Freeman–Blog Hop July 2017

It’s that time again! I hope you enjoy not just my story, but the stories of the other writers involved in the hop!

Freeman

Martin sat peeling the jenfruit, silently waiting for whatever would come next. People he didn’t know had been coming and going. He heard the commotion elsewhere in the house. He was told to wait.

He’d only been a freeman for a short time, but it was enough to know how these things worked. He wouldn’t interfere. He would only wait.

“Go outside. Take a walk.” Charel’s voice sounded stern, but her face held traces of a smile. “You do no good just sitting here. Your nerves may as well be poison in the air. Go. Go…”

Martin stood, gathered the sections of purple jenfruit, and went without a word. He knew better than to argue with Charel, even though he had no place to go.

Outside, Martin paused in front of the building. Charel told him to go, but as a bondman he’d never had the right to simply wander. Finally he chose a direction and began to walk, eating wedges of fruit as he did.

As he passed the park he heard children laughing. The sound drew him closer. He’d never been around children—not since the collective anyway, and that was not the same. It was so strange to see these little ones running and playing, their mothers watching close by.

A little one in a red romper ran up to him and squealed. At a nod from his mother, Martin handed over the last of his jenfruit. The boy stuck it in his mouth as he ran off, purple juices dripping down his chin.

They live their freedom not having earned it. I paid for mine, yet still I’m bound.

He started walking again, so caught in his own thoughts that he didn’t realize where he was until he looked up.

His bond yard looked as it always had. Bondmen lifted and worked and hurried. Some he recognized, but none paid him any attention. No bondman would look at a freeman unbidden. Certainly not during a laboring day.

Martin was surprised to feel emotion rising in his chest. He did not miss this labor. Those men were no longer his brothers. And yet…

He leaned forward, hands on the fence, as he watched a pair of grimy hands cutting a board held in place by strong arms dripping with sweat. Martin had known who he was in the bond yard.

He turned and walked quickly back the way he had come. He no longer belonged in this place. He suddenly wanted to be no place but back in that kitchen Charel had shooed him from.

He didn’t run. Freemen don’t run. But he wasted no time. If he was told to go again, he would refuse—that was his right, now.

The door opened to a silent room. It surprised him considering the earlier activity. Is something wrong, he wondered. He stood frozen, not knowing what to do.

Then Charel was there, tugging at his sleeve. “Where have you been, Martin? Gemma is asking for you.” The woman smiled now, showing every crease in her worn face. “It’s time for you to go in.”

Martin let himself be led to his wife and freeborn son.

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

Links

perpetualbloghop

I hope you’ll take the time to read the other stories in this Hop. These are some great writers and wonderful people. And if you like what you read, I hope you’ll consider joining their lists too. The world is a richer place when there are more stories to tell.

Please note, if you find links that don’t work, try again later. Sometimes it takes a little time to get the gremlins worked out.

  1. Freeman by Elizabeth McCleary **YOU ARE HERE**
  2. Hell’s Play by Juneta Key
  3. The Token by Eli Winfield
  4. Moshe by Chris Makowski
  5. To The Moon And Beyond by Fanni Sütő
  6. Surprise by Katharinia Gerlach
  7. In A Picture by Erica Damon
  8. The Past Tastes Better by Karen Lynn
  9. Revealing Space by Barbara Lund
  10. The Rose Tender by Raven O’Fiernan
  11. The Last Sleeping Beauty by Tamara Ruth

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New Covers, Old Books

I promised a post with the new covers I decided on for my already-published collections. With the new collection coming out I wanted to re-brand these so they look like they belong together.

Feel free to comment–I’ll be making final tweaks and uploading the new covers within the next week or so. I’d love to get your feedback. Let me know what you think!

Here are the original and the new cover for Flashes of Magic.

And here are the original and new covers for New Skin.

 

Cover Poll–Flashes of Splashes

I am finally getting to the “almost done” stage of my new flash fiction collection, and I realize I haven’t mentioned it much here.

It’s mostly based on the stories I wrote in April for the AtoZ Challenge, but everything has been edited and cleaned up, and a few of those stories have been tossed out entirely. The title I finally landed on is Flashes of Splashes, referencing the water theme running throughout the book.

