COVER REVEAL – AFTER PUNK


eSpec Books is delighted to present to you:

Web-AfterPunk
(cover design by Mike McPhail of McP Digital Graphics)

AFTER PUNK:
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 http://tiny.cc/Novels2016

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. 

SNEAK PEEK – THE SISTER PARADOX BY JACK CAMPBELL


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?”

“Nothing.”

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, http://tiny.cc/Novels2016.

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).


 

SNEAK PEEK – POST BY BRENDA COOPER


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

cover-proof

CHAPTER ONE

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.

Slowly.

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.

“Sagie.”

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?”

“Yes.”

“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, http://tiny.cc/Novels2016.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – BRENDA COOPER

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – BRENDA COOPER – PART 2


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 www.brenda-cooper.com.

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. 


HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! (SNEAK PEEK)


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 

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/989939.Danielle_Ackley_McPhail

http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-Ackley-McPhail/e/B002GZVZPQ/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_4?qid=1461887306&sr=8-4

Thank you!
Danielle

PRE-ORDER: GASLIGHT AND GRIMM


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.

COVER REVEAL – GASLIGHT AND GRIMM


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.

SNEAK PEEK – “THE PERFECT SHOES” BY JODY LYNN NYE (GASLIGHT AND GRIMM)


Brown leather textured background with side light.

an excerpt of “The Perfect Shoes”
by Jody Lynn Nye

from Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, funding now on Kickstarter.

 

The ballet company stood poised on the stage that smelled of chalk and sweat, awaiting the ballet master’s command to dance. Monique Dortmond hovered on tiptoe in her taped pink toe shoes, her hands above her head in fifth position, her body stretched into the perfect attitude of ethereal majesty. Her wavy, dark hair had been scraped fiercely back into a tight bun at the nape of her neck to show off the slenderness of her neck and the scalloped hollows underneath her cheekbones. Her slim but muscular body displayed utter grace, unlike Nedra, to her left, whose heavy hips and thick ankles made her look more like a tree trunk than a sylph. Then, the twitching began. Monique felt her left foot wobbling ever so slightly. She had exercised her arches again and again. Her legs were as strong as steel cables. Her stamina was excellent. Why, then, the trembling?

Because she was not concentrating on her performance. All the ballerinas of the Paris Opera Ballet had their eyes not on the middle distance, but on Mademoiselle Henriette Malinois, the prima ballerina of the company, who was dancing the part of Giselle. Her posture was ideal. Her arms seemed as though they were two reeds swaying in the wind. Her long, slender neck suggested the blossom of an arum lily. But her body, however it may seemed to have come from the very sketches of the artists and sculptors who sat in the darkened theater, did not excite the jealousy of the rest of the company. No, Monique and the others coveted her shoes.

Ballet dancers wore out pair after pair of toe shoes, almost one a week, rehearsing and performing. It was the greatest single expense that the Ballet de Paris had. The slippers on Monique’s feet were on their fifth day. As such, the wooden toe-boxes had begun to rub hard against her skin as their meager padding wore away. She wouldn’t have been surprised when she took them off later to discover blood among her toes. No dancer showed her unshod feet in polite company. Their toes became misshapen, and the scarred, ridged flesh seemed at odds with the beauty and grace of the dancer above. But Henriette’s perfect shoes of bright red silk never hurt her. They never wore out. She could depend upon them to bear her up through the longest and most complicated recitals. While the others sat in the wings and importuned the shoemakers to hurry and fit them next, Henriette was able to continue flitting, leaping and spinning.

As the principal female danceuse, naturally Henriette would be given the most beautiful costumes, shimmering silk sewn with priceless Bruges lace and studded with jewels, crystals, pearls and gold. Her partner, Jean-Marie, with his sweep of dark, wavy hair and deep-set dark blue eyes, was so handsome that Monique’s breath caught in her chest whenever she saw him. But those shoes! Monique knew that if she had them, she could dance across the very stars.

It was almost impossible to concentrate with those beautiful shoes twinkling before her. As the tallest of the junior dancers, she performed in the center of the tableau behind Henriette, so it was unavoidable that the principal ballerina would not constantly be in her eyeline. Monique did her best to ignore the shoes, pretending that they were made of hot coals or burning pitch, or a network of poisonous red spiders, and that every step Henriette took brought her closer and closer to painful death. The brilliant smile Henriette wore wasn’t a smile at all, but a rictus, a grimace, a stifled scream. But, no. It was a smile of supreme satisfaction in her work, and not a little because of the knowledge that the rest of the company envied her so much they would bleed pea green if poked with a pin.

In contrast to the illusion of perfection that it appeared to be from the audience, the ethereal images of Fairyland were no thicker than a piece of wood. Only Henriette was the untouchable fairy princess she seemed to be. People from across Paris and beyond came to sit in the darkness and watch her spin and soar. The music died away and the company came to a halt. Monique could hardly contain her jealousy as the watchers in the darkness were moved to applause. The ballet master dismissed the company with a sharp clap of his hands.

“Return at three, without fail!” he commanded.

The dancers didn’t hesitate, lest they be called back individually for criticism. Monique and the others retreated down the stairs into the crowded dressing room and sat down to undo their shoes. The cafés to the north and south of the theater awaited, with meals that were nourishing but not too heavy, nor too expensive for a junior dancer’s purse. The cobblers and costumiers rushed to the benches to measure the dancers for new shoes and costumes. Monique was at the far end of the line nearest the door. The cobblers would not reach her for an hour. She watched out of the door as a cluster of reporters and admirers surrounded Henriette, standing before her solo dressing room. The prima ballerina nodded and smiled, responding to their compliments and accepting bouquets of red and pink roses.

