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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Lane Robins' LiveJournal:

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Saturday, December 31st, 2016
3:15 pm
Writers I fell for in 2016
Every year, I read a lot of books with two goals in mind.

1) To find entertaining books (naturally!)

2) To find a new (to me or just plain new) author.

2016 gave me three new authors to follow: Gaie Sebold, JL Bryan, and Sam J Miller

Gaie Sebold wrote the charming Babylon Steel, one of my favorite books of the year, as well as Dangerous Gifts, Shanghai Sparrow, & Sparrow Falling (which I have on my TBR list). Her writing is energetic; her characters are awesome; and her world feel flush with life.

JL Bryan's Jenny Pox claimed my "weirdest book of the year" title.  But I started with his Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper series, which started off slowly, but has become one of my most "oooh, a new one, grab it!" series.

And this year I made a concerted effort to read more short stories, aided by the sheer number of good, online, spec-fic magazines.  One of the first stories I read this year was Sam J Miller's "Angel, Monster, Man," published in Nightmare Magazine.  I wasn't sold 100% on this story, but I loved so much of it so much that Miller left a big impression.  One that only grew more favorable after I read "When Your Child Strays from God" (Clarkesworld), and "Things with Beards".  Sam J Miller's become a writer that I'm really excited to see new fiction from.

Anyone else find a new to them or otherwise writer that they really loved in 2016?
Sunday, December 18th, 2016
1:31 am
My favorite books read in 2016.  Not in any particular order.

Radiance by Catherynne Valente
Reading Valente's books is always more experience than story.  This is a silver-screen look at a past that never was—if the early Hollywood years encompassed an SF landscape of planetary travel.  There’s an enormous amount of stuff going on here spread over multiple layers of story-telling and it takes some work to pick out which threads actually lead to a cohesive solution to the central mystery (though arguably not the central point of the book): what became of Severin, a Hollywood darling?  How did she vanish and where did she vanish to?  And will it change anything?

Valente’s writing style rewards rereading, not least because she sets up mysteries, then writes a lot of scenes that basically suggest that the answers are unimportant even as she gives you a handful of options, none of which feel super conclusive.  This book, especially, flirts with made-up stories, in the thread of a movie being written about Severin that wanders through different genres and tweaks events to suit each need.  In other hands, this might be a godawful mess, but here, it ends up being a book that lingers with you.  And whether or not each segment of the book ends up part of a cohesive whole, they’re beautifully written vignettes on their own.  I was a little dubious about this book when I first finished it, but it’s grown in my estimation.

Experimental Film by Gemma Files
People talk about art being an “unflinching” look at the world around us, and holy god, this book refuses to flinch.  The main character—a film analyst and writer, mother to an autistic child, daughter to a difficult mother—embarks on a brutal self-dissection of herself while hunting down a piece of film that may or may not have something horrific lurking in it.  It’s part a mystery about what happened to a long-lost film-maker; it’s part dissection of the film scene in Canada; and its part homage to horror movies as a whole.  The main character is rarely likable, but she is fascinating.  The ending’s not quite as strong as the rest of the book—a sad irony of so many fantasy books; the better you ground it in reality, the less powerful the magic can feel—but it’s still way up on my list of books for 2016.  Plus, Gemma Files’ writing on a micro level—line by line—is often glorious.  Where Valente makes elaborations and fancy little flirts with words, Files’ writing tends toward deceptively sparse but it builds inexorably.
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Rag & Bone – KJ Charles
A much less “literary book than my first two, but KJ Charles has rapidly rocketed up to being one of my favorite writers.  This book is a fantasy romance between Crispin, a disgraced magician, accused (not falsely) of using blood-magic, and Ned, a black waste man in Victorian London.  Let me count the things Charles does well: romance, naturally.  I do like that all her characters have significant conflicts that aren’t just obstacles for the sake of being obstacles.  Historical data.  Love her research.  Her books firmly set the scene and genuinely feel like they’re happening in an earlier time; you’re not going to find sloppy anachronisms here.  Something I admire tremendously.  And oh, her magic.  I think this may be the third year that Charles has had a spot on my annual favorites lists, so I’m pretty sure I talked about her use of magic before.  I love it.  It’s inventive, and it’s visceral.  It feels like it would work.
One of the holy grails of writing is the motto: “your ending should be surprising, yet inevitable”.  I’d add “satisfying” to that already hard to hit mark.  Here, Charles gets that trifecta just right.  The end is both surprising and inevitable, and also deeply satisfying.  It made me laugh, and say, of course that happened.

Lovecraft Country – Matt Ruff
I have a weak spot for novels that are really made up of interconnected short stories.  I have a weak spot for new looks at old tropes in the field.  And I have a weak spot for historical settings and times done really well.  Lovecraft Country does all those things.
It begins when a Cthulhu cultist kidnaps Atticus Turner’s father, and Atticus has to brave the drive into white man’s land to get his father out.  In this novel, Cthulhu’s monstrosity is matched by societal racism, and Atticus and his friends and family have very difficult waters to navigate if they’re going to survive.

City of Blades – Robert Jackson Bennett
Book 2 of the Divine Cities
Sometimes I think this series was written just for me, I love its elements that much.  The premise for this whole trilogy is an interesting one.  A world where every people had a tangible god, except one race of peoples—who were then oppressed, considered lesser, abused.  Until they found a way to slay the gods.  Now the oppressed are running the scene and have been doing so for a fairly short period of time.  They’re still putting out fires.  In City of Blades, there are some disturbing rumors coming from a planned harbor—rumors of violence, of gods, and of a dangerous new weapon.  And a ministry worker has gone missing, but she went mad first.  So the “Retired” General Turyin Mulaghesh has been sent to figure out what’s what.  It’s a mark of Bennett’s skills that even when the climactic revelation is telegraphed early, it’s still remarkably satisfying to see it spool out and reach that moment.  I can’t wait for the next book.

The Disappearance at Devil’s Rock – Paul Tremblay
Tremblay’s Head Full of Ghosts was a mostly-solid read for me; though I don’t particularly care for exorcist stories, I loved the writing in that book.  So when this one cropped up, I grabbed it.
This is another weird but good book.  The premise is straight-forward enough.  Tommy, a youngish teen, vanishes (at Devil’s Rock, naturally) and sets off an investigation, and more importantly to his family—sets off a series of increasingly strange events.  The mother sees a ghost; the boy’s journal starts showing up page by page in their living room.  The book pieces together Tommy’s last days, and while in the end, the supernatural element is slight—it’s also truly disturbing.  The writing is compelling; the characters are plausible—with one slight bobble (to me)—and there are a lot of images that haunted me later on.

Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson
Kij is a friend of mine, but that said, I would still have been blown away by this novella (see above for things I like re: new looks at old properties, setting, endings that are both surprising, yet inevitable/satisfying.  Plus add a big ol’ dollop of feminism.).  This is a Lovecraftian novella, an echo to The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.  Only this time, the quester is someone from the dreamlands—Professor Vellitt Boe, who’s sent off to prevent one of their college girls from eloping with a human dreamer.  It’s about an older woman revisiting her past when she was a brave traveller and finding that she still has that bravery.  It’s about feminism—women are rare in Lovecraft’s stories, so Kij ran with the idea that that scarcity wasn’t because Lovecraft could barely conceive of a woman as character, but because women were just that damn rare in the dreamlands, which makes them… suspicious creatures.  Vellitt Boe embarks on almost an inversion of a Coming of Age story—reversing her path that she took nearly twenty years before.  Kij got me so caught up in Vellitt’s personal journey, that I almost forgot about the bigger picture, until it came flooding back into place at the end.

Maze-Born Trouble by Ginn Hale
World-building, world-building, world-building.  Plus SF noir.  Often I read “noir” influenced stories and they’re heavy on the grit and grime, but not so much on the betrayal aspect—which is a big part of noir!  In this novella, our hero is an ex-cop turned PI, on a run-down space station, who gets catapulted into a mystery when a dead girl shows up with his name in her history.  He had been hired to find her—which he did—and realized that she was doomed to end up in major trouble.  The plot is not super complex for anyone familiar with mysteries, but it unrolls satisfyingly anyway.  But the real star here is the world-building.  Hale’s space-station feels real and vivid, from seedy, nearly imhuman underbelly, to fancy spires at the top.  There’s a very low-key romance between Lake and the police inspector sent to keep an eye on him, but it adds a nice touch.  I really just can’t say enough good things about this world-building.  It’s only 80 pages long, and I feel like Hale effortlessly slipped us enough world-building for a full novel.

Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle
Urban fantasy seems to be dying off, which is a pity, because it’s one of my favorite genres to read and write.  Mix mystery and adventure with fantasy elements and I am so there.  But I found this series, and gobbled it up.  Petra, the protagonist, is a geologist (which I loved!), a competent yet sensible heroine.  She can make her own tools, she can shoot a gun, she has a strong sense of self, but isn’t brash.  She comes to this super small western town to track down her missing father who left when she was a kid, and steps right into a magical war between Stroud, an alchemist, who has much of the town hooked on a strange potion, and Rutherford, a rancher who has an even weirder set of workers who live on his property.  The magic felt fresh all the way through.  There’s some native American magics worked in through here, but it felt respectfully done.  Plus, she ends up with a “pet” coyote.  Which is a bad bad idea in real life, but is awesome in fiction.

Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold
The title nearly made me walk away.  I’m really glad I didn’t.  This is a super fun book.  It’s fantasy, but really it reads more like urban fantasy that just happens to take place in another world—in a city that exists between worlds, actually.  The heroine owns a brothel—another thing that would normally make me walk away, but… again, it’s a fun book!  There are just a whole lot of things that would normally turn me off that Sebold managed to turn against me.  Flashbacks that take up a lot of chapters?  Pass, except… here I wanted to read each of them.

The general gist of this story is Babylon must navigate several problems.  1) She’s been hired to find a missing “princess” of sorts.  2) There’s a murderer killing girls.  3) Her brothel is in dire need of funds, and the local temple of purity is driving away more of her business.  And oh, 4) her past is coming back to haunt her as the avatars of Tiresena have come to hunt her down so they can turn themselves into gods and destroy their kingdom in the process.  The fun part of this story is Babylon moving through Scalentine—a well-drawn city chock full of alien races, cultures and magics.

Winner of the Holy Crap What Did I Just Read? book
Jenny Pox by JL Bryan
I’m fond of his Ellie Johnson, ghost trapper series, an urban fantasy series that starts off “all right” and gets better with each successive book.  But between book 4 & 5 of that series, I decided I’d try this other book of his, with the catchy title and the strange looking girl on the cover.
So glad I did.
Now, to be fair, part of the weirdness I experienced was that somehow I had it in my mind that this was a YA novel.  And looking back I can see why.  The blurb sounds YA.

Eighteen-year-old Jenny Morton has a horrific secret: her touch spreads a deadly supernatural plague, the "Jenny pox." She lives by a single rule: Never touch anyone. A lifetime of avoiding any physical contact with others has made her isolated and painfully lonely in her small rural town.

Then she meets the one boy she can touch, and her life begins to change. Jenny feels herself falling for him, but first Jenny must learn to use the deadly pox inside her to confront her new enemy, a girl who secretly wields the most dangerous power of all.

But what rolled out before me was some peculiar mash up between teen romance and adult horror novel.  Suffice it to say, this book absolutely never went where I expected it to go.  It zigged when I thought it would zag.  It went sweet when I expected violence, and slipped horror into all other spots, and just left me gaping. One of the downsides of writing professionally, or just a lot, or reading a whole lot, is that you start to get story beats internalized.  You start to feel where things will go, and the way things will happen.  So being genuinely surprised by a whole book?  Unusual and definitely worthy of comment.

Books that I read and recommend, but that don’t need me to convince you.
The Fifth Season – NK Jemisin.  Won the Hugo.  ‘Nuff said.
Uprooted – Naomi Novik. Up for the Hugo. ‘Nuff said.
Aeronaut’s Windlass – Jim Butcher.  Up for the Hugo.  I burned out on Dresden and bounced hard off his Alera Codex books, but this book was a lot of fun.
Ballad of Black Tom – Victor LaValle. A novella also dealing with Lovecraft and race.
Planetfall – Emma Newman. Chewy SF, less about the SF, and more about people and their ability to self-delude.  Fascinating view of a damaged character.
1:09 am
I'm back, and I promise
to never ever leave you all again.  Yeah, right.  I'm terrible at blogging consistently so I gave myself the year off.  A year and two months, but who's counting?

I'm also over at Wordpress though I've been on hiatus there too.