Here’s where I need your help… I’ve been messing with cover designs for about 3 weeks, and I almost can’t think anymore. So, here are 6 covers currently in the running (5 that I like, one I’m less thrilled with). Please indicate which ones you love and/or which ones you hate. What would make you pick up the book? What would make you avoid it entirely and why? Feel free to give your opinions in the comments, or shoot me a private message if you don’t want to leave one publicly. Image names are beneath the images. And I just realized I didn’t update the title style on the Dancer image, so consider the two different title/subtitle styles as options on any of these, if you wish.

To inspire you, I’ll post the final-ish versions of the re-covers for New Skin and Flashes of Magic in another post.

Dancer

Mermaid

Rain Girl

Umbrella Man

Umbrella Bricks

Umbrella Yellow

Housekeeping

Well, shoot. I said I was going to post roughly once a week.

About a month ago.

Haven’t done it.

Oops.

What I have done…

The good news is, it’s because I’ve been busy. I almost (but not quite!) have my next collection ready. I’m fiddling with cover designs, final edits, and adding in a couple of bonus stories for your enjoyment. I’d be surprised if it’s more than a couple of weeks before I get things wrapped up and can announce my launch. But you never know. Don’t hold me to it.

(But seriously, this is taking way too long and I wanted to be done, like, two months ago. So feel free to bug me if I’m not launched by the end of the month.)

Related to that, I’m going to be re-branding my two old collections (New Skin and Flashes of Magic) with new covers at the same time. AND I’m going to be making all three collections available in all the major ebook stores (Kobo, B&N, iBooks) rather than just being on Amazon.

I’m not currently planning anything with my short story, Finding Light, and may end up pulling it completely. I have some ideas for revamping it (never really been entirely happy with it) but I have to decide if it’s worth my time. I’ll say this, though, if I do end up giving it a spit-polish, I will probably just make it a newsletter exclusive, available only to members of my mailing list. Sadly, it likely won’t be ready by the time I switch my list host (keep reading to find out what I’m talking about).

What I’m still doing…

I am working on (by which, at this moment, I mostly mean thinking about) a story that I want to write for Camp NaNoWriMo. Which is happening now. So, yeah… I need to get moving on that pretty much right now.

I’m shooting to get at least 20,000 words written before the end of July. I want to have the whole thing finished and ready for editing by the end of August. I think it will be roughly 40,000 to 50,000 altogether, but one never knows with these things. Might be a little less. Might be a little more. I’ll let y’all know when I get there. 🙂

That’s all I’m announcing about that right now. NaNo-type projects change so much that I don’t want to say anything decisive until I’m more certain of what it’s going to look like. That said, if you actually want more info you can check it out on my NaNoWriMo profile. I accept friend requests there, so if you’re a Wrimo too, feel free to connect! You’ll know you’re in the right place if you see the orange version of my logo, like the one you see here, on the profile.

What I have planned…

Most people don’t pay much attention to what software someone like me uses. Unless something changes, there’s usually no need.

Just note… something will probably be changing soon.

I’ve been using AWeber for my mailing list. That’s all fine and good… it has been the industry standard for a loooong time. It’s a fantastic and powerful piece of software. Except, it’s expensive. And it’s somewhat hard to use. And it’s serious overkill for my tiny list.

So within the next week or two, I am planning to switch to Mailer Lite.

Reasons? First and foremost, it will be free until I get to 1000 followers. Here’s hoping I have to start paying really soon… but if hoards of fans don’t suddenly show up, I won’t be paying to not send them emails. So, that’s good.

Also, it’s cheaper than the other alternative, Mail Chimp. I’ve used Mail Chimp before and it’s great software. But again, I’m a writer on a budget. If those hoards do show up, I’d still rather pay $20 to send them email than $50.

Stay tuned for more details… list members will get an email with the full explanation, but I’ll also make sure to post something here so anyone who isn’t on the list can choose to opt-in too.

That’s all for now…

I will give you more information when I have it. Meanwhile, enjoy your summer! (Or winter, if you happen to be down-under!)

The Month Ahead – June 2017

May has been a little bit hit and miss as far as getting the things done that I wanted to get done.

I’m actually OK with that. I’ve had a lot of months that were all miss and no hit, so this is actually an improvement.

