Lost in the Shadows

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Holiday Excerpt: A Newborn King to See

Published December 21, 2017 by admin

Admittedly, I’m not as cynical as I bill myself. Like everything else, I tend to hide behind the sarcasm and eye rolling a little bit. While I have mixed feelings about this time of year, it makes great fodder for stories. Some of which actually are uplifting.

I KNOW!

With that in mind, here’s another excerpt from my co-authored collection, Lost in the Shadows. This time in A Newborn King to See, we take a look at my take on hope, reincarnation, and the little drummer boy.

Hey, I never said it wasn’t going to be weird.

***

The close of the year is coming. Once again my annual search has become a little more. It is the same every year. I have never once failed to find what I am seeking. Still, the thought of failing for the first time is enough to make me anxious. Or is it the thought of not stumbling into Him again this year? I suppose it is this way for most people.
It is our special tradition. Every year the hide-and-seek game takes me to new countries, new times, new peoples. It has been our special game since the ancient year a tiny infant looked upon a poor beggar child with a single talent, and smiled.
I did not understand the full extent of such a blessing then. I was too busy worrying about my next meal. That tiny smile followed me afterwards, until one unseasonably cold Bethlehem night I went to sleep huddled in a pile of rough grain sacks in an alley and never saw another sunrise.
His memory went with me and I suddenly found that I had so much possibility ahead of me. There was no time to be bitter about one short, poor life. The One that had sent Him is a loving protector and understands my longing for expression and knows of my quiet bond with the boy.
At the start of each year my search begins and my spirit wanders tirelessly to seek Him out before the year’s close. I see many people this way and see many old faces resurrected and reflected in the eyes of each new generation.
I have strolled down crowded streets in third-world countries. It is astounding and heart-breaking that thousands of years past my time there are children that have less than I once did. I peek in windows in London, Sydney, New York, Los Angeles, amazed at opulence beyond that of the kings and Caesars of old. I take all that I see to heart, and when I do finally return for my rest I talk about this with others, with The One that sent my very best friend in those quiet moments before dawn.
I always find Him, though, in this odd game of hide and seek that has spanned the centuries. He is good at hiding, always has been, for many never do find Him. But I know always to look in unexpected places, because he is no longer content to wait in the obvious stables and mangers. One must look harder.

lost in the shadows

Kindle     Paperback 

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation. In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways. Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

Excerpt: Candles (from Lost in the Shadows)

Published December 12, 2017 by admin

Tis the season, and since we started off the week on a horror vibe, I figured we’d keep it going with an excerpt from a Christmas short I did for the collection Lost in the Shadows. Taking place on Christmas Eve during the zombie apocalypse, it combines the ceremony of advent and the desire to keep Christmas close under bleak circumstances.

***

If it was any other Christmas, the candles would have been purple, pink, and white. As it was, Jamie had been lucky to find extra candles at all.

“This Christmas sucks. No turkey, no presents. We don’t even get a tree,” Tony whined from his seat in the shed’s corner. Jamie bit her lip against the sudden urge to cry. Of all the horrors they’d seen lately, it was her thirteen-year-old that was making her break down. The worst part was that he was right. Celebrating was a stupid idea that just made it all worse. She couldn’t save her family, or even give them a proper holiday. What kind of a mother am I?

“We have a lot of things,” Grant reminded him. There he was, coming to her aid once again. Every time they ran out of food, every time Tony or her five-year-old Andy got sick, every time the undead got riled and tried to charge their hiding spot of the moment, he was there with an answer. He gave her a tight smile over her oldest’s head. He looked as ragged as the rest of them did, but his drawn face didn’t look bad on him. His sandy brown hair didn’t show the light blond in it unless she looked really hard, and they hadn’t been alone enough lately for her to have a chance to look. His grey eyes were reassuring, though there was exhaustion in them, too. It was the same fatigue they all felt, the thing that chased them more than the zombies. It gnawed at them daily, made every little task an ordeal, dragged them lower and lower into submission to the new way of things. “We have a place to sleep. We have food for a few days. We have each other,” he urged. His eyes danced just a little, for her sake.

She echoed his smile, though she had to work to make her mouth move. She hadn’t felt a reason to really smile in so long; even the good moments were quickl

y overshadowed by another death, another problem, another strange shadow cast on the wall, another night filled with unearthly moaning, another attack. “That’s all we need,” Jaime agreed and wrapped both boys in her shivering arms. How long before I lose them? How long before I lose myself? Grant carefully struck one of their last matches and lit the candles in the Advent wreath made from barbed wire. His large fingers almost hid the match, but they couldn’t hide the tiny, beautiful spark.

“The first candle symbolizes hope.” The tiny blue flame struggled to stay alive. Jamie ran a hand through her dark, tangled hair and wiped it on her stained jeans to rid her hand of the oil. There hadn’t been a good time to wash it lately, especially with the cold weather. Tony and Andy weren’t particularly put out by not being able to take a bath, but it was a little comfort she missed. Hope.

It’s hard to have hope when Amanda was ripped apart by monsters, she thought, shuddering. She closed her eyes and pushed the thought of her baby away. She replayed the scene in her head constantly: how she’d gone to the nursery to check on her, how she’d found the screen knocked out of the open window, how three ugly corpses had been fighting over the infant’s remains. She’d only escaped because her husband Jason had dragged her away, forcing her to take Tony and Andy with her. She hadn’t seen his fate, but his screams had suddenly stopped when they’d reached the front door. The only reason she’d kept on running was because of her boys. That had been in June.

