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Self-care and what I am doing.

There has not been a story posted in 12 days. I have 5 started, and unfinished, sitting in the cloud. They are mocking me and I hate them for that. 

Why is that? 

Well, November sucked. My husband's uncle died suddenly, he'd been ill, but we had no idea things were as bad as they were. The drama from that was intense and by the time we made it through I was exhausted.

By the time we began to recover, and right before Thanksgiving, we lost our beloved German Shepherd mix, Emma P Dog. We'd lived with her for 10 years and she was our rock through a LOT of bad times. It is still hard to remember she is no longer around. She was a helpful, wonderful dog to the end. 

We have gotten a new dog. We were intent on waiting, but our other pooch, Ellie Belly, and the boys, had a hard time. So, less than two weeks after we lost our beloved Emma, we acquired our new Kona Kona Dog. Well, Kona, but all our dogs have multiple names. She's a full blood German Shepherd and we drove a couple of hours to a rescue group to adopt her. Adopt, don't shop! 

All of this leads me to where I am now. 

I made myself finish NaNoWriMo. Like, forced myself to write anything. So, I thought I was ready to dive back into a big project and I am not. I WILL be finishing my alphabet project, but it will not be in December. Instead, as I research two new projects I am going to work on in 2018, I will push forward.

This is not a new problem, fyi, I am aware I tend to push forward when not ready. I've always tried not cause trouble, draw attention, bother people with my problems. Because, obviously, my problems do not need as much attention as others. Siiiiiigh. My husband is so super supportive with me, but I do still defer to his emotional state. I am working on it. He is helping as he can, but so much is up to me.

So, here I am, starting, to acknowledge I need this break. And, I know I will feel guilty about it and think I am failing, but I will do my best to answer that voice with the truth. And, that is, I deserve this break as much as anyone else. 

I will see you in 2018! Enjoy yourself, enjoy your time with your family and friends, and be good to yourself. I'm going to try.

 

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Angry Judith Got Her Hatchet

The beloved and I enjoy ghost shows. Our current fav is The Ghost Brothers. The other night, we were watching some ghost show and discussed how one of two things happened with the ghosts. 

A. They had no idea what the people were talking about because they didn't speak the language or had died way before modern equipment.

B. They knew what the heck was being talked about and were sick of having it explained.

Judith here, she falls into the latter category. 

Enjoy.

Angry Judith Got Her Hatchet

Her pale reflection in the mirror was no different than yesterday. And, still, she found her fingers brushing at the splatters of blood on her fine clothes. Wedding finery turned to ruin thanks to her no-good sister and her own husband. On the wall, not that she looked, was a photo of her and Phillip on their wedding day. Right after the ceremony when she was still blissfully in love. Before she caught him in the maid’s room with her sister.

Judith remembered the feeling. The flutter of her heart as it sank to the ground to be crushed by her heels as she ran from their chagrined faces. Shame, as the guests watched her race into the backyard, had made her wish to sink into the ground. Mostly, as evidenced by the hatchet always beside her, she felt rage. Not only at her new husband and betraying sister. No, she felt rage at the world.

Which is why she had killed more than them on her wedding day. Five guests joined them in caskets and she felt no shame for that. The sheriff had fired his revolver five times at her. All five had hit, but she’d been in such a fine mood, splendid in blood and butchery, it had taken the sum total of them to put her down.

What Judith had not expected was to remain in the home. She had free rein of the house itself, and the gardens around. There was no need for a fence to hold her in place. The singular time she’d tried to walk onto the street, there had been nothing on the other side. If she stood on the porch she was perfectly able to see the rest of the world, but if she tried to join it, there was nothing.

“Rejected by Hell itself,” someone said at the bottom of the stairs.

A female voice, unusual. Most of the so-called ghost hunters, were men. Oh, there were the occasional women whom claimed a kinship, despite having no deaths to their name, but most of them she ignored. With nothing better to do, she drifted down the stairs, the hatchet warming her hand as always.

“The town’s bloodiest massacre,” the short redhead said to a camera held by another woman. “It is believed she was rejected by her husband on their wedding day, as he preferred her sister, but as she was brutally gunned down before anyone might ask, there are no records of the truth.”

“I do not care he preferred my sister,” Judith muttered. “Only that he did not make his choice known until after he’d tied me to him until death.”

Although he hadn’t. She’d seen no sign of any of those killed on her blessed day. The reverend had called it that. Her blessed day. She’d killed him before any others excepting her faithless sister and worse husband.

“We’ll get the camera set up and be right back to explain our plan for tonight,” the redhead said. When the camera light stopped blinking she snorted. “And our plan is to fake a few scary noises and film a few suspicious shadows.”

“This might be the place,” the one with the camera said.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Susan. All the time since the murders and no one has gotten any proof this place is haunted. But, it’s expected, after all. The Blood Wedding Murder House.”

“I hate that name,” Judith said, but no one heard. A long time ago, before cameras and ghost shows, she’d found out she was capable of being heard. Only if she desired it. She never did to people like this. The kids who broke into the house she had fun with. Or, she had, until one had fallen down the stairs and been hurt. That injury she felt guilt over. She’d only been playing with the teenagers. He hadn’t died, and she was thankful.

“Ok, let’s film this part and we can set up the cameras after.”

“Time to tell the audience everything they know.”

Judith yawned, boredom not absent from death, and watched as they laid out their equipment. Over the years, since electronics had become mass produced and cheap, it was all the same. In the old days, each medium had her own tricks.

In her hand, the hatchet felt warm. Judith focused on the boredom. Whatever the reason, sometimes the hatchet wanted to direct things. As a hatchet was good for chopping alone, she had always done her best to avoid the temptation. Some of her visitors were temptation on the hoof and she prided herself on what a good woman she’d been.

Since death.

Her attention was drawn back to the ghost hunters as they pulled out their gadgets. Nothing new. Someday she expected new toys, but lately they all used the same stuff. Which was dull.

“Let’s start with the spirit box,” redhead said.

Judith snorted, and the hatchet burned her flesh. Well, the hatchet burned the palm of her hand where her flesh would be if she were human. Pain. It was pain, dead or alive.

“I’m sure all of you at home know what this is,” redhead told the camera, “but we’re going to tell any ghosts here how to use it. Because we want them to speak to us, to learn the truth hidden here in the Blood Wedding Murder House.”

“Great,” Judith said to the hatchet, “the spirit box. I get it, radio frequencies and white noise and words.” As if she hadn’t heard it all before. Like they were the first. “Why do they all think I am a moron? Although, if they are trying to speak to my un-beloved it would make sense.”

“Are you listing, Judith?”

“No,” Judith said, but not so they might hear. “Because I know this. And I am not going to speak.”

And she did not.

Until the fifth time, in the third room, they explained the spirit box again.

The hatchet glowed red in her hand and she thought of the blood stains on her wedding gown. They looked so faded and worn. The rest of her might suffer so, but the blood should not. It deserved to be fresh, warm, rich in color.

“Will you shut up?” she screamed. The cameras did not hear. Nothing heard, no one, and she sought to change that fact.

“Susan, what the fuck just happened?” the redhead shouted as she dropped the powerless spirit box.

“I don’t know, Chris. Everything died.”

“You explain it all the time,” Judith said and this time they heard. “Over and over. As if I am an idiot. As if I have not paid attention to every last one of you who has entered my home. MY home! And always the same thing. Here is this, here is that, here is how it works. I am not an idiot!”

“Who’s there?” Chris demanded. “Reveal yourself!”

“Fine,” Judith said and let them see her. “But you tell the rest, I have had enough of being considered an idiot and a fool and a woman who does not listen.”

The redhead, Chris, a ridiculous name for a woman, fainted.

As the hatchet glowed a warm red and her wedding gown grew whiter, in need of purifying, the other woman fled from the sight.

And, suddenly, Judith felt the fool.

These women had done nothing. The same as the guests at her wedding had done nothing. Other than witnessing her shame. Which was not their fault. If only she’d been able to kill her fresh husband and his partner in betrayal more than once.

“I’m going to let you go,” Judith told the comatose woman. “But I swear, the next idiot to think I am an idiot, will know exactly how smart and angry I was and remain.”

6 MONTHS LATER

The news crews stood on the yard. So many. Police tried to keep them away, but they appeared to be multiplying as Judith peeked out the curtain. Some part of her, the part that liked to hold the hatchet, that liked to look at the stains in the mirror, was pleased.

For too long, she had been mocked. Last night had been the last straw. Those men, those men who would not shut up, and mocked her and her family. They had come to learn the truth and she had showed them. All four of them were scattered in pieces inside the house. Blood spray along the walls left indelible reminders on the wallpaper of their just desserts.

The hem of her wedding gown had trailed through the pools of blood and become, she thought, permanently stained. Carrying the hatchet this morning was impossible. It burned to look upon, let alone touch, so she only kept near it. No one living saw it resting against the window seat where she sat and watched everyone, inside and out. There had not been this much entertainment in so long.

Despite the apparent fading of stains, she knew it was too soon to take up the hatchet. No, let some time pass first. Catch them unawares.

“This is my house,” Judith told the people in the room, “and I have had enough of visitors.”

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A Redcap Love Story

And here is the second story! I wrote both of these during NaNoWriMo.  I've had this idea for months. It does tie into Aoife's continuing story. Rian and Sophie will appear in the sequel to Widowed Witch of the West should I write it. 

SOPHIE

Sophie’s parents continued to sleep as the wagon ruts failed to contain the wheels of the coach they traveled in with one other person. They’d picked up the other passenger in Fort Smith and he’d been in a hurry to leave town. She thought him a criminal of some kind, but her parents told her she was being fanciful. Which she certainly was not. At 22, she was desperate to be out from under their control, but they had insisted she come out west with them. Even though she’d had friends in Boston determined to let her stay with them.

Her best friends worked for their own wages, running a small secretarial business, and rented their own home near downtown. To Sophie, it sounded wonderful. To her parents, it sounded as if she were falling straight into the clutches of Satan. If she’d wanted to stay, she would have lost all contact with her family. In the end, fear of loss, forced her onto a train and a coach to help her parents set up a ministry.

And now, they traveled with a criminal. Or, at least a man who looked as if he had criminal tendencies. Other than a few sailors fresh off a boat at the docks near her father’s church, she’d never seen a rougher man. Not that he was unattractive. Not to her, at the least. His eyes were an odd color, she thought them brown, but had seen an orange tint to them once. Deep brown hair was tucked under a red bandana and she thought it longer than most men wore.

How a man so large made himself comfortable in such a cramped place was a mystery to her. Discomfort had followed her since Boston. Unlike her three sisters, there was nothing petite about Sophie. Even her father stood shorter than her six feet and her mother constantly despaired of the thickness of her bones. Not that she didn’t think herself pretty. Men complimented her, but still danced with the small ladies of the congregation.

All of which meant, she was no more likely to find a husband in the tiny town whose name she couldn’t remember, than she was back at her old home. The heel of her boot slid across the dusty coach floor and hit something too soon to be the other bench. Her eyes lifted, and she found herself caught in the gaze of the criminal across the way.

Who was smiling at her.

Warmth stole over her face, but she kept her own pale blue eyes on his brown ones. Fingers felt flustered, to match the rest of her, and rose to tug at a few blonde curls sprung free from her tight bun. There was something about his smile that worried her. Something quite predatory, in truth.

“Hello,” he whispered with a nod.

Sophie smiled, hated how her cheeks were still stained with embarrassment. “Hello,” she whispered back after a quick glance to find her parents still asleep.

“What’s your name?”

“Sophie. Sophie Cogswell. A pleasure.” The words followed her name because she was raised to be polite.

“Pleasure is all mine,” he said, still whispering. “I’m Rian Na Fahe.”

“Mister Na Fahe,” she repeated.

“Rian,” he whispered with a wink.

Which is when her mother snorted and straightened up in her seat. “Sophie,” she snapped. A heavy, slim hand landed on her wrist.

Before looking away, Sophie was sure she saw Rian’s eyes flash almost orange.

“Mother,” she said as she forced her fingers to leave her hair be. “Do you need something? Father is still sleeping.” Sophie wanted to look over at Rian. His eyes were still on her. For the first time, she understood what the other women had giggled about at church socials.

“I need nothing. What is the time? I thought we were to be off this stagecoach by now?”

Mrs. Cogswell had not handled the travel well. Twice she’d resorted to laudanum to quell her stomach and back pains. Her sleep was fitful and all of it made her more unbearable than ever.

“I do not know the time, mother. But I believe the sun is beginning to descend so surely we will reach the coach stop soon. They will have a fine meal prepared and we will have a bed.” Sophie hoped for a bed of her own. Their other two stops, she’d slept on a pallet in their room.

An elbow to his side woke Mr. Cogswell and he coughed before fixing the glasses on his nose. “Are we there?” he asked before he looked out the window. “I swear on His good name, I will be quite pleased to stretch myself out for the evening and have a proper walk before our meal.”

“Sophie thinks we might be there soon.” Not that her mother sounded impressed by her deduction. She glanced at Sophie before casting a disapproving gaze on Rian. “But I do think this trip has exhausted her.” Whatever she said next came too low for anyone but her husband to hear.

Sophie was sure it was not complimentary. Few words from her mother were these days. All because she’d wanted to remain in Boston and not go on this missionary quest. To be her own person. Finally.

An uncomfortable silence fell and they all listened to the wheels roll and the stagecoach creak until the driver shouted a stop. By then, Sophie had seen the cattle and the split-rail fence. Her sore bottom was thankful as they rolled to a slow stop. The brake squeaked a fraction as it was set, and the horses jingled in their harnesses. The door opened from the outside, and a hand helped her father out and onto the dusty ground.

Before her door might be opened, Rian slid over and helped himself out of their tight confines. As her mother was assisted by her father, Rian’s hand was held out to Sophie. His palm was rough, she could tell without touching. When her gaze left his hand to meet his eyes she thought the squint teased her. Which was nonsense. The sun was setting right into his face. Still, his lips did turn up and she saw a flash of teeth she swore were pointy, as he waited.

“Sophie!” her mom scolded.

But she didn’t look away from Rian. Oh, she was in for a scolding, but her gloved hand was laid atop his and she stepped out with ease. Other than the shooting pain down her spine that nearly buckled her knees. Rian’s fingers, blunt, dirt stained nails and all, tightened around her hand as she righted herself.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“My pleasure,” he responded in kind before releasing her hand. “Perhaps I will find you later.”

The statement, offered as he turned away, made Sophie shiver. If he found her later, she was unsure what she might do. For now, her mother’s shriek from around the stagecoach drew her back to the present. And, likely, a scolding once in private.

At least, she hoped in private.

RIAN

Two weeks since leaving Fort Smith and Rian still felt the pull of whatever was going on there. He’d sensed trouble, his kind did, but it was not the sort he’d wanted to be a part of now. There was plenty of open space, plenty to eat, but the madness there felt to be spreading. So, he’d made his way to a small stagecoach stop and paid to travel west. Traveling West was in the nature of his kind.