What I did

I’ve been pretty faithful about keeping up with the reading for the 1000 Day MFA. I’ve taken a day off, here and there. Mostly, like, weekends–though I haven’t even taken every weekend off. I’m at the very beginning of this intentional plan to read more across more genres so I still have lots of time to fall off the wagon, but for now things are looking pretty good.

I haven’t kept up as well with the short story writing. I’ve written one story, and it’s one I need for a collection.

I really want to get back to that and use those stories to restart the weekly fiction posting I was doing on the blog for a while. Stories for the blog will always come second to stories that I intend for publication. But if I can get the juices flowing by writing and posting short pieces here, I believe it will help with my overall word output.

What’s on deck

June is going to get busy for me.

Here’s what I have planned (keeping in mind that by “planned” I mean “I intend to do these things but haven’t created any kind of firm schedule to actually get them done.”)

  • The Water Collection (these are the stories I wrote for AtoZ in April)
    • Write a few “bonus” stories (2 replacement stories–1 of which is done, plus 3-5 originals that have never been seen before)
    • Polishing, editing, and proofreading
    • Cover design and back cover/marketing copy
    • Formatting and publication
  • Advance planning and simple outlining for my July Camp NaNoWriMo project.
  • Return to and complete the revision analysis of my Android story and decide if I’m going to try to revise or if I’d be better off completely redrafting the thing

That doesn’t look like much. On the other hand, it looks overwhelming. Gah!

Even though it looks like a lot of steps, I don’t think I’ll have any problem knocking out the Water collection–it’s the other stuff that has me worried. My biggest issues have always been with outlining and completing longer-format stories. Here I have one that’s begging to be completed, and another one waiting to be told.

I believe I can do it, but it’s going to take a lot of focus. Maybe I need to get brain glasses.

Booky Little Lies

Pardon me while I rant for a minute.

I keep seeing articles claiming that eBook sales are down, that print sales are up, and that the trends apparent over the last several years in the publishing industry are reversing.

Frankly, I don’t believe it.

Articles that say things like Real Books Have Trumped Ebooks, or Ebook Sales Plunge. Even those news outlets that aren’t crying doom for eBooks aren’t exactly being positive about the changes in the publishing industry.

All these articles have one thing in common. They’re claiming a decline of eBook sales by something between 17% and 21%.

It sounds bad. Really bad.

But it’s not true.

If you look closely, you’ll see that these numbers come from the same source: The Publishers’ Association.

Here’s the thing about that. They track book sales by publishers. We’re talking the big boys who have dominated the industry for decades, as well as smaller presses that follow established industry standards.

What don’t they track? Independent author sales and sales by non-conforming small presses.

They say right on their website that they’re tracking “publisher revenue.” That’s a different thing than actual book sales.

I can’t swear to exactly which sales they are or aren’t tracking. I don’t have the nitty gritty details. But I’d virtually guarantee this: it absolutely doesn’t take into account books that are independently published by authors who choose not to use ISBNs for their ebooks.

By their standards, these people aren’t publishers. Those sales don’t count.

And even when you look at the sales that do count, they aren’t telling the whole story.

Like, a bunch of traditional publisher have pushed their eBook prices up to $12 or $13, while their mass-market paperbacks are still well under $10. So, yeah, their print books are selling better than their eBooks. Because of price.

But not one of those publishers is talking about revenue per sale. They don’t talk about how much money they’re making when an individual book is purchased  by an individual consumer.

Why? Because that $12 eBook that has virtually no overhead associated with it is actually supporting their print sales.

There are certain costs associated with all books. Cover design. Editing. Formatting. Marketing.

For an indie, those costs will run anywhere from $0 up to several thousand dollars, depending how they’re sourcing things and how much advertising they’re doing.

For a traditional publisher, those costs will be more predictable. They’ll contract with an artist and a cover designer. They have to edit, typeset, and format for publication. Those costs are basically the same for both print and digital books. I can’t tell you exactly what traditional publishers budget for those costs, especially since, except for original cover art, most of those services will be handled entirely in-house by people who are drawing salaries rather than getting paid for working on specific projects. But let’s be really generous and say that they’re budgeting roughly $5000 per book for those things to happen. Some of the best original art may actually cost more. But overall, I’d guess that the actual cost of these services isn’t more than the top-end of what an indie would pay, so maybe a couple thousand dollars.

