#LastDay for a #freeread! #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder with #freefiction and all those peculiar #fantasy #characters

Okay, I’m being a very naughty person right now, writing this while attending a virtual workshop on Google Classrooms, but it’s just, so, BORING. I mean, there’s no bountyhunters or sabotage in a talk about building quizzes.

(Though if you dig bountyhunters and mysteries trains, my historical fantasy is still free! Today is the LAST day, so grab it while you can!)

I just want to escape dull online meetings for that mysterious River Town, something akin to Diana Wynne Jones’ Fantasyland, and get lost among the townsfolk who don’t worry about Discussion Boards, Rubrics, or Co-Teaching.

Art by Ryan Lowe

Perhaps I’ll wander the Market, watching merchants gather from nearby towns to sell their hometowns’ specialties. Artisans show their wares while bossing around their apprentices.

MERCHANTS—when freelance—travel from an unknown place in the south northwards to another uncertain place. They own CARAVANS loaded with BALES. And they love MONEY. This must be the reason so many of them travel, because nearly all of them fall by the wayside, victims of BANDITS or other AMBUSHES, and the rest must know the risk. But they keep coming. Individual Merchants are portly, warmly dressed, and rather prone to trust hired GUARDS on small evidence. While alive, they drive a hard bargain. Many of them travel with young female relatives. This is unwise. See SLAVES, FEMALE.

APPRENTICES are people who are training for a trade or skill, which means they are usually quite young and bad at what they do. Most of the time they are like nurses during an operation, being there only to hand the master his tools. They seem to have to do this for a good many years before they get to do anything more interesting, and it is therefore not surprising that some of them get restless and either try to do the interesting stuff themselves or simply run away and join the Tour. The Rules state that if an Apprentice tries to do the interesting stuff on her/his own it will blow up in her/his face. If she/he runs away, she/he will learn all sorts of things very quickly and also probably prove to be the MISSING HEIR to a Kingdom. Surprisingly, very few Apprentices do run away. If you have one on your Tour, you are in for an eventful time.

Oh dear. Well if the Apprentice is blowing up the workshop, I should maybe get that kid out for a break at the Inn. I’ll buy him a pint, so long as the Innkeeper will serve an outsider.

INNKEEPERS are all so alike that the Tourist may be pardoned for thinking she/he has not moved from one INN to the next. Innkeepers are tall, fat, male, aproned, busy, and normally jovial. They are there to serve and shout order to barmaids. They take everything in their stride, from STRANGE RACES and TAVERN BRAWLS to peculiar requests from Tourists with awkward SECRETS to conceal. They seldom otherwise intrude on the action. They are always too busy. It is not known when these admirable men find time to eat or sleep.

The Apprentice calms down after a pint, though he’s still smoking a bit. The Innkeeper’s third chin wiggles a bit while he slides a mug to a darkened corner of the tavern. Who goes there?

ASSASSINS are numerous and widespread. They are said to be very good at their job, which is of course killing people for money, and to proceed on all occasions with strict regard to law and protocol. From one-third of the way through your Tour onwards, you may expect someone to have paid an Assassin to slaughter you. The traditional venue of this murder is a townhouse (Assassins, for some reason, do not operate in open country) or WHARF, so be on your guard in these places. But do not lose sleep over it. As the Assassin approaches you will get a sense of wrongness or feeling of being watched, and this should alert you in time. Once alert, you will find it surprisingly easy to kill this practiced killer. He will die protesting that you broke some Rule or other.

Dammit, now I have to pay the Innkeeper for the drinks AND the cleanup.

Still, I dump some money and drag the Apprentice out before he can whine for a third pint. A beggar notices I have money, so of course takes to poking my boots with his walking stick. For a blind pirate, he sure has a keen sense of his surroundings.

BEGGARS are to be found in all major CITIES, always wearing rags and often with hideous deformities. They will pester Tourists for money from the City gates onwards. As soon as the City comes under SIEGE, however, all Beggars vanish. The Management has prudently withdrawn them for use in other Cities along the Tourist routes. This makes sense. Beggars would only be in the way during the fighting.

I’ll have to slide my remaining coins into my boot, because there’s eyes a’plenty watching me pay, and I’m not keen to lose my boat-fare for the way home.

THIEVES’ GUILD. The Thieves’ Guild exists to transfer wealth but not to distribute it. Its members are pickpockets, burglars, robbers, fences, and housebreakers, but never muggers. The Guild claims to be a body of artists. All its members profess horror at violence (but are quite proficient fighters all the same) and pride themselves on bringing off robberies in apparently impregnable TREASURE stores, on picking locks, and on climbing smooth walls. You will be taken to see the Guildmaster, who rejoices in such NAMES as The Faceless Man or The Gentleman, at some point when your Tour visits a City.

I have to lose myself among the townspeople. Surely they can’t ALL be cut-throats and miscreants, can they?

AVERAGE FOLK are any people inhabiting the continent who are not specifically mentioned in the list of PEOPLES. They are not precisely normal all the same. Those who are not ASSASSINS, BEGGARS, or THIEVES will be INNKEEPERS, MERCHANTS, or peasants, and therefore they are busy trying to either rob you, rub you out, or cheat you. The rest will be fully occupied being taxed out of existence or dealing with a variety of magical nuisances. Otherwise they are rather like you, give or take a few hideous sores, gnarled hands, and suspicious scowls. Do not expect help or sympathy from any of them.

