Monday, October 30, 2017

The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: "A to Z Challenge" Letter U

The List:
-Urcellus, Urwin
-Undersea, universe
-Until one day
-Upper, upend, uandino, unfortunate, under, underwater, ubiquitous, urban, unfair, urge, utter, ultimate, unauthorized, umbrella, ukulele, undersell, unbridled, unwise, unable, unicorn, unique

The Result:

"Unlucky Urcellus"

In all of the universe, there was perhaps no one quite as unlucky as Urcellus Marin.
He should not have been so unfortunate, all things considered; his Uncle Urwin had been fishing the Channel between Overcliff and Crossway long enough to know the most under-trafficked areas, and with the upswing in the use of large nets for trawling, they were able to bring in enough fish to undersell the urban, single-line fishers. These ubiquitous “small-timers” would complain about the unfairness, but Urwin would shrug and, ultimately, they all would have to agree that it was “just business.”
In fact, Urcellus knew that if anyone could build a case for the unfairness of fishing practices around the Channel, it would be the Marin family, as the one thing that severely hampered their fishing efforts was the continued existence of the mermaid kingdom, Undersea. As long as Undersea maintained its boundaries, the fishing wardens of the Channel would block off whole sections where fishing was not allowed. Uncle Urwin was smart enough to realize how unwise this was, as the fish would gather in these “unauthorized” sections, where common fishermen were unable to get to them, thereby drawing more fish away from the sections they should have been allowed. Day after day, Uncle Urwin would deliver the ultimatum that today would be the day he would urge the warden to unbar these sections, even for a few hours, just long enough for him to cull from the masses of fish and enjoy the unfettered freedom of less competition, but day after day, he would give up, and Urcellus would accompany him to the old trawling grounds, just bordering the unsanctioned areas, and their voluminous nets would bring in an underwhelming number of unimpressive fish. By the time Urcellus was old enough to begin fishing himself, he was well and truly unhappy about the whole situation.

“Unconscionable!” He uttered, and stomped out the door. He would show those undeserving wardens just how underhanded his family could be! He would teach them to try and force the hand of an unstoppable trawling business! The young man gave vent to unbridled rebellion as he marched to the docks and unmoored his boat. Rowing straight out to the very edge of the “unauthorized” zone, all the way to the furthest buoy from the shores of Crossway, Urcellus made his protest known by jamming his mother’s umbrella—a flamboyant, lacy thing whose loose ribs caused the contraption to undulate with even the slightest breeze—in the top of the small float. Unfettered and entirely undisturbed, Urcellus lowered the unwieldy fishing net, and undertook the task of waiting until the small bell on the underside of the boom began to ring, alerting him to the fact that the nets were full, and he could leave.
Urcellus sighed and leaned back in his boat as he brought up his father’s ukulele. He strummed a few of what he considered to be chords, unmindful of whether they were actually in tune at all. The boat rocked gently back and forth; Urcellus felt the unshakeable weight of relaxation settle over him, and he soon fell under the spell of the soothing waves. Up in the sky, the sun beat uncomfortably, so much that Urcellus had to shade his eyes from the unrelenting brightness. He could rest his eyes; the unsuspecting fish would swim right into his net…

The shrill clanging of a bell jolted Urcellus out of his unconsciousness so hard that he nearly upended himself. The boat was unbalanced, leaning heavily toward the side with the net; he had definitely made an unwilling catch! Urcellus leaned against the winch, hauling the net toward the boat. He grunted at the unexpected weight, but he would not be undermined in his goal! As the net drew closer, Urcellus peered at the contents; it wasn’t a net full of fish like he wanted, but the mesh wound tightly around a unique creature he had never seen before. The unmarred, white body encouraged him; the size of this fish alone was sure to produce plenty of meat to split into small fillets and sell to unsuspecting villagers. However, as the creature twisted, Urcellus glimpsed another feature that he was unequipped to handle: a single, wicked-looking, twisting horn protruding from the animal’s head.
“What’s this?” Urcellus murmured to himself, “an underwater unicorn of some sort?”
They fought back and forth for several minutes, each one uncompromising in their efforts. Try as he might, Urcellus was unable to get a clear view of exactly the underwater creature he was dealing with—right up until the moment the “unicorn” gave a mighty heave, breaking the beam holding the net and upending the boat completely. Urcellus didn’t have time to gasp for breath before he found himself underwater.

