A Touch of Venom by Rick Stepp-Bolling

I first met Gandolf just outside Beggars Crossing, Arizona, where he saved my life . . . twice. I say Gandolf only because I never knew what else to call him since he never introduced himself and he’s exactly what I imagined Gandolf–the White, not the Grey–would look like, if in fact, Gandolf had actually existed and spent his time wandering the Sonora desert some fifty miles east of Tucson instead of roaming the mountains of New Zealand. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain.

​Beggars Crossing had the distinction of being the final destination of one Samuel Beggar in the late 1860s. Samuel had set out for California gold from West Virginia after the war. He made it as far as the Arizona Territory before he ran out of provisions, money, and desire. The vision he saw to the Westwas daunting—high red cliffs and a hurt load of white sand between him and the Catalinas. He made it as far as Rattlesnake Gorge at the base of the cliffs when the spirits spoke to him in a dialect only one from West Virginia could understand, telling him he would forever more be the inspiration for those seeking redemption. Samuel agreed to set up shop right then and there if the spirits would be so kind as to keep him alive a few more years. Apparently, it was a mutual agreement, for Samuel founded the town after his own ordeal and made his fortune selling water and whiskey to travelers heading west.

​Beggars Crossing has since become a pilgrimage for those seeking salvation from the wear and tear of modern civilization and all its supposed evils. Travelers from around the world come here during the monsoon season just to make the same trek Samuel did, hoping to be equally inspired by the spirits of the desert or those in Rattlesnake Whiskey, distilled to this day in Beggars Crossing.

​As an apprentice reporter for the Los Angeles Press, it was my job to follow up on the offbeatangles that no one else on the paper wanted—UFO, Elvis, or Miley Cyrus sightings. That’s how I wound up in Beggars Crossing, notebook in hand and without a need for redemption or sobriety. 

​“You say the town used to be over that rise?” I said to the man with the white beard and eyes of doom.

​“Used to be,” he said without an accent but withthe distinct odor of Virginia whiskey on his breath. “Used to be, but I can’t attest to that any more.”

​He held up his cane with the handle shaped like some wild bird as though he were about to lecture me. For a moment, I saw the same bird reflected in his eyes, but it was only a moment, and the weather being what it was, the image could well have been a thundercloud or glaucoma. “Where do the pilgrims go when they cross that expanse?” I asked pointing to the desert that shimmered like a watery grave.” There must be some kind of housing arrangement?”

​“Can’t say,” he said too quickly. “Maybe they carry their own houses with them?”

​He fixed his glare upon my notebook. “You mean tents,” I said trying not to stare at the folds of skin between his eyes. “They carried tents with them . . . not houses.”

​He shrugged his shoulders and a small dust storm arose from his shirt. “They carried troubles with them. Maybe tents, but mostly troubles.” Then he showed me his yellow teeth, sharpened like tiny knives, in a kind of grin that sent ice into my veins.

​I scribbled something unintelligible in my notebook until the feeling passed. The reporter in me gnawed, begged to be released, forcing another question I didn’t want to ask. “Troubles? What kind of troubles?”

This time he smiled. It was a toothless smile where the edges of the mouth rise like cracks in summer mud flats. “The kind you don’t want,” he said. The kind that haunt you every minute, every day of your life until the burden to keep carrying them bends your back and bows your shoulders, and the agony of that burden decays your whole being from the inside out until one day it explodes and evil erupts into this world.” Then he nudged me with the end of his cane so that I lost my balance and stepped backwards. “You got any of those troubles?” he hissed.

​“I . . . I’m just here to get a story.” Maybe I sounded too defensive for when he paused, his cane inches away from my chest, something like surprise filled his eyes.

​His hands trembled as he planted his cane into the white sand beneath him, his body sagging under the weight of time, and for the briefest of moments he appeared fragile, hollowed by the ravages of years and ready to blow away with the first strong wind. Then his lungs filled with the heated air and he straightened his shoulders and raised his head. “A story? There are a thousand stories to be told here. Just listen to voices carried by the winds. They’ll tellyou stories that’ll make the flesh fall off your bones.”

​I didn’t know how to respond to that. His use of hyperbole and concrete images elicited my demons of college literature, professors frothing up Coleridge or Milton, speaking in poetic tongues I didn’t understand. “I’m writing a story about the pilgrimages made at Beggars Crossing. It’s my editor’s idea. I just do the story or get fired,” I said.

