eSpec Books is delighted to present to you:

(cover design by Mike McPhail of McP Digital Graphics)

Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife

edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Greg Schauer

While mankind can scarce hope to pierce the Veil without crossing it, a few intrepid souls will ever bend their will against the aether, combining artifice and the arcane to uncover its secrets. 

From voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more, these tales leave no gravestone unturned. 

Be it heaven or hell or the limbo in between, the hereafter is about to get ‘Punked.

With stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, Travis I. Sivart, Jeff Young, David Lee Summers, L. Jagi Lamplighter, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

SNEAK PEEK 2 – POST by Brenda Cooper

We have successfully funded POST by Brenda Cooper and The Sister Paradox by Jack Campbell, which is amazing, but we also have a week to go which leaves us plenty of opportunity for giving away bonuses, so please forgive us if we go on a bit longer. To check out the campaign visit

In the meantime, here is a second sneak peek at Brenda Cooper’s POST. (And, in case you missed it, here is a link to the first one: SNEAK PEEK – POST BY BRENDA COOPER)

It’s a good traveling day and soon another group catches up to me. This is a long train of people, even an old man being pushed in a squeaky wheelchair. I walk slow enough for them to engulf me, making me one of them by virtue of there being so many. There are a few teenagers like me. A girl who’s maybe two years older comes up to me. Her voice is soft. “I’m Lelani. We’re on our way to Seattle.”

“Where did you come from?” I ask her.

“California.” She spits the word out, like the state itself did something awful to her. “Southern California.”

“I heard the quakes were bad there.”

She sneers and shrugs. She is thin and wiry. Her hair is well-kept and clean, brown with highlights. “Do you hate people from California?”

“I don’t hate anyone.” I shift the blanket roll on my back so the slight pain cuts closer to my shoulder. “Did someone say they don’t like you because you’re from California?”

“There’s a nice little town halfway up here. I wanted to stay but they won’t take Californians.”

“That’s rude. What was the name of the town?”

“Wolf’s Creek. They built it on a park. It’s Post.”

Post is the word people use for things that happened after the good times. Not like there was a single event. But Before things were all good, I guess. Then During there was bad weather and the quakes that were medium here but huge in California, and sickness here and everywhere, and Hurricane Nadiya that took out New Orleans for good, or so we heard before our satellite TV died. Oskar told me the worst wasn’t the big things like quakes. He says it was the economy—the way money moves around. Money stopped working. Hyperinflation he calls it. People turned to trading stuff for stuff. The Board keeps a big stash of money, but Oskar said it isn’t worth much, and I think it must not be or Kelley would have given me some.

“What was nice about Wolf’s Creek?”

Lelani’s voice softens, wistful. “They had a school. I miss having a school so bad I can taste it. We had one in California for a few years, even after the quakes. Parents ran it.”

“What happened?”

“There’s not enough water in California.”

There’s not enough water here anymore either. “Was it a big school? The one in Wolf’s Creek?”

“It had every grade. I didn’t get to go in and meet the teachers, because they said we couldn’t stay. It’s only for people from Oregon.”

“Not a very good example of globalization,” I say, meaning to be funny. Oskar and Kelley would have laughed, or said it themselves.

She looks at me like I’m speaking Greek. But then the garden is full of people with doctorates and a strange sense of humor. They did make me study every day.

A hand falls onto my shoulder and I feel startled and tipsy since the blanket affects my balance. “We’re not taking in anyone else.”

Lelani turns her face to him. “Please, pop. I want another girl.”

He gives her the kind of look that withers ripe fruit.

She takes my hand. Her hand is warm and grabby and a bit sweaty.

“Perhaps I’ll catch up with you later,” I say.

“I didn’t get your name,” she whines.

I pull my hand out of hers. “I’m Sage.” I speak to the man. “All right if I walk with you a bit? It’s a free road.”

He leans down and whispers in my ear, his breath smelling like toothpaste and orange juice, like the world before all of this. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “My daughter gets ahead of herself. We don’t have enough for another kid.”

“I can feed myself. I know what plants are edible.”

“Look, you’d be trouble. I don’t want any trouble. It’s hard enough to keep Lelani safe.”

This I understand. “There’s been three people try to rape me and two try to steal from me in the last year. None of them succeeded. I can teach her to be safe.”

“You’re too pretty. Back off.”

I can tell he means it, so I jog over to Lelani and tell her, “When people try to hurt you, if you say you got AIDS, they’ll leave you alone.” She’s skinny enough this will work for her.

She looks at me and nods, her face all solemn. “I’m sorry. I hope I see you again.”

“Me, too.”

She whispers, “Be safe.”

“I will.”

I’ll have to keep trying, or else settle for walking on the side paths and having hope. But I know what it’s like to be chased, and already I’m so far away from home that there are trees and ravines and rusty signs I don’t recognize by the road.

I fall back, watching Lelani and wondering if she could have been a friend. 


An Excerpt from The Sister Paradox by Jack Campbell, now funding on Kickstarter.

