Beauty and Hope Delivered by Disaster and Monsters

jasonlatshaw

A Book Review of The Threat Below, by Jason Latshaw

Find it on Amazon HERE.

Mountaintop. Humanity’s last stand, after near obliteration from the Threat Below, by which Jason Latshaw’s epic book is titled. The humbled hundred or so inhabitants of Mountaintop, called the Kith, rely on legend mixed with history of the Apriori, their ancestors who once ruled the earth. The Kith are walled into their home in the sky by fear and the persistent Cloudline that obscures vision of Down Below. Their world is meager and desperate, their society stratified and rigid. In the first few pages, a hard line is drawn between main character Icelyn, the prissy, intelligent Cognate daughter of the Kith’s leader, and Adorane, her Veritas best friend and possible brave, brawny love interest. Segregation and prejudice are accepted here as the way for a fragile existence to survive.

Not thrive. Imagine the peak of a mountain at the top of the world, after civilization has fled a deadly, mysterious plague and the planet has probably been flooded by rising oceans. The air is thin. Scrubby trees are more like bushes. Acorn cakes are a staple. Later in the book, Icelyn finds a comb Down Below and she marvels at it. Has she never brushed her hair? You’ll be amazed when you find out what ultrabears and ultralions are. Yes, Mountaintop is the kind of place that, should humanity survive, what’s the point? It’s clear this place is only half of the story. Almost immediately, Icelyn and Adorane wander beyond a rotting, three-hundred-year-old barrier between the apparent safety of Mountaintop and the rumored certain death of Down Below, and there is no doubt about where our heroine and her beau will end up.

But Latshaw keeps his readers guessing right along with the sheltered, pampered Icelyn. The mystery is compelling, even darn right frightening, and each revelation along the way is worth it, not rushed or predictable. In fact, every time I thought I’d figured it out—what the Threatbelows are, or how humanity met its fate, or even who Icelyn herself is—I was surprised by Latshaw’s imagination. He speaks through his vivid characters, some that I adored and others I’d like to choke, and the action happens in their choices, dialogue, and thoughts. Whether the cowardly Kith leader is squirming, the devoted and fearless Eveshone is rescuing Icelyn again, or the constantly shifting morals of Torrain are playing out, this world is revealed by those living in it.

My favorite part, however, is that Latshaw isn’t afraid to delve deeper than his own story. Though fantastical and unique, his world bears enough resemblance to ours to stoke fear and tickle conscience. Gun violence in Mountaintop mirrors the debate over our right to bear arms, especially when these fictitious leaders are using guns to proliferate fear and violence as a means to control the population. One of them has found an ancient text and quotes Jenny Holzer, “Fear is the most elegant weapon. Your hands are never messy. Threatening bodily harm is crude. Work instead on minds & beliefs, play insecurities like a piano.” Latshaw is good at turning a phrase to grab attention, and we find essential truths in gentle statements as well: “So much of life is lived looking away from each other, afraid to face a person as they really are, deflecting feelings and ignoring vital moments.” Or, not so gentle: “They live in a world of magic, but take it all as a matter of course. They didn’t realize it, but they were Gods.” This last is spoken of the extinct Apriori, when Icelyn sees their cellphones and flat screens in a memory. Gods who invented their own demise? Nervous laugher from the crowd…

The Threat Below would be equally enjoyed by both genders, with a strong, admirable heroine (feminine and regal, with very little whining) and plenty of action and violence (gruesome, though not gratuitous). Latshaw’s writing is top-notch, and teens ready to move onto more adult literature should be able to handle the language and the length of this book. Adults will love it just as much, because there are many layers of understanding in The Threat Below, sort of like a Disney movie that is fun for kids but only truly understood by their parents. Not that this book is an easy fairytale read, and don’t be looking for a sweet ending tied up in a pretty package. The journey is worth it, though, and you’ll love every step. Latshaw delivers beauty and hope in a way you’d never expect.

This review was written for YA Books Central. Check it out HERE to find out more about the book and the author.

