Friday, June 29, 2012

"Loyal" by Jason Varrone (Short Story)

Genre:  Epic Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  Renowned knight Sir Dellan is reeling after a brutal attack leaves his king mortally wounded. Dellan seeks answers, and his world is turned on its head once he discovers the truth. Forced to confront the attacker, the knight holds the fate of the kingdom in his hands. This short story by Jason Varrone tells the stirring tale of a knight's devotion as he faces the ultimate test of loyalty.


“It took some time, but I was able to drag King Marek back into his chamber,” Grynne continued. “I had no idea if his attacker was near. He kept trying to speak. The healer came and we placed the king on his bed. The healer did everything in his power, and removing the blade was no easy task. The pain must have been...” Grynne shuddered again, as if feeling the blade himself. “We bandaged him and gave him something to ease his discomfort. King Marek slipped into unconsciousness. I commend the healer's efforts, but he is no god. It is in their hands now. I fear they look elsewhere. The king will be dead before the night is through.”

Dellan listened to the steward’s words, haunted by the scene he described playing out in his mind. His heart beat faster, his adrenaline rising. He felt like he was about to enter a battle. He remembered that same feeling before many such battles, King Marek at his side.

“Was he able to say anything?” Dellan asked, desperate to know who could have done this to their king.

"He did.” The look on Steward Grynne’s face was one that Dellan had never before seen. It was a look of horror, wide-eyed and terrifying. “Two words. It took time to understand him. His voice was so strained. I...” He faltered.

“Steel yourself, Steward,” Dellan said, kneeling before the old man. “Tell me.”

“He said, ‘My son.’”

Buy this story on Amazon and stop by Jason's website.

Friday, June 22, 2012

"War Memorial" by Elisabeth Grace Foley (Short Story)

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  At the bottom of an old trinket-box lies a misshapen bit of lead—a bullet from the Civil War, an old family keepsake preserved, but mostly forgotten, by later generations. And behind it lies a story—the story of a young girl’s experiences in the days surrounding the fateful battle of Gettysburg, which force her to examine her own heart and show her the face of war in a way she could not have understood before.


Julia paused, listening, her hand outstretched to the top branches of the rosebushes by the split-rail fence. She gazed across the fields on the other side of the road, over to the gaps in the hills beyond. The sounds of unrest, of ponderous movement, of forces gathering were in the air. They were the sounds of a storm building and about to break, but they did not come from the soft lowering gray clouds that lined the sky above.

Julia slowly resumed her work, picking out the dead leaves and breaking off the withered heads of dead blooms, but she continued to cast glances toward the horizon at intervals, her eyes moving back and forth across the familiar spread of Pennsylvania farmland. She looked at last over the roses and saw nothing more to do, and she turned slowly and walked back across the farmyard toward the house, which stood silent and empty waiting for her.

There was little or no breeze. All near at hand was quiet—the very air seemed holding its breath; the slight whisper of the leaves was part and parcel of the stillness. None who waited that day in listening suspense yet knew the history of which they stood upon the brink; but they felt the import of whatever was moving toward them. A people who had lain securely north of the real conflict were about to enter for the first time into an experience they had perhaps never fully comprehended—about to encounter for the first time that hitherto faceless being known as ‘the enemy.’

Buy this story on Amazon.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Gnit-wit Gnipper and the Perilous Plague" by T.J. Lantz (Short Story)

Genre:  Young Adult Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  No matter how hard she tries life never seems to go quite right for Gnipper Tallhat, an eight-year-old Gnome determined to receive the recognition her intelligence deserves. This time, however, she's got it all figured out. Finally, her father will have to be proud of her accomplishments...provided he manages to live through them.


After eight years of life Gnipper Tallhat was noticing a disturbing pattern beginning to form. No matter where she went disaster seemed to follow her around like a lemming off a sharp cliff. These occurrences weren’t the simple kind of disasters that most eight year olds brought with them, like skinned knees, broken dishes or a stray ball flying through the bedroom window. No, when it came to personal catastrophe Gnipper was a child prodigy. It was to the point where most of the creatures around the island tried desperately to avoid contact with her, and those that couldn’t spent their time regretting that circumstance.

Gnipper could always figure out how these things happened, a hereditary benefit of being the daughter of one of the world’s truly great scientists, Professor Gnorbert Tallhat. The problem she struggled with was the why. Regardless of how much thought she put into it, Gnipper was never exactly sure why these things happened to her. Some people around the island assumed she was just born unlucky, while others claimed she tried too hard. Those were the nice people; usually the lucky few that had managed to avoid losing a roof or a beloved family pet1 to one of Gnipper’s experiments. The majority of people, however, held a much less polite viewpoint of the youngster. That opinion might have been summed up best by Gnipper’s first governess, a wrinkled old hag that smelled like a combination of mothballs and butterscotch. She quit after three hours, screaming that the little girl was crazier than a leprechaun that lost his rainbow. Gnipper wasn’t sure why her teacher was so upset. She was positive the old lady’s eyebrows would grow back eventually, after all that was what eyebrows tended to do.

