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Holiday Excerpt: A Newborn King to See

Published December 21, 2017 by admin

Admittedly, I’m not as cynical as I bill myself. Like everything else, I tend to hide behind the sarcasm and eye rolling a little bit. While I have mixed feelings about this time of year, it makes great fodder for stories. Some of which actually are uplifting.

I KNOW!

With that in mind, here’s another excerpt from my co-authored collection, Lost in the Shadows. This time in A Newborn King to See, we take a look at my take on hope, reincarnation, and the little drummer boy.

Hey, I never said it wasn’t going to be weird.

***

The close of the year is coming. Once again my annual search has become a little more. It is the same every year. I have never once failed to find what I am seeking. Still, the thought of failing for the first time is enough to make me anxious. Or is it the thought of not stumbling into Him again this year? I suppose it is this way for most people.
It is our special tradition. Every year the hide-and-seek game takes me to new countries, new times, new peoples. It has been our special game since the ancient year a tiny infant looked upon a poor beggar child with a single talent, and smiled.
I did not understand the full extent of such a blessing then. I was too busy worrying about my next meal. That tiny smile followed me afterwards, until one unseasonably cold Bethlehem night I went to sleep huddled in a pile of rough grain sacks in an alley and never saw another sunrise.
His memory went with me and I suddenly found that I had so much possibility ahead of me. There was no time to be bitter about one short, poor life. The One that had sent Him is a loving protector and understands my longing for expression and knows of my quiet bond with the boy.
At the start of each year my search begins and my spirit wanders tirelessly to seek Him out before the year’s close. I see many people this way and see many old faces resurrected and reflected in the eyes of each new generation.
I have strolled down crowded streets in third-world countries. It is astounding and heart-breaking that thousands of years past my time there are children that have less than I once did. I peek in windows in London, Sydney, New York, Los Angeles, amazed at opulence beyond that of the kings and Caesars of old. I take all that I see to heart, and when I do finally return for my rest I talk about this with others, with The One that sent my very best friend in those quiet moments before dawn.
I always find Him, though, in this odd game of hide and seek that has spanned the centuries. He is good at hiding, always has been, for many never do find Him. But I know always to look in unexpected places, because he is no longer content to wait in the obvious stables and mangers. One must look harder.

lost in the shadows

Kindle     Paperback 

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation. In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways. Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

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Excerpt: Candles (from Lost in the Shadows)

Published December 12, 2017 by admin

Tis the season, and since we started off the week on a horror vibe, I figured we’d keep it going with an excerpt from a Christmas short I did for the collection Lost in the Shadows. Taking place on Christmas Eve during the zombie apocalypse, it combines the ceremony of advent and the desire to keep Christmas close under bleak circumstances.

***

If it was any other Christmas, the candles would have been purple, pink, and white. As it was, Jamie had been lucky to find extra candles at all.

“This Christmas sucks. No turkey, no presents. We don’t even get a tree,” Tony whined from his seat in the shed’s corner. Jamie bit her lip against the sudden urge to cry. Of all the horrors they’d seen lately, it was her thirteen-year-old that was making her break down. The worst part was that he was right. Celebrating was a stupid idea that just made it all worse. She couldn’t save her family, or even give them a proper holiday. What kind of a mother am I?

“We have a lot of things,” Grant reminded him. There he was, coming to her aid once again. Every time they ran out of food, every time Tony or her five-year-old Andy got sick, every time the undead got riled and tried to charge their hiding spot of the moment, he was there with an answer. He gave her a tight smile over her oldest’s head. He looked as ragged as the rest of them did, but his drawn face didn’t look bad on him. His sandy brown hair didn’t show the light blond in it unless she looked really hard, and they hadn’t been alone enough lately for her to have a chance to look. His grey eyes were reassuring, though there was exhaustion in them, too. It was the same fatigue they all felt, the thing that chased them more than the zombies. It gnawed at them daily, made every little task an ordeal, dragged them lower and lower into submission to the new way of things. “We have a place to sleep. We have food for a few days. We have each other,” he urged. His eyes danced just a little, for her sake.