So, travel west. Find some new place to settle. There had been no ties to sever.

Then he’d stepped onto this particular coach and seen her. For the first time in a long time something other than the need to restrict his violent urges had filled him. She’d ignored him, trapped against her parents, and he’d thought her like them, wrapped in the new religion of shame and restrictions.

Until today. As they’d slept, she’d made contact. Intentional, he was sure, and an offer to make his own advances. Not that he’d done more than say hello. Her parents remained, after all, and would dampen any desire she might begin to feel. All at once, he thought he might not travel so far west.

For now, he would see where the Sophie woman traveled. Who he lost sight of as he spoke with the stagecoach driver. A pity, but he was sure to see her in the evening when they shared a meal. He had not noticed before if her parents went early to bed. Or if she shared their bed. Questions he was determined to answer tonight. If they might form an attachment, he could separate her from her parents.

Rian wished he might offer his assistance around the stable, but the horses barely tolerated him on the coach. A shame. There was work to be found for a man with his size, but so much involved livestock and he made them uncomfortable. Well, unlike humans they knew a predator instantly. Humans, he often had to explain the matter to. Briefly. Before they died.

The bandana on his head itched and he tugged it off before his fingers smoothed the wild hair tucked underneath. He’d been meaning to get it cut, but his swift departure from Fort Smith had been more important. His bandana hid the mess most of the time. Unless- No. Best not to even think it. These past few days he’d known how close he was getting, but hoped to arrive somewhere to quench his need. Now there was Sophie to take his mind from the situation.

Gathering his hair up, he twisted it into a knot and tucked it back under his bandana before setting out for a walk. In order to better be able to dominate Sophie’s attention later, he needed to give her time now. With any luck, tonight, they would address the flare of desire.

SOPHIE

“And I am sure that man is some sort of criminal,” her mother said. She finished washing her hands and splashing water on her face before sitting down on the bed. Since they’d arrived, she’d not let Sophie out of her sight.

“As opposed to earlier? When I’d suggested the same and was accused of fancy.” Sophie knew she might be in for a scolding, again, but was annoyed. Since they’d been shown to this small room it had been one question after another. Followed by prayer. Followed by more questions. The process was exhausting, but her father had insisted she stay in the room with her mother. “He merely helped me from the stagecoach,” she reminded.

Again.

Idly, she wondered if she had enough of her own money stashed away for passage back to Boston. The new congregation had paid for their passage out west. If she were able to get home, a pleasing thought especially now, she would risk her parents’ ire.

“Perhaps we should remain here for dinner. There is no need to risk an unfortunate incident.” The tiny towel she used to wash up was folded and set atop the wash basin. “We might discuss several scriptures.”

Sophie bit back an impatient noise in her throat. Spending the night with her mother was not the plan. So, she did not respond, but washed herself up, and headed for the door.

“Sophie!” her mother scolded.

Turning from the door, Sophie smiled in a conciliatory manner, “Mother, if we are here to save the souls of those in the west, what better opportunity than the lost soul we travel with.” She did not think her mother convinced, but she was not stopped from leaving her prison for the evening. One without a bed, of course.

Not that she had the opportunity to visit with Rian at dinner. Her parents placed her between them and her father delivered a rousing sermon she was sure no one listened to as they were busy eating. The food was much the same as before. Better than the last stop, if not as much.

Her attention strayed to Rian who sat at the far end of the table. Every time she leaned forward to reach for something, which she did frequently despite not needing more salt, he was waiting for her with a teasing smile. She did not think her parents fooled when she complained of the warmth when they inquired about her red cheeks. It was too late to ignore him. She’d been trying since he joined them a week before.

If she squinted at her own morality, she might convince herself what she’d told her mother was true. Certainly, she might convince herself she meant nothing illicit in her pleasure at the thought of them speaking later. Not that she’d any idea what illicit things might be available to her.

RIAN

Every time she looked his way, he knew beforehand. The Fates had surely placed him on the stagecoach to meet her. Although, they might have left her parents behind. Not that he wasn’t able to get around them. He finished his meal before her and rose to go for a walk. All of the people had his scalp itching against his bandana. The light of the lanterns and the fire bled red over all their skin. His tongue felt swollen and his teeth ached, so he left to clear his head.

By the time he returned there was a fire burning in the coach yard. A couple of people he did not recognize had guitars and were singing songs he did not recognize. Children, he thought they belonged to those running the place, danced about and he watched them in amusement. The children of his people scampered about in much the same manner. Although often with bloodier results than he thought might come about from here.

Not that children interested him. He had more entertaining prey this evening. As he looked about, he saw his quarry near the corral. The shadows hid him from her parents’ view and he watched her feeding a donkey, appearing unaware of his approach. Not that he believed her ruse.

“Do you not like dancing?” he asked from behind her.

The donkey darted away, and she had no reason to not turn and face him.

“There is no one here who will ask me to dance. I am a foot taller than most of them. Dancing becomes awkward at that point.” The calm in her voice did not hide the faint sadness at her own words. Still, she smiled at him and he stepped closer.

“Sophie, I do not know how to dance,” he told her “Not any sort you might know.”

“I am sure wherever you are from, the dances are no different than in Boston,” Sophie teased.

“Do you not remember my name?” he teased back as he leaned closer. “Have your prayers driven the word from your knowledge as a protection?”

Sophie’s laugh swam over him.  He could not help but touch her hand. When she did not pull away, he laced his fingers with hers.

“Rian.” Her eyes darted away, towards the bunkhouse. “My parents do not approve of my socializing with men who are not of upstanding character.”

“And you assume I am not?” he asked as he shifted his body to stand between her and anyone who glanced their way.

“No upstanding man has ever been so forward.”

“So, are you saying I shouldn’t kiss you?”

“I am not saying that at all,” she replied. “Only that I told my parents I might save your soul if I spent time with you.”

Rian laughed and caressed her cheek with the back of his palm. She had no idea, of that he was sure, of how his self-control was tested. His kind were not known for such.  Part of why he no longer desired to live with his kind. The older he’d grown, the more he’d stopped giving into every impulse.

“So, I can kiss you?” he asked, setting aside the thoughts of the past.

Sophie turned red again, the blush creeping to the top of her tan. Something about the blush shot through his blood and his willpower was forced again to keep him from hauling her close for a kiss now. Then she pulled her hand from under his and he felt all the warmth leave his body.

“Not here,” she whispered.

“No?” he said with a smirk. “Where?”

“I don’t know,” she said as her eyes darted about. “I’ve never done such a thing before.”

“Never?” he asked. He tried to hide his surprise at the lapse of judgement humans sometimes possessed. A woman such as her, strong and capable, if she were of his kind, would have been fought after. Men and women would have murdered to be chosen by her. “I would kill for a kiss from you,” he swore.

Not the right thing to say.

Sophie shrank back against the split rail of the fence and now her eyes darted about looking for escape and not a dalliance.

He immediately stepped back cursing himself in his head as his bandana itched. It felt dry and her fear raised his pulse even more than the desire he’d known she felt a moment ago. Before he’d ruined it.

“I should go,” Sophie whispered. “You frighten me.”

“What else?” he pressed as gently as his kind was able.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what else do I do to you?” He wanted to see if she worked past the fear. Some humans were capable. Of all the ones he’d met in the last several decades, she was the one most likely. Otherwise, the Fates only mocked him, and he did not believe them so cruel.

SOPHIE

“I don’t know,” she admitted. Which she hated more than the fear. Admitting ignorance had never been something she was fond of doing.

“Do you still want to kiss me?” he asked.

He hadn’t moved since she’d spooked. How she felt about such patience she did not know. Predators did such things, she knew from her readings. What few readings she’d managed away from her parents’ prying eyes. They felt there were no words needed outside the Bible. The question she had to ask now was, did she want to kiss him? A part of her did, in a way. He felt dangerous, but she wasn’t afraid.

“Is that all?” she asked when she met his eyes again.

“All what?”

“All you will do? Is kissing me all you will do?”

“If that is all you desire.”

Only so brave, only slightly daring, she nodded. “A kiss.”

Rian grinned, teasing and promising. “A single kiss. Unless it inspires you to want more.” He looked over his shoulder. “Meet me in the barn in a few minutes.”

His steps were sure, if meandering, and she lost sight of him in the shadows before too long.

Frozen with indecision, she was not sure she was even so daring as she’d thought. Until she thought she heard her mother calling her. Maybe she would not go through with the kiss, but she surely was uninterested in a lecture about propriety.

She darted in the shadows as well, but less successfully. Wishing for something other than a skirt, she managed not to stumble, an embarrassment if she had, and made it to the barn without drawing notice, she hoped. Inside the cooler dark, she waited for her eyes to adjust. Before they did, a hand took hers and she suppressed a cry of surprise.

“It is me,” Rian said.

“I knew that,” she bluffed. “I was not expecting the touch.”

Rian took her hand and pulled her deeper into the barn. “I thought it was my touch you came here seeking.” His hand left hers and moved to her waist. “Have you changed your mind?”

“I do not think so,” she admitted. “So long as we are in agreement and it shall only be a kiss.”

“One?” he followed up with as he laid his other hand on her waist and began a slow pull forward. “Among my people, you would be prized.”

Sophie, unsure of what to do with her own hands, left them at her sides. “The ones who think it proper to woo a lady by offering to kill for her?” Which she did not find flattering. No proper Christian lady would.

“My people are not human,” Rian said. “I tell you this so there are no secrets before we initiate physical contact.”

“Aren’t we- aren’t we in contact?”

“Not until you touch me as well.”

Sophie glanced away before she laid her hand on his arm. “Like this?” Her other arm hung at her side.

“May I show you?”

Again, she wondered what she was doing. He clearly was a madman. She’d heard his words, but thought him merely touched in the head. Not much. Only enough to have wild fancies about being something other than human. Because there was nothing other than humans. Created in God’s own image and everything.

“Sophie?”

“I- Yes, Rian.” Touched or not, she was already ruined if caught. She might as well enjoy some small ruination in truth.

RIAN

The burn of passion in his blood grew hotter at her affirmation of what he desired. Not that he would take all she might offer. If this was truly her first experience of desire, she would be easy to manipulate, and he did not want to do so. Not the rational part of him. Only the itch on his scalp as his bandana reminded him of its dryness, urged him to take.

So, when he reached for her hand, he did so slowly when he desired swiftness. Her fingers were soft, and warm, as they slide along his neck at his own urging. He felt the catch in her breath as she touched his skin. While his mind was able to hold back, his body was aware of the touch and responded appropriately. He guided her other hand to his back before his own arms wrapped around her waist and hauled her against his body.

There. He had wanted her close and now she was against him. She felt right. No one had felt right in this manner since his second wife fifty years ago. She had not been tall like Sophie. At first, he’d been afraid of breaking her, but she’d possessed her own strength. For a human.

“Will you kiss me now?” Sophie asked of him.

With her head turned up as it was, he saw no reason to answer with words. Instead, he lowered his mouth and smiled as he heard her draw in a sharp breath. Her last as a woman unappreciated. Rian knew to take his time despite the urge to take, consume, claim. She was not of his kind. She would be frightened by such actions.

So, he teased and stoked her fires of desire. When his tongue traced her lips, and began to tease them open she let out a quiet moan. His fingers tightened on her waist and he found there was a scant inch of space between them he could close. The fullness of her against him was hard to resist. For a moment, he wished her of his kind. Even though he would wish no such curse upon anyone. Were she like him, he could take her. The desire was there, and she would expect him to take action.

Instead, he had to content himself with deepening the kiss and allowing his hands to steal lower and feel the weight of her hips. Even that was not enough and as her fingers locked around his neck and she returned the kiss with no hesitation, he let himself cup his hands on her bottom and adjust her position to feel the way she fit around his erection.

Heaven, if the humans’ construct existed, was surely this sensation. What else compared to the feel of a woman who was willing to fall into unquenchable desire together with a man? Nothing.

“I want to touch you,” he said against her lips when he ended the kiss. Her breath was as wild as his and he knew he saw not only his own need reflected in her eyes. “Please. Sophie, say I may touch you. I shall swear an oath to stop when you say, but please.”

“I don’t know,” Sophie answered. He thought her clinging to wisdom and felt sad. Less wisdom would lead to more fun for the both of them. “I am afraid if I say yes, I shall be saying yes to everything.”

Rian could not hide his groan at her words. His hands stroked her bottom and he held her tight against his body. Awareness flooded her senses and he watched it all in her eyes.

“You are crazy.”

“For you.”

“The thing you said. About not being human. That is crazy.” Not that she’d tried to disengage. Nor did she speak of stopping as he wrapped his hand around the back of her thigh and pulled her leg up to let her feel him more directly where he desired to be.

“It is the truth. You may choose not to accept it, but the lack of acceptance does not negate the truth.”

“I have never-” She bit back what he was sure was a moan. “Never even contemplated such behavior. Why now? Are my parents right? Does the Devil send temptation my way?”

Rian laughed and released her. After making sure her knees were capable of supporting her. She looked disappointed which heartened him.

“I was not sent by your devil. The Fates surely placed you in my path. If you desired such, I would find a spot and show you why I am ever thankful to the Fates. Because, sweet Sophie, that is all I desire this evening.” He leaned in and placed a swift kiss on her lips. “But you must say yes.”

“Yes.”

Which was not what he expected. Not the swiftness of her response. Certainly not the way she lunged for him, wild desire filling her with a light he needed to take. Now. Her word was all he needed. The syllable left her lips and he caught her up in a kiss threatening to set the barn on fire.

Somehow, they made it up the ladder to the hayloft where he found a mouse chewed blanket to lay out over the stiff hay. Not the best bed, but he vowed to make her forget such things. He hoped, come morning, she would find him successful.

SOPHIE

At first, she was not sure what awoke her in the middle of the night. A heavy weight lay atop her body and she felt a moment of panic. Once fully awake, the awareness of what she’d done came back to her. She thought to feel shame, but there was none.

If not that, then what had woken her? She nudged Rian who grunted as he rolled off her and sat up. He looked fully awake and she rubbed sleep from her eyes as she reached for some form of clothing.

“What was that?” she asked as she clutched her shift to her body. “Did you hear something? Something woke me.”

A scream stopped her thinking and she looked towards the ladder with wide eyes.

“Will you stay here?” Rian asked as he pulled his clothes on.

His bandana, she noted, had remained on his head. Well, at least one of them had no visible rats’ nest of hair. She wanted to get dressed, but heard another scream and couldn’t move.

“Stay here,” Rian said. He took her hands and she looked down at them. “Please.”

“Don’t go,” she said as he dropped her hands. “What can you do? What is happening?”

Rian was dressed, and he kissed her, the weight of his need pressing her down into the straw before he sat up once more. “Stay here. I will protect you.” He waited until she nodded and was gone.

Sophie’s fingers did not want to work, but she managed to get dressed as the horrible sounds from outside continued. Whatever was happening was not good. Once her boots were laced again, she began searching quietly in the straw. A pitchfork was half-buried near the edge and she hauled it back with her to the blanket.

