Presenting: Three Ghosts – On Sale Now!

Three Ghosts – Cover Art by Casey T. Malone

What do you do when the decisions you’ve made come back to haunt you? How do you make them right? Can you, when one wrong move will mean lives lost?

Deirdre O’Brien, an American political-activist living in Dublin, married the wrong man – and had to kill him to save the lives of thousands. Fifteen years later, he’s back from the dead, with a horrific plan to destroy the tenuous peace between Belfast, Dublin and London. To stop him, Dee will throw herself at a seedy underworld, where nothing is what it seems, and trust is a commodity too short in supply.

She only has three days – three days, and three ghosts. She will confront them, or risk becoming one herself.

The Race is On!

I first presented Three Ghosts as a serialized short story here at the blog, but as the story evolved, it was clear to some people (not me – I’m usually the last to be aware) it needed to be combined and made readily available for readers. Which means, today, I am happy to present Three Ghosts, a story born of a text message, which matured into a fast-paced political thriller where spies, paramilitary ideologues and pool-hall hustlers all vie for their chance to take on London via a heinous terrorist plot devised in the wake of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Even better? I’ve added brand-new content AND it is available to download FREE on Amazon today through March 20! 

changelingsebookcover-flat4And, if that weren’t enough, Changelings: Into the Mist, my young adult historical fantasy also set in Ireland, is on sale today through March 20. Download your copy from Amazon for $.99, or get your hands on the print copy for just $9.99!

Changelings: Into the Mist

Changelings. They were the descendants of Man and Fae. They walked between worlds – as healers, mystics, even kings – but no more. He thought he was the last, alone and lost, until the day he saw them.

Irish teens Maureen O’Malley and Sean McAndrew are lost in time. It was the vision of the warrior, shrouded in mist, that did it. Maureen had to follow, and now they’re stuck in 1584, on a pirate ship captained by notorious local legend, Grace O’Malley.

Careening between swordfights on the high seas and a city on the brink of a bloody uprising three centuries later, the only way home is to confront a myth, and he – Faerie king, Nuada Silver Arm – would rather the last of the Changelings remain lost to time forever.

As the shadows rise, and the king’s insidious whispers drive Maureen and Sean apart, they turn to the one man who can help them: the warrior in the mist. The only Changeling the king could not break, Dubh Súile will do all he can to protect the last of his kind, yet even he may be too late to stop the king from rekindling a centuries-old war that threatens the very fabric of time.

Celebrate Ireland’s storied history of myth-makers and rebels!

Both tales are also appropriate for the David Lynch fans out there (what can I say, my cover artist has a way with memes – and a sense of humor

Both tales are also appropriate for the David Lynch fans out there (what can I say, my cover artist has a way with memes – and a wicked sense of humor).

Treat yourself to a slice of Ireland – whether you prefer edge-of-your seat excitement in contemporary Dublin, or long for Ireland’s misty hills, haunted with thousands of years of history and lore, Three Ghosts and Changelings have something for everyone this St. Patrick’s Day.

Katie SullivanAbout the Author

Descended of pirates and revolutionaries, Katie Sullivan is a lover and student of all things Irish. Born in the States, she is a dual US/Irish citizen, and studied history and politics at University College, Dublin – although, at the time, she seriously considered switching to law, if only so she could attend lectures at the castle on campus. She lives in the American Midwest with her son, two cats and a pesky character in her head named D (but you can call him Dubh). She can be found writing with said character weekly at her blog, The D/A Dialogues.

Connect with Katie!

The D/A Dialogues | Katie Sullivan, Author Website
Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram | Google+

Three Ghosts: A Post-Script (Spoilers!)

Whew, I never thought we’d get here – but here it is, the conclusion to the contemporary Irish thriller, Three Ghosts. Warning, just like yesterday, here be spoilers – but don’t worry – if you didn’t read along, and/or don’t like reading in serial format, the full novella – including all-new content – will be available to download on St. Patrick’s Day

Catch up: Part 1

Epilogue

Cover Art by Casey T. Malone

Cover Art by Casey T. Malone

Dee came to with a nasty goose egg on the top of her head. Emmet had been hauled off to the MI5 dungeons, Pat was arguing with an aide about being taken to the hospital, and Aiden, God rest him, had been zippered up and sent to the morgue.

“It’s going to kill his mother – first her daughter, then Aiden.” She choked back tears. It could have been worse, she knew. At least Marley had the decency to look distraught, but it wasn’t helping – in fact, the sorrow on his face was just making her madder.

“Where were you – what happened in there?”

“I was trying to get to you – it took me a while to realize the phone Pearse tossed me wasn’t for me to use, but for me to listen.”

Dee glanced at the monitors now being dismantled by agents draped in protective white suits. “The monitors.”

“Indeed,” answered Pearse, who was lying on his back on his own gurney, wincing only slightly as the ambulance crew patched him up enough for travel. “Emmet had eyes everywhere – put that bloody IT degree to good use, aye?”

“But I thought you were working for Marley—“

“Not for me, he doesn’t.” Marley snorted. His cell phone buzzed and he put up a hand asking for their patience before taking the call.

Dee watched him leave the room with a small jolt of desperation. Don’t leave me alone with my ex-husband, she wanted to say. An ex-husband who, until two hours ago, she was prepared to kill.

Pearse made restless noises in his gurney and she turned to him. “So, I guess I should thank you for not letting Emmet put a bullet in my head,” he said to his hands.

Dee gritted her teeth against the blush that spread up her neck. “Yeah, well, if anyone was going to do that, it was going to be me.”

“Cheers, love.”

Dee shrugged and stared at the blanket draped over the edge of the gurney. This was awkward.

“I’m guessing you have questions.”

A tiny laugh escaped before she could stop it. Just a few. “How did you know – about Emmet, I mean? How far back does this all go?”

“It started when you and I got together. You probably weren’t paying attention, but he was a pretty big agitator – Pat wanted him on the Shadow Council until he realized what a horrible, self-righteous prig he was. That’s why we recruited you, instead.”

“Wait, you recruited me?”

“Well, you had that trust fund – of course, I complicated things when I married you, so there’s that.”

Dee rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I suppose there’s that.”

“Emmet wasn’t too pleased you left politics behind to play with the lads – didn’t like that you chose me over him. It turned something inside him, and I noticed him watching you a few times – why do you think I kept him from you?”

Dee cocked an eyebrow and he grinned without a hint of embarrassment. “Okay I might have been jealous too, but there were rumors that he was getting involved in girls and drugs – running a racket, like. If there’s one thing the lads don’t like, it’s that sort of traffic.”

“Especially when they can’t profit from it.”

Pearse smirked. “Yeah well, there was no point in you knowing. To be fair, things progressed so far beyond Emmet and his girls that I forgot about him until after Pat got me out of Donegal. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar, but something didn’t sit right.”

“So, what – you played him?”

