Friday, April 18, 2014

FREE! Download Two of my Shorts this Weekend!

Happy Easter! 

I am offering two of my shorts free this weekend. Hop on over to Amazon and download a copy of 

A kid's mystery adults will enjoy, too!

Kevin Chandler lives next door to Bill the butcher - the meanest man in town. Bill's son, Dylan, bullies Kevin and his friend, Ben. One night, on his way home from Ben's house, Kevin sees Dylan going into the ramshackle garage behind the Butcher house and he thinks he hears a dog whimpering. The Butchers don't own a dog and everyone knows Dylan hurts dogs, so Kevin decides he must find out what's happening in that garage. He asks Ben to help him, and when his sister, Emma, finds out, she wants to help, too. 

Why does Dylan Butcher have a dog in his garage? Is it the missing dog Ben's father read about in the newspaper? How will the boys get into the locked garage to find out what's going on without Dylan or his mean father finding them?

Review on Amazon

Great Young Adult Mystery

"This is a very good mystery novel for young adults. It has no superheroes who can do impossible tasks. It just has ordinary kids (and adults) who want to solve a mystery. The beginning of the novel did not pique my interest, but after a few pages, the pace picked up. The characters were well written and well developed. I especially liked the way the author handled the "bad guys." I think this is a great novel for pre-teens and young teens."

Some of the short stories I've posted here (The Bastard Son of a King and Light Years from Home) are part of the Tresterian stories. Margaret's Choice is the first book I've written about Tresteria, but there will be more. 

Like a little romance with your sci-fi? 

It is the year 915 A.D. in Tresterian England. Margaret Hall is the sole survivor of an expedition to the planet Tresteria. She is living in a cave and recording her thoughts in a journal. Her husband is dead. He was murdered with the rest of his crew while Margaret was away from their camp. Now she lives in fear of being discovered.

One day, Margaret’s loneliness overwhelms her and she decides to leave the cave to explore her surroundings She heads north, following a river that runs nearby, and stumbles upon another cave.  This one is filled with light, and standing inside the cave is a tall, blond man dressed in a long robe.  The light is coming from a hole in the floor of the cave. As she watches, the man jumps into the hole and disappears.

Frightened, she runs back to the safety of her cave, but she can’t stop thinking about the man. Who is he? Where had he gone? Was that hole a portal to another world?

When Margaret finally meets the tall blond man in the cave, she discovers he is a wizard named Geezer. He is strong, kind, and peaceful. She finds him sweet and attractive. But when she meets Mace, Geezer’s close friend, he arouses her passion. Mace wants to be king and is willing to do anything to obtain the crown. He is arrogant and selfish, but when he touches her, she burns.

Margaret’s Choice is a fantasy love story of a modern woman thrown into a medieval world and of the two men she loves. Which one will win her heart?

Very mild sexual situations and language.

Review from Amazon

The only thing that would have made this better is if it was longer

       "I like this story a great deal -- and I usually loathe "diary" stories. The author managed to draw me into the story early, though, and I liked the idea of fourth "Earths" and how they essentially worked together and "overlapped." This is really well written and clean, and even though I couldn't identify with the heroine or her motivations, I liked reading her story. I think this could have been a great sci-fi series. There is a lot to explore here and I want to know more about the history of the four worlds, how the portals came to be, how things happen in one world and yet don't affect the other worlds, etc. The romantic melodrama -- while interesting -- was not the best part of the book for me. The best part of the book was the possibilities that it represented. I think the author should extend this world -- tell more stories from it -- and this time embrace the science fiction nature of the setup. That's what I'm most interested in. Despite the fact that I don't like "diary" stories because it's ridiculous to think that a character would write word-for-word dialogue in a diary, I have to say that I didn't notice the diary format after awhile. That's a testament to the author. She's written some good stuff here. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Time to Go Home

The following is the first chapter in a new short I'm working on. I'm not sure when it will be released, but I'll announce it here when it's available on Amazon.

Hilde flicked the ash off her cigarette and sighed. If Thorsten saw her smoking, he’d give her that look as he tried to make her feel guilty. She’d ignore him as she always did, and blow smoke in his face.

She wondered where he had gone. She looked out the window. Their car was still in the driveway, which meant Thorsten had gone hiking in the woods behind their house. She heard the coffeemaker gurgling, a sign that her coffee was almost done, and she took one more look out the window before returning to the kitchen.

Ashes were everywhere. It was one of the reasons Thorsten hated her habit, but what could she do? She was a victim of an industry determined to addict, and delighted in her dependency. She averted her eyes from those who would try to shame her, and would flick ashes at them in protest. She’d laugh and walk away, convinced her childish behavior would stop them in their tracks. It didn’t. It only added fuel to their fire.

