Tag Archives: fiction

Lifesinger

This is part 3 of 3 for my BlogBattle series of fan-fiction using the characters from CW’s Supernatural. 

Genre: Fairy

Word: Iridescent

Okay, BlogBattlers, I totally blew up the word count rule on this one (just shy of 2000 words), because I had WAY too much fun bringing the story to a close. So I don’t consider it a legitimate entry for the contest. BUT I’m passing it on because you lovely people read the first two and deserve a (hopefully) good ending. 

—–

Bloodied and bruised by the woodland monster they’d taken to calling Thorn, Dean Winchester accepted an offered helping hand for once, and rose to his feet. Frustration filled his eyes and he stared at the human-form angel Castiel. “What the hell was that thing, Cas?”

“A spriggan,” Castiel said. “A woodland spirit of wrath.” He stared up the mountain path as if reading a mystery in the lines of the trees. “Something is amiss here—something of evil that has no rightful place. But you’ll need the Lifesinger of this particular site in order to expel the corruption.”

Sam ran a hand through his hair. “Spriggans, Lifesingers… what are we dealing with?”

“There are more than angels and Demons at war in the spiritual realm,” Castiel said. “Nature has Her own ranks of companions and guardians, and their associations are not always clear.”

Dean shook his head. “Come on, the trees are alive here or something?”

Castiel shrugged. “Your people long have kept stories of such things. Sprites, elves, feyfolkken… faeries. Voices in the wind, women in the waters… why do you think His Word speaks of trees clapping hands and rocks crying out?”

Dean scoffed and opened the door of the Impala. “Come on, Sam,” he grumbled. “We’re off to find Tinkerbell to see if she can sprinkle the ritual site with some of her pixy dust.” He waggled his fingers in the air like casting a spell, then sat in the driver’s seat and started the engine.

Castiel climbed into the back, and Sam grabbed his father’s journals from the glove box. “Maybe Dad can shed some light on all of this…”

Dean nodded. “Which way?”

Castiel cocked his head. “I assume Sam means that John Winchester’s experiences and insights may apply to our own. Are you sure Thorn didn’t hit your head too hard?”

“No, Cas,” Dean growled. “Which way to this Lifesinger you mentioned? Up the path to the site? Somewhere down in Boulder?”

Castiel sat back, eyes wide. “Oh. I have no idea. What about you, Sam?”

“What do you mean, you have no idea?” Dean rubbed his face and sighed. “What, do I point the hood at the nearest Disney store and hope for the best?”

“While potentially fun,” Castiel said, considering, “I’m not sure that would help, Dean.”

“Where do you normally find a Lifesinger?”

“Oh. There are precious few around that I know of. Most of those traditions have died off over the centuries. We could try one of the nearest reservations, perhaps. Ireland was always a good place to look, but I don’t think we have time for overseas travel…”

“The McSwains’ cabin,” Sam said. “Dad said Grant and Teagan watched over this place and did a lot more than that in their younger years.”

Dean put the car in drive, spun a one-eighty, and headed downhill. “Sure,” Dean muttered. “Let’s fetch the hundred year old lady to save us. If she’s not drooling on herself, wondering what decade it is…”

On the return trip, they left the Impala at the clearing where they’d fought Thorn. Sam cut his long-legged stride to baby steps in order to walk with one arm around Teagan McSwain’s frail form. Castiel kept a curious distance from the woman, watching her with sidelong glances and questioning eyes.

Teagan watched the branches, sometimes skittish at each noise, sometimes smiling with wonder. She hummed a flowing tune that made Sam think of dancing, but her faltering steps seemed far from whatever joyful memory she clung to in her mind.

Dean kept getting ahead of the group, then waiting with arms crossed until they reached him. “Shoulda brought the axe, Sammy,” he said as they neared the top of the second hill. “These trees aren’t normal.”

The trunks looked curved and stretched, shaped rather than grown. They formed two long ranks that bent toward each other, their branches mingling high overhead in a natural archway. The air grew stuffy and humid, but carried the scent of lilac. Birds flitted to and fro some distance from the path, singing out warnings to each other. But none came near the path into the ritual site.

Castiel stopped before the first tree. “I can’t enter,” he said. “Or, rather, I won’t.” Dean and Sam turned to meet his gaze and saw resolution plain on Castiel’s face. “I told you, there are other powers at work. And while I could exert authority over this place, I feel it would be… disruptive. Inappropriate.”

“Great,” Dean said, and strode into the dimness ahead, flexing his fists.

Sam guided Teagan beneath the trees, checking over his shoulder. Castiel stood, hands clasped in front of his tan coat, concern etched in the wrinkles on his face.

“He’s right, you know,” Teagan whispered. “His kind… they aren’t always welcome in places like this.”

Sam faced her, shocked. “You know what he is?”

She nodded. “Seen angels a time or two. Bright like dawn, even when they try to hide it.” Her face darkened and she clutched Sam tight. “Better than the opposite kind…”

Sam pursed his lips and thought of his own encounters with demons. Crowley’s face came to mind, the prince of Hell joking and laughing at Sam’s expense. “I’ll agree with you there, ma’am,” Sam said.

Dean’s mouth curled in doubt. “You think you’re gonna walk in and magically fix this?”

“I hope so.”

“Then why didn’t you do it before we got here?”

She rolled up her sleeve and revealed two crimson lines scratched in her skin. “I tried… but Thorn… I couldn’t get here alone.”

Sam glared at Dean and he fell silent.

After what felt like several minutes, the tree-arch opened to reveal a small grotto carved in a sheer cliff of rock. The sunlight felt thin and faded, and its beams wavered as if distorted. Thorn lay huddled against the stone wall in a fetal ball, its green eyes glaring at the intruders. A hissing sound emitted from the spriggan’s mouth, but it made no aggressive move.

Dean stood between Teagan and Thorn, ready to fight even with no chance of winning. Sam led Teagan into the grotto, and she shivered as she took a deep breath.

She pointed at Thorn. “What is that?”

“Cas says it’s a spriggan,” Sam answered. “Some kind of nature spirit.”

“No, you daft boy… the blackness in its foot. It reeks of Hell and corruption.”

Sam squinted and spotted a jagged chunk of dark metal shaped like a spiked jack from a child’s game sticking out of Thorn’s heel. The spriggan’s fingers curled near the object, hesitant and defensive lest anything touch the wound.

Sam approached, hands extended in a gesture of peace. “Let me help you get that out,” he said in a soft tone.

Thorn hissed again and bared its claws.

“I think that’s my job, son,” Teagan said. She coughed to clear her throat, then stepped into the middle of the grotto. Her voice rose in the wavering song she’d been humming, raspy at first then strong and clearer with every word.

Grey and strong the stone and green the vibrant leaves

And bright the lilac blooms beneath the verdant eaves

Before Sam’s eyes, the woods responded to Teagan’s call. Glowing sprites winked into view and fluttered between sun-drenched branches. Colors like a liquid rainbow dripped from every leaf. Strands of emerald light twisted around Thorn and Teagan, growing in brightness until Sam couldn’t look at them any longer.

Teagan sang on, heedless of the change.

Come now every fae, awaken from your dream,

Bring forth the light of day, unleash the living stream

Let glory shadows slay, and purest life redeem

Thorn jerked and its foot kicked toward the grotto’s entrance. Shimmering light pooled around the shadowy metal. With a thunderclap, the chunk of darkness burst out of Thorn’s foot and hurtled through the archway like a bullet from a gun.

“We need to get that before it corrupts anything else,” Dean shouted, dashing through the trees after the jack.

Sam hesitated and glanced at Teagan and Thorn, who both seemed frozen in swirling light. Then he ran after Dean. They lumbered through the woods, snapping branches on the ground and stumbling over roots. Then they reached the end of the archway and found Castiel.

The angel stood squared up against a man in a long black coat who held the jack up to the light with a grin.

“Crowley,” Dean said. “What in Hell are you doing here?”

“Hello again, boys,” Crowley said. “Sorry for the trouble. And quite right, Dean. One of my lads lost this little bauble during a recent trip this way, and, well… I couldn’t just come get it on my own. Not allowed, you see. Too… disruptive.” He winked at Castiel.

