Archive for the mythology Category

NaNoWriMo: What Do You Get Out Of Writing?

Posted in blogging, horror, indie, indie authors, mythology, urban fantasy, writing, young adult fiction with tags , , , on November 20, 2014 by rachelcoles

Hi Fellow Indies,

A little more than halfway through NaNoWriMo, only a week and a half to go! I’m participating informally in NaNoWriMo, which means I don’t really follow the website, but I’m using this month to buckle down and make sure I write at least a little every day. For National Novel Writing Month, Webucator has asked authors to talk about their writing journey, and what tidbits of knowledge they have gotten from it. So they had a few questions:

 

What were your goals when you started writing?

 

I’m not sure I really had a goal when I started because I wasn’t that organized. I guess I would say that if wishes were ponies, I’d write a bunch of novels that went best-seller and had movies made from them. But having statistics as part of my day job and knowing the odds, it wasn’t really an expectation. I just aimed for getting published, and having as many people as possible enjoy the book. So I’ve written the one novel so far, and have gotten a few short stories published. I’ve written on and off for the past few years. I wrote a fan fiction novel when I was in my twenties. And then when I got married and had a child, I didn’t really write much. Then one day, my daughter, who loved scary stories, exclaimed that she was bored with the library selection of scary stories for kids. She wanted us to make up our own. So the first story we came up with together was about shadows that moved. Well, I took that idea and fleshed it out, and wrote it down. When it was done, however, it really wasn’t a children’s story. It was called Orphans of Lethe. I submitted it to a few horror magazines to see what would happen, and The Horror Zine wanted it. That was the beginning of my adult writing career, kicked off by my awesomely cool little girl.

 

I started writing more horror stories. And then I couldn’t stop. After about six months, I joined a critique group because I realized that I needed other eyes to look over my work besides my busy husband. The first time that NaNoWriMo rolled around, which I had never heard of before, they encouraged me to participate. Aside from the Babylon 5 fan story which turned into a novel-length book, I’d never even tried to write a novel before. I remembered a short story written by Clive Barker, one of my favorite authors, about a demon who is trapped in a house with a man he is supposed to corrupt, but instead the man winds up driving the demon crazy. I started imagining demons having to deal with everyday exasperations, and somehow, out of that came a story about a well-known demon, Pazuzu, trying to raise a teenage daughter in Denver. I might have been envisioning my own future a little. I remember what I was like as a teenager. So I finished the novel a couple months after NaNoWriMo, and decided to try to get it published. I edited and edited. And got rejected and rejected. And then my husband tipped me off to a friend of his who had said that Journalstone is interested in the kind of stories I liked to write. I sent it off to them, and a month or so later, it was accepted and published as Pazuzu’s Girl.

 

What are your goals now?

 

My goal now is to keep writing, get another novel written, maybe a sequel, and get another novel published, and more short stories as well. I would like to win a few short story contests, which I’ve never done before, aside from once when I was in high school. I think part of the key is to make little short-term goals. If I think too much about long term goals, I might get intimidated, and then writing wouldn’t be fun.

 

What pays the bills now?

 

I am a medical anthropologist. I work in public health, specifically in emergency preparedness and response. So I help prepare for and respond to incidents and disasters. Most of what I do is program evaluation, trying to establish that positive outcomes are occurring from preparedness and response. But I also serve as a duty officer to coordinate response for spills and other public health-related incidents in Colorado if something occurs after business hours. In the event of a disaster, we also rotate shifts being liaisons for the state emergency operations center.

 

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

 

Writing doesn’t pay the bills. That would be lovely. Though even if my novel and future novels became best-sellers and could support my family, I think I would keep my day job at least part time, because I do feel good about what I do in responding to emergencies. I used to want to serve in the military. But people who have to take medication for asthma are excluded from serving. So when something bad happens, I feel like my job gives me a way to help. But I don’t ever want to stop writing again as I did after graduate school. It really opened up my life a lot. After I started writing short stories and sharing them with my husband, he told me that he felt like he was seeing a whole new side of me that he hadn’t seen before, and really felt closer to me because of it. I’m a bit of an introvert, which is not uncommon among writer-types, I imagine. I spend a lot of time in my own head, and I’m not always good at verbal communication about what’s in there. I feel like writing is a way to let the world get closer. On top of that, I am a bit of a stress-monkey, and I am really bad at meditating. So, I feel like writing helps to relieve at least some stress. It is often very cathartic. When I am sad, my characters can be sad, or I can write a funny scene to cheer myself up. When I am aggravated, or downright pissed off, lots of aggravating people can die horribly in my story, and I can shut my computer feeling like a boxer feels after punching the stuffing out of a bag. And when I’m happy, I can share that too, I can spread joy and warm fuzzies. Despite being a horror fan, I do have a few warm fuzzy stories. And I do have to say, when something gets accepted for publication, it’s the best feeling in the world. It’s like crack. It makes me feel like the story really reached people and was worth writing, even if I don’t get paid. Somewhere, the story made an impression on someone and made them think. The sharing of ideas and emotion is really what writing is about, communication.

 

And optionally, what advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?

 

I would say that the best thing they can do is not get discouraged by rejection. In some ways, it is a statistics game. If you are a decent writer, someone somewhere will like your stuff. You just have to play the statistics game and keep submitting. Just like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play. When we sold our house, we were told by the real estate agent that since it was a decent house in a not-terrible neighborhood, it was just a question of getting enough people to see the house that eventually, someone would walk through the door and find that the house was the right one for them. I think that in this day and age with such a huge market, the same process applies. You just have to be patient, and persistent. Also, I have found it helpful to make sure writing stays fun. After I got my novel published, I got into a bit of a writing funk because I was suddenly worried about what other people would want to read instead of what I wanted to write. I became too self-conscious as a writer and I started second-guessing everything I wrote because suddenly, it was serious. That’s not a good approach. I had to stop obsessing about the novel and what to do next, and start writing just for the fun and not think about whether or not it was publishable.

 

Good luck to all my fellow writers out there, and hope you have a fun and productive NaNoWriMo!

Advertisements

Tapping the Muse

Posted in horror, indie, indie authors, mythology, publishing, urban fantasy, writing, young adult fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2014 by rachelcoles

Hi Fellow Indies,

 

We’ve had a great week at my writer’s group talking about writer’s block and how to address it. Sometimes problems travel in clumps, and many of us had fallen prey to the writer’s block in the last few months, the bane of every writer’s existence. I write to relax and stay sane, and so not only is it a pain in the butt when I want to write something, but it literally messes with my sanity. Fortunately, I am part of a group that tries to help each other. We get together to critique each other’s work, and sometimes, we can use each other to shake things loose when we’re stuck. One of the things I think we all agree on collectively is that writing should be fun. It’s also hard. But if it stops being fun also, we’re doing it wrong. So one of the things we’re doing is making sure to write something at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be War and Peace, or the great American novel, or even a full story. It can be a scene, a conversation between two characters we make up on the spot, anything, as long as it’s fun to write. And fun for writers could be something that makes us laugh or even cry. Maybe ‘engaging’ would be a better word than ‘fun’. We need to write something that we enjoy writing that makes us not want to stop until it’s on the page.

Throughout history, writer’s block or if you aren’t a writer, creative blocks of all kinds have plagued people who wanted to create expression. The Greeks had nine goddesses who were in charge of such inspiration, and as many gods and goddesses were, they were known for their capricious nature, feeding artists and musicians music with divine origin at times, and abandoning them and taking their inspiration with them at others. The expression in which someone says such a person, ‘is my Muse’, and the term ‘music’ come from these goddesses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemnosyne (lord of the Sky, and Memory):

Clio–Muse of History

Euterpe–Muse of lyric song

Melpomene–Muse of tragedy

Terpsichore–Muse of Dance

Erato–Muse of erotic poetry (my guess is a bit more significant than ‘There once was a man from Nantucket…’)

Polyhymnia–Muse of sacred song

Urania–Muse of astronomy

Thalia–Muse of comedy

I think it’s interesting that they were born of sky and memory, because people have been getting inspiration from looking at the sky for thousands of years, and it takes an act of will and the synthesis of emotion and memory to generate works of art or scientific inspiration that hold meaning for people.

But as with the nature of most gods and goddesses, inspiration can be dark. In Celtic lore, the Leanan Sidhe was thought of as a Muse, who inspired poets, but there was a price. She was also vampiric, sucking the life energy of those she inspired. The next story: The Muse, was based on this idea.

 

The Muse

Rivulets of dark pungent water fanned across the rock, leaving a damp organic smell behind. The moon set beyond the deserted park, leaving only the sodium park lights near the Platte River to compete with the more distant city lights in the LoDo condo neighborhoods. But where the river met the rock, under the diseased elms, the shadows were inky physical things. The rivulets across the rock writhed and surged in black ribbons like the hair of a nymph. The river exhaled gray vapor into the air that smelled like the bottom of a lake. Eliza sat by a tangle of shrubs at the edge of the rock, ruminating about her student debt for the millionth time that day, for the millionth time that year. Pinpoints of light danced in the water.

The miasma pooled around her in the air like spectral congregants to a midnight church. Before she had to return to the dry dusty track home, she basked in the sudden humidity of the night river and inhaled the mist. It slid down her throat like silk. Her vision became blurry as the lights in the water doubled and she fell asleep beside the rising stream. When she woke, the morning star was shining. Her cheek was wet where the water had seeped up onto the rock where she lay. There was no indication of how she had fallen asleep, or why.

She had been pounding coffee since noon. Her mother’s voice rang in her head reminding her of how people drown in an inch of water. Her pad was open to a drawing she didn’t remember creating. But it was dark and she couldn’t see very well. She could barely make out the shapes of figures on the page as she peered at it in the pre-dawn light. The swaths of charcoal shifted and flowed across the page into spirals and eddies. Lighter patches here and there looked like eyes. She shivered in the early morning chill, pushed herself up, gathered her supplies, and climbed up to the footpath for the hike to the Light Rail.
One of the bulbs was out in the dingy kitchen of her Lipan Street apartment when she flicked it on. She tossed her pad and supplies on the kitchen table, pulled a chair up and replaced the bulb. She glanced down at the table and almost fell backwards off the chair. The drawing that had been barely visible earlier was a wash of dark shapes that still looked like they shifted if you glanced at another part of the page. The one certainty fixed at points throughout the page were pale faces caught in various poses of agony, fear and despair, like souls trapped trying to escape Tartarus.
She slowly righted the chair and stared at the notebook and tried to remember drawing it.

#

Jobie padded into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around Eliza as she was making coffee later that morning, and nuzzled her thin brown braids. “What the hell were you dreaming about after you finally got in? And where were you so late? I was starting to think I’d have to retrieve you from a crack den or something.”

She turned and swatted him.

He grinned, “And then when you came to bed, you beat the snot out of me in your sleep. I’ll have to start sleeping with my old football pads.”

She lightly bit him on the nose, and then wiped her lips on the kitchen towel. “Ew! Did you take your allergy pill this morning? Your nose is all drippy.”

He laughed. “Don’t blame me, Lassie.” He let her go and blew his runny nose on a piece of toilet paper. “Seriously, you ok? I know you been worrying all the time.”

“I’m fine. What are you talking about?”

“You just had some real whoppers of nightmares. I tried to wake you but you just screamed. You had your eyes open and everything. You stared straight at me. I almost called 911. I’m surprised no one did call. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about our neighbors, in case of a real emergency. ‘No Officer, I didn’t hear nuthin, or see the ax-murderer leaving their house covered in blood, with all of their belongings…’ I was about to call, and then you stopped, and started snoring like nothing had happened. You don’t remember any of this?”

She shook her head and frowned into his earnest brown eyes. “I used to get night terrors when I was a kid, but that was twenty years ago, when I was like four.”

“Did your parents drink? Cuz I sure needed a stiff one after that. Are you sure you’re ok?” He hugged her close. “I’ve been planning to tell my boss to fuck off for a day anyway. I want to see how long that unit lasts without me.”

She shoved him toward the shower. “Go get dressed for work. I’m sorry I woke you, but I won’t be the reason you lose your job in this economy.” Her fingers wandered to the edge of her sketch pad and she just stood frozen in thought as the coffee water boiled.

#

She dodged a frustrated driver trying to park in a spot too small, as she scooted across the street from the station to Auraria campus. The studio was cool in the summer heat as she set up her clay and tools and got to work. Her fingers tingled and the sculpture took shape as though the shape of the piece was flowing out of her hands. When it stood done, it was a long vaguely human form like the statues dubbed the ‘dancing aliens’, outside the Denver Performing Arts Center across the street. But this bore only a passing resemblance to that piece. This solitary form was fluid with curves, like a humanoid shape that was part amoeba. Tendrils from its palms reached out for contact to anyone, anything who glanced at it. It looked strangely hungry.

Mr. Catan, the teacher, wandered over and studied it, and noted the same thing. “You certainly have created a stirring piece.” He smiled at her, “Almost Dali-esque.”

Yeah, stirring, she thought, glancing away from his upswept 50’s greaser hairdo and skater-punk t-shirt three decades too young for him. Just like Hustler is stirring, she edged away and started smoothing the figure’s shoulders with a sponge.

But he didn’t move on to the other pieces. “What were you thinking of when you created this? It looks…lonely, empty.”

As soon as she stepped back from it, she saw that he was right. It did look lonely. Need seeped off of it, reaching for her. She gasped and backed up into the wall.
Mr. Catan laughed and nodded at her reaction. “Well, wherever you got this idea from, you had some kind of inspiration. There was a time when artists who created things like this believed they had been touched by the Muse, or fed upon by her. It depended on their perspective. Men gave their lives to her. Or at least, they gave pieces of themselves. Van Gogh, Pygmalion…what did you give to create this?”
Creep, she thought.

He smiled, “You should enter this in the student exhibit when it’s finished.”

Suddenly, she felt bad at her knee-jerk reaction. He was just trying to help.

The Orphan, its name came to her as he walked away. The curves of the statue almost seemed to lean after him, the vacant eye depressions gazing into the back of his neck. She hurriedly cleaned up her materials, and went to her next class, as the statue faced the door.

#

When she came back to the sculpture the next day, Mr. Catan had moved it to the side of the room to make space for a metal-sculpting class. She uncovered it and her impression of it being ’empty’ dissipated. The atmosphere it created was different now. Maybe its paler color as it dried had changed the feel. It seemed animate, almost sentient. But it no longer felt empty and she almost wished that it had. The head had only the slightest depressions for eyes and merely a sloping rise for a nose, and yet, it had an expression. As she finished the fine details, it still looked lonely, like the embodiment of loneliness, but now it somehow looked full.
Ms. Teague, the visual design teacher, stood off to the side, watching the progress of the shapes taking form in the classroom.

“Ms. Teague? Where’s Mr. Catan?” Eliza asked.

She shook her head, a couple grey bobby-pinned curls escaping. “He didn’t come in today.”

“Is he sick?” The hair on the back of Eliza’s neck stood and she positioned herself so she couldn’t see The Orphan.

Ms. Teague frowned, “I assume so. The office is having me fill in. Do you need anything?”

“No, thanks. Just wondering.” Eliza wandered back to her work area. The Orphan’s form seemed to occupy the room as a crowd of admirers gathered around it.

“Wow, this is really cool. I wish I could make something like this.” Wendy, the wispy Gothic girl of the class whose works all had a Tim Burton-esque look to them, twirled her long black locks.
Her lanky partner, shifted his skull-and-crossbones suspenders. “Yeah, you should enter it in the exhibit. Or a gallery. My brother has a friend who owns a gallery on Santa Fe. He’d probably take it. He don’t pay much though, but people’d see it. This needs to be seen.”

Wendy touched it gently, “May I?”

Eliza shrugged. “Sure. Just be careful.”

The girl nodded, “Funny, it seems like it wants to be touched.” She drew her hand away suddenly and then replaced it again. “It’s warm. Like it’s alive.” She smiled, her red lips stretching into a white smile, “Gives me some new ideas,” and she wandered back to her work area.

Eliza just sat back in bewilderment at The Orphan’s popularity until the students trickled away to their own projects. She added and polished, and couldn’t get away from its warm suppleness and the sense that it felt everything she did to it.

#

Jobie squeezed her, and popped another pig in a blanket into his mouth. He washed it down with another plastic cup of wine and said through a mouthful, “Congratulations, Babe! Wow, my girlfriend won an award from the student exhibit.”

Crowds trickled into the gallery from the street. As the servers moved to the greet them, Jobie snagged another handful of appetizers. She frowned as she peered around. He leaned back and peered at The Orphan. “Wow, it really is something else. It feels like its watching me. What inspired it, was it your creepy greaser sculpture teacher? Those tentacle-thingees in its palms make me think he did a little too much stroking the monkey. You know what they say about that. And your statue’s blind too,” he tipped one of his teetering cups to The Orphan.

Eliza almost shot wine through her nose as she laughed. “I think that’s the four cups of booze you’ve had in the last hour. Not the sculpture.” Eliza smirked.

He looked offended. “No, I’m eating food with my alcohol.” He stuffed three sausage-filled mushrooms into his mouth to emphasize his point. “You gotta live a little, Babe! It’s your art. You painting and sculpting and stuff, that’s the first time I’ve seen you relax a little and express yourself. You’re always so practical, like Spock. Join your own party for a change!” He poked a breaded sausage at her mouth.

She waved him off, and then thought better of it. She grabbed his cup of wine and downed it, and then another.

“See, that’s it!” he beamed.

She basked in the glow as people flocked around the statue. These art classes had been electives to fill in for some liberal arts core requirements. They had been a pragmatic choice, since it seemed like an easy grade. Maybe this could be a second career for me, she thought, but it won’t pay as well as business administration, and at least that’s steady. But now, it was turning out to be satisfying in other ways. It was the first time she had ever felt…expressed. There were other things in life besides a steady paycheck and security. Maybe Jobie was right.

She wrapped her arms around Jobie’s paunchy middle and enjoyed the attention for the rest of the evening while he did all the talking and bragging for her.

She glanced around and frowned. It had been the one sour point in the evening, reminding them of the situation unfolding on campus. Mr. Catan was missing. He had been reported a couple days prior, and it had been on the news. No trace of his whereabouts had been found, the news had said. The university had been silent on any details of the investigation. While she hadn’t much liked him, she hoped he was alright, hoped he hadn’t fled from some heinous crime they had yet to discover. And, she thought, a little selfishly, she wished he had been here to see her piece opening in the gallery.

#

As they returned home, her sketch pad slid to the floor of the train and Jobie picked it up. “Let’s see what Michelangelo’s been cooking up on paper? You never showed me these.” He flipped slowly through the pages of fruit and nature scenes, and then stopped abruptly at the charcoal she had puzzled over two weeks previously from her nap by the stream.

“Whoa…” His soft drunk brown eyes focused on her. A flash of fear floated through them, and then was subsumed again in the haze of alcohol. “Left turn into dark. Which one of these is not like the others? When did you do this?”

She reached for it, and studied it again, swallowing on a lump of apprehension in her throat. “Last week, Tuesday. The day I had the night terrors.”

“No wonder.”

