Friday, December 30, 2011


Once the blackout came, we rarely got more than two hours of electricity at night, I climbed the forty steps to Chilzina's niche, stopping after a few steps, unable to help myself, listening to the echoes of my bare feet padding against hewn stone. The filters hid the white noise of the wind, but I'd be stupid if I filtered out the sounds I made. In the darkness above me while thick clouds hid my approach from their sight, two of Yasir's goons ran fingers over the triggers of their AK-47s, the rifle's shape obvious in the hole left where the wind wasn't.

I sometimes found it difficult to remember others didn't hear like I did now. I'd never known what normal hearing was like, having been born deaf until I'd saved that Army transport and the soldiers had insisted on sponsoring me at one of the NGO hospitals. Now, everyone seemed deaf in comparison.

An advantage I intended to use.

The goons wore night vision goggles, but if you know what to look for, you also know how to move in the holes where they're not looking to slip behind them. I wasn't large even for a ten year old. If you've got surprise, large isn't necessary.

I rolled into the backs of their calves, knocking both of them down. Fingers clicked as they pulled the triggers, but the safeties kept the motion from moving, the gun from firing. The scuffling was painful and momentarily blinded me, but I managed to pull their goggles from their heads before they scrambled to their feet, their guns lying in dark crevices against the wall.

Both of them were over six foot, their arms waving, searching for me in the niche. I ducked under one and punched his stomach and he fell down the forty steps. He rolled to a stop and I listened to see if he'd move, but there were no sounds. One goon left. Of course, Yasir was here as well, otherwise there would be no point to the guards, but he'd be sleeping, trusting his guards.

"What's all this noise." A flashlight pierced the darkness.

I was an idiot. Yasir hadn't been asleep. Without the element of surprise, I didn't stand a chance against even one goon.

He tackled me, his forearm slamming into my ribs and my head cracked against the stone floor. The world oozed around me, pinpricks of false light dancing in the ceiling. Ropes were pulled tight around my wrists, cutting off the circulation.

Yasir leaned down to look in my eyes. "Who are you?" His expression seemed to imply he didn't understand why I was here.

"Sasan's son."


"He ran a coffee house in old town."

Yasir's eyes were empty.

I refused to believe he didn't know the name of my father. He had to know him. It was his men who'd broken father's legs when he'd refused to pay protection money. The goon stood. I stared into Yasir's flashlight as if blinded from the light and then without looking, without telescoping what I planned, I turned and bit the man's shin. I tried to roll towards the stairs, but the flashlight caught my temple and the room blacked out.

When I awoke, the ropes have been replaced with chains. Yasir spoke with some colleagues in a room far enough away, that I was sure they thought I couldn't overhear them, but I heard the plans. They planned to bomb the regional governor. They ran more than a simple racket.

Outside, it had grown light. Helicopters flew over the city. Their radios crackled, my implant caught their signals, the black-market electronics cracked their codes and I listened. They searched for me. I hadn't told anyone I'd do this. Regardless, they couldn't see into Chilzina's niche. They wouldn't find me.

It was hard to scramble to my feet, my hands chained behind me, and links locking my legs together. I shuffled away from Yasir's posse and leaned against the door. I heard the negative space where a single guard stood watch. I waited until the helicopter neared and timed my shamble so that I escaped the niche as the helicopter flew over. I stared into its windows, and the pilot saw me. He recognized me as Yasir's man grabbed my shoulder to pull me back into the niche. A handgun fired and blood splashed my cheek. I was relieved to be pulled into the helicopter.

Yasir might've forgotten my father, but he would not forget Forood. I would return.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


This is Loren's third year of Advent Ghosts. My entry is below. You can find the others here.

Näcken, (c) 1882 Ernst Josephson

Too old to believe in Santa, too old to fear forest shadows, too old to sleep when fiddle music scraped against frost-limned windows, an ancient melody whispering of the thrust of men with women, Tjuven stumbled off-path. He didn't need moonlight; the music was enough.

He hadn't expected the creature, a violin beneath its chin, reclining in the brook. Hungry eyes made his loins warm, uncomfortable.

Cold wind blew against his face, wet with tree-scraped blood that dripped thrice. The creature shivered, waited, but Tjuven was too old to believe in Näcks and too young for baptism to protect him.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Great Santa Migrations

Long before humanity evolved to our present grandeur, long before the continents took their present shapes, long before the reindeer forgot how to fly, Santas teemed upon the icecaps, every spring migrating north, every fall migrating south. Their sleighs chased the sun so these Santas never knew darkness.

One year, a plague afflicted the Santas' camp. Phlegm spewed from tents like green lava, slowing until it froze.

One boy prayed to the goat-god for savior from this mortal disease. The incubus cursed him with eternity.

Every Christmas, the sole remaining Santa migrates to every human household to ease his loneliness.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rave: Dancing in Siobhan Carroll's Night Gardens

If you've read my fiction, you know I write a lot of surreal worlds, and you'd be right if you guessed I liked fiction involving wondrous worlds. Siobhan Carroll's In the Gardens of the Night wrapped me around its fictitious thumb with the first line of the second paragraph. "She was trained by the famous wind dancers of the Blackleaf hills..." I'm a sucker for worlds where dance plays into the fantastic life. The wind dancer is more of an antagonist in this story than protagonist, but it sets the stage for intrigue.

