Friday, February 22, 2013

"Love As It Was Made to Be" by Clare K.R. Miller (Novella)

Genre:  Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  Lavender is a boy. He knows it, but no one else seems to--until he goes to the witch. She understands, and her magic can give him what he needs, but she demands payment: he must accompany her and her son on a dangerous journey, across the mountains to another country. He is willing to do anything for the body he's always longed for, but he does not know how the journey will change him.


The boy climbed the hill to the witch’s cave. It was night, the night of the dark moon, when, it was said, the witch would take any and all petitioners. He hoped it was true. No one but a witch could help him.

It had rained during the day, and the grass was damp; his skirt dragged in it and picked up water, so he wrapped it around his fist, uncomfortable. He could smell the faint, sweet scent of night flowers. They grew elsewhere in his village, but nowhere so thickly and abundantly as here, by the witch’s cave.

He found the entrance and stood there for a moment, gathering his courage. Then a voice issued from inside: “What is your name?” the witch demanded.

He stopped short, only at the mouth of the cave, and squinted into the blackness. There was just enough light that he could see the roiling smoke that filled it; how did she know he was here? Nevertheless, he cleared his throat and said, in the high-pitched voice that he hated, “Lavender.”

The witch laughed, sounding truly mirthful. “Strange name you have given yourself, boy. Well, come in, do not waste your time and mine standing about outside.”

Disbelieving, he stepped forward, into the smoke. “How did you—” He stopped suddenly, confused, when he came through the smoke and found that it was only a wall or curtain, and the inside of the cave was well-lit with lanterns, draped with curtains and well furnished. The witch sat on a wide wooden chair. She was nothing like what he had expected: so far from a crone, she was only a few years older than he; her hair was bound up about her head, and she was dressed neatly and modestly in a full skirt, a shift, and a tightly-laced bodice. Only her feet were scandalously bare. It was hard to believe that the cracked voice had come from this lovely young woman. The laugh, though, he thought fit her.

She smiled to see him, seeming to mock his confusion, or his surprise. “How did I know that you are a boy? Am I not a witch, and see what is in men’s hearts, and women’s too?” He only nodded, his throat too dry to fully respond.

“Your name,” she continued, “is not Lavender. The name I have seen for you is Journey.”

The name seemed to shake him from his head to his toes. He had not chosen a new name for himself; he had not had the courage. And the name was not one that was inherently masculine, like some he had toyed with—Valiant, Moon, Jaguar. But this name fit him so neatly and perfectly that he knew he could never answer to any other, from this moment on. He fell to his knees, still shaking. “I thank you, lady, for that name.”

“It is a gift, given freely,” said the witch, and her smile deepened. “But tell me what you would of me. I know you came here not only for a name.”

He lifted his head and clutched his skirt, wanting to wipe the sweat from his brow, but not wanting to appear disrespectful. “Lady, they say you are capable of all manner of transformations—animal to man, or man to animal, or even plant to animal…”

“My name is not ‘lady,’ but ‘Cicatrix,” she said. “They say many things of me, but this one is true.”

He swallowed. “Then please tell me, are you able to turn me truly from girl to boy?”

She stood from her chair and circled around him where he knelt on the floor, as though evaluating him. “I am,” she said at last. “But you will not be able to return to the life you had, and there is always a price.”

He nodded, staring at the spot of floor in front of him, where lay a rug worked in strange red-and-white patterns. He tried hard not to stare at her feet. “I have no need to return to my life. It is not a happy life. I will pay any price you wish—surely you knew that?”

She laughed again, and the sound was beautiful. “I knew, yes, that your need was great. But it is not for me to choose for you whether you will pay my price. Are you ready to hear it?”

“Of course.”

“You must escort me to Atash.”

Purchase links are on the author's website.

Friday, February 15, 2013

"Gothic Warrior and the Dark Man" by Billy Wong (Novlette)

Genre:  Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  Pure cathartic fantasy action featuring one butt-kicking heroine.

Retired boxer Lincoln never imagined he would fight a girl, let alone be pushed to his limits by one. After meeting goth metal singer and ultimate bar brawler Freya in the drunken battle of a lifetime, he gets a surprise invitation to join her crew. He and the band develop a strong friendship as he shares his sports and life knowledge with them and they help him recapture his youth. But when evil seeks to claim a band member's soul along with her gift of foresight, the modern day warriors must confront the devil's own scholar... the Dark Man.


Lincoln sipped the ice water mixed with the last of his double of Kentucky whiskey, his sullen gaze wandering over the shelves of liquor behind the bar as he pondered whether to cut his losses. His friend Jase had recommended this joint as a place to find dates, but Lincoln should've bothered asking if there would be a mature crowd. These kids weren't interesting to him. All they wanted to do was dance and laugh and not hold a real conversation. Maybe he should stop destroying his liver and go.

