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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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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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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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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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December Storytime - Cheaty!

 

Today was a busy family day. We had to take the dog to the vet, her arthritis was acting up and she chewed on herself. Now she has all her antibiotics and steroids. Poor baby. Then a trip to the post office, the hardware store, and a day spent doing Christmas stuff.

Which, basically, was hanging the felt tree and then sitting down with the kids and the beloved husband to make ornaments. We use construction paper, markers, glue, and scissors to decorate a felt tree. We used sequin strings as garland. It's fun. Next year, the kids want a real tree. Meaning a fake tree. The beloved always wins that argument. LOL

So, the short version is, today is a cheaty day. I wrote a diesel punk story a couple years ago that takes place in Oklahoma. Here's chapter one!

Will Rogers Rocket Port - Rise of the Plastics

 

I’d not anticipated the party turning out the way it had when I showed up. Hardly an hour ago I’d been standing on the edges of the dance floor watching the couples and wondering if I’d be labeled too forward if I were to ask someone to dance. No one had, so far, been inclined to ask me and that had led me to do the one thing I’d sworn I wouldn’t do here.

“Wish Roy would come over,” I mutter to myself before quieting such thoughts with another sip of rather good champagne.

Not that I’d expected anything but the best at the party, but having never had champagne before I wasn’t sure what the best would taste like. I suppose people who can afford to attend parties like this aren’t getting their drinks from a bathtub. The ballroom was decked out for the event, but under the silver and crystal I could see it would be impressive with nothing in it. The floors were hard wood with inlaid silver inscribing something around the edges. I’d been tempted to walk the perimeter to read it, but thought maybe I’d look weird. Also, I’d have to walk right past Roy and Al.

As the dancers continue their fun a steadily louder thump makes itself known throughout the room. The only reason I see what happened is because mere seconds before the glass shattered into millions of pieces I’d been caught staring at Roy. By Roy. Across the room a flash of silver had drawn my eye and I’d found Roy and Albert sharing a drink of something stiffer than what was on offer by the waiters. His eyes had almost instantly found mine as if he’d felt my look. The shared glance lasted only a few seconds, but it was enough to set my heart beating faster than the wild drums of the band and my blood to heat up hotter than the rocket fire I’d witnessed a few months ago. Thinking now of escape, when I turned I was in time to see the windows explode from nothing. Sonic, I thought with the detached part of my brain as people around me begin to scream.

The glass does a good job of creating not only wounded guests, but chaos. At the very least this takes my mind off Roy and how good he looks in his uniform. Instead I get to focus on not being knocked to the ground and trampled by panicked guests. From somewhere close I make out the sound of metal on metal and turn in time to see four odd-looking men in black suits ushering a young woman out of the room. It almost tricks me, but then I remember the efficient and polite security men that had searched me before allowing me into the estate were wearing grey suits.

Before thinking I shout, “Hey!” but it’s drowned out by the screams and sobs of the injured guests. Shoving my way through a knot of people I take off at a run towards the door. I wish I could take off my shoes, but already the sting of glass along the left side of my face and body has me wanting to avoid further injuries.

Reaching the door before it shuts I manage to shove my foot out and muffle a curse learned from eavesdropping on my older brothers when I was younger. The door doesn’t close and as I shove it open I’m relieved there’s no goon in black waiting for me on the other side. Now that I’m past the glass I can remove the heels borrowed from my cousin and take off at a run towards the end of a short hallway. The door on the other side stands open and I burst through in time to see the young woman slump forward and be tossed into the back of an unmarked black van. With another shout I take off for my truck. It doesn’t surprise me the old farm truck was carefully kept away from the nicer cars as if dirt and work were contagious. At least getting out of the parking will be easier. As I yank the rusting door open a pair of hands grab me from behind.

“Hey!” I yell as I’m spun around and see looming men in grey. Estate security, I think with a relieved sigh. Relieved, that is, before I realize they’re not letting me go. “They’re getting away,” I shout at them before one pulls a misting wand from his pocket. “Hey, no! Let me go!” I yell before a fine mist hits me on my next inhale. These guys were good.

The last thing I hear before the knock out drug takes over is an amused sounding, “Vera Pearl, don’t you ever wear shoes?” Then blackness catches me and carries me down into unwanted slumber.

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December Storytime 05

Ok, I am cheating again a wee bit. :) I did say that might happen. Today was a flurry of insanity and it has not let up. So... cheaty! And, it's not even a story. Sheesh. It is a rough, rough draft of a first chapter. From my most recent Nano project. I'm not in love with this project. I like bits of it and think a lot of work would make it awesome.

Just not sure I want to put all that work into it when there's so many other things. This was inspired by my recent rewatching of Person of Interest. Except, they're in Rome, and it's not a Machine, but a God. None of that really comes into play in this chapter. Tomorrow, I've something new cooking up for your pleasure!

Citizen of Interest

A thin layer of dust coated everything in sight including Floriana. It was better than the mud, which would be along shortly, but it did leave her throat too dry to curse her circumstances. The true crime, any who’d known her would point out, as she’d been legendary in the Legion for her ability to aptly describe any situation. The road, loose paving stones aside, was in decent shape and would lead her to where she needed to be, but not if she didn’t make better time. Hard to do alone when caution must prevail.

By the time the fall rains arrived there were sections that no matter their upkeep would be impossible for her to get through. Not by herself. The mark on the back of her neck itched and she found a curse. From the itching mark emanated the idea of how much easier it would be to turn around.

“Take your decrepit, whoreson, gangrenous mind and shove it up a leprous donkey’s ass.”

Not her best work, but Floriana felt the idea retreat. Just in time, as she heard the clop of hooves and creak of wagons approaching. Her uniform may have seen better days, but her sword was sharp and it was that she hoped to sell. Sandaled feet pushed off the rock she leaned against and she shaded her eyes with her hand to watch the caravan approach.

A few desultory looking guards eyed her warily, but she paid them no mind. Instead, hazel eyes sought out the man most likely to be the caravan master. She jogged over to a thin man riding a donkey near the lead wagon. He would be shorter than her on the ground, but she’d learned to be wary of small men. They were always looking to prove something.

“Hail,” she said as she jogged alongside the man.

“Well met,” he returned in a civilized accent. Thank the gods he was Roman! It would be an easier arrangement.

“Where are you heading?”

“The markets of Sirmium. You look to be a long way from home.”

“Not if I can help it. I’m headed to Sirmium as well. Are you needing extra hands? I am Floriana from the 18th.”

The man atop the donkey stared her over. Floriana was sure he noted the care she’d taken to keep up her armor even if it was beginning to show signs of wear. The fact it was a legionnaire’s armor should be good enough for him. None of the guards for his caravan inspired confidence in her and she wondered why a prosperous looking man resorted to such flotsam. Despite the travel dust, his robe was fine, and he had the groomed look of a well-off citizen. Not that the reason mattered so long as she found a position.

“I can pay you 2 d.c. a day if you’ve no food of your own.” His glance took in her personage again and his thin lips turned upwards a fraction.

“Everything I own I wear, but so long as we do nothing to attract the ire of the legion my sword is yours until we reach Sirmium.”

“Good enough. For now. We shall speak again once we make camp for the night. I am Aetius.”

Floriana, who saw no reason to converse again, still nodded before she slowed down her steps to let the caravan master draw ahead of her.

#

The day provided all of the tedium a long march provides. No creature or man stirred within her sight other than those she traveled with on the road. None of the guards spared more than a word for her, but she’d written them off from the start. What she witnessed did not change her mind. They were slovenly, stumbled as if still drunk from the day before, and more than one had rust on his sword.

What she could not figure out was how a man of obvious wealth had found himself with such a mess. Perhaps tonight he would fill her in on some of it. Why else would he want to speak with her? More importantly, what would she tell him?

That last thought niggled her brain more than any other worries. No oaths prevented her from saying what she would, but the job was necessary to make it back swiftly to the legion. If she sounded crazy he was not likely to retain her services. Floriana rubbed her forehead and stepped around the dung left in the road by the caravan.

They stopped sooner than she’d anticipated. The sun still had at least an hour of light and there were not so many to make setting up camp a long affair. In truth, she could admit to herself, it was only she loathed speaking to Aetius. She remained undecided on what to tell him.

