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cover artwork by Ardy M. Scott.




Chapter Excerpt





urban fantasy


Susan Goldsmith




Chapter One


Gillie's Restaurant, Tucson, Arizona

God always seemed to be a joker where I was concerned, saving up special kinds of humor just for me. He'd wait until I was in a state of turmoil, then up the ante with no warning at all. This time the joke was mackerel!

He might at least have let me figure out who I was going to be before dumping water on me, or sticking me on a plane going who knew where, or placing me at some party where I didn't know a soul including my new self, but no. I didn't even know what I was, for goodness sakes, forget the who part, or when I'd be yanked out of one host body and stuffed into another. Wouldn't that have been entertaining enough? I mean, if you happened to be God?

Mackerel! I was actually chewing the disgusting stuff, oily taste and all, without so much as a whisper of warning.

Unfortunately, whenever I changed bodies it was my sight that woke up first, followed by smell and taste, so not only was I aware of what I was chewing, I could also see it. Or rather, my host could see and taste it. I was along for the ride. There it was, on a shiny plate with asparagus spears and a mound of fluffy mashed potatoes and the rest of whatever else I'd been eating. An ignored slice of lemon perched with some wilted parsley on the plate's rim. In a blink, I added a neat little blob of white stuff in the center. I spit again but failed to get rid of the fishy taste.

Ah… hell! Was that God laughing, there in the background? He'd have an encore, of course, something else to throw my way while I was still trying to get my wits about me. This time it arrived as a woman's voice.


I froze, refusing to look in that direction. Actually I couldn't have looked even if I'd wanted to. My essence hadn't had time to mesh with the new host. Any attempted movement prior to proper locking-in would make someone having a seizure look calm by comparison. Don't panic, I thought, the woman probably wasn't referring to me anyway.


Uh, oh—wrong! It seemed I was now going to become this Sydney person, whoever she—or he—might be. My reflexes kicked in as they always did after a switch, a kind of panicky emotion which thoroughly annoyed me because emotions of any kind were a no-no when switching. I flat out couldn't handle them, especially panic. Even thinking about the consequences could do it, but not thinking about them was… well… next to impossible. No sooner did I tell myself what I ought not to be thinking about then, whoops, I remembered what I was—or thought I was—or at least appeared to be, some sort of parasite. That was as close as I'd ever come to it. I'd even looked up the meaning: An organism that grows and feeds and lives on or in some other organism. That was me all right.

Giving up wasn't an option or I'd have done that a few dozen times over… I think. Unfortunately, thinking of anything I was trying not to think about shifted my thoughts to other things I also shouldn't be thinking about, confusing things—like what had just happened moments before I'd switched into this body.

Claire was my previous host. Thanks to a little help from me, she and estranged husband Tom had patched things up between them, and he'd kissed her. Boy, had he kissed her! Their passion reached right across my insulating barrier and ignited me like an electric shock. It was me kissing Tom, me reaching up and grabbing his hair, me pulling him closer and begging for more. I would have done anything for it to be me he loved like that, not Claire. Unfortunately, parasite wishes never come true. They only make things worse.

Don't get attached, ever. That was "The Rule" that kept me sane, and I'd just shattered it. Sure enough, there they were, more no-no's—lust, jealousy, embarrassment, confusion—all at the same time, with mackerel for good measure!

Instead of my new host's body responding to simple commands, something short-circuited. My arms and hands were first to go, smashing down on the table like dead weights. A salad plate, silverware, and butter dish went flying, along with an uneaten roll and everything in my water glass. Great! Sydney was no longer in the picture, but then neither was I, except maybe for my new head—which I seriously wished was my old head—but a little more of God's humor surfaced, and said head started bobbling backward. I compensated, but only managed to plunge forward, bulldozing asparagus and mashed potatoes into the small lake soaking into the tablecloth in front of my plate. My cheek ended up corralling the slippery mackerel up onto the plate's rim.

Don't think. Focus. Where on earth were my head-lifting muscles? They had to be in there somewhere, but I needed at least a few seconds without any distractions to sort it all out. No such luck.

"Sydney, honey, trying to embarrass me isn't going to work. It didn't work in the past and it's certainly not going to work now." The woman's voice drifted away for a moment. Who was she talking to? "No, it's okay. She's fine. She's just mad at me, that's all."

I was tempted to point out that fine people didn't clean their plates with their face, but ended up trying to apologize instead.


Stupid, stupid, stupid! How many times does it take for you to learn that you can only move one limb at a time right after a switch? Your mouth feels all messed up, like it belongs to a guppy, yet there you are trying to figure out how to raise your head and talk at the same time. Just leave your head where it is and focus on talking. Pretend you fainted and say something short, like "Did I just faint?" Concentrate! You can do it.


