Screamcatcher Reviews

Screamcatcher: Web World by Christy J Breedlove

April 23, 2019

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Screamcatcher: Web World

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My Rating: 4/5 stars


About the book:

Four sleepover teenagers get sucked into a nightmarish world when an ancient dream catcher implodes and lands them in a realm of demonic and monstrous entities. Have they gone to hell? They must search for the light, the center of the web, the opening where all good things are allowed to pass. Their survival depends upon it.

My Review:

In a never before plot, our main characters get stuck in a living nightmare through an ancient dreamcatcher. Jory has recurring nightmares about her parent’s death and no matter what she does or what her grandfather does to stop these bad dreams, nothing seems to be working.

The book is entangled with Indian lore so when Jory’s friend Choice wants to give this old family heirloom (a dreamcatcher) a chance, there’s no point in avoiding it. But things go south when Jory and her friends go to sleep in Jory’s house but wake up in a hellish world.

Plot:

I loved the plot. It was so unique and fast-paced. After every chapter, I was waiting for new twists and turns, just expecting to read what new amazing instance the author’s imagination could conjure up this time. I especially liked the second half of the book. It was definitely more action-packed than the first half.

Characters:

There is just some wrong vibe I got from Choice. Every time I would read about him, I’d find more and more reasons not to like him. But Jory turned out to be the most likeable character in the book despite everything. I liked the presence of her grandfather in the book as well.

Writing:

The writing was the most interesting part of the book and though I liked the world-building and the characters as well, the book would have been nothing without great writing. The dialogues were well-managed and the prose described the emotions of the characters perfectly. Plus, this book was quite easy to read and I could picture all the scenes as if they were playing out like a movie.

Climax:

Ah, the endings are often something that leads to disappointment. And even in this book, it was somehow the same case. I found the ending to be a little predictable and though there is nothing particularly wrong with that, I just really think there was scope for a major mind-blowing twist at the end.

About the author: Christy J. Breedlove, originally born in California, moved to Sylvania, Alabama in 2009. Her occupations have included newspaper editor/reporter, astronomer, federal police officer and part time surfer girl. She has been writing off and on for 36 years, having officially published books beginning in 1988. Today she writes in her favorite genre, Young Adult. She was a finalist in the L. Ron. Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, and just recently took the first place grand prize in a YA novel writing contest for The Girl They Sold to the Moon. She writes the popular blog, Guerrilla Warfare for Writers (special weapons and tactics), hoping to inform and educate writers all over the world about the high points and pitfalls of publishing Christy’s Website|  BlogFacebook | Twitter

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Young Adult Series Blockbusters

I swear and, as God is my witness, I had a terrible prejudice against anyone who wrote a series, or planned to write one before their first book was even picked up. I laughed at anyone who wrote a complete series and had no agent to push it. Back in the day, series books weren’t as popular as they are now. Today, it’s almost a given that large independents and big publishers love to sell a series. Two-book, trilogies and large series packages are more popular than EVER. Multiple books are actually favored by publishers–it seems to be the advantageous way to hook  readers, build a fan base, and at the same time launch a debut author. If you’ve written a standalone today, chances are excellent that you will be asked to follow it up with a sequel or more books that belong to a series–your special universe. I was left in the dust, from my own account, all those years ago, up until fairly recently.


So, I want to formally APOLOGIZE for my narrow view and ridiculous exclamations.


I completed the first book, edited  it with my agent, and put it out on submission. Multiple offers for it came in rather quickly. A lot of offers. My agent thought we really had something and ask if I was up to writing sequels. I said that I would give it a shot and did. But I was nervous. Meanwhile my agent would hold off the buyers.

I can’t tell you what kind of hard work this project cost me. It was a mountain of writing, revising, editing and titling.I was hesitant every step of the way, wondering if all of this effort could possibly pay off. Then I realized, what did I really have to lose? I’d made them stand-alones, with only slight references to each other that could be removed very easily. So I just about guaranteed myself a possible sale–somewhere–even if it was small press. When the work was done, I was satisfied, and so was my agent.

The whole package sold to Melange Press, the young adult Fire & Ice division.

I can remember J.K. Rowling penning (starting) Chamber of Secrets before her first book was picked up. Now that’s MOXIE! Or call it blind faith. Not only that, it was her intention to write seven books! Look what happened to Twilight, Hunger Games, Wool, Divergent–they went on to success–becoming huge breakouts. 

