreading it to study the unruly strands as if she was attempting to determine exactly what needed to be done. Perhaps she was. When she started brushing Nabeela’s hair it was in the back. She worked her way around Nabeela’s head, smoothing the brush through any knots and gradually taming Nabeela’s hair until it lay in shining waves. It was soothing enough that Nabeela almost dozed off, eyes half shut as she watched dust motes dancing in the sunlight by the window.

Only then did she carefully start braiding Nabeela’s hair. It felt far more complicated than Nabeela’s usual styles, with braids that came from her temples to the back of her head. The way Piyari braided the back made Nabeela felt looser but the braid only extended halfway down Nabeela’s back.

“There,” Piyari said. “I think this looks good, Mistress.”

Nabeela looked in the mirror, starting when she saw the style that Piyari had created. Complicated braids swept from her temples back around her head. The hair was draw in with graceful swoops that only wobbled a little bit from the wave in Nabeela’s hair. It almost looked like the wobbles were deliberate instead of a nod to her unruly hair.

The back felt just as gorgeous. One of Nabeela’s favorite hair clips secured the two braids together. Underneath Piyari had created a soft plait with more strands than Nabeela’s fingers could decipher. It ended about halfway down Nabeela’s back in another hair clip, below which Nabeela’s hair hung free.

“This is… beautiful,” Nabeela said. She turned to stare at Piyari who only smiled and shrugged as if it was nothing. “No, really. This looks very good.”

“Thank you, Mistress,” Piyari said. “I did try to hurry. You are very late this morning. Everyone said so.”

Nabeela groaned, nodding. As Nabeela pulled her socks and shoes on Piyari straightened up Nabeela’s bed. It looked as though it was automatic for Piyari. Before Piyari could set to work at picking up Nabeela’s discarded clothes, Nabeela stopped her.

“You really don’t need to do that,” Nabeela said. “The servants will take care of it once I’m gone.”

“Oh,” Piyari said, blinking as she smoothed the last blanket on Nabeela’s bed. “Ah. Sorry, Mistress?”

“It’s okay, Piyari,” Nabeela said and then winced as Piyari squeaked and hid her face in her hands. “Oh, no. Someone told you? Oh no!”

Piyari’s nod was so embarrassed that Nabeela wanted to hide her face, too. She’d been hoping that no one would explain it before Nabeela got a chance to apologize for the nickname. Somehow, overnight, the entire household was already calling her ‘Piyari’. Nabeela had found that out last night after Duchess Chin-Sun let her leave.

Kosuke had used ‘Piyari’ when he told Nabeela that ‘the sweet girl shows a lot of promise’ and requested that she be considered for training as a chef. So had Zuneera, the head of staff, when she suggested that Piyari be trained in household administration. Even the night shift servants that Nabeela had passed on her way back to her bedroom had asked where ‘Piyari’ was.

“I am sorry about the nickname,” Nabeela said sincerely. “I didn’t mean anything by it. You’re just very attractive and sweet and well, it seemed appropriate. I think everyone’s attached to it now.”

“I am not ‘very attractive’,” Piyari said so firmly that Nabeela grinned at her. “I am not, Mistress! My younger sisters are much more attractive than me. Many girls in my home town are prettier than I am.”

“Um, I have a hard time imagining that,” Nabeela said, blinking rapidly as she tried to imagine a village full of beautiful women.

“No, it’s not ‘the Village of Beautiful Women’!” Piyari huffed. “Master Ammad already has taken to calling it that.”

Nabeela burst out laughing. It was just like Ammad to give a village a name like that. The laughter seemed to calm Piyari a little bit. She stopped hiding her face in her hands. A tiny smile curled her lips. Piyari pushed a strand of her lovely long hair behind one ear. The movement was so graceful, so simple and unconscious and just… beautiful, that Nabeela found herself staring.

“You like me,” Piyari observed. She blinked, slowly, seriously, and then nodded once as if she’d just discovered the secrets of the universe. “You think you love me.”

Nabeela stood as if she’d been frozen and stared at Piyari. Her heart pounded so hard that it made her chest hurt. Blood roared in Nabeela’s ears. For a moment the room spun so sharply that Nabeela had to sit right back down on the stool.

Piyari’s mouth dropped open in another of her perfect ‘o’s as she dove to catch Nabeela’s elbows. It was only her grip that kept Nabeela from falling over entirely. The blood still pounded in her ears. It rushed as loudly as the river had when Nabeela donned pants and men’s clothes so that she could aid in the search for mother’s body. This felt as strong, as inevitable, as the river and the rain had that long, long day.

“You smell of roses,” Nabeela whispered.

“Ah, there was a bottle of rose oil in the bath,” Piyari said almost that quietly, almost but not quite. She sounded confused by the nonsequitor. “I used some. That was… wrong?”

“No,” Nabeela laughed under her breath. “It smells good. I’m sorry. It’s probably just… reaction. So much has happened. Mother’s death. Father’s injuries. All the duties that I’ve had to take on.”

She looked up and met Piyari’s eyes. Dark, intent, lovely; Piyari looked at her with a tiny frown from little more than a finger’s breath away. Nabeela could feel her breath against her lips. It would take so little to kiss Piyari, just a slight lean forward and they’d be there.

Nervousness burned like bile at the back of Nabeela’s throat.

“You should ignore it,” Nabeela said. “The crush. My crush. You should ignore it. You’re here to learn, not to be seduced. It’s nothing serious, Piyari. It’s only a silly little crush on the first person I’ve seen who isn’t involved with the whole mess. I’ll get over it.”

“You will?” Piyari asked but her tone made it more of a statement than a question.

She studied Nabeela’s face for a very long time that was probably only a couple of seconds. This close Nabeela could feel the heat radiating off Piyari’s body. Breding Manor’s blue livery looked very good on her. It brought out the warmth of her cheeks and blue-black sheen of her long hair.

For a moment Nabeela allowed herself to imagine what it would be like to have Piyari dressed in a beautiful blue kimono, wide obi decorated with gold embroidery. They could meet guests together, Nabeela being the outgoing one, Piyari serving them tea and answering questions as the Lady of the house was supposed to.

It was a beautiful little dream.

Nabeela smiled wryly and nodded to Piyari’s question. “I will. Just ignore the crush. We’ll get you trained and if you fall in love with someone, then that’s fine. We can arrange a marriage for you when you’re ready.”


Piyari nodded and stood, offering her hands to Nabeela with a stern enough expression that Nabeela suddenly understood how Father had felt the last few weeks. She didn’t really need the help even though she’d nearly passed out from shock. It was just exhaustion and surprise getting the better of her, nothing more.

“You need food, Mistress,” Piyari announced. “Food and more rest but that will have to wait until the guests have been dealt with.”

“Yes,” Nabeela said as she mentally shouted at herself to let Piyari’s hands go and completely failed to do so. “Some food would be good. I was a little too rattled to eat well last night.”

“And you missed breakfast, Mistress,” Piyari said. “Shall we not go? The sooner you eat the better.”

“Yes, let’s,” Nabeela replied.

She let Piyari tug her out of the bedroom and down the hallway, entirely too aware of the warmth of Piyari’s hand. It was strong despite Piyari’s delicateness. To Nabeela, it almost felt as though Piyari could hold the whole world in her hands without striving.

‘I really need to let this crush go,’ Nabeela thought. ‘Nothing good can come from this.’

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Novel Monday: A New Path – Chapter 7

POD A New Path Ebook Cover 09


After Shizuka’s father suffered a terrible accident, she took on the challenge of apprenticing to the nobility of Ambermarle in the hopes of learning a new career that could cover for his medical care. Breding Manor surprised her with more than just career opportunities.

Two potential romances with the Lord’s oldest son Ammad and his willful daughter Nabeela promised a new path that Shizuka could never have imagined.

A New Path is a sweet romance where second chances lead to something wonderful for everyone involved.

A New Path

By Meyari McFarland

7. Surprise

Shizuka’s empty stomach threatened to send her running for the toilet as Ammad’s jaw dropped open. His cheeks went pale as milk first and then bright red as he shuffled his feet and tried to say something. She shouldn’t have asked. She shouldn’t. Even though he’d said that she could ask anything, Shizuka shouldn’t have asked that particular question.

After all these years she should have learned that her instinct to directly question people was not a good one. Every time Shizuka gave into her more blunt instincts she ended up embarrassing herself and the person she was talking to. At least this time there weren’t that many about to witness it. Shizuka didn’t think she’d ever forget the scalding shame of commenting loudly on the town matriarch’s rather unfortunate choice of clothing at her granddaughter’s wedding.

It was madness to ask the question. Even if people thought she was pretty, that didn’t mean that they thought she was an appropriate choice for Lady of Breding. Shizuka didn’t think she was an appropriate choice. No matter what she’d learned while in training, she simply wasn’t a proper candidate to court Ammad. And he’d not shown any signs of being honestly interested in courting. Sex, maybe, but not courtship.

