Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"La Tutayegua" in the SNReview

My short story, "La Tutayegua," will be published in the upcoming edition of SNReview, due out in February.  This will be the first time I've ever had a short story published, so I'm very excited.

I hope you pick up a copy and enjoy!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dedicated to the Brothers Grimm

So I lied.  I thought I had made my last O4S-related post until we finished Book III. I had intended to post a quote from Book III on my Facebook page today, in keeping with the Christmas-themed quotes I've been posting all month.  But as I got to looking for a decent quote, I thought, well, one sentence won't be enough, better go with a paragraph.  Then I thought, well, THAT won't be enough, better go with a page.  Yeah, a page would be good . . . Well, you get the idea.

Today also marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of the Brothers Grimm's first edition of their Children's and Household Tales.  

Book III is dedicated to them and to Lewis Carroll.  

So, in honor of the season, as well as those great men whose work has brought us such delight over the past two centuries, I give you the opening chapter of Where Flap the Tatters of the King: The Order of the Four Sons, Book III.

Merry Christmas!


Chapter One
It was daybreak, and the countryside was barren and still.  The dry grass glittered crystalline and white, the bare black trees silvered with frost.  In some places, dead leaves or frozen clumps of bright red berries still clung to their branches.  A light dusting of snow fell, the wind eddying flurries into low drifts in the hollows and dells.  A snowshoe rabbit paused in a clearing and sat up on its hind legs, ears erect, nose quivering. 
Figures faded in from the snow and wind, bringing their sounds with them, shattering the silence with their voices and footsteps.
The rabbit leapt into the air, spun, and fled back into the dense tangle of frozen briars, its white body melting into the undergrowth.
Christophe looked reproachfully up at the sky, turned his collar up against the cold, and pulled on a pair of leather gloves lined with fur.  Behind him, Alyssa was clinging to Clayton, eyes squeezed tightly shut.  When she became sure of her footing, she raised her head, blinking as snowflakes caught in her eyelashes.
Clayton was wearing a blazer over a linen shirt and an undershirt, and he immediately shivered in the winter air.  Alyssa did not fare nearly so well, dressed in a T-shirt and pants.  She opened her bag and took out a jacket she had picked up at the airport in Edinburgh.  It helped some.
“Please, mademoiselle, allow me,” Christophe removed his cloak and draped it over her shoulders in one fluid motion.
“Thanks.”  The cloak was heavy wool and very, very warm.  She pulled it tightly around herself and pulled the hood up.  Immediately, the snow ceased falling upon her.  Surprised, she looked up. 
It was still falling.  Just not on her.
She looked down at the cloak, then over at Christophe, one eyebrow raised.
He did not appear to notice and in fact had already turned away.  “Now come,” he said briskly.  “This way to my villa where await you a hot fire and food, and I shall tell you of the tragedy that has befallen our fair Corbenic.”  He gestured to the hills, perhaps a mile away, beyond a small forest where they could make out the soaring gables of a great manor house, its lights a glimmer on the pale horizon. 
He set off through the trees.  “Make haste!” he called over his shoulder.  “I cannot be missed!” 
There did not appear to be a trail, but it was evident from the pace he set through the dead undergrowth that he could maneuver through these woods blindfolded.  He seemed to be leading them on a route that ran parallel to the hills.  Dry branches snapped underfoot.  In the trees, tiny dappled wrens fluffed their feathers against the cold, chirping sadly.  They passed a frozen pond fringed with a low profusion of snow-capped evergreens, its coating of dove-gray ice smooth and absolutely pristine.  Some sort of hawk glided by overhead, white-throated, russet and black, with a black-tipped beak, its red eye flashing before it disappeared into a copse of trees on the other side of the pond. 
Alyssa turned her face up to the snow drifting out of the nearly translucent sky.  A silver circle marked where the sun was almost hidden behind a pearl-colored veil. 
“It’s pretty here,” she said in a hushed tone, as if she were afraid of breaking some enchantment.
Clayton smiled.  “When I was here last, it was spring.”
“You have been to Corbenic before?” Christophe asked, surprised. 
“I have had the privilege of seeing Four Mothers in springtime, monsieur,” Clayton replied.
“Ah, splendid, my friend, splendid,” Christophe said reverently.  “With luck, you shall again.”
At last they reached an opening in the trees, where the forest was bisected by a road—a road of smooth black flagstones, blown over with snow.  They followed it until they reached the bottom of the hill leading up to the villa.
The house was of some light-colored stone, with a shingled roof of vivid red shale.  In addition to the gables, there were steeply pointed turrets, their outlines ghostly and stark, backlit against the quickening dawn.  Dozens of windows with elaborate wrought-iron panes held gilded fleur-de-lis, egg-and-darts, ivy, heart shapes, doves.  The windows themselves were arched, rimmed with dazzling stained glass patterns of flowers in red, blue, green and gold.  The road curved in front of the house, leading off to the right where stables and a carriage house stood.
They began the long trek up the hill, heads down, the wind blowing in from the open fields to either side of them. 
All three were shivering violently by the time they reached the wide, heavy front door mounted on gold and silver clasps.  Even the knocker was ornamental—thick, gold, carved with a flower design.  The doorknob was gold, bearing some sort of stylized symbol that was either a slender crescent moon or a bull’s horns. 
Christophe produced a large, ornate key, also gold.
The door opened and a rush of warm air greeted them.  They all breathed appreciative sighs as they stepped over the threshold, into the foyer.
The walls were papered in a soft ivory with gilded moldings.  The floor was marble, its pale coloring matching the exterior stone almost exactly, veined in gold, the slabs fitted together with interlocking diamonds of deep red carnelian like cloisonné, drawing the eye forward to a grand marble staircase with delicate gold railings, which held the same designs as the window panes.  The risers and treads were inlaid with more carnelian, edged in gold.  There were gold wall sconces which held not candles but crystals, their illumination reflecting the gold and cream-colored floors, filling the interior with a warm, almost buttery glow.  Every element had obviously been created in symphony with everything else.  Clayton and Alyssa regarded their surroundings, impressed with the coordinated beauty, the painstaking design of the place. 
There was a wooden door to the right of the stairway.  It opened and an elderly man appeared, thin, slightly stooped, dressed in simple clothing—a homespun shirt, with wool slacks tucked into well-worn boots.  “Master Christophe—is that you?”
He began to cross the narrow hallway to the foyer, and then froze.  His eyes grew wide as he took in his master’s appearance.
“Of course it is me!” Christophe replied impatiently.  “Who else would you be expecting at this time of day, in this godforsaken weather?  With a house key, no less!”  Christophe took off his gloves and threw them at the old man, who caught them against his chest.  “Now come!  Take the lady’s cloak!  We have journeyed far, and we must eat.”
The servant started towards Alyssa, then paused in obvious dismay.  “But Master—” he held out his hands, still clutching the gloves, in a gesture that was almost beseeching.  “What’s happened to you?  What’s happened to your--”
“What has happened?” Christophe interrupted.  “Happened?  Nothing, save that your lord has arrived with guests, tired, hungry, cold, and as yet, still unattended!”
Another servant appeared from the same door to the right of the stairs, an old woman in a faded gray dress and apron, her white hair tucked up in a kerchief.  Her lined face had been alight with joy but promptly fell at the sight of her master, the hearty greeting she had been set to utter vanishing from her lips.  She gasped and reeled backwards, her hand at her heart. 
Quickly, Christophe stepped forward.  “All is well,” he said kindly, patting her arm.  “Just fetch me my dyes.  Run along, now, Idelle.”
Obviously still in shock, she managed a curtsey.  “Yes, Master Christophe!”  She turned and scurried back through the door.  Clayton and Alyssa caught a glimpse of the kitchen beyond.
The old man, having recovered slightly, came over and took the bag and cloak from Alyssa’s shoulders.  Seeing her attire, he paused.
