Friday, August 31, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 13

#13.1 "Vicious Little Predator"

“Nips! Nips! Juniper, baby! Time to come in!”

The breeze that blew past me had an edge to it, slicing across my arms to make the goosebumps ripple over my skin. I tried hugging my arms close against my chest, but the wind was so strong, what would be the point?

Where was my kitten? I scooted closer to the small knot of trees at the back of the yard. It was always full of debris and weeds, the trees were dwarf-size, more like large shrubs than anything, and Juniper loved to hunt and explore all the fascinating things that were used to us just leaving them alone.
“Juniper!” I called.

The leaves rustled. She was in there all right. Naughty kitty! I made kissy noises. “Come on! Do you want food? Let’s go eat, hey?”

More rustling, then a little grey head popped up. Beady golden eyes stared at me, the little ears twitching.
“That’s it, Juniper! Come on, honey!”
I made sure to get her attention before walking away. Sure enough, I was only halfway to the house by the time the tiny furry body brushed against my ankles.


I bent down and picked her up. That’s when I noticed the wings sticking out of her mouth.
“Oh! Juniper! Did you eat a dragonfly?” The small, purple body hanging from her mouth had an odd shape. I rubbed my kitty’s chin, trying to coax her to spit it out or swallow it. “No bugs in the house, Nips! That’s disgust—“
I didn’t get to finish the word before she hurled the wet, floppy thing into my hand. I was so surprised that I dropped her onto the stoop and she zoomed through the open door. I almost threw the bug away, too, before my brain realized that this was no insect.
“What?” I gasped, laying it out on the kitchen counter so I could examine it under the light.

Dragonfly wings attached to a humanoid body with purple skin, and some kind of blue-green iridescent scales over that. Red hair, saturated with kitten saliva, grew from its head. My vicious little predator had pierced its abdomen, drawing tiny beads of blood from the puncture wounds.
"Nips!" I groaned, prodding the tiny body with trembling fingers.
A fairy; a genuine fairy, laying on my kitchen counter, possibly bleeding to death. My mind buzzed, as if I suddenly couldn't figure out what was real and what might be hallucination. Grabbing the kitty lest she get curious while my back was turned, I made for the small First Aid travel kit in the desk drawer. The smallest piece of gauze was enough to wrap around the fairy's abdomen twice. I used a dry dishcloth, wadded up, as a cushion to lay it on. All that was left to do was wait until it awoke... if it ever would.

#13.2 "A Real Fixer-Upper"

Prompt: The science engineer looked at me and shook his head. "I'm afraid I have bad news. We found trace elements of an unknown chemical element in the house you just bought...."

Buying a house should have been a process, an arduous ordeal. All the papers, the forms, the money, the insurance... I seemed to recall the number of times we moved, and the amount of paperwork my parents had to sift through every time...

“What an age we live in,” I mused to myself as I swiped my Comprehensive Identification Card on the TitleDex. It whirred for a few moments, and from the slot below dropped a title with my name and information printed on it. The realtor technician smiled and took the honor of formally handing the title to me and shaking my hand.

“Congratulations, Cedric. You are now the owner of the illustrious Gateway Manor. Inspectors will be by tomorrow, just giving the house one last check-over, and you can begin moving in immediately.”

“Wonderful!” I replied, gazing over her shoulder at the derelict heap that had remained abandoned since the start of the twenty-first century. “I’d like to hire the movers for Thursday, then.”
The realtor nodded. “That can be arranged.” She tapped the comm in her ear and walked away, signaling an end to our business.

Or so I thought.

The call came the next day, Wednesday, just after I had told my wife to start boxing all our belongings so the movers could just pick them up right away.

“Cedric Holmes?” asked the voice at the other end.
“Yes,” I replied. “Who is this?”
A heavy sigh. “This is Mark, the chief inspector for your new home.”
I detected a hint of dread in his voice. “Ah, yes; is everything all right?”
A long pause. “You’ll want to come see this, sir.”

I begged an early lunch and took the fastest line to the Manor.

The entire house was nearly invisible under the massive, hazmat-yellow tent somehow thrown up around it. I stride for the door until I saw someone emerge.

“What the heck is going on?” I demanded of him.

The science engineer looked at me and shook his head. “I’m afraid I have bad news. We found trace elements of an unknown chemical in the house you just bought...”

My mind whirled, drowning out the rest of his words. Trace elements? Unknown chemical? What humbug was this?

I pushed past him to enter the house. He tried to scoot back and stop me.
“Sir, you can’t go in...”

“The heck I can! I own the place! I can do what I want!”

“Sir! It could be dangerous—“

I slipped through the opening.

The entire house was crawling with men in yellow jumpsuits, waving scanners and scraping walls. They all stopped dead when they saw me, unprotected.

I stood still too—I didn’t really know what I was doing there, any more than they did.

In the silence, I heard it.
A rasping, creaking, oozing sound. It seemed to come from the stairwell. I carefully sidled in that direction.

At first, it looked like nothing... but then, as I squinted, I could see that the stairs didn’t quite look like stairs. A sheen seemed to take up the space from the first step to the hallway above. But in spite of being a hazy sort of substance, it seemed to maintain its shape, not spreading any further than those walls.

“What...” I mumbled to myself, shuffling forward. I could hear the muffled murmurs of frightened scientists, but no part of me cared about them. It was my house—what did I have to fear? It was just smoke, wasn’t it?

I placed my finger against the wall of haze. It offered little resistance, welcoming my fingertip into its surface like a gooey pudding. I tried to pull back—but my finger stuck there in midair!
“What the—“ Before I could ask the scientists for help, the sticky fog slithered over my hand, swallowed my arm, and finally dragged my whole body into that space!

I closed my eyes and cringed, expecting a face-full of old wood and splinters all over my legs and arms... But as soon as the cold sensation closed over my back, I staggered forward over an uneven, but soft, surface. I opened my eyes and lifted my head.

I had gone from inside a dirty old house on a grey day to standing on a short hill under a clear-blue sky.

What had I gotten myself into? More importantly... How was I going to get back?

Did you enjoy those stories? Tune in every Friday for more "Flashes of Inspiration"!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Serial Saturday: "The Dragon's Mark" Part 2

Part 2
"The Maid With The Scales"
Southern Italy, 1925

The dew had only just fallen, and the city of Kadros, a municipality in the Calabria region of Italy, lay blanketed still in the thin fog that would soon evaporate under the sun that had not yet risen.

At the back of a stately, rust-colored villa, a young woman in a faded blue dress pulled a frayed shawl closer around her shoulders as she stepped, barefooted, down to the flagstone path that led to the tiny well tucked among the trees at the back of the yard. Deep in the shadows, she arrived at the wide hole, covered with a wooden lid and surrounded with extra water jugs. Rubbing her hands and blowing on them to restore circulation, she reached down and hefted the solid-wood cover off with one hand. With the other, she grabbed the rope that held the bucket and began pulling. Her palms stung, but she ignored them. Her skin would be red and raw for a while, but it always faded back into the uneven, leathery surface it had been for as long as she could remember.

