Long absence and news


I’ve been away from my blog for a while. I’ve been trying to finish up a novel, and I’m happy to say, I managed it.

This past weekend, on Father’s Day, actually, my new novel went live on Amazon. It’s a gaming-inspired book, in a category called GameLit.

GameLit books, if you don’t know, are books that are inspired by, or take place in, games, especially video games. For some more information on GameLit and it’s cousin genre, LitRPG, here’s a link to a pretty well-known GameLit author’s explanation: What is GameLit?

Here’s the blurb for my book:

Esotera is the fastest-selling, most talked-about RPG in history, and it’s a full-immersion experience. But all is not as it seems. 

Follow Eve Lancaster as she discovers a world beneath the game. A world full of deception and greed. A world that threatens her life, as well as the lives of countless others. 

What is the truth about Esotera? Will Eve survive? How will she cope with betrayal and mistrust?

Enter Esotera, if you dare, to discover the truth for yourself.

If you’d like to buy the book, or read it with Kindle Unlimited, here is the link:

Esotera: Little Piece of Haven

Let me know how you like it, if you do read it. I always love to hear comments on my work.

Escape from Paradise

501 to 1000 words

“What are you doing out here, Luke?”

I didn’t even turn away from the glass wall to acknowledge Jeph. I knew he’d keep walking. He never turned down an opportunity to find interest in anything I did. So I waited.

When Jeph stepped up beside me, I pointed below, to movement only barely discernible in the failing light.

“See that?” I asked quietly. I waited for his nod, then I went on, “There’s been activity in the dead sector for about an hour, now.”

Jeph’s head whipped around. “And you haven’t reported it?”

“Nope. Not going to, either,” I said. I turned my back to the wall and leaned hard against the cool glass pane. “It’s the dead sector. Whoever is down there won’t last long. No sense in wasting Control’s time on it.”

“If Control finds out you’ve been neglecting your duty…,” Jeph trailed off. His Adam’s apple bobbed. He was nervous, now that I’d made him an accessory.

I shrugged. There wasn’t anything Control could really do about the dead sector. It was ground-side, governed by whatever was left of the old guard, the ones who refused to move up when the world was going to hell.

I looked around. Pristine white and glass met my eyes. People walked the corridors, going to work, or classes, or dining-halls, while tiny robot cleaners swept and scrubbed away bits of imagined residue. This far from the core, there was no dirt.

The vertical light panel across the corridor flashed twice, in blue, calling all blue-sector civilians to work. A steady yellow stripe on the panel told all yellow-sector workers it was time for a sleep-cycle.

“That’s the blues.” Jeph was an expert at stating the obvious. “We can come back and check on that,” he waved his hand toward the dead zone below, “when the greens are called up.”

I shook my head. “You go on. I know you’ve got orders in the arboretum today. Should be fun for you. There’s two shifts scheduled for today. Planting day.”

Jeph shuddered dramatically. He hated working security in the arboretum on planting day. But then again, so did most of the security forces. He waved at me when he got to the first turning of the corridor. I waved back.

With Jeph gone, I turned back to the glass wall. I stared down at the dead sector, watching for more movement. When it came, it came with a signal.

Lights flashed in the last of the daylight, looking for all the world like the last reflections of the sun on the mangled steel and glass detritus. I watched through the message, twice, before turning to leave.

Across the pristine corridor, green lights flashed in tandem with blue, calling both sectors to work at the arboretum. I grinned and clicked my comms open, calling Control.

“Control, this is Luke, yellow sector-chief. I’ve heard some mumblings about a riot planned for planting. Recommend shutting down the arboretum once all those working are in place. I’ll patrol yellow sector to keep the peace during the planting.”

I got acknowledgment from Control, then shut off my comms and my locator. I had five minutes to get to the old hangars. From there, it was simple enough to steal the ship I’d been secretly working on for six months, then escape the rigid, pristine world of Paradise-on-High.

Depression cycle: Day 1


I’m bipolar. I’m also a creator. I write. I paint. I knit. I digitally sculpt.

Unless it’s the first day of my depression cycle.

I knew it was coming, even as I wrote my flash piece yesterday. I could feel it tickle at the back of my mind, probing for the weak spot where it could ram its way through and fully take over my thoughts and my feelings. Because that’s how it works for me. A little negative thought here, some nit-picking there, and then all of a sudden, nothing’s right anymore.