She was wearing what appeared to be a boy’s trousers and boots – very strange boots of a highly reflective material, too smooth and shiny to be leather, surely -- and some sort of jacket, pale green, fitted almost like a sailor’s coat but shorter, with large buttons and four wide, deep pockets on the front.  He removed that as well, and was even more taken aback when he realized that underneath, she was wearing what looked to him like some sort of thin undergarment, short-sleeved, black—nothing else could be so tightly fitted.  Indeed, it clung to her like a second skin.  He hastily averted his eyes.  What in the world had happened to these poor people that the young lady had had to resort to whatever ill-fitting garments were on hand to protect her modesty?  Her hair was not even braided, only pulled back from her face and left loose down her back.
He also took Clayton’s jacket.  Here, at least, was something recognizable; it was a suit, a very strange suit -- there was no accounting for foreign fashion -- but it was nonetheless clean and well-cut, as befitted a gentleman. 
After the servant had stowed everything away in a nearby wardrobe, he opened a door immediately to their right, which led into the dining room, lit with candles as well as sconces.  There was a table large enough to seat two dozen people easily, with a white tablecloth, set with gold cutlery and crystal.  There were gold platters and chafing dishes heaped with food.
Christophe pulled out a chair for Alyssa.  She, missing the cue completely, walked around to the other side of the table, pulled out her own chair and sat down.  Christophe peered at her for a moment, shrugged, then pushed the chair back in. 
Seeing Clayton’s look, she asked, “What?”
Christophe did not sit.  He turned as Idelle appeared with a tray bearing a little silver pillbox and a glass of water.  She also had a lap robe over her arm.
Christophe took the box and the glass.  “Thank you.”  He removed a white tablet and downed it quickly, his head back.  Still holding the glass, he gestured to Clayton and Alyssa.  “Serve them,” he ordered.  “Wrap something up for me.  I shan’t stay.”
“But you only just got here!” Idelle exclaimed, and for the first time, Clayton and Alyssa noticed her accent differed slightly from Christophe’s, her manner of speaking less refined.  Idelle set the tray on a sideboard.  “You got to rest!  And you got to get something on your stomach or else--”
“Idelle,” Christophe said quietly.  His voice was firm, but surprisingly gentle.  “Stop fretting and see to our guests.  My meal will set just as well if I eat here or on the road.”
She clearly disagreed, but went dutifully around the table to begin serving the food.  First, however, she unfolded the lap robe and wrapped it gently around Alyssa’s shoulders, letting it fall to cover her front.  “There you are, mon petite,” she said maternally, patting Alyssa’s arm.  On the back of her hand, she bore some sort of tattoo—Alyssa caught only the briefest glimpse of it before the old woman had moved away again. 
Alyssa looked down at the robe, then at the two men, utterly mystified.  Christophe shot her an amused glance before leaning across the table and helping himself to a slice of buttered toast from a plate. 
Idelle uncovered the gold dishes, revealing a whole slab of ham, a variety of sausages, pies, kippers, and steaks; egg dishes, porridge, tomatoes, biscuits, jellied pastries, currants, syrups, tea, milk.  There was enough food here for a major league sports team, including coaches, referees and commentators.
Christophe, chewing his piece of toast, raised an eyebrow.  “Idelle?  Not that I am at all angry, but . . . did you not get my message?  I thought I had requested a simple meal, did I not?”
“Well, only it has been so long since you been here last, Master Christophe.  When Cook found out you was coming, we couldn’t stop her,” Idelle said apologetically.
Christophe shook his head.  “Very well.  I surrender myself to the inevitable.”  Dispatching the last of his toast, he sat down before the plate she had prepared for him.  “Now leave us, please.  We have much to discuss.”  He unfolded his napkin with a snap. 
Idelle finished filling their plates and cups and then left in a rustle of skirts. 
The door closed and there was a pause as Christophe listened to the sound of her footsteps growing fainter and fainter. 
When at last they disappeared altogether, he shifted forward in his seat.  “As you might have surmised,” he began, his voice low, “our original plan revolved around raising an army.  By which I mean more than two.  Since that is obviously not going to happen, an agonizing re-appraisal is in order.  Thus, you must wait here, for the arrival of your fellows.  I must go at once to make sure all is arranged for their arrival-- undetected by our enemies and yours.  You may stay the night here, but no more than a night, or we risk discovery.  In the meantime, my staff has been instructed to outfit you with whatever you may require.  Then you must make your way to Four Mothers.  You will want to stay off the main roads to avoid Starry Wisdom patrols—at least, until you approach the Capital.”  He hesitated as a new thought occurred to him.  “Pardon my asking, monsieur, but you both can ride, can you not?”
“We can,” Clayton assured him.
He nodded.  “Good.  Once you near the Capital, you and all your retinue will need appropriate papers.  I will make the necessary arrangements.  But you will need a Corbenese identity, monsieur.  I suggest you become a lord.”
“I am familiar with Corbenic as Clayton Hornbeam,” Clayton replied.  “So I can be Lord Clayton Hornbeam of . . . shall we say Gachelen?” 
Christophe nodded.  “I think that will suffice. . . Yes, that will suit our needs perfectly, in fact.  Are the rest of your compatriots so well acquainted with Corbenic as you?”
Clayton shook his head.  “Unfortunately not.”
“Pity.  Then might I further suggest you pass them off as your servants?”
Clayton nodded again.  “I think that would be for the best.”
“In the meantime, try to draw as little attention to yourselves as possible.  On the way, your people should have time to become at least somewhat acquainted with our customs here, as well as recent events.  By the time you arrive, we should, with any luck, have composed a new, equally brilliant plan with the meager resources at our disposal.  Present yourself to the Prince as any visiting lord should, and I will seek you later, wherever you end up staying.”  Christophe sat back.  “So.  That I may send a message with any hope of reaching my friends in time, tell me: when do you expect your people to reach us, and where?”
“Dusk.”  The response came from Alyssa, who did not even look up from the portion of ham she was cutting.
“Dusk?” Christophe echoed.  “Can you be more specific, mademoiselle?”
“Got a watch?”
He took a small, silver watch from the watch pocket of his vest, unhooked it from its button hole and, with a slightly bemused air, passed it across the table to her. 
She examined it curiously for a moment.  It was square instead of round, set with rubies.  When she pressed the catch, it sprung open to reveal a face with not twelve numbers but sixteen—four to a side.  At least, she assumed they were numbers. 
“Which one is one?” she asked.
“Ah, forgive me.”  He pointed to the numeral in the upper right corner.  “This is one.”  He ran his finger clockwise around the rim.  “It runs this way.  An hour is sixty-four minutes.”
She studied it for a moment.  “They’ll be here at 8:28 in the evening.”  Closing the watch, she passed it back to him.  As he re-pocketed it, he eyed her with new interest.
Clayton set his glass down.  “So we know what time.  Where?”
“Not far from here.”  Alyssa looked back at Christophe distractedly.  “Your hair’s darker.”
“Then the dyes are taking their effect.”  Christophe glanced at Clayton.  “I’m sorry, do you prefer older men?”
Clayton turned red.  “We’re getting off the subject.”
There was a pause as Alyssa held Christophe’s gaze.  At last, she said, “About four miles west of here.”
“There is a clearing there,” Christophe said.  “And good conditions for a temporary gate.”
She nodded and absently dug out her pack of cigarettes, shook one out.  No sooner had she touched the filter to her lips then a flame appeared to light it.
She looked at the ornate lighter in Christophe’s hand, then to his face, and back again.  Guardedly, she leaned forward to let him light it then settled back again, exhaling a plume of smoke.  She gave him a small nod of thanks.
He smiled and stood.  “As much as it pains me, I must depart.  Eric and Idelle will see to your needs.  You will certainly need some proper clothes.  And,” he drew a large purse from his pocket and set it in front of Clayton.  “Permit me, monsieur, but I am sure you do not have local currency.”
Clayton accepted the bag.  “Thank you.”
Christophe turned and started towards the door, then turned back to them.  “Oh, and one more thing,” he added, pointing his finger at them for emphasis.  “Do not know me.  When we meet at court, it will be as for the first time.  Please understand, I am regarded as somewhat . . . infamous.  A libertine, in fact.  It is a reputation I have worked very hard to cultivate, and I trust you will do nothing to dispel it.”  They nodded and Christophe smiled again.  “Until then,” he bowed, “Adieu.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Christmas Tales

Our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree

I should say, "Best Christmas Tales for Snooty Literary Types Like Me."  Ahem.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my oeuvre, (and if you’re not, WHY NOT?  This is my blog you’re reading!), I’m a big sap when it comes to Christmas. 