Buy this story on Amazon and stop by T.J. Lantz's blog.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"Wool" by Hugh Howey (Novelette)

Genre:  Science Fiction or Post Apocalyptic 

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  A society that lives underground, contained, completely self-reliant, requires rules in order to survive. Strict rules. One of the most important is to never ask to be let outside. That sort of hope can get a person killed.

Dreaming about the outside took the life of the Holston's wife. And now, as silo sheriff, he's considering going out after her. He's about to break the very law he's been charged to uphold.

That's the thing about breaking the code and speaking of being let out: Your punishment is that you're given exactly what you asked for.


Chapter 1

The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do. While they thundered about frantically above, Holston took his time, each step methodical and ponderous, as he wound his way around and around the spiral staircase, old boots ringing out on metal treads. 

The treads, like his father’s boots, showed signs of wear. Paint clung to them in feeble chips, mostly in the corners and undersides, where they were safe. Traffic elsewhere on the staircase sent dust shivering off in small clouds. Holston could feel the vibrations in the railing, which was worn down to the gleaming metal. That always amazed him: how centuries of bare palms and shuffling feet could wear down solid steel. One molecule at a time, he supposed. Each life might wear away a single layer, even as the silo wore away that life.

Each step was slightly bowed from generations of traffic, the edge rounded down like a pouting lip. In the center, there was almost no trace of the small diamonds that once gave the treads their grip. Their absence could only be inferred by the pattern to either side, the small pyramidal bumps rising from the flat steel with their crisp edges and flecks of paint.

Holston lifted an old boot to an old step, pressed down, and did it again. He lost himself in what the untold years had done, the ablation of molecules and lives, layers and layers ground to fine dust. And he thought, not for the first time, that neither life nor staircase had been meant for such an existence. The tight confines of that long spiral, threading through the buried silo like a straw in a glass, had not been built for such abuse. Like much of their cylindrical home, it seemed to have been made for other purposes, for functions long since forgotten. What was now used as a thoroughfare for thousands of people, moving up and down in repetitious, daily cycles, seemed more apt in Holston’s view to be used only in emergencies and perhaps by dozens.

Another floor went by—a pie-shaped division of dormitories. As Holston ascended the last few levels, the last steps of his life, the sounds of childlike delight rained down even louder from above. This was the laughter of youth, of souls who had not yet come to grips with where they lived, who did not yet feel the press of the earth on all sides, who in their minds were not buried at all, but alive. Alive and unworn, dripping happy sounds down the stairwell, trills that were incongruous with Holston’s actions, his decision and determination to die.

As he neared the upper level, one young voice rang out above the others, and Holston remembered being a child in the silo—all the schooling and the games. Back then, the stuffy concrete cylinder had felt, with its floors and floors of apartments and workshops and hydroponic gardens and purification rooms with their tangles of pipes, like a vast universe, a wide expanse one could never fully explore, a labyrinth he and his friends could get lost in forever. 

But those days were more than thirty years distant. Holston’s childhood now felt like something two or three lifetimes ago, something someone else had enjoyed. Not him. He had an entire lifetime as sheriff weighing heavy, blocking off that past. And more recently, there was this third stage of his life—a secret life beyond childhood and being sheriff. It was the last layers of himself ground to dust, three years spent silently waiting for what would never come, each day longer than any month from his happier lifetimes.

At the top of the spiral stairway, Holston’s hand ran out of railing. The curvy bar of worn steel ended as the stairwell emptied into the widest rooms of the entire silo complex: the cafeteria and the adjoining lounge. The playful squeals were level with him now. Darting bright shapes zagged between scattered chairs, playing chase. A handful of adults tried to contain the chaos. Holston saw Donna picking up scattered chalk and crayon from the stained tiles. Her husband Clarke sat behind a table arranged with cups of juice and bowls of cornflour cookies. He waved at Holston from across the room. 

Holston didn’t think to wave back, didn’t have the energy or the desire. He looked past the adults and playing children to the blurry view beyond, projected on the cafeteria wall. It was the largest uninterrupted vista of their inhospitable world. It was a morning scene. Dawn’s dim light coated lifeless hills that had hardly changed since Holston was a boy. They sat, just as they always had, while he had gone from playing chase among the cafeteria tables to whatever empty thing he was now. And beyond the stately rolling crests of these hills, the top of a familiar and rotting skyline caught the morning rays in feeble glints. Ancient glass and steel stood distantly where people, it was suspected, had once lived aboveground.

