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Flash: Caution: Storm Warning

Caution: Storm Warning

You Can’t Just Storm In Here, Storm Out There

The face of Golfball. A haggard-looking man with a limp Mohawk.

There’s a definite scent to the air that spells rain. A breeze in the air holds a hint of the weather. Dark purpled clouds are building to giants. A soft distant rumble echoes through the streets from afar.

Nobody looks, nobody watches, as the clouds slowly part as if ignoring the wind. The break in their darkness, a quick sliver of light, pierces through dust and etches a trail. The streaming band of light settles on a plant. A tiny little sapling, still mostly green, perks up at the touch. It noticeably rises.

A young woman’s fingertips brush at the fledgling tree’s leaves. She crouches and settles to sit on her heels. She smiles, showing missing teeth, as she hums a slow tune.

“Funny that. How you stop for every bit of green.” A haggardly man, hands shoved in his pockets, stops walking to lean and rest on a lightpost. He closes his eyes and shifts to find comfort. He reaches up with a yawn and brushes aside blue strands of a limp Mohawk. Twin tattoos, on either side of his head, display a smiley-face with an expression that is largely ambivalent.

The woman glances up while continuing her wordless song. She shrugs, smiles wider, and looks back to the plant. Callused fingers snap away bits of unwanted growth and pull off dead leaves from the tender branches.

“I mean, not that I mind, really. It’s pleasant, watching you do what you enjoy. And shit, better than some hobbies out there. At least you do it cause you care.” The man keeps his eyes closed. He seems nearly-liquid against the post. Melting against the pole as if trying to become a part of its surface.

The two remain in their chosen positions as if momentarily frozen in place. Minutes pass. Five. Ten. Both are engrossed by each and every moment. They are not feverishly busy. They are the opposite. They are lost in calm focus. They’re not the stillness of statues but the peace of calm sleep.

The young woman stirs and pets the tree and reaches into her purse. She pulls out a bottle of water and unscrews its cap. She waters the little plant. “What’s for dinner, Golfball?”

“Hmm.” The gaunt man rubs his face. His hands, even bonier than the rest of him, pop at the knuckles as he rubs the back of his neck. “Pizza, maybe?”

She nods, capping the water bottle, and stands with a breathy yawn. “Okay.” Her purse clicks as the clasp closes. “Where to?”

Above them, far above, the clouds shift and swirl. Slowly, almost reluctantly, the shaft of light disappears. The gap in the overcast shrinks like a healing wound. A uniform gray covers them once more. The day returns to its early partial-twilight.

Golfball gestures with a wobbling jut of his chin. “Down this way. A good enough place just round the corner.”

They walk together without looking companionable. The young woman keeps her arms crossed. She’s leaning, ever-so-slightly, away from her acquaintance’s jutting elbows. Her eyelids drift shut, occasionally, for longer than a blink. Dark circles carve extra shadow beneath her eyes and her shoulders droop. “I really need to eat.”

“Stay calm, Erin. We’re almost there.” Golfball walks like a praying mantis might. If it were on two legs and learned to swagger. His knees are skewed outward and his gait is a lazy lope of rocking from heel to toe. He looks like he should fall with every step, but somehow his next step manages to catch his fall.

Erin’s skin has gone pale. Paler than before. It takes on a bluish tint. “Better be good pizza.”

Around the corner, they stop. The sidewalk is blocked by a squat older man. He’s in overalls and a red shirt and a pair of combat boots. He has a handlebar mustache that’s as wide as his face. “Erin.”

“Shit.” Golfball grunts. “This that asshole you talked about?”

“Ethan, now is not great.”

“Never seems to be great, eh? Now, does it ever? Now will do as ever.” The squat man’s face is too-red and his hair is too-orange. “But if you’d just come along we wouldn’t have this arguing. Get away with you, punk. We need to be going.”

“She needs some food,” says Golfball. He scowls. His pointed-chin juts forward. His wrinkling nose waggles a septum piercing. “I’m doubting you’d want any of the shit I got stored up for hapless idiots.”

“Oh please, boy-o. You’re a spot of loose skin, aren’t you? Get away and quit you’re playing at protector. This here is between me an Erin.”

She slips a trembling hand around Golfball’s wrist. She grips as hard as she can, and the bit of red still left presses from her fingers. “Don’t. You’ve been so good. We’ve done so good.”

“Well you ain’t going with him,” grumbles the punk. He pulls out of Erin’s grip. He whips his hair back. The Mohawk keeps drifting into his eyes. Strands of blue get caught in his piercings, little silver rings in his brows, and he brushes them back yet again. “You hear? She’s not going with you. Not now. Not ever.” He leans forward. His shoulders draw up. His posture arcs into a grotesque hunch. “And she needs. To eat.”

Ethan studies the two with a sudden questioning raise of his brows. He makes a small, “Ah!” And then he begins to tut. “So that’s what’s going on here. Bit of symbiosis, is it? You two. She heals…” He waves his hand sloppily. “Whatever it is that ails you, and you act a bit as the bodyguard? Cute.” He snaps his fingers over one shoulder. “Jasper. Danny.”

There’s the sound of doors opening. A nearby car, deep blue, sits at the throat of an alleyway.

“Ethan, this is more than just me and him.” Erin hugs herself. She glances down the street. Toward the pizza place just a few buildings away. “If you don’t let me eat, I can’t hold him anymore.”

“Hold him? Girly. He don’t deserve you’re attentions. Let him rot and come home. We’ve missed you.”

Two toughs walk from the parked car. They’re big bulky men with waists as wide as their shoulders and necks that try to match. “Ethe, there’s a few eyes on us, just to say.” One of the two thumbs toward a second-story window. Blinds close in a rush.

