Friday, February 27, 2015

Harriet Goodchild: The moments between the present and the future

Valentine's month is all but up, and so is Love Fest. In this last extract considering love and longing, I'm introducing you to Te-Meriku, the deuteragonist of After the Ruin.

The old king of Lyikené has named Te-Meriku as his successor. This sudden elevation has caused Te-Meriku's estrangement from his lover, Imacah...

A hand thuds against the oaken door. He wakes all of a piece, lies in his bed considering who might disturb him so early in the day. Another thud, loud as the one that woke him, rattles the door and his question is answered by the voice calling through the lock. He slides from between the sheepskins into the cold air and draws back the bolt.

Imacah stands on the threshold, his eyes a-glitter in the grey morning light, his hair bound back into the clansman’s knot. “Get your knife,” he says, stepping into the room.


“I said, Get your knife!” Imacah’s breath rasps of barleyspirit, but his narrowed eyes are steady and that part of him still sober knows well what he is doing. “My blade is waiting for your blood: you can face it with your own or empty-handed.”

They have fought and played a hundred times, testing their strength and skill against each other, for a wager, for a jest, for the sheer joy of it. Now, as they circle each other across the wide attic floor, he realises he does not know Imacah’s intent, the truth behind the seeming. Imacah is three parts drunk and reckless with it. Unless, of course, this is a feint. Cats play with mice. Easy enough for a sober man to play the drunkard and lull his foe to folly. Or is the drink because he has another, darker, purpose?

And so he continues his wide circles, watching this stranger with Imacah’s face, feeling for a way to bring them both through this with skins intact. Trying to get his measure, he watches him pace and feint and marks the hand holding the knife. Imacah fights with his knife in his right hand but shifts it always to the left before closing for the kill. He has oft intended to remind him of this trick, since a pattern plain to him is plain to others also. For the first time, he is glad it slipped his mind. His life may hang on knowing such a thing. He is but a naked man and, though Imacah has not put on his mail, the leather of his jerkin is thick enough to catch and turn a knife blade. A sennight ago he would have sworn on his life he knew all Imacah’s moods and dealings but a sennight ago he was another man living another life. What does any know of another’s heart? The only certain truth is that the knife is still in his right hand.

Watching the knife, he dodges each sweep and jab, taking care not to be trapped against the wall. More than once, had this been another man, he could have slipped beneath his guard to slash and maim, perhaps to kill, but ’twas Imacah began this and so ’tis Imacah must make the ending. All he can do is wait and hope that, when that moment comes, he can reshape it to his own purpose. So he goes on as he began, dodge and parry, always defence, never attack, and watches the frustration mount in Imacah’s eyes. Imacah can push him so far but no further and so, although this is Imacah’s fight, it is he has the mastery. Almost he laughs to see it.

Almost. Not quite. Only a fool goads a man already drunk or desperate.

Frustration waxes at last into decision. Imacah leaps forward, intent blazing in his face, and, as he leaps, passes the knife to his left hand.

He twists sideways, rolling so Imacah’s thrust meets only empty air, and sets down his knife. “I’ll not fight your battles for you,” he says, standing to face him empty-handed. “If you came here for a kill, I’ll give you one. Strike and be done with it.”

A flicker in Imacah’s eyes. “You bastard whoreson.”

He laughs. “So I have ever been, clansman.”


He smashes his fist into Imacah’s gut. Imacah doubles up, grunting and gasping, and he follows with the other to his face. “I’ll take that name from no man, not even you.”

He steps back to give him room to recover his breath and wit, watching always the knife still held in his left hand. Slowly, awkwardly, Imacah stands, his face a confusion of thought and barleyspirit, his eyes dark and glittering in the hard morning light. Blood trickles down his cheek from brow to lip; his left eye will be black and swollen shut tomorrow, if either lives long enough to see it. Light plays along the bronze blade of the knife, a-tremble in a shaking hand.


In answer, he reaches out and closes his hand over Imacah’s. Taking the knife from the slackened fingers, he sets it beside his own.

“So cold without you,” Imacah whispers, “so alone.”

“Let me hold you.”

Gently, carefully, he puts his arms around him, feeling him at first a stranger then slowly relax into the man he knows. “I am still myself. There’s nothing need change between us.”

Imacah cups his face between his hands, staring long and hard from overbright eyes until, perhaps, he sees what he wants and pulls him close for kissing. Imacah’s mouth tastes of blood and salt and barleyspirit but his eyes are again his own. At that, his heart soars free into the sunlight because he has come back. “You and I,” he says. He works his fingers through Imacah’s black hair, untying the knot and tossing aside the scrap of grass-green silk. Wrapped in each other, they stumble and tumble onto the bed and, for a while, all is as it should be between them.

And yet, and yet, after the morning, everything is changed. He has had the mastery, and both know it. They speak, carefully, of little things: an arrow’s flight into its mark or a litter of hound pups. Never of ships or swords or the north country. Only of the present; never of the future.

Half a month slides by: quiet days, fierce nights. He lies on his back in the heather, staring into blue beyond blue, his thoughts drifting with the eagle across the afternoon, anywhere and nowhere.

“The moon is dark tonight,” says Imacah beside him.

“So too it is. What of it?”

“Apples,” says Imacah, tossing his knife from hand to hand, “a reckoning with the king’s men.”

He rolls onto his side to look at him. The bruise about his eye has faded to a sickly yellow. “No.”

“A month ago you were quite willing.”

A month ago the world was a different place and he a different man. He shakes his head. “I cannot. Not now.”