Pearse nodded. “I had a suspicion he’d advanced his racket. I got closer to him, let him think I was hell-bent on revenge and still blinded by Republican fervor – which wasn’t terribly hard at the time, mind – and needed a financier.”

“Which is when you realized it went deeper than girls and drugs.”

“Very clever, Ms. O’Brien,” Pearse smirked. “And, it went a lot further than just the regular players in Ireland and England. That’s when I turned – I knew he was going to use me, use the cause, which didn’t seem to mean anything to anyone anymore, all for his cronies, and I couldn’t let that happen.”

“Still fighting the good fight, Mr. Finnegan?” Marley asked as he came back into the flat.

“Someone has to – within reason, of course.”

“Of course.”

Dee looked between the two men, and over at Pat, who looked like he had reluctantly agreed to be carted off to the hospital – very reluctantly.

“Speaking of the good fight, what did happen at No. 10 – is the Prime Minister—?”

“He’s fine – the reports of those five deaths have been – how do you Americans put it? Greatly exaggerated. Looks like it was just a gas leak.”

“The London game, a fucking gas leak?” This was Pat as he was being wheeled out of the flat. “Hey there, Darlin’, glad to see you’re up and about.” He turned back to Marley “Oi, lad, we’re going to have to have a wee chat when I’m up and about – bloody gas leak.”

Marley spared Pat a look. “Look, you old hustler, it’s better this way – this way your empire remains, and so does mine.”

Dee waved Pat off – if he was truly angry about the outcome of the London Game, he was doing a good job of hiding it with cheerful bluster. Then again, Pat was, as Marley put it, an old hustler. He could make you think anything he wanted.

Pearse’s voice broke through her contemplation of Pat – or Rory Finley’s – tricks.

“So, Marley, what’s next?”

“Next, these people are going to take you to the hospital.”

“And after that?”

Marley grinned – and for the first time Dee saw just how much he loved his job. “Well, we need you to escape custody as soon as you’re able. I trust you’ll find what you need.”

Pearse saluted them with a wry smile as he was wheeled out of the flat.

As the door closed on her ex-husband, Dee turned to Marley. “So, if you didn’t know Pearse was an informer, why did you tell me your code name for him?”

“Sorry?”

“John Carol – there was an informer in Northern Ireland you lot called Agent Carol – wrote a book about it, yeah?”

“Two books, actually. I knew Pearse had been working for us–”

“But you said he wasn’t working for you.”

“And he isn’t. I’m not his handler – and he’s so deep undercover, I’m not even sure he remembers he has one. It’s one of the risks we run with informers. It doesn’t matter how long anyone has been the service – if the incentive is right, they can turn on you in a second.”

Cheerful thought. Dee grimaced and waited for the agent to answer her initial question.

He sighed.

“I told you his name to see if you knew – just testing the waters, Ms. O’Brien,” he added when she started to interrupt. “But, since you asked, Pearse picked out his own code name – from what I understand, it was a favorite Christmas movie. Speaking of which, you can stop spreading these around town.”

In Marley’s hands was a red, rectangular envelope. She took it and gingerly slid her finger along the flap.

Inside, the Mother and Child stared beatifically.

“This is the one I sent my mother. You promised—”

“Look again.”

She opened it. There was a date scrawled on the inside and an address: December 27. 9:00 AM; 18 Park St London SE1 9EQ, UK.

“And before you ask, I didn’t send the other one either. You can tell her Merry Christmas in person.”

She closed the card and tried to keep the smile off her face. “How’s that, then? It looks like I’m going to be a bit busy over the next couple of days – research, you know.”

“Easy. Your family is booked in an entire floor at the hotel. Thought it might be a nice surprise, all things considered.”

“Who did – you, or her?”

Marley grinned. “If I say me, will you invite me to dinner?”

Dee gave him her hand and let him pull her off the gurney. “You’re a glutton for punishment Agent Marley—”

“It’s Greene.”

“What?”

“That’s my real name. Jason Greene.”

“Oh. Well then, Mr. Greene. Let’s go have dinner. I’m starving.”

The End

Spotlight: Helena, the Memoirs & PubSlush, Oh My!

pubslushbuttonWhen we discussed the idea of Helena featuring some of her incredible work from the upcoming Memoirs of a Dilettante, Vol. 2 on the D/A Dialogues, I had no idea which piece she’d choose.

I knew they’d all be great – because, frankly, all of them are – but I can tell you right now, the one she chose is perfect.

I mean, perfect. A perfect read. Perfect for this blog, and perfect for me, your faithful author-who-talks-to-a-Druid-in-her-head (because before the Druid, there was Dorothy). So, without further ado, I present to you . . .

The Great and Terrible Countess of Oz

“It’s a twistah! It’s a twistah!” exclaimed the Countess Penelope of Arcadia, which is, in this instance, a county in Kansas by way of Oz. It wouldn’t be the last Oz reference made this weekend. The sky swelled black like a bruise, and the wind howled and threw things around in a poltergeist tantrum.

The cat-like but never cowardly Countess and I had driven through it, swerving to avoid minor debris like small tree branches, and once, a stray shopping cart blowing across the road. I kept my white-knuckled hands tight on the wheel, while Penny twisted and turned in the passenger seat, looking this way and that to see where the storm was coming from; where it was going. We drove right through the middle of it and came out the other side, like we’d gone through a car wash. The rain beat and battered us but did not best us.

When we made it safely home, I made sure to park far away from any trees, and when I saw the debris the next morning, I knew I’d made the right decision. We got out of the car and ran to our door, both of us getting soaked to the bone just crossing the street, and then locked ourselves in for the night, lighting candles and huddling on the floor in the living room, just watching our big bay window in terror as shingles blew off our roof and tree branches broke and fell.

The next morning, we woke up sans power, which means sans air conditioning, and neither Penelope nor I woke up with the cheery disposition of a member of the Lullaby League. I told Penny I was heading out, and asked if she wanted anything. She buried her head in her pillow and told me to go away and come back tomorrow.

“Why don’t you get your lazy butt out of bed and come with me?” I suggested.

“Pay no attention to the girl beneath the blanket! I am the great and powerful…”

“Okay, get up,” I said, pulling the blanket off of her. “If you’ve got the energy for snark, you can come to the store with me.”

“Oh, have a heart, Helena! Can’t you see the circles under my eyes? I didn’t sleep all night!” And then she gave me the most pa-thetic, pitiable look – which she knows full well I am helpless against.

“You know, I shouldn’t let your puppy dog face get to me! I should be on my mettle, and yet, I’m torn apart. Okay, darling, you win. What do you want me to bring you?”

“Bring me the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West!” She demanded weakly, still trying to sleep, before the humidity began to rise again, making sleep impossible. “Oh, and coffee. For the love of Oz, the great and terrible, bring me some coffee. I don’t care how many curly toed Munchkins you have to kill, fa la la la la, blah blah blah, just bring me some coffee.”