Chapter One

With death on four legs and two wings heading straight for me, I finally turned to run, but slipped on the loose rocks and bare dirt on the edge of the large hollow.  I caught a brief sideways glimpse of the charred, dead trees standing bare-limbed around the hollow as I landed on my shoulder, then I started cart-wheeling down the slope accompanied by a shower of rocks, pebbles and dust.  The slope seemed a lot longer that it had looked, but that was probably just because I was picking up fresh bruises on every bounce of the way down.  Finally I slid to a stop at the bottom, accompanied by a pile of rubble and a cloud of dust that kept choking me while I tried to make the world stop going around in dizzy circles.

I’d just about managed to stop coughing and start seeing straight again when the dragon I’d been trying to run away from in the first place came slamming down to earth a few feet from me.  Yeah, that’s right, a dragon.  The earth quivered from the impact, making the little collection of rocks and pebbles I’d brought down the slope with me jump around like they were panicking.  The bones of some of the things unfortunate enough to have gotten here well before me, which carpeted the bottom of the hollow, quivered as if given a few seconds more of life to be afraid.  Up close, the dragon looked even bigger than I’d first thought, especially when it hissed and spread its jaws really wide.  I hadn’t managed to get up, but I tried to backpedal away.  The dragon just took two steps and stood right over me, jaws gapping.

If you’re like me you’ve probably played one of those video games that claims to be totally realistic.  Don’t believe it.  Having a real dragon standing over you with its jagged teeth dripping saliva is very, very different from whatever thrills you get out of a game.  If there’d been an escape key I’d have been punching it like crazy just then.

The dragon reared back a little and prepared to chow down on me.  I just stared at it, unable to move and unable to think of any way out of this mess.

Did I mention that I wouldn’t be in this mess if it wasn’t for my sister?

Did I mention that I don’t have a sister?


I guess I should start at the beginning.  Like, this morning. 

There’s two things you have to know about me right from the start.  First, my name is Liam.  Liam Eagan.  Second, I don’t have a sister.  Or a brother.  I’m the only kid in the family, the only kid my mother and father have ever had.  It’s been that way all my life, and it hasn’t been all that bad.  I mean, sometimes I’d wish I had a brother to toss a ball back and forth or something like that, but I had friends I could hang around with instead.  I never wished I had a sister.  No way.  Never.

There are advantages to being an only kid.  No competition, for one thing.  No fighting for the bathroom, or having someone else pawing my stuff, or complaining that they wanted something else to eat tonight when I wanted pizza.  No one else asking mom and dad for expensive but important junk.  Just me.  All in all, life was pretty good for sixteen year old Liam Eagan. 

This morning started off as usual.  I lay in bed awhile after the alarm went off, took my time getting ready because I knew I wouldn’t have anyone else hogging the bathroom, and slid down the stairs and into the kitchen with just enough time to spare. 

Mom was already there, going over some stuff related to her job selling real estate.  She gave me a quick glance.  “About time you got down here.  You’re going to be late for school.”

“No way,” I assured her while I pulled out a box of cereal.

“Yes, way.  Hurry your breakfast, mister,” Mom ordered me.

I shrugged and dug in the cereal box until I had a handful, then shoveled it into my mouth before answering.  “Okay, okay,” I mumbled around my mouthful.

She gave me that look that moms get sometimes.  “Nice.  What happens when someone else in this house wants to eat that cereal?”

“You told me to hurry up, and nobody else in this house eats that cereal,” I pointed out, quite reasonably I think.  “You eat that twigs and bark stuff and Dad just has coffee in the morning.”

“That’s not the point,” Mom informed me.  “Besides, what if we had a guest?”

That reminded me.  “Hey, speaking of that, when can I have the spare bedroom?”

Mom looked baffled, though I couldn’t imagine why.  “The spare bedroom?  You want to move into the spare bedroom?”

“I want the spare bedroom, yeah”

“What’s wrong with your bedroom?”


She waited as if thinking I needed to say something else, then sort of frowned at me.  “Why do you want to move out of your bedroom and into the spare bedroom?”  Mom said the words really slowly as if she thought I’d have trouble understanding them.

“I don’t.  I don’t want the spare bedroom as a bedroom.”  Mom just kept waiting, so I explained even though it should’ve been obvious.  “I need a place to hang out.  You know, a room where I can play video games and music and stuff with my friends.”

“You mean like your bedroom.”

“No!  Give me a break, mom.  I need another room for that stuff.”

She just leaned back and stared at me.  Finally, after several seconds, Mom shook her head.  “Just what makes you think you can have two bedrooms for yourself?”

“Because there’s no one else using the spare bedroom.”  Which was perfectly true.  I didn’t see how Mom could argue with that.  “And it’s not like you and Dad are doing anything with it.”

Mom buried her face in her hands for a moment, I guess while she thought about what I’d said.  “And where would guests stay when they come here?”

“There’s that new hotel a few miles away.”