Looks like I have to escape my own little fantasy visit just to make sure I’m not left destitute in some alley. Jeez, for once it’s safer with my kids and their Lego wars. Legend has it, however, that a child of golden hair has the ability to capture a dragon’s likeness upon the page. I think we’ll seek that child out tomorrow to learn what breeds she’s studied so far…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Celebrate the #fantasy of #WyrdandWonder with #freefiction, #roads, and #rivers to impassable #mountains

“Mommy, I’m Bandit!” Biff hops toward me with his bear held high. “And this is Snowman! We gotta go to Texarkana County for cookies!” He runs in place, revving noises loud and strong, and then bolts down the hallway to my room, where there is no trace of cookies or Texas.

Bo sits at the table with his latest P.J. O’Rourke book, tea in hand. He’s trying to look innocent, but it’s not MY doing that the soundtrack for Smokey and the Bandit has been on for HOURS. Biff didn’t find that CD downstairs on his own, oh no. That little bugger had help.

“At least he’s not talking about bootleg beer,” Bo says.

“EW, beer is GROSS!” Biff hollers from my cookie-free room. “I’m on the run for bootleg cookies, not Coors!”

Bo hides behind his book.

“Eastbound and Down” starts up for the 3,511th time.

Must. Go. Outside.

Blondie and Bash are in a fit of camaraderie, which I’ll take over the previous fit of racing and grabbing at each other’s hoods and yanking each other to the ground. The two are blowing bubbles and talking up a storm over their new Comfie Club, choosing with of their stuffed animals will be in charge and whether or not Biff will even be invited.

The last bit, I admit, hurt. Biff’s the middle kid, just like me, and I was often left out of my brothers’ games when we were kids.

“Watch out, Snowman, here comes Smokey!” Biff tears by the window, “horn” blaring as his bear shakes frantically above his head. “We gotta jump the bridge, look out! Aaaaaaaah!”

I watch that boy and his bear leap from couch to chair and back as the banjo strums on. He’s reveling in an adventure all his own. Who am I to force him out of his imagination and into another’s?

We all need our passage out of reality once in a while. Thankfully, Wyrd and Wonder provides the perfect opportunity to escape the humdrum for something new.

Perhaps, like Biff, you wish to escape via the roads. Weeeeell they ain’t exactly paved in Fantasyland.

ROADS in Fantasyland are not good. Tourists have frequent cause to complain. There are several types of Road, each with its characteristic inconvenience.

  1. Ancient magical ways, normally engineered from some black rocklike substance impervious to wear. These are so old that only short stretches remain. The rest has been torn up or buried in some ancient CATACLYSM. This can be exasperating. You are just beginning to make some decent mileage on this tarmaclike surface when it stops, and you are back to a snail’s pace again.
  2. ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS. These are wider than an eight-lane highway, dead straight, and made of cobbles that preternaturally show no sign of aging. Though hardly ever used today—they are characterized by windswept emptiness—they were clearly built to allow a traffic of horse-drawn carts, four lanes in each direction, travelling at seventy miles per hour.
  3. Old trade routes. These are long-disused and normally serve to do little more than point you in the right direction. If you try to follow them you are quite likely to get lost when the route peters out into pathless moorland or even MARSHES. If the route is obvious, you will find no shelter along it, and no WATER.
  4. Unpaved roads. These are the norm. They are always muddy and full of deep ruts from the passage of MERCHANTS and previous Tours. They lead through dangerous WOODS and abound in rocky defiles ideal for AMBUSH. Nobody ever maintains these, despite frequent representations to the Management, and you have to use them because they are the only way to get about. Some Tourists lose patience and ride across country, but this is not recommended because it is the surest way to get attacked by APELIKE CANNIBALS.

Hmmm. Maybe roads aren’t the best way to go with those cannibals and ambushing bandits hiding all over. What about the mountains?

MOUNTAINS are always high and mostly snow-capped. There seems to have been no ice age in Fantasyland, so the Mountains rise tens of thousands of feet into pointed, jagged peaks, which have evidently never suffered erosion. They are full of rocky defiles and paths so steep you have to dismount and lead the HORSES. Almost certainly there will be at some stage a ledge along a cliff that is only a few feet wide with an immense drop the other side. This will be covered with ice. Snow will be xweeping across it. The Rule is that you always in a hurry at this stage.

MOUNTAIN PASS, BLOCKED. The Rule is that any time you need to get from one side of the MOUNTAINS to the other, the pass across is blocked. The pass will be a narrow rift high in the Mountains, and by the time you have climbed up there, either with the forces of the DARK LORD hard behind you, or knowing you have only so long to get to the other side before the forces of Darkness get there first, you will find the pass…impassable. Usually the Management applies this Rule by prudently sending you off in winter, so that the pass is snowbound; on occasion, though, the blockage can be a landslide or a fall of rocks. In some cases, you can go down and round the long way, but mostly you just have to bash on through. Somehow. See also HARDSHIP and HYPOTHERMIA.

