Thursday, June 30, 2016

NANOWRIMO 2015 on 'Between the Lines Book Talk'

A little something different - this is an author discussion I participated in during NaNoWriMo 2015, while I was writing Too Wyrd.



Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mother's Touch, Excerpt, Part 5

Part 1 is herePart 2 is herePart 3 is herePart 4 is here

The pounding at the door startled me. I opened it to find two women standing, crowded on the tiny cement porch. They looked well-off, with nice clothes and a classy amount of jewelry. The look on their faces said they weren't used to this neighborhood.

Behind them, three children stood silently. A girl in a lacy, pink dress seemed exceptionally pale. The older boy, a teenager, slouched in his t-shirt and distressed jeans. The younger boy eyed the dirt in the yard as if he wanted to dig his hands into it, but wasn't sure about the reaction from his mother.

"Can I help you?" I asked.

The darker-haired woman looked directly into my eyes. "Are you Lunamae Harper? From the video?"

"I'm Lunamae," I said. "What video?"

The woman stuck out her hand. "My name is Maggie Joss. The video on the internet. The one where you saved that man. After the car accident?" She seemed a little put off.

I frowned. If a video of me saving David had gotten online... well, I wasn't sure what that would mean.

The woman huffed a breath. "My little girl," she gestured to the girl in the dress, "she has cancer. I was hoping you could help her. Like you did with that man."

My mouth fell open. I could feel my jaw hit against my neck. "Ahhh, I-I-I... What?"

The woman - Maggie, was it? - fumbled in her purse and pulled out a checkbook. "I don't know what your rates are..."

"Rates?" My mind was refusing to process any more, so I couldn't think of anything to do other than repeat the woman's words.

"I can pay $300 now and an additional $5,000 once the tests prove the cancer is gone." Her eyes had taken on a hawkish gleam. "Is that acceptable?"

I stared, certain I'd heard wrong. $5,300? To heal the girl? That would pay our rent for nearly half a year. That would get me out of my mother's house.

I nodded and waved them inside.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Mother's Touch, Excerpt, Part 4

Part 1 is herePart 2 is herePart 3 is here

Flying is wonderful, freeing. The wind holds me up by the arms and thighs. My back arches, and my eyes are closed. I don't want to open them.

I am flying like a cactus thrush. But I have forgotten my feathers.

I felt the impact shake my spirit from my bones. I rolled several times, unable to stop it. I felt my hair being pulled and something kept scratching at my face. I rolled to a stop and opened my eyes.

The sky was blue above me. It was the kind of blue that is so blue it is a mere shadow away from white. There were no clouds. Only the silhouette of a hawk in the distance.

I wanted to weep, to call out, to move, but I couldn't convince my body to work. My spirit had been knocked loose. It needed to get back in the driver's seat before the flesh would obey.

I writhed in the tall dry grass and stared at the sky, my spirit working back into the crevasses and valleys of my body. When it snapped back into place suddenly, I dragged in the first breath with a ragged groan that shredded through my vocal cords.

I gasped and struggled for another breath. And another. Each tore at my throat a little less. My hands grasped convulsively at the grassy stems and my legs twitched, trying to convince me that I was unharmed. I wasn't entirely certain of that, but survival instincts kicked in and I rolled over and crawled to my hands and knees. I paused a moment, fighting off the waves of nausea before looking around.

I saw the car to my left, with the hood like an accordian, pressed against the cement pylon. The pylon angled away from the car, trying to get away from the attack. Bits of crumbled cement fell from around where the bumper should have been.

Other cars had already stopped. Some people were creeping towards the car, checking it out. Others were on cell phones. Perhaps one or two had even called 911. I could hear the fear and excitement in their voices, but the words were lost in the throbbing of noise and my head.

One of the creepers spotted me as I tried to get to my feet. I failed and crawled forward a few steps before the middle-aged man reached my side.

"Ohmygosh, are you hurt?"

I ignored the question. I'd just been thrown from a car and he asked if I was hurt. I couldn't think of a single response that my mother wouldn't slap my mouth for. "David."