A child, ejected from the group like a comet, bumped into Holston’s knees. He looked down and moved to touch the kid—Susan’s boy—but just like a comet, the child was gone again, pulled squealing back into the orbit of the others.

Holston thought suddenly of the lottery he and Allison had won the year of her death. He still had the ticket; he carried it everywhere. One of these kids—maybe he or she would be two by now and tottering after the older children—could’ve been theirs. They had dreamed, like all parents do, of the double fortune of twins. They had tried, of course. Night after glorious night of attempting to redeem that ticket, other parents wishing them luck, other lottery hopefuls silently praying for an empty year to pass. 

He and Allison had invited superstition into their lives, looking to anything for help. Tricks like hanging garlic over the bed that supposedly increased fertility, two dimes under the mattress for twins, a pink ribbon in Allison’s hair, smudges of blue dye under Holston’s eyes—all of it ridiculous and desperate and fun. The only thing crazier would have been to not try everything, to leave some silly séance or tale untested.

But it wasn’t to be. Before their year was even out, the lottery had passed to another couple. It hadn’t been for a lack of trying; it had been a lack of time. A sudden lack of wife.

Holston turned away from the games and the blurry view and walked toward his office, situated between the cafeteria and the silo’s airlock. As he covered that ground, his thoughts went to the struggle that once took place there, a struggle of ghosts he’d had to walk through every day for the last three years. And he knew—if he turned and hunted that expansive view on the wall—if he squinted past the ever worsening blur of cloudy camera lenses and airborne grime, if he followed that dark crease up the hill, that wrinkle that worked its way over the muddy dune toward the city beyond, he could pick out her quiet form. There, on that hill, his wife could be seen. She lay like a sleeping boulder, the air and toxins wearing away at her, her arms curled under her head. 


It was difficult to see, hard to make out clearly even back before the blurring had begun anew. And besides, there was little to trust in that sight. There was much, in fact, to doubt. So Holston simply chose not to look. He walked through that place of ghostly struggle where bad memories lay eternal, that scene of sudden madness, and entered his office. 

“Well, look who’s up early,” Marnes said, smiling. 

Holston’s deputy closed a metal drawer on the filing cabinet, a lifeless cry singing from its ancient joints. He picked up a steaming mug, then noted Holston’s solemn demeanor. “You feeling okay, boss?”

Holston nodded. He pointed to the rack of keys behind the desk. “Holding cell,” he said.

The deputy’s smile drooped into a confused frown. He set down the mug and turned to retrieve the key. While his back was turned, Holston rubbed the sharp, cool steel in his palm one last time, then placed the star flat on the desk. Marnes turned and held out the key. Holston took it.

“You need me to grab the mop?” 

Deputy Marnes jabbed a thumb back toward the cafeteria. Unless someone was in cuffs, they only went into the cell to clean it.

“No,” Holston said. He jerked his head toward the holding cell, beckoning his deputy to follow.
He turned—the chair behind the desk squeaked as Marnes rose to join him—and Holston completed his march. The key slid in with ease. There was a sharp clack from the well-built and well-maintained inner organs of the door. The barest squeak from the hinges, a determined step, a shove and a clank, and the ordeal was over.


Holston held the key between the bars. Marnes looked down at them, unsure, but his palm came up to accept.

“What’s going on, boss?”

“Get the mayor,” Holston said. He let out a sigh, that heavy breath he’d been holding for three years. 

“Tell her I want to go outside.”

Buy this story on Amazon.  Take a moment check out Hugh Howey's website.

Friday, June 1, 2012

"Memories" (Amber Light Series, Volume 1) by Omar P. Pena (Novella)

Genre:  Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  The time is now. The place is Japan and Mark is living the only life that he knows or can remember. He does not spent any more time away from his box like apartment than is needed. That hermit style life that he has chosen for himself is about to change. It all is about to change because of her. After who knows how long he has found love again or is it the same love. All he knows is that Masumi has the eyes that he yearns for. Masumi herself comes with a past that she herself does not even know. Their world is about to unravel to show what lies behind this plain natural world we think we know.


She had stayed awake all night sitting in a corner. She would not leave the room where it had happened for fear that it would be gone in the morning. For who ever it was that had done this was clearly after something. The doctor that had brought them together was suddenly gone and now the sudden attack.

The taking of her love. 

What did they need him for?

Why was she spared?

How was she to find them when she did not know who they were? These questions ran across her mind as the first rays of light started to creep into the room. The light had started to reveal a scene that was hard to bear. What she thought were shadows strewn across the floor from some unseen source were in fact spatters of blood. It was almost as if beast had fought for supremacy. As she the image of blood started to become a reality in her mind copper taste of it touched her senses.

