Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Editor: My Muse Authors – Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner: The Mad World Series

Publisher's Book Page

Back Cover Book 1:
Orphans Astrid Chalke and Max Fisher meet when they’re sent to live at Wakefield, a residential and educational facility for teens with psychiatric and behavioral problems. Astrid’s roommate cuts herself with anything sharp she can get her hands on and Max’s roommate threatens him upon introduction. Just as Astrid and Max develop a strong bond and begin to adjust to the constant chaos surrounding them, a charming and mysterious resident of Wakefield named Teddy claims he has unexplainable abilities. Sometimes he can move things without touching them. Sometimes he can see people’s voices emanating from their mouths. Teddy also thinks that some of the Wakefield staff are on to him. At first, Astrid and Max think Teddy is paranoid, but Max’s strange, recurring dreams and a series of unsettling events force them to reconsider Teddy’s claims. Are they a product of his supposedly disturbed mind or is the truth stranger than insanity?

I ran a hand lightly against the cold wall, imagining the force it would take to smash through it. The yellow lights above shone with a dull intensity that turned my stomach. The doors all matched, and I felt claustrophobic. The only thing that broke up the monotony was the random graffiti scribbled on the walls. Most of it had been scrubbed off, but I could make out faint lines here and there. They were like ghosts, just out of reach. Realizing I wouldn’t be able to leave these walls, I slunk down to the shiny, white floor and nearly cried.
“Hey,” a timid voice called out. It was the goth kid I’d noticed earlier. He was bone thin and had a long mop of straight hair that matched his black shirt and pants. He pushed the hair out of his face; the movement showed off his seven or eight bracelets.
I ignored him completely, so he approached very slowly and said, “You’ll get your regular clothes back tomorrow.”
“They give them back the next day.” He bobbed his head. He was younger than I was, but I couldn’t tell by how much. Dark hair covered half his face, which made him look younger, or he might have been little for his age.
“I look stupid,” I confided.
“Yeah, those suck,” he went on. “They made me feel like a tool when I got here. But you won’t have to wear them again. I haven’t.”
“That’s cool.”
“So, welcome to Newton,” he said with a half grin.
“Yeah, this part of the building. We have to pretty much stay in our own area. There are three other units—Whitehall, Lancre, and McCarthy. We’re the best.”
“Clearly. I’m Max,” I introduced myself as he sat down against the opposite wall. He acted like I was a dangerous animal, moving slowly, like I might pounce at any minute. The woman at the staff desk looked up over her laptop for about twenty seconds before going back to whatever she was doing. I wondered if he thought he was fast enough to outrun me. I doubted he was. “So what do I call you?”
“Uh, I’m Azrael,” he told me shyly. He looked away, down the hall, in case I’d laugh at him.
“Your name is Azrael?” I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to scare him off, but it was a weird name.
“No,” he admitted and looked up at the ceiling. “It’s really Jon Applegarth, but I like Azrael better. It’s stupid, I guess.” He shrugged and let out a deep breath. I could tell he was not a fan of Wakefield.
“Did you get your name from the cat in The Smurfs?” I asked.
“No, I just like it. It sounds vampiric,” he said, brown eyes glistening with excitement.
“All right. Azrael it is then,” I reassured this kid.
He turned his face back to me and grinned. He had a tiny row of neat, little teeth.
“So, Simon’s your roommate, huh?” he asked, though he was fully aware of the answer.
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“I’m sorry,” he squinted at me, lowering his voice.
“He’s that bad?”
“Some guys like him. Couple of the girls do, too,” Azrael told me. “I stay away if I can.”
“Maybe he’ll be cool to me.” I shrugged.
“Yeah, maybe,” Azrael lied. “I gotta go.”
I doubted Azrael had any pressing business to take care of, but I didn’t say anything as he stood up and skittered away. This wasn’t the sort of place you tell people how you really feel. I’d have to start practicing biting my tongue and letting people do what they want. At least it was nice of Azrael to sit with me for a few minutes, even though he only worried me about Simon. If people liked me before I came here, then why wouldn’t they like me here at Wakefield?
A fat guy, older than me, left a room up ahead. He looked at me for a few seconds and then continued on to the bathroom. I hung my head low as I stood and walked down the hall to stare at my darkened reflection in the small window. It was gray outside, and I couldn't see much, but I would have given anything to be on the other side of that glass. It showed me a face that looked at least two years older than the last time I’d seen myself. Maybe I could get into R rated movies now. If only they’d let me out to see movies. I went back to my room, where Simon sat at his desk.
“Hey, do they ever let us out to the movies?” I asked Simon.
He grunted, so I sat on the empty bed to wait for my stuff to come. I didn’t know how long it would take the state social worker to bring my things to Wakefield or the staff to pour through all my belongings. I’d later hear how they’d go through all the pockets and seams for anything cutters use. They’d also check my music and movies to make sure none of it was inappropriate.
My “new” dresser was a simple, beat up, wooden monstrosity shoved against the wall. At least it looked more inviting than the bed I sat on. It was a wooden box with eight holes on the sides for straps to pass through in case the staff needed to restrain anyone in their rooms. Small rails cradled the thin, uncomfortable mattress.
Then I noticed a small rectangular camera hanging from the ceiling.
“Uhm, do all the rooms have cameras? Is that thing on?” I asked Simon.
“Yeah, dumbass, it's on. And no, not every room has one. But because of your newbie ass, I have to live with a camera until they decide to trust you. Thanks a lot.”
At least I knew why Simon was angry with me.