“To the edge of the world, you told me,” Imacah says. “Now’s the time to prove it.”

He reaches out and Imacah’s arms close round him, returning his embrace. Pressing his face into his shoulder, he hears Imacah’s heart beat out the moments between the present and the future. Silence between them, a silence waiting for his answer, but no words will come. He can do no more than hold him close and hope love is enough.

Imacah pulls roughly away to stand over him, his knife held in his left hand. At the look on Imacah’s face, something breaks inside and at last he screams aloud, a word, a sob, a cry into the tall air for his lost soul. “Imacah!”

No answer. There will never be an answer. Where Imacah has gone he cannot follow. He can only watch as he walks away across the heather into a future he cannot share. The eagle sweeps across the hillside, banks and stoops, drawn to some carrion, no doubt, out of sight beyond the ridge.

Harriet's author pages

Harriet's Books
After the Ruin UK US Barnes & Noble Fishpond
Tales from the Later Lands (four stories) UK US
An End and a Beginning (two stories) UK US

Friday, February 20, 2015

A 15th Century Love Story....

For my contribution to the Heroines of Fantasy LoveFest, I've chosen to share an extract from a short piece of fiction I've been working on.  Like my recent release The Lay of the Lost Minstrel, it's a companion story to Fire and Sword, but this time it revolves around Hugh, 2nd Lord Montgomerie and Helen Campbell.

Set in the spring of 1477, this story takes place more than ten years before the events explored in my novel, and once again, it is inspired by real historical events.  We know from historical accounts that Hugh Montgomerie married Helen Campbell in Dollar Church, Clackmannanshire in April 1478, and history certainly suggests that their marriage was long and fruitful.  It may also have been a happy one: during a marriage which spanned decades, only one illegitimate child is recorded, which suggests that Hugh, for all his faults, was loyal and perhaps even devoted to his wife.

I wrote the longer work from which this fragment is derived as a way of exploring how the relationship between the couple may have developed, working on the premise that since Hugh was an orphan, he may have had more say than most in his choice of marriage partner. An alliance with the Campbells of Argyll was certainly very advantageous to him: it was Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll, who appears to have taken the young Hugh Montgomerie under his wing, with Hugh's first appearance on the national stage recorded when he accompanies the earl on a diplomatic mission to meet with John, Lord of the Isles in the early 1480s.