Where she sat for what was surely an eternity.

Eventually, the night silence came back full force. Which was only worse. She worried in silence over her parents, over Rian, and everyone else. Prayers had not formed. No matter how much she tried to form the words, none of the comforting prayers she’d learned as a child came forth. Well, she was fallen and all. Perhaps the Lord’s words would not come to her anymore. Which did not mean she was going to sit up here like a damsel. There were plenty of strong women in the Bible and she would be cut from the same cloth, fallen or not.

Pitchfork in hand, she maneuvered down the ladder and toward the door. The silence was worse than the screams had been. Huddled near the door, she peeked outside, but saw nothing. The fire had been scattered, either during whatever happened or before. The stars were bright, but not enough to show her what she needed.

“Rian,” she hissed.

Nothing.

So, she crept out two steps. “Rian,” she tried again. Still nothing, so she moved forward and tripped over something that had not been there before. When she looked down, she suppressed a scream.

It was one of the children. The daughter, she thought, of those who manned the stop. Or, what was left of her. Light from the left forced her to turn and she saw several figures hurrying away. She backed up toward the barn once more and stopped when splintered wood hit her back.

Because the hooded figures had been fleeing…something.

Something that made no sound until it was atop them and yelled, screamed, in a way that made her bones chill. The hooded figures stood no chance. Whatever the large figure was, it tore through them like pages from a book. Was that what had done- what had happened? Did the ones trying to escape turn on each other?

All of the questions spinning in her head came back to one thing.

Rian’s insistence of his lack of humanity.

Except, he had been with her. It could not be him. Not that had killed- Except, he was out there somewhere now. So, if he had not killed the little girl and anyone else, where was he now? A yell and a tearing sound pulled her back to the scene happening across the yard.

“Rian,” she whispered. Her fingers tightened on the pitchfork and she took a step forward. The first two were hard, but they became easier. She had to check on her parents. On everyone. Whatever had happened, she should have been there as well. Except, she’d fallen into sinful ways instead.

The three hooded figures were not whole when she reached them. Bile rose in her throat and she turned to the side, still holding the pitchfork, and lost her dinner. Perhaps lunch and breakfast as well. Maybe, she didn’t know, everything she’d eaten since she was a babe.

Because Rian was there. He sat atop the torso of someone. At first, she’d thought he’d lost his bandana in the fight, but then she saw him dipping it into…some part of the remains of the body. Judging by the blood dripping from the fabric, this was not the first body he’d done this to.

“Rian?”

His head came up and she wasn’t sure what she saw. Her fingers tightened on the pitchfork as he rose and walked toward her. Her body tried to lose the fight with the darkness behind her eyes when he reached for her, but she would no fainting flower.

RIAN

He saw her knees lock as she trembled at the sight of him, but he still reached for her. How he hated the sight of blood on the sleeve of her dress. Worse, hated what it meant. That she’d seen him as he truly was. Rian guided her back to the barn, thankful she was in compliant shock, where the horses and donkeys objected to the scent of blood and him in general. A cot for a stablehand in back made a bed for her and he covered her with a blanket before returning outside.

The bandana tied around his head dripped blood into his skin and hair. Tomorrow, the latter would be redder, freshly colored, and harder to manage. And still, every time he found a piece of one of the ones he’d killed, he let the bandana soak up their congealing blood. When it leaked into his mouth he spat it out, not wanting to be tempted down that road again.

When light began to form in the east, he began to gather up everyone he could find. Smaller pieces he almost missed in the dark because more obvious as the sun rose. Sophie’s parents had been caught in their bed. He wrapped them in blankets before carrying them outside to the pile in the yard. Wood needed to be gathered. To keep this many dead, especially given the manner of their death, a chance to form a nightmare was irresponsible. They had to be burned.

A couple of old wagons gave him larger pieces of wood to add to the stuff already gathered from the wood pile out back. He used embers on the hearth to light a stick he could carry to the makeshift pyre.

Where he saw Sophie, eyes wide in horror, and clutching her pitchfork once more. He wanted to go to her. He’d wanted to spare her all of this. No one deserved to see such a nightmare.

“Please,” he said. “go back inside.”

“What are you?” she demanded. Unable to answer, he felt the wood burning closer to where he clutched it. When she brandished the pitchfork, he fought the urge to smile. “What are you?” she screamed.

“Your family are not from the old country.”

“My parents’ parents came over,” she said. “Which has nothing to do with- did you do this? What happened?” More quietly, afraid, “My parents?”

“I am sorry,” he told her. “I do not know what they meant to do, but- they will not do so again.”

“But what are you?” she demanded, and he saw the sheen of tears in her eyes.

“Your kind call mine redcaps. Have you heard of me?”

“No,” she admitted. “But what- what killed these people? Why?”

“I do not know. But we have to burn them. There are things which might grow from such a massacre. I am so very sorry, Sophie. Even your parents, righteous though they may have been, are not immune. Will you let me do this?”

“I-” She stared at him and leaned on the pitchfork. “I do not know what is going on. Or what we should do. But- but very well. If you believe you must.” Her eyes narrowed as he approached the pyre. “But then I want answers.”

Rian had no idea what questions she might have, but he nodded, wanting the work done. She stayed across the fire as he lit it. Soon, her arm covered her mouth and nose. He wondered if he might get her to go inside and then thought of what was inside.

The barn perhaps. The animals were already skittish, and he hated to impose upon them, but the little house would welcome no one for some time. As black smoke whipped about in the wind he kept an eye for flying embers, but mostly he watched Sophie. She coughed into her arm and leaned on the pitchfork for support as the fire crackled.

“Do you know how to tend horses?” he asked.

“I- The basics. We had a couple of horses at home. But we had a man to take care of them.”

“They will need feeding.”

“You do not want me out here.”

“I seek to spare you this horror as I meant to spare you last night.”

“I do not appreciate being coddled.”

“No,” Rian replied, “I would not expect such from one as strong as you. But, the horses and wee donkeys you fed last night will not want me so close. Even when I am not covered in blood. Will you tend them? They should not suffer.”

SOPHIE

He was obviously attempting to get rid of her, but Sophie hated being out here. Only, she felt she owed it to her parents. Someone should whisper quiet prayers to the souls lost here. Coughing interrupted her thoughts and she bent over, clinging to the pitchfork to stay upright now. The taste of burning flesh filled her mouth and if she’d anything else in her stomach, it would now be on the dirt.

“Sophie?” He was close. He might touch her.

That she was not capable of handling.

“I will tend the animals.”

She fled. Which she knew. And made her mad.

The smoke had not permeated the barn and she lost herself in the scent of animal. Feeding, cleaning the stalls, debating on releasing them into the corral, took not long enough. In the end, she left them in their stalls, worried over their reaction to the smell of burning flesh.

She was not excited to get close. So, she found the pump around the back of the barn and filled a few buckets. Which still took not enough time, so she pumped water over her own head, drenched her hair and the back of her blouse, and shivered only from the cold. Or so she told herself. If only herself were not so hard to convince.

“What will we tell the authorities?” she asked when she heard footsteps.

“Why should we tell them anything? Rian asked in return. He held out a horse blanket and she wrapped herself in it as the shivers began. “I would take you inside, but- You will not want to go there.”

“Is that where they died?”

“Several people. Would you like to go in the barn? The fire is dying down. We can find a place to talk.” He stretched his hand out, but did touch her. “Do you still have questions?”

“I do.” She did not take his hand. “Inside the barn. I suppose.” Her eyes continued to drag upward to stare at his bright red bandana. A lock of hair had slid free and hung over his ear. It was not the brown of before. The shock of red was another punch in her gut. Which already ached between the shock, vomiting, and general trouble.

He left first, as if he knew she was unwilling to turn her back on him. Acutely aware, as she was now, of how much he felt like a predator. And how much she was only prey.

Inside, she sat on a haybale and set the pitchfork against it. Within reach. Because there was nothing to make a woman feel better than a weapon to hand.

“What happened last night?” she demanded.

Rian sat across from her, several feet between them, and met her eyes, holding her attention. “Someone attacked this place. With evil intent. They were human. Perhaps they sought to create a Hunt.”

“A hunt? Were they…Indians?”

“I do not believe so. Does it matter? I suppose, should we be forced to make a story, we should tell them it was Indians.”

“No!” Sophie glared as she jabbed a finger towards him. “I will not lie.”

Rian stood and stepped closer to her. “And so you will tell everyone what I am, Sophie Cogswell?”

Fear, for a second, had kept her seated, but she stood and grabbed the pitchfork when anger burned away fear. “You will not intimidate me. I will not let you think you might shove me around. Whatever you are, sit down.”

His eyes followed the wave of the pitchfork as she spoke. Once she was done, he grinned and sat down again. She remained standing. All of her nerves were lit up and sitting still was impossible. So, she paced as Rian’s eyes followed her movements.

“I killed no one other than those who had attacked the people here. Yes, my people kill. Those who have fallen prey to their own nature, consume the flesh of their victims.” His eyes widened, and he leapt to his feet, “I would not. I have not. Not of a human.”

  RIAN       

Of his own kind, the fae, he said nothing. He was unashamed of his past, but some of it was not fitting for human ears. Sophie was already spooked.

“Why is your hair red?”

Rian tugged the bandana off, his fingers running along the edge and feeling no itch. He shouldn’t for some time after last night. All of the blood he’d fed it was not from those he’d killed, but it was all accepted. Holding it in one hand, he ran his fingers through his hair, tugging at the snarls beginning to form.

“Because when my cap is red, so is my hair. As it dries, my hair changes color.”

“That is no cap.”

As he tied it back onto his head, Rian grinned. “No. When I arrived in this country it was still as it was. But, the further west I moved, the more I thought to change it and when I awoke one morning it was as it is. The function is the same.”

“I don’t know what to do,” she whispered.

And, for the first time, he cursed the Fates for placing her in his path. To him, she had been a joy even when they had not said a word to one another. For her, she had been thrust into a nightmare. He did not know how to comfort her. His kind were not known for their comforting abilities. Food, maybe. He might catch something, but would be forced to leave her alone.

“I swear, I shall not allow harm to fall to you.” Rian laid his hand atop his head, fingers pressed against the bright red bandana. “By my name and my power, by the cap of my foremothers, I swear to you, Sophie Cogswell, that I, Rian Na Fahe and those of my line shall never cause harm to befall you. I shall bind myself by whatever oath you require.”

Tears filled her eyes and he dared approach her. With caution, because she still held a weapon. There was no brandishing of rusted, sharp tines, so he took it from her hand and let it fall to the floor. Unlike last night, he did not crush her to him. Even if he wanted to. The fight, the death, left him with the urge to seek other desires as well.

Except, she was human, so he kept those desires at bay. All he did was hold her, even when he felt the tears fall and not stop. Because he did not know what else to do for her. Damn the Fates for putting her through this.

Eventually, her tears stopped, and he wiped her cheeks with the pad of his thumb.

“You should drink. Do you think you might eat something?”

“Without being sick? I doubt it.”

“Well, water. I must insist. You humans are so fragile at times such as these.”

Sophie laughed, and it startled him, so he pulled her back to see her face. There was no hysteria to read in her eyes as she got herself under control. Which did not mean her mind had not broken. He had witnessed such before.

“No one has ever called me fragile before,” she told him.

“Well, as a race, your kind are easily breakable. Which does not mean you are fragile. I was drawn to your strength the moment I stepped onto the stagecoach. I believe the Fates delivered me to you.”

“Fates?”

“We do not believe in your god. He is new, and we are ancient.”

“My mind cannot handle this discussion at this moment. We must focus on something more immediate. There will be another coach. There might even be soldiers. And I will not lie.”

“I do not care.” He did not care. “So long as my secret remains so. I came west for a reason and I’d rather not be found.”

“I am sure there is a story there,” Sophie informed him. “but we haven’t time. We shall have to tell the truth.”

“The truth?”

“That we were awoken in the evening from- from our slumber and discovered everyone dead. We had- had to burn them because we feared wild animals hauling away- you know.”

“Bits and pieces?”

She slapped his chest and he was unable to keep his grin away. “Yes,” she mumbled. “And while we wait, we should clean up inside. So whomever comes next doesn’t have to.”

“Are you sure? It is not a pretty sight.”

“I have been witness to death.”

Rian stepped closer and laid a kiss on her lips. “Whatever happens, understand I will uphold my oath. It binds me in ways you do not understand.”

SOPHIE

“Well, you may explain it later.” Because surely, he did not insist she take him at his word for everything. “For now-” They had a massacre to clean.

“I shall answer all your questions.”

She planned to hold him to it. Once they were done. A coach was not likely to come today. They’d said every two to three days. Soldiers did patrol the area, but she’d heard they’d not been around for a month. Which either meant they would show up soon or not at all.

They spent the day cleaning as best they could. Sophie tended the animals as they refused to let Rian near them. Unlike many men of her acquaintance he was more than helpful with everything else. The worst of the evidence of death he insisted she allow him to clean. As her stomach roiled all day, she was quick to let him.

By the time the sun headed down, the house was better. Not that she wanted to sleep inside. She also did not want to say anything.

“There is the cot in the stable. I will sleep on the floor away from you. First, we shall clean up and I will prepare a meal unless you wish to do the cooking.” Rian had brought out the small trunk her parents had carried inside and taken their larger ones from the top of their coach. He had nothing of his own.

“I would like to get clean. I do not care for a meal, but I know you will insist because I am fragile.” Sophie rolled her eyes, something her father had always scolded her for. “And I am used to sleeping on the floor so do not mind if you take the cot.”

 “Nonsense. You are the lady.”

Since she did not want to sleep on the floor she did not argue. He left her to clean up and she dug out one of her two dresses to change into. Her hair she managed to brush clear of tangles and braid. Good enough.

“I found their root cellar,” Rian announced as he set a box down filled with cans, jars, and loose vegetables. “I made sure to find clean pots. There was venison as well. I will fry it up with some onions.”

Sophie said nothing, and he continued to speak. His voice, despite the roughness of his words, calmed her. The sound of humanity, she supposed, even if he insisted to being other. And, she was beginning to believe him.

“I believe you,” she said when he handed her a plate. “Even if I find it most odd. Until now I have not noticed you lying or pretending. So, I shall accept the truth of you.”

Whatever he’d been about to say, he stopped. Rian stared down at her on the hay bale before returning to his own seat. As he ate, he watched her.

“I want to sleep in the loft,” she told him after they’d washed up and put out the tiny fire. “I would feel more comfortable.”

Rian headed for where they’d laid out her things by the cot now tucked into an empty stall.

“No,” Sophie said, and he stopped. “I wish to sleep with you.”

“That is not necessary.”

“Of course, it is not. But I am afraid to sleep by myself as I am alone in the world now. And, I am already ruined.”

“Nonsense,” Rian said as he approached her and laid his arm around her waist. “You are on the way to being well-seasoned, but that does not mean ruined.”