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Z is for Zachary

ZApril rubbed gum from her eyes.

So stupid for falling asleep. What time is it?

He’d left her the sleeping bag, but the bloody rag was gone. He could show that to anybody.

Was that the joke?

She scrambled for her clothes, panic at thoughts of her brother’s crew cackling in the shadows. Cellphones flashed in her mind and phantom cockroaches scuttled in every dark corner.

Forget the panties. He probably took those, too. She raked jeans up her hips and floundered into her shirt. Her thoughts skittered, doubting she could find her way back to the road, and then…whirlwind died in an instant.

“Oh Susanna,” whistled in perfect pitch, tickling her eardrums. Cigarette smoke bit her sinuses.

She snuck to the doorway; dim yellow glowed through the crack between old curtain and older wood. Blue smoke rings rose, stretched to obliteration in the black sky beyond. “You found the lantern.”

Zach started, lost in thought. “Hey,” laughing at himself, “You’re an angel when you sleep. Didn’t wanna wake you up.”

She didn’t know what to say.

He stubbed a butt on his shoe. “I gotta get you home.”

“Home, ugh.” April yawned and stretched, playing relaxed. Fine with whatever.

“Almost dawn…”

Oh. April Fool’s Day is finally over.

“…and your dad will never let me see you again if—”

“See me again?” She hadn’t dared hope. “My dad? I…I’ve never had a boyfriend.”

His eyebrows shot up, a lazy smile spreading. He patted his lap, “Come ‘ere.”

April felt shy when her plump rear-end settled onto taught muscles and still-shirtless biceps surrounded her. He nuzzled into her neck and breathed in deep. One hand fumbled in his pocket, thin cardboard flicking open. “Want one?”

She took the cigarette between two fingers, cartoonlike. “It is a night of firsts.”

*

Dear readers, thank you for following Gaslight (that’s what I decided to call this series) through the A to Z Challenge! I welcome comments, just as I have loved hearing your responses to each segment. As many of you know, I wrote one piece each day and I feel the story has developed along with your feedback. It’s been tough, I have to admit! I was a stickler for keeping each segment to under 300 words and it was a whole new way for me to write. A great big thank you goes to my husband Bill, for monkey-wrangling our 6-year-old while I feverishly typed, usually at the end of a very busy day.

This story was based in Shirley County, the fictitious settling for my new paranormal mystery novel, The Tramp, just released in April 2015. “The Shack” is a major destination in that book, with a seedy history, occult undertones, and romantic new life (guess who painted the flowers on the wall). Zach and April are minor characters in an offshoot serial novel, Catchpenny, due for release in July. You can read the first few chapters of each book for free on Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/SarahWathen

And of course, you’ll find plenty of information on all of my work, here on my blog. Cheers, everyone! It’s been a pleasure. Kinda tearing up now…

*

This flash fiction is a part of the Blogging From A to Z (April 2015) Challenge. A new installment arrives every day in April, following the alphabet; check the calendar below to see which letters post on which days. Read more about this blogfest HERE.

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APRIL-CALENDAR [2015]

X is for X-Rated

XShe was tired of resisting; all that good girl fake lustless crap was some kind of sick divine punishment to the reality of her hormones. April returned Zach’s kiss with more ferocity than either was prepared for. They tumbled against gray furniture, teeth clanking and hands groping, but Zach caught her against his body and held her still.

Fresh laundry detergent, alcohol and ode de boy wafted into her. “You’re okay with this?”

Breathless.

The question was gentle wind on April’s bubbling magma belly: ember caught and sparked. She wasn’t sure what she was consenting to, but she knew she wanted more. “Yes.”

She was suddenly underneath him, old fabric groaning a mildewed puff against her back and jeans scrubbing down her hips. Panties grazed toenails.

Her frontal lobe spun to the base of her neck. Over his shoulder, the ceiling oscillated from red pinpricks to gray clouds. “Please be careful, Zach.”

He softened and slowed. “I thought so.”

