MWBB, week 2-21

“Well, if it ain’t Jimmy Fuckin’ McKinley. You got a hell of a lot of nerve coming here.” It had been a decade since I’d seen her, but she was still hot as fuck. A little more mature, a little rounder, but damn, in all the right ways. And with a mind to match.

“Hey Betty. I see your name is on the sign outside now.”

“Lots of things changed while you were vacationing in Statesville.”

“You coulda visited me.” I hadn’t sat down, and she hadn’t reached for the sawed-off under the counter. Meaybe we were going to be kinda mature about this.

“Ha! In your dreams. So you’re out, visiting the old haunts or something? This ain’t a place for you to hang out anymore. It’s respectable-like, with Robbie gone. We even get tourists.” I looked around at the nobody who’d been here when I walked in, and she scowled. “Well, we had a guy looking for the El who was lost. But he bought a beer, so that counts. Anyway, why are you here?”

Now I sat down. “I’ve always liked you, Betty.”

“Don’t give me that shit, you bastard. I know how men like you like women like me, especially after ten years with no one but Rosie to keep you company. In all the time I knew you, you never said boo to me unless you were drunk or setting Robbie up for some half-assed robbery.”

“It’s not like that, honest. You were Robbie’s girl. He’d have shot me twice if he’d thought I liked ya – once in my balls, and once in my throat. I saw what he did to Paulie, and all he did was say your ass looked good in your jeans.”

Betty laughed. “That wasn’t Robbie’s doing. He was a pussy when it came to that kind of thing. I always had to defend myself. But it got him more dough if people thought he was tough. Anyway, that was a long time ago. No one gives a shit about me or my ass anymore, and that’s the way it should be.”

She turned away from me and grabbed a beer from the cooler, popping the lid off and letting the head rise just enough. I’d been a decade without a cold one, and I would have been happy with bull piss, but this was some real microbrew shit. I sipped it in silence, feeling a buzz building way too quickly. I was a lightweight now.

Letting the warmth move through me, I worked up the guts to ask. “What happened, Betty?”

She sighed, grabbing a bottle of bourbon from the shelf, and then setting it down, unopened. “Ah, hell, Jimmy. I don’t like to think about the old days this much. You got popped, Robbie should have – he was a right bastard, we all knew that – and it was time to move on. But he wouldn’t, and he got loose with his dick and his fists. I’m not that kind of girl, and I took care of things. The DA bought that it was self-defense. Who wouldn’t have, with Robbie’s rep? I got probation and the bar. I thought the past was dead.”

I took a chance and reached out for her hand. To my surprise, she took it. “Not dead, babe. Just locked away for a while. And I’ve had more than enough time behind bars for this lifetime. I mean, I’m no Mr. Straight and Narrow, but that sucked balls.”

“So, what then?” I could see her getting skittish, and she pulled her hand from mine.

“I don’t rightly know. But I wasn’t lying before. I’ve always liked you. I ain’t got nowhere else to go, no one who even knows me. Would you mind if I hung around, at least sometimes? We could talk, or stuff.”

Goddamn, her tits looked good when she laughed. “Or stuff, indeed. You always had a way with words.” Betty paused, and looked me over – stem to stern, as it were, but mostly staring in my eyes.  “We’ll talk. Talk.  And if you’re going to be here, you might as well be useful. It does actually get busy in here ‘round five.”


Flash Friday, 2-42, story 2.

Jenna’s little maid’s skirt was the only thing that either of them were wearing, and it flared fetchingly around her bottom as she hopped off the bed and headed to the closet. Marcus’ head was swimming – from the sex, sure, but also from whatever she had slipped in his drink.

It took Marcus a moment to realize that the dangling thing in her hand was a pair of handcuffs. No woman was going to do that to him, not without paying a price. As he tried to sit up – and couldn’t – Jenna deftly slipped the cuffs around his wrists and the headboard.

She reached down under the bed and grabbed the mask she’d ordered online. The poison she’d put in the drinks was getting to her, too, but the antidote was an aerosol, and she didn’t want her sister’s rapist to accidentally inhale any of it. That the rubber straps pulled and pinched his skin was just a bonus.


