Soon. Very soon.

So much has happened since I last updated.

There’ve been fires.

There’ve been earthquakes.

There’ve been hurricanes.

Has anyone checked the volcanoes? I feel like someone should check the volcanoes.

That has been a whole lot of bad news.

The good news is that, while it has taken longer for me to get my act together than I’d hoped, I am finally on the verge of getting my new collection published! Woo hoo!

I’m using 23 of the 26 stories I wrote for this year’s AtoZ blogging challenge. They’ve all been fully edited and polished to a high shine.

Plus, I wrote 3 entirely new stories to replace the ones that weren’t working for me.

Plus, I’m including a couple of stories that previously appeared on this blog that fit the watery theme.

Plus, I wrote 3 additional bonus stories, especially for this collection.

So this collection of flash fiction will be coming in at a whopping 31 stories! That’s one story a day for a month, regardless of the month!

And… I will also be putting out a print version! This will be my first title with a physical copy, so I’m pretty excited.

In conjunction with the new collection going up, I’ll also be posting my 2 previous collections at additional retailers instead of just Amazon. Nothin’ against the ‘Zon, but it hasn’t helped me to be exclusive so I taking the wide-market plunge. As soon as I have links for those, I’ll add them to my book pages. If you’ve been waiting with baited breath to buy on Nook, Kobo, iBooks or elsewhere… first, go brush your teeth. Then watch this space for information on when they’re available.

All these things should be happening within the next week or less. Potentially significantly less.

I’ll post again when it’s all out there.

A to Z 2017–N is for Noria

[Edit: September 21, 2017. This story (and its partner, A is for Aqueduct) didn’t make the cut for my collection, Flashes of Splashes, so I’m leaving it here in its original form.]

 

I’ll admit it – this is not close to the best story I’ve written this month. It’s a takeoff on the incomplete A is for Aqueduct story, it continues to be incomplete, and it’s based on a device few actually know the name of. The Noria is a water wheel run by water power (as opposed to animal power), usually for the purpose of raising water to a higher level. Here’s a video showing one working. Cool tech, actually. But this is a fairly weak story in spite of that.

I guess they can’t all be home runs. Especially when there are all too few words relating to water starting with certain letters of the alphabet. sigh

Onward!

N is for Noria

As the wheel dipped and circled, water filled the attached earthen pots and emptied them into a stone channel. The water diverted from the river flowed into the aqueduct that watered the vineyard in the vale on the other side of the ridge.

“I don’t understand,” said Sineta. “It’s so little water compared to the river. I don’t understand why such a small thing is a problem.”

Zaida shook her head. “It is not the amount of water that is the problem. It is the taking. This wheel, this noria…” she scrunched her face, measuring her words before continuing. “My people, we are the water. We give life to the water and it gives life to us. This machine, it takes the life and we are less because of it.”

Sineta frowned, trying to understand. “But we have taken water from this river forever.”

“Not forever,” countered Zaida. “For a long time, yes. But not forever.”

“But why are your people suddenly angry? What have they done with my father?” Her voice broke as tears welled in her eyes.

“When you were taking the water a little at a time, it was different. But the Noria, it takes the water faster than we can compensate for. We are made weak because it takes more life than we can afford to lose.” The fairy turned from the wheel toward Sineta. “I was with my sister trying to stop it, but we have no direct control over the things of men. I was washed down this channel to your farm.” She dropped her eyes. “My sister was less fortunate.”

Sineta’s eyes opened wide as she struggled for words. “I wasn’t… I don’t… Was she killed?” The last came out as a whisper.

“Not killed, no. But her life magic, so much of it was scooped out of her.”

“Can she be healed?”

“She can be restored,” said the fairy. “But none has the strength to do so while the noria is disrupting our flow.”

“Then we have to stop it.” Sineta’s voice was firm, even as her face drooped. “Except I don’t know how. With my father gone…”

“It is settled, then.” Zaida clapped her tiny hands as a grin crossed her face. “I will help you recover your father. You will help me restore my sister.”