The bucket arrived, brimming with water. She filled two jugs of several gallons each, closed the well again, and dragged them back to the house. Behind her, the sun had just peeked over the horizon.

She poured some of the water into a pot and set it boiling for porridge. From the cold cellar, she brought out a basket of fruit and began preparing them for eating. All too soon, she realized that the sun was up, and a moment later, the bells began ringing, and high-pitched voices commenced their squealing.


Frantically, the young brunette fluttered around, grabbing the hot coffeepot from among the coals with her bare hand and pouring the beverage into cups, which she arranged neatly on a tray, along with the day’s mail in one pile, and a gaudy periodical for the other. Sweat beaded along her hairline, but she forced her hands to steady as she carried the tray up the long kitchen stairs to the main floor of the villa.

Her first stop was the smaller of the two rooms, on the left. Still, it was plenty large enough for the massive four-poster bed, a long couch, an armchair, and a wide vanity with a large mirror. Upon the bed reclined a young woman with waves of dark, curly hair, flipping petulantly through yesterday’s periodical.

“About time you got up here,” she grumbled at the maid.

“I’m sorry, Miss Agatha—“ Stella began, but the girl in the bed snatched the coffee cup away from her and took a long sip with her eyes shut.

“Ugh, Stella!” she groaned. “We talked about this. Don’t ever address me first thing in the morning, because when you say something, I’m obliged to look at you, and when I look at you…” She left the statement hanging to curl her lip in disgust, and give a shudder, just enough to clank the coffee cup against its saucer. “Your cheeks are doing that flaking thing again,” she muttered.

Stella swallowed back another apology and hung her head.

Agatha waved her away. “Just leave my new periodical on the bed and go see to Mother.”

Stella obeyed and turned her back on the woman before replying, “Yes ma’am.”

Out in the hallway, she rubbed a hand across her jawline. Sure enough, a small piece of translucent, dead skin sloughed off in her fingertips. She studied the scale-like texture of it; for some reason, certain parts of the year seemed to yield these things more frequently, and her skin would scar over worse than ever—but why?

As she approached the gilded doors that led to the master suite, she paused to collect her thoughts. Sometimes she felt like Lady Jacintha could read her mind, or if she couldn’t, she very much wanted to.
“Come in!” The harsh command reached her through the door, before she’d even touched the handle.
Stella inched into the room. Lady Jacintha stood before the grand fireplace commissioned for her by her late husband, Lord Farfalle. She was a tall, graceful woman, hair neatly wrapped in a silk scarf, the soft folds of a satin dressing gown draped over her shapely figure. She didn’t lift her eyes from the mantel.

“Just set the tray on the table and go about your business, Stella,” Lady Jacintha murmured. “The bathwater won’t warm itself, you know.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Stella murmured, and hurried to do her mistress’ bidding. When the tub was filled to Her Ladyship’s liking, Stella hurried out to inform her.

Lady Jacintha reclined on the velvet lounge, sipping daintily at her coffee while reading over a letter. The envelope with its broken seal caught Stella’s eye: A lithe dragon, clutching an embossed letter D—the seal of the Drakistos family, who governed the affairs of Kadros very closely.


She froze and looked up suddenly, meeting the gaze of Jacintha, who had ceased reading and caught her staring. The older woman squinted ever so slightly, pinching her lips into a frown.
“Are you snooping among things that have nothing to do with you, child?” Jacintha’s words carried a deadly, warning edge.

Stella knew what her answer should be. “No, Lady Jacintha.” She dropped her gaze. Horrors! The hot bathwater had caused the skin on the back of her hands to flake up, making more of the dry “scales” on her skin! She clasped them behind her back and bowed. “It is none of my business.”

Jacintha’s face relaxed and she sat up, setting aside the letter face-down so Stella wouldn’t be tempted to read it. “Remember, I am the one connected to the Drakistos Family, by my late husband, who served as a lieutenant alongside Sir Sigmund's cousins in the Great War. I took you in as an unwanted babe, deformed and wretched as you were; I gave you a home, I provided for you—and I alone vouch for you in the presence of the Family, so don’t be getting ideas in that scaly little head of yours, because you can just as easily wander the streets among men who would kill you or worse as soon as look at your ugly little face!” Jacintha leaned in close, so close that Stella might have almost felt the dressing gown brush against her fingertips, if they hadn’t already hardened into oblivion. Her voice was as cutting and warm as a flame as she whispered, “You are nothing, Stella. You serve my daughter and me, and we serve The Family. That is all.”

Stella felt as if her face had turned to stone, it was so heavy and immobile. She bowed again and turned away to finally escape the woman’s presence.

“Stella.” Jacintha’s voice curled around her like a whip, halting her in her tracks. “What do you say to me?”

Stella bit down hard on her tongue, but her teeth barely left a mark. Jacintha went through this exchange every morning, constantly reminding Stella who truly owned her life, as though Stella may have forgotten over the course of her daily duties. And every time, Jacintha demanded the same thing of her.

“Thank you, Lady Jacintha.”

The regal woman swept toward her bathroom, unfastening the tie of her dressing gown as she did. “That’s better. Now see that breakfast is ready in the sunroom. Agatha and I have a full day of social calls ahead of us.”

Stella bit the inside of her cheek to keep her expression neutral. Social calls… That was what Jacintha called it when she and her daughter wandered from house to house amid the elite of Kadros, exchanging gossip in an attempt to ingratiate herself to one or another of the Drakistos’ extended connections, as if to remind herself that she was still “part of the family” now that Giorgio—the only actual “blood connection” she had—was gone.

Stella’s face softened when she reached the kitchen level once again, and she recalled the atmosphere that had pervaded the home while “Uncle Gio” was still alive. One could almost say things had been happier then.

Stella had not known any life outside of servitude to the Farfalle family, but at least the boisterous, gravel-voiced, paunchy old man had made it seem less like an indentured position, and more like the way she heard people at the market refer to their servants as “the help.” She was helping Uncle Gio and Milady (Jacintha never once allowed Stella the use of any other title, and always frowned when her husband insisted on being called “Uncle”) with the upkeep of the home, with the daily chores, and the meal preparations. He was always laughing, always finding ways to make his wife and daughter smile, and as long as he was within hearing, Jacintha could not lay a hand on any of the servants, because Giorgio maintained that such practice was demeaning and far less effective than outright telling the servant the nature of the offense. In his eyes, the servants were more than just errant animals needing to be trained with a slap or a push; they were rational people who could be made to see the error of their ways, and ensure that such a thing never happened again. Indeed, the servants treated thusly would never forget what he told them, and quickly amended any wrongs, even going so far as to try and avoid future mistakes based on past reasoning.