She echoed his smile, though she had to work to make her mouth move. She hadn’t felt a reason to really smile in so long; even the good moments were quickl

y overshadowed by another death, another problem, another strange shadow cast on the wall, another night filled with unearthly moaning, another attack. “That’s all we need,” Jaime agreed and wrapped both boys in her shivering arms. How long before I lose them? How long before I lose myself? Grant carefully struck one of their last matches and lit the candles in the Advent wreath made from barbed wire. His large fingers almost hid the match, but they couldn’t hide the tiny, beautiful spark.

“The first candle symbolizes hope.” The tiny blue flame struggled to stay alive. Jamie ran a hand through her dark, tangled hair and wiped it on her stained jeans to rid her hand of the oil. There hadn’t been a good time to wash it lately, especially with the cold weather. Tony and Andy weren’t particularly put out by not being able to take a bath, but it was a little comfort she missed. Hope.

It’s hard to have hope when Amanda was ripped apart by monsters, she thought, shuddering. She closed her eyes and pushed the thought of her baby away. She replayed the scene in her head constantly: how she’d gone to the nursery to check on her, how she’d found the screen knocked out of the open window, how three ugly corpses had been fighting over the infant’s remains. She’d only escaped because her husband Jason had dragged her away, forcing her to take Tony and Andy with her. She hadn’t seen his fate, but his screams had suddenly stopped when they’d reached the front door. The only reason she’d kept on running was because of her boys. That had been in June.

The only hope I have is that Grant found us, she sighed, and tried to focus on his rugged face and not the determined memory of her husband. Guilt came in bucketfulls when one had nothing else to think about besides surviving and the past.

“The second candle is preparation,” Grant continued, gently talking to the boys as he guided his hands to the next candle, his free hand guarding the little flame. Jamie chewed the inside of her lip and curled the dirty blanket she’d found tighter around her. Who can prepare for something like this? Decades of horror movies, of thinking about the most awful things, and there was still nothing we could all do to prepare for this. She glanced to the gun in her hands, stroked the barrel idly. They were down to their last three bullets unless they could find more. The heavy snowstorm three days ago had deterred the hordes that had been quickly giving chase to anything they considered worth eating, but it also made going on supply runs difficult.

She didn’t even know where they were now, except that they had been heading north towards Canada, where the hordes were supposed to be minimal thanks to the cold. They’d raided the empty downtown area of a small town a few weeks ago, and ended up in an abandoned shack on some abandoned plot of land. There wasn’t much cover so she was always sitting there, waiting for the final attack to come, but the weather had helped, at least. None of it, though, was anything anyone could prepare for. It had just happened. As of yet no one even knew how it had started, or if they did they weren’t sharing. Couldn’t share, more likely. Everyone was so cut off from each other, electricity and phone lines were rare, never mind a wireless signal.

“Joy,” Grant narrated, lighting the next candle, moving the match away at the last minute when Andy reached for it.

“I wanna help!” he complained.

“You’re just gonna ruin it or cut yourself again!” Tony grumbled and hunkered deeper into the hooded sweatshirt that was at least four sizes too big for him. “Butthead.”

Grant grabbed Andy’s arm away before he cut it on the barbed wire of the wreath. “C’mere, you, let’s do it this way,” he chuckled and shook the match out. Jaime watched as he helped her youngest get hold of one of the lit candles, carefully guiding the boy’s movements with his giant hand over the tiny one. “There we go…joy.”

“Joy, joy, joy!” Andy sing-songed. He was always doing that, making up little tunes from something one of them said. It had been cute when they’d lived in a nice house and had only the usual things to worry about. The last time he’d done it he’d alerted a shuffling corpse that had gone off on its own for some reason, though that wasn’t usually part of zombie behavior.

No. You know why that thing was on its own. She cleared her throat and blushed when Tony rolled his eyes. He knew how she covered her emotions all too well. You didn’t cover them up then, did you? You ran out and saw your little boy about to meet the same fate as your baby girl. You did what any mother would have done. She shivered and wrapped the blanket tighter. It was so hard to get warm when she’d lost so much weight and her clothes hung on her. You rushed right out, Grant’s advice be damned, and tore that bastard apart limb from limb. She could still feel the blood oozing over her hands, the cold flesh soft and slimy in her grip and smearing dirt on her clothes. It was only once she’d taken the head and gone to retrieve the pieces for burning that she thought to look at the face.

