07/15/15

Mallory arrives in Baton Rouge

Under a Blood Moon is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and the Wild Rose Press website! To celebrate, here’s the scene where Mallory, the detective heroine in Under a Blood Moon, first arrives in Baton Rouge. It’s set several months before the beginning of Blood Moon and won’t be published anywhere else. 

I couldn’t deal with the memory of waking up wrapped in the arms of a zombie that looked like my husband. I got in the car and started to drive. The hum of the engine and my own mental exhaustion lulled me into a sleep-like state, still awake, but not thinking. I woke up at the counter of Sunshine’s Coffee Shop with a cinnamon roll that lapped over the edges of its plate and a cup of café au lait in front of me. I sipped the coffee and ripped pieces off the giant roll wondering how long I would keep driving.

I felt someone brush up against me and looked up to see a tall blond woman. I hadn’t paid attention to the other customers so I didn’t know if the she was coming or going.

“Excuse me,” I mumbled into my coffee cup, reluctant to establish any kind of contact with anyone. I felt something else then, something like a breeze only not across my skin. Can you feel a breeze across your heart? That’s what it felt like, cool wind blowing through my soul. The woman turned to look at me.

“We need to talk.” .

“I’m sorry?” I asked, fiddling with my coffee cup. The phantom wind had died down but I wasn’t anxious to talk with her at all.

“You need to talk to someone, and I’ve got time. Let’s grab the couch.” She gestured to the back of the shop where three old living room sets had been crammed together.

“Uh, no thanks.” I leaned over the counter and called out to the emptiness. “Can I get my check please?”

“I’m Phoebe, and we really should grab the couch.” She touched my arm and the breeze blew through me again. “Driving won’t help, you’ll still be a death witch wherever you end up.”

She was the first person to say it out loud. I jumped back, trying to get away from her, dumping my chair on ground. The barista,a bald man covered in tattoos raised, came over with a frown but Phoebe stopped him. “It’s okay, Max, she’s new and shaky; we’re going to grab the couch.”

He nodded and I realized she was a regular. What kind of a coffee shop was this? Confused, I let her led me to the most hideous couch I had ever seen. Every inch of it shimmered with inky graffiti. Completely coated with signs and symbols, the ugly fabric barely showed. It was comfortable though, sitting there I couldn’t feel the weird psychic breeze she gave off or the panic that had been hiding in my chest since I found out.

“Better?” She asked.

“Yes, much, thanks.” I paused trying to think of a graceful way out of the conversation and the coffee shop.

“That’s good, then it won’t bother you that the couch is charmed.” My eyes got wide; the calm feeling was a spell. Damn, it had been the best I’d felt in a while. “How’d you find out?”

I tried to think of a way to tell her about Greg’s death and his reanimation, about the cemetery, my desperation, and how it all turned into witchcraft.

“Guess it was pretty bad?”

It was, but sitting on that wonderful, ugly yellow couch I didn’t care any more so I only nodded in reply.

“Maybe you should sip your coffee for a little while, and just listen, ok?” She took a deep breath, focused her gaze far away. She pushed her ropy hair behind her ear and started to speak. “When I was young my parents had this friend, he was like a favorite uncle to me. One day we went out for slushies and he put his hand over mine to steady the cup. Suddenly, I saw that he was thinking of me naked. It was like I turned on a tap and couldn’t stop it, the gross images in his head just kept pouring into mine. I started screaming. When no one could get me to stop, they called the cops.”

She stopped, shook herself a little and took a sip of coffee before she started again.

“There was this cop, a black guy with a bushy mustache. He used his handkerchief to dry my tears. The minute he did, I went calm, like you are on that couch. He stopped the pictures from coming into my head.But they didn’t stop forever. I’m a spirit witch. Nothing’s going to make it stop, not for me and not for you.”

“How old were you?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

“Nine. How about you?”

“It was last month.”

“I’m incredibly jealous; you got to grow up normal.” She shook her head again, thinking about some schoolyard trauma I’d never had to endure. “So what are you going to do about it?”

“I have no idea. I’ve got enough money to get by for a while, but if I can’t hide this, how can I hold a job? Which isn’t really my biggest problem, I can’t go back to where it happened. Where am I going to live?”

“I was serious before, you should stay here. There’s a good coffee shop and you already have a friend.”

This time I shook my head. “That’s sweet but you’re not a friend. You’re a helpful stranger in a coffee shop.”

“Nope. I’m a friend. You know how I know? Because I’m going to get you a job where you don’t have to hide who you are, and you don’t recommend a stranger for a job.” She took a business card out of her bag. “Here, spend a couple of hours working on the place to live problem, then call this guy.”