She sighed, “No, night terrors aren’t dreams. They don’t happen in REM sleep. It’s during deep sleep. That’s why no one remembers anything when they have a night terror. They aren’t dreaming or seeing anything.”
“Well, one physiology class and look who knows everything about the brain. I’ll make you a bet that in ten years, they come out with another study that says the exact opposite, just like they did with the study saying fat is bad for you, and then that we need it for brain function. Make up your mind, people!”

She laughed and pushed at his ample chest.”When they said fat is necessary, I don’t think that ten bags of pork rinds a day were what they meant.”

He shrugged and his eyes slid back to the picture. “I’m just saying. Something scared the hell out of you, and this picture scares the hell out of me.” He tapped it, “But it’s really interesting. Interesting and creepy sells. You should get it entered into a contest or put it on an art website or something. Maybe we could win the rent money. And then I could go tell my boss to fuck off for good.”

She smirked and packed the pad away in her bag. “The scary picture’s gone now. And I’ll think about it. There’s a scanner in the student aid office. Maybe they’ll let me use it. In the meantime, you’ll just have to keep being the loathed IT guy until the gravy train comes in.” They linked arms and walked to the station.

#

The studio lit up as she entered, the first one there. She had an extra hour between work at the coffee shop and sculpture class. The block of clay felt cool and satiny underneath her hands as she wet it and began working. The slip glided through her fingers as a shape formed. Other students filtered in. A ring of students gazed at the emerging creation, and then set up their own stations, glancing back at her every so often. Ms. Teague watched her with a pensive look, but said nothing and just let her work, commenting here and there on other students’ pieces.

About ten minutes before class ended, Eliza stepped back from the bench and brought herself from her reverie to look at the sculpture from a distance. It was not even remotely humanoid. There were shoots emerging from piles of loops that looked like internal organs, and hands, dozens of tiny hands and mouth indentations lined with buds like tongues.
Gothic Wendy’s voice startled her, “Girlfriend did some LSD last night.” She stared at the grotesque sculpture. “It looks hungry. But I like it. One brush with celebrity and you go right off the rails.” She smirked at Eliza.

“Don’t go cutting off any body parts to mail to your boyfriend.”

Eliza frowned. It did look hungry somehow, and it wasn’t just the mouths. It had the same vacant feel to it as The Orphan had started with, as though it were waiting. Eliza covered it up and left for her Developmental Psych class.

#

At the end of the semester a couple weeks later, she brought her new piece home, when they emptied their things from the studio. Jobie gaped at it as Eliza partly uncovered it on the hand truck, to undo the cords holding it.

“It’s…unique, in a Crypt Keeper meets the Return of the Living Dead kind of way. What’s this one called? ‘Your Insides on Pork Rinds?'”

She tilted her head at it, while flicking Jobie’s ear. And the name came to her. Bacchus’ End, she realized, like the Baccanalians and their festivities. It was like a mass of senses feeding on itself.
He patted her on the back. “Good job, Queen of Darkness. If you go whip up some grub, I’ll get this unloaded and start the folding the laundry.” He turned the TV on.

As she kissed him and went into the kitchen, she could almost feel the tongues questing and the mouths opening and closing on the scents in the air and the hands reaching for something, anything. About twenty minutes later, the hamburger helper casserole was done and she went into the TV room to catch their regular episode of Bones with Jobie. But he wasn’t there.

“Job? Hey Job?” The television was still on and she lowered the volume. She poked her head in their bedroom, but the rumpled Snoopy sheets were empty. The bathroom door was open and dark. She peered out the window to see if he might be coming from the store. But the only folks she saw were heading to or from the Osage station.

She texted him. A buzz from the counter showed her his phone. She called their friends, his work and anyplace else she could think of where he might have gone. But he wasn’t there, and it didn’t seem likely that he would have just gone without telling her, especially not just before dinner. Finally, she called the police, to say that something must have happened to him, though she couldn’t imagine how. They came and took her statement, and gave the statue an odd glance as they left. She sat on the couch and cried.

Like The Orphan, it seemed different in the dim light of the living room lamp. It had seemed vacant before, but now, though the statue seemed hungry still, it seemed more…present, inhabited. She shuddered and threw the couch blanket over it and went to bed.

She cried until she fell asleep. Every hour she woke and felt the lump of blankets to see if Jobie had come in. He didn’t, and the phone never rang.

#

His side of the bed was still empty in the morning. She pulled her knees to her chest and just rocked for a while. At ten o’clock, she called in sick to the coffee shop. She stared at the screen for a couple hours. He’ll be back from wherever. Those people on TV always come back. Look, those talk show guests have it much worse, they’re throwing shoes at each other. God, where the hell is he? I know there was nothing wrong between us? Was he mad at me? No, he would never just leave me like this, wondering. Oh God, something had to have happened!

She went around and around like that, as the television droned on. Finally, she shut it off. The silence in the apartment was unbearable. Baccus’ End waited under the cloth which she had left over it. She could almost hear it breathe with its many mouths, and feel the pulse of its blood. She grabbed her bag and left, slamming the door behind her.

As she crossed the walking bridge over I-25, she spotted a sculpture she had never noticed before, though she remembered dimly that it had been there for as long as she had been in Colorado. Jobie had snarked about it constantly, because it was the singularly most hideous incomprehensible thing she had ever seen. It looked like a giant pile of red gory jelly beans that had melted and stuck together.

At night, the fine citizens of Denver were treated to its full effect as it was lit from within, so the dribbles of red paint down its side looked like the innards of a demon that had been put through a Star Trek transporter accident. She walked up to it now and touched the cherry red protuberances. And quickly pulled her hand away as they pulsed faintly under her hand. The electrical source used to light the monstrosity must have been buzzing, she thought, but didn’t try to touch it again. ‘Crimson Love’, it was named. Now she had to shut her eyes and press her fingers into her sockets, as a sexual connotation was added to the demon intestine image.
She sighed, checked her phone again in case Jobie called, and headed down the path to the river.

When she got there, she pulled her pad out of her bag, tore the charcoal drawing out and ripped it into pieces, smearing charcoal across her hands. The feeling of loathing she got as she looked at it was irrational, she knew. I still don’t remember drawing that. What if I didn’t? All this started after that strange night. What if it’s the drawing? What if it let something in? Or what if something else drew it and cursed me? Everything went wrong after that.

She thought about the sequence of events. She had never been a artistic prodigy, so why all of the sudden had she suddenly started drawing and sculpting pieces that got people’s attention so strongly? A chill ran down her spine as she thought about the lights in the water that night. What if I did draw it, and whatever was here that night got into me? What are those things I’m creating?

She shivered, and threw the shredded picture in the water. The shreds hit a stagnant pocket of water behind a brake of river debris, so the shreds just eddied around instead of being swept away. As the water soaked through the paper, the images ran and blended together. The eyes in the paper rolled and the faces convulsed and then they were gone. The river exhaled a belch of vegetal air and the breeze whistled a sigh around her ears and through her hair.

Someone wandered by with a dog. It was friendly and explored Eliza with a wet nose, a snort and a wag of its coppery tail.

“Sorry. Down, Chassie! I’m Meg.” She held out her hand.

Eliza shook it. “It’s ok.” She ran her fingers through the dog’s fur and let his drooling tongue comfort her. A tear leaked down her face.

“Are you ok?” Meg came and squatted by her.

She nodded. “I’m just having a bad day. Your dog is nice.” “Well, I hope things get better. You’re an artist? That’s pretty good!” The gray-haired woman peered at the picture exposed in her pad now that the dark charcoal was gone. It was an ordinary mountain scene in watercolors.

Eliza nodded, “Well, I’m taking a class. It was fun, but lately…it feels like it’s been kind of taking over.”

The woman smiled, her crafted earrings swinging as she spoke, “Touched by the Muse, eh? That’s how one of my artist friends in Sedona talked about her art. Like it came from someone else besides her. She also said the liquor fairy breathed life into the things she made. If she stopped drinking and partying, her art started to suffer.” She laughed. “Listen to me, You’re not underage are you? How old are you?”
“Twenty-four.”

Meg batted her hand in the air. “Ah, you’re legal. Anyway, you just look so serious. I’m not saying you should go get liquored up or anything. Just don’t forget to have some fun, eat and drink, before the time goes by, and you get to my age.” The dog began pulling the woman away. “Nice meeting you.”

“You too,” Eliza nodded. She sat until the sun set, not wanting to face her empty apartment. Jobie hadn’t called. The police hadn’t called either. Their friends only called to check in with her and make sure she was alright.
Her fear of the art pieces seemed silly now. Despite the woman’s talk of spirits, it seemed more firmly in the realm of folklore. The police will figure it out. Just let him be ok.

She dangled her feet in the river as the light faded. The trickle and the crystal cool swell around her shins was comforting. The sand swirled around her toes and shaped into furrows around her feet. She flopped out of the water and found a stick, and sat where the beach met a lazy part of the river, next to the sitting rock. There she drew spirals in the sand until the stick broke. Nothing was strange about the doodles. They were just swirls of sand. Just to prove her point she took handfuls of the sand and built a little mound with a moat.

The water shimmered and lapped at her fingers like little velvet tongues and deepened in the moat. The sound of the waves were hypnotic. The twinkles of light in the water were so beautiful and cool. They whispered and sang in high sweet voices that everything would be fine as a cool mist kissed her eyelashes. She relaxed and let the sand settle around her feet and arms. Something in the back of her mind was screaming at her to move, but the troubles with Jobie would still be waiting, and one more minute in the water felt nice.

Her arms had sunk into the sand and dark water. The waning moon was barely a sliver in the sky. The sodium lamps didn’t penetrate the mist that had risen in the trench of the river where Eliza crouched in the pungent water and drank, as the heat ebbed from her limbs.

#

A dog sniffed around the new sandstone sculpture by the sitting rock, and decided that it was not a good candidate for marking his territory. It was too…alive.
The squat amphibious creature sat, almost in the water. It looked like it was made of eyes. The eyes covered its head in clusters, even lining its wide full lips, as though it were a creature that was always watching the world from the sidelines. Long columns of stone drooped down its hunched form, almost like brown thin-braided river-weed hair. And it was surrounded by silence and sadness. Insects moved and chattered about, and the river flowed as always, but there was a stillness around it that dampened the air. As though it were waiting to breathe. Another dog’s owner trotted over. “What the hell is that? What a weird place to put a statue,” her ponytail bobbed as she jogged around it.

The jogger’s companion took a swig from her water bottle and kept jogging in place on the rock. “Have you ever looked around Denver? We’re in the city of weird sculptures. It’s that push to be ‘cosmopolitan’ whatever that means. I think it means you’re acceptably hoity-toity if you have weird art. Haven’t you ever noticed the ‘cosmopolitan’ statues around the city?”

“True. Like that demon horse with the red eyes outside the Denver Airport. There’s something I want to see before I get on a plane. I heard the artist died just before he finished it.”

“Actually, it killed him. That’s what I heard.”

The first woman snapped her fingers at the dog and the two women sprinted up the slope to the trail and ran on.

End Story

 

After all of the depictions of Muses, what is your favorite? Which one are you most affected by? How do you get past your own blocks and lure the Muses back into your life?

Undead Bucket List

Posted in book reviews, horror, indie, indie authors, mythology, urban fantasy, writing, young adult fiction with tags , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2014 by rachelcoles

Hi fellow indies,

 

It’s been a while. It’s been an interesting eventful year so far. Rosa, my daughter was recruited to a major wu-shu (kung fu and gymnastics) team. We’ll see if it’s for real! I don’t know where that kid gets her flexibility. Not from me. Could be from her dad’s side, but if it isn’t, I’m glad the mystery DNA exerted itself. I whack my own head on the door of my car, getting in.

In addition to Rosa’s new hobby, I was sucked into the latest Harry Dresden novel, Skin Game. I think the laws of physics have indicated that time is relative. Well, I think that theory is correct. It speeds up once your child turns 8, once the clock reaches 5 o’clock on Friday, and once your turn 40. And also when you are reading a page-turner when you are supposed to be doing other things, like sleeping to go to work in the morning. Butcher really captured the dynamics of …let’s just say many different parenting styles. His portrayal of the Underworld was epically vivid, and his portrayal of Hades was perfect, in my opinion. The way, I always would have imagined him. Solemn, dangerous, powerful, matter-of-fact, not all that interested in ingratiating himself with anyone, but fair, basically the last chance for justice some people would ever get. And Mab is her usual bitchy bucket of awesome. But now I have to wait for the next book…:(

Speaking of kids, I think every parent wonders what the limits are of what they can do for their kids. What about when we’re technically not around anymore? Can people become guardian spirits for people they love? This next story meanders into the realm of the dead.

Undead Bucket List
By Rachel Coles

Jerrod watched as the doctors, nurses, and assistants swarmed around his body, inserting lines, pushing various liquids, and checking various bodily signs. They were all saying the same thing. He was dead. For the moment, everything seemed surreal and dreamlike, and he didn’t feel much of anything. So he just kept watching.

He heard the nice young red-haired doctor that he’d fantasized about yell, “Clear!” and jolt his body with the AED paddles. With nothing else to do, he perched himself on a wheeled table nearby and tried to stay out of the way, until the frenzy subsided.
The steady tone of the monitor continued, and Red-haired Doctor frowned and after a few more tries, put the paddles away. She put her hand on Jerrod’s neck, at his non-existent pulse. “Time of death, Oh-one-hundred hours. This sucks, he was one of my favorite patients.”

“He was a horny bugger.” A dark-haired nurse with an olive complexion snorted.

“Yeah, but he was a cheerful horny bugger. All the way to the end. You gotta appreciate persistence.”

Most of the staff who were cleaning up the equipment nodded, or shook their heads and crooked a half-smile before they dispersed.

Red and the nurse who had called him a bugger stayed for another minute and gazed at his body, after paging the pathologist in the morgue.

“He was stubborn. If anyone could have beat that cancer with the treatment, I thought it would have been him. He was too much of a pain in the ass to die.” The dark haired woman put her hand on Jerrod’s foot and gave it a squeeze.

“I know. But it was experimental. We don’t even know if he got that treatment or if he was on the traditional meds. It was a double-blind study. I guess we’ll find out soon. Not that it matters now.”

Jerrod hopped down from the table, a move that would have had him panting and sagging to his knees a month earlier. He stuck his chin out over their shoulders and looked between them from one to the other.

He wondered if they would be able to hear him in the death-dream. “Can I get something to eat? I’m starving. Even that nasty cream of wheat you got here would be nice. A beer would be even better.” Neither of them twitched at his presence.

“He used to tell me he’d marry me, once he got out of here because he loved hummus. I told him, ‘I’m Punjabi, not middle-eastern.’ And so he’d say, ‘That’s okay, you can make me curry instead. I need some spice in my life!’ And then he’d make a kissey-face at me.”

“That has never been more true than now, doll,” he grinned.

The red-haired doctor broke into a horse-whinny laugh, accompanied by a sudden burst of laughter from the Punjabi nurse.

“I’ll have to inform his family,” the doctor said. “This is going to be a crappy morning.” Then they both grew silent, nodded at him, and returned to their shifts.

He stood alone, staring at the body that had plagued him with infirmity for the past few years. He reached out and touched his own foot as it lay motionless on the table. His hand went through it. The foot looked real enough though, as though the man on the table that was supposed to be him would start wiggling it. He didn’t. He looked asleep. Is that what I look like when I’m asleep?

But there was an emptiness to the cast of the face, like no one was home. The body was just an object. He realized in that moment, somehow, that it wasn’t a dream. The body was his body, or had been. And he was not going to wake up from this.
He sat down again on the table. The shock and grief never came though. He had regrets of course. Who didn’t? Having more sex, eating more ice cream, telling his incompetent manager to fuck off. But there hadn’t been anything he could do about those things when he was alive, so now, at least he didn’t have to sit in a slowly collapsing body, like sitting in a house where the roof was falling in and the walls were molding.

Well, I’m not in hell, like Lila said I’d be. And I don’t see no angels, so I must be here on Earth still. What the hell do I do now?
He walked out onto the ward and stood as people ran right through him.

Okay, that mystery is solved. I’m invisible and not solid. He waved his arms around and started singing “Get Your Motor Running” at the top of his lungs. No one held their ears or told him to be quiet. So they didn’t hear him either. He saw a chocolate cupcake on the counter with a bite out of it. He figured at this point that undead people who couldn’t get attention couldn’t be choosy, so to further the experiment, he went to lick the frosting off. His tongue went through it without any frosting sticking. The cupcake looked the same as it had. Oh, crap. I was afraid of that. Maybe I really am in hell.

He confirmed his suspicions by walking up to a pretty medic and grabbing her boobs. His hands went through her shirt and she ignored him and kept filling out paperwork. Yup. In hell. What now?

Dead people were supposed to take stock of their lives at some point, so he meandered back into the room with his body, stared at it and waited for some revelation. None came. So he wandered through a few other rooms. People sometimes had revelations in hospitals, didn’t they, on the brink?

In one room, a car accident victim surrounded by his family talked about suing the teenager who had been slammed into his car. She was somewhere in the hospital too. The driver who’d caused the wreck had run. But he blustered along to his relatives and the lawyer on the phone about the girl. So what if she wasn’t the initial driver, her car should have been farther from his, so she was partly responsible, right? And those bills weren’t going to pay themselves.
God, was I that much of an asshole when I was in an accident ten years ago? His spirit sunk a little as he wondered again if this really was hell, and these were the damned souls. But the nurses and doctors still seemed nice, and the young women as pretty as always.

In another room, a middle-aged woman yelled at her son over the phone to stop being useless, and then moaned about her aches, and demanded more pain medication. Then she resumed her tirade over the phone. “Honest to Christ, James! I let you live in my house after school, for five more years, and this is how you act toward me? Ungrateful piece of garbage! I should have known that all you want is my social security check and my pain pills!” A muffled voice issued from the cell, and she yelled right over it, “That’s not the point! I couldn’t work because of the pain, but I still get your father’s check, and rightfully so! That bastard never treated me like anything but a whore. So I worked for that money, and you’re not getting it!”

Jerrod tiptoed from the room. No one had heard him so far, but just in case she was special, he sure didn’t want to start with that one. He wondered what God, if He/She/It existed could be trying to show him, other than the recollection that people were total snaky bastards, at least when the outside world wasn’t looking.

In the next room was a young woman. The doctor had just left. She started crying and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. He bent close and looked at her chart. Stage 4 breast cancer. After a brief flash in his mind of the ‘Save the Tatas’ bumper stickers he’d always admired, he stood back up and saw the tears streaming down her face. She sighed, and he wished for a second that he could slip into people’s minds. Maybe he could with practice, just like on Ghost. He screwed up his ghost face in concentration, but all it did was make him feel like he had to poop, which was strange because he had no colon. His own experience with cancer had shown him that at this stage, excising her tatas hadn’t saved her. Nothing would. He sat by her bed for a little while as she cried, and wondered what he could do to get through to her. At least this was something he knew a little about.

“It’ll be okay, girl, uh, Gia.” That was her name from the chart. “It really will. Dying wasn’t so bad. In fact, I feel great! No pain. Now I just have to figure out what to do next. So if you don’t mind, I’ll sit here with you for a spell. I don’t have anywhere else to go. And maybe you could talk to me. I’m listening…If you want to do it naked, that’s fine with me too.”