Jason. The thing after her son was half-eaten and had suffered more decay than any living thing had a  right to, but it had been Jason. It was hard to feel joy after that.

Lost - 400x600

Kindle      Paperback

OR Email selahjanelauthor@gmail.com on information about signed copies!

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation. In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways. Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

Genre: various speculative genres

Length: 300 pages

Format: Kindle, Paperback (Nook and other platforms coming soon)

Publisher: Published by the authors

Tuesday Teaser: Curious Incidents

Published August 8, 2017 by admin

So I haven’t been completely nonexistent during this past stretch of self-reflection. I’m way late on this, but hey, promo is promo, amiright? So one of the projects I had the challenge of working on is a paranormal Sherlock Holmes anthology called Curious Incidents: More Improbable Adventures.

 This was not the easiest story for me to write – I hadn’t read Sherlock since Jr. High, when I’d binged as much as possible during free time during homeroom, a trait that obviously made me insanely popular and all the cute dudes in my class fall at my feet. Obviously, I had to be careful, because the pure power in that knowledge is obviously very potent, so I kept it locked away for a long time.

And if you’re new to this blog, welcome to the sarcastic portion of the evening.

Anywho, I’ve seen the show, but was warned against doing anything too close to that. Besides, these were alternate universe adventures – put Sherlock and Watson in another time period, place, get them out of the comfort zone, anything but Victorian England, please!

And because I am an editor’s nightmare, I put Sherlock on a futuristic space station after the end of planet earth, and just to be a brat I added in a lot of Victorian England via holodecks.

Also, Sherlock is an AI. Kinda. And there’s a new medic character named Jane that has her own mystery to solve. And a monster shows up murdering people in the holodeck nightclubs because it’s me, so of course it does.

So it’s out and there are a lot of fantastic authors in this one. It’s gotten some great reviews, and I’m admittedly pretty proud of my contribution, which is titled Reborn.  And because I love you all and don’t feel like thinking up original content, here’s an excerpt:

curious incidents

The halls of the space station Reborn were pristine and bright, a maze of metal and plastic sterility. They were in sharp contrast to the illusion gardens in the various sectors, of which Clapham was one. Though it was late, enough people were still enjoying the night’s entertainment. The theme was Old England, so couples enjoyed quaint hologram theater shows and others, like Lucy Scaleton and Alsop Addison, soaked up the unusual experience of walking nighttime streets.

“Let’s move away from the urchins. I know they make things realistic, but they’re creepy,” Lucy murmured. “We need to find the exit before things shut down and the security mechs scan for the night.”

Alsop nodded and they increased their pace. “I’m almost glad we don’t have to deal with streets. The hall layouts are much simpler.” She hissed when her foot brushed through the long skirt, sending ripples through the false image that revealed her jumpsuit underneath. “Clothes today are easier, too.”

“It’s all so realistic, though. Especially with all the scents and sounds piped in, never mind the temp changes. Holo-tech has come such a long way.” Lucy took hold of her friend’s arm with a sheepish expression. “I know we’re safe, but…”

“Let’s get home before they turn everything off for the night and ruin the fun!” Alsop tugged her down an alley. “I think this shortcuts to the exit.” She trailed frowned when they hit a dead end.

“Al—”

“I could’ve sworn this was an exit.”

“’Scuse me, miss, but spare a quid on a cold night?”

The pair jumped, then shared an exasperated look. Alsop turned to address the fellow behind them, tossing her blonde curls. “Stupid programming,” she grumbled before addressing the image. “It’s late and we need to get home.” The looming form didn’t budge or disappear. “Hey, I mean it. Bugger off or we’ll just go through you!” The shadowed gentleman’s shoulders bobbed in a silent laugh.

“This isn’t Jack the Ripper night, is it?” Lucy whispered, hand clenched tight on her friend’s arm.

“Don’t be silly. It can’t hurt you. It’s just another damn hologram!” Alsop snapped and strode right into the moving shadow.