She raised her face and stared at me again.  “You want our guests to shell out money for a hotel and have to drive several miles to and from here to see us each day while you use the spare bedroom to do things you can do perfectly well in your own bedroom?”

The way Mom said it made it sound like I was being unreasonable.  “If it’s all that big a deal-”

“It’s that big a deal.”  Mom leaned forward.  “Hello, Earth to Mr. Liam Eagan.  Have I got your attention?  Listen carefully.  You are not the only person in the world.”

I knew that.  “I know that!”

“You won’t be getting the spare bedroom to use as a playroom.  Forget it.”

“All right, all right!”  Obviously, I’d have to work on this a bit before Mom and Dad gave in.  “But when we get the new TV-”  

“Mister, you’ve got plenty of toys as it is.”

Calling my stuff toys was not cool, but it did remind me of something.  “Oh, yeah, I also need a new phone.”

“A new phone?”  Mom shook her head.  “The one you’ve got is less than a year old.”

“It’s eight months old!  There’s a new model out with better memory!  If I want to use the newest apps I need–“

“You don’t need anything, Liam,” Mom interrupted.  “You want more stuff.”

Oh, here it comes.  The lecture about kids starving in Sudan, like that has anything to do with me.

But the clock in the living room bonged, causing Mom to check the time and dash for the door.  “Don’t be late for school!”

“No problem.”  And it wasn’t.  I’ve got the walk timed down to the second.  I slid through the school door just before the bell rang.

Bill, my best friend, socked my shoulder.  “Dude.”

“Dude.  Looking forward to playing Demon Disaster in death match mode after school?”

Bill shook his head.  “Nah.  Sorry.”

“No?”  I made a grabbing gesture toward him with both hands.  “No?  We’ve been planning this since Monday, remember?”

“I know, I know.”  Bill waved my hands away.  “I’m stuck at home watching my little bro.”

“Can’t you ditch him?”

“He’s three years old.  He needs me.  My parents are counting on me to watch him.”

“So?  I made plans!”

Bill shook his head again.  “Sorry.  If you had a brother or a sister you might understand.  Listen, you can come over to my place-”

“You don’t have the latest game console!  And your little brother would be nagging at us!  How am I supposed to have fun while you -?”

“Look, we have to get together somehow to go over those book reports.”

I hauled my mind away from sulking about no dual-Demon Disaster play tonight.  “Book reports?”

“Yeah.”  Bill squinted at me like he wasn’t sure I was serious.  “Liam, the book reports are due tomorrow.  We agreed that I’d read the first half of the book and you’d read the second half, and then we’d get together to write our reports.”

“When was this?”

“About three weeks ago!”

Like I’m supposed to remember something I said three weeks ago?  “I’ll look something up on the web.  Some, uh, notes or something –“

Bill interrupted me, looking seriously upset.  “You know Mr. Weedle checks stuff against online sources to see if it’s been copied!  You know he insists on details from the books that aren’t in online sources so he can be sure we read the books!  How could you let me down this way?  You promised me, man!”

“I don’t remember saying-  Look, I’ll get it read, and I’ll call you tonight early enough so we can both get the reports done.  Happy?”

“You’re almost done reading your half?” Bill asked.

“Uh, yeah.”  What’s two hundred pages of small type?  I could skim through that in, say, half an hour.  “I’ll call you by…eight o’clock and–“

“Eight o’clock?  Try seven.”

“That won’t leave me much time to play Demon Disaster before I start homework,” I complained.

His face got a little red as Bill answered me.  “Dude, sometimes the world does not revolve around you.”

I should have known this day was going to be strange when my best friend started sounding like my mom.  “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked as we walked to English class.  It’s not like Bill had put himself out when something important like playing a new game with me was involved.

Then Caithlyn went by and I perked up real fast.  “Hey!”

She glanced at me, then away.  “Hey, yourself.”

“Uh…”  But Caithlyn was already heading off down the hall while I stood there trying to think of something cool to say.

“Wow,” Bill whispered to me sarcastically, “she is so into you.”

“She just has to get to know me better.”

“She does know you.”

“What does that mean?”

“You don’t spend a lot of time worrying about other people, you know,” Bill replied, apparently still steamed at me over the game thing and the book report thing.

“I do, too!”  I tried to think of some examples of how much I worried about other people, but we reached the classroom before I came up with any.

I wanted to forget all about the book report, but Mr. Wheedle started English class by reminding everyone about it.  Like I needed another reminder.  Then he said if anyone needed extra time we should let him know now.

I could feel Bill looking at me, but I sort of shook my head and stared at my desk.  We could get it done.  Probably.  I mean, the report wasn’t due until tomorrow, so dealing with any problems could wait until tomorrow, couldn’t it?  And maybe something would happen like Mr. Weedle being sick or me being sick, or whatever.  Never stick your neck out if you don’t have to.  That’s what I always say.