“Well, fuck it all,” says the red-head. He raises his chin. Looks down his crooked-nose at Golfball. “But that ain’t gonna stop us from making this difficult. You don’t play nice, well I suppose you’ll have witnesses to your failure.”

Erin moans, soft and restrained, before falling forward.

Golfball catches her, helps her to her knees. “You okay? Fuck, but you and your plants.”

The young woman smiles despite her moment of weakness. “It will grow so well. So big.”

“Well I can feel the bones again now. I take it you’re done then?”

She nods. “For now.” Sighs. “I’m sorry.”

Ethan gestures toward Golfball. “Alright gents, take this skinny bother out and away will you? Just give him a quick little nap. Erin’s not feeling well so we’ll be needing a fast exit.”

“Fuck,” grumbles the punk. His hunched form begins to hunch more. His head droops, wobbles, and then drops forward. “Hate this shit.”

“Giving up already?” One of the toughs walks up to Golfball with a laugh. He clicks his tongue. “Jasp, maybe it’ll be we just have to carry some dead weight.”

Golfball’s legs straighten. And their knees pop. And then they bend backwards with a wet slurping sound.

The closest henchman, Danny, jumps backward. “Oh! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”

“What the fuck?” asks Jasper. He’s stopped in his tracks.

“This shit?” says Ethan. “You found some crazy like this?” He glares at Erin. “What the fuck did you do?”

Erin, still resting on her knees, struggles to raise her head. “Some wounds don’t heal. You know that.” She glances at Golfball. “Some infections can only be held at bay.”

The punk falls completely forward. His hands slap against the pavement, but his wrists rotate too far around. A full one-eighty and yet the fingers splay out with more sickening crackling joints. He’s become some kind of insect with his abdomen held low to the ground and elbows and knees pointed at the sky. His head hangs loosely with the Mohawk dragging on the pavement.

Golfball’s back arches. His shoulders are horrendously distended beneath a patchwork jacket of green. They’re like wide plates pointed at the two men. As if that’s the eyes of this creature. He, it, whatever, has a full-body spasm. A twitch. It jerks to the right. Toward Jasper.

“Shoot the fucker!” yells Ethan.

Jasper pulls out some generic semi-automatic pistol. He untucks it from its shoulder-holster, flicks the safety off, and squeezes the trigger in one fluid draw.

The gunshot rings as the twisted-version of Golfball skitters forward. Skitters with the slick fluidity of water across a hot pan. It moves as if its merely gliding at its foe.

Blood spatters as one, two, and then three bullets hit the strange punk-form’s body.

It does nothing to slow its attack.

Jasper goes down in a crunch of broken bone and ripping flesh. Something, something deep down within the tough’s chest, makes a loud crack and blood spurts out into the street.

“Where’s you’re fucking gun?” asks Ethan.

Danny’s hands are trembling to open a knife. “Couldn’t. Fucking. Buy one!”

And then his scream rises as Golfball leaps ten feet from one dead body to the next.

Ethan runs. He turns without another word. He heads for the alleyway with the dark-blue car and he even gets in the seat.

Then the hood of the car crumples. Bone-tipped fingers pierce the metal skin. The front window shatters. A not-quite hand rips Ethan from his seat.

He arcs across the road and smacks wetly against the side of an old brick building. Bits of paint fleck off. A few bricks crack. And then the body unsticks and drops down below.

Erin sobs. She clenches her fists. She doesn’t look up to see what’s happened.

Golfball’s bent and twisted form gallops down the road.

Gritting her teeth, summoning her strength, Erin pushes to her feet. She stumbles to grab the side of the closest building. She uses it’s aid to get her down the sidewalk.

Step by slow-shuddering step, she makes her way for pizza.

The owners are outside. They’ve all run to see. They’re calling for help from ambulances and the police.

A little bell tinkles as she pushes through the door. Erin sighs with relief at the sight of displays with ready-made slices. She leans over the counter, grabs one and devours it in just a few bites.

She takes a little more time with the second piece. By the third, she’s taken a seat.

Again, the little bell tinkles as someone pushes through the door.

Click. Click. Click. “Hello.” Click. A woman’s bootheels click. “There have been reports of a strange creature here.” Her words are like the dryness at the back of a nervous throat. Every syllable is clear and crisp.

She takes a seat at Erin’s booth.

“Who are you?” asks the young-woman.

The other smiles without showing her teeth. “My name is Valerie Knox. I need you to tell me where he is.”

“You aren’t getting him either.” Erin shakes her head. “There’s a storm coming, and none of you have earned that right. Don’t you know? He’s got no power. He’s just a victim of chance.”

“Tell me, creature. How do you feel about Florida?”

“What?”

Valerie chuckles. “He will find you again. I am sure of that.”

Erin, suddenly wide-eyed, pushes up from the table. She turns to run with a muttered curse.

She’s stopped in her tracks at a touch. Something like the buzz of electricity fills the small pizza-shop’s room. Erin’s eyes close and she grits her teeth. All she seems to do is strain.

Valerie’s hand settles on Erin’s shoulder. Tattoos of bright blue glow to life. They’re in the shape of some stick-figure people. The delicate lines begin to blur. “You will be a help.”

Erin collapses to the floor.

