Announcement

So I’ve been very quiet here, but that’s not because I don’t have stuff to share.  Instead, it’s because I’ve started on a new project.  Or rather, finally started on an old project that has been bumping around in my brain for quite some time but I couldn’t quite manage to put it all together until just recently when the last piece of my creativity puzzle fell into place!

A big project.  Well, a big-for-me project.  I’ve been putting off saying anything because I didn’t want to jinx myself or something or make promises and not deliver.  But I am going to tease you mercilessly now.  I have begun writing a book in earnest.  Well, a book-sized collection of stories.  I have no date of completion yet, for now I’m just going to say it’ll be done when it gets done.  But I will give you a hint as to what lies inside:

Disguised gods, warrior maidens, magical items, kidnapped princes, lost children, tricksy gentlemen, binding vows, dark forests, enchanted creatures, powerful witches, cruelty, greed, bravery, love – and yes, even some happily ever afters, but mostly not in the way you expect them.

I am writing what I hope will be fairy tales with heroes and heroines for our modern age while maintaining the essence of classic tales.  Though I say ‘essence’ I don’t mean that I will simply be retelling existing stories in a new way, but rather I will be completely deconstructing the very building blocks of these tales and rebuilding them in a new way.  I want to create stories that feel familiar and yet are refreshingly new and different in how they play out.

I don’t have a title for the collection yet, though I’ve jotted down a number of ideas.  “Once and Ever After” is currently the best, but I’m still looking for something that just says “ah, yes, that’s it!  That’s the title!”  And I don’t have that quite yet.

I do have at least working titles for most of the individual stories, and you may think you will recognize a few of them, but I promise you won’t know the ending until you’ve turned that last page.

Some of the stories already in work include

Skin of Ash
The Snow Raven
The Two Kings
Xiao Dan
The Wise Queen
The Woodcutter’s Children
A House in the Woods
Seven of Hearts
A Bird May Love A Fish
The Empty Cradle

There are more that don’t yet have titles, also.  Some of these titles might change, and some of the stories might go in a way I didn’t expect and end up changing the title that way… but I have a pretty good start on most of these and a clear end in mind for most of them, too.

I’ll leave you to (hopefully?) be excited for this!  I know I am 😀

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Sister Moon

Inspired by we drink because we’re poets Monday Poetry Prompt #11

For today’s prompt, I would like you to pick an object – any object – and describe it.  But don’t just describe as you would to, let us say, a forensic sketch artist.  Describe as you would to a child with a penchant for fantasy.  What I mean is, describe it in metaphors and similes.  Transform its characteristics and use “like” and “as” to compare it something else.  Try to compare your chosen object to things it would be a stretch to compare it to in common conversations.

Oh dear, and I hope I’ve done that!

Sister Moon

A shining, pale platter,
Upon which, I dream,
May be found tea and cakes
And fresh, clotted cream.

Or perhaps a balloon
Sailing so very high;
I’m sure we can reach it
If we give it a try!

Then again, just perhaps
It’s a silvery nest
For night-birds and owls
In daytime to rest.

But, my sweetest, for you
It’s a light to shine bright
And keep you in peace
Throughout all the night.

For dear sister Moon
Still offers reflection
When the sun dips away
To hide golden complexion.

(and suddenly I’m imagining a children’s book where the characters fly to the moon on night-birds, and have tea and cakes, and play with balloons until the sun comes up and chases them all back to their beds.)

Behold my bad sticky-note art! 😀 (or at least, bad camera phone.  I’ll try to take a better picture with a better camera later.)

tothemoon

Okay, so I got a better shot of my doodle, and while I’m adding it so you can see the detail better, I’m leaving the ‘bad version’ because I honestly love how the moon looks like it’s really glowing above!

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The Adventures of Purlock Holmes and John Dachshund

“Poor bugger,” John Dachshund said, shaking his head.

Holmes remained silent as he observed the scene, his eyes darting here and there. He walked around the body twice, then sat down and looked at John as if he expected him to solve the case right then and there. John walked over and began to use his nose.

“He died about, oh, a quarter of an hour ago?” John said.

“What else?”

John cocked one ear and thought. “I smell two people he had contact with recently. A woman, by her perfume, and a man. I smell gunpowder, but…”

“Yes?”

