Musings

[Blog] Regionalism

Way back in high school, we had a unit where we studied American literary regionalism. (Click here for the Wikipedia article, if you’re curious!) I remember it being interesting, and our teacher tied it in with the idea that the setting of a story, when properly done, can be as much a character as any of the ones walking around on two legs. At the time, I thought it was a fascinating idea, but didn’t quite get it– certainly not enough to be able to articulate it all that well.

If I’m honest, that might still be true today, though I’m certainly closer than I was. At the very least, I’m close enough to start coming up with some theories of my own. In particular, considering how it relates to the ubiquitous advice to “write what you know”.

Now, as you can imagine, us science fiction and fantasy authors have a harder time applying that advice in its most boring sense. I’ve never been a freelancer on a distant planet, but that’s not stopping me from writing about a couple of siblings who do, so some folks might suggest that I’m not taking that advice to heart. That being said, I am one of several siblings, and I can guarantee that I’ve got the sibling banter thing down pat, so in that sense I am writing what I know.

Now, imagine you’ve got a locale you’re particularly familiar with. For me, that could be the Palouse area of Idaho and Washington: farming country, with lots of hills and fertile soil and not so many people. Next, add in the fantasy, magic, and adventure that I particularly enjoy writing about. Combine the two, and and you’re going to get a modern fantasy story set in the hills I grew up in. Probably involving werewolves.

Or, for those of you who watch Angel, you’ve got the same sort of thing with Los Angeles. It’s definitely set in LA… there’s just vampires and demons as well.

Basically, using a region that you’re familiar with is a fantastic way to write what you know– because as poor as that advice is when applied badly, you can’t get around the fact that it does have some truth to it. If you know something, you’re going to be able to write about it better. If, like me, you’re more the type who likes writing science fiction and fantasy, that’s probably going to look more like writing about relationships between friends and family than the the mundane adventures of a twenty-something-year-old. But it can also mean setting those same stories about the relationships you know in the places you know. Because it’ll make the story that much more real.

Fiction, Fiction (Short)

The New Roommate

There’s nothing fun about looking for a new roommate. The whole process can go wrong more ways than it can go right, and the stakes for it going right are higher than most. You’re looking for someone to live with, after all—it would be nice to get along, nice to tolerate each other’s company, if not enjoy it. Yet all too often you have to consider yourself lucky to just not mind sharing space.

And all it takes is one bad experience to make you twitchy about the whole thing. Sure, the statistics say you’re unlikely to ever run into someone truly dangerous. And even if you do, you want to believe you’d notice that something was off before you invite them in to live between the same four walls as you. Problem is, statistics aren’t guarantees. And once you lose that gamble once, you’re bound to make extra sure about anyone responding to your craigslist ad.

Which was how Amanda found herself sitting at the corner table of a coffee shop a few blocks from her apartment, waiting for who she hoped would turn out to be as good a roommate in reality as she was on paper. She’d gotten there early, more by accident than design, though she hoped it would give her a chance to collect her thoughts and relax. It hadn’t worked; mostly, it had given her time to remember how optimistic she’d been about Lilith when she moved in.

It had been fine at first. Lilith was nice, if a little odd. She’d was a little pale, but she’d also only gone out after dark. She seemed to eat blood sausage with every meal, but everyone had their dietary quirks. That colony of bats had moved into the walls about a week after she had moved in, but that could hardly have been her fault. Just coincidence.

Until the Incident, everything weird was easy enough to explain away. But when your roommate tries to bite your neck and only fails because you happened to have the presence of mind to fling the jar of powdered garlic at her, you end up feeling a bit paranoid.

Amanda shuddered and tried not to think about it. She also touched her hand to the small silver cross at her neck, just to reassure her subconscious that it was still there. Fortunately, any further recollections were preempted by the arrival of her potential new roommate.

She was a small woman—barely five feet tall and slight of stature—with red hair in a pixie cut and pale grey eyes. She approached the table and greeted Amanda with the most musical voice she had ever heard.

“I’m so glad you had time to meet! It’s Amanda, right?”

Amanda smiled and nodded. “And you’re Morgana.”

“I am!” said Morgana, and she laughed.

After that, the two of them just talked for a while, asking all the simple, silly questions anyone does when trying to find the first pieces of common ground on which to build an acquaintance. It went well. So well, in fact, that Amanda found herself thinking and hoping that she had found that rare gem of a person who could be both friend and roommate.

Of course, she had hoped that of Lilith, too, and not without reason.

And maybe it was extenuating circumstances that had nixed that dream, but it’s once bitten, twice shy, and Amanda had no desire to get bitten a second time. Granted, the fact that they were meeting in the daylight was a good sign, but she’d be happier if she could confirm those results with a couple of other subtle tests.

“So, what about cooking? Do you like fiddling around in the kitchen?”

Morgana’s eyes lit up for at least the twentieth time. “I love cooking! And baking. And experimenting. All of it! Do you?”

Amanda grinned back. “Absolutely. I’ve got a few go-to recipes that I stick with for the most part, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that garlic makes almost everything better.”

“Ha! Me too,” said Morgana. “If this works out, we should absolutely cook dinner together every now and then. I always like it better when I get to cook for someone else.”

Test number two, passed with flying colors. Amanda felt some of her tension bleed out of her shoulders, and she allowed herself to feel almost hopeful. It seemed unlikely that Morgana was going to be the sort of roommate who might be tempted to suck her blood.

Just to be sure, of course, there were a few more questions, a few more tests. Amanda turned the conversation to their favorite books, and was pleased to see that her mention of Dracula left Morgana unfazed. Morgana complimented her necklace and touched it without flinching when Amanda held it out to her, apparently unworried by the fact that it was both silver and a cross. Casual mentions of both wolves and bats got no response. In fact, nothing gave Amanda any cause for concern, and she felt a little silly when she arranged for a small mirror to tumble from her bag in such a way that it allowed her to check for a reflection. It was there, of course.