“And then maybe,” said Sineta, “we can find a way to get water to the vineyard that won’t hurt your people.”

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–A is for Aqueduct

[Edit: September 21, 2017. This story (and its partner, N is for Noria) didn’t make the cut for my collection, Flashes of Splashes, so I’m leaving it here in its original form.]

 

Welcome to my first post for the A to Z blogging challenge for 2017.

Those of you who have played along with me before probably have some clue of what I’m trying to do here. For those of you who haven’t, you can check out my post where I talk about it, or check out the A to Z website for full details. And if you are interested, you can participate too… it’s not too late to jump into the fray!

Those who have followed my blog the last two years know that I’m trying to write flash fictions corresponding to the letters of the alphabet. And to add to my level of difficulty this year, I decided I want to try to make all my stories somehow fit with a water-related theme.

You might also recognize that, in grand form, I have a bad habit of writing scenes or story starters instead of true flash fiction. But because I’m on a schedule, it is what it is. The stories that spark something for me will probably get revisited at some point. Some may never get completed. Some probably need to be cannibalized and completely rewritten from the ground up. Just, ya know, don’t hold your breath. Although, I do love feedback. So if there’s a flash fiction (or story fragment) that you particularly like, let me know. I might tag it to get looked at again sooner rather than later. 😀

And now, without further ado, today’s installment.

A Is For Aqueduct

“Idiot girl! Can’t you do anything right?”Sineta hung her head and let the tirade flow over her. She knew her mother would apologize in the morning, but that didn’t change the hurt from her words tonight.

Sineta hung her head and let the tirade flow over her. She knew her mother would apologize in the morning, but that didn’t change the hurt from her words tonight.

She wanted to explain, to describe the being she had seen. The thing that startled her and made her drop the basket.  The thing that seemed to giggle and hide as soon as anyone else came near. But she knew her mother would not listen. Her mother never listened, especially when her mother had been drinking her father’s strong, fortified wine. So Sineta kept her head down and her mouth closed.

The wine had been disappearing faster than usual lately. Her father had gone down the mountain to the coast with a cartful of barrels. He was supposed to return before the spring pruning. That was six weeks ago and father still hadn’t returned. The vineyard looked wild and unkempt. Their laborers had been ready to work, but mother would not let them touch the vines without father’s assessment. So the vines were unruly, the laborers had gone by ones and twos to find employment elsewhere, and Sineta was left alone to be shouted at by her drunken mother.

Sineta didn’t notice that her mother was done yelling until she heard the bedroom door slam. That meant peace, at least for the rest of the evening.

She stooped to retrieve the basket she dropped earlier, picking up the produce that had scattered across the kitchen’s plank floor.

As she placed it in the center of their round table where it could not fall again, she froze. Though the window was closed and latched against the evening breeze, the bright blue curtain rippled distinctly in the corner of her vision.

Heart thudding, Sineta turned. “Is someone there?” Her voice was barely audible in the still evening.

Had she still been holding the basket it surely would have fallen again when a tiny face with delicate features peeked out from behind the rough-spun cloth. When a voice like tiny bells spoke, Sineta’s own legs could not hold her and she sat down hard on the floor.

* * *

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” the voice said as Sineta opened her eyes. Small brown eyes surrounded by a wild cascade of black hair inserted themselves into her view of the ceiling. “I’m sorry you fell.” Tiny hands tugged with surprising strength to help Sineta back to sitting instead of sprawled, haphazard, across the age-worn planks of the floor.

“Who are you? I saw you before, didn’t I?”

The tiny woman—not a child, Sineta could tell that much—nodded. “I’m what you might call a water fairy,” she said. “I wouldn’t call me that, but you couldn’t pronounce what I would call me, so that will have to do.”

Sineta blinked. A fairy?

“I need your help,” the fairy continued. “I was accidentally brought here by the aqueduct that supplies your vineyard.”

“Oh no. I’m so sorry!” Sineta was genuinely concerned for her.