She didn’t hear him, but she sighed and wiped her face, and she looked toward him. Her tears dried up and she looked a little better. “That’s my girl. It’ll be okay.” He rested his hand on where hers appeared to be. His fingers went through hers, but he left them there anyway, half in and half out of her palm. She laid back on the pillow and closed her eyes. In a few minutes, she was asleep, and her creased face smoothed. He stood still for a long time.

***

In the morning, she stirred, and he moved. He realized he had been sitting there all night, motionless. And he wasn’t even cramped. At some point, his thoughts had wandered. They were a jumble of memories from as early as five years old to now. But everything seemed clearer than it ever had in life. Yesterday, he’d had trouble remembering what he’d eaten for breakfast. Maybe because it was always accompanied by jello and mush for that last stretch until the end. Not much to remember there. But now he could remember each grain in the mush, and each flop and wobble of the jello body on the spoon, as though he were seeing it now.

He drew his attention back to more enticing pastures, as he watched the still-attractive young bald woman reach across her bed to the nighttable for her phone. It was one of them new-fangled smartyphones. She tapped it into life but didn’t talk on it. Instead a screen popped up with a keyboard that she typed on. It was a memo. The heading was Bucket List.
She began typing bullet points of the things she wanted to do before the end, under the heading: Hate Disney, Kennedy space center instead, see the shuttle launch, eat ossobucco in Little Italy, New York, want to have sex with Egyptian guy from The Mummy, want to eat a new flavor of ice cream every day, want to see brother’s new baby, and say goodbye, want to ride a Ducati motorcycle down the Autobahn, want to do a striptease at a club and have all the guys want to put money in my g-string…
The list went on, and if he hadn’t already felt bonded to this young woman through her similar ailment, he sure did now.

“Ossobucco, oh Honey, if I were alive, I’d take you myself. That and the striptease, I’d love to help you with. If you change the Ducati to a Harley, you’d have a deal on that one too. A Bucket List. Wish I’d made one of those sooner,” he said to the air.

“You still can. Don’t you have somewhere to be? Family you can haunt?”

Jerrod leaped and turned around. There was a bald man around his age, with rheumy blue eyes, standing in the doorway.
“Who are you, and where did you come from?”

“I’m Daddy. Can’t you see the family resemblance?” The man rubbed at his bald head and glared at Jerrod. “Stop staring at my daughter like that or I’ll send you out the window. I can touch you, you know.”

Jerrod swallowed on an absence of spit. “How can you see me?”

“Because I’m a ghost, you dumb redneck. Just like you.”

“But I didn’t see you earlier.”

“This is a hospital. Did you think you’d be the only ghost around?”

“I didn’t see anyone else.”

“That’s because you were stuck in Bitch One and Bastard Two’s rooms, watching them make everyone else’s lives miserable. Fortunately for us, they aren’t likely to cross over any time soon…unless someone murders them.”

“I was only in there a few minutes.”

“No. Go look for your body if you don’t believe me.”

He ran down the hall, and this time he noticed other spirits everywhere. Some of them were milling around aimlessly, others followed people around, still others hovered over people in the beds. Along the ceiling of the hall near his room, he noticed darkness in one of the corners. It was not black, but gray. It was so gray and devoid of any color that the air seemed to be sucked into it. He caught the briefest glimpse of eyes from the center. They blinked, and the fog around the entity began seeping through the air toward the people going in and out of the double doors. As they passed through the fog, the color drained from their cheeks and eyes and a bewildered expression crept across their faces. Then they shook it off and kept moving.
He ran past the gray octopus ghost, wondering what it was. As he passed, a freezing chill gripped him, and the milky eyes latched onto him. He felt numbness spread through him, and the gray eyes began dissolving his memories. He broke away with a jolt, and then ducked into his room and prayed it hadn’t followed him.

Then he noticed that the place he was now wasn’t his room anymore. There was a young gay man and his partner whispering to each other. The chart indicated that they’d occupied the room for a week.

He sucked in air that didn’t exist, held his breath and looked out the door. The octopus was still there. And there was no way back to Gia’s room except past it. So he kept his cheeks inflated and his head turned away as he ran past it again. When he had been a kid, he remembered hiding under the covers, convinced that the creeping fingers under the bed couldn’t grab his feet if he was all covered up. And if he couldn’t see them either, he’d be even more invisible. His no-lookey trick seemed to have worked and he burst in on Gia and her dad. Gia was typing away on her text thing. Her dad looked up.

“Well?”

Jerrod shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“You were in here a while.” He regarded Jerrod intently. “I didn’t thank you for what you did for Gia the other night by the way. Just stop looking at her like she’s a stripper.”

“But that’s on her bucket list.”

“I don’t care, I’m her father, and you’re my age.”

“How long was I remembering, sitting here?”

“A week or so, give or take. I see you ran into the Grays. You look a little pale around the gills.”

“There are more of them? What the devil was that? Was there an octopus in the hospital?”

“It was once a person.”

“What happened?”

“It got lost. Half the buggers you see around here are headed that way.”

“What do you mean lost?”

“They never figure out what to do with themselves. I’m here for Gia. Folks who have families have it easier sometimes. They wander away and find them. We can follow them around forever, helps us stay together.”

“How long have you been following them?”

“For them, it’ll be nine years next week. Where’s your family? By the way?”

“I’d chased a lot of them off, I guess. My son came to see me, but not my sister. Or my ex-wife. My parents were dead a long time ago across the country, and I have no idea where they are now.”

“Well, maybe you better get moving on your own bucket list. Don’t you think?”

“I doubt they’ll be interested in having me around. They didn’t even stay to see me gone. They checked in, and then went back to their lives.” He slumped down against the wall, realizing how much that hurt. Losing his body didn’t. It was that no one he cared about had noticed.

The other old geezer came and sat next to him in silence for a few minutes. “Tell you what. If you behave yourself, you can stay here with us until my daughter joins us. In the meantime, you figure out what you’re going to do next.”

Jerrod nodded. “Thanks. How about I help her with her wishes?”

“The ones without sex.”

“Of course. What about the ones with food? And the space shuttle launch?”

“If you can find a way to arrange that, I’ll give you a kiss myself. I think a motorbike ride might be a tad more realistic if it were around here. The Autobahn might as well be outer space.”

“Well, sir, you’ve got a deal. I don’t know how to arrange it, but it seems like a few pints of Ben and Jerry’s shouldn’t be out of reach.”

***

Gia shifted in her sleep with her laptop on her legs. Her blog page was still up. The two ghosts peered over her shoulder at the text.

“So here I am. This is the end of the road. I guess I was an optimist, and I really thought that everything would work out if I just hung in there. Well, I’m probably radioactive enough to power a nuclear plant for a year. A head of hair, no tits, and lots of chemicals later, and the cancer won. I wish I could be more cheerful, but at this point, what difference does it make? As you know, my boyfriend ditched me last year because the process was too hard for him, and I’m done making excuses for him, and done taking crap.

On the up side, I guess I can eat anything I want now without worrying about getting fat. So the first thing on my list is ice cream, every flavor, pints and pints. I want to be Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, without drowning myself prematurely in a sea of chocolate syrup, of course. And then, before I get too huge to fit on a bike, I want to ride a racing motorbike, preferably a Ducati. I suppose going to Germany to ride it, is out. But maybe old Route 66 will do. Cuz who cares about speeding tickets, woohoooo! Suck my road dust, coppers! Maybe I can ride it right into Little Italy and get a nice Italian dinner.

Also before I get too huge, I’d like to screw the mummy guy from The Mummy, if you’re listening Mr. Actor out there. Free sex from a still reasonably attractive girl in a punk-rock, shaved-head kind of way. Free sex and no strings attached, but you’re not getting my X-Box in my will, so don’t even think about it. Finally…I’d like to watch the shuttle launch, so I can imagine myself on it. I mean right there.

When I was a little girl, I dreamed every night of looking back at the Earth from orbit, and seeing how little we were and how big the galaxy was beyond that when I turned the other direction, away from Earth. Knowing everything is so vast, it kind of helps, you know? Sometimes, being insignificant next to a freakin star is kind of comforting. Makes me think that all those atoms and quarks and bosons and whatever else they’ve named, that they are alive somehow, and that we all just get recycled. Maybe next time, I’ll be a star, literally. That’d be cool.

Anyway, that’s how I want to say goodbye. I’ll probably only get to do all those things in my head, except for the ice cream. A trip to King Soopers isn’t really a tall order for my mom. But, maybe if I aim hard enough with my thoughts, after the last blog you hear from me, you’ll hear about a new star discovered somewhere in a nearby galaxy. That’ll be me. Signing off for now, Gia.”

Jerrod wanted to cry, reading her blog. “I like this kid, Pops. She’s a smart cookie. What is your name anyway?”

“Mick Slater. Yeah, my girl was always special. If this hadn’t happened, maybe she would have made it to space. She was planning on joining the Air Force, and she was going to go for engineering or physics once she got her GI bill. My wife can get her the ice cream, and the Italian food. But if it were my last act as her Dad, I’d get her that view of the shuttle, or space.”

“I’ll do whatever I can think of. Her list is mine.” Jerrod looked at Gia, asleep, and decided that if he had to hunt down the ghost of Neil Armstrong to help, he would.

***

An hour later, neither of the men had any idea how to put Gia close to space. And hunting down Neil Armstrong’s ghost didn’t seem any more likely. Jerrod wandered out to the nurse’s station to try for food again, or make himself heard, while Mick stayed with his ailing daughter.

There were more sweets behind the counter, crème rolls this time. He put his fingers right through the sticky glazed brown frosting. He hung his head and concentrated on the taste of the crème and chocolate glaze on his fingers, as it melted with his touch. When he looked up, his hand was right through the roll and part of the counter.

I’m not going to be outsmarted by a bunch of Ho-hos! He stared at one of the nurses as she picked up a roll and took a bite. He thought about being in her mouth and tongue, and tasting the sweet that way. He didn’t get a rush of white creamy sugar, from her taste buds. He didn’t see from her eyes, or find himself in her head. But he felt an echo of flaky, waxy chocolate and smooth crisco cream, as the taste faded in the back of his mouth.

As with Peeps, he realized that they didn’t taste as good as he remembered from life, but he stood still in shock as it sunk in that he had taken something, some experience. Maybe he couldn’t communicate to the living yet, but he could get something from them. And that meant that he was half-way there. What if that bridge could go both ways? What if just as he could taste the ho-hos a nurse ate, a ghost could share an experience too? But if they couldn’t actually taste anything except through the living, how would that work? Square one.

Then as she devoured another ho-ho, and he tasted it, the memories of his childhood sugar treats came back to him, the marshmallow fluff, the pixie stix, the spun sugar Easter eggs, all the things that he thought tasted great at five years old, or seven or ten, but the vivid memories betrayed his fondness for them now. They hadn’t been so great, just like the ho-hos Nurse Pleasantly Plump was eating now.

When he was halfway back to Gia’s room, the idea struck him as he sifted through memories trying to find a one of good Halloween candy. Ghosts had memories. Hell, that’s probably all they were, strung together with a personality and old habits. That was what he had to share. Well, not him, he didn’t have any memories that a young woman like Gia would be interested in, but maybe someone else did.

He blazed into the room to find Mick crouched by Gia’s bedside, a frown marring his features, matching the one on hers. She was repeatedly pushing the pain medication button. Apparently, it wasn’t doing much good anymore.

“I hate this. I hate seeing her like this. I’d love to talk to her again, but I don’t want her to come over like this. I’d rather see her get married, give me some grandkids I can spook. Join the military and go into space. Anything but this. Everyone says you should never survive your kids, but I didn’t and I still have to watch her go like this.”

Suddenly, the loneliness of the Grays and the lost looks of some of the other ghosts around here didn’t seem like much of a mystery. And even the ones who had families didn’t always want to hang around them, like him, so they hung around where they died instead. Jerrod pictured what kind of ghost the cranky abusive woman from the other room would make someday. He felt sorry for her son. And he recalled suddenly, that there had been no other ghosts in that room. No one wanted to be around her, alive or dead.

He continued, putting the revelation away for later. “I found something. I tasted ho-hos when I pictured myself in the nurse’s mouth. It wasn’t like possession. It was just kind of vicarious. I wonder if it would work in reverse? If we could picture something and send those thoughts or tastes or whatever.”

“Yes.” Mick let go of Gia’s hand. “I do that sometimes with Gia. When the pain is really bad, when she’s crying. I sometimes put thoughts in her mind of our fishing trip when she was eight. She loved fishing. Never caught anything but boots, weeds and other fishing lines, but she’d get so excited when they nibbled. That was one of the happiest times I remember.”

Jerrod’s jaw dropped, and since he was a ghost, might have dropped through the floor if someone had been watching. “You knew about this?” His voice was incredulous. “And you didn’t say anything? If you already had the manual, why didn’t you share that with me before I went out again and started trying to lick the nurse’s food?”

Mick’s face sagged, and Jerrod noticed the strain, how drawn and faded the man’s face seemed. He was exhausted. “I didn’t think of it. I’ve been a little busy.”

Jerrod shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. You’re right. Well, what now? She wants to see a shuttle launch. I never saw one, except on television. You?”

He shook his head. “I’ve never been much of an advertiser, but maybe it’s time we start recruiting help. The odds are against us that someone’s been to Kennedy, but many heads are better than two.”

***

“You’re out of luck.” A droopy-jowled ghost named Ted muttered as he looked out Gia’s room at the far corridor, where a gray hung from the ceiling, perched in a corner like a great transparent spider. “Old Kaleb saw a launch once, but he’s nearly a goner. He’s more like one of them now.” He nodded toward the Gray. He used to be pretty well-off, traveled everywhere. Took the wife and kids on vacation all the time. Lost a bunch of investments in the crash after 911. He couldn’t take living like a normal person and working for a living, so he offed himself. He kind of screwed it up, so it took him a while to cross over here. His wife and kids visited, until he died, but he never recovered after crossing. He’s always been a little…off.”

Mick stared out the door at the Gray. “Where is he?”

“In the basement, the morque, with the other weird ones. There’s a lot of Grays down there. Nests of them.”

“I don’t care. I’ll go talk to him.” Mick’s eyes burned and his face grew brighter.

“I ain’t coming with you, not past those.” Ted backed down the hall away from the Gray-haunted corridor.

“I’ll go with you.” Jerrod said quietly.

“Who’ll stay here for Gia?”

“She’s not going anywhere right now. Hey Ted?” Jerrod chased the man before he disappeared down another hall. “Be a man right now. At least stay and watch the girl.”

Ted looked uncertain and then nodded and cautiously followed Jerrod back to Gia’s room. He took up a post by her bed. “Okay. I’ll secure this area then.”

“Brave soldier.” Mick replied drily.

“Thank you.” Jerrod glared at Mick. “He’s here, so let’s go.”

***

Ted was right about the nesting Grays. After they scooted past the one in the corridor, and edged past three more on the way down, by the ICU, they arrived at the morgue. It was a dim cold unpleasant place, and there were a hell of a lot of unhappy ghosts. The temperature was below what it should have been, even aside from the refrigeration. Grays lined every corner of the rooms, and hunkered along the ceilings of the hallways, watching and stewing in whatever strange thoughts crossed their minds. Their dull white eyes sought Jerrod’s attention, pulled at him, but he steeled himself from looking at them.
The pathologist bustled about, bopping and dancing to a tune he was playing on Pandora radio. The sound seemed to fall muffled into a well, muted by the soft filaments surrounding the Grays. Ghosts that appeared halfway-Gray hunched along the floors, ignored by the pathologist. Jerrod stared at him in wonder. He seemed unaffected by any of it. But he also seemed unaffected by the bodies he autopsied. He was lost in his own thoughts as he measured and peered at organs, engrossed in his work and the music.

“How do we find this guy? I don’t know what he looks like, aside from the description Ted gave, which was kind of vague. He said he won’t even look like that anymore.” Jerrod ventured.

Mick looked nervously around the main examining room. “I don’t like these odds. We don’t even know if he’s here. Just Ted’s assumption. But Gia’s running out of time. Ask and ye shall receive.” He cupped his hands, and spoke into the room. “Is Kaleb here? Kaleb, any of you Kaleb? We need your help.”

Some of the ghosts ignored him, some of them watched with hollow eyes in almost transparent faces. Some had filamentous material oozing out of their orifices, and they scuttled toward the two men on limbs that had become gaunt and spindly. One reached out toward Jerrod’s foot. He drew it back in alarm before the creature could touch him. “This is nuts. What was I thinking? How are we even going to communicate with these people…or whatever they are?”

The creature that had reached out to him tried again, and Jerrod jumped. It looked at him with its hideously deformed visage. Jerrod could feel the emptiness in its eyes, and he avoided looking, but it scuttled after him. It made a noise when he retreated. It was a groan. He looked. For the moment, its eyes were no longer empty. Its face was intent. It had been trying to get his attention. And Jerrod noticed that it was a he, or had been. The creature’s cloudy eyes were full of floaters and film, but Jerrod could see the man’s former humanity, and that he was struggling for another moment to maintain it. He and Mick looked at each other.

“Are you Kaleb?” Jerrod avoided the eyes still. But the creature shook his head, and extended one of his arms toward the dark right corner behind the examining table. Then his eyes went blank again and he crept toward Jerrod in a way completely unlike his earlier purposeful communication.

Jerrod dodged the reaching limbs, and went to the other side of the table where Kaleb was supposed to be, the last place in the gloom he wanted to be. It seemed backwards. He was a ghost. Weren’t people supposed to be scared of ghosts, instead of him being afraid. But he was. Terrified.

He could feel Mick next to him, but neither of them took their eyes off of the mass of fibers floating in the corner like a cobweb wafting underwater in the deep ocean. Within the half-cocoon, a spindly insubstantial body rested. The eyes that peered out at them were almost devoid of humanity.

“Oh, you have to be kidding.”

“I’ll talk to it. She’s my daughter.”

“Talk to what? There’s nothing there that can help us, I don’t think. It can’t even remember being human…if that’s even Kaleb. I’m not sure what you’re going to get out of that, except being turned into something from the phantom version of War of the Worlds. I’m sorry.”

Mick turned to Jerrod as the half-Gray phantasms scuttled and bumped around them and crab-clustered in the corners. His haggard eyes were tormented, not the same eyes as the seasoned spirit who had calmly introduced him to the weird world of afterlife, earlier in Gia’s room. “She’s my kid! I don’t care how this ends. I told her when she was a little girl, on those fishing trips, that I’d bring her the moon if I could. Well, I’m going to do just that.”

“But she’ll be able to talk to you soon.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Jerrod knew it had been the wrong thing to say. Apparently being a ghost didn’t improve social skill.

“Then it’ll be too late. I’ll still have failed her.”

“But if you disappear here, then she’ll lose you all over again!” Jerrod almost yelled. His words fell into a room that despite the loud rockabilly music, seemed too quiet, listening.

“If that happens, take care of her for me, okay?”

“Stop being a stubborn jackass!”

“Promise me.”