Now that my YA trilogy is over, I mourn it. I miss my characters. Terribly so. I can’t believe that I did this, stepping up to the plate and accomplishing my most difficult writing project ever. They’re little books. They’re a family. And it just so happens that the first in the series, Screamcatcher: Web World, just went on sale two minutes ago as of this writing. The two remaining books are subtitled Dream Chasers and The Shimmering Eye. If you like teenage paranormal investigators, this just might be your cup of tea. Enjoy!

My Bio

Christy J. Breedlove, originally born in California, moved to Sylvania, Alabama in 2009. Her occupations have included newspaper editor/reporter, astronomer, federal police officer and part time surfer girl. She has been writing off and on for 36 years, having officially published books beginning in 1988. Today she writes in her favorite genre, Young Adult. She was a finalist in the L. Ron. Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, and just recently took the first place grand prize in a YA novel writing contest for The Girl They Sold to the Moon. She writes the popular blog, Guerrilla Warfare for Writers (special weapons and tactics), hoping to inform and educate writers all over the world about the high points and pitfalls of publishing

The Story Behind “The Girl They Sold to the Moon.”

The Little SF Dystopian that Could and Came out of Nowhere

I’d been a slave to the keyboard and typing chair for six months, having not been out of the house. So I jumped at the chance when my niece, Jamie, ask me to come along for a ride. Driving down a back road with Jamie and her daughter, Fia, on a balmy summer day, we were discussing how low our gas was and if we could make to a town called Fort Payne. Fia was acting up in the back seat, broadcasting 180 decibels from the hole in her face. Jamie reared her head and said, “Shut the hell up, please. Or we’ll pawn your azz for gas money at the next pullout, I swear!”

Fia tried, “But I was just–”

“Shaddap!”

I thought about that outburst for a minute. My ears were still ringing. Then it hit me… What if, I mused, that in a distressed (dystopian) society, heads of households were allowed to pawn dependents to a company called Family Trade & Loan for huge cash advances? And what if that dependent was a teenage girl who ended up with a six-month sentence at the Tranquility Harbor Moon base on Luna, assigned to a rough and tumble mining company filled with slobaholic miners?

Wait. What about a Burlesque  in Space? ‘Cause maybe she’s forced to work as an exotic dancer and given an “Attractapeal” rating for her physical attributes. Oh, gawd, yea. And let’s give her a tin number tag and a jumpsuit that identifies her as a Sunshine Class (12 to 18 year-olds) ward.

All this brainstorming materialized in about 20 minutes and all I could hear was white noise in my head–I’d tuned everything else out.

Phuck…

I couldn’t get home fast enough to start pounding plastic and scribbling notes. I’d heard plenty about the sex slave market but this would be a sanitized, legal work program sanctioned by the government. What kind of abuses could such a powerful entity inflict upon its slave labor wards? Unlimited, I decided. Because most of the cash advances levied out were screened to force the payment of huge delinquent back-tax settlements.

Out of sight, out of mind, wards wouldn’t stand a chance in hell. Let the personal rights and freedoms be damned and trampled.

And that’s how it all began for The Girl They Sold to Moon, a young adult dystopian thriller.  The cover art is stunning, filled with glitter and soft hues. It has large font for easy reading. The e-copy will come out for the official launch right around July 1rst.

I think the lesson here is that lightning can strike at the most uneventful and unexpected times. Rides, walks, runs and vacations–they’re all ripe for the muse to appear and start the creative dance. Get out and change your scenery. It’s good for what ails you if you’re blocked. It sure busted me out of a creative freeze.

Cheers,

Chris

My Dream Catcher Story

Dream catcher at sunset

It all started here. This iconic item, which is rightfully ingrained in Indian lore, is a dream symbol respected by the culture that created it. It is mystifying, an enigma that that prods the imagination. I once wondered what would happen to a very old dreamcatcher that was filled with dreams and nightmares. What if the nightmares became too sick or deathly? What if the web strings could not hold anymore visions? Would the dreamcatcher melt, burst, vanish, implode? Something would have to give if too much evil was allowed to congregate in one spot. I found nothing on the Internet that offered a solution to this problem. So I took it upon myself to answer such a burning question. Like too much death on a battlefield could inundate the immediate location with lost and angry spirits, so could a dreamcatcher hold no more of its fill of sheer terror without morphing into another dimension. What would it be like to be caught up in another world inside the webs of a dreamcatcher, and how would you get out?