Silver flashed and rippled. The blonde jerked with the impact, her holo-costume fading away to reveal her slashed jumpsuit. She stared at the ripped fabric, dumbfounded. “What on earth?” The concept of actual danger was so foreign. Instinctively, still expecting the shadowed mass to dissolve into static and code, she struck at it and felt her stomach drop when it touched real fabric and something warm underneath.

The looming figure that was now too real, too threatening, too substantial pounced again. The shadowed figure grabbed the blonde and silver lashed out, sending crimson spraying right through the false images of the ancient London alleyway, spattering the metal projection walls underneath. The holograms couldn’t fully form with the intrusion, making the length of the alley a flickering, macabre trap. Alsop’s painful scream tore through the nighttime sounds and distant music.

Her friend screamed with her, the sound shrill and useless against the assailant. “No, no! Let her go, this isn’t supposed to happen! Security!” Lucy panicked as she struggled with her the other girl’s falling body, frantically looking for the cameras and police units. Unhindered, the thing shoved Alsop away. The gasping blonde fell back into her friend, sending them both to the floor, revealing metal underneath the cobblestones. Cold laughter prompted them to look up and when they did, the alley was nothing but screams and blue fire.

***

Want to find out more? How about stories where Sherlock and Watson deal with vampires or find themselves in other time periods? You can find all of that in Curious Incidents, available here on kindle or here in print!

Season’s Readings: Holly and Ivy

Published December 13, 2015 by admin

NewSGBlog

And of course, it wouldn’t be the holiday season without a magical Christmas/fantasy mashup with a hint of sweet romance. Not that I’m biased or anything, ahem…

This title is a little atypical for me, but it combines a lot of elements that I love about the holidays: natural settings, family, friendships, the folklore elements of the stories I love. However, it also adds in a real-world element. Not all holidays are going to turn out perfect or even completely happy. I’ve been there, and I wanted to reflect that in this story. The romance aspect is mostly alluded to, but you do get some cute scenes that you’d probably never believe I could write. Plus you get to find out what happens when you inadvertently get a dryad with your Christmas tree…

HollyAndIvy72dpi (1)

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After losing her job and her boyfriend, Holly returns to her parents’ farm. Embarrassed and hopeless, she doesn’t expect to bump into a forgotten childhood friend that wasn’t supposed to exist. Ivy is not only a dryad, but she lives in the pine trees Holly’s family grows to sell at Christmas. As the old friends reconnect, Ivy not only shares her strong oninions, but gives Holly a charm that will change both their lives. As days melt into weeks and the seasons change, Holly’s life magically turns around. Christmas not only brings surprises, but a choice for the human woman. What’s more important: stability, success, and love, or keepinga promise to an old friend?

***

She paused and took a long breath, much longer than I or any other human could possibly inhale. Before my eyes her skin became greener, infused by the crisp clean air. “You need to be in the trees, Holly. Mortals refuse to understand that they must live where things grow. Now that you’re home, let’s play!” She leapt over my head and landed effortlessly beside her home tree, staring at me expectantly.

Maybe it was being back home or maybe it was just being back in the good fresh air, but her suggestion made me giddy. It suddenly sounded like the exact prescription I needed, the one thing I’d been missing through all those frustrating years. My fragile mind and heart demanded an escape. They couldn’t take any more disappointment, any more expectations or responsibility, and they especially couldn’t take any more reality. I nodded and tucked the strange clover deep in my pocket. The breeze had dried my tears and the heavenly scent of grass and pine put the sudden urge to run in my feet. Suddenly the heavy air and the blazing sun didn’t matter so much and my anxieties were willing to take a momentary backseat to the chance to goof off for an afternoon.  “Are you sure you’ll be okay?” I hesitated, hand still at my pocket.

Ivy flashed a bold grin and stretched up on her toes; her fingers wiggled over her head, making her resemble an odd, scrawny plant. “With you here? Of course! Just remember to come look after my tree when the murderers come around the winter harvest time. You can even help me choose which tree will be my final home so you’ll know where I’ll be.” The words were no sooner out of her mouth when she tore off, dodging branches and bark as quick and swift as a deer. I groaned as I pulled myself to my feet and tumbled after her, muscles screaming at the sudden exercise. Still, I found myself laughing the entire time.