In English we started learning about something called splitting infinitives, which sounded like it might be fun to do, especially since Mr. Weedle said some grammarians insisted we weren’t supposed to do it.  But it just turned out to be something about organizing sentences, which is boring if you ask me, and Weedle said it was okay with him if we did it, so what was the point? 

Boring, by the way, is Mr. Weedle’s specialty.  You’ve probably heard of teachers who can make any subject exciting and interesting.  Mr. Weedle is sort of the anti-matter version of that.  He could make anything boring.  It wasn’t really his fault, I guess.  The tests force all the English teachers to go over the same old books chosen by a bunch of people who think reading doesn’t count unless you have to force kids to do it. 

So instead of worrying about obscure grammar rules and about society in a small town in 18th century England, I was thinking about what size TV to put in the spare bedroom when my parents gave in.  But then one of the school office assistants stuck her head in the classroom.  “Liam Eagan?”

Everybody looked at me, while I tried to think of anything I might’ve done lately.  Or something I maybe didn’t do and should’ve done.  Aside from the book report thing, that is.  Then Mr. Weedle pointed at me.

The office assistant made a “come here” gesture.  “You’re needed in the office.”  I started to get up.  “Bring all of your books.”

This looked bad, but I had no trouble looking confused instead of guilty, because I sure hadn’t done anything.  Bill had gotten over his attitude enough to give me a worried ‘what’d you do?’ look, but all I could do was shake my head to say I didn’t know as I gathered my books up and dumped them into my backpack.  The office assistant waited, tapping one finger on her arm impatiently until I got to the door, then led the way toward the office.

She led me right through the outside waiting area.  I was so worried by this time that I didn’t even notice if anyone was in there.  We went directly back to the principal’s office, where the assistant knocked, looked in, then waved me in and closed the door behind me. 

Ms. Lockridge was the sort of woman kids did not mess with.  She had this way of pinning you with her eyes so that you felt she was reading your thoughts and knew everything you had even dreamed of doing wrong.  She sat there at her desk and frowned at me so hard that I wanted to yell “I didn’t do it” even though I had no idea what “it” was. 

Finally, she pointed to her phone.  “We haven’t been able to contact your mother or your father, Mr. Eagan.”

That happens.  “Mom usually keeps her cell on, but when she’s doing real estate stuff she sometimes goes places where she can’t get coverage or has to shut off the phone.  And dad’s on a business trip out of town.”

“I see.  Since we’ve been unable to contact your parents,” Ms. Lockridge paused as if trying to prolong my agony, “you’ll have to take your sister home.”

Have you ever heard something that’s so completely strange that you just can’t understand a word of it?  This was like that.  I heard everything Ms. Lockridge said, every word as clear as a bell, and I couldn’t understand it at all.  Ms. Lockridge looked at me, waiting for me to say something, so finally I just said, “Excuse me?”

“I said that you’ll have to take your sister home.”

“My…sister?  Ms. Lockridge, I don’t have a sister.”

If you enjoyed this excerpt and would like to read more, please help us get this book funded. Make a pledge or spread the word, it all helps, and there are plenty of bonuses to be had,

An interview with the author – AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – JACK CAMPBELL

thumbnail_jack-campbellJack Campbell (John G. Hemry) is the author of the New York Times best-selling Lost Fleet series, the Lost Stars series, and the “steampunk with dragons” Pillars of Reality Series. His most recent books are THE LOST STARS – SHATTERED SPEAR, THE LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER – LEVIATHAN, and the Pillars of Reality novels THE SERVANTS OF THE STORM and THE WRATH OF THE GREAT GUILDS. In May, VANGUARD will be published, the first in a new trilogy set centuries before the events in The Lost Fleet series. John’s novels have been published in eleven languages. This year, Titan will begin bringing out a Lost Fleet comic series. His short fiction includes works covering time travel, alternate history, space opera, military SF, fantasy, and humor.  

John has also written articles on declassified Cold War plans for US military bases on the Moon, and Liberating the Future: Women in the Early Legion (of Superheroes) in Sequart’s Teenagers From the Future. At somewhat erratic intervals he presents his talk on Everything I Needed To Know About Quantum Physics I Learned From The Three Stooges, showing how Stooge skits illustrate principles of quantum physics.  

John is a retired US Navy officer, who served in a wide variety of jobs including surface warfare (the ship drivers of the Navy), amphibious warfare, anti-terrorism, intelligence, and some other things that he’s not supposed to talk about. Being a sailor, he has been known to tell stories about Events Which He Says Really Happened (but which cannot be verified by any independent sources). This experience has served him well in writing fiction.  

He lives in Maryland with his indomitable wife “S” and three great kids (all three on the autism spectrum).



An Excerpt from POST by Brenda Cooper, now funding on Kickstarter.



The airplane hangs white in a pale blue sky above me.

It has long wings, like the periodic stray gull that finds its way to us, and a body as thin and long as a bird’s. There is almost no tail in the profile of the plane above me, although if I remember right from movies, airplane tails stick up instead of out like a bird’s tail.

I want—no, I need—to know who is in it and where they are going.

