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Hi all,

I was recently interviewed by Dorothy Thompson for Blogcritics Magazine.

You may read the full interview here.

Cheers!

Mayra

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Let me share some news!

DARK LULLABY is now available from Fantastic Literature Ltd, UK’s largest and best online purveyor of out of print books, rare books and used books in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, crime, thrillers, ghost stories, weird tales and macabre fiction both in paperback, hardcover and magazine format.

At a trendy Turkish tavern one Friday night, astrophysicist Gabriel Diaz meets a mysterious young woman. Captivated by her beauty as well as her views on good and evil, he spends the next several days with her. Soon, however, he begins to notice a strangeness in her–her skin’s abnormally high temperature, her obsession with milk products, her child-like and bizarre behavior as she seems to take pleasure in toying with his conscience.
The young woman, Kamilah, invites him to Rize, Turkey, where she claims her family owns a cottage in the woods. In spite of his heavy workload and the disturbing visions and nightmares about his sister’s baby that is due to be born soon, Gabriel agrees to go with her.
But nothing, not even the stunning splendor of the Black Sea, can disguise the horror of her nature. In a place where death dwells and illusion and reality seem as one, Gabriel must now come to terms with his own demons in order to save his sister’s unborn child, and ultimately, his own soul…

Reviews…

“Mayra Calvani is a masterful storyteller… Dark Lullaby is complex and compelling…” –Habitual Reader

“Dark Lullaby is an atmospheric paranormal horror that grips you from page one and refuses to let go until you’ve raced, breathless, to the end.” –ePinions

“Dark Lullaby is a page-turner. A horror story from the top shelf! You’ll love it.” –5 stars from Euro-Reviews

“This is a terrific horror…” –Harriet Klausner

“Dark Lullaby will capture you with its rich descriptions, its exotic location, and the need to uncover the dark secrets hidden within its pages.” –Cheryl Malandrinos, The Book Connection

Dark Lullaby
By Mayra Calvani
Whiskey Creek Press
EBook formats ISBN: 978-1-59374-908-8, $5.99
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-59374-907-1, $13.95
September 2007
Supernatural Thriller
Available from Fictionwise, Amazon, and Whiskey Creek Press
* Discounts for bookstores and libraries
Contact the publisher: Phone: 307-265-8585, Fax: 307-265-4640

Thank you, Simon and Laraine, for stocking my book in your wonderful store! I had the pleasure of interviewing Simon as part of my Halloween Festival Interviews this October. Read my interview with this bookseller here.

Read some of my interviews about the writing of Dark Lullaby at:
Patricia’s Vampire Notes (note: my book is NOT about vampires)
Fiction Scribe

Watch the trailer!

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Hi all,

For those of you who read Mary Castillo’s excerpt, “Por un Amor” and participated in her drawing, the winner of the $10 Starbucks Gift Card is………. Kristine H !!!!!

And now for my story… After reading it, simply answer the question at the bottom for a chance to win a box of yummy Belgian chocolates. The winner will be announced tomorrow on Jamie Martinez Wood’s blog. Good luck! I hope you’ll enjoy my dark (and yes, a little creepy) Valentine’s Day story!

The Painting
by Mayra Calvani

I was sitting in front of the fire with The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes on my lap. It had been a rough semester, without let up, and my only escape from the constant pressure was my crime and mystery collection. All day, I’d looked forward to reading the stories in the book. This particular book was a limited, leather-bound edition which I had purchased at the famous 221b Baker Street—now the official Sherlock Holmes Museum—on a short visit to London a couple of weeks ago. The illustrations were the original ones from The Strand Magazine, and were so engaging I could look at them for hours. I had also bought a little bust of Holmes; this one stood proudly on top of the mantelpiece.

It rained heavily outside and the wind blew like the endless howling of a wolf. I still had not gotten used to the Belgian weather. I sneezed for three times in a row and cursed whoever was up there in that idealized cave they call heaven. This cold was not getting any better. I could picture the savage battle going on inside my body. I was obviously far behind on the battle field, my little cells running away like cowards. I had to eat better and stop drinking so much. At least I didn’t smoke or drink coffee.

I focused my watery eyes on the page and another sneeze came out like an explosion. Then the sweetest sensation made me float in the air and settle down again. I thought I had reached salvation. I put the book down and stared at a small cockroach crawling up the wall. I wished I could defy gravity like that. The intruder disappeared behind a bad painting of a clown. I hated clowns, but the painting came with the apartment. The first day I moved in I tried to take it off, but the damn thing was completely glued to the wall. It was a clown like any other clown. That’s why I despised it so much. It had a broad smile on its face and sad looking eyes. But if you looked closely you could see that it wasn’t really smiling and that its tightly shut lips were the embodiment of solemnity.

“Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day,” it mocked me.

Big deal. I glared at it. If the clown thought it was going to have some power over me, it had another thought coming. Valentine’s Day was another capitalist invention to steal money from the ignorant masses. Hearts and roses everywhere. Sickening.