“Uh, bring me some coffee… what?”

“Now, bitches!” The Countess demanded mock-indignantly.

“That’s more like it,” I replied.

I went out to try to acquire coffee for the Countess and myself (as no one wants to live with an under-caffeinated Countess, dar-lings) and was confronted with debris the likes of which I’ve never seen. Tree branches had broken and fallen all over the place, and entire streets had been blocked off with yellow police tape. I had to navigate around a labyrinth of newly altered landscape, taking twists and turns, and more than once running into a dead end and having to turn around. There was one rather straw-headed guy trying to direct traffic, but when I asked him which way to go, it became rather clear that he didn’t know any more than anyone else.

“This way seems to be clear,” he said, pointing left, but before I could drive away, he pointed right and added, “but then I haven’t seen too much debris down this way, either.”

“Then again, people do go both ways,” I replied, and was given a confused look by the accidental scarecrow, who just waved me on, unappreciative of my witticisms.

As of this memoir missive, we are still without Internet (oh boo hoo, what a tragedy – do you want us to start an emergency fund, Helena?) and while your sarcasm is always appreciated, there is no need to be concerned for your favourite dilettante and her aristocratic accomplice – we are just fine, thank you very much.

Oh, but anyway, darlings, we’re home – home! And these are my memoirs – and you’re all here – and I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And… oh, darlings, there’s no place like home!

———–

If you want to read more, BECOME A FAN at PUBSLUSH and pre-order Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two and Penelope, Countess of Arcadia

Available now! image06 JESSICA image07

The one, the only Helena Hann-Basquiat, everyone's favorite dilettanteThe enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has.

Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.

Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE

'Twas the week before Valentine's . . .

‘Twas the week before Valentine’s,

And all through the house,

Nary a heart was heard beating, 

No, not even a pulse…

D: Um, A. . .

A: Yes, D?

D: What are you doing?

A: Taking creative license with Valentine’s Day.

D: With a poem ripped off from Christmas?

A: It’s how I roll.

D: Okay, but isn’t it slightly morbid?

A: You’re talking to the chick who wrote a flash fiction story based on a zombie getting it on with Jenny from Human Resources.

D: . . . this is true. So, tell me, have you written something slightly off-kilter for this year’s Valentine’s extravaganza – because I assume that this being Monday, you’ve decided to devote the entire week of posts to this strange, modern holiday designed to sell flowers, ridiculous pieces of lace, and overpriced bits of plastic masquerading as chocolate?

A: I actually like Valentine ’s Day.

D: . . .

A: No, really, I do – amid all that bad chocolate is some fabulous chocolate, which goes on clearance the day after. Plus, all the color is a nice break for all of us in the northern climes completely surrounded by grey, white, more grey and bits of crusted-over, gnarly-looking snow.

D: Uh huh, and?

"Circle of Adam Elsheimer The Lupercalian Festival in Rome" by Circle of Adam Elsheimer - Christie | Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Circle of Adam Elsheimer The Lupercalian Festival in Rome” by Circle of Adam Elsheimer – Christie | Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

A: And, it has some rather dark and disturbing pagan roots – beyond Cupid – and I just like that kind of thing.

D: Um, A – did you read the article you just linked?

A: Okay, I don’t like the actual Roman Lupercalia ritual, I just find the idea that the Catholics attempted “to put the clothes” back on the ritual when they tried to assimilate the pagans amusing. Of course, we’ve done a rather bang-up job of taking the clothes back off, which is okay, too. However, we can leave the ritual beatings for fertility to those ancient Romans, thankyouverymuch.

D: Thought so.

A: Right, so, we interrupt this Monday’s installment of “Three Ghosts” with the a repost of a story I wrote for The Community Storyboard a few years ago, which is a) based on the ghosts I grew up with, and b) the basis for a far-off book I’ll write when I’m good and ready and D please stop tapping your foot at me.

D: Who, me?

A: (Eye roll) Right – without further ado. . .

My Dearest Love

Portrait of a Union Soldier -- Kenosha (WI) Civil War Museum | Image by Ron Cogswell, 2012

Portrait of a Union Soldier — Kenosha (WI) Civil War Museum | Image by Ron Cogswell, 2012

My Dearest Evelyn,

While war continues, I would not write of it. I would spare you the details of my daily horror.

When I write to you, it is to forget that I am far from you, far from your embrace. I wish that I had been brave enough to speak to your father and ask for your hand before this started. I have faced enough Secesh as punishment for my fear, and I will speak to him.

* * *

Samuel,

Your words fill me with hope that I will see you again. How foolish we were to think that this war would only last a week. Our nation is divided and my heart weeps. I will follow your advice, and think of you only as I remember you, for to imagine you amidst all that devastation is almost more than I can bear.

I think, in light of your new status in the military, you will find Father’s measure of you much improved, or else I have seriously misjudged his character.

Keep safe, my love.

* * *

My Dearest Evelyn,

Forgive me for keeping secrets from you. Once I knew that I would be granted leave for Christmas, I wrote to your father straight away. He has granted that we may wed.

I would not take you from the bosom of your family until this dreaded war is over, but please, do me the honor of becoming my bride when I return?

* * *

"Pauline Cushman" Part of the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Pauline Cushman” Part of the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Samuel,

You must ask? Foolish boy, I love you with all my heart.

Mother is already a-flutter with preparations. She laments that we will not be able to go travelling as they did in her day, to celebrate amongst the family, but she is happy just the same.

I, on the other hand, am not merely happy. Your words have filled me near to bursting and I fear I may cry out, laugh or sing with the feel of it! Cook caught me signing the other day as examined what has become of my trousseau, and scolded me something terrible. She tells me such noise is bad luck. But what can she know of it? She is not married and I defy the fates to take this joy from me.

* * *

My dearest,

That I can call you wife, and yet not be by your side is more difficult than I would have ever imagined. Pray for me, my love; pray that I may return to your side, that I may have your sweet whispers in my ear once more. Pray that this war is over soon.

* * *

My love,

Mother says that ardor cools as daily life intrudes, but I have not found this to be true. Perhaps it is that I have yet to know you day-to-day. I remember you though, the feel of you by my side as I slept. At night, I kiss the air where you once were and weep to know that you are not there. My heart is full of the good nights and good mornings that have not yet been.

Knowing that you are mine, that those nights and mornings may yet be, only flames my ardor for you more. You may think me indecent, but my love for you only grows.

Let me be your beacon of light, guiding you home.

* * *

My Dearest Evelyn,

Your letters do me well, my love. I feel your kisses at night and they keep me warm, safe in this chill.

I do not find you indecent, dearest. Your blushes and modesty have no place with me anymore. I would fill your days with kisses and more were I there.

And, I will be there. With your love guiding me, I will be there.

