Flash: Words on a Wall

The Pinkas Synagogue located in Prague, Czech Republic, serves as a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust

where the names of 77,297 Czech Jewish victims during Nazi occupation are written on the synagogues walls.

Chapter 1

“Director Allegra, would you be available to come topside?” appeared in Holly’s direct message queue from Dr. Kateryna Senko. She and her assistants rotated who covered the museum floor, usually the most boring duty at the Memory of the Fallen. Few people visited her obscure little monument to humanity’s long history of wars.

The ancient curator shifted back in her chair, the furniture sinking and adjusting to her new position.

If visitors do make it all the way back to True Earth, instead of the virtual tour available through the Federation’s dataspace, they usually did it on credentials like the four researchers from Nuevo Rio Grande using the archives today, swinging by her museum on the way in or out from a dig. Holly DMed Winona that she was needed upstairs. These researchers were more the assistant’s baby anyway, newly returned from the Nuevo Lardo dig and the mass graves quietly filled for years from the Processing Center’s sweat chambers leading into the Third World War, a particular passion of Dr. Wildman. If the researchers and Winona could match enough of the names of the missing transients recorded in the NRG genealogies to the skeletons from the pit graves, the Memory of the Fallen would have a new wall next week.

Winona sent her a shooing meme.

Nodding, to answer Winona, and doing a quick finger sweep to send a dataspace DM to Kat to let the woman know she was on her way up. Holly reached for her cane. Today her pain flared, hips, knees, and ankles. A message to the chair helped lift her to her feet; a quick rearranging of medbots fixed her problematic balance, though she didn’t trust them to fail her so she keep her cane at the ready. She hobbled to the lift.

She had sat too long.

But she was as interested as the rest of the group to give names to the Fallen.

The Asclepius app recommended upping the pain blockers, and loathed as she was to depend on them, she swiped acceptance when the pings arrived. Her museum customer service app dropped them into her queue when the lift doors closed. Upstairs two Federation Protectors waited.

And they wanted to speak to her.

Chapter 2

Following the living voices echoing through the Memory to the Fallen took practice, but Holly had nearly two hundred years within these walls, plus the dataspace let her cheat. They were located in the climate collapse section; those horrible years during World War Four before the Sasathapaka rescued humans from themselves.

“Sentient beings,” the museum curator clasped her hands together in the Sasathapaka manner in welcome. “I regret the wait, but these old limbs do not move fast.”

The two visitors dressed in government gray skinsuits with the color dot pattern of Federation Protectors running in the stripe down the left side. The one on the alien was about as wide as Holly’s two thumbs side-by-side, while the human’s was barely wide enough to make the pattern discernable. Not that it mattered; their info tags screamed their credentials in dataspace.

Holly accepted the info transfer just to turn off the pressure. Most of it matched what the pings she had unwoven on the way up provided. Only difference was her particular searches – the Sasathapaka, according to her ping, attended human and Idrytis orchestrations whenever traveling off Paka. On world, it had season tickets to a local music chambers hall as well as the expected Federation Chambers one of its stature must have to meet social requirements. The human collected a few datacaptures during the required primary education virtual tours and never erased them from his database, but nothing since he entered the Protector training program. Pity he let his interest in art lapse; skinsuits leave little to the imagination, and she could see the side-eye Kat gave the man. Protectors would have brains, but it’s art that make one human.

“Understandable, ancient one.” The Sasathapaka’s translator spoke from the utility harness covering the top of their long body, as well as direct message the meaning to her conversation queue. “Your swimmate was explaining the purpose of the words on the walls. They are like reef memory singers, but no voice.”

“Yes, Protector, humans work best with visual reminders, as your people work best with audial ones.” The curator directed the floor to bring up benches for her and the visitors. Kat stepped alongside the nearest wall, blending into the background with a few quick lighting adjustments. Good girl. “May I offer you refreshment?” she asked as she eased down on her bench. Transitions when her joints acted up added a level of terror in social situations, but she managed to sit without falling this time.

“I cannot partake, apologies.” The alien indicated the full face and digit covering of its skinsuit, human atmosphere far to dry and thin for the water world being. Its human companion indicated simple water through a DM.

Holly pulled her customer service module, and DMed Dr. Senko her requirements, including a request for visinada for herself. Her fellow curator stepped around a wall to process the customer service routine datadump that just landed in her queue.

While waiting, Holly activated the sound dampeners for the alien’s comfort and arranged her dark green sud around her.

While most humans, especially shipboard, wore only skinsuits, Holly preferred a full-length sud over her ebony skinsuit, and her assistants followed her lead. Best to leave the impact of age to the imagination. Kateryna’s sud always swirled with bright blue and yellow on the flowing cloth with a red trim of pysanky-style patterns along the lines of her arms and legs, matching her red skinsuit. Below, Winona’s sud consisted of a pattern of seashells; other days she wore suds appearing to be made from feathers, beads, or mud, depending on her mood. Unlike most, she spent discretionary income on extra skinsuits, in patterns varying from optical illusions to planetary topography, though a simple turquoise was her normal choice at work.

When Kat returned with a tip-tray, she offered each person containers according to the instructions Holly had dumped on her. The human male, being the lowest rank present, received his glass of water plus a small cup of fish flakes. Confused at the extra dish, he set it down on the side table which had just risen beside his seat. Kat then placed a hot cup, likely hot cocoa based on the small bowl of marshmallows she set beside it, on the table beside the chair Holly had called up for her while she had been gone.

