short story

Death takes the Highway by David McLain – Part 3

Next week, we’ll be  featuring Leigh Goff’s new book, Bewitching Hannah which launches September 17th! You can find Leigh’s book here and even pre-order it now!

This week, David McLain’s short story continues… Find Part 1 here. Part 2 here. Find David’s novel, The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum here.

 

They walked slowly through the hospital, reaching the elevator in what felt like thirty minutes. Neither one said anything. The hallway was oddly, almost suspiciously empty, as if everyone in the hospital had gone on a coffee break. They got into the elevator, and walked down a hallway to the lobby. Again, there was nobody. They walked out through the doorways, and out into the cold January air.

“I’m right around the corner,” Death said.

They walked slowly around the side of the building to a visitors parking lot. Parked in the handicapped parking space was a bright red 1964 mg convertible with the engine running. It was in mint condition, like a beautiful little matchbox car.

“What’s that?” William asked.

“I was going to ask you,” Death said.

They got into the car. William could tell that the car was going to be considerably nicer to look at then it would be to ride in. Even with the engine running, it was difficult to see out the front window, and in the cold, the vinyl seats felt like sacks of heavy cement. “Do you know how to drive stick?” Death asked.

Will nodded. He didn’t want to admit it, but he hadn’t driven any car, manual or automatic, in a little over five years now. He stopped driving at his daughter’s suggestion, and had gotten around with her help and with the senior bus. Still, he used to love driving. When he was younger, well, a lot of things were different when he was younger. He put his foot on the clutch, and tried putting the car into reverse. It stalled right away.

“Been awhile?” Death asked.

“They don’t let you go out for a drive when you’re in hospice,” William pointed out.

“Just take it slow,” Death suggested. “It sticks a little going into reverse, but after you get past that, it’s not bad.”

Will restarted the car, this time he backed out of the spot. He shifted it into first gear. Slowly the car rolled forward. They turned left onto the street, and headed west. William Hershel was eight-one years old, and the clock was never going to roll forward.

The beginning of long journeys always seem like short ones. William didn’t know where he was going, or how long it was going to take. He had a feeling though, that this wasn’t a day trip.

“Where are we headed?” he asked. He tried to make it sound casual, as if they were headed out to dinner and he didn’t know which restaurant they were going to. For that matter, it occurred to him that he didn’t know if dead people eat. Maybe they were done with that sort of thing now.

“The sunset,” Death said simply. He seemed to feel that this was enough information.

“West then?” William assumed.

“Take the highway,” Death said.

William found his way onto the highway. It was a route he could’ve driven blindfolded. He’d lived in this town for forty years, and knew every street like the back of his hand. Much like the hospital, the streets were impressively empty. The lights all seemed green too. “Death waits for no one,” William thought, suppressing a smile.

They headed out on an unassuming highway toward the west. Upstate New York was both beautiful and ugly in equal parts, and driving through it now, the beauty seemed hidden, or at any rate overwhelmed, by the dull monotony of gray hills, gray clouds, and gray little towns where people were doing their best to earn a meager living. William found that the little sports car was hard on his back, and after a few hours, he needed to stop and rest.

“There’s a casino a few miles ahead,” Death suggested. “Let’s stop there.”

“I’m not much of a gambler,” Will admitted.

“Where we’re going, you don’t need money,” Death replied. “But they’ll have a restaurant.”

*Join us next week or subscribe for more of this story!!!* 

 

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Death Takes the Highway by David McLain – Part One

You may recall us featuring some short stories. Here’s a quick list to where you can find them:

The Hunting Dog by Rita Monette
The Queen’s Intent by Justine Alley Dowsett
The Arranged Marriage by Justine Alley Dowsett
The Eye of the Storm by Justine Dowsett

And now, we bring you Death takes the Highway by David McLain, author of The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

-Emily Dickinson

Although no one knew it, William Hershel was going to die at three fifty-eight on January the thirteenth, at Wilson Hospital in Johnson City, New York, just after his daughter stepped out of the room for a minute to go to the bathroom and freshen up a little. The hospice nurse would tell her that this was very common. In as much as people had a choice, and it wasn’t really clear that they did, they seemed to choose to die when their relatives were out of the room, even if there had been someone with them all day, and they had only been left alone for a few seconds. It wasn’t clear why they did that, but the nurse said she had seen it time and time again.

