Category Archives: Fantasy

The Golem of Wacza

Olive D’Alton has his book The Golem of Wacza, the first in the Empyryon series free June 25 and 26 on Amazon.
I had the time to read some of the beginning of the book and the characters are interesting and already developing. The premise is one I haven’t seen before, so I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

EMPYRYON Blurb

A fast moving epic fantasy novel set in a mythic era. It traces a journey of survival in a time of warfare, intrigue and oppression.

The Emperor, a bloody usurper of the Archaki Kingdom, rules the land with an iron fist. His winged Hussars swoop on the villages every five years and steal the boy-children for his armies. A group of conspirators from the village of Wacza enlist the aid of a mysterious hermit to combat the tyranny. Together they create a golem, a soulless killer, to slaughter and beat back the Hussars. Everything changes.

Colonel Kuntz, leader of the Hussars, falls in love with Natasha Archaki and, with a price on his head, they flee to join the northern alliance that is at war with the Emperor. Together with a small group of other fugitives they face the perils of the journey through the fearsome Wood of the Suicides, the territory of the fierce isolationist Hadre and must outrun the murderous White Wolves who pursue them in their quest for freedom.

Oliver D’Alton’s Bio

Years and years and years ago my first novel, a pulp fiction thriller called The Affair of the Dragon was published. Since then nothing. I became caught up in Academia and all my writing was devoted to the publication of scholarly research works. I’ve finally thrown off the academic yoke and have returned to my first love, writing fiction. Empyryon is my new book series that fits roughly into the genre Epic Fantasy with leanings towards adventure, military fantasy and quest. The golem, a monster, has its genesis in ancient folklore from Prague and the winged Hussars historically are Polish warriors. I am interested in both history and mythology and weave these themes together throughout the book.

I caught the travel bug at an early age and travelled extensively. During my travels I followed various cultural themes. For example, I followed the Siva myths in India and was ‘initiated’ into some of the mysteries of the rock-cut temples in Mahabalipuram. In Egypt I sought out the step pyramids of Zoser and the temple of Karnak. In Crete I followed up the remnants of the Minoan civilization and wondered about the legends of Atlantis first mentioned by Plato who had learned from the Sais priests of Egypt. And so on.

I have an abiding passion for racing cars and for sailing yachts.

I must confess I am also a stereo nut.

Author Interview

The Golem of Wacza looks interesting. What made you decide to use a golem as a focal point of the book?

Many years ago I read a book entitled “The Sword of The Golem” and this sparked my interest in the mythology and legends that surrounded the creation of a Golem. I read about the Golem of Prague which seemed to be based either on some truths or simply folk stories about the savior of the Jewish population in Prague, created through faith to protect the Jewish population from religious oppression. Some myths hold that the Golem is still hidden somewhere in that city and can be reawakened by a religious man, pure of heart. A Golem is conceived of as a huge humanoid monster created from mud and its controller breathes life into it. It is reputedly a mindless killer, in thrall to its creator. It hates the person who brought it to life but is forced to submit to all the demands of its creator. In my novel, the central oppressor is an emperor who ruthlessly stamps out all hints of religion and faith. The oppressed villagers under this regime reminded me of the repressed population in Prague. In my story, there is no countervailing force against the Emperor. The villagers turn to a mystic hermit to save them. As in Prague a Golem was the solution. However, in this context the Golem is animated through hate rather than faith.

Tell us more about yourself. What else have you published?

 I grew up in Sydney in a house by the waterfront and trained for many years to become an Olympic swimmer. I recently completed a book entitled ‘Swimming’, yet to be published.

I was an academic for many years. I have a Masters in Economics, a Ph.D. and a Juris Doctorate. I have taught Economics, Politics, Sociology and Law at numerous universities.

Apart from my academic publications which include text books and many articles, I published a pulp fiction novel, The Affair of The Dragon many years ago.  That was a lot of fun!

I also to love to paint and to write poetry. I have produced a series of ‘painted poems’ that will be slowly added to my webpage over time. I taught art in London and have had art exhibitions in London, Sydney and Collioure.

I’ve always had at least one cat. I have been living in Gozo for the last couple of years in order to concentrate on writing and sketching. For those who haven’t heard of Gozo, it’s a tiny Maltese island in the middle of the Mediterranean just below Sicily and above North Africa.

You can find me on my webpage at https://empyryon.wixsite.com/oliverdalton

What inspired you to write The Golem of Wacza?

I was an avid reader of Tolkien, who I met at Cambridge. I found it easy to be swept up in adventure stories and mysteries, as well as film versions of his work. More recently I enjoyed reading ‘A song of Ice and Fire’ by George R.R. Martin as well as watching the HBO series ‘Game of Thrones’. This combination is probably what sparked my interest in writing epic fantasy.

What are your favorite kinds of stories to read and write?

I have eclectic tastes in reading from classics to contemporary fiction. I love a good spy story like those of John Le Carre, as well as the thrillers of John Grisham. I find the adventure stories of C.S Forester engaging, especially the Hornblower series which is one of my favorites. I also like to read more complex existential fiction novels like those of Sartre and Sadeg Hedayat who wrote The Blind Owl, an amazing book.

I am sure my writing is influenced by all of this in subliminal ways.

What is your writing space like?

At present, I have an apartment in Gozo with a magnificent view over farmland and the sea. Lately I’ve been sitting on the terrace and writing under an umbrella, on my laptop. Sometimes I write in front of the TV with the sound off (especially if there is snooker or tennis on – these don’t require much concentration). Sometimes at the dining table.

 What projects are you currently working on?

 Empyryon Book 2 The Black Isles.

 What question would you ask yourself? Answer that question.

 Do I will my world or does my world will me?

I don’t know.

Here’s a brief snippet from the book:

The full meaning of this sank in for Nadja and a cold hand gripped her heart but hate for the Hussars and the Emperor burnt stronger than any fear. She took the stones from the outstretched hand of the hermit in a bold and triumphant way. The other conspirators cowered together as Nadja walked towards the lifeless body of the golem. The hermit pointed out the stones one by one as she knelt by the huge head and pushed them into the still soft brow. She placed them in reverse order so the last would be first. The hermit chanted an incantation as Nadja placed the sigils but as she began to push the final stone into place he was silent. The stone settled in with a sound that made Nadja wince and draw back. She stared at the golem’s face but nothing happened. Confused, she looked to the hermit. He was gone. Startled by the sound of a throaty intake of breath she turned back to the golem. She found herself staring into hollows of hell. The golem had opened its eyes. Rumor had it that anyone who looked into the eyes of a golem as they died went straight to Hades, to burn forever. The fire in the depths of its eyes was not the golden fire of candlelight but the blue, almost invisible flame of a cutting torch, a chilling, destructive, violent flame. The eyes, set deep in the armored face, blazed with menace.

Nadja suddenly realized the enormity of what she had done. She staggered back a few paces. The golem’s giant frame stirred and it slowly rose to its feet in front of the terrified band of conspirators. A strong odor, like rotting flesh, pervaded the glade as the monster shuffled towards Nadja. It stopped in front of her and a low, guttural growl was wrenched from its body as it bent its great craggy head before her. Its ears were holes surrounded by thick ridges, its mouth a gash. Conflicting emotions tore at Nadja as she stared at the huge monster. She controlled this thing. Partly fearful, partly triumphant she felt a surge of power in the realization of the force that was now hers. If the golem was invincible so was she.

“Stand up!” she ordered, and the golem straightened to its full height, towering above her, its huge chest rising and falling to the slow rhythms of the muffled thunder that rumbled in its depths.

 

 

Albert

Albert

Once upon a time there lived a frog named Albert. Albert was quite content as a frog. He had his lily pad, his friends and a wonderful voice. Everybody knows that frogs are great singers, but Albert’s voice was something special. Whenever he sang the whole pond would stop and listen to him sing. Albert sang about the moon shining on the pond at night, about sleeping warm in the mud through the winter and about bathing in the warm light of the sun. It was in fact, Albert`s voice that got him into trouble.