Dr. Kateryna Senko then approached her, sending a DM saying this ranking was wrong, and gave Holly her cherry drink and wafers. While Senko tipped the tray to show her the final two objects, Holly highlighted the portion of the datadump explaining the Sasathapaka tradition of serving the highest ranked guest last, even if the hostess outranked them, even if the visitor was unwanted, in deference of their using their valuable time to visit. For the audience, she nodded at Kat to complete the hospitality ritual indicating she, as the hostess, thought the offering was acceptable for guests.

The alien picked up the glass and swirled the cloudy liquid. Agitated, the supersaturated solution crystalized a salt matrix around the edge, drawing a sharp sound the translator did not process into words but dataspace indicated as pleasure surprise similar to human laughter. It placed the glass on the stand beside its bench. The Sasathapaka picked up the final bowl, and discovered within a granite stone shaped like an egg about the size of a human fist.

“Why, thank you!” the translator indicated delight as the alien dumped the stone into its hands.

Sasathapaka ancient, ancient ancestors filled a niche in their ecosystem similar to otters and beavers, if Earth river creatures could be transcribed onto the Paka sea world, like humans shared ancestors with monkeys before the climate collapse killed their distant cousins. The food ritual of welcome served a secondary purpose of putting things into their mobile hands, something they psychologically needed. Holly figured out this workaround to the cultural ritual shortly after opening the museum when she still got officials visiting all the time and shared it with the museum community. While it had leaked into the greater human community, where she seen it offered in some alien courtesy course, most humans preferred to keep their interaction with aliens, especially their “overlords”, the Sasathapaka, to a minimum.

At four generations or more from the last war, most humans had forgotten the debt they owed the aliens. Certainly, they wouldn’t have rescued humans if humanity’s machines hadn’t reached Alpha Centauri with that scattershot swarm launched a year before the war started, making us officially an interstellar species and therefore an automatic member of the Federation. The Federation gave every species a chance to fail to leave its crib, humanity squeaked by on a technicality. Two more years and there wouldn’t have been anything to rescue except the twelve people living on Mars.

And now humans were talking again about war. Holly didn’t appreciate Mr. Arnold and his assistant Penny yesterday rubbing her face in the fact that peace would soon be replaced. Two hundred years hadn’t taken the fight out of humanity.

The Protector juggled the stone between its hands, admiring the sparkles from the mica flakes while the three humans sipped their drinks and nibbled their food. The food was an over and above on required hospitality. Even the lowest ranked Sasathapaka offered salt transfer, snacks though were required of the uchch and a full meal by the behatar before business could be conducted. By offering a small portion of food, Holly placed her rank at uchch, equal to the Protector, or at least a doosara putting on airs. Normally among humans, still the youngest species in the Federation, only a planetary governor would dare be so bold.

Holly learned long ago always shoot for the stars. That is where dreams can come true.

Realizing she had been negligent, she pulled up her customer service manuals and transferred copies to her assistants with the meeting tag to review them in three rotations before the museum opened for the day. Holly stared at her special customer app, then copied it to the two as well.

Chapter 3

When the human male finished his drink, the Sasathapaka placed its rock on the side table.

Holly’s research-level dataspace reported an exchange of direct messages between the gray-suited officials. Likely they saw the datadump she had just sent her assistants. Being Protectors, they may even been able to intercept the exchange. Oh well, at her age, she got things done when she thought of them. Who knows if she would wake up tomorrow.

“Thank you for the prasaad,” the human said. “Tejee se Tairana appreciates your welcome.”

“It is my pleasure and the pleasure of the Memory of the Fallen to host Tairana and his ghar.” Holly replied. “But all things pleasure must come to an end, and the time of effort must rise. How may I, Holly Allegra, doctor of memories and memorials, nineteenth among the Rescued, a bachaaya by grace, and my ghar help you?”

The human male blinked, clearly unused to high courtesy found among his partner’s species.

Holly felt her datatag get a full perusal, alien fingerprints all over it. That title of bachaaya would have done it. Nineteen hundred humans saved out of fourteen billion, and she had been one of the oldest among them then. Yes, Tejee, I got nearly a hundred years on you, bet you don’t meet many humans that can claim that. In fact, only sixteen bachaaya remained, and she was the only one in the system. Most of the Rescued ran hard and fast and far away from True Earth as they could when they got the chance.

Another quick exchange of data messages happened.

“Ancient one, we following the path walked by one Elfrid Arnold. Could you tell us about his visit with you?”

“Mr. Arnold visited us yesterday.” Holly sent a search request to Senko. “Let me dump you the record.” She limited the video from the moment he entered, to the moment he left and focused all the recording on him. The museum was a public place, so no expectation of privacy was expected within the hall.

“Thank you.” The man looked over at the masked alien, reading something in the body language instead of DMing. “Did you notice any unusual behavior? Dizziness?”

Senko shot a news brief of the Arnold CEO falling to his death at the New Earth Hospitality Suites.

“No.” Holly shook her head in the human manner. “He was belligerent, but that appeared to be a habit, not a health issue. He didn’t seem disoriented at all, nor did his son Napoleon. What has happened?”

“As you no doubt have found in the historic recording, Mr. Arnold managed to deactivate his UV protection and jumped from the thirty-four floor of the NEHs last night.”

“Oh dear,” Holly raised a hand up slowly, to not activate dataspace, touched her mouth and moved her hand away from her face, before dropping it to her lap. “How ever did he remove the shield?”

“It’s not possible during the day, but the Hospitality offers the option at night to better see the stars.” The man looked over at the alien again. “We understand he wanted to show his son Orion.”

The curator nodded. “That makes sense.”

The Sasathapaka long torso leaned forward. “Could you please explain?”