I love everything about Christmas—snow (so long as I don’t have to drive in it), lights, roaring fires, pines, cards, gifts, carols, the whole shebang.  

Why?   Well, there’s just something about this time of the year that I have always found magical.  There is a very old tradition linking ghost stories and Christmas—think about the ghosts in A Christmas Carol.  The framing device in The Turn of the Screw is a bunch of old friends gathered together at Christmas.  Even the song, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” includes the line: there’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of glories of Christmases long, long ago . . . 

This was popularized, as so many of our traditions by the Victorians, but I imagine there are roots in paganism—I won’t bore you with the new agey details, but Christmas is the solstice, the longest night of the year, when it was thought that the veil between the worlds was the thinnest.  The perfect time for ghosts to walk.

So, yeah, as someone with a lifelong fascination with horror stories, I am naturally drawn to tales of Christmas, and, whenever possible, weave references to Christmas into my own work.  My two children’s tales are Christmas-themed, and were written as Christmas gifts to my best friend and writing partner, Coyote, and his family.  In the Order of the Four Sons series, significant events in the characters’ lives take place at Christmas. 

In honor of the occasion, I thought I’d share a list of great Christmas tales—something sort of off the beaten track from the usual Scrooges and Grinches.  With the exception of Bridget Jones, these stories are somewhat overlooked, probably because no big Hollywood production has ever been made of them. 

Will Make You Laugh: Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
This is a bit of a cheat—the framing device is more about New Year’s and New Year’s Resolutions.  But I make it an annual Christmas read anyway, and it's chock-full of references to holidays . . . including Valentine's Day and, er, VE-Day, so I reserve the right to include it in other lists.  Just so you know.

Will Make You Cry: “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty
This story is about an old woman who makes the long trek from her country home to Natchez to pick up medicine for her grandson.  Her determination to get there despite her age and the many obstacles she faces are heart-wrenching enough, but the end?  The end is simply devastating.  If you read, be sure to have tissues handy.

Will Make You Wanna Pick Up a Sword and Go Slay Some Dragons:  “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” by the Pearl Poet
One of the greatest knights of the Round Table has a Christmas adventure.  'Nuff said.

For a Bit of Intrigue:  “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Yes, Holmes.  I adore all things Holmes about as much as I adore Christmas.  Watson, who is happily married at this point in the series, comes to visit Holmes on Christmas.  Holmes, meanwhile, has been brought a puzzling case-- a man has found the titular blue carbuncle in the throat of a Christmas goose.  Surely there are easier ways to make pate?

Will Freak You the Fuck Out:  “Nicholas Was” by Neil Gaiman
This super-short story (less than 100 words!) packs a wallop in the thrills 'n' chills department.  This tale actually inspired me to start writing my own Christmas stories to give away as gifts.  Gaiman wrote it to send out with his Christmas cards one year, which I thought was a fabulous idea.  I came across it in his short story collection, Smoke and Mirrors. 

Merry Christmas to all, and as always, happy reading!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Carcosa Soundtrack: Part II

Part II of the Carcosa soundtrack.  Picking right up where I left off . . .

SPOILER ALERT. Proceed with caution. 

17. Kate’s Vision – Fernando, ABBA

"I was so afraid, Fernando
We were young and full of life and none of us prepared to die . . .”

Yeah, I went there.  While Kate is tripping balls to whatever crazy mushrooms the Eerin gave her in Canungra, she starts singing fucking Abba.  You know O4S could fall squarely into the horror genre with no problems, right?  It’s not like we made a secret of that. 

On a serious note, she has a long, strange trip, and Fernando Rios, the poor operative from Book I who got mauled by eretics, makes a cameo.  Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

18.  Doomed Cities & the Unmaker – Apocalypse Please, Muse

“It's time we saw a miracle
come on it's time for something biblical
to pull us through
and pull us through
and this is the end
this is the end of the world . . .”

One of the things Coyote and I enjoy best about writing this series is getting to create myths—there’s a certain amount of world-building required of any sci-fi.  But having our characters troop through other worlds means we get to go off into any number of fascinating digressions, such as the Eerin’s mythology about the Unmaker.  Time for something Biblical?  Well, gnostic, if you want to get technical . . .

19.  Nathan DePriest – Red Right Hand, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

“He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
through this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat
is a red right hand . . .”

This song is so perfect for Nathan, it kinda hurts. 

20.  Five Towns - On the Eve of Destruction, Barry McGuire 

“This whole crazy world is just too frustratin' . . .”

The five towns are a frustratin’ kinda place. 

21.  Diego – Devuelveme el Corazon, Adriana Bottina

In ingles, roughly: “But to kiss your lips, I lose my heart, the heart of a night . . .” 

Kate gets tempted by a handsome, gentleman rancher named Diego.  But seriously, she will always be JD’s girl.

22.  Nightmares - Enter Sandman, Iron Horse

You may recall that I put the original version of this song on the Book I soundtrack.  Of course, for Carcosa, we had to go bluegrass. 

23.  Hormiga – Country Death Song, Violent Femmes

“Gather round boys to this tale that I tell.
You wanna know how to take a short trip to hell?
It's guaranteed to get your own place in hell.
Just take your lovely daughter and push her in the well.
Take your lovely daughter and throw her in the well.”

Another unbearably perfect song.

24.  Bill & Emily – Georgia On My Mind, Ray Charles

Bill serenades his Georgia Peach.  I can think of worst first dates.

25.  Old Geb – Natural Blues, Moby

“Don’t nobody know my troubles but God.”

Old Geb’s got troubles so hard when he lets our heroes take shelter in his farmhouse.

26.  El Camino del Diablo – King of Arizona, Clutch

“We are the King of Arizona.”

Vickers and the Yellow King.  It would be frightening if it didn’t mean that, once again, Vickers finds himself stranded in rural environs—his personal definition of hell.  Karma’s a bitch. 

27.  Calvera – Don’t Go Into that Barn, Tom Waits

“Shiny tooth talons
Coiled for grabbing a stranger
Happening by
And the day when home early
And the sun sank down into
The much of a deep dead sky . . .”

Nathan’s lair.  Many have entered, few leave.   

28.  The Shoot-Out – Banditos, The Refreshments

“Well, I’ve got the pistol, so I’ll keep the pesos.
Yeah, and that seems fair.”

Obviously, we end on a note of gunfire.  Obviously. 

29.  End - Better World A-Comin’, Woody Guthrie

We can only hope for our heroes’ sake that this is true.

So there you have it, folks.

Hopefully the next O4S post I make will be announcing the completion of Book III, Where Flap the Tatters of the King.  

Exit Carcosa.

