Fiction, Fiction (Short)

1:38 AM

My little boy’s ragged wail split the walls, clawing its way above the howling blizzard and ripping me from my bed. He coughed and spluttered, choking on his own wet phlegm and mucus as I stumbled to his room. He didn’t stop crying when I pulled him into my arms, didn’t stop coughing when I tried to soothe him. His tiny chest heaved and fluttered with every breath.

Smells of sick and sweat swam in the air, stifling his room. The dim glow of his nightlight showed red on his flushed face. I put my hand to his forehead beneath his sticky hair and smoothed it away. He burned. His cheeks were dry and chapped, his eyes glazed and vacant as he whimpered and stared straight past me.

I managed to get him to sleep again with water and medicine and luck; he curled up his fitful little body and trembled beneath sweat-damp blankets, and I left the room. His father lay in bed where I left him, still snoring, still drooling, unmoved and oblivious. I had to shake him before he finally woke up enough for me to tell him his son was sick.

He mumbled half-witted excuses and rolled over. “He’ll feel better in the morning. Go to sleep.” He followed his own advice before I could argue and left me alone. I waited. The dark room tugged at my eyelids. I drowned in a silence broken only by the angry, thrashing wind.

A few moments passed before I let myself believe that maybe he was right. Maybe his fever would fade with the night and the storm. Maybe his pain would recede and creep away. Maybe he would stop hurting and wailing and shaking. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. I slunk beneath the covers.

I closed my eyes, but I did not sleep. Ice and snow snarled just outside. The house creaked and whined. I heard my child’s howl every time the branches shrieked against the window.

The storm had blown in this afternoon, all low sky and whirling, bitter flurries. I should have noticed it sooner. I should have seen the clouds, the wind, the drenched thickness and the clinging mist. I should have heard and stopped and acted–

No.

I told him. I told him not to take his son outside. I told him it was too cold, too wet. I told him the frozen air would be too much too soon. I told him, and he didn’t listen.

He smiled instead. He patronized. He kissed me to ignore every word I said. His son wanted to go outside; the rest didn’t matter. Just a little while. An hour, maybe two. Let him play. Let him smile. Let him live.

I let him go because I had no choice. Never mind the wind that tugged and twisted in the tops of the pines. Never mind the iron hues that colored the clouds. His little boy laughed when they pulled their coats and hats and mittens from the closet and threw them to the floor in a pile of hissing nylon.

When they finally finished, finally tromped back inside, they came in giggling, giddy at the edge of the storm. My little boy stopped to cough while he tried to tell me everything he’d just done with Daddy, but Daddy didn’t care. Daddy just encouraged him. Daddy laughed with him and told Mommy to make them both hot chocolate.

They drank it and they chattered. They wiped their runny noses on their sleeves or ignored it altogether. His cough grew wetter every moment. Wet, rough, messy, until his laughter broke and the smile fell off his rosy, flushing cheeks and his father finally noticed that his little buddy was in pain.

I said we should put him to bed. Let him sleep before his cough got worse and the sickness sank down to his lungs. Protect him so that–

He brushed off every word. He painted me villain, tyrant, panic-ridden fool. He pushed and cajoled. He chose just what he wanted and demanded that he get it and denied any kind of consequence. Bully. Selfish. Coward.

And now he’s lying next to me. Sleeping. Snoring. He’s got his body curled beneath the covers. His chest rises, falls with easy breaths. He’s not wheezing. Not coughing. Not hurting. His face is lineless, careless. He’s sleeping like a baby.

I’m still lying wide awake. I’m still listening to the howling, rushing ice and snow. I’m still waiting for my baby’s voice to pierce the night again because he would never hear it. There’s too much wind and howling. Too much shrieking, scratching crying. The panes and casings tremble in the gusts. How could he hear a child above the roar?

As sudden roar hurls the storm against the house. Everything creaks. The branches shriek and scream. A chill finds a crack and breaks inside. A shred of moonlight cuts the clouds and pierces the room. I stare–and while I stare the bed beside me moves. I roll over–the man is gone. The wind goes quiet. I hear a baby-wail for just a moment, and then that quiets too.


I originally wrote this story back in 2012, but I recently rediscovered it and was actually pretty happy with it– so here it is! Enjoy and let me know what you think!

