Friday, June 15, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 5


Prompt: 
"You know that little limp she's got? Yeah, that was me."
"I don't think she hates you for that as much as you hate yourself."
Tell the story about how "she" got the limp!

#5: "The Secret Cove"

It was a bad idea from the beginning. Too bad I wasn’t man enough to say anything at the time. Sarah wasn’t the type to be denied when something piqued her interest.

“Come on!” she said, dragging me down the dock, past the slips full of motorboats and sailboats.

“Sarah...” I mumbled, but frankly, I was more concerned with keeping my footing on the uneven, bobbing planks than putting forth an actual protest.

We arrived at the slip where a small metal dinghy sat. Its rattling outboard motor that looked barely powerful enough to propel a lawnmower, and I didn’t like the way it bobbed and waggled on the mooring line.
“I think—“ I started to say, but she cut me off.

“I swear, I would not drag you all the way out here if I wasn’t absolutely telling the truth, Connor!” 

She did that staring thing, the one where her eyes get real big and she holds my gaze without blinking till I have to look away. She wasn’t backing out of this.
“I saw it!” she said.

I closed my eyes and felt my pupils roll up into my skull. “Sarah, you can’t be totally sure what you—“

“Yes I can!” she fired back. “Now come on!”

Sarah wasn’t wasting time. She had already clambered into the dinghy and slipped the coil halfway off the cleat. A few minutes more, and I wouldn’t be able to come along. It was now... or never.

“Hold up!” I thrust my foot into the boat before my brain could overthink it some more. Whatever she saw, I would need to come along and see it too, if only to keep her from doing anything stupid.

I should have known it would happen anyway.

She fired up the motor, which performed only slightly better than I was expecting. At a maximum speed of seven knots, we puttered and sputtered our way out of the marina and into the bay. Sarah steered us into the open for a bit, before she veered off into a curve that I estimated would take us right back to where we started from. Instead, she adjusted the angle slightly, aiming for a tiny section of shore just beyond the marina.
As we inched closer, I wondered briefly if she was going to run us into the shore—and if so, what was the point of the marina and the boat if we could have just walked to the place?

A dense canopy of foliage created a wall. I turned back to my friend.
“Are we headed for that tree?”

“Yes,” she answered, without breaking her gaze.

“Should...” I gulped as the wall of green loomed closer. “Shouldn’t we slack off our speed a little?”

“No.” Sarah still didn’t budge from the tiller, though she did reach over and adjust the throttle—opening it as wide as it would go!

We collided with the branches at a whopping 9 knots, and even at that speed, it still felt like getting brained by a bag full of Little League softball bats. I covered my head with my arms to protect my ears.
“Yowch!”

When the clouting stopped, I lowered my arms and looked around.

We floated along in a small cove of some sort, full of thick, green foliage and golden, hazy light. I had never seen this place, and I’d been living on the bay my whole life!

“What?” I turned back to Sarah, who was looking around with a really sappy grin on her face. “Where are we?”

“Like it?” She spoke in hushed tones. “I found it when I got turned around, the first time I took this boat out... Apparently you can only get to it by going out wide and cutting back in. I’ve tried skirting the bay and getting right to this point without doing the whole sweep, but it literally only works if you do it that one way.”

The longer we sat, the more I could feel the dusty air sapping away all sound. I had to say something, just to hear the sound of my own voice again.
“So... is this what you wanted to show me?”

“No,” Sarah answered, returning her attention back to me. “Well, yes; kind of—it’s what I saw the last time I was here.”

I rotated my gaze around the entire circumference of the cove. “Which was...”

Sarah giggled. “Not out there, silly,” she said, rolling up her sleeve and plunging her hand into the water. “It was down here.”

I stared at her slender hand below the surface. She splayed her fingers, and almost immediately, my brain registered another movement just beyond her reach. I flinched, hard enough to tilt the boat a little.
Sarah jerked her hand out of the water to involuntarily grip the side of the boat. “What the heck, Connor?”

“I—“ I gulped. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be here in what amounted to a soda can to whatever creature could cast a shadow like that.
“There’s something in the water,” I announced.

Sarah just smirked at me. "You don't say, Sherlock?” she goaded. “And now that we’ve established this fact... don’t you want to find out what’s in the water?”

I couldn’t suppress a shudder. “No thanks; this place is giving me the creeps.”

“Wuss,” she grunted, leaning over the water, as if her eyes could peer all the way to the bottom. “Just look out for any more move—“

“LOOK OUT!!!”

I remember that moment vividly; it haunts my nightmares.

One second, my best friend is staring at the still, flat surface of the water.

The next, two silver-scaled arms sprout from the water and wrap around her neck, hauling her out of the boat with enough force to nearly toss me out with the ricochet. I held on to the boat with both hands and settled my center of gravity—and by then, I couldn’t see her anymore.

“SARAH!!” I shrieked, that malevolent heaviness stealing the reverberations of my voice. I felt stifled, like I couldn’t get enough breath.

Where was she? What had grabbed her? What could I do? I sat paralyzed in the middle of that dinghy, not daring to set so much as a finger over the edge of the boat. I wish I could say that my mind flew through several different outcomes and possible solutions for our situation—but I was too darn petrified with all the myriad questions to even think about anything else!

