Short story: ‘Letting Go’

I’ve been pondering short stories lately, as you do. Despite having a story in the A Hand of Knaves anthology that came out earlier this year, I still feel like short fiction isn’t my natural state. (My current novel WIP was intented to be a novella, and it’s … well, it’s longer than Guardian Angel and I’m still going.) But I think that might be because I’m out of practice — I used to do a lot of writing challenges, but I’ve fallen out of the habit.

The below — which I’ve decided to re-share because yay, Christmas — is an example of that. I wrote it in 2013 as part of a challenge to write out of my usual genre. The original is hosted at The Midnight Type, if you want to show them some love (although the site seems to be inactive now, sadly).


Letting Go

Michelle decorates the house in silence.

In previous years, her home had been filled with carols and laughter. Her family decked the halls to Deck the Halls, and the night was anything but silent. At fifteen, Ben was too cool to hang baubles, and he’d ceded the right to top the tree back to his father after ten years of hogging the privilege. But Michelle caught glimpses of childhood delight behind his surly exterior, and hid her smile behind her hand.

That was before she found the emails.

Now she strings the tinsel alone, performing the familiar ritual not out of celebration but because she’s fallen into a rut with steep sides — too steep to climb. There is no joy in it. She hangs out his stocking next to hers, over the mantelpiece. The pair hang limply.

The phone rings, piercing the silence like a scream. A glass bauble slips from her fingers, shatters on the empty tiles beneath the tree.

“Hello?”

Silence on the other end. Then a familiar voice speaks. “Michelle.”

“Darren.” Her voice is as sharp as the glass shards. Glittering crimson.

“How are you?”

She fishes the dustpan and brush from under the sink, cradling the phone against her shoulder. “Fine,” she says. It’s even sort of true. She is hollow, mercifully empty of emotion behind carefully constructed walls. “Why?”

“Well, it’s the first of December, and I thought…” He trails off.

He knows her. After twenty years of marriage, he ought to. The first of December is when the decorations go up. And she’s alone.

“I’m fine.” A white-hot spot of anger flares, burning away some of the numbness. She grits her teeth, suppresses the emotion. If she lets anger in, the rest will follow. When she speaks, her voice is cool. “The divorce papers arrived yesterday.”

“You don’t have to do anything with them right now. Wait till after the holidays.”

“I signed them already.” She sweeps red shards onto the dustpan.

“Oh.” He sighs. “Did you want some company?”

“No.” She frowns. Why is he pretending to care? He left her after Ben– She can’t even think the word. “Is there anything else? I’m busy.”

He’s quiet for so long she wonders if he hung up and she didn’t notice. Then he says, “Have you read the emails yet?”

This old argument. When will he stop blaming her for what happened? “I read them last year.”

“Read them again. Properly, this time.”

“Leave me alone.”

“Goodbye, Michelle.”

She hangs up and tips the glass in the bin. It patters down onto a shrivelled banana peel, an empty milk carton, Darren’s discarded stocking.

It has been almost a year since her fight with Ben about the emails. Electronic love letters between him and that girl. Brittany. Bad enough that her boy was fourteen. Worse that the girl was so far from the wrong side of the tracks that she couldn’t even see them. Her older sister had died of a drug overdose; her father was an alcoholic who spent all his time at the RSL, feeding his welfare cheque into the pokies.

Ben had stormed out of the house, hared off on his bike. The car hadn’t seen him in the dark.

The guilt claws at the walls around her emotions, tearing through them. Its talons are her grief, its wings her regret. She’s familiar with the beast. But before it can drag her down again, in a tangle of self-loathing and bourbon, a little mouse, curiosity, creeps in behind it.

The next afternoon, when the hangover recedes a little, she reads the emails.

***

The soup kitchen is bustling, the queue almost out the door. The first smell that invades her nose is of salty gravy, the next of unwashed bodies. She holds her breath and ducks inside.

“Hey, no cutting,” a bearded man mumbles, glaring at her from watery eyes.

“I’m not here to eat.” Her stomach churns at the thought. “I’m looking for someone.”

He smiles, gap-toothed. “Is it me?”

“No. Sorry.”

“Well, if you change your mind…” He winks, and she finds herself smiling back. Just a little.

