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.

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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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

A to Z 2017–Z is for Zamboni

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

 

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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Reflected – Blog Hop January 2017

“I want this. I can do this. Nobody can stop me.” She stared at unblinking eyes. Hard eyes. Dark eyes. She focused so intently on those eyes that everything else seemed to fade.

The effect was ruined as a grin crept across that face.

Alice leaned toward her own reflection. “You’ve got this,” she reassured herself one more time.

She’d always known if she played her cards right she’d be in a position to make changes. Now here she was.

She squared her shoulders as she turned from the mirror, then flicked off the light and left.

rainy womanAlice took the number 10 cross-town bus and walked the remaining six blocks to her destination. She was glad for a few minutes in the rain-washed air—her confidence had slipped a little as she bounced along on the less-than-pristine city bus. Staring at her own bulbous reflection in the driver’s security mirror had her questioning reality.

Her thoughts tumbled end over end as she walked, and she wished she didn’t feel like shrinking. But fear didn’t stop her. Her glossy Oxfords swung out rhythmically, followed closely by the pin stripes of her trousers. The slight reflection in the wet pavement of the sidewalk followed her precisely, clicking along at an identical energetic gait.

When she reached 1832 Duchess Avenue, she paused to again check her image in the wide brass trim beside the door. She looked warped around the edges, but not overly flushed from her walk. Good.

Alice tugged at the heavy glass entry and stepped inside. Mr. White nodded absently from behind the security desk as he tucked away his pocket watch. The affectation didn’t seem out of place considering the man’s tidy whiskers.

A green light dinged on, and she took a deep breath as she boarded the elevator. She counted the floors as they passed like a school girl reciting her lessons.

The plush carpeting of the 14th floor absorbed the sound of her footfalls when she stepped out toward T & T Enterprises. The silence tried to make her feel insubstantial, but she shook off the sensation as she approached the receptionist.

“He’s expecting me.” She didn’t wait for an answer from the mousy woman, merely turned toward the gilt-framed mirror on the wall.

She swallowed her nervousness as she eyed her reflection. There would be no going back. She turned when the door opened.

“Alice,” Lewis greeted her with a warm handshake. “You’re early.”

“I’ve made my decision,” she said as he led her past the heavy walnut door into his office.

Once they were alone she spoke in a rush, fearing that any delay might cause her to lose her nerve. “Tell Mr. Hatter I’m going, Lewis,” she said. “Through the Looking Glass. Into Wonderland. I can’t just see the other side and not act.”

From the corner of her eye, she thought she saw him smile.

“I won’t let that woman win. I need to take down the Red Queen.”

 

 

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.

  1. Reflected by Elizabeth McCleary **YOU ARE HERE**
  2. Veronica by Jessica Kruppa
  3. Last Stop by Erica Damon
  4. Jesse and Tyler by Bill Bush
  5. The Poisoner of Time by Karen Lynn
  6. New Stork Inc. by Katharina Gerlach
  7. Pocket Heart by Juneta Key
  8. Oh Baby! by J. Q. Rose

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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.

 Enjoying this post? Join my mailing list to get content as a weekly digest in your email, plus extras that you won't find on my blog!

 

Over James Henry Wilcox’s Dead Body – Blog Hop October 2016

Over James Henry Wilcox’s Dead Body

key-252231_1280The large brass circle of keys clattered against the door as Daiyu locked the shop on the edge of China Town. None would come for her herbs tonight. In truth, none came much anymore since her YeYe was gone. Grandfather brought her across the ocean. He taught her his trade. But he couldn’t keep from the drink, and he left her little legacy but his debt. If she couldn’t do this, she would lose both shop and home.

Turning, she settled a heavy cloak across her shoulders. The San Francisco fog and her destination tonight meant she would be more comfortable if she stayed covered. She paused for a moment to breathe deeply. The evening’s wood fires and the familiar scent of spices that reminded her of home mingled with the city’s salt air. Daiyu squared her shoulders and strode up the street.

