close

The Qwillery | category: excerpt | (page 8 of 8)

home

The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

qwillery.blogspot.com

Excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler - February 4, 2014


I'm delighted to share with you today an excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler, which is out today from Tor Books. Look for a 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interview with Ramona next month! Ramona Wheeler is on tour along with James L. Cambias and Brian Staveley. Check the end of the post for the Book Tour stops. 



Excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler - February 4, 2014




Excerpt - Chapter 1 from Three Princes


LORD SCOTT Oken sharpened the focus of the opera-eyes so that a particular pair of legs filled the frame. She was the tallest woman on the stage, and to Oken’s eye, she was Golden Hathor with all her graces, a joy to behold. Certainly, there was not another pair of legs so exquisite, white thighs shaped by riding wild Cossack ponies as a child. In his better moments, Oken regretted the power he had over her intentions. In other moments, he simply had to admit that he loved his work.
His attention was interrupted by a knock on the door to his private viewing booth. It would be unseemly for a man of his rank to leap at an interruption.
The dancers sank into their final pose amid a swirl of silk and pearls. The gentle knocking became more insistent. The booth was small and carefully secured, so Lord Oken had only to turn in his seat to unlatch the door behind him.
The theater manager peered around the door, with only his self-important face and fashionably trimmed beard visible. He reverently held out a velvet cushion with a leather scroll-case. The gold-wax seal was the explanation for the manager’s excited decision to interrupt a dance scene. Oken took the case, thanking him with a casual word. The manager gave such a deep bow that he had to retrieve his top hat with a sudden snatch, and he retreated, struggling to balance his hat and the cushion while bowing as he backed away.
Oken shut the door and latched it. He sat, looking down at the golden seal on the case, feeling the familiar tug of duty and awe invoked by that familiar and historical icon. The Queen of Egypt was thousands of leagues away at Pharaoh’s Palace in Memphis, yet she could ensnare him with such a simple gesture. The blare of brass instruments striking up the final strains sounded, but he did not look up.
Oken unclipped his watch fob from its gold chain, a small, enameled-gold Watch It Eye. He tapped the snake coiled in the inner corner of the Eye and the cover opened, revealing a magnifying lens. The signs of tampering on the gold-wax seal were slight yet unmistakable: indentations in the bottom edge. Someone had read the Queen’s message, then skillfully resealed the case.
Oken closed the Eye and returned it to the chain, then broke the seal and unrolled the scroll. He raised it to his nose and sniffed gently. The unique incense of Pharaoh’s Palace was faintly present, evoking the majesty and wonder of Memphis. He was an agent of the Egyptian Empire. That thought had more power over him than the lure of those long, long legs.
The presence of Lord Scott Oken is requested at the palace in Memphis, for a presentation to Pharaoh Djoser-George. Life! Health! Courage! On Famenoth 30, commencing at 8 of the clock.
The handwriting was Lady Khamanny’s formal secretarial hand, signed with the hieroglyphic signet of the palace. Underneath it, however, was a simple sentence in the Queen’s familiar hand: We are counting on you to be there to dance with us, Scott, since poor old Dozey says his knees just won’t take the strain! Sashetah Irene.
Oken returned the little papyrus roll to its case and slipped it into an inner pocket, resettling his jacket around the stiff shape with a graceful shrug. He was smiling.
A reply to the Queen’s message could wait until morning. Oken returned to his close-up view of the stage.
* * *
HE LEFT his fur-lined overcoat in the booth. The manager would send it to the embassy hotel. Street carriages were heated, and Natyra kept her apartment unusually warm. She claimed she did so because she could spend more time in the bathing pool in the center of her bedroom. “Water, it keeps my body ready for the next dance!” Oken believed, however, it was more likely that she preferred being nude. This thought kept him warm as he climbed the nine stories to her apartment via the back stair, unheated and unguarded, lit only by small and ancient windows admitting the streetlights.
Natyra Arkadyena Solovyova lived in a great, round room in the sky above Novgorod, at the top of a stone tower in a western wall of the royal palace. Her sponsor, the grand vizier of all Oesterreich, Nevski XXI, was generous. Her room was as luxurious as any in the main halls of the palace, where the vizier and his many wives lived. It was also quite private, in its remote tower above the city.
Lord Oken found the door at the top of the staircase also unguarded, as he had expected. He removed his left glove and rested his fingertips against the touch-points of the ornate figure in the central panel. The hidden circuits in the silver inlay responded only to bare skin. Oken felt, rather than heard, the slight tremble as the panel activated; then it divided down the center and silently slid apart. He had to bend his head down and to the side as he stepped through the portal that had opened in the door. He was taller than most.
There were candles everywhere in her apartment, in silver and alabaster candlesticks. He could smell the soft, warm-wax scent of candles that had, until only moments before, been lit. The dying smoke made a sweet, mournful fragrance that told him the candles had burned while she awaited his arrival. He had known that they would not be lit when he walked in.
Oken asked her about it once. She told him someone (she would never tell him who, or when or why) had used candle flame to hurt her, badly. She showed him the pale scar still lingering on her sweet white breast. Whoever it was had used her own candles to burn her until she screamed her throat raw and confessed to things that she had not done and had never thought of doing until those ideas were put into her head. She had adored candles and candlelight from the first time she had been carried—small and helpless, and loving of the arms that held her—into a temple ceremony of the divine Neith, she of the wick and the lamps. Natyra’s first dances on temple stages had been to this ancient divinity. Natyra loved candles, the waxy scent, the yellow orange glow, the simple magic of light and heat that arose from string and wax and oil. She could not let that night of torture turn her away from her divine guide, but she could never bear to have anyone share them with her. She lit candles only when alone.
Oken, upon hearing this sad confession, had gotten up from her bed and taken a fat green candle from the mantel and set it on her nightstand. When he lit it, he saw her face go pale and her lips tremble. She held her chin up, still proud, yet a cloudy fear touched her green eyes.
He did not touch the lit candle. He held his hands out beside it, with the firm, tanned flesh of the backs of his hands and wrists close to her.
“Burn me,” he said to her, firmly. “Burn me with the candle.”
Natyra shook her head. He could see the candlelight gleaming in her eyes and on the smooth, polished skin of her shaved head.
“Do it.”
She stared at him, gauging his conviction, then took the candle and dripped hot wax onto the backs of his hands.
He winced.
He let her drip more wax, until he saw something fierce and clean shine in her perfect face. With a cry of alarm, she put the candle back into its holder and pushed it away. Oken blew out the flame, watching her face in the sudden twilight. He used a bit of ice from his drink to chill the wax on his hands until it was brittle and fell away.
Natyra had tears in her eyes as she kissed his hands then, the soft, unburned insides of his wrists and his palms. They never spoke of it again. She did not light candles when he was there, but she trusted him.
Her trust hurt Oken more than the mild blisters on his hands. He was testing a theory, doing his job. What truly mattered was that he discover the identity of her contact in Novgorod, in the palace of the grand vizier of Oesterreich, who was leaking vital information to Bismarck in Turkistan, the only nation in open resistance to Egypt’s embrace.
* * *
THE TAPESTRY that concealed the hidden entrance to her apartment was drenched with the fragrance of incense, oils and candles. Oken was familiar now with that mingled scent of smoke and time and he felt his pulse quickening.
He paused with the corner of the tapestry’s fabric in one hand, gazing around, adjusting to the dim light. At the far side of the room, tall windows looked out over Novgorod. City lights created an orange glow in the night sky. Opposite the tapestry was a fireplace, originally built to burn whole trees at once, radiating warmth into the room from the complex flutings of a steel radiator. White peonies filled the mantel, masses of them in crystal vases set between miniature lotus columns.
Oken could see the gold and silver threads of the tapestry’s design reflected in the mirror above the mantel, making the divine faces of Isis and Osiris shine softly in the darkness. They seemed to be smiling down benignly at his face, reflected in the mirror as well. For an instant he felt himself to be a part of their eternal scene. He pushed the feeling aside to focus on the moment. However lovely the scene, this moment was not benign. He was here on a mission, weaving lies in search of a truth.
Natyra’s pale form was outlined by blue radiance as she floated comfortably in the bathwater with an ivory headrest supporting her slender neck and shaved head. She raised her glass to him in salute when he stepped into sight.
Oken strolled slowly toward the glowing pool and her magical presence. He circled the pool so that he could see every curve in the water, then he stopped beside the ivory headrest. The blue radiance emphasized the pattern of veins in her throat and breast. Her eyes were deeper green in this light, large and luminous, gazing up at him with sultry promise.
He dropped to one knee beside her upturned face. “My mum spent a lot of her wealth to make sure that I had a proper appreciation of classical art. You are a classic, and I do appreciate perfection.”
“My compliments to your dear mum,” Natyra whispered.
“My mum would not like you,” he whispered in return.
“Good.” She reached up and drew his face close to kiss him.
Oken was careful not to let the cuffs of his jacket get wet. He tasted vodka and hints of absinthe along with her incomparable sweetness.
“Join me.” She gestured toward the pool.
“Your bed would be more comfortable.”
“I am comfortable here.” She waved her hand once slowly through the glowing water so that inviting ripples swirled over her creamy flesh.
“Yes, you are, but I’ve had my bath already.”
“Silly boy. You will need another bath when I am done with you.”
“I certainly hope so.”
“I am tired from the dancing. The hot water, it makes me relax.” A slight pout in her voice suggested Oken was going to give in to her.
“I can make you relax,” he whispered.
Natyra stretched lazily in the water, arching her back so that the pearl white mounds of her breasts rose out of the pool, sparkling with water drops.
Oken sighed. This was his favorite suit and he was on very good terms with the tailor. He did not want to get it wet. It was silk. Then he remembered the scroll in his pocket. He sat back on his heels.
“I’ll meet you there.” He stood up.
Natyra’s scrunched up her forehead, and she let her glass drop into the bath.
Oken stepped back, smiling down at her, then strolled over to the canopied bed. He settled onto it, bracing himself on hip and elbow and stretching his long, lean legs out across the silk quilts. He lazily undid the buttons of his jacket, thinking not of Natyra but of the royal wax seal on the scroll calling him back to Memphis to dance with the Queen of the world.
“You are a tyrant.” Natyra stood up in the pool. “You did not even give me a towel.”
“Do you need one?”
She pouted at him more firmly as she climbed out of the bathing pool and took a towel from the warming rack. She let it trail dramatically behind her in one hand as she stepped slowly toward the bed with the exaggerated grace of the stage. Droplets of water rolled down her perfect flesh, tracing the rise and fall of her muscles as she moved.
Natyra was forty-eight, almost twice Oken’s age. She always made sure that her lovers saw her only from the distance of the stage or in the twilight luxury of her private apartment. Oken was less mindful of her age than of her ageless perfection. He marveled at the good fortune that had brought him here. Were their ages reversed, he doubted she could have been more beautiful. She wore time better than most women wore youth.
She swirled the towel around and draped it across his hip as she knelt on the bed. “You must dry my back.”
Oken sat up, pulling her to him as he pushed the towel to the floor. She put her arms around him, stroking his thick hair as she kissed him. The bare curve of her skull fit his hand perfectly. Oken knew, whatever else happened, he would remember that curve of bare skin against his palm for as long as he lived, and not just because of his perfect memory.
She teased his teeth with the tip of her tongue, and Oken stretched her out on the bed.
There was a thunder of fists pounding on wood from behind the huge tapestry covering the far wall, then a crashing thud, and the corner of the tapestry was thrust aside as a man in uniform burst into the room. “Natyra!” he shouted when he saw them.
Natyra sat up as though stung, her eyes wide.
The man looked as big as a bear—not a big European bear, but some giant, golden animal from the deep, wild woods of Rusland, towering over everything and everyone, sleek and enormous. Even his blond mustache was waxed into giant curls. His bushy brows were drawn down into a fierce V of anger over his raging blue eyes.
Oken recognized him at once, with some surprise, as General Vladimir Modestovich Blestyak, in command of the vizier’s royal horsemen guard, and the last person Oken expected to see in Natyra’s apartment. Blestyak was a lowbrow from a famous family, never seen out of uniform and never seen when anything important or dangerous was happening. Oken was more curious than alarmed by his noisy entrance. He made himself remain still, ready to leap in whichever direction this invasion demanded.
Blestyak bellowed as he stalked toward the two poised on the bed. The size of his rage and his volume made his words incoherent. Even so, Oken picked up at once that the general was not happy about the “Egyptian pig” in Natyra’s bed.
Natyra reared up, defiantly nude, to stand between Oken and the general. She placed her hands on her hips and lifted her chin with regal disdain. “How dare you come in here uninvited!”
The general spat out a torrent of words, accusing Oken of being a spy for the Pharaoh. The sight of those perfect breasts, however, made the intensity of his rage falter. He hesitated before taking another step toward her. He repeated the accusation at a lower volume.
Natyra, speaking in the same language, reminded the general that he was also a spy. In Trade Speak she added haughtily, “Irrelevant! He is invited to be here—you are not!”
Oken had faked ignorance of the native tongue. He had just received his reward for the ruse. General Blestyak was not on the embassy’s suspect list. He was considered to be something of an idiot, fit only for horses and royal stables. Natyra’s single sentence, however, made pieces fall into place. The royal stables were part of the palace compound, with access to the entire grounds. The royal family worshipped their horses. The stables were temples to Epona, sacred ground. Blestyak was in a perfect position to observe anything happening there. His obscurity even made sense. Who would notice him?
Oken made himself lie still, resting back on one elbow, a hand draped across his hip. He let his gaze drift as if the glorious view of Natyra from behind were more important than a raging giant.
Blestyak’s step faltered again as he looked back and forth between the lovers. “I will have this pig arrested!”
“I will have you thrown out!” Natyra stamped once with her foot.
“That’s one big bear.” Oken spoke lightly, pretending to be entertained by the interruption. “What’s he shouting about? Does he plan to join us?”
She turned her head to glare at Oken. “Do not be impertinent.”
“Good.” Oken made himself relax back against the pillows. “I don’t much like animals, not in bed.” He waved the general out as he would dismiss a servant. “Make him go away, milya Natyra.”
Blestyak recovered his rage, flinging himself at Oken with a roar.
He landed on the bed with such a crash that the solid wooden frame creaked ominously. Oken, however, had neatly rolled away. He leaped to his feet as the general raised himself up to scramble after him.
Oken was glad that he had not yet taken off his jacket. He sprang around the bed to where Natyra was just regaining her feet. He picked up the towel and draped it around her shoulders like a dinner cloak.
Blestyak also regained his feet and was coming around the bed with an incoherent string of curses. Giant hands stretched out to grab Oken.
Oken kissed Natyra lightly on the tip of her nose, feeling, as he had from the first, a strange jolt when so close to her green eyes. “I’ll be back,” he said, knowing it was a lie. His work here was done.
He turned aside as the general reached them, thus Natyra intercepted Blestyak’s assault. Both of them fell heavily onto the bed, with the general’s arms tangled around Natyra’s long limbs. Oken sprang away, running toward the secret exit behind the tapestry.
The general moved with surprising swiftness, untangling himself and snatching up giant handfuls of the carpet with a fierce jerk. Oken went down. He rolled as he fell, and he came up just as Blestyak’s fist came down on the side of his face.
The buzzing in Oken’s head nearly drowned out Natyra’s scream. He tasted blood.
Even Oken’s eidetic memory recalled only a blur of pain and pounding fists in the next few seconds. His best training in martial arts could only keep him moving fast enough that the general could not kill him, not all at once. Natyra’s angry screams penetrated like darts in the fog.
There was an abrupt explosion of shattering crystal. Blestyak fell heavily across Oken, pinning him to the carpet.
Oken had a glimpse of Natyra’s nude form standing over them, holding the broken remains of the vase she had just smashed over the giant general’s giant head. White peony petals clung to the droplets of water on her arms and legs like stray feathers. She held that crystal weapon raised, prepared to hit Blestyak again if he stirred.
“Is he dead?” she whispered.
Oken could see the flutter of veins pulsing in the general’s forehead as blood spilled down across the huge face. Petals were caught in the hot, red blood. “No,” he managed to gasp. “Get him off me.” Then the lights vanished, and the world fell silent and still.
* * *
LIGHT AND sound returned with stunning cold.
Oken found himself lying on a mound of snow beneath a clear black sky of northern stars. His first thought was to regret that he had left his gloves on Natyra’s bed. The next was to hope that the blood staining the snow was not his own—at least, not all of it.
He tried to sit up, thought better of it, and settled for lifting his head enough to see beyond the bloodied snow. He was lying on the frozen drift at the base of a stone wall. He recognized the wall. He had been carried to the side entrance of his hotel. The Egyptian Embassy was across the street. He checked his jacket pocket with trembling fingers. The case was still there. He shook it, hearing the slight rattle that said the scroll was inside.
His body ached with the fierce cold and bruising and the hard, sharp pain of fractured ribs. He rolled off the snowdrift and into the road. Pain gave him the strength to pull himself up to his feet and he staggered over the pavement to the embassy building. His legs gave way as he reached the huge windows. The building’s automatic security system would alert the guards inside. He lay huddled around the pain, waiting for them to find him. It was time to leave Novgorod. He had accomplished his mission and his best suit was ruined.