After that, even her most paranoid instincts were content that Morgana was likely to be a top notch roommate. She would move in at the end of the month, and they would likely be in constant contact even before that. When they went their separate ways that afternoon after enjoying almost an hour more of friendly conversation, Amanda felt more relaxed than she had in months.

“Oh!” Morgana turned back a moment after she left the table. “Before I forget, I should let you know. I have the worst reaction to anything made of pure iron. I just touch the stuff and it makes me go cold and numb all over. Just so you know!”

It wasn’t until after Morgana signed the lease and moved in that Amanda remembered that an aversion to cold iron was a known characteristic of the fae folk. And when she did, a sharp thrill of panic ran down her spine. But only the one. She’d rather live with a fairy than a vampire any day.

Fiction (Short)

Another Day in the Black

werewolfhijack

“What do you mean you haven’t found her? It’s not a big ship! What did she do, step out the airlock or something?!” The captain was snarling now, with the spittle flying from his mouth and that crazed twitch in the corner of his right eye. Ruby had served on the little pirate crew long enough to know what happened next: he would keep screaming until his voice cracked from the exertion. His face, already red, would turn purple. His vocabulary would expand to contain every known form of profanity, and several new ones besides.

It was hardly the first time it had happened. It wouldn’t be the last—assuming, of course, that this wasn’t the rant that finally sent him apoplectic.

The best thing to do was to just stay out of the way; not that poor Tomms had that luxury. It couldn’t be helped. He’d learn fast enough. She had. And sure, she liked the kid, but that didn’t mean she was going to stick her neck out for him when the captain was on the warpath. That would just be—

“Get back down there and look again!” She winced as the captain whirled on her. “And you too! Maybe together you’ll be better than useless!”

So much for that. Ruby scrambled to her feet with a hasty “yessir” and made for the door. Tomms gave her a pained and panicked look and bolted after her. Neither one said a thing until they were well beyond the bridge and out of the captain’s earshot. Neither one bothered to pull out their blasters even then. If they needed them, they could unholster them fast enough.

“I’m so sorry, Ruby,” hissed Tomms, tentatively, as if he expected her to use it as an excuse to treat him the same way the rest of the crew did.

Poor kid. Like she’d stoop that low.

She twitched a wry smile his way and shook her head. “Not your fault, Tomms. Let’s just get this over with.”

That was, of course, easier said than done. For such a small ship, it was carrying a whole lot of cargo. And instead of all being packed together in one huge conglomeration in the center of the hold, dozens of containers were all separated out in various stacks. No doubt, it was all part of some grand system of organization. The fact that they created a veritable maze was just a side effect.

“There’s a million places to hide in here,” said Tomm. His voice wasn’t quite a whimper.

“And that’s just counting between those cargo containers. You can double that if this is a smuggling ship.”

He did whimper at that. It was the only sensible response.

“She can’t just hide forever.” The tremor in his voice added in the unspoken “can she?

“No,” said Ruby, with entirely more conviction than she felt. Because this was her home turf, not theirs. And while the cargo hold might look like a bloody labyrinth to them, she probably knew it like the back of her hand.

And then there was the whole question of why she had so carefully put her ship in orbit around the nearest moon instead of going for a hard burn when she’d noticed the pirate ship closing in. It was an unconventional response to say the least. One that had Ruby wondering what their target had hiding up her sleeve. Sure, scans had shown she was the only one on board, but that just meant that Ruby had more questions, not less. Even the most hubristic explorers of the void knew better than to try their luck entirely on their own.

And this particular star sailor had not seemed to be the hubristic sort.

“Tomms. Watch yourself.”

“What?”

Ruby made a face. “Be careful. I’m not sure what she’s up to.” Whatever it was, it was probably more than hiding like a scared rabbit.

Probably.

Tomms grimaced. “Why are we doing this, Ruby? It’s her ship.”

“We’re doing this because if we don’t, the captain’s going to start using us for target practice.”

After ten minutes of searching the hold, though, and turning up absolutely nothing at all, Ruby was starting to wonder. She stopped on her prowl down one of the narrow pathways between crates to groan softly and glare up at the ceiling. Over to one side, the dark side of the moon could still be seen through one of the small portholes that lined the top of the hold. An odd structural choice, though there was something to be said for a little natural light when loading the ship, she supposed.

After ten more minutes, she started wondering if the rightful owner of this particular little ship hadn’t actually found some way off. Because it was starting to seem highly unlikely that she was actually still on board. That, or Ruby and Tomms both were going to have to ask some hard questions about their ability to search a vessel. There was also the question of what their current employment said about them as people, but that was less specific to the situation. And while Ruby wasn’t looking forward to finding the answer at all, it would be slightly easier to handle when their boss wasn’t raging and pirating about one deck up.

He wasn’t going to be happy about the lack of results. Frankly, Ruby was surprised she and Tomm had been able to search undisturbed for twenty minutes. It couldn’t last.

“Tomms?” Her voice echoed through the hold, bouncing between the stacked cargo containers. “Anything?”

Silly question. She knew he hadn’t. He would have told her if he had.

Nothing.

Ruby frowned. “Tomms?”

Still nothing. A distinct chill went wandering up Ruby’s spine. Her hand slipped down to her holster, and she grabbed her blaster. And she kept moving forward, glancing side to side. Nothing, nothing, and more nothing.

And then, something. She wasn’t sure what made her stop and turn, but stop and turn she did, and caught the tail end of someone’s heel disappearing around the corner.

“Hey! Stop, you!”