The guy smiled. "No, I'm Joe," he said, helping me get to my feet.

I scanned the grass. It took a minute for what he'd said to make sense. "Where's David? He was driving."

The guy turned pale. "Oh, gosh. There was no one in the car." He held my arm, letting me use his grip to steady my steps. He waved with his other hand. "Hey, Elliot!"

Another middle-aged guy looked at him. When he saw me, he started towards us.

Joe cupped his free hand to his mouth. "There's another person! Start looking!"

I winced as he yelled.

Elliot started calling to the other gawkers, creepers and phone talkers. At least no one had started taking videos.

I stumbled my way to the car with Joe's help. But, before I could think what to do next, one of the searchers started hollering and waving, "Over here! I found him!"

I lurched that direction, dragging Joe, who still had ahold of my arm. I tried to shake him off, but I nearly fell over, so I let him hold me steady. We stumbled through the grass.

David suddenly appeared amoung the tall plants. I dropped to my knees at his side.

A young, blonde woman had arrived, too, and she seemed to be checking his injuries. She looked like she knew what she was doing, so I let her. She sat back and met my eyes. I stared at her as she shook her head.

I waited to be choked up. I waited for the wailing and the keening. I felt the sounds coming up my throat and I opened my mouth to let them out.

But the sounds were not crying, or wailing, or keening. The sounds were the words of the song Grandpa Bear had sang over the ranch hand nearly 20 years before.

I was too tired and hurt to fight it, so I rocked to the rhythm spilling over my lips. I closed my eyes and let the music flow through me. I felt the world shift.

When I opened my eyes, I saw the notes that made up everything. Joe's weak tenor hovered over me, with the woman's solid alto nearby. But I only looked at David. His notes were jumbled, tangled. I reached for them, moving them into a song. David's song.

When I was done, the healing song faded with my abused voice. I sat on my heels, breathing deeply and searching for my center.

I caught Joe's terrified gaze and motioned for a cigarette. He turned to Elliot and came back with a menthol and a lighter. Not as good as Grandpa Bear's pipe, but it would have to do.

As the tobacco calmed my spirit, I noticed the woman staring at me. I sent her a questioning look.
She backed away a step. "How did you do that?" The others retreated, too. "What are you?"

Friday, June 24, 2016

Mother's Touch, Excerpt, Part 3

Part 1 is herePart 2 is here

"LunaMae!"
The high, desperate cry of my mother grabbed at my spirit. I shivered at the touch of her voice but kept walking.
"LunaMae, you can't go!" she called down the street. "Don't do this to me!"
I kept walking, my worn sneakers padding silently on the broken concrete of the street. Our neighborhood didn't have many sidewalks.
I felt the presence of a car pulling up behind me and my heart sank. I ignored it, hoping the guy would leave me alone, or even just yell some obcene request while driving past.
"Hey, babe!"
It took a second for the voice to register as being familiar. I turned and smiled sadly at the dark-haired driver. "Hi, David." I glanced back at my mother, still yelling after me. "Gimme a ride?"
David smiled, showing his slightly crooked front tooth. "Of course." He waited until I settled into the worn seat of his towncar before pulling away. "You leaving home for good this time?"
I shrugged.
"You could stay with me," he offered.
I knew he would. I knew I should take the offer. We'd been dating for several years. I just couldn't get over how there was no music between us. It worried me.
"What other choice do you have?"
I sighed and refused to consider the alternatives. They marched through my mind anyways: go back to my mother, live on the streets, crash at Aunt Jan's or my cousin Carla's... and, of course, Grandpa Bear's.
I turned to look at him and offered him a smile. "I'll think about it, okay?"
His bronzed face darkened. I could see the lines around his mouth from working in the sun in his job as a construction foreman. "You still haven't answered my question, either. If I didn't know better, I'd say you didn't want to marry me."
He cranked the wheel into a turn and the car lurched. I grabbed the oh-shit handle and stared at the passing buildings. My emotions were numbed. I wasn't even concerned by the speed at which we flew down the roads.
We were headed to the highway towards downtown. My mother lived in an older suburb keeping the city proper between us and the rez like a lead vest against the radiation of our culture. David lived on the other side of the city. I couldn't tell if we were headed downtown, or for David's apartment, or for the reservation.
"It isn't that," I began, but his anger cut me off.
"Then explain it to me! Let me know what I did. Tell me if I'm just not good enough. But I deserve an explanation!"
I turned to look at David. My golden brown eyes met his stormy blue ones. My mouth opened to avoid the question. I started to answer the question. I closed my mouth, not sure what to say.
I blinked. I was looking into his eyes. He was looking at me.
My head whipped around to see the exit ramp, a huge concrete pylon coming towards us. The scene was streaked with my hair flying in front of my face. I realized horns were honking, and I screamed in perfect harmony with the screeching tires.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mother's Touch, Excerpt, Part 2

