Friday, September 21, 2012

Flash Fiction: Beyond the North Wind

The beam of light painted a rainbow on Julia's eyelids, warming her face, and she fluttered awake. The light emanated from the crystalline ceiling, playing across her prone form.


She shifted to glance at the soft-spoken man seated beside her and nearly fell off the moss-covered stone slab by jerking away from him. His strong brow wrinkled, quickly changing from happiness to concern.

Julia thought it must have been happiness, at least. The utterly smooth white face was hard to read, his pale blue eyes beneath snowy brows cool as ice and not quite settled on her.

His eyes flicked to hers.

A shiver rumbled through Julia as she met his gaze, though the room was perfectly warm.

"Are you well?" the man asked, leaning toward her.

She inched away, her hands pressing into the spongy moss and giving her little to grip.

Julia had never seen moss like this. Had she?

Her muscles ached as if she had slept on them wrong.

"Let me call for the healer," the man said, his voice a steady rumble that seemed overlaid with a musical lilting a pitch higher than the words he spoke. He stood and she realized his colorless chest was exposed, revealing hard lines and toned muscle shifting beneath the almost translucent skin.

Without realizing it, Julia put a hand out to halt him, breathing out the word, "Wait." Her fingers gripped his firm arm. He did not tense at her touch, which Julia knew must be significant.

The man sat back down, concern knitting his arched eyebrows. With the motion, his bone-white hair fell around his neck, framing the strong jaw set in a slight grimace.

Part of Julia twisted to see him upset, but that did not make sense. She shook her head to clear to knock the cobwebs out and finally asked, "Where am I?"

Gesturing with a wide sweep of his hand, the man said, "The greenhouse. We always talked about coming here, but I didn't expect it to be under these circumstances."

A faint tickling at the nape of Julia's neck made her think he was telling the truth, but she did not recall ever conversing about such a place. With his gesture, she could not resist taking it all in, though her eyes chided her momentarily for leaving the broad shoulders of her companion.

Plants sprouted from both the ground and from lines of pots. The earth containers were not in rows like Julia expected, but rather in concentric circles with just enough room in one section to walk through. From her elevated position on the stone slab, the potted plants seemed a playful maze, and yet the space seemed efficiently plotted.

Green dominated, but bright colors splashed the entire garden, reds, yellows, purples, and blues all flaring out from exotic flowers and strange fruits. The yellow-tinted light from the uneven crystal ceiling fell on the plants in soft, precise shafts.

"You like it even better than I had hoped," the man murmured, hand resting on the moss near hers. The warmth of his skin radiated across the inch separating them.

"It's the only place we have that could reasonably aid your recovery from hypothermia," he went on, his smile its own source of refreshing light to Julia. At the same time, a faint memory of pain gripping her hands, feet, arms, legs, and finally clutching about her head and chest before all went numb.

It seemed a dream, or rather a nightmare, and as she reached to recall it, the memory slipped out of her grasp.

Julia closed her eyes, trying to get ahold of her swirling thoughts. The stranger, odd as he may be, was an attracting force. She shut that part of her thinking out for now with an effort of will and focused on the most important thing.

"I don't remember..." she started, then felt unsure how to finish the statement. What did she not remember? It seemed impossible to peg down exactly what was missing. "I don't know how I got here. Or where here is."

"I brought you," the pale man said. "We came together, to Hyperborea." He paused, considering. "I believe that is what mortals of your tongue have called this land in days past."

He reached to take her hand and she reflexively took it away. His crestfallen expression gnawed at her, but she needed her space right now.

"Jules," he whispered. "Don't you remember me?"

A tear slipped down her cheek and she silently chided herself. No time for emotions until the logical side was firmly established. Her mind, her heart, paid this instruction no heed as she shook her head.

His mouth fell open slightly. "I am so sorry, Julia." He slumped and drew his lean legs to a crossed sitting position then took a deep breath. "It's me, Tiresias."