Since the Lord Montgomerie’s arrival, the entire household had been turned upon its head. Or it seemed that way to Helen: leaning against the bedpost with arms folded, she watched in silence as her two older sisters threw their hearts and souls into looking their best. There was a tense edge to their usual good humour, an unfamiliar urgency.
The eldest, Margaret, birled around in a blaze of glorious plum-red satin. “D’you think this’ll tempt him?”
 “Why make all this effort?” Helen pointed out. “You don’t even know he’s a prize worth winning.”
 “Oh, hush, Helen!” Margaret glanced skywards.  “How can you possibly understand? You’re still too young...”
Helen pursed her lips, aware that a diplomatic response was needed.  “You look very fine,” she replied. “I’m sure he’ll be smitten at first glance.”
“In a few years’ time,” Isabel chirped nearby, “You’ll see things very differently...”
Helen shrugged, non-committal. She grasped her book from a nearby kist - the Illiad, gleaned from the earl’s chamber - and escaped onto the stair with a weary sigh, hurrying away before Margaret could add some wisdom of her own. She wished with all her heart that the Lord Montgomerie would make his mind up quickly; at least then there’d be an end to the upheavel.
She supposed it was a good thing that her sisters dismissed her as a lost cause. Since she wasn’t an active participant in this tourney to capture a young man’s heart, she remained an ally, a confidante.
She was the studious one, the practical one, her face bronzed from days spent tramping the hills with hawk or hound. When the time comes for a fine young man to woo you, her mother had said, then in the name of God make some kind of an effort. And don’t for Heaven’s sake open that sweet mouth of yours and instruct him on those things he knows best. If he wants advice about his horse, he’ll ask his groom.  If he’s troubled by the condition of his hounds, he’ll consult his huntsman. And if he seeks to understand the arts of war and statecraft, he’ll have friends enough to assist him.
But what if he can’t trust his friends? she’d asked. Surely if there’s one person in the world a man can rely upon, it’s his wife, for isn’t she the one who must always carry his best interests at heart...
Her mother laughed and skelped her head, gentle recrimination. Of course, my love. But men are strange creatures. They can’t abide it when their womenfolk prove wiser than themselves.  A woman must steer her man’s course using guile and cunning. She can dictate the terms to those beneath her station, but never to her lord.
Remembering those words, Helen wrinkled her nose in annoyance. If a man couldn’t love her for what she was, she thought, then she’d be better off in a nunnery.
She stepped outside and  basked in the promise of the morning. The sun was shining, the air unseasonably warm.  The bees were busy amongst the herbs and already the buds were swelling on the roses.
Looking down at her shabby brown velvet grown, she gave a wry smile. She looked little better than the tacksman’s daughter, her skirt hemmed with dust and strewn with horse hairs. Her courser was casting: she’d spent hours the previous day currying his coat to restore his glossy brown gleam. You should tak better care o’ yerself, her old nurse had scolded her. If ye spend so much o’ yer time in the stables, ye’ll end up marrying a horse.
I could do worse than that, she thought. And it was true. Her horse lacked neither courage nor courtesy, was always willing to provide a sympathetic ear in times of sorrow or distress.
Settling comfortably on the seat in the rose bower, Helen felt suddenly grateful for the silence and the solitude. Opening the book in her lap, she cast her eyes over the dense Latin text. The hand-crafted words were solid, reliable, with a lively flourish in the script. She liked the way they looked, and sounded. She liked the way they spoke to her as she read them aloud in her thoughts, the images they conjured up, of bold warriors clashing in an ancient world long turned to dust.
A dark shape loomed over her, eclipsing the sunlight.
Helen glanced up, mildly annoyed. But it wasn’t her brother Archie come to plague her. It was, instead, a young man she’d never met before.
Helen stared. So here he is, she thought with a jolt of surprise. And I’ve had the misfortune to encounter him first.
Even she - with her indifferent eye - could appreciate his qualities, admiring him in the same way she marvelled at the strength and magnificence of a mighty destrier, or the sleek lines of a prized hunting dog. The Lord Montgomerie possessed both grace and presence in abundance, worthy traits in a nobleman, and in a husband, too.
“Hello,” she said. It wasn’t strictly appropriate, for a maid to speak out so boldly to a stranger, but since she considered herself quite impartial, she saw no harm in it.
He didn’t reply. When he stood so close, she could see why her sisters might consider him desirable. He was lithe and tall, with a thick head of black hair that hung to his shoulders. But what struck her most of all were his eyes, grey and bright as polished steel.
She smoothed out her skirts, avoiding his gaze. She supposed she should make some effort to be friendly. “Is our place to your liking?”
He blinked, shaking himself to his senses. “It is,” he said, surprisingly emphatic. “Very much so.”
“I’m pleased to hear that.” She paused a moment, wondering what to say. “Have you found yourself a wife yet, Lord Hugh?”
He grimaced. “Not yet. But I’m sure I won’t leave this place without one. Or the promise of one, at least...” He nodded to her. “Might I sit with you?”
Helen fixed a wary glance upon him. “I see no harm in it, my lord. Though if my father catches us here together, you may find yourself wed sooner than you’d thought.”
He smiled at that, and settled alongside.
Twisting a lock of hair between her fingers, she studied her feet, awkward, uncomfortable. She’d thought nothing of him before now. But when he squeezed his tall frame onto the wooden bench beside her she felt the skin on the nape of her neck prickle in an unfamiliar way.
“Tell me about your sisters.”
Her heart sank. “I can’t possibly discuss such private matters with a stranger.”
He studied her carefully with those brilliant eyes. “And you are?”
“The Lady of Troy,” he said. “The fair-faced queen for whom the ancient heroes fought and died...”
She smiled and shook her head. “You can rest assured, Lord Hugh, that no man has ever fought and died for me.”
“Not yet, at any rate. But then, you’re still very young...” He regarded her in silence for a while, eyes narrowed. “Do you often visit this place?”
“When circumstances permit it,” she replied. “Sometimes I prefer my own company. But if I’m found consorting with impulsive young men like yourself then I daresay my freedom will be curtailed.”
“Heaven forbid.” That smile touched his lips again. Reaching out, he slipped his fingers beneath her book and lifted it slightly. “And what, exactly, are you reading?”
“An ancient tale, by Homer. No doubt it’s familiar to you.”
“The Illiad?” He stretched out his legs before him. They were the limbs of a knight, long and slender, but well-muscled.
She didn’t answer at first, keenly aware of the press of his hips against her own, the scent of him, his warm male fragrance masked by musk and lavender and leather. Her heart quickened at the possibilities and she glanced aside, blushing. “I’m named after her, you know. The Lady of Troy...”
“I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate,” he told her. He clasped his hands before him, frowning, jiggling his knee and making no attempt to conceal his agitation. “You’re right to be wary,” he agreed. He looked her in the face, suddenly earnest. “At what hour would I find you here tomorrow? After mass, perhaps? Or once dinner is behind us?”
“When the noon bell rings,” she replied. “Wait for me then.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wednesday Review: Athena’s Daughters Vol. 1: Women in Science-Fiction and Fantasy edited by Jean Rabe

Title: Athena’s Daughters, Vol. 1: Women in Science-Fiction and Fantasy
Editor: Jean Rabe
Publisher: Silence in the Library
Publication Date: 2014
Genre: Science Fiction and Fantasy
Price: $7.99 (ebook), $22.71 (trade paperback)
Where to Purchase: Powells   |   Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble
Reviewed by: Julia Dvorin

Hello fellow HoF readers! Julia here again, this time with a review of Athena’s Daughters, a short story collection edited by Jean Rabe.  This made a big splash on Kickstarter last year amongst those of us who like strong women in our spec fic, and it looked interesting enough for me to back it. I’ve had the book on my Kindle waiting for me for a few months and I finally got around to reading it this month.

I love the idea for this collection: a broad collection of sci-fi and fantasy stories about women, written and edited and designed by women. There were a wide variety of stories about a wide variety of women, which certainly kept things interesting. Stories ranged from military sci-fi to steampunk, from time travel to epic fantasy, from urban fantasy to fairy tales, from noir to ghost stories, and more. Not all the women were your typical “strong women” characters (aka action hero with a weapon), but all of them were effective protagonists in their own ways, and I appreciated that there was a lot more diversity represented than one typically finds in genre fiction. I really enjoyed the illustrations by Autumn Frederickson and Betsy Waddell for each story too.

