Excerpt: ‘The Island’ by Melvin Yong

The first Singaporean story in Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy was written by Melvin Yong and explores the myth of the Singapore Stone.

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‘The Island’ by Melvin Yong

If I could have foreseen the unspeakable horror that was to come from the old family home, I would have run out of that decrepit building and never returned.

It all started on a suffocating November afternoon in my late uncle’s tiny, cramped study. I spotted the crumpled, yellowed envelope in the back of his desk drawer, containing half a dozen faded black-and-white photographs and a short handwritten note.

I had spent the previous two days packing at the empty house after my uncle’s demise a month ago. It was terribly tedious, but the occasional discovery of a vintage curio enlivened an otherwise dreary experience. By noon, the study had become stiflingly warm, so I grabbed the open envelope and hastily retreated to the more accommodating living room downstairs.

Settling into an old rattan armchair, I took a closer look at the faded photographs. Three of the four pictures were of the same serene beach, taken from different angles. In the background were a kampong or fishing village and an unusually tall coconut tree, approximately twice the height of the other trees. Three wooden huts perched just beyond the shoreline and they appeared uninhabited, with no fishing vessels in sight.

The fourth photo piqued my interest. Almost completely white, the print looked like an overexposed shot at first, but upon closer examination, it was a close-up of a sandy dune, with webbed animal tracks trailing from one bottom corner of the photo to the top. My initial thought was that they might have belonged to a waterfowl or some curious amphibian. I couldn’t identify the creature, nor could I estimate its size.

The backs of the photographs were all date-stamped 1947, but had no other information of any significance to me. I would have dutifully tucked them all back in the crinkled envelope, if I hadn’t seen the accompanying note.

Torn from a notebook, the page was half-covered by handwritten etchings—not just words and phrases, but peculiar symbols in black and red ink. The date at the top right corner read April 1949, which immediately ruled out my late uncle as the author, or his involvement in any way; he had been born just before the Japanese Occupation.

Most of the writing made little sense. There was an address scribbled at the beginning of the page, “Pulau Satumu,” which I later discovered was a small, uninhabited island off the southwest coast of Singapore.

Now, I shall not attempt to reproduce the contents of the note, for nearly half of it was in a foreign language of unknown origin. I assumed it was a local dialect, but upon closer examination, that was not the case. Strange wiggling tentacles of ink and tiny stars and planetary symbols took the place of letters and numbers, creating a surreal wall of incoherent text and images.

The text that I did understand chilled me to my core, even in that oppressive afternoon heat. I could find no other way to interpret the second half of the note: it was a dire warning of threats to come.

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Melvin Yong’s Author Page

Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy Page

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More Excerpts:

‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

‘The Third Eye’ by Sheenah Freitas

‘Interlude’ by Eve Shi

‘Running from Shadows’ by Joyce Chng

‘Never Seen’ by Kelly Matsuura

‘Spirit of Regret’ by Eliza Chan

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Excerpt: ‘Interlude’ by Eve Shi

Next excerpt is for a story from Indonesian contributor, Eve Shi. It’s a literary-style flash piece, based on an old Indonesian folktale.

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‘Interlude’ by Eve Shi

The largest lake in Sumatra came into being because of me. That isn’t bragging, just plain fact. It was also the major, if dubious, accomplishment in my tediously long life. Thanks to Lake Toba, I was forever known as the hungry son.

You may have already heard the story. A woman broke a sacred law in her kingdom, got cursed, and transformed into a fish. A man released her from that curse. They lived happily together, until I came along. Never let people tell you children are the ultimate gateway to joy. Sometimes the gateway opens in the other direction.

My mother and I have gone our separate ways for almost two centuries. It was not hate or indifference that drove us apart. Like many other creatures unsure if they will ever die, we decided to be imaginative to stave off the boredom.

My method of choice this decade was to travel around the globe, in the fashion of those backpackers who write books or blogs. And, since this week I happened to be back on the archipelago, I decided to look my father up.

