A drawing I did inspired by the kids I worked with in juvenile hall.
Introducing Ruben, a street-smart kid with a dangerous (to himself) knowledge of Los Angeles’s underground tunnels.
Book of Angels takes Sera from the exclusive world of Oak Haven, into a desolate and dangerous area of factories and abandoned buildings by the Los Angeles River, where she is intent on destroying the remaining two nightmarish masks.
Readers are introduced to Ruben, an inner city, street-smart kid who Sera saves from Wolf, a gang leader in the Florenicia 13 gang. Ruben was inspired by my years teaching creative writing to youth in juvenile hall. In 1995, I went into Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles with the desire to volunteer to teach creative writing to incarcerated youth. Although I had no experience, the principal of the school, who looked like an older version of the Nutty Professor, kindly let me in. The teacher in the girls’ school allowed me to teach three sessions in her class and I was hooked. I started coming twice a week. I taught boys and girls, but mainly girls. My very first group was eight girls, one just fourteen, all facing life sentences for serious crimes. All of them had been in abusive relationships. All of them came from poor, inner city families.
Other writers started volunteering and the program grew into a nonprofit called InsideOUT Writers that now serves youth in detention facilities all over Los Angeles. Here is a Los Angeles Times article about my work: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2002/jul/13/local/me-jvwrite13
I went in wanting to give the youth the gift of having their voices heard. What I didn’t realize was how much they would give to me in return. I really came to love the young people I taught. I stayed in touch with many of them. That fourteen year old girl, Erika, was sentenced to what amounted to life in prison. Recently, she was about to be released, due to a change in the laws. She committed suicide. She couldn’t handle the thought of living outside the walls of the prison. Another girl who became a good friend, Silvia, was sent to prison for twenty-five years to life, for a murder committed by her older, abusive boyfriend. She is getting out in November.
Here’s a photo of me and Silvia and her “date” at the first ever prom that was held at CJH, both of them had been sentenced to life in prison, but they still knew how to smile.
Through happiness and tears, good can arise, like the wings of angels.
I hope readers will love Ruben and his courageous spirit as much as I do—and as much as Sera comes to love him! Here is the scene where Sera first meets Ruben.
I saw a flutter of movement and reached out like lightening to catch the boy before he could escape. For the first time, I turned my full attention on him. He was squirming and swearing as I held him by his jacket.
“Stop!” I said, and he did.
Small and scrawny, he looked up at me with wide, dark eyes, trying to be brave. A knife slash, not too deep, ran the length of his forearm. His nose was bloody and a shiner was developing on one eye. Nothing that his frail human body couldn't repair.
But it was the spirit that never got better. The image of my brother, Salem, pinned against the oak tree in the park, beaten to a pulp by Gus, filled my vision and I ground my teeth in anger. I mustn't think about that.
“What's your name?” I asked the boy.
“Ruben,” he said.
I was glad he hadn’t come back with some stupid gang name. “Well, Ruben, how old are you?”
He drew himself up and squared his shoulders, trying to look bigger and taller than he was. “Old enough.”
“For what—to get yourself killed?”
“By you?” he said.
I let go of him, pointing an accusing finger. “I just saved your ass, remember?”
He folded his arms and cocked his head to one side skeptically. “You look like a demon.”
“You’re covered in blood and…” He squinted. “Is that skin? Gross!” He wrinkled his nose. “Stinks, too.”
“Hey, don’t try and make this about me. Why don’t you run along home?”
“You gonna tear my liver out if I don't?”
This Ruben was something else. I didn't know whether to punch him or hug him.
“I will if you grow up like them.”
His mouth became a thin line of determination, too old for his age. “I'll never be like them.”
“Easy to say. So what did Luis and his gang have against you?”
“Nothing,” said Ruben. “They just want to jump me in. Florencia. You know it?”
“Heard of it,” I said.
“I keep telling them, no. But eventually...” He shrugged. “Everybody joins, you got to.”
Ruben's eyes flashed. “What do you know? You're not from my barrio.”
Suddenly, this all felt ridiculous. What was I doing, standing in this no man's land, arguing in the middle of the night with a street kid?
“Maybe you're not a demon,” Ruben said, sounding almost disappointed. “If you were, you'd know how it is.”
