Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Dodging Dorcas—A Vampire's Tale of Woe by Drake Ahmemphis Part II




Drake Ahmemphis, Vampire, Karfelt, Fiction
The Glitter Globe/S.R. Karfelt






My hands are on the woman before I think to resist. I’ve not taken a moment of her life, but I sense Jack fading on the floor.
She’s soft, clean, and strangely cooperative. Not until I taste dirt in her mouth do I know why she smells Egyptian.
          “Dorcas!” I let go, and my wife leans over the altar table.
          “Have her, Drake. Hungry, Drake.”
          I stand. “You’ve not learned to leave innocents alone?”
          She scowls. “Nobody is innocent.”
          “Least of all you.”
          Leaping off the table she screams, “Will you throw it at me forever?”
          “They were our children!”


Dorcas runs from the room moaning, not with guilt for sucking life from our children, but desire as she heads for their statue in the sanctuary. Over the years she’s blurred their features with licking.
          “What’s happening?” The woman’s eyes are clearing, fear replacing dimness.
          “You’re safe.” I can’t resist touching her skin. She eats too much sugar and smiles so often lines deepen the edges of her mouth. There’s such life in her my mouth waters. “You want me.”
Like my wife I have my own sins.
“Like hell!” She backs away.
Damn Dorcas stole strength from me!


It fascinates me to see the chubby woman staring daggers. I could make her obey, if I drain her unconscious friend more.
          “What did you do to Jack?”
          Dorcas took too much.
          “He’ll be fine,” eventually, “despite breaking into my—office.”
          “You knocked him unconscious for sneaking in here?”
          “You could say that.” I offer a hand. “I’m Drake Amemphis.”
 Ignoring it, she stands. “Poppy Wood.”
“I’d like you to take your clothing off, Poppy Wood,” I say taking weeks from Jack. He’ll live. Just not as long.
“I’d like you to sod yourself, Drake Ah-whatever.”


“Does that posh asshole thing usually work for you?” Poppy fishes her phone out of the pocket of too-tight jeans.
          “Usually.” It’s not failed me once since I died, nor in life for that matter.
          Poppy bends over Jack to check his pulse and lift an eyelid as she dials. She may be immune to my undead charm, but I move fast and relieve her of the phone. If I had enough body heat and could work the touch screen I think I’d like these things. I kiss her cheek and she turns her lips to mine.


I’ve still got it. I smile against Poppy’s lips as she knees me in the balls.
          It doesn’t hurt, but one of them wedges inside. There will be no getting to the main event until it drops. When we first died, before Dorcas drained the life from our children, she used to do this for fun.
          “That’s rude,” I say against Poppy’s lips. She kisses me back and knees the other nut up there. I lift her onto the altar. She wraps around me and gives me an impressive kidney kick with a sharp heel, but the kisses never stop...to be continued next Wednesday.


For the next month or so I'm in Egypt doing book research. If you are enjoying Poppy and Drake's adventures, let me know. If not, there's a big fat internet out there for you to enjoy. 

S.R. Karfelt
A Vampire's Tale of Woe was written in 100 word increments for a quiet little writer blog. Usually I write an essay or some slam poetry for it, but after an inspiring trip to London I decided to see if I could craft a story 100 words at a time.

It wasn't easy! But the fun part is every piece had to forward the story. It kept me from waxing too poetic. Stop by next Vampire Wednesday for another installment of A Vampire's Tale of Woe by Drake Ahmemphis.





Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Dodging Dorcas—A Vampire's Tale of Woe by Drake Ahmemphis Part I


Fiction, Short Story, Karfelt, Writing, A Vampire's Tale of Woe
The Glitter Globe/S.R. Karfelt



The moon is dark and I’m awake. Dorcas is too. That’s why I’m pretending I’m not. Her sarcophagus is on the far side of the cemetery, but I hear the metallic creak as it slides open.

She’ll want sex. Not a bath, or to clean her teeth, or even to change out of the raggedy gown she’s been wearing since we moved to this village during the time of Cromwell.

Sex with her wasn’t something I enjoyed even when we were alive. “Drake,” she says already at my grave, kicking the iron of my bale-tomb cover. I open my eyes to protest as rust drops into eyeballs.


Banging the cover of my grave open I hop out, trying to work the rust out of my eyes without damaging them. Being dead doesn’t save me from injury. I even heal. Eventually.

