Saturday, June 28, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker" Part 18

             Karthey and Cramwell stopped first by the park, it being on the north side of town, the side nearest Fornberg Hill. Cramwell tapped his cane on the pavement.
            “Watch carefully the people that walk by, Miss Ma—er, Karthey,” he instructed. “What sort of people do you see?”
            Karthey watched; she saw a couple businessmen and women, a few mothers with their babies, Mrs. McKee, some college students in Precinct for the holidays—it was a clear autumn day, but traffic was moderately light. Karthey pensively studied the block all the way down to Carmichael and Fourth—where Mrs. Preston was when she disappeared.
            “If I was the kidnapper, trying to get the attention of a certain person in town, namely the person I would warn ahead of time,” she spoke her thoughts aloud, “I would get his attention first, then proceed to remove people important to him.”
            Cramwell considered Karthey’s hypothesis, but sighed, “But of everyone in Precinct, Mrs. Preston would be the only person. The rest are just faces and names to me, even now; there’s no other likely victim according to that line of thinking.”
            The pair began walking down the block and around the Square toward the grocery store, passing by the diner and the café on their way.
            Karthey frowned, thinking more, “But if I was a kidnapper trying to get someone’s attention, I wouldn’t go picking random people at random times. There would be a specific reason, a connection between the victims.” She spread the map out in front of her and searched each mark carefully, “There has to be a connection!”
            “’Tis madness, but there’s method in’t’,” Cramwell quoted Shakespeare softly.
            Karthey’s quick ears heard the quote. “Exactly!” she cried, “A kidnapper who bothers not only to write notes ahead of time, but to encode them as well, is not one to just walk by a place and grab the first person he sees—“
            “Because every victim was not the first person the kidnapper would see in each location,” Cramwell finished.
            Karthey was so wrapped up in the puzzle that she failed to realize that this was the first time Cramwell had spoken over her. “Right,” she agreed with him, “based on the window of time in which they disappeared from sight, there was either a lot of people, or the kidnapper would have had to wait while many people passed by him in order to get the victim he went for.”
            Cramwell’s eyes twinkled with a twisted sort of merriment, “In that case,” he mused, “what reason would he have to choose those people above anyone else? What made them stand out as victims above the rest?”
            Karthey frowned in deep thought, careful to take in all the details of the corners as they crossed the street between the diner and the grocery store. Hauser Avenue, one of the streets that led to the residential area where a lot of her friends lived.
            “There’s the mystery we have to solve,” she remarked to Cramwell as they arrived in front of the grocery store.
            Karthey stopped and turned toward it, examining the edifice for any sort of clues. From that point in the sidewalk, she could see City Hall, directly across the street; next to that was a thrift store on one side, and the barber shop on the other. She looked up at the clock, its hands pointing almost to half-past-two. There was the library, dominating the east side of the Square. Karthey turned back toward the grocery store. Next to that was the alley where they’d found Colby’s jacket. Next to the alley was a wide parking area, as the Square itself was largely used for foot traffic. There weren’t any parking spaces in front of the businesses themselves. Precinct was a town small enough that you could walk most places, or if your house was on the far side of the neighborhood, near the schools, you’d drive into town, park in the lot next to the grocery store, and walk to all the places you wanted to go.
            Cramwell watched her turn and scan the area. “Have you found any clues yet?” he asked at last.
            Karthey shook her head, “Let’s head to the library,” she consented.
           
            Kayla was working at the front desk when Cramwell laid the dusty books on the counter in front of her. Karthey saw her stare bug-eyed at the books, glance up quickly to confirm that it was really Cramwell returning books she did not expect to see unless he had died or something like that, and immediately return her eyes to her work, bringing the books back to a cart behind the counter, where Cecil would re-shelve them.
            Karthey wandered over to the fiction section, scanning the shelves for the place where Cherry had been taken. A morbid curiosity had overtaken her, as seeing the metal and wood shelves of the Precinct Library reminded her of the frightening picture with its two books. She scanned the shelves, alphabetized by author, to see if she could find the exact place.
            Death of A Salesman she knew was written by somebody named Miller; she had no idea who wrote The Girl With A Pearl Earring. Perhaps someone with a last name that began with “M,” considering it had been shelved next to the Miller book. Karthey scanned carefully; Milbrook…Mildred…Adele Miller…Aha! Arthur Miller. There was The Crucible...Ah! Death of a Salesman—but it was definitely on a different shelf than it had been in the picture! What was more, the book The Girl with A Pearl Earring was nowhere to be found. Karthey scanned all the books nearby on that particular shelf, one by one, twice over, and found nothing.
            A cold chill down her spine caused the redhead to shiver. Had the kidnapper set up those two books specifically for the picture, then? Or had it been a coincidence of disorganization that he had simply capitalized on? Karthey ran her fingers over the shelves. This was definitely the place where Cherry had disappeared from; the tall shelves obscured the view to the reading nook, and that particular corner of the library was set just out of view of the entrance to the library. No clear sight in any direction. He could have been waiting just around the corner without Cherry even feeling like she was being watched…
           
            Karthey started violently when Cramwell approached her from behind.
            “It’s nearly three,” he told her, his eyes shifting back and forth nervously. “We need to stop in for purchases at the grocery store, and then we ought to head back home.”
            Karthey sighed, “All right,” she complied.

            All the way home, Karthey berated herself in her thoughts. They’d spent nearly an hour in town, and still had come no closer to solving the case than they had been that morning, save the fact that the kidnappings definitely had something to do with Cramwell.
            Together, they prepared dinner: tri-tip steak, mashed sweet potatoes, asparagus tips, and sourdough bread. Karthey tried multiple times to engage Cramwell in conversation, but most of the talking ended up coming from her end, while the strange, timorous man never offered replies of more than a few sentences. Certainly he never answered her questions about his past with more than vague evasions. Karthey and Cramwell ate dinner in the brightly-lit dining room, washed the dishes (Cramwell washed and Karthey dried), and withdrew to the dining room for the remainder of the evening.
            Karthey glanced to a shelf of books beneath a Grecian bust of Jelilah. She saw Cramwell fidgeting nervously, and desired to give him something else besides the kidnappings to think about.
            “Would it be all right with you if I read one of these books aloud?” she requested.
            Cramwell stared at her for several moments, “Hm? Oh, yes,” he nodded, “that would be fine.”
            Karthey selected a title and pulled a low-backed, blue-cushioned armchair up next to Cramwell’s green one to read by the light of the lamp. It was a very romantic novel, she noticed at once. A wide ribbon of black silk marked the page where she began reading.