Copyright © 2014 by Ramona Wheeler





Three Princes

Three Princes
Tor Books, February 4, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler - February 4, 2014
Lord Scott Oken, a prince of Albion, and Professor-Prince Mikel Mabruke live in a world where the sun never set on the Egyptian Empire. In the year 1877 of Our Lord Julius Caesar, Pharaoh Djoser-George governs a sprawling realm that spans Europe, Africa, and much of Asia. When the European terrorist Otto von Bismarck touches off an international conspiracy, Scott and Mik are charged with exposing the plot against the Empire.

Their adventure takes them from the sands of Memphis to a lush New World, home of the Incan Tawantinsuyu, a rival empire across the glittering Atlantic Ocean. Encompassing Quetzal airships, operas, blood sacrifice and high diplomacy, Ramona Wheeler's Three Princes is a richly imagined, cinematic vision of a modern Egyptian Empire.





About Ramona

Excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler - February 4, 2014
Ramona Wheeler grew up an Army Brat, shuttling from library to library with every move. She has written extensively on ancient Egypt and comparative mythology and her “Ray and Rokey” stories appeared in Analog magazine from 1998 to 2004. She now resides in Massachusetts. Visit her online at ramonalouisewheeler.com.



Twitter @Ramona332











Book Tour

James L. Cambias, Brian Staveley (The Emperor's Blades) and Ramona Wheeler (Three Princes) will be touring together. Here is the schedule:

2/4, 7pm - Towne Book Center, Collegeville, PA

2/6, 7pm - Barnes & Noble, Holyoke, MA

2/7, 7pm -Annie’s Book Stop, Worcester, MA

2/8, 2pm - Barnes & Noble, Hingham, MA

2/11, 7pm - RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, NH

2/13, 7pm - Harvard Coop, Cambridge, MA

2/15, 3pm - Bartleby’s Books, Wilmington, VT

2/22, 7pm - Flights of Fantasy, Albany, NY

2/24, 7:30pm – Housing Works Bookstore, New York, NY


Excerpt - Indexing by Seanan McGuire - May 22, 2013

The first episode of Seanan McGuire's new serial Kindle eBook, Indexing, was published on May 21, 2013. I'm a huge fan of Seanan's novels as well as the works of Mira Grant (a pseudonym).
Per Amazon:  Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes. When you buy a Kindle Serial, you will receive all existing episodes on your Kindle immediately, followed by future episodes as they are published at no additional cost. Enjoy reading as the author creates the story, and discuss episodes with other readers in the Kindle forums.

47North has given permission for me to share this excerpt with you.


************************

Excerpt - Indexing by Seanan McGuire - May 22, 2013



Excerpt from INDEXING by Seanan McGuire – episode 1: “Attractive Narcolepsy)

Attractive Narcolepsy

Memetic incursion in progress: estimated tale type 7.90 (“Snow White”)
Status: ACTIVE

            Alicia didn’t feel well.
            If she was being honest, she hadn’t been feeling well for a while now.  The world was spinning, and everything seemed hazy and unreal, like she was seeing it through the filter of a dream.  Maybe she was.  Dreaming, that is; maybe she was dreaming, and when she woke up, everything would be normal again, rather than wrapped in cotton and filled with strange signs and symbols that she couldn’t quite understand.  Maybe she was dreaming…
            In a daze, she called a cab and left the house, the door standing open and ignored behind her.  The dog would get out.  In that moment, she didn’t have the capacity to care.  Alicia didn’t feel well, and when you don’t feel well, there’s only one place to go: the hospital.
            Alicia was going to the hospital, and when she got there, they would figure out what was wrong with her.  They would figure out how to fix her, and everything would be normal again.  She just knew it.