The fairy shook her head. “I’m alright,” she said. “But my people are not pleased.” A frown marred the smooth skin of her forehead.

“I fear that they may have disrupted your father’s return.”

**Find a followup to this story in N is for Noria.

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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Flowers in the Winter

I first published this flash fiction on my blog as part of the 2015 A-Z challenge. All those stories came down when my 2016 stories started going up. But when my friend Katharina Gerlach invited me to participate in her annual Advent Calendar again, which has a winter theme this year, I immediately remembered this story and decided to write something related. I’m reposting this here to give that one some context. For those who want to know what happens next in this tale, be sure to sign up for Advent Calendar alerts (the link is on the upper right) so you won’t miss any of the stories! Cat doesn’t send spam, and the list for this calendar only gets notifications about this calendar.

You can start opening your surprises on December 1st.

 

Flowers in the Winter

“Georgie, come inside.”

The red-haired girl frowned as her sister tugged on her arm. “Don’t wanna,” she said. “I want frowers!” She pulled her away and crossed her arms with a defiant harrumph.

“Flowers,” Beatrice corrected. “And you can’t have flowers right now. It’s winter. No flowers ’til spring. Nothing green. No colors. Just snow. That’s just the way it has to be.” The older girl’s voice had a tone of finality that Georgie knew meant business. “Remember what happened last time?”

Georgie didn’t want to remember, but she did. The Wardens came and there was lots of yelling. The men in their bright red coats almost took away father. Mother made Beatrice take her upstairs to hide. And it seemed a lot darker than it should have, like being in the wardrobe with a blanket over her head. The memory scared her, especially the words they used—magic and witch and evil. That’s what finally made her decide.

She frowned at her sister’s offered hand for a minute longer, just for good measure. Then she took it with her own and the two walked together down the snowy path and entered the solarium.

“Now,” said Beatrice, “if you’ll behave and just stay inside, I’ll go to the kitchen and get us some cookies.”

Georgie frowned a bit harder before she finally gave in. “Ok. But I want four,” she was emphatic. “The lemon ones. They’re the best.”

“If mother made them then that’s what I’ll bring. If not,” Beatrice shrugged, “it might have to be shortbread.” She tousled her sister’s hair. “Either way, I’ll also bring milk.”

Georgie sat on a bench in the sunroom that overlooked the back garden and pouted. She hated all the cold and ick of winter. She wanted pretty things. But father made her promise, no more flowers. No more colors. Nothing green… at least not until green started happening on its own. Just snow. Cold and wet and boring and ugly.

Swinging her feet impatiently as she waited for cookies, Georgie wondered if flowers were really the problem. Maybe it was just the colors. What had Beatrice said? Just snow.

“Just snow,” she said to herself as she jumped off the bench to smoosh her nose against the glass. “Nothing pink or purple or yellow. Just snow.”

iceflowersGeorgie was still standing with her face pressed against the window and her fingers tapping lightly on the pane when Beatrice came back with cookies and milk.

Beatrice put the tray down with a clink. “Lemon cookies, as requested,” she said. “And also some lavender short bread. And… Oh, Georgie! What have you done?”

“I didn’t make any colors,” said Georgie. “Nothing green. No frowers. Just pretty.”

“More than pretty,” said Beatrice, shaking her head. “It’s beautiful. But if the Wardens find out, we’ll all be in trouble.”

The girls stood side by side, staring at snow and ice that Georgie had transformed into delicate floral sculptures more detailed than any garden.

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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Offbeat Dialogues: discussing Folklore and the Modern Day

The Offbeat Dialogues 2015 (event)Hey – here’s a bit of fun news…

I’m going to be participating in a live discussion with other authors! The topic that’s planned is “Folklore and the Modern Day”. We’ll be talking about the use of tradition in contemporary literature, including (but not limited to) the retelling of folk stories and fairy tales. Since I’ve written some flash stories that borrow from tradition, and since my current WIP is also based on faerie lore, I get to play. Fun for me!

