current events; also, stereoscopic vision really freaks me out sometimes

The second half of this entry’s title was a note I emailed to myself more than 3 years ago under subject “blog not tweet.” Actually, the email’s subject line reads, “blog not twwet,” but Ima chalk that up to typo-ing. As it turns out, there are twelve emails nested under that subject, so I’m sharing their content here. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Blog Not Twwet, Because Clearly I Can’t Spell

It is not a happy thing when the baby eats a dead bug. *SIGH*
(2016 Note: This, too, is a message catapulted into this future from about three years ago. The baby has since turned into a preschooler, apparently suffering no ill effects from having consumed dead insect carapace.)

HEY I JUST MET YOU, AND THIS IS CRAZY
BUT LET’S TELL RIDDLES AND I’LL EAT YOU MAYBE.
(2016 Note: I’m assuming this references Gollum.)

Your choices change the direction of other people’s lives. You are not isolated.

(This one’s emphasized because: important.)

Sometimes you just gotta take a few minutes and shave your legs.
(2016 Note: NO.)

Floor messing with head PIC
(2016 Note: I have no idea what this means.)

And now, it seems, quotes:

“@BenHoward87: If you see a centaur, remember it is not your friend. It is a mythical creature and as such does have the capability for rational thought.”

“@BenHoward87: Peanuts cartoons + Morrissey lyrics = the hilarity of existential despair

“@scalzi: Most nerdy t-shirts just don’t seem that clever to me anymore. Clearly, my next t-shirt should read WHY ARE YOU ON MY LAWN”

Remember when Scully wore shoulder pads?

Remember when desktop monitors were the size of anvils?

Remember when we couldn’t Google anything?

Remember when payphones?

“@LeVostreGC: Siri, wher ys the horse and the ridere? Siri, wher ys the horn that was blowinge?”

Wher in the worlde ys Carmen Sandiego?

Just so you know, kinesio-taping your stomach to pull your abs together is not for sissies. #diastasisrecti
(2016 Note: I have a blog post about this. Search for it if you will. I’m too lazy to link to it right now.)

That awkward moment when you look in the mirror and there’s an ant crawling in your hair.

It occurs to me that I haven’t performed a solo in 7 years.
(2016 Note: It’s now been 10 years. I miss singing for audiences.)

Rain. Thunder. Contented. Sigh.
(2016 Note: Weirdness: As I’ve been copying & pasting the last ten lines or so, I’ve been listening to “Love, Reign O’er Me” by The Who. I didn’t know this line was coming up.)

I own a banana slicer and I am not ashamed.

In other news…

As part of my 2016 endeavor to read only women writers, I am currently in the middle of Naomi Novik’s UPROOTED. It is UTTERLY BRILLIANT. It’s one of those books that makes me want to do nothing but read. I resent Thanksgiving Day tomorrow because it will steal me away from this novel. I need to be working on my own WIP (newly retitled THE ELVEN DEAD AND OTHER LEGENDS OF THE LIGHT-WALKERS), but I’d rather read Novik’s book than work on my own.

DASH IT ALL.

P.S. In addition to random “blog not twwet,” I also ran across various Consortium emails from five and more years ago. I let them suck me into reading them, and now I just feel sad. I miss the Consortium-in-its-heyday so much. Being continually involved and multiple-times-daily connected with other artists was a balm to my soul and a life-giver to my spirit. Author-publishing is a lonely business. I desperately miss all-but-living-with other artists, back when everything was running smoothly. We made magic.

my 10 novels

Since my social media vacay apparently has catapulted me into random-abundant-blogging mode, and since I have books on the brain (HA HA BUSINESS AS USUAL AMIRITE), here are the titles and statuses? stati? of my finished…um…”finished” novels.

Egad, I bet ya’ll thought that sentence would never end.

