Monday, August 25, 2014


56,000 words
YA Historical Fiction
Chapter One:  A Good Old Irish Barn Dance

The barn dance celebration following the autumn harvest always led to gluttony because everyone in Kilcar felt wealthy; at least for a few weeks. Whiskey and beer warmed everyone’s stomachs as the last evening of summer was wrung like a dishtowel; extracting each drop of summer like it was liquid gold.

The sweet sounds of the fiddle kept everyone smiling, and the drums kept everyone moving. The school girls - my age - blushed and whispered as the young men they admired strutted like roosters in a separate corner of the barn. Each group kept its distance but still attempted to gawk at the other unnoticed.

I stood in the shadowy corner of the barn behind my parents, watching them eye the partygoers for easy pick pocketing targets. The more the farmers and their wives enjoyed the party, the less they paid attention to the few coins they had dangling in their pockets. The less they worried about Sorley and Myrna Flanagan, the dirt-poor degenerates of Garbh Lane. In the months we had lived in Kilcar, no one could say for sure that my parents were thieves. But every village we passed through the feeling was the same; we were unwelcome.

One young man, who I noticed immediately because of his height and striking blue eyes, stood towards the middle of the barn amongst other adults as if he was one of them. He stood like a man even though he wasn’t quite grown up yet. You could tell that even the wives of the other farmers found him attractive. They blushed and whispered and giggled and embarrassed themselves. They fawned on him and remarked on how big he had gotten, and how handsome. He smiled graciously and thanked them modestly, but he never went red in the face or looked away. He knew what they were saying was true.

His name was Garret McMillan and he was known as young royalty in Kilcar. He was the oldest son of Farmer McMillan and his wife, Eve. It was good that he acted modestly, I knew from years of experience as a hustler. Always exude innocence as if you could not imagine causing harm on another living thing. You can get away with murder if no one knows what’s coming.

As the elders of our village talked amongst themselves and the attention waned away from Garrett, his sky blue eyes subtly scanned the room. He regarded the partygoers with indifference; standing confidently alone among so many admirers.

When his eyes reached the corner of the barn where my parents stood in front of me, he looked at them the same way he looked at all the other villagers. This caused mild fascination on my part because most people pretended they couldn’t see us. We were some of the poorest people in Kilcar.  It made people uncomfortable to look at us.   

Granted, everyone in Ireland - let alone Kilcar (a small village in the county of Donegal) was poor to a degree. The farmers with the most land were the wealthiest. The wealth couldn’t be counted with actual money. Wealth was determined by ownership, which in turn determined power.

Even the McMillans, the owners of most of the land in Kilcar, spent most of their days without shoes. My parents, however, were destitute - and in turn, so was I. We were always dirty and we only had one set of clothes. They were torn and ragged and full of stains.  We owned little more than the animals did and kept our few belongings close to us at all times.

Garrett McMillan glossed his eyes over every villager as if he was looking over one of the many fields in his farm. The people of Kilcar meant not much more than numbers to him. In a decade or so Garrett would inherit the McMillan farm and all the business that came with it.

I watched Garrett, undetected in the dark corner, as he watched the others. He didn’t seem surprised by the presence of my parents - I suppose every village needs some peasants to make everyone else feel rich. Suddenly I realized that his gaze lingered on my parents - not in disgust but in interest.

He was no longer looking at my parents. He saw me! I was hoping to spend the night undetected. No one else seemed to notice me in the dark corner. I was embarrassed by so many things; I preferred not to be seen. By my filth, my poverty, my disheveled, uncombed hair. My parents. Especially my parents.

Somehow he saw me and wouldn’t look away. His eyes locked onto my face and held me captive. His face was still without expression but I could feel that he was studying me. His stare was so intense it felt as if he was burning holes into my soul. I felt like he knew everything about me with just this look.

I looked down. I looked away. I looked down again. I looked up. He was still staring at me. Why?
I had never felt so ugly in my life. I was much more comfortable going unnoticed.

After a few moments I couldn’t take the awkward feeling any longer and I shuffled behind my father. Protected by his shadow, I could peer at Garrett undetected and I was relieved when he finally looked away.

My parents took turns making their rounds throughout the room. They would gather food from the abundant platters and bring it back to the corner of the barn where we would gnaw on it slowly and carefully. It was only an extremely rare occasion that we were able to eat like this. We savored the fresh food because it was only a matter of time before we would have to leave and starve until the next celebration in which the whole village was invited.

Suddenly a burst of loud, chatty commotion came from the opposite corner of the barn, and the villagers shuffled aside to make room for the debutantes of Kilcar to enter the room. “Oohs” and “aahs” were murmured by the farmer and their wives, and the young girls - almost women - entered as a group to be admired like prized cattle at a county fair.

There were four girls that night; this seemed to be an annual tradition at this time of year in most of the villages we had come across. The harvest of the Earth’s bounty also seemed to bring about the harvesting of youth and beauty.

The girls were not much older than I was, but I knew I would never be presented to the village in such a way. I was lacking beauty and wealth and there was no value to a girl like me. I was only good at working and I doubt people even saw me as a girl.

Sophia Meagher was a beacon in the crowd of dismal villagers. Her hair was long, strong and the color of corn silk. Her face was free of dirt and blemishes and was as smooth and as tender as a baby’s. Her light blue eyes, similar to Garrett’s, shone from her pale, slightly freckled and flushed face and caressed her downy blonde eyelashes. No boy or man was immune to a glance from Sophia; they were always visibly affected by her charm.


It's Just One Year
80,000 words
New Adult Contemporary

Chapter One

 “Andie, can I speak with you?”

Oh God. Janet wants to speak with me. When my manager wants to speak with me, it is almost never a good thing. Not because I’m a particularly bad employee. Actually, I’m a rather fabulous employee. Janet just…well, it depends on the day with Janet. And this Tuesday is not one of those rare good days.

I’m currently “manning” the main register at the front of the store. Dressed in the neutral tones required of all staff members with a Global Bazaar apron completing the look, I have been “manning” the main register for the better part of this entire month. It’s not the worst job. There are far worse things than selling imported food and décor to suburban housewives. But this job was not part of the plan.


I still hesitate, and Janet adds, “Ron can watch the front for you while we talk.”

Ron is the bane of my existence, because working with Ron is like working with a four-year-old child, only in the form of an attractive, fills-out-his-shirt perfectly twenty-five-year-old guy. His attractiveness and charm – and my subsequent averageness and social leprosy – is severely unfair.
I walk out from behind the cash register, let Ron take my place, and meet Janet at Register 2, where she waits with a rather ominous spread-sheet printout in her hand.

“Yes Janet, what can I do for you?” I paste on some false enthusiasm. I wear it well.

“Have you been doing anything strange at the registers lately?”

Have I been doing anything strange at the registers lately. Really? 

“Umm…no. Not that I’m aware of?”

Janet eyes me and runs a hand through her short hair. For once I think she’s actually uncomfortable pointing out one of my flaws.

“Well…it’s just that you have an unusually large number of line voids.”

Line voids. Line voids…ahhh. Yes, another over-blown Global Bazaarterm. Essentially, a voided item is anything you accidentally ring up and then have to cancel. Sure, I have those “oh shit” moments every once in a while, but I can’t think why I’d have a big number.

“Unusually high?” Maybe she’s just exaggerating. I’m already getting a little nervous, since a high number of voided items does look pretty sketchy. It’s usually followed up by pocketing cash.

“The highest number in the company, actually. Nationally.”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense!”

And suddenly last week comes to mind:

My thought process last Wednesday afternoon, at approximately 3:30 PM, when literally zero customers had walked in for an hour.

Every single thing in this store is overpriced. Look at these chocolate bars. $3.75 for a freaking chocolate bar? If Lady Godiva herself had made it, I would not pay $3.75 for a chocolate bar.
Ooh. I wonder how much it would cost to buy fifty of these.

I ring up 50 of the ridiculous $3.75 chocolate bars. Shit! $201.56. That’s ridiculous! I wonder how much 500 would be.

I ring up 500 of them. Two-thousand fifteen dollars. On chocolate.

At this point I realize three things:

1.      Nobody would ever buy 500 of these chocolate bars.
2.      That’s pretty basic math I could have done in my head.
3.      Now I’m stuck with a transaction for $2216.56 on my register.

I glance around, make sure nobody’s watching (not difficult since the store is still deserted), and – because I would need a manager to void out the entire transaction – quickly void out the individual items. All five-hundred and fifty of them.

Janet is looking at me now, Tuesday, real time, waiting for a response. My options are to play dumb or actually admit to being dumb by explaining why I have the highest number of line voidsin the entire company.

Janet clears her throat. “When you make mistakes ringing up customers, are you cancelling out of the transaction? Or do you void the individual items? Because you shouldn’t be voiding the individual items. I figured that’s why you have such a high number.”

“You know what Janet, you’re totally right. That is exactly why I have such a high number. I’ll make sure to get a manager next time.”

“Good,” says Janet. She pats my shoulder in an awkward attempt at approval. “Back to the register.”
And then, to Ron, “Come on, you, we’ve got a project to work on in gourmet!”