Stella poured the grains into the boiling water and chopped the fruit into a bowl. She set two bowls on the small table in the sunroom, along with spoons and cups. Down in the kitchen, she measured more coffee for a fresh pot. Giorgio had the coffee habit, while Jacintha tried to maintain her faithfulness to tea, but by the time Stella was old enough to start helping around the hot stove, the kitchen maids were instructed to reserve tea for guests only. Stella would always think of him when she smelled coffee, and it made her happier.

One unfortunate duel and an unlucky stroke of pinpoint accuracy, and all happiness in the Farfalle household promptly withered, like the last flicker of a candle.

Stella was still young at the time, and as long as she made sure she fulfilled her duties, she could continue alongside her fellow servants, seeking refuge from them when Jacintha grew too overbearing.
Then the servants started leaving, one by one; some by dismissal, others escaping voluntarily. Soon, only Stella remained—but by then, she was well accustomed to every facet of running the Farfalle villa, and so Jacintha never bothered to replace the absent servants, and so they had lived for the last few years. So long as Stella complied with every request, she could survive.

By the time the ladies finished breakfast, and Stella had cleaned most of the main level of the villa, a knock sounded at the door, and Madame Tiffenay arrived to return Lady Jacintha’s visit from the week before.

Stella made a point not to listen too closely and be accused of snooping, but she was mopping the floors just outside the sunroom when she heard the slender woman’s whining voice mention the name “Drakistos.”

“I hear Lord Drakistos is taken ill again,” Madame Tiffenay trilled conspiratorially. “No one’s seen him for several weeks.”

“Dear me,” Lady Jacintha murmured sympathetically. “They were just saying, over at the Promenade, that His Lordship has finally succumbed to a rare disease.”

Madame Tiffenay snorted, “Oh, I can’t say anything to that—word has leaked from the Drakistos Court itself that Lord Sigmund is afflicted not with disease, but with a curse, something to do with dragons…”

“Oh! Speaking of dragons, I’ve just had a notice from Sir Bern,” Jacintha attempted, but Madame Tiffenay didn’t let her get much further.

“Of course, we received that too; the notice, it seemed, went out to everyone in the city. Frankly, I don’t know what to make of it; dragons? Who has seen dragons?”

“Perhaps the rumors of the curse aren’t so far off, do you think?”

“Jacintha, dear,” the affluent Madame delivered the epithet with absolutely no feeling attached, “you really should know better than to believe everything you hear. Why, next you’ll be telling me that fairies live in the Sila Forest!” She let loose a high titter that wasn’t very good-natured at all.

Stella tore herself away from the doorway as the clicking, rustling steps heralded Miss Agatha’s approach. By the time the flouncing young woman reached the sunroom door, Stella crouched half the remaining distance down the hall.

As her hands moved the brush that pushed the suds back and forth over the floor, Stella’s mind returned again to the words she had overheard. “Who has seen dragons?” She caught her reflection in the bucket of water and sighed. I have, she thought. Every time I see my reflection.

The hard, leathery skin, the strange, uncomfortable shapes it pulled her features into—what else could they be but dragon-like? Those “scales” that the harsh soaps and the constant scrubbing, brushing, and toil didn’t wear away, she attempted to pull off, but it always seemed to allow new patches of dead, hard flakes to grow in their place. If anyone suffered under a dragon-related curse, it would be her—but why?

She knew, from the many times Jacintha recounted the events of that fateful night, that her mother had left her behind, abandoned her on the steps of the Farfalles’ villa, with nothing but a blanket and a note bearing the name Stella. Custody of the babe had gone to the jolly laundry-maid, and Stella knew no other life than the one she now led, deformities and all. The kind servants had never mentioned it, praising her character and her kind heart, and shushing the rude younger maids who sought to make Stella feel ashamed of something over which she had no control. As the number of servants gradually dwindled after the death of Giorgio Farfalle, Jacintha and Agatha both took up the role of belittling Stella for her unfortunate appearance, and demanding that she take on more and more of the tasks and responsibilities of maintaining the home and its inhabitants.

Madame Tiffenay soon took her leave, and Lady Jacintha departed soon after, to return other visits from the days before. Before they left, Lady Jacintha had some last-minute instructions for Stella.
“I will be hosting a dinner party tonight,” she said. “I have invited the Regannes and the Bishops. See that you prepare enough food for everyone, and I want the presentation to be flawless, do you understand?” She narrowed her eyes, though Stella noticed that when she looked up at Jacintha’s eyes, the woman’s gaze pointed to the climbing ivy trellis over her shoulder, and not at Stella herself.
Jacintha finished, “I want you to do your absolute best, so that I can be free to be the good hostess everyone expects.”

Stella ducked her head. “Yes, ma’am.” She would need to visit the Market, to see which dishes were in season; but before she could do that, she needed to finish the washing and the scrubbing. Stella helped the two women into their walking clothes and saw them down the flower-lined lane to the main, paved road leading into the avenues of stately dwellings. As soon as they were out of sight, she returned to work. It was going to be another long day.

Drakistos Castle overlooked the whole of Kadros. Inside, the servants garbed in clean linen whisked back and forth down the halls, maintaining everything in readiness for their master.
High in a tower, a lone advisor in a suit of dark silk rapped gently on the door.

“Your Lordship?” he called. “I bring news.”

“Enter!” rasped the voice from within.

The advisor obeyed, stepping into the room. Against the far wall stood a bed, with high posts on the corner, and a thick canopy, closed tightly.

“What news, Sir Travis?” Hissed the voice from within the canopy.
Sir Travis clicked the heels of his leather shoes. “Sire, according to this report… the sightings are growing closer. A farmer reports scorched ground as near as Messina.”

No one could ever quite explain the faint crackling sound that seemed to follow Lord Sigmund. One could only hear it in complete silence. “Scorched ground—it must be time, then, hey?” Lord Sigmund grunted.

Sir Travis gulped. Not even he could understand what was this thing that Lord Sigmund sought—but perhaps it would bring relief from these shut-in spells he underwent. “If indeed there are dragons about—“

“Not dragons, Travis,” His Lordship corrected. “Just one. The Dragon.”

“Apologies, my lord.”

“You are pardoned.” His Lordship’s voice slurred slightly. Soon, he would stop responding altogether, and they would need to post guards outside the door until he awakened once more. “Now… How fares young Henrik?”

There, at least he would have some good news to share. “He is well, Milord. Every day, there are more scales, but as long as we do not let them develop, the Curse has not taken him.”

“Ah, the Curse…” Lord Sigmund moaned. “My time is coming soon. Give word, Sir Travis, that there will be a Festival—call it the Dragon Festival, and announce that all the Family and everyone connected to us may attend.”

