Blogoween Day 13 – Spooky NaNo Prep

blogoween

I don’t think there’s anything particularly spooky about National Novel Writing Month except maybe the bone-crushing fear of taking on such a terrifying task or the horror of putting yourself through a grueling 30 days of writing to reach 50k words. But unless you’re writing horror, or a thriller, or darker paranormal stuff, or real-life scary things, or, well, you get the picture, you’re probably not going to immerse yourself in spookiness for NaNo.

Still, we should discuss since it’s lurking just beyond the horizon of Halloween, aaaaand I need a topic for today.

I’ve written a few (well, more than a few actually) blogs about NaNo in the past:

If you don’t have time for all those, well, I don’t blame you, Dear Reader, but the gist of everything is this: I’ve never hit 50k words during actual NaNoWriMo, but I sure blog a lot about planning to! November 2017 I did manage 30k, and then last July I completed Camp NaNo, and I actually got 50k words done in 31 days! So I have a lot of confidence for this month coming up, and I’ve identified the tools I need to do it.

I hit a slump in August and September, just after wowing myself with 50k words for the first time, but surprisingly it wasn’t because I wore myself out. On the contrary, I was actually more pumped about writing in July and just after than I have been in years–I felt the invincibility that only teenagers in fast cars feel–it’s just that the rest of life got in the way. So near the end of September I formulated a plan:

  • October: Blogoween and catching up with Vacancy
  • November: National Novel Writing Month with a completely new project
  • December: Edit She’s All Thaumaturgy (working title, 2018 Camp NaNo project)

October is meant to be prep month for NaNo-ers, Preptober, I think? So to warm up my creative juices, I decided to blog every day. Sticking to a daily writing/creative task is good practice regardless of if you’re working toward something, honestly, and for me it’s been a way to sort of clear out the cobwebs (ooh, I see we are getting a bit spoopy, huh?)

And of course the other point of Preptober is planning your novel. I’ve learned that I am absolutely not a pantser like I believed for so many years (it was a bit like finding out I was a Hufflepuff and not a Ravenclaw like I thought for so long), but I’ve been torn the last couple weeks on which plot to pick: I have two projects that could neatly fit themselves into the month 1) The Last House on Magic Lane and 2) This One’s Embarrassingly About Vampires and Werewolves. (Neither of these are even working titles, they’re just what I’m calling them for this post, but there is a part of me that kind of wants to be the author who titles her books these things.)

Last House is something I came up with quite a while ago–it’s another story about a charmed place, as I am so wont to do, and has a complex history and soap opera feel to it. In fact, I originally conceived of it as another serial that I wanted to be a long and complex parody of a soap opera, told from many viewpoints spanning a few generations, but I’ve since scaled it back to a one-off. The story does lend itself, though, to a possible trilogy, and might be better served that way, so it may not be the best contender for NaNo. Right now, this book is a collection of scenes and an overall mythology, but a lot of the motives and characters are not neatly defined.

Embarrassing is kind of the total opposite: it’s a much newer idea, the plot is reliant on a much smaller cast moving from pace to place, and it’s absolutely a one-off. The other pro to Embarrassing is that I have the plot and characters almost entirely mapped out; Last House would require significantly more work to get it to the same place. So the choice seems easy, right? Except it’s not because Embarrassing is exactly that: EMBARRASSING. Well, okay, not really, but it falls squarely into young adult paranormal romance territory (I mean, I have it saved in a folder called “Wattpad” on my Google Drive, for goodness sake!), and my fear is that I’ll fall into all the easiest tropes and cheesiest writing if I go with this story. But maybe that’s who I am and I should embrace it? It’s just a first draft, after all, and I can trash it if I want, but I’d really like this to be something I can come back to in a few months (like I will be doing in December) and rework into something publishable.

Then again, maybe Embarrassing, like Blogoween, is exactly what I need right now. Maybe I need to purge these ideas and words from my system. And maybe it will end up being great after all?

I should probably not rush Last House. With only 18 days to go in October (and a LOT of crazy life stuff happening in that short time) I don’t know that I could even successfully plot out where I would want the story to go over the course of a single novel anyway, and I’d ultimately probably feel like I was cheating myself and the story if I cut out all the grandiose plans I had for it. So, I guess that settles it? This One Is Embarrassingly About Vampires and Werewolves it is? Have I talked myself into it?

Well, I guess so. Now to finish fleshing out the plot, and crossing all my appendages that I can shit out enough words in November to make it count!

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Blogoween Day 12 – Freaky Fiction Friday: Saber and Parchment

FFF - Blogoween

Note: This is written in first person, and sounds a lot like normal blogging me. Though it’s based on true events, it is, obviously, fiction. It was written originally in an attempt at the NoSleep style, part one to a longer story. Perhaps I’ll continue, only time will tell, but I do think it can stand alone.

Saber and Parchment

I met Nick when I was in my final semester at [redacted]. We had an American lit class together, and our mutual love of Poe evolved into love for one another. We moved in together that summer, some might say too quickly, but we knew we were meant to be together. It felt like fate.

Or like a totally manufactured series of events.

Maybe I jumped in head first because I never thought I could have anything normal, and Nick felt like my chance at normal. Up until my last couple years of college, my life had been so full of fucking noise–just this constant background chatter from what I affectionately call the Other Side, like background music that would occasionally crescendo into some horrific experience. But since about my sophomore year everything had gone quiet, and when I met Nick I thought maybe, just maybe, I’d imagined everything in my life up until that point.

Nick was a year older than I, but I finished my degree first as he was balancing school and work to help pay for his degree. Nick’s job was unique: he worked third shift for the university’s emergency facilities department. It was way too easy, and he got paid way too much to do it, even as a student employee, and of course he loved it. Basically, he waited to get alerts that could range from the temperature gauges in the science facilities varying by a degree, to a forced entry through any of the keycard-access-only dorms, and when they came, he would dispatch the right people to handle the issue. The alarms didn’t sound often despite the university being massive, and most of what he handled were drunken students stuck in elevators, or drunken student pulling fire alarms, or drunken students, well, you get the idea. There was always one other employee, a non-student, there as well, so Nick spent the majority of his time writing essays, watching pirated movies, and on rare occasion he’d go “exploring.” It was a sweet gig, and he was going into his fourth year at it when we moved in together.