Part 1 is here

My mother found out what he’d already known when I was seven. A young man got himself gored by a bull at a nearby ranch. He was a good worker, and the rancher tried to get him to go to the hospital in town. The injured man went to the Medicine Woman instead. She sent him to Grandpa Bear. We were visiting for a week or two.

The young man stumbled in, supported on one side by his uncle. Both of them wrinkled their noses in appreciation of the smell of whiskey, tobacco, and hides that permeated the three-room shack.

Grandpa Bear asked what happened and why they come here. The uncle did the talking. Grandpa Bear nodded and peeked out the back window where mother was hanging the wash.

He motioned me forward and had me close my eyes. He started chanting, the high, keening, musical kind that white men can never quite get right. The words danced around my head, pushing each other onward, a river of sounds. I began to sway to the music of them.

Time passed on, then time ceased to exist. The words continued, but lost all meaning. My eyes opened but, instead of the three men and Grandpa Bear’s shack, I saw light, swirling like liquid music.

I reached out to a handful of notes that were out of harmony with the rest. I touched them and they shifted, changed. They moved out of discord and I smiled, then the music stopped.

When my mother came in, she frowned at the three men smoking pipe in a circle around me. She didn’t believe what happened until she called the rancher and he confirmed the horrible injury. Even then, she said she didn’t believe it, but we didn’t see Grandpa Bear for four months after that.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mother's Touch, Excerpt, Part 1

Chester Nez,
last of the Navajo Code Talkers
The Navajo blood that runs through my veins is very small. That’s how Grandpa Bear described it. He said, in his voice like music running over sandpaper, “Your blood is small, but it is strong and powerful, sand in a windstorm.”

I always laughed at this, a high trembling sound, mimicking a tiny cactus thrush. He would fix me with those black snake’s eyes which, any other time, would be milky white from age.

“Little Cactus Bird,” he would call me, “you have so little strength of your own. You are a riverbed; your power is in the floods you hold. Hide away, Little Bird, in your cactus. No one else will save you.”

Around this time, my mother would come out, half Caucasian with dusky skin and hair of obsidian. She would call me away from her father, a drunk in her eyes.

“You listen’n to th’ crazy talk ag’in? LunaMae, I told you…”

I always tuned her out. She didn’t want to hear about my blessing in the symbolic wording of my only living grandparent. She packed me up in a fifteen year old Towncar and drove away. A couple months later, we’d come back as if nothing happened.

I believed that time did not pass for Grandpa Bear when we were gone. He just froze until we came back.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Nemesis

I grew up with comic books. They were my escape and the geek culture was my family.
I was an orphan, living in the System - foster homes, juvie halls, all that. But that's not what my story is about.
When I turned 16, I found out that I'm a superhero.
I have to say, it was a little shocking at first. I don't live in a world with the likes of Spiderman, or the X-men, or anything like that. I live in the real world.
The first time I did my thing, it took me a while to figure out what was going on. When I told the man who I'd caught raping my friend to "just die", he did. Instant heart attack.
My friend thanked me for saving her.
"It's nothing," I said. "Forget about it."
The next day, I asked how she was doing. She had no idea what I was talking about.
After a while, I found that I could control when my words would invade another's mind and make them do what I wanted. I left the System and never looked back.