“Boss is waiting in his tent.”

Floriana saw the tent in question. The only one. Well, she’d slept under the sky plenty and it would be no hardship in the cool, late summer weather. The sulking guard received the barest hint of a nod before she crossed the chaotic camp. An itch crept over her skin and it had nothing to do with the mark on her neck. The setup lacked any order and the urge to bark an order or two of her own was strong. Knowing the futility of it, she clamped her jaw shut and finished her walk to Aetius’ tent.

“Come in, Floriana.”

A small table had been set up, but Aetius did not sit at it. Instead, he lounged on a rug on the ground while a slave worked off his boot. She could not help but stare as the glimpse of a twisted foot visible before the slave covered it with a blanket.

“Surely not the first of such you’ve seen.” The smirk brought a shine to his brown eyes she hadn’t seen before. A wave of his hand dismissed the slave.

In response to his smirk, she shrugged. “I’ve seen all manner of injuries in my service to Rome. You appear to be wealthy enough to afford better guards. Why the flotsam?”

He did not expect the question. He did not know she asked only to forestall his own questions. Or, perhaps he did. The shrewd look he bestowed upon her nearly caused her feet to shift in the sand.

“Finding people willing to travel to the middle of nowhere is never easy. And to a lawless town like Sirmium? Almost impossible.”

Her laughter interrupted him. A rudeness she felt compelled to apologize for, true, but one she could not help. Aetius stared as she fell silent.

“I offer my most sincere apologies. Only, such a ridiculous thing to say. Lawless? Sirmium? It is incomprehensible. Why, it’s a jewel of the Empire.” Floriana’s head shook. “I cannot believe such nonsense.”

This time the look she received from the merchant was one of pity and it raised her ire immediately. A hand fell to her sword, but as swiftly it left. Flotsam, they may be, but he did have guards outside his tent. Alone, even such as they might be harmful to her.

“You have been away some time, yes?”

The question earned him a guarded nod.

“The Empire, it shifts with each new year. Two decades ago Sirmium was a great city, but now it rests on the edge, struggling to maintain any semblance of her former glory.”

Her knees threatened to give out, but she held herself up. The mark on her neck burned, but it was nothing compared to the bird wing flutters of her heart. She had not been gone so long. Had he engineered this meeting to convince her to turn back? A demand sprung to her lips, but she swallowed it down to give nothing away. If this were some trap she would make no indication of awareness. Better to let her former captor think her ignorant of his plans.

“I have not been away so very long.”

“How long? Judging by your weapon I’d say longer than appears possible. Your gear looks older than you. Was it your mother’s?”

“My mother was a potter.” Left by her father when his legion had been assigned a new garrison. Which had not stopped Floriana from seeking him out to follow his footsteps. Better a soldier than a soldier’s woman.

“Rufus!”

Her head whipped around and she watched the slave from before enter the tent.

“Unpack the mirror from the wagon.”

After the slave left, the merchant hefted a wineskin and offered it to her. “A drink while we wait?”

Again she considered a trap, but thirst overruled her. It would be no more dangerous than sleeping and she would have to do that tonight. Of course, with sleep she might mitigate the danger somewhat. Her hesitation lasted but a moment before she crossed the tent and took the offered drink.

Pleasant surprise warmed her as much as the wine. A fine vintage and so she had another swallow before handing it back. The thought of sitting occurred, but she set it aside. If he’d wished her to sit he would have asked.

From outside, she heard the grumblings of a camp being set up. The noise was almost familiar and she longed to be home. Her contubernium would be pleased to see her. At least, she told herself that they would. Surely they had made it back after her sacrifice.

Rufus returned, lugging a polished metal disc he set up against the center pole of the tent. He lingered, sunburned arms and wild red hair, taking up more space than one would expect. Floriana wondered at his relationship with his master.

“Take a look.”

There was no real reason to give into his fancy. Other than a wish to get back to the conversation. His words still whispered in her ears and she wanted to find some hole in his story to prove him wrong.

Floriana approached the mirror and crouched down to stare at an appearance she knew well.

“Fuck Mars’ ass with the spear of Quirinus.”

 

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It's been too long.

I saw the time since my last blog post and was shocked I had not updated sooner.

Yesterday, I broke 50k on my Nanowrimo project. The last few months I'd been thinking of skipping, despite the fun. Instead, I pushed myself on MBDD rewrites to get to here I might stop. For Nano this year, I did something completely off anything else I was working on currently. The idea is mashup of the show Person of Interest, one of my all time favorites. I rhapsodized back in June on the series finale. If you haven't seen the show it is currently on Netflix in all its glory. Just saying... :)

Anyway! Person of Interest in Ancient Rome. With monsters and magic and, truthfully, I do not know if I will every do anything at all with this or just store it away. That was the point of Nano this year for me. Just to be writing without worrying about anything. I definitely think it will set me to refresh for finishing up this latest draft of MBDD next month.

I've got an idea for a December project, but it is one I can do WHILE rewriting. I'll give more details once I settle them. So, if you liked my weird, barely edited, silly story last year, stay tuned for this year!

Since my last update I've been doing better. My thyroid medicine dosage has definitely fixed most of what ailed me. Yay! I even had a pap smear. Ladies, we all know it needs doing. Don't forget!

In September, the beloved husband took me to Tulsa to see Delta Rae. I could gush, but if you are awesome you already know how amazing they are and to see them live was so great. They are doing a Winter Acoustic tour along the east coast. Yes, if I lived less than two days away and did not have kids who want Christmas I would go. And, yes, it takes a lot to get me to willingly return to the east coast, but this would do it. It was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak feeling time. 

I'm not going to keep gushing over Delta Rae, but...well, maybe a little more. Every playlist for every novel I've written has had at least one Delta Rae song on it. The theme song for several novels has been one of their songs. And I write all kinds of different stuff, so, yea. THEY ARE AWESOME.

Did you think I was done gushing? Well, I am not! Because earlier this month, beloved took me to another show. The American Wake Tour came to OKC and you bet I was there. (We were right in front of the stage for both shows.) The AWT is winding down. Alas. If you missed them, I should have told you sooner! You can still find American Murder Song on their website and on YouTube. I absolutely love their recordings, but it does not compare to a live show. WHICH WAS SO AMAZING OMG! How amazing? Check this out:

Caught on camera.

That's right. A picture of me with a ridiculous smile. Check out those teeth. The fan on the table I left behind because it was admired so. I, yea, stuck a Halloween crow decoration to a black fan via rapidly applied pipe cleaner. I am so creative. Or, umm, desperate to make the damned thing work already! The outfit I wore was inspired by this song.

Oh, and the boys were heartbroken to miss the show, but we bought t-shirts for them. Sometimes we just need a night out. :) Even wearing boots not as broken in as I'd have liked did not dull my fun at the show. Because nothing could have done that! SO AMAZING. Sorry, I run out of superlatives when this excited about things.

This is our first Christmas since the beloved's dad died. It's not going to be easy, so I am clinging to all the things I love. Like, kids, dogs, and the beloved. His dad passing reminds me on occasion of my own brother's death. So, sometimes I cry over commercials because, well, even after 16 years it still gets me. If you're lucky enough to never have experienced losing someone close and you're curious, Patton Oswalt described it so well.

So, there you are. A nice long blog post to make up for the fact I have not blogged. I'm still posting on FB and am considering getting back into Twitter. Post election it was too much to bear so I stepped away. Speaking of the election, I love you all. That's it. Nothing else to say.

Before I go,  here's a peek at what I am working on. Poor Floriana's life was not easy even before I started writing he. Because I am a mean, mean character mom. :D

***

“Are you her daughter?”

Floriana looked away from the smoking torch. “Am I whose daughter?”

“Floriana’s. I know there was a legionnaire with that name. A scout. You would be the right age. Your armor is old.”

“My mother was a potter. My father, Florianus, served with the Eighteenth and I joined up because of him. Thirty-five years ago.”

“Does madness run in your blood? You would have to be, what, fifty for that to be true?”

“Fifty-one, in fact.”

The officer laughed and sat at her desk. “You are half that, if that. I should turn you out. Or whip you for impersonating a legionnaire and then turn you out.”

“You would have a hard time doing so.”

“Are you threatening me?”

Yes. Of course, she threatened the woman. Was she an idiot, or only trying to trap Floriana? Silence was her response.