Oh yeah, hypothermia…never mind! Well I do like my rivers. My town’s on a river, my state’s on a river. Heck, did you know that Wisconsin is home to 26,767 miles of streams and rivers? That’s enough to circle around the entire globe and THEN some! (I learned that while digging up facts about Wisconsin for the kids to copy for handwriting. Ain’t that neat?) So, let’s try a river.

RIVERS  in Fantasyland are often very peculiar. Some even flow uphill. Setting aside normal features such as the fact that neither WITCHES nor the forces of the Dark are able to cross RIVERS, , we are left with the unaccountable way that each bank of a given RIVER is liable to be different, and even more unaccountable way the local inhabitants ignore this oddity. The reason seems to be that the left bank of a River (face downstream) is often Highly Magical and full of Hidden Dangers, so that the dwellers are unable to see that side of the River at all. Heaven knows what they think they see instead, or the reason for the difference between the two banks.

BRIDGES. The inhabitants of Fantasyland seem to have a distrust of Bridges, maybe because they provide an easy way for an invading ARMY to cross to a VILLAGE on the other side of the RIVER. This is a great inconvenience to the Tourist. The Rule is that, when being pursued by the forces of the Dark, you are going to need to cross a Bridge, and there will be no Bridge. While the Tour is waiting to find a way across, the forces of the Dark have time to catch up. Even if there is supposed to be a Bridge on the route, you are likely to arrive to find it broken–whereupon the forces of the Dark gain steadily again. The only Bridges sure to be still in place are ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS, and they will be huge, with, as soon as you get to the middle, a tendency to develop a small but impassable gap right at the apex.

Well, how on earth can we get anywhere when the mountains are blocked, the roads are awful, and the bridges on the verge of collapse? I guess we’ll have to stop at a river’s town and socialize with the townsfolk therein…tomorrow. x

Until then, you can still catch my novella for FREE! Enjoy a little history of railway bridges over the timeless Mississippi as bounty hunters race to catch a saboteur determined to destroy a mysterious train…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 7th #chapter

Only a few days of November remain, my friends! Clearly this novella won’t be done by then. For sake of time, then, I think I’d like to jump, just a smidge, to another critical moment. (If you need to catch up, here’s a list of current chapters for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die.)

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Sal and Chloe flew through the sliding doors. “We have to close these,” Sal called to Thomas, “NOW.”

“What happened?” Thomas was almost lost to the darkness of the room, too far for the firelight’s reach. Only his eyes glowed to Chloe, wide with fear when he saw the blood on her hand, the panic in her face.

The fear locked Chloe’s jaw but she fought it as the men fought time and warped wood to close the doors. “A b-b-body, Dad. They ch-ch-chopped someone up.

Laughter: Reg hopped up, a smile so big on his face you’d think it was Christmas Anywhere-But-Here. “It’s done!” He clapped and leapt over the sofa to hug his sister tight. “It must be done done done! The signs, they worked!”

But Chloe ran to join Sal at the doors. Stuck. So damn stuck. The wood groaned, denying them. “The Sumac guy and the doctor–” 

CRACK. Thomas’ side splintered free above him. He slammed his side to the center and said, “I knew that damn plowman was no good.” He came to help Sal and Chloe, but his strength only made the wood louder, louder, its moans surely echoing throughout the Crow’s Nest. “Get furniture. We’ll block the rest.”

“What about your mom?” Chloe asked Sal as they took the ends of the sofa.

“It’s her bloody curse.” Sal grunted under the load, faltering after only a few steps. “Let her face it.”

Thomas rushed to Sal’s side and shoved him towards Chloe. “Ang, come on!”

But Angela’s shape stayed to the window, her darkness one with Reg’s, her fingers spread out upon the glass.

The caws.

Oh, the caws.

It began as one, lone but strong. Then another. Another. Another. And in a heartbeat it was a chorus of murder ringing through the air. A cloud of black feathers beat the windows as the crows flew by. Their song seemed to wrap around the house, filling its rooms and all their hidden spaces–

THOCK.

The walking shroud of Madame Yana Perdido stood, hands upon her cane, in the last space of the sliding doors. 

Sal dropped the sofa and stood, empty and limp as a scarecrow after a storm. Reg let out a cry and buried himself in Angela’s arms.

Only Angela held her chin high…though she did not move one inch from the window. “Mother.” The word fell, small and hard, into the air.

The grandmother’s head slowly swiveled from adult to adult until at last she stopped with Choe. “Has the sign been made?” That the sofa was but a few inches away from blocking her entry apparently meant nothing.

Chloe pointed at the pile of drawings about the desk. “Reg has made a hundred, all right? You need to get in here before that doctor–”

Thock. “He means nothing. Did you make the sign?”

“We need to call–”

Did you make the sign?!”

“NO I DIDN’T MAKE NO DAMN SIGN!”

Silence.

Not a caw.

Not a groan.

Not a flutter.

Only a single, long, growl. Very deep. And very near.

Word Count: 513 Total Count: 12,324

Gah, I didn’t get to my part yet! Here’s hoping the kids behave well enough tomorrow for me to write before we venture off to another Grandmother’s house… xxxxxx

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 6th #chapter, part 3

I’m still alive! Pretty sure, anyway… Yes, I’m back, if only for a moment, to try and finish this scene. It’s too damn important not to. I’ll share my past week’s misadventures another time. xxxxx

“…no use at all. The medicines did nothing.”