“I saw the way you stared at Mlle. Henriette’s shoes,” a low and raspy voice said. “What would you give for them?”

Monique looked up in alarm. Before her stood a gray man. His suit was gray, as was his hair. Holding fast to the bridge of his pale nose was a pair of pince nez with silver rims. His upright collar of pure white was tied with a silver ribbon. His boots, too, were silver gray, and shimmered as though no speck of dust or mud would dare to adhere to them. He looked like a ghost in the backstage shadows.

“Who are you to care?” Monique asked, tossing her head in defiance.

“I am one who might be able to grant your wish,” the man said. He pursed his thin, pale lips in a tiny smile. She noticed then that behind his spectacles, his eyes were of two different colors. One was as gray as his hair. The other was almost golden bronze. “If you will permit me to introduce myself, mademoiselle, I am Monsieur Thierry de Raymond.” He handed her a small square of pristine white pasteboard. On it was the single word, “Inventor.”

Monique regarded it curiously.

“What do you invent, monsieur?” she asked.

“Wonders. I have been commissioned to create a dancing doll after the image of Mademoiselle Henriette. One cannot doubt the marvel that she is, but I have been more captivated by you.”

“Why?”

“Answer my first question, then I will answer some of yours, perhaps. Those shoes. What would you do for them?”

Monique stared as Henriette’s feet clad in the exquisite red silk pumps disappeared behind the dressing room door, and it felt as though a part of her heart was torn away.

“Anything!” she burst out.

“What would you give for them?” the gray man asked.

“Anything!”

“Your soul?”

Monique glared up at him.

“What is my soul worth compared with those shoes? They will make me the perfect dancer!”

“But that is in the wrong order, mademoiselle. You will never have those shoes until you can outdance Henriette, and that will never happen in your lifetime. Her every move is already perfection.” The man’s eyes widened behind his curious glasses. “But I can assist you. If you will become my mistress, I will ensure that you will become the principal ballerina of the company. Your dancing will be flawless, and the red shoes will be yours.”

Monique peered at him. Men of means, and women, too, often sought lovers from among the ballet company. The dancers’ bodies provoked great interest in the public, sometimes seeing them as goods on display for purchase. Bargains had been struck, to good results on both sides, but she had also heard of dreams that were shattered the morning after. Still, she had risen as high as she could in her present circumstances. What harm could it do? He was far from her ideal, being too old and too homely, with his narrow shoulders, protuberant front teeth, weak chin and receding hairline, but if he could help her to achieve her dream, he was good enough. The kindness in his eyes appealed to her. But she held her head high.

“I will not trade myself for an illusion,” she said. “I’ll agree to your terms, but you may only have me once I have become the principal ballerina of this company.”

The man’s small mouth pursed again.

“Agreed, Mademoiselle Monique. After tonight’s performance, then?”


Nye

Jody Lynn Nye lists her main career activity as ‘spoiling cats.’ When not engaged upon this worthy occupation, she writes fantasy and science fiction books and short stories.

Since 1987 she has published over 45 books and more than 140 short stories.  Her newest books are Rhythm of the Imperium, third in the Lord Thomas Kinago series; an e-collection of cat stories, Cats Triumphant! (Event Horizon), Wishing on a Star, part of the Stellar Guild series,with Angelina Adams, (Arc Manor Press) and a collection of holiday stories, A Circle of Celebrations (WordFire Press) , and her novella in the second in the Clan of the Claw series,Tooth and Claw

Coming next in the pipeline is the next Myth-Adventures novel, Myth-Fits, scheduled for June 2016. 

Over the last twenty or so years, Jody has taught in numerous writing workshops and participated on hundreds of panels covering the subjects of writing and being published at science-fiction conventions. She has also spoken in schools and libraries around the north and northwest suburbs. In 2007 she taught fantasy writing at Columbia College Chicago. She also runs the two-day writers workshop at DragonCon. 

Jody lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, with her husband Bill Fawcett, a writer, game designer, military historian and book packager, and a black cat, Jeremy. Check out her websites at www.jodynye.com and mythadventures.net. She is on Facebook as Jody Lynn Nye and Twitter @JodyLynnNye.

SNEAK PEEK – THE HAIR LADDER BY DIANA BASTINE (GASLIGHT AND GRIMM)


Brown leather textured background with side light.

an excerpt of “The Hair Ladder”
by Diana Bastine

From Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, now funding on Kickstarter.

“We don’t have the money.”

Julia wrapped her arms around her husband, snuggling close. “But think how nice it would be for the baby.” She patted her growing belly, pulling his hand to do the same. He tried to resist, but he could deny his wife nothing.

“The old woman only comes once every season,” Julia almost whined. “Besides, we’ve been saving….”

“We’ve been saving for the baby,” her long-suffering spouse replied, with every attempt at firmness.

“Oh, Thomas, please?” Julia batted her eyelashes at him, before burying her face in his chest. “I really must have one of her clockwork toys. I think I might die if you don’t bring me one.” She widened her innocent blue eyes in horror. “Or it might even affect the baby. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to the baby, would you?”

Thomas knew it was nothing short of blackmail, but he also knew it would work. They had been trying for quite some time to have a baby, and were finally on the verge of a successful birth. He would do nothing that might risk a safe and healthy delivery. He gathered his coat, for even though the winter had turned to spring, it was still a chilly morning, and he had a long walk to the town square.

~*~

Thomas didn’t need to read the sign outside of the old woman’s tent: Clara’s Clockwork Creations. He knew he was close when he started hearing the steady drone of gears. Most of the clockwork creatures were small and intricately detailed, but the combined sound was still powerful enough to carry on a still, clear day. He gathered his ragged coat closer with a sigh, then strode closer to the tent, being careful where he placed his somewhat large feet. He certainly had no desire to step on one of the delicate creations–he wanted to choose carefully, not be forced to buy whatever he crushed!