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Excerpt: The Guru

Published September 14, 2015 by admin

I know, it’s a new week, but I’m probably sleeping the convention off, and I feel like giving you guys something to entertain yourselves with. We’ll get back to rants and weirdness soon enough, I swear.

Sometimes a story comes from a deep emotional place, and a lot of these times that’s a great big fat well of frustration. I can’t remember the situation this stemmed from, but I felt overwhelmed, trapped in a role. I tend to be fairly protective of those around me, and sometimes I probably overdo it, and sometimes I’m sure this gets exploited…or at the very least, people don’t realized that I’m like any other person and get exhausted. It’s also probably true that I try too hard and allow myself to get exhausted. Anyway, I was going through one of those times and suddenly this character of a little old man doomed to listen to other people’s inane questions when he really just wants to be left alone in the quiet and go swimming or something popped into my head, and off I went. this is just a piece of the story, and oddly I remember finding it a little hilarious, just so ridiculous after I wrote it. I have different emotions about this piece depending on how I feel at any given time, which is still really intriguing to me. Plus, I felt it was important to write this because as a reader, I want to know that I’m not alone in my very human feelings. If I can give that empathy and feeling of not being alone to anyone else, I’ve done my job.

I also admittedly wanted humanize the character of the mystic, because I refuse to believe that a person can’t feel negative emotions at some point in their life.

***

 Down the narrow path to the marketplace he goes, feet treading carefully on loose stones. A mishap could very well make a morning excursion his last habitual task on earth. Yet he always arrives safely in the village below, always goes to the market where he sits on the reed-wood chair. It is the only sign of his status. His wrinkled, dried-fig face could be that of any old man, his worn and ragged robe that of any beggar. He is much more, though his wealth is all inside his head. His appearance and carriage are only proof of his reclusive tendencies, not of who he is.

With slow purpose and movement that resembles a trembling leaf, he sits on his designated chair and waits for the people to come. They will not stop coming all day, even when he leaves to go back to his seclusion. From within each brain, from behind each set of lips pour out questions. Some inventive, but most he hears regularly.

From newly married couples: “What do I do so he doesn’t leave me?” or “Why does she nag me so?”

Young hearts that yearn for their first romance: “What must I do to interest him?” “How shall I keep her?” “What do I do so I do not to interest him too much? Does he love me? How can I make him love me?”

Young parents: “What do I do for colic?” “How do I get him to stop cying?”

Older parents: “Why won’t my child speak to me? How shall I get him to talk?”

Parents who are quite old: “How do I get him to leave my house?”

“What do I do with my life? Who should I be?” ask the young and filled with fear.

“Where do I go now?” ask those who are just afraid. There are the old who want to be proud of their years yet are feeble and filled with questions, for they have nothing left but to think of them. “How can I care for myself now? How can I love, how can I live?”

And there are always the ones that everyone wishes to know. “What is life about? Why is man here? Where do we go next?”

They come from everywhere. New faces show up every day, yet they quickly become old faces with new questions once they learn how accurate he is. He supposes having answers is an addiction, but it is his calling to provide what knowledge he can.

All day long he continues to sit and think and answer. He remembers how as a boy he used to be able to waste a day swimming in the river or walking through the forest. That was before his great gift was discovered. He has desires, too, though no one knows of them. He longs to travel the world, to see cities with tall buildings and deserts where living things have to spend their entire lifetimes surviving. He wants to see deep oceans, lush jungles where there are chirping birds, chittering insects, and the screams of predators. As long as there are no questions, he wants to go there. Silence is what he hopes for most.

At dusk he hobbles up the crooked path, his footsteps swaying between the little trees that try to grow between the rocks. As he flees in his dignified manner the questions of those not content to wait for tomorrow float up behind him, fading to a dull whisper the higher he goes.

“What about the harvest?”

“Am I mad or am I sick?”

“Should I kill my neighbor’s dog if it attacks my cows?”

“Will there be the heavy storms this year?”