If anyone had asked William Hershel, at say, three fifty four on that same day, why people choose to die during that one moment when they were alone, he would have been glad to tell them. It was for the same reason that you closed the door when you were going to the bathroom, or taking a shower, or making love. When we are forced to show our biological side, we prefer to be alone. Since the age of fourteen, William Hershel’s daughter had closed the door while brushing her teeth, she could hardly expect William to shuffle off his mortal coil while she watched, for goodness sake. If his wife had been there, that might have been different, but William Hershel had no wife. He’d been married once, but that had been over for almost a decade, and his ex-wife had declined to visit him, which was just as well. That left him dying, at three fifty-fifty eight on January the Thirteenth, exactly two weeks shy of his eighty-first birthday.

To look at him was less like looking at a man, and more like staring at an empty husk. His body was broken, his bones were gnarled, his hair was gone. His teeth were rotten, and his organs were failing quickly. There were tubes coming out of every conceivable part of him, and he smelled terrible. Dignity had been the last thing to go, but when it had gone, it had left completely. All you had to do was take one look at him, and you knew it was time. He had heard his daughter making the sorts of plans that you didn’t want to here being made about yourself. He knew that she had been in touch with a funeral home, that she’d talked to the hospice nurse about what would happen next. He’d heard her say something about how he’d worked hard, so very hard, all his life.  He knew that she had her own life and she wanted to get back to it. He felt bad that he had taken up so much of her time these past few years.

In real life, last words are rarely significant in any way whatsoever. In fact, in modern medical terms, just being able to say last words often meant that you were not really ready to die just yet. The closest thing William Hershel had to last words was an unheard gurgle at roughly three fifty-five. It was indicative of a small amount of air leaving his lungs as his organs shut down.     

     ‘I’m still here,’ William thought. ‘I’m still here.’

It is, or at any rate, it should be, a great privilege to be coherent during the last few minutes of your life, and, technically, William Hershel was. He hadn’t opened his eyes for three days, but nonetheless, his thoughts were still there. When his daughter had held his hand and cried earlier that day, he’d felt it and he’d heard it and he knew what was happening. Three fifty-six came and went without as much as a flicker. That left three fifty-seven. What do you do with your penultimate minute on earth? It turned out William Hershel celebrated by feeling his heart stop beating. It was the strangest feeling, a little bit like holding your breath, only much, much worse. His daughter would be on her way back to the room in just another minute or so, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to wait that long.

William Hershel, born in San Clemente, California, died at three fifty-eight, almost exactly, but this was just the beginning.

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Join us next week, or subscribe for the rest of this short serial fiction!!

David McLain is the author of the novel Dragonbait and The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum. He grew up New York, California,  Transylvania, and France. He studied writing at The University of Massachusetts and at Purchase College, where he also directed a production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He lives in New York with a female painter and a small dog.

The Hunting Dog by Rita Monette – Part 2

Find Part 1 here! Or find Rita Monette’s Nikki Landry Swamp Legends books here!

Me and Lydia sat in her tree house and talked about her cat and my dog until I heard Papa driving up the gravel road. I ran to meet him as fast as I could. I took a quick gander into the back of his truck, then followed him inside where mama had lunch on the table. I had some more begging to do.

“I’m heading back to old man Lowry’s first thing in the morning,” Papa said before I could even open my mouth.

“Ain’t that the man you got the dog from?” Mama asked as she set a glass of milk in front of me.

“That old coot sold me a bum dog,” he said.

“A bum dog?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

“Took him out this morning and all he did was lay on the ground,” he said. “Woods full of rabbits and coons, and he just laid there.”

“Maybe he didn’t feel like hunting today,” I said.

“Dog’s no good I tell you.” Papa took a big bite of fried chicken, then continued to talk with his mouth full. “He’s going back tomorrow.”

“No!” I jumped and ran outside and to the cage in the back of Papa’s truck.

Snooper sat crouched in the crate.

I opened the door and reached inside.

The brown and black and white dog licked my hand. Then he scooted toward me and stuck his cold nose to my face.

I giggled. “You’re not a bum dog,” I said. “You’re a good dog. And I’m keeping you.” I put my arms around him and carried him up the pier and to the deck.

“Nikki,” Mama shouted as she opened the screen door to meet me. “Where are you going with that dog?”

“I’m keeping him,” I said.

Papa jumped up and stood next to Mama. “No you’re not. I’m getting my money back for that no-count dog.” He stepped outside, took Snooper from me, then carried him back to the truck.

