Monday, September 24, 2018

Upstream Updates: September Edition!

I realize this post comes much later in the month than I ever intended... Very sorry! I've tried to update all the sections, as I accomplished quite a bit more than I initially thought I would. Let's get to it!


The Last Inkweaver

We have arrived at Chapter 20! Yep, there have been FOUR chapters since August's Upstream Update--I think it's fair to say that I am well and truly FLYING through this manuscript! After Aberon, Callista & Co. arrived in Criansa, a small town with a BIG secret! Fun Fact: "Criansa" is a name I saved from my early days as an after-school tutor; there was a girl whose name was "Crianca" (with the second "c" pronounced as /s/) and I loved it so much that I have now immortalized it in this novel. Criansa is also the place where they receive their third "gift" (the first two being the sword and shield), and Callista finds the motivation she needs to stop pining after any sense of normalcy, and just welcome the mystery of where the Tapestry will take them. Also, it's where the fantasy of what she wanted her relationship with Matthias to be ends, and hopefully they can start rebuilding their friendship on truth and companionship. So yeah, MASSIVE turning points all around, and I think we've officially hit the halfway point in our "Hero's Journey," so lots more fun and games in store for these four friends! Next up, Ronni the bounty hunter, new and vastly improved from Draft 1!

A Writer's Tale: The Series

Yes, it is now a thing! Just this week, I found the wherewithal to finish Book 2, "The Commander's Courage", which was my fun little space adventure, and now it's on to Book 3, "The Sheriff's Showdown", which takes place in the Wild West!

At least now Laura doesn't have to feel like she's on another planet... just another time period. What can a simple, introverted author who rarely likes traveling (though she claims to "dream" of traveling all sorts of exotic places!) do against a rowdy band of thieves and gunmen who continue to terrorize a small Western town through force and violence? Stay tuned!

Flashes of Inspiration

We've hit 16 flash pieces! I will say that No.s 15 and 20 are Parts 1 and 2 of a really exciting idea that kind of just flew together on a spur of the moment--and meanwhile, I need to hurry up and finish some of the ones in between that I kept "saving" because I would hit a snag or I would change my mind about them... But you'll like them once I finish, I am sure! Meanwhile, I want to know (if you're in the business of answering questions on a blog post!) What's been your favorite Flash of Inspiration so far?


Things are still progressing on that front--though viewership has seriously slacked, it seems. I'm on the sequel to my first Grimm fanfiction, FAIR TRADE--but somehow it feels like Wattpad readers aren't as excited about it as the FanFictionDotNet (as it's affectionately spelled out when one doesn't want to link it; a.k.a. "FFNet") readers were when I initially posted it. Also... If you're interested in reading A WRITER'S TALE--and not just the original, short version I have here on The Upstream Writer, but the Series that is what I am currently writing, then you'll want to follow that hyperlinked, capitalized text to the Wattpad story where I'm posting basically the whole thing.
Meanwhile, can I interest you in perhaps one of the 25 other books that I've posted over the last 3 years, that maybe you haven't seen? That's the beauty of having these monthly updates, I think--back when these were originally uploaded, I didn't even think about letting people know here on my blog! Well, no more! I'll just list all the stories I currently have on Wattpad and let you all have at it!

<> THE DAY OF RECKONING <> SINCE WE FOUND SERENITY (A Firefly Fanfiction) <>  <> PROTECTIVE CUSTODY<> POTTERLOCK DOWN (A Harry Potter/Sherlock Crossover) <> <>THE TELMAR TRILOGY: Vol. 1: The Legend of TelmarVol. 2: Her Ladyship of Telmar

*****Special Announcements!!*****


Go >HERE< to Preorder!

October 21 is the release date for yet another anthology I'm featured in--and this time, it's Heartsong, the story that started from a random prompt I came across, and it ballooned into a short story I serialized here on this blog--I cannot wait for you to read it in print! You definitely want to get this anthology--a couple of the participants are authors whom I have reviewed before; it's truly an honor to have my name listed alongside theirs! I'm really enjoying this whole business of short-story publishing; it's simple, the groups have been great, and it's a LOT of fun! Short stories really do give me a sense of productivity while I'm still plugging away at The Last Inkweaver.


October is sometimes designated "Blog-Tober", so me and the other members of Bookish Blog Hops are coming together once again to share book recommendations, favorite characters, and so much more! Since it's going to begin next Monday, I'll compile and official "launch" post (with all the questions and participant blog links) then, and you can revisit it all month long to follow the shenanigans! I can't wait!

Word Count 
Alas! This month, I suffered a really bad setback at the very start, since starting work at a new location was pretty stressful, I found my drive to write a bit stymied, so I am phenomenally behind on my goal. Here's hoping that progress on "The Last Inkweaver" will help make a difference, and I've even resorted to seeing if I can't finish "The Amazon Triangle", just to get all the words in before the end of the month!