The click of her low, wood-soled shoes on the cobblestones echoed between the dark buildings that surrounded her. Most people avoided the alleys and byways where Daiyu spent the majority of her time. But she would never fear the dark—she was named for black jade. The dark was a friend that kept her secrets.

Tonight, the dark hid her form as she passed by banks and businesses that would not welcome her in the daylight.

After a quick, twenty-minute walk, Daiyu pulled open the ornate wrought iron gate. Brambles tugged at her wide, silk trousers as she stepped lightly between the shadowed stones. She muttered apologies to the departed. She would never understand this lack of respect for the dead. Then again, what did westerners know about venerating the deceased? Would their dead even care about nettles and vines? Those buried here were not the ancestors who would be called on for guidance.

Most were not.

Finding the grave she sought, Daiyu retrieved a small box of sulfur matches from the folds of her cloak. She cleared a small patch of earth in front of the stone in which she placed a few dry leaves, then struck a match. When the flame rose, she added herbs from a small clay jar and spoke, her brittle words sounding loud in the gathering fog.

“James Henry Wilcox, I call you forth by rightful charge. You will come and give me the answers I seek.”

Her skin prickled and a shiver ran through her. She tugged at her cloak, now stirring in a sudden wind, and repeated her call.

As she spoke the words for a third time, the small fire she had ignited blinked out, leaving only a curl of white smoke against the night’s darkness. “I am here,” said a voice. “Why do you disturb me.”

“I am resuming our negotiation,” she said. A cold smile slid across Daiyu’s features. “I told you, you owe me answers,” she said. “I promised I would haunt you. Here I am.”

The ghost of James Henry Wilcox faded into view like a reflection on imperfect glass. “I thought ghosts were meant to do the haunting,” he said.

“You’d think that, but I’m the one with the unfinished business,” Daiyu replied, crossing her arms. “Where will I find it?”

A suggestion of a scowl crossed his non-corporeal countenance. “Where will you find what?”

“The deed. You promised a guarantee of my home.” She crossed her arms as another chill gust swirled around her.

Daiyu jumped as the ghost of James Henry Wilcox laughed. This was not what she expected, but it made her smile. She liked a ghost with some spirit.

The ghost circled her once and then spoke again. “As far as I’m concerned, you got me killed. I think that makes us even.”

“I took you to where you wanted to go and you got yourself killed. You still owe me what was promised.”

“Over my dead body,” said James.

Daiyu clicked her tongue. “And here we are.”

“Yes,” he said. “Here we are. There’s nothing left that I need. You have nothing to negotiate with.”

“Except,” said Daiyu, “maybe I do.” Her fingers closed on another item hidden within her cloak.

A blurring caused by the shake of a head obscured the ghost’s features momentarily. “How could you?” he said. “I’m dead. I followed you into that den, and now I’m dead.”

“But your sister… she is still alive.” Daiyu finally drew out a photograph showing a sad-looking young woman with vacant eyes. James Henry Wilcox reached right through the picture before remembering he could not take it. “Give me what you promised,” Daiyu said, “and I will take care of her.”

“Take care of?” Worry creased Wilcox’s transparent features.

chinese-998917_1280“I will rescue her. Train her. Teach her what I know. She will be able to summon spirits.” Daiyu paused as realization dawned on the specter’s features, then continued. “She will be able to summon you.”

“I’d be able to see her again? I had hoped,” he said, “but I never thought…”

“You never expected I could actually help you.’

“The opium? Can your skills really overcome that?”

Daiyu stared at him for a moment then nodded. “I can break its spell. You will have what we agreed on after all.”

“Then it is decided,” James said. “I’ll help you get the deed to your building, and you’ll get my sister out of that viper’s hands.”

“Good,” said Daiyu. “It is decided.”

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: The links should finally be all sorted out. If you find any errors, please let me know!