I looked down at the card; one side was embossed with the dome of the capital building, and the other read Special Lieutenant French.

01/15/15

Case Files of a Death Witch Detective — the Skull

When you’ve been working with a manuscript on and off for years, you develop quite a collection of files. The folder for Mallory Mors, a death witch who works for the Baton Rouge Police Department, and her partner, Detective Danny Gallagher, has grown to include dozens of short stories. These little side plots were meant to move things along while Mallory waited for evidence to be processed. Instead I’m going to share a few with you while I work on getting Mallory’s (and my) first novel, Under a Blood Moon, ready for the editor.

Monday morning started with a banana. Sure, I wouldn’t have bought it on my own but when fruit was in front of me I liked it. I ate on my way to the train thinking about how good my weekend had been. It lightened my step and made me think everything in life would go my way. I took that confidence right to my desk and started to sit down.

“No so fast, we’ve got a vandalism that might be connected to a hex,” Danny began without even saying good morning.

“Seriously?” I groaned, my eyes turned toward the coffee pot.

“A murder doesn’t mean we stop getting other cases, Mal, you know that.”

“Okay, fine, no lectures, just let me get some coffee before we go.”

 

By ten o’clock we stood outside the Way of the Ancient Ones shop. Inside the display windows artfully arranged crystals, geodes, various rocks and jewelry promised to heal, help, and keep safe from harm. I thought the alliteration was a bit much, but I liked the way the purple quartz crystals looked. On the drive over I’d talked about Jakob. Like a good partner, Danny hadn’t told me how annoying it was. Now that we were here I realized I knew nothing about the case.

“Uh, so what’s the deal?” I stepped out of the car. The strip mall that held the shop was anchored by a 7-11 on one end and a liquor store on the other. I wasn’t too impressed.

“Problems started a couple of weeks back. The owner would drive by and see the lights on. He’d park, get out of the car, get to the door and the lights would go off.”

“Annoying.”

“Yeah, but not a real problem. The real problem was when they found the snake outside of its tank in the morning or the-”

“Wait a minute, the snake?”

“The shop appeals to various faiths, some of them claim snakes can speak truths. Hence, the store keeps a snake.”

“Okay, sorry to interrupt go on.”

“The snake out of its tank, displays knocked over, the cash drawer open but nothing taken, that’s the sort of thing we’re dealing with.”

“No one’s caught the pranksters?”

Danny leaned over the car and looked at me. “No pranksters. They installed motion detectors and an antitheft system. There are no people inside, things just fall over or fly around.”

“Someone with telekinesis?”

“Maybe, or maybe a hex, let’s go see.”

He gestured toward the door where a sleepy employee was just opening up. The kid looked about nineteen and I wondered why the owner hadn’t come himself.

“Hey,” he called to us. His braces made his mouth move funny, I tried my best not to stare. “Doug’ll be here, like really soon, until then you can look around.”

We nodded and headed inside. The store was narrow and long, neatly made wooden shelves held books in one aisle, herbs in another, farther back a curtained off room held secrets. I wandered through the shelves, hearing a whispering noise, something quiet. I glanced back at Danny but if he heard it he didn’t give any sign.

“The shop sells mostly mass produced stuff?” Danny asked the kid.

“Well yeah, I guess, the herbs come from a local woman, but the rest of it comes in via UPS.”

“What’s behind the curtain?” I asked as I walked toward it. The whispering got louder with every step. In a horror movie I’d draw back that curtain and find someone with a large knife ready to spring at me. I felt along my hip for my service weapon, just in case.

“Oh, that’s the occult stuff.”

“Occult stuff?”

“The really dark magic stuff,” the kid answered before he went back to opening the cash drawer for the night. Danny glanced at me and I pulled back the curtain. The display sat on a low wooden hutch, scared wood with mismatched door pulls on six drawers.

“Can I go through this?” I called back up to the front.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” the reply came back to me like I’d stepped into another building, not another room. When I put my hands on the wood, the whispering got louder. The dead whisper to us, but I didn’t expect to find them in a cabinet. I was wrong.

The top of the hutch held feathers and beads, little statues I didn’t recognize. Inside the drawers were skulls, lots of skulls. A wide bottom drawer held a steer, its long horns gracefully curved up. A smaller side drawer contained at least five tiny skulls, maybe they were birds. None of those whispered at me.

I swung the middle doors open to reveal not drawers but a shelf. In the center a perfect human skull grinned at me. I wanted to touch it, but I knew I shouldn’t.

“Hey Danny,” I called, knowing it needed to be tagged for evidence. Then somehow, without even thinking, I held the fragile bone in my hands, surprised by the weight of it. The round cap filled my palm and then some, the jaw hinge worked with an empty mechanical creak. Touching it made the whisper turn into a wind, the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, a thousand bad sounds all at once. The room swirled a little around me, but I couldn’t put it down. The skull wanted me to know something.