She poured coffee into a mug and went to the sliding glass door. The deck off the kitchen was her favorite place. It faced the mountains and secluded her from the world outside her front door. She had a decision to make, and she wasn’t one to make decisions. She let herself drift along on an ever-shifting tide, hoping that someone else would set her down where she belonged.

Hilde was a writer. For the past twenty years, her historical fiction had accumulated a legion of fans, and to her publisher’s delight, earned millions. Her stories were realistic in detail, and the characters genuine. People who read them felt as though they had been sent back in time and they devoured one book after another.

Months ago, she had told Thorsten she wanted to get out of the business. She had earned enough to keep them well for several lifetimes as her needs were few, but Thorsten liked her notoriety and the limelight. It was he who encouraged her to keep writing, but for her, that train had left the station.

Now, she sat on her lounge chair and put her feet up. She thought about the letter she’d received from her publisher outlining her new contract. The powers that be at the publishing house had called asking when she would get it back to them. She had put them off one more time.

Hilde loved her fans, but the industry had changed, demanding more from her than she cared to give. She stood on the precipice of a decision, and this time, she had to make one. 

Then, another letter came to the house. 

She cringed when she saw the postmark and put it at the bottom of the pile of mail on her desk. As she sipped her coffee, she thought about the letter. She recognized the handwriting. She knew what the letter said without opening it.

Thorsten didn’t know about the letter. Its meaning would escape him. Without reading it, he’d think it was a fan letter, or another request for an appearance. He would tell her to forward it to Fran, her secretary, and forget about it. But Hilde couldn’t forget about it. She had to open it whether she liked it or not. It was just a matter of when. The decision of whether or not she would sign her contract had been made for her.

A flash of light caught her eye. She could see Thorsten moving across the space between her house and the mountain. His silver sunglasses shone brightly in the sun, and she looked away. He’d be here soon. She lit another cigarette.

As he drew nearer to the house, he saw her walking toward the sliding glass door. She had been asleep when he left as she always was in the early morning, and he’d been quiet. He always wondered how they had stayed together for so long – he always rose before dawn and had, on several occasions, passed her as she went to bed. He didn’t understand how she could sleep during the day, but she was a night owl, writing by night, when the world went to sleep, and the stillness of the house kindled her imagination.

It had taken a long time for Thorsten to get used to her nocturnal nature, but he had, and now they were settled into a comfortable cohabitation. He had gone hiking to ruminate over the details of the new contract, a contract that would give her less income and would require more of her personally. She’d have to participate in social media, and and when he told her, she had absolutely refused.

Thorsten had spoken to the media director at the publishing house, and they said she could hire someone to do those things for her, but since her last three books hadn’t done as well as the others, they found it necessary to concentrate their efforts on promoting the new wunderkind in town, leaving Hilde to do her own marketing - at her own expense.

Hilde didn’t know all the details. Thorsten had given her the highlights, and was grateful she didn’t ask for more. When she heard there would be less money coming her way, she shrugged and sighed.
“Then this is the end after all” she said.

“They still want to publish your books,” Thorsten said. “You can’t just throw in the towel now.”

“I have had a good run. I see no reason to continue.” She put her hand on his cheek. “We will be fine.”

Fine. If she stopped writing, nothing would be fine. Thorsten wasn’t going to let her just give up. She had no need for the spotlight, so she didn’t understand what it meant to him. He couldn’t sit and watch the grass grow. He would have to persuade her to sign, and deal with the marketing clause as best he could.

When he got to the house, he went to the kitchen. Hilde was at the table munching on a cracker. She lifted her face and raised one eyebrow, then she nodded.

“Good weather,” she said.

“It's perfect. Just cool enough.”

He wondered how he would broach the subject of the contract, but something else struck him as he looked at her. He suddenly realized he’d been married to her for twenty years, yet she looked like a girl of twenty. Why hadn’t he noticed it before?

Thorsten was one of those men who looked better as they aged. Despite his graying hair and the deepening lines on his face, he was more attractive now than when she’d met him. He looked at her shoulder-length brown hair. There were no gray strands, and he knew she didn’t color it. Had she discovered a fountain of youth and kept it hidden all these years?

Nonsense, he thought. Back to the business at hand.

“We have to talk about the contract,” he said.

She lit a cigarette in defiance and blew the smoke in his direction. “I’m not signing.”

“Just like that,” he said. “You’re not signing.”

She shook her head. “We don’t need the money, and I don’t need the headaches.”

“But you have fans – people who are waiting for another book.”

“They will find another writer. There are plenty of them out there now. Good ones, too.”