In recent weeks, I've acquired some furnishings... namely, a small swivel armchair that is oh so comfy, which in turn inspired me to take this pink shelf that I was trying to install unobtrusively in my closet (but the Command fasteners didn't work out and I wasn't ready to commit to using screws just yet...), paint it PURPLE (because that's the accent color I've chosen for my room) and install it under the window for an extended Indie Bookshelf, so I don't have to worry about cramming books on the top shelf of my computer desk any more! And it makes an adorable little reading nook! Very nice for quietly humming through the many books I have yet to read!

That being said, a recent trip to the library netted me a few books I've been eyeing for some time--a new Anthony Horowitz book The Word Is Murder, a shining example of self-insertion done in a very non-aggrandizing manner! Very entertaining, and what a twist at the end! Meanwhile I'm still trying hard to plug away at The Sword of Shannara--it's picking up a little more in the pace, but I still find myself skimming a lot... those tiny Mass Market paperbacks are hard to hold when they're so thick, too! I'm making progress on Uncommon Type by none other than Tom Hanks--and it really helps to hear his warm, inviting voice reading his words in my head. UP NEXT though, I find I have to prioritize library books, or (as in the case of Death Masks by Jim Butcher) they come due before I've even read them--and it does me no good to see that pesky designation of DELINQUENT when I'm trying to check out new holds that have suddenly come in! So Tom and Terry are going to just have to wait while I enjoy A Sliver of Stardust by Marissa Burt, Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, and The Fallen by David Baldacci!

On the ebook front, I've finished my 99th book! Chasing Rabbits by Erin Bedford is a twist on "Alice in Wonderland", and it's quite twisty, dark, and wonderfully entertaining! Now on to Book 100, an honor I've reserved for a very special book I cannot wait to read, Painter Place by Pamela Poole!

Whew! That's another month down! See you all in October! And as always...

Catch You Further Upstream!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Serial Saturday: "The Dragon's Mark" Part 6

Part 6

Stella kept her eyes fixed on her hands as she stepped through. Surely everyone was staring at her; surely she would be found out in a moment—was this all an elaborate ruse to allow her in the gate so that the Drakistos family could have her arrested and thrown into the prison they surely must have under such a grand house?

The young man bowed low, prompting Stella to curtsey. He offered his hand, and she placed hers delicately atop it.

“Forgive my intrusion,” he said. “I just couldn’t help catching your name, and feeling as if I’d heard it somewhere before. Have you been to many functions here in the Piazza, Miss Nadia?”

Stella could finally raise her eyes and stare straight ahead of them, as they headed through the vast maze of hedgerows leading to the garden behind the mansion. The idea of actually turning and looking him in the eye was still too mortifying at the moment.

“You would not have seen me much around this Piazza,” she answered truthfully. “And this is my first function. But,” she went on, before he could carry on with his conversation as if they were equals, “it is I who must be forgiven, because although you were fortunate enough to overhear my name and speak up on my behalf, I’m afraid I don’t know who you are.”

He stopped walking, as they stood under the waving branches of a magnolia tree. He gave a soft chuckle. “That’s hardly surprising, as my reputation tends to be more familiar throughout Kadros than my face. I’m Henrik Drakistos—Lord Sigmund’s son.”

Stella felt the shock ripple through her, and the shame crowded in on her worse than ever. “Henrik?” She squeaked, finally looking up at him. His emerald-green eyes stared straight into her, almost as if he could see right through her magical disguise. A man like him, used to the customs and expectations of high society, would surely suspect one such as her right away, if this went any further.

He gave a light chuckle. “The very same. Would you permit me to escort you to the banquet, Miss Nadia?”

The banquet? Stella’s heart began to pound even harder. There would be all the people there, and doubtless everyone would be watching Don Henrik, and they might even se her—Agatha might see her! “Er, no thank you,” she responded. “You’re very kind, but I’m afraid I’ve already eaten, so there really is no point in going—“ She stopped herself. Why was she correcting him? Who did she think she was? “Erm, what I mean is… With all due respect, sir…”

“Please,” The young man waved a hand. “Call me Henrik; tonight, I think my family will understand if I waive the use of titles.”

“Henrik, then.” Stella felt her anxiousness gradually ebb to a level of only mild tension. He was certainly more affable than Agatha or Jacintha would be in such a situation! “If you don’t mind, the only thing I would really like to do tonight is—“

“Dance?” Henrik gestured up the path, to the side of the house with windows down every wall. Faint strains of music rose above the babble of the guests. “There is a marvelous ensemble from Vienna tonight, and the floor is pretty clear.”

“No.” Stella shook her head. Her scars might be invisible, but what if the Ring didn’t hide the feel of them from his touch? “I heard there would be fireworks, and I’ve never seen those.”

“Ah!” Henrik nodded, pausing to point her down a smaller path that led toward the gardens lit by colored paper lanterns and torches. “Well in that case, I had better take you to the best place to view them. It’s perfect.”

Stella bit her lip as she followed him, not wanting to seem reluctant as they walked past more and more people who nodded respectfully to Henrik and stared at her with undisguised envy and curiosity. “Not too many people, I hope?”