Flash: Twilight Spider

Talking to Shadows
Issue No. 25231

1 January 1923

Archivists Note:
This letter was published within the last known issue of the infamous “Talking to Shadows” semi-annual magazine. There are numerous accounts from newspaper editorials and, later, news reports themselves, that speak of the Delossi Process, but this has been identified as the earliest credible presentation that someone had identified a rising change of the status quo. Of particular interest is the mention of a group of elders, and their intent to perform some manner of negotiations, but the results of this meeting are so far left to our imaginations. It is, as of yet, unknown whether the writer had a personal acquaintanceship with Madame Delossi, but both were certainly prominent figures in the ensuing period of unrest. They demonstrably knew of each other, but it is inconclusive as to where they obtained such knowledge. Wherever they knew one another from, it is intriguing to discover the initiation of what later became a vicious rivalry that spanned throughout centuries.

Editor’s Letter

A happiest of New Years to the readership. Hopefully, you are waking with a rather minimized hangover. Hopefully, you recall a rather clever use of muffling mentioned in issue 1528. The world should be a tad more tolerable after proper application. Otherwise, let us look forward to these next weeks, these next months, as a time to strike boldly toward the goals that sustain us. Bring in those that deserve our knowledge, build the interconnections of our communication webs, and seek out new applications of those core abilities brought to us by the mastery of talking to shadows. And, most of all, use our capability to strengthen the world and its foundations.

Now, having made mention of the core abilities, it may indeed be time to reiterate those with an emphasis on usage and intent. Surely, the proper use of shadows never strays from our minds, but knowing recent events it is worth an additional moment of thought.

Firstly, it is well documented that some specialists are able to glean combined knowledge from what lingering dead populate all that is cast between light. Importantly, none do this without serious cross-referencing with both the Books of Shadowspeak and public resources. We must all be very aware of the responsibility weighing our shoulders at the possibility of illumination from the past. Even seemingly innocent drivel, from the furthest reaches of time, may have far-reaching affects that are not easily seen by those of us lost in the present.

Secondly, others among us hone that fine ability to pass whispers at the speed of light, or rather as is more apropos, shadow. This tremendous ability has been a most fine aid throughout the millennia. It is no idle boast to claim that our group has saved whole countries, whole continents with the lightning-quick spread of alerts and warning. However, we also spread such information with the care required to allow for misdirection and negate suspicions. It would hardly be of use if we ourselves were not kept safe by our own techniques. Gladly, the rise of radio, of that frightful electron, has made some requirements of this particular skill easier than ever.

Thirdly, though certainly not minimized by the ordering, there are also those upon us with success at visual illusion and misdirection. Notorious for its difficulty to perform, let alone master, it is nonetheless amazingly useful on levels personal, regional, and global. I myself have struggled to build relationships with our departed required for such tasks, but alas those dead to me seem rather reluctant to convince their fellows. Yet, such is the danger of shadow optics. It is beyond reprehensible to lie to those from the beyond in order to convince them of your importance or familial ties. Those bonds we form with the undying must be true and solidly based on reality. Let us never forget the complete loss caused by a simple lie in Rome. There is still little guarantee that the truth of Christianity will ever surface now that the rumors have spread into the hearts of those long passed. Of lesser gravity, but still terribly important, we must never use illusion for such folly as is attempted in mass-hypnotism expositions. Our talents are not those of simple tricks, and the misuse only lessens us and those who follow our creed.

All combined, these are valid and trusted methods of shadowmancy that have been carried forward through generations upon generations. These are the foundations of work that we carry out from day to day. These are the tenants that we nail to doors and uphold with both hands. These are the pillars that build our church.

However, recently it has come to my attention that an elder among our group has claimed a new technique. Please, disregard this dangerous work if you find yourself in possession of Madame Delossi’s essay. Her theories on transportation through shadow have only ever been but wishful glimmers of fancy. Even if possible, though it has been stubbornly disproved time and time again, it is a horrid menacing desire. Entrusting one’s mind and body to such danger, liaising with netherfolk so that life wanders among death, would be calamitous at best. Souls must not breach from one plane to the next, and no protective companionship with the dead will prevent this from attracting the attention of every wraith ever clinging to the edges of Earth’s veils.

Already, I have heard and read of reports from those that have acted on this spurious knowledge. Lives are being lost, friends. A concussive force of darkness obliterated the light in Dallas just last month. Dawn finally broke through just yesterday, but a gloom has set upon the city. Dust storms were engineered to account for such an oddity, but losses of productivity and peace have been unaccountable. Earlier this year, two boys, brothers attending the illustrious Shadow Sept in Eugene, barely escaped with their lives after a nigh-hour attempt that collapsed a butte on itself. Specialists have managed a fine reenactment of mudslides to diminish the abruptness, but several projects have been set aside for months to prevent chaos.

Please, I beg of you, refrain from attending to Madame Delossi’s claims. The rest of the elders are discussing matters of publication standards with her as we speak, and we will surely find a happy medium to settle the unease caused by this tumultuous miscommunication.

As an extra precaution, this issue will have a focus with topics on defensive shadowplay and muffling techniques. As always, take every chance to develop a prowess of mind that does wonders at refining the separation between shadow and light.