NaNo18

[NaNo18] Day 30: The Element of Surprise

Another NaNo has come and gone. And while I’m looking forward to relax a little from the marathon, I’m mostly excited because it looks like this might have actually given me the jumpstart I was hoping for to get me writing a lot and regularly once again. It’s a lovely feeling.

I’m also inordinately proud of myself for blowing my previous NaNo wordcount record out of the water. My final count for the month is just over 75k words, which means that I completed 150% of the official NaNoWriMo goal. Tanner and Miranda are nothing if not fun to write. As always, it’s all incredibly rough and unpolished, not to mentioned only barely structured at best, but it’s a whole lot of grist for the editing mill, and I’m so excited to get to working on it.

So, here’s a last (for NaNoWriMo 2018) snippet of the adventures of a couple of siblings who don’t know how to stay out of trouble. Thanks for reading!


There were two bandits in the doorway. There might be more in the ship behind them, but we couldn’t see them, and we couldn’t hear more than the two we could see. Decent enough odds to make us think that they were the only ones there right at the moment. Well. Some people might think they were good odds. If it was the difference between surviving and not surviving this mission, it might be more ideal to wait until we had a better idea of what was going on, but as they say, time is of the essence, and this was about as good as it was probably going to get. And right now, the door was unlocked. And open.

Tanner and I exchanged a look, took deep breaths, and charged.

Now, these two were probably entirely deserving of whatever justice we might mete out on them during this whole crazy backwards heist. But there was more at stake than just their just deserts, and frankly, unless it was blatant self defense, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about killing anyone and getting that on my conscience. Self defense is one thing. Going in, guns blazing, is entirely another. And while it’s got its time and its place, and I’ve done it before, I didn’t have to right now and I was absolutely fine with that.

So instead, we charged straight forward, fired several shots into the hull above their heads, then broke off to the sides and didn’t let ourselves run in a straight enough line to let them get a bead on us. Frankly, it probably shouldn’t have worked. I mean, it really, really shouldn’t have worked. And yet, it did. The two guards panicked and ducked and fired off a couple of crazy shots into the air above our heads. They missed us entirely and wasted a couple of moments that were more than enough for us to cover the ground between us and them.

And we tackled them. Shoulders down, wrapping our arms around their waists, driving them to the ground. Tanner took the one of the left, I took the one on the right who stood a little further back. Just one of the benefits of being smaller. You can sneak through spaces that wouldn’t be big enough for a lot of people. And it doesn’t meant that you’re not strong enough to go after anyone. As evidenced by the fact that the fellow I tackled went down, and went down hard, despite having about fifty pounds and half a foot on me.

Thank God for the element of surprise and a low center of gravity.

NaNo18

[NaNo18] Day 26: My kind of job

I don’t know quite where I’m going with this. But I think it’s going to be fun.


This was my kind of job. The kind that had gotten me into this field in the first place. Both literally, in the sense that Tanner and I were currently crouched in a sage-brush filled field a little way outside of Dalton, and also in the sense you thought I was talking about first. It was the kind rife with adventure and mayhem, and, just as importantly, it was the kind that promised a healthy payout at the end of it.

We just had to finish the job and get back to the client in one piece. Easier said than done, of course, but that’s where the fun comes in.

NaNo18

[NaNo18] Day 23: The Solo Jobs intro

The whole point in my moving out to the absolute end of nowhere that is Verdant is the fact that instead of doing this notoriously dangerous freelancing job solo, I’d get to do it with Tanner watching my back. And I’d be able to watch his. And in the process, both of our life expectancies would jump straight through the roof. Simple.

Of course, when you’re a freelancer, you don’t exactly have the luxury of being super picky about the jobs you take. Well. Not always. And even if you’d like to be picky, there’s always that pesky fact of paying the rent and buying food that reminds you that downtime itself is a luxury, and one that most of us can’t afford all that often. And sometimes, the only jobs available are the ones that only call for one freelancer. And try as you might, they have no interest in hiring the two of you, even at a discount rate. Cheapskates.

As you might have guessed, this would be exactly how Tanner and I found ourselves working different jobs at opposite ends of the colony just a few months after my arrival. Both of them were simple. Well. Were supposed to be simple, but you know as well as anyone else by now how that usually goes. Still, even while keeping in mind that these jobs would inevitably go sideways, one half-way competent freelancer should be able to handle either of them, and I like to think that Tanner and I are more than halfway competent. So while the whole thing was annoying, we took it. It wasn’t like it was the first time either of us had worked alone, of course.

