Brandon donned his latest acquisition—a genuine silk suit. The industrious little silkworms bordered on extinct, and he finally ranked among the international elite who could afford their cocoons. His was new money, thanks to polished attorneys and creative accountants, both armed with tarnished ethics.
He’d given himself two hours to make the one-hour trip from his penthouse to the corporate highrise across the gorge—one of a host of towers. And not the tallest. But he was only thirty-five, and the world was his chessboard, the match a move away from mate. In a few hours, a significant portion of the conglomerate’s assets would fall under his control.
He slipped into the leather recliner of his midnight-blue slider and tossed his briefcase on the seat beside him. “Headquarters. Skip the traffic and take the flyover.”
The slider’s cyber-system hummed to life. “Flyover not recommended.”
“No traffic detected.”
Brandon mugged a face. “Then take the flyover.”
“Flyover not recommended.”
“Flyover not recommended.”
“Override.” Brandon detached the console and typed his passcode, pleased to finally use the feature. He liked the idea of control, driving the slider instead of the slider driving him. The upgrade had cost him a small fortune. It would pay for itself that morning.
As the vehicle glided forward, Brandon closed his eyes and relaxed his shoulders. The slider veered from the congested rails onto the flyover, cruising into the pre-dawn darkness.
At the peak over the gorge, the slider decelerated and stopped. Brandon glanced out the window at the black depths below. Sunrise would soon carve sharp shadows across the cliffs and turn the river into molten gold. “Proceed.”
“Overide.” He typed in the code.
“God damn it. Override.” He stabbed the console and received the same reply. After a quick check of his watch, he peered into the darkness ahead. “Is there a traffic problem?”
“No traffic detected.”
“What the hell? How long to back up and take the other route?”
“Estimated time three hours.”
Brandon barked a curse. He leaned forward and rubbed his hands together, changing tactics. “Override slider functions.”
“Override braking system.”
“Okay, how about override acceleration?”
Brandon’s fist slammed onto the console, and the glass screen cracked. He tossed the damaged hardware onto the passenger seat. There was no point. His fate was sealed. He’d lost out on the biggest deal of his life.
“Cyber system impaired, reverting to manual overrides.”
“Ha!” Brandon checked the time. He’d make it if he flew. With the brake released, he pressed forward on the throttle. The slider responded, accelerated. With a laugh, he opened her up, and the bitch roared like a beast with a taste for speed.
The machine screamed down the other side of the flyover, lurched sideways on a damaged span of rail, and leaped into the sky. The sunrise blinded him as the slider plummeted, its throttle clutched in his white-knuckled hands. The golden river smashed the windshield into his face, his life, in the end, beyond his control.
underlings deal and grasp
gold with white-knuckled fists
rapt in night’s deceptive dreams they fly
eyes blinded by a distant sunrise
snared by reckless desire
seconds gained and years lost
It’s been a long time since I shared a flash story. I hope you enjoyed it.
I combined it with a syllabic poem in response to Colleen Chesebro’s weekly #TankaTuesday Wordcraft Challenge. Her challenge was to make up our own syllabic form! Well, that was fun. The one above has syllables 3/3/6/6/9/9/6/6/3/3. I named it a Distillate because it’s a distillation of a larger story. My guess is that every story’s theme can be captured in a poem, no matter how large the book. What do you think?
Thanks to everyone who took the time to write and read responses to the TBR story challenge. I’m delighted to share my offering. I hope you enjoy the story. Happy Reading!
Readers Anonymous: A 12-Step Program
I have a book problem. Check. First step done in my 12-step program.
Sucking in a breath, I push through the library’s wooden doors, ready to deal with my kindle addiction. The fluorescent lights shine on colorful shelves and comfy chairs, and I resist the temptation to browse. Some of the titles pop from the spines as if sprinkled with magic dust. The covers of fantasy books attract my eyes like lodestones. Down by my ankle, my Kindle tugs on my jeans and whispers, “Just read the blurb. Do it, do it, do it.”