Mick approached the creature that had been Kaleb. He stared into the depth of the gray mass, into the milky eyes. Their look sucked the remaining color from Mick’s appearance. He shivered and started talking to it. “Kaleb, I need your help. I need you to remember. I need a memory from you, you selfish bastard. Snap out of it and do something for someone else for a change!” As he spoke, his color drained and he sank to the ground, weak. His phantom limbs thinned until they were skeletal. But he kept talking. “ I heard about you, you chicken-shit asshole. You couldn’t take living like the rest of us, so you abandoned your wife and kid. Well here’s your chance to make good. You’re going to help my kid!”

The Kaleb creature had been staring at him. The cataract lenses bore into him, sucking him into the grayness like an insect being wrapped in sheets of web. But as Mick yelled at him, the milky eyes unfocused and closed and then opened, roaming the room. They blinked as though trying to clear fog from the creature’s thoughts. Then the eyes started to clear slightly. They were the dull eyes of a drunkard, but they were no longer whitish-gray. They were muddy brown, and belonged to an addled man, twenty years older that he should have been. Only the eyes had changed.

Mick scrambled back and closed his eyes and kept hollering at the creature. “This is your chance to be something useful. You lost a bunch of money, who cares! You had a family! I got a daughter. She needs to see something good before she crosses over to here, or to wherever she’s going. She needs to see the space shuttle. Like you did. Remember? You were happy. Remember that, the shuttle? You couldn’t just have bought that!” He rasped from the ground.

“Hey Kaleb,” Jerrod chimed in. “The shuttle launch! It must have been amazing! You were one of the only people in the world ever got to see one of those.” Jerrod could feel the soft nudges of the other ghosts against him as they began to crowd in on him. He closed his eyes, refusing to leave.

And suddenly the air vibrated with energy from great fires coming from the tail of the rocket in front of them. The huge metal tube rose into the sky, a few fragile humans invisible in its tin can hull. He saw the deep blue of the sky and knew that beyond it was the velvet black of the abyss and the fires of the myriad distant stars. The rocket would stretch toward them until the people inside could see them unobscured by oxygen.

Jerrod opened his eyes in shock and a strange vision faced him for a few seconds, where the Kaleb creature had been. It was a ragged man’s face formed roughly from the lumpy whitish substance of the spidery mass. But his eyes were fully human. He gazed at Jerrod and Mick, nodded once slowly and then his eyes closed.

Jerrod didn’t wait to see what would happen next, he grabbed at Mick with both hands. It was like trying to haul a bag of loose cement powder. Mick’s form ran around his fingers like quicksand. But slowly Mick rose from the mire of the surrounding ghosts, and fled for the exit with Jerrod at his rear.

***

Gia’s face was sallow and drained as she lay on her back. Her arms were too weak to hold her smartphone anymore and but she had it by her. The annoying music of Angry Birds penetrated the room as she moved her fingers against the screen and smiled. Hers was truly an alien generation, Jerrod thought as he watched the dying young woman. Her mother hovered at the foot of her bed to make room for her friends who helped her to finish her internet game. Several pints of specialty ice cream were scattered about with chunks scooped out into a bowl in front of her. Dabs of ice cream decorated her pale dry lips. She licked them with a true beaming grin that for a few seconds took years away from her face, so she might have been sixteen again. Next to her bed, on the other side of her, a life-sized cardboard stand-up of the actor in The Mummy glared down at her with his sultry eyes. Someone had inked a speech bubble next to his mouth, “I must have you Gia, my Anaksunamun!”

“Thanks, guys! You’re all dorks.” She snickered until she coughed, and then rolled over and looked at the cut-out. And her friends grinned back at her and squeezed her hands, maintaining their smiles until her eyes slowly closed in sleep. Then their mirth faded. They looked at each other and filed out while she slept.

Mick sagged by the side of the bed, still recovering, as Jerrod sat by him. He put his hand on Mick’s hand, with the strange sensation of resistant magnets. Mick put his hand on Gia’s face. His thin fingers floated through her. She didn’t move or give any indication that she knew the men were there. The two men closed their eyes and pulled up the memory of the rocket shooting into the intense blue sky, the heat from the blast even from a mile in the distance, the long silver gleam with a fiery tail as the rocket shot toward the stars. As they imagined sending the memory into Gia’s head, her heartbeat fluttered and the brain waves on the monitor rose in jagged wild peaks, and she smiled.

***

Jerrod stared at the young man in front of him as he popped open another beer and chugged it and then put it on the pyramid. A dirty coverall smeared with a day’s worth of grease from cars and the logo for Rick’s Auto on the breast, was strung from a kitchenette stool of the tiny apartment. Sitting on the table underneath the beer can pyramid and underneath a bag of weed, was a textbook about how to score well on the SATs. The spine hadn’t been cracked. Scattered around the room, intermixed with posters of girls on shiny cars, were images of the ocean, more specifically of life in the ocean, shots the young man sitting in front of the Playstation, had taken with an underwater camera and scuba gear that sat packed in the back of the crowded closet. There were scattered application packets from a couple universities lying around, brochures for marine biology programs. Mick and Gia gazed around them at the mess. Gia grinned and reached for the bag of weed under her father’s glare. Then Mick’s face shifted to amusement as her fingers went right through it, and he just stood and enjoyed her frown. “Oh, have fun with that, Sweetie.”

“I’m dead, give me a break! It’s not like I’m breaking any laws! You gotta be shitting me!”

Mick just smiled.

Jerrod looked into the face of his son engrossed in the video game as he ignored the practice tests that were soaking up beer on the table.

“Hi, Sam. Get off your sorry ass, and pick up that study book.”

Sam looked around the room and then scratched his head, a puzzled look on his face.

End Story

Ah, parenting. Maybe it never gets simpler, even after we die…but afterlife would never be boring. I’ve always been fascinated with notions of afterlife, different cultural ideas about what happens when we go into the real Final Frontier.What kind of beliefs were people raised with, and what do they believe now? What are some of your ideas about death? Share in comments, if you like. I always like hearing about different perspectives.

Back for VD Day!

Posted in blogging, Denver, horror, indie, mythology, urban fantasy, young adult fiction with tags , , , , , , on February 14, 2014 by rachelcoles

Hi Indies,

I’ve been away for a while, failing to manage the work-life balance…Never been good at juggling. But I’m back! And while I used to scorn VD Day (yes, pun intended, from someone who used to do infectious disease surveillance) as syrupy Hallmark yuck, I’ve at least come to appreciate that it is a great excuse for a date with my husband at great restaurants. All holidays are all about food sooner or later. Food=love. Restaurants pull out all the stops on VD Day, with new menus etc. And my husband and I are both foodies. So yay! I can appreciate that level of capitalism at least, if it includes Second Breakfast, Elevensies, Luncheon, Afternoon Tea, Dinner, and Supper…

And I have a VD Day story to share, full of kisses. Always beware when a horror writer tries to cover a Valentine romance story…

Kisses

by Rachel Coles

 

Terry tried hard not to kick the side of the automatic door as it opened on an explosion of scarlet and bubble-gum satin and lace. The menagerie of heart bedecked stuffed animals crowded the aisles like a cupid-struck taxidermist’s fantasy, and Terry’s worst nightmare. The stacks of chocolate boxes waited, like Gretel’s witch in her candy house, to tempt her into a sugar feeding frenzy that would use up every drop of insulin in her diabetic body for the rest of her life. Valentine’s Day sucks! Fuck Valentine’s Day! she thought, as she savagely shoved the grocery cart ahead of her. It nearly careened into a stand of skimpy thong underwear with curly “I Love You” script littering the tiny triangle of fabric.

She tossed packets of lettuce and other veggies in her cart haphazardly, and then buried them under bags of chips and other snack food. Two minutes and counting, she thought as she reached for the rice cakes around a portly woman blocking the entire aisle with her cart. If I don’t get out of here soon, I’m going to shoot these people, she vowed. Two days until Venereal Day. I’m not going to survive this time without multiple homicide.

The woman giggled and grabbed a third box of frosty angelic white Valentine’s Day Little Debbie cakes. “Oh, I just love these things! I buy out a whole shelf every Valentine’s Day to decorate for everyone I know. I put messages on the top. They taste so much better than those chalky candy hearts, don’t you think?”

“I’m diabetic.”

“Oh, well, no cakes for you, then!” She waggled a puffy finger at Terry. “I bet those rice patties would decorate up nice. Lots of room to write, ‘I wuv you’ on those! You can whip up a batch of sugar free frosting in a jiffy with that Splenda now.”

But I don’t love you, I hate you, and your little teddy bear too. “Thanks.” Terry grimaced, pulled a box of angel cakes into her cart and ran.

***

Her one-bedroom apartment smelled like stale cigarette smoke again, and her lungs tightened a little as she entered. She left yet another message with the landlord about changing out the ratty carpet that seemed to emit a growing smorgasbord of nasty scents every week.  She took a puff of her nearly empty inhaler and opened her lap top and email. There was a message from her mother. When she opened it an e-card popped up and waited for her click. I’m a masochist, she realized as she clicked on it. It literally exploded in a shower of animated hearts and dancing bunnies singing something that she didn’t catch because she slammed the computer lid closed. Now it was probably broken. Another expense she couldn’t afford, but she didn’t care, as she sat, shaking in anger and staring at the empty space above the computer. That’s it, I’ve had it.

She stormed into the bedroom and grabbed the picture of George, her late husband, by her bed and went into the kitchen where the grocery bags were still sitting in the middle of the floor. She grabbed the angel cakes and opened a package and stuffed one of the treacle-sweet cakes in her mouth. She nearly gagged as she inhaled sugar glaze and crumbs, but she swallowed a giant gulp as she flung open one of the kitchen drawers and grabbed a lighter. It still had fluid, thankfully. She put the rest of the box of Valentine’s Day cakes in the sink, poured lighter fluid on the box and then lit them up. As she watched them burn, she put the picture of George next to the blaze, propped against a soap bottle. It was three years to the day that he had died in the car accident. He stared at the blaze with his playful blue eyes.

“I curse Valentine’s Day. To all the gods of Heaven or Hell, I offer this sacrifice of Little Debbies. May it and everyone who chases love and smothers people with kisses and hearts on that day be damned. May they be followed and haunted like I am, every time they look at one more stupid card or one more stupid fluffy bear with a stupid message on it that doesn’t mean anything except ‘Give me money.’  Fuck all you people! I’m done with you!” She swallowed the last dregs of cake, and looked at George. A tear rolled down her face and she swiped at it and flicked it into the fire. “You were the only one for me. You never gave me a card, and I never needed one with you. Fuck you too for dying on me.”

The smoke alarm blared, and she jumped. She grabbed the fire extinguisher and doused the flames and half the counter in foam. She put it down just as there was a pounding at the door. She went to the door and opened it a crack.

The landlord’s squinting eyes peeked through above the chain. “What’s going on in there?”

“Nothing,” she said as smoke drifted around her head and through the crack.

He sniffed. “Like hell. What you been smoking in there?”

“Nothing illegal. You going to replace the carpet?”

“Not if you’re smoking in there!”

“Then bye.” She shut the door almost on his nose.

He called her name outside the door for a minute, threatened to evict her, which she knew he couldn’t do, and then there was silence.

***

Sweat leaked onto the sheets in rivulets as she sat up with a start. The bedroom was dark, but she could see a shadow at the foot of the bed. She grabbed the baseball bat from under the bed and leaped at the form. Then she tumbled over the edge and fell to the floor, as she swung the bat. The momentum twisted her body in the air and she landed on her back with a thud. She stared up into empty space, expecting a gunshot or the slice of a knife from the intruder, but none came. She sat up, trembling with adrenaline, and looked around in the darkness. No one was there. She stood up shakily and climbed back into bed. She left the bat beside her near her pillow. What a horrible dream, she closed her eyes and willed her heart to stop racing. After an hour, she drifted back into dreams. They were filled with shadowy images and talking teddy bears.

At dawn, she woke up to pee. In the faint light, the tall shadow was back at the foot of her bed. She leapt up again with a shriek, bat in hand, but this time, the growing dawn illuminated the figure. It was a man. She got the impression of maturity, if not advanced age. His eyes were dark in his gaunt scar-pocked face, and his hair was long, black, and tied back. He wore a thigh-length tunic and leggings. She couldn’t tell the color of his clothes in the gloom. And then he vanished.

“What the hell!” She jumped off the bed and ran to where the figure had been, but no one was in the room. She ran into the hallway, and living room. Her door was still chained and locked, and the windows closed from the inside.

She sank down onto the worn mustard yellow couch and put the heels of her hands in her eyes. Then she got up and went into the bathroom to look at the side effects listed for the Celexa she’d been taking. They didn’t include hallucinations. She popped two pills and got ready for work.

***

“You look like shit.” Donna swung her head around the door of the stinky core room refrigerator.

The smell of something rotten wafted past her and almost made Terry gag. “Is anyone ever going to clean that?”

“It’s the exec department’s turn, according to the chart. We filled in for them last time. I’m not doing it again.” Donna wrinkled her nose. “I ain’t their mama. And stop changing the subject. Why you look like shit?”

“Bad dreams.” She edged around the stocky African American woman and wedged her lunchbag in on top of the mound of other bags.

Donna put her hand on her hips, displaying her elaborately painted nails. “Are you still going on about Valentine’s Day? You do this every year! Girl, you got to stop with that! Find yourself a friend with benefits, if you have to. You goin’ to drive yourself nuts. It’s just a national excuse to get candy and diamonds from your boyfriend. Work it! Or what about a girlfriend?”

Terry scowled at her.

Donna held up her hands. “Hey, I’m not biased. Whatever gets the job done.”

Terry glared around the room at the shiny foil hearts the ‘Cheer Committee’ had hung from the ceiling. She couldn’t even tear these ones down, let alone light them on fire, or she’d be branded a spoil sport at work, which translated into ‘not a team player’. She left the core room to go back to her cubicle.

Donna caught her look and followed her. “Hey, I thought you were seeing somebody about that, about you know, anxiety. You okay?”

Terry didn’t say anything for a few minutes, just stared at her computer screen. “It’s not that.”

Donna plopped onto the floor, pulled the cardboard divider across the entrance to the cubicle and whispered. “Well what is it?”

Terry looked up over the top of the divider and sat back down. She sighed, “I just had a bad dream. About a guy in my house. Nothing big.”

Donna’s eyes widened, “Shit, you check to make sure it wasn’t real? What if someone’s casing you out. That’s creepy.”

“To steal what, my million year old laptop?”

“No, your skinny White ass! What if he’s a rapist?”

“Thanks, I feel much better now.”

“You got to be careful in that neighborhood, woman!”

“It wasn’t like that. I—I could see, he wasn’t…real, and he wasn’t, like, from now. There was something about him, like he was dressed for another time.”

“So maybe you got a Ren Fair rapist.”

Terry rolled her eyes, and cracked a smile.

Donna grinned. “Feel a little less crotchety now? Why don’t you call the police about this guy? I got a date on V night, maybe he could bring a friend. He’s got some hot friends too. Once you go Black, you never go back, that’s what I’m sayin’. And I don’t like you sitting in that crappy apartment when you could be out eatin’ lobster and steak! The restaurants all have great deals on V Day!”

Terry nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

Instead of getting to her day’s debt collection cases, she stared at the screen and ruminated. How long before I get a call from someone like me? Her bills were piling up, the growing medical bills, and the funeral still had payments left, and interest. She’d footed the cost of that, since George’s parents were dead, and he’d been an only child. Every time she looked up on the screen, she could almost see her name, though her accounts weren’t for a lush department store.

Her thoughts strayed from her bills to the mysterious man. He wasn’t a rapist. He’d had no sexual intent in his face. Instead, his eyes had bored into her as though he wanted to talk to her. She shivered and picked up the stack of files for the day.

***

When she opened her eyes in the middle of the night, the dark figure was there, in the light cast by the closet bulb. She drew breath to scream and grab her bat, but he spoke first. His voice shivered through the air, a vibration of something harder than human vocal chords. He did not speak in English. She realized with a shock that the speech sounded faintly like Latin. Before she could wonder any more, the man advanced and touched her arm. She swung the bat, but it went through the man’s image. The pressure on her arm had been no more than a static electric buzz. When he spoke again, she understood his speech.

“You summoned me.”

She backed against the wall behind her bed, grabbed the blanket and pulled it up to her chest.. “Who are you? What are you? I didn’t summon anyone!”

“You called a curse. I exact the curse.”

She stared at him in horror. You mean yesterday? That was just, I was pissed. It didn’t mean anything!”

He gazed into her eyes. His own eyes were dark rheumy wells from which a nightmare peeked. “The curse had intent. You did mean it. All things that are meant persist. I will show you.”

She fell into those eyes and a scene unfolded in her mind.

George laughed and shoved her into a pile of crackling leaves as she swung the rake at his ruddy face.

“Look what you did, bozo! Now I have to rake it all up again.”

This only made him laugh harder. “Aw, I’ll help you babe! If you can dig yourself out!” He buried her under the two bags of leaves she’d set aside for the trash.

“Aghhh!” She burst out of the pile and chased him around the back of the small stucco house, grabbed the back of his shirt and yanked.

He whirled around and pulled her down with him into the pile of leaves she had collected in the back . And then his mouth was on hers, his hands sliding into her jeans. “Screw the leaves.”

“You mean ‘in’ the leaves.” She grinned and rolled him under her.

Terry relaxed into the memory and sagged against the wall, but the memory changed.

George stared up past her. His crystal blue eyes were blank. The tubes sticking out from under the white sterile sheets didn’t shift with movement. The lines on the monitors showed her that there was no one home in his head. He looked like a man-sized doll. She sunk down beside his bed, tears dripping onto the chrome bar, and realized that no matter what she said to this body, it wasn’t him. And unless there really was a beyond, he would never hear her.

“Fuck you! Who the fuck are you!” She hurled the pillow at the phantom, followed by the bat. A brief image appeared in her head of a gaunt prisoner kneeling before a burly man dressed in a tunic with a gold border. They stood in sand as the prisoner was bent to the man’s sandals in a Roman-style coliseum. The prisoner spat at the man’s feet, before he was yanked back by a soldier holding his long dark hair. The soldier swung his sword and opened the neck of the prisoner. Blood spurted across the sand as the prisoner collapsed. The soldier swung one more time and the head separated from the body.

Terry gasped and stared around the empty room. The man was gone.

***

Terry tried to keep the coffee from spilling all over the counter as she poured it into her travel mug. Her wrist shook, even when she braced it with her other hand. There had been no more sleep after her nocturnal visitor. She tossed her Metformin in her mouth, grabbed her coat and headed out to the car.

It was 9:00 before she made it to work. She slunk to her cubicle. As she pulled her chair out to sit down, a cascade of perforated mini-cards slid to the floor onto her computer mat, with the penned names of most of her office mates. On her keyboard was a mini box of chocolates. Everyone in the office knew she was diabetic. She growled and pulled the wrapping off the box, and opened it. There were four filled chocolates inside. One of them leaked nuclear pink fluff. She sighed and tossed the box in the trash can, gathered up the cards and displayed them carefully around the desk so that the senders’ feelings weren’t hurt seeing those in the trash can too. The folded paper notes took up most of her work space. One note was from Donna. In her neat curly cursive it said, “7:00 tonight, my place. We’ll go from there. Leron’s got a friend. Javeed, he’s yours. Dress to the nines.” Terry put her head down on the keyboard and closed her eyes.