I sighed. “You’re right.”
“I want to go home now,” he said, looking worn out.
On a sudden impulse, I asked for his address, picked him up, and flew so fast, I doubted he even realized we were in the air. I dropped him at the front door of his apartment building.
Ruben didn’t question how he got there. But before running off, he shot me a thoughtful look, the ghost of a smile flitting across his blood-smeared face.
“Maybe you’re an angel!” he said.
And before I could even think of a response, he had climbed up the drain pipe and onto a balcony. He crawled through the open window and was gone.
* * *
Book of Angels
(Night Angels Chronicles, 2)
by K.H. Mezek
81K / Evernight Teen Publishing
Romance, Fantasy, Suspense, Urban Fantasy
All Sera ever wanted was to solve the mystery of her dad’s death and find out whether or not the Night Angel, Peter, really loved her. Now, there are bigger issues at stake. After being saved from death by the Night Angels, Sera returns to Oak Haven to find her brother, Salem, has been saved by her nemesis, the sinister Los Angeles mayor-to-be, Fabian Gore. Sera and her brother meet again in their hometown of Oak Haven as powerful denizens. And as enemies. Someone is channeling power to the Queen, imprisoned in St. Catherine’s Monastery. If she escapes, the Ancient Ones will rise up from their sarcophagi beneath churches throughout the world and wreak vengeance on denizens and humans alike.
To thwart the Queen, Sera has no choice but to form an uneasy alliance with Gore. Meanwhile, Sera’s power and her connection to the Key of Mystery is growing. Only she can open the Book of Angels. But whoever does that will become something that Sera never wants to be: the Seventh Angel. How can Sera solve her own problems when everyone else wants her to solve their problems as well?
14+ due to adult situations
The next thing I knew I had leapt into the air with the two of them, my mind on St. Catherine’s Monastery, and I found myself hurtling through the Passage, horribly aware of every atom in my body and the indomitable forces of the universe that were trying to pull me apart.
As if it were a part of my very being, I held myself together, “remembered myself”, and traveled through the Passage.
Within seconds, I was floating down from the sky, surrounded by the immense, desolate beauty of what looked like a moonscape. Except that the moon shone brighter and bigger than I had ever seen. Behind me, sand stretched, wave upon wave of it, with not a hint of grass or trees, while in front rose a sheer cliff, taller than a skyscraper. The monastery seemed to grow out of the rock, so closely was it pressed against the cliff.
“All looks peaceful,” observed Peter.
“Maybe too peaceful,” said Blanca.
Together, we jumped over the fortress walls, landing in the empty courtyard. We entered the sixth century basilica. We walked from the vestibule into the ornate nave and down the aisle, toward the sanctuary. I gazed in awe at the ancient artifacts and the icons shining with gold. Hundreds of lamps hung from the high ceiling like glittering galaxies, bathing the vast room in an eerie light. Out of the shadows the figure of the Abbot appeared, wearing a long gray robe and a cylindrical, flat-topped hat. His long black hair was tied in a knot at the nape of his head, a frizzy beard spreading out from his face like tangled wire. His large, hooked nose resembled a bird’s beak and his dark eyes burned uncannily from deep sockets.
He greeted us with a humble bow and wordlessly led us through a dark and narrow arched doorway into a small, circular, windowless chamber, padding silently on bare feet. The chamber was empty except for one plain wooden table. On the table sat the black lacquered Life Box, looking just as insignificant as the Object Holder had when I had first seen it and fought over it with Salem. This box, though, was about twice the size of the one that had held the key. And, whereas the Object Holder had a gold lock and tiny gold key to open it, the Life Box had no lock and no visible way to open it.
On either side of the table stood two impressive Bedouin warriors. Each had one hand resting on a curved scimitar and the other holding the hilt of a knife tucked into a belt. Their faces were lined and weather-beaten and expressionless, as if carved from the rocks of the mountain. The desert surrounding the monastery was home to many Bedouin. They were devout Muslims with a long history of guarding the monastery. They had made a vow to guard the Life Box with their lives.
The Abbot motioned for the Bedouin to stand at ease.
Bowing low to us, the guards said in unison, “Assalamu alaikum.” It meant, “peace be upon you.”