WACK.

Chloe jumped at the sound of the axe on some unseen chopping block. A few fat snowflakes flew in through the crack of the open kitchen door to die upon the woodpile.

Sal held his arm in front of Chloe, ears red as the veins in his eyes. 

“What did you even give her?”

He didn’t have to tell Chloe to be quiet. She clenched her jaw to keep from chattering, and dug her fingernails into her palms. How could she pretend like they didn’t hear? What was she even hearing?

“Who knows? What’s clear to me is that she knows where it is and she is not telling.”

WACK.  “Not telling you, you mean.”

A lone, fat drop of blood broke from the rabbit pelt by the butcher’s block and struck the ground with a sound too loud, too obvious. Sal started pushing his arm against Chloe, his breathing shallow and fast under his plaid shirt.

“Don’t get started with me.” 

Chloe took a step, but…but she couldn’t quite go. What was the big deal, really? Sumac worked for Chloe’s grandmother. The doctor would be here often to treat her.

Not that he sounded pleased about it. “That bitch has cost me too much time already. I want that seed, and I want it now.” 

Sal stopped nudging. “Seed?” he mouthed silently. His lips formed the word, over and over as he hunched his gangly body forward and lurched further into the room. The balls of his feet wobbled as he crept, his fingers outstretched to grab anything, anything that could keep him from falling.

“Hand me the last of that meat, will you? My perimeter’s just about done.” Sumac sounded very much at ease, almost relaxed despite the axe work. “My point, Sir, is that she may have told one of her children.” WACK. “Or maybe she’ll tell the granddaughter. You said she liked her.”

Well. Chloe needed to follow now. She followed Sal’s cue and took to all fours, her knees fastly cold from old snow and blood. They kept close to the butcher’s block, the only real cover in the kitchen. 

The two men’s shapes walked before a window, and stopped.

Chloe and Sal just made it between the butcher’s block and the fridge. They were hidden.

And trapped.

Chloe dared to peer with one eye around the edge, hoping the rabbit pelt would do enough to cover her head. 

A small red something flew into the snow. “Could the girl be bribed, perhaps?” 

WACK. “Damn joint.” A large, crooked something flew like a heavy boomerang before the windows. “Maybe. If the parents don’t get in your way.”

Dr. Artair laughed a jolly laugh. “Ah, but these are parents who want what’s best for their child. I’m sure I can bend that to my advantage.”

A drop of blood fell and splattered atop Chloe’s hand.

WACK. “If you say so.” WACK. “All I know–” WACK. Sumac grunted and stepped, stepped, stepped. “–is I’m not cleaning up any more of your messes tonight.” The kitchen door swung wide, groaning in the cold. He stopped in the doorway, holding a hand up to the light.A bloody, pale stump of a forearm and hand, adorned with a watch and a shredded purple sleeve. Sumac pulled the shredded fabric off and held the watch to his ear.  Always wanted a Van Doren.” With a smile he gave the bloody hand a high five and returned to the doctor, the meat, and the snowy night.

Word Count: 596 Total Count: 11,811

Hmmm. Not quite what I was planning here, but it’ll do for now. 🙂

Click here for a complete list of posts for my novella What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die. And until tomorrow…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 6th #chapter, part 2

Hello, friends! So, I’m not alone with my writing today–Biff’s getting over a fever. Oh, he seems okay, much more animated and energetic than yesterday. Still, I don’t need a relapse in the midst of my panicking university students and sub teaching gigs, so here we are, home together, him wondering why I won’t let him watch tv all day and me…um…wondering I won’t just let him watch tv so I can get some writing done. 🙂

Where were we, again? Oh yes. Let’s try to bring the family back together.

Writing Music: Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet, Landfall

“Thomas!” Angela clung to the sliding doors as her body hung forward, face as fearful as any caught animal. “Thomas, you let Chloe go up there?” Her feet moved for the stairs, yet her hands would not let go. “Did she talk to you?”

Chloe and her father moved as one to meet her at the base of the stairs. Chloe wrapped her arms tight around her momma, murmuring, “I’m okay, it’s okay. She’s just creepy, is all.” 

Thomas’ long, powerful arms held them both close to his chest. He kissed the tops of their heads, then rested his own on Angela’s. “It’s almost midnight. Doctor said she’s in her last few hours. It’s almost over.”

“Over.” Angela’s face was but a few inches from Chloe’s, and yet Chloe felt like her mother couldn’t see her at all. What could she see? “C-can it really be over with…without…”

Sal knocked on the sliding door to get their attention. “Ang. The crows. Do you hear them?”

Just like that, Angela’s focus sharpened on her daughter, husband, brother. She pulled away from her family and ran into the living room and its windows. Chloe followed, keeping her distance from Reg whose back was to them all. He sat at the small, plain desk not far from the hearth, its surface lit just enough by the fire’s light that he could draw in great, dramatic strokes. Papers littered the floor about his dusty chair.

Papers filled with crows.

No one spoke but the fire. No one moved. From somewhere came a ticking. From somewhere came a thock. Thock. Thock.

