So, I got interviewed: Of Podcasts and Podpeople.

UPDATE:
PEOPLE! Anthology editor Tony Healey has given the word, and the word is TODAY!!! Speculative fiction anthology EDGE OF OBLIVION is live at Amazon, which means you can buy it! And read it! And review it!

So go do that. NOW. Or I’ll send my Black-Ops-ian team of evil elves to tattoo “I’m a nerd” on your forehead.

BUY IT NOW.

*grins at you maniacally*

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read this:

Hile, beloved inklings! I hope you’re all staying warm and cozy out there to whatever extent warmth and coziness are possible and comfortable for you. (I assume you’re all the out-there type of people, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this. And some of you likely prefer cold over warmth, which is just WEIRD. Buncha supermurgatroid alien podpeople. Sheesh.)

Anyway. If you’ve been paying attention — which I know you have, because that’s just the sort of dear, attentive lovelies you are — you know that what little writing time I’ve had lately, I’ve devoted mostly to writing and posting short stories. This means that there’s been a dearth of non-story posts around here. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unless you guys don’t WANT free short stories to read. Which would be REALLY WEIRD and also somewhat DISASTROUS in blog-traffic terms.

But then, since I still haven’t been able to get Google Analytics to work with my blog, I have no idea what sort of traffic I’m getting or not getting, so that point is pretty much moo*.

Edge of Oblivion cover art by Bruce Pennington and Keri Knutson

Edge of Oblivion cover art by Bruce Pennington and Keri Knutson

ANYWAY. One of the things that’s been going on outside of short-story-penmonkeying is that I’ve been getting ready for the upcoming publication of my short story “The Mercy and the Schadenfreude of the Soulless” in Tony Healey’s anthology EDGE OF OBLIVION (EoO). See the pretty, pretty cover art?!

“The Mercy and the Schadenfreude of the Soulless” is, as I’ve mentioned before, a Grace & Jack story. If you follow that link, you’ll find a plethora of info on those two crazy lovebirds.

But there’s more info coming up! One of my fellow EoO authors, David Hulegaard, is doing a series of podcast interviews with the rest of us. David asked me to come on the show, and in spite of my nerves regarding public speaking, I said yes.

Of course, there was nothing for me to worry about. David put me completely at ease with his excellent writerly questions and his engaging interview style. We had a blast, and I’m hopeful that this won’t be my last Hulegaard Books Podcast. It was that much fun. : ) He sent me a preview — or is it a prelisten? — and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out. David made me sound like I know exactly what I’m doing. BANGERANG.

So far, besides me, David has interviewed anthology editor Tony Healey and authors Brendan Swogger and William Vitka. Those interviews are excellent, and I highly recommend you go check them out here (Tony) and here (Brendan and Vitka).

The anthology itself, EDGE OF OBLIVION, officially launches this coming Monday, February 3rd. (EGAD, it’s almost February. WHAT?!) I’ll be posting more then! In the meantime, get your appetites in gear for hearing me talk about: Grace & Jack, how one juggles motherhood and writing life, and how writing short stories is like foreplay.

(Yeah, I really said that. And I let someone record me saying it. Oy vey.)

If you don’t hear from me sooner, have a great weekend!

________________________

*”It’s like a cow’s opinion. It just doesn’t matter. It’s moo.” –Joey Tribbiani

________________________

Did you go buy the anthology?

EDGE OF OBLIVION in US Amazon store.
EDGE OF OBLIVION in UK Amazon store.

*continues grinning maniacally*

#Free Short Story: A Grimm’s Fairy Tale + #Cyberpunk

So. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been doing Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenges of late. This week, Wendig decreed we should take a classic fairy tale and remix it with a random genre from his list.

I chose Grimms’ fairy tale “Brüderchen und Schwesterchen” — “Little Brother and Little Sister” — because it was one of my favorites when I was a kid. The whole girl-gets-boiled-alive-in-bath was just deliciously horrible and creepy. (Seriously — what was wrong with those guys?!) The bath part didn’t make it into my remix, but it did inspire the element of weird.

A random number generator gave me the genre cyberpunk.

I’ve never written cyberpunk before. So be gentle and all that. ; )

Without further ado or adon’t….