I was newly graduated with an English degree and no idea what to do with it, but lucky enough to snag an editorial assistant job with a favorite professor of ours, the very professor whose class Nick and I met in. I could work anytime I wanted, so we both ended up living nocturnally that last semester he finished up school.

We lived in a shoddy one bedroom just off campus, but popular housing for students as some of our classmates lived in the same complex, and walking a couple blocks would get us on to university grounds. The school was spread out over hundreds of acres, and though it had its own transit system, it didn’t run at night, and Nick was usually scheduled from 10pm to 6am. His office was in one of the oldest halls on campus so there was very little parking near it, and most parking on campus required a pass that we were too cheap to shell out for anyway. He usually biked there, but when it was raining or particularly freezing, I drove him. I liked the drive, even at 15 miles an hour on old cobbled streets, and more importantly, I liked knowing Nick was safe.

I imagine there are other things like it, but in all the years since, I’ve never quite experienced the silence that is driving through a university campus just before sunrise. Parties ended hours before, classes have yet to start, and exhaustion settles over the grounds like a dense fog. In those moments, the towering halls and copper statues seem like relics from lifetimes ago, and you wonder if anyone will ever return to these ruins after you.

Of course, even in the predawn there are people out, very few, and most unseen–this I know better now than I ever wished to.

Summer passed uneventfully, with Nick taking a couple evening classes, and me getting paid to collect research for Professor White. He was working on a book about magic and folklore in literature with plans to publish in the following year. I was reading through renaissance poetry and romantic gothic novels to find the exact passages he would reference vaguely from memory in his notes, and typing up the information for him throughout the night, then Nick would come home by sunrise, we’d sleep for a few hours, and start our day over again. By fall we were in a pretty good rhythm save for Nick picking up an early morning class twice a week.

Nick’s job was technically high security, but he’d ask me to come eat “lunch” around 1am with him on occasion. I’d bring fast food if his counterpart John was working, and a burger or a couple tacos would keep him quiet about my presence. One night I got a Skype message from Nick–texting didn’t work from his basement office–asking me to come for lunch in the next hour. I hadn’t planned on it, but Nick typed out that he’d found “something awesome” and needed to show me.

I brought some Thai for all three of us, and left the car in a delivery area safe enough for an hour or two. Campus police seemed to like nothing better than to call a tow truck on passless cars, but didn’t start patrolling until around 5am. Nick was waiting for me at the door: his ID was high security and allowed him into most buildings on campus, but mine just gave me special library access, and without cell service down in his office, he wouldn’t know I was there otherwise. The emergency facilities office was a small room in the basement of [redacted] Hall, a largely disused building that had stood on campus in some form or another since its inception. The office had a number of cubicles, two glass-windowed offices for management during normal business hours, and cement block walls painted hastily in hospital white. Monitors lined one wall, most filled with text, one of them displaying a live video of the hall we’d just walked down, and a gentle hum filled the room. That hum let you know everything was fine.

We ate, and Nick told John he was going to take a break. John waved him off and hunched over in his chair, eyes closed. When we were out in the hall, I asked Nick what happened if John fell asleep. “He always does,” he told me, “but he’s never missed an alarm yet.”

Nick took me to the end of the hall where a heavy, fireproof door opened into a dim stairwell with the swipe of his ID. To my surprise, the stairs headed down. I grabbed his arm when the door slammed behind us, echoing into the empty space. “I thought your office was the basement?”

“Sub basement,” he pointed over the railing and winked a blue eye at me.

“Are we allowed down there?”

Nick shrugged and held up his ID, “I guess.”

Another fireproof door sat at the bottom of the stairwell, and through it a sadly-lit hall that was too dark to see its end. I immediately didn’t like it, but Nick insisted I had to see what he found, which he still wasn’t defining for me. He swiped his badge on the second door on the left and turned the handle, “You’re gonna love this.”

A single light shone down from the room’s center. Some old desks were upturned in the corner, but otherwise the space was empty. I looked back at him, and his face immediately fell. “What the hell?” He moved passed me and looked around, but there was nowhere to really search in the small space. “I swear it was right here!”

“What was here?” I gnawed on my lip. Nick was a bad liar, and his surprise seemed pretty genuine.

He walked to the corner with the desks, “This bin…this big rolling bin full of books.” Nick held his arms out to mimic the size, “Like loads of books!”

My heart sort of skipped at the idea of something so large and presumably heavy just vanishing in the middle of the night. “And you’re sure it was this room?”

“I left the light on,” he screwed up his face, gesturing to the fixture above us that had indeed been on when we entered, “I mean, it was right here, and it was huge.”

I wanted to bolt, then calm washed over me as I realized. “Huge, hu?” I went up to him and slipped a finger into his belt, “Like something else?”

His face changed, sort of giving me a stupid grin, “Yeah…” then he shook his head, “But no, seriously. This is weird.”

Now that was weird: he’d never turned down an opportunity to fool around.

Nick moved past me and my advances back out into the hall. From the doorway, I glanced down into the darkness at its far end as he started opening other doors. When my stomach flipped, I tried to convince myself the Thai just wasn’t sitting right, but when I followed him into a different room across the hall, the queasy feeling wouldn’t rescind. Nick was very still, staring at the back wall. Again there was a small pile of desks to his right, but the room was larger, and its most prominent feature was a chain-link fence reaching from floor to ceiling, caging off the back half of the space. The light above where Nick stood shone only slightly beyond the cage, but there beyond the fence was a rolling bin like he’d described.

“That’s it,” he pointed when I came up beside him, “The books I wanted to show you.”

I closed the space between myself and the cage, peering into the bin through the links. It was full to the brim with books, most with tattered covers. They looked like they might have been headed for an incinerator, but they also had some beautiful leather covers and ornate script along their cracked bindings, though it was too dark to make out what they said. I smiled, momentarily forgetting the weirdness of the situation, and searched the fence for an entryway, but there was a padlock on the chain-link door.

“Well, these are cool,” I offered, “It sucks they’re probably going to be destroyed.”

Nick came up next to me and pulled out his flip phone–old, even for those days–and pressed buttons furiously, “That’s not all. I took this to show you in case you couldn’t come by.”

He pulled up a picture, low resolution and shadowed on his tiny screen, but I could tell it was one of the books, lying open on top of the pile. I glanced at the bin again on the other side of the cage, nowhere near close enough for him to have gotten the shot, and what was more, none of the books were open. Looking back at the photo, I could see text on one page, and a drawing on the other, but it was quite blurry.