I need to know if the airplane is hope.

It spends more time crossing the piece of sky I can see than I expect. As if it is calling me.

A branch snaps.

I have let my pursuers closer to me than I planned. Two men and a woman this time. One of the two men calls out, “Hey, girl!”

I know better than to answer. I’m perched on a rocky outcropping fifty feet above them, partially hidden by the dried carcasses of dead spruces.

It’s possible they won’t see me here, but if they do, the place is a trap.

I stand up a little too fast, part of my brain still shocked stupid by the airplane. I make a little too much noise, and the gruffer voice says, “There!” to his companions and then the woman shouts, “We won’t hurt you!”

Right. You just want to feed me and ask me about the weather.

I had been too sure I’d lost them. Stupid.

I’m young and strong, and this time I don’t get cocky.

I run up a series of switchbacks, pretending to be a doe bounding away from a coyote. My skin and mouth are dry. The afternoon sun has sucked all the water from me, and I haven’t stopped to drink. The sole of my right boot is so thin that when I step hard on a stone, pain lances up from the ball of my foot through the long bones of my legs, but I keep going in spite of it. I run even though I don’t hear anyone behind me. Not anymore.

I realize I haven’t for a while; I got away.

I always get away.

So far.

Now, if I can just get home and inside without being noticed.

I’m on our side of the place in the road where we threw dirt over it all and planted trees just after Before, and bits of the old road show through. It’s not good to walk on since the eco-surface has been dissolving into black crumbs.

I crest a small hill and our wall rises up like a cracked egg, dirty white mottled with grey, the jagged glass we’ve glued to the top winking in the sun.

Between here and the wall, we’d removed all the dead wood. I stride across grey-green grass that Kelley had us plant in the moat of cleared ground around our walled garden. I don’t like to admit it, but she picked well; the spiky, low growth has been alive for two years now, and it creeps back into the forest as we clear it further away. This is partly to keep our light, and partly to keep an open space so we can see animals or people coming.

Of course, the long drought is clearing up, too. Oskar still frets that there is not enough rain and not enough cold, but the hills and forests between us and the interstate are green and dotted with yellow and white flowers.

I trip over a log, going down hard on my right knee and my hands, scraping my palms near the black soil line from the fire we set five years ago to save the garden from a wildfire.

My breath breaks the silence. I sound like a rabbit before a thin coyote kills it, scared and breathing too hard. I make myself slow down and remember what Oskar taught me. Breathe through your nose. Breathe deep in your belly, so you can feel it going out and in.


S l o w l y.

I’m getting there. A cool spring breeze blows my hair against my chin and helps me feel better.


I hate it when Kelley calls me that. My name’s Sage.

She extends her left hand. There’s dirt ground into the creases of her palm and stuck under her nails, and it smells wetter and stronger than the dry, cracked earth under my hands. A year or two ago, I would have apologized, but not now. Now I can look down on Kelley’s graying dark hair, on her ponytail tied with a strip of bark. She holds her taser in her right hand, a black oblong that she protects as if it means her life. She leaves it out as we walk back, swinging in her hand, the arc of her movement precise.

My knee bleeds, but we both ignore that.

Kelley doesn’t say anything, but I make up her feelings and words in my head anyway. The walls are safe, but only as long as we’re not noticed. If a mob finds us, we will all die. Besides, you aren’t old enough for the world yet. It’s dangerous. You might get hurt, or raped, and die all by yourself. There’s men that would take you in and make you trade your body for water and food. It only takes three days to die without water. If she was lecturing me instead of staring off, lost in her head, she’d look down at this point and see I have a small canteen clipped to my belt, one of the old ones where the metal’s all banged up. Well, maybe you’d live a week. She’d look disgusted. There’s good people out there, but they’re some that are as bad as bad can get.

The only problem with a lecture in your head is you can’t fight it. Kelley knows that, and it makes me even madder at her, but it’s not like I’m going to be able to explain to the Board why I picked a fight with someone who doesn’t say anything to me.

I hate living like everything is evil. Just this morning I talked to four women who had stopped just off the road to boil tea, and they said parts of Portland are safe. There’s food and cars and order. Cars. I’ve never seen a car move, just rusted to blackberries and filled with junk or the bones of small animals.

The shape of the airplane sticks in my head.

Whether the world is still screwed up or not, I’ll never amount to anything if I stay inside my whole life and work on little things that don’t matter with little people who will die behind a wall. The wet, verdant world we live in is a bubble, and I want the real world.

Right before we get to the wall, Kelley turns and stares at me. I expect her to be yelling angry, but what I see in her dark blue eyes is just sadness.

I’m sorry she’s sad. I don’t tell her that; I can’t show weakness.

The door in the wall is big and there’s a whiter spot on the wall above it where my dad ripped the sign off in the second year of the drought, the second year after I was born. That was still Before. Barely.

