Tag Archives: fiction

My Life’s Work – a Blog Battle post

Here’s my Blog Battle entry for this week, in the genre of fantasy, with the theme word of “selfie.”
I especially enjoyed writing something placed in my own fantasy setting from my novel Diffraction. 

—-
I hear their voices long before I see them. Footfalls echo in the
halls. Laughter and commentary resounds off the palace’s high ceiling and polished marble floors.
“Look at this piece,” the man says. “Astounding… like what a falcon
in flight must see from on high over the City’s towers.” He sounds
refined, educated, a man of wealth and relative ease. Probably one of the City’s many so-called Ministers–men and women whose title implies service, something of which they are invariably found only on the receiving end.
“So real,” his companion replies, her soft voice hushed in awe. “I
feel almost faint, as if I might fall through and plummet to my
death.” Too chipper for my taste, too airy. I imagine she’s the upper
class equivalent of dancing girls in the Outskirts–there for show,
not insight. Her voice calls to mind a songbird displayed in a cage,
able to delight for short durations, but insufferable if permitted to
make constant noise.
“Still better to you than the portraits?”
“Much,” she says. “I don’t like the faces. The landscapes at least are
magnificent.”
“Reminiscent of Serathil’s work,” the man says. “I know that’s what
they all say of Marwen’s paintings, but I had no idea the similarities
would be so striking.”
“Perhaps Marwen leanred some of the same techniques… or more likely stole them.”
Or perhaps I fought for years to master my craft, you coddled child.
What do you have that wasn’t given to you for no other reason than the fortune of your birth or the depth of your bosom?
And then I remember the Visitor years ago–his unhinged personality, inhuman predatory eyes, and alluring offer.
Why did I ever agree?

(continued in the original post)

See the original here. Also, if you like my blog, stories, or updates, please subscribe to the new site! Thanks!

The Finest Spirits #BlogBattle entry

Genre: Fantasy

Word prompt: Liquid

On the jagged, winding road that slopes down into the Pit of Hell, inside a little dim-lit crevice nestled between the lost souls begging for someone to drag them out and the angelic patrols enforcing the justice of Heaven, there’s this hole-in-the-wall dive that’s worth a pit-stop.

Pit stop, get it? I kill me… which is part of why I’m here. 

Being a shade stuck in Limbo ain’t so bad as it sounds. I got skills from my time in the flesh–after twenty-three years on the beat with a badge, I know how to find what people are looking for, whether it’s a rogue demon giving the angels trouble or a way back for a vengeful victim.

I don’t know the name of the joint. It’s got some kinda Japaneezy scribbles on account of the Oni that runs the place. I try to steer clear of him and his goons. But I keep visiting because they got the best spirits anywhere –above, on the earth, or below, there’s no place like it.

Plus there’s a girl. Of course there is.

The bouncers know me, but I still get a quiver in what used to be my spine when they look at me with those blood red eyes and sharp black horns. They wave me on, but entrance is never free. Just inside the door sits a gangly, rat-faced creature, all done up in a hooded robe and ornate jewelry. He’s the Oni’s info-broker, a dealer in secrets, the only currency that’s any value in this establishment.

I know things, stuff that people would like to think they kept hidden in life. Like I said, decades of detective work. Half my mind is full of tidbits the Oni would accept. The info somehow gives him leverage over people this side of the grave–I don’t know how it works and I don’t need to.

I just need to see her.

The music is thumping inside–sounds like a busy night. After scrawling my offering in the air with flaming glyphs that vanish a second later, Rat-face waves me on and I step through the thick obsidian doors.

The atmosphere is like a swank club back upstairs, with a dance floor and plenty of private seating booths. Some back rooms support larger groups, like the revenants and emo types, the vampires and ghosts that can’t talk about anything other than how much they’re suffering and loathing the crushing burden of their deathless existence. I can’t stand their type. At least when I offed myself, I didn’t make some big, long show of it, and I didn’t spend the rest of eternity talking about it down here.

The real attraction is the bar, of course, and plenty of uglies are clustered around it putting in their orders. The barkeep, Jimmy Two-Claws, spots me beyond the sea of faces and pulls a bright bottle off the shelf. “The usual, Dom?”

“Nothing but.”

They got some kind of tracking system worked out, where Rat-face notifies the bar how much you got on your account based on the value of the secret. Mine should get me twenty minutes.

I find an empty booth and pop the cork. Radiant steam curls out of the bottle, expanding into a humanoid cloud. Then it solidifies in the seat next to me, and Innova appears. Her hair shimmers a rainbow like mother-of-pearl. The embodiment of Inspiration, her skin illuminates the booth with fluorescence like a human lightbulb. She stretches her perfect form and cocks her head like she’s loosening stiff joints in her neck. The sight of her fills me with energy, makes me feel alive again, like I could do anything I want.

That’s how it works. The Oni serves up spirits. You pay a secret, you get to spend some time with whatever you like. Creativity, Adventure, Love, Happiness and the like for the good-hearted. Strife, Jealousy, Avarice, Wrath and such for the rougher crowd. Bottles of every color adorn the shelf behind the bar, every one of them holding spirits trapped by the Oni, earning their freedom night by night depending on how many customers they can bring in.

I wonder how much longer it’ll take my girl to escape this hole.

“You look good, Innova. As always.”

“And what dreams can I inspire within you tonight, Dom?”

“Come on. You know you don’t have to keep up the act with me, babe.”

Innova laughs. “Maybe with you it’s not an act,” she purrs.

“We’ve shared too many last calls for that. I’m here for you, not your spiel.”

She smiles, then slouches in the seat and watches the crowd, the sign that she’s finally being herself instead of what people expect.

One of the staff approaches a couple in a secluded booth with an unopened bottle on the table, the contents a deep crimson, glowing from within. Romance, I’m guessing, or maybe Lust. Probably hoped to rekindle something, but neither one made a move to pop the cork. 

“Doesn’t look good for those two,” I say, and Innova nods. 

This is how we pass the time together–watching the desperate slobs that come in, guessing at what drives the choices they make, wondering what choices led them here in the first place.

“Check out these idiots,” Innova says, pointing to the dark room full of emo kids. A waitress brings them another round of black bottles–spirits of despair.

I listen close and hear a woman’s voice, gritty like a smoker, reading over a soft-tapped rhythm. “Shadows swirl and roll, a collision in my glass-imprisoned soul, this vessel can’t hold the full measure of my sorrow, pour it out tonight, tomorrow there’s more there. One day I’ll be free… what place waits for me? Nowhere.

“Oh god. Are they doing beat poetry?”

“I tried to offer Despra some tips once,” Innova says of the other spirit. “But she and I aren’t on speaking terms since that ill-fated Karaoke contest last month.” She shakes her head and mutters, “Despra should not sing Disney songs, like, ever.”

“Bet that was a wreck.”

Innova shifts and glances at the hell spawn near the bar. He’s glaring at me, his yellow eyes watching like a predator in the wild. 

