BY: ERIKA KATHRYN
Kinley Wade is a damned good reporter, but she makes the mistake of volunteering for a not-so-glamorous gig in the dusty town of Bajito, Mexico, reporting on a festival that offers blood sacrifices to appease the volcano Gods. Once in Mexico, Kinley discovers that livestock is not the only living thing on the volcano’s menu.
Accidentally becoming the next human sacrifice, she soon encounters other survivors who call themselves the Lazane Tribe, a group of people who were offered to the volcano and assumed long dead. Among them is Lars, personal guard to the Lava Lord, and Kinley’s ridiculously handsome captor. The only way to ever go back home to Chicago is to win the heart of the arcane Lava Lord. But if she leaves, the Lazane Tribe could lose everything. However, if she stays, she jeopardizes her heart. And her finely-honed reporter skills tell her that Lars is more than just an uncouth guard. In order to find out, she risks her freedom, while learning the hard way that she’s not nearly as tough—or as right—as she thinks she is.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Lava Lord by Erika Kathryn, Kinley Wade is a reporter. She’s still in college and doing an internship with a local paper in Chicago. Wanting to get away after breaking up with her boyfriend, she takes a one-week assignment to Bajito, a small Mexican town, to cover the annual festival there in the shade of an active volcano. While there, she is accidentally sacrificed to the volcano gods in place of a baby, which is the town’s usual yearly sacrifice to appease said gods and keep the village safe. But instead of dying, she is rescued by the Lazane Tribe, survivors of previous sacrifices. Now she’s trapped, as the tribe won’t let her go, afraid she will tell the world about them and their secrets will be exposed. The only chance she has to escape is to win the heart of the mysterious Lava Lord, who is the only one who can grant her plea for freedom.
While the plot isn’t exactly new, Kathryn gives it a unique twist which, when woven in with the sweet romance, makes it a delightful read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Lava Lord by Erika Kathryn is the fascinating story of a young woman in crisis. Our heroine, Kinley, is going to college in Chicago, where she also works as an intern for a newspaper. The boss wants someone to go to Mexico for a week to cover the annual festival of a small town where children have been disappearing for decades. Having just broken up with her boyfriend and finding that Chicago isn’t big enough for the both of them, Kinley volunteers for the assignment and heads off to rural Mexico in her Jimmy Choo stilettos. When she gets there, the mayor of the town tries to convince her that nothing is wrong. Sure, a few people come up missing every once in a while, but with an active volcano on the edge of town, that’s not surprising. But Kinley is definitely in for a surprise when she gets sacrificed to the volcano gods instead of the baby they were intending to throw in. When she comes to, she discovers a whole tribe of people, most of whom are also sacrifice survivors. Kinley has never seen anything like this, and they have never seen anything quite like her. She spends most of her time trying to escape and get back home to Chicago—when she isn’t falling head over heels for her hunky guard, that is.
The Lava Lord is cute, clever, funny, and intriguing, with some hilarious moments as people from two different cultures try to find some common ground. Add in a sweet romance, a little suspense, and an interesting mystery, and you have a great story for women of all ages.
Dozens of feet shuffled under red-hooded capes on a dirt pathway. They shuffled with fear and they shuffled with a purpose. Fire-lit torches lined the clearing in the woods and graced the clenched hands that protruded from the merlot-colored ankle-length cloaks. Brown hands were the only flesh exposed from the robes that covered the people from head to toe. A fire pit in the center blazed into life within minutes. A small gust of wind quickly carried the smoke toward the neighboring volcano crater that watched on in anticipation of an age-old ritual.
The hooded group spread out and their feet shuffled once again as they formed a circle around the bonfire. Palm trees reinforced the walls of the clearing, and their coconuts dangled and swayed with the breeze in the dark night air. A taller hooded one stepped forward, cradling a live object in his arms–again, revealing only tan hands from under the burgundy garment, hands that grasped a wiggling but otherwise satisfied infant, hands that shook with angst and trepidation. The clan of hooded heads bowed toward the fire and a low hum of a Latino chant whispered on the tail end of a slight breeze. Not even one glance escaped over to what the tall hooded one was doing.
The tall one stopped near a wooden table and placed the baby on its surface. Unpeeling the yellow swaddling blanket, he stopped suddenly as if a scorpion had stung him. He whipped his head around and turned back to the group outlining the circle. He started breathing heavily from underneath his thick hood as his blood pressure rose.
“Este Niño es el blanco!” he belted out. “Por qué es este niño blanco? Que trajo un bebé Americano aquí? Esto es un gran error! Ellos vendrán a buscarlo?”