Fucking Ron. Everybody loves Ron.

I need a new job.

In a world lacking Godzilla, plagues, and the zombie apocalypse, my greatest fear is being an unloved failure. My other, lesser fears stem downward: accidental pregnancy, immeasurable debt, a bizarre visceral phobia of being condemned for a crime I did not commit. Each of these reveals certain things – mostly a flair for the irrational – but they’re all really an enormous fear of feeling like a failure. And, despite my best efforts, four short months ago I lived out that very fear.

Half-way through ringing up ten packs of German sunflower bread and a jar of red cabbage, I muse about how I got here, every other thought punctuated by the soulless ding of my scanner reading a barcode.         

I went to college.


I hated it.


I made no friends.


And I dropped out.


The receipt prints for my transaction and the sweet German lady makes her way out the front door. Again, I’m left in a deserted Global Bazaar, alone with my thoughts.

This time I transport a little further back than last Wednesday – to last October. 

October 15th, 2007:

It was a Monday, the weather obscenely perfect as it tends to be in Santa Barbara, California. I was less than a month deep in my new life at college, and on this particular day, I felt a spectacular brand of disgusting. I’d gone to my daily Russian class in the pajama shorts I’d slept in (mistake one), combed my curly hair straight back (mistake two), and had forgotten to brush my teeth that morning and the night before, leaving my teeth with that mossy texture Holden Caulfield describes on his embarrassingly dorky roommate (mistakes three and four).

I was working up a sweat walking quickly across campus, which was stupid of me. I had nowhere in particular to rush off to. I’d just cut across the square and was passing the Student Union when, for the first time since high school, someone called out my name.


For once, it wasn’t said as a question; this was the sure-fire tone of a person that knew me and was seeking me out, in all my mossy day-old glory.

I turned, and found myself face to face with none other than Adam Hyde.

Adam hadn’t been what I would call one of my high-school-defining crushes; he was more that heartthrob upperclassman that made me swoon, with the added bonus of being my dialogue partner in my Japanese class.

 “Andie! How are you?”

Adam was all smiles and Ryan Gosling grin, gave me a hug, and did his best to get me to fill him in on the past month I’d spent at his school. This was the first time we’d caught each other on campus, and the first time I had seen him since his high school graduation over a year ago. I cringed to think of the impression I was making.


Apocalypse High
67700 words
YA Dystopian

Chapter 1

SECTION 1: Let it be acknowledged that the current state of the environment and political atmosphere presents a clear and present danger to the safety of the nation.

SECTION 2: Let a school, Survival Academy, be created to increase the survival skills of the youth, for the benefit of the nation.

SECTION 3: Let all citizens undergo a written test to determine eligibility to attend Survival Academy at the end of their high school career. This exam will be administered by the DARTS (Defense and Readiness Training to Survive) organization and all admission decisions shall be made by the DARTS board.

-Survival Act, passed in 2030                                                                 

As I clung to the edge of the gaping hole I heard my younger brother’s mocking voice in my head, “You’re going to be a reject!” While I agreed wholeheartedly that the odds of me surviving two years at Survival Academy were slim, it still irritated me when he pointed it out. Now, glancing down at the bottom of the hole, which was more than twenty feet away, I could only hope the fall killed me. If it didn’t then he’d have a field day with the fact I hadn’t even made it through orientation.

I tightened my grip on the dirt that held me up, attempting to pull myself out. Years of swimming had given me fairly good upper body strength, but at the same time a healthy love of chocolate and other junk foods had given me a pleasantly plump figure. Even my swimmer’s arms weren’t enough to pull me back up. The dirt started to crumble in my tight grip and I let up a little.

A tiny pebble hit me right between the eyes, and in that moment I hated Survival Academy and everyone involved with its creation. I remembered the room full of spare food and water in my family’s basement. Without a doubt, my own parents had been a part of the paranoid masses that helped bring the Survival bill into existence.

I heard footsteps as another new arrival raced by the hole where I dangled. I didn’t bother calling out for help. Survival Academy students weren’t known for their willingness to assist others. Done blaming everyone else, I turned the blame squarely back on myself. A perfect score on the DARTS Exam, I mentally kicked myself for actually trying on it. I thought I was safe and that I didn’t have the athletic skills that DARTS valued so highly in students. Turns out a perfect score on the exam outweighed my physical shortcomings.

“So you had a modeling job all lined up?! Girlfriend, that is the ultimate bummer. Being forced to trade a glamorous career start for this place.” A slightly high pitched male voice carried across the field. They didn’t seem concerned about attracting attention. I recalled the first part of orientation, and hoped there weren’t more paintball shooters hidden in the area or they’d zero in on him right away. Then again, what did I care? I was seconds away from dropping twenty feet, getting shot by a paintball seemed like a better option at this point.

“Are those fingers?” A prim, feminine voice came from the same direction as the man.

“Yeah, looks like someone fell in a hole. We’ve been passing them for the last few hundred feet.” A masculine voice spoke confidently. I wondered what the person attached to it looked like. I pictured a supermodel with that sexy voice. Not that it mattered, I wouldn’t be able to see him from my hole anyway. At least I could have a happy fantasy going in my head as I plummeted to the ground.

Sparkling blue eyes and an incredibly handsome face appeared over the edge. The man’s perfect features were marred only by a light scar over his right eyebrow. His shaggy brown hair almost fell in his eyes as he looked down. I stared up at the face, so startled by its appearance that I couldn’t even speak. “Want a hand?” The man asked.

“Um, yeah?” His presence unnerved me, and my voice rose at the end.

A second head appeared over the edge of the hole. This man had the same sparkling blue eyes as the first one, but the similarities ended there. “Did you seriously just ask her if she wanted a hand, Pen?” I instantly recognized the voice that had inquired after the woman’s modeling career moments before. “She’s hanging in a hole, get her out!” The second one slapped the back of Pen’s head lightly.

Pen gave the feminine man a dirty look and then two large hands grasped my wrists. I flew up over the edge. I rubbed my arms, trying to get some feeling back into the appendages. “Thanks for the help,” I said slowly. I didn’t trust that these new comers didn’t have an ulterior motive.

“How long were you there?” A gorgeous blond woman stood a few feet away from the edge of the hole. She eyed it cautiously, as though it would pull her down. I got the feeling she was enjoying this orientation about as much as me.

“I dunno, maybe fifteen minutes? Enough time for plenty of people to pass by.” I paused, examining the three people staring back at me. The man who had pulled me out of the hole must have been related to a giant, or at least that’s how he seemed to little five foot five me. He towered over me by at least a foot and was incredibly muscular. The other was probably about my height, and fairly slender. He stood with one hip jutted out, a position I’d seen girls take many times, but never a man.

“What is your name?” The blond girl stepped closer and I instinctively moved back. I just about tumbled into the hole again. Pen grabbed my arm, steadying me and holding on until I stepped forward once more.

“Trying to reach the bottom?” He asked with a raised eyebrow. Despite his initially tough appearance, I saw a small smile flicker across his face that made my knees weak. He was even better looking when he smiled.

“Get off her case, Pen.” The shorter man pushed Pen away. “I’m Skylar Collier and moody muscles here is my brother Spencer. I call him Pen, which could be short for Spencer, but I like to think of it as short for pensive, which is how he’s spent most of his life.” He motioned at the blond girl. “This is Lacey.” Skylar smiled brightly at me. “What’s your name, girlfriend?”

“Annabelle Thomson.” I didn’t see any danger in sharing my name, but I thought I better hit the road soon. “Well, thanks again for getting me out of there. See you around.” I turned south and started walking.

“Um, Bells?” Skylar called after me.

“My name is Annabelle,” I yelled over my shoulder, but I didn’t stop walking. I heard footsteps race over the grass. In seconds Skylar walked on one side of me, Lacey on the other, and Spencer took the lead.

“You should come with us,” Lacey said with a friendly smile.

When I’d discovered I’d been accepted to Survival Academy, my first stop had been the online bookstore. I bought every book I could find on making it through two years at the school - the place students affectionately called Apocalypse High. Every book shared the same advice. Don’t trust your classmates.


73,000 words
YA Contemporary

The girls never get a choice. This has always been the way in New Jerusalem, for as long as I've been alive and longer. My father chose my mother, a fact he seldom lets her forget. Now that I am sixteen, and a woman, tonight it is my turn to be chosen. And though the very thought turns my insides liquid, it is more from anticipation than fear.

My mother perches beside me on one of the low benches the men have dragged out into the Mojave Desert. Tonight—and tonight only—we are allowed outside the high, concrete walls of the city.
She holds out a plate piled with sticky rice, some slices of roast lamb, and a crumbling chunk of bread. “You need to eat something.” She raises her voice to be heard above the sonorous chanting booming from big speakers into the open air of the evening.

The smell churns my stomach. This is a feast compared to our daily meals, but I push it away.

“Ruth is over by the food station, with Leah.” She points through the crowd, toward the fire in the distance. “They look as nervous as you. Perhaps more.”

“I’m not nervous.”