“I thought–”

“Shh!” I cut him off, snapping my head toward the cage. Something there, in the space beyond the light, had moved.

We were both silent, and I stared unblinking beyond the fence. It had been a subtle sound, a gentle sliding of material against itself, but distinct enough in the quiet of the hall’s sub basement to catch my attention. I held my breath standing there, trying to keep my mind from conjuring up all sorts of imagined visions and sounds in the darkness. I saw nothing, I heard nothing, but what I felt to this day I can barely explain. It was a bit like the feeling you might have gotten when you were little, immediately after one of those old tube televisions were turned off. The static is still there, radiating out into the room as it dissipates. I could feel the static of whatever had been there until its energy was gone.

I nudged Nick and gestured to the door. He said nothing, but backed up toward it, both of us still staring into the shadows until we fumbled back out into the hall. My heartbeat quickened as we scurried to the stairwell. Nick swiped his badge and the panel lit up green. As he pulled the door open, I glanced back because, well, I’m a fucking idiot, I guess.

In the blackness of the hall’s end, I saw it. In silhouette only, it stood there, taking up the space of the corridor unlike any human man could, its shoulders too near the ceiling, its chest too broad. It didn’t move to follow, but it stared after us with intent. I didn’t need to see its eyes to know it was looking right into me. And my first and only thought was, Not again.

We thundered up the stairs and let the fire door slam behind us. Nick turned to me to say something, but before he could get a word out I interrupted him. “Don’t go back down there!”

He took a few deep breaths and scratched the back of his neck, “Oh, uh, okay?”

“Promise me!”

I barely remember lunging forward and grabbing his shirt, but his hands were on my wrists and he tipped his face low to be near mine. “Okay, okay, I promise!”

Nick was a bad liar, but he turned out to be worse at keeping promises.

Blogoween Day 5 – Freaky Fiction Friday: Best Friends

FFF - Blogoween

 

Best Friends

Marianne is my best friend. We’ve been together since the beginning of time, or at least it feels that way since I can’t remember an instance from before we met. When we were very little we would play most of the day and even sometimes at night when we were meant to be sleeping. If you would have asked her then, Marianne would have said I was her best friend too, even if sometimes she would do something bad and blame it on me, but it was okay because sometimes I’d do bad things too, and she would always end up the one in trouble.

Once I knocked over her milk–and it was an accident really!–but her mom didn’t see it that way. Marianne didn’t talk to me for the rest of the day, and I slept in the closet that night, but by the next morning we were back to having a tea party with her stuffed animals.

I will admit that over the years we’ve drifted. Days would go by, weeks even, and we wouldn’t even talk, but Marianne always comes back. A classmate turns on her, a boy breaks her heart, and when she’s finally at her lowest, she reaches out to me. She doesn’t need to know my part in those things–that would only complicate our relationship–she just needs to know I’ll always be here for her. I am her friend, after all. Her best friend.

Caroline would say that she is Marianne’s best friend. They met in Mrs. Mulberry’s third grade class and became inseparable, but I don’t know how Marianne could stand her with her whiny voice and stupid pigtails. Marianne ignored me when Caroline was around, but despite my best efforts they remained friends, so I came to accept her. I let them do whatever stupid thing Caroline suggested, work on projects I wasn’t part of, go to parties I wasn’t invited to, but I’d eventually get my alone time with Marianne. Even just for five minutes before falling asleep, we’d talk. And that was enough. It had to be.

Marianne was really nervous the night before her first day of senior year. We stayed up really late talking about how we missed being little and all the fun we used to have, how we’d play pranks on her mom, and how we’d fall asleep with Barbies in our hands. We even talked about how stupid Caroline’s hair was, and Marianne laughed! She thanked me for calming her down, told me that she loved me, and in her sleepy stupor as she closed her eyes, she said goodbye. Silly, I thought, she just meant goodnight.

I woke up last week to her call. She was so nervous all over again that I thought I was living the same night over again at first, but no. We caught up, apparently this last year has been great–without me–but she was a wreck trying to figure out where to go to college. Her mom wanted her to pick before graduation at the end of the week, and she needed help. That’s when it hit me: Marianne was leaving. I always had an inkling this would happen, but it never felt so real. Every time I’d watch her walk out the door, I never felt like this, like she might leave me behind for good.

I can feel myself slipping already. It’s like, I don’t know, like she’s able to look right through me now if I don’t go out of my way to get her attention. I didn’t want to break her volleyball trophy–really, I didn’t!–but I needed her to know I was there. To acknowledge me. Her best friend.

So after all this time, I finally sat Marianne down and told her that it was my turn, that I needed her now. I told her she owes me this, and, I mean, Marianne made me what I am, so she must want this too somewhere deep down inside. It took some convincing, some rationalizing, some coaxing, but in the end she understood. Of course she does, because really this is what she wants. What we both want. It’s the same thing when you’re best friends.

So Caroline is coming over to spend the night, one last time before their big graduation bash. Marianne says she knows the words–I think she’s always probably known them since she made me–and I brought her the knife. I’m sure I can dye her hair or something, and if I can’t, well, it’s a small price to pay to stop being imaginary.

Vacancy – 2.03 – Harvest Fest (Part 2)

 Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

v 2.03

“I can’t believe you!” Lorelei touched her forehead, a vein pulsating beneath her fingertips.

Grier’s mouth was hanging open excitedly, the paper clenched in his fist. She’d managed to drag him away from the booth before Ziah or Conrad could count the rest of the supply or the money gathered as one shift ended and the other began, and they ended up in a quiet spot just at the edge of the festival grounds. “I know,” he was grinning stupidly, ear to ear, “This is amazing!”

Lorelei sighed, squeezing the bridge of her nose. It absolutely was not amazing. Grier had traded one of their most expensive ciders for not legal tender, but a piece of parchment, aged, torn, and with an almost illegible writing scrawled over and even less recognizable drawing. Evening was settling in around them, lamplights flicking on, and shadows were growing tall in the setting sun. She only had a few hours to rectify this.

“That man, where do you think he went?”

Grier shrugged, “I dunno, home? He’s not got the map anymore so why would he hang around?”

“That’s what that is? A map?” She pointed to the paper.

