QSFer Sacchi Green has a new FF paranormal book out: Shadow Hand.
A mysterious stone figure of the goddess Ishtar, long-buried in the desert, bestows on US Army Lieutenant Ashton the power to move objects by her mind alone. Ash must learn to control this impressive power, before it controls her. She turns to her tough, steadfast lover Cleo, with talents of her own, to help Ash in her struggle to stay firmly rooted in her humanity.
The women seek a cause worthy of their skills, refusing to allow the destructive side of Ash’s ability to be used by any outside forces—military or mythical. A hazardous rescue mission hurtles them back to the desert they’d left far behind, links their past and present, and just may be what Ishtar had in mind all along.
Sacchi is giving away an ebook copy of “Witches, Princesses and Women at Arms; Erotic Lesbian Fairy Tales,” which she edited, with this post. Comment below for a chance to win.
A breeze sprang up outside, sending little puffs of dust through the slit at the cave’s entrance. The boots moved away. Cleo let her breath out slowly and drew another one.
The pistol appeared suddenly in Ash’s left hand, while the stone had shifted into her right. Bit by bit, with quiet rustlings and scrapings, the entrance to their hideaway changed form to allow them both a better view—yet Ash still hadn’t moved.
Cleo tensed. She must be hallucinating. Stress, heat, dust-filled air, fear for Ash, all screwing with her mind. Focus! Brace for whatever you have to do!
There was a hint of movement outside again. Now she could see, clearly, the man pausing just beyond them under an overhang that jutted out like the prow of a ship. He began to turn. Ash’s hand stiffened, and a tremor shook the overhang. She raised a finger, and a clod fell. Another twitch of her finger, and a bigger clod fell, then another, and another. With a loud crack the whole formation began to capsize. The man yelled and struggled, lurched as though he’d been shoved from behind, and managed to stumble away before the full brunt of the landslide hit. When the noise and dust subsided, he could be heard some distance downstream scrambling up the side of the wadi.
The silence felt louder than the turmoil just past. What had happened? What had Ash done? And how?
Ash kept on staring at the object in her hand. Cleo, with no idea what to say, said nothing. Eventually, the men who had been searching the ruins could be heard on the path back to the road, but it was a while before they revved their motorcycle engines and roared away. Cleo knew all too well what they’d probably been doing in the meantime. Booby trapping her jeep.
At last, desperate to move her aching joints and feel more air and space around her, she began to knock bits of dirt and pebbles out of the small opening with the end of her rifle. Ash looked up, and all at once great gaps appeared, as though some giant hand was punching through the wall.
Ash lurched forward and scrambled out on all fours, dropping the pistol while favoring the hand still holding the hidden object. Cleo tumbled out behind her. They sat a few feet apart in the dry streambed, gulping fresh air, dazed, but not so dazed that Cleo wasn’t on alert for any sign that someone had stayed behind.
“Cleo,” Ash said at last. She hesitated. “Sergeant Brown.” This was serious. Cleo waited. Usually when Ash shifted into full lieutenant mode her clear gray eyes took on a steely glint, but not now. This time they begged for reassurance. “Sergeant Brown, what…what did you just see?”
“I saw you save our sorry asses, ma’am. I don’t claim to understand what happened, how things moved the way they did, but I saw it.”
“So if I’m hallucinating, so are you.”
Cleo could get away with a lot when it came to most folks, but she could never lie to her lieutenant. To Ash. “We’re not hallucinating. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I know plenty of things for sure without understanding them. Objects moved, and from what I saw, you made them move. How did it feel to you?”
“It was…strange. Things happened because I thought about them, but it wasn’t just me. It was this.” She opened her right hand at last and showed what she’d been holding, what had fallen on her in the cave and drawn blood. “Her.”
Not stone, at least not any kind Cleo had ever seen. Ivory, maybe, yellowed by age. Whatever it was made out of, the carved figure was clearly, extravagantly female, four or five inches high, with three pairs of full breasts springing from her torso. Some kind of ancient goddess. She wore a sort of high crown that must once have been even higher but had been broken off. Her legs were obscured by a skirt incised with unidentifiable designs. Her face had lost part of its nose, but was otherwise intact, with a regal look about the chin and the direct gaze. Her arms, too, were mostly missing, although you could see where they’d been, and there was enough left of one of them to form a sharp point where it had broken—a point stained with recently shed blood. Ash’s blood.
All that mattered to Cleo right then, besides the unlikely fact that they were still alive, was Ash. The lieutenant was…shaken. Not scared, not confused, not angry, exactly, but struggling with something made up of all of those, and more.
“She’s stuck in my mind,” Ash blurted out at last. “Trying to control me. She may have saved us, but I want her out. I get all the orders I can stand from my commanding officers.”
Defiance! Cleo nearly shook with relief. Ash was going to be all right. “Toss her to me, Ash. See how you feel then.”
She held out her hand, then tried to duck when the figurine shot up and hurtled toward her head, stopping with a sudden jerk just before it hit. Ash’s face was taut with strain. A fierce heat flowed from the hovering figure, feeling as though it would sear Cleo’s skin. Then all at once the goddess, or whatever she was, vanished. A few pebbles could be heard dropping inside the cave. Maybe she’d burrowed back into it.
Cleo’s whirling mind took refuge in crude humor. “Guess I’m not this particular Desert Queen’s type. Just as well. She wants somebody like one of those Hindu Kali statues, with a bunch of extra arms and hands to do justice to all her extra boobs.”
“What she wanted,” Ash said, standing somewhat stiffly, “was to hurl herself right through your head. I struggled to stop her, and I won. Now she’s gone. I made her go away. It’s over.”
Cleo got to her feet with an effort. It seemed like they’d been scrunched up in that cave in fear for their lives an hour or more. “So it was only your ass she intended to save, and mine was just collateral non-damage? I can live with that.”
“If you’re lucky,” Ash said. “She may be bound to this place. Not to the palace over there—that’s only about 1,300 years old—but to something much older. Astarte, Ishtar, Ashtoreth—many names for more or less the same goddess. Maybe some temple was here thousands of years ago that left no trace—except for Her.”
“ ‘Ashtoreth?’ Really?”
“In this area her name would most likely be Ishtar. Anyway, enough of that. She’s gone now. End of story.”
“Sure.” Cleo watched Ash bend down for the pistol she’d dropped, now half-buried in gravel. The gun rose to meet Ash’s hand. “If you say so.”
“It’ll wear off,” Ash muttered, still looking down.
Cleo groped for words. What must it feel like, some impossible, unnatural power being thrust into you without your consent? Something that couldn’t be explained by experience, or training, or instinct? For that matter, was Cleo herself suffering from shell shock, to willingly believe in a stone goddess controlling her commander?
Right now it didn’t matter. She found her words. “Whether it wears off or not, you’re still you.” She reached out, and Ash’s hand met hers in an entirely natural grip.
“We’re still us,” Ash said.
What flowed between them when they touched needed no explanation at all. Ash rested her gritty cheek against Cleo’s until a stronger breeze sprang up, signaling the lowering of the sun toward the vast desert horizon.
Sacchi Green is a Lambda award-winning writer and editor of erotica and other stimulating genres. She lives in western Massachusetts, with an alternate retreat in the mountains of New Hampshire and occasional forays into the real world.
Sacchi has edited eighteen anthologies, many with a lesbian erotica theme, but fantasy and science fiction were her first loves, and she’s especially happy to have edited Witches, Princesses and Women at Arms: Erotic Lesbian Fairy Tales (Cleis Press) and written a paranormal superheroine novel, Shadow Hand (Ylva Press)