* * *

My love,

The neighbors say that this war cannot last much longer. I pray that the year 1865 ends this horror. The thought of your smile, the memory of your touch, and the echo of your laughter stays with me, and cheers me. With them, I traverse the darkest hours of the night and live in hope that I will see you again soon.

* * *

My Dearest,

Your words, you once said, should be my beacon of light. I tell you that they are so. Your love is my guiding star, my heaven. I have suffered but the promise of home keeps me. The war is over, they say. We will be coming home. Once I would have leapt with joy at the news, now I weep that I have been gone so long. Wait for me.

* * *

The house my parents built. Evelyn & The Soldier's home is on the right, the exposed beam side.

The house my parents built. Evelyn & The Soldier’s home is on the right, the exposed beam side.

He knocked at the door and collapsed before it could open. Clutched in his hand was a scrap of paper, words scrawled across it with a near-unintelligible hand.

* * *

Evelyn opened the door and nearly tripped on the half-starved scarecrow that lay in a heap. There had been so many returning, so many seeking a warm fire and a bite of food, that she had stopped searching their faces for her dear Samuel.

* * *

He woke, stretched out before the fireplace. The tatters that had once been his fine uniform were gone, replaced by the heavenly scratch of thick wool blankets. The fire blazed, cheerful and comforting. He tried to turn his head, but found that even this small movement cost him more than he could spare.

“Don’t move, Samuel.”

Evelyn. He tried to say her name, to feel it on his lips once more. She kissed him silent. Her lips were salty.

“Don’t speak, my love. We didn’t know if you would wake. The doctor has been and gone; he was amazed you made it this far. Oh, Samuel, my dearest love.” She clutched his last letter in her hand. At least she would understand why. She kissed him again and rested against him. He breathed her in, surrounding himself with her. On her sweet perfume, he drifted off into the darkness, never to wake.

* * *

My Dearest Evelyn,

It was all I could do not to run all the way home when I received my discharge. That I was not permanently maimed or prisoner in some war camp was solely by the grace of God. That I prayed to you instead of Him may have been my undoing. The roads are not safe between our camp and you, and I was set upon in the night, attacked and shot. I fear it will be the death of me.

Forgive me, my love. Forgive me for not being able to be with you; forgive me for those beautiful babies yet unborn, forgive me for not growing into old age with you. I love you, Evelyn and I am so desperately sorry. If God is good, he shall grant that I watch over you, and love you for as long as you are upon this earth, my dearest. I feel your kisses yet, Evelyn and they still stave off the chill.

All my love,

Samuel

Background: The home my parents built – the home I lived in until the age of 18 – was haunted. It was actually two civil-war era log homes dismantled and rebuilt together, and most of the ghosts accompanied the timbers in the move.  Evelyn and “The Soldier” to whom I have given the name Samuel, resided in the formal living and dining rooms, respectively. Their close proximity as ghosts led me to wonder whether they knew each other in life, and the story grew in my head until I was convinced Evelyn had waited for her soldier, only for him to die in her arms upon his return from the war.

Eventually, Evelyn and Samuel will form the backdrop to a multi-generational love story, but until then, I’m happy to let them have this little snippet of a tale.

Three Ghosts: Part One

While the Christmas decorations were put away this weekend (sniff), one small tidbit of Christmas remains: a short story serial I started, with the help of a text message, a good month before Christmas. Theater productions and plague stood between me and sharing it with the world, which in retrospect, was a good thing. That said, it’s written now, and for the next 4 Mondays, it is my pleasure to present the mystery/thriller short story, Three Ghosts.

Because the content does relate to recent and potentially-touchy political arguments, I’ll remind readers this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of my imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Enjoy.

Three Ghosts: Marley

card“’The first Christmas card was sent in 1843, the same year A Christmas Carol was published,’ she says, trying not to let the baleful stare of her own unwritten cards haunt her.”

“Your tense is wrong.”

Dee – Deirdre O’Brien to those who hadn’t been her friend for twenty years – stopped gesturing with her eyebrows at the teetering tower of Christmas card boxes. She had not sent one to anyone on her list in at least three years, but that never stopped her from buying a new box or two every year. They always looked so pretty. It nearly broke her heart to pack them away with the rest of her things.

“It’s not about the tense, Cat – it’s about the grand Charles Dickens’ Christmas Conspiracy.”

Catherine Evans’ grey eyes just stared at her over the tops of her old-fashioned wire-rims. “Is this really your excuse this year?”

Leave it to Cat to bring sense to the nonsensical.

“I didn’t say that.”

A slow eyebrow arched above the glasses and Dee wondered how long her best friend could hold onto the schoolmarm look before one of them broke down into giggles.

“His story lamented greed and miserliness,” Dee insisted as she looked for the wrinkling around Cat’s eyes, which almost always preceded a smile. “Yet here we are, one hundred and eighty years later, celebrating a simple holiday for three months, munching popcorn while Kermit the Frog clings to Captain Picard–”

“And I’m pretty sure your cards can’t stare.”

“I’m not so sure,” Dee mused, fiddling with the lock of black hair that had escaped her pony tail. “See? The Christmas Fairy is looking a little feisty.”

“The Christmas fairy is looking a little tarty. Were you really planning on sending those to your mother?”

“Oh no – she gets these.

Dee plucked a battered, half-empty box covered with an assortment of beatific mothers, sighing angels and cherubic infants. That she sent one of these cards every year while the others collected dust was an irony that had not escaped her.

“And just in case you were wondering, Deirdre O’Brien, your Dickens’ Christmas Conspiracy is about as logical as your need to buy Christmas cards you’re not going to send.”

“Yeah, but it entertained you for a second – besides, I might this year.”

Cat snorted. “Not bloody likely. Explain to me again why you’re moving across the globe three days before your most favorite holiday in all of ever?”

“Because seeing London all lit up for the holidays is probably the best Christmas gift in all of ever? Besides – didn’t I offer to spring for you and Henry to join me?”

“Dee.”

“I know, I know, your soon-to-be mother-In-law would have kittens.”

“It’s not just that – it’s just . . . well, you moving to London—”

“It’s temporary.”

“Right, I know – but it wasn’t too long ago that you were cursing the name of every person in Parliament—”

“Yeah, well, everyone in the UK does that, Cat.” Dee shrugged and ignored the skepticism in her friend’s eyes, and the flush creeping up her own neck. “Things change – the war is over. Besides, Doctor Who makes friends of us all – and now I get to watch it for free!”

Cat’s lips twitched. Dee almost had her, and damned if she wasn’t going to get Cat to smile. It was important – ridiculous, yes, but also important. If she could get Cat to smile instead of scold, then perhaps the next three days would be . . . .

She shook her head. Never mind the next three days.

She let a sly grin shade her features as she abandoned the table strewn with the detritus of her life and stepped into the loft’s tiny kitchen. “Besides, you know I’ll be back for the wedding. Planning from afar is what I do – your bachelorette party is going to be spectacular. I’ve already hired the stripper.”