“That is nonsense,” Sophie scoffed.

“So, I shouldn’t show you?” he counted as he stepped closer.

“I never said those words.”

EPILOGUE

Rian paced outside, crushing rocks in his hands as he listened to something. Whatever it was had been itching his bandana all night. Sophie had grown annoyed with his pacing and sent him outside to settle down.

To be fair to her, in her condition, she was liable to be annoyed by plenty. She carried his child and the child was not human. That alone made him anxious, but this was something else. In the barn, one of the horses spooked and he dropped the rock to race toward the building.

The smell hit him before he saw the piece of darkness where it should not be.

“Back away, sluagh,” he bellowed.

The darkness froze, but another flowed forward to join it.

“I did not know you resided here now.”

“Come out of here. You’re bothering the animals.”

The shadows moved, headed for the door, and Rian followed. What he saw under the moonlight made him curse. “Damn you, Liam.”

“Rian,” Liam hissed. “I want no trouble.”

“Then move on.”

“Yes. My child will find food elsewhere.”

The smaller shadow made sense now. The face, not formed yet, but appearing to melt off soft bones, hissed. Little claws flexed, and Rian smirked.

“Get your bastard in line.”

Liam hit the babe in the side of the head. “Apologies. But, what are you doing here? I hadn’t heard you’d left Fort Smith.”

“Moved on. Things were happening I wanted no part of.”

Liam laughed, and the babe laughed with him. “I should have been wiser. Then I might not be where I am now.”

“Which is where?”

“Cursed. Me and the child. By our next queen.”

Rian swore, a habit he’d tried to drop for Sophie’s sake. “There are no queens here. We are free of such nonsense.” Humans were not the only ones who’d fled the monarchies of the old country.

“One is rising,” Liam said, sounding too pleased. “And you would be wise to make your peace with her now.”

“There are no queens out here. Let her sit on a throne in Fort Smith.”

Liam laughed, the babe with him, and it was not a pleasing sound.

“She is coming here. And you will be thankful when she arrives.”

“Fu-”

“Rian? Do you need the shotgun?” Sophie called from the open kitchen door.

“And that is why,” Liam said as he grabbed the babe and began to melt into the shadows. “She’s your only hope of saving your own child. Certainly, your only chance to save the woman.”

Rian’s blood went cold as Liam spoke before disappearing. He wanted nothing to do with queens. He would handle the birth of his own child and would see Sophie through it.

“Rian?” she called again.

“Coming,” he hollered back. “Coyote, I think. Get inside. You need to rest.”

She grumbled, but complied, and he joined her before the fire to fret over new troubles coming.

 

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Delilah

Welcome to my 2017 December project! 26 letters in the Western alphabet, 26 characters. I'm not going in alphabetical order. As always, some stories will be longer than others, some typos will have been missed, and I hope you enjoy them all! Starting things off, we have the story of Delilah. Or, at least a story I wanted to write to change things up with the tale. 

1

The sun did not wake her, she had been awake for hours. Everyone else in the city slept, but she’d received a message in her dreams and had spent the early morning attempting to decipher the meaning. Other than danger, she had found nothing. She had not recognized the man in her dreams, but knew she would recognize him if she saw him waking. His pleasing figure and handsome face taunted her as she finally stood from her bed.

Servants of the house awoke around her and she went to her bathing chamber to await assistance with her bath. All through her morning ablutions, the face in her dreams haunted her. Even her morning meal, usually her favorite, tasted of ash compared to the memory of the man. Pulled from her reminiscence by a knock at her gate, she sent her lead woman out to answer.

The servant returned, bowing in a group of powerful men from the city below her hill. She did not bother rising to greet them, but reclined on her couch as another of her servants combed her hair, a pleasing sensation even with her agitation. The men looked uncomfortable in her house of women, but she preferred it that way. Let them be wary of her.

“Long have we let you sit unmolested here,” the eldest of the men began.

Her mouth turned upward, and she stretched her legs, toes pointed straight, as their attention fell to her thighs. “Long have I been most gracious about your forbearance,” she said in reply. None, she thought, were unaware of the undertone of her words.

“The time has come to collect,” the fattest of them said. “You will learn the secret of our enemy, so we might destroy him before an army arrives to support him.”

The third and fourth man said nothing. Junior members of the city’s council, they likely had already been cowed into silence. So, she directed her answer to them.

“I do not work for free,” she said. “And whatever your pretty words, I exist here, because it pleases me to reside here. If you try to run me off, you will find yourselves without authority.”

“We shall pay you,” the eldest said and before she might scoff at his offer, he named a sum great enough to silence her.

“And in return?” she asked, still sounding bored. Well, she’d long stopped pretending to care about the words of any man. Those who came to her preferred such behavior.

“You will do the task laid out and find the man we seek. From him, you will learn the secret of his strength and deliver it unto us.”

“Give my woman the information. And I expect payment before I begin my work.” Before they might object she smiled and rose from the couch. “It is how I conduct business.”

She left them to dither with one another, her lead woman waiting patiently for the information and acceptance of a delivery of the sum promised. There was work to prepare for and she had grown weary of the conversation.

In the hall, she stopped one of her servants, “Bring me the soothsayer. Immediately.”

The woman bowed away, and Delilah continued to where she conducted the background of her work. The books needed updating and she must consult the secret tomes kept by herself and her predecessor in the business. Trouble was ahead, the danger of her dream made manifest. It would not catch her unprepared for battle. 

2 

Business in the evening was quiet, the house settled long ago into routine, and Delilah sat in the center of it all. She saw none of the clients other than her own, preferring to not be bothered with the smell of men. Not unless they paid her. The duty of her lead woman was to handle outside communication and she excelled at such.

“Did the auger deliver good news?” Tabitha asked as she stroked Delilah’s bare ankle from her place on the floor. “I have worried since I saw her arrive.”

Delilah smiled down at the other woman and played with her hair, freed from the scarf she wore over it when out in the public rooms. “There is no reason to fear. I simply had a dream I wished interpreted.” The news had not been good, but she’d expected that after the visit from the town. “There is nothing to fear, my sweetheart.”

Tabitha pressed a kiss to Delilah’s calf. “I am only ever anxious for you.”

“I know. Did you not have a client this evening?” Because she enjoyed Tabitha, but the woman was wearing after too long. The sweetness others enjoyed only made Delilah’s teeth ache. At least outside of the bed.

Tabitha stood and stretched, the sheer robe covering her moving in a way made to entice the eye to the place it desired to go.

Delilah enjoyed it as much as any customer, but it did not make her keep the other woman to herself. And not only because it might impact her bottom line. Tonight, she had arranged for the mysterious man of her dream to be brought here. Soldiers were aware of her establishment and plenty were willing to do a favor in return for a few affectionate moments from their favorite at no charge.

Once Tabitha had gone, Delilah changed into her best customer gown. Gathered at one shoulder, it left most of one breast exposed before falling to the ground freely. Her feet she left bare and she fixed her hair on her own, pulling it back into a loose tail. A sigh filled the room before she poured herself a swift drink. Crossing the room, she closed the door behind her once inside the chamber she received guests for work.

The lighting was kept low, and a tray of foods laid out already. She threw open the window coverings to let in the scent of the garden before reclining on the couch to await the delivery of the man in her dreams. Not the man of her dreams as the soothsayer had teased her. The old woman knew she desired nothing from men, but their coin. A knock on the door drew her attention to the present.

“Enter,” she called.

The lead woman stepped inside, bowed, and moved aside to let the handsome man into her presence.

He stared at Delilah and she softened her expression into a welcoming smile. The door closed behind him before he stepped forward. His eyes explored her body and she watched for signs his own body was impressed by her.

“They did not lie,” he said as he crossed the floor. He sat on the couch and stroked her bare arm. “You are the most beautiful woman in the city.”

Delilah sat up and felt him watch the shift of her body. “And yet, you show me no honor as you are.”

He smiled, strong lips widening to display his teeth. As her hand began to move along his clad leg, he stopped it with his own. Her lower lip came out in a pout, but he did not release his hold.

“My religion does not allow me to show myself to a woman not my wife.”

“Surely it does not require you to remain so covered even here? The heat is stifling.” Never had she seen a man wearing so much. Under his outer robe she saw trousers before his sandals showed clean feet. She thought she saw proof of a long-sleeved tunic under the robe as well. “You might take off your robe.”

“I may not. Never have I been more upset at this restriction.” He sounded upset, but she was not sure. “I am pleased to remain with you,” he offered as he used his free hand to stroke the bare skin of his arm. “We can, surely, find our company amenable within the constraints I must live by.” From within his robe he removed a small pouch of coins and leaned forward to lay it by the light repast waiting for him.

Delilah rose up on her knees and laid her arms around his shoulders. “Must we only speak?” she asked.

“Perhaps not,” he said as he turned his handsome, strong face to hers, “It shall depend on the arrangement we might come to.”

3

 The men from town had grown bothersome. For three nights the man from her dreams had come to her and they had sat on her couch. They fed each other succulent morsels and he allowed her kisses to his lips and face, but no more. His hands had touched her, above and below her robe, but he kept it on her. Skirting the rules, she wanted to accuse him of, but the money paid to her sang of real pleasures.

“Lady,” her lead woman said, “Sampson is here again. One of the men from town has followed him. The one who works for the fat man.”

Delilah looked up from her mirror and left her hair as it was. She’d brushed it herself and left it loose to cover her breasts as tonight she left them bare. Because, she had vowed to herself, tonight she would not allow the man to deny his own desires.

“Do not let them meet,” she instructed. “And bring me Sampson. If the other man does not partake, escort him out. And check his coins are real before service is rendered.” Perhaps she might move her business. She adored this home, but the city grew more bothersome by the day. As if a woman had no right to run a business popular with the most important of men.

“Of course, lady,” was said before the lead woman left.

A moment later she returned with Sampson who hurried towards her to take her hands in his.

“My sweetest Delilah,” he said before laying a kiss upon her lips.

His touch aroused her, and she let him direct the kiss. For now. Soon enough, she would show him who held control in this room. The sure knowledge of what would come after made her shiver more than the feel of his hard chest against hers.

“Sampson,” she replied once her lips were free of his touch. “How I have counted the time until your arrival. Come. Sit. Let me show you how I have missed you.” She drew him to the couch and pushed him down.

“You are afire tonight, my sweetest,” he said as she knelt across his lap. “What a pleasure.”

“The pleasure is only beginning,” she promised before taking his hands. “We shall partake of each other this night as unlike not other.” Swiftly, as she had long practiced this move, she secured his wrists to the manacles built into chains on her couch.

“What is this?” he demanded as he tugged at the chains. “These will not hold me.”

Delilah rose and swept her hair over her shoulders. “No, not the strongest man known,” she agreed. “Not one who might split an ox in two using only the strength of his arms to pull.” She leaned forward and let her body brush against his clad form. “But a man who has desires so long denied him? One who would give in to his most basic of needs if not for the false restraints of his God? That man? He would submit to the one who promised him the ultimate in pleasure.”

Sampson shivered when she leaned in and took his lower lip between her teeth. His arms flexed, but he made no move to break free of her chains. As she suspected. The biggest, strongest men, always submitted so easily. Her tongue slipped into his mouth and he moaned as she toyed with his hair. Once sure of his submission, she would remove the chains and take him to her bed. There, she would do her true work.

“When I know,” she told him as she knelt up, “that you shall be a good man, and behave properly for me, I shall release you from the chains. In the meantime, I shall show you how much I desire you.”

Delilah knew her trade, but she was no match for the secret of Sampson. A secret so great, despite her assumption otherwise about the size of Sampson, it struck her dumb. As she scrambled backwards and fell f rom her sofa, Sampson broke the chains holding him to try to break her fall. He failed, and she felt her head hit the back of low table before the dim light in the room faded to nothing.

4

When she came to, she found herself in bed. Her real bed and not the one customers knew. A groan alerted the warm body next to her she was no longer unaware. As rough as her early life had been, she was no stranger to blacking out so stayed still and did not rush to sit or do much of anything.

“I am sorry,” Sampson said as she took Delilah’s hand. “I had not expected such a violent reaction.”

A slow turn of her head allowed her to look upon the other woman and Delilah cursed herself for a fool in silence. Now that she knew, it was impossible to miss the subtle hints that the strongest man in the world, was not. She pulled her hand away and curled her fingers into her palms.

“I thought, perhaps, your God demanded the loss of your manhood in obedience when I saw no rise all these nights.” After speaking, she began to ease herself up, hating to look up at anyone when speaking. “I need not your help! This is not the first time my head has taken such a blow.” She did allow Sampson to pile pillows up behind her so being seated was easier and did not take so much work from her.

Sampson watched her, but offered no help as she arranged herself on the bed. Once more, she took Delilah’s hand and held it loosely. “My God only requires my silence on this matter,” she explained. “My brother is the true Sampson, but he is recovering from a wound. The soldiers expected him here. His might was needed to show strength to the heathens here.”

“Such as myself?” Delilah asked with a scowl. “I care not for your strength, the strength of our God, or your brother.”

“And yet, you took the money from the city men.”

“I did! The sum will allow me to reassign all my clients to someone who does not shudder at the touch of men.” Delilah glared at Sampson despite the woman’s amusement. “Never have I found the attention of men to my liking.”

“Naomi,” was the only word given in response. She eased herself off the bed and poured a cup of wine to bring back to Delilah. “I understand such aversion,” she told Delilah as she held out the cup. “And I have been pleased to imitate my brother for that reason alone. I might never have met you had I not been called to such.”

“And when he arrives?”

Naomi slid back into the bed and laid her head in Delilah’s lap. “I shall be Naomi once more. And forced to hide my affections.”

“A shame,” Delilah said after emptying her cup. She let it tumble across the bed, so she might run her fingers through Naomi’s hair. “I am even sorrier now you resisted my advances so well.”

Naomi moved with caution, but sat up to kneel beside Delilah. “With great care,” she said in a voice that made Delilah shiver, “I might show my affection, so you feel no regret.”

“Lay your head back in my lap. I shall rest a moment longer.” Delilah smiled at the strongest woman in the world. “The feel of your hair brings me joy. Give me that until I am ready for more.”

“With pleasure,” Naomi replied.

Later, with the arrival of her brother, Naomi allowed herself to be coaxed into remaining with Delilah.

And, so, the most beautiful woman in town, and the strongest woman no one knew, lived together for the rest of their lives, and sometimes laughed at the stories told of Delilah’s part in the downfall of Sampson.

 

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Caught up!

I fell 4 days behind on NaNoWriMo. Which has never happened. Camp NaNo has been met with varying degrees of success, but every since my first time, I've never gotten this behind in Nov. Or behind at all.

After the death of my husband's uncle I was wrecked. That we dealt with some drama stuff and the grieving while I was PMSing was not a boon. Still, Monday, I sat down determined to catch up, and catch up I did. Over Mon-Tues I wrote over 10k words and once I finish this scene today I will be on track. Which is still painful. By the middle of the month I am usually closer to the end.