“I…” Ammad said, abruptly laughing and rubbing his face with both hands. “I didn’t expect that question. I thought you would ask about Nabeela.”

“Oh, it was quite obvious that she was interested before dinner,” Shizuka said before she could think first. She winced at the amusement in Ammad’s eyes. “I am sorry, Master Ammad, but it was. At dinner as well. I think that is why Duchess Chin-Sun teased her.”
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Novel Monday: A New Path – Chapter 6

POD A New Path Ebook Cover 09


After Shizuka’s father suffered a terrible accident, she took on the challenge of apprenticing to the nobility of Ambermarle in the hopes of learning a new career that could cover for his medical care. Breding Manor surprised her with more than just career opportunities.

Two potential romances with the Lord’s oldest son Ammad and his willful daughter Nabeela promised a new path that Shizuka could never have imagined.

A New Path is a sweet romance where second chances lead to something wonderful for everyone involved.

A New Path

By Meyari McFarland

6. Quarters

Ammad listened with half an ear as his father and Lord Laughing Seal companionably complained about taxes and tariffs on incoming shipments from the East. The majority of his attention was on Nabeela. Her attention was very firmly focused on Piyari who looked as though she was so completely flustered that she might break into tears at any moment.

He honestly wasn’t sure what he’d eaten other than it had been rich and warm. The entire dinner, Ammad had done his very best not to watch Piyari’s every move. Nabeela’s attraction to Piyari couldn’t be more obvious and he was reasonably certain that she’d ended up cuddled with Nabeela for a reason.

If he was telling the truth, Ammad found himself rather glad that she hadn’t been determined to cuddle with him. It was hard enough avoiding an erection with Piyari across the room. Having her in his lap would have been horrifically embarrassing both for him and for Piyari.

“Well,” Lord Laughing Seal said, clapping his hands and bowing his head in thanks, “I believe we’ll head off to bed. The boys will be welcome in the apprentice quarters, won’t they?”

“Of course,” Father said, nodding to Ammad to take care of that. “We have plenty of room right now as there’s only our Piyari.”

Duchess Chin-Sun giggled at the nickname, lightly poking Nabeela in the side with one finger. Of course Nabeela swatted at her hand with her napkin, prompting Duchess Chin-Sun to laugh out loud. Both Father and Duke Laughing Sun smiled at the two of them, Father so warmly that it was almost like having Father back to his old self before the accident and Mother’s death.

“My dear, would you be so kind as to show Duke Laughing Seal and Duchess Chin-Sun to their rooms?” Father asked. “I do apologize for not escorting you myself but I’m afraid that my exhaustion is catching up with me.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t fall asleep in the miso,” Duke Laughing Seal said. He snorted at Father’s sour look. “Don’t. You’re sick. You’re injured. You’re mourning. You’re allowed to bow out of social engagements. We’ll be fine. Go sleep.”

That, amazingly enough, appeared to work. Father nodded instead of protesting. He did smile a bit ruefully but given the sheer frustration he’d shown when Ammad had tried to get him to stay in bed this morning that was next to nothing. To Ammad’s surprise he even let Ammad help him stand but only for a moment.

“Good night,” Father said, nodding to Ammad and Nabeela who huffed at him. “Now, don’t be difficult, Nabeela. Show our guests to their rooms, please.”
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Free Fiction Friday: Ghosts of the Dead

POD Ghosts of the Dead Ebook Cover 05


Survival was hard enough but when your space station was half destroyed and the population was slowly trickling away it became even harder. Paulina lived with the scars of the accident that had nearly killed their station. She wasn’t sure if she could live with the plan her lover Tina and their friends had come up with to revive the station’s failing future.

It was hard enough to live with the ghosts of the dead in her heart. Paulina wasn’t sure she could stand to be surrounded by them all the time.

Ghosts of the Dead is a near future SF story of recovery from disaster, regaining your strength and moving into the future.

Ghosts of the Dead

By Meyari McFarland

1. Water Damage

“Ugh,” Paulina complained. “It stinks.”

“The whole station stinks,” Tina said with a shrug that was anything but casual. “Will until the filters are all replaced.”

That was true enough that Paulina didn’t reply. The smell of smoke and melted plastic had almost gotten familiar in the last couple of months. It lingered on Paulina’s tongue, stained the back of her nose until the burning seemed normal.

Nothing was normal, not anymore. Too many people were dead. Too many had fled the station with what little they could salvage. Paulina had a moment of vertigo as she remembered the burnt and twisted wreckage of the other half the station drifting away with Keiko Lewis still chattering away about keeping people safe.

She’d died. Her body was still in the wreckage a few thousand klicks away. She wasn’t the only one ‘buried’ in vacuum. Paulina shut her eyes against the rush of faces she’d never see again. So many people had died but Paulina had been left behind to struggle on through life. The too-familiar sourness of vomit rose at the back of her throat, threatening to spill Paulina’s meager mushroom and spinach piroshky out onto the stained carpet covering the floor.

“It smells like mold,” Paulina said once she’d pushed the nausea down again. “We can’t buy a place that’s full of mold, Tina.”

“We can fix it,” Tina replied as she pushed the theatre’s double doors open so that they could see the stage and seats.

“Sure’n it’s a beautiful sight,” Boss Johnson said in the back of Paulina’s head. His accent was as off in memory as it had been in real life. “Perfect place to take a lovely lady fer a night of fun.”

Paulina cringed away from the flashback. She didn’t want to remember. Her first date with Tina had been to see an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in this theatre. Tina had grinned when Paulina marched up and asked if she wanted to go. She’d been so nervous that she’d almost shouted it, much to the amusement of her and Tina’s coworkers out on the Docks.

The smell of mold fought with Paulina’s memory of popcorn and laughing kisses as they watched the play from the back of the theatre. It had been perfect, a perfect shining moment that was completely destroyed by seeing the condition of the station now. When she tried to remember what Tina’s expression had been, Paulina couldn’t.

Faces didn’t make sense anymore. She could see eyes, a nose, mouths, even hairstyles but none of it made any sense. It didn’t coalesce into ‘Tina’s happy’, ‘Tina’s angry’ or ‘Tina’s sad’. Instead Paulina had to piece the separate elements together against a mental register of remembered explanations and hypothetical assumptions. She’d gotten better at figuring out what people’s expressions meant about their emotional state but the doctors had said that Paulina would never regain the skill for facial recognition and emotional comprehension. It was gone just like everything she’d loved about their space station.

Paulina slowly drifted towards the stage. Her fingers brushed against one of the seats. The once-soft velvet was sticky with fire suppression foam residue. She snatched her hand back, fisting it. Everything was ruined, completely ruined. Well, Paulina thought as she stomped up the stairs to the stage, that didn’t mean that they couldn’t make new memories. That was what Tina kept saying, not that Paulina thought they could make something out of this place.

It was a disaster. Boards lifting up, nails coming loose and that didn’t even touch the condition of the drapes; she’d never seen a stage in such horrible condition. The rest of the theatre was in equally bad shape.

The walls looked as though a thunderstorm had poured through the roof, staining the walls. She could smell mold everywhere in the theatre, a truly horrifying thought given that the space station was supposed to be ‘fully refurbished’. It obviously wasn’t but Paulina already knew that. Everyone who lived on the station knew just how much was left to be done. The station management’s advertising only applied to specific public areas. Any privately owned spaces were officially the responsibility of the owners.

“You can’t be serious,” Paulina complained to Tina without meeting her eyes. “This place is a dump.”

“Yeah,” Tina said with a far too casual shrug. “But it’s in our price range.”

“Why a theatre?” Paulina whined in part because it was this particular theatre full of memories that Paulina would have preferred to keep intact. “Seriously, this is insane. How can we set up a shop in a theatre, especially one this rundown?”

Tina glared. The punch to Paulina’s shoulder was expected. Didn’t stop it from hurting even though Paulina was better at pain than most after her dockside accident. Tina was a good foot taller than Paulina and from a station with full Earth gravity. She hit a lot harder than Paulina could dream of. Tina’s arms crossed over her chest looked as big around as Paulina’s waist, as brown as mahogany and corded with muscle.

Growing up on a low-grav station had left Paulina with a much more delicate body than Tina’s. Paulina’s slender build prevented her from ever being effective in combat that didn’t involve remote controlled robots. Besides, her scars weren’t the sort that went numb from nerve damage. No, Paulina got lucky and had scars that ached all the time.

Her whole body ached. Sometimes Paulina thought about using the pain pills the hospital had given her but no. No. The dreams she got were worse than the aches, worse than her scars brushing against something and sending screaming fire through Paulina’s body. Better to deal with what was around her, the damage, the destruction, the shell-shocked expressions she couldn’t comprehend anymore, than dream of what it had been like before.

“We can’t afford anything better,” Tina growled. “I checked. There’s literally nothing left, Pau. All the good places have been taken. This is still available because the fire suppression systems malfunctioned and flooded the place. No one wanted to clean it up.”

“I don’t want to clean it up,” Paulina complained. “This place stinks and it’s going to take most of our budget just to renovate. We won’t have money for buying stock.”

“Yes, we will,” Tina said. “All we have to do is work with Sue and Andrea. They take part of the building and we take the rest.”

“Which part?” Paulina asked immediately.

The theatre wasn’t that big. It held just over two hundred seats, most arranged in the main part of the floor, a few on the tiny balcony. The backstage portion was small with very little room for props or, in their case, stock. The offices were tiny, barely more than closets. Out front, where the most effective sales presence would be, there was a decent lobby but that was run down and water damaged, too.

Besides, Paulina wasn’t terribly fond of Sue. She wasn’t that bad, really. It was just that her voice was always too loud and her Southern accent frequently confused Paulina. She was from Earth, after all, and every Earther that Paulina had met was convinced of their inherent superiority over space-bred people.

If Sue was bad, though, Andrea was worse. Her smile always had that plastic quality of a person forced to smile when they’d rather curse. Paulina had no idea why Andrea though so poorly of her but it showed. There was nothing like watching a person go from laughing and carefree to fighting to keep a fake smile on their face the instant you showed up. Even with Paulina’s problems interpreting facial expressions Andrea’s issues with her were obvious. That smile was so fake that it stuck out like a sore thumb.

“I don’t want to have to deal with them all the time,” Paulina told Tina. “You know I don’t get along with them.”

“Everyone knows that,” Tina groaned as she rolled her eyes. “Really, it couldn’t be any more obvious if you tried. They said they’d like the offices and the backstage area. A tiny accounting firm doesn’t need a bunch of room. We should be able to take the rest of the theatre for ourselves. No storage space but then we can’t afford much in stock anyway and there’s not that many people on the station anymore so it will be okay.”

“Why are we doing this?” Paulina asked. “You’re right. There aren’t enough people on the station. There aren’t going to be. It’s old. It’s worn out. Half of the damn station is gone, Tina! Everyone knows that the station’s dying, dead, gone. They all want to go to stations that are new and fancy, with big open spaces and plenty of room, where it doesn’t stink of fire and death and fear.”

Tina pulled Paulina in for a hug without answering the complaint. There was no reason to. They’d talked about this for months as Paulina recovered before deciding that it was the best of their limited options. Neither of them had any family to speak of. Their jobs had been cut when the station management downsized due to decreased traffic and residency. And neither of them had the funds to move to a different station. Starting a shop was their only choice.

“It’s big,” Andrea murmured at the double doors that led from the lobby to the theatre.

“Yer gonna be fine, sweetie,” Sue reassured her. When Paulina peeked around Tina’s side Andrea looked frightened of the sheer size of the theatre. “We’ll take the store rooms an’ make ’em ours. Might even be a service corridor we could use to enter so ya don’ have to deal with the space in here.”

Paulina blinked up at Tina, surprised. She hadn’t thought that Andrea had agoraphobia. How she survived on a space station Paulina didn’t know. Tina turned the two of them and Andrea’s smile instantly went plastic. Her fingers tightened so much around Sue’s wrist that Sue winced.

“There y’all are,” Sue said loudly enough that Paulina winced. Her words echoed through the theatre making everyone wince along with Paulina. “Yow, I’m gonna have ta practice my indoor voice, aren’t I?”

“Please,” Paulina begged. “It’d help.”

To her surprise, Andrea swallowed down a laugh. She looked almost as shocked by the aborted giggle as Paulina felt but Sue didn’t seem to notice either. Sue grinned and nodded, flapping her free hand at Tina and Paulina.

“I’ll do m’best,” Sue promised. “But Lordy-God, this place needs a ton of work. We even gonna be able to do it?”

“I have a friend who had a team that does refurbishing work,” Tina said. “If we chip in labor then he’ll cut the cost.”

“I still don’t know what we’re going to sell,” Paulina sighed. “There isn’t a demand for food. The big grocery store is too cheap. And no need for knickknacks either when the station’s half gone and the other half is emptying out.”

“Games or toys?” Andrea suggested hesitantly. “There are a lot of families and no good entertainment options anymore.”

Sue shook her head no, sighing. “Don’ see that working. Too far away from the center concourse.”

Paulina sighed and nodded her agreement with Sue. She might be annoying but she was right. They really didn’t have a good plan. All Tina had been able to come up with so far was ‘open a shop’. That was better than Paulina’s half-cracked ideas of somehow making millions out of nowhere.

“I don’t know if we can even make this place work,” Paulina said. “I mean, look at it. It’s designed to be a theatre, not a shop. Unless we’re selling ghost stories about all the dead people on this station we’re not going to get much business.”

Tina stiffened. She looked around, a grin slowly blooming on her face. Sue whistled but it was low enough not to go straight through Paulina’s head. Even Andrea gasped and then smiled a real smile, the one that quirked her lips and made her eyes wrinkle up in completely different ways from the fake smiles Paulina had learned to recognize already. Their reactions made Paulina stare and then huff.


“Pau,” Tina said, “you’re brilliant. What better to sell than ghost stories? The entire station is turning into a ghost town. Why not play on that? There’s plenty of material, after all.”

“How?” Paulina demanded. “I’m not a writer. Neither are you. How do you sell ghost stories, anyway?”

“Oh, that’s easy, darlin’,” Sue said. “When we get this place fixed up we make sure ta leave it a bit bedraggled. Have some water stains, torn seats an’ the like. Then we fill the front lobby with all sorts of spooky toys and books. Then maybe dress up in torn coveralls, spooky makeup. Y’know, like Halloween costumes jus’ all the time. It’ll be easy for you.”

Paulina bristled at that, making Andrea shiver and hide behind Sue. Tina glared at her, too. That made Paulina feel a bit better. She knew how her scars made her look. There was no need to rub her nose in it.

“Not like that,” Sue sighed. “Seriously, y’all are too sensitive about those things. Yeah, they twist up your face on one side bu’ it’s not tha’ bad overall. No, I meant yer size, sweetie. Y’all make the perfect pair for that sort of thing. One little ‘n’ scary-fast, the other big ‘n’ looming. It’ll work well.”

“We’d still need stories,” Paulina said with a glare that didn’t bother Sue at all even though it made Andrea quiver behind her. “Or shows or something. We don’t have that. I can’t act.”

“You can sing,” Tina said entirely too mildly for it to be anything more than her taking the idea seriously.

“Traitor,” Paulina hissed at her. “I am not singing for anyone but you. I’m not that good.”

Tina grinned and shrugged. “You are, too. Well. And I do a good job of telling stories. All it would take is some research. We’ll have time to gather stories to play off of when we’re fixing the place up. Maybe we could do some actual plays, you know, spooky ones that only take a couple of actors.”

“That’d be a load o’ fun!” Sue exclaimed much too loudly again. “Oops. Sorry! Really got great acoustics in here. I c’n act a bit if y’all don’ mind an accent.”

“Um, I know how to decorate things,” Andrea offered. “I could make costumes, maybe some props. Sue can sew cute toys for kids.”

Paulina pulled out of Tina’s arms to stare at each of them in turn. They were serious. They really thought it would work. She shook her head, mouthing ‘no’ at Tina. It didn’t work. Tina smiled wryly at her and shrugged. Sue clapped her hands and bounced on her toes. Even Andrea looked as though she thought it was a good idea if the way she met Paulina’s eyes was anything to judge by.

“You’re all insane!” Paulina complained. “We’ll go broke and end up on the chain gang for our debts.”

“No, we won’t,” Tina said. “It’ll work. Besides, do you have any better ideas?”

Paulina’s shoulders tensed until they felt like they were made of stone. She didn’t. There weren’t any other ideas that showed any signs of succeeding. They couldn’t grow anything in the theatre because permits for independent food production were prohibitively expensive. None of them had the skills to pilot, the really big earner on the station. And there wasn’t any other place that they could afford to buy.

“No,” Paulina sighed.

“Well, then,” Tina declared. “We have a plan.”

2. Repairs

“Ghost stories?” Max and Sam said as one.

They blinked at each other, slow smiles blooming over their faces. Despite being twins, they didn’t look a thing like each other. Max was pale skinned and burly with the kinky hair of their mother. Sam was inky black skinned with slightly wavy hair from their father. Strangers who saw them together tended to think that they were lovers, not brothers.

Their business was a simple cleaning and remodeling one. Somehow, Tina had gotten a discount from them but only in exchange for the two of them helping Max and Sam do all the cleaning in the theatre. Paulina would have preferred to spend her time coming up with a better idea for their future but that didn’t look like it was going to happen.

“I like it!” Max exclaimed. “We gotta do that, too.”

Paulina groaned. Every single person she’d mentioned the idea to thought it was incredible. The owner of the little entertainment shop down the way had already redecorated so that his shop looked like something out of a traditional Earth Halloween celebration. When she and Tina walked home last night they’d glimpsed holograms of space-suited ghosts with broken helmets appearing and disappearing in the central concourse.

People around them had laughed or screeched with delight. They appeared to enjoy it. Paulina had no idea why. What was so great about being scared? It didn’t make any sense to her. She could identify the people the ghost holograms were based on. One had been Lisa Lui who’d died of oxygen deprivation after using up three canisters of air saving other people. The other had been Boss Johnson as his corpse drifted off into space, flailing and reaching for the cut line that had meant his head. The idea of their ‘ghosts’ wandering the station made Paulina’s stomach twist into knots. Tina, on the other hand, had grinned so smugly that Paulina had glared at her.

And now Max and Sam were just as excited about the idea as everyone else. Paulina huffed, waving her broom at them as if she was going to whack them with it. Max laughed and mock-ducked. Sam just grinned.

“It’s a great idea,” Sam said, pushing the broom away. “I like it. It’s not like we have anything else around here. Why not theme the whole station as a ghost station? That’s what it’s on its way to being.”

“Yeah, but for real instead of fake,” Max agreed. “People like that sort of stuff, Pau. You know that.”

“Don’t call me Pau,” Paulina growled at him. “Only Tina gets to call me that.”

“Sorry,” Max said without the slightest trace of guilt.

Tina appeared at the double doors into the theatre dragging the garbage bin and its lift. She smiled at Paulina, nodded to the twins and then grabbed her broom. The actual theatre portion of the theatre had already been stripped of everything broken and moldy. There was a big pile of more or less usable seats off to one side of the lobby. Everything else had already been disposed of.

The lobby was mostly stripped. They’d taken down the ceiling covers and the walls were mostly gone. One patch still needed work by the front door but that wouldn’t take long. Paulina was looking forward to getting rid of the carpet. If the theatre was anything to judge by the mold smell that still lingered was coming from the carpet under their feet.

“So you guys are going to do plays?” Sam asked Tina with enough delight that he got a grin out of Tina.

“Maybe,” Tina said. “We don’t know yet. We don’t have the writing skills to create ghost stories to base things on. It’s just the shell of a concept so far.”

“I could write you some stuff,” Max offered.

He blinked at them when Paulina stared at him. Tina just made a ‘go ahead’ gesture at him while Sam bounced on his toes excitedly. Sam’s bouncing made the mold smell much worse so Paulina poked him with the handle of her broom. She also pulled up her face mask. Mold spores were the last thing she wanted to breathe in.

“I write a little,” Max admitted. “Not much but I could throw together some nice spooky stories that you could feature.”

“Do,” Tina said. “We’ll give you credit, of course, but we don’t have the money to pay you for them.”

“Eh, they’ll just be outlines,” Max said. “A few spooky details and maybe a plot that you guys can work around. Nothing fancy. You really won’t need much. Scary stories work better when you don’t know all the details.”

“Go ahead,” Tina said. “I’d like to see what you come up with.”

Max and Sam fist-bumped; both of them grinned so broadly that Paulina didn’t bother protesting this latest round of insanity. She really didn’t know why everyone was so enraptured with the idea of their station being known as the ‘ghost’ station. It frankly bothered her a lot more than she was willing to explain.

Even Tina didn’t know just how close Paulina had come to being one of the dead. The accident had come within a hair’s breadth of killing her. Paulina’s scars were permanent reminders of the fact that she’d lived when so many other people died. As far as she was concerned, spending the rest of her life talking about the dead was going backwards instead of forwards.

As they finished cleaning up the last of the debris from the walls and ceiling, Max chattered about various stories he’d heard. He came up with the ancient one that Paulina had heard as a little girl about the ghosts of the workers killed during the construction of the station walking through the hallways early in the morning as if they were returning to their jobs, broken helmets tucked under their arms. Sam offered one that she’d heard for ages about the old mining ship A-9871 ghost ship where the crew all died in a solar flare but the ship still made it to port on autopilot only to sit silent and still on the docks.

By the time Max and Sam were trading ideas of which of the accident’s many stories would scare people the most, ghosts killed in electrical arcing or ones who’d been caught in the explosion proper and thus had their suits rupture, Paulina’s stomach was in so many knots that she could barely breathe.

“It’s not funny,” Paulina said, low enough that none of the others heard her. “It’s not funny! This is horrible!”

She flung her broom at Sam who dodged with an expression of shock on his face. Rather than let Tina grab her, Tina ran for the back rooms that were going to be Sue and Andrea’s. Tina called her name. Paulina ignored it.

Both of the back office doors were open. Paulina ran in one and slammed the door, sitting against it so that Tina wouldn’t be able to get in. She sighed and let her head thump back against the door. Protesting this wasn’t going to do any good. No matter how Paulina complained about this, she knew that there weren’t any other options. If they wanted to survive they had to do something and the whole ghost idea was the best one anyone had come up with.


Paulina jerked. Her eyes snapped open only to slide shut as she groaned. Andrea stood on the exact opposite side of the room, her back pressed against the wall with a broom in her hands. She looked utterly terrified to be alone with Paulina.

“Sorry,” Paulina said. “They just won’t stop talking about the accident’s ghost stories out there. I had to… get away.”

“You don’t like the ghost story idea?” Andrea asked with enough surprise that Paulina shrugged. “Then why are you going along with this?”

“Because I don’t see any other options,” Paulina admitted. “I’ve tried to come up with something else and I just can’t think of anything that would work. It’s this or take on a huge debt to move to another station where I’d probably be the next best thing to a wage slave. Besides, Tina likes the idea.”

Andrea nodded slowly. It could almost be an encouraging gesture if it weren’t for the way she swallowed convulsively. And her knuckles were white from her too-tight grip on the broom. Paulina sighed as she rubbed a hand over her unscarred cheek.

“Why are you doing this?” Paulina asked. “You’re terrified of me or something. Every time I look your way you panic. Or you hate me. Can’t tell. I never was good at reading faces and it’s only gotten worse since the accident.”

“That affected your facial comprehension?” Andrea asked with enough astonishment that Paulina couldn’t help but glare. “I’m sorry! I just didn’t realize that it had.”

“Yes, it did,” Paulina grumbled. “Brain injuries often do that, you know. I look at people and don’t… I can’t figure out what they’re thinking. I mean, I’ve learned Tina’s expressions, mostly her body language, frankly, but everyone else confuses me.”

“Oh,” Andrea breathed.

She carefully set her broom aside, setting it into the corner as if keeping it from falling down was the most important thing in the universe. Then she slid down to the floor to put her head between her knees. The slow deep breaths were the first thing that clued Paulina into Andrea’s panic attack. Paulina squeaked something, an offer of help she thought, but Andrea shook her head and waved one hand no.

It took a minute or so before Andrea raised her head. Her face was covered with a sheen of sweat and her eyes were closed. Paulina bit her lip. Maybe she really misinterpreted Andrea’s responses? She must have if she just set off a panic attack.

“Sorry,” Andrea said as someone, probably Tina, knocked on the door.

“No, not your fault. Hang on,” Paulina said. She turned and thumped an elbow against the door. “Go away! I do not want to talk right now.”

Tina’s laugh echoed through the door. “Well, come out when you do. We’re going to start stripping the carpet.”

“Have fun,” Paulina said.

She could hear Tina reassuring Sue but the words were an indistinct murmur. Andrea raised one eyebrow, making a questioning gesture with her left hand. Paulina shrugged.

“Can’t hear what they’re saying,” Paulina said.

“You figured that out,” Andrea commented.

“Raised eyebrows either mean questions or they mean snide comments,” Paulina explained. “It was the hand gesture that made me think it was a question. So, panic attacks?”

Andrea grimaced. “I was on the dock too. I get really bad panic attacks when I’m reminded of the explosion. You don’t?”

Paulina blinked several times, trying to fit what she knew of Andrea in with working on the docks. The delicate woman didn’t seem the type to be out on the docks in the first place. She always wore pretty clothes full of lace and pastel colors. Andrea was as far as she could get from being the standard dock worker.

Her shock prompted a grin that was too fast for Paulina to properly register. It was just a hint of teeth that felt threatening rather than amused or nervous. Andrea waved both hands in the downward gesture that dock workers used to tell someone else to settle down out of the path of flight.

“You actually worked the docks,” Paulina said. “I’m stunned.”

“They like littler people for the job,” Andrea said, shrugging. “Don’t need strength when you’re in microgravity.”

“True,” Paulina agreed. “That’s how I got the job.”

“So you don’t get panic attacks?” Andrea asked. Once again she used the old, familiar hand gestures from the docks, signaling ‘explain’ and ‘further detail needed’.

Paulina laughed. “Keep doing that. It helps. No, I don’t. I was knocked out almost instantly. Didn’t wake up until two days later in the hospital. Heck, I didn’t actually spend more than a few minutes at a time conscious until two weeks later. I have issues, yeah, but there’re not panic attacks.”

“Lucky,” Andrea sighed. Her hands went limp. “I was pinned and conscious all through the rescue effort. No real damage, physically, but… I couldn’t move and had to watch the whole thing.”

“That,” Paulina said with a surge of nausea at the sheer thought, “is worse.”

Andrea blinked. This time when she smiled it was a slowly dawning thing that was coupled with tears dripping down her cheeks. Paulina stared for a moment, unsure if she’d just hurt Andrea’s feelings but no. Andrea’s hands flapped for a second and then cupped in the gesture for ‘thank you’.

“Heh, you’re welcome.”

3. Set Dressing

“It’d be amazing!” Max shouted as he tried to help Sam heft their end of the new theatre curtains up onto the restored stage. “Really, I think it’ll be great to have actual plays here.”

“You have got,” Paulina grunted as she got underneath the middle of the roll of fabric, pushing up with all her might, “to be kidding. None of us… can act!”

“Little more,” Tina said.

The boys shoved while Paulina pushed up. The curtains suddenly moved, sliding onto the stage in a rush that left Sam and Max toppled over the top of Paulina. She growled and shoved them off, brushing herself off. Max rubbed his head as if he’d hit it while Sam groaned and rubbed his back.

“Y’all could have asked for help,” Sue said. “Woulda been glad to give you a hand.”

“We got it,” Tina said. “We could use help getting the curtains attached to the beams.”

“We are here,” Sue said, grinning as she climbed the stairs to stare down at the drapes. “Not so sure these’ll work but wha’ever floats yer boat, sweetie.”

“It’s part of the set dressing,” Paulina said. “Everyone’s determined to go ghost stories so rags for curtains it is.”

Both Max and Sam made outraged noises behind Paulina’s back. She ignored them. The curtains were rags. Black and gray fabric had been pieced together. Most of the edges were ragged and torn, dripping loose threads that made Paulina twitch for how badly they would clog the air vents in the theatre if they got lose.

Yes, it fit with what they’d done for the decorations but it just bothered her that everything was unfinished, ragged and seemingly broken. They’d left the right side of the theatre unfinished, the chairs unbolted and piled in one corner of the room. Yes, the floor was properly carpeted and all the holes had been filled but it looked like the seats had just been torn out and thrown off to the side.

The left side of the theatre had been restored with the seats were properly bolted down. Unfortunately, as far as Paulina was concerned, the carpet had been deliberately distressed to look as if it was stained. All down the wall was a carefully painted ‘water stain’ that made it look like they hadn’t done a single thing to clean the theatre up. Max and Sam had even put up some carefully anchored drapes of artistically stained woven wall covering near the ceiling.

“They’re not rags,” Max protested. “We paid my aunt a lot of money to make these. She did extra work to make them look this way.”

“They look like rags,” Paulina complained. “Everything looks trashed. It’s horrible!”

“That’s the point,” Sam and Max complained as one.

Andrea laughed quietly, attracting Paulina’s attention with a ‘hey’ gesture. She followed it with ‘trying too hard’ and ‘noobs’. Paulina snickered and nodded before sighing as she looked around the theatre. ‘Disturbing,’ Paulina signed.

“It is, a little bit,” Andrea agreed. “But everyone on the station seems to think it’s a great idea.”

“Makes it hard to walk home without getting creeped out,” Paulina complained.

Max groaned, rolling his eyes as if he thought that they were both insane. He hadn’t started telling ghost stories since Paulina’s little fit a couple of weeks ago but she thought he might be thinking of it. Tina glared at him, hands on her hips. Sue, who’d cheerfully sat on the floor to thread bits of twine through the grommets at the top of the curtains, snorted.

“All y’all better get yer butts in gear,” Sue said. “We’re supposed to open in three days an’ we’re nowhere near ready. Thinkin’ up new ideas of what to do isn’t gonna help, Max. Maybe we can do little plays someday but fer now we’re not goin’ there.”

“Fine,” Max grumbled. “I still think it’d be fun.”

“Fine,” Paulina said. “Then we’ll set up a schedule and people can come tell ghost stories or something. But most of the time we’re not going to be a theatre. This is supposed to be a shop.”

Max bounced excitedly at the concession, flapping his hands like he was trying to take flight. His wide open mouth was probably a smile but he bounced around so much that Paulina couldn’t be sure. She shook her head at him and turned to Andrea.

“Help me set up shelves?” Paulina asked.

“Sure,” Andrea replied. “Those are sturdy, aren’t they? And straight? Clean?”

“No,” Paulina complained. “They’re grubby and they look crooked.”

“They’ll stand level on the theatre floor!” Sam protested. “I measured the heck out of those things.”

Both Paulina and Andrea ignored him. The shelves were level once they were set up on the theatre’s sloping floor. It still bothered Paulina that the angles weren’t square. She thought Andrea was equally bothered by it because she kept fussing with her end of the shelves, pressing down and pulling up as if trying to level them. They bolted into the floor easily though, with virtually no misalignment of holes, so Sam really had done a good job making sure that everything fit together properly.

Setting up all six shelves didn’t take that long for Paulina and Andrea. They were much the same size and knew all the same nonverbal signals from their time on the docks so maneuvering the shelves into place and securing them was quick and easy.

In contrast, putting the curtains up on the stage seemed to have turned into a disaster. Paulina listened without looking as Sue first tried to haul the curtains up herself, and then Tina took over and dropped one over the top of Max and Sam. Sue’s growl was loud and frustrated enough that Paulina turned to watch.

“I swear, the lot of you are worse than children,” Sue complained. “That’s it. That’s enough! All y’all get off the stage. Go bring in the boxes of trinkets. Andrea, Paulina, get yer butts up here. You two’re the only ones ’round here who know how to actually work.”

Even with Paulina’s brain damage she recognized Andrea’s response as a delighted grin. Paulina waved her to go first, pointing towards the door as the twins groaned. They grumbled as they went down the stairs and the up the slope towards the lobby.

“Oh, stop it,” Paulina huffed at them. “I don’t know why you two are even here. It’s not like we’re paying you for this part.”

“But it’s fun!” Max protested.

“And we got laid off yesterday so we have the time,” Sam agreed.

Paulina just shook her head at them. Between Tina lifting the curtains up, Sue barking orders from the ground and Andrea’s apparent gift for tying knots that would never in a million years come undone, they managed to get all the curtains hung in fairly short order. There were more of them than Paulina had expected.

A big one hung in the back, suspended from a heavy beam. Sue chattered as they worked about how she really wanted to paint a spooky castle or some nonsense on it as backdrop to the store. Several side curtains bordered the stage, hiding Andrea and Sue’s back rooms and the shelves they’d set up for keeping stock on. Then in the front there was a truly ragged curtain that was suspended from a beam on ropes and pulleys.

“That is so crooked,” Paulina complained once Tina, Max and Sam hauled it up into place.

“It’s even,” Tina said. “We checked.”

“It looks terribly crooked,” Andrea said doubtfully. She winced as Sue huffed at her. “Really. It does.”

“It’s supposed to,” Sue said. “Tha’s the point. Let’s get the last two done and then I’ll think about painting the backdrop.”

“Shouldn’t be a castle,” Paulina complained as she joined Andrea in climbing the ladders yet again. “It should be a black hole sucking everything in. This is a space station, after all.”

The silence that followed that grumble made Paulina freeze. She turned and looked at Andrea, then Sue, Max, Sam and finally Tina. All of them had big grins that were either wicked or utterly dopey. It wasn’t a smile she’d ever seen on Tina’s face before.

“Not again,” Paulina groaned. “Can we just get this done, people? We’ve still got tons of stock to set up and final plans for opening day do make.”

“Not to mention costumes,” Tina agreed with a delighted chuckle that told Paulina that the grins had to be dopey ones. “Good idea, Pau.”

It took longer to rig and hang the last two curtains than all the others combined. They draped from the center of the stage off to the sides, gathered up by heavy ropes that looked like they’d been stolen from the dock. Felt like it too, given how rough the ropes were. Sue fussed over how the swags of fabric fell and curved forever, adjusting it over and over until she was satisfied.

They all moved back to the double doors and stared at the theatre. Even Paulina had to admit that it looked like a very spooky place. The combination of traditional Halloween elements with things that reminded you that you were on a space station like the woven wall coverings was really effective.

“Creepy,” Paulina commented. She curled into Tina’s side, smiling when Tina wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“It’ll be even better when I get that backdrop painted,” Sue promised. “Y’all’ll love it, cross my heart.”

“Which means it’s going to freak me out to come in here,” Paulina sighed. “Great. I still think you’re all insane.”

“Maybe,” Max said so cheerfully that Paulina had to glare at him. He didn’t seem to notice the glare at all. “But the whole idea is taking off really well. The whole station’s picking it up.”

“My ex-boss said that he was expecting tourism to pick up because of this,” Sam said. He shrugged and sighed. “If he’s right I might get hired back sometime soon.”

Paulina sighed as she leaned against Tina. As good as it would be to have customers, to have real money coming in, she was really afraid that this was going to be a waste of time. Their only hope was that people off station would want to visit the ‘ghost station’. If they didn’t then she and Tina would have spent the last of their money on nothing.

4. Opening Day

“Hide me,” Paulina begged as she slammed Andrea’s door and leaned against it.

The little office was much smaller now that there was furniture in it. Andrea had gone with a space-saving desk that had storage above it coupled with shelves that stretched from floor to ceiling for all the overflow storage that had someone gotten shifted into her office. Unfortunately, Sue had won the battle to decorate Andrea’s office in Halloween effects so the walls looked stained, the floor was scruffy and a completely incongruous plastic jack-o-lantern sat on her desk like a mixed up paperweight.

“I thought you would be working,” Andrea said, frowning over her shoulder at Paulina.

“They’re driving me insane,” Paulina hissed. “Stories, stories, tell us stories. I keep growling at them and telling them to leave me along but they won’t!”

Andrea put her hand over her mouth. It didn’t muffle her giggle at all. Paulina groaned. Since when was she the one designated as the official ‘ghost’ person? She’d been the one fighting the thing all along.

“But is business going well?” Andrea asked.

“Yeah, it is, damn it,” Paulina complained. “We got mobbed the moment we opened and it hasn’t slowed down yet.”

She opened the door and peeked but she could still see hordes of people on the stage. Well, maybe ‘hordes’ was overdoing it. There were several kids and a couple of parents on the stage, making indecipherable faces as they stared at the ragged curtains. Paulina could just see several more people clumped around the shelves of merchandise that they’d put out.

The history of the station was selling so well that Max had been sent to get more made up by the printer down the way. His book of ghost stories had sold so well that Max had all but danced out the door. The little stuffed ghosts that Sue had sewn up from rags and scraps of fabric found who knows where sold so well that Tina had talked about having Sue make a whole series of them in her spare time.

It was working. Terrifyingly, the ghost theatre idea was working. Paulina shut the door and groaned as she rested her forehead against the door. The last thing she’d wanted was for the idea to work. Well, not really. Losing all their money would have been horrible but now she was going to have to deal with ghost this and ghost that forever.

“Too much?” Andrea asked.

“Way too much,” Paulina said. “I swear, the grown-ups are worse than the kids. The kids just stare and hide behind their parents. The stupid grown-ups keep asking if my scars are real and then laughing when I say that they are. There’s this couple out there that keeps laughing at me when I tell them to stop commenting on the scars.”

Andrea whirled her chair to stare at Paulina. Even with her difficulties in figuring out expressions Paulina could tell that Andrea was horrified by that. She stood, heading towards the door with her hands in fists. Paulina caught her sleeve, staring at Andrea.

“That’s the rudest thing I’ve ever heard!” Andrea hissed. “How dare they treat you like some sort of museum exhibit?”

“I think they really believe its makeup,” Paulina said hesitantly.

She backed away from the door and then trailed along behind as Andrea stomped out to find Tina and Sue. The jerk who’d laughed about her scars smiled brightly as Andrea stormed up. He’d apparently been saying something to Tina who frowned when she saw Andrea and then Paulina’s expressions.

“As I said, they’re really well done,” the man said.

“They’re not fake, you ass!” Andrea bellowed. The entire shop went silent as the man jerked and backed off. “What is wrong with you? She told you that they were real. Your husband’s holding the history of the station. We were both in the explosion, the one that killed four hundred and twenty one people. We’re both scarred by it. How dare you treat her like she’s some sort of actor? These are our lives you’re making fun of, you jerk!”

“Uh…” the man backed off, running into his husband and clutching their little girl who just stared at Andrea with her mouth dropped open.

“Honey, ya need ta calm down,” Sue said as she caught Andrea’s hands. “Come on, love. Paulina can take care of herself, ya know.”

“They are real,” Paulina told the man. “All of this is real.”

She was acutely aware of Tina standing so rigidly still that she looked like a statue. Max was at the door with a box of books in his arms, eyes wide and face pale. Sam fidgeted and then went still over by the theatre seats.

Paulina laughed, rubbing her hand over the side of her face that wasn’t scarred. Her tattered coverall sleeve made her wince. She really should have insisted on using a different one, one that was worn but not torn. It just brought up bad memories of the explosion.

“The stories?” Paulina continued. “They’re true stories. They’re actual people who died. Our station is the ghost station because half of it was destroyed. We’re living among the ghosts of the dead and wounded every day. That’s why I didn’t want to do this. I don’t think it’s respectful of those who paid the price for living in space. That book tells about it. Everything we have here is real, you know. I’m not an actor. I’m a dock worker who almost died. Andrea almost died, too.”

She looked at Tina who breathed out so slowly and carefully that it hurt Paulina’s lungs. “They dressed it all up in rags and stains to make it seem less real but it isn’t. The front window talks about the thousand and one ghosts of this station. There really are a thousand and one people who died here. It’s an early station. Lots of people died to make this place livable.”

Something burned down Paulina’s scarred cheek. She didn’t realize what it was until Tina reached out and brushed the tear away. Paulina gulped, burying her face in Tina’s chest because she just couldn’t face the man’s horrified expression any longer. Andrea made a horrible choking noise that hurt nearly as bad.

“We survived,” Tina said. “We all survived. And now we’re doing something with our lives. We’re making something new. But Pau’s right. Everything we build is on the graves of the people who died before us. We’ll die on this station, too, someday.”

Paulina snorted, pushing away from Tina to dash the tears away. “Not anytime soon, we won’t.”

She glared at the man, his husband and their staring daughter. It would be nice to know what they thought of her collapse, her tears, the truth that everyone avoided thinking about. But then again it was nice not knowing, too. What they thought didn’t matter. They were tourists. They’d show up and leave again. Paulina didn’t have to worry about what they thought or felt.

“We’re real,” Paulina declared. “Our stories are real. So have a little fucking respect, will you?”

“We’re very sorry,” the man’s husband said. “We didn’t realize.”

“No one wants to say it,” Paulina said, shrugging. “But it’s true. Any scar you see is probably from a survivor of the explosion. Any skittish person is someone who’s got PTSD from the aftermath. We’re all the wounded walking among the ghosts of our families, friends and coworkers. Just… have a little respect. We’re stronger than you think but we’re fragile, too.”

Both of the men nodded. They paid for the book and a ghost for their little girl, hurrying away with an expression that Paulina thought was horrified. Maybe. She couldn’t be sure. Really, though, it didn’t matter what they thought.

She felt better for exploding, for finally saying what had been bothering her all along. No one talked about the dead, not properly. Sure, they told ghost stories and compared notes on where they’d been when the explosion hit but no one talked about Boss Johnson, big and burly with a thick Irish accent that was completely fabricated.

They didn’t mention Lisa Lui who had used up three canisters of air getting people from the dock back inside. No one talked about Keiko Lewis who had stayed in the auxiliary control center, working the controls by herself. She’d stayed so long that she’d still been there when the main control center jettisoned the damaged portion of the station, sending it spinning off into space.

None of the dead were actually talked about, remembered for the heroes that they were. Paulina took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Even she didn’t talk about them. She just remembered them, dwelled on the past. Maybe she’d spent too much time thinking about it and not enough time talking.

“You okay?” Tina asked once the customers had moved away to let them have a bit of space.

“Yeah,” Paulina said. She looked back at the stage with its black hole backdrop, the bits of wreckage slowly drifting towards it and then smiled. “Yeah, I think I am. Hey, you think we could do shows in here? Maybe once or twice a week?”

Tina blinked down at her, eyebrows drawn together in what Paulina knew from all their time together was a frown. “We can. Why?”

“I think…” Paulina looked at Max who was carefully, silently restocking the shelves with history and ghost books. “I think I want to tell some of my stories. You know, for other people to hear.”

Max turned and looked at her. Sue cocked her head to the side, one hand circling in a gesture that should have meant something but which wasn’t dock sign so it made no sense. Andrea, on the other hand, grinned and signed ‘go on’. That made the knots in Paulina’s stomach loosen a bit for the first time in ages. When she looked up, Tina’s face was a puzzle of love and joy, the bits making sense but the whole not fitting together properly. Even so she could tell how happy Tina was as she sniffled and nodded.

“I think I want to tell some stories of my own,” Paulina said. “I think it’s time.”

The End

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Novel Monday: A New Path – Chapter 5

POD A New Path Ebook Cover 09


After Shizuka’s father suffered a terrible accident, she took on the challenge of apprenticing to the nobility of Ambermarle in the hopes of learning a new career that could cover for his medical care. Breding Manor surprised her with more than just career opportunities.

Two potential romances with the Lord’s oldest son Ammad and his willful daughter Nabeela promised a new path that Shizuka could never have imagined.

A New Path is a sweet romance where second chances lead to something wonderful for everyone involved.

A New Path

By Meyari McFarland

5. Dinner

Nabeela swallowed down the taste of rhubarb and strawberries, her mouth so dry that it felt like eating sand. Piyari squirmed until she was comfortably pressed against Nabeela’s side, arms wrapped snugly around Nabeela’s back. All the arousal that Nabeela had managed to push down while creating the fruit plates in the kitchen surged back up. She could feel Piyari’s small, firm breasts pressing against her side, the warm swell of her hip and thigh. The scent of hinoki oil gently wafted up from Piyari’s hair.

She wasn’t at all sure if the apprentices’ decision that it was time for cuddles was a good or a bad thing. Certainly, Father was amused, watching Ammad struggle to figure out where to put his hands on the shorter male apprentice. That was a huge improvement from the heart-struck look he’d had after Duchess Chin-Sun’s awkward question.

Her heart felt as though it was going to burst through her chest with every too-forceful beat. Piyari was soft and gentle, settling into Nabeela’s embrace with a contented sigh that nearly prompted coos out of Nabeela. It was as if Piyari had ached to be held. Nabeela knew better than to ask about Piyari’s life prior to becoming an apprentice; that wasn’t allowed, wasn’t safe for the apprentices. So, for all she knew Piyari might be touch deprived.

It was an excuse and Nabeela knew it. Holding Piyari felt good. She wanted to keep doing it. Possibly forever, though that wasn’t likely to happen.

“When will dinner be served?” Duchess Chin-Sun asked with an expression that suggested she desperately hoped that this conversational gambit didn’t blow up in her face as the previous ones had.

“Soon,” Nabeela said. “Shahzad has sent his apologies already. He has other duties which will prevent him from attending tonight.”

“The servants said in about half an hour, Your Grace,” Piyari agreed.

“Oh good,” Duchess Chin-Sun sighed. She tugged the taller apprentice up so that he could cuddle on her husband’s lap.

They both laughed at that but Duke Laughing Seal didn’t look at all upset to have the young man there. To Nabeela’s amusement, the apprentice draped his feet across Duchess Chin-Sun’s lap. She grinned and tickled the arch of his foot, laughing when he jerked his feet back.

“Cheeky boy,” Duchess Chin-Sun said fondly.

“That’s what you like, Mistress,” the apprentice said so proudly that Nabeela nearly laughed out loud. “We all know it’s the best way to get your attention.”
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Long Overdue Now Availables!

Clash of Lines
POC Clash of Lines Ebook Cover 02
Running for his life was normal for Ru, just part of living in Hexal City.

Running with Nthanda and uncovering a plot to destroy both Nthanda and Ru’s long-lost family?

Not normal at all.

Just meant Ru had to kick ass and fight for his future. And that the future might be brighter than Ru ever expected.

Always providing he and Nthanda survived long enough to have a future together.

Joining of Lines
POD Joining of Lines Ebook Cover 04
Duty defined Jing Althus’ life.

Duty to Nthanda, his cousin. To the Ceelen who expected him to lead if Nthanda fell.

Someone had targeted the Ceelen for destruction.

Only one person could help Jing discover them: Iman Hogarth, conman, genius and the most beautiful man Jing had ever met.

If Iman would help.

Jing’s only hope was to convince Iman that he was worth risking Iman’s life.

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On Kobo $3.99 ebook
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Crumbling of the Soul
POD Crumbling of the Soul Ebook Cover 04
The patio rippled under Ysan’s feet. Two generations of drought had transformed the Library of Truth into a ruin.

Just like Ysan’s life.

One slim thread of hope remained for the world. If Ysan and his friends could muster the courage to sacrifice themselves, time would unwind and a new path could be found.

One which prevented the Soul of the World from crumbling to dust, taking all life with it.

Find This Book:

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On Amazon $5.99 ebook or $15.99 TPB
On CreateSpace $15.99 TPB

Finally! I’ve been meaning to get these up for over a month for one of them. Three new novels, two for a new romance series set in one of my oldest, until now, unpublished universes. *happy dance*

Believe it or not, I’ve got another Drath novel in final edits and I’m writing the fourth right now. This verse has hit in a very big way. So much fun!

And then Crumbling of the Soul is a standalone novel set in a completely new ‘verse that… well. It’s different. It has time travel and soul bonds and epic fantasy adventure except that I kind of deconstructed all three. Oh, and there’s group minds and meddling gods who may not actually be gods and yeah, as always for me, a happy ending. Odd story that consumed my mind as I wrote it. I kind of sit and stare at it now, wondering where exactly it came from.

Hope you enjoy if you choose to read!

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Novel Monday: A New Path – Chapter 4

POD A New Path Ebook Cover 09


After Shizuka’s father suffered a terrible accident, she took on the challenge of apprenticing to the nobility of Ambermarle in the hopes of learning a new career that could cover for his medical care. Breding Manor surprised her with more than just career opportunities.

Two potential romances with the Lord’s oldest son Ammad and his willful daughter Nabeela promised a new path that Shizuka could never have imagined.

A New Path is a sweet romance where second chances lead to something wonderful for everyone involved.

A New Path

By Meyari McFarland

4. Service

Shizuka did her very best to ignore Ammad’s awkward attention as she took the last two blankets over to two apprentices that belonged with Duke Laughing Seal. She was intensely grateful for something to do. In her entire life she’d never even seen someone as powerful as the Duke and Duchess. Her little village was far too out of the way for that sort of visit. Even their Lord only visited once every year or two.

The other apprentices were both male, a couple of years older than Shizuka and clearly native. They sat with their arms wrapped around one another in such a way that Shizuka was certain that they were lovers. The taller boy had curled up so that his back pressed against the shorter one’s chest. They both looked perfectly comfortable with the awkward position, fingers laced together on top of the taller one’s belly.

Neither had tattoos or any identification that would tell her what tribe they came from. Given that Duke Laughing Seal was Suquamish she would have thought that they were as well but she knew that their Majesties never settled apprentices with their own tribes. It worked better to move them around, send them places where they weren’t known, where there was no history that could trip them up.

That’s why Shizuka had ended up in Breding Manor. The boys must have had the same thing happen to them. She didn’t recognize either of them as she passed them the warm blankets but they smiled and nodded to her. All three of them started as the door opened and Nabeela carefully entered with a heavy tray loaded down with glasses and a steaming porcelain pot of spiced cider.

“We can help,” the taller boy murmured.

“Oh, no,” Shizuka murmured back, waving for them to stay seated. “It’s fine. I can take care of it. You get warm.”

Something to do was very welcome. Her knees kept shaking, as did her hands. Shizuka hurried over and took the tray from Nabeela who smiled so brightly in thanks that it made Shizuka’s knees knock together for a moment. Another new thing that she wasn’t prepared for; no one had ever flirted with her before. Her sisters had always been the ones to get attention from suitors, not Shizuka.

Shizuka made a point of treating the cider as ceremoniously as possible simply because ceremony helped calm her nerves. It was apparently a good choice. Nabeela hummed approvingly behind Shizuka’s back as she carefully filled glasses for the Duke and Duchess. Duke Laughing Seal’s lips twitched again as if another round of laughter was fighting to escape. Duchess Chin-Sun smiled and nodded so approvingly that Shizuka bowed as she extended the cup of cider.

“Spiced cider, Your Grace,” Shizuka said as she held the cup out, one hand supporting it, the other gripping it properly.
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Free Fiction Friday: Tiny Futures

POD Tiny Futures Ebook Cover 04


The solution to Leisl’s construction problem came wrapped in an opportunity.

When Cassidy came over to help Leisl install a tub in her new tiny house on wheels, Leisl expected nothing other than a functioning tub.

But Cassidy was huge, strong and adorable, all the things that Leisl most liked. The temptation to ask for more than construction help led Leisl to take a chance on the future.

Tiny Futures

By Meyari McFarland

Leisl frowned as she stared at the stack of wood, metal and assorted plumbing parts. Her brand new Japanese soaking tub was supposed to be the one indulgence of her house, deep enough for the water to come up to her chin, made of finely sanded wood that smelled like heaven. It was just lying there.

In pieces.

That Leisl had no idea how to put it together. She ran her fingers over the sturdy boards, satiny smooth and just waiting for her to make them into something wonderful. Leisl gnawed her lip until a bit of chapped skin came free. A second bite and blood bloomed in her mouth.

This was supposed to be easy. Everything she’d seen said that putting it together would be simple, a piece of cake. But the instructions meant absolutely nothing to her, not the pictures or the descriptions and come on! The wood wasn’t even cut to length.

Her tiny house echoed with the emptiness, even with the spray foam in and the tongue-and-groove up on the outer walls. Her kitchen and tiny living room were almost done, other than flooring, trim, getting the counter on and appliances in. The bathroom, though, that was a different problem. Leisl hadn’t even finished the stud walls there because she hadn’t gotten the tub in and now she couldn’t get the tub done.

Another thing that she’d thought she could handle but apparently couldn’t. Her tiny house on wheels had been the perfect solution to no money, school loans and no place to live. Get a trailer, build a tiny house, live in it instead of wasting what little money her day job brought in on rent.

Thankfully, Mom and Dad had helped her get one that was half done. She had a brand new trailer, just twenty feet long, eight feet wide. There was framing of an adorable little house, covered in cedar board and batten. The roof was metal and so solid that she’d never have to worry about leaks.

It was the inside that was the problem. Sure, Dad had helped her wire everything. He’d even gotten the plumbing roughed out. But putting in the rest was Leisl’s problem. Dad had work and Mom had never touched a power tool in her life. She could hear Mom banging around in the back yard, muttering as she pulled weeds and pruned the now-spent blueberry bushes so that they wouldn’t take over the world next year.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Leisl whispered.
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Novel Monday: A New Path – Chapter 3

POD A New Path Ebook Cover 09


After Shizuka’s father suffered a terrible accident, she took on the challenge of apprenticing to the nobility of Ambermarle in the hopes of learning a new career that could cover for his medical care. Breding Manor surprised her with more than just career opportunities.

Two potential romances with the Lord’s oldest son Ammad and his willful daughter Nabeela promised a new path that Shizuka could never have imagined.

A New Path is a sweet romance where second chances lead to something wonderful for everyone involved.

A New Path

By Meyari McFarland

3. Mourning

Ammad ran his hands over his face as he strode down the back hallway to the apprentice’s quarters, the faintest hints of stubble rasping against his palms as they slid over his chin and jawline. Not the image he wanted to present yet Ammad didn’t take the hallway that would take him back to his quarters to shave. Why bother? In a few hours it would be back, no matter how annoying he found the stubble.

He should have dressed better this morning. Honestly, he’d forgotten that their Majesties’ representative would be arriving today with their new apprentice in tow. Too many other things to think about, too many problems to be solved. The biggest of which was keeping Father from overexerting himself until his ribs and pneumonia had healed fully.

The hallway to the apprentice quarters was silent, empty. Bare walls and a plain blue rug added to the sense of cold emptiness. The suggestions Ammad had made as a preteen to add some personality to the hallway and the apprentice quarters came back as he frowned. No one should live in such barrenness. It was an insult to the apprentices to make them walk down such a bare hallway only to arrive in the blank, desolate room.

Nabeela had yet to emerge from the apprentice quarters with their beautiful new apprentice. That was a bit of a surprise. He’d thought that Nabeela hated the place as much as he did. She’d certainly been a lot more forceful about expressing her opinion of the place, even when Mother and Father had told them both that they were to stop discussing it. Ammad still didn’t believe that living in such a bleak place was ‘comforting’ for the apprentices. That was ridiculous. No one could find such a place home-like.

He shook the thought away as he approached the door to the apprentice quarters. Ammad couldn’t help but be happy that Shahzad wouldn’t be allowed to spend large amounts of time with their new apprentice. The girl was entirely too attractive for her own good, much less everyone else’s.

Her skin was luscious, as dark and rich as the wood floor’s polished gleam. That hair was stunning as well. He almost wondered whether she’d left it loose specifically to attempt seduction immediately but her response to Father’s illness made him suspect that it was something far more practical. Even the shapeless white apprentice garb given to an apprentice being delivered to their new household couldn’t hide how lovely her body was.

Ammad stumbled a little at the memory of her walking away, waterfall of black hair brushing over the full roundness of her rear end.
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Free Fiction Friday: The Return

POD The Return Ebook Cover 02



Maram had spent decades without seeing the stars slip into the Wave, since piloting a ship. She’d expected to die with her feet covered in dirt.

But then the ships came back and Maram realized that there were bigger threats than old age.

She had another chance at the stars. The question was whether she and her girls could survive long enough to return to Maram’s only true home.

The Return

By Meyari McFarland

Maram added a stick to the fire, poking the embers dim glimmer into something like a spark of life. Her back was cold despite Kirin pressing close, his long horns carefully angled away from Maram. Not as cold as she could be, bless the Mothers for that. Her camp sat close to the Hightown cliff, nestled into a little indent created when the ones Above had decided to try to mine the cliff for building stone.


The stone was too soft for that, crumbling under their fancy tools.

Sparks flared and floated upwards like ships rising towards orbit. None of those anymore. The ships were long gone. Come and gone like mist in the wind. It was part of why Maram was here, down Below when she’d once been accepted up in Hightown. Ancient history but it was hard to let it go on cold dark nights when her girls were off hunting and the skies filled with stars that she’d never touch again.

It’d been decades since she saw stars without the distortion of atmosphere, decades since she’d been in a ship, had ridden the Wave between stars. Nights like tonight Maram felt every single second of those too many years, felt them like blood pouring from a cut artery, like having her arm cut right off and left to bleed out on the floor.

Kirin snuffled, touching his nose to the nape of Maram’s neck. She chuckled and petted him. Nose still felt like the finest velvet even though his fur was going white with age. Just like her hair. It’d been black as the void of space once. Now it was a white so pure she looked as though she was going bald.

She tugged on her headscarf, grunting that it was still in place. Hated it when people saw her thin pale hair. Wrinkles weren’t a problem but you had to have some pride and Maram’s hair was that. Have to remember to check the supplies when the sun came up. They were low on several things and would need more soon, much as Maram hated the climb up the cliff to Hightown only to sneered at and charged too much as if she didn’t speak nine languages and hadn’t piloted ships between the stars when she was young.

Honestly, she missed it. There was a joy to riding the Wave, the faster than light drive that warped space around you, front and back so that you slipped past the bonds of time and distance. She’d been good at it. Only gave it up for love, a wife she adored, twin girls they’d doted on.

All long dead.

Kirin nibbled on her ear.

“I know, I know,” Maram huffed at him. Let him continue his nibbles, scratched under his chin until his eyes drifted shut in contentment. “Letting the ghosts of the past bite me. It’s hard without the girls around. Glad you stayed, old friend.”

Kirin hum-huffed, one eye opening lazily. Intelligence showed there, alien, silent, unspeaking, but intelligence nonetheless. She’d never managed to find a way to communicate with Kirin’s people. Most of them ignored humanity entirely, hunting the plains and traveling in their herds. She still didn’t know why Kirin had chosen to leave the herd, to travel at her side from the plains to Hightown and everywhere else but he seemed quite determined to be by her side until one or both of them dropped dead with age.

The thought, or maybe the frown, got her another, sharper, nibble. Maram laughed. One more stick and then she leaned back against Kirin’s side. She should sleep. If the girls were successful in their hunt there’d be work a-plenty on their return, carcasses to clean and quarter, meat to butcher, skins to scrape and stretch. Possibly even feathers to pluck, clean and sell for a premium up in the market. Even at her age, Maram helped. Wasn’t as though the girls had learned everything she knew. Not yet. Maybe in the next few years. Who knew? It’d be nice to teach them to fly between the stars but that wasn’t going to happen, no matter how much she dreamed of it.

When Maram opened her eyes, felt like a moment later but the sun was coming up so it’d been hours, the fire was cold and she heard the girls’ voices carrying across the plains. Angel’s high, sweet songs of thanks, prayers to the Mothers, came first. Then Nitya complaining that not every single kill needed to be prayed over despite the laughter from Carey and Desta’s booming objections to Nitya’s never-ending whine.

Kirin huffed, nosing Maram until she sat up, stood up, moved away from the cliff. Kept right on nosing her as if there was something much more important than fresh meat and a good meal after too many days of not much at all.

“What your old ears picking up?” Maram asked once she’d been driven a good ten yards from the cliff. “You hearing things I can’t?”

Kirin stamped his right forefoot, their single agreed upon sign for communication.

“Yes?” Maram asked, stunned. “Been years since you used that. You are hearing something.”

Kirin stared at her, blinked solemnly, and stamped his foot again.

Maram cursed as she patted wildly for her comm. Front hip, no, back hip, no. Breast? No! Finally found it buried in the bottom of her thigh pocket, left side, under twine and bits of string she’d been using for weaving ornamental spider webs for gullible Hightown children to buy. The palm-sized unit was cracked and patched, barely functional on the best of days and cranky if not handled exactly right.

“Hey Maram!” Angel called when she came round the tumbled boulders along the path. She stopped in her tracks when she saw Maram’s frantic fidgeting to get the comm working. “Wait, what’s wrong?”

“Don’t know yet,” Maram replied, attention focused on the comm. “Kirin hears something.”

That brought all the girls to her side, peering over Maram’s shoulder despite the bloody near-hares and ground-fowl tied to their hips. Not a one of them over eighteen but they were the best hunters Below had. Maram’d be proud of their hard work if she weren’t tight as a fresh-strung bow over Kirin’s warning.

Nothing, nothing and more nothing on the comm. After a moment she lifted her head and stared out over the plains because her ears finally picked up what Kirin had heard.

Engines. Not the local flyers, little things with props and rotors that carried one or two rich people here and there. No, these were the big engines, the ones that thrummed like an earthquake turned low, ones that floated in the air like a bit of seed fluff set loose from the pod. She looked up and up and up and there they were.

Solar sails spread wide to catch the light as they descended from vacuum into atmosphere. Even at this distance she could see they were armored sails, sort used for heavy assault vehicles. Heavy bases shaped not like the balls Maram remembered from passenger transports but long and narrow, a spade perhaps. A sword, they looked like swords and damn if that didn’t mean trouble for them all, trouble in the midst of the first hope she’d had in decades.

She heard a sob, realized a moment later that it was her crying.

“Maram?” Angel whispered. “Are those spaceships?”
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