#

            My day began with half a dozen bluebirds beating themselves to death against my window, leaving little bloody commas on the glass to mark their passing.  The sound eventually woke me, although not before at a least a dozen of them had committed suicide trying to reach my bedside.  I sat up with a gasp, clutching the sheets against my chest as I glared at the windows.  The damn things had been able to get past the bird-safety net again, and I still couldn’t figure out how they were doing it.
            A final bluebird hit the glass, making a squishy “thump” sound.  Feathers flew in all directions, and the tiny birdie body fell to join the others.  I glared at the bloody pane for a few more seconds before turning my glare on the clock.  It was 5:22am—more than half an hour before my alarm was set to go off, which was entirely unreasonable of the universe.
            “Once upon a fuck you people,” I muttered, shoving the covers off of me and onto the floor.  If I wasn’t going to get any more sleep, I was going to get ready for work.  At least in the office, there would be other people to receive my hate.
            Wildflowers had sprouted from the hallway carpet again, this time in a clashing assortment of blues and oranges.  I didn’t recognize any of the varieties, and so I forced myself to step around them rather than stepping on them the way that I wanted to.  Research and Development would be able to figure out what they were, where they originated, and what tale type variants they were likely to be connected to.  The wildflowers were usually random as far as we could tell, but they had occasionally been enough to give us a lead.  Rampion flowers meant a three-ten was getting started somewhere, while the strange blue-white blooms we had dubbed “dew flowers” meant that a three-oh-five was underway.  It wasn’t an exact science, but very little about what we did was anything like exact.
            Turning the water in my shower all the way to cold produced a freezing spray that chased away the last unwelcome remnants of the previous night’s dreams and left me shivering, but feeling like I might have a better day than the one indicated by the heap of dead bluebirds outside my window.  Really, if all that went weird today was a few dead birds and some out-of-place flowers, I was doing pretty well.
            I work for the ATI Management Bureau.  Our motto is “In aeternum felicitas vindactio.”  Translated roughly, that means “defending happily ever after.”  We’re not out to guarantee that all the good little fairy tale boys and girls get to ride off in their pumpkin coaches and on their silver steeds.  They’ve been doing that just fine since the dawn of mankind.  They don’t need any help from a government-funded agency so obscure that most people don’t even suspect that we exist.  No, our job is harder than that.  Fairy tales want to have happy endings, and that’s fine—for fairy tales—but they do a lot of damage to the people around them in the process, the ones whose only crime was standing in the path of an onrushing story.  We call those “memetic incursions,” and it’s our job to stop them before they can properly get started.  When we fail…
            When we fail, most people don’t hear about that, either.  But they do hear about the deaths.
            There’s no dress code in my office, not even for the field teams, since many of us have reasons to avoid the more common suits and ties.  I still liked to keep things formal.  I pulled a plain black suit out of my closet, selecting it from a rack that held ten more, all of them virtually identical.  Pairing it with a white button-down shirt and a black tie left me looking like an extra from the set of Men in Black, but that didn’t bother me much.  Clichés are relatives of the fairy tale, and tropes aren’t bad; they go with the territory.
            My gun and badge were on the nightstand next to my SPF 200 sunscreen.  I scowled at the bottle.  I hate the smell of the stuff—it smells like a shitty childhood spent locked in the classroom during recess because the school couldn’t take responsibility if I got burned, but also like trying to find the right balance between flesh-toned foundation and sun protection.  None of that changed the fact that if I went out without lathering up, I was quickly going to change my complexion from Snow White to Rose Red.  “Lobster” is not a good look for me.
            My phone rang as I was finishing the application of sunscreen to the back of my neck.  I glanced at the display.  Agent Winters.  “Answer,” I said curtly, continuing to rub sunscreen into my skin.
            The phone beeped, and Sloane’s voice demanded, “Where are you?”
            “In my bedroom,” I said, reaching for a tissue to wipe the last of the clinging goo from my fingers.  “I’m getting ready for work.  Where are you?”
            “Uh, what?  Are you stupid, or just stupid?  Or maybe you’re stupid, I haven’t decided.  Have you checked your texts this morning?”
            I paused guiltily.  I hadn’t taken my phone into the bathroom while I showered, and I could easily have missed the chime that signaled an incoming text.  “Let’s say I didn’t, to save time.  What’s going on?”
            “We have a possible seven-nine kicking off downtown, and management thought that maybe you’d be interested in, I don’t know, showing the fuck up.”  Sloane’s voice dropped to a snarl on the last few words.  “Piotr sent everyone the address ten minutes ago.  Most of the team is already en route.”
            Full incursions are rare.  We usually get one or two a month, at most.  Naturally, this one would kick off before I’d had breakfast.  “I’ll be there in five minutes,” I said.
            “You don’t even know where—”
            “Goodbye, Sloane.”  I grabbed the phone and hit the button to hang up on her with the same motion, pulling up my texts as I bolted for the door.  Even obscure branches of law enforcement can break the speed limit when there’s a good reason, and a Snow White starting to manifest downtown?  Yeah, I’d call that a damn good reason.

#

            There are a few things you’ll need to know about fairy tales before we can get properly started.  Call it agent orientation or information overload, whatever makes you feel more like you’ll be able to sleep tonight.  It doesn’t really matter to me.
            Here’s the first thing you need to know: all the fairy tales are true.  Oh, the specific events that the Brothers Grimm chronicled and Disney animated may only have happened once, in some kingdom so old that we’ve forgotten whether or not it ever really existed, but the essential elements of the stories are true, and those elements are what keep repeating over and over again.  We can’t stop them, and we can’t get rid of them.  I’m sure they serve some purpose—very little happens without a reason—but it’s hard to focus on that when you’re facing a major beanstalk incident in Detroit, or a gingerbread condo development in San Francisco.  People mostly dismiss the manifestations, writing them off as publicity stunts or crazy pranks.  It’s better that way.  Not many people have the kind of iron-clad sanity that can survive suddenly discovering that if you’re born a seven-nine, you’re inevitably going to wind up poisoned and left for dead…or that rescue isn’t guaranteed, since once you go inanimate, the story’s focus switches to the Prince.  Poor sap.
            We use the Aarne-Thompson Index to map the manifestations as much as we can, cross-referencing fairy tales from all over the world.  Not every seven-nine has skin as white as snow and a thing for short men, even if Snow White is the best known example of the breed.  Not every five-eleven is actually going to snap and start trying to kill her stepdaughter or stepsisters, although the urge will probably rear its ugly head a time or twenty.  Like any rating system, the ATI has its flaws, but it mostly gets the job done, and it’s better than running around in the dark all the damn time.
            Some folks say using the ATI dehumanizes our subjects, making it easier to treat them like fictional creatures to be dealt with and disposed of.  Then again, most of them have never put in any real hours in the field.  They’ve never seen what it takes to break girls like Agent Winters out of the stories they’ve gotten tangled up in before the narrative consumes them.  Me, I got lucky; I got my sensitivity to stories by being adjunct to one, rather than being an active part.  My mother was one of the most dangerous ATI types—a four-ten, Sleeping Beauty.  She was in a deep coma when my twin brother and I were born, the misbegotten children of the doctor who was supposed to be treating her injuries and wound up taking advantage of her instead.
            She slept through our birth, just like the stories said she should.  We didn’t pull the poisoned needle from her finger when we tried to nurse; we pulled her life support cable.  Mom died before the ATI cleanup crew could figure out where the narrative energy was coming from, leaving us orphans.  Under normal circumstances, the narrative would have slammed us both straight into the nearest story that would fit.  The cleanup crew didn’t let that happen though, despite the fact that I was already halfway into the Snow White mold, and my brother was just as close to becoming a Rose Red.  In a very real sense, I owe them my life, or at least my lack of singing woodland creatures.
            Most of the subjects we deal with are innocents, people who wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time and got warped to fit into the most convenient slots on the ATI.  Others are born to live out their stories, no matter how much damage that does to the world around them.  It’s not a choice for them.  It’s a compulsion, something that drives them all the way to their graves.
            That’s the second, and most important, thing you need to know about fairy tales: once a story starts, it won’t stop on its own.  There’s too much narrative weight behind a moving story, and it wants to happen too badly.  It won’t stop, unless somebody stops it.