Also, with the exception of a few top-tier authors, there is very little budget being spent on marketing for most traditionally published books. The books get listed in distribution catalogs. Maybe a few ARCs get sent out. That’s probably mostly it.

But print books have some extra costs involved. Like, you know, printing. And warehousing. And shipping those physical books from place to place. And, while the cover price of a book will probably be anywhere from about $5.99 for a slim mass market paperback, to maybe $29.99 for a hefty hardcover, those books are all sold to retailers at a discount which allows the retailer, the distributor, the trucking company, the sales clerk, etc. to get paid their share as those books get shuffled from place to place.

Take into account discounts, remainders, and shrinkage, and the actual income a publisher can expect from a print book is pretty nebulous.

Ebooks, on the other hand, have a guaranteed return. Yes, there are digital hosting costs and a cut of sales is taken by the distributor (Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc.). But if you list a book for $9.99, you have a pretty good guarantee that you’re going to get $6.99 in revenue. Every time. Every copy. There are no remainders. There are no additional shipping costs. There might be occasional discounts to the buyer that will affect the income, but that would be a marketing decision that the publisher can control.

So, chances are the publisher is getting more for each eBook they sell, with less that they owe in real expenses.

Including the fact that traditional publishers often pay the author lower royalties for eBooks than they do for print.

So, yeah. I call BS on the ongoing insistence that eBooks are in trouble.

And even the statistics that say e-reader sales are down? So what? An e-reader is not the kind of thing most users will replace on a yearly basis. Plus, ownership of smartphones and tablets is way, way up, and all the major eBook platforms have apps that run on iOS, Android, and Windows. Lots of consumers will opt to use a device they already own rather than purchasing a dedicated e-reader. Especially if they are only occasional readers (say 1 book or less per month) rather than avid readers (say 1 book or more per week).

So, yeah. I’m not panicking over the alleged drop in eBook sales. And as an indie, I’m not worried about the future. Not even a little bit.

And as a reader and lover of books and stories? I do still love actual, physical books. I still buy some, especially when something I want is not available digitally, or if I’m collecting the works of a particular author. But more and more often I’m downloading eBooks or audio books. And I have them available on my Kindle Fire. And my iPhone. And my iPad. I could even have them on my desktop computer if I wanted to, but I don’t.

Remember when you see these stories popping up all over the place, you’re probably not really hearing the whole story. Not even close.

I’ll end my rant here.

A to Z is over… now what?

Hello, sports fans!

Welcome to May.

Yes, I know May has been going for more than a week now, but April was pretty busy and I took a few extra days to recover.

For those who were playing along, you are already aware that my A to Z challenge was completed with relative success.

I didn’t adore ever single story, but I got them all written, mostly on time. And I’m happy enough with the overall quality that I’m going to publish a collection!

What that means for you is that if you want to reread any of my stories you should do it sooner rather than later. I expect to leave everything up at least through the end of May, but once the collection is ready I’ll be taking down most of the stories here. My Blog Hop story (V is for Vortex) will stay put indefinitely, and I may pick one or two more to remain. I also need to do some rewrite on a couple of them, and I always like to include some bonus material so I need to write a few extra stories too. But I’m hoping to have the collection ready by mid-June at the latest. Watch this space.

Writing Stuff

In other writing news, I’m getting back to work on the revision that fell fallow over the last several weeks. As I think I’ve mentioned before, it is almost certainly going to end up as a complete rewrite. But I’m still taking the whole thing through a complete HTRYN-style revision process to get there. Partly because I want/need to fully understand that process. Partly because what I’ve done of that process so far has really helped me focus on what I think the story will end up being. I want to create a clear enough target that I know for certain that I’ll hit it the second time around. 🙂

I also have another idea percolating in the back of my head. It’s a young-adult-space-opera kind of thing that I worked on for a while and abandoned because I didn’t know what to do with it. But recently I’ve had some new ideas for the story so I want to take another stab and it. I think it will be 3 novella-length shorts, but it may decide to end up as a single, full-length novel. I’ll play that by ear as I’m working on it.

I’d really like to get both those ideas completed and published before the end of the year. It should be more than doable, but will require the kind of focus I employed during the A to Z. Sustained effort! Yikes!