“But your writing is magical. It transports…”

“The reader through time, blah, blah. I’ve read the reviews, too, Thorsten. I understand all that, but I also believe it’s time to step aside and let someone else have their day.”

“They want you,” he said. “Not some wet behind the ears hack.”

“Have you taken the time to read some of them? They are really quite good.”

“I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.”

“Then you truly are a fool.”

The ash from her cigarette fell onto the table, and he cringed. “I wish you would use an ashtray,” he said.

She blew them, and they scattered across the table and into the air. She smiled. “God, Thorsten, take the stick out of your ass.”

“What kind of a thing is that to say?”

She ran her hand through her hair. “I’m sorry. I’m just feeling a bit tired.”

“Of me?” he asked.

“No, not you, just everything else," she said, then she remembered the letter. "I want to do something different.”

“Something that would require you to rise before noon?”

She looked at his face. He had that look again, the look that said she was wrong, not about anything in particular, just wrong. Whatever the subject, whatever she did, it was just wrong.

“Perhaps,” she said.

“And what would you define as different?”

She'd been dreaming of taking a trip somewhere. “I’d like to travel. I’d like to see some of the places I write about.”

Thorsten remembered the last time they traveled. She didn’t like to walk all over Paris. She wanted to take a taxi. Who takes a taxi in Paris?

“Where did you have in mind?”

She sighed. The letter had killed that dream. There was only one place she could go. “I want to go home.”

He narrowed his eyes. She had talked very little about her home, a small town somewhere in Switzerland. He’d never even been there with her, and during their marriage, she had never visited it alone. Why the sudden urge to go home?

“Are you ill?” he asked.

She chuckled. “Why would you think that?”

“Because you’ve never shown the slightest interest in going home. I’m just trying to figure out why.”

“I have my reasons, Thorsten. Don’t you ever get the urge to do something just because?”

“No. When I make a plan, there’s a reason.”

She stamped out the end of her cigarette on her plate and stood. “Yes, you do, don’t you.”
She took her mug and plate to the sink. She walked away, and he went to the sink and rinsed them off, then he put them in the dishwasher. She noticed and smiled.

“We have to get that contract back to them this week,” he said, following her into the living room.

“I’m not signing,” she said.

“You can’t just say you’re not signing without telling me why.”

“I’m bored, okay? I don’t want to write anymore. I’ve given all I can give. Now leave me in peace.”

Thorsten began to shake. It couldn’t be over. She had to understand how much it meant to him. He followed her into the bedroom and as she went into the bathroom, she closed the door in his face. He slapped the door with his palm.

“We have to discuss this,” he said.

“Let me shower,” she said. He heard her turn on the water. He backed away and sat on the bed.

Twenty minutes later she emerged, her hair wrapped in a towel and another towel wrapped around her body. She saw him and shook her head.

“Can you leave as I get dressed?”

“Why should I leave? I’m your husband.”

“I’d like some privacy.”

“I just want to talk about the contract.”

“Oh, dear God, Thorsten!” she cried. “I’m done. Get it through your head. Now get out of here.”
He got up and left. She slammed the door, and he heard her turn the lock.

That afternoon, Thorsten stood at the door of her study and listened. She had gone in there an hour before, and he prayed she had reconsidered and was reading the contract. If he had known what she was reading, he’d have broken down the door and wrestled the offending document from her hands.
He heard her talking to someone on the phone and went to the extension in the living room. He lifted the receiver and Hilde heard the click.

“..Mom, and I…(pause) Thorsten, this is a private call.”

He put it back. She had called the person on the phone “mom.” She told him when they met she had no family.

He sat and tapped his fingers on the arm of the sofa. There was something strange going on, and he wasn’t privy to the details. Thorsten didn’t like being in the dark. He thought again about her face. Why hadn’t he noticed how young she looked before? Because when you see someone every day, you don’t see them change, he thought. Or, in this case, not change.

Hilde put down the phone and picked up the letter. She would have to go tell Thorsten what it said and try to explain to him what was going on. She would also have to explain why she had lied to him for over twenty years.

She sat back in the old office chair she’d purchased when they moved into the house fifteen years ago. It creaked, but it was still comfortable. She’d hate to say goodbye to it, but there was no place for it at home. She wouldn’t be writing there anyway.

She recalled the day she met Thorsten. She had just gotten off the train in Berlin and was walking through the station when he bumped into her and knocked her bag out of her hand. He was handsome and polite, and he offered to carry her bag to her hotel. Her mother warned her of thieves that posed as good Samaritans in order to take your bag, and she declined his offer.

He followed her, though, and talked all the way. She agreed to have dinner with him in the hotel dining room, but begged off when he wanted to take her to a nightclub. He showed up again the next night, and they dined together. Six months later, she married him.

