Flash: Frozen

Stock Art of Frozen Pool

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Okay, that didn’t go well.” Kai said.

 

Brook looked across the pier and newly frozen lake. Fog shrouded the immediately surroundings because of the sudden switch in temperature from steamy summer to frosty winter. She pulled the wet towel tighter, grateful she had climbed out of the water using the aluminum ladder now covered in icicles before Kai cast his spell to take the edge off the burning July day. “Understatement handsome … That is definably an understatement.”

 

(Words 78 – first published 4/7/2014; republished in new blog format on 11/12/2017)

Book Review: Old Nathan

Amazon Cover - Old Nathan

Book Cover from Amazon

Old Nathan by David Drake

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

FIFTH YEARS AFTER THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, MAGIC IS LOOSE IN THE BACKWOODS

The forces of evil are poised to prey on the folk of the hamlets and hollows: witches, demons, and red-handed men—but first they’ll have to overcome Old Nathan the Wizard.

He doesn’t claim much for his magical powers, but they’re real enough for what they are—and besides, he hasn’t forgotten how to use his long flintlock rifle ….

Enter the gritty, realistic world of Old Nathan, a backwoodsman who talks to animals and says he’ll face The Devil himself-and who in the end will have to face The Devil in very fact.

 

MY REVIEW

Old Nathan by David Drake is a collection of stories about a cunning (witchy) man located in the Carolinas about fifty years after the revolutionary war strung together in a novel-type package but easily read separately. Old Nathan is the person a body goes to when you’ve dun run out of all other options. His price is high. Mostly swallowing yer pride but he do speak to animals and does strange things, and maybe in league with the Devil.

The writing is in the dialect language of the space-time. The stories themselves are getting long-in-the-tooth; not enough for a modern high-speed cellphone addict to identify with. A different time and place, slower and more magic. Back with the things in the woods didn’t take selfies with intruders, they ate ’em.

I enjoyed the magic not being wiz-bang wizard robes and lightning bolts. Farseeing was done with wellwater; ghosts were dealt with by feeding them ashcakes cooked in the hearth. Old Nathan is creepy powerful in that he not only does the minor hedge magic, but goes beyond, into the shadow realms opened at twilight, into places which bend the mind and create madness. 

He is old enough and lived through the war that death holds little fear over him. He is too slow and tired to run far from things people in their right minds should run from. And so the things in the night become curious since he isn’t running or scared, and in their curiosity the teethy things become vulnerable. Not greatly vulnerable – they still be hungry, with great claws and teeth, but sometimes the second pause of “what is this different thing” gives Old Nathan the moment he needs to live. It worked for him so far, but in each story the question is “is this time when the beast will be faster then cunning?”

I wrote the review after the third story but have finished the rest. Again, the stories may not be enjoyed very much longer just because living in one-room houses, drawing from wells, and needing horses to get to your nearest neighbor are becoming things of ancient history. 

Is the cunning man always cunning enough, or does he need to run from the danger in some of the stories? Well that would be tellin’. 

If this your cup of tea, you should read it. – The book is offered for free on Kindle, so take the chance.

Flash: Cannot Be Unseen

Photo by Jiří Wagner on Unsplash

Kai stumbled after Aubrey into the Ferry house out of the January weather. The difference between outdoors and indoors felt nearly physical; the old man had upped the protections on his home since his wife gave birth. Even a welcomed friend like himself needed to beware entering uninvited. Kai shuttered to think what would happen if he violated guest rights.  The old man was a first rate wizard.

Today continued the lessons on friction. For third weekend in a row, Kai spent Saturday in the empty ice rink. Kai was certain avoidance spells were possible, though he had only been a student since Thanksgiving when Aubrey had taken him on. But Kai did not think the spell was used to empty the place; after all, who would spend time in an ice rink in January?

He expected that his mentor would be teaching combustion in the middle of July. The old man was quirky that way … or mean, depending on how one interpreted his actions. Today Kai was leaning toward downright malicious. He was sore from the heavy skates on his feet, sore on his butt from falling, sore in his head from trying to grasp the lessons on how to increase and decrease friction, and frozen throughout.

It didn’t help Aubrey was none the worse for wear after nearly twelve hours of torturing him. Yes, Aubrey looked Kai’s age, with stark black hair and solid muscles like he worked side-by-side with Kai landscaping instead of whatever he did as his day job. But Kai knew that Aubrey had to have pushed himself in the rink today, if only to control Kai’s mistakes. Why couldn’t the old man be a little tired?

Struggling to lift his arms to get out of his jacket, Kai watched as Aubrey raced into the living room where his wife was nursing and someone he had never seen before was standing.

“When did you get in child?” Aubrey asked joyfully as he scooped up a stunning redhead and spun her around. “How did you get away?”  A concerned look crossed his mentor’s face as he slid the girl down his body onto the carpet. “And who did you leave in charge?”

