Happy birthday to me! Today, I turn 66, officially with both feet in Little Old Lady territory. ~MomGoth straightens her cameo brooch and checks the level of the elderberry wine~
I’m celebrating by hosting a pair of writers who caught my attention by finding a new twist on an old genre.
S. C. Green lives in an off-grid home in rural New Zealand with her husband, a menagerie of animals, and their medieval sword collection. She’s the author of the Engine Ward series, and she also writes paranormal romance under the name Steffanie Holmes. Find out more about her work on her website: www.steffmetal.com or join her newsletter: http://www.steffmetal.com/subscribe/
Lindsey R. Loucks is a former school librarian from rural Kansas. When she’s not discussing books with anyone who will listen, she’s dreaming up her own stories. Eventually her brain gives out, and she’ll play hide and seek with her cat, put herself in a chocolate induced coma, or watch scary movies alone in the dark to reenergize. Join Lindsey’s Insider Newsletter: http://bit.ly/lrlinsider.
Welcome to Petrified City, where the dead don’t stay in the ground.
Ten years ago, emerged the wraith – ghosts of the long dead who gorge on the energy sucked from the city’s dwindling population. Desperate to contain the threat, the government enclosed the city in a giant dome, trapping the wraith and the residents inside.
Now, there’s almost nothing left.
Sydney Cale – a thief with a strange and secret power – teams up with Alain, a raven shapeshifter who is a member of the Order of the Reapers, a powerful force who work to banish the wraith back to the underworld.
But the wraith are evolving, drawing energy from the decaying city itself. Soon, they will be powerful enough to break free of the dome. Sydney and Alain must stop the wraith before they escape and infect the world, even if that means dooming themselves, and everyone they love, to petrifying inside the dying city.
I lurched forward, and the tunnel exploded.
Orange flames leapt along the walls, surrounding me with fierce heat. The force knocked me to the ground, driving the wind from my chest and sending pain through my limbs. The wraith screamed, this time with terror, as the flames danced over them, tearing at whatever ethereal substance made up their bodies. Their mouths gaped as flames consumed them, turning their emaciated limbs to piles of dust.
From the shadows, a raven flew down and landed on the ground at my feet. It watched the flames as they consumed the wraiths, standing silent until every last speck had been turned to grey dust. It lifted a wing, and the flames flared up, reaching right to the tunnel roof. I stepped back, holding up my hands to shield my face from the heat.
When the heat began to fade and the flames died away, a man stood in the centre of the tunnel. He was dressed in black from head to toe—black jeans, black t-shirt, and a long black trenchcoat that swung around his ankles. In the gloom of the tunnel, his hair appeared black also, falling around his face in long waves and spilling down over his broad, muscular shoulders. A line of stubble defined his strong jaw, and he stared at me with piercing, ice-blue eyes and a thin-lipped smirk.
He was absolutely gorgeous, and if I weren’t at that moment still recovering from a near-death experience, I might have considered throwing myself into his arms and showing him just how grateful I was for his timely intervention.
Thankfully, I had some self-control. Well, that and the fact this man was a Reaper—one of the race of ancient raven shapeshifters who ferried the souls of the dead from this world to the next. The Reapers had always worked quietly in the background, their Order and work unknown to most people. But here in Petrified City, not even they were safe from the wraith. They were the only people who had weapons that could slow the wraith down, and they could do what this Reaper had just done and reap the wraith back to the underworld … although the ghouls never stayed dead long. The Reapers were our last line of defense, the only thing standing in the way of the wraiths completely taking over Petrified City. They were also judge, jury, and executioner in the city, and they didn’t much tolerate petty thieves like me flouting the few laws they bothered to police. With my luck, this Reaper would put me on a one-way ride back on the prison bus.
If it wasn’t my lucky day, well … I was wraith food.
“Love the flames. Very dramatic. I had it all under control, though.” Great. I always got sarcastic when I felt threatened. And this Reaper was definitely a threat, maybe a bigger threat than the wraith he’d just killed.
“You were lucky,” he replied, his deep, throaty voice resonating in the long tunnel. “These wraiths were seconds from turning you into a husk. They must be desperate to be hunting during the daylight like this. You okay?”