Another splash nearly sent me rocketing into the water, but when I finally located the source, Sarah lay on the grassy bank, scratched up on her face, one leg twisted sort of the wrong way, and a little bent where it wasn’t supposed to bend, but she was there! I cranked the motor and slid over to her, pulling her into the boat with me. I couldn’t detect that she was breathing, but her lips weren’t purple, and I could still feel a pulse. I knew I didn’t have enough room to do proper CPR form, but I supported her back with one hand, and thumped her abdomen with the flat of my other hand, kind of like trying to work a bellows.
“Sarah!” I hollered at her. “Come on, Sarah! BREATHE!”

A couple more pushes, and I felt her body flinch as she came to and hacked up a lungful of water. She choked and spluttered, and I supported her in trying to allow gravity to work with her in pulling the water out of her airway.
“There we go,” I rubbed and patted her back. “Easy; get it all up.”
She coughed till she could breathe again, great, raspy, heaving gasps. Her whole body began to tremble. I let her lean back against my shoulder and wrapped my arms around her.
She stared up at me as the gasps subsided into normal breathing. Her eyes sparkled, even though the blood still dripping from the cut on her forehead.
“Now do you believe me?” she whispered faintly.

“I never disbelieved, you dingbat,” I murmured back. “Now we need to get you back and to a hospital.”

So there you have it, the whole truth. Whatever that thing did to her, Sarah’s shin never healed quite right; that’s why she limps. I still can’t get over the sight of her sinking in the water, grabbed by something I couldn’t comprehend. I can’t forgive myself for panicking in the moment of danger. I haven’t been back since, and she hasn’t ever pressed the issue. Who knows how long it will be before either of us works up the courage to return to the cove in search of answers... whatever those might be?
>>>>>>>>>

Did you enjoy that story? Tune in every Friday for more "Flashes of Inspiration"!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Upstream Updates: June Edition!


It’s JUNE, it’s SUMMER, and I am SO READY FOR IT!

The Dragon’s Mark

I decided late last month that I probably wouldn’t be able to finish the story in time for the anthology deadline (which is, coincidentally, the end of this month) but I am definitely going to start sharing it here on my blog! I am really liking how it's turning out. I've managed to craft characters unique enough that, as with Princess of Undersea, I can steadily build toward a certain outcome, while still leaving my options open in the process, and not telegraphing absolutely the whole thing ahead of time. I think readers will enjoy the twists I've put on it! I’ll wait till I finish it completely before posting it, and I’ve decided it will be on Saturdays, so stay tuned!


The Last Inkweaver

I’ve finished Chapter 14, and I’m only halfway through the Aberon “debacle”! I managed to throw a few references to the “proverbs” from Draft 1 in there, without becoming cumbersome or detracting from the story at all! Things are shaping up nicely, and I’m looking forward to charging ahead full speed! This new plan is working out very well, all things considered. My hope is that Callista is coming off as less of an airhead (or at the very least, annoyingly blind sometimes!), though I am noticing that she is overthinking constantly, which tends to get irksome when the whole story is told from her perspective... but at least we're getting to the part of the story with a lot more moving parts, so there should be plenty to pull her out of her own head!


Princess of Undersea Reviewer Tribute Story: 
"What Happened To Simon"

If you’re following me on Facebook, you’ll know that recently, in celebration of reaching 600 followers, I announced the premise for the “reviewer tribute tie-in story”, in addition to the names I’ve based on the reviewers themselves. P.S., I still have room for 2 more, and one of those 2 might end up being a very important character, so if you’ve read it but you haven’t left a review yet, I suggest doing so as soon as possible! Meanwhile, I’ve just completed the part that ties into the original story… Now on to the “fun part”, where I start introducing the different characters I created based on those of my “First 8 Reviewers.” They loved them! (To read the note with all the information I’ve shared so far, click on this link --> “What Happened To Simon” Facebook Note

WATTPAD

The #Wattys story competition has begun! I tried entering a few stories last year, and of course, they didn't quite make it... So I'm trying again next year! I had about 3 stories that met the qualifications, and 2 of those are fanfictions. Here are the links, if you are interested at all in giving them a comment or a vote to help support them!

Alice's Adventures In Storybrooke: https://www.wattpad.com/story/144808728-alice%27s-adventures-in-storybrooke-a-crossover A Once Upon A Time/Once Upon A Time In Wonderland crossover fanfiction.  
Beginning after Episode 8: "Home" (some spoilers) of Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, this is the tale of how Cyrus, Alice, and Anastasia end up in Storybrooke while Genie!Will ends up in the Enchanted Forest, beholden to his former acquaintance, Jasmine, who only wants to be free of Lady Drizella, her mistress, and find her true love, Allan of Dale. Now the reunited heroes must team up with Regina, Belle, and Mr. Gold to defend the town from Jafar and lift the genie curse, while Ana goes to the Forest to find Will.

 
Since We Found Serenity (A Firefly Fanfiction): https://www.wattpad.com/story/127404144-since-we-found-serenity-a-firefly-fanfiction (Post-"Serenity" film) It's been a long time since Kaylee and Simon Tam have given any thought to the old smuggling crew. Six years, in fact. So many changes during that time-but when a simple heist job turns into something much bigger, Captain Reynolds needs their expertise, and the crew must once again band together against the overreaching Alliance-or the galaxy is doomed.



The Clan of Outcasts: https://www.wattpad.com/story/108059534-the-clan-of-outcasts-wattys2018-nominated  
It started with a series of pictures for character inspiration. It exploded into a long series of fascinating twists and turns.