The only hope I have is that Grant found us, she sighed, and tried to focus on his rugged face and not the determined memory of her husband. Guilt came in bucketfulls when one had nothing else to think about besides surviving and the past.

“The second candle is preparation,” Grant continued, gently talking to the boys as he guided his hands to the next candle, his free hand guarding the little flame. Jamie chewed the inside of her lip and curled the dirty blanket she’d found tighter around her. Who can prepare for something like this? Decades of horror movies, of thinking about the most awful things, and there was still nothing we could all do to prepare for this. She glanced to the gun in her hands, stroked the barrel idly. They were down to their last three bullets unless they could find more. The heavy snowstorm three days ago had deterred the hordes that had been quickly giving chase to anything they considered worth eating, but it also made going on supply runs difficult.

She didn’t even know where they were now, except that they had been heading north towards Canada, where the hordes were supposed to be minimal thanks to the cold. They’d raided the empty downtown area of a small town a few weeks ago, and ended up in an abandoned shack on some abandoned plot of land. There wasn’t much cover so she was always sitting there, waiting for the final attack to come, but the weather had helped, at least. None of it, though, was anything anyone could prepare for. It had just happened. As of yet no one even knew how it had started, or if they did they weren’t sharing. Couldn’t share, more likely. Everyone was so cut off from each other, electricity and phone lines were rare, never mind a wireless signal.

“Joy,” Grant narrated, lighting the next candle, moving the match away at the last minute when Andy reached for it.

“I wanna help!” he complained.

“You’re just gonna ruin it or cut yourself again!” Tony grumbled and hunkered deeper into the hooded sweatshirt that was at least four sizes too big for him. “Butthead.”

Grant grabbed Andy’s arm away before he cut it on the barbed wire of the wreath. “C’mere, you, let’s do it this way,” he chuckled and shook the match out. Jaime watched as he helped her youngest get hold of one of the lit candles, carefully guiding the boy’s movements with his giant hand over the tiny one. “There we go…joy.”

“Joy, joy, joy!” Andy sing-songed. He was always doing that, making up little tunes from something one of them said. It had been cute when they’d lived in a nice house and had only the usual things to worry about. The last time he’d done it he’d alerted a shuffling corpse that had gone off on its own for some reason, though that wasn’t usually part of zombie behavior.

No. You know why that thing was on its own. She cleared her throat and blushed when Tony rolled his eyes. He knew how she covered her emotions all too well. You didn’t cover them up then, did you? You ran out and saw your little boy about to meet the same fate as your baby girl. You did what any mother would have done. She shivered and wrapped the blanket tighter. It was so hard to get warm when she’d lost so much weight and her clothes hung on her. You rushed right out, Grant’s advice be damned, and tore that bastard apart limb from limb. She could still feel the blood oozing over her hands, the cold flesh soft and slimy in her grip and smearing dirt on her clothes. It was only once she’d taken the head and gone to retrieve the pieces for burning that she thought to look at the face.

Jason. The thing after her son was half-eaten and had suffered more decay than any living thing had a  right to, but it had been Jason. It was hard to feel joy after that.

Lost - 400x600

Kindle      Paperback

OR Email selahjanelauthor@gmail.com on information about signed copies!

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation. In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways. Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

Genre: various speculative genres

Length: 300 pages

Format: Kindle, Paperback (Nook and other platforms coming soon)

Publisher: Published by the authors

Excerpt: The Guru

Published September 14, 2015 by admin

I know, it’s a new week, but I’m probably sleeping the convention off, and I feel like giving you guys something to entertain yourselves with. We’ll get back to rants and weirdness soon enough, I swear.

Sometimes a story comes from a deep emotional place, and a lot of these times that’s a great big fat well of frustration. I can’t remember the situation this stemmed from, but I felt overwhelmed, trapped in a role. I tend to be fairly protective of those around me, and sometimes I probably overdo it, and sometimes I’m sure this gets exploited…or at the very least, people don’t realized that I’m like any other person and get exhausted. It’s also probably true that I try too hard and allow myself to get exhausted. Anyway, I was going through one of those times and suddenly this character of a little old man doomed to listen to other people’s inane questions when he really just wants to be left alone in the quiet and go swimming or something popped into my head, and off I went. this is just a piece of the story, and oddly I remember finding it a little hilarious, just so ridiculous after I wrote it. I have different emotions about this piece depending on how I feel at any given time, which is still really intriguing to me. Plus, I felt it was important to write this because as a reader, I want to know that I’m not alone in my very human feelings. If I can give that empathy and feeling of not being alone to anyone else, I’ve done my job.

I also admittedly wanted humanize the character of the mystic, because I refuse to believe that a person can’t feel negative emotions at some point in their life.

***

 Down the narrow path to the marketplace he goes, feet treading carefully on loose stones. A mishap could very well make a morning excursion his last habitual task on earth. Yet he always arrives safely in the village below, always goes to the market where he sits on the reed-wood chair. It is the only sign of his status. His wrinkled, dried-fig face could be that of any old man, his worn and ragged robe that of any beggar. He is much more, though his wealth is all inside his head. His appearance and carriage are only proof of his reclusive tendencies, not of who he is.

