“The Stranger” Cover Reveal

Today, on this most auspicious of eclipse days (eh, or it’s the first sign of the apocalypse. EITHER WAY) I am absolutely chuffed to bring you the cover reveal of The Stranger, an anthology in which I will release my horror/fantasy short story, “With My Own Eyes,” a prequel to my novel “The Half Killed.”

Corbeau Cover large

I love it. (Am I allowed to say that? Yes. Yes, I am.)

The release date is set for October 2nd, perfect timing for Halloween and cups of cocoa and crunchy leaves (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, then… well.) I’ll post again soon with pre-order links as soon as they’re available. Now, time for coffee and some solar/lunar gymnastics…

Stranger Teaser 1

More info can be found at Corbeau Media.

Halloween is Coming

It’s still August. I know. But the giant, inflatable pumpkin displays are already up at the grocery store, surrounded by troughs of candy corn and bags of mini-Snickers and there is NO WAY any of that would last more than a day in this house if I bought it to put away until the end of October. (Which is most likely their dastardly plan: Buy candy now! Give in to temptation and eat it all! Come back to buy more!)Halloween 026

But a step outside shows the leaves on the trees acquiring that late-summer tinge of brown (I’d say that the grass is dry and crinkling, as it usually is this time of year, but it’s incredibly wet so I’ll just scratch that one off the list) and the days are, whether I want to admit or not, growing shorter. Which can mean only one thing:

Halloween is on the horizon.

It’s one of my kids’ favorite holidays! Dress up and go begging for free candy? MAGIC, I SAY. But there’s another thing happening this year that is a first for me: I’ll be taking part in an anthology with several other authors.

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN!

Wait. No. I’ve done that bit before. Hang on…

It’s a horror anthology!

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNN! (See? Better, yes.)

To tell the truth, I’m the biggest scaredy cat there is. I cannot watch or read horror and expect to live a normal and productive life for at least 72 hours after consuming such frightening product. So all of those Friday the 13th and Dawn of the Dead and blood and limbs and masks and teenagers being chased by a madman who likes to wear other people’s skin for a hat? Yeah, nope. Nope, nope, nope. Not gonna happen. I’ll stick with my Jane Austen and Narnia and comforting things like that.

And yet I wrote a short story for a horror anthology. I’m funky like that.

The story is actually a stand-alone prequel to The Half Killed, so it involves seances and possession and spirits that may or may not be what they seem. Because I’ll be honest again and admit that little does more to scare me than things like demonic possession/oppression and all of that Exorcist/ouija board kind of stuff. *shivers*

So why not write a story about it!

The anthology comes out in October (I’ll have more details soon, release date, cover, etc.) and just as a teaser, I’m posting the first couple of paragraphs (I won’t give out more than that, since it’s a short story.)

And with that, here are the first few lines of “With My Own Eyes,” a prequel to “The Half Killed.”

***

My hand trembles, and so I press it into my skirts, grasping at the fabric there until I fool myself with the belief that I can manage my own limbs again. It’s this moment I wait for above all others, the final drawing in of the curtain as a mangled prayer tumbles from my lips.

For the last hour, a hundred pairs of eyes have been upon me, their owners’ myriad shiftings and muffled coughs serving to highlight my every reluctance to open my mouth and speak. But I had no choice, and the words tumbled forth. Marta kept to her place in the wings, her chin raised so that the limelight illuminated the smooth, white expanse of her throat. She doesn’t allow me to hesitate for longer than can be attributed to my own quirks of performance, a pause here and there as I allow the spirits to seek out their communion with me. But the voices are already there, always there, clamoring for the smallest window through which they can flood my every thought.

It’s a Tuesday!

It’s Tuesday. I’m having to remind myself of this quite frequently today, since every part of my brain keeps declaring that it’s at least Wednesday or later. Silly brain.

I finally finished up the epilogue for An Unpracticed Heart yesterday. Now I simply need to edit my way through the entire manuscript (plus revise the epilogue) and have it off to my editor by Monday. *weak laughter*

Daughters of Men is trudging along (that sounds desultory, but it’s not). My plan is for a release just after the New Year, and lots of fun tying it in with The Half Killed’s world while I work on the next book in *that* series. (I really do need to stop jumping all over the place with my writing (PICK A GENRE, QUEN) but I think I’ve realized this is just how my brain works, fortunately or unfortunately. Silly brain.)

