Musings

[Blog] Mist in the Trees

HEADER

It takes more than twenty hours of straight driving to get from my hometown in Idaho down to Santa Barbara, California. When my dad took me down for my freshman year of college, we packed all my things into his car, said goodbye to the rest of the family, and started off in the evening with the intention of making the trip as quickly and with as few stops as possible. And yes, that meant skipping hotels.

We made it a good, long way as we drove through the night. We headed west and south, down through Washington, down through Oregon. California couldn’t have been much farther south when we finally pulled to the side of the road to steal a couple hours of sleep.

It was light when I woke up. We were somewhere in the mountains, on a stretch of highway that ran through a pine forest. The trees were spaced wide apart, and fog hung beneath them, hiding all but the dark trunks from view. And everything glowed gold in the light of the rising sun.

To this day, it’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

I suspect, though, that the image would not have been etched so deeply in my mind were it not for everything else that lead me there. The adventure of leaving for college. The weariness from long travel and little sleep. The cold feet and cricked back from napping in the car. None of these things change the aesthetic appeal of the scene, but all of them add some detail, some meaning that fits it to a narrative.

There’s also the fact that it was there for a only a few moments, and then I was gone and it was gone, and I’ll never see it again. Other forests on other mornings might look much the same, and I might even be there to see them. But I’ll never see them while on my way to college for the very first time. That singularity has a value.

The trees and the mist gave something back, as well. Waking up to an empty quarry or a stretch of nondescript plains would have left a weaker impression. Instead, the image was one that has stuck with me, and its momentary beauty left me with a feeling of wonder that could harden into memory.

A part of me almost wishes I could have taken a picture. Another part of me is glad I didn’t. Writing might not recreate it perfectly, but it does well enough– and I’ve got a better chance of explaining why it might have affected me the way it did when I get to use my words.

Updates

[Update] Current Projects

HEADER

Whether it’s because I’m easily sidetracked or because half of my ideas wouldn’t get along with the other half if I tried to stick them all in the same story, I’ve always got several projects going at once. Here are the details on the ones that are keeping me the busiest!

***

The Seven (fantasy novel)
When the Rehk begin to break into the world again, seven people band together to fight back against the most terrible threat any of them have ever faced in the hope that they can banish the monsters once again.

This one started out as my project for NaNoWriMo ’15. I am currently working on the second draft, which involves some serious renovations on characters, structure, and pretty much everything else. It’s also where I’m currently spending most of my writing time.

 

The Tanner and Miranda Stories (sci-fi/adventure short stories)
Out on Earth’s first colony, things can get a little hairy. For mercenary siblings Tanner and Miranda Griff, that just means they’ve got a nearly constant stream of work. The hard part is making sure they don’t get themselves into more trouble than they can handle.

Miranda and Tanner first showed up when I wrote Under Whiskey Hill, and I had no plans to expand on their world. But they were a lot of fun to write, and they definitely had more stories to tell. Basically, one thing led to another, and these two are going to be getting into all sorts of trouble.

***

Besides the above, I’ve also got a couple that are less actively taking up my time, but are still knocking around in my head often enough to merit a mention.

Runner (fantasy novel)
Waking up with none of your memories and a complete stranger telling you that you’re a werewolf is bad enough. Realizing that you’ll have to choose between finding your old life and helping your new friends survive just makes things even more complicated.

I’ve been playing with this concept in one form or another since mid-2010, which apparently is long enough for me to get to know my characters but not long enough to figure out the finer details of the plot. I return to it every couple of months or so to play around with it and tease it towards a more cohesive state.

 

Aralez (sci-fi novel)
The galaxy shrank when we built Aralez, the first of the arc-stations. We could  It was humanity’s greatest achievement, the application of our most advanced technology. But that was long ago, and what was once the hub for settlement and exploration is a quiet backwater. We have no idea why the pirates found it interesting enough to attack and board the station.

I’m still in the process for worldbuilding here. I wrote part of a rough first draft for this one during NaNo ’16, but it’s mostly in a conceptual stage at the moment.

Musings

[Blog] Hello!

HEADER

Hey everyone!

Before I say anything else, thanks for visiting my little corner of the internet! I have so many stories to tell, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you all– but more on that later. For now, let me just tell you a little about this blog-site-thing and what you’re likely to find here.