The young woman laughed at his exuberance and replied in an Irish lilt.  “I’ve only been here a few minutes. Mom was just introducing me to the young one. And don’t worry, I’ve left the Trio temporarily in charge. They should be able to keep the peace … among themselves … for a few days.”

Kai watched his mentor look the girl up and down … his daughter? Same strawberry hair and clear white skin, enhanced by a spattering of freckles, as Aubrey’s wife Colleen.  The girl was only a couple inches shorter than Aubrey’s five ten. The girl appeared to be a college freshman, an angelic freshman. Her wispy hair desperately escaping a crown braid creating a halo effect backlit from the kitchen. Her off-the-shoulder white dress had lace insets in all the right places. Less bosom-heavy than the earthy Irish beauty of Colleen, Kai was able to see the girl had inherited Colleen’s coloring and Aubrey’s strong lean frame.

He couldn’t not Look. But Kai did try to talk himself out of it. What is Seen cannot be Unseen. That was the first lesson. Aubrey had found Kai in the middle of his first Seeing; a horrific experience brought on by stupidly trying to fit in at work and joining the guys on a marijuana break. The next month was spent bringing his natural gift under control; the following month has been spent learning friction.

As he hung up his jacket, the nineteen year old closed his eyes and opened his inner one. Turning back to where the conversation was continuing between the old man, his wife and his daughter, Kai slowly opened his eyes and tried to focus only on the girl. He didn’t need to see Aubrey stripped of all the natural assumptions people make so is life more palatable EVER again; that scary shit was firmly cemented into Kai brain for the rest of his life. Kai also had no interest in finding out what could hold its own in marriage to the millennium old magician. He tried to use his recent lessons on focus to look only at the newcomer.

The girl’s hair loosed from its braid to cascade down her back in a riot of curls, a far-deeper red than Colleen’s strawberry. Like staring into the heart of a furnace with blue-white flames dancing out of red-black coals. He could feel the heat sear into his eyes. The crown braid formed into a silver diadem, elegantly wrought like a small ivy branch freshly plucked and turned into ice.

The woman spun as he continued to stare. Her blue eyes were like the blue of volcano lakes, promising the same ice and heat, the same serenity and danger of those isolated paradises. She said something as she stalked towards him, but Kai was focused on Seeing, not hearing. Her fingers stretched into inhuman lengths as they curled around his throat. Her skin was the color of winter ice and summer clouds, the dress falling away into illusion.

Her red lips plumped from unkind hope, curled with merciful despair and he could not resist even has her claws drew blood from his neck. Keeping his green eyes on hers he leaned forward to kiss his life and death. Her eyes spoke her name to his soul, both use and true, as his lips touched hers. Closing his eyes to keep the vision with him for the rest of his meager life he deepened the kiss. He felt her breath escape in surprise and the choking grip lessen.

Unthinking, he turned off his gift that usually took him hours to put back in the box and grabbed the curtain of fire with both hands pulling her naked body against his starving one. His tongue warred for dominance with hers.

(words 1,000 – – originally appearing at Sunday Fun on Breathless Press 1/13/2013 – The original photo was from  Sarah Ann Loreth who retains copyright on her photos, with written permission to reuse. I did not asked for said permission. Published on the first blog on 1/13/2013; republished new blog format 7/9/2017)

Flash: Waves Against the Pier

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The following post was written June 5, 2013.

ConCarolinas 2013 – On Sunday I attended a writer’s workshop. The panelists were:

Moderator – Joe Naff (http://www.moonwingmedia.com/) – Writes fantasy and supernatural thriller with strong female lead characters. (Eternal Forest; The Chronicles of Shyra (Series); The Gospel of the Font)

Panelist – Catherine McLean (http://www.catherineemclean.com/) – Write space opera. (Karma and Mayhem; Jewels of the Sky)

Panelist – Winfield Strock III (http://adventures-above-the-aether.blogspot.com/) – Writes steampunk. (Adventures Above the Aether, Aether Legion)

With this eclectic group of speculative fiction authors overseeing the workshop, we were instructed to write “A scene where the scene expresses the emotion of what is happening.” for fifteen minutes. Okay, I can do that. Below is what was written word for word; no time for editing.

***

Waves crashed around the pier, throwing a fog of salt water around Clyde. Angry tears trickled down his face, leaving tracks in the sea-mist sweat. Life wasn’t fair, he thought.

A scream escaped his wounded heart and was torn away by the unforgiving wind. Soon he would need to leave. The blood-red sunset promised a storm, no matter what the weatherman had said. He looked forward to spending the night in the creaky beachcomber shack he rented, fighting leaks and rattling panes.

She shouldn’t have left him. He had done everything right. From the first spell of summon to the last spell of binding, his high school sweetheart should have stayed with him until death parted them.

What had gone wrong?

An incoming wave driven by tide and storm pushed him back a step. His sopping jeans cling to his skinning legs like lichen. His bare feet slipped a bit on the slimy mold.