Down he sank, unable to draw breath, or even to gather enough strength to propel himself back to the surface. His prize catch, unfettered by the boat as it was now, swam swiftly away in the unmerciful current, its speed unhindered by the presence of the tattered remains of Urcellus’ net still wrapped around the body.
The young man felt his lungs begin to burn as he hung there in the water. He had been utterly unsuccessful in nearly every aspect of his ignoble mission, and now he would not even survive to give an account for his deeds. Urcellus hung his head—and witnessed an unfamiliar shape heading toward him from an area even deeper in the water. It glinted in the sparse shafts of sunlight, and it moved too quickly for him to distinguish its shape. Urcellus nearly unleashed a scream right there in the water as a cold, slippery appendage wrapped around his shoulders, and a thick, gooey substance smeared over his face. The appendage let go, and the new creature appeared in front of Urcellus.
Now, he did scream, his mouth springing open unwittingly and the sound escaping his throat. Urcellus inhaled precisely one breath before he realized what had happened: he had screamed, and breathed, underwater, and yet his airways remained clear of liquid.
How could this be? He raised his hands up to his face, and felt the uneven blobs of sticky, stretchy substance. His eyes moved to regard the apparent source of this substance: a creature far too fish-like to be recognized as human, yet too human-like to be dismissed as a fish. In other words, a mermaid.

“Olleyo,” the creature opened her mouth and sounds escaped, as if speaking, “Ehm Yssandra; whettar yoo doonear?”
Urcellus could only blink in response; he could piece together that the mermaid was trying to introduce herself, but he didn’t want to find out what happened if she knew he could understand her!
The mermaid swam closer, her dark hair streaming back as a solid-gold scallop shell glinted just under her chin. She smiled and might have been friendly and welcoming to him, but Urcellus was by now thoroughly unsettled. He flailed backward with his arms, and looked up toward his boat.
The mermaid looked as well. “Oonee taggetta these errface?” she burbled in her strange, quasi-human language.
Urcellus didn’t even want to look at her. He flopped and flailed in the water, trying to push himself upward through the liquid. The mermaid with the dark hair swiftly placed her hands under his arms and bore him toward the surface with powerful strokes of her violet-hued tail.
Urcellus felt his head break the surface, but the sticky substance remained, and so did the mermaid. He saw her pull out a wide leaf of some sort, and smear it over her own face, leaving the gooey coating from the underside of the leaf behind on her mouth and gills. She saw him watching her, and showed him the leaf.
“Uandino,” she gurgled. “Grozon thussee flor.”
Whatever it was, Urcellus couldn’t help noticing that it enabled her to breathe the air with her gills, in much the same way it enabled him to breathe underwater. The very idea scared him: what if the mermaids could climb onto the land? Would they start undermining the human kingdoms?
The mermaid still waited by the side of the boat, watching Urcellus as if she wanted something, but what could it be? A large, ungainly shape materialized under his boat, and the young fisherman had only enough time to recognize a large white body wrapped in fishing net, when the spear-like horn pierced the surface of the water very close to the boat. The mermaid looked down at the water with fear in her eyes as the “unicorn” flashed past her, and her expression became all the more urgent when her body suddenly disappeared under the water, tail-first. Urcellus sat in his boat, quaking in fear as the unicorn emerged from the water, with the mermaid tangled in the net he had cast over it.
“HELP!” the mermaid shrieked very clearly, but Urcellus had seen quite enough of this forbidden zone. He took up the oars and rowed with all his might back to the dock. He didn’t even mind that the family fishing legacy had ultimately ended with him. From that day forward, Unlucky Urcellus would remain in Crossway, and never set foot near the water again.


Did you enjoy this story? As it so happens, "Undersea" is the name of the mer-kingdom in my book, Princess of Undersea. This story was intended as somewhat of a slapdash tie-in story--those who have read the book may recognize the mermaid, Yssandra--at least her name, anyway! Hope you enjoyed it, and if you're interested in finding out more, click the hyperlinked text above, or just go to the "Princess of Undersea" page at the top of the blog!

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A* ]     [-Letter K* ]          [-Letter T*
-Letter C   ]     [-Letter M
-Letter D   ]     [-Letter N*
-Letter E   ]     [-Letter O
-Letter F   ]     [-Letter P
-Letter G  ]     [-Letter Q*
-Letter H  ]     [-Letter R
-Letter I* ]     [-Letter S*

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Yes, it's that time of year! The time where I either will post WAY TOO MUCH or NOT HARDLY AT ALL. The time when I abandon all normal rhythms of blogging for these abstract, disjointed blocks of text that have nothing to do with anything else I have currently going on... I've just been planning and jotting down various notes and making strange outlines since SPRING and finally it all comes out in one mad, glorious rush!!

But there's just one teensy problem with pulling such shenanigans this year: my original resolution to "Finish Forward." To start yet ANOTHER of a laundry-list of new projects would do NOTHING to further my progress as a writer, nor to clean up the virtually-endless list of ideas sitting, untouched, on "The Shelf."

So what's a lively, writing-obsessed scatterbrain like me to do? I'll tell you!

This Year's Challenge Goes To...