“You might be able to help me. I’m looking for this girl.” She shows him the printout of the photo. It is pixelated, poor quality. Ben took it on his phone.

“Sure, I seen her. She’s up there.”

Michelle turns, squares her shoulders. Walks along the queue till she finds the girl.

“Excuse me.”

Brown eyes turn to her. There is no flash of recognition. Ben never introduced them. “Yes?”

“I’m Ben Rigby’s mother.”

Now there’s recognition. Also anger and grief. Brittany swallows the feelings, but Michelle can see they are old companions. As they are Michelle’s.

“What do you want?” Brittany says, eyes narrowed.

“To see you. I…” Michelle hesitates, looking the girl over. She’s the same age as Ben would have been, still a teenager, but she looks older. Her hands are calloused from work; her bare arms bear faint green and yellow bruises, like bracelets.

“What?” The girl stares back, examining Michelle just as Michelle examines her. “If you came here to yell at me, you can piss off.”

“I didn’t. Actually, I’m planning Christmas dinner, and I wanted to invite you.”

Brittany’s mouth falls open. Then her expression hardens. “I ain’t interested in being your charity case.”

“It’s not about charity. I know you and Ben … cared for each other.” Brittany’s cheeks redden and she lifts her chin. Michelle looks down at her shoes, conspicuously expensive next to Brittany’s scuffed slip-ons. “I’ve spent the last year blaming you for taking him away from me, as much as I blamed myself for driving him away. And, well, Christmas is the season for forgiveness.”

“I don’t want your forgiveness,” Brittany says.

“No.” Michelle looks up, meets her gaze. “But I need to give it. If you’ll let me. I need to let go.”

The girl gnaws her lip, thinks for several moments. “I reckon Ben would want me to,” she murmurs. “Sure, I’ll come.”

Michelle feels something then that she hasn’t felt for almost a year. A tiny piece of joy. She gives the girl a piece of paper with the details written on it. Brittany folds it, slides it inside her purse next to a battered photo. Ben smiles back at Michelle from the image, reminding her of Darren when they’d first met. She can’t help but smile back.

She pulls her phone out of her pocket. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s someone else I need to invite.”

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Review: ‘The Demon’s Surrender’ by Sarah Rees Brennan

DemonsSurrender_cover

The Goblin Market has always been the center of Sin’s world. She’s a dancer and a performer, secure in her place. But now the Market is at war with the magicians, and Sin’s place is in danger. Exiled from the market she loves, Sin is thrown together with Nick and Alan — whom she’s always despised.

Alan has been marked by a magician and can be tortured as the magician pleases. As Sin watches Alan struggle to continue to protect the demon brother he loves, she begins to see him in a new light. When Alan is finally possessed as a punishment for Nick’s disobedience, Sin can only watch helplessly as the boy she has grown to love is destroyed. No one ever comes back from a possession — ever. But no one else has a demon for a brother. How far will Nick go to save Alan? And what will it cost them all?

It was a bit disappointed going into The Demon’s Covenant that Jamie wasn’t the POV character (or Alan; he’s the most unreliable character in the trilogy – but that would make him fun to follow!). Sin was too much of a side character for me, going in, and I didn’t understand why she was the focus.

I think the short answer is that she is the love interest for Alan, and the character who truly knows the Goblin Market, so through her we get to see more of it. I love Alan and his sneakiness and devotion to his brother (plus: charming book nerd), and Sin is a great match for him. I did love that part of the story.

And Sin is a great character in her own right. She is an astute and clever performer, a chameleon, used to doing what she needs to to get things done. She’s a dancer not afraid of using her sexuality to exploit the ignorant – but she knows what her lines are as far as that goes, and she doesn’t compromise on them.

The Goblin Market side of things, though … yeah, that didn’t work for me. The competition Merris insists on between Sin and Mae is super-problematic. Sin is the poor woman of colour who has grown up in, and been trained to run, the market. Mae is the rich white girl used to getting what she wants and who has been to maybe three or four markets. How is this even a competition? I mean, I liked Mae in the previous book, but she needs to get back in her box. How dare she think she’s entitled to what is basically Sin’s birthright? Ugh!

Also, the two girls get on quite well even early on in the story. That it never occurred to either of them to work together, pool their differing talents and share the role, baffles me.