You can also find me rambling about Resident Evil, and various favorite things over on Speculative Chic, which is a lot more content-dense than my personal blog. It even has snazzy pictures!  If you like all things spec fic, go take a look!
Saturday, September 26th, 2015
2:09 pm
Final Friday Fiction - Green Growing Things
Final Friday fiction only a little late.  Let's just pretend it's still Friday, or that I had a late but glorious Friday night.  Or we could just go with my faulty body deciding that what it needed to do was have painful neck spasms until I took muscle relaxants and passed out.  My brother went to a crazy folk metal concert that mashed up polka, pirates and zombies, and that sounds way more fun.  Let's think about polka pirate zombies instead of bad neck vertebrae, shall we?

Anyway, this selection is an oldie, but one of my first weird "success" stories.  Not because it sold, nope.  But because a writer I admire immensely (Elizabeth Hand!) told me she liked it when she read it in at the Odyssey workshop.  Her kindness made me all aflutter.

This is another fantasy writer standard in many ways.  If SF has the last man and woman stories, we have our man vs. nature stories.

As a weird note, for those of you who read RENOVATION, apparently this is where I stole Big Mike from!  Apparently I just feel that men driving CATs should be named Big Mike.

Green Growing Things

“I don’t want you to be a tree,” Jack’s eight-year-old son wailed, his voice muffled against Jack’s damp pajama top.

“A what?” Jack laughed.  He couldn’t help it.  Robbie had been having terrible panics in the night for over a week, ever since a slumber party he had begged to attend.  Until a second ago, Jack had been only one narrow step away from believing the unthinkable; that his small son had been—hurt—by one of the birthday boy’s older, wilder brothers.

Wrenching his mind away from the horrible possibilities stacked against him, against Robbie having the kind of childhood Jack was determined he would have, he found Robbie looking up at him with a hurt expression on his face.  Jack stilled his smile.  “Why would I be a tree?  Why would you think something like that?”

Robbie squirmed in his lap like a puppy.  Jack put out steadying hands as Robbie turned around, kneeing him in the stomach.  He bit back a grimace, but then Robbie was settled again, clinging to Jack’s top with sticky hands.

“Michael Reilly’s dad, Big Mike, got turned into a tree cause he was bad to them and they got mad.”  The rush of words only clarified one thing for Jack.

“Michael Reilly was at the party?”  An image of the child ghosted into his mind: a tall boy, a year or so older than his sturdy Robbie but in the same grade, hair that was flyaway cornsilk, always dirty, always tangled.  He had dark, dark eyes that had in the past year grown matching dark rings around them.  Jack felt his usual rush of pity for the child and his mother.

“Honey, Michael Reilly’s dad, Big Mike, he ran away.”  Jack hated the words, hated admitting to his son that things happened to parents, that sometimes kids were left alone.

His son only looked at him with old eyes and said, “No, he didn’t.  He didn’t take savings or a girlfriend.”

“Too much TV for you kids,” Jack muttered.  More than half of Robbie’s friends were like Robbie—being brought up by one parent for a variety of reasons the kids parroted back and forth in an attempt to categorize each other.  Jack had heard Robbie once establish his place in the pecking order by declaring that his mother hadn’t run away, she had died.

Robbie’s light voice continued.  “He got turned to a tree cause he chopped ‘em down for the road, Michael Reilly says, and Michael Reilly says they’ll get you too, cause you make the road.”  Robbie’s voice hiccuped into tears again, and Jack absently smoothed the dark, damp curls.

He could see it:  the slumber party for too young, too old kids, and Michael Reilly shoe-horned into their little one-parent coterie when before he had been the rare, envied exception.  Jack knew the kids had closed ranks against the newcomer, asking unkind questions that had no answer.  He hoped Robbie hadn’t joined in, but knew he probably had, asking, “Where’s your Dad?” and crueler questions yet.  And Michael Reilly, cleverer than most, lashed back in the only way he could.

“What did he tell you?” Jack asked, genuine curiosity sparking.  Big Mike and he had sat around at times, talking kids, and Big Mike had said, “It’s Michael who tells bedtime stories in my house.  We just listen.”  He reached for his pocket-watch, showed it to Jack.  “See that?  Michael picked it out.  Said if I can get lost in a place, I could get lost in time, unless I have a chain.”  He flipped open the bright gold cover, ran thick fingers around the edge.  “Strange boy, my Michael.”

Robbie wriggled and shivered in Jack’s lap.  Jack picked him up and put him back into bed, wrapping the worn blue blanket around him.  “Not going to tell me?”

Robbie took a preparatory deep breath.  Jack hid a smile.  The resulting monologue, so full of childish “an’ he went”, and “an’ then”s took nearly half an hour.  It wiped away any desire he had to smile.  The story was more than clever; with the information Jack had to fill in the blanks, the story was hypnotic.  Big Mike was right.  Michael was a brilliant kid.  Jack felt a renewed surge of anger at the man.

Robbie interrupted his thoughts, “So?”

“I won’t turn into a tree,” Jack assured him, made him lie down and count to a hundred.  Robbie sacked out around twenty-four, leaving Jack to his thoughts and the story.

Jack went to bed, found himself sleepless from a nine-year-old’s bedtime tale.  Big Mike, a preliminary road crew boss, had been assigned the task of clear-cutting a large outcropping of the forested area that bordered the national park for the new highway.  The rapidly growing city needed one; the small, winding roads were congested at all times and wearing out faster than they could be repaired.  Fiscal common sense dictated a new road to ease the burden of traffic.

Jack was picked to plot the course of the new road.  He made it straight and true, instead of the usual arcs, bends and curves the county otherwise boasted.  Build it straight, save material, time, and money, lose only fifty or so acres bordering the park.  Last year, Big Mike and his crew had gone out to remove those trees, clear the acreage.

They hadn’t done it.  The report Jack got back from the Department of Transportation claimed too much protest had been raised; that it had been decided to annex those acres onto the national park, rather than raze the trees.  The woods had stayed.

Michael Reilly had another slant on it.  He’d said Big Mike and his crew had done it; had ripped the area raw, until all you could see was red earth and rock.  And then—the woods came back.  Overnight.  Every night, until no man would raise a finger against those woods, no matter how Big Mike ranted.  One night Big Mike decided to stop it, or at least witness the trick in action.  He went into the woods, clearing an area with his heavy Cat as dusk closed in and the men watched.

The woods came back.  Big Mike didn’t. 
Read more...Collapse )

Thursday, August 27th, 2015
10:46 pm
Final Friday Fiction - In Heritage
I was really born too early or came too late to fandom to ever be a fanfic writer.  By the time it occurred to me that this was a thing and that I could do it if I wanted, I'd gotten in over my head with my own ideas.  I've had a lot of fanfic ideas over the years, but never the inclination to spend the time to write them.

This is probably the only exception.

I wrote a werewolf story that is pretty much an expansion of Kipling's The Only Son.  And because it's fanfic, it's a romance.  Of sorts.

In Heritage

Sal woke in her narrow dorm bed to a familiar sound:  gravel spattering against her window.  Half–laughing, half-swearing, she pulled the blinds and opened the window.  “Randall—”

Randall’s lithe form made an easy half-floor leap to her window.  Clinging to the frame, he insinuated his head into her room.  “Salvation, I’m flunking all my classes.  I’m leaving.  Want to come?”

“Don’t call me that,” Sal said, the words on auto-pilot, then stuttered to a halt.  “You’re leaving?”

“Sure am,” he said.  His heavy dark hair fell forward, obscuring all but gleaming hazel eyes and white teeth.

She sat down on her bed, leaden.  She picked up her pillow, clutched it, trying to think.

He climbed the rest of the way into her room and sprawled on the floor, filling it almost to capacity.

She scowled.  “There is a door.  And the Hall is unlocked for another hour.”

“Windows are traditional,” he said.  “In matters like these.” 

“You’ll be wanting me to turn bed-sheets into a rope next,” she objected, grinning.  He always did that to her.  No matter how annoyed, worried, or stressed she was, he made her happy.  She liked having him around.  Her smile crumbled.  “What are you going to do, Randall?”

He looked up at her, still smiling.  “I told you.  I’m leaving.  Going home.”  He rubbed her cheek with his fingertips, an apology he wouldn’t voice.  “So I’m not much of a scholar.  I knew that when I came, but I told them I’d try.”

“I’ll miss you,” she said.  Her throat clogged with imminent tears.

“Well, come with me then.”  Sobering, he stared into the shadows massed on the floor around him.  “Honest, Sal, I need you to come.  I keep having these...dreams.”

“The only son dropping out of college.  Yeah.  That’d be enough to give me anxiety dreams too.  What the hell are you going to tell your parents?”

“They’ll understand.  They always have.  They’re not my birth parents, did I tell you that?”

Sal shook her head.

“I’m adopted, no big deal, except—I have to see where I came from.  I’ve never needed to before.  Come with me?”

“I can’t, Rand.  I have classes.  My parents would kill me.”

“It’s just a weekend,” he coaxed.  “Come for three days?”

“It’s Tuesday,” she said.

“Details, Sal.”

She kicked him, not hard.  He pulled her to the floor where they fell into a childish, wrestling match.  But when Sal’s breath was coming quickly more from his warm closeness than exertion, Randall freed himself from their tangled bodies.

“I’d better get going.  I want to be in the mountains tomorrow night.”  He slipped back through the window and into the night.  She watched his stiff gait, was reminded of a stray dog she’d seen once, too scared to come to her, too needy to flee.  Finally, it had disappeared into a park and though she looked for it, she had never found it again. 

She gathered her breath and her courage, and yelled, “Randall, wait for me.”


Three hours and two hundred-odd miles later, the doubts attacked her full force.  Read more...Collapse )
Friday, August 14th, 2015
12:01 pm
Blurbs, blurbs, blurbs
Every so often life conspires to send me into a book "blind" so to speak.  Either it's a hardback with no dustjacket or I downloaded it ages ago during a sale and can't be bothered to find the "back" of the book.

Each time, it makes reading a totally different experience.

Blurbs really have a language all their own, and the more of them you read, the more you understand the code.  The more you know what the book's about and probably what steps the plot will go through.  It's kind of like watching a trailer and hearing that low-pitched Inception sound.  Now it's short-hand for any SF actioner with pretensions.  It's a great sound.  :)

But yesterday I read Madeleine Roux's Asylum without reading the blurb more than "Dan goes to a fancy prep summer school housed in an abandoned insane asylum.".  I knew at that point hijinks, as they say, would ensue. It was on sale.  I bought it.  I read it.

I was so much more tense reading it than I expected, and not just because Roux's pretty darn good at making even small things feel off kilter and potentially dangerous.  Her protagonist is neurotic and without reading the blurb to tell me more, he became an unreliable narrator, which meant as I was reading, I kept thinking "Can I trust him?"  It instilled a level of paranoia that I never would have had if I read the blurb.  The blurb would have reassured me that Dan was the protagonist, a mostly helpless pawn in this tangle of past evils and evil ghosts.  It would have taken away that weird tension that added so much to my experience.

Today, a coworker pointed out to me in tones of giggling, blushing scandal that Renovation, my romance novel, was about a gay character. There were no girls! (There are women in the book; JK is surrounded by bossy women. They're just not his love interest.) I was really amused. Not too concerned: she's no homophobe. She was just startled. She had never considered reading a “gay” book, but now she told me, she had to know who the murderer was, so she was reading on.

Because she downloaded it without studying it—she knows I wrote it, other people at my workplace have read it—she ended up getting to read something she had always considered “Not for me.”

Lack of blurb reading gave her that giggly surprise, the upending of her expectations.

Two in two days, and I'm really getting into the idea of this. Of just reading a book (mostly) cold.

We live in a land of spoilers and research. As a general rule, I love that. I love being able to see what something is about; what other people thought of it; where anything that might really repulse me might lurk. But there is also something to be said for surprise.

I might try this more deliberately. Buy the book at the used store without a dustjacket. Pick a book up at the library based on nothing more than the cover art and the first page.

I am currently trying to read a “challenge” book a month—something deliberately out of my usual reading. Maybe I'll add a “surprise” book as well, and see what happens.

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015
12:20 pm
July Books read
So July started off with a giant reread session.

I read Martha Wells’ Stories of the Raksura, volume 2.  Then, naturally, I had to go back and reread The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, and The Siren Depths.  Then, well, I realized somehow I hadn’t read Between Two Worlds, which… made me want to revisit Ile-Rien, so I dove into The Wizard Hunters, Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods.  It was a near thing, but I resisted getting sucked in any further.  Martha Wells is always a recommended read for me, but I think if you haven’t read the Raksura books, the Stories of the Raksura might be opaque and confusing.  The Raksura are an amazing fantasy race, but they are wonderfully complex, which might make coming cold into a short story about them difficult.  I don’t know.  Worth the chance though.  And if you do read them cold, let me know how it went!

Between Two Worlds, though, would be a great introduction to Ile-Rien and Cineth even if you haven’t read the other books.

I had to stop reading Martha Wells eventually.  I had books due back to the library!