“Dee!”

There – that did it. The twitch broke into a full-fledged – albeit shocked – smile and Dee answered it with one of her own. “Leave the cards and the packing, Cat, and have a glass of wine.”

“Just one – I have to drive, and you really have to pack. You won’t get anything done after two.”

Dee bit her lip to stop it trembling. “Yeah, just one. Come on.”

* * *

“Well done, Ms. O’Brien.”

Dee put her stack of books down with a sigh. “Pardon me?”

“The little performance with Ms. Evans. I think you convinced her quite nicely.”

She rolled her eyes. It had not been a performance, and even if it had been, she would not have been able to convince Cat of anything. Dee wasn’t the terrible liar she claimed, but Cat saw through her little deceptions all the time. Of course, the suit didn’t need to know that.

“How do you figure?”

“It’s my job to know people, Ms. O’Brien.” The suit – a one Agent Marley – looked smug.

“You’ve tapped her phone then, I take it?”

Of course he did, she scolded herself. And it was her fault. She had made Cat – made every one of her family and friends – fair game just as she had made herself fair game over fifteen years ago. That they knew nothing – well, almost nothing – did not matter. Not to Agent Marley, and not to the people who talked in that little earpiece of his.

“Tapped?” Marley looked up from the pile of Christmas cards he had been restacking on the table. Her fingers itched to slap his hands away. “How very old fashioned of you, Ms. O’Brien. No, all we have to do is sort of listen in on the digital airwaves everyone makes so readily available. Tapped is what we did to you twenty years ago.”

“Got it – so, I was right all those times I teased Cat that you lot were listening in because we could hear the clicking?” She fought to keep her face bland under his raised eyebrow. She really did want to know, but she was not going to give Marley the benefit of her obvious curiosity.

“Indeed. You should be glad we keep tabs on these sorts of things. It’s what is going to keep you alive over there.”

“You really are a bundle of joy tonight, Mr. Bourne.” Damn. That had been a throw-away answer for a throw-away asset.

“That’s not—“

Dee rolled her eyes as Marley stopped himself from walking into her bad joke. Because his first name was Jason, and because he bore a faint resemblance to a certain actor, the name had stuck in her head – even though she was not certain Agent Jason Marley knew the right end of the gun from the wrong.

“Ms. Evans was right, you know.”

“About?”

“The cards. You won’t be able to send them.”

“I might—”

“No – sending them could alert the wrong people.” He swept the cards in question into the waiting box. Besides the last pile of books she’d unearthed from under the bed, the cards were the last to go, but they wouldn’t be joining her in London. Nothing but what she managed to stuff in her carry-on was coming with her. Everything – right down to that stack of three-year-old Christmas cards – would be put into storage for if – no, when – she got back.

The show of packing had been just that – a show for Cat.

She stopped Marley from putting the lid on the last box and reached for two cards that had fallen loose.

“I have to send one.” She scribbled a quick note into one sporting an iridescent Mother and Child and signed her name with a flourish.

“I can’t allow—“

Her head snapped up and her cheeks flushed with sudden anger. “Damn what you can’t allow. I’m throwing myself at an organization you and your overseas friends insisted was dead – the least you can do is let me send a card to my mother.”

“Is that so? And who helped with that little subterfuge, Ms. O’Brien?”

“Little? You call faking Pearse Finnegan’s death little? Face it, you fell for it, and now I’m helping you fix it.”

It was an old argument, but she liked having it. They both knew her ‘fixing it’ had happened all too easily.

It had started two months ago, when research had brought her back to Europe after a nearly fifteen-year absence. The whole trip had been a gamble. Once, she had barely been able to escape Dublin, and there was no way she should have been allowed into Heathrow – at least, not without a lot of extra scrutiny.

Yet, the lads had been inactive for so long – hell, she’d been out of the game for so long – it was easy to pretend all the focus really was in the Middle East.

But then she’d seen her husband in London.

Her head of the War Council, supposedly dead husband.

Pearse hated London.

According to those in the know, the London Game was going to be the one that finally tipped the scales for unification and independence. Of course, that plan had been laid out before the Good Friday Agreement had brokered a fragile truce between the British Army, the Loyalists and the Provisionals – and before the Dail gave up its right to the six counties, otherwise known as Northern Ireland.

The war was over – had been over for fifteen years – and Irish unification was a distant dream or moldy memory, depending on who one asked.

And yet, if Pearce was in London, now, after all this time, then it meant he had found a way around the Agreement – or thought he had.

She’d snapped a quick, blurry-but-recognizable picture but ignored the itchy feeling along her scalp and shoulders when getting that hasty digital artistry to the appropriate people had been even easier than flying into London. There was no way Pearce’s miraculous recovery from death was a surprise to the security services, and apparently, neither was her hand in the proceedings.

Agent Marley refused to squirm under her glare. “And we are most grateful to your change of heart, Ms. O’Brien, believe me.”

He gave a slight bow and Dee allowed herself a small smile. Not for the first time she suspected Agent Marley’s blandness – and general bafflement at what he had once called her unruliness – was an act. Sure, he was an ass, and it terrified her to think she was his first field assignment – but there was also a twitch at the corner of his lips that spoke volumes for his overall intelligence – or at least, her preference for faintly dangerous men. In another life – but no, that was just it. That other life was not hers anymore. She had this one. The one she had chosen.

She shook her head. Nope. She was not going to think about it. It was done and here she was, making . . . amends. She gave Agent Marley a half-hearted shrug before flicking the signed card at him.

As he fumbled with the babe born in a manger, she slipped the Christmas Fairy into her bag.

“Send it to my mother,” she ordered. “If you don’t, she’ll know something is wrong.”

Agent Marley paused and searched her face. What he was looking for – and what he found – was a mystery, but after a few deafening heartbeats, he saluted her with the Christmas card.

“All right. It will go out tonight. We will begin routing your calls after takeoff. In the flurry of moving, you forgot to activate the international band on your phone.”

“That’s not going to keep anyone for long. They’ll start to worry.”

“Perhaps, but you don’t have very long. Our intel indicates he’ll strike Christmas Day, Ms. O’Brien.”

Agent Marley turned on his heel and headed towards the door. His footsteps echoed in the empty loft.

That’s right. Three days. That was all she had left.

Three days and three ghosts.

. . . to be continued . . .

Part 2 | Part 3

 

Bubbles the Elf

… And we’re back! Combine the holiday season with a theater-kid and the plague, and you have a ghastly soup called: Death or Something Like It.

Because I’m almost certain the last month is pretty close to what Limbo* was like – awareness, but without the ability to do anything, nor take anything but the most cursory pleasure out of being aware.

In short, it sucked, and it sucked all the life out of yours truly and family. Not even a pesky Druid in my head could induce me to do much more than exist through my days. Dumb plague (or flu, as it is more commonly known. I’m a hypochondriac who loves hyperbole). Anyway, I’m back now, and with me is some ridiculousness from my weekend.