With slow purpose and movement that resembles a trembling leaf, he sits on his designated chair and waits for the people to come. They will not stop coming all day, even when he leaves to go back to his seclusion. From within each brain, from behind each set of lips pour out questions. Some inventive, but most he hears regularly.

From newly married couples: “What do I do so he doesn’t leave me?” or “Why does she nag me so?”

Young hearts that yearn for their first romance: “What must I do to interest him?” “How shall I keep her?” “What do I do so I do not to interest him too much? Does he love me? How can I make him love me?”

Young parents: “What do I do for colic?” “How do I get him to stop cying?”

Older parents: “Why won’t my child speak to me? How shall I get him to talk?”

Parents who are quite old: “How do I get him to leave my house?”

“What do I do with my life? Who should I be?” ask the young and filled with fear.

“Where do I go now?” ask those who are just afraid. There are the old who want to be proud of their years yet are feeble and filled with questions, for they have nothing left but to think of them. “How can I care for myself now? How can I love, how can I live?”

And there are always the ones that everyone wishes to know. “What is life about? Why is man here? Where do we go next?”

They come from everywhere. New faces show up every day, yet they quickly become old faces with new questions once they learn how accurate he is. He supposes having answers is an addiction, but it is his calling to provide what knowledge he can.

All day long he continues to sit and think and answer. He remembers how as a boy he used to be able to waste a day swimming in the river or walking through the forest. That was before his great gift was discovered. He has desires, too, though no one knows of them. He longs to travel the world, to see cities with tall buildings and deserts where living things have to spend their entire lifetimes surviving. He wants to see deep oceans, lush jungles where there are chirping birds, chittering insects, and the screams of predators. As long as there are no questions, he wants to go there. Silence is what he hopes for most.

At dusk he hobbles up the crooked path, his footsteps swaying between the little trees that try to grow between the rocks. As he flees in his dignified manner the questions of those not content to wait for tomorrow float up behind him, fading to a dull whisper the higher he goes.

“What about the harvest?”

“Am I mad or am I sick?”

“Should I kill my neighbor’s dog if it attacks my cows?”

“Will there be the heavy storms this year?”

Temptation strokes his balding head. “Lie to them,” it whispers in its throaty, beguiling voice. “Make it up and let them fail, then they will leave you be!” Frustration tugs his cottony beard that whispers to his knees. “Tell them where to go! Don’t go down the mountain tomorrow!”

But he is a decent man and casts his eyes to heaven for forgiveness. His throat is too tired to pray.

His hut welcomes him as do his goats. Their irritated cries lift to greet him and even their tone is questioning when he most wants to retreat to his solitude.

“Do you have to be so long?” their baahs seem to say, eyes hard as their foreheads. “Is it dinner time yet? Where were you, Old One, and why do you leave us all day?” He takes the time to milk and feed them. Slowly, tediously he does his chores and it is well beyond twilight when he is finished. He could take on a young boy as a helper or apprentice, send for someone to look after him, but he fears those who would take advantage of a position or the innocent questions of a young and hungry mind.

He eats a simple meal and curls upon his sleeping mat with resignation. He wants so badly to complain and tell someone about his fears, his desires, his pain of knowing

If he only had the courage and callousness to tell those fools to be curious! How he wishes he could tell them to find things out on their own, to learn and be happy with the learning and the knowing! But he is a gentle man graced with a large mind, but a small voice and timid disposition. He has no one to talk to. Not his departed, blessed wife; not his parents who instilled his curious nature; no teacher or friend or mentor.

***

Lost - 400x600

Kindle        Amazon Paperback      B&N Paperback

Various Speculative Genres/Short Fiction: Flash, Complete Shorts, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and others

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation.

In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways.

Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

Excerpt: Across the Universe

Published September 10, 2015 by admin

Today’s excerpt is again from Lost in the Shadows, and it’s one of those stories where the idea hit me hard but it took me a while to give myself permission to write it. I’m not a hard sci-fi writer by any means, but I love the more emotional and literary work of Ray Bradbury. Plus, when I heard a radio report about how the song Across the Universe had been beamed into space, well, I couldn’t not write this. This is also one of those stories that prompted Susan to ask what the hell was going on in my head at any given moment, heh. This is only a small part of the story, but it’s very much a love letter to one of my favorite authors as well as my deep connection to music. In the story a group of select criminals with a generations-old grudge set out to obliterate a certain planet, but run into a rather odd communication signal in the meantime.

***

“Excellent,” Spaulding purred. “I don’t need to remind you all how important this is. Failure is unacceptable. If you fail the Coordinators attempt for any reason and live, I have permission to execute you myself.” It wasn’t an empty threat. Her own strength was that she’d come from a long line of murderers. While that wasn’t particularly atypical on Planet 1312, the Spaulding line had turned it into an art form. It wasn’t that she was sadistic, although she could be, or brutal, though she had been. It was that she knew when to use her gift and how to use it to the fullest ability.

That was the trait every one of them shared. They were the experts the inhabitants of Planet 1312 strived to be. After all, in a society populated entirely by descendants of criminals, it was still important to take pride in one’s worth and strive to be the very best.

Long ago, when Earth had just begun to get a handle on long-range space travel, its first uses hadn’t been for exploration or discovery, but exploitation. With NASA’s influence fading, private corporations had funded the technology in hopes of opening up a new vacation industry, not to mention the opportunities colonization could bring.