Henrik laughed aloud at this. “Miss Nadia, I am getting the distinct impression that you are not one for being seen by the public eye!” He glanced at her with a tilted eyebrow. “Though if that were true, I am not sure how far you expected to go being ignored in a dress as stunning as that! But, to answer your question, you need not fear. Unless by some bizarre twist of fate others may have discovered it, we should have the place all to ourselves. This way!”

He led her down the garden path a ways, and from there, back up toward the top of the slope upon which the mansion stood. Just off the path, Stella saw a large, round boulder that was relatively flat on top, and level with the grass knoll above them.

Henrik pointed to the boulder. “There it is. We shall be above the heads of all the crowd when they gather on the patio down there,” he pointed toward the gardens, to the paved area that was already brimming with people, “and yet this particular place isn’t very well accessible from the house, so we can have our own, unobstructed view of the show happening there in the sky,” he indicated a patch of stars above their heads.

Stella noted the height of the boulder, much taller than her head, and bit her lip. The uneven surface of the boulder did seem to provide a bit of a path up to the top, but would it be ladylike to clamber up a stone in this manner?

“How are we going to get to the top?” she asked.

Henrik had already stepped up onto the lowest protrusion. “It’s easy,” he said, reaching out to grab the rock. “I’ll climb up, then I’ll reach down to help you up.” He glanced at her warily. “Unless you’re wearing those fancy shoes that could be damaged by the rock—“

“No,” Stella responded quickly, not wanting to show the muddy, worn, leather slippers she concealed under her gilded skirts. “I think I will be safe enough.”

She watched Henrik make his way up the side of the boulder, noting where he placed his foot, and whether it would be wide enough for her to step on. Once he reached a wider spot near the top, Henrik turned around and extended his hand to her.
“Now it’s your turn, Nadia,” he coaxed.

Stella took his hand and worked her way up the side of the rock. After a few steps, there wasn’t a handhold to grab, forcing her to reach forward and entrust her entire weight to the young man. At the worst possible moment, her foot slipped.

“Henrik!” she yelped.

“I’ve got you, Nadia!” he said, tightening his grip and attempting to secure his stance. Balance proved tricky, and his hand gripped a stone with many edges. Stella saw him wince as the sharp points dug into his hand, but he didn’t let go until she reached a secure position. Together, they worked their way up to the level top of the boulder. Henrik flopped onto the stone surface with a sigh.
“There,” he declared breathlessly. “We made it.”

Stella smiled, brushing the tiny bits of gravel off her hands. She saw Henrik grimace as he clenched his wounded hand into a fist. “Oh, is your hand all right?”

He noticed her watching, and tried to hide it. “It’s fine; no harm done! I bet it’s not even bleeding.” To demonstrate his point, he opened his palm and surveyed the damage.

Stella peeked over his shoulder and gasped. Rather than a series of red cuts and punctures, as one might expect to see, Henrik’s hand now sported a thick white patch of dead, leathery skin, spreading over almost his entire palm.

He tensed at her gasp and hid the hand away. “It’s nothing; this is normal—“

Stella’s cheeks flushed to see how uncomfortable he felt that she had seen such a hideous deformity. Oh, if he only knew! “Henrik, you don’t have to be ashamed of it.” She reached over to take the injured hand gently. With soft, tender fingertips, she traced over the dry, leathery scales of skin. “My skin does the same thing.”

“It does?” Henrik’s response rang with incredulity. Stella raised her eyes and found him staring at her with a mix of awe and confusion. “I thought it was just my family’s curse.”

“Your family?” Stella caught her breath. Did that mean she was a Drakistos? Then how did she end up so poor, while the Family was so rich? Was it possible that Henrik might not be a blood relation to the Family? Regardless, she did feel a surge of relief--if another person with the same affliction existed, then her ugliness could not possibly stem from a personal flaw. “What do you mean? Are there others with the same condition?” Perhaps she could get some answers! Henrik certainly didn’t look as scarred as she was—was it possible that she didn’t have to be this way?

Henrik shook his head, dashing her hopes. “No; only my father and I have it. It is why my father never remarried after my mother died shortly after giving birth to me. Something about the curse only affects him and his offspring, not the other descendants of our ancestor, Chief Gabbaldur Drakistos.” He slipped his hand out of hers and gave her his other hand, the unscarred one, to hold. “And now, I suppose you claim to have it?” He smirked. “Impossible! You’re so beautiful, I just don’t see how you could ever have these scales and scars.”

Stella’s heart gave a wrench; of course he couldn’t see it! While she wore the Ring, he couldn’t see any of her scars—and yet she couldn’t risk taking it off, either, lest her disfigurement repulse him. “You can’t see the places I have my scars,” she said, dressing the lie in a measure of truth.

Henrik tilted an eyebrow skeptically as he ran his fingers through his tousled, dark hair. “You expect me to believe that you, a complete stranger, somehow inherited the same curse that has afflicted my family for generations?”

Stella let out a nervous giggle. “Everyone in Kadros is related somehow,” she said. “Perhaps I might be a long-lost cousin twelve times removed.”

Henrik opened his mouth to respond, but just then a terrific crash drowned out all other sound, and a cluster of tiny red sparks illuminated the night sky.

