Excerpt

(This is the opening for an upcoming book, in a pulp noir style.)

“N-o-o-o-o-o!”

The ear-piercing scream shattered the inky midnight blackness. A shadow moved along the strangely empty street. A dark-suited man followed closely, eerily silent considering the sodden conditions of the city. He paused, considering the scream, and the sudden silence afterward. Hearing nothing else, the man moved on, trailing the still-moving shadow deeper into the heart of the city.

Further into the city, the shadow became harder to follow. Streetlights flickered in the wake of the shadow’s passing, causing the mere mortal to fall further behind. The man, intent on his tracking, paid little attention to his surroundings. The buildings in this run-down portion of the city loomed close, leaning inward to form a deep valley of murkiness. Only when the sole light of the alley flickered and failed did the man’s natural instinct kick in. He sensed danger lurking, waiting for an unwary traveler.

Having lost his quarry, the man quickly turned and hastened away, tracing his steps back to the beginning, where he’d first caught the scent of the hunt. He slid something from his inside breast pocket, a sleek black cellphone. Dialing without looking, he connected with a throaty voice on the other end.

“So? Did you find its lair?”

“No,” the man sighed. “I nearly had it, but it seems as though the creature knew I was following. It twisted and turned through several streets, backtracking on itself a few times. Probably trying to confuse or lose me before it slunk away to rest.”

He imagined he could hear his associate nod through the phone. There was a tension there, stress that had been building throughout the weeks they’d worked together on this job. The creature would need to be found, and captured, soon, or they would both become targets themselves.

“Come back to the office,” the sultry voice commanded. “We both need some rest. We’ll pick it back up in the morning. You do remember where you lost it, right?”

“Yes, I remember,” he chuckled. “On my way. You should go ahead and go home. I’ll file a report when I get to the office, then head out myself. See you around ten tomorrow?”

“Ten, it is. Night, Sam.” The phone clicked, the call ended. The man, Sam, tucked the phone back into his pocket, mentally preparing his report for his employers. The remainder of the trip to his office was uneventful, no shrill screams or fleeing shadows to disturb his journey.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

 

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Nobody told me

Nobody told me that dying hurts.

Maybe not for those who meet their loved ones at the sunny end of the long, dark tunnel; those who lived the fullness of the life God gave ’em. But for me, who hastened to meet the end in the beginning of my travels, it hurt. Like hell.

Which is where I was headed, I suppose. Preacher always said those who sinned the sin of suicide were doomed to eternity in hellfire and damnation. Maybe he was right. It did seem like forever while I was dying.

The funny thing about painkillers is that they don’t. Kill pain, that is to say. Not when you gobble down a whole bottle at once. No sir, those little pills tumble right on down inside you and start brewing up the worst pain you ever felt.

I figured I’d just lay myself out, all pretty-like, on my granny’s patchwork quilt and let go of the pain of the world as I drifted off to sleep. I’d never taken more than two of those pills at once before and every time they’d make my head swim and my feet twine about themselves until I just laid down and slept.

But when there’s eighty-six of ’em, all roilin’ and boilin’ in your stomach, there’s no sleeping. No pretty, either.

It felt like my insides were clawing to get to my outsides. My brain went all swimmy, alright, but not the warm, fuzzy fog I was used to. Instead, the world turned itself upside down, then scrambled around like a Rubik’s cube and I couldn’t flip those pieces back the right way, not with the gnawing and clawing my belly was doing.

Falling, from the rumpled quilt on my four-poster, to the shag carpet on my floor, took about a million years. Time enough for me to think of all the things in the world I’d never do. Time enough for me writhe in agony for half of forever.

I’d thought the pain I was living through was hell, but the pain of dying leeched the color from all my previous hurts. The light I thought I’d see was only the sun setting out my window. The loved ones I’d hoped to reunite with kept their distance from the basest of sinners that I had become. At the end of forever, I called for help.

Nobody told me that dying hurts.

Musings on muse writing

Ahh, the perils of being a muse writer. Some days, I have no problems writing. On my first novel, in fact, I wrote over ten thousand words on the first day. But then there are the days when my mind is like an unsecured ride in a Tilt-A-Whirl; things are flying every which way and I can’t manage to grab onto anything to save my life.

I have quite a few of those Tilt-A-Whirl days. Mostly due to stress. I don’t handle stress well, at all. I tend to flit from activity to activity or I sit and mope and moan about what I should be doing.

I wish, some days, that I could write more like my husband. He sits himself down, pulls out his outline, and writes all that he’s planned to write. Once he gets started, he has no problems hammering out a steady two or three thousand words a day. He finishes his novellas in a week. Then publishes, then advertises, then rakes in the money.