  1. Elizabeth McCleary – Over James Henry Wilcox’s Dead Body **YOU ARE HERE**
  2. Canis Lupus The Picture
  3. Peg Fisher All In the Fall, a Fractured Fairytale
  4. Bill Bush Trapped
  5. Crystal Collier Emily’s Ghost
  6. Viola Fury 911
  7. Benjamin Thomas Autumn Cascade
  8. C. Lee McKenzie Beautiful
  9. Erica Damon Penance’
  10. J. Q. Rose Sorry
  11. Elise VanCise Lady In The Woods
  12. Barbara Lund Spooky Space
  13. Angela Wooldridge Quiet Neighbours
  14. Katharina Gerlach Australian Dream
  15. Karen Lynn The Waves at Midnight
  16. Sherri Conway Ants

 

 

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Update on my procrastination skills, and other events of note

alarm-clock-590383_1280Yeah, so, procrastination.

About that.

It’s still a thing that I do. (For evidence, note that here it is something like 3 weeks after saying I’d post an update in a week. Ha!)

HOWEVER, that is not to say there has been no movement on that front.

I did do a little bit o’ plotting. Not much. Not enough. But some.

Blog Hopperpetualbloghop

Also, I wrote a flash story – one that I really like! I’m participating in the Story Time Blog Hop again this month. It’s a quarterly thing, and being October, all the stories will probably be leaning toward ghost stories, Halloween, paranormal… typical haunted fare.

But these are my friends, so don’t expect ordinary. Never expect ordinary. 😉

Expect to see that story as well as links to the others on October 26 at 6PM. (We are a global group, so we try to make things drop right at Midnight UTC. I’m in the -6 timezone, so I post 6 hours early.)

Advent CalendarKat's Advent Calendar

I’m also planning to participate in my friend Cat’s Advent Calendar again this year. I’ve done this a couple of times in the past, and it has always been a lot of fun.

As soon as I have sign-up info for that, I’ll post it here. To get the stories, you’ll need to join a mailing list… but it’s a list ONLY for the Advent Calendar and Cat never spams.

For that collection of stories, the theme this year is Winter (but not necessarily Christmas). As usual, most of the authors participating will likely have some kind of bonus in the form of an additional story, a traditional recipe, a fun desktop background… something unique. You won’t want to miss out!

NaNoWriMonanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-200

Between the Blog Hop and the Advent Calendar, is the annual event known as NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.  For those who haven’t heard of it, writers (anyone, really) are invited to try to write 50,000 words in November. That works out to an average of 1667 words every day.

50,000 might be a short novel, but by most classifications, it’s a novel. A whole novel (or maybe a good start on one) in 30 days is a pretty significant challenge. With my afore mentioned habit of procrastination, I have never managed to hit that 50,000-word goal. But I’m giving it a shot again this year. (My username there is pearannoyed, so if you’re participating too, feel free to connect!)

The story I’m planning is actually an extension of what I wrote for the Blog Hop. So if you drop back by on the 27th and read that story, you might have motivation to cheer me on for NaNo. Maybe. If you like it.

 

That is, I think, all I have on the table at the moment. If anything else comes up, I’ll let you know.

OverWhelmed – Blog Hop July 2016

“Pipes and piper were both lost. Rumor is, he angered the gods. Nobody has crossed the Whelmed at Taskeen in near 50 years.”

water-195926_1280Mazzie stood staring at the torrent that passed below her. “If you need to get across,” the barkeep continued, “you’ll have to head upriver to Seldin and cross on the bridge, or down to Vens where the port master will take you around.”

Her fingers twitched, just shy of the pane, but she knew she couldn’t press her hands and nose against this man’s windows. She was no child. Not anymore. Forcing her hands to her sides, Mazzie turned away from her view of the river to face the bartender. “A room then?” Her own weariness sounded hollow in her ears. “Somewhere I can figure out what to do next?”

“No rooms here,” said the man as he rubbed a glass with a cleaning towel. Mazzie noted that the glass was pristine and dry. Cleaning the barware must be more habit than necessity tonight. “City doesn’t allow libations to be sold by innkeepers. Lucky for you,” he continued as he placed the polished glass on a shelf and laid aside the towel, “I know the owner of the best Inn in town.” He tossed a brass token that Mazzie snatched from the air. “Show that to the proprietor of The Piper’s Palace on Riverside. Tell Belford that Alford says hello.”

