We're a Wee-Bit-Wordy

adventureswithD-final (1)A: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to turn your attention to the link here, which will take you to the wonderful world of Wee Bit Wordy, where Dean was kind enough to invite yours truly to write a few words–

D: Ahem.

A: Yes, D?

D: Just where am I over at Wee Bit Wordy?

A: Um, not there?

D: Precisely.

A: And your point is?

D: How can you be your truly wordy self without me?

A: Ah, well you see, that wasn’t exactly the point of the post–

D: And I’m not even going to mention that part where you said I wasn’t real–

A: Oh, you read that part, huh?

D: Yes, but we’re not going to talk about it. It just hurts too much.

A: I see. So, you’ll be getting back at me some time in the future, then?

D: Yes.

A: Good to know. Since you read the piece at Wee Bit Wordy, do you have anything to add?

D: Um, let’s see – I took some notes. Oh yes, imagination – research. . . yes, and vampires. . . cricket bats. . . Jack Flacco. . . Well, actually, A, it seems like you covered it.

A: . . . Really?

D: Yes, really. Nice job, A.

A: Who are you — wait, this is you getting back at me, isn’t it?

D: It’s best to keep you on your toes, A.

A: Oh dear.  And with that, we bid you a fond good evening. Check out the post, and the rest of Wee Bit Wordy – as well as Dean’s other blog, Dean’z Doodelz!

 

Heresy of Before: Spirit Keeper, Part 3

D: Are we there, yet?

A: What?

D: Are we there, yet?

A: Where is there?

D: You know where, A.

A: Um. . . Why do I have the feeling this could quickly devolve into a Who’s on First debacle?

D: Who’s on First?

A: Yes.

D: . . . . Are we there yet?

A:Fair play. No, we aren’t there, yet. We’re at Part 3.

D: (Sigh). And how many parts are there going to be?

A: Don’t know yet – might spoil it if you knew.

D: Spoil it? Whatever, woman, just so long as Jan gets to be in more of it – Jan is in more of it, isn’t she?

A: Well, I was rather thinking of having her eaten by wild dogs–

D: You wouldn’t!

A: (Snickering). Behave yourself, and we’ll see.

D: You are a very bad woman, A.

A: Yep. So is Jan, to a certain extent.

D: (Grin) I know.

A: And before that smile gets even more lewd, for your reading pleasure is Part 3 of Spirit Keeper, a Heresy of Before mystery.

 

Storm clouds gather over Protection as Ellie gets closer to the truth.

Storm clouds gather over Protection as Ellie gets closer to the truth.

Previously . . .

Nearly twenty people had raised their hands or nodded in commiseration at the last Debate – a silent acknowledgement that their tokens of the old world too were missing. Trading that silence for words was a delicate dance … If ever anyone wanted information, all they had to do was trade Jan some handiwork or a bit of jewelry for her sheep’s wool and cheese, and they’d have all the information they wanted… And it brought me to wondering: What if she was the thief?

“Jan? Jan, are you in?”

“Ellie, what in heaven’s name – it’s barely sunup!”

The sun had been up for several hours, but considering Jan’s shop didn’t open until after midday, I supposed early was relative. Except—

“Did the sheep have a lie-in, then?”

“The boys take care of the sheep, Ellie.” Jan’s voice managed to be petulant and arch at the same time. She only ever used that tone on us that were born in Protection, and only in private.

I opened my mouth to ask just which boys were those when the lady of the house appeared in the curtained entryway to her private quarters. Her hair was brushed to a golden shine and her green eyes outlined with the faintest hint of kohl, but it was the carefully arranged wrapper, which revealed nearly as much as it concealed, that told me my knock on Jan’s door was not what had roused her this day.

I leaned against the wattle-and-daub wall that made up the quaint outer room of her storefront and cocked an eyebrow at Jannat Rappaport, sheep farmer, handcraft businesswoman and all-around gossip-monger. She grinned at me and pulled the silk wrapper tighter across her chest. She had been expecting someone – and not a female someone who pried into other people’s lives and went by the name Ellie. It was none of my business who it was, but since she was out of bed, perhaps some of my business could intrude on hers.