BRÜDERCHEN UND SCHWESTERCHEN;

or: LI’L SYSBRO ON THE HUNT

by Courtney Cantrell

She stalked through bright green interspersed with patches of wet, grimy darkness. Her clicking oculars acquired the target at the center of the neon-lit Circle. She held supremacy, but she would relinquish control to him soon enough. She’d promised him the kill.

High above her antlers, the massive, lurid purple umbrella blocked acid rain. Later, she would abandon this protection, twisting metal limbs and flattening fleshy parts to squirm into the darkness, the only hiding place left. Spattering raindrops would pit her mech, burn her skin.

Of course, she wouldn’t feel the pain; he would. Control would remain his throughout their escape. He would shield her from the agony. He always did.

“Dude! Nice mech!”

Leaving one ocular trained on her prey, she turned the other upon the intruder. Long-limbed and striped, it possessed a tail of interlocking steel plates. Its face was still mostly flesh, except for the prehensile whiskers and the grin revealing pointy, silvery teeth. It looked her up and down as though wondering where to bite first.

A mechimal, like her. Presumably a volunteer.

Unlike her.

“What’s your skin?” it asked.

“Deer,” she replied.

“Transcendent.” Its voice sounded male. “Never even heard of that. Mine’s cat.”

She nodded, then turned her second ocular back toward the Circle’s center. There, onstage, the false Queen waved at the crowd. They undulated at her feet, writhing in rhythm with the music. It slammed out of hundreds of floating hoverspeaks. Their projections of the Queen’s single, yellow eye made them seem like fireflies.

Dead insects from a dead era. Just like the deer. Soft, pretty creatures had no place here anymore.

“You a big fan?”

Catboy again. Her proximity sensors tingled as he sidled up on all fours. “Ever since the Queen stole my life,” she said.

“Man, she does that.” Catboy slid a foreleg closer, touched a paw to her front hoof. “I thought I had a life, ’til I heard her music.”

“It isn’t hers.”

The false Queen danced, and the crowd groaned with pleasure. Triumph was at hand.

Catboy poked a part of her that was still flesh and female. “What’s your name?”

“Sysbro. Look, you should go.”

“Yeah, let’s get in there! I wanna see her eye up close.”

“No, you don’t. Her eye paralyzes you while she takes you and your brother and mechs you up into some thing that’s two people and an animal in one body. And then she takes your place, steals your life, casts you out into the darkness, all because the man she wanted fell in love with you instead. And you can but dream of your King’s palace with its pure, white light. You can but long for your child — your real, fully human child in this horrible, flesh-and-machine-fused place we call a world. You can yearn and ache and it doesn’t matter, because the Queen’s Eye captured you, and she changed you forever, and you can’t ever be a real person ever again.”

Neon green and purple washed over Catboy’s face as he stared with dilated, oval pupils. He gave Sysbro a vapid smile. “That’s like poetry, baby. From the Queen’s new album?”

Sysbro smashed a metal hoof through the center of his chest. Short-circuiting, he dropped at her hindfeet. He’d repair in a few minutes. He didn’t even bleed.

Onstage, the Queen addressed her adoring subjects. It was time. Sysbro lunged, pushing her way through the crowd. Some of them were mechimals, some still mostly flesh. All came in reds, blues, golds, silvers, lavenders of manipulated genes. Sysbro’s hooves shoved them aside. When she reached the edge of the stage, her face wore a mask of reverence.

Except for the one yellow eye in the center of her forehead, the false Queen still looked human. Her hair was black. Her skin was a pale bronze the color of Sysbro’s deerplates. In robes of white befitting one who lived with the King, the Queen raised her hands in blessing. Her laughter tinkled out over her worshipers from a thousand hoverspeaks.

Sysbro retreated, and her brother ascended.

Brosys moved fast. One moment, he knelt with the others at the foot of the stage. The next, he leapt high, plunged, and slammed both front hooves into the Queen’s midsection. She hit the stage, two gaping wounds in her soft belly. Crimson spilled down billowy white fabric. Brosys straddled her and dug his knees into her guts.