Dean took a position beside Castiel. “What is that thing, Crowley? I don’t think demons are coming up and tossing jacks to pass the time.”

“You care to play?” Crowley extended his hands as if offering the object, then snapped it back. “Whoops, looks like none of you brought any balls. Maybe next time.”

Sam heard more footsteps approaching from the grotto and turned to see a burly, half-naked man in his twenties, with Teagan’s knitted sweater wrapped around his waist, followed by a young redhead the same age wearing the rest of the old lady’s oversized clothes.

The redhead strode past Sam and got in Crowley’s personal space. “I told you before, you’re not welcome here, demon,” she seethed.

“Good to see you again too, Teags.” Crowley turned to the man and looked him up and down. “And you… You’re a lucky man, Grant McSwain. Though you should put on some clothes… you’re going to get Dean all worked into a tizzy.”

Teagan slapped him across the face.

“Well aren’t you a feisty one,” Crowley said as he massaged his jaw. “Such a lost art, hospitality. I suppose I shall bid you farewell.”

He vanished in a puff of brimstone and ash.

Sam doffed his jacket and wrapped it around Grant, but Castiel eyed Teagan with as much suspicion as he’d given Crowley. “Mortals weren’t meant to drink from that. Not even guardians.”

Teagan bowed her head, sheepish. “I know. And we didn’t mean to… but I couldn’t let that piece of Hell corrupt him.”

Dean looked at Grant and sighed. “Thorn, I presume. And you’ve been guarding… what, the Fountain of Youth?”

“We found it in the Fifties,” Teagan answered. “Our last expedition, though we didn’t know it at the time. Once we realized what it was, we stayed to protect it. We had to.”

Dean nodded. “From the Red scare? Worried about Communists?”

Grant shrugged. “More like the Red, White and Blue scare. A source of power that could turn General Patton into a young man again, that could make a man like McCarthy live forever? That’s too much for any government to control. But it’s safe now, thanks to you all. And it’ll stay that way.”

“You weren’t supposed to drink from it,” Castiel stressed.

Grant smiled at Teagan and took her hand. “I wonder if we just got fired from being guardians.”

Everyone chuckled, except Castiel, who disappeared with a rush of wind.

They started down the path toward the Impala, taking in the fresh air. Once they reached the car, Sam offered Grant and Teagan a ride.

“You know what,” Grant said, “I think we’ll walk. I forgot what it’s like to not feel stiff all the time. From age, mind you, not from being Thorn.”

The boys said their goodbyes, and the Impala roared down the hillside.

Alone under the trees, Grant leaned close to Teagan and held her tight. “What did I ever do to deserve you? After so many years, you’ve saved me one last time…”

A mischievous light sparkled in Teagan’s eyes as she looked at the youthful Grant. “Last? Maybe not…”

The Gold Rush of Eighteen Forty-Ten, a #BlogBattle entry

This piece is for the Blog Battle hosted and managed by the seemingly tireless Rachael Ritchey. If you’d like to participate, she has all the details on the Blog Battlers’ WordPress site.

Genre: Tall Tale

Word: Resolved

Word Count: 1041

—–

Aurora Borealis, painted by Frederic Edwin Church, 1865. (Public Domain)
Aurora Borealis, painted by Frederic Edwin Church, 1865. (Public Domain)

 

The Northern Lights danced across the Alaska sky while two men trudged through the snows. Rings of smoke followed in their wake like Indian signals, and the lantern jangling from a pole spread a warm, inviting light with which the weather disagreed.

“I’m tellin’ ya, Jim’s stronger than any man,” the younger man said. His cigar glowed orange as he took a drag beneath his thick black mustache. “Didja see how he hefted those carts of stone? Bet he could hurl ‘em right over the peak of Denali if he had half a mind to do it.”

“Oh, I know all the stories,” the older fellow replied, hunched and stiff from years in the mines. “Folk say when Ol’ Jim Gibbons was born, he split his Ma right in half. Then the boy saw what he’d done and squeezed her back together again like clay.”

“Aw, that’s a load of bunk.”

“I met Maw-Maw Gibbons, Junior. She’s got a white stretch mark runs straight down her spine an’ right between her bosoms. Limped as long as I’ve known her, an’ who can blame her after that ordeal?”

“Well, that may be, Paw… but ain’t possible to split a person in half and then put ‘em together again.”

“You a doctor of medicine now? Wish you told me! We coulda been makin’ a killing treatin’ the workers on this gold rush instead of joinin’ ‘em in the mines.”

Paw gazed into the night sky and took a deep breath. “Here’s to another year of luggin’ rock and pannin’ for gold. Happy New Year, boy. I’ll get you a mug of cider when we reach Abby’s.”

“Paw, come on now. I think I’ll go for somethin’ a little stronger.”

“Fine, but I ain’t buyin’ no firewater. You need to cut down the carousin’ and cavortin’ with wayward women, get some meat on your bones and some strength in your spirit. Start of a New Year’s a good time to make some changes, Junior.”

“I ain’t Jim Gibbons,” Junior fired back, “and I ain’t tryin’ to be him neither. I’m a grown man now, Paw. I can tend to my own affairs.”

“Jus’ sayin’ a man could choose worse examples to follow.” Paw eyed the glowing stogie between Junior’s lips.”Like quittin’ those Cubans. Might save us some earnings if we didn’t have to keep you stocked up on tabacca an’ booze.”

“Man’s got to live a little, Paw. What’s the point of puttin’ in my fifty or sixty years if I don’t enjoy a one of ‘em? Even your big legend Jim had his days of fun an’ debauchery.”

Paw shook his head and dismissed Junior’s point with a wave.

Junior took a long drag on the cigar, until the end blazed like the anger building in his heart. “Okay, Paw, let’s talk about the Gibbons I’ve heard tell of. Went through bottles of whiskey like lesser men take shots. Walked into sportin’ houses an’ hired the whole stable of women, an’ left no less vigorous than when he came through the doors.”

“Hardly the right kind of—”

“Men say when he rustles up dinner after a week in the mines, he rides out to the Circle-Tee Ranch and purchases beef by the head of cattle instead of the pound of the cut. Why, when the Garveston tobacco plantation went up in the drought, they say Ol’ Jim rode through the flames an’ plumes of smoke, suckin’ in deep breaths an’ grinnin’ the whole dang time. Told the farmhand that he finally got the happy feels ever’body talked about. That’s your bastion of morality an’ clean livin’ right there.”

“Mayhaps he did all that,” Paw admitted with a solemn nod. Then he waggled a finger at Junior. “You forget he turned aside from his sinful ways. Found some religion, put his face into the Good Book now an’ again. Happened during the California Gold Rush of Eighteen Forty-Ten.”

“The what now?”

“Back in Forty-Nine,” Paw started in a reverent tone, “Jim Gibbons found more gold and made more profit than any man west of the Mississippi. Easy to do when you can pick your way clean to China in a week’s hard work. Miners in the Rockies said they’d be diggin’ a tunnel when the walls in front of ‘em burst open and big Jim breaks through, grin splittin’ his face like the Grand Canyon. ‘Ello from California, he’d say in that deep baritone of his, before lumbering back the way he’d come.”

“You can’t believe—”

“Seen it with my own eyes, I did! And yessir, he did all that wicke’ness what you was recounting. But come the end of Forty-Nine, he realized all his money’s gone an’ he got nothin’ to show for it. Resolved to change his ways, right then, an’ wished he could take back those fool decisions you praise so highly.” Paw gave Junior a judgmental squint.

“So Big Jim, what’s he do? Decides maybe he can take it back. So he gets himself a thick chain like they use to lower cars in the mine shafts, the longest length of it he can find. Steps onto the highest peak of the Rockies an’ starts to whirlin’ the chain around. Started the dust storms on the Oklahoma plains, he did.

“Then Jim hurls the end of that chain up into the sky an’ latches it right ‘round the settin’ sun on the first try. Strains with all his might and pulls the ball o’ fire back the other direction, sends it back to the East coast and keeps whippin’ it around, backwards to its normal path in the heavens. Spun time all the way back to the beginnin’ of the year, an’ no one knew what to do. So they called it the Gold Rush of Eighteen Forty-Ten.”