(* Before the Catholics decided it no longer existed.)

The following was inspired by Terrible Mind’s “Who the Fuck is my D&D Character” Flash Fiction Challenge from last Friday, which you need to check out, because the challenge itself is awesome.  I’m pretty sure our tale of Bubbles the Elf is not what Chuck Wendig intended! 

Traditional Wassail - which, when drunk with brandy may or may not have had something to do with the story of Bubbles...

Traditional Wassail – which, when drunk with brandy, may or may not have had something to do with the story of Bubbles…

Bubbles the Elf has a storied history.

When Tom was nine, he received a Dungeons and Dragons starter set. His godmother and my best friend, Christine, spent New Year’s Eve with us, and was coerced into playing. She chose to play as the Elf. She named him Bubbles.

The name stuck, and while I think we only played two more times, (D&D is hard… there is all this math. I much prefer computer games that do all that … that … thinking themselves. And yes, this is how the world ends…) the name Bubbles stuck – and in times of need, we reference dear Bubbles to bring a ray of sunshine into our lives.

And that is the history of Bubbles the Elf.

Okay, perhaps his history is not that storied – but he does have an amusing, albeit weird, place in our hearts and this weekend, he finally earned his reward: retirement.

But not just any retirement. He now has a place of honor amongst our latest Clue game: Dungeons and Dragons Clue. And just in case you’re wondering, this is the 8th Clue game we’ve kept – we’ve owned a few more but at least two were given up to the garage sales I keep having in the forlorn hope that I may one day rid myself of clutter. (Yeah, I know. It makes me laugh, too.) We like Clue, and Christine has this amazing ability to ferret out fabulously unique editions each year for Tom’s Birthday/Christmas.

Bubbles' place of honor on the new Clue board.

Bubbles’ place of honor on the new Clue board.

So, in honor of Bubbles’ retirement (and the Clue game, because honestly – how can you not love D&D Clue?), I resurrected a silly but fun game/pastime/thing we used to do as teenagers: stories in the round. Below is the fruit of our nerdy (and juvenilely-perverted – you’ve been warned) efforts. Those of us sitting around the Clue board all contributed at least one section – even D got in on the game – and it has been edited only minimally for grammar.  It’s probably not suitable for work. Or the serious-minded. Or those who enjoy fine literature. Enjoy.

The Story of Boobs and Bubbles

It all started when Boobs wanted to visit the dragon.

“It’ll be great! With my Boobs of Fire Resist, we can’t lose!”

“Oh, we can lose something,” Bubbles muttered.

Boobs McGee rolled her eyes, strapped on her breastplate and tossed the Elven Wizard his gear.

Bubbles the Elven Wizard was notorious for his sexually harassing comments, as most Elven Wizards of the Eladrin School are, of course. But Boobs ignored him. All she wanted to do was see that dragon and get her hands on his gold.

They were nearing the dragon’s lair when all of a sudden, Boobs vanished, leaving Bubbles alone and confused.

In his confusion, Bubbles managed to stumble into a Vorpol Sword-wielding Redgar the Barbarian, Bubbles’ worst enemy. The Elven Wizard fell to the floor, headless.

D&D Clue... The nerdening is strong in my house.

D&D Clue… The elf now named Boobs is in red. . . the one year I chose *not* to be the Ms. Scarlet character. . . 

Boobs, on the other hand, was in the chambers of the great Dragon Lord.

The Great Dragon Lord took the form of a muscular, musky man. She was immediately disarmed by the mere appearance of the beast.

“My dear Boobs McGee,” the Dragon Lord-turned hunky warrior prince crooned. “How lucky for me you decided to drop in.”

Boobs curtseyed.

(And picked up her staff in the process.)

(Oi! No interrupting!)

(Says who? She picked up her staff. Deal with it, Druid.)

(Fine… bloody woman) Boobs trailed her red fingernails over the oaken staff and hugged it close as she stared into the Dragon Lord’s blazing eyes.

“You were expecting me, my lord?”

“I am always expecting you, my lovely Boobs.”

“It’s been a while.” She shimmied along the back wall of the stone cavern. The gold behind the Dragon Lord gleamed with an internal fire, and its glow was reflected in her ravenous amber eyes.

The Dragon Lord rubbed his hands together.

“Too long,” he whispered.

There are a few things people don’t seem to know about dragons. While dragons can transform into hunky humans, they can only do so for a limited number of sexual innuendos, and the Dragon Lord was one too many innuendos over his limit, so back into a dragon he turned.

This was unfortunate for Redgar the Barbarian, whose dirty mind had bade him to enter the dragon’s chamber to peep at the reunited lovers. The dragon transformed back into himself and Redgar’s position left him inside the dragon’s stomach, where he was slowly dissolved into stomach goop.

Boobs, named not for her ample chest, but because of her Brilliant Ornithological Observations Based on science, was slightly miffed at the Dragon Lord’s transformation, but was used to it. In fact, he so frequently blew all of his innuendos at the start of their conversation that it had been several years since he was able to express his affections.

Boobs left the saddened but surprisingly full Dragon Lord, and walked out of his chamber. As she left, she found a decapitated Bubbles. Much to her surprise, Bubbles’ head began to reattach, for as we all know, Vorpol Swords can kill gnomes, humans and especially Jabberwock, but are terrible at killing Elven Wizards. Boobs, sick of the abuse others gave her because of her figure, left him, mostly because his hands had started to grab towards her breasts as she went to help him.

As she walked into the sunset, her eye caught a rare Phoenix and she took out her magical notebook to do what she did best. And she observed it so well, she walked off the cliff.

The End

I'm really hoping the Dragon Lord was better looking than this.

I’m really hoping the Dragon Lord was better looking than this.

A: So, can you figure out who wrote each part?

D: That’s hardly fair – you interrupted my part – and called me Druid in the process.

A: Yeah, I had to. At the rate you were going, Ms. McGee – who is a fierce wizard warrior, by the way – would have been riding the damn dragon – and not like they did in Harry Potter 7, either.

D: (Salacious grin).

A: Oh, ew – stop that!

D: Stop what?

A: You know – smiling – lewdly. It’s gross, D. What would Mairead think?

D: Oh dear – you won’t tell her, will you? Promise me, A. She’s still not talking to me for that whole time-travel/abandonment thing.

A: Gee, go figure. Just stop slobbering all over the idea of Ms. McGee and I’ll think about it.

Happy Monday, folks – thanks for reading and I hope this tiny bit of ridiculousness made you smile, even if at just how bad it is! We’ll be back with some fun (and better, I hope) fiction soon, I promise!