The old woman, Clara, greeted him politely. He had seen her many times before; she came to town four times a year, and Julia always begged him to stop so she could watch the beautiful clockwork toys that she knew they couldn’t afford to waste their hard-earned money on. Thomas wasn’t expecting the old woman to recognize him however. She didn’t know his name, but she clearly recognized his face.

“How is your lovely wife?” she asked him, as he carefully picked up an exquisite mechanical peacock. As he turned it from side to side, its tail feathers slowly spread out in a broad fan, each metal “feather” painted in bright blue-green. Its head bobbed slightly, before the tail feathers contracted back again. He could barely hear the faint whir as the gears turned inside its body. Thomas knew the peacock was going to be far too expensive, and he quickly put it down before Clara started to convince him to purchase it.

“Julia is well,” he answered. “She would have come today, but she is expecting our first child and sometimes feels a bit unwell in the mornings. She is looking forward to the summer, when we will have our new addition.” Thomas didn’t normally babble like this, especially not to total strangers, but he was still flush with pride at the thought of being a first-time papa.

“Oh, a child!” Clara said, clapping her hands in delight. “I adore children. They are so appreciative of my work.” She spread her hands to encompass her clockwork creations. “Many craftsmen scorn my beauties; they find them to be frivolous, and a waste of resources, but children appreciate the fine work and detail, more so than you might think. They are often more careful of my work than their parents are.” She smiled, having clearly observed Thomas’ delicate approach.

He shook his head in disbelief. “I cannot imagine anyone looking down on your skills, Miss Clara,” he said sincerely and emphatically. He picked up a charmingly detailed little field mouse, admiring its “fur” and long tail. The tiniest metal threads were visible as its whiskers, and he could have sworn its tiny nose twitched just a bit.

The old woman closed his hand–gently–over the mouse. “You must have it,” she said. She held up a hand when he opened his mouth to protest. “No, I insist,” she said. “It is for the child.” When he finally nodded in acceptance of the generous gift, she loosened his hand again, just long enough to take the mouse and carefully wrap it before returning it to him. He thanked her most sincerely, and headed home, certain that his wife would be satisfied.


DBastine

Diana Bastine is presently a free-lance author and editor living in the mountains of NC. She is the author of the YA fantasy series consisting of The Source, Shapeshifter, and Selkie. These novels, and the final, previously unpublished volume, Gabriel’s Secret, will be released by Double Dragon e-books in 2016. 

Diana is known to her friends and family as the “Fairy CatMother” and sells t-shirts and tote bags with this logo. She is a certified Reiki Master/Teacher as well, and practices other forms of energy healing, including Crystal Energy Therapy and Energetic Cord Cutting. Diana loves to read, knit and improve her brain! She loves puzzles of all sorts, including jigsaws, math and logic puzzles, and word puzzles of every variety. She enjoys exercising first thing in the morning, eating healthy foods and swears her only vice is 85% and up dark chocolate…. 

SNEAK PEEK – THE (STEAMY) TALE OF CINDERELLA BY DANNY BIRT (GASLIGHT AND GRIMM)


Brown leather textured background with side light.

an excerpt of “The (Steamy) Tale of Cinderella”
by Danny Birt

From Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, now funding on Kickstarter.

“Anne, where are your lace gloves? Beth, do something about your bustle at once!”

Sara-Bella rolled her eyes as she came up on deck.  Lady Mary would probably continue chivvying her two daughters until they were on the royal yacht having their tea, and might not even stop then.  And all to ‘catch a man.’  Ridiculous.

The prince’s yacht, though?  Now that was worth going over to see, even if it did mean that she had to wade through this entire port-of-call’s list of eligible who’s who to get to it.  Being the daughter of a shipbuilder gave Sara-Bella a keen eye for oceangoing vessels, and if this one’s design belied the secret she thought it might…

Beth paused in her primping and cast an aghast look behind Lady Mary toward the hatchway. “You must be joking!”

Anne and Lady Mary turned and displayed similar reactions.

“What?” Sara-Bella asked, hands spread wide.

“You can’t visit the Crown Prince’s royal yacht looking like that!” her stepmother said emphatically.

“Like what?”

“Wearing sooty trousers, and those ridiculous glass shoes?  Hair all full of cinders?  Why, it’s unconscionable!” Lady Mary declaimed. “If you don’t know how to dress properly, at least get back to your engine room before someone sees you, Sara-Bella.”

“Yeah, Sooty Sara,” Anne snickered.

“Cinder-Bella,” Beth chimed in.

Sara-Bella gritted her teeth.  Here we go again.  “Trousers aren’t unconscionable, they’re practical.”

Lady Mary waved the comment away.  “Princes have servants to be practical for them. Ladies are to be beautiful, and refined, and… and everything you are not.”

“Only if they’re trying to ensnare a man.” Sara-Bella snorted.  “It’s not like I-“

Sara-Bella!” Lady Mary snapped, furious.

Sara-Bella bit her tongue as her stepsisters looked at her curiously.  “Look, all I’m saying is I’ll stay out of Anne and Beth’s way while they’re hunting potential husbands, alright?  You know I will.  They can bring home as many men as they can fit between their legs for all I care!”

“Yuck!” Anne shrilled.

“You’re disgusting,” Beth spat.

Lady Mary bristled like an affronted hedgehog.  “That will be the last time you so much as hint that one of my daughters would engage in polygamy.  Do you understand me?”

Drat.  I should have bit my tongue harder.  “Yes, stepmother.”

