Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Flash fic: Butter


Butter


The doors slid shut behind him, and the sounds of the casino—the jangling slot machines, the piped-in music of nineties superdivas—disappeared, muted by mahogany paneling and plush burgundy carpet.

The room was long, no chairs, with a desk at the end, tall and narrow. A woman stood behind it, black hair hanging down her back and catching the glow of the wall sconces.

She turned as he approached, and smiled. Jack paused, steps from the desk. She was two women. Or rather, one woman with two heads. No, that wasn't right either.

Each woman wore a blouse, ivory, sheer, with a lace collar and three tiny buttons, the blouses stitched together at the chest. The women faced each other, the distance of an eyelash between them. He could not see below the desk. He felt uncomfortable wanting to.

"Mr. Gray?" said one.

Jack nodded. So as not to stare, he watched their hands; each used a hand to rifle through a stack of unmarked envelopes, fingers dancing along white creases, plucking one from the rest. The one who had spoken used her left hand to open the envelope, and the other used her right hand to remove a key.

"Here you are," said the one on the right. "Good luck, Mr. Gray."

He took the key with unease.

She gestured to a door on the left; her twin echoed the gesture.

The door opened onto an elevator. Jack stepped inside, and an attendant dressed in livery, as if he were a chauffeur, smiled and nodded.

"Mr. Gray," said the man, tanned and wrinkled beneath a black cap.

The door shut on his last glimpse of the women.

"Beautiful," said Jack, not knowing what else to say.

"Beautiful, yes. But only one heart." The man shook his head. "Two people cannot have one heart."

The door opened.

"We're here?" said Jack. "I didn't feel it move."

The man smiled. "You have your key?"

Jack nodded.

"Good luck, Mr. Gray."

He stepped into a narrow hallway, with another attendant, this one dressed less elegantly: the bulge of guns beneath his cheap suit was excessive, comic.

"That's a lot of firepower, considering you can only fire one at a time," said Jack.

The man shook his head. "Two." He withdrew two of the pieces, both hands turning the guns simultaneously.

"Impressive," said Jack, and the man smiled, replacing his guns. Jack sniffed. "Is that... chocolate I smell?"

"Good luck, Mr. Gray," the man said, and opened the door.

*

Jack had possessed a terrible sweet tooth once.

Once. Now he'd much rather have a nice, medium-rare chateaubriand, steaming on the plate, meant for two but all to himself.

The sight of her, however, dressed in cream-colored silk behind a sleek, ebony desk, caused in him a pang, a longing for something warm, and soft, and sweet on his tongue.

A chef in a white coat stood beside a small cart, a glass bowl of chocolate before him. He unwrapped a stick of butter. She motioned to the chef, and before he dropped the butter into the chocolate, he presented it to her. She drew a finger across the top and tasted it.

The door shut behind him.

"Mr. Gray," said the woman. "Won't you sit?"

"You can call me Jack, Charlotte," he said, and took the chair in front of the desk. "I promise, I won't think you're anything but business."

"Why would you?" she said. Her gaze was cool; her hair, not nearly as black as the women's in the lobby but still dark, dark like the chocolate in the bowl, was tucked in a neat twist at the nape of her neck. There was a tattoo there, he knew, an ostrich feather.

As she twisted her head to pull a file from a drawer, he saw it then, except it wasn't a feather any longer, but two swords, one up, one down.

She drew a single sheet of paper from the file. Without looking at it, she said, "My. This is quite a bit of money you owe us."

He shrugged. "I'll pay it back soon. Tables have been bad, that's all."

"Are you saying that the casino has rigged tables? Or that they are somehow sub-standard?"

"No, of course not. It's just... things haven't exactly gone my way lately. But they will soon." They always do, he thought. The coin always flips. "Your father let me run a house tab."

"We've extended your tab eight times this month already. And my father no longer owns this casino."

Beside them, the chef lifted the spatula, inspecting the silky fall of chocolate. Satisfied, he removed the bowl from the flame.

"A little more time, Charlotte. That's all I'm asking. Things will change."

"When your luck changes?" She stared at the bowl. "Chocolate, sugar, butter. It's not just the ingredients, you know. It's timing and skill."

He swallowed, turning the key in his palm.

The chef cracked two eggs, and added a sprinkle of salt. He stirred and poured the batter into a silver pan. The bowl scraped clean, he set it down and took up the pan, presenting it to Jack.

"Your key," she said.

"We used to have crepes every morning, and scones. Lemon, blueberry... And your cakes... Caramel. Coconut..."

He implored her with his eyes, willing her to remember when they'd been young, willing to her to recall nights he'd come to her, flush with his winnings, and her apartment smelling like cinnamon, her skin tasting like vanilla.

The elevator attendant's words came to him: Two people cannot have one heart.

He dropped the key atop the batter. It sank, vanishing from view.

