“Killer Queen” – A Short Story

Once again, author Eric Douglas has invited other writers to do some short fiction for Halloween. Once again there’s no word limit or target, so naturally my entry this year is twice as long as last year’s. You can read that one here, as well as my two prior 100-word entries here and here. And, as always, head over to Eric’s place to check out stories from all the other folks.

Now, without ado – “Killer Queen”


Sanchez wasn’t surprised that there was a crush of onlookers and paparazzi when she arrived. A bloody murder at the Calabria Club was just the kind of thing that got social media in an uproar. She whipped out her badge and used it to cut a swath through the gawkers.

“Evening, detective,” said a young officer. “Quite a scene.”

“Nothing like what’s inside, from what I’ve heard,” Sanchez said, slipping under the crime scene tape.

“It ain’t pretty.”

She already knew the basics. They didn’t make any sense, so she did her best to put them out of her mind. She wanted to view the crime scene with the freshest eyes possible.

The Calabria Club was the kind of small, hip club Sanchez could never hope to get into. She imagined it was usually all dim lights and pulsing music. Now it was deadly quiet except for the muffled talk of cops and lit as brightly as the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. It was like when you see the person you took home the night before for the first time in the cold light of morning. Never a pretty picture.

The vic was on the floor next to the bar. She was a young woman of indeterminate ethnicity, with long black hair and a short, sparkly silver dress. She lay on her back, hair spread around her head like ink spilled from a well.

Most of her face was gone.

Sanchez leaned down. “Holy shit.”

Doc Forbes, the medical examiner on call, stepped over. “Never seen anything like it.” She pointed to the vic’s throat. “Ripped clear out. I mean, somebody went in with bare hands and literally tore this woman’s throat apart. I’ve seen mob killings, dismemberments, you know? Where they’re sending a message? Never anything like this.” She shivered and walked away.

Sanchez had never seen anything like it, either. The vic’s face was a mess of blood and torn flesh. In a couple of spots Sanchez could even see bone. The vic’s throat was nothing more than a dark, damp chasm where her windpipe had been.

Sanchez shook her head. There was another officer nearby. “There’s a perp, I understand?”

He nodded to a back room.

Sanchez thanked him and headed behind the bar, toward the back office. She knocked and let herself in.

“I don’t believe it,” was the only thing Sanchez could say. “Twitter was right.”

Stina Blomgren, the up and coming model and social media star, sat slumped in a chair, flanked by a pair of officers. Her hands, caked with blood up past the wrist, lay limp on her lap. Her dress had once been electric blue, but now it was a symphony of arterial red streaks and splashes that would have made Pollock proud. A red smear streaked across her face from her lips, mixing with slowly flowing tears. She was mumbling something Sanchez couldn’t quite make out.

Sanchez tapped Cal Cooney, her partner, on the shoulder. “What happened?”

“We’re getting security footage now,” Cooney whispered, all the while keeping an eye on Stina, “but the witnesses all say that she just went nuts and attacked that girl.”

“Is she a friend? A rival?” Sanchez had a hard time figuring out what could make somebody do that to another human being.

“That we don’t know. She’s not being very helpful, saying ‘something just came over me.’ Over and over, that’s it.” Cooney said. He nodded back over his shoulder. “Stina’s purse is in the next room. Take a look through it, see if there’s anything interesting.”

Sanchez nodded and backed out of the room. In a collection of coats and bags she found a small clutch that matched the dress Stina was wearing. She cleared a spot on the table and dumped the contents out. Out came a state ID card and a couple of credit cards with Stina’s name on them. It was definitely hers. No phone. Maybe somebody in the crowd nicked it. The only other thing of interest was a tube of lipstick.

Sanchez picked it up. The tube was plain white plastic, without any of the design elements she was used to. The only thing on it was a small sticker on the bottom. “Killer Queen,” it said, along with “PINTURA,” the cosmetics company.

“Ooh,” she said. Pintura was so hot these days stores could barely keep it on the shelves. Not that it mattered to Sanchez. This would probably go for at least a sixty, seventy bucks a tube, well out of her reach on a detective’s salary. She popped the top. It was a bright, fiery red, more dazzling than any Sanchez had ever seen, sharp and forceful. It was probably a prototype of some kind, given the plain white tube. One thing was certain – Stina wasn’t going to need it where she was going. It was a shame that it would just wind up rotting in an evidence back somewhere.