            “’I love you,’ she said. ‘I know this must come as something of a surprise, since all I’ve ever done is scorn you and degrade you and taunt you, but I have loved you for several hours now, and every second, more. I thought an hour ago that I loved you more than any woman has ever loved a man, but a half hour after that I knew that what I felt before was nothing compared to what I felt then. But ten minutes after that, I understood that my previous love was a puddle compared to the high seas before a storm. Your eyes are like that, did you know? Well, they are. How many minutes ago was I? Twenty? Had I brought my feelings up to then? It doesn’t matter,’ she still could not look at him. The sun was rising behind her now; she could feel the heat on her back, and it gave her courage. ‘I love you so much more now than twenty minutes ago that there cannot be comparison. There is no room in my body for anything but you. My arms love you, my ears adore you, my knees shake with blind affection. My mind begs you to ask it something so it can obey. Do you want me to follow you for the rest of your days? I will do that. Do you want me to crawl? I will crawl. I will be quiet for you or sing for you, or if you are hungry, let me bring you food, or if you have thirst and nothing will quench it but Arabian wine, I will go to Araby, even though it is across the world, and bring a bottle back for your lunch. Anything there is that I can do for you, I will do for you; anything there is that I cannot do, I will learn to do. I know I cannot compete with the Countess in skills or wisdom or appeal, and I saw the way she looked at you. And I saw the way you looked at her. But remember, please, that she is old and has other interests, while I am seventeen and for me there is only you. Dearest…’”

            Karthey’s voice faded after she had read on for several pages, for right about that time, she saw out of the corner of her eye that Cramwell’s chin rested on his chest, and his eyes were closed, and his body was completely relaxed. He had fallen asleep to the sound of her voice.
            Brimming with sympathy, Karthey searched the room until she found a cedar chest full of soft, ample blankets; one of these she chose and spread over the slumbering master of the house, making sure that her movements did not disturb him. The clock in the music room struck eight times, and Karthey decided that now would be the best time for her to go to bed. On her way out, she caught sight of a small slip of paper sticking out of a book on one of the many end tables scattered around the library. She stopped and read the title of the book: The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe. It was the same book Cramwell had just checked out from the library the day before. Karthey shook her head that a man of his constitution would actually read such an author as Poe in light of the current situation, but she gently and silently opened it to see what the paper said.
            It was very obviously placed between the end of one story and the beginning of the next. A few of the final sentences in the story were very distinctly underlined in bright-red pen, all talking about death, and pestilence. What was more, it was another note from the kidnapper, this time not in code at all:

Last chance, Cramwell.
Look down, look up; has something changed?
One day, two day, three day—BOO!
Hide and Seek, ready or not, come find me!

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 17

             Karthey woke the next morning at eight o’clock and absentmindedly reached for her cell phone. For a moment, she worried because there were no outstanding texts on the phone…but then she remembered the events of the previous day. Karthey sat up in bed, stretched, and smiled. She wondered as she dressed what new surprises awaited her today.
 
            The first surprise awaited her at the bottom of the stairs. Cramwell stood there, looking up at her expectantly—fully dressed and without his hat.
            Karthey paused when she saw him. “Good morning,” she called down to him as she descended.
            Cramwell did not respond to her greeting, though he did look as if he had something he very much wanted to say. He nodded to her as she reached the bottom of the stairs.
            Karthey tried to anticipate what it was that he wanted. She crossed the entryway and started to enter the east hallway. “Do you want me to make us some breakfast?” she asked.
            “Ah, Miss Mavis!” Cramwell burst out suddenly.
            Karthey stopped and looked back at him, standing there at the foot of the stairs, hands fidgeting at his sides, rocking nervously on his feet. “I told you,” she said with a half-smile, “my name is Karthey.”
            “Well, hm, Miss—Karthey,” Cramwell stuttered awkwardly, “I was—that is to say, er, would you…care to accompany me to, ah, to breakfast at—at the, um, café?”
            Karthey smiled, “Certainly,” she agreed.
            Cramwell offered his arm again, and the two of them left the house, only pausing on the doorstep as Cramwell picked up his paper and tucked it under his arm, intending to read it there in the café.

            Whitney was taking orders from patrons that morning, and she nearly passed by the table where Cramwell sat, assuming he would just have his usual, when the odd man raised his hand.
            “Excuse me,” he beckoned her.
            Whitney approached their table, wondering what this could be about.
            “We—we…” Cramwell began stammering, his eyes darting around the room.
            Whitney began to get very uncomfortable. What was The Cram trying to say to her?
            Karthey Mavis, sitting completely unruffled opposite him, spoke up. “We’d like to order breakfast, Whitney,” she explained.
            Whitney turned to her and couldn’t keep the shock out of her voice as she breathed, “What’ll you have?”
            Karthey glanced at the menu. “Two of today’s specials, please,” she said. “With orange juice and coffee for both of us.”
            Whitney did not so much as look in Cramwell’s direction as she scribbled down the order and darted back to the kitchen.
            