Kelley palms the door pad, and it opens wide. Inside, it smells like dirt and water and frogs, and faintly, of flowers. We pass magenta azaleas whose bloom is just starting to wilt, and in spite of myself I smile when I see three bees on one plant. Kelley and Oskar both taught me to notice little things. Little things define the big things.

I stop smiling when I see that the Board of Directors is waiting. All of them. They’re sitting in their formal place, on benches in a circle under the sign that used to be above the doors. “Oregon Botanical Gardens.” The Board has run us since Before, and they still run us now. The three original members are gray and wrinkled.

There’s four Board members. Kelley makes five adults staring at me. She says, “Sage, please sit,” and gestures to the hot seat—the one for people who are in trouble.

I’ve been here before.

The Board’s older than Kelley; they all spent most of their lives in the world I only see in movies. They all remember my dad, who’s dead now, and they all remember they’re the ones who make all the rules and I’m the girl who keeps breaking them.

I wait for them to speak first.

It takes a long time. I draw little circles in the dirt with my toes and pretend to be sorry.

Kelley clears her throat, and stares at me, her chin quivering. That’s weird. I never saw her look weak. “Sage, we’ve done everything we know how to do to keep you in here. We can’t bear to kill someone because you left tracks or got followed home. You may be only sixteen, but you’re endangering us all,” she pauses and takes a breath, “and more than us.”

She means the whole saving the plants to return them to the world someday thing.

Kelley forces the next words out. “I’ve told the security system not to open for you anymore.”

So how am I supposed to help with the chores like gathering firewood and hunting rabbits? “Ever?”

Kelley ignores my question. “If you go out again, you will not be allowed back in.”

She can’t mean it. I’m her hope for the future. She wouldn’t kick me out.

Tim and Li are the two old men of the Board. Li nods, telling me he supports Kelley. Tim looks impassive, but he would miss me. We play chess sometimes in the hour between dawn and breakfast. Sometimes I win, and he likes that.

He looks past me; his eyes don’t meet mine.

Elise and Shell are the two women on the Board. They’re both stone-faced, too, but they might mean it. They’re scarier than Tim and Li.

Kelley keeps staring at me, sad. Usually when she’s getting me in trouble she looks frustrated. “Do you understand?”


“Tell me what will happen if you leave again without permission.”

“The door won’t let me back in.”

“And we will not let you back in,” she adds.

Maybe she does mean it. Her eyes are all wet, even though she isn’t crying. Kelley isn’t done. I know because no one is moving, and they’re all watching me. Kelley says, “Just so you don’t do anything rash, you’re confined to the Japanese Garden for a week. Report to Oskar in ten minutes.”

She does mean this, except maybe the ten minutes part.

I nod at them all and walk away, keeping my head up. I hate it that they’ve made me feel small again. In my room, I sweep two changes of clothes into an old bag. I brush my hair and my teeth, and put those brushes in the bag, too. Ten minutes pass, then fifteen. I wait the minutes out, unwilling to be on time.

Oskar doesn’t even notice I’m late. I walk in the glass box and close the outer door, and wait a moment, then open the inner door. I am inside walls, some glass, and under a plastic sheet roof. The air is heavy with water, cool. Oskar is nowhere to be seen. When he finished it, the Japanese garden was billed as the most authentic on the west coast. One of the first fully contained green energy buildings in Oregon, with solar cells on all the hard roofs and in the walls, and heat made by water that’s warmed by the earth far under us. At first, the roof was to keep the garden from getting too wet, instead of too dry.

I negotiate the stepping-stone path, walking through pillows of pearlwort. The cinnamon fern that lines the right wall still has some tender, brownish fiddleheads so I pick them. Maybe it’s a form of penance.

The very first of the wisteria blooms are showing purple. Oskar is on the other side of the flowers, between me and the waterfall.

He doesn’t turn around for the space of two breaths. He’s squatting, bent over, clipping the leaves of a Japanese holly. He is a small man, his skin pallid from the damp air he lives in, long red hair caught back in a braid that falls down a freckled, white back. The top of his braid is grey. He is only wearing shorts; he likes to garden as naked as the Board will let him. Even his feet are bare. I have always suspected that at night he goes out with his flashlight and gardens more naked than that. Even though he is almost sixty years old, I think I would pull weeds beside him, with my nipples exposed to the cool night air.

He wouldn’t let me, of course. They all treat me like glass.

He stands up and turns toward me. Even though the light is starting to grey to dusk, I can see that his eyes look like Kelley’s did. “Why do you run away?”

I lean back against the big cedar column that holds up the wisteria arbor, breathing in the sweet air. “Why don’t you ever leave this garden?”

I’ve never asked him this. Instead of looking startled, he smiles and his eyes twinkle a bit, full of mischief. “Because I’m saving the world.”

He believes it, even though he’s lying to himself. He is, at best, saving a tiny part of the world that I can walk across in five minutes. Everyone here thinks small.

I hold out my hand, the one with the fiddleheads in it, and he takes them and says, “See?”