This is a tale of a harem witch who is more of a stage magician using her eyes, ears, and quick fingers to maintain a power over the other concubines. In this story, she gropes for more power, power to save her daughter and power to change the way the world evolves.

The gorgeous aspect of this telling is the details woven into the court and the harem that differentiates this from Guy Gavrial Kay's harem and makes this one stand out for those details, and allows the witch to take center stage.

This story is available free in the online zine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Check it out.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Name Day

Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed. -Arthur Rimbaud

He was part of my dream, of course, but then I was part of his dream, too! -Lewis Carroll

The midnight bell tolled, melting reality from Gottfrid's day into Astor's. All the little girls and boys were snuggled in their beds, all the little boys but Astor who stood on tiptoe, his hands balanced on the radiators that lost Gottfrid's penny-pinching cheap paint peeling stupor to swell into deep bass thrumming pipes coated with solid gold that lifted the boy high enough to see the inner courtyard through his now clear windows where his feast would grow.

"You should be sleeping." The red queen stared down her long nose.

Astor's hand twitched against the radiator pipes, the tapping boomed through dreamland's boarding school and its three-hundred-and-sixty-five dorm rooms. It was easy to learn fear the other three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year, but not today. Today, the red queen held no power. Unless Astor granted that power to her. "It is my day, begone."

Leaving only the hallucination of her perfume, the red queen disappeared.

He contrived clothes to befit his name-day: ermine-edged cloak, gold and purple threaded vest, and a twined crown made of platinum threads. No one would forget whose magnanimity provided them with the day's feast. His stomach grumbled. No sense in his delaying, he would never find his fill nor bemoan too much.

Tables were bedecked with the lushness of the forest -- deer steaks and sausages, royal trumpet mushrooms, chipmunk and pheasant -- the saltiness of the sea -- monkfish with a beurre blanc sauce, prawns and lobsters -- and the sweetness of the briars -- strawberries, raspberries, and the tang of chocolate. The tables stretched as far as Astor could see, long narrow tables, the white tablecloths falling to the floor. A veritable maze.

"I've always liked your name day." A smear of chocolate begrimed Malena's cheek.

Astor started. It was his dreamworld. He shouldn't have to deal with people surprising him. He stared at his feet while counting to ten, not wanting to waste a single moment of his day on anger or harsh words. "You scared the bejabbers out of me. What are you doing here? The red queen hates when we're up before dawn begets the sun."

Pain beclouded Malena's eyes. "Many things the red queen hates." She chewed her bottom lip.

Whatever befouled her thoughts was better left unsaid for it was the red king's dream as well as Astor's. He found a ladyfinger, drizzled with espresso and thyme honey. He held it out for her and let her suck the sweetness. He decided he liked the smile that lit her eyes and beguiled his soul. Together they skipped through the maze, tasting of the delights laid before them.

The other little boys and little girls joined them, laughter breaking the dawn. The silver platters refilled themselves, the meats dripping warm juices, the breads steaming, and the whipped cream on the dessert's firm and cool. That evening, the tables moved away from their maze form to create a dining hall where everyone sat and the little boys and girls toasted Astor's dream.

He stayed up till midnight, Malena's hand in his, perched on the edge of his radiator to watch his reality melt into Inge's forests, spider silk draped like Spanish moss on the branches while the creak of spindly, misshaped creatures carried to his window.

It had been a good name day. He hoped it would carry him through the year.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fiction Rave: Tim Pratt's Smiling Void

I enjoy Tim Pratt's short fiction and "A Void Wrapped in a Smile" met my expectations. What I like about his stories are the way he mixes fresh ideas. Here he tells Joshua's story, a story of an unpopular boy who one day find himself so popular that people are willing to do anything for him. Of course, his newfound powers don't work on his family and that causes him some initial problems that result in his sister's death.

The story isn't only about his family, but more the limitations of absolute power. There is a shorter story in him learning the power he has and his interactions with his sister, but in the long run, there's a deeper story where he discovers he needs to let her free. This later story sets the stage for the final showdown necessary for his sister.

The story is set in Tim Pratt's Marla Mason universe. I haven't read any of the stories in this universe, until this short story, and this story has whet my appetite. I was impressed with the way Tim Pratt managed to handle the world in this story and the brief guest appearance of Marla. As a youngster when I read The Never-Ending Story, I remembered the frequent spurs of stories that would twist off into the ether before Michael Ende would warn you that it was another story and not the main one. This is one of those spurs worth reading.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Live Tomorrow

"You've become quiet, my cockatoo."

Anna pulled Selig from his chair, brushed her lips against the heat of his neck, her hands wrapped underneath his flannel shirt, shielding him. But more she protected the life they had today. The fire in his eyes warmed the room and burned into Anna. She had gotten used to the fire whisperers, the blood in them different, and for a moment, when their attention was on you, the way her own blood simmered in response.