Other things read:

White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I was really excited for this one, because I’d loved Corrie and Pendergast’s previous outing together in Still Life with Crows.  But, in the end, I didn’t like their relationship as much in this book.  Pendergast just seemed unnecessarily Holmesian in his withholding of information.  The mystery felt solid though.  Preston and Child wave a secret history of cannibalism in a small town in your face successfully enough that by the time the reader is thinking, “Wait, is this really worth hiding?”, they drop the second solution to the mystery.

Disturbed Earth by EE Richardson.  A British police procedural crossed with urban fantasy.  I wanted to love this one, but… didn’t. Perfectly competent, but it just didn’t grab me.   On the plus side, despite this being book 2 in the series, Richardson managed to convey all the essential information from the first book seamlessly.  I never felt like I was missing the first one or getting an infodump akin to “Previously on…”

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes. Torn on this book.  I really loved most of it. The writing is great; the characterization flows well.  The heroine is really appealing, as is the premise: a serial killer who stumbles on a house that lets him walk in and out of various time periods.

In the end, though, I felt like I missed something.  Evil vanquished; good triumphed, yet I wasn’t completely satisfied.  I think I wanted more explanation of how this happened, and what role the house played.  There’s some suggestion that the time-travel killings were all up to the killer, and nothing to do with the house. Yet, the house shifts time for other people as well, so I wasn’t sure in the end if the “it was all him” explanation meant him as killer instead of him as time-traveler.   Like many books where time-travel is an important element, a lot of things just seemed to tie into the time travel loop of “this happens because it has happened so it must happen.” And that’s never my favorite explanation.

Saffron & Brimstone by Elizabeth Hand.  A collection of novellas and shorts.  The stories I liked best were “Pavane for a Prince of the Air”, which is only barely sfnal, but steeped in a sort of magic nonetheless; the Muse quatrain at the end “Kronia”, “Calypso in Berlin”, “Echo”, and “The Saffron Gatherers”variations on the theme of men and women and need; and “The Least Trumps” about the island tattoo artist whose world is altered by tattooing a special image onto her skin.

A Rational Agreement by L Rowyn.  The longest romance novel ever that somehow never quite wore out its welcome.  The length was due to two things: the extended and drawn-out “will they won’t they” of the three love interests, and the world-building which involved a god active in his people’s lives and talking tigers.

Usually the will-they-won’t-they dance gets on my nerves, but here each of the characters was drawn cleanly enough that you could see and feel why the connections were hard for them to make.  And for someone who actively dislikes talking animals, I really enjoyed the talking cats in this book.

The School of Good and Evil by Soman Chainani.  I picked this middle grade novel up in a half price store, but reading it took effort.  The premise is greata school that kidnaps two children every so often from a small town and pushes them into evil or goodand there was lots of room for inverting tropes and character exploration.  There were a few really good high emotional points, but ultimately this middle grade book didn’t translate well for me as an adult reader.

Deadly Spells by Jaye Wells.  Book 3 of the Kate Prospero series.  Enjoyable fun.  I do like that Wells starts the series off with the inevitable sort of love trianglethe rich bad boy and the good copand proceeds to slowly take it apart.  By this book, the rich bad boy is definitely changing from potential love interest into series villain.  I hope that continues.

Dayshift by Charlaine Harris.  I read Midnight Crossroad and found it kind of fun, but also thought it made better set up for book 2 than a book in its own right.  I assumed the second book would have more plot.  It had less.  Lots of stuff happened, but sometimes solutions happened off the page, and it all felt… choppy.  I don’t think I’ll read on in this series.  My favorite Harris series will have to continue to be the Grave series.

The Hanged Man by PN Elrod. I picked this up out of old fondness for her vampire novels, not really out of any expectations.  But man, I adored this book.  Elrod’s always good at setting a sense of place, and here she gets to make a lot of winks at classic stories.  It’s like a less frenetic Mark Hodder book, and I recommend it.

Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne.  I keep picking up her horror novels, then remember oh yes, while horrific, her books are always crazy low key.  All the horror happens in the past, and the heroes’ jobs are to uncover the past, not escape it.  This one, for a story that involves the holocaust, abusive orphanages, child labor, industrial accidents, and miscarriages of justice, has a surprisingly thin “main plot” about a man trying to sell a silver golem that was once one of a set.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor. My challenge book for the month.  I never do well with dialect, and there’s a lot of it in this book.  But the premise was wonderfulaliens land in Lagos and begin changing animals and peopleso I picked it up anyway.  In the end the dialect wasn’t nearly as distracting as I’d feared, and though Okorafor provides a glossary to the Pidgen, a lot of it can be pieced together by context.  The story is a strange one.  It’s a big premise, but the focus is intensely localized and the plot is less about events and more about the exploration of change.  Probably my favorite segments mix SF and fantasy, as the aliens arrival rouse the local gods and personages of power.  Amal El-Mohtar wrote a good review which does a far better job of describing Lagoon than I ever could.  HER REVIEW

Two DNFs this month:  Both read halfway through.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins.  I’d heard really good things about this dark fantasy, but in the end, I was turned off by the non-stop violence, magical or otherwise.  There’s a lot of inventive fantasy happening in the pages, so whether or not it’s a good read for you will depend on your tolerance for sadism.

The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pierce.  A YA urban fantasy, and I just couldn’t disengage my adult brain enough to connect with this one.  I liked the premise: loosely (very loosely!) a highschool girl gets burdened by ghosts of the murdered until she passes their death curse on to their killer.  Then one of her classmates at her exclusive private school is killed and she has to start investigating the school and its secrets.  So, that was all good, but like most stories with a conspiracy at the heart of it, whether it’s a success or not depends on whether you buy into the conspiracy.  I couldn’t.
Thursday, July 30th, 2015
9:01 pm
Final Friday Fiction - Skin Sister
So this is one of my favorite pieces, and one of the least popular that I ever tried to sell.  I submitted it lots of placeshorror mags, dark fantasy mags, what have youand got genuinely negative responses, but hey, at least they weren’t form rejects?  One editor actually seemed infuriated at the ending. 

Sometimes I stop, rethink, and rewrite a story when I get negative reactions.  But this one?  Nah.  I love it, warts and all.  A tiny little horror story that did exactly what I wanted it to do.

Skin Sister
by Lane Robins

Rush hour traffic and her own impatient driving betrayed her, ushering Lia home twenty minutes ahead of routine.  She lingered in her car, looking for movement behind the darkened windows of her house.  Lia drummed her fingernails on the wheel, scanned stations for a few decent songs.  When that palled, she climbed out and got her mail, returning to the driver's seat to sort it.  Another five minutes down. 

She could go in, she supposed, but that risked coming face to face with her.  Fear bled into Lia's fidgeting, stilled her restless fingers into a semblance of patience.

So she sat, watching the minutes tick by, muttering "Come on, come on," too tired to go elsewhere, too scared to go in.  When her watch read six thirty, a light flashed on in the house.  Lia arranged it that way.  A lamp, hooked to a timer, alerted her to Lia's arrival and gave her time to step out of sight.

Inside, she had left small signs of her presence.  Discarded clothing built a small hummock on the floor, the jeans still sagging closed, the T-shirt tangled as if the sleeves had caught.  A pair of boots stood near them, one tilted on its side, as if she had just kicked them off.  A faint damp warmth touched Lia's fingers as she put the shoes away with trembling hands, carefully not looking into the shadows of the closet, in case she was hiding there. 

The idea of spying her twisted Lia's gut.  It horrified her, the idea of seeing herself under the skin, as it were.  More naked than she could ever imagine being, both vulnerable and terrible, her every emotion bared where Lia stifled hers and left them stillborn.  What the creature thought about a chance meeting, Lia tried not to recognize.  The closet's door knob slipped in her fingers, slamming shut.  Lia winced.

A book splayed face down on the table, its pages disfigured by rusty splotched fingerprints.  Lia left it there, another hasty proof that the creature was avoiding Lia as well.  Lia knew why, though she pretended she didn't.  The creature's jealousy burned like acid into Lia's senses.  She'd given up bringing visitors home with her, unable to take the seething resentment, the pregnant shadows.

Beside the dropped book, the small rice bowls of offerings were emptied, as clean as if they'd been licked.  Hair culled from Lia's brush, the nail clippings saved and set aside, fine hairs freed from the mesh of her razor--she had taken them all.  Lia's tight shoulders relaxed.

Back when it had first begun, Lia had known there was something in her house, something stalking her shadow, never in the same room, always just of sight.  Stairs creaked when Lia sat in the room below them.  Her car keys moved about, were never on the hook where she left them, as if the something begrudged her leaving.  Lights went on in the bathroom as the creature checked her progress in the mirror.

Back then, Lia had first realized she had given the creature life, fed her on the stored frustrations, carefully shunted aside, the confrontations left undone, the strong, difficult emotions set aside for a later that never came.  She tried to deny the creature's existence, tried to erase her by disbelief and when denial failed her, she had endeavored to keep the creature from getting the small things she wanted.  Until one night. 

Sleeping in her bed, Lia woke to the dream-like certainty that she was able to see past her closed eyelids, the fragile tissue and veins no barrier to sight.  The dark outlines of her room were visible from every angle, as if Lia was not tethered to the limp and stuporous body on the bed at all.  She could see something surging up beside the bed, limned in the red glow of the digital clock.  Something crept up the bed.  The creature that was shaped like herself but so naked, dusty grey, marbled red and white, with damp dark slashes where skin should have folded and creased.

Lia stayed trapped in her dreamstate, seeing and not seeing.  The thing that could have been her raised a cautious face, still raw, unmade and vulnerable, lidless eyes open to every hurt, and peered into Lia's slumbering features.  Then the creature bent her head, drew back the covers with skinless sketches of hands.

Outside herself, Lia watched, unable to move, to resist, as the wet mouth touched her fingers, still curled loosely in sleep, and opened.  White teeth showed red in the clock's light, red against the dark smudges of face and eyes.  The teeth closed down with a faint click.  Again and again and again.

Lia tried to end the dream, to wake from the improbable nightmare or to sink deeper into it, to escape this limbo she dwelt within, and her preternatural vision faded, returning only once more, briefly, to see the creature sliding off the bed, flattening herself and easing beneath it.

In the morning, Lia's fingernails were bitten to the quick.

Lia packed up one box, planning to move, but stopped, impatient with the slowness of it all.  It would take too long to pack, days and nights of disorder, and for what?  Lia wasn't convinced she could leave her behind.  What if she collapsed into her components, the scattered effluvia of Lia's body and mind, and went with Lia, like a film on her boxes, her bags, her clothes, even her skin?  In the end, Lia chose to stay, too impatient to take the time to search out apartments, to hunt up a moving van.  So much easier to bribe the creature to leave her alone.

Now, Lia looked around the house for other signs of the creature's day.  In the bathroom, Lia found the mirror destroyed, a red, smeared stain at the center of a sparkling web of broken glass.  A pair of her best leather gloves lay on the tiles, fingers fisted.  Lia looked at them, saw her own hands filling out the gloves, and stepped on them, flattening the lines out, denying both the anger and the gut-deep familiarity.

Lia touched the rough edges of the glass, came away with a whisper of pain, not a cut, but the precursor of it. She put her fingers in her mouth, and sat down on the counter, tasting copper.  The lights snapped off in her bedroom, and Lia jerked her head away, catching only the glimmer of dark movement in the myriad small distortions of the mirror.

Lia heard faint scrapings as the creature took up her bedtime resting place, under Lia's bed, where the soft sift of shed skin cells could work down and cover her raw face with gentle accretion, finishing her mask.

She was eager tonight; Lia could feel the dreadful hunger.  Usually, the creature took her place while Lia was blinded by streaming water and foggy glass.  Tonight, Lia skirted the bed as long as she could.  The skin on her neck prickled as she approached it.  Like a child, she launched herself towards the bed, avoiding the zone around it.

She buried her head in her pillows, under her covers, and with a quick snatch, turned out the bedside lamp.  Darkness settled over them.

After her breathing slowed to normal, Lia pulled the covers off her head, tucked them around her shoulders, wriggling until she was cocooned.  The mattress bulged beneath her once, and she jerked up, gasping, clutching the sheets to her throat.  "Stop it," Lia said, breaking her own unspoken rule, and addressing the creature.

Nothing more happened and Lia settled back down. 

Lia's eyes drooped and the bed stayed still.  She let her breath out in a last huge yawn, felt the air suck it away to feed the creature.

A weight woke her.  She couldn't move.  The blankets were tight against her shoulders, her thighs, her breasts, and a dark shape leaned over her.  Night-adjusted eyes showed her more than she wanted to see, showed her a corpse with her shape, stripped of skin at face and hands, eyes glossy and rolling in red-muscled sockets.

"No," Lia said, closing her eyes, voice ragged.  "You can't hurt me.  I made you."