Publisher's Book Page

Back Cover Book 2:
Following their panicked escape from Wakefield, Astrid Chalke, Max Fisher, and their friends find themselves adrift and on the run in western Massachusetts. After picking up a young thief with a complex philosophy, , and dealing with the pains of prescription drug withdrawal, they make their way to Boston.
Drained by a long trek to the city, the damaged teens settle in an underground tunnel community—a city below the city that appears to lie on the fringes of both the world above and the world of magic. Among the eccentric tunnel folk, they encounter the fabulous Angie DeVille, a self-made hipster and socialite who takes them under her neon wing and envelops them in her breathless and fast paced life.
Funded by a seemingly ruthless organization, the relentless Dr. Lycen is tasked to hunt down the Wakefield escapees. But as Astrid and Max eke out a meager existence in their new home and do their best to stay off Dr. Lycen's radar, they learn that new and even more harrowing threats might be lurking just over the horizon.

I slept restlessly in the one-room cabin the night we met Colby Sturgill. No one seemed to be sleeping well. Laura and Azrael looked agitated and restless, and Simon and Astrid kept tossing and turning. Lawrence got up in the middle of the night, and I could hear him vomiting outside the cabin’s screen door. I hadn’t really been at ease since our strange visit to the Poet’s Seat Tower, but it wasn’t the tower I visited in my sleep.
That night I dreamt of the ocean. Seagulls and a dragon flew overhead, six fingers beckoned me on, and wooden statues dressed as pirates kept a snowman company. The snowman sat by a blazing red candle, but it only hardened him to thick, glossy ice. Through a haze, I watched as a gray-haired fox drew a seven-sided star around us. It twisted and bent all together, until I had to really focus to see. Lines straightened out, shadows parted, and I was in a crowded club. There had to have been hundreds of people, dancing, drinking, and partying. A band played on a stage, a singer sweated. I didn’t recognize any of it.
The singer’s voice was like diamonds, and her multi-colored hair framed her face in a sharp bob. Everyone around me moved together like zombies, grinding and swaying, but she was the only one truly alive.
The song ended and the singer dropped the microphone on the stage, laughing.
“Give it up for our guest singer!” one of the band members announced. The partiers went wild. The singer soaked it in and joined her people.
“You’re too much!” she said in a posh English accent, faking humility.
Someone’s arm passed through me, then a leg, and I realized I wasn’t seeing through anyone’s eyes. I was me, and I wasn’t really there.
The band played on, but I couldn’t hear anything anymore. It was as if I had no ears. Faces blurred and couples kissed, and I remembered ghosts in a tunnel and missed my friends until the magnetic woman passed near me.
She stopped, just a foot away, and then snapped her head toward me. A couple danced through my dream body as the singer stood still. She grinned and spoke, flooding my ears with sound once more:
“I almost didn’t see you there, darling. Almost.” She lit a cigarette even though I never saw a lighter or match.
“But I’m not here,” I replied.
She tilted her head back and laughed as someone handed her a drink.
“Then where on earth are you?”
“A cabin. In the woods. With some friends,” I confessed. “And a thief.”
“How fascinating. You must come here, and then you can tell me everything.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
Someone called out to her, touched her arm. She turned her attention to him and gave some response before returning to me. She blew a series of smoke rings through my fake body before speaking.
“Oh, I just know we’re going to be such wonderful friends. Find me in Boston, if you dare.” She flashed me a wink, and then waved her hands in the air, like she was sending me back.
I awoke, jolting bolt upright, and realized I could barely breathe. There was a thin layer of sweat covering my chest and neck. My quick movement must have woken Colby up. Thankfully he was the only one who so much as stirred.
“Rough night?” he asked.
“Sure,” I answered. I wasn’t about to get into all of this with a stranger.
“You want to go for a walk or something?” he asked, fumbling with his words. Teddy rolled onto his side next to me. I wondered if he was faking sleep.
“No, thanks. Still tired. ’Night, man,” I told our newest addition.
He went back to sleep while I stared up at the wooden slats in the ceiling. Simon snored a few times, which I was used to from sharing a room with him in Wakefield. Astrid and Laura slept on a beat up old couch against the wall, Astrid’s glasses folded and placed carefully on the stained coffee table. Sweat beaded off both of their brows. Lawrence lay perfectly still against the wood-paneled wall, as if he were in a coffin. Then it struck me that Ben wasn’t there. This was not good.
I quietly sat up, at which point Colby did the same.
“Something is wrong?” he asked.
“Bathroom break.” I probably would have felt bad lying to anyone else. I crept over Teddy and tiptoed out of the room past Azrael, who peacefully sucked his thumb. The moon shone bright from the night sky, but the thick trees blocked out huge portions of light.
“Ben!” I tried to yell as quietly as possible, like a stage whisper. There was no response. “Ben!”