Sanchez looked around for moment and, convinced she wasn’t seen, slipped the tube into her pocket. One of the perks of the job.

~~~~~

While the Calabria Club Cat Fight, as the press had dubbed it, was bloody and sensational, it was an easy case to put down. The murder had been filmed by multiple security cameras from beginning to end, with a few cell phone videos managing to capture the bloody conclusion. It was just as the witnesses had said – Stina jumped on the victim without provocation and ripped her apart. They didn’t know each other and had barely interacted at the club. Sanchez’s job was to figure out what happened – that was obvious. She’d let the ADAs and their shrinks try to figure out the why. That was above her pay grade, so she moved on to more pleasant things.

Sanchez grabbed her phone and texted Teo, a guy she met on a dating app a couple of weeks back. They’d met once in person, for afternoon coffee, just to check each other out and make sure they weren’t serial killers. He was cute and had been as nervous as she was, so she decided he was okay. She’d also run his name through the databases at the station. Sure, it was against the rules, maybe even illegal, but this wasn’t the kind of thing you took chances with. She was satisfied that Teo wasn’t a criminal, so it was time to push things to the next level.

They agreed to meet for dinner that evening at a small bistro in Sanchez’s neighborhood. She put on her best little black dress, the one that let her show off the curves she had to pretend she didn’t have at work, and grabbed the lipstick she’d taken from Stina’s bag.

She’d gone to the Pintura website to look up the color, but couldn’t find anything called “Killer Queen” in their lineup. That meant it had to be a prototype or early edition. It went on more smoothly than any lipstick she’d ever used. It was as bright red as she’d imagined, like the paint job on a Ferrari. It glistened just a bit, enough to add a thin shine to her lips. She wondered if there was something else in it, as it burned just a bit on her lips. It was like one of those Aztec chocolates that warms up the back of your mouth just as the chocolate flavor dies off. It wasn’t painful, just odd.

~~~~~

She and Teo sat at the bar and had a drink while they waited for their table to be ready, making small talk. He knew she was a cop, but not yet that she worked homicide. It was too early for her to tell stories of blood, bullets, and ripped apart families. Someday she hoped to have someone she could share those burdens with, but for now she kept him entertained with stories from her days as a beat cop. Amusingly insistent drunks, drag queens on bath salts, and neighbors engaged in the most intense disputes over the most mundane things, by contrast, made for good conversation.

Teo laughed at all the right places and showed some compassion when expected.

Teo didn’t have any amusing work stories. He was an office manager for a law firm that handled “boring business stuff,” as he put it. That made for steady work, but wasn’t particularly exciting. He came to life, though, when he talked about music and photography and his rec league basketball team which, he insisted, was the oldest in New York City.

Sanchez nodded and smiled, then did that flirty thing with her hair that was pretty much reflex when she was feeling like this. She liked Teo and could see something worth building here. She was also getting warm, like she already had an entire bottle of whiskey in her. Part of that was the flush of arousal and excitement at how well this date was going, but it was more intense than she’d ever felt before.

They were shown to their table in the corner. They kept talking over an appetizer and salads, but Sanchez increasingly found herself with less to say. Teo picked up the slack, but she started to feel like her mind was slowing down, keeping her from contributing much to the conversation. The warmth that had begun in her belly had risen and become even fiercer. Although it was winter and she knew the restaurant wasn’t hot, she found herself sweating. She became intensely aware of her own breathing.

She finished another glass of wine.

Were all of Teo’s stories this boring? She started noticing that he wasn’t really able to string two coherent thoughts together, like he was just vomiting up a stream of conscious. Was it her? She wiped her forehead, which was hot and damp. She chugged an entire glass of water in one go.

“Are you all right?” Teo asked. He cocked his head a bit, like he was genuinely curious. He touched her hand on the table, but she pulled away.

“Fine,” she said, shaking her head. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It felt like her insides were on fire, like electricity was coursing up and down her body. She started breathing fast, like she was running a race. Her heart pounded in her ears, driving on and on like a thumping dance beat. Even after the water and wine her throat was parched. Whatever she did she couldn’t get herself to settle down.

“Melissa,” Teo said. “Are you all right? Can I get you something?”

The table, bare wood without a cloth, was softer than she imagined. Her fingers dug into it while she tried to calm herself. She looked up at Teo. The rest of the restaurant was a blur, but he remained in perfect focus. His look of concern sickened her. Who was he to care about her, anyway? What was his real motivation in all this? That little smile, that smirk he’d worn all night. Something had to be done.

“Melissa?” he asked again. “What’s wrong?”