And so! To make up for the lack of meat in this post, I bring you a short story, just shy of 1500 words, titled “Driftwood.” As long as my brain doesn’t want to go ahead and turn it into something longer…

***

DriftwoodDriftwood

Jesper cursed. The cold wasn’t supposed to get to him, that’s what they said. But he felt it still, in his knees, in his hands, even in the arches of his feet. Everything hurt. And as he made his way down to the shore, clinging to the slick rocks for balance, he cursed every person who had promised him there would be no more pain.

He glanced at the horizon, at the pale green glow that illuminated the distance. It would be morning soon. It was morning already, he reminded himself, whether the blink of fading stars agreed with him or not. There was an hour left, maybe. And then who knew what other vultures would come to make their claim.

He skirted the water as best he could, veering away from the waves as they crept upwards, erasing his footprints before he could take another step. The body was in the shallows, a dark blot against the pale background. It could’ve been a piece of driftwood left to bleach in the day’s sun. Jesper moved towards it, drawn by the glimmer of life, or what was left of it.

As he approached, he saw that the dying man’s face, the closed eyes, the parted lips. He was young, Jesper thought. Hardly a man. With another glance at the brightening horizon, Jesper placed his hands on his knees and settled down on the nearest rock.

It wasn’t more than a few minutes before Jesper looked up again, his gaze drawn by the quick splash-splash of feet moving along the edge of the water. He hadn’t considered the possibility that there would be more than one coming to collect. He wondered if he should stand up, greet the newcomer as an equal. But his bones wouldn’t agree to this, and so he remained seated, one hip throbbing as he shifted his weight forward.

The newcomer moved with ease, leaping over the rocks and detritus that littered the small pools. He greeted Jesper with a grin, both cheeks pushed upwards. Jesper cleared his throat.

“Hey, uh… Don’t touch that.”

The other man balanced on the edge of a flat rock, his heels resting on nothing but air. His right arm was in front of him, fingers outstretched, while his eyes took in the cliff side, the

ragged edge of soil washed away during the storm. His grin returned when his gaze made the circuit back to Jesper. “You’re Land,” he said, teeth shining like pearls in the pre-dawn light.

A grunt. That was all Jesper would give him. “The boy’s not gone yet.”

“Soon enough.” The man bobbed on the edge of his rock, up and down, up and down, a motion that matched the lap of waves behind him.

“Do you think he’s yours, then?”

“What? This?” The man indicated the body between them, as if only registering its presence for the first time. “Of course. I’m surprised you feel the need to ask.”

Jesper waited for more. He waited for an explanation. He waited for the other man to leave off bouncing and skip back the way he’d come. He looked down at the body half sunk in the water, the body of the boy who had yet to die.

“You’ve no claim on him,” Jesper announced.

“Really? Should we cut him open? See what’s filling his lungs?” The man chuckled. “If he’s got a chestful of dirt, then I’ll gladly relinquish my hold on him.”

“He’s on land now,”Jesper pointed out.

“That he is,” he conceded.

“He’s also still living.”

Again, the grin. “I’d heard you were a stickler for details.”

Jesper nodded toward the water, illuminated by the sky above it. “There’s not much time left.”

The man leaned over the body, eyes narrowing as he searched the neck for a pulse. “No worries,” he said. “Another minute or two and it won’t matter.” He stood up and tilted his face up toward the sky.

The other man was also young, Jesper thought. And tricky. The young ones always were.

“I’m surprised he’s stayed on this long,” the man announced, his smile never leaving his face. “It’s always a bit of a bother when they decide to linger.”

Jesper looked down at the boy again. His face was an odd, colorless shade. The skin that stretched across his jaw seemed to be as fragile as paper, ready to tear, to disintegrate into nothing.

“You didn’t get enough with the storm? You have to take this one, as well?”

