Fuzzy Vengeance

My drawing is a part of the All Monsters Attack! exhibit at The Box Gallery from October 17 – November 15. I felt honored to have my work included in this art exhibition.

FuzzyVengeance
Fuzzy Vengeance, pencil & charcoal

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Blog Tour 2014: The Writing Process

Suzanne Hodsden (http://zannahsue.wordpress.com/) tagged me for the Writer’s Blog Tour. This tickles me beyond any rational reaction, because Suz has an MFA in literature and her short story was a finalist for the Jack Dyer Fiction Award. That she considers me a writer makes my brain run around in its little hamster ball like Rhino from Bolt. So here goes:

What are you working on?   

Getting an agent for my unpublished novel. Besides that, it’s figuring out what short story or essay I can polish and get published quickly enough to keep my writing credits looking current to potential agents. Even online publications can take a year between when an author first submits a project and when an accepted piece gets published. So I need to get cranking if I want any publication credits in 2015.

My closest-to-completed work in progress is an essay titled “Peace of Mind, a Compound Bow, and Zombies.” It reflects on my professional struggles and explores how learning archery helped bring me back in balance, appreciate my personal successes, and improve my preparedness for the zombie apocalypse.

I also have about 3,000 words of cuts from my short story, “Devil at the Crossroads,” that I think I can shape in to a sequel.

Finally, I have roughly 3/4 of a new novel draft tentatively titled Gaia’s Vengeance in which the Greek goddess of earth gets fed up with being poisoned by pollution and tries to eradicate humanity. She mostly succeeds – only about 300,000 of the earth’s population survive. The narrative follows the Greek gods who are now bold enough to make their presence known to humans, as well as a group of survivors whom Hermes recruits to his cause.

 How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I try to combine an action/adventure plot with emotional conflicts within and among the characters. My pacing is slower than Steve Berry and faster than Emilie Richards (neither of whom are speculative fiction, but they’re the best examples that come to mind). Think Charles de Lint with a higher body count.

 How does your writing process work?        

I take full advantage of National Novel Writing Month and pound out tens of thousands of words in November without any regard for quality or coherence. Then I spend the next eleven months polishing a chunk at a time and submitting it to my writers group for feedback. If I’m lucky, I’ll be inspired to draft a few smaller projects during the course of the year.

Why do you write what you do?

My writing tends to have a lot of exploration of:
1) family bonds & conflicts
2) an apocalyptic event, and
3) divine intervention by someone from an ancient pantheon.

Because:
1) when I write about family it helps me celebrate mine,
2) when I write about deprivation it makes me appreciate what I have, and
3) when I write about ancient gods acting in the present day I have a ball.

And I officially nominate . . .

Rocky Lewis

Rocky scintillates with sardonic wit and impresses me to no end. Not only is her fiction fabulous, her day job has always been writing. Her blog is http://rockylewis.com/

Becca Orchard

Becca is a new and welcome addition to my writers group. Her blog is so thoughtful and in-depth it intimidates me. It’s at http://ampersanddaily.com/

Meredith Morckel

Meredith was an early member of the Akron Writers Group, and her blog has many insightful reflections about being a modern Christian: http://meredithmorckel.com/

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My drawing is a contender for the Akron Art Prize

My pencil drawing, titled “The Horror,” will be on display at ARTWALLS from Sept. 6 through Oct. 4 as an entry in the Akron Art Prize. The winner of the Akron Art Prize will be determined by public voting at the venue, so come on down and cast your vote!

ARTWALLS is located at 43 Furnace St., Akron OH 44308. Gallery Hours are:
Thursday – Saturday            12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday                                    12 p.m. – 6 p.m.
(Note – Saturday, September 6 ARTWALLS opens at 5:00 p.m.)

The Horror
 The Horror

It took me three days to read the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby – not because it is a long decision, but because I became so enraged that I wanted to rip out my eyeballs. I could only tolerate a few pages a time.

I practiced corporate law for several years, and no decision in modern history horrifies me like Hobby Lobby. In essence, the majority ruled that closely held corporations are “people” entitled to religious freedom, and can therefore be exempt from legal requirements to provide contraceptive health insurance to their employees.