A bucket clattered in the yard. Selig retreated, pushed a curl behind his ear. He banked his passions, so easily changeable like an inferno. "Bessie needs milking."

Anna remembered a time not so long ago when Selig made the goat wait. She grabbed Selig's plate of eggs and slid it into the sink, angry at herself. She wanted to live for today. She wanted to retain what she and Selig had, but instead she seemed to slip into trying to live yesterday. The forest fire can't burn the same land over and over. There must be rest between and a chance for fuel to regrow.

Every morning when Selig left her, she opened the wooden box with the letter from Selig's brother. She knew the words written on the parchment. War in the poinsettia fields. Frost giants. They needed Selig. She needed him too. She wasn't naïve, she understood that once Selig left her, there would be no tomorrows to live. Soldiers did not return from the war. It wasn't fair to leave her with ashes.

Her thumbs rubbed the well-worn paper. Selig was right. She had become quiet. She'd had this secret. Not a healthy fire like what burned within Selig, but a lie to engulf her life. She could not keep yesterday. She unfolded the paper and waited.

"Are you sick?"

She would look sick to him. Lethargic. Not having completed any of the chores since he'd left, her forehead pressed against her hands.

His eyes fell to the piece of paper and she handed it to him. It smoldered in his hands. "How long?"

"Two moons."

"I must go."

"I know."

That night, they lived for today. She hoped the fire he kindled in her loins might take.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On Raving

I listened to an interview with Lynn O'Dell on the Dead Robots' Society podcast. Lynn runs the website Red Adept Reviews and commented on her theories around reviewing. One of the points she made was that reviews need to ensure they're not pulling any punches. Effectively, if all the reviews are good from a reviewer, one should suspect those reviews.

I found her comment interesting because I both agree and disagree with her sentiment.

I've been to car dealerships who give me a survey and then tell me I must mark everything as the top grade or this will result in poor performance reviews for either the dealership or those involved in the service. I find these demands ridiculous, and a part of me, that mischievous part, wants to give someone all lowest marks for effectively taking something that was intended to be useful, a survey, and turning it into something that isn't. There should be a difference between my getting an oil change, one that I'm perfectly happy with and one where while they perform the oil change, they realize the engine's running rich and they make a minor tweak, throwing it in for free. The latter deserves top marks, the other one, good service nevertheless, does not.

However, I see no reason for me, someone who's not intending to be a professional critic, to spend time on short stories I didn't like. Instead, I'm going to focus on those I did like and I'm going to try to describe why I liked those stories. The latter is what I think is important. If my description entices, check them out. If it doesn't, well I'll post another rave another week.

(*) Note, I'm pretty sure Lynn O'Dell did not intend to apply her comments on reviewing books to my raves; but it triggered me thinking about it and I wanted to capture my thoughts and would be interested in your comments on this subject as well.

(**) I know there's been a scarcity of raves lately, but never fear, while I've been traveling, I've collected a couple of my favorites for the next couple weeks.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ladder Marriage

London balanced on his feet. Marla managed to keep her back to him while she packed her bag. She applied crisp folds to her two all-purpose blouses, darts and inserts that could be warped so the top fit either casual or business needs, currently in a neutral brown waiting for her to dial the color scheme to match her day's moods. A skirt and slacks to match the tops, and morphing shoes. The teeth of the bag's zipper snapped together with finality. She turned to go, continuing to avoid London's gaze.

London blocked her way. His throat thick, his hands flapping like old fish caught on rusty hooks at his sides. He wore his favorite Hawaiian shirt, not made of the nano-weaves that could reconfigure style and color because those made his skin itch and his eyes run.

"We're not compatible." Marla spat the words. Time seemed to slow down to London, he saw flecks fly through the air, their time together turned to poison, disappearing into the haze of the room. Outside light lit the curtains from the microwave beams from the solar panels and space, enough light to backlight Marla, make her look like an angel.

"Can try to make this thing whole."

"We've tried. Best make a clean break." Marla moved to pass him, but when he positioned himself so she'd have to brush against him, she dropped her bag instead. "London, you must see this."

"You and I have a life together. Twenty-four years." London remembered every one of their anniversaries and was the one who answered whenever an acquaintance asked how long they'd been together.

"The contract only called for twenty."

London had hated that clause and argued against it, but Marla had badgered him. Even back then he should've seen her need for all the newfangled detritus. "Only an option."

"Four years too long."

"But we won't live forever."

"Exactly the point." Marla's eyes met his for the first time. Her contacts smoldering, showing a fiery ring around her eyes, the AI in the lens picking up her emotions. "I'm the only one of my friends still with her first husband. Exceeding terms. Putting up with this... waste." She waved her hands at the natural fibers of London's shirts filling the closet. "Beyond time to move on."

"Once, life used to be so short. They dedicated their entire life to a single marriage. It wasn't that long ago and if it was good for them, why not us?"

The flames extinguished. London knew it wasn't because she'd changed her mind, but because the AI wouldn't push the illusion too far, couldn't override the tears that welled in the corner of Marla's eyes. "It's not you. It's me." Her hand caressed his cheek. She took a breath and exhaled before pushing him away from her, into the door, and walking into the light, leaving London with a vanishing halo.