At the name, a swirl of sensations hit Julia. The Arctic expedition, her team scouting across that frozen wasteland for a basecamp site, and a shadowy face of a man. She felt it must be Tiresias. He had joined them at the last minute, but still Julia got the sense they had spent much time together.

Though she tried to root out those hazy memories, another presented itself in stunning clarity: the ice beneath her feet cracking.

Frigid water had washed over her as the field broke apart and she scrambled to get up onto the next chunk of ice.

The chill had quickly turned her limbs numb, and blackness shortly followed.

“My team?” Julia asked in the barest whisper.

Tiresias looked uncertain. “They may be well, but we have not located them yet.”

Julia swung her legs over the side of the stone slab. “We have to find them.”

Tiresias touched her knee and a jolt of sensation shot through her. “We will,” he promised. “Together.”


Genre: Paranormal Romance
Setting: The Hollow Earth
Element: Amnesia

Let it be said that combining amnesia with romance and trying to fit all of that into 1000 words is Not Easy. Just for fun, have a setting which is probably interesting enough to warrant its own thousand word description, but is not particularly 'romantic' (though it fits well enough with the 'paranormal' side of things).

I feel like I made a fair attempt, though I know it gets a bit weaker as it goes on. My 'problem' is that I keep thinking in longer works, as if this is the introduction to a novel, so I don't really tell a whole story in the course of the flash fiction piece.

I know it can be done, because I've read some good flash fiction. I suppose it's just something I'll have to develop.

Regardless, these Game of Aspects challenges are fun.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


It took longer than I expected, but I am coming down off the high from attending Worldcon. It had to happen, I know, but it's a letdown.

The tough part will be keeping on moving forward and not letting self doubt wrap its spindly fingers around my throat while it whispers sweet-you're-nothings into my ear. As it happens, I am something.

I am a writer.

If you are unsure, observe the sentences preceding that statement: I did, in fact, write those. Of course, something that simple is not always enough to prove it to me, but shouldn't it be?

Writers write. Granted, I have not been doing an excessive amount of writing as of late, but I still am writing. I will continue to write until I either decide it's enough or am rendered completely unable to do so. I don't anticipate the former any time soon, and have little control over the latter, so I shall soldier on.

I considered apologizing for the stereotypical self-hyping I CAN DO THIS blog post, but as it happens, I apologize for way too much in my life. I need to cut it out because, in so doing, I take myself less seriously. I should not apologize for writing the post I need.

Plus, people with whom I am hypothetically and arbitrarily arguing, it's my blog. I can write what I want.

This blog does not see much activity, largely because I feel like I have nothing interesting to say. That's a crock, though, because when I was at Worldcon, people seemed genuinely interested, and for once I wasn't even faking.

I promise I will avoid a separate stereotype: the I'M GONNA BLOG MORE JUST YOU SEE post, because that's the proverbial nail in the coffin for your average blog.

Here's what I will say instead: I'm going to write more. Some of that writing will find its way to this blog.

No promise of a certain number of words, nor a stringent schedule of X posts per month.

Just more.

It is enough.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Flash Fiction: Blood Orange

This is the most gruesome story I have ever written.

Blood Orange

"You did this to yourself."

Tate looks up from hands on the bar countertop. Tate's hands. Lightly scratches at scab on puffy knuckle.

The woman is familiar to Tate. Wonder what she means, why she said it.

Tate asks.

The words bulge through vocal cords, an unexpected deep rumbling. Tate coughs and massages throat.

She scoffs, rich dark eyes rolling, but Tate knows the expression masks sorrow. How?

Her dark skin stands in sharp counterpoint to this pale, freckled arm (Tate's arm) that she reaches toward. The woman pulls her hand away and Tate's arm itches furiously. She opens her mouth to reply.

"Hey there, boyo," chirps the bartender, a man who has harrassed Tate nonstop since the night began, with his cheeky grin pushing up delicately trimmed chops on his young face. Pulls Tate's attention. "Fancy another round, then?"

Tate glances back to the woman.