I began to travel the world. Being a dark-haired Italian gave me an advantage in blending in with almost any culture. I just had to dress the part.
I was pretty sure that I wouldn't have too much time before I found my nemesis. All superheroes have one - the bad guy to do battle with. That's what superheroes do.
I started in Asia, boarding planes, buses and trains with no way to pay, but I told the ticket-takers that they'd already punched my ticket and that was that.
I found myself drawn to the ghettos and the slums of the world, searching for my nemesis, hoping to draw him or her out of the shadows with the temptation of having a "worthy adversary".
But no one came.
Finally, I came to the conclusion that my nemesis didn't know of his or her powers. They didn't know they had a role to fulfill.
So I started hunting them down.

In the comics, the bad guy is usually someone of wealth or power or both. They are a person who uses their position and abilities to take more power, grow more wealth, and abuse people along the way.
I sought out those people.
I invaded child-brothels in Thailand and Singapore, demanding that the men engaged in the horrors there "suffer and die".


They did.
I demanded that kidnappers of orphaned children in India tell me who they sold their kids to. I devestated the pedophile populations throughout southern asia.
I went to Brazil and killed an entire crime family.
I handed over a dozen men and women involved in immigrant slavery in the eastern United States to the authorities, and I forced a corrupt judge to give them maximum sentences before he died of a brain aneurysm.

After a full decade of bloodshed, I stopped.
I looked around, waiting for my nemesis.
Nothing.
I searched for signs that my work had been successful in slowing the horrors that humankind was bequeathing itself.
Nothing.
I wept with the blood on my hands and in my mind. I knew I wouldn't stop. I couldn't stop.

And I understood.
Finally, I got what the world was telling me. I had my nemesis.

Hell On Earth, Short Story Excerpt, Part 1

“Mo-om! Damon’s breathing fire at me again!”
Stephanie rolled her eyes at Gina’s wailing. “Honey, he’s just a baby. Don’t get so close to him.”
She continued making supper: meatloaf, green beans, rolls, and the formula. The smell of rotten eggs covered all other odors in the kitchen. The yellow and red stones sitting in a wicker basket next to the fruit glared at her maliciously, waiting for mortar and pestle.
“Mo-om! Damon’s trying to fly again!”
Stephanie put the green beans on the stovetop and checked on the meatloaf. She took off her apron and strode into the living room. After double checking her hair, tied tightly into a bun, she plucked Damon off the edge of the playpen. His under-developed, bat-like wings beat the air as he squawked with outrage. Stephanie tucked him into her arm and rocked him, making a hissing noise.
Soon the child closed his yellow eyes and laid his blue-black cheek against her breast. His breathing slowed as he fell asleep. Stephanie put him gently down in the playpen and pulled the lid over the top to prevent future flight attempts. The little devil just wasn’t old enough yet.
A short time later, Stephanie was finishing up supper while Gina set the table. Both jumped as the front door suddenly banged open to show a monstrous winged profile.
Gina’s face lit up. “Daddy’s home!” She ran to the door, blonde hair streaming behind.
Devon swept the five year old up into the air, then caught her in a hug. He shrugged off his cloak and kicked off his shoes still holding her. Stephanie paused long enough to open the playpen and pick up the baby, then met Devon at the kitchen door.
Devon kissed the baby’s head then his wife’s lips. His red eyes glittered happily as he pulled back. Stephanie smiled and dragged the steel highchair to the table.
“I wanna kiss, daddy!” Gina proclaimed as Devon sat her down in her booster seat. He tipped her head back and pecked each cheek before landing one on her nose. Gina’s high-pitched giggles and Damon’s baby-laughter filled the kitchen.
Stephanie brought the meatloaf to the table. She watched her family for a moment, noticing the familiar, slightly sad expression on Devon’s face. She silently promised herself she would talk to him later.
“Gina, don’t throw green beans at your brother!”