The first day is the hardest. Always. Even though I know it’s coming, it’s still almost a shock. I never prepare for it. My mind is always a day behind on building those mental defenses. If I can manage the first day without hurting myself or anything (never anyone) then I’m able to handle the rest of the cycle, no matter how long it is. I can still create. I can still put my vision and my feelings out into the world in one way or another.

But that first day…

My mind tells me I’m not good enough. I’ll never be good enough. I haven’t contributed to the world on any significant level since my birth. I’m not special, never was and never will be.

I compare myself to my brothers, both of whom are special. Or were. They were both in special clubs, organizations, classes, and, in the case of my younger brother, a school just for those gifted in science and math. What’s even better than that is they were both sought out to be in those places. I never was. I am proud of my brothers, but I’ll never be them.

Everything I touch, on the first day of my depression cycle, is terrible. I’m terrible. Worthless. Useless. It’s a horrid place to be.

But then, when the mental shields and walls start falling into place, allowing me some distance from the nagging, negative voice, I remember.

I remember that I have raised two children to adulthood. They’re both living and working on their own.

I remember that I have a husband who adores me, despite myself.

I remember that I have friends who support me, who love me, who lift me up when I need them the most.

I remember that I have published two novels, a short story, and a collection of micro-fiction. It’s self-published, but so are some amazing, well-known authors. It doesn’t pay the bills, but it lets me continue with my creating.

I remember that I’m on a list of fantasy and sci-fi women creators on Twitter. Sure, I asked to be on it. (Because how can I expect people to know me when I don’t promote myself?) But I’m there. (It made my husband’s day when he found out.)

I remember that I have paintings in several parts of the world. Not to mention, I’m on the walls of my kids and their friends, and that is definitely something.

I remember that I’m still trying. I’m still breathing. I’m still moving forward.

I’m bipolar, but I’m also a creator and I will continue to create. Just not on that first day.

All in the Family

501 to 1000 words

“So, it’s a baby you want?”

The orphanage matron was plump in her tent-like dirty brown uniform, her hair was disheveled, with flyaway gray strands, and a hardness in her eyes. The woman she spoke to was her opposite; slim but muscular in a form-fitting black suit, her auburn hair a perfectly coiffed chignon, and laughing green eyes.

“I do not, actually. I’m looking for a child who needs discipline, and love. One who has had the hardest time adjusting to her time here. A troublemaker, if you will,” the woman replied to the matron’s question.

The orphanage director’s eyes narrowed. She considered her question carefully, then asked, “Why would you want a troubled child? Is it your intention to hurt someone?”

The woman in black laughed, the sound musical and light. She reassured the matron, “Nothing of the sort. I, myself, was a troubled child, and I’ve grown to cherish the same kinds of people. Children with attitudes, children with struggles, all need extra care and precise instruction. I can provide both, as was provided to me.”

“And it’s a girl you’re wanting? That’s the other item I’ve got listed, here, from our earlier call,” the matron moved on.

“Yes. It must be a girl.”

The woman in black smiled when the matron opened her mouth to speak, causing the other woman to hesitate too long.

“Oh, I’ve nothing against boys, matron,” the auburn-haired beauty said, “and I’m sure you have several fine young male troublemakers, but I do have my heart set on a girl.”

“Then a girl, it is,” the matron said and pushed herself away from her desk. She rose from the ancient office chair and ambled to her office door, where she mumbled a few things to an assistant in the anteroom.

“Lizette will gather several prospective candidates in the other room. Then you may see and talk to them, if you’d like.”

Both women waited in silence until there was a single rap on the wooden door, then together they rose and left the office.

In the antechamber, six girls waited, all wearing dirty brown uniforms reminiscent of the matron’s. The youngest was perhaps four, while the oldest was nine or ten. Their eyes were full of distrust and anger. They all either stared at the matron or at the visitor, each one as defiant as the next.

The woman in black paced in front of the children for several moments, pausing before each child, then moved to question the matron’s assistant.

“Could you tell me, please, about each child’s worst transgression?”

With a nod, the mousy assistant moved with the woman, as once again, the woman in black paced the floor in front of the children.

“This is Marie, she’s four, and she bites, hits, and pinches the other children. She listens to no one.”

Down the line the pair went, evaluating the girls. Each had been disciplined for violence at least once. Two of the girls were punished for stealing, one had been caught starting fires, three had been suspected of worse but hadn’t been punished due to lack of evidence.