The letter was lying on the desk in front of her. Hilde looked at the handwritten words. It was Mrs. Egger’s handwriting. She had been chosen to assist the bürgermeister because of her neat penmanship. Hilde recalled seeing her standing by the bürgermeister at gatherings, dutifully taking down every word he said.

Hilde had read the letter several times. She sighed. She had to go home. They had given her a month to get her affairs in order. She dreaded telling Thorsten. Of course, they would allow him to come with her, but she knew he’d never agree. He wanted his life to go on as it had for twenty years, and it was difficult to persuade him to change.

She thought about Thorsten. She had loved him once long ago, but now, if she were being honest, she didn’t love him. Why keep up the facade of a healthy, happy relationship when he could be free to pursue someone else? He’d have enough money to live on. He’d have this house and everything else they’d accumulated over the last twenty years. All she could take back was whatever would fit into the bag she’d brought with her. She would slip one of her books inside to show them what she’d been doing, and perhaps some photos. 

She would have to get the bag down from the attic. Thorsten had tried throw it away, but she caught him before he did. He told her to buy a new one, but she said she was attached and couldn't bear to part with it. He didn't know she couldn't part with it. She had to take it back with her.

She looked at the contract. She picked it up and tore it in half, then she wrote a letter to her publisher telling them how much she regretted leaving them, but it had to be. When she was done, she got up and walked to the door of the study. 

She put her hand on the knob and pressed her forehead against the door. Thorsten would fight her. He’d make this difficult as he made everything else, and she had to brace herself. After taking a few deep breaths, she turned the knob.

Copyright©2014 A.L. Jambor

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Bastard Son of a King - A Short Story by Amy Jambor

The Bastard Son of a King

I have one memory of my mother. One moment in time. Her long yellow hair pooled at my feet. Her breath as she worked the knife through the strands, her hair held taut as she hacked through it, dropping it to the ground. Some strands landed at my feet while single strands were caught in the wind and carried through the air. I can’t remember her face or the sound of her voice saying goodbye. She was leaving me with Geezer, the old wizard, and later he told me she’d promised to return.

The years went by and I grew, but I didn’t speak. Geezer says I was always silent, like Henny, the other boy left at his door. He was older than me, maybe twenty or so. Henny and I silently roamed the woods near the keep seeking herbs and flowers for Geezer’s potions.  I’d sometimes find Henny looking at the gate as if expecting someone.  He would smile when he saw me, and shrug his shoulders. Henny had six toes on each foot, and Geezer said his parents must have thought Henny was possessed, that that is why they left him with Geezer.  He also said he was glad Henny’s parents hadn’t left him by the river to die.

Geezer taught me the history of Tresteria, so I know that most of the citizens of Tresterian England are refugees from dying planets. They came here in desperation, trying to find a new home. My mother’s people came from Sunge on the last transport. Geezer told me my father was a king, and that I get my red hair from him. Geezer wouldn’t tell me what king, or why my mother took me from him.
There are ten strokes on the wall marking the years since I joined Geezer’s household. Henny placed the last one there last night and gave me a knife with a long smooth blade. He’d carved my name into the handle, John, and smiled when he handed it to me. Geezer gave me a blank book and told me to record my history on its pages. He asked me if I missed my mother, and I shook my head. I don’t remember her. 

Today at sundown, an urge to wander overtook me and I began to walk. Henny followed me at a distance, trying to conceal himself behind the trees. I walked to the river, farther than I’d gone before, and saw the cave at the bend. Geezer had warned me several times over the years to stay away from the cave. He said the power lodged there would consume me.

But tonight it must have been drawing me, for my feet could not contain themselves, and kept moving me forward. As I approached the riverbank, I felt Henny’s hand on my arm. I turned and smiled at him, then plunged the knife into his side. I could see his face in the moonlight, awash with unbearable sadness. He fell to the ground, and I pushed him into the river.

The cave glowed with an unearthly light, beckoning me to come closer. I heard Geezer calling us home, and I moved quickly. If he suspected where we’d gone, he’d appear to intervene. Geezer was old, but he still possessed enough power to fly if necessary.

My feet sunk into the mud as I walked the riverbank to the cave. I saw light coming from inside. I felt its power. I would be king as I was meant to be. I loved no one, and the only person I’d had any affection for was lying on the bottom of the river. I didn’t need love to perform the job that lay ahead of me.

I would leave through the portal and head for Earth, where I would learn the ways of modern weaponry and warfare. Then I would return to Tresteria to claim my throne. Earth was dying, but it was still a functioning planet. If it follows the same course as Sunge and Pryll, it would be at least another two hundred years before Earthlings would travel to Tresteria, leaving me time to accomplish my goals.