Stella stared up at the sky, a mixture of thrill and terror rushing through her veins. The fireworks had begun! Golden flowers, blue-green showers, crystalline towers exploding in red fireballs thundered over their heads. Stella gasped and clutched Henrik’s scaly, rough hand, drinking in the beauty of this moment. She looked beautiful, she wore a pretty dress, she sat with someone who enjoyed her company, and most of all—she could be the sort of person she always wanted to be, without worrying what others would think.

All too soon, the thunderous spectacle came to an end, and the only gleaming things left in the sky were the tiny stars and the pale moon. The two of them sat there, basking in the memory of such a wonderful experience.

After a minute, Henrik coughed, and staggered to his feet again before offering his hand to Stella. “Well, those were your fireworks,” he said. “Now, will you do me the honor of accompanying me into the ballroom for some dancing, Miss Nadia?”

Dancing! Stella’s heart raced. Still heady with the excitement of the fireworks, she envisioned the two of them whirling about the ballroom floor, the golden dress glinting in the lamplight. She smiled and took his hand in answer.

Henrik led her closer to the high, arched windows, the gleaming, vaulted ceilings, and the buzz and titter of conversation. Stella caught herself wanting to duck and shrink back as people stared at her, or glanced and gestured in her direction while they talked—but the feel of Henrik’s arm over hers, the sweeping of her skirts over the floor, and the fingers entwined with her hand reminded her what they truly saw, and she lifted her chin, ignoring everyone. She wasn’t Stella, the servant girl of Lady Jacintha; she was Nadia Stevens, mysterious visitor appearing "out of nowhere," just like the other Nadia in her dream. Stella might not belong among these people, but Nadia fit right in.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 16

Picture prompt credit: Kyoung Hwan Kim
Prompt: (from Brick Prompts)

One. Two. Three. The chief passed a shrewd eye over the handcuffed rugrats sitting in front of him. One was young, not even eight years old. One had a pretty scowling face. One was older than the two put together and had a right eye that wandered. Their files were even more irritating than they were.
"Rabbit, Bobcat, and Cyclops. What cheap comic book did you fish those fake names out of?"
"Actually," the pretty face said, "I just legally changed my name to Jaguar so your file is outdated."
The cop couldn't tell if she was joking or not because her scowl didn't change. The other two didn't react either. This was a waste of his time. He grabbed his empty coffee cup and stood up.
"I'll be right back. You three had better stay put."
The door slammed shut behind him.
"Twelve cams. Eight guards. Two dogs. Four exits," Rabbit whispered.
"We're not busting out until tomorrow," Cyclops mumbled, stretching out his arms. "This prison has nice beds."

#16 "Nice Beds"

Chief Saunders listened to the machine gurgle as it spat thick black coffee into his cup. The girl, Bobcat--Jaguar, he corrected himself—had eyes that stared into his soul. Even now, he could picture them in his mind, as if she followed his every move. Not even the one-eyed boy, Cyclops, could incite such insecurity in him. He stopped by the detective’s desk on his way back to interrogation.
“Have we gotten any calls from the Feds yet?” he asked.
“No, sir,” Detective Ramirez answered. The younger man fidgeted with his hands, visibly unnerved. “Any idea why they had us pick these kids up?”
“Not even the slightest clue,” Saunders grunted, taking a swig of his coffee. “But I intend to find out, before the Suits show up.” Resolutely, he marched back to the room.

Three eyeballs and a creepy bunny mask stared guiltily at him when he walked in the door. If he didn’t know any better, the three youths had swapped places, or he had caught them in the act of doing who-knows-what. Three sets of handcuffs still glinted on their wrists.

Saunders played the part of an open-minded judge. He slapped the closed file on the table.
“So,” he leaned back in his chair. “What’s your story?”

The older boy’s mouth twitched.

“Story?” Jaguar spoke up, drawing his attention to her. “What do you mean? Is there a crime we’re being charged with?”

Her voice dripped with sarcasm, but Saunders did his best not to let it rile him. “Not necessarily—but that doesn’t mean you haven’t done any.” He opened the folder and slid out four photographs.
“July Fourth, reports of a young boy with an eyepatch snatching packages off porches in the Rosewood District. July eighteenth, an unidentified female steals $350 from a convenience store. July twenty-seventh, a young man with an eyepatch attempted and failed to jack a car from a middle-aged couple, along with a masked female accomplice—and when the owners of the car parked it in their driveway that evening, the same two people were seen returning to the objective of the crime—which they then set on fire.”

The smile that softened her face as she looked at those horrifying photos of the store clerks on their knees in terror at the business end of a massive shotgun, the angry driver with his hands about the stringy youth’s throat, and finally the burned-out shell of what used to be the car—That smile, Saunders thought, belongs on the face of a mother watching her infant. Not a sadistic, juvenile delinquent.

“Sound familiar?” he said aloud, ending the moment of reverie. “That’s not even half the crimes that have cropped up since the thaw. You three have had a busy spring and summer—and I can’t help feeling that you’ve only just begun!”