She was interrupted a moment later by her annoying neighbor, Kendall, in the next cubicle.

“Happy Valentines Day, Terry! You got a hot date tonight?” His snaggle-toothed grin appeared around the wall of her cubicle, while he teetered on the edge of his chair. “I do!”

“I think Freud would have something to say about that kind of relationship with your mom,” she replied, not in the mood.

“Oh, Haha. It’s not my mom! I’m just helping her out with the mortgage, that’s why I moved back! I told you already!” His fair face flushed pink. “Boy, you’re in a shitty mood. You get dumped?” he shot back.

Terry opened her mouth to reply and then noticed a motion behind his head, a tiny shape that flitted from view as she stared at it.

“What?” Kendall ran his hands over his greasy thinning brown hair. He looked down at his shirt for stains.

Terry realized she’d been staring with her mouth open. “Sorry, just thought I saw something behind you.

He swiveled around to look behind him, and then turned back to peck at Terry again.

“You’re a grump, you’re like the scrooge of Valentine’s Day. Have a chocolate! It’ll make you feel better.” He flipped her a chocolate coin,

The coin he threw her fell to the floor after bouncing off her shirt. “I’m diabetic, asshole.”

He popped one in his mouth. As his mouth closed on the chocolate, a finger of gray reached up from under his clothes and tried to snake between his lips, but withdrew as he bit down on the sweet morsel. “It’s okay, they’re sugar free. I remembered you.”

She blinked, astonished first, that he had thought of her, and second, that he clearly hadn’t noticed the creature that had just tried to enter his mouth. “Uh, thanks!”

She turned back to her screen and put her head back down. I’m losing my mind, I’m seeing things now. I gotta get back to work before the boss comes by too.

A minute later, a string of drool seeped from the corner of her mouth onto the gel pad as she slept.

It had been a year now, since George had been buried. She sprawled face-down in the queen-sized bed that she’d wrestled into the tiny room. It was one of the only things she hadn’t sold with the house. It smelled like him. Her arm lay across the dip on his side, worn down by his butt. She crawled into his spot, curled up, and cried.

When she looked up from the mattress, the sheet beneath her was covered in filth and blood, and looked like stone. She scrambled to her feet. A soldier stood beside her. Chains in his hands clinked as he finished removing them from her wrists. He addressed her in a desperate tone. “Can you help her? She will never find a husband to look after her if you don’t cure her.” She blinked at him, trying to get her bearings in the strange dream. She felt herself say, “Bring her to me. If it is the will of God, her sight and hearing will be restored.”

The soldier went around the dark corner behind them and pushed a mousy teenage girl forward. He guided her so she would not stumble. Her eyes stared before her. She didn’t acknowledge anything around her. But her pupils were wide and dark. The girl saw.

“Leave us, jailer. I must speak with her alone.”

The rough man nodded and left.

When the sound of his feet faded, Terry-in-this-other-body spoke quickly. “I know you see, girl. And I know you hear me. Why do you trouble your parents so with this false sickness?”

The girl scowled and said nothing, only stared ahead.

“Do you wish to stay in your father’s house forever? And what will become of you when he dies? How will you earn a living? If you remain ‘sick’ your father may yet find you a husband, but it will not be a man of quality. Is this the life you wish? Think on it, the next time he brings home a match.”

The girl frowned, and was silent. Her father’s footfalls began around the corner at the far end of the hall. She screwed her eyes shut and then opened them wide, looking around her. She yelled, “Father! Father, your prisoner’s god has given me my sight back, and I can hear you coming too! I am cured!” She ran to him and threw her arms around him as he rushed around the corner.

He stared wide-eyed at her, and then at Terry in the dream. “Valentine!” he exclaimed.  He stalked to her and put his hand on her neck and leaned to her ear, as he gazed toward the entrance. The roar of the crowd in the coliseum filtered in through the heavy iron and wooden doors. “I cannot save you from Claudius. But when the time comes, I will be quick, and I will see to your family, if you have any.”

The coliseum faded, and the voice of the jailer resolved into the voice of her boss, Thomas, as he stood in her cubicle. “Long night? I can’t really have you sleeping on your keyboard, so if you need to go home, just take a sick day.”

Her eyes flew open. “Oh crap, I’m so sorry, Thomas! I’ve just been having trouble sleeping.” She swiveled to face him, overshot in the spin and almost threw herself off the chair. And then she stared at him. There were a few gray blurry forms crawling on his cheeks. He just nodded, and walked to his office, calling over his shoulder, “Sick day is fine.” She kept staring after him. Before he got in, the department slut, Brenda, sauntered up to him, dressed head-to-toe in hearts and wearing a pink feathered tiara with red plastic heart rhinestones. She wore a red shirt that said ‘Mighty Aphrodite’ across the front. Terry wouldn’t have been surprised if the same words were plastered on her red pants across her ass. Dagmar Department Store’s own Holy Whore wrapped her arms around him and planted a loud sloppy kiss in the middle of his cheek.

Terry blinked and her mouth dropped open. As Aphrodite’s pink pearly lips left Thomas’s cheek, gray matter oozed from her lips and slid across his face to his mouth as Terry watched. The gray shapes. They came from the kisses. Did they only come from Venereal Girl, or was it anyone’s kiss? Then she shook her head and rubbed her face. This is insane. None of this is real. Kisses do not come to life as little gray life forms. I’m still dreaming. Oh, who cares! At least it’s something to think about other than the dreams. And well, good! Creepy things running around on V-Day. How damn appropriate. And not less creepy than some people on V-Day! She pointedly stared at  Brenda from around the corner.

As Thomas detached himself and walked into his office, she meandered after Brenda, waiting for the floozy to give her another opportunity to observe the kissy creatures. She only had to wait about three seconds until another co-worker encountered Brenda in the hall between the cubicles. Terry watched as Brenda plastered a wet one on the man’s cheek. As before, a gray amoebic shape seeped out from between their lips and oozed across the man’s face and probed around his mouth. She watched Brenda a couple more times before veering into another hallway toward the water fountain, to avoid looking like a voyeur.

As she sipped the water, a young man and woman, interns, wandered by to the snack machine. Gray shapes teemed across their faces and upper bodies, like moving plaques of mucus. She stared at their backs while water dribbled down her chin. If they were the embodiment of kisses, she was going to be celibate for the rest of her life. But what were they, and what were they doing? They seemed to be reaching toward people’s noses and mouths as though they would crawl inside. If so, what happened when they got there? She shook her head and returned to her desk.

***

At about one-thirty, just after the Oh-God-I-Ate-Too-Many-Carbs-For-Lunch hour, a commotion began on the other end of the floor. Terry heard a siren’s blare come closer and then die just downstairs. She saw flashing rotating lights reflecting off the ceiling and went to the window. An ambulance was parking outside. She wandered down the hall as EMTs came up.

She didn’t want to disturb them in their mission, so she asked a fellow gawker, “Do you know what’s going on?”

The woman shook her head, “Not really. Guy stopped breathing, I heard.”

“What, like a heart attack?”

She shrugged, her pale blue silk shirt shimmering with the motion. “I don’t know. I hope he’s okay.”

“Who was it?”

“Jim Fenton, from financial. Do you know him?” She spared a glance for Terry. “Finally, someone else not decked out in red or pink.”

Terry shook her head. “No, don’t know him. Kind of chunky, tall guy with the kinky red hair? I’ve passed him in the hall a lot. Hope he’s ok.”

“Me too. He’s got three kids! My husband went college with him a long time ago.”

Terry opened the door back into the cubicle jungle, and indicated the woman’s clothes, “By the way, welcome, fellow hater.”

As she passed Kendall’s desk, his Space Invaders screen saver was pinging, and the soft buzz of his snore fluttered past his nostrils. A soft finger of gray seeped into his open mouth. As she stared, horrified, the rest of the small mass followed and disappeared into his mouth. She thought about shaking him awake. Even if this weren’t strange and wrong, the boss could walk by, and as irritating as Kendall was, he’d done that favor for her enough times.

But she stood, transfixed. Nothing more happened for a few moments. But then his chest started hitching, as if he were having trouble breathing. His brow creased, and his eyes flew open as he clutched his throat and began coughing. He whooped and sucked air as though he’d been choking.

Terry grabbed his water bottle and handed it to him. “Kendall! Are you all right? What the hell was that?”

He shook his head, his hands trembling as he took a frantic swig and then gulped more air. “I think maybe my sleep apnea’s gotten worse. It’s never gotten me like that during a nap though.” His eyes betrayed fear.

“I thought sleep apnea was only when you’re lying down?”

“Guess not.”

She stared at him while he downed the rest of the bottle.

“I gotta get back to work. Thanks, Terry.”

“For what?”

“Being there.”

“Uh.” She backed around the corner into her cubicle and just sat for a minute. She shivered and rubbed her arms. A freezing chill slid down her spine as she thought of the gray shape slipping between his teeth. It had been the kiss. She knew that as certainly as she knew that Jim Fenton hadn’t stopped breathing because of a heart attack. She stood and peered over the sea of cubicles. Some of them clicked with the sound of keyboards, or rustled with papers moving. But what about the ones that were silent? How many innocent after-lunch snoozes would turn into the quiet choking she had just seen?

This is the curse, my curse. She sat down. It’s real. What the hell do I do? How can I tell people that they’re being choked by kisses?

She rolled her chair to the edge of the wall and poked her head around. “Hey, Kendall!”

Kendall looked at her, a swizzle-stick poking from his mouth.

“I know this is going to sound weird, but don’t let anyone kiss you, got it?”

“Right. Hot date, remember?”

“Tell her you’re a gentleman, pretend. That hot date will turn into many hot dates, trust me. It’s the new thing, for men to be chaste for the first few dates.”

He squinted at her. “Yeah, what makes you think that it’s supposed to be more than a fling?”

Terry looked him up and down and raised her eyebrows. “Do you ever want to move out of your mama’s house?”

“Ouch.”

“Listen to what I’m telling you then.”

He rolled his eyes and sighed.

“And Kendall? Be careful. Don’t fall asleep again with your mouth open.”

“I get it. I snore.”

“Damn right. Women hate that.”

She rose again, and went all the way out to her car. She got in, though no one was in the lot to see her talking to something invisible. “Whatever the hell you are, call off the curse. I never meant for people to get killed. I don’t want people to die. Call it off!”

A breath of air blew her hair, and a figure appeared in her rear view mirror on the back seat. She whirled around. A man sat. His neck dripped with blood, though his head remained on his shoulders. It was the man from her dream.

“Valentine. You’re Saint Valentine, aren’t you? You were killed by Rome for marrying people in the first church. I heard of you.”

His hollow dark eyes drilled into her. “No. I am merely a Christian. I did not refuse my God at Claudius’ feet, or show loyalty to the Roman gods. Some people thought I could heal them.”

“Did you?”

“Perhaps I healed some people of foolishness, or anger, or other kinds of pain than that of disease. The disease of the soul.”

“Why did you come to me? Will you take back the curse?”

“I cannot. Only you can.”

“I don’t know how!”

A sharp rap at the window jolted Terry around to stare out of her driver side window. Donna stood there.

She cupped her hands and peered in. “Hey Girl, what are you doing?”

Terry turned back around. The back seat was empty. Damn!

She opened the car door. Donna backed up and let her out.

“Donna, listen. You have to help me. I screwed up. You’re not going to believe this, but I think I started something really bad, and it’s going to get a lot worse before the day is over.”

Donna’s eyes widened. “What are you talking about?”

“I…I made some kind of a curse, a Valentine’s Day curse. I was really pissed, and thinking about George, and I think I called something here that isn’t supposed to be here. Well, I know this sounds crazy, but kisses have been coming to life, and choking people when they fall asleep!”

Donna’s black eyes stared at her, flat. “Okay, girlfriend. I think you better check up on that medication of yours.”

“No! The guy in my apartment last night was a ghost, a really old one. It was Valentine, the Roman Christian saint guy. He said I summoned him with the curse. What do I need to do to get you to believe me?”

“I’m not sure. Are you listening to yourself?”

“Kendall, he almost choked while I watched him. I saw what slid into his mouth! You can ask him about the choking at least.”

“That oily guy next to you…choked on kisses. Whose kisses, Miss Thing? He lives with his momma.”

“Hers! I saw Brenda kiss Thomas and this gray thing came out of her mouth when she did it. And the same kind of thing crawled into Kendall’s mouth when he choked.”

Donna sighed and leaned back against the car behind her. “You nuts, woman. But I think, I guess it’s possible. My crazy grandma would believe you anyway. She always believed in weird things down in that Florida swamp.”

“What does she believe?”

“That thoughts you speak can come to life. If you speak bad thoughts, bad wishes, you make ’em real. That’s sorcery.”

“I didn’t mean it. How do I take it back?”

Donna shrugged. “I didn’t talk with her much about that stuff.”

Terry sagged against her own car.

“You really think you made a curse, huh? Okay, well, what you want me to do?”

“You believe me? You’ll help me?” Terry gazed at her.

“I believe that you believe, and I guess anything you come up with isn’t much crazier than she used to have me do. But I ain’t slitting the neck of no chickens!”

“Do I need chickens?”

“What do I look like, a voodoo priestess? How the hell should I know?”

“Well, can you think of anything your grandma used to do?”

Donna sighed, “You owe me for this, girl. I’ll get some info from her. But I got to call her, crazy bat! That’s why you owe me! I’ll come to your house after work.”

***

Terry spent the rest of the day roaming the cubicle halls and socializing wherever she saw a drowsy person. She generally made a pain in the ass of herself asking inane questions and speaking loudly to jar everyone out of any chance of sleepiness. She introduced herself formally to about ten different people in other sections. Since she was a classic introvert, it was exhausting. But there were no more calls to 911 that afternoon.

A half hour before quitting time, Thomas strode to her cubicle, just before she zipped off on another round of Wake Up.

“Oh, nice to see you at your desk. Decided to do a little work today?” he cleared his throat.

His face and head were swarming with kisses. Either Brenda or some other employee had been very busy, or he was having an affair. None of my business! She reminded herself. “You don’t have to be snide. I’m just trying a new program.”

He leaned against her wall and crossed his arms, and then almost toppled onto the floor as the flimsy wall moved back from his weight. “New program?”

“After Jim Fenton had his incident earlier, it occurred to me that not enough of us know each other. So I was introducing myself. Business might flow better if we all knew each other. You know, synergy.”

He stared at her. She tried to keep her attention focused on his eyes and not on the gray moving blobs. “Nice buzz word. Are you on something? You seem to be having trouble concentrating.”

“Nope.”

“You’ll have to work on Saturday to make up for the time you spent on your new program.”

“Okay. Give your wife a big smooch for me. Happy Valentine’s Day!” Dickhead!

He turned around and headed back to his office with a wave.

***

On the way home, the radio news reported that there were strange incidents of respiratory failure during sleep, throughout Phoenix. Especially affected had been hospitals, day care centers, kindergartens during the nap periods, and adult day cares. The Maricopa County Department of Public Health had been notified and engaged in the investigation. The public service message urged anyone with sleep apnea or other sleep disturbances or disorders, to call the health hotline.

As she passed pedestrians, or stopped at lighst and peered into other cars, the kisses teemed everywhere. They crawled through people’s hair, probed gray wisps of matter into people’s ears, and danced tentatively around people’s noses, and mouths as they spoke or inhaled. One afflicted man sitting on a bus bench, scattered kisses across the pavement and garbage can near him, as he sneezed. But they swiftly slithered back to congregate around the holes in his face, shadows waiting for an unguarded moment to sneak in.

Donna waited in the parking lot of her complex when she pulled up. Her face was clear of the creatures.

Terry asked through the window, as she parked the car, “Why don’t you have any kisses on your face? Mostly everyone else does.”

Donna’s eyebrows rose in surprise, then she recovered. “Because I don’t want no one else’s nasty-ass mouth all over me, unless they plannin’ on going all the way. And then you better give me a nice dinner and chocolate! Otherwise, stay the hell away from me and keep those germy lips to yourself. I don’t know where they been.” She stared at Terry. “You really can see that shit, huh?”

“Yup. So do we have everything we need?”

“Yeah, everything that you’d want to do in an apartment with a deposit, anyway.”

They went up to the apartment. Terry closed the door behind Donna and followed her into the center of the living room.

Donna she pulled out pink valentine cards from her red leather handbag and pinned them around the walls of the room. In the blank center spaces of the cards, she drew a symbol with the strawberry stinky marker Terry had seen on the whiteboard at work. The symbol was an elaborate crowned heart with a staff and curlicues coming from the sides.

“Oh V-Day cards, really? Come on!”

“Shut up and let me work!”

Once Donna was done with her drawing, she pulled three silver rings off her fingers and gave them to Terry. “Put those on. But I get those back after, bitch, those are mine! And go get a piece of your jewelry that’s nice.”

Terry went and got a bracelet that George had gotten her.

Then she laid a pink cloth in front of the television. On it she put a couple of packages of Little Debbies, unwrapped.

“God, those things are everywhere,” Terry moaned.

Donna gave her an irritated look and pulled a long bottle of Irish Cream out of her bag, laid Terry’s bracelet on the cloth next to the cakes, and poured the cream on the cakes. Finally, at the head of the cloth, she laid a picture of a Madonna.

“What is all this?’

Donna nodded to all the symbols. “Grandma says you might have offended Erzulie. You’re just pissin everyone off today. She’s sort of like our version of a love saint. You’re a lot like her, actually.”

“No, I’m not. I’m the opposite of a love spirit, I hate this shit.”

“Yeah, but Erzulie is said to never get her heart’s desire: love and regret. You two will get along just fine.”

“Bite me!”

“You want my help or not! I should be gettin’ ready for my date, but I called that fine African man and put off my own shit, for you.”

“You’re right. Sorry. What now?”

“Well, I ain’t no voodoo priestess, so don’t expect results. Maybe you should ask Erzulie for help. And no whinin’. It’s called prayin’ respectfully. How long’s it been since you prayed?”

Terry thought for a second. “Long time. Every time I pray, I’m in my own head, someplace I really don’t want to be anymore. I just…went round and round.” She sighed, kneeled and gazed at the picture of the Madonna.  Her face must have betrayed her dismay.

Donna interrupted, her voice gentle now, “Well, now there are other things in there with you, so you ain’t alone. Look, I know you had a rough time. Maybe this is what you need anyway. Just focus on what you want. What you want most? What’s in your heart?”

A tear slid down Terry’s face. “I want George to be alive.”

“Ain’t nobody but Jesus can help you with that, girl. Not until the end time. What do you want that somebody listenin’ can give you?”

“I don’t know.” She looked at the picture of Erzulie/Madonna. Tears streamed down her face now. She closed her eyes.

“Yes, you do.”

A scent of delicate perfume wafted through the room. It smelled familiar, but she didn’t think she had smelled it in a long time. Her own voice sounded strange, as though it came from a long way away. And the tone was different, a husky contralto that came out once when she had met George and was three sheets past the wind. “I wanted to say goodbye.”

The last evening light in the city faded into night. As dark fell, emergency response sirens blared to life in multiple places in the city. Terry didn’t hear them.