As I neared the portal, I thought of my mother’s yellow hair drifting to the ground. Did she kiss me goodbye, take my hand and hold it, or just turn her back and leave? I didn’t remember. I had grown up in the care of a thousand-year-old wizard whose only friend was a twelve-toed mute. I thought of them. I doubt they loved me, though Henny did, from time to time, pat my head, leading me to think kind thoughts about him. But Henny knew, as I did, that when a mother leaves her son at Geezer’s door, she never returns, and love, if it ever existed, leaves, too.

I put my foot over the portal and jumped, but something held me aloft. Then I saw Geezer. 

“I know what you’ve done,” he said. Anger and pain mingle with his words. “Your mother warned me not to leave you on your own, but I didn’t heed her words. I thought she was too young to understand, but she knew there was something wrong with you.” His eyes are glistening in the light. “I know you can speak, John, and you will tell me why you killed him.”

I contemplated Geezer’s words. What had my mother had warned him about? I was four when she left. What could she know of me? Was it my father she saw in me? Geezer waited for my reply, but I had never spoken out loud to anyone before. I’d spoken to myself in the woods, or alone in the tower, but never to another person. Should I let him in on my little secret, or hold my tongue while he grew impatient?

“Boy, it’s a grievous thing you’ve done, taking a life, and a kinder soul never lived. You’ll have no peace, John, whatever you do and wherever you go, your crime will follow you.”

Geezer put out his hands and with invisible power, lifted me in the air and held me over the portal.  Then something came to him, and he smiled.

“You don’t know where you’re going, do you boy? Have you followed the moons? If you go down the well tonight, you’ll be in Sunge.” I must have flinched. “You didn’t know that, did you?.  Where did you think you were going?”

I grabbed his arms and held on tightly. I couldn’t go to Sunge. There was no life on Sunge, and no guarantee that the portal would return me here. I pled with my eyes, begging him to forgive me, and to let me down.

“I’m to forgive you now, is it? Why, boy, tell me why? Use that tongue and tell me!” he shouted, and the sound reverberated off the walls of the cave, echoing over and over again. I opened my mouth, but my tongue felt thick, and my throat would emit no sound.

“Do you want me to drop you, John?”

“No.” The word came out of my mouth. One word – a word that would save me from banishment on Sunge.

“Then tell me why you killed Henny.”

“He...would have told you.”

“Told me what? That you were leaving?”


“You foolish boy! Henny knew the cycles of the moon. He knew where you would go if you went there tonight. He was trying to save your life.”

He held me over the portal, weighing my worth, and trying to decide whether or not to let me go. Geezer loved Henny. Would he make me pay for his death? Certainly I deserved to die. I’d killed him without warning and gave him no chance to defend himself. Would Geezer feel compassion for me, for my youth and immaturity, or would vengeance ultimately decide my fate?

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

Geezer waved his hands and pulled me away from the portal, letting me fall to the ground.

“I can’t forgive you,” he said. “I can’t help you anymore.”

And he was gone. Just like that. He left me next to the portal. I tried to remember what he said about the moon. I wanted to go to Earth. How could I have been so stupid? I’d forgotten about the moon.

I left the cave and walked along the riverbank until I reached another cave, a cave Geezer had sealed over a hundred years before. On one of our wanderings, Henny and I had found the cave and an opening in the rocks that sealed it. I slipped through and found myself inside the cave. We asked Geezer about it, and he showed us a picture of a woman with long dark hair. As I slipped through the opening now, I remembered the story of that woman, Margaret, and how she had lived in this cave until she met Geezer. He had transformed it into a comfortable shelter, and now I would enjoy it.

I would stay until the full moon appeared in the sky. Henny had taught me how to find food and water. As I thought about him, I felt a pang of guilt. He’d been my friend. I’d have to remember not to kill my friends, especially when they proved themselves useful.

Copyright©2014 Amy Jambor

Want to read more about Tresteria? The Tresterian Chronicles, Book 1, Margaret's Choice, is available as an ebook on

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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Price - A Short Story by A.L. Jambor

Max watched the newbie walk across the dining room floor. He had seen the kid before, and the boy’s enthusiasm annoyed Max. It had to be the kid’s first time through rehab. He had that look, the one that said, “I’m free!” That looked irritated Max, and when he saw it on a newbie’s face, he had to fight the urge to destroy it.

The counselors had asked Max not to discourage the new ones, and for the most part, Max had complied. He didn’t know how many times he’d gone through rehab, but what he did know, he wanted to share. Maybe if they knew how useless it was to try, they’d save their parents and the state lots of money by accepting the inevitable.

The newbie sat at Max’ table and smiled. Max glared at him. The newbie looked at his food and began to eat. Max watched him, and enjoyed seeing the boy’s discomfort. The newbie looked up and smiled again.