“And what boys would those be, Jan?”

“Good morning to you, too, Ellie Macfie. Can I get you anything? Tea, perhaps? I haven’t any of that horrible chicory you insist on swallowing every morning.” She paused in her tirade and gave me a slight curtsey. “And the boys are my hired hands. I’d have to split myself in threes if I wanted to take care of the sheep, the cheese-making and the handcrafts. So, how about some tea?”

Ah, those boys. I forced my face to relax into a smile.

“No need, Jan – I don’t mean to intrude on your morning routine.”

An unladylike snort was Jan’s only answer to that particular half-truth. Without further word, she turned on her heel and sauntered back into her private quarters. If I hadn’t known the woman, I would have stood in her storefront, awkwardness crippling my tongue and my legs. As it was, I knew I was free to enter Jan’s home.

Of course, she would have barred the door with a shotgun in hand if it had been otherwise.

“So you’re here about the thefts, then?”

My relief at her directness – straight-talk was not one of Jan’s strengths, especially when dealing in information and other people’s business – was shaded with a thread of apprehension. Those words were said to the wall in front of her, not to me.

“Papa Henry sent me – said you might be able to help.”

“Help.”

Even as her voice flattened, I was entertaining images of a thief ring, run by Madame Jan and carried out by her hooligans – sophisticated despite their perhaps grubby or mean appearance.

“You know, help me loosen the town’s collective tongue.” I tried to keep my tone light. Everyone knew I wasn’t exactly loquacious – I watched, and listened. Usually, that sufficed.

Jan took her time in turning to face me, and I tried to appreciate my surroundings instead of giving in to my more natural inclination: annoyance. Her private quarters were surprisingly bright and airy. The mid-morning sun glittered off her trinkets and ornaments – even gave her red silk robe a cheery, rather than opulent, appearance.

My gaze lingered too long and Jan caught me admiring her wrapper. She stroked a sleeve – where had she gotten that, I wondered – and pursed lips that never needed rouge.

“You know, if you attempted to wear prettier things,” the look she gave my undyed linen tunic was eloquent, “you might go about settling the eye of Mathias instead of just catching it.”

Blood rushed to my face and I bit back the first thing that came to mind – that at least I could settle on just one, if I needed to. It was neither fair, nor relevant. At the same time, I was no longer the least bit sorry l let my imagination run wild with the idea that Jan, and her boys, were responsible for the thefts.

I blame the pulp novels Ethel loaned me. ‘Dime store atrocities’ Papa Henry called them. Regardless, his wife had a trunk full of the little books, and their torrid adventures were a welcome respite some days. Where she picked them up, no one knows. The way Ethel told it, she had found them, somewhere out in the desert. Whenever anyone pressed – usually just newcomers – she would just wave a distracted hand to some place ‘else’ far off in the distance. Her eyes would follow and get this lost look to them. At that point, Papa Henry would always take her hand and bring her back. Invariably, that that was also the last time a newcomer ever said anything stressful, or even remotely inquiring, to Ethel.

“I’ll take that into consideration, Jan – and as much as your fashion sense intrigues me, I’d rather talk about the thefts, if you don’t mind.”

“And what if I do mind?”

“Jan—“

“Good grief, woman! Is this how you plan on interrogating the town?”

“I hadn’t planned on interrogating the town. I—“

“Oh, so it’s just me, then.”

The face Jan turned on me was neither closed nor amused. There was something off about the woman – had been for days, if I was honest. Likely, she was no more the head of a crew of career criminals than I was. Even if she was responsible, she was also right; my ‘interrogation’ style needed work. I needed her – and her way with people.

“Look Jan, I’m sorry. I just. . . “

She frowned as I trailed off. It struck me then, why I had been searching her face, her person, studying the way she moved and the way she adorned herself. Something was missing.

“You just, what, Ellie?” Jan asked, her hard voice quavering a bit as I kept my silence.

“I just thought you might have insight.” The words came slowly – slow, even for me.

“Well, for starters, don’t walk up to people asking them point-blank what they know about these bloody thefts. They’ve been going on for months and no one has said a word.”

