Saturday, May 31, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 14

Karthey blinked owlishly; Cramwell blinked right back. Both individuals stood, staring at each other, both so startled at the sight of each other that neither found the will to move. Karthey’s heart threatened to gallop thunderingly out of her chest.
            Cramwell tapped his cane on the floor.

            “Leave the library, if you please.”
            
             Karthey blinked; she’d never heard that voice before. Where had it come from? Surely not—
            “Are you ignorant?” Those blue eyes pierced her gaze, “Leave at once!”
            Karthey willed her limbs to move, but her legs did not respond. Her knees were locked in place, and she felt that if she relaxed them she would faint dead away—and then what would he do to her?
            The grandfather clock in the music room struck—half-past-three! What was Cramwell doing at home a full hour before his usual time? It hardly registered in Karthey’s completely befuddled brain that she had moved; all she knew was that now she stood in the east hall, and Cramwell was settling into his armchair.

            Something on her hip vibrated; what on earth—Oh, the cell phone. Cramwell was back to his old manner of “speaking.”
           
Please return to your room until dinnertime, Miss Mavis.
           
Karthey reluctantly stumbled upstairs. Once in her room, she sank onto the window seat, still in a state of shock. Cramwell Fornberg had actually spoken! He had spoken right to her face! Karthey tried to recall what his voice had sounded like—had it thrilled her? Had it chilled her? She could not remember—it was so terse, she could not quite grasp what sort of a voice it was, whether soft or hard; it certainly wasn’t very deep, and she puzzled over whether or not she had detected an accent—which would make sense, because Cramwell was British, she knew.
“But why on earth would Cramwell cut his time in town short by a whole hour?” she questioned the lace-trimmed pillow next to her. “What could have brought him home so early?” Yet another question without an answer! Karthey thought hard for two hours straight, but still came up with nothing. Her cell phone vibrated at five-thirty.

Please take your dinner in the dining hall at this time, Miss Mavis.

The dining hall! Not the kitchen? Why did he ask her to eat there? What did he expect her to eat? Karthey was used to getting her meals in the kitchen. Mystified, she made her way down the left-hand stairs and into the dining hall. At the end of the table, a plate awaited her. On it was a baked potato, some asparagus tips, a few slices of seasoned pork roast, and a roll—piping hot this time. Karthey recalled the cold meal he had left her a few days ago down in the kitchen. That had been the day she first discovered Cramwell’s messages. Now she was taking a warm meal, prepared by Cramwell, in the dining room itself! What did this mean?

Before she had quite finished her meal, Cramwell began playing, as he had done—as he always did—every night. Karthey hurriedly swallowed the last few bites and put her dishes into the dumbwaiter. She would wash them later—for now, she was filled with an intense curiosity. She crept softly across the entryway and into the east hall. Now that she was closer, the music sounded less like the mournful wailing of an animal, and more like the plaintive strains of a sad song played not so well, but passionately. Was it a violin she heard?

Karthey held her breath; now she was at the threshold of the library. She knew the cloister was immediately inside. She could hear a second sound behind the wailing—was it sobbing? The tune changed, quickened; not so much long, drawn-out notes now, but ascending and descending tonal phrases. Karthey was inside the library now, entranced by the music she did not doubt Cramwell made himself. She crouched low to the carpet, well aware that by now she was at the very door of the cloister. Karthey reached out a hand toward the floor to steady herself—and touched something. It felt like paper. What was it? Karthey picked it up. There seemed to be writing on it; what—
Just then, she realized that the music had ceased. Karthey dove out of the library just in time to hear the latch of the cloister click open. Guiltily, she made straight for the door to the kitchen, the paper still clutched tightly in her hand. She did not stop until she reached the kitchen, and there waited with bated breath to hear if Cramwell had heard her and would now follow her. She waited for several moments, but never heard his step. Karthey allowed herself to relax, and she took a peek at the note in her hand.
At first glance it seemed to be a paltry, nonsensical poem. However, Karthey instantly recognized it for what it was: another threatening note. Where had the kidnapper hidden the clues this time? Karthey noticed that there were certain words written with a different hand than the rest. They stood out more, as if the writer wanted the recipient—Cramwell—to notice them among the others.

            Karthey got a taste of what Cramwell had no doubt been through over the last week: the momentary stopping of the heart, the coldness of the extremities, the awful, trembling dread. “Nothing will stop me,” the kidnapper seemed to taunt both Karthey and Cramwell at the same time, (though he could not possibly know that Cramwell was receiving assistance), “Watch, for one you know will be no more.”
This must have been the thing that was troubling Cramwell so much. He must have just received it in town that day. Karthey wondered where he had found the note this time. She waited until she heard him go to bed, then she snuck softly downstairs and returned the note to the floor of the library, just as she had found it. Karthey could only shudder as she wondered who would disappear next.
<<<<<>>>>>

            Karthey awoke early the next morning, but try as she might, she could not fall back to sleep, or even find the will to relax again. Grudgingly, she rolled out of bed and slipped into her bathrobe. She checked the time on her cell phone: seven-thirty again. This whole abduction business was really taking its toll on her! Karthey rolled her eyes and trudged to the door. She stumbled down the right-hand stairs and down into the kitchen to make breakfast. She started making breakfast for herself, but before she began she remembered Cramwell, and how he had treated her somewhat differently when she had made breakfast for him in the morning. Perhaps if she tried the same ploy again, it would still work. She made two of everything, and prepared a plate for her host. This time, she was done in enough time to carry the meal up the stairs herself. As she exited the door to the kitchen stairwell into the east hall, Karthey caught sight of the library door and remembered the adventure of the previous evening. She had been right outside it a little more than twelve hours ago. She knew he kept it locked—but she also knew that he did not keep the key on his person. As adamant as Cramwell Fornberg was about security and monitoring Karthey’s movements, he was not the sort of person to wear a key ring on a string around his neck or anything like that, and his suits generally didn’t have the sort of pockets in which he could safely keep a key. Could it be somewhere in the library, then?
Mystified, Karthey left Cramwell’s breakfast on the dining room table and went to the kitchen stairwell landing to eat her own, safely behind the closed door. Right on time, she heard Cramwell come downstairs, pause at the front door to get his newspaper, and continue on to the dining room. She ate her breakfast, returned to the kitchen in time to get Cramwell’s dishes, washed them, and returned to the stairs, not trusting herself to return to the main part of the house until after he was gone.
            Nine-thirty struck, and Karthey held her breath as the last chimes sounded, waiting for the distinct sounds of Cramwell Fornberg leaving the house. At last, the door opened and closed, and Karthey knew the coast was absolutely clear.
            She crept out the door, senses on full alert as she darted across the hall toward the library door. Once there, she closed the door not quite all the way, and stood in front of the cloister door. For a moment, she studied its every detail, its every crevice, scrutinizing the carved curlicues, ribs, and patterns to see some little irregularity that would belie a hiding place for a key. She rested her ear against the door and tapped with her fingertips, listening carefully for any hollow sounds. It was at this angle that Karthey saw the candelabras on either side straight on; the right one had a feature behind it that she didn’t remember seeing on the left. Karthey inspected this closer. It was a small recess, a hairline crack in the surface that she probably would not have noticed had she not rested her ear against the door, nor the curtains been open, nor the sun been exactly where it was at that moment. As matters stood, she saw it. Instantly, her nimble fingers flew to the small area, and within moments, she had it open. For one awful moment, she felt only wood—which would mean all her sneaking around and her searching had been in vain—but at last, her fingers connected with the cold metal of a key! Karthey carefully drew the key out and closed the recess.
            She moved slowly even as her heart thumped wildly within her, seeming to vibrate her whole body with every beat. She inserted the key into the lock—it fit and turned! After one week of tiptoeing around it, of wondering, of waiting, of dreaming—Karthey Mavis had her first look at Cramwell Fornberg’s cloister. She gasped.
            Before her was a full-length painting of The Woman! She sat in the same armchair that now stood in the cloister, one with purple velvet cushions. Unlike the paintings in the library, this one was simply the subject herself, seated in her garden, surrounded by a rhododendron bush with its glorious white blossoms, and with a nosegay of red roses in her lap. On a table before the painting stood a beautiful violin, tenderly resting in its case, the surface below its strings whitened with use, the rest of the instrument shining for the same reason in the dim light of two lamps on either side of the painting. So this was the source of the wailing that had terrified her since she first heard it! Cramwell was a musician after all! At the bottom of the frame, Karthey noticed a small plaque that read:

In Memoriam
JELILAH ARABELLA FORNBERG
“Where Music Is, There Am I”

            Karthey blinked. “Jelilah,” she murmured, trying out The Woman’s name for the first time. It floored her to see the beauty and the simplicity of the painting and imagine the depth of Cramwell’s love for her. She reached out to touch the tender, skilled brushstrokes.

“Don’t.”

            Karthey jumped and whirled around, nearly knocking the violin off the table with the violence of her movement. She had been caught! By Cramwell himself, no less! He stood there in the doorway, staring at her with his terrifying (and, now that she considered it, pain-filled) blue eyes. She saw that he very much wanted her out of the cloister, and he was likely very angry with her for intruding where he had explicitly told her not to go. He had actually spoken to her again, and he continued, as Karthey remained where she was, with little or no idea how to act or what to say.

<<<<<Previous          Next>>>>>

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 13

            Karthey’s eyes snapped open at seven-thirty the next morning. The autumn sun shone brightly through her window—and then she recalled what had transpired the previous evening. Wracked with guilt, she wondered how on earth she would be able to remedy the situation. If she was going to live here much longer (it was almost a week already!), she certainly did not want him placing more restrictions on her because she meddled in too many things that displeased him. What could she do?
            Karthey smiled; she knew he would not leave his room until eight o’clock. She had half an hour to enact the wild, impulsive idea that had just entered her head. She got up and threw on her bathrobe, intent on acting upon the impulse before she convinced herself otherwise.
            Karthey slid her feet into her slippers and ran lightly down the left-hand stairs, across the entryway, and down to the kitchen. She found eggs, some zucchini, a red bell pepper, and half an onion in the refrigerator. She quickly mixed all these together and fried it in a pan. Putting this together with a glass of orange juice, half a grapefruit, utensils, and a napkin, she set these all (facing away from her) in the dumbwaiter, waiting until after the clock had struck quarter-till-eight before toasting a piece of bread and spreading butter on it. She then scampered to the top of the stairs to wait for the sound of Cramwell’s cane on the steps.
^^^^^^
            Cramwell Fornberg groggily regained consciousness as the clock struck eight—goodness! It was loud! The sound was much louder than he’d been used to hearing it before. The next thing Cramwell noticed was that he was still fully dressed…and sitting in an armchair down in the cloister, next to the painting of Jelilah. Why on earth—

The roses.

            Cramwell’s heart jumped as he remembered them. That foolish Mavis girl! Why had she gone into Jelilah’s garden? Was she not content to stay in the house? Did she not have plenty to do there, without going outside at all? No one was supposed to go there—much less take flowers from it! Much less roses, for heaven’s sake! Cramwell shuddered at the memory. He hated roses; red was his least favorite color.
He dimly remembered serenading Jelilah, and then he sat there in that armchair and spoke with her, though what he said, he did not know. Now it was morning, and time for Cramwell to put on his dressing gown and collect the paper—but he was already wearing his dressing gown. He had put it on before coming downstairs, and then fallen asleep down in the cloister. Confound that Karthey Mavis! The longer she stayed, the more Cramwell found his docile, innocuous routine completely derailed, much like the kidnapper had derailed his routine in Precinct.
            Ah, yes; the kidnapper. Cramwell had to admit as he thought to himself that he had actually been quite pleased with the information Karthey had left him on the desk—if only she hadn’t left that vase with the horrid roses on it, too. The list, though; she had certainly been thorough. Cramwell thought about making a visible “network map” of sorts. He had matched people with their places of employment. Now he could map out their schedules, the likeliest routes they would take to reach each successive destination, most of which Karthey had listed.
            At this point in his train of thought, Cramwell almost jumped out of the chair when he realized he was now ten minutes late. Bother that Karthey Mavis! He shuffled out of the cloister, taking care to lock the door behind him and place the key in a little recess behind the candelabra on the right, where he usually kept it. Cramwell stopped by the front door to pick up his paper, and went to the dining room to put it on the table before going downstairs to the kitchen to prepare his breakfast.
            As he laid the paper on the table, a squeaking sound coming from the general direction of the dumbwaiter gave him pause. Cramwell cautiously turned heel and stared at the small door in the wall. Apprehensively, he advanced toward the wall. The squeaking stopped; so did Cramwell. When it did not continue, he made his way toward the door and very quickly jerked it open.
            He stood and blinked for several moments, not fully comprehending what he saw. A nice breakfast, all laid out for him in the recess of the dumbwaiter; who had done this thing? Who but that meddlesome Karthey Mavis? Cramwell carried everything to the table and commenced his daily routine (with the exception of wearing yesterday’s clothes under his dressing gown). He opened the paper, grateful that yet again, there was more news and speculation about the previous four kidnappings, but as of yet no new victims. He finished his meal and the paper by nine, returned his dishes to the dumbwaiter, moved to the sunroom to read for fifteen minutes, headed upstairs, changed his clothes, and by nine-thirty was on his way down the hill, without ever having seen his guest—just as it had been for the last week. He thought no more on petty inconveniences.