Sanchez bolted up in her chair, overturning the table and driving Teo to the floor. He yelled something, but the screams that boiled up from inside her, then erupted from her, drowned out his pathetic cries. She went for the face first, slashing and grabbing chunks of dull flesh. Blood flowed, staining her hands, but she didn’t care. She had to keep going.

~~~~~

It wouldn’t have been Cooney’s case anyway – not in his precinct – but it surely would have been taken from him given that his partner was the suspect. Not suspect, killer. A room full of diners saw her do it.

He weaved his way through the onlookers and found the primary, an old friend of his from the academy. Cooney looked at the scene and had flashbacks from the Calabria Club.

“She still here?” he asked.

“In the back,” the primary said. “You look like you’ve seen this before.”

“I don’t know.” Cooney shook his head. “I just don’t know at this point.”

Cooney went to the back room, where Sanchez was sitting in a chair, flanked by a pair of uniformed officers. It gave him a strong sense of déjà vu – blank expression, blood all over her hands and dress, and she kept repeating something over and over. Cooney knelt down beside her.

“Jesus, Michelle, what did you do?” He looked for some kind of understanding in her eyes, but they were blank and empty, like windows of a house where everyone had moved out.

“Something just came over me,” she mumbled. “Something just came over me. Something came over me.”

~~~~~

Pintura Won’t Proceed With “Killer” Line

By Hope Williams, Beauty Business Daily

Cosmetics giant Pintura (NYSE: PNT) quietly announced that it was stopping development on a new line of products that was to be marketed under the “Killer” brand. The press release merely stated that initial reports from beta testers had not been as strong as the company hoped for and, in charting its course for the future, resources were better allocated elsewhere.

The “Killer” line was first announced 18 months ago and received some pushback because of the name’s violent connotations. The company had touted that the products, infused with proprietary compounds developed exclusively for Pintura, would have helped create a bold new look for the modern woman.

Social media has been abuzz with talk of incidents involving some of the “Killer” prototypes. Last month model and Pintura endorser Stina Blomgren was charged with murder after a violent outburst in a New York club, but there is no evidence that she was one of the “Killer” beta testers.

A Pintura spokesperson would not respond to our requests to comment.


Of course, I’m aware of the musical reference (you thought that was a coincidence?).

Happy Halloween!

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“The Invited Guest” – A Short Story

It’s that time of year again. Author Eric Douglas has invited other writers to do some short fiction for Halloween. In years past he’s put a 100-word requirement (not a limit, a requirement) on the stories, but this year he didn’t put any shackles. You can read my entries from the past two years here and here. I set out to write something about 1000 words.

Enjoy – “The Invited Guest”

“How could this happen?” Sarah Jane said, head in hands.  She was sitting in a high backed chair next to the fire. Across from her, on the love seat, was the Devil.

He looked like a man of nondescript middle age, with a perfectly tailored black suit. Only his tie contained the faintest hint of red. She knew something was up because of his walking stick, black with an ever shifting pattern of flames. Then he removed his hat, a black fedora. The small horns were a dead giveaway.

Sarah Jane slumped back in her chair. “Why? How?”

“Could have something to do with that,” the Devil said, pointing to the crumpled paper bag next to Sarah Jane’s chair.

“My sandwich?” She’d just finished a supreme club sub from Tony’s down the street.

He nodded, eyes twinkling. “Did you, by chance, toss a portion of it in the fire?”

“Yeah, just the heel,” she said, then paused. “Wait a second.”

The Devil’s eyebrows rose.

She dug through her memories, deep into her youth. “My grandmother.”

“Was she was from the ‘old country’?” The Devil made air quotes.

Sarah Jane nodded. “When I was really young she would always hand out this crazy advice. ‘It’s bad luck if you spill salt and then don’t throw it over your shoulder. You’ll have good luck if you eat grapes after midnight.’ That kind of thing.” She thought some more, then started nodding. “And she said something about throwing bread into the fire.”

The Devil clapped his hands together. “There you have it.”

“But I didn’t want to summon you.”

“Makes no difference,” the Devil said. “I did not make the rules, believe it or not.”

“Well, I’m sorry to have wasted your time. You can go now.”

A slow, slippery grin stretched across the Devil’s face. “That is not how this works.”

A sudden chill ran from Sarah Jane’s feet to her head and back again.

“You see, once I have been summoned, there is only one way to make me leave.”

“Which is?” she asked, slowly enunciating each word.

“We need to come to an arrangement,” the Devil said, sounding very reasonable.

“Arrangement?”

“Yes.” He flicked some dust of his hat with his fingers. “Typically when someone summons me they want something big, bold, possibly dangerous. For that they are willing to trade their soul.”

“Whoa, back up, Scratch,” she said, hands raised. “I like my life as it is. I certainly don’t want something so much as to trade you my soul for it.”

The Devil raised a hand, palm open. “Like I said, I did not make the rules. I have to get something from you.”

“But I don’t want anything.”

“Yes you do.” The Devil sat back in his chair and examined his nails.