Which gives me pause, but only for a pause.

I don’t, particularly, write for an audience. Yes, I write a blog. I also write novels and short stories and novellas. But I write what I want, how ever I want, without worrying about whether it’s saleable. My husband, on the other hand, writes to a specific audience with a particular genre firmly in hand.

And that’s all well and good, but when I look at the numbers on Amazon, he far out sells me. But, again, I don’t write to market, I write as desire moves me. I’m most definitely a muse writer, a pantser, a start-and-stop writer. Most days it’s fine enough.

We joke, my husband and I, about how I have fantastic ideas. I’m also a pretty decent editor and proofreader. I write well, at least that’s the consensus I’ve found, but simply writing well doesn’t mean people will enjoy my writing. I do have my fans, though, so I’ll keep writing and releasing, for them and for myself.

When the muse strikes, at least.

An unexpected find

A dull glint in the bushes caught Kiara’s eye. She glanced around the forest, searching for any sign of watchers. Finding none, the lithe girl slipped into the undergrowth, her deep mossy green leathers blending into the foliage.

In the midst of a small clearing beyond the seldom traveled path was a man. Kiara’s hawkish gaze fell on a quartet of white-fletched arrows. Under the slim wooden shafts, the man’s body was covered in heavy plates of hammered steel. Kiara shook her head, sadly, then reached for her belt pouch.

A heavy silver ring slid easily from the pouch’s mouth. Kiara slid it onto her finger, with the deeply engraved face buried in her palm. Once she was ready, she crawled toward the prone man, her nose wrinkling in disgust at the rancid smell that filled the clearing. Her fingers searched for a heartbeat, but, as she expected, the man’s life had fled.

The silver ring pulsed a brilliant blue when it touched the cold metal armor. Kiara pulled her hand back and clutched it to her chest. Her eyes closed as the ring’s power throbbed in her mind. Her smile grew as the information provided by the ring of identification poured in.

Removing the armor wasn’t easy, but Kiara managed it well before sundown. She lugged the heavy metal pieces deeper into the forest, to a campsite well away from any interruptions. The night passed in drudgery, but the dark-haired girl didn’t mind. Her smile remained wide and catty.

Hammering the dents from the armor was painstaking, but not as torturous as repairing the four punctured places. When the time for polishing rolled around, Kiara’s eyes stayed open by sheer willpower. The lightening sky stole the girl’s smile. Wearily, she rolled up into her bedroll and fell into a deep sleep.

The sun was nearly touching the tops of the western trees when Kiara finally struggled awake. She rebuilt her fire and pulled rations from the pack beside her. A small iron pot also slid free of the bag. With just a few minutes work, Kiara had a pot of trail soup simmering. Her stomach rumbled. She didn’t wait for the soup to cool down before she slurped a mouthful. She ignored the pain and continued to eat. After her dinner, she rinsed the pot and stowed it back in her pack. Then she wrapped herself in her bedroll and slipped off to sleep.

The morning broke with a dense fog creeping across the forest floor. Kiara packed her meager belongings into her backpack, then tied the pieces of armor into a tight pile which she then heaved onto her back. Her knees nearly buckled under the weight of the armor, but she stumbled into motion.

On her way out of the forest, Kiara found herself whistling a merry tune. Her step lightened and she let her voice lift in a bawdy tavern song. By mid-afternoon, she had joined the stream of people headed into the city, to the King’s sportage. She had just enough time to sell the armor to a trade merchant before the archery contests began. Her lips turned up into a cruel smile. The fun was only beginning. Armor of missile attraction should make the day much more exciting.

 

The suit’s rescue

Huge piles of rusted and pitted metal glinted dully in the mid-afternoon sun. Ancient wheeled vehicles held up the newer, though still aged, rubberless hovercraft. In the nooks and crannies left by the transports were other discarded metal pieces, with faded paint and misshapen lumps.

Down in the valley, between two mountains of metal detritus, stood two men. Both were clad in brilliant orange and yellow tear-proof safety suits, made of recycled plasticine strands. With practiced eyes, the pair scoured the scene, searching for useful pieces.

A crane overhead waited for a signal. The hovering automated machine, just bordering on awakening, quivered in anticipation.

One of the scavengers shouted, causing the other to rush to his side. Together, the men moved closer to the largest of the metal mountains. The one who shouted, his hat ringed with the double stripes of a manager, pointed to a faded maroon piece.

The younger man, a mere apprentice by his unadorned hard hat, nodded and lifted a tiny black box to his mouth. He commanded the hovering crane to maneuver into position above the articulated metal the manager wanted.