            Karthey, for her part, made up her mind to be as unobtrusive as she could possibly be. She stayed put until she heard Cramwell leave, and then she spent the next few hours cleaning up. Just as the clock struck eleven, she remembered Derrik. She had almost forgotten the meeting! Karthey dropped the duster right where she was, dove for her coat, and flew down the hill in eager anticipation.
            Derrik was just walking up when she reached the gate. Karthey was so excited to see him that she jumped up and down like a child half her age and waved her arm.
            “Derrik!” she cried, “Derrik!”
            She saw him break into a run when he heard her calling and saw her waving. He clutched at the bars of the gate, his eyes wide with astonishment.
            “What happened?” he begged his sister, “Did he try something yesterday? Do you want to run away now?”
            Karthey saw that he must have mistaken her overjoyed reaction for terror. “Oh no!” she cried, “Derrik! I found a garden yesterday, with red roses in it! Cramwell smashed the roses, and he was angry with me, but he actually asked me for help, too. He’s been asking about a whole bunch of people from town—“
            “Wait a minute,” her brother interrupted, “He speaks to you, now?”
            Karthey shook her head, “Nope, still texting; but I saw him once, Derrik! I actually saw Cramwell Fornberg!” Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were wide, and Karthey could not hold still. She fidgeted with agitation.
            Derrik raised his eyebrows, “You actually saw him? Without his hat on? I don’t think I ever saw him whenever he went to town. I could see that hat coming a mile away, and I knew to stay away. What did he look like?”
            Karthey ceased her wriggling and tried to remember what she observed, “Well, he’s not very tall, and he’s not very old, and I guess you could say he’s really—“
            “Little, creepy munchkin?” Derrik guessed.
            Karthey frowned at her brother, “No! He just seemed sort of…sad, really; very solemn, like there was something really big that he did not want to talk about.” She looked her brother straight in the eye. “He’s not creepy, Derrik; I think he’s afraid.”
            Derrik actually took the time to seriously consider his sister’s words. “I think I’ve heard Dad talk about that kind of thing,” he said, “He’s seen it in, like, testimonials and court proceedings and stuff, like when somebody has witnessed something obvious that everyone else knows about, but to that one person, the event was traumatizing—so traumatizing that they don’t even want to talk about it, because to talk about it would be to bring up those feelings again. The thing that seems to be obvious to everyone else, but no one wants to talk about: he calls it ‘the elephant in the room.’”
            Karthey smirked, “Yeah, I think Cramwell has one of those; only this one’s a woman. I think she might have been his wife.”
            “The one he—I mean, that people think he killed?”
            Karthey frowned and shook her head, “I don’t think Cramwell is the type of person to kill people, any more than you or I. I really think she died from something else, and he couldn’t save her or something, so he’s been feeling guilty all this time.” She confronted her brother with her hands on her hips. “I thought people had moved beyond that theory.”
            Derrik shoved his hands in his pockets and licked his lips guiltily. “Well, yeah, but—“
            “Then drop it.
            Derrik looked at his sister curiously, “Karthey, do you like Cramwell?”
            Karthey blushed furiously, “No! Not in that way—not really,” she answered quickly. “I just think people have been treating him unfairly without realizing it.”
            “So now you’re his advocate?”
            “Derrik!” Karthey clutched at the bars of the gate between them. “Think about it: what if these things I’m telling you about Cramwell could help us solve the case? What did you find out about the notes?”
            Derrik huffed and brought his sister up to date, “The forensic detective analyzed the notes and compared them with witnesses who could remember times when Cramwell suddenly acted completely unlike himself, and concluded that the notes most likely showed up in the places where Cramwell went every day, which would mean that the writer—who we still assume must be the kidnapper—knew Cramwell enough to know his daily schedule.”
            “Which doesn’t say much, because Precinct hardly knows him at all, and everybody there knows his schedule.”
            Derrik pursed his lips in thought, “Good point,” he conceded, “Anyway, the codes suggest that the writer also knew Cramwell well enough to know that he would be able to solve them.”
            “Yeah, being the only one in town with a code book anymore, at least the ones from the library,” Karthey supplied.
            “Right; we’re looking into previous associates of Cramwell now, just to see if any of them might have found their way to Precinct or the nearby towns with a bone to pick, and is choosing now to pick it with him.”
            Karthey recalled the map she had seen in the library that morning. Multiple colored lines crossed over each other in every direction—but each color in a specific direction. “I think Cramwell’s trying to find out the next target,” she mused to her brother, “I saw a map he’d been marking routes on, based on the information about some of the people that I gave him yesterday.”
            Derrik looked at her in surprise, “You mean he’s making a map of who would be where at what time and whether they’d meet each other, and trying to figure out a possible pattern from the victims that way?”
            Karthey paused a moment to sort out what her brother just said, and confirmed it with a nod, “Yeah, something like that, I think. He only gave me fifteen names, but he had more than that on his map. I think he’s figuring out more on his own.”
            Derrik was visibly impressed with both his sister’s observation and Cramwell’s uncharacteristic actions, “Wow, okay; maybe we should start doing that.”
            Somebody should,” Karthey agreed.
            Derrik checked his watch and smiled at his sister. “Well, I should be getting back to town. I’ll tell you what, though, I’m glad we get to talk, little sister. I sure do miss having you around.”
            Karthey felt her throat constrict with emotion as she replied, “I miss you too, Derrik.”
            “We’re so close, Karth!” Derrik enthused, “I can almost feel it! We’ll catch this guy soon, you’ll see.”
            “I hope so! I’m doing everything I can!” Karthey cried.
            “See you tomorrow, Sis.”
            “Hug Dad for me!”
           
            Karthey stood at the gate and watched her brother depart back into town. He disappeared around a corner, and she was alone once more.
            She returned to the house and finished the dusting before sitting down to a quiet lunch. After she finished her meal, Karthey sat in the library and began reading through the dustier codebooks Cramwell had, since these were obviously ones he hadn’t touched in a while. She meandered next door to the study and took a closer look at the map. She smiled as she studied the route of each color, making a short game of trying to guess whom each thread belonged to by its route. This one that went from the neighborhoods to the school, past the café, to the thrift store, to the library, back to the school, and out to the diner—that had to be Mrs. Forquist. The one that went from the café, to City Hall, to the park, to the library, back to City Hall—definitely Mayor Heartlin. And the one that seemed to zig-zag back and forth and through the neighborhoods in a random manner, stopping in at most (if not all) the establishments in downtown Precinct—Karthey smiled as she traced with her finger the line that looked as busy as the person it represented, Alivia Rogner.
            Karthey returned to the library with her head swimming with thoughts of Precinct. Previous associates, Derrik had said; how many people did Cramwell actually know? How on earth was she supposed to figure that out? What sort of information did the police have that would tell them that? Was it possible that the kidnapper was someone from Cramwell’s history, who had followed him to Precinct? What had really happened out at the seaside?
            Karthey closed her eyes as the clock struck three, trying to shut out the swirling, nagging, discombobulating thoughts. She tried to envision each mystery as an individual in her imagination, to try to keep them all separate; they insisted on combining into the single, irreducibly complex Cramwell Fornberg. No matter how hard she tried, he was always standing there in front of her, staring right at her—

            Karthey jumped out of the armchair in fright. Here she was, wide-awake, and Cramwell Fornberg really stood before her, staring right at her without saying a word!

<<<<<Previous          Next>>>>> 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

When Pollyanna Cried

Nothing Like Pollyanna
I rubbed my temples, her continuous, vicious grumbling ringing through my head. "Can't you just find something positive to think about?"

She whirled on me. "You want me to be happy and not care about the terrible things that are happening? You just want me to say everything's fine all the time, even when it's not? Who do you think I am, Pollyanna?" Her voice rang shrilly with mockery. She crossed her arms and glared at me. No one could ever accuse her of being a Pollyanna. Never at all--but was that really a good thing?