Giving a nod after she was sure her remonstration had sunk in, Lady Mary turned to fuss with the pleats in Beth’s dress.  “This is not an engineering conference we’re attending, this is a social visit–one that will help your sisters climb in society if we can catch the right man for them.  Your appearance would repel all the eligible bachelors from your sisters’ sides, which is unacceptable.  You shall remain here.”

A bell sounded from the royal yacht’s gig, indicating they were ready to ferry passengers.

“I’ll keep my mouth shut,” Sara-Bella said, desperate.  “Please?  I just want to see the ship!”

Lady Mary gave her a hard stare.  “You’ve made it quite clear that you are not fit to be in society. It’s as much for your own good as for everyone else’s. Now stay out of sight while we’re gone.” Lady Mary loaded her blood offspring over the gangplank and onto the gig without a backward glance.


Birt

Danny Birt has been a contributing author to several sci-fi, fantasy, and professional magazines, anthologies, and journals, as well as a writer for an app. Formerly, he was an editor for Flashing Swords Magazine and Ancient Tomes Press, and is now a freelance editor. Most recently, Danny’s 2014 short story To Thy Sylph Be True was recognized by Tangent Online as a Two-Starred Recommended Read. In addition to literary publication, he composes classical and filk music, such as his nonstop hour-long piano solo “Piano Petrissage,” and the ever-peculiar album “Warped Children’s Songs.” Danny’s humorous music has been featured on radio and internet programs such as The Dr. Demento Show and The Funny Music Project. He’s also performed in ensemble at Carnegie Hall.

Career hats Danny has worn other than author, editor, and composer include being a music therapist, a massage therapist, a college instructor and program director, and an on-screen actor. 

Currently he lives in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with his wife and kiddo, where he owns and operates an integrative therapy business.

SNEAK PEEK – ALL FOR BEAUTY AND YOUTH BY KELLY A. HARMON (GASLIGHT AND GRIMM)


Brown leather textured background with side light.

an excerpt of “All for Beauty and Youth”
by Kelly A. Harmon

From Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, funding now on Kickstarter.

“Come on, Gret, run faster!” Hansel said. He grabbed her hand and pulled her down the cobblestone street toward the rail station. She’d long ago lost her hair clips, and her long, blond curls tumbled down her back, tangling in the wind.

“You go,” she said, trying to shake off his hand. “I’m only slowing you down. You can catch the train without me.” Her voice was ragged as her lungs sought air. Large clouds of breath swept past her as she ran, visible in the damp winter evening. Her carpetbag beat heavily against her thigh at every step. “Send for me when you get established.”

She heard the shrill whistle of the train two blocks away, and even from this distance, the sound of exploding steam as the conductor freed the brakes. They wouldn’t make it.

“I can’t leave without you,” Hansel said. “There’s no telling what she’ll do.”

“I can’t run any farther,” Gretel said. Fog twisted the shadows into monstrous spectators, frightening her. For just a moment, she squeezed her eyes shut. She stumbled.

~*~

Hansel tightened his grip and pulled her to her feet, almost losing his grip on his own small suitcase. “We’re almost there, Gretel. You can do it. Come on.” He tugged her a bit faster down the foggy side street. She had to hurry, he thought. Everything depended on their making it onto this train.

They turned the corner and the Bahnhof Hamburg came into view. Gas lamps enveloped the platform in an orange glow where Vapourer moths and mosquitoes danced in the wan light. Only a few remaining passengers boarded, lifting their valises and carpet bags to porters, then mounting the steps to the car.

The teens arrived in a flurry, scaring off a dozen clockwork birds pecking at metal shards cast from the train wheels.

Hansel reached for the gleaming brass handlebar of the last car coupled to the train just as the conductor blew the shrill whistle once more. He abandoned the effort when a figure stepped out of the shadow of the train station, the point of her black-frilled parasol brushing against the leather toe of her lace-up ankle boots.

“Going somewhere?” She grabbed Gretel’s free arm and pulled her away from the steps.

“Stepmother,” breathed Gretel, under her breath. Her carpetbag fell limply out of her hand onto the platform.

Their father stepped out of the shadows behind her, the brass buttons on his Hussers’ uniform gleaming in the orange glow of the gas lights. He twisted his hat in his hands.

“Yes, Franziska,” Hansel said. “Since you ever complain of having to feed and clothe us on a military man’s salary, we thought we would make our way back to relatives in the Old Country.”

Shunk. A blast of steam powered the escapement and forced the train wheels a quarter turn forward.

Step-mama,” she corrected through gritted teeth, her smile turning to a grimace. “But you’re children,” she said, lightening her tone. “You can’t be allowed to travel so far alone.”

Shunk. Another blast of steam, another quarter turn of the wheels.

A crowd, having seen their relatives off, began to stand around them, interested in the family squabble.

“Come home with us,” she said. “Now. We have a carriage waiting.”

Hansel gripped Gretel’s hand more tightly and looked to his sire.

“Father?” he said. “We—”

“Do as your step-mama says, Hansel. She knows best.”

“But—”

“Not another word,” their stepmother hissed from behind clenched teeth. She bent forward, reaching for Gretel, then grasped her fragile wrist in leather-gloved hands and gave it a quick twist.”

“Ow!”

Still in a low voice, their stepmother said, “Come with me this instant without causing a scene or there will be worse for you when we reach home.”

Gretel nodded and picked up her bag.

Shunk-shunk. Shunk-shunk. The steam came faster, building up momentum, and the train slowly pulled out of the station, its steel wheels screaming atop the rails that would have carried them to their freedom.

Hansel knew he could still make it aboard, but he watched it slowly depart from view before following his family. He couldn’t leave Gretel alone with that witch.


