Friday, September 30, 2011

Vote for My Book Cover and You Could Win a $10 Amazon Gift Card

I love making book covers. I like looking at them. And I love creating just the right mood for the content.

In the winter of 2011, I held a contest here at The Writing Bomb, asking my friends and family to help me pick a cover for Reunion. You did, and I've heard nothing but great things about the cover YOU chose. Thank you.

Well it's that time again. I'm getting ready to publish a collection of creepy short stories, some true and some not. If you've read The Rumblin', Murdoch's Eyes and my true ghost stories, this collection won't have anything new for you, but it will put those creepy tales in one convenient place, and by publishing them together, my friends who don't have an ereader can get these in print.

Note: These were all made with a pro account. AND the content of the book is paranormal suspense and true ghosts stories. Thought that would help you make a decision.

I've numbered the books to make it easy to identify, so be sure to name the book by the number below the book.

I also wanted to mention that a week doesn't go by that I'm not tinkering around on picnik. They have a gazillion tools for tweaking your picture or .jpg file, especially for the Fall season. I couldn't make covers like this without picnik.

Here are a few FUN Facts: Cover #2 is a picture from Arlington Cemetery. I took that this last spring when my family and I went on our D.C. & NYC trip. Cover #4 started out as a blue square. Cover #3 & #5 started out as a picture of green leather. So you can see how much you can do with your pictures. Add a little color, effects, pazazz and POW, you've got a book cover. These aren't perfect, but they're free, and they're fun.  


I'd love to hear your thoughts.  If you comment, I'll pick a winner in a drawing Sunday evening and send you a $10 Amazon Gift Card. 

How fun is that? You get to look at cool cover art, voice your opinion and win! And I'll tell you what...I'll even throw in a FREE ARC of my forth coming release, TWISTED VENGEANCE and the short-story collection. All you have to do is leave your Twitter handle or email addy.   

What do I think? I favor #2. I like the blood-red colors, cemetery, ghostly girls, the font and the moon. I think this cover has it all. Looking forward to your comments, input, suggestions, whatever you can come up with. I'll let you know who wins sometime Sunday evening! BOOM!  

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A True Ghost Story...No Joke. This is Real.

Someone in The Basement

In 2006 I took a job with a company that manufactures integrated circuits (micro chips). My responsibilities require me to go into the basement of the FAB (fabrication room) on a nightly basis. I still do this to this very day.
After working in this particular department for about a year I began to feel like someone was watching me while I did my regular route in the lower level. I felt this on several occasions and it was always in the same area, a remote corner of the basement. Sometimes I’d see a shadow zip past the corner of my eye and when I’d look to see who had walked up behind me, no one would be there. This troubled me for the longest time. The feeling was strange. I knew someone was there. I could feel a frightening, cold, electrical sensation, like eyes were crawling all over me. The feeling sent shivers down my spine.
This continued for years while I did my job, biting my tongue.
But a few months back, I was chatting with one of my co-workers about spiritual matters and he asked me if I had ever had a supernatural experience. I told him about my experience with the ghost from Nashville, Indiana. When I finished telling him about Earl and the cabin (see Ghost Story From 2010), he asked if I had experienced anything odd at work.
I was stunned.
I had been wondering if I was paranoid or if I was going crazy. When he asked me, I told him that I wasn’t sure and then asked if he had experienced anything. He said yes, and proceeded to tell me that he feels like there is something or someone in the basement, watching him, standing near him in the same remote corner that I’ve experienced the entity.
Upon hearing my co-workers story, I revealed what I had been through. We went to the basement to confirm our experiences and sure enough, we were talking about the same place and the exact same sensations.
After I revealed this to my coworker, I had another experience, but I’ll reveal that in a moment.
A month or two later, a female coworker from a different shift approached me. She was new to our area and was assigned to the basement. We had never talked before but she knew I worked in the basement at night and asked if I had witnessed anything unusual. Like always, I asked her why and listened to her story before revealing what I knew.
She told me that from her first day, she felt something down there. Then as time went on, she began to get a sense of who it was. She told me that she believes that the entity is a spirit who had died during the construction of the facility or who had recently died and had worked there in the past. Her experience has been much richer than mine. She claims to have seen a full body apparition and believes that he dresses like a construction worker, and that he is not malevolent, but feels a need to watch over the basement.
•  •  •
And now I’ll tell you about my other encounter with this ghost.
I was having an especially strong feeling one night that I was being watched as I traversed the basement. When I approached the area where I usually experience those creepy feelings I bent down to make an adjustment to a valve that's near floor level. I made the adjustment, but when I lifted my head, I could see a set of work boots and jeans as clear as day standing directly in front of me and I was the only employee present. As I lifted my eyes, I could see what appeared to be a full set of legs, then the apparition suddenly disappeared.
As you can imagine, this totally freaked me out. I ran around the corner and headed toward the exit. When I continued to feel the entity’s presence, I turned and rebuked whatever it was and went upstairs.
I didn’t sense anything for a couple weeks after that, but he, if it really is a he, has returned since then. I have also heard from a third employee on a different shift report that he has experienced similar disturbances in the area in question among others.
•  •  •
It’s experiences like this that have confirmed my belief that there is more to this universe than we know, and that some form of life continues after we die. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, your time here on earth is short in terms of forever. 
Of all the stories I’ve heard, and from my own experience, wandering spirits aren’t always the happiest. They seem to have a longing. They seem to be lost. They seem to be ruled by regrets, pain, and unresolved words. I’ve never heard of a ghost story where the spirit in question communicates the overwhelming joys of death—mostly sorrows.
These are my questions. Perhaps you have your own. Perhaps you’ll ponder them as well. One day, we will know for sure. Until then, I’ll keep writing stories about the supernatural and I hope you’ll join me.
•  •  •
If you enjoy reading frightening stories, you can check out my full-length novels, Reunion (Amazon, bestselling ghost story and one of Goodread’s Best Books of the Year), The Rumblin', Murdoch's Eyes and my forthcoming thriller, Twisted Vengeance (coming Fall 2011).
Watch for my soon to be released book, Spookify Me, a collection of scary stories - coming next week!    ~ Jeff Bennington