“I’m Brian,” he said. “I saw you painting.”

“So,” Max said.

“I paint, too. I’d like to see your stuff.”

“I don’t show my stuff to people.”

Brian looked at his food again and took a few bites. Max had grown tired of torturing the boy and got up. Brian looked up and smiled, but Max just glared at him again and walked away.

That afternoon, the counselors were taking the painters on a field trip. Max joined them. Brian joined them, too. The easels were stacked in the back of the van along with paints, brushes, palettes, and canvases. Brian thought of sitting next to Max, but chose to sit behind him instead. Marcy, one of the counselors, was driving, and Joe another counselor, was going to help her keep an eye on their clients.
Max hadn’t slept well, so the gentle rocking of the van knocked him out. By the time they arrived at the cove, he was sound asleep. Brian thought of waking him, but went to Marcy instead.

“He always does that. Then he wakes up and does his thing.”

“I thought he was a painter,” Brian said.

“If you can call him that.”

“He doesn’t like to talk very much,” Brian said.

“Max has issues,” Marcy said. “He doesn’t like to do much of anything.”

“So, we just leave him here?”

“Yup. He’ll come out when he wakes up.”

The sun’s light reflecting off the white sand caused Brian’s eyes to water. He’d been in detox for two weeks and hadn’t been outside in a long time. The drugs had caused some neurological damage, and he found it hard to hold a brush. He had to learn how to paint all over again, and the realization that he may have caused permanent damage to himself was a bitter pill to swallow. He was trying to keep a good attitude, and follow the guidelines the center gave him, but his disappointment over losing his ability to paint weighed heavily on him.

As he walked to a spot on the beach and set up an easel, he looked at the water. He wished he could dive in and drift away, back to a time when things were easier. He’d been painting since he was a boy and it had always made him feel happy. Then a car accident introduced him to Oxy, and that was that. The pleasure painting had given him was gone, replaced by a discontented buzz in his head.

Brian was clean for the first time in years. He was twenty-eight, but his boyish Irish face gave him the appearance of a much younger man. Old-timers told him if he didn’t kick the drugs, he’d lose those looks for good, so he vowed to stay clean. Now, he was on the sobriety high, and as Max had observed, annoying to those who knew it wouldn’t last.

He’d first noticed the damage to his nerves when he tried to fill out some paperwork for the center and his right hand wouldn’t grip the pen. He also tried to hold a paint brush with minimal success. Marcy had suggested he use his left hand, but the results were discouraging.

Now, standing before a blank canvas, he wanted to try again. He picked up a palette and squeezed the different colored paints on it. He took a brush in his right hand and tried to grip it tightly, but his fingers wouldn’t work. His frustration was growing, and then he heard someone saying something and turned to see Max setting up an easel behind him. Brian closed his eyes. He wanted to be alone. He wanted to tell Max to get lost, but he didn’t. He couldn’t let down the façade that everything was coming up roses now that he was sober.

Max mumbled to himself as he set up the easel. He liked seeing Brian’s shoulders tighten and hoped to get a rise out of the boy. He squirted paint on his palette and swirled the paint around with his brush, then he held the brush to the canvas and began to cover it with lines of muddy brown. The painting looked nothing like the beautiful scene before them. It was ugly and full of dark strokes. Max liked the ugliness. It reflected what he felt inside.

Brian tried again to hold the brush, but it was impossible. Marcy was watching him struggle and thought of something that might help Brian. She took some string out of the back of the van and brought it over to Brian.

“Let’s try something,” she said. She tied the string around his hand, affixing the brush to his palm. “Give this a try.”

Brian dipped the brush into the paint and stroked the canvas. While it wasn’t a perfect stroke, he did have some control, and with practice he should get better. He dipped his brush again and made another stroke, and soon a picture of the shoreline began to emerge.

Max looked over his canvas at Brian’s and grimaced. Even with a bad hand, the kid was talented, and it pissed Max off. Max had wanted to be a painter all his life, but his talent for art was non-existent. All through school he would watch other kids drawing things he longed to emulate, but never could. He simply did not have the talent. Now, as he watched Brian, his jealousy overcame him.

“I want it,” he said, unaware that he had said it out loud.

Marcy looked at Max. “What did you say?”

“Nothing,” Max said. “Nothing at all.”

As they loaded up the van at the end of the day, Max watched Brian. He wondered why this a boy would be given such a talent. What did he have what Max didn’t? Max sat behind Brian and stared at him all the way back to the center. He wanted the boy’s talent, and he would damn well have it.