This year, for National Novel Writing Month (commonly known as "November" in most English-speaking parts of the world), I will be tackling....

a rewrite. But not just any rewrite. (and definitely not the one that holds the record for the most rewrites... *sidelong glance* )

Remember THE LAST INKWEAVER? Remember how much it bothered me when I got stumped on it? Remember how flipping excited I was to finish it, seeing as I'd been working on it for pretty much the entire life of this blog? Well, I'd finished it, but I wasn't happy with it. I sent it off to at least 5 different friends for a casual "beta reading", applying no pressure because I had no specific deadline, plan, or goal attached to it, and heard back from 2 who chose to respond in questionnaire form, and one who used my story to practice being a professional-grade beta-reader/editor (and I was beyond pleased with the caliber of her feedback! It was everything I needed!) and let it rest while I focused on other things... like releasing Princess of Undersea.

Its time has come. There were two major things that happened that ended up restoring my motivation to return to that project.

Link to the original image
The first, and ostensibly most important motivational thing: I got a cover. A Facebook group I follow for inspirational images (the same group that inspired "The Clan of Outcasts") happened to post a particular picture that I immediately felt was an exact fit for a cover for The Last Inkweaver. It might just be me, but I'll let it speak for itself!
What's even more amazing than just the fact that this image fits so perfectly, is that, while this specific image is not royalty-free (and thus it is only a "mock" cover), I do know a very talented artist who I am sure can mimic the style--enabling me to not only request additional touches to tie into the books, BUT ALSO I could potentially commission said artist to do the artwork for the whole series! Wouldn't that be epic?

The second thing that happened was that I learned about Dan Harmon's Story Circle.

See, one of the reasons I'm so terrible at rewrites is that I get so hung up on the way a story happens in my head, that even if I were to ask myself the question, "Can this happen another way?" I just can't make the characters behave in a way that is different than what I wrote, because the original line "fits them so well." So I end up with a crappy story because that's all I can come up with, and when I need to go back and rewrite, the ideas are gone. That's what holds me up so badly with stories like "Laurel of Andar" and "Merely Meredith," where I got stuck and had to give up because I needed to go back and change some details, which resulted in the ensuing scene falling apart and the whole story veers in a completely different direction... and yet I can think of no alternative segue.

Early in the spring, I learned about the 3-Act Storywriting Method. At it's most basic, it's the "Intro-Conflict-Resolution" method of storytelling. Heck, even trying to break down The Last Inkweaver into the Seven-Phase Process I've explained before didn't work! What else was I going to do?

Just in the nick of time, a friend posted a helpful YouTube video explaining Dan Harmon's Story Circle, and my brain latched onto it almost immediately. I began to notice that the stories I was most satisfied with tended to follow this 8-step framework. The linked text in the first mention explains it better than I can (since it's written by Dan Harmon himself... who, if you don't know, is the creative genius behind Rick and Morty) but basically there are eight phases a character goes through, from the initial need to embark on the journey, to the eventual return after the journey has changed him or her. If you really think about it, most stories that come to your mind when you think of "good ones" probably follow some semblance of this method--and now you know what makes them so good!

So now I've spent the last month figuring out which of the various phases of the story fit with the certain parts of the Story Circle framework, and using that to help me come up with a more convincing and focused plot. Starting from Square One also enables me to take into account the various comments I've gotten concerning the story, and gives me space to address the issues and incorporate the suggestions where they can fit.

One of the big changes I've decided to make is changing the names of the characters. It might come as a surprise to you, but the name "Shereya" was a place-holder from the very start, just an anagram of another character name, which I never went back and changed. I'm not really attached to that, nor any of the other names, so I've decided to change them all, in honor of the new story! It makes it really complicated to make notes when all I have is "Girl 1/Girl 2/Girl 3/Boy" but I think having actual, sensible character names would be better than the slap-dash ones I had before.

Next week, I'll talk more specifics about what changes I'm making, and how the tale fits into the Story Circle, but this is the initial announcement, so consider yourself warned!

Catch You Further Upstream!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter T

The List:
-Treenia, Taliesin
-Tallie's Inn
-Tuesday, Thursday, twilight
-Town, Toes, Time, trolls, torque, tug, tunnel, terrain, tangerine, tart, twinkle, therianthrope, thought, twist, trail, tussock, trunk, tree, turf

The Result:

"Taken To Town"
(*Sequel to "Beware of Fairies" )

Will felt the turbulence wrack his whole body as he tumbled through the hole by the tugging at his wrist. Wherever the tunnel led, the ground tilted sharply in a different direction than he expected, and his toes caught on uneven terrain and he flopped on the ground at Treenia’s feet. She hadn’t let go of his hand, however, and so his arm torqued painfully in the landing. 