Next stop: Corbenic.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Carcosa Soundtrack: Part I

So I actually had a friend I don’t see very often email the other day, basically all, “Where the eff is Book III already?” 

We’re working on it—I promise.  But we always knew that it would take the most time—we have always expected it to be the longest and most complex book of the series, with all of the heroes and villains reunited in one world.  The world in which it takes place, Corbenic, is also very complex and detailed, filled with a whole new cast of characters.  Corbenic has been under development for nearly eight years now.  We hope you find it is worth the wait.     

In the meantime, to tide you over, I have compiled my soundtrack for Carcosa: The Order of the Four Sons, Book II.

It’s actually two soundtracks—I managed to narrow my extensive playlist to 30 songs.  So sue me, all right?  Nothing’s too excessive for my beloved characters.

So, here’s the soundtrack for Part I of Carcosa


1. Bathory’s Bath – She’s Always a Woman to Me, Billy Joel

“. . . she'll promise you more
Than the Garden of Eden
Then she'll carelessly cut you
And laugh while you're bleedin' . . .”

A dangerous woman ahead of her time?  Whether you call her Erzsebet, Elizabeth, Eliza or Mistress, it’s totally Bathory’s theme song. 

2. The Cantina – Roadhouse Blues, the Doors

Well, I woke up this morning, and I got myself a beer
The future's uncertain, and the end is always near . . .”

What remains of the team, Kate, JD, Murphy and Doug, find themselves in a little cantina on the edge of nowhere.  At least there’s booze. 

3. Cecil’s Funeral – Dust in the Wind, Kansas

All we are is dust in the wind.”

David Morgan’s eulogy, as sung by Kate.  A little uncomfortably close to the Yellow King’s observations, wouldn’t you say?  “The taste is dust.  It always is.”   

4. The Rosslyn Chapel/St. Matthew’s Field – Mysterium, Libera

“. . . the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away. . .

We love the juxtaposition of pagan and Christian imagery with the Rosslyn Chapel and St. Matthew’s Field.  It fits the Order very well, since it’s an organization that embraces pretty much all world religions since ancient Egypt. 

5. Glacier Songs – Landslide, Smashing Pumpkins

“And I saw my reflection in a snow covered hill . . .”

This one’s kind of an inside joke between Coyote and me.  There’s an old Russian member of the Council of Names, Kovach, whose sole purpose in the Order is to guard a transdimensional gate in the Arctic.  We think he and his glaciers have an unhealthy relationship.  We imagine that, as he is sitting at the table in the board room, he is thinking, (in a thick Russian accent, of course), “Can we hurry these proceedings along, please?  I need to get back to my glaciers . . .”

Ok, maybe only Coyote and I think that’s funny.

6. The Dormitory/Terminus – I May Not Awaken, Enya

“Even from a child
A wish is not enough
For me, for me the sky may fall
And even from a child
A dream is not enough
Could be, could be the sky may fall
Could be, could be the night ends all . . .”

Is it any wonder that so many Oracles commit suicide, when one of their defining characteristics is the Terminus Revelation-- a vision of their own demise?  Things start to look pretty pointless when you have a countdown on your life.

7. Slothzilla –  Aenima, Tool

Lyrics are unimportant.  When it comes to the roaring Cuisinart with fur, it’s all about volume. 

8. JD – Bad Like Jesse James, John Lee Hooker

JD Garnett.  Bad like Jesse James at any age.  And, incidentally, one of my favorite songs of all time.

9. The Desert - Mean as Hell, Johnny Cash

And the devil said now I got all what's needed to make it good hell and he succeeded
He began by putting thorns all over the trees
He mixed up the sand with millions of fleas
He scattered tarantulas along the road put thorns on cactus and horns on toad
Lengthened the horns of the Texas steer put an addition to the rabbits ear
Put a little devil in the bronco steed and poisoned the feet of the centipede
The rattlesnake bites you the scorpion stings
The mosquito delights you with his buzzing wings
The sunburst are there and so are the ants
And if you sit down you'll need have soles on your pants
The wild boar rooms on a black chaparral it's a hell of a place that he has for hell
The heat in the summers are hundred and ten too hot for the devil too hot for men . . .

It’s like Johnny is singing about the red wastes of Carcosa—if anything’s alive in that place, it can probably kill you.  Or at least make you wish you were dead.

10. Clayton & Alyssa – My Darling, Wilco

“We were a family, my darlin’
Right from the start.”

Aww, Clayton and Alyssa.  Of course, you know their song had to be short, but very, very sweet. It kills me every time he calls her “child of my heart.”

11. Doug’s Passing – Ave Maria, Andrea Bocelli

Farewell, Doug.  You will be missed.

12. Overdose – Neither Can I, Slash’s Snakepit

“I'm sorry so much
For bringing my own living hell to
Your door
But things had gotten heavy
Everything was deep
Nothing really mattered
So I just went to sleep . . .”

Oh, Bill.  Accidental overdoses are nothing to fool with.  Thank God for Murphy: “Oh, he so needs a stomach pump.  Can we get two?  Can we make it a double?”

13. The Cobar – Lose Your Soul, Dead Man’s Bones

you're gonna lose your soul, tonight . . .”

The Cobar is one of our freakier creations.  It’s a dead gate, standing in the middle of the Carcosan desert:

. . . a massive, bowl-shaped depression.  The earth inside it was a pure salt-white, utterly smooth, with no rocks to mar its dead perfection.  A few yards below her, around the outermost edge, was a ring of tiny, desiccated corpses: lizards, snakes and rodents, their papery flesh fused together in a hideous tangle, all pointing at the center of the bowl.  Concentric rings of death with progressively larger animals, getting closer and closer to a pair of stones in the center, leading to an opening she recognized with a sick jolt. 

It was a gate . . . was a gate-- past tense.  She wasn’t sure what it was now.  At one time, there had been an archway there.  Now only the ragged standing stones remained, and something between them that she could sense more than see.  A fissure, pulsating unpleasantly . . .

14. Vickers – Put You on Game, Lupe Fiasco

“I am the American dream,
The rape of Africa
The undying machine,
The overpriced medicine,
The murderous regime,
The tough guy's front,
And the one behind the scenes . . .”

When you get right down to it, Aaron Vickers is a gangster, pure and simple.  So, for me, his song had to be a song about greed and corruption.  He’s also based on a boss that I had who had a penchant for sports analogies, so the phrase, “put you on game,” seemed entirely fitting.

15. The Prophecy – There Are No More Tickets to the Funeral, Diamanda Galas

“And on that holy day
And on that bloody day
And on his dying bed he told me
‘Tell all my friends I was fighting, too . . .’”

The Order’s Oracles share a collective vision.  That can mean nothing good.

16. The Eerin – Return to Innocence, Enigma

“That’s not the beginning of the end . . .”
This is another instance where the mood of the song meant more to me than the lyrics.  I find the Eerin, despite their rather gruesome history, to be a source of hope in otherwise dire circumstances.

Stay tuned for Part II of Carcosa, where we hit the five towns—and Nathan DePriest.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Short Story: Our Miss Engel

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit by John Singer Sargent

Thank you for your interest in "Our Miss Engel." This short story is now available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Read an excerpt below:

2 September, 1909
I received a letter today from the Ursuline Academy. It seems I have found a job.
When I informed my parents of my decision, my father said, “You watch those papist types, Clara. They’re a funny lot.” I don’t know what he means by that. From her letters, the Reverend Mother seems perfectly kind.