We will be chatting on September 11th, at 11:30 CDT. Yes, that’s this Friday. Life has been ridiculous… I lost track of days. My apologies for not sharing the news sooner.

For more information, and where to visit if you want to watch live, check out Thea’s website!

And if you can’t come on Friday, stay tuned. There will be a link to the recorded session available after the event.

 

Friday Fiction – Procession

Oh, I’ve done it to myself again. I meant for this to be a flash fiction, but it’s clearly a scene from what should be a much longer story. A story I want to know more about. And I’m pretty sure nobody knows the details because, duh, I haven’t written them yet. I really do need to get on that kind of thing just a little bit faster. Seriously….

Bertrand walked, slow and steady, keeping proper pace with the procession of the orbs. The pomp and ceremony of the nightly parade stretched before him, and trailed behind. The holy road from Orb to Light extended precisely five miles from Temple to Fane. Each evening, just at dusk, precisely one hundred light bearers stretched along that road to light the passage of the spirits. Ten thousand steps, one every second. Bertrand would be on this road for nearly three hours.

MysteriousOrbHe wasn’t thrilled about the prospect. But, well, apprentices did not choose their assignments. And it was an honor to carry an orb, especially for one so young. So they said. So most believed.

As he stepped along the arching fairway connecting the holy sites, many residents of the city gathered to watch the passage. He wasn’t supposed to look, but he glanced surreptitiously to the small clusters of ordinary folk who came out to view their progress. Some had children playing at their feet. Occasionally, a child would chase along the common street that ran parallel to the holy road until a mother called out in hushed tones and reined in her charge.

It seemed odd to him that so many would be fascinated by the parade of light. Or was it pure devotion to the idea of light? He wondered, but had no answer. He found it disconcerting each time a new assemblage of citizens came into view that they were already staring at him. Watching his paces as he came into view. He assumed they had stared the same way at the light bearer barely in sight ahead of him, and that they would shift their view to the one coming behind as he retreated from their location. He had to resist the temptation to turn and watch for the moment when their attention shifted—that would be a serious breach of protocol and would earn him time with a willow switch he was sure.

He forced his mind to quiescence as he neared the half-way point in his journey. He supposed he should be murmuring his devotions as he’s been trained, but it was more interesting to count his footfalls and study his surroundings. He knew the devotions. He’d recited them already this morning, and at high, and at even. He didn’t understand why he should have to repeat them yet again just because he was plodding for public viewing along a private road.

When Bertrand neared the final third of the procession, he could finally sense the downhill slope of the road. It was a relief he didn’t know he needed, and he fought the urge to pause and shake the blood back into his tired legs.

woman-520052_1280As he approached another group of staring observants, gawking at his measured approach, a shiver prickled his spine. One set of eyes held his gaze. Dark eyes set beneath a dark cowl. Odd with so many dressed in colors of sky and sun.

He forced his eyes forward and marched on, the tingle not leaving his senses. Dark thoughtfulness clouded his mind as he considered who might be under that hood.

The light bearer carried his orb, step after step, into the Shrine of Light.

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.

Friday Fiction – Rain

I feel like I’m in hell.

I stare out my window, watching the water as it falls, splatters, then floods down the street outside. It’s heavy today. Not quite a torrent, but more than a downpour. I’m guessing they’ll call it a deluge on the news. But I think I heard someone say it’s supposed to be a drizzle this weekend. He was talking about taking his kids to the beach.

Last week one of my coworkers spent 20 minutes talking about how beautiful it was to watch the rain just fall. She talked about the way water drips off leaves, and the rhythmic sound of rain pelting the roof. Me? I think she’s crazy. I can’t say it out loud because nobody would understand, but I hate the rain.

I read in the checkout line that some people believe there are places with very little rain at all. It has to be lies. It said some places go weeks without any rain at all. Stupid, I know. But I couldn’t help it. I bought the magazine. I’ve already read the article 6 times.