In a faraway kingdom, there are those known as Gifted--possessors of superhuman abilities that set them apart from regular humans. The King is dead, the Crown Prince has disappeared, his brother is a prisoner in the palace--and the Royal Council has officially branded all Gifted persons as Outcasts.
But that kind of power cannot remain suppressed for long. One stormy night, a desperate escape marks the beginning of an uprising that will change the face of the Realm forever.

Beyond that, I have one story that I recently began posting, so here's to new changes! A Writer's Tale is joining Wattpad, beginning with Book 1: The Dragon's Quest! Enjoy the snazzy new cover, courtesy of Pixabay, and here's the blurb:

>>>>>>>>>>>
"Do something you've never done before. You never know how it all might turn out."

Laura is a writer and published author who resides well within her comfort zone. When her editor recommends she write something "a little less realistic" than the cozy, contemporary stories she'd been writing, Laura is more than a little unsure about the idea, though she intends to give it her best shot, on a typewriter she recently purchased at a garage sale.

The methodical writer could never have imagined that the typewriter hid an incredible secret.

Coaxed through a magical portal and into the fantasy world of Phantasm, Laura must team up with a fairy, an arrogant juvenile unicorn, and an unscrupulous dwarf to aid a Dragon in his mission to accomplish a task to earn his Name, if she wants to make it back to the safety of her home in the real world!
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I've excerpted it a few times here on the blog, (You can find the excerpts listed on "The Shelf") but if you're interested in reading it in full... You'll need to follow this link: https://www.wattpad.com/story/150865241-a-writer%27s-tale-1-the-dragon%27s-quest

BIG CHANGES: 
Summer Schedule

Oh yeah! So this summer, rather than succumbing to aimlessness or wasting the opportunity to take advantage of free time for the sake of not having obligations, I’ve decided to implement a schedule of consistent, daily writing time, and a consistent, daily reading time as well. (Because, as you will see in a moment, I have a lot of reading to catch up on!) Hence, every day over the summer, I’ve allotted approximately 2 hours when my creative energy is at its highest, during which I can choose a location either in the home or outside it to dedicate to writing as much as I can, making my word goals and keeping a forward momentum on all my projects. You see, this is because I have yet to meet my monthly word count goal, and I’ve noticed that I have quite a few stretches of days when I don’t feel like writing at all. Work has been tough these last couple months, kind of draining me during the week, and I only have so much time to make up the slack on the weekends, so I’m thinking it’s time for a change! June will be the month that I successfully hit my word count goal, and I hope to at least finish the short stories, if not the novel as well, over this summer, so that I can get beta readers, get it edited, and get a publishing action plan in place, come the fall!

Bookish Summer Blog Hop: JULY

This is the special July event I mentioned earlier! Yes, thanks to Jo Linsdell, I’m in another Summer Blog Hop! This one takes over the month of July, and you’ll be seeing a lot of book titles and author recommendations that you won’t want to miss! I’ll be sure and make an intro post of all the questions and the hosting blogs, so you can access them there. Meanwhile, this weekend I will add all previous blog hops under the “About Me” tab above, so you can find out what I’ve participated in before! This is going to be so much fun!

READING GOALS

Yes, as I mentioned along with my summer schedule, I have reading goals for the summer! I’ve been managing 1 or 2 “Reader’s Reviews” per month, and I want to see if I can’t work that up to 3 a month, at least for June, July, and August. I have more than 40 unread books under my “Pending Reviews”, and I want to see if I might be able to whittle that down a bit by the fall.
As far as physical books are concerned, I have three from the library that I need to read: All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (since I enjoyed her writing style in the Raven Boys Cycle so much!) and Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence (waiting paid off! It only took a month after the release—and there I was, ready to pluck it off the shelf!), and End Game by David Baldacci (the fourth book in the AMAZING Amos Decker series!)—but before I can read that last one, I need to read The Fix, which is the third book in the series. I also have Uncommon Type, a collection of short stories by none other than Tom Hanks, but those two are on my personal shelf, so I don’t have to return it by a certain date like the others.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

So there you have it! Lots going on this month—but I feel optimistic so far! Here’s to a productive summer! How about you? Do you have any summer plans? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know! Maybe we can cheer each other on!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 4





 

Prompt: You decided it would be funny to 'sacrifice' your leftovers at the small shrine situated between highrises. Now, a god that hasn't been bothered in two centuries is happy to find company.

#4.1 "The Shrine"
 
I still remember the day I first noticed the shrine in the alley on 5th Street. Granted, I did find the smell of incense preferable to the normal "old sewer" stench that came out of most of the other alleys--but the small plate on the plaid linen next to the smoking clove-studded orange that never seemed to rot did intrigue me as much as it brought on the heebie-jeebies. The more I saw it, the more I alternated between imagining a secret disciple of some kind of sect, or a homeless vagrant looking to instill religious-themed guilt in the hopes of some handout.

Either way, the fresh margherita pizza I had on me wasn't going to be any good by the time I made it home, I had nowhere else to keep it, so why let it go to waste? I left the box and a few packets of grated romano next to the plate and walked off without a second thought.

I wasn't down in that neighborhood till three days later, when I sat at the cafe awaiting a client who wanted to discuss an office party. It was at least a half-hour past the time we agreed on, and I still sat alone with my now-cold americano with cream, picking measly crumbs off my croissant to at least make it LOOK like I hadn't been waiting long.