          “Come on!” Dorcas hitches her raggedy gown up, exposing legs as hairy as a mongoose.
          “I need to eat first.”
She growls, but runs off. I should cut the Almersham lads a break and take one for the team. I’m the husband willing or no. The difference is they won’t remember.
Ravenous, I hurry to the church. Someone always works nights. I arranged it long ago.

It takes less than a minute to find no one in the church. There’s half a sandwich and a plate of Christmas cookies in the basement. I eat it with half a jug of vinegary communion wine before stomping up the stairs. My church is unguarded and worse—Dorcas and I were too.

I’ll have to go into the village. We’ve been asleep since the summer solstice and I’m too hungry to think straight and as likely as Dorcas to make poor choices now. Maybe I’ll visit the barrister first and suck a year or two out of him.


A voice catches my attention. Only I have a key, but the door to my private quarters is cracked open. Inside my missing security guard is feeling up a fleshy female who only has eyes for the altar from my tomb.
“Take your hand off my backside, Jack,” she says, bent over and peering up under it. I see his temptation. He doesn’t listen. That and the trespass are unforgivable. From across the room I suck a year off his life, maybe more before I can stop. The woman, now crawling beneath the table doesn’t even look up when he falls.


          “Get up! I appreciate you showing me this, but I’m not doing you on the floor,” The woman sits back on her heels, “Or anywhere for that matter.”
          Jack remains unconscious.
          “This altar is Egyptian, but I swear it’s not a thousand years old.” She’s engrossed with it.
          “Twelve hundred,” I say, locking the door.
          “I don’t think so. The hieroglyphs are—”
          “It’s my table. I know how old it is.”
          Finally realizing it’s not Jack talking, she tries to stand and knocks her head so hard under the table, she winds up on the floor too...to be continued next Wednesday.


A Vampire's Tale of Woe came to me a couple months ago as I was traveling around England. It was all those churchyards and ancient churches with graves not only outside, but under the floors and in
the walls. 

Sometimes stories will appear with fully formed characters and I can barely wait to start writing them. 

Yes, I'm Drake Ahmemphis, Saffi, and Bitch Witch too. At least these characters and stories are some of the ones in my head clamoring to be written.

At the moment I'm in Egypt doing research for this story and another. Let me know if you think the world really needs another vampire tale, because I might just need to write one.



Wednesday, February 7, 2018

An Introvert Goes to Egypt—This is my Amazing Life





Next week I'll be saddling a camel and driving it around Egypt for a month or so. 


If not for the mess and dust I wouldn't even recognize my life. I'm currently living so far outside the box, I don't even remember what it was like in there.

Did you read Shonda Rhimes book The Year of Yes? That's my motto. I say yes. I have for years.

  • yes, I'd love to come visit you, nice person who issues a casual invite
  • yes, I'd love to go to that writer conference
  • yes, I'll read that book
  • yes, I'll meet you for a coffee to talk BOOKS or WRITING
  • yes, I'll come to your writer weekend
  • yes, I'd love to go to Egypt on a study tour with some Egyptologists


Because this is my life and I want to do the things I've waited my whole life for!


Sometimes I have to step back and have a few months of No because it gets chaotic all this yessing up my life.

See, I'm an introvert. No, I don't see that as a character flaw. If I were an extrovert I'd never hermit myself and write novels. 

Being alone allows me to recharge. It doesn't mean I don't love you.


Being an introvert doesn't mean I don't like people. It means that after I hang with them I need a nap.

Saying yes is about getting outside my comfort zone. From personal experience I'd have to say that life really does begin at the end of your comfort zone.


Do I say yes to things that scare me? No. I say hell yes.


That doesn't mean I'm going to disregard danger or make stupid choices. My brain is still here. I'm just letting my heart drive most of the time. 

My bags are nearly packed and I'm taking work with me. I'm in the middle of editing a novel. I want to finish it because there are two more stories impatiently waiting to be written into life. 

After my last trip to London I got inspired to write a book about a married couple. The wife is a sociopath. He's scared of her with good reason. They also happen to be vampires. As with most of my fiction there's a rich vein of humor running through it, because I love to laugh—or maybe because life just makes me laugh. 

I'm enjoying writing A Vampire's Tale of Woe nearly as much as I enjoyed writing Bitch Witch. 


While I'm traveling I'll post excerpts from that story here on
Wednesdays. I'm calling it Vampire Wednesday, or Wampire Wednesday if it really has to start with a w. I think you'll enjoy Drake and Dorcas as much as I do.