I ran up behind him and stuck out my lower lip. “His name is Snooper and he ain’t no-count.”

Papa glanced at me, and his wrinkled forehead smoothed out a bit. He chuckled, then his frown came back. “Tadpole, you can’t have the dog and that’s final.” He grabbed my hand and led me back to the house and the table.

I flopped down into the chair, but I wasn’t hungry. I looked sideways at Mama. “What if Mama says I can?”

Papa kept eating.

Mama kept eating too.

I glanced from one to the other for a sign of caving in.

“You can’t have a critter in the house,” she said without looking up. “With the baby on the way and all.”

I blinked. “What baby?”

Papa stopped eating. “A baby?”

“Yes, we should have it by Fall.”

“Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked.

Mama laughed. “We don’t know yet.”

“I hope it’s a girl,” I said. “But why can’t we have a dog and a baby too?”

“This place is too small,” Mama said. “If you do keep him he’ll have to stay outside.”

“I can keep him!” I jumped up and ran for the door.

I didn’t say you could keep him!” Papa yelled at my back as the screen door slammed behind me.

“That girl,” I heard Papa say.

“She’s of your making,” Mama said.

I carried Snooper to the door and put my nose against the screen. “Can he stay inside until Papa builds him a bigger pen? That cage is way too small.”

“Good grief, Nikki,” Mama said. “You sure are persistent.”

“I am not,” I said. “I took a bath yesterday.”

Papa laughed out loud. “Hard headed, Nikki. Your mama means you are hard headed.”

“Well can he or not?” I asked.

Mama put her head into her hands. “Just until Papa builds him a pen. And only until then. He has to be out by the time the baby comes.”

I opened the door and set Snooper down on the floor. “You’ll be sleeping in my room, Snoop.” I looked up at Papa and Mama. “For awhile anyway.”

I reached into my plate and grabbed a piece of food and handed it to him. He gobbled it up real fast. He must have been starved.

“And no feeding him from the table,” Papa said. “There’s some dog food out in the truck.”

“And you are responsible for any mess he makes, young lady,” Mama said.

“Yes ma’am!” I sat on the floor and put my arms around my new dog. “You won’t even know he’s around.”

That was four years ago.

My baby brother, Jesse, was born in November, and Snooper still sleeps with me. Unless he’s sleeping on the floor, or the deck, or the grass. He just likes to sleep…when he’s not helping me solve legends that is.

 

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Rita Monette was born and raised in Southwest Louisiana. She loves to write stories set in the beautiful, yet mysterious, bayous and swamps of her home state. She is currently retired and lives with her husband, four lap dogs, and one lap cat, in the mountains of Tennessee. Besides writing and illustrating, She enjoys participating in festivals and craft shows where she does face and body art, along with selling her books.

WAR TORN: A Free Anthology in 7 Realms of Fantasy

Did you like my fantasy/romance serial, The Arranged Marriage? If you haven’t read it, it’s available in seven parts on this blog. Here’s a link to Part 1. For fans of The Arranged Marriage, or of my novels Unintended or Uncharted, which are set in the same world, there’s good news! I’ve written another short story called Unmoored and it’s set to appear in the free anthology, War Tornalong with 6 other fantasy stories by six other fantastic fantasy writers!

War Torn is FREE and available for pre-order now (everywhere you order ebooks, including google, amazon, pronoun and our store), though it launches August 1st. But if you’d like to get your hands on it before then all you have to do is subscribe to Mirror World’s mailing list. I’ll be sending out early release e-books to all of our subscribers as a thank you for being a part of the family and sticking with us this long.

So click here and enter your email to subscribe for your FREE ADVANCE COPY!!

Without further ado, here’s the cover and a bit about what you’ll find in War Torn:

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Seven international authors, reflecting diverse styles from across the fantasy genre, bring you seven short stories that explore the theme, War Torn.

Ambushed by Angela Stevens
(Contemporary Fantasy/ Dark Fantasy) 
When the Black Walker Warriors are ambushed by the Clizyati, a vicious battle ensues. Caught up in its midst is Kanga, the Warrior’s latest recruit. Fighting for his life, Kanga knows whatever the outcome, this may well be the last battle in a war that has raged since the dawn of time.
But when the dust settles, victory and defeat pay the same price.