Sarah Jane chose her words carefully, “I need to pay you to go away?”

The Devil nodded.

“That’s insane! You can’t just show up in someone’s home and then not leave until they give you something!”

He raised a finger. “I did not just show up, woman. I was summoned. That it was without intent is irrelevant. If you want me to leave, you will pay.”

Sarah Jane wracked her brain. “But it shouldn’t cost me much, right?”

“What?” The Devil was caught by surprise.

“I mean, all I want is you gone and, let’s face it, you’re going to need to be somewhere else sooner or later.”

“I suppose that’s right, but . . .” he started.

Sarah Jane ignored him and kept going. “So it’s not really fair to take my entire soul just to get you to do something you’re going to do anyway.”

The Devil sat, mouth open for a moment. “I can play this game longer than you. You’ve got a boyfriend? What will you do if he comes over?”

She shrugged, not concerned that the Devil knew that. “I think Phil would enjoy this. He’s seen all the almost every movie about you, even Crossroads.”

The Devil rolled his eyes, then leaned forward, elbows on knees. “Look, you’ve got to give me something. A part of your soul, just a small bit.”

“Like what?” Sarah Jane asked. “Ten minutes ago if somebody had told me I had a soul I’d have said they were full of shit, but I’d have said the same thing about you, too. No offense.”

“None taken.” He leaned back and looked at the ceiling, deep in thought for a few seconds. Finally, he said, “do you like movies as much as Phil?”

“Sure,” she said, lying just a bit. This was the Devil, after all. “I’m more of a book girl, but I like movies.”

“Very well,” the Devil said. He rose and suddenly was twice as tall, glowering down at her. “I take from your soul the ability to react emotionally to motion pictures,” his voice deepened, “for the rest of your life!” The last phrase boomed around the room.

“Does that mean you’ll go away?” she asked.

The Devil shrank back to regular size. “I keep my bargains.”

“All right, then,” she said, standing and shooing him away with her hands. “Off with you, then.”

The Devil turned and began walking back into the next room. “You think this is a joke. It’s not,” he said over his shoulder.