Unsurprisingly, they didn’t. With an eloquent command like the one she had just given, Ruby would have, quite frankly, been more surprised if they had stopped. But it was something—more than something! She broke into a run.

And tripped right over Tomms’ body as she rounded the corner. Her heart jumped up her throat and started hammering at twice its normal speed, and it didn’t even start to slow down until her fingers found his pulse. Just unconscious.

A sudden clatter of footsteps on the ramp leading to the rest of the ship pulled snapped her away, and she jumped to her feet again and started running after the noise. She barely made it ten feet before she heard a faint click and a half a dozen cargo boxes tipped over in her path.

“Stop following me! Go see to your friend!”

The voice came from up the ramp, where the ship’s owner had paused just long enough to shout the command back. Even if Ruby had wanted to shoot at her, she didn’t have a clear shot.

“I—what?!” Of all the things she’d ever had people yell at her while she chased them, this was a new one.

But the ship’s owner was already gone. And as she was running up the ramp towards the rest of the ship, it seemed unlikely that the other more bloodthirsty members of their crew were going to need their help to catch her. Going back and checking on Tomms seemed like a good idea after all.

As much as she had made quiet fun of the portholes all along the top edge of the cargo hold, the sudden influx of bright moonlight as the ship’s orbit took them around to the light side of the moon provided all the light she needed to check Tomms over for injury. Which made it that much easier to see the big goose-egg bump that had sprouted from the back of his head. Ruby got the sudden impression that maybe, just maybe, they had underestimated their opponent.

For a fleeting second, she wondered if this scrappy little star sailor might be able to get the jump on the captain and their other two crewmates. If maybe the pirates would get sent scurrying. If perhaps she might have a use for a couple of crewmembers herself: even a ship this small was easier to run with a couple pairs of extra hands.

The three-to-one odds she was facing weren’t going to make that easy. Ruby glanced down at Tomms. The poor kid was out cold. Stable, but definitely unconscious. She paused. This was a terrible idea. The sort of idea you didn’t survive. The sort of idea that would get you used as an object lesson every time a certain pirate captain hired on untested hands for years to come.

The sort of idea that might be worth it anyway, just for the tiny chance that it might work.

Ruby squeezed her eyes shut. She took a deep breath. And then she checked Tomms one last time before starting off up the ramp on what was probably a complete fool’s quest.

She didn’t get far: no more than three steps. Because before she could take step number four, a terrible howl ran through the whole ship. A bone rattling, ship shaking, void piercing howl. And all Ruby’s new-minted resolve crumbled.

And then the ship went dark.

The next minutes were horrifying. The howl gave way to shouts and blaster fire and the occasional low rumble that sounded awfully like a growl. Ruby found herself cowered against the far side of the ramp, trying to think past the terrified mob of thoughts that ran wild through her head.

What was on the ship?

What had the captain unleashed?

Was this one of those deep space terrors that wasn’t supposed to exist?

Had their erstwhile quarry run straight into something even worse than pirates? That stirred something beyond panic. If the little ship’s captain had needed help before, she needed it more now. And she wasn’t going to get it from anyone else. Not with Tomms out cold and the rest of their crew being what it was.

Ruby’s throat was dry. Time to keep moving, then.

Somehow, she couldn’t manage it until a more pragmatic corner of her brain pointed out that hiding wasn’t going to fix anything, and would probably just mean that Whatever It Was would find her anyway when there was no one else to help. If she was going to survive this herself, going now was her best chance.

So she went. It disgusted her that she needed such selfish logic to motivate her, but motivate her it did. And she might as well make the most of it.

Halfway up the ramp, the ship went silent too. Ruby’s mouth was dry, but she tried to swallow anyway. It didn’t help. She still felt as terrified as ever, which was perhaps why it took her a few moments to realize that the sudden silence had not, in fact, been preceded by screams of agony. Which was a good sign. She hoped.

Somehow, she kept moving. Despite her best efforts, every step sounded like a gong on the metal ramp. A soft, muffled gong, but to her ears, a gong nonetheless. The blaster in her hand seemed like it wasn’t going to be much in the way of protection, should it come down to it. But just reholstering would have been worse, so she kept holding it in her cold, sweaty hand.

Halfway up the ramp, she got the feeling that someone—something was watching her, and her heart jumped, impossibly, even farther up her throat. She stopped. The ship creaked around her. The ship’s systems beeped and hummed, distantly.

This was ridiculous. She kept going.

At the top of the ramp, the feeling became certainty. She heard someone. Something. Breathing. Ahead of her. Above her, in the dark.

She should turn around. Going forward was insane. Going forward would get her killed. Or worse. Or—

Before she had a chance to go forward or turn back around, something came down on her head and dropped her like a sack of stones. But it didn’t knock her into unconsciousness. That would have been a mercy. Instead, stunned, she felt impossibly huge, impossibly hairy hands (or were those claws?) close around her ankles and drag her towards the bridge. She heard someone kick her blaster and send it skittering away, well out of reach. She saw, as they came out of the dark corridor and onto the moonlit bridge, three still forms lain out in a row next to each other. And she became the fourth.

That touched some primal mote of terror deep inside. So much for pretending to be unconscious and hoping for the best. She yelped and flailed and made to break away. She stopped as soon as her captor stepped into the moonlight.

It was huge. Eight feet tall, at least, and that was standing hunched. It was hairy. Wolf-shaped. Wolf-toothed. And its eyes reflected the moonlight and seemed to glow with evil intent. Ruby’s yelp became a whimper.

And the thing stopped. It bent down, bringing its muzzle within inches of Ruby’s own nose. It smelled like a sweaty dog, and its breath was terrible. Ruby flinched. She didn’t mean to. She just couldn’t help it. But the thing just watched her for three long seconds. Four. Five. And then it gave a low growl.