“Remember, Your Majesty?” He felt the clammy skin of her cheek against his metal muzzle. “I warned you that I’d come for you. My sister is the mind that plots and the heart that feels, but I am the hand that strikes. I am fulfillment of promise. I am vengeance made flesh.”

The crowd screamed. The Queen put on such a transcendent show. Concerned frowns were few. Brosys’s ocular implants heated up as he glared into the Queen’s eye.

She laughed.

“You do her dirty work, Little Brother.” The Queen gasped another gurgling chuckle. “She’s weak. She was always weak. You hear, Little Sister? How will you nurse that mewling infant the way you want to? You don’t even have breasts anymore.”

Brosys lashed out with a hoof, aiming for the yellow eye. But at the last instant, his foreleg halted.

“I heard you,” said Sysbro.

The Queen’s upper lip curled. “You won’t let him kill me.”

Brosys frowned. “Sister?”

“Wait,” she said.

The Queen shook her head. “Dual-core freak.”

Sysbro retracted the oculars and looked upon the Queen with her real eyes. The vision was less clear but more honest. And she could still see the woman’s fear-sweat.

“I know about the microchip,” she told the Queen. “Embedded in your chest. Every night that I’ve sneaked into the Palace to watch over my child, I’ve scanned you. I know the chip contains our reverse-engineering codes. I’ll nurse my baby with my own breasts. Not as Sysbro, but as a human mother. And the world will watch me.”

Realization, hatred, and terror widened the false Queen’s single, yellow eye. Sysbro pressed a hoof into that eye, crushing it, pressing slowly but hard until she penetrated the skull and ground the brainmeats within it into bloody, gray mush. A few slashes with her metal muzzle, and she held the microchip between her teeth.

“Let’s go home now,” said Brosys.

Sysbro agreed. They slipped through the now panicked crowd, into the shadows, and out into life.

THE END

Short Story: GEORGE AND THE BABYLONIAN FIELD TRIP

This story is my entry into Chuck Wendig’s latest flashfic challenge. Thanks to the rolls of the dice, I got the following elements from which to craft my tale:

Protagonst: Dirty cop ghost

Location: the Underworld

Uh-Oh: something precious, stolen

Once again, I’ve gone beyond the wordcount limit (2850 instead of 2000), but I couldn’t help it. I edited and schmedited, and this is as far as I got. But I like it. Hope you do, too. : ) As always, feedback is welcome!

*drumroll* *ahem* Ladies and gentlehobbits, I give you…

GEORGE AND THE BABYLONIAN FIELD TRIP

by Courtney Cantrell

 

“Name?”

“George Wilkerson.”

“Your business?”

“I…uh…I need to see Errie.”

“What? Speak up!”

“I need to see Errie.”

See Errie?”

“That’s right.”

“Nobody sees Errie. Errie isn’t seen. Just where do you think you are, anyway?”

“I think I’m in hell.”

“It’s called ‘Ir-Kalla,’ but close enough. Move along, you’re holding up the line.”

“Listen, I have to see her.”

“Look, dearie, I understand. You’re dead, and you’ve got unfinished business. You think Errie will render you aid. Well, she won’t. She can’t take the time for every human who bleats at her.”

“It’s–”

“–important. Please. You’re not the first to waltz up to my gate asking for favors. Do I look like a bank? Shoo! Get out of here! Silly dead humans. Next! State your business!”

* * *

“George! Hey! How’d it go?”

“Bad. She wouldn’t listen. Didn’t even let me get to the memory stuff.”

“She’s just the Gate Seven shedu. She doesn’t mean anything, she’s just doin’ her job.”

“What, so now you’re defending them?”

“No, I’m just sayin’ you’re new here. You dunno how things work yet.”

“I just…I need it back, Mel. It’s all I had left, and they took it from me.”

“It’s what they do, hon. One gate at a time ’til you get here: your stuff, your clothes, your — well, you know about that, or we wouldn’t be talkin’ about this.”

“Thing is, I can almost see it, you know? It was my last morning before the shooting. He was at the breakfast table. He smiled–”

“Man, you’re killin’ me here, and that’s hard to do to a dead girl. Don’t dwell on it, you’ll just make it worse.”

“Look, Mel. You told me to see the shedu. She’s obviously a dead end. You got any other leads? Anybody else I can pump for info?”