KellyAHarmon

Kelly A. Harmon used to write truthful, honest stories about authors and thespians, senators and statesmen, movie stars and murderers. Now she writes lies, which is infinitely more satisfying, but lacks the convenience of doorstep delivery. She is an award-winning journalist and author, and a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. A Baltimore native, she writes the Charm City Darkness series, which includes the novels Stoned in Charm City, A Favor for a Fiend, and the soon to be published, A Blue Collar Proposition. Her science fiction and fantasy stories can be found in Triangulation: Dark Glass, Hellebore and Rue, andDeep Cuts: Mayhem, Menace and Misery

Ms. Harmon is a former newspaper reporter and editor, and now edits for Pole to Pole Publishing, a small Baltimore publisher. She is co-editor of Hides the Dark Tower along with Vonnie Winslow Crist.

For more information, visit her blog at http://kellyaharmn.com, or, find her on Facebook and Twitter: http://facebook.com/Kelly-A-Harmon1,https://twitter.com/kellyaharmon.

SNEAK PEEK – THE GIANT KILLER BY JONAH KNIGHT (GASLIGHT AND GRIMM)


Brown leather textured background with side light.

an excerpt from “The Giant Killer”
by Jonah Knight

From Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, now funding on Kickstarter.

“Excuse me,” said Hanna Lee. She leaned in, joining the porter to look out the train window. “I could not help but notice that these people seem to be, what is the proper description? Fleeing in terror?”

The porter nodded and turned from the window to face the sixteen-year-old woman before him. “It’s one of the giants, I expect.”

“I thought that the giants were inactive?”

The porter shook his head and his cap wiggled. “They been getting ornery after their maker died. Confederates never got to Boston, of course, but three of the steam-work giants patrol, same as before the war. I seen Cormorgan marching around the train yards plenty of times. Looking for an army to fight.”

“I see,” said Hanna, watching the people scattering beside the tracks as her train slowly approached North Union Station. “It would appear his behavior has changed.”

Grinding steel brakes rattled the car, bringing them to a sudden stop amidst the screaming Bostonians. Typical, thought Hanna. Every mission she had been sent on to recover artifacts from the War Between the States had found her diverted and sidetracked. And now giants. “Nothing to do do about it, I suppose,” she said to herself.

Hanna put her hand on the porter’s shoulder and firmly turned his nose from the window. “Perhaps you could see us safely from the train?” She held the little smile on her lips, and motioned to the car full of near-panicking passengers. The porter nodded, straightened his vest, and began calling out orders, ushering the people toward the exit in a calm fashion.

Hanna secured her bonnet and scarf, and carrying her reticule, a sizable handbag, descended onto the dusting of Boston snow. She turned away from the rest of the fleeing passengers and went to see the spectacle.

Three train cars ahead of her stood Cormorgan. The steam-work man was only about eight feet tall, but he was as wide as three men and round like a barrel. He had torn open the side of the coal car and was shoveling the fuel through a door in his chest into his furnace. Flames spilled out, blackening his iron hide. Hardly a giant, really.

Hanna watched a pair of police officers creeping up behind the giant. One held a long iron rod like a spear and the other aimed a rifle. The rifleman fired and hit, but the bullet ricocheted harmlessly away.

Cormorgan’s head rotated around in its socket, his three eyeholes focusing on the officers. His body turned about, rotating at the waist, squaring off with the police. The fire exhaled from his chest as he spread his arms out wide and lurched forward.

His thick legs reminded Hanna of Greek columns. They were not steady, but the giant moved with surprising speed above the waist. He clamped his hands around the chest of the rifleman. The man screeched as Cormorgan lifted him, crushing his bones. As the man flopped lifelessly, the giant pulled him in, cramming the broken, leaking officer into the giant’s gaping furnace.

Hanna could smell burning flesh even at this distance. She held her scarf up to her nose to block the stench and looked about the train yard for a few moments before a plan came together. She began to jog alongside a neighboring track that housed a train loaded with lumber. She loosened her scarf, positioning herself behind the remaining officer.

The officer, with red whiskers and wild eyes, yelled to her. “Go! Get away!”

“Keep your eyes on the task before you,” Hanna replied, calmly looking about for a safe place to set her reticule, before spying a mostly dry spot under the train. Now then, she thought, pulling the scarf from her neck and rubbing its ends together.

Hanna lived on trains much of these last few years, and when she had the good fortune to procure a private car, she would spend her hours building useful devices to assist in her non-traditional occupation. She was particularly proud of this scarf and its magnetic properties although, she had to admit, it was truly her aunt’s design.

The blood splattered across Cormorgan’s body was smoldering as the giant advanced. He clumped awkwardly, one step at a time, arms quickly lashing out. The officer ducked and scrambled to stay out of his reach.

“Excellent,” Hanna said. “Bring him this way if you could.” She felt the magnetism within the scarf begin to activate. Just a few more moments, then, she thought, and began to count down from ten.

She began twirling the scarf in front of her and walked in front of the officer. “What are you…” began Red Whiskers.

Cormorgan stepped onto the track as Hanna counted three. She pulled her arm back on two and threw the scarf on one.

The scarf stiffened, attaching itself in part to Cormorgan’s left leg and in part to the train track, and Hanna began to count down again. The giant lunged forward, but finding himself anchored, tipped forward, crashing into the ground.

“You trapped it,” said Red Whiskers, as Cormorgan spun his arms in the dirt.

“Not for long,” said Hanna, pulling the spear from his hands. Eight, she counted. She jumped up onto the nearest lumber flatbed, perched on a log, and with the spear began prying at the latches holding down the pile of wood.

“What are you doing?” asked Red Whiskers.

“Attempting to bury the giant,” she said, straining in a most unladylike manner. Six, she counted. The first latch popped off and the logs shifted. The officer scrambled out of the way as Hanna dug the spear into the second latch.