“Whatever,” she said as she watched him disappear into the darkness.

~~~~~

They walked out into the chill evening. The marquee above them glowed in slow, shallow pulses.

Phil was sniffling. “How can you not be crying? It’s so sad! The way their village was destroyed? How the twins got separated, but only the girl found her mother in the end?”

“It’s just a movie,” Sarah Jane said. She cursed the Devil in her mind.”

“Just a movie,” Phil said, looking at her through bleary eyes. “What are you, some kind of soulless monster?”

“Something like that,” she said, looking up the block. “Let’s go get a sub.”

And remember, any invited guest is better than the other kind:

Be sure to check out Eric’s website for links to all the other stories.

Happy Halloween!

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Water Road Wednesday – Final Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

In this final excerpt from The Bay of Sins, Hirrek scours the Neldathi city of Albandala for information about the murder of a thek. He needs to ask questions some people don’t want to hear. They’re happy to vent their displeasure toward him:

The continued celebration made the enclave louder than the others he had visited. It was nearly impossible for him to hear what people around him were saying as he passed by. The crowd was thick enough that just moving through it without running into people was a challenge. Without knowing it, his avoidance maneuvers eventually took him to the outskirts of the enclave, near the edge of the city itself. He breathed a bit more easily there, enjoying the open space. The din of the crowd rumbled in the background.

That was how they took him by surprise. The first blow knocked him to the ground, his face landing hard on dirty packed snow. He managed to roll over and see three people standing over him. All had the green and white Elein stripes in their braids.

“Keeps poking around,” one of them said. He was younger than Hirrek and not as big. “Like he’s got a right to know something.”

“You’d think he’d learned by now that nobody wants to talk with him,” said another. He was older and standing back from the other two a bit.

“People can talk to whomever they want,” Hirrek said, getting ready to stand up.

The third one, about Hirrek’s age and even bigger than he was, kicked him in the side. “How’s that for talking?”

The first one laughed. The older one didn’t. Hirrek made a note of that as he crumpled to the snow and tried to catch his breath.

“If you have nothing to say, that’s fine,” Hirrek said after a few moments, managing to make it to his hands and knees. “But you have no right to keep me from talking to others.”

“Who gave you the right to start asking?” asked the second man. The third one kicked Hirrek again, sending him back to the ground, face first.

Hirrek spat dirty snow from his mouth and did everything possible to hide the pain he’d endured so far. “The Maker gave me that right, as she did for all of you.” He didn’t expect that to work, but wanted to see what they said at the mention of the Maker of Worlds.

“A blasphemer as well,” said the first man.

“One goes along with the other,” said the third.

“You see?” said the older man. He looked to be the leader of this little group. “This is what you get when you give yourself over to the blasphemy of one god. This one’s from Clan Dost, not that you’d know it to look at him. He’s free to do whatever he wants, but what right does he have to tell us?”

“Yeah!” the other two said.

“He thinks just because his father pretends he’s jeyn now he can go anywhere he likes.”

“My father doesn’t think he’s jeyn, and doesn’t pretend to be,” Hirrek said, slowly getting back to his hands and knees.

“What does he think he is, then?” asked the second man.

“He thinks he’s doing his best for his people,” Hirrek said, speaking slowly and trying to get a good feeling for where his attackers were. The two younger ones were on either side of him now, while the older man stood a few feet in front of him. They weren’t thinking this through very well. “The best for the Neldathi people. All of them.”

“He’s not got the right,” the third man said, before he tried to kick Hirrek one more time.

This time he was ready. Hirrek lunged forward just as the kick came. The man’s foot glanced harmlessly off his lower leg while Hirrek sprang on the older man. He was taken completely by surprise and was driven to the ground by Hirrek’s charge. Hirrek wasted little time exploiting his advantage, punching him twice in the face and knocking him out.

He stood and readied himself for the others, but neither had come to the aid of their master. They stood with fists raised, poised on the balls of their feet, but neither moved.

“I don’t have any business with you,” Hirrek said, eyes flitting back and forth between the two men. “But him, I need to talk to.” He kicked at the foot of their master. “That means either you can leave or I can make you leave, since I don’t need either one of you to make it through the night. Understand?”

It was an empty threat. He was outnumbered and wasn’t carrying a weapon. He didn’t want to be known as walking through the city interrogating people with a knife in his hand, so he’d intentionally gone out without anything threatening in his possession. He’d give anything to have one secreted away in one of his furs. He just hoped that the others thought he was armed.

They looked at each other, then dropped their fists and took a few steps back.

“Don’t want to have nothing to do with you,” the first one said. “Right?”

“Right,” said the big one.

They turned and walked off together, hurrying but not running back to the crowd, the noise, and the fire.

Hirrek grabbed the other man, still thoroughly unconscious, under each arm and began to drag him through the snow toward the center of the city.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22 – pre order now for the low launch price of 99 cents! Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills while you’re at it!

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Water Road Wednesday – First Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

The first excerpt from The Bay of Sins. In this scene, Mida, the healer in Innisport who Antrey put in charge of the city, has been arrested and charged with treason and collaboration with the Neldathi. Using a code delivered via a wadded up piece of paper thrown over a wall, she reached out to her neighbor in prison:

After supper, when she knew she’d be left alone for the night, Mida moved the desk chair next to the wall she shared with C4 and waited. She wasn’t sure if her neighbor would try to make contact first, but Mida thought it wise to wait. Such communication was against the rules, and she wanted the defense, if only in her head, that she didn’t break them first. She was on the verge of giving up and getting into bed when she heard it.

Six taps, faint, like a small metal pick scratching on rock. The sound repeated itself over and over.

The night before, Mida had pried a piece of metal out from under the desk. It was part of a brace that held the desk up, but it was already lose when she found it, and the desk seemed perfectly sturdy without it. She fetched the metal from its hiding place near the toilet and tapped six times in response, then waited.

The code came, slowly and deliberately. Mida wasn’t certain if the other person was being slow for her benefit or not, but she appreciated it regardless. You are new?

Yes, Mida tapped back, quietly sounding out each letter. Two days ago. You?

Long time, came the answer, a little quicker this time. What for?

I don’t know. It was only partially untrue. She was certain it had something to do with Phichan’s need to punish those who worked with the Neldathi during the occupation, but she had no idea what the specific charges were yet. You?

War.

War is over. Mida didn’t understand.

Not for me. Name?

Mida chuckled. They were prisoners, and, naturally, went straight to talking about why they were in prison. Small details like names were secondary. Mida Innis, Healer, she tapped back. You?

Bist, her neighbor tapped, of Clan Kohar.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22. Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills now!

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Moore Hollow Is Free – Three Days Only!

For the first time, and possibly the last, my debut novel, Moore Hollow is absolutely free at Amazon, today through Wednesday.

Moore Hollow is about a guy, Ben Potter, whose life is a shambles. As a journalist he’s hit rock bottom, writing dreck about monsters and ghouls to make ends meet after a big story blew up in his face. As a son he’s a disappointment, unwilling to follow his father, grandfather, and great grandfather into the family business. As a father, he’s mostly just not there.

Now a new assignment could change all that. All he has to do is go from London to the hills of West Virginia to investigate the strangest of stories his great grandfather told. Did a sleazy politician really raise the dead to try and win an election? And if he did, what happened to the zombies? Could they still exist? Ben needs to find out, to solve the mystery and find a way to get his life back on track.

But once he finds the answer, Ben has to face a whole new batch of problems. Does he use what he learns to put his life back on track? Or is he compelled to do the right thing, even if it leaves his life a mess?

The hardest part of a mystery is deciding what to do once you’ve solved it.

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Get your free copy here before time runs out!

Free Stuff – Not Just Mine!

This weekend (through Sunday) myself and several other writers are giving away free stories and books!

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As you can see here, there’s a pretty wide array of genres and styles, so be sure a check to find something that appeals to you.

My contribution is “The Destiny Engine,” my steampunk take on a Brothers Grimm tale.

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All you need to do is click here, join my mailing list, and I’ll send you a copy in whatever format you want (within reason – I’m scrawling it out on parchment!)

Three (Very) Short Stories for Valentine’s Day

Last year Apex magazine announced that they were reviving their flash fiction contest. Each contest is set up around a particular holiday and for this one the holiday was Valentine’s Day. Each person could enter up to three stories, each no more than 250 words each. Since I’m not one of the winners (congrats to those who did – you can read their stories in February issue of Apex), I thought I’d share my stories here.

 Since I had three stories to play with, I decided to use them to deal with the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship. It’s not the same relationship, mind up – these stories are all set in different universes and involve different characters. I think they get at some universal ideas, however, so maybe they have more in common than I originally intended.

 Anyway, enough of my yakkin’ – enjoy!

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The Spoils

“Is this necessary?” Elvin said.

“He could give in,” said Ilori, one eyebrow raised.

“She could,” Danforth said. Even sixty feet away he could seeIlori was striking. Twilight deepened her mocha skin and added definition to streaks of silver in her short black hair.

“Over this?” Elvin held up the Tyrolian orb.

Danforth nodded. But it was about so much more.

“Very well.” Elvin put the orb down. “Whoever brings it to hand wins.”

They nodded.

Danforth said the incantation quietly – crisp and sharp, honed from years of formal training. The orb began to roll toward him. He was a pillar of stone.

Ilori was anything but. Her home-taught hedge magic, learned from mother and grandmother, was loud, with complex hand movements. It was like she was possessed. The orb reversed course.

Danforth started another incantation, tapping into deeper, darker magic, but quickly stopped. Losing might be winning this time. There would be another Tyrolian orb, someday, but there was only one Ilori. He let go.

The orb sped up, flying to Ilori. She caught it in one hand like the laziest fly ball then cried out in victory.

“She’s the winner,” Elvin said, walking over to him.

“I know.” Danforth was unable to contain a silly grin

Ilori skipped over with a wide smile. “Told you.”

“Fair is fair.”

“Hope you brought your wallet,” she said, bounding off. “I’m not a cheap date!”

Danforth turned to Elvin. “Loser buys dinner.” He winked and walked after her.


The Thrill Is Gone

The apothecary shook his head. “Does your wife not already love you and you her?”