“Months – but—“

“You watch, and you listen, but you don’t like people enough to unearth the deeper issues. You keep the riff-raff out, those that would bring Big City down on us, but it’s always been Papa Henry taking care of the town, and the people in it.”

No, that couldn’t be right – well, she was right about the peace-keeping dynamic between Papa Henry and I, but that wasn’t it. Of the thefts I knew about, Mathias’ was the oldest. His father’s sextant had gone missing nearly five weeks ago. At first, he thought it was just something he’d misplaced after the last Shake tossed his things about, but even after everything was sorted, it was still missing. And then Ruth had spoken up at the last Debate. . .

“Months, you say?”

Jan's Great-Gran's watch

Jan’s Great-Gran’s watch

A quiet gasp was all it took. Something of Jan’s had been stolen. My eyes scoured her again. Her wrist. Elegant for all its bony strength, it was bare. Gone was the watch that had belonged to her great-grandmother. It was missing an onyx stone, right near the face that did not tell the time. The hands had stopped at twenty past ten – the time Jan said her Great-Gran had passed.

“The watch – how long has it been gone?”

Almost absently, Jan stroked the spot where the watch had always been.

“Nearly two months.”

“And you never said anything.”

“At first, I thought one of the boys took it, but they so rarely leave the hills, it hardly seemed likely.”

“They still could have, Jan.”

Green eyes flashed and she smirked at me. “I know. I checked their pallets and I asked around, just in case some unsavories had been scoping them out while they’re afield with the sheep – trying to undercut my trade.”

She was talking about a black market. So far, Papa Henry and I had kept that kind of thing out of Protection, and I hated to think of it threatening the peace we had here.

“And you didn’t find anything?”

There was a small shake of her head. Well, that was a small mercy, at least.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

I didn’t remind her that it could have stopped more thefts, or that it could have helped other people open up about their own stories – she knew that better than I.

“I haven’t said anything about it because I don’t want people thinking . . .”

“Thinking what?”

“Just thinking, that’s all. Thinking I was a victim of whoever this is, running around, and stealing our memories.”

“What? That’s—no one thinks you’re a victim. Hells woman, we’re all nearly scared of you.”

“Lottie isn’t.”

I caught the groan before it managed to make it out of my throat. The rivalry between the two women had been dormant for nearly a year. The fact that there were nearly forty years between them made their spat almost laughable, if it had not been a dividing factor in the town for as long as Lottie had called Protection home.

“Lottie fought her way out of one of the Before burnings in Big City. She knew Caroline’s mother before she was taken by the Dreadnaughts. Lottie isn’t afraid of anyone.”

“She thinks she’s better than us.”

I rolled my eyes. There weren’t enough words I could say to fill Jan’s insecurities this morning, so I said the only thing that might convince her to help me.

“I’ll talk to Lottie, Jan – thank you for pointing her out.”

She didn’t say anything to this and with a small sigh, I turned to leave. Her baby-smooth hands – softened by years of handling sheep’s wool – reached to pluck at the linen of my sleeve.

“I’ll let people know you want to talk, Ellie. And I’ll have some cookies – and maybe a sweet-cake or two at your place around 4. That should give you – and everyone else – time to get used to the idea of talking.”

I thought I caught a glimpse of a smile before the faintly mocking coquette hardened the lines of Jan’s face. It was the only help she was going to give me, and considering I had nearly cast her in the role of grand master thief, it was almost more than I deserved.

“Cheers, Jan. I’d appreciate that.”

I waved farewell to Protection’s secret-keeper and let my feet take me where they willed. I had six—no, five–hours until Jan, and the rest of Protection, descended on my little hole in the wall. There were a few people I needed to talk to before that happened.

Lottie’s prized book had been taken, right from her bedside. I liked the woman, and it gave me little pleasure to think she might have claimed it stolen to deflect suspicion from herself. Yet, it was something I had been more than willing to think Jan capable of as well.

And if Lottie was a suspect, then so too could Ruth be, and Mathais. Hells, everyone in town was a suspect, now.

Five hours. It was going to be a hell of a day.

Lost? Read Part 1  and Part 2 

Enjoyed this little bit of a tale? Just you wait! Changelings: Into the Mist, a historical fantasy adventure set in Ireland, is on sale November 11, 2014!