Ah, well. Sometimes these things happen.

My goal, over the next two days, is to pull further ahead if possible. Because next week the beloved husband is off ALL WEEK. So are the kids. We'd like to do some family things along with sleeping in, which is always a good thing. :) 

I really liked this scene I wrote yesterday so I thought I'd share. Copper and Silver remain two of my all time favorite characters and I hope someday someone else loves them the way I do. 

Enjoy!

***

“There is no breaking the bond,” Copper said when he stopped her in a patch of moonlight filtered through shaking branches. 

“I know.”

“I had to kill her.”

“Caoimhe.”

He nodded.

Now she knew why he’d not wished to speak of it. “You worry I will feel guilt.” She turned her face away from the moon to stare at him alone. “I do not. Perhaps a better person might, but I shall always be jealous of those who draw your attention. It is not even the bond. Not entirely.”

“I have killed so many people. How does this not frighten you? To this day, no matter what I do, you are constant.”

“You are not the only one who has blood on their hands. I have killed for you. I will kill for you. There is nothing, no one, I value above you.” Which was not what this was about. She knew that, understood what truly bothered him.

“And I am sorry,” Silver said. “Because she was yours and I made you kill her. I should not have put you and your honor in such a position.”

Copper’s laugh was drier than the leaves underfoot.

“I have no honor. I am a monster. It has always been so.”

“No,” Silver objected as she turned away before stepping back into an embrace that faltered only a moment. “I have seen your honor at work. I have ever strived to live up to what you desire. I have never denied my selfish ways. It is only with you I find it in me to be selfless.”

***

Oh, one more thing! I think I've figured out the best way to get all of the Scarlet Ibis story in one place. I'm going to do that next week. Until then, back to the story!

 

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Happy NaNoWriMo and other emotions

I got off a to good start with Nano. This weekend killed productivity. I managed at least 1800 words each day, but today I don't think I've broken 1000. I will. I obsess over my word count average. Also, it's Copper and Riona. They can take my mind off things. I may be farther back than I wanted to be, but I am on track and will crush this month.

That is Copper and Silver's theme song. For this novel. I keep defaulting to Riona and she would be made because someone else has the name now. I don't think I will get to that in this book, but maybe the next I can visit him again. He is introduced in a short story. I know, I keep teasing all these short stories, but I haven't decide what to do with them still! 

My husband's uncle died over the weekend which is what threw my Nano-ing off track. Things were needlessly complicated and I'm still coming to terms with his loss. He was such an amazing man and I only got to know him a few years. After losing my father-in-law last year, things have been rough. 

I hate to end this on a downer, so here is a small tease of Copper and Riona from a short story. What? I'm not sharing novel bits yet!

And, yes, Silver is still as hard on herself as ever. She is my tortured soul like no other. 

“Any oath,” I begged. The mud sucked at me and I could not resist. Life mattered little if Copper was taken from me. Eyes closed, I let the rain beat me down.

“Swear.” How bored he sounded. As if the ruination of my soul kept him from tea.

“Riona. Don’t.”

I looked at Copper, calm as he awaited the sun’s jealous rays to shine bright enough, to break through the clouds, and end his life. No begging. Nothing in the strength of how he held himself, staked to the ground with foul-smelling rope, to tell anyone he was hurt.

I knew.

I knew and I swore anyway. Because I’d given him my word. Until I had nothing else to give. So, I swore an oath to ruin what was left of my honor.

 

 

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I'm going out with a bang!

This morning I finished a short story called Darkness in in The Midst of Her. I hope people will enjoy it once I share. I am submitting to an anthology call. If it does not get in I will post it on my blog. It's another witch story. Different witch though. I like witches. :)

Sanguine Road has slowed because my draft zero received feedback requires I put it on hold and think. Part of the problem is there is too much Rufus (character from my Roman fantasy) in Emeric. So, I'm revisiting his character. With only 10 days til Nanowrimo it may be on hold until January.

Because December is blog short story month! And, this year I am doing...dun dun dun...the alphabet! Yes, the alphabet has fewer letters than there are days in the month. This provides some leeway for me as it is a busy month. Each story's central character's name will follow the ABCs. 

I've got ideas slowly forming. 

Nanowrimo this year is going to be a Copper and Riona novel. I am SO excited! Truly excited! I get to do a deeper dive into these characters. And, I'm using Riona's current name, Silver. Why is that her name? Well, because...No...Not ready to spoil that yet! 

Both my short story and Sanguine Road are in Draft 0 mode right now. What does that mean? It means I don't start with draft 1. Because I don't outline. Pantsing is an artform. And a lot of work. LOL My version involves having character ideas, a sliver of a plot, and a setting. I write the draft out and use that to outline a proper draft. Yes, it's more work, but I never outlined in school either. Not until the paper was done. 

I am also researching a new project. I've bought new history books. Eee! So fun! All I will say is it is a medieval fantasy set somewhere in Eastern Europe and involves books. I've a basic plot, unnamed characters, and the beginning of the setting's history. 

Looking forward to all of these writing projects. Especially fixing a little novel called Mad Baron's Doomed Daughter. Because it's been percolating in my mind and I may have the bits I need. 

Happy Halloween!

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Welcome to October!

Yay! I may be pretty over my pumpkin spice addiction, but I still love pumpkin ice cream so rejoice! Also, it is finally cooling off here in Oklahoma. Thank goodness!

My dogs are enjoying the cooler weather. Emma, our eldest, will be taken off some of her meds now that summer is over. Ellie is not such a fan of winter, but will be glad when we are firmly out of thunderstorm time.

The kids are back in school. Things are going... well. Yes, that was cryptic. I am a mysterious woman!

Or, not so much!

This week is going to end on several high notes! First up is the Donner Party Reunion Tour from American Murder Song.  This year's costume is based on the song below. If they're playing near you, be sure and spring for a ticket. As awesome as their music is, the live show is 1000% better!

Get Tour Tickets Now: http://AmericanMurderSong.com/GetTickets Get The Complete AMS Experience on DVD & CD: http://bit.ly/AMS-Set These fine ballads of Murder are also available wherever you buy music iTunes - http://bit.ly/AMS-itunes-Donner-Party Amazon - http://bit.ly/AMS-amazon-Donner-Party Google Play - http://bit.ly/AMS-google-Donner-Party CD Baby - http://bit.ly/cdbaby-Donner-Party Or our website: http://AmericanMurderSong.com/music For more on American Murder Song, be sure to Follow The Mark: Facebook - https://facebook.com/thekillingplace/ Spotify - http://bit.ly/ams-spotify Twitter - https://twitter.com/thekillingplace/ Instagram - https://instagram.com/thekillingplace/ American Murder Song is a collection of original murder ballads by Terrance Zdunich and Saar Hendelman, the star of Repo!

 

Saturday we're driving to Muskogee to take the kids to the Castle in Muskogee for the Halloween event. We have passes to all the stuff that shouldn't scare them. Or me. I am a wuss. 

I'll write up both events next week! And might have decided what Nano project to work on by then. And, I have decided on my December project for my blog. Yay! 

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It's Blog Time! - What's My State?

I don't mean Oklahoma. 

So, where do things stand? 

1. I am actively querying Widowed Witch of the West as of today. OMG! Freaking out! I know it's a long road, but this first step is kinda freaking me out! 

2. I am working on Sanguine Road. My goal is to be done by November with the first draft. I know vampires are a hard sell, but I have faith in Lucy. Who is, after all, not a vampire. Although Emeric is and I adore his differences from other urban fantasy heroes. Early beta feedback on this story has been good so, fingers crossed!

3. For Nano, unless something derails me, I am writing a Copper and Riona novel. This will start after all of the short stories. I am still not sure what, if anything, I will do with those. Other than <3 them forever.

4. Kids are back in school which means my schedule changed. So, give me another month to be fully adjusted to that situation.

5. Next year seems so far away, but I am thinking I might spend some time finishing up the rewrite of Mad Baron. 

That is it for numbers. Here. Let me tease Sanguine Road a wee bit. 

Filthy, ancient carpet passed untouched under my feet as I ignored the sting of bleach in my nostrils to grab Emeric by the throat.  His hands came up, but he could not budge me. Nails dug into my skin, but he’s not my first. A human, or a wolf, would be out by now. Anything requiring air to function would gasp in my face and either fight more fiercely or give up.

Emeric, not needing air, damn the undead, continued to try to pry my fingers from his throat. If he dies, from my hand especially, there would be no payment. My fingers eased up and he took it the wrong way. A fist connected with my stomach and it was me who gasped.

I needed air. Right now, I had very little. Emeric tried to get the advantage, but I merely tightened my fingers again on his throat. His fangs were out and brown eyes were narrowed to tiny slashes in his handsome face.

My own fangs, far longer to contend with a prey who fought, were visible. The couple to the east of my room had stopped fighting. Some speck of animal in them had sprung to life and sent them to the far side of their room. They huddled together in the closet, barely breathing. The parking lot stood empty and I heard five different locks click into place.

Not even the bleach could hide the scent of Emeric. Not when I so desperately wanted to tear out his throat to show him the error of his way. If only he were food as well as prey.

“No.”

I released him, tore my arms from his nails and felt the sting of broken skin, and backed across the room. Time wasted while I fought. Every second could be the death of someone I loved. His nose didn’t even twitch at the scent of my blood. I’m no more food for him than he is for me.

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Oh, my gosh!

It's been forever. I apologize. Things have been crazy hectic. My AC was out for most of the summer. It was repaired and they did not hook something up so part of my bedroom ceiling collapsed. It is repaired now, courtesy of the AC folk. Oh, and my sister came to visit and I met her husband and saw my niece again. They were only here for a few days, but we had to straighten the house and all.

Oh, and poor P Dog has been in the Cone of Destruction since she will not stop getting hot spots. Poor dog! Luckily, she doesn'tmind at all. But, she does smack you in the back of the knees or butt if you're not fast enough to get out of her way. 

I've entered Pitch Wars this year. Second year. Whee. There's lots of helpful stuff if you follow that link! 

Widowed Witch of the West is my entry this year. I know, I'd nearly shelved it, but a couple of people I trust said that was not smart. 

I am working on a new project. Tentatively named: Sanguine Road. For now. It's vampire UF and I'll post more about it coming up because I'm excited!

Also still tinkering here and there with my superhero project. I'm flipping between plotty stuff on it so not too far.

Oh, and I've also written several more Copper and Riona short stories. I love these characters SO much, but don't want to write a book for them. Instead, I'm hopping in and out of their lives and doing short stories I might collect and release togethersomeday. It would be a lot of fun and is a shame to keep them to myself. Maybe when I hit 10 I'll do a collection. 

That's about it! The boys are gearing up for school in less than 2 weeks. Both of them in middle school! Scary! Oh! And waiting for Destiny 2 to release. And for the Xbox One X to be available for pre-order! 

AND! Time for another American Murder Song show. I am all..... So ready to see them live again. Donner Party Reunion! Going to be able to use most of last year's costume. Need a new hat and skirt to go over petticoat.  

And that's it for now! Check out the somewhat redone website! 

 

 

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This is too painful.

Ugh.

Just...ugh.

Seriously...ugh.

Ok, done with that bit of self-pity.

Over the weekend, I did a lot of thinking, a lot of working on anything but what I should be working on, and talking to the beloved. I am going to shelve my Mad Baron rewrite for now. I keep getting stuck, keep fighting with scenes for weeks, and keep working on...well, see above.

I've completed two short stories for Copper and Riona, started a third, revisited all my open projects, and avoided the word doc open on my desktop. I can either continue to beat myself up over this forever, or I can set it aside until the time is right to take it up again. There WILL be a time to take it up again. I am by no means calling it quits on, to me, is one of the best projects I've worked on until now. 

I just can't keep beating my head against this wall. Disa and Sorvjorn and their delightful companions are still inside my head. I will get them out, but not...not quite yet. I'm working on something entirely different now. I'll share a few tidbits of it down the line.

For now, I am giving myself permission to not feel bad about having a project so close to being done and not being done. Because, if I continue to hit the wall, I'm liable to damage myself. This is all still a process I am learning. I know, in time, I can make Mad Baron as kick ass as it appears in my head. For now, I am going to work on something different with no name. The working title is Juggernaut and it's paranormal romance. 

Fine. Here's a teeny peek. :)

Seven hours ago, the job had been easy.

Now I had three dead bodies, one annoyed vampire, and distant sirens to content with. The simplest solution would be to kill the vampire, but then I won’t get paid. Also, he had the potential to be useful. I checked my reflection in the mirror to be sure my skin was blood free. The clothes were a lost cause, but if I made it across town they were an easy fix.

“This is not what I agreed to, ma cannelle.”

I had to turn to see him. It’s not that vampires have no reflection. They did, but it’s not a true one.

 

 

 

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Those clothes...but I still <3 him.

We'll ignore the time between blog posts, shall we? Because I am here to talk about something important. Someone important. Perhaps the best action hero of all time. The greatest man to save the world on the silver screen. 

Jack Burton ruined me for all other heroes.

Jack Burton ruined me for all other heroes.

Now, I know some of you may be wondering how I could possibly adore a character who tucked his jeans into suede boots. I mean, I wonder the same thing. Because, well, you know...it's terrible! :) But wonderful, nay, delightful, when worn without concern. There is no concern here for how he looks. Well, perhaps not. He might think he looks good. It's hard to tell with ole Jack Burton.

I've said before I adore secondary, sidekick characters. Which is what makes Jack the best hero. Because, truthfully, he should be the sidekick. In fact, he IS the sidekick. Except, no one told him. He stumbles through and discovers things without any intention of doing so. What he sets out to do, he rarely succeeds at in a traditionally heroic way. And, most importantly, and despite what one thinks he might desire, he is not an alpha. He's better.

Not that I would call him a beta. He's undefinable in that manner. Instead, he's his own astounding, heroic animal. I totally understood him telling Gracie sooner or later he rubbed everyone the wrong way. Because, oh, my, of course he would. Riding off into the sunset WITH Jack Burton would be no end of trouble. But, doing a thing or two before he left would, no doubt, make someone happy. 

I was about 13 when I saw Big Trouble in Little China for the first time. Not in the theaters because we never had money for the movie theater. Instead, my father brought it home on VHS. (How I date myself!) And, I was instantly drawn to Jack Burton. Hey, Kurt Russell was a good looking man and the character was catnip to my soul. (Ok, in the spirit of honesty, Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law ALSO added to my love of the movie. She was totally crushworthy.) FINALLY, here was a hero I wanted to hang out with. 

Yes, I would totally hop in if the Pork Chop Express pulled up outside my house. And, yes, I would totally be ready to come home when it pulled up again to let me out. Because, some heroes are too awesome to linger in our lives for long.

In the real world. In tv, movies, books, and plays, they can linger forever. Which is good, because we all need inspiration and Jack Burton is mine. 

Now I'm going to go finish watching Big Trouble in Little China. 