First, though, the shuttles had to be tested. Times being what they were, they had ben filled with the overflow from prisons, homeless shelters, and even a few of the more vocal dissident groups had been plucked off the streets to fill space along with a handful of daring, clueless scientists. Family members and friends had simply disappeared from their lives and work one day. Some of their relations had never found out that they weren’t dead, but in a stark metal box hurtling through space.

After a good year of travel, the shuttle landed on Planet 1312. It was further than the shuttle should have traveled, but those that had volunteered (or had been volunteered) to lead the expedition were well-aware that kinks in the system still had to be worked out. It wasn’t until they tried to arrange their return flight that they realized there wasn’t enough fuel to get back to Earth and thesupply logs had been doctored. Only then was the full scope of the plan realized by those stranded on the planet.

They were well out of reach of communication, but the planet was fortuitously habitable if one didn’t mind reverting back to primal instincts. Many died in the following centuries. Those that didn’t never forgot their hardened roots or their betrayal. Miraculously, through luck and sheer force of will, the little society adapted and evolved, eventually regaining some semblance of technology and standard of living. Now, nearly a thousand years later, their descendants were returning home to deliver a long-overdue thank you gift.

The captain smiled a cruel little grin, the only admission of pleasure she’d allow herself during such a serious mission. “And you’re certain we shall meet with no retaliation?”

“We shouldn’t. Our communications and data retrieval are slow, to be sure, but reports over the past ten years indicate that attention is focused inward. All surrounding colonies have been called back to help with the war that’s been going on,” Natalo replied, her lovely face turned stern as she focused on the readouts glowing across her screen.

“If they’re so desperate to destroy themselves, we’ll be happy to help them out,” Kirksan quipped. The others snickered and although the lack of focus irritated Spaulding, she allowed it. It wasn’t like there would be time for celebration afterwards if things went according to plan.

As expected, everyone went right back to what they were doing after their mirth was spent. There wasn’t time for wasted emotions. Anger and a long-taught need for vengeance had followed them all their lives. The story of their civilization and how they would make Earth pay was one of the first bedtime stories they all heard, the first school lessons, even the first Sunday School lessons. There was no room for empathy or titillation, just as it was too dangerous to get too angry or caught up in their eventual upper hand. Their entire planet had only the one ship, the one bomb, the one chance.

“Approaching now. Shall I bring us out of lightspeed, captain?” Godren asked.

“Go ahead,” she replied, her grey eyes as sharp and severe as the rest of her. “Weapons?”

“Locked and loaded,” Kirkan said.

“Any resistance detected?”

“None so far, but I’ll have a better idea in a few minutes when we slow down,” Natalo soothed.

“They’re too wrapped up in their own drama,” Godren muttered under his breath.

“Be that as it may, we cannot assume anything,” Kardra reminded them. They meant well, but they required a firm hand to keep total focus. Luckily she had always had an unwavering hand, whether it was holding a knife to someone’s throat or poisoning the water supply of the neighboring community when they’d kidnapped her brother over a supply battle. “Our systems are barely up to what we remember from Earth’s capabilities ages ago.”

“If they’re so advanced, then why weren’t we spotted and dealt with yet?” Kirkan pointed out.

It was a fair question. Captain Spaulding would have loved to come up on the planet, guns blazing, but a stealth approach was necessary. All they had was the one bomb, some basic laser cannons, and their ramshackle shields. Their speed was still not as advanced as the intel they’d gleamed on Earth’s fighter crafts eight years ago. She’d love to believe the whole planet was not paying attention, that the lunar and martian colonies were truly vacant and unable to warn the arrogant fools. She wouldn’t bet on it, though. The tendency for caution had not only kept her alive, but made her successful. It’s good to expect the other shoe to drop, she reminded herself.

A light on the console flashed and something pinged a tinny, sing-song of a noise. It was a quietly mocking noise.
I knew it, Karda thought, and her fist clenched, her mind swept up in black clouds.

Everyone’s breath in the little cabin caught and stopped.

The console pinged again.

“What is it?” the captain barked, straining to keep the tension out of her voice. Coolness and calm. You are the leader. Though if their whole society had worked so hard and so long only for them to be shot down now…
“It’s just a comm message,” Natalo reassured them. As one, the crew of the unnamed ship exhaled. “It’s that transmission we intercepted a while back. It’s finally coming through on our hunk of junk system.” She paused, scrolled through the readout, and hit a few keys. “Would you like me to play it? It looks fairly antiquated.”

Spaulding paused and considered. It would take their system a few minutes to fully slow and get into attack position and even antiquated information could prove useful. “Ready the obliterator. Lock in the coordinates and continue deceleration,” she ordered before addressing Natalo. “Go ahead. At the very least it will give us something to listen to while the obliterator is primed.” The crew followed her commands with utmost precision.

She was proud that her voice sounded as composed as it did. In less than thirty minutes, we’ll be dead and our names will be sung in future war anthems. Our faces will be painted in the Hall of the Brave in the capital. She said nothing of this or the sudden rush of violence and pleasure that their long-awaited victory gave her. If only I had time to spill blood one last time before the end…that would make it all perfect. The calloused fingertips that had strangled their share of the opposition felt fuzzy and awkward from the rush of adrenaline. Looking around the cramped space proved that although her crew was trying to keep poker faces in place, they were squirming and fidgeting from their own excitement. Although they kept on task their faces held the same hungry, feral feeling Captain Karda Spaulding felt echoing through her.