Ruth and Leah are terrified of what tonight will bring. They don’t know who will choose them, or whose wives they will become. But I have no reason to share their fear.

Still, my stomach lurches again as I turn away from my mother’s finger, toward the cave opening in the steep red rocks to our right. I’ve never been inside. Like most of our rituals, the men are free to attend, while the women go only once, on their wedding night. Afterward, they are forbidden to speak of it. My own father is the only man I know well enough to ask about it, and he refuses to answer. I can’t imagine why the Ceremony must be shrouded in such secrecy. I can only suppose the proceedings are too sacred to speak of, or too profane.

After tonight, I will be able to ask my husband.

“Surely you can tell me something,” I say, watching my mother’s headscarf twist in the cool night breeze. “The time is nearly upon us. What will it matter now?”

She shifts her gaze from mine. "It's better if you don't know." she says. "The unexpected should feel like a gift, not an obligation.”

“What is one more obligation?”

She must hear the bitterness in my voice, because she sighs and lays a hand on my arm. “Please. Not tonight, Miriam.”

I pull my hand away. “I need to talk to Ruth,” I say, jumping from my seat and spilling the plate balanced between us. “Sorry.”

“Go.” She waves me off and kneels in the sand to clean up my mess.

I hesitate only for a moment. Her body language calls me to help, but the urge to get away is too strong. I pull up my skirt and run, scanning the faces of the girls for my best friend, though it is a half-hearted gesture. Someone else is on my mind tonight.

I skirt the crowd as I run, behind the groups of chattering women and around the booths and tables piled with mouth-watering food. I leave the warmth of the fire, the familiar sounds and smells, until I am far enough into the darkness to see the stars. They decorate the sky like thousands of candles, while back near the Celebration, the smoke from our bonfire climbs toward Heaven like an offering to God.    

I stop only when I have no choice, when the patrolling guards come into view. We are free for this one evening, but freedom requires protection. The rest of the country—the rest of the world—do not live as we do. It is only inside the walls of our communal society that we are safe. Outside, people do unspeakable things to one another.

It is my greatest shame that I have tried to imagine these things. But all I can picture is the vast desert, stretching out beyond me forever; faceless people hovering at the perimeter, bodies contorted, though not in prayer. This life is all I’ve ever known. I was born here, and tonight I will marry someone who was born here, too. We are the Second Generation of Daniel’s Children, and this title carries its own obligations.

I turn my back on the guards and walk back towards the light, my heart pounding loudly in the stillness. For the first time, I am afraid. Not of being chosen, but of being caught—here, on the boys’ side of the fire. From the shadows, I see them all gathered together, shoulders jostling, hands waving. My skin tingles at the sound of their laughter.

They sound just like Ruth and Leah and I.

Girls are not allowed to speak in the presence of boys, and because we are separated whenever possible, they rarely speak in ours. The only time we are together for any length is Sunday, at Chapel. And at Chapel there is no speaking. That is a rule even I have never broken.

I seek out Boaz. He seems illuminated tonight, his skin bronze against the white of his shirt, his eyes bright in the firelight. His voice carries through the night, warm and strong, as I imagine his embrace will be.

His gaze is drawn to mine like a magnet, even in the darkness. There is a heat between us far greater than the desert sun. For a brief second, I worry he will give away my presence. But then he smiles, the corner of his mouth curving like the crook of a finger.

It is an invitation. The tether between us grows strong, and tonight, it sends shivers of excitement to every part of my body. Boaz is going to choose me, and I will finally know what it is like to speak to him. Touch him. Be touched by him.

“It’s Boaz for you, isn’t it?”

I bite my tongue to keep from crying out as my friend, Leah, whispers eagerly into my ear.

“What are you doing out here?”

It is dark this far from the fire, but Leah’s pale skin seems to glow in the moonlight, her freckles scattered like stars across her wide nose.

“I followed you,” she says.

“Did anyone see you?” I peer into the darkness, but can’t see anyone else. If we get caught our here, especially on this night, Daniel’s punishment will be severe.

Leah seems oblivious to my concern as hops from one foot to the other and twists a lock of orange hair around her finger. “I saw you. Watching Boaz. Don’t worry, I won’t tell,” she promises. “I bet he’s going to pick you.”      

Before I can answer, the chanting cuts out and a microphone squeals, the reverberation echoing off the mountain walls. I look for Boaz one last time, but he and the others are moving toward the cave.

“We have to get back,” I say. We’ve been waiting for this night all our lives. “If we are late . . .” I don’t finish.  I don’t actually know what will happen if we are late, but it won’t be pleasant. There is no time for keeping to the shadows.

I grab Leah’s hand and break into a flat-out run, sand dragging our stride and chafing inside my leather sandals.

I don’t see Aaron until I barrel into him. 


Apothecary of Forbidden Clocks
96,084 words
YA Dystopian Steampunk

The day of her mother’s murder was the last day Arianna could remember her father smiling.

Like every day, they kissed too long for an appropriate goodbye. Her father whispered something that made her mother blush prettily. Jace giggled and covered his eyes. Arianna was a curious spectator to their openly displayed affection, her memories of that moment still illuminated by the bright golden naiveté of childhood.

She remembered sitting on the floor that day, carefully winding a broken pocketwatch her father had given her as a toy. She remembered the feel of the miniature brass gears in her hands, as well as the tiny indentations for missing release pins. The device felt magical under fingers, the metal seeming to ebb and thrum in response to her touch. She ran her fingers over the contraption, flicking the tiny gears, watching them spin and stop together.

With a startling crash, her mother burst through the door, four hours too early. Her eyes darted wildly around the room, as if seeking out a hidden threat. She clutched a twisted menagerie of metal wiring to her chest.

Jace, oblivious, toddled towards her. A shock of blonde hair had fallen across his face, which was illuminated with the joy of welcoming her home.

“Ma-ma, up!”

After a moment, her mother’s panic melted away, and she carefully set down the contraption she carried. She picked up Jace, holding him close and burying her face in his baby-soft curls. Unshed tears appeared, sparkling in her deep blue eyes.

“Arianna.” At her mother’s voice, Anna came forward obediently, sliding her arms around her mother’s slender form. She burrowed her face in the practical muslin skirts of the laboratory uniform, her cheek grazing the protective leather overlay. The uniform was oddly streaked with dark stains, and the faint scent of something unfamiliar clung to the fabric.

When she felt a cool wetness fall against her cheek, Anna looked up and realized her mother was crying. She suddenly felt uncomfortable and confused.

“Mama, what’s the matter?”

Everything seemed wrong, and her five-year-old mind didn’t know how to process it. She clutched the broken watch in her hand, the exposed gears digging painfully into the flesh of her palm.

“It’s nothing, sweetling.” Her mother reached up with her free hand and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Her cheeks were too pink. She crouched down and put Jace back on his feet, but kept one arm around him. Her other arm pulled Arianna close.

“You know I love you both very, very much.” Her mother’s voice had broken slightly, and she took a long, steadying breath. “More than anything else in the world.”

“I love you too, Mama.” Arianna cuddled closer in her mother’s arms, comforted by the familiar warmth of her embrace. Jace babbled, his gap-toothed grin full of sunshine.

“There’s so much I wish I could say,” her mother spoke quietly, almost to herself. “And yet… no sense in dwelling on it. I’ll do what I must.”

She bit her lip and looked down at Arianna. Her voice had steadied.

“Can you two darlings keep a secret for me?”

Arianna nodded obediently. Her mother rose, leading them both into the downstairs bedroom. Kneeling down, she pried up the well-worn corners of one of the floorboards. Arianna had felt a thrill as she stared into the blackness, which whispered of secrets and big-girl responsibilities. She crept closer, as her mother retrieved the device she’d abandoned by the door. Handling it carefully, she manipulated the tangled wires to fit into the narrow space.

“There will be people who come looking for this,” her mother talked as she worked, her tone quick and hushed. “They might try to trick you, and say they need it, but you have to keep it safe, okay?” She flipped the board back down, carefully smoothing the edges.

“Yes Mama,” Arianna reached over to clutch her mother’s hand, her brow furrowed. “And Daddy too?”

Eldon Dawney had appeared in the doorway, his face pale.


“It’s as we feared, Eldon. They’ve torched the lab, and will be here shortly. It’s up to you to keep the children safe.”

Her father’s face twisted, a terrible anguish distorting his handsome features. His voice was broken.


“Eldon! Please. Not in front of the children.” The severity of her tone made Arianna startle in confusion.

As her father disappeared from the doorway, Arianna felt fear creeping into her chest, the sense of wrongness increasing. “Mama, what’s happening?”

“Hush, sweetling.” Her mother’s voice was soft. “Mommy’s going away for a while, but I love you and your brother, so very much. Will you tell him that for me?” Her voice caught suddenly, and she squeezed her eyes shut, tears flowing freely down her cheeks.

“Arianna, I…”

A loud crash at the front door cut off her words, and her father gave a yell of outrage. Men spilled into the small space, black-robed Sentinels each armed with a dual-barrel blunderbuss. Arianna gave a cry of terror, clutching her mother, as Jace began shrieking. Her mother held them close, unafraid, and stood up. Her cheeks were wiped clean of tears, and her eyes blazed with an unfamiliar fire. When she spoke, her tone was strong and clipped.

