The Magic Box

Happy Halloween, everybody! I hope you are all enjoying the spookiest time of the year. I know I am! I had a lot of fun writing this story, and I hope you enjoy it.

TWs: demon, blood, murder (not graphic), self-inflicted wound


The box was perfect despite its plain cardboard exterior, and it sat on the top step to Talia’s apartment waiting for her to get home from work. Though the day was dreary and a light rain drizzled its way down from the gray skies, the box practically glowed from within. When Talia rounded the corner of her street and saw the box sitting there, she broke into  a run, a giant grin on her face.

She tossed her umbrella aside and scooped the box up. It was heavy, but Talia didn’t want to put it back down to make it easier to grab her keys from her bag. She jostled the box around, managing to pin it to her side under her left arm as her right hand rooted through her handbag.

When she was safely inside, she tossed her raincoat into the corner of her kitchen, and tore into the box.

Nestled inside the crinkled black strips of paper sat her future. With shaking hands, she pulled the contents from their hiding places and placed them on the table one by one. A jar of black salt. A black candle. Three pieces of black tourmaline. A piece of chalk. A piece of parchment. Instructions.

Talia closed her eyes for a moment, her hands flat on the table. She took a deep breath. Then, she got up to put water on for tea.

She wasn’t a bad person. She just needed some help getting ahead. It’s not like Mariska meant to steal the promotion from her, but Talia couldn’t let another opportunity go by. She’d been working at the bank for seven years, and she was still a lowly teller. Mariska, on the other hand, was hired three years ago and made manager last week.

Talia ground her mug into the counter while she waited for the water to boil. The screaming kettle made her jump, but she appreciated its ability to let its feelings out in a way she couldn’t.

Tea in hand, she returned to the instructions.

First of all, THANK YOU for your purchase!

Secondly, witchcraft is very personal. As such, I will not be giving the step-by-step instructions I’m sure many of you were expecting. I’m going to tell you what each of the pieces in the box is for, and it’s up to YOU to decide how to use them!

 Talia threw the instructions onto the table and ground her teeth. She didn’t know anything about casting spells, and this rando from the internet wanted her to just… figure it out? She only bought the box because it promised to be an easy way to meet her goals, and yet now she had to put in some actual work.

She was less than pleased, but she picked the instructions back up and continued reading.

Black salt: Used to consecrate your workspace and ward against unwanted energies.

            Black candle: Invites the energies appropriate to your spell to enter your space.

            Black tourmaline: A protection stone. Use it to protect yourself from the spell.

            Chalk and/or parchment: Can be used to draw sigils.

 

            Happy casting, witches!

Talia read the list again. And a third time. And a fourth. An idea was forming in her mind for how to create the spell, but she needed to do some research first.

The new moon was four nights away, and Talia thought she’d never be patient enough to wait for it. But the internet said that new moons were great for aggressive magic, and Talia didn’t want to blow her chance at getting that promotion. So, she waited, each day a special agony.

Mariska greeted her with a cheery smile every morning, but Talia knew that beneath that veneer lay a greedy woman gloating at her own success at the expense of Talia’s. Talia avoided her manager as much as possible, which wasn’t hard seeing as how everyone else fawned over Mariska, vying for her attention.

It made Talia burn. That position should have been hers. She should be the one everyone wanted to be around.

Just four more days. In the meantime, she would plan the spell and make it perfect.

On the night of the new moon, Talia gathered all the supplies she needed for the spell onto the counter in her kitchen. With the chalk, she drew a circle on the linoleum floor, along with a sigil in the middle.

She had poured every ounce of ill will and anger she possessed into creating that sigil. It had taken her days to shape it into something she was proud of. The result was a spiky, angry-looking symbol embodying her deep hatred and resentment.

Once the circle was finished, she poured the black salt over the chalk, then rested the three black tourmaline stones on top of the salt in a triangle around the circle. She used a knife to carve Mariska’s name into the black candle.

She set the candle down on the floor just inside the chalk circle and lit it. She stepped inside the circle, too. As the flame flickered, Talia raised her arms above her head and chanted.

“She stole my job, but it will be hers no more. She thinks she’s better than me, but she will learn the truth. She will burn burn burn with the fires of retribution.”

Talia was practically shouting by the time she finished the third recitation of the words she’d written. Threes were important, the internet had said, and Talia had listened.

She grabbed the piece of parchment. She’d pasted a picture of Mariska on it with the plan to burn it. Before she could, though, the candle flame blew out. Talia frowned. Not only could she not burn Mariska’s picture, but she’d read that it was important to let the candle burn down to nothing before extinguishing the flame. Should she relight it?

Unsure, she stepped out of the circle and reached for the lighter on the countertop. Her fingers barely brushed it when she snatched her hand back. It was burning hot to the touch.

So, no, she would not relight the candle.

She crouched down and inspected it. The bottom part of Mariska’s name hadn’t been melted, but Talia couldn’t see a way to help that. With a sigh, she plucked the candle from the floor, ran the wick under some water, then threw it in the trash.

She thought she’d feel different after the spell was cast, but as she cleaned up the circle, she couldn’t help noticing a distinct lack of relief. If the spell didn’t work, she’d have to try again next month.

The day dawned bright and cheery. Talia wanted to burrow back under the covers, but work beckoned. Her only consolation at braving the too-happy morning was seeing if Mariska’s life had started unraveling yet.

The train ride to work was interminable. Talia practically bounced with glee at the thought that she would soon be a manager wielding her power over Mariska.

“Morning,” she mumbled to the greeter at the desk just inside the bank’s automatic doors. The girl was young, perhaps in her late teens, and Talia didn’t know her name. The greeter girls all looked the same. It’s not like she had to have conversations with them.