Valentine stood in the dim hospital room. The florescent light from the medical displays cast a washed-out light across his ghastly figure, making him look even more corpse-like. Next to him lay George, unmoving and white against the sheets. His flaxen hair silky against the pillow. “Why do you keep showing me this?” she screamed at the gory phantom.

“You wanted to say goodbye.”

“Not like this, he can’t hear me!”

“Not if you don’t talk.”

She sunk down to her haunches by the bed, sobbing. Then she slowly rose and stared into his face. His eyes were closed, and his face unlined by everyday cares, the cares of normal life. She wiped her face, leaned over and kissed his cheek, not caring what weird creatures came out of it. “I love you. I miss you.”

Something was behind her. She whirled around. It was George. He was smiling and his blue eyes were as mischevious as ever. Her jaw dropped open, and she swiveled back to the bed. The figure on the bed was gone.

“What—How did you…Oh God, George!”

He grinned. “Hi.”

“Are you real?”

“Real enough.”

“Are you in Heaven?”

“No, I’m here with you.”

“You know what I mean!”

“I know. There’s not much time, Babe. Only a moment.”

She put her hands on either side of his face and kissed him deeply on the lips. He kissed her back, and then pulled away, his eyes sad. “I’m sorry I had to leave. I have to go again. But I love you too, always will.”

She swallowed hard. “I know. See you next time around, maybe?”

He faded into the darkness, and his teeth flashed in a wide smile. “I’d chase your ass through the universe.”

The room was empty, except for the dark solemn figure in the corner.

“What about the curse? What do I do about that?”

“You lifted it.” Valentine said as the wall became visible through him. “Thank you.” Then he too was gone.

The room was dark, and Donna sat next to Terry, shaking her head. “Do you want me to get you some insulin or something?”

Terry felt something moist. She looked down on a pile of sticky crumbs in her lap. She’d eaten all the cakes covered in liquor. The bracelet twinkled on her wrist. She held her picture of George in her hands. “What the fuck?”

“Do you remember anything? Grandma says that when people are ridden, they don’t remember it. Erzulie likes sweets.”

“Well, I remember everything. Besides manging on enough sugar for a year, did I do anything weird?”

“You had a conversation. It sounded like there were a couple people in the room, and one of ’em was George. For a second it looked like there was a couple people in the room too, scared the shit out of me. One of them was right next to you. I almost grabbed a knife from the kitchen, but one, I was too scared to move, and two, for a second, it looked like it might be George, and I didn’t want to interrupt.”

“Thanks.”

“So, is the craziness over now? No more kisses running around killin’ people? Can we get on with our lives?”

Terry nodded. “I think so.”

“Good, maybe we can still catch a V-Day burger at the diner. You coming?”

Terry shook her head.

“Oh no, Miss Thing, you are not gonna start that moping again. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place!”

“No. I’m not. I’m okay now. I just need to clean up.”

“All right, well, you meet us there then?” Donna grabbed the bottle of Irish Cream, stashed it back in her bag, pulled the rings off Terry’s fingers, and propped open the front door.

Terry nodded. “Give me an hour.”

Donna tapped her nails on the lintel and left. Terry returned to the altar, picked up the picture of George and sat for a while, smiling.

***

The diner was bright with florescent 50s colors as Terry found the table and sat down in the booth with Donna and Leron, and a tall muscular man. He spoke with an African accent that rolled off his tongue like music.

“I’m Javeed.” He extended his hand, politely.

“I’m Terry. Wow, Donna was right. You’re really hot.”

He grinned. “And you are also as lovely as she said.” His smile had a mischevious glint that reminded her of George.

End

Comment and link to your page if you have a VD story you want to share!

Halloween Story! Trick or Treat!

Posted in blogging, horror, indie, indie authors, mythology, urban fantasy, young adult fiction with tags , , , , on October 31, 2013 by rachelcoles

Hi all,

It’s time for my favorite holiday of the year. I had to decide between that and Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving because of the food, friends and family. But what’s not to love about Halloween! When else can you dress up like a horror character and not be a kook, not that that ever stopped me anyway! And if you do it right, you get tons of food too, all of the sugar-blast-in-the-face variety. Today, for Halloween, I’m posting a ghost story. Enjoy!

Undead Bucket List

Jerrod watched as the doctors, nurses, and assistants swarmed around his body, inserting lines, pushing various liquids, and checking various bodily signs. They were all saying the same thing. He was dead. For the moment, everything seemed surreal and dreamlike, and he didn’t feel much of anything. So he just kept watching.

He heard the nice young red-haired doctor that he’d fantasized about yell, “Clear!” and jolt his body with the AED paddles. With nothing else to do, he perched himself on a wheeled table nearby and tried to stay out of the way, until the frenzy subsided.

The steady tone of the monitor continued, and Red-haired Doctor frowned and after a few more tries, put the paddles away. She put her hand on Jerrod’s neck, at his non-existent pulse. “Time of death, Oh-one-hundred hours. This sucks, he was one of my favorite patients.”

“He was a horny bugger.” A dark-haired nurse with an olive complexion snorted.

“Yeah, but he was a cheerful horny bugger. All the way to the end. You gotta appreciate persistence.”

Most of the staff who were cleaning up the equipment nodded, or shook their heads and crooked a half-smile before they dispersed.

Red and the nurse who had called him a bugger stayed for another minute and gazed at his body, after paging the pathologist in the morgue.

“He was stubborn. If anyone could have beat that cancer with the treatment, I thought it would have been him. He was too much of a pain in the ass to die.” The dark haired woman put her hand on Jerrod’s foot and gave it a squeeze.

“I know. But it was experimental. We don’t even know if he got that treatment or if he was on the traditional meds. It was a double-blind study. I guess we’ll find out soon. Not that it matters now.”

Jerrod hopped down from the table, a move that would have had him panting and sagging to his knees a month earlier. He stuck his chin out over their shoulders and looked between them from one to the other.

He wondered if they would be able to hear him in the death-dream. “Can I get something to eat? I’m starving. Even that nasty cream of wheat you got here would be nice. A beer would be even better.” Neither of them twitched at his presence.

“He used to tell me he’d marry me, once he got out of here because he loved hummus. I told him, ‘I’m Punjabi, not middle-eastern.’ And so he’d say, ‘That’s okay, you can make me curry instead. I need some spice in my life!’ And then he’d make a kissey-face at me.”

“That has never been more true than now, doll,” Jerrod grinned.

The red-haired doctor broke into a horse-whinny laugh, accompanied by a sudden burst of laughter from the Punjabi nurse.

“I’ll have to inform his family,” the doctor said. “This is going to be a crappy morning.” Then they both grew silent, nodded at him, and returned to their shifts.

He stood alone, staring at the body that had plagued him with infirmity for the past few years. He reached out and touched his own foot as it lay motionless on the table. His hand went through it. The foot looked real enough though, as though the man on the table that was supposed to be him would start wiggling it. He didn’t. He looked asleep. Is that what I look like when I’m asleep?

            But there was an emptiness to the cast of the face, like no one was home. The body was just an object. He realized in that moment, somehow, that it wasn’t a dream. The body was his body, or had been. And he was not going to wake up from this.

He sat down again on the table. The shock and grief never came though. He had regrets of course. Who didn’t? Having more sex, eating more ice cream, telling his incompetent manager to fuck off. But there hadn’t been anything he could do about those things when he was alive, so now, at least he didn’t have to sit in a slowly collapsing body, like sitting in a house where the roof was falling in and the walls were molding.

Well, I’m not in hell, like Lila said I’d be. And I don’t see no angels, so I must be here on Earth still. What the hell do I do now?

He walked out onto the ward and stood as people ran right through him.

Okay, that mystery is solved. I’m invisible and not solid. He waved his arms around and started singing “Get Your Motor Running” at the top of his lungs. No one held their ears or told him to be quiet. So they didn’t hear him either. He saw a chocolate cupcake on the counter with a bite out of it. He figured at this point that undead people who couldn’t get attention couldn’t be choosy, so to further the experiment, he went to lick the frosting off. His tongue went through it without any frosting sticking. The cupcake looked the same as it had. Oh, crap. I was afraid of that. Maybe I really am in hell.

He confirmed his suspicions by walking up to a pretty medic and grabbing her boobs. His hands went through her shirt and she ignored him and kept filling out paperwork. Yup. In hell. What now?

Dead people were supposed to take stock of their lives at some point, so he meandered back into the room with his body, stared at it and waited for some revelation. None came. So he wandered through a few other rooms. People sometimes had revelations in hospitals, didn’t they, on the brink?

In one room, a car accident victim surrounded by his family talked about suing the teenager who had been slammed into his car. She was somewhere in the hospital too. The driver who’d caused the wreck had run. But he blustered along to his relatives and the lawyer on the phone about the girl. So what if she wasn’t the initial driver, her car should have been farther from his, so she was partly responsible, right? And those bills weren’t going to pay themselves.

God, was I that much of an asshole when I was in an accident ten years ago? His spirit sunk a little as he wondered again if this really was hell, and these were the damned souls. But the nurses and doctors still seemed nice, and the young women as pretty as always.

In another room, a middle-aged woman yelled at her son over the phone to stop being useless, and then moaned about her aches, and demanded more pain medication. Then she resumed her tirade over the phone. “Honest to Christ, James! I let you live in my house after school, for five more years, and this is how you act toward me? Ungrateful piece of garbage! I should have known that all you want is my social security check and my pain pills!” A muffled voice issued from the cell, and she yelled right over it, “That’s not the point! I couldn’t work because of the pain, but I still get your father’s check, and rightfully so! That bastard never treated me like anything but a whore. So I worked for that money, and you’re not getting it!”

Jerrod tiptoed from the room. No one had heard him so far, but just in case she was special, he sure didn’t want to start with that one. He wondered what God, if He/She/It existed could be trying to show him, other than the recollection that people were total snaky bastards, at least when the outside world wasn’t looking.

In the next room was a young woman. The doctor had just left. She started crying and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. He bent close and looked at her chart. Stage 4 breast cancer. After a brief flash in his mind of the ‘Save the Tatas’ bumper stickers he’d always admired, he stood back up and saw the tears streaming down her face. She sighed, and he wished for a second that he could slip into people’s minds. Maybe he could with practice, just like on Ghost. He screwed up his ghost face in concentration, but all it did was make him feel like he had to poop, which was strange because he had no colon. His own experience with cancer had shown him that at this stage, excising her tatas hadn’t saved her. Nothing would. He sat by her bed for a little while as she cried, and wondered what he could do to get through to her. At least this was something he knew a little about.

“It’ll be okay, girl, uh, Gia.” That was her name from the chart. “It really will. Dying wasn’t so bad. In fact, I feel great! No pain. Now I just have to figure out what to do next. So if you don’t mind, I’ll sit here with you for a spell. I don’t have anywhere else to go. And maybe you could talk to me. I’m listening…If you want to do it naked, that’s fine with me too.”

She didn’t hear him, but she sighed and wiped her face, and she looked toward him. Her tears dried up and she looked a little better. “That’s my girl. It’ll be okay.” He rested his hand on where hers appeared to be. His fingers went through hers, but he left them there anyway, half in and half out of her palm. She laid back on the pillow and closed her eyes. In a few minutes, she was asleep, and her creased face smoothed. He stood still for a long time.

***

            In the morning, she stirred, and he moved. He realized he had been sitting there all night, motionless. And he wasn’t even cramped. At some point, his thoughts had wandered. They were a jumble of memories from as early as five years old to now. But everything seemed clearer than it ever had in life. Yesterday, he’d had trouble remembering what he’d eaten for breakfast. Maybe because it was always accompanied by jello and mush for that last stretch until the end. Not much to remember there. But now he could remember each grain in the mush, and each flop and wobble of the jello body on the spoon, as though he were seeing it now.

He drew his attention back to more enticing pastures, as he watched the still-attractive young bald woman reach across her bed to the nighttable for her phone. It was one of them new-fangled smartyphones. She tapped it into life but didn’t talk on it. Instead a screen popped up with a keyboard that she typed on. It was a memo. The heading was Bucket List.

She began typing bullet points of the things she wanted to do before the end, under the heading: Hate Disney, Kennedy space center instead, see shuttle launch???, eat ossobucco in Little Italy, New York, want to have sex with Egyptian guy from The Mummy, want to eat a new flavor of ice cream every day, want to see brother’s new baby, and say goodbye, want to ride a Ducati motorcycle down the Autobahn, want to do a striptease at a club and have all the guys want to put money in my g-string…

The list went on, and if he hadn’t already felt bonded to this young woman through her similar ailment, he sure did now. “Ossobucco, oh Honey, if I were alive, I’d take you myself. That and the striptease, I’d love to help you with. If you change the Ducati to a Harley, you’d have a deal on that one too. A Bucket List. Wish I’d made one of those sooner,” he said to the air.

“You still can. Don’t you have somewhere to be? Family you can haunt?”

Jerrod leaped and turned around.

There was a bald man around his age, with rheumy blue eyes, standing in the doorway.

“Who are you, and where did you come from?”

“I’m Daddy. Can’t you see the family resemblance?” The man rubbed at his bald head and glared at Jerrod. “Stop staring at my daughter like that or I’ll send you out the window. I can touch you, you know.”

Jerrod swallowed on an absence of spit. “How can you see me?”

“Because I’m a ghost, you dumb redneck. Just like you.”

“But I didn’t see you earlier.”

“This is a hospital. Did you think you’d be the only ghost around?”

“I didn’t see anyone else.”

“That’s because you were stuck in Bitch One and Bastard Two’s rooms, watching them make everyone else’s lives miserable. Fortunately for us, they aren’t likely to cross over any time soon…unless someone murders them.”

“I was only in there a few minutes.”

“No. Go look for your body if you don’t believe me.”

He ran down the hall, and this time he noticed other spirits everywhere. Some of them were milling around aimlessly, others followed people around, still others hovered over people in the beds. Along the ceiling of the hall near his room, he noticed darkness in one of the corners. It was not black, but gray. It was so gray and devoid of any color that the air seemed to be sucked into it. He caught the briefest glimpse of eyes from the center. They blinked, and the fog around the entity began seeping through the air toward the people going in and out of the double doors. As they passed through the fog, the color drained from their cheeks and eyes and a bewildered expression crept across their faces. Then they shook it off and kept moving.

He ran past the gray octopus ghost, wondering what it was. As he passed, a freezing chill gripped him, and the milky eyes latched onto him. He felt numbness spread through him, and the gray eyes began dissolving his memories. He broke away with a jolt, and then ducked into his room and prayed it hadn’t followed him.

Then he noticed that the place he was now wasn’t his room anymore. There was a young gay man and his partner whispering to each other. The chart indicated that they’d occupied the room for a week.

He sucked in air that didn’t exist, held his breath and looked out the door. The octopus was still there. And there was no way back to Gia’s room except past it. So he kept his cheeks inflated and his head turned away as he ran past it again. When he had been a kid, he remembered hiding under the covers, convinced that the creeping fingers under the bed couldn’t grab his feet if he was all covered up. And if he couldn’t see them either, he’d be even more invisible. His no-lookey trick seemed to have worked and he burst in on Gia and her dad. Gia was typing away on her text thing. Her dad looked up.

“Well?”

Jerrod shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

“You were in here a while.” He regarded Jerrod intently. “I didn’t thank you for what you did for Gia the other night by the way. Just stop looking at her like she’s a stripper.”

“But that’s on her bucket list.”

“I don’t care, I’m her father, and you’re my age.”

“How long was I remembering, sitting here?”

“A week or so, give or take. I see you ran into the Grays. You look a little pale around the gills.”

“There are more of them? What the devil was that? Was there an octopus in the hospital?”

“It was once a person.”

“What happened?”

“It got lost. Half the buggers you see around here are headed that way.”

“What do you mean lost?”

“They never figure out what to do with themselves. I’m here for Gia. Folks who have families have it easier sometimes. They wander away and find them. We can follow them around forever, helps us stay together.”

“How long have you been following them?”

“For them, it’ll be nine years next week. Where’s your family? By the way?”

“I’d chased a lot of them off, I guess. My son came to see me, but not my sister. Or my ex-wife. My parents were dead a long time ago across the country, and I have no idea where they are now.”

“Well, maybe you better get moving on your own bucket list. Don’t you think?”

“I doubt they’ll be interested in having me around. They didn’t even stay to see me gone. They checked in, and then went back to their lives.” He slumped down against the wall, realizing how much that hurt. Losing his body didn’t. It was that no one he cared about had noticed.

The other old geezer came and sat next to him in silence for a few minutes. “Tell you what. If you behave yourself, you can stay here with us until my daughter joins us. In the meantime, you figure out what you’re going to do next.”

Jerrod nodded. “Thanks. How about I help her with her wishes?”

“The ones without sex.”

“Of course. What about the ones with food? And the space shuttle launch?”

“If you can find a way to arrange that, I’ll give you a kiss myself. I think a motorbike ride might be a tad more realistic if it were around here. The Autobahn might as well be outer space.”

“Well, sir, you’ve got a deal. I don’t know how to arrange it, but it seems like a few pints of Ben and Jerry’s shouldn’t be out of reach.”

***

            Gia shifted in her sleep with her laptop on her legs. Her blog page was still up. The two ghosts peered over her shoulder at the text.

“So here I am. This is the end of the road. I guess I was an optimist, and I really thought that everything would work out if I just hung in there. Well, I’m probably radioactive enough to power a nuclear plant for a year. A head of hair, no tits, and lots of chemicals later, and the cancer won. I wish I could be more cheerful, but at this point, what difference does it make? As you know, my boyfriend ditched me last year because the process was too hard for him, and I’m done making excuses for him, and done taking crap.

On the up side, I guess I can eat anything I want now without worrying about getting fat. So the first thing on my list is ice cream, every flavor, pints and pints. I want to be Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, without drowning myself prematurely in a sea of chocolate syrup, of course. And then, before I get too huge to fit on a bike, I want to ride a racing motorbike, preferably a Ducati. I suppose going to Germany to ride it, is out. But maybe old Route 66 will do.  Cuz who cares about speeding tickets, woohoooo! Suck my road dust, coppers! Maybe I can ride it right into Little Italy and get a nice Italian dinner.

Also before I get too huge, I’d like to screw the mummy guy from The Mummy, if you’re listening Mr. Actor out there. Free sex from a still reasonably attractive girl in a punk-rock, shaved-head kind of way. Free sex and no strings attached, but you’re not getting my X-Box in my will, so don’t even think about it. Finally…I’d like to watch the shuttle launch, so I can imagine myself on it. I mean right there.

When I was a little girl, I dreamed every night of looking back at the Earth from orbit, and seeing how little we were and how big the galaxy was beyond that when I turned the other direction, away from Earth. Knowing everything is so vast, it kind of helps, you know? Sometimes, being insignificant next to a freakin star is kind of comforting. Makes me think that all those atoms and quarks and bosons and whatever else they’ve named, that they are alive somehow, and that we all just get recycled. Maybe next time, I’ll be a star, literally. That’d be cool.

Anyway, that’s how I want to say goodbye. I’ll probably only get to do all those things in my head, except for the ice cream. A trip to King Soopers isn’t really a tall order for my mom. But, maybe if I aim hard enough with my thoughts, after the last blog you hear from me, you’ll hear about a new star discovered somewhere in a nearby galaxy. That’ll be me. Signing off for now, Gia.”