Upcoming posts

An exciting reveal on Wednesday

A special Sneak Peek series, beginning Friday

Three Ghosts, a (belated) Christmas tale beginning Monday, January 19

All Hallow's Eve

I have to say, next to Christmas, Halloween is my favorite holiday. Having a Druid as a character in my head for over 13 years might have something to do with it, but honestly, I’ve always loved this holiday. I dress up every year – in some small way. Lately, I’ve been the Wicked Witch of the East before the house dropped on her. Because sparkly red (or silver – depends on if I’m channelling the book or the movie) shoes are one of the happiest things on earth.

This year, because it’s a Friday, and we have leave to wear jeans (I NEVER give up the opportunity to wear jeans at work), I’m going as a lumberjack.

Because it’s cold.

And because I’ve had this song in my head for days:

Right. So. Halloween. (I swear to the gods, D is groaning in the far corners of my brain. Like painfully. Sometimes torture is fun). Once the sugar-high has subsided, The Boy and I will be capping our month-long scary/Halloween movie extravaganza with the film that inspired it: The Shining. I’ve seen it once, and it’s a slow, creepy burn that still gives me the shudders, but I’m looking forward to seeing how he reacts. This marathon of sorts has been an eye-opener into how the kid’s brain works, and how he perceives things. It’s been amazing.

Jessica Promo 2And second on my Halloween to-dos, did you know there is this fabulously creepy and just plain wonderful serial going on over at casa de Basquiat? You need to check it out, because it is just the best compilation of writing I’ve read in a long time.

JESSICA: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

Part Eight is going live today. If you do anything today, check it out. I mean it. And go follow Jessica B. Bell on Twitter, because there is something amazing going down on Saturday, and something tells me you’re going to want to be in on it from the start.

And finally, the reason I started this post in the first place – no, not to bombard you with my crowdfunding campaign (although if you haven’t pre-ordered Changelings, please feel free to click the link and do so now!), I had intended to write up a (softly) scary story for Halloween, but then the proofs for Changelings came in and – horror-of-horrors – I found even more typos (it just never ends), so that has been consuming my life for the last several days. Instead of making myself crazy (D: crazier), I decided to repost a story I wrote for a prompt at the Community Storyboard two summers ago. Headless is one of my favorite pieces of writing, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

* * *

Headless

I can't help it. I love those glasses.

I can’t help it. I love those glasses.

Izzie Crane was just this side of miserable. Tarrytown was a sleepy little place. She’d wanted some peace and quiet after divorcing Bob, sure, but this was ridiculous.

Oh well. Her contract at the school was only for a year, and there was no reason to expect that it would be renewed. As much as she disliked the town, so too did the town dislike her.

Well, maybe not all of them. Kat Van Tassel was good fun to hang around with – and the tales that woman could spin! If the upright matrons of this town only knew what their darling really thought of them. . .

She and Kat met for coffee every Thursday. Kat would give her the latest town gossip and a history lesson on the town that beat anything in Izzie’s textbooks. Sometimes Kat regaled her with recent history – dirt on the parents who seemed to live to make Izzie’s day a nightmare. Other times, the stories Kat told were practically ancient.

The Revolutionary War featured heavily in this area of the state and the way Kat told it, nearly every man who fell in that war had taken up residence in a forested hollow just outside Tarrytown. Izzie loved that spot, and she felt lucky that her small rented cottage was on the other side of it. Besides, the old covered bridge seemed like a lovely place for a romantic stroll, and she told Kat so.

“Sure, you say that now,” Kat laughed. “But just imagine walking home – after midnight, of course – and being stuck in that covered bridge, hemmed in by the restless dead. I haven’t even told you about the Headless Horseman, yet.”

Izzie rolled her eyes. “Kat, everyone has heard of the Headless Horseman. Wasn’t he some Hessian soldier who lost his head to a cannon ball?” She lowered her voice until it was just a whisper. “He roams the night looking for his head and woe to those who stand in his way!”

Kat laughed. “You tell a good story there, Ms. Crane, but I wouldn’t scoff at the undead. The Hessian still hasn’t found his head, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one he fancied.”

Izzie grinned. Kat wasn’t going to give it up, but was part of her charm. It certainly made for entertaining company every Thursday. And, her stories helped Izzie get into the spirit of the holidays.

Halloween was just around the corner. Kat and her boyfriend, Brom, were throwing a costume party, and in an effort to help the town accept Ms. Crane, Izzie was the guest of honor. It was Kat’s idea, of course. Brom had all-but spearheaded the effort to make Izzie’s year of teaching a misery. But, he was devoted to Kat, so when he answered the door to Izzie’s cloaked form, he plastered a smile on his face and let her in.

Scary-Jack-o-LanternShe hefted the grimacing pumpkin in her hands and thanked him. He waved her off to the kitchen, where Kat was putting appetizers on a tray.

“Izzie – what are you wearing?”

“I found the horseman’s head,” Izzie said through the cloak she’d rigged to cover her head. She lifted the lid off the pumpkin and pulled out the bottle of wine she’d stored there. “For my hostess.”

Kat shook her head and grinned. “So much for me trying to show you off tonight, Izzie. No one can see you.”

“But think of it this way, Kat – maybe they’ll consider it an honor. Besides, I’m not looking for dates, just a good time.”

“Well, then we’ll have it. Come on, I think I heard the doorbell. Let’s relieve Brom on door duty. I think you should greet the guests.”

Several hours – and glasses of wine – later, the guests were starting to leave. Izzie had delighted Kat by participating in their ghostly tales and revelry. The only one who didn’t seem impressed was Brom, who was now glowering at her from the bar.

Izzie couldn’t decide if he was jealous of her friendship with Kat, or if he was just a bad-tempered grump who disliked outsiders. Regardless, she paid him no mind as she bid her hostess goodbye.

“Be careful, Izzie. Are you sure you won’t let me drive you home?”

“You have had far too many glasses for me to even consider letting you drive me home. Besides, I have the pumpkin. He’ll scare off any ghouls – human or otherwise.”

Kat giggled and waved her off.

The night was cool but Izzie was comfortable in her cloak. The pumpkin was starting to get heavy in her arms, but she wanted it for her cottage. Besides, it was a talisman of sorts, and as the bridge neared, she irrationally felt it might protect her. It was after midnight.

She was happily recounting the night in her head and didn’t hear the sound of hooves on the pavement until a waft of heated air lifted the hem of her cloak. Dead leaves swirled at her ankles.

Izzie turned and nearly dropped the pumpkin. The black horse snorted inches from her face. She slowly, reluctantly, allowed her eyes to travel up the horse’s snout to its rider. He was caped, like she, and headless, too. However, the rider was not holding himself still with terror, like she. The tilt of his shoulders seemed confused. He appeared to be regarding her, wondering.

Izzie lifted up the pumpkin.

“A head for you?” she asked. Her voice quavered.

The rider urged his horse forward a few steps. He leaned down. The stench of brimstone made Izzie wrinkle her nose. She closed her eyes tight. She couldn’t outrun a horse, certainly not one with a rider such as this.