The Heresy of Before: Spirit Keeper, Part 1

So, weeks ago, Terrible Mind’s Chuck Wendig had this fantastic flash fiction prompt in which the participants were to pick two sub-genres (technically to be picked by a randomizer but bah! rules) and have up to 2k words-worth of fun with them. I picked “dystopian” and “cozy.” Because, how hard could that be, right?

I mean, I love dystopian stories and cozies (and not-so-cozy) mysteries. I read them all the time. I should be able to write that, right?

Hahahahahahha.

On the plus side, D has been giggling for three weeks straight. I’m so glad I can give the character in my head sufficient amusement while his books are in the editing and almost-released-but-not-yet stage.

Adding to my “how hard could this be?” madness, I decided the dystopian of choice would be my Heresy of Before world. That’s when it went from fun to holy cow, now I better make this good because the Heresy of Before is going to be something someday and I don’t want to litter it with, you know, crap.

Eventually, I got over myself, and cranked out a rough draft – of the first part, at least. I’m still working on the second part.

It took a while to get over myself.

While I’m not fully back in blog mode (I’ve really been loving summer vacation – I’m tan, and not in a blushing-lobster kind of way. It’s very exciting), I figured I would share what I have – one, to get feedback, and two, to give myself the impetus to finish the bloody thing. So, without further ado (and please forgive the formatting, or lack thereof, I’m doing this on my phone!), part one of Spirit Keeper, a Heresy of Before mystery.

***

image

Our village was a tiny blot, a splash of color on an otherwise muddied map – that is, if we had any maps. Papa Henry, the oldest in the village, said his parents had kept maps, but even if he knew where those maps had disappeared to, he no longer remembered how to read them. Even if he could find them, was there a reason to? The landmarks and lines those relics depicted no longer existed. They marked the boundaries of the world Before. Now, our boundaries were marked by sand and death.

Our village was a tiny blot, but it was a secret blot, a refuge from the wider world.

The concerns of Big City rarely reached us here except when its wild-eyed and starved refugees managed to make it past the wasteland. Those who outran the dreadnaughts and whose lungs survived the poison pumped into the air were welcome to our haven. So long as they left the concerns of Big City behind, that is.

Most did. Only one man – a man who had been born to lands beyond our village – kept Big City in his heart and soul, always. Of course, it was from him we learned to weed out those who would cause us grief. Samuel, though he lived with us for years, remained a mystery to many. He was rumored to be a prophet, a lost king, a savior – if anyone believed in such things anymore.

Whether or not he was any of these things mattered little; Samuel and his beautiful wife, Caroline had gone from us more than a year ago. They had gone back to Big City, and possibly beyond, to rescue the child who had been torn from them.

They had no map for the fight that was to come, and I envied them their determination. Their spirit. Though we lacked maps, we had never acted without thought, without great deliberation.

In our tiny village – a place our forebears named Protection – we had what Samuel called Town Hall Meetings. We called them the Debate. Once a month we gathered in the village center. All five hundred of us, from infant to elder, met at the well as the sun first kissed the sky, and talked – harangued – jawed – to resolve our differences.

If whatever was crawling up the spine of a villager wasn’t settled by the time the mountains swallowed the sun, then it would just have to be settled at the next Debate. And the rule was, there could be no hard feelings, no retribution, in-between times, either. It was my job to make sure that participants adhered to the rules – played nice, as Samuel would say.

I am no elder like Papa Henry, nor am I a refugee, or a prophet like Samuel. I was born to the world outside, born with lungs that knew clean air, and limbs that relished freedom. My name is Ellie, and I am what amounts to the law in our village.

It had come out at the last Debate that there were things missing. None of the disappearing items were anything serious – nothing ever deemed of use, anyway – but things nonetheless. They were Before things. Even out here, there is a sort of mythology around these forlorn bits of flotsam left over from Before, which has sprung up in the wake of the banning of its memory.

Outside Big City, we were free to remember Before, but not many did. These precious keepsakes, passed down from one generation to the next, are all that we have left.