(BUT I HAVE A MILLION OF THEM OH YES YOU CANNOT HIDE OR FLEE YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED AND YOU WILL LIKE IT)

*ahem*

*eyeroll*

My Ten Novels

1. “‘S’ Is for Survival” — a practice novel

  • completed at age 15
  • YA soft sci-fi/coming-of-age
  • not related to Sue Grafton’s mystery novels
  • inspired by The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson
  • two drafts; will never see the light of day

2. Mindsnatcher — a practice novel

  • completed at age 17
  • YA sci-fi
  • two drafts; will never see the light of day

3. Tomato Electric Destroy Force 9: Writer Dearest and the Interlopers

  • a novel about one writer’s adventure through NaNoWriMo
  • 3rd or 4th draft stage
  • will see the light of Publication Day if I can firgure out how to author-pub it; it contains must-have images and would work best in color

4. Colors of Deception (Demons of Saltmarch, #1) — published by Consortium Books

5. Shadows after Midnight (Demons of Saltmarch, #2) — published by Consortium Books

6. Stains of Grace (Demons of Saltmarch, #3) — published by Consortium Books

7. Rethana’s Surrender (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #1) — published by Consortium Books

8. Rethana’s Trial (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #2) — published by Consortium Books

9. The Dying of the Light (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #3) — author-published, Faeddra Books

10. The Elevator — author-published, Faeddra Books

Big ol’ FYI. 🙂

What’s next?

Next is the Legends of the Light-Walkers short story anthology I’m working on. My goal is to pub by December 31st; preferably earlier, so I can do a Christmas special and whatnot. But I’m not pressuring myself. The holidays are stressful enough as it is, and I plan to enjoy myself in any case. So we shall see what we shall see. In the meantime, my coffee cup needs a refill. Laterz, inklings!

a #talesfromblackfriday short story

Hidey-ho, lovelies!

Today is so-called Black Friday here in the good ol’ USA, and I have many opinions about it. I shan’t delineate them all here. All I’ll say is that I’ve never participated in Black Friday, and I never plan to.

Also, I wrote the following short story, the tone and content of which should tell you enough plenty about my Black Friday thoughts. 😉

So. Here ya go. Happy reading!

Oh, and I wrote this story in a series of tweets. Because Twitter’s kinda my thang.

BOOYA.

blackfriday

When You Look This Good, Nobody Cares If You’re Murderous

by Courtney Cantrell

I stumble into a crowd of shoppers. They brandish hand mixers like pitchforks. Unholy light flickers in their eyes.

Atop a La-Z-Boy display, a man in Target red screams, “THE SPECIAL BEGINS NOW. MAY THE PRICES BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.”

With yips and barks, the crowd surges forward. They carry me with them. A man goes down under a sea of trampling feet. Someone’s mixer tangles in my hair, pulling me into a nightmare aisle of pink and Barbie.

I have no mouth, and I must scream.

In their shiny boxes, the Barbies turn to look at me. “WE GIRLS CAN EAT ANYTHING,” they chorus, blood in their teeth.

Whimpering, I lunge away. A woman grabs my arm and swings me toward the Barbies. “They just want to play, dear.” Her eyes are big and blue and flat. Painted on.

Like the dolls’ eyes.

I try to pull away, but she pushes me into the Barbie boxes. A cascade of inarticulate limbs and blond hair washes over me. I fall to the floor. Inside their boxes, the Barbies claw at the clear plastic. Their fingers are razor-sharp talons, shredding plastic. Those talons slash toward my face. Toward my eyes.

“WELCOME TO #BLACKFRIDAY,” say the Barbies.

Moving jerkily, a Ken doll crawls into the mêlée. Followed by another Ken. And a third. They’re attached to each other.

KENTIPEDE.

Baring bloody, point-filed teeth, the Barbies whisper in chorus, “MEIN LIEBER DREI-KEN.”

I scramble backward. My back hits somethng solid. I look up. Life-size Santa doll stares down at me with solid black eyes.

“CHRISSSTMASSS ISSS COMING, PRECIOUSSSS,” says Santa. Maggots squirm from his lips. “I SSSEE YOU WHEN YOU’RE SSSLEEPING.”