Fire was spilling out of Cormorgan’s chest as he lay face down, pounding at the earth. Three, counted Hanna as the second latch popped. She jumped aside and watched as the logs stayed exactly as they were. One. The scarf lost its magnetic charge and Cormorgan began to push himself back to his feet. Hanna took a breath, wedged the spear into the pile of logs, and threw her weight behind it.

The timber spilled, flowing over the side of the flatbed, raining down on the giant. His back dented, his arms cracked, his head split. When the deluge ended, all that could be seen of the giant were the bottoms of his feet sticking out from the pile of wood.

“Ah,” said Hanna to herself, clapping her gloved hands together lightly to remove the dust. “That seemed to turn out just fine. Would you mind,” she held out her hand toward Red Whiskers, “helping me down?” The officer shut his slack-jawed mouth and rushed around the logs to offer his assistance as the porter ran up beside them.

“You killed Cormorgan,” the porter said in a soft voice, picking up her scarf.

“In my defense,” said Hanna, draping her arm around the officer’s neck as he lifted her to the ground, “He didn’t leave me many options. Thank you,” she said, accepting the burned scarf. “It does look a bit damaged, doesn’t it? Out of commission for the time being. I trust we are still on schedule to depart for Bangor this evening?”

Red Whiskers cleared his throat. “I’m afraid not, miss. The mayor has put a halt to all trains until the giant situation is resolved.”

“Are they all revolting?” asked the porter.

“Only two others,” said Red Whiskers. “Two-headed Thunderdel in the Public Garden and Galigantus in the harbor.”

“And no one can stop them?” asked Hanna.

Red Whiskers shrugged. “The maker built them in a secret laboratory. Seemed a fine idea until he died and no one knew how to turn them off.”

Hanna pouted. True, her schedule did have flexibility, but she did not want to set a precedent of attending to every local crisis she encountered in her travels. However, she considered, these were the famous giants of Boston. Incredible machines that had not yet seen their equal.

“Well,” she said, turning toward the porter. “If the trains will not depart before the matter of the giants is resolved, perhaps you would care to escort me?”

“To your hotel?”

“To slay the giants.”


Knight.jpg

Jonah Knight is a multiple time musical guest of honor at various SF/F conventions up and down the east coast, from The Steampunk World’s Fair to his home base at MarsCon. The songs on his six (soon to be seven) albums range from supernatural steampunk to creepy Christmas to paranormal modern folk. Although primarily known for his music these days, he spent three seasons in the Kennedy Center’s playwright training program and had a number of his plays produced around the country as well as an official performance at the Faust International Theatre Festival in Hong Kong. He occasionally takes a break from writing music to work on a script or short story. His music can be heard all over the internet including www.jonahknight.com. He lives in Frederick, MD, though not for too much longer.

SNEAK PEEK – IN WOLF’S CLOTHING BY JAMES CHAMBERS (GASLIGHT AND GRIMM)


Brown leather textured background with side light.

an excerpt from “In Wolf’s Clothing”
by James Chambers

From Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, now funding on Kickstarter.

“I appreciate your indulgence. Tradition must be observed when dealing with my grandmother.” Despite all the time Madame Marceline Rene spent in New Alexandria, her Parisian accent remained strong.

“I have no quarrel with tradition,” Morris Garvey said, “only with cold mornings on rough seas.”

“You think a coach would’ve been faster, smoother, and warmer,” Marceline said. “But a journey across water clears the mind and cleanses the soul.”

“I suppose there are worse places to be than on Paumanok Sound in January.”

Morris shivered and rubbed his gloved hands together. He eyed the whitecaps biting the Sound like gnashing teeth on which the modest ship heaved and rocked. Far beyond the craft’s wake stood the New Alexandria skyline and the Middle Borough Bridge slowly fading into clarity as the rising sun burned away the morning fog. Seagulls hung aloft on the wind. A whistle blew. The ship jolted against the edge of a dock, and then the engines in its belly grumbled and hissed, working to steady it while two crewmembers leapt off with ropes to tie it in place. Once the ship was secure, Morris offered Marceline his hand as she stood; it was a gesture of etiquette rather than necessity because Morris could not think of a time he had ever seen her even a hair off-balance.

“Was the journey so bad you would prefer to have shortened our time together?” she said.

“Spending less time with you is never my preference. But if you want time together we could’ve simply spent the day in my labs.”

“Leaving my poor, sick grandmother all alone in the woods.” Marceline shifted the satchel slung from her shoulder; she had not removed it all morning.

“If by ‘all alone’ you mean tended by a staff of thirty-five and by ‘woods’ you mean her twenty-six room summer mansion, well, then, yes, I guess that’s true.”

All mirth fled Marceline’s expression. “There will be plenty of time in the lab on other days, but I’m afraid time is no longer bountiful for my grandmother.” She descended a gangplank dropped in place by the crew and stepped onto the dock.

Chagrined, Morris hesitated, watching the crew unload crates of supplies bound for the estate and then joined Marceline. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t make jibes when your grandmother is ill. I’m completely at your service. Anything I can do to help you and your family, all you have to do is ask. I have all the time in the world for you.”

“Do you really mean that?” Marceline asked.

“Of course I do.” In light of all he and Marceline had done for each other over the last few years, the question surprised Morris. Marceline’s expression hinted, though, that there was something deeper in the asking than a need for mere reassurance.

“Thank you,” Marceline said. “My grandmother must meet you under the proper circumstances. Lifting her spirits will help her condition. Perhaps even buy her a few more days or weeks. Our family’s ways may be odd, but I won’t be the one to cast them aside.”

“What ways are those?”

“Some things must be experienced rather than explained.” Marceline smiled and held Morris’s arm. “You and I don’t know how things might one day work out between us, but I wouldn’t want us to wind up together without my grandmother’s blessing, and she won’t give that unless we show her it’s deserved.”