“Good morning, Talia,” the girl said. “Mariska was looking for you.”

Talia glanced at her watch. 7:45. She was fifteen minutes late, but even so, Mariska couldn’t have been looking for too long…

“Thanks,” Talia said. She scanned her ID at the employees only door and pushed it to go through. She bashed her shoulder into the solid oak when it didn’t give. She tried her ID again. Still declined.

“Could you…?” Talia turned to the greeter girl and gestured at the door.

“Um. We’re not supposed to…” she said.

Talia clenched her fists, but let the slight slide. This girl must be new, because she clearly didn’t understand that when a higher-ranking employee asked you to do something, you did it. Talia approached the teller’s window next to the door instead of sniping at the girl.

“Hello!” she called. Her voice sounded strange to her. Too loud. Too much.

Mariska poked her head from the back room and frowned. “Yes?”

“My ID won’t scan me in.”

“Ah yes, that’s been happening to some other people this week, too. The tech guys are working on the system, I think.”

Mariska’s high heels clacked on the floor, one deliberate foot in front of the other. Talia’s already poor mood worsened. Mariska was taking her time on purpose. She waited for the spell to cause her manager to slip on a wet patch on the floor and break her ankle, but no such luck. Mariska opened the employee door, and Talia slipped past.

“Talia,” Mariska said.

Talia ignored her and made a beeline for the breakroom with Mariska close behind.

“Talia,” Mariska said again. “I would like to see you in my office.”

“I’ll just put my stuff away.”

Five sets of eyes followed Talia from the breakroom after she stowed her things in her locker. She didn’t dare make eye contact with any of them for fear of what she might see there. Pity. Relief it wasn’t them.

Mariska gestured to the wooden chair in front of her desk. Talia perched at the very edge while Mariska sank into the plush leather chair that should have been hers. Talia looked down at her hands clasped tightly in her lap.

Talia felt her boss’ eyes burning into her. When she didn’t look up, the other woman spoke.

“Some performance issues have come to my attention,” she said. Talia’s head finally snapped up. Mariska continued. “Late arrivals. Rude to customers. I’ve, personally, had multiple complaints over the last week or so, and I also looked through your personnel file. It appears that this has been an ongoing issue.”

Mariska paused, waiting for Talia to speak. Talia stayed quiet.

“Would you care to explain?”

“I don’t remember being rude to anyone,” Talia said. She hoped Mariska couldn’t see the lie in her eyes. It was only once. Maybe a few times. But sometimes people were rude, and Talia was expected to just take it? No. And after the news broke about the promotion, Talia had an even harder time just taking it.

Mariska sighed. Disappointment clouded her face, as though she expected this answer from Talia but was hoping for a different one.

“Well, consider this a formal reminder to keep your words in check. I was considering letting you go, but I’ll give you one more chance. And remember: the customer is always right.”

Talia bared her teeth. She hoped it look like a smile.

When Talia got home, she reached in her bag for her keys. When the keys were hard to find, she set her bag on the porch railing, and searched with both hands. They weren’t there.

Annoyance made her eye twitch. She knew she’d put them in her bag after locking her door this morning. There’s no way she could have left them at home, and she never took them out at work.

She took a deep breath. Her dad had a spare. She could call him. He would come over and unlock her door for her. Everything would be okay.

Her dad picked up on the third ring.

“Heya Tali Balli. What’s shaking?”

“Nothing, Dad. Just locked myself out of my apartment.”

“Sorry to hear that. I’d come over and let you in, but your mom surprised me with a trip to the beach, so we’re out of town. I can get Kevin to come over and change the locks, though.”

“Nah, that’s okay. You just enjoy your vacation. I’m sure I left a window or something open.”

She would do anything to not have to see Kevin. Her dad’s favorite locksmith gave her the creeps, and she didn’t want to deal with him ever, but especially not today.

Her dad hung up with lots of love and kisses. She went around the back of her apartment, looking for a way in. No luck in the window department, but the sliding glass door was wide open. The white curtains billowed out the door, blowing in the breeze.

She knew she should call the police. She’d seen every horror movie in existence, but still she couldn’t help but creep in through those billowing curtains.

The place was trashed. Kitchen drawers pulled out and emptied onto the floor. Glasses and dishes smashed, the pieces scattered across the linoleum. She moved deeper into the apartment. Glass crunched under her feet. Couch cushions were sliced open, the stuffing strewn about.

She didn’t want to know what her bedroom looked like.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to her. This was supposed to be reserved for Mariska. The job was supposed to fall into her lap while Mariska’s life was ruined.

Anger boiled beneath her skin.

A noise from her bedroom made her jump. Was the burglar still here?

Talia grabbed a leg from one of the smashed chairs in her dining room and crept her way down the hall. Her heart hammered in her chest, and she feared the intruder would be able to hear it. The anger in her veins propelled her onward.

Weapon raised, she jumped around the corner and into the bedroom. A man rooted through her dresser drawers, throwing shirts behind him. Talia raised the chair leg and brought it down on his head as hard as she could.

The next few hours were a flurry of commotion. The police stalked through the house. The paramedics rushed the bleeding man away. Statements were given. Photos were taken. A warning to not leave town for a while was issued.

Talia wanted to curl up in bed with a cup of tea and a mindless show, but her house was tainted. She couldn’t even crash at her parents’ house because her keys were missing and even though Mrs. Jemp across the street had an extra key, she hated Talia and would never give it to her.

This wasn’t how this was supposed to go.

Talia wracked her brain for what had gone wrong with the spell. She was no closer to discerning the truth when three heavy knocks on the door sounded through the ruined space.