“En English, por favor,” said another hooded one with a deep male voice, swiftly walking across the circle to the tall one. “If anyone in the village hears us, we don’t want them to understand what we’re saying.” He paused to glare at the other man. “It is the year of the boy and he was all we had. He was born here in Mexico and the volcano gods will accept him. A baby is a baby.”
“He is White! And what of his White parents?” the tall one demanded in a thick Latino accent. “Qué has hecho? What in Bajito have you done? They will look for him. They will ask questions. Do our traditions blind you? Do you think they will simply walk away and leave without their child? You have condemned us!”
“Would you rather the town starve to death? Would you prefer your family be homeless? Would you sooner have us all die a slow burning death from lava, smoke, explosions, and fires? We have to appease them. Above all else, we must make sacrifices to ensure our livelihood. They have shown what they can do when we dishonor them! Mass destruction. Chaos. Our Mexican brethren lost their lives when the volcano erupted not so very long ago. Must I remind you? Our people must not live in fear. Our people must not leave this town. Ha olvidado tan pronto? Have you so soon forgotten that?”
The tall one took several steps backward, away from the table. “I want no part of this!”
He glanced down at the White baby as if it was a demon and he would catch a plague of a thousand deaths if he were to touch it again.
“That is why you are not yet the Mayor of Bajito. It takes a strong man to do what must be done. Only the mayor alone can carry this burden. You are weak. You shame our community and you shame me. I will make this sacrifice myself to ensure this town’s survival. I will do what a weak man cannot.”
The hooded mayor sprinted to the table and smeared a few berries onto the baby’s face. He made a cross, one line that went from the left temple to the right, another line from forehead to chin. The baby simply gazed up at him inquisitively, none the wiser. After the fresh berry paint was spread to his liking, the mayor snatched the baby roughly into his arms and walked him up the nearby hill that led straight to the caldera of the volcano. He peered down into it as the wind carried chants from the group a few feet away, still circling the fire.
The tall one, still repulsed, stepped toward the hill where the baby had started to cry. He tensed up more and more as the mayor stepped closer to the edge with the White child. The tall one glanced up at the stars and peered out from under his hood, praying to the volcano gods that the mayor would stop this madness and return the American child to his parents. He knew White people could never understand what they had to do for survival. He knew nothing good could come from this night if that baby went into the crater.
On top of the hill, the mayor looked down at a vat of boiling water below. The caldera of the volcano did not contain lava. In its place was an enclosed body of water that flowed from it, through the mouth, and down a channel that surged directly into a river of lava. The mayor had forbidden any of his townsfolk to go near the river of lava for safety concerns, and because the few who had gone near it had not returned. That aside, he knew with certainty that placing a child in the lava-heated water would serve as the yearly sacrifice his people had promised to the volcano gods many, many years before.
He bent down, still clutching the baby, and, using his other hand, grabbed a leather strap that had been laid out in the grass. He placed the baby in the thickest part of the leather strap and tied the child into the harness safely. He then picked up the two long straps, on either side of it, and hauled up the leather-bound infant. He held the baby directly over the edge of the boiling water and, using the handles, slowly lowered him down into a boat waiting for the child directly below them. Inch by inch, the baby dropped lower and lower into the silo. He was still crying but the sound was hushed more and more, the lower he dropped.
Finally, the baby was in the boat and the mayor dropped the two straps down into the boat with him. He stood up and surveyed all that he had accomplished. In the boat below, surrounding the baby boy, were white flowers, flower petals strewn about disorderly, hay, grass, leaves, vegetables, and other offerings. The mayor took a deep breath as he realized the tall hooded one was now standing right beside him up on the hill.
“I can’t let you send an American to his death,” the tall one said shakily.
“Esto no depende de ti, hijo. This isn’t up to you, son. You have no say in the matter.”
The mayor turned his back for a moment, just as the tall one raised his hand to strike him. However, the mayor, anticipating the cowardly move, spun around, and punched the tall one in the jaw so hard it flung him backward onto the ground. The mayor walked a few feet forward to stand right above his opponent. He kicked the tall one in the gut while he was already writhing in pain from the first blow.
