short story

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!

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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!