Pollyanna is always remembered for her sunny disposition. She is attributed a rather milk-toasty, saccharine sort of character. Just another in a line of docile, primly-dressed, kid-gloved, white-cheeked girls seated mouse-like at home till a dashing young gentleman who saw her passing in the street decides she is just the "virtuous woman" he wants to bear his children.
Compared with that other "paragon of Christianity for little girls", Elsie Dinsmore--I rather think Pollyanna's the one with her head on straight, not floating in the clouds.

"Once, when father felt 'specially bad, he counted 'em. There were eight hundred of 'em... He said that if God bothered to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it--some!"

That "some" is important to understand the lesson of Pollyanna: rejoicing in difficulty doesn't mean we're ignoring the presence of the difficulty; it means we are lifting our eyes to God, who is far above the mess.
Whenever Pollyanna was playing the "Glad Game," she didn't once pretend that things were any different than they were--but with every storm cloud comes a little vivid color. We're not smiling to hide the hurt and wear a mask; we're smiling because "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble." (Psalm 46:1) 
When it seems that Satan's minions have unleashed hell on earth, when it feels like nothing good is happening, when we see our circumstances crumbling around us, we can smile, because a child of God should know that "My help comes from the Lord, who made the Heavens and the Earth." (Psalm 121:2)
Who in the Bible had most cause for complaint? Some beleaguered soul might proclaim the Psalms as their anthem, because of the many times David railed at God--not against Him, but to Him--and the despondent texts. The dude was shunned by his brothers, stood alone against a giant while every other trained warrior in the nation cowered in fear, was chased all over said country by a crazed king who alternately swore never to harm him only to turn around and break that oath; he was betrayed countless times by people he trusted; his own son plotted to overthrow him; he knew he was God's anointed king, even as he broke nine of the Ten Commandments in the matter of Bathsheba--If anybody had cause to bemoan their lot in life--in both circumstances within their control, and ones of their own making--it was David.

But look again.

I haven't sat down with the book of Psalms to verify this, but I am willing to contend that for every time David had something to "vent", the Holy Spirit would come and give him something to rejoice in for every circumstance. The second fruit of the Spirit is "JOY." We don't rejoice to the exclusion of suffering; positivity has its moments of solemnity and of mourning. That's why the command is not, "Laugh always!" or even "Smile always!" but "REJOICE always!" Sometimes, we will experience circumstances that do not warrant smiling; indeed, it might be physically or psychologically impossible to smile. Yet we can still REJOICE in our hearts.

Happiness is the absence of suffering; rejoicing is the presence of hope through the suffering.

Pollyanna cried. Pollyanna forgot herself and let her feelings loose. Pollyanna's "scrapes" consisted of wanton moments of the brash desire to be the vessel for providing for other people's needs. But what Pollyanna didn't do was pretend something wasn't happening. She didn't turn a blind eye to hardships in a desperate attempt to make like everything was sunshine and roses. A chapter in the sequel, Pollyanna Grows Up even describes a day when she intentionally took a dare from her crotchety Aunt Polly and purposefully didn't play the game.

The scene was an interesting one. Every time Aunt Polly complained, Pollyanna agreed with her; every time Aunt Polly pointed out that something was going wrong, Pollyanna dolefully predicted a further downhill slump for the unfortunate circumstance. What is more, Pollyanna kept it up the whole day long. She was no stranger to misery when she saw it; she knew what it was like to have not even a change of clothes to her name, and out of a barrel of stuff that she and other penniless people like her could claim, all that was left to her was a pair of crutches--not even anything useful.

But in that moment, her father invented the Glad Game, turning what would potentially be the worst moment of her life into the one that made her life better than it ever could have been.

"Playing The Game" doesn't come at the expense of being realistic; Pollyanna's descriptions of things are very down-to-earth and practical... not painted in a purple romantic haze like some of the flights of Anne Shirley's fancy. "Playing The Game" doesn't make the difficult circumstances go away; having a positive outlook is only fixing your eyes on the lighthouse in the middle of a storm--it doesn't make the storm any less, but you become stronger because of the hope it gives you.


We are creatures of comfort; we might understand that "suffering is a part of life"... but inside, we want the hard things to just go away. We want to "retire" from the struggle that is the Christian life. Yet we know that there is going to be no time when God will say, "All right, I've gotten all I want out of you; go ahead and live the rest of your life on this earth however you please, and I'll keep all the tough stuff out of your way."

Some people, when they acknowledge it, might be tempted to swing to the other extreme: "The Christian life isn't hard," they'll say, "it's impossible! There is no way someone can successfully live the Christian life, so just keep beating your head against the wall, or just dig your heels in where you're at and focus on maintaining what you have then and there, and that's good enough. The best we can hope for is the maintenance of mediocrity in the name of excelling."

Since when was Christianity free to idle in "maintenance mode"? Where is the hope in that? Where is the grace? For maintenance needs no grace. You've heard the saying, "Do what you've always done, and you'll get what you've always gotten"? If I'm going through the religious motions of a Christian life of maintenance, the practice will make those motions more automatic, more "self-driven"....

They'll be easier.

I won't need grace, because I know what I have to do to get what I've always gotten. I can do it. I control the outcome. I regulate the incoming influences. I predict the interpretations. Maintenance mode at it's highest efficiency is a life entirely dependent and centered on ME.

Is that really the Gospel message we want to share? Is this message truly the Gospel of Jesus Christ at all?

When Pollyanna Cried
In one of the last chapters of the book Pollyanna, the poor young girl has lost the will to play the game. It was all well and good to be able to tell people how to play the Glad Game, but it was quite another to be in a situation where she is forced to do it.

Isn't that true of the Christian life? It is one thing to roll your eyes piously heavenward and speak of "counting your blessings" and "depending on God for grace in every day"... but when the chips fall, are you actually doing these things or not?

Word gets around that Pollyanna needs someone to help her play The Game... and what happens? Do people frown and sneer at her, gloating over the fact that the "goody-two-shoes" has finally joined the "normal people" in their humdrum, hopeless lives? Do they immediately forgo any attempt at "playing The Game" themselves because clearly it didn't work for the little girl who invented it?

I would contend that, out of all the books with their benign little rich girls who sew samplers while murmuring Bible verses like platitudes and weeping over the "trials" like not getting their way or the fact that, yes, they bore unjust punishment without crying, but it wasn't enough because their "thoughts were naughty"....

Out of all those girls, Pollyanna is the best and clearest example of sharing the truth and light of the Gospel by LIVING IT.  

True, there aren't copious amounts of King James verses, but I would hold Pollyanna not as a "Christ-like role model" (as poor Miss Dinsmore is so unfortunately flaunted) but as a fairly balanced example of a disciple of Christ. She's not just reading her Bible and praying and desperately fighting to be the best and most Jesus-like she can possibly be; she takes what God says to do, and she does her best to follow His instructions.