“Ouch!” He yelled, staggering to his feet.
Treenia still treated him to a twisted grin and a merry twinkle.
“Swiftly, Will! Tallie’s Inn is just on the other side of those trees!”
“Tally-who?” Will slurred, but the young Fae was off again, traipsing down the trail into the nearby town.

They emerged from the treelike and into a maze of life and color. Creatures of every shape and size trickled this way and that among tents and towers, festooned with all manner of celebratory trappings. 
Tallie’s Inn... Tallie’s Inn... just the name itself triggered in Will’s memory, a slim connection to the world he’d left behind, barely even a tether to the reality he once knew. 
A gorgeous tree-like being, all wrapped in leaves and branches, trailing ivy down its back, approached the two, offering Will a tempting array of treats on a tray. Tall meringues topped with tangerine sections, and gleaming tarts like tiny treasure mounds tested his tact, but Will turned away from it all. 
Treenia regarded him curiously. “Won’t you at least try something?” She tittered.
Will shook his head. “Not even a little. We have a tradition among humans, that whoever tastes fairy food will lose his appetite for anything in the human realm, and he will be forever bound to the fairy realm.”
Treenia covered her mouth with thin, graceful fingers. “Dear me, how funny!” 
Meanwhile, the talk of tradition had caused Will’s mind to whirl again. Suddenly, he tapped his temple. “Taliesin!” He cried. “That’s What this place reminds me of!”
Treenia tutted her tongue and tilted her head. “Of course, silly; the town is called Tallie’s Inn!”
Will shook his head. “No, it’s—“ he stopped, realizing that arguing with a Fae who had no idea how the human world worked about an ancient historical figure would go nowhere. “Never mind.”
A trilling trumpet sounded from across a wide, thick turf.
Treenia twirled on her toes. “Quickly!” She cried. “The tournament of trolls is about to begin!”
Will barely had time to take in what Treenia said. “Tournament of what?”
They traveled with the crowd toward a tumult of screaming, screeching, and bellowing. They sat under a tent packed with other Fae who eyed Will suspiciously. The trumpet tolled again, and two terrifying beasts lumbered out into the arena.
A pair of trolls, twelve feet tall and covered in twisting tattoos, tussled with one another. They swung rough-hewn tree trunks at each other, and their thudding steps made the ground shake and tremble. 
One particular trouncing blow knocked the combatant off balance, and the colossus tumbled toward the tent full of spectators.
Will nearly tripped over the therianthropes surrounding him as everyone dispersed from the trajectory of the titanic monster. Once again, Treenia’s hand closed around his wrist, and she tugged him out of harm’s way.
The tournament could not continue with the demolition of the spectator stands, so Treenia and her companion drifted toward the other tents.
Through it all, Will began to observe Treenia and her interactions with the other Fae. After all, a huge part of the Scottish history he wanted to write about was steeped in mythology and legends—and here they were, larger than life and twice as real! If he was dreaming at this point, he didn’t even mind.
Treenia led him to the lawn where dryads and fauns led attendees in a huge, intricate dance. Ethereal shapes twirled and skipped among the turf. The young teacher relaxed his guard, and felt the tenseness of his first moments trickle away. To his surprise, Treenia responded with tenderness, escorting him around to the things he wanted to see, and the two of them talked till the stars twinkled and danced in the twilight. After the gnomes had put out all the lights from the festival, and the last dryad had tucked its leaves away for the night, Treenia took Will by the hand and began leading him down yet another trail at the edge of the town.
“Where are you taking me now?” he asked, but the fairy didn’t answer him. Will felt the old apprehension began twining around his insides, his heart thumping loudly against his ribs, and his thoughts racing as the shadows deepened around them. The festival had ended—what would Treenia do with him now? Was she the sort of fairy who would do terrible things after night fell?
Will nearly tripped on a tussock right in front of him by the time he tore himself away from his fearful thoughts and realized where they stood: at the edge of the blue pool that had served as the portal between the worlds. From this end, Will could clearly see the winding walls of a tunnel stretching deep under the ground.
“Why are you so scared?” Treenia asked.
“What are we doing here?” Will looked around, almost disbelieving that he could be back where the adventure began. “Are we going somewhere else now?”
Treenia tilted her head to one side again. “Did you want to go somewhere else?”
“No!” Will declared tremulously. “I want to return to Scotland!”
The ground tilted, and Will toppled into the tunnel, falling with that same turbulent drop until his feet landed securely on a patch of grass. A tree towered over them, and the house he might have left a week ago.
“There,” Treenia stated softly. “You’re back, on the very same night you left. Not a moment has passed, just as you wanted.”
Will glanced up to the round moon overhead. “It’s still Tuesday night?” he gasped.
“Yes,” she answered. “Your hosts won’t notice you are gone.” She turned and began walking away from him.
Will couldn’t ignore the tug on his conscience. “Treenia!” he called after her.
The fairy glanced over her shoulder, the strange, glowing lantern appearing in her hand.
Will rubbed the back of his neck. “I, er—thank you for tonight.”
She smiled. “Did you enjoy your time at the Human Festival?”
He nodded. “I did.”
The young fairy dipped her head. “Well then,” she stammered, “Would you be willing to come with me on Thursday? There will be a kelpie-taming contest that day. I’m competing.”
Will blinked. “Yes,” he agreed. “I think I’d like that.”
Treenia giggled. “Very well, Will; I will return on Thursday night.” She turned and scurried away, soon lost in the shadows.
Will sighed and turned to climb the tree. Perhaps being taken by the fairies wasn’t so bad, after all.