The smile vanished. Jaguar sat back, her eyes daring him to gloat further, while she herself said nothing.

In the silence, a whisper issued from the bunny mask. “Elevated pulse, strained breathing; the Chief is nervous. Insufficient evidence to support retention of suspects. Suspects detained for further reasons, unknown to the arresting parties.”

Saunders gulped, but it didn’t help the tension in his throat. Did they already know the Feds were after them? How could they possibly know what he did or didn't know?

Jaguar’s vicious smile returned. “You have nothing on us,” she murmured.

Saunders snorted and honed his attention onto the girl. The more he could goad her into talking, the more evidence he would have in his case against them. "On the contrary," he declared, slapping another handful of files on the table. "I have a whole lot on you three!"

Flames flashed in her eyes--real flames, it seemed like, though that was impossible--but before Jaguar could utter a sound, the whispering occurred again.

"Be advised: anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Say nothing, give them nothing. We must not be compromised."

Jaguar snapped her mouth shut. The thin line widened in a smile, and--very slowly--she slumped back in her chair.

Saunders tried to continue the interrogation as if Rabbit hadn't spoken--if indeed he was speaking. One couldn't tell, with the creepy mask covering his face.
"Well? Anything to say for yourselves? Maybe you'd like to check through the files, see if I've gotten anything... wrong?" He stopped himself just short of winking at the tightly-wound girl. He could see the tips of her ears flushing bright red. Those sadistic, murderous eyes aimed at him--and there was none of the nurturing, maternal pride.
The chief filled the silence with more chatter. Lure them into a false sense of security, said his interrogation training. Play the casual observer, let them think they got away with something. Get them to confess to small things, and they will start spilling details that lead to bigger crimes.

Keep talking because the sound of your voice means you're still alive and they haven't found a reason to kill you, said his trembling, fear-ridden inner self.

"I bet you wanted to drive that car, didn't you? Whose idea was it to light it? Probably not yours--probably One-Eye over there, now he looks like he would be the one calling the shots, right? But I bet people underestimate you... You seem like a smart girl--the brains of the operation, perhaps? Maybe you'd like to tell me more about your friends here--"

Jaguar finally cracked, ever so slightly. She bared her teeth in a feral snarl. "They're not--"

A piercing squeal cut her off, and for a brief moment, nobody could really move or think. All four of them sat around the table staring blankly at one another.

A steady murmur broke the silence.
"All digital recordings of the last few minutes has been corrupted. We have said enough. There will be no more confessions tonight."

Saunders eyed the bunny mask. The only thing "bunny" about it, really, were the long elliptical ears extending from the top portion. The dents, dings, and the stitching over the elongated "eye holes" and over the wide slit along the bottom that could have been the "mouth" looked more a rabbit from someone's nightmares--and those nightmares would probably be his for the foreseeable future.

"Anyone else want to speak up?" He asked, looking at each face in turn--but not for too long. "Anyone at all? Come on... One of you has to have something quippy to say before we call an end to this party!"

The three eyes he could see continued to stare ahead blankly. Whatever that shriek had been, it had shut them all down like statues. Sweat beaded on Saunders' face; he hoped that Rabbit kid had been bluffing about corrupting the surveillance. He needed to find out more about these three! He was so close... but he had no more time to waste waiting for them to slip again.
Chief Saunders gave a long, theatrical sigh and began gathering up the files and photos. "Sorry, kids, but if no ones talking, you're all going to spend the night in holding." He turned to the two-way mirror behind him and signaled.

The door clicked open and two officers entered. Starting with Rabbit, they lifted the kids to their feet and escorted them down two short hallways, Cyclops first, then Jaguar, and Rabbit at the rear.
At the back of the station, there was a small room with even smaller cells, separated by chain-link fencing. Each kid got their own cell, furnished with a single cot. Once the passcode-protected door clicked shut behind the last guard, the three prisoners sat on their cots, and lay down, in perfect sync--just like every other operation they pulled together.

Cyclops reached up and shifted his eyepatch to one side. Within the scarred and raw socket lay a glowing orb. Squinting his eyelid reduced the glow to a narrow, focused beam. Cyclops directed the beam at every flashing light, every security camera he saw in that place, until the entire room lay dark and dormant.
"That's better," he muttered. "Body can't get the rest it needs with Big Brother ogling away at 'im!"

Jaguar rolled over onto her side and watched the small body curled into a ball on the other side of the fence. "What was all the fuss outside?" she asked. "It sounded like everyone suddenly came down with the plague or something."

Rabbit didn't even twitch. "Rabbit has shown its true face. It is imperative that we are not disturbed. Anyone who so much as approaches the door into this space cannot help but picture it."

Jaguar snorted. "You showed your mug? Geez, Rab... Sometimes I forget you even have one."

"One would not call it a face, by the conventional conception."

"Yeah, no thanks, I actually do want to sleep tonight..." Jaguar muttered, rolling to face the other way. "So, Cy..." she prodded the lanky figure extending off the end of the cot in the next cell. "Why did you decide to land at this precinct, anyway? It's not really just for the beds, is it?"

