Microfiction: Tears

Last bit. The story starts here

 

In a dark room, surrounded by monitors and the soporific swaying of silent crowds, a man sent out a message to the guardians of the peace in sector B307. They’d pick her up from the retina prints. Her eyes would glow like beacons to their devices. He had never planned on this, never asked to be picked for this job, but refusing wasn’t an option. They had tracked her down, the carrier, and he was only doing his job.

Somewhere, in the back of his memories, something stirred—a child sucking her thumb as she slept in her cot—and the unexpected rush of tears blurred the confused image of a young woman struggling in the arms of faceless black uniforms.

Opening Ys part two

I haven’t done any promotion for a while, and this isn’t really promotion, but to celebrate reaching the 20k mark in new writing of the current WIP (second volume of Ys), here’s the unedited opening. It will very likely change, openings often do, but for the moment this is it.

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Una One-Eye, Una of the Sapphire Eye, Una Death-Glance, trudged along in silence, carrying the burden of her worries as stoically as a hardy work pony. Hakki, her little brother, danced along in front of her, weaving his small boy dance of joy, always happy to be moving, curious about every movement, every changing colour on the mountain, flash of bird feather, whistle in the wind. He held Goat’s halter but Una suspected the beast would stay by his side anyway. She watched Fiachra from beneath lowered lashes, observing and appraising. Fiachra—thrall, companion, and possibly friend—had a new spring in his step. Although he was burdened with the bags the unfortunate pony was no longer in a position to carry, he seemed not to feel the weight. Winter lingered long in the high passes of the mountains, but the air sang with the promise of milder days, and the grass was greener, the trees covered in a misty haze of new leaf. Una wondered was she the only one to have any doubts about this journey at all.

The Vesturlands were the home of demons, monsters and the Guardians. No one, not even the hunters from her village by the ocean had ventured beyond Hrafngill and taken the rocky path down to the heath lands below. Not even Geirri with his boarhounds and his staghounds. Not even when food was scare in the bleak mid-winter and they said the game knew it was safe beyond the Jötunnsfell so there was meat there for the asking. The Vesturlands were spiked with fastnesses, they said. The black fortresses crowned the peaks with their eyeless walls of basalt, and the Guardians held them with not so much as a band of village drengur. They had no need of armed men. The terror of the fish monsters was enough to keep even the hardiest at a distance, and who would want to brave the Guardians anyway?

Fiachra would.

Fiachra drew her thoughts back to him. However far they strayed, he pulled them in like a fisherman playing a fish on a line. Was she just a fish on a line? The notion made her frown. Fiachra strode ahead, his long legs untiring, his head held high. She would follow him, but she would not walk with him. As she watched the movement of his shoulders, the rhythm of his stride, the light changed and shifted. She reached out to steady herself, to retain her balance on the earth suddenly treacherous. Dread filled her belly with cold seawater. She knew this feeling; a waking dream was beginning.

Fiachra! she called out in her head but no sound came. She was drifting, away from the waking world and into the dream. She listened, but instead of the insistent voice of the Valdur general she heard the sound of waves. Fiachra’s name caught in her throat and the hand stretched out for balance became an entreaty. Fiachra had gone. His shock of black hair was no longer visible against the sky grown just as dark. Another was there, with hair the colour of ripe barley, a stranger. And the black was not of the sky but a cave, and the stranger with the barley-coloured hair was heading into it. She wanted to call out, to find Hakki and run out of this dream, this vision and wake in the comforting world of birch trees and sunlight. The cave loomed. The barley-headed man marched confidently into the mouth that shivered and stretched. Una tried to scream. The cave was not a cave but a maw, a black gullet.

Please, make him stop! She did not want to see what happened next, but the seers who formed her dreams would not listen. She and the fair-haired stranger were trapped in a vision of horror. The hooks of teeth were clear now, a pale spiral disappearing into the depths of the black throat, hooks that quivered and rippled like rigid flesh. The tunnel narrowed, the throat contracted, and Una screamed. The confident stride broke, and the man turned, a young man, and beneath his barley-coloured hair, his eyes, one blue as the sky, the other brown as a bird’s wing, were wide with surprise.

Microfiction challenge #5: The Door

You might like to use this week’s image to inspire a completely new story, with a word count I’ll leave to your discretion, but try to keep it micro please 🙂 You can also carry on the story you started last week with the painting (La Porte by Henri Duhem) to inspire the next episode. I chose this painting at random out of a dozen or so images I’d picked out as writing prompts, so I’m crossing fingers it works as a follow on to  last week.

Post the link to your story in the comments and do say if you’re inviting a critique from the readers.