Ruby closed her eyes and shook.

And she stayed that way for half an hour.

It was only when someone (someone! Not something!) touched her shoulder that she dared open them. And there, staring down at her with a look of mixed wariness and vague amusement, was the little ship’s captain.

“You’re alright!” Ruby’s voice came out as a croak, but the other woman seemed to understand it well enough.

“Of course I did. I thought I told you not to follow me.”

“I wasn’t going to—but the howl, the growling, the other pirates… I thought you might need help.”

The other woman laughed. It was a barking, gleeful sound. And that was when Ruby noticed that her teeth seemed somewhat longer and sharper than those of most humans. And there was a certain wildness to her eyes. And…

“Oh. Oh no. Oh no.”

Ruby jumped away as the woman—the werewolf—brought her hand down on Ruby’s shoulder.

“What, you didn’t think it strange that I was out here in the black all by myself?”

Ruby managed a nod.

The woman grinned, showing those too-sharp teeth again. “The name’s Captain Marie Lupine. I knew you looked smarter than the rest of these idiots.” She gestured at the three pirates that lay to the side, and Ruby noticed for the first time that they were all tied up. And also all still breathing, though a few sported a few new, long scratches.

“Where’s Tomms?” Ruby’s voice was still entirely too dry for her liking.

“Your friend in the cargo bay? Still down there. I think I rang his bell pretty good. He should be alright, though.”

Ruby nodded.

Captain Lupine dropped down into a crouch and looked her up and down. “So, the way I see it, we have a couple of options here. One, I turn you and Tomms in to the authorities with the rest of these numbskulls.”

Ruby shook her head as violently as she dared. Captain Lupine grinned again.

“That’s what I thought. Or, two, I let you and him take that ship you jumped me with, and you get to keep pirating around. Problem for you is, of course, that the ship would be tagged as a pirate vessel, and I don’t much fancy your chances of survival for very long.”

Ruby looked uncomfortable.

“Or, three.” Captain Lupine eyed Ruby. “You and Tomms stay here on my crew. I turn in these three and the ship to the authorities, and I say that you’re both crew I picked up at the last space station. I write you up proper contracts of employment and you don’t have to attack innocent passers-by or watch your blood pressure spike when you get within hailing range of law enforcement anymore.”

Captain Lupine grinned one last time. “It’s your choice.”

And that was how Ruby and Tomms started working for a werewolf running cargo runs in the deep black. All in all, it was probably the best choice either of them had ever made.

Writing Prompts

[Blog] Writing Prompts Round 1

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So, last week I asked you guys for writing prompts and promised flash fiction in return. You all rocked your side of the bargain; here’s the stories!

 

That can’t possibly be what it looks like…

“Nah, thank you. I’m just glad the old place is going to get some use.” Harold helped us load the last of our gear into the back of his pickup. My own car was good enough for city driving, but the roads up to the old cabin were a bit more rugged. I’d been willing to chance it, but the old man had just shook his head and tossed me the keys to the blue Ford. “You’ll find firewood under the porch, and the well’s out back. Also, don’t mind Ranger. He’s just up there to scare away the poachers, and he’s more bark than bite anyway. He’ll be fine once he recognizes the truck.”

That was all well and good, but it was the moments before he recognized it that were almost enough to make us give up on our weekend getaway. Because what we saw when we rounded the last bend and came up the drive towards the cabin was not the massive dog we assumed we’d find, but a huge, scaly monstrosity that had draped itself over the roof of the house and eyed us menacingly with a look that suggested we’d best apologize for interrupting its nap.

I swallowed once. “That’s funny,” I said. “I didn’t think dragons were real.”

But before we had a chance to ask anything of the mythological guardbeast, he appraised our vehicle, snorted once, and went back to sleep. Which was more than could be said for us.

Don’t worry, I’ve done this 100s of times.

Even the smallest of starships use the most sophisticated technology we’ve managed to develop. It’s all streamlined to the point that pretty much anyone can use it, but the fact that remains is this: most of us really don’t understand the first thing about the mechanisms keeping us alive and in one piece as we travel the vast, empty distances between the stars. So when you’re only halfway to the next star system and there’s a loud and ominous “CLUNK” from the rear of the ship, followed immediately by the distinctive sound of the failsafes kicking in and dropping you back down to sublight speeds, it’s understandable that you might feel a bit… anxious. Especially once you remember just how inefficient your life support systems are without the engine running and feeding them power. And double especially when every light on the HUD starts blinking red.

Now, imagine the scenario outlined above, and then add that you’re flying with a new mechanic. You know, the sort who’s still so young they’re wet behind the ears, giddy at the prospect of outer space, and completely, absolutely, one hundred percent unproven. If you’re starting to feel a little queasy and uncomfortable, congratulations, I did too. And it only got worse when Kosky (my aforementioned so-green-he-might-actually-be-a-tadpole flight mechanic) had the audacity to soothe my fears with the phrase “it’ll be fine”.

“Sure,” I said, “as long as someone answers our distress signal before we freeze or suffocate.”

“No, I can fix this,” he said. And he was already climbing out of his flight harness and slipping back towards the engine compartment.

I’m not a flight mechanic, but I’m good enough to take care of the easy fixes. I’m also good enough to know when it’s not going to be an easy fix. Like when the engine goes clunk and the HUD turns into a light show.

“Kosky…”

He was already in the back and fiddling and hammering at something. If I’d thought he could make the problem worse, I would’ve stopped him.

“Don’t worry! I’ve done this hundreds of times!”

“When!?”

“In the simulators! They ran us through worst case scenarios to see if we could figure them out. I was really good at it.”