“To treasure!” He was eighteen now, but acting more like a child than she’d ever seen.

“You think that’s a legitimate treasure map? And someone just handed it off to you?” Crossing her arms, Lorelei sighed, “Was he wearing an eye patch too?”

“No. And he didn’t just give it to me, we did a trade,” he rolled his eyes, “He said the treasure is worth more than the bottle, don’t worry, we’ll be able to pay it back. Come on!”

He turned from her, unfolding the paper and burying his nose in it as he walked.

“You realize how ludicrous this sounds, right?” She was watching him as he started across the street.

“What’s ludicrous?”

Lorelei jumped at the sound of Hotaru beside her. The short girl winced and offered her an apologetic look.

“Treasure hunting,” she snarled, the hurried after him.

They were headed down a wide sidewalk along Main Street, the buildings packed together tightly, but their doors and shutters close; it seemed everyone was at the festival. Lorelei and Hotaru were rushing to keep pace with Grier, until he stopped suddenly.

He looked up and spun around, “I don’t understand. This is it. That was…short!”

Lorelei glanced up at the building they were in front of. It was painted a bright magenta with yellow awnings and flower boxes spilling over with pansies. A kettle-shaped sign hung above the door reading Eleanor’s Tea Room, and another in the window read Closed.

Even with the nagging thought that the man had give up the map too close to the end to be a coincidence, Lorelei found herself poking around the flower boxes alongside Grier, though she had no idea what they were looking for. Then Hotaru plucked the paper from Grier. “No, it doesn’t stop here, not exactly.”

She wandered away from them for a moment, down the sidewalk, then back and turned sharply toward the building, disappearing into the hedge. At the edge of the sidewalk, there was a small arch, drowning in ivy and white flowers, and Hotaru had dipped under and through it. Grier followed, and Lorelei found herself alone on the sidewalk, her question of “Should we be doing this?” left unanswered before she ducked under the ivy as well.

The walkway between the tea room and its neighbor was just wide enough for her to squeeze through, though it was dark and stray vines tugged at her sweater. There was light at its end, from the back of the building, and she stepped out onto a patio scattered with mismatched tables and chairs, surrounded by a fence covered in the tendrils of rose bushes just at the beginning of their hibernation.

Hotaru stood at the center of the space where an oak tree was growing, its branches spread out above them, adorned with lanterns and twinkling in the darkness the tree created. “You have to get to the right spot before it will tell you where to go next,” she reached a hand out and placed it on the tree, and as Lorelei came up behind her, she saw a line crawling itself across the map.

“Of course! That man didn’t know Moonlit Shores well enough to use this,” Grier grabbed her upper arm and spun her toward him, “You’re so smart!” Then he snatched the map from her and headed out. Hotaru’s face flushed deep red, and she smiled for just a second until her eye’s met Lorelei’s, and she hurried off into the darkness after Grier.

The sidewalk took them down away from Main Street, and the smell of the ocean intensified. Grier led them like a hound–though Lorelei would never say that–to a big, square building with shaker shingles and a high mansard roof. When Lorelei stepped inside, she paused, feeling how cavernous the place was immediately. She faltered on the threshold then pulled her head back out, glancing at the facade of the place, how at sat on a corner lot looking ordinary and unobtrusive, and then popped back in. It was definitely bigger on the inside, but she’d come to realize that pointing these things out didn’t seem to matter.

The library smelled like she’d fallen between the pages of an old book. Each row of tomes was lit from overhead by an orangey bulb nestled into a stained glass lampshade, casting warm blocks of color all over the leathery spines. Their footsteps echoed into the otherwise empty place, floating off into the impossibly high ceiling.

“Where in here?” Grier’s voice pierced the quiet.

Lorelei shushed him, but wondered if it mattered in the emptiness of the place.

“Probably something old,” he stopped and looked around, “That doesn’t narrow it down.” Then his face lit up and he bolted across the room and out of sight.

Hotaru looked after him, then turned back to Lorelei, “Where did he get that map?”

“Some man at the booth,” she ran a finger along one of the books and thought she heard a giggle. She jerked her hand back and shuffled away from the stacks.

“Was he dressed in a black cloak?”

“Yes,” Lorelei narrowed her eyes at the girl, “Why?”

“Kind of tall and skinny?”

The anxiety on Lorelei’s face told her the answer.

“I saw him following you around this morning. Ren even seemed kind of interested, but the man disappeared before you two took over for us, so I didn’t think much about it after that.”

Lorelei felt a queasiness in her stomach, “What do we do?”

“Found it!” Grier came thundering back to them with the map held high over his head, “It was the archway into the old record’s room. Made of reclaimed wood from the Argo. Next stop!”

They watched him march past and back out the door.

“I don’t think he could be convinced to stop,” Hotaru bit her lip, “There’s really only one thing we can do–”

“Knock him out.”

“Protect him.”

Lorelei grimaced, “Oh, okay, yeah, protect him. That’s a good option too. Let’s do that.”

Grier was almost sprinting as he headed down the road. Barely keeping up, Lorelei turned the corner to finally see it: the ocean. Out past a line of red and white stilted houses, the smokey blue of the water reached up and melted into a hazy, yellow sky. The clouds were resting against the water like long swaths of cotton candy in pinks and blues, and the sun was slipping down behind the sea.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been standing there when she remembered she was meant to be following Grier and Hotaru. She saw them bustling along a stone retaining wall ahead and hurried passed the stairs that would take them down to the beach, catching up with them near a thicket.

It looked especially dark beyond the treeline, and again Lorelei stopped, “Grier, are you sure you’re going in the right direction?”

“Oh yeah,” he forged ahead to the edge of the trees, “Next spot is the old fishing shack.”

“Isn’t that over there?” Hotaru pointed back the way they’d come to a sort of terrifying, but admittedly less terrifying than the wood, dilapidated hut at the edge of the beach.

Grier shook his head, “I don’t think it means there.”

He disappeared amongst the trees, and with a little groan, Lorelei went in after with Hotaru. The girl was muttering to herself about what else the old fishing shack could possibly refer to, but her voice was swallowed up in the branches.

Sinking into the ground, Lorelei pulled each foot after another, bending over and pushing old branches away from her face. She came upon Grier before she realized in the dark, finding him kneeling in the muddy sand beside a few planks, broken in a small stack. There in the shadows she could just make out the outline of a foundation of what was once, long, long ago, something one might have called a fishing shack.