Leave that man be, my mother once told me. He’s no longer important to us. Yes, but I was curious. My father, by virtue of having once been my mother’s husband, had received a dose of her immortality. A century ago, he was starting to bend beneath the burden of years; I wanted to see if he now had run out of it.

 ~~~

Eve Shi’s Author Page

Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy Page

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More Excerpts:

‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

‘The Third Eye’ by Sheenah Freitas

‘The Island’ by Melvin Yong

‘Running from Shadows’ by Joyce Chng

‘Never Seen’ by Kelly Matsuura

‘Spirit of Regret’ by Eliza Chan

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Excerpt: ‘The Third Eye’ by Sheenah Freitas

Here’s an excerpt from the second Filipino story in Insignia Vol.3., written by Sheenah Freitas. It is a short piece, based on local folklore and magic.

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‘The Third Eye’ by Sheenah Freitas

Some say the only way out of the provinces is to marry someone rich. When a class graduates, it’s almost as if a great migration happens, as hundreds of hopeful women pack up and head to the city. Many will come back. Some will stay because they found success, or simply because they’re too ashamed to come back.

My sister was one of those girls. The night before she was to leave for Manila with a group of girls from neighboring villages, she told me how our superstitions would be the end of us. How if we kept believing in imaginary creatures, we’d always be seen as stupid. Ignorant. Impossible.

She spat on our beliefs, cursed our way of living, and then pointed to a tree where a family of duwende lived. Our family apologized to them on her behalf and offered them food, but my sister rolled her eyes at us. I guess she was too sophisticated for such things. She had too many dream and aspirations.

But all of that ambition was wasted.

She’s dead.

Her body was found beside the duwende tree in the morning.

~~~

Sheenah Freitas’ Author Page

Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy Page

 

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More Excerpts:

‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

‘Interlude’ by Eve Shi

‘The Island’ by Melvin Yong

‘Running from Shadows’ by Joyce Chng

‘Never Seen’ by Kelly Matsuura

‘Spirit of Regret’ by Eliza Chan

Excerpt: ‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

We’re very excited about the release of Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy, the third anthology in The Insignia Series. As a preview, we’ll be sharing excerpts from all the stories over the next few days, beginning with ‘Horse Feet’, a paranormal mystery by Filipino author, Celestine Trinidad.

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‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

Maria stood before the large black horse bound to one of the trees, feeling a sudden and completely uncharacteristic pang of pity for the creature. A circle of salt had been drawn on the ground, keeping the tikbalang enclosed within its borders. Someone had thrown salt at the creature itself as well –crystals glimmered in its mane, and the portions of its skin where the salt had touched it looked raw and red, like fresh burn marks.

“He’s been like that since we caught him, Lady Sinukuan,” the man standing behind her said. Kapitan Alfredo, the captain of the village of Wakas, Tayabas, was a short and stocky man, his bald head only reaching up to Maria’s shoulders. “He hasn’t said anything, except when he asked for you.”

“That is unusual, indeed,” Maria said. “Most of the time I have trouble just getting him to shut up.”

“He said that he was under your protection, My Lady. Was he speaking the truth?”

“Well, in a manner of speaking, I suppose he is,” Maria replied.

“How do you know him?”

“He is—” Maria was about to say, ‘a suitor’, but stopped herself in time. That was what she thought he was in the beginning, indeed, just one out of the many suitors who sought the hand of the guardian diwata of Arayat in marriage. But—as much as she loathed to admit it—he turned out to be more than that, unsolicited though his help had been. Under the circumstances, she felt that she should acknowledge him this time. “He has been of great assistance to me in some of my other cases.” She hoped he really was unconscious, for if he had heard speak like this, she would never hear the end of it. “What has he done, Kapitan, for him to deserve a death sentence?”

“Murder,” Kapitan Alfredo said bluntly.

“Murder?”