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A*       ]     [-Letter K*
-Letter B*       ]     [-Letter L*
-Letter C        ]      [-Letter M
-Letter D        ]      [-Letter N*
-Letter E        ]      [-Letter O
-Letter F        ]      [-Letter P
-Letter G       ]      [-Letter Q*
-Letter H       ]      [-Letter R
-Letter I*      ]      [-Letter S*

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Reader's Review: "Fragmented" by Madeline Dyer

Synopsis from Amazon:


After the terrible battle against the Enhanced Ones, Seven and Corin find themselves on the run. With the Enhanced closing in, Seven knows they need to find other people on their side. So, when the opportunity arises to join the Zharat, one of the last surviving Untamed tribes, it seems like the perfect solution.

But the Zharat lifestyle is a far cry from what Seven's used to. With their customs dictating that she must marry into their tribe, and her relationship with Corin breaking down, Seven knows she has to do something before it's too late. But that's easier said than done in a tribe where going against the rules automatically results in death.

And, with the Enhanced still out there, nowhere is truly safe for the Untamed-least of all for the most powerful Seer in the world... and Seven soon discovers how far people will go to ensure she's on their side in the War of Humanity.

Battling against the emerging web of lies, manipulation, and danger, Seven must remember who she was meant to be. Her life has never been more at stake. Nor has humanity itself.


My Review:

Considering that it’s been almost a year and a half since I read the first book, UNTAMED, I had to wonder how much I would have to recall on my own, and how much would be delivered by the author via expositions recaps before the next adventure began.
I should have known Dyer doesn’t bother with all that amateur stuff. FRAGMENTED picks up exactly where UNTAMED left off, and not a moment later! Pertinent information is referenced when necessary, but it wasn’t as if I needed to know everything that happened before. It continues at a breathtaking pace, weaving back and forth between the Dream Land and the real world, a truly "fragmented" reality riddled by betrayal, lies, and half-truths.

Most notable is the introduction of the Zharat, a group of people who have done what they could to survive in these trying times. I found the society utterly fascinating! So distinct and vastly different from the ones Seven grew up with, the Zharat present an entirely distinct method of coping with the strangeness of the world, and you really get a “distant history” vibe from it that just deepens the immersion into the reality Dyer has fabricated.
There were a few things that ended up not at all the way I expected, and a few moments that felt a little forced/rushed (which I can’t get into because SPOILERS) but none of them really constituted a deal-breaker and I still remain securely enthralled by the series!

All things considered, FRAGMENTED earns a *****4.5 STAR***** rating, making it a worthy sequel to its predecessor, and I would still maintain my Upstream Writer Certified ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED endorsement. If you’re looking for a dystopian read with a futuristic, post-apocalyptic vibe, a fantastically REAL heroine who is at the same time extremely strong and devastatingly vulnerable, the UNTAMED series should be your next indulgence!
Further Reading: (Dystopian/High Peril/Fast Pacing/Strong Heroines)
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge 
       -Behind The Mask 
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie 
The Portal Prophecies--C. A. King
     -A Keeper's Destiny 
     -A Halloween's Curse 
     -Frost Bitten 
Tales of the Fallen--Katika Schneider

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter S

The List:

-Summertime, Solstice
-Sussexham, station
-sun, shadow, sew, swatches, strength, safety, status, sheen, shrug, shake, secrets, stories, sabotage, strangers, selection, Seventh, survival, steps, skeleton

The Result:

"Safety in Numbers"

(*This is a sequel to a previous Suggestion Box installment)

Summertime in Walesmoor was usually a mild affair. The sun shone her very strongest, but a thin sheen of cloud still staunchly stayed, filtering her light and heat.