Of the 22 stories in the collection, the ones that I appreciated the most were “White Dawn” by Nisi Shawl, in which animals previously kept as pets who have now been modified to talk go through moral debates over who is a person and what counts as intelligence; “Millie” by Janine K. Spendlove, which nicely combined time travel, women who love to fly and the early days of aviation; “Not Broken, Just Bent” by Tera Fulbright, about a reluctant military recruiter in a time of human-alien war; “Oh Sisters Let’s Go Down to the River” by Conley Lyons, an old timey Appalachian ghost tale with some truly spooky images of well-cleaning that will always stay with me; “Visage”, a fun story by Jean Rabe which mixes an entitled cosmetics company heiress with Amazonian jungle horror; “Lunar Camp”, a charming little story in which a girl who loves plants comes to appreciate those who love rocks when she is unwillingly sent to summer camp on the moon and adventure ensues; and “Huntress Sinister” by Diana Peterfreund, a great, emotional, character-driven story about evil monster unicorns and the women who are trained to hunt them.

If I had any criticism of this collection, it might be that there were too many steampunk/Victorian-era stories (though of course if you love the steampunk stuff you might feel like there weren’t enough). In addition, it felt like there were a lot of stories that were created as add-ons or side adventures for already created worlds or characters. Sometimes this was ok, but sometimes it was frustrating because the stories themselves didn’t feel resolved, and they felt like they had just been created as marketing tools to get a reader to buy the main book, rather than as complete stories in and of themselves for a reader to enjoy.

Overall, if you like speculative fiction about strong, interesting women and are looking for a good sampler of different kinds of speculative fiction, you will like Athena’s Daughters. I understand there is a second volume coming out soon, as well as a companion volume called Apollo’s Daughters which will be fiction starring women characters written by men. Silence in the Library seems to have a good thing going with its successful use of the Kickstarter platform to put out new anthologies, and I am intrigued to see where they go with it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Love Fest ~ Terri-Lynne DeFino

I had two excerpts I was trying to decide between, one a little racier, one more heart-tugging. I went with heart-tugging. In this scene from Finder, Augnesse has just met the man she is to marry, Laerto, despite the fact that she has fallen in love with his brother, Nyael.

Happy Month of Love, and enjoy!
~Terri-Lynne DeFino
Augnesse entered her room. The open door allowed a cross-breeze to waft through. Cool as were the desert nights, humidity held on a little longer on the peninsula. She left the door open.
Moving to the window, lifting her face to the fresh air blowing in, she tried to recall Zihariel’s music, only to find Nyael’s face behind her lids. And Laerto’s.
What do you do now, Augnesse?
She startled at the chorus of her own name, turned to the voice at her door, to the silhouette there. “Come in, Nyael.”
He stepped back into the light, blooming like sunrise. “It would be better if you came out. May I speak with you a moment?”
“Of course.”
His kiss lingered in her mind, on her lips. She forced herself to move slowly.
“I wanted to apologize for Laerto’s dramatics,” he said when she stopped in the doorway. “He thought he was being clever.”
“It was rather clever,” Augnesse admitted. “And amusing.
“Dramatic. Clever. Amusing.” Nyael laughed softly. “Yes, that is Laerto. You liked him then?”
“I really couldn’t say. He’s quite attractive, too, but he did desert me. I’m going to have to make him work a little before I forgive him for that.”
Augnesse glanced up at him through her lashes. No jealously. No anger. Only sorrow and the hint of a smile. “You will be good for him,” he said. “I didn’t believe that before tonight.”
“And now you do?”
“I do. It makes me glad, knowing the two of you will be happy.”
“And what about you, Nyael? What of your happiness?”
“That has nothing to do with anything. We both know that. And now I must apologize for kissing you. It was selfish of me, and I—”
“Don’t apologize. Not about that. Please.”
Nyael leaned on the wall beside her door. He bowed his head, picking at his fingernails instead of meeting her eyes. “But I am sorry, Nesse, because now I know exactly what it is I can’t have. I’m sorry that I can’t kiss you again. Not now. Not next week. Not ten years from now. I’m sorry to have only the memory of it, and the pain of all that knowing.”
Augnesse leaned against the doorjamb, her face so close to his he had little choice but to look at her. “The greatest pain would have been never knowing at all.”
Nyael’s hand came up, she thought, to cup her cheek, but he did not touch her. He said, “Then we are at odds.”
Augnesse reached for his hand before it could fall away. Palm to palm, their fingers entwined. His skin was darker than her own, yet not as dark as Laerto’s. His fingers were long, like hers; but where hers were delicate, his were thick. Calluses hardened both their palms. The Augnesse who left Bosbana would have been ashamed of this; but she was no longer that girl in love with notions of a handsome Therk and the desert. That girl had been left on the barge. That girl would never have the courage to tell him, “I love you, Nyael. Now and always.”
He closed his eyes quickly, tightly. Nyael kissed the back of her hand lingering there as if he might speak, and then he was gone. Augnesse watched him until the dim lighting of the hallway swallowed him, then watched the dark silence he left behind.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Love Fest: Cybelle Greenlaw

Good morning, Everyone, and happy Friday the 13th! Well, on this most auspicious of days, I'd like to offer a rather bloody Valentine...This is an excerpt from a short story called The Blue Man. It's part of a series I'm working on that features episodes from the life of a serial killer/anthropologist called Aurora Fredrick. It's a little graphic (from self-love to hints of bestiality), so considered yourselves warned!

Saturday, August 7

Aurora let Frank lead the way past the tracks he had shown her the Monday before. She noted once again that they closely resembled those produced by hoaxers using rubber monster feet. Her last investigation into the legend had involved recording journalists in the process of photographing and filming a frozen gorilla suit covered in possum guts. She smiled at the memory of mass credulousness. Frank wouldn’t have thought of something like that, she suspected. Just the usual foot prints of the unimaginative attention seeker. She observed, too, that his hunting techniques left something to be desired—the constant chatter alone would scare off serious game. She took it as a sign he considered her gullible. 