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Microfiction: The visit VI & VII

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In terror, her eyes searched for something, anything to fix upon that was not the creature by her side. But there was nothing, only the sliver of moon, a ghastly grin in the blackness of the sky. A hand, cold, again the claw-like fingers, gripped her chin and forced her head around. The face, thin and pale as the moon, grinned, the eyes, dark as dried blood pulled her into their sullen depths, and the thin lips moved forming a single word: look. The hand dragged her to the open window. She looked, out, down, and mouthed a silent scream.

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The sickly light showed not a wild rose garden but a desolation of broken trees and tangles of dead briars, leafless but clawed with vicious thorns. There was no road, no friendly twinkle of distant house lights. The smell was not the night scent of honeysuckle and lilac but the stench of corruption, and the only movement was the scuttling of a horde of rats submerging a shallow mound before the door. She gagged and moaned.

Jay.

The name echoed hopelessly inside her head as the creature pulled her to him and his mouth swallowed the last faint flicker of life.

Giveaway as in free books

I have several author copies of Abomination to give away in epub and pdf format. If you have read the excerpts and think you’d like to read the story, let me know in the comments box.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can get up to speed by going here, here,

here and here.

If this kind of thing appeals, just leave your name in the comments, and say which format you would prefer.

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Book review: AntiHelix by John Collick

AntiHelix is the third volume of John Collick’s science fantasy series, The Book of the Colossus. I have read and enjoyed all three books, and this latest volume is perhaps my favourite. If you haven’t started this series yet, you should. Here are the links to John’s author pages with the details.

Amazon UK
Amazon US

AntiHelix (The Book of the Colossus, #3)AntiHelix by John Guy Collick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This third volume of The Book of the Colossus is a real tour de force. John Collick’s depiction of this dark, decaying world he has created never falters. As soon as I opened this volume, I was back beneath a black sky, among red and ochre landscapes strewn with dead machinery. Some of the characters Abby and Max picked up in Ragged Claws are still with us, as well as a host of new ones.
What I particularly like about the structure of AntiHelix is the separation of story threads. Max and Abby, with their escort of the touchingly faithful Abhumans, take almost second place to the story of General Crysanthe Uella, her fall from grace and her emergence as a force to be reckoned with, even when she is obeying nobody’s orders but her own. Crysanthe is a tremendous character, complex and likeable possibly because she isn’t loveable. She’s all hard angles and rather humourless, but her qualities come out as the story progresses and all her certitudes fall apart.
There are so many good characters in this story, but I won’t mention my favourite because he starts of as so NOT a favourite character that even to mention he was my favourite will spoil the surprise.
John Collick does an astonishing job with his creations, giving them such individuality I can actually see them. One of the ways this book builds on the preceding volumes is in the colour. Onto the colours of a dying fire of the previous books, Collick adds layers of brilliance with his weird and wonderful characters who sparkle like fireworks. This is a world I have really come to believe in, and really believe it is worth saving.
Although I felt that the couple Max/Abbey plays second fiddle to the grand tragedy of the Uella family and the corrupt decadence of the Empire of the Ear, they come over as all the more human. Abby’s erratic behaviour and humours, the rows with Max, making ups and explanations, rather than soap opera, are so believable. The final scenes, that have a touch of a Feydeau farce are wonderful. I didn’t know whether to laugh or steel myself for tears.
Where Ragged Claws seems to pack an awful lot of action into the last scenes, accelerating as if time (or the book) is running out, AntiHelix is beautifully paced. The alternating story line helps to keep the tension taut, and takes the pressure off Max and Abby to perform constantly. And the tension never lets up, like a high wire act with no safety net, and where up in the shadows, something nasty is playing with a pair of wire-cutters.
I can’t recommend this series highly enough. Thumb introduces a weirdly intriguing world and concepts that are pretty extraordinary. Ragged Claws takes us into even more elaborately constructed dimensions. In AntiHelix I would say that John Collick has really got into his stride, producing a novel close to science fantasy perfection. I can’t imagine what the fourth volume will bring, but it’s sure to be brilliant.

View all my reviews

Guest Author: Kate Wrath

You know Kate Wrath already. If you like dystopian fiction and you don’t know her, it’s about time you did.
And today you’re in luck, because the first volume of Kate’s series is free. Don’t miss it. That would be too silly.

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Welcome to Outpost Three: Cracked pavement, rusted metal, splintering boards.

Outpost Three

 

 

 

Slavers and starvation are only the beginning of Eden’s problems…chains-19176_1280

A devastating conflict is coming that threatens to tear her newfound family apart.

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Get your FREE COPY on Amazon April 14-18, 2015.

