Friday, April 18, 2014

Flash Friday #90: Surviving Elsewhere, Part 39 -- Stonewild 1

(Link to Part 38)

I had never known such overpowering darkness, not even in the Dark Path where we'd been almost trapped before. I remembered the dragon saying that the darkness was coming, but I hadn't expected anything so soon.
I didn't have any idea of which way to go . Even trying to simply turn around didn't help. There was no sense of direction, except that at least this time I felt as though my feet were firmly on the ground.
That helped.
"Hello?" I said softly. "Are you here?"
"We're here," Maggie said. She sounded more annoyed than bothered.
"Every time I think we're about out of the trouble -- Davis?"
"I'm here," he said.
"So am I," Lord Snow said with a bit of a growl. "I am not happy."
"That makes all of us," Edmond added. "What is going on?"
"I can't get my staff to light," Maggie admitted. She had been moving and ran into me. "Sorry, Mark."
"It's alright." I caught hold of her arm, grateful from something solid in this place. There was nothing else. I tried not to think about how Edmond hadn't seen any thing beyond this moment. Did that mean were were trapped here forever? "You saw nothinge else, Edmond?"
"Nothing," he said.
I tried very hard not to shiver.
"Just because Edmond hasn't seen anything beyond this point doesn't mean there is nothing more," Lord Snow said. He sounded more assured than I felt, but he was, after all, just another big talking cat. There comes a point where you have to stand back and consider the situation and right now it was that I was taking comfort from the cats.
"Actually. . . ." Edmond began. Then he stopped. "Yeah, actually I do see something."
"What?" Maggie asked, hope clearly in her voice.
"A light --" Edmond said.
"Yes? What does it mean?"
"It means I see a light. Follow my voice. This way, this way, this way --"
So we followed him and before long I saw the light as well. I heard sighs of relief from all the others. The light grew, a spot in the darkness. I saw a shape take place, and I have to say it was not the most welcome sight I'd seen since I came to Elsewhere, and that was saying a lot.
The building had been carved out from the rock wall, two tall towers, several windows, stairs leading up to a single door. That wasn't so bad; it was the huge snake statues that sat in every niche around the edge of the building. I finally let go of Maggie's arm, but she reached over and patted me on the arm.
"That's Stonewild," she said, though she kept her voice soft. "Not the most welcoming of places."
"Even the trees are dead," I said, looking at the two scraggly trees flanking the building.
Then one of them moved, the thin branches whipping around like more snakes.
"Never make assumptions," Davis said coming up on the other side of me.
The light had come from the rosette window set in the wall above the door. We took a few steps closer, moving out of darkness and into tendrils of fog that moved as though they were alive, too. Even Edmond had stopped and backed up a couple steps, his ears back and his fur starting to bristle. Lord Snow didn't look much better.
"The Council wants us here, right?" I dared to ask.
"Yes. That doesn't mean it's safe," Maggie said and sounded apologetic.
"Nothing is safe." I looked back at the darkness again. "Creston could follow us, right? We better get inside before we're shot."
"I never liked this place," Edmond said. "It's only marginally better than that wall of dark we went through."
I agreed with a nod but started forward. We weren't far from the steps. I watched the closest snake statues, expecting them to change and attack at any moment. Hell, I expected the building itself to attack.
Was I finally going to get some sort of answer? Sanctioned? Have a place in Elsewhere -- and would that make life any safer for me? I had the feeling not because a protector, by nature, sounded like someone who would put himself between danger and others.
No one had asked me --
I wanted to be sullen. I wanted to be annoyed. I hurt from bruises, scratches and bullets. I had the kind of headache that probably would have sent me to the hospital back in the real world.
I went slowly up the steps thinking that one out. I knew Elsewhere was just as real as the world where I had been born. I could not go back home and not just because of Creston --
I glanced over my shoulder, just to make certain he wasn't taking aim. I had the feeling I was going to be doing that for a long time, no matter what happened here.
I couldn't go home because I didn't belong there.
The thought came with a pang of regret. I loved my mother. I loved my half-siblings, and even my step-dad and I got along. But I ahd never belonged there, and I had always thought it was for rather mundane reasons.
I could feel the magic around me now. There was a great deal of it concentrated in Stonewild. I was, as corny as it sounded, about to learn my destiny.
And I wasn't going to back away from it.
"Mark?" Maggie asked as we neared the door. "I don't know what's going to happen now. I really don't. I never thought it would get this bad."
"You've done fine," I said and patted her arm. "Let's get this over with."
"Yeah, let's finish this."
And you know, we would have if the door had opened. I shoved against the hard wood. Davis pounded.
That was when the giant stone snakes finally started moving.