I’ll let my character, Albert White Feather Pike explain what this precious heirloom is, as he explains it to a curious boy.

Dreamcatcher Stock Photo
Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

            “It is said that Iktomi, the great trickster and searcher of wisdom, appeared to an old spiritual leader in the form of a spider. Iktomi, the spider, picked up the elder’s willow hoop, which had feathers, horsehair and beads on it and began to spin a web. He spoke to the elder about the cycles of life and the many forces–some good and some bad—and how it was important to listen to the clean, good forces and to avoid the darker ones that could hurt and lead you astray.”

            “The big spider was the teacher, then?” asked Choice.

            Jory rolled her eyes, having heard the legend before.

            Albert’s eyes became slits. “Yes. When Iktomi finished the web, he returned it to the elder and said ‘The web is a perfect circle with a hole in the middle. All of the bad forces, visions and dreams enter onto the web where they are trapped and held. All of the good forces find their way into the center and slip through, to travel down the feather and bead path, arriving upon the sleeper. If you believe in the Great Spirit, the web will filter your visions and give you pleasant dreams. The bad ones will never pass.’”

            “But, Grandfather, said Jory, “the dream catcher was used for babies and small children to comfort them. They were used above cradleboards.”

            Albert seemed not to have heard her words, having focused on Choice. “And when the sun rose the next morning it would wash all of the bad spirits from the catcher, cleansing it for another sleep cycle. It was always made to fall apart and wither after years of use so that it would never be filled up with the dark things.”

            “Damn,” said Choice. “What’s it made of? Little sticks and strings?”

            “They were made for adults too,” said Albert, looking at Jory. “The hoop is made from the twigs of the red willow, formed and dried. It is woven with the thread from the stalk of the stinging nettle. The very old ones have sinew for web. The beads are a decoration, and only one gemstone is used to show that there is only one creator in the web of life. Long ago, the government of this country outlawed the use of real eagle feathers, so most are made from feathers of other birds.”

            Choice nodded and waved his hand at the board. “Then they’re just copies?”

            “Not these,” said Albert. “I made many of them as a youth when no such law existed.”

            “You’ve got the real deal then,” said Choice, his eyes roaming over the board until he looked up toward the ceiling and saw an enormous dream catcher hanging from a rafter. Jory had seen it before. It was as large as a basketball hoop, trailing long, elegant feathers. But it appeared that it hadn’t been cleaned or dusted, which gave it a brittle, antique appearance. It looked like thick strings of gut or leather had been used to fashion the web. A few talons and claws hung from individual strands, a marked difference from the construction of the others.

            “Where did that one come from?” asked Choice, indicating the large catcher with the flick of his eyes.

            Albert steadied himself with a hand on the counter to look up, his voice a mystic whisper. “It is the oldest one, the one passed down from the ages, from the time just after the great turtle. It was not meant to be used, but only copied. It is the one that carries the design for all to learn from…the one you would say is the…I have not the word for it.”

            “The prototype,” said Choice. “The original.”

            “Yes,” said Albert. “It was considered a treasured heirloom. I cannot say whether it was used to capture the bad spirits or not or whose hands and tribe it passed from. I only know it is the greatest grandfather of them all. It represents all the nations of all the human beings.”

Writing Credits and Resume

EARLY WRITING SUCCESS My early writing accomplishment were multiple hits within a few years: In my first year of writing back in 1987, I wrote three Sf short stories that were accepted by major slick magazines which qualified me for the Science Fiction Writers of America, and at the same time achieved a Finalist award in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. This recognition garnered me a top gun SF agent at the time, Richard Curtis Associates. My first novel went to John Badham (Director) and the Producers, the Cohen Brothers. Only an option, but an extreme honor. The writer who beat me out of contention for a feature movie, was Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. My book was called Dinothon.

A year after that I published two best-selling non-fiction books and landed on radio, TV, in every library in the U.S. and in hundreds of newspapers.

I have been trying to catch that lightning in a bottle ever since. My YA dystopian novel, The Girl They Sold to the Moon won the grand prize in a publisher’s YA novel writing contest, went to a small auction and got tagged for a film option. So, I’m getting there.