            Karthey shook her head, well aware of the days when Whitney’s reaction would have been dwarfed by her own under the same circumstances. She watched Cramwell fumble with his newspaper as he unfolded it and spread it on the table.
            “DINER OWNER LATEST VICTIM,” proclaimed the headlines. Karthey smiled. So her dad had received her note, and had taken immediate action. She watched Cramwell’s face, noting that he read the article with intensity that perhaps belied surprise, for he was not used to reading of a kidnapping the morning after noticing one. She saw him press his lips; reading of Mrs. Preston’s abduction reminded him of how he had felt when he first noticed she was gone.
            Whitney returned with their beverages, and a little later she brought the entrees. Cramwell folded up the newspaper and placed it on the seat next to him. Karthey was dying to know what her father had written in his article. She was also curious to know how Cramwell intended to go about working with her to solve the mystery. Would he just come out and start talking? Would he rather wait until they were alone?
            “What do we know about the victims, anyway?” Karthey whispered under her breath.
            “Pardon?” Cramwell jerked out of his self-absorbed silence.
            Karthey colored and repeated her question, “I was just wondering how we could go about investigating the victims to try to find the identity of the killer,” she explained.
            Cramwell didn’t seem at all bothered by the fact that she had just sprung the topic of the kidnappings on him over breakfast. As a matter of fact, he reached into the front breast pocket of his tweed jacket and pulled out none other than the very first paper that Karthey had written after the abduction of Cherry Macintosh and promptly lost. Karthey could hardly believe he still had the paper, much less on his person.
            He looked down and read it, “Well, they all seem to frequent this area of town a lot,” he noted.
            Karthey nodded, digging in her purse for a piece of scrap paper and a pen. She found a small notepad and began writing on it. “So that’s our angle then? Find out where these people go a lot, and see if there’s any connection?”
            “Angle?” Cramwell echoed, but he wasn’t looking for an explanation. Karthey glanced up to his face, and saw that he was staring at the paper again, with an amused light in his eye. He continued without looking up, “First let’s get a fix on the locations where everyone was kidnapped. I think that would be a better place to start. It’s here on the paper, but I think it would be better if we had it all in one place. Maybe there’s a certain connection between the kidnapping locations that will enable us to predict where the next victim might be taken.” He stopped and pressed his lips, and Karthey knew he was reflecting on what he had just said. Five people had disappeared already, and here he was talking as if he knew for certain it would happen again. How horrible!
            “Okay,” Karthey slid out from the booth to a rack of newspapers standing next to the front door of the café. In a smaller rack on the top were several maps of the area, both local and state-wide. Karthey chose a map of Precinct. She spread it out on the table.
            “All right, so—“ she checked the paper, “Clarissa disappeared about here—“ she marked the corner near the diner with an “x”, “and Coby was last seen on the corner over here—“ she marked again, this time next to the grocery store. “Alivia disappeared from the corner about here,” she made a third “x” in the Square, “and Cherry vanished from the library.” Karthey lifted the map and glanced at the newspaper underneath. “Did it say where Mrs. Preston was last seen?”
            Cramwell took it out from under her eyes with unexpected alacrity. “The last time anyone can recall seeing Mrs. Preston was as she waited to cross the street at the corner of Fourth Street and Carmichael Avenue.”
            Karthey marked the location on the map, “That’s right near the park,” she mused.
            Cramwell snapped the paper from in front of his face and bent deeply over the map. He studied each mark carefully. When he finally sat back in his seat, he looked at Karthey with a wan expression.
            “I know the connection,” he stated briefly, “They’re all places I go.”
^^^^^^

            Cramwell left the café at eleven and returned to the house with Karthey in tow. The girl herself tried to make sense of what she had just heard. She clutched the map in her hand as Cramwell walked as fast as his cane would allow, wondering if they had actually solved the case, after all this time.
            Once they were back in the mansion, Cramwell did not stop until he had reached his study. His own map still hung on the wall. He seized a pointer from among the pens on the desk and extended it. He slapped the map with it as he spoke heatedly.
            Whap!
            “The waitress worked at the café, but she was near the diner the last time anyone saw her.”
            Whap!
            “The boy was last seen at the grocery store, where I usually go. I happened to be at the park when his mother was still looking for him.”
            Whap!
            “Miss Rogner left her umbrella at the diner, and was last seen walking across the square from there.”
            Whap!
            “The girl was at the library, I go there every day.”
            Whap!
            “Mrs. Preston—“ Cramwell caught his breath, overcome with the realization. “Mrs. Preston was seen near the park, the last time anyone saw her.” His voice fell, and he sank into the armchair behind him and let the pointer fall to the floor.
            Karthey stared at the map and leaned back against the mahogany desk. “Do—“ she tried to make sense of this new angle, “Are you saying that the kidnapper was not just planning who to kidnap, but where?”
            “It’s possible,” Cramwell looked up at her with mild fear in his eyes. “The identities of his victims may not have been planned at all.” He turned back to the map, “He just knew where to get them, because it would point back to me.”
            Karthey shook her head, “But that’s impossible!” she protested. “Anyone in their right mind doesn’t just go around grabbing random people, just for the sake of location! No—remember the notes? The kidnapper would give you at least the gender ahead of time. That shows some level of premeditation.”
            “You can know ahead that you are planning to grab a woman from a specific spot without having to know who the woman is,” Cramwell pointed out.
            Karthey pondered this for a moment, “However,” she postulated, “you need to know that a woman will be there, and that she won’t be someone that will be noticed by too many people right away.”
            Cramwell thought over her point, comparing the victims in his head to verify her statement. “What about the boy? His mother noticed he was missing right away.”
            Karthey sighed, “But Colby runs out of sight of his mom a lot, it’s what boys his age do. Mrs. McKee searched the whole town before she went to the police and confirmed he was missing, and they concluded that he was kidnapped.” She stared back at the map. “I just can’t think of why he—“ she stopped.
            Cramwell noticed, and looked up at her, “What is it?”