“I do believe you gentlemen are here for me.”

A man stepped forward, his wristplate gears clicking as he drew out a rolled parchment. He bore the red striping on his brass armor that identified him as being of the Brotherhood.

“Doctor Joanna Ellis Dawney, you are to be apprehended for interrogation and immediate reeducation. You have been implicated in the use of illegal research in an attempted assassination scheme against Lord Baelish.”

“Take me, then.” Joanna’s voice was calm. “Just don’t hurt my children.”

Arianna and Jace were ripped from their mother’s embrace. Arianna began shrieking for her mother, trying to cling to the fabric of her skirts, but it slipped through her fingers. Jace was crying “Ma-ma! Ma-ma!” over and over in between hiccupping sobs. Suddenly, the men were gone, and the door was shut. Eldon Dawney held them both, his hand painfully clutching Arianna’s wrist. Arianna screamed and struggled until she broke free. She ran to the front window, pressing her face against the uneven glass. The sea of brass uniformed Sentinels was impenetrable as she searched for her mother.

There was a sudden flash, a dazzling light of a thousand colors that crackled across the cobbled street square in front of her house. Arianna saw the men closest to her mother fall heavily, screaming and clutching their faces, their hands raw and bloody. She had a single glimpse of her mother’s face, pale and luminescent, before her body was shattered by a barrage of blunderbuss fire.


The schematic was still unfinished.

Her stylus glided over the rough paper, seamlessly outlining mechanics that she could have drawn in her sleep. She always drew the central console first – it was smooth, oblong and impossible to activate. Three sets of wires, each twined around an oddly empty conduit. A compressor chamber, which had ghostly imprints of missing gears.

A rumble underfoot signaled the afternoon shifting of the underground cogs, jolting her out of her imagined solitude.

“Place your stylus on the desk and fold your hands,” her elderly theology professor droned, walking the aisles of desks while tapping his gold-etched cane threateningly.

Arianna frowned severely at her desk tablet, which was littered with unanswered questions. This was fourth exam in a row that she’d failed.

Entry #45: SHATTERED

81,000 words
YA historical

Her father was going to be furious when he found out.

Auriella fingered the end of her braid as she walked, and glanced down the castle hallway. Not many were up and about this time of morning, the other guests no doubt having enjoyed their revelry late into the night. Lucky for her. She descended the marble stairs and strolled into the wide lawn, seeing only a few servants.

A pulse of adrenaline shot through her, but she forced herself to slow down. Someone running across the wide lawn just past sun up would definitely attract attention. The tall stone walls of the castle’s outer perimeter loomed above her, blocking out some of the morning sunlight and keeping what was inside the walls safe and protected. In a flash she was through the great iron gates of the castle entrance and into the city streets.

Just get to the docks, and get back without being seen. Then she could figure out how to tell her father in a way that would make the truth not be so awful. She huffed out a sigh. As if that would be possible. The thought jumbled in her head, clanking against her justification the way her father’s sword did on metal.

Saints above, just get on with it.

She glanced over her right shoulder towards the Lodge. The great stone walls and towers of the castle were not the only thing keeping it and its royal family safe. Inside the unassuming stone walls of the Lodge was the King’s greatest defense - His Royal Guard. Trained killers slept there on rotation, tasked with protecting their King and his holdings. The Lodge yard stirred despite the early hour. She steered clear of it. Her father was there, ignorant as to what she was up to.

Ignorance was not something she could claim. As Captain of the King’s Guard, her father was used to having his wishes followed. Even the ones he didn’t speak aloud. And going to the docks was definitely breaking a rule, even if it was one he’d never actually voiced. Her heart pounded harder and sweat slicked her palms. She’d rather endure one of Henna’s beatings than go against him. Which made what she was doing tremendously stupid. Forcing her eyes forward, she crossed into the city square. No more thinking about her father.

A Servant Exchange. Even the name of it made her shudder, and she strained for breath like when Lynia laced up her corset too tight. A million old memories clamored for attention in her mind, but she shoved them into a corner.

She’d been in the kitchen last night, half way through a bowl of stew when she heard the name mentioned. In the rest of the castle, servants remained quiet and moved about nearly unnoticed. In the kitchen they talked, even around her. They mentioned the Servant Exchange, and the words jarred her brain. They could not possibly mean what she thought they did.

She’d dashed back to her room, knocked on the door that opened between hers and the one beside it, and practically dragged Lynia through when she answered. Poor Lynia, she hadn’t wanted to tell. Auriella cringed now at how she used Lynia’s sense of duty as her handmaiden against her. Unfair? Yes. Effective? Yes to that, too.

A Servant Exchange, and it was as the name suggested. People were bought and bartered for right here in Valera’s capital city, down at the docks so that they could be snatched up like livestock as soon as they got off whatever ship brought them here.

The thought of anyone being bought and traded like goods made Auriella’s head spin.  Images from her past had flown through her mind all last night and she pressed her eyelids tight, wanting to forget them. When morning dawned she hadn’t wakened intending to go. It’s not as if she could do anything. She couldn’t keep those people from their fate, or stop it from happening. But she wanted, needed, to see them. Really see them. So here she was.

Keeping her head low she wove between people, the city already wide awake and stirring. She breathed in the smell of cheese and vegetables piled high on carts, and walked right past the shops and booths she normally would frequent. Her steps over the stone streets hopefully appeared calm and certain. She had no idea where she was going, and the list of things that could go wrong stretched out longer than her father’s list of rules.

Her heart picked up speed when she left the busy shopping section in the square and headed down unfamiliar territory towards the south part of the city. Her eyes still down, she hadn’t gotten far from the square when someone grabbed her shoulder.

Gasping, she spun around under the grip of the man who held her. “Saints alive, Marus!” She looked up into the familiar face, her heart racing. “You scared the life out of me.”  

“I thought that was you.” Marus let go of her arm, a smile playing on his lips. “Good thing it was, or else I’d be accused of man handling a lady.”   

Auriella plastered a smile on her face. Saints above. If he knew where she was headed, he’d probably drag her back to the castle. Even if he only wondered why she was this far from the square, she was going to have a hard time keeping where she was headed a secret.

“You’re out early,” he said.

“I could say the same for you,” she said, keeping her voice light and carefree. He hadn’t mentioned where they were. Maybe she’d be able to throw him off.

“I’ve got morning drills at the Lodge.”

A playful smile tugged at her mouth. “You’re late.”

Drills started just past sun up. Lucky for Marus, her father had a soft spot for him, a fact Marus would probably deny and definitely never abuse. Marus smiled again, a shock of his dark hair falling into his eyes, making him look as young as she was though he was a good three years older.

“Farron sent me out on an errand.” Marus cast his eyes down the street he had come from. “So that’s my excuse to escape the captain’s wrath.”  

Indeed. Her father had high expectations for the men under his command, including punctuality. No different from his expectations for her, really. As if she needed to be thinking about that right now.  

“And where is the lady off to this fine morning?” Marus asked, the same easy smile on his face.

Leave it to Marus to be nice and inquiring. Auriella shifted her weight and kept her expression blank. “Just out for a walk.” She glanced down the street, not able to look at him.

Marus stared at her for a moment. “You’re a horrible liar.”

She turned wide eyes to him and he held her gaze. Marus was a Guard, and a good one. He noticed everything, and he’d known her for as long as she’d lived with her father. Indeed, if she were lying, as she was now, Marus would be one to easily spot it.

“So I am,” she admitted, keeping her voice light and sweet. “But that doesn’t mean I’m sharing my secrets.” She smiled as she said it, willing him to drop the subject and not pry any further.

“Now you’ve piqued my interest,” he said and she bit her tongue to keep from yelling in frustration.


Fog and Fireflies
104,154 words
YA Fantasy

Ogma woke, as she always did, with a start and knot of tight fear in her stomach. Eyes closed, she strained to catch the echo of a bell tolling - unsure if it was heard in waking or dreaming. She wrapped her arms around that pit of fear, as familiar in its own way as the stuffed animals the youngest children slept with. She breathed in the clean scent of rain,  pattering on the roof. The rain was good, a respite: it would tamp down the fog.

The fear subsided.

Ogma lay in one of the many wooden bunks that ringed the interior wall of the watch house. It was warm, and for a moment she did nothing more than burrow further into her blankets, sliding her legs beneath the sheets and snuggling her face against her pillow. Upon waking further she frowned and rolled onto her back. She was definitely too old to snuggle.

It was still deep night outside, probably only a few hours after she had stumbled into the watch house and climbed into her bunk. A charcoal drawing was dancing on the rafters; Ogma hadn’t noticed it when she’d climbed wearily into bed after returning from her patrol on the wall. She could picture some enterprising child teetering on tiptoes atop the bunk to draw the strange-looking bird.  Ogma tilted her head. Or is it a mule?  Probably the work of the acrobatic and determined Ambrose.  It did not bode well for his future as an artist.