One of the old clients at the center was a Native American named Jed. Jed had been there the first time Max came to the center. Among themselves, the counselors called Jed a permanent resident. He had been there when they were hired and still there when they moved on to other facilities. No one knew where he came from or how long he had been there.

 Max sought out Jed after supper that night. He found him sitting in the solarium looking out a window and watching a seagull flying in circles.

“Hey, Jed,” Max said.

“Hey,” Jed replied. “I haven’t seen much of you this time.”

“I’ve been in my room,” Max said.

They sat together watching the gull in silence for a few minutes, then Max cleared his throat.
“I need a favor,” he said.

Jed turned and looked at him. “I don’t do favors.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

“Then you heard wrong.”

“I’ve heard you have power.”

Jed sighed. “And that I can give you what you want with a wave of my hand.” Jed smiled.

“Yeah, something like that.”

“I can’t help you.”

“Come on, Jed. I’ve seen what you do. I remember Jack.”

Jack had been a resident two years before. He had asked Jed to help him win back the heart of a girl who’d left him, and whatever Jed had done had worked. She came to bring Jack home and they married shortly after.

“That would have happened anyway,” Jed said.

“He was convinced it wouldn’t. You did something. We all knew it. Jed, I really need this.”

“If I had the power to do what you say, why would I do it for you? You have no redeeming qualities, Max. You’re a horrible person.”

Max couldn’t argue with him. He was a horrible person. “Maybe I wouldn’t be so horrible if you helped me.”

Jed sighed again. “What is it you want?”

Max pursed his lips. “I want to steal someone’s talent.”

“Now that right there is the reason I shouldn’t help you.”

“What?” Max asked.

“You want to steal something from another person. You want to cause them harm.”

“Maybe I just want to paint like they do.”

“Who are we talking about?”

“That new kid, Brian.”

“He irritates you, doesn’t he, Max?”

“I’d like to wipe that grin off his face.”

Jed thought about the young man. Brian had the kind of attitude that might keep him sober forever. The fact that he bothered Max tickled Jed. Jed looked into Max’ eyes. “You are a fool.”

“I want that kid’s talent.”

Jed looked at Max. “You want his talent? His gift?”

“Yeah. That oughtta wipe that grin off his face.”

Jed contemplated Max’ request. “What would you do with talent?”

“I’d paint.”

“You can do that now,” Jed said.

“Not the way he can.”

Jed looked at Max. He saw an unrepentant addict with a hatred of mankind that bordered on the psychotic.

“Why should I help you, Max? You don’t give a shit about anybody but yourself.”

“Because I’m old, and my life sucks.”

Jed smiled again. He shook his head. “Why Brian?”

Jed knew the answer, but he wanted Max to say the words.

“Because he thinks his life will be good now. He thinks he’s licked this thing. He goes around smiling at everybody like an idiot.”

“He sounds like you the first time you came here.”

Max pursed his lips. “Shut up.”

“I have nothing against this boy.”

“Come on, Jed. I got nothing to look forward to. I’m gonna die soon. Let me have this one thing before I go.”

Jed stared out the window. “Very well. I’ll help you. But you must follow my instructions to the letter.” Jed paused. “The next time you paint, sit behind Brian. Focus on his hands and imagine you are part of him. The talent will be transferred when the painting is complete.”

“That’s all?” Max said.

“Yes, that’s all. But beware of one thing.”

Max rolled his eyes. “What?”

“Stealing someone else’s gift bears a price.”

“Okay, what’s the price?”

“It varies from person to person. Just be aware that once it’s done, it can’t be undone.”

Max looked at Jed’s face. He hated this kind of thing.

“So what are you saying? I shouldn’t do it.”

“I’m saying be absolutely sure this is what you want. If it is, the price will be easier to bear.”

“Yeah, well, thanks,” Max said.

He got up and left Jed staring out the window. He went to his room and began dreaming of all the scenes he would paint once he had Brian’s talent. He felt so good he actually smiled.

The following day when he came to the craft room, Max saw Brian painting. The brush was tied to his hand, and the scene on the canvas was amazing. Max seethed with anger. He wanted to choke the life out of Brian, but he walked away instead. He had to get a handle on his emotions. He had to focus on Brian’s hands. He had to imagine he was part of Brian.

Max pulled himself together and went back to the craft room. He set up an easel behind Brian. He set up a palette and dipped his brush in the paint. As he did, he focused on Brian’s hands as hard as he could, imagining he was part of Brian’s body. He closed his eyes and willed his hands to paint. He felt his heart beating faster. He felt his hands gliding over the canvas and joy filled his heart.

“Yes,” he said. “This is it.”

He opened his eyes and focused on Brian’s hands. The more he studied them, the better he painted.

It’s happening, he thought. It’s really happening.