Danny said something to the clerk, but I couldn’t hear him. I was someplace else, someplace where there were only two of us, the skull and me.

The wide open eye sockets looked up at me, and I focused all my concentration on the face that had once been there. For a minute nothing changed and then I started to see it, hair, spilling over my hand, curling around my fingers. Deep brown hair, and when I looked back there were eyes looking at me in the same shade of brown. I froze with terror, watching as more of the face came into view. Full red lips and high cheekbones, she looked at me and I didn’t know what to say.

“Hey, you the cops?” I jumped. A guy with long hair and an scraggly beard appeared in the back doorway. When I looked away from him the face had turned back into a skull again. “I’m Doug.”

I heard Danny and the kid walking toward us, but I didn’t say anything. I don’t know what I was waiting for, the skull to grow her face back again, or maybe to speak to me? Nothing happened. In another second I found my voice, and then without putting the skull down I confronted the man.

“Where do you get these skulls?”

“Most of them come from hunters or hikers. I buy them off people.” He gave me the brush off. “The rest are fake. That one’s from a medical catalog.”

“No, it’s not. It’s real,” I insisted.

“No way, completely fake,” the owner denied it again.

I turned to the kid, ignoring his boss. “Did he lose someone in his life, lately? Have someone die or leave him?”

The teenager swallowed hard and bobbed his head.

“Tell me who she was.”

“His girlfriend, Jessie, she left for some guy in Texas.” The kid looked guiltily at his employer.

“Exactly she left. Check my place, all of her stuff is gone, her car, she’s gone.” Doug jumped into the conversation. “The skull is a fake.”

“Then why does it have filings?” Danny asked.

 

We were joined at the scene by a forensics crew, then a group of uniformed cops. Eventually the whole shop was filled with people and I waited on a ratty love seat in the back holding on to Jessie’s skull. Someone in a white lab coat asked me for it, for her or what was left of her. I didn’t want to let her go, but I knew it was the right thing.

“Be careful with that.” Danny instructed them. “It’s got a pretty angry ghost attached to it.”

“She’ll be okay now,” I said, without realizing it.

“How’d you know it was a woman?”

I shrugged, there was no easy way to explain being a death witch.

He nodded. “I thought maybe a child with how small it was, but the kid up front says the missing girlfriend was small.”

“What’ll happen next?”

“Someone else will build a case, see if there are other fake things that aren’t, that sort of thing.” He shook his head as he watched the skull disappear into an evidence bag. “And we’ll do paperwork.”

01/1/15

Under a Blood Moon contracted to Wild Rose Press

I’m thrilled to announce my book deal with the Wild Rose Press. Under a Blood Moon will be published electronically and in print sometime in the next year. Some story details:

With a single touch, Detective Mallory Mors controls death and communes with the recently killed, but even her magic isn’t enough to solve the string of violent murders and kidnappings that terrify Baton Rouge.

A member of the Supernatural Investigative Unit (SIU), Mallory is called to the scene of a zombie attack in an immigrant neighborhood. The case quickly escalates to involve werewolf extortionists, voodoo queens, and ghosts. Every morning Malloy finds a new scene of mass murder with most of the victims eaten. The case is complicated by the intrusion of the FBI in the form of her boyfriend’s best friend, a prickly vampire who has hunted werewolves for centuries. When Mallory is saved from a pair of killer werewolves by a sexy werejaugar, she realizes it will take all of the town’s supernatural citizens to solve the case.

I created this world because my love of folklore and fairy tales doesn’t live in just one culture. I’m as fascinated by Greek satyrs as I am by Mesoamerican jaguar shifters. I brought all of those myths together under the fiery Louisiana sun until they melted into a world with vampire safe apartments that block out sunlight with the flick of a switch and churches for all the pagan gods. The detectives of the SIU are part of the community they serve, they don’t just police the supernatural citizens, they are supernatural.

One of the great joys of being an author is shaping a world to fit your values. That’s why the people in Mallory’s world fought the Morality Wars, a series of international conflicts that stopped the trafficking of women and children. Prostitution has been legalized and highly regulated to end the exploitation of sex workers. Gender equality as reached a place where both men and women can express their sexuality openly. There’s no slut shaming when Mallory’s best friend Phoebe seduces all sorts of men just for the fun of it.

Also important to me: diversity. I wanted to include people from different cultures and communities. The SIU’s lieutenant is black. The community where the trouble begins is Indian. Mallory goes dancing with Anna, a tall and thin model, and Isaura, a plus-sized cutie. Malloy’s partner at work and her vampire boyfriend are both Catholic. Isaura is Jewish. Anna and Phoebe are both witches but they worship at different pagan churches.