“How did you know this was here?”

Her voice seemed to pull him from a bit of a trance. “Oh, you know, it’s part of Moonlit Shores. Got it!” He popped back up and hurried past them, shouting after himself in the dark, “Come on, ladies, we’re near the end, I can feel it!”

She looked to Hotaru for clarification, and the girl smiled in the dark, “He made this place his home. I’ve lived here almost my whole life, but I think he’ll always know more about it than I do.”

With a sigh, they pressed on.

 

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It’s Almost October, And You Know What That Means…

blogoween

Actually, I’ve given exactly zero indication that October will be anything special, but now you know! Of course, October is always special because IT’S HALLOWEEN, but I haven’t really been ramping up this year like I have in the past. I missed pre-pre-pre and pre-pre Halloween, and it’s the end of September, and no, past me, I don’t have half of anything that I wanted to get done done! You knew I wouldn’t! So I’m resorting to in-the-moment-ness.

But I knew this year would be significantly different because we moved in February and if all goes according to plan, well, I’ll let that be a surprise, but basically I can’t go all out in the ways I’d normally like this year. So in lieu of all that, I decided the perfect way to celebrate this year is with my blog.

So just like Blogmas, I’m intending to post every day of the month with either something Halloween-related or with Vacancy stuff which will hopefully be on a regular schedule starting next week. I was torn between calling this Blogtober and Blogoween, but only because I think Blogtober sounds better: Blogoween is clearly the superior choice and fits the holiday theme.

I’ve seen a number of Blogoween and Blogtober posts with sets of prompts for the month, and that’s a great idea, but I’m doing my own thing:

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Rutherford jumped up on this, erased at least half of everything, and knocked it down from behind twice. He hates everything.

I’ve got a whiteboard that I hastily drew a calendar on and filled in what I want to accomplish and on what days, but it’s all in erasable marker, so… If you’re interested in what’s coming up, or even in following along on your blog, here’s my weekly lineup:

Monday – Vacancy which I’m planning on being at least fall-themed this month.
True Terror Tuesdays – These posts will be ghost stories from my real life. Prepare yourselves for the vast depths of my crazy.
Witchcrafting Wednesdays – We gon’ do some artsy fartsy stuff!
Thursday – Podcast if I can get off my ass and get to editing!
Freaky Fiction Friday – More alliterative posts with spooky short stories.
Saturday and Sunday Spoop – Basically everything else like lists of favorite movies, costumes, and other silly things that fit in with the season.

I’m so excited for October now, I can barely wait! I have some things prewritten and I’m just itching to post. Stay spoopy, Dear Reader, and til then, crep on!

Vacancy – 2.02 – Harvest Fest (Part 1)

 Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

v 2.02

The cart bumped along in the forest’s heart to the sounds of stag hooves on crispy leaves. When a breeze managed to wind its way through the dense branches, Lorelei pulled the sleeves of her chunkiest sweater down over her hands and wrapped her arms around her knees. She was finally on her way to Moonlit Shores.

“Oh, I almost forgot!” From the front set of the cart, Ziah turned back to the others. Ren raised an eyebrow in the seat beside her where he held the stags’ reins. From her small bag, she pulled four matchsticks, “We’ve got to draw babysitting straws.”

“Ugh, why you gotta call it that?” Grier snarled at her, crossing his arms with a pout.

“Because that’s what it is,” Ziah looked to Lorelei with a smirk, “Those two can’t man the booth alone. Age restrictions.”

Hotaru, who’d been sitting just next to Lorelei, sighed but said nothing. They would be taking shifts in twos at Moonlit Shores’ harvest festival selling the manor’s house-made mead and cider which was clinking gently along in crates beside them, but the rest of the day was free for them to explore. Lorelei was surprised Arista and Seamus were so keen to let them go, but Ziah advised that most guests would be at the festival themselves, and the two would likely spend the day by the fire unbothered. Regardless, Lorelei had never been to the town from which her workplace derived its name, and she nearly shivered with anticipation.

“Anyway,” Ziah went on, “If you get the short straw, you’re with Hotaru, and if you get the shortest straw, you’re stuck with Grier.”

“Hey!” the boy who, if Lorelei was honest with herself, could barely be called that anymore, snorted, “I’m taller than almost all of you!”

Ziah looked thoughtful for a moment then grinned, “You’re right, you have had a weird growth spurt recently. Well, congrats on finally hitting puberty. Conrad?” she offered the sticks to him, their ends hidden within her fist, reaching past a very visibly insulted Grier. Lorelei pulled second and held hers up, but she didn’t need to compare them to know she had the shortest.

“Could be worse!” Grier rolled his eyes at the front of the cart–he certainly didn’t hate her anywhere near as much as when she started–and pointed at Ziah, “But we get the midday slot, yeah?”

“Fine,” Ziah shrugged and turned back.

The cart emerged from the wood and crested a hill, the path widening. There were signs of life here, the outskirts of a town, fencing and farm animals, mailboxes and gravel driveways, but one paved a brilliant white, caught Lorelei’s attention. She followed the winding drive to its end where a house sat high on a hill, boxy and a bit out of place with its perfectly straight lines, and massive rectangular windows. Lorelei had never seen such a large, modern house, as if it were out of some magazine that had slipped backwards in time to them. It glowed oddly in the dull morning lights, half of the exterior a bright white stone, the other half black slate.

“Blackburn Estate,” Hotaru whispered next to Lorelei’s ear, and she recognized the name. This must be where Britney lived. “One of the oldest houses in town. Well, oldest foundations, at least.”

Past the farms, the homes sat closer together, and the road straightened. Set off from the main road, atop another hill, a low stone fence surrounded a patch of gravestones, a mausoleum flanked by statues in its center. There was more order here, but still a sense of whimsy. Nothing was exactly right, nor was it exactly wrong. They passed others carting in their own goods, and Lorelei wondered where on earth these people could possibly be living, but then realized that answer might not be earth–her idea of it anyway–at all.

Lorelei was hit with the salty smell of the nominal shore as the road narrowed and dipped between two rows of tightly packed buildings. If you didn’t know better, you may have thought Moonlit Shores was just like any sleepy, seaside town, but on closer inspection the pharmacy beside the coffee shop was actually an apothecary, and it wasn’t a therapist, but a palm reader set up between the tavern, where absinthe was notably served per the front sign, and the daycare, which accepted children as young as two and with up to seven limbs only.

