New fantasy short story “Rethana’s Tower” is live!

Please do click through!
Buy!
Read!
Review!

: )

RethansTower_CVR_SML

“Rethana’s Tower” is only $0.99 on Kindle. Or, you can check it out for free through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. If you don’t know what that is or how it works, there’s info for you on my sales page.

If you want to know more about the story than just what you can read on the sales page, please read more here.
 

And then click through!
Buy!
Read!
Review!

SUPERMURGATROID!

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ANNOUNCING: DRUGS. And fantasy short story “Rethana’s Tower” COVER ART!!!

Hello and Drugs

Hidey ho, neighborinos!

I am currently in the throes of severe lower back spasms resulting from trying to load my 30-lbs. toddler into her car seat last week. This is not an unusual attempt; generally, I’m used to doing it multiple every day. However, it seems that this one time I was not careful enough. Therefore, I am now under the influence of multiple prescription drugs and waiting for my doctor to call and tell me what she sees on my X-rays. BOOM.

So. Remember the drugs I mentioned? Yeah, I’m taking no responsibility for the content of this post. If you get attacked by invisible zombie spiders and killer watermelon clowns, it’s not my fault.

Umm…why am I here?

Oh yeah. Writing. Publishing. READ MY WORK AND TREMBLE O MORTAL. Also, give me your money.

Cover & Copy, Not To Be Confused with Duck & Cover (*quack*)

But you don’t have to shell out quite yet! First, take a gander at this cramazingness:

RethansTower_CVR_SML

Ha, ha, I said “gander.” *snort*

*ahem* That up there, my friends, is the cover art for my fantasy short story “Rethana’s Tower.” The art and design are by the wonderfully talented and wonderful-to-work-with Steven Novak. I couldn’t be more pleased. And, thanks to my friend Josh Unruh, I’ve got some spiffy copy to go with it:

Before the rumors of war and conscription by vengeful clerics destroyed her idyllic life in Rethana’s Surrender, Rethana Chosardal lived comfortably as a bellringer’s daughter. With dark times far behind her family and the darker times of future unknown to her, Rethana plays with the magical powers that are her birthright.

And like any willful girl with more power than sense, she gets up to mischief.

A nighttime intruder to her bell tower, intent on mischief of his own, has Rethana more than confident she can stop him. Not just stop him, but humiliate him. Like any proper mischief, though, it won’t be easy. After all, dodging her crotchety great-grandmother and nearly falling to her death aren’t exactly her idea of fun.

But without this one night of magical pranks, the events of Rethana’s Surrender and Rethana’s Trial might never have happened. Read the light-hearted tale that started it all during one moonlit, roguish climb up “Rethana’s Tower.”

My target date for publishing this baby is June 30th. I’ve never had to set myself my own publishing date before (remember that the last time I did this, I was still working with an indie publishing company), so I’m a wee bit skittish about this. But also excited! And bounce-off-the-walls-y! And high on meds! WHEEEEEEEE!

Climbing Rethana’s Tower

Erm…so, about this short story. If you go here, you’ll find out all about how Rethana’s universe (aka Legends of the Light-Walkers) came into existence. And if you visit that page and scroll down to “And What’s the Big Idea?” (I wanted to make that a page jump, but I’m too drugged-up to figure out how), you’ll find out how my short story “Rethana’s Tower” got its start.

So click the link and go read about that. Go on. I’ll wait. But you have to promise to come back.

There. Are you back?

Good.

Okay, so, in case you didn’t go read, here’s the short version: Rethana’s story started when I visited St. Annenkirche, a Lutheran church building in Annaberg-Buchholz, Germany. I climbed the belltower, heard the ginormous bell Anna, saw visions, and decided to write a novel (which later became Rethana’s Trial and Rethana’s Surrender).

“Rethana’s Tower” used to be the prologue to that novel. Then, I entered the fabulous, no-holds-barred School of Cutting the Prologue. I cheated and made it Chapter 1. Then, my trusty beta readers told me that it didn’t really fit with the rest of the story, and Chapter 2 would actually make a better Chapter 1.

“Are you hip to the jive? Can you dig what I’m layin’ down? I knew that you could. Slide me some skin, soul brother!”

Points to you if that made sense.

Thus, through many tears, I sliced off the original beginning of Rethana’s story and tucked it away for a better, brighter day.

Folks, that better, brighter day is almost HERE.