PUBLICATION HISTORY

BOOK CREDITS:

Auto Repair Shams and Scams (Forward–Ralph Nader), 1990, Price Stern & Sloan, Los Angeles–226 pages, non-fiction, consumer warning and repair book.

Garage Sale Mania, 1988, Betterway Publications, Crozet, Virginia–190 pages, non-fiction—1988.

Word Wars, a SF novel, to Rain Publishing, Canada—May, 2007.

Once Upon a Goddess, a Fantasy novel, to Rain Publishing, Canada—January, 2008

Planet Janitor; Custodian of the Stars, a SF novel sold to Engage Books, May 2009

The War Gate—paranormal thriller to Pen and Press—August, 2012

Gate Walker, a Paranormal Fantasy, sold to Lyrical Press—January, 2009.

The Wolfen Strain, a fantasy thriller sold to LBF Books, February 2009

The Girl They Sold to the Moon, a YA dystopia, to Intrigue Publishing 2014

Planet Janitor, Omnibus Edition Reprint, Engage Books, March 2016

Blackmailed Bride, erotic romance to Melange Books, Jan 2018

SOLD–COMING SOON:

Screamcatcher: Web World, Book 1, Melange Fire & Ice YA—March 2019

Screamcatcher: Dream Chasers, Book 2, Melange Fire & Ice YA—March 2019

Screamcatcher: The Shimmering Eye, Book 3, Melange Fire & Ice YA—March 2019

MAGAZINE—SHORT FICTION:

“Stella” by Starlight, to Amazing Stories, 1988.

The Lonely Astronaut, to Amazing Stories, 1988.

Temperamental Circuits, to Gordon Linzner of Space & Time, 1989.

Things that go Clump in the Night, to Richard Fawcett of Doppelganger, 1989.

Dance the Macabre and Dance it Well, to Erskine Carter of Ouroborous, 1989.

Future School, to Chris Bartholomew of Static Movement, January 2006.

The Incredible Mr. Dandy, to Not One of Us.

Planet Janitor:  The Moon is not Enough, to Enage Books, 2012

Planet Janitor:  Journey Interrupted, to Engage Books, 2012

Other magazine appearances from 1988 to 1991 include, Alpha Adventures, Small Press Writers and Artists Organization and Sycophant.

RADIO PLAYS:

The Summit, 15-minute horror play to Night Sounds, Embassy Cassette Inc, Santa Ana, California—1990

Night of the Moa, 13-minute horror play to Night Sounds, Embassy Cassette Inc, Santa Ana, California—1990.

AWARDS:

Finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest for Temperamental Circuits, 1987.  First place, grand prize for The Girl They Sold to the Moon—in the Entranced YA novel writing competition—cash prize.

JOURNALISM AND MAGAZINE ARTICLES
350 newspaper profiles, stories, and interviews to Sunset Publishing, Anaheim, California, appearing in The West Coast Jewish News, The Senior Citizens Reporter and The Military Review. From 1988 to 1991. Seven automotive and home and garden articles to Dollar Stretcher Magazine, from 12-2-2011 to 2-28-2012. Eight science articles to Xiauduo Media, for Chinese translation( 8 -14 year-old audience)—Astronomy, new transportation technology, space, exoplanets, future spaced ship drives, big bang theory and inflation.

CONTENT AND CLIENT
I have written and published over 1,750 non-fiction automotive, aircraft, marine, home and garden and science articles for Demand Media Studios under the Beta-Automotive and E-How stations. Six automotive articles to Examiner.com—6-2012. Published. 440 automotive and general articles to TextBroker–2014—plumbing, gardening, home improvement, home utilities, electricity–Content writing for a total of three years.

ORGANIZATIONS/POSITIONS:

Served as content editor for Sunset Publication (see above) for three years. Responsible for all writing assignment content, filler and artwork.

President and founder of Heartland Writers Group, Huntington Beach, California, from 1987 to 1991.

AGENTS:

Past agent–Richard Curtis Associates, from 1988 to 1991.

Past agent—TriadaUS (Dr. Uwe Stender), from 2005 to August 2009

Present agent—Sara Camilli Agency

CURRENT FINISHED BOOKS (AVAILABLE):

Iron Maiden an adult military espionage thriller.