13 September, 1909
We exchanged a few more correspondences before settling on 20 September as my first day of teaching, a Monday. I will take the train to Paola on Saturday morning and should arrive before noon, which will give me just over a day and a half to get settled in.
I myself went to a good Lutheran school, and have nothing but cherished memories of my teacher, Miss Taylor. When I finished my eighth grade primer, she hugged me fiercely and said, “Clara, you just make me so proud.” She had tears in her eyes. I knew right then that I was going to become a teacher, like her. We are quite learned here in this part of the world, with a fine theatre and the Carnegie library. Also, Papa is something of an intellectual. He was a teacher back in Germany, so I suppose you could say it is in my blood. My brother and I were brought up to be diligent readers and encouraged to express ourselves through writing and discourse.
As I was studying to get my teacher’s certificate, Papa was fond of telling me that many schools in America are based on the Prussian model of teaching. “The German people know something about education, Clara,” he would say. “Don’t ever forget that.”
Behind my book, I would smile. “Yes, Papa.”
I must confess my tastes run far more to novels than to the philosophical treatises Papa is always urging me to read. We find something of a compromise in poetry, thank the Muses! Like most of the men in the tri-state area, Papa is a miner. Joplin is known for blackjack and lead. Both my parents have worked very hard for everything we have. When they first came to this country, they spoke very little English. But as their English improved, so did their prospects. Mama worked as a seamstress for a time, and Papa worked his way up from shafting and drilling to become a foreman, and we moved out of our cabin by the mining camp into a proper house off Grey Avenue. They wanted my brother and me to sound like perfect Americans. That was easy enough, as I was born in Joplin. Gunther was born back in Frankfurt, but he was just a little thing when they brought him over, so doesn’t really remember any German at all. I suppose that is just as well.
Anyhow, I am very excited about the position. My first school—my first pupils! I wonder what they will be like.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Order of the Four Sons Soundtrack

As I've been preparing the books for print, I find myself living, eating, breathing and dreaming all things O4S even more than usual.  So, in anticipation of the (hopefully very soon) release of Book I in paperback, I thought I'd share some of the songs that inspired this book.

I know, I know.  All the cool-kid authors are doing it.  But seriously, I've been sound-tracking my own work since I was 12.  Most authors that I've ever met, in fact, have always done it, it's just Stephanie Meyer went and blew our little secret.  Sound-tracking your stories is one of the great guilty pleasures of writing-- that, and coming up with a dream cast for your own film/TV adaptation.  But that's another list for another day.    

So, here are some of the songs we listened to while scribbling out scenes of monsters, magic, portals, and undead serial killers on the loose in little Missouri towns.  Enjoy!

Also, SPOILERS AHEAD. Consider yourself warned. 

The Order of the Four Sons, Book I Soundtrack 

1. The Beginning - The Sorcerer's Apprentice 

Natch.  A song about a novice who's bitten off more than he can chew?  And honestly, can anything sum up Kate's innocence and whimsy like those woodwinds?  I've always imagined that if the O4S books were adapted into a TV series, this would be its theme song.  And for a bonus, this symphonic poem by Dukas even features -- that's right -- a glockenspiel.  For those of you who've read Book II, you know why that amuses.

2. Excelsior Springs - Heartland, by George Strait

"Sing a song about the heartland,
The only place I feel at home . . .
Where they still know wrong from right."

Okay, so some of my song selections may contain irony.  A little.  

3. Missing Children - Down by the Water, PJ Harvey

"I lost my heart/Under the bridge."  There is no more perfect description for our kidnapped children, lost in a place defined by its waterways.  But more important than that, this song's instrumentals, as well as Harvey's whispered refrain at the end, are both creepy and seductive-- like Katarina, who is herself the ultimate lost child.

4. The Royal Hotel - This House is Haunted, Alice Cooper

"No more singing, no more laughing, no more sunny days
She left and took the colors with her, buried in her grave
This is where we climbed the tower, this is where she fell
Then when her young heart stopped beating, I went to hell."

Jessica Degler, this song's for you and all the sad little ghosts of the Royal Hotel.

5. Kate's Magic Lesson - Symphony #25, Mozart

Peering through the slots in the blinds, he spoke in a ruminating, almost musing sort of tone.  "When I was younger, I worked out of a field office on the east coast.  I was fortunate enough to get very good seats at a Mostly Mozart concert.  I was near the front, and it sounded as if the orchestra completely surrounded me.  I could hear every cello, every violin, every crescendo that Mozart had written throughout the three-hour performance.  I could almost see very spire of sound that he had built with his genius.

"Now," he turned back to Kate.  "Listen.  What do you hear?"

Kate receiving her first magic lesson from Dr. Doug Grigori.  This one's kind of a no-brainer.

6. The James Diary - Frank and Jesse James, Warren Zevon

"On a small Missouri farm
Back when the west was young
Two boys learned to rope and ride
And be handy with a gun . . ."

All true, but we add our own little, shall we say, twist to that particular story.  Keep on ridin', ridin', ridin', Frank and Jesse James, and be sure to slay a few demons on behalf of the Order while you do.  Not to mention, protect a certain magical artifact of incalculable power.

7. The Grave of Thomas Howard - Hey Man Nice Shot, Filter

"Now that the smoke's gone
And the air is all clear
Those who were right there
Got a new kind of fear . . ."

The scene in the old graveyard is really where our heroes see their first action, going up against Kat and a horde of bloodthirsty eretics.  Fortunately for us, our heroes have lots of guns, lots of bullets . . . and Kate.  This is also the scene where she first gets her hands on the Wand of Deleth.  This song has some appropriate lines, but I've always liked it for this scene just because it's good and loud.  It just begs to be played during a scene with lots of gunfire.

8. MJ-12 - Guerilla Radio, Rage Against the Machine

"All hell can't stop us now."

To me, MJ-12 represents the evils of government corruption, though this is another song choice based more on decibel level than thematically-relevant lyrics.

9. The Hall of Waters - Horizon, Eri Sugai

In stark contrast to the previous two selections, the Hall of Waters is a place of serenity, peace and healing.  The vocals on this remind me of cool, lapping water.

10. The King in Yellow - Voodoo, Godsmack

"I'm not the one who's so far away."

Poor Bill.  He gets branded by the alien being Akhenaten, better known as the Yellow King, which triggers his isolation and the beginning of a long downward mental spiral.  It's also a song about addiction, which makes it even more appropriate for Bill who has a trouble letting things go-- like relationships, past slights, and pills.      

11. Jessica Degler - Enter Sandman, Metallica

"Hush little baby don't say a word
Never mind that noise you heart
It's just the beast under your bed
In your closet, in your head . . ."  

Really, do I need to explain this one?

12. Fernando - Low, Cracker

"A million poppies gonna make me sleep."

When Fernando Rios, an O4S field operative, is found savaged by demons, there's really only one humane thing for his rescuers to do.  Vaya con dios, Rios.

13. Ice Cream & Cannon Fodder - You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told), The White Stripes

"I can see your man can't help but win
Any problems that may arise
But in his mind there can be no sin
If you never criticize . . ."

In Book I, Emily Hayes is a young MJ-12 agent, hopelessly brainwashed into thinking the greatest asset she can bring is total obedience.  Girl, you don't know what love is.  You just do as you're told.

14. Defeated - Disarm, Smashing Pumpkins

"Disarm you with a smile."

Katarina.  A wink.  A smile.  And one word: "Amateur."

Game over.

15.  Crossing Over - Walking with a Ghost, Tegan & Sara

Another song for the children ghosts who haunt the hotel.  

16. Chambers, KS - Lake of Fire, Nirvana

"Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don't go to heaven where the angels fly . . ."

Apparently they go to . . . er, Chambers, KS.  While Aaron Vickers isn't dead at the end, he just wishes he was.  And I chose this song because his pain pleases me.  "There is indeed a hell and I am in it."

17. Epilogue - Hobo Blues, John Lee Hooker

Good travelin' music for our intrepid characters, whose adventures have only just begun.