Until next issue, may the whispers find you.
– T.S. Canthry

Foggy Mornings, Additional Musings

Foggy Mornings

And Additional Musings

When the day is young, still
When the fog rolls in
When the morning light is dim
When my mind is lost
In lingering dreams, my friends

When the forest is too overgrown
When the underbrush is thick
When the wooded trail is lost
When each footfall breaks wrists
And promises speak of death

There is the hopeless
Then is the moment lost
That is the breaking point
Before barriers are crossed

Then is the moment
Where solutions make sense
Whether or not
They can provide a defense

Why should we rely
On the infallible thought
That we can try
And figure it out

But in those gloomy places
With just the right lie
There’s still a torch to see
A pretty face
Or a project to be
A mental construction
A glimmer beckoning

And maybe, perhaps
It’s just an illusion
But believe in illusion
Until it must be

 

Avoidance

Something cold trickles down, drips, catches
Sits, waits, becomes a weight
Heavy, heavier, the heaviest thing
It’s bearing down
It’s listening

A thought that hammers repeatedly
It bothers, needles, breaks skin
Digs down and burrows in
Becomes the truth
Despite denial

Oh denial, oh its relief
The promise it offers of unchanging
How can I stop who I have been?
When it took so long to learn to be

Acceptance is good, isn’t it great?
You can be yourself
You can let the world in
You can alienate all of your friends

So patch the dam as it cracks
Bulges, creaks under that weight
Just ignore what might be
Take the comfort
Of not reckoning

Avoid the searching of who and why
The state of not, doing a thing
Stalling, stalled, a stall that breaks wings
Keep the secret
Down within

 

Caught

They caught me on the doorstep
One Saturday evening
We were arm-in-arm
Secret kissing

Some secrets are joyful
A happy surprise
A dramatic reveal
That pleases
Assures
And Complies

But those aren’t the best secrets
The best secrets draw blood
They drew blood
Because of a secret
They broke hearts
And you lie

Conformity breeds liars
You have to fit in
But if you don’t?
If you won’t?
Then you learn to fib.

Honesty is for the normal
Honestly for shapeshifters
They fit in a box
Because they were poured in

But what of the misshapen?
The ones that can’t melt
Or those that refuse
Because that’s not being yourself

Then? A choice.
A statement.
Of life:
A constant fight
Or a constant fib

 

Never

She took a step and stopped
Looked at me, quizzical
The question wasn’t why
It was not a question
An accusation

And I couldn’t take it
I couldn’t refuse
Love was easier
Than hate

But who wrote the rules?
And when do they break?
When did the moment pass
Where someone had been hurt?

I didn’t succumb
I overcame
But to an outside viewer
They were one and the same

The challenges are breathless
Wordless
Weeping
Choices

And those choices, daggers that cut different
Hurt self or someone else
Any choice is deafening
When an expression of self

Traffic Control

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
505 Words

I fingertip nudge my glasses. “Hey, Greg, check this out.”

He spins in his chair and wheels across the hall. The door squeaks wider as he uses it to boost to my desk. “What’s up?”

“Fifth and Jackson. Monitor four.” I point at the television wall.

His head swivels up and left to find the point of interest. His eyes widen. “The hell? That’s quite the crowd.”

“They’ve been showing up for half an hour. Been a pretty steady stream of people.” I tap my keyboard and take control. “Maybe just a party? ”

The screen flickers with static as I pan and zoom. Amplified-light colors streak as the camera struggles to refocus. Then splotchy red and white become the crisp outline of an expensive car. Its exhaust curls up thick into the cool night air.

Greg leans back and kicks his feet up on the control panel. His black boots narrowly miss a flashing switch.

“Hey, man! Careful. You almost hit the alarm!” I slap his shoulder. “Off!”

He relents with rolling eyes and heels snapping to the floor. “At least let me enjoy the show.”

“Well-” I start, but then I get distracted.

There’s commotion from the crowd milling about on screen. They split and part like a staff-directed sea. Another car, sleek, red, creeps into view. I imagine rumbling from the engine as it pushes through.

“Ooh, sweet! They’re totally gonna play chicken!”

“Not good.” I shake my head and reach for the phone. “We should probably call the cops.”

“What harm’s it gonna do? Let them have their fun.”

My eyes shift to meet his. “We’re traffic controllers. Not traffic watchers. And someone could get hurt.”

“Yeah?” He winks. “Means we could totally sell the vid.”

“You’re terrible,” I mutter, but my hand slips from the receiver’s handle.

“I know, but what’s it matter? These are rich punks doing stupid things. They wouldn’t get in trouble if someone caught them anyway.” He leans forward and puts his hand on my knee. “How much did we make off that potato gun incident?”

The screen fills with the fog of showoffs spinning tires. Both drivers are busy making donuts of a rubber variety.

I push his hand off my knee. “That guy was out on highway twenty. This is different. There are houses on Jackson Street. What if they wake someone up?”

“Then it’s even better! How cool would it be if some grandpa storms out in his bathrobe?”

My head sweeps from Greg, to the screen, and then to the phone. “They could hurt someone in that crowd too.” The cars have stopped spinning. Now they’re lining up.

“Hey! Come on…”

I pick up and listen to the dial tone. A laminated sheet of numbers hangs on the wall. The black and white list goes blurry as my glasses are yanked away. “Greg!”

He jumps up with a barking laugh and his chair shimmy-wobbles.

I resist the urge to give chase and dial a nine and two ones.

Review: Jennifer Flath – The Black Pearl

Black Pearl Cover
Cover for the Black Pearl

“Will it be dangerous?”
“It is not for the faint of heart, and there are no refunds.”

Rin and Alexander (Jennifer Flath – The Black Pearl)

The right book can take you to a faraway place, where the people are familiar in a hundred different ways. The characters become friends, and even after a journey they’ll keep constant company.

The Black Pearl series, by Jennifer Flath, is one of those stories that I began to breathe and look forward to visiting. I still do. It’s like finding an overgrown stone cottage out in a wild spot of forest. It’s one of those places that feels ancient and mystical and timeless. It feels real and unreal at the same time. It’s lovely.

This review covers two completed books in the series: The Black Pearl and The Memory Spell. A third book, The Destiny Detour is currently being published as a chapter-by-chapter web serial. But these tales are focused on a young woman with mysterious presence named Rin. The epic follows her struggles to save existence from dangerous forces. Along the way, she meets friends and enemies that are crucial to her development as a person and key to her success in restoring order to the world.