“Another name for Orion in mythology is ‘The Hunter.'” Holly suppressed a smirk. “Now I don’t think Mr. Arnold knew the full mythology of Orion; if he did, he would have been disappointed. But the mystique of a stellar hunter forever hunting the bull would have appealed to his worldview.”

“Thank you. I don’t understand your stargazing, but applying patterns to the dots, then giving greater meaning to those symbols, like these words on the walls. That is consistent with your species behavior. As a species, you have shown to value symbols more than your own lives.” The alien leaned back, spine twisting as it stood to face the human male. “We will next go to the restaurant.” The alien placed its hands together, words following from its harness, the DM indicating sincere gratitude. “The prasaad did your ghar proud. I will sing honors of the Memory of the Fallen and the words on the walls here.”

Holly stood, or tried to, and shot a DM to Senko who came over to act in her stead, pressing her hands together. Holly said, “May your voice remain strong, and the tides be in your favor.”

“Sir, if I may have a moment longer.” The human male asked, “These are the memories of my people and I would like to listen to them.”

The alien moved to the front door as a DM transmitted between the Protectors.

Chapter 4

Holly brought her wooden cane to between her legs and rested her head on top of the smooth handle. “Dr. Senko can show you around, if you have a particular name you are looking for.” She waved at the blue and yellow clad woman.

“Actually I have one more question to ask you, strictly off the record.”

“We are in a public space, nothing is off the record here.”

The man lips turned up at the edges, and not in an attractive way. “Nothing we have done here has been on the record.”

Holly pulled up the recordings and found even the Protectors’ entrance had been removed from the recordings.

“Fucking shit.” Kat said, discovering the same thing on her end. “How is that even possible?”

“Kat, go.” Holly ordered. “Downstairs. Now.”

“But.” Her assistant waved at Holly and DMed her ‘you can’t even stand up.’

‘thanks, I know. but this is above your ranking.’

‘he could do anything’ Kateryna rocked from side to side ‘we wouldn’t even know down there’

‘i’ve lived a long time, I think I got a few more hours in me. go, this isn’t for you’ Not yet. Maybe not even your generation, God willing.

Kat squeezed Holly’s hands where they rested on her cane, then made her way to the lift. While she did so, Holly returned the furniture to the floor and turned off the sound dampening. When the lift doors closing echoed through the hall and the only sound left was the two of them breathing, Holly sent the talk icon to the Protector.

“You know more than you are saying, director.”

“Name please.” Holly bounced the cane on the floor. “If you are going to stand on your own, I would like a name.” She indicated the walls around them. “I found them important.”

The male tipped his head. “Protector Scamp Holland.”

“And why do you think I know more that the video I sent?” She raised her eyebrows while looking up at him. “Everything is there.”

“Why do you think he died?”

Holly turned her cane handle back and forth, watching the movement. “Because he was annoying.”

“He was murdered.”

“Why do you think that?” The woman, unable to stand, asked the man hovering above her. Her voice full of a distant curiosity.

“He fell over thirty stories and didn’t splat.” Holland snorted. “There wasn’t a drop of blood in his body.”

“So this is a murder investigation?” Holly turned her cane handle again, “Strange to destroy all recordings.”

“No,” the Protector sighed, “True Earth doesn’t want the bad press; the Sasathapaka understand murder even less well than stargazing and words on a wall; and the Arnold group, now in the hands of Napoleon, has asked a quick resolution so the child can mourn the loss of his only parent.” He took a step back, running a hand through his hair. “Elrid Arnold had a dizzy spell, likely from the change of air pressure after releasing the UV shield, and fell over the edge. The NEPs will upgrade the walls on the balconies to prevent accidents like this in the future.”

“Sounds like an acceptable truth.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Holland’s nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply. “Someone is getting away with murder. There is a monster out there, and I’m going to have to let them walk.”

“Protector, if you will take some advice from a very old woman, sometimes we need the monsters.”


“Because war is worse than any monster, and sometimes humans forget that.”

(Words 3,085, first published 5/28/2023)

Undying Series
1. U is for Undying (4/24/2023)
2. Words on a Wall (5/28/2023)

Flash: U is for Undying

Photo by Holly Mindrup on Unsplash (some color adjustment by Erin Penn)

“Where are the statues?” The loud voice echoed off the stone walls. “The monuments? I thought this was a war museum.”

The curator grimaced, gesturing with her liver-spotted hand at the stone walls. “If you examined the walls, good sentient, you will find the names of those fallen in battles inscribed.”

“There are a lot of names,” said the child with another adult visitor; the second, clearly subordinate, being held the child’s hand while the youngest of the group touched the stone, tracing letters.

The subordinate nodded, saying very softly to the child while the primary human preened. “Yes, a lot of people died in wars.”

“I’m not a damn sentient, not here on Earth. I might have to accept that woke nonsense up-stars among the Federation and its aliens, but here on True Earth, I’m a human.” Looking around, Elfrid Arnold sneered at the walls. “This isn’t even human writing.”

“Good … sir.” Dr. Holly Allegra, according to the info tag floating beside her in dataspace, kept her voice firm though it cracked with her advanced age and the subordinate heard her heartbeat spiking. “Humans had a wide variety of writings in the pre-space era. We are in the section devoted to those who died when the first nuclear weapons were used. Most who died were Nippon civilians. They used three different alphabets; on this wall, the casualties memorialized used kanji to write their names.”

“So these were the losers.” The man frowned, looking over at the subordinate. “I thought you got us a tour that meant something. I don’t need the kid learning about losers.”