Sir Travis tilted his head. “A festival, milord?”

“Yes.” The crackling grew worse, as Lord Sigmund’s voice grew fainter.
The advisor shifted his posture. “I mean no disrespect, your Lordship, but—why a festival?”

“It will be a Dragon Festival, because the arrival of the dragon means that this Curse may be lifted soon. Perhaps before my next term of isolation.” A savage coughing fit interrupted the man’s words, and his voice came more strained than ever. “Let the festival take place in the Piazza, at the very heart of town, in front of this castle. Let the gates be open to anyone living in the city, under the protection of the Drakistos Family, whether citizen or stranger, regardless of class or standing. And…” Lord Sigmund paused for so long, that Sir Travis actually took a step closer and leaned in to hear his words. “Let it be known that Lord Sigmund seeks a bride for his son.”

“A bride,” Sir Travis echoed, “for Henrik?”

His question received only silence. The crackling, rattling had ceased, and Lord Sigmund lay dormant under the specifications of the infamous “Drakistos Curse.” Sir Travis exited the room, locking the door behind him. He paused briefly at the foot of the stairwell to consider his strange orders: Lord Sigmund insisted on a Festival—what was all this about a bride for Henrik? What sort of woman did Lord Sigmund expect to find, who would consent to marry a young man with strange flakes of dead, hardened skin to scrape off every day?

Sir Travis made his way to the copier’s office. He relayed the proclamation to the Chief Scribe and directed it to be sent out to every resident of Kadros the following day. The Festival would take a few days of preparation, but at least no one could fault him for failing in his duties while Lord Sigmund lay in isolation!

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 12

Prompt: "This magical place is all under water! Where does it lead? Who lives there?"

#12: "The Park"

I hopped off the bus and searched for her. In a sea of brown, black, and grey heads, hers was easy to spot. All I had to do was look for the waves of mauve streaked with indigo and aquamarine.
She raised her hand and waved, the rows of shells and coral and wood beads clacking against one another around her wrist.
"Stella!" I called.
"Hey there, stranger," she murmured as I came over to hug her. She always had a breezy, salty smell in her hair, like she spent most of her time on the beach. Her arms around me were firm and strong. "How was your trip?"
"Long," I answered. "And boring." I glanced around the bus depot, about the only building for at least a mile radius. "So what is there to do around here?"
Stella grinned and her impossibly-blue eyes twinkled. "We could go to the park," she offered.
I squinted at her as we walked away from the depot. "A park? The isthmus isn't that big; how do they have room for a park, with all the water around?"
She gave me a mysterious look. "You'll see."

We walked a little ways into a thick forest of bamboo and palm trees. I could feel the humidity hanging in the air like an invisible blanket of moisture that left a shiny film on my skin. The deeper we got into the forest, the darker and cooler it got.
"So..." I said with a shiver, adjusting my big heavy backpack on my back. "Where's this park you're talking about?"
Stella stopped at the edge of the bamboo thicket. "We're here."
I came to stand next to her and squinted into the space in front of us. I could hear the soft lapping of water, and as my eyes adjusted to the light I could see a few clumps of sea reeds waving under the surface... but there was one major component lacking.

"You said this was a park."
"I know." Stella didn't seem confused or ruffled by the discrepancy at all.
"So..." I rubbed the back of my head as I glanced up and down the pool. "Where's the park?"
She stared hard at me, her eyes almost glowing in the semidarkness. "It's right in front of us," she maintained, pointing to a flight of stairs leading off to the side.
"Oh." I almost felt like a dummy for not noticing, but then again, I had never been to this part of the continent. Who could blame me, really?
I followed Stella down the steps, carefully blinking to force my eyes to focus--until suddenly I realized that Stella had vanished without a sound.

My heart catapulted into my throat. Where did she go? She couldn't have fallen. Surely I would have heard her. Was she hiding? Was this some kind of joke? The only thing near the stairwell was more plants. The water muffled all other sounds.

"Stella!" I had the odd sensation of my voice ringing back in my ears, reverberating off of something close, and carrying no further from me. I took a step further.
My boot splashed, filling with water almost immediately. The pool! Why did the stairs take park visitors straight into the water, with no warning? What kind of park was this? There was no point in me sloshing all the way back in waterlogged boots, and besides, I had yet to find Stella, so on I went. The water came up to my waist, and then my chest, but the stairs still continued. By the time it reached my head, I began floating slightly, making it hard to stay on the steps. I took a deep breath and eased myself under the water, gripping the railing to hold myself down. Once my body adjusted, I opened my eyes--and I couldn't believe what I saw.

Straight ahead of me, a wooden pathway stretched on, winding through the maze under the water. The plants I had seen from the surface stretched far overhead, and down much further than my eyes could discern, like tall, narrow trees. As I followed the wooden path, fresh bursts of coral provided splashes of color in this astonishing place. It was a park, all right--one like I'd never seen before!

I set about trying to discern if I could see Stella swimming ahead of me, on the path. The longer I held my breath, the harder it was to stay anchored and upright under the water. Instead, I stretched out parallel to the wooden bridge, coasting along the railing like a diver.

Something rammed into my side, and I lost my grip on the railing. Desperately, I flailed, hoping to propel myself back toward it, but the more I moved, the more my body slowly floated in the opposite direction. My lungs were beginning to burn. I needed air! I glanced toward the surface, now twice my own height over my head. How had I gotten so deep already? I fought my way upward, but my oxygen-deprived brain also recalled why I had gone down there in the first place. From this "overhead" view of a large section of the underwater park, I searched for any sign of Stella. A flash of purple hair drew my eye. There she was! I forgot myself all of a moment and, like an idiot, opened my mouth. Water rushed in, and in the space of a moment, I couldn't get my lips closed again. I flailed my arms, hoping that she would see me before I passed out and couldn't respond to her.
The purple hair drifted closer. I could hear her voice, muffled as it was in the water.
Dark spots danced before my eyes. No! Must--retain--conscious...
Stella's face hovered over mine, and I felt her arms around me.
"Hang on..." I heard her whisper in my ear.
Something cupped over my mouth, and all the water fell away in a heaving rush. My lungs cleared, but I still didn't have the wherewithal to take a breath.
"Close your lips, Dan," Stella directed.
I was barely awake, but I did. The cup thing moved away, replaced by a glob of something soft and sticky. It covered my whole mouth, and by then my brain was screaming BREATHE OR DIE!! So I did. I opened my mouth as wide as it would go and inhaled the biggest breath of my life.

When I recovered my senses and opened my eyes... I was still underwater. Breathing normally. The glob of slime still clung from my nose to my chin. It let air in, somehow, but it kept water out.

And Stella? She hovered next to me. Only it wasn't exactly Stella. Still the same purple hair, yeah. But her skin was silvery grey like fish scales, and her feet ended in wide, wavy fins instead of toes. She saw me gawking and waved a webbed hand at me.