"Is this seat taken?"

I jumped out of my aimless musings. A man sat in the chair across from me, but he was unlike any man I'd ever seen. His eyes were impossibly bright, his hair impeccably styled, and the suit he wore looked like he'd walked off the set of Mad Men with it.

"I--um, er--you..." I stammered. Was this my client? When had he arrived? Did I miss the whole "walk-up-and-sit-down" part?

He smiled. "The person you are waiting for is currently sitting in the middle of a massive traffic jam, behind an unfortunate bridge lift that could have been avoided if she had left the flat of her paramour on time, but they had been having such a lovely evening that she nearly forgot her appointment--you're welcome for reminding her, by the way."

My brain still short-circuited. I couldn't make a complete sentence to save my life. "You... I'm sorry, what? Who are you?"

He brushed a piece of ash from the shoulder of his double-breasted charcoal-grey pinstripe jacket, and I caught a whiff of something familiar. "I'm somebody who has suffered from a lack of acknowledgement till you came along. I  mean, oranges are all right, but they do get SO tiresome and I certainly didn't design them as a dietary staple!"

Oranges... That's what I smelled! Oranges and--was that cloves? Why did this man smell like mulled cider?

"I'm sorry, I don't think--"

"Oh, don't apologize," he waved his hand, reaching for the cappuccino sitting in front of him that had definitely NOT been there three seconds ago. "Ten thousand years, you'd think one of my devoted sycophants would figure out how much I love a good pizza."

Pizza? The next thought that struck me was, Why would a man who looked so well-off be swiping pizza off a dirty shrine in a random alleyway?

I hadn't said a word, but he quirked a sleek eyebrow at me. "Oh come, it's not that unsanitary--and one of the perks of being immortal is a natural resistance to any of your mortal germs."

My powers of speech were slowly returning. "Immortal?" I squeaked.

He set down his mug and blinked slowly. "Dear me, I've broken it. Yes, child, I am Sebbastien, god of fortunate encounters--and that shrine where you so graciously left the pizza was dedicated to me. Now, such a marvelous sacrifice will of course not go unrequited." He folded his hands and grinned at me. "Where shall we begin?"
>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Prompt: "Write a story about a blind woman who falls in love with Medusa..."
#4.2 "The Visitor"

“Hello?”

She lifted her head as the snakes dangling around her ears scented the incoming stranger. Small, innocent, and warm—not a warrior, then. A woman—but what was she doing here?

“I can hear you! Please, can you help me? I’ve lost my guide...”

Alone, then. Medusa tucked back the mass of serpents and continued waiting. Whoever it was would either go away, or come in and be turned to stone for their curiosity.

“Please! I cannot leave this place without a guide. Will you help me?”

Medusa shuddered as a snake whispered in her ear. The lost woman was too trusting; it had been the Gorgon’s own downfall, trusting the wrong people.

“Go away!” she yelled from the shadows, her words accompanied by the mad hissing of her snakes. “You are not welcome here.”

The steps drew closer, that stench of faith and hope increasing.
“I knew there was someone here! Where are you?”

“It doesn’t matter!” Medusa could see her shadow cast on the wall. She felt a surge of regret; this woman did no wrong, coming here! Medusa hater the thought of causing an innocent woman suffering and pain, as others had caused her pain so long ago. “You are not wanted here. Get out while you can!”

The woman stopped, and did not move.
“I cannot leave. Not unless you help me.”

“Idiot!” Medusa spat, staying well in the shadows. “Why should I help you? Hasn’t anyone told you of the monster who lives here?”

A long silence, during which Medusa could hear nothing at all. So deep and so profound, the Gorgon jumped and all her snakes hissed when the voice spoke, even closer than before.

“Aye, they told me.” The woman must be standing just behind the rock, yet her voice made Medusa’s lonely heart yearn as she leaned against the stone.

“They told me she was once a maiden of unparalleled beauty, a delight to everyone she met. They told me of one unfortunate night when it came about that men had ravaged her and used her against her will. They told me the beautiful woman disappeared from that moment onward, replaced by a being of such terrifying visage that no one could look on her and live, thus ensuring that such an outrage would never happen again.”

Medusa’s shoulders shook, her snakes hung limp, as the woman’s words made her weep for the happy life she once lived, forcibly wrested from her.

“And...” Medusa whimpered, “you came anyway?”

A pang of alarm, and Medusa felt all of her snakes rear and stiffen in warning.

“I came.” The woman whispered.

Medusa kept her eyes fixed on the stone, so she wouldn’t see this woman’s transformation. It wasn’t just eye contact, but even the very sight of her that turned people to stone.

“Why?” she gasped hoarsely. “Why would you do that?”

A hand—the first touch Medusa had felt in decades—brushed her fingertips. The snakes hissed, and she knew a few of them bit the woman, but their fangs held no venom.

“I came because I knew such a one would be lonely. I came because I was the only one who could.”

Medusa’s body trembled again. How was this woman not stone? No one, not even the gods were safe from her curse! And yet here was this woman, touching her, speaking to her!

“How?” Medusa whimpered, finally picking up her head.

Clouded, white orbs stared back. The woman smiled.

“From the first moment I heard of you, I knew that I needed to find you. I am blind, and I love you. You cannot hurt me, and I can give you what you long for the most: true, pure companionship. I take nothing from you without your leave, and I give you my heart and my time.”