“Listen to you. ‘Leads.’ ‘Pump somebody for info.’ You ain’t a cop anymore, Georgie. This ain’t the beat, and you ain’t gonna toss nobody in the slammer, capiche? That ship’s sailed. That ticket’s punched. That horse is dead–”

“Can it, Mel! Do you know anybody else I can talk to or not?”

“Hmph. Not with that attitude, I don’t.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just really stressed out and freaked out. I mean, jeez, it’s like you said, I just got dead, right? I need help, and you told me Errie’s it. I believe you. I trust you, Mel. Shouldn’t that count for something?”

“You kinda know how to sweet-talk a girl, don’t you, Georgie.”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

“Maybe a little. Just don’t try the old yawn-stretch-arm-over-shoulder trick, okay? You’ll make my skin fall off. Now come on. I happen to have connections at Gate Four. We’ll just blend in with the afternoon rush. The shedu won’t know the difference. Today, Georgie, today!”

* * *

“What in God’s name is that smell?”

“Which one?”

“The rotten-eggs-mixed-with-dog-poop one.”

“No, Georgie. Which god?”

“Huh?”

“You’re in Ir-Kalla, honey. You go invokin’ gods around here, you gotta specify if you wanna get anybody’s attention.”

“Oh. Umm–”

“Sewage.”

“What?”

“The smell you were askin’ about. It’s sewage. But you can call it rotten dog poop eggs if you wanna.”

“This is the afterlife. Why the hell is there sewage?”

“This ain’t the afterlife, it’s the underworld. There’s a difference, ’kay? And there’s sewage because everybody’s rottin’. All the gross has to go somewhere, right? They can’t just leave dead skin and globs of meat lyin’ around, or there’d be piles of it everywhere. They put in the sewers right around 5000 B.C. Cleaned this place up good, or so I hear. The water carries the rotten flesh away to some alternate dimension.”

“You’re giving me a headache.”

“You asked, sweet’eart.”

“And I’m not rotting.”

“Sure you are. You just ain’t noticed yet.”

“Hey, whoa! What is that?”

“Georgie dahlin’, welcome to Ir-Kalla’s Gate Six.”

“Wait, you said I came through here, right? I don’t remember it looking like this.”

“You came at it from the other side the first time. You were on your way down, remember?”

“It looks like a pretzel…made out of giant black barb-wire.”

“Ha! That’s not Gate Six. That’s Gate Six’s shedu.”

“Oh. Oh, shit.”

That’s the gate. Now shaddap and lemme do the talkin’. Hey, Asag! How goes it?”

***PURSA***

“Good ol’ Asag, always gets right to the point. Dude, we’ve decided you should just let us on by like a good shedu and forget you ever saw us. ’Kay?”

***PURSA***

“Mel! What’s it saying?”

“He’s saying decide. He’s kinda slow. Asag, listen to me! Just roll your barbed self to the side just a little bit and we’ll squeeze on past. Capiche?”

***PURSA***

“Jeez, today of all days he gets into the firewater and shorts out the few brain circuits he’s got left.”

“What do we do?”

“Well, Georgie, we got a drunken Assyrian gate-warden demon on our hands, so we got two choices: turn around or make a break for it.”

“Then we definitely have to make a br–”

***MINU***

“Okay, what did it say this time?”

“He asked, ‘What?’ I think he’s getting suspicious. It’s now or never, hon.”

“Okay then, now!”

***MAR KALBUM***

“Run, Georgie!”

“Mel! It’s coming right for us!”

“Keep running! Don’t look back!”

***QATALU***

“There’s something wrong with my leg!”

“I told you, you’re rottin’! Suck it up and hoof it, Georgie!”

“God, this hurts!”

“Which one?”

“Shut up, Mel!”

“Gotta keep you on your toes, babe. Hey, look! We lost him. He’s turning around!”

“Terrific. Can we stop? I need to catch my breath.”

“Sure thing. Gate Five’s comin’ up, though. Dude, check it out, you lost a toe.”

“Oh, peachy. So what, parts of me are just going to fall off? Like I’ve got leprosy or something?”

“Hey, toe or no toe, we got away clean, baby!”