Eric the Simple sighed and leaned against the counter. “Love, yes. Alas, passion is something altogether different. Have you nothing that might help?”

The apothecary looked under the counter. “Perhaps, if you’re certain there is no other option.”

“I’ve tried everything,” Eric said in exasperation. “The woman’s desires are a mystery.”

“Aren’t they all.” The apothecary took out a piece of parchment, grabbed his quill, and began scratching something out. Finished, he carefully slid the paper across the counter.

Eric mouthed the words as he slowly scanned the page. “Spine of newt? Spleen of badger?” He looked up. “And this looks like Latin. A spell?”

The apothecary nodded.

“A love spell?” Eric waggled his eyebrows and grinned.

The apothecary shook his head. “Summoning spell, to bring forth a stink demon.”

“A what?” Eric threw the parchment down.

“It’s a minor inconvenience – smelly, ugly, and sinister looking, but actually harmless. Your wife will take a fright, you shall vanquish the foul beast, and she shall be in your arms.”

Eric stepped closer to the counter. “This is the best you can do?”

The apothecary closed his eyes and rubbed the side of his nose. “There is one other option.”

“Yes?”

“You could sit down with your wife and talk about this, find out how she feels.”

Eric paused for just a moment. “Stink demon it is then.”

The apothecary nodded. “I’ll get the badger spleen.”


The Last Night

The chalice shook in Sir Kavus’s hand as he slipped into her apartment. After months of sneaking around his nerves were still on edge.

What he shared with Lady Edana had been wild, hot, and passionate in ways he hadn’t thought possible. But it wasn’t true love, of the kindhe shared with Wyon, who tended his wounds and gave him sons and daughters.Wyon was home.

After one last night of pleasure,Edana would drink the potion mixed with the wine and all would be well. She wouldn’t even remember Kavus’s name.

He set the chalice on the table as Edana stepped from her bedchamber, naked body aglow in the candlelight. “My knight.”

“My queen.” He took her in his arms. They fell into bed for the last time.

Later he rolled over, throat dry, alone in bed. Edana was in the doorway, diaphanous gown clinging to her curves. “Thirsty?” She was carrying two chalices.

Kavus nodded and took the one she offered, gulping down the sweet wine. It seemed to go to his head, sending him to a deep sleep.

He awoke in a strange bed, although he couldn’t say it was not his. There was a woman standing next to it wearing only a smile.

“My name’s Edana,” she said, crawling in beside him.

The name wasn’t familiar, but he wasn’t about to object to her warmth next to him. There was no other place for him to be in the whole world, he was certain.


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“All the Wishes” – Another Very Short Story

As he did last year, author Eric Douglas issued a challenge to write a 100-word story for Halloween. Not less than 100 words, not about 100 words – 100 words exactly. It’s much harder than you’d think, but I like what I came up with for this try.

Here it is – “All the Wishes”

There was a flash, like a Polaroid photograph had been taken just near Frankie’s face. When his sight returned, the sky was a solid, pale green, just as Frankie wished.

Floating above the battered brass lamp in the passenger’s seat was a misty apparition with vaguely Persian features. “You see?”

“All the wishes?” Frankie asked, grinning.

“Yes.”

“Anything I want?”

“Anything.” The apparition nodded what you might call its head. “I may someday ask a favor.”

Frankie put the car in drive and pulled away from the curb, potential wishes swimming through their mind.

What could go wrong?, Frankie thought.

Be sure and check out Eric’s website for links to all the other 100-word stories he got!

Happy Halloween!

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Water Road Wednesday: First Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

The Water Road Trilogy wraps up later this year with The Bay of Sins. The bay is where the Water Road empties into the sea and is home to the island city of Tolenor, home of the Triumvirate. In ancient times it was where pilgrims would come to wash away their sins. It’s always been a place of reckoning.

 In this scene, something happens in the new Neldathi city of Albandala that will require some reckoning.

It was overcast the next day, snow spitting from the slate grey sky. Weft made his rounds in the morning, speaking with members of various clans, chatting about nothing important. He was feeling things out, trying to get information without anyone knowing they were giving it to him. He usually had better luck, but today people seemed tight lipped. Something was in the air, something Weft couldn’t quite put his finger on.

The day began to achieve some focus when he saw an old Neldathi man emerge from the meeting hall in the center of the city. The long, low log building was where the clans met to discuss vital issues. It wasn’t clear what this meeting had been about or how many people had been involved, but the old man’s bearing and entourage suggested that he was important. Weft suspected he was one of the chiefs, a thek, but he couldn’t tell from which clan. He had no painted lines in the long black and grey braid that hung down his back.

Even if he couldn’t tell which clan the thek belonged to, Weft could make a guess as to which faction could claim him. It wasn’t a hard and fast rule, but generally an unpainted braid identified one as a unificationist. If a Neldathi still wore clan colors, most likely he was an independent. This was most likely one of Antrey Ranbren’s men, come to Albandala on a mission.

Weft watched as the man shuffled through the snow. There were four younger men with him, all of them also wearing black braids. Warriors, no doubt, although none of them had weapons to hand. One had a rifle slung across his back, another a short spear of some kind. The others no doubt had knives or swords on them, but Weft couldn’t see. Regardless, they were woefully unprepared for what came next.

The thek was greeting people as he shuffled. He must have been popular, at least among some portions of Neldathi society. People gave him what looked like warm hellos, meeting him with smiles and nods. The jumble of voices overtaxed Weft’s limited grip on the language. The numbers overwhelmed his guards, who looked reluctant to try and push back the well wishers anyway. Were they obeying the thek’s orders?