Under a Blood Moon is my third manuscript and the second in this universe. An earlier story that details Mallory’s arrival in Baton Rouge and how she meets everyone lives in a drawer in my office. While I love that story, Under a Blood Moon sets a faster pace, focusing on a complex case that weaves folklore and legends into issues of community and inclusion.

I began work on Under a Blood Moon in 2007 and have been polishing it ever since. A detective story with supernatural and romantic elements, I worked hard to strike the right balance between the case and Mallory’s personal life. I’m excited to work with the editors and artists at Wild Rose to put the finishing touches on a great story so the world can read it.

10/15/14

Back Cover Copy

Back cover copy is my favorite part of writing. A whole novel takes a long enough that your confidence fails. You doubt yourself. There are nights when every words has to be pried out, making me feel like a dentist with a pair of pliers and my knee in the patient’s chest. A synopsis takes all of that work – weeks and months of it – and forces you to choose just the barest of outlines while insisting you not leave anything out. Marketing copy, those little two lines blurbs, are equally impossible. I just agonized over 100,000 words, and now I have to reduce it down to two sentences? Nope.

But on a back over I just need to say enough to intrigue a reader. I only have to tantalize and tease. All the hard things – showing a character grow and change, developing tension, or making a relationship seem real – can be skipped. That’s why back cover copy usually comes first, and why sometimes it’s the only thing I write.

Thus I give you back cover copy from books I will likely never get around to writing.

Windswept (Inspirational Romance)

When Kim Newland hears that her hometown has been devastated by a hurricane she shrugs her shoulders. She lived through enough hurricanes not to worry, but when her sister, Kristi, asks her for money everything changes for the hard driving lawyer. Money and family in need are the two things that caused ruined her life. Wanting to help but scared of repeating her greatest mistake, Kim heads into the town determined to help make things right.

George Dent spent the hurricane pulling people out of crumbling houses and praying God would stop the storm. Now that it’s over he’s working even harder on clean up, trying to find the missing, comfort the hurt, and maybe, if there’s time, rebuild his church. He’s never had time for a family of his own, and now he’s busier than ever. When Kristi brings her reluctant sister along to the firehouse kitchens he doesn’t know what to say to Kim. Should he try to break through her hard exterior and help her find faith and family again, or just focus on his own work?

###

Remnant’s Revenge (Romantic Suspense)

Srgt. Steve Carter barely remembers the combat accident that stole his soul. Being dead for five minutes wasn’t bad, coming back to life as a remnant, without morals or ethics and with no way to love is horrible. Discharged from the Army for conduct he can’t control, Carter drifts, trying to get back to the man he was.

ER Dr. Jessica Kelly has just found an interesting set of anomalies on the MRI scans of a patient who died briefly on the operating room table. The changes in brain usage might explain the sudden shift in personality and behavior. And if she can explain it, she can fix it. But before she can gather more data she finds herself targeted by shadowy organization, a group willing to kill to keep the remnants exactly as they are.

 

05/1/14

Southern but not Gothic

(I’ve often imagined that I could write a complex novel about relationships, prejudice, and sexism set in the deep South like Harper Lee or Fannie Flagg. Sadly, I tend not to make very far with stories that don’t have lots of dead bodies or supernatural fun. This opening is one of my favorites from the pile of never-was.)

I’ll never forget the day Miss Josephine arrived. She wore white linen to direct the movers as they worked around unloading the van. White linen and we were miles away from Labor Day. One of the neighborhood ladies ran over right away to tell her her mistake but she just laughed. She knew. She knew all our rules and she plain didn’t care. That was when we knew we were in for a summer no one would ever forget.

“Well call me Josie, everyone does!” she said with a laugh, but every child on the street knew better. Adults were Mr. and Mrs. After they insisted; they were Mr. and Mrs. with their first name. Rules like that made our world spin in the right direction but Miss Josephine had come to knock it off kilter. Later, much later, when I was older and jaded, I loved her for that but at the time I was just as scared and confused as everybody else.

She’d bought Mr. Walter’s bookshop downtown, bought it lock stock and barrel according to my grandfather. All she had to do was turn the key and it could be like Mr. Walter was there himself, nothing would have to change. But she didn’t. She covered the windows with thick brown paper and closed up shop for a week. We all wondered about what went on behind that brown paper. The drug store sold our comic books, ordering just a handful of copies so we all had to rush there or be left out. They sold candies too, nail polish that peeled off in long strips and makeup that my sister seemed to think I’d want some day. I didn’t know what I wanted. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to that brown paper wrapped Christmas present of a store, because it could have what I wanted, what I’d been searching for all along without knowing quite what it was.