"I'm tired of waiting for you to finish."  The trembling echo of her own voice silenced Lia, at least until the sharp fingerbones of the creature dug into the sides of her face.

Lia choked, tried to scream, but the creature's knees pressed into her belly and she couldn't breathe, couldn't fight. 

She had never expected this, never dreamed that the biggest thing she had fed the creature was her impatience.
Monday, July 20th, 2015
4:42 pm
strange music
I have been living with a very old stove that has been showing signs of wear.  Subtle signs like one of its feet cracking so the range surface turned slanted.  Subtle signs like... two of the burners not working at all.  Subtle signs like... the oven heat being intermittent.  Since I tend to like my food cooked evenly (or at all!), it was time for a new one.

So I've been eying and studying up on stoves.  I have learned these things.
1) Induction stoves are awesome but holy god expensive and that's before you have to buy new pots.
2) Gas stoves still terrify me.  I want my flame secretive!  Not in my face!
3) If you want a good electric stove with actual burners you have to special order them so it's probably easier just to give in and buy a ceramic range which will still let you use all your pots.
4) Some clerks will lie to you about your pots being okay for use on a ceramic stove top and you will have to buy new pots anyway.  Jerks.  No, seriously, jerks!

But no matter how much you study up, how avidly you study the consumer reviews and reports, and how carefully you watch the sales, so that you pick up the range you want while on sale, there will always be some sort of weird surprise.

In this case?

My new stove looks sleek and modern but has apparently been smashed together with a calliope.

Turn on the stove. Beep!  Select a heat.  Beep beep!  Turn on the oven.  It sings a little song.  Beep bebeep beep bebeep beep!  (Probably translated to "The oven is coming on!" in stove-calliope).  When it has successfully preheated, it sings another, longer song AND flashes its oven light at you repeatedly.  (Translation: hey dummy, did you forget about me?  The food goes here! Here! HERE!!!!)

The timer beeps when you start it.  And god help you when it finishes counting down.  It knows by now that you are dumb and forgetful and sings and sings and sings and sings and flashes and flashes and flashes (The food!  Is READY!  It is burning!  Was it supposed to be blackened!  COME GET YOUR FOOD!!!  FOOD HERE!!  FOOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!)  until you pet it on its little stove head and turn it off.

Armed with this new and terrifying knowledge, I hit the internet again.  "HOW TO TURN OFF SOUND ALERTS".  The internet obligingly gave back more than a dozen pages instantly.  "YOU CAN'T! HA HA HA HA HA!"

Until now I never knew that stealth was something I looked for in an appliance.

This is like anti-stealth.  It wouldn't be bad if the beeps were all the same.  Then you'd tune it out.  But instead each beep is so distinctive that lying upstairs in my bed, I can make judgement on what my roommate is cooking below.

Beep!  Stove, not oven.  Small burner, not big.

Beep beep beep!  Low heat.  Very low.  Probably scrambled eggs.

The truly terrifying thing?  This is the "dumb" model.  One of these suckers comes with internet capacity and you can upload recipes to it.

I don't want to know what songs it sings to convey: "dear god, this will make a terrible mess, please reconsider and go out for dinner!"
Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
4:24 pm
June Books
The top books I read in June:

ACCEPTANCE by Jeff Vandermeer.  The last book of the Southern Reach Trilogy.  I really enjoyed this weird fantasy trilogy, and recommend it to the few people who haven’t read it yet.  So many times, these grand idea stories fall apart at the end for me, when the answer to the huge array of questions either doesn’t satisfy or doesn’t seem to connect.  This one really felt solid.  I would suggest reading them all at once and not spaced out over a year like I did, though.

THE GAMEBOARD OF THE GODS/THE IMMORTAL CROWN by Richelle Mead.  I’ve never read Mead’s vampire books, though many people have told me they’re compulsively readable.  I’m just burned out on vampires.

So when I saw these books at the library, and they didn’t involve vampires and did involve high tech super soldiers, I picked them up, and man, are they chewy in the best way.

The heroes belong to a high-tech society that’s disavowed all religions and has people investigate any small cult that springs up.  They’ve weathered genetic disease and enforced breeding mandates.  The gap between first world and third world is enormous, though not always in the way the characters think they are.  The characters are very much embedded in their own cultures and mindsets, and wander around happily unaware of their own contradictions.  “Pure breed people are diseased and worthy of scorn.  Pure breed people are beautiful and rich and are powerful.”  It makes for interesting setting.

And in this world where religion has been cut out, the gods are coming back.  With real power and real effects on the world.  Magic simmers beneath the high-tech.  Classism and racism are everywhere.  And that’s just background for a complicated romantic thriller between an exiled religious investigator and his super soldier bodyguard.  This world is really screwy and really fascinating.  There are moments where I bobbled uncomfortably, trying to figure out if the ‘isms’ on display were the authors or the characters, but it always tipped back to the flaws in characters.  I’m sad that there doesn’t seem to be a book 3 in the works.

If anyone else has read these, tell me what you think!

THE SECRET CASEBOOK OF SIMON FEXIMAL – KJ Charles.  I admit.  I’m a fan.  I’ll read anything this lady writes.  This one is a collection of short stories about a strange, suffering ghost-hunter and his journalist lover set turn of the century.  It would have been so easy for her to make this a fun romp of stories, but instead she infuses it with a melancholy, and leaves you off, inevitably, at the first world war.  Charles is wonderful about respecting history.  She rarely gives you just a window in time; she shows you the wider world and the way times are changing.  And of course, the romance is wonderful.

THE SHADOW THRONE – Django Wexler.  I adored the first book in this series, and liked this one.  I was excited to leave Khandar and come back to Vordan, but in the end I wasn’t as wild about this entry.  Mostly because the magic, while present, felt somehow like an afterthought.  It seemed to seep through the first book more.  I also felt like the story threads were tighter in the first book, but to be fair, the first book had a more straightforward plot: retake the city, and find a mysterious magical force.  This ones involves a lot more political infighting and so it feels more scattered by default as Wexler has to show all the factions.  I’m still very much looking forward to the next.

SERIOUSLY WICKED – Tina Connolly.  This YA was a romp!  It’s fun, fast, and eminently quotable.  I kept reading snippets of dialogue aloud to people near me. So much fun and there's still real heart to it.
Saturday, June 27th, 2015
10:54 pm
Final Friday Fiction - Drift
So, let’s pretend it’s Friday and that I’m not so scattered I can’t keep track of my calendar even with pop-up reminders on my phone, email, etc….

Happy Fiction Friday!

Most of the time, I just write ideas that appeal to me.  Little moments that want exploration.  Every so often though, I try writing a story in the “style of…” to explore something that appeals to me in someone else’s writing.

This one was inspired by a lot of Charles deLint.  I loved his Newford pieces and the sense of all these intertwined people all having their own magical moments.

My original idea was to make a whole series of vignettes based on the gift the narrator receives in this piece, but I never really got around to it.  Probably because I started writing them in the wrong order.  I wrote the opening gambit, the flashback, and the final story.

Then, of course, my brain felt satisfied and disinclined to do any more work.  What?  I had a beginning, middle, and end, what more did I want?  I also realized I’m just not a Charles deLint kind of author.

If I tried to write a super interwoven mythic sort of city, I’m pretty sure I’d forget which characters had already met, who knew what, and somewhere in the middle of it, I’d change all the rules.  So probably for the best then.


On a terrible dark night, an angel came to earth.  That’s what Ian told me.  I didn’t believe him.

Who would have?  I figured at best he was indulging in wishful thinking and a little exaggeration.  He deserved it.  It’s bad enough to find that you carry death wrapped like barbed wire around your cells.  To bear that knowledge alone was too much.

Ian said that the Angel came to him to ease his pain and then he stayed.  I can’t argue with that.  After all, I’ve met Angel.  He is a stand-up guy, with a sweet smile and few words.  But a superior life-form representative of a forgiving God?  I pass.

Having said all that, though, I hate to mention that they’re not the focus of this tale.  But it started with them, with Angel.

I work most days down in the square, selling found art jewelry.  Cheap mementos for passing students, and inexpensive treasures for children who see pirate’s gold in every shiny surface.  Wire and bead, feather and leather, wooden discs and bone, shell, glass, and stone.  Fire and air, water and earth, I use them all.

So I was selling my trinkets and a man stopped at my booth.  It took me a moment, but I recognized Angel, wrapped in fading sunlight.  He looked over my things seriously, almost touching here, nodding there and smiling at everything else.  I actually found myself holding my breath as I hadn’t since my first school art critique.

He smiled. “Dinner?  Tonight?”

I went.  Free food after all.  And Ian is a friend.  Maybe Angel too.

When I left their apartment, Angel stopped me in the narrow little hall.  “Wait,” he said.

I did.  He came back with a body-sized pillowcase, sloppily full, and wound about with rope at the top.  “These are for you.  You can use them,” he said.  “I don’t need them anymore.”

It was more words than I had ever heard from him at once, and between that and being torn apart by instant curiosity, I almost missed his last words.  Almost.

“Even I can be tempted.”

I walked away, clutching the pillowcase.  Back at my home sweet hole, I spilled the contents out over my hands.  Feathers, clouds of them.  Hard-edged, brown and tawny and white and cream with bronze steaks in most of them.  There were three that were scarlet at the tips of the rachis.

They licked over my palms, like silk, like light, like secrets, and for the first time I felt it.  A little flutter.  It could have been fear.  Could have been something else.

I put them back in the bag and them away.  I left one out to look at.  To admire, to think on.  At the end of the week, I beaded it into a collar of stone and leather. I tried it on.  The feather tip hung below the last row of beads, whispered against my breastbone.  I closed my eyes, and dreamed a little.

I sold it the next day to a street kid, one of the many who might have been one of the homeless.  He was thin and hard-edged.  His hair was dark and long and dirty. He made people uncomfortable.  He had no job, no school, no nothing, but when he touched the necklace he smiled at me, and we fell to talking.

He had been a college student.  He had left.  He was taking some time to think about things.  After a long conversation, those were the only facts I had gained.  He walked off, wearing the necklace.  I put a handful of crumpled and damp ones into my wallet.

He, of course, is the subject of this tale.

And while most of everything I heard was second hand if not third or fourth, I still think I’m the only one who has all the pieces of it.  The only one who can give shape to what happened.

My boy’s name, I learned later, was Taylor.  Besides being a drop-out, he was a sneak thief and junkie.  He made a perilous seesaw of life, always getting money, spending money, getting high, coming down.  The first thing I heard about was the accident, and the first time I met him was when he came to my booth, but that’s not the order it happened in and I’ll give it to you the way I think it went.

So the pivotal thing that happened was simple.  Taylor came down and got right back up to the heights, but this time, he didn’t buy the drug from anyone anyone knew.  It didn’t make much of a ripple.  Even a junkie might have a friend who’ll share, or stumble over a stash almost forgotten.

But a week later, then two weeks, he still hadn’t paid for his happiness.  And he was so wrapped in it, walking in a daze, smiling, and laughing, and hugging himself.  Floating along, until no one, least of all his suppliers could ignore it.

Rumor had it, and this is where it began, rumor had it that not only had Tay found a stash, it was of something new, something good, and he had a lot of it.

Everyone wanted a piece of it.  I know that because one morning, as I was setting up, Tay darted over to me, smiled and dropped below the table, sheltering under the cloth I draped over it.  A moment later, two of the local breakers came into sight.  They looked at me like predators rejecting unworthy prey.  I didn’t object.

Tay stayed for the day, laughing up at me, and singing odd snatches of music.  I didn’t mind.  I split my lunch with him, but he ate only a bite or two and lapsed into silence.

“What are you doing,” I asked when the silence stretched out.

“Listening,” he answered.

Voices in his head, I assumed.  Junkie talk.  But he sang some more songs a phrase at a time, as if he were repeating only what he was hearing a moment before.

At the end of the day, he had fallen silent and into a doze.  I reached down as the sky darkened.  I slid my hand down past his open collar and down the skin of his back.  We both jerked.  I pulled my hand away, and looked.  There were raised bumps all over his skin on his back, like permanent gooseflesh.  He shrugged his shirt up on his neck and smiled.

“Safe now?”

“Maybe,” I said.  He started to walk away.  I couldn’t help it.  I called out.

“Tay, what are you on?”

He smiled, a slow lazy reminder of joy.  “Light.”

As far as I know, I’m the only one he ever told.  Probably because he thought I knew.

The dealers got more desperate after that.  Whole days went by with them shadowing Tay, trying to find his stash.  I guess they finally got impatient or angry or both, and then there was the accident.

There are witnesses to it, and I wasn’t one but I wish I had been.  To see what I was beginning to think.  The whole of it is that the dealers, sick of playing games, tried to get rid of the problem.  In a burst of spite, they drove directly through the square, scattering people and booths and gunning straight for Taylor.  He didn’t move.  Couldn’t I guess, too wrapped up in singing his songs to a new audience.  But everyone agrees with a few basic events.