A young girl and her governess sat on the steps behind the house, stitching with silk threads over swatches of muslin. Such a pastime befitted ladies of their status.
The girl glanced up at her governess.
“What is it like, Vonica?” She asked, looking up and brushing her dark hair aside.
Vonica raised her eyes from her work and smiled. “What is what like, Sophia?”
The young girl’s gaze grew very serious. “Being an Ordinary.”
Vonica’s lips pinched somberly. “Your father does not want us to talk—“
“But I am afraid!” Sophia protested. “You have been through a Division before. I just want to know what it is like!”
Vonica gazed at her charge, barely seven years of age. “You are still so young, Sophia. You’ll have a few more years ahead of you before you are in the eligible range from which they cull. You can learn all you need to know—“
“From my governess, who was an Ordinary herself,” Sophia finished stubbornly. “You were Seventh, right? What was it like, the Base-10? Were there obstacles, or puzzles you had to solve? Did they tell you all the secrets behind the institution of Ordinaries and Cardinals?”
“Sophia, stop!” Vonica’s eyes widened in fear. “Are these the stories you’ve heard? Such speculation does not become a lady of your stature.”
“Then tell me the truth!” Sophia insisted. “What happened on the way to Londonshire?”
“Nothing!” snapped the governess. A tense moment of silence hung between them. Vonica’s shoulders slumped, and she sighed. “Nothing happened to me, at any rate... but when I arrived at Base-10, they informed me that I was no longer Seventh. I needed to be the Third Ordinary.”
Sophia gasped. “Third? But wasn’t there a Third already selected?”
Vonica shook her head. “There were only two other Ordinaries when I arrived.”
The young girl quickly subtracted in her fingers. “What happened to the other four Ordinaries?”
Vonica shrugged and went back to her sewing. “Who knows? No one talked about it while I was there, but later on—after I came to work for your father in looking after you—I heard rumors that there had been a Nullifier attack on our caravan.”
“Nullifiers? What are those?” Sophia felt a sudden panic rise within her at the word.
Vonica glanced around to make sure they were alone before sinking her voice to a whisper. “No one has actually seen them, but there have been sequences of events that confirm the existence of a shadow faction. Nullifiers want to overthrow the Cardinals, and that is why they began instituting Ordinaries, one for each Cardinal. The Cardinals, then, cannot be touched until all of the Ordinaries are killed in the order of their assignment. Each Division is another chance for the Nullifiers to strike.
If you are selected, Sophia, I want you to be on your guard at all times. No one has solved the mystery of how or when the Nullifiers slay the Ordinaries—or even if they exist, and it wasn’t just some arbitrary accident that claimed the lives of these people in the past. Stay alert, and live, so that the others may survive!”


Seventeen-year-old Sophia stood stoic-faced as Vonica’s warning thrummed in her ears.


Sophia stepped forward. The pendant and the specified deadline weighed heavy in her hands. She was officially an Ordinary. Come what may, there would be no turning back or running to safety, now. There was only Winter Solstice, and Base-10 at Londonshire.

On the Abacus, Sophia slumped in her seat. Teresa was a simpleton if she thought she could dismiss the warnings. All the same, Sophia wished she could claim the suave confidence that Donovan had, or the keen focus of Alice—and that still small voice persisted in her head, telling her that, as the Third Ordinary, it wouldn’t be long until her time came, if the Nullifiers decided to sabotage the mission.

The hills, trees, and sky skated past with predictable regularity—until the Abacus took a sharp bend, and Sophia stiffened when she realized that they were no longer on the straight track to Londonshire. She could see the original track, stretching off into the distance, while the Abacus slithered along a separate track, winding off to who-knows-where.
To make matters worse, Sophia could feel the cars beginning to slow. A station loomed in the distance, but she couldn’t move as the vehicle ground to a stop. The door hissed open, and somebody stumbled in. Sophia heard heaving sobs, as the person stood.
“Donovan!” the name escaped her lips as she stared in surprise.
“It’s started!” He stammered, staggering over to her. Gone was the collected demeanor he’d worn when she saw him last. “They got Alice! She’s gone!”
“Shush!” Sophia warned him as the Abacus pulled away down the new track. At least they were headed south still—they might just make the solstice, after all. “Calm down and speak plainly. How do you know Alice is gone?”
Donovan stared at her with wide eyes. “I saw—“ he gulped. “I saw the saboteurs take her! My Abacus was close behind hers, remember, and for an Ordinary, there is only one track to Londonshire. We depart in order so that we can arrive in order. But we were just outside Sussexham when the semiconductor on my Abacus had to slow down, because there was a stalled Abacus ahead of him.”
“That doesn’t necessarily mean she was taken—“
“I’m not finished,” Donovan shook his finger. “While we were waiting for the other Abacus, a group of men—I can only assume they were saboteurs—surrounded the Abacus, and I saw them snatch Alice out of the car! They took her right in front of me! And I couldn’t do anything to stop them!”
Sophia gripped his shoulders. “Breathe, Donovan! Just because you saw suspicious men take Alice doesn’t mean they went off and killed her. She could still be alive—“
“Why would they let her live?” Donovan burst out, quivering and shaking in his seat. “She’s the First; she’s worth more to them dead than alive, and once she’s killed, I’ll be next!”
Sophia shook her head. “Then it’s in the interests of self-preservation that I do whatever I can to keep you alive.”