The Gospel isn't just a MESSAGE we SHARE or a PROGRAM we PRACTICE. It's the HOPE we DEPEND ON for everyday life--and it's available to everyone who recognizes their need.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reader's Review: "Grave Beginnings" by R. R. Virdi



Thirteen...
As far as numbers go, it isn't a great one. Hell, it's not even a good one and Vincent Graves is going to find out just how unlucky of a number it can be.
Because someone, or something, is killing people in the Empire state, and whatever it is, it gives people everything they ever desired and more. And it's the more that's the problem!
Well...it's one of the problems.
Vincent's investigation also seems to have drawn the attention of a relentless FBI agent and then there's the little bit where he has only thirteen hours to solve the case, or he dies.
Talk about your literal deadlines...
...No pressure.
By the end of this case Vincent will come to understand the meaning of an age old proverb: Be careful what you wish for - because you just might get it!
-taken from Amazon.com
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

As intrigued as I was by the blurb, I have to say, it did the job of drawing interest while revealing nothing of the impending adventure awaiting!

Vincent Graves typically begins each of his countless lives in a grave. His body died long ago, but his soul lives on at the behest of a higher power that commissions him to inhabit a recently-deceased-by-mysterious-supernatural-causes body and interact with beings of supernatural lore to solve the murder and catch the killer.

Oh, and he has a time limit for the investigation, or his soul dies forever.

From the instant Vincent bursts out of the grave of his latest body, Virdi hurls the reader into a spectacular world through the eyes of a character whose appearance and thus identity is not his own, with characters so vivid that I felt like I was watching a TV show and laughing the whole time.
Graves is just the right level of uncouth cynic (read: much swearing... but it's prodigious, not superfluous, so it was easy to censor or ignore and it really got the character across) as you would expect a forcibly re-embodied soul who's done this sort of thing too many times to count, with insufficient explanation and fewer supplies in a mission with his shortest time limit yet! Virdi's clever treatment of such supernatural tropes as wraiths, ghosts, Elementals, and gnomes lends that air of legitimacy that makes the supernatural/sci-fi/fantasy genre such a pleasure to read.

Throw a persistent FBI agent and a malevolent Djinni into the mix, and hang on to your hats, folks, 'cause this will be the ride of a lifetime!


Did you like this review? Head over to the Reader's Reviews page for more like it!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Reader's Review: "A Dodge, A Twist, A Tobacconist", by Sophronia Belle Lyon

*This is a review I wrote before I'd actually started my blog... but now that I'm doing book reviews, I decided to repost it.


Rose and the Campbell Clan the leaders of a secret society? Oliver Twist an eccentric inventor ahead of his time? Mowgli and Bagheera tracking a villain through the streets of London?
What if the characters from your favorite Victorian-era classics crossed paths with one another? What if the heroes from those books had to work together to defeat a singular villain from another story?

Such is the case with "A Dodge, A Twist, and A Tobacconist." Sophronia Lyon cleverly matches characters from the works of Dickens, Stevenson, Kipling, and even Alcott, all in the setting of a London "crime drama" that will have the reader guessing from the very start. Combined with a well-placed "steampunk" vibe, Sophronia maintains the integrity of these well-loved authors, while remixing them into an entirely new adventure in the high-action, well-developed style of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." She not only adopts the style of the authors, but continues their "legacy" of social and moral values. The issues raised in this adventure are treated with the same conviction as the ones who personally witnessed the corruption and wrote about it.

I adored the old books, and reading this one was like a reunion of them all. The original authors would be proud to see their characters treated with such tactful respect, in a novel that also deals with the same social evils the authors themselves tried to speak against.

Sophronia has begun excellently, and I look forward to a continuation of the series!



Did you like this review? Head over to the Reader's Reviews page for more like it!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 12

Karthey awoke to the sound of creaking steps as Cramwell descended the stairs just down the hall from her door. She looked at her cell phone. A text awaited her.
            Karthey sat back on the bed as she read it. Now he was requesting her help in the investigation! Karthey thought about the notes she had found. She was certain now that he had received the notes from someone else… the napkin looked like it came from the diner where Clarissa worked… she smirked.
            “But he doesn’t know the territory!” she quoted a line from The Music Man. He didn’t know the people of Precinct; she didn’t know the circumstances around the messages, nor who could have a connection with Cramwell and know the town well enough to be able to make someone disappear so precisely and without witnesses to the actual abduction. Putting their knowledge together, though, they could be an unstoppable team—a team that never met in person.
            Karthey went down to the kitchen, ate her breakfast, and washed all the dishes.  She reached the door at the top of the stairs in time to hear Cramwell returning to his room to get dressed for the day. The dining room was hers—but she dared not cross the entryway. She had seen him, true—but he might still prefer not to see her. Karthey went around the back of the house to reach the dining room. The list Cramwell mentioned was waiting for her. Karthey surveyed the names.

Alivia Rogner
Dorothea McKee
Jason Plattner
Sheriff Michael Zander
Darla Munroe
Cora Bergen
Cherry Macintosh
Gavin Blint
Susan Gardner
Doris Preston
Heather Forquist
Karleen Ludfisch
Mayor George Heartlin
Whitney Bryan
Beth LaMarde

            Karthey was surprised at the number of people Cramwell wanted information on; were they suspects in his mind? Impossible; the Mayor and the Sheriff were on the list—and they were as much in the dark as the victims’ friends and families! Karthey fervently hoped that the information she could provide Cramwell would help solve these baffling cases. She wanted a life not beleaguered by fear as much as Cramwell did.
            Karthey filled in the details of the list as best she could. Everyone on the list associated or crossed paths with someone else: nearly everyone on the list went regularly to the diner where Doris worked, or the café where Cora, Whitney, Darla, and Beth worked. Cherry and Karleen all attended the same school. Heather was Clarissa’s mother, who worked with Cora, Whitney, Darla, and Beth; she also worked as the receptionist at City Hall, where the Mayor and the Sheriff had their offices. Dorothea McKee worked at the diner and shopped at the grocery store. Susan Gardner worked at the grocery store and taught classes at Precinct High School, where Cherry and Karleen attended. Gavin had taken positions at both the diner and the grocery store when he had returned from college (after only two years; he did not have the funds for the rest), and he was Clarissa’s boyfriend. These and many other connections filled three whole pages, which Karthey laid neatly, under the original list, on Cramwell’s desk in the study as the clock struck twelve.
            Karthey went to the window at the back of the study and looked out. The sky was not as grey, and the brick building still stood at the end of the gravel path. It had a domed glass top, she noticed. It seemed to invite her to explore what it could possibly hold. It must be a garden; it couldn’t possibly be anything else.

            Karthey searched in the area next to the kitchen for some gardening tools. She found them all, locked away in a closet that was very difficult to open, on account of age. Everything was coated in dust and cobwebs. Why had Cramwell locked this closet? Karthey filled a wheelbarrow with tools and fertilizer and went to the end of the hall, where stood a door she had often wondered about. Opening this door, she found a gently-sloping tunnel that led right underneath the dining room, up to the west side of the house. Karthey made a right-hand turn once she was outside, and crossed behind the back of the house to reach the path to the enclosed garden.