“What was he yelling at us?”

“What, that last bit? He called you a son-of-a-dog, and then he yelled kill.”

Kill? But we’re already dead. How can he kill us?”

“There are things worse than death, Georgie. C’mon. Let’s go.”

* * *

“And that, my dear George, was Gate Five.”

“Wow. That was…I’m still seeing spots. What’s that one called?”

“The Gate Five shedu? Fred.”

“Fred?”

“Yup.”

“That doesn’t sound very Assyrian. Or Babylonian.”

“Meh, some of ’em went modern back in the ’60s. Drugs and free love, y’know.”

“Mel…you know so much about this place…how long have you been here? What’re you doing here, anyway?”

“How long is long enough to know the ins and outs. The what is more story than you want right now. How ’bout you, Georgie? What got you tossed down here to rub shoulders with the hooligans?”

“Welll…I always thought I was a decent guy, mostly. Dedicated to my family, cared about my work. Everybody told me I was a good cop. ‘You’re a good cop, George. Straight shooter. Thanks for your service.’ That kind of stuff.”

“I’m hearin’ a big ol’ but in there somewhere.”

“I told you about my wife, right?”

“The Big C. I remember, hon. So sorry.”

“Yeah. Thanks. Well, after she died, there were bills. I couldn’t pay. A squirrelly guy comes to me when I’m off-duty and tells me there’s money. All I have to do is look the other way when we’re bagging evidence at a crime scene the next day. He gives me a downpayment. I check it out at home, and it’s enough cash to cover a fourth of the medical bills. So the next morning, we’re on the scene and it’s just like the guy described, so I look the other way. Only time I’ve ever done anything unethical as a cop.”

“What happened?”

“The case turned out to be a murder, and the perp walked because we didn’t have enough evidence.”

“Ouch. George. Man, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.”

“So what happened then?”

“I paid the bills a little extra at a time, I paid ’em off, I got shot in the line of duty, I died a hero, and here I am.”

“And this thing you’re lookin’ for now…?”

“It’s all I had left of my son, Mel. He doesn’t know what I did. As far as I can tell, he never will. He thinks his dad’s a hero. I’m enough of a coward that I’m fine with that. I know I screwed up, and I’d do the right thing if I had it to do over. Whatever punishment they have for me here, I can take it. All I want is that last piece of my kid. That wasn’t theirs to take, and I’m going to get it back.”

“Then let’s get it the hell back, babe.”

* * *

“Mel, I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Sure you can, hon. You got a quest, right? How you gonna find your treasure if you don’t face a little demon or two?”

“That…that’s not little. Or two. That’s big. And it looks like about…five dozen.”

“Oh, don’t worry about the Lilitu. They’re a sweetheart. Just confusing to talk to, that’s all.”

“Mel…all those mouths. And is she wearing lipstick?”

“She are wearing lipstick. You gotta keep your subjects and verbs out of agreement about the Lilitu. She’re mostly nice, but she’ll flatten you if she feel disrespected. Oh, and her shade’s Copperflip Orange Melon Starburst.”

“I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m at Victoria’s Secret.”

“Ooooooh, Georgie-Porgie’s gettin’ saucy! I like it!”

“Just do your thing, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Lilitu of Gate Four! How are she?”

>>greetings mel mel what are you doing doing here?

“Just passin’ through with my new friend. Say hi, George.”

“Um, hi, Lilitu. How…uh, how is they?”

“How are she, dimwit!”

“Sorry! I apologize, Lilitu. How are she?”

>>fine fine thank you mel your friend friend needs needs needs some manners.

“What can I say, babe? He’s new here, rough around the edges. Wet behind the ears. He didn’t even know your shade of lipstick.”

>>dumdbumb dumb dudumbmb.

“Don’t I know it. Now, hon, George here needs a favor. He needs to see Errie.”

>>so you shoshoww him erererrierierie.

“C’mon, you know it ain’t that simple.”

“Mel…why does…why do she talk all doubled up like that?”

“The mouths ain’t always synced. Hush!”

>>it hahass been a long long time mel. i neeneedd a home home. can he give me that?

“I bet he can. He’s pretty motivated.”

“A home? What is — are she talking about?”