Oh, that was truly amazing. What an improvement!

"Why is your face still in your food? You got what you wanted. People are staring. Sydney? Are you even listening to me?" The voice from across the table was a little more insistent now. Her next words were whispered and sounded almost giggly. "Fine, I get to play, too then!"

This woman, she was confusing me in an already ultra-confusing situation. Was she for real, or had God tossed her in for the fun of it?

"Darling, our nice waiter would like to know if he can take your plate." Right on top of that, some other woman's voice scornfully commented that she'd seen children better behaved. I latched onto what her words meant (with a lot of effort) instead of how they made me feel. Did that mean that I was an adult Sydney with my face in my food, not a child Sydney? If so, how could the one calling me Sydney in the first place sound so… so nonchalant about the mess I'd just made? I had to assume she was sitting with me for a reason, but what in the heck was I supposed to do with her?

I couldn't lift my head yet, so I just lay there with mashed potatoes halfway up my nose. God, how I missed Claire!

"Sydney, did you hear me? The nice waiter wants to—"

"Need time." I burbled into my plate, cutting her off.

"You're saying you need more…?" There was a short pause. "She's not finished. We'll let you know." Was she talking to the waiter? It didn't matter. At least my mackerel mess had produced a little information without my doing anything really foolish: Sydney was an adult "she" with a history of bad behavior.

Restaurant noises suddenly switched back on, as if everyone in the place had been holding their breath until that point. Unfortunately, I'd never know what spectacle might have preceded my grand appearance, but my dinner companion had said I was mad at her. I waited for a few more revealing words, but she'd either snuck away or was sitting there pretending she didn't know me. She'd be wearing an expression that said it all, something like "Honestly, I have no idea where this Sydney person came from or why she's sitting at my table with her nose in her potatoes…."

I opened one eye briefly, but could see no more than a blur of other diners. Suddenly my tablemate was back, only now much closer, more conspiratorial.

"Well, young lady, that went much better than I'd hoped." I decided it was best to keep my one eye closed. The other one was keeping tabs on the fish. "Steven will be pleased as punch. It was his idea to give you the news someplace crowded, like it is here in Gillie's. He thought, you know, that having all these people around would keep you from throwing things or screaming. I was a little concerned that you'd do something rash, especially after how angry you seemed when you first walked in, but this, I must say, is all a most pleasant surprise!"

My mackerel-mashing antic a pleasant surprise? I didn't think it possible, but I was now even more confused.

The first thing I saw when I finally managed to raise my head and look straight ahead was a pair of red-covered elbows resting in the drenched part of our tablecloth. They were already soaked, not that their owner even noticed. She was yapping away as if nothing unusual had happened at all, thoroughly enjoying herself. The wet red elbows belonged to a tailored suit with frilly white blouse sleeves that puffed out around her wrists. They were wet, too. I sensed long, black hair and a tiny frame, not actually seeing anything in detail, but the rest of her could wait while I concentrated.

My arms suddenly seemed connected to my brain, so I experimented by moving one hand forward on the table, preparing to push myself back to vertical. That was when I saw the back of my left hand. The woman in red saw it, too. "What in the world have you done to yourself, Sydney? What is that thing on your hand, some sort of animal head?"

What, indeed! Upside down, it didn't look much like an animal. Maybe those were horns sticking out of a long head and ears sticking out sideways, but there was no sense babbling any more than I already had. I ignored the question and grabbed a napkin so I could wipe off whatever was stuck to my face. What was that hanging from my lower lip, some sort of ring? Yuck! That would have to go as soon as I had a little privacy, but I didn't dare mention it.

The picture was developing. I was an adult Sydney with a bad history, screamed and threw things, had some sort of animal actually burned into the back of my hand—that was certainly a recent scar, all red—and had a lip ring dangling from my lower lip. What else? Tattoos? Other piercings? At least the lip ring didn't hurt unless I pulled at it under the napkin.

I resisted the sudden urge to explore the rest of me. My talkative companion wasn't helping one bit in the descriptions department. I needed a lot more than vague references to this "Steven person" and how angry I'd been just minutes earlier if I was going to slip into the Sydney routine as seamlessly as possible. This switch wasn't going well at all. Where could I get answers fast? Apparently, my chatty tablemate was used to having her questions ignored, because she jumped right into telling me about a pair of shoes she'd recently added to her collection. Never skipped a beat. When I caught her peeking at my hand again, she quickly launched into another story. Whenever did the woman breathe? If I could just slide a question in, maybe she'd tell me why she felt I'd storm off and not speak to her again. An answer to that might offer a few clues how she and I were supposed to fit together, as long as I chose my words carefully.