Basically, this is where you can find my writing, updates on my writing, and thoughts about writing (and stories) in general. Also, nerdy segues, because I can tell you right now that I won’t be able to help myself, and I wouldn’t want to anyway. Life’s too short to not be nerdy.

So, writing! The stuff I post here will be mostly short stories. Some will be completely self-contained, others might fit into a bigger universe, but all of them will be complete stories in their own right. From time to time, I’ll also put up excerpts and teasers from whatever novel I happen to be working on.

Speaking of novels… this is also where you’ll find information on my various projects. At any given time, I probably have at least three longer pieces in various stages of development. If you want to know what those are and how they’re going, you can find out here!

As for the bloggier bits, that could be anything from talking about the things that get me feeling creative to the most recent books I’ve read. And everything in between. It’s also where I’ll post various life updates and thoughts on any adventures I manage to fall into, which seems to be happening more and more as of late.

Anyway! That’s the shape of the beast. Thanks again for stopping by; it really does mean the world to me. If you’re interested in keeping tabs on my shenanigans, both fictional and otherwise, be sure to follow me here or to like me on Facebook. And that’s all for now! Time for me to go convince the jumble of words in the next document over that life will be better as a coherent story.

Until next time!

Fiction (Short)

Under Whiskey Hill

WHISKEYHILL

“It’s a bad plan.”

Tanner and I sat in the questionable shelter of a rotting hut. The Outlands spread out for miles on every side of us, broken only by the brush and thornbushes and the ugly silhouette of Whiskey Hill.

He looked up from the map with the sort of grin used exclusively by older brothers. “So, you just don’t like it?”

I gave him the glare perfected by generations of younger sisters. “I said what I meant.”

“Alright, hotshot.” He shoved the map towards me across the dusty floor. “Come up with something better.”

I snatched it and scowled down at the crude lines representing the discouraging sum of our knowledge about the system of caves that ran beneath the Hill. We’d gotten the thing from Dalton, the little town that had hired us, and they’d only been able to give us that much because a couple of them had been out here years ago, hunting and exploring. Their recollections, reliable and otherwise, were what they’d used to draw it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly detailed, and beyond one passageway in from the west, a chamber of some sort in the center, and a tangled warren of smaller passages to the east, we didn’t know what we’d find.

“So, Miranda, my great and mighty strategist. What do you see that I don’t?”

I grunted. “Not a damn thing. Looks like your idea’s the best we’ve got.”

An odd half chuckle escaped Tanner’s throat. “And here I was hoping you were going to pull our butts out of the fire again.”

A wry grin crossed my face. “Not this time. Don’t beat yourself up too much, though. I’m sure we’ve used worse strategies than this.”

He made a face at me, and I sent it right back.

The sky turned orange, then purple as the sun went down, and the outline of Whiskey Hill showed black against the stars. Tanner and I pulled on our packs and geared up by the light of a flashlight, keeping quiet as we did so. My pistol hung from my belt. Tanner strapped his rifle across his shoulders.

“You ready?” I asked, more because I wanted to hear my brother’s voice than because I needed the answer.

“Just about. Yeah. Let’s go.”

I grabbed the flashlight and extinguished it, slipping it back into my pack, and we started off into the dark. I went first. I’m a little quicker and a little more sure of foot, and I’ve always been better at picking a path than Tanner. That, and it meant that he got to keep watch for trouble.

The march to the Hill would have taken an hour under the best conditions. In the dark, worried that someone would see us and start taking potshots, it took even longer. We didn’t talk as we went. We didn’t linger. We just hiked, one behind the other, going slow and steady until we reached the low ridge that led up to the western entrance.

Whiskey Hill hulked above us now, massive, rocky, and unmoving. We crouched down, keeping low and inching up towards a scraggly tree that might disguise our presence. Whether it did or not, nothing greeted us. No shouts, no challenges. No telltale lights. No gunshots. Just nighttime bugs and birds conversing in hums and whispers.

I leaned towards Tanner. “Still think this is a good idea?”

“I never said it was good.”

He hadn’t. Bloody semantics.

“They couldn’t know we were coming, could they?” I asked.

“I don’t see how, unless someone told them.”

A second or two of silence stretched between us. “We’re sure the people in Dalton aren’t still pissed at us, right?”

Tanner’s non-commital answer was less than comforting.

The cave entrance was barely visible fifty yards up, a slightly darker black than the surrounding rock face, and the starlight was just bright enough to illuminate a narrow path leading up towards it.