            Karthey’s eyes held a strange glint as she looked carefully at the list of victims next to the map. “You said before that the locations, not the identities, were chosen because it would all point back to you,” she mused. “What if he did know the identities of some of the victims?”
            Cramwell said nothing in the silence, only waited for her to continue.
            Karthey smiled grimly, “Yes, he sent the notes—but every time, it was someone you didn’t know.”
            Cramwell sniffed, “Well, after the second disappearance, I admit I began to take more notice.”
            Karthey nodded, “Yeah, I remember the day my dad said he’d noticed you going into City Hall—you’d never been in City Hall before that, had you?”
            Cramwell shook his head, “Not if it was not required, no.”
            Karthey tapped the tip of her nose pensively, “So you start taking notice of other people… and then he takes Mrs. Preston.”
            The grandfather clock crashed out half-past-twelve in the silence that hung after that statement.
            Cramwell stared at the map until his eyes felt like they were going to roll right out of his head. “So why Mrs. Preston?”
            “Why anyone else?” Karthey agreed. “There has to be something that says he either knew or didn’t know the people he would grab before he would grab them—the timing, the angle, the number of people…we really need to figure this out.”
            Cramwell shook his head and stood. “I think this calls for a walk back into town.”
            Karthey sighed and ran a hand through her red curls, “Shouldn’t we have lunch first?”
            Cramwell paused, rubbing the back of his neck and glancing at the map. “Sure,” he agreed abruptly, speaking in short, bursting tones again, “We’ll have lunch and then we will leave.” He could not stop puzzling over the ponderous mystery, and it was beginning to wear on him. He was very much unused to thinking actively about so many things beyond the routine. But “unusual” and “beyond the routine” seemed to characterize his life the past week, more so over the last few days.
            The clock had just struck one when Karthey and Cramwell finished lunch. Karthey washed the dishes down in the kitchen and had just emerged to where Cramwell waited for her in the east hallway, when she had an idea. She glanced at the tall pile of books gathering dust in the library. She sniffed.
            “What if we returned some of those code books when we go into town?” she suggested to Cramwell.
            The man looked a bit shocked, as if such a thing never occurred to him. “Return the books?” he echoed faintly. He wandered into the library and glanced over the stack of books nearly as high as his waist. True, he hadn’t read some of those in months, true, he had memorized all the codes in a few of those books… Cramwell selected a few titles he knew he wouldn’t ever miss and placed them in the basket he normally took to town with him.
            “All right,” he said to Karthey, “I’m ready.”

The two of them finally left the house, headed back for Precinct. Karthey brought with her the map with all the kidnapping locations marked on it, plus the estimated times of the kidnappings written next to each mark.
            She was glad to have that paper in her hand as they walked back into town together. It hid from her the stares and whispers of the people. Cramwell was becoming more comfortable around her, she noticed, and she around him. Karthey counted it no small victory that the man who held so many secrets and was so full of paranoia he couldn’t say two words to any other person (much less a woman) was now capable of dialoguing with her about the kidnapped victims.
            As they walked side by side through the town, Karthey took an interest in noticing the reactions of the people around her. She was used to them smiling as she walked by before; some people still smiled at her now—at least, until they saw Cramwell. Then their reactions were one of two: either their heads went down and they ceased eye contact, or they stopped and stared in surprise. Karthey found herself hoping that she could solve the mystery very soon so that people would smile at her again. This sort of life might be normal for someone like Cramwell, but she certainly wasn’t used to it at all, and hoped she never would be!
*All Photos from Google.com

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Poetry Tuesday: "Entry"

*All Pictures acquired from Google.com
The words go spinning through my head
Centrifugal force pushes them out my fingertips
Dancing onto the page where they stick
Like mice on flypaper, like alphabet stickers
Haven't I said enough?
But my mind cries out the more
Haven't I written reams of things?
One dozen followers stand by as the syllables waste unseen
The waste of my mind, wasting
My time and the space in my skull
Concentration limited—


Computers make it so easy
To never look another person in the eye.
All you would have to do is watch their hands
A screen, a scalp; a console, a cowlick;
A whole generation of heads bowed
Not to pray but to prey,
Swaying in worship of the worth-ship
Am I enough to draw your eyes?
No mean sketch of the ball, the organic  ellipsis; I mean
To pull them out of their digital distraction,
To focus the energy on mutual attraction,
To make words with the mouth and get a reaction,
Instead of treating what you hear as a personal infraction—

 


The world is so much bigger than what you can 
hold in the palm of your hand,
See it, see them, see me,
See life in all it's intricacies
The infinity of a human face
More angel than animal, a distinct race
A race with the capacity to recognize other races
Not color-blind, but equal,
Unique colors and build, but all human;
Celebrated for the contents of the heart,
The inside of a man has no race or color,


Heart and mind makes the man,
And these don't come in different shades;
It is for man to name the creatures, 

and not merely for their different features,
Lion, zebra, gerbil, cat;
No other animal lays claim to that—

 


The words buzz, beeing, in flight, alive;
Keeper of ideas, my mind their hive
Each thought in a cell,
Not chained but resting
Awaiting the time
When a thread needs testing
Thinner than sight,
Stronger than might—
The web of inspiration spans
Impossible distances, yet plans
Have their fill and reach the edges


Of the cloth, as woven tapestries
Of tales spread over warp and woof,
And threads of plot weave in and out;
The color and weight of words
Selected for their value and purpose;
What it's meant to represent,
Not just a thread, existing to hang,
But a part of an interconnected web,


Meshing, crossing, folding, holding,
Drawing you in, wrapping you close,
Like the embrace of a friend,
Like a smile, returning to the sender;
And so my words, spun out of my fingers,
Return to my heart.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Reader's Review: "Pure Control" by C. Lloyd Brill

*Taken from amazon.com
Summary:
When a metallic cube with unusual controls inside is unearthed during the building of an amusement park, the developer decides to build it into an attraction. Giancarlo, Quinn, Tyrell and their families are among the first to visit this attraction when they find themselves trapped in the room. But the strange controls are more than mere window dressing. And the room is intended for other purposes than entertainment. Purposes the group is not prepared for. The situation they're locked in seems impossible and spirals out of control, placing everyone in danger. Giancarlo is forced to take the role of leader, facing an ever-more dangerous adversary when one of the group members takes his control too far as they attempt to find a way out.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My Review: There are five primary areas in which I judge the books I read. It works out in the rating system used in virtually every platform because there are five stars. A book that scores high marks in each area will earn all five stars from me. Out of the books I've reviewed do far, all have scored top marks. So why not this one? Let me explain using the five criteria.