And apparently, he was. Because my little simulator-trained tadpole had us back up and running again in about an hour, and we finished our run to the next system in record time.

Siblings, goats, dogs, sheep.

Most kids would have asked for a puppy. And one of mine did after that day in the park when we got to meet a lovely lab named Ravioli and her three young pups. And after making sure that it wouldn’t be an absolutely horrible idea to adopt a dog into the family, we answered an ad at a nearby farm for free puppies and went on a family excursion to bring one home with us.

What we failed to realize was that it wasn’t just baby dogs we’d find, but baby goats and sheep as well. And we also failed to realize that while my daughter was more than happy with a dog, my two sons found the lambs and kids far more interesting. I blame it on the fact that the farmer let them help him bottle feed them.

We didn’t go home with anything more than a puppy that day. We just ended up buying a farm of our own a year later.

A fox!

The first night I saw the fox, I didn’t think anything of it. I lived on the edge of town and take walks most evenings, so she was hardly the first one I’d ever seen, though perhaps her tail was a bit bushier and her coat a deeper shade of russet-red. It wasn’t until I realized that she was looking straight at me with a wily smirk that I began to consider the possibility that she was something more than the run-of-the-mill vulpine.

I saw her every night that week as I went out for my habitual stroll through my neighborhood, and every night she greeted me with the same placid, knowing smile. And before I knew it, I was looking forward to seeing her.

So perhaps you can understand why I decided to follow her down the path through the park instead of sticking to my usual route. And that was when it happened. The small, tame trees turned into centuries old oaks in an instant. The paved road beneath my feet turned became a dirt track. The air smelled thick with magic.

The only thing that remained the same was the fox herself. She sat a few yards away, still smirking, and as I stared at her she winked, then turned and dashed away. I hardly had a choice: I ran after her, following the flick of her tail and the twists of the wooded path until my chest heaved and my heart beat hard in my ears.

Just when I thought I could go no further, she vanished, leaving me well and truly lost and utterly alone. But before I could panic, a soft voice spoke from just behind me. I whirled, and she was there, sitting and waiting for me to notice her.

“You run well, my friend,” she said. “Thank you for playing my game.”

And then she grinned and all the world changed again, and I stood once more in the park at the edge of my neighborhood, quite astonished at what had just happened.

A meteorite has just crashed near a small town. The locals have since noticed strange lights in the forest at night. A couple of kids go out to investigate, against their parents’ commands.

We all assumed that Mom and Dad were just saying what all parents say: don’t take the shortcut through the bull’s pasture, don’t run with scissors, don’t go out in the middle of the night to look for the weird lights where the meteor hit. The bull wasn’t a problem if we put a pile of apples on the other side of the pasture, none of us had killed ourselves running with scissors yet, and we figured that our parents had more against us being out and unsupervised at two in the morning than the fact that we were looking for the meteor.

Of course, that was before me and my brother actually found it.

It wasn’t a meteor. Or I guess, it wasn’t just a random space rock burning up in our atmosphere. It was an alien spaceship that lost control trying to land. Also, it turns out that Mom and Dad are way more exciting than we gave them credit for. And that they got into way more trouble before settling down in this little nowhere town in Idaho than we ever thought possible. We figured that out after they rescued us from a couple of desperate alien criminals with too many eyes and not enough sense.

 

And that’s it for this round! Thanks again to everyone who submitted prompts!

Updates

[Update] January 2018

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Happy New Year! To those of you who have been following me for a while, thanks so much– you mean the world to me! To anyone just stumbling across my little corner of the internet, welcome, and if you happen to like what you see feel free to stay a while.

Between the holidays and the end of my Armenia trip, December was another fairly quiet month around here when it comes to writing. Friday blog posts went up every week, but nothing much beyond that. But! I’m back in the States, and while I haven’t manage to settle into anything like a routine just yet, I’m looking forward to more time for writing and the chance to do some more work on my bigger projects, as well as getting back into the swing of two short stories a month.

Speaking of those bigger projects, there’s two I’m particularly excited about! The first is that I’ll be working to finish the second draft of a fantasy novel tentatively titled The Seven this year. Check out the teaser here, and keep an eye out for more information as the year progresses!

The second is that I’ve got more Tanner and Miranda stories in the works, with an eye towards writing a complete collection. The two stories I’ve completed so far (Under Whiskey Hill and The Ethan Lindsay Job) were so much fun to write, and I know there’s a bunch more adventures in store for the siblings. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy reading about them as much as I’m enjoying writing them.

That’s all I’ve got for now! I hope the start of your year has been a good one, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the months ahead. As always, drop me a line in the comments if you’ve got any questions, or just to say hi! I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,
Faith

Fiction (Excerpts)

[Teaser] The Seven

SEVEN

The traveler sat on a stool near the fire, one hand wrapped around a mug of strong drink, the other tapping idly at his knee. His too-green eyes glinted in the half dark. Almost half of the village’s inhabitants sat around him, some in chairs, others—children, mostly—made do with the floor. All told, it seemed he had the attention of more than twenty people. He cleared his throat and began.

“The sun is down and the moon is dark and new.” His voice was low, and there was a rumble to it like a cat’s purr. “This is the time to tell tales of monsters.”

A shiver ran through his audience, and anticipation held the room in perfect silence. The traveler basked in it.

“But what sort of story should I tell? You’ve already heard about wyrms and dragons, giant, scaly beasts that snatch and devour. And you probably know about the kelpies and other creatures like them, the ones that seem so lovely until they destroy the hapless person who is lured too close. Perhaps I could tell you about giant wolves or bears that have stalked roadways and forests and slain a hundred men despite the best efforts of brave and mighty hunters.”

The youngest members of his audience, a brother and sister, shivered. Even the adults sat in rapt attention and let themselves feel frightened.