The car skidded towards him, too fast for him to dodge, too powerful to survive.  And then

The infinitely slow drift of soft wings against asphalt and he… was… light.  The car was through him, past him, and slammed into a utility pole.  Taylor walked away.  The men in the car didn’t.

Taylor was only seen a couple more times in town.  Once with a tag-end bunch of homeless teens following him around like the lost children they were.  Passersby say they were thin, but had clear eyes and were humming beautiful tunes.

Once more in the nightand Ellie, the tattooist who saw him, swears she wasn’t drinking, but that she saw him without his shirt and he had wings.  Most people discount that rumor.  I think she was right.  That day under my booth, his skin had reminded me of pin feathers about to be freed.

In fact, I’m sure of it, but the only proof I have is a gift left at my booth.  A little bag with my necklace in it, returned.  A short burst of words on paper.  “Thank you. I don’t need this anymore.”  And a few small new feathers streaked with gold and bronze.


Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
9:57 pm
May Books
A mixture of books for me this month.  I'm trying to weed through the enormous To Be Read pile of physical books.  There are books I know I'll adore on there, books that I bought on whims at used book stores, garage sales, etc., and books that people have given me.  So out of that pile, I managed 7.

I also managed to check off 4 of the kindle TBR pile (Stealthy, the way those books add up.)

And naturally some of these books sent me to the library for more.

The highlights!

From my actual shelf:
ROPE OF THORNS - Gemma Files.  I adored the first book in this series like crazy.  Files is generally excellent on three fronts in her books: characterization, setting, and glorious, glorious prose.  THORNS is no exception.  Loved the writing here.  And thrilled to realize I still have the third book to go.  I loved Chess Pargeter the amoral, psycopath, growing and changing--not really because of the big splashy magics that surround him, but the smaller ones that link him into other people's thoughts and considerations.  The new character Yancey was a delight.

THE DEMON KING - Cinda Williams Chima.  I have absolutely no idea where this YA novel came from.  Sometimes I think my books just breed more books when I'm not looking.  Or invite their friends over for a party that never ever ends, only grows cold and tired like some fae courts.  This book surprised me.  I was ready to write it off as the farmboy king plot, but it's really a lot more than that.  I ended up devouring the first book, then flinging myself into the arms of the library to read the rest of the Sevenrealms series.  It hits all the familiar tropes--the secret heir, the princess torn between love and duty, the evil wizards, even a school of magic montage--but it does so with a fair degree of freshness.  And the characters are genuinely believable.

THE THOUSAND NAMES - Django Wexler.  I bought this at a library book sale, because I'd heard good things about it.  The pacing is... leisurely, and the plot revolves around an army's march to take back a city that isn't actually theirs.  That said, this book definitely hit my sweet spot in so many ways.  And Wexler did one thing that was utterly delightful, that I won't risk spoiling for any readers who are as slow as I am to come to this series.  I have book 2 on order, and every expectation of following it up with book 3.

From the e-reader:
TICKER by Lisa Mantchev.  A YA steampunk story that takes a deep breath and then throws every single fun idea the author had into a fast romp of a book.  This is weirdly medical steampunk, which really adds a fresh look to things.  If you liked the Kate Locke Immortal Empires series, this one might be to your tastes, too.  Just generally fun.

LIBERTY & OTHER STORIES by Alexis Hall.  A collection of loosely connected stories (all set in the same world, in a few levels of society) that are mostly epistolary and very weird.  In the good way.  Alexis Hall is another writer who has deft way with characterization, setting, and prose.

From the library:

PAPER VALENTINE by Brenna Yovanoff.  YA about a grieving girl literally haunted by the ghost of her dead best friend.  It's very YA, very concerned with finding your own identity, with accepting that you can change and will change even if you're scared to, and with finding your own confidence/power.  That makes it sound preachy.  It's anything but.  The haunted girl realizes that one of her classmates is a serial killer (impossibly young, but... it's YA, so I'll allow that premise) and her attempts to do something about it.

THE EXILED QUEEN, THE GREY WOLF THRONE, and THE CRIMSON CROWN by Cinda Williams Chima.  The books mentioned above.  Really enjoyable fantasy YA.

GOING CLEAR by Lawrence Wright.  The only nonfiction piece I read this month, and it was a doozy.  An expose of Scientology that was turned into a documentary film.  Chilling, crazy, and kind of impossible to put down.  Definitely an amazing example of the cult of personality.  I thought overall the book was organized well; but I would have liked to see more of the social analysis that Wright bent toward Hubbard turned on Miscavige and his era. 
Friday, May 29th, 2015
8:23 pm
Final Friday Fiction - Dust Rises
So last month, I gave y’all a dragon story, a staple of any fantasy writer’s oeuvre.  This month, another familiar face: Vampires.  This short piece was inspired by 100 Vicious Little Vampire Stories way back whena book of flash fic all about vampires.  I wanted to see how tight a story I could write.  As it turns out, not that tight. J This fell into that incredibly awkward to market size, so I just let it go for fun.  And now, to entertain you.

The Dust Rises
by Lane Robins

I wake in the dawn and give thanks for the light, kneeling, creaking and sore, a folded scarecrow of a man.  I am the oldest brother in the service of the sword.  The others call me Brother Gaunt on the rare occasions our paths cross.

I pick up my weapons; the sword, the bag of rose thorns and strung garlic, the cross.  Old weapons.  Traditional weapons.  They suffice.  Barely.  But one man, one sword can do what needs to be done.

I pray, I go to confession, and I do the Lord’s work.  And it’s killing me.


I get between him and his sanctuary.  Crouching in the subway stairwell, he shrieks at me, sunlight simmering at his back.  This one should be simple:  Drive him into the light.  But the sun’s burning in my eyes; my breath stops and my heart stutters and skips.  It’s all I can do to keep him off me, flailing with the cross like a panicky novice.  I catch him a glancing blow as he passes and his pain gives me a new strength.

 I herd him into a corner, the golden cross in my right hand and the sword in my left.  I swing.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, the body blows into a fine, red powder.  It stings my eyes and makes me cough.  I wipe my face on my shirt sleeve; it leaves gritty darkness behind.  Requiescat in pace.  Redemption by sword.


No joy at the doctor’s.  She says I have an infection of unknown origin.  But I know the source.  Their rot: my lungs.  I knew there was something wrong.  There’s always something.  Burns, scrapes, stabs, bites.  The people at the factory would be surprised to see what lies etched on my skin beneath my long-sleeved shirts, my high collars.  They don’t realize that an old grey man who spends his time working the line can have secrets and fears.

This fear is new.  Cause and effect.  It’s almost too simple to be true.  I kill them; I breathe in their tainted flesh and it kills me?

There’s no one to ask.  I am the oldest brother in a field where survival is rare.  The ones who taught me to hunt died or disappeared long ago.


I’m astride the coffin, and looking in.  She raises her hands to shield her eyes from the cross, glowing so bright and hot in the gloom even I can see its light.  She’s not putting up a fight, but it’s awkward maneuvering the sword, and I’m not getting a clean stroke.

When I was young, they called me Brother Iron and I could swing the great sword one-handed, either hand.  Brother Gaunt needs two hands for full force and has a trick right shoulder.

She writhes, reknitting flesh, and grunting with effort, I tip the coffin over.  She tumbles out and I behead her.  The sword tangles in her hair and I have to separate head from hilt.  And fwoomf--the dust rises.


Passed out at work today.  Couldn’t breathe.  Doctor’s examination said infection’s spreading.  Resistant to antibiotics.  I could have told her that.  I'm afraid the infection has nothing to do with life.  But I’m not ready to admit it yet--when I woke from my seizure, I was surrounded by coworkers at the factory.  And the perfume of sweat and flesh overrode even the oiled metal of the machinery.  It smelled good.

Vampirism isn’t passed on like this, surely.  Not from inhaling their dust.  I would have known.  Someone would have warned me.

But all my elder brothers are gone.


Whole litter of them.  It’s just slaughter.  No finesse.  No need.  The little ones run and push each other right into the blade.  I’m swinging two-handed through a cloud of ash, the cross dropped long ago, but I can still see it blazing on the floor to my left.  My eyes water at its light and with the force of my coughing.  I wish they’d stop screaming.  Don’t they care about Redemption?


I had to take some time off from work.  Factory work.  Not the other, never the other.  Chest pains now.  And the doctor’s worried.  Rest, she says.  I told her today.  Not everything, but about the infection, that it was death itself.  When she understood, she gave this silly nervous laugh and said what type of death lives so well?  Dumb and blind who will not see, but will presume to heal.  My lungs burn, and beneath the pain, numbness.


Horrible.  Just one, same site as the litter, perhaps the sire.  But it is a hard battle.  He wants to live.  He’s screaming that at me, and the cross is blazing so bright it's blinding, and I have to cast it aside and I’m fighting in darkness with its afterimage scorched in the back of my eyes.

But I’m faster than he is, and tonight it seems like I’m Brother Iron again.  I’m swinging the sword one-handed and it’s fluid and easy and I’m invincible.  Then the blade bites bone and flesh and it’s over.

I have to sit down until my vision clears.  The recovered cross is too hot to touch.  I wrap it in my shirt and go home.


Dawn comes and with it, pain.  Fumbling for the phone, pushing at the keys with numb fingers in a room growing dim around the edges.

They resuscitated me on the table.  The doctor said it was touch and go, but that I wanted to live.  The rot’s still there, though.  And it will win.

There can be little doubt, now.  They filled me full of blood at the hospital.  Anemia.  I’m changing.  I should call my brothers and leave instructions:  When I am found dead, stake my heart and cut off my head.  Pin a cross to the earth above me.
But the hunt beckons and that call can wait.

Besides, my brothers might not want to wait and life is dear.


I don’t want to die.  She doesn’t either.  She runs from me, slipping down a manhole and taking our battle below-ground.  I chase from habit, but I am tired.  I strew the path behind us with rose thorns and garlic, and, hand burning, I hurl the cross before her.  She stops in her tracks and looks back at me.  I see her give up, hope leaving, and she kneels.  I raise the sword; it shakes in my hand.  I drop it.  I don’t have the strength.  I kneel beside her, shivering.  Even as the words of contrition spill from my lips, I don’t know which of us I’m praying for.  I struggle back to my feet, out of time.  The sun is coming.


Daylight straggles in through the drawn curtains of my apartment.  In the shadowy half-light, the apartment feels empty already and I haven’t left it yet.  I burn my journal, baking it in the oven until it flutters into ashy clouds.  My heart flutters in my chest.  I don’t have very long, and I need every edge I can get.  I want to live.

I’ve spent the day remembering pleading faces beneath the shadow of my sword and when I study my own I see it too.  I want to live.  I don’t care how.

My brothers will have to learn their fates on their own, as I have.  Maybe I’ll see them on the hunting fields.  But my last prayer is a prayer that I do not.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, let us go to the ground again.


Even before I wake, I know it's done.  My labored breathing has stopped.  The pain is gone, as well as the endless small aches and frailties of existence.  I wake in the dusk and give thanks for this life.

Monday, May 11th, 2015
7:25 pm
Girl stuff
This past weekend I had a garage sale in which my goal was to clean out my garage of action figures.  (Before you scream, I did all the math for these figures and it would have been more than my time was worth to try to sell them at a profit.)  So, I dragged all the boxes outside, priced them to go go go, and sat back.

There were three types of buyers.

Grandmas who wigged out at the idea of cheap toys for their grandkids.

Collectors who told me I was making a mistake even as they tried to haggle my already low prices (rude, rude, rude!).

And little girls.

The thing about my action figures is you could say they had a theme: they were all female characters.  Back in the 90's I got infuriated at not being able to find the cool women in their own universes, and decided obviously the way to remedy this was to prove to the toy companies that people would BUY women action figs.  That I would.  And as happens, the moment people find out you're collecting something, all your friends start gifting them to you.

This was fun, but I grew tired of tilting at windmills.  And it ate up my time and money trying to buy action figures, so I stopped.  I displayed a lot of them, rotating them around my desk, but eventually I stopped collecting.  I hadn't made any difference anyway to the corporations' way of thinking.

But the thing was, at the garage sale, these little girls would wander over, drawn by the toy sign, crouch over to look at the loose figures (priced for kid wallets) and freeze.  They noticed immediately.  Each and every time.  "They're all GIRLS!"  Then they plunked themselves down and rummaged, wide-eyed.

Their mothers and fathers often came over, ready to discourage shopping, but again, I heard the same thing: "Mom/Dad, they're all girls!"  And without fail, each time, a Mom would look at me, look at the toys, and hand their daughter money.   The Dads usually said, "Oh weird.  Do you really want one?  If you want one, you can pick one."  The mothers kept urging their daughters to pick more.   "You want two?  How about five?  How about ten?  You can get ten if you want!"