In a castle up on a hill, overlooking Albert’s pond, lived a King and his family. The royal family lived content, with the exception of the youngest daughter whose name was Sue. Where princesses were supposed to be graceful and composed, Sue was somewhat ungainly and terribly shy. Somehow she never acted quite like a princess should. Her brothers and sisters taunted her unmercifully. Even the servants in the castle teased her

One spring evening when the air was especially still she stood on the balcony of her room listening to the sounds of the spring night. Since her room overlooked the pond, she of course heard Albert singing.

     “Even a frog has something special that makes him sing so beautifully.” She sighed and leaned her head against the cool glass. “I wish I knew what that frog is singing about so wonderfully. She shook her head. “What nonsense I am thinking tonight to envy a frog his voice.” She turned to go into her room. Just as she was closing the doors behind her she heard a beautiful bass voice singing of the joy of spring under the first star of the night. Transfixed the princess stood and listened to the velvety voice.

“O dear me, you will catch your death of cold.”

Sue jumped and turned to her nurse.

 “You startled me.” She closed the doors and came into the room. she stretched and gave a tremendous yawn. “I’m so tired.”

 “Such a yawn for a princess.” Her nurse clucked and helped her change for sleep. “It isn’t at all becoming.”

Sue blushed and climbed into her bed. When the light was out and she was alone, Sue lay awake and stared at the ceiling.

 “Why do I need a nurse anyway? I’ve grown far beyond the age I need a nurse.” Still grumbling she drifted off to sleep.

The next morning did not begin well. First, Sue was late for breakfast. her mother glared as Sue hurriedly slid into her seat and sent the juice glasses to slopping over onto the white tablecloth.

 “Oh, I am sorry, I slept late.” Sue mopped at the juice with her napkin..

 “My dear, you are a princess,” the Queen said, “you must be punctual. If you cannot be on time, don’t make excuses, and certainly don’t rush about out of breath.”

 After breakfast the princesses gathered to work on their needle point. Sue stabbed herself, and bled so badly that she ruined three months of painstaking work. Her finger bandaged, she was sent outside to amuse herself until lunch, with the order to stay out of the mud, and her sisters’ demure titters ringing in her ears.

What use is it to be a princess if I can’t be a happy princess?  Gradually the warm sun began to cheer her up. Then she heard the wonderful voice from the night singing. Following the voice until she reached the pond Sue saw a large green frog sitting on a stump. She squealed and jumped back. The frog jumped into the pond. The ball which the princess dropped, rolled into the pond.

“How am I going to get my ball back without getting covered with mud?” the princess wailed. “0h, why can’t I do anything right?”

***

 Albert looked carefully out from under the water. The girl sat on the grass crying bitterly. He had often seen the princesses playing near his pond and felt sorry for the youngest princess. He liked her best because she was the only one who ever seemed to appreciate his pond. On an impulse he dived down into the water and with a great effort pushed the ball to the surface and rolled it to the princess. Sue looked at him in astonishment.

“Thank you, 0h, thank you.” She grabbed the ball and laughed. “They will never believe this in the castle.” Albert was so pleased with himself that he swelled up with song. Sue’s eyes bulged and she almost dropped her ball again.

“It was you singing last night” She gasped in astonishment. “You must be a prince under enchantment. no frog could sing so beautifully.” The princess looked around. “I will take you home and break your enchantment. Then we can be friends.” She quickly caught Albert and ran home to hide him in her room.

 Albert was devastated. This place was cold and hard, and worst of all it was dry. There not a decent bit of water or mud to be found. He missed the sun and the well known murk of his pond. As the day turned into evening his loneliness became so great that he began to sing. It was a terribly mournful song, and as Sue came into her room and heard it, it caught at her heart.

“It must be terrible to be a prince, and have to live as a frog.” She picked Albert up and hugged him. Albert was so sad that he kept singing his unhappy song. “Frog.” Sue said between her sobs, “You are so unhappy. I wish I could make you a prince.” And she kissed him.

“Who is that man?” the King thundered from the doorway. Sue didn’t answer, for she was staring at Albert in amazement. Albert had turned from a frog into a man.

“Why are you in my daughter’s bedroom?” The King roared at Albert, but Albert didn’t answer either he was looking at himself in amazement.

“Why frog, you are a prince.” Sue squeaked.

“Hardly a prince if he appears like that in a princess’s bedroom.” the King bellowed, since, being a frog, Albert had no clothes.

The King and Queen were up all night discussing what they were going to do. They finally decided that the only way to avoid a scandal was for Albert and Sue to get married, immediately. So they planned the wedding for the next week.

 Albert found the change to palace life very difficult. He wasn’t sure how to eat with knife and fork. Clothes were strange and uncomfortable. But most of all he missed being a frog and singing in his beloved pond all day. The only thing that made it at all bearable was the princess. She taught him how to eat with utensils and helped him choose the most comfortable clothes. She even stood up for him when he chose his entire wardrobe in green. But each evening Albert would slip out of the castle and go down to the pond. There he would sit in the light of the moon and sing. They were sad songs, and Sue listening on her balcony would determine to try even harder to make her prince happy.

One day while Albert and Sue sat in the sunny courtyard escaping from the wedding plans for a brief time Sue’s nurse came out to bustle Sue back into the castle.

“I’m about to be married. I don’t need a nurse.” Sue yelled in rebellion. “Go away, and don’t bother me anymore.” The old woman looked at Sue then slowly and silently left.

“Why did you yell at her so?” Albert asked. “Surely she is only trying to help.”

“She’s been my nurse longer than I can remember. But I don’t need a nurse anymore, and I don’t like being fussed over.”

“If you don’t need a nurse, maybe she needs you.” Sue looked at him quizzically.

“Why should she need me. I’d think that she would be glad to do something else for a change.”

 “What?” Albert asked reasonably. “She has always been Nurse.”

“I don’t know. That’s her problem anyway.” Sue grumped.

“You are her princess. I think that makes it your problem.” Albert pointed out. “You should give her something else to do if you want her to stop bothering you.”

Sue looked at him for a moment.

“I hadn’t thought of that.” She jumped up. “I’m going to go and talk to her.”

“What are you going to ask her to do.” Asked the frog prince.

“To be the nurse for our children!” Sue laughed, and ran off to find Nurse. Albert sighed and wandered down to the pond. He thought wistfully of his old uncomplicated life as a frog.

Yet as the days before the wedding shortened, Albert’s common sense made itself felt. Even the King found himself discussing difficult problems with his guest. The Queen went so far as to admit one night while she and the King worked over the proclamation for the wedding that Albert might make quite a suitable match.

“By the way dear, have you found out exactly who Albert is?” She asked. “We really can’ t have a proclamation reading ‘Today the Princess Susan Aurelia Constance Esther marries Albert.’ We need to know a little more about his background.”

 “Quite right, You should ask Sue in the morning.”

The next morning, the day before the wedding, Sue walked down the stairs to breakfast.

“Good morning.” She smiled, and glided into her place.

“Good morning Sue.” The Queen nodded. “Your father found a minor detail that needs to be cleared up. We need to know Albert’s full name and a little more about him for the proclamation.”

“I have been so busy that I never thought to ask him.” Sue said. ” I will ask him today.”

Out in the courtyard, which had become their favourite place, Sue found Albert. He was staring moodily through the gate down toward his old pond .

“Albert, my mother asked me what your other names are.”

“Other names? I only have one name.”

“But Princes always have lots of names. Like me, I have four.”

“I like Sue best,” Albert said with a smile.

“But you are a Prince, you must have other names.”

“No.” Albert sighed “I have no other names. I am not a Prince.” Susan stared at him, then laughed.

“You must be a Prince. Why would anyone enchant somebody who wasn’t a Prince?”

 “You did, Sue.” Albert said looking at her with an expression she couldn’t quite fathom.

“Oh Albert.” Sue blushed.

“But you did Sue. You turned me into a Prince.”

“And if I turned you into a Prince, what were you before?” She demanded.

“A frog. I’m a frog Sue. I was never a prince until I met you.”

“You are not an enchanted Prince?” Sue’s face turned red. “You let me think you were a Prince all this time, and all the time you were just a frog? What am I going to tell my father? That I’m marrying a frog?” Sue stood now, screeching at him.

Albert flinched with each question.