My girlfriend was a mermaid.

Did you enjoy that story? Stop by every Friday for more "Flashes of Inspiration"!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Reader's Review: "Behind The Badge" by J. D. Cunegan

Synopsis from Amazon:

For Jill Andersen, being part of the Baltimore Police Department has always been both a tremendous honor and a serious responsibility. Her father, before his fall from grace, had instilled in her a great respect for police and the work they do day-to-day. But when a teenage boy winds up dead on the outskirts of downtown Baltimore, Jill finds herself once again faced with those who would abuse their badges to fulfill personal agendas and uphold biases.

Jill still has a job to do, but she soon finds that not everyone is in her corner. For the first time in almost four years working Homicide, Jill finds herself at odds with people who claim to be on her side. From other cops to suits downtown all the way to the Mayor’s office, it becomes increasingly clear that Jill will need to rely on more than just her badge if she’s to solve this case.

But even if she finds justice, what’s the price?

Behind the Badge, the gripping, hard-hitting third novel in the Jill Andersen series (Bounty, Blood Ties), gives readers another taste of author J.D. Cunegan’s comic book-inspired brand of fast-paced prose, with chapters that fly by and plot twists that will leave readers constantly guessing and waiting for more.


My Review:

Bottom line: I really enjoyed this book. And it has been far too long since I read the previous one--but the mark of an excellent sequel is to be able to pick it up after a long hiatus and bring the reader right back to where they were prior. Cunegan does this very well, and I could picture each of the characters all over again.

A senseless murder amid allegations of police brutality brings the heat to Jill Andersen's precinct, and she's torn. She wants justice, and she stands by the oaths she took to protect and serve... but at what cost? After the near-fatal consequences of the last novel (Blood Ties) Jill is glad to at least have some people, those closest and most trusted among her friends, to entrust with her alter identity as a superpowered vigilante in black leather who goes around catching bad guys--but what happens when the "bad guy" looks the same as any coworker? Can she still stand "behind the badge" if the badge is wrong? How can she continue effectively defending the city according to its laws while most of what the media reports and what the general public knows is the corruption and the scandal that goes on in the name of said laws?

It's a hot-button topic, for sure, and a pet favorite of any contemporary crime novels involving police procedures--and Cunegan is one of the few, in my experience, who actually handled the issues in a fair, balanced, and respectful manner. The scenarios are neither contrived nor exaggerated. In fact, things that I have seen played up in certain other novels, who took a rather "in-your-face" stance which I did not like, end up comparatively understated in Cunegan's novels. He hones in on the characters, their humanity, their morality, and lets their responses and choices be consistent with who they have been all along. Jill is someone willing to jump at every chance for justice, dive in front of every gun, give her last breath in defense of other people, and this time around it should be no different; but such a choice comes at a cost when the ones you stand in front of are the ones who should be at your side.

The whole twisting mess of questions, identities, politics, and peril comes together for one heck of a compelling, irresistible, and brilliant ride laden with the passion for community. It asks real questions, and takes a good, honest look at what it means to be a community, what it costs to protect, and the true meaning of bravery--and it does it in heart-swelling, mind-bending, cheer-inducing style!

BEHIND THE BADGE definitely earns a full *****5 STAR***** rating, for the daring premise as much as the phenomenal execution of the plot that prompts the reader to think about the issues plaguing our communities, instead of reacting along with what's "popular." I can also still maintain that this series is Upstream Writer Certified RECOMMENDED, for those who like crime novels with a little superhero action on the side, a social message that isn't afraid or ashamed of itself, and characters from all walks of life who are worth following to the bitter end! (And hopefully, that end will be a long while yet in coming!) Go TEAM BOUNTY! 

Further Reading: (Also By The Author/Excellent Heroines/Crime/Colorful Characters)
The Jill Andersen Series--J. D. Cunegan
       -Blood Ties 
       -Behind the Badge  *(This book)
       -Behind The Mask
-Beasts of Babylon--E. A. Copen 
-Domechild--Shiv Ramdas 
-For None of Woman Born--S. D. Curran
-Division: A Collection of Science-Fiction Fairytales--Lee S. Hawke
-Dissolution--Lee S. Hawke
The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
The Vemreaux Trilogy--Mary E. Twomey 
       -The Way 
       -The Truth 
       -The Lie 
The Red Dog Conspiracy--Patricia Loofbourrow
       -The Alcatraz Coup 
       -Jacq of Spades 
       -Queen of Diamonds 
       -Ace of Clubs 
A Tune of Demons--J. E. Mueller
       -Fire's Song 
The Books of Winter--R. R. Virdi
       -Dangerous Ways
The Goode-Grace Mysteries--Cyn Mackley
-American Goth 
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 
        -Angel Tormented 
Judah Black Series--E. A. Copen
       -Fortunate Son (prequel novella) 
       -Guilty By Association 
       -Blood Debt 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Serial Saturday: "The Dragon's Mark" Part 1 (Continued)

Part 1 (Continued)

Nadia felt the thick clouds gathering closer around them, obscuring her vision and making it hard to breathe.

The Goth chieftain paid no heed, his eyes squinting to peer through the mass, to see what lay beyond it.

“Come, you infernal beast,” he muttered. “Show thyself!”

Nadia felt the faintness dancing around her ears. As slowly as it had seeped into the valley, the roll of fog now eased itself back, disclosing more and more of the deep-black peat, interrupted by clumps of verdant, lush grass, and an ashy crater at its center. There was something large there, something that moved—something dangerous. Nadia had never felt so naked and vulnerable. Every instinct within her screamed at her to run, to escape, to never lay eyes on whatever horror inhabited the moor.

Gabbaldur had no such inhibitions.
“WELL?” He roared at the massive shadow just beyond the edge of the crater with its layer of smog. “I’VE COME FOR MY SON, VILE SERPENT! COME OUT AND FACE ME!”

Nadia couldn’t stand it any longer. She flopped indecorously off the horse’s back, the soft loam muffling the sound of her dismount. Just when she turned her back on her captor, she felt Gabbaldur’s rough hand on her wrist.

“And whither thou goest, fair lady?” He growled at her, yanking her back toward him. The cloud of smog had just begun to pull away from the edges of the crater. “I have not given thee a proper introduction! Forsooth!” He returned to address the Dragon, now in Latin, as most countries had adapted to communicate with the Roman Empire. “I have brought before thee thy Bride, to exchange for my son! See the Ring she—“ He stopped when he saw her empty fingers, turning upon her with such a stare, she feared he might break her hand. “What hast thou done, wench?” He growled, pulling her close so he could reach her other hand.

Nadia’s fear came out in ragged, gasping sobs.

Where is it?” bellowed the Goth. “Where is the infernal ring you swore would never leave your hand unless your hand left your body?”

