Long absence and news

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.

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Escape from Paradise

“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

“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

“Charles.”

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

“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

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.