The murmur of the children in the watch house, most of them younger, was a reassuring noise. It was… tiring, and irritating, and loud, and sticky, and sometimes smelly, Ogma thought, but also comforting.  Mae and Maya still giggled, but many older children had been quiet and withdrawn recently. The extended duration and malevolence of this fog bank worried them.

For Ogma that worry never left. The pit in her stomach while on patrol became a tightness between her shoulders whenever off. She sighed and rolled over again, cheek resting against the cool, polished wooden rail of the bunk as she looked down at the common room.

One of the youngest children was tugging on the sleeve of the eldest, nearly in his 17th season and their de-facto leader, draped as he usually was across one of the low bunks nearest the fire. “Wheeler? Are you awake?” Wheeler was face down on his bunk, and having grown almost to his adult height, his feet hung off the edge and his arms down either side of the child-sized bunk.

He’ll have to leave us soon, Ogma thought in sudden anxiety. She shoved that icy bolt of fear away to deal with later.

“Wheeler?! Are. you. awake?!” the little girl whined mercilessly. “Can we have shadow puppets?” Emma was only 5 seasons old, but she was an expert at wheedling her own way out of the older children, especially Wheeler. Even the other children who were sleeping, or trying to, after long shifts on the wall, were getting up and adding their voices.

“Shadow puppets!”
  “Shadow puppets!”

Wheeler didn’t even roll over.

“Yeah, c’mon Wheeler! Do the shadow puppets.” Cole, about Ogma’s age, was one of the older boys and styled himself Wheeler’s lieutenant. A beat later he added, “You know how much the younger kids like it.” Ogma threw him a look. The youngest children were all beginning to gather by the fire, laughing and hooting while the older ones sat up in their bunks.

Wheeler, for his part, was still stoically pretending to be blissfully asleep, despite the ruckus.

Emma tugged insistently at his blanket. He opened one eye appraisingly and swept it around the room, then closed it again, rolled over, and gave a terrific snore. The younger children gave a collective groan of frustration. The older ones chucked their pillows at him.

“Wheeler, wake up! Shadow puppets!!” Emma’s voice increased in pitch, that slight edge of a child about to get very frustrated and very loud. There was a breath of silence, while the children waited for Wheeler’s reaction.

He burst up from the bed, firing off pillows of his own at his tormentors and pawing back his unruly bed-head. He tossed little Emma over his shoulder, the toddler now giggling madly, and grinned at the cheering faces.

“Alright you rascals! But you’d better not wake up anyone who’s been on the wall tonight.” And with a wink, he shot a look up at Ogma’s bunk.

—Just in time to be hit in the face by her pillow.

“Just get on with it, you big lump!” She grinned. The other children back from patrol, all wide awake and bright-eyed, whistled their agreement.

“Phah. And in my own house.” He put Emma down gently, turning up his nose and stalking over to the fireplace. The children’s hubbub devolved into the sound of their loudly hushing each other.

Wheeler carefully pulled a carved screen in front of the hearth, dimming the glow in the room until Ogma could see only silhouettes. He lit the end of a stick of kindling from the fire, and used it to light a dark lantern, sliding the metal hood around to focus a single square of light on the wall. Cracking his knuckles and narrowing his eyes in concentration, he grasped at the narrow beam of light with his hands, molding the shadows to his design like so much clay. He warmed up with a few basic shapes while the children looked on: first a bird in flight, next a dog barking, and then a goose. Each shadow cast on the wall looked more motive and more lifelike.

Wheeler had a talent.

Ogma had never been quite sure how he managed some of those shapes with only two hands. She was fairly confident that some of the ones he could make had more legs than he had fingers. But then, her own experiments had only extended so far as making some very convincing hand-shaped shadow-puppets. To be fair, he did sometimes conscript one of the other children for some of the more complicated scenes.

Having limbered up, Wheeler made a horse gallop across the wall and leap into the air to become an eagle. The children gasped in delight. He gave a grunt of satisfaction, and a nod to little Emma who stood solemnly by his side, eyes shining, his ready assistant for the evening’s storytelling.

He put a small wooden frame in front of the dark lantern, one that he had carved himself, casting the silhouette of a rampart onto the wall. He had many: freestanding silhouettes of castles and towers, trees and fantastic mountains, caravan wagons and beasts, some on sticks he could hold between his fingers, or short poles he could prop against his knee. A few were on the ends of string so he could hang them from the rafters. His props in hand, he then carefully reached behind the fireplace screen with the tongs and took up a smoldering coal, which he then carefully dropped into a tin bowl below the lantern.  The children had fallen truly silent, in rapt attention. A couple drops of water and a cloud of steam billowed from the bowl, casting a formless, shifting shadow that drifted across the silhouette of the wall, laying siege.

Ogma shivered as Wheeler, whispering, began.  The beginning of every story was the same.

“This is why we watch the fog.”

Entry #43: TWICE DEAD

about 86,000 words
YA Fantasy
Naya clutched the oilskin folder to her chest and tried not to think on how any one of the people brushing past her might be undead. She took a deep breath. The mingled smells of the market flooded her nose — flowers, strange spices, sweat. Underneath it all she could still detect the reassuring brine of the sea. She glanced back once more at the docks where her father’s ship lay at anchor, then shouldered her way into the crowd.

Naya stuck out her chin and tried to match the expression of controlled calm her father always wore. Everyone said the things the necromancers brought back from the dead looked and acted like ordinary people. All she had to do was ignore the walking corpses and they’d do her the same courtesy. Probably.

The press of the crowd trapped the afternoon heat, making her head spin as she searched for a street sign. She paused for a moment to think over the directions her father had given her. Market Street to Sunset. Right at the inn with the sign that looks like a fish. Uphill, then left where the road splits to four round a fountain. She’d deliver the documents to the wool merchant, ensure he signed the contract, and be back on the ship in an hour. Come dawn tomorrow her father’s Gallant would clear the lip of the bay and turn its prow north towards Talmir, towards home.

A whistle shrieked as she tried to take advantage of a gap in the crowd to cross the street. Naya turned in time to see a rune powered tram barreling towards her. She jumped back, her nose only inches from metal and wood as the single boxcar rattled past. Someone laughed behind her, obviously amused by her near encounter with death. Naya's cheeks burned as she hurried on. How could the brightly colored chaos of Bellavida have looked so enticing from the deck of her father’s ship?

Well, no matter. She wasn't here for pleasure. Though she was already past her seventeenth name day, today was the first time her father had let her finalize a contract alone. It was a test, one she could not fail if she was ever going to prove herself worthy of the gifts he’d given her. Most wealthy merchants would never consider acknowledging a bastard daughter, much less supporting her. But not her farther. After Naya's mother died he’d taken her in and raised her as his own. He’d forced the Royal Academy to admit her despite her questionable blood, and taken her as his apprentice when she graduated. She would not, absolutely would not, fail. She tucked a damp brown curl back into her braid and hurried on. If she passed this test maybe her father would stop treating her like such a child. If she failed … Naya winced at the thought. Her father was a level headed man, but she would rather have faced rage than the icy disdain he reserved for those who failed him.

People stared at her as she turned off the main road. It wasn't hard to imagine what they must be thinking. Foreigner. Her dark olive skin and brown hair could have let her pass for local. But her clothing made her stick out like a barnacle on a well-scrubbed hull. The people of Bellavida wore loose, bright colored cottons. Men and women alike favored brass-buttoned vests that stopped just above the hips. Even the poorest embroidered their hems and cuffs with elaborate geometric designs. A drop of sweat trickled down Naya’s back and into the hem of her gray wool skirt. She fought the urge to tug at the high collar of her blouse where it itched her neck.

Naya walked a little faster. Her father’s directions led her towards the hills that dominated the eastern half of the city. The cobbled road sloped steeply up, and before long her calves began to burn. She passed by wood and stone houses painted bright blues, greens, even purples. Why had her father sent her all this way? Ordinary merchants might be expected to meet with clients at their shops, but her father was no ordinary merchant. He was Hal Garth, one of only a handful in the Royal Merchants Guild who’d been granted a writ to trade with the necromancer country Ceramor. So why hadn't this wool merchant come to them to finalize the paperwork? Doubt touched the edges of her thoughts, but Naya squashed it down. This was probably just another part of the test.

Her breath was coming fast by the time she spotted the Jumping Cod, a red two story inn with a wooden fish leaping over its doorway. A narrow lane branched away to the right, overshadowed by wooden tenements. Naya took a step towards it, then paused. The lane turned and disappeared after only a few feet. She glanced back at the inn. This had to be the right way.

Thirty minutes later she wasn't so sure. The city below was laid out in a proper grid. But up here the streets looked like they’d been mapped by wandering cows. Blind cows, Naya thought as she glanced over her shoulder and down the hill she’d just climbed. The shimmer of the bay was still just visible above the rooftops. Up ahead the road she’d been following ended, intersecting with a much wider street lined with large houses. She didn't see any shops, and no sign of a fountain. Naya had almost decided to turn back and try to find the stupid fish again when something dark moved on the edge of her vision. She turned, but all she saw was a narrow alley half-clogged by a pile of crates. Probably just a cat, she thought.