            The door was dark and damp, with cast-iron hinges and handle, and various mosses and lichens growing in the cracks of the boards. Karthey’s hand quivered as she laid it on the ice-cold metal with no idea how long it had been since anyone had touched that door. There was nothing in Cramwell’s daily routine that called him out to this place at all. The curtains of the library had been closed too, so there was not even any rhyme or reason for Cramwell to even look in this direction.
            Karthey searched the key ring for one that would fit in the large, ancient keyhole. All the keys she had were for the modern, small, commonplace locks; none even came close to the size of the hole. Besides, Cramwell had said all the keys were for the doors inside the house (except the cloister); he hadn’t even mentioned the garden. Karthey thought about what she might do, but then she simply lifted the latch. It was nearly rusted in place, she had to pull very hard with both hands, but at last, it moved! Karthey pushed open the door and stepped inside.

            The first sensation that struck her with all the force of a newly-freed prisoner was the heady, thick smell of flowers. It was a garden full of red roses and white rhododendrons! The glass roof had allowed sunlight while keeping out the cold, while the closed door had allowed in the moisture from the atmosphere, which—along with the natural dampness of the earth, had supplied the bushes with moisture. They were by no means well-kept, having grown wild and sprawling ever since the door was locked, but everywhere Karthey looked, she saw thorny stems topped with bright-red blossoms, and the brown branches of the rhododendron bushes with the large white blossoms peeking out to greet her. Karthey almost wept for joy. The sight of the red flowers reminded her of her father. What a beautiful place! She had not expected to see any such thing during her internment at Fornberg House.
            Karthey immediately began cleaning out the dust, the weeds, and the dead vegetation from around the bushes. She raked, she pulled, she brushed, she shook, and finally, the garden began to resemble what it once was. At the very least, she had uncovered the little paved pathway that wound around the small area. She had even discovered a small pool at the center of the garden, with a man and a woman carved out of stone with their arms around each other standing at its edge. The water was green with moss and algae, but Karthey carefully worked until she had gotten every last bit of sludge from the small pond. She found a crank in the corner that proved to be connected by a series of gears to two sections of the glass roof. She opened them, and the wind gratefully swept inside, blowing about the roses as if greeting a long-lost friend. For the first time since coming to Fornberg House, Karthey Mavis laughed for joy.

            As she stood there amidst such beauty and such wonderment, watching the wind blow ripples in the pond and considering the couple standing two feet high beside it, Karthey pondered that perhaps Cramwell Fornberg was indeed as lonely as she had always thought, but maybe the sight of these roses would awaken him again to the love and the joy he had once felt. Perhaps then he would not be so melancholy and withdrawn. He had only those musty, dusty silk plants around his house; there were no fresh flowers. Karthey ventured a guess that there had been no one to put fresh flowers around the house since The Woman had died—but now Cramwell had Karthey at his house!
            Forthwith, Karthey scampered around the garden, trimming back the rose hedges and rhododendron bushes while at the same time carefully clipping blossoms for the house. She drew a little water from the pond in a bucket, and placed the stems she cut in there. Soon the bucket was bursting with red-and-white blossoms, and Karthey returned to the house positively floating on a cloud of elation.
            She found a cupboard full of vases of every size and shape in the kitchen, and filled five of them with the large, gorgeous blooms. Into a sixth vase she put the remaining rhododendrons only, because they had been more plentiful than the roses. Happily, Karthey went around the house to the dining room, the library, Cramwell’s study, the sitting room, and the sunroom, placing vases on tables, putting—in her opinion—a bit of sunshine in each room, making them even brighter than all the new light bulbs and all the cleaning could ever do. The sixth vase she placed on a small table in the entryway. She was sure Cramwell would enjoy coming home to fresh flowers every day. She was beginning to feel sorry for the way he had lived so long before, in the dim, dusty darkness, with nothing but books and statues for company. She may not want to live there at the house herself, but at least she wanted to know that he was comfortable in his own space. He had accepted the level of cleaning she did around the house; after all that, who wouldn’t say “no” to flowers? And it wasn’t like they were bright, gaudy things, either; they were simply beautiful; Cramwell, with all his statues and paintings and whatnot of a single, beautiful woman that he populated his house with, struck Karthey as a man who would accept simple beauty.
            By now it was about three-thirty. Karthey still had an hour before Cramwell returned. She decided to clean the sunroom, the last room downstairs she had observed but not cleaned. The clock began to strike half-past-four just as she finished. Karthey couldn’t help a little wriggle of excitement as instead of returning upstairs as she normally did, she pushed the trolley into the north hallway, down by the corner past the music room. She pulled the door leading to the dining room almost shut, and peeked through the crack to witness Cramwell’s reaction to her “renovations.”
            She heard him open the door. He was muttering to himself. She heard him stop; he had seen the first vase. Then Cramwell went into the library, as he always did. Karthey jumped when she heard him yell out—the first time he had raised his voice in the last five days. Something had agitated him beyond belief. She heard him pace quickly out of the library, down the hall and through another door. This time, she heard a yell and a crash. Had he knocked the vase over? Surely such a thing could be an accident!

            One minute later, her cell phone buzzed.

You are meddling in things you know nothing about, Miss Mavis.
I will take my supper in my room. Please prepare the meal and leave it on a tray outside my door. Then I insist you remove the vases from every room in which you have so foolishly displayed them and see that you never make such a horrendous mistake again.

            Karthey’s heart sank as she read the text. What had she done wrong? She did not understand. She brought the housekeeping trolley into the dining room. Carefully, she placed the vase on the trolley. She exited the room by the side door leading directly to the entryway. He had not touched the vase with only rhododendrons. Why was this? Karthey retrieved the vase of flowers from the sitting room and the library, and went to inspect the damage in the study.
            The white porcelain vase lay shattered at the base of the wall next to Cramwell’s desk. All the roses were smashed and torn, as if trampled savagely underfoot. This was no accident, Karthey concluded somberly; this action was intentional. Cramwell had swept the vase off the desk with his hand and beat the roses till the petals came off their stems. Why had he done this? If the man had roses growing in his own backyard, why did he hate them so much?

            Karthey went down to the kitchen and found Cramwell’s basket of groceries. She fixed him a meal of chicken soup and rolls, and brought it upstairs on a tray. As she ventured down the upstairs east hall—where she had never been before, she heard a sound coming from behind the tall double doors leading to Cramwell’s bedroom. Karthey laid the tray on the dusty carpet and leaned her ear against the door. A pitiful, gasping, weeping sound reached her ear. Cramwell was crying. Every so often, Karthey could make out the word “jelly” repeated, but she could not figure out why a man would be crying and talking about jam at the same time, even a man like Cramwell. Karthey penitently got herself a bowl of the soup and a roll, eating her dinner in her own bedroom, full of sympathetic misery.
            At about seven o’clock, Cramwell left his room and went downstairs. A few minutes later, Karthey heard the wailing music begin again. Cramwell played his instrument for an entire hour, and Karthey thought she could hear him shouting at the same time, though she might have imagined that. The music that night was the saddest it had ever been.
            In Karthey’s dreams that night, she returned to Precinct to find everyone either kidnapped or dead, and all she could do was stand and wail, wail, wail like Cramwell’s music. The garden may have made her happy, but she understood that it meant death, misery, and loneliness to Cramwell Fornberg, and this was something that would not change in the foreseeable future—if ever at all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Works-In-Progress Wednesday: "What are you working on NOW?"