I found my job first. Or I should say, my job found me first.

By this time, Tanner and I were both decently well established throughout the colony. We had reputations. Good ones, for the most part, and our names were starting to come up regularly when folks started looking for “reliable” and “affordable”.All in all, not a bad place to be. Plus, even though we usually worked side by side, we’d managed to set up separate reputations for ourselves as well. You had a sticky situation that required careful wording and a deft touch? Get Tanner. Got a situation where someone was being stubborn and a couple of heads might need knocking? Tanner would probably manage it, but everyone knew I had a certain flair for it, and you’d get results fast. Tanner’s methods tended to keep him on the right side of the Marshals better than mine did, but even mine usually didn’t land me in that much hot water. Because by the time someone was asking for me by name, the heads that needed bashing were probably so far on the wrong side of the law that they’d probably getit coming to them one way or another. And I didn’t leave a trail of bodies.

NaNo18

[NaNo18] Day 16: Gold!

“It could be gold,” I said. The sun was high above us, and far too hot for comfort. Our only solace was the fact that the boys’ tracks were particularly easy to follow at the moment, almost as if they’d stopped trying to hide where they were going. That was our theory on why the tracks were so weird for our first couple of days on the trail. It didn’t make any sense if you were looking at it like it was a couple of treasure hunters actively looking for new treasure. But if you assumed they’d already found something and were trying to make it look like they hadn’t, it got closer. It wasn’t perfect, but nothing is, and if you wanted to assume that they didn’t necessarily know how to lay a misleading trail, everything matched up pretty close.

Hence my assessment that they had found a whole vein of pretty, yellow metal.

Tanner snorted. “Gold?”

I nodded. “Gold. It could happen.”

“Have they even discovered gold on this planet?”

I shrugged. “Don’t know. Probably?” What can I say. I’m many things, but a geologist is absolutely not one of them. It all looks like rocks to me, with the only variations that I can usually pick out being substantial changes in color.

“Yeah. Sure. And gold is pretty, but it’s not that good for much these days. Diamonds, on the other hand. Those are useful. Expensive, too. I could see how one of the underworld bosses might try to kill someone to make sure he got to keep them all for himself.”

“Could be a particularly large one,” I said. “A fabled diamond, larger than any ever found on earth. A previous treasure hunter caught a glimpse of it but had to leave before he could grab it. The story’s gotten around, these two actually found it, and your underworld boss found out that they knew.” I paused and thought about it for a moment. “That could be it.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“You started it.”

NaNo18

[NaNo18] Day 14: Conflict!

I finally reached that point where the characters are starting to do things I don’t expect them to. I’m not sure if this means I’ve reached a new writing zen or if it’s just another sign that the monkeys now run the circus. Check back next time to see if I’ve figured it out, or if I’ve just gotten more confused!


“Tann. You want to stop for the night?”

I stopped walking and waited for my brother to do the same. I hadn’t noticed it while my legs were still moving, but a weary tingling throbbed in my calves and thighs. It was probably going to turn to a dull ache before the night was through, though if I admitted that to myself or anyone else, I’d also have to admit that I’d been taking it too easy and relying too much on mechanized transportation for the last few months. Somehow, it hurt even more than yesterday, which I had hoped wasn’t going to be possible.

“Tann,” I said again when it looked like he hadn’t heard me. “We’re not going to find them tonight. And I’m tired.”

He took a few more steps but his pace had slowed, and he turned a moment later. “Yeah,” he said. “We can stop.” He sounded tired.

“You okay?” I asked.

He shrugged once and nodded. “Yeah. Just tired.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Just tired and also annoyed that this isn’t as easy as you thought it would be?”

“No.”

“Really?” I asked. “Because I’m pretty sure you thought this was going to go quicker than it is. You were going all white knight and everything.”

“I wasn’t. Come on, Miranda. I’ve been doing this for years. I know how search and rescue jobs go. Probably better than you do, honestly.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You do. And even I know that this is par for the course. So what’s eating you?” I waved my arms more expressively than I needed to. “This is normal!”

“It’s not!”

