Category Archives: New Stories

Vamp-Hire Tonight at Midnight! #iartg

In just under a half hour my first YA novel, Vamp-Hire, will be published by Permuted Press. This is my first, full-length novel since The Ghost Toucher almost five years ago. I’m as excited as I am nervous because this was a new challenge for me as I’ve never really written for a younger audience and it came out a lot better than I expected.
I won’t toot too much, but if you like vampires, I’d say give it a look. It’s been reviewing well so far. I’m going to be doing a giveaway on Facebook tomorrow too (Vamp-Hire Release Party) where you can win a free book from Permuted. I invite you to come over be check it out.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Stories

The Reviews are Coming in for #VampHire #PDF1 #BookBoost #snrtg

In one week, my first YA eBook will be published. As this rolling ball begins really rolling, it’s been getting some excellent reviews too. I’ll just let them speak for themselves.

“Finally, a refreshing addition to the vampire genre.”

“A thrilling novel vampire-lovers can sink their teeth into.”

“A thrilling novel where traditional meets dystopian. Brilliant.”

“Although I am not a huge fan of vampire books, I am a fan of Gerald Rice. I love everything that he has written. And Vamp-Hire is no different. First off, forget all that typical vampire lore. This is nothing like that. This is original and modern and more realistic. It was full of action and emotion and I had a lot of trouble putting it down. I sure hope there will be a sequel to this because I can’t see it ending here. Great job Gerald, I think this may be the best yet!”

You can pre-order a copy of Vamp-Hire for your Kindle.

1 Comment

Filed under New Stories

Cover Reveal for Vamp Hire #iartg #snrtg #bookboost

I just got this from the publisher a few days ago. It’s gritty, it’s dark, it’s perfect! I’m really excited for February 24th to get here.


Leave a comment

Filed under Cool Stuff, New Stories

Next Act


So The Roof is going pretty well so far. I’ve plotted most of the first act and I’m slowly fleshing out a bunch of ideas. I have no idea to whom this project will go. I could shop it around or publish it myself. It really depends on what I have going on once I finish the first draft. It’s weird to say considering I’ve written so many zombie stories, but this will be my first full-length zombie novel.

Speaking of zombies, be on the lookout for my very first anthology (that I edited, anyway) Anything but Zombies You can reserve it on Amazon here:

Leave a comment

Filed under New Stories

Keepsakes, pt II #amreading #iartg #rzp

Hope you enjoyed the first installment. If you haven’t read, stop now and click here.

Come back tomorrow for the next installment (if you came here through Twitter you can also search for #rzp). And don’t forget to check out my book list.

George was aware of his imposing size, his mother always said how he had to be careful with people and Carol being as small as she was, he knew better, but… there’s only so far a guy could be pushed. He immediately regretted it after, wanted to run after her when she fled the room, but was too afraid of what he might still do.

He heard her screaming and knocking around in the kitchen, probably destroying it, but as soon as the anger rose up in him to run downstairs he would see that wounded face again. He couldn’t take that face again.  George sat and began to weep.

It wasn’t long before the noise stopped. George didn’t have his watch on, but he didn’t think it’d been that long, anyway. He could have blacked out for a little while.  He did that sometimes when he got angry.

“Carol?” he called. “Carol?” He crept downstairs, afraid to face her. “Carol, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I understand if you want to leave me.” He didn’t understand, but you were supposed to say stuff like that to get people to forgive you.

Of course, she was gone.

“Of course,” George had said.

“Of course,” he said now, reminiscing. He felt himself bristle with anger and pulled one more time as hard as he could and it seemed to give somewhat, but George would never know for certain because in the next instant the barbs extended to spikes, impaling George’s hands.

He pulled his hand free and fell on his butt for the second time, holding his hands up as the blood flowed freely down his forearms. He blinked twice, the pain running past the wounds to his elbows.

Thump. George looked up at the cabinet door by the sink. Thump. There was something in there, brushing against the door. George got up on his knees, ignoring the pain. He crawled over to the door and pulled it slightly ajar. The spill of light revealed a few golden strands of… something. He pulled it open slightly farther and the wedge of light revealed more golden strands. He could see something round and glistening on the surface, but the thing in front of him was a mass of parts to him.  It was slow in becoming a whole.