I drop my gaze to the chubby little pest and shake my pant-leg loose of its grip. “No. We’re here to deal with your insatiable appetite. This has to stop.” My stubborn kindle digs his claws into my right boot, and I march to the meeting room in the back, dragging him across the worn carpet with every other step.
The room is almost bare of distractions. Someone with foresight covered the bookshelves with mismatched tablecloths. Four folding chairs form a circle, occupied by four women with a variety of e-book readers, every one of the devices glowering in defiance. The women look harried, and they scooch over to make room for one more chair.
They start introducing themselves.
Shelley smiles broadly and goes first. She’s in her twenties, a sales rep, who knew she had a problem when she started reading thrillers while stopped at traffic lights. Getting rear-ended propelled her into the group. She thinks she’ll be ready to move on after a few more meetings, but her e-reader squirms on her lap like a hungry toddler in a candy store, ready to raid the chocolate bars.
The woman to Shelley’s left rolls her eyes. She’s Mildred, a middle-aged reader of horror and a voracious fan of Clive Barker and Stephen King. She keeps her pudgy Kindle on a leash, which she’s tied to her chair. The growling beast has finished off a jar of red herrings, and Mildred ignores the thing as it shreds the corner of the carpet with its serrated teeth. “I keep him in a locked cage at home,” she says as if she’s kicked the habit.
“But, dear, you haven’t removed his internet access,” the next lady points out. “He’s sneaking anthologies.” Harriet is about ninety, sitting primly in a black coat and lace-up boots. The flattened hat on her gray head sports a flurry of raven feathers. She’s a life-long reader of Gothic romances.
When it’s Harriet’s time to fess up, she sighs dramatically. “My switch from hardcovers to paperbacks initiated an inevitable slide down the slippery slope into ebooks, and I’ve become addicted to having books at my fingertips.” Her kindle swoons into her leg and bats its eyelashes seductively. She frowns and locks the things between her heels.
“I like the instant gratification too,” I admit. “As soon as I finish a book, I like starting a new one.”
The next lady in the circle pats my knee and snaps her gum. “We all do, dear. I’m Greta. I’m a sci-fi binger.” She dresses like she’s going to a dance club the minute the meeting adjourns. She crosses her legs, and her spikey heel whacks her battered tablet flat onto its cover. She scoops up the pot-bellied blimp and sits it on her lap. “I put the thing on a diet. You know… buy one, read two.”
The other women nod knowingly, including me.
“Then, I’ll have one of those days. You know the kind.” Greta huffs. “We just fall off the wagon and start buying trilogies, and suddenly I’ve lost months of progress.”
Mildred rolls her eyes. “I told you not to sign up for Kindle Unlimited.”
“But it’s such a good deal,” Shelley pipes in. Her e-reader squirms from her lap and waddles to the door leading to the stacks. He collapses and starts wailing.
“And that’s what you end up with.” Mildred cants her head toward the tantrum.
“Try to ignore him,” Shelley whispers.
His misery is hard to overlook, but it’s my turn. “Well, I’m Diana, and I’ve noticed that my kindle is growing a paunch. I know there are people with nearly a thousand books, and I’m not that bad yet…” All four of them suddenly look everywhere but at my face. “But I have months’ worth of reading that I’ll never get to, and it’s only getting worse.” My greedy little Kindle grumbles and snivels until I stuff it in my bag and close the zipper. “It doesn’t stop. It’s insatiable.”
“They lack restraint,” Harriet says. “Too much passion and desire.”
“Never a dull moment though.” Mildred gives the leash a tug, and her kindle gnashes its teeth. “Save it for when we get home,” she mutters, and it plops down on its haunches and glowers.
Greta unwraps another piece of gum and pops it between her scarlet lips. “I’ll admit, I can’t remember the last time I was bored. I just finished the best book, my favorite this year. I’d definitely recommend it.”
“Oooh,” Shelly hurries to the door and grabs her e-reader. It quits hollering and gurgles at her. “What’s the title?”
“Shelly!” Mildred frowns. “No new books!”
Shelly stops short and pouts as she takes her seat. “But… it’s Greta’s favorite.”