Premise +1
Brill's premise is rock-solid: a cube is discovered and no one knows how to work it, so it's left as an attraction in an amusement park. Perfect opening for all sorts of shenanigans—because every sci-fi enthusiast knows that alien tech is not something to be taken lightly. Top-shelf stuff, this is! Simple enough beginnings, with infinitely complex potential. Well done!

Characters +0.5
That being said, this might be personal (and from the other reviews I fear I might be alone in this—so don't take my word for it!) but I took issue with the painstakingly multiracial group: American army-types who are bog and bulky and serve as the antagonists (not necessarily because they're any sort of enemy, but that they manage to antagonize every other character); the Hispanic man and two sons; the African-American couple with three girls; the Caucasian newly-engaged couple, and a random Vietnamese boy who says little and serves as kind of the linchpin of everyone's concern. While having multiple races represented in one's characters is an okay thing... I feel like Brill's emphatic delineation in the very first chapters of this distinction made a bigger deal of it than it ought to have been. I felt like he was forcing his idea of the character's appearance on the reader, instead of letting the character's personality speak for itself.

Which leads me to the next category...

Dialogue +0.5
There is plenty of dialogue to be had, which is a wonderful thing. Some novels are so focused on what is going on and how it is happening and hustling the characters from one scenario to the next that there is little time to discover how the characters actually feel, what they think about their situation, and whether they're the sort who has any idea what might happen next. Brill is not that way... In fact, the setting seems kind of sparse and bland compared to the wealth of color (in more ways than one) in the characters' reactions to it. There is an element of conversation that establishes a character's voice and personality, so that one may have a scene comprised entirely of quotes, and still the reader understands exactly who is speaking.
Brill's characters have voices all right—one I found particularly distasteful in that every fourth word was an unwarranted cuss, and he was completely out of line in his treatment of everybody, the whole way through. Beyond this man, and one other—a quiet, gentle soul, and the only voice of real reason in the whole "cast"—the others, unfortunately, ended up as merely nuances of the same voice: the youngest little girl talked like her father, the attendant (a girl) had essentially the same "voice" as one of the visitors (a guy), and the effect was sadly undermined.

Plotlines +0.5
The next category is the actual line the plot takes. Now, perhaps I am being a bit unfair in this, because, honestly, Brill takes a very unique approach that I did not expect at first, but did work reasonably well in the context of the premise. Can it be summarized in one sentence? I'd say so, yes. Did it "meander" through scenes at all? Unfortunately, yes; rather too much, I'm afraid. While, yes, it's okay to give a fast-moving plot a break sometimes, to let the reader become better acquainted with the characters... Brill provides very little back-story, and about the only "character development" happens when one of the "good characters" literally gets in bed with the "bad character." I would have loved to hear the characters talking about themselves more, understanding why they assumed the various roles in the cast, other than simply on the writer's whim. What happened to Kevin's mom?how did An get separated from his parents? What sort of background does Tori come from? Tyrell has three daughters, has he ever wanted a son? Why is Quinn making a big deal about calling Stacey gay when he so obviously is not?
All in all, the bulk of the plot and the challenges faced by the characters were both reasonable and credible. Leaving the reader wanting more is never a bad thing, am I right?

Resolution +1
I'll finish the review with full marks for the resolution. The main danger was averted, the characters came through it and were unified—and it was wonderfully unexpected. It really did resolve a lot of things; not with a nice little bow around every little plot thread, but it got the job done. It leaves a lot of things under the control of the reader, which is innovative and highly effective for engaging the reader. Rather than patting down every little question with answers of his own, Brill leaves the answers up to the reader, to be as simple or as complicated as they wish.

All-in-all, this book is a great read, a strong debut, and a fantastic launch of a promising author!


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

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Serial Saturday: "Cipherstalker", Part 16

Karthey sat at the booth in miserable silence. Cramwell had seated her at his booth, limped to the counter to pay for his coffee—then her father had walked in, and it was all Karthey could do not to leap into his arms at first sight. She sat as Cramwell had ordered her to, staring at the table, making eye contact with no one, even though she could feel their stares and hear their whispers from across the room. She kept her head bent, and fervently hoped she would not have to endure the pain of her father recognizing her—just in time to hear him cry, “Karthey!”

            Karthey winced; every time she considered looking at him, even acknowledging his presence, her cell phone would buzz. She knew what it said; the same thing Cramwell had been texting her every time he saw her wanting to interact with anyone: “Remember your promise.” Karthey was not about to break her word, for fear of losing the privilege of ever coming to town again. It was becoming harder to do so, even as her father persisted in speaking to her.
            “Karthey! Golly, I miss you! Are you doing well? Why won’t you speak to me? We’ve made progress, Karthey! We’re trying to figure out who the kidnapper is. Your mother misses you, Derrik misses you—we all wish you were back home. Aren’t you going to at least say hello to me?” He leaned forward and grabbed her hand.
            Karthey tensed and tried to get Cramwell’s attention with her eyes, staring at him hard enough that he looked up finally. She begged him with such a pitiful expression that he finally relented only slightly and nodded.
            Karthey looked at her father, “Hi Dad,” she said quietly.
            Her father seemed ecstatic at the reaction. “Oh, Karthey!” He reached with his other arm as if he was going to try and embrace her while she sat in the booth, but just then, Cramwell finished his coffee and cleared his throat.
            Mr. Mavis took the hint and backed away from the table. Karthey felt the pain in her chest as her father left, and knew he must feel the same way about leaving her there.

            Only a bit behind the normal schedule of the day, Karthey and Cramwell went to the library at eleven o’clock. Cramwell went to the Nonfiction section and was elated to discover a new book of codes and ciphers. He read for almost a half-hour, while Karthey amused herself with whatever she could find around her, and proceeded to the front desk to check out the book.
            At the counter, as Cecil helped Cramwell, Taylor approached Karthey with a strange look on his face. Keeping a wary eye on Cramwell, he hurriedly slipped a folded piece of paper across the counter and into Karthey’s hand. Karthey covertly slid the paper into her pocket and wondered what it could be as they walked together to the diner.