Temptation strokes his balding head. “Lie to them,” it whispers in its throaty, beguiling voice. “Make it up and let them fail, then they will leave you be!” Frustration tugs his cottony beard that whispers to his knees. “Tell them where to go! Don’t go down the mountain tomorrow!”

But he is a decent man and casts his eyes to heaven for forgiveness. His throat is too tired to pray.

His hut welcomes him as do his goats. Their irritated cries lift to greet him and even their tone is questioning when he most wants to retreat to his solitude.

“Do you have to be so long?” their baahs seem to say, eyes hard as their foreheads. “Is it dinner time yet? Where were you, Old One, and why do you leave us all day?” He takes the time to milk and feed them. Slowly, tediously he does his chores and it is well beyond twilight when he is finished. He could take on a young boy as a helper or apprentice, send for someone to look after him, but he fears those who would take advantage of a position or the innocent questions of a young and hungry mind.

He eats a simple meal and curls upon his sleeping mat with resignation. He wants so badly to complain and tell someone about his fears, his desires, his pain of knowing

If he only had the courage and callousness to tell those fools to be curious! How he wishes he could tell them to find things out on their own, to learn and be happy with the learning and the knowing! But he is a gentle man graced with a large mind, but a small voice and timid disposition. He has no one to talk to. Not his departed, blessed wife; not his parents who instilled his curious nature; no teacher or friend or mentor.

***

Lost - 400x600

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Various Speculative Genres/Short Fiction: Flash, Complete Shorts, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and others

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation.

In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways.

Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

WeWriWa: The Other Man (or the return of Mrs. Lederhosen)

Published September 13, 2015 by admin

I feel like I’ve done a lot of genre fiction excerpts this week, so for Weekend Writing Warriors let’s briefly revisit one of my literary pieces, The Other Man! One of the things that got me through such a heavy piece was that I included some hilarious interaction with Andrew’s two children…not that I ever acted like this when I was sent to my room at that age ever…no, not me, not at aaaall…

For more short bits of stories, be sure to check out Weekend Writing Warriors!

***

“Hellooooooo!” Both adults turned at a very high-pitched voice and stared as Miranda sauntered into the living room. She was clothed in three dress-up dresses of contrasting patterns and colors, long evening gloves, a pair of Andrew’s old sunglasses, and her Sunday shoes. A wide-brimmed straw hat that had seen better days wobbled on the little girl’s fair head.

Bethany blinked and looked as if she was struggling to remember which parenting manual dealt with the particular situation. “Miranda, what are you–”

“Oh I’m not Miranda,” the little girl laughed in what was supposed to be a grown up voice. “I’m Mrs. Lederhosen! I don’t know how I got into that silly room, but I just had to get out! If it’s all right with you, I’ll go play with Miranda’s toys!”

Andrew dimly wondered whether he was having an out of body experience.

TheOtherMan_72dpi

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contemporary/drama

All Andrew wanted was the typical American dream: a good career, a nice house, and a loving family. Instead, he has a dead-end job, a cramped apartment, and children who remind him of creatures out of a sci-fi movie. He’s also well aware that he’s not the only man who inhabits his wife’s thoughts and daily life. How can he put up a fight when he’s reminded of the competition every time Bethany turns on the CD player? After one eventful evening meal when expectations, disappointments, and secrets collide, life will never be the same.

Excerpt: Mooner (or vampires and lumberjacks rock my world)

Published September 11, 2015 by admin

Today, I feel like vampires. So vampires it shall be. Well…lumberjacks that run into vampires, because in my world that combination is a beautiful thing and it’s still my birthday week, so there you go. This bit is from Mooner, an e-book title of mine that combines my love of pioneer history with my love of wrecking pioneer history…and also vampires. Because they’re awesome. Basically all you need to know is a group of lumberjacks walk into a bar on their night off, and things spiral downward from there…

***

Nancy shook her head. “I ain’t scared of you and your boys, John, and neither should you be,” she added to Bill. Her rolling eyes were framed by laugh lines, though at the moment her face was stern and cold as a sudden blizzard. “I know how you boys are and don’t think for a minute I approve of you trying to put your ways on a nice young lad like him.”