I dream of it being true. I just want the rain to stop.raining-690930_1280

The weekend comes, and this damn rain is coming down as hard as ever. I guess that guy didn’t take his kids to the beach. Or maybe he did. You never know.

I look at the magazine again, the one that speculates that not rain actually exists somewhere, and I decide I can’t take it anymore. I don’t grab anything but my keys. I go out to my car, and I leave. I have no intention of coming back.

The rain is driving. I’m driving. Traffic is backing up along the coast. Maybe people really do go to the beach in this. But I’m not getting anywhere—everything is going too slowly.

I exit when I can and drive across the city instead. If I can’t find not rain on the coast, maybe I’ll find it in the mountains. Anyway, at least I can keep moving.

I’m not sure how long I’ve been driving, probably hours. I’m high in the mountains now, and virtual rivers are rushing past me at the sides of the road. I’ve gotten away from the cars, but I don’t think there’s anywhere I can get away from the rain. It leaves everything wet … saturated. The rubber blades that thwack across my windshield can’t keep pace with the cursed downpour that seems never to relent or subside.

I feel a pang of anger, even hatred, for this never-ending rain. Without thought, I crush the gas pedal and feel my tires slip unsteadily on the wet pavement. I round several turns as the road narrows, but I rush on.

I feel my car lose all sense of traction as I turn my steering wheel. My car continues forward to where the mountain falls away below me. I guess I’m really not returning home.

I feel heat on my skin and pry my eyes open to a near-blinding light against a clear blue backdrop. It takes a moment to realize it’s the sky.

“It’s not raining,” I say to myself.

A voice responds from nearby. “Rain? It never rains here. Never. Welcome to hell.”

I shudder with a laughter that shakes my entire body.

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.

Friday Fiction – snippet about dragons

I’ve been so busy the last couple of weeks that I haven’t had time to write as much as I would have wanted.

Sadly, that means I do NOT have a completed flash fiction ready to post. I just don’t have the energy for it.

HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean I didn’t write anything. I have a little snippet – about 100-ish words – of something that could end up as a short story of a few thousand words. Even though it’s not a complete story, I hope you enjoy it. I think it’s got interesting potential, even though there’s not much there yet.

dragon-637003_1280Tears formed in my eyes from staring at the sun as I watched leathery wings circling overhead. Blinking against the brightness, I called out to my brother without taking my eyes from the beasts. “Tanner! Dragons above Hesdom!”

Tanner stepped out of the stone house and lifted a muscled arm to shield his eyes. “They aren’t supposed to be here. What happened at Setdom?” He wiped his hands on his pants, leaving sweaty stains on the sueded leather. “They’ll be calling for the riders. I better get ready.” He ducked back through the arched doorway, leaving me alone to follow the descent of the giant creatures.

 

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.

Friday Fiction – Shadowman

“I should just go.” Ciar stared toward the hallway.

man-164217_1280“No. You shouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want you dragged away from me? That’s why not. Haven’t we been over this, like, a thousand times?” Lon hovered near his friend, managing to loom even darker than their surroundings.

“Well, yeah. But I don’t get it. The hallway is the same right now as it is in pitch darkness. Why shouldn’t I go?”

Lon growled, his black eyes hard as glass pebbles. “You should not go because when you step into the light, I will lose my best friend. Imagine the guilt. Imagine my shame. Imagine…” He cut off as Ciar drifted closer to the light.

“I just… I want to know what it’s like.”

“Dude. You’re crazy. Seriously. I think you need help.”

“I don’t need help. I just need something different.” He edged even closer to where the beam cut through the darkness. “I want adventure. Something other than just the endless darkness.”

Lon stretched himself thin, allowing a tendril of grey mist to merge with his friend. “Don’t go,” he said. “I need you. You’re all I got.”

“Come with me. Come to the light with me.” His voice sounded excited for the first time in a long time. “We can go together. Think of it – the two of us. Out there.”

Ciar brightened which made his friend shudder and pull back. “Oh, come on. You used to dream with me. Now you’re just like everyone else. Afraid of the light.”