“She want you to draw her a picture.”

“Huh?”

“A picture. She need a picture of a tree.”

>>a tree tree tree human man a tree can you you do that that that?

“Um…I guess so?”

“C’mon over here, Georgie. Look. This side of Gate Four’s nice and flat, great for drawing. A tree about five feet tall should do it. Lilitu can do the rest.”

>>yes yes tree tree tree drdrdrawawaw please please i’ll do the rest rest rest.

“Okay. What do I draw with?”

“Your blood. Gimme your hand.”

“OW! What the hell?!”

“Sorry, sweetie. Best to do it quick-like, y’know? Don’t worry, the cut won’t get infected or anything. You’re dead. And now you got ink to work with. Win!”

“You people are all a crazy bunch of psychopaths.”

“Now, Geor–”

“–and I’m gonna stand here at a damn gate in the middle of HELL and draw a tree in my own blood for a demon made of a bunch of woman-shaped parts and mouths. FINE. I’m drawing. I don’t even know how to draw, but I’m drawing. See? That’s my blood everywhere. Dripping. Sticky. Does that look like a tree to you? I can’t even draw stick figures.”

“It looks great, Georgie.”

>>a tree tree tree oh it is lovelovelyly i can live here and be at peace peace peace yes.

“Wait a sec, Lilitu. Aren’t y’all forgettin’ something?”

>>no no melmelmel i haven’t forgotten here come close to me close close close close closer close.

“Mel, wha–? I don’t think you should do that…. Um, her…their mouths are touching your…oh. That oughta be on HBO. Ladies, uh, aren’t there rooms around here for that? You really…wow. I really shouldn’t be watching thi — oh, that’s not right.”

* * *

“Thanks, Lilitu.”

>>thank you, mel. i shall enjoy my tree now.

“You do that, hon. Just do me a solid and don’t wander too far in tree form, okay? Last time it took me three years to clean up after those souls that got past your gate. Hey, Georgie, it’s over. You can look now.”

“Sorry, I just couldn’t — hey! Mel, you got awfully tall all of a sudden. And what’s with the armor?”

“This is what I really look like, Georgie. And you can call me Ereshkigal.”

“Ereshkigal…. Errie?!”

“The same, baby. Ohhh, does this feel good! The Mel form is fun, but rotting does get tiresome after a while.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I am Ereshkigal, the Great Lady Under Earth, Queen of the Netherworld, Goddess of Ir-Kalla, Ir-Kalla itself made spirit and flesh. ‘Errie’ for short, sometimes known as ‘Mel.’ I take care of this place.”

“But I’ve been looking for you! I…why didn’t you tell me who you were? Why did I have to go through all this? I lost a damn toe!”

“Listen, Georgie. This is Ir-Kalla. People come here to rot for eternity. It ain’t a nice place, but I do what I can. Down here, nobody gets what they want. Nobody gets anything back, and getting something back is all you’ve talked about since you plunked your ass down at Gate Seven. If I was gonna help you, I had to be sure of you. I ain’t gonna waste my time with some schmuck who thinks he’s hot snot on a gold platter, when he’s really cold boogers on a paper plate. I ain’t gonna lift one immortal finger for somebody thinks he’s entitled, capiche? I got nothin’ for souls who ain’t sorry.”

“I…I told you my story. Why I’m here. What I did–”

“–and that you knew you screwed up. That’s all I needed to know, honey. So we came on to Gate Four, you did the Lilitu a favor, and she broke the Mel-spell I put on myself. Win.”

“Does that mean–?

“It does mean. My decree for the Gate Seven shedu is that she strip a soul of its final best memory. For you, that’s your son at the breakfast table. He smiled at you….”

“He smiled at me…and then it goes dark. I know it was something wonderful, I know it was the best thing in the world, but I can’t remember!”

“Hold out your hand, George. The hand that I cut. I’m placing the memory into your blood, and it’ll become part of you. You’ll never lose it again, not while I rule Ir-Kalla.”