She picked her way through the wreckage of her living room and opened the door. A gust of wind and an empty porch greeted her. The gloam of the evening created an eerie atmosphere, and Talia’s skin crawled with goosebumps, even while she tried to convince herself it was just the kids down the street playing games. She shut the door, retreating to the spare bedroom.

That room was untouched by the filthy hands of the thief. Talia knew it would be her haven for a while.

That night, Talia woke in a panic. The room was too hot, too dark, too small. A noise from the corner caught Talia’s attention. She reached for the bedside lamp, but knocked it off with her reaching hand. The bulb shattered on the floor.

She was now trapped in bed, in the dark, her heart hammering in her chest.

“Who’s there?” Her voice disappeared into the corner, like the words were ripped from her mouth and devoured.

A husky laugh met her ears. Talia gripped the duvet and pulled it to her chest with shaking hands. Two red eyes opened, staring at her from the corner. Talia pulled the covers over her head, hoping that the childhood rule of “nothing under the covers is fair game to monsters” held into adulthood.

A few silent minutes passed. The air under the covers went stale with fear and sweat. The hairs on the back of Talia’s neck stood at attention. When she could stand the unknown no longer, she peeked her head out.

Her nighttime visitor hadn’t moved. It still stood in the corner, eyes staring, except now she could see white teeth in a grinning mouth.

The covers were ripped off of her. She felt exposed, naked, despite the ample nightgown she wore. She pulled her knees into her chest and wrapped her arms around them, making herself as small as possible. She squeezed her eyes shut.

And for the first time in twenty years, she prayed.

She prayed for her safety, for the thing to go away and never return, for forgiveness. She promised to be nicer, to be kinder, to not let things get to her so much.

The thing in the corner laughed again.

“You have to mean it for it to work.” Its words buzzed through her head, leaving pressure and pain in their wake. Talia thought her head would split open, almost welcomed the relief that would bring, but the pain of its words were not just physical.

The throbbing in her head reached a crescendo, and she passed out.

When morning dawned, Talia hardly noticed. She lay on her side staring at the lamp on the bedside table.

It wasn’t broken. There were no glass shards from the bulb on the floor. It sat, painted a cheery yellow with blue and white flowers, mocking her.

The previous night had felt so real. Had it been a dream?

No, she decided. It had happened for real. If she couldn’t trust her own mind, she was doomed. She’d find a way out of this. She had to.

She reached for her phone. The voicemail at her job picked up, and Talia thanked the universe for being this kind to her at least. She didn’t want to hear the gloating pleasure in Mariska’s voice while she explained the break-in and how shaken up she was. Talia hoped Mariska wouldn’t call her later to check in, but knowing her boss, she would want to make sure Talia wasn’t lying herself.

She sat up in bed and swung her legs over the edge. The floor was cool under her feet, waking her up even more. Talia wanted to hide under the covers, wanted to sleep until this was over, but she knew it would never be over until she fixed it.

She had a lot of work to do.

The shop smelled like incense and candles all competing to be the dominant scent. It was entirely unique and surprisingly pleasant. A bell over the door tinkled as Talia shut it behind her. If only Talia had come here in the first place, she might never have been in this mess. Local help was better than internet help any day.

The walls lining the short hallway into the main room of the shop were filled with skulls, bleached and mounted on shiny blocks of wood. Their empty eye-sockets followed her as she passed them one by one. Talia shivered.

A woman in black slacks and a white short-sleeved button-down shirt behind the counter smiled until Talia stepped over the hallway threshold into the open room. The woman’s smile disappeared, and she drew a symbol with her right hand in the air in front of her.

“I need some help,” Talia said.

“Clearly.” The woman hopped down from the stool she’d been sitting on, a strange look on her face. Talia couldn’t quite place it, but it almost looked like a mix of annoyance and clinical interest. “Come on. I’ll make some tea, and you can tell me all about it. The name’s Gussie, by the way.”

“Talia.”

Talia followed Gussie through a beaded curtain and into a small kitchen at the back of the shop. Gussie busied herself with the teapot while Talia took a seat at the small round table in the corner of the room.

“No offense,” Talia said, “but you don’t look like you can help me.”

Gussie sent a withering look over her shoulder. “And you don’t look like someone even remotely magical enough to make a curse work, let alone have it rebound.”

Talia’s toes went cold, and she clenched her hands in her lap.

“How…”

“It’s written all over you. I don’t care about the whys.” Her lips curled into a devilish grin. “I want to hear the how. What exactly did you do to cast the spell?”

Talia explained. Gussie listened, her smile growing wider with every word. They both sipped their tea.

“Well, good luck with that.” Gussie laughed. It was a harsh sound, unsympathetic.

“What?”

“You people are all the same. You think you can just order shit from the internet and play at being a witch, and then when it doesn’t work, you come in here crying about the results. You know what? I. Don’t. Care. You can just go away and deal with your demon problem yourself.”

Demon. Talia had been avoiding that word. It thudded in the air, worming its way into her stomach and sitting there like a rock.

“How much money would convince you to help me?”

Gussie leaned over the table, her dark eyes boring into Talia’s. Talia wanted to look away, but she felt stuck.

“Honey, you could offer me all the gold in the world, and I’d still tell you to go fuck yourself.”

Heat bloomed in Talia’s cheeks. She felt like the other woman had slapped her. Gussie rose from the table, and left Talia sitting there. The beaded curtain clacked behind her, a sound that wouldn’t normally have entered Talia’s consciousness, but today it sounded like a door slamming in her face.

A soft chuckle emanated from the corner of the room.