I guess this means I'll have to post the Carcosa: The Order of the Four Sons Book II soundtrack sometime soon.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Short Story: The Little Holly Market

She wakes up early, alone. It is late July. Her bedroom is east-facing, and a brick building to boot. The rotating fan on the floor doesn’t do much, just stirs the moist hot air around, like river water down in the Bottoms. She doesn’t want to be awake. She wants to hold onto sleep as long as she can, hold on to sleep and not knowing. But even in sleep, the heat makes you fretful.

The sheets are at the edge of the bed, kicked off in the night, her nightgown twisted up under her breasts, sticky. She hears the children in the front room, the cartoons going full-tilt. The front room stays pretty dark all day, cooler, and the vinyl sofa, cracked but not bad, is also cool. The children love to dive into the cushions, thrash into them like water, loving the feel of it against their bare arms and legs. Even the cracked parts feel like little fish mouths nibbling at you all over.

Sleep gone, she rolls over silently, straightening her gown. No sense layin here. Might as well get up an move. She is of indeterminate age. Her flesh is the color of roasted coffee beans and absolutely smooth but for a single vertical line carved between her brows. Her body is heavy. She shuffles her feet in an old woman’s drag, unconscious that this is how she walks, that she has slowly worn a groove into the industrial carpeting from her bed to the hallway. It would startle her to know that she has been here that long.

Her face puckers as she reaches the window, through which the sun is shining too brightly. The light is like the light reflected off car windshields, off tinfoil, jagged and hateful. It gives the dingy walls and the old bed sheets and pillowcases a bleached look. The edges of things seem out-of-focus. Heat like the worst headache you can imagine, like glass in your head, lodging in the tender spots in the folds of your brain, turning your stomach sour, your eyeballs to jelly. Squinting, she yanks the shade down.

She steps out into the little space between her bedroom and the kids’ rooms. Can’t even call it a hallway. It’s too small to correckly call it that. To the right is the bathroom. The children are quiet. They don’t even turn around as she shuts the bedroom door behind her. Their eyes are glued to the nineteen-inch screen. The color is off. All the pictures have a reddish tint.

They been listless, she thinks. This damn heat. Her mamma used to say saps. This heat just saps your energy. Mamma used to keep a cool rag around her neck, a pitcher of water in the fridge. But the heat is only one problem. She keeps a pitcher of water in the fridge like Mamma used to.

Problem is, that’s all that’s in the fridge. Her cupboards, like the woman’s in the nursery rhyme, are bare.

She takes her time, sitting on the toilet. She doesn’t want to leave the bathroom, even though it is always stuffy. Mamma never had no air condition neither. She stands, flushes. Even if she had, she wouldn’ta turnt it on. She was forever screaming about the ‘lectric bills. Washes her hands and face. Her hands are very dark against the white basin. Brushes her teeth, thinking of Mamma. She wishes her Mamma was here to tell her, Don’t you do it. But then, if Mamma were here, she might just as easily say, Girl, you do whatever you got to to get them babies fed.

She combs her hair, then comes out of the bathroom and goes into the kitchen. Any minute now, the elder children will come wandering back to the house, scrounging for breakfast. There has been nothing in the house but oatmeal and rice for days, and they are now out of oatmeal. So she resigns herself to heating water on the stove to boil the last of the rice. She will mix in a little sugar instead of salt, so it will be at least a little like Rice Krispies. Except for there’s no milk.

The little ones come get their bowls and quietly return to the living room floor to eat in front of the TV. They eat slowly, making little fuss. She wants to cry.

Almost as if on cue, the elder children come inside and they each have a small bowl. One of them makes a face, picks at his food.

“That’s all they is,” their mother tells them. “I gotta go to the store.”

“When ya goin to the store?”

She doesn’t answer. Instead, she goes out onto the stoop and lights a cigarette, barefoot, still wearing her nightgown. It’s so humid, she perspires right away, a little pool forming in the groove of her upper lip. The paper of her cigarette turns damp where she holds it between her fingers. Check won’t come till next week. After he is done eating, her oldest boy, Quentin, comes back out and sits on the stoop next to her. She tilts her cigarette away.

“Still hongry,” she says. It’s not really a question, and certainly not the question.


She nods once, curtly. “Miz Flores wa’ant home?”


She nods again. “Well, we’ll go down bout 11:30. Go get us some Hot Lunch.” The way they had come to use the term was like a brand-name. There was a Boys and Girls Club on Twentieth. It had a lunch program in the summer—free hot lunches Monday through Friday. Lunch was served at noon, but you had to get there early. The line would be almost up the block.

“Okay,” Quentin says cooperatively. She gives him a little sideways glance. He’s a good boy, this one, never no back-talk. In a rare stray bit of affection, she reaches out her free hand and runs it playfully over his summer-cropped curls. He ducks, grinning.

“Go on now,” she says. He runs off. Probably somebody would go around to the fire hydrants along Holly and Mercier Streets with a wrench, opening up the valves so the children could play in the water. She has half a mind to join them. Instead, she just sits for a little longer, fiddling with the cigarette and looking out over the block of housing that zigzags down the hill. Knowing the children would get at least one meal on the weekdays was fine. But it was Thursday already. And then the long weekend with nothing to eat, if she didn’t do something about it quick.

Every woman in the neighborhood knows a way to get free groceries round here, if she got a mind to. The thought makes her shiver, despite the heat, and a fine rash of goose pimples raises on her bare upper arms. Her stomach, queasy to begin with, drops.

Rising heavily to her feet, she flicks the cigarette away in the dew-damp water grass growing in scraggly patches around the building. She starts to go inside, but she hears the screen door around the side bang open, and her neighbor, Twyla, comes out, a yellow laundry basket on her hip. She has her daughter with her.

"Hey, Yvonne!” Twyla calls. Twyla is tiny, wiry and dark, darker even then Yvonne, with a tight little cap of crazy curls that stick straight out from her head, making her look like a black Raggedy Ann. At the moment, she is wearing a bright yellow and white flowered sleeveless blouse tied at the side of her waist, sky-blue polyester shorts, and blue jelly sandals.

“Hey,” Yvonne calls back easily enough.

Twyla moves with quick little movements like a terrier, covering a lot of ground on such itty-bitty feet, dropping the basket in the beaten dirt under the clothesline. She starts to bend over but pauses ever-so briefly, stealing a glance at Yvonne.

“What’s th' matter wit choo?” she inquires.

Yvonne shrugs. “Nuthin.”

Twyla takes a baggie full of clothespins out of the basket and hands them to her girl. “Nuthin my ass.” Then she starts taking clothes out of the basket. Straightening up, she shakes out one of her son’s T-shirts and begins smoothing it out on the line. “Sheeyit. I wish I had a pair a big ol titties like you. Bad enough I’s born dark, and skinny to boot. I say make em work for you, girl.”

"You hush yo mouth!” Yvonne snaps.

Twyla’s eyes roll, gold tooth flashing. “God damn if they wouldn’t have to pay me to cover up knockers like dat! I be flashin em every chance I got! All my blouses be cut down to dere.” Gesturing to her belly button, she gives a little shimmy, wiggling her hips.

Yvonne waves her hand. “You don’t know whatchoo talkin bout.” But she has to fight hard to stop from grinning herself.

“Oowee,” Twyla exhales, holding out a brown palm to her daughter, who obligingly hands her a clothespin. “We got a bashful one right here, don’t we? Big-tit mamma.” She slaps her own ass. “Afrait to shake dem puppies out.”

“Quit it now!”

“All right, all right,” Twyla agrees, still flashing her gold tooth. “I just playin.”