Nadia couldn’t form words, but she saw The Thing rise from the fog over Gabbaldur’s shoulder, and she screamed in terror.

Gabbaldur whirled around as the mighty Midnight Dragon spread its wings and landed in the valley, just a few meters away from them. Though Gabbaldur towered over most people, he barely reached the first joint on the Dragon’s foreleg.

“What is your intention, small man?” the Dragon rumbled. “Why do you invade my solitude?”

Nadia cowered at the grand, rolling sounds of its voice, but Gabbaldur was too incensed heed the warning.

“Why? You dare question me, foul monster? I have come to relieve thee of my son, whom you stole from me, and I demand thee release him unharmed!” He turned back to Nadia and hauled her upright. “See? I have brought with you the last of the Drakistos family—and she is one of the Brides, no less! Take your Bride, Dragon, and let my son go free!”

“The boy is your son?” The Dragon bent its head closer to the irate man. “I found the fool wandering the hillside, too intoxicated to stand, so ignorant that he would infringe upon forbidden lands and raise arms against me—he is rightfully my prisoner.” The Dragon tilted its head to inspect Nadia a little closer. “This woman bears no resemblance to the one with the power to return me to my proper place. She does not bear The Ring.”

VERILY, I SWEAR BY MY LIFE THAT SHE BORE IT WHEN I CARRIED HER WITH ME FROM HER VERY STRONGHOLD!” Gabbaldur’s face was a dark, angry purple when he drew his knife and pressed it against Nadia’s neck. “If thou wilt not yield me my son,” he rasped, “I shall end her life, here and now. Then there will be no more Brides, none of the Drakistos line, and you will perish by the hand of men!”

The Dragon hissed, and two thin jets of smoke issued from its nostrils. “You would not dare slay an innocent woman in my presence,” it warned.

“By this hand, I will!” Gabbaldur howled in return, spitting in the Dragon’s direction. “I shall kill her, and I shall gather every last member of my clan, and when I return, I will kill you!”

Nadia whimpered at the edge of his knife. She tried to ease her neck out of harm’s way, but he held her too close. The dragon did not respond to the threat. The last remaining heir of Drakistos took advantage of the silence to plead.

“Chief Gabbaldur, don’t do this!” she begged softly. “Please, I’ll do anything! Please, just don’t kill me—“

“Silence, woman!” He returned his attention to her with a vengeance. The blade of the knife sliding across her throat caught against her skin, drawing a small bead of blood. “Thou art in a hell of thy own making, and so help me, I shall have my recompense for it!” He dropped her in a heap, and she clutched the hem of her toga against the wound to staunch it.
“Well?” Gabbaldur challenged the dragon yet again. “Is he in there or not? By the gods, if you’ve done injury to my poor son—“

The dragon jerked its head back, causing the chieftain to flinch and stop in the midst of his words—but the action wasn’t intended for Gabbaldur. Instead, the Midnight Dragon reached into the crater behind it, and pulled out a small, dirty bundle. The dragon released the bundle with the same amount of gentleness as the Goth used with Nadia. She saw it land, saw the pale hand on the edge of it, and when she took that hand, the head tilted up: Gabbaldur’s son, alive and well—and positively scared sober.

“Sigmund!” the big man gasped, but he’d only taken one step when the Dragon commanded, “Come no closer!”
The massive claw stamped down between the Goth chieftain and the two captives.

“To shed innocent blood has dire consequences, be it human, or otherwise,” The Midnight Dragon said to Gabbaldur. “You have shown yourself to be a cruel, greedy man—so now here is the consequence of your foolish actions.”

Reaching out a single claw, the Midnight Dragon gently brushed the outstretched arms of both Nadia and Sigmund, leaving behind a raw, red mark that burned deep into their skin. The pair cried out, while Gabbaldur could only pace like an angry bear. Finally, the Dragon lifted its claw, and Gabbaldur immediately dropped to his son’s side, looking at the angry scar that now marred his skin.

“What did ye do to them?” the chieftain asked.

“I have Marked them both,” the Midnight Dragon stated, “to preserve their lives. Both of these children now possess immortality, but it comes with a price. Over time, they will begin to develop scales as a sign of their immortality, and these scales will be impervious to disease, to piercing, to heat, and to cold. When the scales cover their bodies, they will fall asleep, and in that sleep, the scales will release, renewing the body underneath, and when they awaken, the cycle will begin anew.”

Gabbaldur stared at his son, almost afraid to touch him now. “You foul creature! You’ve cursed my son!”

Nadia inhaled slowly, fighting to find her voice. “Please,” she murmured softly. “This is a reward, but the punishment is too great—is there no provision, or must we both carry scales in the presence of others?”

The Dragon regarded her for a moment, and then, bending low, it breathed gently over both of them. “Because I do not punish the innocent with the guilty,” it stated, “It will be that only the Dragon-Marked can see the scales. They will be invisible to any others, and thus I can remain in secret until the Ring is recovered.” The Midnight Dragon unfurled his wings and leaned upright. “My time upon this place is at an end. I will travel the distance of time and space, and we will meet again, Sigmund Gabbaldurson, when a descendant of Drakistos recovers the Ring. Only then will this curse be lifted, and only the heir of Drakistos will be able to open the portal between our worlds. Until then, if I am killed by anyone who does not bear the Ring, or if the Ring is discovered and used by one who is not of your lineage, then those upon which the Dragon Mark falls will die. Heed my warning!”

A rush of wind threatened to knock the Goth chieftain over, but he shielded his face with his cloak. When the wind died, he raised his eyes.

The Midnight Dragon had vanished, and he’d taken the Bride of Drakistos with him.

NO!!” Gabbaldur roared, as Sigmund staggered to his feet. “Curse you, Dragon! Curse your slimy, belly-crawling, fire-spewing—“

“Father!” Sigmund interrupted. “Why are you so angry? He spared our lives—“

“And he has taken with him the only one able to lift our curse!” Gabbaldur spluttered in his son’s face. “You fool, don’t you know? Even if we were to find the Ring, she is the only one who can wield it! He has departed with the only leverage we have, and left us with simply a curse, and a tool that none of us can use!”

Sigmund sighed, rubbing the last aches from his head. “At the very least, we have this land, Father; we can find the Ring—or if one of the clan does, they will be obligated to yield it to us.”

Gabbaldur ceased his fuming, and stared at his son. 
“You speak truth, Sigmund,” he said slowly. “The Drakistos land is now our land—so why not take the name as well? If the Bride returns to claim her family’s land, we can just demand that she lift the curse before we yield to her. If she does not come, then what is to stop us from finding the Ring, and making one of our Drakistos heirs lift the curse?” The longer he considered the idea, the more Gabbaldur began to see hope in this new plan. “This is the oath I swear, Sigmund, and you will be my witness!” He drew his dagger across his arm, releasing a small trickle of blood to seal the promise. 