Former prologue, former Chapter 1, now full-fledged short story in its own right, “Rethana’s Tower” shall soon be available for your reading pleasure. I’ll let you know the moment you can get your grubby, ink-stained reader-paws on it.

In the meantime, do watch out for the watermelon clowns. They’re tricksy, and they don’t brush their teeth.

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It’s not my fault, it’s just how my neurons are.

Excerpt from today’s chat with Josh:

me: Hey. We can dance if we want to.

Josh: And now I’m watching Scrubs in my head.

me: Okay, this is gonna drive me nuts. Who sings that song? Men At Work or Men Without Hats?

Josh: Hats.
But I had to look.
Because WHO CARES COURTNEY?!
😉

me: MY BRAIN DOES OKAY?!?
It’s not my fault. It’s my neurons.

me: Are olives a fruit?

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Writers’ Blog Hop: 4 Writerly Questions (also Dr. Seuss)

Hidey-ho, beloved inklings!

Did you miss me?

Don’t answer that. ; )

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been rather absent from my blog for the last two months. This is due to three things. Attend, my dears, and I shall tell you them.

Thing One

When I have a spare moment for writing, I devote that moment to (working title:) The Writing of Legends of the Light-Walkers 3, The First Draft: The Draftening. That is not the working title. I just made that up.

More on this later.

Thing Two

Last week, my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage. This is mind-blowing and cramazing and I love them for it. I feel that in this world of hook-ups and hang-ups and h-something-something-alliteration, people like my parents are a ray of hope to those of us who haven’t gotten to the big FIVE-OH (or even the big TWO-OH) yet. Plus, they’ve gone through a lot to make it this far, so all the hats (and possibly other various accoutrements) are off to them.

50years

To show my love and appreciation, I threw them a party (and this is the Thing Two that took up potential blogging time). Cousins and aunts helped, and without these cousins and aunts, I couldn’t have accomplished half of the party prep and the party itself wouldn’t have been half as nice. I spent much of the prep time — and some of the party itself — overwhelmed with gratitude at the loveliness of all of these women who came together to help honor my parents. It was truly a blessing.

With Apologies to Dr. Seuss: Thing Three

I’d thought several times about surfacing from novel-writing and party-planning just long enough to pop in here and say hi. But then Judy Dunn, fellow writer and blogger, contacted me and asked me to join in on a Writers’ Blog Hop. I agreed and then decided to make the blog hop post my “hey how’s it goin’, y’all.”

Hey! How’s it goin’, y’all?

If I’m not mistaken, that brings us full circle. So, woot and cetera.

Writers’ Blog Hop: 4 Writerly Questions

In Judy’s own blog hop post, she answered four writing questions that the previous blogger? hopper? (hoppah!) had asked her. So I get to answer those same questions (AND PASS THEM ON TO THE AB-FAB WRITER ANNOUNCED AT THE END OF THIS POST SO CHECK HIM OUT DO IT DO IT DO IT OR I’LL SEND ELVES TO TATTOO “I’M A NERD” ON YOUR FOREHEAD DON’T TEST ME).

*ahem*

Without further ado or adon’t, here are Les Quatres (4) Questions Writerliques:

1. What am I working on right now?

My current project is the third novel in my Legends of the Light-Walkers series. (The first two are here.) Everything you need to know about LLW3, you can find here. For blog-hopping (blopping?) purposes, I’ll just say that this is probably the biggest writing project I’ve ever taken on, it eats my lunch when I take my eyes off it for the splittest of seconds, and I love every ridiculous minute of it.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

LLW3 is different in that it is the pseudo-urban fantasy prequel to epic fantasies LL1 and LL2. Yes, I’m sorta switching genres mid-series. Except not really. The whole LLW series is meant to be epic fantasy. That’s always been THE BIG IDEA. But for certain things to happen in LLW1 and LLW2, the story of LLW3 has to be told.

The story of LLW3 is the story of Rafe Skelleran — who just happens to have been born in Oklahoma City, OK. That’s not exactly an epic fantasy setting. So when we meet Rafe, he’s still not-so-happily ensconced in his downtown OKC apartment. He crosses over into my epic fantasy world (readers will know this as Rethana’s universe) in…um…a chapter that’s now Chapter 3, I think. But he starts out here. So that’s sorta where the urban part comes in.

Bear with me, y’all. It’ll all come out in the wash, I promise.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because I gotta.

Next question?