“I read an excellent romance mash-up by an indie author.” Harriet’s face lights up. “It had the perfect blend of thrills and lust.”
“Gah!” Shelley looks stricken. Her e-reader drools on her hands.
I give her a commiserating smile. I want to hear about the books too. Just the sound of a great title makes me want to snuggle up with my roly-poly Kindle and read. I unzip my bag and let the poor starving porker out. It climbs onto my lap, looking morose. The group sits silently for a moment, both ladies and e-readers. The steam’s run out of our meeting.
“I don’t know if this group is the right fit for me,” I say.
Shelley tucks her hair behind her ear. “It is kind of depressing.”
“There’s a degree of hopelessness.” Harriet’s lips pinch as the brightness in her face dims.
Greta gazes down at her tablet. “I never liked book-diets. They’re just fads. They never work.”
Mildred draws in a resigned breath, and her gaze pins me to my chair. “Do you have any ideas as to how we can make our group function better?”
“Actually, I do.” I smile at the ladies. “How about we turn it into a book club?”
I spent half of October in Hawaii, hiking volcanos and lounging on the beach with my nose in a book. I’m rested and ready for a month of frantic writing during NaNoWriMo.
And have I got some great books for you! Happy Reading.
October book reviews include my 4 and 5 star reads of poetry, fantasy, sci-fi, two anthologies, and a short story.
Click on the covers for Amazon global links.
Things Old and Forgotten by Mae Clair
This collection of 15 short stories ranges from humorous and sentimental to haunting and sinister. Clair explores numerous themes of paranormal fiction: life after death, reincarnation, ghosts and monsters, spirit guardians, and there’s even a bunch of genies bamboozled by prim old Miss Lily. Some tales are full of action, some full of twists. In other words, there’s something here for everyone who enjoys wandering into speculative fiction.
Some of my favorites were:
Remembering Sadie – a burial with a twist. Kin-Slayer – a monster fantasy by the sea. Robin of Sherwood – a deftly written and super entertaining mashup blending medieval and futuristic details. Desert White – a tale of guardian spirits and a search for redemption. Mrs. Conway – an exquisitely written encounter. My favorite of the favorites. Miss Lily makes a Wish – full of humor, immensely clever, and nothing like I’ve read before. I’ve got a Plan – a haunted house tale for every entrepreneur. Father’s Day – a paranormal story close to the author’s heart.
Now I’ve shared more than half of the book as personal favorites. Head over and pick up an entertaining book. Highly recommended to readers of paranormal short fiction.
Fallout by Harmony Kent
This is a long book, but the pace is ripping fast and the story flew by. A thousand years in the future, a virus ravages the human population inhabiting the planet Exxon II. What’s left is a lawless world where survival is precarious, infection threatens, and aspects of technology don’t function as they used to. There’s also a cure contained in a lost vial. This becomes the driver of the story as various parties are out to find it and use it to increase their political power and control.
The plot is complex and the world-building fascinating with technology that seems realistic on one hand while it stretches boundaries on the other. The virus, for example, can induce various superpowers in the infected, and serums are capable of imparting knowledge. There are political factions and lots of maneuvering, crosses and double-crosses and, dare I say, triple-crosses. Things move so fast, it’s important to pay attention.
Many of the characters are self-serving and devious to the point of sociopathic, so readers are wise not to take them at their word. Sexual violence and sexual manipulation are prevalent among these characters. Though a few repent and try to turn their lives around, I never found them likeable based on their past choices. The exceptions are Priya and Kaleb. Though the main character Priya begins the story as naïve and helpless, her arc rapidly progresses, transforming her into a woman of power who never surrenders her innate goodness. Kaleb is a tragic figure, and he’s the one that pulled on my heart strings.
Readers who enjoy a deep dive into post-apocalyptic science fiction with a complex plot and a flawed cast will find Fallout a fast-paced and polished read. Enjoy.