“Or… I could weave a story about a thing even more terrible than these. A thing that might have once been man, a thing that brings death and terror in its wake, a thing that fears no simple bow or blade.”

He paused. His eyes flitted across the room, over all the faces watching him. He took a breath and slowly filled his lungs. And when the tension reached its apex, he finally spoke again.

“I could tell you of the Rehk.”

Murmurs worked their way through the room. The gathered audience looked away and lowered their eyes. The storyteller’s spell wavered and broke, and nothing remained but a lopsided quiet.

An old man coughed and cleared his throat. “Tell us a different story, traveler. We don’t tell the Rehk’s tales here.”

Fiction (Short)

Grey Dog Inn

GREYDOGINN

It was winter, and the Prince’s men were far away. Under the low roof of the North Forest Inn, Revi moved back and forth between her cooking fire and a few woodsmen who had braved the cold evening and the driving snow, bringing them hot stew and wooden mugs full of her best brewed ale. They responded with cheers and toasts to her health, and the sound of their talk and laughter filled the low, smoky room.

“Here’s to Revi, queen among innkeepers!”

“May her barrels never go empty and her stew never grow cold.”

The woman grinned over her shoulder, flinging back her still dark hair as she danced back towards the kitchen. “Keep bringing me wood for my fire and silver for my coffer, Bram, and you know they never will!”

They met her words with shouts of approval, raising their mugs and high before setting to with a will. For just an instant, the room was quiet. Flames snapped in the hearth. Spoons scraped on bowls. Someone called out at the door.

If the sound had come at any other time, it would have drowned beneath the roars of merriment. It was a quiet noise, a small noise, just a low call that wavered in the cold. Revi stopped on her way and turned back to look at the door.

“Boys, did you leave someone outside?”

The oldest of the woodsmen paused and shook his head. “No, marm. It was just the four of us today.” He lowered his mug to the table. “You heard someone?”

“I heard something,” said Revi.

All the woodsmen grew quiet, glancing to the door and burying themselves in their food, leaning in over the table as if to wall themselves away. Revi pulled a heavy stick from its place on the wall as she continued toward the door and gripped it with one hand as she reached for the latch with her other.

Cold air and powdered snow fell inside as soon as the door swung open, and the innkeeper frowned into the night and white storm. She found nothing there she had imagined. No ghosts, no monsters, no soldiers waiting for half an excuse. Nothing at all, she thought, until she looked a little farther and saw the dark figure fallen on the path just beyond the light that spilled past her and into the night. It was already half buried in falling snow.

“Bram! Lucas! Get over here and help me! Some poor fool was out traveling tonight.”

Chair legs scraped on the floor. Rough voices muttered wariness. The two men she called joined her at the door and ventured into the cold with her, towards the still and snowbound visitor.

It was a man, wrapped in a woolen cloak that was stiff with cold. His brown hair stuck to his face and his eyes were mostly shut. He barely shivered, barely had a voice to lend to his words as he whispered his thanks again and again while Bram and Lucas hoisted him upwards and draped his arms over their shoulders. Revi went ahead and chased the others away from the fire, pulling an empty chair close and ordering the men to bring their burden forward.

“Set him there. Get him some strew. Quickly!” She cleared the way. “Roosh, go to the back and fetch my cloak from my room. The one on the end!”

They all obeyed. The half frozen stranger sank into the chair, leaning heavily on his rescuers. He made no argument as his icy cloak was pulled from his shoulders or his snowy boots from his feet. His hands shook more violently than before and closed around an offered bowl full of hot food. It took him several seconds more before he could wrap his fingers around the spoon and lift it to his blue lips and hungry mouth.

Roosh returned with the demanded cloak and Revi snatched it from him and warmed it by the fire for just a moment, just enough to heat it above the temperature of the room before she draped it around the stranger. He shuddered as sudden heat returned to his bones, and he groaned quietly.

“There,” said Revi. “Good. Eat that and then you can tell us who you are.”

The stranger nodded and managed to swallow a spoonful of stew. It was enough to satisfy Revi for the time being, and she breathed out a quiet sigh before smiling her thanks to the woodsmen and waving them gently away so that the visitor might have a moment to himself. They went, returning to their bowls at the table nearest the fire and sliding them to its far side so that they could sit and still watch the newcomer.

If he noticed or minded his audience, he gave no indication. Instead, he focused on his bowl and all the little movements required to lift each bite to his mouth. It seemed to grow easier for him after a while, requiring less effort to keep from spilling until the simple movements came to him naturally and easily once again.

Revi gave a short, satisfied nod. “That’s a bit better,” she said. “You look less like death, my friend.”

The stranger paused and managed a wry smile. “I feel less like death,” he said. His voice cracked and rasped. “Thank you.”

“Consider it our pleasure,” said Revi, and her own face wrinkled with warmth and welcome. “That being said, now that you’re a bit warmer, perhaps you’ll tell us who it is we’ve rescued? I can’t imagine a man could travel far in this weather.”

Another wry grin. “Ah, yes,” he said. “A man would have trouble with it, that’s certain.”

Revi waited for him to continue, and a pointed look glimmered in her eyes until the visitor continued speaking.

“No hiding for the traveler here, then.” He pronounced the words lightly, though they fell from his lips with a certain seriousness.

Bram and his companions looked over from their own table again and allowed their curiosity to trail across their faces. The stranger chuckled when he saw them.

“You can try, certainly,” said Revi, “but I hope you won’t. We’re friendly folk here, and I think there’s no need.”

The stranger laughed again, low and gravely in his throat, and he paused before speaking. “I won’t, then,” he said, slowly, “though it’s nothing so remarkable. I’m Eriat, just a traveler who misjudged the road north.” He shrugged and spooned another bite into his mouth, chewing it and savoring it longer than he needed to before swallowing it down.