“Carol?” he said, yanking the cabinet door open.

Carol’s head lolled out of the cabinet, skin shriveled in patches and one remaining eye sunken and fogged over.  The other socket was a hole, the artery hanging loosely over the cheek. There were a few straggling strands of her blonde hair left, clinging to her bare skull. Her lower half was gone and what was left looked picked bare.

“Carol, no,” George whispered. His mind raced as tears filled his eyes, wondering when he had done this. His hand was cradling the back of her head, propping her up.

Thump. Carol’s head fell free from George’s hand. He scooted away from the other cabinet door and slowly pulled it open.

Thick green tentacles burst from behind the door and wrapped firmly around George’s forearm. He heard the bones crack as they began to pull. He screamed as they relentlessly drew him in, slapping his free hand above the door and pushing. George felt his shoulder jolt out the socket and his clenching muscles begin to give way. He caught site of the potted plant above the sink one last time before he was pulled in. The bud had burst open; the issuing flower turned toward him.  It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

He still struggled half-heartedly, recognizing the animal grunting as his own voice. His body shook from the effort as he felt the tentacles wrapping around his thighs and waist. The plant lifted him and pulled him in except for his arm and head. He cried out one last time before his face smashed with a sharp crunch and neck and shoulder were nearly torn off as he was drawn in. His fingers hooked the cabinet door and shut it behind him.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Stories

Keepsakes #amreading #iartg #rzp

I wrote this story prior to 2002 as part of a thing (I won’t go into it because I’m not entirely sure what it was supposed to do at the time). I’ve progressed a lot since this time in my writing, but this one is still pretty good. Please, enjoy.

Come back tomorrow for the next installment (if you came here through Twitter you can also search for #rzp). And don’t forget to check out my book list.

George sat and stared at that stupid potted plant. He plucked his thumb out of his mouth and fresh beads of red immediately sprouted up. The pain was unbelievable when he’d tried to pull that thing from the windowsill.

He stood and approached it, tentatively, wondering how it had rooted to that one spot. Carol would have enjoyed seeing this. Running off the way she had, she hadn’t meant to do anything but hurt him. She was always so selfish.

George had gotten his revenge, though. Carol had left everything behind. Her clothes, jewelry, her cat, Gus- everything. He’d taken his time, destroying it all. George relished the pain of Gus’ claws raking his arms for the last time right before he’d gone into the dishwasher. The platinum pendant went on top of the pyre of her clothes he’d set fire to in an abandoned parking lot.

“Friggin’ Robby Keller,” he muttered to himself as he examined the potted plant. “What he have I don’t?” There were tiny razor thin barbs edging all the way around the saucer underneath the pot. George sucked on his thumb again, carefully circling his other hand around the top of the pot. Those barbs had hurt so much he’d stumbled over his own feet trying to get away from them.

“‘He listens to me’,” George mocked. “‘He cares about me as a person.'” He tugged on the pot but it didn’t budge.

“What the hell?” he said. He gave it two more tugs, wrapping his wounded hand around the other and put his knee onto the cabinet face for leverage.

The plant had been his special project. He’d been ready to chuck it as far as he could when he decided to do something different. Instead, he poured everything in it he could find. Bleach, mouthwash, spoiled milk and beer when he was home alone drunk- anything, so long as it wasn’t water.

The damn thing hadn’t died, though. It didn’t grow, either. It was always looking like it was ready to bud, but that was exactly how it looked the day Carol had brought it home.

“What is it?” he asked her, annoyed.

“I don’t know, but it’s exotic!” she said, looking excited. Carol was always into ‘exotic’. That’s why George had to waste so much money on jewelry. She was so inconsiderate she’d even waited until he’d slipped the engagement ring on her finger before telling him no. Before telling him she was leaving him for Robby Keller. He could take care of her the way she deserved to be taken care of, she’d said. He knew how to treat a woman, she’d said. He was a real man, she’d said. Her bags were already packed- when George had seen them he had assumed she was going to visit her mother again.

The things she’d said to him then. George knew he wasn’t the brightest man or the best looking, but he didn’t deserve how she’d made him feel. He didn’t even want to think the words she’d said, they burned him so.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Stories

If Only I had an Idea What This Was #buyindie #iartg #horror

Nick entered through the mudroom. His heart hammered in his chest like a fist-sized bird eager to be free. He could sense this was it, three weeks of investigation had lead him here, to this house.