At the center of the town, a park had been decorated for the occasion, lampposts strung with violet lights, stacks of bright pumpkins and rough-skinned gourds at their bases, and the people milling about were dressed in jewel-toned cloaks and flowing dresses, though Lorelei thought perhaps the attire wasn’t significant.

As they unloaded the hefty crates of cider, the vendors around them were lighting fires in small wood stoves and cinnamon breads and roasted corn mingled with the salty air, though Lorelei still hadn’t glimpsed the ocean. When the table was set, she finally sidled up to Ziah, “How does this stay…private?”

“From humans?” she dropped her voice low, “Well, they sort of just…don’t show up? On occasion there’s a story about a lost traveler or a vacationing family gone astray, but the forest that surrounds this place, well, it’s got an aura about it. Kind of wards them off.” She gave her a wink. The forest did have a distinct eeriness to it that set Lorelei’s stomach on edge, but she’d managed to ignore it this go around.

Relieved immediately by Ren and Hotaru who had the first shift, Ziah grabbed Lorelei’s arm and guided her from booth to booth inside the sprawling park. Grier trailed behind, eating absolutely everything he could get his hands on, and Conrad kept suggesting they visit areas outside of the grounds, but was shut down by Ziah each time much to his confusion until Britney showed up and whisked him away. The morning passed in a blur of handcrafted athames and purportedly ancient spell books, and eventually Lorelei found herself behind the cider-laden table with Grier just as the sun reached its midpoint and warmed the park.

The boy unwrapped foil from the roasted, bright-red leg of what Lorelei assumed was a turkey and sunk in his fangs, pink juices trailing down his chin.

“Lord, you’re a mess,” Lorelei pressed some of the paper they’d used to buoy the bottles into his hands and gestured to his face, “How are you even still hungry?” Her own belly was bloated from a stop at a candied apple booth and cheese from an animal she’d never heard of before, and he hadn’t stopped stuffing his face since they’d arrived.

“You’re not?” he looked genuinely confused, but it only lasted a second, “Eh, you know, it’s lunch time!”

She watched him devour the meat quicker than he should have been able to then quickly denied him when he begged to run across the grounds to grab another, “I need you to help me. Someone’s bound to say something I don’t understand.”

“Oh, you need me, huh?” he smirked at her and moved his chair closer, “Well, I’m at your service, milady.”

She curled a lip at him, “Ew.”

The mead and cider proved to be quite popular, and the customers proved to be quite engaging, keeping them both busy. Ziah had been right about babysitting, however, as of the two of them, Grier turned out to be more apt to say the wrong thing, but he couldn’t be watched the entire time. As Lorelei closed a sale with a group of very chatty old witches–she guessed by their wide-brimmed hats though they were the only ones around donning them–she caught Grier in a deep conversation with a lanky man in a black cloak. The man hurried off with a bottle before Lorelei could free herself of the women and their discussion about which equinox their mead choices were best suited.

“What’d he get?” she leaned over to watch what Grier did with the cash he’d been handed, but gasped when she saw what he held.

“The la pomme noir,” the boy butchered the name.

“That’s the most expensive!” she yelled at him in a whisper, her heartbeat quickening, “He didn’t give you any money?”

Grier held up the scroll he’d accepted, “Oh, no. He gave me something much better.”

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

If you’re enjoying Vacancy, and if you want other people to know about it, consider reviewing it over at the Web Fiction Guide or at Muse’s Success, and while you’re there, look around for other serials you might like!

For updates, you can follow the blog or my Twitter or Instagram for reminders of new posts.

Vacancy – 2.01 – The Box

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

v 2.01

Lorelei Fischer stood at the front desk of Moonlit Shores Manor, head dipped down over a tome of thick pages so engrossed with the odd building’s moving layout–it had to be in there somewhere, but where?–that she did not hear the heavy footfalls coming into the foyer. It was only when letters were dropped atop the book that she was startled backward, abruptly looking up and seeing Helena, the mail carrier. She was, of course, right on time, as always, wearing something like half a grin and half a grimace. Lorelei was used to the grey locks of the woman, her sharp features, her inordinate height, but the wings were always a bit of a shock.

After exchanging embarrassed pleasantries, she flipped through the mail and separated out what was meant for guests, disappointed yet again to not receive any word from Ms. Pennycress, but the package at the pile’s bottom soon stole her attention. Square and wrapped in thick, brown paper, the package was tied with a velvety ribbon, and from under it was secured a card.

The card’s outside was water-stained, the To and From illegible, but inside the words were clear:

My deepest gratitude for a most pleasant stay to my favorite employee at Moonlit Shores Manor. Tampering by any other will earn the meddler grave disappointment and a gruesome curse.

“That’s ominous,” Lorelei mumbled to herself, looking up again, but the mailwoman had gone and with her any chance for clarification.

With a shrug, she turned to secure it in the office when Ziah emerged from the door behind the counter. Lorelei handed off the package, asking for her thoughts: Ziah typically had all the answers anyway.

“Oh, well, this is…lovely.” Her voice, which could almost always be described as a purr when she was not shouting, this time sounded far away and dreamy.

Lorelei eyed the box again, nicely wrapped, but nothing extraordinary, then her companion, “I suppose.”

From the dining room, Conrad passed through the foyer carrying a basket filled with dried sprigs and flowers. He offered them a wave and a smile as he hurried toward the basement, and Lorelei waved a bit overzealously back, though when she turned back to Ziah, the woman appeared to have not noticed him at all.

“Ya know, I bet it is for you,” she sighed, staring at the succubus, “I bet people fall in love with you all the time. Must be nice.” Ziah did not respond, but instead lifted the box, blinking dark cat eyes as she examined the packaging. She turned it over delicately in her hands then held it to her ear.

Lorelei raised her voice, “So, uh, who do you think it’s for?”

Ziah cocked her head, her answer more alarming in how it sounded than what she said, “I don’t know.”

“Are you feeling okay?” Lorelei waved a hand before Ziah’s face, and when the woman didn’t react, she snatched the parcel back. Ziah, startled, lunged for it, then stopped herself with a gasp.