Anyway, I’d still recommend this series – especially the first book, which is wonderful, clever, and focuses on familial love in a way we rarely see in urban fantasy.

 

 


‘Snow Softly Falling’ — a Fanfic Poem from Cass’s Days of Yore

If you have read my novella Guardian Angel, you’ll know that I used a couple of poems as song lyrics, one to introduce the story and one as an integral part of it. (You can read the first poem at the novella page here.) I’m about to sit down and write another set of lyrics for an urban fantasy story idea that I can’t shake, in the hope that it will go away so I can get back to drafting the sci-fi young adult story I’m working on.

Like all angsty teens, I used to write a lot of poems, although most of them are, objectively speaking, sheer garbage. (Sorry, past Cass, but it’s true. I was just flicking through your books of poetry, and yeesh.)

There is one storytelling-style poem that I wrote when I was at university that I think is alright, though, and I thought I’d share it here. It was written back in the day when I was obsessed with Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, and is about a character I’d created for some fanfics I wrote. Knowledge of that world is useful, but I don’t think it’s 100% necessary to follow along.


Snow Softly Falling

The snow was falling softly down onto the icy ground;
The moaning of the winter wind was the only sound
Until the crunch of hoofbeats came, a-breaking through the snow
Plowing through the muddy soil that was concealed below.
The stallion and his rider were both attired in white
And so appeared and vanished through snow-filtered light.
Herald and Companion, making their weary way
Through the fading twilight that comes at end of day,
To a Herald Waystation where they would spend the night
Then up and travel onward, as soon as there was light.
Their heads, they hung down, weary; they hungered and were sore —
The snow was falling softly down onto the forest floor.

Herald and Companion both were Couriers for the Crown
And had just delivered messages into a nearby town,
Warning loyal and local lords of rebels in their fold,
Spies come out of Hardorn, or so the Queen was told.
Couriers travel quickly, and these quicker than most —
Although it’s not the sort of thing of which you’d hear them boast.
The messages sent early, the task already done,
The Herald and Companion’s journey home begun.
They came upon the Waystation and settled for the night,
The glowing of the embers on the hearth the only light.
The night replaced the daytime with nary a sound.
The snow was falling silently onto the icy ground.

Outside the little building, creeping through the trees,
Came four men in cloaks and hoods, silently, with ease.
Each man bore a cruel sword, its blade bright and bare.
Their breath frosted before them upon the frigid air.
Four men came from Hardorn at their lord’s request
To stop the message from reaching the spies’ hidden nest,
To stop the Couriers delivering their message from the Queen.
Four men creeping closer, all silent and unseen.
Their hearts were hardened steel, their faces a blank mask:
Four men with a dark intent to do a grisly task.
The message was delivered, but they could not know.
Four men, dark and deadly, creeping through the snow.

Herald and Companion, both were sound asleep.
Both were sore and weary, and so their sleep was deep,
Yet, suddenly, the Herald felt a foreboding chill
Of fear upon her dreams; she woke and she lay still.
Blinking rapid in the darkness of the little room,
Ears and senses stretching into the pressing gloom.
Mindspeech had the Herald, and so it told her this:
Four people came a-creeping to give her metal’s kiss.
The Herald wondered briefly what had made her wake,
And thanked the Lady Luck herself for the lucky break.
She woke her Companion, she readied her bow.
The Waystation was silent in the field of falling snow.

The four men reached the building and eased open the door;
They saw sleeping Companion, blankets mounded on the floor,
A body huddled under, sleeping without a care.
The first entered the room, approaching with blade bare.
Imagine his surprise when he reached the sleeping form
And discovered piles of clothes! He turned, his friends to warn,
And Herald, hid in shadows black, shot him in the heart,
As the Companion raised his head, making the next man start.
Trembling with anger, the stallion kicked out;
The man fell down, screaming, his limbs thrashing about.
The Herald drew her sword and swiftly dropped her bow.
Two men still stood standing in the falling snow.

The men exchanged a wary glance, taken by surprise.
Together, they advanced again with caution in their eyes.
Perhaps fearing the fate of those who’d gone before,
The men approached with caution the broad Waystation door.
Deciding it was better to take the fight outside,
To give the stallion room to move, the Herald room to ride,
Our heroes hurried forward into the wintry night.
The bandits closed in, snarling, and so began the fight.
The Herald’s sword danced, gleaming; the stallion reared up, fierce.
Bright hooves caved a skull in; bright sword a chest did pierce.
Then, exhausted panting remained the only sound.
The icy snow fell softly onto the scarlet ground.