Junior spit into the snow. “They did not.”

“Did too. I got coins stamped with the date to prove it. And what’s more, in Eighteen Forty-Ten, Jim Gibbons turned his life around—made the promise to change, an’ carried it out to the finish.”

Junior scoffed. “A man that completed a New Year’s resolution? Heard a lot of things about Jim Gibbons, but now I know you’re pullin’ my leg.”

—–

Happy New Year, fellow Battlers and readers. Here’s hoping you accomplish above and beyond what you’ve aimed for this year–maybe write some true-to-life tall tales of your own.

Diffraction Free to Read on WattPad

It’s the Winter Solstice, the shortest period of daylight during the year. For various reasons, my mind ties that dichotomy of darkness and light to Lyllithe, the protagonist of my fantasy novel, Diffraction. 


I completed the revisions and final copy on the Solstice last year, then published it on CreateSpace and Kindle Direct. It’s been available for purchase for the last year, and I have deep appreciation for those who bought a paperback or e-book copy. That option is still out there (and the e-book is reduced to the minimum price I can choose based on the royalty plan).

I’ve also made the book free on Kindle from December 22nd through Christmas Day, so if you know someone who might like a free fantasy novel, point them that way.

However, the real point of this post is to call attention to the full book available to read on WattPad. Though I appreciate every purchase, what I need more than a buck from an e-book sale is a body of readers–and maybe some love on social media. Reblogging this post or sharing the WattPad link among your circle of friends might put Diffraction in the hands of interested readers.

Winter isn’t coming… It’s here. What better way to start it than curling up under a warm blanket with a cup of hot cocoa and an invasion of bloodthirsty zealots?

Wishing you and yours all the best this holiday season.

Not to the Swift on WattPad

Having just finished my third National Novel Writing Month, I revisited the manuscript of Not to the Swift as the first book I ever completed and a departure from my sci-fi/fantasy norm. I forgot how much I love those characters and the conflicts between them.

I’ve made the whole book available for free reading on WattPad today. I know the joke is that site is full of sparkly vampire and One Direction fanfic… but there are kids engaged in reading, and reading a lot. Also, while purchases on Amazon or Kindle put a buck or two in my bank account, what I really need is readers who might buy future books. (I’m so selfish.)

To that end, if you read Not to the Swift and enjoyed the book, more than a purchase, I’d love an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank you.

As a personal aside, chapter 16 is my favorite. I had a lot of fun as a writer trying to emulate a middle schooler’s style and level of poetry while hopefully making it meaningful to the story content.

More than that, I think it was in the middle of NaNo, and I was struggling to get the words on page as well as dealing with the constant inner doubts of “is it even worth writing?”

Renee telling her students that everyone goes through that sort of thing was just supposed to be a little personal pep talk to myself and something it sounded like a decent, encouraging teacher might say to address kids’ fears of sharing their work in public.

When she comes back into the room after the encounter with LaTasha Washington, in the moment of writing it struck me that Amir could respond with some of the same advice he’d just been given. I love when those moments come up later, sort of a bookend or resonance within the writing. I probably try too hard for that in other places, but here, it seemed to happen naturally.

Over the last few months, I’ve been mulling over what I wrote back then, contemplating the characters and where they might be “today.”

It’s a challenging but fascinating exercise to imagine what another person’s viewpoint or argument might be, especially on such charged and divisive subjects. I feel like if I can write a remotely convincing point of view from someone whose ideas and beliefs I may strongly disagree with, then I’ve hopefully learned more about that sort of person and their perspective–learned to see them as a real human being with feelings and emotions, and not just as the butt of a joking Facebook meme.

I don’t feel like there’s enough of that going on in America today, but the only person I can really change is me… so this is part of my ongoing attempt.

I fully intend to write a sequel to this book, Not to the Strong, perhaps as next year’s NaNo effort. I have included a preview of one scene here:

Maria shook Bishop Simms’ hand and smiled, then gestured toward the seats at the front of the sanctuary. “This should be fairly quick,” she said, “but feel free to answer at any length you choose. Any long, awkward rambling can be edited out later–thank goodness, or I’d have been fired years ago.”

“I just hope the editors are careful to preserve the content of the dialogue instead of looking for the right sound bites.”

“We’re not like those types of news agencies, sir. We won’t put words in or take words out of your mouth.”

Simms laughed, a full-bodied and amicable sound. “You know, Miss Melendez, I believe that’s what all the others would tell me too.”

The cameraman placed lights on posts and set up diffuse panels to soften the shine, then made final adjustments. Maria shuffled in her chair and checked her watch. “You about done with that?”

“I just–there’s a glare coming off the bishop’s head that I’m trying to reduce.” He looked at Simms with an apologetic shrug. “Sorry, man.”

“Son, no need. Been bald for the last thirty years. I’ve wished I could reduce that glare too.”

Maria flipped through notes on her cell. “Okay, Bishop, the obvious topic of discussion will be the question of reparations, so we’ll knock that part out right off the bat. Sound good?”

“I’m at your disposal, and all too happy to talk. Ask my parishioners.”

Maria smiled. “So I’ve heard… Hence my warning about the editors.”

“You’re good, Maria.” The cameraman gave her a thumbs up and hunkered down behind his device. “Ready? Five, four, three…” He waved his finger twice.

“Good morning, Stapleton,” Maria said, her face a picture perfect smile. “I’m Maria Melendez, and this is Today on the Town. I’m sitting in the sanctuary of New Hope Tabernacle, a place of worship that has developed an intermittent relationship with the local news in the last few years. You may remember this sanctuary from the funeral of young Chris Washington, an unarmed black teen inadvertently killed by Officer Chris Mason while responding to a shoot-out between rival gangs–with Pulaski High School just a couple blocks away.”

Bishop Simms waited, hands folded in his lap, a slight upward turn to his lips, the sort of smile looking for a boot to drop or a knife in the back.

“Since then,” Maria continued, “Bishop Henry Simms has been a prominent voice on the subject of racial tensions and race relations in the Stapleton area. But in the last year, his platform skyrocketed into national attention when his slogan and position on the subject of reparations came up in the Presidential Debate.”

She turned toward Simms, whose face maintained that gentle cautiousness. “So, Bishop, let’s talk about your efforts. Since finding yourself under national scrutiny, have you reconsidered any of your more aggressive or challenging stances on policy?”

“If I changed my views just because of the spotlight,” Simms said, “that would imply that I wasn’t fully convinced of them to begin with. My positions are the same as when you stepped into my church that sad day as we mourned Chris’s wasted life.”

“So you’re not backing down on the issue of reparations, or the messages you’ve given condemning the rampant white privilege you claim affects so much of American politics?”

“No. Why should I? Though I’m not sure I used exactly those words.”

Maria scrolled through the text on her cell screen. “In a sermon on–December Twelfth two years ago, you’re on record asking how we can rightfully expect God to bless our nation while at the same time allowing corruption to grow and fester throughout all levels of government.”

“A valid question, in my opinion.”

“And later in that particular message, you brought up the disparity between how whites and blacks experience police intervention in Stapleton and across the nation. To a lot of people across the country, this doesn’t sound like Sunday morning sermon material.”

“Throughout the Old Testament,” Simms replied, “we see God concerned with His people and their societal expressions of righteousness. This word, in the Hebrew, goes straight to the modern concept of justice and equality–whether we’re talking about the courtroom, the locker room at the police station, or the break room in your work center. God doesn’t change, so I believe that justice and righteousness must still stir up His passions and holy anger just as much as when He sent His prophets to condemn abuses back then.”

“Do you see yourself as a prophet in a sense, Bishop?”

“Nothing so lofty as that. I’m a watchman on the wall, looking out over my city and my nation with concern. There’s so much–”

“A watchman on the wall,” Maria interrupted. “Interesting choice of words, given the divisiveness and the spectacle of the last election. A lot of talk about walls during the debates and the run-up to Election Day, wasn’t there? Are you supporting policies to build walls?”