The man stepped onto a smaller rock that dipped precariously beneath his weight. “I don’t understand why you try to be so stubborn, so solid all the time.” His grin brightened, then

faded rapidly. “You want to be immovable. You want to be a bulwark. A protection. And I… I don’t understand it.”

A minute passed. The sound of the waves was an irritant. Jesper shut his eyes and released a breath, ready to curse himself for reacting to the man’s prodding. “What?” he asked finally.

The man tilted his head to one side, regarding him curiously. “I’m sorry?”

“What is it? What don’t you understand?”

“Oh, that.” Another grin, this time accompanied by a brief shrug. “Just the silliness of it, your insistence on never giving in, and yet…” He moved gracefully from one stone to another, arms spread wide as he gestured towards the battered shoreline. “You’re so malleable, so easy to tear down.”

Jesper nodded. “You’re trying to distract me.”

The man hopped onto another rock and dropped down to his haunches. “A little bit, yes. But it doesn’t seem to be working all that well.”

Jesper shook his head.

“I must admit, you’re fairly pleasant for one of your kind.”

Jesper made no indication that he would return the compliment.

The man reached his fingers into the still pool of water that surrounded the dying boy’s legs. The surface of the water shimmered, ripples gliding outward and then swirling clockwise before they turned back again. As he removed his hand, the water calmed, the only color it reflected that of the grey sky shifting above it.

“So what are we to do with him?” he asked, his gaze fixed on the drops of water that clung to his fingertips.

We will do nothing,”Jesper said, and dug his heels into the soft sand beneath his shoes. “The boy’s about to expire, and that’s a great deal of soil beneath his rear, despite how waterlogged his boots might be.”

The man laughed. It was a bright, giddy sound that bounced off the rock wall and  mingled with the breaking of the waves against the shoreline. “What? You don’t feel inclined to gamble for him? Or perhaps some wise man will rule that we should cut him in half, each of us taking our fair share.”

Jesper placed his hands on the rock. He didn’t want to stand. He was too tired, too sore to stand. But he dug his heels in deeper, until he felt the water squelch out of the sand, and even the rock beneath him seemed to sink farther into the ground. “Should this boy have drowned at home, in the tub, which one of us would be there to collect him then, hmm?”

His smile faded, and a line appeared between his eyebrows. “You’re going to make this difficult.” He sighed and stood up again to his full height. Around him, the various pools and shallows began to ripple. Behind him, the waves that crashed onto the shore reached far enough inland to swallow up a wall of debris left behind by the storm.

Jesper didn’t stir. He felt the rock beneath him, the roots of it reaching down into the earth. He rolled his shoulders forward, and the movement was echoed by a groan from the stone wall. A few pebbles broke loose and bounced down to the sand.

“You’ve no claim on him,” Jesper repeated. He didn’t raise his eyes.

The man spread out the fingers of his left hand. The water around the boy’s figure shimmered in response. “If that’s the way you’re going to play, then—”

There was a harsh cough, and then a wet retching sound.

Jesper looked down. The boy moved. His thin chest heaved as his lungs fought for air. More coughing, and the boy managed to raise his head out of the sand, rivulets of water dribbling from the corners of his mouth.

“Oh,” the man said, his lean figure looming over the boy. “That’s inconvenient.”

Jesper let his gaze sweep back towards the horizon. A sliver of sunlight appeared above the waves, setting their crests on fire. He smiled, then. He couldn’t help it. And when he looked back at the other man, he caught a glimpse of a grin in reply before the both of them glimmered and winked out of sight.

***

 

Monday, a Short Story, and Snacks

It is eight days until the release of The Bride Price (you can read the entire first chapter here) and I’m almost to the point of running around like a chicken without its head. Not quite, but almost.

So in the meantime, and to perhaps serve as a distraction that might save my sanity, I bring you another short story/scene written for a prompt contest on Wattpad, featuring one of those old pals of mine, Mr. Callum Muir.

(And you can read more about Mr. Callum Muir here, here, here, here, and here.)

***

In Silence and Tears In SilenceAndTears

His head still hurt where they’d struck him.

It throbbed, really, and he didn’t care much for the nausea that overtook him every time he opened his eyes and attempted to focus on… well, anything. They’d been thorough, at least, in their attempt at rendering him incapacitated.