The Herald’s arm hung, bleeding, from a lucky bandit’s strike;
She cleaned it first with salves, then bandaged it up tight,
And of the four assassins, only one yet lived —
The Herald made him name and orders of his master give.
The lord who’d sent the order to protect the hidden spies
Was one who lived within the court, right under Heralds’ eyes!
And, although tired and wounded, the Herald knew they must
Get this news to Haven, reveal this breach of trust.
She used her Gift of Mindspeech to warn the Queen that night;
The traitor was arrested, and thus the tale set right.
Then Herald and Companion resumed their well-earned rest.
The winter snow gleamed whitely, and Valdemar was blessed.

Valdemar and its trappings are copyright to Mercedes Lackey, and no infringement of that copyright is intended.


 

 


Mini-review: ‘Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body’ by Simon Petrie

Tanja Morgenstein, daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a geochemist, is dead from exposure to Titan’s lethal, chilled atmosphere, and Guerline Scarfe must determine why.

This novella blends hard-SF extrapolation with elements of contemporary crime fiction, to envisage a future human society in a hostile environment, in which a young woman’s worst enemies may be those around her.

‘Matters Arising’ won the 2018 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novella or Novelette, and was shortlisted in the analogous category in both the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards.

A mini review for a miniature book. 🙂

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body is a great short read for those who like their sci-fi hard and their investigators dogged. I could relate to the fact that Guerline is a single mum and that she just wants to do her job — you go, girl! She’s awesome, and I want to read more about her.

There’s no romance in this novella (if that affects your decision to pick it up one way or the other). I can take romance or leave it, so it worked for me. I mostly guessed the whodunnit angle and the why of it, but the journey was worth it anyway.

I’ll definitely pick up more books by Petrie.

 


Shadows and Spellcraft feature: ‘Shadow Walker’ by Tiffany Shand

Shadows and Spellcraft has your copy of Shadow Walker by Tiffany Shand plus over a dozen more reads at the amazing pre-order price of US$0.99! Order your copy today!

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After her enforcer teammates are killed in a bust gone wrong, Denai witch Charlie McCray struggles to carry on working the job without them. Using her gift of communicating with the dead, she’s determined to get justice and find those responsible no matter what. But her only clue to go on is a mysterious orb with a deadly reputation that everyone wants to get their hands on.

The only one who may be able to help her figure out their deaths, and the connection to the orb is the dark and sexy demon from her past. Convinced she’s his life mate, to her denial, Charlie isn’t happy to see him again. Can they really work together as partners to track down the truth whilst ignoring the ever-growing attraction between them?


Author Bio

Tiffany Shand is a writing mentor, professionally trained copy editor and copy writer who has been writing stories for as long as she can remember. Born in East Anglia, Tiffany still lives in the area, constantly guarding her work space from the two cats she shares her home with.

She began using her pets as a writing inspiration when she was a child, before moving on to write her first novel after successful completion of a creative writing course. Nowadays, Tiffany writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance, as well as nonfiction books for other writers, all available through Amazon and on her own website.

Tiffany’s favourite quote is ‘writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go’ and it is armed with this that she hopes to be able to help, inspire and mentor many more aspiring authors.

When she has time to unwind, Tiffany enjoys photography, reading and watching endless box sets. She also loves to get out and visit the vast number of castles and historic houses that England has to offer.

You can contact Tiffany Shand, or just see what she is writing about at:

VISIT HER WEBSITE


Shadows And Spellcraft

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Each story is exclusive to this collection, and includes some shiny new stories from USA Today and New York Times bestselling authors.

