Escape

Today was a bit more hectic than normal, and I didn’t have a chance to write something brand new. So I thought I would share another passage from the novel I’m working on, The Shifter. Looking at this excerpt with the previous one, it would seem Cassie spends the entire novel getting attacked and knocked out. I swear that’s not the case.

Cassie walked into the general store. A bell rang, but there was no one in sight. Looking around, she saw various tools and cooking implements. Perhaps this was merely a store front for the blacksmith. She wandered around a bit and found some sacks of grains and flour: food, but not what she needed.

She was headed to the door when she spied a small rack of dried meats near the counter. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. She was counting out strips when an older woman appeared through a curtained doorway.

“I hope you’re planning on paying for those.” The woman seemed preoccupied and barely gave Cassie a disapproving look.

“Of course.” She hadn’t been planning on stealing the food, but Cassie felt guilty anyway, as though she had been caught somehow. “How much?”

The woman looked at the strips of meat and opened her mouth to answer when she finally really looked at Cassie. “I don’t recognize you.”

“No, ma’am. I’m just traveling and stopped to buy some supplies.”

“Traveling? Alone? A young girl like you? That is… unusual.”

“Well… I… Um…”

“Wait. Were you traveling with a boy? Weren’t you at the inn last night?”

Terror overwhelmed Cassie’s attempt to find a believable lie, and she ran out the door. She couldn’t know how the woman would react, but she didn’t expect it to be good. All she wanted to do now was to get out of the village before anything else went wrong. She was still holding some of the dried meat, so she shoved it into a pocket before running down the path.

A voice shouted after her, “Hey! Wait! Come back!” But she didn’t slow down to look back.

As she neared to the edge of the village, she saw a horse with a rider headed towards her. Immediately, she recognized the man’s colors: Terrgat. Her terror increased, and she ducked behind the nearest building.

Had he seen her? Did he know who she was? There was nothing to be gained in finding out the answers. She started running again, making for the trees behind the building.

Blood pounded through her ears, covering any sound of pursuit. She didn’t dare slow down to look behind her. There was no goal, no destination; she just ran, barely noticing anything around her. The trees might provide cover. It had to be better than running out in the open.

She felt someone behind her. Whether it was paranoia or real didn’t matter; she simply ran faster. And it made her reckless; he first misstep was nearly her undoing. Somehow she managed to keep from falling down. She was not so lucky the second time as her feet flew out from underneath her, and she sprawled out onto the forest floor. Expecting to hear her pursuer or even find herself being grabbed, she scrambled back to her feet and began running again.

Her body ultimately betrayed her. It couldn’t keep up the pace, and she fell again. Still feeling urgency born of fear, she forced herself back up, more slowly this time. The next time she fell, however, she hit her head on a branch. She tried to hang on to consciousness, to keep moving, but this time the blackness took her.

Attack in the Woods

I am finally getting back to working on The Shifter, the sequel to The Mage. I don’t want to give too much away, since I left some things hanging at the end of the first novel, but I also want to give people a taste of what I’m working on. I hope this is coherent enough to stand as an engaging excerpt.

The woods were quiet. Only now did it seem unnatural to Cassie. No song birds called out; no insects buzzed. She felt a chill inside as she tried to locate the source of the strange silence.

There. She could sense a kind of emptiness off to her left. Whatever it was, it eluded her senses. There was no smell nor sound. Instead, it was an absence that she noticed, a slippery nothingness that she could not quite locate. She turned to face it directly, but it seemed to slide away from her attention.

Curiosity fought with primal fear, and that froze Cassie in place. She wanted to know what was happening, what was causing this strange occurrence, but she also wanted to flee and find a place to hide. Unable to decide in favor of one impulse or the other, she simply stood transfixed, staring deeper into the woods.

A deep growl behind her broke the spell, and she spun around. A wolf stood several feet away, teeth bared and hate in its eyes. If it was the same wolf she had seen earlier, it had shed all pretense of friendliness. Again she was caught, unable to react. This time it was broken when the wolf’s growl increased and it leaped on her. The force of its body crashing into her knocked her to the ground. The wolf stood, snarling over her. Terror choked her, making it difficult for her to breathe. The world began to fade to black.

Something struck the wolf and knocked it off of her, relieving some of the pressure on her chest. The smell of burnt hair replaced the weight in causing her to choke. She tried to sit up, but she had been too close to losing consciousness. Blackness began to take over her vision once more. She fell back to the ground. There was growling nearby and the sound of running, but it seemed to be away from her. She dared to hope she might be safe just before finally blacking out.

A New Beginning

Years ago, when I was supposed to be working on my dissertation, I wrote a novel. As with many of my stories, it was based on a misunderstanding of some song lyrics. I’m okay with that. It doesn’t matter if the story properly represents the song. It gave me the idea and I run with it. Anyway, while I did finish the dissertation, I also finished the novel. But the novel needed work. Lots of it. My teaching career began shortly after that, and I never made the time to fix it.

