Monday, June 25, 2018

Introducing: My Bookish Summer Blog Hop!


 
Oh boy, it’s happening again!

Those who have been following me for the last few years know that at various points, I’ve been able to participate in month-long blog hops, where a group of us take a whole month, and each day there’s a new host and a new question for all of us to answer—so you’re visiting different blogs and hearing from different authors about what books or authors they recommend, their particular processes, and other little bits of information. (For the sake of convenience, I’ve added all the Blog Hop kickoff and single posts to the About Me page, so you can find them there!)

This year, in the month of July, I’m participating in My Bookish Summer Blog Hop—full of advice and recommendations that is sure to expand your reading horizons!

I’m listing the blog links in order of appearance, and as each question gets posted, I’ll be linking the text—so if you aren’t following my Facebook author page and you want to follow the blog hop, just revisit this post to find the next link!

Jo Linsdellwww.jolinsdell.com
#29: Are you an indoor reader or an outdoor reader?



#30: What is a book that made you want to visit the location?

Leslie Conzatti—Me! (You’re already here!)


Brandy Potterwww.brandypotterbooks.com
#31: Where do you post about the books you read?

Kelli Quintoswww.tangledintext.com


So there you have it! I’m really excited about this—stay tuned for the fun times to come!

Catch You Further Upstream!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reader's Review: "Ashes of The Firebird" by Amy Kuivalainen


Synopsis from Amazon:

Shaman. Gate Keeper. Rogue.

Anya’s magic is keeping Russia safe but not without a price. Her mind broken from the last battle with the dark magician Ladislav, Anya is trapped in the Land of Dreams and is fighting like hell to get back to her body.

Branded as Rogues and hunted by the supernatural world Anya’s friends take her unconscious body to Budapest, a place of new allies where they will be safe. They begin the search for Yanka, Anya’s ancestor and the only person in history with enough power to change the tide of the brewing war.

Trouble finds them when Aleksandra saves mysterious demon hunter Mychal from an attack, bringing new monsters and threats to Anya's door.

>>>>>>>>>

My Review:
 
Oh lordy! What a book!! What a series!!
It’s been almost a year since I read the first book, The Cry of the Firebird, but I entered this one with almost no “book shock”—the story picked up right away, with just enough references to previous events so I could know why certain characters seemed to give others the cold shoulder, or how everybody could be so shocked that two characters are now an item—but not enough that it felt like a complete re-hashing, which would derail the story completely.

None of that happens here. It was as if I never stopped reading. I got right back into the action, and fell even further into the fantastic story. The depth of the lore, both mythological and religious, is what makes this book so exciting. Everything fits neatly, and it all makes sense. As a writer, I can only imagine the extensive research that would go into making something so credible—and I applaud Kuivalainen for making it pertinent, without disrespecting any beliefs.

By far, my favorite part of the book—the characters—is where her skill shines most. I love the fact that we get to know each individual as a person, rather than the author banking on common tropes or stereotypes to pass for characterizations. It doesn’t matter whether they’re human or inhuman, everyone from demon hunter to incubus, firebird to hacker—could have these labels stripped away, and they’d still be the same person. Anya has gone from being completely isolated and alone to having people around to watch, protect, defend, and support her—and she’s still getting used to that. Kuivalainen adds a bit of Alfheim into the mix, giving a glimpse into how the Fae world ties into this one full of demons and sorcery—and it is amazing and beautiful. New character Mychal is an excellent addition to the team, coming along with his own special scars and baggage—but no less vital to the team’s success, in spite of it.
I found myself talking to the book while I read, as if the characters could hear me. The action builds on everything introduced in the first book, and ramps up as the stakes increase—I am now 100% devoted to the outcome of this series, and I desperately want Anya and her allies to succeed against Vasilli and his ilk!

Of course I’m going to give ASHES OF THE FIREBIRD the full *****5 STARS***** rating, and add an Upstream Writer Certified TOTALLY RECOMMENDED endorsement. Kuivalainen has proven that she is not afraid of the worst thing that could happen to her characters—part of me is afraid to move on, lest more devastation happen, but at the same time, I know it will be thrilling and end on a high note, to which I say, “Bring it on!” If you’re looking for an exciting, magical, adventure (some adult content, so it’s not really suitable for kids!) with plenty of action, emotion, and imagination, then the Firebird Fairytales are where it’s at! Pro Tip: Best get the boxset, because once you start, you won’t want to stop reading until the story is done!

Further Reading: (Strong Heroines/Traditional Folklore/Mythology/Urban Fantasy) 

The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
       -Untamed
       -Fragmented  
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Bounty
       -Blood Ties
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way
       -The Truth
       -The Lie 
The Fair Folk Chronicles--Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
        -Foul is Fair
        -Street Fair
        -A Fair Fight
        -All's Fair
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd  
The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training
        -Angel Eclipsed 
-Charon, Unguarded--A. H. Johnstone 
The Therian Way--Kimberly Rogers
       -Leopard's Heart
       -Wolf's Path
       -Tiger's Shadow

Friday, June 15, 2018

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


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

#5: "The Secret Cove"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I should have known it would happen anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“LOOK OUT!!!”

I remember that moment vividly; it haunts my nightmares.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 11, 2018

Upstream Updates: June Edition!


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

The Dragon’s Mark

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


The Last Inkweaver

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


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

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

WATTPAD

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BIG CHANGES: 
Summer Schedule

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

Bookish Summer Blog Hop: JULY

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

READING GOALS

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

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

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

Friday, June 8, 2018

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





 

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

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

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

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

"Is this seat taken?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I came.” The woman whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clouded, white orbs stared back. The woman smiled.

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

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

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

“I am called Phyllis.”

Phyllis, philos; a perfect name.

“I love you, Phyllis.”

“I love you, Medusa.”
>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 

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Friday, June 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m headed that way. Need a ride?”

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

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

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

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

“So, what’s your name?” I asked.

“Ben.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Just things.”

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

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

“Not dangerous.”

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

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

“Somewhat.”

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

“No.”

“Can I see it?”

“Never.”

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

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

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

My fingertips brushed something wet and sticky.

“YIPES!!”

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

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

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

>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 

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