Blurb: Ancient artifacts inadvertently pull sorority sisters into another world. The world is Meroz, otherwise known as Mars, before the curse destroyed the planet. One sister is not taken. She and her brother have to rescue her friends before the planned cataclysm destroys both the planet and the women.
The light was grey and dirty like the room. It could have been a warehouse from anywhere in their world, but it was not. Made of stone, paved with a rocky substance that seemed to absorb even the pale light with hay strewn on the floor made the long, low structure more of a dungeon than a warehouse. The cages every few feet completed the image.
It was cold. There was no heat in the building.
"How long will they keep us here?" one of the occupants of a cage called out.
"How long have we been here?" asked another.
"Where are we?" a third asked. She stood in her cage. "Does anyone have any idea?”
The young woman could see her friends, her sisters. There were twenty-four cages in the warehouse.
Like they expected us.
They had been stripped and shoved into the cages. One moment they were at a birthday party.
My birthday party.
The next they were huddled together. When they first arrived, to where ever they are, they wore their dresses, shirts, blouses, shoes and stockings. Some had their coats on. The birthday party was winding down. Everyone was ready to leave.
She looked along the line of cages. One was empty. Leah was missing.
They expected her to be here.
She had gone to get her car. She drove a huge suburban. She was single with no kids but she liked having the extra protection of a large car. She traveled a lot. She went to get the car to load the birthday presents. Some of them were quite large.
It was my fault. I wanted something different. Gift me with something unusual. It has to have a back story. You have to relate the back story to your week. Somehow my silly request landed us here. Where ever here is.
The sound of the lock on the outer door clicking open made everybody stiffen in fear. Some of her friends cringed at the back of their cage. Others stepped forward, facing their fear, ready to fight. She shook her head. She wasn’t a fighter. She didn’t know any martial arts, boxing or even the aerobic workout that seemed more fight than exercise. She had bodyguards for protection. She worked out with weights and Pilates. Nothing prepared her for being kidnapped, stripped and caged.
Kidnapped? Is that what really happened? Poof! One moment I was in Louisiana having fun with my sorority sisters and next I was here. Kidnapping involves guns, cars, planes, blindfolds, masked men. Nothing like this.
When they first arrived, they were trundled into the cages by silent, muscular men. Even the girls that were body builders and self-defense trained, even the black belt, were not able to break away from them. Clothes and jewels were not stripped away as though they were to be sold. Some of the dresses, skirts and blouses, some of the jewelry was worth thousands of dollars. Fancy name clothing was cut away with sharp knives. Pearls, gold, and watches were simply pulled off and flung into what appeared to be a trash receptacle. Then they were shoved unceremoniously into separate cages. And they waited, until a moment ago when the lock clicked in the outer door.
She steeled herself for the entrance of another strong man or perhaps a man in a suit followed by the strong men. Her mouth dropped open when the man came in.
At least she thought it was a man. Well, it is male. Man, no.
What walked into the warehouse was a centaur. An honest to goodness four-legged, horsey-tailed, half-man, half-horse centaur.
“First, ladies, let me apologize for your rough treatment,” The centaur began.
“What do you plan on doing to us?” she asked. It was my birthday party. I guess I should be the spokesperson in this.
“Where are we?”
“What is going on?”
“What are you?”
The others called out questions.
“Everything will be answered, in time. Again, I apologize for your rough treatment. Nothing from your world can contaminate our world. That is why you were stripped down. Each of you will be taken to a quarantine center and bathed. You will then be given your identity and your assignment.”
“Wait just a minute,” she called out, “Identity? Assignment? What is going on?”
The centaur turned to her. “You are Ianthinarium Moore.” The centaur seemed to be checking his memory. Neither he nor the other men carried any kind of clipboard or iPad. “It is on your behest the others are here.”
“She wouldn’t do this to us.”
So, it really is my fault.
“If you have questions, they will all be answered after you are processed.”
“And processing includes…?”
“Bathing, new identities and assignments. You may not understand now, but after processing you will…at least you will understand more than you do now. Full understanding rarely comes to any of us.”