Oooh boy!

So for this Works-in-Progress Wednesday, I don't have a particular project to post about... 

I have five.

Five projects I would count as "current" because I'm actively adding stuff to them. (One of them I ended up hauling out of the "Projects for the Future" folder because someone wanted to collaborate on a project and liked my idea!) Three novels and two fanfics. (One for every weekday... or something...)

What are they? In alphabetical order:

1. "Alice's Adventures in Storybrooke"

Type: Fanfiction (link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10288355/1/Alice-s-Adventures-in-Storybrooke)

Fandom: ABC's Once Upon A Time + Once Upon A Time in Wonderland crossover
 

Summary: Due to the unfortunate deficiency of the Once Upon A Time in Wonderland spin-off series, coupled with disappointment over the lackluster "crossover" with Once Upon A Time the spin-off contained, I took it upon myself to write a crossover that both accomplished the story the way the writers intended... but also actually crossed-over the characters themselves and not just the world (with a smattering of new characters where needed).
Beginning at the end of Episode 8 of Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, this story takes off by splitting up the group: Will Scarlet/Knave of Hearts ends up in the Enchanted Forest after being turned into a genie, where he meets up with childhood friend Jasmine and agrees to help her find the man she loves, Allan-A-Dale; Anastasia (Tremaine, step-sister to Cinderella; also formerly the Red Queen of Wonderland) heads to the Enchanted Forest to find Will, and must compete with her sister Drizella who wants the genie for herself; meanwhile, Alice and Cyrus are in Storybrooke, where Jafar has taken over in his pursuit of Cyrus, not knowing that the genie curse has been transferred to Will and freed Cyrus. Let the fun and games begin!

Excerpt: Standing at the edge of the road, Regina happened to spot a strange sight: a white rabbit, three feet high, dressed in a white suit, just in the act of creeping down an alleyway just ahead. Carefully, Regina followed the Rabbit as it darted to a narrow doorway beside the Rabbit Hole tavern.
"Curiouser and curiouser," she murmured to herself.

[...]

Outside the mysterious apartment, Regina heard some crashing and banging inside as she approached the door, but then all was still. She carefully pushed the apartment door open. In spite of the dingy facade, the apartment inside was actually quite nice. It was full of boxes, as if whoever lived here didn't have time to completely move in before they left...
Or...
Regina checked the address label on one box: Mrs. Ginger, Cherry Tree Lane. She smirked; more likely these "moving boxes" had come off the back of a truck.
The persistent beating of a heart distracted her from her musings. The noise seemed to emanate from a wall nearby; her magical powers heightened her sensitivity to such things. Regina followed the noise to a panel with several dart holes and a picture fastened to it. She observed the face in the picture: the expression was haughty, and she wore a crown, but it was definitely the desperate blonde she had seen with Alice and Cyrus. But if there were only two now, where did she go?
The telltale heart beat on, and Regina wondered if someone was hiding behind the panel-though the heartbeat wouldn't be so loud if it were still in a body.
Using a knife, Regina cut a neat hole around the picture. Sure enough, a glowing red heart-box winked at her from within the wall. She remembered the woman's plea: "He's Will Scarlet; have you seen him?"
She was looking for Will Scarlet; could this be his heart? Regina tucked the box under her coat and snuck out of the apartment, making her way not back down the street she came from, but out toward the family Mausoleum. She would need to hide this in her vault, in case she needed leverage in the future.
>>>>>>>>
 
2. "A Writer's Tale #1: The Dragon's Quest"

Type: Novella (link: http://upstreamwriter.blogspot.com/p/serial-saturdays.html takes you to the Serial Saturdays page, where you can find the whole series titled "A Writer's Tale")

Summary: I originally wrote this for a NaNoWriMo challenge, as a single serial novel... and now I'm expanding it into a series of novellas. This particular installment will be the first, and it takes place in the fantasy "genre-world." In it, the author receives a challenge from her editor to create something "new and original and completely unexpected." When she tries to take his advice, she ends up crossing through a door and into a different world, in this case a fantasy one where humans do not exist. Can she find her way back, or is there something she must do first, some reason she has been "sent" to this world?


Excerpt: Whatever the hanging fruits were, they smelled like every kind of fruit combined and over-ripened. I reached up to pick one. I flinched and pulled my hand away. Something touched my finger! It had long, thin limbs and stood out black against the vibrant fruit; it looked like a spider almost as big as my hand. Oh gross! I hate bugs. The four-legged spider-creature slowly worked its way toward my side of the fruit. I held very still, hoping that it wouldn’t sense me and just continue on its way. It reached the front of the fruit and stopped. No sooner had I discerned it’s bulbous yellow eyes and the wide, malicious grin than the thing launched straight at my face with a high-pitched squeal.

[...]

I could never quite make out how they did it, but somehow these squealing creatures hoisted me up as high as the treetops. A group of creatures came down the vines toward my head bearing a large yellow fruit. I cringed as their sharp foot-claws scrabbled over my scalp. Several of them climbed down the side of my face (pulling out hairs as they did) and pulled down on my lower lip, forcing my mouth open as the others crammed the fruit in as far as it would go. A burst of juice gushed out of my mouth and dripped down my neck. I tasted sour, rough rind and overripe melon. Cackling and chattering, the little creatures scurried away and left me hanging high in the treetops. The golden sunlight dimmed and then went out entirely, as if a switch had been thrown. As I watched the ground below, a fog seeped in, combing over the grass and shrubs with a nearly-audible whisper. It billowed and climbed the trunks of the trees. Within minutes my vision was nothing but grey cloud. My eyelids began to droop as the warm, cloying air filled my lungs. I closed my eyes—

Something fluttered against my face. I felt the rind of the fruit scrape my lips as it fell away from my mouth. Something stroked my hair and forehead—but the object that entered my ear canal a good two centimeters really got my attention....
 >>>>>> 

3. "Inkweaver"

Type: Novel

Summary: Once upon a time... Wordspinners abounded. They were the Tale-Crafters, the people who could fashion raw materials into useful tools and items merely by telling a story. By and by, the people stopped listening to the stories these Wordspinners told, stopped using the items they crafted. Very soon, telling tales became as witchcraft to the people, and they stopped imagining things beyond what they could perceive with their senses, and they turned the Wordspinners out of their villages. Ten years after the last Inkweaver departed from the village of Mirrorvale, a "sensible" young woman discovers an unfinished tapestry left behind. Intrigued by the story she finds there, the girl decides to embark on a journey to find the Inkweaver and finish the tapestry. Little does she know just how far this simple tale will take her...

Excerpts: I've posted several excerpts from my story on this blog. Follow this LINK to access all the ones I've posted so far!