The Praetorian byD.P Joynes
(Dark Fantasy, Magical Realism, Medical Fiction, Historical Fantasy, Time Travel) 
“Flies. Flies everywhere. In blood…” Artorius, the commanding officer of a Roman army, loves the taste of battle, but he hates the stench of blood. Blood gives rise to flies, which he cannot control. And neither can the Time Witch. Despite all her magical powers, the Witch has no control over the actions of living creatures, so she’ll try every time-tested tactic to tempt the Commander, to get Artorius to do her bidding. But his future self has other plans.

Unmoored by Justine Alley Dowsett
(Fantasy Adventure)
Renaud Laurent is a gambler and a sailor taking life as it comes and living only for his next drink. Then, on one fateful night in his favorite port town, civil war threatens and he finds himself having to choose between saving his own hide or risking himself for the sake of a stranger.

The City That Fell by K.L Dimago
(Fantasy Romance)
Keturah has always excelled in magic skills and dreams of becoming a member of court in the city of Lucenskath beneath the leader of Nefeiah, Elias, who has led an era of peace and prosperity. But when she is befriended and wooed by Lucas, a fellow student, she learns of a plot to overthrow Elias and his magic council. Keturah must choose between her love of Lucas and her trust in Elias and decide whether or not to make the ultimate sacrifice.

A Touch Of Magic by Lisa White
(Magical Realism, Paranormal Romance)
Plastic surgeon Jessie Inglewood is staunchly anti-natural medicine. Sure, the owner of the local health food store is sexy, but there’s no way she’s going to the “dark side” and dating a natural health hippy! No, she’s seen a lot of ridiculous things in her clinic over the years, and as far as she’s concerned, holistic nutritionists, naturopaths, chiropractors, and crystal waving energy healers are all the same: unethical quacks and charlatans peddling false hope to the vulnerable. Jessie’s very comfortable with her judgement… until a woman in white appears at her clinic one night and gives her an extraordinary gift – the ability to heal people. Jessie has a choice to make: keep giving hands-on miracles to people or give up her gift so she can have her old life back – the one where her colleagues don’t view her as one of the quacks she used to criticize.

The Fortress by Lorel Clayton 
(Fantasy/ Steampunk)
No one is infallible, but some people cannot afford to be wrong, not when lives are at stake. In this story from the world of Eva Thorne, visit The Fortress, where a line in the sand has been drawn to keep the living safe from the god of death. Meet the man who guards that line.

Paid In Blood by Tiger Hebert
(Dark Epic Fantasy)
Harlyx, a wealthy and quite possibly mad old man is wanted for treason after stealing a powerful artifact. His hired hand, Alduran, now finds himself on the run with the crazy old man as a king’s army hunts them down. Alduran isn’t so sure that their flight across the desert sands won’t get them killed, but if he’s learned one thing about old Harlyx, it’s that his mysterious knack for avoiding calamity is at its greatest as the noose draws tightest. It’s a mystery Alduran is ready to explore. Besides, the pay is right.

 

 

The Arranged Marriage – Part 7 (Finale!)

Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Also, check out the novels set in the same world: Unintended and Uncharted.

***

Cielle was out of her hiding spot in a flash and in no time at all, she rolled to her feet.

“You get off of her, you… you pig!” She screamed at the top of her lungs, brandishing the dagger she didn’t even remember pulling out of her bosom.

Branton slowly, blearily raised his face from Larissa’s chest, his lazy drunken gaze widening at the sight of her. “Who the hell are you?” He demanded.

“Your arch nemesis!” Cielle proclaimed, hardly thinking now as she dived forward, dagger out before her.

She was aiming for his exposed genitalia, but at the last second, Branton found the presence of mind to at least roll partially out of the way. The dagger dove fully into the flesh of his leg right through the thick leather of his pants, which he hadn’t bothered to fully remove prior to attempting to mount his victim.

Branton screamed, the pain shocking him very efficiently out of his inebriated state as Larissa, now free from her new husband’s weight, scrambled to get herself out of the bed. Shocked by what she’d done, even if it was sort her intention in coming here, Cielle backed up slowly, her eyes trained on the screaming Lord and the way his blood pooled darkly around the hilt of her brother’s silver dagger protruding from his leg.

“I’m sorry…” Cielle whispered into the Lord’s screams, feeling at a loss.

“Don’t be!” Larissa told her forcefully, propelling herself from the bed and slamming bodily into Cielle.