Alexander could not decide how this news made him feel. If anyone was brazen enough to attack a camp full of Malum, it would be his sister. Should he be hopeful or terrified?

Characters

Flath focuses almost entirely on her characters, and the result is wonderful. I care about every person, good or evil, ambivalent or invisible, in this series. I want to know all of their stories, past present, and future. They’re all distinct and interesting and have little conflicting bits of personality that become engaging and intriguing. How will this group of people react to this situation, or the next one? I began to read as a way to hang out with these people just as much as I did to follow the plot. And there was never conflict just for the sake of inciting drama. Everyone seems very rational in their irrational outbursts or stupid decisions.

A useful writing exercise for characters is to describe them without referring to how they look. Describe them with motivations and personality and non-physical character traits. Rin is kind and curious and forgiving; she is a nurturing soul with a strength of will to resist anyone’s hope to break the Good within. Alexander is a restless scholar that wants to know everything and share that knowledge with someone he cares about; he is the embodiment of progress and growing beyond past mistakes after coming to new understandings. And Shrilynda is a woman grown distant from humanity through her quest for power and the ability to control her every situation; she is self-serving indifference and the callous disregard of ends-justifies-the-means.

The actions of these characters define them. They are strong representations of character and ideals. It takes some time to get to know some of their motivations, but it is wholly worthwhile. And Flath introduces each of the main players over careful spaces of time and action. Many begin as the embodiment of one specific archetype or set of traits, but they are gradually given depth and flaws.

But this is no Game of Thrones or Dark Knight. There are no major figures of gray ambiguity. For the most part, this story paints groups and people in swathes of light and dark, one side or the other. And that is refreshing. To me, it is more than welcome. Plus, this only adds to the fantastical mythological feeling of the story. I like the stark good and evil presented in these books. Hints at philosophical gray areas are there at the edge of the narrative, and that’s enough.

Rin smiled slightly. “Does your sword often send books or fire flying at you?”
“Not even once.” Alexander shook his head.

Setting

The Black Pearl series takes place on a different planet somewhere. Perhaps it is an alternate universe. Maybe it’s some kind of experimental hologram. It could be a different galaxy. There’s never any concrete explanation, but there are hints. That doesn’t really matter though. What matters is that the stories just scratch the surface of a living world that stands on its own with created elements while borrowing the best parts of comfortable fantastical elements. There are unicorns and giant scorpions and overly-educated panthers. There’s a great crystal palace and orc-like tribes fighting over scraps of riverside real-estate. This is the world many stories have inhabited, but it’s not just some lifeless carbon copy pasted over from Tolkien or Lewis. It’s an incarnation that shows a vivid imagination willing to take ideas and blend them and grow them into something stronger.

And it’s done with careful brush strokes of meaningful detail. There are no long passages describing places or things in this series, and instead Flath chooses to lace world building into conversation and immediacy. This can leave the world feeling somewhat like a blank canvas, but with these stories it’s executed carefully and works well. I always knew where I was and never felt like the story was a series of talking heads, and I was never glancing to the end of the paragraph in want of action. Of course, I’d love to get more info on the world and its cultures, but it really wouldn’t fit with the narrative style or pacing of the story. I’d rather wait for a reader’s companion out there in the future and enjoy the story without infodumps.

Plot

The Black Pearl starts quickly, lingers around in the middle as everyone gets to know one another, and then it rushes forward to a conclusion. The Memory Spell starts out with slow deliberate steps, gradually picks up speed, and then it shudders a little before snapping into its ending. Both are stories of great evils and the fight against catastrophic calamity. Black Pearl’s situation is definitely more dire, but with Memory Spell I cared more and knew more, so there was a feeling of more danger.

As mentioned earlier, the characters are the focus of these books. Their experiences, thoughts, goals, and reactions to the events are what I enjoyed. Sometimes, the focus is entirely on these individuals and their relationships. That slows the pacing, but it deeply enhances the impact of what happens to everyone.

Perhaps because of that focus on characters, neither of these are direct A-to-B novels. They’re winding roads of related events, though the character are always pursuing their goals. Sometimes their goalposts are moved, sometimes the goal is misunderstood, or maybe they have a hard time remembering what they were doing. These are good things. It keeps the reader guessing and nothing feels over-scripted or forced. The progressions of accomplishment are fought for and natural. It feels like Flath writes to share an adventure that happened, and adventures should never be drawn with a straight line.

Now, of the two books, The Black Pearl definitely has more of a straight line. It’s arc, though well drafted and expertly executed, is the bread and butter of Fantasy novels. A powerless, downtrodden, and unknown individual finds something / someone that sparks a change in their life and leads them to power and glory. They had the power within them the whole time. These are fantastic story elements that are fun and a delight to experience when done well. Fortunately, Flath uses tropes as they should be used: They are tools with which she conveys thought and emotion. Once again, the depth of character development pulls everything together.

The Memory Spell has a lot more surprises, but does very nearly veer into a wandering aimlessness. This may be intentional, or it might just be a byproduct of the character focus. Character progress from the first book is lost, everyone is split apart, and the cohesive team of before is shattered. So, aimlessness feels right. In fact, events of the book almost demand a lack of certainty. There was a real feeling of hopelessness and dark times that made the resolution all the more satisfying.

She had conjured a flying sheepskin rug.
At least it seemed harmless and was not currently breathing fire.