Darkness closes in. I feel the Barbies’ teeth and claws sink into my flesh. There’s the stampede of shoppers’ feet as each clamors for their portion. “BEST DEAL,” cries the Kentipede. “90% OFF LONG PORK.” Barbies giggle.

The crazed retail vultures descend on me, slavering. “HAPPY HOLIDAYSSS,” hisses Santa. I hear discordant jingle bells.

Then, nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

THE END

#AMEDITING CHICKEN

No real blog post for you today, my beauties. Because:

This could be an Editwock.

This could be an Editwock.

As one is wont to say on Twitter, I #amediting. Feast your peepers:

  • I’m on the FINAL EDIT!!!!! of The Dying of the Light (Legends of the Light-Walkers, #3) (formerly known as Legacy, formerly known as Legend’s Heir), my epic fantasy story of Rafe Skelleran (formerly known as Esau Skelleran, formerly known as James Moore, formerly known as Travis).
    This book has been through a lot. It will be glad to get away from me. Projected pub date: JUNE 30.
  •  

  • Tomorrow, I plan to submit my short story “Requiem for the Milk of Wisdom” to the Author Strong short story contest. It needs a final once-over, then I’ll be ready to let it fly from the nest. Hopefully it will return home with a contest win under its belt. Or at least an olive branch.

I’m also helping prep for this weekend’s celebration of my grandparents’ 75th wedding anniversary. BANGERANG. A lovely occasion to honor lovely people alongside many other lovely people. I’m looking forward to all the hoopla, but it most def makes for a busy week!

And so, instead of watching Agents of SHIELD and folding laundry as I had planned, I shall now away to bed.

Toodles!

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!

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.

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. : )

#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

Flash Fiction Challenge: Continuing Someone Else’s Story, Part 5

Post-Christmas salutations, y’all! I hope your holidays have been splendid so far and that your eggnog and pie are sitting with you quite comfortably. Me, I ate too much, but let’s just not talk about that, eh?

In author Chuck Wendig’s December flash fiction challenge, we’ve now arrived at Part 5, in which we’re writing the final 200 words of four other people’s story. To me, this is the toughest part of the challenge, since I have to take into consideration all the elements the other four writers have brought into the story, *and* I have to pull it all together into a satisfying conclusion.

THIS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. Don’t try this at home. Keep away from water. Keep away from children. Do not use while operating heavy machinery. This product is not intended for use as a flotation device. Do not eat. This bag is not a toy.

My entry for Part 1 is here. Genre: fantasy, coming-of-age.

My entry for Part 2 is here. Genre: horror? There’s a vampire, anyway.

My entry for Part 3 is here. Genre: paranormal. Witches, a priest, and mutant skeletons.

My entry for Part 4 is here. Genre: sci-fi comedy.

And here’s my entry for Part 5!
Joe Donahue wrote Part 1.
Morag Donnachie wrote Part 2.
Jeremiah Boydstun wrote Part 3.
Justice wrote Part 4 and gave the story its title, “The Veteran.”
My concluding Part 5 follows Justice’s part.

The Veteran

by Joe Donahue, Morag Donnachie, Jeremiah Boydstun, Justice, and Courtney Cantrell

Joe wrote:

Lying nude in the middle of this cotton field, I sense things differently than I have in sometime. I’m cold. It’s the first time I’ve felt cold since she died. The air flows over my body like ice cold water from a stream. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I can’t help but to hope that I die in this field. I’m, however, smart enough to know that’s not going to happen.

Nothing has felt the same since they killed Adrianna. Every day I roam from city to city, hoping beyond hope that someone will recognize who I am and decide to take my life away. It never happens. Every now and then someone will recognize who I am, but usually they are too frightened to do anything about it.

I don’t blame them. I did some very nasty things at the end of the last war. Several countries banned me from entrance. I, however, did what I needed to do to make sure that the war ended. I did what I was paid for. Little did I know that the immortality they offered as payment would be spent in exile, trying to come up with ways to bring back Adrianna.