Into the silence there was a knock on the door. Floriana turned to see Naevius enter. He looked every year she did not, but she would know him anywhere. The look he gave her showed no shared recognition. Impossible!

“We won’t take up much of your time, praefectus castrorum.”

“Naevius-”

“Silence.”

Floriana fumed in silence.

“Do you know this woman?”

Naevius stared at her. He met her eyes and did not even offer a silent apology before he said, “I do not know her.”

“Thank you, you may go.”

He turned and left.

“Naevius.” Floriana watched him leave before she returned her attention to the officer in the room. “What about Petronia? Vibius? They were with us when we left the forest. We carried the eagle together. They will surely not betray such a memory. Naevius be damned.”

 

***

Until next time! Happy Thanksgiving, my American friends! It is going to be less fun for me with the whole cutting carbs thing. Carbs are life blood! Just, alas, not so much for me any longer as I get older.

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Current project and what nots

So, I was working on Adelaide and Jasper's book. And, I love these guys. Only...they're not FUN. Not like I want to be writing right now.

So, I am working on Lucy's book. Lucy's book is bloody and sexy and she's super snarky so she's right up my alley. It's like when I couldn't get going on something to read until I settled back into the Johannes Cabal series and he is the sort of character I adore. :) Cannot wait for the next one.

Right now, I am reading several things. Most of them recommendations from the husband. He reads more than me these days. Not by a LOT, but still...

I always love my wip at the beginning. :) By the 2/3s mark, I'll hate it. LOL This is normal for me. I'm super eager to keep writing and get further into this story. First, I have to survive the next couple weeks. School starts in a week.

Eldest son is in middle school this year. OMG. He has orientation tomorrow.

To close out. A snippet. :) Enjoy! (I hope!)

After the door closes, and I hear the click of a lock, I realize I still have no lunch. I don’t need the food, but I should be hungry. So, I stand once more and walk to the door. No one answers my knocks. No one responds to my calls for food either. So, I throw myself onto the floor by Noah and his charges.

If they watch, I hope they enjoy the show. Because I have lions killing giraffes, zebras engaging in love affairs with elephants, and monkeys doing a little of both. My best friend says my obsession with sex and blood is trite, but he spends his life hiding with polar bears.

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The Problem With Music Based Inspirations

 

So, I have a very aural muse. She throws ideas at me with each new song. Worse, she waits until I am nearly done with a project and listening to a song for the millionth time to rear her damned head.

Which she did.

Yesterday.

Which is why forward momentum on Widowed Witch of the West is on hold as a new project. Undone as it is, now it is squarely a go back and fix project. An editing project.

Mostly, it is me, screaming at that damned muse because she could not have told me this before now??? The muse in question only smiles, by the way, an unrepentant musical sinner. I still love her and want to lay words at her feet in adoration. Just...maybe not today.

A very wise friend has always said not to edit until a project is done, but in this case I can't take that advice. Because the ending wasn't coming to me anyway. I was stuck with about 10k words to go. I knew what had to happen to get to the ending. Final boss battle, get ready, FIGHT! The boss battle in question refused to materialize. I wrote a little, tinkered with other scenes, anything to keep from diving in to finish the story.

Now I know why. Aoife's motivations through the whole book are wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. What I thought she was doing was not what she needed to do. The ending that wouldn't come stayed away because I was telling the wrong tale.

SIIIIGH

It could be worse. I could have anything other than a self-imposed deadline. Said deadline being the end of summer. Although, truthfully, I should shoot for later. Too much going on, but suffice it to say I'm dealing with shit while helping others deal with their own shit and sometimes it is so overwhelming I just want to spend the night playing Destiny with the beloved. Some people drink their problems to silence. I shoot mine with magic powers and guns. :)

TLDR: Back to the drawing board in a way. I don't mind. Knowing the story is going to be stronger is encouragement enough. Now if my muse will shut up and let me get this done before suggesting other changes.

In the meantime, here's the unrevised opening scene.

 

Aoife was in the bath, scrubbing the blood off her arms, when she heard someone call her name. The maid seated nearby, busy reading the latest dime novel, looked up questioningly. Aoife nodded and exhaled loudly. She’d recognized Mrs. Nardovino’s voice so she was either in trouble or about to be handed another assignment. Either way, her leisurely bath was over. A last careful scrub of her fingers was going on as Mrs. Nardovino came into the room.

“Dear, I called you. Did you not hear?” Mrs. Nardovino had never lost her Italian accent despite living in New York for the last five decades. In a way, Aoife was heartened. Despite the headaches her own accent caused she liked the link to her homeland. Even if she couldn’t see herself going back to live there.

“I was finishing up. The sluaghs went into labor. It was messy. Please, say I do not have to midwife sluaghs again. If that is why you are here I implore you to bother someone else.” Aoife hated working with them, but she was the only Irish witch in residence and, apparently, that meant she had to do it.

The maid brought a heated towel and Aoife stood to wrap it around herself. She would leave, she swore, if there was more midwifery waiting for her.

“No, dear. Please, perhaps this would be better in my office. I will make tea. You can join me once you’re dressed.”

Mrs. Nardovino was embarrassed by nudity. Aoife was not and would use it to her advantage. Although, not often with the headmistress. She’d been too kind to Aoife in her time here. The maid helped her dress and when wet hair proved too heavy to pin up, Aoife simply had a green ribbon tied around the straight black locks.

 

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Tesia Teaser

See what I did there? No, well, fine! I've spent the week reworking this short story. It is not perfect. Because, again, was meant to be internal document type thing. I like though, so may as well share! I don't normally do this type of thing for a project, but I was leaping back into first person so wanted to get into the mc's head. The easiest way was to write this backstory for her. This is not first person. Because I was not in her head yet.

Tesia changed so much from my original inception of the story. She started as a dream, something I rarely use when writing, and then I had two scenes I wrote before even starting the novel.

Oh, and she was a pain in the ass. I had a love interest planned and then she liked someone else. (The life of a pantser is always a roller coaster.) Then, I heard a song and she informed me the current love interest was nice and all, but she had other plans. ARGH! Of course, I love where the novel ended up.

And it all started here. After the dream. I have one book done and I want to do a second. It is on the list. 

1999

 “Tes! Tesia!”

Her name echoed around the barn, but Tesia didn’t come out from the stall she’d hid inside. The voice grew closer as she huddled down under the blanket she’d stolen from her brother’s horse. It was no less scratchy than the hay she’d piled around herself, but at twelve the straw and blanket fort was the best she could do so quickly. They’d found her in her closet and even under her bed.

“Tesia!” came closer.

Tes clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a whimper. Was that them? Were the coming to get her? Tesia felt them near waiting for her to make the mistake of looking out of her fort.

“Won’t do it,” she whispered to herself and froze. Had they heard? She pulled the blanket down so it was atop her.

“Tesia Faustina Jaskolski! You come out right now!”

Oh, thank God! It wasn't them. It was her mom. Her mom sounded furious so she didn’t pop out. Even though, more than anything, she wanted to feel her mother’s arms around her.

“Tes.”

The voice came from the same stall she hid in now. Despite her best efforts at fort building her mother found her instantly. The blanket was yanked off and it captured her flyaway brown hair and created a halo around her face. Blinking brown eyes sat under heavy eyebrows as she stared at her mom with unconcealed fear.

“Mom,” she whispered before she threw herself against her mom despite her angry face. Tesia didn't know how long the anger remained as she buried her head in her mom’s shoulder to sob. It wasn’t until her mother hugged her back that she began to believe things might be ok. Even then she felt them watch her while they hovered out of sight. They waited to grab her. Tes dared to lift her head and look around. A flicker of grey from the corner of her eye sent her back to hide against her mother’s shoulder with a sob.

“Mom, please.” They drew closer. “Mom, don’t let them get me.”

Her Mom did nothing and they continued to stalk closer. Her mother began to whisper, but Tes realized it was not to her. Most of the words made no sense. In truth, she did not even know if they were words.

Well, not all of them Some of them were words she was not supposed to say, but did when no one else was around. Forbidden words felt different on her tongue. Tesia loved the illicit thrill of it all even if she was not brave enough to say them when anyone else might hear. Even as she thought illicit words the fearfully cold, eerily beautiful creatures grew closer.