The crane obeyed immediately. The clawed arm lowered, guided by the apprentice’s words, until it dangled directly above the desired junk. The younger man glanced to his manager for approval, but found none.

The more experienced man smiled faintly and turned to take the comms device from his son. His words to the crane were succinct and rapid. The crane again obeyed, repositioning itself to a safer angle.

The two men moved away from the mound of debris and watched as the crane maneuvered a faded maroon and gold piece from the pile. The crane, heeding instructions, gingerly grasped the upright end of the thing and pulled.

The young man gasped in surprise. His father, a knowing smile on his face, watched the boy rather than the crane. An ancient hero’s iron suit was a rare prize, indeed.

The People of Gendreau

In the eternal twilight of the forest, life was simple for the earth-folk. The People, as they called themselves, communed with the other living things in the forest, from the tiny, hard-working woodmouse to the massive, lordly hawk that flew overhead and from the towering hardwoods that sheltered the people, to the delicately flowering mosses that cushioned the folk’s beds.

For thousands of years, generation upon generation, the People had lived in the Forest of Gendreau. Several clans roamed the sprawling forest, coming together only once every year. During the longest days of the snow season, every member of every clan met in the heart of Gendreau, despite the shortened days and bitter cold. In the midst of the dormant forest, life blossomed within the people. Bonds were formed and children conceived, trading and crafting boomed, and clans grew stronger within themselves and the whole.

On the last night of the gathering, while the eldest of the clans were conferring within a steam-lodge, a shrill, shrieking thunder boomed across the clearing at the heart of Gendreau. The folk, frightened out of their hide huts, gathered together, searching the darkness of the surrounding forest with questioning eyes. A young hunter, bolder than the rest, stepped away from the huddled masses and stepped toward the forest.

The elders calmed their people the best they could, but fear caused their steps and their words to falter. Snow began to fall, though it was not the pristine white that usually floated from the heavens. These flakes, though shaped as delicate lace, were tinged with crimson.

A smell, of iron and blood, washed across the crowd as the elders stumbled through. The terrified people stood frozen, waiting for reassurances that never came.

Near the forest edge, the young hunter still stood, now joined by other of his clansmen. Still more stepped forward, of other clans, but all were young and fearless. The elders consulted among themselves. The leaders of the clans moved to the hunters.

“Go,” they said, their voices strained. “Go and find out what has come to Gendreau, what has come to the People. Run quickly, remain hidden. Take no chances. Return on the winds.”

The hunters shouldered their weapons and melted into the forest.

The elders whispered among themselves. Wild speculations moved within the crush of clans, stifled with the turning of their leaders.

“The gathering ends,” the eldest of the old intoned. “But we will not disperse. The Time of Change has come.”

In shock, the people kneeled, their faces drawn and serious. After a brief blessing from the elders, the earth-folk returned to their huts. But soon enough, all the men of the People had re-emerged, holding tightly to laser-scoped assault rifles and clad in ancient polycarbonate armor.

Vat 1765-243

The machine hovered over the vat of inky liquid. Tubes and wires dangled from the dull metal of the selector, trembling with even the slightest movement of the bulky device. In the control room overlooking the chemical vats, Luther grimaced as he punched in calculations on the main control board.

“I don’t like it,” he muttered to himself, his voice echoing in his headset. The balding man stood and peered over the control board to stare down into the eerily illuminated room below. Hundreds of containers of viscous goo stood in rows on the floor beneath the control center. Each one held several specimens of a particular species.

The control room, on its metal rails, moved on, pushing the attached selector deeper into the bipedal section. The computer ran endless calculations, showing each as a line of green code, on its way to choosing the most desirable candidate. But Luther still frowned. He went over his parameters once more, certain something was missing in his formulae.

The control room shuddered to a halt. As if by free will, the selector moved, the articulated metal arm smoothly maneuvering the wire- and tube-covered metal shell into place. Luther stared open-mouthed at the section and specimen numbers on the screen, then compared them to the numbers below the selector’s main body. He shook his head and slapped the emergency stop button on his command board.

The selector responded slowly. Luther watched in horror as the selector’s tubes and wires snaked into vat 1765-243. The delay was almost too much to bear for the controller. He slammed his hand down on the faded red button twice more, willing the selector to obey.

The machine stopped, finally, the main body halfway to the surface of the inky liquid and its tubes already submerged. Never taking his eyes off the selector, he snaked out his hand and grabbed the inter-system phone handset.

Into the static, Luther harshly breathed, “Command, we have a problem. Parameters, as stated previously, have led the system to choose vat 1765-243. Please advise. Repeat, please advise.”

The static continued in Luther’s ear for several long seconds, with no response from Command. Then, a single word, the word Luther dreaded most:

“Continue.”