The chef took the pan with Jack's cake to a door that slid open, revealing a room with an oven at the center, and all around, on every wall, shelves, and those shelves laden with cakes.


"Seven days, Jack. The casino gets what's owed." She closed her eyes. "I can taste it already."




*

Well, that was strange.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fic: Midnight Swim


My short story, Midnight Swim, won the monthly challenge over at WerewolvesAtHeart. June's theme was "Escape the Heat!"

"Midnight Swim": In the basement of a safe house, Finn struggles to keep cool as summer temperatures rise outside. When the full moon comes and he decides to slip out for a late night stroll to a nearby beach for a swim, he finds that he might not have made the best decision, for his own personal hunter has found him, and she never goes anywhere without her weapon...

Werewolves, mild horror (at best), and naked ocean swimming ;)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Disney Mania


I thought I was a serious Disney fan. Turns out, I'm just a pixie duster with mildly naughty aspirations.

That's okay, though, especially since I landed in the world of warped Disney fic--that is, stories set around WDW, often involving rather adult themes, such as drug use, trespassing, physical violence, and assorted mayhem. My portal to the chaos was Leonard Kinsey's The Dark Side of Disney, a non-fiction, sort of Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole look at the World:





Now, I've been to WDW six or seven times in the last twenty years, and I must admit that while I love it, I do often wonder about what I'm not seeing, or not knowing, if you will. What other dimensions am I missing?

Apparently, a lot. Utilidors, ticket scams, the truth behind the cast members' (what Disney calls its employees) cheery, semi-permanent smiling faces. Aaaand more. Dark Side is essentially a tourist guide to WDW, though many of "tips" aren't for the vast majority of travelers, but for those seeking a... different perspective on the happiest place on earth.

Kinsey wrote Dark Side after having spent a good part of his misspent youth at WDW; he grew up nearby, and when other teens are sneaking into movie theaters, he was attempting to sneak into DisneyWorld. Kinsey can tell you the best rides to go on while stoned, where to attempt a furtive grope--and more--and how to save money on food. Yeah, how did I not know you could get groceries delivered to your frickin' room?

I loved it, not just the tips and advice, but the endlessly entertaining misadventures of Kinsey and his friends. He's got great "voice," as they say, but be forewarned: the man drops f-bombs like my neighbor's oak drops helicopters all over my lawn. Yo.

Wow, I did say I was a pixie duster with aspirations, right? Or maybe just one who likes to live vicariously through far more daring, and interesting, people, people like Leonard Kinsey.

Uh, it should go without saying that the entire book The Dark Side of Disney is NSFW. Language, subject matter, pics, you name it. And a couple of those included links, whew! I have been educated, yes, sir, I have.

*

After Dark Side, Kinsey wrote an entirely fictional book called Our Kingdom of Dust. Blaine McKinnon is disillusioned, depressed, and filthy rich. He decides to return to Walt Disney World, a place where his happiest childhood memories were made.

And here, I relate. Personal story: my entire childhood, I wanted to go to Walt Disney World, but my parents couldn't afford it. When I got my first job at age 14, washing dishes in a restaurant, I knew that I wanted to save up for a trip. At 18, newly graduated from high school, I was able to do just that.

And it was everything I expected and more. I fell in love, hard, and I will never forget that trip. It was 1990, the era of Horizons at WDW, and it spoke to me and filled my heart to bursting.

I've been back a number of times since, but I will say this: I will never recapture that initial overwhelming joy. Yes, it is my favorite place to vacation, and yes, I adore it as much as ever, but as they say...

You can never go home again.

Someone tell that to Blaine McKinnon.

Blaine sets up camp at one of the Epcot resorts in a swanky suite, and immediately makes a few acquaintances of dubious character. In fact, the book is filled with colorful characters, all of whom are making vastly poorer choices than Blaine. Not the least of those choices is their drug use, a designer drug called "Pixie Dust," which recreates the feeling of being in the parks, that incredible joy, when one cannot be there. He becomes intricately involved with this group, and very quickly, things reel out of hand.

OKOD is a fast read, and capitalizes on Kinsey's unique voice. Exciting, it never fails to hold the reader's attention. And of course, it's loaded with atmosphere--WDW is as much a character as any of the humans in this book.

I'm a bit on the fence with this one due to some editing issues, which honestly, seem like first-time author issues. It's stuff I can grant a pass on. Kinsey has talent and voice, and you can tell he's really learning to hone his craft.

Where he's strongest, though, is in the unwritten lessons he's imparting, about learning to accept your past, and more than that, to accept each day as it is. Not all of them are going to be pixie dust. Some are going to be Tinkerbell's asshole after a Taco Bell run. And whether it's drugs or, in my case, yearning to be in DisneyWorld because that's "where I'm happiest," you need to realize that it's all in you. Nothing can fill that void.

My own reflections sometimes made this an uncomfortable read. So, hey, the guy swears a lot. And the writing is sometimes a tad rough. It's rare that a book really makes you think and feel. This one did.