So when I read that Hasbro et al are STILL FUCKING THIS UP, it just makes me kind of sick.  Those girls weren't just happy to get toys.  There was real wonder in their faces.  Over something this simple.  That here was a pile of toys like them.

Representation matters.  It really really does.

This is 2015.  Little girls shouldn't be stunned when they see superheroine toys in groups.  Little boys shouldn't take a look in a bin full of "girl" action figures and shrug them off as "stupid".  Grown men shouldn't see these action figures as short-packed, a chance to make money if possible.  And adult women shouldn't look sad when they tell me that their daughter wanted a Black Widow toy and couldn't find one, and that they remembered feeling that same disappointment when they were kids. 

These are toys.  It's not the end of the world.  But I can't help feeling like this is a microcosm of our society, and what it reveals isn't healthy.

Give us our toys, damnit.
Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
1:41 pm
April Books (& March)
So the good thing about having some time off from the insomnia is getting sleep, obviously.  The bad thing is being short on time to do all the things I usually try to do.  Reading faltered, as did blogging (also obviously).

I'm just going to hit the high spots of the past two months.

From March, I recommend four books:

An Egg, A Key, An Unfortunate Remark - Harry Connolly.  This is a VERY strange book, and I wasn't sure I was going to survive it in the beginning: the tone just felt so... odd.  But I know Connolly's writing, so I knew this weird narrative style was a deliberate choice and I wanted to see where it went.  And just about when I was really doubting this, the explanation for the narrative style appeared and I LOVED IT.  It was a wonderful explanation and it made the whole story that much more entertaining.  It's still a strange book, but it's delightfully strange.  In a lot of ways, Egg feels like Child of Fire turned inside out and upside down.  Definitely worth the read, not least because as io9 will tell you: Egg features an older woman as a protagonist.

Trace by Sam Starbuck.  This is another left-field kind of book.  Starbuck/Copperbadge is really really really well-known for writing fanfiction, but he also writes original books. Trace  had its start in White Collar fanfiction, before he turned it into something else.  The magic in this book is amazing and presented as matter of factly as any magical realist tale ever.  The premise has small stakes--there's no end of the world approaching here--but the kind of small stakes that mean everything to the people involved.  Colin Byrne, a con man with a weird sort of magic, goes back to prison undercover to help out the police.  It's just a stylish, fun read.  Available only at lulu press.

Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire.  Not my favorite of the InCryptid series--the plot felt a little thin to me--but as usual, McGuire's characters are topnotch and the emotions are real.  I have rarely been so appalled to have a character die as I was in this book.

Lovecraft's Monsters edited by Ellen Datlow.  A really good anthology that had a lower than usual percentage of stories "not for me".  Standouts within the collection?
"The Same Deep Waters as You" by Brian Hodge, who I've liked ever since PROTOTYPE.
"The Dappled Thing" by William Browning Spencer.
"The Bleeding Shadow" by Joe R Lansdale, which I've read before, but enjoyed enough that time to feel an "oh!" of recognition and dive right back in.
I also really loved "Children of the Fang" by John Langan.

April's recommended books:

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant.  Killer mermaids.  It didn't work for me 100%, but it's a novella that hits the sweet spot pretty neatly: just enough information to get your imagination invested, not enough to bore you with what is really a horror movie plot of "everyone gets eaten by monsters".  Though I did spend a lot of time arguing about mermaids and elbows and whether McGuire implied they had them or not, because... ELBOWS.  Everything else about her mermaids would make enough sf-science sense, except the elbows.  So if anyone else has elbows on the brain, come talk to me about it.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.  After reading and loving Dark Places, I wanted more.  This one starts off really strongly, but sort of peters out a little bit midway for me.  Someone told me you can see her writing getting better and better with each book, and I believe it.  This one was written before Dark Places.  It's still a solid read.  I'm going to have to read Gone Girl, I suppose, though I am rarely interested in stories about marriages gone wrong.

Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear.  I thought I'd read this book, but I knew I didn't own a copy.  I remedied that, then realized as I flipped through it that no, I hadn't actually read all the stories in this collection--only some of them that had been printed elsewhere.  A wonderful shock of surprise.  I sometimes have a hard time getting invested in Bear's novels, but oddly I have no problems getting sucked into her short fiction.  At least one of these stories left me in tears, which still surprises me.  A story about dying dragons shouldn't be that powerful, yet....

Anyone else read anything wonderful?  My TBR piles are only four feet deep; I could add more...
Friday, April 24th, 2015
8:28 am
Final Friday Fiction - Worm
When I was a kid, fantasy lured me in with one big, bright promise: DRAGONS!!!

For a long while there, it seemed like the best way to grab my interest was to slap the word Dragon on the title page.  That started with The Dragon Circle by Stephen Krensky (wonderful chapter book!) and just as my interest in fantasy was waning and I was moving toward mystery novels, a new friend dropped Dragonflight into my lap.  So my fate was sealed.

Later of course, I realized that every fantasy author had to write at least one dragon story, one werewolf story, and one vampire story.

This is my dragon story.


The morning sun still slanted over the steaming fields when the paunchy, raw-boned man pushed open the tavern door, sidling past the complaining goats tied near the entrance. This early, the tavern’s main room was cold and damp, hearth fires long settled to impotent ashes, and the only people in the room were a barmaid, an old sot, only now waking from the night’s stupor, and the goat herder come to collect him.

Renard studied them all, weariness settling into his bones.  Their blank sullenness was all too familiar.  “Ho, barmaid.  A drink.  I’ve been walking all night and my mouth tastes of road dirt.”

“Ask for his coin first, Melly,” the goat herder said. 

Renard swung around, caught the goat herder studying his ragged boots, his worn clothes, his thin, flapping traveling pouch.  Renard put his hand on the hilt of his battered sword.  The goat herder looked away.
Renard fished out a copper coin, dropped it on the scarred wooden counter.

“It’s two coppers a drink,” she said, pouring thick brown ale into a wood cup.

Renard dropped another coin into her hand.  Down to five copper left.  He peered over her shoulder into the kitchen.  “How about a meal?”

She mutely dished up a bowl of oatmeal.  Renard fished out his flat spoon and reached for the bowl.  She laid her hand over the lip of the bowl.

“Melly, is it,” Renard said.  “I’ve been traveling all day and all night just to get to this town, and I’ve not eaten in all that time.  You get between me and my food and I’m liable to take your hand off with my teeth.”

She removed her hand.  “You got more coin?”

“I will tonight,” Renard said.  Only hunger kept him from dribbling the oatmeal back out of his mouth as the sot was doing.  Bland and lumpy were bad enough, but it carried a sour taint too.  “You let those goats outside piss on this?”

“There aren’t no jobs here,” the young man said, tone unwelcoming.  “Not even herder jobs since that worm came.  I’m the last one, and I take my goats with me everywhere.  I don’t give that black beast a chance.”

“Do I look like a farmer?  Or goat herder?” Renard asked, pivoting to show his sword again.

“You look like the tag ends of a deserter,” the goat herder said.

“You look like your mother was one of those goats.” Renard said.  “What I am is the answer to your prayers.  I am a worm killer.”

“Yeah?”  Melly said, pouring him a half-cup refill.  He toasted her.

“Yeah, and let me tell you about worms.  They’re strange beasts.  You ever seen one of them up close?  Moving fast?  It should be funny-looking, the way worms run.  Three sets of legs, all moving at once.  They look like they’re always just about to change direction.  Funny-looking.  Excepting that the average worm is the size of this room and its footsteps shake the ground.

“It still might be funny, their legs spinning every which way, but their heads hang low and their red eyes never leave your back, and their mouths gape like they’re tasting you from a distance.  Their teeth are the size of your head, and their tongues are red like blood, like fire, like the demon king of the netherworlds himself hunting you down.”  Renard slurped up another mouthful of ale, strained it through his teeth, swallowed.  The old sot put his head down on the table and snored.  Renard sighed.  No one ever was interested in amazing qualities of live worms, only in making dead ones.  Why did he even try?  But the words kept pouring from his mouth.

“Now I’ve heard that eastern worms go up and down when they move; that they come after a man like the waves of the hungry sea, but that’s just hearsay.  I’ve never met an eastern hunter.  Haven’t met too many other hunters at all… but who’s surprised?  Because worms are fast.  And you run, and they run after shaking the trees and the rocks and it’s hard to keep on your feet much less run for your life, especially with a man’s own weight in armor on your back.

“And they take one step for every twenty of yours until you can feel their spit burning your neck.  And you drop flat on your back, and thrust that heavy sword up and rip their bellies open as they sweep over you.  It’s the only way to kill them.

“If you’re real lucky, they’re going so fast they get past before the organs and blood start falling.  If you’re lucky, you only get blood-burned and peel for weeks.  If you’re unlucky, they step on you and rip an arm or a leg off as they stumble forward.

“If you’re real unlucky?  Well, you get the heart on your first thrust and down they come.  Thunk and you’re smothered under a thousand gold pieces of worm carcass and some bastard comes and makes a killing off of your hard work.

“That’s gross profit, by the way.  I’m lucky if I see a hundred pieces by the time the middlemen get their cut for dismembering the beasts and selling the bits.  A hundred lousy gold pieces for a worm worth ten years of easy living. The nails, the teeth, the blood, the scales:  it’s all profit.  Magicians and warriors.  They all want a talisman as powerful as that.  And then there’s the bones themselves… that’s where most of the money is, selling kings the bones for their throne rooms.”

“What about the worm’s gold?  Who gets that?” the goat herder said.

Renard slugged back his last mouthful.  It always came down to that.  The gold.  And people thought the worms were greedy.

“That’s all crap.  Literally.  Worm shit’s yellow and slick and shiny and some oaf took the ultimate in fool’s gold from a den and rather than admit to being a fool, spread that lie so other fools like you would believe him.”

“So you’ve got gold now?  From the last worm you killed?” the barmaid cut in.

Renard shook his grizzled red head.  “Nah.  First I had to replace my sword which the worm broke and pay off the debts I had incurred between worms.  Then I had to pay the farmer whose cows I used as bait.  Who knew cattle cost so much?  And for some animals that would have been eaten anyway, if I hadn’t rid them of the worm.  It’s a rough, thirsty, back-breaking, scarring, lonely job.  Did I mention thirsty?”

Renard tilted his mug hopefully.  “My mouth’s dry from telling you the news.  Another drink?”

“How much you got left?”  She pursed her mouth.  “‘Cause you owe me five coppers more already for food.”

“Aw, Melly, come on.  Is that any way to treat a hero?”

“Hero.  Butcher more like.  Where’s the glory in gutting them?”

Renard scowled.  “Glory.  It got eaten with the first bard who thought he’d stay to watch the ‘duel’.  Had to pay off his family too.  He cost less than the cattle though.”

Renard swirled his all-but-empty mug, watched the dregs rise and settle, thinking about that idiot bard.  Which of them had been the more fool, Renard wasn’t sureRenard for thinking the boy could make a song out of his method of worm killing, or the bard for demanding that Renard ride up on a noble steed, sword raised and charge the beast head on.  Their argument had gotten ugly enough that Renard had had to cold-cock the boy; wasn’t his fault then that the worm came out and ate the boy.  Cost him two whole days of waiting too, waiting for the worm to get hungry again.

She poured a half mug of yeasty ale, and he gulped at it.  “That’s more like it, love.”

“That’ll be seven coppers.”

“Haven’t got it now.  I’ll have it soon.”

“When you get rid of the black beast that’s pestering the life out of this town?.  Sure hates us.  You know what they say about black wormsthat they’re bad luck, that no hunters can kill them….”  Melly turned her back, wiped out a cup with her apron hem.

“They also say if you kill a black worm, you gain power beyond your dreams,” Renard said.

“I heard it’s got a demon’s soul.  They say it’s smarter, faster, meaner, than any other worm,” the goat herder said.

“They always say that,” Renard said. “So people like you have an excuse not to fight it themselves.”

“It’s more likely than a worm granting power, if you ask me.”  Melly took Renard’s cup, rinsed it out.

“Well, both are only gossip, and if you’re going to believe gossip, might as well believe the good stuff.  So give me another drink, Melly, and some of that meat I see hung up in the kitchen and I’ll pay you when I get paid.”
“No. I’m not throwing good money after bad.” Melly leaned away from the bar, crossed her arms over her apron.

Renard scowled, rubbed his scarred face.  “You’re a hard woman.”

“It’s a hard world.”

Renard’s belly snarled, and he dug into his small, flapping purse and dragged out his last handful of small copper coins.  “There you go.”

“I’ll put it against your tab.  But if you want a meal, you’d better go hunt yourself a worm.”