The legal fiction of “corporation” is being given rights that only human beings should have, to the detriment of women. Shareholders get constitutional protections when they act through their corporations, but shareholders don’t go to jail when their corporations break the law.

I’m horrified because this Supreme Court decision amplifies the rights of certain people: shareholders. It validates a particular religious belief: anti-contraception. It burdens women who work for Hobby Lobby with additional red tape in their health care so the owners of that corporation can rest easy knowing the corporate health insurance premiums will not be used for contraceptives. And it forces taxpayers to pay the difference.

Oh, and the courts now get to decide the sincerity of ANY corporate religious belief and weigh it against whatever law a corporation wants to dodge, because this ruling is not limited to contraceptives and the Affordable Care Act.

The horror.

 

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The Horde: Chapter 3 with author self-critique

HAVOC

Havoc looked[i] around the former insurgent camp. The bodies had been collected, searched and buried. The few prisoners were being interrogated, and his sentries were posted, watching for rebel messengers or hunters returning to camp. He didn’t want word of the attack reaching the enemy if it could be avoided. Let them think their army was deserting.

Everything was in order. The sun would be up soon. The teamsters had arrived with the pack animals, and the scent of a meal being prepared was starting to pervade the camp. There should be a little bit of meat left from when they last had a chance to hunt, but it would be a lean breakfast. Havoc pursed his lips and whistled a scale of notes. He waited, then repeated the trill.

A moment later there was a soft rush of wings, and a large gray hawk flew in low and landed on Havoc’s outstretched wrist. He waited for her to settle and then brought her head to his. She leaned in and they touched foreheads.

“Hello, Gypsy. How is my girl? Do you feel like hunting?” Gypsy fluffed her feathers and looked around, as if expecting to see the prey he had in mind. She was a Pale Chanting Goshawk, an elegant bird of prey with light gray feathers on her body and white on her upper wings. She was almost a foot and a half in length, with a three-foot wingspan. Her beak was bright orange with a black tip, and her black eyes were large, taking up most of her face. A small fluff of feathers above her beak gave her the expression of a haughty lady of fashion.[ii] Havoc had raised her from a chick, and she had been his constant companion for five years. In Pale Chanting Goshawk years, she was still an adolescent.

Havoc held his wrist high and Gypsy turned to face forward, leaning and dancing impatiently from claw to claw.

“Gypsy . . . hunt food!”[iii] Havoc commanded[iv], and she launched into the air. Havoc watched her for a moment and then strolled over to his designated cook fire.

Van Zant was there, stirring a pot hung over the small blaze. He was a small, wiry man who had been in the service of the Empress almost three decades – ever since he was fourteen. Van Zant was proud of the fact that he had almost been killed in the service of the Empress seventeen times, and he worked that information into conversation whenever possible.

Havoc leaned over the cook pot and inhaled deeply. “Mmmmm. That smells like . . .” Havoc leaned over and took another sniff. “Grass. Boiled grass. Is there any protein in there?”

“Nope. And there won’t be unless you want to throw in some Rebel. They ain’t been buried too long.”

“I wouldn’t put it past you, you sick puppy. Gypsy is hunting. If she finds something it will go in the pot.”

“No skunks. I got my limits, ya know.”

“Don’t lie, Van Zant. You think I just met you?”

“Hmmph.”

Havoc tossed a little more fuel for the cook fire, then raised his head at the soft sound of wings. Gypsy’s melodious chant announced her success: ‘kleeeu kleeeu klu klu klu.’

Havoc mimicked “Klu klu klu” and stepped back so she would have room to drop her prize. She swooped in and released her catch, and large rat rolled right to his feet.

Van Zant snickered. “Her aim’s real good. A gourmet, she ain’t.”

Havoc ignored Van Zant and addressed his hawk, who had circled around and landed on his shoulder. “Don’t listen to him, Gypsy. You’re a brilliant hunter and this cretin is lucky you’re willing to share.” Gypsy watched as he sliced some choice pieces out of the carcass. He fed her and launched her for a second foray before skinning and de-boning it. “It’s almost a pound of meat. You want it for your pot or should I share it with someone who has a less sophisticated palate?”