“No bullet wound.”

“Good.” Purlock licked his fore-paw a few times, waiting for John to continue. After a few moments, John huffed.

“That’s it. I don’t know how we can solve anything.”

Purlock rolled his eyes and sighed, sounding very put-upon by the ignorance that was so pervasive in the world.

“He was recently in the vicinity of gunpowder but was not injured by a bullet and shows no sign of violence,” Purlock said, the words falling swift from his tongue. “His wings are clipped, so he was not a wild bird, no, he was kept in a cage. Kept in a cage by a man and a woman, a couple. Or rather, they were, before she was tragically shot and killed by the man.”

“How could you possibly know that?” John asked.

“If you look up, you will see the window out of which he fell, the cage damaged by her body landing against it.”

“But-”

“Because his wings were clipped,” Purlock interrupted him, “he was unable to fly, falling these five stories and dying when he hit the stones.”

“How awful,” John whined. “But how did you know it was the woman who died?”

Purlock gave him a bemused look. “Because there is her husband now, being lead away by the police.”

John’s tail gave a little wag of admiration for Purlock’s keen observations.

“I suppose we can consider the case solved, then,” Purlock said.

John, always amazed how Holmes was able to get all that from such slight evidence, said, “Why, yes, I suppose we can, Purlock.”

Whereupon Purlock gobbled the bird up, leaving only a few feathers behind. He was, after all, a cat.

First Contact

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to describe a First Contact encounter with an alien species in 3000 words or less.

It was the kind of mission we’d trained for, planned for, anticipated and yet feared just a little: first contact. Satellite had the scientists convinced there was alien life here, but boots on the ground had never been able to confirm that.

Pete and I had been assigned grunt-work doing routine sweeps. It was the worst duty they could find for us, I suppose; we always got the worst end of it from our commanders. Now we were out under the harsh afternoon sun mapping sector by sector, cataloging plant life and water sources and bringing samples back to the lab for the white-coats to fuss over, but this time we saw something beyond vegetation. We quickly ducked out of sight and I radioed it in.

“This is scout unit four-seven-niner reporting to base, we have a target. I repeat: target is acquired and in sight. Beginning reconnaissance.”

The radio static crackled in my ear as the reply came. “Roger, four-seven-niner, logging your coordinates for a full team deployment. Stand-by.”

We lay low, watching the creature as it moved about the area, appearing to eat from some low-growing plants. It was brown, tall, and with shaggy hair over its entire body – not like the little green men from Mars we’d always read about – with four legs and a very long neck with what seemed a mis-sized head at the end of it. I gave Pete a nudge and nodded toward the thing, hoping that our radios would allow us to speak without being noticed.

“Do you suppose it’s intelligent?”

His head tipped sideways as he often did when thinking, then he gave a shrug. “Depends on what you mean by ‘intelligent’. Even dogs can learn to do stuff.”

“So what are you saying, you wannna toss it a stick?”

“No, don’t be silly. Let’s just watch it and see what it does.”

The tangle of alien plants gave us ample cover, we thought, to hide us from the creature’s eyes, provided we didn’t make any sudden movements. Of course, that assumed the creature ‘saw’ in the same way we did.

“I think it’s some kind of animal,” Pete said as we continued to watch it move slowly from one bit of plant life to the next. “Not a person, I mean, not like us.”

“It doesn’t appear to be using any kind of tools,” I agreed. “Not even a form of clothing.”

Trying not to draw its attention, I slid my hand into my pocket and produced a small camera. I knew our helmet cams would be getting all this on video anyway, but I couldn’t resist getting a few shots of my own.

“They’re just going to confiscate those, you know,” Pete said.

“Yeah, but only for thirty years or so,” I said. “After that I can get them back and have the oldest pictures of an alien ever!”

I snapped a few shots, thankful there was ample light for the task so I wouldn’t have to risk using any kind of flash. I thought I had managed to get away with it as I eased the camera back into my pocket, but then the alien raised its head and gave the most horrifying sound either of us had ever heard. Even though I could not see any eyes through the thick brown hair, it seemed to stare right at us.