Overall

This review likely makes it plain that I am a fan of these stories. My objectivity toward the books is understandably questionable. So, for what it’s worth, I wholeheartedly recommend Jennifer Flath’s series, and I will continue to read her work. She creates satisfying stories that are epic and heartwarming and fun. 4.5 stars.

Clarity and Readability – A star for rating stuff.
Originality and Interest – ratingStarHalf
Cohesiveness and Setting – A star for rating stuff.
Characters and Development – A star for rating stuff.
Enjoyability – A star for rating stuff.

Train Platforms and Rooftops

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
854 Words

Train platforms were always a kind of half-peaceful escape from humanity. Sure, sometimes it’d get busy, and then you’d have to deal with a bit of a crowd. That was the exception, however. Most of the time you just sat there on a bench, quietly staring into a space made up of rock and steel, rust and flickering lights. The peace flew the coup whenever a freight train went blurring by. Those were a physical force of noise and motion and sucking wind.

Gerald sat there as one of the behemoths lunged behind him on the second tracks. He was staring at a small mouse crawling over another. He was slouching, hands deep in his pockets and a toothpick held between his teeth. The toothpick gave him a feeling of being cool. His hands within his pockets gave him a feeling of comfort almost as a security blanket would. He likened putting your hands in your pockets to balling up into the fetal position. It was comfortable.

An announcer started his gibberish about time, trains, and tracks. The time registered somewhere in Gerald’s mind, matched up with a schedule, and activated a movement protocol. Work was starting soon. He picked up his book bag.

The great thing about train stations, airports, and bus stations was the security you had in being there. If you had some sort of bag, or at least looked tired, withdrawn, and worn, no one would bug you. You could just sit there, for hours on end, without anyone giving you a second glance. It was kind of like an open privacy. Every bit of its escape was in your mind.

Sidewalks were always worn, cracked, and stained. When someone put in a new stretch of the stuff it’d practically glow, especially on sunny days. The sidewalk on the way to work was old, ancient and beaten by the forces of gravity and pedestrians. It had little cracked dips and rises, places where the earth had settled, and places where roots had pushed out against the confines of a cement prison. There was old spray paint and new chalk. These were two forms of graffiti with varying levels of acceptance. Permanence is hard to accept.

The place that Gerald worked was one of those looming buildings of mortar and stone, too old to know it should’ve fallen down already and too old to consider making it fall down. It had historical merit despite most of that involving bad days of work. Today was a bad day of work, and it hadn’t even really started. Things were just sort of uneven and off rhythm. Sometimes the world just seemed to pulse exactly the wrong way, or maybe it was just Gerald. He clocked in and considered the digital timestamp telling him he was two minutes late.

In a cubicle, you have the exact opposite of privacy. You have a little cardboard box that everyone can open. They lift the flaps and rummage through the contents. They toss out what’s been in there too long. They stuff other junk inside that they don’t want anywhere else. The only real refuge is the computer screen. There is the glowing God with digital secrets and dreams hidden away beneath false windows and half-hearted spreadsheets. Someone in another cardboard box loves work and pushes out maximum output. Gerald doesn’t hate work, but he doesn’t care, and so pushes out no output. Combined, along with whatever other cardboardians, output is nominal.

On break, Gerald stood by the water cooler with one of those little conical cups. They hold maybe a gulp of water. He always filled them up eight or nine times until slowly getting a full eight ounces. Today he just stared at the cooler, empty, and tried to figure out what it was he would do. Lunch was always water. Getting water was how he spent his lunch.

After work, Gerald walked home while pretending his feet were wheels over the landscape of a rolling sidewalk. He passed the train station, considered taking a seat to listen to the passing trains, but kept on toward his apartment. The air was cool with the scent of budding flowers and car exhaust, but the important thing was that it felt good. He didn’t go to his room, not yet, but slowly wound up the staircase, forgoing the elevator’s rumbling ride.

On rooftops, there was always a kind of half-peaceful escape from humanity. Under your back was the feel of gravel and small rocks, weight distribution keeping any from digging in and making it uncomfortable. Above you, the sky darkened and an expanse of stars opened up, peeking out from their hiding places in the blue beyond. The peace flew the coup whenever sirens went blaring by, but it was alright. There were still the stars, and the sky, and the gentle breeze that always picked up just enough to carry away the heat and oppression of things going stale.

Tomorrow, Gerald decided he’d stop by the train station again. Who knew, maybe his train would come in.

Key Liar

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
300 Words

Others of the warrior’s ilk were filling the room around me, burly men and women wearing pelts and bits of iron as jewelry. They ducked carefully to step downstairs onto the ship’s lower deck, “We are honored by your presence.”

Arranged in a semicircle they passed around horns of drink and baskets of bread. These were shared with reverent bows in my direction. They repeated one phrase: ”The key to our salvation.”

None approached me and I soon grew bored out of my fear, “Might I have something to eat?”

“Sacrament,” said the first, the leader, the one that yanked me from the city, “Fulfillment of the pact requires clarity.”

“What pact?” I stood warily, unsteady because of rolling of waves, “If I’m so special then tell me something!”

“You are the key…”

“…to our salvation,” I finished, “Yeah, I got that. Ridiculous.”

Deep pulsing sounds reverberated through the vessel.

Two of the savages grabbed my upper arms and yanked me out of the room in a hurried rush. Their faces were tight, jaws clenched.

All around us the sky was dancing with streaming light. Electricity crackled as my captors lifted me to the sky, “The key!”

A great sonorous wail shook the very fabric of the world. I felt my mind twist.

“Liar! LIAR!” The leader stared at me with horror, “You claimed yourself sterile!”

Thin sheets of energy surrounded my skin. The ship, along with all of its sailors, disintegrated in screams. Bright purple light engulfed everything.