Tesia, they both called and she tried to pull away from her mother to run again. Surely she could find someplace they wouldn’t catch her? Her mom’s arms tightened around her when she tried to get free. Tes reeled at the betrayal. How could she do this to her own daughter? Let these things get her?       

We are not things, they said and their voices echoed inside as they burrowed into every part of her brain. No, deeper than her brain. It was like they poked into her very being, her soul. She felt them root out her secrets and shames and felt their displeasure at each and every one of them. Tesia’s sobs grew louder, but it did not deter them.

We are glorious, whispered into her head, but she didn’t believe it for a second.

We are glorious, thundered inside her head and Tesia screamed. She kept screaming even after their cold displeasure was soothed over. Something stopped it and despite feeling them inside, whatever these terrifying, glorious creatures were, Tesia was able to put a wall up between her and them. Inside the walls she huddled in fear as she heard something else.

Tesia, remember you’re not just your mother’s daughter. The voice wasn’t one she recognized at first. Then, as the walls were torn down by the fearsome creatures, Tesia remembered the voice.

“Granny Janka!” she screamed out loud. “Help me!”  Except Granny Janka was gone, run off by the things in her soul.

We are glorious, the creatures insisted. Tesia wondered if she should agree with them like she did with her mom. It was easier to just agree with adults.

So, she tried a tentative, You are glorious.

It didn’t work.

The pain flared back to life. Tesia felt like her head was going to explode before blissful blackness overtook her. In the blackness she saw two points of light that grew brighter until her head did explode.

  2004

“Tesia, I don’t think you should be going out with him.”

Tesia stared at herself in the mirror with a frown. Her hair refused to do what she wanted. Her mother kept talking behind her, but Tesia ignored her despite the twinge of disapproval she felt forced upon her.

“Tes!” her mom shouted. With a sigh, Tesia turned to face her mother, still hating her hair. “I do not approve of him.” Tes stared at her mother in disbelief.

“Is that supposed to mean something to me?” Tesia asked. Again, there’s that twinge of disapproval. Words accompanied the feeling this time and her head echoed with them.  Words she’s heard for five years, but still fought against even if it led to pain. “Fred’s a nice boy, mother,” Tesia offered despite the twinge of pain. They always knew when she lied.

It was the action that created the most trouble for her. Especially as she lied to her parents frequently. They refused to believe it was almost required as a teenager. Ageless, divine beings did not understand being a teenager.

“I don’t like that boy.”

Tesia left the mirror to go back to her closet. Flipping through her wardrobe she wondered if she should change. Was there time? She was supposed to meet Fred in less than an hour and her mother could go on for twice that long.

“Tesia,” her mother said, in her I’m giving you one last chance to be reasonable tone, “You have responsibilities. You should be training for your work and not messing around with such things. If you spent less time on your grandmother’s-“ her mother began and Tesia knew she was in for it now if she didn’t speak.

“Mom,” Tes interrupted. “I’m sorry. I haven’t been to see Janka in a month. I swear.” She skirted the edge of the truth with the words, but they’re distracted by something now and don’t notice. “Look, if you promise I can go out tomorrow with Sara and the others I’ll study tonight.” If having angels of the Lord in your head taught anything it was how to speak like a lawyer. Wanting to sell the promise she picked up her cellphone and texted Fred. As her mother watched she sent MEET U THERE NSTEAD.

Even with the shortcut through the woods it’d be a close call to get to their meeting spot before Fred got bored and left. Tes was quite aware Fred was not the good boy she claimed. That was the point. Tesia tried to look innocent as she threw herself onto her bed and reached under it for the ebony box hidden away from everyone.

“Tesia, I know it is hard on you, sweetheart. Please understand I did not want this for you. I never wanted this to happen this way.” Her mother had said the words before. At least once a week for the last five years.

Tesia, as always, shook her head to stop her mother. “Mom, it’s fine. I know, ok? Look, can I be alone?” The trick was to not have to open the box. If she opened the box she had to actually stay long enough to appease them. If she stayed any time she’d miss out on Fred.

"Very well, Tesia,” her mother finally said. “Do not overtax yourself in your studies. I shall discuss with your father if you may go out tomorrow.” The final look from her mother was filled with distrust.

“Finally,” Tes muttered. Knowing her mother the way she did there was no bolting out the window yet. Instead, Tesia sat on her bed, fingers tracing the ancient words carved onto the wooden box. She opened it as little as possible because it only invited their attention. With them distracted by something right now she didn’t want them coming back to her. Crossing the room to get her phone she sent another text to Fred.  HEADING OUT C U SOON. Phone tucked into her pocket she stretched out on her back and counted to one hundred.

When she hit eighty the door opened and her mother’s head peeped in. “Do you want to have ice cream?”

“What flavor?” She’d been through the freezer so unless her mother had run to the store, unlikely as it was half an hour away, she should be safe in asking the question.

“Chocolate.”

Tesia wrinkled her nose as she pointed to the dresser. “I’ve got some jelly beans in there if I want something sweet.” She’s not supposed to have food in her room, but her mother wouldn’t give her trouble tonight. It would help explain away any guilt she felt. They latched onto guilt like her dog with a fresh bone.

Again her mother hesitated, but Tesia ignored her. Once the door closed, Tes sprang up and hurried to press her ear against it. After she heard the squeak from the bottom step she turned the lock. Shoes in one hand, she darted to the window and slid it open quietly. Ever since she’d figured out she could drop herself onto the porch roof, Tesia’d been sure the window was well oiled.

*

Her shoes were tossed down first. Bare feet touched down on the porch roof and she grabbed the rope tied to the window to pull it down almost all the way. Quietly inching to the edge of the porch she peeked over until she could make sure no one looked out the window. Dropping down she grabbed her shoes and raced for the tree line. She stopped only long enough to put her shoes on. Tesia’d raced through the woods since she was a kid so there was no need to worry about surprises.

At the old iron fence, she stopped and counted iron bars. When she found the one she wanted she gave a tug to free it and slip inside. The old cemetery was long out of use. Even Tesia’s family had switched to the one behind the church. Once she learned about the busted bar from her brothers this had become Tesia’s private hangout since she first started to sneak out of her house.

“Thought you wasn’t going to make it,” Fred said from the top of a crumbling headstone. He set his feet on the ground and walked over to Tesia. “Would have been a shame,” he said before holding out his arms.

Tes made him wait until she counted to five. Then she laughed before stepping into his embrace. Her nose wrinkled at the smell, he’d been smoking, but she didn’t resist when he tipped her head up for a kiss.

He tasted like cigarettes, but Tesia did her best to ignore it and find the thrill Fred usually caused in her. There’s nothing this time so when he tried to push his hand under her shirt she backed away. “Ugh,” Tes said with a grin. “You smell. I thought you said you’d stop smoking before we met up.”

Fred stepped closer and tried to flatten her resistance with his cocky, charming grin. “Aww. Come on, Tesia. You were late and I was bored.” He grabbed the sleeve of her shirt to tug her back to him. “I missed you so much,” he said before his hands tried to get under her shirt again.

Tesia frowned and tried to jerk away, but his hands tightened on her. “Cut it out, Fred,” she warned before yelping when his fingers tightened more painfully around her arm. “Not amused.” Fred pulled her closer and she didn’t fight because she felt them stir in her head. “Come on, Fred,” Tesia said. “You had your fun. Now lemme go. I’m so not in the mood for this.”

Fred kissed her again and Tes tried to get away, but he had both his arms around her. “Tired of the games, Tes,” Fred said as his hand shoved down the back of her pants. “Always teasin’ me and meetin’ me places you could put out, but you never do. I know you want to.” Tes was so stunned by his words he managed to shove her to the ground. When she felt the rough edge of a fallen tombstone scrape her back she kicked at Fred.

“You’re an idiot, Fred,” Tesia said as she managed to get away and scramble to her feet. His eyes narrowed as his lips turned down grimly. Tes backed away. She felt her heartbeat speed up even as she tried to keep it down.

“You’re scared,” Fred mocked as he kept following her. He made her take careful half-steps in the dark. “Nothing to be scared about now, Tessie.” 