“Us? You were kidnapped too? Where are we? On another planet? Is this an alien abduction?” Ianthinarium stepped to the front of the cage. She grabbed the bars wanting to shake them from their anchors in the floor.
The centaur looked at her passively. He turned to go.
“At least tell me your name!” Ianthinarium shouted.
“Kinnith.” The centaur said quietly. He and his entourage turned and left.
Maybe they weren’t his strong arm men. Maybe they were his guards. Maybe his is a prisoner too. Maybe an ally.
“Ian,” one of the girls, one of her sisters called to her, “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know. Whatever it is, we have to stick together. Give each other as much support as we can. If we’re separated, we have to try to get back together. We have to. Right now, we are all we have.”
“Where do you suppose Leah is?” another asked.
“Someplace better than this, I hope,” Ian answered.
* * * * *
Leah got up, grabbed her purse and went outside to the parking lot. She drove her car around to the front of the pavilion. Ian always rented the biggest, the best hence the pavilion. A ritzy palatial party center that could realistically hold one hundred people for a birthday party of twenty-four. She looked around expecting to see her sister-friends gathered at the curb with the presents ready to load into her car.
No one greeted her. There was no one with arms filled with purses and presents. Leah sighed. She was often the butt of their jokes.
“This isn’t funny, ladies. Ian is the birthday girl. Tricks are supposed to be played on her not me today.” Leah’s voice echoed in the empty room as she walked into the pavilion. The women were gone. Some purses were left on chairs and the table. Some jackets were still thrown over the backs of chairs. One, an leather jacket that cost more than she made in a year, was tossed on the floor. Wine glasses still sat where they were left. Lights were on. The gifts were gone.
“Quit playing hide and seek,” Leah called out. She was irritated and a little afraid. The gifts were purchased at some little out of the way antique shop that was not listed on any GPS or in any phone directory she could find. How the girls found it was beyond her. “What about your flight? You have to stop this nonsense.” Leah called one of the girls on her cell phone. It rang in the abandoned purse. One after another she called all twenty three of them. One after another she heard the lonely sound of an unanswered cell phone.
She picked up a business card on the floor. It was from the antique shop. It showed the address and a Mr. Xerxes as proprietor. Unusual Gifts For All Occasions was the title. Underneath it read ‘If you want to experience the strange and fantastical you have come to the right place’.
Leah got in her car and headed for the antique store. It was the only place she figured shemight find some answers.
“How can I help you?” an antique of flesh and blood blinked bleary eyes at the beautiful young woman marching into his store.
“My friends, twenty-two girls about my age, in their twenties bought gifts from you. They have disappeared. Your card says you specialize in strange and fantastical. Can you tell me what has happened to them?”
“Ah, yes, the birthday gifts. Very profitable day, indeed. I did nothing by sell antiques to the young women and tell them stories about the items. What seems to be the problem?”
“They are all gone. Everyone gave their gifts to Ian. Everyone made a wiah…”
“Wait…wait,” the living antique held up his hand. The skin was paper thin. The veins showed blue like ropes over parchment. He wrinkled his bushy white brows. “These were birthdays gifts for one person, correct?”
Leah nodded. “Yes, what does that have to do with anything? My friends are missing and so are the gifts they purchased. If you know anything about it, please tell me.”
“Please bear with me,” Xerxes said, “I will help if I can. First, please answer some questions. All right?”
Leah nodded again.
“How is it everyone made a wish?”
“It was a party game. Ian told everyone to make a wish based on the gift and what their week was like.”
“You? Did you make a wish?”
“I did, but I didn’t buy from you. My gift was from a boutique, nothing special.”
“Yes, I understand. Everyone made a wish. Please be honest with me. Was blood spilled?”
“Ian cut her finger on a broken wine goblet. A couple of drops only. Why?” Leah’s stomach clenched.
“Wine and blood? By the gods, no. Please tell me there was no fire.”
“Fire? No of course not.” Leah said.
Mr. Xerxes seemed to relax.
“Except for the birthday candles, of course. You can’t have birthday cake without candles. Will you please tell me what is going on? What does all of this have to do with the disappearance of my friends?”