“One of my servants, Ernesto, had been missing since dinner last night,” Kapitan Alfredo explained. “My son Felipe went to look for him, and he found Ernesto’s body in the forest. And then he saw this creature running away from the scene.”

Maria’s eyebrows furrowed as she considered the matter. “And how was Ernesto killed?”

“Trampled to death, it looked like.  I saw the body myself. There were all these bruises in the shape of a horse’s hooves all over his body. Exactly how a tikbalang would kill a human.”

~~~

Celestine Trinidad’s Profile Page

Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy Page

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Want to write for the next Insignia anthology?

See our new Submissions Page

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More Excerpts:

‘Horse Feet’ by Celestine Trinidad

‘The Third Eye’ by Sheenah Freitas

‘Interlude’ by Eve Shi

‘The Island’ by Melvin Yong

‘Running from Shadows’ by Joyce Chng

‘Never Seen’ by Kelly Matsuura

‘Spirit of Regret’ by Eliza Chan

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Excerpt: ‘Black Smoke and Water Lilies’ by David Jon Fuller

Here is an excerpt from the new story, ‘Black Smoke and Water Lilies’ by David Jon Fuller. We love this story, and are very excited to have a new author join the Insignia Series. Welcome David!!

 

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‘Black Smoke and Water Lilies’ by David Jon Fuller

 

I am born in the Valley of the Forest Monastery. It is a time of invasion.

I am five years old. My name is Quick Stream. I sit on the fence that pens our pigs while my father and mother work in the fields. The mud stinks a familiar stench; earth and slop and excrement. The sun is bright; it is summer. The mountains surrounding the valley still have snow covering the tops. My father has told me to keep an eye on the pigs, but to face away from the sun and watch the pass to the west. It is called the Way of Black Sorrow.

At seventeen years old, I remember watching the Way at five and tremble, for once again smoke blows through from the far side of the mountains; the marauders have returned. At seventeen I am safe behind the walls of the monastery, but I tremble nonetheless.

I am eleven years old. I live with my father’s sister and her husband. He is unwilling to share his home. I am old enough to work but not to be asked to leave. When the harvests are poor, he yells at me. Perhaps he thinks it is my fault. I don’t know what to say, so I leave until he has tired and gone to sleep. The trees are not thick around the foot of the mountains, but many evergreens grow higher up. The woods whisper in the wind. The sound is soothing, and it helps one to forget. At times, I see young monks wandering silently between the trees—they are holy men; they tread softly on the earth, listening to the whispers. They are men of peace, but all know they have trained long to defend their monastery. At eleven I have heard that they are fearsome in battle, as flowing in their movements as the sapling in the wind, but hard as oak when they strike. I hide and wait, and watch one as he passes. He does not look up; he gives no sign of noticing me; and yet it seems he expects me to be here. At eleven I do not understand how he can know this.

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David Jon Fuller’s Profile Page

Insignia: Chinese Fantasy Stories Page

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Want to write for the next Insignia anthology?

See our new Submissions Page

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If you already own a copy of Insignia: Chinese Fantasy Stories, you should be able to get an updated file for FREE from your ebook distributor. Please check your account/library for this option.

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Excerpt: ‘The Great Qilin’ by Kelly Matsuura

Here’s a short excerpt from the new anthology, Insignia: Chinese Fantasy Stories. The Great Qilin is a Young Adult piece, one of three in this anthology.

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THE GREAT QILIN

I dreamed of a most strange beast; part-dragon, part-horse, part-lion. It flew down from the evening sky, trailing a blaze of fire behind it and landed with surprising grace before me.

In my vision-state I was still dressed in my favorite pink pajamas; my feet bare and chilled by the damp lawn where I stood behind my house. I was not physically present, but I felt the wind, blinked at the bright moon, and smelled the subtle musky scent of the visiting creature.
“Ting Sun,” the beast spoke my name.

I trembled, in awe, not fear. I had the gift to communicate with earthly animals, and they sometimes spoke to me in visions, but it was my first experience with one of the three heavenly creatures: dragon, phoenix, and qilin.
“I am,” I answered with a parched throat. I straightened my back and neck, preparing to receive an important message or task.
“Ting Sun, I request your assistance on a simple, yet important matter.” The qilin rose on all four hooved-feet and turned sideways. “Please sit on my back and we will leave now.”
Me? Ride a qilin? I had never heard of such a quest, but it filled me with excitement.

We traveled through the starry sky, soaring over the land and waters of Yunnan province, heading north. I gripped the qilin’s mane with one hand, the other I trailed through its flaming fire. It didn’t burn at all and I thrilled at the multitude of colors trapped in each thread of flame. I examined the qilin’s body with great interest. The size of a large lion, it was, however, covered in the scales of a dragon. Beautiful, pearl-like scales in the lightest shade of blue. Its thin mane was a darker blue and finished at the top of its shoulders like a horse’s does. Two horns of smooth black ivory curled outwards and up, resembling those of an ox.

Below me, mountains and deserts passed by. Where were we going exactly? We were still in China as far as I could tell, but I had never before left Yunnan so was unfamiliar with the landscape we crossed.