“May I speak with this one,” the woman in black indicated a girl of seven, named Riley.

At the matron’s nod, the woman knelt in front of the child. She reached out to brush strands of unwashed black hair from the girl’s eyes. The girl stared at the woman, her fingers clenched into fists at her sides. Her back was rigid with pent-up hostility and fear.

“Riley, my name is Anna. If you’ll have me, I’d like to adopt you. Is that all right with you?”

Riley refused to speak. Her eyes, so dark brown they were nearly black, stared into Anna’s unblinkingly.

Anna leaned closer. She whispered into the girl’s ear. Riley’s body eased, her fingers unclenching, and her face changed from a stiff, angry mask to a soft, delighted smile. She nodded to whatever Anna said, though the matron and her assistant couldn’t hear the words.

“Riley is mine,” the woman said, standing up. She smiled at the other women as Riley slipped her small hand into Anna’s.

“But,” Lizette protested, “Riley is one of the most troubled girls here! She’s a liar and a thief.”

The matron hushed her assistant, then gestured for the woman in black and Riley to enter her office. The paperwork was hurriedly done, then Anna and her new daughter were escorted from the orphanage.

Outside, Riley turned to Anna.

“Are you really going to show me how to do all that?

“That, and more, Riley,” Anna Fortune said. “I’ll teach you everything I was taught, and one day, you’ll teach your daughter. It’s the way of the Family. But first, we have to get you cleaned up. You’re to meet our employer today.”

In death

501 to 1000 words


The frail and cracking voice called quietly into the deathly silence of the grandiose foyer. The marble floors gleamed faintly in the dusk caused by the fitful light of barely-operational gas lamps. Heavy velvet curtains in forest green hung limply against aged cappuccino-colored walls; walls that had once been a rich, warm cream.

The minute woman, bent with age and arthritis, limped her way into the foyer from an adjacent study. Her thin body was draped in layers of crinkled black linen and lace. The cane she carried was of ebonwood, with a heavy silver lion’s head under her gnarled hand. Jewels glinted from every finger, and several necklaces swung loose from their mournful cover.

She called again, “Charles.”

A silvery mist formed in front of the woman. The shape of a man, tall and slender, formed from the mist. As the woman waited, the shape more firmly coalesced, revealing an elderly man wearing a white, collared shirt with a deep gray tie with a charcoal vest over the top, gray dress pants, and polished black shoes. He bowed his head toward the woman and waited for her instructions.

“Charles, my breakfast was late this morning,” the aged woman snapped. “The parlor hasn’t been tidied, either. What in heaven’s name is wrong with Janet?”

Charles answered, in a vaguely echoing, hollow voice, “I do apologize, madam. Cook was running a bit behind, due to the flooding in the village, and the week’s groceries not being delivered on time. As for Janet, I believe it’s her anniversary.”

He rushed on to keep his mistress from interrupting, “However, that is no excuse for failure in her duties. I shall have a word with her.”

The woman smiled, revealing a mostly empty mouth. Only a handful of teeth remained, though they were well taken care of.

“Oh, Charles. I’d forgotten. Don’t be harsh with Janet. Please, leave her to grieve as she will. I’m sure Dorothea can handle things alone for a while.”

“Madam, you are far too forgiving of us,” Charles protested. “How shall the girl learn if you’re too soft on her?”

The elderly woman shook her finger at her butler, “She learned, Charles. As did you all.”

She looked sadly around the grand foyer and sighed.

With a catch in her voice, the woman said softly, “I almost wish none of you had learned quite so well, though I don’t know what I’d do without you, now.”

Charles reached helplessly for his mistress. “Madam, not one of us would trade a minute of our service to you. It has, and always will be, our pleasure.”

The woman shifted her weight, turning slowly to wander back into her warmly-lit study. She sighed again.

“A pleasure it may have been, but I don’t deserve such loyalty,” she said. She paused in the doorway, and said, without turning, “Oh, and Charles? Order a fantastic arrangement to be put on Janet’s resting place. One for her family, as well. It wouldn’t do to let an anniversary pass unacknowledged.”

The visitor’s game

501 to 1000 words

“Please, sit.”

The strange man in my living room motioned toward my usual chair. I supposed it wasn’t too difficult to infer that it was mine. It was covered in my daily mess: a quilt for those random cool breezes, a water bottle tucked into the side pocket, a thick, dog-eared fantasy novel, and littered in amongst it all, sugar-free black cherry cough drops.