Natalo opened the comm frequency and cued up the signal they’d recorded while still in deep space. For a moment there was silence, then static. “I don’t know how great the quality will be,” she admitted. “It’s ancient and our systems aren’t the best—oh,” she breathed, then snapped her pouting lips shut tight. Her shoulders hitched and chest heaved a few times before she reigned herself back in check.

Patyn and Kirksan sat up straight with sharp intakes of breath. Even Godren drew himself to attention, as grizzled by hard living as he was. Spaulding herself let out a sharp gasp, as though the sound was a dagger blade that sliced straight into her soul.

Music. Of all the things to intercept, it was music.

Lost - 400x600

Kindle        Amazon Paperback      B&N Paperback

Various Speculative Genres/Short Fiction: Flash, Complete Shorts, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and others

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation.

In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways.

Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

***

Reminder: I’ll be at the Imaginarium Convention all this weekend, so come on out to Louisville to meet me and some other amazing authors! I’ll even sign Lost in the Shadows for you right there!

Also, you have until Sept 17 to enter the Night Owl Book Reviews contest – be sure to check around my blog for a hidden entry word…(pssst, go look at my books!)

Prose: Bloodied Snow

Published February 22, 2015 by admin

I haven’t done a prose post in a while, so in honor of women in horror month, I thought I’d post something that not only is dark, but also features two iconic female leads.

While I admit this is probably closer to dark fantasy, I think a lot of the same things that play well in horror play well in this genre. This also harkens back to my interest in fairy tales, but in a slightly different way than my other work. Admittedly, Snow White is a story that, while satisfying for a six-year-old leaves me a little bored now. Until I started to wonder about the nature of the two main women in the tale. One is very light and one is very dark…but are they? Are things that simple? They certainly aren’t in real life. Face it: you may think you know someone, you may feel totally comfortable stereotyping someone’s personality, but what if you’re wrong? What if, underneath, there’s something you missed, and now you get to take on the full wrath of that part that you neglected to see? Terrifying concept, and one that I loved playing with in this. Like so many of my other short work, this tale can be found in Lost in the Shadows