Yvonne turns and goes back inside without another word, Twyla’s cackling chasing her all the way back to her bedroom, where she goes to the closet (the sliding door is propped on the wall next to it—it had come off the track sometime ago and Yvonne couldn’t get it to go back right). It shouldn’t matter what she wears today, but somehow it does.

There is not a lot to choose from. She is a big woman, and the fact is, there just aren’t many nice clothes for big women, black or white. She selects a magenta-colored halter dress and holds it up in front of the mirror, her mouth twisting. For a minute, she sinks back down on the bed. Then, with a new force of determination powering her body, she yanks off the nightgown. Her fingers are swift as they do up strings and snaps, white bra, panties, the dress. It has a print pattern like palm fronds. She slides her feet into a pair of tan-colored sandals. It’s too hot to put on make-up, she’d just sweat it right off, but she checks her hair, checks the hang of the dress, fussing with the folds and creases, tucking and smoothing until it looks just right.

Then she folds her nightgown and stows it away under her pillow, makes the bed, and goes back out into the living room. To general protest, she shuts the TV off with a snap.

“Go on now!” she says, shooing the children outside. “Go play.”

She goes out too, shuts and locks the door behind her. Twyla’s laundry is completely hung already. There is no breeze to stir the dripping shirts, T-shirts, baseball jerseys, (Twyla’s oldest boy plays on the church team with Quentin), but the July sun would just about bake them dry, sure enough.

Going up Twenty-First, the rows of units that make up the Pennway Projects are squat and red like crabs crouched on a shelf of rocks, surrounded by a flat asphalt sea. Cresting the hill, she turns and follows a cracked footpath to one of the middle units. As she expects, an old woman is seated on a glider swing on the front stoop, looking impassively out over Holly Street. A small rotating fan is positioned on the window sill to blow in her direction.

“Hey,” Yvonne leans down and kisses the old woman’s cheek, wrinkled and soft as crepe.

“Hey, baby,” Pinky greets her, that old face lighting right up. Her voice is quavery, yet pleasant. “Just look at you, so purdy! Gonna set with me a while?”

“Thought I might,” Yvonne said, settling down on the glider swing next to her, turned slightly to face her. Pinky had been a friend of Yvonne’s grandmother, now well into her eighties. Her hair is mostly white, shot through with a few sprigs of silver. She wears large, thick bifocals with pink plastic rims. Never a heavy woman, the years have rendered her body shapeless: flattened breasts hanging to her waist, belly pooched out. She has had three hiatal hernias. The doctors refused to operate on the latest because of her advanced age. Compounded by the formless housedress she is wearing, so wash-worn and faded its pattern seems to blend with Pinky’s high yellow skin, she resembles a lump of clay set on a pottery wheel. Yvonne didn’t know how she could stand even those half-sleeves in this heat. Prolly had that dress since 1962, she thinks with some wonder.

Underneath it, Pinky’s legs are bare, broken-down looking, heavily streaked with veins. The ankles are slightly swollen over her white orthopedic shoes. Her hands, also swollen, sit bunched in her flowered lap, but her back is straight as a measuring stick. She rocks the glider steadily with an easy heel-toe action.

“How you doin?” Pinky asks.

“Doin all right.”

Pinky nods amicably and pats her hand. “You always was a good girl, Yvonne. Always was. Mmm-hmm.” The two of them settle back in the glider seat, looking out. The silence between them is comfortable, with the low whir of the fan behind them and the steady creak of the glider punctuated only now and then by some quiet remark from one or the other as they watch the neighborhood regulars go by.

After a while, along comes Mr. Peregrino. He is a small, neat little figure of a man in a hat, starched button-down and sharply creased trousers. With his litter stick and a trash bag, he makes the last of his rounds before the afternoon and the worst of the heat, picking up scraps of paper and crumpled soda cans. There is Miss Bailey, who is white. And crazy. She shuffles along in her strange, ungainly lurch, barefoot as always, despite the abundance of broken glass on the street. Sometimes she waves; today, she does not. Just lumbers along with her head down, hair hanging in clumps to hide her face, so only the shiny tip of her nose is visible. Yvonne heard that one afternoon, Miss Bailey got into some kind of argument with some boys in the neighborhood while she was sitting on the front porch of her house. She had screamed insults at them, then pulled down her panties and flashed them, bumping her bare ass right up against the chain link fence. Then she yanked out her tampon and threw it. But it was, in Yvonne’s estimation, them boys’ fault. Everybody knew Miss Bailey wasn’t right. That was why she wasn’t married and lived with her mother, even though she had to be at least forty.

"Poor soul,” pronounces Pinky, shaking her head.

There aren’t many white people on the hill. There are the Baileys, which, in addition to Miss Bailey, consist of old Mrs. Bailey, her mother; and an assortment of nieces and nephews. There is Mrs. Flores, who was actually a German, married to Mr. Flores, and known to be the best cook in the neighborhood. Her children are all but grown, but she still cooks enough for twelve every day. Anyone who comes through her door is welcome to either a plate of brats and sauerkraut with mashed potatoes, or a big bowl of menudo, or a patty melt on Texas toast, depending.

Otherwise, the hill itself is almost all Mexican. They live in the houses on the west side of Holly Street, the barrio. And the blacks on the east side, in the projects. The line had been drawn a few years ago. Yvonne can still remember that day. Too many robberies going on in the houses on the west side-- on Mercier, on Twenty-First. One of the Ramirez girls’ boyfriends got beat up real bad when he came to take her out on a date, put in the hospital. And somebody tried to break into old Mrs. Martinez’s house when she was home. She’d seen him—a big black man. So without a lot of noise or fuss, the Mexican men all got together and lined up in the middle of Holly Street, right on the invisible line that divided the neighborhood, black from brown. They’d all had rifles. They’d said there’d better not be any more robberies. Tell the men, they’d said. They wouldn’t go to the police. The police don’t do nothin. So they’d have to take care of it themselves. No more.

There weren’t hardly any men in the projects. Teenaged boys, sure. But no men. If you saw a man, he had a woman here, a woman and kids. And he only came around after dark.

As if reading her mind, Pinky asks, “Where’s Sam lately? I ain’t seem im around.”

Yvonne doesn’t answer. After a pause, Pinky pats her hand again, strokes it.

There is one other white man in the neighborhood, in a manner of speaking. Mr. Hauffman, the big German who owned the Little Holly Market at the bottom of the hill. Mr. Hauffman had married himself the prettiest girl on the hill, a little slim gal, one of the Salamanca sisters. Germans marrying Mexicans, what was that all about? The Salamanca girl has a Spanish name, but Yvonne can’t think of it. Their daughter had come out milk-white. Yvonne saw her one time, not that long ago, when she was down buying a carton of cigarettes. The little girl was sitting up on the counter. She couldn’t be more than three years old, with her mother’s dark hair and Spanish eyes—not wide, but long, with dark lashes. And with that skin, she looked just like a little doll. Just the prettiest little girl you ever saw, wearing a little white sundress and matching white sandals. The dress had yellow bows on the shoulder straps. She was sucking on a red Blow Pop. Her little bow-shaped mouth was the same color as the sucker. If his daughter was there, his wife, presumably, could have come in at any time. Mr. Hauffman was nothing but polite to her that day as he slid the carton of Kools across the countertop.

Right around 11:15, as if on cue, the children showed up, the younger ones in pairs, Quentin on his own, soaking wet, shoes squelching as he comes up. Each and every one of them gives Pinky a kiss. There was a time when they could have climbed up in her lap, but her arthritis is too bad now.

Sighing, Yvonne rises, holding fast for a second to Pinky’s fingers before she lets them go. “You okay?” she asks.

“Go on, honey,” Pinky waves her gnarled hand. “I’ll be fine.”

Yvonne smiles and herds the children down the sidewalk, thinking she should have checked Pinky’s cupboards while she was there.