“You must make the sign,” the grandmother had said. The crows upon the floor had outspread wings and open beaks, long talons and wide eyes. They stared at Chloe from the paper, stared like those hidden golden eyes on the bookshelf–

From somewhere came voices, beastly and strange.

“Isn’t that plowman supposed to be feeding the crows?” Angela asked. “We can’t lose them, not now.”

Sal nodded. “I’ll go check.”

You must make the sign…

But Reg was already making plenty of signs. What difference would a drawing by Chloe make? And Chloe’s stomach still rumbled, and her father was giving her that “we have to talk” face while touching her mother’s shoulder. Damn, he’s going to bring up the radio job to get Momma’s mind off crows and witch-mothers. She had to separate them…but no. Not when her mother looked ready to jump out of her own skin. And unlike Angela, Chloe’d already seen the bloody kitchen.

“I’ll come with you.” Chloe practically skipped over to Sal’s side. “Uncle Sal.” Anything to put off “that talk” until we’re in the car. Hell, I’ll talk the whole way home about it if it means not doing it while Momma’s like this.

“You sure?” Chloe’s father asked. He sure wasn’t.

But the scribbling noise from Reg and the tappingof Angela’s fingernails on the laced table made the bloody silence of the kitchen sound like a sanctuary to Chloe. That, and the ginger scarecrow that was Sal felt like the least threatening thing in this house. “Mmhmm.”

“We’ll just be a moment,” said Sal, and led Chloe out.

The foyer felt far colder than a moment ago. Little whips of wind lashed the back of Chloe’s stockinged legs. The lights flickered once, twice. But no black laced shapes loitered on the stairs—not that Sal looked up to check. He was all too happy to share a smile with Chloe instead.

“Thanks for this. I hate walking around here by myself. When I saw Reg at the front door, I just…stayed with him by the fire until you came.” They paused by the display of crow skeletons. One skeleton was posed to look outward, right were Sal stood. “It’s always felt…safest, in there.”

Chloe shuddered. “Should I ask where you guys slept?”

Sal swallowed. “No.”

The cold had been coming from the kitchen. The back door stood open, just a sliver. The dead rabbit was gone.

So was the axe.

Word Count: 675 Total Count: 11,215

Consarnit! I can’t wait to share the next moment with you, but I teach all day tomorrow, so there’s a good chance I won’t be posting. Stay tuned!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 6th chapter

Hello, friends! I know I’m slowing down a bit with this scene, but I did so want to give a bit of history and had no idea where else to put it. (If you want some context, check out the complete list of current contents for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die.)

Writing Music: Philip Glass, Metamorphosis

Chloe’s father blocked her halfway down the stairs. Light from the grandmother’s room faded against the second floor corridor until it was just as dim as the rest of the foyer. The grandmother’s presence, however, hadn’t faded, not at all. Go to the desk near the fireplace downstairs, she’d said. Take ashes from the hearth, and with your own fingers make the sign. She refused to watch Chloe or her father leave, eyes still transfixed upon the window where the owl and clawed its own mark. Do it now, before he finds a way inside.

Not that the owl’s mark made much impression on Chloe’s father. Already he was grumbling about Chloe’s love of music. “Your momma got you that job to help jumpstart your journalism career, not to write songs other people are gonna sing without even mentioning your name.”

Chloe slumped to a seat on the stairs. “I didn’t want it to be like this,” she said, voice hardly above a whisper. She clutched the hem of her skirt, so carefully sewn by her mom to help Chloe to look like someone who was on campus to learn, not serve. “I wanted to surprise you both. Play the radio and tell you, ‘I wrote that. That’s my song Brenda Holloway’s singing.” Through the rails of the bannister Chloe looked down upon the crow bones on display, the hung feathers, the child drawings. How many had been pinned to those places and left, unmoved, for years and years? “Some friends at WNOV, they’re going to set up a meeting with representatives from Motown after New Year’s.”

“Song writing. Jee-sus. Chloe, I…” Thomas Watchman bit his lip, breathed deep. Chloe knew exactly what he was doing: he was looking at her as if she was a clock refusing to wind. “When you reported what happened at the Black Student Strike in Madison to the Milwaukee campus, your momma and I, we were so, so proud of you.” He knelt upon the stair to see her eye to eye, to hold her hands in his calloused palms. “You were in living history. Do you have any idea how powerful that is? How important that is to preserve for your own kids and grandkids?” 

Chloe swallowed back a hard lump of fear. So chilled, these stairs, like the sidewalk Chloe fell upon that day. The car horns, the words hot as acid on Chloe’s ears…Even Gwendolyn Brooks, a Black woman white men awarded, was almost run down while talking to the students. Yes, Chloe wrote a report and shared it on Milwaukee’s Black radio. But the real fire came in the words Chloe wrote after, words for a song, a song to hear with a piano and a microphone in a smoke-filled room, where tables are sticky with booze and old stories and the floor doesn’t care whose shoes walk its boards.

Thomas Watchman gave his daughter a little smile to tug her back into the present. “You’ve got the words and the soul to take on all those white men who think they know what deserves to be recorded and read by our eyes. Well they don’t. You.” He brought their held hands up to Chloe’s chin for a gentle nudge. “You do.”