“Wisdom looks like fear to idiots, man. It’s one thing to wonder. It’s one thing to dream.” He drifted deeper into the shadow behind him. “But I remember what happened to Isra.” There was sadness in his voice. “She’s still out there.”

“Don’t go there.” Ciar sounded angry, but he moved closer to the shadow with Lon. “I am not Isra.”

“Of course you aren’t. She didn’t know the danger. You do. You’re much stupider than Isra.”

“I hope you get washed out.” There was genuine anger in his voice. “She was supposed to shadow me. ME! And she just… left.” He turned back towards the hallway.

“Without her what’s the point of staying?”

“Putting yourself out there won’t change anything,” Lon said, his voice soft and full of regret. “Until her carrier gets out of the light, she’s trapped. And even then, she has to want to come back.”

Ciar pressed himself to the far wall, spilling down onto the shag carpet below. He couldn’t escape Lon’s words. “She’s not free. Hasn’t been for a long time. And if you go out there, you won’t be free either.”

“I’m not free now,” Ciar said. “I miss her too much.”

“I know.”

“No. You don’t.” Ciar sighed. “Nobody knows. Nobody understands.”

Lon flinched at the desperation in Ciar’s tone. “Hey… come with me. We’ll talk about it. Maybe I’ll come with you tomorrow.”

“No. I think… I think I’m going now.”

Lon stood helpless as the other shadowman moved into the bright hallway and instantly attached to a man walking past. The man’s shadow deepened and Lon watched his friend carried out of sight.

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.

Friday Fiction – Apothecary

Rest in peace? Hmmph. Not likely. I growl, a low rumble in the back of my throat. It’s a good thing I can’t be heard. Incorporeal growling tends to unsettle people.

Then again, some people deserve to be unsettled.

I’m not sure how long I’ve been dead. A few weeks. Maybe months. Time passes differently, in-between. I figure that’s to my advantage. I have all the time I want to get back at my charming, cheating wife; her and that so-called clerk she hired to run my shop.

I watch as she spends her time mooning over that boy behind the counter. By the Gods, woman. He might be young enough to be our son. He does know his herbals, though. Doing a damn fine job running my business when he isn’t busy being fondled by my wife.

He has brought in some unorthodox compounds. Goldbud for stomach ailments and lost appetite. Dragon flower for skin problems. Bat bones for weak eyesight.

The Goldbud isn’t likely to work. Maybe the bat bones though.

mortar-89048_640He prepares to grind the lightweight bones and I realize I’m frustrated. I don’t want to like him.

In my irritation, I flail my invisible arms through my workspace. His workspace.

To my surprise, the bones are strewn across the countertop.

I watch as he jumps back. His shoulders crawl up to his ears. A visible shiver passes through him. His dark eyes scan the table, the wall, the room. Does his gaze linger on my invisible form a moment too long? Certainly not. He is simply staring in the direction of the scattered bones.

I stare at the bones too. They moved. I moved them. I reach in again, more deliberately this time, and discover I can easily slide the thin white sticks across the table.

My replacement watches for a moment longer, then squares his shoulders and reaches. He picks up the bone, and his movements tug at my hand. For a brief moment, my hand moves with his, then his with mine.

We separate but the sensation still tingles where I have no right to feel anything.

He rubs his offended hand and his gaze lingers on the space I occupy. “I know you’re there,” he says. “I’m not the one who killed you. It was her. She told me there were rats. I told her how to kill them.” He paused then said, “I didn’t know she meant you. I’m sorry.”

I consider his words as he proceeds to pulverize the bones to a fine powder.

I wonder if it’s unusual for the dead to not know they were murdered. It makes sense to me now. Afterwards, the infidelity was obvious. My death and its cause are not things I can see, but the evidence is there.

He fills a glazed pot with the bone powder and speaks again, interrupting my reverie. “I know how to bring you back.” A dark smile plays across his face.

Copyright Notice: Please note that this is mostly unedited, raw writing. I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story. Please do not copy, quote, or post anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.