The men turned a cold shoulder to her like usual. She was only of use to them if she was carrying a loaded tray. Only Bill shot her a sympathetic glance. The older woman tucked a graying curl under her hat and strode off to deliver drinks to the tables. “Don’t you let him get you full, boy. The last thing you need is to depend on them to get you back when you’re dead drunk.”

“Bah, what does she know? C’mon, lad, drink up!” John urged, and his more naïve companion steeled himself before knocking back the firewater. “There you go, Bill! Let’s have another!” he laughed, inhaling his own whiskey before presenting his empty to Red. “To a lucky son of a bitch!” he roared, clapping the younger man across the back so hard the youth bent over the bar top. “You boys won’t believe it, but Bill here has the biggest string of luck you ever saw! I don’t know how many times I’ve looked up and thought he was a goner, almost catching his foot on a tree root running from a falling fir! And don’t get me started on the time I thought he’d fallen to his death while limbing out!”

The boy shrugged with embarrassment and ran a hand through sandy hair. “Either luck or a higher power’s been with me. All I want is enough to send back to Ma and settle down.”

A few of the others sprawled along the bar muttered in disdain. “Don’t have time for no dunghisters,” a craggy-faced logger croaked into his glass, practically spitting the derogatory term for farmer.

For a brief moment a snide glitter crept into Big John’s eyes as he glanced towards the sack clenched tightly in Bill’s fist.

“Settle down! Luck or no, it isn’t a bad idea to be careful,” Red advised, fully knowing that there were plenty who’d take the boy’s decision as an insult to the profession. He was quick to replenish glasses and change the subject. “Besides, it’s not spring yet. Your pal Joe closed the door and ended up a resident of the undertaker’s down the road last Saturday.”

For once John blanched and set his drink back on the bar. “I thought he just went out to get his teeth fixed!”

Red rolled his eyes. “A man would have to be desperate to travel ten miles to the nearest girl house in this kind of cold.”

Bill’s shock reached him through the warm haze of the whiskey. “Was he sluiced?”

“Well he didn’t just drop dead!” The barkeep shook his head and snapped his fingers at the youth employed to keep the peace. “Jack, you missed one! Lars has his caulks on and I don’t want no cases of smallpox in my saloon, you hear me?”

They watched as the local youth encouraged the sawyer out the door. After a few moments the Norwegian returned, sans his spiked boots, cursing the air blue.

“They don’t know what got him,” Red mumbled. “He was found outside last Saturday night after I closed, blood all over the snow.”

“Caulks don’t do that,” Bill offered for lack of something better to say.

“Boy, a knife couldn’t even do that. Catcher’s ax, maybe. Half his chest was ripped out and strung from one end of the street to the other.”

Bill shuddered in the heavy warmth of his bright green mackinaw and grabbed for the glass that John had shoved towards him. “What the devil could do that to a man?” he murmured, the alcohol slowly warming the chill of fear away.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve seen a lot in my time, and it’s probably a fluke. Can’t be helped, at any rate.” John’s mutter was dark as he scanned the room in search of some new amusement. His younger friend’s gaze drifted as well, and he rested his sack on the bar to keep it in sight.

For a moment Bill thought he was imagining things or was having a particularly bad reaction to the rotgut. Blinking a few times refocused his tired gaze and proved that there was, indeed, a moving pile of…something at a table close to the other end of the bar.

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Like many young men at the end of the 1800s, Bill signed on to work in a logging camp. The work is brutal, but it promised a fast paycheck with which he can start his life. Unfortunately, his role model is Big John. Not only is he the camp’s hero, but he’s known for spending his pay as fast as he makes it. On a cold Saturday night they enter Red’s Saloon to forget the work that takes the sweat and lives of so many men their age. Red may have plans for their whiskey money, but something else lurks in the shadows. It watches and badly wants a drink that has nothing to do with alcohol. Can Bill make it back out the shabby door, or does someone else have their own plans for his future?

Wanna talk vampires with me? I’m in Louisville all weekend at the Imaginarium Convention!

Also, don’t forget to enter the Night Owl Reviews summer scavenger hunt…the hidden word on my blog miiiight be under one of the links at the top of the page.