To Be Continued. . . .

992 Words

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Flash Friday #89: Surviving Elsewhere, Part 38 -- Edmond Helps

(Link to Part 37)

I was ready when Sheriff Creston came straight at me, the rifle up. He didn't have a clear shot at me yet, but he would soon. Maggie --
We were standing in a very dark forest, filled with shadows. It was no wonder none of us saw the black cat hiding right in the path Creston was taking. I don't know how he got there, but suddenly a black shape leapt up from the debris and wrapped around his leg. Creston shouted and flailed as he fell backwards, the rifle firing up into the air.
Before I could react, Lord Snow charged in for the attack, his lighter fur making him far more conspicuous than Edmond. Davis came at a running loop, and I thought he meant to join in the battle. Instead he kept heading for me. Not far behind him came other shapes. I knew what they were before the first stopped and howled.
"Go!" Davis shouted as he neared.
They were not the huge wolves I'd first seen when I entered Elsewhere, but they were many of them and I didn't think the group of us could hold them back. Edmond clearly thought so as well. He took one look over his shoulder and shouted, "Run!"
Lord Snow leapt on Creston who had started to sit up. He went right back down with his own howl of pain, but even the snow leopard didn't stop to do more than drive claws into the man's chest as he bounded on.
Maggie joined us a moment later, catching Davis by the arm and giving a nod. We'd slowed a little since it wasn't safe to go charging into these woods.
"This way," Edmond said. He looked over his shoulders. "We slowed him, but he'll be following soon."
"Maggie and I had a plan," I said.
"He would have killed you."
"He would have tried, but --"
"He would have killed you," Edmond repeated and with the kind of certainty that stopped anything else I was about to say. Edmond had seen what would happen. The realization of how close I came to dying made my breath catch a little.
"Thank you," I said, finally.
"We're still not out of the woods," the cat replied. I swear he smirked.
"Ha, ha."
"This way."
So we followed Edmond. Maggie looked worried and I couldn't decide what problems were the worst: The wolves still behind us, Creston yelling, the woods growing more dense and dark . . . or the fact we were reduced to following Edmond to survive. None of this looked good.
We paused long enough for Davis to treat my leg. He did a bit better than Maggie, but it still hurt. I hobbled on, too worried to slow down anyway.
"Here," Edmond finally said. He leapt over a branch and went through some underbrush.
I couldn't see how that was going to stop the wolves who were much closer, but I didn't ask questions since neither Lord Snow nor Maggie did. What we found on the other side did surprise me. Edmond had led us back to the glowing blue path that would, I hope lead us to the council. The way was clear and we could move faster, but I still didn't think we could outrun the wolves. Or Creston, whom I could still hear, cursing and yelling, and --
"He's ordering the wolves," I whispered.
"Yes," Lord Snow said. "This pack, at least, appears to be his to command. There is no chance we can deal with them as long as they are in his control or allied with him."
"Why would they ally with a human?"
"Because he probably really isn't. His son was a were-creature of some sort. Wolf is the most common, and finding the father running with this pack makes me think there is more of a link than we first imagined."
"Damn," Davis said. I didn't like to see the surfer dude so worried.
"Something bad going on," Maggie said. She had taken the lead now. "More than we imagined. Hurry. The wolves --"
"The wolves are going to have problems of their own," Edmond said. He had that smug little sound again which I took to be really good news. "In fact, any moment now --"
I heard the sound of branches moving and glanced back to see several of the huge trees moving up into a line. They waved their long branches and I saw wolves trying to come to a stop, some of them yipping in dismay. Branches caught a couple and tossed them in the air. I couldn't see where they landed.
I could see Creston, though. He had the rifle in hand, which caught the glimmer of light -- but then several trees stepped in front of him. We were not slow to keep going.
I wasn't sure how long the trees would hold the others back. We just had to get to safety before they caught up again. Safety? There was no safety that I could name. No one said the council would absolutely stand with me on this. For all I knew I was going from one problem to a worse one.
But better than going nowhere at all and giving up.
The trail of blue glowing stones wound through the woods, floated over a stream, and kept going. We hurried, but my leg hurt like hell now and I was getting in a far worse mood with each step. Not good, I reminded myself. Emotions and magic: I didn't have the leisure to let my emotions get out of hand. That started to annoy me. I fought the feeling aside as well, and in some ways, being forced to concentrate on my state of mind helped me keep moving.
Except at the next turn, the blue stones disappeared, and winked out behind us as well. The woods went still around us and we were lost in the darkness.
"Should I mention that I've seen no vision beyond this point?" Edmond asked.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Gender choices for my characters: When it matters and when it doesn't