Along with Peter and Blanca, I responded, “Alaikum assalamu.” This meant, “upon you be peace.”
Like everything else in my crazy life these days, I had no idea how I knew to say that, but I did.
The Abbot didn’t speak, just gestured for us to gather around the box.
“He has taken a vow of silence and hasn’t spoken in thirty years,” said Peter.
My attention was drawn to the box. I realized it vibrated and hummed in an almost undetectable manner. Only when I remained completely still and stared fixedly did I notice it.
“This it does without stopping and just today, it gained in force,” said one of the Bedouin.
Sure enough, as we watched, the box jumped slightly, shuddered, and jumped again before falling back into its continual vibration. It hummed a little louder now.
As I watched in fascination, I slowly became aware that the key around my neck was growing heavier and beginning to burn.
The box vibrated more violently and hummed louder. As it did, it rose into the air and hovered about two feet above the table. The vibrating and humming grew so loud I thought the box might split apart.
The key was searing my skin and I yelled in pain. I tried to tear it off, but it was stuck to my chest and my hand burned when I touched it. I felt the Queen’s presence, reaching out to me. It was pure evil and I felt attracted to it. I wanted to bow down and worship the Queen, give her the key. I became brutally aware of her perfections and my own failings. I loved the Queen! I despised and hated myself! Horrible thoughts rose in my mind, the impulse to do horrible things.
Blood was pouring from my eyes. Tears or something worse, I didn’t know.
“Take me away!” I cried out to the others. “She’s grabbing at me. Take me away. Please!”
The Bedouin had drawn their swords and whipped out their daggers, but there was nothing they could do except stand there, at the ready. Blanca and Peter had drawn their swords, too. They’d placed themselves as a shield between me and the box. The Abbot ran in front of us all and pushed Blanca and Peter back.
He turned to face the box, bracing himself as if against a great wind, and raised his hands to heaven in prayer.
Peter and Blanca were then able to pull me out of the chamber. I don’t think I could have moved before the Abbot faced the box. As soon as we were back in the nave, I collapsed onto the ground, gasping great gulps of air, thankful to find the heat of the key subsiding. With a great cry, I tried to take it off, but it was stuck. Completely stuck now. To my skin.
“Fuck this key! Why am I cursed with it?”
My entire body was bathed in red sweat. I looked down at myself in horror. What had I become? What nightmare had I entered? I pushed back my hair and swallowed, my throat dry and constricted. I had to get control of myself. I breathed in and out deeply.
“She’s getting stronger all the time. She’ll get out. Maybe soon. And I was ready to help her!” I shuddered.
“But you didn’t,” said Peter.
“At least now we are sure she is still inside,” said Blanca.
“She won’t stay there.” I could see my fate, as I had already seen it in my Turning, and it was clearer than ever. One day I would face the Queen.
And I would fail! How could I not, when she was so easily able to deceive and confuse me?
One of the Bedouin exited the chamber. “The Abbot wants you to know he is now sure someone is channeling power to the Queen, but he cannot see who.”
“It’s just not possible,” said Blanca.
The Bedouin bowed respectfully. “I only tell you what the Abbot believes.”
“Thank you,” said Peter.
The Bedouin continued. “The Abbot further believes that you must discover who is doing this. You must stop them or she will escape.”
He bowed again and returned to the nave.
“He’s right,” I said, as we walked out of the sanctuary and into the vestibule. “She and her sons will kill me and take the key.”
“Coward.” Blanca kicked the church door open with her foot. “We might as well be protecting a pile of trash! If it weren’t for the key around your neck, I’d kill you myself!”
For the first time, Blanca’s words didn’t bother me. “You can call me what you want, I don’t care. But you better listen because she will escape and we won’t be able to stop her. We need to figure out what to do instead of arguing all the time.”
“Well said,” said Peter. “Let’s get back to the castle and tell the others.”
We were outside of the basilica now and we stood for a moment, surveying the courtyard, the full moon casting eerie shadows across the ground. I looked more carefully and saw that some of the shadows moved like living things.
“What’s that?” I asked.
Peter and Blanca looked up to the sky and I did the same. A gathering storms of wispy black tendrils snaked across the sky, mirroring the moving shadows on the ground.
“What the hell…” I said.