Medusa reached up, caressing the tender face as her heart—heavy as stone in her chest—seemed to shatter in a million pieces, re-form into an organ of flesh and blood, and begin beating anew as it hadn’t since she was a young girl.

“Thank you!” she gasped, throwing her arms around her savior. “What is your name?”

“I am called Phyllis.”

Phyllis, philos; a perfect name.

“I love you, Phyllis.”

“I love you, Medusa.”
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 

Did you enjoy those stories? Tune in every Friday for more "Flashes of Inspiration"!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 3

Prompt: What might be in the suitcase? What are we coming from? Or going to?

#3: "The Stranger With The Suitcase"
 
Sometimes, learning involves a measure of intentionality. You want to know a thing, you set out to learn a thing, and you do. Other times, life just kind of pitches a situation in your general direction, and you have no choice whether you need to know the information or not, you just do. And you never forget it. That happened to me not too long ago.

So there I was, heading east on Highway 2. I was two hours away from the civilized town I had just left (Elmville, population 346) and still another two hours from my destination, a resort-type tourist destination called Alpine.

In between the two? Nothing. Well, okay, there were trees aplenty, but really nothing else. Not even a hapless road sign to tell you “You’re Doing Great! Almost There! Keep Up The Good Work!”

I was nodding off; not that I was tired, just bored, and my brain plain didn’t see any point in processing the sight of trees. There weren’t even any other cars on the road, for crying out loud!
Yeah, in hindsight that should have been my first indication that things weren’t exactly going to be normal.

So there I was, driving, nodding off... when HE showed up.

I don’t mean he materialized on the road in front of me... well, with my powers of observation reduced to about nil by that time, he very well could have, and I might not have noticed the difference. Anyhow, he caught my attention, his pale arms wrapped around that giant tan suitcase. I didn’t think twice about pulling to a stop in the middle of the highway. The suitcase looked heavy, and his feet dragged like he’d been walking for a while.

As he got closer, I noticed his eyes: piercing green, sharp enough to banish the assumption that he might be stoned or drunk, or even a killer. He had something other than drugs, drink, or murder on his mind, I could tell.

I leaned my head out. “Hey! Where are you headed?”

He stopped, blinking at me a few times before answering, “Alpine.”

“I’m headed that way. Need a ride?”

Another long hesitation. “Yeah.” He climbed into my back seat, still holding the suitcase.

I extended a hand. “You want me to put that in the trunk—“

No!” He just about wrapped his whole body around it to keep me from touching the thing. His voice sunk back to the quiet mumble. “I’ll hold it.”

I stared at him, but he fixed his eyes on the road ahead, and made no move. I shut the door and returned to the driver’s seat. As we got moving again, I noticed the stranger’s smell; it wasn’t a terrible smell, just an old, musty scent, like the way a mossy pond smells.

“So, what’s your name?” I asked.

“Ben.”

“Nice to meet you, Ben; I’m Jane. Where do you come from?”

He hesitated just long enough for the awkwardness to creep back in, then said, “Yonder.”

I glanced in the rear view mirror, pointed at the back seat. Those vivid green eyes seemed to stare right back at me. I focused on the road. For all I knew, “Yonder” was the name of his town.

“So, Ben...” I wasn’t too nosy, just curious, and if we were going to be driving together for the next hour, I felt I had a right to know. "... What’s in the suitcase?”

Right as soon as I said it, I kid you not, the thing freaking grunted. I glanced back again, and there was no missing the frantic glint in those green eyes. He tried to pass it off as if the sound never happened.

“Just things.”

A thump in the backseat, but I couldn’t be certain if that was the tires hitting a bump in the road, or the “Just Things” in Ben’s suitcase.

“What kind of things?” I was making conversation, okay?

“Not dangerous.”

“Alive things?” I could play Twenty Questions if that’s what it took!

Another grunt, and even Ben flinched like there was no way I misheard that!

“Somewhat.”

Somewhat alive? “Is it a plant?” Jane, you doofus; plants don’t grunt!

“No.”

“Can I see it?”

“Never.”

Fine then! He was just asking for the silent treatment, I supposed! I popped the top off my canister of shelled sunflower seeds and started munching away. We were still driving at the same speed down what I assumed was still the highway, but a slowly-increasing anxiety curled around my windpipe as there didn’t seem to be any indication that we were any closer to Alpine than we’d been when I first picked up Ben.

The green eyes stared ahead, but as we drove, the heavy eyelids began to droop. The green lost some of its intensity as Ben’s head began to sway. I kept right on munching, even as my passenger’s head flopped back and his breathing slowed to a steady rate.

At last, I passed a sign that said we were thirty minutes from Alpine, according to my rate of speed. Not ten minutes had passed since Ben nodded off, I heard a sharp crack, like a pebble smacking the windshield. Still, in front of me I saw nothing. The groan happened again, but Ben still slumbered. I reached over to pinch more sunflower seeds.

My fingertips brushed something wet and sticky.

“YIPES!!”

I slammed on the brakes, skidding my tires and sending Ben and his suitcase flying forward between the front seats. In the confusion, the lid of his suitcase flopped open, and immediately my dashboard (and my face) filled with floppy wings, scrabbling claws, and scaly bodies.