From the apartment above mine came the irritating sound of high heels clicking on tile floor. Oh no. Not now. This cold was unbearable enough as it was. I certainly didn’t need the help of my noisy upstairs neighbour to turn my headache from bad to splitting. Everything the woman did was noisy. She constantly fought and argued with her husband, and her hobby seemed to be moving furniture from room to room, which by themselves were pretty normal activities, but she had a strong preference to do these after midnight. Flushing the toilet at three o’clock in the morning seemed to be another of her favourite pastimes. Maybe in another building this would not have been a problem, but here the walls were made of paper. I could hear everything—even her piss in the middle of the night. What a way to wake up, with a sensation of drowning.

The clicking continued for about ten minutes. I finally put the book down. What on earth was she doing? Walking up and down her corridor for the sole purpose of driving me mad? Maybe she was trying to hypnotize me with the monotone clicking. In an absurd way it seemed to be working. I could hardly keep my eyes open.

Silence.

I sighed. I was so tired and drowsy from the medication I fell asleep with the book on my lap.

***

The sound of loud voices woke me.

I glanced at my watch, trying to fight disorientation. It was almost midnight. I had slept for sixteen minutes. My body felt as though it had been clobbered while I slept.

A major fight was going on upstairs. I recognized the baritone voice of the husband. Some time during the past sixteen minutes he had come back home. He kept shouting and she lashing back in a whining voice. To make matters worse, they were Italian and were using their native tongue to “communicate.” She began sobbing, which seemed to send the husband into an even greater fury.

To appease my murderous thoughts, I rose and staggered into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of orange juice. After finishing a glass, I calmly fetched the mop from the small kitchen closet. Then, like a madman—hair messy and oily, the shadow of a one-week old beard covering my face, wrinkled bathrobe stained with juice—I began to hit the ceiling in a frenzy.

Finally I stopped.

I looked up to the ceiling, which was marred with dents.

Silence.

Feeling much better, I set the mop against the wall and went back to sit by the fire, the only place at the moment which seemed warm enough for my feet. I turned the armchair a little to be closer to the burning logs, which kept crackling and sputtering.

I, a sensible, practical person, tried to consider the situation logically. Ever since I had moved in, two months ago (I was an exchange student from the University of Bridgeport), I’d had to endure the continuous noise from my upstairs neighbours. I had complained to the building manager twice, to no avail. I had even walked upstairs and talked to the lady—a suntanned woman with coppery hair, buttery teeth and insane-looking green eyes. Her eyes reminded me of a one of those marsupial night creatures which live in constant terror of being eaten. Maybe her look had to do with her husband. In any case, we had been unable to communicate. She spoke no English. She did ask, using sign language, if I spoke French or Dutch. I shook my head. In the end I tried to get my message across in Spanish, but there was no way getting through to her, so I came back downstairs. Since that day all I’d been able to do was hit the ceiling when it got too unbearable. I didn’t want to move out, either. The rent was okay for a sophomore literature student from abroad and I had fallen in love with the fireplace, which was the perfect place to read mysteries.

I got the terrible sensation of wanting to sneeze, but nothing came out. I dozed off for a little while longer, but not before scowling at the painting of the clown, which, once again, appeared to be mocking me. I turned back to the fire. From the corner of my eye I caught movement. I glanced back at the painting, but everything looked normal.

At about two in the morning I managed to pull myself from the armchair and stagger to my bedroom.

Not bothering to pull the covers over me, I collapsed face-down on the hard European (must have been imported from Russia) mattress and shut my eyes.

Not much later something made me stir… the faint yet distinct sound of moaning. Apparently they had decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day early. Their bedroom was above mine. I endured the whole thing, complete with the crescendos and grand symphonic finale. Moments later the not-to-distant sound of piss came from the toilet upstairs. Flushing.

The piping system had been built in a way as to give the impression of a Tsunami each time the toilet was flushed.

Too weak to open my eyes, I cursed inaudibly, my head still plastered to the sweaty pillow.

***

The next day, when I saw I was not better, I realized I had the flu. I had missed the last two days of school and it looked as though I’d have to miss the rest of the week. After a skimpy breakfast of toast and juice, and two tablespoons of cold medication, I went to the living room to prepare a new fire.

As I crouched and began to arrange the logs, I heard the whisper… Happy Valentine’s Day.

I stopped moving, startled.

The sound had come from my apartment, not from upstairs. In fact, the whisper had come from the same room. I glanced about the room, my eyes finally settling on the clown. In some bizarre way it seemed to reach deep into my soul, somehow absorbing the essence of who I was and reflecting it back at me. I averted my eyes.

When the fire was ready I sat in the armchair and extended my cold feet close to the flames. I reached for the leather-bound book on the little table beside me and opened the page at the bookmark.

After reading a few lines I put the book down. It was very quiet and I wondered what my upstairs neighbour was up to. Her silence somehow made me restless. Maybe she had gone out. I tried to concentrate on “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” but found the effort exhausting.

Since the cold medication wasn’t having any effect on my symptoms, at noon I took a double dose. Holmes used to take cocaine and even heroine; that was much worse. Then I took a glass of water with me into the living room and stood in front of the painting. I took a sip and held the glass in front of my eyes and saw the image of the clown through it. The image was nothing but a mass of hazy colors forming something indefinite.

Then I heard it, the exquisite clicking of stiletto heels on tiles. I looked to the ceiling. I sighed. I wanted this to happen. My whole being longed for it. My attitude could be compared to victims of kidnappers who in some deranged way grow attached to their tormentors.