Cielle was slow to register that Larissa was now in her arms, just like she’d intended. “Larissa, I…” She began.

“I love you,” Larissa exclaimed, against all of Cielle’s expectations, before her soft lips fell upon Cielle’s searchingly, demandingly.

Cielle gave into the moment, let her lips melt into Larissa’s, let her tongue explore this taste of freedom. It was over too quickly as Larissa pulled away. “What about him?”

Cielle struggled to bring Lord Branton back into focus past the haze of bliss her mind had become. In the interim the Lord’s screaming had fallen silent and he was watching them, his jaw open a little. His loosened pants showed clearly his arousal. Cielle immediately felt her anger return.

“We leave him,” she stated forcefully. “He doesn’t deserve you.”

“But where would we go? What would we do? My family…”

“Doesn’t deserve you either,” Cielle cut her off, her anger seething. “They…they sold you to him!”

Larissa’s head lowered in sadness or in pain, Cielle didn’t know. Maybe it was shame, either way, Larissa knew as well as Cielle did that there would be no returning back to the Arbor House after this.

“I…” Larissa began, “I don’t want to lose you.”

“You won’t,” Cielle told her. “It’s you and me against the world now, Larissa. I’ll keep you safe…” She turned her attention back to Branton who licked his lips, watching them, his drunken stupor having fallen back over him somewhat now that the immediate danger had passed. “Starting now.”

Cielle advanced on Branton like one might advance on a rattlesnake. She knew he was dangerous and she knew what he wanted from her… from them both. She darted inwards and her hand grasped the cool hilt of her brother’s dagger just as Branton’s hand clamped warmly down on her wrist. She had only a split second to escape him, she knew. Grimacing, she twisted the handle of the dagger and Branton let go of her, crying out in additional pain. She used that moment to jump back, well out of his reach, grab Larissa’s hand and head straight for the window.

There she grabbed hold of the makeshift ladder she’d constructed from Branton’s spare shirts and sheets she’d found in the armoire and carefully helped Larissa over the sill of the open window. “There, just like the treehouse back at the D’Arbonne House,” she coaxed Larissa through her uneasiness, “just slide down slowly and don’t let go. I’ll be right behind you.”

Her heart pounding fiercely with exhilaration, or perhaps just the sudden absence of fear, Cielle made one last visual sweep of the room. Spotting a thick looking brocade robe, she snatched it up, hoping to use it to cover the flimsy nightgown the servants had dressed Larissa in. Robe in hand, she swung herself over the window ledge and made quick and sure-footed work of  following her best friend and the love of her life out the window and down to the balcony below.

Behind them, through the open window, Lord Branton’s wails of anguish continued long after they’d found their way out of the castle’s thick walls, but it didn’t matter. They were free and they were together and right now, that was all either of them cared about.

The end.

***

Thanks for reading!

The Arranged Marriage – Part 2

If you missed Part 1, find it here. Also, this story is set in the world of Ismera, the same as both of my latest novels, Unintended and Uncharted, which you can find in our bookstore.  Cyril’s even a character in Unintended!

***

Cielle was not going to miss her best friend’s wedding, not for anything. Even if that fat lord paid me a thousand gold Wellish ingots, he couldn’t get me to stay away! And the Arbors don’t even have the money to bribe me with….

Hey, there’s a plan! I bet the Arbors don’t want it getting out that they need this marriage for financial reasons. They’re supposed to be an old and powerful house with lots of money to back it up. All I have to do is…

“Hey, grasshopper, look alive!” Her brother elbowed her more sharply than he probably intended, causing her to wince and rub the part of her arm he’d struck while shooting daggers at him out of her piercing blue eyes.

I hate when he calls me that! She fumed silently. We’re not kids anymore, Cyril…

Identical blue eyes looked guilelessly back at her, before Cyril grinned, knowing just how to get under her skin. “What?” He demanded. “I thought you wouldn’t want to miss your first glance at the fat lord. Get in all your jibes while we’re still far enough away that he can’t hear you.”

From her vantage point at the small ship’s rail, Cielle scanned the port for which the land they were going to was named, trying to follow Cyril’s gaze. After a moment of searching she gave it up. “Okay, which one is he?”

“Uh, there,” Cyril gestured, “third noble in from the left. The one with all the gold tassels on his sleeves.”

Sure enough, Cielle spotted him and as her eyes locked on her new arch nemesis, she instantly felt one of her infamous pouts coming on. He’s not fat at all! Rich, yes, and a terrible dresser, but he’s actually kind of regal looking… Damn him!