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why Cross Promotion Works For Indie Authors!

I get excited when I hear indie author's frustrations about marketing. We get slammed for self-promoting, and we get bashed for over-tweeting our books. But there's one thing that we do well that no one complains about...cross promotion.

This single practice is very evident on Twitter. If you tweet, you know what I'm talking about. We see retweets and reviews and cross promoting and book pimping all the time.

But the reason I get excited when indie authors vent their frustrations about book marketing etiquette, is because we all have unique skills that we can creatively use to benefit each other. 

One example of this is how my friend Al Boudreau (@threecifer) comes up with helpful #hastags on twitter. So far, to my knowledge, Al has created the #novelines tag. With #novelines, authors can tweet a favorite line from their work so readers can scroll through and if anything catches their eye they can find the book with one click of a link. He also created the #blogtaxi tag of which I will use when I post this to twitter.

Some authors interview authors in their genre. Some read and review books in their genre, which is something that I'd like to do more of but time won't allow. We have 4 kids, so I don't get as much time reading time as some of you.

What I did, was start a blog called The Kindle Book Review. The KBR is a site that highlights indie and small press authors who are doing well and getting great reviews. The point of the site is to "pre-screen" indie authors by posting books that already have 20 or more reviews with 4.0 stars or more so kindle readers can discover, with confidence, how talented indie authors really are. And since I don't get as much time to read as I'd like, I found six really nice reviewers that love reading and will review the books we highlight on my behalf, giving indie authors "The Kindle Book Review" stamp of approval, a great marketing tool  to add to their "product description" on their Amazon book page.

My point is, we all have something to offer. We all have a gift beyond writing. So instead of complaining about how hard it is to market your work without going out of the accepted boundaries, try brainstorming to figure out how you can uniquely cross promote other authors or indie service providers. 

We might have different books, but we all have readers, and from my experience, they enjoy finding new talent. Don't be stingy. Share your readers with other indie authors and you just might find that other indie others will share theirs with you.

By the way... here's a list of the winners from my recent Kindle Book Review Indie Awards. 

And now for the Winners!
The following awards are based on a numeric score (stars x number of reviews). 