Almost involuntarily, my eyes returned to the clown. I thought it had called my name. It was smiling as usual and looking at me. No matter where I was in the room, it would always be looking at me. A sharp pain in my temples blinded me for a moment. I felt dizzy and had to hold the back of the armchair for support. Yes. I was right. It had called my name and now it was talking to me. Its mouth was moving and it had no teeth. Inside its red mouth there was only a black empty space. I wondered how it could talk and still smile like that.

Slowly I went out of the apartment and crossed the empty, windowless hall towards the stairs which led to other floors. Once on the upstairs hall I was happy to see that it also was empty. My heart thudding, I knocked on my neighbour’s door and waited.

A moment later the door opened and I gazed with fixed fascination at the color of her hair—only a consummate professional could achieve such an unnatural hue.

She appeared to recognize me, displayed her buttery teeth, and began talking in another language—probably Italian, though it might as well have been ancient Sumerian. She moved her hands in all directions as she talked, and gestured me to come inside. Not uttering a word, I obeyed. She continued her enigmatic speech. The vibrations of her voice entered my ear as if they were coming from another dimension. My body felt as hot as a kitten’s belly, and my head as if it had been implanted with electric wires.. I just wanted her dead.

I fixed my eyes on her neck and silently closed the door behind me (I grasped the knob with my robe, not to leave fingerprints; I’m not an imbecile) as she bent over to pick up a cleaning rag from the floor.

In spite of my drowsiness, my hands felt incredibly strong.

***

Later that evening I sat by the fire and wrote what I had done, a fictional confession of sorts. I filled seven pages of longhand, doctor-like scribbles only I could decipher.

I glanced at the painting. Earlier I had covered it with a sheet. The clown could stare at me no more.

The door bell rang and, papers clutched to my chest, I got up and went to answer it.

Though I had been expecting them, my heart skipped when I saw the two Belgian policemen standing outside my door.

After I made it clear I spoke only English and Spanish, they quickly introduced themselves in English and stated the reason for their visit. My upstairs neighbour had been strangled and they wanted to know if I had seen or heard anything.

I adopted a surprised expression and shook my head.

“Did you know her?”

“I saw her just once. I’ve been living here for only two months,” I said. “Though I could often hear her. She was always fighting with her husband—I assume it’s her husband. That’s the reason I once met her. I went upstairs to ask them to keep their voices down. It was late and he was shouting and she was screaming. In fact, I almost called the police that night. They had a big fight last night, too. It sounded pretty bad. If you ask me, I think the husband was abusing her.”

One of the policemen wrote furiously on a note pad.

The other policeman glanced at the papers I held against my chest.

“I’m studying for an exam,” I said.

The policeman nodded. He looked like a toy policeman. Both of them did.

“Ironic, huh? To be murdered on Valentine’s Day. That husband of hers, he must be a poet.”

After several more questions and answers, they apologized for the inconvenience and said goodbye.

Holding my confession close to my heart, I closed the door and went back to sit by the fire.

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” I murmured. One by one, I fed the pages to the flames. Even Holmes would have been proud.

***

©2008. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved.. This story may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.


Now for the question: What does the protagonist have clutched against his chest when the police come to pay him a visit?

To enter the drawing, simply email me your answer at mgcalvani (at) hotmail.com. Good luck!

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valtour.jpg

Five Latina authors, five stories, five prizes! From February 10 to February 14. All you have to do is leave a comment in order to be eligible for the prize.
Here’s the line-up:

February 10 – “Por un Amor” by Mary Castillo, a $10 Starbucks gift card

February 11 – “The Painting” by Mayra Calvani, here on the Dark Phantom, a box of Belgian chocolate

February 12 – “A Box of Valentines” by Jamie Martinez Wood, a one pound bag of homemade toffee