Terry cloth slid under her butt.

Where did he find a towel?

Tender fingers touched her cheek the same moment the head of his penis nudged between her thighs. She winced when the pressure tugged a stray hair and she fanned her knees to accommodate the sting. Then dry flesh found moist reservoir and Zach plunged inside. April blinked hard and swallowed her yelp.

“I love you, April.” His face hovered over hers, arms surrounding her head in a loose embrace. He was saying more that she didn’t understand; breath was hot, words mumbled.

April couldn’t speak. Her eyes rolled in their sockets as he drove in and eased out, a slick, swelling burn.

“Blood is sticky, but you’re so fucking wet.” Zach’s voice hitched and he shivered all over. He collapsed, a million tons of melted steel on her chest.

*

This flash fiction is a part of the Blogging From A to Z (April 2015) Challenge. A new installment arrives every day in April, following the alphabet; check the calendar below to see which letters post on which days. Read more about this blogfest HERE.

WYAPRIL-CALENDAR [2015]

W is for Wide-eyed

W“How do you know about this place?” April had heard the rumors about The Shack, but no one knew where it actually was. After all the drama with that Italian foreign exchange student months before, she had always imagined it in her mind with yellow crime scene tape wrapped around it. She assumed it was just that: imaginary.

Zach lifted a shoulder, feigning nonchalance. He had to know she’d be impressed. “Chad and Preston used to come here to smoke weed. He told me about it.”

“When?”

“Tonight.”

Suspicion flared. “Why?”

He cocked his head to the side and smiled, the perfect angel. “Why not?”

The rotted doorway yawned crookedly in invitation. Curiosity won an easy victory. Oh sheesh, I don’t care anymore. “You got a flashlight?”

His teeth glinted in triumph and he offered a hand. “Should be a kerosene lantern inside.”

“Good, it’s kinda creepy.”

When she stepped over the threshold, she was surprised to find the tiny cabin lit by moonlight; the roof made way for a tree limb piercing one of the walls, searching for the sun. She thought it would smell musty inside, but the branches sprouted orange blossoms and someone had trained jasmine vines through an old window shutter. Abstract flowers were painted around the clusters of white buds, floor to ceiling. There was an old loveseat against the opposite wall; it had seen better days, but as a whole, The Shack was…lovely.

There were more paintings over the loveseat that she couldn’t quite make out and she wondered where that lantern could be. She turned to Zach, elated to have found such a hidden gem. She wanted to explore every secret corner. “Did you find the—“

His smile was gone. A warm hand fastened around her neck and his mouth covered hers.

*

This flash fiction is a part of the Blogging From A to Z (April 2015) Challenge. A new installment arrives every day in April, following the alphabet; check the calendar below to see which letters post on which days. Read more about this blogfest HERE.

VXAPRIL-CALENDAR [2015]

V is for Victory

VZach stowed two wine coolers and a pint bottle of something noxious in a bag. “Let’s go for a walk.”

April was so relived she didn’t ask questions. She fell in behind him and took a swig. Strawberry.

They traversed the road and pushed into a thicket. “Keep away from prying eyes,” Zach winked.

“it was just a joke”

They ambled along, easy terrain in stark contrast to April’s state of mind. The wine cooler was stronger than it tasted; her joints were padded and her mind strummed. It made her brave: “Why are you so into hanging out with me tonight Zach?”

He didn’t stop walking. “Huh?”

She threw up her hands and scowled at his back, “April fools day.”

“Is it?” He looked back, genuinely perplexed.

She stopped following. “Yeah. What’s the joke?”

“Joke?” He frowned, confused. “I just wanted to talk to you ever since…” He looked away, then made a decision, “that Homecoming float thing.”

April was struck dumb.

“That Macbeth thing. The Drama Club float.”

Her mind raced, remembering the green make-up and the silicon wart on her nose. Double, double toil and trouble. “But I was a nasty witch.”

“Yeah, and you’re beautiful underneath. No—I mean on top, too.”