; ) Just kidding. But no, really. These stories are in my head, and if I don’t write them, I get surly and depressed and start oil-painting deepsea anglerfish mermaids (READ: fishtailed girls with ginormous jaws and spiky teeth) and lots of things in black. And then I get accused of demon-possession and nobody has any fun anymore. So I write my stories to make things better for ALL of us. You should thank me.

Really though, do come see the anglerfish mermaid sometime. She’s a cutie.

4. How does my writing process work?

Well, there’s coffee.

Next question?

Yeah, yeah. ; )

I used to be mostly a “pantser”: Flying by the seat of my pants, I dived into Telling The Story with little to no preparation, and it was magnificent and brilliant and exciting until I stalled out and dropped like a stone at around 10,000 words. KABLOOEY.

Nowadays, I still pants it a leeeeetle, but only after I do a lot of prep work. Great Scott, I know that sounds like a major paradox. Here’s how it works:

  • I write out a short synopsis — just the basics of what I think will happen. This is MC. This is what MC wants. MC does this. This is Antagonist. This is Antagonist’s goal (in opposition to what MC wants). Antagonist does this. And so forth.
  • I write out a Mock Table of Contents, and I let myself be ridiculous with it even if the story isn’t primarily comedy. For instance:

1. “Also, I Can Kill You with My Brain”
2. Down the Rabbit Hole; Dude, Your Ward Is Screwed Up
3. Take Me to Your Dream Weaver (a la REO Speedwagon)
4. Dude Is Janky, Let’s Kill Him
5. Girl’s Got Skillz (Or: Come Here So I Can Hit You with a Rock)
6. In Which the Spirit of Robert Frost Is Channeled. Word.
7. Sanctuary! Also, Get the Hell Outta My Head
8. Most Everyone’s Mad Here; Et Tu, Jael?
9. …

You get the picture. That, by the way, is the Mock ToC for the third Legends of the Light-Walkers novel. For keen observers, there might be a teensy-weensy spoiler or two in there. But for the most part, the Mock ToC means nothing to anyone but me. Each chapter title is just a note-to-self on what’s supposed to happen in that chapter. None of these will appear in the final draft.

  • I also do a character list, with 300-word descriptions for the protagonist and antagonist, and 100-word descriptions for at least two supporting characters. The other supporting chars just get a bullet point each. I’ll jot down notes on the big event (what catapults the MC into the story), the conflict, the obstacles, the climax, and the denouement. None of this has to be very long; it’s mainly just notes I’ll use for reference if I get stuck while writing the first draft.

I might do a long synopsis and also list what happens scene-by-scene in each chapter, but that depends on how tedious I’m finding the process at this point. I do write better when I’ve done some of this pre-writing, but if I start feeling bogged down with the pre-writing, I move on to the actual writing of the story. Boggy feelings don’t go well with creativity.

HINT: This is where I turn from a plotter back into a pantser. MIGHTY PANTSER-MORPHIN’ POWERS, ACTIVATE.

Oooooh, I know what this is called! This is plot-pantsing. PLONTSING. I AM A PLONTSER, Y’ALL. I think I just invented a term. Check me on this, people — but I bet you heard it here first. (If you didn’t, don’t you dare burst my bubble.)

In the actual writing-of-story process, I just write as fast as I can without (much) editing, so as to get the first draft out in “one” fell swoop. That fellness might take two years to swoop all the way, but if that’s as fast as I can go, then so be it.

After Draft 1 is done, I let it sit at least 6-8 weeks before looking at it again. I then read it all the way through without (much) editing. Then I release the Inner Editor in all her full and glorious wrath and edit and revise and rewrite until Draft 2 is finished. I wash, rinse, repeat until I have Draft 3. Nowadays, that’s likely as far as I’ll go before handing it over to an editor. (I’ll let beta readers take their shots starting with Draft 2). I think the most drafts I’ve ever had on one novel was six.

This is now WAY longer than I’d intended it to be, so I think I’ll go home now. : )

Please check out my fellow wordnerdssmiths in the Writers’ Blog Hop!

judyfinal Judy Lee Dunn writes to release her true stories in the hope that they will help her readers learn how to navigate life and live to tell about it. Her blog was named a Top 10 Blog for Writers in 2011. She has written everything from marketing and sales copy to grant proposals, children’s books, magazine articles and news stories. Judy has finally settled on her true passion, creative nonfiction. She was a contributing author for Seasons of Our Lives: Winter and is currently writing her first full-length memoir, Out Tonight. Judy lives on Anderson Island in south Puget sound with her husband Bob. In her spare time, she likes to read early 20th century novels and feed gourmet meals to stray cats.