The young woman ducked her head. “I’m sorry Mr. Arnold, this is the only war museum left on the planet.”

“Sir.” The curator clapped her hands for attention, her eyes narrowing. “These are the names of the dead, not losers. Please show some respect. They deserve our undying gratitude for their sacrifice while humans learned to become better.”

“We didn’t become better, girl. We were great back then.” The middle-aged man stepped close, the better to look down at the museum attendant. “The Sasathapaka outlawed war and have refused to give us the tech to catch up with them. Since they got the biggest hammer of the Federation, everyone else has to listen. But one day we will be great again.” He spun away, made two angry swipes at his dataspace, bringing the subordinate and the child back from where they had wandered. “Penny, move up those dinner reservations. The Greasy Grill, it’s a good restaurant at least, right?”

“The most expensive on the planet, Mr. Arnold.” After squeezing the child’s hand and sending him to his parent, the female human stood with her hands behind her back, the sud flowing down her body, over the skinsuit.

“Good,” Elfrid Arnold looked down at the curator, then back at the female, “stay here and get a refund on the tour, for false advertising. You can eat at the hospitality suites when you get back.”

The woman, who strangely did not exist in dataspace except for the tag of Assistant, which when Allegra expanded, only pointed to the man and his dataspace label, nodded. “Of course, Mr. Arnold.” Penny tilted her head to the side and did a minor hand movement. “The transport is at the door.” A small swirl of her little finger, ended with the comment, “And I’ve placed the order for food for you and Napoleon to be ready for when you are seated.”

“Don’t think this conversation is done here, Penny.” Mr. Arnold growled while grabbing his child’s arm. “I want you to go over the rest of the package and make sure there are no other mistakes.” With that, he pulled his child back to the entrance.

When the echoes stopped bouncing off the stone, Penny gave the curator a small smile. “I do apologize.”

The curator waved her hand as though clearing the atmosphere. “Most excitement of the month. Most of my visitors are researchers. Having a child was refreshing.”

The assistant nodded, before walking further into the museum, the curator following. “I’m not yet certain how far Napoleon will fall from his clone-father, but his mind hasn’t hardened yet.”

“Are you his nurse or instructor?”

“Oh no,” Penny chuckled. “Mr. Arnold is my employer. I’ve been with him for about five years. The tutors are all back at the planetary hospitality suites.” She started looking around, raised a hand to touch a name on the fourth world war monument, a sad look passed over her face, before she took a turn to the first world war section.

“You do know the Greasy Grill is hardly the best food on the planet.”

“Yes, but it is the most expensive, because of all the fines they have to pay to serve the health and ethic violations on the menu.” Penny’s smiles show a little teeth, a flash of canines, “and that is all he cares about. It will fill him with salt and fat. Make him tasty.”

Holly stopped, stunned a moment. “Tasty?”

“Hmm?” Penny had finally stopped in the World War One second, running her finger over the Cyrillic script.

If Holly remembered right, it was the Ukraine wall. Over half a million dead, but only a few thousand names surviving thanks to Russia’s systematic destruction of the culture and its history. The sad look circled then settled over the young woman’s face, like a dog laying down in its bed. It looked much more habitual than the subordinate mien she had adopted earlier.

“You said it will make him tasty.”

Penny shrugged in a way Holly hadn’t seen since her childhood, too much shoulder for dataspace movements. “He is beginning to annoy me.”

“Annoy?” Holly breathed, scared to hear what is next, but what Mr. Arnold’s dataspace label showed scared her more. Her researcher credentials unpacked a lot of the gray materials.

“The connections he has been making,” the woman, whose total existence in dataspace was defined in relation to her employer, walked around the wall to the other side. “He is getting too big for his britches. We don’t need another war.” She pressed her hand hard against one name. “Not yet.”


Penny smiled over at her, gently. “War will come, it always does. He is right in that humans cannot remain a child in the keeping of Sasathapaka morals forever.” The woman dropped her hand off the wall and did a few subtle hand gestures. “You have enough money to keep this going a bit longer, yes?”

“Um, yes.” The curator blinked. “I’m sorry if you paid for a tour, but this museum is completely self-sufficient. I can’t give you a refund because there is no entrance fees.”

“Yes, I’m well aware.” Penny laughed, walking toward the front doors. “But I couldn’t have gotten Mr. Arnold here if he knew it was free. Is Kateryna Senko and Winona Wildman working out well as possible replacements?”

“Um, yes?” Holly suddenly felt all her years at the mention of her assistants who showed up about five years ago, “Do you work for the Earth Foundations as well as for Mr. Arnold?” Somehow, she doubted he donated to the humanitarian organization.

The woman pushed back her blond hair as they reached the front door. “No.” Penny laid a very cold hand on Holly’s arm. “But thank you. You have my undying gratitude for keeping watch over these memories.” She touched the pillar at the open foyer, covered in quotes from dozens of cultures about standing against destruction and the ideals of destruction. A column protected from destruction by the UV shields in place around the facility, like every other habitable part of the planet. The ozone layer only now regenerating two centuries after the aliens ended the fourth World War. “Hopefully we won’t need to water the Tree of Liberty for another generation or two.” With that ominous statement, the assistant stepped out into the tamed sunlight to a small transport to return her to the hospitality suites near the starport.

Holly noticed one of her standard searches just came back with results. Wanting to give the best service, she always ran searches on those entering for previous museum experiences, because no one ever made it back to True Earth for her little obscure museum without serious historical interest. The app activated automatically and pings for Mr. Arnold and his son arrived milliseconds after their surprise visit. This final ping flashed Assistant.