4. "PotterLock Down"

Type: Fanfiction (link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10219492/1/PotterLock-Down )

Fandom: Harry Potter + Sherlock crossover

Summary: Inspired by a meme in which Voldemort "consults" with Moriarty over how to defeat Harry Potter... I decided to pursue that vein, crafting a story in which Moriarty, as a distant cousin of the Dark Lord ("Your father, Tom Riddle Sr., had a cousin Wilhelmina Riddle who married Seamus Moriarty—my grandfather. That makes us third cousins, if you're wondering...") agrees to infiltrate Hogwarts and isolate Harry, making it easy for Voldemort to vanquish his enemy once and for all. 
Enter Sherlock Holmes... the only man ever to outwit James Moriarty time and again--and perhaps the only person capable of preserving Harry's reputation... and his life.

Excerpt: They emerged at street level and the tall man guided Harry to a small table outside a cafe.
"Sit."
Harry did. The man took the seat opposite him.
 

"Right then," the man began briskly. "That was by far the most disturbing tube ride I've ever taken. You're a young man with a very singular scar the likes of which I can think of only three ways you might have gotten it, and none of them are plausible at your age and social class. You seemed unfazed by that thing that tried to kill you, and yet you showed more surprise at my intervention. The woman called you Harry, yet I could tell you trusted me-a man who just happened to sit in the seat next to you on the subway-more than you trusted her. Would you mind explaining any of these things to me?"
Harry watched the man; his perceptions were as keen as a detective, yet he made no mention of working with or for the government at all.
 

Just behind him, he saw a tall man dressed all in black suddenly fold his newspaper and lock eyes with him. Another dark-clad man came out of the cafe and scanned the tables, stopping when he spotted Harry. Harry grasped the man's hand.
"I'll explain everything; but we have to run!"
 

The man jumped to his feet and pulled Harry down a side street. "This way! I know where to go!"
Harry and the man dodged down side streets and through alleys, shaking their pursuit. Finally, the pair slowed, and Harry saw the man stumble against the wall. His breathing was raspy and very labored. Harry saw the fingernails turning a dangerous shade of blue.
"Sir?" he stepped around to face the man.
The blue eyes came up and met his. "Have to get... Two-Two... One-B... Baker S-Street! Two blocks down, one North-"
His eyes rolled back, and he would gave fallen if Harry had not been there to catch him.
For the first time in his life, Harry Potter hailed a cab. The compact black vehicle pulled up to the curb.
"Where to, gov?" the cabbie asked.
"221B Baker Street," Harry answered. "Hurry!"

>>>>>>

 5. "The Red Dragon of Wales"

Type: Novel

Summary: This one is going to be the collaboration with another writer... once we actually start collaborating. (You know who you are!) It's potentially going to be one of a series of books based in the nations of the United Kingdom. 
In the future, information is both currency and prestige. Knowledge is literally power. And the one man in Wales who has the capacity and access to everything the whole nation knows is the Security Chief of the Welsh Representative Assembly at Cardiff, Colonel Whitaker. But there is one man who knows the secrets Whitaker keeps from the world, and secrets the Assembly members pray and pay dearly to be able to take to their graves:
Adam LaRouge, known professionally as Drake Ross, once a well-paid member of the WRAITHS (Welsh Representative Assembly Information Technology Hit Squad) for Members of the Assembly, now forced, through a change of fate, to roam the underbelly of Wales, hacking, spying, witnessing...and recording information, hunting down that One Big Scandal that would leverage him back into the upper levels of society.
One night, a strange young girl comes to him with an odd request. So begins a journey that will threaten Drake's beliefs about himself and his choices to their very core. Can the Red Dragon defeat his old enemy, or will he himself be overcome by what he assumed would be a simple task?


Excerpt: Drake studied the scrolling text on the screen before him. The perpetrators’ names were encrypted in case the authorities ever manufactured a cause to seize his externals (though it would have to be an extreme cause indeed to induce the hardiest of the lot to descend to the Streets for any time at all, much less as long as it would take them to find him in particular), but his receptacle had been outfitted with a special translator feature that decrypted the symbols recognized by his eyes before it registered on his brain. Each translation felt like a jack-hammer trying to bore a hole through his skull from the inside. Gloria Withers… Maxwell Forsythe… Conrad Yates… Reginald DeWitt… Deirdre Thorne… Ursula Pyke…

“Lame, lame, boring… Lame!” Drake muttered to himself. These were the usual suspects. Nothing surprising or insidious there! One good draw and every mention in every tabloid on the westerly breeze downloaded to his receptacle. These ones were too much in the public eye to be hiding anything. Angrily, Drake slapped the side of his comp-unit.

“Move faster, you git!” he growled.



“What’s got your wires crossed?” A cheerful voice rang out from the door of his bunker. Drake saw the tea-tray first, borne by the unquenchable Eillwyn. She it was who stayed by her mother’s side during the most tenuous hours of Drake’s early re-boot months. When her mother needed to leave the totally-dependent man and look after the house, Eillwyn it was who assumed the role of continuing to nurse him and feed him and teach him. Her brothers didn’t want anything to do with a grown man who behaved like a born idiot and had as little control over his emotions as the power of speech; his lolling eyes, animal-like grunts, and grasping, crushing grip made them nervous. Eillwyn alone saw the man inside, and patiently coaxed him into the open. A few times, Drake caught himself wondering what it would be like to have feelings for the girl so lately grown into a young woman.



Today was not one of those times.

“Brothers back yet?” Drake groused as he watched Eillwyn placidly pouring the tea for him and preparing it just the way she knew he liked it.

“I haven’t seen them,” she answered, handing him the cup with a smile.

Drake accepted it with only the merest twitch of his lip, more of a sneer than a smile.

"It's out there, Wynnie, I can feel it just--" he measured a space with his fingers just in front of his receptacle, indicating the fringes of his cognizance.

Eillwyn shook her head. "Why must you keep digging around in the muck like this? Why not use your skills and cred for good things, to help people?"

Drake remained sullen. "B'cause that's not me; I don't help people—I never have. I'm meant to stop people, and ultimately to stop Bloody Whitaker."

"Then stop him by winning people over, not by out-scandalizing him!" Eillwyn watched the symbols stream over the old battered comp unit. "You'll never find the scandal you're looking for, not without a mega-cred card like his. You know what Father says: for every bug you squash, there is always another one crawling back into the shadows."


As if to illustrate her point, one adventurous insect chose that moment to make its way out of a crack behind the comp. Idly, Drake wadded his paper napkin into a marble sized ball and pitched it at the bug. It landed on its back upon the desk. Very carefully, Drake pulled out a long, flat memory stick and laid it over the bug's body. Its legs flailed, but the stick pinned it to the desk. Moving with all the measured precision of a surgeon, Drake very easily plucked half of the flailing legs off, in no particular pattern.


"But there's more than one way to kill a bug," he informed Eillwyn. "You don't have to crush it," he pulled off another appendage, "you can simply take all its legs off," he completed the last two removals, "and leave the creature to starve to death." He used the memory stick to turn the bug back onto its belly in the middle of his saucer, where it sat, unable to move, wagging its antennae pitifully. Drake took particular care in resting the base of his cup on as much of the unfortunate insect as he could.

Eillwyn shuddered at the crunch it made, but Drake only grinned the wider.

"And then you kill it," he finished.

[For more excerpts from "The Red Dragon of Wales", go HERE]