We don’t talk about them, but they are cherished. We have no gods, nor idols. We do not worship bits of code and glittering gadgets like the technocrats in Big City, but neither do we pray to the Old Grey Ones for deliverance, as those who grub for their livelihood in the City’s hellish streets. Yet, for all our supposed godlessness, our Elders do sometimes speak of the spirit of all, which lingers in each heart.

These keepsakes are reminders – repositories even – for the sacred memory of the spirit of all, and someone has been stealing them.

Continued in Part 2 | Part 3

***

D: That’s it?

A: What? I told you it was only Part 1.

D: But . . . but that’s barely even an intro! A, how could you leave me hanging like this?

A: To whet your interest?

D: Bah! I bet you don’t even know who did it.

A: I do too know. I mapped it out before I started writing. I even made sure it was logical.

D: Aren’t you the one who gets lost crossing the street? That renders your map metaphor as laughable. Tell me, do you know how you’re going to get there from here?

A: Well . . . .

D: Good lord.

A: Hey, I managed to muddle through your time travel with at least half my brain intact – and a semblance of continuity. I should be able to navigate a dystopian mystery.

D: Eventually.

A: Exactly. Thus – segments.

D: And when will Part 2 debut?

A: Next week.

D: Fair enough. I shall have to wait with bated breath until then.

A: (Eye roll). Gee, thanks, D. And thank you all for reading and for your feedback – have a lovely day!

Dancing in the Mind of the Beholder

This is for two WordPress Daily Prompts, yesterday’s: Mind Reader, and today’s: Game of Groans

***

I see a lot of people. I work in customer service, and moonlight in reception. It’s a people-palooza.

But this person – this person sparked my imagination.

We’ll call her Joan.

***

Our reception area looks nothing like this - I kind of wish it did, however. Photo courtesy Google images, marked for noncommercial reuse.

Our reception area looks nothing like this – I kind of wish it did, however. Photo courtesy Google images, marked for noncommercial reuse.

Oh my gosh, what am I doing? The door is locked – the door is always locked.

Did she see me yanking on the handle like an idiot? I hope not.

Damn, she’s opening the door. She saw.

I play with the keys in my hand and give the receptionist what I hope is a grateful grin.

“Thanks – I bet you have to do that a lot. Must be kind of fun watching people fumble.”

She gives me a noncommittal shrug. Is she French?

“It’s cruel,” she says. Definitely not French.  “People shouldn’t have to think that hard before they even get into work. By the way, I like what you did to your hair.”

My hair? She noticed my new haircut? I’ve only been here three days. How does she notice my hair? I bet she’s trying to make me feel better about forgetting the door is locked.

“My advice—“

Holy cow, she’s still talking. I must have really looked like a moron. Oh wait, I was staring at her for noticing my hair. Is my mouth open?

“Carry a lot of bags with you – I always open the door for bag carriers.”

She motions with her handy-dandy door-opener. I don’t even know who it is that’s coming through the door – I haven’t had my tour yet – but he’s got a ton of bags.

Like grocery bags. Like, he must be feeding his entire department from those bags.

I eye the receptionist and she nods at me.

Like magic, the doors open. Bag-holder-guy waltzes in.

I stare. “Bags?”

She nods back solemnly. “Bags.”

Huh. This might be worth pursuing. Go on. Talk to her. Be able to tell your mother you’ve actually made a friend.

“So, how about that “Dancing with the Stars” finale, huh?”

I’m not sure, but I think she’s developed a twitch. “Was it good?” she asks.

Was it good? Was it good?! It was the most spectacular show ever. That team nailed every single one of their routines all season! Was it good??!!

“Don’t you watch?”

“I don’t watch TV – although, I think I’ve seen an episode or two a few years ago.”

“Well, do you like music?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you like dancing?”

“I always wanted to learn ballroom – I’m just not a fan of the confessional, reality TV show side of it.”

“It’s not nearly as bad as “American Idol” – and you can, I don’t know, read a book or do your laundry when they’re telling-all if you want to. You really should watch.”

Her resolve is crumbling. I can tell. She’s an agreeable sort – either that or she just wants to get me out of her face. Ha! Not going to happen. This will teach her to be nice to newbies.