“It’s…it’s warm. Warming up my arm. My chest. I didn’t know I was so cold. The warmth is going up my neck…. Mel! I mean, Errie! I mean…I remember! Oh, god…goddess…whatever, I remember! We were at breakfast, talking about his mom, talking about the bills, and he looked up at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘Dad, I know what you did. I know about the bribe. I’m into computers, remember? I know you always do everything you can. You took the money so you could take care of us. It wasn’t right, we both know that. But I want you to know I forgive you. I forgive you. I love you, Dad. No matter what happens, you’ll always be a hero to me.’”

“That’s your memory, George. That’s your final best memory, and it shall sustain you.”

“He knew. He knew, and he forgave me. My boy, he knows about me, but he still loves me. My beautiful son!”

“Aw, Georgie, don’t cry. You’re gonna get me all choked up, and what’ll it look like if the Queen of the Underworld starts bawling like a kid?”

“Errie…thank you. I can’t repay you–”

“Don’t give it another thought.”

“What now?”

“Well, since I’m tall now, I can see what’s comin’, and what’s comin’ is Asag, my sweet little barb-wire shedu from Gate Six. Since he’s a little slow today, I’m thinkin’ he’s not in the mood to recognize my authority. So why don’t you and I make like a couple of trees–”

“–and get out of here?”

“Dahling, I thought you’d never ask.”

THE END

There’s nothing like a year-end post in the middle of January. Also: books I read in 2013.

So that’s why I’m doing my end-of-2013 post now. In the middle of January. Because there’s nothing like it. NOTHING. And you can’t convince me otherwise. So don’t even try.

Sorry. I’m having a health-crappy 2014 so far, and it’s making me combative. When I have the energy to get combative, anyway. Which isn’t often, so yay! But boo, this seems to be one of those times. I’m sure you can handle it, though, you thick-skinned things, you.

Anyway, my end-of-2013 post concerns mostly the books I read in 2013 and why there were so few of them. So here ya go:

Books I Read in 2013 — With Little *s to Mark the Ones I Enjoyed Most

1. The Cloud Roads (Books of the Raksura, #1) by Martha Wells*

2. Scalzi Super Bundle from Subterranean Press, by John Scalzi (The God Engines, The Tale of the Wicked, The Sagan Diary, How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story, Questions for a Soldier, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop)*

3. Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Nee

4. Revolutionary Parenting by George Barna*

5. The Vampire from Hell (Part 1) — The Beginning by Ally Thomas

6. The Girl from Tenerife by Bernard Schaffer*

7. Carnival of Cryptids: An Anthology of Strange and Mysterious Creatures edited by Laurie Laliberte and Bernard Schaffer

8. Passion, Power & Sin — Book 1 by Mike Wells

9. The Final Winter by Iain Robb Wright

10. The Walking Dead, Vol. 13: Too Far Gone by Robert Kirkman

11. The Walking Dead, Vol. 14: No Way Out by Robert Kirkman*

12. The Walking Dead, Vol. 15: We Find Ourselves by Robert Kirkman

13. Tiny Dragons 1: The Sky Dragons by Bernard Schaffer

14. Ava Delaney #1: Thirst by Claire Farrell*

Just because I didn’t give something a * doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. But the *ed ones were extra fun for various reasons that include well-flowing style, good characterization, attention-grabbing (and -keeping) characters, and excellent world-building.

So, those were my reads for 2013.

Why There Were So Few of Them

Exhaustion. Busyness. The occasional touch of depression. Exhaustion. The “need” to numb my brain via someone-is-wrong-on-the-internet type of internet stuff (which “need” is a surefire symptom of burgeoning depression in Yours Writerly). Exhaustion. Busyness. And did I mention exhaustion?

I have a now-16-month-old. This should explain most of my 2013.

I’m not blaming her, and I don’t resent her for my lack of focus on readerly and writerly pursuits. In this season of my life, I have to make sacrifices. I know, I know, I shouldn’t sacrifice what makes me me, because if I don’t take time to recharge, I won’t be the kind of mother she needs me to be. I get that.

And I live by it as much as I can. But when the baby only naps for 45 minutes in an entire day (this happens frequently), one arrives at the end of the day with two choices: read or sleep. And in order to retain one’s sanity, one chooses sleep. This, as far as I can tell, is an Immutable Law of Nature, the breaking of which results in black holes in my brain.