He leads me to the kitchen, which is the only interior room with hard walls instead of waxed paper or bamboo or glass. He hands me back the fiddleheads, and I wash them in a bowl full of water and then pour the water into a bin so it can go into the waterfall, where it will be scrubbed clean by the filter plants.

We have everything ready, but before we start to cook, Oskar takes me up to the top of the rock wall at the center of the stroll garden, and we look out toward the ocean. It’s too far away to see or hear, but the sun will set over it. He makes a temporary hole in the roof by pushing overlapping layers of water-capturing plastic aside, exposing the sunset. There are enough clouds to catch faint gold and orange, but most of the last rays leak up like spilled paint and fade into the blackening sky.

Maybe I can use the hole in the roof to climb all the way outside.

After the color starts to fade, Oskar speaks quietly. “I answered you. Will you answer me?”

So that’s what he’s been waiting for. I guess when you’re sixty you have a lot of patience.

“We live in a bubble.”

He laughs and pokes the plastic roof. It answers him by rippling, as if it were upside-down water.

I frown. “We do!” I wave my hand at all the roads and people we can’t see from here. “In the real world out there, people are traveling and learning and meeting each other. They’re struggling. They’re taking back the world. This time…” I haven’t really told anyone about this trip yet —I mean, no one had asked. Should I? “I walked the interstate and talked to people on it. Like always. I have my escape routes. They work.”

He cocks an eyebrow at me but doesn’t say anything.

“Eugene’s coming back. There’s thousands of people there now —they fixed the water system and they’re growing greenhouse food. I met two families who were on their way there.”

He clears his throat. “A year ago, you told me Eugene was empty.”

“That’s what I heard. But this time I heard different.” I pause. “I don’t know anything. How could I?”

“They don’t have the right plants. That’s what I’m saving for your generation. The bamboo and the bearberry, the astilbe and the peony.” He says the names of plants like a prayer, and I imagine him naming the others in his head. The wisteria and the wild fuchsia, the fiddlehead and the mountain fern…

“I know what you’re saving. You keep telling me about it.” It’s an old story, how we’re saving the genome of the native plants in case the weather ever reverts to its magical past self. “It’s good. I’m glad you’re saving it. But that’s your dream.”

He pretends not to notice my tone of voice. “What your travelers see is the Mediterranean weeds that killed the native plants in California when Father Serra brought them on his donkey. Now that it’s warm enough, dry enough, they come here and invade Oregon like they invaded California a long time ago.” His face wears a stubborn look that makes him more handsome, wiping some of the wrinkles away with anger. He closes the hole in the roof and starts down the rock face as all of the colors of the garden begin to fade, and I hear him tell me, “It is your duty to the planet to help.”

I can’t keep my secret anymore. “I saw an airplane today.”

He stares at me, and I know him well enough to know that he’s surprised even though he is always slow to show emotion. “Tell me about it.”

“It looked like a bird, but it wasn’t. The wings never moved although the plane moved, straight. It was high up. It was white.” I can’t quite tell if he believes me. “It was beautiful, Oskar.”

“Which way was it going?”

“North.” I think about it. “Portland or Seattle, I guess.”

He nods, but I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m making it up. He climbs down, but I stay and try and remember more details about the airplane until stars swim across the sky, diffused by the beads of water that gather there as the evening cools. After my eyes adjust enough to the dark, I come carefully to ground and Oskar and I share cinnamon fern fiddleheads and cattail roots and some jerky from a thin doe that jumped into our garden a few weeks ago and broke a leg.

After, I lie on my sleeping pallet, separated from Oskar by waxy paper and bamboo, and listen to the roof crinkle in the wind. If I don’t get out, I’m going to die here in Oskar’s Japanese stroll garden, walking the stone paths until there’s not enough water left for the wisteria.

I can’t bear being kept in a box as if I were a precious plant and not a real girl. I can’t bear getting old without ever having a friend. But I can’t imagine never coming home, either. Not seeing these people I’ve seen for every day of my life that I remember. Kelley and Oskar.

When I leave, I see people moving. Sometimes that’s all I do, sit and watch people come and go, counting. Once I counted over a hundred in just a morning. They’re going somewhere. They aren’t living behind a wall and sitting in one place and waiting for everything to get better.

Oskar’s breathing gets even and deep, and it’s a comfort.

But not enough. I almost drift off, start thinking of other things, and then startle awake. Over and over.

When I give up, I sit up as silently as I can, strip off my sleeping clothes, and pull on my best jeans and most comfortable flannel before I roll up everything I brought and wrap it in an old blue Pendleton blanket so I can swing it over my shoulder. I fill two canteens with water, running it slowly so that I won’t wake anyone.

I write Oskar and Kelley a note. I tell them I love them and I’m going to go save the world, and I’m sorry they won’t ever let me back in. A tear drips onto the note but I manage not to sob out loud.

I carefully open the first of the two doors I came in through, trying to keep the rusty hinges from squeaking. Kelley is standing on the other side, a thin stick of a shadow that only moves when I’m through.

I’m caught.

Oskar comes up behind me.