He hadn’t knocked or even waited to see if anyone would come in or out; his sense had told him he needed to be inside immediately, that it was beyond a matter of life and death.

Nick proceeded quickly to the door opening into the house proper. He paused with a hand poised over the knob, took out his gun. Shooting someone wouldn’t be preferred but at the end of the day he’d rather risk a trial than be dead.

He opened the door and was surprised at the sight of a little person encased in shrink-wrap, strapped to a white piece of cardboard, propped against a door. Almost like a tiny (well, big) cut of steak like at the grocery store.

Poor little man. Nick thought that must have been a horrible way to go even though he had a serene look on his face. He was about to step into the little nook and passed him when the little man twitched. Barely perceptible and Nick almost missed it, but he had. He froze, stared intently, waiting for another movement.

There it was. The corner of his eye, half an eyelid flickered and was still again.

I wrote this back in September of last year, but I have no clue where it’s supposed to be going. It’s intriguing, but I have no clue what to do with it. It was titled, The Followers of Xokk.

Download a copy of Where the Monsters AreOnly $0.99!

Nick reached an arm out and finger-poked a hole in the plastic covering his open mouth. It took a moment, but then the ragged edges of the hole began to flagellate with the slight push-pull of his respiration.

Nick quickly unwrapped his head, then his body, coloring slowly trickling into the little man’s sheet-white cheeks. He blinked a couple times and Nick set him on the floor.

He regripped his gun. How many hundreds of years had man been doing that? Gripping a weapon for security like a child with a blanket or ragged teddy bear. But his tightening grip was inversely related to his relaxed mental state. At that moment he was supremely confident he could have handled an army of unknown foes with only the dozen bullets in his gun simply by virtue of how tightly he held it.



Leave a comment

Filed under New Stories

Marmon #free #amreading #kindle #iartg

This story appears in my book of shorts, Goners, available on Amazon. Download a copy, it’s only $0.99!

I was stopped behind a van at a red light when an old woman who could barely see over the steering wheel pulled in behind me. I noticed her almost immediately through the rearview mirror. She was alternately fussing with her hair and gripping the wheel, looking around and talking to what seemed no one in particular.

She was driving one of those classic cars I didn’t know the name of. From what could be seen in the rearview it was in excellent condition, although it could use a wash. It was black with wood-paneling trim.

There was someone in the back seat running a hand in what looked like a pink mitten up the rear passenger side window. I couldn’t see anymore than the long, stripe-sleeve covered atm, but it looked like clothing a child would wear. The hand kept going up the window then the arm stretched out impossibly long as it went across the ceiling and back down the other window.

Tuning out the old woman and her passenger, my mind turned back to a half hour ago. Life had been slowly returning to me over the past six months and if things kept going well like they had today, it would be no time before I could get visitation with the kids.

I couldn’t blame Cynthia for leaving. She had tried too long with me and it had gotten to a point where she was drowning in my troubles. Leaving the house was next to impossible. Driving was out ofthe question. I had to be hip deep in the bag when she shuttled me to physical therapy. But in another half hour maybe I could show her that was all behind me now. We’d made a lunch date for later today.

The night of the accident was a distant memory. Doctors had patched me up with three pins in my leg and a plate in my skull, but being whole again was still a ways off. I gripped the steering wheel with the relief of being able to drive without thinking every other car would plow into me. Dr. Rivers had reduced my antidepressant prescription by half after today’s session.

The light turned green. Edging my foot off the brake as the van in front of me pulled away my car was slammed from behind. I rolled a few feet and put on the brake, my brain pinwheeling from whiplash. I closed my spinning eyes and sat a moment, running a mental diagnostic over myself. Nothing seemed hurt.

“Excuse me,” said an elderly voice just outside the car a moment later. I opened my eyes and saw her, breath pluming in the cold air. She appeared worried. It was the old woman from the antique car, but it took a moment to recognize her. I hadn’t expected her to be dressed so strange in a buttonless ratty fur coat hanging off her like a clothesline and some flower-patterned sleepwear thing underneath.

“I’m okay,” I said, not thinking to wind down the window. She shook her head, the half blank, worried expression still on her face. Not wanting to bump her, I began opening the door slowly. I waved her off so she would back up, but she just stood there.