“Are you lost?”

Naya turned back around. A woman with long black hair stood just a few paces behind her. She wore a flowing skirt and a pale green vest with brass buttons. In the crook of her right arm she carried a large woven basket. The woman had asked her question in the local tongue. Naya opened her mouth to answer in the same language, but the words dried up in her throat when her eyes fell on the runic tattoos circling the woman’s neck and wrists. She’d heard about marks like those, they were part of a soul binding tying the woman’s spirit to her formerly dead body. She’s one of the undead.

“I…um…” As Naya tried to come up with something to say, the woman’s face tensed in an expression of annoyance. Naya swallowed. “I’m looking for a wool merchant’s shop, White Fleece. It’s supposed to be around here somewhere…I think.”

The woman raised her arm and for one terrifying second Naya thought she was reaching out to grab her. She took a step back, almost tripping. The woman pointed back the way Naya had come. “I know the place. You’re not far off, but you've come too high. Go back down and take your second left. There’s a big street there with shops. Just listen for the fountain and you’ll find it.”

She walked away before Naya could gather up her wits enough to say thank you. A blush burned at her cheeks for the second time that morning as the woman turned out of sight. What was she doing letting her fear turn her foolish?


Gwenyth and the Golden Spine
98,921 words
MG Fantasy

Chapter One

Gwen rubbed her Star Trek Enterprise keychain, hoping Captain Kirk would save the day and beam her up. But no such luck.  Apparently, the transporter was broken, and she remained earthbound.  After searching the sky one last time for a sign of rescue, Gwen dragged leaden legs up the school bus stairs.  When she arrived at the top, there sat Soda Pop Seth texting the other kids.  From almost daily experience, Gwen guessed his message: “I-O-L-N.”  Soda Pop’s code for “Initiate Operation Loser Now!”  And before Gwen could cover her ears, a loud chant reverberated all the way to the back of the bus, shooting like a slingshot back to the front again.  “Gwenyth Shuster is a smelly, barf-covered, crap eating, freaky, loser!  …loser!  …loser!”  Gwen clutched her key chain hard, resulting in a bright red imprint of the Enterprise on her palm.  “Dad, if you can hear me in heaven, save me from Soda Pop Seth.  I’m so sorry for the terrible thing I did to you, Daddy. Punish me any way you want.  I’ll even eat Mom’s asparagus and cow’s tongue casserole.  Just help me. PLEEEZE!”  But the chants only intensified as more kids joined in the fray.

At this point, Gwen attempted to run down the aisle to her usual seat in the geek section, but Soda Pop’s left arm shot out, blocking her path.  Even worse, he smiled widely at her.  Last year, while pitching in the championship baseball game, a rogue bat chipped his otherwise perfectly straight front left tooth.  He only smiled with closed lips ever since.  That is, unless he was planning something especially awful for some poor nerd or outcast…. especially Gwen.

 “I’m pretty sure Captain Kirk isn’t going to beam you aboard the Enterprise today, Freak,” said Soda Pop, his ragged tooth fully visible, his gums sporting a sheen of bubbly saliva.  “He hates weirdoes who wear rainbow leg warmers, filthy hiking boots, and stupid Star Trek communicator pins.  And so do we.  Isn’t that right, Sheila?”  Swooshing on a layer of Urban Decay lip-gloss, Sheila Oracell, who, as usual, sat next to Soda Pop, admired herself in a mirrored compact adorned with pink Swarovski crystals.  “Yeah,” she replied, “whatever you just said, Seth.”

At this point, Soda Pop finally allowed Gwen to pass by.  But, as she hurried down the cramped aisle, he emitted a wet-sounding grunting noise.  The other kids soon followed his lead, their oinks getting more boisterous until the entire bus echoed like a forest overpopulated by wild hogs.

As Gwen stumble-staggered to the back of the bus, she cried, “STOP!  STOP!”  Yet, the more she protested, the more grunts and snorts saturated the air.  Turning around, Gwen threw her Enterprise key chain at Soda Pop, but it hit Sheila instead.  Shrieking, Sheila pinched her nose like she suffered from a gushing nosebleed -- although the only mark on her skin was a barely visible scratch where Gwen’s keychain nicked her left nostril.  Almost immediately, a mob of kids surrounded Sheila, offering their sympathy.  Gwen, on the other hand, was the target of their dirty looks, hooting hog calls, and “Gwenyth Shuster is a shit eating Freak,” taunts.  It took Ms. Knause, the driver -- oddly built like a school bus herself -- several minutes to control the escalating chaos.  And when, at last, they arrived at Fisher Middle School, she barreled down the aisle towards Gwen.


Grabbing Gwen’s arm with damp, marshmallow-like hands, Ms. Knause marched her to the principal, Mr. Mortimer’s, office.  After depositing Gwen like a garbage bag filled with decaying lunches and cockroaches in a chair facing Mr. Mortimer’s desk, Ms. Knause stomped out the door.  She left a trail of Bigfoot sized muddy footprints, while muttering something about “…disrespectful, ungrateful kids these days.” 

Another student besides Gwen also sat in Mr. Mortimer’s office.  And that person made Gwen’s stomach churn like an exploding super nova on the Science Channel.  It was Sheila Oracell.  Upon seeing Gwen, Sheila snatched a cluster of pink Kleenexes from a box on Mr. Mortimer’s desk, bursting into tears.

“There, there, Sheila, dear,” said Mr. Mortimer, “everything will be alright.”  But Sheila only cried more, whining that the Band-Aid on her nose made her look like a “deformed Miley Cyrus.”  Mr. Mortimer stuffed another cluster of pink Kleenexes in Sheila’s direction.  He then sighed through a set of puffy, purplish lips. These humongous lips were responsible for his nickname amongst the students at Fisher Middle School: “Ole’ Fish Lips Mortimer.”  

 “Really, Gwyneth,” said Ole’ Fish Lips Mortimer, gesturing towards the Band-Aid on Sheila’s nose, “your father’s death was a terrible tragedy indeed.  But acting out your grief in such a violent manner will not be tolerated at this school.  You are a seventh-grader now.  You should know better.”

“But it was an accident, Mr. Mortimer,” said Gwen.  “The kids on the bus said some nasty things… and I…I reacted without thinking.  I never meant to hurt Sheila.  Honest.”

“Gwenyth,” said Mr. Mortimer, a cluster of spit ejecting from his fishy mouth, just missing Gwen’s cheek, “consider yourself lucky.  This time, I am only giving you three days detention.  But one more aggressive act towards another student and I will suspend you.”  He waved at Gwen like she was a piece of dust on his shiny leather shoes.  “Now get out of my sight.”

As Gwen left Mr. Mortimer’s office, she glanced at Sheila.  For just a moment, while Mr. Mortimer fumbled in his drawer for more Kleenexes, Sheila gave Gwen her brightest Colgate smile.  She then turned to face Ole’ Fish Lips Mortimer again, breaking out into her highest pitched series of sobs yet.


That evening, Gwen sprawled out on her bed, tears dropping onto her bedspread, covered with glow-in-the-dark planets, stars, and moons.  “Dad, I miss you so much.  I wish I had the courage to tell someone about the terrible thing I did to you.  But no one can ever find out that I killed you.  Especially not Mom.  She and everyone else would hate me for the rest of my life.

Following a gentle knock, Gwen’s mother opened her bedroom door.  “Darling.  May I talk to you for a minute?”  
       Gwen wiped away the remaining tears with her Pluto pillow before her mother noticed.   
      “Mom, I didn’t mean to hurt Sheila.  It’s just that I don’t fit in with the other kids.  And I get
       so mad sometimes that I do dumb things.”

       Picking up a stuffed Area 51 alien doll, Gwen’s mother used its silver ray gun to
tap her lightly on the nose.  “I know it was an accident, Gwennie.  But promise me, no more projectiles, okay?  I’m aware that Soda Pop Seth and his gang are still bullying you, and I intend to talk to Principal Mortimer about the situation.  But launching your Enterprise keychain into orbit is not the answer.  Sheila or someone else could have lost an eye.”

Gwen slumped down further into her cushy galaxy pillows.  “Don’t worry, Mom.  I promise I won’t throw anything again.  Just please don’t complain to Ole’ Fish Lips about Soda Pop Seth.  Every time you do, he torments me even worse than before.”

Her mother sat next to Gwen.  “Okay, darling, I’ll hold off for now, if that’s what you want.  But next time Soda Pop even breathes on you, I will have to intervene as an exalted emissary of the Planet Zeno.”

Entry #41: INCARNATE

97,000 words
NA Science Fiction

“Incarnate-F2MS, time of birth—zero five hundred hours.”

“The subject is stable,” a voice echoes. “Lavage stage three complete. Resume scans.”

I open my eyes and blink furiously, blinded by the light. It’s too hazy to distinguish shape or form—I concentrate on my other senses instead.

A dull, cold surface lies beneath me, even hum of a machine gliding above me. A strong antiseptic smell invades the room, and the incessant beeping only amplifies my dread. I sense a cold wetness spread on my chest, promptly followed by a sharp pinch. The process is replicated with agonizing slowness on other parts of my naked body.