#

            Whoever had initially scrambled the field team was following the proper protocol: I started driving blindly toward the address Piotr had sent to my phone, only to come up against a cordon nearly half a mile out from my destination.  It was disguised as a standard police blockade, but the logos on the cars were wrong, and the uniforms were straight out of our departmental costume shop.  Anyone who knew what the local police were supposed to look like would have caught the deception in an instant.  Fortunately for us, it was early enough in the day that most people just wanted to find a clear route to Starbucks, and weren’t going to mess around trying to figure out why that officer’s badge had the wrong motto on it.
            I pulled up to the cordon and rolled down my window, producing my badge from inside my jacket.  A fresh-faced man in an ill-fitting policeman’s uniform moved toward the car, probably intending to ask me to move along.  I thrust my badge at him.
            “Special Agent Henrietta Marchen, ATI Management Bureau,” I said sharply.  “Tell your people to get the hell out of my way.  We’ve got a code seven-nine, and that means I’ve got places to be.”
            The young man blanched.  “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said.  “We were told to stop all cars coming this way, and we thought all agents were already inside the impact zone.”
            “Mmm-hmm.  And while you’re apologizing, you’re not moving anything out of my way.”  I put my badge back inside my jacket.  “Apology accepted, sentiment appreciated, now move.”
            He nearly tripped over his own feet getting away from my car and running to enlist several more of the “officers” in helping him move the barrier out of my way.  I rolled my window back up to discourage further conversation, sitting and drumming my fingers against the steering wheel until my path was clear.  I gunned the engine once, as a warning, before hitting the gas and rocketing past the cordon like it had personally offended me—which, in a certain way, it had.  I detest lateness.  When you’re late in a fairy tale, people wind up dead.  And not true-love’s-kiss, glass-coffin-naptime dead.  Really dead, the kind of dead you don’t recover from.  I am notoriously unforgiving of lateness, and being late myself wasn’t improving my mood.
            The control van was parked at the absolute edge of the probable impact zone.  I pulled up next to it.  The door banged open barely three seconds later, and five feet, eleven inches of furious Goth girl threw herself out of the vehicle, already shouting at me.  At least, her mouth was moving; thanks to the bulletproof, charmproof, soundproof glass in my car windows, I couldn’t hear a damn thing.  I smiled, spreading my hands and shaking my head.  It was a shitty thing to do, but considering the morning I’d been having, winding Sloane up a little was perfectly understandable.
            She stopped shouting and showed me the middle fingers of both her hands, an obscene gesture that was only enhanced by the poison apple green nail polish that she was wearing.  It clashed nicely with her hair, which was currently an unnaturally bright shade of red with black tips.  Nothing about her could be called “subtle” by any conventional means, and that was how she liked it.  The more visible she was, the less she felt at risk of sinking back into her own story.
            “Getting a little saucy today, I see,” I said, finally taking pity on Sloane and opening my car door so that she could shout at me properly.  “What’s the situation?”
            “Andy’s working with the grunts to clear out as many of the local businesses as possible before shit gets ugly,” said Sloane.  “And you’re late.”
            “Yes, but if we’re still clearing coffee shops, I’m not late enough that you’ve been waiting for me at all.”  I took another look around the area.  In addition to our control van, I could see four more vehicles that were almost certainly ours, going by their paint jobs and lack of identifying features.  “Who called it in?”
            “Monitoring station,” said Sloane.  She shoved her hands into her pockets, slouching backward until her shoulders were resting against the side of the van.  The resulting backbend made my own spine ache in sympathy, but she continued as if she weren’t trying to emulate a contortionist, saying, “They started getting signs of a memetic incursion around two o’clock this morning, called it in, didn’t get the signal to wake us because there was nothing confirmed.  The signs got stronger, the alerts kept coming, on alert ten they woke me, I came into the office and sifted the data, and we started mobilization about twenty minutes later.”
            I nodded.  “And you’re sure it’s a seven-nine?”
            “She has all the symptoms.  Pale skin, dark hair, affinity for small animals—she works in a shelter that takes in exotics and half the pictures we were able to pull off of her Facebook profile show her with birds, rats, or weird-ass lizards hanging out on her shoulders.”
            The image of the bluebirds committing suicide via my window pane flashed across my mind, there and gone in an instant.  I managed not to shudder, turning the need for motion into a nod instead.  “Have we identified her family members?”
            “Yeah.  No siblings, father remarried when she was nine years old, stepmother owns a beauty parlor and tanning salon.  She’s pretty much perfect for the profile, which is why we’re here.”
            “Mm-hmm.”  I considered Sloane.  She was our best AT-profiler; she could spot a story forming while the rest of us were still looking at it and wondering whether it was even in the main Index.  But she was also, to put it bluntly, lazy.  She liked knowing where the stories were going to be so that she could get the hell out of their way.  She didn’t like knowing the details behind the narrative.  Details made the victims too real, and reality wasn’t Sloane’s cup of tea.  “And we’re positive about her tale type?”
            Irritation flashed briefly in her eyes, there and gone in an instant.  “Jeffrey confirmed my research, and he said we haven’t had a seven-nine here in years.  We’re due.”
            “If that’s all we’re going by, we’re due for a lot of things.”  Some stories are more common than others.  Seven-nines are thankfully rare, in part because they take a lot of support from the narrative.  Dwarves aren’t cheap.  Other stories require smaller casts and happen more frequently.  Sadly for us, some of the more common stories are also some of the most dangerous.
            Sloane’s expression darkened, eyes narrowing beneath the red and black fringe of her hair.  “Well, maybe if you’d shown up when we were first scrambling this team, you’d have been able to have more input on what kind of story we’re after.  You didn’t show up for the briefing, so the official designation is seven-nine.”
            I bit back a retort.  Another promptly rose in my throat, and I bit that back as well.  Sloane didn’t deserve any of the things I wanted to say to her, no matter how obnoxious she was being, because she was right; I should have been there when the team was coming together.  I should have been a part of this conversation.
            “Where’s Andy?” I asked.
            “Behind you,” said a mild, amiable voice.  It was the kind of voice that made me want to confess my sins and admit that everything in my life was my own fault.  That’s the type of quality you want in a public relations point man.
            I turned.  “What’s our civilian situation?”
            “I’ve cleared out as many as I could, but this isn’t an area that can be completely secured,” said Andy, as if this were a perfectly normal way for us to begin a conversation.  Tall, thick-waisted, and solid, he looked like he could easily have bench-pressed me with one arm tied behind his back.  It was all appearances: in reality, I could have taken him in either a fair or an unfair fight, and Sloane could mop the floor with us both.  What Andy brought to the table was people skills.  There were very few minds he couldn’t change, if necessary, and most of those belonged to people who were already caught in the gravitational pull of the oncoming story.
            Put in a lineup, we certainly made an interesting picture.  All three of us were dark-haired, although Andy and I were both natural, while Sloane’s black came out of a bottle.  Andy had skin almost as dark as his hair.  Sloan was pale but still clearly Caucasian.  I had less melanin than your average sheet of paper, and could easily have been mistaken for albino if not for my blue eyes and too-red lips—although more than a few people probably assumed that my hair was as dyed as Sloane’s, and that my lip color came courtesy of Cover Girl.  We definitely didn’t look like any form of law enforcement.  That, too, was a sort of truth in advertising, because the law that we were enforcing wasn’t the law of men or countries.  It was the law of the narrative, and it was our job to prevent the story from going the way it always had before—impossible as that could sometimes seem.

#

            We set the junior agents and the grunts to holding the perimeter while we walked two blocks deeper into our isolation zone, trying to get eyes on our target.  We found her getting out of a cab that had somehow managed to get past the cordon—not as much of a surprise as I wanted it to be, sad to say.  Most of the police didn’t have any narrative resistance to speak of, and our junior agents weren’t much better.  If the story wanted her to make it this far, she’d make it.  The obstacles we were throwing in her way just gave her tale one more thing to overcome.
            There are times when I wonder if the entire ATI Management Bureau isn’t a form of narrative inertia, something gathered by a story so big that it has no number and doesn’t appear in the Index.  We’d be a great challenge for some unknown cast of heroes and villains.  And then I push that thought aside and try to keep going, because if I let myself start down that primrose path of doubts and disillusionment, I’m never coming back.
            Our target paid her cabbie before turning to stagger unsteadily down the sidewalk.  She was beautiful in the classical seven-nine way, with sleek black hair and snowy skin that probably burned horribly in the summer.  She looked dazed, like she was no longer quite aware of what she was doing.  One of her feet was bare.  She probably wasn’t aware of that, either.
            Andy pulled out his phone, keying in a quick series of geographical tags that would hopefully enable us to predict her destination before she could actually get there.   Finally, he said, “She’s heading for the Alta Vista Medical Center.”
            I swore under my breath.  “Of course she is.  Where else would she be going?”  Alta Vista was the largest hospital in the city.  Even if we’d been able to close off eighty percent of the traffic coming into our probable impact zone, we couldn’t close or evacuate the hospital.  Not enough people believe in fairy tales anymore.
            “Shoot her,” said Sloane.
            “We’re not shooting her,” said Andy.
            Sloane shrugged.  “Your funeral.”
            “Let’s pretend to be professionals…and pick up the pace,” I snapped.  Sloane and Andy exchanged a glance, briefly united against a common enemy—me.  They knew that I wanted them to be mad at me rather than each other, and they accepted it as the way the world was meant to be.  Besides, we all knew that our job would be easier this way.
            We followed the target all the way down the road to Alta Vista, hanging back almost half a block to keep her from noticing us.  Our caution was born more of habit than necessity; she was deep into her narrative haze, moving more under the story’s volition than her own.  We could have stripped down and danced naked in front of her and she would just have kept on walking.
            “If we’re not going to stop her from getting where she’s going, why are we even bothering?”  Sloane walked with her hands crammed as far into the pockets of her denim jacket as they would go, her shoulders in a permanent defensive hunch.  “She’ll play out whether we’re here or not.  We could go out, get breakfast, and come back before the EMTs finish hooking her to the life support.”
            “Because it’s the polite thing to do,” said Andy.  He was always a lot more at ease with this part of the job than Sloane was, probably because the only thing Andy ever escaped was a respectable profession that he could tell his family about.  Sloane missed being a Wicked Stepsister by inches, and she’s always been uncomfortable around the ATI cases that tread near the edges of her own story.  I can’t blame her for that.  I also can’t approve any of her requests for transfer.  Jeff’s fully actualized in his story, and I’m in a holding pattern, but Sloane was actually averted.  That gives her a special sensitivity to the spectrum.  She’s the only one who can spot the memetic incursions before they get fully underway.
            “She’s a seven-nine,” snarled Sloane, shooting a poisonous glare in Andy’s direction.  Metaphorically poisonous: she never matured to the arsenic-and-apples stage of things.  Thank God.  Once a Wicked Stepsister goes that far, there’s no bringing them back to reason.  “You can’t do anything for them, short of putting a bullet in their heads.  Even then, the dumb bitches will probably just get permanently brain-damaged on the way to happy ever after.”
            Andy raised an eyebrow.  “Gosh, Sloane, tell us how you really feel.”
            The target approached the doors of the Alta Vista Hospital.  Even at our half-block remove, we saw them slide open, allowing her to make her way inside.  If the story went the way the archivists predicted, her own Wicked Stepmother would be waiting inside, ready to hand her a box of poisoned apple juice or a plastic cup of tainted applesauce.  That would let the story start in earnest.  That’s the way it goes for the seven-nines.  All the Snow Whites are essentially the same, when you dig all the way down to the bottom of their narratives.
            Sloane shifted her weight anxiously from one foot to the other as we waited, looking increasingly uncomfortable as the minutes trickled by and the weight of the impending story grew heavier.  Then she stiffened, her eyes going wide in their rings of sheltering kohl.  “There isn’t a five-eleven anywhere inside that hospital,” she said, and bolted for the doors.
            Swearing, Andy and I followed her.
            Sloane had been a marathon runner in high school, and she’d continued to run since then, choosing it over more social forms of exercise.  She was piling on the speed now, running hell-bent toward the hospital doors with her head slightly down, like she was going to ram her way straight through any obstacles.  Andy had settled into a holding pattern about eight feet behind her, letting her be the one to trigger any traps that might be waiting.  It wasn’t as heartless as it seems.  As the one who had come the closest to being sucked into a story of her own without going all the way, Sloane is not only the most sensitive—she’s also the most resistant.  She could survive where we couldn’t.
            “Sloane!” I bellowed.  “If it’s not a seven-nine, what is it?”
            She didn’t have time to answer, but she didn’t need to.  She came skidding to a stop so abruptly that Andy almost slammed into her from behind, both of them only inches from the sensor that would trigger the automatic door.  Those inches saved them.  I could see the people in the lobby through the glass as they started falling over gently in their tracks, all of them apparently sinking into sleep at the same moment.
            I let momentum carry me forward until I came to an easy stop next to Sloane and Andy.  “Great,” I sighed.  “A four-ten.”
            I hate Sleeping Beauties.