First Place~> The KBR Literary Excellence Award

Monique D. Mensah's INSIDE RAIN
Monique gets this award because she had the highest KBR score, calculated by multiplying total star rating by the number of reviews. Monique had nearly 200 more points because she has received so many rave reviews. After collecting 112 reviews and still maintaining a 4.7 star rating, Inside Rain is obviously a winner and the The KBR Summer 2011, Literary Excellence Award Winner. Monique can be found on Twitter @MoniqueDMensah and at her website

Second Place: The KBR Mover & Shaker Award

K.C gets the mover and shaker award because her ratings and number of reviews have sky rocketed since I highlighted her book this summer. This is sort of like the "most improved" award, adding thirty more reviews and a wonderful new cover! You can find K.C on Twitter @GASciFiAuthor and at her website.

Third Place: The KBR Bestseller Award
Cheryl K. Tardif's WHALE SONG
Cheryl gets this award because Whale Song is the veteran of the bunch. First published in 2003, this book was collecting rave reviews long before the ebook revolution and still continues to do so today! You can find Cheryl on Twitter @cherylktardif  and at her website.

Fourth Place:
Like most of these authors, Michael has a long list of well reviewed books. Michael can be found on Twitter @KreelanWarrior and at his cool website

Fifth Place:
Gary Ponzo's A TOUCH OF DECEIT deceptively captivating. As the first in a series, A Touch of Deceit is exactly what thriller readers are looking for - a great book with great reviews! Gary can be found on Twitter @AuthorPonzo and at his blog.

Jeff Bennington

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How Ghosts Have Helped Me.

The night crept upon me like a shadow. The house was quiet and I felt the need to listen to ELO, a pop culture group that dates me but that I'm proud to say I knew well. I slipped away from my family and headed downstairs where my oldest brother's record player sat, crying out for me to spin a sheet of vinyl under its melodic needle.

I placed the album on the turnstile, gingerly avoiding discovery. If I had scratched any of my brother's albums, I would've surely died. I knew that. I had learned the hard way. I had the bruises to prove it.

Mr. Blue Sky started drumming hip quarter notes and I hid under big brother's bed, feet tucked into sticky cobwebs and my hands under my chin, basking in the glory of big bro's collection of soul from the 70's and 80's. The room was dark of course; I had to keep a low profile less I be found out and quickly dragged outside where I'd receive a proper thumping.

Our home was a typical tri-level from the 70's. I lay at the bottom, the rear, the caboose, the small room in the basement on the backside with a convenient set of double doors that frequently allowed us boys to escape late in the night.

I was in keyboard heaven, loving the solitude, taking in the soul food.

My eyes adjusted to the darkness that filled the room and everything took on a navy-blue sheen.

Looking straight ahead, daydreaming, as usual, something caught my attention. The adjacent room had been vacant and black. No one had entered or exited for the twenty minutes or more that I had been down there...until the shadow moved.

I lifted my eyes to see a form step out of the darkness. A full bodied figure silently walked in front me looking forward and then abruptly turned to the right, staring down at me. There were no eyes, no face, no teeth glimmering in the moonlight. The figure was made of midnight and quiet as the morning. He took another step and his body faded into eternity.

I felt cold. My heart raced. I swallowed a lump of fear so thick I nearly choked.

The music continued, Mr. Blue Sky ended, followed by Turn to Stone, which I did. I shivered as if I had been dumped in a vat of ice. I waited to hear the figure call to me, to come back, but it didn't. It had already left my world.

I tried to make sense of what had happened. I tried to convince myself that it wasn't real. But I couldn't hide from the truth; I had seen a ghost. He appeared and vanished out of thin air, lost as it were between where he should've been and where I lay.

The realization scared the bejeepers out of me and I bolted out from under the bed, rounded the corner and raced upstairs where big brother and mom and dad sat in the living room watching a re-run of Three's Company.

I plopped down on the couch next to my mom. The color returned to my skin, but my heart continued throbbing under my ribs. I never told a soul until recently. And now you are one of the privileged few.
Looking back on that day, I've concluded that experiences like this make writing enjoyable for me. Understanding fear allows me to communicate what my characters feel and in some way, what I have felt during the creepiest of circumstances. I have a firm belief that what we see with our eyes is not all there is.