“You creature. You abominable creature. I hate you.” The princess turned and fled from the courtyard.

Albert sat for along while, then slowly he stood and walked down to the pond, a sad, shrinking figure in green.

•••

The Princess locked herself in her bedroom. She refused to talk to anyone. Other than to tell her father through the door that the wedding was off; that everything had been a terrible mistake. She closed the window then wept on her bed for three days.

Finally, she got up and washed her face. Squaring her shoulders, she unlocked the door and went down to breakfast. Her family greeted her with a wary silence. The Queen gave her an approving nod.

Things returned almost to normal. As the weeks passed, Sue floated quietly through life, her face cold and pale. She rapidly lost weight. One morning she no longer had the strength to get up.

The King and Queen worried about her. They begged their daughter to tell them what was making her so unhappy. But Sue simply stared out the window and said nothing. The old nurse came to the princess’s room to be by her side. She bustled about cleaning and tidying, opening the window to let the fresh summer air in. The day passed and as the evening came Sue heard a voice singing outside her window. It sang of the summer night, and the sorrow of a love lost. It sang of the moon shining on the pond and of a beautiful princess named Sue. It sang of enchantment and a broken heart.

“Albert,” the princess whispered. She stood and staggered to the window. “Albert.” His deep, sad voice soared through the night, telling of the joy and sorrow of his love.

Sue sat on the balcony and listened to the song through the night. In the grey of the early morning she slipped out of the castle. Walking slowly but with iron determination she made her way down to the pond.

“Albert.” She called into the silver mists. “Albert, I’m sorry. I love you.” The effort of walking overcame the weakened princess and she fainted beside the pond. There Albert, once again a frog, found her.

My poor Sue.” Albert said as he kissed her. “I wish I could make you happy.”

The rising sun shone gold on two happy frogs as, hand in hand, they hopped into the pond.

Old Superheroes Never Die

“Superman has Clark Kent when he wants to kick back and just not go out to fight the bad guys. I’ve wearing this costume for so long I can’t remember what name my mother called me. It gets tiring sometimes. There are days I could use an extra hand, but who offers to carry groceries for a guy in a superhero costume? Even if the guy qualifies for his old age security.”

The old man sat in the chair in my office and glowered at me. The blue spandex might have been a good choice when he was younger and in better shape, but now it showed off the softness of his old body. Not that he was soft, that gun was real enough, and his eyes held the same steel as the gun.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked and looked at the blank page where I would normally have reams of notes.

“I need a retirement home,” the old man said, “somewhere where the bad guys can’t find me and where everyone else will leave me alone.”

“I need a name, a social security number, an address,” I said, “I understand you wanting a rest, but I can’t place a nameless stranger in a home. You have to give me something.”

He pushed himself to his feet. The sound of joints popping and cracking made me wince. His fingers were swollen, super-arthritis? Was surgery even possible on him?

“Come with me,” he said, “see for yourself. Don’t get too close and don’t get in my way.” I followed him out of my office and watched him walk along the street. Nobody paid the slightest attention to him. A flock of pigeons flew over him and left their mark on his blue costume. His shoulders sagged a little as he kept walking, though I noticed his hand brush against that gun at his side. I don’t know if he walked slowly so I could keep up, but if so he over did it. Several times I had to stop to tie my shoe or look in a window to give him the space he needed.

We turned down a ramp into a parking garage. Shouts echoed through the empty space as men in black ninja costumes jumped out to surround him. None of them saw me as I ducked between two cars and pulled out my cell phone. No signal.

My debate as to whether I should go out on the street to call for help ended when the ninjas leaped to the attack. In the movies, they’d charge one by one and allow him to defeat one before the next moved in.. This wasn’t the movies. They moved as a coordinated team to pummel the old man.

Only he didn’t move like an old man now. One opponent moved a little too fast. The man in spandex grabbed him by the throat and tossed him at those attacking from the rear. The smack of a fist hitting flesh reached my hiding place, but the hero used the arm to pull the ninja off balance and drop him with a quick jab. He spun out of the attempted headlock by another opponent and threw that man on top of the first hard enough to bounce.

One by one then ninjas joined the pile of unconscious thugs until it was taller than the old man. The last one he dispatched with a jump kick I couldn’t imagine trying, though I was sure he had thirty years on me. As I came out of my hiding place the energy left him and he puffed like I did if I walked up a hill too fast. He waved at me and I waited for him to catch his breath.

“Why didn’t you use that?” I pointed at the gun at his side.

“Do you know… how much… ammunition costs?” he said between wheezes. “Nobody pays me for this.”  He walked to the back of the garage and pulled the cover off a classic muscle car. Well, it would have been a classic if it weren’t for the fifty caliber machine guns mounted on each door.

“You may as well get in.” He waved me over to the passenger side and climbed into his seat.

“Where are the seatbelts?”

“Never needed them.” He pushed a button and the engine roared to life. Tires squealed as smoke filled the garage, then he popped the brake and we took off. He weaved through the garage slowing only slightly to bump a reviving ninja back onto the pile with a rear fender. We erupted out of the garage and onto the street, where he had to slam on the brakes to fit into the bumper to bumper traffic.

“We’d be faster walking,” I said.

“Tell me about it,” the old man thumped the steering wheel and glared up at the flock of pigeons that left white gooey marks across the windshield. “Flying’s better, but everyone’s so uptight now I’m afraid they’d try to shoot me down. Got some nice pictures the first time they scrambled on me, but now it’s just a nuisance.”

He pulled off the road and sped away through an alley making one turn after another into spaces I was sure we’d never fit. Even with the extra width of the guns we didn’t leave a scratch on the wall.

“Here we are,” he said and whipped the car through an open loading door. The car rocked and creaked as the elevator lifted us up to the top floor.

We stopped and he climbed out of the car. I had to climb across the car to get out.

“Don’t hit any buttons,” he said.

The words rocket launcher peeked out from beneath my hand. I moved it away and made sure to watch what I did until I stood safe outside the car.

The penthouse was sparsely furnished, almost barren. I shivered, it might be a great hero’s lair, but I wouldn’t want to live here.

“Tea, coffee?” the old man said, “I’d offer you biscuits and jam, but jam jars are my one weakness.”

“How can a jam jar be your weakness?”

“Can’t open them,” he said, “never could.” He poured boiling water into a pot and swirled it. Then made tea.

“Was a time I didn’t mind it up here,” he said, “I needed a quiet place to get away from the rush; being a super hero is addictive. Then like any addiction it takes over and you lose yourself. Those guys with their secret identities had it right. You’ve got to step back and let it go once in a while.”

“So why not take off the mask and retire?” I watched him make tea in the window’s reflection.

“I’m not sure who’s under there any more.” He came over and handed me a cup. I sipped at it. I hate tea, but its bitterness seemed appropriate. He stared through the window at the city. From up here it looked quiet and peaceful.

“They’d find you anywhere I placed you,” I said, “Unless you take off the mask and become just another old man.”

He sipped his tea and I waited.  When I finished my tea, I left him there, still looking out the window. I saw him wave once before I closed the door behind me.

Missing: Lessons from Fiori Book 2

Elle Burton:Missing, the second book in the Elle Burton series by Peggy Mound McAloon picks the action from the first book. Elle and Jimmy, the reformed bully need to rescue Elle’s brother, all while keeping the Fiori a secret. With strong characterization and a plot line which is about much more than the rescue, this is a terrific book for children as it deals with common issues of childhood without interfering with a rollercoaster of a plot.  -Alex McGilvery of celticfrogreviews.

Missing Banner

Have you ever had to sacrifice something to bring back something or someone you love? Peggy McAloon is here today to talk about the second book in her Lessons from Fiori series, Missing. Elle’s brother has been kidnapped. Will she be able to save him?

About the Book

Kidnapping. Monsters. Magic.

Missing Cover for Kindle 12 1 15Elle’s desperate to find her kidnapped brother. She teams up with the winged warriors from the dimension of Fiori to save him, but JJ isn’t the only one in danger. What will Elle sacrifice to bring her brother home? Can she fulfill the ancient prophecy and restore the magic of the Bronze Pendant?