“Again, I harken back to God’s holy Word,” Simms replied, “far more than I do the brash words of one man or woman. In the days of Joshua and King David, they built walls not to separate their own people, but to protect the community. I’m willing to stand on that kind of wall and call attention to the problems I see weakening our society. And like many times with the children of Israel, I don’t see the big problems coming at us from the outside, but within our walls, within our communities, our cities.”

“And your answer to that appears to be a mutil-billion dollar reparations program many call a bold-faced socialist redistribution of wealth, with some even leveling charges of reverse racism and discrimination.”

Simms leaned forward. “You ask why I talk so much of reparations. Is the concept far fetched? Perhaps. It certainly is a difficult and challenging question, whether–”

Maria shook her head. “Bishop, the conservative estimates on what it would take to attempt such a program are staggering.”

“Maybe,” Simms replied. “But it gets people attention, and it should. What African slaves went through is mighty staggering as well. And while we have made so much progress in the last several decades, we cannot sit idly by and declare ‘Mission Accomplished,’ all is well in the racial divide in America.”

“Well, it is a divisive view you’re espousing, Bishop. You can understand why people might disagree.”

“Might be we could have a much different conversation if there was acknowledgment that there’s cause–There’s a grievance in our past, as yet unresolved, where reparations could be in order. I wouldn’t presume to speak for every person in the African American community, nor do I think you can speak for all Latinas, or your cameraman for every white male. But I think that it would be a huge step to hear certain vocal leaders on the other side of the debate simply acknowledge it. Acknowledge that the grievance exists.”

“Bishop, I have to ask, what of forgiveness? Christian leaders and especially your detractors have often responded based on your own religious beliefs. “Simms is a preacher of the gospel,’ they say, ‘so he more than others should know Christ called us to forgive, not judge. Because He–Christ Jesus–already forgave.’ That’s a quote from the Reverend Jerry Turnbull, a megachurch pastor from Saint Louis.”

“Oh, I have heard those kinds of arguments before,” Simms said, nodding. “Yes, indeed, that sounds pretty good when you’re preaching to your congregation. But I look to no less than the Apostle Paul for my answer to Reverend Turnbull’s query.”

“Saint Paul?”

“Paul indeed wrote that nothing now separates us from the love of God, and there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, so I understand where my brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue are coming from.”

Simms curled his hands toward his heart and continued. “But Paul had a broken and contrite heart about his sin. He wrote at length about his failures, his crimes against the church, his rebellion against the Lord. ‘I am the chief of sinners,’ he said, ‘I am the least deserving.’ Paul knew the power of grace because he recognized the depth of the evil he had done.”

He pointed his finger to the south side of the sanctuary. “People on this side of the Twenties would be much quicker to forgive if we heard some of that recognition of wrongdoing from those fine believers on the south and east sides of Stapleton.”

“Yes, but–”

“Maria,” Simms continued, “I think of what one of my parishioners told me the other day. ‘I don’t hold my brother’s death against anybody… but I still hold that pain inside. That’s part of who I am. And while I know God forgets the sins of others and binds up my wounds, I don’t think that means I should forget the hurts or pretend they didn’t happen.’ So it is with our nation and our past. Too many folk want to pretend it didn’t happen, or, you know, ‘well it’s all over and done with now, let’s dust ourselves off and move on.'”

Maria opened her mouth to respond but said nothing.

“We still remember the Alamo,” Simms said, “and the Revolutionary War… and rightly so. We must remember our history, both the good and the bad. The good, so we can emulate the heroism of those who came before, and the bad, so we don’t forget and become doomed to repeat their mistakes.”

“Hard to argue with any of that, Bishop,” Maria finally said. “But when you slap a bill for several billion dollars on a weakened economy, people are still going to balk.”

“I’ve long heard it said that freedom isn’t free,” Simms replied. “Believe me, we know. We paid for our freedom over centuries of abuse and maltreatment. So perhaps my response to my detractors comes down to this: you talk a good game about freedom and justice. Let’s see you put your money where your mouth is.”

Victory of a Sort

I made it. 


50,000 words of a brand new novel, all written in the month of November. I crossed that finish line today during the All-Japan Virtual Write-In. Good thing too, since my next three days at work are wall-to-wall busy.

Update: I added up my efforts today and realized I also crossed 200K words for the year… which may sound impressive, but consider that a full quarter of that happened in the last four weeks. Such grand plans I had… But I digress.

Of course, the blog suffered as a result of NaNoWriMo efforts. #sorrynotsorry and all that.

This is my third NaNo and third victory, so I’m quite pleased. It’s a wonderful chance to play around with something different from your normal writing style or genre. This year I went with 1st person present tense urban fantasy, something I’ve never tried prior to the preparation for this novel.

On top of that, I found an awesome site that spurred me toward that ever-increasing word count: 4thewords

They’re a NaNoWriMo sponsor, so I wanted to help them out. The site is a writing system that incorporates game elements like an RPG. You create a character and go on quests against monsters that have word count goals instead of health points. The gear you find and equip gives you bonuses to attack (counts additional words written), defense (gives you additional time to fight the monster), and luck (increased chance of finding better items).

While the short burst style of writing in sprints of 250 – 1500 words has its drawbacks in the form of continuity problems, poorly thought-out ideas, and plot holes, I would have those in a first draft no matter what I do. What matters to me is, does it get me writing more? I could be wrong, but I definitely feel like the game elements encouraged me to write more than I might have if I was depending on internal motivation alone.

I still have a good chunk to finish on the first draft before I can type “the end.” It’ll be a long while before this one hits the streets, and it might be with a pen name. Also it’s a partnership with a friend in the States, so there’ll be more back-and-forth in the refining process than if I was just going to self-publish.

Meanwhile, Blog Battles have taken a hiatus, so there also won’t be any Grant & Teagan popping up until next year.

That said, I have some plans for December that I’ll call attention to here, and I hope to continue using 4thewords to see if it will keep me moving forward on Diffusion (fantasy book 2) and God’s Shooter, an Old West project involving a gambler prophet. The latter will probably start popping up in scenes on WattPad and WordPress before the end of the year.

And of course, I’ll post the occasional rant or update on my life, because hey, it’s my blog and I add those into my overall word count. Plus I need something to distract me from politics on Facebook. 

Hope your holidays thus far have been restful and productive.

#BlogBattle entry – Settling Accounts

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Explorer, Collector, and Uncooperative Witness

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway


“Don’t worry, Teagan,” Grant said, his hand on her shoulder. “Let me do the talking and we’ll get through this just fine.”

A hammer slammed against the sound block at the central seat overseeing the hearing, and all commotion in the chambers of Congress ceased. An old Senator with white handlebar mustaches squinted through a monocle at the pair. A few other elder statesmen sat on either side, and a stenographer sat at a typewriter, ready to record details.

“This hearing will now come to order,” the Senator said. “For the purpose of settling discrepancies in the accounts of Mister Grant Rowan McSwain and Mistress Teagan Ca—cow me—hell, whatever it is O’Daire—”

Caoimhe,” Teagan said. “Say ‘key’ with a little ‘va’ at the end, and—“

She noted the stern, narrow-eyed look from the Senator and snapped her mouth closed.

“Teagan key-va O’Daire,” the Senator continued, “concerning the disposition and whereabouts of properties of the United States of America, namely, fifteen bars of Fort Knox bullion each weighing two pounds, and of less import to this committee, the Crucifix of Castellano. I’ll remind you both, you are under oath and the conversations here will be recorded and classified until further review. So, Mister McSwain, what happened to our gold?”

“That’s my report in your hand, Senator Dixon,” Grant said. “Everything’s in there.”

“There’s a whole lot in there, Mister McSwain.” Dixon shuffled the papers and eyed their contents. “Not a lot that makes sense though. You say here that you were contracted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations?”

“Indeed. I have a signed letter from Agent Shane Dawkins that states—“

“The Bureau claims they don’t have an Agent Dawkins in their employ.”

Teagan tensed as the hearing started off exactly as she feared. “We’re being set up, Grant,” she whispered.

Grant stood his ground. “Well, Senator, they’re lying to you.”

“That information came from a source with access to the Director himself,” Senator Dixon replied. “You expect me to take your word over Director Hoover?”