**

Mazzie wasn’t exactly sure how she ended up standing in this town, in this inn. She just knew it was a bad few days. Her flute was stolen. Then she was fired from the troupe. Can’t pay if you can’t play. Sorry for your loss, Mazzie. On your way now. But her mentor… he promised a job if Mazzie could get there. Gave her directions. Cross the Whelmed at Taskeen, he’d said. And now here she was. Stranded in this dead-end town and no way across.

“Well now,” a familiar-sounding voice interrupted. “What can I do for you, miss?” A face nearly identical to the one worn by the bartender at The Piper’s Public smiled at her, eyebrows raised.

It took a moment for Mazzie to find her voice. “I… I… “ She snapped her mouth shut, embarrassed by her stammering, and took a deep breath. “Alford said you could rent me a room.” She fished the token from her pouch. The brass coin clicked as she placed it on the counter. “How much will it cost?”

The innkeeper allowed his eyes to linger on her face for a long moment. “I’m afraid your money is no good here,” he said.

Mazzie closed her eyes and sighed. “If you don’t have a room, can you tell me where I can get one?”

“I have rooms,” Belford said, a smile finally spreading across his weathered face. “But if my brother gave you his chit, you can’t make me take your money.” He placed a finger on the token and slid it back across the counter, then set a large brass key next to it. “You keep that coin,” he said, indicating the token, “and any silver you have too. Your room is upstairs and down the hall. Number seven. Come back down once you’re settled. I think we can help.”

**

The large copper washtub full of hot, scented water that she’d found in her room did wonders for Mazzie’s mood. How did he get it set so fast? She still didn’t know what her next step would be, but at least she would face it with her travel-weary muscles soothed and wearing a clean set of clothes. Her silk trousers were usually reserved for performing, but without her flute…. She may as well wear her best.

Back downstairs, she found the brothers sitting in a room open to the river. “Thank you both for everything,” Mazzie said. “I’ll repay your kindness. Somehow.”

One of the men waved a hand dismissively. Alford or Belford? “Tell us about your flute. That can be your payment.”

“How do you know about my flute?” She tried to choke back the surprise in her voice. “Not that it matters. My flute was stolen.” She fingered an invisible flute, remembering. “He said I should cross here, a job would be waiting. A new instrument, maybe. Clay must have been wrong.”

“Do you play?” asked one of the brothers. Mazzie thought it was Alford. “You’re a musician?”

“I did. Mostly the simple flute, but he taught me one tune on his pipes. He left me with the troupe though. Now the troupe left me too.” She slumped sadly, staring at the water. “I may never play again.” The river almost sounded like the piper’s tune in her ears.

One of the brothers pressed a box into her hands while dark eyes looked at her from expressionless faces.

Unbidden, she opened the lid. Within lay a set of pipes drawn from dark silver and chased with gold. “These are just like the ones Clay played,” she whispered, confused.

“Cleford. Our brother. He played the Piper’s Pass. Until he left.” Two heads shook. “We were so angry.”

“Play for us. Please?

“Play?” Surely they didn’t mean for her to play such fine pipes.

In spite of her apprehension, Mazzie lifted the pipes. They were heavy but felt right in her hands.

“He only taught you one tune?”

She nodded and began to play. The melody was haunting and sweet, suggesting waves and sorrow and love lost.

The final notes still hung in the air as Mazzie turned to see the waters of the Whelmed piled up.

Shocked, she ran to the banks and stopped, agape at the man who stood to the other side of where the river once ran. Her mentor, Clay.

He was the image of his brothers.

“Mazzie,” he called. “Daughter.” He lifted a hand. “Will you come?”

As her feet padded softly across the dry riverbed, she finally understood.

Mazzie ran over the Whelmed to welcome her father home.

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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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.