“Move!” I shouted. Immediately, regret followed at the harshness of my tone against the semi-harmless elderly woman. She backed up and I swung the door open, almost forgetting to put the car in park.

I stepped out of my nest of warmth and into the stranglehold of the bitter cold. My bad leg nagged me as the crisp air worked its way underneath my coat. I ducked back into the car, turned on the hazard lights and took my keys. This fragile old woman had to be at least a foot shorter than me and I’m only five-foot nine. She had one white bunny slipper and one green alligator one. Her sunken blue eyes were on the verge of falling into the back of her skull when she looked up at me (I had seen that shade of blue before. When Cynthia and I were shopping for colors to paint the baby’s room when she first got pregnant. Cerulean.) She had a fine line of red lipstick that was more than ample for paper-thin lips and her iron black, neck length hair was a tangled mess.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” I asked.

“Could you get my baby?” she asked in a gruff, smoker’s voice, clasping one hand in another and kneading it against her chest.

“Baby?” I asked, still shaking the mud from my brains.

“Yes, when you hit my car she got frightened and hid.”

“When I–” I began, but cut myself off. “Look, ma’am, we need to exchange some information here. I think we need to write down each other’s licenses and insurance and phone numbers. “

“I don’t have any insurance or a telephone. Please–could you get my baby?”

I wanted so desperately to lose it all over the old bat, but it was a setback I could do without. Maybe I could prove something to myself by going the other route. I took a deep breath and exhaled.

“Where is your baby?” I asked, forcing my face into a smile.

“Oh bless you, sir!” She smiled with long, nicotine-stained teeth. “In the trunk.

She’s in the trunk. Bless you, bless you!”

Poking my head into her car, I looked for the trunk release.

“Oh, that won’t work, sir. She’s holding it shut.”

Holding it shut? What kind of animal could do that?

“What’s in there?” I asked, jerking my thumb in the direction of the trunk.

“My baby,” she replied as if that were all the explanation I needed.

I eyed her suspiciously, chalking it up to the last remnants of my paranoia while approaching the rear of the car. Visions of a grandmotherly rapist/murderer briefly danced in my head.

I saw the tiny pink mitten sticking out of the trunk, holding the lid down. It looked like a human could be in there, but there was some feature not consciously noticeable that kept me from believing there was a little girl in there.

“I don’t need this right now,” I muttered to myself. I realized my fingers were scratching my neck at the base of my skull or my ‘comfort itch’ as my psychologist had called it on first examination of the worn, scabbed-over skin haIfa year ago. “Stop it,” I said, making fists at my sides.

“Lady, I think we need to call the police,” I said walking back to the old woman. “I mean, just so they can document this whole thing and everything. I just want to do the right thing here.” Part of me felt like a coward. It told me I was failing on a fundamentally mentally-healthy plane. I wasn’t supposed to be the guy who saw the demon-eyed driver behind every wheel anymore. How could I just take this giant step backward?

“Please no!” she begged. She began a bout of coughing from being exposed to the cold so long. “They’ll take my baby away and stick her in some kind of zoo. I just need to comfort her and tell her everything’s all right, but I just need her to come out. Surely a gentleman like you can talk her out of there?”

The old woman’s plea combined with my own self-loathing redoubled my resolve to go back there and get that trunk open. But what was in there?

“What kind of animal do you have in there?” I asked again, wondering why she couldn’t do it. I had to know, my curiosity and paranoia were racing neck and neck.

“Animal?” She repeated like I’d spoken the word in Farsi. “That’s my baby.”

It felt like someone snapped their fingers in my head and it came to me. I held an index finger up as the idea fermented in my head.

“Is that an orangutan in there? Some kind of monkey?” Probably something she couldn’t legally have. I smiled as I turned to go back.

“My baby,” the old woman said, nodding and smiling.

“I swear you had me going there for a second. I thought you had some kind of freak show running around in there.” I knelt in front of the trunk, grimacing as my knee cracked, and lightly touched the pink mitten.

“Hey, she doesn’t bite or anything does she?”

“She hasn’t so far,” she called back.