“Ummm, sure, but, who are you?”

My voice didn’t crack, though it took quite an effort to keep it that way. I stepped past the man, who didn’t move a muscle except for his eyes. I weakly waved the ham and cheese sandwich I’d just made and looked at the man quizzically.

“No, thank you. The smell turns me off, actually,” he said, answering my silent question, and handily ignoring the spoken one.

“Oh.” What else was there for me to say?

I perched on the arm of my recliner. I was afraid that if I got comfortable, so would he. Now that I was facing him, I could see more of the details of his person.

He would have been tall, if he had been standing. His pale skin was stretched taut over sharp, prominent bones. His eyes were clear and so gray they could have been called silver. Beneath the disturbing orbs, a hint of shadow turned his skin nearly the same color as his eyes. His suit was black on black pinstriped with a snowy white shirt that had a stiff, starched collar. Most of his hair was a jet so deep it seemed to absorb the light, but, scattered like jewels, glittering silver strands gave a clue to his age.

I tried again, though my voice was quieter this time, “So, who are you?”

“Fear not, dear soul, I’m no danger to you. I swear it,” he answered with a smile. It did nothing to make him seem friendlier.

He could tell that I was still not sure of him, so he sighed and leaned forward. His long, slender fingers plucked invisible lint from his pants, then they folded together, making a cage of flesh.

“Let me explain why I’ve come. You see,” he smiled, “my job has grown incredibly loathsome, so, in order to coax myself into continuing, I’ve decided to play a game.”

“Your job is why you’re here,” I repeated absent-mindedly. Gathering myself, I asked, “What’s your job?”

The smile on his face widened. “Ahhh, but we shall arrive at that point, shortly. May I continue?”

At my shrug, he continued, “The game is to find myself, again. Once, I was enamored by my profession. Each day was an exciting time for me. I barely rested, such joy I took in my work. But, alas, that time is long past.”

The strange man pushed himself from my couch, his grace triggering a flare of jealousy in me.

He laughed, as though he could read my mind. A shiver ran down my spine.

“Back to the game. Your part is this – tell me three things: your greatest desire, your greatest regret, and lastly, your worst enemy.”

I was bewildered. “I’m part of your game? Do I win something, or am I just a playing piece?”

The strange man grinned, and when he did, the skin across his face stretched so tight his visage turned to a skull.

“Ahhh! You are clever. Far more clever than those who came before you,” he crowed. “You shall have a prize. Now, tell me your answers.”

I tried to think, but the grinning skull made my heart race and my mind whirl. I looked around my small apartment and wondered again just how this man had gotten in.

“Time is wasting. I need your answers now, or I’ll be forced to call a forfeiture.”

“Fine,” I stammered, “my greatest desire is to see my child again. My greatest regret is that I let him go to that party. And my worst enemy….” I struggled to finish the thought. I choked out, “My worst enemy is time.”

The strange man’s smile faded. His head bent and he went still.

After several minutes of silence, the strange man bowed to me. His smile held nothing of a skull, this time. His flesh seemed to brighten, moving toward a burnt gold color, and his form bulked up. His hair lightened. It still flashed with strands of precious metal, though a different type.

“Thank you,” he said. “You have moved me. The desire to continue in my work has returned.”

He turned to leave. I picked up my forgotten sandwich and lifted it to my mouth. I was startled when his voice came one last time.

“You have a visitor. He’ll probably want one of your ham and cheese sandwiches.”

I looked up to see the man vanish, and in his place, my son.

A night’s work

501 to 1000 words

Shadows jumped and danced in the fitful light of the streets oil lamps. The lamp-lighter had been less than diligent at his job, leaving almost a third of the street lamps unlit. Passers-by attracted featureless doppelgangers that, in turn, loomed larger than life and dwindled to nothing.

In the deep recesses of a storefront, a figure lurked. It went largely unnoticed by the few late-night wanderers. The cloak, a shifting thing of shadows, itself, billowed in the gusts of wind that rattled shutters along the street, but the figure was unmoving.

A few of the street lamps sputtered in the wind, their oil reserves running low and no match for the angry gusts. At a snail’s pace, the street emptied. The last few stragglers drunkenly sang bawdy tunes as they held each other upright. The figure in the shadows remained unnoticed.