Around midnight, the weather cleared for a brief period, and light from the full moon allowed them to find the caves with ease. In the distance, they heard music and saw flashes of light from the concert. Frank asked Aurora to sit on one of the many limestone ledges in the surrounding area, so they could wait for the sasquatch and watch what they could of the show.  

“Hey,” Frank asked, “You think the Blue Man likes rock music?”

“Difficult to say. If he’s a human relative, essentially a type of great ape—”

“Oh, he’s not a man, more like a monkey?”

“Probably more sophisticated. You remember telling me he looked like a gorilla?”

“Yes, ma’am. He did!”

“But he was bipedal—walked upright?”

“Oh yeah, he walked real fast.”

“Some of our human ancestors had features resembling chimps or gorillas, but they walked upright. Some people believe these early hominids still exist and survive by hiding from humans. Now, it’s impossible to know whether such a creature would like all the noise and flashes, but my guess would be no. Primatologists have found that chimps whose habitats lie in war zones are much more prone to violence than those in peaceful areas. He might misinterpret what’s happening or feel that people are encroaching on his territory.”

“No shit? So if we see him, he’ll be seriously pissed?”

“I suspect so.”

“Well, then, guess it’s a good thing I’m here to protect you, pretty lady.” Frank sidled closer, put his arm around her shoulders, and leaned in for an open-mouthed kiss. 

“What perfect timing you have!” Aurora sank toward him, but before their lips could touch, she grasped the hunting knife hidden in her boot and slid it into his neck. A wave of sexual energy swept through her as she watched his eyes grow wide and blood gurgle from his decaying mouth. As she withdrew the knife, more blood spurted from wounds on both sides of his neck.

“Oh Frank,” she said, “Now you’re really getting me hot!”  Enthralled by the bubbling, squirting blood, Aurora unfastened the top button of her jeans and slid her hand in to heighten her pleasure. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been this wet.”  

Frank’s face contorted in a rage-filled grimace as he grasped at his punctured neck. With a sudden burst of energy, he lurched forward in counterattack. Aurora suppressed a giggle at his ungainly, blood-spewing stagger, leaned back, and kicked him squarely in the chest. He fell to the ground in a quivering, spasmodic heap. The fight was over. Oh, so soon, Frank? But I’m not done yet…She closed her eyes and caressed herself to the rhythm of the distant music. Oh yes, Rockin’ the O. Fine name for a concert. Flashes of lightening ionized the air, and Aurora threw herself into surging waves of rapture.  Her body stiffened in orgasm, and she screamed at the intensity. In the stillness of the aftermath, she visualized her own laser light show of dark, viscous blood shooting in silhouette across the face of the full amber moon. When at last she opened her eyes, she saw Frank slumped in a pool of blood near the ledge. The sputtering discharge of his life force had ceased.

“What a mess. Well, the cleanup is never as much fun, is it? Come on, Frank, let’s get a few more shots for the album. Then I’ll get you to the cave to meet that Blue Man of yours.” Aurora took the camera from her satchel and snapped photos of Frank from several angles, still enthralled by the syrupy blackness of the blood. When satisfied with her mementos, she pushed his feet onto higher ground and dragged him toward the nearest cave, only a few feet from the ledge. It wasn’t one they had explored, but it would have to do. At the entrance, she took a small flashlight from Frank’s belt and directed the light inside. In the distance, stalactites dripped from the ceiling like icicles, and lowering the light, she saw that the floor sloped downward at a rather steep angle. She threw the rifles into the cave first. After the expected clatter, she heard a splash. Perfect. She returned the flashlight to Frank’s belt, positioned his body to roll and gave him a shove. The body disappeared into the darkness, followed by another splash. She imagined sightless fish in the depths and whispered, “Bon appetit.” Then she pulled a clean set of clothes, identical to those she was wearing, from her satchel and made a quick change. She wrapped the old ones in plastic and shoved them in the same compartment under her camera. Her business with Frank was done. The intermittent rain would take care of any remaining blood on the limestone ledge by sunrise. 

Turning from the cave, she walked toward the concert site at a steady pace. The kill had filled her with a calm clarity, and she knew the best course of action would be to start interviewing groupies and concert goers. With her purpose established, no one would question the presence of her car on Frank’s property. Half a mile from the cave, she rediscovered the main path and broke into a run that turned into a joyous dance. Then she heard—or rather felt—a bark resonating like thunder above her head. Her twirling dance came to an abrupt halt as an enormous arm clinched her waist and lifted her several feet from the ground. Disbelief and panic sent adrenaline streaming through her veins as large, hairy feet took off running at an inhuman speed. Aurora closed her eyes and willed herself to think. The Blue Man is real. Frank wasn’t lying! So open your eyes and watch where he’s taking you....But don’t look him in the eye—an ape might perceive that as a threat. If he is an ape…Unable to see his face, Aurora focused her attention on the hairy, bluish black legs that flew soundlessly toward the caves. She couldn’t reach the knife in her boot and realized she didn’t want it.