You will love this Coming of Age, action-packed fantasy for middle-grade readers. Elle Burton’s goal is to rescue her brother. What she discovers is pure evil. The author provides a female role model who strives to overcome her flaws and inspire kids everywhere.

“Missing” blends the magic of a fairytale with the contemporary realities of the world today’s youth inhabit. You will discover a new world order through the journey of a young girl who exhibits both compassion and jaw-dropping courage in her quest to fulfill an ancient prophecy. Find yourself caught in the ultimate struggle between good and evil. “Missing” is the second book in the “Lessons from Fiori” series.

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01E5Z668U Continue reading Missing: Lessons from Fiori Book 2

Gold

Sascha limped into the bar and took a table where she could sit with her back to a wall facing the door. A young girl came and deposited a mug of beer on the table. Sascha used a scrap of sleeve wetted with beer to clean the blood from her face. The girl appeared again and left a cleaner cloth. Shascha smiled thanks and went back to her ablutions. She drank what was left of the beer and settled in for a long wait.

A polished steel shield hung on the wall. From what she could see of the bartender in it he looked more troll than human. Sascha wondered what he thought of her. She knew even with her best efforts, blood caked in her eyebrows and hair, turning fiery-red dark. Fortunately none of the cuts and tears in her clothes were in places which could cause trouble.

Well after moonrise, Jacko slid into the seat across from her. The room had filled up and they were able to talk under the boisterous crowd.

“What happened to you?”

“A couple of bravos thought they needed my purse more than I did.”

Jacko winced, “Did you have to let them bleed all over you?”

“One thought he could hold me while his partner finished me. I had to cut his throat.” She shrugged. “It was messy.

“They must have been desperate.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“After all that you didn’t even check their purses?”

“Whatever else I might be I am not a thief.”

“You could have taken enough for some new clothes.”

Sascha stared at him until Jacko looked down.

“OK, OK, You’ll do anything for gold but steal it. I don’t get you, Sasch.”

“You don’t need to get me.” She leaned forward across the stained wood of the table. “Did you get the information I asked you about?”

“I did, the old man’s holed up in the old monastery outside the south wall.”

“Thanks” She dropped a handful of coins on the table. “Buy yourself a decent meal.”

Her stained and ragged clothing helped Sascha blend into the shadows well enough the guards didn’t notice her climb over the south wall. The moon shone bright enough to reveal handholds, but not so bright as to make her stand out. She reached the bottom and stretched out the cramps in her hands.

The place was more ruin than monastery. Walls and roofs now jumbles of stone. The only building still standing was the crypt for the monks who never left their retreat even in death. She pushed on the door and found it barred from the inside. She smiled, neither corpses or ghosts had any reason to bar the door. With the blade of her thinnest knife she lifted the bar and eased the door open.

The faint gleam of moonlight didn’t show anything but dust and bones. She entered the crypt and followed the faint scent of cheese. An old man waited for her.

“Robson sent you.”

“He wants the stone.”

“Ah,” the old man nodded. “Want some cheese?”

Sascha shrugged and took the chunk of cheese from his hand. She bit into it and almost cried at its sharp flavour against her tongue.

“There is water if you wish to clean up.” He tossed her a bundle of cloth. “My fellows won’t mind if you borrow a robe. The smell of death disturbs me.”

“You’re afraid of dying?” Sascha asked through the splashes of water on her face.

“No.”

“I was hoping you would be. ”

“So I would just give you the stone?”

“I don’t want to kill you.”

“But you will if you have to.”

“I will do what I need for Gold.”

The old man looked at her sadly.

“I don’t see greed in your eyes.”

“Nonetheless.”

He reached into his robe and puled out a tiny bundle wrapped in silk.

“Silk is the only substance that the stone won’t effect. Be careful.” He handed it to her.

Sascha allowed the silk to move from the stone and touched it against a bone that lay on the floor. It turned into pure yellow gold.

“Why?”

“You are at the very edge of darkness. I didn’t want to push you over.”

“Then you understand.”

“Goodbye Sascha, you’re almost free.”

“Without Gold, I will never be free.”

“Remember the silk.” The crypt went dark.

Sascha found herself outside the crypt. She shook her head and patted the small weight of the stone in her pocket.

######

Robson was waiting for her in the room he called his throne room.

“You have it?”

“Gold first.”

He snapped his fingers and one of the thugs beside him pulled a little girl from behind Robson; her hair the colour fine gold.

“Mommy!” the girl cried.

“Hi Gold.”

Robson took the little girl’s hand and kept her from running to her mother.

“The stone first.”

“This is the last time,” Sascha said holding up the tiny bundle.

“Sascha, Sascha, you can trust me. Let me see the stone, then we’ll talk.” He let go of Gold and the girl ran to her mother.

Sascha tossed the stone to Robson and swept up Gold in her arms. She used the bit of silk to wipe the tears from her daughter’s eyes.

Cindy’s Fella

This isn’t a short short, but it is a favourite of mine. I don’t remember the contest it was written for, but it wasn’t a twisted fairy tale. I have a number of fairy tales twisted in a variety of ways. Some dark enough to make people worry about me.


DSCF1539Cindy dug the shovel into the large pile of manure left behind by Cleopatra. The strong odour of the manure surrounded her and she breathed it in. Her sisters, step-sisters actually, could hardly stand to enter the barn, never mind help to clean it. Cindy loved the barn. It was her refuge from the annoyances of life in the manor house. She dumped the shovel load into the wheelbarrow and dug in for another load. It was truly astonishing how much one rather elderly cow could produce, both milk and manure. To Cindy’s mind they were of equal importance. The milk paid for the day to day expenses of the manor while the manure went to fertilize the garden patch that would feed them through the winter.

It took several trips to the garden to bring Cleopatra’s contribution to the garden and properly dig it in around the vegetables, especially the large pumpkin. She was hoping to enter it in the fair. Cindy could have made just the one trip, but her step-mother didn’t think it proper for her to sling the wheelbarrow around like a common farm hand. Besides it took longer this way.

Yet no matter how much she dawdled over the work, the work got done and she had to put away the tools and go back up to the house.

“Cindy,” Anatolia looked up from where she lounged on the couch. “When’s supper? I am famished.”

“I will start it immediately,” Cindy said.

“Cindy,” Zetta wrinkled her nose, “You stink, I will simply not eat anything you cook before you wash.”

“But I’ll die if I don’t eat soon.” Anatolia rubbed her generous stomach.

“I doubt that very much,” the girls’ mother said, “Cindy go wash. You must learn to be more careful. A lady doesn’t reek of the barn.”

Cindy guessed she wasn’t much of a lady then, since she usually reeked of the barn. She knew better than to say anything. Her step-mother wasn’t too lady-like to wield a rod to chastise Cindy. Not that Cindy liked stinking to high heaven, but she saw it as an inescapable result of her efforts to feed the family.

Her family, such as it was, was otherwise completely incapable of caring for themselves. Her father had been a successful and comfortable farmer. When he died, his second wife and her daughters discovered that it took a great deal of work to be successful farmers. Work that they were completely unwilling to put in. The farm was sold off piece meal until only the large ‘manor’ house and barn remained with just enough land to plant a garden.

She would have liked to have soaked properly, but the threat of Anatolia’s complaints drove her out the water. She dried off quickly and put her cooking dress on. It was an older mode with tighter sleeves unlikely to catch fire from the old stove.

Cindy didn’t like the kitchen as much as the barn. She didn’t mind cooking but there were constant interruptions.

“Is there something I can eat while I wait?” Anatolia asked as she shuffled through the narrow door. Another year and she wouldn’t fit.

“There are some peeled carrots on the table,” Cindy pounded on the tough meat to tenderize it enough to meet her step-mother’s exacting standards.

“I don’t want carrots,” Anatolia whined, “Don’t you have any sweets?”

“No,” Cindy said, “You know your mother has banned sweets.”

“And with good reason,” Zetta walked in a sniffed to check on Cindy’s level of cleanliness., “if you get any bigger you won’t fit your dresses and Mother doesn’t want to take them out again.”

Anatolia picked up a carrot and heaved a great sigh. She sidled back out of the kitchen.