She stared at him. “I thought drama club was dorky.”

His eyes kindled. “It is. That’s the thing.” He reached out a hand to touch her face, like he couldn’t help himself. “You’re just exactly who you are, no matter what people think.” He traced her jawline. “Or what you pretend. Not many people like that around here. You know?”

Yes.

Wait.

“Where are we?” April spun around. They were in the thick of woods that she didn’t know. A derelict wooden cabin slouched into the mountainside. “No…”

“Yes,” Zach grinned. “The Shack.”

*

This flash fiction is a part of the Blogging From A to Z (April 2015) Challenge. A new installment arrives every day in April, following the alphabet; check the calendar below to see which letters post on which days. Read more about this blogfest HERE.

UWAPRIL-CALENDAR [2015]

U is for Undaunted

“Um…” Zach Ubroke the silence first. “I didn’t think you would come. Once it got so late.”

“I’m sorry I took so long—wait, is my brother here?” Way after dinner, she’d watched Nick walk up the driveway from her bedroom window, heard his argument with Mom. He stomped down the hall and slammed his door. After that, April hadn’t heard a peep, but that didn’t mean he didn’t sneak out his window later, just as she had.

Zach shrugged. “Haven’t seen him.” He narrowed the distance between them.

April took a step back. “Oh. Good.”

“Anyway, I’m glad you’re here.” A burst of jocular revelry sounded from inside the house, and he glanced over his shoulder at the beer bong underway in the rec room. “Want to go inside?”

April wrinkled her nose at the thin glass door separating them from chaos.

“ur an idiot if you go to that party”

“To that? Not really.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away.

It dawned on her that he was nervous, and the possible reason scared her.

“I know a private way in.” He gestured behind him, where the patio deck disappeared into shadow, not even moonlight to hint at what lay beyond. Zach moved in that direction. When she didn’t follow, he reached back and took her hand. “Don’t be scared.”

She sidled up close behind, tripping over his heals in the dark. His quiet laugh smelled faintly of beer. A doorknob squeaked and cool air-conditioning blanketed them. Zach’s face glowed in the light of a refrigerator, glass bottles tinkling in the swinging door.

“Here.”

April shook her head. “I don’t like alcohol.”

“Come on, I got you some wine coolers.” He shoved one into her hand. “They’re super sweet.”

*

This flash fiction is a part of the Blogging From A to Z (April 2015) Challenge. A new installment arrives every day in April, following the alphabet; check the calendar below to see which letters post on which days. Read more about this blogfest HERE.

TVAPRIL-CALENDAR [2015]

T is for Telepathy

TDense woodland surrounded the Matthews’s property, a black void cradling the restored and extended log cabin. Obliteration loomed, menacing against cheerful glare from a dozen windows.

Baker’s dozen. This place is huge.

Thrumming base found her feet and reverberated to her temples. April swallowed hard. Parents were obviously not in attendance, probably having skipped town for their own spring break celebration. Her mother’s opinion of the situation hovered like early June bugs: “Boys need a firm hand, but Vanessa Matthews lets her sons run amok.”

April wound her braid, shifted from foot to foot. Would she find Zach waiting for her, if she just knocked on the front door? Would whoever answered gawk at her, horrified that a high school sophomore dared sully their party? She looked down. The pretty sandals were stupid—bubble blisters were already filling with puss.

“Well, as long as I’ve already injured myself walking here…”

She squared her shoulders and trudged to the front door. One toe testing the first step, a loud cackle inside shattered her nerves and she changed course. She prowled towards the backyard, peeking in widows, filled with shame.

Until she saw the waxing gibbous moon.

She conquered the platform deck in two strides, gripped the wooden rail and gazed. “So full and beautiful tonight.”

“Not quite full.”

April whirled towards the voice, fists raised.

Zach held his palms high in supplication. “I meant the moon.”

“Oh…yeah. Nearly, though,” she managed, knuckles dissolving into twisted fingers.

“In three days it will be a blood moon,” he chuckled.