Having spent enough time in a hospital she new it to be real blood and not a dream as she had hoped. Slowly she stood and new that she did not have much time before the street outside became crowded with people, one of them would surely call the police and there would be questions. The questions would not stop coming until she provided an answer, answers that she could not provide. This fact she knew clear as the light that was coming on stronger now. 

She started from the corner where she sat. Scanning the area she started picking up the scene and her imagination started filling in the gaps of what must have happened.

Someone was thrown against the far wall with force. Another must have been thrown over the desk nearest her. This was evident to the fact that the desk looked out-of-place and the chair behind the desk was shattered. A piece of the broken chair was missing. To her utter horror it lay close to the stairs covered in blood. There were drips of blood leading towards the door. Who ever was bleeding tried to leave only to be suddenly side swiped into some left over file cabinets breaking one.

Fear got the better of her and tears washed away the images. She had to scan the area for clues to what had happened or what was missing from the day before. It looked as if something was drug back down the stairs bleeding. Only now had she noticed her own footprints in some of the spattered blood on the stairs. There was also a missing desk from near where she had found the legal paper.

The puzzle had started to fall into place. They had stumbled into a robbery. They must have. Why else would someone want Mark and not her? They must have taken him for questioning and she new that time was not a luxury she had. The police would hold her for questioning all the while her love that had found her twice was now lost. She would not sit back and let the hands of fate have their way with him. This time she did not have the courtesy of a lost memory and in that found her resolve.

She quickly gathered every piece of paper she could find. Among the papers she found part of a torn cloth. Not knowing what it was from she decided that at the very least it could be used to bundle together her findings. As she wrapped the papers together she noticed a small glimmer out of the corner of her eye. 

She froze.

It seemed as if years had passed and she was stuck frozen like a statue waiting for that glimmer to attack. It never did. To her surprise she had just noticed that part of the wall was damaged from the fighting and a glimmer was coming through. Holding her package to her chest she walked towards the wall.

The light from the wall was abnormally strong. There must have been a secret room behind the wall with a strong light turned on because this was not sunlight coming in. This light was stronger. But how could there be a room if this was the wall adjacent the alleyway. Something was definitely not normal here. Still she could not stop herself from approaching the wall.

To her relief there was no hidden room but merely a small crawlspace. Her sense of reality had been challenged enough for a lifetime she thought. But still she found herself crawling through this hidden passage with her bundle of papers held tightly to her chest. Somehow she new this was where she had to go. The passage went on for a few hundred meters before opening up to a courtyard.

The house was small and did not bear anything fancy. In fact it looked out-of-place in the center of this fabulous courtyard. There should have been a mansion sitting in the center or some grand building in order to justify the sheer vastness of the space. Yet there was a quaint small house which did not look bigger than a three bedroom one story home. The walls of the courtyard were high and with no tall buildings around it became apparently clear that no one was meant to look inside. Why would someone want such privacy? She felt that she needed to be in this courtyard.

“I followed this passage from my doctor’s office.” she muttered her excuse.

She rehearsed it in her mind over and over to make sure that she was ready to answer it at the first question posed to her for being in this secluded place, this sanctuary from the harsh life of the city. 

“Take heed child you will not need such an excuse here.” a warm voice called out to her.

“What, I didn't say anything.” She responded.

'Had she been talking to herself?' the thought came as quickly as the realization that she had not been.
Looking around she found that she was alone in the courtyard. 

'Was the stress too much for her?' Her thoughts continued to stress her even more.

“Don't worry you had not been speaking dear child. I read your mind.” The voice said again. “Please do not be scared and come into the house we have much to talk about.”

Masumi found her need to find out was more than the need to be scared at what was happening. She held her package tight to her chest and started to walk towards the house. As she stepped closer the house which was simple before started to show unique markings along the wood banisters and columns, each step had what appeared to be Druidic markings but the hand railings carried markings which looked Egyptian.

On the walls were writings that she had never even seen before. Not even in doodles of the major fantasy movies had she ever seen these. They looked almost artistic by nature. As she approached the door she felt compelled to continue. There was no sense of foreboding or as we would call it a fight or flight feeling. She felt at peace. The door opened almost instantly when she had reached for the knocker. There in front of her stood a simple old woman. She could have been anyone's grandmother as she stood there holding a tray of lemon bars. Masumi stepped into the home which looked more spacious in the inside than it had from the outside.

The little old lady led her towards the sitting room. As this house was of classic design there was a sitting room where guest would sit for tea. Clearly this woman had spent time in the United Kingdom to learn some fineries of human civility. She was not clouded by suspicion as she walked quietly ahead of Masumi.

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