I was thinking about my lesbian couple in The Servant Girl, the bi-sexual guy in Badlands and the genderless main character in Mirrors and I realized how little sexual orientation plays in most of my stories.  Yes, I have couples like Devlin and Cha -- but you really ought to think about Dancer, as well.  I don't write romance novels or erotica, but that doesn't mean I ignore the personal lives of my characters, because that is -- after all -- part of their world.  I tend to make their sexual orientation into nothing unusual that needs to be shown in a bright light.  (Mirrors is a bit different, but Skye being genderless has less to do with the story than other aspects of the tale.)  (If you are interested in any of these stories, look at the 'Zette at Smashwords' link to the right.  Smashwords offers versions for Kindle, Nook, PDF and more.)

I have two YA contemporary novels (neither published yet) about young gay men dealing with the problems they face (I'm not Who You Think and Whispers of Winterwood).  I have one short story published out there, Seri Ember, about a clone who was a sexual slave and changes gender at the whim of the owner.  I'm sure if I sat down with a list of the 100 or so novels I've written, I'd come up with more gay and lesbian couples, and maybe even a transgendered one or two (never mind the short stories -- I can think of a few there, too).

However, for the most part, the orientation of my characters is not important to the stories.  I leave some of them ambiguous on purpose.  If it doesn’t matter to the story, I'm not going to parade their sexual orientation out with signs and banners.  Why?

Because I think that's the way it should be in real life.  Whom you sleep with or are attracted to in the real world is none of my business.  It has absolutely no effect on my life.  Yes, it might be obvious when I meet you as a couple, but otherwise, I really don't care.  I write my characters in the same way.  This doesn't mean I don't know the answer as a writer, but unless there's a reason, I'm not going to parade the choice out simply to draw attention.

My future society has bigotry, but it is not the same as ours.  I have conflicts between Port Rats and Citizens and between earthers and colonists.  We are a contentious species and I suspect there will always be something we'll find to make divisions.

But still, I write the future (and some fantasy) in terms of what I want to believe will happen.  If we can leave behind our useless prejudices against race, color, sexual orientation and gender, I think we'll have a great future as a species.  Otherwise, we're simply going to keep miring ourselves down in insoluble problems, because none of these things can be changed by the individuals who are under attack.

I am tired of people waving their religion and shouting 'freedom of religion' as a reason they can create hardship for others.  They seem to forget that 'freedom of religion' also means 'freedom FROM YOUR religion' and that we are not required to believe what our neighbor does.  Maybe it's time they step back and let their God make the judgments when the time comes.  I seriously doubt He's watching CNN to see which side of the line people are standing on, so maybe some people need to stop worrying so much about the spotlight and head back to their places of worship.

We are whom and what we are, each of us unique in our own ways.  Those are the stories I write. Those are the people I want to know.  Others write other types of stories, and there is nothing wrong with that, either.  We are all looking for understanding in our own ways.  We are all trying to write the stories that will appeal to you.  And sometimes, in subtle little ways, we're trying to show you a better future.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Flash Friday #89: Surviving Elsewhere, Part 37 -- The Forest

(Link to Part 36)