If you love to binge on stories that take you away from the ordinary, this boxed set of fifteen books will keep you reading for days. It’s stuffed with vampires, shifters, mages, fae, ghosts and more in everything from modern day Earth to Apocalyptic settings. Bury your nose in this box set now. Order your copy of SHADOWS AND SPELLCRAFT NOW

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Review: ‘The Demon’s Covenant’ by Sarah Rees Brennan

Mae Crawford’s always thought of herself as in control, but in the last few weeks her life has changed. Her younger brother, Jamie, suddenly has magical powers, and she’s even more unsettled when she realizes that Gerald, the new leader of the Obsidian Circle, is trying to persuade Jamie to join the magicians. Even worse… Jamie hasn’t told Mae a thing about any of it. Mae turns to brothers Nick and Alan to help her rescue Jamie, but they are in danger from Gerald themselves because he wants to steal Nick’s powers. Will Mae be able to find a way to save everyone she cares about from the power-hungry magician’s carefully laid trap?

For those that missed it, I reviewed the first book in this trilogy here. It’s taken me a while to get to the second book because I wanted one in the same edition, with the matching cover, and it was super-hard to find. I ended up having to go online and get it second-hand. (Yes, I am that person.)

Anyway. To the review!

The Demon’s Covenant was an enjoyable follow-up to the first book in the series. Unlike the first, which is from Nick’s point of view, the second is from Mae’s. She’s clearly got a big-time crush on Nick, but she tries to ignore it for what are, frankly, very good reasons: he is still just as dangerous and unstable as he was in the first book. The only emotions he really, truly understands are rage and possessiveness. (This is all for good story reasons that I won’t go into because you really need to read The Demon’s Lexicon.)

In the same way that seeing Nick’s thoughts from the inside in the first book made him more sympathetic, seeing him through Mae’s eyes has a similar effect. Brennan is, frankly, a master — I’ve mentioned many times how much I hate the alpha male love interest who is violent and possessive to a girl for her own good. And I do hate that trope.

But here … well, it sort of works.

A lot of the plot is devoted to who is kissing/loves whom — Mae dates Seb despite her interest in Nick and Alan’s interest in her, for example — but the book still stayed true to its urban fantasy roots rather than crossing the line into paranormal romance. I couldn’t really see Mae’s attraction to Seb at first, especially given his history of bullying her brother, but it becomes pretty quickly apparent that she’s dating him for the same reason Buffy dates Riley in Buffy: the Vampire Slayer: he’s the normal guy in her abnormal world. (And look how that worked out…)

Still, the story is filled with secrets, lies and betrayals, not just with kissing, and I’m always there for that. My favourite character, far and away, is the sweet and hilarious Jamie, Mae’s brother. I’m sad that the third book isn’t from his point of view, honestly.

Also, the end made me cry. Not many books can actually do that.

Check out this series. Seriously.


Shadows and Spellcraft feature: ‘The Awakening’ by Tanya R. Taylor

Shadows and Spellcraft has your copy of The Awakening (Real Illusions Book 1) by Tanya R Taylor plus over a dozen more reads at the amazing pre-order price of US$0.99! Order your copy today!

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Trent Matheson fights to keep his true identity a secret from all those around him, including the love of his life. After losing the only one privy to his secret and who had guarded it his entire life, Matheson now has to contend with a sinister force so powerful that seeks to destroy him. A fierce battle is imminent and the future of the world, as we know it, is in jeopardy.


Author Bio

Tanya R. Taylor has wowed readers with her riveting plots and compelling themes.

She is the author of several #1 bestsellers on Amazon and published her first book titled A Killing Rage as a young adult. Tanya writes in various genres including paranormal romance, fantasy, thrillers, science-fiction, mystery and suspense.

She has a passion for the welfare of children. Her hobbies include: reading, writing, and researching. She’s also keen on documentaries and is planning to pursue a degree in Psychology.

VISIT HER WEBSITE


Shadows And Spellcraft

The Ultimate Urban Fantasy Binge Collection

A boxed set with over a dozen amazing reads, that will take you to lost worlds, fall in love with unlikely heroes, and kick some butt with no-nonsense chicks. With a collection that includes New Adult romance, urban fantasy, and Young Adult, there’s something for everyone.

Each story is exclusive to this collection, and includes some shiny new stories from USA Today and New York Times bestselling authors.

If you love to binge on stories that take you away from the ordinary, this boxed set of fifteen books will keep you reading for days. It’s stuffed with vampires, shifters, mages, fae, ghosts and more in everything from modern day Earth to Apocalyptic settings. Bury your nose in this box set now. Order your copy of SHADOWS AND SPELLCRAFT NOW

Amazon / iBook / Kobo / Nook

Shadows and Spellcraft