“As I said, esto no depende de ti, hijo. You have no say in the matter. Just like your life. You will marry who I want you to marry. You’ll get educated in the school I want you to attend. You’ll have the amount of children I see fit. You’ll become the next Mayor of Bajito. Once you grow some bolas, of course. And you’ll continue on with this ritual year after year after year because I say so and because our people say so. None of this is up to you. You must learn to accept that. And as the Americans say, life will throw you lemons. Life will throw you all sorts of sour lemons. And when it does, you will make do by sacrificing an American. Because a mayor does what must be done.” With that, the mayor spat on his tall son and left him lying on the ground nursing his swollen jaw, his aching stomach, and, even more so, his damaged pride. The mayor walked over to a post in the ground. He then bent down and lifted a lassoed rope that was tied to that post. He took the rope in both of his hands and threw it into the water below, releasing the boat with the baby inside of it. “This is what must be done. This is tradition,” the mayor said, as he glanced with disgust at his son on the ground and walked back down the hill.
The other hooded members followed the mayor out of the clearing and into the woods, back to their civilization. As they disappeared one by one into the forest, the tall hooded one scurried to the top of the hill and looked down into the basin of the volcano. He glimpsed just the tail end of the canoe-shaped boat as it surged forward with the baby wide awake lying in the base of it. It went through the dark gaping hole that looked like an evil mouth on the other side of the volcano crater.
“Qué has hecho? Father, what have you done?”
On the boat, the baby watched the stars above zip past in the black sky. The boat soared rapidly down the strong current and picked up speed. As the water picked up its pace, the boat dipped from left to right, and the baby rolled with the motion of it. A couple of times the boat swung around so hard that the baby thudded against the right side of the boat and then, a moment later, rolled over up against the left side.
The boat continued on, cutting through the steam of the hot water, through some mist, through some low hanging tree branches, through rocks, and twists in the river. It snaked its way on and on as the current tugged at it and coerced it into submission.
Suddenly–and to the baby’s amusement–a metal hook, with arms like a spider, sprang into the boat and landed in the bottom with a clunk. The baby looked at it curiously. A second later, the large hook leapt to grab a hold of the wall of the inside of the boat. Then, instantly, the hook was pulled taut with urgency. Slowly but securely, it pulled the boat to the right.
The hold on the boat increased until the whole boat was pulled perpendicular to the tide, dragged onward toward the shore, and heaved up onto the soil of the muddy beach.
It was then pulled even farther up, and the baby giggled as the final lurch landed it on solid ground.
Masked faces appeared within minutes and stared down at the baby inside.
“Que es el año de la chica, no?” one of the male voices asked from behind a mask.
“English, Luca!” another masked man barked. He had a Latino accent but it was not as sharp as the mayor’s. “How many times do I have to tell you? No, this is not the year of the girl. It’s the year of the boy, remember? What am I to do with you?”
“Sorry, Lord,” Luca said quietly and with a much thicker accent. “I keep forgetting this. Guau, this small guy here sure is lighter than any of the others.”
“That’s because he’s not Mexican, Luca,” the second masked man responded with irritation. He looked down and unrolled the baby from his wrappings to get a better look at the White child, noting that the blanket had a large letter ‘C’ embroidered on it. “He’s American. The first American that they have ever sacrificed.”
“Why would they ever sacrifice an American baby?”
“Why would they sacrifice any of us, Luca? There’s no telling. Stupid traditions. But he’s one of us now. We will raise him as our own. He will be a leader, if I have anything to do with it. And he’ll give us even more motivation to speak in English permanently. Anyone sacrificed by the Mexican bastards is a son of mine.”
“Even me, Lord?” Luca asked innocently.
“Even you. Even though you bumped your head on your boat ride a little too hard, Luca.”
“Can I hold him?” Luca reached down into the boat with oven-mitted hands.
The baby started to cry at that moment.
“Luca! Your oven mitts are on! You’re scaring him! He didn’t even touch the lava, engañar, take those off before you traumatize him!”
Luca looked down, startled, still wearing his brown mask made of wood, mud, peacock feathers, grass, and hay, among other things.
“Sorry, Lord,” Luca said bashfully, slipping his mitts off his hands.
The masked man called Lord picked up the baby from the boat. “Now what are we to call you, little White one?”
As he held the child tenderly in his arms, he started to walk slowly to the edge of the woods. Other masked men took his spot by the side of the boat and worked together to shove the canoe back into the water. As Lord disappeared into a black wooded thicket, the other men watched the boat light on fire and catapult from the channel into the river of lava.
Lord cooed at the baby in his arms as he walked past palm trees and navigated his way deeper into the thicket.
“I’ll give you a tour of your new home now, child. The home you can never leave. You’re one of us, now. A survivor. And you will be in the good company of other survivors. We are the Lazane Tribe. We are the sacrificed.”