Plus, I’ve also been having some bad neurocardiogenic syncope symptoms. They’ve been quite troubling lately, and I’ll blog more on them in the near future. But I suspect they’ve been bothering me a lot longer than I originally thought, and that this is part of the reason for The Great Exhaustion of 2013. But, as I said, more on that in a future post.

2013. Tired. Not enough books read. Certainly nothing near my 2012 total of 55, or even my “dismal” 2011 total of 42. Hey, at least in 2011 I had life, the universe, and everything going for me. That’s saying something.

But enough rambling. I’m already off to a good start in 2014. January isn’t over yet, and I’ve already finished five books and have started on my sixth. That’s nearly half of 2013’s total in the first month of 2014. Statistically speaking, I’m on a rockin’ roll.

Let’s see what the rest of the year brings.

Three-sentence romance story: TRIANGLE

Lo and behold, I’ve actually written a three-sentence story that isn’t horror. I told you I would! : )
 

TRIANGLE

by Courtney Cantrell

I begged her to tell George about me, but she refused.

When I left to tell George myself, she laughed and said that women like her never sleep alone.

George and I meet for coffee every Monday, but her bed is still empty.

 

–inspired by Nickel Creek’s “Helena”

For more three-sentence fiction, click here.

Obligatory First Post of the Year: Pookiebottoms Sweetmunch

“…[Y]ou have to walk through time. A clock isn’t time, it’s just numbers and springs, pay it no mind, just walk right on through!”

–The Skull
“The Last Unicorn” (film)

Happy New Year to you, my most dashing and darlingest inklings! I hope your 2014 is off to a safe and pleasant start.

As ever, I am mindful that the calender is naught but a human construct for making our lives more convenient (or less so, as it were), so in reality there’s little difference between calling today “January 1st” or calling today “Pookiebottoms Sweetmunch.” All this talk about “new year’s resolutions” and “let’s make this the best year yet!” doesn’t make much sense when you consider that there’s as much difference between December 31st and January 1st as there is between April 3rd and April 4th.

But.

There’s also this whole collective subconsciousness concept, this idea that when the majority of us humans are celebrating the new and the fresh and the forward-looking, it’s not a bad thing to get caught up in what it all really boils down to, and that is: hope.

This is a hopeful time of year, a time of new beginnings, and I would consider myself particularly jaded if I went around believing and telling everyone that their hope-filled joy is nothing but a chemical response in their brains to the continuance of a human construct. If I believed that and tried to shove it down people’s throats, I might as well stake out my spot on the porch and start yelling at everybody to get off my lawn.

So. HAPPY NEW YEAR, PEOPLE. And yes, let’s make it a good one…and a better one than last year.

Let’s make changes that are beneficial to us and to those around us.
Let’s practice kindness, compassion, and empathy.
Let’s dream big, go out, do things, and make lots of somethings.
Let’s say no to bigotry, no to oppression, and no to hate.
Let’s say no to security and yes to vulnerability.
Let’s give without expecting anything.
Let’s help people when it doesn’t make any sense to help them.
Let’s love people when it doesn’t make any sense to love them.
Let’s read things that disagree with our worldview.
Let’s make friends with people who disagree with our worldview.
Let’s watch less TV and play fewer video games.
Let’s spend more time outside and more time in face-to-face conversation.
Let’s open the windows and let the air in.
Let’s drink more water.
Let’s smile and laugh more.
Let’s say no when we mean no and yes when we mean yes.
Let’s tell the truth kindly but firmly.
Let’s be honest with ourselves.
Let’s face reality.
Let’s give ourselves a break.
Let’s enjoy the ice cream without thinking about the scale.
Let’s take that vacation.
Let’s write that book.
Let’s write that email.
Let’s write that letter.
Let’s speak those words.
Let’s paint that picture.
Let’s jump out of that plane (with a functioning parachute).
Let’s play more.
Let’s quit that job.
Let’s stop waiting.
Let’s forgive.
Let’s step out boldly.
Let’s dance.
Let’s sing in inappropriate places.
Let’s take the stairs.
Let’s revel in the sunshine.
Let’s revel in each other.

Let’s live.

Happy Pookiebottoms Sweetmunch. : )