In less than a minute, they reached the ledge of Frank’s execution. Aurora’s feet grazed the earth as the creature bent to touch the pools of blood made watery by the falling rain. She heard sniffing and then felt hot breath on the top of her head. Moments later, he set her on her feet. She crouched down to keep from passing out. He sat behind her, and his large hands gently stroked her hair. He’s grooming me—must be an ape. Just remain still. Maybe he’ll leave...and my satchel is missing…with my camera…with pictures of Frank spurting blood…and my clothes covered in Frank’s blood....have to get back on the road and find it a.s.a.p.…The creature showed no signs of leaving. Instead, he tugged on her shoulder to turn her around. Aurora allowed herself to be turned but kept her gaze firmly on the ground. Through her peripheral vision, she made out a hairless, dark face with a heavy jaw. The rest of the body was coated in bluish-black fur. As he lifted her face to his, he pulled back his lips in a smiling grimace and made a breathy, rasping sound. He’s laughing! Maybe I should groom him…If he’s relaxed, he might not notice if I make my way back to the path. With slow caution, Aurora touched a furry arm and began stroking it lightly. The creature clicked his teeth together repeatedly. She continued stroking, slowly working her way around to his back. Minutes passed, and the teeth clicking stopped. She continued stroking his fur a few minutes longer, but soon the fear of discovery pressured her to get back to the road. Just a few steps…Good, he’s not moving…Then a twig crunched under foot, and the creature turned. Their eyes locked, and it was too late for Aurora to look away. Before she could take another step, he had her in his grasp again. This time, he bit into her shoulder, and she screamed as the skin tore away. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Love Fest~ Kim Vandervort

In today's episode of our February Love Fest, I present to you our star-crossed lovers from The Song and the Sorceress and The Northern Queen, King Breyveran of Sahtamor and Queen Ki'leah of Si'vad. In this excerpt, Breyveran and Ki'leah meet to discuss some of the finer points of the political firestorm brewing in Si'vad-- and find the topic turning to more personal matters.


Breyveran took a step closer. His stiff formal air dissipated; in place of the proud king stood the man she best remembered, the same man who had fought at her side and danced with her in the forests of Cel’velahd, free of the encumbrances of titles and kingdoms. “Trust in me, Ki’leah. I have not abandoned your side, nor will I.”

“Yet you sent your brother to my coronation in your stead.”

His expression darkened. “I did not send my brother. He came of his own accord.”

“And made his own choice to leave as well?”

“Yes. Del comes and goes as he pleases, without any thought to the consequences to himself, to others, to his country.” He frowned. “What is this about?”

She lifted her chin. “You tell me that I can trust you, but I learn at my coronation that you have a brother whose existence you never revealed. A brother who has tried, repeatedly, to gain my ear—though for what purpose I may never learn, as for some reason your presence here has chased him home.”

“After his latest ploy, I am surprised my brother continued to enjoy your gracious hospitality for as long as he did,” Breyveran said with a harsh, mirthless laugh. “Delveran has made it his life’s work to destroy everything—and everyone—I value. If you knew half of what he has done, you would not question my hesitation to speak of him.”

“From what he has told me—”

“I doubt he has revealed to you the better part of his involvement in schemes that border on treason, or worse,” he snapped. “My brother still breathes only because I continue to honor the promise I made to our mother on her deathbed. Delveran would never do the same for anyone else; he would sell me into servitude without a backward glance if the opportunity presented itself.”

“Perhaps you are too hard on him—”

“He had my ship intercepted by pirates.”

While Ki’leah simply stared, dumbfounded, he continued. “He paid Captain Gem, Queen of the Southern Seas, to capture my flagship and hold me aboard indefinitely. All so he could take my place at your coronation.”

Ki’leah tried to make sense of his words. “Why would he do such a thing?”

Breyveran closed the distance between them and laid his hand against her cheek. “I told you, Ki’leah. He strives to take from me everything—everyone—of any importance to me.”

Her breath caught in her throat as he leaned closer—hesitated—then, just when she thought he would change his mind, pressed his mouth to hers. Her senses ignited: she reveled in the feel of his rough palm against her skin as he slid his fingers from her cheek to cradle the back of her neck, the gentle strength of his embrace as he slipped his other arm around her waist and pulled her close. She swayed into him and reached up to twine her fingers in his hair. Their kiss grew more confident, more urgent, and for a time, all thought, the years of separation, and the oceans that lay between them melted into insignificance.

Too soon he broke the kiss and rested his forehead against hers. For a moment, only the sound of their ragged breathing broke the silence. He brushed his lips against hers once more, then drifted light kisses across her cheek to the lobes of her ears, her neck, the line of her jaw, and her eyelids before pulling away with a shuddering sigh. He untangled her hands from his neck and half-turned aside, his eyes looking anywhere but at her.

As keenly as her every sense had become aware of him, Ki’leah now felt his absence. A rush of emotions left her reeling. When she could marshal them into some sort of order she whispered the only question that mattered to her then: “Why do you do this?”

A flash of pain, quickly concealed, crossed his features. “Do what?” he asked, though she could see in his expression that he knew exactly what she asked.

Her face heated with sudden anger, as intense as her desire had burned only heartbeats earlier. “It has been two years since I stood on the battlements and watched you ride away, your kiss still tingling on my lips. Two years I waited, all the while wondering what your intentions were, if you remembered me with the same fondness, why you did not offer for me again. When you did not come to the coronation, I assumed. . . and I made peace with the idea that I could only aspire to a lasting friendship between us. But now— why?”

When he did not answer she added with more spite than sense, “Because you do not want your brother to have me?”

The words struck him like a blow; she instantly regretted them, but they had already done their damage. His back stiffened and a calm, cold anger replaced the haze of passion that had softened his features.

“No,” he said. “I do not want my brother within a sea’s breadth of you, because I could not bear to see either you or your kingdom swept into the wake of destruction and misery that follows him wherever he goes. I question his motives in coming here. No doubt he set something into motion that has yet to run its course.