Dr. Allegra considered the dataspace icon. Nearly a full hour to get that information. It looked … heavy … for lack of a better term. The researcher in her reached her hand up. The survivor in her, the one  that lived through the tail end of the fourth World War, swiped it into the trash and then sent her sweeper app to clean up the crumbs.

(words 1,480, first published 4/24/2023)

Undying Series
1. U is for Undying (4/24/2023)
2. Words on a Wall (5/28/2023)

Book Review (SERIES): These Marvelous Beasts

Amazon Cover

These Marvelous Beasts: The Complete Frost & Filigree Series by Natania Barron

  1. Frost & Filigree
  2. Masks & Malevolence
  3. Time & Temper

This is the collected works of the Frost & Filigree series which I read and reviewed as the individual novellas came out. I love Natania Barron’s voice as a writer – so rich and detailed.

While These Marvelous Beasts is an adventure throughout the United States and Europe from the Victorian era through the Roaring Twenties, the story never strayed far from the central questions: What makes a monster? When does one become a monster, and when does one stop being a monster? Using mythology from around the world, Ms. Barron explores this question in this historical Urban Fantasy. If deeper questions aren’t your cup of tea in reading (and really, they aren’t mine – I read to escape), there are battles, and romance, and monsters, and gods, and family, and vampire galore.

The first book of the series is the “weakest” of the lot. Ms. Barron works better in a novel format, and she needed to figure the pacing difference of the shorter format.


Amazon Cover


Vivienne du Lac and Nerissa Waldemar — a.k.a. la belle dame sans merci and the lamia — have been living among the elite of Tarrytown for quite some time, undetected but for the trail of goats in their wake (one must eat, after all). But just as their eccentricities begin to raise eyebrows, a dark evil arises, intent on murder. They meet a with a young woman named Christabel Crane and a group of bumbling cultists calling themselves the Circle of Iapetus, who beg for help combating the creature.

As they plunge deeper into the mysteries surrounding the New York elite, old flames rekindle, and old grudges, too. Vivienne and Nerissa agree to help fend off the darkness, but will spilled blood mean the end of their reform? And if not, at what cost?


Much more complicated set of characters than I normal find in the Shadow Council shared world – almost doesn’t fit in the novella (which is a complete story). A couple of the transitions between chapter/scenes have abrupt jumps; a problem with the extremely short format of novellas.

The language is beautiful. I bet this will be an amazing audiobook.

What makes a monster? When does one become a monster, and when does one stop being a monster? The monsters in this book are not that introspective, and they know what they are and what they have been capable of in the past. But in the here and now, they want to be part of society. For Vivienne du Lac, it is because she feeds on emotions of people. The higher and brighter the better, and this was a time of high society parties. For Nerissa, well, keeps her from backsliding.

She doesn’t want to be that monster in the swamp eating people; she wants to be better than that. But when a group of humans set off a bomb at a party to maximize blood (but not death), Nerissa and Vivienne need to face their baser selves, deal with the humans willing to risk the two monster setting off a blood bath, and fight the real monster in the area. All the while being distracted by the return of an old flame of Vivienne’s who she thought was dead. Is he the new monster – or is the new monster pretending to be him?

Action packed, but turn of the 18 to 19th century beauty. A good read in the style of an urban fantasy Victorian romance.


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Our monstrous heroes — Waldemar, Goodwin, & Crane — have suffered an unimaginable loss. Vivienne du Lac, the powerful sylph and their dear friend, has been captured, eluding all attempts at rescue for ten years.

The trio finds themselves in Cairo, Egypt, the crossroads of the old and new worlds, grasping at the limited clues they have to Vivienne’s whereabouts. As they pursue the trail, they come face to face with new monsters, new enemies, and a host of ancient gods wreaking havoc.

The hunt for Vivienne leads ever downward, to the very gates of the Underworld. Will Nerissa, Worth, and Christabel manage to stay alive, let alone keep their wits? After all, a lamia, a Questing Beast, and a unicorn, draw a certain amount of attention in a big city like Cairo… especially when one of them needs blood to survive.

With the help of new friends — including a kitsune named Kit and a Nith dwarf named Alma — the heroes launch an assault to the very gates of the Great Pyramid.


Natania Barron writes books as beautiful as her covers. This time we follow our beasts to Cairo, where the marsh-based snake, the lamia Nerissa, is less than happy about leaving the moist country-side of Tarrytown. She only left it to find her lifelong companion Vivienne, however strained their relationship might be and often was, on some level she needs the fey – who has been kidnapped by their former slave-butler Barquan, a dijinn. Joining her in the search are Worth (a, the?, Questing Beast) and Christabel (a unicorn), and a new person they pick up cheap in the bazaar (more about that little one will be spoilers except for the fact she adds much needed energy to the beastly dynamics).

Masks & Malevolence captures the time and sensibilities of the flapper era, and provides an even more complicated narrative than Frost & Filigree. The novella again packs so much into so little space yet completes the story it is telling.

Well worth the read!


Amazon Cover


It’s been two decades since Vivienne du Lac, powerful night sylph and mysterious monster of fashion, was abducted from Tarrytown New York in a display of strange magic. Her friends Nerissa Waldemar, the lamia; Worth Goodwin, the Questing Beast; and Christabel Crane, a unicorn, have chased her shadow across two continents, down the winding streets of Cairo, and indeed, into the Underworld itself.