“There, there.” Inexplicably she felt her twin’s hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay to feel jealous.”

Cielle’s jaw fell open as she rounded on Cyril. “Jealous? Jealous of…. of that?! Never!”

Cyril’s returning grin was full of mischief. Cielle felt a number of sets of eyes on her before she felt her fair skin heat to an uncomfortable shade of red. “He’s looking at me, isn’t he?” She questioned of Cyril through clenched teeth.

“They all are,” he answered mercilessly. “Nice first impression, Sis.”

***

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts, which you can leave in the comments below! Subscribe to this blog or check back next week for part 3~7!

Eye of the Storm – Part 2

I pushed away from them, trying not to look like I was fleeing, and soon found myself at the opposite end of the L-shaped bar. “What can I get you?” The bartender, a pudgy bearded man with an obvious beer-belly, questioned.    

“Uh, rum and coke,” I said the first drink combination my mind could supply and the man busied himself with the bottles in front of him.  

“It’s on me,” a new voice said to my left and I whipped my head around. “You look like you could use it.”

The man before me was hunched over the bar, his own drink, a straight shot of whiskey over ice by the looks of it sitting on the bar between his elbows. I narrowed my eyes at him, taking in his deliberately mussed mahogany-coloured hair and his matching dark five-o’clock shadow. His black collared shirt, slightly rumpled from wear, gave me the instant impression that he figured himself a ladies man, but was currently a little down on his luck in that regard. Great, so he’s slumming it…

“I can get my own drink, thanks,” I told him, not kindly.

My rum and coke arrived and a blue five dollar bill changed hands. My blue five dollar bill.

“Victor,” he said, before I could walk away.

“Sorry?” I asked, turning back to look at him, not sure I heard him right.

“My name is Victor,” he repeated. “You look like the kind of girl who wouldn’t accept a drink from a stranger. Now you know my name, so we’re no longer strangers.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, noncommittally, lifting my drink to him in salute. “Nice to meet you, Victor.”

Having dealt with the ‘local colour’, I was ready to return to Debbie and Paul, and face the music, but ‘Victor’ felt the need to stop me again. “You never gave me yours.”

I whirled again, more confused than ever. “Gave you my what?”

He smiled, revealing perfectly straight, white teeth. So he’s not just dressing well, he’s got money. Or at least, his parents had enough to buy him braces as a kid. I snickered at the thought. “Your name,” he said, smiling wider now, thinking because I was laughing too that we must be sharing some kind of moment or something.

“Summer,” I told him. Certainly telling him my name can’t hurt anything, can it?

********** If you would like me to keep posting more of this story, please leave a comment below. If people keep commenting, I’ll keep writing! Thank you. Also, you can find part 1 here.************

Eye of the Storm, Part 1

Remember that opening I shared as an example of how openings are hard to write? (You can read about that here.) Well, with two books currently in the works, I have no plans to do anything about the sci-fi novella I started, so… I thought I would share it with you. If you like this opening bit, let me know in the comments below and I’ll keep posting every week or two so you can see where this story goes (and keep me motivated in writing it at the same time!)

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Chapter 1 – The Rain

The change came without warning, unless you count the rain. It pounded on the window of my battered Oldsmobile, demanding to be let in. I sighed, frustrated. So much for the Weather Network. Wrenching the rusted driver’s side door open, I was drenched in seconds. I scurried across the city parking lot, doing my damndest to avoid the worst of the puddles, though it hardly mattered now. The damage was done.

Inside the bar, the lighting was dim and yellow. Even so, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust.

“Summer!” Debbie ambushed me before I could so much as shake myself off like a dog after a swim. Her dry hair smelled like strawberries and stranded me somewhere between envious and nauseated. “You came!”

“Of course,” I mumbled. “You said it was important.”

Nodding, Debbie pulled back. “Come on. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

This is it, I realized, I’m finally going to meet the new boyfriend Debbie has been going on and on about. Despite this guy being the subject matter of all our conversations over the past few weeks, I really knew very little about him. I think she said his name was Paul…

“Well, if it isn’t Summer Green!”

Wait… Paul? As in Paul Sheffield? It was him, in the flesh. The very, very attractive flesh. Oh, god, what am I thinking. He’s Debbie’s boyfriend now… Not my highschool fantasy crush.