“Drop it in. Tastes like chicken, anyhow.”

Gypsy’s second kill was a small opossum, which followed the rat into the stew. When it had cooked long enough to be edible, Havoc filled two bowls, and went in search of Karma.

He found her sitting on a small knoll at the edge of camp. A torch driven into the ground illuminated her. She had bathed in a nearby stream, and her pale hair was still damp. She was concentrating on a sheet of parchment spread out in front of her and marking it with what looked like a lump of charcoal. She looked up at his approach. Smiled.

He offered her one of the bowls. “I brought you something to eat.” He looked down at the parchment. It was a detailed drawing of the battle they had just fought. As he looked closer he could make out individual people, including Karma and himself fighting back to back, with their enemies falling before them.

“Hey – that is really amazing! I’ve seen work by Royal Portrait Painters that isn’t this good.”

Karma smiled and patted the ground next to her. Havoc again offered her one of the bowls. She peered into it and sniffed, then wrinkled her nose and shook her head.

Havoc laughed. “I know it’s terrible, but you need to eat. Don’t worry, after the first few mouthfuls, your sense of smell will shut down in protest and the rest will go down easier. Come on. I’ll go first.” He put her bowl down next to her and took a swallow of the stew. Years of bad food on the march allowed him to look pleased and say “Mmmmmm,” as he chewed and swallowed.

Karma shook her head again and reached for a tiny woven pouch. Havoc recognized it as the one she recovered from the armory tent. She emptied it out in her hand, and displayed a handful of almonds. She offered the bag to Havoc, and he held his hand out, bemused. When she placed it in his hand, it felt like there was something in it. He looked at her, puzzled. She gestured for him to pour it into his hand, then took two rocks laying nearby and expertly cracked one of the almonds open.

Havoc put down his bowl and upended the pouch over his hand. Out flowed a handful of walnuts, leaving the bag empty. He looked at Karma and raised his eyebrow. She popped a nut into her mouth and gestured for him to pour the bag again. He did so, and out flowed a handful of cashews.

“Hah!” He carefully piled up his nuts. He took both bowls of stew and dumped them out, then reached for a cashew. Karma giggled.

He forced himself not to react to her laughter. It was the first sound he had heard her make, and he didn’t want to make a big deal about it.

They crunched in companionable silence for a while. Havoc uncapped the flask at his side, took a swig of whiskey, and as an afterthought offered it to Karma.

She sniffed it, blinked, then took a small swallow. She shook her head and made a face.

He grinned sheepishly. “It’s the best whiskey for five miles around. I guarantee.”

She gave him a narrow look, took another sip, and handed the flask back. The torch popped and crackled, although the rising sun made its glow unnecessary.

Havoc took a last handful of nut out of the bag and handed it back to her. “Where did you get this? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

She reached for her drawing of the battle, and turned the page over to the blank side. In the top left corner she sketched a small image of herself with a wound in her abdomen. With just a few strokes it was obvious what she was portraying. Havoc admired the economy of her work, and glanced at her midriff with concern. The drawing didn’t show how she received the wound, but it looked serious. To the right of that sketch, she drew a dividing line and started another image, this one of Karma pouring the contents of a small vial onto her wound. The next image showed the wound, healed, and Karma holding an almost-empty vial.

Enthralled, Havoc watched her draw.

The following panel showed Karma walking through the woods. Next, she came across a trap with a squirrel caught in it. The teeth of the trap had torn open the squirrel’s belly, but some motion lines showed that there was still life. The next frame showed her prying open the jaws of the trap, and pouring the last of the liquid from the vial onto the injured squirrel. The penultimate frame showed the squirrel healed and alert. Havoc noticed that in the background there was a small pixie, wiping away a tear.

Havoc looked again at the preceding drawings, and now that he knew what to look for he saw the small pixie in every frame with the squirrel, her expression distraught and helpless.[v]

In the final frame, the pixie handed Karma the pouch that was now attached to her belt. Karma put the finishing touches on her drawing, and held it out for inspection.