The hotel crowd has swallowed her, it seems, though the open bar area is not that full. Predominantely middle-aged business folk, a couple covertly kissing in the back corner; he pulls away with her lips on his. Where could the woman have gone?

A glance at the bar shows Tate's drink is empty. Surprising. Not even sure what it was. With a shrug, Tate nods, nails raking across bared arm. Employer footing the bill, and a little social lubricant couldn't hurt.

A stout glass slides, a bottle flips, some ice tumbles. Tate watches with fascination, and the young man notices. The bartender crouches down and comes up with a orange, grabs the paring knife to open it wide.

A smooth dark hand slides over the orange just before he cuts down, and Tate leaps up from the stool to cry out.

The blade, honed to a keen edge, passes through the skin of the fruit and Tate chokes as red pours over the cutting board, grips and pulls at wiry hair.

With a sly smile, the bartender holds up half the severed citrus, oozing crimson cruor. "Blood orange," he confides. "Secret family cocktail, comin' right up."

Tate's mouth splits as hormones react involuntarily to the man's advances. The swelling is... strange, and despite it, Tate, shifting uncomfortably and settling back into the seat, is disappointed.  Not that Tate expected anything from the man, but for him to be interested in Tate like this...

"You can't blame them for your choices," the woman whispers in Tate's ear, prickling the skin.

Tate whips the stool around, but she is nowhere to be seen. All that remains is a crawling sensation in Tate's crotch. Try to make it look casual. Tate never realized how difficult it could be, digging in for relief around the extension. Warmth spreads across Tate's fingers.

Tate sighs, half frustration, half relief, and wipes fingernails across pant legs, painting archaic symbols in the old ways, wondering what it would mean if scryed.

"Oy, Red," the bartender says, leaning in a bit closer and indicating the older gentleman seating himself at a far table. "I'm s'posed to tell you that's your man." The boy dimples as he winks, his face slurring into that pit. "Must say I'm a bit jealous of him."

Tate blinks with Tate's eyes and grips the drink with Tate's hands. The bartender's smile falters, then slips entirely off his face. He shakes his head and turns away, leaving it on the bar.

Focus on breathing.

Tate must, for these lungs seem either unable or unwilling to recall the way.

It does not matter, as long as Tate has air enough to speak to the old man, now settling himself at the table with clenched, darting eyes and steepled hands before his lips.

Emerson. Tate flashes on a manila folder with the man's photograph, dossier, and mission directives.

Paperclipped to that folder had been a grainy surveillance photo of a lanky red-haired man meeting him in a dark corner of London Heathrow Airport.

Standing from the stool, Tate sways. Too much alcohol? What is Tate's limit? Not sure. Probably fine.

Finding footing on overlong legs, Tate approaches, and the man sees Tate.

Heart pounding an unfamiliar rhythm, Tate pauses to catch a breath, take a drink.

It's... good.

Not Tate's normal preference, but in this business, tastes change. Another sip, deeper, and the blood orange stains Tate's cheek with its dark juices.

Choking on the drink, Tate, over the rim of the glass, sees the woman pass behind Emerson, go to the couple making out in the corner. She glances over her shoulder, then somehow gets around them. The kissing girl has thankfully reacquired her lips.

Worrying lower lip with teeth, Tate steps between some merrymakers, contorting body to be well clear of them, and sets the drink down on the table, stony silent. Must wait, never the first to speak.

"Where are you?" the familiar woman calls. Tate glances around, does not see her, does not answer, but the question echoes in Tate's ears. Emerson does not seem to notice, finally speaks.

"It is darkest before dawn."

Tate's mind instantly clicked to the countersign. It had been drilled over and over, and Tate speaks it aloud with as much ease as can be mustered as Emerson's head bobs. "As dark as men's souls before the Light."

"It has been too long, old friend," Emerson murmurs, reaching into his jacket. His head still wobbles as if he is listening to fast paced music. Tate watches the hand, trying to ignore the perpetual motion. The sticky spot on Tate's cheek beckons, fingertips wipe at it. Tate is surprised to find stubble there and scratches at it.