“Make sure you cut all the fat off my meat,” Zetta said. “You missed some last night.” She followed her sister out of the kitchen.

Cindy had no idea what they did with themselves through the day. They never seemed to be very far apart. Her step-mother spent her days plotting how to restore the fallen fortunes of the farm without actually going so far as to do any work. Cindy was content with the way things were. She couldn’t manage a large farm by herself. Right now she was just able to keep the balance between being busy and being able to finish her work.

She supposed some people would be upset by the demands of her step-family. But Cindy would be doing all the work anyway. After changing her dress for dinner and eating with the others she did the dishes. The last thing she did every night was milk Cleopatra.

It was dim in the barn and the old cow mooed a welcome to Cindy. She set the stool beside the cow and set the bucket in place. Cindy marvelled that this last remaining cow continued to give milk in generous amounts. When the milking was done she put the milk in the cool urn, then spent some time brushing Cleopatra. Then put down fresh straw for the cow and fill the manger with hay and the trough with clean water.

Cindy took one last breath of the barn air redolent with smell of everything she loved, then closed up the doors and went off to bed.

***

She woke to the sound of the birds singing outside her window.

“Dratted birds,” she mumbled as she put on her barn clothes and went out to milk Cleopatra. She patted the old cow and went through the chores. After breakfast her step-mother sent her into town to buy a couple of things.

“I have work to do,” Cindy said.

“If I send Zetta, she will complain bitterly,” her step-mother said, “then come back with all the wrong things to punish me. Anatolia would just spend the money on sweets. Get on with you.” She put the few coins into Cindy’s hand. “You will take far too long with all your talking to people, but I know you will buy what I tell you.

So instead of working in the garden, Cindy put on her nice dress and walked into town. She didn’t mind much. She hadn’t seen her friends in a while.

“Morning, John,” she said to the dairyman, “Mother wants a cheese. You can deliver it to the house later.”

“Certainly, Cindy,” John said, “I’ll be going by that way later.”

She wandered through town picking up the few things on the list from the merchants. She greeted each one by name and they treated her well though she was only spending a few pennies. In the centre of town there was a crowd gathered by a poster. Those who could read were standing near the poster and announcing its contents to everyone else.

“Hey Cindy,” called one, “You going to the ball?”

“Do I look like I’m going to a ball?” Cindy said, “I doubt the Prince even knows I exists.”

“Says here that all eligible maids are to attend the ball.”

“Well then,” Cindy looked at herself, “I don’t look much like a maid.”

The crowd laughed and Cindy waved and headed off home.

The exchange unsettled her. She enjoyed the farming, but was it what she wanted for the rest of her life? She imagined herself married to one of Bill’s older brothers. They had a whole herd of milk cows and chickens too. She would be doing chores from dawn to dusk. She didn’t mind the work, but there would be nothing else. She thought of Bill’s mother’s eulogy last year was summed up in five words. “She was a hard worker.” Cindy found herself imagining what she would wear to the ball.

***

The prince stalked through the halls of the palace hoping that some servant would be foolish enough to get in his way; maybe that pert new servant girl from his mother’s wing of the palace. Imagining her heart-shaped face cowed with fear made him smile. He shook his head angrily. No smiles. The prince was a person to be feared today. No one feared someone prancing about with a silly grin on their face.

Reluctantly he pushed the thought of the girl out of his head and reflected on the recent conversation with his father, the King.

“So Father,” the prince had said, “Now that I’m twenty-one, are you going to make me your heir?”

“Humph,” The King glowered at him and tapped his fingers on the arms of his chair. “You’re too wild right now. You need to settle down and start producing heirs.”

“You make me sound like some bull at one of those tiresome fairs.”

The King looked the prince over and grunted, his fingers struck the wood like hammers..

“Those bulls have value,” he said finally, “all you do is cause trouble. I wanted to find you a nice princess, but you’ve scared them all away with your antics. So you will have to find someone from around here.”

“The only women around her are farmers and servants!”

“You don’t seem to find servants unattractive,” the King said, “In fact your constant attraction to them is costing the kingdom a fortune. At least a farmer would be able to explain the finer points of a prize bull.”

The prince swelled up to unleash his rage, but his father raised his hand.

“If you won’t choose a wife, then I will choose one for you. Be sure that I will have the future needs of the kingdom in mind.” The prince imagined the bride his father would select for him, some sturdy woman with a strong constitution and no grace. He shuddered.

“I am throwing a ball,” The King put his hand down and ran his hand across the arm of his chair. “for all the maids in the kingdom. You will choose one to be your wife. When your heir is apparent, I will consider making you my formal heir.”

The prince left the room very carefully not slamming the door. The King was not someone to be trifled with. As soon as he rounded the corner out of King’s quarters he let his boots slam into the stone floor and twisted his face into a scowl. He was no prize bull to be set out to stud! Though to be honest, he had…collected quite a herd. He leaned against the wall and went through their faces in his mind.

*****

Cindy made it back home and took the small bag of purchases into the house. She discovered her step-mother running her hands over two bolts of fine cloth.

“What did you sell this time?” Cindy asked. “I know we didn’t have the money for that.”

“Don’t be impertinent,” her step-mother’s eyes took on the glare which preceded a beating., “Someone must look out for the welfare of this family.”

Cindy went looking through the house trying to think of what was missing that would have paid for that cloth.

“Well, at least she won’t always smell of the barn.” She heard Zetta say.

“But I’ll miss the fresh cream,” Anatolia said.

“Cleopatra!” Cindy ran out to the barn. Sure enough, the old cow’s stall was empty. She stormed back into the house and interrupted her step-mother measuring the cloth against her step-sisters.

“How could you?” Cindy said, “Cleopatra’s milk was the only thing keeping us from starving.”

“With a daughter married to the prince, I won’t have to worry about starving.”

“Every girl in the kingdom will be at that ball!”

“Which is why I had to buy the fabric; I need to give my daughters an edge.”

“You could at least have bought colours that would suit them,” Cindy said and ran up to her room.

She refused to come out to cook or clean. Her step-mother gave up on her and even went as far as to wedge the door closed with a chair. Anatolia came and begged her to cook. Zetta came to sneer and complain. Cindy ignored them all. She pulled out an old dress of her mother’s that had hung in the back of her closet for as long as she could remember. It used to smell of her mother, now it just smelled musty.

Cindy aired the dress out and tried it on. It was loose in some places and tight in others, yet fit surprisingly well. She spent some time altering it as best she could while she tried not to hear the steady tramp of feet in and out of the house. They would never be able to pay for all this fuss. Her step-mother was going to put them out on the street. There wasn’t much left to sell.

The day of the ball came and Cindy carefully rolled the dress up and fit it into a pillow case. She held the case as she climbed down the trellis outside her window. The only place she could think to change was the barn. She put on the dress and tried her best to tidy herself.

“Well it’s good to see that you can make yourself presentable,” her step-mother said as she walked into the barn, “but there’s no need for you to go to the ball. You have a fiancé already.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Farmer Jones needs a new wife. He’s had his eye on this farm for a while. Since you like farming so much, it is a perfect match. He doesn’t care about this ball since he only has sons.”

“Farmer Jones is old enough to be my father! I won’t marry him.”

“You may not like me, but I am your mother and you will do what I say.”

“I won’t,” Cindy tried to run past her step-mother, but the older woman was faster and stronger than the she expected. She caught Cindy’s arm in an iron grip and pulled her close.

“You will do what I say, girl, or some sad accident will befall you. I did it before; I can do it again.” She pushed Cindy back into the barn and slammed the door closed. The bar outside dropped with a bang. All the other doors would be barred too and there was no trellis to climb down.

She felt like she was going to burst. She kicked and pounded on the door, but though it was old it was still all too solid. The sound of horses pulling a carriage came through the door and she collapsed into tears. This really was it. There was no escape from her future life as Bill’s step-mother. She was younger than he was! If it had been someone else it might have been funny.

The barn was very silent without Cleopatra in it. Cindy sighed and leaned against the door. It was going to be a long night.

She wasn’t sure how long she had sat, huddled against the door before she noticed a strange light coming from Cleopatra’s stall. Cindy got up to investigate. She walked to the stall and peeked around the door. Busily cleaning the stall with a tiny broom was a women who didn’t stand as tall as Cindy’s waist.