My brother and I exchanged a look, and I shrugged. “Cover me?”

He nodded and swung his rifle off his back, settling its stock against his shoulder as I crept out and up towards the mouth of the cave. I picked my way between rocks and scrub brush, managing, by some combination of luck and practice, to avoid making too much noise. By the time I reached the cave, I got the impression it wouldn’t have mattered either way. There was no one there. I gave a sharp whistle, and Tanner joined me a few moments later.

“We’re sure this is where they took the kid, right?” My whisper sounded harsh in the interior of the cave.

There was just enough light for me to see Tanner shrug. “That’s what Cole said. They could have moved him.”

“If they were here in the first place.”

Tanner shrugged again. “At least no one’s shooting at us yet.” He gestured down into the darkness. “Shall we?”

“You want to take point?”

“Works for me.”

I slid my pack from my shoulders and retrieved my flashlight as Tanner did the same, and we gave a quick countdown before switching them on and searing the cave with light. Even prepared for it, it took our eyes a moment to adjust. As soon as they had, we started down the passage. I had my pistol out and ready in my other hand.

Our path was straight and even for just a few yards, and then it dipped down sharply into a savage descent that caught us by surprise and nearly sent us tumbling while the ground veered away beneath us. We both yelped soft words of surprise, and the silence that held our echoes was unnerving. The mountain felt empty. We kept on anyway.

We went sixty or seventy yards more before we got the first indication that we were where we needed to be. A pebble went skittering across the stony floor some way ahead, and a sudden void of sound betrayed the presence of something other than rock and cave. Tanner and I stopped cold. I forced myself to keep breathing, slowly, steadily, anything to keep my blood from hammering between my ears.

Nothing.

A glance at Tanner confirmed the same. So we continued forward. Inch by inch. Foot by foot. Down into the bowels of the mountain. And then we found them.

The passage turned hard to the right and opened up into the central cave. On the far side, a tiny campfire spat and guttered and gave off just enough light for us to see a pair of rough looking men and a slight figure that looked like it could be the kid.

We only had a split second to realize anything was wrong before it all went to hell.

They shot first. Not the ones by the campfire. Others we didn’t see. Tanner and I hit the floor, dropping and scrambling behind something, anything for cover. A bullet grazed past my shoulder. A stone collided with my shin. I doused my flashlight and fired back at sounds and muzzle flashes. Someone yelled. I shot again. And then I ran.

They must have made a lucky shot. Or the noise I made betrayed me. My side exploded in hideous pain even as I stumbled into some opening that led deeper into the caves, and I screamed and fell and rolled.

Nothingness opened up beneath me, and I was gone. I don’t remember hitting the rocks that broke my fall.

It was too long before I woke up. I was cold. Shivering hurt like getting stabbed. And the wave of relief that rushed over me as I remembered sent a weird giggle bubbling up my throat. It could have been so much worse. It should have been so much worse. They hadn’t gotten a clean hit. I wasn’t bleeding out.

I tried to sit up, but my spine and ribs and all the rest howled in protest. I coughed, and the tang of metal on my tongue suggested further injuries. I gritted my teeth and tried to push myself up again, and this time I succeeded. I would just have to wait a minute or two before trying anything else.

Everything was quiet. My movements, my boots scraping across the rocks, sent cold echoes off into the blackness, but that was all. I didn’t hear shouting or footsteps or gunfire. I didn’t hear Tanner. My stomach would have knotted up if it wasn’t already as tight as it could get.

A breath of air stirred up new smells, everything damp and stony and covered with lichen and cave water. I had a good guess where I was. That unmapped tangle of passages to the east. The one that led everywhere and nowhere. The one that Tanner had thought we could escape through, or hide in until we could get back out the other way. Given that I was alive, it seems he might have been right after all.

I called my brother several colorful names under my breath, more because I was here and he was not than because his plan involved bruised ribs. I promised myself I’d yell at him when I got out. He’d already be out, and I’d find him and the kid as soon as I escaped into the air, and then I’d yell at him until my face turned blue.

The worst of my throbbing subsided enough for me to get on my feet again. Slowly. I cast my hand around until I found my gun where it had fallen, and my fingers closed around the grip. I rolled to my hands and knees. I tried to stand.