A breeze whispered fading words, “Liar…”

I bobbed in the swell of a sea I did not know under an alien sky. Ignorance wasn’t a lie, but I felt terrible for my unknowing betrayal. I had been their key alright, but not for salvation. Nor mine. I couldn’t tread water forever.

Chosen to Feed

Flash Fiction
J.A. Waters
998 Words

Stacy wished she could have a dog as she watched the streetlights flicker. Darkness slid into its place and the sidewalks seemed to disappear.

Any pet would have been welcome. Well, there’d be no point in fish. Or lizards or spiders or glass-walled things that had little of comfort to add. So, of course a dog, or a cat as well. Having any warmth would be a lovely change.

But the neighborhood was stuffy. Its people had their ways. Perhaps they wouldn’t notice, not for days at least.

Stacy closed the curtains. She slid the window shut. Grass tickled her shoeless feet as she wandered through the yard. Someone had left a tricycle out. Demolished anthills showed where children had played. She felt the tug of an aluminum fence as it haltingly let her phase.

The new world was not of iron. There were less believers and less of faith. To some neighbors that was a blessing. To Stacy it was a plague.

She walked into a wooded court. Musicians tested strings. A quiet man in a pair of boxers stood in the shadowed glade. Moonlight wouldn’t bring its nuisance. Night would linger in shadow. Stacy sighed a careful sigh. She hated the lengthy dark.

“Daughter, lead the feeding.”

Her lips tightened as she turned. A pale white figure hung from its tree. She hated that toothless grin. Stacy dipped a curtsy low. “Of course, Caethar. Always as you wish.”

A hundred joints began to pop. The creature uncurled from its perch of mossy branches. Leaves rustled as the bulk dislodged. Caethar’s body filled the space. Its carapace shook and swayed. It slunk to surround the prey.

Whatever daze had held the man finally began to fade. His first instinct was to shiver as night’s chill broke in. Then he saw the terror. Then he choked the moment in.

Strange enough, he did not yell. The nearly naked man did not scream. He shook and his shoulders trembled. But all he did was look down.

Stacy walked into her mentor’s form. She thought the creature enjoyed the touch. She couldn’t feel the contact, but that it did she had no doubt. Every time it got the chance, it seemed to force her through. On the other side she paused in thought. It was helpful to consider the chosen. They never fit a pattern. How did they hear the call?

Remembering things long passed was hard. Understanding brought pain. The little left inside Stacy’s head barely found an age. The man was in his forties. Perhaps a little older. His hair was thick but graying. His belly a sloping pouch. “Chosen, can you hear me? Do you know your purpose?”

“Who? Is that?” His voice caught with each breath. He looked about with eyes grown wide. He shook with convulsions to his knees.

“It is enough to hear. Vision refuses to cooperate.” She cupped his cheek on a whim. “Are you not afraid?”

Anger drove his voice strong. Anger darkened his face. “Don’t you see me shaking? Do you smell my coward’s piss? End this torment, quickly! I accept my fate!”

Caethar rumbled laughter. The ground thrummed to that rolling sound. The neighbors would all look skyward. They would question the cloudless night. “Musicians. Play.”

The touch of warmth surprised her. She could feel her fingers burn. Stacy pressed her fingers in and they passed into the skull. “You are no believer…”

The violas rose in tune.

“His nature is no matter. He answered and will get his due.” The creature’s carapace clattered. The chitinous plates drew back. A hundred eyes blinked open. They stared out from empty milky white.

Through her passed a memory. But then there came much more. Stacy saw the life of a man with guilt weighing him down.

Both of his eyes were rolled back to white. The man’s mouth was hanging open. The sounds he made were animal grunts as who he’d been was seeping out.

One of the musicians struck discord that yowled into the night. The other stumbled on the flaw and veered into disarray.

“Now! To me! You are my channel! Direct the flow!”

Stacy turned a neck grown stiff as life began to spread. Her eyes were bulging outward. “He was never yours to take!”

The chitinous form tried to waggle forward in its open state, but it’s bulk was far too ponderous. It could only yell and growl. “It does not matter what they think! I don’t care what they believe! They owe me still for the time I spent giving them this place!”

The man’s heart was beating slower. He was falling to the ground. A glimpse of life was in him, but the rest had been drawn away.

From another’s memory her own grew stronger. The reminder made her howl. She turned upon her master. “As you told me so long ago!?”

“You deserve the role you play! Doubt gives you no escape! If you had been more firm in faith, then perhaps I’d have let you rest!” Caethar’s armor began to close. It realized the morsel’s loss. Soon it would rear and demolish the clearing. Soon it would steal back Stacy’s theft.

She felt her heart for the first time in years. There was a thump beneath her breast. A chitinous plate grew from her throat and snapped over her chest. “No,” she said, “You will lie no more. I will lay you down to rest!”

Its laughter filled the naked sky. Stars twinkled with its mirth. The segmented body rose and towered, “You are nothing but a pest.”

Stacy knew her power. She wasn’t living yet. She leaped and phased within her master. Her fingers curled as claws of death.

Both musicians fled, and the man lay still, unconscious. Stacy devoured her former lord until its power filled her full.

And when dawn thought to return. She walked back to her home. She climbed back through the window, and felt a hunger grow.

Review: Laura Morrison – How to Break an Evil Curse

How to Break an Evil Curse Cover Image
The cover image for How to Break an Evil Curse.

The old lady shifted her gaze from Warren to somewhere off down the street as she launched into a monologue about the impending hunt, and how kids these days weren’t the same as they used to be, and neither were parents, and neither was society, and the whole of Fritillary was going down the tubes. Except Fritillary didn’t have plumbing, so that expression didn’t make sense. But the siblings weren’t listening anyway, so they weren’t confused.