Chapter 1: Iron Womb

 

I wake up in a box of iron. I know nothing, remember nothing. There is one thought imprinted on my consciousness: You have been erased.

Disoriented, I’m swimming in warm darkness. Tepid air. Tepid metal. The inability to move. Limbs pressing outward, ineffective. My ribcage curled in on itself. No room to breathe. The back of my skull smashed against the box. Neck and spine aching. Heavy limbs. Not enough space. Not enough air. Suffocating. Dying.

Panic.

There’s no way out.

I scream. It’s a girl’s voice. Am I a girl?

Flailing. Pounding. Hot blood under torn nails. Dry, shredded throat. I scream until everything stops.

An eternity later, I awaken in the warm darkness.

It’s happened so many times, I’ve stopped counting. I’ve stopped asking why. Dry snot on my face. Hollow insides. Despair. I decided long ago to give up and die. But it continues. Now I lie still in the dark. Floating. Drifting. Time malfunctions. My body winds down. I’m fading.

 

***

Cold air wisps across my cheek. The touch of death? I open my eyes and shut them as the light skewers my brain. Tentatively, I crack my lids open again. The image sharpens with each blink, a water-blurred lens coming into focus. Brown dirt in a vertical plane bisecting my vision. Eventually I realize I’m laying on my side. My cheek presses into cold earth. My right shoulder is crushed under my body, my limbs sprawled haphazardly. Who knows how long I’ve been like this. I lay blinking, unable to move, strangely fascinated with the colors and textures of the ground. Small stones and twigs rise dramatically out of the landscape from this perspective. Beyond them, only a few paces away, is a concrete wall.

I struggle to upright myself. Three attempts later, I manage to sit up, which I immediately regret. Starbursts chase black spots across my eyeballs. My stomach turns over. Heaviness sits on my chest. Each breath takes the efforts of my entire body. I’m certain I’ll fall over, but it passes, resolving in a dizzy, drifting haze. I blink and cast my eyes around, wondering where I am and how I got here.

Dirty walls of buildings, rusted corrugated steel panels and splintered, rotting boards make up most of my surroundings. An alleyway leads away from this enclosed area. Trash whirls across its opening and collects in a huddle against one wall. More is piled against a building next to a dumpster. A few feet away from me, the bleak grey sky is reflected in a puddle, oily patches on the water’s surface obscuring the shapes of the clouds. I scramble for the puddle on hands and knees, moving faster than I imagined I’m capable of. Thrusting my hands into the dirty water, I scoop it up, and drink. Some of it runs down my chin and neck, soaking whatever garment I’m wearing. It tastes foul, smells of something wrong, but I don’t care. It’s liquid. I drink handful after handful, then sit back on my knees, my shoulders slumping, hands dropping slack to my sides. I pant, then take deeper breaths. I sigh, a long, trembling sigh that releases all the tension from my body. Tipping my face to the open sky– as dark and cold and uninviting as I can possibly imagine it– my heart embraces it as a thing of utmost beauty. Open air, the ability to move– I am utterly thankful for these things.

There’s a noise from down the alley. Fear coalesces out of nowhere, seizing hold of me, compelling my body to move despite its weakness, its stiff joints. I thrust my feet under me and will myself to standing. Reeling against the dizziness, I throw my arms out and widen my stance to keep from falling. I have to get out of here. Now.

I’m only beginning to move when my mind starts translating what I hear. Footsteps. Male voices, low and laughing. There is nowhere for me to go. I force down a scream. My eyes fall on the trash piled next to the dumpster. I hike up the brown shift I’m wearing and wade into the heap of boxes and rags, sharp-edged tin can lids, moldy coffee grounds, greasy bones, and other rotten, rancid things. Sinking down in the filth, I draw it over my head. Something cold and slippery hits the skin of my neck, its stench filling my nostrils. I make myself still, hold my breath. And then the voices are right there, a few paces away from me.

Their cheerful conversation ceases.

“Nothing again today,” one of them says.

There is the sound of a boot scuffing the pavement, then the faint splash of water as it hits the puddle.

A second voice answers darkly, “Matt’s gonna think we’re slacking or something. Take the loss out of our pay.”

What loss? In the silence that follows, I feel my face turning red, my lungs wanting to explode. The sensation of suffocating seizes me again, the sharp memory of metal walls closing me in. I need to breathe. Need to scream. I have to dig down into the fear and extract every drop of willpower to remain still and quiet. The beginnings of a whimper stir in my belly, but I shut them down. Only a moment more. Only a moment.

“Nah,” a third voice finally says. “He knows we don’t miss any. If they haven’t dropped here in two days, we’ll surely get something tomorrow.”