There's more to this life than living and dying. There's more to this life than laughing and crying. If you don't believe me, ask anyone who's had the privilege of tasting the afterlife. There's dark and there's light. When I die I want to see the light. I don't think eternal darkness and wandering would be all that enjoyable.

All to say, it's no wonder I've chosen to write about the supernatural. Doesn't everyone see dead people? They're everywhere.

Jeff Bennington
Author of Reunion & The Rumblin' 

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

10 Things Writers Can Learn From Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa might not be punchy but his creator is a genius.

If you grew up watching the Rocky films written, produced and staring the one and only Sylvester Stallone, you know what I mean. The themes and literary elements used by the movie mogul in his screenplay is a study in modern fiction as well as theatre.

It doesn't matter if you think the series was overdone, or if you hated Rocky V; the fact remains that what Sly did in the first two movies alone is absolutely amazing. He hit every key ingredient that makes the kind of story that people love to watch and read. It's no wonder the films were such a success. It's no surprise that we care about Rocky Balboa, the underdog, the street-smart punk from Philadelphia.

Rocky is everything I want to be: tender, streetwise, loyal, honest, and a fighter, willing to go the distance when he feels like giving up. He's open about his weaknesses and willing to improve. He looks for and respects the good qualities of his opponent, yet expects nothing but the best from himself.

When he falls, he gets up.

When he gets discouraged, he remembers who he is.

When he loses, he digs deep into himself and finds the eye of the tiger.

Stallone's work is a shining example of character building, not only in terms of personal qualities, but also in terms of creating a timeless and endearing character that reflects the struggles we all experience in life.

If you're a reader, you have certainly discovered that you love the "Rocky's" in literature. If you're a writer, you need to take a good look at Rocky Balboa and discover Sly's brilliance.

I watched Rocky I and Rocky II this weekend with my two youngest children (it was their first time). And it was the first time I viewed these films with the mind of a writer. Man was I blown away.

My muse was in awe.

As a writer, I think it's important to consider Stallone's work, open it up and analyze it for its literary value because the Rocky films are loaded with everything you need to know about story. And if you're wondering, I checked with literary agent Donald Maass, and he concurs. Well, I didn't actually speak with him, but he agrees with me in the spirit of his thoughts on writing.

Here are 10 lessons I learned from the Rocky films.

  1. Great stories are built around the internal and external conflicts of a lovable character.
  2. Great stories teach us what it means to be exceptional and to inspire us to be more than we are.
  3. Great stories paint the path of change from where our protagonist is to where he needs and wants to be.
  4. Great stories expose the realities of life, the pain, the joy, the victories and failures that are common to all of us.
  5. Great stories have an element of romance.
  6. Great stories have a gripping plot that moves on the wheels of conflict.
  7. Great stories have tension in relationships.
  8. Great stories reflect the character of the author.
  9. Great stories are as relevant in the next generation as they are today. 
  10. Great authors never give up.
If you haven't watched the Rocky films in a while, I suggest you do. Not only will you be inspired again by the powerful tale of one of the greatest iconic heroes of our day, you will also learn how to harness the power of story that will empower your prose.

Nothing great ever came from a quitter, and we have Sylvester Stallone to thank for persevering after countess rejections, because he knew that great stories need to be told. And he proved that great authors get it done, even when they're down for the ten count.

Jeff Bennington
Author of Reunion & Murdoch's Eyes

***Please follow The Writing Bomb by email at the top right so you don't miss what's next, and by all means, buy my books so I can feed my children and put shoes on their feet.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An Author's Guide to Turning Tricks

Many writer dreams of making it big. We fantasize about winning awards, signing million dollar contracts and landing that sweet agent who'll turn out movie deals like a Sin City hooker turning tricks on  Saturday night.

But wait. Why is the term, "starving artist" still in our vocabulary? If the publishing world is changing so rapidly in favor of the indie author, why aren't we all talking about how rich we're getting?

Okay, I take that back, some authors are talking about their money, but they have all been guests on J.A. Konrath's blog, A Newbies Guide to Publishing. The rest of us just read about them and inhale another hit of hope with each new post, promising ourselves that we'll get another book on Amazon's shelf as soon as we find the cash; you know, to pay the editor, cover designer and professional formating.