The bonds on his wrists cut into his skin where he’d twisted against them. He’d expected brass or even iron, something that would act as a reminder that despite the ache in his head, the dried blood on his chin from where they’d split his lip, this was still a civilized society. But instead it was mere twine, wrapped around so tightly he’d lost feeling in the tips of his fingers hours before.

“She’s ready to see you.”

Continue reading “Monday, a Short Story, and Snacks”

An Update and a Short Story

I’ve had sick kids in the house for the last two weeks (one of those situations where, instead of them getting it all at once, they drag it out by only getting it one at a time) so I’m a bit brain dead at the moment. Lack of sleep, never-ending fetching of cups of juice, endless viewings of Moana and Horrible Histories…

But since I’m home with sick kids, I’ve been writing and editing and baking (so much baking…) The Bride Price is getting ready for its August 1st release (*bites nails*) and is now available for pre-order! I’m still finishing up revisions on An Unpracticed Heart as well, which is slated for a late-fall release (I’m looking at end of November-ish, to be honest.) And I’ve written another short story/scene set in the same world as my previous stories Dust and Silver, Sleet and Shadow, Pale for Weariness, and Music in its Roar. I’m posting it below for you, just to prove I’ve not been sitting around, resting on my proverbial laurels. *wiggles butt* These laurel things are prickly!

***

Upon the Brink Upon the Brink

I cannot see a thing. The rain ceased some hours before, but still a heavy mist clings to everything, clutching stubbornly to the rooftops, mingling with the smoke that belches out of every chimney and streams from every factory this near to the water.

“Stop here,” I say, and knock my fist against the ceiling of the carriage for good measure. The carriage meanders to a halt, and I drop the window and poke my face through the narrow opening. Despite the lights that should belong to the buildings I know are there, the orbs of illumination that should mark the position of each boat and ship currently trawling along the surface of the river, we are encased in a thick, stinking cloud that seems to glow from within, and all without providing any light by which George, my driver, can direct the horses.

The murk is even more impenetrable outside of the carriage. I stand still for a moment, the fingers of my right hand touching the door until I find my bearings. For there are no landmarks on which my eyes can fix, and before I can restrain it, a panic wells up inside of me, tightening around my chest like a steel band.

The sound of a ship’s horn is my saving grace. My mind latches onto it like the needle of a compass, and I move forward, picking carefully over the uneven ground as I approach the river.

Behind me, George clambers down from the carriage, and I hear his soothing words to the horses before he is swallowed up by the fog behind me. My eyes have adjusted to the point that I can make out a few larger impediments on either side of me. Warehouses, no doubt. And as I pass between them, the sounds of water slapping against the bank, of metal and wooden things knocking against each other grows louder. A gentle, downward slope of the ground, and I know I’ve nearly reached the water’s edge.

The light of the lamp catches my eye before I’ve taken three more steps. Two flashes, and then it is gone. Two more flashes…

My pace quickens, and what seems like it will be a great distance to travel is proven to be another trick of the mist when I almost stumble into the bearer of the light, one arm reaching out to steady me as the shuttered lantern swings from his other hand.

“My lady?”

My gaze sketches out the edge of narrow shoulders placed somewhere beneath a head and the brim of a cap. I search for the more identifying features of a face, but the gloom is too thick and so I must make do with the familiarity of the voice instead.

“Mr. Robson.” There is no gesture I can make that he will see, and so I move closer, my eyes fixing on the thin line of light peeking out from behind the cover of his lantern. “Where is he?”

My guide says nothing, but his fingers tighten on my arm and he draws me onward, our steps kicking out stones behind us as we rush towards the river and the treasure most recently dredged out of it.

Continue reading “An Update and a Short Story”

Music in its Roar – A Short Story

I intended to have this finished nearly two weeks ago. I also intended this to be a short-short story, maybe 2k words or less. And then it grew, and grew, and grew, and finally just tipped its toe past 6k words and here we are.