            Cramwell walked into the diner and stopped short. Something was wrong; what was it? His white lunch bag stood where it always did, on the counter right behind the register. Cramwell dug the appropriate amount of cash to pay for it and laid it on the counter, but did not touch the bag. Something stopped him.
            Mrs. Preston was not there; had she been there yesterday? He was so used to ignoring her that her boisterous voice had become as natural as the bell that hung over the door and rang when he walked in. He remembered the note he had found amidst the soup cans at the grocery store the day before, warning him that someone he knew would disappear. Had it really been referring to Mrs. Preston, of all people? Cramwell allowed his eyes to scan around the counter; there was no sign of the chatty woman anywhere, and the girl standing behind the counter (Charity Grace; he had seen her in the census) looked nervous enough to confirm Cramwell’s fears. Gruffly, he snatched the bag, waited for Karthey to select a bagel and an orange for herself, and escorted her to the park.

            Karthey was nervous to see Cramwell revert to such a thorny demeanor. She hung back as he marched toward the back of the park out of habit. He sat down on the bench, and motioned for her to do the same. Karthey sat stiffly at the opposite end of the bench. Cramwell was soon absorbed in his lunch, so Karthey found the opportunity to covertly pull the note out of her pocket. Instantly, she recognized the handwriting inside. It was from her father.

Dear Karthey, it read, I wanted to tell you how proud I am of your bravery in remaining where you are. You are safe, my darling. I want to congratulate you, too, on your excellent sleuthing skills. I hope Mr. Fornberg has not discovered our covert operation, but I know you, and I don’t believe he ever will because you are so clever.
I have narrowed the list of suspects down to a handful of people Cramwell knew back in London, who might have reason or motive for serial abductions. A lot of them are still in jail for other crimes; if you find anything that might help narrow down the list, please leave a note for me at the library when you go this afternoon. I love you. –Your father

            Karthey smiled; he had left her plenty of blank paper to write her own note on, and she knew where to find a cup of pens at the library counter. What sorts of things could she pass on to her father, though? Everything she’d discovered in the past few days had to do with Cramwell, not the kidnappings! Yet the more she thought about it as Cramwell finished his lunch and the two of them walked back to the library, the more she reasoned that perhaps what she had learned had more to do with the kidnappings than she realized, or perhaps what she had learned would at least help them narrow down their list of suspects. Since the kidnapper seemed to be so closely connected with Cramwell, perhaps the more her dad knew of Cramwell, the greater their chances of success would be.
            Karthey and Cramwell arrived at the edge of the Square and began to walk across. Karthey kept her head down as Cramwell did, so as not to engage anyone, but she could still see people stop and stare at them, pointing and whispering about her and about him. It made her so uncomfortable she could not restrain an involuntary squirm. She saw Cramwell’s eyes flicker toward her as he saw the movement.
            “The people point and stare a lot,” she explained in a low voice as they entered the library, “it makes me nervous.”
            “That’s the way people always act,” he replied as if they’d been on speaking terms this whole time, “Welcome to my world.”
            Karthey was so mortified at this revelation that she almost forgot to follow him into the Reading Nook. Just in time, she remembered the note to her father. She left Cramwell absorbed in a novel, and meandered her way to the check-out counter, where Zack nodded to her knowingly. Karthey selected a pen from the cup on the counter and drew her father’s note out of her pocket. She tore off the bottom, blank part and thought carefully about what she should write in the limited space. After a minute, she smiled; she knew.
Jelilah drowned.
Cramwell not to blame.
He hates red.
Mrs. Preston gone.
I love you.
Karthey

            There! Just enough room for that much. Karthey knew her dad could use this information; she just hoped it was help enough for him. She handed the note to Zack and returned to Cramwell.
            He sat just as she had left him, intensely absorbed in his book. She saw his brow furrowed; was he worried about something—did he know she was passing messages behind his back? True to form, however, he never responded to her all the time he read. Karthey saw Zack leave the counter, and Kayla took over for him. Karthey watched the young man slip on a coat and head out the door. Perhaps he was delivering her message? Karthey could only sit and wonder for two more hours. When it was time to leave, Cramwell tucked his book under his arm, stood, and offered his other arm to Karthey. She took it, they proceeded to check-out, and they left the library straight for the grocery store.