Just when they’re about to give up, a surprising letter indicates that Vivienne might still be alive, and closer than they think. Aided by a kitsune named Kit, a reluctant angel named Ophaniel, a dwarf named Alma, and a host of gods, goddess, monsters, and miscreants, Waldemar, Goodwin, and Crane dash through London and into Spain to try and unite with Vivienne once again. But an army of void creatures greets them, and alongside their deadly attack clues to the insidious villain who’s been lurking in the shadows for thousand of years.

Once again, it’s up to the team to sort through their own interpersonal challenges of love, jealousy, and inner desires, as they race against the clock — and time and existence itself — to rescue Vivienne, or else perish trying. Will Nerissa beat her addictions? Will Christabel get over her lost love and find her place in the world? Will Worth ever cease being a sartorial nightmare?

Tempers rise and adventure awaits in the final installment of the Frost and Filigree series.


With the third, and final, book of a series, one always waits with baited breath. Will the author do the voice justice? Will my investment as a reader be fulfilled? Can everything be drawn together in a satisfying manner?

Never question if Natania Barron can draw anything – whether cover art or a conclusion to a beloved series. The richness of her voice, the complicated characters, everything in Time and Temper is as gratifying as one might hope.

If you love a rich voice set in Victorian times through the Roaring twenties, with everything from angels to lamia, this is the series for you. Start at book one. I *think* Time and Temper works as a stand-alone, but you will be shorting yourself if you don’t read the whole series.


Flash: Punch a Nazi

Photo by BENCE BOROS on Unsplash

“They’re back.” Rick had his back to the door as he whispered low enough no one beyond the bar could hear thanks to the additional enchantments the owner had added after the incident last week.

Drawing a deep draft for a half-giant, I glanced toward the door where the new bouncing staff held up their hands trying to deescalate the situation. Four to one wasn’t good odds. “Tats,” I spat, darkening my skin further, drawing up my hair into elaborate braids. “Take care the Pix’s top, could you?” I jumped over the bar and slid down the other side. “I got some lessons to teach.”

“Sure thing. Should I let the boss know?”

“Not going to matter.” I didn’t have the patience to be polite and play by human rules. My long stride ate the distance between the bar and the door.

“Look man, your club ain’t allowed here anymore since you guys broke sanctuary last week.” The fae bouncer kept their hands visible. Even wearing their male aspect, the winter Seelie was over a foot shorter than the lead vampire.

“Whatcha gonna do about it, fairy?” The vampire crowded the bouncer toward the wall, confident the three jackets he came in with would guard his back.

I scented with my tongue. The groupie vampires had been turned in the past month, and the were of the group had at most three moons since being bit. The lead vampire pushed a decade but wasn’t the sire of the babes. Smith really needed to clean up his coven or I would clean it for him. With an egg to consider, all unnecessary dangers in my territory needed to be eradicated soon.

“They are going to let me take care of it.” I crossed my arms over the black cropped shirt the wait staff used as a uniform. I shifted my mobility from the human appearing glamour to normal flight, then I pulled some extra weight from the plane where I stored my excess. Just six percent should be enough; it wasn’t like my present body presentation could handle more than that, especially since I restored the shape to slimmer version for work.

The vampire didn’t even turn around at my words, foolishly thinking after a measly decade and a nip of the teeth he now qualified as an apex predator. Cockily, he held out a heavily tattooed arm with a finger up. “One fucking minute doll and I will get to you.”

“Nah.” I grabbed the finger and pulled it down, along with the muscular arm, then yanked him toward me. The vamp had been a weight lifter in life, and at over seven foot, he weighed a meager three hundred pounds. I had moved 1,500 pounds of extra mass from my main form.

He moved, I didn’t.

I dead-palmed the punch he threw as he turned, wrapping my fingers around it.

His eyes grew round, before narrowing at the negroid features I had started wearing since Massey agreed to be my egg carrier. He tried to yank his hand away from my grip, and I let him succeed. I watched as his bigoted brain downplayed my danger because of the color of my skin and the shape of my nose, and maybe even the size of my breasts. Supremists often came with a side of misogyny.

“Fuckin’ cunt.” He gripped and ungripped his hand, testing the mobility.

“Tell you want, let’s do a one-punch contest. You win, we serve you. Hell, I’ll even buy the first two rounds. I win, y’all leave and never come back.” I spread my arms. “I’ll even let you go first.” I smiled with teeth showing, maintaining full human appearance. The expression didn’t seem to faze the gang members, but the crazy grin made the bouncer take a step back. Fae understood crazy. I nodded to Seelie. “Just hold up the line for a couple minutes if you can, this won’t take long.”

“You got that right.” The lead vampire growled. “It won’t take long at all.”

“You agree? You tats leave and don’t come back, ever, if I win?” I carefully adjust my stance to make it look like I was bracing for a punch. Looking like you are walking while you are actually flying isn’t the easiest thing, but I had plenty of practice in a variety of forms and glamours.

“Yeah, sure.”

He blinked as the magic covenant slid into place.

“Sanctuary grounds. Don’t make contracts you don’t want enforced.” I smirked. The regulars quickly learned never to stiff a bill or skimp on a promised tip. Roderiguez didn’t run tabs. “Be sure to make the first punch count.”

“Oh, I will, bitch.” The huge undead took a step and swung hard. The power of his punch pushed him back a few steps, and he curled around his hand.

I was disappointed when I didn’t hear bones crunch. “You pulled your punch, that was stupid.” I moved to close the gap. “My turn.”

“Jump her.” The elder grunted at the younger vampires. But they weren’t his spawn, so they had the option to back off, which they took. I memorized their faces. Smart vampires made good neighbors, if they remembered to be smart and not try to be clever. Only the werewolf responded, transforming to full lycan shape and leaped at me. Either the lead vampire had were- control, a common enough ability, or the furry hungered for a pack and answered to an alpha orders. Hurting him would be like kicking a chained puppy. I backhand him gently into the babes. The two younglings grabbed him and hold him back.