Jerrod wanted to cry, reading her blog. “I like this kid, Pops. She’s a smart cookie. What is your name anyway?”

“Mick Slater. Yeah, my girl was always special. If this hadn’t happened, maybe she would have made it to space. She was planning on joining the Air Force, and she was going to go for engineering or physics once she got her GI bill. My wife can get her the ice cream, and the Italian food. But if it were my last act as her Dad, I’d get her that view of the shuttle, or space.”

“I’ll do whatever I can think of. Her list is mine.” Jerrod looked at Gia, asleep, and decided that if he had to hunt down the ghost of Neil Armstrong to help, he would.

***

            An hour later, neither of the men had any idea how to put Gia close to space. And hunting down Neil Armstrong’s ghost didn’t seem any more likely. Jerrod wandered out to the nurse’s station to try for food again, or make himself heard, while Mick stayed with his ailing daughter.

There were more sweets behind the counter, crème rolls this time. He put his fingers right through the sticky glazed brown frosting. He hung his head and concentrated on the taste of the crème and chocolate glaze on his fingers, as it melted with his touch. When he looked up, his hand was right through the roll and part of the counter.

I’m not going to be outsmarted by a bunch of  Ho-hos! He stared at one of the nurses as she picked up a roll and took a bite. He thought about being in her mouth and tongue, and tasting the sweet that way. He didn’t get a rush of white creamy sugar, from her taste buds. He didn’t see from her eyes, or find himself in her head. But he felt an echo of flaky, waxy chocolate and smooth crisco cream, as the taste faded in the back of his mouth.

As with Peeps, he realized that they didn’t taste as good as he remembered from life, but he stood still in shock as it sunk in that he had taken something, some experience. Maybe he couldn’t communicate to the living yet, but he could get something from them. And that meant that he was half-way there. What if that bridge could go both ways? What if just as he could taste the ho-hos a nurse ate, a ghost could share an experience too? But if they couldn’t actually taste anything except through the living, how would that work? Square one.

Then as she devoured another ho-ho, and he tasted it, the memories of his childhood sugar treats came back to him, the marshmallow fluff, the pixie stix, the spun sugar Easter eggs, all the things that he thought tasted great at five years old, or seven or ten, but the vivid memories betrayed his fondness for them now. They hadn’t been so great, just like the ho-hos Nurse Pleasantly Plump was eating now.

When he was halfway back to Gia’s room, the idea struck him as he sifted through memories trying to find a one of good Halloween candy. Ghosts had memories. Hell, that’s probably all they were, strung together with a personality and old habits. That was what he had to share. Well, not him, he didn’t have any memories that a young woman like Gia would be interested in, but maybe someone else did.

He blazed into the room to find Mick crouched by Gia’s bedside, a frown marring his features, matching the one on hers. She was repeatedly pushing the pain medication button. Apparently, it wasn’t doing much good anymore.

“I hate this. I hate seeing her like this. I’d love to talk to her again, but I don’t want her to come over like this. I’d rather see her get married, give me some grandkids I can spook. Join the military and go into space. Anything but this. Everyone says you should never survive your kids, but I didn’t and I still have to watch her go like this.”

Suddenly, the loneliness of the Grays and the lost looks of some of the other ghosts around here didn’t seem like much of a mystery. And even the ones who had families didn’t always want to hang around them, like him, so they hung around where they died instead. Jerrod pictured what kind of ghost the cranky abusive woman from the other room would make someday. He felt sorry for her son. And he recalled suddenly, that there had been no other ghosts in that room. No one wanted to be around her, alive or dead.

He continued, putting the revelation away for later. “I found something. I tasted ho-hos when I pictured myself in the nurse’s mouth. It wasn’t like possession. It was just kind of vicarious. I wonder if it would work in reverse? If we could picture something and send those thoughts or tastes or whatever.”

“Yes.” Mick let go of Gia’s hand. “I do that sometimes with Gia. When the pain is really bad, when she’s crying. I sometimes put thoughts in her mind of our fishing trip when she was eight. She loved fishing. Never caught anything but boots, weeds and other fishing lines, but she’d get so excited when they nibbled. That was one of the happiest times I remember.”

Jerrod’s jaw dropped, and since he was a ghost, might have dropped through the floor if someone had been watching. “You knew about this?” His voice was incredulous. “And you didn’t say anything? If you already had the manual, why didn’t you share that with me before I went out again and started trying to lick the nurse’s food?”

Mick’s face sagged, and Jerrod noticed the strain, how drawn and faded the man’s face seemed. He was exhausted. “I didn’t think of it. I’ve been a little busy.”

Jerrod shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. You’re right. Well, what now? She wants to see a shuttle launch. I never saw one, except on television. You?”

He shook his head. “I’ve never been much of an advertiser, but maybe it’s time we start recruiting help. The odds are against us that someone’s been to Kennedy, but many heads are better than two.”

***

            “You’re out of luck.” A droopy-jowled ghost named Ted muttered as he looked out Gia’s room at the far corridor, where a gray hung from the ceiling, perched in a corner like a great transparent spider. “Old Kaleb saw a launch once, but he’s nearly a goner. He’s more like one of them now.” He nodded toward the Gray. He used to be pretty well-off, traveled everywhere. Took the wife and kids on vacation all the time. Lost a bunch of investments in the crash after 911. He couldn’t take living like a normal person and working for a living, so he offed himself. He kind of screwed it up, so it took him a while to cross over here. His wife and kids visited, until he died, but he never recovered after crossing. He’s always been a little…off.”

Mick stared out the door at the Gray. “Where is he?”

“In the basement, the morque, with the other weird ones. There’s a lot of Grays down there. Nests of them.”

“I don’t care. I’ll go talk to him.” Mick’s eyes burned and his face grew brighter.

“I ain’t coming with you, not past those.” Ted backed down the hall away from the Gray-haunted corridor.

“I’ll go with you.” Jerrod said quietly.

“Who’ll stay here for Gia?”

“She’s not going anywhere right now. Hey Ted?” Jerrod chased the man before he disappeared down another hall. “Be a man right now. At least stay and watch the girl.”

Ted looked uncertain and then nodded and cautiously followed Jerrod back to Gia’s room. He took up a post by her bed. “Okay. I’ll secure this area then.”

“Brave soldier.” Mick replied drily.

“Thank you.” Jerrod glared at Mick. “He’s here, so let’s go.”

***

            Ted was right about the nesting Grays. After they scooted past the one in the corridor, and edged past three more on the way down, by the ICU, they arrived at the morgue. It was a dim cold unpleasant place, and there were a hell of a lot of unhappy ghosts. The temperature was below what it should have been, even aside from the refrigeration. Grays lined every corner of the rooms, and hunkered along the ceilings of the hallways, watching and stewing in whatever strange thoughts crossed their minds. Their dull white eyes sought Jerrod’s attention, pulled at him, but he steeled himself from looking at them.

The pathologist bustled about, bopping and dancing to a tune he was playing on Pandora radio. The sound seemed to fall muffled into a well, muted by the soft filaments surrounding the Grays. Ghosts that appeared halfway-Gray hunched along the floors, ignored by the pathologist. Jerrod stared at him in wonder. He seemed unaffected by any of it. But he also seemed unaffected by the bodies he autopsied. He was lost in his own thoughts as he measured and peered at organs, engrossed in his work and the music.

“How do we find this guy? I don’t know what he looks like, aside from the description Ted gave, which was kind of vague. He said he won’t even look like that anymore.” Jerrod ventured.

Mick looked nervously around the main examining room. “I don’t like these odds. We don’t even know if he’s here. Just Ted’s assumption. But Gia’s running out of time. Ask and ye shall receive.” He cupped his hands, and spoke into the room. “Is Kaleb here? Kaleb, any of you Kaleb? We need your help.”

Some of the ghosts ignored him, some of them watched with hollow eyes in almost transparent faces. Some had filamentous material oozing out of their orifices, and they scuttled toward the two men on limbs that had become gaunt and spindly. One reached out toward Jerrod’s foot. He drew it back in alarm before the creature could touch him. “This is nuts. What was I thinking? How are we even going to communicate with these people…or whatever they are?”

The creature that had reached out to him tried again, and Jerrod jumped. It looked at him with its hideously deformed visage. Jerrod could feel the emptiness in its eyes, and he avoided looking, but it scuttled after him. It made a noise when he retreated. It was a groan. He looked. For the moment, its eyes were no longer empty. Its face was intent. It had been trying to get his attention. And Jerrod noticed that it was a he, or had been. The creature’s cloudy eyes were full of floaters and film, but Jerrod could see the man’s former humanity, and that he was struggling for another moment to maintain it. He and Mick looked at each other.

“Are you Kaleb?” Jerrod avoided the eyes still. But the creature shook his head, and extended one of his arms toward the dark right corner behind the examining table. Then his eyes went blank again and he crept toward Jerrod in a way completely unlike his earlier purposeful communication.

Jerrod dodged the reaching limbs, and went to the other side of the table where Kaleb was supposed to be, the last place in the gloom he wanted to be. It seemed backwards. He was a ghost. Weren’t people supposed to be scared of ghosts, instead of him being afraid. But he was. Terrified.

He could feel Mick next to him, but neither of them took their eyes off of the mass of fibers floating in the corner like a cobweb wafting underwater in the deep ocean. Within the half-cocoon, a spindly insubstantial body rested. The eyes that peered out at them were almost devoid of humanity.

“Oh, you have to be kidding.”

“I’ll talk to it. She’s my daughter.”

“Talk to what? There’s nothing there that can help us, I don’t think. It can’t even remember being human…if that’s even Kaleb. I’m not sure what you’re going to get out of that, except being turned into something from the phantom version of War of the Worlds. I’m sorry.”

Mick turned to Jerrod as the half-Gray phantasms scuttled and bumped around them and crab-clustered in the corners. His haggard eyes were tormented, not the same eyes as the seasoned spirit who had calmly introduced him to the weird world of afterlife, earlier in Gia’s room. “She’s my kid! I don’t care how this ends. I told her when she was a little girl, on those fishing trips, that I’d bring her the moon if I could. Well, I’m going to do just that.”

“But she’ll be able to talk to you soon.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Jerrod knew it had been the wrong thing to say. Apparently being a ghost didn’t improve social skill.

“Then it’ll be too late. I’ll still have failed her.”

“But if you disappear here, then she’ll lose you all over again!” Jerrod almost yelled. His words fell into a room that despite the loud rockabilly music, seemed too quiet, listening.

“If that happens, take care of her for me, okay?”

“Stop being a stubborn jackass!”

“Promise me.”

Mick approached the creature that had been Kaleb. He stared into the depth of the gray mass, into the milky eyes. Their look sucked the remaining color from Mick’s appearance. He shivered and started talking to it. “Kaleb, I need your help. I need you to remember. I need a memory from you, you selfish bastard. Snap out of it and do something for someone else for a change!” As he spoke, his color drained and he sank to the ground, weak. His phantom limbs thinned until they were skeletal. But he kept talking. “ I heard about you, you chicken-shit asshole. You couldn’t take living like the rest of us, so you abandoned your wife and kid. Well here’s your chance to make good. You’re going to help my kid!”

The Kaleb creature had been staring at him. The cataract lenses bore into him, sucking him into the grayness like an insect being wrapped in sheets of web. But as Mick yelled at him, the milky eyes unfocused and closed and then opened, roaming the room. They blinked as though trying to clear fog from the creature’s thoughts. Then the eyes started to clear slightly. They were the dull eyes of a drunkard, but they were no longer whitish-gray. They were muddy brown, and belonged to an addled man, twenty years older that he should have been. Only the eyes had changed.

Mick scrambled back and closed his eyes and kept hollering at the creature. “This is your chance to be something useful. You lost a bunch of money, who cares! You had a family! I got a daughter. She needs to see something good before she crosses over to here, or to wherever she’s going. She needs to see the space shuttle. Like you did. Remember? You were happy. Remember that, the shuttle? You couldn’t just have bought that!” He rasped from the ground.

“Hey Kaleb,” Jerrod chimed in. “The shuttle launch! It must have been amazing! You were one of the only people in the world ever got to see one of those.” Jerrod could feel the soft nudges of the other ghosts against him as they began to crowd in on him. He closed his eyes, refusing to leave.

And suddenly the air vibrated with energy from great fires coming from the tail of the rocket in front of them. The huge metal tube rose into the sky, a few fragile humans invisible in its tin can hull. He saw the deep blue of the sky and knew that beyond it was the velvet black of the abyss and the fires of the myriad distant stars. The rocket would stretch toward them until the people inside could see them unobscured by oxygen.

Jerrod opened his eyes in shock and a strange vision faced him for a few seconds, where the Kaleb creature had been. It was a ragged man’s face formed roughly from the lumpy whitish substance of the spidery mass. But his eyes were fully human. He gazed at Jerrod and Mick, nodded once slowly and then his eyes closed.

Jerrod didn’t wait to see what would happen next, he grabbed at Mick with both hands. It was like trying to haul a bag of loose cement powder. Mick’s form ran around his fingers like quicksand. But slowly Mick rose from the mire of the surrounding ghosts, and fled for the exit with Jerrod at his rear.

***

            Gia’s face was sallow and drained as she lay on her back. Her arms were too weak to hold her smartphone anymore and but she had it by her. The annoying music of Angry Birds penetrated the room as she moved her fingers against the screen and smiled. Hers was truly an alien generation, Jerrod thought as he watched the dying young woman. Her mother hovered at the foot of her bed to make room for her friends who helped her to finish her internet game. Several pints of specialty ice cream were scattered about with chunks scooped out into a bowl in front of her. Dabs of ice cream decorated her pale dry lips. She licked them with a true beaming grin that for a few seconds took years away from her face, so she might have been sixteen again. Next to her bed, on the other side of her, a life-sized cardboard stand-up of the actor in The Mummy glared down at her with his sultry eyes. Someone had inked a speech bubble next to his mouth, “I must have you Gia, my Anaksunamun!”

“Thanks, guys! You’re all dorks.” She snickered until she coughed, and then rolled over and looked at the cut-out. And her friends grinned back at her and squeezed her hands, maintaining their smiles until her eyes slowly closed in sleep. Then their mirth faded. They looked at each other and filed out while she slept.

Mick sagged by the side of the bed, still recovering, as Jerrod sat by him. He put his hand on Mick’s hand, with the strange sensation of resistant magnets. Mick put his hand on Gia’s face. His thin fingers floated through her. She didn’t move or give any indication that she knew the men were there. The two men closed their eyes and pulled up the memory of the rocket shooting into the intense blue sky, the heat from the blast even from a mile in the distance, the long silver gleam with a fiery tail as the rocket shot toward the stars. As they imagined sending the memory into Gia’s head, her heartbeat fluttered and the brain waves on the monitor rose in jagged wild peaks, and she smiled.

***

            Jerrod stared at the young man in front of him as he popped open another beer and chugged it and then put it on the pyramid. A dirty coverall smeared with a day’s worth of grease from cars and the logo for Rick’s Auto on the breast, was strung from a kitchenette stool of the tiny apartment. Sitting on the table underneath the beer can pyramid and underneath a bag of weed, was a textbook about how to score well on the SATs. The spine hadn’t been cracked. Scattered around the room, intermixed with posters of girls on shiny cars, were images of the ocean, more specifically of life in the ocean, shots the young man sitting in front of the Playstation, had taken with an underwater camera and scuba gear that sat packed in the back of the crowded closet. There were scattered application packets from a couple universities lying around, brochures for marine biology programs. Mick and Gia gazed around them at the mess. Gia grinned and reached for the bag of weed under her father’s glare. Then Mick’s face shifted to amusement as her fingers went through it, and he just stood and enjoyed her frown. “Oh, have fun with that, Sweetie.”

“I’m dead, give me a break! It’s not like I’m breaking any laws! You gotta be shitting me!”

Mick just smiled.

Jerrod looked into the face of his son engrossed in the video game as he ignored the practice tests that were soaking up beer on the table.

“Hi, Sam. Get off your sorry ass, and pick up that study book.”

THE END

Pop the Thriller video into the DVD player, delve into your own bucket of horrors, and write your own story to tell at a campfire!

Indie Author Club: Toni Lombardo’s Journey

Posted in book reviews, indie, mythology, publishing, urban fantasy, writing with tags , , , , , , on September 27, 2013 by rachelcoles

Hi fellow indies,

Last week’s topic from the Indie Author Club, I’m catching up, was about Pinterest.  Unfortunately, though I have a Pinterest account, I have not taken the time to figure out how to use it yet. I’m still at the stage of the circulating Facebook post that reads: “All these Mums who are on Pinterest, making rainbow spaghetti and homemade playdough…I’m all like, ‘I had a shower and kept the kids alive–Go Me!” So, I can’t really comment on Pinterest. It looks nice. It’s probably useful to people who are more savvy at things that take greater than 3 seconds to figure out.

First, I’ll mention my own recent experience writing. I’ve been working on a sequel to Pazuzu’s Girl for a while. I got obsessed with making progress on it. As a result, I stopped feeling that excitement about getting lost in the story, that writer’s buzz that can keep me up until 3 in the morning when I know I have to get up at 6. I discovered that sometimes, it’s good to take a break. The Denver Fiction Writers, a group that I am part of in Denver, has regular short story challenges. Someone comes up with a prompt, can be visual, or verbal. And we write a short story having something to do with that prompt, and submit it for people to read at a designated date in the future. This time, maybe because I hadn’t done one in a while, I had a blast, and rediscovered my excitement, and the reason I started writing. It’s cathartic. This particular story, The Littlest Fury, was inspired both by upcoming Halloween, and by the recent invasion of a horde of Littlest Pet Shop toys in our house. Best part about the book, my main character gets to wreak vengeance on corporate inside-traders and child-abductors…and I get to get out of Colorado for a little while, though Hades is not usually on people’s list of vacation spots. Though, with the summer’s wildfires and the recent floods, it’d be hard to tell the difference, caught between the Phlegethon and the Acheron. That story will be posted up on Halloween on this site. Come have a read!

So without further ado, I bring you another post from Toni Lombardo, aspiring writer and beta reader extraordinaire, featuring her ideas on creating characters, in her own words:

I’m back, and as promised, I will be writing about a writer’s relationship with characters.

Now this topic is one T.R. Graves and I have discussed a lot!  Although some writers will disagree, it is very, very important to connect with your characters on an almost supernatural level.

LET ME TELL YOU HOW IT WORKS (for me).

My characters and I are one, although they are far more experienced in life than I am.  Let me walk you through my basic day.  I wake up, usually from a dream either about friends of mine or my characters.  There have been some dreams about my characters that I have woken up from that made me pause and question who I am.  In some of my dreams, I become my characters.  And, I know that sounds like I should be locked up for psychiatric help, but that is the life of a writer (#itsawriterthing).  I go to work with my characters lingering throughout my thoughts.  Leave me alone for five minutes and I’ll be in my book.  I will be interacting with my character and them with me (or maybe not so much, we will get to this later).  I go through my day thinking up conversations, replaying scenes, really, really trying to get to know the subtleties that hide inside my characters.  Let me tell you, it works.  Give me a situation or opinion provoking something and I could tell you in detail how each of my characters would feel about it or do, better than I could say for me.  My day goes on, I write, and eventually I go to sleep thinking about my characters, playing out more scenes.  Side note: sometimes I am working on a different book and characters from one of them will be like, that right there sounds more like a _______ comment than _______.  They are always right (right here I almost wrote write.  I swear writing really is engrained in me.  I always want an opportunity to use the word or write the word ‘write’).