“Sensors implanted. Vitals look good,” a gruff voice says.

After an eternity of white noise, my vision comes glaringly into focus. I’m surrounded by a multitude of figures in white body suits, touching me, probing me.

It’s hard to focus. Where am I? I want to ask, but the words don’t come out. I want to stave off their instruments, but my arms don’t move. My heart is pounding. Something is wrong. Something is very wrong.

“The subject is awake, Doctor.” Someone behind me says.

“That’s impossible.”

He shines a light in my eyes. “Pupil’s reactive. She is conscious.” His eyes above the white mask stare at me curiously. I’m certain he sees the terror in mine, but he doesn’t seem to care.

The doctor sighs. “Do something about it. Would you?”

A pinch on my arm. My eyelids feel heavy.

“Too much brain damage in the original. Synapse replication has failed,” he says in a faraway voice. “Product defective,” I hear, before it all fades to black.


I wake up groggy, this time seemingly alone. Turning my head to examine my surroundings, I exhale with relief. I can move! No longer in that room of terrors, I focus on the here and now. And my mind fills with questions to understand what I’m doing here, what here is or who I am for that matter. In reply, I only find nothingness.

I struggle to get up, my body is weighed down by an invisible force. Then I see them, the tubes inserted into my arms and legs—even my neck. At once, I’m in the grip of fear again.

“It’s not time to rise yet. You need your sustenance.” A voice addresses me, followed by an image on the wall. A middle-aged woman with dark hair and large emerald eyes stares right at me. “Don’t be scared,” she says in a soft placating voice.

“Who…?” I try to ask.

“My name is Dr. Sarah Owens, and you are F2MS, Mia Spencer. We will talk more, once you’ve moved into your apartment. Until then, sleep tight.”


I move fast through a tunnel, awake I think, yet the images switch so rapidly it seems like a dream. But this is no dream. Strange tingling sensations run all over my body.

I wish I knew the significance of these faces and why I see them at night. Especially that one face, repeating more often than any other. Who is that man?  The tingling has become a lot more intense now. The images move faster too. I want to hold on to the sensation, but I’m floating. “Mia,” a voice calls out to me through the blur. Then it all fades away.


“Do we know if the subject has retained memories from her original?” Her voice reverberates through the room.

“It’s unlikely she’ll remember any of her experiences.” Another woman replies softly. “Will that be a problem, Director Langston?”

“Not for us. For her keeper? Rather tragic, actually. Leaves the chances of acceptance slim,” Director Langston says.

“Do you think he’ll have her replaced?”

“Replaced, purged… whatever works. The sooner, the better,” she quips dismissively.

I keep my eyes shut and pretend to be asleep. The words don’t mean much, but her apathy almost sounds like wishful thinking.

“You are aware, Dr. Campbell has requested complete isolation for her.”

“Yes, Director Langston,” she says in a cowering voice.

“Ensure the regulation is adhered to under all circumstances. Any change in her condition, and you come directly to me.”

My eyes flit open. Standing before me is a statuesque, intimidating woman with platinum hair, slicked back. Her cold, grey eyes stare at me from her browless face, with visible distaste.
“She’s all yours, Sarah.” With that, Director Langston leaves.

I turn my gaze towards the other figure in the white lab coat. I remember her face, the woman on the screen, Dr. Sarah Owens. When she comes closer, I clench my fists instinctively.

“You have nothing to be afraid of,” she says. “Do you understand?”

I nod, examining her carefully. Dr. Owens has the same serene smile on her bright red lips as before—a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.

“What… is wrong… with me?” I ask.

“All in good time. You must be patient,” she chirps, focusing her attention elsewhere. “Epoch,” she calls out.

“I’m here, Dr. Owens,” a voice replies and the walls in the room come alive. The patterns on them move with unique rhythm and design, at once calming and mesmerizing. Epoch—the operating system, plays with colors—awaiting instructions.

“Show me the complete diagnostics for F2MS,” she commands. The information appears instantaneously on a glass panel in her hand. “And the multi-sensor analysis?”

Satisfied by what she reads, Dr. Owens swipes the panel clean. “Alright, let’s get on with it. We haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Dr. Sarah Owens and you are Mrs. Mia Spencer.”

For some reason, her voice grates my nerves to shreds. I ignore the effect and focus on her words instead. “Are you my doctor?” I ask.

“I’m your designated companion for the next few weeks. It’s my responsibility to ensure you gain the required learning from your time here, at the Learning & Rehabilitation Institute of Helicon Genetics.”

“I don’t… understand,” I say.

“Yes of course, first the basics. You are an incarnate from the HC-280 release, Id F2MS,” she relays mechanically. “A biological copy of twenty-two-year-old human, Mia Spencer—DNA owned by husband, Adrian Spencer.”

I stare at her, unable to keep up with the flood of information. “Biological copy?”

“Clone, if you will. But one expected to replace her original—an Incarnate,” she says.

"An Incarnate," I repeat. Does that mean I am her? I wonder. Or am I me?

“As a product of Helicon Genetics, you will be expected to understand and abide by our rules and regulations,” she continues in a clinical manner. “Epoch is here to help with your instructions.” The walls glow a bright green and swirl, in response. “And I will guide your learning process.” Dr. Owens pauses to flash me a brief impersonal smile. “Now I know you’ve been stuck in bed for way too long. So how about you and I go for that prescribed daily walk?”

She taps the device in her hand and at once the bed elevates me into a sitting position. I swing my legs off and attempt to stand on them. A little shaky at first, but soon my body adapts to the movement.

I’m still reeling from the dossier she has so hastily doled out, to make sense of any of it. A clone of Mia Spencer. Product of Helicon Genetics. I must follow the rules, learn at this institute. Through it all, one question nags at me. “Learn what?” I ask.

“To be Mia, of course,” says Dr. Owens.


85,000 words
NA Steampunk


My mother did not want me to tell her good-bye. In her last moments, she refused to have me by her deathbed.
“Please,” she wheezed to my father through her respirator, which resembled a large bronze-and-black spider devouring her face. “Take the children to the cellar.”
“Scarlett! Teddy! Hurry along now!”
“Mama, I want to stay with you!” I clutched my mother’s thin hand as I collapsed to my knees. I ignored the respirator, the blue veins that bulged along her fingers, and the shadows staining the hollows of her eyes. She was immortalized in my memory with her midnight tresses, the flush of her fair skin, and the warmth of health blooming in her smooth, supple palms.
Mother gasped. A bead of sweat rolled past her temple. She pressed her free hand to her throat as she coughed, lurching on her back, the final minutes of her life forcing spasms along her spine.
Baba yanked on my shoulder. He held my little brother, Teddy, by one hand.
“Scarlett, down to the cellar.”
Turning a deaf ear to my screeches, he slung me over his broad shoulder, as easily as a bamboo pole. He whisked Teddy and me out of the bedchamber to the kitchen. Coriander and ginger scented the air, and darkness slammed above my head. With the snap of the lock, Baba trapped my brother and me among the sacks of flour, rice, and dried fruit.
Teddy clung to my waist. I threw my arms around his shoulders, resting my chin upon the tuft of dark hair atop his head. Teddy’s tears streamed down my neck. I tightened my embrace, needing the softness of his round, familiar cheeks against my collarbone.
“What’s happening to Mama, Scarlett?”
My voice felt like glass shards in my throat. “Mama’s dying, Teddy.”
Teddy was only four. “Baba keeps saying Mama won’t return. Is that what dying means?”
My tears dripped into my brother’s black hair. “That’s right. Mama will be gone. She’ll sleep and never wake up.”
“Then she’ll need a kiss!” Teddy leapt to his feet as if he had dug up gold. “That’s how ladies wake up in stories! Baba needs to kiss her, and she’ll live!”