“Time’s almost up, Dom.” She’s nervous, eying her bottle-prison with displeasure.

“I’ll pay for more, no problem.”

The second the words leave my mouth, Rat-face is at my side, a toothy grin splitting his lips, his rotting breath leaking out with a hiss. Between my need to avoid him as long as possible and my desire to give Innova a reason to keep smiling, I dig up a really good secret from the back of my mind. Juicy details on the intimate indiscretions of certain angelic patrols that aren’t coming down this way for duty.

Once Rat-face is gone, Innova relaxes and puts her hand in mine. “You didn’t have to pay that much,” she says.

“Just helping work off your debt to the Oni.”

Innova brushes her hand through her hair. “Do you realize how much you just put on your account? You couldn’t spend it all tonight.”

I shrug. “I’ll be by tomorrow, then.”

“I know you will.” She hesitates, then leans close. “Or… do you see that violet bottle on the top shelf?”

“The dusty one? Looks like it hasn’t been touched in years.”

She nods. “Generosity isn’t a common companion this side of the pearly gates. Would you do me a favor?”

I already know what she’s getting at. “Sure. I’ll by a shot. Hey Jimmy!”

A moment later, Innova and I work together to pop the cork. A wave of giddiness hits me as it launches across the booth, and we collapse in laughter. 

Then I hear myself talking like an idiot. “Jimmy, you know what? Get everyone another round of whatever they’re having–on me!”

The bar erupts with cheers and applause. Even the hardest toughs give me a nod or raised glass in respect. And I’m sitting here wondering what the heck just happened. 

Several bottles get passed throughout the crowd. Spirits appear at the bar, in booths, on the dance floor, at pool tables… all across the place, their grateful, liberated faces flash me and Innova a smile. 

I jam the cork into the bottle of Generosity before I say anything else stupid. Then I shoot Innova a glare. She gives me a sheepish grin. “Think of how many you just released,” she says. “How much closer they are to freedom. Do you feel the positive energy in the room right now?”

“You knew that would happen.”

Innova shrugs, feigning innocence. “What can I say? It’s my job to inspire others.”

When I finally leave, just before what passes for dawn in this hellhole, I pause to consider if I’m coming back tomorrow. Then I realize, who am I kidding?

I walk up the slope, picturing Innova’s smile and running down the list of secrets bouncing around in my head.

Going Camping

This year I set a goal of writing at least 1,000 words per day. Ideally, that means writing every single day, but the sad fact is, real life happens and it’s rarely on friendly terms with our goals.

I stayed just ahead of January and February, but the first week of March beat me down. I want to pretend I tried hard, but I succumbed all too easily to a combination of upper respiratory congestion, heavy duty medication, and—worst of all—a really exceptional new PS4 game. (Read about the culprit here.)

One of the keys to carrying out the goals we set is accountability of some sort. Telling a friend or declaring a new effort on social media is one way of improving our chances. Our commitment is out there for others to challenge. Are we going to follow through on what we said?

Today was one of those days someone asked about Book Two, and I found myself equal parts embarrassed and grateful—glad for someone who asks the question since that’s encouraging, but disappointed by my failure to make progress.

So with all that in mind, I go to my inbox and find reminders for Camp NaNoWriMo which starts in April. 


If you’re not familiar, National Novel Writing Month is an event every November where writers crank out new fiction novels of 50,000 words or more, and I’ve participated three years now.

After November, the organization doesn’t just take the rest of the year off; they run less formal events in April and July. Unlike November’s event, Camp NaNoWriMo participants can write whatever style of material they want – musicals, plays, scripts, novels, non-fiction, poetry, whatever. And instead of a hard goal of 50K words, participants set their own goals based on whatever commitment they can make.

The site has incorporated new trackers and resources: you can log word count, or pages, or hours spent if you prefer. Their writing resources page covers a surprising variety of topics from planning to revising and everything in between.

Here’s my commitment: I am going to participate this year, and I’m going to pour my effort into the sequel to Diffraction. NaNoWriMo’s 50K is a bit much. However, if I’m keeping up my normal effort, then I should be writing 30K words throughout April no matter what (including any side projects, blog posts, and personal journal writing). So my happy medium is going to be 40K words put into the draft of Book 2.

There it is, out in the public eye.

Unheeded – a #BlogBattle Western

Genre: Historical Fiction (subgenre – Western) 

Word: Melody

This is written from the perspective of a character I’ve been using in other Western-Fantasy short stories, a gambler-prophet of questionable character that I hope to develop into a novella or even full-length book. I dialed down the “magic” element to fit this week’s BlogBattle. 

Update: 


This story won the BlogBattle for the week! Thanks to all who voted for this post.

They say life has a rhythm, a music all its own, drummed out in the thum-thump of the heart beating in every man’s chest. They make it sound all wonderful and precious, like the gold-painted clouds and mountain peaks at sunset.  
But when you’re lyin’ in the dust bleedin’ out from a gunshot wound in the back, it don’t feel so carefree and melodious as all that. Lots more gasping and choking on blood than any harps or angel-song from on High.

That old devil Lucien’s veiled threat echoes in my mind. “I’d hate for my warnings to go unheeded, Mister Jackson.”

Oh, I heard your rattling an’ hissing just fine, you low-down snake.

The sky fades in an’ out—my eyes closing, longer each time. Someone shouts for the Doc, the only man in town that’s got half a chance of keepin’ me out of the grave. Harmony’s mother cries nearby and whispers thanks to the sweet Lord Jesus for protectin’ her little one.

Woulda been mighty kind of Him to come take the bullet instead of sending me. I can’t draw breath to speak, but I think it really hard.

 Harmony grabs hold of my vest and shakes me, tears cutting through the dust on her cheeks, her frail arms straining with my weight. I hear boots scuffing through the dirt and see Doc Hartford running, his little black bag of medicines and tools jangling. Then everything fades to dreams and recent memories.

* * * * *

 “You know, Mister Jackson,” Lucien says, his voice calm and measured, “I’m disappointed. With a gift like yours, I expected so much more.”

The setting sun fills the sky with red and purple hues, the rolling hills and waving grass a deep indigo in the fading light. Lucien and his men are like silhouettes, lined up in front of the Branston farm. His hired guns look like specters of death, holsters hanging prominent off their hips, rifle stocks in easy reach over shoulders.

 Lucien strikes me as a man likes to think he’s above all that, but I know he’ll get his hands dirty if the situation calls for it. There’s a light in his eye and a quiver of anticipation in his voice at the prospect of violence.

 “The Branstons aren’t sellin’ their land,” I say again. “Not to you, Mister Lucien, nor to any of the fine gentlemen you’ve sent in the past.”

 Soft wind blows and the horses stamp their feet nearby. Even they sense the tension.

 “I do wish they’d reconsider,” he says. “I’m offering a fetching price. They could afford tuition at an East Coast school for their precious daughter, one that specializes in educating those with her affliction.”

 Harmony took ill last year, struck with the German measles just after her eighth birthday. One morning she woke up deaf and hasn’t heard a thing since. Used to sing hymns better than anyone in the Parson’s chapel, be they woman, man, or angel of God. Still sings and dances, still holds the key most times… but the songs feel heavy, like someone threw a sandbag on her soul. She and her parents don’t need James Lucien stalkin’ around their land like a wolf eyeing the flock.

 “Harmony’s doin’ just fine,” I say. “She learnt her letters before the illness struck, and still speaks clear enough to be understood.”

 “That’s good. But I fear she’s not the only one with such a condition.” Lucien leans in, pats two of his boys on the shoulder. “I’d hate for my warnings to go unheeded…”

* * * * *

 The sun’s started its descent behind the rough wood buildings of Redstone, which helps to keep it out of my aim. Serendipity’s hitched at a post near the saloon, more for his safety than any intention of mine to visit that establishment.

No sign of Lucien’s man, but the message said out front of the chapel at six o’clock. Maybe the Branstons and some of the other folk gathered into the Lord’s house are putting in some words on my behalf.

I’m putting myself at risk a bit standing out here in the open, trusting Lucien more than I’d like. Not trusting his honor, for sure—rather, relying on his pride.

He doesn’t just want me out of his way, or he’d have gunned me down months ago. My gift with gunfighting ain’t gonna stand up to the number of men Lucien could bring down on my head. No, he’s driven to win this thing between us on a different level. That’s why he keeps poking and prodding like a kid taking the guts out of a grandfather clock to see what makes the parts move.

I’d like to keep my guts inside my skin, if it’s all the same.

Pacing up and down the street ain’t my thing, but here I am doin’ it. My eyes flicker from the upstairs windows of the saloon with its fast-step piano music tink-a-tinking above the laughter, to the rooftop of the apothecary’s shop, to the shadowy bed of the creaky Conestoga wagon slow-rollin’ through the town. I think I got a bead on Lucien’s moral compass, so I shouldn’t be expecting an ambush. But I don’t know the man he sent, and given the choice, people have a way of choosin’ the easiest option.

Then I hear a tune on the breeze, and not some drinking song neither. Harmony Branston twirls among the daffodils and violets on the lawn beside the chapel, picking flowers and singing her heart out. “Still the small inward voice I hear… that whispers all my sins forgiven… Still the atoning blood is near… that quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven…”

There’s a glint of gunmetal from atop the sundry goods store, and my faith in Lucien crumbles to dust. It ain’t aimed at me. 

I scream Harmony’s name—knowin’ full well it won’t do a bit of good—and sprint like a jackrabbit. Her eyes go wide mid-spin at the sight of me barrelin’ toward her. She stumbles, falling back, arms flailing for balance. When I’m practically on top of her, thunder cracks the silence under the clear sky, and pain shoots through my side like someone dropped a hot coal into my belly.

I grip my side—my shirt slick and warm—then fall to my knees, suddenly aware of my heartbeat. It throbs in my head and pounds in my chest like a Chickasaw war-drum, so loud and furious that maybe even Lucien can hear it, whatever hole he’s lurking in.

Harmony clutches onto me, crying for help from a Savior who taught us to pray for our enemies. Someone in that chapel best be prayin’ for Lucien…

Because when I get back on my feet, I’m bringing him some of Heaven’s wrath, and no amount of blood is gonna atone for what he done.

Lifesinger

This is part 3 of 3 for my BlogBattle series of fan-fiction using the characters from CW’s Supernatural. 

Genre: Fairy

Word: Iridescent

Okay, BlogBattlers, I totally blew up the word count rule on this one (just shy of 2000 words), because I had WAY too much fun bringing the story to a close. So I don’t consider it a legitimate entry for the contest. BUT I’m passing it on because you lovely people read the first two and deserve a (hopefully) good ending. 

—–

Bloodied and bruised by the woodland monster they’d taken to calling Thorn, Dean Winchester accepted an offered helping hand for once, and rose to his feet. Frustration filled his eyes and he stared at the human-form angel Castiel. “What the hell was that thing, Cas?”

“A spriggan,” Castiel said. “A woodland spirit of wrath.” He stared up the mountain path as if reading a mystery in the lines of the trees. “Something is amiss here—something of evil that has no rightful place. But you’ll need the Lifesinger of this particular site in order to expel the corruption.”

Sam ran a hand through his hair. “Spriggans, Lifesingers… what are we dealing with?”

“There are more than angels and Demons at war in the spiritual realm,” Castiel said. “Nature has Her own ranks of companions and guardians, and their associations are not always clear.”

Dean shook his head. “Come on, the trees are alive here or something?”

Castiel shrugged. “Your people long have kept stories of such things. Sprites, elves, feyfolkken… faeries. Voices in the wind, women in the waters… why do you think His Word speaks of trees clapping hands and rocks crying out?”

Dean scoffed and opened the door of the Impala. “Come on, Sam,” he grumbled. “We’re off to find Tinkerbell to see if she can sprinkle the ritual site with some of her pixy dust.” He waggled his fingers in the air like casting a spell, then sat in the driver’s seat and started the engine.

Castiel climbed into the back, and Sam grabbed his father’s journals from the glove box. “Maybe Dad can shed some light on all of this…”

Dean nodded. “Which way?”

Castiel cocked his head. “I assume Sam means that John Winchester’s experiences and insights may apply to our own. Are you sure Thorn didn’t hit your head too hard?”

“No, Cas,” Dean growled. “Which way to this Lifesinger you mentioned? Up the path to the site? Somewhere down in Boulder?”

Castiel sat back, eyes wide. “Oh. I have no idea. What about you, Sam?”

“What do you mean, you have no idea?” Dean rubbed his face and sighed. “What, do I point the hood at the nearest Disney store and hope for the best?”

“While potentially fun,” Castiel said, considering, “I’m not sure that would help, Dean.”

“Where do you normally find a Lifesinger?”

“Oh. There are precious few around that I know of. Most of those traditions have died off over the centuries. We could try one of the nearest reservations, perhaps. Ireland was always a good place to look, but I don’t think we have time for overseas travel…”

“The McSwains’ cabin,” Sam said. “Dad said Grant and Teagan watched over this place and did a lot more than that in their younger years.”

Dean put the car in drive, spun a one-eighty, and headed downhill. “Sure,” Dean muttered. “Let’s fetch the hundred year old lady to save us. If she’s not drooling on herself, wondering what decade it is…”

On the return trip, they left the Impala at the clearing where they’d fought Thorn. Sam cut his long-legged stride to baby steps in order to walk with one arm around Teagan McSwain’s frail form. Castiel kept a curious distance from the woman, watching her with sidelong glances and questioning eyes.

Teagan watched the branches, sometimes skittish at each noise, sometimes smiling with wonder. She hummed a flowing tune that made Sam think of dancing, but her faltering steps seemed far from whatever joyful memory she clung to in her mind.

Dean kept getting ahead of the group, then waiting with arms crossed until they reached him. “Shoulda brought the axe, Sammy,” he said as they neared the top of the second hill. “These trees aren’t normal.”

The trunks looked curved and stretched, shaped rather than grown. They formed two long ranks that bent toward each other, their branches mingling high overhead in a natural archway. The air grew stuffy and humid, but carried the scent of lilac. Birds flitted to and fro some distance from the path, singing out warnings to each other. But none came near the path into the ritual site.

Castiel stopped before the first tree. “I can’t enter,” he said. “Or, rather, I won’t.” Dean and Sam turned to meet his gaze and saw resolution plain on Castiel’s face. “I told you, there are other powers at work. And while I could exert authority over this place, I feel it would be… disruptive. Inappropriate.”

“Great,” Dean said, and strode into the dimness ahead, flexing his fists.

Sam guided Teagan beneath the trees, checking over his shoulder. Castiel stood, hands clasped in front of his tan coat, concern etched in the wrinkles on his face.

“He’s right, you know,” Teagan whispered. “His kind… they aren’t always welcome in places like this.”

Sam faced her, shocked. “You know what he is?”

She nodded. “Seen angels a time or two. Bright like dawn, even when they try to hide it.” Her face darkened and she clutched Sam tight. “Better than the opposite kind…”

Sam pursed his lips and thought of his own encounters with demons. Crowley’s face came to mind, the prince of Hell joking and laughing at Sam’s expense. “I’ll agree with you there, ma’am,” Sam said.

Dean’s mouth curled in doubt. “You think you’re gonna walk in and magically fix this?”

“I hope so.”

“Then why didn’t you do it before we got here?”

She rolled up her sleeve and revealed two crimson lines scratched in her skin. “I tried… but Thorn… I couldn’t get here alone.”

Sam glared at Dean and he fell silent.

After what felt like several minutes, the tree-arch opened to reveal a small grotto carved in a sheer cliff of rock. The sunlight felt thin and faded, and its beams wavered as if distorted. Thorn lay huddled against the stone wall in a fetal ball, its green eyes glaring at the intruders. A hissing sound emitted from the spriggan’s mouth, but it made no aggressive move.

Dean stood between Teagan and Thorn, ready to fight even with no chance of winning. Sam led Teagan into the grotto, and she shivered as she took a deep breath.

She pointed at Thorn. “What is that?”

“Cas says it’s a spriggan,” Sam answered. “Some kind of nature spirit.”

“No, you daft boy… the blackness in its foot. It reeks of Hell and corruption.”

Sam squinted and spotted a jagged chunk of dark metal shaped like a spiked jack from a child’s game sticking out of Thorn’s heel. The spriggan’s fingers curled near the object, hesitant and defensive lest anything touch the wound.

Sam approached, hands extended in a gesture of peace. “Let me help you get that out,” he said in a soft tone.

Thorn hissed again and bared its claws.

“I think that’s my job, son,” Teagan said. She coughed to clear her throat, then stepped into the middle of the grotto. Her voice rose in the wavering song she’d been humming, raspy at first then strong and clearer with every word.

Grey and strong the stone and green the vibrant leaves

And bright the lilac blooms beneath the verdant eaves

Before Sam’s eyes, the woods responded to Teagan’s call. Glowing sprites winked into view and fluttered between sun-drenched branches. Colors like a liquid rainbow dripped from every leaf. Strands of emerald light twisted around Thorn and Teagan, growing in brightness until Sam couldn’t look at them any longer.

Teagan sang on, heedless of the change.

Come now every fae, awaken from your dream,

Bring forth the light of day, unleash the living stream

Let glory shadows slay, and purest life redeem

Thorn jerked and its foot kicked toward the grotto’s entrance. Shimmering light pooled around the shadowy metal. With a thunderclap, the chunk of darkness burst out of Thorn’s foot and hurtled through the archway like a bullet from a gun.

“We need to get that before it corrupts anything else,” Dean shouted, dashing through the trees after the jack.

Sam hesitated and glanced at Teagan and Thorn, who both seemed frozen in swirling light. Then he ran after Dean. They lumbered through the woods, snapping branches on the ground and stumbling over roots. Then they reached the end of the archway and found Castiel.

The angel stood squared up against a man in a long black coat who held the jack up to the light with a grin.

“Crowley,” Dean said. “What in Hell are you doing here?”

“Hello again, boys,” Crowley said. “Sorry for the trouble. And quite right, Dean. One of my lads lost this little bauble during a recent trip this way, and, well… I couldn’t just come get it on my own. Not allowed, you see. Too… disruptive.” He winked at Castiel.

Dean took a position beside Castiel. “What is that thing, Crowley? I don’t think demons are coming up and tossing jacks to pass the time.”

“You care to play?” Crowley extended his hands as if offering the object, then snapped it back. “Whoops, looks like none of you brought any balls. Maybe next time.”

Sam heard more footsteps approaching from the grotto and turned to see a burly, half-naked man in his twenties, with Teagan’s knitted sweater wrapped around his waist, followed by a young redhead the same age wearing the rest of the old lady’s oversized clothes.

The redhead strode past Sam and got in Crowley’s personal space. “I told you before, you’re not welcome here, demon,” she seethed.

“Good to see you again too, Teags.” Crowley turned to the man and looked him up and down. “And you… You’re a lucky man, Grant McSwain. Though you should put on some clothes… you’re going to get Dean all worked into a tizzy.”

Teagan slapped him across the face.

“Well aren’t you a feisty one,” Crowley said as he massaged his jaw. “Such a lost art, hospitality. I suppose I shall bid you farewell.”

He vanished in a puff of brimstone and ash.

Sam doffed his jacket and wrapped it around Grant, but Castiel eyed Teagan with as much suspicion as he’d given Crowley. “Mortals weren’t meant to drink from that. Not even guardians.”

Teagan bowed her head, sheepish. “I know. And we didn’t mean to… but I couldn’t let that piece of Hell corrupt him.”

Dean looked at Grant and sighed. “Thorn, I presume. And you’ve been guarding… what, the Fountain of Youth?”

“We found it in the Fifties,” Teagan answered. “Our last expedition, though we didn’t know it at the time. Once we realized what it was, we stayed to protect it. We had to.”

Dean nodded. “From the Red scare? Worried about Communists?”

Grant shrugged. “More like the Red, White and Blue scare. A source of power that could turn General Patton into a young man again, that could make a man like McCarthy live forever? That’s too much for any government to control. But it’s safe now, thanks to you all. And it’ll stay that way.”

“You weren’t supposed to drink from it,” Castiel stressed.

Grant smiled at Teagan and took her hand. “I wonder if we just got fired from being guardians.”

Everyone chuckled, except Castiel, who disappeared with a rush of wind.

They started down the path toward the Impala, taking in the fresh air. Once they reached the car, Sam offered Grant and Teagan a ride.

“You know what,” Grant said, “I think we’ll walk. I forgot what it’s like to not feel stiff all the time. From age, mind you, not from being Thorn.”

The boys said their goodbyes, and the Impala roared down the hillside.

Alone under the trees, Grant leaned close to Teagan and held her tight. “What did I ever do to deserve you? After so many years, you’ve saved me one last time…”

A mischievous light sparkled in Teagan’s eyes as she looked at the youthful Grant. “Last? Maybe not…”

The Gold Rush of Eighteen Forty-Ten, a #BlogBattle entry

This piece is for the Blog Battle hosted and managed by the seemingly tireless Rachael Ritchey. If you’d like to participate, she has all the details on the Blog Battlers’ WordPress site.

Genre: Tall Tale

Word: Resolved

Word Count: 1041

—–

Aurora Borealis, painted by Frederic Edwin Church, 1865. (Public Domain)
Aurora Borealis, painted by Frederic Edwin Church, 1865. (Public Domain)

 

The Northern Lights danced across the Alaska sky while two men trudged through the snows. Rings of smoke followed in their wake like Indian signals, and the lantern jangling from a pole spread a warm, inviting light with which the weather disagreed.

“I’m tellin’ ya, Jim’s stronger than any man,” the younger man said. His cigar glowed orange as he took a drag beneath his thick black mustache. “Didja see how he hefted those carts of stone? Bet he could hurl ‘em right over the peak of Denali if he had half a mind to do it.”

“Oh, I know all the stories,” the older fellow replied, hunched and stiff from years in the mines. “Folk say when Ol’ Jim Gibbons was born, he split his Ma right in half. Then the boy saw what he’d done and squeezed her back together again like clay.”

“Aw, that’s a load of bunk.”

“I met Maw-Maw Gibbons, Junior. She’s got a white stretch mark runs straight down her spine an’ right between her bosoms. Limped as long as I’ve known her, an’ who can blame her after that ordeal?”

“Well, that may be, Paw… but ain’t possible to split a person in half and then put ‘em together again.”

“You a doctor of medicine now? Wish you told me! We coulda been makin’ a killing treatin’ the workers on this gold rush instead of joinin’ ‘em in the mines.”

Paw gazed into the night sky and took a deep breath. “Here’s to another year of luggin’ rock and pannin’ for gold. Happy New Year, boy. I’ll get you a mug of cider when we reach Abby’s.”

“Paw, come on now. I think I’ll go for somethin’ a little stronger.”

“Fine, but I ain’t buyin’ no firewater. You need to cut down the carousin’ and cavortin’ with wayward women, get some meat on your bones and some strength in your spirit. Start of a New Year’s a good time to make some changes, Junior.”

“I ain’t Jim Gibbons,” Junior fired back, “and I ain’t tryin’ to be him neither. I’m a grown man now, Paw. I can tend to my own affairs.”

“Jus’ sayin’ a man could choose worse examples to follow.” Paw eyed the glowing stogie between Junior’s lips.”Like quittin’ those Cubans. Might save us some earnings if we didn’t have to keep you stocked up on tabacca an’ booze.”

“Man’s got to live a little, Paw. What’s the point of puttin’ in my fifty or sixty years if I don’t enjoy a one of ‘em? Even your big legend Jim had his days of fun an’ debauchery.”

Paw shook his head and dismissed Junior’s point with a wave.

Junior took a long drag on the cigar, until the end blazed like the anger building in his heart. “Okay, Paw, let’s talk about the Gibbons I’ve heard tell of. Went through bottles of whiskey like lesser men take shots. Walked into sportin’ houses an’ hired the whole stable of women, an’ left no less vigorous than when he came through the doors.”

“Hardly the right kind of—”

“Men say when he rustles up dinner after a week in the mines, he rides out to the Circle-Tee Ranch and purchases beef by the head of cattle instead of the pound of the cut. Why, when the Garveston tobacco plantation went up in the drought, they say Ol’ Jim rode through the flames an’ plumes of smoke, suckin’ in deep breaths an’ grinnin’ the whole dang time. Told the farmhand that he finally got the happy feels ever’body talked about. That’s your bastion of morality an’ clean livin’ right there.”

“Mayhaps he did all that,” Paw admitted with a solemn nod. Then he waggled a finger at Junior. “You forget he turned aside from his sinful ways. Found some religion, put his face into the Good Book now an’ again. Happened during the California Gold Rush of Eighteen Forty-Ten.”

“The what now?”

“Back in Forty-Nine,” Paw started in a reverent tone, “Jim Gibbons found more gold and made more profit than any man west of the Mississippi. Easy to do when you can pick your way clean to China in a week’s hard work. Miners in the Rockies said they’d be diggin’ a tunnel when the walls in front of ‘em burst open and big Jim breaks through, grin splittin’ his face like the Grand Canyon. ‘Ello from California, he’d say in that deep baritone of his, before lumbering back the way he’d come.”

“You can’t believe—”

“Seen it with my own eyes, I did! And yessir, he did all that wicke’ness what you was recounting. But come the end of Forty-Nine, he realized all his money’s gone an’ he got nothin’ to show for it. Resolved to change his ways, right then, an’ wished he could take back those fool decisions you praise so highly.” Paw gave Junior a judgmental squint.

“So Big Jim, what’s he do? Decides maybe he can take it back. So he gets himself a thick chain like they use to lower cars in the mine shafts, the longest length of it he can find. Steps onto the highest peak of the Rockies an’ starts to whirlin’ the chain around. Started the dust storms on the Oklahoma plains, he did.

“Then Jim hurls the end of that chain up into the sky an’ latches it right ‘round the settin’ sun on the first try. Strains with all his might and pulls the ball o’ fire back the other direction, sends it back to the East coast and keeps whippin’ it around, backwards to its normal path in the heavens. Spun time all the way back to the beginnin’ of the year, an’ no one knew what to do. So they called it the Gold Rush of Eighteen Forty-Ten.”

Junior spit into the snow. “They did not.”

“Did too. I got coins stamped with the date to prove it. And what’s more, in Eighteen Forty-Ten, Jim Gibbons turned his life around—made the promise to change, an’ carried it out to the finish.”

Junior scoffed. “A man that completed a New Year’s resolution? Heard a lot of things about Jim Gibbons, but now I know you’re pullin’ my leg.”

—–

Happy New Year, fellow Battlers and readers. Here’s hoping you accomplish above and beyond what you’ve aimed for this year–maybe write some true-to-life tall tales of your own.

Diffraction Free to Read on WattPad

It’s the Winter Solstice, the shortest period of daylight during the year. For various reasons, my mind ties that dichotomy of darkness and light to Lyllithe, the protagonist of my fantasy novel, Diffraction. 


I completed the revisions and final copy on the Solstice last year, then published it on CreateSpace and Kindle Direct. It’s been available for purchase for the last year, and I have deep appreciation for those who bought a paperback or e-book copy. That option is still out there (and the e-book is reduced to the minimum price I can choose based on the royalty plan).

I’ve also made the book free on Kindle from December 22nd through Christmas Day, so if you know someone who might like a free fantasy novel, point them that way.

However, the real point of this post is to call attention to the full book available to read on WattPad. Though I appreciate every purchase, what I need more than a buck from an e-book sale is a body of readers–and maybe some love on social media. Reblogging this post or sharing the WattPad link among your circle of friends might put Diffraction in the hands of interested readers.

Winter isn’t coming… It’s here. What better way to start it than curling up under a warm blanket with a cup of hot cocoa and an invasion of bloodthirsty zealots?

Wishing you and yours all the best this holiday season.

Not to the Swift on WattPad

Having just finished my third National Novel Writing Month, I revisited the manuscript of Not to the Swift as the first book I ever completed and a departure from my sci-fi/fantasy norm. I forgot how much I love those characters and the conflicts between them.

I’ve made the whole book available for free reading on WattPad today. I know the joke is that site is full of sparkly vampire and One Direction fanfic… but there are kids engaged in reading, and reading a lot. Also, while purchases on Amazon or Kindle put a buck or two in my bank account, what I really need is readers who might buy future books. (I’m so selfish.)

To that end, if you read Not to the Swift and enjoyed the book, more than a purchase, I’d love an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank you.

As a personal aside, chapter 16 is my favorite. I had a lot of fun as a writer trying to emulate a middle schooler’s style and level of poetry while hopefully making it meaningful to the story content.

More than that, I think it was in the middle of NaNo, and I was struggling to get the words on page as well as dealing with the constant inner doubts of “is it even worth writing?”

Renee telling her students that everyone goes through that sort of thing was just supposed to be a little personal pep talk to myself and something it sounded like a decent, encouraging teacher might say to address kids’ fears of sharing their work in public.

When she comes back into the room after the encounter with LaTasha Washington, in the moment of writing it struck me that Amir could respond with some of the same advice he’d just been given. I love when those moments come up later, sort of a bookend or resonance within the writing. I probably try too hard for that in other places, but here, it seemed to happen naturally.

Over the last few months, I’ve been mulling over what I wrote back then, contemplating the characters and where they might be “today.”

It’s a challenging but fascinating exercise to imagine what another person’s viewpoint or argument might be, especially on such charged and divisive subjects. I feel like if I can write a remotely convincing point of view from someone whose ideas and beliefs I may strongly disagree with, then I’ve hopefully learned more about that sort of person and their perspective–learned to see them as a real human being with feelings and emotions, and not just as the butt of a joking Facebook meme.

I don’t feel like there’s enough of that going on in America today, but the only person I can really change is me… so this is part of my ongoing attempt.

I fully intend to write a sequel to this book, Not to the Strong, perhaps as next year’s NaNo effort. I have included a preview of one scene here:

Maria shook Bishop Simms’ hand and smiled, then gestured toward the seats at the front of the sanctuary. “This should be fairly quick,” she said, “but feel free to answer at any length you choose. Any long, awkward rambling can be edited out later–thank goodness, or I’d have been fired years ago.”

“I just hope the editors are careful to preserve the content of the dialogue instead of looking for the right sound bites.”

“We’re not like those types of news agencies, sir. We won’t put words in or take words out of your mouth.”

Simms laughed, a full-bodied and amicable sound. “You know, Miss Melendez, I believe that’s what all the others would tell me too.”

The cameraman placed lights on posts and set up diffuse panels to soften the shine, then made final adjustments. Maria shuffled in her chair and checked her watch. “You about done with that?”

“I just–there’s a glare coming off the bishop’s head that I’m trying to reduce.” He looked at Simms with an apologetic shrug. “Sorry, man.”

“Son, no need. Been bald for the last thirty years. I’ve wished I could reduce that glare too.”

Maria flipped through notes on her cell. “Okay, Bishop, the obvious topic of discussion will be the question of reparations, so we’ll knock that part out right off the bat. Sound good?”

“I’m at your disposal, and all too happy to talk. Ask my parishioners.”

Maria smiled. “So I’ve heard… Hence my warning about the editors.”

“You’re good, Maria.” The cameraman gave her a thumbs up and hunkered down behind his device. “Ready? Five, four, three…” He waved his finger twice.

“Good morning, Stapleton,” Maria said, her face a picture perfect smile. “I’m Maria Melendez, and this is Today on the Town. I’m sitting in the sanctuary of New Hope Tabernacle, a place of worship that has developed an intermittent relationship with the local news in the last few years. You may remember this sanctuary from the funeral of young Chris Washington, an unarmed black teen inadvertently killed by Officer Chris Mason while responding to a shoot-out between rival gangs–with Pulaski High School just a couple blocks away.”

Bishop Simms waited, hands folded in his lap, a slight upward turn to his lips, the sort of smile looking for a boot to drop or a knife in the back.

“Since then,” Maria continued, “Bishop Henry Simms has been a prominent voice on the subject of racial tensions and race relations in the Stapleton area. But in the last year, his platform skyrocketed into national attention when his slogan and position on the subject of reparations came up in the Presidential Debate.”

She turned toward Simms, whose face maintained that gentle cautiousness. “So, Bishop, let’s talk about your efforts. Since finding yourself under national scrutiny, have you reconsidered any of your more aggressive or challenging stances on policy?”

“If I changed my views just because of the spotlight,” Simms said, “that would imply that I wasn’t fully convinced of them to begin with. My positions are the same as when you stepped into my church that sad day as we mourned Chris’s wasted life.”

“So you’re not backing down on the issue of reparations, or the messages you’ve given condemning the rampant white privilege you claim affects so much of American politics?”

“No. Why should I? Though I’m not sure I used exactly those words.”

Maria scrolled through the text on her cell screen. “In a sermon on–December Twelfth two years ago, you’re on record asking how we can rightfully expect God to bless our nation while at the same time allowing corruption to grow and fester throughout all levels of government.”

“A valid question, in my opinion.”

“And later in that particular message, you brought up the disparity between how whites and blacks experience police intervention in Stapleton and across the nation. To a lot of people across the country, this doesn’t sound like Sunday morning sermon material.”

“Throughout the Old Testament,” Simms replied, “we see God concerned with His people and their societal expressions of righteousness. This word, in the Hebrew, goes straight to the modern concept of justice and equality–whether we’re talking about the courtroom, the locker room at the police station, or the break room in your work center. God doesn’t change, so I believe that justice and righteousness must still stir up His passions and holy anger just as much as when He sent His prophets to condemn abuses back then.”

“Do you see yourself as a prophet in a sense, Bishop?”

“Nothing so lofty as that. I’m a watchman on the wall, looking out over my city and my nation with concern. There’s so much–”

“A watchman on the wall,” Maria interrupted. “Interesting choice of words, given the divisiveness and the spectacle of the last election. A lot of talk about walls during the debates and the run-up to Election Day, wasn’t there? Are you supporting policies to build walls?”

“Again, I harken back to God’s holy Word,” Simms replied, “far more than I do the brash words of one man or woman. In the days of Joshua and King David, they built walls not to separate their own people, but to protect the community. I’m willing to stand on that kind of wall and call attention to the problems I see weakening our society. And like many times with the children of Israel, I don’t see the big problems coming at us from the outside, but within our walls, within our communities, our cities.”