If you'd like to follow my adventures in Egypt, I plan to post pictures to my Instagram, SRKarfelt. I'll check in here too, so leave me a message. Tell me what you're saying yes to, and would it involve eating camel meat? Is that really a thing? Would that go in the stupid choice column?










Thursday, February 1, 2018

Staying on a Houseboat in Amsterdam without Vertigo



living on a houseboat, travel, writing, S.R. Karfelt
S.R. Karfelt/The Glitter Globe




Travel isn't something I do so I can check off a box on a bucket list. It's something I do when an opportunity drifts across my path.

My husband had to go to Germany. He had lots of miles. I was due for a few days off. With some effort and a lot of juggling this was an opportunity I'd been waiting for!


Amsterdam!


Amsterdam meant the Anne Frank house, something I've wanted to do since I read the book as a girl. I knew from online investigations that getting a ticket isn't that easy, but I got lucky.


Sleeping in a houseboat on one of the canals in Amsterdam had also been a romantic notion of mine. Trip Advisor helped me with that. I always read reviews when I'm planning a trip. 



the netherlands, houseboat, karfelt, travel
Woontjalk Zuidenwind Houseboat in Amsterdam

When we left home I had no real idea how I was getting to Amsterdam from Germany, but knew it's fairly easy to get around within Europe. The countries are so small it's like going state to state, but the public transportation is easier and fairly inexpensive. 

The staff at the hotel in Germany helped me book train tickets online. Hubby and I hopped a train, jammed our too heavy luggage into an overhead bin, and plopped into the wrong seats on the wrong car. Eventually we got sorted out—reinforced some American stereotypes—and watched Germany fade into the watery flatland of the Netherlands

The trip didn't take long and I loved going past school houses nearly suffocating from all the bicycles parked outside. That is the mode of transportation in the Netherlands.


Arriving at the beautiful station in Amsterdam made me long for such convenient travel in the USA. 

canals in amsterdam, bikes, karfelt
There's also an ocean of bikes outside the train station. Walking or riding a bike is the number one way around Amsterdam. I would love to spend a year there walking everywhere and seeing the sites.


It's possible I say that about everywhere I go. 



From a portal of our houseboat we could see a windmill in the far distance. Staying there was a delight after our cramped days in a business hotel. 



swans, portals, houseboat, houseboat for rent, amsterdamDescending the ladder into the main cabin I found the space huge compared to what I'd expected. It could easily fit a family.  

The living room boasted a funky wildly comfortable couch and books everywhere. Portals let in sunlight throughout the entire boat. The eating area has a refrigerator, sink, dishwasher, and a large table. There's even a washer and dryer in a separate room! I immediately washed everything and rushed to see Amsterdam. 

Of first importance? Buying bread to feed to the swans through the portals. A nearby organic gluten-free shop provided a loaf of mostly seeds. 


For a brief time I was the swans favorite human.

Woontjalk Zuidenwind Houseboat, amsterdam
The weather cooperated with our visit and we walked to the far side of town to visit the Anne Frank Haus (house). On the inside it's exactly like it was when Anne lived there. You enter through the famous bookcase and climb narrow stairwells. It's small and only so many guests are allowed in at a time. 

The windows are covered like they were when Anne lived there. That way no one from the outside would see someone was secretly living over the jam factory. That also meant little light came in. The only place you can't go into is the loft that Anne and Peter would spend time in. It's not safe, but there's a large mirror beneath it so you can see up into it. 

What impacted me most seeing the Anne Frank house was seeing it as a parent. Her father, Otto Frank, made several attempts to immigrate to the United States but was denied. Realizing how desperately he tried to protect his family from the Nazi's will break your heart. 

When we left I asked my husband what he wanted to do next. He said he was too depressed to see anything else. I dragged him to the Van Gogh museum. Next on my to see list was Starry Night. Imagine the irony when I discovered that particular painting lives in New York City.

Holland, the Netherlands, Amsterdam, canals

It was easy to get turned around and lost in the narrow streets, but that's part of the fun. We stumbled upon Kapitein Zeppos down a minuscule alley and had a lovely dinner. Mostly lovely. The atmosphere is a bit of a magical refuge in the hustle and bustle, and the food is delicious. Except for the local starters we ordered—a fail and the waitress did try to warn us. 


When in Rome try the local food. Not bitterballen in Amsterdam. 


We walked through the Red Light Distract afterward, where the coffee houses sell marijuana and no coffee. I went into one and quizzed the shop keeper. I had questions, people. As a writer I always want to know things. He was great and answered them and didn't even mind that all I wanted to buy was a bottle of water.