An envelope hits the table. Emerson sighs as a soft blue glow catches beneath his palm, unlocking the contents within. With the non-scratching hand, Tate hesitantly inches the envelope closer.

The old man's hand remains still, but his fingertips trail along with the thin parcel, stretching as Tate pulls, elongating and popping, knuckles crackling and disjoining.

"Where am I?" The woman shrieks.

Finally, Emerson lifts his spindly fingers, tapping them across the table in a nervous gesture. Tate rushes to put the envelope into the shirt's neck, a roomy storage until Tate's jacket can be retrieved, and jumps to see the woman standing just beside, hands to her head, clutching rich, dark locks.

Fingernails bite into tender flesh below the jaw as Tate pushes harder and the warmth seeps down Tate's fingers. Still, the itching burns. Deeper.


Looking back at Emerson, Tate sits back with a start. Tate had not noticed until now how disfigured he is, jaw pushed in, skin on half his face burned and eyelid gone to show one ever staring blue eye beneath his shock of bone white hair. His lips peel back in a terrible scowl, skeletal teeth clenching tight and clack together almost comically as Emerson speaks.

"Are you quite all right?" Tate bites back a laugh, bites Tate's lip instead.

Emerson shudders visibly, somehow returned to a normal visage, just like the dossier photo. "Look, I don't have much time. Where is my-- good gracious, you're bleeding!"

"Where are we?" Tate and the woman scream. Tate's fingers burrow deeper, searching for an answer. The other hand lifts the drink, gives Tate one last gulp, then smashes the glass across the table.

Holding his legs across his face as a shield, Emerson blinks his five eyes at Tate only once before fleeing. A snarling face whips its tongues at Tate from Emerson's backside, taunting, but Tate does not care.

The remains of the glass slice into Tate's leg.


Flashes of the training sear Tate's mind.

Corpus nihil est. 

The body is nothing.

Tate cares nothing for the body. Blood flows freely as Tate burrows deeper.

Mens est omnia. 

The mind is everything.

But where is the mind?

It has to be here somewhere.

The glass shard is Tate's shovel, and Tate's body the dig site.

Hotel guests skitter about on their legs bent back at impossible angles, eyes flying wild. The kissing couple, man's head in girl's hands, flee overtop of Tate, who now flounders on the floor, carving away. A mad rush, tik-tik-tik of insectoid legs carrying inverted bodies with flailing entrails away from Tate's earnest search.

A strong grip pulls at Tate's arm, struggles for the glass shard.

Tate fights back, but blood loss leaves Tate cold and weak. Still, as the bartender comes into view, hardly recognizable with the antennae wrapped round his head, Tate protests.

"I must find myself!"

Cutting his hands at the end of tentacular arms, the bartender finally gets the improvised knife away from Tate.

"Not like this, you won't," he says. "We'll find you some help, we will."

As the man holds Tate's wrists against the ground, Tate spies the woman crouched, wide-eyed, beside him. She lays next to Tate.

There is no help for Tate, except for Tate, but this seems a good sign.

The blackness closes in around Tate.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Moon Dwelling Dragon Tamers

The pale band of light reflected off the dusty ground and Murukan's mount gleamed blue and green like the Earth hanging just over the horizon. The beast below him rustled, impatient. Murukan put a strong hand down on its head, understanding.

They had waited a long time, hiding in the darkness.

The shadow had protected them, but as the Earth moved to fully block out the light of its star, it would now usher them forward into a new age.

A new age when mortals could not so easily cast aside their gods.

Murukan turned to see another lizard scale up the side of the crater to him, bearing Korrawi. He would not want this without his mother by his side. She had adorned her dark skin with bright feathers and dried leaves, remnants of her possessions when outcast, waving lazily in the light pull of this rock.

"They are all prepared," she intoned.

Without looking back, Murukan gave a curt nod. Those following knew the stakes, knew what failure meant. His people were not meant for oblivion.

He did not need to see all of the winged beasts in rank behind him along the barren gray landscape, waiting for the signal.