He snorted. "Feel that, Jag?" he bounced a bit on his own cot, and the stiff springs creaked in protest. "Real cotton stuffing, and a sturdy frame, not just canvas and wood. It's one of the few that still has them--so yes, I did pick it for just that reason."

"Just that?" she pressed. "What about the blackouts? Was that necessary?"

He let out a noisy yawn. "Like I said," he slurred sleepily. "I am tired, and just once I'd like a decent night's rest--and those blinking lights and sensors give me a headache."

She heard the springs whine as he rolled over again--or had he?
"And after you get your beauty rest, Princess Aurora?"

Another sigh--rather a parody of the one Chief Saunders had used--but it wasn't Cyclops who responded.
"This building is a way-station for the Black Harbor. Standby for contact," hissed Rabbit.

Two minutes later, a scrabbling sound, like fingernails on glass, occurred somewhere overhead. Jaguar heard a small chirping sound, and felt the weight of a tiny, furry body landing on her shoulder and four paws tapping her way down her body. She held absolutely still as the tiny wet nose snuffled around her palm, and felt a moist, papery object land in her hand. The furry body returned to her lap and curled between her knees.

"Oy!" Cyclops' glowing eye illuminated her lap, where a ferret lay curled, blinking angrily now at the intrusion into its promised sleep. "You were supposed to come to me, idiot," he grumbled.

"He gave me this," Jaguar poked the small roll of paper through the mesh of the fence. 

Cyclops unfolded it and nodded.

"What's it say?" Jaguar sat up, gently stroking the ferret's fur with her fingertips as it settled back down for the night.

Cyclops showed her the note as he read it out loud.

"Thomas Delaney. Moorhead Park. Bench. 8 AM.

Jaguar snorted. "Eight in the morning?"

Cyclops replaced his eyepatch and laid down again. "Rest up, everyone. We'll take the early check out, first thing in the morning."

Jaguar chuckled at the reference. "Not before I file a complaint with the management. Nice beds, my eye! This hotel sucks. There isn't even decent room service."

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Reader's Review: "Chasing Rabbits" by Erin Bedford

Synopsis from Amazon:

Alice was wrong – Wonderland wasn’t so wonderful after all.

Kat never expected to be back in her hometown, but when house sitting turns into a mad rabbit chase, Kat finds herself with a whole new set of problems.

A two headed bird with a Game of Thrones obsession, a party full of tea addicts, and a Cheshire Cat who could seduce the pants off her grandma? And if the citizens weren’t bad enough, their prince was off his rocker.

This wasn’t your run of the mill Wonderland. This was the Fae world, where rules are rules, and some things are exactly as they seem.

Chasing Rabbits is a twisted modern day Alice in Wonderland with a dark fantasy twist and is not suitable for readers under the age of 18. Follow a sassy heroine as she is guided by her fun loving new friends, sexy alpha males, and dark villains.

Check out what happens in THE UNDERGROUND by reading CHASING RABBITS, an urban fantasy readers are comparing to Christine Feehan and Nalini Singh.


My Review:

This book hit all the high marks for a dark, twisted, not-your-grade-school-classic fairy tale!

Bedford makes it very clear from the start that this is going to be a very grown-up sort of book--but at the same time, it didn't strike me as your typical "adult-smut" rendition--namely because Kat is a suitably flawed, dimensional, fascinating, sympathetic character to focus on. She's not looking for adventure, she doesn't have strange dreams of a handsome stranger who lures her into dark holes, she doesn't stumble blindly from one plot point to the next--Kat is all of us college undergrads, short on money, hopelessly thrust into this "adult" life, just longing for a steady job with a reasonable income that will provide us with the structure and stability that we enjoyed as kids. I definitely identified very much with this aspect of her character!

In addition to creating a very realistic main character to serve as the narrator for the story, Bedford built a rock-solid plot, and her take on Carroll's "Wonderland" (re-named "Underland", as it often is) is absolutely vivid and trippy. More magical and less outright satirical, Underland features the Fae Courts of Seelie and Unseelie (the White and the Red) with the traditional emphasis on impeccable appearances, deal-making, and downright smoky levels of attraction! The new take on the Cheshire Cat--a half-breed, more humanoid than cat anymore--and even the Hatter and the Hare at their never-ending tea party were excellent nods to the original, while Bedford subtly grafts her own story into the mix: the Unseelie prince lost his betrothed, and all the Fairy Court mourn her as dead, and it seems Alice had something to do with it--but though there have been hints that she returned to Underland at some point, no one seems to know where she might be, and there are those who would prefer that she not be found at all. Kat is joined by a brownie and a rabbit-like "opalaught" on a mission to at least recover from Alice the means of returning to her own world... But in the meantime, she is forced to make deals with various Fae that seem to pull her into finding the secret of the prince's dark past, or threaten to keep her in Underland forever!

And THAT TWIST AT THE END WILL BLOW YOUR MIND! I cannot say more for fear of spoiling, but ohhh YES it was a doozy that made me excited to see what other shenanigans await in this series!

