Character Madness Monday - RA Marshall

Today we Welcome RA Marshall

My characters were unable to sneak out this week since I've been sleeping a lot less lately. 

So this week we're changing things up and spotlighting 

The Portal & The Panther

Book 1 of Guardians of the Portal


RA Marshall

The only thing seventeen year-old Jon Parker wants is to escape his sleepy Arkansas hometown. But everything changes when Jon stumbles into the boys’ bathroom and transforms into a black panther.

Without choice, Jon is thrust into a world where parallel universes are real, shapeshifters exist, and dangerous “intruders” control the elements with a mere thought. Like it or not, Jon's new mission is to protect our world from intruders from other worlds.

But is it a mission Jon will accept? Haunted by his past and facing an uncertain future, Jon struggles to know who he can trust. Ultimately, his decision will impact the people he loves -- and our whole world.

About Guardians of the Portal, a YA Fantasy Series

The Portal & the Panther is the first book in the young adult contemporary fantasy series, the Guardians of the Portal. The second book, The Girl Between Worlds, is already available through Kindle Unlimited.  Portal ends on a cliff-hanger, but fear not!  Girl picks up the story where Portal leaves off.

** Get The Girl Between Worlds (Guardians of the Portal, Book 2) for FREE when you sign up for the email list! Copy & paste into your browser:


Chapter 1

       I remember the exact day it all began, because it was October 2, a Friday, two days after I'd turned seventeen.  I'd had a driver's license for almost a year already but nothing to drive.  October 2 was the first day that I'd finally gotten the old red Ford pick-up running well enough to take it to school.  Paying for the Ford's final repairs had been my dad's seventeenth birthday present to me.

That morning seemed like any other -- another boring beginning to another ordinary, boring school day, another day where you sleep through study hall and spend the rest of the day avoiding all the people you don't get along with.  In my case, that's a lot of people.  Most of them, actually.

Each day started with twenty minutes of homeroom.  I have no idea why.  It's not like we did anything.  Occasionally there was a memo or something our homeroom teacher had to give to us, and at least ten of the twenty minutes are taken up with morning announcements and closed-circuit TV broadcasts, but no one ever paid attention to them.  Everyone talked through homeroom, and when the announcements come on, they just talked louder so they can hear each other over the TV.

I sat in the back corner, reading a college brochure, feet propped up against the legs of the desk in front of me.  I ignored the chattering my classmates; they ignored me.  The feeling was mutual.

An announcement came on about the homecoming football game and dance against Ozark that night, our cross-town rivals.  Homecoming gave me bad memories.  I used to be the starting cornerback on the football team, good enough that Coach Irvine moved me up to varsity at the beginning of sophomore year -- a rare honor I shared with only a few other underclassmen.

But that was more than a year ago.  I didn't play football anymore, and I tuned out the homecoming announcement as best I could.  I told myself I didn't care about the game.  Maybe the Mecksville High Screamin' Eagles would get trounced on their own field for their own homecoming.  It would serve them right.

Kristin Krull sat on the opposite side of the room, wearing her cheerleading uniform because of the game that night.  She was sitting in the knot of girls she always sat with, where they talked about make-up and clothes and parties and who liked who and whatever other meaningless things girls talked about.

She kept looking over at me through the curtain of her long auburn hair, absentmindedly fiddling with a water bottle.  I ignored her and kept reading.  Or I tried, anyway.  I knew she wanted to catch my eye; when was she going to get the message that I wasn't interested in talking?  After a minute of getting no response with me, she turned back to her friends.

Before everything went down with the football team the year before, I would have called Kristin a good friend.  My best friend, actually.  But we'd had a "falling out."  That would be putting it mildly.

On the very first day of school, she'd walked into this homeroom a few minutes after me.  She hesitated for a minute, but then sat down in the desk in front of me, put her purse down, and swiveled around to face me.

"Hey," she'd said.

I'd ignored her.

"Jon, come on, don't be like this."

I opened up a book and pretended to read it.  She put her hand on the book and gently pushed it down.

"Jon," she said, "will you just talk to me?"

"I tried talking to you," I said, meeting those big brown eyes I knew so well.  "Didn't work out so well for me."  And I got up and changed seats.

I'd found a note shoved in my locker later that day.  It read, "I'm sorry" and had no name on it.  But I recognized the handwriting.  I kept the note and stuck it in the back of my American history textbook.  I don't know why.

Anyway, on that particular Friday, I sat there in my corner, looking at the U of A brochure, ignoring Kristin, ignoring everybody else, thinking about the Razorbacks, when a sudden, powerful wave of nausea and dizziness hit me.  I dropped the brochure to the floor without meaning to and gripped the sides of the desk, swaying.  Seconds later, my vision started going gray, hazy.  Sounds came at me like they were traveling from deep inside a tunnel.

I'd never fainted in my life.  I wasn't going to start by doing it in the middle of homeroom.

I squeezed the sides of the desk harder, my knuckles going white.  I will not pass out, I told myself.  But even as I tried to hang on to consciousness, a wave of nausea hit.  I was going to throw up at any moment.  No, I told myself, get it together, Jon!  I clenched my jaw and tried to get the world to stop spinning.

The bathroom.  I had to make it to the bathroom across the hall before I threw up.

I pushed myself up shakily and tried to stay focused on the door of the classroom, lurching towards it, grabbing desks as I went to keep myself upright.