“John…”

I froze. Please don’t let it see us, I thought, mind running wild with imagined possibilities. For a moment it dipped its head again and I thought we had escaped notice; then it started for us. Pete grabbed my arm.

“JOHN!”

“I see it,” I said, trying to back up, but the vegetation had hooked me somewhere. I struggled but I couldn’t get unstuck, and I worried trying to force it would put a hole in my suit, and then I’d have a whole mess of trouble to deal with.

Pete let out a cry as it barreled down on our position, larger than either of us had realized from a distance. It was almost on top of us when I felt a hand grab onto the back of my suit and yank me out of the bushes. There I was, staring into the face of Aunt Jolene. She had a hand on Pete as well and was scowling at us like hellfire.

“Peter Joseph Riley, what are you doing rolling in the dirt? I told you to stay clean in your good suit!”

“Yes, Mamma!” Pete squeaked.

“John Frasier, you are here for your cousin Anna’s wedding, now stop rustling in the bushes and pestering the llamas and get on back before I tell your pa!”

“Yes, Aunt Jolene!”

She gave us both a firm whack on the backside and sent us running back to the tents where the reception was going on. I had managed to keep hold of the little disposable camera, though, and wondered what cousin Anna would think of the pictures we had got for her of our first encounter with alien life.

“So what do you think?” I whispered as we stood over the punch bowl. “Is there intelligent life out there?”

Pete looked around the reception and shrugged, then gave a devilish grin. “Well, there has to be intelligent life somewhere!”

Eightball

The teddy bear looked up at her with one glass eye and a stitched smile. The pink thread of his nose had long ago faded and there was a hole growing under his arm where the stuffing was peeking through. The bottom of his left foot was singed black and the fuzzy fabric had melted a little there.

He was the only thing Lisa could remember having before her short little life had been turned upside down; the only thing she could really call hers, four years and seven families later. She had only been at the last foster house for two weeks before they had called and had her removed.

“Her violent outbursts are unacceptable. She attacked our middle child. We just can’t have that; she needs counseling and probably medication.” Not a word about him being the one who started it; not a word about him pushing her in the mud and trying to light Teddy on fire.

Now, a week later, she sat outside her case worker’s office in the Child Protective Services building and waited to go to her eighth house.

“Please,” she pleaded softly, Teddy being the only one left to hear her prayers. “Please let them be nice this time. I promise, I won’t fight or break anything or wet the bed. I promise.”

Teddy smiled back at her. She hugged him tight, curling her arms around her knees and burying her face into her arms as she tried not to cry. When her case worker came around the corner leading a young couple, Lisa slowly got to her feet and looked up at them.

“Lisa, this is Mr. and Mrs. Knowles.” The case worker’s curt manner and tone hinted at how tired she was of dealing with this girl.

But Mrs. Knowles held out her hand and said, “Hello Lisa, I’m Molly.”

She did not answer. She did not take her hand. She did not dare to get her hopes up. Mrs. Knowles saw her teddy and smiled gently.

“What is your bear’s name?”

No one had ever asked her that before, not ever. They would ask when they would get paid, or say she was such an unattractive little thing, or ask why she didn’t have more clothes. No one ever asked about her bear.

Lisa hugged him tight and said, “Teddy.”

“He looks like he could use a little help,” she said. “Would you like me to sew him up for you?”

Lisa looked down at Teddy, then looked back at Mrs. Knowles, and finally reached out and took her hand.

Fairy Cookies

A little girl with brown eyes and brown hair done up in braids sat on the couch, waiting to go to her grandmother’s house.  She had an overnight bag, her teddy bear, and her pillow, and she was trying very hard not to cry.

Ava was six years old.  Like many six year old girls, she liked to pretend she was a ballerina and dance to the pretty music her mother would play for her on the piano.  Sometimes she liked to pretend she was a princess, and she would put on beautiful dresses and wait for her brave knight – also known as daddy – to come and rescue her.

Then, little by little, her mother started to get sick.  Soon she didn’t have the strength to play the piano anymore, and her father didn’t have time to be her knight, he was always busy taking care of mommy.  Now mommy had to go to the hospital, and that meant Ava had to go to her grandmother’s house.