Havoc, who had watched every line being drawn, looked at the whole sequence again. Then he looked at Karma.

A lock of her hair shining like platinum had fallen forward over her eye. Havoc gently brushed it back, out of her face. She looked down quickly, then looked him in the eyes. He liked the silky feel of her hair. Emboldened by her acceptance of his touch, he stroked her hair again.

“Your drawings are beautiful. The story they tell is beautiful.” He cupped her cheek with his hand. She closed her eyes and leaned into his touch. His voice husky, he said “You . . . are beautiful.”

Her eyes opened and locked on his. He held perfectly still. She leaned towards him, until her torso touched his. He yielded to her pressure, and lay back on the ground. Her body followed his and she swung her right leg over his hips. He lay on the ground, and she straddled him, her face inches from his. She tilted her head and ducked under his chin. Her mouth locked on his neck, and he tipped his head back to allow her easier access. He carefully reached for her, touching her waist. She leaned harder into her kiss, and he groaned and wrapped his arms around her. She sucked on his neck until he was afraid he would end the interlude prematurely.

He took three deep breaths.

It wasn’t enough.

He took his hands from her waist and gently grasped her head, raising her to face him. Her eyes were as glazed as his were. She focused on him, and reached to cradle his head in a gesture mirroring his.

He felt his pulse pounding.

She hooked her right leg around his left, and rolled sideways. He let her pull him towards her, until their positions were reversed. She opened her legs and he settled between them. She leaned up and kissed him hard on the mouth, licking at his tongue. He felt a rush of exultation, and kissed her back, hard, leaning his hips into hers. She opened wider. He felt the friction of their clothes, and was irritated by their interference.

That tiny distraction was enough to remind him of the context. She’d been abused. He didn’t want to compound it.

His kiss gentled. She demanded. He soothed.

He moved his kiss from her mouth to her cheek, to her jaw, to her neck. He cradled her head with one hand, and stroked her cheek with the other. He trailed his fingers down the side of her throat, across her collar bone, around the outside of her breast, down her ribcage to her waist and hip and thigh. Then he kissed her gently on the lips and his fingers began their journey again at her hair, down her cheek . . .

At first she was tense and frustrated, squirming furiously against him, trying to arouse him to impatience.

But he was bigger than she was. And he was on top. He kept himself under control and continued her seduction.

She stopped fighting him, and lay still. He could still feel the tension in her body.

He continued to stroke. He continued to kiss.

Eventually she grew languid and relaxed.

He continued to kiss. He continued to stroke.

He felt her breathing begin to grow ragged. ‘Thank God,’ he thought.

He wrapped his left hand under her hips, his right hand still cradling her head. He rolled backwards, reversing their positions. She was again straddling him.

He laid still, waiting for her to act.

She held herself still. She tensed, almost glaring at him.

Dammit, he thought. I should have gone for it when I had the chan . . .

Karma pounced and kissed him hard. He tried not to groan out loud, but the sound escaped. It seemed to spur her on, and she ground her hips against his. Encouraged, he spoke the words running through his head.

“Karma! I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anyone. Please, please . . .”

She covered her mouth with his, devouring his tongue. He felt her move and without realizing how she managed it, he felt the cool morning air on his

 

[explicit content redacted][vi]

 

Gently, he began working his hips against her. Her eyebrows flew up in surprise.

“We’re not done,” he whispered in her ear.

 

[i] “looked” is a weak choice of verbs, and it doesn’t give much info. I could have given the scene a whole different flavor by using studied/scrutinized/surveyed/inspected.

[ii] Hopefully you have a vivid image in your mind of the hawk’s appearance. I studied photos of the Pale Chanting Goshawk and spent a looong time crafting the description. Sadly, I didn’t spend nearly as much energy describing any of my people.

[iii] Exclamation points are considered taboo in almost any situation, but I think you can get away with an occasional one in dialog. Like, one ! per novel. Instead, I should have relayed his intensity through the narrative, like , “Gypsy launched into the air before the echo of his voice faded.”

