A Short Story and a Twist of Lyme

Last week, my youngest daughter began complaining of leg pain and her left knee swelled up. A couple visits to the doctor later, some talk about juvenile arthritis and lupus,  and she was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease and is now on a three-week course of antibiotics that will – hopefully! – give this illness the giant, massive kick it deserves.

Because of being distracted by waiting for her diagnosis to come in, I didn’t accomplish much in the way of writing this week. Daughters of Men has sat and collected dust, and aside from the last few edits for An Unpracticed Heart, I wasn’t doing much creatively. And then Monday night, a story began spilling out of me, flooding faster than I could scribble it down on the page, and now it’s Friday and this little 2200 words of something is done.

Writing this pushed me through some massive stress this week, and so here is the result of that stress, a little thing I call… Splintered Teeth.

*** Splintered Teeth

The creature was not as large as the legends had made it out to be.

The stories had betrayed her, tales told at night and over fires, the hands of the elders casting shadows that dipped and swayed, dipped and swayed, fingers taking on the shape of wings that stretched across the night sky and tugged at the edges of dreams just begun. Wings and fire and claws that scraped the earth, a barbed tail that could curl around a mountain peak and wrench the stone away from its foundations.

So the legends had said. As if the weight of all the world and creation could be carried on its monstrous back. Monstrous. Monster. A thing to taint her imaginings and turn them into nightmares. And there it sat, grey and scarred and blind, and curled in on itself, like a cat dozing in the sun.

It clung to the edge of the cliff, claws hooked over the rocks as if the mountainside offered no more space on which it could sprawl. Its tail – thicker and more blunt than the picture painted in her mind – trailed over the side of the cliff and out of sight. And there were its feet, the ones she could see, bearing their cracked, broken talons. Too large for its body, or what its body had shrunk to with the descent of years on its frame.

But it was the wing that drew her gaze, a span of grey tinged with a dull shade of russet. Perhaps it had once borne a more vivid hue, its scales and skin gleaming like a jewel in the daylight. Perhaps it had once been a beautiful, a terrible, a frightening thing. She had assumed so much about it before setting foot on the trail, when the first warning had reached them that the monster had been sighted, spiralling through the fog, a twist of shadow circling high above them.

A dragon.

The last dragon, the elders said. With a hitch of fear in the voices, a wheeze in their lungs as if the creature’s great claws had already begun to wring the life from them.

The last dragon. The end of it all.

Continue reading “A Short Story and a Twist of Lyme”

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Flashy Frriday

That’s a typo in the title up there. I’m leaving it because I like it.

Writing has been a bit of a slog lately. Very few new words. It’s also back to summer weather this week and I never work well once the temperatures begin to float above 80 degrees. The only thing I can claim to have accomplished this week is a piece of flash fiction for a contest being held over at Booknest.eu. They’ve posted all the entries – so far – over there, but I’ll plunk mine down here just because. The only requirements (beyond the 300 words rule) was that it contain the words “black” and “wing.”

Buyer’s Remorse

I didn’t expect to see him on my doorstep.

“All sales are final,” I said, shutting the door before he could speak.

“Wait!” He shoved a booted foot in the gap, the oak slab crushing his toes. “I only want to talk.”

I opened the door, releasing his foot back to him.

“Moira.”  

I shook my head. “You gave up permission to call me that.”

He sighed. “Miss Delaney.”

“Better.”

“The potion…”

“… is fake,” I interrupted him. “I told you. Some herbs and spices. A dash of honey to make it go down smoothly. At the most, it might cure your bad breath.”

“It wasn’t for me.” He lowered his chin. “She wanted it, thought it might strengthen our love.”

“She’s a fool.”

“Well…”

You’re a fool,” I added. “Go home. Back to your lovely house and lovely girl and all the riches she’s brought you.”

“Moira,” he repeated. “I’m sorry.”

My hand went to the latch. “Go home, Finn.”

“I should’ve never left you,” he whispered. “But I couldn’t stand to be poor anymore, to toil and slog my way through life.”

I nodded along with his words. “And I gave you nothing,” I said. “Except everything I had.”

“You mix concoctions.” His lip curled upwards. “You’ve no real power, no skill with charms. And I was to work my fingers to the bone, for both of us?”

“You’re right.” I looked down, a study in penitence. “I’ve no skill with charms.”

“Moira, I—”

A whisper from my lips, and he diminished. A plop on the doorstep, and there he sat, all soft black feathers and pointed beak and two small wings.

“No skill with charms at all.” I scooped up the bird. “But that was transfiguration. And if you were smart, you would’ve learned to tell the difference.”

First Keeper by Steven Kelliher: A (mini) Review

First Keeper tells the story of the first Ember of the northern sands, and the nightmarish scenario that led to his awakening. fbdf95e4e244cbe2ab51e211f45e4f77

It serves as a prequel that takes place roughly 15 years before the start of The Landkist Saga, and features cameos by many of the main characters whose trials are chronicled beginning with Valley of Embers.

First Keeper by Steven Kelliher is a short story, only 33 pages long by my Kindle’s count. I have not yet read the Landkist Saga (beginning with Valley of Embers) but I’ll begin this review by stating that this little tease of a tale makes me look forward to diving in to the rest of Kelliher’s work.

The writing has an evocative style, some lines and paragraphs almost carrying a touch of something poetic about them. We’re introduced to Ninyeva, who in turn introduces us to the story of the first Ember by way of a tale told by the fireside.

Keliher’s way with prose might not be for everyone, but I found it to be rich and beautifully detailed right where it needed to be, and the scene of the “birth” of the first Ember is a skillfully wrought thing, one that still sticks in my head several days later.

It is available on Instafreebie here and you can also find it on Goodreads here. This is a quick shot of a story that I definitely recommend.

Midweek and a Short Story

I have a massive to-do list looming over my head, so instead of tackling that I sat down and wrote a short story.

But! Before we get to that, I do have the pre-order link for The Stranger, a horror anthology due out October 2nd that will include my standalone prequel to The Half Killed, “With My Own Eyes.”

Now, the short story.

It’s another entry into the files of That Victorian-era Werewolf/Gaslamp Fantasy Story I Need To Sit Down and Write. (I keep saying “this fall,” but this fall is almost here, so… hmph.)

So read, enjoy, and be warned that it’s a longer one, nearly 6k words. Just so you know.

An Only Pawn An Only Pawn

A flick, a brief push of air as the folded note cuts a path towards the tabletop, and there is the name and particulars of the person I am to kill, written in a cramped, blotted scrawl.

A confession, Reader: I have never killed another person. No matter that I unfold the paper carelessly, that I read the words forged on the surface of the vellum as if I were scanning the details of a shopping list; inside of me there is a great tremor of something—fear, perhaps—that what I have been appointed to do will mark an event from which I can never recover.

“There’s no concern over whether or not the death should appear natural.” The man across the table from me—Edwards, is his name, as if he were a valet come to decry the muddy state of my boots—brushes his knuckles across his jaw before pausing to bite at the edge of a ragged fingernail. Nothing else about him is ragged, his coat and trousers immaculately tailored, if a bit nondescript. But it’s not our purpose to garner attention here, in a middling tavern that treads a delicate line between the upper echelons of London society and the filthier holes of drink and gaming that share their foundations with the swarms of rats and overflowing gutters near the river’s edge.

“So a slit throat and all will be well, hmm?” I look at the paper again, at the name that loops its way across the upper corner of the page.

Lady Ariadne Drummond.

Continue reading “Midweek and a Short Story”

“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.

***