I was fifteen that fall, with long legs that were finally growing out of their bony knees. Fifteen and at odds with the world, my body was pulling me one way and my mind was pushing me another. My mother had declared that fifteen meant no more playing with the boys, whether it was baseball, fishing, or shooting it didn’t matter. She’d shipped me off to stay with my Aunts for the summer and I guess the boys in the neighborhood found someone else to cover second base. When I got back they invited me along a few times, maybe for the sake of the games we’d played the year before, but my mother was true to her word. Fifteen was time to be a lady. Ladies didn’t play second base.

There were lots of new rules for me that year, rules that didn’t make a bit of sense. My months with my elderly Aunts had been time without time, there were clocks and calendars but no sense of moving forward. They knit sweaters for me even though it was Georgia in July, hotter than any hell ever described – sweaters in patterns better suited to a seven year old. I was a child there, like I’d been a child at home before I left, but walking back into my front door that September I was suddenly something else, some woman-girl trapped between two worlds.

I missed second base the most, missed the easy camaraderie of my teammates after a game. I wasn’t ready to join the Eastern Star with the other girls, I didn’t want to giggle and lick ice cream like a fool all summer, worried about my nails or whatever Seventeen magazine told me to worry about. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, I was a lot like that store, wrapped up and waiting to show the world what I would be.

 

Miss. Josephine found me outside her shop. I should have been in school or maybe I should have been home with my mother. I should have been lots of places but I was there, throwing a baseball up in the air and catching it, wearing a pair of blues jeans rolled up against the heat and a shirt my brother had outgrown a summer ago. Mother had bought me a slew of dresses for the school year but I didn’t care for them. I dug Tommy’s shirts out of the goodwill box by the door and changed after she’d stopped looking.

Miss. Josephine snatched the baseball out of the air on a good up-throw. Snatched it with a pitcher’s gripe and looked at the ball not me.

“You can’t have played with this one for more than a week,” she said, examining the stitches. “Lord knows it still feels like summer, why not round up a game?”

My jaw dropped open and I just looked at her. The answers were myriad: because my mother wouldn’t approve, because the boys I’d played with had moved on, because honestly at 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of September everyone else was following the rules. She didn’t pay any mind to my silence.

“Well if you aren’t looking to play, maybe you want to work. I’ve got boxes that need to be unloaded, follow me.”

“But-” I was talking to thin air. She’d gone on ahead, opening the door to the shop without looking back, not noticing if I was following.

I stepped inside the door and the world went dark. Not pitch black but dusty golden stripped dark. The sunlight was coming in a few holes in the paper here and there, punching through the inside like a ribbon. The shelves that Mr. Walter’s had kept so tidy were in a disarray, half empty here, over stuffed there. In one corner of the giant square room three empty shelves leaned against each other, locked together in a dozen different mazes of plastic coated wire.

“Those shelves.” She pointed to the ones my grandmother liked to browse on weekends. They were tall spindles filled with devotionals, “Serve the Lord in a Woman’s Way” and “Southern Prayers for Southern Souls”, entreated me to turn my troubles over to the Lord. I didn’t tend to listen. I didn’t really have any trouble except for losing my spot on the team and I suspected God had bigger problems to deal with.

“They need to be emptied. Take the boxes over there. Keep track of how many go in each box and pack them tight.” She dispensed the instructions and walked away again.

“Don’t you want to know my name?” I shouted to the empty store.

“I know you,” she said, poking her head in from a back room. “I know every body. They just don’t know me yet. Those shelves, then we’ll take a break, huh, May?”

And there it was, she knew me, she knew my name, and I had a job.

08/18/13

How Chatham Handles Ghosts

Jimmy Vaun, the terror of the ninth ward, shivered under the cheap wool blankets. Chatham kept heaping them on but it didn’t help. Jimmy’s teeth were still chatting so loudly he thought some of them might break. Jimmy wasn’t the first man Chatham had watched die, but he was certainly trying to be the worst.

“You’ll make ‘em bury me,” Jimmy begged again.

“I promise,” Chatham reassured him. “Money in the sideboard, a real wooden casket just like olden times, and a spot in the church yard.”

“Have to bribe for that, but there should be enough mon-” Jimmy stopped in a fit of coughing. Chatham put his hands around the man’s shoulders, feeling the burning hot skin. The coughing broke something inside Jimmy’s chest, and Chatham watched as he tried to get enough air to form words but couldn’t. Pity nearly overwhelmed him.

“Enough money, I know Jimmy. Don’t worry about it, just rest.”

“Go… Roger… Yourself… Chattie.” Jimmy spit the words out. “Not some… old fool.”