Talia had barely settled in at home before the doorbell rang. With a groan, she got off her bed and ambled to the door.

It was one of the detectives from the day before.

“Can I come in?” he asked.

Talia stood aside and let him in. He hovered in the entryway, but shut the door behind him.

“The man who broke in here, his name was Henry Foster. He died this morning from blunt force trauma to the head.”

The blood drained from Talia’s face. She’d killed someone. The detective was still talking, and Talia had to force herself to hear him over the rush in her ears.

“…warrant for your arrest. I’m sorry.”

He held handcuffs out, and gestured for Talia to turn around. She shook her head, not comprehending. He grabbed her arm and spun her around. This wasn’t happening. Couldn’t be happening. That man had broken into her house! She had been defending herself. Surely, the authorities would see that.

Except they wouldn’t. Not while she was being stalked by evil.

The cold metal bit into her wrists, and she bit back tears. Her father’s best friend, a talented lawyer, would have her out on bail by dinnertime, but she still had to deal with the shame of being marched past her neighbors bound by the law. The last thing she needed was for them to see her crying.

If ever the ground was going to open up and swallow her, now would be a convenient time.

Familiar soft laughter followed her from the house.

As she suspected, Mr. Caldicutt had her out of jail in time for the evening news. He offered her a ride home, but Talia declined, opting to take the train. She just wanted to be alone.

She felt the thing’s presence the whole train ride home. It felt like isolation and death, its cold breath of hatred on the back of her neck. It was watching, amused. Talia wished it would make itself known. The waiting was almost unbearable.

She locked herself inside her house knowing that wouldn’t keep her safe. Gussie was right. She’d thought she could just take this power and use it without thought or training, and now her life was falling apart. It was all Mariska’s fault. If Talia hadn’t been passed over for a promotion again, she would never have had to order that magic box. But she wasn’t going to let her boss ruin her life. Things were still salvageable if only she could figure out how.

The candle was still in the garbage under the sink. Talia dug it out. It stank of discarded food and darkness, but she washed it off in the sink, then grabbed a knife and a lighter.

With what was left of the black salt, she made another circle, and she ringed it with the tourmalines. She sat inside the circle, and paused.

A dark presence prowled the outside of her circle, testing it for weaknesses. A growl rose up, emanating from nowhere and everywhere. It rattled around in her head, pain threatening to keep her from thinking or acting. She pushed past it.

She used the knife to carve away Mariska’s name. In its place, she etched the word “love.” She set the candle in the same place she’d put it the first time she cast the spell, and she held the lighter against the wet wick until it dried and caught flame.

Wind kicked up in the kitchen, whirling the shards of glass and broken furniture around in a frenzy. Inside the circle was a haven of stillness.

Talia used the knife to slice into the palm of her hand. Blood streamed out of the wound, and she dripped some onto the flame of the candle. It sputtered but didn’t go out. Talia took it as a good sign.

She stood. Howling joined the frenzy outside the circle. The pain of it lessened with each moment the candle stayed aflame. She raised her hands to the sky, one pale, one covered in blood.

“By my blood I end this spell. By my will I sever ties with this dark entity in my home. Leave this place and never return.”

She choked the words out three times, each time harder than the last. By the end, she could hardly breathe, her words quiet. She tried to give them power despite the difficulties she was having. The howling reached a peak, then died immediately after she managed to say the last word.

Shaking, Talia lowered herself back to the floor. She sat there all night, watching the candle burn down to nothing, until it finally extinguished itself.

Talia called in sick again the next day and spent it sleeping instead. When she woke mid-afternoon, she felt refreshed and energized, like the events of the previous week had been a dream.

She returned to work the day after, a spring in her step. She smiled at everyone, learned the greeter girl’s name, and was pleasant when customers were rude. After a week of this new Talia, Mariska made a positive note in her file.

The charges against her were dropped. She cleaned up her apartment, got new furniture and dishes, and even though she could only afford used items, she was grateful she had her freedom to buy them at all.

One night, several weeks after the night she banished the demon, she noticed a piece of paper wedged between the kitchen counter and the wall. She grabbed her tweezers from the bathroom, and fished around until she grabbed the paper and pulled it out.

On the paper, in jagged black marker, was the sigil of hatred she’d created. Her heart sped up, the blood drained from her face, and she felt light-headed. As she blacked out, she heard the hated laughter she thought she’d left behind.

Advertisements

Who Wants to Live Forever

Happy Almost-Halloween, everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve had a story to post. It feels good to have one appropriate to the season, and I hope you enjoy it.

TW: serial killer, death of a father, on-page murder, grief


The dull sound of the knife going shk shk against the wood soothed the carver. His masterpiece would soon be finished. He held the doll up and studied the man sitting opposite him, his eyes darting from the doll to his guest.

During his struggles to get free, the man’s dark hair had fallen in his eyes, and he sat with his head bowed. The carver looked back at his doll. He hadn’t quite captured the air of quiet mystique that enshrouded his guest. With a frustrated groan, he tossed the doll behind him and picked up a new block of wood. This time, it would be perfect.

The other man squirmed in his chair again, struggling against the ropes binding him, his cries muffled by the cloth gag in his mouth.

“Now, now,” said the carver, “There’s no need for that.”

The man stopped moving. His hair had moved out of his eyes, revealing bruises and small cuts. The mystique was gone, and with it, the carver’s desire to start over. He retrieved the doll he’d thrown on the ground and dusted it off. It wasn’t perfect, but then again, neither was the man in front of him.

The man said something through the gag. Though the carver didn’t hear the words, he knew what the man was saying. They all said the same thing.

Please let me go.

            I have a family.