“Sources with access to the Director also claim J. Edgar Hoover isn’t a loon,” Grant said. “Doesn’t change the fact I have a photograph of him in a hula skirt and a coconut bra—one that is currently in the care of an associate, with orders to release it to the press in the event of my untimely demise or incarceration.”

The other senators gasped. Dixon simply leaned forward. “Are you actually blackmailing a Senate committee under oath?”

“I’m telling you the whole truth about what will happen, under oath. Nothing more.”

Dixon sat back and thumbed through a couple pages. “So that’s how we’re going to play this? Fine. Let’s talk about the destruction of the H.M.S. Perceval.”

“Not my fault,” Grant stated. “Like I wrote there, it seems the Leviathan no longer responds to the Ixthacan summoning ritual with the same… cooperative temperament.”

“They’re notoriously fickle,” Teagan added.

“A shame to lose that trick, really,” Grant continued. “You should have seen the mer-men’s faces… I mean, up until it ate them.”

Dixon glared at her, then back at Grant. “Leviathans.”

“Well I don’t know what the proper genus and species would be, but that’s the term we used. Actually, maybe they belong in their own family.”

“And you performed the ritual because of these… We’ll just call them pirates if that’s alright.”

“Pirates with gills and skin of scales,” Grant said. “I suppose ‘pirates’ works, since that’s the life they chose. But ‘mer-men’ is more accurate.”

“Or Atlanteans,” Teagan chimed in.

“Aw, hell. Atlantis!” Dixon scoffed and turned to his peers, one brow raised. “Are we really supposed to continue this farce? Can I just declare these witnesses hostile, slap ‘em in irons, and toss ‘em on a boat bound to Alcatraz?”

“I believe we’ve established that Mister McSwain and I have bad luck with boats,” Teagan chimed in. Then she saw Grant’s perturbed look and said no more.

A senator in the farthest seat shook his head. The man seemed a couple decades younger than the others, with slicked back dark hair showing debonair streaks of gray at the temples. His fine mustache and goatee added to his roguish charm.

“Hoover was clear about the importance of this, Dixon. He buys into this stuff, asks specifically about these sorts of things—just like the reports coming in concerning the Kaiser’s expeditions in Africa and across Europe.”

“Might I remind you, Senator Thornton,” Dixon snapped, “these two petty cultural thieves are not cleared for classified information?”

Thornton examined Grant for a moment then chuckled. “I suspect they know more than we do, Senator.”

“We’ve encountered Germans several times,” Grant said, “a strange group that claims to work for the Kaiser, but seems too well-equipped and well-funded for that. They’ve been on our tails, looking for Ixthacan artifacts, objects of power, anything with an associated myth or legend.”

Dixon shook his head. “This reads like a penny pulp. I am not bringing a report full of gibberish like sea monsters, mer-men, and—”
he scanned the page. “Oh, yes, vampires—to Director Hoover, let alone the President.”

“Hoover buys into all of this anyway,” Grant said. “And to answer your earlier question, that’s where Castellano’s Crucifix is. With a vampire. Teagan blew a hole in his chest with one of the deck guns, then I impaled him with that golden cross. He got real feisty after that, but we trapped him on the ship as it was going down.”

“I don’t understand. What were you doing on a pirate vessel off the coast of Egypt in the first place?”

“They rescued us after our vessel sank. Or I should say they enslaved us, and I think talked about using us for chum so they could lure the sharks they were hunting.”

Dixon cast Thornton a sidelong glance, and the slick younger politician merely shrugged.

Grant chuckled and turned to Teagan. “Should I tell him about the connection we found between the Ixthacans and other ancient civilizations?”

Teagan laughed. “No, Grant, I think this is a good time to—“

“Aliens!” Grant spread his arms wide, reaching up toward the heavens beyond the high ceiling. “Extra-terrestrial life forms that I think made contact with humanity in various advanced civilizations around the world.”

Propped on his desk with his elbows, Senator Dixon flopped his heavy jowls into his hands. Senator Thornton, bemused and nonchalant throughout the proceedings, now fixed his gaze on Grant with a keenness that unnerved Teagan.

Grant pressed on, unaware or unconcerned. “The Ixthacans, Egypt, the tribes of Europe, China… Maybe others. We found portals connected to those four regions at a minimum.”

Dixon closed his eyes and took a long, silent moment before opening them again. “Aliens.”

“Yeah,” Grant said with a vigorous nod. “And they’re not nice. They see flesh as weakness and impurity, something they purged from their world.” He raised a finger with sudden recollection. “Also you’ll want to know they’re made of living mud.”

“So you were searching for portals to the world of the mud-men,” Dixon said, “and your vessel was attacked by vampires, so you sank it and got rescued—“

“Enslaved.”

“—Enslaved by mer-men, which caused you to summon the Leviathan, who broke free of your control and wreaked havoc and mayhem across the Mediterranean before disappearing into the Atlantic.”

“I did cause minor mayhem, I admit,” Grant replied. “But I was not aware of any havoc being wreaked.”

“We’re done here,” Dixon declared, and slammed the gavel on the sound block. “I move that first, we chalk this up as a total, disastrous loss, and second, that we make it clear to all Departments that Mister McSwain is not a reliable asset for the interests of the United States—particularly because he is absolutely beside himself with wild imaginations and baseless claims all unsupported by evidence.”

“I second the motion,” one of the other Senators said. “So long as those exact words are recorded for future reference, so that no one’s precious time may be wasted in such manner in the future.”

The vote passed unanimously and Grant and Teagan found themselves escorted from the chambers in haste.

Once outside the Capitol building, Grant took a deep breath and smiled as he surveyed the majesty of Washington D.C.

Swait Jaysis, Grant,” Teagan said with a long sigh. “That was a pretty little mess you made in there.”

“It’s perfect, Teag.”

“We’ll never work for the Americans again, and you think that’s a good thing?”

“We’ll never work for the American government again,” Grant said. “There are folk in the States who will be curious about our findings. But Uncle Sam won’t ever take another look our way.”

Teagan glanced back and spotted Senator Thornton watching. “I’m not so sure…”

Fighting Fire with Fire

Here’s the #BlogBattle entry for this week’s word, “deterge” (to cleanse something). 1,499 words… sorry, I usually go over and have to cut it down.

No surprise, it’s more adventures of Grant & Teagan, coming right off the heels of last week’s entry. (Thanks for those who voted for last week’s entry as the winner!)

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Daring Doer of Good Deeds, Feisty Fighter of Fiends, and Cavalier Combat Champion

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

 

Slumped against the stump of a fallen tree, Grant’s blurry vision wavered as he watched Teagan rummaging through the foliage.

“I need more torchlight, Grant,” she barked.

He grunted and raised the torch higher, surprised by the exhaustion in his muscles but not by Teagan’s temper. She’d been like this for hours. Ever since it all went fuzzy.

The first rays of dawn peeked through the leafy branches far above, casting radiant beams into the darkness below. They seared Grant’s eyes, and his thoughts filled with an urge to flee. The trees were no refuge from that blazing fury in the sky. Perhaps a cave… and if he couldn’t find one, he would claw his way into the ground to escape that burning eye.

“Finally,” Teagan gasped, and Grant refocused his thoughts. She looked vibrant, her soft skin so bright even in the dim light, her hair a tangled mess swaying back and forth with each motion, her hands moving swiftly, the veins in her wrists throbbing and pulsing an intoxicating and sensual rhythm…

She dropped a few dark berries into a canteen cup, then drew a flask and small glass bottle from her pack. The flask Grant had seen before, but the bottle’s clear contents stirred in him an unexpected loathing.

“Stupid,” Teagan muttered to herself. “Why did I let Father MacCleary head back to town? I could really use some more holy wa–”

Teagan’s eyes flicked toward Grant, and she swallowed the rest of her comment. Silent, she poured the bottle into the canteen cup and mashed the berries, then shook it gently in one hand.

“What’s in the bottle, Teag?” Grant asked, caught off guard by the growl in his voice. “What are you making? What were those?”

“Belladonna berries,” Teagan said.

“Belladonna…” Grant mumbled. Memories came with difficulty. “Isn’t that poisonous?” He shivered, the slight bout of strange sickness developing into a debilitating chill.