After what seemed like a very long time, her father came and told her it was time to go.  He took her bag and her pillow, but she held onto her teddy bear with one hand and held tight to her father’s hand with the other as he took her out to the car and strapped her into the car seat.

The drive to her grandmother’s house was hard with her mother being too ill to say much and her father on the phone, making plans Ava didn’t understand.  An hour later, they turned up the lane that lead to her grandmother’s house.  She was waiting outside as they pulled up.

Her father took her things out of the car and took them inside as her grandmother got her out of the back.

“You be brave now, Ava,” her father said.  “Mommy will be back from the hospital before you know it.  The doctors will know what to do.”

She hugged him around the neck, and nodded but she didn’t feel very brave.  Then he kissed her and she began to cry as her father got back in the car.  Ava’s grandmother let her stay outside until she couldn’t see the car any longer, then picked her up and carried her inside.

“Now, my little one,” she said, soothing her with murmurs.  “Tears are too precious to waste down your cheeks.”  Her grandmother held up a little glass vial and caught two of her tears in it before pushing a cork into the top.  “Let’s put these tears to a better use, shall we?”

Ava didn’t know what she meant.  No one had ever told her tears were precious before and she wanted to know what use they could be put toward.  She nodded her head, her crying forgotten for the moment.

Her grandmother took her into the kitchen, then set a chair beside the counter so Ava could reach.  One by one she began to set items out: a bowl, a mixing spoon, a cookie sheet, and an old, faded recipe.

“Can you read that?”

Ava picked up the recipe.  “Fairy Cookies?”

“That’s right,” her grandmother said.  “Not many people know this, but fairies love cookies.  Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, and the fairies are feeling very generous, if you leave them a batch of fresh cookies with a note asking them for a favor, they will grant it.”

Ava’s eyes grew wide with wonder and she stared at her grandmother.  “Really?”

“Really,” her grandmother said, giving Ava’s nose a light tap.  “Now, read off the ingredients, and we’ll see if we have them.”

As she read off each ingredient slowly, her grandmother put it on the counter.  “One cup oats, one half cup very finely chopped apple, two…”

“Tablespoons,” her grandmother said after a moment of Ava stumbling on the abbreviation.

“Two tablespoons warm honey, one teaspoon flax seeds, one half teaspoon lavender flowers, and very sin… sin…”

“Sincere,” her grandmother helped.

Ava looked at her, her face screwed up in deep thought as she considered the last ingredient.  “Sincere tears?”

“That’s right, my little one,” her grandmother said, putting the vial on the counter last.  “Very sincere tears.”

“What does sincere mean?” she asked, setting the recipe down.

“It means you really, really meant them,” her grandmother said.

“Oh.”  Ava nodded; sometimes she didn’t really mean it when she cried, but she knew she had meant these.  “And the fairies like them?”

“Think of it as a little sacrifice.”  Then her grandmother put a kettle on the stove to warm, then wrapped an apron around Ava, just under her arms, tied it in back, and handed her the spoon.  “Are you ready?”

Ava nodded, and her grandmother measured out one cup of oats, one teaspoon of flax seeds and one half teaspoon of lavender flowers into the bowl.

“You mix those, my little one, and I will chop the apple,” her grandmother said.

She did just that, rolling everything around with the spoon as she watched the apple get sliced, cored and chopped.  Soon the apple was added to the bowl, and Ava stirred everything up again while her grandmother took the now steaming kettle from the stove and poured some of the water into a bowl.

“What’s that for?” Ava asked.

“It’s to warm the honey,” her grandmother said, setting the jar of it in the warm water.  “This way the honey will flow almost as easily as water.”

It only took a couple of minutes for the honey to warm up.  Once it did, her grandmother dipped a spoon into it and then pulled it out as the golden liquid left a sticky thread between the jar and the bowl.  It drizzled easily over the mix and Ava went back to stirring again until the whole thing was a sticky, gooey mess.

“And for the most important ingredient,” her grandmother said, opening the vial and shaking the two little drops into the mix.  “Done!”

“Now what, Gramma?”

Her grandmother set the cookie sheet next to her.  “Now we drop little spoonfuls – little, mind you, fairies are very small – we drop little spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet, then we bake them for ten minutes.”