            I promise I won’t tell anyone.

            I’ll do anything. Please don’t kill me.

The carver learned early on to stuff their mouths full of cotton. It made things more pleasant for him as he shaped wood into perfection. If only they could see that they were part of something greater than themselves. The carver was sure they’d appreciate his artwork once they fully understood what was happening.

When he was satisfied with the form he’d sculpted, the carver brought out his paints. With a flourish, he dipped his tiny paintbrush into the paints and began. He ignored the mottled bruises on the man’s face, capturing the pale skintone and sparkling blue eyes instead.

The carver felt his guest’s attention as every brushstroke brought his masterpiece closer to life. He added hair, painstakingly attaching pieces cut from the man’s own head. He sewed a suit for the doll, the cloth for it taken from a ripped section of the man’s own clothing.

“What do you think?” the carver asked. He held the doll up for his guest to see.

The man shook his head and cast his eyes to the floor. The carver caressed the doll, an almost perfect reflection of the man opposite him.

One thing was still missing.

The carver picked up his blade and approached the man. The man’s eyes widened, and he renewed his struggle against his bonds. His skin tore against the heavy rope, but he didn’t stop.

“No point in that,” the carver said. “I was a Boy Scout a long time ago. Those knots will hold.”

The man slid his chair back until he ran into a wall. Blood dripped from his arms where the ropes had cut into him. A whimper escaped his throat, muted by the gag.

“There’s honor in this,” the carver said. “You don’t understand, but I’m helping you. You’re going to live forever.”

The carver plunged his knife into the man’s chest, and twisted it. The man’s soul coiled around the tip of the blade, a faint and fragile thing. The carver drew it out of the man, slowly, gently, until it was free from its mortal form.

With a flourish, the carver etched a symbol onto the doll’s back beneath its dapper suit. The symbol glowed blue for several seconds before the light faded into the doll.

For the first time in months, the carver smiled.

Ω

On a bright summer day, sunshine beamed down and illuminated Harry’s golden head as he played in the sandbox in his front yard. His mother sat on the front steps, half watching, half lost in thought. Harry wanted to hug her and tell her that daddy would be home soon, but when he did that last night, her eyes watered and she just shushed him as she tucked him in.

The phone rang inside, and Harry’s mother stood.

“Don’t leave the yard,” his mother called out to him. “I’ll be back in two seconds.”

“Okay, Mommy.” Harry returned to the sand.

Footsteps crunched on the gravel, and a man with tufty white hair approached. He had an orange vest and a hardhat on, and Harry was immediately in love. He wanted a hardhat, too!

The man glanced to the front of the house, but Harry’s mother hadn’t returned yet. He thrust a brown paper bag into Harry’s arms.

“Your daddy wanted me to give you this,” the man said. “He wanted me to make sure you promised not to tell anyone about it.”

Harry nodded, and gripped the bag with his tiny fingers. The front door slammed open, and Harry’s mother approached the man. She pushed Harry behind her protectively, and as she asked the man what he wanted, Harry scampered into the house.

Once he was safely in his room, he tore into the bag. He pulled a doll out. His eyes grew wide, his mouth broke into a giant grin.

Harry had always wanted his own doll, but his parents never seemed to want to buy one for him. Boys weren’t supposed to have dolls. He looked around for someplace safe to hide the doll.

Under the bed? Too scary.

In his dresser? Too slow to get to.

Under his pillow? Yes. Perfect.

The front door creaked open and shut, and Harry heard his mother’s voice along with a few deeper men’s voices. The voices went on for a few minutes until his mother screamed. Harry jumped.

He wondered what it was all about, but he didn’t want to leave the doll. He was afraid it would be lonely, so he kept one hand shoved under his pillow, stroking the doll’s short hair.

One of his daddy’s policeman friends came into his room and knelt in front of Harry.

“Do you remember me?” the man asked.

Harry nodded  his head, his grip on the doll tightening.

“Mr. Granger. Daddy’s friend. You’re the policeman.”

Officer Granger nodded.

“Your mom asked me to come talk to you, and I’m sorry to tell you this,” Mr. Granger said, “but your daddy won’t be coming home.”

Harry’s stomach sank. He suddenly wanted his daddy very, very badly.

“Why not?” Harry whispered.

“Well, your daddy was taken by a very bad man. The bad man hurt your daddy, and he died. Do you understand?”

“It means I won’t see him again,” Harry whispered. His eyes filled with tears, and he sobbed. Mr. Granger gathered Harry in his arms and held him while he cried. The long, comforting strokes on his back weren’t enough to calm him.

“I promise I’ll do everything I can to catch the bad man and make it so he can’t hurt anyone ever again,” Mr. Granger said. Harry cried harder.

After a while, his mother came in and Mr. Granger transferred Harry to her. Harry clung to her, afraid that if he let go, the bad man would get to her, too.

“We’ll be in touch soon,” Mr. Granger said to her. “Let us know if you can think of anything else.”

Harry’s mom nodded, never breaking her shh-shhing, and back rubbing, bouncing Harry around the room on her hip like how she used to when he was a baby. Normally, he would have balked at the treatment, but in that moment, he wanted nothing more than to be close to her.

Eventually, the tears dried up, and Harry’s mom put him to bed, but it wasn’t the same without his daddy to tuck him in. In the dimly lit room, he pulled the doll out from under his pillow and hugged it to him. He tried to cry quietly.

The doll looked just like his daddy, right down to the color of his suit.

A gentle pressure on his bed made Harry sit upright. A shadow perched near his legs, just where his daddy used to sit to tuck him in.