Word Count: 542 Total Count: 10,540

The Black Student Strike was a real thing at UW Madison, as was Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks nearly being run down by a car. In this age of outrage and vitriol over merely not liking a YA book, let’s just take a moment to remember there are plenty of real battles worth fighting for.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!


#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 5th #chapter, part 2

Good morning, friends! Between the swamp of final papers and the hours of breaking up fighting school children, I’m ready for some escape from reality–even if it’s back to the Crow’s Nest.

Writing Music: Kronos Quartet, “Little Blue Something”

A lone caw cried out in the dark snow. Chloe couldn’t see into the night, not with snow spinning in circles outside like toy ribbons from a parade. “My family,” she said curtly.

Thock went the grandmother’s cane. Yana Perdido pointed a gnarled finger at Chloe’s chest and said, “No. This family has already been claimed. What, is, yours?” 

Whimpering downstairs. Cawing outside. Muffled voices, closed doors, silent snow, golden eyes, and all beneath the tap tap tap of Dr. Artair’s ring as he sits, watching like all the white men who think they have the right to see her as less, as worthless, just some sooty the dean needs to throw out with the trash, all the snickers and the jabs and the tossed books and the mud kicked at her legs and the noise and the noise and the noise, Chloe has to cover her ears to keep out all the damn noise

“Music!” She was panting. Why was she breathing so hard? Sweat streamed down her back and chest. Her heart wanted to collapse from running, running from all the stupid whiteys who think they own the world but they don’t because of “Music.” There. She could speak without panic now, without that clawing on her brain. She slowly ran her palms down her skirt to dry them. “I write songs for the radio.”

“Since when?” Chloe’s father filled that decrepit doorway with his body and his voice. “That job at the station is for school, not–”  he paused when he saw Dr. Artair in the corner and realized the grandmother was sitting, unveiled, and staring. 

It takes a lot to unnerve a man like Thomas Watchman. The grandmother’s face came damn close…until he saw Chloe’s frazzled face. He clenched his jaw as he towered over the old woman on the bed.  “Make my wife or daughter a jabbering mess like that son of yours downstairs and I’ll use your own tools against you.” He pulled out the leather arm bond he found in the foyer and held it to the lamp. The large buckle flashed light in the old woman’s eyes, reflecting little back. “Understand?”

“Oh dear, oh dear.” Dr. Artair wore the face of a Santa Claus reading a naughty list. “Perhaps, Yana, it is time to make amends with your children. Should they not be compensated with–”
“Treasure?” Thock. The grandmother recovered her face with the veil, and she stood, a black spectre once more. “You think you can drug me enough with your silly medicines that I’ll reveal its hiding place, do you? Get out, you fraud.” Thock. “Out of this room, and out of this house.”

Word Count: 446 Total Count: 9,332

CONSARNIT! Sorry, folks, but I have to cut it here so I can grade before another teaching gig. Here’s hoping a little more time will come my way tomorrow.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 5th #chapter

Hi! So a day’s break from writing allowed a serious question to hit my face: What does Chloe care about? Here I’ve got this girl in the main crew of characters, we’re with her practically every step of this journey, and….I have no clue what matters to her. And if I don’t know, you sure don’t know, you awesome readers, you. So let’s see if this veiled grandmother can work a little narrative magic, as it were, so we can all learn what’s up with Chloe. (And for those who feel a little déjà vu while reading, it’s because I’m recycling some setting details from an earlier brainstorm shared in October.) Let’s go!

“Yana, what ever are you doing out of bed?” Dr. Artair wagged his finger at the old woman and pointed at the wall. “Back to your room, my dear. I’ve brought your medicine as well as your granddaughter for a little chat while the others calm your son.” 

“‘Son.’ Hmmmph.” The veiled grandmother thocked the floor with her cane as she hobbled to somewhere on the left. “Refuse of the orphanages, they were, all of them. I knew he wouldn’t want them.”

Refuse? Refuse?! Chloe’s throat burned with acid and anger as she stomped up the stairs, nearly knocking the toadish doctor over. “My mom isn’t garbage.” She pounded after the woman, glaring down at her veiled back. “She’s smarter than any white man at her university. She knows more about the world than you ever will, and she’s smart enough to stay the hell away from you!”

A slow, gurgling cackle shook the old woman’s shoulders. Chloe should turn back. She should run. This woman can’t be human, not really. She’s a monster under all that lace, and that’s why Reg is practically foaming at the mouth. No wonder, no wonder Chloe’s mother never ever wanted to set foot in here and was ready to sleep out in the car in the middle of a blizzard. 

“And yet, she has returned.” The grandmother turned, slowly, straightened, slowly. By the time she faced Chloe, her head was high, almost regal. The outline of a face floated behind the veil, with two holes where eyes should be. “Why is that?”

Chloe clenched her jaw. “To help her brothers, obviously. A minute with you and one’s crying crazy.” Why WERE they there, really? They didn’t have to come here. Chloe’s mother could have hung up the phone and left it all alone…no. Chloe didn’t know as much about her mom as she’d like, but she knew one thing for sure:

Angela Perdido Watchman could never leave any past alone.

“Now now.” Dr. Artair blocked the doorway out. They were all in this grandmother’s room, Chloe in the middle. “Let’s not start off on the wrong foot.”