More than that though, I really love my characters.  They are a part of me.  I don’t know what I would do without them.  They are like Anne (my muse and BFF) I would be so, so very lost without them.  There are times where I don’t know how to react to a situation and I say to myself, “What would Jake, or character x do?”  Most of the time that works.

I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE! YAY!

There are a lot of writers who are like me, even ones that write for screen.  March 2010 I met Lee Goldberg (Monk), Paul Wagner (Documentaries), and Hugh Wilson (Bay Watch) to name just a few writers.  They were on a panel talking about screen writing and characters and everything.  It was awesome.  Hugh Wilson was talking and said, “You write and a character says something and everything changes.  That is almost spiritual.”  This couldn’t be truer.  My characters have flipped my story inside out more than once.  Plus, I have to add this made me feel more normal!  Here is this widely known and hugely popular writer, who gets it, who has the spiritual connection with his characters.

Nola Sarina (Gilded Destiny, Jaded Touch, plus an upcoming co-author Wild Hyacinthe) agrees with my stance and like me lets her characters take over, “Sometimes, during revision, writing from scratch gets a sharper voice than re-wording what’s already there.  I like to step away from a story for a while and then let the character tell me the story again from his fresh, enlightened perspective – allowing the character to grow with my style.”

I talked with Nola extensively one day about this and wrote something to her, that I want to share on here (it is only slightly edited to make sense for the blog post): “I promise you, I have looked up from writing and looked to the left and said, ‘but this is my book.’  I hear laughter. And I just sit there in protest until I let Devon have his way. The book and characters take life…we are their way of becoming known, it’s not the other way around. We don’t make them known, they makes us known. I think they are their own wonderful breed that we must take dictation from because I have fought him and it turned out horribly, and when I listen to him, it is flawless.”

There are many other writers out there that go through this, it is normal, don’t medicate!  There are some writers who don’t and that is okay, “to each his own”.  And then there are some writers who refuse to admit that they do this, because they are afraid of how they will be received.  To those writers, don’t worry, allow your characters to take charge and scream it from the mountain and we here will welcome you with open arms and similar war stories.  We love meeting our own people!

BUT, BUT IT IS MY BOOK!

I know your book is your baby, but so are your characters.   And your characters are living the story so if they stop you or you get massively painful writer’s block, then your characters are trying to tell you something.  The book I am writing, (Devon’s book) at times I have fought with my characters or Devon and wanted something specific to happen or not happen because I am the writer and it is my $*&%$@&@* book!  I have felt my characters leave me, until I give in and let them write the book and write what happens to them (basically what I said to Nola in my quote earlier). They are ALWAYS right, always!  It is obnoxious.  Like sometimes to the point where I want to punch my characters, because it is my book and I should have control, but no, they took life and took over.  My book would be nothing or horrible if I didn’t listen to them.  After all they know themselves the best; we can pretend we know them as well and 100%, but we don’t.  We may never, and that is okay, really it is.  I don’t think we are ever really supposed to know our characters, because then writing wouldn’t be magical.  It would be boring and a task.  Eventually we will get to know them quite well and almost 100% but there will always be that magical percent that adds the beautiful mystique that hold us hostage as writers.  I mean, really think about it, do you really know yourself?  Do you really know anybody?  And I am not talking like knowing their favorite color or birthday or food.  I mean really knowing someone.  There are always buried deep secrets that we won’t admit to ourselves, let alone other people.  And if we do that, why do we demand we know our characters?  They deserve privacy too.

ON A CLOSING NOTE

When you are writing and editing and thinking and plotting, take a step back.  Take a step back and put your character into a completely new situation.  You don’t have to physically write it, but really, really think into the story, make it as real as the story you are writing, tell people about it if you have to get opinions (this is what it takes to write a book).  Because based on your characters reactions to the new situation or terrible situation (let’s face it most of us are sadistic and torture our poor loves.  We need to though, if people wanted to read happy books about rainbows and butterflies, they’d be in the children’s section not YA and others) you will learn so much about them.  How they breathe, what position they sleep in, how they smell, their favorite shower gel, laundry detergent, cologne/perfume,  how they feel, how they feel things themselves.  How they feel—I can honestly describe my characters down to the touch, how their embraces feel, what their arm feels like when relaxed and touched or tensed and touched, what their hair feels like, the sound of their voice, the sound of their breathing awake versus sleeping, ugh I could go on and on and on.  These aren’t things that necessarily need to make it into the book, but they need to make it into our hearts and brains to make the story work.  Back to my point, throw them into an unscripted, unwritten plot and see how they react, because it will grow them and you and you will learn them even more, and that will make your story worth reading and re-reading and sharing.

My next post will talk about the importance of music while writing.

Peace, Love, and Inspiration

Keep writing and remember

#itsawriterthing

Quote: “When I write, I go to live inside the book. By which I mean, mentally I can experience everything I’m writing about. I can see it, hear its sounds, feel its heat or rain. The characters become better known to me than the closest family or friends. This makes the writing-down part very simple most of the time. I only need to describe what’s already there in front of me. That said, it won’t be a surprise if I add that the imagined worlds quickly become entangled with the so-called reality of this one. Since I write almost every day, and I think (and dream) constantly about my work, it occurs to me I must spend more time in all these places than here.” – Tanith Lee

 

For this week, check out the other indie authors and see their tips for Pinterest!

1. Laura A. H. Elliott 2. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series
3. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga 4. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog
5. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter 6. Liz Long | Just another writer on the loose.
7. Ella James 8. Maureen Murrish
9. YA Sci Fi Author’s Ramblings 10. A Little Bit of R&R
11. Melissa Pearl 12. Terah Edun – YA Fantasy
13. Author Cindy C Bennett

And check out the Indie Author Club website for more news on upcoming books and contests!

Colorado Flood Relief

YA Carnival Author Questions

Posted in indie, mythology, romance fantasy, urban fantasy, writing, young adult fiction with tags , , , , , on March 18, 2013 by rachelcoles

Hi all,

Now that I’m back in front of a working connection and computer, here is the belated author questionnaire! In addition to the questions, I’ve posted an excerpt from the sequel I’m working on for Pazuzu’s Girl!

1. What is your all-time favorite book, and why?

I’m not sure I could pick a single one. One of my favorite series is Dan Simmons’ Hyperion series: Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, Rise of Endymion. I loved those books because they were complex, and when I put the last one down, it felt like my brain had changed after reading them. Mind-blowing. The series explored human evolution, not just physical, but religious and cultural, in the kind of time-span covered by Dune. It also explored artificial intelligence, in a different way than anything I’d read before. I also loved reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I always enjoy reading that because Discworld really picks you up and carries you away in the story. And that world is hilarious. Terry Pratchett takes typical tropes like vampires, dwarves, werewolves, etc, and turns everything on its head. He’s a really fun read, great for escaping. But I would say that the book whose phrases stayed with me for decades was either Something Wicked This Way Comes, or The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. He was one of the most poetic writers I’d ever seen, and really impressed upon me the power of words.

2. Is there an author you could be compared to or a popular fictional character you could relate to and why?

I have been compared to Neil Gaiman once or twice, because of the mythological content of some of my stories. That absolutely makes me feel honored. He is another one of my favorite authors, and I have to admit that I’ve emulated him in a lot of ways. As for characters I could relate to, I guess I would have to say Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit. I come from a family of Hobbits, pretty much. We’re mostly little people who love to eat and talk, and eat and talk, and eat and talk. I’m mostly not exaggerating. When I went to my aunt’s retirement party, we stopped at a deli and got pounds of meat, knishes, whitefish salad, bagels etc, on the way to her place from the airplane. Two hours later, we went to her party at which we didn’t stop eating, talking, and dancing for five hours. And when we got home, we cracked open the leftovers and ate again, chatting around the kitchen table. And that was just the beginning of the weekend. Elevensies/luncheon/afternoon tea/dinner/supper, they all ran together. Somehow I’m not 800 pounds. That’s why I think we’re secretly Hobbits. I am specifically a bit like Bilbo Baggins because I like telling stories, I am a creature of habit, and don’t normally go for anything unexpected, but every once in a while, I throw my hands up, give in to my wild side, and get into trouble.

3. Can you give us your favorite quote from your book and explain it?

My favorite quote, spoken by Pazuzu, is “I will do whatever I have to do to protect you, even if I do it poorly in your eyes. You are young and angry and nothing is as simple as you imagine.” I like it because Pazuzu’s Girl is partly about what it means to be a parent. Whatever his other flaws are, he loves his daughter, and insists on being a dad, even if it means Morpho is mad at him. It reminds me of what I have heard some parents say, ‘It’s not my job to be your friend, it’s my job to be your mom/dad.’ I’m sure that I will someday have this conversation with my daughter when she is a teenager, because I had it with my parents at some point.

4. What types of things/people/music inspires you and makes you want to keep on writing?

Everything. I’m a space cadet and cannot stop daydreaming, and every experience I have somehow wends its way into a story. But specifically, I’m a child of the 80’s. I mostly listen to 80’s music because even though it’s corny often, there was an optimism then, and now a nostalgia. It’s energetic, bittersweet, and just kind of grabs my emotions. I write best when I’m caught up in some emotion or other. People who inspire me to keep writing are my family and friends. My daughter was the reason I started writing. She loves to hear bedtime stories, particularly scary stories. And when we had burned through all of the remotely age-appropriate scary stories we could find, we started making them up together. I started writing them down, and kept going. My husband who is my best friend is really supportive and beta-reads my stories. The writing group I’m part of, we critique each others material, and have peer-pressure writing nights and get each other to write (pssst, just a few words, you know you want to, all the cool kids are doing it…)

5. Describe your typical writing day or week.

My writing can be kind of scattershot. I have weeks where I’ll sit up until midnight after my daughter goes to bed, and write every night. Other times, it’ll be only on peer-pressure writing night, when I take my daughter with me to Panera and she plays Minecraft, while we all write, though I often have her write me a story on her iPad too.

6. Is there a typical food/drink you have to have when you write?

Well, I don’t know if I have a particular food or drink, whatever I’m in the mood for at the time. Usually iced tea of some kind. I’ve gotten into the habit of eating a Panera sandwich and soup, and one of their brownies. I love eating their brownies when I’m writing, and am sad when they’re all out by the time I get there. Their chocolate chip cookies are nice, gooey, and chewy too. But I can’t eat those every time I write, or I’d need a forklift to get me to the restaurant.

7. Can you tell us what you’re working on now, possibly an excerpt?

I’m working on a sequel to Pazuzu’s Girl. For now the working title is Iron Butterfly. But I will probably change it, because there are really four main characters: Morpho– the demon Pazuzu’s daughter who is also part Sidhe, Ereshkigal–ruler of the Underworld, Ninhab Agresti–Morpho and JD’s high school principal and future consort of Ereshkigal, and Marduk–ancient god-king of Babylon now a CEO.

From ‘Iron Butterfly’–

The tunnel went on in darkness for a ways. Morpho couldn’t tell how long. She had the feeling of rough walls on either side and above. The ground felt like loose dirt underneath her sneakers. But light grew ahead, and slowly they emerged out of the tunnel. There was sky overhead, but it wasn’t like any sky she’d ever seen. There was a moon like the moon outside in the regular world, except bigger, and brighter. It was clearer, and looked somehow like a bowl of molten silver dripping little pearls into the rest of the sky. The sky around the moon was deep emerald green shading into black velvet, which was littered with rainbow swaths of stars.

“Whoa.” JD stared around him at the thick bushes and trees. Their leaves were bronze and teardrop-shaped, with an iridescent sheen. Other bushes looked periwinkle blue in the glow from dozens of insectile motes that flitted away through the trees. The forest went dark, and she had somehow gotten the impression that they hadn’t been alone when they had come out. “Okay, then.” JD whispered. He kept going along a faint trail. “That was cool. Like Tinkerbell’s family.”

She looked back at the tunnel, but there was only foliage behind them. “Tunnel’s gone…Of course.” She muttered. “Okay.” She followed him until the trees thinned out to a broad plain of rolling grass-covered hills. The trail widened into a road that threaded through the swells of land. They had been walking for about five minutes, cresting the first hill when the baying started in the distance to the left. It got louder quickly as whatever made that sound came closer, but as she stared out at the hills, she couldn’t see anything, at first. Then a form took shape in the low mist that cloaked the valleys. As it got closer, it looked like a woman riding a chariot, that was drawn by the largest dogs she had ever seen. They were the size of horses, so black the light of the moon just sunk into their fur. Their ringed yellow and red eyes shone from their heads like lamps, and their sharp teeth were as black as obsidian. She didn’t get as far as noticing what the woman looked like.

“Oh hell!” Morpho and JD turned and ran.

“Change, Babe, change!” JD yelled to her. “They won’t be able to chase all of you!” he panted. “Or maybe you could test your Cuisinart wings move!”

She changed into a cloud of butterflies with razor wings and flew up into the sky above the chariot to get a vantage point, but the chariot had gained on JD. Then just when she thought that it couldn’t get worse, the chariot split into three. Three chariots, three sets of hellish dogs, and three women. They circled JD.

Leave him alone! She thought, as she dived at them. But the woman in the middle raised her hand, and suddenly, Morpho was human again as she slammed down onto the ground in front of the figure, whose hand was still outstretched toward her. Morpho couldn’t move, not even to turn her head, so she had a moment to see the women who had captured them. The tallest one had blazing red hair, not just Irish red, but so red it was almost like flames drifting around her head, barely restrained in long braids that were bound by delicate chains ending in tiny golden balls. She wore a gold circlet with swirls across the band. Her eyes were blood red. The woman to her left had a face very much like the red-haired woman, enough to be sisters. Her hair was as black as the messenger Raven’s wings, almost as black as the hell-hounds’ fur, absorbing light. Her black irises were like two holes in her eyeballs. Her nose was long and slightly curved, and her lips were thinner than her sister’s. The last woman was as pale as her sister was dark, the shortest of the three. She had pure white hair, as long as the other two. Her skin was the color of bone, and the eeriest part was her eyes. They were completely white. There were no pupils or irises, just milky white all the way across. They were terrible to look at, and oddly beautiful.

The red-haired one spoke. “You certainly are curious little creatures, aren’t you? Lugh told us you were coming. I warned your mother that you would be too curious for your own good at some point. I told her you would be your father’s child.”

“Who are you?” Morpho choked and strained against the force that held her head down. It released suddenly, and she sat up, spitting soil.

“I am Nemain. We are the Morrigan. We rule here. You would do well to show us some respect. Especially since you are trespassing.”

“Lugh is here? He told you about…us?” She glanced at JD. The dogs stood in front of him, a low rumbling growl issuing from their throats.

“Yes, though Macha saw that you would come.” She nodded at the white sister.

“Uh, sorry, we didn’t mean to trespass.” JD gulped, looking at the length of the dogs’ teeth.

The black-haired sister turned to her sibling, opened her mouth and a caw bordering on a shriek came out. It wasn’t amiable, like Raven’s caw. It was sharp and dangerous. Her nose seemed longer and her lips and white teeth seemed sharper.

Nemain studied JD. “Badb says you are young and…cute, like a lapdog. She wants to let you live, for now. Very well.” She reached over Morpho, as if her arm simply stretched and grew. Her long-fingered white hand grasped the back of Morpho’s shirt and hauled her up as if she were a kitten, into the chariot and dumped her at her slippered feet. Badb took JD. His face was frozen somewhere between terror and the goofy look he got when he stared at his busty guitar girl posters. If Morpho had been closer to him, she would have smacked him. But then, the chariots took off with a lurch and they were moving so swiftly she didn’t have a chance to do anything but slit her eyes against the wind as they flew. Everything turned grey and when she looked down at her hands, they seemed insubstantial, like mist. The dogs, JD, Badb and Macha, all of them seemed to blend into the grey so their edges blurred. She didn’t want to turn and see the red-haired queen behind her. And then, they slowed to a halt. Now, they were in a circle of grey stones so tall, the shadows they cast from the moon must have spread across the plain they were on for a mile. And across the shadows, filling up the plain behind them were hosts of fairies of all kinds. At least that’s what Morpho thought they were when the chariots pulled around. There were some very powerful looking fairies around a semicircle of thrones in the center of the stone circle. Their thrones were all different too. One of them was made of what looked like carved amber, inlaid with gold in the same swirling designs as the red-haired queen’s circlet. Another was made entirely of silver, another of pure gold, shining in the moonlight. Another appeared to be made of woven branches and soft emerald moss. Lounging in the amber throne, was Lugh, their erstwhile legal guardian. He had a gold circlet around his forehead, the only thing controlling his wild tawny locks. He wore what looked like a fine red linen tunic with gold embroidery and woolen plaid leggings.

“Hi, luv! Took you long enough.”

“You knew we were coming.” Morpho said.

“I’ve been livin’ with you for almost a year. And I know your mama.”

“So…you’re not mad? That we, uh, poked around and, uh, followed you?”

“I didn’t say that.” His pale eyes flickered for a moment with golden light. “But you’re my cousin’s girl. I’m under a geas that I’d look after you if something happened to…the other side o’ yer family.”

“Under a what?”

He smiled grimly. “Geas. An oath.”

“Oh.” She swallowed, somehow deflated.

“Relax, I like you. I like yer boy too,” he nodded at JD, “or we’d be havin’ a very different conversation right now.”

“Do you vouch for them, Lugh Lamfada?” The man who sat in the golden throne boomed. Though he was seated, he was obviously tall and powerfully built. His hair was silver. He had none of the other marks of advanced age, but Morpho could tell he was old. Really old. Not crusty though. He radiated power. He had the bearing most jocks took steroids to try to look like, with half the brains.

“I do, your Highness.” Lugh inclined his head.

The Morrigan hauled her and JD out of their chariots in front of the King. Then the chariots collapsed into a single throne made of black sharp rock and padded with what Morpho seriously hoped wasn’t human skin. There were six heads tied by the hair onto the sides of the throne. And instead of three women, there was only Nemain now. She stared at Morpho. Her expression was somewhere between contempt and curiosity. Either way, it was unsettling. She said nothing.

End Excerpt

 

Check out other indie author pages from the YA Indie Carnival!

Laura A. H. Elliott 2. Bryna Butler, author Midnight Guardian series
3. T. R. Graves, Author of The Warrior Series 4. Suzy Turner, author of The Raven Saga
5. Rachel Coles, author of Into The Ruins, geek mom blog 6. K. C. Blake, author of Vampires Rule and Crushed
7. Gwenn Wright, author of Filter 8. Liz Long | Just another writer on the loose.
9. Ella James 10. Maureen Murrish
11. YA Sci Fi Author’s Ramblings 12. A Little Bit of R&R
13. Melissa Pearl 14. Terah Edun – YA Fantasy
15. Heather Sutherlin – YA Fantasy

 

And check out What’s New, on the YA Author Club site, new spoilers, new covers, new releases, and recent news!

%d bloggers like this: