Happy Holidays from A Muse Bouche Review
The year-end is nigh, and we’d like to take the opportunity to wish you and yours Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year! While we’re at it, we’d like to take some of your already busy time and have a conversation about the amazingly elusive element in fiction called Genre.
Whether the conversation is about books, movies, or any form of storytelling, the question of Genre emerges. But what is it? And what does it mean to you? As a reader? As a writer? Is it a list of things that happen in the story, or the place and time within the narrative? Is it isolated to character, setting, or plot? Or is it all three? These are a few of the concepts we hope to explore with you, and we hope you will let us know your feelings as well.
Each of us: Alexandra, Paul, Crystal, Dustin, Jess, Kelly, Melanie, Packy, Renée, and E.G. are proud and humbled to once again be able to present to you our thoughts and our words.
We welcome your feedback and hope to hear from you via www.ambreview.com or directly on our personal feeds.
The A Muse Bouche Review team
Resources for Horror Writers (Kelly Kristensen) Writing Advice
When to Keep to Rules of a Genre and When to Break Them (Renée Gendron) Writing Advice
THEY COME (Guest: J. P. Walters) Fiction
On Genre (Paul Grealish) Satire
THE BENCH (Jess K Hardy) Fiction
BOB SAVES CHRISTMAS FOR ALL MANKIND (Packy Smith) Fiction
THE TALE OF FALCON AND SNAKE (Alexandra Gardner) Fiction
Writing Outside the Lines (Crystal Kirkham) Writing Advice
THE DREAM (D.W. Hitz) Fiction
By Kelly Kristensen (@kellykediting)
Welcome to our genre issue! I thought that it would be appropriate to add a list of great websites for horror writers. Happy writing!
How to Write A Horror Story
6 Things American Horror Story Can Teach Us About Writing
Core Elements of a Horror Story
How to write a horror story: 6 terrific tips
Seven Elements of Horror
6 Common Horror Film Tropes
The Horror Genre: On Writing Horror and Avoiding Clichés
A Crash Course in Horror Sub-Genres
Invoking Fear with the Horror Genre
How to Write Suspense Like Stephen King
The Genre of Horror
What is Young Adult Horror? Answers for Interested Readers and Bemused Writers
Manuscript Agency – How Long Should My Book Be
The Write Life – How Many Words in a Novel
WD – Word Counts for Novels and Children’s Books
by Renée Gendron (@reneegendron)
Genre fiction refers to the rules, constraints, and tropes expected in a particular subset of popular fiction. There are many categories of genres, including fantasy, science-fiction, romance, thriller, western, and mystery. Each category of genre fiction has certain parameters. Science-fiction, for example, deals with subjects such as futuristic science, space travel, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. The romance genre has characters that meet and experience internal and external conflicts. The conflicts hinder the ability of the couple to be together. Over the book, the couple addresses the conflict, and they end up together. If the couple doesn’t end up together, then it’s not a romance.
In addition to general themes that compose genres, genres also have subgenres. For example, science-fiction combined with romance. In such a book, a reader would expect to read about a couple wanting to be together while also contending with space aliens or dealing with challenges in an alternate reality.
Each genre also has generally accepted parameters for word counts and hard rules. For example, the couple in a romance must have a happily ever after or a happy-for-now ending. If it doesn’t, then it’s a love story or a tragedy, not a romance. If you want to write a high fantasy novel, then you must have elves or orcs or trolls or some associated creature. An epic fantasy must be more than 150,000 words. Never, ever kill a pet in romance. Those are hard rules. Break them at your peril.
Genres are important because they set up expectations for readers, and when writers consistently deliver on those expectations, they develop their fan base. Without genres, readers would have to spend a lot more time filtering through books to see which ones they wanted to read. Without genres, writers wouldn’t have templates or tropes to work from. Without genres, marketing a book series and developing an author brand would more difficult. Genres are short-hand. They make clear what interests a reader and what doesn’t.
Authors develop audiences for both their style of writing and the genres they write. Some authors write series in multiple genres and no matter the genre, a segment of their readers will buy. Other readers will only follow an author’s work in one genre.
Those are all the reasons to stick to the tropes, formulas and parameters of a genre. What about the reasons for breaking a genre’s soft expectations? Soft expectations are the general conventions in a genre at the time or writing. An example of a general conversation is that all Westerns take place in the American West circa 1860-1880. Another convention (trope) could be a jaded police officer investing a murder.
Let’s take the example of a Western-romance. What if the story is in 2019 on a ranch in Alberta, and it’s the woman who pursues the man and tries to woo him? Let’s look at the checklist. Couple gets together with a happily ever after – check for romance. Horses, a ranch-like setting, and cowboy boots and hats- check for Western. Here’s the twist: the role reversal, she asks him. Here’s another twist, they farm llamas, not cattle. Such a book would keep things fresh and interesting for the readers, push the boundaries of the subgenre.
And what about the jaded cop looking for the murderer? How could the author still write a crime novel while making the main character cop interesting? What if a cop’s life wasn’t entirely shattered, and he had a good relationship with his siblings? The cop could still be divorced, be in dispute with their neighbours, but also look forward to performing in his/her band this upcoming Saturday night. Such a character would be more nuanced, show a broader spectrum of human travails and have more complex relationships, more real relationships.
There’s a balance authors need to strike between respecting the genre to develop a readership and taking some chances to develop a unique voice. Ask yourself, what would your readers never forgive you for if you wrote it? (IE: never kill the family pet. Ever).
Ask yourself, why would a reader pick up your work? If you’re marketing an epic fantasy but it only has 70,000 words, new readers won’t be interested in buying it. You’ve already broken a foundational genre promise before they read the first sentence.
Once you’ve identified the hard rules of your genre, look at the soft ones. The ones you can bend, dance on, and break. What if the cowgirl rides a draft horse instead of a quarter horse? What if the aliens are the descendents of humans who 1 million years ago explored space and have since evolved differently?
Let me know which soft rules you’ve broken.
by: J. P. Walters (@WaltersAuthor)
Bernard huffed, suppressing the urge to recite last night’s dream. He’d been lazing on the porch since seven, cradling Molly like a baby. This huskie was the closest thing Bernard had to semblance for his wife’s passing. He’d never say it aloud, but his heart melted when Molly wagged her little tail, knowing he’d get all mushy and give her a treat. For an eight-month-old pup, she had him smitten.
The stars were bright tonight, racing through the universe on a singular mission, illuminating Bernard’s farm. Bernard peered to the sky, hoping his wife was up there somewhere. She’d never been happy, not really. They were in love, and Irene treasured their bond, but her mind carried heavy weights. She’d gone to therapy, on and off for years, but it never seemed to help alleviate her anxieties. Bernard sighed, rubbing Molly’s belly as he remembered when Irene first told him,
“I’m not some bonkers broad, okay, but I have to tell you this if we’re going steady.” She paused nervously, taking a sip of her Bay Breeze, buying time. “Sometimes, when I’m alone at night, these things come…”
Over thirty years had passed since that day, but it still brought a tear to Bernard’s eye, recalling her admission. It took a lot for her to tell him something so dark, so private. He didn’t reply right away, instead, smiling and embracing the love of his life,
“I’d never think you’re bonkers. We all have things, but it takes jazz to show others our insecurities.”
Molly howled, dragging Bernard from his memories. The tractor by the barn appeared almost white on nights like these, a far cry from the dirt that coated its frame. Bernard ruffled Molly’s belly. She panted, brushing Bernard’s face with warm air. He whispered,
“Well, little lady, off to bed.”
The decking creaked under Bernard’s boots, but Molly rushed past him, nudging the door open. Bernard yelled, but she was already in the house, probably in the kitchen, begging for biscuits.
“Watch where you’re—”
His mouth dried, words stumbling behind his tongue as he looked to the roof. Bernard couldn’t see it, but he could sense something was up there, scrutinizing him, camouflaged under the twinkling stars. His brow lowered, but nothing appeared.
Bernard shook his head and followed Molly inside.
The newspaper crinkled between Bernard’s fingers. Irene had always loathed his compulsion for folding the corners of every second page, but he missed her nagging,
“Read it like a normal person, you, old coot!”
Molly released a lengthy sigh. Bernard peered past the newspaper to see his girl, curled up in her basket beneath the smudged window, moonlight brightening her fur. He squinted to see the trees beyond the window, swaying in the autumn breeze.
He chuckled, his eyes drooping as Molly continued to sulk in her sleep. He shook away the talons of insomnia and returned to the sports section.
Bernard’s eyes scanned the article, but his mind was elsewhere, energizing a niggling memory with the precision of a scratching record. When he did manage to sleep, he’d have the same dream. It started after Irene’s passing.
Bernard gripped the slippers by Molly’s basket with his toes and slid them on. The house always felt colder when he thought about his dreams. Unlike most, forgotten upon brushing his teeth, these remained as vivid as his fondest memories. Owls, ten, maybe more, huddled around Bernard’s bed, almost impossible to see if not for the moonlight from the window. They never moved, instead, staring down at him. The central aspect he couldn’t shake was their plumages. Owls were nothing new, Bernard illegally removed one from their attic, Irene refusing to enter the house until it was dead, but these didn’t look right. Their feathers were patchy and almost entirely opaque, not to mention their malnourished figures.
Bernard jumped in his chair, hearing Molly growl again. He lowered the newspaper and prepared to fling his slipper to her basket, but his leg froze. Something was standing behind the window, motionless between the trees. Bernard clambered to his feet, but by the time he’d righted himself, the silhouette had vanished.
“Alrighty, little lady, Daddy’s gonna sleep.”
Molly sighed, cozy in her basket by the lounge window. She just wanted to sleep, but talking to her calmed Bernard’s nerves, mainly when insomnia chose to toy with his mind. He spoke again,
“Ha, I think I’ve not been getting enough! Sixty-two years and I’m imagining sasquatches.”
The bedroom door clicked shut, and Bernard headed to the dresser.
He’d had trouble sleeping since Irene passed away. Still, tonight felt more manageable, as though his brain had finally embraced the prospect of respite.
“Molly, back to sleep.”
Bernard slurred from beneath the covers as Molly pawed from behind the bedroom door, his eyes, too heavy to open. Irene always walked the puppy at night, but Molly still didn’t seem to understand she’d passed away.
The scratching continued. Bernard moaned and threw the covers aside. He sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, rubbing his eyes in the darkness, broken only by the moon, peeking through the window. Molly whimpered, her little feet pattering back into the lounge.
Bernard’s neck jerked as the door handle rattled. He stumbled back into the bed, hauling the covers to his face. He yelled,
Molly’s cries from the lounge wheezed to silence, followed by the door handle settling. Bernard exhaled in relief, the room coming into view as he lowered the blanket from his eyes.
The door burst open, with shadowy figures gliding into the room. Bernard’s breaths hastened. He lunged behind the sheets, the beings huddling around the foot of his bed. He sobbed, focusing on their outlines, blocking the moonlight from passing beyond the window. He’d seen them before, too tall to be owls, but strikingly alike in form.
Molly cried from the lounge, the pleads for assistance haunting the hallway through the open door. Bernard turned to the sound of his little girl and grasped the blanket tighter. Huge eyes met his under the covers, unblinking and without pupils.
This week, poppets, lets’ talk ‘genre’. What is it? My internet is playing up so I can’t access Wikipedia right now, but I think I know enough to give this a go. There are two things to know. Firstly ‘YA’ is an age-bracket, not a genre. Secondly, nobody wants to read ‘Clockbusters’; retellings of classic tales with clocks instead of people. I learned that lesson so that you don’t have to, my doves.
Genres are funny things, really. You’ve got ‘A List of Stephen King Books’ or ‘horror’, as it’s sometimes known. There’s ‘Dark Sweaty Fantasy Where The Sergeant Main Character Who Is A Hateful Turd Dies In Chapter Six As Does Everyone Else And Everybody Is Mean And Shouty’. And, of course, there’s ‘Romance’. Romance is big business, but tough to crack. People like kissing, but they don’t like much elbow licking. It’s an arbitrary minefield, basically.
What genre am I working in? Well, having tried ‘Middle Class Sadness Porn’ (‘The Corrections’ sold heaps, after all), I’ve moved on to a new genre: Seampunk. Dressmakers battling it out in airships — and in the workshop. Which is on a bigger airship. I’ve done the research. There’s money there, B’adlings.
Just remember: genre isn’t pronounced ‘jen-ree’, ‘Amnesiac Memoir’ is less popular than ever, and ‘Cli-Fi’ is not, apparently, short for ‘Clipper Fiction.’ You know, the boats? As I say, it’s a minefield out there, kiddos.
Be of good cheer!
Your humble hero,
Byron A. D’Ysmal,
C.E.O. B.A.D Writing Services.*
*Provided to Paul Grealish as part of a deposition in what the media have dubbed ‘The Naked Note-taker Affair’.
by: Jess K Hardy (T: @JessKHardy2000)
WEEK 1: THE TOUCH
“Why does Max get the swing? He’s had it all morning.”
Noah kneels in front of his daughter, tugging gently on her braided pigtails.
“Sophie, Peanut, there’s an open swing right next to Max.”
She stomps her foot, loose laces flopping over the sides of her black Chucks. “That one doesn’t go as high. It’s not fair!”
I get to my feet, about to step in and tell my kid to give Sophie a turn on the swing when Noah holds out his hand toward me. I sit back down on the bench while he ties Sophie’s laces, turns her around, and sends her off toward the monkey bars.
“Life is rarely fair, Soph. I love you. Figure it out.”
She’s an inch from losing it, but then Max hops off the swing and races for the sandbox. Evidently the swing wasn’t the be-all and end-all of the four-year-old’s existence because without another word, she runs to join him.
“Next it’ll be Max’s turn when he decides Sophie has the better shovel,” I say as Noah takes his seat beside me on the bench.
He shakes his head, laughing equitably. “Kids are fucking weird.”
“I don’t know. If the only thing I could control in my entire universe was getting the good swing at the park, I’d probably be screaming and pounding the sand if I were in her position.”
“I see. So, in your opinion, her response was actually restrained?”
I laugh at this. “You’ve raised her well.” I’ve dreaded asking him this question, but I’ve waited as long as I can. “What did Jennifer say? About switching weekends.”
Noah and I met on this bench six months ago. I’d separated from my husband about a year earlier, and Noah had just divorced his wife, Jennifer, after finding out she’d been cheating on him with their neighbor. We’ve been meeting at this park every other Sunday morning since, watching our kids play. Talking.
Only now my ex wants to switch which weekends we have Max. Which would put Noah and me out of sync and make my presence on this bench when Noah will be here from this day forward weird at best, creepy at worst. But I like Noah. He’s the first male friend I’ve made since my separation. We have a lot in common. And he’s nice to look at, not that I’d ever tell him that. My days of crushing on straight guys are well and truly over. Even though, I might be holding my breath a little waiting for his reply.
“She wasn’t happy about it. But when I told her I wasn’t happy she’d been fucking the twenty-year-old next door, she backed off.”
“So, she said yes?”
He nods. I swallow. “That’s great. Max will be thrilled.”
His hand runs over his close-cropped blond hair, green eyes glinting in the sunlight. “Yeah, Soph too. And me,” he says. “Me too. Who else would listen to me bitch about my dumpster fire of a life? Without you I’d turn into one of those sad divorced men who talks to their dogs.”
I shrug, frowning. “I talk to my dog.”
“Yeah, me too,” he admits with a sigh. Then he angles his body on the bench, turning toward me. “Can I ask you a question?”
“I will answer you the way I answer anyone who asks me this: depends entirely on the question.”
“The question will be: Have you dated anyone since Pierce? Is this a question that’s suitable to ask?”
I’m laughing. “Yes it is. Uh, I did, once. It didn’t go well. Haven’t bothered since. Why do you ask?”
“What happened? With the date?”
“We met for drinks. He was fine. Nice enough. But there was just nothing there, no spark. Then he tried to kiss me in the parking lot and I didn’t want to kiss him back, which was a first for me by the way. It completely freaked me out. I panicked, stood as still and lifeless as a taxidermied cat. Not my finest hour.”
“After that, I never saw him again.”
“Well, at least you tried.” His arm comes to rest on the backrest, hand an inch from my shoulder. “A woman at work asked me out.”
“Right. And you’re nervous?”
“More like terrified.” He looks ahead, his eyes staring blankly into some middle distance. “I don’t think I ever told you, but I almost killed myself after…when I found out about Jennifer.”
“No, you never told me that.” I want to reach out to him, rest my hand on his shoulder. But straight men just don’t seem to do that sort of thing with other men on park benches. At least I think they don’t.
“I drank myself stupid for six straight days. Purposefully. Woke up in the hospital after my mom found me passed out in my bathtub up to my chin in ice-cold water.”
“Your mom found you?”
“Yeah. It was a low point. And now, I don’t know, I’m scared to put myself out there again.”
“I wish I had anything helpful to say on that front, but I’ve been in self-imposed dating jail for months. Obviously not the person to tell you to—”
My head whips up, my heart galloping now as I jump to my feet. Max is screaming. He’s screaming like he’s dying. Racing for the sandbox, I drop to Max’s side, Noah sliding in beside me.
“What is it?” Noah asks me.
I can’t get a word out of Max, nothing but red-faced, open-mouthed silence. He’s not breathing. I know he’s just crying too hard but he needs to breathe. Please breathe.
Sophie’s sobbing beside him. “It was a bee. It landed on his hand. Then he started screaming.”
I take Max’s hand in mine, turning the pudgy softness of it over to try to find the source of his pain. There, on the back side, a tiny red spot surrounded by a quickly swelling mound.
“Is he allergic?” asks Noah, cradling Sophie who’s crawled into his lap.
“No. I don’t think so anyway.” I cup my son’s face. “Max, buddy. It’s just a bee sting. I know it hurts, but it’s okay. I promise. It’s okay.”
He takes a breath that shudders through him and nearly destroys me. Then he sniffs five times in a row. “It hurts. Bad.”
Noah sets Sophie back down, walks to the grass to dig a bit of dirt from the ground with his fingers, then walks to the water fountain.
“Here, Max. This’ll help.” He pats the mud he’s made onto the back of Max’s hand.
After a minute, Max calms. “Any better?” I ask him.
He wipes his nose with his other hand, then nods. “It’s cooler. But it still hurts.”
“Bee stings suck, buddy.” I pull him into my lap, kissing away fat tears from his cheeks. “You wanna stay or go?”
“I wanna stay. I wanna keep playing. But can you make the bees go away?”
God, I wish I could pal. “Bees kind of do whatever they want. Can’t really tell them what to do.”
“Kinda like you, huh Soph?” Noah says, breaking the tension.
“Yeah, Sophie. You’re just like a bee.” Max, finding this notion hysterical, dissolves into laughter. Bee sting forgotten as quickly as it happened.
“Well, you’re like a fish,” she counters, brows pinched together. “At least bees can fly.”
We leave them in the sandbox, arguing over who is what kind of insect or animal, both of them in hysterics now. I’m shaking though, trying to slow my breakneck breathing and thundering heart.
On the way back to our bench, Noah places his large, warm hand on the small of my back and says, “Hey. You okay? It’s all right. He’s going to be all right.”
Noah is touching me. I stop breathing entirely.
I think this is the first time I’ve touched him. Who am I kidding, I know it’s the first time I’ve touched him. Six months. Six months and this is the first physical contact I’ve allowed myself to have with him.
I don’t think James has any idea that I’m bi. Until recently, I wasn’t even sure that I was. I kissed a guy once during a spin-the-bottle game in high school. It wasn’t much, but I’d liked it. I’d liked the firmness of his lips, the strength of his hand holding my head in place. A few gay mags, internet porn sites, and a very sore wrist later, I was suspicious. But I never acted on it.
And then I’d met Jennifer my sophomore year of college and we fell in love. I didn’t think too much about men after that. Until the first day I saw James sitting on this very bench, watching his son swing from the monkey bars, laughing at him. That was the first night in years I’d typed “men kissing men” into my search window. It’s become a regular occurrence since. So, yeah. I think I’m probably bi. But I’m also someone who has never, not once in my entire life, made the first move. And I have no idea if James is at all interested in a probably bisexual divorcee who’s never done anything more than touched his lips to another man’s in real life. If I was gay, I’m really not sure I would be. Too steep of a learning curve. Too much of a risk of that person changing their mind.
But, fuck, his eyes, they’re this deep shade of blue, like sapphires, and I should probably stop gazing into them like a swooning teenager.
“Did I ever tell you Max was a preemie?” James asks, catching me entirely off guard.
We sit on the bench, my hand pulled into my lap, cold after it leaves him. “No, you didn’t. How early?”
He scratches his head, his chocolate-brown hair ruffling under his long fingers. “Eleven weeks. Our surrogate had a complete placental abruption and had to deliver early.”
“Max was in the hospital for almost three months. I’ve never felt so helpless. He was so small and thin at firsts and, strangely, completely covered in hair.”
“Covered? Like everywhere? Is that like a normal thing?” I ask, having no fucking clue.
This pulls a barked laugh from him. “It is, evidently. Although nobody told me and the first time I saw him I thought maybe he had some sort of genetic condition. And his ears were insane, flat against his head and transparent as a jellyfish.”
I fight not to laugh with him. Because this memory is obviously painful for him and it just seems wrong to laugh.
“Pierce and I couldn’t even hold him at first. Every time we did, he’d stop breathing and we’d have to watch his oxygen saturation plummet on his monitor while his tiny body turned blue, then grey, then white. He’d go completely white. Like a ghost. And each time he did, I thought he was dead. But then we’d pat his feet or pinch his toes and miraculously, he’d come back around.
“It was surreal, the nurses standing over us, calmly telling us to stimulate our son, who I was absolutely certain was dying in my arms. And nobody would help me. I’d beg them to help but they’d insist I could do it, we could do it ourselves.” His voice drops to just above a whisper. “So every single day for those first few weeks, I dreaded going to visit him in the NICU, convinced he’d either died while we were away, or he’d die while we were there. And nobody would do anything about it. It messed me up. A lot.”
His reaction to the bee sting makes sense now. He’s always right on top of Max if something happens. Any fall or scratch, he’s up and running. It makes sense.
“Fuck. That must have been awful. I can’t imagine.” Sophie’s birth went off without a hitch and she was as easy as babies come, sleeping through the night after the first week. Not that I’d ever tell another parent that. I’m not suicidal.
“Yeah. That’s when things went south with Pierce. I can trace it all back to those first few weeks.” He shrugs. “We just dealt with it differently, the strain, the fear. He became overly involved, reading everything he could on preemies, spending hours at a time with Max in the NICU, obsessed about hand washing and breast milk vs. formula and what our surrogate should and shouldn’t eat. I think it all gave him a sense of control over the situation. And I just shut down, abandoning any notion of control over my life or anyone else’s I’d ever mistakenly believed I’d had. His need to take control, my need to surrender it completely. It just didn’t work.”
“I can see that. I can easily see that.”
“The worst part, though,” he continues, “is that I never really connected with Max when he was a baby. I was too scared. But Pierce was there for Max, in all the ways I couldn’t be. So now he has custody and I have every other weekend to try to convince my kid that I love him, that I’m not afraid of him anymore.”
This is something I’ve noticed since I met James on this bench. He talks. About everything. He’s open. He’s so completely open. And I can be open too, when I’m with him. But I’m not. He’s just poured his heart out to me, and I’m still keeping everything from him. Because I’m a coward.
“I’m sorry, James. I really am. That sounds like it was an impossible situation.”
He smiles at me, lips pink under a dusting of dark-brown stubble. “It’s all right. Time heals and all that. Pierce and I are still friends, and Max and I are closer than ever. It was rough start, that’s all. People all over the world have had much worse.”
My phone chimes.
“Time to go?” His smile seems to turn even more sad, or maybe I’m just imagining it.
I stand, sliding my phone into my back pocket. “Yep. Can’t be late for ballet. See you next week, right? We switch next week?” I’m just double checking. I don’t sound desperate. I’m sure I don’t.
His grin grows. “Yes. And I wouldn’t miss it.”
When he stands, I touch him again. I can’t fucking help it as my hand squeezes his arm. “Thank you for sharing all of that with me. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.”
He glances to my hand, then back to my eyes. “What do we have if not each other to unload on?”
Christ, the phrasing. I stare at him, probably a little too long, wondering if maybe he isn’t actively trying to seduce me. He’s got to be, right? It can’t just be me. God I hope it’s not just me. Because it’s getting harder and harder to hide what I’m feeling for him.
Then he fucking winks at me and I nearly bit a hole straight through my cheek trying not to let the small thrill that runs through me show. This is bad. This is really bad. And also, maybe, really, really good.
by: Packy Smith (@packysmith)
Every time you read this, an elf is born in the North Pole. Don’t ask me how I know this. Some tales are too depraved to tell. Some bells can’t be unrung, not to be confused with unhung, like Jeffrey Epstein who did not hang himself. Needless to say, the depths of this knowledge are my burden to bear alone.
Bob’s day had started slow. It was a cool 72 degrees in his old run down-home. He was sipping on a subpar, yet still tasty, mocha caramel mango iced daiquiri cappuccino whilst squeegeeing his antique coffee table. A perfect day, nice and relaxed, just like Bob liked it. Suddenly, out of somewhere hitherto unbeknownst, a ginormous snowball flew through the living room and smacked Bob across the face. He fell limp in slow motion, lying remarkably still on the ground for approximately 5 hours, 11 minutes, and 17 seconds. Other than breathing, the only movement he made was to part his lips long enough to silently mutter, “oy… my hemorrhoids.”
A brief moment after this profound statement, Bob clumsily picked himself off the floor. He paced through his living room, around the puddle left by the now long since melted away snowball, in a maddening loop. Each pass yielded a quirky series of OCD moments, such as a quick pat of a bronze Buddha’s tummy, the counting of all of the Advils in the container, and the straightening of the 18 stacks of Garbage Pail Kids cards he had on an end table next to his one-of-a-kind shag couch.
“Why can’t my life be normal?” Bob shouted into the abyss. “Why must aliens always destroy my car on Thursdays? Why must my dog only eat orange juice and toothpaste flavored dog food? Why can’t things ever be normal? I want one normal day, just one. Do you hear me Santa? One normal day. I’m tired of being a needle in a laugh track. I’m tired of my kidney stones always acting up during the rocket’s red glare portion of the National Anthem every single time. And riddle me this Santa, why are there no national holidays in August? Life is simply no fun anymore. I feel like the only island of reality in an ocean of diarrhea.”
Bob left his house in a stupor, naked as the day he was born. He made it precisely 39 steps before he realized his participle was dangling, and went home to get dressed. A pair of pants and an ugly Christmas sweater later, Bob stormed off into the city. In total, he walked the perimeter of the shopping distance three whole times, stopping only twice. Once, to buy a velvet painting of Elvis as Santa Claus in a cherry red and cream 57 Chevy with Priscilla Presley wearing Rudolph’s shiny bright red noise. The second stop was to buy a pair of mistletoe g-string underwear for himself, a necessity purchase which he thought no one should ever question.
Slowly, Bob ambled his way to the city park which held a serene snowed-over beauty on this particular day. He tried to calm his rattled nerves by attempting to pair the lyrics to “Hosanna” from Jesus Christ Superstar with the tune “Gonna Fly Now” from the Rocky movies. Don’t try to do this. It will hurt your brain. Instead, he forewent the serenity of the park and headed back home, still angry, and yet also confused by my comment about elven birth rates in the North Pole.
It all made Bob hungry for a festive dinner, so he whipped up a nice glazed ham. Unfortunately, the flavor did not satisfy so he glazed a car muffler and tossed it in the oven.
“Eat more tofu, it’s good for you,” his parrot, Amanda Hugginkiss, squawked out as she watched this culinary disaster unfold before her avian eyes.
Bob, impatiently waiting for the muffler to hit al dente, went on another tirade, “maybe I’m missing the big picture. Perhaps the stars are in alignment but the view from the planet is out of focus. Maybe I’m the problem. But that simply can’t be. I just want to be a nobody, getting caught doing nothing, in my little slice of nowhere, as the whole world goes about its stupid little business not knowing anything. I want to venture down the highway with a nap-sac tied to a wooden pole. This sac will have the following provisions: a Jolt Cola, a Zagnut candy bar, a DVD of Ishtar, and an A-Bomb to shove up Santa’s bulbous rear end. While I’m thinking about it, whatever happened to the neckerchief? What about ascots? I should bring one of those on this trek. I’m bringing neckwear back, baby!”
Bob was as close to having a full-blown come-apart as he had ever been. This was worse than that time he went sunbathing at the beach and fell asleep with his hand across his stomach. Then a mischievous child used the sunblock to draw the outline of a rooster around his handprint, essentially leaving the appearance of a giant cock emblazoned upon Bob’s gut for the rest of the summer. To his credit, after he calmed down about the sunbathing incident of 2017, Bob owned it. He even cock-a-doodle-dooed whenever people at the beach would stare at him. Zero cocks given.
“Why is it that I never get what I want?” Bob lamented. “Why Santa, why?”
In a fit of rage, Bob threw his decorative Vatican purchased pope-on-a-rope through the porcelain Liberace statue on the end table next to the Garbage Pail Kids cards, shattering it into a million pieces… much like his hopes and dreams. Also, he was still quite upset with my cold open about the elves. It was the not knowing that was killing him on the inside. On top of that, he wondered how long he had been cooking bacon, as the stack of fried pork products had managed a height of one foot and nine inches in total. Hadn’t he just thrown the pope-on-a-rope? Did time and space have no meaning anymore?
His inner monologue said, “to heck with it,” and instead of retracing his steps, he opted instead to turn on the TV just in time to catch the latest episode of the recently edgy-adult rebooted Popeye the Pimpin’ Man (toot toot). Just as the pimptastic action was about to come to its full fruition, Bob took it upon himself to declare at the top of his lungs, ”LIFE IS POINTLESS!”
Bob paused his diatribe long enough to shake his fist vigorously in the air for absolutely no one to see.
“Liberty just shot justice in the head while freedom swam the Rio Grande in the opposite direction to escape ‘Merica and its silly little walls. I can say I want a normal day or to get whatever unreasonable thing I want till my face turns blue, which is a color I love, but it wouldn’t make a blessed difference. You know why? ‘Cuz nobody cares about anyone anymore. No one. Not even Santa. I’m not asking for a lot, just the occasional mocha caramel mango iced daiquiri cappuccino… shaken, not stirred, but I’ll never get one. I just get the crappy ones I make in my food processor, and yet still, no one cares. No one! Well, elf that! I care and that’s gonna have to be enough. I am Christmas spirit personified and if that’s what it takes to be given the legal right to make love to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man without being kink shamed, then so be it. I will do what I must to save Christmas. I will do it. I will save Christmas for the blinded sheep-like public that has no idea how much mass consumerism has destroyed their beloved sacred pagan pastime…”
Suddenly, a humongous puff of festive smoke emanated from the fireplace and a familiar jolly old soul made an appearance.
“Ho, ho, ho and chill the elf out, Bob,” Santa’s voice boisterously boomed throughout the living room. “I accidentally smacked you in the kisser earlier with a snowball during a playful snowball fight with a local yeti. I’m a sucker for a good snowball fight. I’ve been trying to apologize to you for hours, but first, you were in a daze for hours, and then you were a man about town for even more hours on end, and then you tried to eat a muffler. Finding the right opportunity has been difficult, to say the least.”
“Uh-huh,” Bob replied in disbelief. “Are you truly Santa?”
“Of course I am and I can prove it.”
Santa reached into his enormous bag of gifts and produced a mocha caramel mango iced daiquiri cappuccino… shaken, not stirred. Bob gazed upon this perfectly beautiful libation and began to weep.
“Christmas is saved,” Bob said after taking a sip of his beverage.
“Indeed,” Santa agreed. “So take a load off, have a normal night, drink your unorthodox potable, and don’t forget to look out for the occasional snowball.”
“Is that gonna be an everyday occurrence?”
“Understood. Be normal. Drink stuff. Be on the lookout for snowball snipers. Will do.”
“Good. You take care, Bob.”
“I can’t promise that,” Bob stated matter-of-factly.
“I know you can’t,” Santa answered, “but I had to say it. It’s in the ‘Santa Claus – Goodwill and Peace Towards All Men Bylaws.’ Article 1209, well wishing upon being discovered or some such nonsense. It’s unimportant. Be well, my friend. I must be going.”
“Santa, before you go, can I ask you one thing?”
“Only one thing.”
“What’s up with elven birth rates in the North Pole?”
Santa paused and contemplated the complexity of answering such a question. He bristled his fingers through his bushy beard and replied, “the elves are really only good at two things, making toys and walking in an orgasm wonderland, and they’ve only got to make toys once a year. I think you can figure the rest out on your own.”
Santa pat Bob on the shoulder, winked, and in another ridiculous puff of smoke disappeared back up the chimney.
“Wow,” Bob remarked to himself. “Christmas is well and truly saved. I did it. I feel like an amazing burden has been lifted directly off of my shoulders. What a great day. Merry Christmas world, you’ve earned it this year.”
Bob took a long gulp of his drink and sauntered his way across the living room, taking a break for a nanosecond to kick his bronze Buddha in the groin. The chain reaction from the barefoot assault was as logical as it was idiotic. The perfectly created mocha caramel mango iced daiquiri cappuccino was flung across the length of the room, the Buddha remained unmoved, and Bob lay on the floor clutching his foot and wondering precisely how many toes he had just broken.
“Best. Christmas. Ever,” Bob declared through the pain and ugly sobs.
It was time for Bob to shuffle off from consciousness and go to bed. He would attempt to dream that his toes were never broken at all. Perhaps he himself was never really here at all. Maybe he’s every bit as real as these alleged elven birth rates in the North Pole. It was impossible to tell for certain. Bob, in this grimaced moment, thought of himself as a fluid concept in the most existential of ways and it would probably be best if we agreed with him.
I’ll leave you with this seemingly appropriate quote from Clement Clarke Moore, “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
by: Alexandra Gardner (T: @agardner_author)
“Hey, Phoenix?” Sam says, staring into the far distance. She’s sitting on the kitchen counter, legs crossed, her altar of candles lit. She must be done with her daily prayer.
“Hmm?” I hum, floating lazily on my back, watching her out of the corner of my eye.
She picks up one of her crystals—amber, I notice—twirling it between her fingers. “Remember when we met?”
How could I forget?
“What about it?” I ask.
“You told me a story that one time—when you drew in the sand. What was it about?” She looks at me then, her lips pursed to the side.
“It was the tale of the snake and the falcon.”
She cocks her head to the side. “Is that what those squiggles were?”
I scowl. “I’m sorry my drawing skills weren’t up to your standards.”
She waves a hand airily. “Tell me the story again.”
“Why? You’ve never asked before.”
“I dunno.” She shrugs, still playing with the piece of amber. “I just…I wanna hear it now that I’ll understand.”
“Okay,” I say, staring at the gemstone. It catches the light of the candle flames, sparking and glinting with each turn, reminding me of the sun. “But no interruptions this time.”
Sam’s gaze locks on mine, the start of a retort on her lips, but she catches herself, nodding.
I take a deep breath I don’t need, floating over to sit across from her on the other side of the candles. The silly girl had fussed over their alignment when she’d first placed them after she moved in, agonizing over the compass app on her phone and the cardinal directions, making sure they were “Perfect, Phoenix! They have to align perfectly!” Her yellow air candle is positioned to the east, red fire to the south, blue water to the west, green earth to the north, and silver spirit in the center. She uses them to invoke a spiritual connection to the goddess, but I’m not sure if Hecate ever hears Sam’s prayers.
I mirror her position, hovering just above the counter, my ghostly ass trying to sink through the laminate, and meet her eyes through the light plumes of smoke wafting off the candles. Like the dancing smog, I weave my tale.
“In the days of old,” I begin, recalling my father’s first telling of the story, “the days before we forgot the gods, forgot magic and wonders, in the days when the very gods roamed the earth, there were two kingdoms long at odds with each other.” I smile, seeing my home as I stared into the willowy candle flames. “It was on the outskirts of the desert where they met, hidden beneath the palm trees of Falcon’s private oasis. He was a warrior of his god, honing his skill with his weapon in order to defend his mighty sovereign from his enemies.
“Snake was an adventurer but no less a warrior for her goddess. On that fateful day, she came upon Falcon while he practiced with his spear. Snake couldn’t help but watch, enthralled by his grace. And when he paused to drink from the oasis’ waterhole, she revealed herself.
“Falcon, startled by the newcomer, attacked with all the deadly prowess he possessed. Before he could land a blow, Snake ducked beneath his arm, twirling in time with his movement, her hands easily transferring his weapon from his grasp to hers. She held the point to his throat, an excited grin on her face.
“‘You have bested me,’ Falcon admitted in defeat. ‘Take my life, for it is rightfully yours.’”
“Ohmigoddess!” Sam shouts, snapping me back into reality.
I blink, the images I’d seen in the candles vanishing as I’m brought to awareness. “What did I say about interrupting me?”
“Sorry…” She chews her lip. “What did Snake say?”
I glower at her before continuing. “Snake replied, ‘It is not your life I seek, young warrior, but your name.’”
Sam’s lips part in excited-wonder, and I can’t help but smile and shake my head.
“‘My name?’ Falcon asked, his gaze narrowing on Snake,” I continue. “‘Your name,’ Snake agreed, pulling the blade from his neck. She curtsied deep, looking up at Falcon from under lashes that he would remember as the longest and prettiest he’d ever seen, her dusty-rose irises holding his own amber gaze.”
“What odd colors,” Sam says.
“What did I just say?”
She mimes zipping her lips, but even I don’t know why I’ve picked those colors. The story I’m telling now is nothing like the one my father told me before. In his story, Snake and Falcon were the animals their names stood for, but in my mind, I always envisioned a heart-stoppingly beautiful woman and an incredibly muscular man, his looks equally as impressive as hers. I enjoy telling tall tales so that must be why.
“Snake smiled up at him,” I pick up where I left off, “and Falcon relented, telling the young woman his name.
“‘Falcon?’ she demanded, rising to her feet in front of the warrior. ‘Son of he who rules these lands?’
“‘Y-yes,’ Falcon stammered, surprised. There were few who knew his parentage. ‘I am he.’
“‘Then I fear you are my bitterest enemy,’ she said, sorrow in her eyes. ‘For I am the daughter of she who poses a threat to your rule and reign, Highness.’”
“No way!” Sam exclaims, leaning a little too close to the dancing flames. The window isn’t open, so I’m disturbed by their rampant flickering. “Keep going!”
I look from the candles to her shining, green eyes, and her excitement makes me forget all about the candles. “‘Are you Snake of the Land Beyond?’ Falcon asked, heart pounding with adrenaline.
“‘I am she,’ Snake echoed, holding out Falcon’s weapon in peaceful offering. ‘I have spared your life this day, so may you spare mine as I leave your kingdom, Highness.’
“Falcon felt a pang in his heart at her formal words, accepting his weapon from her. He clenched it in both his fists, staring at it like it was the true threat. When he looked up again, Snake was already outside the safety of the oasis.
“‘Wait!’ he called, and she stopped, keeping her back turned to him. Falcon walked to the edge of the trees that shielded him from the all-seeing sun. ‘Will I…will I see you again, princess of the Land Beyond?’
“Snake didn’t turn to face him, but her words were sad when she spoke. ‘It is on fields of death that you and I shall meet again. War is coming, Highness.’
“Before Falcon could protest, Snake vanished into the swirling sands.”
“Do they meet again?” Sam asks.
It takes me a minute to pull myself from the vision of Snake’s back, her long, dark tresses swinging with her steps, the sands devouring her in a ferocious gale. My eyes sting in a way they haven’t since I was alive, and I blink rapidly, the feeling fading into a distant memory, like the smell of hot sand and the sound of trickling pond water filling my senses.
“Well?” Sam prompts. “Do they?”
“They…” My chest aches and I smile sadly. “They do.”
“And?” She leans closer to the wild flames. “Do they fight or what?”
As I stare into Sam’s eyes, the flames dancing in the depths of her jade irises, they almost shine a dusty color, like rose petals in spring. But it’s a trick of the candlelight, which finally catches on her shirt when she leans too close. She screams, I shout, and we both start panicking as she rushes to the sink, dousing her sleeve. If I had a beating heart, it would’ve just given out at the fear assaulting my mind. The girl is clumsier than a rhino in a china shop, and one of these days, she’s going to get herself killed.
After the excitement of Sam lighting her shirt on fire, she hops back up on the counter, sitting, yet again, in front of the candles. “Okay. Don’t think you’re done telling me what happens.”
I purse my lips, taking my spot across from her. “Not until you put out the candles.”
“I’ll be careful this time.”
“Why do they have to be lit at all?”
“Cuz, Phoenix, they’re magical,” she says whimsically.
“What are you, twelve?”
She glares. “You’re such a jerk.”
“Then I’m not finishing the story.”
“Phoenix!” Sam shrieks, miming strangulation.
I raise a brow, looking at her curled fingers. “What are you gonna do? Kill me again?”
“Now who’s twelve?”
I roll my eyes. We could be here all day if she doesn’t get her way. While I could just disappear into the ether and leave her here by herself, her uncanny ability to find trouble keeps me from going. If I did, she’d likely take off in a huff, and with her luck, that means finding Hunters on her way to her destination.
“Sit there, shut your yap, and listen this time,” I tell her. “First peep you make, story time is over.”
Sam presses her lips together, but I know she won’t be able to resist. The first thing that excites her will have her asking me questions. I try to scowl to show I’m serious, but it’s difficult with her looking like the perfect picture of youth and innocence.
“Let’s see,” I mumble. “Where was I?”
“Snake just left the oasis!” Sam answers, and I put my hand over my eyes, slowly dragging it down my face. “Sorry…”
Shaking my head, I pick up the story where I left off. “Days passed where Falcon would train at his oasis, always quick to startle at the slightest breeze or rustle of the palm trees. Each time, there was no one there. His heart would sink, his desire to see Snake’s grinning face again more distracting than he cared to admit. His sisters had even begun to notice his aloofness, having confronted him several times. Even his father had summoned him to his chambers a time or two to ask if Falcon was ill.
“‘No, Father. I am worried about the possibility of war,’ he lied, although it was also true.
“‘It is wise to fear, son, but do not let it cloud your mind so.’
“‘Yes, Father,’ Falcon replied, doing his best to appear more alert when he walked the palace.”
“What about Snake?” Sam asked, finally unable to keep her bubbling questions to herself. “Was she thinking about Falcon, too?”
I glare, but I can’t help but smile. “She was.”
“Shh. Don’t rush me.”
She chews her lip, nodding. She’s rolling the amber stone between her fingers again, and I’m not sure when she picked it back up. Every time she turns it, the rose quartz on the counter in front of me seems to pulse. If I could get goosebumps, I’d be shivering. I wonder if Sam is aware of the effect she’s having on the gems.
“Weeks passed, and Falcon finally stopped jumping at every small disturbance while at the oasis,” I continue. “For all his troublesome worries, Falcon’s father had even gifted him with a terrifying and deadly blade, a spear with a blade like a scorpion’s claw. He cherished it, and his sisters helped train him to wield it. The gift was enough to distract him from his wandering mind, and he sank back into his normal routine.
“On a day hotter than any other, Falcon visited his oasis for a swim. It was while he was swimming that Snake had finally caved to her own traitorous whims and had sought him again. She’d imagined watching him spar, seeing his beautiful grace and skill. She was curious about him, too, not that she would admit to herself why.
“Neither of them did.”
“But…but if Falcon is swimming…” Sam’s cheeks burn red. “Did he have swim trunks?”
I can’t help but grin at her. “Swim clothing is a modern invention, Sam.”
Her cheeks turn a brighter shade of red.
“No,” I tell her, chuckling now. “He did not.”
“Ohmigoddess.” She puts her face in her hands. “So?”
“So, when Snake arrived at the oasis, she was disappointed to find Falcon’s training spot abandoned. Heart sinking, she was about to return home, lecturing her own foolishness, when the shine of something golden caught her eye. Mischievous that she was, Snake weaved through the palm trees, not leaving the protection of their shade until she was next to the flat boulder that Falcon often meditated on.
“When she reached the boulder, her lips parted in wonder, appreciating the beauty of Falcon’s incredible weapon. Unable to help herself, she slowly reached a hand toward it, wanting to see if it soared through the air like she believed it would, but she was startled, fingers just shy of grazing its surface.
“‘Stop!’ Falcon shouted, his head surfacing from the oasis, eyes wide in alarm, hand outstretched toward her as if he could ward her off. ‘Do not touch that, fair princess. It will harm you.’
“Believing him a liar, Snake snatched it in her hand, grinning at him…until a pain unlike anything she’d ever felt attacked her, a fire searing her flesh. She tried to drop the spear, but the weapon held fast to her, and she wailed as the heat of it threatened to consume her.”
“Oh no!” Sam gasps.
“Falcon reached the shore, leaping from the water and tearing the enchanted weapon from Snake’s hand. The burning finally ended its assault. But she’d collapsed to the ground, the agony shredding her nerves from her fingertips to her shoulder, and Falcon kneeled over her, trying to catch her attention. Her eyes wouldn’t focus, you see, because the pain was more than she could endure.
“Understanding the shock might stop her heart, Falcon carried her into the healing waters, blessed by his sister’s healing touch, just as the lush trees were a gift from his nephew. He pulled her deep into the pond, submerging them both beneath its surface and holding them there, his mouth pressed against hers to breathe air into her.”
“But they’re enemies!” Sam shouts although she looks pleased.
“That they are,” I say, my gaze a million miles away. “But he owed her his life, for she could’ve taken his on their last meeting, but she’d chosen to spare him.”
“But she invaded his land!”
“Boundaries were more…flexible back in those days.”
“So,” I continued, “because she spared his life, he saved hers. But if Falcon was being honest with himself, just as Snake hadn’t been honest with herself, his desire to save her was selfish. The truth was, the two had fallen into a reckless kind of love in those brief moments they had stared each other down, playing with their words, even as they played with each other’s hearts.”
“But they barely knew each other!” Sam protests, interrupting me yet again.
I meet her gaze, unsure how to explain the magnetism that comes with meeting someone your heart deems you can’t be without. The skepticism in her wide, jade eyes tells me she’s never met someone who draws her in that way.
“Someday…” I hesitate, not sure this is a conversation I want to be having. “Someday, you’ll…understand.”
“I’m not just gonna, bam, fall in love with a complete stranger.” Then she purses her lips. “Wait. You said I would understand. Does that mean you’ve been in love?”
I grimace. How did the conversation steer to this death trap? My ancient love life is the last thing I want to talk about.
“We’re not talking about me right now,” I say sternly. “And if you don’t stop interrupting, I’ll never tell you what happens to Snake and Falcon.”
“Okay, okay!” she concedes. “What happens?”
“It took a minute for the water to have an effect on Snake, but when it did, she awakened, sputtering, flailing, and choking on the water she’d now inhaled. Falcon took the abuse of her rampaging arms, dragging her up to the surface where she spat water in his face, gasping for air and clinging to him.”
“So romantic,” Sam mutters.
“Anyway,” I say really loudly, overtop her commentary, “when Snake calmed down enough to realize what happened, she locked gazes with Falcon and…” I grimace.
“Okay, gotta go!” I shout, disappearing into the ether, hearing Sam’s shriek of horror when she finally realizes what I said.
by: Crystal Kirkham (@canuckclick)
When I first started writing, all I wrote was science fiction. Year after year, I wrote science fiction until I wrote my first mainstream novel and then found a groove in urban fantasy. Like most creative endeavours, writing is an art. One that takes practice to perfect. So how did a science fiction writer end up publishing urban fantasies and a fantasy adventure?
I learned to write outside the lines of the type of writer I thought I wanted to be. I practiced writing in other genres and styles. I expanded my writerly horizons. I learned how to deepen the emotional impact of my scenes by practicing romance and erotica. Neither are genres that I want to spend a lot of time in, but they are different style of writing than what one typically sees in most speculative fiction genres.
The more I dive into the world of writing, the more I learn about what other genres can offer each other and every genre has something to offer to writers.
From contemporary fiction, I learned the impact of character driven stories, from fantasy and science fiction I’ve learned the importance of world building and overarching storylines. Mysteries, thrillers and suspense can teach you a lot about pacing and the importance of the little details.
There is so much to learn that sometimes I wonder why so many authors rigidly write and practice only a single genre. I do know that this can work well for some people and can make them an expert in their chosen genre, but I also believe that learning other genres—even without the intent to write and publish in that genre—can expand your abilities.
When I started on the journey of learning genres, mostly it was so I could better understand what makes a genre what it is. I didn’t go into it with the intention of actually writing these things. I simply wanted to a better understanding.
While I am still learning, I have had the good fortune to help guide other writers on their journey into learning new styles of writing, even as I learned from them about their genre. Even something as small as writing microfiction can teach you a lot about editing and conciseness. How to make an impact with few words.
Writing outside the lines you have drawn in the sand can you teach you a lot. I highly recommend giving it a try. You never know what you might learn.
by D. W. Hitz (@dustinhitz)
“It was so– real.” Cohlin sighed and opened his eyes. Shreds of dried leaves scratched his pale-blue fingertips. Bark pressed against his back. He found that he was sitting against the trunk of Mother Elm.
As the breeze rose to his softly-pointed ears, Mother Elm whispered, “Go south, heedfully.”
Cohlin shook loose the thoughts of dreams and rose. How long had he been there? How far had Sam gotten while Cohlin was without agency? The poor beast, alone in the wood, at night. He would be an easy meal for an aslar or a wandering hemmenstrat.
“Sam,” Cohlin cried. “Come back!”
Shrieks rippled through the night, and Cohiln’s fears sharpened. There were aslars nearby, no doubt, gliding from tree to tree, hunting for their supper.
Cohlin waded into the softness of a glade. A sparkle in the darkness pulled his eyes over the grasses and toward the trickle of a running stream. There was more light, dancing like a festival of glowbeetles. He saw it sway as he approached, and like reaching a break in the fog, the sisters were shown to him.
There were no glowbeetles or dancing light; only the Balamy Sorceresses and their concealment spell crowded around a fire. And there was Sam, the poor hound, tied down against a large rock with the eldest sorcercess above him. A dagger gleamed within her grip, and her eyes pierced through Cohlin, knowing who he was, what he wanted, and what she wanted from him.
“Please,” Cohlin said. His voice dripped of timid desperation.
“Sit, child,” the Balamy Elder said. Her eyes shined yellow in the firelight.
Cohlin did as demanded. He watched the Elder’s mouth spread, and green smoke rolled free of her lips.
The wind rose, and again, Cohlin heard Mother Elm whisper, “Wake.”
“It was so– real.” Coltin sighed and opened his eyes. Shards of sharp green barder rock scratched his fingertips. Bark pressed against his back. He found that he was sitting against the trunk of a mulner tree. Its green skin seemed near purple in the gloom.
The brightness of Calupar’s twin moons shined through the night’s aurora, and Coltin’s adjunct beeped, saying, “The signal is south.”
Coltin shook loose the thought of dreams and rose. How long had he been there? How far had Sam gotten while Coltin was unconscious? His poor pet, alone on this strange world, at night, he would be an easy meal for a graplar slug or a nocturnal pitz.
“Sam,” Coltin called. “Come back!”
Shrieks bounded over the uneven forest, and Coltin’s fears heightened. There were pitz nearby, no doubt swinging from tree to tree, scanning for their dinner.
Coltin ventured into the hardness of the adjacent desert. A glint in the darkness pulled his eyes over the rocky sprawl and toward the bubbling of an unseen spring. There was movement to the light. It danced like that little beast he had seen in the station bar before leaving Jupiter’s orbit; the glowing glarscruf’s tail was mesmerizing. He smiled at the sway as he approached, and like breaking through a holographic field, a circle of Calupar triplets appeared panting before him.
There were no glarscruf. Coltin had been a fool for even taking the time to ponder such things. Not here, not when cunning triplets still roamed. And there was Sam, the poor dog, bound against a large rock with the eldest triplet above him. A salvaging tool illuminated the triplet’s hand, and its eyes pierced through Coltin, knowing who Coltin was, and what materials it wanted from him.
“Please,” Coltin whined. “Not him.”
The triplet barked and chirped. Coltin’s adjunct translated, “Sit, human.” Its eyes shined yellow, reflecting the tool’s glow.
Coltin reached for his pet and fell. He watched the triplet’s mouth spread, and its green tongue emerge.
The adjunct said, “Wake.”
“It was so– real.” Collin gasped and opened his eyes. Pine needle points poked his fingertips. Bark scratched against his back. He sat against the trunk of a ponderosa, smelling dried sap, somewhere above his head.
As the night breeze brushed his face, his gut soured with the feeling, Go south.
Collin shook loose the thought of dreams and rose. How long had he been passed out? How far had Sam wandered while Collin was asleep? The poor pup, alone in the woods, at night. He’d be an easy meal for a mountain lion or a wolf.
“Sam,” Collin called. “Come! Here, boy!”
Howls rolled over the frosty night, and Collin’s worry deepened. There were wolves nearby, no doubt, sniffing from tree to tree, hunting for their next meal.
Collin broke into a moon-soaked meadow. A flame in the distance grabbed his attention, past the tall grass, toward the sound of a babbling creek. There was brighter light as he approached. It hid behind a ring of boulders, a roaring campfire. And around the flames were Davie and his boys.
The trio grinned through malice-drenched smirks, their young features thickened by the fire’s amber glow. And there was Sam, the poor pup, bound against a low boulder with Davie perched above him. A buck-knife glistened in Davie’s grip. His eyes stabbed through Collin’s racing heart. Davie had a plan in his head, and Collin could see the wheels in motion. The boy wanted Collin there for some part of it, but what?
“Please,” Collin whimpered.
“Sit down, asshole,” Davie said.
The shine of Davie’s eyes reflected the campfire, and Collin saw Death behind them. Collin did as demanded.
Davie’s mouth cracked. His tongue licked his lips as he lowered the blade toward the pup’s face.
The wind rose, and smoke brushed against Collin’s eyes. His sour stomach bubbled up. His legs tensed. Collin exploded across the flames, his hands outreached as Davie’s knife dove.