“Just a traveler?” asked Revi as the quiet began to stretch on a little.

The man smiled again and nodded. “Just a traveler.”

A careful glint flashed in his eyes, though it faded quickly. Revi saw it, but there was nothing she could do with it. And the man seemed simple enough. Just a traveler. Just a guest caught in the cold and half frozen to death. She filled his bowl again when he finished, and he thanked her warmly and profusely.

 

He stayed at the inn for several days, helping where he could and keeping out of the way when he couldn’t, always keeping one eye on the door. The harsher weather that had caught him days before let up, bit by bit, until the grey sky hung less heavy and the falling snow eased and stopped. More guests visited the inn. Shepherds and woodsmen, a few travelers whose business took them along the long North Road despite the season. Revi served hot food to those who came and prepared warm beds to those who stayed, and short, cold days passed.

On the fourth day after Eriat’s arrival, on an evening that saw no guests, Revi joined the stranger in front of the fire. They sat together for a while, Revi sighing and leaning back and resting her feet, Eriat staring into the low, orange flames and watching as they flickered on a half burned log.

“So, my friend,” said Revi. “What was it that brought you here?”

Eriat kept looking at the fire for a while, and its light reflected in his eyes. Finally, he glanced over at Revi. “I was traveling,” he said. “Just traveling.”

“You don’t seem anxious to be on your way again,” said Revi. Her words were gentle, and instead of looking at the man she stared into the fire as well.

“The weather is still cold,” he said. “I can finish my journey once the way is a little more hospitable.”

“Most would have waited for that before starting.”

Eriat laughed, faintly. “My business was urgent.”

Revi turned to him with a quick grin. “Not so urgent as that, I think.”

The stranger grunted. “Perhaps not.”

They let the conversation lull for a while, listening instead to the dying cracks of the fire and the hiss of the wind through the needles of the dark evergreens. Revi chuckled.

“We could sit here for many more nights than this before you told me where you’ve actually come from.”

“Ah, perhaps,” said Eriat, and he paused for a while before continuing with a clever grin. “Or perhaps I’m exactly what I’ve said I am. Just a traveler who made a poor decision regarding the timing of his journey.”

Revi snorted.

Eriat’s grin remained. “You can believe it or not. It won’t make it any more or less true.”

“No, I suppose not,” said Revi. “But then, that cuts both ways, doesn’t it?”

The next days continued in much the same way. A trickle of visitors, more or less steady, kept them busy much of the time, and chores filled most of their remaining time. Their routine was simple and pleasant, and Revi appreciated the company almost as much as she did the help, and it remained so for almost two weeks.

Then, a shift in the weather brought a warmer wind and the roads that had been difficult to pass opened once again. With them came more visitors to the inn, and the quiet hum of three or four voices on the busiest of evenings was replaced by the songs and enthusiastic roar of a full dozen guests.

The soldiers came later, well after sundown.

The sound of their marching tramp on the road gave them away before they could be seen, but that seemed to be their intention. It seized the attention of the merrymakers in the inn, silencing their songs and their laughter. Those who ate hunched over their plates. Those who drank clutched their mugs closer to their chests. Every eye lowered. Every back turned. Eriat was with Revi in the kitchen, and in the instant before the soldiers came through the door, she saw that his face blanched pale and his calm frame went rigid.

There were four of them, all armed and draped in the Prince’s blue and silver. Revi felt a a familiar, uneasy twist make its home in her gut, coiling and sliding and waiting for inevitable trouble. She stepped out to greet them anyway.

“Good evening, sirs,” she said. “You look like you’ve traveled some way. Find a seat by the fire and I’ll bring you meat and drink to warm you.”

The leader of the soldiers stopped in front of Revi. “No, thank you, goodwife. We are not here for your food.”

He motioned for the three who followed him to move throughout the room, which they did, looking at the faces of each of the guests as they passed. The knot in Revi’s stomach twisted again.

“We’re here looking for a traitor to the Prince, a man called Taire. Have you seen him? He’s a man of about your age, mousy haired, dark eyed. He fled from us at Kedon about two weeks ago after we attempted to arrest him for stirring up the Prince’s subjects.”

“I don’t know of any men named Taire,” said Revi. She did not move as the soldiers continued to make their way around the room, and they were forced to step around her. She remembered the frightened look that had rushed across Eriat’s face, and she kept herself from even glancing in his direction. The description was vague enough. It could be him. It could be almost anyone.

“He might have called himself by a different name,” said the soldiers’ leader, a cold-eyed sergeant. “Do you remember seeing anyone who might be the man we’re looking for?”

“You’ll forgive me, sir, but over the case of any given week I’m sure I see four or five men that might match that description.”

Behind her, Revi heard the soldiers’ boots still crossing the floor. Tromping past the tables. Moving towards the kitchen.

“Anyone you’ve never seen before? A stranger, perhaps?”

Revi opened her mouth and cast about for an answer. She never had a chance to give it. A shout came from behind as one of the soldiers caught sight of Eriat in the kitchen and gave a cry. The soldiers all rushed to the back. Their leader pushed Revi aside as he joined them. A terrible crash and splatter and clang shattered through the room as Eriat grabbed the big cooking pot, still half full of broth and meat and hurled it at the soldiers advancing towards him.

It bought him an instant. And instant was all he needed. He rushed past his attackers, shoving them violently aside, narrowly missing the blades that slipped from their sheaths to hunt for his flesh. He bolted past the tables, flung himself towards the door, out and away to vanish in the night and snow. The soldiers gave chase, rushing back out after him and leaving the aftermath to the inn.