The Girl in the Tower (Winternight book 2) by Katherine Arden
The first book in the Winternight trilogy captivated me, and I was eager to read the second. In this retelling of a Russian folk tale(s), Vasya has ridden away from her village on the back of Solovney, her magical horse. She dresses as a boy, determined to see the world and escape a culture where women lack choices. On her way south, she saves three children from bandits and flees with them to Moscow where she continues her charade… a day too long.
Old spirits of the land and hearth fill the story, magical creatures and beings that fade before the new religion that denies their reality. I loved how alive the invisible world is to Vasya, and the ill-fated love story with the Frost King feels almost sacred.
The setting and worldbuilding are mesmerizing, as are the characters. Main and secondary characters are emotional and often conflicted. Sacrifice, guilt, obligation, love, and the freedom to make one’s own choices are central themes. A steady undercurrent of tension keeps the pace moving and doesn’t let up until the explosive end. I’m looking forward to book 3. Highly recommended.
Fable (Fable book 1) by Adrienne Young
I’d read several reviews praising this book and finally got around to reading it after letting it languish in my kindle for months. Honestly, by the time I finished chapter 3, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down. As soon as I read the last page, I moved on to the second book in the duology.
The worldbuilding is rich but not overly laden with detail – there’s just enough to bring the setting to life. The story takes place on sailing ships. “Dredgers” harvest gems from the coral beds, and in this world, gems are the foundation of wealth and trade. While some get rich, dredgers like Fable, barely scrape by. It’s a brutal world for those without power, and no one gets a break.
Fable’s a survivor with a lot of emotional baggage, special talent, and fearless determination. But she’s all alone – abandoned by her father when her mother died. Then she finds a ship where she might have a chance to belong. And just when that dream seems to be coming true…
This book is a fast-paced adventure with memorable characters and a touch of romance. It’s a great set up for all the intrigue that unfolds in book 2 (which I already finished). Highly recommended to fantasy readers.
Namesake (Fable book 2) by Adrienne Young
Namesake starts where book one left off. Fable’s dream of belonging to a crew falls prey to powerful people and their plots to control the world of shipping and gems. She has a solution, but it also puts her new companions in jeopardy. A chance at love makes her vulnerable to manipulation, and when things go wrong, she’ll give up everything to save her crew.
The pace picks up as the stakes increase, and the plot becomes more complex and twisty-turny than in the first book. A lot of surprising secrets, as well as hidden agendas, come to light as the story progresses. Fable has to take plenty of risks and not all of them work out in her favor or to the benefit of her crew. Nothing’s easy.
The action is non-stop, but character-driven readers will enjoy the distinct, emotionally rich personalities, the warmth and genuineness of Fable’s allies, and the impersonal avarice of those willing to use her to achieve their goals. A highly satisfying conclusion comes after a highly satisfying read. Definitely recommended.
The Shadows We Breathe: An anthology of short fiction, edited by Sarah Brentyn
Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to this collection, but wanted to recognize the talent of the other authors whose work is included within these pages.
Shadows we Breathe opens with a stunning flash piece by Ali Isaac. Her story feels scraped and raw and personal, a deep dive into the emotional wreckage and redemption of love. I think I held my breath through the entire read, hanging on every word, completely immersed in the dark and light of the relationship she describes. It’s so beautiful it hurts.
Then the book moves on to an exquisite flash story by Sarah Brentyn… then Georgia Bell and onward to Reena Dobson, Allie Potts, Maria Carvalho, and Mary Smith. I’m truly humbled (and intimidated) to be included among this amazing line-up of talent.
The theme of the flash stories (500 words), micro stories (50 words), and micro-bursts (10 words) is relationships. Sarah Brentyn’s introduction describes them as tales “beautifully painted and edged with darkness.” That darkness is deeply human, often hidden, and in this book, thoroughly compelling. Highly recommended to readers of flash fiction who want to feel stories in their hearts and bones.,
The Moons of Autumn: A Word Craft Journal of Syllabic Verse, First Edition
(Full disclosure: I have 3 poems in this one too.)
The first Word Craft Journal of Syllabic Verse invited poets to submit poems around the theme of the Harvest Moon. If you love poems about the moon, you’ll find a plethora of verse among the pages to entrance, haunt, and raise a sigh or smile.