When she finally did pause, I put the napkin down, forming the question so it would be short: Why would I storm off? Good question, right? Five little words. Couldn't get much shorter than that.

"Can we go home now? I need to sleep." Oh, no—no, no, no! That wasn't what you were supposed to say. You weren't even thinking about sleeping. Now you've done it. You'll have to follow through!

"You want to come… home? With me?" The woman in red arched her eyebrows, looking startled.

I had no choice but to play along. "I said something wrong?"

"Not at all. It's just that you… well, you surprised me a little."

"Is there a bed?"

"Of course." She sounded almost apologetic. "There are even some of your old things there." Her earlier confidence seemed to evaporate, not to mention mine. Alright, what now? Sydney was obviously seeping through and pushing buttons in my psyche, but that wasn't supposed to happen. She was supposed to recede into the background as an observer, and I was supposed to be the new director in our paired consciousness.

Too boring, I guess because Sydney's words came slithering out like playful snakes before I could stop them. It had to be something to do with her relationship with this woman. It sounded as if I'd been to her house before.

When I didn't argue, she motioned to the waiter, who almost ran to the table, circling around to stay as far from me as possible. No doubt he'd been told to get rid of us fast as he could, because the black folder was already in his hand. He put it down, carefully. "Was everything—?"

"Excellent, as usual. My daughter and I especially enjoyed the fish. It's one of her favorites. Was that a hint of nutmeg I tasted?"

She got no answer. He stared at me, probably waiting for me to finish wiping off whatever was on my face. I looked away, digesting the daughter comment. She appeared to be in her mid-forties. If I really was her daughter, it would make my new age somewhere in the twenties, but I hadn't a clue as to what I might look like otherwise. "Mother" was a lot smaller than I was, but the red suit was tailored, fitting her perfectly, and she had beautiful white teeth, all of which spelled money. Teeth didn't grow that straight, and orthodontists were pricey. I decided she was for real, but that she wasn't really my mother. She was just using that to advance her own purposes, sort of a "proxy mother" ploy. Maybe I was to read quotation marks around the word "mother." Or, was she trying to help me in some way?

She raised her voice several notches to ask about the special for the following day, and the poor waiter squirmed. He was the new center of attention, like it or not. He'd probably hoped to get a pat on the back from his boss, but things were not going well, poor soul. That made two of us. I watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard. "Mother" cranked the volume up another notch.

"Better yet, how ‘bout you get us the specials for the week! Bring a copy we can take with us. We can wait, can't we, honey?" She fluttered her fingers at him in a dismissive gesture as she glanced my way.

The entire restaurant was watching us now. I was making everyone's day, it seemed, especially so for three women sitting nearest us. They all wore pantsuits that looked like they came from the same mail-order house, purple on one, emerald green on the next, and teal on the one closest to us—a giant peacock's tail without the spots, unless you counted the three heads. "Purple pantsuit" was staring sternly at me over the top of jewel-crusted bifocals with wing tips, perched halfway down her nose. Maybe they'd come from the same mail order house?

Back came the unlucky waiter with what appeared to be the requested list of specials. It was handwritten, probably created while his manager shredded him. Mother snatched the paper from his hands, no more than glancing at it before she thrust the signed bill back at him and got to her feet, all in a single motion. No credit card? That meant she ate here often enough to have an actual account. I didn't think people did that any more. Apparently, neither did the waiter. He glanced quickly at the signed bill, then rolled his eyes at the ceiling. Now he'd have to face his manager again.

Mother was already in motion, gesturing for me to follow. I scampered after her, thankful all my limbs were finally functioning correctly, but she suddenly stopped and turned back to the roomful of gawkers. There had to be at least fifty pairs of eyes riveted on us, probably all waiting to see if I stood on my head or crawled on all fours or something. Then she cleared her throat and appeared to rise an inch or two.

"I recommend the fish!" she announced, then beamed at the distraught waiter, cheerfully predicting we'd return on the following day. "And we both want you to be our waiter, so be sure to save our table!" Her final word was delivered with a little bye-bye flutter of her fingers, not quite as dismissive as before, but definitely superior.

As soon as we were outside, she confronted me. This was the moment I'd been dreading. I'd have some real explaining to do if she was honestly my mother, but no, she was suddenly smiling. In her view the whole thing had been fun, she said, and wouldn't I just love to do it again. It wasn't the kind of thing any real mother would say, so I was right back to wondering who she was. Even if Sydney was somehow related to her, what could I safely say without having more time to absorb my new Sydney persona, or at least gather a few more clues? "Mother" wouldn't be all that nice if she knew what had really just happened inside Gillie's, and about now I needed nice. Lots of nice.