“That isn’t good.” The woman backed away from the girl, gripping the counter and glancing worriedly about the room. Nibbling on a nail, Ziah’s eyes widened when Grier entered the foyer, and she stopped him and ordered him to take the box from Lorelei.

The teen balanced the parcel in one hand and rolled his eye, though the other milky and scarred one looked equally annoyed. “Now what?”

“Hm, maybe I’m wrong,” Ziah touched a finger to her lips, “I felt very…odd with that thing. Like I was enchanted, sort of like, well, how I imagine people might feel around me. You didn’t get that feeling, Lore?”

She shook her head.

“Stop that!” Ziah suddenly slapped the box from Grier’s hand. A corner of the paper was torn and his eyes–even the white one–were glassy.

Ziah kicked the package over to Lorelei’s feet, “You may be the only one who can be trusted with this,” she shifted her gaze left and right, “for reasons. Hold onto it. Tight. Maybe someone here is expecting it.”

With the package in hand, and Ziah and Grier in tow, Lorelei went on through the dining room and into the kitchen, bustling as ever with bubbling and chopping. Ando’s voice rang out the minute she crossed the threshold, “No!”

She stopped, letting the door swing backward and hearing it connect with Grier’s face, and he swore from his new spot on the ground.

“Bad magic,” the man emerged from behind a steaming pot, his eyes trained on the package.

“How do you know?” Lorelei could see Hotaru peeking out from the pantry as her uncle came toward them, brandishing a cleaver.

He crossed both sets of arms and frowned, his curt mustache twitching, “You don’t live over five hundred years and not know bad magic when you feel it. Get it out of my kitchen before it taints lunch!”

Lorelei backed out with the box clenched tightly to her chest. “So we should throw this away, right?” She knew as soon as she asked what the answer would be. Both Grier and Ziah shook their heads frantically, insisting that of course not, she shouldn’t be so silly, the contents would surely outweigh whatever mishap might befall them, and Ando was prone to exaggeration anyway–he was barely three hundred from what they understood.

“And tampering with mail is a federal offence!” Grier reminded them with a knowing look.

Lorelei scowled, pointing to the tear he’d made, “You’re one to talk.” She lead them through the dining room where a few guests were enjoying a late breakfast, and out onto the empty side porch. Clearing her throat, she tucked the box under her arm, “Plus, I imagine you people have different rules about these things.”

Just as Grier began to growl in her ear about what she meant by you people, Ziah asked more loudly with an air of forced casualty something more pressing, “Where are you taking it?”

“Ren is usually pretty sensible.” Lorelei marched toward the barn, her pace quickening as she tried to shake them, and found the elf inside as she expected. He tended to something large and loud concealed inside the stables, his disinterest in them changing when he eyed what Lorelei was holding. “This stupid box is cursed,” she said matter-of-factly, presenting it to him.

As Ziah and Grier protested the meaning of cursed, a pair of small hands whipped the package away from Lorelei. Hotaru paced the length of the barn, evading Ren, and turned the package over as she stared down at it. Lorelei followed, as did the other three, but the girl was suddenly graceful even with her eyes glued to the box, murmuring how pretty it was.

“You see?” Lorelei gestured to her, but even Ren’s attention had all but fallen to the mysterious container. “Ren?”

He twitched a long ear toward her and stood straight, clasping his hands behind his back. Ziah had gotten the package back, for only a moment, when Ren’s companion scampered out from his pocket and tripped Hotaru, then Grier had stolen it from her hands. With his superior reach, Ren plucked it away from the boy finally and held it above all of their heads, his winged, cat-like friend perched on his shoulder, reading the card. “Puzzling.”

With a bit of a struggle, the elf handed it to Lorelei, “The answer is likely to find its true owner. I can assist with this.”

There was a clatter from the shadows of the stable. “Are you sure?”

Without even a glance back at whatever creature was causing the ruckus, Ren nodded, “Yes.”

The band of five traipsed across the yard again, Lorelei with a tight grip on the box and an even tighter frown. At this point, she realized, she might not even be able to discard it as they’d all just clamor after it, and she knew she’d feel awfully guilty if any of them came down with a particularly bad case of being cursed, despite how vague that had been. Her own uncharmed status seemed to make her immune–it was good for something, at least–but she wondered how long the others would remain amicable while she denied them what they wanted. Especially those that knew her secret.

As they took to the stairs to Moonlit Shores Manor’s basement, bright, flitting lights crossing her path stopped them all. Bur, the head of the manor’s janitorial staff, hovered just before Lorelei’s nose. “What you got there?”

She was blurry for a second, then Lorelei was able to focus, the tiny woman’s bright red hair haloing around her body in a mass, and her wings flapping so quickly they were transparent.

“Nothing,” Lorelei answered quickly, remembering all the ways she’d been tricked by Bur’s ilk in the past few months, “So don’t worry–hey!” The box was lifted from her hands straight up to the ceiling of the stairwell. She felt the lurch of those behind her reaching for it and steadied herself with a hand on each railing to hold them back and keep herself from tumbling forward.

The blonde fairy, Tuatha, stuck her tongue out from the underside of the box where she held it up, and even Habian’s melancholic gaze held a special sort of excitement as he carried the package by the corner of its bow down toward the base of the stairs.

“You guys, wait!” Lorelei thundered down the stairs after the three dots of light, the sound of her colleagues behind her a great catalyst to move quickly. She followed the fairies across the boardwalk over the black pools and into the long, stone corridor. They were out of reach and impossibly fast, but came to an abrupt halt when one of the doors swung open and Conrad stepped out into the hallway.

The package bounced off Conrad’s head and fell to the floor at his feet, and the fairies immediately began bickering with one another about whose fault the mishap had been. Lorelei shouted at him to stop, but he’d already picked it up and his jaw had gone slack. He’d been the fastest yet.

Swearing, Lorelei ripped the box from his hands before he could react and pushed past him into the apothecary, rounding on the small crowd that nearly trampled one another to get in through the door. “Listen up, all of you,” she held the box over her head, “You’re acting crazy. This is just a stupid box, and whatever’s inside might just kill you if you open up. Is that a chance any of you are willing to take?”

Their voices came at her all at once, a garbled mess of pleading and shouting, some of them turning on each other. She watched their faces change as they fought, arguing, calling names, hardly recognizing people she would have considered friends earlier in the day. Her stomach twisted into a knot, “Stop it!”