#

My thoughts on Episode 1:

I've read the entire first episode of Indexing.  This particular take on the idea that fairy tales are real is just terrific. The second part of the Episode 1 contains some wonderful twists. Even in this first Episode, you get to know a lot about the main characters and what they do to protect against memetic incursions. This is going to be a lot of fun!


The next Episode of Indexing will be published in two weeks. I'll update this post then with my thoughts about Episode 2.  Think of it as a serial review! There will be approximately 12 Episodes in all.

Faith Hunter - Death's Rival Blog Tour - September 30, 2012

Death's Rival, the 5th novel in Faith Hunter's Jane Yellowrock series, will be published in October 2012. The Qwillery is delighted to share with you an excerpt from the novel.


Faith Hunter - Death's Rival Blog Tour - September 30, 2012



Death's Rival
Jane Yellowrock 5
Roc, October 2, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages

Faith Hunter - Death's Rival Blog Tour - September 30, 2012
Jane Yellowrock is a shapeshifting skinwalker you don’t want to cross—especially if you’re one of the undead…

For a vampire killer like Jane, having Leo Pellisier as a boss took some getting used to. But now, someone is out to take his place as Master Vampire of the city of New Orleans, and is not afraid to go through Jane to do it. After an attack that’s tantamount to a war declaration, Leo knows his rival is both powerful and vicious, but Leo’s not about to run scared. After all, he has Jane. But then, a plague strikes, one that takes down vampires and makes their masters easy prey.

Now, to uncover the identity of the vamp who wants Leo’s territory, and to find the cause of the vamp-plague, Jane will have to go to extremes…and maybe even to war.



Excerpt:
Chapter Three

I Started to Squeeze the Trigger

Holding his eyes, I slid the tote strap around my shoulders, shoved it back out of the way, and walked straight toward him. Keeping loose. Letting Beast bleed into my bloodstream and into my eyes. My heart rate sped as her adrenaline pumped into my body. His blue eyes widened. Beast-fast, I swerved right, forcing him to move cross-hand. And back left, into his personal space. I body-slammed him. Hard. Hooked his ankle as he shifted and shoved.

The gun went off. Wild shot. Toward the ceiling. I caught his gun hand, flipped him, and landed one knee in the middle of his spine with all my weight. Took his gun away while he tried to remember how to breathe. Banged his head on the floor so hard he had to see stars.

Fun, Beast thought. More!

The shadow over me shifted. I lifted my eyes. Nikki-Babe was standing over me, still vamped out, blocking the light. Fangs latched down, claws out, waiting. If I really tried to hurt the stranger, he’d kill me, and I didn’t know why. Ignoring the looming shadow, I leaned in and sniffed. Blue Eyes smelled of witchy-power, not his own, but something he had obtained from a powerful witch or coven—probably an amulet of some sort. The witchy stench nearly overrode the blood-signature scent of his master, but not quite. It was a vamp-scent I recognized. The undertang made me hesitate, but only for a moment. For now the amulet was more important. Whatever spell he had was underneath him, inactivated, and I had better keep it that way. I pulled his arms back and secured them with a zip strip. Then added three more strips. He was a blood-servant to someone very powerful, with a witchy charm on his person. I wasn’t taking chances.



Also in the Jane Yellowrock series:

Faith Hunter - Death's Rival Blog Tour - September 30, 2012


Faith Hunter - Death's Rival Blog Tour - September 30, 2012


Faith Hunter - Death's Rival Blog Tour - September 30, 2012



About Faith Hunter

Faith Hunter - Death's Rival Blog Tour - September 30, 2012
Faith Hunter, fantasy writer, was born in Louisiana and raised all over the south. The Skinwalker series, featuring Jane Yellowrock is taking off like a rocket with Skinwalker, Blood Cross, Mercy Blade, Raven Cursed, and Death’s Rival. Her Rogue Mage novels, a dark, urban fantasy series—Bloodring, Seraphs, and Host—feature Thorn St. Croix, a stone mage in a post-apocalyptic, alternate reality, urban fantasy world. These novels are the basis for the role playing game, Rogue Mage (2012).

Under the pen name Gwen Hunter, she writes action-adventure, mysteries, and thrillers. As Faith and Gwen, she has 20+ books in print in 28 countries.

Hunter fell in love with reading in fifth grade, and best loved SiFi, fantasy, and gothic. She decided to become a writer in high school, when a teacher told her she had talent. Now, she writes full-time and works full-time in a hospital lab, (for the benefits) tries to keep house, and is a workaholic with a passion for travel, jewelry making, white-water kayaking, and writing. She and her husband love to RV, traveling with their dogs to whitewater rivers all over the Southeast.


Website : Facebook : Twitter : Goodreads

MaryJanice Davidson - Undead and Unstable Excerpt & Giveaway - June 16, 2012

Many thanks to The Qwillery for letting me make ruthless use of this space to promote the new book, UNDEAD AND UNSTABLE. Many thanks to the readers who parted with hard-earned money (in this economy!) to put UNSTABLE on both the NYT and USA Today best-seller lists. Thanks in advance to readers who will be seduced by the excerpt below and go out to grab a copy, keeping my sales figures undeservedly high. (Yep, undeservedly, I meant what I wrote. Because I’m not doing art, here. The UNDEAD books are the cotton candy of books. And that’s on purpose, because I love cotton candy. I’ve never taken offense when readers or critics refer to my books as fluff. They are! And I’m fine with it! Fluff rules. Sometimes you want a turkey dinner with stuffing and gravy and mashed and cranberries, and sometimes you want cotton candy. Oooh...yummy yummy cotton candy...but I digress. Again. Or still!)

And thanks to me! Because without the awesomeness that is me, these books wouldn’t exist. So I’m pretty great, too. (I know...what a pill, right? Trust me, all writers think this. They just won’t admit it out loud, or even to themselves sometimes. But writers will look at their latest release and think, I did that. Damn! My mother was right: I’m pretty terrific. Oh, and hey, it’s great that all those readers bought copies of the books that wouldn’t exist without me. Yaaaay, me! And also, yaaaay, them!)

It’s possible I’m projecting on other writers. It’s possible that I’m the only one obnoxious enough to think like that.

Naw. But! In all seriousness, thank you for your kind attention. And if you buy the book, any of my books, thank you again. But if you want the turkey dinner, if the thought of cotton candy at 8:00 a.m. on an empty stomach is revolting, I totally understand, and would suggest you try or re-read: Gone with the Wind, The Stand, The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser, Gone Girl, Bring Up The Bodies, A Dance of Dragons, or Easy Peasy French: Your French Phrase Book To Go!

That oughta get you where you want to go. To which I say, thanks to my handy French phrase book, Adios! Oh. Wait...I’m sure that’s not right. Where is that French phrase book...?

Warmest regards,
MaryJanice “I am not a monster!” Davidson


UNDEAD AND UNSTABLE excerpt
Spoiler-free

     What sounded and smelled like a hundred black Lab puppies swarmed over me, barking shrill puppy barks and licking everything they could reach and suffocating me with their foul puppy breath.

     My cardigan! My Etienne Aigners! If one of those mangy little monsters so much as thought about taking a chomp on my shoes . . . oooh, just picturing it made me feel like I was going insane.

     And Sinclair had made this happen. The betrayal! He really screwed me after he didn’t screw me, the treacherous bastard.

     “Get them off. Get them off! Argh, it feels like they’re crawling all over me! Is this what withdrawal is like? Oh, those poor drug addicts! Why are you just standing there, you rat bastard? Help!”

     While I writhed in a sea of puppies, the King of the Vampires fell to his knees. His sinister plan had worked beautifully, and he was so delighted he gave in completely. For a guy who prided himself on keeping things under control, he was letting loose an awful lot this week.

     “Stop it! You bum! Ack, get away . . .”

     He’d collapsed to his knees and was holding his stomach while bellowing laughter. Every time he tried to get up and help me, he fell back down again. This only increased my puppy-induced fury.

     A velvety black ear slipped into my mouth, probably because I was screeching threats at my husband, the puppies, the stars, the Antichrist for picking such a dreadful meeting place, and any bugs or telemarketers in the vicinity. I puffed it back out with a breath and struggled to sit up. Did I . . . was that? It was! My left shin was warm and wet. “Oh, Goddammit! That’s it. Gloves off. I’m gonna pull a Cruella de Vil and skin each of you. Starting with you!” I told Sinclair, and he finally stopped laughing.

     “Now, darling,” he said reprovingly. “There is no need—”

     “Don’t ‘darling’ me, butt monkey. You knew what would happen. You figured out what this place was, and you deliberately—get away!” I yelled at the puppies, and several of them scampered back toward the garage. Of course, several more ignored me and collapsed on their fat puppy butts, looking up at me with their puppy tongues hanging out of their puppy mouths. “Dogs and zombies. That’s what this Thanksgiving has for us, Sink Lair. Dogs and zombies.”

     “Perhaps you might consider seeing if they bend to your will,” he suggested.

     “Shut up.”

     “Now, Elizabeth. You yourself said this sort of, uh, event . . .” The corner of his mouth twitched, but he managed to keep the grin off his face. If he’d still been human, his eyes would have watered with the effort. “This sort of thing did not happen to you in life. Perhaps you can control them in death.”

     “I can’t even control my split ends, never mind the hounds of heck.”

     He blinked. “I have no idea what that means. But as I said—”

     “I wasn’t listening.”

     “Perhaps you could dominate them.”

     “I’m still not listening.”

     “Oh, you’re here,” the Antichrist said. No doubt roused by my bitter screams of hatred, she’d come out of the house and was standing on the porch. She was pretty focused, too: she was looking straight at me, like Sinclair wasn’t there and, weirder, like thirty-some puppies weren’t, either. “Good. We’ve got to talk.”

     “Boy, do we,” I said. “Also, do you know a good divorce attorney?”

     Sinclair ignored me and was (ugh!) holding two of the black Lab puppies, which seemed delighted to be in his arms, judging from all the wriggling and licking. “They shall be mine,” he said, delighted, “and I shall name them Fur and Burr.”