“And which foot would you prefer, you fraud?” The grandmother stiffly sat on the edge of her bed. It stood high with wooden globes for feet, globes carved into precarious connections along the frame and headboard. The blankets on the bed looked like cast-off ball gowns, all bright colors in expensive fabric stitched with gold. “I will take no more of your supposed medications. You’re simply here for money. You will get your dues in the post from my attorney, just like Dr. Caden.”

Dr. Artair chuckled as he set the grandmother’s tea on the bedside table. “I only wish you to be comfortable, Madame. But, if you prefer to be in pain…” He took an orange shroud off a heavy, ornate lamp, throwing a hard, yellow light upon the room. “…then so be it.” The light added dark cracks around his smile.  

Thock. “You care nothing about my pain or anyone else’s.”

Chloe had to blink, readjust her eyes. Everything, everything was golden–crucifixes, mirrors, even the very fireplace opposite the bed had gilded edges. So did the two wooden chairs framing it, right down to their scrolls carved with wings and talons.

Thock. “Sit, child.”

And lose her ability to look down on this witch? “No, thank you.” Chloe folded her hands primly in front of her.

“Well I should very much like to sit,” Dr. Artair said, and did so, “if you don’t mind.”

Now the way out was clear, and Chloe sure as hell wasn’t going to give that up. Only a couple more minutes before her father will come to rescue her. She would not end up like Reg downstairs. Chloe kept her face a mask, her heart calm. This heap of old lace won’t make her a wreck.

The grandmother certainly was staring at her enough, looking for something until thock.  “Hmph. You see all the gold, but you do not stare at it. You are not here for treasure.”

Chloe felt like the woman was digging through her head. Chloe’s mind raced through childhood, pausing only a couple times: listening to Etta James for the first time, her father pulling out a gilded but broken timepiece from a dumpster, a wall of golden records, her mother sitting with her in the Public Museum, gazing upon the Egyptian mummy encased there, telling Chloe tales of archeological sites in the Far East and what an adventure it must be to dig through time. Then the memories became a blur, a spinning blur, a blur like a carousel ride in chaos and Chloe would surely get sick all over this witch—

Dr. Artair’s ring loudly rapped the arm of his chair. “Oh, this really is so exciting, seeing distant family brought together at last.” And he shooed with his fingers at Chloe to make her look upon the grandmother again. “Go on, go on. Pretend I’m not here.”

The old woman had removed her veil. Her sickly skin was as peeled and cracked as the woodwork downstairs. But her eyes—those weren’t holes at all, but dark, night-dark, and they looked hungry for anything Chloe had inside her. “You are Angela’s child. That stubborn stare confirms it.” And she nodded, approving. “You would fight the world to protect your own, would you not?”

The sweat between Chloe’s fingers made her folded hands slip a little. “Yes.”

“Tell me, child.” She leaned forward, hair long enough to touch the top of her cane. “What is your own?”

WORD COUNT: 925 TOTAL COUNT: 8886

Gah, we didn’t get to Chloe’s motivation! Well, we sort of did. I bet you caught the hints. 🙂 Ah well. Let’s try next time, shall we? 

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!


#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: #writing a 4th #chapter, part 2

Good morning, friends! Snow falls gently outside my window now, but the storm of school work is not far behind. Let’s get right to it, and see what Chloe makes of the grandmother she never knew she had.

Writing Music: Kronos Quartet performing Philip Glass

Chloe finally relinquished her coat to the coat rack and followed the doctor to the steps, straightening her turtleneck sweater as she went.

“Is it not a pity, Miss…?”

“Chloe.”

“Is it not a pity, Miss Chloe, that such a treasure of a place be treated so?” He gave the wooden crow carved into the bannister a light tap with his pointer finger. “Everyone ought to be allowed their eccentricities, but this—” his eyes rolled at the dozens upon dozens of crow drawings. “–is a bit much, even for me.” He grimaced, reminding Chloe of an angry toad.

Good thing he started chuckling so she could laugh, even falling in step with him on the stairs. “Guess this explains why Mom never wanted a pet.”

“Ha! Indeed. Your mother is a history teacher, correct?”

“That’s right, Doctor…?”

“Artair.”

“Dr. Artair. Yes, she’s even applying for tenure at the University in Milwaukee.”

“You must be very proud.”

“Mmm.”

Thomas appeared then. Chloe waved down to him, and he waved back with a cloth wrapped around ice. He continued on to the living room, quiet now but for hushed voices and crackling flames. 

“I wonder, then, what she would make of these.” Dr. Artair used the stirring spoon to point at the crow pictures. 

The second level was only half a dozen stairs away. Only one lamp seemed to be shining out of side onto dark green wallpaper. One door closed, who knew how many hid from sight. One of those doors led to her. The grandmother who made her children draw nothing but crows… “She probably hated having to make so many,” Chloe said.

But Dr. Artair tisked Chloe’s words, and rapped a few of the pictures with the spoon. “Look a little closer.” 

So Chloe leaned in, eyes squinting to see whatever it was she was meant to see. One drawing was just a series of hard, crude strokes with a black crayon. Another was more like pencil, a bit finer, with some shading. One had a peculiar smell to it, almost like sulfur.

“The corners. Look to the corners,” Dr. Artair whispered.