[iv] Dialog tags other than “said” or “asked” are frowned upon in the publishing industry. This is a fairly recent fashion (or phenomenon, depending on how strongly you agree or disagree with the axiom) A few decades back, stories were rife with “she gasped,” “he grunted,” “she hissed.” Here, “Havoc commanded” is redundant – “Gypsy . . . hunt food” is, by definition, a command.

Throughout my footnotes, I point out myriad style blunders I’ve made, but those “blunders” can be found in thousands of published works, as well. Lots of writers chafe at the restrictions, and lots get away with breaking the rules. I think Chuck Wendig gives the most cogent overview of the controversy in his blog.

[v] It doesn’t make sense that Havoc would not have noticed the pixie from the beginning, since he is watching her draw. I don’t know what I was thinking. Easy fix – I could either make him aware of the pixie all along or make a point of him staring at Karma instead of watching the pictures develop.

[vi] Here it gets graphic. I’m not a prude, but I’m not going to publish soft porn on my blog.

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The Horde: Chapter 2 – Harlequin (part 3) with author self-critique

CHAPTER 2: HARLEQUIN (continued)

Harlequin walked through the narrow tunnel. The pitch-black passage smelled musty, and the uneven slate floor made walking hazardous. She had scars from when she was learning each crack and step, twist and turn of the lightless tunnel system that snaked through the Palace. Now she navigated them without need of light.

Irritation quickened her pace. Someone had drugged an army messenger, causing troop movements to be delayed.[i] As a result, Prince Damien’s main force had slipped through the net she had been preparing for weeks.

All of Harlequin’s intelligence pointed to an insurgent plant in the palace. She was sure it was old Lord March, who was still holding a decades-old grudge against Empress Savant for turning down his marriage proposal. Of course, there was the more recent snub when the Empress refused to consider Lord March’s eldest daughter for the prince’s hand in marriage.

That Prince Damien didn’t want to marry March’s daughter was beside the point. In Lord March’s mind, Savant had cheated him out of his rightful place of influence in the Empire: in command. If he couldn’t weasel a place at Savant’s side, or as Damien’s father-in-law, he would try to do it by becoming a trusted ally of the rebel prince.[ii]

Unfortunately, Harlequin didn’t have any proof that this sabotage was March’s doing. Nonetheless, she knew. But would Savant take her word for it? No. Despite nine years in charge of intelligence with a perfect record (well, almost perfect), Savant wouldn’t take action without ‘proof.’ March was still a Lord, and certain formalities must be observed before he could be executed for high treason.

Harlequin heard the echo of her own footsteps, and forced herself to move more quietly. She was confident that she was perfectly safe within her tunnels, but there was no excuse for noise. One of her harlequins might be roaming down here, and she had to set a good example.

She came to the hidden door that led to the guest wing of the palace. It was usually empty, so it was useful for entering and exiting the tunnel passages.

She needed to regain her composure. Her irritation with March had made her move carelessly, and that was unacceptable. She stood still and did breathing exercises until she was perfectly relaxed. Only then did she move the peg that covered the peephole in the door.

All was clear. She carefully opened the door and stepped out.

As her left leg moved forward, she felt a whisker of pressure on her left ankle. Without thought, she back flipped to the right, landing in a crouch flush against the wall in the tunnel.

‘What the . . .?’ Her mind replayed her sensory input as she spider-crawled backwards in the blackness. The pressure on her ankle. Her reaction. The sound of a missile weapon firing. A whoosh of air under her in the middle of her flip – right where her heart would have been if she had followed through with that step. A clatter as the projectile hit the ground behind her, skidding along the floor before it came to a rest. And then . . . nothing.

She stopped ten yards from the door, which was still ajar, and stayed still, counting to one thousand as she listened.

On count seventeen, she became aware of the faintest trace of a smell. She opened her mouth to inhale the scent more fully.

She smelled the vinegar and musk scent of venom. Specifically, the venom oftheblack asp that was common in the swamps to the southeast of the capital. It was easy enough to procure – there was probably some in the armory. Footsoldiersliked to use it on their weapons, because it gave a little extra insurance that their battle strikes would be fatal. It was illegal for civilians to own in any quantity, but that didn’t keep it from being readily available for the right price.