 

 

tonyhealey Tony Healey is the best-selling author of the sci-fi series Far From Home. He was a contributor to the first Kindle All-Stars short story anthology, Resistance Front, along with award-winning authors Alan Dean Foster, Harlan Ellison and 30 others. In January 2014, he published the speculative fiction and horror anthology Edge of Oblivion, with all proceeds going to charity.
Tony’s post for the blog hop will be available for your reading pleasure on May 12th.

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In case you miss me, I #amwriting. (NEW PROJECT! Next Legends of the Light-Walkers!)

So, I log on to my blog today and find that it’s been over a month since I posted.

I blame Bernard Schaffer.

Long story VERY short, Bernard issued me a writing challenge, and I am doing my blurglemamjufloobelschnitzenest to face that challenge head-on and blast it into submission. I’ve got two major short stories in the works, both set in my Legends of the Light-Walkers universe. I’ve also AS OF TODAY started work on my NEXT LIGHT-WALKERS NOVEL, which might be of interest to you LLW fans out there.

More on that in a sec.

Elevator People

But significant to all of this LLW writing is this announcement I was tinkled every shade of pink and purple to make YESTERDAY:

PEOPLE! The first draft of my low sci-fi or soft sci-fi or whatever-you-call it novel ELEVATOR PEOPLE is finished! IT’S DONE!!! In celebration, I hereby grant all of you the rest of the day off! Two years, 4 months, 13 days, 97,314 words, and I am DONE! WOOT!

Y’all, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relieved to write THE END after the last line of a story. For all the various reasons I’ve blathered on about here before, this book was the hardest one I’ve ever finished. Probably the hardest one I’ve ever written. I harbor a sneaking suspicion that this means it’s either the best thing I’ve ever written…or the worst. Time and beta-reader feedback will tell. OH MABEL THE READER FEEDBACK ON THIS ONE. I might need to be institutionalized for the duration of beta-reader feedback.

That, however, is far in the future. For now, I can remain straightjacketless, as I shall let Elevator People sit and stew in its own juices for at least the net six weeks. Maybe eight weeks, I dunno. When I do return to it, I’ll read it straight through (doing as little editing as humanly possible), then tackle the editing and restructuring and rewriting. I’m actually looking forward to it, so it’s possible I’ll have to force myself to wait the entire six weeks. We shall see.

In the meantime, I get to leap fully nude into my next project, and I say fully nude because this one’s gonna be mucky and I really don’t wanna get it all over my clothes.

Legends of the Light-Walkers #3

This next project, my dears, is the COMPLETE REWRITE FROM THE GROUND UP OF MY LLW NOVEL FORMERLY ENTITLED LEGEND’S HEIR. Now entitled either Legends of the Light-Walkers: Legacy or This Novel Doesn’t Have a Title Yet or TNDHaTY.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m just gonna call it LEGACY for now.

Here’s the timeline of this novel:

1994 (age 17): began writing novel
1999: finished novel for Senior Seminar bachelor’s degree project in English/Creative Writing. And by “finished,” I mean, “completed first draft, gave it an editing once-over, and stuck it in a drawer for 13 years.”
2012: pulled novel out of drawer, measured

wordcount2

2012 (continued): said NO; butchered manuscript until usable parts drifted to the surface like choice meats in a vat of flesh-sludge; wrote new outline, new synopses, new character descrips, and story question
March 13, 2014: plunged nekkid into rewrite

So far, I’ve only gone through and sorted notes, trying to get a clear picture of what material I have to work with. That’s been a fun and illuminating trip down memory lane. I found a ton of stuff in the LEGACY notes that had nothing to do with the novel, such as German Bible verses, dates & times of doctor’s appointments, notes from my time as an Elfwood moderator, and lists of names that generally could suit a fantasy universe. Fun stuff, but not conducive to massive story rewrites.

rewriteAfter I finish perusing the notes and refamiliarizing myself with the story, I’ll start the actual writing. I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not I should dig up the old digital file and just cut, cut & paste, and reword within that file. But really, that would be me being INCREDIBLY UNFORGIVABLY LAISSEZ-FAIRE, and that’s not something a writer can afford to be (she said mournfully, longing for the days when she neither knew this nor cared to).

