For Erin, Replying to Erin’s Devil’s Elbow

I don’t have a flashie for this one, but I can tell you that Jeff’s done it on a Goldwing. Motorcycling is fun!

Here’s a photo

And here’s the drive up the “mountain” that we live on top of. (Don’t be impressed by “mountain.” Alabama has strange ideas about elevation, too.) Follow Bankhead Parkway up the mountain, noting the hairpin turns, then follow the bold line that becomes Monte Sano Blvd SE. After Monte Sano Elementary School, on the opposite side of the road and farther south is our house.

From “The Cost of Belonging”

This is the opening of my current WIP (Work In Progress), The Cost of Belonging. In it we meet Gabe Rodgers, blacksmith, who works shirtless, the anvil over which he works most of the day, Eliot Whiteoak, goldsmith, vampire, and owner of Draven, the black stallion who’s thrown a shoe.

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“Some iron hates me,” the young man muttered. Sweat carved out trails through the ash and dust on his bare forearms and chest. 
The old man sitting on a chair over in the corner, out of the way somewhat, but still close enough to let his comments be heard, close enough to pick nits, grunted. “If ye’d do it the same way as I showed you pert’ near an hunnert times, that iron would purr like a kitten in your arms.”
The young man gritted his teeth. “Yes, Da, just as you say.” Gabe picked up the iron, fortunately not still so hot as to burn, at least on that end, looked it over carefully, then tossed it onto a scrap heap.
“What’d you do that for? ’S a perfectly good piece o’iron. I tested it meself while you was a-talking to that lass w’pot as needed a mend. She’s not so comely, but her da owns t’sheep farm down Grayson way. Make a prosperous match, son.”
“Then you marry her, Da,” Gabe muttered, just at the edge of his father’s hearing.
“Eh?”
“Nothing, Da. You say you tested this iron?”
“Aye. I put it in t’fire and stretched it summat then rolled it back.”
“No wonder it wants to twist. Can’t you leave off—“ He stopped himself before the bitter accusations started. Fighting with Da no longer had quite the pull it once had when he was a boy and had thought victory over his father was the way to raise himself up.
Before Da’s grumbling started again, a shape appeared in the dark open doorway, wide enough for a carriage to enter, just beyond the reach of the light from the lanterns. This was no carriage, but a man astride a beautiful chestnut stallion.
“Good evening to you, sir. Oh. Sirs. Beg  your pardon. Didn’t see you in the corner there.” The shape changed as the man swung gracefully out of the saddle. “Might I be able to have my horse shod this night?”
“Leave,” the old man snapped. “Leave t’damned beast! We’ms will shoe it when we take a mind to.”
“Da! Dinna be so rude!” Gabe turned to the newcomer. “Good evening to you, sir. I’d be proud to shoe your horse straight away, Mister…? Or m’lord, as may be.”
The stranger smiled and the workshop seemed suddenly brighter. “Whiteoak. Eliot Whiteoak, and I’m no lord. My living does well by me, but I put my breeches on one leg at a time, same as you.”
“Look and sound like some lord to me,” the old man grumbled.
“Mr. Whiteoak, I’m asking yer pardon for me father. ’Tis the pain speaking.”
Whiteoak turned. “Are you in pain, Mr. …?”
“Rodgers, ya daft beggar. ’Tis why the sign over me door says, ‘Rodgers, Smithy’, though why I cannot say with as little smithing as seems to ‘appen ‘ere.”
“Da! Do not speak so around the forge! Ye know the forge can hear ye!”

The Dark Alley

This is an unusual post, in that it has many authors. Yesterday in a writers’ group I’m in, we had a “Tantalizing Tuesday,” where we posted flash fiction (500 words or fewer) or poetry, using one of a set of photos, or one of four sentences as an inspiration point. Bonita Franks and I, with the authors’ permissions, of course, are posting the resulting fiction or poems to our blogs. Bonita has done half (a link to follow), and this is my half. They were all done using the same photo. Here it is. I’ll add similar images as we go.

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Intriguing, isn’t it? Here are the submissions:

Yikes! Somehow I missed grabbing a submission! I’m so sorry! Here it is, in pride of place, to make up for my goof. (Forgive me, Kathy?)

 

Kathy Griffith

Dark Alley

The young man approached the narrow staircase with quite a bit of nervousness; this was the first time he’d even thought to explore his sexuality, and he was prepared. He patted the pocket of his coat where he had stuffed a few condoms. He heard soft sighs and grunts coming from the shadows.

Was he really ready for this?

He leaned against the cool brick, waiting his turn, sweating. In his peripheral vision, he saw a bear of a man fumbling with his zipper, tidying himself up before exchanging a few dollars, then moving on. Apparently, oral was the specialty here, and he wasn’t really ready for anything else anyway. He shuffled forward when the prostitute crooked his finger, and as he approached, seeing the man in the soft glow of the dirty lightbulb, his eyes grew wide and he gasped.

“DAD?”