“And your answer to that appears to be a mutil-billion dollar reparations program many call a bold-faced socialist redistribution of wealth, with some even leveling charges of reverse racism and discrimination.”

Simms leaned forward. “You ask why I talk so much of reparations. Is the concept far fetched? Perhaps. It certainly is a difficult and challenging question, whether–”

Maria shook her head. “Bishop, the conservative estimates on what it would take to attempt such a program are staggering.”

“Maybe,” Simms replied. “But it gets people attention, and it should. What African slaves went through is mighty staggering as well. And while we have made so much progress in the last several decades, we cannot sit idly by and declare ‘Mission Accomplished,’ all is well in the racial divide in America.”

“Well, it is a divisive view you’re espousing, Bishop. You can understand why people might disagree.”

“Might be we could have a much different conversation if there was acknowledgment that there’s cause–There’s a grievance in our past, as yet unresolved, where reparations could be in order. I wouldn’t presume to speak for every person in the African American community, nor do I think you can speak for all Latinas, or your cameraman for every white male. But I think that it would be a huge step to hear certain vocal leaders on the other side of the debate simply acknowledge it. Acknowledge that the grievance exists.”

“Bishop, I have to ask, what of forgiveness? Christian leaders and especially your detractors have often responded based on your own religious beliefs. “Simms is a preacher of the gospel,’ they say, ‘so he more than others should know Christ called us to forgive, not judge. Because He–Christ Jesus–already forgave.’ That’s a quote from the Reverend Jerry Turnbull, a megachurch pastor from Saint Louis.”

“Oh, I have heard those kinds of arguments before,” Simms said, nodding. “Yes, indeed, that sounds pretty good when you’re preaching to your congregation. But I look to no less than the Apostle Paul for my answer to Reverend Turnbull’s query.”

“Saint Paul?”

“Paul indeed wrote that nothing now separates us from the love of God, and there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, so I understand where my brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue are coming from.”

Simms curled his hands toward his heart and continued. “But Paul had a broken and contrite heart about his sin. He wrote at length about his failures, his crimes against the church, his rebellion against the Lord. ‘I am the chief of sinners,’ he said, ‘I am the least deserving.’ Paul knew the power of grace because he recognized the depth of the evil he had done.”

He pointed his finger to the south side of the sanctuary. “People on this side of the Twenties would be much quicker to forgive if we heard some of that recognition of wrongdoing from those fine believers on the south and east sides of Stapleton.”

“Yes, but–”

“Maria,” Simms continued, “I think of what one of my parishioners told me the other day. ‘I don’t hold my brother’s death against anybody… but I still hold that pain inside. That’s part of who I am. And while I know God forgets the sins of others and binds up my wounds, I don’t think that means I should forget the hurts or pretend they didn’t happen.’ So it is with our nation and our past. Too many folk want to pretend it didn’t happen, or, you know, ‘well it’s all over and done with now, let’s dust ourselves off and move on.'”

Maria opened her mouth to respond but said nothing.

“We still remember the Alamo,” Simms said, “and the Revolutionary War… and rightly so. We must remember our history, both the good and the bad. The good, so we can emulate the heroism of those who came before, and the bad, so we don’t forget and become doomed to repeat their mistakes.”

“Hard to argue with any of that, Bishop,” Maria finally said. “But when you slap a bill for several billion dollars on a weakened economy, people are still going to balk.”

“I’ve long heard it said that freedom isn’t free,” Simms replied. “Believe me, we know. We paid for our freedom over centuries of abuse and maltreatment. So perhaps my response to my detractors comes down to this: you talk a good game about freedom and justice. Let’s see you put your money where your mouth is.”

Victory of a Sort

I made it. 


50,000 words of a brand new novel, all written in the month of November. I crossed that finish line today during the All-Japan Virtual Write-In. Good thing too, since my next three days at work are wall-to-wall busy.

Update: I added up my efforts today and realized I also crossed 200K words for the year… which may sound impressive, but consider that a full quarter of that happened in the last four weeks. Such grand plans I had… But I digress.

Of course, the blog suffered as a result of NaNoWriMo efforts. #sorrynotsorry and all that.

This is my third NaNo and third victory, so I’m quite pleased. It’s a wonderful chance to play around with something different from your normal writing style or genre. This year I went with 1st person present tense urban fantasy, something I’ve never tried prior to the preparation for this novel.

On top of that, I found an awesome site that spurred me toward that ever-increasing word count: 4thewords

They’re a NaNoWriMo sponsor, so I wanted to help them out. The site is a writing system that incorporates game elements like an RPG. You create a character and go on quests against monsters that have word count goals instead of health points. The gear you find and equip gives you bonuses to attack (counts additional words written), defense (gives you additional time to fight the monster), and luck (increased chance of finding better items).

While the short burst style of writing in sprints of 250 – 1500 words has its drawbacks in the form of continuity problems, poorly thought-out ideas, and plot holes, I would have those in a first draft no matter what I do. What matters to me is, does it get me writing more? I could be wrong, but I definitely feel like the game elements encouraged me to write more than I might have if I was depending on internal motivation alone.

I still have a good chunk to finish on the first draft before I can type “the end.” It’ll be a long while before this one hits the streets, and it might be with a pen name. Also it’s a partnership with a friend in the States, so there’ll be more back-and-forth in the refining process than if I was just going to self-publish.

Meanwhile, Blog Battles have taken a hiatus, so there also won’t be any Grant & Teagan popping up until next year.

That said, I have some plans for December that I’ll call attention to here, and I hope to continue using 4thewords to see if it will keep me moving forward on Diffusion (fantasy book 2) and God’s Shooter, an Old West project involving a gambler prophet. The latter will probably start popping up in scenes on WattPad and WordPress before the end of the year.

And of course, I’ll post the occasional rant or update on my life, because hey, it’s my blog and I add those into my overall word count. Plus I need something to distract me from politics on Facebook. 

Hope your holidays thus far have been restful and productive.

#BlogBattle entry – Settling Accounts

From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Explorer, Collector, and Uncooperative Witness

Accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway


“Don’t worry, Teagan,” Grant said, his hand on her shoulder. “Let me do the talking and we’ll get through this just fine.”

A hammer slammed against the sound block at the central seat overseeing the hearing, and all commotion in the chambers of Congress ceased. An old Senator with white handlebar mustaches squinted through a monocle at the pair. A few other elder statesmen sat on either side, and a stenographer sat at a typewriter, ready to record details.

“This hearing will now come to order,” the Senator said. “For the purpose of settling discrepancies in the accounts of Mister Grant Rowan McSwain and Mistress Teagan Ca—cow me—hell, whatever it is O’Daire—”

Caoimhe,” Teagan said. “Say ‘key’ with a little ‘va’ at the end, and—“

She noted the stern, narrow-eyed look from the Senator and snapped her mouth closed.