The projects border Observation Park, which is fenced off on one side, so they have to take the long way around to Holly Street. On the south and west sides of the park is a graduating stone wall. While it is still low, the children scramble up it. Sometimes they dart ahead, to where the wall rises above the sidewalk by a good ten feet, shrieking and dangling their legs. It’s the children’s favorite spot for hurling eggs at passing cars, or water balloons at each other.

The Boys and Girls Club is on the other side of the park, to the north. There is a bright orange swing set in front, a blue jungle gym, and a row of those little rocking horses on metal coils. It seems to be boiling over with people already, crowded and bustling as an anthill. The children frolic on the playground equipment. Mothers huddle in clumps to talk, turning occasionally to shout something at their offspring. There are some picnic tables where a few people have already sat down to eat, but most prefer to eat indoors, where it’s air conditioned.

Yvonne looks around at the people already coming out of the cafeteria with their pale green Styrofoam trays of food. It’s like hospital food—mealy hamburgers, limp corndogs, sweaty hash browns, warm Jell-O, neon-green pickles, runny ketchup—all wrapped in cellophane. But it’s food. It hurts to watch the children apply themselves to it so eagerly. There are also cartons of milk, and occasionally, pints of vanilla ice cream to be eaten with flat wooden spoons that leave splinters on your tongue.

She turns to Quentin. “You watch yo brothers and sisters. I’m gon run down to d’ store.”

He nods. “Okay, Mamma.”

She watches them for a moment as they get in line, making sure none of them can look to see what she’s doing before she turns and hurries off down the street.

The road is narrower here. Originally, her mamma told her, most of these back streets were designed for streetcars, but the tracks are long gone. The houses end on a series of vacant lots, houses lost in a fire. Arson. A set of stone steps are all that remains. Stone steps covered in vines and graffiti, leading up to air, and at the foot of the hill is Mr. Hauffman’s store. It’s a simple, square, cinderblock building in the middle of an untreed gravel lot. It’s almost noon, so the shadeless building seems to float on a wave of heat above the concrete curb, bare walls absorbing and reflecting light in a pale, screaming glare. Across the front is a white sign with cheery red lettering, THE LITTLE HOLLY MARKET, like a candy cane. It has no windows except for a small, square pane set in the thick wooden door. She does not allow herself to think about this. She just tugs on the handle and steps inside.

As she crosses the threshold, she feels suddenly as if she’s hit a pool of water. Her body feels heavy and light at the same time. Overhead, a bell chimes and the door swings shut behind her. There is the shock of air conditioning. How icy it is in here, how dim. The air is dry and somehow still compared to the raucous light outside. After her eyes adjust, she sees directly in front of her are three narrow aisles lined with food. Immediately, her stomach starts to growl, her mouth fills voluptuously with spit. She’s been subsisting on rice, oatmeal and cigarettes for two weeks. She almost forgot that there even was such a thing as treats—chips, pretzels, peanut butter crackers, snack cakes, beef jerky. In a freezer case in the corner are pints of ice cream – good ice cream, not the kind you eat with a tongue depressor -- individual Eskimo pies, Big Tops, Bomb Pops. And of course, there are all the more sensible things. Loaves of bread, jars of peanut butter, canned soup, tins of sardines packed with good fat. Along the back wall are cold cases stocked with beer, pop, milk, eggs, lunch meat, and cheese. Back against the right wall is the counter, with shelves underneath for candy bars.

Behind the cash register is Mr. Hauffman. He has the look of a once-handsome man now going to seed, not bad yet, but you could foreglimpse paunchy, bald middle age coming up fast, as if the man in front of her is being erased a little bit at a time, blond hair getting thin, belly becoming soft and vast, straining against the buttons of his shirt.

“Hey there,” he says.

Yvonne forces herself to nod. “Hey,” she says uncertainly, lingering at the end of the food aisles. There is no one else in the store, so he watches her. She tries not to stare back and looks down at the shelves instead.

The bells over the door chime again as someone else comes in, a woman in cut-off shorts that Yvonne doesn’t know. Mr. Hauffman turns his attention to her as she grabs items, heaps them on the counter. Yvonne turns her back to them, momentarily relieved. Keeping her eyes on the shelves, she picks things up and puts them back down again, not really seeing, too busy listening to Mr. Hauffman and the other woman.

“That everything?” Mr. Hauffman asks.

"Yep. That about does it.”

He punches the numbers into the cash register and gives her the amount. The shush-shush of dollar bills being counted out, the clink of change in the cash register drawer, rattle of brown paper bags. The bells jingle for a third time and the woman is gone.

Mr. Hauffman gives her a look. “Help you find something?”

She fiddles with the can of soup she is holding. “No.”

His eyebrows raise. “You just browsing?”

“No,” she says again. “I . . . I ain’t got no money.”

“Well,” he says. “That is a problem.” The way he talks sounds funny to Yvonne, like he’s trying to be cute or something. It distracts her.

"I need groceries,” she says a little hesitantly.

“Sorry, honey. I ain’t running a charity.”

Yvonne takes a deep breath. She is sweating, despite the air conditioning. “Maybe I could pay you some other way,” she says real fast.

For the first time, he looks interested. “Yeah?” he smirks. “What way would that be?”

Yvonne’s tongue feels like it’s caught in the roof of her mouth. He crosses his arms and waits, leaning against the counter, looking at her so nasty she wants to cover her face and run out the door.

She swallows a couple of times. “I’ll show you my titties.”

He walks over and locks the door. There is a piece of cardboard taped to secured to the door with duct tape. He unfolds that and smooths it over the small window in the door. “All right,” he says, still smirking. “Let’s see em.”

Her arms feel heavy, the muscles weak, as if she’s been pummeled. Slowly, she slides the straps of her dress down, then her bra. She moves them down so he can see, concentrating very hard on the movements so as not to see him. How he steps closer. Those pale blue eyes make it easy to see the black iris opening wide, the beads of sweat on his upper lip, at his receding hairline. Bare arms beneath his rolled sleeve cuffs. The hair on the back of his arms is so blond it’s almost silvery, like fish scales, white skin speckled like trout. At the end of his arms, his hands are enormous, the thick, chapped fingers, more blond hair sprouting from the knuckles. It makes her sick, the thought of him laying those hands on her.

“That all?” he says. “For groceries? C’mon, honey. Raise your arms. Jiggle em a little.”

She does as he says, painfully aware of every inch of bare skin, prickling and burning with shame, aware of the weight of her tits as they bob up and down, heavy and dark, her arms out. But she looks anywhere but at him, her eyes trained on a corner of the ceiling. Slowly, she raises her hands and begins playing with her tits, squeezing them and pinching the nipples.

His breathing roughens a bit, but otherwise he is still, she can see out of the corner of her eye. For a long time, he just stands there, looking as she stands with her arms out, upper body bare. Somehow, she knows he isn’t going to lay a finger on her. Not this time. Next time, maybe, or maybe he’d just want her to take all her clothes off and jiggle for him. Next time, it wouldn’t so hard. And then what? And what then? How much could she get out of him? Sooner or later, he’d be tired of her.

At last, he goes over and takes a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk from the shelves and sets them on the counter while she re-does her bra, pulls the top of her dress back up. He even bags it for her. Milk and bread, that’s it. But it’s something. She wonders how far she can stretch it.

She doesn’t notice as she steps back out into the sunshine that the top of her dress is slightly askew, brown paper bag on her hip. Behind her, she hears the door lock again.

From now on, she promises herself, she won’t come here. She would shop at Jingle’s on 17th when she had to, or run down to the liquor store on the Boulevard. She couldn’t afford the temptation she thinks as she walks slowly back up the hill.

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