     “And the horror continues. Fur and Burr? Be serious. Uh . . . Laura . . . you wanna help us wrangle some of these dogs?” They were annoying, but that didn’t mean I wanted them to get lost or wander onto a highway and get squashed.

     “Okay.” Laura came down the steps, crossed the driveway, and absently scooped up two more puppies. I’d rarely seen her look so solemn. And given that the Antichrist loved puppies, shelters, orphans, lemonade, babies, marshmallows, and the homeless, it was weird that she wasn’t going deep into cuddle mode. “But then we’ve got to talk.”

     “That’s not all we’ve gotta do,” I muttered, aiming a kick at the vampire king, who easily dodged, and walked toward the house talking in a low voice to Fur and Burr.



About Undead and Unstable

Undead and Unstable
Undead / Betsy 11
Berkley, June 5, 2012
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages

MaryJanice Davidson - Undead and Unstable Excerpt & Giveaway - June 16, 2012
“If you’re fans of Sookie Stackhouse and Anita Blake, don’t miss Betsy Taylor. She rocks” (The Best Reviews)—and she’s back once again as a vampire queen who finds herself an unlucky (but fashionable) passenger on the road to damnation…

Betsy’s heartbroken over her friend Marc’s death, but at least his sacrifice should change the future—her future­—for the better. But it’s not as if Betsy’s next few hundred years will be perfect. After all, her half-sister Laura is the AntiChrist, Laura’s mother is Satan, and family gatherings will always be more than a little awkward.

What’s really bothering Betsy is that ever since she and Laura returned from visiting her mom in Hell, Laura’s been acting increasingly peculiar. Maybe it’s Laura’s new job offer: as Satan’s replacement down under. Unfortunately, the position comes at a damnable price: killing Betsy, her own flesh-and-blood.

Over Betsy’s dead body. And for that matter Marc’s, too, since he’s not quite as buried as everyone thought. Now a war has been waged—one that’s going to take sibling rivalry to a whole new level, and a dimension where only one sister can survive.


MaryJanice Davidson - Undead and Unstable Excerpt & Giveaway - June 16, 2012



About MaryJanice Davidson

MaryJanice Davidson - Undead and Unstable Excerpt & Giveaway - June 16, 2012
MaryJanice Davidson invented a) her children, and b) the vampire chick lit genre. Also the Internet. She is kind to (some) children and (occasional) small animals, and enjoys referring to herself in the third person. Appearing several times a year on the best-seller list, as well as occasional Federal "person of interest" sheets, she takes time from the living hell that is being paid to do what she loves best to seek out the nearest Cinnabon franchise. Her goals include working for world peace, figuring out how to make potstickers, and speaking at writer and reader conferences around the world. (Australia is still recovering.)

MaryJanice's Links

Website
Blog
Facebook
Yahoo Group





The Giveaway

THE RULES

What:  One commenter will win a copy of Undead and Unstable (Undead / Betsy 11) from Berkley! US ONLY

How:  Leave a comment.

You may receive additional entries by:

1)   Being a Follower of The Qwillery.

2)   Mentioning the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter. Even if you mention the giveaway on both, you will get only one additional entry. You get only one additional entry even if you mention the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter multiple times.

3)   Mentioning the giveaway on your on blog or website. It must be your own blog or website; not a website that belongs to someone else or a site where giveaways, contests, etc. are posted.

There are a total of 4 entries you may receive: Comment (1 entry), Follower (+1 entry), Facebook and/or Twitter (+ 1 entry), and personal blog/website mention (+1 entry). This is subject to change again in the future for future giveaways.

Please leave links for Facebook, Twitter, or blog/website mentions. You MUST leave a way to contact you.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a USA mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Saturday, June 23, 2012. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*

Night Shade Books Holiday Countdown: Excerpt from Thomas World by Richard Cox

Night Shade Books Holiday Countdown: Excerpt from Thomas World  by Richard Cox
Thomas Phillips knows he's losing his mind. He's been losing it for as long as he can remember. And yet, when a strange old man asks him to consider that he, out of everyone in the world, knows the real truth, Thomas' life begins to spiral out of control. He loses interest in his job and is fired. He refuses his wife's suggestion of psychiatric care, and she leaves him. In the end, Thomas is alone. Except he's not, because someone seems to be following him. What if you were Thomas? Where would you go? What would you do? What if you realized every person in your life had been scripted to be there? What if you were haunted by the idea that you'd lived all these encounters before, hundreds or even thousands of times before? And what if the person watching all this time was you?

Thomas World explores what happens when the borders of reality start seeming a bit porous... when things start bleeding through the edges, challenging ones perceptions of the universe. The grand tradition of Dickian, New Wave SF is explored by Richard Cox in this 21st century thriller!