“No, Teddy.” I shook my head as I pressed my fists against my soaked eyes. “Kisses can’t save her, not even ones from Baba. She’ll disappear, and we’ll never see her again.”
In a momentary halt of tears, Teddy stayed quiet in the dark. He processed my words, let them seep into his ears, soak into his brain, and felt the blunt trauma of truth bruise him deep beneath his skin before a fresh flood of tears assaulted my skirt.
“Don’t ever die, Scarlett!” He pressed his face between my ribs.
“I’m not going to die!” The declaration ripped out of my throat as we sobbed and embraced each other by the lumpy sacks of flour. We couldn’t tell whose tears were whose. They merged like raindrops streaking down windows on stormy nights and bleeding into oblivion.
Our sobs ebbed into sniffled whimpers. We didn’t hear anything. No winds through the windows, no tinkling of windchimes in the garden, no creaking footsteps, nothing but the ticking of the kitchen clock. Tick...tick...tick…
A great cry from my parents’ bedchamber shattered the silence. It resonated against the walls, deep and anguished. It couldn’t belong to anyone but Baba, but the voice did not sound human. It sounded like the cry of a mauled animal.
There was a sudden rush of sounds--a window clattering open, glass smashing and crackling upon the floor, the stomp of steel boots, and a satin-deep voice that declared, “She’s mine now!”
“No!” I heard Baba cry. “No! She’s my wife!”
I clutched my brother to me, his cheeks squished against the curve of my neck as we quashed our breaths. Was this why Baba locked us in here?
“Leave my family alone!”
“That simple, is it? You’ll never be left alone.”
I heard another scream from Baba, like an arrow shot through my ears.
The unfamiliar voice chuckled. “I am perfectly aware that you have a daughter.”
“No!” Baba’s ragged voice was fading, and I had to raise my head and widen my eyes to catch his words. “No children!”
Only a laugh. “You’re still a poor liar. I’d like to meet her very much.”
Dragging my brother by the hand, I buried us both beneath a pile of rice sacks. I clamped my hand over my mouth as the lock shattered open, and light stabbed into the cellar.
I screamed when a large hand snatched my tresses. With brute force that I could not resist, I was dragged into the daylit kitchen, and back to the bedchamber. There was my father, his hand clamped onto the door frame as he leaned forward with heavy breaths. A syringe with clear fluid stuck out from his shoulder, the very shoulder I had been slung over less than an hour ago.
“Look at me, girl!”
I shrieked like a pig to be slaughtered as my head was yanked back by my hair. The intruder’s face was obscured by a white mask with painted black slits. His velvet coat was long and green, and his hair was hidden beneath a wide-brimmed black hat with a gold feather.
“What a pretty girl.” His deep voice was like a purr, a soft breath stained with sneers. “How old are you, child?”
Tears streaked down my face. My mouth hung slack.
“Eight? Nine? Ten?” He yanked harder on my hair. “Answer me, girl!”
“Nine!” The stinging in my scalp shot the truth out of me.
“Nine?” He laughed, and met Baba’s red eyes, which were delirious with anger. “You and your wife produced a future minx. Give her another ten years, and she’ll be at the apex of ravishment.”
A flash of black movement jerked another shriek out of me. One lash of a whip against the intruder’s arm, and I crumpled to the floor. I crawled to Baba. He clenched his bared teeth as I yanked the syringe out of him. A shadow loomed over us.
My grandmother stood tall before us, her teeth bared and an axe in her fists and a whip and a pistol at her belt. She glared at the intruder, her legs spread in a formidable stance.
“You dare come after my family?”
“I have only come to collect my debts.” The intruder rubbed his arm where he had been whipped, even though he chuckled.
I clutched Baba’s hand as he tried to stand, but the injection from the syringe made his legs quiver, as if he had been reduced to the strength of a fawn trying to take its first steps. Grandmother’s axe swung out many times in vain at the intruder, who gathered my mother’s corpse. She hung over his arms like a marionette, her black hair like a swinging drape. The respirator had been removed from her pale, parched lips, and the white lace of her nightgown fluttered along her protruding collarbone like flowers shriveling beneath a blast of wind.

Large mechanical hands attached with springs shot through the window and snatched both the intruder and my mother, flinging both of them into an airship that hovered outside the window. The massive red and copper structure gleamed in the daylight like an angry shard of sun that threatened to burn us all alive.


77,000 words
YA Magical Realism
We snuck into the beach at Hanna Park together, but I stood on the dunes alone. Colton took off with his girlfriend while I parked the car. The usual jumble of bodies circled the bonfire, and a bad playlist blared from mini speakers. People always invited me to these parties. My liver’s shot, so I came in handy as a designated driver. I didn’t go for the people, though. I went for the salt water.
I kicked off my loafers and walked to the shoreline. City park status kept the condos with their blaring lights off Hanna’s coast, and up close the night was all black water and white moonlight catching on the breakers. Memories of coconut sunscreen clung to the breeze.

“I thought I felt my gaydar going off! Glad you’re here, Evan.” Jake Morgan’s high pitched laugh rang in my ears. 
Jake jogged behind me, dragging a piece of driftwood toward the fire. His spiked black hair reminded me of a tuxedo urchin. I turned away from him as he passed by, and his knuckles jabbed me in the back. I gritted my teeth, with irritation knifing its way through my chest. 
“I’m gonna punch you in the ovary, Morgan.” Some girl shot me a dirty look, clearly missing my Anchorman reference. 
I shoved my hands in my pockets and stared at the crashing waves. I don’t know why I thought senior year would be different. I’d never had a girlfriend, and I was dateless on a Saturday night. Again. Before the night was over, I had to ask a girl out. 
The tide stretched higher, wetting my feet, and something tangled in my toes. I pulled a thin red ribbon from the damp sand. It slipped from my fingers and caught on the wind, swirling toward a girl sitting apart from the party. Dark hair whipped around her shoulders. I adjusted my glasses, but I couldn’t make out her face in the shadows. 
Talking to her one-on-one might’ve given me an actual shot, whoever she was. But in the opposite direction, my classmates’ faces glowed in the light of the fire. Voices muddled together in excitement. They looked the same as they did every weekend: happy. I’d never minded walking the beach while they partied, collecting intact shells for my aquarium or imagining rogue lionfish lurking beneath the surface.

But they always left in pairs. And even if my car was full, I still left alone. 
“Frank the Tank” from the movie Old School crossed my mind. He got drunk at a party and streaked through the streets. In almost every one of Will Ferrell’s movies, his characters spent their wild nights drinking. I needed to stop obsessing and just do something. Channeling my comic hero seemed like a step in the right direction. Just for one night. Just enough to loosen up. One beer. 
I cut through the crowd, fished a can from the cooler, and cracked it open before my conscience could stop me. 
“Dude.” Colton hopped up from his camp chair and grabbed my arm. “What are you doing?” 
The threat of hulk mode bubbled in Colt’s green eyes, and there was a rip in the collar of his Atlantic Coast Athletics t-shirt. His girlfriend drank from a red Solo cup, hiding her face. I glanced between them and narrowed my eyes. Colt wasn’t drinking because he had conditioning hours to make up the next day. But he’d been slurring and red-faced at another party a week earlier. 
“Something different.” I lifted the can to my lips. 
That first sip tasted like change, cool with only a hint of bitter. 
Colton reached for the can, but I jerked it out of reach. Foam sloshed over onto my fingers. I stepped back and gulped down more of the bitter swill. 
“Don’t make me take you to the hospital, man.” Colton pointed a finger at my chest, a gesture that usually meant a fight was brewing. But an obnoxious laugh broke through the tension. 
“Oh, Evan Evans has a beer!” Jake Morgan held up his phone, and his camera flashed. 
I flipped Jake off and headed back to the shore, brushing shoulders with Colt along the way. If I was anybody else, that would’ve earned me a right hook, but I guess ten years of friendship was enough to give me a pass. 
“Evan, come on,” Colt called after me. 
I chugged the rest of the beer, ignoring my best friend and my churning stomach. Colton looked out for me, but he didn’t understand what it was like to be saddled by my disease. He played football. He ate and drank whatever he wanted. Girls asked him out, not the other way around. 
The music changed and a flock of sophomores rushed across the beach. They blocked my path, and I dropped my can when two of them thrust their half-empty drinks toward me. They danced and sang and blurred together with the ocean kissing their feet. Dizziness clouded my head, and I struggled to focus the girl closest to me, Sally Ryan. Her blonde hair swung around as she moved, and her dress was so short I could see what color her panties were. (Yellow.) 
Sally was more than just long legs and a coy smile. She sang in the chorus at school, she lived in my neighborhood, and she always waved at the mailbox. Guys should’ve been lining up for a chance with her, but she’d never had a boyfriend. Kind of like how I’d never had a girlfriend.

With one beer down, I wanted another. I sucked down the girls’ half-empty drinks and worked up my nerve. I struggled to imagine Sally going out with me, or even hooking up with me that night. Things got fuzzy when I danced up behind her. Well, not danced, really, but nodded my head and shuffled my feet in my awkward way. 
She leaned closer to me. The encouragement built my confidence, and I reached for her hand. But instead of being all smooth, I stumbled and almost fell face-down in the surf. The next wave crashed higher, splashing up to my knees, and the girls all scattered. The water soaked up the oppressiveness of the heat and any lingering embarrassment. I waved to Sally to come back. The motion of my arm sent my head spinning. 
Another wave slammed into my chest, landing my butt in the soggy sand. But I didn’t mind. The ocean, limitless and constant and full of life, felt like home. The music warped in sour-slow-motion, and the firelight shimmered behind Sally’s head like a halo. I tumbled backward in the sand and flapped my arms and legs in the sticky wetness. Way to get the girl, Evan. 
A sharp pain in my temples broke the revelry, like shards of glass exploded in my brain. I closed my eyes and clutched my head. My body stilled, sinking while the waves washed over my shirt. But all I knew was this semi-conscious daze. 
I wondered if I was having the world’s fastest hangover. Images flashed in my head, a dream-like, fast-forward progression of scenarios. The breathless sound of shock and tears after the announcement that Jake Morgan was dead. Periwinkle-blue carpet at the visitation. The smell of honeysuckle at a funeral. And in my car afterward, I was kissing the absolute last girl I’d ever want to go out with or be seen with or kiss. The weirdest girl at school, with ash-back hair and old lady clothes: Harmony Maxwell.