Valley of the Mastodons, a non-fiction book involving the Ice Age megafauna discoveries in Hemet, California, during the Diamond Valley reservoir dig in 1994–1997. Proposal, chapter outline, and 100 pages available upon request

Dispossessed Incorporated, an urban ghost fantasy with time travel.

The Omega Wars—SF, apocalyptic alien invasion (Sequel to PJ)

Screamcatcher (Web World, Dream Chasers, The Shimmering Eye), A YA fantasy trilogy about teenage paranormal investigators. (ALL ARE SOLD)

Earth Angel, a paranormal cop thriller.

Sky High—YA dystopian thriller—Logan’s Run/Hunger Games mash-up.                                  

The Wonders of the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits—a children’s chapter book about the Ice Age and the megafauna entrapment—told in a nonfiction/storytelling format. 

Sky High-YA Dystopian Excerpt

The foot tram was broken on the north side of the pier. Seventeen year-old Toby Johansson had to walk across the dirty grid path—it wasn’t too strenuous for a physical enhancement instructor. As he strolled, he looked at the solar panels attached to the tall support frames and building facades. The panels were glazed over with oxidation and separating at the seams, posing the danger of breakage and electrical shorts. ZZZzzzpht! Eight hundred years of exposure to the elements had taken its toll.

            He knew that twenty wind turbines, rooted to the pier and reaching skyward from tall masts supplied supplemental electrical energy to the high scraper city. Only half were operable, but still working in concert with the warped solar panels. What a joke. When the weather didn’t permit solar penetration, wind turbines strained to keep the deep cycle batteries charged to supply the city.  

            Toby stuffed his hands in his jumpsuit pockets, feeling the nip in the air. To his left loomed the quads; endless rows of massive Quonset hut dormitories built with three story levels, with the roofs blanketed in cracked solar panels. The quads took up one hundred and thirty of the one thousand two-hundred and eighty acres. The rest of the platform land was reserved for the enclosed garden grounds, hydroponic stations, electrical generators, shops, drag pumps, maintenance bays, iron and copper mills and factory warehouses. He’d seen every installation so many times he couldn’t give his mind permission to wander. My city. You’re ugly enough to make a freight train take a dirt road, old as Triassic rock and carrying more baggage than a Cruiseliner. You piece of shit.

From his vantage point, he could see the giant Phillips drag pump installation that took up the southwest corner. The pump machinery sat over the hollow piling extending below it. The pump station looked like an oil refinery that’d had coitus with a cement plant—a dirty, eroded collaboration of tanks, pipes, valves and furnaces. It stank like burnt oil.   

            When Toby neared the southwest corner, he glanced around before he ducked under a bundle of conduit pipes, stepped around a back-up generator and squeezed between two holding tanks. He crossed over the red warning line and walked to the railing. This was the most isolated spot he’d found on pier zero-zero-one-C, officially named Cloud’s Rest. He called his hiding place the “cubby hole.” He stared below at the last remnants of sleet nestled in the muddied gullies.

            Anything alive and moving down below was indistinguishable, except for the big electric scout and track vehicles which ran over a levy road and disappeared in the distant tree line. The edge of the forest sat upon upraised land created by the giant tidal surges nearly five hundred feet above the flat washed-out basin. Behind the surviving trees, hills rolled away in a blaze of grays and dark greens. The trees seemed cleaved away from the basin as clearly as though cut by an axe stroke. The saltwater run-up had done its damage. Toby knew that the birds that flew over Cloud’s Rest had come from the arboreal dells within the forest. How many times had he wished that he could fly above the trashy flotsam and soar in the sweet fragrant air, to land in the comfort of a nest? Freedom.

The trees and plant seedlings produced and cultured at Cloud’s Rest were frauds, engineered in giant Lucite tubs and fed mineral supplements. What trees they had were stunted varieties that grew in shallow soil on the fringe of the garden grounds. The more mature vegetables were planted in the expansive gardens and harvested when they ripened. The homemade greenery was just as encaged and controlled as the populace—nearly 8,000 people trapped, corralled in a makeshift pier city that was fast running out of resources and raw materials. The whole rusted heap was leaning, ready to topple over and crash to surface.  