His hands flew across the canvas faster and faster. The room began to spin harder and harder, and Max grew dizzy. He dropped the brush and felt his body twirling in space. Around and around he went until darkness surrounded him, swallowing him in one gulp.

Brian turned around and saw the canvas. He thought he’d heard Max say something, but no one was there. He felt a strange tingling in his hand as his fingers strengthened. He was able to hold the brush on his own. He removed the string, and he still held the brush. Joy washed over him as he stroked the canvas with ease. When he was done, he looked at the portrait he’d painted. It was Max, and he was smiling.

Jed was standing at the door of the craft room. He saw the portrait of Max and smiled. He looked at it for several minutes, then returned to the solarium to watch the birds.

Max woke up and sat on the edge of the bed. His head hurt. He didn’t recall taking his meds the night before.

He went to the desk where the girl handed out meds. Another girl was behind the counter. She smiled when she saw Max.

“Hello, Mr. Coleman,” she said. “How was your night?”

“My head hurts.”

“Well, that’s to be expected now, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t get my meds last night.”

“Oh, you don’t need meds anymore.”

Max stared at her. “I have to take them. It’s in the judge’s order.”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. Your sentence has been commuted. Now, why don’t you go and see the craft room.”

“My sentence has been commuted? How?”

“The craft room is right over there. See? They are already starting.”

“I can leave now, right if my sentence is commuted.”

“Have a nice day, Mr. Coleman.”

Max started walking back to his room when something caught his eyes. The men in the craft room were painting, and the colors were magnificent. Max was drawn to the door and watched them as they created gorgeous pictures.

“Are you gonna join us?” one of them asked. He was young, and his hair reached the center of his back.

“Yeah, come in.” This from another man who was young, too, but his hair was cut short and slicked back. It looked greasy. “We heard there was a new guy.”

“She said my sentence has been commuted,” Max said

“And you thought that meant you could leave,” another man said. He had a goatee and wore a monocle.  “Old boy, you might as well come in and take a seat.”

Max entered the room. There was an empty chair behind an easel waiting for him. A blank canvas sat on the easel, and a palette with lumps of paint in the primary colors on the table beside it. A brush was resting on the easel.

Max sat and looked around the room. The men were looking at each other and smiling. The man with the monocle went back to his painting, but the boy with the long hair stared at Max. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen.

“Why are you in rehab with us?” Max asked. “You’re just a kid. You should be in a juvie center.”

The boy shrugged. The man with the slicked back hair was watching Max, too.

“He’s here by mistake,” he said, and they all laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Max said.

“It’s all funny, don’t you think?” he said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Max was getting angry. They all seemed to be in on some joke they wouldn’t share with him. They kept smiling at one another, and finally, the man with the monocle spoke.

“You’ve spoken with Jed, haven’t you?” he asked Max.

Max had a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Yeah, what about it?”

“At one time or another, we have all talked to Jed,” the man said.

“Yeah, good ole Jed,” Slicked Hair said. “He fixed you up, didn’t he?”

“Said you would have what you wanted if you just focused on it, right?” Long Hair said.

“How did you know?” Max asked. “What is this?”

“Welcome to the hotel…well, you know,” Long Hair said. “California.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Max said.

“What Rick is trying to tell you is that you are now a permanent guest in our little rehab center,” 
Slicked hair said. “I’m Eddie, and this,” he pointed to the man with the monocle, “is Gustav.”

“How do you do?” Gustav said.

“I don’t get it?” Max said.

“We’ve all met Jed at one time or another,” Eddie said.

“He’s an amusing chap,” Gustav said.

“He sucks shit,” Rick said.

“But you said we’re permanent guests.” Max looked at Eddie. “What does that mean?”

“It means you asked for something and Jed gave it to you. Game over. You get what you asked for, but there’s a price.”

Max sat behind the easel. He looked at the wall in front of him where someone had painted a sign. Pearce, Reynolds, Isaac, Chapman & Eastman. P.R.I.C.& E. welcomes you to your new home.

“This,” Eddie said holding out his hands, “is the price.”

Max picked up the brush and began painting. The strokes flew across the canvas in perfect lines. His hands were magic, creating a fabulous picture. He looked at it and cried.

“It’s what I always wanted to do,” he said.

“Then your sacrifice was not in vain,” Gustav said.

“What sacrifice?” Max said.

“Your life for someone else’s redemption,” Eddie said.

“What are you talking about?”

“You got something that belonged to someone else,” Rick said. “In exchange, you gave them something they needed.”

“Jed never said anything about that,” Max said.

“Good Ole Jed,” Eddie said.

“He sucks shit,” Rick said.

“He certainly does,” Gustav added.

Copyright©2014 Amy Jambor