If you’ve read any of my earlier short stories (Dust and Silver, Sleet and Shadow, Pale for Weariness) set in this world of werewolves and corsets and proper speech, then this is a prequel to those (though there’s no particular order in which any of them needs to be read). And if you’ve been curious as to how Mr. Callum Muir took on the curse of a werewolf, well then this is the tale for you…

Music in its Roar

Music in its Roar 

He wasn’t entirely certain of the day. Morning, perhaps. But, no. The light was all wrong. Despite the mist that clung to everything, mingling with the fog that hovered several feet above the ground, there was a quality to it; a glow that spoke of a sun completing its journey towards the horizon, of stars springing back to light in an unseen sky.

He could’ve moved if he’d wanted, away from the questionable puddle by his right hand. The stench would still be there, but at least he would find a safe remove from its source. Instead, he flexed the fingers of that same hand, one at a time, wincing as he reached the third finger, the one he suspected was broken. The pain was fresh and raw, still throbbing as he took to turning his wrist once, and then again. Another thing broken. He recognized that feeling, along with the ache in his ribs, the grinding of fractured bone every time he drew in another breath of the foul, cloying air.

There were windows, though less resembling their namesake than existing as mere apertures in a crumbling wall. Even the door was gone, ripped free of its hinges some time before, enough years passed since its removal that ivy grew thick around the frame, as if it would reclaim the building along with himself, should he lie there much longer. And if he could roll onto his side, or at least turn his head, he knew that she would be there, too.

Continue reading “Music in its Roar – A Short Story”

Monday, Another Short Story, also Monday. Always Monday.

It was a busy week last week, a busier weekend, but I’ve come out of it with a child who is now six years old, a houseful of groceries, the new Beauty and the Beast movie watched and enjoyed, a lesson learned that I should not give my three-year-old son M&Ms at any movie theatre for the foreseeable future, and too much ice cream cake and pizza consumed in the last 36 hours.

And here I am, trying to get back into the usual Monday routine. Dishes, schoolwork with the kids (we learned about clouds and condensation today, and Freja wrote a “commercial” for her latest favorite book, Penguin and Pinecone), and baths for everyone (and hopefully a quick shower for me).

I have a few more in-depth posts slated for later in the week, but to make sure I don’t slip away and forget to leave my mark here, I’m going to post the third werewolf short story I wrote recently. The prompt for this one was to focus on the transformation into a werewolf, and the word count limit was cut from 2000 words to 1500, so I had to be fierce in cutting out what wasn’t necessary. I have another story set in the same world in the works for the weeks ahead, and with a longer word count (2k-5k) so I should be diving into that one before the end of today or tomorrow.

For now, enjoy Pale for Weariness, and I’ll be back soon.

(If you’d like to read my previous short stories about Lady Drummond and Mr. Muir, you can check out Dust and Silver and Sleet and Shadow.)

Palefor Weariness

Pale for Weariness

At the bottom of the stairs, the candle gutters and nearly goes out. I turn my head in anticipation of a noise that will lead me onwards. But there is nothing. The thump that pulled me from my bed is proving itself an aberration, and I fear I’ve come all this way to find a mop slid down from its place or one of the children tucked into the housekeeper’s room, sneaking a midnight helping of jam. 

I could return to my room. My feet are bare, the marble floor that leads a checkered path towards the vestibule like a block of ice against my skin. But curiosity will be my downfall. The candle sheltered behind my cupped hand, I scurry further along the corridor, chasing shadows that remain always a few paces beyond my reach.  

Several steps more and the gun room lies ahead, along with the doorway that will lead me down to the kitchen and the laundry rooms at the rear of the building. Still, I hear nothing aside from the pulse of my own blood through my ears, the click of my jaw as I swallow over a lump of apprehension that wasn’t there moments ago. I steer myself towards the gun room. Like a fool, I’ve left all manner of weaponry upstairs. If I’m to venture further, a defense greater than a dripping candle will be needed to lend some manner of self-assurance to my search.

I open the door and step inside. My gaze dances across shadows that I recognize, the polished wood of shelves and the shine of glass in cabinet doors. I could arm a legion of men with the armaments on display, but they’re all beyond my reach. For between myself and the nearest pistol or sword or mace, lies a figure sprawled across the rug. Continue reading “Monday, Another Short Story, also Monday. Always Monday.”