To control the slap, I had turned toward the werewolf. The owner of Bar None frowned on killing customers, even unwanted ones.

The pack leader used what he thought was a distraction to jump at my back at vampire speed. At a mere decade, his speed was a joke. I easily spun, brought across just a minuscule portion of my talons into this form, and punched through his chest, holding his black heart hostage, before he understood what happened.

“That wasn’t part of the agreement. Ordering the fledging like that. It was to be you and I.” I stared up at him, letting a bit of my golden lizard pupils shine through my human appearance, and curled back my lips. “You broke Sanctuary.”

I squeezed my fist closed, then dropped the decaying corpse on the ground.

Wiping the blood turning into dust over my bare stomach, I turn to the remaining tats and jackets. “You were part of the agreement. You understand that right?”

The two vampires nodded their heads vigorously. The transformed wolf growled groggily, his broken jaw healing with audible snaps.

“Don’t come back. Let the rest of the gang know too.”

I dropped my chin to stare into the vampires’ black eyes, breaking the common-sense rule of never making eye contact with vampires. They were too young for it to matter. The werewolf tilted his neck, exposing his throat.

“You come in while I’m here, anyone with your colors, and I will remove you.” I kicked the shrinking dust pile to indicate how I would remove them. I taught lessons but only once. Supernaturals either had a learning curve or they didn’t. “Got it?”

They nodded.


The three children rushed out the door.

“Alphin, do a better job and sweep up this mess.”

“No problem. Sure thing.” The fae stumbled over their words. “On it.”

I turned around, forgetting for a moment to make it look like I wasn’t flying, the spin raised me an inch or so off the floor. Sighing, seeing about half the customers with their eyes wide staring at me, comparing the rumors of what they heard about last week against what they just witnessed, I shunted my talons and weight back to the other side and landed on the floor light enough not to crack the tiles. “What?” I asked the crowd, “Boss said no more tats. We are a Sanctuary. Anyone got a problem with that?”

People shook their heads and dropped their heads to their drinks.

“Remember to treat your waitresses with respect, because if you think I’m scary, you should see an annoyed witch.”

The wait staff chuckled at that one, all of them apprentices of the owner, a thousand-year-old wizard capable of maintaining a Sanctuary in a large metropolitan area, and one of the few being on the planet who remembered what it is like to hunt dragons. Some of the regulars joined in the laughter. By the time I made it across the club to slide across the silver-trimmed bar, conversations were restarting around the room.

(words 1,449; first published 1/19/2024)

Book Review (SERIES): Bubba the Monster Hunter Season 5

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Blood, Sweat, & Tears: Bubba the Monster Hunter Season 5 (SERIES) by John G. Hartness

  1. Born to be Wilds
  2. Swamp Music
  3. Houses of the Holy
  4. Blaze of Glory


Bubba’s back from Fairyland, and sometimes it feels like they shoulda just stayed there!

Man, coming back to the real world sucks. Bubba and his whole team have been fired on account of going MIA for a year and a half (yeah, time moves differently in Faerie. Yay.), and now they’ve got to…get jobs? Oh, this is going to go well.

Blood, Sweat, & Tears tracks Bubba, Skeeter, Uncle Father Joe, and Amy as they re-enter society, get new jobs, almost burn down down the bar stupid enough to hire Bubba, end up owning a shifter crossfit gym, travel to Florida to learn way more about Uncle Father Joe’s new girlfriend than they ever thought they wanted to know, and then end up dealing with Quincy F’n Harker?!?

Yeah, that’s right. The Quincy Harker/Bubba crossover that you’ve all been waiting for happens right here, and the results are explosive, to say the least. No really, I’m not exaggerating. A lot of shit blows up. Because, well, Bubba.


Blood, Sweat, & Tears: Bubba the Monster Hunter Season 5 collects four novellas into one volume and hits a story out of the ballpark.

Born to be Wild – the perfect reintroduction of the cast after the year among the fairies. Gets our favorite redneck and his friends back on the saddle of doing what they do best – being in bars and blowing things up … sometimes both at the same time.

Swamp Music – another blast from the past where Father Joe’s girlfriend reaches out for help and Bubba delivers.

Houses of the Holy – Hartness writes two strong series which he said were placed in the same universe. Fans wanted a crossover – so Bubba goes to the Queen City. It’s not often Bubba is the backup team, but to stop an apocalyptic level spell he’s all for letting the wizard taking the lead. He’ll just sit back and guard a sword in a church. How hard can that be?

Blaze of Glory – Takes everything up a notch. Mr Card – sometimes known as Dracula – has gone off the reservation. One of the people the vampire cared deeply about died, and monster that he is, he normally doesn’t react well when that happens. For most beings, that might be a drinking spree — and for someone once called Vlad, a drinking spree has a very different connotation. Can Bubba find him in time? Or will something else find Bubba and his team first?


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He lost his job because he’s not exactly human. His girlfriend got fired just for dating him. His best friend…well, Skeeter’s okay, actually. It ain’t like this is a country song or anything.

Bubba the Monster Hunter is back from Fairyland and trying to figure out how he fits into the normal(ish) world again. He’s got a job as a bouncer at the Don’t Drop Inn, but that all goes up in smoke (way too literally) when his newest case comes waltzing in the front door with a mini zombie apocalypse in tow!