​“The story you write will get you fired,” he returned.

​That made sense in a Machiavellian kind of way, because I was sure if I wrote the story about this funny man and his apocryphal end of the world, my boss would fire me or put me in drug rehab. The idea that sanity had not visited Gandolf for many a moon crossed my mind. “Well, I think I’ll get some quotes from the pilgrims themselves,” I said edging toward my VW Jetta. “Know anywhere around here that sells diesel?”

It was then that fate took a hand in the game. Rattlesnake Gorge was not a name chosen at random. The heat of the afternoon drove critters to find shelter in shady spots, usually underground or under large boulders. Apparently in the eyes of some snakes, my VW resembled the closest thing there was to a large boulder in the middle of this sea of white sand. When I opened the car door, my foot slipped beneath the car and woke a particularly nasty red diamond back. Evidently upset at having his sleep disturbed by a Converse tennie, he lashed out at the nearest warm-blooded appendage and sank his venom fangs into my leg. Neither one of us was too happy at what ensued. I stepped back and did my best one-legged hopscotch imitation, the rattler still attached to my leg and whirling around like a mad lariat. Gandolf, for his part, leaned upon his staff watching my death dance with bemusement. It wasn’t until the pain increased that my hopping decreased. Now this next part gets a little crazy and I’m not sure if rattlesnake venom had a part in my delusion or Beggars Crossing’s sun did. The old man slowly raised his cane and pointed it in my direction. A raptor, the size of an ancient roc appeared out of nowhere. The bird seized the rattler in his steely talons and ripped him from my leg. The last thing I remember was the bird and the rattler flying due west. Then I passed out.

When I awoke again, I was staring into blue eyes. Nothing else made much sense at the time, but blue eyes certainly helped put a proper perspective to the moment. “Can you hear me?” came the voice of the blue eyes.

​I was hesitant, groggy, hopeful. I was hoping that Gandolf didn’t have blue eyes or blue contacts. In addition, I wasn’t altogether sure that relatives greeting me in heaven weren’t blue-eyed. 

​“Can you sit up?”

​Well, that answered one question. If I were at the Pearly Gates, sitting up would not be something someone wanted to know. Wings, harp or halo, yes. Abs, no. I struggled to a sitting position.

​“Take a sip of this,” and a bottle of something much stronger than water passed my lips.

​I coughed, but let the liquid warm my throat until it sunk into my stomach and a rosy feeling like Christmas Eve made its way through my body. My mouth searched for more of the liquid, but there was none to be had.

​“I think he’ll live,” came the response from blue-eyes.

​Then the haze disappeared and I found myself looking into the face of an angel. Okay, a man, but angel is the closest description I can use without having to go into extended passages about the firm jaw with a set of white teeth that made Kilimanjaro blush with envy, or the nose that may well have led Augusta’s army into battle against the Egyptians, or the perfect ears that framed . . . well, you get the idea. “I . . . I . . .” I stammered.

​“It’s okay. We found you in the desert. Some of the pilgrims heard you moaning and called 911. Heat exposure.”

​I grabbed my leg, but all I felt was the thin hair that covered my skin. No bite marks, no oozing, no blackening of decayed skin. Then I remembered the wild bird with the angry snake in his mouth, the old man with the cane, and my Jetta.

​I looked around me. An ambulance with its lights flashing was the only vehicle. My Jetta, the bird and Gandolf had disappeared.

​“We usually get one or two calls every year,” the angel said. “People don’t hydrate properly, but by the looks of it, you were only here a couple of hours.” Blue eyes flashed my notebook in front of me. Every entry had a date and time. I was very methodical about that sort of thing.

​I tried my voice. It sounded like aluminum foil being crushed, but at least I could speak. “The old man,” I said, “there was an old man.”

Blue Eyes turned around hoping to find the individual I was referring to. Finding no one, he spoke to the other EMTs. “Anyone see an older man?”

A young woman in hiking boots with canteens attached to her at every conceivable spot spoke up. “He was alone when we found him. Alone and unconscious.”

Angel nodded his thanks. “Keep an eye out for anyone else around here,” he told his staff.” Then he turned to me and said, “What were you doing out here? Were you on the pilgrimage?” He was staring at my converse shoes, my khaki pants, and my very pale skin.