Twenty-six years later:
Twenty-year-old Kinley looked out of the large conference room windows at the city skyline, tapping her nails impatiently on the conference room desk. Made of strong oak, the desk amplified the tapping sound, sending echoes throughout the room, which was lined with floor to ceiling windows. Her internship was supposed to be a dream come true. Working for a prestigious newspaper in downtown Chicago was the highlight of her freshman year of college, and she was fortunate, indeed. If the rest of her college experience was only this promising, maybe her parents would start speaking to her again. But she couldn’t shake the empty aching in her stomach from the memory of her boyfriend breaking up with her the night before. The angry scene played in her head and the tapping stopped suddenly as she began to tear up. Jackson, her gorgeous college boyfriend, had grown bored with her and decided to end it. It was the first one of her relationships that had shown any promise of a future. She wished for a moment she was curled up with him in the black satin sheets that lined his dorm room bed.
The view of downtown Chicago was breathtaking and another thought crossed Kinley’s mind, stopping tears from flowing–her boss being late, yet again, to another meeting. Being chosen for the internship was a dream, but the nostalgic cloud-nine feelings stopped there. She had grown frustrated with waiting on her boss, and she would much rather have been covering a really juicy story, or perhaps even shoe shopping. Shoe shopping with her roommate was her favorite pastime, aside from writing.
Jeffrey, the office kiss-ass and the only other student chosen with her for the internship, burst through the glass doors, startling her tapping fingers for an instant. Kinley looked up at him and scoffed.
“Rough morning, Kin?” Jeffrey remarked sarcastically. “Stay up too late last night? Anything I can do to help? You know, I have a hangover cure.”
Kinley could barely hold her tongue as she thought about what a pervert he was, but truly, he was her only real friend in the office, if you could even call something like that a friendship. She flung her long blonde hair over her shoulder to display her boredom.
“How’s that story about the giraffe’s birth at the zoo?” he asked. “I hear that old giraffe is really having some hard labor.”
“She birthed a son at three a.m. this morning,” Kinley retorted. “Seeing as how she is an older mother at the ripe age of twenty-one, the report is quite profound. She gave birth standing up and there were no injuries as the baby boy fell five feet to the ground. The baby was already on its feet thirty minutes after birth. It was riveting. My words will bring tears to the eyes of all PETA members. So how’s your story going about the bloodsuckers at the Stock Exchange? You must fit right in there.”
“It’s quite–” Jeffrey was cutoff just as the boss thrust open the office doors.
“Peasants!” Rob declared as he rushed to the head of the table.
He was a heavyset, short man who was always in a rush, constantly late, and could never manage to keep his shirt tucked in over his belly. Kinley tried to ignore his stomach hairs, peeking out from the bottom of his untucked shirt, as she pulled out her cheetah-print pen and notepad to start taking notes. Jeffrey pulled out his blackberry and started silently playing Candy Crush. He had absolutely no respect for his fat-ass boss.
Kinley and Jeffrey were the only two who reported directly to Rob, interns or otherwise. And as such, he tried to humiliate them every chance he got. He was a horribly demeaning manager but Kinley knew he was her ticket to the bigger leagues–the better stories, the best leads–and she couldn’t wait to move out of his department and onto bigger and better assignments. Their team of three handled all of the miscellaneous stories, the ones that the other departments passed on, or the ones that didn’t fit into the regular categories. When needed, they would be assigned others to help them, like a photographer or an editor specifically for a story they were working on. They hardly ever got to choose who they were partnered with, and since Rob was more of a delegator than anything else, the brunt of the work fell on Kinley and Jeffrey.
“I have a bit of a conundrum with this new assignment we received this morning,” Rob stated as he spun in his chair to look out of the windows and away from Jeffrey and Kinley.
Jeffrey finally pulled himself away from his game, but he seemed only half-interested. They glared at Rob and could only see the tip of the bald spot on the back of his head as he spoke to them. That was typical Rob, talking at them instead of with them. Not even giving them the time of day and actually looking them in the eyes. Not even caring enough to see their reactions or concerns, or to listen to any questions.
“We’ve been invited to a small town in Mexico, called Bajito, by the mayor himself,” Rob began. “He’s trying to drum up some more tourist activity by having a nice article written on the town. As I understand it, it’s a hell of a place for sightseeing. The town sits just at the bottom of a dormant volcano, and every year the town holds a festival that lasts an entire month. The festival has already begun so I’ll need one of you to fly out there tomorrow. With that said, this is a trip where you’ll be getting your hands dirty. Meeting with the locals, tasting the probably live delicacies, sleeping in God knows what motel conditions, joining the festival on the sandy streets, yada yada yada. So which one of you has brushed up on your Spanglish recently?”