I nearly rethought the whole thing as soon as the upward motion set my head spinning and reignited the fire in my side. I was about to accept temporary defeat when the sound of voices stopped me cold.

They were still far away. Too far away to understand. Close enough to know that neither one was Tanner. I sank back against the wall; my legs weren’t strong enough to hold me up. I steadied my gun in my hand and aimed it down the empty passage, into the black. I held my breath and waited.

A second passed. All was silent. Another slipped by, then a third and a fourth and more. The tang of blood and fear mixed in my throat, and I wondered if I’d imagined the whole thing. And then the voices came again and footsteps scuffed on rocks. So much closer. Drawing closer still.

“She couldn’t have survived that fall. We’d have heard her if she did,” said one.

“We’ve still got to get the body if we want the reward,” said the other.

I clenched my jaw and licked my teeth just to snatch a little focus. Just to steady my breathing. Just to give myself a fighting chance when they came around the corner. Just so they couldn’t turn in my body for a reward.

The beams of their flashlights preceded them by an instant. It was enough. My gun was up and aimed and ready. I fired as soon as I saw them. My shots went home. It was all over in three seconds. I breathed in deep, ragged breaths and stared up at the pools of light the dead men’s flashlights left on the walls of the cave. I could see their faces in one of the beams, and I recognized the one we’d assumed was the kid. We’d been wrong.

I was too exhausted to react when another voice flew through the quiet of the cave. Too spent. Too relieved. Too happy to hear my brother calling my name.

“Miranda! Miranda?”

I heard a scrambling, and then he dropped down next to me. My whole face quirked into a lopsided grin, and I laughed and coughed all at once. “Got any more bad ideas, Tanner? I want to go home.”


Originally published as part of the 2017 Spring Writing Contest on shortfictionbreak.com.

Fiction (Short)

Stone Street

STONESTREET

This was the night it ended. This was the night it all came undone. Rhodes and a dozen others lay dead in the square, shot full of holes. The rest of us ran. It was our city. We knew the streets, knew the alleys, knew the shortcuts. We knew the hiding places for the weapons we were not supposed to have.

Martin and I reached Stone Street while sirens and gunfire and screams announced the advent of the ugliest of wars. The hulk of the old warehouse rose up black against the sky, and we vanished into the darkness inside through a gap in the wall.

The interior of the old building was pitch black, but we knew our way. Practice stood in for illumination. Our hideaway was in the back, behind stacks of rotting boxes and an iron hatch. Our hands found the rusty wheel that sealed it shut, and we strained until it turned. So much for the quiet; the iron shrieked like a wounded animal.

Neither of us spoke until the door fell shut behind us, and then as little as possible.

“Get the guns. Like we practiced. We move out in ten.”

“Same plan, Liesel?” Martin’s hoarse voice came from somewhere to my right. He switched on a flashlight and set it on a shelf on the other side of the room.

I nodded. “Like Rhodes wanted.”

“And the others?”

“Hopefully they make it.”

I wondered if all revolutionaries felt this way. Terrified. Out of their depth. Just smart enough to realize the odds, but too stupid to let that stop them. All because they thought they could make the world a better place.

We could worry about that if we survived the night.

And then someone’s fist beat on the hatchway door. Martin cursed. I bit my tongue to keep from doing the same. Both of us trained our guns on the door. The knocking came again, followed by a voice, muffled but familiar.

Bax.

I lowered my rifle but motioned for Martin to keep his aimed at the door. Just in case. Then, I opened it. And there was Bax, alive and in the flesh, with a pair of kids no more than five years old. He pushed inside as soon as the door was open and helped me pull the hatch shut again without a syllable of explanation.

“Who are they?” I stopped him before he could push past me.

“Their parents got killed in the fighting off the square,” he said, as if that would suffice.

“We can’t take them with us.”

One of the kids started to fuss, and he bent down to pick her up.

“You won’t have to. I will. What are you going to do, send them back out to the streets?”

I couldn’t answer that. Martin did instead. “Kids aren’t part of the plan.”

“Then we change the plan,” said Bax. The little girl quieted in his arms.

Martin was about to say something else, but I cut him off before he could. “Did anyone else make it out?”

Bax shook his head. “I wouldn’t count on it.”

“Right.” I swallowed another curse. “At least we’ve got you.”

“I’m not going to be much help,” said Bax. “Not until I get these two somewhere safe.”

Martin growled an expletive.