A ravishing tale from start to finish, told in truly exquisite detail. CHASING RABBITS earns a solid *****4.5 STAR***** rating from me (less a half-star for the "attempted rape" scene--I couldn't skim fast enough, really, and it was more disturbing than actually effective to the plot, I felt... so, just to reiterate, NOT a wholly exemplary tale to let your teen-aged kids read unawares...) and if you're an adult reader looking for a splendid callback to the innocence of yore, with so many delectable riddles that will keep you guessing all the way through, spine-chilling imagery, and spectacular imaginings, look no further! Erin Bedford's CHASING RABBITS will have you plunging down the Rabbit Hole before you can say "Curiouser and curiouser!"

Further Reading: (Dark Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retellings/Mythology/Strong Heroines)
The Firebird Fairy Tales--Amy Kuivalainen
       -The Cry of the Firebird 
       -Ashes of the Firebird 
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny 
     -A Halloween's Curse
Tales of the Fallen--Katika Schneider
The Runespells Series--Sarah Buhrman
       -Too Wyrd 
The LouisiAngel Series--C. L. Coffey
        -Angel in Training 
        -Angel Eclipsed 
-Beasts of Babylon--E. A. Copen 
Lord of the Wyrde Woods--Nils Visser
     -Escape From Neverland
     -Dance Into The Wyrd 
The Shaudrey Universe Series--J. E. Mueller
       -Fire's Song 
-The Seventh Crow--Sherry D. Ramsey
-A Spell in the Country--Morgan Smith
The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
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 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Serial Saturday: "The Dragon's Mark" Part 5

Part 5
"The Dragon Festival"

The Grand Opening of the first Dragon Festival of Kadros had arrived. Agatha leaned out of the chaise window as they pulled up to the gates of the Piazza.

“Ooh!” She squealed, bouncing in her seat. “Let me out! It looks amazing!”

The hired coachman secured the reins and opened the door of the chaise, and Agatha Farfalle alighted, dressed in her new gown: a tight, squeezing bodice with a neckline that barely contained her burgeoning figure, complete with wide, billowing skirts in a garish pink silk, weighted down with gold and crystal embellishments. On her head, amid a curling, twisted hairstyle painstakingly pinned by Stella early that morning, perched a glittering, gold-plated tiara.
Stella, herself, stepped down behind her so that Jacintha could emerge, clad in a deep-purple gown of not much more taste than the one her daughter chose.

“Remember, dear,” she said, taking Agatha’s hand. “This festival represents all that we’ve worked for, all that we are—so have a good time and enjoy yourself!”

“I will, Mother!” Agatha answered.

Stella winced as Jacintha’s gaze fixed on her, and the benevolent smile transformed into a pinched, angry frown. “Now then, Stella, do not forget your veil and gloves.” She handed Stella the black netting sewed into a hood that would obscure her face, and the heavy silk gloves to cover her hands and arms, from fingertip to elbow.
As she handed the items over, Jacintha leaned in and whispered. “Remember your place, little toad. Do not speak unless spoken to—on second thought, don’t speak at all, unless it is to answer Agatha. Tonight is all about her, and I don’t want your attention to drift anywhere it doesn’t belong.”

Stella felt the warning deep inside her, reinforcing what she already knew: she didn’t belong here. She had no place among the well-to-do of Kadros. Her scaled skin was an affront to the eyes and a blight on all the beauty surrounding her.

“Don’t forget the basket!” Agatha called over her shoulder, as Stella struggled to unload the large wicker vessel with small wheels attached, like a wagon. In anticipation of buying many things from the foreign vendors that had been streaming in all the previous day, Agatha had decided that Stella would pull this contraption around behind her, to carry all of her purchases.

“Have fun, my darling!” Jacintha climbed back into the carriage. She would be on her way to a party at the house of an old friend of Giorgio’s who couldn’t make it to the festival.

Stella tugged the rope attached to the wheeled basket, and it rumbled over the cobblestones.

“Hurry up!” Agatha urged. “If I miss anything, it will be all your fault!”

Underneath the veil, Stella allowed herself a small smile. Only she knew of something already contained in the basket, something for herself that could have earned her a sound beating if either Jacintha or Agatha had been aware of her enough to realize that she was hiding something.

Stella followed Agatha all over the Piazza all day long. Silk scarves, exotic trinkets, spectacular jewelry and articles of outlandish clothing filled the basket; every stop they made added weight to it, making it harder for Stella to pull. In spite of the gloves, she could feel the roughness of the rope rubbing the skin of her hands into hard, leathery pads. There were magicians and musicians all over the square, and plenty of treats from faraway countries to sample.

As the sun passed its zenith, the crowds in the Piazza swelled, and Stella heard people confirm more than once that Sir Henrik would indeed make an appearance at a party on the grounds of the governor’s mansion itself, and only those with direct connection to the Drakistos family were invited, and there would be a fireworks display after dark.

Agatha sniffed. “Good thing Mother is connected, because there isn’t anything that would keep me away from that party, Stella!” Agatha declared, walking directly up the walkway leading to the gates of the Drakistos mansion.