~~~

Thank you for reading! Please visit the Insignia Vol.2 page for more details and to-buy links.

More Excerpts:

Looking for Trouble by Joyce Chng

 

 

Excerpt: ‘Looking for Trouble’ by Joyce Chng

 

This week, we’d like to share a few excerpt’s from the short stories in ‘Insignia: Chinese Fantasy Stories’. Joyce Chng contributed two stories to this anthology, both are Young Adult urban fantasy stories.

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Looking for Trouble by Joyce Chng

The old man is watching me. A pair of brown eyes set in a face crisscrossed with wrinkles. His hands rest somewhat elegantly on the walking cane knob. I blink. A dragon. The knob was carved in the shape of a Chinese dragon: curled beard, bulging pearl eyes and open-fanged maw.

Mind you, he looks really nondescript. Your typical ah pek, out on a MRT jaunt, probably going to the kopitiam for a cup of kopi and coffee house politics. It’s the eyes. Dragon eyes. A tian lung is looking at me. I stare back, typical teenager bravado. And mind you, I am not ah lian material, either.

The old tian lung smiles at me, baring his teeth–or lack of. Gold flashes at me. I close my eyes, pretending to listen to gothic metal. The joys of using an ipod. In my mind’s eye, in the aether that binds space and Myriad together, I confront the tian lung.
“Far from home, old one,” I say politely. Respect your elders, even though they are not of your kind.

“I have been watching you for a long time,” the serpentine shape spirals lazily in figure eights. Silver scales glisten, like arowana scales. “You have barely fledged.”
Self-consciously, I look at my feathers. Gold, green and red. The blue is starting to come true. I am a late bloomer, unlike my sisters.

“Little phoenix, you are in trouble.”
I bristle instantly. Fear reflex. “What did you say?”
“You are in trouble.”