Flash Friday, 2-42


Molli was tired of peering through cloudy plastic, living in a bubble which made a dead world even more lifeless. She wasn’t a fragile flower to be kept in a hothouse for fear of frost. If the fog was to be her end, then Molli needed it to be on her own terms.

Artifacts from when the sun still shone and the human race hadn’t gone sterile drew Molli to dark rooms as soon as she was old enough to explore on her own. Locked in a killing jar, she ached to experience beauty.

It was difficult putting on such thin clothes after a lifetime of fear, but when she smoothed the black and white socks over her legs, she’d smiled.

Her first breaths outside without a mask were sweeter than expected. Though this was a journey from which she could not return, Molli strolled leisurely along the beach. There was beauty still to be found, even in death.


Finish That Thought, 2-12


Two wishes wasted; this third and final one was my last chance. The overhead lights were blinding, and I was sweating beneath this makeup crap they made me wear. “You’ll look better for the camera,” they said.

Like I cared about the camera. I wasn’t here for fame, or glory, or a spot on Dancing in Zero-G with the Stars. Sherlock Holmes said that whenever you eliminated the impossible, the virtually impossible had to be true, or something like that, but he never said what to do when the impossible was the only way out.

The host of Genie in a Bottle sure didn’t need makeup, being a hologram. He looked pretty good at home on the projector, but in the studio, you could see right through him. I’ll give those programmers credit about one thing, though – he had smarmy know-it-all jerkwad down to a T. “Fifteen seconds left for your final wish, Randy. The clock is counting down – ten, now – what will it be?”

He could afford to be calm, the supercilious simulacrum. I mean, not only did he not exist, but he also didn’t know what I knew. If I didn’t come up with the right answer – and right quick – there wouldn’t be enough left of any of us to dope a semiconductor.

I took one last look at the products of my first two wishes. The Cyclops was strong enough, that’s for sure, but he had no depth perception, and stumbled around the stage with his hand stretched out in front of him, trying desperately to gain his balance. The other was running through the audience, kissing whomever she could find. I’d tried to wish for Morgiana, my ex. She made me want to chew out my eyes, but she was the cleverest woman I’d ever known – I just knew she’d know how to get us out of this mess. But the computer misheard me, and so Morganna the Kissing Bandit had been plucked out of the past. She’d laid a good one on me, but other than that, she hadn’t been any help.

The timer went off, and I took a deep breath. The host’s question went in one ear and out the other. I knew what it would be, my third wish, if I could get up the guts to say it. Ah, but then again, who needs guts when the universe has ceased to exist.

“Well, Chuck, I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’m going to wish for the end of all things.”

The host’s holographic mien cracked, and a flashing light went off, accompanied by a booming voice originating from everywhere. “Warning: You Have Violated The Rules. No Wish Can Be Used To End Existence, Or Through Inaction, Cause Existence To End.” I heard a clunk, and thanked the maker that the Asimovian Laws of Robotics had been grandmothered in to the rules of all games.

Back at home, a switch flipped from “End Program” to “Resume.”


VisDare 79


Jonny stuck his fingers through the hole in the curtains and pulled. The threads were tough when they stuck together, but when he could get one by itself, he could work at it until it began to part beneath the pressure. That was the part he liked the best, feeling the fibers give, knowing that something that someone had worked so hard to put together was irreparably damaged. There was no fixing a silk curtain, he knew. Grandma had told him that many a time. She didn’t know that it just encouraged him. Jonny’s acting out – as she termed it – frustrated her, and she’d tried everything, from soap in his mouth to a strapping from cousin Robert.

There was no fixing Grandma, either, not after he’d made the hole big enough.


Flash Frenzy, round 36


Missus Ryan wouldn’t be able to complain that he was late today – nor ever again, Dock thought, as he poured the poison into her medicine.