He couldn’t even summon her back. The last binding spell made her immune to hearing siren energy. She should have held steady.

(Words 176)

 

We did a round robin with the participants reading their pieces and giving feedback. Then we got the kicker for the second hour of the workshop. Write the same scene but with an opposite or strongly different emotion. Characters may be changed, but the location/scene needed to remain the same. Oh, boy. … I think I can do that. …. Ummm, okay …

***

Waves dashed in ahead of the storm, hurtling towards safety in the sand. Clyde remained on the mossy pier, digging his bare feet through the slimy green coating for firmer footing. He waited impatiently through the ruby sunset for full dark. The storm promised big ones to curl, dare and ride. Wind ripped at his pony-tail, lashing at his back and check.

Should he do this without backup? His partner had left him, refusing to even set foot in the rickety shack they rented each year, after they fought all the way from the city. Hell, Clyde didn’t even know how he was going to get back after the weekend. His high school buddy had left in a spray of sand and gravel.

An incoming wave rushed the aging pier, diving him back a step with its force. His wetsuit prevented him from felling the icy touch, but salt clung to his lips, wetting his appetite for adventure.

Soon, soon. The midnight ride through white crests and driving water would be his world. Centering him as nothing else did. Only in the blue, with water under and over him, when Neptune tried to bury him and he could laugh at the gods did he feel alive.

Unable to wait longer, he checked the tie on his ankle. He picked up the board and ran screaming off the end of the pier and started paddling into the failing light.

(words 238)

 

I really like the parallel I was able to pull. The screaming by the main character and the loss of a special friend. The timing of the second wave pushing him back. The mold/slime on the ancient pier and the existence of the shack to live in. The exercise was fun, and also showed I really need to work on adding more description to my writing. Flash needs most of it stripped, and my long-form writing has suffered because of my concentration on flash writing. I am really glad I attended the workshop.

(post initially published 6/5/2013; republished in new blog format on 7/2/2017)

Book Review: Shattering the Ley

Amazon Cover - Shattering the Ley

Book Cover from Amazon

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON

Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

First book in Joshua Palmatier’s new epic fantasy trilogy, set in a sprawling city of light and magic fueled by a ley line network.

Erenthrall—sprawling city of light and magic, whose streets are packed with traders from a dozen lands and whose buildings and towers are grown and shaped in the space of a day.

At the heart of the city is the Nexus, the hub of a magical ley line system that powers Erenthrall. This ley line also links the city and the Baronial plains to rest of the continent and the world beyond. The Prime Wielders control the Nexus with secrecy and lies, but it is the Baron who controls the Wielders. The Baron also controls the rest of the Baronies through a web of brutal intimidation enforced by his bloodthirsty guardsmen and unnatural assassins.

When the rebel Kormanley seek to destroy the ley system and the Baron’s chokehold, two people find themselves caught in the chaos that sweeps through Erenthrall and threatens the entire world: Kara Tremain, a young Wielder coming into her power, who discovers the forbidden truth behind the magic that powers the ley lines; and Alan Garrett, a recruit in the Baron’s guard, who learns that the city holds more mysteries and more danger than he could possibly have imagined . . . and who holds a secret within himself that could mean Erenthrall’s destruction — or its salvation.

 

MY REVIEW

A solid fantasy story, sort of in the “epic” variety in that it has multiple points-of-views (POVs),  following a political situation. But also has strong romantic elements, several coming-of-age storylines, start-for-a-series worldbuilding, and some kicking sword and fist fights.

Not of the standard “epic” in that there are no orcs and elves, and the magic – while wieldable by individuals – is treated by this society more like electricity and the “mages” come to your house to fix the stove while the stronger mages fix the power lines – or in this case the ley lines. In some ways this ends up feeling more science-fiction in a historic setting than a fantasy (similar to a steampunk vibe). I guess that is why I enjoyed it so much.

We first meet the POV major characters in their childhood – Justin is 8, Kara is 12, and Allen is 16. The book has many chapters divided among five parts – these five parts read like mini-books and have two major skips through time – one of four years and one of twelve years – so at the end of the book Justin is 24, Kara is 28, and Allen is 32. One or two timing issues made me go “er”, but did not impact the story at all. For example not exactly certain what Cory’s age is at the beginning of the book. Not that it matters since he isn’t a primary POV character, although he does have a couple short POV moments.

Overall a good way to spend a few days.

Addition: With the second book out (Threading the Needle), I think it is okay to mention this is the first book of an apocalyptic story within a fantasy setting. Ecological magic-based disaster. And by apocalypse, I don’t mean the more common post-apocalypse where you see the survivors ten or twenty years or even hundreds of years after the disaster. No, this book is about the apocalypse – the destruction of civilization. Characters die – POV characters, both minor and major, die. Ones you like. Ones you don’t like. Ones you have bonded with over the course of the book. You feel the loss. Great writing.

Future books of the series hopefully will not be as emotionally draining as the last two parts of this book.