Of course that's what I would say but it's also the truth. 


Sometimes I get vestibular migraines and the last thing that sounds fun to me is getting high or drunk. Vertigo is like an ugly combination of both, whether you like it or not. 


Holland, Amsterdam, bike, night, the Netherlands

Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam. Beautiful women stand in glass doorways framed in neon light to attract customers. It's similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans with sometimes intoxicated tourists stumbling around and societal norms on holiday.




But you also see families on bikes zipping through and police joking with the working ladies.


Potential customers come up to the doors and negotiate services with the workers.

More than anything I'd have liked to have interviewed some of the women. I had many writerly questions. It's odd to see the ladies next to shops that sell naughty accessories also beside the frozen yogurt shops. It's not particularly sleazy compared to red light districts in other places. It's clean and well-lit and feels very safe. I think it's because it's legal. 

Photography isn't allowed, and if you yank out your phone it could very well end up in the canal because they mean it. 

The Red Light area seems small when compared to the whole of Amsterdam. There are zoos, parks, and museums to explore. The most dangerous thing in the city seemed to be the possibility of getting run over by a bicycle. I'm not kidding about that. Staying alert and out of the way is mandatory, and stay out of the bike lane.

The houseboat was magical. I loved all the space, the water surrounding it, the light, the swans sticking their heads through the portals hoping for food. The bed was comfortable and fortunately for me the entire boat was solid and didn't mess with my constant vigilance over potential balance problems. I'm pretty sure it was anchored down, because I can get a touch of vertigo on elevators. 

writers life, travel, american, the Netherlands, Van Gogh
The non-judgmental practicality of the Dutch makes Amsterdam a comfortable city. The city is practically bursting with art. All that walking and biking keeps the outdoors in the city. I adored the place and look forward to returning next time the wind is kind enough to toss me in that direction.






Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It's On My Heart to Say Something About Gummy






In the past couple years I've gotten to know Gummy in a way that the previous thirty years couldn't cover.

Despite the fact that I've always lived a good distance away from my mother-in-law, I got to know her well. No matter where we lived my in-laws visited. Usually they stayed a couple of weeks. And I'm not talking about one visit a year. Oh, no, especially after I had her grand-kids—then they came a few times a year.

I used to say for someone who never lived near her in-laws, I saw them more than people who live across the street from theirs.

At first I wasn't too thrilled about that.

Gummy knew. She always knew. I could never lie to her, because she always knew.

That made for a tough go when she moved here to the shire with her dementia.

   When can I go home?
   Where's Poppy?
   Where are my boys?

I knew better than to lie, but I knew better than to tell the truth.

A lie would upset her.
The truth would wreck her.

I'd try to come up with a half truth.

   You can go home when your dementia gets better.
   It's your turn to watch Poppy, not mine.
   I have no idea where your boys are, but it probably involves hunting or fishing.

She knew I wasn't being completely honest. But she'd let it slide, especially if I distracted her with an outing, an activity, or family gossip.

The staff at memory care followed the same techniques. Their motto is to keep the people living there happy. Despite this god-awful disease, their goal was to make those suffering with dementia and Alzheimer's as happy as possible.

Gummy was not falling for that garbage.

Every single day she packed to go home. She plotted escape plans with the other residents.

Every single day Juan or I would get a phone call because Gummy was an escape risk. It became my job to explain to her why she needed to stay.

The problem was the way the disease presented in her, she could not remember any new information. Not for one minute. So our conversations would loop in circles. They'd go on until she simply got bored with me. 

   I don't know what you're talking about because you're not making any sense. 
   If you say so, but I have to go pack. Someone's taking me home tonight
Or my favorite,
   Okay, I'll stay until tomorrow, but only for you...which she'd forget within a minute.

But what I learned about my clever, smart, fun mother-in-law during the past couple years is that despite this mentally crippling disease she was still the same person.

Until the very end she was still clever, smart, and fun. Think of it like somebody who gets paralyzed from the neck down but manages to go on with their life.

She never got mean.
She never raised her voice at me.
She never felt sorry for herself. 

Don't misunderstand. She was a subversive little terrorist with the staff at memory care.

She planned coups that will go down in infamy.
She was completely uncooperative.
And she was the queen of snark and naughty comments.

They adored her.