Morris raised an eyebrow. “Ah, that sounds perhaps a bit… premature.”

“Don’t be frightened,” Marceline said. “I know all too well I’ve got competition for your heart. But losing Michel taught me there are things in this world you must not wait to do if you’re ever to do them. Michel and I put off far too much in the life we were to have together—and when he died, it all perished unrealized. During the other night’s incident at the opera, we both brushed with death—and I won’t learn that lesson twice. I’m not asking you for a commitment, but if we are to have a future together, it must be with my grandmother’s approval and so I must do this now. If one day we go our separate ways then this will have been only time spent between lovers. Besides, it’s good for you to get out of that witch-infested enclave of city once in awhile.”

“That’s my city you’re perjorating,” Morris said.

“Oh, yes, forgive me, I know.” In a taunting singsong voice, Marceline said, “Morris Garvey, inventor of steam-powered chimney sweeps, founder of Machinations Sundry, technological genius and New Alexandria’s favorite son. The man is the city, the city is the man.”

“Don’t believe the hype. I don’t,” Morris said. “Besides, only downtown is infested with witches. Really it’s only one neighborhood—and they’re not all bad once you get to know them.”

“As you’ve come to know their queen?”

Morris tensed. He was tempted to tell Marceline that Anna Rigel, the Queen of New Alexandria’s witches, had not spoken to him for three weeks after his latest failure to live up to her expectations, but he knew no reply was best whenever it came to women Marceline perceived as her rivals. Awkward silence hung between them until one of the attendants, Mr. Bucheron—a mute, hulking man nearly seven feet tall—brought their overnight bags and ushered them along the dock.

“In Paris, at least, people once knew that the best way to deal with witches was at the stake,” Marceline said.

“If I didn’t know you well enough to recognize your sarcasm I’d be horrified,” Morris said.

Marceline cast Morris a simmering look over her shoulder. “Perhaps you overestimate how well you know me.”

Morris laughed, but his voice transformed into a cry of alarm as Marceline took the first step down from the dock and the plank twisted beneath her foot. She stumbled and thrust out a hand to steady herself. Morris latched onto it, stopping her fall and tugging her back onto solid wood. In the process, though, she yanked him off balance and forced him to jump from the side of the dock to avoid falling off face first. He landed up to his chest in frigid water, stumbled on slippery rocks, and went under. The cold shocked him. He gasped by reflex, and the taste of sea salt flooded his mouth. He burst to the surface, coughing and pushing water from his face. A pounding wave broke against his back and shoved him under a second time him as the powerful undertow clutched his feet from beneath him. He stayed under for several seconds before he regained his footing and surfaced. The wind howled around him, and his ears rang. Marceline shouted orders. Mr. Bucheron and the crew scrambled down from the dock to help Morris onto the rocky beach.

He knelt there, arms wrapped across his chest, a trembling, an icy mass of needling aches.

“Listen… to that…. My teeth… are actually… chattering…,” he managed to say.

“Take him to the huntsman’s shack. Hurry!” said Marceline.


ChambersJames Chambers writes tales of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. He is the author ofThe Engines of Sacrifice, a collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas published by Dark Regions Press which Publisher’s Weekly described in a starred-review as “…chillingly evocative….” He is also the author of the short fiction collections Resurrection House (Dark Regions Press) and The Midnight Hour: Saint Lawn Hill and Other Tales, in collaboration with illustrator Jason Whitley as well as the dark, urban fantasy novella, Three Chords of Chaos andThe Dead Bear Witness and Tears of Blood, volume one and two in his Corpse Fauna novella series. His short stories have been published in the anthologies The Avenger: Roaring Heart of the Crucible, Bad-Ass Faeries, Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad, Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory, Bad-Ass Faeries 4: It’s Elemental, Bad Cop No Donut, Barbarians at the Jumpgate, Breach the Hull, By Other Means, Chiral Mad 2, Clockwork Chaos, Crypto-Critters (Volume 1 and 2), Dark Furies, The Dead Walk, The Dead Walk Again, Deep Cuts, The Domino Lady: Sex as a Weapon, Dragon’s Lure, Fantastic Futures 13, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Hardboiled Cthulhu, Hear Them Roar, Hellfire Lounge, In An Iron Cage, Lost Worlds of Space and Time (Volume 1), Mermaids 13, New Blood, No Longer Dreams, Shadows Over Main Street, Sick: An Anthology of Illness, So It Begins, The Spider: Extreme Prejudice, Qualia Nous, To Hell in a Fast Car, Truth or Dare, TV Gods, Walrus Tales, Weird Trails, Warfear, and With Great Power; the chapbook Mooncat Jack; and the magazines Bare Bone, Cthulhu Sex, and Allen K’s Inhuman

His tale “A Wandering Blackness,” one of two published in Lin Carter’s Doctor Anton Zarnak, Occult Detective, received an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Sixteenth Annual Collection. He has also edited and written numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow House, and the Midnight Hour in the anthology Negative Burn. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association, the current chair of its membership committee, and recipient of the 2012 Richard Laymon Award. He lives in New York.

SNEAK PEEK – A CAT AMONG GEARS BY ELAINE CORVIDAE (GASLIGHT AND GRIMM)


Brown leather textured background with side light.

an excerpt from “A Cat Among the Gears”
by Elaine Corvidae

From Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, now funding on Kickstarter.

“You put my brain into a cat.”

“Exactly!” Master said, gleeful as a kid with a new toy.

I stared down in horror at the silver-furred forelegs stretched out in front of me instead of arms. At least I could still stand on two feet. “You. Put my brain. Into a cat.”