“How so?” He was shouting. I was yelling. Our voices echoed off the canyon walls, and any plans we’d had for being subtle were straight up gone.

“The trail is wrong. Too obvious, not natural enough, too old.”

“Seriously, Tanner? They’re a couple of lost treasure hunters, not mob triggermen.”

“We don’t know that.”

I glared at him. “You’re kidding me. Did you drink enough today? Because right now it sounds like you got a little too much sun.”

“I’m fine. And I mean it. This doesn’t make sense. The whole trail is too cold. We should be gaining on them, not just barely keeping pace. It’s like they tried to leave the tracks we expected to see, but they’re moving just as fast as we are. It doesn’t make sense. Tell me I’m wrong.”

NaNo18

[NaNo18] Day 9: Not a Subtle Person

WHISKEYHILL

Current word count: just over 20K. Writing is going weirdly well from a word count standpoint, and I’m slowly, slowly learning to accept that the first draft is terrible no matter what, and that’s okay. Most of it is currently filled with plotholes and outright plot changes halfway through, but I’ve got a lot of good stuff to work with, and I’m excited to see what happens when I get to edit in December.

Also! I just “finished” the first story that’ll be part of the finished project, and I’m getting more of an idea for an overarching arc. So overall, not too bad for nine days into NaNoWriMo.

Amos Masters is many things. An idiot isn’t often one of them, as much as I wish I could say it was. He was up to something, and while he couldn’t be sure that I knew exactly what it was, he had every reason to believe that I knew something. Combine that with the fact that I was clearly baiting him, it wouldn’t take a genius to realize that I was working an angle. What can I say? I’m not a subtle person.

But I can work to my strengths. Maybe I can’t trick someone into betraying their intentions without them realizing it. But I can definitely piss someone off enough that they do it anyways. Especially if that someone is a hothead like good old Amos.

“I’m warning you, girl. Get out of here before I do something you regret.”

I kept grinning. All he was missing was the long, waxed mustache and the ten gallon hat and he could’ve been a villain out of any old Western. He already had the growling drawl and the nasty sneer down pat. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that, friend. I don’t regret half the stupid things I do. You might manage to annoy me, or maybe even irritated me, but regret it?” I shrugged and spread my arms expansively. “Nah.”

NaNo18

[NaNo18] Day 5

WHISKEYHILL

It’s already Day 5 of NaNo, and I’m a little ahead of schedule. So far, this feels way different than any NaNo I’ve done in the past. The words are coming easier, though it feels like there’s an absolute ton of chaff I’ll be sorting through once this is over. Okay, so that part’s normal enough. Anyway! Enjoy another snippet down below.

The first indication that things weren’t going to go the way we expected them to was the fact that we woke up the next morning to the sound of rain. Lots of it. Normally, that would have been a good thing. Despite the name, Verdant is usually anything but—at least, our little corner of it. And while mining and a burgeoning manufacturing business based on the stuff that gets taken out of the ground provide the basis for most of the economy here, there’s also a fair amount of agriculture that goes on as well, since that’s the only way you’re going to be able to feed everyone unless you want to ship in food from another planet. That might have worked back when the colony was smaller, but now that there’s a good half dozen towns with more than ten thousand people in them, it’s just not feasible anymore.

Hence, agriculture. And anytime you’ve got agriculture, you need water. I mean, anytime you’ve got people anywhere you need water, but step that up a notch to water the animals and the plants you’re using to feed the people and things jump into a new realm really fast. But you’re not here to listen to me and my uneducated views on economics and ecosystems. So let me get back to the point.

While rain in the general sense is a great thing for the colony at large, it’s not the best thing for a twenty mile hike with a bunch of cows over the course of two days that’s going to involve some sort of camping. In fact, it’s probably about the worst sort of weather you could have.

Fine. Not the worst. That would be snow. Or maybe record breaking heat. But rain’s not great either, and while it was bad enough for the cows and the horses and the people who were going to be herding them east to Move, it was going to be even worse for the jeep. And by worse, I mean that it was a deal breaker. The road between Orsmith and Move, while it exists, is mostly dirt and occasionally gravel. Which means that when it rains, it becomes mud. Thick, nasty mud of the sort that sucks wheels down to the axles and doesn’t let go. There’s a centuries old joke about the difference between a four-wheel-drive vehicle and a rental vehicle being that you can take the rental everywhere. The jeep might have been both, but when physics itself starts conspiring against you, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

NaNo18

[NaNo18] Day 1

WHISKEYHILL

Day 1! It took me a while to get into the swing of writing, especially since this is the first time I’ve done NaNo with characters as well established as Tanner and Miranda. The tone was a little… off for the first thousand words or so, but I started getting the feel for things after that. There’s not a whole lot story-wise for today, just an excerpt that I like well enough. Enjoy it below!