“I can manage.” I got to my feet, my body screaming in pain. I dusted off my prison overalls, realizing too late that I’d just drawn attention to them. Not only was I sarcastic, but sometimes I was a real idiot.
[Note from The Birthday Girl: Ordinarily, this sentence, “He was absolutely gorgeous, and if I weren’t at that moment still recovering from a near-death experience, I might have considered throwing myself into his arms and showing him just how grateful I was for his timely intervention,” would make me sneer so hard it would take a flatiron to get my lip back to its natural shape. But the concept and writing — not to mention the fact that he sounds absolutely gorgeous — makes me want to tell myself to take a chill pill because I’M READIN’ OVAH HEAH!]
I’ve been busy proofing The Southern Indiana Writers Group’s twentieth anthology, XX: SIW GOES PLATINUM. My contribution to the book — other than all the oopsies I’ll probably miss, despite my best efforts — is a Mamie and Florence story, “Still Life With Peanut Butter.”
Mamie lives on Spadena Street, my fictional two-block neighborhood of Storybook Style houses, and Florence is her twenty-something boarder. They each, as well as Florence’s older brother, Bennie, are master manipulators. It’s always fun to write about their trying to outmaneuver each other without dropping their masks.
ANYWAY, here’s the opening of “Still Life With Peanut Butter,” soon to be available in print and in digital form.
STILL LIFE WITH PEANUT BUTTER
— excerpt by Marian Allen
They say it’s an ill wind that blows no good, and Max Carton’s murder proved it.
Mamie didn’t even think about the death until her young boarder, business partner and future sister-in-law, Florence Adagio, called it to her attention.
“Listen!” Florence bounced around to kneel on the couch, Kindle clutched in both hands, shouting over the sofa’s low back and across two rooms. “This is just up your – Oh, crap!” She pivoted and slouched into silence.
Mamie, although she had heard every word and nuance, strolled out of the kitchen and said, “Did you say something, dear?”
“No.” Florence’s tone was sullen, but held an edge of possible hope. “Something exciting, but never mind. We can’t do it. It’s right around the wedding.”
The loathing that infused the word wedding twisted Mamie’s heart. If Florence turned against the wedding, Bennie might have second thoughts, and Bennie was probably Mamie’s last hope of not dying a spinster.
“If you say so, dear,” Mamie said, knowing that pressing for details would only make Florence more tightlipped.
“Well….” Florence turned around again, holding her Kindle so Mamie could read it, if she came closer. “Here.”
“You tell me about it, sweetheart. I leave the electronics to you.”
Florence flipped the device around and said, “Okay, you remember when that man was found dead in a tub of shelled peanuts at Jumbo All-Natural? That little rinky-dink peanut butter factory that all the schools take field trips to?”
“Vaguely. Didn’t they shut down?”
“Just long enough to disinfect everything. Then they opened again, but nobody wanted to buy their stuff because of the dead body.”
“Did the peanuts kill him?” Mamie itched to take the Kindle and look up the article for herself, but she had carefully cultivated her tech-helpless image. She wasn’t about to let anybody think she was capable of handling anything she could fob off onto them.
“Peanuts aren’t generally homicidal.” In a squeaky voice, Florence said, “I’m a peanut with a gun! Your money or your life!”
Mamie made herself laugh along. “He might have been allergic, you know. Or he might have been smothered under them.”
Florence gave her an admiring look. “He might have.” She skimmed the article. “No, he was ‘bludgeoned’. That means walloped upside the head.”
“I know what ‘bludgeoned’ means, dear.”
“But that’s not the important part. The important part is this: Jumbo is having a recipe contest. The winner gets a year’s supply of peanut butter in your choice of creamy or crunchy, pluh-uh-us … your picture and recipe on the labels of Jumbo All-Natural for a year and a featured spot on Nightly News at Nine preparing the recipe.”
Now Mamie understood Florence’s excitement. The two of them did a weekly webcam cooking show, and Florence was always looking for a way to “take it to the next level”.
Jumbo was only a local company, but the connection to a murder would surely gather some national attention. Even if it didn’t, a featured spot on the local news would be something they could put in their video portfolio.
“And the contest would interfere with the wedding?”
“It starts today and runs to the week before. And the television thing is The Day. So there’s a golden opportunity shot in the butt.”
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Something threatens to interfere with an event your main character wants very much NOT to be interfered with.