A whipping, swirling cyclone of wind swept through the streets. Doors banged wildly, shutters rattled like an army of sabers, and age-weakened wooden houses creaked. The billowing cloak flared, revealing, to the empty street, a girl not yet into her adulthood, yet far beyond childhood.

The girl dropped to her knees, clutching the cloak around herself. She pulled the hood of the garment close, blocking the stinging wind. When the spinning vortex of wind died, the girl opened her cloak to reveal a tattooed arm.

“Dwush, ichdre a’lyrdryn, seir dygloni adrund,” she whispered. Her slender hand traced arcane symbols across one of the tattoos, a pair of ferrets clutching coin purses in their tiny teeth. A brilliant flash of emerald green erupted from beneath her hand. The ink faded from her forearm, but in its place emerged two sleek and playful creatures.

The girl scooped the pair into her arms and nuzzled her cheek into their soft fur. She whispered again, plainly this time, “Three floors up, a ruby necklace, offset with diamonds. Quickly and quietly. I wait.”

She placed the matched pair on the street and watched them disappear into the darkness. Their link to her kept her aware of their progress, though her eyes failed to find faintest of signs. The girl wrapped herself in her cloak and sat back, waiting and watching for her thieves.

A thrumming in her senses told her the ferrets had been seen, seconds before the alarms in the merchant’s house clanged. The girl threw back her cloak, revealing a scantily-clad body adorned in tattoos that covered nearly every inch of flesh.

Emerald light welled beneath her fingertips as she caressed another inked masterpiece, this time a much larger picture that curled from her stomach, across her hip, and down to her knee. Her voice was clear but rushed when she spoke the words of power.

The girl clutched the edge of the doorway, her face a grimace of pain, as a black-on-black panther tore itself from her body, leaving her flesh entirely naked. As the great cat paced, pushing against her, she spoke.

“Find Reza and Ticco. Engage their pursuers. Delay, but do not kill. Then return to me.”

The panther roared acknowledgment, then bounded off, across the street. The girl watched for a moment, then fumbled for a pouch dangling from her side. She pulled a handful of black dust from the container, and, stepping out into the street, flung the powder at the door of the merchant’s house. The pouch, she dropped into the street.

“Tyn a’fflam, imynit awyl,” she cried, her voice lost in a sudden burst of flame. The wooden house, though lavishly adorned, was old, and the fire was magical. Fingers of orange and red raced along the porch, wrapping around the railings and climbing to the second floor.

The girl stepped back, into the shadows once again. She felt her little thieves approaching and heard the screams of the merchant’s guard as they were confronted by the panther and flames. Her lips twitched into a smile.

She hated using the fire, but the guildmaster had insisted. Unfortunately for him, the discarded pouch bore his society name. And it still contained several grams of flamedust.

As the girl strolled from the lamplit street, a pair of roiling ferrets tangled themselves in her cloak. A ruby and diamond necklace dropped into her waiting hand. The thieves snuggled together and faded into artwork once again.

First Chapter


“Faster! Move it, Ellara,” the quiet hiss of Troman’s voice pierced the girl’s mental fog. The harsh snapping of his fingers beside her face forced her to return completely to reality. The bent-backed elder pushed forward, bodily moving the slim young woman further down the dark tunnel.

“Troman,” Ellara whispered, “is there really help at the end of the tunnel? Or are we going to wind up in some other, worse district?”

Troman, aged but not broken, smiled behind her. He put his gnarled, wrinkled hand on her shoulder, both guiding her and lending her comfort.

“There’s help, child, I promise,” he said. “The insurrection is small but growing. We add to their strength, you and I, more than most. You, with your knowledge of the upper world, and me, because I’ve toiled in nearly all the under-districts.”

The dark-haired girl nodded but saved her breath for the trek to escape. She tried to ignore the squeaks and chirps of the night animals that scurried away from the small pools of light cast by the pair’s torches. She knew, intimately, the types of things that lurked in the darkness. Rats and insects were the least of the beasts here that fed on blood and flesh, living or dead. Ellara shuddered and forced her mind to turn to other things.

Her mind slipped into fantasies of fresh air and fresh food, fun, and relaxation. She felt a memory float by and she grasped at it. Buildings, towering and gleaming in silvery metals and smooth white stone, sent her mind reeling, deeper into suppressed memories. She remembered open expanses of manicured grass and trees, flowers and shrubs lining stone walkways. The flash of a woman’s face stole her breath.