“Bitch,” Renard said.  “And if I go up against it now, road-tired and hungry, and die, well, then I suppose you won’t have to worry about me cadging a meal…  Villagers.  You’re all cretins.  At least I know where I stand with a worm.”  Renard supposed if he dressed the part, rode in on a battle steed, the villagers might treat him better.  The worm wouldn’t care.  But a warhorse cost more than a sword and armor together, and odds were the worm would eat it right off, and he’d have to shell out for another.  The whole thing made him want to spit.  Where was the gratitude?  The appreciation for a hard job done well?

He stood in a quick impatient motion, suddenly sick of their company; Melly stepped out of sword range, eyes flat and wary.  He put his hand to his hilt and glowered at the other patrons.  The damned old man was still gumming the bread and oatmeal.

Renard punched the goat herder on the way out, knocked him cold, call me deserter, will you? and took the bread from the old man who sure wasn’t getting anything out of it.  It would do.

He had his sword, his plate mail, a mouthful if not a bellyful. . . might as well hunt.  He untied the goats and herded them up towards the highest peak in the district.  Worms gravitated to the rocky caves beneath.

“Tell you something,” Renard muttered to the lead goat.  “This worm I’m cutting up myself, selling the bits myself.  This is the last damn worm I’m hunting.  It’s a stupid way to make a living, not that I’m making a living….”

Renard rambled on, thinking out loud.  “Tell you true, I’m sick of the whole thing, of people looking at me like I’m nothing, of traveling and roaming and never finding a welcome, of being cold and hungry near most of the time.  I hope this worm is something special.  My luck’s got to change.”

The goats shied and yammered.  He looped the ropes tighter around his fist and yanked.  Smelling the worm.  Well, let them fret.  It only got the worm’s attention the sooner.  And after you’d killed fifteen worms, bullying a pack of goats was simple.

He found the hole quick enough.  Bones all around it, ejected refuse from the den.  Renard paced the circumference.  Ten feet.  Not a big worm then, though it was hard to tell.  He’d seen one monster come out of a hole he would have sworn a hound would be hard pressed to pass through.

He pinned the goats’ ropes to the ground, thumped the sides of the hole a few times with the hilt of his sword. “Come on out.  Yah, yah, food if you come out.”

Then he was silent, listening, ignoring the complaints of the goats, listening until his ears rang with effort for that first hiss of sound, first scrape of scale over stone and dirt.  And there it was. 

Renard backed up and watched as the worm oiled out of the hole, all sleek scale and armored legs.  He’d learned the first time about attacking as they came out.  No good.  The scales were diamond hard up top, and their necks were far more supple than he had thought.  It had almost cost him an arm, and did cost him his best sword.

The worm wasn’t as big as most of them.  Only thrice human length, sort of skinny.  Renard sighed.  This was a fabled black worm?  A creature of power?  This worm didn’t even seem to have the energy to munch the goats.  It picked among them, its claws ripping half the ties free.  It made no effort to chase the fleeing goats, merely studying the rest.

“What the hell’s the matter with you?”  Renard said.  “Start eating so I can interrupt you and piss you off.”  Though he had doubts this one would chase him at all.  That made things tough.  It was really very difficult to kill these things if you couldn’t get to their bellies.  And at a run, the scales were stretched thin, not all bunched up and thick.  Renard fought the urge to just sit down on the rocks and give up--it just seemed like too much.  Something had to change.  He was so tired.  In rueful counterpoint, his stomach growled.  Hell, if the worm wouldn’t eat the goats, maybe he’d roast one.

The worm turned, disemboweling a goat absently with a slash of its tail, and looked at Renard.  He shuddered.  Worms shouldn’t have eyes like that.  He’d seen eyes like that in his shaving mirror.  Sad, tired, and angry eyes.  Smart eyes.

It lifted its lip up and showed Renard all its pallid teeth, flickered its tongue out and hissed—its mouth like red velvet and hot even from this distance.

“Like that’s going to scare me,” Renard said.  “It’s you or me, worm.  Just come at me, you worm.  Forget the goats then.”

The worm closed its eyes in a lazy fashion, then slithered back towards the hole, its body arcing side to side with the languorous movements.  It slid inside, and poked its head back out, resting it on the sun-warmed bones around the den, watching him.  The goats bleated.

“Oh, just fine,” Renard set his sword point into the dirt, leaned on the hilt.  The sword sank nearly a foot.  “A waiting game.  Not like I’m flat broke in yet another unfriendly town.  You know, all I want is a place to call my own, where I don’t have to scrounge for coin.  To find my meals without having to beg for them.  To not have to deal with cretins like those villagers.  That can’t be too much to ask.”  His voice trailed off; he rested his forehead on his hands, and only the flash of sunlight lancing off dark scales warned him.

The worm came for him like the lash of a whip.  Renard swore, yanked his sword out of the ground, off balance and then he was on his back with the worm drooling caustic spittle over his feet, mouth open with what Renard could swear was a taunt.

Renard tried to get his breath back.  He dragged his boots away from the worm’s hot, reeking breath and dripping teeth, tucking his feet up under him and then deciding oh hell why not? all at once and dove forward under the forelegs and punched up with the sword.  The worm craned its head down to watch him, and sighed into the blade and fell, fell, fell….

Renard rammed the hilt of the sword into the dirt and scrabbled back as fast as he could on his belly, grit grinding into the gaps in his mail, getting out just as the sword snapped under the weight.  One dead worm, just like that.

“Well, that could have been ugly.  This is absolutely the last one,” Renard said, shivering a little.  This was one strange worm.  It could have killed him.  He had been lucky.  He tried not to think about the worm watching him push the sword in, its feet spread wide.  Watching him with those smart, weary eyes.

He freed the remaining goats, but kept their ropes.  He’d need them to drag the worm back to town where he could borrow some butcher’s tools, never mind how much they charged for the use of them; it still had to be better than paying someone else to do the work entirely.

He wrapped the ropes around the front set of forelegs, made loops for his hands and started pulling.  Good thing worms always lived uphill, he thought.  He sweated out his own weight in water and salt but got the beast moving, unroped legs flopping out to the side.

Halfway down the hill, the ropes slacked and he tumbled forward.  He picked himself up, wincing.  That was twice today he’d fallen in plate mail.  He was going to have more bruises from that than the actual fight.
“Now what?  Bad luck is ri

Renard stopped.  The ropes had shucked the skin off the beast.  It lay in a shining, supple heap.  “Well, that was easy enough.  I overpaid the bastards all this time… argh, now I have two parts to pull.”  He went back past the hide and stopped dead.

Something lay there, flayed, red, and definitely not worm shaped.  Small.  Skinless.  Human.  Face down in the grass and gravel.

Renard was speechless.  He poked at it with the toe of his boot, flipped it over.  A bloody wound ripped down its torso.

“Well…”  He still didn’t have anything to say.  He went over and poked at the heaped skin.  Yeah, worm all right.  Same reek, same scales.  He looked back up the hill.  Guess I won’t be selling those bones, he thought.
Bad luck.

He reached down to bundle up the skin.  It was heavy and smooth as glass under his touch, warm, and supple.  He pulled the nearest leg up; the claws hung off the ends like razor weights.  Renard put his hand into the toes, wiggled his fingers; the claws flexed.

He put his hand in the other one, admired the grace and strength in the movements, in the oiled shine of scales in the sun.  Dizzy.  He shook his head to clear it.  Spittle splattered from his open jaws, steaming.
Flickering his tongue out, he washed his eyes clean of dust, and ambled back up the hill, stepping over the ruined, red thing after a distasteful sniff.  Maybe he could catch one of the goats still grazing.  He hadn’t had a real meal after all, and look at all the work he’d put in, killing the worm.

At the top of the hill, a delightful earthen tang reached him.  He nosed around the rocky soil, slunk into the dark hole, his skin brushing the walls in a comforting, cozy way.  He circled the worn pit, itching his scales against the stones, sank his muzzle into the cool water that bubbled up in one corner of the lair.  Fresh and sweeter by far than anything he’d tasted in years.  A few siftings of dirt fell from above, jarred free by passing animals.  Lunging upward twenty feet in a effortless moment, he snatched a goat that had wandered too close to the hole, and settled down for a good meal.  A good meal for the taking, an inviting place to rest his head….
Not exactly what he’d intended, but it would do.

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015
1:37 pm
oh cats
So, the other week, I had salsa with my lunch, as I often do.  Salsa is tasty!  My cat Dean clambered up onto the table and decided, while my back was turned, that he would try my salsa.

He did NOT approve.  I don't know if it was the jalapenos or the tomato or the onion, but he was NOT pleased.  He sneezed and ran away, his tail bushy.  I thought it was very funny.

Little did I know.

Today, I had salsa with my lunch.  Dean spent the entire lunch time leaping at me, trying to get on the table.  When I was done, and had pushed back my chair to read, he climbed on the table and immediately began trying to bury the salsa bowl.  Failing that, he wanted it OFF THE TABLE. IT IS NOT FOOD.

I put him on the floor.  I put him on the floor.  I put him on the floor.  Finally, I decided it would be easier to put my dirty plates in the sink (don't I sound like an awesome housekeeper, nagged into doing the dishes by my cat?).  He followed me into the kitchen.  He leaped onto the kitchen counter and peered suspiciously into the sink.  When he realized that I wasn't going to wash the dishes immediately?  He tried to bury the salsa bowl in the sink.  Clattering of dishes and annoyed cat noises.

I rinsed out the salsa bowl and put it in the dishwasher (yes, my plate and cup, too.).  Dean investigated the sink and scraped at it.  I washed down the sink.

He finally declared the dreadful salsa had been defeated and wandered off.

I am posting this primarily so it will stick in my mind before I make nachos for dinner one of these days.... I'm sure he would attempt to bury the whole kitchen at that point.
Friday, March 27th, 2015
8:06 am
Final Friday Fiction - Things Underneath
This may be the shortest piece I have ever written.  And oddly, one of the most satisfactory.  I envy writers who can create flash fiction on a regular basis.  There’s just something amazing about an idea so neatly encapsulated, and getting the reader in and out.

The comic book mentioned in this flash piece was real, part of a collection that traumatized me.  I wasn’t really allowed comics as a kidnot because the stories were objectionable, but because I read them too quickly and I think my parents were frightened of giving me an appetite for comics.  They thought they’d be better off giving me an appetite for actual books.  (Ha! Scholastic book club taught them the error of their ways… Man, I miss Scholastic Book Club.)

But I ended up with a friend’s collection of comics.  Well, hers weren’t Archie, or Spider-Man, or detective stories.  They were horror comics.  There was a story about a devil-possessed girl who was terrifyingly fuchsia-colored beneath her blond pigtails as she tortured things with knives.  There were ghouls creeping out of the graveyard, eating people.  There was the inevitable story about an actor playing a vampire who ran into a real vampire.  With PICTURES.  (That was what really tipped me into nightmare land.  Art is scary, y’all!) 

Then there was the story referenced in Things Underneatha tale that encompassed body horror, identity horror, zeitgeist horror, and conspiracy horror in a few short pages.  Thanks, Tracy!  Thanks a lot!

I never forgot the meat of that comic, and my narrator hasn’t either.

Things Underneath

There was a comic I read once, a long time ago on the sly.  It was a story about a boy who thought he knew what life looked like, what his family looked like, what the world itself looked like.  Of course, he was wrong.  There was something in the water, something that kept the hideous truth from them all, kept them content.  He found this out, had his face rubbed in it by purists, and after he realized it was true, he ran home and gulped down the treated water.  Illusion was preferable.  Oblivion was better and he forgot.

I think it happened.

We forgot.  Not that we fought a war, were bent by a radioactive battle we lost before we can remember, but that illusion can become de facto reality if enough of us believe it.

I’m pink and soft with the requisite bones and blood, but sometimes, when I lie still in the dark, before sleep blankets me, sometimes then I can feel it under my skin, the motion of ropy muscle that moves differently.  And I remember, or imagine, my skin stretched open, beyond the flesh and sometimes there is something else.  Grey and lumpy, oiled and wrinkly, with sparse hair thrusting out of the skin like cilia.  That’s what I look like.  Underneath.

A creature of something, hiding for some reason that eludes me now, caught up in the illusion of flesh and humanity, of working and dating, of eating and dancing.  It tickles my skin in shivery reminders, in dreams.
I’ve been thinking about it and I have an idea.  Suppose we were here first, more of us, and they came, the humans and almost erased us like a text gone wrong.  Suppose we hid from them, first in the borrowed skins of our enemies, and then learned to build our own.

Sometimes, I see the alien thing in someone else, and I think, “Ah, there we are, here we are, we are everywhere.”
Suppose that’s true.  Suppose that was our plan, told to our parents parents parents beyond memory.  Hide and be like them.  Control them.  Seize them.  Suppose the final command got lost along the way.  Or we did.  And we’re waiting for someone to let us know that we’re ready for whatever comes next.