One Neldathi, smaller than the others and with black, blue, and red stripes in his braid, stepped forward with another group to greet the old man. Weft had a hard time keeping sight of him, with the press of tall bodies around him blocking the view. He worked his way through the crowd just in time to see the small Neldathi raise his right arm and charge at the thek. He yelled something, low and guttural and angry. Weft couldn’t begin to understand it, but he caught the gist. There was a pistol in his right hand.

It wasn’t as loud as he expected, but the shot rattled Weft’s bones all the same. The speed and violence of the maneuver took him by surprise. He knew something like this might happen, but had no idea when. In the blink of an eye there was a cloud of smoke surrounding the old chief as he fell, clutching his throat. The snow turned red underneath him.

The shooter held the useless pistol aloft and began to laugh, loudly, in a way that proved he was out of his mind. Before he could even try to run away another Neldathi, this one taller, wider, and altogether more in keeping with the stereotype of his people, tackled the shooter, driving him to the ground.

There was no need for Weft to see what happened next. His work was done. He needed to leave the city as quickly as he could.

Get caught up with the trilogy by picking up The Water Road and The Endless Hills now.

Water Road Wednesday: Third Excerpt from The Endless Hills

The final excerpt from The Endless Hills. In this scene, Forlahn and Strefer discuss their futures on a rainy day in Oberton. It’s gotten a bit tense.

He stiffened, like the question was some kind of insult. “I’ve been living my life since the day we met. Nothing’s going to change.”

“That’s bunk and you know it. I’ve talked to people around here. They say you came by regularly, but not very often, maybe once a year. You’ve been back every month, at least, to check on us.”

He looked out the window again. “Don’t you ever stop being a journalist?”

“It’s in my blood, I guess. I’d say the Guild put it in me, but I think it was there all along. Now, answer the question – you won’t keep coming back if I leave, will you?”

“What do you want me to say? That you’ve changed my life, the pattern in which I existed for years? Fine, that’s true. But it’s not the whole truth.” He paused for a moment. “I had to keep an eye on Rurek while he recovered. You see, I had been trailing you two for a couple of days. I could have made contact and gotten you off that path before you had your run-in with Spider. But I didn’t and, as a result, Rurek wound up with an arrow in his leg. What was it you were just saying about feeling responsible for people you make connections with? There you go.” He huffed and crossed his arms.

Strefer couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t be angry, tough guy. I was just asking a question. Which you still haven’t really answered, by the way. I know they pay you for information here, but not as much as you make for bounties handed out by the other cities.”

He stood up fast, like he wanted to leave, but the pouring rain kept him planted. “Which is why this was going to be my last visit here, at least for a while.”

“Oh?” Strefer shifted onto the edge of the bed.

“Rurek’s healthy. You sound like you’re ready to move on. It’s time I moved on, too. There’s a new bounty that’s been announced, a big one. It could really change things.”

“I know I’m valuable, Forlahn, but really, you wouldn’t cash in a bounty on me, would you?” She was fairly certain she knew the answer, but couldn’t be sure.

He reached into his jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper, yellowed and wrinkled. He handed it to her.

She unfolded it and a surge of anger rushed through her. It was a wanted poster, very much like the one Spider had once shown Strefer with her own name on it. She looked up at Forlahn. “This is a bounty to kill Antrey Ranbren.”

He avoided her gaze. “It’s a wonder it took them this long to issue it. They must have intelligence that she’s come north.”

“So you’re going to track her down and kill her?” It was all she could do not to jump off the bed at him.

“We’re at war, Strefer,” he said as he snatched the paper back. “That presents opportunities that I can’t ignore.”

“Of course you can! You’ve told me over and over about how there are people out there who think the war needs to end, that there needs to be a peace between the Triumvirate and the Neldathi. They’ve made the decision not to get involved in all this.”

“They do it from the safety of their salons or newspaper offices in Greater Telebria or Ventris or Nevskondala. Ask the citizens of Innisport – the ones who are left – whether they think a negotiated peace is possible.”

She sat, stunned, and unable to figure out what to say next. It didn’t take long. “Didn’t you listen to me? Didn’t you hear me tell you what I saw? What I told you about that red notebook? Do you not believe any word of it?”

“This isn’t about you, Strefer.”

“Of course it is! You think I helped unleash all this, don’t you?”

“That’s preposterous. You reported about the past, things that were already done. You didn’t take action because of them. But you’ve gotten too close to things, too close to this woman you’ve never met. You’ve got nothing in common with Antrey, yet you feel the need to defend her.”

“I can still think the war is a bad idea and that she will have to answer for that someday without thinking she needs to have a bullet put through her head some random morning.”

“Why?” he asked, pausing briefly for an answer. “If I could end this war tomorrow with one shot, why shouldn’t I? Why should hundreds, thousands more, have to die instead?”

She didn’t say aloud what she thought of that argument. This was no use, and she had lost any patience for it. “Get out.”

“What?”

“The rain’s let up,” she said, pointing out the window. “Best leave now while there’s a break.”

He looked at her, mouth open, but said nothing. He put his coat on and opened the door. He stopped as he left, as if he might have one more word to say. Whatever it was, he decided not to say it.

Preorder The Endless Hills now and get it when it’s released on August 31!

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