“Yeah, yeah. You know and I know you’re dying. No reason to be an arse about it.”

“Never… thought.”

“No one does. You drank something right? What was it? Where?”

“Not… your place.” Jimmy smiled, then coughed again for a long time. “Outdoors… thirsty… didn’t taste…” Again the coughing took him. “nothing.”

“No one does.” Chatham repeated. Before Jimmy could answer another coughing fit took him, doubling his body, making the bed bounce. Chatham tried to hold him down, to keep the man still. Halfway through the coughing changed to a jerking, a twitching and then Chatham knew the man was dead.

He laid the body back at the bed, and used his finger tips to close the eyes. A trickle of blood came out of Jimmy’s mouth. How many men had he left that way? Bleeding from a busted lip or broken teeth? Jimmy thought the surest way to win a fight was to be the one who started it. Music drifted up from the bar downstairs. Chatham should be there. He knew that. But this, this moment where life ended, it felt like it should be special, like someone would stop for it. No time though, he sighed, said a short prayer under his breath without really knowing he did it, and turned to the sideboard. The purple liquor bottle sack hid under a few good shirts, a velvet vest. Jimmy stole enough to look good and proper. He’d be buried in that one, not the cheap night shirt he wore now. Chatham counted out the coins, nine sterling. Enough to bury him right, maybe another two besides if any little ones showed up asking for it. Chatham shook his head.

“Gonna steal it, Chattie? Bad idea.” The ghost’s warning didn’t come to him fast enough, and though Chatham moved to the side, the transparent fist still rocked his head back.

“Jimmy!” He shouted. The ghost didn’t respond, just kept moving forward, two fists flying. Chatham dodged some of the blows. “Stop!”

The ghost didn’t. They never did.

Chatham felt one strike his nose, the sickening crunch noise came just before the smell of his own blood filled his nostrils. It pushed sense back into his mind, and Chatham grabbed at the knife he always kept inside his waist. It flew into his hand, wanted to do its work.

“Can’t kill me, Chattie, I’m already dead.” Jimmy smiled a grin that half the ghosts in the ward would recognize as the last sight they saw. “And I’m gonna settle some old debts.”

The ghost advanced, moving with the grace of a man used to knife fighting. Chatham watched, feinted left, then right. Just a sudden cold cut slipped into his ribs, the pain of a ghostly weapon, he brought the blade up into the mid-section of the shade. Jimmy’s ribs weren’t there, but the knife punched a hole in the mist as if they were.

“What?”

“I’m sorry, Jimmy, I truly am.” Chatham cut up the center of the soul, splitting it in two. He reached the jaw when Jimmy saw that there was this, not death but whatever it was, and tried to escape. But the knife knew better, once in it stayed in, until it came out of the top of Jimmy’s head. Split in half the ghost stumbled, trying to find a way to right itself. Instead, Chatham cut the head off, turning the smoky form into four pieces. They disappeared almost before his cut ended.

“Sorry again,” Chatham said, but the soul of Jimmy Vaun, corrupt and sinful, had ceased to exist. It would never get to heaven, never go to hell. Outside of the small rented room above the bar, it was as if Jimmy Vaun had never been born at all.


(I’m working hard on a young adult steampunk manuscript and haven’t been writing my usual short stores. Instead of ignoring my blog, I’m posting excerpts. Today, how Chatham, the bar owner and all around tough guy handles ghosts. Read the others: Andra and Chatham meet, how Andra Deals with Ghosts.)

08/11/13

How Andra Deals with Ghosts

The knife buried itself into the lord’s head up to the hilt, and the man screamed with the pain of each thrust.

“Do you see him?”

Andra could only nod. The specter hovered a foot off the ground, its arm stretching down as it pulled the dagger out again, then shoved it in, this time skewering the lord’s ear. He clutched at the pain there, and the ghostly knife slid out from palm and ear drum at once. Andra knew what came next, knew what she had to do. She hated it, but that didn’t matter. The ghost would go on stabbing until the lord fell over dead, then his ghost would find someone new to start stabbing or cutting or perhaps even beating. The cycle had to stop.

She moved forward, and put her hand out, the fingers pressed together, her palm facing the warm brick walls of the great room. Ignoring the lord and his pain, she stepped forward, another foot and it would begin. Her feet hesitated, slippers barely scrapping the floor. A second’s hesitation and then she remembered what she did, how she earned her keep.

The misty form felt hot on her skin, like opening the lid on a pot of boiling soup, but almost immediately the tingling in her flesh began. Pins and needles, she thought, like my hand’s fallen asleep, except that it hadn’t. Instead her magic was doing its job. The ghost looked at her, madness in its eyes. The old lord sinned greatly and with great pleasure. His ghost was much corrupted. She watched as the eyes, the flat black eyes of any ghost, flickered with some hidden knowledge. Their sins, she’d been taught, they reviewed their sins as each one fell away, but no one knew for sure.

The lord, the living one on the floor, stopped screaming to watch. She wondered what he thought of this, imagined it would change him, then knew better. It never changed any of the others, why him? The steamy vapor that was his father became a softer fog, cooler now. The fog thinned, dissipating. Cleansed of his sins his spirit went on to rest.

She was a purity. This was how she lived.


(I’m down the rabbit hole of writing with a young adult steampunk manuscript. While I’m out of the loop I’m posting excerpts instead of my usual short stories. The first: Andra and Chatham meet. Today, how Andra, the one with supernatural powers, purifies ghosts.)

08/4/13

What I’m writing these days

I must apologize, profusely, for ignoring my blog in July. I’m about 45K words into a manuscript I started back in September of 2011. About then the business side of writing took up all my attention for a while. When that was done, the story escaped me. It was less than six thousand words, making me think that (like so many things that start off well) it wasn’t going to go anywhere.  But then…

I finished the mermaid manuscript in the beginning of April.  I took up something else, but it never set me on fire. I found myself reading old manuscripts to see if anything sparked, and this one did.

To make up for my long absence (sorry again) here’s an excerpt from the story. A few things to know about the world: it’s a steampunk setting, influenced by English society in the 1890s. There’s some technology but it’s not available to everyone. Like English society there are class levels. Andra works in a Manor House as a servant. While she has the ability to purify anything, from a ghost to a cup of water, with just the touch of her hand, she’s a servant and fairly low in the social structure. Still, she’s above Chatham, a bar owner from the very rough town the Manor House overlooks. This piece is their first meeting, written two years ago, and the thing that sparked my interest enough to start me writing on it again.

—————-

 

Ginger slid up to the bar with a grin on her face, like a cat that found a mouse to play with. Chatham expected she’d found a willing man for the night.

“Need something?”

Her smiled got half an inch wider. “There’s a girl in back, in a fine purple skirt and a lacey white shirt.”

“And?”

“Shirt only goes to her elbows.” Chatham’s head shot up, the glass he’d been polishing forgotten. “Says she’d like a glass of water, and wants to know if anyone here has work for a Purity.”

Chatham’s hand was already opening the piece of the bar, stepping outside it. Not this, not in his bar. Behind him Ginger laughed but Matthew just shook his head. He found the girl in a back booth, her body pressed up against the wall, her eyes wide. She sat wrong, with one arm pressed into the wood of the booth and the other on the table. Sure, it was safer, but that’s not how people sat in a booth. The wrongness of it stopped him for a moment, but then he noticed her arms. Slim, delicate wrists, soft looking light tan skin going up to the curl of her elbow, his eyes dragged themselves away from that female flesh and back to her face.

“Can I help you?” He demanded. Ginger might let her dress slip from her shoulders, and a few girls wore outgrown dresses that showed an inch or two of wrist, but this woman, her arms were bare from elbow to fingertip. Even a pair of gloves wouldn’t hide all that flesh. It should have been shameful, but Chatham found it tantalizing. It made him mad.

“I… I was… that is, I hoped I could help you,” the girl stammered. He put her at fifteen, maybe sixteen. Though she could be twenty and passing for younger to help with her con.

“As a Purity?”

“Yes, exactly, you see I lately worked for the Manor House but my employment has come to an end. I’m seeking a new a position, but until I find one- I’m given to understand you have rooms to let, with sturdy locks?” She raised her eyebrows. “Safety is my first concern.”

Chatham laughed so hard he grabbed the edge of the table. “If safety is your first concern, why are you in Downriver?”

“That’s none of your business,” she responded curtly. “I’m able to barter my work for the room. A bar like this must go through gallons of water. I’m sure that costs you a pretty penny, no doubt enough to cover my room and board until I make other arrangements.”

He finished laughing and snorted at the thought, no one in Downriver could afford purified water. They all used cleansed water. It tasted like chemicals but no one got sick or died from it.

“So you’re a Purity?”

“Yes, yes I am.” Andra leveled him with a firm gaze. He looked unscrupulous and beaten. She saw bruises rising along his face. This man, this bar, and these people, were all harsher than anything she’d dealt with in her life. She wished for the safety of the Manor House, the strict regiments of rules and order that protected her there. Not that they’d helped tonight, a small shudder ran through her at the memory and she forced herself to consider the present. Get someplace safe to sleep, some food, and then think about your dismal prospects for the future. “I’m happy to prove my abilities to you.”

“That so?” He whistled between his teeth. “Come with me then.”