February 13 – “Missed Connections” by Margo Candela, Prize: B&N Gift Card

February 14- “Dream Catch Me” by Barbara Caridad Ferrer,

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Déjà Vu
By Mayra Calvani

Standing on the sidewalk of the Boulevard del Valle, Amanda looked towards the sea. The splash of the waves against the rocks below resonated in the air. She could taste the salty tang sharply on her tongue, feel the cool breeze tousling her hair. She hugged her arms to stop the goose bumps.
Tonight Old San Juan vibrated with a magical quality. Twinkling multi-colored lights and shimmering garlands adorned shop windows and balconies. Christmas trees glowed from inside the flats that lined the street.
Amanda admired the sea a little longer; it was late and she had to go home. She and her husband were giving a party. They always did on Christmas Eve. She was stalling and she knew it, though she didn’t know exactly why.
Abruptly someone bumped into her. She turned to see a little boy running down the street. She froze for a second before realizing what had happened—he had stolen her handbag.
“Hey!” she said, running after him. “Come back here!”
A sensation of unreality grabbed her. She saw the little boy running in slow motion, his dark curls floating behind him as if there were no gravity. An intense feeling of déjà vu shook her to the core. She had to catch up with him. She had to stop him!
“Stop!” she shouted, breathless.
Everything happened in a matter of seconds. The boy glanced behind his shoulder just as he tried to cross the street. A fast approaching car was coming in his direction. Amanda reached for the boy’s shirt and pulled him harshly to the sidewalk and away from the street. The boy struggled against her, but she held on, a wave of relief flooding through her.
“Stop that. The policeman will see us,” Amanda said, her eyes on the strolling officer across the street. Oddly, he looked bored, as if he had not noticed anything unusual.
The boy relaxed under her grip and for the first time she had a chance to look into his face. He had shoulder-length curly hair and large brown eyes surrounded by thick lashes. Under the streetlight his chestnut curls glowed. He couldn’t have been older than eight. In spite of his arrogant attitude, he reminded her of a cherub.
“What do you think you were doing? Trying to get yourself killed? That car almost ran into you!” she said.
“Are you going to have me arrested?” he said, lifting his chin.
Amanda glanced at the officer, who was now far away. She sighed. “Are you going to give me back my bag?”
Looking oddly calm, he gave her the bag.
“Thank you,” Amanda said drily.
“Can you let me go now?”
Amanda realized she was still holding on to him. Confusion and fear filled her being. She didn’t want to let go.
“I’m not going away,” the boy said enigmatically.
Their eyes locked momentarily.
“Oh… all right…” She let go. “What’s your name?”
“Alfonsito.”
“Why did you try to steal my bag?”
His small, thin shoulders lifted in a shrug. “Why do poor kids steal rich people’s bags?”
She decided to ignore his wisecrack. “You should go home. It’s late. Your parents must be worried.”
“Nah, they never worry.”
They began to walk side by side.
“Let me bring you home.”
“I don’t want to go home. There’s always too much fighting in there.”
“It’s Christmas Eve. I bet your mom is preparing a nice meal.”
“I don’t want to go home,” he said coldly, stopping her in her tracks.
Amanda looked at him. She was not ready to say goodbye. “Well, do you want to come to my house? We can have something to eat together.”
“Do you live in a mansion?”
“You could say that.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“I have a dog,” Amanda said.
His expression brightened. “What’s his name?”
“Noah. Well?”
Alfonsito seemed thoughtful as he stuffed his hands inside his pockets and resumed his walk. “I’d like to meet Noah.”

***

At Amanda’s home the party was at full swing. Guests in sophisticated attire were gathered around the pool with drinks and cigarettes in their hands. Some couples danced. Others ate by a long buffet table. Aguinaldos poured out of hidden speakers.
Amanda led Alfonsito to the back of the garden and towards the back door of the kitchen.
“Do you know all these people?” he asked.
“Yes and no.” She halted momentarily to look at the guests. “My husband is an important man. These are mostly his co-workers.” Her voice had turned sad, bitter. “ I’ve always been sort of a hermit.”
“What’s that?”
“I like being alone.”
“Oh.”
“My husband is a very important man.”
“So you said.”
They looked to the kitchen as a large blond dog stormed out the door and dashed into their direction.
“Noah!” Amanda said, smiling for the first time that night. “Come here, boy! Let me introduce you to someone.”
She bent over to stroke him and scratch him behind the ears. Alfonsito laughed as he joined in the petting. Noah whimpered as if he couldn’t have enough of Amanda’s affection.
“Let’s go inside,” Amanda said.
She led him to a table at the far end of the kitchen, while the servants continued their duties on the other side of the room. After bringing an assortment of food and pastries to the table, Amanda sat across from Alfonsito. Noah lay at her feet, his tail still swaging from contentment.
“Go ahead, eat,” she said.
“Aren’t you going to eat?”
“I’ll just have a drink,” she said, lifting a glass of wine as if in toast.
Watching her drinking, his expression turned sad. “Do you have any kids?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I’ve always wanted kids, but I can’t have any.”
“Oh…” He began to eat. “Hmm… I had forgotten what this tasted like.”
“Guineitos en escabeche is one of my favorites, too. Doesn’t your mom make it?”
“Not lately.”
After Alfonsito finished eating, Amanda said, “I probably should bring you back now. It’s late. Your mom must be worried.”
Amanda leaned over to stroke Noah, who had started whimpering again as if sensing her parting.

***

Amanda and Alfonsito stood by the door of the small house which was his home.
Alfonsito looked somber. Amanda was about to knock when he stopped her and said, “Don’t. Let’s just go in.”
Inside the small living room there was no Christmas tree; no lights or garlands or poinsettias.
A woman sat alone in the dark, her back to them. She had something in her hands.
Alfonsito took Amanda’s hand and together they approached the woman until they stood over her shoulder.
“Don’t cry, Mami,” he whispered.
“What’s that in her hands?” Amanda asked.
Then she saw it. It was a photo of Alfonsito.
Amanda turned to him, the floor shifting under her feet, the room swirling around her. She opened her mouth, but no words came out.
“I died one year ago,” he said.
Amanda took a step back. “No…”
She moved away from the crying woman and away from Alfonsito. His big eyes shimmered with emotion as he extended a hand towards Amanda.
“Come. I’ll show you,” he said.
“You can’t be dead. You’re here, with me, talking to me. You just played with my dog, ate at my kitchen. You can’t be…”
“Come.”