Or so he wished. Dock hated that old biddy, but he wasn’t a killer. He put the cork back into the laudanum and set it next to the mercurochrome, turning its label so that it pointed precisely one-quarter turn to the right. Even though Missus Ryan was in a chair, and hadn’t been down to the cellar since back before her Thomas had been lost in the war, she still had ways of knowing if things weren’t done just so. He’d once put a jar of preserves with the tomatoes, and if he closed his eyes, he could still hear her excoriations ringing off the plaster.

Things had been different in the house before the war. Mister Ryan was demanding, but generous, with a reputation for fairness that’d drawn many a young man to the gates of the carriage house hoping for work. Dock had gotten double-lucky the day he’d shown up – one of the butlers had retired earlier that week, and Missus Ryan was off visiting her sister. She’d tried to get him fired as soon as she’d gotten home, but Mister Ryan got what he wanted, and so Dock stayed. But Missus Ryan stared daggers at him every time he walked into the room, and he could count the number of times she’d spoken to him with a civil tongue on one hand.

How Dock had avoided getting fired the day the telegram came about Mister Ryan – and every day thereafter – was a mystery. He’d always figured that Mister Ryan still held some sway even after he’d passed, but he sure wasn’t about to ask.

Lost in thought, Dock opened the door to Missus Ryan’s parlor without knocking. As soon as the door had swung inward, he flinched, knowing that he’d violated one of the cardinal rules of the house. And then he froze, unsure of what he was seeing.

“Well, do close the door,” Mister Ryan said in Missus Ryan’s voice. “And sit down. I see we need to have a conversation.”


Book review: Vassal, by Marissa Ames

Author’s note: I was given an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I thought I had waited too long to read Marissa Ames’ first novel in the Tir Athair series, Minstrel, but by happy coincidence, I finished it just before the sequel, Vassal, was released, so I didn’t have to wait long between books. Ames makes bold choices thematically and stylistically with her second book, setting it long enough after the first one that everyone from the first book is dead, referred to rarely, and only in an historical context. Also, while Minstrel focused quite a bit on nation-building, bringing a feel reminiscent of Stephen R. Lawhead in interactions with new civilizations to the north, Vassal is much more of a romance (although not a bodice-ripper), bringing us a more intimate story, while at the same time, widening the reality of Tir Athair.

Vassal focuses on Aislin, a woman trying to navigate a very narrow path of making her own decisions in a world where women are rarely given that opportunity. She has essentially inherited her father’s lands, but holds onto them in large part because of two men – Sully, an old family friend with enough influence and money to provide assistance, wanted or not, and Warrick, the Earl to whom she is a vassal, who wants nothing more than to bed her and make her the next in a long series of wives, and who lets her hold on to her lands as a means of controlling her.

Into Aislin’s life comes Darrion, ostensibly hired by Sully to help her with manual labor, but who harbors secrets about himself, Sully, and the true nature of the refugees that the King is so determined to wipe out. To protect her from Warrick’s advances, Darrion and Aislin wed, although it’s a loveless sham of a marriage (or is it?). Herein lies the “romance” part of the book, and Ames does a nice job of drawing out the will-they-or-won’t-they without overly belaboring the point, slowly drawing us more into larger conflicts than the one between Aislin and Darrion.

Vassal shows that Ames has range as a writer, in addition to skill. She brings verisimilitude to the stories of life on a farm, drawing from her own experience, without making the book a how-to manual. The struggles of a woman in a very male-dominated world is a strongly feminist tale, without pounding the reader over the head.

On the negative side, there were some parts of the storyline near the end that lost me a bit (I wasn’t quite sure how one of the characters got out of some challenging situations they found themselves in), and that part of the book could have used a little more room to breathe, in my opinion, but overall, Vassal was a quite entertaining read. Because of the time jump from Minstrel, if you get a copy of this, you won’t be lost if you want to just leap in and read, but the world is richer if you know more of the whole story.

Vassal is now available at Amazon.


