The Portal and the Panther

SynopsisThe Portal & the Panther by RA Marshall 400x625

Mecksville, Arkansas, is a sleepy little town where the biggest headlines are about high school football and everybody knows everybody’s business.  Jon Parker was “born ‘n bred” in Mecksville, and he can’t wait to escape it once and for all.

But a few days after his seventeenth birthday, Jon undergoes a startling transformation on the floor of the boys’ bathroom:  Without warning, Jon’s body shifts into the form of a black panther.  A mysterious girl rescues him from the bathroom before anyone catches him, claiming that she’s also a “Shifter” and can explain everything.  Jon listens to her explanation, but he’s not sure that he likes it.  Despite all his plans for escaping the small town he grew up in, his new shifting ability threatens to keep him stuck in Mecksville for the rest of his life, guarding a portal that leads to other worlds.

Forced to reckon with his past and make decisions about his future, Jon’s choices impact not only his own life, but also the lives of all the people he cares about most.  And when intruders come through the portal, Jon’s failure or success will determine the fates of his friends.

Genre:  Young adult contemporary fantasy, with a touch of paranormal romance.

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“Each character is likable in their own way, particularly Jon. He’s flawed, suffers from a less-than-perfect childhood, and he’s easy to relate to. Layla is tough, but at the same time she had a vulnerable side too. And Kristin seems like your typical girl next door, but she has more courage than you’d give her credit for at first.  The story is engaging and well-written, and the characters shine on the pages. The world-building is impressive, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.”

5-Star Reviews from Amazon:

“I don’t often read shapeshifter/fantasy adventure books, but The Portal and the Panther won me over with its incredible heart… This story revolves around its young characters and the choices they make about family, friendship, love, and – yes – saving the world from inter-dimensional intruders… Bottomline: I highly recommend checking out Jon’s adventure here – and after that, Kristin. The writing is top-notch, the plot unique, and the characters become like beloved friends. You won’t be disappointed!” – JH Price


“Teenagers have a rough way to go nowadays. They struggle with family issues, substance abuse, peer pressure, and any number of very real issues. Drop shifting into a panther in the boys bathroom at school into the mix, and you have a heart-warming, slightly hilarious twist to the mayhem of puberty. Jon is a loveable and loyal main character who struggles to survive high school before this mess… Small town life never looked so interesting before this.” – Julie Angel


“I got this book because the description REALLY caught my attention. A teenage boy suddenly shifts into a panther… Interesting beginning, right? That was yesterday morning.

I started The Portal and the Panther as soon as I finished the review of the other book I’d been reading and this book is breathtaking! I grew up in the Missouri Ozarks (just north of the Arkansas Setting) and went to a small high school and I have to say R.A. got the dynamics of a small high school right!… A very interesting book and I’m more than ready to read the second book, which is also available on Amazon!” – Ginny

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The big one back-handed me again, harder this time.  I tasted blood and the cut on my bottom lip grew longer.

In that strange, computerized accent, he repeated, “You will tell us everything.”

“I will tell you nothing,” I answered again.  Admittedly, I felt more nervous than I sounded, but I kept a smirk on my swollen face anyway.  Our stubborn back-and-forth had been going on like this for at least five or six minutes now.  He’d say, “Tell us everything,” I’d say “No,” he’d hit me, and then we’d start again.  Hoping he wouldn’t notice, I gently pulled again at the duct tape that wound around my wrists and bound my hands behind the chair.  Nope.  It definitely wasn’t something I could tear free, especially not in the weakened condition I was in.

I wouldn’t be able to use brawn to get out of this, I realized.  But that was ok.  I had brains, too.

The Big Guy looked over at his three companions, who were lined up along the wall underneath the mantlepiece like the obedient little soldiers they were.  It was an odd contrast to see — the Krull family’s photos and trinkets behind their heads on the white mantle, while these three monsters looked on at me and the tied-up family impassively.  I’d named the one with the red hair and brilliant green eyes, the fire-user, Red.  The other two, the air-users who looked like they had to be twins, I thought of as Blond 1 and Blond 2.  I was pleased to see that Blond 1 was still bleeding from the long gash I’d put on his arm.  Hopefully that meant he wouldn’t be using that arm for the rest of the night.