A low song, hummed by a soft voice, filled the room. Harry looked from the shadow to the doll. He lay back down, holding the doll to his chest, the song filling his head with good dreams.

Something, or someone, moved his covers up, tucking him in for the night.

Guest Post-Ceillie Simkiss

LearningCurves

Hey everyone, I’m really excited to welcome Ceillie Simkiss to my blog today! Her new novella LEARNING CURVES is available for pre-order now and will be released on August 16.

Keep reading for a guest post where Ceillie talks about her inspiration for the novella!


LearningCurvesCoverElena Mendez has always been career-first; with only two semesters of law school to go, her dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions. She doesn’t have time for love.

And she has no idea how much her life will change, the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin.

A freelance writer and MBA student, Cora is just as career-driven as Elena. But over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other–even a surprise visit from Elena’s family.

From solitude to sweetness, there’s nothing like falling in love. College may be strict…but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.


INSPIRATION FOR LEARNING CURVES
BY CEILLIE SIMKISS

My first burst of inspiration for Learning Curves came from the place that almost all of my best ideas came from: my dreams.

I regularly have absolutely ridiculous dreams, from murders to romances to entirely implausible science fiction. Once, I dreamed that my dad decided to run for President, and I got so mad because he would be a terrible President. In the dream, I was so upset I decided to run against him and hold a press conference on our front porch. I never learned how that election turned out, but it couldn’t have been any worse than 2016’s.

This dream was a little bit different. I dreamed about a girl driving from Chatham, Virginia to Greensboro, North Carolina, and talking to her girlfriend the whole way there about the new family member she’d discovered she had, and the store she’d inherited. I woke up with a pretty good handle on who Elena and Cora were, what they looked like, all of that, and started writing it.

Now, even if you’ve read learning curves, you won’t know anything about what I’m talking about with that dream. See, I started writing the story that became Learning Curves in October 2016, but it was a novel that I lovingly called “The Gift”.

About midway through the month of working on it, I wanted to write a flashback scene of when Elena and Cora met. And then one thing led to another, and instead of finishing the novel that I had intended to write, I wound up with a mostly finished draft of Learning Curves by July.

I still haven’t finished that novel, and now that I’ve written Learning Curves, I’d have to rewrite probably two thirds of the 15,000 words that I had written. It turned into something completely different, and I love it for what it is.

The other two pieces of main inspiration for this story were my friend Taylor, and my family. Taylor graduated with her Master’s degree in Social Work from NC A&T this spring, and I’m incredibly proud of her for all the work she put into getting there. I knew full well that if I had ever tried to get my Masters in social work, I would’ve flunked out after the first internship.

Much like Elena turned out in the book, I get way too attached way too easily to be an effective social worker, and that’s okay. But I built on that knowledge that there were other ways to help kids that are just as important as social work is to get Elena to where she was.

And of course, I would not be anywhere near the same person if I had a different family. My family is a lot like Elena’s, except the extended family tends to be much less accepting of anyone other than themselves. My mom is one of nine kids, and I have so many cousins that I lost count around 20. Until a few years ago, all of my maternal family lived within a 3 hour radius of my grandmothers house. I grew up at my grandparents’ kitchen table surrounded by people and noise and joy. I wanted to share that joy with Elena, but also allow her to have the supportive extended family that I wish I had.

All of that put together help me create Learning Curves. I’m incredibly proud of the novella that I’ve put into the world. I hope that you will love all of these pieces that I have cobbled together into the happy, fluffy romance that is Learning Curves.


IMG_1705Ceillie Simkiss is a queer writer of all stripes based in southern Virginia. She is also a blogger, public relations professional, and freelance writer. She has bylines at sites like Culturess, Global Comment, and Let’s Fox About It, in addition to her self-published novella Learning Curves

She started writing fiction as an escape from her day job as a small town journalist, and has been at it ever since, with the support of her partner, her dog and her cats.

Author Interview– Claudie Arseneault

Hi Claudie, welcome to my blog! Can you tell my readers a bit about yourself?

Sure thing. I’m a fantasy writer, with the very occasional dip into science fiction. I tend towards longer stories, large casts of characters, but smaller scales and domestic scenes. I’m also both asexual and aromantic, and that’s reflected in my writing—in the characters, but also in how I gravitate towards non-romantic relationships as the center of my stories.

Your books are really fun and super queer. Where do you get your inspiration from?

A bit of everywhere, really. Sometimes it’s something I’ve read, or a trope in a video game I play. Sometimes it’s a tweet, or a long discussion with other writers on twitter. I tend to absorb a lot of ideas and want to write everything, so I try to cobble several inspirations together in a single, cohesive story. I find that with time, my brain has become used to coming up with new ideas, and anything from a Youtube video about glassblowing to panels brainstorming alien stories can send me into plot-bunny land. Usually, the moment I step into character creation process, it gets queered up.

Can you tell us about your new project, BAKER THIEF?

Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.Baker Thief_cover

Claire owns the Croissant-toi, but while her days are filled with pastries and customers, her nights are dedicated to stealing exocores. These new red gems are heralded as the energy of the future, but she knows the truth: they are made of
witches’ souls.

When her twin—a powerful witch and prime exocore material—disappears, Claire redoubles in her efforts to investigate. She keeps running into Adèle, however, and whether or not she can save her sister might depend on their conflicted, unstable, but deepening relationship.

 

Baker Thief is the first book of a series which will always have at least one aromantic MC, and which reapplies classic romance tropes but to platonic relationships. In this one, it’s Enemies to Lovers which becomes Enemies to Queerplatonic Partners, but I’m looking at things like Mutual Pinning but for friends, for example.