Within a moment, all of Revi’s guests were gone. Some muttered apologies. Others offered looks of sympathy. Every one of them rose and slipped out through the door and away from the inn. The soldiers would return. The soldiers always would return. But perhaps they had not noticed them, had not marked their faces. So it was that Revi found herself alone, sitting in an empty inn and waiting to see if fate meant to come calling.

It did not come. Not that night. The soldiers came back, empty handed and asking a thousand questions and breathing threats, but they did not act on them. When they left, she bolted her door and went to her bed and fell asleep, leaving the dishes and the cleaning until the morning.

The next day was quiet, devoid of guests and company. She cleaned and set the inn back in order. The day after that was much the same, and she gathered wood and made a little food in case someone should brave the winter and the danger of the Prince’s men. No one did.

On the third day, a few visitors came creeping back. Bram was the first, faithful if sheepish, though he did not stay long. Others came after, and each successive day brought more and returned things to the normalcy that had been before.

On the ninth day, the soldiers came back, asking more questions that could not be answered, and the cycle started over once again. The same happened six days after that, and then eleven days after that, and on and on. The shepherds and trappers and woodsmen who frequented the inn learned the pattern, such as it was, and most stopped avoiding the North Forest Inn in the days following such a visit.

There was the dog, too. It was a big creature, shaggy and grey and a little dirty. Revi found it on the steps leading up to the inn door almost a month after the soldiers’ first visit. She paused a moment and looked at it, eyeing the lanky canine before leaving it alone. It was still there when Bram arrived that night, and if a few scraps of food made their way outside, it might not have been by accident.

And the dog stayed. “I think he thinks he’s guarding you,” said Bram, chuckling a little to himself.

Revi grimaced. “He looks to me like he’s mostly just sleeping his days away,” she said, but giblets and dry bread crusts and other scraps continued to make their way to the porch. After a while, she wasn’t sure when, she even caught herself reaching down to scratch behind the animal’s ears when she passed by. And on a particularly cold night, she let the dog inside to sleep beside the fire.

“You seem to have warmed to him,” said Bram.

“Hush, you,” said Revi.

 

So it continued until the snow began to melt and the air began to warm. Almost two weeks had passed since the last visit by the soldiers, and Revi almost allowed herself to believe that things might return to the way they had been before. Bram came by less often, busy as he now was with traps and hunting, but when he did return he brought fresh meat and Revi welcomed him with open arms.

The dog had begun to look almost respectable, or at least as respectable as a shaggy canine could. He had no name; Revi only called him the Dog. Even without a name, visitors to the inn knew to expect him, and a few seemed to visit specifically to see him.

He would vanish now and again, disappearing for most of a day or even several days at a time. No one ever saw him go, and when Bram once tried to track him out of curiosity, he lost the trail before it led anywhere in particular. But he always came back, and it seemed wisest to consider it more a mystery than a puzzle.

Revi was outside the last time he returned. It was a warm day, the warmest yet that spring, and she had a tub of wash to hang up to dry. She had emptied half of it when the dog trotted up, bumping her hand with his nose as he went by and slipped inside the open inn door as if to hide inside.

The soldiers arrived only half an hour later. There were five of them marching in line behind the same sergeant who had led the first group during the winter. His eyes were still cold.

“Did you miss me, goodwife?”

Revi frowned. “No, I’m afraid I can’t say that I did. But what can I get for you?”

“The same thing I asked for the first time I was here, perhaps? You know where the man called Taire is.”

Revi stiffened as a chill spun its way down her spine. “I don’t, sir.”

The sergeant took a step towards her, and she only held her ground through a fierce act of will.

“I’m sure you do,” he said. “We’ve tracked him here.”

She swallowed once. “That can’t be possible. No one has come here since last night, and I know each of those men. None of them are called Taire.”

The sergeant stepped forward again until he fairly towered above her. “I’m not talking about last night, woman. He was in Kedon this morning, wreaking his havoc.”

“And I’m telling you that no one has arrived here today, not from Kedon or anywhere else,” said Revi. Her heart thumped and leaped in her throat, but she reached out to push past the man anyway.

He caught her her wrist in a tight grip. “I wonder,” he said. “Are you perhaps a sympathizer with his rebellion?”

She yanked her hand away and stepped back. “I know nothing of any rebellion,” she said.

The sergeant moved to follow her, only to stop as a sudden, deep bark sounded out from the door of the inn. The dog stood there, hackles raised and teeth bared, staring down at the soldiers with a ferocity in his eyes too intelligent to be only animal.

“A skin-changer,” hissed the sergeant, and he cursed. “Kill him!”

The five soldiers following him jumped forward, their blades out, bearing down on the single, shaggy creature. The dog barked again, then a third time, and he snarled and growled. He charged between the legs of the nearest man just as one of the swords flashed down towards him. He bounded back and forth, always keeping just inches away from death. He broke from the gang surrounding him and charged at the sergeant, gathering himself and leaping and bearing the man to the ground before snapping at the man’s neck with his teeth and bolting back down the path and vanishing down the road.

Three of the soldiers gave chase. Two stopped to help their fallen leader, taking him inside the inn and demanding that Revi render aid. She did so, enough to stop the bleeding and keep him alive until a more skilled healer could see to his needs. They took him away before the end of the day, commandeering a cart from a nearby farm so that they could take him back to Kedon more easily.

Revi never saw him again She never saw Eriat or the big dog again either, but months later a nameless traveler heading north spent the night at the inn and handed a folded letter to the innkeeper without more than a word or two of explanation. She read it later and exchanged a word or two with Bram the next night, and though neither one spoke of it after that, they would share a smile from time to time. Revi changed the name of the inn as well, though she never gave an explanation. Those who had frequented the inn during that winter, though, could guess why the sign that hung above the door was repainted with the image of a shaggy grey canine.