***

Bloodied Snow

She’d already been dragged across the floor of the great hall, garbed in her finest gown and draped with her largest jewels. Derisive faces swarmed around her as she struggled and clawed at the soldiers who struggled to hang onto her thrashing limbs. Weaklings. They could only hold her because the scales had tipped out of her favor. In another time and place, in any other battle, she would have been able to raise a finger and break the bones of every gathered dignitary in a hundred places.
“She went too far! She had to have known she’d be punished.” The whispers around her turned her stomach. How stupid. She’d never once entertained a thought of failure: not when she stood naked in front of her mirror demanding its opinion on her beauty, not when she sent her faithful servant into the woods to butcher The Girl (she would not think of her as anything but The Girl), not when she sold her soul for a spell that would turn the apple of life into the fruit of demise.
She was tossed to the unforgiving stone floor in front of the wedding party, her long hair and skirts pooling around her as the entire court jeered. How fast their minds changed. How many times had they cowered in fear when she threatened to slaughter their children in front of them? How many times did they give her all their earnings for fear she’d slide into their houses as a fog during the night? The Queen had her ways. Everyone knew it and everyone had cowered until The Girl.
She stared up at her adversary, her dry and cracked lips turned down in disgust. The Girl was made up like a royal and like a saint. Her father would have been so proud, the silly fool. For a split second the former queen remembered how he had swayed when she’d hung him in the tower after removing his blood for a particularly complicated potion. He’d long since outlived his purpose and his love had grown boring and tiresome. His blood, however, had been his exquisite, final gift to her. It had dribbled down in rivulets and gathered in her pale, smooth hands. Drop by drop, it had flowed over her fingers: slick, hot life that was as red as the berries that peaked through the snow in the woods at wintertime.
Her exhaustion grabbed onto the meaty color as she fondly recalled the heart the traitor of a huntsman had brought back to her. He’d slaughtered so many on her behalf before. Why should The Girl be any different? Why? That moment when she’d thought she’d held the princess’s gushing heart in her own two hands had been glorious, a release far better than any lover she’d taken or any spell she’d performed. The crimson residue had quickly turned brown and sticky on her arms as she’d clutched it to her bosom. Its sweet, metallic tang had crept into her nostrils and had lingered in her robes until her lady’s maid had insisted that the gown needed to be washed.
And then she’d found out the truth. And then she’d had to dispatch her huntsman. He was probably still at the bottom of the dry well she’d sent him to. She hoped he was still half-alive or had gone mad enough to do himself in. It served him right for being weak.
She supposed it served her right for being arrogant, as well.
The heart in her mind’s hands contracted and rearranged itself until the gorgeous sheen of an apple skin was all she saw reflected in the polished hall floor. So close. She’d been so close! It had been so innocent looking: its shiny ruby peel covering virginal white fruit. Who would have guessed the secret it held? How many demons had she had to beguile to get that “unbreakable” spell? And for nothing!
Fury built in the broken, weary queen as she glared up at The Girl. How did she beat the spell? How? She stood there, adoring and clueless as she clung to her new husband, her hero and savior. She’d learn soon enough that men would promise the world and then quickly take it back. The brat didn’t deserve to live if she was that stupid and naïve. And the way everyone fawned on her so was disgusting! They’d be plotting her downfall as soon as she ceased to be the good little princess they could idolize. Fear was the only way to keep a kingdom in line. Fear and cunning. A little imagination didn’t hurt, either.
“I’m glad you could come to my wedding feast, Stepmother.” The Girl’s voice scratched down the older woman’s spine. She was still tired from taking on the form of the hag and the dutiful prince had had her sequestered in the dungeon for over a week without proper nourishment or sleep. Everyone had wanted to tromp through and jab at her with swords or beat the face that had inspired so much awe and dread while she was manacled. Did The Girl know how her husband had allowed anyone who had a grievance with her down to the dungeon? Probably not. The little slut was so oblivious to the ways of the world.
Goodness. That’s all it came down to. That’s why The Girl had won. Never mind that she was locked in a daydream. Never mind that life would run her over and she’d never see it coming. No, she had fallen into a happy ending and that was all she cared about, just like she’d fallen into safety with the dwarves and never once feared that they might have had other motives. The Girl had gotten lucky that they weren’t members of one of the old families.
It seemed luck, like goodness, followed The Girl like a dog. She was pure and the old queen was vile. The Girl was innocence and the queen was cynicism and malice. Light and dark. White and red. Untouched snow and savagely spilt blood. Of course they were destined to be enemies: qualities like that could never be friends.
“Thank you for coming, Stepmother,” The Girl repeated and knelt to make sure that the queen understood. She was dressed head to toe in white lace, her dark hair braided and piled on her head among pearls and jewels. Her wide eyes sparkled like clear pools in her cherubic face and her little mouth that had only been touched twice smiled tentatively.
The queen had never hated her more and if she’d had any strength left she would have reached out a hand to strangle her. “I
hope you’ll join us in the festivities. You’ve missed the best food, but you shan’t miss the dancing.”
The queen raised eyes that were darker than the night. Trembling, she managed to work up enough saliva in her dry mouth to spit upon the stupid young royal. The glob of spit dribbled down The Girl’s train, clear wetness tinged pink with the blood from her cracked lips. Was she clueless? An idiot? A halfwit? Why did she think they could be friends? Was she that desperate for a mother at her wedding that she’d resort to the one who’d tried to murder her time and again?
“I detest you with my blood,” the queen rasped, barely able to speak. “I shall never dance for joy for a stupid, naïve cow like you. You know nothing.” If she couldn’t hurt her with spells or knives, she craved to hurt The Girl with words. Unfortunately, her flesh wasn’t up to the challenge.
The Girl straightened as the chuckling crowds pulled back and two servants flanked by the royal guard entered the long hall. “Oh, but I want you to dance for me,” The Girl insisted. Maybe it was delirium or a sick sense of hope, but the former queen swore The Girl’s eyes changed. The twinkle was tinged by smugness, the innocence by a certain knowing. Somehow, some way…
Fear and admiration jolted the queen to her knees as the procession appeared at the prince and princess’s side. She’d seen it. She knew she had. She hadn’t been beaten by goodness or stupidity or dumb luck. She’d been beaten by someone who had known how to play the game all along and had played to win, even from birth! Deep, deep in the girl’s eyes was the spark of life. The queen had learned to look for it long ago in her victims. In the innocent it always burned as a bright white flame. The Girl’s burned bright, but it was tinged with crimson and sullied with dark shadows.
So shocked was the queen that she almost missed what was being said. “If you’re too tired to dance, perhaps we can convince you,” The Girl cooed, and her dimples were sly now. Oh, she was a clever one! She’d let her mask slip just enough for the queen to
see, knowing full well that no one else would ever, ever believe! Even her strong young buck of a new husband didn’t have a clue! Her subjects didn’t have any idea that this child, this lovely and good little girl was far more sadistic than she! The Girl had simply bided her time from infancy, holding in her true nature until she could have her way. How gullible she’d been to not see it before! How perfect!
The servants parted to reveal two iron contraptions that were so hot they glowed. The lines of the metal were red-hot and smoldered like the metal gates to hell, the gates that were surely waiting to open for her. The queen shuddered, though it was half in fear and half in admiration. “I had new shoes crafted for you to help you dance, Stepmother. It would please me very much to see you dance for my wedding.”
The crowd nodded and chuckled with The Girl, sure that it was probably the prince’s idea. They jeered down at her, so sure it was acceptable because the queen had been so despicable. They assumed the poor princess was probably forced into dishing out the punishment because she was so traumatized. If they only realized the monster that was hidden right under their noses!
Only the queen knew that those hideous instruments of torture, those beautifully constructed shoes of mutilation had been made simply because The Girl felt like it. It was all in her eyes, in the spark, as was the revelation that all her vengeful visitors had been invited by the new bride and not her husband. Oh, there was blood and darkness there, hidden behind the snow, just waiting for that pure innocence to melt away.
“So the snow is white no longer,” the queen rasped with a dry chuckle. Then the guards were on her and her mind was gone in a bright explosion of searing agony and humiliation. Her last coherent thought was that if she had to give up her kingdom, at least it was going to a worthy successor.

 

Lost - 400x600

 

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Various Speculative Genres/Short Fiction: Flash, Complete Shorts, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and others

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation.

In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways.

Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

Excerpt: Candles (a holiday zombie story)

Published December 15, 2014 by admin

Those who know me well enough (or pay attention to my bloggy ramblings) know by now that this time of year is a mixed bag for me. I don’t necessarily like the cynical part of myself or the part that gets beaten down by emotion from time to time, but it exists. Thankfully, the part that will gnaw off a metaphorical limb to keep going and the part that is determined to see a bit of light in everything also exists. Therefore, stories like this aren’t really out of the norm for me. I’ll warn you, this is not a pleasant holiday story, and it’s not the full story, but an excerpt. The full story can be found in Lost in the Shadows. One of these days I’m hoping to do a collection of dark holiday fiction, because these ideas come easily and they admittedly fascinate me. I like the dichotomy of things falling apart during a time that’s supposed to be a celebration and very well put together. It’s an amplified examination of holiday stress in some ways. Also, bizarrely, the only zombie fiction ideas I ever have are Christmas themed.

***

If it was any other Christmas, the candles would have been purple, pink, and white. As it was, Jamie had been lucky to find extra candles at all.

“This Christmas sucks. No turkey, no presents. We don’t even get a tree,” Tony whined from his seat in the shed’s corner. Jamie bit her lip against the sudden urge to cry. Of all the horrors they’d seen lately, it was her thirteen-year-old that was making her break down. The worst part was that he was right. Celebrating was a stupid idea that just made it all worse. She couldn’t save her family, or even give them a proper holiday. What kind of a mother am I?

“We have a lot of things,” Grant reminded him. There he was, coming to her aid once again. Every time they ran out of food, every time Tony or her five-year-old Andy got sick, every time the undead got riled and tried to charge their hiding spot of the moment, he was there with an answer. He gave her a tight smile over her oldest’s head. He looked as ragged as the rest of them did, but his drawn face didn’t look bad on him. His sandy brown hair didn’t show the light blond in it unless she looked really hard, and they hadn’t been alone enough lately for her to have a chance to look. His grey eyes were reassuring, though there was exhaustion in them, too. It was the same fatigue they all felt, the thing that chased them more than the zombies. It gnawed at them daily, made every little task an ordeal, dragged them lower and lower into submission to the new way of things. “We have a place to sleep. We have food for a few days. We have each other,” he urged. His eyes danced just a little, for her sake.

She echoed his smile, though she had to work to make her mouth move. She hadn’t felt a reason to really smile in so long; even the good moments were quickly overshadowed by another death, another problem, another strange shadow cast on the wall, another night filled with unearthly moaning, another attack. “That’s all we need,” Jaime agreed and wrapped both boys in her shivering arms. How long before I lose them? How long before I lose myself? Grant carefully struck one of their last matches and lit the candles in the Advent wreath made from barbed wire. His large fingers almost hid the match, but they couldn’t hide the tiny, beautiful spark.

“The first candle symbolizes hope.” The tiny blue flame struggled to stay alive. Jamie ran a hand through her dark, tangled hair and wiped it on her stained jeans to rid her hand of the oil. There hadn’t been a good time to wash it lately, especially with the cold weather. Tony and Andy weren’t particularly put out by not being able to take a bath, but it was a little comfort she missed.

Hope. It’s hard to have hope when Amanda was ripped apart by monsters, she thought, shuddering. She closed her eyes and pushed the thought of her baby away. She replayed the scene in her head constantly: how she’d gone to the nursery to check on her, how she’d found the screen knocked out of the open window, how three ugly corpses had been fighting over the infant’s remains. She’d only escaped because her husband Jason had dragged her away, forcing her to take Tony and Andy with her. She hadn’t seen his fate, but his screams had suddenly stopped when they’d reached the front door. The only reason she’d kept on running was because of her boys. That had been in June.

The only hope I have is that Grant found us, she sighed, and tried to focus on his rugged face and not the determined memory of her husband. Guilt came in bucketfulls when one had nothing else to think about besides surviving and the past.

“The second candle is preparation,” Grant continued, gently talking to the boys as he guided his hands to the next candle, his free hand guarding the little flame. Jamie chewed the inside of her lip and curled the dirty blanket she’d found tighter around her. Who can prepare for something like this? Decades of horror movies, of thinking about the most awful things, and there was still nothing we could all do to prepare for this. She glanced to the gun in her hands, stroked the barrel idly. They were down to their last three bullets unless they could find more. The heavy snowstorm three days ago had deterred the hordes that had been quickly giving chase to anything they considered worth eating, but it also made going on supply runs difficult.

She didn’t even know where they were now, except that they had been heading north towards Canada, where the hordes were supposed to be minimal thanks to the cold. They’d raided the empty downtown area of a small town a few weeks ago, and ended up in an abandoned shack on some abandoned plot of land. There wasn’t much cover so she was always sitting there, waiting for the final attack to come, but the weather had helped, at least. None of it, though, was anything anyone could prepare for. It had just happened. As of yet no one even knew how it had started, or if they did they weren’t sharing. Couldn’t share, more likely. Everyone was so cut off from each other, electricity and phone lines were rare, never mind a wireless signal.

“Joy,” Grant narrated, lighting the next candle, moving the match away at the last minute when Andy reached for it.

“I wanna help!” he complained.

“You’re just gonna ruin it or cut yourself again!” Tony grumbled and hunkered deeper into the hooded sweatshirt that was at least four sizes too big for him. “Butthead.”