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The State of Affairs

I really need to set reminders in my calendar to write blog posts. Because, in the grand scheme of things, I forget quite often. This last month has been more hectic than normal. Mostly, because of good things. However, there was the week our eldest dog Emma had to be in a cone of shame. She was a cone virgin until this year. It was not her sad, sad face within the cone that was trouble. No, it was the way we had to rearrange the whole living room for her convenience. Because, she discovered early on she could knock everything off any table. Not to mention, she learned what a great cow (read us) catcher it was. I can’t count how many times I felt a plastic cone on my butt as I cooked. Don’t even ask about the time we let her outside wearing it and she began to shovel up the whole backyard!

The Sad, I Will Crush You Face of the P Dog.

The Sad, I Will Crush You Face of the P Dog.

 

She’s doing better now. But, we have the cone. She chews on her arthritis and she’s getting older despite my demands otherwise. So, she’ll see the cone again I figure. Other than knocking things about she handled it fine. She really is so lowkey. Nothing bothers her.

More recently, the beloved has developed a bad tooth. Phah. So, he’s been at half-speed about a week and we have an appointment tomorrow to handle it. Here’s hoping it goes smoothly, because…

We’ll be in Costa Rica next week!

I’m bringing no electronics, but plenty of notebooks. So, while I may not get a lot of writing done as I sip fruity drinks on the beach, I plan on doing a lot of prep work for two upcoming items I want to work on this year. The only bad part about this trip is it is over spring break for the boys and we had plans to take them to WA so Shawn could meet his latest grandbaby. We’re going to try for this summer instead. Which likely means no trip to see my parents. It is not cheap to get four people from the middle of the country to Alaska. Worth it, of course, but that does not make the money magically appear.

How’s the writing, you ask?

Well, I ask myself frequently.

Mad Baron is still a work in progress. A third of the way through this rewrite I am rethinking dropping the third pov. Turns out, she was more important than I thought…But I may be wrong. So, I am going to power through and finish this and get some trusted people to let me know which works better.

I have a sci fi idea. I know, I know, I always have a sci fi idea. I’m going to work on it this year. I might dive into Camp Nano and do it then as a break from other things. It takes place on a mining colony on the edge of the second solar system humanity settled after Sol. It’s sci fi romance with a poly heroine and a hero who loves dogs. Really, I can’t say more! I could, I guess, but I am not going to right this moment!

Last week I finished a second Copper and Riona story. It’s not going up on the blog. For now. Still tweaking it here and there.

So, there’s where I stand! I’ve been pretty social media scarce for all these reason and, well, because sometimes one needs a break! I’ve even begun adding 80s music to playlists. THAT’S how much I’ve needed to unwind.

 

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OMG! It's 2017!!!!

I've been meaning to do a blog post. I keep telling myself to sit down and do it, but then something else goes wonky. Speaking of which, I still need to get back to laundry!

But, after this!

So, I know a lot of shit is going on in the world, but I maintain a politics free blog. Not because I don't care, but because I don't believe the internet gives birth to rational conversations about certain topics. It's one of those things I'm likely to be more open to discussing in person with someone I know at least a little than with the internet peoples. And I love my internet peoples!

Ok, that's out of the way!

What am I working on right now? I'm still furiously editing Mad Baron. I've fallen behind, but that happens. I shall get caught up once more! My eldest had his first date with a girl who is a friend. They attended the winter formal together. Super adorable. He styled in a three piece suit. He cleans up well, like his dad. 

See how I tangented off? I've been doing that a lot.

The beloved husband wants to work on something with me. We're currently in the planning stages of a fantasy trilogy. There will be fancy clothes, sword fights, and daemons. It's exciting! Or, it will be when it is done. Right now it is a shared notebook of scattered notes.

That is in addition to Mad Baron. Because, I have not given up on this story! It's just taking some time to rewrite. Because I dropped a POV character. Argh! And changed up the whole beginning. And switched positions of characters.

This March, we will be heading to Costa Rica for a week. Beloved husband won an award at work and we will be going on their dime. I will not even be bringing a computer with me. Other than my phone and I don't write more than notes on my phone. 

If I get these three scenes I am working on done, I am going to write a short story for my blog. Since I missed so much in December. Think I might do my month of short stories earlier in the year. Pre-flu season and all!

I hope you're doing well and I <3 you even if we disagree on things. 

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Happy New Year Eve's Story!

And the year winds down to an end! I'll see about my own year in review post sometime this week. I mean, everyone else does it! In the meantime, one last story. I hate how many days I missed this month. Family, the flu, and family with the flu stole a lot of my time. I managed to get some writing done on the two novels I am working on so that's good, but no short stories.

I'm not sure why, but yesterday I was thinking on Erynna and Clyde from this story. So, I have visited them again. I like these characters, all of them, and their setting, and would like to do more with them all. Probably as occasionally visited people in short stories.

For now, enjoy!

Erynna's Fate, Sealed

1

Erynna sat on the beach as moonlight slid over her wet skin. Clyde had abandoned her again, swimming longer and deeper, searching for something she might never find. Tears mingled with seawater and she let them soothe her skin as the wind gusted tangled black locks around her face. The worst of it was the knowing. Clyde had changed, despite his lame attempts to hide it, and she knew. Now, sitting here, if she closed her eyes she could feel his exuberance.

More tears, her own fears and regrets brought forth most, but there was also the gladness for her brother. If she would be denied, so be it, but the ocean was not so cruel as to steal their heritage from them both. That was good, and it allowed her to sit in the chilly, autumn sand and stare into the ocean until her eyes ached. 

A blanket was draped over her shoulders and she tilted her head up to blink at her father. Kyle said nothing, but he sat in the same sand as her and stared out at the sea with a longing that was, if not entirely the same, as filled with need and regret as her own gaze. Her tears fell in silence, but he knew, and he pulled her a little closer to him. Kyle wouldn’t speak, not right now, because he understood. Oh, not exactly, but if anyone understood a longing for something that each day drew closer to not being, it was him.

In the east, a hazy light began to spill upon their separate, shared misery. The scent of the ocean, a comfort that stung, filled her senses and she closed her eyes. Clyde would be up soon. Knowing it was enough, she could not watch him appear. Kyle could be the witness to her twin’s transformation. For her, there was the screech of gulls in her ears and the scent of a home never to be in her nose. It was enough to make her want to cry once more, but she did not. She would not in front of her brother.

“Graduation is today,” Kyle said as she listened to new footsteps. “You should let me get you home to clean up.”

“I’m not going.”

At her twin’s words, Erynna opened her eyes. Her friends had thrown themselves at her brother and he’d waded through them without a care. He was, she’d realized early, most definitely their father’s son. Their biological father. Not Kyle who still mourned the loss of Ewan after five years.

Clyde wasn’t looking at them, his head had twisted and he stared at the sea. Her nose wrinkled at his attractiveness. Like their father, it would trap him someday. She was sure of it. The longing he showed, that she tried to hide, drew his steps to the cool water drawing closer with the morning tide. He was already gone, she realized. The lure of the sea had settled deep within his spirits and he would not resist.

So, she stood and reached out for Kyle. He stared at her hand, watched her blink once, and took her hand despite not using her help to get to his feet. She released her foster father’s hand to embrace her twin. He patted her on the back once. Kyle got not even a look before Clyde bounded for the sea and disappeared into the waves with a sleek brown fin breaking the water once, as if to wave.

2

“I can’t believe Clyde didn’t show,” Lucy whispered.

Whispered, despite the loud music spilling onto the beach. Because, of course, they’d gone to the beach after graduation. Erynna hadn’t wanted to come out, but Kyle had given her a small smile and shoved her out the door. He meant well. He always did. And, who knew, maybe it was better this way. The sharp scent of the ocean filled her senses in a way the smoke from the bonfire could not. A fall chill had everyone bundled in coats, but she’d only donned a sweater for the celebration.

Lucy, more of a Clyde groupie than a real friend, drifted off to get another beer when Erynna said nothing.

“He changed, didn’t he?”

This voice captured her attention. Erynna turned from the cruel ocean to see Artis grinning. They had not always been friends, despite what their parents wanted. Artis’ mom and Erynna’s dad were best friends. She thought, possibly, they had hoped she would fall for one of Artis’ brothers, but they did not appeal. Not in comparison to their sister with round, freckled cheeks, full lips, a fuller- That was where Erynna stopped herself. Always. Because Artis showed no interest of that sort.

“Earth to Erynna.” Artis grabbed her arm, looped it with hers, and led her away from the fire. Not closer to the water, for which she was thankful. Instead, to her surprise, she led her over to her car. “Come on. I don’t want to be there anymore than you.”

“Why not?” Erynna asked the question as she gazed at her now friend’s arm in hers. It felt nice. Or maybe it was the beers.

“Because I don’t like most of them.”

“Yea, me either.”

They laughed before Artis took off and began to drive, inland. The only noise to keep them company was the crunch of tires on unpaved roads. Erynna kept her window rolled up as if that would stop the teasing scent of the ocean from following her.

“He did though, didn’t he?”

She knew what was being asked, but could not force the words from her tight throat.

“I’m so sorry, Erynna. But, it could still happen, right?”

In a way, it was nice having a friend who knew your blood father was a selkie. In a way, though, it was not. Despite the odd whispers about her and Clyde, most people accepted Kyle as their father. The island was small enough there were no squelching rumors, but they all tried to keep a low profile and engender no new speculations. Because of her mom’s relationship with Erynna’s dad, Artis knew more than most.

“Erynna? Do you want me to take you home instead?”

“Instead of where?”

“I thought we’d go to the old sheep farm.”

“It smells like sheep.” Oh. Erynna blinked twice, but a tear fell despite her efforts. “You’re a good friend.”

“Nah. I just don’t want to go home yet either.”

Also probably true as Artis had been arguing with her mom for the last several months. At least Kyle did not expect her to go off to university somewhere. With Clyde gone, she wondered if he would try to hold her closer, but dismissed the idea. The one thing Kyle had always been good at was letting go. To his detriment. She wished he would find someone new. If anyone deserved it, he did.

3

“Quit moping. We’re here and I need you to get the gate.”

Erynna opened her door and stuck out her tongue. “I wasn’t moping.” But she was, and they both knew it. Once Artis had driven through the gate, Erynna closed it once more and climbed in for the ride to the cottage. The night was cold and she wished for a coat now where she hadn’t on the beach.

“I came out earlier and stocked the cottage. Grandda thought it was to get ready for the winter herders and I did not dissuade him.”

“Do you still want to winter here?”

Artis had been talking about taking the job from her grandda. A few months with nothing but snow and sheep sounded like torture to Erynna, but Artis said it would be lovely. Sometimes, she thought her friend mad.

“I do. Grandda said he would hire me, but I have to get mom to agree. And she’s so keen on getting me off the island and into university it’s not funny.”

The car rattled to a stop in front of the small cottage and neither of them hurried out into the cold.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Take the winter to think of it. In a way, the school troubles were a boon to all of us. We have a whole year to decide what to do instead of a few months.”

The school troubles had been a gas explosion. Which meant there was no school. Well, some parents boated their children to another, but most had simply waited for school to resume. That was the way it was on the island.

“Come on. It’s only going to get colder out here,” Erynna said as she shoved her door open once more. The inland wind always chilled her bones the way the ocean’s cold could not. It was unfair, how connected she felt to the sea when she was denied a true embrace. Fresh tears threatened her, but she blinked them back into her dark eyes as Artis opened the cottage door. They swiftly built a fire in the wood stove and added a pot of water to the top to make cocoa.

A couple of lanterns lit the room, neither interested in running the generator. Erynna because she hated the smell, and Artis because she hated the noise. They’d been coming here since they were children and it was small enough to have no surprises in the layout. As they waited for the water to boil they hauled blankets from the bed to the couch where they bundled up and listened to nothing but the occasional sleepy bleat of a sheep.

“Do you want to talk about Clyde?”

“Not really. Not tonight. Maybe later.” Maybe never, but she doubted that. They were twins, he would always be somewhere in her mind.

“I heard your dad was going to sell his boat.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Kyle would never sell the Dick. “He loves that boat.” Erynna scowled at her friend for even suggesting such a thing, but Artis only held up her hands and laughed.

“I only said I heard it. Mom said it was a stupid rumor as well. She’s going back to deckhand for him full time. Now that I’m all grown. Being the last one and all.”

“I’ll probably see her more than you if you stay up here with the sheep.”

Artis leapt up when the kettle shrilled its readiness.

Erynna shook her head, but watched her friend with care. Something was bothering her. How had she only now just noticed? Oh, right, because she’d been wrapped up in her own sadness.

“You ok?” she asked once Artis was back on the couch. “You’re being weird.”

“I am not!”

“Are too!”

They both laughed, but Erynna was not going to be deterred. She did let Artis finish her cocoa, but that was only because she wanted to drink hers and finish warming up. The wind gusted against the cottage, searching for cracks to break through and steal away their warmth. Shrill whistles rattled the shutters and they both jumped.

A nervous laugh accompanied Artis’ scooting closer on the couch. Erynna had no idea how she’d survive up here on her own. She was frightened of any noise. Always had been.

“Bogeymen outside?” Erynna asked as she looped an arm around Artis’ shoulders.

“It’s not funny. I saw one here once.” Artis had sworn since she was twelve she’d seen at least one bogey haunting the area by the cottage. She was sure they stole sheep on occasion.

“How are you going to make it up here alone?” Erynna demanded.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to.” Artis twisted in the blankets and took Erynna’s hand. “You could stay. You don’t have to work the Dick this winter.” They both giggled, because they’d giggled over the shorthand name of Kyle’s boat since they’d learned what it meant.

“Stay here? With the sheep?” With Artis. Which would be both boon and nightmare. She wanted to be close to her, but not only as friends and she didn’t know how she’d handle the sting of disappointment at such a situation. Not after Clyde.

“With me,” Artis said as the wind rattled the shutters once more. “You could keep the bogeymen away.”

“Artis- I don’t think- It’s not a good idea.”

“Why not? I’m not crazy, you know. I’ve seen them. And the old woman in the cave said they’re getting stronger.”

Erynna’s laugh came quickly she hated the way it made Artis flinch.

“How can you not believe?” Artis demanded. “You’re a selkie!”

“Because I’m not,” Erynna screamed. She shot to her feet, blankets hanging about her shoulders as she glared in the lantern light. “I’m not, Artis. Clyde is. I’m nothing. I can’t- I can’t stay here with you.”

“Why not?” Artis was not upset by her outburst. They were rare, but not unknown to her best friend. She knew Erynna would calm down soon enough.

“Because I don’t believe in self-flagellation.”

“Well, good?” Artis reached for her hand and Erynna let it be taken.

Maybe she did believe in it at least a little because she did not let go of her friend’s hand.

“What’s the real reason, if you’re not afraid of bogens?”

4

“You,” Erynna whispered.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I love you, Artis. And don’t say you love me too, because that’s not what I mean.” Erynna looked down at their hands together and pulled hers away from the temptation their knotted fingers made bare.