“Well come in, dear,” the woman said. “It isn’t polite to stare.”

Cindy reluctantly walked into the stall. Somehow as she entered it, the cramped space grew larger and she found herself eyeball to eyeball with the strange woman.

“Don’t fret about it,” the woman said, “It will just give you wrinkles.” She waved her hand and a ball of light floated up above them. “Now, let me get a good look at you.” She made spinning motions with her hand and Cindy slowly turned around.

“I know that dress has sentimental value, but it just won’t do.” She waved her hand again and the sudden weight of a beautiful gown draped from Cindy’s shoulders. She struggled to breathe.

“Small breaths, dear, a corset takes some getting used to, but you’ll be fine.”

She made the spinning motion with her hand again and Cindy turned again.

“Better, better.” She waved her hand and Cindy’s hair crawled and tugged until she thought it would pull right out.

Finally it stopped and she lifted her hand to feel.

“Ah, ah,” the woman said, “don’t fuss.” She led the way out into the barnyard. The moon was just rising and gave the place a magical glow. The woman walked over to the garden and peered at the pumpkin.

“This will do fine.”

“But that’s going to be my prize pumpkin.”

“Listen, Cindy, I promised your mother to look after you, not to rescue you from your own stupidity. You can either go to the ball and marry the prince; or you can stay here, grow prize pumpkins and marry Farmer Jones.”

Cindy shuddered and turned away from the garden. The woman waved her hand and the pumpkin exploded into a fine coach. Two unwary rabbits became horses to draw the coach, another became a driver.

“Here are the rules, child,” the woman was taller than Cindy now, “You have until midnight to capture the prince; no later, not one second after midnight. At the fading of the last stroke of midnight the spell will end. Don’t worry about leaving early; I’ve given you a little advantage. The poor boy won’t be able to resist you. Just leave before the last stroke of midnight and you become the next princess. Stay any later and I won’t be responsible for what happens.” She smiled brightly. “But I know you will follow the rules. Now get your pretty glass slippers into the carriage and go.”

Cindy climbed into the pumpkin carriage and the rabbit horses dashed away. She pulled up to the palace much sooner than she expected. More magic probably. She wondered briefly about how her mother might have met such a strange person, but she didn’t have time to dwell on it. The guards helped her out of the carriage and sent it off.

“I’m supposed to leave at midnight,” she said.

“That’s your driver’s problem,” the guard said and pointed into the palace.

Cindy walked through the hallways in a daze. Torches lit the way and highlight gold framed portraits and marble sculptures. Her glass slippers clinked faintly on the stone. What would it be like to live here? She finally arrived at the doors to the ballroom. Bill stood by the door pulling at the neck of his uniform. His eyes widened when he saw Cindy.

“You look good.”

“And that’s a surprise?”

“No I mean you always look nice, but now you look like a princess.”

“All the better to catch a prince.”

“I’m not sure he’s that much of a catch,” Bill whispered. “Most of the girls here are terrified of him.”

“So what are you doing here?”

“My father is getting married again, probably to some widow who will do nothing but complain about how the place is run. My brothers are farmers, but I want something different. This is the first step.”

“So some glowing lady came and offered you the chance to change your life?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing, never mind.” Cindy took a deep breath. “You’d better open those doors and let me in. By the way, I’m supposed to leave at midnight. Let me know when it gets close.”

“Sure thing, Cindy.” Bill threw the doors open and Cindy walked into the ballroom.

The room looked like something out of a fairy tale. The walls were draped with fine cloth, a long table groaned beneath the weight of more food than Cindy’s farm grew in a year. Musicians on a balcony played a sprightly tune. Though the floor had been polished to a mirror-like shine, the glass slippers gripped it comfortably. In this setting magic was easy to believe in.

Then she noticed the reek of desperation. The huge room was filled with young women who wore grim faces and glared at each other, while they shot fear filled glances at the prince. He was dressed in white and was surrounded by other men in shades of grey and black. They danced with young women while the prince lounged on the throne that had been set at the far end. He was making no attempt to hide his boredom and contempt.

It was shocking how ugly a beautiful room could be made by the presence of the wrong person. The women who should have been laughing and enjoying themselves were dressed more by their fear or avarice than their fine clothes. The men wore their lust like finery. She shuddered. Cindy was almost ready to turn around and take her chances with Farmer Jones, when her eyes met those of the prince.

***

The prince was inescapably bored. The women hovered around him. They giggled nervously or tried to act like they weren’t just farmer’s daughters overdressed for the night. There were two girls who wore hideous dresses, one was stuffing her face at the buffet while the other scowled at everyone who approached her. Another girl curtsied in front of him and he twirled his fingers, she stared at him.

“Turn around,” he said, and rolled his eyes. She gulped and attempted a pirouette slipping and falling to her knees then ran off weeping. The door at the far end opened to let in some cow who couldn’t tell time. He glanced up to see what new torture was to be visited upon him and his eyes met hers.

If you had put a sword to his throat he couldn’t have told you the colour of her dress, but her eyes were the incredible blue of those flowers his horse ate on the side of the rode. He would never let his horse eat them again.

Without thinking about it he got up from his seat and went to greet this vision of loveliness.

Somehow his greeting turned into the first steps of a dance. The orchestra sat up straight and started playing the music for his dance. There was a collective sigh and the other girls started eyeing up his attendants in grey for possible dancing ability. Whatever dance he began she followed, she laughed at his jokes and not just a nervous titter either. He filled her plate with food and her cup with wine. As the evening progressed he paid less and less attention to the other people who inhabited the room.

One of his guards started making odd gestures at them. He glared at the man, someone who had just joined up that day, he’d have him flogged and cast out, but only after he had finished with this most enchanting woman. He led her out to the patio where they were out of view of the crowd.

The music was quieter here, but he was content to just hum along. No conversation was necessary with those extraordinary eyes on his. He heard the clock begin to strike midnight, time to end this farce of a ball. He would marry this woman and they would rule the kingdom as soon as the old man had the decency to die.

For some reason she was trying to pull away from him, but he was used to dealing with reluctant women and he just tightened his grip. The last stroke of midnight was fading when she shrugged and blinked.

****

The whole evening had been very strange, as if riding to a ball in an oversized pumpkin wasn’t strange enough. From the moment their eyes met the prince hadn’t left her side. Cindy had watched as desperation faded to resignation and the other girls started looking for matches not quite as lofty as a prince.

He insisted on feeding her and plying her with wine. It was probably the wine that made her forget about the time. She was feeling quite tipsy by the time he pulled out onto the patio. At least there was a pleasant breeze blowing out here. The prince was humming along to the music with a fatuous grin on his face.

The clock was striking twelve. She had to leave.

Unfortunately the prince was considerably stronger than her, and very determined that she not leave. As the clock hit the final stroke she gave up and shrugged. He would have to see what he was getting sooner or later.

The dress faded away as the sound of the clock vanished. She felt her hair tumble down to its usual tangle about her shoulders.

“What is that smell?” the prince asked.

“That would be the barn,” Cindy said, “I was locked in it before all this started.”

“Oh great,” said the prince, “I suppose it would have been too much trouble to take a bath?”

“My step-mother locked me in the barn.”

“Of course she did,” the prince rolled his eyes. “Well at least let me get a decent look at you. Turn around.” He waved his hand at her.

“You’ve been doing nothing but stare at me all night.”

“But now I want to look at you.”

Just her and the prince out here. The pleasant breeze of a moment ago turned chill and raised goosebumps on her arms. She crossed her arms to warm herself.

“Blast you stupid cow!” the prince shouted, “I will see what you have.” He grabbed her dress and wrenched at it. Cindy heard the fabric of her mother’s dress tear and the chill wind blew across her breasts. He grabbed at her and twisted her flesh.

Cindy didn’t know whether to curse herself or her mother’s friend. She settled on kneeing the prince between the legs. He stopped fumbling with his pants and went a little cross-eyed.

“Guards!” he screamed. “Guards, arrest this woman!” His fists clenched and he looked like he wasn’t going to wait for the guards before doing more damage. Cindy sighed and gave him a proper kick. His eyes rolled up into his head and he fell to the ground. She gathered the remnants of her dress about her and looked for an escape.