The beeping of the closing MRT door startles me back into my human body. I blink. Uniform: check. Name-tag: check. Self: check. I watch the old man wave at me on the platform as the train pulls away.
I am late for school.
I am in trouble.

~~~

Thanks for reading! Further details and links are on the Insignia: Chinese Fantasy Stories page.

Six Sentence Sunday: ‘Maidens of the Yangze’ for ‘INSIGNIA 2’

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Today I want to share a teaser from one of the Chinese fantasy stories that I’m writing for the next Insignia anthology. This one is a flash piece (under 1000 words) but I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.

You only get to read six sentences today though, sorry!

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Maidens of the Yangze

I watched from a little way down the beach, my bare feet sinking into the wet sand, my toes gripping me in place with even more strength than my father’s grip on my arm.

I was not allowed closer. I could not say ‘goodbye’ nor kiss her pale cheek. The Huang’s were cruel, heartless people; how they had a child as wonderful and sweet as Mei-Zhen was beyond anyone’s understanding.

As the procession crossed the sand, I couldn’t take my eyes from Mei-Zhen. They had wrapped her body in white silk, with bindings of white…

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Excerpt: ‘Sanctuary’ by Chris White

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Chris White’s story, Sanctuary, was a last-minute submission to the Insignia anthology, and rounded out the literary section perfectly. I didn’t know Chris previously, so it was great to find another author who had lived in Japan and knew the culture well. And, by chance, he’s also an Aussie, so he’s in good company with several other Insignia authors. 😀

Sanctuary

A temple stood, surrounded by the blank yellow windows. The wind there touched the red cloaks of the jizou. Illuminated by the soft glow of a bank of vending machines.

An ancient wooden house still stood, opposite the bone-orchard. A single light burned.

The curtain hanging over the door announced a neighbourhood sentou. Another tanuki announced the presence of beer inside.

I walked in.

The rough-canvas banner scratched at my face as I crossed the threshold, like a half-remembered dream. Or an ignored warning. Something to be brushed aside, at any rate. The shoji door groaned, protesting as I forced it open, shuddering into place. Torn and faded, its screens were marked with a peculiar circular pattern. I stepped inside, away from the claws of the wind and into the bathhouse foyer. Metal locker doors creaked, yawning wide, propped open by wild-filigreed scaffolds of rust. A murmur rose, floating through the darkness from somewhere within, and the electric light I had seen from outside drew me onward. As did the tanuki’s winking, alcoholic promise. The bell on the reception desk chimed on my second attempt, awkward and hollow, like the nothing words we sprinkle through our sentences–um, ah, eto

The murmuring stopped.

Sumimasen,” inaudible. I had almost whispered it. I cleared my throat to try again, setting a tempest of dust-motes to dance in the dull-red Coca-Cola glow that crept through the windows.

Sumimasen?”

Louder this time.

Only my echo replied, bouncing back at me from the cavernous bathing-hall that hid somewhere ahead of me, somewhere in the darkness. Now, I knew this was the point when I should have turned away, the moment when I should have shuffled back out onto the street and resumed my nocturnal wanderings. The streets called to me in the night, they begged me to walk them, to see what once was. But there was something about urban ruins that inspired me, that drew me in. A sense, perhaps, that the past is here, lingering alongside the future. And there was that electric light burning somewhere inside. I pressed on, and the shadows pressed in around me, swallowing up the song of the city outside. Another reason to press on–to hear that monster’s roar consumed by this relic of the past.

~*~

Chris White is a writer, of many genres, but mostly science fiction and magic realism. He grew up in Japan, and keeps finding Tokyo and its monsters showing up in his stories. He dabbles in drabbles, too, and you can find more of his words online at: http://chriswhitewrites.com

~*~

Insignia: Japanese Fantasy Stories is now available from:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon JP

Smashwords

Barnes & Noble

~*~

Add on Goodreads

~*~

Read More Excerpts

Megumi’s Quest by Joyce Chng

The Bakeneko by Holly Kench

Restoration by Chris Ward

Towards the Light by Aislinn Batstone

Moon Shadow by Kelly Matsuura

Kitsune by Heather Jensen

Excerpt: ‘Kitsune’ by Heather Jensen