Listen, I don't mean to be a party pooper here, but the truth is, and I have to thank my buddy Scott Nicholson for pointing this out in a previous post; this business will not always work as planned. Sometimes, the success of an indie author is pure luck. Sometimes an author can snag a gazillion 5-star reviews and still hang out in the 100,000 zone, which sells what, maybe a few books a month? And some books in the top 100 are holding down 5 well deserved 3.1-star reviews.

Not fair is it?

I don't think any author, indie or otherwise dreams of selling a few books a month when they hit the publish button. No. We dream of bestseller status. We dream of selling books by the thousands.

The truth is, indie fame and fortune, as in any source of fame and fortune is fleeting and rare.

In case you're wondering, this blog post was not written for the seasoned author with 20 bestselling titles. This post was written for the rookie author and the midstream author with one or three titles struggling to stay under six digits.

If I've learned anything in the last few years, I've learned that nothing is guaranteed in publishing. I've learned that I need to get a serious grip on my expectations and as William Esmont, one of my good writer friends has said more than once, "Just enjoy the ride,"when things go well.

And when they don't, keep typing.

As the maker of The Kindle Book Review, I see many wonderful books out there with dazzling reviews that can't seem to make it out of the six digit range. It's quite a conundrum indeed, leaving many first time and midlist authors scratching their heads.

If I'm hitting a nerve, I have a message for you. ~~>Don't give up. Keep writing. Keep marketing.

This industry is based on luck, timing and a wink from the gods, so don't let your current level of success make or break you. This is not a get-rich-quick business. This is a keep writing because you love it business and maybe, just maybe, the stars will align one of these nights and your novel and marketing efforts will start a chain reaction that propels you into stardom.

Ask Stephen King how many words he typed before he sold Carrie. Ask Dean Koontz how many times he was rejected. What makes us any different? This is tough stuff. Expect hardships.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. It's a choice - a choice to persevere through storms, droughts, wind and rain. Writing comes from the heart, not from a bank account, and it will never satisfy or bring an ounce of fulfillment if you do it for money or fame, although we all would like a little change at the end of the day - I get that.

Authors certainly have more choices today than we did two years ago, and it's obvious that indies are gaining credibility and selling more books. But if you're in a rut, if you're having lack luster sales, and if your reviews are crappy, take heart. You're next book will be better. You'll learn from your mistakes. You'll find a better way to market your work. You'll meet a more talented cover artist. You'll read a few more books on writing, and you'll make a few more connections.

Keep your eyes on the keyboard, my friend, but always look forward. Turning tricks isn't about one hot night on the town. It's about standing on the street corner night after night, taking your blows (I didn't mean it like that) and putting in your time.

Nothing good rarely happens overnight. The road to publishing success, no matter which road you choose, no matter how much hype that's out there, will take years of hard work, studying, reading, thick skin, and connections, all while sliding down a never ending learning curve.

But you can do it. Be patient. Keep writing. And keep sticking your leg out. You're bound to turn a trick one of these days.

Oh, and please, share this post, and for God's sake sign up for my blog via email and get my weekly posts delivered right to your inbox - You won't regret it!

Jeff Bennington
Author of Reunion and other thrillers.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Federal Underground

I don't do this very often, but here's a sneak peak at Federal Underground, my current work in progress. Not much to say except that I hope you like it. I'm sure you'll understand that I cannot reveal the synopsis at this time. As always, comments are appreciated.

