Signed Copies Now Available

Author with books

Due to recent clamoring demand by my fans, signed copies of both of my books are now available!

Here’s the page that tells you what to do, but really, it’s simple.

Go to paypal. Tell me in the comments which book(s) you want. Who should I make them out to? Don’t forget to include your address! Send me money. Sit back while I scramble to the post office and get them in the mail to you.

How easy is that?

Flash Fiction: Drama Sandwich

Drawing by Allison Tupper, age 6

Flash Fiction

This bit of flash fiction didn’t quite meet the criteria for a challenge I tried this week but it was fun to crawl inside Jade’s head and discuss Jules from her point of view. And who doesn’t like a little extra glimpse inside the Tenderfoot world?

*****

DRAMA SANDWICH

Just this once, I’m doing it – I’m breaking the don’t-eat-your-roommate’s-food rule.

At least I have a good excuse. Cheerleading practice ran late and I missed dinner in the cafeteria. That pissed me off to no end because dad-burn-it, it was Chicken Fried Steak night! Wouldn’t you know, I ran extra laps before practice just so I could smother my dinner in gravy. Now instead of pouring it on, I’m in our dorm room rifling through Jules’ stash. At least she has one. All I have is skunked beer.

On top of her fridge, I find half a loaf of bread. I grab that and open the small black door to her cube-sized fridge. I don’t need to dig much to find something to put on the bread; there’s a pouch of deli meat on top of several bottles of water. There’s also something that looks like cheese but it’s not the right color of orange. Hastily, I put it back, next to a jar of something called lingonberry jam. Jules is always eating weird-looking cheese. For an American, she eats some seriously strange stuff. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up some place else. I rummage around and move some deli packages to the side. There’s no mayo.

Butter it is then. I grab it and shut the door. I carry everything in my arms over to my desk. I push some stuff out of the way and drop the ingredients on it. Now I need a knife. There’s a clean one in a plastic cup on top of Jules’ fridge but if I use it, I know I’m going to have to clean it. It’s one thing to eat her food, it’s another to leave her a dirty knife. In my catch-all basket, I locate a plastic one in a mess of napkins. After a quick swipe on my pants, it’s good.

You can tell Jules grew up somewhere else just by looking at her clothes. For instance, half of them are black. And the other half? They’re running clothes! Jules doesn’t look bad, she just doesn’t wear the right ones. This is a competitive campus. She’s got to kick it up a notch.

I untwist the tie from bag and take out two slices of bread. I frown. It’s whole wheat bread. I really wish it was white but I guess beggars can’t be choosers. My uncaring stomach growls.

One day I took Jules shopping at the mall and she tried on a heap of clothes. She was a good sport, and even bought a few of them, but I knew she was uncomfortable. She got that look of hers, the one where she’s smiling yet her eyes are telling ya something different. To be honest, Jules did look kind of odd in most of them. I think her style is just as different as she is.

I unwrap the cold chunk of butter. I realize it is in no way softened when I try to spread some on the knife. I struggle but eventually I have an ungainly hunk carved off and on the bread. By the time I give up, there’s bits and pieces not only on the bread but on my desk and the floor. I smooth the bread out to hide the hole where the bread tore. Still, a bit o’ butter is better than none.

And yet. This roommate of mine landed herself a total hottie – and then dumped him! I didn’t even know for the longest time that they’d broken up. Like seriously, right? I reach for the meat and open the pouch. It’s roast beef. I shake my head. It sucked that she didn’t tell me. It sucked that I didn’t even know they were fighting or whatever. And she’s my roommate! She’s supposed to tell me this shit! Worst of all, it continues to suck because she’s obviously still in love with him. For reals, on Halloween they kissed in the middle of the street like nobody else even existed. I should have known something was up when she started studying all the time. I pull several shaved slices out. It’s way more than I intended at first, but the smell of it is so good, I drop what I have onto my sort-of-buttered bread except for one, which I stuff in my watering mouth. I chew. “Studying” my ass. I saw her eyes. Jules was crying them out wherever the hell it was she was hiding.

I wrap the meat and butter up but I can’t find the twist tie for the bread bag. I turn around to check the floor and my eyes light on the flowers Andrew sent Jules. They are gorgeous, just gorgeous. He clearly wants her back. God, what is her deal? She likes him, he likes her, why the heck aren’t they together? I find the twist tie on the floor near her bed.

I like Jules. She puts up with my mess, listens to my boy problems, and we rock out together at concerts for her “friend” Nick’s band. He’s just dying to get into her pants, I don’t understand why she doesn’t see that. She’s just so different. And sometimes, a little creepy. I would swear she knows when I’m lying, and I’ve caught her watching me. I’m not sure why she does that but it makes me feel like a bug. She’s my friend but I just don’t know where I stand with her.

I slap the bread together, pick the sandwich up, and take the biggest bite ever. It’s delicious. I chew, ravenous. After another bite, I take it with me in one hand as I put everything back with the other.

I realize Jules is like this sandwich. At first glance, it’s exactly what you expect it to be but like her, it turns out to be something different. Something a little damaged.

I take another huge bite. The door to the dorm room opens.

*****

Flash Fiction: Champion

Drama Sandwich

Drawing by Emily Tupper, age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write flash fiction where a character makes a “drama sandwich,” as I came to think of it. In other words, write a compelling story where a character makes a sandwich.

This is my second attempt. The first attempt turned out to be a more nuanced story with less drama, less conflict. Since that story does not technically meet the criteria, I will post it tomorrow.

Both stories take place in the world of my book Tenderfoot. Bon appetit!

*****

CHAMPION

There’s a story I haven’t told Jules. At the time it happened, I thought I might fill her in as things went along. Jules has this mistaken idea that I, Nick, don’t like her boyfriend. She makes assumptions like this all the time. Like everything is black or white, yin or yang, oil or water. You would think that by now she would see all the nuanced shades of gray but she doesn’t. Her thinking is stuck. The reality is, I like Andrew. How can you not like a guy who takes care of his girl?

I was impressed when Andrew walked Jules back to her dorm after some asshat trolling for college girls on Franklin Street tried to rough her up in a bar room full of people. Having seen it time and time again with these star-crossed lovers, I knew Andrew would stay with Jules as long as possible. That’s how it’s always been – two magnets circling until they come close enough in proximity and they snap together, just like that. What I didn’t expect was for Andrew to come back after he safely saw her home. I thought they’d spend the whole night together. But once I realized he was down below on the street, I quickly grabbed a pair of boots and ran down the stairs. I caught up with him around the corner. He was easy to track – he practically glowed from the contact high. What worried me was the whiff of adrenalin that lingered on his trail. And I was right. When I catch sight of Andrew he’s standing next to the asshat in a sandwich shop.

So there they are, predator and prey. Fascinated, I walk in and get a front row seat, which is to say, I join them in line for a sandwich. It’s a shame the place didn’t sell popcorn.

The troll shifts his weight from foot to foot as some college girl makes his sandwich on the other side of the counter. She pulls a long sub roll off of a tray behind her and places it on the cutting board. Then she picks up a knife. That’s when Andrew steps into the troll’s personal space. I watch out of the corner of my eye as the troll looks up. His eyes widen. The troll steps away to the side, and hastily aligns his body forward. I hide a grin. Andrew’s watching the girl. When she has the sub cut open, she looks up. First at me, then Andrew, then the troll. I smile.

“What do you want on your sandwich? And do you want cheese with that?” She asks the troll. Her nametag says “Amanda.” How Americans love their informal formalities. The troll was concentrating so hard on Andrew, he seems a bit startled when she speaks to him.

“Buffalo Chicken, with that cheese there.” He points beyond the glass.

“The provolone?” She asks. The troll nods.

Amanda’s busy now, taking a portion of chicken out of a fridge behind her so she can put it in the microwave. While that’s heating up, she picks up a portion of pre-sliced cheese, discards the plastic paper around it and peels back the slices. As she lays the neat little triangles on the bread, Andrew turns to stare straight at the troll. The troll fidgets a bit. I don’t think he’s drunk enough to cushion the freight train that’s coming.

“What would you like on it?” Amanda asks.

The troll mumbles his reply, clearly unnerved. Amanda’s eyes shift from the troll to Andrew and back. She makes a good choice – she puts her head down and begins to sprinkle lettuce, onion, and green peppers onto the sub.

All at once several things happen: the microwave beeps, Andrew steps closer, and the troll returns his stare. They stand eye-to-eye. This is starting to get interesting.

Andrew’s shoulders have risen a smidge and I notice his fencing hand is absolutely still. The only question is when he will use it. The girl pulls the chopped sauced chicken from the microwave and begins laying it across. She puts a hand on the bottle of mayo.

“Would you like anything else?” From the way her eyes shift between them, she realizes there really is a problem.

The troll narrows his to a squint at Andrew as he replies, “I’m good.” And then he steps right up to him and says, “I’d like this to go.” Amanda wastes no time. She wraps that sub up, bags it, and asks for his money lickety-split. As the troll hands her the money, he asks her, “When do you get off work? We could go get a drink.” And he leers. Her eyelashes flutter as the poor thing looks down and makes some excuse. This is followed by the distinct sound of one of Andrew’s knuckles popping. The troll cocks his head at Andrew with such a smirk that now I’m ready to deck the guy.

Moving right along, Amanda asks Andrew, “Can I help you?”

Ever so politely, Andrew replies, “No thank you, I got what I came for.” The troll leaves, sandwich in hand, and Andrew follows him out. I didn’t bother to follow them. There’s only one way this will go down. By the time I leave the sandwich shop, chewing black forest ham on oat with mayo and black olive, Andrew’s already hit him a couple of times and is delivering a lecture on treating women right in the alley around the corner.

I pause for a moment and watch. It’s always heartwarming to see a champion in action.

*****

Six Sentence Sunday 10/23

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 17 of my book, Tenderfoot.

I knew he wouldn’t give up easy. A guy like him would need an explanation, a reason, something firm to wrap in pretty, shiny, logic. I hurried into the bathroom. Andrew came onto the hallway while I was in the shower. I wanted to reach with my arms through the wall and pull him to me. Instead, I increased the temperature until my skin turned pink as I sobbed.

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Flash Fiction: Father To Son

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment, “Bullies And The Bullied,” was to write 100 words on the motif of bullying. I wrote a scene from the backstory of one of the main characters in my book, Tenderfoot.

*****

FATHER TO SON

His father found Andrew where he shielded his little sister in the closet. Burly arms pulled him free. Andrew stiffened. He could hear his mother crying downstairs. What now?

His father thrust an old catcher’s mitt into Andrew’s chest. One hand tightly gripped his upper arm.

“C’mon, Son. Let’s go play some ball. You need to play a real sport.” He pushed Andrew toward the door.

The slight fencer stood his ground. “You leave us alone or I’ll tell my teachers.” The backhand sent Andrew to his knees. No more, he vowed. He stood back up.

*****

Flash Fiction: Predator

Drawing by Emily Tupper, Age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment was to write flash fiction of 1000 words or less using 3 of 5 random words: box, fountain, tax, bottle, and cockroach. And a vampire.

*****

PREDATOR

Nicholas thought he’d seen it all. Then they sent Jean-Michel.

Jean-Michel floundered fully clothed in the dark water of the fountain as he tried to locate the bottle under the icy detritus of decomposing leaves. A bottle hidden inside a safe box in the church. For a Vampire of four hundred years, Jean-Michel still had a lot to learn. Starting with sleight of hand.

The damn Vampire really was an idiot. Most of the French Clan were. They averaged IQs slightly higher than a cockroach and therefore should have been easy to put down. Yet like the insect, they persisted. Nicholas would not underestimate a man who tracked him into Sweden. The Vampire wouldn’t stop until he had what he came for.

A few kilometers into the forest, Nicholas knew. Out for a walk in the quiet night, the empty void that followed quickly drew his attention. One of the Undead. Nicholas found it curious. And alarming. He circled around until he came to the front of the church. Then he waited.

Not long after, the creature stepped out from the cover of tree boughs. Nicholas didn’t need the faint light from the parking lot to know he had guessed right. Only a Vampire would tromp through the forest in a suit and expensive dress shoes.

The Troll King forged a pact with the Clan to stay out of Scandinavia. For the most part, the Vampires had. The French Clan was intelligent enough to foresee the consequences: a visit from a conquering army of Trolls, Dwarves, and Fae to hunt the dark nooks where Vampires rested by day. What did the Vamp want badly enough to risk breaking the Continental Pact?

It stopped at a slight distance. “What do you want, Vampire?”

“Pardonnez-moi the intrusion. My name is Jean-Michel Clerselier.” He gave a faint bow as he said his name. “I have come to ask for something.”

Nicholas shifted his weight back. He knew of this creature. And it knew about the bottle. Jean-Michel tilted his head. It’s charm wouldn’t work on him. He allowed himself a faint smile. He always enjoyed the odd fight of predator versus predator. It was infinitely more satisfying than outwitting teenage girls.

“The bottle. I have to come to beg, Monsieur Grimm. S’il vous plait, name your price.”

“You have nothing I want.”

The Vampire stiffened. The answer could not have come as a surprise. “I see. I suppose an explanation of my predicament would be a waste of breath, non? You have no interest in Clan disagreements. ”

“You are correct. I see no need to take sides on Continental matters. They must be bad if they bring you here.

Jean-Michel’s eyes flashed. “Oui.” He smoothed the lapel of his suit. “What if I were to tell you a story about two gay maidens who live in Paris with their parents. Every morning they skip down les grand boulevards to school. They do not suspect a monster shadows them from afar. Alas, it would be a terrible tragedy if something were to happen.” Jean-Michel stepped forward. “I could assist you in their care. Perhaps you would reconsider?”

And that was that. Vacation was over. Nicholas reached out. Satisfied no humans were nearby, he shrugged.

With a click, fangs split the line of Jean-Michel’s lips. “Allons-y. Now we dance.”

A moment later the Vampire was upon him. The Fossegrim shifted forward, forcing the Vamp to pass him. Jean-Michel turned quickly but Nicholas was just as quick. They turned as the Vampire sought caught Nicholas by his upper arms. He couldn’t bite Nicholas like a human, but there were other ways to break a body. Nicholas leaned back and kicked. His worn black boot caught the Vampire beneath the chin. The impact forced Jean-Michel to stagger back, hissing. Again, Jean-Michel lept forward. His arms sailed forward as he threw his body over Nicholas. Nicholas struggled. He swung his arms to throw the thrashing creature off. Nicholas fell to the ground, the stink of Jean-Michel’s foul corpse upon him. As the Vampire reached for his neck, Nicholas punched forward, finding the very center of the dead spot. Jean-Michel flew back into the air.

Nick was satisfied. When the lunge came, Nicholas allowed the broadside. He felt the wind first. Then the impact. Together they toppled against the rough cement of the fountain. Chunks of rock flew through the air. Nicholas didn’t need them. He had the one in his hand. As the pain transmitted wildly from all bones, he stood. He threw the rock from the forest. It landed with a splash a dozen meters away in the still sloshing water.

“You want the Nettle Elixir from the Tree of Life? You’ll have to get it yourself!”

Nicholas threw his head back and laughed as the Vampire scrambled over the wall into the water. Frickin’ Vamps. Every time, they underestimated the ones who taught war to the Vikings. This one wasn’t close to worthy of the blood-free immortality enjoyed by Nicholas’s kind.

As Jean-Michel floundered, his rage grew. He found the rock a minute later. That was the last time he flew. Nicholas clinically noted the terror Jean-Michel expressed as he impaled himself upon the fresh stake. What he forgot was how the cloud of Vampire dust got into every open orifice. He limped to the pool and peeled the torn cotton shirt from his bloodied body. As he wiped his face, he considered the future. It was time to evacuate the family from France and bring them to safe ground.

For the first time, he noticed the statute of St. Bridget. Such delicious irony. On a day far from today, Nicholas might find himself in the purgatory she described as he awaited burial in the roots of the Tree. Until then, he would escort those who threatened him to Hell.

*****

Six Sentence Sunday 10/16

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 11 of my book, Tenderfoot.

Beyond Andrew’s lusty eyes was the clock. It was well past midnight. He leaned over and kissed me again. When we came up for air an hour later, I murmured, “It’s late.” Part of me wanted to stay. The other part was afraid of the love drunk that wanted to stay all night. She scared me.

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Six Sentence Sunday 10/9

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 13 of my book, Tenderfoot.

There was a light touch on my shoulder. I turned to Nick and smiled. He looked past me and his face shifted, as those large brown eyes of his grew larger. His thick eyelashes couldn’t hide how mesmerized he was. It was the softest, most real expression I’d seen since we met. I waited until he returned and his eyes flickered over my mine.

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Six Sentence Sunday 10/2

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 8 of my book, Tenderfoot.

No question, this place was a dive suitable for rock shows. I concentrated on Jade. What little light there was illuminated the glittering makeup on her face. She gestured in exaggeration with her drink as she gossiped about Derek’s friends. I had to hold her off from setting me up on a half-dozen random dates; I firmly put my foot down with a “maybe” and a “sounds interesting.” How could I tell her no?

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

 

Six Sentence Sunday 9/25

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 6 of my book, Tenderfoot.

‘”Well, Julianna, I’m off to save someone else. It’s been a pleasure, nefarious intentions and all.” As Andrew stood up, he leaned down and kissed the top of my head.

I blinked in surprise. Wait, that wasn’t a real kiss! What the heck was that supposed to mean?”

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Six Sentence Sunday 9/18

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 6 of my book, Tenderfoot.

“Are you O.K? You looked scared in there.”

Our hands separated and the warmth from his skin dissipated. I breathed in the fresh air, trying to reorient myself. The alcohol didn’t help. It was hard not to take off running. I was safe with Andrew, wasn’t I?

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Six Sentence Sunday 9/11

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 12 of my book, Tenderfoot.

We were way over the speed limit. There weren’t many cars on the road this early. The engine hummed as we moved along, fluidly changing lanes. I could feel Nick’s foot making tiny adjustments on the accelerator.

“You know the speed here is sixty-five miles per hour?”

“Some rules don’t apply to me.”

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara over at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

*****

And one final piece of artwork, providing by my other daughter, who wanted to have her artwork on the internet:

Drawing by Allison Tupper, age 6

Six Sentence Sunday 9/4

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 14 of my book, Tenderfoot.

“Why did you steal the car?”

I shrugged, devouring several fries. An image of my father’s beloved British Racing Green 1980 MGB popped in my head. “I needed to get to Tanum to see the Vitlycke Rock Carvings. I thought Dad wouldn’t notice since the car was in the garage under a tarp.”

“I noticed.”

“You told!”

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara over at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Flash Fiction: Sanremo

A drawing by Emily Tupper, age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

I came close to not completing this week’s assignment to write flash fiction where a historical character is featured as the protangonist. Of all people, I became stuck on Alfred Nobel, founder of the Noble Prizes. Why? Because I discovered a contradiction about him which is not widely known.

In the last year of his life, Nobel wrote a play called Nemesis. He was 83 years old, a man of the world, richer beyond rich, never married, with no children, and yet he put all his efforts into writing a play. Ans his was not the first to tell this story. Clearly, he had strong motivation. What was it?

The story itself is about Beatrice Cenci, a girl from 15th century Rome who killed her father in conjunction with her family and a lover. This event was a scandal in Rome, partly because it was well-known that her father was horribly cruel, and also because Pope Clement VIII took possession of the wealthy estate upon their execution. Whatever the truth was (documents now suggest she gave birth to a child before her execution), her story has resonated for centuries with playwrites, painters, and the man named “The Merchant of Death” in a premature obituary.

I’d like to believe that Nemesis (Crazy fact #654: it was written in Swedish and Esperanto and has never been translated into English), while called a “lurid parade of torture, rape and incest that features a drug-induced vision of the Virgin Mary, a conversation with Satan and ends in a 40-minute torture scene”, says what Nobel’s six annual Prizes do not; justice is blind and life is cruel. The story of a 22 year old unwed pregnant murderer who became a symbol of injustice against the Roman aristocracy must have spoken strongly to the man who invented dynamite, created a better cannon, and manufactured all types of weapons to be used for war. With the premature announcement of his death several years prior, Nobel got a look at his future legacy and did not like what he saw. Nobel made a change to his will. His vast fortune now funds awards for five categories of science with the most prestigious award handed out for promoting peace among men.

With this flash fiction I found a way to tie Alfred Nobel and Beatrice Cenci together. Enjoy.

*****

Oh, the night. It was dark and stormy and the wind blew beneath the pane of window glass in the bedchamber, the faintest whistle of a warning.

Alfred sat up in bed, alarmed. He had a thought that maybe he wasn’t alone but perhaps that was sticky residue from the nightmare. Months, it plagued him. He hadn’t had a single night of good sleep since he’d begun the writing of Beatrice Cenci’s tragedy. In a way, he wasn’t surprised. Her story grabbed like the memories of a long lost lover, always open, always waiting. She’d teased Percy Shelley, Hawthorne, Artaud, Caravaggio, and Reni with arms long rotted away to bone and yet those ephemeral appendages gathered artists in to examine over and over the horror of her life and death. Alfred wondered not for the first time, if it was the horrifying death she suffered under sentence from the Pope after a lifetime of ills born at the hands of her demented father which enticed wonder or if was the promise of maidenly youth waylaid?

The shutters blew open with a crash, freed from their position latched within. Alfred felt a chill and reached for the bedcovers before he changed his mind. Instead, he reached for the oil lamp. His hand shook as he lit the small flame. He set it upon the bedside table and eased back against the pillows. It was then he saw the figure in the corner.

“No! It can’t be!” His insides coiled and twisted. There, next to a bound leather copy of the play about her on the other side of the room stood Beatrice herself, a fearsome apparition of his imagination.

Her eyes slowly closed and opened in acknowledgement as he took in the sight before him. She looked kindly toward him, waiting. While her corporal visage was youthful in appearance, her filmy gown was tattered and dirty. Shadows flickered across the room. Bright life blood stained the once-soft linen. Then the room grew chill and he watched the color of the stains change from a visceral glistening red to decrepit aged discolorations.

“Why? Oh, why have you come?” He would have fallen prostrate before her on the floor if his body allowed but at age of three and eighty, it was enough of an effort to clasp his hands together begging for mercy.

“You summoned me from my grave in San Pietro and I have come.”

At this, Alfred began to shake. He thought of himself as a man of science although the misprinted obituary some years before alleged he was a man of war, a “Merchant of Death” no less! The thought of it still made his blood rise. Yet neither war nor science could explain how a ghost came to stand before him.

Hastily he apologized. “I had no intent to disturb your eternal rest. In truth, I do not know why you are here.”

“Listen to your heart, dead Alfred. Does it still beat?”

The wind picked up as Alfred fumbled for his neck. But as his hands rose to the base of his throat, he knew the answer. The time had arrived. A moan escaped his lips, a rattle of death’s recognition.

It was then he felt light of body, like youth streamed through the now-collapsed veins. Alfred crawled from his deathbed invigorated. In the distance there was a sound like one of his cannons had fired into the lake. Surely it was only thunder but he chuckled roundly as his neighbor’s peace was disturbed a final time.

He caught sight of the figure again, now robed in a clean colorful dress. The high color of youth blossomed in her cheeks. She was beautiful.

“If I could stay just a moment longer, there is one more preparation I would kindly take.”

Beatrice nodded. Alfred crossed the floor, his bare feet gliding lightly across the tile. From his chest of drawers, he procured the letter etched with the name of his solicitor. He set it next to the still corpse on the bed. A moment later he tucked the bound copy of his play beneath the other curled up hand.

He turned. “I’ve worried every last stop, turn of phrase, and detail down to the dramatic conclusion where the Pope executed you before a Roman crowd of guilty denizens. I hope my version paid homage to your spirit and beauty.”

Beatrice’s ghost smiled at that. “A labor of love on my behalf is sweet payment for the life I was denied. If only I had escaped cruel Death to raise my own child…” and as her voice trailed off, Alfred realized of what she spoke. She had left behind a child! How had he not come across that in all his research? “Worry not. It’s a secret that will have its turn in the light of day, much like the revelation of your six prizes.”

“I hoped as much,” he said, shaking his head. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The rain stopped.

“Come, Mr. Noble.” Beatrice held her arms out and Alfred succumbed to her embrace.

Six Sentence Sunday 8/28

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 9 of my book, Tenderfoot.

Gathering courage, I stammered, “Why did you kiss me?”

His face changed, his new expression enigmatic for a fleeting moment. Then sexy Nick from the night before stared out. His unblinking gaze made me flinch. I touched my pendant.

“You didn’t enjoy my kiss?”

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara over at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Flash Fiction: Oh, The Humanity

Drawing of Elizabet by Emily Tupper, age 8

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.

The assignment, which I gamely accepted, was to mash any two of the following sub-genres together:

Southern Gothic
Cyberpunk
Sword & Sorcery
Femslash
Black Comedy
Picaresque
 

Obviously, this is quite a list to choose from! I did my homework and narrowed it down to Sword & Sorcery and Black Comedy. Then I imposed my own criteria which is to continue writing backstory for my book Tenderfoot.

While I was able to use the swashbuckling sword action component from the one, I’m afraid only the “black” in “black comedy” transferred successfully into the story.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Is there a smidge of offensiveness in the ending comments made by the trolls about humans or do I get token points good only at Chuck E. Cheese for trying?

*****

Once upon a time, among the schists of Dålsland, lived an un-baptized Troll named Elisabet. She was the second to be named Elizabet for the first, her sister, died upon birth. She and her many surviving brothers and sisters grew up in a cave beneath a great granite mountain.

One evening Elizabet was out tending to the animals at the nearby farm when she heard beautiful music coming from the family’s home. Elizabet crept close to listen. It was the most wondrous thing. It touched something inside of her that nights of stomping with her kin deep in the caves did not. There were many beliefs about sharing the land and sea with humans, all of them cautioning against involvement. Elizabet thought long and hard as the melodies of humming fiddle strings echoed in her head. In the end, she slipped on a human skin and set out for music school in Uppsala.

After several years, Elizabet felt she had learned what she could about the fiddle. She tied up her beloved instrument in a cloth bag, thanked her human teachers, and set out for home.

By this time, the human skin fit well. It was Elizabet’s mistake to travel in it at night for when she came to the river near the Ironworks, a troll sprang from beneath the stone bridge. Caught, she continued pretending. To her amazement, he was a beastly thing. Standing tall and broad shouldered with long tangled brown hair, his bulbous nose was overshadowed only by his big sharp teeth when he growled at her. This shocked Elizabet, but not in the way he intended. It was as if she was seeing a troll for the first time, finding it ugly and vulgar. Had her human skin ruined her eyes?

He drew close. “Lo! Do you think you are to cross this bridge? Not without payment, my pretty!”

At a distance of several steps, Elizabet found his stench overwhelming. And yet she was not afraid. This particular troll bore a resemblance to her mother’s kin. “I seek only to return to the  granite mountains of Dålsland. If I play you a folk tune, will that be fair payment?”

The troll scratched his great forearms and thought. “Yes, that will be fair.”

Elizabet gathered her skirts and sat down on the stones that lined the edge of the bridge. She carefully unwrapped her fiddle. Moonlight reflected off the glassy surface of the river as she played her favorite song about a waterfall. The troll sat quietly. When the tune ended, the music of night filled the silence. Elizabet wrapped up her fiddle and stood to cross.

“Wait! I cannot allow you to leave.”

“But what of our deal?” There was something in the way his gargantuan nose twitched that set her to worrying. Had her kind always looked this repulsive? She stepped forward. Distracted, the troll looked behind him. Elizabet saw her chance. She ran. Her thin leather boots slapped against the rough stones as she sprinted across the bridge yet he quickly caught her. In the blink of an eye, he slung her over his shoulder like a bag of turnips.

“Careful! My fiddle!” She cried. Kicking as hard as she could in the frail human skin, she failed to wrest herself from his grip. He carried her down the grassy embankment toward his lair. Elizabet thought as to reveal herself as a troll but the fear of being brought to judgment before the Troll King for living among the humans stopped her. At that moment, the clattering of horse hooves on the bridge startled them both. The troll rolled her off his shoulder into the grasses growing against the arch.

“Keep quiet!” He bounded onto the bridge.

Seeing her chance, Elizabet fled. The hawthorn bushes would provide shelter until she could disappear into the forest. From there, she could drop the skin and her once-hidden knobby troll feet would carry her away. When she reached them safely, she dared to look back.

To her surprise, the horse was gone. In its place on the bridge stood a handsome man. River water streamed from his wet clothes and coal-black hair. Time slowed as he drew back his sword and thrust it into the troll in one powerful motion. He wiped the sword clean on the fallen body then casually rolled it over the side into the river. Staring at where she hid, the stranger called out, “Dear Fiddler, will you play a tune for me?”

Crouched in the thicket of thorns, rivulets of blood ran down Elizabet’s fragile weeping skin. She held still, waiting.

And then he said, “I had hoped…” The swordman’s voice trailed off in the quiet splashing sounds of the river.

Elizabet did not return home until after her son was born. Worried the Troll King would learn of  her human dalliance with the shape-shifting water man, she knew she must protect her mongrel Fae child even as her heart was cleaved in two. She lucked upon a suitable human family who played music. And so it came to pass early one morning, Elizabet placed her beloved baby with coal-black hair side by side with their tow-headed baby and tucked both in. And yet Elizabet couldn’t bear the emptiness of her arms for a moment. She snatched up the tow-headed child and fled in haste, leaving her Changeling safely behind.

Then Elizabet sadly shed her human skin once and for all, burying it with her violin in the forest. At last she arrived home. She lied to her kin, and told grand stories of running with the reindeer up North. Then she revealed the stolen baby. The troll children gathered close. They were so curious, they poked and prodded until the baby scrunched up its pale face and cried. Elizabet shivered deep in her troll heart when one of the children giggled, “Who would want to live with such noise?” to which one mother replied, “Oh, the humanity!”

Six Sentence Sunday 8/21

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 12 of my book, Tenderfoot.

My nerves flamed as every muscle in my body arched against him. The past firmly relived, I twisted it, pushing the memory forward into an alternate ending, my ending. I imagined myself pressing my hands forcefully against the damp shirt on his chest until he backed against the edge of the stage, my body slowly grinding between his legs, and leaning over to bite his ear then lick the salty sweat off the pulse in his neck below. Take that Nicholas!

I dropped the pendant from my fingertips and the projection abruptly ceased. I served my revenge dirty.

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara over at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Flash Fiction: The Backahasten

A scary white horse with fangs

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com. Crime fiction + gun porn = a challenge that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

The Backahasten is a creature borrowed from Scandinavian folklore. It is briefly mentioned in my book Tenderfoot and a featured villain in my next book, Blinded. Marta is the great-grandmother of Jules Jennings from Tenderfoot.

This flash fiction is historical. What that means, dear readers, is that I spent 15 hours researching early 20th century Swedish life, military, and guns (including the translation of Swedish text to English) and 3 hours writing. I tried to make it as accurate as possible. If I got anything wrong, blame the internets. Enjoy! 

*****

There’s something there by the edge of the shore. Through the spindly trees, it looks to be the bloody remains of some unfortunate animal, crushed and torn apart.

I walk down the slope to get a better look. Could it be what I think it is? And then I see something move in the reeds. I freeze. To my disbelief, an enormous white horse emerges from the lake before my very eyes. Water streams off of its larger-than-life body as it climbs onto the shore. Then it looks up at me.

Devil be damned, it’s a fearsome thing. The withers of the horse are easily as high as the top of my head. Wet mane clings to its massive neck which twists forcefully as it shakes itself dry. Bits of dark green lake vegetation stick to its body, as pronounced against the white coat as the brown spot on the right front leg. The wet tail flicks back and forth like a cat preparing to pounce as it lifts hooves larger than a cabbage, each step deliberate, powerful. The creature is so big it’s a wonder the thing can move at all. At twenty meters, the beast opens its mouth to reveal teeth no horse should have. Fangs. Then it advances.

Not quite believing my eyes, I lift the Swedish Mauser 96 rifle and aim it directly at the beast.

A Backahasten.

My blood runs cold. I’d have one shot, maybe two before it made pulp of me too. I check the bolt action. It clicks and slides easily into position. As always, the wooden stock fits comfortably in my hand. I hold my ground, staring down the shiny barrel to the sight. Between hunting and time served for Sweden, the gun is like another limb. This time, it needs to be.

Silently, I curse. I should have known when I spotted the bloody mess of fur and jagged bone down by the water’s edge. It looked identical to the remains of that little girl ten years ago on these same shores, a horrifying scene I would never forget. There was intense mutilation of the girl’s body, as if someone deliberately intended to destroy it. Around what was left, blood pooled in giant hoof prints. This inexplicable death was worse than anything I saw serving conscription in the Vaxholm Coastal Artillery regiment. In the end, we identified Elsa Lindstrom by her shoes. Her killer was never found.

When the police union sent me from the new police academy in Uppsala to Varmland, the other men joked my primary duty would be rounding up lost pigs.

 But then this.

There were no suspects, for whom among us would do such a thing to a child? The only clue came from Marta Karlsdottir, age twelve, a friend of the dead child. She saw Elsa playing with a white horse and described it down to the dark round mark on the front leg. But even if I found said horse, what was I going to do, arrest it? And after a few days, Marta refused to speak further. The child was scared, as she should be. She was a witness to an unsolved crime. Whomever perpetrated this act still walked among us.

There was talk in Varmland. At first, I ignored the village chatter. After a while, I realized the low comments I heard when I entered the blacksmith’s, the sawmill, and the bakery were all the same. Beware the Brook Horse. It will drown you in the lake. Tales of the creature and its prior victims repeatedly endlessly. To my surprise, the child’s death was readily accepted. But one thing caused consternation among the villagers. Why did it stomp little Elsa to death? Why didn’t it drown her like the others? I dismissed the gossip that passed for folklore outright. It was all superstition. And yet, with so little, my only hope was to catch the killer during the next attempt.

Here before me was a matching scene, ten years after the father gathered what was left of his precious child and buried her in the church yard. There was no doubt in my mind, her killer and this horse were one and the same.

 Sunlight glints off the upside down brass disk on the right hand of the stock into my eyes. I shift it, watching. I no longer need to glance at the disk to plan the shot – after all these long years, I still know this rifle better than my own wife’s face. I bet my life on the stamped articles of faith: torped, overslag, the triangular mark above the “2” for a 6.52 millimeter bore. How many hundreds of times had I polished the receiver stamped with the year “1907” or the smaller disc of my dear regiment KA1? The stamp of crowns across the weapon applied by “J.V.” were an oath, an oath of the precision of Swedish-built weapons. This was a fine straight-bolt rifle with no strek, no rust in the bore, and it shot as true as any firearm could. Today, it would have to.

Through the metal sight, I line up the cross between the creature’s ears and eyes. I picture the brass round nose bullet originally destined for a buck when I left to hunt this morning. One shot. The palm holding the smooth walnut stock begins to sweat. I curl a finger around the trigger, waiting.

The beast freezes. Its head swings to the side as if to get a better look at me. The enormity of its jaws is breath-taking. The fangs are hidden now but the look is sinister. With the smallest of movements, I set my sight to the spot between the questioning eye and the flickering ear. I fire.

To my surprise, the beast suddenly rears back and gallops down the slope. And with that, it ducks into a stand of spindly trees, putting obstacles between itself and my bullet. I can barely make it out as it runs. And then I hear the splash. The horse is in the lake.

I lower the rifle to rest the metal buttplate against my foot. The Backahasten sinks quickly beneath the surface of the water. For as long as I stand there, it never resurfaces.

The sun starts to set. At last, I turn to leave.

It’s in the foliage covering the ground on the hill just above that I spy a single blue Forget Me Not. I pluck the delicate flower between first finger and thumb. As I pass the church on the way home to kiss my wife, I stop in the graveyard to leave it with the dead.

*****

Six Sentence Sunday 8/14

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 8 of my book, Tenderfoot.

They found us fifty meters down the side of the mountain against a stand of Spruce, covered in tiny shards of glass from the broken windows, the necklace still in one piece around my neck. They extracted me from my seatbelt, unconscious but breathing, and tended to the huge contusion on my forehead from the spent airbag. They said the Volvo saved my life when we spun off the road. They recovered her lifeless body. Later, they reported her heart had torn apart. They apologized.

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara over at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Flash Fiction: Breaking In The Boyfriend

Flash Fiction

A flash fiction response to a challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com. This one is in response to “25 Ways To…” Well, if you really want to know, go read it for yourself. It sounds better when Chuck says it.

I used characters from the Tenderfoot world and told untold backstory. Err, you know what I mean. In this flash fic, Jeffrey, Jules’ dad, is by no means the most tortured protagonist ever, but he did receive a nice working-over courtesy of Nick.

*****

Karolina drew close. On the Penrith train platform, she stopped mid-stride to argue with our guest Jeffrey, both of them oblivious to the other passengers. She must have told him the good news. After a minute, they proceeded to the Jaguar. Jeffrey was unable to hide his dismay as Karolina slipped into the passenger seat next to me. I couldn’t help winking. She ignored me.

Things improved upon arrival at Mount Helvellyn. Jeffrey made a peacock display of himself, offering to carry more than half his load of camping gear up the mountain. It was easy to slough most of mine onto him. He blinked a bit as he shouldered it, but he trusted me. We’d see how long that lasted. No doubt he believed the evening held a shag in the Great Outdoors.

It was a pleasant climb. We took our time, following a path that meandered up the emerald green mountainside. There were no trees to speak of, just stone and closely cropped grass. The higher we rose, the better the view to the valley below.

I listened to their small talk. Jeffrey pretended they were alone as he flirted shamelessly. From the quickening of Karolina’s heart to the way she gazed at him, Jeffrey had to be the One. Bedevil me, it would be a long upward march.

After lunch, we splashed in the cold water of a mountain stream. No time like the present to disabuse Jeffrey of how this works. One slippery rock later, I hid my delight under the surface of the water where I landed while dear Jeffrey nursed an accidental kick to the groin. It took Karolina several minutes to determine the chain of events when her back was turned. While one eyebrow rose, my sweet girl acquiesced quickly. We continued. Across the afternoon, we worked our way up to a suitable camp site. Karolina inserted herself between us the entire time.

It would be a long evening.

Jeffrey went off in the wrong direction looking for fresh water. When he returned two hours later, a bit worse for the wear, I was happy to show him the stream one hundred meters in the opposite direction. The campfire was set up by then. After dinner, Karolina went to fetch thick socks against the chill. I surreptitiously slid into her spot under pretext of moving away from the smoke. Not one to miss an opportunity, I stared. Eventually his eyes shifted to meet mine.

“Jeffrey, are you a betting man?”

“Excuse me?”

“How much did you wager on tonight?”

His dirty brow furrowed in disbelief. A leaf was stuck in his hair. It shone luminously green in the reflection of the fire. “Why would I wager on her?”

“I wager this camping trip is not meeting your expectations.”

“Is that so?” His eyes blazed. It would be so easy to push him over.

“Karolina is not like other girls. You need to earn her.”

Jeffrey jumped to his feet and backed away. “You’re crazy, Nicholas!”

“No, I’m serious. If you want to date her, you need my approval.” I, the uncle’s nephew’s brother’s brother. I loved that joke.

A moment passed as he assessed his options. His eyes flickered over the fire toward the tent, resolve hardening around them. He was soft. Did Jeffrey have what it took?

“You get one shot. If you screw it up, that’s it. Or, you can pack your bags now.”

We were still in the silence. Karolina was kind enough to remain in the tent.

“I’m not going anywhere.” He sat down. The fire crackled as the plume of smoke reached to the dark sky.

“It’s settled then.”

Jeffrey held out his hand. I grasped it around the cuts and bruises, applying slightly too much pressure. We shook.

As I stepped away, I said, “You might want to tell her about that kid you killed in high school.”

Flies could have landed in his open mouth.

“How do you know about that? We were just kids playing hockey,” Jeffrey said when he recovered. Remorse flitted across his face.

“It’s one of many things I know about you.” I gestured to the collar of his not-so-white tennis shirt. He might be American but he dressed like the other Oxford twats.

I left him then. Karolina exited the tent, speed in her step. As we passed, I touched her shoulder. I whispered, “I’ll be back in half an hour.” The darkness welcomed me. She paid reparations to Jeffrey with kisses before I looked away.

The next afternoon, we descended the mountain. When we came to the bottom, I made my move. I blocked Jeffrey’s way with one foot. Abruptly, he halted, stumbling a bit as he fought for control on the rocky slope.

“One last thing.”

“What now, Nick?” He used this nickname since I returned to the fire last night. It was mildly irritating. He stood tall as he held my gaze. The swollen bump on his forehead didn’t look as bad as the cut along his hairline crusted over with blood. He refused to give up. He might work out after all.

“I’d like to see you do a handstand. Over there,” I gestured.

To my surprise, he dropped everything: the bedrolls, the wadded up leaky tent, the camping gear. It all fell to the ground so easily. Without hesitation, he skittered down the last paces of rock, jogging to the flat spot in the meadow. Karolina grabbed my arm as she watched. In less than a three-count, Jeffrey swung forward onto his hands. The effort to stay balanced cost him. He stayed upright for a true heartbeat before collapsing, finishing laid out on the grass. This time I let him rest. He’d proved himself.

Karolina ran to his side.

Let him have his prize. Not bad for a third date. It gave me something to look forward to – the fourth. How to decide between river rafting or skydiving?

*****

The view from Mount Helvellyn, 1986.

Six Sentence Sunday 8/7

An armed tenderfoot can cause blindness

Welcome to Six Sentences on Sunday!

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 13 of my book, Tenderfoot.

“Oww! Drop them!” Nick yelled. Frightened, I stopped. He had an arm thrown up over his eyes. “The point is to shield your thoughts and emotions, not to project the sun into space,” he said through gritted teeth.

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara over at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Six Sentence Sunday – 7/31

Sunday, yawn!

Welcome to my Six Sentences on Sunday! This excerpt is taken from Chapter 11 of my book, Tenderfoot.

Abruptly, Andrew took one long stride to his bureau, ripped open a drawer and grabbed some clothes. Then he was gone. The slammed door vibrated in the frame for several uneasy seconds. He stood against the wall outside the door through which his heart hammered, almost louder than my own. He wasn’t the only one startled by the level of sexual tension between us.

What would I do if he opened the door?

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara over at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.

Six Sentence Sunday 7/17

Six, six, goose!

Welcome to my Six Sentences on Sunday! This excerpt is taken from Chapter 20 of my book, Tenderfoot.

Andrew turned off the music and lights, stripping down to his boxer briefs in the dark. He tugged the bedding back and I carefully slid my bruised body over the bed to rest against the wall. Andrew joined me, pulling the duvet over us. We cuddled together in the faint light from the window.

As I drifted into sleep, I imagined I saw a faint gossamer string stretched between us, shimmering in the dim light. Was this a dream?

Six Sentence Sunday is graciously hosted by Sara over at SixSunday.com. You can check out other author entries at her website or follow along on Twitter, searching by #SixSunday.