Too late. A guard approached her and stepped into the light surrounding her and the prince.

“I tried to warn you about the time,” Bill said, “If I’d known what a dastard he was I would have dragged you off myself.”

“So now I guess you have to arrest me.” Cindy held her hands in front of her. The wind caressed her skin. Bill’s eyes widened and he whipped off his vest and wrapped it around her.

“Come with me,” he said his voice breaking. He put his arm around her and pulled her into the darkness as other guards came running past. None of them paid them any attention.

“Did you think the night would end like this?” Cindy said, “You throwing me into the dungeons?”

“Don’t know where the dungeons are,” Bill said as a familiar smell filled her nose. “I rode Blackie here when I came to work. I expect he’ll be glad to carry me away again.” He held her gently by the shoulders. “I’m no prince. I’m just the youngest son of an old farmer.”

“Youngest sons are supposed to be lucky.” Cindy put her finger on his lips. “And right now I’ve had my fill of princes.” She helped him get Blackie out of his stall. Bill lifted her up, then jumped up behind her. Cindy could hear shouts approaching.

“I think it’s time to go.”

Bill kicked Blackie into a gallop and they rode out the gates. Cindy laughed and kicked the slippers off her feet.

The tinkling sound of breaking glass followed them as they rode away into the night.

Holy Bolts

I can’t remember the nature of this contest, but it must have been a strange one. The combination of Religion and Engineering will produce interesting offspring.


Engineer Third Class Jones looked at the access panel and said a few words that would have earned him penance from the Most Reverend Captain, assuming that said Most Reverend Captain could fit his fat behind through the engineering hatch. Jones gave himself a penance for the disrespectful thinking and looked at the panel again.

No matter how many Notre Maters he said, the bolts were still .675 Specials. As an Engineer Third Class, Jones didn′t have access to the Specials. He looked through his tool pouch anyway in case the Lord Mother had seen fit to put one in his kit. No such luck. Jones wasn′t nearly pious enough to rate the attention of the Lord Mother herself. He glared at the panel and wished it to a bright and fiery place. Since it was only a inanimate panel he didn′t feel guilty about his thoughts. Much

Time was wasting and Deacon Engineer First Class Apollos was expecting him to check the filters on the waste scrubbers before shift end. Those filters stubbornly remained on the other side of the panel. If they weren′t going to come to him; he would have to get to them.

Jones when through his kit again, still no .675 Special, but there was a possibility. It was almost blasphemous, but didn′t Deacon Engineer always say that the Lord Mother helps those who help themselves?

He pulled out the .675 Normal and fit it over the bolt. His needle nosed pliers, opened as far as they would go and one point just fit in the hole in the centre of the bolt.

″If you′re going to strike me dead, Lord Mother″ he said, ″Make a quick job of it. I don′t want to have to listen to Deacon Engineer′s lecture before I die. That and hell would be just too much.″

He twisted the bolt one way while he turned the pliers the other. It always looked so slick when Deacon Engineer used his Special with the gears that formed the words of the Notre Mater so he knew when to stop. Jones just muttered under his breath and guessed. The bolt loosened as easily as a Normal and soon dropped on the floor.

He picked up the bolt and examined it curiously. Other than the hole in the centre there was nothing special about it. He tried the next bolt with just his Normal. The shock ran up his arm and left him lying on the floor twitching. By all Maxwell′s little demons that hurt!

He put the pliers in the hole and once again removed the bolt easily. He didn′t play with the other bolts but quickly took them out and lifted the panel free. He carefully set it to the side and laid the bolts in order beside it. First off, last on; that was first catechism, he followed it religiously.

The light on the other side of the access panel glowed dim and red. He double checked his flash as he put his tools back in his kit. He would only use it in an emergency. It was scripture that things were the way they were for a reason. Introducing a white light into this hellish red glow might have catastrophic consequences. Jones ran through the fourth catechism and decided that he was still safe, but he

wouldn′t waste anytime exploring this new territory.

Jones followed Deacon Engineer′s instructions carefully. Forward six lengths then left two. Pause for two Notre Maters, then forward again to a panel which all glory to the Lord Mother had Normal bolts. He had this panel off in seconds and peered at the filter covers. They were held on by .675 Specials.  The filter cover was directly over a grate on the floor. He cursed a bit, then said his penance. He said a bit extra for later; he was sure he was going to use them up. The first bolt wasn′t too bad or the second. For the third bolt he had to lie on the floor and somehow fit both arms through the small access hatch. The last bolt was impossible. He just couldn′t reach it with both hands. Somehow he would have to hold the pliers and wrench in the same hand and twist them in opposite directions. He lay on his back and looked at the situation. He practised the necessary motion. He might be able to do this.

″Once again, Dear Lord Mother,″ he breathed, ″Instantaneous death is much preferable.″

He was astonished when everything went well; until the bolt almost fell through the grate. Unfortunately in his wildly fortunate catch of the bolt he dropped his pliers. They bounced on the grate  then slipped through the spaces. He heard them clattering down into the Engineering level below him.

He spent several minutes running up his need for penance. He should have known. It was the sixth catechism.. He was a fool, a charlatan. He didn′t have the faith or the knowledge for this job.

Jones calmed himself down enough to pull the panel off and checked the filter. It looked like it needed cleaning. He pried it out and prayerfully fit in the replacement.

System flush of replacement filter in three minutes.

Jones moaned. This was beyond cursing. He had to get that panel back on. Without a Special, without his pliers. He picked up a bolt and looked at it more closely. He fit his wrench on it and gave it a tentative turn. The shock was milder, but it still made him swear. But he learned something. The head of the bolt moved; not much, but enough. He fit his Normal wrench over the bolt, then pushed down with his thumb and turned. No shock.


″Great glorious Lord Mother!″ he shouted. ″I can do this!″

He fit the panel in place and hand tightened the first bolt carefully keeping pressure on the head of the bolt. The other three went on just as easily.

System flush of replacement filter in one minute.


The .675 Normal went over the first bolt with his thumb pushing firmly down. He said a Hail Joseph as he tightened it down. Second one.


System flush of replacement filter in thirty seconds.

Third bolt, then last one. He slapped the access panel on and had the bolts on and tightened in seconds

Stand by for system flush.

A gale rushed by on the other side of the panel, but he didn′t hear any bolts coming loose. He followed the path back to the first access. The white light looked garishly bright. He quickly fit the panel in place and started the bolts.


″It might be easier with this.″  Jones jumped and almost cursed as Deacon Engineer passed him a .675 Special. ″And Engineer Second Class Jones.″ Jones was sure he saw a smile. ″You will need them to recover those pliers you dropped.

The Midnight Clock

“Wake up Maddie, we’re making relish today.”

Maddie groaned and glared at her stepmother. She dragged herself out of bed to begin a long day of chopping, grinding, and stirring, then pouring the mixtures into hot jars. How much relish do we need?  Maddie pushed her long, damp hair out of her face.

Before the relish had been pickles; before that had been jams. Since my father vanished, I’ve become a slave to the mad queen of preserves.

“I think we are done for the day,” her stepmother said, “I would like….” but Maddie had grabbed her cloak; one of the the last things she had of her mother and run from the house before her stepmother could ask yet more work of her.

The sun was out, but the air was cool enough to make her glad of the cloak. She wandered down to the market. She had no money, but liked the busy atmosphere. Then there were the young men standing around as well. She’d got to know them a little. Jonas, a muscular blond, was the obvious leader. He smiled and flattered her. He even bought her a treat when her stomach growled. Over the last few weeks whenever she could escape she had run to the market and to walk with Jonas and the others, wishing she had her own money to spend..

If Mom were alive, if Father hadn’t married a stranger, then left; if life was fair… But life wasn’t fair, She understood that now; life was sharing home and anger with her stepmother, but no understanding

Maddie decided to go to the Midnight Clock with her aching heart. She would wish for Jonas to carry her away from her miserable life. She lit the match with the first strike. The warm glow of her lamp showed the clock peeking through the vines on the wall. It was one minute to midnight on the full moon – magic time. The minute hand moved and she touched the face of the clock to make her wish. But all the carefully prepared words deserted her, leaving an inchoate longing in their place. The hand moved again. It was done. She climbed down the ladder and walked home.