We approached a red Lexus convertible with its top down, where she paused to open her purse. She seemed surprised when I just stood there. "Sydney, where did you park? Don't tell me it's one of these cars right next to mine. That would be too precious! Imagine, after all these years…"

And off she went, rambling on about how significant such a coincidence would be and what it would mean to her. Actually, I had no idea how I'd gotten there, or, if by car, which one. I always tried to avoid driving at all costs, no matter who my host was at the time. Too risky. What if a switch of hosts took place while I was behind the wheel? There were plenty of other options that didn't include driving, but Sydney had probably already mentioned how she'd gotten there before I took over. She'd driven, of course.

I gently unmade "Mother's" day by quashing the idea that I'd parked anywhere nearby. Gillie's was located in a huge shopping complex with dozens of stores, so there really was no specific parking lot other than the portion closest to the restaurant. My story was that I'd gotten there early and felt like walking, so I'd parked over in front of… in front of… there! J.C. Penney had a big sign a good distance away—I'd parked in front of Penney's. If we were really coming back tomorrow, we could get my car then, couldn't we? I really wasn't up to driving right then. In fact, I wasn't feeling all that well. It might have been the fish.

My improvised story tumbled out so easily I actually congratulated myself. Mother nodded all the way through it, as though every bit was exactly what she'd expected. "Oh, I knew right away something was different, darling. At first you weren't even speaking to me, then that changed and now you're even suggesting riding home with me. Is it bad to admit I like it when you're sick like this?"

"I'm not really sick, just tired. It's been a stressful day."

"But so interesting… full of fun little twists and turns. I can hardly wait to tell Steven."

"Is it far? To your house, I mean?" Whoops, wouldn't you have known that if she's really your mother?

But "Mother" didn't catch my slip. "Hop, skip, and a jump," was all she said. With that she popped the door locks and opened the door on my side, waiting until I was in before she helped with the seatbelt. My God, how old did that make me… three going on eighteen? Sure, the belts in convertibles were farther back than in other cars, but there wasn't anything wrong with my… wait! Of course there was something wrong. Hadn't I just told her as much? She was being nice, and I needed nice, at least until I got away from her. Right now wasn't the time for that, and Sydney wasn't cooperating in the least. All I was getting from her was a mixture of fear and anger. How was I to spend any amount of time in the car with "Mother", or face this Steven I kept hearing about, if all I knew about Sydney was that she was an adult female with some sort of ugly mark on her hand and a lip ring and who knew what else, who'd seemed to have had a rift of some sort in the recent past?

As we turned onto the interstate, I was tempted to swing down the car's visor and see what I looked like in the mirror, but the answers I needed were more than just that. Maybe I could pretend to sleep during the "hop, skip, and jump" portion and postpone any detailed questions. Sleeping would fit in with my earlier question about there being a bed, but right then was when my thoughts turned to Sydney's purse and wallet. They'd deliver some clues, if only I could sneak a peek while Mother drove.

Ten seconds later, fresh panic set in. Sydney's purse was back there at Gillie's. We'd left without it!

Madera Canyon, Arizona

Faith stared at the woman in the mirror. You should be happy your daughter is sound asleep in the guest bedroom, grateful that she's changed… but you're not, because you know something is wrong.

It was true. Talk about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, what if Miss Nice woke up and decided she didn't like being Miss Nice anymore? Could she be handled once her claws were back out?

Time to warn Steven.



Abithica Copyright © 2011. Susan Goldsmith. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.   




Author bio

Susan Goldsmith earned her Bachelors Degree in Journalism from the University of Arizona. She was selected to serve as Rep. Morris K. Udall's Assistant Press Secretary and was honored by handing his resignation to the Senate Press. Later she became an Undercover Private Investigator at Pinkerton, worked as an outside Sales Rep at Dun and Bradstreet and spent five years in pharmaceutical sales.

She met husband, Bryan, in Mr. Ledezma's biology class, at age 13, setting off fireworks that still light the sky over Madera Canyon, AZ, to this day! Those presently enjoying the show include her daughters Riley and Reagan, 3 1/2 dogs, 3 cats and a parrot who she's trying to teach Shakespeare and failing. Note: Her 210 pound English Mastiff, Teddy Bear, counts as 1 1/2 dogs.

Presently a stay-at-home mom, Susan stumbled across a pondering personal question after reading Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul, that being her own worst fear. Losing her husband and children was the answer, arriving while she vacuumed the living room. What if she were to be taken from them without their knowledge? What if another soul was inserted in her place? She'd look the same, but oh, what would happen then?

The question soon became an obsession, the idea of 'soul switching' was born, and the result was her first novel, Abithica.

TTB title: Abithica

Author web site.










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