InsigniaVol1-Cover-7AWhat is a kitsune? In Japanese folklore, it is a fox that shape-shifts into human form and causes all kinds of mischief. I felt like a kitsune story was a must for this anthology, so was very excited when Heather Jensen told me that’s what she wanted to write about. Her story, simply titled Kitsune, is first up in the Insignia anthology and is a great introduction to the other varied stories.

Kitsune

Akio carried the tiny mouse in his hands as he hurried home. It seemed to be dehydrated; listless and weak, it had barely moved when he approached to pick it up. A movement caught Akio’s eye and he glanced up in time to see a shadow disappear between two trees.

He called after it. “Help, please, do you have a little water?”

The shadow hesitated, and Akio took a step closer. “Please, this little creature has been injured. She needs water. My flask is empty and it is a distance to my home. Please.”

The shadow emerged from the trees, revealing a tall thin figure, dark hair and pale skin barely showing beneath the scarf wrapped around her face. She pulled out her flask and allowed a few drops to fall into Akio’s outstretched palm.

“Thank you,” Akio said. “I am Akio.”

“Chiaki.” The young woman pulled the scarf away from her face and peered down at the little mouse. It shivered as it drank from Akio’s hand, and she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket, folded it in two and placed it over the poor little creature.

“Do you often save the lives of small things?” Chiaki asked.

Akio laughed. “Only when the opportunity comes my way,” he said. “After all, if the larger creatures of the world cannot take care of the smaller, what use are we?” His thoughts turned to Sachiko, a lump forming in his throat as sorrow threatened to overwhelm him.

“Are you alright?” Chiaki noticed.

Akio began to nod his head then stopped.

“No,” he said. “I lost a dear friend yesterday.”

“I’m sorry to hear it,” Chiaki said. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Akio looked at Chiaki. He did want to talk about it. He wanted to talk of Sachiko’s laugh, of the smile that lit up her eyes, and the gentle kiss she’d placed on his cheek the day before she’d died. But how did you tell someone you’d fallen in love with a creature from a folktale?

He shook his head, not trusting his voice.

“I understand,” Chiaki said.

Akio had to stop himself from shaking his head again. Chiaki couldn’t possibly understand! There was so much that was wrong. The guilt he felt, that he’d been meeting Sachiko in the woods when he was supposed to be helping his father on the farm. And then yesterday he’d stayed behind to help his father when he should have been meeting Sachiko. There’d been a fox amongst his father’s chickens again. It hadn’t harmed the chickens, but it had stolen most of the eggs, and Father needed Akio’s help to prevent it happening in the future.

Sachiko must have come to the farm to look for him. She’d never done that before, it had been an unspoken agreement that they did not seek out the truth of each others lives. It made their meeting in the forest something special, sacred. He didn’t know why she’d come this time.

Akio hadn’t seen her, but his father must have. He pushed the thought away. When Akio had finally found Sachiko, curled up under the great tree, he thought she was napping. And then he’d got closer and seen the bushy red tail and the soft pointed ears. When he’d pulled on her shoulder she’d rolled back onto his lap and he’d gasped in horror as he saw her face, Sachiko’s beautiful face, with a pointed snout and a wet black nose in the centre of it. She was kitsune, a fox spirit, messenger of the Great Spirit Inari.

And she was dead.

~*~

Heather Jensen studied the Japanese language for 8 years, through high school, college, and university, taking up the opportunity to visit the country on a two-week jam-packed school trip where she managed to squeeze in sights as varied as the Temples of Kyoto, ’Jigoku’ (Hell’s) Hot Springs in Beppu and Tokyo Disneyland.

Though her preferred genres are fantasy and historical fiction, Heather writes stories in a wide variety of genres: romance, YA, and contemporary to name a few. Her stories have been published in many different places around the web, including 1000words.org, and Five Stop Story, a UK writing competition where two of her stories received Honorary Mentions. Her story Saviour was short-listed in the Ink Tears 2012 Flash Fiction competition.

Heather lives in Tasmania, Australia, with her partner and two children. You can find her on Facebook or at: heatherjensenauthor.com

~*~

Insignia: Japanese Fantasy Stories is now available from:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon JP

Smashwords

Barnes & Noble

~*~

Add on Goodreads

~*~

Read More Excerpts

Megumi’s Quest by Joyce Chng

The Bakeneko by Holly Kench

Restoration by Chris Ward

Towards the Light by Aislinn Batstone

Moon Shadow by Kelly Matsuura

Sanctuary by Chris White