“You know about that?” No one she had told gave a damn about four consecutive total lunar eclipses, except to misquote the bible and prophesy the end of the world.

“The end times,” they laughed together.

Eyes found each other in new recognition.

*

This flash fiction is a part of the Blogging From A to Z (April 2015) Challenge. A new installment arrives every day in April, following the alphabet; check the calendar below to see which letters post on which days. Read more about this blogfest HERE.

SUAPRIL-CALENDAR [2015]

S is for SLAP!

SAll she could hear was the rumbling motor. All she could smell was her armpits. Her fingers tingled, sure sign of hyperventilation. She had startled awake in cold sweats after a bad dream too many nights to ignore the signs.

“Shhhhhhh…..calm down.”

The road was quiet. Nightmare was only lurking in her mind.

April forced herself to pull away from the shade and onto the road. She could find her way home like a homing pigeon. She just had to trust herself. Herself was her worst enemy at that moment; the phantasm would pass.

When she reached the Vale’s place it was deserted. She parked Candy’s bike by the garage, congratulating herself on Good Samaritanism. She minced to the end of the driveway, gazed up Forest Lane into the trees that she knew hid her house about a half mile beyond. “Nothing to do but hoof it.”

By the time she slouched into her room and collapsed onto her own bed, the shakes had worn off. After only a couple hours of sleep the night before, nothing felt more wonderful than her fluffy pillows and rumpled sheets.

“Thank god for feeling normal again.”

Her eyelids drooped, her body was leaden. Her mom called it “bone tired.” April smiled, kicked off her muddy sneakers and shoved her hands behind her head.

Her cellphone buzzed on the nightstand.

“My own phone, wow…”

Nothing but a few texts from her best friend Molly. She flopped back down on her bed and felt a scratchy crumple.

“Oh god, another note?” She feigned irritation but her whole body melted.

“April—I’ve got to get your number! For some reason your brother wouldn’t give it to me, ha ha. There’s a party at the Matthews place tonight. I’d love it if you could come. —Z.”

*

This flash fiction is a part of the Blogging From A to Z (April 2015) Challenge. A new installment arrives every day in April, following the alphabet; check the calendar below to see which letters post on which days. Read more about this blogfest HERE.

RTAPRIL-CALENDAR [2015]

R is for Rogue

RBy the time she cleared the yard, she was so winded that vomit burbled in her throat. A glance over her shoulder told her the bumpkin bandits were still sniffing their booty on the other side of the house.

But they wouldn’t be long. Where was that kid with the rifle? The dirt bike was probably his.

If I steal his bike, I’m no better than a bandit myself.

She didn’t know exactly where she was, but she had an idea—back roads threading through the sticks, which her parents always avoided and never mentioned. She knew she was too far from home to walk, and doubling back a few times before she got her bearings was certain.

Just as she decided salvation was smarter than conscience, the green and white Suzuki came into sharp focus. “Wait. I know that bike.”

It was Candy Vale’s. She lived on the other end of Forest Lane; their houses snuggled the ridge sparsely, but Candy was only a year older at Andrew Jackson High. The vision of her red hair and yellow leather jacket, on that bike, was etched in April’s brain. A feather keychain dangled from the ignition.

Bastards.

She gripped the handles and ran it to minimum safe distance before she threw a leg over and fired it up in one motion. It choked and thundered, amplified in the silent woods. There was no turning back; her exit was the opposite of sly thievery.

Trees streaked past. An intersection. Not far enough away. She took it anyway. She picked up speed, heedless of downhill curves. Another turn, hairpin. April gasped as brush cleared for sky, a sheer drop of cruel granite to the valley below.

I don’t know these roads.

She rolled to a stop, strained to hear signs of pursuit.

*

This flash fiction is a part of the Blogging From A to Z (April 2015) Challenge. A new installment arrives every day in April, following the alphabet; check the calendar below to see which letters post on which days. Read more about this blogfest HERE.

QS

APRIL-CALENDAR [2015]