If anyone wants to help, send chocolate! 😉

Moving Forward

In other news (that’s really related, but on a slightly different trajectory), another author has put a challenge out there to do what she is calling the 1000 Day MFA. Basically, it’s a process of intentionally self-educating by consuming lots of content and producing stories on a regular basis. Without the high price tag of a traditional education. Yeah – that’s a plus.

I’m at least tentatively committed to her plan which includes:

Reading/consumption
  • 1 short story, 1 poem, and 1 essay every day
  • watching 3 movies every week
  • reading 1 novel every week
  • reading 1 craft book (writing craft, duh–not arts-and-crafts) every month
  • (my own, personal addition) regularly listening to writing-related podcasts as a means of keeping up with author/writing/publishing news. I regularly listen to:
    • Writing Excuses
    • The Every Day Novelist
    • The Creative Penn Podcast
    • The Self Publishing Podcast
    • The Rocking Self Publishing Podcast
Writing/output
  • write 1 short story (or flash fiction story) every week
  • write 1 novel every year

My personal goals are actually a bit higher, but I don’t have the best track record of meeting my self-imposed goals, so going with these reasonable, doable plans is a good starting point.

Really, the overall goal is to get story and form and language and ideas percolating in my brain. That way, when sitting down to write, interesting things will end up on my page. I was already doing some of this. Joining this public-ish challenge seemed like a reasonable extension of my own personal commitment.

I haven’t quite “officially” started yet. I need to figure out a regular source for poems and essays since those have not been part of my usual intake up to now. This might be as simple as a visit to the library, but I also want to look into online resources. Additionally, I need to set up a tracking system both for what I’m consuming and for what I’m writing. That shouldn’t be too hard, especially since I have a husband who is the king of spreadsheets. But I need to figure out exactly what I intend to track and what I want that to look like.

The other bit I am adding that isn’t part of the “official” process–sharing things here. I want to start posting a weekly review of some kind. I want at least some of my short fiction to be practice in genres that are not my usual fare. And I want to get back in the habit posting weekly fiction or snippets here so y’all can follow along with what I’m doing. I probably also need to improve my blog organization so it’s easier to just get to what you want here. Right now it’s a bit of a mess, as per usual. * insert eye roll here *

Again–none of what I’m proposing should actually be that hard. The tough thing for me is going to be creating the habit.

Wish me luck!

And, like I said, send chocolate!

A to Z 2017–Z is for Zamboni

In just barely under the wire. This was a fun month and I even like most of the stories I got. Woot! I hope you enjoy this final installment in the 2017 A to Z Blogging Challenge.

Z is for Zamboni

Clean smooth ice is a thing of beauty. Nothing finer in all the world.

And there was no finer machine to properly groom a sheet of ice than a Zamboni Ice Resurfacer.

That’s what Frank knew. His daddy not only passed down the family trade of Professional Zamboni Ice Technician, he also named his only son after the man who invented the machine that bore his name—Frank J. Zamboni.

The world never knew a prouder Professional Zamboni Ice Technician than Frank Zamboni Ignazio.

Frank arrived well in advance of the day’s activities at the Smith Valley Ice Rink. There was no finer time to resurface ice than at the crack of dawn. No finer place than Smith Valley.

Well, maybe the Johnsonville Ice Arena. Calvin Bigalow did not deserve such a prestigious ice grooming position. The man didn’t understand the true beauty and importance of the job.

Frank shook off the thought. He didn’t need to get himself upset over things he couldn’t control. Today marked his 3rd year as the sole Ice Technician for Smith Valley, and he planned to celebrate with an extra lap around the rink and maybe a Slurpee later in the afternoon.

A few minutes before 5:30 AM, Frank let himself in through the back entrance of the rink. After switching on the overhead lighting he opened the storage room that held his beloved Zamboni.

After filling the ice making tank with clean water, he started the machine and headed toward the main ice.

Normally, he would have started an immediate counter-clockwise circuit of ice resurfacing. This morning, however, he found his way blocked. A small man in a red suit with a black vest and red bowler hat was standing on the ice in black and white wing-tipped shoes.

“Excuse me,” Frank said. “Sir? You can’t be in here. The rink doesn’t open until Nine. And you can’t be on the ice with street shoes. Only proper ice skates are allowed.”

“Son of fire,” the man in red intoned. “You have violated your calling.”