            Toby flinched when he felt a shoulder pinch. His thoughts curdled when he turned around expecting to see law enforcement in his face. Instead, he found eighteen year-old Maria Theresia standing behind him. The auburn highlights in her dirty blonde hair stood out under the dim sun. The crack of a wide smile cut her elfin face in half. She held out her hands in an open gesture, which he took to mean, hey, it’s only me; so don’t blow a gasket.

            “Don’t sneak up on somebody like that.” The breath sucked sharply between his teeth. “I thought for sure you were a blunt.”

            She grazed against him before she sidled up next to the rail. “I don’t know how you could mistake me for a blunt.” She looked at him with steely green eyes and pursed her lips. He was convinced that her body language was deliberately animated. She never stood in front of anybody with a relaxed stance. She always struck a pose.

Toby watched her raise to her toes and arch her back, throwing her chest out over the rail. She had made her own summer top constructed of sheer fabric which she wore in November to torment him. She had him right where she wanted him. Turn it on and melt me into slag again, why don’t you? She had the kind of hair that flipped, dropped, curled and flowed. He couldn’t resist the way it looked so feminine and wild at the same time. She had once told him that she liked the old classic multi-layered shag. He’d thought she meant that she owned a extra thick carpet in her quad. In spite of her flirtatious shenanigans, he’d made no mistake about her skill at tailoring and sewing. Her job assignment was seamstress and material fabricator. If not for her talents, none of their plans would have taken root.

            He turned from her and focused his gaze at the tree line. He estimated the distance to it to be ten miles away, give or take. Could be seven or eight miles. The accuracy of his depth perception runneled through his head. The city council had outlawed range-finding oculars and spotting scopes from the general populace. You never wanted us to see the truth.

Without turning to her he said, “How far along are you? You’ve got to be close.”

            She rubbed the small of his back. “I finished this morning, just in the nick. The cords gave me the most problems but I got lucky and found some surplus nylon three days ago. I used plastic eyehooks, canvas harnesses and a hell of a lot of knots. All the material is old stuff but I’m sure it’ll hold up. Justice helped me out with the last of it. We worked fast.”

            “You and Justice are featherweights. I’m pushing one hundred and eighty pounds. Remy’s about fifteen pounds over that. We’re talking about some major pull and load.”

            “I’m telling you, they’ll take the load. No one in the factory suspected anything missing. If they did, they didn’t give a care or show it. Look, I’m no expert on drag coefficients—we knew the risks.” She peered over the rail. “It’s five thousand eight hundred and twenty-two feet. If we have a breeze we’ll get some good lateral distance. What could go wrong?”

            He gave a snort. “The chutes don’t open; we plummet over a mile and pancake on the deck.”

            “It’s the last foot that kills you.” She let out a squawking laugh. “Cheer up! This was your idea a long time ago. We can back out if you want…or put it off.”

            He wasn’t about to back out. It was one of those now or never dates with destiny. There would be no time for custom fittings, prototypes, experiments, or friends who shied off because of a lack of guts. They all knew the risks and punishments. The time couldn’t be better to make a dash for freedom. Tomorrow was the eight-hundred year-old anniversary of pier zero-zero-one-C, Cloud’s Rest. There would be aerial pyrotechnics, deregulated alcoholic beverages, free rides at the Happy Corner and old classic holographic movies. The blunts would be busy monitoring the crowds and making arrests. Security patrols for restricted areas would be cut by seventy percent. The countdown to Toby’s Soaring Eagle had begun.

                                          *                                *                                   *

            It was eleven o’clock at night when Toby made it to the cubby hole. Surprisingly, Maria and Justice were there, sitting in the extreme corner and making themselves as small as possible. He could see their faces in the refracted light set off by the fireworks above—the anniversary celebration of Cloud’s Rest was in full swing. Justice looked thin and frail with her knees drawn up against her chest, head at a slight downward tilt, causing her long black hair to cascade over the front of her shoulders. Her dark brown eyes were lost in shadow, looking like two black sockets.

Four packs were lined up against the railing, harness straps splayed out on the deck like fat strands of linguini. The girls had placed all the packs and gear there earlier. Toby noticed the packs were encased in heavy paper sacks, which gave him some alarm. Four additional survival packs were stacked against a railing post.

            Where in the hell is Remy?” asked Justice

            “He better not be doing what I think he’s doing,” said Toby.