“Wind demons,” said Blanca.
I looked at Peter inquiringly. “Seventy-two demons were captured by King Solomon and then released by mistake. Up there you see maybe twenty of them.”
The Abbot and the two Bedouin had joined us in the courtyard.
“We have never seen them here before,” said one of the Bedouin.
“And so many,” said Peter. He sighed. “I hate wind demons.”
The Abbot was motioning us to follow him. We hurried across the courtyard, which was now filled with a howling wind, the shadows of the wind demons slithering back and forth across the stones like snakes. A group of monks appeared, running in the opposite direction, heading for the church.
“They will pray,” yelled one of the Bedouin above the din.
This was not making me any happier. I had just escaped the clutches of the Queen and now I had to contend with wind demons? Was there no end to the problems I had to face in one day?
The Abbot led us into the Fatimid mosque that stood across from the church. Standing on its own, opposite the gigantic bell tower, was the minaret and we entered and climbed swiftly up the stairs. It was from this highest point that the muezzin sang across the desert, calling the followers of Islam to prayer, five times a day. We climbed out onto the little platform that ran around the top of the minaret, and from here, I felt the full force of the gale. The shadows screamed and I could see cavernous, greedy mouths appear and disappear as they whipped around the tower, creating a whirlpool of darkness. Only when I looked straight up could I see clear sky and stars. But that opening was growing narrower by the minute. All around was completely empty of light, as if the very sky itself had been sucked into a giant black hole of whirling mouths and tails, into which we, too, would be sucked if we tried to fly upward.
Peter and Blanca unsheathed their swords and I did the same.
Peter pointed with his sword. “We must fly straight up. They don’t dare come too close to the minaret.”
The Abbot nodded, making motions that we should hurry.
“Put your sword away,” Peter said.
I began to object, then obeyed. This didn’t seem like the time to argue.
He gripped my arm. “Listen carefully! Jump onto my back. Once we’ve achieved the Passage, we’ll be safe. Until then, you must hold your breath—don’t breathe, understand? If you do, the shadows will enter and steal your soul.”
I nodded, terrified.
I jumped onto his back and held on tightly.
The Abbot raised his arms, while the Bedouin brandished their swords at the swirling darkness. It seemed to abate a bit, and Peter and Blanca seized that moment to leap into the air. I breathed in deeply and held onto my breath.
All was chaos in the tunnel through the shadows, the terrible wind trying to push us back down, a screaming noise like a thousand pigs being gutted. Flying straight upward, the two Night Angels fought the demons with their swords, slicing into the tendrils that tried to encircle them.
I was sure we had almost made it when I felt an icy tendril touch my leg. I almost opened my mouth to scream. As it was, I let go of Peter with one arm and tried to reach down to bat at the tendril. I felt myself slipping halfway down his back and scrambled to pull myself back up again.
I was falling!
The snaky thing had my ankle now. I tried to kick with my foot to shake it off, while struggling to get a better hold on Peter. I was growing weaker. I had to take a breath. My chest was exploding.
And then, the Passage was achieved and we were through. I pushed away from Peter with relief, feeling the now familiar force of my molecules trying to split apart and me holding them together, as we rocketed through space and time, landing within seconds in the little garden of the castle.
Key of Mystery, Book 1, is also available now:
About the Author:
Karen Hunt aka KH Mezek is the author and/or illustrator of nineteen children’s books and numerous essays and short stories. 'Reflections from Istanbul,' an excerpt from her childhood memoir, won the 2015 New Millennium Writings Nonfiction Award. She is the co-founder of InsideOUT Writers, a creative writing program for incarcerated youth in Los Angeles, and the founder of the MY WORLD PROJECT, connecting youth in remote areas around the world through art and writing. She is a 2nd degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, a first degree brown belt in Eskrima, and a boxing and kick-boxing trainer. As a child, she and her family escaped out of Egypt right before the 6 Day War, lived in a 17th century castle in Switzerland and smuggled Bibles into communist countries, to name a few of her adventures. As an adult, she continued her adventures, living between London and a village in Yugoslavia. Key of Mystery and Book of Angels, volumes one and two in the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, are published with Evernight Teen.
NIGHT ANGELS Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/nightangelschronicles/
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