Instead, I’ll be typing it all out from scratch, following my outline and referencing the ancient, massive manuscript plunked on my table. Last night, I asked the husband where I should put it while I’m working with it, and his response was to offer me his entire desk. Either I have incredible support, or he’s more deeply sarcastic than I ever dreamed*.

So, there we are. If you miss my blogging, just know that I’m working on something that’s gonna be way more fun for you and me both. 😉

Heart-felt thanks to Bernard for giving me a healthy kick in the ass. And I mean that.

The Light-Walkers short stories “Rethana’s Tower” and “Untitled, so far,” as well as the novel Legends of the Light-Walkers: Legacy, will be published before December 31, 2014.

HERE WE GO. Oh, Mabel.

___________________
* Just kidding. He meant it. : )

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UPDATED: Why Amazon deleted all my ebooks

UPDATE: Rethana’s Surrender, Rethana’s Trial, Colors of Deception, Shadows after Midnight, and Stains of Grace are once again live at Amazon. And the reviews for R’S TRIAL and STAINS have transferred. HALLELUJAH! Hopefully, the other books’ reviews will transfer soon. (Draft2Digital has notified me that I shouldn’t be surprised if it takes a week or more for this to happen [if it happens at all {I remain dismally skeptical on this point }].) (I hope I got that punctuation right.)

(You should interpret my overuse of ( ) as an indication that I am keeping a stiff upper lip, old chap.)

To my dismay, D2D also corrected my misconception that ranking would transfer. Ranking will, in fact, NOT transfer. I guess it’s not such a big deal for me, since I’ve never ranked terribly high anyway…but it really sucks for a ton of other D2D authors who DID have a decent ranking. Great sympathies to them. This situation is so very frustrating for all of us.

~C.

Hile, lovelies,

Once upon a time, you might recall, I wrote a review of a great tool for writers called Draft2Digital. In brief, Draft2Digital (D2D) does all the work for me of uploading my books to the vendors Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, CreateSpace, and Barnes & Noble. I called D2D “the only thing you need to self-publish.”

Thanks to Amazon, I’m having to rethink that assessment.

I still believe 110% in the D2D model. It works fantastically, it saves me time, and it’s more author-friendly than its competitors (mainly because it was conceived of and executed by writers).

But for reasons* unknown to me, Amazon this week decided to remove all ebooks published through Draft2Digital. According to D2D, Amazon claims that D2D is…

“…in violation of [Amazon’s] terms.” Amazon gave D2D “…no opportunity to appeal or correct their complaints, and showed little concern for the impact that action has had on [D2D’s] users….”

–Draft2Digital,
January 31, 2014
February 4, 2014

Amazon’s course of action was to block D2D’s access to its account and to de-list all ebooks published through D2D. Notably, all notification I’ve received on this situation has come from the very apologetic Draft2Digital. I have yet to receive a single communication from Amazon.

Today is when the fit really hit the shan (thank you, Zelazny). One of my books, Rethana’s Trial, has disappeared from Amazon entirely, because I only ever had the ebook for sale. (I am remedying this by at least finally getting around to uploading the paperback file to CreateSpace.)

The rest of my novels — Rethana’s Surrender and all three Demons of Saltmarch books — are still available at Amazon in paperback, but the ebooks are gone. I’ve still got ebooks for sale at Kobo, iTunes, and Nook, but those sales are barely pocket change. Since ebooks at Amazon comprise most of my sales, you can imagine where this leaves me. (READ: high and dry.)

Oh, and the A Consortium of Worlds anthologies in which I have short stories — available only as ebooks — have disappeared just like Rethana’s Trial. So much for those.

I probably don’t have to tell you that I am beyond frustrated over this situation. Today I spent a total of 6 hours filling out tax info at Amazon, as well as filling out information on five different books and uploading book files and cover art.

I was involved in getting the Consortium of Worlds anthologies on Amazon, so I’ve at least worked with their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system before. But that was several years ago. And there’s a reason I went with Draft2Digital in the first place: SO I WOULDN’T HAVE TO TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN USER INTERFACES AND FILL OUT FIELDS AND UPLOAD FILES.

GAH.

I’m relearning/learning KDP in the middle of knowing that I’m losing sales as we speak. No, I’m not a best-seller, but I at least make enough on my novels to contribute to the grocery budget every month. And that happens to be money my family needs. Amazon is directly responsible for taking grocery money out of my pocket — READ: food out of my baby’s mouth — and oh honey you better believe that burns me up.