            At the grocery store, Karthey followed Cramwell around the bins as he selected foods for the evening and the following day. She wandered behind him, studying the pattern in the weave of his tweed coat, the way he tapped his cane every third step, and the strange shuffling way he—
            Karthey stopped at the end of the canned foods aisle, where a column of stickers and rubber stamps was located. Someone had very deliberately arranged seven alphabet stamps to spell out “K-A-R-T-H-E-Y.” She inspected it closer. There was a note tucked just behind it, from her dad! He must have known Cramwell would be absorbed in choosing his cans, which would give her time to grab the note. Keeping one eye on Cramwell, Karthey pretended to survey the items on display, running her fingers over the rubber stamps and messing them up (in case he might see them), and deftly seizing the note behind them with her fingertips. Quickly, she pushed it into her pocket and continued her perusal as if nothing was out of the ordinary, and she was just as bored as ever.
            Cramwell paid for his groceries, and the pair proceeded toward the foot of Fornberg Hill.
            Just when they had made it out of town, Cramwell erupted abruptly, “What news from your father?”
            Karthey turned her head toward him guiltily; truly? For all she had done to be so clandestine, he had known all along? Or perhaps he was trying to trap her. “I don’t know,” she answered.
            Cramwell huffed, “Miss Mavis, merely because I do not interact with anyone does not mean I am wholly unaware of their movements, particularly of late, and especially of you. Has your father made any progress in working with the police to solve this case? I must have any information he has passed on to you.”
            Karthey thought about the note in her pocket. As Cramwell unlocked the gate leading to Fornberg Hill, she expressed a proposition.
            “What if we were to work on this case together?”
            Cramwell stopped and looked her over dubiously. “Together?” he stuttered, “You want to work with me, and you think that will help solve the case?”
            Karthey rolled her eyes at his apparent prejudice, “Yes!” she sighed, “And I think we ought to do it in person, no more texting like we have been.” Her fear of Cramwell Fornberg was almost completely gone in her enthusiasm to be able to at last make progress and answer the questions that had been bothering her so much for over a week now.
            Cramwell hesitated. Clearly he did not think her capable of such sleuthing; but hadn’t he seen all that she had done over the last week at his house? Didn’t he remember that he had in his desk the very paper that Karthey had written, with all the details of the first four victims?
            “Miss Mavis,” he began, but she stopped him there on his doorstep, ready to be firm with him for once.
            “For the record,” she informed him, “my name is Karthey.”
            “Yes I know,” he replied quickly; she could tell he was still thinking over her offer furiously. “But—Karthey—are you sure you can be an adequate asset? This is a very volatile, highly sensitive situation, and you are only collateral, a temporary guest uninvolved with the case itself.”
            Karthey was unconvinced. She fixed those icy-blue eyes with the same stare from her hazel ones. “I can do it. Will you let me?”
            Cramwell Fornberg sighed heavily. “All right,” he acquiesced, “but we don’t start until tomorrow. Leave me alone for tonight, and we will meet in the morning.”
            Karthey nodded, “All right.”
            Cramwell opened the front door for her and allowed her to step through first. She made for the kitchen as Cramwell went to the library.
            “Cramwell,” Karthey called before she went through the door.
            He had just reached the library door; he paused without turning around.
            “Thank you,” she said.
            He nodded his head.

<<<<<Previous          Next>>>>>

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Works-In-Progress Wednesday: "A Writer's Tale", Extended Version!

Some of you who have been with me since very early may remember the Saturday Series I did featuring my NaNoWriMo 2012 project, A Writer's Tale. (Go to this page and scroll down to the second bank of links if you want a refresher, or if you missed it the first time!)

While the novel started out as a single serial novel, I am currently working on expanding the stories to be individual novellas, which would be the version I would potentially try to get published.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading these couple little excerpts as much as I enjoyed writing them!


>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
 
“What?” Zenni cried, following Yellow-Dress up to my face. “How do you know it’s trying to communicate? For all we know, this could just be a creature that makes random noises.”

Yellow-Dress huffed. “Well, I want to find out what it is saying, so somebody bring me a berry!”

Another fairy with long, dark hair and a red dress flew up in front of my face with a berry as big as her head. Gently, she tucked it between my lips, and obediently, I bit down.

The sweet, tangy juice flooded my mouth. I tasted blueberries, and a hint of savory cinnamon. It was altogether delicious—then it entered my throat. A transformation occurred, and it felt as if a fireball was working its way toward my stomach. I gagged in surprise, but, as the berry was already swallowed, there was nothing to choke back up. Whatever I had consumed along with the berry (or perhaps it was a strange naturally occurring aftertaste of the berry) tasted like the spiciest peppers imaginable and overwhelmed my taste buds.
           
“Water!” I gasped, careless of whether the fairies understood me, “water!”

Two fairies flew up, bearing between them a bowl-shaped leaf filled with a clear, fizzing liquid that tasted like apples and refreshed my mouth. Yellow-Dress returned, flying so close to my nose that I had to cross my eyes to look at her.

“We are sorry to cause you such discomfort,” she said. “Most creatures do not mind the taste of fairy dust. Please tell us, if you can, what sort of creature are you? I have seen nearly all the different kinds Phantasm holds, but never one like you, of your size and color. I dare say you could stand on the ground and look a unicorn in the eye!”

The burning was gone, but I knew my throat was going to be tender for a long while. My tongue still tingled as I croaked out, “I’m, uh, human.”

Suddenly I felt a crawling sensation over my fingers, which stuck out behind me through my bonds. Remembering the spider-imp things from the night before, I freaked out just a little.
“What’s that?” I yelped, twisting my head futilely. “I think those imp things are—“
Before I could finish, a small, human-like body crawled up my shoulder in front of my face.
“Gah!” I cried, and the little man grimaced before clamping two hands over my lips.

“No claws or sharp teeth to report, Your Majesty!” he said. “I think the most dangerous thing about this yoo-min is her very loud voice and very large body.”

There were more small bodies now landing on my head and shoulders and crawling down my back, but unlike the ones from before, who were naked and barefoot, these wore clothes and boots. I would have thought they were more of those fairies, except these ones did not have wings.

“Then, by all means,” the royal fairy replied to the little man, “release her.”

The same moment as she gave the order, the sticky vines all but melted off my body so fast, I could have sworn I hung in midair for a split second before my free fall.

A
 A
A
U
U
U
G
H
H
H
!
!
!”

>>>>>>>>>>

 I jumped to my feet when I heard the thundering hooves. The creature trotting toward the glade was so brilliantly white that I could barely make out the shape in the sunlight. As it stepped into the shade of the trees, I saw the milky-white horn protruding from the center of its forehead. The hooves sparkled in the sunlight like brushed pewter.
[...]
He stopped when he caught sight of me standing there in the grass.