Trade Paperback, 300 pages
Night Shade Books, August 30, 2011


Excerpt: Chapters 1 and 2

One
     You ever notice how life is full of coincidence? I do. Strange little things happen to me all the time, events that must surely be random but don’t feel random. Like this morning Gloria and I were late leaving for church, and for reasons that escape me she will not walk into mass even one minute late. In normal traffic on a Sunday morning the drive would consume at least fifteen minutes, perhaps even twenty if the weather were nice. The church is six miles away. There are three main cross streets and a total of seven traffic lights. If you were to leave my house nine minutes before mass was scheduled to begin, as Gloria and I did this morning, a bookie in Vegas would give you no better than 10-1 odds to arrive on time. Probably more like 20-1.
     To be honest I was sort of hoping we wouldn’t make it. I forgot to set my fantasy football lineup again, and every time I do that I end up starting a quarterback who was benched last week and a running back with turf toe and a wide receiver who tore his ACL in practice on Thursday. Whereas when I remember to set my lineup, I invariably manage to bench a player who that week scores four touchdowns for the first and only time of his career. This is what I mean about coincidence.
     Another reason I like to skip mass is because I prefer to watch football live. TiVo is great for some things, but every time I watch the Cowboys play on delay I get a call from one of my friends about a touchdown or a bad officiating call that hasn’t happened in my version of the game yet. So reality gets all fouled up and I fast forward to the present time anyway, and that’s why I try not to time-shift football games.
     But the main reason I didn’t want to sit through mass this morning is because I’m exhausted. Last night Gloria and I went to a Halloween party put on by some of her work friends. I spent the night drinking too much rum and Coke and looking for Jack, and the drunker I got, the more convinced I became he was hiding from me. There was no reason he shouldn’t have been there. He’s Gloria’s boss.
     When the party was over we were both pretty drunk, and I probably shouldn’t have been driving. I shouldn’t have been thinking, either. I think too much when I drink. I asked Gloria why Jack wasn’t at the party and she didn’t like it and we got into a fight. She told me I was being obsessive again, which upset me even more because I hardly ever bring up Jack.
     So we got home and kept arguing, and finally Gloria got out of bed and went into the spare bedroom. I sat there staring at the wall. I was very drunk. One thing I only noticed recently is how the room doesn’t spin the way it used to. After I’ve tied one on, I mean. In college I could make the room spin on a six pack of Natty Light, but these days it seems my tolerance is a lot higher. Naturally, this made me wonder if I drink too much. Whenever you’re very drunk or hungover you always think you should cut back on your drinking, but last night was different somehow. More intense. I got out of bed and walked to the spare bedroom and saw the door was closed. As drunk as I was, that turned my blood cold. Gloria has never shut a door against me, not ever.
     I opened the door slowly and called to her. She didn’t answer. The room was dark and colorless, moonlight and shadows. I could make out the vague shape of her body under the covers of the guest bed. I was quiet for a long time and eventually heard her whispering something, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I walked over to the bed and crawled under the covers. She was facing away from me, and her body jerked when I touched her, which turned my blood even colder. I cherish Gloria more than anything. We are kindred spirits, she and I. Years ago we found love against insurmountable odds, and I don’t understand how we sometimes end up in these terrible places, but it has to stop.
     I folded my arms around her and she stiffened against me and started to pull away. But I held her tightly and kissed the back of her neck and told her I was sorry. She struggled against me, still trying to get away, but I held tight, kissing her again and again until she finally relaxed. I told her I loved her. When she didn’t respond I told her a second time. I worried that she wasn’t going to answer me, that she wouldn’t say it back because she couldn’t. But finally she curled her hand around mine and pulled it close to her heart. She began to cry again. “I love you, too, baby,” she said. “But we can’t go on like this. We can’t. You have to let it go. You have to let Jack go.”
     And even then I could feel it, the resentment. As drunk as I was, having only just won her back, I was still gripped by irrational fear, still worried about Jack and how he would someday take Gloria away from me. But I held my tongue and said, simply, “I know.”
     We lay there for a while, and I kept thinking we should get up and go back into our own room. The guest bed is small and there’s no alarm clock in there. But I was afraid if I let go of Gloria I might never get to touch her again, that she might get up and walk out of the room and out of my life forever. So I held her tight and she held me back and eventually we drifted into a sort of mutual coma, drunk and exhausted and emotionally spent.
     Then, only moments later, or so it seemed, Gloria was jumping out of bed and sunlight was blazing through the window, stabbing my eyes even through their lids.
     “We’re late!” she cried. “Baby, we can’t miss again. We already missed last week!”
     As I said before I would have been fine skipping another mass. I would even have forgotten about the football game if Gloria remained in bed with me, her back curled against my chest. It’s been so long since we’ve done that, spent time holding each other, and I don’t know if it’s the cause or result of the distance between us.
     But Gloria wanted to go to mass, and I wanted to make her happy, so I hopped out of bed. I did my best to get ready on time, showering in three minutes, putting on clothes that weren’t quite pressed, ignoring my two-day-old stubble. We blazed toward the church at speeds that bordered on obscene. A lot of people would have been worried about being pulled over by a traffic cop, getting a ticket or maybe even going to jail, but not me, not even a little bit. I’ve never been pulled over by a police officer in my life, for anything, ever. Which may not seem that impressive to you, but I’ve been driving for eighteen years, and I speed everywhere I go. It’s a miracle I’ve never been ticketed and I’ve never been in an accident, as if, on the road, I don’t exist at all.
     Even going as fast as we were, we still shouldn’t have made it to mass on time. Not with all the traffic lights along the way. But wouldn’t you know it, on this particular morning, when even the shortest delay would have kept us from arriving on time, every single light on the way to the church was green. We walked into the chapel with one minute to spare and sat down six seconds before the scary organ music told us to stand up again. Of course we got here on time. You can’t make this stuff up.
     Let’s pretend like this is TiVo and fast forward to live programming. Right now mass is halfway over and Father Kindred is giving the homily. That’s what we Catholics call the sermon. Today’s subject is gay marriage. The Father is explaining why the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t support the idea. Loosely, his reasoning is this: Marriage is a holy union between a man and woman, and to give equal rights to homosexuals goes against natural moral law and obscures basic human values. Actually, that isn’t loose at all…it’s his exact argument. Which, I don’t know, I used to think that way, too, but these days it just seems so ridiculous. Aren’t we past all these labels and prejudices? I’m barely holding onto my own marriage so it’s probably not a good idea for me to have an opinion about someone else’s. In fact this is one of the ways Gloria has had such a positive influence on me, primarily because her brother, Michael, is gay. There was a time when I would make fun of him because I thought he was an effeminate, know-it-all elitist, and Gloria would tell me I was an insensitive prick. We went around and around about it until one day my eyes opened and I realized she was right. So I stopped being an asshole, and it took a few years, but eventually Michael and I sort of became friends.
     This is why I’m surprised to see my wife nodding as Father Kindred builds his case. I would have expected her to be frowning with disapproval, or at the very least not responding at all. Hell, now she’s almost smiling.
     In fact, as I look around the church, I see a lot of smiles and nods. More than a few people exchange knowing glances with each other, as if to share their approval of the homily. At one point Father Kindred quotes Pope Benedict, how homosexuality is an “intrinsic moral evil,” and if anyone here is offended by this statement, I can’t find them.
     Look, I realize we’re in a church. This isn’t exactly the place where you stage a gay pride rally. But my wife has told me more than once that six or seven percent of the population is gay, so if there are, say, three hundred people in this room, twenty of them have just been told they’re evil. And no one seems to have a problem with it.
     When I imagine Gloria’s brother sitting here, listening to this, it makes my head hurt. I don’t mean that metaphorically…I really am developing a headache.
     My wife gives me such a hard time when I point out how much she’s changed, but this is a perfect example. Why on earth isn’t she offended? They’re talking about her brother, for heaven’s sake. There was a time when she would have walked out of the chapel rather than listen to a homily like this. Now she just sits there, smiling. Something is different about her, and I think it has to do with Jack. Ever since she started working for him I’ve noticed little things, different things. She dresses nicer. Wears new perfume. Works longer hours. When I ask about it she tells me she’s just playing the part of a director. She makes six figures. People report to her. It’s all part of the game.
     But she and Jack have a history together, and I know she’s acting this way because of him. If I told you the whole story you would understand, but I’m not supposed to bring it up anymore because it makes me seem obsessive.
     Eventually Father Kindred finishes the homily and begins the Nicene Creed. The Creed is a long prayer the congregation recites together, and which during the course of my life I have repeated hundreds of times. I don’t really think about the content of the prayer as I recite it—it’s more of a ritual thing. We believe in one God, the Father the Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, of all that is seen and unseen…And for some reason, in this particular moment, it occurs to me how bizarre the whole mass is. Like, I work in a cubicle five days a week, building Internet marketing campaigns, and on Sunday I come to this odd building and chant ancient phrases along with three hundred other yahoos.
     My headache grows worse. A lot worse. When I touch my temple, I feel the brain vein pulsing with blood. Have you ever had a migraine? A real one? I get one or two a year, and sometimes they land me in bed all day. Don’t laugh. If you get migraines you know what I’m talking about.
     What’s funny is it also seems like the light in the church is different now. Everything seems to have taken on a bluish cast. Even Gloria seems a little blue. When she notices me looking at her, I smile and look away, wondering what’s wrong with me. But now at least the blue seems to fade.
     Or rather, it hasn’t so much faded as it has condensed to a point on the wall behind Father Kindred. A bright blue point.
     Either I’m hallucinating, or there is a stationary point of blue light on the back wall of the church.
     It’s really pounding now, my head. And strangely, that point of light looks like it’s coming closer. Instead of being projected on the wall, it’s somehow moving toward me.
     Through the air.
     As the blue point passes over the pews I expect to see heads craning, turning to watch it, but in fact no one seems to notice it.
     No one except me.
     I look over at Gloria. The alarm I feel inside must be obvious on the outside, because you can tell she’s worried about me. I smile again, trying to reassure her, even though inside I don’t feel very sure at all. I feel like this time I might actually be losing my mind. As she watches me, I look directly at the approaching blue light, but evidently she can’t see it. Evidently no one can.
     Except yours truly.
     I know it’s possible to hallucinate during a migraine, but it’s never happened to me. I shouldn’t overreact, I realize this, but for the love of God now it’s hovering right in front of my face.
     Seeing it up close like this, it looks more like an orb than a point. About the size of a golf ball. It’s bright and electric, what I imagine ball lightning might look like. But bluer. And rotating, like a planet on its axis.
     If it were possible, I would get the hell out of here, but everyone around me is on their knees, and people are already leaving their pews to receive communion. So instead I remain where I am, immobilized, as if this whole thing is a bad dream. No one but me notices the orb make contact with my forehead. The thing is hot, searing hot, so hot I close my eyes and will myself not to scream.
     And then—
     And then it’s gone.
     Along with my migraine.
     I stand up.
     “Baby,” Gloria whispers. “Are you okay?”
     “Migraine,” I say. “I need some water.”
     She starts to get up herself, but I put my hand on her shoulder. “I’m okay. Really. I’ll be right back.”
     People around us are starting to notice. I shuffle past the other kneelers, which is more awkward than you might think, until I reach the end of the pew. Then I genuflect, head for the back doors, and cross myself with holy water.
     I’m not sure why but something tells me this is that last time I’ll ever do that.