***

In the late hour the Old San Juan cemetery was cold and windy and Amanda could hear the waves crashing against the rocks below.
“Where are you taking me?” she said.
Now it was his turn to hold on to her. “You have to know, Amanda. You have to let go.”
She shook her head, tears flowing down her cheeks. “You’re going to show me your grave, is that it?”
His small hand pressed tighter around hers, his nails digging into her.
“There,” he said, pushing her in front of a tombstone.
She read her name engraved on the stone and covered her face with her hands, while all her life, all the memories rushed through her mind until that last very moment. “No! No! No!”
“Think about it. Why is it that no one can see or hear us—no one except Noah? How do you think we moved from here to your house without a car?”
“No!”
“You have to let go,” he said.
“No!” She fell to her knees, wallowing in the knowledge, guilt and pain.
“You’ll be here forever without freedom or peace until you forgive yourself. Look at me, Amanda.”
Her sobs weakened as she looked up at him.
“It was not your fault that I tried to steal your handbag. You had to run after me. It was not your fault that I got ran over by that car. You’ve punished yourself enough, drowning in alcohol and pills. Why did you take so many pills that night?”
“It was an accident…”
“I know.”
“I never meant to kill myself!”
“I know.” Then he said, “I forgive you, Amanda. This is why I’ve come here. Tonight.”
They were quiet for a long time. Amanda stood up and looked around her. Would she smell the sea again? Play with Noah? She felt scared and lost.
“What now? Where do I go?”
Alfonsito took her by the hand. “Let me show you the way.”

The End

©2007, 2008. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved. This story may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.

SPANISH VERSION:

Déjà Vu
Por: Mayra Calvani

Amanda miró hacia el mar desde la acera del Boulevard del Valle. El estruendo de las olas contra las rocas resonaba en el aire. Sintió el gusto del salitre en la lengua y cómo la brisa fresca le alborotaba el pelo. Cruzó los brazos, tratando de darse calor.
Esta noche, el Viejo San Juan vibraba con una cualidad mágica. Los balcones y las vitrinas de las tiendas estaban adornadas con guirlandas de parpadeantes luces de colores. Por las ventanas de los apartamientos que daban a la calle se veían los árboles de Navidad encendidos.
Amanda se quedó mirando el mar durante un rato más. Era tarde ya y tenía que regresar a casa, a la fiesta que ella y su marido ofrecían, como todos los días de Nochebuena. Se estaba atrasando y lo sabía, aunque no podía precisar porqué.
Fue entonces que alguien chocó contra ella. Se dio vuelta para ver a un muchachito que corría calle abajo. Se congeló por un momento, antes de darse cuenta de lo que había sucedido – ¡le había robado la cartera!
“¡Oye!” le gritó, mientras le corría detrás. “¡Vuelve acá!”
Tuvo la sensación de algo irreal. Vio, como en cámara lenta, que el niño corría, con sus rizos oscuros flotando detrás, como si no hubiera gravedad. Una extraña noción de “deja vu” le sacudió las entrañas. Tenía que alcanzarlo. Tenía que detenerlo.
“¡Para!” le gritó, ya sin aliento.
Todo sucedió en cuestión de segundos. El muchachito miró hacia atrás, hacia ella, justo cuando empezó a cruzar la calle. Un auto se aproximaba hacia él a toda velocidad. Amanda lo agarró por la camisa y le dio un halón que lo devolvió a la acera y lo alejó de la calle. El muchacho trató de zafarse, pero ella lo tenía bien agarrado. Una sensación de alivio la invadió toda.
“¡Deja de luchar! El policía se va a dar cuenta,” dijo Amanda, mirando al oficial que caminaba por el otro lado de la calle: parecía aburrido, como si no hubiera notado que pasaba algo raro.
El muchacho dejó de forcejear y por primera vez ella lo miró a la cara. Tenía el pelo rizo y largo hasta los hombros. Sus ojos, grandes y castaños, la miraban desde debajo de unas pestañas muy largas. La luz de los faroles de la calle le sacaban un brillo rojizo a sus rizos. No podía tener más de ocho años. A pesar de su actitud arrogante, le recordaba las pinturas de los querubínes.
“¿Qué estabas haciendo? ¿Querías que te aplastara ese carro? ¡Por poco te arrolla!”, le dijo.
“¿Vas a hacer que me denuncien?” le preguntó él, con un gesto de desafío en la cara.
Amanda miró al policía, que ya estaba lejos. Suspiró: “¿Me vas a devolver mi cartera?”
Con una tranquilidad algo extraña, el muchacho le tendió la cartera.
“Gracias,” le dijo Amanda, secamente.
“¿Puedes soltarme ahora?”
Amanda se dio cuenta de que aún lo tenía agarrado por la camisa. Sintió una mezcla de confusión y temor. No quería dejarlo ir.
“No voy a salir corriendo,” le dijo el muchacho, enigmáticamente.
Los ojos de ambos se encontraron.
“Bueno,… está bien …”, dijo ella y lo soltó. “¿Cómo te llamas?”
“Alfonsito.”
“¿Porqué trataste de robarme la cartera?”
El muchacho alzó los hombros pequeños y huesudos. “¿Porqué es que los niños pobres les roban las carteras a la gente rica?”
Ella decidió ignorar la respuesta arrogante. “Debes regresar a tu casa. Es tarde”, le dijo. “Tus padres deben estar preocupados.”
“No, ellos nunca se preocupan.”
Empezaron a caminar uno al lado del otro.
“Deja que te lleve a tu casa.”
“No quiero ir a casa. Siempre hay pelea allí.”
“Es Nochebuena. Seguro que tu mamá está preparando una cena especial.”
“No quiero ir a casa,” repitió él, y su frialdad la dejó, a su vez, fría.
Amanda lo miró. No quería despedirse todavía. “¿Quieres ir a mi casa entonces? Podemos comernos algo juntos.”
“¿Vives en una mansión?”
“Sí, es una especie de mansión.”
“No tengo hambre.”
“Tengo un perro,” le dijo Amanda en tono tentador.
La expresión del muchacho cambió. “¿Cómo se llama?”
“Noé.¿Vienes?”
Alfonsito se quedó pensativo. Metió las manos en los bolsillos y siguió caminando. “Me gustaría conocer a Noé.”