In a kidding gesture, Toby had nicknamed him a “slobaholic,” since the man had a penchant for stealing liquor, picking fights and trashing his quad cubical. Remy had been written up twice for imbibing hooch, a strictly rationed commodity that was reserved for special parties and medicinal purposes. Toby had once caught him sipping rubbing alcohol. One more infraction and Remy Billings would pull sixty days of lockdown.

 Toby looked at Justice crunch up her face and rock back and forth, knowing she had the same thoughts. “I’m going to kill him,” she said. “He’s getting his fill somewhere when he knows we’re on the clock. Soaring Eagle will come apart at the seams if he doesn’t get his ass here—right damn it to hell now.”

            Toby gave Justice the finger over the lips gesture. Her voice was a tad loud, considering they were under stealth mode. The thought of a blunt happening upon them sawed on his nerves. There would be no question about the group’s intentions. Attempted escape brought severe penalties. Lockdown for six months was not uncommon. Another option was a shorter sentence at hard labor in the fertilizer depository. The hard labor was durable. The fact that dead human bodies were ground up with mulch and served as nutrient feed to the garden grounds gave the job a sickening morbidity. He closed his eyes and imagined the bones cracking and flesh squishing under the grinding wheels. I’m about to lose you, you ugly bitch, he swore at the pier

            They had to wait fifteen minutes before they heard a body shuffling and clanging through the pump gear. The unknown person warbled a few stanzas to an old song and then hit something that sounded like a bell. Remy. The thick-bodied seventeen year-old, appeared from between the tanks, stood for a moment and then leaned ponderously forward. He rubbed an impact injury on his forehead.   

            Toby hooked an arm around him, shoved him to the rail and hissed, “Shut the damn hell up, Remy. You stink. You’ve been swizzling.”

            Remy blew out a flammable breath. “I ain’t doing this shit sober. You know me—when it ain’t right, I get tight. Besides that, and for your information, I had a mission to accomplish.”

            Justice got in Remy’s face. “You damn fool; you can’t do this drunk. We’ll have to call the whole thing off on account of you.”

            Remy rocked on his heels. “Naw, we’ll never get this chance again. I’m goin’.”

            Maria said, “The hell you say.”

            Toby swished his arms. “Everyone enhance your calm.” He turned Remy’s face around to glare steadily into his eyes. “You sure about this? You know what we have to do. We can’t have any foul-ups, and that means terminal ones.”

            “I’m tellin’ ya I’m going to be all right. Let’s make this happen.”

            Toby gave Remy’s body a scan. “What do you have in that waist pouch? You know our weight limit is critical.”

            “Just a few essentials.” He blew out a nauseous burp. “No more than a few extra pounds.”

            “Whenever, and if we ever get married, I’m going to kick your ass to a dirt curb,” said Justice.

            Maria positioned everyone’s feet over the two leg strap openings. Then she told them to pull up the harness straps, cross them over their shoulders and bring the belly strap around to the front. Toby knew about the belt buckles and adjusted his harness for a tight fit. He and Maria helped the others lace up and position their pull cords over their right shoulders. Toby knew that with one stark yank, the pull cord would deploy the pilot chute then pull out the main canopy. They’d performed the movements in rehearsal a dozen times, three times in the dark.  

            Toby tossed the surplus packs over the rail near the base of the corner pier piling. He wouldn’t hear them hit or see where they landed. He ordered everyone to spread out a distance of ten feet from each other. Instead of taking his position, he walked over to Remy and put the pull cord firmly in the man’s right hand. “Give it five seconds,” he reminded Remy. “Don’t let go of this cord for any reason, even after you pull it. Wait for the rockin’ big tug.” Toby wet his finger in the air and held it up. “Okay, no breeze. No steering. Don’t pull to either side.”

            “I know the drill,” said Remy and slung his leg over the top rail. “God Master on a wagon wheel, here I go!” He leapt, emitting a small whine.

            Justice went next after a ten second wait. Maria counted down and gave Toby a snappy salute. She bellied over the rail and disappeared from sight. Toby waited his turn and then kicked up over the rail and let go.

He felt weightless in the pitch black void, but then he had the feeling he’d begun a spiraling tumble. He cursed against the wind rush and pulled his cord at the five-second mark. Nothing happened. He cursed again and yanked harder. He heard the snap of fabric and then had the sensation of being punched in the guts by a giant fist.