“Henceforth, we shall be known as the Drakistos clan, and should any of my descendants encounter the one who claims her place as the True Bride of Drakistos, they shall not refuse her request, or they will be cast out from the family forever!”

From that day forward, Gabbaldur’s clan migrated to the forests of Sithonia, and established themselves there. They took the name Drakistos, and though many people scoured the land for many years, they did not find the Ring. Gabbaldur died in battle, and Sigmund took his place as the head of the Drakistos family. 

Still, the Bride did not appear, though they waited, watched, and searched.
Some began to wonder if she ever existed at all.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 11


#11: "The Hallway"
For every institution in existence, there were rules that ensured a successful and functional operation. At Harold's house, there were plenty of rules to be had. 
"No shoes on the furniture."
"Don't run in the house."
"Be in bed by curfew."
"No yelling indoors!"
"Use dishes at every meal--and then clean them when you're done!"
"Clean the house before you play video games."
Harold complied, but only because he enjoyed living in a house, and the prospect of living alone and having an entire house to care for with no assistance scared him. "Without rules," his mother would say, when he would try to express his opinion, "this house would be a pigsty! Harry, you must understand," she would maintain, "these rules are for your protection." She would never say what sort of protection eating with a fork offered him, nor what she might be protecting him from. This went on for some time, and Harold's mother never changed her stance and her tune, so gradually Harold ceased trying to convince his mother--But oh! How he longed for freedom! How he longed to just experiment--even just for a day--what it would be like to have a day free of those rules. Would the whole house collapse if he neglected to vacuum the carpet just once? Would mass hysteria really ensue if his shoes came in contact with the couch cushions, even for a moment? So, as soon as he was old enough to be held responsible for daily chores, Harold did them as expected--but all the while, he watched and waited for his chance.
And one day... that chance arrived.

Harold watched his mother wave out the car window as his parents pulled out of the driveway. As soon as the car faded from sight, he would be free.

Now! Giddy with the sense of losing the burden of responsibility, he flopped on the couch and carefully placed his FEET on the crushed velvet cushions WITH HIS SHOES ON. Nobody screamed at him, no one stopped him. No one disapproved. Eighteen years he’d lived in that house, never alone—till now. He could do what he pleased.

And Harold did.

He ate food with his fingers, standing over the kitchen counter. He went down to the basement and played video games for hours. He came back up and raided the kitchen cabinets for snacks, then went back down to play some more.

Six hours later, he finished a challenge, and suddenly realized how dark it was. He had also run out of snacks, and hadn’t eaten in a while. He carefully plodded up the stairs, flicking on lights as he went.

Everything in the kitchen was exactly as he had left it—except the sun had set, and there was no moon outside. Harold wandered to the refrigerator and pulled out one of the carefully-labeled meal containers his mother had left for him. “THURSDAY DINNER” said the label. He removed the lid and put it in the microwave to heat. This time, he sat at the lonely table, and used a fork. What more would he do during the other three days his parents would be gone?

Harold stiffened over his mashed potatoes. Something rustled. He held statue-still and held his breath for good measure. There it was again! Some kind of scraping, scratching sound, coming from the far end of the house. Harold set down his fork and moved to the yawning, dark opening.
“Hello?” he called.
He could barely see the four doorways standing out dark against the pale walls in the shadows.

The first door was the bathroom he used, and across from that was his bedroom. Down the hall on the same side as his bedroom was the hallway linen closet, and at the end of the hall was the door to the master suite. Where had the noise come from?

Harold listened, trying to come up with practical explanations for it: a mouse, a rat, a stray piece of paper caught somewhere in the middle of a draft, an—OH DEAR GOD WHAT WAS THAT??

Harold fumbled for the light switch as a large black shape seemed to drift across the back wall of the hallway. In the dim golden glow of the hall lights, he saw the hallway, just as it should be—but at the end, next to the linen closet where there should have been a blank wall, he saw a corner, an opening. The scraping seemed to emanate from there.

Harold inches down the hallway, his eyes fixed on this feature that shouldn’t be there. It was indeed another hallway, but it baffled Harold. What more did they need? What was the point of extending the house in that direction? If it was an extension—it had to be! Harold began to feel that crawling sensation of doubting one’s own memory as he entered the unfamiliar space. He had lived his entire life in this house, but he was standing in a hallway he had never seen before.

He looked around. It almost mirrored the hallway he just left, except for the door at the end. There seemed to be something wrong with it. Harold shook his head and turned to go back to the kitchen—only for the scene in his entire vision to disintegrate into a thousand tiny pixels. In its place, Harold saw the metal hull of a craft of some sort, and a ramp that had just clicked shut. Engines revved under his feet, and he felt the sensation of riding an elevator higher and higher.

“At last!” moaned a croaking voice behind him.
“The Guardians leave him behind, and he wanders right into our trap!”

A foul-smelling cloth bag covered his head, and cold, scaly, lizard-like claws gripped his arms. “Finally, human, you belong to us!”

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Upstream Updates: August Edition!

Welcome to another lovely update session! After making July my most productive month ever, succeeding in writing 25,000 words, 3 Reader's Reviews, and completing The Dragon's Mark, I admit I'm already not starting August off too strongly, having missed a few days of writing and getting way behind--but Summer Break is still in effect, so here is hoping that I can maintain my current course!

Writing Updates

The Last Inkweaver
We are up to Chapter 16, people! Callista is still in Aberon, but she is about to leave, in spite of how much certain people would want her to stay... The only problem is, they want her to stay because they think she's a Wordspinner... which she still doesn't believe, but that doesn't rule out the possibility that she might be, and that alone scares her... Fun times! What really fascinates me about this project (and irks me at the same time, if I'm being honest) is that I'm 65K words in, I'm about 3 chapter numbers ahead of where I would have been in the original plan... and yet these characters are just taking their own sweet time about things! Some of the pieces that I referenced in my plan have taken a lot more discussion and have a lot more consequences than I originally anticipated. Not that it's a bad thing... My goal, now that I have less "extra projects" that I'm writing, is to be able to focus on Inkweaver enough until it is done! Will I finish by the end of the month, or by November? Only time will tell!

Flash Fiction Series
Just so everybody knows, I wanted to put in a few words about the current Friday series, "Flashes of Inspiration." For example, last Friday, being the 10th post in the series, I decided to include hyperlinks to the previous installments, in case you wanted to go back and read one that you missed, or if you're joining later in the series. I won't do the "retro-linking" on any of the others, so at least if you're checking in every ten weeks or so, you'll be able to access more than just the one flash piece, without hunting all over the blog for it. (not that I mind if you do that... but it might be convenient!)
The thing I really love about doing this is it's like a "Choose Your Own Suggestion Box", but I can treat it more like a comment, responding on the ones that interest me right away, and getting near-instant feedback, which is all I've ever wanted on the stuff I write! So the "Flashes of Inspiration" will continue, as long as I can try and respond to whatever pops up!