The range of forms is impressive – 18 in total – and the poems are organized by type. Each section begins with a description of the form: number of lines and syllable count, as well as the original focus of the poetic form if there is one (nature or love or human foibles, for example). In this way, the journal is instructive while offering a collection of beautiful poetry.
With approximately 75 poems in the collection, I didn’t make a list of favorites, but the editors chose three “Best of Issue” poems. Below is a Haibun Idyll a combination of prose and haiku.
Moon’s Magic By D. L. Finn
A lone black cat sits on the edge of the world, under the harvest moon. Her green eyes reflect the celestial beams, and her fur absorbs the stars. She rubs against the night’s promise, and its magic fills her soul.
our perceived shackles released in nature’s healing under the moonbeams
Breathless: A Short Story by Yvette M. Calleiro
Silena is a maid with a crush on her employer, the wealthy playboy William. When he ridicules her, she uses magic to make herself young and beautiful. William falls for her, but at the last moment, Silena changes her mind. Instead of having sex with him, she curses him. It’s a curse with an unexpected twist that neither of them will escape. This short story is a quick 1/2 hour read and a great way to fill some free time. Recommended to adult readers who enjoy a touch of magic and a whole lot of karma.
A while ago, I wrote this 99-word story for the Sue Vincent Classic at Carrot Ranch, and I never got around to sharing it here. Sue has since passed away, leaving a hole in our writing community, and I miss her. I hope you enjoy the story.
My Mother’s Song
Even on a day of grief, the living abide no idleness. Bodies need nourishment, goats tending. The hearth yearns for fire before the wind sweeps us all beneath the dirt. I loathe our hill, the leaden clouds and cold toes, black spots on the moldering potatoes.
For years, I’d griped about my tasks while my mother had sung with the rhythm of her washboard. Of a beauty I couldn’t behold.
Now, without her, I face the quilted valley, the snow-laced mountains, branches gilded by the sun. Only now do I see, and my heart bursts with my mother’s song.
Back on February 1st, Carrot Ranch kicked off the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic as a way to support Sue in her in journey through cancer and show her how much she is loved by this creative community.
Winners were announced on March 22nd. And what a fabulous outpouring of talent. To read all the 99-word stories and 99-syllable poems based on Sue’s photo prompt, clickHERE.
I’m delighted to share one of my entries.
When he’d asked for her hand, he’d promised a white-washed farm in the patchwork valley. Verdant fields and tart cherry trees perfect for pies. He’d offered gardens and pearls and the earnest comfort of old-fashioned love. And each time, she’d denied him.
Then they’d climbed her autumn hill, where the valley flowed like an emerald river, and beneath the woolen clouds, the sun’s long brush painted the mountains with light. He grasped her hand and dropped to a knee. “If I build you a cabin on this golden hill, will you marry me?”
Her sable brush roamed the canvas. Delicate strokes of umber and ochre for the barren branches. Burnt sienna for the dying autumn leaves.
She paused. Amused.
Had she painted autumn’s abandoned twigs? Or young buds, heralds of the coming green? She savored her newfound uncertainty. Fall or Spring? Snow a foretelling of what was to come or a last gust of cold breath before the skies turned blue?
Her lover leaned over her shoulder, adding bergamot to scents of oil and turpentine. “Why the gray skies?”
She angled a smile. “Because the liminal world is rarely black and white.”
I wrote (3) 99-word stories for the Sue Vincent Rodeo over at Carrot Ranch. Then, I read the fine print and discovered I could only submit (2). Uh oh. Decisions, decisions. Well, this is the one that I didn’t submit.
Remember that submissions can’t be previously published, even on your blog. If you want to try your hand at a 99-word story in honor of Sue, you can saddle up and read the rodeo rules at Carrot Ranch.
I’m so pleased to share this, and you bet I’m saddling up!
For those of you who don’t know Sue Vincent, she’s one of those special bloggers in our community who inspires people all over the world with her beautiful posts and #writephoto prompts. Sue has tirelessly supported other bloggers and it shows. She now has 19,000 followers and counting.