The next day she went to the market and laughed and talked with Jonas. Something was different, she thought, he was paying much more attention to her. She flirted with him, laughing and teasing. They would fall in love, get married and live in a house with no jars to fill. At noon they walked over to the food side of the market to buy a snack. Maddie’s stepmother was there in a tiny booth with jars lining the walls.

“No,” Maddie whispered, “You’re selling them? All that work just so you could make money?”

“Maddie, wait,” her stepmother called, but Maddie had already fled, running through the streets until she was completely lost.

Evening came and the streets had emptied. Tired and hungry, Maddie tried to find her way home. Jonas and his friends leaned against a wall. He’ll save me. Jonas smiled at her and her heart thumped. Not until he pulled her into an alley did she recognize it as fear. The other boys followed licking their lips.

“Just a poor market brat,” Jonas sneered. “There’s only one thing you’re good for. If you behave I may even pay you for it.”

Maddie twisted and pulled, but the heavy cloth of her cloak had become a trap. He pushed her against the wall and fumbled at her dress. In rage and panic Maddie stomped on the top of his foot. Jonas yelled and let go of her to strike her. Maddie stepped close and kneed him. His yell became a gurgle as he fell to the ground.

She glared at the others until they hung their heads and melted into the shadows. Maddie walked out of the alley. She knew  where she was now. Time to visit her mother. The almost full moon lit the graveyard, but Maddie borrowed a small lantern to read the letter that was the only other thing her mother had given her. She read it through as she had so many times – her mother’s promise that all would be well, that her mother would always look after her, that she would always love Maddie.

“You lied to me,” Maddie cried as the clock struck twelve, “There is no love, no hope.”

“She didn’t lie, Maddie.” Her stepmother walked across the grass to kneel beside Maddie.

Maddie turned to look at her stepmother ready to scream her anger, but tears flowed down the woman’s face.

“But promises are like wishes, they change shape as we hold them.” Her step-mother sighed and put her arm around Maddie. “I thought I would find you here.”

“What do you know about it?”

“I married your father so I would have someone to take care of me. Instead I’m alone trying to be a mother to a girl who hates me.”

“I’m scared,”  Maddie admitted as much to herself as her step-mother.

“So am I.”

“What do we do now?”

“I don’t know. We will have to find out together,” her stepmother handed her some coins. “Your share of the sales today.”

“People liked our relish?”

Her stepmother smiled, “It was the best seller.”

Maddie handed the coins back to her stepmother, “Maybe you could hold on to these for me.” She picked up her mother’s letter. “I’ll help you at the booth tomorrow.”

“Let’s go home.” They stood, and Maddie touched her mother’s tombstone.

“She isn’t you,” Maddie said to her mother. “But I think she will be a good friend.”

Vision of the Griffin’s Heart Blog Tour

7bcfc1_8e02b2c450564fbe8c6d2d2c3e279e68JUST RELEASED! Vision of the Griffin’s Heart, Andy Smithson, Book 5

Four years ago, Andy Smithson discovered he is the Chosen one to break a 500-yr-old curse plaguing the land of Oomaldee when he unexpectedly and mysteriously found himself there. To do so, he must collect ingredients for a magical potion. Thus far he has gathered the scale of a red dragon, venom from a giant serpent, a unicorn’s horn, and the tail feather of a phoenix. Now he must ask a griffin for one of its talons. There’s just one problem…humans have poached griffin treasure, causing these mythical creatures to attack on sight. Complicating matters, the evil Abaddon, sovereign of Oomaldee’s northern neighbor, is turning more and more citizens into zolt in his ongoing campaign of terror as he sets in motion the final steps of his plan to conquer the land. Things really start to heat up in book five! If you loved Harry Potter, you’ll love the Andy Smithson series chalk full of mythical creatures, newly invented animals like zolt, herewolves, and therewolves, a complex plot with evolving characters, and positive themes including responsibility, diligence, dignity, friendship and more

 

 

7bcfc1_8a24bc7f0b474b758ec4a0ea0e375d1a (1)L. R. W. Lee credits her love of fantasy with her introduction to C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Later on, she enjoyed the complex world of Middle Earth brought to life by J. R. R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The multiple dimensions of the worlds mixed with a layer of meaning, captivated her and made her desire to invent Young Adult Fantasy and Epic Fantasy worlds others could get lost in, but also take meaning away from. More recently, L. R. W. Lee has found inspiration from J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series as well as Brandon Mull and his best selling Fablehaven, Beyonders and Five Kingdoms series. L. R. W. Lee writes to teach her readers principles that can transform their lives – overcoming frustration, impatience, fear and more. She also shows why responsibility, diligence and dignity are the keys to true success in life. She lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband. Their daughter is a Computer Engineer for Microsoft and their son serves in the Air Force.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Email

 

7bcfc1_9b703397b828493f95af0b1e9326dfdf

L.R.W. LEE INTERVIEW

1. How did you come up with your main character, Andy Smithson? Did he just pop into your imagination or did you specifically develop him? Andy is patterned after my son. After our first child who was what I would call compliant and seemed to need little to no correction, our son arrived on the scene. As with most 2nd children, he was polar opposite and provided much fodder for an engaging main character.

2. How did your experience with building a business help with your writing? It has been invaluable for I understand that writing is only 50% of the writer’s success equation. Unlike Field of Dreams, with so many good books available today, just launching it, even on a well trafficked platform like Amazon, does not get recognition. Because of my corporate background, from day one I began working to build a platform – Twitter and Facebook primarily and now also Book Nerd Paradise. As well, I understand the importance of the author community, for no author can succeed these days without the support of fellow authors. My background has also helped in understanding the need to optimize my books to rank well on the variety of sites they are listed on. There’s much more, but those are the biggest helps I would say.

3. Was there any particular book or author whom you feel had the most influence on your work? I have to say JK Rowling. The imagination she revealed, the strength of her characters, the world building, the depth of plot over multiple books…she definitely shaped how I think about writing.

4. What do you love the most about writing for young people? Young people are moldable. My passion for writing is to share with readers principles that from my experience can help them live more peaceful lives. A few of these principles include overcoming fear, frustration and impatience as well as understanding that true success in life is not from riches, fame or power, but rather responsibility, diligence and dignity. If they can finish any of my books closer to understanding these principles, I feel very fulfilled.

5. Which part of the creative process is your favorite? Least favorite? Designing the story arc is my favorite part of the creative process for you can take a story anywhere your imagination can go. My least favorite part is editing/revising. Even though I know the narrative gets much stronger as a result, it’s still my least favorite part.

6. How long does it usually take you to write one of your stories from when you get the idea to when it’s finished? Usually about 6 months.

7. I know that most authors love all their characters but which of your many “children” is your favorite (besides Andy) and why? I have to say Mermin, the kindly old wizard who speaks with a lisp. I love him most after Andy because he’s so warm, humble and approachable. He’s fallible and he knows it, which is why he doesn’t apologize for his mistakes, rather he is comfortable in his own skin.

8. Do you ever plan to branch out into other genres besides middle grade/young adult fantasy? Funny you should ask. Yes, I’m actually noodling with a story arc of a YA Sci Fi story.

9. How do you feel your writing has evolved since your first novel? I can see how much I’ve changed and improved in showing rather than telling my readers what’s happening. I want them to engage and to show – providing sight, sounds, touch, smell, and taste cues is a big part of that. I was particularly thrilled when my editor came back a full week sooner than expected with this current book because I had improved so much between book three and four. My pocketbook also appreciated that.

 

 

The Heron Master and other stories is live!

I’ve released my sixth book, The Heronmaster and other stories with an amazing cover by Wil Oberdier. Check out samples of a couple of the stories on the page link above. If you sign up for my Newsletter, the first twenty people will get a free ebook of the Heronmaster in the format of their choice. The Newsletter will contain a story, a book review and some writing tips and some other goodies. All of this will be exclusive first release to the members of my newsletter list. Sign up by clicking the Newsletter link above.