The scent had faded by the count of one hundred and twenty one.

She heard no other sound, registered no other sensory input besides the venomous odor that had now dissipated.

The missile must have come from a booby trap. No one else could have stayed as silent for as long as she had. Therefore, there was no one there. She crept deeper into the tunnel until she reached the point where she heard the missile land. She tasted the air. Her nose led her un-erringly to where the projectile lay, and she picked it up by the shaft. It was a crossbow bolt, thickly coated at the point with asp venom.

She moved back to the doorway, and peered around to the hall of the visitor’s wing. Light filtered in from a distant window. Her eyes followed the trajectory that the bolt had traveled.

There. If she hadn’t known exactly where to look, she would never have seen the crossbow.

She looked down. The trip wire she triggered was still intact, although she was pretty sure it was designed to break when she stepped out of the passage. Whoever set up the trap made it too sensitive. A rodent or even a change in the humidity could have triggered the bolt.

She stalked to the crossbow, and examined the workmanship without touching it. It looked like the work of Master Stelton, or one of his journeymen. She peered underneath for the brand that would reveal the craftsman.

It had been sanded off. No matter. Stelton would recognize the product of his guild.

Harlequin smiled to herself. It was time to set a snare to catch the booby-trapper. Sooner or later someone would come to see if the trap had been successful. She went back to the doorway and sprawled on the floor as comfortably as she could while maintaining a fair range of visibility, and still looking like a corpse.

***

The guard at Empress Savant’s door knocked quietly. The rhythm signaled that the Harlequin sought an audience. An extra rap at the end indicated that Harlequin was accompanied by one person.

“Enter,” Savant called from within her records room, and the guard opened the door. Harlequin twisted the wrist of the man at her side and maneuvered him into Savant’s chamber. He was taller than Harlequin and about 60 pounds heavier, but she controlled his movements with a firm wristlock. When they faced Savant at her desk, Harlequin executed a jaunty bow that was quickly copied by the man in her grip when she gave his wrist an extra twist.

“My liege,” Harlequin announced, as though she had an audience of hundreds. “It is my honor to present Maxwell, who was, until very recently, indentured to Lord March as his Captain of the Guard.” Harlequin smiled broadly and nodded to the man at her side, whose face was a sickly shade of green. His fast, shallow breaths created a miasma of halitosis. “Try not to pass out,” she said to him in a stage whisper. “You would regret it very much when you had the misfortune to regain consciousness.

“Maxwell has a most interesting tale to tell,” Harlequin continued. “Full of intrigue and daring. Loyalty betrayed by treachery. And the redemption of a lowly servant who sees the error of his ways, choosing the good of the Empire over the orders of a harsh master. It’s well worth hearing, if I may be so bold. Perhaps your Highness would care to take a short break from your duties to hear his tale?”

Savant smiled wickedly at Harlequin. “You are very bold, indeed. Few would dare such a presentation, and fewer still would survive it.”

Harlequin nodded cheerfully. “As it should be, my lady. Shall I leave Maxwell here to regale you with his story?” She gave his wrist another little twist. “I wouldn’t want my presence to interfere with his recall.”

Savant rose, and stretched out her hand. “I would find that most agreeable. Tell me your tale, Maxwell, over here where we can be comfortable.”

Harlequin felt the man sway, and she reached up and twisted his ear hard. “Obey your Empress, Max. And remember. Don’t pass out.” She gave him a nudge in Savant’s direction, and he staggered towards her. Harlequin bowed low, and Savant nodded.Harlequin exited with a jaunty spring in her step.

 

[i] Wait. What? A paragraph ago, she was talking to Empress Savant. No transition that could orient the reader. I should have shown Harlequin receiving the field report in real time – it wouldn’t have taken more than a couple of paragraphs, and hopefully it wouldn’t leave the reader with that WTF feeling. Another example of my impatience as I drafted, rushing through the necessary setup to get to the action I wanted to write about.

[ii] Sigh. More info dump. Again, about things that I could have made interesting if I would have slowed down and taken you through the action.