“I mean it. You should watch. I tell you what – if I can remember to swipe my key fob for the rest of the summer, you have to watch a season.”

“But I–”

“You can watch it online.”

Ha. That got her.

”All right. But you can’t take advantage of the bag thing – that’s cheating.”

“Deal.”

Look at that – it’s not even 8:30 and I’ve made a new friend and got a convert to DWTS. Not bad for the new girl.

***

D: None of that actually happened, did it?

A: Not exactly.

D: There’s no Joan, is there?

A: Not really – Joan is an amalgamation of a few people I see from my perch in reception. This was all for the WordPress prompts for yesterday and today – write from a stranger’s point of view, and write a ‘pro’ piece about a bit of popular culture you don’t actually like.

D: You don’t like “Dancing with the Stars?”

A: Not really – The dancing’s okay—

D: Okay? Okay?! A, the dancing is phenomenal – taking stars that might have 2 left feet and turning them into dancing machines is a joy to watch.

A: If you say so – I prefer scripted drama to the reality TV/human variety, however.

D: I don’t think I know who you are anymore, A.

A: Really?

D: Joan was right. You need to watch. And not just when the new season comes on. You need to watch right now.

A: But I – But Joan —

D: Now.

A: Oh boy. Put the salad tongs down, D. We’ve talked about this.

D: Will you watch?

A: You know those aren’t really threatening, don’t you?

D: Will you watch?

A: (Eye roll) Oh for heaven’s sake, yes. I’ll watch. But I’m making no promises that I’ll like it – or continue to watch.

D: That’s okay, then.

A: (Sigh) The things I put up with in order to have an agreeable muse and blog topics. . .

D: Admit it. You’d be bored without me.

A: I’d have salad tongs without you.

D: . . .

A: Whatever I say, it’s just going to go straight to your head, so can we just bid the good people adieu?

D: Ha! You admitted it!

A: Stop looking smug. Thank you all for stopping by, and have a wonderful holiday weekend, everyone!

Greed

(obsidian – from my collection and the inspiration for Gregor’s “lump”)

Gregor McLoughlin nearly wept as he held the lump in his hands.

Not because it was ugly – no, never because of that. Being a bit misshapen himself, he looked upon it as a-a kindred soul.

The old woman had called it that – kindred. Had said it would grant him his heart’s desire – grant it, so only he could have it.

She had cackled when she said it. Witch.

It was a greedy thing, this mangled bit of earth and-and something – something not of this world. It sucked the light right out of the room. It seethed, hot and demanding. He could feel himself nodding at it, willing to do wherever it needed.

He understood greed. Hunger.

People said – out loud, and often to his face – he was an avaricious git. Every time he heard them, he also heard the envy in their voices – envy, mixed often with desire.

Yes, he was greedy. And they wished they could be, too, he thought.

His cupidity had brought him very far in this life. He had the best – the best cars, the best house, the best boat, the best food – everything.

The one thing it hadn’t brought him was Nanette.

Nanette of the emerald eyes. Nanette, the darling of anyone who looked upon her.

No matter how high he reached, she was always there, always knocking him back down, until he was that pimply, unwelcome high-school boy again.

One touch. That was all it would take, the witch had said. Just one touch.

Gregor looked down at the lump, turned it in his hands and searched its surface. There. There she was.

Her glorious green eyes winked and flashed at him from deep within. He had her at last.

Gregor smiled and caressed the lump.

And he would keep her.

Forever.

***

A: At 300 words exactly, my entry into the WordPress challenge of the week – Flash Fiction.

D: Yeah, well. That was, uh, interesting. Gregor’s a little unhinged, A.

A: Yeah, he is.

D: And he keeps walking around, talking to the lump.

A: I know.

D: You’re going to regret letting him in here.

A: Possibly – but no more so than the zombie.

D: Oh by the gods, don’t remind me. It took weeks to get his . . . smell out of my cloak.

A: Oh, you poor druid.

D: You’re mocking me.

A: Gently, D. As for everyone else, don’t forget, there is also a prompt at the Community Storyboard – use the words “the first time” in your piece, or use the phrase as a launching pad to describe your first time at something – anything!