***

Cuando llegaron a casa de Amanda, la fiesta estaba en su apogeo. Los invitados, muy bien vestidos, conversaban –con tragos y cigarrillos en las manos- alrededor de la piscina. Algunas parejas bailaban. Otros hacían fila ante la larga mesa del bufé. Por los altoparlantes escondidos salía la música de aguinaldos navideños.
Amanda llevó a Alfonsito hacia el patio trasero, donde estaba la entrada de la cocina.
“¿Conoces a toda esta gente?” le preguntó él.
“Sí y no,” le contestó ella mientras se detenía a mirar a los invitados. “Mi marido es un hombre importante. Casi toda esta gente trabaja con él.” Su voz se ensombreció y adquirió un tono amargo. “Yo siempre he sido una especie de ermitaña”
“¿Qué es eso?”
“Me gusta estar sola.”
“Oh.”
“Mi marido es un hombre muy importante.”
“Ya lo dijiste.”
Cuando estaban llegando a la cocina se abrió la puerta y un enorme perro de pelo castaño claro salió corriendo hacia ellos.
“¡Noé!” lo llamó Amanda, y sonrió por primera vez esa noche. “¡Ven acá! Quiero presentarte a alguien.”
Se bajó para acariciarlo y le rascó la cabeza tras las orejas. Alfonsito reía y lo acariciaba también. Noé daba grititos, como si estuviera ansioso de que siguieran mostrándole tanto afecto.
“Vamos a entrar,” dijo Amanda.
Llevó a Alfonsito a una mesa que estaba en un rincón de la cocina. Los sirvientes siguieron en sus tareas del otro lado. Amanda buscó una bandeja de pastelitos y dulces y se la trajo al muchacho. Se sentó frente a él y a sus pies se tiró Noé, moviendo el rabo a todo lo que da.
“Anda, come,” le dijo ella.
“Y tú, ¿no vas a comer?”
“Me voy a tomar un trago,” contestó, mientras levantaba una copa de vino como si fuera a brindar.
Él la miró con cierta tristeza. “¿Tienes niños?” le preguntó.
Ella dijo que no con la cabeza. “Siempre he querido tener hijos, pero no puedo tenerlos.”
“Oh…”
Cuando Alfonsito terminó de comer, Amanda le dijo, “Ahora te voy a llevar a tu casa. Se ha hecho tarde. Tu mamá debe estar preocupada.”
Amanda se bajó a acariciar a Noé, que empezó a llorar como si se diera cuenta de que ella se iría.

***

Amanda y Alfonsito se detuvieron ante la puerta de la casita donde vivía él.
Alfonsito estaba serio. Amanda iba a tocar la puerta cuando él la detuvo y le dijo: “No toques. Entremos.”
La salita era pequeña. No había adornos navideños: ni árbol, ni luces, ni guirnaldas ni pascuas.
Una mujer estaba sentada en la oscuridad, dándoles la espalda. Tenía algo en las manos.
Alfonsito le cogió la mano a Amanda y juntos se aproximaron a la mujer hasta que pudieron mirar sobre su hombro.
Alfonsito suspiró. “No llores, Mami,” le dijo bajito.
“¿Qué tiene entre las manos?” preguntó Amanda.
Y entonces vio. Era una foto de Alfonsito.
Se viró hacia él. Le pareció que el piso se estremecía bajo sus pies, que la habitación daba vueltas en torno a su cabeza. Abrió la boca pero no le salieron las palabras.
“Yo morí hace un año,” dijo él.
Amanda dio un paso atrás. “No…”
Se alejó de la mujer que lloraba y de Alfonsito. Los ojos grandes del muchacho brillaron de emoción mientras le tendía a Amanda una mano.
“Ven. Te llevaré,” le dijo.
“No puedes estar muerto. Estás aquí, conmigo, hablándome. Acabas de jugar con mi perro, de comer en mi cocina. No puedes estar …”
“Ven.”