“My name is Eve,” she whispered.

“Hmmm? What was that, Ellara,” Troman asked from behind her.

The girl slowed her steps, her head reeling from the sudden departure of the memory. She shook her head at the older man but said nothing. The pressure of his hand on her shoulder pressed her forward.

“How much longer, do you think?”

Troman shrugged, then answered with a raspy laugh, “I’ve no idea, but I hope it’s not too much longer. I’m looking forward to some rest and some food.”

To emphasize his point, his stomach let loose a loud gurgling growl. The pair laughed, making sure to keep the sound low and short to ensure their security. They continued shuffling forward in the ankle-deep water.

Ellara and Troman waded for more than an hour before the tunnel ended. The iron grate that covered the opening was rusted and brittle. But even with the years of damage, the pair had to exert themselves to push the three-meter grate aside. Troman huffed and puffed as he leaned against the flaking metal. Ellara put all her weight and strength into helping the bent and gnarled old man, who had started turning red in the face. They were rewarded with the horrific screech of metal bending and a shower of powdered stone when the grate finally gave way.

“Silence is golden,” Troman said with a grin, “but screaming metal is freedom.”

The young woman grinned back at him, her gray eyes sparkling, then grabbed his weathered hand and helped him over the high lip of the tunnel opening. She continued holding his hand as the pair worked their way down the spill of boulders that lined the hillside outside. Ellara paused often to search out the easiest path through the large stones. The half-moon light made the task difficult, but she was thankful there was at least a little light to assist their meager torchlight.

A sound in the darkness made Ellara stop dead. She cocked her head to the side, listening intently for the sound to come again. Her eyes widened and she whipped her ebon-shrouded head around to stare incredulously at Troman.

“Is that…,” she trailed off. The call sounded again, making the young woman laugh. “It is! An owl. I’ve missed hearing owls and didn’t even know it.”

Troman chuckled, “Yes, dear, it’s an owl. They’re thick in the forests around the city, from what I’ve heard. You think it’s a good omen? Us hearing the bird, just as we’ve come out of the tunnels?”

Ellara nodded, excitement stilling her tongue. With new confidence, she chose a fresh path and dragged Troman along, plunging recklessly down the hillside toward the dark forest. The soft night air caressed her soot-smudged ivory face as she scurried down the hill. She could hear poor Troman panting behind her in his efforts to keep up with her tugging.

At the bottom of the hill, Ellara let go of her friend’s hand. Troman collapsed onto an oversized rock nearby, his breath rasping in and out of his lungs in ragged gulps. The giddy girl swirled around in front of him, excitement keeping her from being still.

“Ellara, calm down,” Troman managed to gasp, “we’ve still got a long way to go before we’re truly safe. Conserve your energy.”

Ellara laughed but slowed her twirl to a halt. She moved to sit on the ground beside Troman’s boulder, but another owl call stopped her. She looked longingly toward the sound, but it was up the hill, in the forest to the west of the Elven city. Her eyes darted to Troman, but the man’s quick shake of his head kept her from going to the sound.

“I know. We go south, not west,” she grumbled. She smiled to keep her words from sounding too whiney. As they rested, she considered her friend.

Troman was bent, his back crooked from years of hard labor in the under-districts of the city of Eso. His skin was pale, with spider webs of black soot stains covering his exposed flesh. His arms, sinewy and strong, were splotched with multi-colored bruises from the harsh treatment the underside workers were subjected to. His brilliant blue eyes, framed with graying black eyebrows, were large in his gaunt, triangular face. Troman kept his salt-and-pepper hair cut short to keep the biting bugs at bay. His strong teeth gleamed a dazzling white in the darkness. Ellara remembered how proud the man was of the care he took with his chompers.

“Committing my face to memory, girl,” the man teased Ellara. “I ain’t going anywhere, except to freedom, you know. You’ll have plenty of time to get tired of me.”

The girl blushed. She shook her head and said, “No. I know you’re going with me and we’re going to be safe. I just worry, you know, because you’re so old. Ancient, even.” Ellara laughed as the good-natured barb flew.

Troman shook his finger at her and said, in a crackling imitation of an overly aged man, “Why, you young runt! I oughta…!”