Publisher's Book Page

Back Cover Book 3:
Following months living on the streets of Boston, the Wakefield escapees have found a temporary shelter to recoup in after barely escaping from Arlington Station with their lives—but time is running out.
As the troubled teens grow closer and rely on each other for survival, they know the inexhaustible Dr. Lycen is on the hunt. When he shows up on their doorstep with his crimson army, they are forced into action. With limited options, some of them flee to Perfection, a turn of the century living museum that holds more than its fair share of secrets.
Those who travel to Perfection find a new home that promises safety and stability. But is a dangerous adversary pulling the strings behind the scenes?

I sprawled on the couch, staring at the ceiling fan. I didn’t feel like watching any of the DVDs by the TV. I’d watched a few already, and the rest were mostly cheesy romances. I never really got the appeal. Real romance isn’t flowery, it’s ironic and anti-climactic, but that probably makes it even better.
Astrid and I were supposed to go out that night for food and meager supplies at the nearest convenience store, but Lawrence offered to go for me. I figured he didn’t want to be stuck here while Laura and Simon gushed over each other and Teddy brooded over his book of spells. I didn’t mind it much though; it comforted me. I really knew these people and their routines. It was nice.
Teddy finally put down the Almanac and joined Laura and Simon in the kitchen to play board games. I was still wary of pissing Laura off, so I gave them some space, lazing around the living room to the sound of dice clattering against the kitchen table.
I lost track of time until the floor squeaked nearby, and Teddy was suddenly towering over me, hands on his hips. He blocked the ceiling light, casting his shadow over my entire body.
“Hey, Max!”
“Hi, Teddy. What’s up?”
“It’s couples time, apparently.” He pointed to the closed bedroom door.
“Gotcha. So what do you want to do until Astrid and Lawrence get back?” I sat up and scooted to one end of the couch to give Teddy plenty of room for his long limbs to sit next to me.
“I got a DVD when I went out last night. And some popcorn,” Teddy said.
“That’s cool, but they won’t like that you spent our money on nonessentials.”
“Five finger discount,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Stealing is wrong, Teddy,” I told him mechanically.
“It wasn’t my plan. I went into the movie place to get out of the rain while Lawrence finished up next door, and the dude behind the register eyed me like I was some dirty, homeless thief.”
“So you proved him wrong by stealing?”
“I lived up to his expectations. My parents would be really proud.”
“Good job, Sport.” I rubbed his head in a mock parental manner. I didn’t like that he stole, but at the same time, I was sure any movie he got would be better than a romance, and it was nice seeing him in such a good mood. He’d been sulking for a day and a half and now appeared to be at the opposite end of the bipolar spectrum.
“Been thinking ’bout something,” he said quickly as he leapt to his feet. The fingers on his right hand tapped his palm with nervous energy. “Wanted to talk before the others get back. Now is good. Everything smells tingly, like when you smear glue on your hand, then it hardens and you rip it off. That’s what I smell right now. And red. There’s a spell in the book. I want to try it with you.”
“Oh, cool. What is it?” My interest was definitely piqued.
“It’s a bonding spell. It says two people can have, like, a mental or spiritual connection or whatever for the rest of their lives. Both have to have powers like us and want the connection, you know? The connection means we can always find each other, and we’ll know what each other is feeling sometimes, or if one of us is hurt. And you can’t have this same bond with anyone else. Ever. It’s like twins, but different. Do you want to bond with me, Max?”
This was a lot of information, coming at me a mile a minute, but I didn’t really have to think about it.
“Yeah, of course. What do we have to do?” When it came to friends who I’d want to have a magical connection with, I could only think of three—Astrid, Teddy, and Timothy, my subway friend who I couldn’t risk spending more time with. And that was an easy choice, since only Teddy had powers. I’d want to know if Teddy was hurt, so I could help him, or to have him be able to find me if I got lost or something.
“Sweet. Awesome, Max! This will be great. So great. I need to read more and prepare some stuff first. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.” He almost tripped over his own large feet, he was so excited, as he leaned over and hugged me.
“I’m excited too, Teddy.” I hugged him back.
He stood up, his shoulders dropping.
“You’ll have a couple days to back out if you want.”