But I don’t know and I can’t be sure.  Maybe we practiced our illusion too well.  The people I’ve taken to the bone, none of them were grey underneath.  Or at least, not when I was looking.

Maybe there aren’t many of us at all.  Maybe we’ve been abandoned and lost, and there are only a few of us hiding here.  But maybe we won.  We became every living thing and we just can’t see past our own illusion.

I don’t know.  I only think that maybe someday, maybe soon, we’ll just unzip our skins and there will be rejoicing.

Sunday, March 1st, 2015
12:08 am
February reading
February Reading:

A few really satisfying & amazing books this month.  Always nice when that happens.

Wolves of London by Mark Morris: a really well-written urban fantasy that ended up not being my cup of tea for spoilerific reasons which I will not discuss here.  :)

Portlandtown by Rob DeBorde. An historical wild-west sort of urban fantasy that I wanted to like more than I did.  I just felt kept at a distance. More cinematic than involving.

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn. I haven’t read anything of hers, and Gone Girl just doesn’t interest me, but I decided I would see what else she had to offer.  Dark Places wowed me.  Loved the writing, loved the characters.  They may be kind of broken or kind of horrible or both, but Flynn makes them human.

The Cure for Dreaming – Cat Winters. Last month I read Cat Winters’ In the Shadow of Blackbirds and was kind of appalled at the grimness of it. I also had troubles with Mary Shelley, the heroine.  But the setting was so fascinating that I had to respect it. So I picked up Winters’ next book, this one with a different heroine. It’s not nearly as grim as the first one—for one thing, it’s not happening during the Spanish flu pandemic!, and the stakes aren’t nearly as high. Olivia is fighting for women’s rights, one voice among many, as opposed to Mary Shelley who was the only one trying to solve a murder.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskelainen, translated by Lola Rogers. This one was my personal challenge book.  I generally shy away from translated literature like it has the plague.  I’m just never sure I’m getting what the writer intended, never sure what’s lost, and that makes me kind of crazy.  This book… I’m really glad I read it, but I’m not sure it was satisfying all the way through. Stuff got mentioned and dropped, and other things didn’t really feel resolved.  Still, it will definitely stick with me.

Blink by Malcom Gladwell. Someone gave me this book years ago, and it was an interesting, if not completely convincing read. It’s also fascinating how dated pieces of it already are.

Vicious – V E Schwab.  I have a strange habit of wanting one book, then side-stepping and picking up a different one.  In this case, I wanted to read Schwab’s  A Darker Shade of Magic and it wasn’t out. To remind myself of that book, I picked up her previous book. I really enjoyed this YA novel about two super-powered ex-friends facing off. A lot of style in not a lot of words.  I would have liked a smidge more epilogue just to resolve my one remaining question, but overall a good book. And I’ll definitely pick up A Darker Shade of Magic when I get the chance.

Cursed Moon – Jaye Wells. The sequel to Dirty Magic, and enjoyable.  I was relieved to see the heroine’s “should I use magic/should I not use magic” dilemma resolved in this book.  One of my current favorite urban fantasy series.

Hold Back the Dark – Eileen Carr.  Really rapid paced thriller that got me all the way through before I took a breath and said, wait a minute….

Lost Things – Melissa Scott & Jo Graham.  I always love Melissa Scott’s world-building and her attention to the mundane details that make characters feel embedded in their world, but this book was a rare misfire for me. I blame the New Agey magic in it.

Jackdaw by KJ Charles.  Over the course of a year KJ Charles has become one of my favorite authors, on auto-buy status.  That said, Jackdaw’s premise made me wince. A spin off from a brilliant series, about a relationship in the third stage of the usual relationship steps (Boy gets Boy back), and based on complicated events that involved all her usual characters?  Oh, and her usual crew were going to get cameos. Other writers are wincing with me, right now.  So many pitfalls—how do you handle the flashbacks, the information from the previous book, the cameo characters without making the reader wish they were reading more about Stephen Day and Crane?  If you’re KJ Charles, you do it all beautifully.  This is an excellent book, and my favorite of the month.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohoe.  Gorgeous writing kept me going through this story, even when I kind of figured out where the story was headed.  Highly atmospheric.  That alone made it a joy to read.

I’m trying to do better about short fiction reading.  There are so many great magazines online that it’s ridiculous how far behind I’ve gotten.

The two standouts I read in February are:
“The Descent” by Carmen Maria Machado at Nightmare Magazine.  And I’ll also recommend you read her author spotlight because she says interesting things about the type of story "The Descent" is.  

“Things You Can Buy for a Penny” by Will Kaufman at Lightspeed.  Just the kind of writing I really like—stories within stories.  Actually both “Penny” and “Descent” have nested stories within them.

Friday, February 27th, 2015
8:13 am
Final Friday Fiction - Job Security
Final Friday Post: Feb 27

Every so often people ask me to write them a story.  Usually, they regret it.  I don’t know why.  It’s like they don’t know the way my brain works or something, and are surprised that kittens and rainbows don’t fall out.  Maybe if they’d SPECIFIED kittens and rainbows…

Anyway, this is one of those.

And since it’s February, it seems like an appropriate story.  (For those of you without pets, the vets of the USA have decided to push “dental February” to get your pets teeth cleaned.)

Job Security

Mr. Smith was a new client and she hadn't liked the look of him even before he bared his teeth in a smile and showed her a mouthful of labor:  stains, calculus, plaque, and red-streaked gums.  There was something greasy about him, his too-thin skin pallid and fish-sheened with sweat.  But it was a hot day—they seemed to be all hot days, these days—and he wore a dusty three-piece suit in black wool on his lanky frame, his scalp peeking pinkly through his slick, thinning hair, so she put her smile on, greeted him, and said, "This way, please."

Mandy, the receptionist, shot her a commiserating look when she could spare a glance from the disaster porn on the television—another earthquake in the deep ocean, another iceberg calving, another series of tidal waves, another dramatic fish decline—apparently tuna were feared to be all but extinct.  The sharks had been gone for months, as had the cetaceans—the biggest fading first.

Her new client collected his briefcase and followed her through the quiet offices; people just weren't coming in the way they used to.  Other things on their minds.

She wished he'd been one of them.

She kept her pace quick, and headed for her room, the last one on the hallway.  The back of her neck prickled as if his shadow were taking liberties with hers.  She bet he was a leerer—the patient who'd stare at her chest behind her shield of scrubs—or worse, a licker, who'd curl his tongue around her fingers accidentally as she worked, full of insincere and repetitive apologies.  But when she entered the room and turned, she found him staring, not at her, but at the enormous fish tank that ran the length of the wall.  500 gallons of salt water reef, thickly stocked with fancy reef fish.  Normally, she disliked the tank for the murky blue-green light it gave off, and for the constant gurgle and churn of its artificial tide, too vivid a reminder of the earth's recent upheavals.  Today, as it drew her client's attention, she was grateful for it.

"So," she said.  "What do you do, Mr. Smith?"

"I travel, preaching the coming days."  His voice sounded fat, smothered in the weight of his own certainty.  His hand tapped his briefcase and she imagined it springing open, spilling poorly designed, poorly spelled tracts all over her floor.

"How . . . interesting," she said, keeping her smile with an effort.  The world was in bad enough shape without adding religion to the mix.  "Let's get you settled.  Any problems with your teeth since your last cleaning?"

"This will be my first cleaning," he said, his dark voice rolling over her, swamping her hopes.

"Better late than never," she said, trying to stay brightly, cheerfully professional.

She got him in the chair, started his file, and laid out her tools.  He swallowed thickly, stickily, and she twitched.  She pulled her paper mask on and let her smile collapse.  "Open," she said and so began the worst day of her life.


When he opened his mouth, she saw only the usual complement of teeth.  Thirty-two teeth.  Molars.  Bicuspids.  Incisors.  But as she cleaned and scaled, picked off calculus in thick yellowing flakes that crusted on his bib, and picked out gristly leftovers of meals from between his teeth, stringy meat gone grey, even fine splinters of what looked like broken fishhooks and bone, as she cleaned and scaled and sweated, each time she reached half-way around his mouth—the upper teeth dealt with or the lower—his jaw would—couldn't!—rotate and bring her more teeth… so many teeth.  They weren't all human:  she scaled old-ivory dog teeth; cat teeth, sharp and small and vicious; great tusks that jutted into the room, then vanished; the nightmare overlap of crocodilian grins; and strange, hooked teeth like translucent needles which shredded her gloves and bloodied her hands.  She stopped and replaced her gloves, wore them three layers thick.  Time ticked on and on and on.

His fingers—she noticed in some gibbering part of her brain—his fingers, interlaced on his bony chest, were too numerous and too long; they squirmed and writhed like a bucket of worms dumped out onto the hard-packed earth.

She turned away to replace her scaler when it broke chipping tartar between two teeth that looked like they belonged to a giant rodent.  He gulped and gulped behind her, swallowing thickly, hungrily.

She replaced her mask, which she had sweated through, brushed the hair out of her face—was it more grey than usual?—and glanced at the clock.  Half the day gone, and no one else had come in.

I'm alone with him, she thought.  A flush of terror spat saliva into her mouth, made her gag.

She bent back to work.  She knew…somehow she knew, that if she tried to run, it would be a very short attempt.  The room's floor had gone rugose with half-seen shapes that writhed and coiled. 

The water in the fish tank chopped and splashed, grew cloudy; an obscenely colored tentacle probed the sands, searched the waters, wrapped tight around a lion fish and tugged it, thrashing, away.  It wasn't an octopus.  The dental practice didn't have an octopus.  It was him.  Somehow it was him.

He was eating the fish, and her hands were in his mouth, deep in his mouth; his lips were slack against her elbow, and she couldn't see those back teeth, was still reaching deeper for them and how many mouths did he have?  He was chewing and eating the fish and she was plucking venomous lion fish spines out from between his teeth and the room was dark dark dark and seethed with things she couldn't see clearly.

Water splashed.  The tank emptied one fish at a time.  She wondered what would happen when the fish ran out.

Thought of the denuded oceans and shuddered.

Hours passed.  She ran polish over all those teeth—human and cat and dog and whale plate and rabbit and rodent and shark and bat and Other—and he licked the grit away when she was done, swallowed it down with a throat she never saw move.  She fired up the ultrasonic cleaner; he bit the tool in half—jerking his head in the first spurt of discomfort and temper she'd seen.

It was dark, the office was dark, the world was dark in the coming days, dark with calamity coming from the stars beneath the seas in the coming days.  Her coworkers had gone and left her, shaking and laboring over him, or maybe they hadn't seen her, or maybe he'd dragged Mandy and the rest of the staff into his maw between fish.  Her room was under a pall of humid darkness, as if she'd crawled inside his mouth and never come out.

The examination room's walls glistened, the paint softening in strips; the carpet was dark and wet and streaked. 

She whipped off his bib, heavy with vileness, threw it toward the trash, and ushered him out, amazed her trembling legs could carry her.

"It is customary to pay—"  He lingered at the register, his briefcase in his hand.

Seventy-six dollars for the cleaning, she thought, couldn't find her voice but he seemed to hear it anyway.  He fished out damp, crumpled bills from a dozen countries, and left them on the counter.  They stank of sea rot.

He set his briefcase down; it clicked like the chatter of teeth against the granite counter and she froze, her heart jerking in her chest.  The catches gave, and she shivered, but he only extracted a pamphlet from its depths.  With another deliberate movement, he took a silver pen, corroded and tarnished, and scrawled a single line across the paper.  Then he pressed the pamphlet into her unresisting hand and left.

She remained pressed against the wall, every joint in her body quivering, paint streaking and melting into her hair, listening to an empty fish tank chugging forlornly in a dark room, and waited until he dissolved into the night outside.  The television had gone to static; it sounded like the roar and roll of dark ocean waves sizzling on hot beaches.

The pamphlet was ink and shadow, sepia on grey, images and words that were hard to bring into focus.

There was water.  A vast, dark sea.  Or space.  Or both.  A creature, rising or falling, its giant maw split open, showing teeth, all the teeth….

The words ebbed and fell in her horrified understanding like waves under moon drag.  The fate of the world in the coming days explained in language too terrible for her to comprehend, though her mind crashed through images of horrible appetites and unceasing hunger, and crawling, starving behemoths with flashing teeth, and people fed into those maws, torn apart by sharp teeth….

Her eyes dropped to the words he'd scratched at the base of the pamphlet, letters as variable as his currency.

except for the dental hygienists, who will be spared to serve

She slumped to the floor, hating that she felt relieved, that she felt pleased.  She would be spared.

Then she considered that she would be expected to clean his teeth again, and not just his, but all his people… and began to scream.

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