The mockery of himself made Troman laugh, sending Ellara into gales of laughter, as well. The pair chuckled together for several long minutes, until the hilarity of the moment passed. Ellara wiped tears from her eyes and saw Troman doing the same.

“Well, best we continue on our way, girl. Don’t want to get caught out by the guards before we even get good and started,” the man cautioned.

The girl held her hands out for her friend and helped him up from the boulder. His knees cracked and popped as he stood, causing Ellara to raise her eyebrow at him. Troman shook his head, stopping her snarky comments before they started. He grinned when the girl blushed again.

Owl calls and other assorted night sounds followed the pair as they entered the fringes of the darkened forest. Under the canopy of trees, the noises quieted to a soft, musical accompaniment to their solid footfalls. The girl let her mind lose focus and go wandering as she instinctively followed the graying man’s back. She conjured up images of birds of prey; owls, eagles, and hawks floated through her mind.

A flash of gray eyes in a friendly, round face interrupted her mind’s contemplation of raptors. Another flash, blue eyes instead of gray, under blonde brows, nestled among a spidery-web of fine lines. The girl whipped her eyes toward Troman, but the man continued walking, unaware of her troubling visions.

“My name is Eve. My mother is Ellen, my father is Thomas,” she whispered to herself, keeping her voice low enough to escape Troman’s ears.

After she spoke the words, she had another fleeting vision. This time, the couple together, smiling and beckoning to her. The man’s eyes were gray and sparkling. His shaggy hair was midnight-black, with just enough curl to be irritating. He held one hand out to Ellara, while his other held tight to the blonde woman at his side.

The woman, her mother, Ellara supposed, was slim, with baby blue eyes, a heart-shaped face, and shoulder-length golden locks. She smiled, only a gentle upturning of her lips, but it made her eyes light up like the sky after a sudden spring shower.

Ellara stumbled; her memory-clouded eyes missed the roots of an ancient tulip tree. The girl came to her senses with the clenching of Troman’s gnarled hand around her forearm. The man’s eyes were full of concern as he helped Ellara steady herself.

“Are you alright, Ellara? You almost slammed your face into that tree, there.”

The young woman nodded wordlessly. She didn’t trust herself to speak, not knowing what might come out. She straightened her stained tunic and smiled at Troman, reassuring him that she was fine.

The man shrugged, though his eyes still showed worry. “If you’re alright, then you’re alright. I know you’re tired. So am I. Not much further, I think, then we can rest for a while.”

Troman turned and continued walking through the crush of trees and shrubs. He pointed out a few more large tangles of roots, making sure the following girl was aware of the dangerous points. Ellara dutifully stepped over or around each one, thanking Troman every time. To help pass the time, and to keep herself from drifting away into mesmerizing visions, Ellara asked her friend questions about their destination.

“Have you been to where we’re going, Troman? Do you know what we’ll find there? What are the people like?”

The grizzled man chuckled, “You’re full of curiosity, Ellara. No, I’ve not been to Haven. I’ve not been outside of the under-districts in many a year. As for what, and who, we’ll find, I’m not entirely sure. I know there are many humans, with nearly as many of the so-called lesser races intermingled. I’ve heard there are even a few of the elven kind in residence. But that one’s less likely, in my opinion.”

The young woman asked him a question that had been burning in her mind for ages, “Why do the elves call orcs, goblins, minotaurs, and others the ‘lesser’ races?”

Troman slowed to a stop. He turned to face the girl and sighed. He replied, “Elves see anyone who lives without an abundance of magic as ‘lesser’ than they. That includes we humans, you know. Of course, the presence and use of magic doesn’t necessarily equate to intelligence, courage, kindness or a host of other positive qualities. But elves still view themselves as superior.”

“That makes no sense. There are human wizards. I know, because I’ve seen them through some of the crystal portals. Are even they still inferior, in the elves’ eyes?”

Another sigh from Troman, then, “Yes, they are. In fact, most elves see human mages as the worst of the worst. Because those ‘lesser’ mages have to work harder for their magics, continually learning and refining their craft. Elves don’t have to. Of course, elves also tend to use their magic for frivolous pursuits instead of the more practical uses that humans prefer.”

“Elves are just stuck-up,” Ellara muttered under her breath. “Well, I can’t wait to get to Haven. It’s got to be better than Eso. At least the parts of the city I’ve seen!”