A hush fell over them as they turned their eyes back to her, slowly. Too slowly for comfort.

“Clearly we can’t tell who this really belongs to, so–”

“Obviously it’s for me,” Ziah announced, jutting out a hip and holding her head up, “You said it yourself, Lorelei, people send me gifts all the time.”

“Of course you’d think that,” Grier huffed.

“Well, it’s obviously not meant for you,” Ziah scowled back.

The boy grinned, “You don’t think someone might send me a big old thank you? Like maybe your sister?”

While Lorelei contemplated how similar the magic of the box was to a succubus, Hotaru piped up, a particularly annoyed look to her scrunched up face, “You know there are other ways to earn gratitude than sleeping around. Like taking special care of dietary restrictions!”

“Or care of beloved companions,” Ren spoke a bit more loudly than he was wont to do, his pet chirping in agreement.

“Or how about the guests themselves?” Conrad sneered at the elf, and was met with a less than stoic gaze.

As they fell again into bickering, the fairies’ tiny voices buzzing about as well, Lorelei sighed and rubbed her temples. This was getting her nowhere.

“There you all are!” Arista’s dagger of a voice sliced through them all as she appeared in the doorway, Seamus cowering behind her. “What is all this racket, and why can’t it wait until after hours? I had to check someone in myself just now, and I’m certainly not paying all of you so that I can do your jobs!” She stomped into the room, walking straight up to Lorelei, “Specifically, siren, your job! I didn’t expect to have a–” she breathed in suddenly, her eyes falling to the parcel, “to have a, uh, huh.” Arista leaned over, Seamus just behind her, and she plucked the box from Lorelei’s hands, “How peculiar. Is it…is it meant for someone?”

With a long, low breath, Lorelei, prepared herself. She screwed up her courage and grabbed the box back, flying past the others and down the hall. Behind her, she could hear the group realizing what had happened and their footsteps as they hurried behind her, but she’d already taken to the stairs. Back on the main floor, she skidded past the reception desk and across the foyer into the sitting room.

“Excuse me!” she called out to the couple who was enjoying tea on the loveseat, “If you don’t mind, we’re having a staff meeting. We’ll only be a minute.”

“We?” the man looked behind her where no one stood, then jumped up the minute he saw the mob that plunged into the room.

“The conservatory’s lovely this time of year,” Lorelei nodded at them frantically as she hurried them out and shut the door fast behind them, shivering at the last of the autumn chill. From the front of the room, they were shouting at her, the whole lot of them, and coming at her like a wall. She glanced to the sleeping man for help, but he only rocked methodically and let out a gentle snore. Then Lorelei’s mind ticked, and she held the box–the utterly stupid box–over her head. “Don’t try me! I’ll do it!”

Looks of horror settled on their faces, the fire crackling in the silence left in wake of their arguing. It was warm on Lorelei’s back, doing nothing to alleviate her panicky sweat.

“Do I have your attention now?” Worried heads nodded back at her. “If the wrong one of you opens this box, you’ll be cursed! Do you all understand that? Are you prepared for that?”

“I won’t be!” A chorus of dissent rose up from those before her insisting they were the true recipient. But of course, there was no way to tell, and none of them were being reasonable.

“You’ve all completely lost it,” she felt her arms go lax though she still held the package aloft, “This stupid little box has made you all go completely mad. I should just destroy it.” As she dropped her hands down to fling it in the fire, the group was suddenly louder than they’d ever been. Their faces contorted, and they advanced on her until she froze.

The group appeared as if they might just rip her to shreds right there. If she threw the box in the fire, would its hold over them actually dissipate? And even if it did, would it happen fast enough to save her from being chucked along into the fire right behind it?

The girl sighed, “Fine.” She glanced down at the ribbon, slightly askew now, and the brown paper, corners ruffled. There was only one way out.

Lorelei tugged the bow, and it fell away easily. As the paper unfolded, those assembled gasped, but none converged on her. Instead, a light shone from inside the parcel, blinding for a moment, then it was gone.

“Well, what is it?” Ziah’s voice was panicked, desperate.

“Nothing.” Lorelei turned the empty container toward them, lifting her head and frowning. She shook it, just to be sure, then tossed it toward them, Ren reaching out and catching it, then passing it around.

Lorelei took a deep breath, ready, but nothing came. She did not feel suddenly ill or woebegotten. She took a step but her legs worked, and she didn’t trip on nothing. For a second she was quite pleased, then felt an incredible sense of doom: the curse was likely something much worse than she imagined.

“Nobody invited me to the party.” Britney leaned against the entrance to the sitting room, arms crossed, a lip upturned. No one had heard her enter in the commotion, and the woman seemed especially annoyed at that.

“Oh,” Conrad, rubbed the side of his face, “There was some mail.”

“Stupid, really,” Ziah laughed meekly.

“So dumb,” Grier agreed, “could have been for anyone.”

Britney perked up, raising an eyebrow.

Ren stood very straight and clasped his hands behind his back, “It was supposedly cursed, but it must have been a bit of a hoax.”

“Cursed?” Britney smirked, “And let me guess: she was dumb enough to open it?”

Lorelei felt all their eyes go back to her then watched their faces change again. “What? What’s wrong?” She turned swiftly to glance in the mirror above the fireplace. Marks were forming, red and angry, across her nose, her cheeks, her chin, and leaving white pustules that were already beginning to ooze. They suddenly burned, and she cried out. That stupid box!

“I have something for that!” Conrad announced, striding up to her and whirling her toward him. His face inches from hers, one of the pimples burst and splattered him with white puss. “Yeah, standard one hundred level her. Not to worry!” He gently took her elbow and guided her across the room. Her eyes were swelling.

“Hey, we have lunch plans,” she heard Britney growl from the doorway as they passed.

“Medical emergency, dear.” He lead her with his arm, and though she couldn’t see him, she all but heard him roll his eyes.

Maybe the box wasn’t that stupid after all.

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment

Well it was a bit behind schedule, but it happened! Happy season two premier! More to come, hopefully on time, as fall unfolds.

If you’re enjoying Vacancy, and if you want other people to know about it, consider reviewing it over at the Web Fiction Guide or at Muse’s Success, and while you’re there, look around for other serials you might like!

For updates, you can follow the blog or my Twitter or Instagram for reminders of new posts.