Recently, Sue encountered a new and difficult challenge: lung cancer. To make matters worse, the Covid-19 pandemic not only poses a serious threat to someone with a severe respiratory illness but has resulted in the loss of human connection when it’s needed most.
Now it’s time for Sue to receive something back from the community she’s supported for a decade. Let’s come together with hearts full of joy.
Join us for the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic at the Carrot Ranch!
One way to participate in the Classic is to visit the prompt image, “Hidden”, at the Carrot Ranch. The image and entry form is live today – Monday, February 1st, 2021.
Enter a flash or a poem by Friday, February 19th, 2021, and you could win either $100 or a copy of one of Sue’s books. The form will allow you to give a small donation for Sue and her family. There’s also a link on the contest page. The winning entries will be announced at the Carrot Ranch on March 22nd, 2021.
Please note that Carrot Ranch will not accept entries previously published (even if published on your own blog).So use the form and keep your entry a secret until after the rodeo.
If you’re not ready to rodeo, there’s also a “Parade.” Reblog one of Sue’s posts from any of her sites (Daily Echo or France and Vincent) with a comment about why you found it special. You can follow her blogs. Read one of her books, then leave reviews where you can.
Help us celebrate a blogging hero and very deserving person. Plus, it’s a ton of fun.
Saddle up, everyone! It’s time for a Carrot Ranch Rodeo like none before. The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic begins today, and it’ll be a TUFF prompt to fit within 99 words.
The chirping alarm clock wakes us at an ungodly hour, and I quickly prepare a thermos of hot chocolate. Muffins packed. Sweaters donned. Flashlights? Check. Blankets? Check. Keys? I pat my pocket, running through my mental checklist. We load up and drive the winding lane to the knoll.
It’s my 60th birthday, and I want to watch the sunrise. My ten-year-old granddaughter indulges my desire.
We spread a blanket on the smooth ledge, cupfuls of cocoa in hand, another blanket warming our laps. The stars behind us glimmer like luminescence in the sky’s black sea. To the east, they fade as dawn breaks. Clouds stream in heaven’s wind, a sheer sail unfurling over the slumbering land.
A light catches the corner of my eye. An iphone! “Gah! Turn that thing off.”
“I have to check one thing.”
My instruction is ignored. I emit a series of annoyed and exasperated groans, mutterings, and sighs.
“One minute,” she giggles, unswayed by my performance. “I’m looking something up.”
She leans into my shoulder and shares. “Did you know that light is actually all colors, and each color has a different wavelength. Blue is the shortest and red the longest.
“Different length lightwaves travel through space, and when they reach the atmosphere, they bounce off particles in the air. Like dust, water, and ice crystals, and tiny gas molecules. They scatter in lots of different directions.”
My subtle hints are failing to have an impact. She scrolls down. “When sunlight travels a short path through the atmosphere, tiny gas molecules scatter blue sunlight in all directions, making the sky blue. At sunrise and sunset, when light travels a long path, it’s mostly red and yellow.”
I sling an arm around her and sigh. “And I thought it was magic.”
She slides her phone into her pocket, and we “ooh” and “aah” as the sun bathes tiny gas molecules with gloriously long light waves.
“You know what else it said?” Apparently, my little scientist isn’t finished.
“That the clouds are a canvas on which nature paints her colors.”
“I like that,” I say.
“I thought you would. You see? It’s magic after all.”
I loved my 5 months of hosting a Speculative Fiction Prompt. I loved reading and sharing the amazing poems and stories and artwork.
But life got in the way, and though parental caregiving may be smoothing out in the near future, there’s no guarantee that everything won’t fall apart again. In fact, it will. The only question is when.
Carol Forester of Writing and Works contacted me about taking over the monthly prompt, and though I was sad to let it go, I took her up on the offer immediately. I want it to continue. I want to write for it and read everyone’s stories. Thank you, Carol.
September’s prompt is up! I can’t wait to see the responses.