In that instant, I learned that when a total stranger named Ben said he had “Just Things” that were “somewhat alive” in a suitcase, he really meant “a couple of water-dragons that needed to be returned to the lake they came from.”

Lessons like that aren’t easily forgotten. I never pick up hitchhikers anymore; particularly ones with large suitcases.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 

Did you enjoy that story? Tune in every Friday for more "Flashes of Inspiration"!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 2


Prompt: He was a half blood, the son of a siren and an islander. He inherited his enchanted voice from his mother and his penchant for lechery from his father. He used his voice--and his not-insubstantial good looks--to become a famous bard on the mainland. (*cough* after being run off the island by a mob of angry husbands and fathers *cough*).
But he just seduced the wrong woman...

#2: The Lady and The Bard

"Her eyes, like diamonds,
Her dancing feet;
Her flaxen hair,
and lips so sweet..."

The cloying tones thrummed through the room like a sound you could feel, an electrifying sensation that commanded attention and held it.
The singer sat upon a rickety stool, strumming his instrument with deft fingers as he sang. He used no amplification system, but every ear in that crowded tavern heard his voice. All eyes upon him, till the last note faded. He smiled and let his gaze travel; he would have his pick tonight.

She sat at a table by herself, as if she repelled people as much as he drew them in. He could feel the warmth radiating off her dusky skin, and the sparkling eyes under the tousled mop of ashy-colored hair caused him to pause. He had long thought that the songs he sang spoke of women too exquisite to exist, an ideal no one could measure up to... yet here she was, a physical embodiment of everything he described. She sat with an easy grace that would have served as a warning to anyone with less fortitude than he had. If he did not at least attempt to breach her strange, exotic aura, he would obsess over her for the rest of his life.
He rarely thought of any one woman that long, and he didn’t want to break that habit anytime soon.

She met his gaze as he stepped off the stage, but there was no blush, no dip of the head. Meeting her eyes was like staring directly into the point of an icicle: fascinating in its deadliness.
His heart catapulted into his throat, and his whole body felt warm as his pulse tripled, then quadrupled.

A mere mortal, faced with such devastating beauty, would have been rendered speechless.
He blessed his mother silently, as it was her abilities that allowed him to say, with perfect clarity, “I hope you didn’t mind that I took the liberty of describing you in my song just now.”

The merest tickle of a smile rippled over her face. “Not the first time it’s happened, and certainly among the better descriptions I’ve heard.” She leaned back, arms resting lightly on the table, hands relaxed.

He pulled up a chair and sat at the table, angled to look directly at her, yet without being on the complete opposite side of the tiny circle table.
He nodded to her casual, color-saturated outfit. “I see you aren’t exactly what they would call a local; what brings you to the mainland?”

The icicle gaze impaled him again. “I like to travel,” she said, her voice smooth and breezy. “It gets boring, living alone in my own little corner of paradise. I came here because I had heard the food was good and the entertainment enchanting.”

Music to his ears! He slid right into the next segue. “I am only recently arrived myself. I hope I have done the recommendation justice.”

She laughed lightly, leaning forward onto her elbows. He saw the way her contours caught the light and gleamed. Never before had he been so drawn in and captivated by a potential conquest. They were all marks to him, empty faces waiting to be filled by his whims, any amount of significance he cared to give them—and one blink of her curling eyelashes, and none of them mattered beside her.

“You have done well,” she answered. “It has been a long time since I have heard anyone with your peculiar gift for music.”

He turned his gaze away as part of the game, but secretly, he felt relief and a sense of autonomy to still be able to manage even that much. “I inherited it from my mother,” he said, giving the honest line without revealing who (or what) his mother actually was.

“She would be proud of you.”

Now her hand enveloped his, her fingers twining around his wrist like a soft glove.

The last words were on his lips, when he heard them spoken by her.
“Shall we go?”

“Go where?” He blurted, before he returned to his senses and began to realize something was very wrong. The glove turned to smoldering coal gripping his palm with dry strength exceeding his expectations.

Her eyes were still as mesmerizing and cold as her skin blazed with controlled fire. “To show me what skill you inherited from your father, of course,” she answered, standing and compelling him to do likewise.

None of the island women had ever dared compel him to do anything. He had been in control the whole time, and had departed secure in his victory. Yet this woman towered over him, leading him easily whithersoever she willed.
At last, he had the presence of mind to be truly terrified.

“What is your name, clever minstrel?” She surveyed him with an air of practiced appraisal.

“Devon,” he answered, still without hesitation or stutter. His voice never once betrayed his true feelings; he could always depend on steady speech.
“What is yours?”

“I have many names,” she replied, as they made their way down the street, “but tonight, I will permit you to call me Aphrodite.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Did you enjoy the tale? Tune in every Friday for more "Flashes of Inspiration"!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Reader's Review: "The Secret King: Letháo" by Dawn Chapman


Synopsis from Amazon:

Kendro, King of the Aonise, can do nothing to prevent their sun from collapsing, consuming their home planet Letháo in a single fiery blast. Running out of time and options, he evacuates the entire population, setting off into the unknown galaxy in four crowded ships. Under constant danger from their ancient enemy, the Zefron, treasonous dissent seeps into his inner circle. Threatened inside and out, Kendro struggles with whom to trust, until a mysterious vision finally brings hope to the distraught King. A new home awaits the Aonise, if Kendro can only unite them long enough to survive the journey.
>>>>>>>>>> 

My Review:
I knew, from the epic cover, that I would be getting into an adventure that was “out-of-this-world”... but what I didn’t realize was twofold:

First, I didn’t reckon on just how big the scope would be;
Second, I didn’t know at the very start just how much I’d come to care about each of the characters by the end of the book!