The others make noises of disgruntled agreement, and the footsteps move away, down the alley.

I try to last as long as I can after they’re gone, but they’ve barely left when I lose the ability. Gasping in air, I gag at the smell that assaults me. I launch to my feet, trash falling from my hair and shoulders. Scrambling from the pile, I press myself hard against the wall, farthest from the alley. The ragged breaths I rake in are thick with a stench that clings to me. My back is wet. My skin crawls at its own filthiness.

Forcing my disgust away, I plunge into the puzzle amassing in my mind. These men were looking for something that wasn’t here, though they expected it to be. Something that would be dropped here. Something that would profit them, or the man they work for. What could possibly be dropped in an alley? What kind of coincidence is it that I am suddenly here? Dropped here. Me. They’re looking for me. Slavers.

I repress another scream, clenching my fists, squeezing my eyes shut. The darkness sends my mind involuntarily back to the cube. My body convulses. As my eyes fly open, the words appear in my brain, burned there, like the ones before them: You have been warned. With them, a gate opens in my mind. I can place myself in this world. I know its laws. I know its ways. As for myself– everything that was me– it is gone. Forever. I have been erased.

I run my fingertips lightly over the center of my forehead, exploring the mark there, its edges swollen and raised, my skin tender and stinging with the newness of it. My hand trembles. I take it away from my face to look at it– long, slender fingers. Pale skin. Fingernails blackened with blood. My palms are blue and bruised from pounding against the metal. But it’s a young hand. That’s one strike against me. Please, please, don’t let me be pretty.

I tear into the pile of trash until I find a piece of broken glass. Wiping it with the hem of my shift, I notice my long, shapely legs. Does my face even matter? I tilt the glass in the grey light, repositioning until the surface collects my image. I stare at it– a transparent rendering of myself. Large, dark eyes. Clear skin. Full lips. I hurl the glass away from me with a cry of frustration. It splinters into a thousand shards against the concrete wall.

I’m shaking from my core. My body and mind want to collapse in on themselves. That is the last thing I can allow.

I find myself counting slowly backward from one hundred. Ninety-nine. Ninety-eight. I must calm myself. I must think. Ninety-five. Ninety-four. If I do something stupid now, I’ll regret it, probably for the rest of my life. Ninety-one. Ninety. Eighty-nine. I must form a plan. Eighty-seven. I need food, and shelter. A place to hide until I can regain my strength. Eighty-two. Eighty-one. Anyone who sees me could sell me out as likely as help me. Slavers reward handsomely for pretty girls like me. Seventy-two. Seventy-one. Seventy. Sixty-nine. I need to disguise myself. Need to make myself unappealing. More trouble than I’m worth. Sixty-five.

I stop counting and consider the pile of trash. Before I can balk at the idea, I begin pulling out any rags I can find. There’s a good mess of them, stained with things I’m sure I don’t want to identify. They are damp in places, stiff in others. I find a large piece– it looks like a torn and stained bed sheet– and make a sort of robe out of it. Smaller bits I wrap about my head, catching my hair up in them. As I do, my fingers pause, briefly rubbing one silky lock. It falls just below my shoulders. I hold it in front of my face. Dark brown, the color of coffee beans, or bitter chocolate. I wrap it up tightly in the piss-scented rags, carefully covering the mark on my forehead, then smear my face and pale arms with dirt. At the bottom of the pile I find something sticky and red. I paint blotches on my exposed skin. On my face. On my long fingers. There are slight calluses along my fingertips, running all the way down my pointer finger, and across the top ridge of my palm. I will never know how those calluses got there.

Grief hits me for the first time. But I cannot afford it now. Later, it can come, when I’m away from here. I’ll allow it then. The sorrow curls up inside me and settles down to sleep, waiting for its time. I focus on this moment, this task, checking myself. My brown shift is covered. I cannot see my face, but my hands look positively frightening. Small strips of rags are all that’s left in the pile, so I tie them around my legs, stacking them to make fake pant legs. I add dirt and gunk to my feet, then drape an extra piece of rag over my head like a hood to hide my face. Cocked head. Crooked posture. Surely anyone who looks twice at me will find themselves moving in the opposite direction. I practice a wet, throaty cough to go along with the blotches. When I’m happy with it, I steel myself to move on. I step toward the alley looking a hundred years old. I feel a hundred years old. Yet, I am born today from an iron womb.

 

Text Copyright © 2014 Kate Wrath . All Rights Reserved.

Connect with Kate on her website, Goodreads, Facebook, or Twitter.