Kinsey does have a new book out, Habst and the Disney Saboteurs. You can listen to the Creepy Kingdom podcast with guest, Leonard Kinsey, and hear him read some of it. I wanted to keep listening! Yes, I've got the book, so I'll be reading that soon. And Kinsey's a great guest; sometimes, podcasts make me cringe, and I have to turn them off, but this one was intelligent and interesting and, well, made me want to buy the guy a tequila some night and keep him talking.

By the way, there's a whole universe of "Dark Siders," as I call them. You start with Dark Side, and you're going down the rabbit hole too. See you there.







Friday, June 13, 2014

New fic: The Ranch--Werewolves!


Vampires are incredibly romantic to some. I get it, but I often find the werewolf more fascinating. I've got a werewolf short story in an anthology arriving this fall, and in the meantime, I've got "The Ranch," a short story posted now:

The Ranch

Five pups born to the werewolves in the last six weeks. Of course they should be returned to their mothers. They would have a better chance for survival. But then they would never learn to be human, and it is a great risk to have five more of the adult creatures, as ferocious as they are, in the compound. Efforts at rehabilitating adults, even juveniles, have been largely unsuccessful, to judge by Robertson's torn-out windpipe...

Enjoy!


Newborn werewolf pup by Were-pups on DeviantArt. Her whole gallery of handmade dolls is astounding! 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Here be Dragons! New fic, new issue of 101 Fiction!


Summer's come, and so have the dragons.

The Summer issue of 101 Fiction is out now. Two of mine are waiting for you to give them a nibble:

Jump--"They'll be jumping the broom this July, all those couples who survived the spring..."

and

Flight--Dragons, unicorns, and young men with blackened skulls, all in a hundred words.


The themes for this issue were dragons and/or summer.  Sixteen tiny stories, with sixteen takes on the themes. Bravo. I think this is the best issue yet of 101 Fiction.




The Trio escaping Gringott's on the dragon

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Prompt-based Flash Fiction Contest: Scribble!


I love prompt-based fiction exercises. Although I've sort of dropped many of the ones I used to do (such as Three Word Wednesday and the Friday Prediction) in the pursuit of hardcore writing a book*, that doesn't mean I don't still love them. What they can produce from a few simple words is amazing. And I typically go to One Word two or three times a week to get the juices flowing.

Recently, I spotted a "wacky prompt" flash fiction contest, hosted by Diantha Jones. Checked out the prompts, let them ferment for a few days, and started working on something, which I just submitted. Why don't you give a swing, too? $50 Amazon gift card for the winner, and if you don't win, it's still fun. I loved working on mine this week. Broke me out of a little rut.

Scribble

Let me know if you do enter! Er, the deadline's fairly close. So get on it.





*By "hardcore writing a book," I mean a couple thousand words a week and equal that in cups of tea and minutes spent staring out the back window at the lavender coming in. And writing notes for said book and petting the kitty who sits on the keyboard. And whining about it over beer at the Trolley Stop to my love, who suffers living with a writer with grace.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: Into That Forest by Louis Nowra

Hannah and Becky are 6 and 7, respectively, when they go on a picnic with Hannah's parents in a rural area of Tasmania. A sudden storm causes the river to overflow, and the boat they rowed in on to capsize. Lost, half-drowned, and panicked, the girls are found on a riverbank by two Tasmanian tigers, who keep the girls safe and, ultimately, adopt them as if they were their own pups.

"Into That Forest" by Louis Nowra is set in 1920/30s Tasmania, at a time when bounties on tiger hides were slowly causing the destruction of that species. Narrated by an elderly Hannah, the book has a strong sense of place and character, but it is the assimilation of Hannah and Becky into tiger culture (and their departure from human social "norms") that is incredibly fascinating. Hannah and Becky are two very different little girls; while Becky yearns for home and her father and doesn't want to lose her language or clothing, even memorizing the colors of the rainbow and counting as high as she can, Hannah adapts quickly, mimicking the tigers' vocalizations and body postures and pushing away thoughts of her parents' probable deaths.

Ultimately, in order to survive, both girls learn to hunt, eat and live with the tigers, becoming very nearly tigers themselves in the four years they spend in the wilderness.

Of course, they are eventually discovered, and their forced reintegration into human culture has inevitably tragic consequences.

Filled with thrilling moments and brilliant descriptions, "Into That Forest" could be just another tale of orphaned children growing up with animals--see the Jungle Book or the eastern European "wild" children raised by packs of dogs or any number of such tales--but it is so much more. There is a meditational quality, as there must be, not just on what it means to be human or animal, but also on our impact on species. The last Tasmanian tiger died in captivity in 1936.




Despite being a fairly fast read, do not underestimate the book's emotional punch. Keep tissue handy.

As a side note, some readers find Hannah's dialect to be off-putting. I thought it was easy to understand, and enriched to the narrative.