“They’re only deadly if you use too much. That’s what the water and scotch are for—to dilute it. A good cup of Irish firewater to deterge the wound and warm your bones.”

She paused. “We’re fighting fire with fire here, one kind of death with another death. You might see some bizarre things. Belladonna has interesting effects.”

Grant noted how Teagan’s eyes stayed fixed on him while she poured her precious stash into the cup. The sharp odor of scotch filled Grant’s nostrils. Then she drew closer, hesitant like a forest creature, skittish and ready to bolt. What’s she afraid of?

Something rustled in the distance and Teagan’s head whipped toward the sound. “Tarvinthian’s still out there,” she said, and Grant felt a swell of loyalty he couldn’t explain.

“I don’t have time to wait,” Teagan said, watching Grant’s reactions. “I’m going to give you most of this to drink, but I need to wash out your wound.”

What wound? When did I get wounded? Grant squeezed his eyes shut, as if he could force the cloud of confusion out of his mind. He noticed the scrapes on his knuckles and the spattered blood on his tan shirt. There was a fight.

Eyes trained on him, Teagan crouched beside Grant and dabbed a cloth in the solution she’d prepared. The swish of water and scotch in the metal cup sounded like waves battering the side of a battleship. The thump-thump of Teagan’s heartbeat rushed through Grant’s ears like a lover’s whisper.

She extended the damp cloth toward his neck, and his hand flew to the wound. Teagan jumped back, nearly spilling her cup, but Grant focused on the breaks in his stubbly skin. Two punctures, not too deep. He pulled his hand away and inspected his fingers. Not a lot of blood loss? A neck wound should bleed profusely.

Teagan inched toward him once more. “You alright, Grant? Ready for the medicine? It’s going to sting…”

Her voice faded as Grant’s gaze lingered on her slender neck. She didn’t have any injury like his. Just an artery he could almost see through her skin, pumping precious, sweet life.

Then his world erupted in fire and anguish like the end of days. Searing pain coursed through his neck, clearing the fog in his mind and filling it with screaming.

Teagan dribbled the concoction across the wounds in his neck, and his chest burned as if the liquid carried acid straight to his heart. When he opened his mouth wide to howl at the torment, Teagan poured the rest down his throat.

The world shifted. The scattered rays of light became beams of glory from above, burning through shadows beneath the trees. The forest swayed and groaned like a living throng, each trunk a twisted face meant to instill horror in the hearts of the timid.

And Teagan—wings of blazing light sprang from her back, and a sword of gleaming metal shaped very much like Grant’s machete appeared in her hand. The crucifix dangling around her neck flared with some internal power and stunned Grant, forcing him to avert his eyes from the symbol.

Teagan hovered above him like a valkyrie descending from the heavens. Her trousers and thick linen blouse became a radiant breastplate and a set of layered metal like a skirt. Astounding and imposing, Teagan took a defensive stance over Grant as if to ward away unseen foes with her blade of light.

Then Grant beheld the Devil himself, a disfigured man with skin made of shifting shadows. The world seemed to darken and recoil from him as he approached. Eyes ablaze, with horns jutting from his forehead and chin, Tarvinthian glided through the air held aloft on leathery wings, his fingertips extended into curved obsidian claws. Long fangs protruded from his smirking yet ruined face, and even in that wounded state, Grant gawked at the wonder and commanding presence of this being.

My Lord… You’ve come for me.

The great one looked upon Grant with a mixture of surprise and pride. He said something to Teagan, but the words slipped through Grant’s addled mind. His chest felt like a furnace stoked to a white-hot blaze, and his head pounded with pressure like an overripe melon ready to split open.

Clouds danced across the sky like dust-devils on the prairies back home. The entire world seemed in motion, swirling and undulating, exploding like the colors in a kaleidoscope at the Fair. Grant groaned and fought a wave of nausea. “It’s the medicine working on you, fighting off the neurotoxins infecting you with vampirism,” Angel-Teagan said in her lilting Irish accent. “Let it finish its work before they take hold.”

Then she stabbed at the great devil before her, and bolts of light sprayed from her sword in all directions, illuminating the forest and burning Grant’s narrowed eyes.

Also the tree branches are all made of snakes. And the snakes are all made of mud like the creatures of Pandora. Grant shook his head and tried to focus, but Angel-Teagan and the devilish vampire lord sparred overhead, spinning between the tree-snakes. I really need to collect some of these berries for another day.

Angel-Teagan ducked under Tarvinthian’s sweeping strikes, keeping him at bay with careful swordplay. But he had her on the defensive, and already she bled liquid light from several scratches and minor wounds.

My Lord is toying with her, like a cat batting a mouse around for amusement.

The trunks of the trees shimmered and lined up like a military formation, though Grant’s vision of them wavered like looking through a rippling stream. The ranks of the forest seemed like a cage, trapping the devil and angel within their bounds. And the angel was losing.

Grant strained against the ground, his palms pushing against the earth. The grass screamed obscenities at him and the stump mocked his effort, but Grant managed to rise to one knee. His heart pumped molten lava through his arteries, the belladonna poison and holy water finishing its work. Grant winced but embraced the pain.

Tarvinthian’s devilish form vanished, leaving a scarred man in a torn tuxedo. Still his presence reverberated through Grant, demanding the allegiance such a transcendent being deserved.

Teagan’s radiance faded and her wings disappeared. Tattered linen replaced gleaming metal, and blood leaked from too many scrapes on her arms and legs. She panted and stumbled, the machete wobbling in her hand as she feebly warded off Tarvinthian’s approach.

Yes, the Vampire Lord’s voice echoed in Grant’s mind. Newborn, rise and do my bidding. Slay this woman who dares wound your Master. Then you shall take your place as my favored thrall.

“Sorry, Tarv,” Grant said through gritted teeth. “But I’m already enthralled by another, and I’m not about to let you have her. What say we add to those scars?”

He brandished a knife and lunged.

On the Hunt

Here’s this week’s #BlogBattle entry for “Hindered,” a continuation from last week’s episode in which Teagan killed Birgitte, the vampire Brood Mother who enslaved Grant to fulfill a task for the enigmatic Viscount Tarvinthian: opening an ancient prison of sunlight holding something at bay.

Genre: Adventure/Action (1,498 words)

Update: Thanks to those who voted and made this the winning story for the week!

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From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Cartographer of Uncharted Domains, Champion Pugilist, and Collector of Priceless AntiquitiesAccompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway

Teagan dashed between gravestones and family reliquaries, constantly checking over her shoulder in her mad flight—even though it led to several painful collisions. The wind whipped through her red hair, and the humid mist filled her lungs, making each stride a strain. Her sides burned and her legs screamed, but she gritted her teeth and pressed on.

If I pause for a breath, they’ll be on me in an instant. And I don’t think I can resist a second time.

The memory of the smooth ivory face and piercing eyes washed over her and she almost stumbled. Just a glance from one of Tarvinthian’s progeny and she’d nearly succumbed. Teagan could no longer hold anger or jealousy toward Grant about his year-long escapade while enthralled by Birgitte, the Brood Mother. Younger vampires took hours or even days to turn a mortal to their will. But for these ancients, the allure of their mere presence seemed sufficient to draw Teagan under their thrall.

She felt the tingle throughout her body, the urge to give in, to turn and offer herself—arms extended, head raised to the cloudy night sky, neck exposed to cold air—

The breeze chilled her skin and she blinked, then realized she’d stopped and assumed the position she imagined. “No,” she howled into the night, fists clenched. “You twisted monsters, find a weaker mind!”

Three humanoid forms came into view, bounding across the earth and sky like a pack of predators on the hunt. Teagan turned and ran.

A battered chapel lay ahead, the dim light within a welcome sign of refuge. Hopefully Grant had done his part. Hopefully Birgitte’s ‘daughters’ aren’t pursuing him either. I don’t want him to be the weak-willed man they find.