Troman’s chuckle made Ellara shrug. She grinned at the man and started walking again. The tired girl tugged her friend behind her, carefully winding through the dark trees. She knew Haven was ahead, even if she didn’t exactly know what to expect. She knew the way forward had to be easier than the drudgery and hardships of Eso’s slave workers, but she hoped it would lead her to a life of happiness and freedom.


(This is a bit longer than usual because it’s the first chapter of a novel. I hope to be finished writing Esotera by the end of March, with intentions to publish in April.)

Encounter at the bar

Under 500 words

The old man sat with his head in his hands at a table across the way. Despite the dim smokiness of the bar, I could see him clearly. His hair was gray and wispy, tentatively grasping onto his liver-spotted scalp. His swollen-knuckled hands were streaked with old grease. His back was bent and obviously arthritic.

A glass of some amber liquid sat untouched on the pockmarked wooden table. I supposed it was whiskey. He seemed like the kind of man who’d drink cheap and hard.

My eyes moved away and I spied the waitress. I waved for another beer and she nodded. I looked back over at the old guy. He hadn’t moved.

I continued to watch him, just out of curiosity. I wondered what his life story was.

The waitress brought me my beer and I slid a few bucks her way. We both stayed silent, but she smiled a sad little smile before she walked away. I didn’t even bother watching her.

I sipped my beer, with my eyes still on the other man. My mind began to wander. I imagined the many possible lives that old man might have lived.

Maybe he was sitting here, alone, drinking, because he’d just lost his wife and he couldn’t handle being in their house without her. With no kids, or kids who had moved away, he was by himself in the world. He needed the distraction of the bar to get him through the night.

Or, maybe, he had never been married. Never found that one person who could make life bearable without a glass of soul-numbing whiskey in his hand. He had no long-term friends, no family left, and nowhere to turn but a bar full of strangers, all drinking their own problems away.

It occurred to me that maybe he was the bar’s owner. He sat here every night, glass of whiskey hiding his identity, to make sure his business ran smoothly. His life-long dream of being his own boss crushing him under the weight of so much responsibility.

I reached for my glass for another sip of beer, but found it empty. I looked down and realized I’d already gone through a half-dozen beers. The gold watch on my wrist flashed in the neon lights. I didn’t bother checking the time. I knew it was late.

I pushed away from the table and glanced once more at the old-timer across the way. He had moved.

His blue eyes glittered like hard sapphires in his lined face. He winked at me then reached for his whiskey.

I shuddered. An eerie feeling clawed its way up my spine.

I stopped at the bar on my way out.

“Hey, Al, I’d like to buy that old guy a drink. Whatever he’s having,” I said.

The bartender looked to where I pointed.

“What old guy?”

Zombies in a war-zone

Under 500 words

Her pale skin glistened in the moonlight. The dark halo of her hair was barely visible, even under the full moon. She shambled when she moved.

I stared at the girl, unable to think anything other than ‘zombie’, though I knew it wasn’t possible. I stayed as still as possible, crouching under the crumbling stairs. I didn’t want to spook her and I didn’t think she had seen me, yet.

A low moan floated in the still night air. My heart raced and my mind cycled through all the zombie apocalypse movies I’d ever watched. Maybe…?

I shifted my weight. I had to. My knees were about to give out. Keeping still on bent knees for a long time wasn’t in my skill set. But I moved too much and the girl heard.

She stopped moving.

I waited, breathing shallowly in my chest, hoping she’d keep going. I figured I could outrun her. But the stairs that kept me hidden would be an obstacle if I had to flee.

After several minutes, the girl continued her shuffle. It looked like she was moving toward the abandoned brownstone next door. The nearest inhabited buildings were blocks away. This area had been evacuated almost ten years ago.

I watched the girl move. Her arms hung limply at her sides. Her knees didn’t bend. She stared straight ahead. She definitely reminded me of a classic zombie.

She stopped again.

I waited with my breath held. She was only about fifteen yards away. Close enough that I could see a scar on her face. The ‘X’ of it was raised and much darker than the rest of her skin.

I leaned forward. My foot slipped. I went down, hard, onto my backside.

I saw the girl’s head turn. She took a shuffling step toward me.

Then she ran.

She was on me before I could react. Her hot, nasty breath washed over my face as she grabbed me and pulled me close.

I tried to scream, but nothing came out. Terror held me closer than the girl did.

“He… help…me…”

In my shock, I never saw the hulking shadow that loomed over us both.