“Tell me.” Artis took her hand again. “You can tell me anything.”

“I can’t.” Erynna’s bark of laughter was nearly a sob, but pride protected her. “Because I don’t want to lose my best friend.”

“You won’t. I promise.”

Oh, how she wanted to believe. For years, she’d dreamt of a chance to tell her friend how she felt, but now there was fear in her way. The wood in the stove shifted and sent sparks visible through the grate. Neither of them said anything until, finally, to drown out the wind that bothered her friend, Erynna spoke.

“I’ve wanted to kiss you since we were fourteen. Maybe longer. I just remember, at your birthday party, you let Lyle kiss you behind the house and I wanted to punch him. Every time you went on a date I dreaded hearing about it because I was so jealous. And, I know you’re not like me. So, I never said anything, but I-”

“You what?”

“I dreamed about you.” The whisper froze her throat. There was nothing else to say. So, she waited for Artis to make a joke, or yell, or get up and move away from her.

“I’m not like you,” Artis said, but she didn’t move away. “I like boys fine, Erynna. And I know you don’t. I’ve always known.”

“I’m sorry.” She blinked and stared at the shuttered window. There was no ocean scent in the room, she noted. Only the smell of wood smoke, and sheep, and Artis.

“Silly goose.”

Artis whispered in her ear, her breath warm on Erynna’s skin, and she shuddered. Her friend kissed the side of her neck and she bit her lower lip hard to keep quiet. Maybe Artis had been right and a bogen was here and it had possessed her friend. Which meant, she should not turn her head and let their lips touch. She definitely should not do it.

Except, she couldn’t help herself.

And the wind may have rattled the cottage as mad bogens tried to get in, but neither of them paid it any mind for the rest of the night. Because, there was time enough for sheep and bogeymen when the sun was up. For now, Erynna’s entire existence shrank down to Artis, and even the sea was forgotten.

EPILOGUE

“You know our children are out together,” Selma said over coffee with Kyle the next morning. “At least, I assume so since Artis never came home and Dad said she was up at the cottage.”

“Well, it’ll do her good to be away from beach for awhile.” Kyle topped off his coffee before asking, “Did you know? About Artis? I knew Erynna, well, I suspected, but…I never said anything. Not directly. Maybe I should have?”

“Children,” Selma said with a snort. “They think we know nothing about them. I’d caught Artis kissing her fair share of boys and girls, but only gave her the same lecture my mom gave me about getting pregnant.”

The boat rocked under them as the sun broke through the fog, finally, and gave them a shot of warmth even the coffee could not match.

“I hate how I feel,” Kyle said, getting to the truth of the matter.

“That she’s not going to swim off to the sea?”

“Yea. I’m a shitty dad, Selma. Because I always knew I could lose them, but every year I lied and told myself maybe not.”

“You met the new butcher in town? I hear he’s single.”

“Stop trying to hook me up!”

“I can’t. There’s only so few of you on the island. When I see a fine specimen I immediately covet him for my best friend!”

Kyle had seen the new butcher. The sight had perked up more than his eyes, but he blamed it on celibacy. Ewan’s leaving had been too hard and Kyle had allowed himself to get lost in work and childrearing. Maybe for too long.

“I should talk to him about business.”

“Yes!” Selma’s fist shot into the air and she spilled coffee onto her old sweater. It joined the rest of the stains.

“Business, Selma.”

“Yea,” she said with a smirk. “Dick business.”

Kyle had to laugh, sometimes the teenager was too close to the surface. But, he still worried inside. For Clyde, out at sea, and for Erynna, up with the sheep.

“Do you think they can handle the bogens by themselves?”

Selma sighed and touched the iron nail worn around her neck. “I think our daughters might finally push them back high into the hills.” She shook her head and glanced out at the sea. “I blame this all on you, you know. Before you dallied with your selkie everything knew its place.”

“Oh, Donnan knew his place.” Kyle couldn’t resist. Not the words, or the selkie who still swam ashore every now and again.

They both laughed before finishing their coffee and, once done, Kyle let Selma drop him off at the butcher’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Merry Christmas!

So, the flu has hit the Carpenter house. The kids are on some flu medicine after separate trips to urgent care because, of course. :) The beloved has been struck down as well. I am pretty ok. Superior genes and all. ;) Also, I tend to run last in the queue of illness. Everyone says I sound sick, but what to do they know? Sickos.

Everyone at Christmas was sick. So, I did not feel too bad about hauling my flu kids over to their grandmother's for the holiday. They made out like bandits. They always do! I didn't do too badly.

Merry Christmas! Which is what we celebrate although in a pretty secular way. I hope everyone enjoys whichever holiday, or none, you might celebrate this winter season. Personally, I'm more of a solstice person. The kids might celebrate with me next year. Even though it is not a present holiday.

So, as the flu runs its course I've had to halt stories. :( But, with three people sick, not counting the dog who is still on antibiotics and steroids, I am running around twice as much.

Blarg! As the beloved said to his youngest daughter, Merry Effin' Christmas!

 

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Way Back Machine - Chapter Two

I have a sick kid, and one trying to pass himself as sick, right now. So, here is chapter two of my way back machine story. :) Hopefully I've fixed all the odd tense changes. I do NOT know what it is with me and them. I still catch them on occasion. Sheesh!

I've made some changes to the characters in this. As I said, my MC sucked before. I'm trying to make him more bearable to be around. :) Even if I never do finish this.

When the Spirit Moves You - Chapter Two

The mall was packed with weary parents hauling around whining kids demanding everything and anything. Back to school shopping had started early and the roar of noise from the food court changed my mind about getting a drink after the drive. Better to get in and get out. I rarely came to the mall, never without an escort. Once I’d found a directory I discovered my destination was on the other side of shopping hell. A brief debate about the merits of driving around occurred in my heated brain.

The air conditioning won and I started hoofing it across the wasteland of commercialism to my destination. I’d only made it past three stores before some annoying kiosk drone tried to stop me, insisting I could take years off my looks with her moisturizer. I hadn’t shaved in two days so imagined I looked pretty hard, but that hurt. I wasn’t that close to forty. Instead of saying something mean to a poor girl only trying to make a living I kept walking. My momma always said if you can’t say something nice, shut the hell up. Although usually it was only shut the hell up. Especially when her soaps were on.

Ten kiosks and a mall cop later I made it to the jewelry store. Peering into the window for inspiration I let out a huge sigh. Lily would want something nice and I couldn’t spend the kind of money she would think was acceptable right now.

Maybe something simple. Simple seemed to be less expensive. The current trend was for ugly as sin to be more expensive. I’d never understand women and jewelry. Once inside, I was accosted by a shark with coiffed and shellacked blonde hair whose name tag told me she was Bobbi. I’m pretty sure before I’d said hello she smelled the desperation on me.

“I need something simple,” I told her before she could really get going. The light dimmed some as Bobbi took me over to what I was pretty sure was called the “cheap bastard” case by the employees when no one was around.

“Are you looking for something in gold, white gold, or platinum?” she asked without even a look at the silver jewelry on display. I might have gotten annoyed, but I knew Lily hated silver. So, I let it go. Better man and all.

“I’m looking for the right thing,” I told her and pointed to the first thing that caught my eye. “Let me see that.” There was no flicker of disapproval on Bobbi’s face as well manicured hands reached in and extracted a little moon pendant on a chain.

“An excellent choice, sir,” she told me even though the sir probably stuck in her mouth. To be fair to Bobbi, I hadn’t even thought to tuck in my shirt before leaving work.

Thirst was starting to get to me as she extoled the virtues of the pendant and my hurry to brave the hoards wound up with me agreeing to the matching earrings.

“Half-off,” she assured me rapidly as I started to show signs of awareness.  As we waited together for the credit card machine to chirp my approval she carefully arranged silver and gold tissue paper in a little bag. Once that was completed to her satisfaction she set the little boxes in as carefully as a pharaoh was interred.

“Thank you, sir,” Bobbi said as I signed the slip. Approval of three-hundred-dollar purchase had given me a little more grace in her book. I smiled and left with my bag in hand.  Gracious-like, as one would expect from a sir.

With my purchase in hand I made the second run through the gauntlet much slower. Slow enough that a sale at the movie store halted my steps. I dug my phone from my pocket and checked the time. I used to wear a watch, but I was forever losing it. I toy with getting a new one, but never do. There’s still time to beg forgiveness before lunch even if I did stop to check the sale. Streaming and digital were all the rage, but our internet was often spotty. I liked a hard copy.

  Whistling I headed inside and waved to the woman behind the counter. At work, Mandy gave two damns about the way I looked. She used to work for me, before deciding a pay cut was worth air conditioning and screaming brats. There are still days I can’t fault her. Hopefully today wouldn’t turn into one of them.

I headed right for the clearance shelves and began to peruse them. Mostly, it’s summer blockbusters from a few years ago and tv series called the next great thing four years ago. Sometimes I got lucky, but today was not one of those days. I sure hoped it was no indication of things to come.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” Mandy said behind me.

 “Let’s hope later is a win. It’ll mean I can afford to not haunt the clearance shelves.”

Mandy’s laugh was loud and, to be quite honest, abrasive. She was teased about it a lot when she worked for me, but she’d never let it stop her from laughing. Which had made me like her immediately.

“I know you like to pretend you’re some broke ass dude, but we both know it’s not true.” Her eyes flicked downward to the bag and she laughed again. “Ohhh! Someone’s in trouble,” she sang in a loud playground voice. “Someone’s in trouble,” she chanted as she went back to the counter to ring up some pierced and tattooed dude buying Sleepless in Seattle.

I shook my head and waved with one finger as I left.

Another glance at my phone to check the time and I quickened my steps to dodge the old ladies doing their mall walk late. One of them muttered after me about rude kids today, but I didn’t let it slow me down.  The heat assaulted me when I pushed outside and I remembered the drink I’d never bought. Needs warred with each other. On the one hand, I needed a drink. On the other, Lily was not getting any less pissed off. In the end, I convinced myself it was for the good of the company and trudged to my truck.

Besides, there’s a drive thru on the way to Lily’s.

I tossed the bag onto the seat of my truck without thinking.  All of Bobbi’s hard work gone to naught. The traffic out was not as bad as in so I was back on the road soon enough. A quick stop for an iced tea, and a chance to make sure the bag looked presentable, and I was at Lily’s door in under ten minutes.

Her car was in the driveway alone so she had no clients. Thank God for small favors. I didn’t bother locking the doors and was halfway to the house before remembering the bag. A quick trip back for it and I knocked as the curtains twitched.

Nothing.  

I knocked again. It was her game. I didn’t mind.

Although, I did tuck the bag behind my back. I mean, I didn’t put up with her occasional oddities out of sainthood. I’ve got my own share of dickish behavior.

When I was still outside after the third knock, I started to sing. Lily hated my voice, one could not blame her, so I made sure to sing nice and loud. I was on the second verse and the door opened.

She looked pissed. And hot. Not hot like I felt all sweaty from the mall parking lot. On a base level, I knew her hotness made me work harder on our relationship. A man would be stupid to give up someone as incredibly good looking as her. I knew it made me shallow to think it, but when you fall in love at fifteen there’s no getting around all the shallow.

“You asshole,” she began without missing a beat.  “Don’t think I don’t know why suddenly you give two flying fucks about me. You’ve got a job.” Kursk might not be a small town, but it wasn’t exactly large either.  I wasn’t surprised she’d heard about the Stevens’ job.

“You don’t know everything,” I tell her in a low voice.

Two steps forward and she took two back. Letting me in meant forgiveness. Eventually. I kicked the door closed behind me. Lily smirked, but my occasional brutish behavior amused her.

She stepped backward and I followed her down the hall.  The bag dangled from one hand, but she didn’t lunge for it. Truthfully, for Lily, it was always the thought. I’d braved the mall, the jewelry store, and she’d know I picked it out myself. Her largesse only went so far, however, and woe to anyone who ever brought a forgive me gift from the dollar store.

Seeing her, dark blonde hair loose around her shoulders, and hazel eyes twinkling, I forgot why I’d come. Well, I forgot about the work aspect. It had been a week. A long week. Lily said it was fate, I called it pheromones, but whatever it was, when we were together we had a hard time keeping our hands to ourselves. So, when her back hit the bedroom door she opened it and I followed her straight to the bed. The clients would have to settle for our late arrival.

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December Storytime - Way Back Machine

Years ago, I got it into my head to be a writer. So, I sat down with a pretty cool story idea (I thought) and started writing. I stalled at about 6600 words. They were not...good words. Oh, there were bits and pieces of potential brilliance with some work. I am always potentially brilliant. ;)

The story never went anywhere and I didn't do anything for awhile, hating myself for being stuck at my first outing. Then, some time later, I decided to try again. A new idea, new characters, a new attempt to do what I'd not thought possible. And, I succeeded! My first full novel is no better than my aborted attempt. It could be, should I ever want to sit down with five full novel first drafts and turn them into something else.

Which seems like a lot of work. ;) Especially when I have NEW ideas.

Still, I have all of these things.

Including that first, aborted attempt.

The story took place in a small town in OK (because write what you know) and was about a man who ran a moving company that specialized in packing up belongings in haunted houses to make sure no ghosts followed. Because, write what sounds fun. I hate the main character. He was terrible. I am MUCH better at male POV now. I think. :)

Still, I was emptying an external drive to use it for the Xbox and came across the old stuff. I've cleaned it up a wee bit and offer the beginning of When the Spirit Moves You. Which I want to finish, if only because I hate having half-told stories even if only to myself. :)

I wouldn't call this cheaty as it's all rewritten and some of it is new. Maybe I'll post a bit of this story over the next few days. A bit of rewriting, but some of it is usable. And, it's my blog. Haha! You're not the boss of me. I'll do what I want!

Enjoy!

When The Spirit Moves You

 

The dream happened and I’d come to accept that over the years. I was much better at accepting it at night, in my own bed, where no one would hear me if I screamed. When I dozed at my desk and propelled into the nightmare it’s a little different.

It’s always dark at first and I heard the screams while stumbling around trying to find my way out. Out of wherever this horror lurked that wanted me close. Grasping hands found a wall and I fet my way along rotted wood and decomposing wallpaper. Probably some ugly rose wallpaper in some ugly old house, but there was no light to confirm suspicions.

If the screams were bad they’re nothing compared to the whimpering. The quiet sounds of desperation might almost be ignored in the light. In the dark they’re powerful and my feet moved faster to reach the end of the hallway. I always did. Then, there it was, waiting for me. The end, freedom, safety called out to me, but something waited between it and me.  What waited was something hideous and large. And me? I was helpless and small. Trapped as it watched, patiently, for me to get close so it could grab me with its hands and hold tight forever.

I was aware enough to know it’s a dream, but not enough to break it and escape. In the twenty-one years I’d had the dream I’d never been able to break it. The nightmare ended when it was ready and not a moment sooner. Standing just out of reach, just out of sight, was the thing that called me. It was the source of the screams and the whimpers and all the dread I’d ever felt in the middle of the night. This time something was different. I felt the difference.