Something about our exchange suddenly nagged me, but I ignored it, choosing to bask in this all around good feeling I had in me. I was helping an elderly person, my car probably wasn’t even scratched (but I should check before I let her go) and in less than twenty minutes I’d be sitting with my wife at our favorite restaurant with an interesting story to tell.

“Hey you, whatcha doin’ in there?” I asked, doing my best to appear harmless as I took a peek. I heard some sound from inside–kind of like a coo, but more whistle-ish.

Do monkeys coo?

Drop it already.

A big blue eye winked at me as the trunk opened a little. It was to one side of the trunk and I put on my best closed-mouth smile. I put one hand on the hunk and stroked the pink mitten with the other. The cooing got louder and I could suddenly smell something like lilacs in the air. The mitten let go and withdrew into the trunk and then the other eye opened.

“What’s her name?” I yelled. I didn’t want to just yank the trunk open and frighten her. I would either be balls or face level with the trunk and didn’t want to imagine what an orangutan in a panic could do to either area.


She touched my bare wrist with both mittens, running them up and down the length of exposed skin. It felt weird kind of. Like flesh with no bone underneath. I peeked again, but turned my face back toward the old woman.

“I said, what’s her name?”


I had both of the following thoughts at the same time, but only voiced one. Why isn’t she over here? and “She has the most beautiful cerulean–

–I finished the sentence, but right as the second eye slowly gravitated to the other side of the trunk, both still fixed on me–

–aiEEEEEEEEEEEES!” I screamed, falling on my butt and frantically crab walking away. The adrenalin rush erased the pain of my bad leg and I threw the trunk open as I fell. It was the most horrifying thing I have ever seen. A hairless mass of flesh-colored coils beneath a bulbous human head. ‘She’ looked to be about five or six years old with huge lidless eyes attached to the freckled face by long, cord-like structures jutting from the indentures where her eye sockets were. Some coils were different sizes and lengths and at the end of each was a pink mitten. There was a knitted sweater covering the small torso with armholes for each of the upper coils. I didn’t look too long (thank goodness), but it looked like a giant squid had successfully mated with a human.

The mouth was nothing but angry rows of little silver scythes gnashing together. Everything else was too overwhelming to remember.

An acrid odor choked the air out of my lungs and everything was suddenly colored with polka dots. Right before I blacked out as it sprung from the trunk at least ten feet in the air, all the while the old woman screaming unintelligibly.

I awoke after what hopefully was only a moment later to find it and the old woman gone. I stood on shaky legs, the aftereffects of that stench still wearing off, retching twice before throwing up right there on the street.

It was amazing that during this entire exchange only a few cars had passed right after the initial accident. But maybe not, when I thought about it. I had driven this way because I knew that.

Wiping my mouth on the back of my hand, I walked in a semicircle around both cars, watching closely for any sign that that thing was still around. I could see plain as day it wasn’t in the antique car. The trunk was still open and there was nothing on either the front or rear seats.

I’d left my car door open, though, and there was an abundance of room beneath the overflowing mess of papers and trash I had in there.

There was no way I was getting back in my car. After those coils and how fast that thing had been I couldn’t sit in there with the possibility of having that as a passenger.


Oh no! I’d almost forgotten. I’d never get a cab here in time and make our lunch date. She wouldn’t wait more than ten minutes. I was hanging by a thread with her as it was, I couldn’t just not show up. And there was no explaining this. No, this went in the vault. Forever. I’d come too far to have a setback. Things would work this time. Even if the boogeyman had turned out to be real.

The old woman’s car. I needed it more than she did right now. I was ninety percent certain that thing wasn’t in there and getting down and looking underneath the car I was ninety-nine percent sure.

I kicked my door shut and got into the old woman’s car. It took a moment to orient myself, but with the throaty roar of the engine coming to life, soon I was on my way.

My fingers found my comfort itch and as I pulled away, constantly peering over my shoulder, I tried to think of a way to tell Cynthia that I was giving up my driver’s license.

If you enjoyed this story, please pick up
Goners and then download Goners, Volume 2: Left to Die (yes, I made that awesome cover).

Leave a comment

Filed under New Stories

Mark Your Calendars! #Free #Kindle #Amreading #iartg

I dug up another oldie and you can read it for free tomorrow right here. I’m posting my short, “Marmon” on my site tomorrow that appears in my book of shorts, Goners. If you’d like to read it, stop by this time tomorrow and it’ll be available. And if you love it, please go by the whole thing!