======

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Kelley York

The atmosphere is too much. The smoke, the smell of cigars permeating the room, the raucous laughter and buzz of hundreds of conversations going on all at once. Coming here was a mistake, one Ben has to rectify. 

He ducks out a back door into the rainy night, yanking loose his tie and the top button of his shirt. With a few heavy breaths to steady his nerves, he slouches back against the cool brick, gazing down the steps to the street below, studying the reflections of street lights off parked cars. Alexander brought him here to unwind with a few drinks, and here he was, running out on him. Hardly polite.

The door creaks open, momentarily allowing the chaos from inside to escape, and Alexander steps out, brows twitching into a frown. “There you are. Everything all right?”

Ben squares his shoulders and offers an apologetic smile. “Sorry. It was a bit much, is all.”

The taller man crams his hands into his pockets, coming down a step to stand before him. The door swings shut, plummeting them into near silence again. “We didn’t have to come here, you know.”

“You wanted to.” 

“I didn’t care where we went, really. I just wanted to spend time with you.”

The confession makes Ben lift his startled gaze to Alexander’s face. “That’s… That’s a bit of a strange thing to say.”

Alexander shrugs, smiles, leans his shoulder into the wall beside Ben, putting them far closer than Ben ought to be comfortable with. “I suppose I’m a bit of a strange man.”

The proximity brings heat rushing to his cheeks. Were anyone to see them out here, like this, they’d never hear the end of it. And yet he can hardly muster a complaint when Alexander closes the remaining distance between them. Just like that, the rest of the world ceases to exist, no longer consisting of anything except them, an eager mouth against his in an empty stairwell.

 

 

Erik Schubach

He strained, pulling hard on the fabric of reality of the Victorian London alley around him. The warm, fluttering light of the oil lamp illuminating it, steadied into the cold lifeless glow of electrics. The carriages on the street below bled into the heartless steel automobiles of this century.

Gasping, he stepped through to this new place in time. Looking back, he smirked. Let’s see them follow him now.

 

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Neve Wilder

Frenchmen Street, #103

You walk by it every morning, the rough cinderblock flanks of the building, the sleek channel of stairs between. A safe deposit box of memory to which you still hold the key. You stop and plant your feet as you have every day that came before this one, stiff rubber soles dimpled by cracking pavement that will never be strong enough to contain the wildly beating heart of the city beneath. The heat from your coffee bleeds beyond its paper sleeve and fills in the lines of your palm. That psychic who once traced them with the edge of her thumbnail, she knew nothing. She was dead wrong. So you stand there and close your eyes and turn the key: 

After midnight in New Orleans, everyone is a ghost or demon. 

Between the two of you, you were never sure which was which. The breath that passed hot over the back of your neck could have been a spectral breeze, but the lips that followed were pure devilry.

You held onto the railing, fingers twisted around wrought iron so cold and damp it felt like a fever breaking. His fingers curling on top of yours, sliding between skin, the jigsaw fit of hands and bodies. When he moved, you did also, helplessly attuned to the primacy of his need and the way it moved through you like a riptide, sucking you under in a grip so tight and relentless you thought your bones might be ground to powder he could sprinkle in the coffee of other lovers. And you wanted it, oh god, you wanted every ounce of that voodoo alchemy between you. Craved it so much that the places he fucked you became so many love bites pressed into the broad shoulders of the city.

But that psychic was dead wrong and now what do you have but a head full of unwanted keys to safe deposit boxes of ghosts spanning the city where you once loved him and he once loved you back.

 

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Naomi Aoki

Yohei stumbled, banging into the rough stone wall of the alley and he winced. His breaths came in ragged gasps as he allowed himself a moment to rest, confident he didn’t need to run anymore. The men chasing him far behind, lost hopefully.

He moved again, fingers digging into the cracked morter not wanting his descent to be hurried. Tumbling was still a possibility, his jellified-legs protesting loudly about the previous activity. Yohei stared ahead, cars whizzed past on the wide street below casting red and white light into the shadows illuminating each step still to be taken. It promised him crowds. People rushing from one pub to another, businessmen taking detours on the way home from work. 

It promised him safety. A place to hide; to disappear. Yohei needed to disappear if he wanted to keep breathing. 

The information he carried need to be delivered to the right hands, ones that would use it and not bury it beneath layers of corruption. But he could worry about that tomorrow. Tonight he needed to stay alive.

Yohei breathed deep, easier and the scent of food filled his lungs. His stomach grumbled, reminding Yohei he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Since he’d made the decision to take what he’d found and escape. Yohei ignored it, pushing on toward the promised safety. Too dangerous to stop and eat now. He couldn’t risk being found.

Two more steps.

He paused at the end of the alley and hesitantly peered at the bustling street. Carefully he took in the people passing by assessing them for danger and relaxed when he couldn’t see any. Danger might lurk in the shadows, but he couldnt see any sign that he’d been tracked down. Yohei took a breath calming his panicked nerves and stepped out.

“You had to run, didn’t you Yohei?” A sinister voice broke through teh shadows into the light and one Yohei knew well. He froze. “Lead my men on a merry chase.”