Federal Underground
By Jeff Bennington
Chapter 1

My legs strained to climb the dark and musty mineshaft as I ran from the depths of the federal underground. My hands scraped the edges of the rocky wall, caking my fingernails with dirt and decades of filth. Every step I took injected a cold burn into my lungs, every breath thrust me beyond the point of exhaustion. My red jump suit smelled of the underworld and clung to my skin, wet and ragged. I stopped running for a moment and rested my body on the earthen wall.
I could barely stand.
My body trembled with terror.
I remember thinking that my legs felt like liquid tissue, jellifying beneath my skin. When I put my hands to my chest, I could feel my heart pumping to the rhythm of my fears, thumping, thumping, thumping anxiety through my veins. The running, my memories and the book had taken me to Hell and back. The climb through the abandoned mineshaft had become my last hope. I knew I was close. I knew the tunnel would get me outside; my friend, Seven, had told me so and I believed him.
 Sweat flowed down the lines of my face like a river. I wiped lakes of perspiration from my eyes, but more followed. The resting eased the pain in my lungs and stiffened my leg muscles. I didn’t think I could continue. I felt so dizzy. Just breathe, I thought. Keep breathing…keep moving.
I looked back. They’ll kill me if I don’t get out of here. The thought was enough to push me forward. With my hands guiding my withering frame through the cave and a headlamp lighting my way, I lifted my eyes, inhaled the smell of dusty death and noticed a faint luminescence further down the passageway. The light invigorated my spirit and the rush of the whistling wind ahead strengthened my resolve.
Air. Real air. I had forgotten what it tasted like, what it smelled like.
I ran my hand across my hairless scalp and felt the heat—I was so hot—I took a energizing breath, pumping strength into my lungs. When I looked back into the darkness my eyes wrinkled and my throat filled with a fearful lump as I remembered the last forty-eight hours—two days that would forever change my life.
I stepped forward, climbed over a pile of fallen timbers and quickened my pace. The light drew near, shimmering through what looked to be a tiny crevice in the distance. The air felt thinner, smelled fresher, tasted cleaner. Tiny rocks and rubble shifted beneath my feet, but I kept my balance by pressing my hands against the narrow walls. The light grew brighter and I could hear the wind blowing, watch the dust stirring. I began to wonder what I’d see at the mouth of the cave: a mountain range? a river? I distinctly remember thinking I don’t care! Anywhere is better than here.
The path continued to rise and the burn returned to my legs. I squinted and covered my eyes with my hand, guided by the sunshine that streamed between my fingers. I could taste my freedom. My feet pounded faster and faster, dragging slightly from fatigue, fleeing the Hell that I had discovered below the crust of the earth. My mind felt as if it were a storm of trauma imploding my understanding of the universe. I staggered to the top of the mineshaft and my filthy body burst out of the mouth of the tunnel into a blinding bath of light, like a jet blasting through billowing clouds at thirty thousand feet.
I stopped, closed my eyes, swallowed the fresh air with my hands behind my head and fell to my knees. Blood rushed to my head and I was overcome with nausea and dizziness. I could feel tears escaping and a swell of stress rumble out of that hidden place where fear takes cover until it can safely escape. In that moment, I felt liberated and cleansed, but the joy of my deliverance was cut off by the sound of a click. I suddenly felt as if I were being watched. Although I knew my brain couldn’t handle the brilliance of the sun without disorienting my equilibrium, I opened my eyes, squinted into a blur of light and shadows. A gust of wind blew into my ears followed by an angry chorus of voices.
“Federal Agents! Get on the ground!”
I peered at the blurry figures, lost in the daylight and the openness of the vast blue sky. Queasiness filled my throat and chest, and my head began to spin as I feared it would. There must have been ten shadows surrounding me, clicking and shouting. “Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Now!”
Their bodies came into focus in that fraction of a second. They were human. They had guns. Their faces looked jumbled, but the desert like mountains, pines and shale cliffs in the distance began to take form. It was Dulce—Dulce, New Mexico. I knew where I was even though I had never been there.
Before I could fully lift my eyelids, a brief sense of gladness rose within me. I felt like weeping. I felt like laughing. And then I felt my face slam into the rocky ground with a thud.
One by one the men backed away, whispering as their feet shuffled over the ground. All I could see were the mountains far off in the distance, a sharp drop off and dozens of shoes, some military boots and some dress shoes.
I spit out a clump of dirt from my mouth and forced my head upward, hoping to catch a glimpse of my captors. The dark figures that stood around me huddled in groups of three or four, snapping pictures and taking notes on their hand held devices. One of the suits, looked familiar. When my eyes connected with hers, she took a step forward, bent down and stared directly at me. I knew her face, but I couldn’t speak her name. I couldn’t remember.
I watched her lips move. “Penn?”
Her voice seemed to blow with the mountain breeze. “Pennnn?”
The mountains, her face and the sounds coming from her mouth began to fade. “Pennnnn Miiiitcheeeellle?”
Her shadowy figure stooped closer to me. I blacked out.