She was scared, but not because of Fred. A bitter wind blew up from nowhere and fallen leaves and bits of stone flew around the cemetery. A piece of stone hit her cheek and she cried out as it embedded itself under her left eye. The wind grew stronger as Fred’s eyes widened and he looked around with alarm.

The vessel must not be harmed, whispered in the wind.

“What the fuck!” Fred yelled as he ducked a branch heading for his head.

The vessel must not be harmed, was repeated as Tesia saw twin flashes of light in the windstorm.

“No!” Tesia yelled into the wind. “I’m not harmed. I’m ok. He didn’t mean nothing. Please.” She didn’t know what they’d do. She’d read enough in the books locked in the wooden box to know what they could do and she didn’t want to be a witness to any of those things. “I’m ok,” she cried out again, but it didn’t matter.

The vessel shall not suffer the touch. There must be an Answer.

By now Fred’s eyes were white and he’d begun to tremble. Larger pieces of debris smacked into him, knocking him about in the wind. A blinding light that Tes hoped for a second was headlights left her unable to see. When her eyes cleared she stared in disbelief.

The cemetery was a shambles. Tesia cried out as she lifted a hand and found the piece of stone stuck in her cheek. She pulled it out and shoved it into her pocket. Looking around she screamed at what she saw. Fred, what she believed was Fred, stood before her, arms up to ward off something about to strike his face.

He is cleansed, danced in her ears and Tesia continued to stare in disbelief at what stood before her.

His clothes were still clothes, but his body was no longer flesh. A shaking hand touched his face and came away covered in a fine white powder. Sniffing her fingers, she recoiled when she almost put her tongue to her flesh.

“What did you do?” she whispered. Tears streaked her cheek and she touched Fred again. He’d been an asshole, that familiar twinge of disapproval at the name calling passed almost without notice, but he wasn’t this much of one.

The unclean shall not touch our vessel. They shall not harm our vessel. Our duty is to the vessel. Her duty is to the greater good. The vessel must not be harmed.

Tesia wanted to scream at their answer, but she didn’t. It would do no good. “But what do I do about this?” she asked the beings lurking in her head. “Someone will come looking for him.” The answer was given and she recoiled from it. “No,” she said, but they would not be denied. She’d never gotten away with telling them no.

The pain from her disobedience was welcome as it distracted her from what they wanted her to do to Fred. Her resistance did not last long and she gave in as tears blurred her vision. Several minutes of shoving made Fred’s body rock. When it finally went over she covered her eyes. The smell opened them again and she ran a few feet away to drop to her knees and lose her dinner. Heaving, trying to breathe through her mouth, she ran.

Disobedience, they whispered, has consequences for all involved.

Her hands shook so bad she was unable to get the bar back in place. So, she left it and raced for home. It was impossible to see through the tears and she tripped over rocks and roots she’d normally leap over with a laugh.  There’s no laugh in her now. They’d stolen her laugh. They’d stolen her life. The thought was out before she could stop it and Tesia fell against a tree as her head exploded in shards of light.

We are a gift. We are glorious.

Through the pain she made her way home, but she couldn’t stand the thought of climbing back to her room. Instead, she stumbled in the back door, a mess of blood, bruises, and vomit to be stared at by her parents. Her mother sat down the phone as her father turned off the small tv in the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. They were the only words she could managed as her parents helped her up the stairs. Her mother put her in the shower and Tesia grabbed her tight as she continued to whisper, “I’m sorry.”

After the shower, her mother tucked her into bed. Her father came in a few minutes later as all the lights shone down on her. He took the box and put it away under the bed. As he turned off the lights she started shivering again, but he replaced the electricity with warm, scented candles that seeped into her body and calmed her.

“Tesia,” her dad said as he sat on the bed. She pulled her hands from under the quilt made for her by her grandma Janka. On her palms he traced a sigil in sweet smelling oil.

Thank God, there’s that twinge of disapproval, but farther away, for her father and his mother. Without grandma Janka and her father she was sure the angels would have made her mad by now. Tonight, her father’s magic kept her safe from them. He sat with her until she fell into an uneasy sleep. When she woke several hours later the room was empty except for the scent of low burning candles.

“Never again,” Tesia swore aloud. “I’ll find a good man or none at all.”

There would be no more deaths on her hands.

There would be no more dancing with trouble and seeing how far she could push those tethered to her soul.

She knew now there were limits. Unfortunately, she’d learned that through Fred. In the fading light of the candles she felt her grandmother watch over her, keeping the angels at bay. In their distant, disapproving watchfulness she knew they witnessed her oath. The thought nearly comforted her, but as her eyes closed she saw Fred again. His whole body was not turned to salt, only the outside. When he’d fallen, he’d crashed into wet, fleshy pieces.

Tesia whimpered at the memory and spent the rest of the night staring, wide-eyed at the ceiling to try to forget what she’d seen.

 2009              

The service had ended a couple of hours ago. Tesia was happy to be left alone in the church for a few minutes before her brothers brought the car around. The temperature outside was dropping again and with the rain already coming down that meant a long drive back home. A long, uncomfortable drive back home. As she sat at the front of the church she divided her attention between the flowers overpowering everything with their smell and the wooden cross hanging behind the altar.

It still didn’t seem real. Tesia had thought when her mother had died she’d never feel this lost again, but the accident that took her father sent her into a tailspin. For a week she’d fielded visits from family and friends offering condolences. Her fridge was stocked with food, most of it she had no interest in touching, but she’d still have to empty and clean and return the containers.

The state trooper who’d responded to the call had shown up at the farm in person to deliver the news. Not that Tesia had needed him. Her father had shown up when she was making dinner after getting off work early. Her hand still ached from the burn she’d received that night.

Tesia hadn’t truly noticed the burn as her father stood silently before her. He hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t needed to say anything.

Bill, a nice man she’d dated briefly after graduating, had knocked tentatively at the door. Tesia, red-eyed with a wet towel wrapped around her hand had answered. Bill’s family had lived in the area a long time and his mother had known her granny so he didn’t ask how she knew. He’d sat with her until she called her brothers and he’d driven her to the hospital on the icy roads to see her father. The call from the hospital had come as they were navigating a particularly nasty corner on the way into town.

All of that was a week ago, however, and now she had to deal with the aftermath. Her brothers, Jarek and Casimir had arrived yesterday. Too late to have been of help, but plenty early enough to have gotten on her nerves. Their relationship had been strained since Casimir had run off to attend college in Colorado. His leaving the state had been the nail in her coffin. Tesia closed her eyes, waited for the familiar twinge of disapproval, but it didn’t come. They’d been suspiciously quiet the last week.

Despite the wind outside, Tesia stood from the pew and buttoned up her coat. She slipped out the side door and went around the back to the cemetery. A twinge of guilt pierced her when she pretended not to see Daniel still hovering nearby.

No one was there and she was thankful. The fresh dirt drew the eye like nothing else could. Tesia ignored the cold and the knowledge her brothers would be looking for her soon. Sinking down beside the grave she laid her head against the headstone.

She’d paid extra to be sure it was ready by the time they buried him. It matched the one made for her mother a few years ago. It also bore a striking resemblance to the one on the other side of his plot where her granny had been laid to rest. The same symbols, carefully write in granite, protected him in death. Her mother’s stone has no such symbols. She’d never want such heathen things haunting her in the afterlife.

“Your forehead will freeze there if you’re not careful,” she heard behind her and Tesia opened her eyes before lifting her head. Unshed tears finally fell as she saw her father stand at the foot of his grave. He didn’t get closer; they wouldn’t let the dead get closer. Even if the dead were family.

“Maybe,” Tesia said as she cried. “But the company would be better.” Ever since they’d arrived she’d done nothing but argue with her brothers. The same thing had happened at her mother’s funeral. Only then her father had been able to smooth things over. Now there was no one and she’d found she didn’t care.

“They’re still family, Tesia.” There was no chiding in his tone. “I know it’s hard,” her father continued when she had no response for his words. “I’m sorry,” he said and Tesia wrapped her arms around herself at the pain she heard in his voice.

Looking up again she couldn’t make him out as clearly as the first time. Their time grew short. She struggled to find words, but they refused to come.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she managed to get out finally. “Do you get to be with mom?” The question’d haunted her for as long as she could remember. Her mother had once carried the same burden as her; given up only when her second child had reached maturity. The fact that child had fled before the mantle settled upon him didn’t matter.