What I learned about my clever, smart, fun mother-in-law is that she was the real deal. She never pretended to be anything but what she was. Family came first with her. She loved her family. She adored her grandchildren. She knew how to be happy.

All she wanted was to get back to her wonderful life.

Years ago she told me if she could have one impossible wish, it would be to go back for one day and be a kid again and play with her brothers and sisters.

What day? I asked her.

After a moment's thought, she said, Any day. Every one of them was wonderful.

Gummy was a genuinely happy woman. She had a beautiful life and she knew it. That damn disease stole her golden years, it stole her memories, it stole her ability to walk, talk, swallow, and at 3:06 p.m. on Sunday, November 19th it stole her ability to breathe.

But it did not steal her life. She had a beautiful life and she knew it.

Until the last year she hobbled through her days, deteriorating but determined to function. But Gummy had not just vascular dementia, she had Alzheimer's disease too.

No amount of moxie could best those diseases in the end. But damn did she try. Watching her fight was both heartbreaking and a privilege. 


Over the past thirty years she showed me by example how to be braver and how to live in the moment—but these past two years she showed me how to never give up, how to go down fighting, how to take whatever life throws at you and carry on.

My Gummy showed me her beautiful life. She even shared some of it with me. Now I bear witness and tell you absolutely nothing that happened to her changed the fact that she was a beautiful woman, and she had a beautiful life. 




Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Covenant Keeper Novels—Ancient Immortals, Angels, Demons, and a Whole Lot of Heart


Mini-ornament books from a friend! Adorable!


My first thought in the morning and last at night is the continuing saga of the Covenant Keepers. Three of the books are out, the fourth and fifth are going through writerly edits, but my muse is yammering on about book seven or eight already.


You can't keep a good muse down. Nor can you get any mercy.



All three of the published Covenant Keeper books are stand-alone novels. My favorite part of these books is the heart aspect. Covenant Keepers can communicate without words, heart-to-heart. It saves time and makes dishonesty near impossible. It can also cause some problems. 


KAHTAR

WARRIOR OF THE AGES 






Part-time immortal Kahtar has been around so long he thinks he's seen everything. Once Beth White drags the 21st Century into his life, he realizes just how wrong that is.

Enjoy the following excerpt.





LIAR, BETH THOUGHT. Despite his bipolar-on-crack behavior, the Zeus-like cop definitely liked her. Granted, he’d thought she was somebody else at first, whoever Clan Huron was. He’d realized his mistake quickly though. Then like a Greek god suffering from a head injury, he’d gone from bad cop to good cop to nutter cop and back to bad in the course of a few minutes. Still. He definitely liked her. 

Peeking in her rearview mirror, she watched him stalk back to the cruiser. Boldly adjusting the mirror to get a better look, she bit back a sigh. There was something about him that made her want to like him too, but who could like a whack like that? Starting her car, she kept an eye on the mirror, her hand on the gear when she saw it. A light she’d seen thousands of times in dreams, danced in a brief sparkling column near the back of the police car. She sucked in breath as it vanished. Something tingled through her. Not fear—a thrill. Always, since she’d been a child, she’d known those lights existed. The memory of what they were was elusive, like trying to catch a thought that raced away faster as you reached for it. 

The cop pivoted to look at her and their eyes met in the mirror. His were steely, hiding something. They held her gaze a brief second, but that was all Beth needed to see to understand the truth. The Police Chief hoped she hadn’t seen the light. That light meant something had happened, something serious, something he didn’t want her to know about. He wanted her to leave and instinctively she cooperated. Giving him half of what he wanted, she shoved the car into gear and pressed a toe of her favorite lemon colored stiletto pumps against the gas pedal, leaving a spray of gravel in her wake. That cop, however, would quite possibly see her again. She wasn’t going anywhere— Willowyth was right where she belonged. And if that was in his way, that was just too bad for him.


THE OLD GUARD’S second voice seared through Kahtar’s brain. “Honor Monroe critically injured.” Anger and frustration wrestled with disbelief as Kahtar sent a battle cry. Like a wave it moved silently from his mind, echoing towards the consciousness of nearby warriors. It consisted of only one word. Pray. That was where Honor’s only hope lay, in the healing prayers of his fellow warriors. Jumping into his squad car, Kahtar turned it in the opposite direction of the departing Orphan. 

Racing over miles of country road, frustration won as his leading emotion. The slow means of transportation the car provided was infuriating, although the speedometer edged into the red zone. Putting miles between the Orphan and Old Guard was mandatory. It would be nothing short of a miracle if Beth White hadn’t noticed the Old Guard shimmering his warning message. For her sake, he hoped she hadn’t. 