Morag wrote:

I lay there vaguely enjoying the sensation of feeling again after having been numb for so long. I was pondering my next move – I’d heard a rumour of a woman in a nearby village who might be able to help me – when I heard voices calling in the still morning air.

I moved quickly, careful not to disturb the cotton in my haste, on to my front bringing my knees up under me so I could spring up quickly if I needed to. As I did so my hand darted to the pile of clothes by my side and the slender yet deadly blade concealed beneath.

As the voices moved closer I sought the quiet place in my mind,the place where I could leave my self behind. I needed to disengage my emotions, to leave my humanity behind and find the monster within.
I had hoped to be able to leave that part of myself behind but it seemed I would have to hold onto it, for now.

I stood slowly, aware of my nudity and how it would affect my seekers, and held my blade out ready for whatever was thrown at me. Every sense on high alert.

“Over here. We’ve found her,” a voice called.

Jeremiah wrote:

The morning sun filters through a ragged line of trees to my left, laying bands of apricot light across the field of cotton, and the cold morning air feels charged with the energy of a million lodestones.

About fifty yards to my right another voice takes up the call, and then another, transmitting across a line of a dozen men who wade slowly through the thorny sea of cotton. Some cradle their rifles, others walk stockade-style with their arms hanging loosely over the ends of the weapons slung across their shoulders.

I keep the knife handle tucked into my palm so that the blade rests against the length of my forearm and conceals it from view. I want to cover myself but reaching for my clothes right now isn’t a good idea.

When the men are within ten yards they stop and form a half-circle around me.

“Put down the knife.” A tall, flinty man with grey hair steps forward.

“And if I don’t?” I’m ready to spring. To see blood. To feel the pulpous give of fat and muscle.

“Then you’ll never see Adrianna again.” His smile parts the thin lips enough to reveal a pair of sharp, white canines and my blood turns to ice once again.

Justice wrote:

“Put it down,” the man commands, “or I’ll tell ’em to really let your pretty little girl have it this time.”

I place the knife on the ground.

“Kick it over here.”

“I’ll cut my foot,” I say, my voice even. “Aren’t antibiotics getting pretty expensive these days?”

“Christ,” the leader mutters. He gestures to a younger man nearby – a kid, really – who darts out from the circle and grabs the knife. I see beads of sweat glisten on his forehead, and he purposefully avoids my eyes.

Good – I need fear; perhaps it will be catching.

“Well, go on,” I say. They put a bag over my head but do not let me dress. I walk naked through the field. There is a slice against my bare skin and a trickle of warm blood. The sound of rotating blades approaches and a dart punctures my neck. I swat at it like it is an annoying gnat.

“Told you it wouldn’t work!” A voice cries out.

“She’s immortal, not invulnerable,” their leader says. “Triple it.”

When I wake, Adrianna is beside me.

Not breathing.

I wrote (210 words):

We’re alone. I recognize the white-and-pink tile of The Facility’s central room. Since I ended the war, they’ve repaired the two-way mirror.

I smile. They’ve hunted me as I’ve hunted to bring her back. And now they want me to try.

Oh, the fools shall have what they’re asking for.

I roll to my side and cradle my daughter. We’re both still nude, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll wear the skins of our enemies soon enough.

I lay my lips against her cold ear. Within, I plunge into silence and face the monster. It waits at my core, hearing my thoughts of blood, and it is already slavering.

I let go, and the monster comes forward.

HEAT.

The heat whispers into Adrianna’s mind, calls to her soul, calls her back. The moment she returns, the heat intensifies. My sweat hisses when it hits the metal table white-hot beneath us.

Adrianna breathes.

I reach out.

Beyond the two-way mirror wait the minds of our “captors.” The monster’s heat enters them. Pillages. Their screams are like those of the ones I mind-raped to end the war.

“Mama?”

YES.

“Can we go home?”

YES.

The monster and I lead my daughter from the central room as, once again, the mirror shatters behind me.

THE END