The horseman lifted the pumpkin from her hands. She opened her eyes, surprised, and peered out of the gap in her cloak. She watched with fascinated horror as he settled the jack o’lantern on his headless neck and roll his shoulders, as if adjusting the fit. She nearly fainted when the pumpkin-head turned and looked down at her.

“My thanks. It will do for tonight. May I give you a ride home?”

Izzie stared at the hand reaching down, offering to help her onto the horse. She wondered what he would do if she refused. Hell, what would he do if she agreed? She did notice though, that the smell of sulfur was beginning to wane. And his manner had been nice enough. Maybe all the horseman needed was a head . . .

She took his hand. Hadn’t she been complaining to Kat just the other day that nothing exciting happened in Tarrytown?

“So, do you like ghost stories, Ms. Crane?”

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 2

D: Sorry, ma’am, authorized personnel only.

A: Authorized—D, let me in!

D: Please ma’am, I have to ask you to step away.

A: Step away? What is this? D, it’s me.

D: Who is this ‘me’ you speak of?

A: . . .

D: Tapping your foot at me – no matter how menacingly – is not going to get you anywhere. . . A.

A: Ha! I knew it. What is going on here, Druid? What’s with all the ‘ma’am’ and the bloody –

D: Ma’am, if you could just move your feet—

A: Don’t push it, D.

D: (Sigh) there’s been a robbery, or haven’t you heard?

A: A robbery?

D: A series of them. It’s right there in the last, you know, substantial post on this blog.

A: Oh boy, here we go.

D: Of course, if you had spent any amount of time here on the blog . . .

A: Marie was right, you are such a girl.

D: (Spluttering, speechless)

A: I thought that might shut him up. And I suppose the Druid is right. There has been a burglary – at least, there has been a burglary in the tiny village of Protection. Protection is perhaps the only free village the bleak future The Heresy of Before has to offer. Treading on those freedoms is not something taken lightly.

D: So without further ado (a girl, indeed), here is Part 2 of the Spirit Keeper.

A: Thank you all so much for reading!

Previously . . .

. . . .My name is Ellie, and I am what amounts to the law in our village. . . 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. . . . 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.

Mathias' Sextant

Mathias’ Sextant

There was the photograph of wildflowers, scratched and battered, that had belonged to the herb-woman, Ruth. Rumor was her great-grandmother had taken it just weeks before man had blackened the sky. Then there was the box of gears and glass. Mathias, son of a sky-watcher, said it was a sextant, a curious-looking thing to help sailors find their way using the sky. It had gathered dust since his father had passed, but it was still precious.

These were just the ones that people were willing to talk about. 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, and for the first time, I wished I had one of Papa Henry’s maps, defunct though they were. It was a blasphemy of sorts, to ask people about their possessions. Privacy – especially for those born in Big City – was a hard-won and cherished thing.

We work with each other, and strive so that the community may survive, but we are still human, still fiercely independent and deeply private. Peering into the crevices, even to find the missing pieces of our souls, was not something to which I was accustomed. Keeping the peace during Debate and the days the followed, should the day-long nattering prove fruitless, was relatively simple compared to peeling back the layers of prickly freemen.

“Ellie.” Papa Henry’s voice reminded me of the giant rocks on the ridge that guards our village, ancient but powerful. They are all grown over with lichen, but they perch there at the edge of the ridge, to remind us that though they may not have moved since the Greys descended from the sky, they could. They could still destroy our fragile world without a moment’s thought, or notice.

He was standing in the open doorway to my cottage, his long white beard waving in the breeze. He is a bear of a man, and the leather smock he wore only made him seem larger, more imposing, yet his pale green eyes, deep with secrets, were kind.

Papa Henry hefted the spyglass I kept on the windowsill – a ‘shingle’ of my trade, as Samuel would say – as he waited for me to acknowledge him and welcome him into my home.

What if those hands – those hands that were almost never empty – had slipped bits and bobs into his pocket, maybe without even realizing it?

Even before I realized it, I was shaking my head at the quiet, insidious ponderings of my mind. That was impossible. Papa Henry was our most venerable elder.

But what if he was getting old – too old to know what he was doing? That wicked voice in my head – the one responsible for keeping an eye on likely troublemakers, and ornery sods from Big City – had a point. What if he was—?

I shut down the voice with a smile at Papa Henry. Even if he was getting on in years, he would not keep the items he’d pilfered. He would find a way to get them back to their owners, either by owning up to it, or by smuggling the items back before they were ever missed.

“Trying to work your head around the thefts, I see.”

I grinned. He was old, but Papa Henry was as sharp as ever. If our elder was responsible for the thefts, the issue would never have made it as far as Debate. It doesn’t happen often – only once since I came of age – but the tricky machinations of men bent on getting their own way does happen. I did not think this was one of those times.

My smile turned rueful as I looked at the old man. “I’ve never had to do anything like this before. I don’t even know how to ask people.”

“Has anyone been ‘round to tell you about the missing things?”

“A few – but not nearly all. People keep looking at me like they want to say something, but then they just shuffle off, like they’re embarrassed.”

“Then help them not be embarrassed. Let Jan know that you want to talk to people, that you’ll be in your office here for an afternoon if anyone wants to stop by. Bake some cookies.” He laughed as I rolled my eyes. “No wonder you ain’t married, Ellie – making faces at the mere mention of cookies. Didn’t your mam teach you sense?”

I tried to smile but I think it came out more like a grimace. My mam had taught me more than just sense, but I knew what Papa Henry meant. Marriage offered more than just a partner in all things, it was also a means of protection. We were a small village, and not completely unknown. My stubbornness and insistence I could take care of myself had earned me more than Papa Henry’s gentle scolding.

There was more to it, of course. There was the expectation tied to the taking of a mate, an expectation of life growing, and I had watched Samuel and his wife Caroline suffer when their babe was lost to the technocrats. I did not know if I could bring myself to see my soul lost in the eyes of another.

“It’s not the cookies themselves, Papa, it’s the heat,” I added. “Baking cookies in heat of the summer is a fool’s errand at best, but I’ll see what I can do.”

Maybe I could get Jan to bake the cookies. Hers was a small craft shop, open only after the sun had made mid-day and closing as dusk swallowed the light. 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.

Whether or not it was good information never seemed to matter. The woman had a way about her, a shine to her smile that nearly matched the shine in her golden hair.

And it brought me to wondering: What if she was the thief? What if the ear bobs hadn’t been as plentiful? What if her river of information had dried, and with it, her customers? Was that why I had seen her skulking about the well, blushing scarlet the moment I called her name?

There was only one way to find out. Papa Henry was already on his way out the door. I waved goodbye with one hand and dug in my desk with the other. There had to be something in there worth trading to Jan – for the cookies, and for a bit of information.

… To be continued.

Lost? Read Part 1 – or, continue on to Part 3

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!