She scrambled up the cracked wooden steps and tugged on the heavy doors. Grass rustled behind her, the vampire’s footfall soft even from dozens of feet in the air. Teagan froze and shut her eyes, focusing on the silent approach of a curious sensation. Her will began to buckle under the enormous weight and incessant pull toward this supernatural being. Had she tried to run, her feet would betray her, leaden and obstinate as if her boots had been nailed to the floorboards. If she looked on that face again—that glorious, radiant face—she would succumb and be his.

Her heartbeat thudded in her chest and she knew he must hear it, must sense the rich blood flowing through her veins, the life force that could feed his insatiable hunger, the captive will that wanted to do nothing else…

The wood behind her creaked under his weight. Teagan snatched the sawed-off shotgun from the holster on her leg and fired it blind over her shoulder. Flaming bits of dried, minced and powdered garlic sprayed from the barrel, and the thing shrieked.

The spell broken, Teagan turned, raised the gun toward the ravaged, peppered face, and pulled the trigger. Lust and hunger forgotten, the creature’s eyes blazed with fury and hatred for an instant before the golden cloud of garlic blurred Teagan’s view. Then it fell to the ground, screaming and clawing at tattered flesh.

Teagan traded the shotgun to her left hand and slipped a silver crucifix from her belt into her empty palm. At the foot of the cross, the silver extended into a point like a railroad spike. “The Lord rebuke you, fiend,” Teagan said, and jammed the holy ornament into the vampire’s back.

It howled and thrashed across the ground, fleeing her wrath. But two others alighted on the grass near the chapel, their stern gazes devoid of mercy.

Teagan ducked inside, hoping ancient sacred ground might slow their pursuit. A priest stood before the altar, chanting warding prayers in Latin with a rich, sonorous tone. As the last syllable left his mouth, the atmosphere changed. The misty gloom and dread Teagan felt vanished in the soft glow of candles and an inner warmth of hope.

The priest turned to Teagan and smiled. “It seems to have worked. I’m honestly surprised. I don’t believe anyone has sung that canticle in many years.”

“Father MacCleary,” Teagan gushed, “it’s been too long. So good of you to come.”

“So good to see you again, Miss O’Daire,” he said, “even if you no longer wear the nun’s habit.”

Teagan pursed her lips, but sensed no judgment intended. “Not a very good sheep, I’m afraid. Never been willing to stay in the pen.”

MacCleary nodded. “I know, lass. But praise be that the Good Shepherd is ever willing to travel far and wide to find the one who goes astray.”

Something raked the wooden walls, and a window shattered as a chunk of gravestone flew through the stained glass. A pale face with glowing eyes peered inside before skittering into the darkness.

“The Good Shepherd’s not the only one chasing me tonight, Father,” Teagan said. “But they don’t seem willing or able to breach your spiritual defenses. So yes, praise be.” She looked over the less mystical preparations Grant had made during the day, and smiled. He had done well.

“Alas for Mister McSwain,” Father MacCleary said, “caught out in all that danger.”

Distant shotgun blasts rang out in the night, and Teagan laughed. “Don’t waste your worry on him. If I know Grant, he’s loving every moment of this.”

“Well, he can have it all,” MacCleary said with a forced laugh. “I still don’t want to believe this is happening. On a chill night such as this, I would much prefer a cup of tea and reading the Good Book by candlelight in the comfort of my parish.”

“You’ll be back to your disciplines before you know it, Father. Your help tonight may well save not just our lives but the souls of many potential victims.”

Another window shattered, and stone crashed into a dusty wooden pew. Father MacCleary and Teagan both spun toward the sound. Then Teagan sighed with relief. “All they can do is hurt the look of the place.”

More shotgun blasts echoed in the night, closer than the first. More unearthly shrieks, too, and a hearty laugh. Grant must be alright. Teagan stared blankly through the broken window into the night, her hands absently turning her holy medallion between her fingers.

Then an oppressive and palpable darkness swept through the chapel. The walls shook and groaned like a tremor passed through the earth. Thunder boomed and the thick wooden doors flew apart in splinters.

Tarvinthian himself stood at the doorframe, decked in a fine burgundy tuxedo as if attending a lavish ball. His beady eyes stared down his hawkish nose at Teagan and Father MacCleary. Then he brushed the tails of his coats back and cracked his fingers like a maestro about to perform.

The vampire lord stepped into the sanctuary, his motion slow and labored, though his face showed no sign of strain. Bands of light flickered, wrapping around like invisible cords resisting his pale skin and dark suit. He took another step and the bands flashed brighter, stretching his clothing across his torso and limbs. The intermittent flashes became constant as Tarvinthian forced his way forward.

The wards snapped, and the doorframe and surrounding wall crumbled with a thunderclap. Tarvinthian raised an eyebrow. “Impressive, priest. I haven’t dealt with such a hindrance in over a century.”

Father MacCleary stammered and shrank back toward the altar, his white-knuckled fingers wrapped around a rosary.

“Pray all you like,” Tarvinthian said, “but you needn’t fear. I am not here for you, man of a so-called God. Nor for the one killing my children outside—though I will end him.”

His gaze fell upon Teagan, and his cracked, deathly lips parted like rotted cloth. “I am here for you, the one who dared to slay Birgitte–a very goddess. My goddess.”

Teagan fought the fear rising in her and stood firm in the front of the sanctuary. Her hands twitched, demanding in panic that she draw her shotgun or at least another crucifix—anything to defend herself as Tarvinthian steadily advanced.

Then he stepped on the loose floorboard where Grant had placed the trigger. Beneath the sanctuary, a latch released the line once held taut, which led behind the altar and up the inside of the bell tower’s base. Released from its bond, the rope hissed through metal loops toward a massive wooden spike soaked in holy water, mounted on a spring-loaded beam attached to the ceiling.

The spike swung through the center aisle in a blur and impaled Tarvinthian where he stood. His flesh smoldered where the wood touched it, and he bellowed in agony.

Teagan drew her shotgun, then advanced on her prey. “That’s right. I slew your goddess. And I’m not done yet.”

She leveled the gun at his face and fired.

Voices in Our Heads

I love being insane–I mean, schizophrenic–I mean, a writer.

I spent some time (9 hours or so) on a jet yesterday, with not a lot to do and a powerful need to correct a bad attitude. So I took out a list of questions I’d stolen from Writer’s Digest or some similar source, opened up a new document, and in between actual work, I conducted interviews.

First up, Zack Jackson, the no-nonsense drifter / prophet in the Old West, whose dice tell him, every morning, a little hint about what his day may hold in store.

He’s fairly polite but not afraid to speak his mind. There are some questions he doesn’t think I have a right or need to know–and certainly not any of the sort of people that would read my writing.

And there’s some stuff that he doesn’t quite know himself–why the dice give him so little to go on, whether what he sees is fate or a possible outcome he can change, and why God allows such bad things to fall upon innocent folk. (He admits the Parson in town would say, “Well, mayhaps that’s why He sent you.”)

I spent a good long time with Zack. Wrote down almost 3,000 words of interview before it was time to move on. Then I changed fantasy worlds, jumped ahead 150 years, and switched to Cass Stone.

Cass is the “hero” of my upcoming NaNoWriMo project, a book I’m planning and plotting out in a partnership with a good friend from the States. In this alternate world, magic is a real thing and has been throughout history. Those with power ruled for millennia, until the Industrial Revolution (an actual, bloody revolution across multiple modern societies). After that, mages became outcasts, beaten down or kept from rights and freedoms enjoyed by “norms.” In America, freedom was protected for everyone on paper, but not so much in reality. 

Then Hitler rose to power with a technologically superior army fueled by energies consumed from mages used and burned out like human batteries.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, America creates a Magic Enforcement Agency, dedicated to ensuring no similar mixture of technology and arcana can ever threaten the world.

Though none of them would admit it, Cass Stone is their best Enforcer–a self-proclaimed cold-hearted bad guy paid to take out even worse people. And he’s on the trail of a game-changing weapon that could spell doom for the free world if it falls into the wrong hands. 

In the last hour of the flight or so, Cass strolled into the interview and took a seat, challenging the interviewer (me) and questioning the whole purpose of the dialogue.

You can’t get this from some other hobby. I just spent four hours talking to non-existent people. I have six pages of Q&A to show for it. And paradoxically, the more I talk to those imaginary friends, the more clear they become in my mind, so that in theory, the more real the become on the page or screen for a future reader.