The brakes on the Abacus squealed, heralding a second stop. Sophia glanced out the window, but everything was shrouded in a smoky haze. She didn’t know where they were, what direction they traveled in, or how close they were to Londonshire. She squinted at the shadows, but the only thing she could see was a tall blonde in a blue dress like hers. Teresa! Sophia opened the doors to let her in.
“Sophia!” Teresa gasped, squeezing her arms. “Boy, am I glad to see you!”
“Don’t tell me,” Donovan groaned, “They got your Abacus too?”
“Huh?” Teresa frowned at him. “Donovan, what are you doing here?” She glanced between them. “How did I get ahead of you both?”
“What happened to you?” Sophia asked. “Donovan’s Abacus got stuck behind—“
“Alice’s,” Teresa finished. “I know, I saw the wreck too.”
“Wreck?” Donovan squealed. “No, no—she was kidnapped but the Abacus was still on the track. I couldn’t go forward, so I walked to another station and summoned Sophia’s Abacus. It wasn’t a wreck—“
“Well, a wrecked Abacus stopped mine in the tracks,” Teresa responded, “and when I got out, I found Alice’s body. She’s dead.” She looked at Donovan. “You’re the new First.”
Sophia felt the shadows creeping in, chilling her very skeleton. The slaying had begun, and it would not stop until they were all safe at Base-10… or else.
“All right, here it is,” she announced to the others. “We are safer together than separated, so from now on, we stick together. We will make it through alive—the survival of the other Ordinaries rests squarely on us.”

Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A*       ]     [-Letter K*
-Letter B*       ]     [-Letter L*
-Letter C        ]      [-Letter M
-Letter D        ]      [-Letter N*
-Letter E        ]      [-Letter O
-Letter F        ]      [-Letter P
-Letter G       ]      [-Letter Q*
-Letter H       ]      [-Letter R


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Serial Saturday: "The Suggestion Box, Vol. 4: A to Z Challenge" Letter R

The List:
-Ruby, Rachel, Richard
-Richmond, railroad, riverside
-Resurrection Sunday
-right, Redeemer, roots, rye, reason, raspberry, roses, ruched, raisin, rolls, reminder, random, return, rectify, redemption

The Result:

"Regarding The Rye"
Ruby felt the stares as she sat in the rigid pew of the Southern Baptist Church of The Redeemer. She focused on the ruched fabric covering her knees as the pastor rambled through several passages on the crucifixion. Nora had reminded her several times that the raspberry color did look absolutely stunning, and no, Ruby wouldn’t stand out, but among all the voluminous pastels and porcelain-pale faces, Ruby knew that her dark-amber skin stood out like a raisin in a pound cake. It didn’t matter what she wore; in Harlem she could blend in without so much as a hat. In this Alabama church, there was nothing she could do to rectify the situation. She sat, eyes glued to the pastor, praying to Jesus that there wouldn’t be an outcry here like there had been at the train station.

The church held an Easter potluck on the lawn after the service. Ruby bustled behind Nora with the basket of hot cross buns made by her mother-in-law. They had almost reached the table when an older woman in a bright floral-print dress made straight for Nora.
“Oh, Ellanora, my dear!” she said loudly, grasping Nora’s hands in her knobby, ringed fingers. “It was so good to see that raggedy old head of yours in front of me this morning. Prattville just hasn’t been the same without you!”
Nora winced and tried to pull her hands out, but the woman held on. “Thank you, Lorraine—“
“Now, think nothing of it, Ellanora; that’s what friends are for.” More women joined her, reaching out to Nora and clucking their tongues sympathetically. The ring closed off between Ruby and her mother-in-law. Lorraine smiled even wider. “Now, speaking of friends, we of the Ladies Society wanted to give you a gift, as a reminder that we’re here for you, no matter what.”
Ruby couldn’t see what it was, but she heard Nora’s reaction.
“Have you all lost your minds?” she squealed, bursting out of the circle.
Lorraine looked on with a face full of shock and pity. “Why, Ellanora! We just heard about what happened…” she glanced around privately. “We all wanted to help you. That’s all this is.”
“I may be a widow but I am not a charity case, Lorraine Charlotte Rose Montgomery!”
The expression Lorraine wore made it seem like Nora might have pushed her. “I never said anything about charity. Richard even said he would be willing to—“
Nora grabbed the basket from Ruby and scowled at the woman. “Just stay away from me, Lorraine! Mount Placid belongs to the Mulberry family, and none of you are welcome there any more!”
Ruby followed her to the table, where she set the basket of rolls amid the loaves of bread and pastries.
“Arrogant, meddling women, throwing their money around and thinking they’re better than other people!” Nora grumbled, moving to join the long queue of ravenous churchgoers ready to feast.
“What was the gift?” Ruby wasn’t sure if it would be safe to ask, but she did, anyway.
Nora scowled. “Money! The women I would socialize with on a regular basis heard the rumor about the bank laying claim on Mount Placid—Lord knows how they could have found out, nosy gossips! So, naturally, they assume I am just a poor, destitute wretch and they took up a collection for me! And that rude, stuffy Rachel Thurston thought I would be head over heels to rent one of her guest rooms—the very idea!”
They had reached the table, heaped their plates with a rainbow of delicious foods, and now Nora had decided to take her wounded pride to a table all by herself. Ruby sat beside the woman, as she had done this entire time. She hadn’t taken the first bite before someone called her name.