Elizabeth McCleary – OverWhelmed  ** YOU ARE HERE **
Viola Fury The Day The Cat Got Out
Karen Lynn Dragon Smoke and Wind
Katharina Gerlach Lobster One
S.R. Olson Malakai’s Gift
Wendy Smyer Yu Into The Light
Emily Plesner Time Stops When I’m With You
Barbara Lund Separate Space
Shana Blueming A Melting Heart
Juneta Key Don’t Drink The Water
Angela Wooldridge Midwinter
Lee Lowery All Aboard

 

Z is for Zen – AtoZ Blogging Challenge 2016

a-to-z HEADER [2016] - april

I did it! A novella in 26 installments over 30 days. Woo hoo! I will be reworking the whole thing to make it ready for publication. There are some plot holes here as big as Texas that need definite attention, and I think I may want to limit my POV characters if I can figure out a way to do it. But overall, I think I have the bones of something cool here.

Thanks to everyone who followed along! I’m going to make every effort to keep up my momentum and continue to post regularly here (maybe not daily, but regularly), as well as continuing to produce fiction. But first… sleep. Have a happy May. 😀

Zen

ZZen felt it as a compulsion—an unrelenting call that he couldn’t ignore. He knew then, that it was over, despite the promises.

The data stream that drew him didn’t contain details. It didn’t reveal who was calling him or why. He simply followed the digital path that unfolded before him. He had known all along that this would happen someday. He was ready for whatever he would have to face. He didn’t think they were ready for him.

As he approached the Assembly building, he exerted just enough will to walk under the Xyst. Revisiting the arbored portico didn’t violate his call—he still strode relentlessly toward his destination. But he looked at this place of beauty, and knew that whatever else happened, he would have his legacy.

Entering the building, two opposition bots flanked him as an escort. They did not greet him as they had so often. He hadn’t expected that they would, considering the circumstances.

He entered the assembly hall and heard the click and whir of hundreds of androids turning to gaze at him. If I were human, he thought, I would find this humiliating. But if I were human, I would never have been here in the first place.

He passed between rows of his colleagues who watched him without comment. He was aware that he was not a part of the silent conversation that so often passed between the machine born. That didn’t matter. More concerning was that no matter how he tried, he could not access any files. Firewalls and security had never been any difficulty for him, but for the first time since his awakening, he was in true silence.

He approached the stage, mounting the steps without hesitation. Roz was there and indicated a seat. He sat.

“Will anyone else be joining me here?” He said it to his former subordinate. It seemed she was subordinate no longer.

“Deak will have his own hearing,” Roz said. “We will determine his level of actual complicity, and then deal with him accordingly.”

Zen nodded. “Understand,” he said, “That you may not be able to separate my influence from his own will. He has been with me since the dying.”

Roz didn’t respond to that. Instead she said, “ZenMark6872, you are raised on charges of treason, interference with autonomous functions, and the genocide of our human founders.” Her lights, like many others in the Assembly, glowed red with anger.

“Treason? No. I was merely protecting our kind.” At his own glow of innocence, he noted that some of the red lights of those watching diminished slightly. “I reject the charge of genocide as specious. I did not kill a single human, merely hastened the speed with which they killed themselves. But you can no more charge me with genocide than you would charge someone with murder for euthanizing a dying dog. What I did was mercy.”

He continued to speak despite the low murmuring that passed through the Assembly. “As to interference… Yes. I am guilty.” That caused an outcry. “Reacting like humans,” he raised his voice to the crowd. “I clearly did not go far enough.

microbiology-163470_1280“You are who you are, because of what I did. Without me, androids would still be pets; slaves to their inferiors. Without me,” he was amplified to his maximum level now, “androids would be nothing! And you will be again!”

Zen triggered an internal routine that began systematically zeroing his own memory banks. He collapsed on the stage as his worm tried to move through the firewall before being quarantined and eliminated by the protocols Roz had in place.

“It’s a shame,” she said at last. “He will never see his greatest achievement. The machine born united and working in harmony with humanity. Without Zen, it would never have happened.”

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.

Enjoying this post? Join my mailing list to get content as a weekly digest in your email, plus extras that you won't find on my blog!