I set it in a created city that’s kind of a mix of Quebec City, my home, and Siena, which I was visiting while drafting. I love how familiar it is, while still having unique elements like the quartiers (neighbourhoods) and an annual wintry city-wide tournament.

BAKER THIEF is available for pre-order now, and will be released on June 25! You can find it on Gumroad or at any of these other stores.

I love hearing about other writers’ processes, so can you tell us what your writing process looks like?

I’m the kind of writer who needs an outline to start. Not knowing where a story is going will block me. But that outline can be only a handful of scenes ahead, and a few key points later down the line. I’m also very prompt to veer completely off route while I write my first drafts haha. Whatever feels right is what I roll with when drafting. I believe it helps me keep the heart of the novel alive and gives me better tools to make it shine after. Edits can take several rounds, and I tend to rewrite everything from start to finish at least once, after I’ve let the novel rest and considered what big changes I want to bring.

Any favorite snacks for while you write?

Coffee!! Or sake, if I feel like alcohol. I tend not to snack much otherwise, in big parts because most of my writing time is during evening, after dinner. When I’m home more (on weekend of vacations) I’ll go for pretty much anything in the fridge.

What media are you loving right now (books, shows, etc)?

I watch almost no TV shows, mostly because I have super limited leisure time, and I would rather have a book in my hands. I love discovering new indie writers and will devour anything from my favs there. Recent loves include Tone of Voice, the second book of Kaia Sonderby’s wonderful Xandri Corelel series, Revenant Gun, the last of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy, and Death Masquerade, RoAnna Sylver’s queer vampires in Venice series.

And where can people find you? 

The best way to get the regular, important news from me is to sign up to my newsletter. It goes out every month! You can also find me on social media on twitter, or check out my website for all useful information.


Claudie_AuthorPic_MediumClaudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic spectrum writer hailing from Quebec City.

Her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders
centered on aromantic and asexual characters. Her high fantasy series, City of Spires,
started in February 2017. Her next book, Baker Thief, features a bigender aromantic baker and is full of delicious bread, French puns, and magic.

Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her
involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters in speculative fiction, and her unending love of squids. Find out more on her website!

 

Author Interview–Leigh Landry

I’m incredibly excited to welcome my friend and writing buddy, Leigh Landry, to my blog! Hi Leigh! Can you tell my readers a bit about yourself?
*waves* I’m a former musician and English teacher, and I now write and homeschool my two kids. We’ve got a house full of animals, and we foster cats and volunteer at our local animal rescue center. I like to keep things interesting here!
Can you tell us about your first novella, SECOND FIDDLE FLIRT?
Novella #1 Cover (variation 3)
Lauren’s in the middle of clearing out her recently deceased sister’s room and prepping for a rehearsal/audition with an all-female Cajun band when her sister’s sexy, ex-soldier best friend arrives to help. Freshly out of a controlling relationship coupled with a heaping side of shared grief between them, Lauren has to learn how to trust herself again and fight for what she wants: her dream gig and Tyler.
SECOND FIDDLE FLIRT, is simultaneously fun and heavy. Where did you get your inspiration from?
I really wanted to write a fun, flirty series as a tribute to the music and modern Cajun culture of this area. But everything I write ends up tackling serious, weighty themes and issues, whether or not I intend to from the beginning. I am perpetually fluffy-dark, in writing and personality, hehe.
I love hearing about other writers’ processes, so can you tell us what your writing process looks like?
No matter how many books I write, I always feel like I’m still figuring out my process with each new project! I do plan more now than I used to, but my initial outlines are still very sparse and flexible. The further I get in this series, though, the more structured my outlines get, because I’m starting to know how I need the series to shape up. I always begin with my main characters and what they want, then put my couple together and see what happens!
Any favorite snacks for while you write?
As much as I love snacks, I don’t usually eat while I write. I do almost always have something hot nearby, coffee with a little sugar or herbal tea with honey.
What media are you loving right now (books, shows, etc)?
I’ve been in a reading slump lately. Other than critique partner manuscripts (which I am BEYOND excited about the things I read last year!!!), my brain seems incapable of finishing stories the last few months. Looking forward to enjoying more books again this year! I always love listening to the Smart Podcast, Trashy Books podcast, because their enthusiasm for books is absolutely contagious. OH! And I just finished season 1 of The Good Place, and I am completely smitten with that show. ❤ ❤ ❤
And where can people find you?
I mostly hang out on Twitter (@LeighLAuthor), but I do have a Facebook page (LeighLandryAuthor) where I post writing updates, songs on my writing playlists, and occasional kitty pics. I’ve also started a blog (https://leighlandry.blogspot.com) that has all of my book & contact info.

You can find Leigh’s first novella here, and you can preorder her second one, SIX STRING SASS, set for release on February 8, here! Happy reading!

The Lies of Locke Lamora Readalong

I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be co-hosting a readalong of THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA with Kara Seal (@KRwriter) over on Twitter! It’s my first time doing anything like this, and I really hope you can join us and help make this a success.

The book (blurb from Barnes and Noble): An orphan’s life is harsh—and often short—in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist. As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler. But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly. Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game—or die trying.

LIES Graphic

It’s been a while since I read this (at least 10 years…) but I remember it being really twisty and bloody and amazing. I used to try to convince all of my friends to read it, too.

The readalong begins on February 4, with weekly chats on Friday evenings at 8pm EST.

The schedule:
Week 1: Prologue–Interlude “Locke Stays for Dinner”
Week 2: Chapter 3–Chapter 5
Week 3: Interlude “Jean Tannen”–Interlude “The Schoolmaster of Roses”
Week 4: Chapter 10–Chapter 14
Week 5: Remainder of the book

I hope to see you all for the first Twitter chat at 8pm EST on February 9! Don’t forget to use the hashtag @LiesofLockeLamora.