They say writers are sometimes a anti-social. I beg to differ.

I go out of my way to talk to people no one else possibly could.

One Year Later

Here’s my #BlogBattle entry for this week. I need to tweak some formatting (italics and such) but I wanted to get it posted before the deadline.

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Fearless Hero, Hearty Fighter, and Formidable Foe…

Accompanied as always by his gorgeous assistant, Birgitte Bakkersson, the Stunner of Stockholm.

 “I think I figured it out, Bridge,” Grant said as he walked, hunched down, through the dusty catacomb.

The bright-eyed blonde smiled. “You’ve sorted out the way into the sealed Chamber of the Sun?” The Nordic lilt in her voice and the soft laugh when she asked tickled Grant’s fancy.

“No, not that. Look, we know now that there’s a whole other world,” Grant said. “We’ll call it Pandora.”

“Oh,” Birgitte said. “This again.”

“And it bears the mark of at least four ancient Earth cultures—”

“We are in the middle of a job,” Birgitte said, and the dim tunnel seemed to grow chilly and dark with her mood. “Lost in a grimy maze of bones, hoping we can even get inside the sanctum—once we find it. If we find it. Yet you’re still caught up with this mystery of yours. Perhaps you’re not best equipped to make sense of all these details, Mister McSwain.”

“I’m not,” Grant said with a sigh. “She was always better at this stuff.”

“You cannot prove your tale,” Birgitte continued, “and no one would believe it.”

“She believed it.”

“I hate to be cold, Mister McSwain, but our livelihood and our very lives depend on your expertise. Teagan O’Daire is dead and buried. You helped lower the casket—do you not remember?”

Grant paused as memories flooded his mind, forcing in against his will. The devastation in the Repository of Castellano after he set off a dynamite charge… the long, silent flight to Ireland… a blurry ceremony seen through tears in a cemetery in Galway under a sky that had no right to be so blue…

It feels like forever ago, yet sometimes it feels like just yesterday.

He noted Birgitte’s expression and took a deep breath. She needed him at his best, here in the moment, not caught up in a different life however long ago.

“I’m not reliving the past,” Grant said, taking Birgitte’s cool hand. “I’ve moved on from all of that. I’m just saying, these artifacts and sources of mythical power have a common root. And Roquefort would bury us in pound notes if we brought that back to London.”

Birgitte furrowed her pretty brow. Covered in webs and grime, gleaming skin hidden under a layer of dust, she still looked more ravishing than any woman Grant’s eyes ever beheld. Even her? Yes, more than her.

“Master Roquefort isn’t financing this expedition,” Birgitte said. “Are you ill, Mister McSwain? Do you not remember your meeting with the Viscount?”

“Right. What was I thinking?” Grant shook his head and pushed aside all thoughts of Pandora’s magenta skies and double moons. An image of a handsome man’s thin, pale face formed in Grant’s mind.

Anatoly Tarvinthian, the Viscount of Belarus, held to traditions of nobility while amassing a fortune in modern business. The vast wealth of his estate dwarfed his personal holdings in arms manufacturing, which was still sufficient to fund significant investments in America. Railroad barons gave way to natural resources and automotive industry over decades, but Tarvinthian’s money flowed freely into all of these.

Even more so, Tarvinthian showed talent in the world of fine arts trading, giving him ties to prominent museums and access to historic sites around the world. His private collection in his secluded castle summer home was rumored to fill several stories, with more floor space and estimated value than the Smithsonian and the Louvre combined.

That’s only what he dares reveal to his privileged few guests. He’s got secrets buried beneath secrets, and a treasure hoard that spans millennia of human history. What could he possibly need from a hired hand like me?

“Look at this marking,” Birgitte said, brushing a long, gloved finger in a strangely sensual way across a rune carved into the catacomb wall. “It’s part of the crest of Vlad Tepes. We’re on the right path.”

Then the shadows shifted up ahead, and a touch of natural light brightened the stone. Birgitte stepped back in surprise, and Grant cocked his head. “Do you think ‘the Chamber of the Sun’ could somehow be a literal meaning? Not just some honorific for a local lord?”

“I’d very much like to find out,” Birgitte cooed, and suddenly Grant very much wanted to find out as well.

Hunkered down, he shuffled toward the bend. The light grew intense, and Grant’s eyes narrowed and watered in protest. But he spotted a cracked stone wall, with a hole in the center where a pickaxe had broken through. The tool itself lay among ashes and dust piled on the floor. Grant grabbed the pickaxe and swung, doubling the size of the hole. Getting in would be easy enough. But where is sunlight coming from this far below ground?

Birgitte watched with wonder from the bend. “You’ve done it, Mister McSwain. The Chamber of the Sun and all its secrets will be laid bare. The heir of Vlad Tepes will be made known to the world, and your name will be on the lips of multitudes.”

Grant swung again and again, swelling with pride—partly at the thought of renown, but mostly due to the breathy tone in Birgitte’s voice. If it made her happy, that mattered more than any other reward.

With a great lunge, he burst through the crumbling stone and stumbled into the sunlit chamber, then gasped.

Four Ixthacan sun-plates sat in fixtures at head level, and above each, an Eye of Ra had been chiseled into the stone. Hieroglyphs and characters glimmered around the room, some form of gold that seemed illuminated from within.

But Grant ignored all that at the sight of the portals. Suspended in the air a hand-length from each sun-plate, a shimmering circle of light offered a view to other places. Stars glimmered in one like a patch of night sky, and fading amber clouds shone through two opposing portals. In the portal opposite the night, pure sunlight shown through, filling the chamber while focusing its warm beam on the sarcophagus at the center of the room.

Grant ambled about, dumbfounded at yet another conflux of cultures and inexplicable technology. “Birgitte, come in here,” he called. “This is what I’ve been talking about.”

“Not yet,” she said from the gloom in the tunnel. “Not for another minute or two, I believe.”

Her words fell on deaf ears as Grant examined the room. Old forms of Chinese characters mixed with the Egyptian hieroglyphs, all of them etched in that glowing gilt. His bare skin tingled when he touched one.

The sunlight shifted, diminishing slightly, and Grant eyed the brightest portal. Through squinting eyes, he saw the burning orb slip behind the dark sphere of the moon. “That’s right… there’s a solar eclipse today.”

Within moments, only the glimmering corona shone through the once-bright portal. Dim light came through the other two portals, their openings revealing dawn or dusk, though Grant couldn’t say which. “On most days,” Grant realized, “full sunlight always shines on the center.”

Birgitte sauntered in, her smile wide and hungry. “But not today. Well done, Mister McSwain. Now quickly, remove the Ixthacan relics to close the portals so we can see what lies within the sarcophagus.” She pointed toward the plate behind the eclipse. “Start with this one.”

It made sense—the gold alone was worth a fortune. Grant stepped forward to obey.

Then Birgitte spun and hissed, her fingers curled like claws. A cloaked woman burst into the room. A silver crucifix jangled around her neck and glinted in the light of the eclipse, and Grant caught the pungent odor of fresh garlic cloves.

She doffed her hood to reveal a wild mop of red hair, and lunged at Birgitte with a thick wooden stake raised in her right hand.

“Teagan?!”

Birgitte twisted, but the stake found its mark, plunging into her chest. She threw Teagan across the room, but the woman landed in a crouch with feline grace.

Birgitte cackled and examined the thick stake in her bosom. “Fool girl, you deem this little sliver of wood sufficient to kill a Brood Queen?”

“No,” Teagan said, drawing a revolver. “I think it makes a good target.” She leveled the gun and fired as Birgitte’s eyes settled on the red-paper wrapped cylinder shoved into the hollowed-out stake.

The dynamite erupted and Birgitte vanished in a cloud of fire and a spray of undead chunks.

Grant stood gaping at the scene. “You—you’re dead. How did you–”

“She lied, Grant,” Teagan said, placing a careful hand on his shoulder. “I’ve been chasing you for almost a year trying to free you from her grasp. Come on, you lumbering ox. Tarvinthian and the rest of the brood are coming, and Dad here is about to wake up. And none of them will be happy to find Mom in pieces.”