Scanning the abandoned roadway, and then into the empty sky, Kahtar braked hard. The cruiser’s tires shrieked in protest, leaving a rubber trail the back end spun into the wrong lane. Unpleasant burning smells filled the car as he backed recklessly into the woods, right over weedy shrubs and through bramble, hiding the vehicle out of sight from both road and sky. Turning the key and tossing the door open, he shouted, “Old Guard!” The shimmering column of light appeared again briefly, solidifying into a man that stood considerably taller and broader than Kahtar’s ample mass. His hand grabbed Kahtar’s upper arm, and before the door stopped swinging, both men vanished.




HEARTLESS

A SHIELDMAIDEN'S VOICE








If there's such a thing as a sympathetic assassin, it could be Carole Blank. 

The following is a sample from book two.



WALKING HOME ON Thanksgiving Day, a homeless man approached Carole, wearing what appeared to be his entire wardrobe and a red ski cap. He offered her a turkey sandwich. She gave him a bag of red grapes she’d just purchased, and sat with him while he ate both the grapes and the sandwich. “I’m an outsidie,” he told her cryptically. “I’m just an outsidie.” 
     “Me too,” she said. 

The man appeared to have taken up residence on a concrete porch with years of colorful old gum stuck to it. Carole settled into the abandoned entryway with him and leaned against a deteriorating old door. Peeling paint broke off where she touched, and she brushed red and green chips off her clothes. The man spoke in a side conversation to someone, though just the two of them rested in the doorway. Carole opened her paper sack and extracted a small container. She began to eat the vegetable and rice mixture with her fingers. Her companion felt his jacket pockets for a few moments and produced a mangled fork. “More civilized,” he told her. 

Carole hid a faint smile by sticking her nose in the food and sniffing in the savory scent. A whiff of red pepper shot up her nose, producing a violent sneeze. Sitting cramped on cold concrete, it rocked roughly through her body. She felt a faint popping sensation deep inside her, it didn’t hurt, but she knew her water had broken.

She watched as it leaked through her trousers, a bit trickled a path down her leg, dampening her sock. The reality of having a baby seemed as far away as the rest of the world, despite the inevitable evidence. Turning toward the homeless man who also seemed far away, she asked, “Do you hear voices?” 
     “Just yours,” he replied. “I’m not crazy. Hey, you’re having a baby.” 
     “Not until December,” she insisted. She’d done the math. 
     “It’s Thanksgiving.” 
     “I know,” Carole said. 
     “I think that means its November.” 
     “I know its November.” 

Her damp sock felt warm in her shoe. The man next to her watched the wet stain spreading down her leg, as he popped grapes into his mouth. “I think you’re having a baby in November,” he pointed out. “It’s a long walk to the hospital. You’d better get going.” 

Heaving herself to her feet Carole arched her back, rubbing a painful spot at the base of her spine. Fine, if it wanted to come a bit early, just fine. She wondered if Mark and Melissa would mind if the baby had already been born, and wished she’d called today. The homeless man patted his knee nervously, watching her. She told him, “I’m not sick. I’m just having a baby.” 
     “Don’t have it here!” he protested. 
     “I’m not. I’m having it in my apartment. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.” 

Picking up her bag, a bit more fluid gushed down her pant leg. How embarrassing, like wetting herself. She’d seen this in black dreams. Shoving the thought of black dreams out of her mind, she focused on the fact that having a baby was a completely natural act, even a couple weeks early. The voices agreed with that assessment. “Commonplace. Normal. Not unusual.” 

What did the voices know about normal? That thought made her uneasy. On the second flight of stairs, Carole paused, placing a hand on her belly, a whisper of fear ghosting through her. What if this baby heard the voices? What if it saw black dreams too? She shuddered, and more water spilled out of her, splashing on the concrete steps. 

She whispered a prayer, “Dear God, please don’t let my baby have this, please.” Ignoring the approval of the voices encouraging prayer, she worried. What would Mark and Melissa do if the baby they adopted heard voices? Would they give it to foster care? 

Carole pushed open the door of her apartment and unpacked her bag of groceries: milk, cheese, sunflower seeds, and perfect green grapes. She passed an hour cleaning the tiny rooms, ignoring the voices along with the drops of water dripping in her wake. The apartment was small, just three tiny rooms including the bathroom. 