Monday, June 13, 2016

Candy Hearts, Short Story

Here's something a little different - straight up fiction:


Stan pulled the cord above the bus’s thick, smudged Plexiglas window. A middle-aged woman eyed him warily and hugged her bags close in the seat facing him. Her clothes were old but clean, and her eyes held the weariness of one who never catches up, on sleep, at work, with bills. Stan flashed her a toothy grin complete with nicotine stains. The woman only huddled further into her seat.
Stan shrugged and pulled his black and navy knit cap down over his ears. He stood up and staggered a bit as the bus stopped with a jerk. He shuffled to the door towards the back of the bus, his baggy pants lightly scraping the floor. He gripped his precious package in one hand and shouldered open the heavy door. The cold air slapped him in the face. His hazel eyes watered with the cold pain. Worn, dirty running shoes disappeared into a foot of snow piled on the edge of the sidewalk.
Stan shoved his empty hand into his old starter jacket and stomped the snow from his shoes as he started up the shoveled sidewalk. He peered into several storefronts along the way, but today was not for shopping even though it was his day off.
Stan was a second assistant at a local convenience store chain. He was a low man on the totem pole, but it paid the bills. It kept a roof over the head, food in the stomach, and, occasionally, new tunes in the stereo. He was really living it up these days.
The worn rubber soles on Stan’s shoes slid on an icy patch of the sidewalk. The gray sky filled his vision as he landed on his back. The light snow only cushioned the fall a little bit. He scrambled to his feet with the help of a passing business man. Stan stuttered a thanks at the unexpected help. The city’s affluent didn’t bother noticing him often, helped even less. The man just smiled at him and continued walking.
Stan watched the man’s gray overcoat disappear around the corner. The unforgiving bite of the wind reminded him of his self-imposed mission. His right hand still clenched the precious package. He turned another corner and pulled a thick pane glass door open against the chill wind.
A wave of warmth covered him as he stamped off the snow and the cold. He glanced around at weary, fearful eyes, smiling at those he recognized. He stopped at the blue eyes of Karen. She smiled a greeting and handed the blanket in her arms to a white-haired man wearing three thin, tattered coats and a parka hood.
After disposing of her load, she walked up to Stan. She had worked here for a couple years now, and her eyes had begun to show the wear. A light, flowery scent cut through the musty smell of unwashed bodies. Her sweater hung loose around her torso and her blonde hair fell limp from a pony tail.
“Hi, Stan. Got the day off?” She had always been the kindest to him, showed him extra attention. She had gotten him the job and convinced him he could do it.
“Yeah.” He shuffled his feet nervously. “They made me full time. Six days a week.”
“That’s great.”
“One o’ my co-workers gave me this.” Stan held out his package. “Thought I could share it with the guys.” He gestured with the bag at the collection of scraggly haired men in layers of torn, mixed clothing.
Karen glanced at the bag and smiled. “I think they’d like it. Lemme get a bowl.”
Stan nodded and followed her to the huge kitchen. Karen pulled a chipped, fake-crystal bowl out of the cupboard and set it on the yellow-tile counter. Stan opened the half-bag of candy message-hearts and emptied it into the bowl. A single heart landed face down on the counter.
He glanced at Karen before picking up the white heart. His thoughts drifted back several months to when she was the only thing keeping him going through the hopelessness. He read the message on the heart and handed it to her. She smiled softly and looked at the message.
“’I love you’,” she read. “Thank you, Stan.” She picked up the bowl. “The guys will love this. They almost never get candy.”
“I know, I remember.” Stan took the bowl from her. “I only been outa here six months.”
Karen blushed. “I know. And you’re doing great, I hear. Just like I knew you would.”
Stan turned to take the candy out to the homeless in the next room. He paused at the door.
“I do, ya know.”
“Do what?”
“Love you.” Stan blushed and went into the common room.
Karen followed a few minutes later, after her own blush had faded, but he’d already gone. Karen stared at the white heart in her hand for a moment before she ate it.