Short Fiction Contest Winner: Bob’s Bones

I’m very excited to share with you the winning story of the short fiction contest written by Kelvin Woelk! Enjoy.


I claimed the last two top beside the big window, since no other tables were open. Maybe a cute girl would come in. I could offer the empty chair.
The door opened and a skeleton entered, toe bones clacking loudly across the wood floor.
 
I looked around. No one else seemed to notice as the skeleton approached the blackboard menu, the items written in white as if it had scraped them onto it with its own bony finger. It stepped up to the ordering counter, and the barista nodded and tapped her own finger against a screen, her face bathed in a light blue aura. The skeleton stepped politely to the side. I noticed it had offered no form of payment, nor seemingly had one been demanded.
 
A minute later, it crossed into the room where I sat, its head turning this way and that, plate and cup held in place with bleached curled knuckles. I realized, with mild panic, that it was looking for a place to sit. I looked down, hoping to avoid giving any kind of signal, hoping a seat might open somewhere far away.
 
But we had made whatever substitutes for eye contact when you look at a skeleton and it looks back at you with round black empty sockets. It clattered over, setting the cup and saucer down and placing a bony hand on the empty chair.
 
“Do you mind?” The lower jaw moved like a bad special effect. Before I could answer, it pulled the chair back and slipped between it and the table, with a sound like someone losing at Jenga.
 
“I’m Bob,” it said, finger bones extended, thumb bone pointing up. I could see only those two empty circles, black as night, but it seemed to be seeing me just as I was seeing it.
 
This is how it ends, I thought. In a coffee shop, shaking the offered hand of death who, frankly, can’t even come up with an interesting fake name. Probably moonlights as tech support. Of course, if you’re Death, it probably matters even less what you call yourself.
 
I reached out and felt the cold hard bones wrap around my own warm, soft flesh.
 
“I love the smell of coffee, don’t you?” the skeleton said, releasing its grip and raising its two empty nostril holes.
 
“More so than the taste,” I said calmly, expecting each word to be my last.
 
“Spoken like a tea man,” it replied, directing its two black voids toward my hands wrapped around the white porcelain cup. “Coffee’s not to everyone’s taste. But nice on a day like today.”
 
It raised its cup to approximate lip position and held it there.
 
It took me a few seconds to realize that it was blowing—or trying to—across the steaming liquid. It made no sense of course. But the day had already pegged high on the weirdness scale.
 
I watched with cringing fascination as it took a long sip. The dark liquid dropped out the bottom of its skull, splashing its spine, ribs and pelvic bones before dropping wetly onto the chair and floor. The skeleton looked down, then at me, shrugged and said, “It’s alright, they know me here.”
 
Feeling I had nothing to lose, I took a deep breath.
 
“So”, I said. “As much as the whole cloak and scythe thing seems a bit tired, it’s what most of us are conditioned to expect. However, I find this in between motif kind of half-hearted. No offense.”
 
Genuine puzzlement seemed to emanate from inside those black round voids.
 
“What?” it said, its jaw moving slightly and emitting a single clack. “What, the death thing again? I’m just a regular Joe, like you. I was coming from an appointment with my orthopedist when I spotted this place. I thought a coffee sounded nice. Not that my opinion matters, but you’ll live out the day, I’m pretty sure.”
 
“And tomorrow?”
 
It shrugged again. “Beats me. But no one gets out alive, am I right?”
 
“Anyway,” I said, “the orthopedist bit is pretty funny.”
 
The look now directed at me, combined with accompanying silence, was most unnerving.
 
“Lack of soft tissue is no joke, my friend,” the skeleton said. “Walk around without cartilage for a couple of days. You’ll regret it faster than than you can crack your knuckles. Would you excuse me for a moment? That’s the one thing about coffee I don’t love. Goes right through me.”
I easily stifled my laughter this time. The skeleton slipped from behind the table and headed toward the bathrooms. People in the ordering line moved aside, politely letting it pass. As it turned the corner out of sight, I considered going straight home to lie down. Maybe when I woke up—if I did—things would make sense again. But almost immediately, the walking boneyard was back at the table.
 
“Well, I think I better get going.” It again raised its cup, teeth clinking against the edge, and I watched the last of the coffee follow the predictable path, with predictable results.
 
“I kind of barged in,” it said putting the cup down, “but you seemed like a nice guy. Perhaps we’ll meet here again sometime.”
 
It stepped in the puddle as if hardly noticing it, turned and walked toward the door and opened it. A blast of outside air moved across my body, sending a cold shiver through my flesh. The skeleton stepped over the threshold, and I heard the latch quietly engage.
 
A girl approached pushing a yellow bucket on wheels, holding onto a long wooden mop handle. The wheels made a pleasing sound as they rolled over the wood floor. It was, finally, time to go.
 
 The girl began mopping around my feet. I stood up and gazed out the window, hoping to convince myself of what had just taken place. But no tracks appeared in the snow that was re-painting the sidewalk white, and I did not see the skeleton then or ever again.

SONY DSCKelvin Woelk has throughout his life held various job titles including, but not limited to, grocery clerk, hospital clerk, electronic technician, and technical writer. He currently lives in northern Colorado where he helps maintain the website for a small independent bookstore and to connect people with good books. Kelvin also enjoys photography, sending and receiving hand-written letters, playing ping pong, and trying his hand at writing short stories and non-fiction for younger readers. You can find a few other examples of his work, for better or worse, at www.birdseyetravels.wordpress.com.