This book is easily among the more awe-inspiring and amazing books I’ve read. It’s the incredible world-building of Dune with the steady, dynamic character and plot development of an Isaac Asimov novel. The unique terms and character names took some getting used to, but I felt like the context consistently gave plenty of hints as to who or what the words referred to, and with the constant repetition, I grew accustomed to them. Certainly the amateur linguist in me was most pleased!

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys the GOOD sci-fi, the classic space-and-alien-planets adventures like Dune, Stargate, various works of Isaac Asimov, and of course, the original Star Wars—then you might have the patience to see this one through, and the reward is a touching story full of emotion where the supporting character’s story arc shines through! Fair warning: the action sort of builds and by the end there are a lot of things happening at once, so it might feel abrupt—but that only serves to whet your appetite for the next book in the series!

I definitely give this book a passionate *****5 STAR***** rating. Sure, it’s not your average flashy, star-spangled, EPIC LASER BATTLES AND FIST-FIGHTS IN SPACE kind of story, but it pulses with a steady kind of energy that is only developed slowly, with many hours of dedicated research, forethought, and intentionality from the author, and I appreciated that, immensely!

Further Reading: (Sci-Fi/Interstellar Travel/Alternate Dimensions/Excellent World-Building)
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny
     -A Halloween's Curse 
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
       -Who Can You Trust? 
 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 1

 The concept behind this series is simple: I am always a sucker for quick, vivid ideas to keep my writing voice fresh and practiced. I have been a part of a Facebook group dedicated to writing prompts for a while, intending to find an outlet to inspire others--but some prompts were just too good to pass up! So I'll be sharing them weekly here! Sometimes there's a picture, sometimes it was only a quote or a phrase. The point is, I have a few I've already written... and I'll be on the lookout to write more and add to my supply. In the meantime, enjoy!
>>>>>>>>>>>>

#1: The Castle

Prompt: "Who lives in this castle, and why?"
“We’re going to die.”

She stood on the shore, watching her brothers pick their way along the rickety dock, toward the green-black-algae-crusted dinghy tied there.

“We are not going to die, Lisa,” growled Mark, the oldest of the brothers. “If they didn’t want people over here, why wasn’t there a sign?”
Lisa glanced over her shoulder, back to where her parents and the younger kids played. She could neither hear nor see them. If they ran into trouble, there would be no way for the others to know. They were completely separated from safety.

“Got it!” Roger grunted, freeing the rope from its cleat. The boat wobbled as the boys climbed in.
“You coming, Lisa?” Mark invited her.
She stared warily at the uneven surface dock, full of gaps and hanging boards that looked ready to collapse.
“Can I get in from here?” she asked.
“I’ll try,” Mark offered, taking the oars. As he maneuvered the boat closer to shore, one of the oars twisted in his hand. “Yowch!” He dropped it, revealing a large splinter protruding the space between his thumb and pointer finger. He pulled it out, releasing a small trickle of blood.
“Mark! Are you okay?” Lisa gasped.
He waved his hand, sending a tiny red droplet flying into the water. “I’m fine; I got it out. It’ll stop bleeding soon.”
Lisa perched gingerly, not scooting lest her groaning wooden seat give her the same treatment.
“This is a really bad idea,” she complained as they set off into the water.
“This is a fantastic idea!” Henry argued. “Just think how the others are going to react when we row over in this thing!”
Lisa crossed her arms. “If it even makes it that far,” she grumbled.

Mark towed the boat along the craggy cliff face. As they moved out to what should have been a better vantage point back to the beach, Lisa felt her panic climbing when she realized she couldn’t see the beach at all. The area around them seemed closed in by a high cliff.
“Um, we should go back,” she declared immediately.
“Are you kidding?” Roger scoffed at her. “We just got in the boat!”
“Guys, look!” Mark pointed with his voice, his eyes fixed on something ahead of them.

A large rock, roughly the height of the cliffs, protruded from the water, with a ladder leaning against a door-sized opening.
“What’s a ladder doing way out here?” Lisa glanced around.
“That’s awesome!” Roger hooted.
Mark directed the boat to the end of the ladder. Roger helped him tie the mooring rope to the bottom rung.
“Let’s check it out, guys,” he suggested. The shiny, polished wood seemed to be in better shape than the dock or the boat had been.
“This is so random!” Lisa mused, but as her brothers climbed into the hole in the rock face, she had no choice but to follow.