 

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Cover reveal: Evolution by Kate Wrath

If you’ve read E, the first book in Kate Wrath’s dystopian series, you’ll have been hoping she wasn’t going to keep us all waiting too long for the next installment. Well, it’s almost ready and here’s the proof.
I have to add that Kate sent me this post all ready to go, with all the links and the flashing lights and stuff. I salute her—that is some technical achievement 🙂
Best of luck with the preorders, Kate, and congratulations on your techy and business iniitiative!

Cover Reveal

Cover of Kate Wrath's Evolution

Outpost Three is still standing… barely. But the deadliest threat it has ever faced is on its way– a violent force that will annihilate every man, woman, and child.

With the Sentries under his control and Grey’s army defeated, Matt is more powerful than ever. Eden is little more than his prisoner, but that line is blurring as her affection for him grows. Now, as the Outpost faces total destruction, Matt must sacrifice the possibility of attaining Eden’s love in the vague hope that her past might hold the key to saving them all.

Eden’s journey will begin to unravel the mysteries of her previous life, reveal dangerous new questions, and change not only the future of Outpost Three, but shape the course of history.

This eagerly anticipated sequel to Kate Wrath’s E begins an epic quest into the dark, dystopian landscape of Eden’s world.

Click to preorder.Connect with Kate:

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Silver

Wilczarz,_szczenie_4_mies_FUKO_Festina

Silver trembled on the narrow ledge. One paw slipped into emptiness and she whimpered with terror.
Hold still. Jonah’s coming.
The voice in her head calmed her racing puppy thoughts. Jonah. Jonah would make everything all right.
The pup thought of nothing but balancing, of keeping four paws on the ledge. Until Jonah caught her up and carried her to safety. The black thoughts of hard rock rushing up to meet her, pain and darkness, death, death, death, she pushed out of her head. Paws. Ledge. Jonah.
She thought of Jonah and raised her muzzle to sniff. She smelt him, getting closer. She saw his feet sliding closer to her. She smelt his scent. A whimper escaped.
Hold still. Calm. Silver.
The name, her name filled her with hope. Hope that Jonah’s hands would reach her. Soon. Before her paws slipped and the black—She whimpered again as the thought rushed back, the memory of slipping over the edge of the chasm, her nails scrabbling for a hold on the slippery rock, the panic of sliding backwards into the dark. She looked down, past the paws that teetered on the tiny ledge, past the dust floating down into…into the dark. She howled.
Calm Silver. Calm. Jonah’s here.
The pup raised her head. The feet were almost level with her ears. If she jumped, perhaps…
Nails scratched without finding purchase, dust rose. A pebble clattered.
Still!
Wildly she struggled to retain her balance, feeling her body dragged down after the paw that no longer felt rock beneath it.
Still! Jonah’s here. Calm, Silver.
The pup felt the hand brushing the hairs of her eartips. Jonah’s scent filled her senses. Her tongue lolled and she licked her lips, tasting his smell.
Jonah!
The hand reached lower. Jonah’s scent increased; she smelled the effort, the sweat and the fear. Jonah was afraid! She tensed, thinking of nothing but the hand, smelling the…smelling the…
Jonah!
His hand plunged lower, grabbed the scruff of her neck, yanked her from the ledge. But the smell! The smell chased Jonah’s smell filling her with a mad fear. Then she heard fury shrieking, and the blackness roared up out of the pit below.
She felt the despair, the rage, the terror through the hand that clutched the loose skin at the back of her neck. She let herself go limp, shut down her hopes, her thoughts. Her eyes glazed. Death. The word grew into a black rock that filled all the space behind her eyes. Death. And in her despair she knew Jonah saw the black rock too.
When she felt the sickening lurch out, away from the cliff and over the blackness, she knew Jonah was falling. The black noise with the great wings that sent a vicious wind curling around them had plucked him from his perch.
Jonah. She whispered as a pup whispers, the word on a breath, the tip of a pink tongue.
Silver, someone whispered.
She felt the shudder in the free fall before Jonah did, felt the air pushing them back, saw the glitter of green before the boy did. Silver knew what had caught them first, and her heart leapt into her throat, then out into the sky with a yip of joy.
Green! She shouted to Jonah, and his hand firmed round her neck. She! She, Jonah!
The pup felt the boy’s confusion, sensed the terror that clung to him.
Calm, Jonah.
A quiet force pushed Silver and the boy holding her back against the cliff. Green shoots of young trees shot up around them to form a barrier, blotting out the deep blackness, keeping back the fierce, winged wind demon from the pit. The pup listened with amusement to the gasp of astonishment that came from the boy.
Calm, Jonah. She is here.
And She was.

Thank you to Hannah for the photo © http://www.festina.com.pl/