Her father, however, had been trained by his mother in other magics. Was his witchcraft keeping him from being with his beloved wife now they were both dead? Tesia wasn’t sure she truly wanted to know the answer.

“He’s not cruel,” her father said. Tesia wasn’t quite sure, but that thought she buried down deep so they didn’t hear even a hint of it. “She’s unable to come, Tesia. It’s not in her blood. But if you have need of me your granny will let me know. Trust her.” As she watched he faded further, almost invisible now. “Tesia, do not despair. I know there will be trials to come and you will feel alone, but you’re not. Remember, Tesia, He does love you. Don’t lose faith. There are whispers, I wish I could say more. Be vigilant. Trust in God, but more importantly, trust in yourself.”

Tesia listened, strained to hear what he said as the wind started to blow over his words. “We love you, Tesia. Don’t hate your brothers for their weakness. They can help it no more than you can help your strength.” Tes watched her father fade from sight before she stood.

The thin sheet of ice forming on everything made it hard to cross the cemetery, but she didn’t let it stop her. Kneeling down again she pulled the flower from her coat and set it on the ice covered headstone she stopped before. “I’m sorry,” she whispered in the wind. Her fingers brushed over the name carved on the stone. For five years she’d made the trek to Fred’s grave looking for…something. She didn’t know what. Forgiveness, maybe, for stealing his life. Maybe for the pain his family continued to suffer over not knowing what happened to him?

“Tesia!”

She heard the shout so headed back for the church with a frown. Her brothers waited inside and Jarek shut the door behind her. “Goddamn, but it’s freezing,” he said.

Tesia felt the pulse of anger from the angels. Without thinking she slapped her brother who recoiled from her with narrow, red eyes. “Jarek Jaskolski,” she said in a low voice. “Do not take His name in vain and especially not in His own house.” It was not only the angels’ anger that filled her words. Her anger came from a more selfish place, but she didn’t know if the angels knew, or cared, so long as she was angry at the broken commandment.

Jarek didn’t say anything until Casimir nudged him. “Yea, sorry.”

Tesia knew he didn’t mean it, but she tried to hide her knowledge from them. If they were appeased then, for now, that was all that mattered. She was not up to dealing with their righteous wrath today.

“Come on,” Casimir said as he took her hand. “Let’s get home. Are we expecting people?”

“Wait.” Tes pulled her hand from his and left her brothers to go find Daniel in his office. The door was open and he stood in front of one of the many bookshelves inside. He looked good, as always. Some small part of her wanted to go inside and let him hug her until everything was better. She always squelched such ideas. It was nowhere near time to settle down. Especially not with a pastor.

“Tes?” He smiled at her and left the books on the shelf to cross the room. This close she caught the scent of his shampoo and laundry detergent. He always smelled clean. Even in high school.

A sob rose up and she did not resist when he pulled her into his arms. Neither of them spoke. Daniel stroked her back through her coat and she sobbed against his shirt. Tes finally pulled away when the feel of his hand went from a comforting touch to something else.

It was all her as his hands did nothing new. This just happened sometimes. They were friends from way back, but every now and again she felt a distinct twinge of lust for him. As wrong as it surely was, she basked in the temptation for a moment. Shut the door, seduce him on the overstuffed sofa, and forget everything wrong for a time. Tes stepped backwards into the hallway.

“Thank you. I- I’ll call you tomorrow.”

She felt his eyes on her as she fled the temptation of him.

Her brothers waited by the door and she let Jarek take her hand. Tesia let him lead her from the church, but once outside she pulled her hand away. He’d driven them to the church, but she didn’t want him driving her home. Pulling open the door to the truck she slid behind the wheel and turned the heat up all the way.

“Can’t believe you still drive this,” Jarek said as he dodged the spring in the middle of the bench seat. Tesia ignored him as she carefully got her seatbelt attached. When neither of her brothers did the same she turned to look at them, waiting in silence until they did their own belts. Only once they’re secure did she carefully pull out of the church parking lot.

Twice more they asked questions or made comments designed to get her talking, but Tesia ignored them all. The road needed her attention. It’s what she said when Casimir pushed a few minutes later for an answer to his original question in the church. They were quiet after that and the only sounds to accompany her drive home were the crunch of tires and the heater blasting warm air.

Tesia made the turn off the road onto the long driveway with care. Another mile, she told herself. Then she could leave them to entertain anyone who did decide to show up. The thought of a hot shower and silence comforted her more than any of the words of condolence she received today from friends and relatives. They would not bring the peace Daniel’s embrace had, but neither would they bring confusion.

Unfortunately, she realized, as she pulled the truck into the old barn her father’d always meant to convert to an actual garage, silence wasn’t what was in store. An old, black Cadillac sat idling in front of the porch. Tesia ignored it and the man inside as she hurried to unlock the door and build the fire back up. As she opened the front door, Tesia still shivered, but not from the temperature change. No, it was the angels’ sudden and intense attention that made her body react. The weight of it had her resting a hand on the wall to remain upright.

“Not now,” she begged silently. She could not deal with it now. Three sets of footsteps had her turn to greet the unwanted guest. Tesia’s smile was in place for the family lawyer, but she couldn’t ignore the way he looked around.  As if being there was the worst experience of his life.

“Mr. Nallin,” she greeted as her brothers removed their coats. “I’m surprised to see you here. We missed you at the service.” It left her time to wonder how long he’d been this way and she was proud of the way her voice didn’t waiver when Nallin’s eyes looked into hers. Did he know she knew? It would be easier if he didn’t. “Would you like coffee?” she asked before heading for the kitchen. There was less to break in there and the tile floor was less precious to her than the original hardwood in the living room.

Since she didn’t wait for a reply the other three were forced to follow her into the other room. Tesia grabbed the holy water from the counter before they came in and splashed a few drops onto the heater in the corner before turning it on.

“We appreciate you coming out in this weather.”

Tesia laughed at Jarek’s words. She wished she’d been able to stop herself. Three sets of curious eyes, one a little hostile, turned on her and Tesia smiled nervously.

“Sorry. Just…this weather. You’ve adapted too well to California,” she said and it seemed to be an acceptable answer. Filling the old coffee pot from the kitchen faucet was easy. Getting a few drops of holy water into the pot was harder, but she managed. Tesia sat at the table after turning on the coffee pot. “Is anyone hungry?” she asked.

Casimir opened the fridge and pulled out a pie dropped off two days ago by one of Dad’s poker buddies from the senior center. “Anyone?” he asked and Tesia tried not to watch Nallin too carefully when he answered.

“I’d better pass,” the lawyer said. “I promised my wife I’d lose the extra ten pounds after the holidays.” It’s a perfectly acceptable answer, but Tesia saw the slight twist at the corner of his mouth. Self-satisfaction at the lie received was almost always a giveaway. Tesia tried to stop the nervous tapping of her foot on the tile, but had no success. Hopefully they would write it off as post-funeral nerves. Casimir sat at the table with a large piece of pie in front of him as the others waited for the coffee.

“Is this about father’s will?” Jarek asked. Their mother’s death had been easier that way as well. Everything of hers was left to their father except for a few small things given out to cousins, family friends, and her children. This time was different. Tesia already knew what her father’s will said as she’d been appointed his executor. He’d had her help him decide who got what and in a way she was glad of that now. No surprises for her. Surprises stopped being her friend a long time ago.

“It is,” Nallin said as the coffee pot gurgled to let them know it finished. Tesia forced herself to count to ten in her head before rising. From the nearest cupboard she pulled out four mugs. She whispered a quick prayer over each of them before running her finger around the ring of color on their rims. Once the cups were filled she carried them to the table.  Jarek grabbed one immediately for a long drink.

Nallin was slower, but he reached for a cup. He wouldn’t be able to get out of a drink. That was why she’d brought over the mugs without asking who wanted a drink. Casimir dumped sugar in his, even more than Tesia liked. She opened the door to the fridge to ask, “Milk?” All three shook their heads so she only grabbed the small pitcher for herself. Tes bought herself time as she doctored her coffee, but they were growing restless.

Finally, she took a sip and lifted her mug. “To Dad,” she said sadly. The others at the table lifted their mugs and everyone took a solemn drink. Even the lawyer. Tesia ignored the shout of triumph inside her head as the angels felt the lawyer fall into her trap. Eyes full of fury turned on her as the mug fell from Nallin’s hand and spilled onto the table. Casimir and Jarek shared a surprised look as Tesia sprang to her feet.