“Teagan key-va O’Daire,” the Senator continued, “concerning the disposition and whereabouts of properties of the United States of America, namely, fifteen bars of Fort Knox bullion each weighing two pounds, and of less import to this committee, the Crucifix of Castellano. I’ll remind you both, you are under oath and the conversations here will be recorded and classified until further review. So, Mister McSwain, what happened to our gold?”

“That’s my report in your hand, Senator Dixon,” Grant said. “Everything’s in there.”

“There’s a whole lot in there, Mister McSwain.” Dixon shuffled the papers and eyed their contents. “Not a lot that makes sense though. You say here that you were contracted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations?”

“Indeed. I have a signed letter from Agent Shane Dawkins that states—“

“The Bureau claims they don’t have an Agent Dawkins in their employ.”

Teagan tensed as the hearing started off exactly as she feared. “We’re being set up, Grant,” she whispered.

Grant stood his ground. “Well, Senator, they’re lying to you.”

“That information came from a source with access to the Director himself,” Senator Dixon replied. “You expect me to take your word over Director Hoover?”

“Sources with access to the Director also claim J. Edgar Hoover isn’t a loon,” Grant said. “Doesn’t change the fact I have a photograph of him in a hula skirt and a coconut bra—one that is currently in the care of an associate, with orders to release it to the press in the event of my untimely demise or incarceration.”

The other senators gasped. Dixon simply leaned forward. “Are you actually blackmailing a Senate committee under oath?”

“I’m telling you the whole truth about what will happen, under oath. Nothing more.”

Dixon sat back and thumbed through a couple pages. “So that’s how we’re going to play this? Fine. Let’s talk about the destruction of the H.M.S. Perceval.”

“Not my fault,” Grant stated. “Like I wrote there, it seems the Leviathan no longer responds to the Ixthacan summoning ritual with the same… cooperative temperament.”

“They’re notoriously fickle,” Teagan added.

“A shame to lose that trick, really,” Grant continued. “You should have seen the mer-men’s faces… I mean, up until it ate them.”

Dixon glared at her, then back at Grant. “Leviathans.”

“Well I don’t know what the proper genus and species would be, but that’s the term we used. Actually, maybe they belong in their own family.”

“And you performed the ritual because of these… We’ll just call them pirates if that’s alright.”

“Pirates with gills and skin of scales,” Grant said. “I suppose ‘pirates’ works, since that’s the life they chose. But ‘mer-men’ is more accurate.”

“Or Atlanteans,” Teagan chimed in.

“Aw, hell. Atlantis!” Dixon scoffed and turned to his peers, one brow raised. “Are we really supposed to continue this farce? Can I just declare these witnesses hostile, slap ‘em in irons, and toss ‘em on a boat bound to Alcatraz?”

“I believe we’ve established that Mister McSwain and I have bad luck with boats,” Teagan chimed in. Then she saw Grant’s perturbed look and said no more.

A senator in the farthest seat shook his head. The man seemed a couple decades younger than the others, with slicked back dark hair showing debonair streaks of gray at the temples. His fine mustache and goatee added to his roguish charm.

“Hoover was clear about the importance of this, Dixon. He buys into this stuff, asks specifically about these sorts of things—just like the reports coming in concerning the Kaiser’s expeditions in Africa and across Europe.”

“Might I remind you, Senator Thornton,” Dixon snapped, “these two petty cultural thieves are not cleared for classified information?”

Thornton examined Grant for a moment then chuckled. “I suspect they know more than we do, Senator.”

“We’ve encountered Germans several times,” Grant said, “a strange group that claims to work for the Kaiser, but seems too well-equipped and well-funded for that. They’ve been on our tails, looking for Ixthacan artifacts, objects of power, anything with an associated myth or legend.”

Dixon shook his head. “This reads like a penny pulp. I am not bringing a report full of gibberish like sea monsters, mer-men, and—”
he scanned the page. “Oh, yes, vampires—to Director Hoover, let alone the President.”

“Hoover buys into all of this anyway,” Grant said. “And to answer your earlier question, that’s where Castellano’s Crucifix is. With a vampire. Teagan blew a hole in his chest with one of the deck guns, then I impaled him with that golden cross. He got real feisty after that, but we trapped him on the ship as it was going down.”

“I don’t understand. What were you doing on a pirate vessel off the coast of Egypt in the first place?”

“They rescued us after our vessel sank. Or I should say they enslaved us, and I think talked about using us for chum so they could lure the sharks they were hunting.”

Dixon cast Thornton a sidelong glance, and the slick younger politician merely shrugged.

Grant chuckled and turned to Teagan. “Should I tell him about the connection we found between the Ixthacans and other ancient civilizations?”

Teagan laughed. “No, Grant, I think this is a good time to—“

“Aliens!” Grant spread his arms wide, reaching up toward the heavens beyond the high ceiling. “Extra-terrestrial life forms that I think made contact with humanity in various advanced civilizations around the world.”

Propped on his desk with his elbows, Senator Dixon flopped his heavy jowls into his hands. Senator Thornton, bemused and nonchalant throughout the proceedings, now fixed his gaze on Grant with a keenness that unnerved Teagan.

Grant pressed on, unaware or unconcerned. “The Ixthacans, Egypt, the tribes of Europe, China… Maybe others. We found portals connected to those four regions at a minimum.”

Dixon closed his eyes and took a long, silent moment before opening them again. “Aliens.”

“Yeah,” Grant said with a vigorous nod. “And they’re not nice. They see flesh as weakness and impurity, something they purged from their world.” He raised a finger with sudden recollection. “Also you’ll want to know they’re made of living mud.”

“So you were searching for portals to the world of the mud-men,” Dixon said, “and your vessel was attacked by vampires, so you sank it and got rescued—“

“Enslaved.”

“—Enslaved by mer-men, which caused you to summon the Leviathan, who broke free of your control and wreaked havoc and mayhem across the Mediterranean before disappearing into the Atlantic.”

“I did cause minor mayhem, I admit,” Grant replied. “But I was not aware of any havoc being wreaked.”

“We’re done here,” Dixon declared, and slammed the gavel on the sound block. “I move that first, we chalk this up as a total, disastrous loss, and second, that we make it clear to all Departments that Mister McSwain is not a reliable asset for the interests of the United States—particularly because he is absolutely beside himself with wild imaginations and baseless claims all unsupported by evidence.”

“I second the motion,” one of the other Senators said. “So long as those exact words are recorded for future reference, so that no one’s precious time may be wasted in such manner in the future.”

The vote passed unanimously and Grant and Teagan found themselves escorted from the chambers in haste.

Once outside the Capitol building, Grant took a deep breath and smiled as he surveyed the majesty of Washington D.C.

Swait Jaysis, Grant,” Teagan said with a long sigh. “That was a pretty little mess you made in there.”

“It’s perfect, Teag.”

“We’ll never work for the Americans again, and you think that’s a good thing?”

“We’ll never work for the American government again,” Grant said. “There are folk in the States who will be curious about our findings. But Uncle Sam won’t ever take another look our way.”

Teagan glanced back and spotted Senator Thornton watching. “I’m not so sure…”