“Paul!” I didn’t manage much more than awkwardly saying his name before my nerves shut down my vocal cords. Leaning on a barstool, his elbow up on the bar, Paul was as drool-worthy as he’d ever been. Maybe more so. It had been years since I last saw him, but I remembered the day clearly. It had played in my mind over and over again to remind me of just how pathetic I was. Our last of of high school, Paul had left his group of much cooler friends to come over and give me a goodbye hug and I was so shocked I’d garbled any useful words that could have come out of my mouth in that instant. He’d walked away, a confused and sympathetic expression on his face and I just waved awkwardly and let him leave, instead of being suave and asking him to hang out over the summer like I’d planned.

In my fantasy, that summer would have led to a fabulous romance. In reality, I spent that summer working in a greasy 50’s themed diner, which was where I’d met Debbie. We were as opposite as people get, but somewhere along the line we became inseparable.

Speaking of Debbie, she’d managed to fit herself under Paul’s muscular right arm, her thin frame fitting far better there than my plumper one could have managed. She was looking up into his clear blue eyes, her own green ones twinkling. My slight envy from earlier came back with the same ferocity as the storm raging outside the building, developing into full blown jealousy.

“Paul and I are getting married!” Debbie exclaimed, looking to me for my reaction.

My eyes widened and my breathing became laboured. Face with them both and their sickening perfection, I suddenly became very much aware of my bedraggled and water-logged appearance. The nice white top I’d chosen for a night out with Debbie had been soaked through and was likely showing off my breasts, not to advantage like I’d planned, but more in an indecent sort of way. And my jeans, once form-fitting in a comfortable sort of way now just stuck to me in places where I’d rather they didn’t. I took a subconscious step back from the scene before me, wanting to be anywhere but here, but was stopped by a combination of the squashing sound my sneakers made and Debbie’s sudden frown as she began to realize I didn’t share her elation.

“That’s…great…” I tried to save face and failed.

Debbie pouted. “I know it seems unexpected and sudden,” she allowed, “but it makes sense when you think about it. Paul’s a dual citizen and is living and working in Michigan. If I want to be able to move in with him, we’ve got to get married. It’s just part of the immigration process.”

Whoa, immigrating? ‘Just part of the process…?’ I know Debbie moves fast, but holy hell.

I kept my thoughts to myself. “No, I’m sorry, I’m happy for you. I was just caught off guard, that’s all.”

Debbie beamed, assuaged. Paul smiled, that oh-so-cute lopsided smile of his that used to make me weak in the knees. Now it just made my stomach do uncomfortable flip-flops. “I get it,” he said. “You’re Debbie’s best friend, so it would stand to reason that you’d want to get to know the man she’s going to marry. Lucky for us, you and I go way back.”

“Yeah, lucky…” I mumbled. “If you’ll both excuse me, I’m going to go get myself a drink.”

***

Let me know in the comments below if you’d like me to continue sharing this story and if I get enough comments, I’ll put part two up on Thursday, next week! Thanks for reading.

Short Fiction: The Queen’s Intent

My husband snores. Some nights are worse than others. On one bad night in particular, I found my thoughts growing darker and darker as I lay there next to him unable to do much more than grit my teeth against the sounds he was making. Forced out of my bed, I found that Murandy (who’s bedroom is next to ours) had already given up trying to sleep and was out on the couch watching Netflix. That spot taken, I disappeared into the writing room. Here’s what I came up with:Pirates3

The Queen’s Intent

by Justine Alley Dowsett

The Queen lay still next to her sleeping husband, contemplating his murder.

A pillow… Her first thought was naturally drawn from her environment. There were many pillows in the royal bedchamber; some tassled and some not, but all expertly constructed of costly fabric. No, too simple.

Strangulation? She questioned, raising a blonde brow over hazel eyes. Too obvious, and too much room for error.

With every wheezing rattle that marked another intake of breath, her thoughts grew darker. A twist of the neck? Elegant, maybe, but a little out of my reach, physically speaking, and there’s no use trusting a servant or a guard to the task.

They were loyal enough and to her, not to him. Noblesse guards to honour the heiress of the Noblesse House. No matter that he was the King and she his wife, it was the Noblesse name that mattered and the blood of the ancient noble house ran through her veins, not his. Their marriage had been one of convenience and subterfuge; a way for the Noblesse heiress to marry while keeping the family name alive and take control of Ismer in the process.