"Get to cover!" I shouted and shoved Davis off to the side. I spun to Maggie but she was already darting for cover and the War Cows were taking flight up into the trees. I hard several branches snap, but the cows didn't fall down, which I took for a good thing as I ran under them.
I stopped at the first tree and looked back. Lord Snow and Edmond had taken cover as well, but we still had a problem. A new problem; Creston had a rifle. He must have gone out of Elsewhere and come back again with a better weapon. He also carried a pack and I didn't doubt he'd loaded up as much ammo as he could carry.
Damn. I started to back away, but something else caught my attention. I could see that Sheriff Creston had changed. He wasn't quite the same as he had been the last time we faced and I began to see why others were worried about his presence. At first I thought I only saw him differently because of my newly awakened magic, but then I realized it was more obvious. Darkness clung to him like a robe, and swirled when he stopped, like a dark fog. I thought his eyes glittered with red and gold, and his fingers had claws --
"Oh that's not good," Maggie whispered and caught tight hold of my arm. We squirmed our way through leaves and pine needles, snaking away until we were behind a stout tree. I was sure the tree wasn't going to like having us there and would move out of range of the rifle, but for the moment it stayed reassuringly still.
"What's going on now?" I asked, because something had clearly upset her. She held her hands tightly clinched and her wings fluttered slightly. There was no room for her to fly away here, though.
"He's let the dark emotions take him," she said. "That happens sometimes to fae. They rarely come back. I don't think a human can. And it makes him more dangerous."
"Of course it does."
That did win a slight snort of amusement and a tiny smile, though she almost flinched at the sound of Creston moving closer. Then she took a deep breath and patted my arm a little, cast one look around the tree, and clearly prepared to move again. So did I, but I thought I ought to be moving away from her. I knew better than to try, though. She'd just follow me which would be worse for her. Better to keep her in front of me and hope that Creston didn't get around us.
We moved quickly, dodging left and right around trees for several yards and settled by another tree. I didn't know where anyone else had gone. I didn't call out to them, hoping they stayed out of range of Creston's weapon and Creston's rage.
On cue, the loud retort of the rifle sounded through the woods and the trunk beside my head splintered.
"Ow!" the tree protested and shook.
"Sorry," I said and patted the trunk. "We better move."
We did, moving from one tree to the next. Creston stalked us and I hoped Maggie had a plan, especially after one of the bullets creased my leg, leaving a fiery path of agony behind. I could barely keep to my feet now, and Maggie did what she could, but the magic didn't help much this time.
"You have power of your own now," she whispered. "Sorry. It's not as easy to help you."
I nodded like I understood and just kept moving. We'd gone far into the woods, and away from that path the council had laid down for us, so I couldn't say Maggie knew where we were heading.
And then the wolves howled.
There wasn't a pond anywhere nearby that I could see. Climb the trees might be a better idea, if they would cooperate. The shadowy woods all around us seemed dire and unhappy with our presence. I could see little in the shadows, but I had the feel for a presence that was part of the ground itself. Not an evil dark, just an essence of the place that didn't want to be disturbed.
I worried about the others. We hadn't see Lord Snow, Edmond or Davis since this began. In fact, it was as if everything had cleared out of the area. I expected the trees to take off soon, too. All that moved around us was a fog that seemed as alive as everything else.
My leg gave out again and I crashed into a tree, apologized, and then stayed here when Maggie put a hand to my chest.
"Rest a moment."
The wolves howled again. She frowned looking more angry than worried. I tried to take courage from her and stood up straighter. I could hear the steady steps of someone coming closer, too. I knew it was Creston.
"Trap him," Maggie whispered. "Our best chance. Stay here, but let him know? I'll be close by."
I nodded agreement.
"Be careful," she whispered, a hand brushing against my arm.
"And you," I said.
She nodded and moved away, quick, light steps. I did my best to cover the noise by moving to the side of the tree. The wolves howled again, but not any more loudly. They hadn't found us yet. If we could stop Creston, could we escape from them as well? I had to believe it. Otherwise, there was no hope at all.
Creston was coming closer. He paused and I dared a look around the side of the tree, just to make certain he knew I was there. Then I took a couple steps out from the tree, though not so far that he had a clear shot at me.
He was coming closer.
And this was where things didn't go quite as we planned.
We really should have kept track of Edmond.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Flash Friday #88: Surviving Elsewhere, Part 36 -- War Cows

(Link to Part 35)