“Are you ok, Chuck?” Jarek asked as he reached for Nallin’s shoulder.

“Stop!”

Jarek pulled his hand away, eyes wide as Tesia ignored their guest. From the top of the fridge she pulled down an old tin can. Dumping it out onto the table she selected three pieces of worn chalk and dropped to her knees. “Stay away from him,” she warned as her brothers looked on in puzzlement.

“You stupid whore,” Nallin spat as she started to encircle him on the floor with colored lines drawn in chalk. Under her breath she enunciated words carefully taught her over the years. The chair rocked as Nallin tried to regain control of his body. He didn’t drink much so it won’t take long. The heated water in the air would help, but she needed to move quickly or someone would be hurt.

“Tesia, what are you doing?” Casimir demanded, but Tesia stopped his approach with a withering look.

“Your job,” she told him. Pointing to the coffee on the table she said, “Clean it up before it spills into the circle.” To his credit, begrudgingly given, Jarek grabbed a towel to clean the mess without asking further questions. Once the circles were in place she rose to her feet. “What’s your name?” she demanded of the demon inside their family lawyer’s body.

“That knowledge won’t save you,” the demon snarled as blood leaked from the lawyers’ eyes. Tesia felt her brothers’ shock, but she had to ignore it for now. Without taking her eyes from the demon she took a deep breath. This was always the tricky part and she was still not comfortable with it. Already she could feel the will of the angels trying to force themselves on her.

“Is he in collusion?” Tesia asked as she struggled to let the angels leave her in control. If she found out the lawyer welcomed such a deal there was no stopping the angels. A possession would be easier. It would definitely be neater. Crossing the room without looking away from the demon she opened the cupboard to the right of the sink to take out a green glass bottle. “Is he in collusion?” she asked again as the demon laughed when he saw what she held.

“You cannot stop me with that.” The demon edged a foot close to the circles written on the floor, but he pulled it back quickly before it could cross over. “The lawyer’s body served its purpose,” he finally said as Tesia uncorked the bottle and stood just outside the circle. “It is not so strong it will survive what you intend.” Blood seeped from the corners of the mouth used by the demon before he grinned to show blood-coated teeth.

“Will you be a killer?” the demon asked. “Will you break His commandments to sever my ties from this Earth?”

He meant for the words to give her pause. The first demon she’d faced had done so with those same words. Unfortunately for the fellow in her kitchen he was not her first demon.

“There’s no commandment about making a mess on my kitchen floor,” Tesia quipped despite the disapproval from the angels and her brothers’ continuing confusion. “This will be easier if you tell me your name.” Tesia wasn’t sure those words were the truth, but the angels always said it would be easier and she tried not to even think them liars. Those thoughts never ended well.

“You have no authority over me.” The demon’s words sounded more desperate and Tesia said a quick prayer of thanks for the desperation. A weaker demon meant she might be able to save the body. Chuck, she reminded herself. Mr. Nallin. The family lawyer for the last ten years. A man she knew. It’d never been someone she’d known.

Tesia resisted the urge to look behind her when she heard a noise. Sometimes when they were desperate a demon would pull out the same old tricks to distract. “If you believe that you don’t know who you’re dealing with,” Tesia informed him as she carefully pours a small amount of thick liquid into her palm. It heated the skin, but she ignored the sensation to focus on the demon. “I am the Holder of God’s Gift,” she intoned as the demon’s struggles grew more frantic.

Blood seeped from the body’s eyes and mouth as she watched.

She rubbed the oil into both of her hands as she stepped within the circle. The demon’s look of triumph faded as she placed her hands on his head. The soft scent of herbs was a sharp contrast to the scream of pain from the demon. He looked frantically around as best he could and cried out, “Please help me! She’s killing me! Please!” Tesia, long used to the antics of demons about to be removed from their host, paid him no mind, but her brothers were not so immune to his cries.

“Tesia,” Casimir said as she felt him move to stand behind her. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” The doubt in his voice angered her, but the angels’ warning came after she’d already taken a calming breath. Doubt and anger were emotions demons thrived on and to let either in now would be disastrous. Jarek didn’t voice any concerns he might have, but she felt him hovering.

“Yes, Tes,” the demon said as she felt the angels grow more agitated at the time she took to finish the job. “Do you know what you are doing? Poor Chuck here doesn’t think you can save him. He thinks he’s going to die. He has for some time.” Under her hands she felt the demon jerk the body around. Chuck’s head snapped back and he let out a moan of despair.

 “I don’t want to die.” Tesia wasn’t sure who spoke. Not that it changed anything.

Her hands burned now as they touched the demon’s head and she wasn’t able to hold back the angels any longer. “There is no death, but eternal life if you have faith in our Lord. Do not despair, Charles Alexander Patrick Nallin.” Tesia hated when they speak through her. Thankfully it was not that often. “We are the protectors. We are the power of your Lord made manifest on this Earth.”

Tesia knew when they gathered their power to expel the demon and she said the words in her head that her grandmother had taught her. The angels disliked her interference with their power, but an uneasy truce had been reached in that regard.

“Have faith,” Tesia whispered to Chuck before the angels took her voice once again.

“Out, demon,” they cried from her mouth. Tesia felt the struggle as the demon resisted the surge of heavenly energy that poured through her hands. She’d witnessed exorcisms done by those without an angel, or two, on their shoulder. It could be done. All it truly took was an unshakable faith. Tesia, in times like these, was thankful for the angels because she’d never called her faith steady.

“In the name of God,” Tesia said, her words echoed by the angels. “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 Charles Alexander Patrick Nallin. Be gone, demon, and trouble this man no more.”

The demon howled and Tesia felt the body under her hands twitch and jerk as the infernal creature struggled to hang on. His resistance grew weaker and there’s a joyous shout from her and the angels when the demon tore free and was gone.

“Call 9-1-1,” Tesia yelled as the lawyer’s body jerked and fell to the floor. This too she’d done before. “Someone bring me the jar atop the fridge,” she said as she loosened the lawyer’s tie and pushed the chair out of the way. The chair crashed to the floor as Jarek handed her the jar. From the jar she pulled out a soft cloth that reeked of the fragment oils it had been left to soak in.

The angels were not interested now that the demon was gone. Thankfully, they offered no arguments when she whispered her grandmother’s spells to try to strengthen Chuck’s body. In the background she heard Casimir on the phone stammering about what happened. Growling in frustration she broke her spell and told him, “We don’t know. Maybe it’s his heart? He’s breathing, but not responding to our voice. He just fell over.” Casimir repeated the words and Tesia shoved him from her mind again to pick up her spells. The herbal floral scent from the jar filled the room and washed away the last of the demon’s scent. As she wiped a corner of the clothe with care over Chuck’s face she whispered for healing and caught the soft flare of power that combined her will with the prepared oil.

Casimir continued to talk to the dispatcher, but Tes was too deep in the spell now to help out. Jarek would have to pick up the slack. Tesia basely felt Chuck’s body respond to the spells and she had no way of knowing if his mind would return. If not, they’d likely chalk it up to a stroke and leave his family to deal with the aftermath. Tesia hoped if his mind was lost then it was truly gone and not locked in the torment the demon had trapped him in before. As her own mind came back to the room she felt the first sting of pain on her palms.

Ignoring the pain, she rocked back on her ankles and rose to her feet. “The jar,” she said as she sank into her chair.  Jarek picked it up to set on the table, but when he got to close it she stops him. Another square of clothe from the jar was pressed against her palms. The burning on her skin stayed, but grew no stronger. This made it easier to keep more tears from falling.

“Tesia,” Jarek asked quietly as Casimir remained on the phone with the emergency dispatcher, “What happened?” The absurdity of the question made her laugh. Jarek’s look of alarm made her laugh harder.

From outside she heard sirens coming closer and she left the answering of the door to one of her brothers. Rising from the chair she walked out on to the back porch. Ignoring the bite in the air, she sat on the battered couch and listened to the EMTs rush in to see to Chuck. They were out of luck if they needed anything from her. Sleep crept over her brain with a welcome respite from the day.