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THE HORDE Chapter 2 with author’s self-critique

CHAPTER 2: HARLEQUIN (continued)

All the harlequins were highly trained in martial arts, slight of hand, languages, disguise, and poisons. Each had a handful of alter egos that they used to function in society and gather more intelligence. They wore their harlequin guises to remind people of their existence – to remind people that they didn’t know whose face was behind the makeup. It tended to keep the malcontents properly hesitant to plot against the crown.

It hadn’t been enough lately, though. Not since the crown prince and his new bride decided they didn’t want to wait until Empress Savant died a natural death before they assumed the throne.

Harlequin walked noiselessly across the stone foyer towards the throne room. She passed servants and courtiers, nobles and flunkies. She knew most of their histories, their families and lovers, from the lowest to the highest. She carefully watched their reaction to her passing without seeming to pay any particular attention. Even the Empress’ closest allies were unnerved by her proximity. Everyone has secrets.

Harlequin flowed around the chamber towards the throne. Empress Savant held court from a raised dais. Harlequin knew the Empress was at least forty years of age, but she looked like she was in her early twenties at the most. Her long black hair was held by a simple coronet, and her clothes were the silks favored in the East. Trousers allowed free movement underneath a slitted skirt that was her fashion of choice. Rare magic kept her appearance ageless. This magic didn’t extend her life, but Harlequin believed that Savant’s youthful appearance contributed to her son and daughter-in-law’s decision not to wait for nature to take its course so they could assume the throne in the fullness of time.

Empress Savant nodded an acknowledgment to Harlequin without taking her attention away from the Exchequer, who was giving his weekly report. The public one. Harlequin moved quietly enough to catch whispers of conversation not meant to be overheard, but didn’t learn anything she didn’t already know.

She moved past the guards next to the throne and they let her. Only harlequins were permitted to be behind the throne when the Empress was seated. She watched the crowd. Watched who spoke to whom, who watched, who spoke, who avoided.

When the audience was finished, Harlequin joined Savant in her private chambers. The ceiling was high, with strange artifacts decorating the wall. A fire was roaring, with cushioned sofas scattered near. It was a comfortable room, designed to make its inhabitants relax. Harlequin wasn’t foolish enough to do so. She stood while Savant sat elegantly curled at one end of a sofa.

“What news?” Savant asked.

“More graffiti. We’re using work gangs from the prisons to scrub it off.” Damien and Pandora had adopted a symbol: a crescent moon with a shooting star. Since the crown prince’s rebellion, sympathizers had been painting that symbol on public buildings.

“A few neighborhood groups meeting in ‘secret’ to get drunk and feel important while they gripe about the Empress’ iron fist,” Harlequin continued. “We’re keeping an eye on them. I don’t expect any real threat from any of them. If any of them get to the action stage, we can make an example of them.”

She looked closely at Savant as she spoke, trying to gauge her sovereign’s emotions. As usual, she could detect none. But this was her only son they were discussing. The enemy. Surely Savant must feel something. Harlequin needed to know whether Savant would be more prone to harshness or to leniency, so she could counter-balance Savant’s tendency.

So far, Savant’s orders had been cool, clinical, and measured. No reprisals, but no forbearance.[i]

 

[i] Chapter 2 gives the reader a lot of backround in the flabbiest possible way. Nothing happens besides a desultory encounter between sovereign and spy – no action and no conflict. It was a lazy way for me to set the stage of the story so I could get to the stuff I really wanted to write about. On a re-write, this should be cut completely and replaced with as-it-happens action scenes that would take several chapters.

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Speculative Fiction Short Stories

It’s official! “Choose Death” has been published in  March, 2014 Issue #26 of NewMyths.com, a quarterly ezine by a community of writers, poets and artists. I’m so honored to be included as one of their contributors, and I am very grateful to its editor Scott T. Barnes for being the first to accept my writing for publication. NewMyths.com is a free publication, so check it out!

I’m also excited to have “Devil at the Crossroads” included in the Winter 2014 issue of The Colored Lens, another speculative fiction digital magazine available for Kindle.

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