Kinley glanced over at Jeffrey who was already ahead of her looking up the town on his phone internet browser. Kinley quickly snatched up her hot pink sparkly smart-phone and feverishly typed in the town name Bajito. Within seconds, a couple of options popped up in the browser and she clicked on the first one. Seeing a few key words jump out at her in a flash, she picked up on: “volcano fatalities,” “festival sacrifices,” and “diamonds.”
“Diamonds?” Kinley blurted out before Jeffrey could spew out one word.
“I’ll take this story, Rob,” Jeffrey announced, peering at Kinley. “I think we all know that sleeping in a grimy roach-filled Mexican motel is nothing that Kinley would be caught dead doing, anyways.”
Suddenly the memory of her argument the night before and her now ex-boyfriend Jackson, yelling that he was done with her, rang through her ears. Kinley’s head started to cloud up and she felt dizzy. She hadn’t eaten anything in the campus dining hall that morning. She feared for a moment that she would fall over out of her chair and pass out–she was that lightheaded. How could she have been so stupid to think it would work out with her boyfriend after only dating a few months? How could he have broken her heart the way he did without hardly any explanation? She needed to get away. Far away. Like another country, far away.
“I feel sick,” Kinley said as she held her stomach. “I think I should go to Mex–” she started and was interrupted.
“Excuse me, peasants!” Rob had spun his chair around and–belly hair poking out for all the world to see–glared at both of them hatefully. “Haven’t I told you how much I hate it when you bicker? It’s like I’m running a preschool! College interns? Top of your class? My ass!”
Both Jeffrey and Kinley froze and couldn’t move for a moment, out of fear of being fired. Kinley took a deep, deep breath. Then exhaled deliberately and painfully. They hadn’t even really argued but Rob was always out of line in the way he managed them.
She wished she could pull Jeffrey aside for a moment and tell him why she needed to get away ever-so-badly, but he probably wouldn’t have understood, anyway.
“Rob,” Kinley finally said, loudly and confidently. “I want this. I can do a piece on the rich history of the town and the incredible tragedy that the town went through years ago when the volcano erupted. I could investigate the ins and outs of their festival. I could dig in and see if they really are harboring hidden diamonds. I want this story. I need this. Plus, I’m all caught up on my classroom assignments. I’m ahead actually, so I could miss a week, no problem.”
Jeffrey snorted loudly. He was shocked that Kinley would even want to work on a story such as this one. He chuckled. “I’m not sure your Louis Vuitton luggage could handle the dirt roads. And besides, do you even know Spanglish? And hola doesn’t count.”
Kinley stood up and walked down the length of the conference table toward Rob at the head. She noticed the dark thick stomach hairs peering out from under his shirt and tilted her head up to stop herself from staring at them.
“Rob,” Kinley pleaded, “I will do whatever it takes. I’m not afraid of getting a little dirt under my nails. I’m a reporter, I don’t get scared. This town was known for diamonds decades ago, and if I know anything, I know diamonds. I know all different cuts, about clarity, and carats, and more. Please, Rob, I can do this. I can get on a plane tomorrow. I can make you proud. I promise. I can do this. I can kick this story’s ass!”
Kinley’s head was suddenly clear. All she knew was that she had to get out of town. Jackson had broken her. He had broken her heart and her spirit. She wanted to get away. As far away as she could possibly get. And no matter how sandy, dirty, and sticky-hot, Mexico sounded like a paradise compared to going back to her dorm, broken and alone, crying herself to sleep every night, and then sitting in class like a discarded, malfunctioning zombie. She needed a quick exit strategy and she needed one now.
“Rob,” Jeffrey started, “I hardly think Kinley can handle–”
“Enough. Enough from both of you. I hate bickering! I don’t have time for this brother-sister bullshit you two have going on, nor do I care,” Rob said in disgust. “Peasant Kinley will go. Your translator will be Rize and the photographer we’re sending with you for the trip will be Darby. Just make sure you get on that plane. You’ll have your ticket in an hour. I’ll let your instructor know you’ll miss a week of class. Go back to the dorm and pack.”
Kinley clapped her hands together and smirked at Jeffrey’s gaping-mouth.
Jeffrey sneered and mouthed quietly, “Rize and Darby? Good luck with that shit storm!”
“And pack light,” Rob barked as she bolted through the glass doors and down the hall. “I’m not paying for your extra baggage.”
© 2016 by Erika Kathryn