*

Snow fell when she woke and through the wall of windows she saw nothing but the white blackness outside. Someone had covered her with her favorite quilt as she slept and the woodstove radiated heat to drive away the winter night’s chill. As sleep abandoned her she realized she was not alone.

“You had us worried,” Jarek said as he handed her a mug. Tesia struggled to sit up and claim the mug with a mumbled apology.  Jarek sat as he told her, “Casimir’s packing.”

“Not so surprised,” Tes said before the rich scent of chocolate and cinnamon lured her towards the mug. She peered into it with a smile. “You remembered.”  Jarek said nothing and she was thankful for the silence. The snow fell outside and other than the occasional pop from the wood stove it was quiet. “I miss you,” Tesia whispered to her brother as she tried to hold back tears. “Now I have no one.” She knew they wouldn’t move back and she wasn’t able to leave.

He is with you, echoed in her head and Tesia did not even try to explain the difference. We are with you. It was the first time Tesia’d ever heard an ounce of comfort in their voice. The vessel should listen more carefully, they scolded and she smiled.

“Tesia? Are you ok?” She looked at her brother and read the worry in his eyes.  So, she shifted her mug to her other hand so she could touch his arm.

“I’m fine, Jarek. How’s Mr. Nallin?” The question was the one she was most afraid to ask. Jarek sat in silence which was all the answer she needed.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Jarek finally said. “We got a call a couple hours ago. He died at the hospital.”

Tesia let the words sink into her brain without a response. To buy herself time she drank her cocoa and watched the snow. The dark outside made her nervous, but she wasn’t sure why. At Jarek’s nervous look her way she let out a heavy sigh.

“I know it wasn’t my fault,” she told her brother. “It was the demon’s. Maybe it was Mr. Nallin’s. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.” The hard note in her voice startled her brother, but Tesia saw no reason to temper her words.  “I have a duty.” The porch was oppressive all at once and she wanted to be alone.

So, she stood and wrapped the quit around her shoulders. “Thanks for the cocoa.” The feeling in the pit of her stomach that it was not smart to go outside was ignored. The backyard was dark and cold, but not so cold she wanted to go back inside. Tesia sat on the old picnic table her grandfather had built and sipped her cocoa.

Someone was coming. She had no idea who, or what, but she felt the land still in anticipation. The family’s protections served as wards over the farm and should keep anything bad from intruding.  

“Witch daughter,” whispered on the wind and Tesia forced herself to look around slowly despite the rapid beating of her heart. She found no one, nothing, within view, but gave into the pull of the voice to follow it to the edge of the yard. The woods were dark despite the full moon. That darkness blossomed within the bare branches and flowed to where she stood. Tesia whispered a prayer and wove it into a spell for protection. In the blackness a point of light appeared and flickered out.

“Witch daughter,” the wind whispered again. Tesia refused the force of the words and stayed her distance from the darkness. The angels were quiet. It almost felt as if they hid from something, but they’d never done that before. What was held in that dark that angels of the Lord hid from it?

“There is a line, witch daughter,” the darkness told her. “You dance upon the line, toying with His plans as if it is your right.” Unable to look away from the light that danced in the darkness Tesia found herself unable to speak or move.

The vessel does as she should, argued her angels as their presence suddenly flooded Tesia with the strength to move. Her feet took a step backward, away from whatever hides in the woods. The vessel was Chosen for our purpose as is right.

Again the wind picked up and Tesia shielded her eyes from the debris whipped up from the ground. “The witch daughter must be taught,” the wind howled. Tesia barely managed to stifle her scream as the cold wind tore at her body before it sank deeper.

“Help me,” she whispered to her angels, but they did nothing. It reminded her of the day she was twelve and the angels first appeared to her, only worse. Tesia had thought the pain of that day was unendurable and the worst thing to happen to her, but she was wrong. The cold wind buffeted her very being and not even her spells helped. Driven to her knees she was barely aware of the snow as it seeped into her clothes. The physical pain, at least, gave her something to hold onto. She used that to help get on her feet and back away from the pain the creature on the wind seared into her soul.

“In the name of God,” Tesia whispered, putting as much power in the words as she could pull from the sleeping land under her, “Begone!” She hurtled generations of power at the being in the woods. She felt shock from the creature before it vanished.

What has the vessel done? they asked fearfully as Tesia turned from the woods. There was no answer, not when it took all her strength to get back to the house. Without a word she made it to the fire in the living room, blessedly empty of family, and sat down before the flames, thankful for the warmth.  Only when she was able to feel all her fingers again did she stand.

Hearing nothing from upstairs she went to the kitchen to gather what she needed. The angels’ demands for information she ignored for now. Tes opened the windows and shivered at the cold. Despite the cold she laid the quilt over a chair and stripped. Only long practice let her force out the right words through the chattering of her teeth. With a piece of chalk, she drew a circle around herself on the kitchen floor as she chanted the spells her father and his mother had taught her.

The angels had no choice but to be within the circle with her. Tesia continued to ignore their demands for information. Not until she pulled on them for additional power did they understand.

The vessel must not.

She ignored their warning. Not even the prickle of pain that came with their objection stopped her. Tesia’s chants grew louder as she wove in prayers learned at her mother’s knee to the spells of her father.

The vessel must not.

“He was taking you from me,” Tesia whispered after finishing her spells. In the circle there was nothing now but her and the angels. Not even the cold of the night would break through her spell as she closed her eyes. “I don’t know what or who that was,” she said as she felt the spell start to weave between her and the angels, “but I won’t let that happen again.” She opened herself up to the angels completely. She felt them root through her whole soul, even the places she’d kept private before. Nothing was hidden from them now.

“If I am bound to you,” Tesia said as she allowed herself to be overwhelmed by their presence, “Then so are you bound to me.”

An air of finality rang in her words and Tesia fell into a light too strong for her to bear as the spells bound the three together beyond what was already in place. As she crumpled to the floor within the circle of power a pair of lights flickered to either side of her.

She knows not what she does, one said as they stared at her still form.

They both thought of what had visited the farm that evening. If it were possible to doubt their destiny they surely would do so now.

He must have seen this, one offered finally. Tesia shivered on the ground and with a pulse of power she never felt the angels pulled her quilt to the circle and laid it over her.

The vessel must not be harmed, they said together. As they roused Tesia and urged her upstairs to her bed they worried amongst themselves without her knowledge. Brooding through the night as they watched Tesia sleep it w’s not until the first rays of light came through her unclosed curtains that one said Did He know and send Sariel to stop this? It followed this up with Why do I question His knowledge now?

If angels could sigh the other would have. The only answer given comforts neither of them. We are of the vessel and the vessel is of us. We can only trust in His plan.

Tesia woke not long after the less than comforting words and they retreated to hide their doubts from her. The vessel must never doubt their faith in His plan.

 

 

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Options are confusing!

I haven't updated in awhile. I meant to last weekend and last weekend was crazy. As crazy as this entire week turned out. Which means I let my head get spun around too much to get much done. I have one of those weeks a few times a year. Thankfully, I can recover!

I can't even blame social media for my lack of accomplishments this week as I was mostly off those as well. Basically, I had a hermit week. I played Fallout 4 some, read more than I have lately, and caught up on housework. Somewhat. With two dogs and two kids it's never truly caught up.

Mostly I am fighting conflicting projects! I WANT to work on one and need to work on the other. I am being good and doing what needs doing, but it's no fun. ;) Not when the other characters keep popping up with new scenes I need to write NOW! Widowed Witch of the West is only about 20k from being done, but until I get this unnamed short story done I am not going to address the conflict between the handsome US Marshal and the cursing witch. And let's not forget the- oh, well, that's a secret. ;)

I should get back to work! On the short story.

Here's where I left off the last time I worked on WWotW. Now you see why I am anxious to get back to this first draft!

~~~

“Do you want to get dressed first?”

Oh, right. She was naked. Aoife looked down at herself and wondered if she should put something on. Then again, he’d seen her naked. They’d, well, she figured once a man had been inside her maybe being naked in front of him was not a big deal.

“Does it bother you? My being naked?” It only bothered her a little, but she wasn’t going to let him know. No, she was going to be a modern, independent widow.

Had she drawn the curtains in the entryway? And the kitchen shutters. Were they closed? Maybe she should put something on.

 

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