Grant grabbed Andy’s arm away before he cut it on the barbed wire of the wreath. “C’mere, you, let’s do it this way,” he chuckled and shook the match out. Jaime watched as he helped her youngest get hold of one of the lit candles, carefully guiding the boy’s movements with his giant hand over the tiny one. “There we go…joy.”

“Joy, joy, joy!” Andy sing-songed. He was always doing that, making up little tunes from something one of them said. It had been cute when they’d lived in a nice house and had only the usual things to worry about. The last time he’d done it he’d alerted a shuffling corpse that had gone off on its own for some reason, though that wasn’t usually part of zombie behavior.

No. You know why that thing was on its own. She cleared her throat and blushed when Tony rolled his eyes. He knew how she covered her emotions all too well. You didn’t cover them up then, did you? You ran out and saw your little boy about to meet the same fate as your baby girl. You did what any mother would have done. She shivered and wrapped the blanket tighter. It was so hard to get warm when she’d lost so much weight and her clothes hung on her. You rushed right out, Grant’s advice be damned, and tore that bastard apart limb from limb. She could still feel the blood oozing over her hands, the cold flesh soft and slimy in her grip and smearing dirt on her clothes. It was only once she’d taken the head and gone to retrieve the pieces for burning that she thought to look at the face.

Jason. The thing after her son was half-eaten and had suffered more decay than any living thing had a right to, but it had been Jason. It was hard to feel joy after that.

It’s Christmas, she reminded herself. You’re still alive. You have most of your family. You have Grant. You have more than a lot of people do. Besides, it’s the season of magic and miracles. Maybe a cure will be found. Maybe the weather will kill the rest of them. Maybe everything will all go away over the winter. When she was ten, she’d finally found out the truth about Santa. Her mother had sat her down and explained the facts, but allowed her to be part of the magic from the other side, putting stockings and special gifts together for her little sister who was six years younger. She had done so, always the good and obedient older daughter, but it wasn’t enough. Christmas was about the impossible, the magical. When she’d been alone at night, tucked in her bed, she’d convince herself that her parents were wrong, that somewhere, somehow, there really was a Santa Claus. He just hadn’t been discovered yet, and his legend was so big that he was able to hide behind it, delivering his presents in a way that no one would be able to catch him at. She’d always been good at convincing herself the impossible was possible. Unfortunately, her belief system was running on empty lately.

Prose: Ideas Abound

Published December 11, 2014 by admin

More of a casual essay, this piece is also included in Lost in the Shadows. People brushing off art or their own possibility by claiming they’re not creative has always bothered me. I don’t get that thought process – you’re breathing, you’re thinking, you can have ideas. I’ve also never quite got the process of having to go looking for ideas. If anything, my problem is that they all mug me at once and refuse to let go – they’re like little brain compys, if you’ll pardon the Jurassic Park reference.

At any rate, I love the sadistic little things, and I just wish more people could look at the world around them and see how gorgeously full of….everything it is.

***

     They lay in wait like invisible particles full of heady anticipation, like electrons vibrating with the energy of pure possibility. Ideas exist as freely as atoms. They are in every breath, every cell, every living thing, and every article around us. They are part of our chemical makeup, but they must be attuned to and recognized.
Like flowers, they fill the entire world and must be gathered up in full bushels and arranged, but never cut too much lest they die before they reach full bloom. Ideas skulk about in shadows, under beds, and behind closet doors. They lurk with mischievous eyes and itching teeth and are always waiting to come up and bite you as dear Ray is so fond of saying. Their teeth only serve as needles for their wonderful venom to sink into their intended victim. Their bite makes one focus until the venom has run its course and the fortunate victim is released.
Ideas are literally everywhere. They hide in the softness of kisses, in every implication and syllable of words, in the chug of washing machine noises, in the sticky confines of empty pop bottles. They lurk in memories, phrases, band names, and quotations. They’re especially fond of the fuzzy quiet of the morning right after waking or the bleary in-between time between sleep and dreams.
A collector of ideas cannot neglect a single thing passed by on the street for fear it would be like the fairy tales: a great gift cloaked in disguise. Every mundane thing hides a story. Every choice is a what if. What if I walked down a different street today and found something wonderful there? What if I fell into an open grave and found my name already on the stone? What if faeries live in the hydrangea? What if the street drain secretly leads to somewhere else?
Ideas can be boisterous and imposing while you are in the shower. For this type, it is wise to keep paper and pen at the ready so they aren’t lost down the drain with water and soap. However, ideas can also be shy or aloof and may require coaxing in the way one would a timid child. They must be assured, tutored, and encouraged until they shine in their brilliance, confident that they will not be left behind.
Sometimes these elusive beasts must be fought with, for they are only a starting point and need to be expanded upon. They should always be listened to. No matter how loud or soft or what language and dialect they decide to speak in, each one has a distinctive voice. They should be treated with care as they age from birth into tempestuous adolescence, brooding midpoint, the climactic triumph that comes with age before they slowly fade until they are fully transformed into creation.
Ideas should be let go if you realize that you have stumbled upon one meant for someone else. Every idea is specific to a person, but they can become bored with neglect and then move on to the next open mind and the next ready heart. They are everywhere and in everything, sometimes mating with other ideas to form a rich and strange new generation that no one quite understands or expects, but are nevertheless drawn to.

There is the one thing, though, one single, fatal thing that one should never do to any idea is indeed the easiest transgression to make.

And that is to ignore it.