Two
     By the time I get to the bathroom, my heart is pounding so hard it hurts. My ears roar with silence, waves of it. My face feels hot to the touch even though the rest of my body is shivering.
     In the mirror I see fear. I lean in with my face, close, until my nose nearly touches its reflection. The pores are large between my eyebrows and become smaller toward the scalp. There are two horizontal creases on my forehead that seem to deepen a little with each passing day. And for just a moment—a flicker, really—I swear I see a faint blue spot between them where the orb entered my head.
     Doctors will tell you how stress can do funny things to the human body. I knew a guy who would sometimes go blind in one eye when he got really worked up. But nothing of the sort has ever happened to me.
     All of my past migraines have, in some way, been tied to stress. The last one was a few months ago when one of my work projects was picked apart by the new vice president, Kurt Truman. Truman is one of those corporate climbers, some fast-track guy with an Ivy League education and a tropical tan. After just a month on the job he wanted to throw out or reengineer all of my major projects, and the combination of my general apathy for this work and his meddling with it drove me insane. One afternoon, during a staff meeting, I balked at a few of his ideas. Or rather I offered possible alternatives to them. Truman chuckled and suggested I forcibly insert my alternatives into a certain body cavity that had no real use for them. For the next hour and a half I was forced to sit there while this blustering phony told stories about his career experience and how he planned to transform our team from merely good to great. My migraine began the moment he opened his mouth and was singing by the end of the meeting. I went home and skipped the next day of work altogether.
     I do have a hangover. No question about that. But honestly I never get headaches after drinking. I’ve always been lucky that way. In any case, my head stopped hurting after I watched a ball of blue lightning enter my forehead, so at this point I suppose the headache isn’t even relevant. What’s relevant is seeing that blue light in the first place. Healthy people do not see things like that.
     For a while I’ve been worried that I might be losing my mind. I could try to explain to you why, except I’m not exactly sure myself. I think a lot about Jack, that’s for sure. Gloria says I talk about him too much, but compared to how much I think about him, I hardly ever mention his name aloud. But it’s not just Jack. Sometimes I look around at everything and I wonder if I’m even here, if any of this is even happening. And I wonder what would happen if I just rejected it, just simply refused to believe what my eyes tell me I’m seeing. How the hell can I trust anything? I just saw a floating orb of blue light in church, for heaven’s sake.
     But I can’t just withdraw. From everything, I mean. If I do, then I may as well find a mental hospital and purchase myself a lifetime room. Since I don’t think I’m quite ready for that, what I should do, instead, is summon some courage and leave this bathroom and go back into the chapel.
     And yet I’m still standing here.
     Maybe I could pee first. It’ll only take a few seconds. I walk over to a urinal, unzip my pants, and…I…uh…
     I—
     The way I know I’m losing my mind is that I continue to hallucinate. I’m not even sure how to put this without sounding pornographic. My sexual equipment appears to be larger than normal. I don’t mean “it’s hot in here” larger. I mean, the thing is never this size, even when it’s ready to be deployed in extracurricular activity. Especially different is the girth. I can’t help but stare at it. And then—gingerly—I grip it with my hand to get a sense of the heft.
     Something is wrong. Really wrong. My ears are roaring again.
     As if things couldn’t possibly get worse, the bathroom door bursts open, and an older man I don’t recognize marches straight for the bank of urinals. I let go of my hallucinated heft and try my best to ignore him. With four urinals, I naturally expect him to pick one at the other end, away from me, but that’s not what happens. He stops at the urinal right next to mine, unzips his pants, and proceeds to deliver a stream of urine directly into the drain. Meanwhile I can’t go at all. My brain hums like an electrical transformer. The bathroom begins to spin.
     I put my hand on the wall for support. I feel sick to my stomach, and for a moment I’m sure my knees will buckle, sending me to the floor. Squares of industrial green tile corkscrew around me like galaxies, multiplying, layers upon layers, and music, a string section, violins screaming at me. I feel like I’m speeding toward some unknown destination, my car careening out of control, spinning, tumbling…
     The old man’s voice booms at me. Overdriven. Distorted.
     “YOU’RE A PRISONER.”
     When I look up, a geyser of bile surges into my throat. He is a puffy, red-faced madman. His nose is a network of broken capillaries. His gray beard is sprinkled with occasional threads of darker hair, and his entire mustache is black.
     “EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS A LIE.”
     I blink. A camera shutter.
     “THEY’RE WATCHING YOU.”
     I blink again and he’s gone.
     My mouth tastes like the leads on a nine-volt battery.
     Where the hell did he go? Was he even here? I know he walked into this bathroom, I watched him do it, but where the hell did he go?
     Or maybe the hallucinations are growing worse.
     I look into the open fly of my pants. Just as big as before.
     And somewhere—in the distance, in my subconscious?—I hear a woman’s voice counting out numbers in a measured, almost robotic tone:
     3…1…4…1…pause…5…9…2…6…pause…5…3…5…8…
     These numbers: even in the haze. I could stand here listening forever. But I can’t. I have to find my way back to some kind of reality. I have to go back into the chapel. Gloria must be worried sick.
     I reach down and try to zip myself up, but my hands are shaking like I have Parkinson’s. I shuffle to the sink and finally manage to close my pants. Splash water on my face. Blink a few times and shake my head.
     Now, the bathroom door. It’s right there. All I have to do is open it and walk back to the chapel where my wife is waiting for me. That’s all. And yet part of me is afraid to leave this bathroom. Part of me is afraid if I open that door, I won’t like what I see on the other side. There should be a foyer out there, and beyond that the chapel doors, and beyond those a few hundred people worshipping the Lord. But what if that’s not what I see? What then?
     My feet scrape across the tile, inching toward the door.
     This is ridiculous. I’ve never been an anxious man. Not until recently, I mean. Recently everything is all confused, but I can’t go on like this forever. I have to pull myself together. I have to open that door.
     The foyer is there. Empty, but there. I walk out of the bathroom and into sunlight. Through plate glass windows I see trees rocking back and forth in the gusting wind, cars in the parking lot, an old man pushing a woman in a wheelchair. This looks like reality. Maybe everything is going to be okay.
     I hear a commotion, like scuttling feet, and then scores of relieved-looking people pour through the chapel doors. I see Gloria before she sees me, chatting to a red-haired woman whose husband seems to be enamored with the back of my wife’s slacks. This looks even more like reality. My wife has a great ass. I don’t usually like it when men stare at it, but right now it seems like a pretty good thing. A normal thing.
     Gloria laughs at something the woman says, and for whatever reason it makes me think of college, our first time alone together after the big scene at Goose’s. We sat in front of a television set, bloated on cheap pizza, playing Super Nintendo like it was the first time either of us had ever seen a video game. At first we boxed and raced cars, but only when I plugged in SimCity did Gloria truly become hooked. She was (and is) the most intelligent woman I’ve ever met, and the logic of the game appealed to her in a way that thumb-intensive games did not. I showed her how to organize her city, how to zone for industrial and commercial and residential construction, but Gloria figured out the rest all by herself. For hours we played, drinking beer, lying side by side on the floor, our arms and legs brushing against each other. With each touch my skin felt electric, as if her body was made of pure energy. On screen, our city grew until it was a sprawling metropolis, and at one point Gloria wondered aloud how much more fun the game might be if we could get to know the actual people living in it. Which is generally the premise of The Sims, the best-selling PC game of all time.
     Gloria had long hair then, dyed blonde, crimped perm and dark roots. Sometimes, when she tied it back in a ponytail, it almost hurt to look at her. She was so gorgeous, so alive, like nothing in the world could ever slow her down.
     Today her hair is back to its natural color, a sort of light brown, and several months ago she cut most of it off. Said it was too thick and difficult to dry. She’s still beautiful, of course, and I would love her even if she were bald, but sometimes Gloria baffles me. She spends hundreds of dollars on her skin, exfoliating this, microderming that, and then she gets a “mom” haircut. It would be like if I intentionally shaved a bald spot onto the crown of my head.
     Gloria finally looks up and sees me. She reaches forward and touches my face.
     “Are you okay?”
     “Fine now,” I say, which is the appropriate answer if not entirely the truth. “I thought I was coming down with a migraine, but I after I got some water I felt better.”
     “Are you sure it’s gone? You looked awful in the church. I was worried.”
     “It’s gone for now. Hopefully it stays gone.”
     We find our car in the parking lot and head home. The sky is postcard blue, the clouds sparse and wispy—so perfect you’d think it was filmed that way. Speaking of filming, did you ever notice how marriage is sort of like a television series? Week to week things are pretty much the same, little joys and calamities come and go, but over time gradual changes occur. For instance, in the fall, Gloria and I enjoy a lazy Sunday routine: mass in the morning and football in the afternoon. I usually open my first beer when the late games start and coast into the evening with a nice buzz. I’ll grill some steak and chicken and vegetables. But whereas Gloria used to sit next to me on the couch and flip through magazines—and drink a few beers herself—now she spends the afternoon writing a blog for the Council of Catholic Women.
     “I’m sorry about your head,” Gloria says. “And you missed communion again. But I guess you can make it up next week.”
     I want to tell her what happened in the church, about the man in the bathroom, but I don’t. I can’t. I’ve been coming apart for a while now and I’m afraid to tell her. I’m afraid she’ll look at me differently, she’ll see me broken, and whatever thread we’ve been holding onto will snap. My arms are cold. They’re marbled with goose bumps. Out of nowhere I wonder what would happen if I steered the car into oncoming traffic. Here comes a big, white Cadillac, a ’70s-era monster with huge fins. It’s a convertible but the top is up. Would the collision be fatal? Or would airbags and crumple zones save us?
     “What did you think about the homily this morning?” I ask Gloria.
     “What do you mean?”
     “I mean when the Father called your brother evil.”
     “He didn’t say that.”
     “He said homosexuality was evil. Or did I only imagine it?”
     A second ticks by. Then another. I can still see the old man’s red cheeks, the spidery capillaries in his nose.
     Everything you know is a lie.
     “Gloria?”
     She doesn’t answer me. We reach a stoplight. It’s red.
     You’re a prisoner.
     “The Father stood there and ranted against homosexuals for ten minutes, and you nodded and smiled like someone waiting for their crazy Kool-Aid.”
     Now Gloria’s eyes glower in their sockets. For a moment she looks mad enough to spit on me.
     “The situation with Michael is extremely complex,” she says, “and I won’t have you of all people try to characterize my feelings about the subject.”
     “Then why don’t you characterize them for me?”
     “Why are you trying to pick a fight?”
     “I’m sorry,” I say, my voice almost wavering. “I’m not trying to pick a fight. But I don’t understand why you and pretty much everyone else in the congregation bought the Father’s speech so easily. It’s like you were all hypnotized. I’m not even sure why I go to church anymore.”
     “Thomas Phillips! Don’t you say something like that!”
     “Don’t say something like what?” I ask. “Don’t tell you how I really feel?”
     “That’s not how you really feel!”
     “Why are you yelling at me?”
     “Baby, please don’t do this. When you came into the other room last night and kissed me and hugged me I felt so close to you. Do you know that’s the first time in months you’ve said the words ‘I’m sorry’? It made me think I mattered to you again. Like we were finally reconnecting. I thought maybe we could finally push past this.”
     “I know, Junior. I know. I felt the same way.”
     “Then what’s the problem?”
     I should let it go. I know I should. Who cares what the Father thinks about homosexuality? He doesn’t even know Gloria’s brother. Michael hasn’t been to church in years.
     But it’s not the homily. It’s not the Father. It’s Gloria. She’s different somehow. I can’t put my finger on it but I know it.
     “You’re changing the subject on me,” I finally say. It’s like I’ve lost control of my own mouth. “We are not talking about us. We’re talking about your brother and the church and why it’s anyone’s business who he sleeps with.”
     We reach our house. I pull into the driveway, put the transmission in park, and turn off the ignition.
     “It’s God’s business,” Gloria says, looking away from me, out the window. “Everything is.”
     “But why create gay people and then condemn them to Hell?”
     “It’s a—”
     I wait for her to continue, but she doesn’t.
     “It’s not fair,” I say.
     “God has a plan for all of us, but sometimes it’s difficult to see what that plan is.”
     “Okay, but if your brother doesn’t stop being gay, is he going to Hell?”
     For a long moment Gloria doesn’t say anything. But her eyes turn glassy, and her bottom lip quivers, and I hate myself for it. I wish I knew where we went wrong. Have I changed? Has she? Have we both?
     “You’re horrible,” she finally says, and gets out of the car.
     I watch her walk past the car and into the house. I want to follow her inside, apologize, but I don’t.
     My mind isn’t right. I need to compose myself before I talk to her again.
     I close my eyes and picture the bathroom. I watch the old man striding across the floor, headed directly for me. I think about his black and white beard and the spidery capillaries in his nose. I’ve never seen that man in my entire life.
     So why on earth is his face so familiar?


About Richard Cox

Richard Cox believes he was born in Texas and now lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. According to multiple Internet sources, he has published three novels, Thomas World (September 2011), The God Particle, and Rift. Richard has also apparently written for This Land Press, Oklahoma Magazine, and is an associate editor for TheNervousBreakdown.com.

However, you can't believe everything you read. Or see. For all you know, you're not even reading this right now.

From Richard Cox's Website.

Links:

Website
TheNervousBreakdown.com


The Giveaway

THE RULES

What:  One commenter will win a copy of Thomas World from Night Shade Books. US/Canada Only.

How:  Leave a comment answering the following question:

Which books would you like as gifts this year?

Please remember - if you don't answer the question your entry will not be counted.

You may receive additional entries by:

1)   Being a Follower of The Qwillery.

2)   Mentioning the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter. Even if you mention the giveaway on both, you will get only one additional entry. You get only one additional entry even if you mention the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter multiple times.

3)   Mentioning the giveaway on your on blog or website. It must be your own blog or website; not a website that belongs to someone else or a site where giveaways, contests, etc. are posted.

There are a total of 4 entries you may receive: Comment (1 entry), Follower (+1 entry), Facebook and/or Twitter (+ 1 entry), and personal blog/website mention (+1 entry). This is subject to change again in the future for future giveaways.

Please leave links for Facebook, Twitter, or blog/website mentions. In addition please leave a way to contact you.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US or Canadian mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Friday, December 23, 2011. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*
Excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler - February 4, 2014Mind Trace by Holly McCaghren - Excerpt and GiveawayRomulus Buckle and the Engines of War by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. - Excerpt - GIveaway - November 19, 2013Excerpt from The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes and Giveaway - October 25, 2013 Beatrysel by Johnny Worthen - Excerpt and Giveaway - October 11, 2013Dying is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann - Excerpt and Giveaway - October 8, 2013Excerpt - Indexing by Seanan McGuire - May 22, 2013Faith Hunter - Death's Rival Blog Tour - September 30, 2012MaryJanice Davidson - Undead and Unstable Excerpt & Giveaway - June 16, 2012Night Shade Books Holiday Countdown: Excerpt from Thomas World  by Richard Cox

Report "The Qwillery"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?

Cancel
×