Yohei tried to step back and find another route to escape. His shoulders slumped as he collided with a wall of muscle. “I thought they could do with the exercise.”

He should have realised escape was not possible. Ever.

“Let’s go home, Yohei and I’ll forget that you tried to leave me. But I wont be so generous if you try it again.”

 

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Jason Griswold

The City isn’t Safe at Night

Nick knew better than to walk home alone at night. His mother always warned him that the city isn’t safe at night. The walk from work was only five minutes, though. What was the harm?

The echo of footfalls behind him began three blocks back. He contemplated ducking into a restaurant or bar, but he passed into a residential neighborhood, so that wouldn’t work. He sped up, his footfalls clicking faster as he looked for refuge. 

He knew not to glance back. His mother always said that was dangerous. But so was walking alone at night. Bad things can happen. 

Up ahead he saw a group of people walking in his direction. Just act like you’re meeting them, then walk back toward the restaurants. Call for a ride.

Instead, he walked past the group, ducking into a dark alley up ahead. There was a single light at the bottom of a set of stairs, leading up into darkness. As he pondered if he should ascend, He felt a jolt, as he was pushed from behind.. 

his assailant was large. He was armed with a knife, and a snarl. “Listen up!” he growled. “Empty your bag, buddy.” Nick looked at him. “Open your bag. Empty it. Give me your money, jewelry, and wallet.”

“Please…” Nick said. “Please, sir. You don’t want to do this.”

“Oh yeah? Why not?” He asked.

“Because, it isn’t safe at night. You never know what bad things might happen.”

The man pointed the knife in his face. “Money. Wallet. Now.”

He paused. Nick stood in front of him, eyes closed. When he finally opened his eyes, they gleamed yellow. His face contorted into a monstrous grimace. his teeth became razors, his skin furred. The beast that once was NIck leapt forward, grabbing the brute by the throat, and dragged him up the stairs into the pitch black.

As he tore out the mugger’s throat, the beast that once was Nick had a strange, human thought. His mother was always right.

The City isn’t safe at night. For anyone.

~~~~~~~

All images credited to user hotblack at morguefile.com.

As promised, here’s the link to Bonita’s post.

Throne

There he sits, upon the throne
Or perhaps the throne sits on him
With grizzled skin and grizzled bone
Attending to the silent hymn
Searching out the rusted seraphim
Stretching out the three-branched limb
Ruling, if he rules, according to his whim,
A land once green now turned to stone.

Winter 2018

The winter that robbed us of our children,
The winter that took away our souls,
The still, silent, purity of snow annihilated, made nihil, nothing
By violent sprayed blood
By shrieks and running feet
By terror, muffled, sobbing, knee-wrapped
In a corner, praying
“Don’t let them hear me, don’t let them find me,
I’ll promise you anything, but don’t let them hear me!”
The shame-filled joy that the scream
Ripped from a young throat
Was thank god someone else’s
And not their own.
The winter that destroyed our innocence,
The winter that fractured our dreams——
Does it yet hold a spring?

Where?

Where is the hope
Now when we need it?
Where is the love
Now when we wither without it?
Where is the joy
Now when our dearest are turned away?
Where is the strength
Now when we are stripped naked?
Where are the castles of dreams
Now when everything has shifted?
The stage is set.
Musty velevet curtain pulls back
There against the tattered scrim
Of all we held dear
A mourning dove sings her dirge
And weeps for us, mankind.

Review – The Harvested by Kindra Sowder

I gave this one 5 stars —

Review: Harvested by Kindra Sowder
CONTAINS semi-spoilers
Harvested is the first book in a five-book series, the finale of which will be published in June, and as the opener, Harvested is a well-crafted introduction to the setting and the characters. Mila and her friends Julius, Nero and Cato are taken by the government, along with others, to an isolated secret laboratory complex, to undergo testing due to their unusual powers and abilities. There, they are subjected to various biological tests, isolation and constant surveillance. While no one in their group knows what’s going to happen to them, or what’s being done to the others, they do know that the head of the government, Dictator King, is power hungry and wants to rule the world as well as the United States. Because he is so singleminded, they suspect that their kidnapping and disappearance is part of his plan, but have no clue what he envisions as their role.
Mila is the central character, and she is put through many incidents of laboratory testing, having blood drawn and biopsies taken with no explanation and usually under intense sedation, all without explanation. Gradually, she comes to trust her doctor and her guard, until King forces her into a “test” with the threat of death for all of her friends and family if she refuses. After that violation, Mila changes and becomes determined to fight in any way she can, though she will not use her power—the ability to cause another person’’s blood to boil.
Julius and Mila, along with new friend Caius and her guard and doctor plan an escape. It does not go well, though the book ends on a positive note.
This book is fast-paced and, as it was designed to do, leaves the reader wanting more, though this portion of the story is completely contained in Harvested. I recommend reading it when you have time to sit and read cover-to-cover; it is a page-turner and you won’t want to put it down.