***

A esa hora de la noche en el cementerio del Viejo San Juan hacía frío y soplaba el viento. Amanda oía cómo las olas chocaban contra las rocas.
“¿Adónde me llevas?” le preguntó ella.
Ahora le tocaba a él sujetarla con fuerza.
“Tienes que saber, Amanda. Tienes que dejarte ir.”
Ella negó con la cabeza. Las lágrimas le corrían por las mejillas. “Me vas a llevar a tu tumba, ¿no es eso?”
Su manita apretó la de Amanda; las uñas del muchacho se le metían en la carne.
“Allí,” le dijo, empujándola hacia una lápida.
Ella leyó su propio nombre grabado en la piedra y se cubrió el rostro con las manos. Toda su vida, todos sus recuerdos le pasaron por la mente, incluso los de aquel último momento. “¡No! ¡No! ¡No!”
“Piénsalo”, le dijo él. “¿Porqué es que nadie nos puede ver u oir—nadie con excepción de Noé? ¿Cómo piensas que nos movimos de aquí a tu casa sin un auto?”
“¡No!”
“Tienes que dejarte ir,” le dijo él.
“¡No!” Ella cayó arrodillada. La sobrecogían los recuerdos, la culpa, el dolor.
“Te quedarás aquí para siempre sin libertad y sin paz hasta que te perdones a ti misma. Mírame, Amanda.”
Los sollozos de ella disminuyeron cuando lo miró.
“No fue culpa tuya que yo tratara de robarte la cartera. Tenías que correrme detrás. No fue culpa tuya que me arrollara aquel carro. Te has castigado bastante, ahogándote en alcohol y píldoras. ¿Porqué tomaste tantas píldoras esa noche?”
“Fue un accidente…”
“Lo sé.”
“¡Nunca quise matarme!”
“Lo sé.” Entonces él le dijo, “Yo te perdono, Amanda. Por eso he venido aquí esta noche.”
Permanecieron callados durante un tiempo. Amanda se puso de pie y miró a su alrededor. ¿Volvería a oler el mar? ¿A jugar con Noé? Se sentía asustada y perdida.
“Y ahora, ¿qué? ¿Adónde voy?”
Alfonsito la tomó de la mano. “Yo te enseño el camino.”

***This version appeared in Revista Domingo, El Nuevo Dia newspaper, December 2007.
©2007, 2008. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved. This story may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.

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Are you passionate about books? Do you have the desire to share your thoughts about a book with readers, yet are unsure about what makes a good review? Are you curious about the influence reviews have on readers, booksellers, and librarians?

If you’re a beginner, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing will show you how to write a well-written, honest, objective and professional book review. But that’s not all. This book will also teach you:

How to read critically
How to differentiate the various types of reviews
How to rate books
How to prevent amateurish mistakes
How to deal with the ethics and legalities of reviews
How to tell the difference between a review, a book report, and a critique
How to start your own review site
How to publish your reviews on dozens of sites and even make money while you’re at it, and much more

If you’re an author, publisher, publicist, bookseller, librarian, or reader, this book will also bring to light the importance and influence of book reviews within a wider spectrum. If you’re an experienced reviewer, you’ll enjoy the insights by experts in the field and the extensive resource section.

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing
by Mayra Calvani & Anne K. Edwards
Twilight Times Books
Trade Paperback/Ebook
188 pages
RELEASE DATE: June 15th, 2008
ARCs available for review, please contact the publisher, Lida Quillen, at publisher@twilighttimesbooks.com

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View the trailer.
Purchase from Amazon.
Purchase from Fictionwise.

Blurb:

At a trendy Turkish tavern one Friday night, astrophysicist Gabriel Diaz meets a mysterious young woman. Captivated by her beauty as well as her views on good and evil, he spends the next several days with her. Soon, however, he begins to notice a strangeness in her–her skin’s abnormally high temperature, her obsession with milk products, her child-like and bizarre behavior as she seems to take pleasure in toying with his conscience.

The young woman, Kamilah, invites him to Rize, Turkey, where she claims her family owns a cottage in the woods. In spite of his heavy workload and the disturbing visions and nightmares about his sister’s baby that is due to be born soon, Gabriel agrees to go with her.

But nothing, not even the stunning splendour of the Black Sea, can disguise the horror of her nature. In a place where death dwells and illusion and reality seem as one, Gabriel must now come to terms with his own demons in order to save his sister’s unborn child, and ultimately, his own soul…

Reviews

“Mayra Calvani is a masterful storyteller… Dark Lullaby is complex and compelling…”
— Habitual Reader

“Dark Lullaby is an atmospheric paranormal horror that grips you from page one and refuses to let go until you’ve raced, breathless, to the end. The prose is so smooth there are no speed bumps as you devour the entire novel in one or two sittings.”
— ePinions

“If you like chills, foreign settings, and moral dilemmas, this book is for you!”
— Gloria Oliver’s Blog

“Dark Lullaby is a page-turner. A horror story from the top shelf! You’ll love it.”
— 5 stars from Euro-Reviews

“This is a terrific horror tale that hooks readers who in spite of knowing that Kamilah is malevolent from almost the first siren meeting with Gabriel wonder what her motive is and who she is. Fans will assume due to Gabriel’s descent into paranoia and Elena’s increasing manic panic attacks and anxiety-depression that borders on bipolar that this is a psychological thriller; but the Turkish locale and Kamilah make it so much more. Mayra Calvani will have fans hooked in a one sitting read as the author’s appreciative attentive audience will want to know is it madness or something more paranormally chilling.”
— Harriet Klausner

“The next time you feel like curling up with a scary book, get a copy of author Mayra Calvani’s Dark Lullaby, a riviting page turner that will keep you reading straight through until the end… Dark Lullaby is a must read for those who enjoy novels of horror. Calvani keeps the tension tight throughout this gripping novel.”
–Patricia Altner, Vampire Notes

“A master storyteller, Calvani hooked me from the first moment in the tavern to the very last page. This is truly a unique story that I look forward to reading again… Dark Lullaby will capture you with its rich descriptions, its exotic location, and the need to uncover the dark secrets hidden within its pages.”
–Cheryl Malandrinos, The Book Connection

Excerpt:

“Who’s that woman?” Gabriel demanded.