The door. I saw the door. I’d never seen the door before, only a pulsing darkness around the thing. Even asleep, I’d been sure of escape, but no true exit had ever appeared. Now, if I made it past the thing, there would be safety waiting. Light seeped in from under the door. It illuminated the thing, but I looked away before I saw too many gasping mouths and reaching hands.

My dream self took hold of the hope of safety and I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t.

I never made it.

No matter if I ran, leapt, crept, or dashed, it was never good enough. The thing always got me and I woke to the smothering feeling of hands and clammy breath.

This time it’s different, my dream self thought. I wanted to rail, but it’s as useless as yelling at the movie screen. I watched as the running started and then it’s me running. Always before I watched, but now it’s me and I screamed as I charged the beast and it reached for me, but this time…this time, blessed safety was mine. I felt bone break and flesh tear as one hand got ahold and didn’t let go, but there’s the door. Safety was right there and I touched the knob and turned the handle and the light spilled forth.

Safe. For the first time, I was safe. The dream allowed me think that for a second. Then, I saw what waited in the light and woke up with a scream.

The door to my office burst open and three worried sets of eyes stared. Behind the knuckledraggers, Shelley hovered with a post-it in her hand. A work call, I guessed, since no one else would be on the phone. Not Lily, certainly, who had not returned my calls since I’d forgotten her birthday.

“You ok, boss?” Chip asked.

“You see a mouse?” Marco offered with a smirk.

The new guy said nothing.

“Stepped on a nail,” I muttered. “Get back to work. I don’t pay you to lurk in fucking doorways.”

Only once they’d dispersed did prim Shelley step into my office. She said nothing, would say nothing, until she allowed herself to forget my swearing. So, lunchtime. The post-it was set on my desk and she glanced at my chin.

The door closed and I reached for a napkin from the fast food place I ate at yesterday. Wiping the sleep drool from myself with one hand, I picked up the post-it. Shit. Client on the phone. Why hadn’t she told me?

If I hadn’t promised Lee I’d keep his niece on as office manager after buying the business she’d be gone. A second glance at the number and I picked up the phone.

“Aaron’s movers.”

A timid voice on the other end responded. “Is this Aaron?”

“No, this is Joe. Aaron retired.” Aaron never existed. When the business had been started people still used phone books. Vincent’s Movers would never have been called, the company founder decided, so Aaron it was from then on.

“We need someone to pack our things. We just moved in so there’s not much.”

Another voice spoke, but I couldn’t make it out so waited.

“We were told to tell you this was a special job.”

Which I’d guessed, since their address had been the old Stevens’ place. I could put my non-existent children through college on the money I made off that house. The extra money charged for the move would be helpful, but having to call Lily would be a pain in the ass.

I half-listened as the quiet voiced man droned on, interrupted by hushed comments from his wife. Two emails came in, neither more interesting than the job, and when there was silence on the other end I transferred them back to Shelley to make an appointment.

I checked my email again after that, but nothing from Lily. This would require a gift. This would likely require groveling. Well, no one had said love was easy and I couldn’t do a ghost job without the so-called psychic being involved. Unenthused about braving the late summer heat, I still grabbed the keys to my truck and headed for parking lot.

Several of the guys hollered advice, knowing my predicament, but most of them were too young to have suffered for their passions, so I showed them my middle finger wave as I let the door slam behind me. Which left me on the wrong side of the AC. My old blue truck, waiting in anorexic shade, had seen better days, but what was the point in getting something new? I figured I didn’t put more into repairs than I’d spend on new car payments and just kept her going.

I banged the dash to see if the air conditioner wanted to work and when it didn’t I turned the radio up and rolled the window down. Fucking Oklahoma summers. I was halfway to Lily’s place before remembering my need for a forgive me gift and turned left to head to the mall. She would appreciate the gesture, I hate the mall, but I still could not screw this up.

I turned the radio up louder and ignored the glare from the sheriff’s deputy stopped next to me at the red light. When the light turned green I peeled out, daring him to stop me, but I knew he wouldn’t bother. Damned sheriff’s deputies think they’re better than a traffic stop. I might not have tried that with a city officer.

The mall awaited. With all its horrors. The things a man would do for love.

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December Storytime - Cheaty Day Chapter One

Today, the last day before the kids' winter break starts, has been insane. How I look forward to having them home! :) As I am just getting a chance to look at my blog I have decided to cheat. If you read this story you know Tesia. Here's chapter one of her novel. Which, someday, I will get back to cleaning up. So many new and old projects and only so much time. I am moderately happy with this first chapter. But I'll cut it to shreds when I do serious edits on it.

Enjoy!

Chapter One - Car Trouble

 

It had been one of those nights and I was glad to be done with it. It seemed like every table that came in was looking to pick a fight and that always meant one thing. Lousy tips. By the time I was hauling the trash out on my way to my old truck I was glad to be done with the human race. All I wanted was to make the drive home, have a cup of cocoa, and crawl into bed after a hot shower. A fine and solid plan that kept me going to my truck. My truck that didn’t want to start. Now, I caught hell about my truck a lot. It had been my dad’s before I inherited it at eighteen, but it was always kept in good order. Which is why, as the engine wouldn’t turn over, I swore. Not enough to get them mad, but enough that they stirred.

“I know this is your fault,” I said to the empty cab. My feet hurt and I had a fresh burn where a coffee pot had hit me as Alice dodged a screaming kid who wouldn’t sit down. Grumbling, minus any real swearing, I reached behind the seat and pulled out a battered backpack. I changed clothes in the truck so at least it was only me that smelled like fried food and gravy. Once I stopped looking like a waitress I got back out of the truck and locked it up. Backpack over my shoulder I started walking. There weren’t any real bad parts of town in this area so I wasn’t worried. Still, I made sure my cell phone was fully charged and checked my pockets for anything I might need.

After walking for half an hour I thought maybe I’d maligned them for no good reason. Nothing pulled at me and I didn’t feel anything wrong. Then I hit the old row of warehouses near the train tracks and froze. They stirred again, forcing me to check every move I made. I whispered a prayer taught to me by my mom and crossed the street. For an old warehouse it was in pretty good shape. The For Sale sign was brand new, replaced after the owners switched real estate agents as if that would sell the place. No one wanted these warehouses which was a shame. Their brick exterior looked new and even the windows has survived countless generations of vandals. The glass brick windows gave no clue as to what was behind them, but I didn’t need to see to know.

A demon was in there.

I circled the building, squeezing through the narrow gap separating it from its neighbor and found a van parked in the alley out back. “Who has a van these days other than creeps?” I asked. There was no response. I found the door they’d used and dug my hand into my pocket to find the broken chalk I kept there for emergencies. Ignoring their insistent stirring I drew a quick symbol taught to me by my Dad. It would keep the curious at bay, hopefully long enough for me to finish up in here and get out. It wasn’t the demon that worried me. It was whomever might be with the demon that worried me. I dug out my phone and found I had less than half a charge. My fingers itched to call 9-1-1, but I didn’t.

Moving slowly so I didn’t attract attention by falling on my face I eventually made my way to the main floor of the warehouse. What I saw was not what I was expecting. Well, in truth I had expected to see someone tied up. I wasn’t expecting the demon to be the one bound. Three people I could only make out as shadows were standing around, talking quietly, as one of them drew lines on the recently swept floor. I knew what they were trying to do, but something wasn’t right.

Before I had a chance to figure it out I felt someone behind me. I tried to move, but a hand on my shoulder and what felt to be a gun at my back stopped me. “This is a private party,” I heard someone say in a deep, local sounding voice. When I went to turn my head he stopped me by pressing the gun, it was surely a gun, harder into my back. “We’ll just stay here and wait for them to be done before we deal with you.”

A good idea, if they hadn’t been screaming in my head now. Their will wanted me to succumb, to let them take over, but I fought. NO! I yelled even as their eerily beautiful voices informed me, as if I could ever forget The vessel must not be harmed.

Drawing in a steadying breath I said to my captor, “Look, I understand your trepidation, but something’s not right here.” Something was very wrong. My eyes kept going back to the demon and the poor soul he was riding as they sat looking calm. Not right. If the exorcism was going right he’d be sweating right now. Probably blood. They loved that trick and I was still trying to remove the stains from several perfectly good pairs of pants. I fought to keep them on their leash, but when the demon looked at us and smirked I nearly lost it. So, I did the only thing I could think of doing. Trusting them to keep me from harm I broke free of my captor’s grip, loosened once it seemed I’d be compliant, and ran towards the group of people.

I didn’t make it in time. The demon broke free of his ropes and grabbed the person kneeling on the floor trying to inscribe the circle that would have held him. He tossed the man backwards into another person and ignored the others as they shouted.

Instead he walked straight to me. Shit I said to them. Their annoyance at my language wasn’t so much felt as known. No, I was busy feeling fear. Lots and lots of fear as the demon didn’t try to avoid me. Most of them, once they knew what I was, didn’t want anything to do with me. This one? This one walked right up like we’d went to school together.

“Shit,” I said aloud because we had been to school together. Not the demon, but the body he’d taken. Andrew Denson had been my class president and while we hadn’t hung out he’d always seemed nice enough. I pulled my backpack around and went for the side pocket. When he saw what I was doing the demon hurried his steps. Too fast, too close, I chanted as I dropped my pack and opened the jar of oil I needed. It sloshed on my hands, but that was ok too. I held it, trying not to let it fall, as I said, “Halt and identify yourself, demon.”

Andrew, no, not Andrew I reminded myself, stopped. I don’t think it was because of my words. They buffeted against my control, but I wasn’t going to let them free because I didn’t know what they’d do. Ignoring the other people in the room I focused on the only problem that mattered at the moment. I met his eyes, a big no-no if you’re not protected, and was pretty sure Andrew was gone. If not gone than complicit which would make holding the angels back harder.

“How long?” I asked as I shoved my left hand into my pocket to find the chalk I would need.

The demon, looking amused, watched me. He also ignored the others in the room now. “College was so hard for him,” the demon said in Andrew’s voice. “So very hard. So very alone. I offered him what he wanted. It was a glorious time.” His words made my skin itch, like he was coating me in some nasty liquid. I knew the feeling well enough to identify him.

“Incubus,” I stated as I pulled chalk from my pocket.

From behind him I heard a man say, “No. That’s not right.” Arguing broke out, but it didn’t concern me. What concerned me was the demon and the way he wouldn’t stop looking at me. I let their leash slip a little and that stopped the smirk on his face.

He had other tricks up his sleeve to cause me trouble. No sooner was I thinking I could get this under control again than he was saying, “Witch,” loud enough to be heard by everyone. The arguing behind him stopped and I felt all eyes on me.

So, I had no choice. I felt trapped, surrounded by hostiles, and the demon wouldn’t stop staring. Whispering a prayer of forgiveness, I let them loose. As far as I know they don’t have a physical body. I’ve never seen them, not with my eyes. In my head they were points of light, too bright to see. I heard them all the time. I try not to let people see this at it can be disconcerting, but I had a feeling things had been about to get really bad for me.

The vessel shall not be harmed, Izquisedulu. Demon of Lust.

No matter how often they do it I still get freaked out when they talk through my voice. It echoes with the both of them and is weird. The demon growled, an uneasy noise to hear from my former class president.

Not Andrew they reminded me. As soon as they spoke it the tricks started. Blood, as I suspected. Eyes and ears were always first.

“No, don’t hurt me,” the demon said. He had the cowering down and I knew this wasn’t the first time he’d been caught. I wondered if he pulled the same stunt with the idiots in the room. Unfortunately for him, my companions and I were used to such tricks.

“In the name of God,” my voice said. “By the power he grants all those living to resist evil, I command you to return to the Pit. In the name of Jesus Christ we ask mercy for Andrew Denton. Be gone, demon, and trouble this man no more,” They/we commanded. I felt the power as it poured into me and out into poor Andrew’s body. He screamed, they do that a lot too, and it was horrible. The body collapsed and the angels turned to the room. I saw through their power the corruption left by the demon.

“No,” I shouted as they gathered power to cleanse the rest of the souls. Demonic taint is impossible for them to resist even if it only came from being too stupid to contain a demon properly before exorcising it. I can cleanse them I said to the angels. They argued with me and I was vaguely aware of two people checking the corpse before me.

Knowing how little time we had I pushed them back despite their protests.

 “Listen,” I started to say, but was stopped by four sets of hostile eyes upon me. “Hey,” I tried again as I stepped away and raised my arms to show I wasn’t a threat.

One of the men stepped forward and in the dim light I could see the small cross pinned to the lapel of his suit. No one else wore a suit. He is holy they whispered to me. If they could be mad at me they would be. Disappointment is easy, but as tied as we are to each other they can’t work up true anger. They save that for me, I guess. The stench of the demon taint was overpowering. It’s not sulfur like the internet boards say. It’s more like rotting meat coated in used fryer oil. The first time I smelled it I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was bad.

“Demons are known to lie,” the holy man said. “Was he lying? Are you not a witch?”

Shit. I would have loved to lie. Their disapproval over that desire wasn’t new, but the pain between my eyes was still distracting so I took a deep breath.

“Can we discuss that later?” I asked with what I hoped was a calm voice. “The more important things here are calling the cops about Andrew and cleansing you of the demon’s taint.” I looked at the four men in the room and sighed. “You reek of demon,” I said apologetically. “Was this your first? It’s always the hardest to stay clean from.”

“You knew him?” the oldest looking of them said.

“Yea,” I said as I bent down to slowly pick up my pack. Part of the oil spilled on the floor and I frowned at the loss. At least the smell helped a little. “That’s Andrew Denton. We went to school. Well, that’s his body. It’s pretty clear the demon had been in charge for a long time. He was clean when I knew him.”

“How would you know?” one of the younger ones asked. He had the look of law enforcement. That might explain why the cops weren’t coming already.

“Seriously,” I said as the stench made me dizzy. “Can we please clean this place and you before we talk about my past?” They stretched in my head and I winced. It cleared the taint from my nostrils at least.

Tell them they instructed.  

“My name is Tesia Faustina Jaskolski,” I told them as I clutched my backpack to my chest. “I am the Holder of God’s gift and I outrank all your…selves so we’re leaving now.” I let their warmth and power sooth my doubts as I turned and walked towards the door. “You can be cleansed by me or them,” I said. “You’re less likely to suffer at my hands.”

They were stunned enough I made it to the backdoor. There I learned what had tipped them to my arrival. Sitting in the open door of the van was a woman around my age. She didn’t stop me, but the shotgun in her lap did.

I froze two steps into the alley and said, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” The demon taint was less on her, but it was still there. Whoever they were, they’d really messed this up.

When she spoke her accent was local although not from here. I knew most everyone in town and had never laid eyes on her before. Now I wished they’d let me go home first if only to have taken a shower before meeting her.

“My brother said that may not be true. Get in the van.”

 

 

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