I almost did as well, but managed to stay civil. “We don’t have that luxury, Bax.”

“We don’t have the luxury of not. If kids get hurt, who’s going to catch the blame? The government boys or us damn rebels?”

“Saving a couple of kids isn’t going to change that, you idiot,” said Martin. “We’re already the bad guys. We wouldn’t sit down and shut up, and now the city’s on fire.”

“Oh, that’s great. So I should just forget them and hope they don’t get killed in the crossfire?”

I broke in before Martin could express agreement with that statement. “Who were their parents anyway?”

Bax hesitated before answering, and I felt my gut knot up. “I’m not sure. They looked upper class.”

Martin would have killed him then if I’d let him. He swung at him with his rifle butt even with me standing right there. Bax jumped back. I caught Martin and threw him down with his own momentum, and he hit the ground hard enough to think twice about trying again.

“Upper class kids, Bax? What the hell were you thinking?” I was yelling. Both kids started crying.

“They’re kids, Liesel! Just kids! It doesn’t matter who their parents were, they’ll die just the same as the rest of us.”

“Yeah, you bet they will.” Martin picked himself back up off the ground and snapped his mouth shut at a dirty glance from me. Disgust flamed in his eyes.

“I don’t care how many orphans you’ve picked up, Bax. We’ve got work to do, and I need you with us. Find someplace for them on the way.”

He looked like he wanted to argue. For whatever reason, he decided not to. We gathered up our gear and weapons. Bax managed to get the kids quiet again. We opened the hatch and moved back out through the shadows of the warehouse towards the gap that led to the street.

Sudden light blinded us as we reached it. We tumbled back as a spray of gunfire laid waste to the ground in front of us.

“Rebel fighters, we have you surrounded.”

The voice came through a megaphone and was just as jarring as the violent light.

“We know you have two children as hostages. Why don’t we talk about how you’re going to return them?”

I turned on Bax. “They saw you take them? You let them follow you? Are you sure you’re actually one of us?”

Bax looked stricken. “I thought I lost them.”

“Well, clearly you thought wrong,” said Martin. The severe light cast weird shadows across his face, and his sneer was demonic.

Both kids started wailing. Bax tried to quiet them, but had no luck. He glanced around, horrified. Then, with a look at me, he grabbed each of the kids by one hand. “I’m so sorry. They shouldn’t be part of this.” And he started for the gap. “Don’t shoot! I surrender!”

He didn’t make it through the opening. Martin tackled him and started punching him in the face. The kids scattered, screaming.

“This isn’t a game! You don’t get to do whatever makes you feel good! Without those kids none of us are getting out alive! With hostages maybe, maybe we have a chance!”

Bax tried to fight back, but Martin outmatched him. The gap in the wall was between me and them. More gunfire forced me back when I tried to cross.

“This is war! Your conscience is out of place!”

He punctuated every sentence with blows. Bax lurched and finally dislodged him, only for Martin to leap at him again.

“There’s never going to be any change unless jackasses like you finally figure out that we have to pay for change in blood!”

“Martin, get off of him!” I tried the gap again, only for another shot to keep me down.

Bax wasn’t fighting anymore. He lay limp as Martin’s bloody fists beat him again and again. He was dead when Martin finally let him go.

“Traitor.” Martin spat. Then he pulled his handgun from its holster and grabbed the nearest of the kids. She screamed and squirmed and wailed, and Martin moved to the gap and yelled louder than it all. He had the girl out in front of him, his gun menacing the back of her head. “You want these two alive? Then here’s our demands. Safe passage. Weapons. Transpor—”

I shot him. He fell. The girl fell too, terrified and screaming but alive. Outside, I heard shouts and orders. It wouldn’t be long. I looked at Martin where he lay, sprawled in the gap and with blood covering his face.

“Why?” His voice rasped and rattled. “We might have won.”

I sank down beside him. Bax’s body was only a few feet away. The kids were in the shadows, huddled and crying. They’d be fine, now. They weren’t rebels.

“We might have won,” he repeated.

“Not this way,” I said.

Boots stamped closer. Black figures blocked the spotlight. Harsh voices barked for me to raise my hands, stay on my knees, lock my fingers behind my head. Rough hands clapped me in handcuffs and hauled me away, and the last things I saw were my two dead friends and two rescued kids.


Originally published as part of the 2016 Winter Writing Contest on shortfictionbreak.com.