“State your business!” growled the guard. “Who vouches for you?”

Agatha tossed her head back, nearly upsetting her tiara, and declared, “I am Agatha Farfalle, daughter of the late Giorgio Farfalle, who fought in the Great War alongside Albert Drakistos.”

The grizzled soldier nodded, unlocking the gate for her, but he shoved Stella back when she tried to move forward.
“No servants allowed at the party! This event is by special invitation only!”

Stella froze in her tracks and gazed helplessly at Agatha, Jacintha’s warning ringing in her ears.
The young woman waved a lazy hand. “Oh, that’s all right; she can wait for me here with the basket.” She pointed a finger at Stella. “Make sure no one steals any of my things, is that clear?” Agatha chuckled, tossed her head, and willingly followed the escort soldier up the path toward the house.

The guard slammed the gate shut, and Stella stood alone, with that heavy, ridiculous basket to look after. A few breaths later, and everyone had completely forgotten about her. Guests streamed in and out of that gate, those entering required to claim a member of the family to vouch for them—and if they couldn’t, the guard refused them entry and sent them on their way.

Stella took advantage of her invisibility, slipping the basket into a small thicket so it wouldn’t be visible from the road. There, in complete privacy, she dug into the certain corner of the basket and pulled out a lovely dress covered in golden embroidery. Slipping it over her scarred, unkempt body, she adjusted the bodice to fit, and at last, she withdrew the mysterious Ring from the pocket of her old dress. Once it was on her finger, she felt her skin tingle as the magic of the Ring covered over her old scars as well as the new.

Carefully, Stella used her reflection in an ornate mirror among Agatha’s purchases to apply some of Jacintha’s cast-off beauty paint to enhance her features, as a young woman in high society would. She combed her hair and pinned a few strands in place to complete the look.

Finally ready, she slipped out from among the trees and joined the milling crowd, with no one realizing that the exchange had taken place. So long as she could be back in her old clothes and waiting for Agatha by the time the fireworks ended, Stella could do whatever she wanted.

The Festival seemed poised to exceed everyone’s expectations. As the sun began to set, the music swelled louder, and some circus performances, with fire-jugglers and daring acrobatics performing for the eager spectators. Stella watched a puppet show and clapped and laughed along with the audience. She purposely stayed away from the amazing smells coming from the carts of food vendors, as she lacked the money to pay for anything, but the performances offered much to take her mind off her hunger. After a while, though, even this got old, and Stella found herself wandering back toward the mansion.

“Who vouches for you?” She could hear the guard’s obligatory question, even from this distance. A couple flounced past Stella, their faces sour with disappointment.

“What sort of nonsense is this?” The woman grumbled to her husband. “Isn’t the house big enough to accommodate the whole town? Why do we need to be vouchsafed by the Family, anyhow? We’ve lived here long enough, haven’t we?”

“It’s an outrage, really.” Her husband saw fit to take out his frustration on the flagstones, which he stabbed with the blunt end of his cane, so loudly Stella could hear the noise long after their voices had faded.

The Ring on her finger hummed deeply, a sensation that seeped down to her bones. A yearning welled up inside her as she stared up at the tall spires, watching the multicolored silhouettes wander back and forth against the light. What would it be like if she thought to join those people? Would Agatha notice her? After all, she wasn’t toad-faced any more, as Jacintha had called her.

“You, there!” The guard barked. “No loitering around the gates! Give your name, or be on your way!”

Stella felt the nervousness grip her throat, as the hot blush of shame washed over her face. She dipped her head instinctively, but instead of her old, tattered dress and scarred, gnarled hands, she saw smooth, fair skin and a glittering golden gown. Perhaps she could be someone different tonight, after all.

Stella advanced toward the gate. The guard eyed her, but his face held no disdain for her.
“Name?” He asked.

Oh! Consternation seized her tongue. She couldn’t dare use her real name, in case word of this ever got back to Agatha or Jacintha—but she wasn’t prepared to give any other name! Her hands gripped her skirts out of habit, and the recollection of her dream, and the other woman who wore that dress (or one very like it) returned to her.

“My name is Nadia,” She answered. “Nadia… Stevens.” It would have been the other Nadia’s surname, wouldn’t it?

The guard hesitated, and Stella could feel her heart beating wildly in the silence; had she dreamed of someone who actually existed? Would there be another Nadia Stevens in attendance today?
“Very well, Miss Stevens,” The guard nodded back to a scribe at the table behind him, who busily recorded the name on the large scroll spread before him. “And…” The inevitable moment arrived, “Who vouches for you?”

Stella was ready with Giorgio’s name, but before she could speak, a male voice declared, “I do.”

Stella watched a guest approach, a young man in a rich, dark suit. His ashen, fair hair lay in sleek, sculpted waves around his head. He smiled at Stella, the total stranger who happened upon the gates to his home.
“I vouch for her, Diggory,” he declared.

The scribe recorded the name, and the guard nodded. “Very good, sir.” He unlocked the gate, opened it, and stood aside, extending his arm in welcome. “Enter, Miss Nadia Stevens.”

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