Bubba has to save a vampire from zombies and figure out who wants to make Caufield Evers Oglethorpe IV dead. Again. That investigation will involve magic, werewolves, rogue government agents, subcutaneous tracking devices, and crossfit. Just another day in the life of Bubba the unemployed Monster Hunter!


4/21/2019 First Readthrough – At last, Season Five begins and we see Bubba back in his element.

Friends – including Skeeter’s high pitch voice in his ear!
Starting the story at a Bar!
Beating on people for fun and profit, killing bad things with high explosives, and deciding some bad guys just need talking to (after slugging a couple times).
Humor and wild tangents.
Taking his girl out to lunch and then visiting a necromancer for dessert.

Classic Bubba. I’ve missed you. Like fire ants in the Spring, makes me want to shout “Come and get some”.

2/27/2022 Second readthrough
Season five is complete and I carved out time to read it. This book is the perfect setup to the four novella series – reintroducing the characters, establishing their styles and methods, human and horror, blowing things up. The perfect beginning.


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Bubba’s facing off against the most fearsome creature in history – Florida Man!

Well, not really. But kinda. Bubba’s hitting the road to to help a friend when Uncle Father Joe calls for aid. Bubba rolls into Orlando to help out the defrocked priest and his scientist/were-gator girlfriend, and ends up stumbling into something much bigger than even that giant lizard’s cloaca! Somebody’s hunting cryptids, and it ain’t him, so he needs to find out what’s going on back in them swamps, and why suddenly everybody is named Director Shaw?!?

Bubba will battle foes both human and cryptid, and some a little of both in this hilarious horror comedy novella. Season Five of Bubba the Monster Hunter continues with Swamp Music!


This novella published in May 2020 – and is the perfect homage to the first half of the COVID, while still ALSO being the perfect Bubba book for crazy no-shit mayhem, while still ALSO being a continuation of character building and story progression of the overall story for the Bubba universe in the fifth season.

Born to Be Wild reestablished our hero and his team back on earth – reminding us what Southern Region Monster Hunting looks like. It was fun and lively, but not so deep on the characters.

Swamp Music picks up the action a pace, gives us additional depth and history of this long-running series when Father Joe needs help when his girlfriend’s cousin gets kidnapped. Now that he is an ex-priest … what is gonna happen with GF if the rescue is successful.

And that depends on Bubba dealing with a bunch of Florida weirdness including animal theme parks, were-gators, and keeping an eye on Geri who may still be itching to do a killin’.

Pitch perfect Bubba story. This is why we read Bubba stuff.


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The long-anticipated Bubba/Quincy Harker crossover starts here!

Bubba is hired by the Department of Homeland Security to guard some relics in Charlotte, but there’s more going on than there seems. Doesn’t DHS have Quincy Harker, a mostly capable wizard type, right there in Charlotte? And Isn’t Bubba blacklisted from working for the government after DEMON decided they wanted to kill him? And didn’t he smear vampire guts all over College Street that last time he was in Charlotte?

Find out all this, and learn more about the nefarious Director Shaw’s plans for DEMON and world domination as Bubba the Monster Hunter meets up with members of Quincy Harker’s crew to stop the ultimate evil from going down in the Queen City!

Events in Houses of the Holy take place simultaneously with the Quincy Harker novel Conspiracy Theory.


The third novella of Bubba’s fifth season starts the core of the season’s story. In Born to be Wild and Swamp Music, Bubba was a little out of shape … okay, a lot out of shape. But he now owns a cross-fit gym so he started working out a bit and getting down to a fighting weight (if when you are “down” and still over 300 pounds can be counted as such – when you are over six and a half, it can). And good thing too.

Because Mr. Hartness, the author, did a fan service thing and had his two favorite characters meet. Quincy and Bubba in the same room.

Bubba is called to the Queen City (Charlotte, NC) from his Georgia stomping grounds to operate as the backup team during a little bit of apocalypse.

Normally Bubba is the “A” team, but he is okay to let this slide. Demons and spells and ending the world is more a Quincy thing. He and his team are happy to take the government paycheck … and sweet, sweet equipment.

Of course, being Bubba, he manages to get himself banned from a bar the first day. Next assignment has him guarding a sword inside a cathedral. Hope his day gets better – or EVERYONE’S day is going to get a lot worse.

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The stunning conclusion to Bubba the Monster Hunter Season 5 is here!

Bubba and the team have been called to Charlotte to help the Department of Homeland Security on a job. Since being in North Carolina, Bubba has been tased, kidnapped, beaten silly, and met DEMON agents, actual demons, and an angel. Now he’s been hired to hunt down the literal most famous monster in history – Count Dracula.

Only problem is, Dracula’s nephew, the wizard Quincy Harker, doesn’t like the idea of Bubba hunting his family in his city.

Will Bubba and Harker finally throw down? Will Bubba get kidnapped and beaten up again? Will the be explosions?

That last one was a trick question. Of course there will be explosions! Get your hands on the thrilling conclusion to Bubba the Monster Hunter Season 5, because this one changes things forever!


Fourth and final novella of the fifth season of Bubba. This story overlaps with Mr. Hartness’ Quincy Hartness series but can be read without knowing all the background of the Quincy-verse.

What matters is the man the world once knew as Dracula just lost one of his favorite humans. When normal beings lose someone this close to violence, they go on drinking sprees. “Drinking spree” takes on new meaning when applied to the world’s most famous vampire. Bubba’s job is to bring him back before that becomes a problem.

But can he? Especially when while Monster Hunting, something is hunting him and his team. Can they all make it out alive? (or undead in one case.)

This is a masterpiece of a book with the laughter and tears only possible with a long-running series where you KNOW the characters.