“Yes, yes,” Master’s enthusiasm dimmed slightly, as he peered down at me. “You seem to be having trouble comprehending simple language, though. Perhaps this is a side-effect of the feline biochemistry?”

I tried to slap my palm over my face in exasperation, but instead bopped myself on my little pink nose with a paw. And those claws were sharp. Maybe I ought to use them on him. “Why in the nine hells did you put my brain in a cat?”

“I needed to test my size-adjustment ray.”

“We already tested it on that annoying minstrel last week, remember?” Master had shrunk the poor lad so small I suspected one of us had accidentally inhaled him.

Master leaned against the device in question, a rather large and bulky contraption of brass, gears, and lenses. I didn’t have a clue how the thing worked; I was just the gal who handed him the right wrenches, fetched the occasional corpse, and swapped out the punch cards in the automatons.

Except now I was apparently the cat who did that.

“We’d done a whole-body test, yes,” Master agreed, “but it occurred to me to try it on body parts instead,” he said

“And you couldn’t have waited for the next castle-to-castle salesman?”

He almost looked guilty. “Well, I happened to have some of my sleep syrup in my pocket, and your wine was right there…”

In this business, that almost qualified as an excuse. I came from a long line of minions, and trust me, the mad-genius types seldom have good impulse control. Mostly they just do whatever damn fool thing comes into their heads. With a nutter like my current master, well, you learned to watch your drink, count your limbs, and hope to come out the other side with a nice pension. Or at least a sack of gold you managed to loot after the local do-gooder reduced the castle to a smoking ruin.

But really, I had to draw the line somewhere. “So you took out my brain and shrank it.”

“Exactly! It was so cute and tiny, it seemed a shame to waste it. So I asked myself: ‘What else is cute and tiny? Kitties!’ The solution was obvious.”

Great. “So where is my old body? And how soon until I get it back?” I might be able to handle being a cat for a little while, but the novelty was bound to wear off.

The abashed look on his face didn’t bode well. “There was an accident…”

I extended my claws and lashed my tail, and if you don’t think that felt damn weird, you’ve never had your brain stuck in a cat’s body. “What. Happened. To my. Body?”

“I used the size-adjusting ray to make one of the automatons larger—just to see what would happen, of course—and well, the ’ton stepped on you. Um, what used to be you.”

That was it. I drew myself up, as best as I was able with only two-and-a-half feet of height to work with, and stalked to the door. Pausing at the entrance, I turned and pointed a paw dramatically at him. I intended to make some dramatic statement which would strike fear into his heart, but he’d already lost interest and had his head stuck underneath the ray gun, tinkering away.

Muttering under my breath, I dropped onto to all fours and left with whatever dignity I still possessed.


Corvidae

Elaine Corvidae has worked as an office assistant, archaeologist, and raptor rehabilitator, but she always wanted to be a writer. Her fantasy novels have been praised by reviewers and readers alike, and have won the Dream Realm and Eppie awards. She lives near Charlotte, NC, with her husband and several cats.

SNEAK PEEK – FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH BY BERNIE MOJZES (GASLIGHT AND GRIMM)


Brown leather textured background with side light.

an excerpt of “From the Horse’s Mouth”
by Bernie Mojzes

From Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, now funding on Kickstarter.

“Once upon a time there was a girl…” the horse head says, before wheezing into silence. It hangs on the soot-stained wall,  jaw moving like it’s chewing cud, grinding worn molars against yellowed bone and rusted iron, a hideous scraping that hurts just to hear. Then the fire in its eyes goes dead, and even that stops.

There’s jeering from a handful of the pub’s denizens–old regulars, you suppose–but most folk don’t notice, too busy in their drink and their card games, in their boasts and arguments, debates and digressions. In the working girls who flit bright like wanton butterflies through the crowd.

A heap of rags stirs at the corner of the bar; as it moves, its parts become distinct: thin arms, stooped body, wild, grey hair atop a wrinkled, sagging face.

Could she be the one? This broken, toothless hag?

You’ve heard rumors, followed them to this festering canker of a city, to this street, this pub, hoping against all odds that you’ve found her. And now, hoping you’re wrong.

The hag doesn’t look from her empty cup.

“There’ll needs be brandy, if you’re wanting to hear more.”

Her voice is like factory smoke scraped across a farrier’s rasp, harsh yet insubstantial.

The bartender glances over, but the others gathered around the horse head wave their hands in dismissal. They’ve all heard this tale before.

You reach for your purse.

The bartender takes your money and fetches three drinks: one for you, one for her, and the rest of the bottle for the horse. He doesn’t offer you change.

When the old woman turns to bring the horse its brandy, you can’t help but gasp. Her face, her throat, the flesh of her hands is a mass of scars: punctures and tears that hatch her skin in fine white lines and pucker her flesh. One bright blue eye regards you with cold disdain; where the other should be is just an empty socket.

She stares at you for a long, uncomfortable moment, then shakes her head and shuffles by to pour the brandy in the horse’s mouth. It doesn’t run through the holes where the desiccated flesh has peeled away. The old woman flicks a match against the wall and touches it to something deep inside the skull.

The eyes warm. The horse head hisses. Gears turn. It makes a noise that is part fire and part old man clearing his throat. And then it begins:

“There was once an old queen whose husband had died, and who loved her daughter very much, and…”


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mojzes

Much to his embarrassment, Bernie Mojzes has outlived Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Janice Joplin and the Red Baron, without even once having been shot down over Morlancourt Ridge. Having failed to achieve a glorious martyrdom, he has instead turned his hand to the penning of prose, in the pathetic hope that he shall here find the notoriety that has thus far proven elusive. In his copious free time, he co-edits and publishes Unlikely Story (www.unlikely-story.com).