When Big Guy met Red’s eyes, Red nodded curtly and, stepping away from the twins, he produced a ball of blue and orange flame, dancing in the palm of his hand.  He walked across the room and stopped next to Kristin’s father, Joe Krull, who was still out cold.  Mr. Krull’s head lolled behind him, and his mouth hung open like a passed-out drunkard.  Then Red lightly rested the hand that wasn’t holding the flame on Mr. Krull’s shoulder and stared at me.

“You will tell us everything,” Big Guy said again.  “Or this family dies.”

Uh-oh.  How much longer would I be able to stall them?

Kristin’s little brother made one of his high-pitched squeals and rocked back-and-forth even faster.  On the other side of Kristin’s dad, her mother moaned.  At this point, her mother’s cheeks were red and puffy from all her crying, moist with tears and smudged with wet mascara.  As for Kristin, though, she looked right at me, not blinking, not crying.  Her eyes were wide, but it was the only hint she gave that this situation was completely insane.

There was no way I was going to let her die like this.  Or her family.

It’s not exactly a comfortable thing to be sitting naked and bound to a chair, bleeding and with both of your eyes starting to swell shut, six feet in front of the girl you’ve liked since before you even knew what “liking” a girl really meant.  But for both my sake and Kristin’s, I kept up my act, doing my best to look like none of this bothered me at all.  Doing my best to look like I knew more than I did.

“You will tell us everything, Jon Parker, or else Garju incinerates them one-by-one.  Slowly.”  Big Guy cupped his hand under my chin and tilted my head up, forcing my eyes away from Red, who I guessed must be Garju, and swiveled my face towards his.  I met the big man’s eyes without flinching.  Like Garju’s eyes, his were a weird shade of bright green, the color of a fresh new leaf in the spring.  They look like any ordinary humans, I thought, except for those creepy eyes.  I could tell that Big Guy was trying to use his Jedi mind-trick stuff on me, but either he didn’t realize that his powers couldn’t affect shapeshifters or else he thought that if he just tried a little harder, he could force his way into my mind.  After a long moment of staring at me, he let go of my chin.  He straightened up again, the top of his head almost brushing the light fixture attached to the living room’s ceiling fan.

But he didn’t have to force his way into my mind to get me to talk.  The sight of Garju playing with that ball of flame, making it leap up and down in his palm while his other hand still rested on Mr. Krull’s shoulder — that was enough to get me talking.  And somehow, Big Guy already knew that.

All of them stared at me now — the whole room.  Big Guy, Garju, Blonds 1 and 2, Kristin, Kristin’s family.  Well actually, Mr. Krull wasn’t staring at me.  He wasn’t staring at much of anything except the back of his eyelids.

I only hesitated for a moment while I took in the situation and let my mind spin through different options.  Obviously, I couldn’t tell them what they really wanted to know.  I couldn’t tell them how many of us there were or admit that we were still in possession of the keys.

But that didn’t mean I couldn’t tell them anything.  

I glanced at Kristin, meeting her eyes.  I wished I could just step inside her head and tell her my plan, the way I could have done with Layla, but that wasn’t an option.  Kristin knew me well enough that she would hopefully pick up on what I was up to once I started.  She must have known I’d thought of something, though, because she gave me the smallest, most imperceptible nod.  It was a nod that said, “I trust you.”  The crew of maniacs would have noticed that nod if they’d been facing her, I’m sure, but luckily, all their attention was still on me.  I also thought I saw Kristin’s shoulders move ever-so-slightly.

What was she up to?  Maybe I wasn’t the only one with a plan.  I didn’t have time to speculate, though, because I could tell Big Guy was losing his patience with me.

“Fine,” I said.  A few long seconds had gone by since he’d released my chin, and I tried to sound properly frustrated and defeated.  He’d demanded that I tell him “everything,” but “everything” was an awfully vague word.  All I needed to do was keep them occupied and distracted while we waited for the cavalry to arrive.  And they would arrive.  I had to believe them on that.  I only hoped they’d show up before Big Guy realized I was feeding him a bunch of bull.

I heaved a big sigh.  “Fine,” I repeated, managing to put even more whiny frustration into my voice.  Blond 1 turned his head to look at Blond 2.  Blond 1 smiled.  Blond 2 returned it.  They were poisonous smiles.

“I’ll tell you everything.  Just don’t hurt them.”

And then I launched into my life story, starting with the cold, gray day back in October when it all started.

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