When there were two dozen little lumps on the sheet, in the oven it went, and her grandmother put the bowl in the sink, then took Ava’s hand.  “While those bake, let’s write that letter.”

“Okay!”

Her grandmother sat her at the table with a piece of pretty stationary paper and some colored pens.  “Write out what you would like, and remember to be very polite.”

Ava scrunched up her face and chewed on the end of the pen as she thought about what to write.

Dear Fairies,
Please make Mommy better so she can come home.
Love, Ava.

P.S. I hope you like the cookies.  I made them myself.
P.P.S. Gramma helped me.

Her grandmother helped her fold it in half and put it in the envelope, then the oven timer went DING! and Ava ran back into the kitchen.  “Are they done?”

“They’re done,” her grandmother said, carefully taking the hot cookies out of the oven and transferring them to a cooling rack.  “But while they cool, let’s go get you dressed for going out in the woods.”

“What are we going in the woods for?” Ava asked as she took hold of her grandmother’s hand and they walked back to her bedroom.

“That’s where the fairies live, little one,” her grandmother said.  “We have to take the cookies out to them.”

“Oh.”

Once Ava had on a warmer shirt and shoes she could get dirty in, they went back to the kitchen and found the cookies cool enough to wrap in a cloth napkin.  Her grandmother got her a little basket and they put the cookies and the letter inside, then Ava carried the basket out into the woods with her grandmother to find a good place to leave them.

“A place where it looks as if the fairies visit,” her grandmother said.

“What does that look like?” Ava asked, feeling a chill of excitement as they went.

“It’ll be a quiet, grassy place, where the trees open up to show the stars and mushrooms grow all around.”  Ava didn’t know, of course, that her grandmother knew where the place was already.  She kept careful watch, looking all around.

“Gramma, Gramma!  I think that’s it,” Ava said, pointing to her left where the trees parted to reveal a quiet, grassy place with mushrooms.

“I think you’re right, Ava,” her grandmother said and they quietly crept up to the opening.  “Let’s leave the basket here.”

“Will they come now?”

“Oh no, child.  They never let themselves be seen.  They’ll come out when they’re certain we’ve left, once it grows dark and the stars are shining.”  Her grandmother smiled, then gave her a gentle pat on her head.

Ava was disappointed, she had wanted to see the fairies, but she did as her grandmother said and left the basket in the knotted roots of an old tree.  They then walked back to the house, hand in hand.

“Gramma?”

“Yes, my little one?”

Ava gazed up at her, brown eyes filled with questions.  “How did you learn about the fairies and the fairy cookie?”

“Why, I was a little girl once, and my grandmother used to make them with me, too.”

“Did anything you ask for ever come true?”

Her grandmother nodded.  “Yes, once or twice.  Only when it was very important.”

Ava thought that this was very important, too, and hoped very much that the fairies would grant her request.

“Gramma?”

“Yes, love?”

“How long will it take?”

Her grandmother thought for a moment, then said, “Well, fairy magic does take time to work.  The bigger the favor, the longer it takes.  We’ll just have to wait and see.”

When they go back to the house, her grandmother put her down for a nap.  When she woke up, they had lunch, then she colored while her grandmother knitted.  Later, they made more cookies, ones they could eat this time.

That night her grandmother tucked her in and read her a bedtime story about a cat who solves crimes.  When she fell asleep, she had dreams about fairies who ride cats and grant wishes.  The next morning, she got up and pulled her clothes on and ran out into the woods to see if the fairies had come.

In the woods, tucked in the roots of the tree, Ava found the basket where she’d left it.  It was empty except for the napkin, which was folded neatly in the bottom.  She grabbed the basket and ran back to the house to where her grandmother was sitting on the porch, waiting for her.

“Gramma, Gramma, they came!” she cried.

“Is that so?  Let me see!”

Ava held up the basket with a breathless grin.  “See?  They took the cookies!  It worked!”

Her grandmother smiled broadly.  “You must have done a very good job on the cookies.”

They were just coming back into the house when the telephone rang.  Her grandmother picked it up and spoke for a few minutes before hanging up.  Then she caught Ava up into her arms and said, “Everything is alright now, Ava.  Your mother is coming home.”