“Ruby!” A young woman with rich auburn hair curled back along the nape of her neck approached the table.
Ruby set down her fork and smiled. “Hello, Diana,” she said quietly.
Diana pinched her pretty rose-colored lips into a smile. “What are you doing sitting way back here? Come over, there’s still a place at our table yonder!”
Ruby’s eyes went right to Nora as she replied, “Oh, thank you for your offer, but—“
“Oh, go ahead,” Nora waved her hand. “I need some time to sulk alone before the Holy Spirit comes along to convict me, anyhow.”
Ruby gave Nora’s hand a reassuring squeeze as Diana giggled awkwardly at the insinuation. She picked up her plate and moved to join this new circle of friends she had managed to find in a place as regimented as Prattville.

“So,” Diana continued as they threaded their way between the tables. “Have you heard the news?”
Living at Mount Placid with only the few house servants and her mother-in-law, Ruby hadn’t found much of a resource for all the comings and goings of Prattville. “What news?”
“Basil’s back!” Diana’s eyes gleamed as she said it.
Ruby fancied he must be someone important, but she hadn’t heard the name. “Basil who?”
Diana set her plate down and plopped into her chair. “Basil Sheppard, of course! Oh, Rubes, he’s only the largest landowner in Prattville. You know that pile of refuse at the edge of Carver’s Wood, down by the old railroad crossing that nobody uses anymore?”
Ruby nodded; she hadn’t told anyone, but instead of going to the grocers in town, she’d been digging through the pile for the deformed root vegetables, and she’d even found a pile of wild rye growing in this seemingly random patch of garden in the forest. Nora had yet to ask where the provisions came from, but there hadn’t been any reason to tell her before now. “Yes, I know the place.”
“That’s the edge of his property, while the main house and the stables and barn are closer to the riverside—can you imagine all that land?” Diana sighed. “Anyway, since you don’t seem to know much about him, I’ll just tell you that he’s recently returned from a milling competition in Richmond. He’d supplied grain from his fields, you know, and rumor has it that, out of all the other grains in the competition, Basil’s grain was pronounced the Best in the South!”
Ruby barely heard her, as guilt crowded over her mind. Her pounding heart roared in her ears. Award-winning grain! That had been his rye she had stored in the cellar of Mount Placid! His radishes and roots! Here she had almost convinced herself that it had been free for the taking; that the mound of produce was all rejected specimens as less-than-perfect—but in reality, she was stealing! Ruby Corden Burke was nothing more than a common Negro thief after all! She needed to rectify this transgression, or risk losing any kind of redemption she had hoped to gain.

 This story is based on a future installment of the ReBible Series, a collection of novels based on Bible stories, set in more modern times. This particular story is based on the story of Ruth, set in America in the years just before and immediately after the Great Depression.
Those familiar with the Biblical account might recognize this scenario; for those less familiar, the climax of the story of Ruth comes when Ruth, poor and penniless in the land of her mother-in-law, Naomi, takes it upon herself to glean after a group of harvesters, as the law allows her to do. She ends up gleaning in the fields of Boaz, whom she finds out later happens to be a distant relative, and the means by which she could potentially save herself and her mother from homelessness. 
In "The Remnant Resonance", Ruby, in a fit of guilt after finding out she'd been gathering roots and grains from another man's field, uses some of it to make what she calls a "Restitution Pie", intending to present it to him, confess what she'd done, and apologize for the thievery. Unfortunately, the man who greets her at the house isn't "Mr. Sheppard," but his supervisor, who accepts her apology and grants her permission to keep anything she finds in the mound at the edge of Carver's Wood. As for what happens after that, time will tell... Check the hyperlinked text above for more excerpts from this and other potential installments in the series!

 Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)

-Letter A*       ]     [-Letter K*
-Letter B*       ]     [-Letter L*
-Letter C        ]      [-Letter M
-Letter D        ]      [-Letter N*
-Letter E        ]      [-Letter O
-Letter F        ]      [-Letter P
-Letter G       ]      [-Letter Q*