This morning, my muse was being stubborn. I was up very early, and I thought I could knock out another piece of flash fiction. But no character or story presented itself for the writing. Instead, the only thing I had was the first scene from that novel. And I knew the rewrite for that was going to have to be massive. I couldn’t simply fix the words, I needed new ones. So I wrote the first two pages. Because I’ve written the story once already, I have the plot. But I think I have better words this time.

I fully intend to finish the sequel to The Mage before anything else gets done. But this morning it felt rather good to actually revisit River through the Mist for the first time in over a decade. This beginning only suggests the bizarre story that will follow, but it’s much better than anything I wrote all those years ago. So just to tease you all, here it is…

Chapter One

The click of his shoes on the sidewalk echoed through the night. It annoyed him. Insomnia made every annoyance worse. Even with the sound grating on him though, walking was preferable to standing still or lying in bed staring at the ceiling. If only some other noise would offset his own gait. However, the darkness held no relief. It gave him a place to escape his oppressive bed, but Greg Stillman would find no other succor in the night. He had to be okay with that.

A mist hung over the streets, obscuring even the few pockets of light provided by the occasional working street lamps. Normally, even at night, a few people would be out wandering to various destinations. But the damp had driven them indoors, and he had the night to himself. Even cars weren’t venturing out.

Shivering involuntarily, he drew his coat in tightly. It had ben a warm April so far, but the mist brought with it a chill too strong for his jacket to keep out. It wasn’t enough to drive him back to his apartment though. There the darkness was close, threatening. Outside the darkness had the whole world to expand into and didn’t threaten to smother him.

A crash followed by a moan coming from a nearby alley startled him. The interruption left him puzzled: what should he do? Habit told him to finish his walk. There was little sense in wandering into a dark alley. Yet an uncharacteristic curiosity held him in place. Something – someone – was back there. Perhaps he ought to check. His feet itched. The walk had been stopped short, and his body was anxious to get back to it. Overriding the demand, he cautiously took a few steps toward the sound.

Every muscle in his body ached as if to convince him this was a mistake, but the pull of his need to know what was happening was too strong. Another few steps, and he thought he could make something out. His eyes had already adjusted to the little light on the street, but the dark here was deeper. It took him a few moments before he could see the leg for what it was. Horrified that he had found a dismembered leg, he inched closer. But he had been wrong. The leg was not severed. Debris had fallen on the woman and obscured her from view at first.

He could not immediately tell whether she was alive. She looked like she had no right to be. Her clothes were ripped and dirty. Cuts and bruises covered nearly every inch of skin that he could see. As he took a few more steps, a soft moan escaped her. So she was alive, though how was still a mystery. For how long she would survive was yet another question. She needed help immediately.

His cellphone was on the nightstand next to his bed. He hated bringing it with him on these walks. Now he cursed softly at his disdain for carrying it. There weren’t any working pay-phones in the neighborhood, perhaps not anywhere in the city. Where was the nearest hospital? Several blocks, but she looked as though she couldn’t weigh much. He picked her up as carefully as he could and began walking.

Even her 120 pounds or so began to wear him out before he reached the hospital. Still he managed to get there without jostling her too much. As soon as the receptionist saw her, she called a nurse over. The nurse helped him set her down on a bed.

“What happened to her?” She didn’t stop working on the unconscious woman while she waited for his answer.

“I don’t know.”

She gave Greg a skeptical look.

“Honestly. I don’t know who she is. I found her lying in an alley like that. Just a few blocks from here.”

“Hmmm…” But she didn’t stop to question him further. She finished the brief exam and began pushing the wheeled bed to another area. “Wait here.”

Prologue

I rewrote the prologue for my novel The Mage. I think it does a better job of setting up the story.

Stawal knocked on the door. The house stood on the cart path through the village as did most of the buildings. It was nothing so large as the Northern cities he was used to, and he felt out of place. Still, his mission took him where it would. He hoped to conclude his business in the South quickly so that he might make it to Siridor on time. That was a proper city.

The door opened a crack and a rather old woman peered out. “What do you want, mage hunter?”

“Terrgat,” Stawal corrected automatically. He had had this conversation many times in recent weeks.

The woman waved it away. “Call yourself what you will. You have no authority here. Go back North where you belong.”

Stawal shrugged. “I am merely looking for someone. A family. I believe the father is a cobbler. By the name of Dobson?”

“Never heard of ’em.” The ice in her stare seemed out of place in this warm climate.

“Is that so? The innkeeper told me that they were your neighbors.”

“The innkeeper is a liar.”

This was going nowhere. No one had answered at the house he had been directed to. Either the innkeeper had lied, or the family had moved on. This woman wasn’t going to help him. This far South, people seemed to forget the dangers of magic and how the Terrgat had protected them all. The war, over for centuries, was too long ago and too far away. She was right; the Terrgat had no place here.

She hadn’t waited for another question; the door was already shut. Finding the girl seemed less important than his other mission anyway. Siridor was weeks away. He may as well head there.

Taking one last look at the nearby buildings, he found himself approving of the decision to stay out of the South. The Northern cities were more to his liking.