Old and worn, the furnished apartment could never really reach much level of cleanliness, but it had come with such old furniture and kitchen supplies that almost all of it was useable. It didn’t have the modern synthetics and plastics that made the voices frantic and caused shivers to run up her spine. After a few days devoted to scraping old paint away, she’d only tossed out one plastic tablecloth and a pair of polyester sheets, replacing them with natural fabrics. 

Carole methodically emptied a dresser drawer, tossed clean towels in it, and put a stack of cloth diapers beside it. After considering for a time, she pulled the drawer free and sat it on her bed. Then she sat on the bed and waited. The pain wasn’t as bad as she’d seen in her black dreams. After reassuring her it was normal, the voices had nothing more to say about her baby or childbirth and never a word about Mark and Melissa. 

Closing her eyes, Carole allowed herself to do the forbidden, to revisit her time with Ted. The touch of his heart haunted her. Running her fingertips over her own chest she missed him so much it hurt. The pain from her heart eventually moved down to encompass her stomach, and then wrapped arms around her back and increased so that it took her breath away. She panted, trying to recoup between contractions, and tried not to think.



FOREVER

THE CONSTANTINE'S SECRET





The honeymoon is freaking over for Kahtar and Beth.

The following sample will show you why.



AS SHE WALKED down the porch steps, Beth went over the picky Covenant Keeper checklist. Nothing from this world in the Arc. Natural fabrics. No nail polish. No watch. Not even the wind-up one. No hairspray or perfume. All white clothing, including underwear, for a funeral. It might or might not be a problem that her skirt had a zipper and she’d worn a nude bra. Beth’s head felt foggy and she wanted to take a nap, not go to a funeral for someone she’d never met. 

Kahtar had said she couldn’t worm her way out of any funeral, because clans supported every member. “Pfft,” she scoffed to herself. “Unless your dad is a seeker and you’ve spent the past month barfing your way through every clan function.” Beth doubted any member of the clan would mind if she tossed her breakfast at home this morning rather than in the cave again. Holy smokes does sound amplify in that cave!

Trudging to the tesseract she patted her clothing to make sure she hadn’t tucked her cell phone into her bra strap or waistband. In addition to public vomiting, she’d also recently exposed the clan to ringtones. Forgetting the device in her pocket, the explicit version of Eminem’s No Love had sounded a five minute warning, completely ruining the fact that for once she’d been early. 

Her punishment had been to stand outside the cave and apologize to every single member as they left the Glory service. The Mother had suspended the sentence halfway through when Beth had fainted—something pregnancy had done to her four times now. It might have been the most embarrassing moment of her life, but today was young. 

Beth double checked the shallow pockets of her skirt before stepping into a wavering spot of darkness next to a bush. In a flash of veined light the tesseract transported her to the Arc. Avoiding direct eye contact with any of the Old Guard standing watch, Beth hurried through the windy doorway. The blast of air blew her skirt up, obscuring her vision and wedging her panties somewhere no cloth had gone before. She wondered if that’s why so few women left the Arc, and realized with the eyes of Old Guard on her she couldn’t fix it. 

Beth ran the entire path to the cave without knocking the offending fabric loose. Despite the cold November day, the exertion left her panting. The sound echoed as she descended the switchbacks into the limestone cavern. Several Covenant Keepers turned to look at her and quickly looked away. Instead of being embarrassed, Beth fought the urge to fix her undies right then and there. In the cavern thousands of the clan were assembled, holding candles and chanting a quiet prayer. 

Beth couldn’t see where they were getting the thick white candles. Maybe she had been supposed to bring one, or maybe there was a place in the cavern no one had mentioned before. The words to the prayer weren’t familiar either. Beth took an empty seat among a group of kids and remained silent. At the lowest point in the main cavern, the man who had passed on, Gamper Foid, lay on a stone slab in the flickering light, surrounded by his family and hundreds of Warriors of ilu. 

From Beth’s vantage point, Gamper looked every day of his age. Kahtar had said he’d died in his sleep at one hundred and fifty-seven years old. It seemed like a nice long life to Beth, but a woman who appeared to be his wife sobbed beside his body. The empty ache in her heart where Gamper belonged drifted over the crowd and Beth felt the shadow of it. Her heart ached in response, and tears filled her eyes. 

Someday I’ll leave Kahtar feeling like that and he’ll have to feel it forever. That thought made her heart really ache. The only comfort Kahtar would have when she died would have to come from his clans as he repeated through time, dying and being born again and again, but never again being with the only one who ever knew his secret. 