No, it wasn’t that Aganetha Noblesse did not trust her loyal guardsmen, it was simply that involving them threatened her most cardinal rule. Three people can keep a secret, she reminded herself, if, and only if, the other two are dead.

Not to mention the fact that it would be so inconvenient to have to dispose of a guardsman as well as her buffoon of a husband.

It will have to be the knife, she decided. There is simply no other way to be absolutely certain that the job is done to my satisfaction.

“Lionel.” With an exaggerated motion, the fair-haired Queen of Ismer shook her husband, the King, awake and found herself growing quickly annoyed at how long it took him to rouse to her summons. I could have easily done it while he slept and he would have been none the wiser.

“Lionel!” She shook him again, more sharply this time.

“What! What is it?”

“I think I heard something, over there by the balcony window.” She did her best to sound frightened.

“It’s likely nothing,” he responded, already rolling back over to resume his nightly imitation of a badly tuned Wellish horn.

“No,” she protested, “I swear it was something. A rattle perhaps, or the click of a latch.”

“Alert the guards, then,” he instructed, determined as usual to make her despise him further by being as obstinate as he possibly could.

She flopped onto her back with a sigh. “You’re right,” she whispered, after waiting until he’d drifted enough to take in a breath and ready his fog-horn once more. “It’s probably nothing.” She waited again, sure of her timing now. “Only…”

“What is it?” he demanded and she silently exulted, a grin blanketing her perfect features in the darkness. I have him now!

“Well, I’d sleep much better if I knew what was out there…”

“You want me to go and check.” It wasn’t a question.

“If you would.” Her response wasn’t a request.

“Fine.”

With a noise that was half-sigh, half-grunt, Lionel Noblesse hauled himself out of their four-poster bed in a reluctant fashion. His dark brown hair was tousled and his back bent just enough with laziness that his long white nightshirt swept the carpets that covered the cold stone floor. He circled around the wide bed frame to head for the far balcony window she’d indicated with a quick gesture of her head.

This gave her just enough time to reach for the dagger she kept in her night table drawer.

This is perfect, she thought, internally grinning, if he looks back, he’ll only think me scared and wanting to defend myself. He has no clue that he is one that needs defending.

She stood and plastered a frightened look on her face, so there would be no possibility of error. He reached the balcony door and swung it open, pushing aside the white silk curtains to peer out.

“See,” he called back to her, speaking in a conversational tone, meant to set her at ease. “There’s nothing out there.”

“I know,” she told him, standing much closer to him than he expected her to be as he turned around. She could see the surprise in his eyes at her nearness and the sudden strength of her expression in the pale moonlight. She wasn’t frightened now, nor nervous.

She was eager. Determined. Confident. Free.

Surprise was the last expression she saw on her husband’s face as she drove her curved dagger into his soft belly and upwards, under his ribcage. She had to do a thorough job; she knew she’d only get one shot at this.

“Guards!” She shrieked at the top of her lungs the moment she saw the life go out of his eyes and he started to topple.

They came rushing in at her call, without a moment’s hesitation. I’ll have to commend them for their quick response, she made a mental note before correcting herself. No, I’ll have to punish them instead. They did let their King be killed right under their own noses after all…

“Assassins!” She told them, tears of triumph meant to look like grief streaking down her face and sparkling on her cheeks as they caught the light of the guards’ torches. “I was asleep… they must have stolen my dagger from the nightstand there,” she pointed, “and used it…” She faked a sob. “I woke then, but they fled out through the balcony door…”

All the evidence in the room fit the very plausible scenario she painted for them, save for the lack of visible assassins, but her loyal guards had no reason to doubt her grief-stricken words and the Noblesse House did have its enemies…other noble houses and powerful families that were nearby or in residence that she would be sure to blame for this.

It was a measure of her self-discipline that she was able to keep her expression contorted in grief, when what she really wanted to do was grin in triumphant glee.

I’m free and for the rest of this night and each night thereafter, I will sleep in peace!

Pirates3

The Queen’s Intent is a glimpse into the history of Ismera, the setting for Unintended by Murandy Damodred and myself. Unintended, a Shakespearian style romantic comedy about good intentions launches August 17th, 2015. Subscribe to this blog to keep up with information as it becomes available, or subscribe to our mailing list at www.mirrorworldpublishing.com

 

My apologies to Robert Dowsett, especially for making him edit this!