Korrawi pulled a strand of red from her arm and took Murukan's spear. She wrapped the wreath about the haft, tying it tight so the petals brushed his hand when he took it back. He inclined his head in thanks, and felt more than heard a cheer of enthusiasm from those he led.

The band of white shrank before him as the star was covered and he tensed, sensing the great lizard feel his readiness. The beast was a beautiful agent of destruction. The iridescent scales beneath his hand shone blue in the some light, green in others, and overlay each other in a truly marvelous pattern.

It was also a true friend through these dark times. Soon, they would live together in the light once again.

The Earth finally and completely blocked out the sunlight.

Murukan bellowed and lifted his spear and all of the great lizards, each bearing a valued companion, leapt forward in unison.

Dark dust swirled about behind them, but the dragon-borne battalion was quickly clear of it.

In seconds, Murukan felt the change to near weightlessness. He took his eyes off the target for just a moment to see what a thousand years of preparation had given him.

Dozens of immortals, seated low on the backs of flying beasts, zoomed behind him. Korrawi led a slightly separate group, knowing her orders, but was close enough still for him to see them all together.

They all glowed in the dim light offered by the star flaring around the edges of the planet's atmosphere.

True artistry.

Murukan turned back to focus as the Earth slipped its fingers around him. It pulled at him.

It welcomed him home.

A fierce grin took his face as he tucked in low on his lizard, which spread its mighty wings. The green wings were tough and opaque, covered with a fascinating pattern of what he always took to be large round blue eyes. They rocked and swayed as he steered them toward a mainland target, having no desire to land in the great waters.

The fires of descension engulfed him, and the lizard, now properly oriented, used its wings to deflect much of the heat. The roar of the blaze and wind deafened even Murukan, but he did not let this distract him.

The mortals would pay.

They broke cloud cover and streaked through the air. Murukan's beast made a fair attempt at saving the flight by spreading its wings, but even so, they hit the ground and dug a trough through man-made stone and metal contraptions.

As steam rolled off of him, he checked the lizard. Stunned, but fine.

Mortals exited metal boxes he had not pushed aside and stared at him, at his glowing orange speartip.

These would be the beginning.

This would be where he started.

And so he did.

Hana Gartstein , Source

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Worldcon... Woah.

I'm back from Worldcon, hosted in Chicago, and my mind is ablaze with the possibilities.

This is all real.

Writing is a real career that real people can choose.

I mean, logically, I understood that all along, but now I've seen it. I saw in the flesh many folks who were just pixels before. And I discovered I belong there.

The convention is huge by my standards, though small compared to, say, Dragon*Con or especially ComicCon. Still, the number of attendees at the hotel is comparable to the population of my town.  At first, I stood in dumbfounded shock and awe as the sheer mass of it overwhelmed me.

Fortunately, I was not alone. My ever-supporting wife (@HStoffel), who worked hard to ensure this trip would happen, stayed by my side and gave me the occasional push (read: kick) when necessary.

Also, I had a friend: the energetic, charismatic M. Todd Gallowglas (@mgallowglas) initially urged me to attend Worldcon and, I'd say, went well out of his way to ensure I had the best, most frenetic experience possible at my first con ever. The man is truly passionate, and I look forward to seeing where he goes with his career. (Check out his blog here.)

The inimitable Todd Gallowglas at
his reading for Halloween Jack
I met many who I follow on Twitter and conversed with them, and for the first time in my life truly felt like I was in the right community. I have developed the ability to adapt to social situations, as many do, but 'coping' is not the same as 'fitting in,' and I now know where I fit. I am a writer. I really appreciate everyone who took the time to open up and share a bit of their time and lives with me.

Sure, there's that lingering doubt that eventually I'll be discovered as a fraud. Someday, the Real Life Authorities will halt me and insist I give a reckoning for deigning to live my life in such a 'frivolous' manner.

But as I now cruise down the highway at six over the speed limit and see all of these other crazy people passing me, I feel fairly confident the reality cops will pull them over before noticing me slipping by.

Time to push the pedal a little harder.