Maybe I should have felt better since I finally had some answers, but they weren't helping right now. I was half fae -- but that made a lie of my entire life. I was a Protector, but only if I could be sanctioned by a council that clearly didn't trust me, or else they wouldn't have kept sending things out to stop me.
I was feeling sullen and annoyed.
But I kept going.
Maggie and Davis discussed the best way to get to Forest Street. Lord Snow patrolled around us, coming back often. He would glance at Edmond and then move on.
At least Edmond had stopped hiccuping and he seemed to have relaxed again. He was a heavy cat, but I only shifted my arm now to ease the weight on wounds of my own. And for a while, at least, nothing else leapt out to try and stop us.
Maybe I needed to relax, too. I stopped twitching at every touch of a breeze. I stopped watching buildings as though I expected them to leap out and attack us. I still expected it, but I didn't have to linger on that feeling. Much.
And then Lord Snow arrived with the next bit of bad news.
"We're being followed," he said. "And he has a gun."
"Sheriff Creston," I said. I glanced over my shoulder. "So he is in Elsewhere. I didn't think he would give up."
"We're not far from Forest Street," Maggie said. She glanced back as well and frowned. "We can use some of the trees as cover there, unless they decide not to help us."
"We are going into a forest full of sentient trees and you expect help from them?" I asked.
"We have to believe that with the Council no longer testing you, that we're going to have fewer problems."
"Except that I still have enemies," I said and shifted Edmond again.
"Hey guy, everything is all right now," I said. Okay, I lied, and Edmond wasn't taken in. He looked up at me, eyes narrowed. "Well, it's okay with the dragon, right? You have to start somewhere. We're going to be heading into the forest soon, and you know, I'd feel a lot better if you were back to yourself by then. You've kept me safe."
He blinked a couple times. "Meow. Ah. Meow -- no. No meow."
"Well that's better," I said and smiled.
He took several deep breaths. "Never, never play tricks on dragons."
"Sounds like a wise, life-changing decision."
Edmond wasn't the only one to laugh. And by the time Lord Snow came back around, Edmond went off with him to scout. We were getting closer to the woods now. I could see tall trees above the last of the buildings. The street began to change as well, from stone to what had looked like puddles of water, but were as solid as stone.
"They sent a path for us. Good," Maggie said. "We won't be wandering around the forest hoping to find them. That's a good sign."
"Except others will know where we are going," Davis added.
We cleared the last of the buildings and the trees sprang up right at the back of a white picket fence, which seemed an insubstantial barrier against the massive woods just beyond. Did those trees watch us?
Maybe not, but something else did.
"What --"I started to say. I stopped. They were too strange -- huge heads, small wings, spotted bodies, gigantic hooves --
"Oh. Draconian War Cows," Davis said. "They're okay. They're at war with dragons though, so they won't be happy we met with some, but they don't do more than get rude to fae and humans."
"War cows," I repeated.
"Yeah," Maggie said. "The cows got tired of the dragons picking them off for light snacks, so they grew wings and started fighting back."
"The cows decided to grow wings and fight back."
"Yes. They've made a few other modifications, but even so, they mostly stay to the woods and keep out of dragon sight."
I nodded. At some point there isn't much more you can do than nod and pretend like life still makes sense. I glanced back to see Lord Snow and Edmond coming behind us, both of them glancing backwards often enough that I thought maybe facing the War Cows wasn't the problem I should be considering. The trees did look like they'd offer more cover, and we didn't have to stay on the path as long as we could see it. That might help.
I was willing to try to find anything that would help, both me and my companions. I thought I ought to be more afraid about Creston coming behind me, but maybe I'd burnt out that emotion. I found that I was weirded out by the War Cows. I was annoyed by Sheriff Creston. I just wanted to get to this Council and get that part over with -- but I knew, no matter what happened there, it was not going to be the end of my troubles. Either I would be sanctioned as a Protector and then find myself saving others from trouble or else I wouldn't be sanctioned and who knew what that might mean?
One problem at a time. Right now it was the War Cows who were stalking towards us, growling softly. There's something really, really wrong with cows (even weird one like these) growling.
"We're just passing through," Davis said and lifted his hand. Both war cows stopped and glared.
"You're running errands for dragons," the larger of the two growled. "And that one is the dragon's minion!"
I didn't think calling a snow leopard a minion was really wise. So maybe growing wings and big hooves didn't increase the brain power any. I was amused as I watched the war cows take a couple steps back when he came closer.
And then I looked back to see Sheriff Creston finally appear at the edge of the buildings.

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