Frank huffed. The man wasn’t moving off his ice. “Sir? I really need you to step aside.”

The man didn’t move. “Frank Ignazio,” he said, “crystalline water maker. Your true identity lies elsewhere.”

Frank started to get irritated. Checking that his Zamboni was properly braked, he climbed down to confront the man directly. “Mr. Uh… do you have a name?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “You have to go. I have a job to do and you are in my way.”

“Frank Zamboni Ignazio.”

It finally dawned on Frank that this guy knew his name. “Do I know you?” he asked.

“You are the chosen. The son of fire.” The man’s voice seemed to resonate over the ice. “Come with me and meet your destiny.”

“My destiny? I’m living that already,” Frank said, his voice emphatic. “Since I was six-years-old I never wanted nothing but to drive this here rig and make the ice as smooth as glass. Now, step aside before I decide to call law enforcement.”

Frank swung his arm towards the man in a dismissive fashion. He was shocked and dismayed when the man in the red suit seemed to flare into flame before melting into the ice, leaving a deep, uneven hole in the rink’s otherwise uniform surface.

“Well, damn,” he said, staring at the hole. “Now I’m gonna have to patch that.” He shook his head. “You’d think those demons would learn to leave me alone by now. I can’t think of one single thing that would make me want to go somewhere as hot as they want to take me.”

Frank Zamboni Ignazio, the Son of Fire, climbed onto his Zamboni and set to grooming his ice.

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–Y is for YOLO

This story isn’t my usual fare, but I like how it came out.

Y is for YOLO

“You only live once,” they said. “You’re thirteen… you can do this! It’s just like going off the high dive at the pool.”

I really didn’t want to do it, but I let them talk me into it. That was my first mistake.

I climbed the cliff with my sister and her boyfriend. Del. What kind of a stupid name is Del? Frances Arthur Delacroix. Ha. I guess if that was my name, I’d go by Del too.

Anyway, so Del and Barbara showed me the path. It took about 15 minutes, and I was hot and sweaty by the time we got up there. My legs were covered with nasty yellow-brown dirt.

I stood there breathing hard at the top of the hill overlooking the lake. I could see Trev and Sandy and the whole group down there swimming.

I wished I’d stayed down there swimming, too.

Instead, I was up there with Barb and the goon. And they wanted me to jump off a freakin’ cliff. Great.

The water looks greener from above than it does when you’re in it. Somebody told me once it’s because there’s a lot of copper in the dirt. So my sister’s creton was really kind of egging me on to jump into a pool of pennies from up high.

I kind of thought I could do it. Just get it over with. But once I was up there my heart started racing. Not just from climbing the hill, either. I was shaking all over. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My knees locked up.

Overwhelming terror. That’s what it was.

“I changed my mind,” I told Barb. “I don’t want to do this.”

It was the muscle-bound maniac who answered me. “Don’t be a baby,” he said. “Nothing bad can happen. I’ve done this a thousand times.” He turned to Barbara. “Is she always so chicken-shit?”

“Shut up, Del.” At least she had my back. For a minute. Sort of. “Listen, Teena, if you don’t want to, fine. But if you don’t, you’re just going to beat yourself up over it. Once you do it, you’ll wonder what you were even afraid of. Seriously.”

I don’t know if I thought she was right. I don’t know if I could think at all right then, I was that scared. But I also didn’t want my sister to think I was a wuss. My friends either. They’d apparently noticed that we were up there, now, and they were all staring up at us.

Waiting for a show.

I took half a step closer to the edge, then another half a step. I got close enough that I could look straight down at the water. It really didn’t look as far as I thought.

The green was darkest right below the cliff. Deeper water there. Deep enough that you couldn’t hit bottom by accident when you jumped. That was good.

I edged a little closer again. My heart was still pounding, but my breathing wasn’t so bad now. I thought maybe I really could do it.

As I stood there, right on the edge of everything, Del started to say something. I don’t know what. He stepped closer to me and something shifted. Loose dirt. I took a half step backwards, but my feet were slipping.

Then there I was, out in the middle of the air.

I think I yelled. Not sure. I couldn’t hear anything over the pounding in my ears.

I couldn’t see anything, either, except the blue sky above me.

I hit the water, back first. All the wind rushed out of me.