Flash! Friday – Volume 2, week 41


The only way David could judge the time was by the slowly dimming light around Arla’s castle. It had been three days since he’d asked her to marry him, the three longest days of his life. He’d knelt down at the royal banquet and pledged his troth, swearing fealty to the kingdom with which he had waged furious battles for so many years. But once he’d met Arla, he could no longer see monsters across the battlefield.

She’d loved him too, or so he’d thought. Arla didn’t have an answer for him at the banquet. Nor did she have one on the first night, or the second, and by the customs of his people, he could wait no longer than sundown tonight.

Just before dark, a shadow rose from the castle. Even in the dim light, David knew Arla’s form from the others of her kind, and as she flew towards him, he knew that peace had come at last.


Mid-week Blues Buster, 2.19


There’s a secret room at the top of the stairs, where no one goes. Not unless they’re invited, and I haven’t invited you, not yet. You think the living hold sway in this place, in your home. You lock the doors and close the blinds and imagine that you live in privacy, where your secrets are your own.

There’s a desk in the secret room at the top of the stairs, where no one goes. Not unless they’re invited, and I haven’t invited you, not yet. But don’t rest easy now, your time is coming soon. The desk is locked, and only you have the key. You don’t know about it yet, assuming it’s a remnant from your past, but I placed it on the ring of metal when you were in a cloud of whiskey.

There’s a drawer in the desk in the secret room at the top of the stairs, where no one goes. Not unless they’re invited, and you are most certainly invited. You won’t heed the call yet, though. Oh, no. No one does. You wonder what you’ve forgotten. You dream of lost loves that never were. You feel a tugging at your innards, and take pills designed to balance your humours. Don’t worry, though, that’s just me in there.

There’s a gun in the drawer in the desk in the secret room at the top of the stairs, where you and I are tonight. I whisper to you your secrets, the things you locked away in your own secret room. You’ve answered the call to pay for your crimes, though in truth, you are an innocent.

There’s a bullet in my pocket that fits the drawer in the desk in the secret room at the top of the stairs, where you see me for the first time. I twirl it between my fingers, an amalgam of brass and gunpowder, and you reach out to take it from me. Once the bullet passes from my hands to yours, you regain the power to choose your fate. For that is the risk, and that is the joy. I hold ultimate control over my demesne while I call you to me, but here in the end, you become king.

We live together in the secret room at the top of the stairs, where no one goes. You’re mine again, as you knew you would be, and you join your voice to mine to make the call. We have need of another here in the secret room at the top of the stairs, where no one goes, not unless they’re invited. And oh, there are so many we will invite.


Flash Frenzy, round 34


The old turtle had told Warren to look inside himself for answers, but it hadn’t told him how. He tried that night with the X-Ray specs he’d ordered from Amazing Tales magazine, but all he saw were some blurry bumps that could have been – might have been – bones. Or blood vessels. He tried the next day in school, but his hand didn’t really fit in the microscope. That weekend, he tried using the mirror in the bathroom, with the flashlight he’d stolen from his father stuck in his mouth. But the flashlight tasted like dirt and plastic, and he couldn’t see anything with his head tilted back like that.

Warren couldn’t as his mother for the answer. Boys didn’t talk to their mothers about things like this, and he didn’t know where she was, anyway, having left home one day to go to the store and not come back. He also knew he couldn’t ask his father. His father was why Warren had gone to find the old turtle in the first place, out in the woods behind the mill, that day when he’d skipped school to let the bruises on his face heal just a bit.

It was cold and wet on the day that Warren went back to the woods. He didn’t know where the answer was, but he knew he had to find it today, or he might not make it to tomorrow. The turtle was gone, because that was how things like this worked, although there had to be more than one kind of magic in the world, right?

When darkness came, Warren laid down under the branches of an evergreen. He was cold and sore and wet, but in his dreams, he felt no pain, and had no welts, had no bruises. The sun coming in from the east warmed him, and he woke up to see the snail. Warren had never met the snail, but he knew who it was, and when the snail retracted inside its shell, he climbed up to look into its depths.

As he felt his fingers wrap around the cold steel, Warren knew the old turtle had been right.