No, nobody’s gonna starve. But things are going to get a little tight around here if I can’t fix this fast.

However, since all five of my novels were indie-published (meaning I didn’t have to do all the uploading to D2D myself in the first place), I’m having to hunt down mobi files and cover art files and make sure I’m uploading everything exactly the way the original files were uploaded. Otherwise I lose my rank and all of reviews.

Oh yeah. There’s that, too. If I don’t do it all exactly right, the ranks and reviews of all my books won’t transfer to my new sales pages, and it’ll be like I’m starting my indie/self-pub career from scratch.

No, I don’t have a high ranking. No, I don’t have a lot of reviews. But I fought hard for what I do have, and to know that I might lose it all in one fell, Amazonic swoop is just utterly demoralizing.

I’m mad. I’m frustrated. I’m irritated. I’m discouraged. I want to sling profanities haphazardly.

Really, I just want to cry.

But I’m not going to cry. I’m going to do what I have to do to get my grubby hands on the mobi files and the jpg files and the rest of the info I need, and I’m going to get those ebooks back up on Amazon. And if the rankings and reviews don’t transfer, then so be it. I’ll start over. Because, yes indeed, friends and neighbors and assorted pets, I AM IN THIS FOR THE LONG HAUL, no matter how long it takes or how hard I have to work or how discouraging the road gets at times. This is a roadblock, and I’m going to flatten it.

Noli nothis permittere te terere.

I’m also going to watch this a few times because it’s FUNNY.

MAKE ME FRIES.

__________________

*I have my suspicions, but it’s probably good form to keep those to myself for now, considering that I have no shred of evidence that certain big-name companies have anything at all to do with this situation. 😛

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Dancing on the edge of oblivion: podcast and pubbed!

I got into a pod, and somebody cast it. Or something like that.

Hey cuties,

As I promised last week, Hulegaard Books’ interview with me is now live and awaiting your eager-to-listen ears! Again, I am indebted to David for the opportunity and for his mad interviewing skillz that kept me from feeling nervous and resulted in my sounding like I have an inkling of a conceptual hypothesis of what I’m doing. So listen, enjoy, give feedback, share the podcast with EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU KNOW, and so forth. It’s there for your ravenous consumption.

Suddenly, I feel a quote from Arrow‘s “Felicity Smoak” coming on.

felicity-smoak-arrow

 

“It feels really good having you inside me. And by you I mean your voice. And by inside me I mean my ear. I’m going to stop talking right now.”

 

 

So there’s that. Go listen.

EDGE OF OBLIVION Anthology and Its Proceeds

Here’s a quick recap of the Writerly Goings-On that I’ve got my bangerang switch flipped and my verge swung over:

WHAT: EDGE OF OBLIVION, a brand-spankin’-new speculative fiction anthology
WHO: Editor Tony Healey and a kaboodle of fabulous independent authors
WHERE: on Amazon
WHEN: NOW
HOW: with a click of your mouse and a small amount of cold, hard cash, baby
WHY: because you’ll be getting some great quality reading EN-TER-TAIN-A-MENT and, even better, the money you spend on this book will be donated to the The Cystic Fibrosis Trust; READ: you’ll be helping sick kiddos.

EDGE OF OBLIVION cover art by Bruce Pennington and Keri Knutson.

EDGE OF OBLIVION cover art by Bruce Pennington and Keri Knutson.

Just for fun, here’s a list of the authors and their stories:

  • The House On Lantern Lane by Bernard Schaffer
  • Still by Simon John Cox
  • The Tunnel by David K. Hulegaard
  • Dinner by Jeff Provine
  • Jingle, Jingle by Keri Knutson
  • The F*cker Out Of Space by Tony Healey
  • The Torch Singer by Nathan Yocum
  • Box 2013 by Brendan Swogger
  • Remotely Viewed by David Cederbaum
  • A Taste For Eyes by Jay Wilburn
  • How We Left The Desert by RJ Astruc
  • Bloodline by Kevin Duncan
  • Higher Order by James Wymore
  • The Last American Mortal by Michael Shean
  • The Mercy and the Schadenfreude of the Soulless by Courtney Cantrell
  • Angel Eyes by William Vitka

Read and hear more from the Edge of Oblivion authors:

BONUS:

Lots of excitement around this project, y’all. Jump in and join the fun! The water’s great!

#MANifeellikeawriter

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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*

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#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

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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

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