“But to answer your question: I ‘do this’—hold you, kiss you—because I want, more than you will ever know, to give you everything I have to offer in exchange for your heart. And I stay away because I am weak. I do not know how much longer I can remain this close to you without losing my resolve.”

“Then why set your will against your desire?” she whispered. “Offer for me, and everything I have—my heart, my lands, my people—are yours.”

This time, he did not attempt to mask his pain. “I cannot.”

“You offered for me once before.”

He shook his head. “That was an arranged marriage in name only—a scheme planned by the High Council for the sole purpose of meeting the terms your parents set to secure access to the Songs of the Kings. But now—I could never offer such terms again. I could not stand to live across the seas from you while I governed my lands and you remained here to safekeep yours.”

“Then I would give care of Si’vad into the hands of my Lord Advisors and follow you to Sahtamor.”

“The very same advisors you no longer trust?”

She flushed and looked away. And then he was standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders and his voice warm in her ear. “Ki’leah. You have read the prophecy. You know as well as I do why we cannot be together. If we made a child. . . .”

She closed her eyes with a sigh. Of course she knew, though she had stayed awake many a long night denying the accuracy of the Tyrrine Prophecy or talking herself into believing that the whim of prophecy did not order the fates of men, despite her experience to the contrary. From the first time she had scanned the lines that foretold of the Northern Queen, she had guessed at the reasons behind his reticence, though she had always maintained the hope that she could wrest the reins of her own fate from the hands of prophecy and dictate a course of her own making. To hear him confirm that she could not—that a few simple lines of prose held the power to dash her hopes to dust—cut her to the core.

“‘Born to a Northern Queen,’” she whispered. “Fated to become the Heir of the World.”

“Or its destruction.”

~Kim Vandervort

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

REVIEW: Death Stalks Door County

Title: Death Stalks Door County
Author: Patricia Skalka
Genre: mystery
Price: $26.95 (hardcover) $10.49 (ebook)
Publisher: Terrace Books (University of Wisconsin Press)
ISBN 978-0299299408
Point of Sale: various, listed at author's site
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

My local library held a local authors’ fair in January.  I attended the event, sold a couple of books, and of course bought a couple.  One of the books I bought was Death Stalks Door County by Patricia Skalka.  It’s a contemporary mystery, but I firmly believe one should vary what genres one reads.  It helps that Death Stalks is a very good book.

Death Stalks is Patricia Skalka’s first novel, although the author enjoyed a long career in non-fiction writing.  It’s set in Door County, Wisconsin, which is a peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan.  For reasons cultural and geographic, when Chicagoans are looking for a weekend getaway, they go north to Wisconsin, and Door County is a heavy recipient of that traffic.

The protagonist is Dave Cubiak, a newly-minted state park ranger and former Chicago cop.  His wife and child were killed by a drunk driver, and Dave crawled into a bottle.  In an attempt to help him get out of said bottle, his buddies set him up with the job in Door County.  It wasn’t helping.  Then, the brother of the man who killed Dave’s wife takes a fatal fall (or was he pushed?) from the top of the park’s observation tower, and Dave discovers the body.  Thus ends Chapter 1.

This is the first of a number of suspicious deaths, all of them occurring just as the county is getting ready for their annual “start of the tourist season” festival.  The big wheels in the county, thinking tourists are coming to escape big-city violence not get dead in it, want these murders to stop and things kept quiet.  It turns out that there are other plans afoot, some of which are even more threatening to Door County.

It’s hard to write a review of a mystery without giving it away.  All I can say is, everybody is a suspect, and Skalka plays fair with her clues.  When the final reveal happens, it’s fair and I could mentally go back through the book and lay out the clues I had missed.  There’s an especially subtle touch towards the end with an Indian feather head-dress worn during a parade.

All I can say is, read this book.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Turning Point

Edward Robert Hughes, 'Midsummer Eve' (1908)
Hello, Everyone! Welcome to week two of Love Fest 2015, Heroines of Fantasy's month-long celebration of the best wine of life.

Today I'm sharing my first paid publication ever, the short story 'Turning Point'.  This story appeared in the 2008 winter edition of Zahir: A Journal of Speculative Fiction. Set in the high land forests of Costa Rica, the magical adventure brings a tropical entomologist face-to-face with a very handsome young faery. Though I've grown a bit since 2008 in my style and delivery as a writer (or at least, I like to think so. . .), this story continues to be one of my personal favorites. I hope you enjoy it too.