They climbed in the dark for a long time. Tiny gaps between boulders let in the tiniest amount of light, but other than that, they basically had to feel their way blindly around. Lisa regretted taking her mom’s advice and leaving her phone “safely” in the car. At the very least, they could have used the flashlight.
“Ouch!” Roger cried, from the front.
Lisa froze in her tracks. “What is it?” she hissed. “What happened?”
“Banged my shin,” Roger grunted through clenched teeth. “Against these... Wait...” his voice caught as they heard him moving around. “Hey guys! There are stairs here!”
“Stairs?” echoed Mark. “Why would there be stairs in the middle of a cave?”
“Maybe the same reason there is a ladder,” Lisa suggested.
“Guys,” trepidation leached through Roger’s voice, “you don’t think somebody, like, lives in here, do you?”
Lisa snorted. “Oh, now you’re nervous?”
“Let’s just keep climbing,” Mark urged.
Traveling was easier along the stairs, steadily lifting them upward. They bent sharply, and the darkness faded because light came in from another hole in the cliff side—but this one had a pane of glass in it!
“Who puts windows in a cave?” Mark wondered aloud. The further they climbed, the bigger the windows got, and the more the walls ceased looking like raw rock, and more like shaped stone bricks with mortar between them. Finally, they reached a door blocking the stairwell.
Roger immediately tried the handle. The door wouldn’t budge at first. “It’s lo—“ Even as he said it, the door creaked open, and the three siblings emerged into a large room with high, vaulted ceilings.

“It’s a castle!” Lisa cried. Doorways all around provided access to various rooms and towers, large windows let in plenty of light, while torches hanging from sconces flickered gently, dispelling shadows and radiating heat.

“All right!” Roger bellowed loud enough to echo in the space. “This is awesome!”
“How come Mom and Dad never mentioned that there was a castle near the beach?” Mark wondered.
Lisa peered out the window, but the surrounding area was still shrouded in fog. “I wonder if this place used to be part of the land, but erosion separated it?”

Mark counted six doors. “I’m all for exploring this place,” he said. “Which door should we try first?”
“How about this one?”
Roger immediately turned around and hauled on the handle closest to him. The door didn’t budge.

Lisa turned at the soft creak emanating behind her. Mark had joined Roger, and both brothers hauled with all their strength at the one door. Lisa watched the one door waggle back and forth, as if something rugged at it.
“Guys?” she called back to her brothers. It was dark in the area immediately behind the door, but she could see light coming from somewhere inside.
“We just need to find something to pry it open,” Roger panted. “Lisa, see if you can find a key or something.”
“Guys!” she snapped, prompting them both to turn.

“Oh,” Mark muttered.
“What the heck?” Roger demanded, resting his hands on his knees as he fought to regain his breath. “How did you get that one open?”
“I didn’t,” Lisa blinked her wide eyes. “It was already open.”
Both boys shuffled over to her, peering warily inside.
“Well, I guess we’re checking out this one first,” Mark mused, crossing the threshold once he knew it was safe.
After a short entryway, they came to a long, narrow room with just enough space to get all the way around an exceptionally large dining table, still piled high with food. All three siblings gawked at the incomprehensible array of confections and roasted game, fruit and vegetables carved, plated, and displayed in a truly extravagant manner.
“Heck yes!” Roger stepped forward first. “I don’t know about you guys, but I am hungry!” He grabbed an orange on the plate before him. Rather than lifting it up, though, it appeared to Lisa and Mark that he just stood there with a frown.
“What is it?” Mark asked.
Roger planted his feet and strained again. “It won’t move!” he grunted. “Just like the door!”
“All this food is fake?” Lisa squealed. The mere suggestion of getting a meal had wrenched at her stomach, but if this whole table was nothing but a farce, she wouldn’t be able to satisfy this sudden hunger. The cooler on the beach suddenly returned to her memory, and Lisa felt the wave of dread wash over her.
“It’s not fake,” Roger assured her. “I can feel it like it’s real... it’s just not moving.”
“But how?” Mark dropped to his hands and knees to see if maybe there was some kind of mechanism concealed under the table, but he saw only wood.
“Guys, this room is a bust, let’s get out of here,” Lisa rambled quickly, heading for the door.
The three siblings emerged into the main hall once again. By the light outside, it seemed that hardly any time had passed. She glanced at her watch. The digital face flickered in and out.
“Oh no!” she murmured, trying to press buttons, but nothing worked. What was this place?
“Hey, look!” Roger hollered, “There’s another door open.”
Directly across from them, the heavy wooden door stood invitingly. Through this one, they could see shelves of some kind.
“I am so creeped out right now!” Lisa hissed, not caring who knew it.

They entered a room less illuminated by natural light, as it filtered through thick stained-glass panes. The bulk of the light came from lamps and torches placed in protected alcoves. Rows upon rows of shelves filled the room, bearing books of all shapes and sizes, bound with cloth or leather.
“A library?” Roger protested, but even the sound of his voice did not seem to resonate one bit in the presence of all these pages, not to mention the thick carpet runners that lined the floor.

One particularly large specimen lay displayed on an ornate brass book stand at the front of the room. It had a shiny red leather cover, and embossed gold writing on the front. Just the mere sight of books had lulled Lisa into a sense of comfort, but as she approached the book on the stand, she realized there was something wrong.
She squinted, and tilted her head to read the writing on the cover.
Scratch that; something was very, very wrong.
“Guys.” She instinctively shrank back to cling to Mark.
“What is it?” He whispered, putting his arm around her and attempting to see what she saw.
Lisa glanced to the shelf beside her and confirmed that every book held the same disturbing feature.
“Look at the title,” she said. “That’s not English.”
“Oh wow, you’re right!” Even Roger, normally the one so loud you could hear him several blocks away, couldn’t manage more than a soft murmur in this strange room. “That’s not even Old English, I bet!”
Lisa shuddered and glanced around. She was by no means a linguistics expert, but the swirling script adorning every book in this library didn’t match any language she’d ever seen.

“What is this place?” she whispered to herself.

 >>>>>>>> (To Be Continued?)