She took a minute trying to get out of the booth, finally turning so her face was toward him but the rest of her toward the front. It was an awkward way to sit, and she wished she’d felt secure enough to put her back to the bar. She hurried to catch up with the bartender, his red vest a spot of bright color in the bar. The other patrons wore browns, dirty whites, and the occasional blacks, blended together somehow in a uniform color she would call worn-out or washed out. The women even looked that way, their dressed faded to pale yellows, dusty blues, and watery pinks. Andra kept her eyes on the man, his dark brown hair and lanky frame just a head of her until he opened a back door of the bar and disappeared.

Two steps outside she found him again, standing just beside the opened door. The light from the bar fell on a concave gutter. It ran down the alleyway with a rapid current, two feet wide and deep. Litter swirled as it moved past. A dead rat collided with the side of a broken jar then eventually moved farther down, into the darkness.

“It comes from the river, see.” He pointed down the dark alleyway but Andra couldn’t see. She just nodded. “We keep it running but there’s the piss from the street and blood from the butchers.” He jerked his thumb to the two buildings next door. “Of course, the river’s not clean to start with. You ever been outdoors?”

Andra shook her head.

“Sure, you haven’t.” His voice sounded like he didn’t believe her. “We get plenty of false Puritys around here. They know a little slight of hand, think a bit of bleach or a sanitizer packet slipped in where we can’t see it will make us believe them. Some people are gullible. They tend to die real quick though. The ones that make it through the sickness, they swear they won’t get taken in again.”

“I am a Purity,” Andra insisted.

“It’s the sleeves I guess,” the bartender went on as if he hadn’t heard her. “We got all kinds of whores, but they wear respectable dresses, even if they are lifting them in the alley. The sleeves are distracting.”

“You want me to Purify, this?” She pointed to the gutter water and squatted beside it. Closer to it, she saw it wasn’t so deep, maybe two feet, maybe one.

“I want you to stay out my bar.” She heard the hate in his voice before she felt his boot on her back. It wasn’t a kick, just a shove. She lost her balance immediately, and went head deep into the water. She wanted to shout but stopped herself, clamping her mouth shut against the filthy water even as rage boiled up inside her. She heard the door to the bar slam closed as she put one arm in the water and propped herself up. Her hair had gotten the worst of it. Her shirt was wet but thankfully not soaking. Her skirt just splashed, but filthy with grime where it’d hit the street. How dare he! She offered a reasonable business agreement and he treated her like a criminal.

The door behind her opened quietly, and the red haired girl stepped out, a glass in her hand. Andra thought for a second it was a peace offering, but no. The girl tipped the glass out, adding half a pint of beer to the mess of Andra’s hair. Pushed beyond her limits, Andra’s hand shot out and grabbed the girl tightly by the wrist.

“Owe! Let go of me!”

“Gladly.” Her other hand took the pint glass, then she dropped the girl’s hand. She reached and filled it with the toxic mess, catching some of the grit at the bottom.  She pushed the girl aside and stormed back into the bar.

 

Every eye was on her, every conversation stopped, but Andra didn’t stop to notice it. She kept her eyes locked on the target of her hate.

“You!” She slammed the glass of black-colored water down on the bar. He opened his mouth to protest, but she spoke before he got a word out. “Watch!” She put her fingers into the glass and let the purifying begin. The process ended almost as soon as it started. She was used to gallons, not pints, to high cisterns and vats of soup, not one beer glass. Still, a collective gasp went up from the bar as the water swirled around her fingers. She moved them in a circle, creating a current to catch the flakes of chemicals and sediment. In the center of that swirl the sediment looked first dark black, darker than the rest of the water, and then white, as more and more of the foreign matter got trapped the swirl became bright white, and the rest of the water clean.

“I am not a charlatan. You owe me an apology.” She drew herself up as high as her slight frame would allow.

The man behind the bar took a deep breath and looked at the water. “You drink it and I’ll give you one.”

Andra didn’t bother to roll her eyes, she grabbed the glass and put it to her lips, draining it until the last inch. When she saw the white sludge at the bottom coming toward her she dropped it back to the bar. The room exploded in cheers.

“I’m sorry,” the bar man mouthed over the sound.

“I need a room and work to pay for it.” She shouted to make herself heard.

“Done.” He nodded at her then gestured with both hands, bringing down the sounds of the bar. “You all heard her. She’s staying here. She needs work.”

“Like they can afford it.” Ginger’s sarcasm cut through the triumphant atmosphere. Andra felt the mood of the crowd shift.

“I’m…” She stopped, thinking about how the admission would change the way they viewed her. It was a chance she had to take. “I’m outdoors, and I’m not proud. I’ll barter or take whatever I can get for honest work.”