Beth suddenly wanted to be part of the clan bringing comfort to Gamper’s widow. It’s what clans did. She listened closely to the chant of the children around her, and at last was able to join in with the familiar chorus as they knelt. The sound of so many changing position echoed in the vast limestone cavern. Old Guard shimmered brightly, their inner light illuminating the cave, reflecting across stalactites and stalagmites. A particularly brilliant blast shimmered like a drapery of diamonds above Gamper’s body. The glittering lights in the cave felt like a song in Beth’s heart. 

Comforted and relaxed at last, she fearlessly shifted position and dislodged her wedgie, watching the lights change. They glittered red and blue like a disco ball, sparkling over Gamper’s family. It really didn’t seem to fit the somber ceremony. The children beside Beth fidgeted, and others began to look around. Beth avoided eye contact, certain the children had noticed her wedgie action. It shocked her they’d misbehave at a funeral; Covenant Keeper children seemed to know the rules as well as the adults. Over the last few months she had often been amazed at how easily the children fell into the routine of cave gatherings. 

Near the light show and Gamper’s body Beth at last spotted Kahtar, head and shoulders above the other warriors in his funeral white. Her heart skipped a beat. Kahtar was the reason she endured the rules and strangeness of Cultuelle Khristos. That man owned her heart, and for all his warrior chief bossiness and serious demeanor while with the clan, she knew inside he was kind, loving, and had the driest sense of humor she’d ever known. In the crowd of young warriors he stood apart somehow, a bit weathered, but looking capable enough to lift the marble table Gamper lay on. 

The pain of the widow’s grief assaulted her again, and Beth turned her eyes away from admiring her husband and closed them to focus on the hearts around her. She sensed the kids on either side poking at each other and whispering and wondered at their overreaction. It was as if they’d never seen a wedgie maneuver before. Maybe Cultuelle Khristos didn’t get them. Maybe their underwear was magic. Someone grabbed Beth’s arm and her eyes popped open, encountering a glaring young woman. Beth recognized her as a relative of Gamper’s who had been standing by his body moments before. 

The murmur of shocked voices around them grew. Beth immediately thought of the last time she’d gotten in trouble and patted her pockets again. Definitely no phone. The woman shook her arm and hissed, “Why did you do this? What did my grandfather do to deserve your disrespect?” She couldn’t believe this was happening because of one subtle tug, but Beth still had to answer direct questions. Having been born with the inability to lie was a nuisance, especially at moments when all she wanted was the ability to disappear. “I’m sorry! It was really uncomfortable. I didn’t think anyone would notice and I didn’t mean any disrespect to your grandfather!” 

Kahtar appeared, his bulk parting the assembling crowd. He took one look at Beth and hauled her to her feet. The colorful lights sparkling around the cavern vanished. Beth’s heart sank in sudden understanding as her husband muttered, “The soles of your shoes are colored!” They were worse than colored. They were prisms. It was the designer’s trademark. There was sympathy in Kahtar’s steely eyes as he bent toward her ear, ignoring the growing speculation about the disruption and the hissing comments about orphans. “It’d be best if you go and I’ll sort this out,” Kahtar whispered. “Old Guard? Or walk of shame?”

Beth kept her eyes on his, unable to bear looking at the condemnation of the clan around her. The Old Guard could take her arm and transport her to the cabin under the veil in a split second. She could hide her red face in private there. But the thought of the giant Old Guard touching her again, moving her like light, was more than she could bear. The Old Guard terrified Beth more than any walk of shame. Besides, this wouldn’t be her first walk of shame. After a lifetime of blurting the truth, they were familiar. “I’ll walk,” she whispered. Kahtar’s heart brushed hers with reassurance and admiration. That touch kept her from crying the whole way out.





      




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The Covenant Keeper story came to me during an engineering conference years ago. It arrived in the form of a migraine, Times New Roman font 14 point. Now that's the muse dropping a mega-hint. Get to work, slave! That's how she communicates with me. 

muse1
myo͞oz/
noun
  1. 1.
    (in Greek and Roman mythology) each of nine goddesses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who preside over the arts and sciences.
    synonyms:inspiration, creative influence, stimulus;
    formalafflatus
    "the poet's muse"
  2. 2.
    a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.
When I say muse, I'm talking about the second definition here, but she bosses me around like she's the daughter of Zeus just the same. I hope you enjoy the fruits of her labor as much as I do.