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t know. I saw the way she looked at you–the way you looked at her.”

“She’s just an old woman, a silly superstitious old woman.”

Gabriel was sure Kamilah lied. He grasped her by the shoulders and turned her to him. “Why was she afraid of you?”

Kamilah laughed, her cheeks flushed. “Listen to what you’re saying. Why would she be afraid of me?”

“I don’t know. But it’s a fact that she gasped when she saw you, that she was afraid.”

She shrugged. “She must have mistaken me for somebody else.”

“But why did you look at her like that? I saw your face.”

She scowled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Obviously you misread my face.” She wrestled away from his grip. “I want to go home.”

“Home?”

“Yes, home. To the forest. To the cottage.” She stomped her foot and kept going, leaving him behind.

Craning his neck, Gabriel looked back toward the scarf stand but the old woman was gone. “Damn!” he muttered.

He trotted after Kamilah.

Kamilah started running, her shrill, childish laugh defying him. Never stopping, she ran all the way to the mountain trail. With the heavy backpack and his sore leg muscles, Gabriel had a hard time keeping up with her. People turned to stare at them. Desperate to catch up with Kamilah, Gabriel clashed into a man as he crossed the street.

Gabriel muttered a curse. He felt like strangling Kamilah. Her erratic behavior was wearing thin.

“Wait!” he shouted when he saw her going up the trail.

She glanced back over her shoulder and flashed him a feral grin, her flushed cheeks contrasting deeply with her brilliant eyes. “You cannot catch me, you cannot catch me!” She sang loudly in monotone, between gasps. “You cannot catch me, you cannot catch me!”

As Gabriel ran after her the dull pain on the right side of his ribcage came back. He halted, panting. He leaned forward with his hands on his slightly bent knees and his eyes shut to concentrate on the ache.

Massaging the painful area, he made an effort to regain his breath. When he looked again to the trail Kamilah had vanished into the woods.

The hell with her. If she thought he would run after her and play her little hunting games, she was mistaken. He would very calmly find his own way back to the cottage. He reached into his backpack for the bottle of water and took a big gulp. After resting for several minutes the pain lessened and he felt better. In the deep chambers of his brain an alarm went off–for the first time the pain in his torso began to seriously worry him. He didn’t think it had anything to do with indigestion or any exotic virus or bacteria. Words like tumor and cancer flashed through his mind but he tried to shove them away. He couldn’t think about this now. Once back in Baltimore he would go to a doctor and have a complete examination.

He’d been hiking for about an hour when a sound came from deep within the woods.

Gabriel stopped, his head turning to the source.

The sound was familiar… the distant shrill murmur of children playing.

As suddenly as the sound had appeared, it vanished.

Goose bumps rose on his arms. Had he imagined it? He massaged the sides of his head while drops of sweat trickled down his back. The burning sun and the humidity didn’t help clear his mind.

After taking a few deep breaths, he continued his way up the trail.

About a quarter of an hour later he heard the sound again. This time it appeared closer.

Gabriel stopped and peered into the woods. He closed his eyes and concentrated on identifying the sound. Yes… the shrill murmur of small children playing. Ridiculous but true.

Gabriel decided to investigate.

Once under the canopy of the trees, moist coolness and shadows enveloped him. He welcomed the feeling and continued deeper into the woods, the ground soft and mushy under his boots.

After a few minutes it struck him the sound wasn’t getting closer or farther. Even though it was distant, it seemed to be everywhere, all around him.

Tilting back his head, he stared at the dense canopy of trees. Soft beams of light filtered down. He turned around slowly, light-headed and somewhat dizzy. For an instant he felt himself floating as the distant murmur of children caressed his mind.

“Kamilah!” he shouted. “Kamilah!”

He stopped turning and stood immobile, listening to his own heavy breathing, to his thudding heart.

“Kamilah, I know you’re here somewhere! Stop playing games!”

He scanned the surroundings. Something about the tree trunks caught his eye. Their surface wasn’t smooth as normal tree trunks. Lines marred the surface, natural lines which seemed to come from within the bark itself.

The lines, as if carved by a human hand, appeared to be forming something.

As realization dawned on Gabriel he gasped and stumbled back, nearly falling on the ground. He looked around him, terrified. Each tree trunk portrayed a different face… a baby face, crying, the mouth wide open in anguished misery.

The shrill murmur of children became louder than ever.

And then Gabriel understood it, heard it clearly. This wasn’t the murmur of children playing. This was the sorrowful crying of infants.

He ran back toward the trail as fast as his legs would allow him.

Note: A Spanish version of this excerpt appeared in El Nuevo Dia newspaper, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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