Sunlight flows in thin ribbons through a thick canopy of ancient oaks, illuminating an under story of spindly bamboo in pale shades of green and gold. Jen and I pause at the usual place, a small valley where a stream cuts through a grove of wild avocado, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Resplendent Quetzal. This morning we are not in luck, but it does not matter. We have walked this path for several weeks now and have seen the bird’s iridescent flight on many occasions.
It takes another hour to reach the spot where my malaise trap hangs in loose folds over the forest floor. I remove the nighttime catch from the collecting bottle while Jenn goes to work trapping insects that flutter against the fine mesh. Suddenly Jenn lets out a sharp gasp. I turn just in time to see her open her kill jar and send the contents tumbling into a plastic bag: a mess of dead insects with splayed legs and hard heads twisted at odd angles, all impregnated with the sweet almond scent of cyanide. In their midst thrashes an unusually large specimen. Visibly relieved, Jenn picks him out as if he were a frog, pinning one handsome thigh under her thumb.
“It’s a little man!” she exclaims. “With wings!  I thought I had killed him.”
Using her free hand she produces another Ziploc.
“Put some leaf litter in this,” she says.
“Leaf litter?”
“Well, I don’t know.” Jenn shrugs. “He looks froggish. Maybe he likes it moist.”
I find it odd he would look like a frog to her. He reminds me of a moth, a giant saturniid with broad velvety wings. But I oblige by filling the Ziploc with damp rotting leaves. 
She puts him carefully in the bag, seals it shut, and stuffs the package into her backpack. “Let’s show Ruth.”
Jenn bounces back down the path toward our campsite with her prize, anxious to please her supervisor. Ruth and I have been colleagues for a long time, however, and I have yet to discover what pleases her. When we arrive back at camp, Jenn presents the unusual catch, a broad grin on her face. Ruth frowns, pulls the fairy out of the bag, and examines him under a hand lens.
“Put it in ethanol with the rest of the collection,” she says.
Ruth has always wanted to pickle a man.
“In ethanol?” Jenn objects. “But he’s beautiful!”
His skin is a translucent jade that pales at his chest, revealing the beat of a burgundy heart. His hair, deep brown like the volcanic soils of these Neotropical highlands, falls in loose waves to his shoulders. His opaque emerald eyes have no whites at all.
“We put a lot of beautiful things into ethanol,” Ruth replies. “Why should he be any different?”
I set up a butterfly cage, a collapsible cube of fine mesh, and layer the bottom with musky leaf litter, adding some carefully chosen twigs for perching. Then I find a round stone to sit on and some soft moss so he has a place to lie down.
“See, Ruth?” I attempt to jest. “All those years of playing with doll houses have finally paid off.”
Ruth manages a thin smile.
Jenn puts the fairy in the cage and starts taking pictures. Whenever she clicks the shutter, he darts. In every photo he appears as a pale green smudge.
“They will assume the photos are faked,” says Ruth. “If you want to report him, put him in ethanol.”
“So we won’t report him,” I counter, getting out my sketch book. “But I’m going to draw him, at least, before we release him.”
Ruth does not insist. She would not risk her reputation by reporting a fairy, though I suspect she might enjoy seeing me crash and burn trying.
I don’t understand Ruth’s envy, her desire to see me fall. By all measures she is the more successful scientist. Yet she exudes bitterness with every gesture, disdain with each remark. I watch her return to sorting the booty from her pitfall traps: tiny beetles from tiny ants, tiny ants from tiny spiders. I see myself reflected in the tight focus of her eyes, in the tense edges of her lips. She has built her career by reducing magnificent forests into tedious detail.
So, I suppose, will I.
For the rest of the day I try to commit him to paper. I produce ruby dragonflies, glass frogs, dusky sphinx moths, multi-colored tanagers. He inspires a thousand images from my pencil, except his own. The effort exhausts me.
Toward the end of the afternoon Jenn sifts through my drawings.
“These are lovely,” she concludes. “But didn’t you say you were drawing the fairy?”
I rest my cheek on my hand and stare at him staring at me.
“At least all your creatures have his eyes.” Jenn lays a few sketches in front of me to prove her point.
“Can you spend another day with us?” I ask him. “I’d like to give this just one more try.”
“She’s talking to her specimens again,” snips Ruth.

It is late when I open my eyes.
The fairy hovers, phosphorescent against the pitch black of my tent.
“You escaped,” I say.
“I always escape.”  His voice is deeper than I expect, melodious and silky at the edges.
He alights so near I cannot focus on him. My eyes close and he tickles my lashes, leaves a thin sheen of sparks along the bridge of my nose. He smells of soft earth and crushed pepper leaves. When his hand traces my lips my breath stops, my eyes sting with tears.
“I’d like to show you something,” he beckons, lifting away.
The night forest rises in a mass of thick shadows crowned with patches of star-brushed sky. My boots crush the soft leaf litter beneath me, stirring up odors of damp wood and laced moss.  A pale floating lantern in a formless world, the fairy guides me to a towering old oak. A fresh ring of white mushrooms bursts about its twisted roots. Shimmering just above the ring, a miniature aurora conceals fleeting hints of movement. I hear a murmur of voices and music, an odd amalgamation of crystal bells and primitive drums.
“You should take off your shoes,” he says.
“I’m not going in,” I reply, though my eyes are transfixed by the aurora. “I know how this works. If I cross that threshold, I’ll indulge in a timeless bout of luscious revelry, and you…”
His night glow accentuates the contours of his sinuous muscles. At my height, or something comparable, he would be like an angel: mesmerizing, irresistible.
“You will turn me into your size, or turn yourself into mine, and then we will have fantastic, other worldly sex, and then. . .” I sigh. “Then I will wake up 300 years from now with the worst hangover of my life.”
“So?”  He shrugs, folds his arms.
“Everyone I know will be dead. Civilization may have crashed into another Dark Age, or advanced to distant planets, or disintegrated into a race of mutant zombies, thanks to some bioengineered eco-disaster. This forest may be gone, or it may have expanded down the mountains to the coast, in which case I will be lost in these woods forever. Or everything might be the same…”
This seems the most distressing thought of all: that nothing will have changed.
“…except, of course, I will have forfeited all hopes of tenure.”
The music fills out in rich, multi-layered tones. Its rhythm wraps around my heart, pulling tight until it aches.
He settles upon my shoulder. I feel the air from his wings sift through my hair, the soothing river of his voice in my ear.
“The possibilities are endless,” he agrees.
This brings a smile to my face.
I remove my boots and follow him in.