Leave a comment

Filed under New Stories

I Only Have Eyes for You #amreading #horror #iartg

Download a copy of Where the Monsters Are. Only $0.99! It’s been getting some great reviews!

            I must be dead.  I can’t feel a thing, but there’s this music echoing far off in the distance.  I feel completely at rest until I feel a soft fingertip begin to stroke my forehead between my eyebrows.

            Slowly, my eyes open and look into the most angelic face I have ever seen.  A beautiful brown-skinned woman faces me, completely naked at least from the waist up, her hair like sunshine.  Her eyes are closed, but the way she’s smiling, I wanna get up and kiss her or something, but I’m just completely numb with comfort, resting my head in her lap.

I think I remember what happened.  Me and a couple buddies rented a boat and went fishing on the lake.  We didn’t catch any fish, but we sure got hammered.  So hammered, we got lost.  We tried finding our way back to the shore when that storm came out of nowhere, swallowing the daylight in angry, dark clouds.  Ted and whatever wasn’t tied down got washed away in the first huge wave that hit us.  Chris got pitched right off the side, staring at the suddenly blanketed sky, when a huge wave rose abruptly beneath us and threw him off the deck.  Al was still holding onto the steering wheel when we hit a wave so big it almost stood the boat on its stern, the bow pointing into the sky.  He dangled by the wheel and I was hanging onto a sail, arms and legs wrapped tightly around the pole.  We hung there in slow motion and I thought we were going to tip all the way over and land upside down.  But we rode the wave out and slammed hard right side up.  I woke up flat on my back, seeing stars and coughing up water and trying to get my breath back.  My vision cleared and I sat up looking over to where Al used to be.  As I got my footing, I turned and looked around.  The rain was coming down in sheets so thick I never saw the boat heading towards the rocks.

Then I woke up here with her.  The longer I lay here in her arms, the more distant all that seems, my memories of everything fading away with each stroke of her hand.  The expression on her face is saying, “You’re here with me now. Be safe.”

She blows something off her fingertip and begins to stroke my left leg.  A single hair catches in my right eyelash and without opening her eyes she deftly plucks it out with her free hand.  Something doesn’t feel right as she strokes my leg.  I try to sit up to see if it’s broken, but she gently eases me back down, not saying a word, but telling me to relax.

I rest my head in her lap again and look at that beautiful smiling face and I don’t care about my leg anymore.  The discomfort goes away and she eventually moves to my arm, running her fingers up and down.  I reach up to touch her face and see my arm has become translucent.  I can see the powder blue sky through it, and the ghost of the bones and veins underneath.

Panicked, I open my mouth to scream, to speak, to something, but as soon as I think it, her hand is holding mine, taking hold of my fear.  I look at her face and it simply tells me, “No,” as it radiates love and affection that resonates all through me and I relax again.  The music in my head returns, and she begins stroking my arm again.  I’m falling in love with her, I realize, as I drowse without closing my eyes and fall asleep desperately wanting to look into hers.

I don’t recall opening my eyes.  I’m briefly aware she has been rubbing my chest, the after-sensation of her hands touching me, still lingering.  She cuddles me like a baby, rubbing my neck and running her fingers through my hair.  I feel like I’m still wrapped in a wonderful dream as her hands rapidly go over my face and head.  She lovingly traces every crevice, the corners of my eyes, my laugh lines, the little divit under my nose, over and over again.

I want so badly to touch her face and as I realize I can’t, I understand what has happened.  I don’t need to touch her face anymore.  She holds all that is left of me in her hands and somehow… somehow I still see.  And I know.  I feel myself coursing through her veins, as much a part of her as she is to herself, but still separate.  She holds me away from her, waiting for my answer and I say, “Yes,” with all of me that is left.  She opens her eyes and there are only empty sockets.  She closes her hands over me and when she opens her eyes again, she sees through me.  Instantly, the barriers of where I end and she begins, disappear and we meld into one.  We look down to where I was lying and there are only the tattered rags left of what was my clothing.  We look a moment, not in mourning, but simple curiosity and then use our tail to push back towards the rising tide and back into the ocean.  Our gills open and begin to breathe as we swim away.


Leave a comment

Filed under New Stories