Return of "A Writer's Tale"

In light of the fact that Inkweaver is my sole focus--well, let's just say I cope better with "writer's blockage" when I can periodically "get away" from a main project with another side project. I recently decided to start posting the "A Writer's Tale" series on Wattpad (more on that later), partially as a gauge to see whether anyone would find the concept interesting, and also as sort of motivation to get back into it... Anyhow, I'm getting near the end of Book 1... and, back when I was "working on it" (as a matter of fact, those who were following me last year might remember the "WIP-of-The-Month experiment that did... marginally okay...) I didn't really finish Book 2 entirely, but I got close... Maybe this is just the push I need to get through to the end!
New and improved cover
for Book 2! What do y'all
For those who never heard of "A Writer's Tale", let me give you a brief introduction to it: Back in 2012, I had successfully completed my first-ever National Novel Writing Month challenge (50K words in the 30 days of November... So what if I only made 36K words? It was more than I had ever dedicated to one story, and in far less time than I ever thought possible!) so I was all too excited to go at it again the next year. Round about August, me and a few other online acquaintances began the discussion of what we might work on, and I had a few ideas, but nothing solid, while someone else lamented that they couldn't decide what to work on. I had just been reading 1,001 Arabian Nights for the first time, and so when the person expressed that they could not decide which genre, I immediately responded with, "Why not write them all?" In the vein of Arabian Nights, my idea was to write a story about a writer who cannot think of a story, so he or she starts daydreaming of themselves in various generic genre situations, one leading into the next, just until one has achieved the required word count for the November challenge. The more I thought about it, the more I kind of took a fancy to the idea, myself. The way I saw it, all I needed was a set of various genres I was comfortable writing in, a generic sort of challenge/adventure/plot that fit within each context, and a group of 4-5 characters that I could just reuse for each scenario. That way, all I needed was basically a short story for each genre, and I could write any of those genres until it finished, or if I got stumped in the middle of one scenario, I could whittle away at whatever genre fit my mood, until it was all done. As November drew closer, I became more and more intrigued by the idea, until finally, at the end of September, I decided to just try introducing the writer character, just as an "idea test" to see if my idea would even be plausible. Of course, once I started, I couldn't stop, and one thing led to another, and I finished the whole thing by the end of October, leaving me with nothing to write for November.
That version of "A Writer's Tale" is the one I have posted on my blog. A couple years later, I returned to the serial novel with the intention to turn one truncated book into a series of novellas--hence the "Extended Edition" which I've excerpted a few times (you can find links to that on "The Shelf"), and now you know the history of "A Writer's Tale", I hope that at some point you might wander over to Wattpad to read a more complete version than the excerpts I have here.

-Wattpad Updates
Wattpad continues to do well! There was a minor scare for a bit, as a glitch in the "servers" (or whatever) caused several stories across the board to disappear... ended up being TWO of mine, and one of them was a story I already nominated for the #Wattys! But they were back up by the next day, so it's all good!
In case you were interested in reading them, here are the links:

THE CLAN OF OUTCASTS--Yep, a former blog series qualified for the Wattys! If you remember it and enjoyed it, please consider voting for it on Wattpad!
SINCE WE FOUND SERENITY--By far the most popular of the three, this piece of Firefly fanfiction was one of the unfortunate casualties of the glitch! But as you can see, it's back, and no harm done!
ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN STORYBROOKE--In case you've never heard of it, this is my answer to the rather botched attempt at crossing Once Upon A Time In Wonderland over with the parent show. This is how it should have been done, if I do say so myself!

As mentioned before, the first book in my "A Writer's Tale" series, THE DRAGON'S QUEST, is nearly finished (actually, the last chapter is going up Wednesday this week!) and then we make the transition from high fantasy to cyberpunk with, Part 2, THE COMMANDER'S COURAGE (Check out the new cover above!). If you think that's strange... Well, you'll be able to see what other genres I have and in which order if you have already checked out the "Serial Saturdays" version.
Speaking of "returning to old projects with the intention of finishing them"... What are anybody's thoughts on THE AMAZON TRIANGLE? More than likely, I could also consider going back and finishing that one, while I'm in the mode of "finishing things"--that is, if anybody's interested to find out how it all turns out. Let me know!
Meanwhile, in the realm of fanfiction, I've got READ BETWEEN THE LINES nearly finished, and up next will be the sequel to it, FAIR TRADE. (Just cooked up a fresh cover for that one... Stay tuned or follow me on Wattpad to see it sooner than next month!) It being a Grimm fanfiction, I'm actually quite enjoying the opportunity to revisit that fandom. Ah, the memories!

Currently Reading

Reading this month is going to be so much fun! After finishing Herald of Autumn at the end of last month, I could finally start breezing my way through Behind The Badge by J. D. Cunegan. It's the third book in his Jill Andersen series, and it's just like rewatching unaired episodes of Castle, with a dash of Marvel thrown in, since his main character has some cyborg upgrades. Super fun, and I'm loving it so far!
In the realm of physical books (typically ones from the library), I had just been to the library and picked up a couple books, namely The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova (which I hoped was more like The Historian and less like Swan Thieves--and it was!) and The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (because I had seen a Facebook friend raving about them, and I liked the premise--and holy mackerel did the book deliver on EVERY LEVEL!!) when I happened to be stopping by the library on the day they had their Used Book Sale... Nothing over a dollar! I ended up getting 6 books total for $3.50 and out of the remaining 5 (one was for my brother), only ONE had I read before! (The Thief Lord, a magical tale by Cornelia Funke!) 

As of now, I've completed two of them: Myst, which is based on a computer game I grew up watching my sister play over and over again, and The Dark Hills Divide, which I picked up because a coworker practically swears by this author, and raves about everything he writes. (I know how it feels, because I do the same thing...) Both books were suitably enthralling and left me feeling supremely satisfied with my purchases! The one I'm not entirely sure about is The Sword of Shannara. I got it because I wanted to see how it compared to the show The Shannara Chronicles, which was fascinating in its premise, if a bit lackluster on the execution... The problem is that, although Sword is the first book in the series, the show itself is based on Book 2, The Elfstones of Shannara, so I'm basically reading the prequel to the show... so I really can't compare, I'm not really connecting with any of the characters at this point, and it's really rather dry and dull... I might just soldier through on principle, in the hopes that it gets better eventually, but that's about where I'm at on that one.

That's all for now! I hope you've enjoyed this little tour through what I'm working on. Feel free to drop encouragement, feedback on any of the projects that sound interesting, or let me know what you're up to for this month! What have you read recently? If you're a writer, what is your latest project? As always...

Catch You Further Upstream!