I tense.

He leans forward and gives me a hug and he whispers in my ear. He says, “Good luck.”

I blink at them both, stupid with surprise.

He says, “Me and Kelley both knew you’d go. It’s time. The Board told us to keep you. They’re scared that you’ll tell someone about us, and they’re scared they’ll lose you. You’re like a daughter to them.”

No. I’m not. I know that. Mostly they say bad things about me.

Oskar keeps going. “We need you more than you need us.”

Kelley thrusts a bag into my hands. It’s heavy.

I feel thick in the throat and watery. I say, “I’ll come back someday.”

He says, “If you take long enough, we’ll even let you back in.”

I go before we all cry or laugh and wake the Board up. The stars look clearer out beyond the wall, and the moat of grass muffles my footsteps.

If you enjoyed this excerpt and would like to read more, please help us get this book funded. Make a pledge or spread the word, it all helps, and there are plenty of bonuses to be had,



thumbnail_brenda-cooperBrenda Cooper writes science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories, and sometimes, poetry.  Her most recent novel is Edge of Dark, from Pyr and her most recent story collection is Cracking the Sky from Fairwood Press. Spear of Light is forthcoming from Pyr in June of 2016 and POST will be out from espec books in late fall 2016.  Brenda is a technology professional and a futurist, and publishes non-fiction on the environment and the future.  Her non-fiction has appeared on Slate and Crosscut and her short fiction has appeared in Nature Magazine, among other venues.

See her website at

Brenda lives in the Pacific Northwest in a household with three people, three dogs, far more than three computers, and only one TV in it. 


As a present to myself I drove to our partner’s brick-and-mortar story where we have all of our stock shipped and picked up the copies of Gaslight & Grimm. I was SO excited to hold a physical copy in my hand…until I turned the book over, then I wanted to hit myself over the head with it.

Hate to say I got a 95% out of 100% on this one. It’s a minor thing, but something happened when we were building the back cover and the text is two different colors. Not too noticeable on a monitor, but clear on a print copy.

The bad news is, we’ve already printed the first run of books in order to have them in time for Balticon. The good news is, each of you will have a nearly fully signed, very distinct first edition that only the first 180 recipients will have <grin> It isn’t bad, but I hate making a stupid mistake like that.

I’m still excited about the book and it does look amazing, but I should be perfect, right? Not possible, but it sure feels like it should be. LOL.

Anyway…here are some photos of my preemptive signing to get things started, because goodness knows I’ll be so busy at Balticon that trying to sign books too would be a bit insane.

 Curio says they are ALL his… But we’ve had a talk and he’ll settle for scritches instead.

Back to the Birthday Thing

I have one birthday wish, if anyone is interested…

If you’ve ever read and enjoyed any of my work, a review somewhere would be a lovely present! Just saying…. Feel free to share this post. 

I know…shameless….But today I can get away with it, right? LOLOL

Thank you!


We are very pleased to announce that the Kindle edition of Gaslight & Grimm is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

G&amp;GRed-Gold Leaf

Once Upon a Time…

…ageless tales were told from one generation to the next, filled with both wonders and warnings. Tales of handsome princes and wicked queens, of good-hearted folk and evil stepmothers. Tales of danger and caution and magic… classics that still echo in our hearts and memories even to this day, told from old, cherished books or from memory at Grandma’s knee.

Oh yes, tales have been told…but never quite like these. Journey with us through the pages of Gaslight and Grimm to discover timeless truths through lenses polished in the age of steam.

With tales by

James Chambers ~ Christine Norris ~ Bernie Mojzes ~ Danny Birt ~ Jean Marie Ward ~ Jeff Young ~ Gail Z. and Larry N. Martin ~ Elaine Corvidae ~ David Lee Summers ~ Kelly A. Harmon ~ Jonah Knight ~ Diana Bastine ~ Jody Lynn Nye.


Excited to say we should be going to press on this book within a day. Hard to believe we are just over a month away from the launch!


G&amp;GRed-Gold Leaf
Gaslight & Grimm linocut art (c) Dustin Blottenberger Cover design and treatment, Sidhe na Daire Multimedia


Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales
edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine

Once Upon a Time…

…ageless tales were told from one generation to the next, filled with both wonders and warnings. Tales of handsome princes and wicked queens, of good-hearted folk and evil stepmothers. Tales of danger and caution and magic…classics that still echo in our hearts and memories even to this day, told from old, cherished books or from memory at Grandma’s knee.

Oh yes, tales have been told…but never quite like these. Journey with us through the pages of Gaslight and Grimm to discover timeless truths through lenses polished in the age of steam.

With tales by

James Chambers ~ Christine Norris ~ Bernie Mojzes ~ Danny Birt ~ Jean Marie Ward ~ Jeff Young ~ Gail Z. and Larry N. Martin ~ Elaine Corvidae ~ David Lee Summers ~ Kelly A. Harmon ~ Jonah Knight ~ Diana Bastine ~ Jody Lynn Nye.