The heat from the sun gave way to the icy fingers of the cold water as it wrapped around me.

And now I’m here, watching my friends pulling me out of the water. Barb and Del are running back down the hill.

You only live once, they’d said.

I need to decide whether to prove them wrong.

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–X is for Xeric

The less-popular letters of the alphabet always provide interesting challenges. For my personal theme of water, X can only stand for xeric.

adjective: xeric

  1. (of an environment or habitat) containing little moisture; very dry.

X is for Xeric

Doctor Jefferson Molesworth frowned at the intern he had been delivered. He had little use for wet-behind-the-ears college students with near zero experience. “Just don’t touch anything,” he said. “The artificial biome has to be maintained at optimal conditions.”

“It’s so hot,” complained Shaun. “I feel like I’m already shriveling up.” Although they were walking outside a glass wall over 4 inches thick, heat radiated at them like a furnace.

“Of course it’s hot. We’re looking at replicating the conditions near Dallol, Ethiopia. It’s one of the hottest, driest places on this whole damn planet.”

“Like Death Valley…”

“Sure. If Death Valley had sulfuric pools of boiling volcanic gasses. Hot both above and below.”

Shaun continued to shadow the scientist he’d been assigned to for several more minutes. Finally he asked, “Why did you request a biology intern? My specialty isn’t microorganisms or hostile environments. I’m not sure how I can help you here?”

Jefferson stopped and turned on the trainee. “I’m not the one who requested you.” He harrumphed and resumed going over the checklist on his board.

Just when Shaun was about to ask another question, Jefferson continued. “We have been asked by a government agency to do some testing on a possible life form that they can’t identify.”

“Insects? In the thermal pools?”

“Not insects. And they weren’t found in Dallol.”

“But then, why…”

“It is believed to be an exo organism. Xeric in nature.”

“Off world? Cool! But still, why an intern? Usually they don’t let us within a mile of the really ground breaking stuff.”

Jefferson shook his head without looking at the younger man. “Like I said, I didn’t pick you.”

They continued to skirt the outer rim of the artificial environment until Dr. Molesworth stopped suddenly and pointed. Shaun followed his gesture and had to resist the urge to press in nose to the glass to try to see better. “I don’t see anything,” he said.

“Just wait.”

“But I… Oh!” He still managed not to press his face to the glass, but he did lay his hand on it as he saw a thing—the thing—move. “What in the world?”

“Not our world,” Jefferson reminded him.

Shaun nodded and continued to stare. “If I didn’t see it move…”

“Exactly. It looks like a hundred other rocks. But it isn’t. Not even close.”

Shaun sucked in air as if a realization had suddenly dawned on him. “And I’m going to study it?”

Jefferson didn’t respond. Instead he asked, “Do you think you can handle 114 degrees for a few minutes?”

“You mean, I get to go in there?”

The excitement in the intern’s voice made Jefferson realize exactly why this particular intern had been sent. He guided the student to the hatch, a sealed airlock that would prevent contamination of the habitat.

After Shaun changed into specialized, biodegradable, paper-like clothing, he walked into the hatch, waited for the outer door to seal, and entered the biome. He carried nothing with him but a stainless steel tank of purified water.

“Don’t worry,” Jefferson said into a microphone. “It doesn’t move fast at all.”

Shaun made his way back to the rock-like creature and began speaking his observations. “It’s slightly smaller than my hand. Maybe 5 inches long. The surface appears almost porous—similar to coral.”

He unscrewed the cap from the water tank and gently poured its contents—roughly 4 cups of water—in a circle around the creature, just as he had been instructed.

Without warning, tendrils shot out from beneath the creature into the water, drying the ground almost instantaneously.

“The creature is highly sensitized to the presence of water,” Shaun said, his voice wavering. “It’s … oh my god! It’s growing! Only… NO!”

The creature, still expanding in size, sent out tendrils that sank into Shaun, drying him to dust just as rapidly as they had dried out the sand.

Dr. Molesworth instinctively stepped backwards, throwing his arms up as the thing suddenly exploded into hundreds of duplicates, each piece roughly the size of the first. Each one moved slowly, perhaps, Molesworth speculated, searching for water in this Xeric biome.

“Interesting.” He spoke into the microphone so the computer would record his observation. “We may have discovered the means of reproduction.”

 

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