“And what is this?” he asked in a smooth, rolling kind of voice. He swung his head from side to side to get a good look at me with both his eyes. Seeing a unicorn was so dreamlike, I almost couldn’t move, for fear everything around me would vanish into nothingness.
“I… I—“ I couldn’t for the life of me get the words out! Why was I so nervous all of a sudden? The unicorn was more like an affable old gentleman, who would ordinarily not be intimidating in the least!
Jerak swung his head over to Perissa, “I thought you gave it fairy dust; why then does it speak another language still?”
“She’s not really talking right now, Jerak,” Perissa explained. “If I am reading her expression correctly, I rather think she’s nervous.”
“Nervous?” There was a hint of whinny in the unicorn’s voice as he responded with surprise. “Whatever could it have to be nervous about? Normally, beings feel safer with the Guardians about!”
“I’m sorry!” It took a lot of effort to force the words out, but once they came, the rest followed easily. “It’s just that I’ve never met a unicorn before—nor a fairy, nor an elf, for that matter.”
“Hullo, it speaks!” Jerak resumed studying me. “I suppose I ought to have begun with a proper introduction. My name is Jerak; what might we call you, creature?”
"Laura," I answered.
"Ah," said the unicorn, nodding his head, "and, my good lorra, what is your name?"
I blinked. "I'm sorry, what?"
"You don't have a name?" asked Jerak.
"I do, it's just--My name is Laura."
Jerak pranced in embarrassment. "Oh, I'm sorry, I misunderstood."
"She's a human, Jerak," Perissa supplied.
"Indeed?" the unicorn blinked twice and leaned forward to sniff me carefully. "Hmm, not a scent I recognize; how very fascinating! Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Laura!"

>>>>>>>>>>>
 
            The next morning, I awoke and completely forgot where I was. All I could think was that I had walked to the big park on the other side of town from my apartment, and had spent the night there in an effort to get “closer to the wild.” I glanced around; the ground was very wet, as if it had rained the previous night, but underneath the large blanket I was sandwiched in, my own clothes had stayed completely dry. I was wearing clothes from the day before—but now they were badly rumpled and streaked with a strange-smelling black goo. I couldn’t think where it had come from.

“Laura?”
I heard my name, and rolled over to find the warm, moist snout of a horse in my face. No, not a horse—horses didn’t have horns.
“Good morning,” said the unicorn.
I screamed and scrambled a few paces backward before I remembered the events of the day before.
“What’s wrong?” Jerak pranced a few steps nervously.
I could feel my arms still shaking from the shock. I sat up, wrapped my arms around my knees, and bent my head forward.
“Oh, I’ve had about enough of this!” I groaned. “Just go ahead and send me back.”
Jerak bent his head and nosed the knapsack sitting on the ground. “Back where?” he asked, tossing his head so his forelock flipped to the other side of his horn.
“To my own world!” I said, sitting up and facing him. “I get it, okay? I’ll go back to my typewriter, write a fantasy story about this world, and voila! I have exactly the unexpected thing my editor and publishers are looking for.” I stood up and started tugging at my shirt. The goo stuck like craft glue. “How am I ever going to get this off?” I wondered.
“Laura,” Jerak blinked at me, turning his head back and forth to get a clear view of me, “I don’t have any idea how to get you back to your world. Might you try retracing the path you took to get here?”
I sat on a nearby rock, tossing a pebble and scattering a crowd of what looked like tiny multicolored puffballs. “Now that would be impossible.”
Jerak took a few hesitant steps closer. “Perhaps you might have a greater purpose here that you haven’t discovered yet.”
I slapped my knee and stood again. “Then let’s discover it quick so I can get back to normal life!”
“All right,” he conceded. “Breakfast first!"
>>>>>>>>

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Poetry Tuesday: The Shepherd Knight


On a wondrous summer day,
I saw a marvelous sight
Galloping o'er hill and dale,
I saw a stalwart knight;
he rode astride a powerful steed,
a beast fit to bear his master,
The wind, it sought to drive him back,
but the knight persevered all the faster.

On that summer's day, I saw the knight,
I watched him from afar,
A dragon rose, with scales so bright,
they shone just like the stars;
The dragon roared, with fearsome fire
he claimed the kingdom, all:
"No hero may stand before my ire,
I rule! Fear me and fall!"

The knight, he stood upon the ground,
His head unhelmed he there;
His armor he cast all around,
and faced the dragon, bare.
"You say I am a hero, worm,"
The stalwart youth declared,
"Yet here I show you my true form,
and tell you, I'm not scared!"

"Only a sheep-herd they send to me?"
The dragon cried in a rage,
"Will you herd me, like a lowly beast,
will you close me in a cage?
I am the mighty dragon-lord,
King above all kings!
The seas are in my flagon stored,
I feast upon all things!"

"Not so, foul worm," the shepherd cried,
"A KING doth reign on high,
Who rules o'er earth, the seasons, the tide,
Whom you shall not defy!
You say you have a fearsome wrath,
You threaten to scorch the land;
but MY KING, Who sent me down this path
has given you into my hand!"



"See, even now I have no shield,
My horse you have devoured;
but to MY KING you must needs yield,
or die within the hour."
The dragon scorned, "Thou puny cur!
Within my emerald claw,
I'll crush you, boy! You dare not stir!
You'll die between my jaws!"

The dragon bent his mighty head,
to fulfill his boastful word,
Yet in his haste to make him dead,
the dragon forgot the sword;
The youth, still holding his weapon fast,
cried, "Oh King, deliver Thou me!"
From within the throat he cut, till at last,
'Twas daylight he could see.

And so it was, that mighty youth
cut off the dragon's head;
In spite of fire and boasts, forsooth!
The awful beast was dead.
The shepherd-youth returned to town,
and behold, the people cheered,
"Our humble hero has thrown down
the monster we all feared!"

The youth proclaimed, "Good people, hear!
List to my voice's sound!
You have no need for dread or fear
when THE KING ON HIGH bears His Crown!
'Twas He Who gave me the strength to fight,
But for Him I would have none;
My armor, my steed, my sword, my might,
Could not do what MY KING has done.

"This day, let us give thanks to Him,
for this, His latest act!
And sing His praises, psalms and hymns,
And trust His Word as fact!
No power there is that can prevail,
when He says, "THOU SHALT NOT."
'Tis He who makes the warrior hale,
in Him should strength be sought."

I tell this tale upon this hour
To remind all you who hear:
'Tis humble faith wherein lies power,
not arrogance, wealth, or fear!
So trust this day in the King on High,
Almighty is His Name!
Then when false dragons rise up nigh, 
You, too, can do the same!