So. The babysitting job. Getting a group of about twenty colonists from Orsmith out to Move, twenty miles away. You’d think it would be simple, right? Even without much infrastructure, there’s still roads enough to get you through, and like I said, both Orsmith and Move are more or less central to the whole Verdant colony. They’re a little rustic, but hardly the uncivilized, wild edge.

Which would lead you to wonder why a group of twenty able-bodied folk felt the need to hire a pair of bounty hunter/mercenaries to get them there. Or it should. Should have raised up red flags for me and Tanner, too, but I was too busy laughing at the silly little colonists, and Tanner was too happy to have found something that wouldn’t bust up his leg any worse than the sheep-thing had already done.


Fiction, Fiction (Short)

The Dog

WHISKEYHILL

“I want to keep her.”

I glanced across the room at Tanner and raised an eyebrow. We were still living in the one and only boarding house in town, and while I hadn’t heard if they had a pet policy or not, I somehow doubted that it would be favorable towards the canine my brother was holding on his lap. At least, that’s what I said. It was a lot easier than looking both Tanner and the dog in the face and saying that I didn’t want to have her around.

She looked like a mutt of sorts, and at the moment she was stuck in the awkward stage between puppy and full-grown, which mostly meant that her legs and her body had begun to lengthen and she had started to get bigger, but by the same fluke that hounded every dog, her paws had grown even faster and she wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Judging by her look and her proclivity for nipping at things when Tanner wasn’t looking, I figured she was part shepherd of some sort, a guess that was borne out by her brown and black coloring.

“One night. And then we’ll discuss it in the morning.”

And you know, it’s not like she hadn’t already won then. I knew it. Tanner knew it. The puppy eyes made it look like she was completely innocent, but the dog knew it too. Or maybe she didn’t. But when we went to bed that night, she curled up by Tanner’s feet and started snoring.

I didn’t have to like the idea of having a dog to realize that she was cute.

I almost reconsidered even that conclusion when I woke up a couple hours later to her low growl. I was about to tell her to put a sock in it when I heard a scraping at the door, like someone was trying to coerce the lock into giving way. That was when the adrenaline hit like a ton of bricks, and I grabbed my sidearm and rolled out of bed.

My bare feet hit the rough floor without a sound, and I crept towards the door, stopping at Tanner’s bed just long enough to shake him awake and reach out a tentative hand to quiet the puppy. In retrospect, it was probably a dumb move, as she was just as likely to respond to my touch by barking or biting me as she was to actually quiet down, but by the grace of God, she did just that, shoving her cold, wet nose into my palm as I withdrew and continued towards the door.

Tanner joined me a few seconds later, just in time for both of us to hear the lock click and see the door swing open on hinges that sounded suspiciously like they’d been oiled.

At least the amateurs got one thing right. But just the one.

Tanner and I kept back behind the corner of the room’s sad little dresser, just in case the intruder was the sort to shoot when scared. All things considered equal, that seemed more likely than not, and the two of us did know what we were doing. Mostly.

“Is there a reason you didn’t knock?” I asked.

Our visitor made a noise halfway between a curse and a yelp, fired off a shot that shattered the room’s only window, and started scrambling away. He didn’t get very far. As soon as he turned around, Tanner jumped from our hiding place and tackled him to the ground, tossing the man’s weapon out of reach as soon as he could get his hands on it, and it was all over.

In the end, I’ve got to give the idiot points for bravery and initiative. He never did tell us who hired him or if the whole thing was his idea, even after the sheriff hauled him off to the jail. But that’s life. It’s not the first time someone’s come after us, and it won’t be the last. Probably won’t be the last one we don’t figure out, either.

As for the puppy, Tanner won. Or maybe the puppy won. Or maybe we all won. God only knows how much we could use an extra set of eyes and ears watching out for us. We named her Pup.