“I’m a reporter,” I said lamely. “I was doing a story on the pilgrims at Beggars Crossing.”

“The redemption thing?” he asked.

I nodded.

Then he leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Did you leave a trouble?”

It was so unexpected that I just sat there with my mouth open.
Then he broke into a perfect smile with his perfect teeth and said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m just glad you’re safe. Did you get enough material for your story?”

It all came back to me in a rush—Beggars Crossing, the raptor, the old man and our conversation. It was more than enough for a story, but it would be a story no one believed, especially my editor.

So this is the story of Beggars Crossing. Now that you’ve read it, you’ll need to decide for yourself what was real, what was imagined, what was sun or venom induced. My editor liked it, but fired me anyway. Said there was a very strict drug abuse clause in my contract with the paper. My Jetta? It never returned and so I bequeathed it to the old man. I hope he has more luck finding diesel in Arizona than I did. That just about sums it up. Wait. If you’re wondering why I said he saved me twice, well, you already know about the snake, and now you know about the angel who saved me—Sam

Insatiable by Audrina Lane

He had to leave as we shuffled about in the kitchen together. Hours earlier we had been entangled in bedcovers, a jumble of limbs and lips in all sorts of places. I had my dressing gown on, he was dressed. We stared at each other, drinking in all the fine points that we needed to remember.

The pale dawn light was just seeping through the cracks in the blinds, casting dapples on the cold tiles. He reached for me and easily picked me up, our eyes locked together then as his lips touched mine. I wrapped my legs around his waist.

He walked a few paces so that my back was against the wall and then his mouth opened. Our tongues touched tips and then slid against each other, searching and igniting all the desire we thought had been spent upstairs.

We were insatiable, unable to stop as his fingers looped into my hair, keeping me in place so that I thought I would never breath again. In this pure moment that seemed the least of my worries. I wanted to be with him again, never leave him again, never let him leave me again. We were one!

His tongue travelled down my neck and I don’t know how, but his hand followed and crept into the wide cowel neck of my dressing gown. His fingertips searching and finding the sensitive nub of my nipple. I sighed so loudly and closed my eyes.

I felt him stagger with me across to the oak table that dominated the corner of the room. My hands helped to free him from his jeans and I could feel his solid girth.

This was going to be fast and frantic as I knew we were running out of time. My husband would be home soon and we faced discovery.

Our bodies just couldn’t stop and he plunged into me as I clawed at his back. My hands on the skin that I had earlier licked and caressed. I’d traced all his muscles and sinews like a blind person reading braille. The scars backed up the harrowing story he had told me about his marriage.

In a mere few thrusts, I was on the brink, and as he groaned, I let go of my most intense orgasm yet. I milked his cock until the searing heat of him filled me once again. We lay joined on the table until he receded from me and left an ache that filled my whole body. Empty!

But then I stiffened, the sound of an engine and tyres on the driveway. He heard them too, and quickly pulled up his jeans.

“Quick, you’ll have to leave through the front door, as he will come in at the back.” I whispered urgently. I pulled my dressing gown back around me as his semen trickled slowly down my inner thigh.
“When will I see you again?”

“I don’t know, we shouldn’t.” I shook my head, not wanting to commit to something that might never happen again.

The engine died and I quickly unlocked the front door. My mind suddenly raced to upstairs. Had I shut the spare room door? Had I thrown the extra towel from the shower we’d shared, into the washing basket? Would my husband smell the scent of another man on me? That memory nearly stalled me as I let the cold air rush in from outside.

“Quick go, follow the path round the side and slip through the hedge into our neighbour’s garden. Go along the hedge and you’ll be on the road in seconds.”

He paused and pulled me close once more, unable to let me go without another taste of my lips.

“I’ll be in touch,” he whispered and then he was gone. Shutting the door

I turned the key just as I heard the other lock click. I hurried through to the kitchen and turned on the lights.

I flicked on the kettle like I’d just woken up. It was normal for my husband to discover me making tea at the end of his night shift.
The door shut and I listened to his footsteps, it didn’t matter that my hair was a mess. What mattered was the tingling sensation I still felt on my scalp where my lover pulled my hair tight to stop me moving.

Luckily, my husband would be tired and not that observant. My lips were bruised and battered, my skin prickled from stubble rash, my cheeks blotchy and wet from the single tear that had fallen unbidden. My nipples remained rock hard and throbbed and rubbed beneath my fleecy dressing gown material.

“Hey love, couldn’t sleep again?” he asked, as he dropped his bag and shed his coat onto the nearest chair.

“Yes, I thought I’d have a cuppa and then go back upstairs. Do you want one?” I hoped I sounded my usual self.
“Please. I’m just going to unwind in the den.” He barely looked at me as he replied.

I watched him pass by the spot where I had so recently been fucked. I made the tea and took his in with a couple of biscuits before I returned upstairs.

Lying in bed, the covers cold, just like my marriage, but what could I do?

I was trapped and so was my Jase. We had been young back then, 35 years ago, young and foolish, not knowing that this was the real thing. It only became real when it was gone.

We’d both made mistakes and our lives had moved on in different directions until now. Talking in the after- glow of love making that night, neither of us could see the path ahead. It remained hidden by briars and brambles of lies, deceit and broken promises.

I finished my tea, my head pounding, my heart still thumped from how close we had come to discovery. I turned off the light and wrapped the duvet close, I had an hour to drift off before my husband would join me.

In my dreams I was with him once more, flicking back through my memories of the past and then to the night we had spent together.

Our bodies knew each other well. Our lips old friends, and longed for a reunion. We had been insatiable, but now I wanted more. But could I live with what I had done? Only time would tell.

Read more from Audrina by visiting her website.

Orphans of the pen

Like many writers I have a store of part written works. Literary orphans, many of whom deserve better parenting than I have given.

Some are first drafts of short stories, ones which need attention before I could possibly allow others to set eyes upon them.

Some are beginnings of new books and novels. Many are several chapters – or more – in length. A few far longer, yet abandoned and gathering dust in the archives of ‘I’ll take another look at it, soon, one day, when I have time, sometime.’ 

Some are mere scribblings, outlines of thought, rough drafts of similar concept, or of unjointed notes, sort-of-bullet-points, fleeting notions.

Occasionally, I have pulled the odd page from the depths of neglect. In a few instances, I have reworked such a piece, even developed it into a viable story.

But those times are seldom.

Generally, when I unearth an old unfinished, partly written, abandoned tale, I quickly scan it, faintly recall its birth and return it, with a promise of coming back and spending some time with it ‘when I can give it the attention it deserves.’

Which is probably, almost certainly, a long way off from this current day, like… never.

We make the excuse of having more pressing and urgent tasks as current commitment. We enjoy the conception of creation, of having new babies in the making and we look forward to the birth of out next.

That is, if they reach as far as the publicatory birth. If our current focus is not waylaid or distracted by another fancy, another attractive proposition of literary lust which causes us to forsake the unborn penned pages, formed only weeks ago, during our crazed desire to conceive another narrative fable.

We, as writers, are not good rolemodels for caring and nurturing our creativities.

This is, as you can tell, one of the ‘things’ which I have been silently musing over during the past however-long it has been.

I wanted to understand why I could not simply open a file, drag out the unborn foetus of past indulgence and continue writing where I had left off. Even a re-read and re-write, rather like a genetic splicing of characteristics, to take each past abandoned child of mine from infantile scrawling to full blown beauty and let them loose.

So, I tasked myself to do precisely that. To wrench open the doorway of dusty archives and let the light flood in.

I was astounded by the mass of unloved writings huddled in the dank corners of my hard drive. However, I was determined to make amends for the neglect suffered by these poor word documents. After all, they never asked to be created.

One by one, I read the works.

By the time I reached mid-way point of the fifth part-work, I had my answer.

It is all to do with mood, muse and moment. At least it is for me.

Allow me to explain…

As I said earlier, literary lust and crazed desire set us on a special relationship in the attempt to conceive a beautiful outcome, a desired work of the bestselling nature.

While our mindset is concentrated, focused on a single relationship we flourish, some of us are capable of holding two, maybe three such affairs on a steady and productive track.

But each and all of these are balancing on a knife edge of frustration, distraction and boredom. Unable to help ourselves, our minds are constantly on the look-out for other attractive propositions and exciting ventures.

Therefore, once our muse is diverted the love for what is under our fingers wanes. Rarely is it lost, just lessened, it diminishes, at least for the present.

Then, one day we find these lost loves, or that which we once begat from such a relationship; they reach out, arms feebly grabbing for our attention.

But are we ready to take them to our bosom once more?

Most time, the shame is, we are not. We are not ready or willing. So, we slam the door in their faces, committing them to the darkness of closed files one again.

Why are we so cruel in our neglect?

The answer, I have found, is that mindset I mentioned earlier. To pick-up and move forward, we must rekindle the fondness we felt before, relight the old flame of particular creation.

Without us being ‘in the zone’ with regards to each individual story, we shall never see them grow into the works they surely deserve to be.

Maybe, to assuage your guilt of the shame and self-reproach I have now raised in your heart and mind, because of your wicked neglect over your part works, maybe you should unlock you archive doors and take some time with your unborn literary children.

Bring them out of the shadows, let them dance in the sunlight of new development and re-writing nirvana. You never know what wonderful orphans you may have forgotten.

Need more encouragement?

Then do this…

Dust off one of your lost children, re-write and re-work it into a Novelette or Novella, then publish it as an eBook or a Pocketbook or both, under the Electric Eclectic brand.

Share your creation with our Electric Eclectic authors, allow us to help you spread the word of your new-born, to introduce it to our loving readers.

Become an Electric Eclectic author today and start sharing your once orphaned works with the world.

Email Electric Eclectic, eebookbranding@mail.com

Creepy Things

by Karen J Mossman

I‘m not a fan of horror or paranormal. I get spooked easily and have a very active imagination. As I teenager I would be plagued by nightmares for weeks. As I grew up I knew to stay away from anything like that. Recently, I was watching Gogglebox, a TV programme that features people watching television, their reactions and discussions. It showed them watching The Haunting of Hill House. It was terrifying and I only saw bits of it!

There are lots of scary and horror books on the market, and plenty of people who love a good horror film. Why would a perfectly sensible and normal human being enjoy being scared? If that’s you, perhaps you could comment below and tell me what it does for you. I would really like to know!

I once wrote a story called Embers of Webster Street and it was about a girl dealing with her mum who suffers from dementia. It’s heart-breaking seeing someone you love forgetting things, and not recognising you.

My Nana showed signs of it for years before we recognised what was happening. We thought she was just a bit batty. Because Nana was always a little eccentric, forever the joker, and kept us entertained with her antics. I remember the turning point when we finally knew something had changed. She was getting out of the car one day, and struggled, stumbling a little. We laughed, as we normally did, and instead of making a joke about it, she asked if we were laughing at her.

My Auntie Mavis took her in when she could no longer care for herself. She looked after her for years and it became more and more difficult. Being a carer is very much in the media spotlight now but back in the eighties, we didn’t understand what it really meant and all that Mavis did. Occasionally stories came back through mum after her phone calls to her sister. Nana had blurted out swear words or refused to get dressed.  It was a very difficult time. Eventually Mavis had no choice but to let her go into hospital and by this time Nana had stopped talking altogether.

My sister and I went to visit. She was no longer the Nana we knew. She was just a shell of a person. She had no idea who we were, and I don’t think she knew where she was either. It was the strangest thing because although she looked like Nana, she had the same face and body, the Nana who was funny, who never stopped talking, and yet the woman in front of us stared at us with blank eyes. It was heart-breaking, it really was.

I wrote a story called Embers of Webster Street, dementia was the main topic.  Only, something happened as I was writing, my pen took on a life of its own. It was supposed to tell the story of Jen, who felt tremendous guilt having to put her mum in a home. Instead it introduced the ghosts of all the people who had lived in the family home before them. It brought in a twin twin sister with problems of her own.  Their mum could never accept that her daughter saw things and was was the undoing of her.

This turned out to be the first of paranormal stories that I suddenly found I loved writing.

Screen Shot 2019-07-15 at 16.02.59

It features in The Magic of Stories is a collection of short stories, articles, poetry, flash fiction, and shorts.

I found my pen wandered in all sorts of directions as I wrote, and this book turned into an eclectic collection of different genres. Like Embers of Webster Street, many of the stories were taken from real life situations.

You know the saying you shouldn’t tell a writer your secrets? Well, I used something my sister told me. When I showed it her she loved it saying she hadn’t expected me to turn a serious situation into something very humorous story!

One more thing, before I sign off. There is a another short story book offered for free by author Karina Kantas, should you choose to buy this book. You will find the details in the introduction. Two for the price of one!

Happy reading!

Link to book

MoS Ian
One of the fun poems featured in The Magic of Stories