Look, do you like to have fun? Yes? You too? You? Everyone? We’re all in agreement? Fun is good? Great. So start reading “How to Break an Evil Curse.” Lovely.

Oh, some of you believe that fun must be earned? Well, let’s see.

Summary

How to Break an Evil Curse is a ridiculous (good ridiculous) tromp through the land of Fritillary where things happen for no good reason and magic works for no good reason and the king is ruling badly for no good reason. So, essentially this is a world that perfectly mimics reality. And don’t worry, this is the good kind of ridiculous. It’s the same ridiculous found in Rodents Of Unusual Size, 42 being the meaning of life, and turtles going all the way down.

Real quick though, this is actually a review of two books. There’s Morrison’s How to Break an Evil Curse (HtBaEC) and then there’s HtBaEC 2, so called because it appears to be otherwise unnamed. The second of the series picks up fairly directly after the first book, and follows the same characters, and is also part of a larger arc that will lead into a third book. That said, the two have a distinct separation and can be read as completely standalone to one another.

Characters

An image of a raven, wings outstretched.
An image from the book’s insides.

HtBaEC starts with an introduction to a terrible person that is soulless, has way too much time on their hands, and constantly seems to pester everyone in the story. I’m of course talking about the narrator. I lied about the soulless part. This is a voice of humor and idle comments conveying a story with some pretty clear opinions on the world around it. This can be make or break it for some readers, but the narrator is a distinct character that comes off as a jolly family member telling the story to amuse children. I found the narrator’s whimsical storytelling to add a pleasant absurdity to the story, especially in some of its anachronisms and moments skipping boring parts of events.

From there we meet a truly soulless person, Mirabella, and her doting accomplice Farland Phelps. One’s a prisoner in the Forest of Looming death, and the other is a wizard. She’s plotting to get revenge on the king, and he seems half-intent on that but also half-intent on plotting to stay near Mirabella. The first chapter works great to intro these two central villains of the story and an overall conflict, but also connects the audience to these two “villains” in such a way that you kind of root for them. After all, it’s hard not to root for them when the king is pretty much an asshole.

Because that’s who the reader meets next. The royal family in HtBaEC come off as the greater evil for a lot of reasons, and the monarchy becomes a great way for the story to consider ideas of democracy, feminism, wealth distribution, and privilege, all within the hilarious confines of smart remarks and witty retorts. Add in Princess Julianna, a fish-out-of-water heroine, and there are some great examinations of why people aren’t nice and how easy it is to forget what you don’t know.

But the cast doesn’t stop there, oh no. It expands quite a bit in fact, but it never becomes a problem to keep up with the different characters. There are pirates, band members, revolutionaries, ghosts, doctors, and a pool of raven’s blood. Each and every one of them is a unique soul with their own wants, dreams, hopes, aspirations, and other words that mean they come to life. Because they do. I could write a significantly longer review if I went into why I like every character in this story, so to shorten it up I’ll just say they’re all super fun to read about and I’d want to hang out with most of them. I say most only because being killed is not cool.

By the end of book one you’ve been introduced to all of these characters and you’ve also seen many of them undergo pretty significant transformations of understanding or fate. Heck, its the first time a guy named Warren steps foot on land. Additionally, the plot unwinds with some nice twists and wraps things up neatly but not too neatly. It leaves plenty of room open for the sequel, but doesn’t frustrate the reader with “well what about THIS!?” questions.

Plot and Setting

And then everything wonderful about the first book is repeated in the second book, but now it’s even more solid. Throughout the first story the characters still felt like they were developing, but in the second HtBaEC everyone seems more fleshed out and more intent on their goals. Even the villians, the King, Farland, and Mirabella, have new goals and new changes in perspective that increase sympathy all the way around. Except the king, because ugh, asshole.

Most, if not all, of Morrison’s plot lines and ideas from the first book carry through to the second, and they make good progress toward being fulfilled. Some are still left in the air, like the rebellion, but others are quietly (or with a strangled cry at least) put to rest so that focus can shift elsewhere. I was continually impressed with how Morrison juggled so many plots and varied themes without losing the comedic tone or the hinted trails.

Book Construction

A swirl of color
Paper on the inside covers

As a slight detour, let me mention that this book was custom-bound by Morrison herself. It’s lovingly done with a nice hard back and pretty paper used on the inside of each cover. Each page is a nice paper quality and the text came out nice and sharp. It’s always a pleasure to get a book that doesn’t feel mass-produced, so this quality certainly adds to the reading experience.

Overall

Morrison’s two stories that I sped through because they were just downright enjoyable. Nearly every sentence gave me a reason to laugh, chuckle, or at least grin.

Is it perfect? Well, nothing is, but there wasn’t anything that pulled me out of the stories at all. There are some slight editing issues throughout, notably changes in tense earlier on and then some small homophone typos here and there, but definitely nothing jarring. I could see some readers getting hung up on the anachronisms thing and the tone varying between serious and flippant, but like I’ve mentioned I enjoyed that myself. Some of the writing could probably be tightened up / reworded, but that goes for any story.

I suppose it’s hard for me to be tough on these books because I did enjoy them so much, so take that for what it’s worth.

Get it from here:
The Author – Laura Morrison

Score: ratingStarHalfA star for rating stuff.A star for rating stuff.A star for rating stuff.A star for rating stuff.
Half a star for clarity and readability, one for originality and interest, one for setting and cohesiveness, one for character development, and one star for enjoyability.