And there, finally, Chloe saw numbers smaller than a fly, written with precise, perfect lines: 1893. 

Chloe gasped. “These aren’t all Mom and her brothers. These…” She thudded down the stairs and back up again, scanning row upon row of pictures, finding more and more dates. 1923. 1947. 1882. 1904. 1950. 1867. “She had to make more. Someone was always making them…”

Floorboards near them creaked loudly. Thock. A shuffling sound. Thock. Another shuffle.

Chloe looked over Dr. Artair’s shoulders to the top of the stairs.

They were no longer alone.

An old woman, draped in black lace and bent as a question mark, hobbled to the top of the stairs with a knobby wooden cane clutched by a gloved hand. Knotted locks of silver hair peeked out from the thick veil covering her head and shoulders. “Yes.” The woman’s voice seemed to claw at the very air between them. “A Perdido must make the sign to be protected. You.” She pointed the cane at Chloe. “You will make the next sign.”

Word Count: 527 Total Count: 7961

Gah, I hate interrupting a story, but I’m afraid we have no choice this week. I do hope you’ll stay tuned anyway–I’ve a lovely author interview to share, and Blondie wants to talk about her current projects. (Oh yes–she’s got quite a few manuscripts flying around!)

For a complete list of installments for What Happened When Grandmother Failed to Die, click here.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#NaNoWriMo2019 #WritingLog: sharing an #AuthorInterview while #writing a 4th #chapter

Hello, everyone! Thanks for sharing your wishes and prayers–yesterday was a rough one, but today can and will be better. It’s been wonderful to write a little every day, so much so that I am going to let myself take it a liiiiiittle bit easier this week, as my university students are starting to submit finals and I know I’m subbing for at least two full days in other schools. So, be on the look out for an indie author interview as well as some guest writing from my awesomely sweet daughter Blondie.

Speaking of interviews, I was honored by fellow indie author and book blogger Colin Garrow with an interview on his site. Click here to check it out!

Now, where were we–ah, the mysterious doctor is stirring something while sitting next to a butchered rabbit.

Sumac pulled a long, dirty knife out of the kitchen sink and stabbed what remained of the rabbit’s abdomen. “Hungry?”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Chloe said, one foot already sliding back to the kitchen’s door. She stumbled back, and back, and lunged for the bare bathroom before the heaving started. At least the toilet wasn’t covered in animal blood, oh jeez I cannot STAND IT.

The doctor listened to Chloe puke, then said, “I may have something to help with that.”

“How—” Thomas’ hand swept from the shaven Santa Claus to the carcass and back. “How is this remotely sanitary?”

The doctor furrowed his brow and held up the spoon for inspection while the sounds of Chloe’s wretching lessened. “The dishes have been washed, if that’s your concern.” 

“You have medicine next to a dead animal in the goddamn kitchen!”

“And where else is one expected to prepare food and drink?” The doctor’s belly shook as he laughed. “All will be well, Sir, if you calm yourself.”

When Chloe returned to the kitchen, the doctor was politely patting her father’ limp arm. Thomas was standing, but not with the straight back he always kept when a white man talked to him. “Yeah…” The word dropped from his lips, vague and distant.

“Oh, I admit, this place is terribly morbid.” The doctor went to grab the teacup, sniffing it with disdain. “But it won’t do a dying old woman any good to raucous over stuffed birds and dirty stoves. What matters now is giving her a bit of comfort–like a pain reliever in her tea–and a bit of company.” He was only as tall as Chloe, so it was her he looked to with a smile. The scar running along one side of his shaved face almost connected the smile to his eyes–almost, but not quite. “Would you mind attending her with me? Just for a few moments while this brogue tidies up.” The doctor added a rebuking look at Sumac for good measure.

Not that Sumac seemed to care. “Look, the lady wants to keep the crows coming, and they won’t come if there’s no food.” With four slick moves, the rabbits limbs were severed. “There’s proper human vittles in the fridge anyway. Unless you put something off-limits in there.” And this plowman Sumac gave the doctor a snotty stare.

Weren’t doctors supposed to be respected? 

Chloe tugged her father’s arm. “C’mon, Dad, let’s—”

“Not your father.” The doctor raised a hand to stop them. He had a pretty fancy ring on, much like the professors who taught at Angela’s college. It reflected the light in their faces as the doctor continued. “Your father can find you something more appropriate to eat. I know I wouldn’t trust that butcher to boil an egg.”

“Hey!”

A low rumble: Thomas’ stomach, then Chloe’s. She could picture a full plate of chips, grapes, pb and j, cookies, milk…she must not have emptied her stomach, but her whole body of fuel, and she so needed fuel. Her legs felt like they could buckle right now, and the rabbit didn’t look gross so much as dinner-not-ready-yet…“Nothing with, you know, its teeth still in.”

Thomas smirked, and gave his daughter a wink. “No kidding. Look, I owe your mom some ice, anyway. Five minutes, I’ll be up to get you.”

“Five minutes?”

Thomas held up five fingers. Chloe clapped her hand against his, and said, “Okay.”

Word Count: 553 Total Count: 7434

I was going to go a bit longer, but the boys are demanding basement time, and those groceries ain’t gonna buy themselves. Guess we’ll all have to meet the infamous grandmother tomorrow. 🙂

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!