"Mr. Parker!" shouted Mrs. Mullhooney indignantly as I threw open the door and stepped into the hall.  I didn't turn around.  I didn't answer her.  Mrs. Mullhooney was cool; I would explain it to her later and she would understand.

It was lucky for me that the boy's bathroom was directly across the hall from Mrs. Mullhooney's room.  I almost made it without attracting any attention, but at the exact moment I stepped out of Mrs. Mullhooney's, a girl from the neighboring classroom stepped out of her room.  She was petite with lightly tanned brown skin, with long, frizzy-looking dark hair braided behind her.  She wore a startled look on her face and stared at me with huge, striking gray-green eyes.  It occurred to me that she was pretty, but I didn't have the wherewithal to smile or even just nod.  I probably looked like hell, anyway.  I turned away from her and stumbled through the door of the boy's room.

I opened the door to the first stall and dropped to my knees, banging the door closed behind me with one hand and flipping up the toilet seat with the other.  The smell of cigarette smoke that lingered in the bathroom and the butt floating in the bowl I leaned over didn't help my nausea.

The heat came next, radiating throughout my body as if someone had stuck me inside a furnace..  Fever.  I must have the stomach flu.  I peeled off my green army jacket and tossed it aside, then squeezed my eyes closed to stop the world from spinning and prepared myself to lose my breakfast.

Except the puking never happened.

Instead, the dizzy, pounding feeling in my head intensified, and I found myself falling sideways in slow-motion.  I ricocheted off the side of the stall and landed on my back on the floor.  I found myself thinking that it was probably the filthiest place in the school I could have chosen to faint.  But the thought didn't last long and I didn't faint, because right then, I started convulsing.

Oh God, I thought, I'm having a seizure.  How could I be having a seizure?  I don't get seizures.

I knew a kid back in middle school who used to get seizures.  Most of the time when it happened it was no big deal; you could just see his eyes roll back in his head if you were paying close attention.  He was a decent enough kid, so I'd step in front of him and use my wider frame to cover his skinny one so the other kids couldn't see.  Once or twice during the school year, though, he had a full on, fall-on-the-floor-and-thrash kind of seizure.  Watching it had been scary as hell.  As I laid there on the bathroom floor, unable to control my body, it was exactly what was happening to me.

Or was it?  I remember the kid told me that seizures didn't really hurt and he wasn't aware of what was happening when the big ones came.  I was definitely aware of what was happening, though, and it did hurt.  The heat inside of my body ratcheted higher.  It was like someone had doused me in gas and lit a match.  I was on fire.

My back was itching and burning.  My arms and legs felt like I was being stretched out on a medieval torture rack.  And I had a weird, tingling, pins-and-needles pain at the base of my spine.  It traveled up and down my back like an electric current.

I opened my mouth to call out for help, but no sound came.  I was lying on my back like an upside-down cockroach that couldn't flip itself onto its legs again.

That was when I thought I started hallucinating.  Of course, I wasn't hallucinating, but I wouldn't figure that out until later.  Because right then, my right hand turned into a huge black cat's paw.  I would have screamed if I could.  It turned back into a hand in the very next moment, so fast I knew I had to be imagining it, but then my left hand turned into cat's paw.  At the same time, I felt a horrible pressure in my jeans, as if they'd suddenly shrunk by five sizes, and I heard the sound of fabric ripping apart.  The seams of my t-shirt popped, then the whole back of the shirt ripped up the middle.  The pounding in my head kept getting worse and worse, my vision got watery, then really sharp, and instead of sounds coming from down a long tunnel, I felt like I could hear everything happening in the whole damn school.

Usually you can barely hear the announcements from inside the bathrooms, but I could hear them as if the volume was turned up to full blast and I had my ears pressed against the speakers.


I could hear the voices coming from Mrs. Mullhooney's room and from the room next door where the girl in the hall had come from.  Despite distance and two doors between us, I heard them as if they were standing right next to me, shouting at me.





Somewhere in the girl's room next to me, a toilet flushed and a stall door opened, then bounced twice.  I tried to cover my ears with my hands, but my arms didn't want to work.  I kept trying to move them up towards my head, but they just wouldn't cooperate.  And my hands had turned into big cat's paws again.

If the noise was unbearable, the smell was worse.  The boy's bathroom had smelled awful when I walked in; now it was as if someone had swabbed the floor and all the toilets with a q-tip and then stuck it under my nose.

That's when I finally passed out.

What Readers Are Saying

"I don't often read shapeshifter/fantasy adventure books, but The Portal and the Panther won me over with its incredible heart. This book isn't just about magical realism and exciting fight scenes - though it certainly has those elements too!... Real world problems one page, shapeshifting ones the next, all sprinkled with great humour and a few heart-tugging scenes that take the reader even deeper... The teen characters have real challenges to face and choices to make, and they're memorable enough that they stay with you long after the book is put down." - JH Price

"Shapeshifters, aliens, high school drama, danger, laughs - what else do you want? The story is told through Jon, who finds out pretty quickly he's not your average high school kid, and Layla is there to help him 'adjust'. Jon and Layla are both engaging characters with well-defined personalities. Jon has already been through a lot at home and at school, but it's just the beginning!" - Jim Window

"Jon is a loveable and loyal main character who struggles to survive high school before this mess. He has few friends and an absentee father. Saving the world on top of it would be more than most teenagers could bear. Like most of us, he fumbles his way through the nuances of his life with heart and charm. I was riveted to my seat through this adventure, waiting to see what would happen next. Small town life never looked so interesting before this." - Julie Angel


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