He vaguely heard movement to his right and glanced over. A curvaceous girl dressed in "goth" style sat down a few feet from him. She was white, but he had no prejudice about color. Her round pretty face might have appealed to him on a better day, but tonight he dismissed her. She wasn't anything special. She'd probably enjoy chattering with some shallow teenage boy than a grown ass man like himself.

I'm a drunk asshole, he thought as he turned back to his inspection of the liquor shelves. I shouldn't judge her. Who says I'm really better than her or anyone here? I'm thinking like a fucking dick. I should go home and go the fuck to bed.

But goddamn it I need another drink.

"Hey bartender," he slurred, shuffling to the right towards the chubby old fellow, "gimme another double."

"Aren't you here alone? I wouldn't advise having another drink if you have to drive home."

"I don't fucking care, I want a double!"

The bartender looked down. "Sorry, son, but the law's the law. Can't afford another lawsuit."

"Fine!" Lincoln spun away from him angrily. "Fucking pu-" His arm hit something hard and small, which moved, and he hear the ding and splash of glass and liquid hitting the hardwood floor.

"You spilled my martini you asshole!" a female voice said.

Lincoln turned to face the curvaceous goth girl and fumbled in his pocket. "Sorry man." He fished out a bill and offered it to her. "Here's five dollars."

She scowled. "That's a single."

He fished out another bill, a ten. "Fine. Here's fifteen dollars."

"I don't want your money you moron."

Silence filled the bar; it even seemed like someone had turned off the music. "Yeah what do you want then?"

The girl seemed to consider, then smirked. "I want you... to lick my drink off the floor, like a dog."

"Aw no you don't bitch!"

She chuckled. "I know you have pride. Most men do. But I'm warning you, you better do what I say or else..."

"Or else what bitch?" He leaned forward, putting them eye to eye. "You gonna call the cops, or tell your pussy friends to try and take me out?"

The girl seemed bemused. "Are you sure you won't do as you're told?"

"No bitch." He glanced around to see how many of the boys looked ready for a fight. A few bigger kids had edged closer to him, but he wasn't intimidated. "Bring it."

"I would, but you're looking the wrong way." Lincoln turned back to the girl, and she decked him. The punch lifted him off his feet and spun him to the ground, knocking over a stool in the process. He tasted the salty tang of blood, and an immense pain in his mouth told him she had broken a fucking tooth.

He grabbed the leg of another stool to help him lurch to his feet and stomped towards the stupid bitch. Normally he wouldn't hurt a woman, but this slut had broke his tooth and he was going to teach her the important lesson not to pick a fight with a man.

Before he could reach her, several thick hands grabbed him. The big boys he'd spotted before threw him down, punched, kicked, and stomped him. Cheap ass little shits, trying to look tough but couldn't fight one on one...

"Stop!" the girl cried. "What the hell are you guys doing?" She motioned with her arms for everyone to clear some space. "He's mine."

His attackers moved back, and Lincoln staggered up. "Really? You're brave, but dumb."

"No..." She raised her fists, clad in black fingerless gloves. "I am a Gothic warrior," she said dramatically, "and these are my battle gloves."

He rolled his eyes, then spat out some blood. "Well, since your friends just beat the crap out of me, maybe you should give me some free shots to even it out."

Grinning, she stuck out her chin. "Sure."

Though a voice in the back of his alcohol heavy head warned him not to do it, Lincoln laid into her with a huge right hook. She didn't fall, so he plowed her with a left hook. When that didn't drop her, he nailed her with another right.

"Enough," she said, and gave him a hook back. The room erupted in cheers. "Is all you throw hooks?" She stung him with a straight punch, then knocked him against the bar with a high kick. Dazed, he shook his head. "Not impressed!"

As she approached, he kicked her in the stomach. "I can do more than hook." He tried to follow up with a jumping elbow, but she blocked it.

"Maybe so," she said, holding his arm at bay like he didn't have over sixty pounds on her, "but I will defeat you, dark man."

A fire lit inside Lincoln's heart and filled him with the strength of rage. "What the fuck you racist bitch?!" he roared with a fury that made her eyes go wide. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but before she could he blasted her in the nose with a punch that sent her back. He followed with a thundering overhand right, then a left uppercut. Her legs buckled, but he didn't let her fall all the way down. As she toppled forward he caught her neck in an underarm choke and cranked on it, dangling her in his hold.

She recovered and clasped her arms around his waist, lifted him into the air and drove the small of his back into the edge of the bar. Lincoln yelled in pain, then managed an "Oh hell no," while she spun him around and hurled him onto a table. One of the table's legs snapped, and he slid awkwardly to the ground.

"Somebody better pay for that!" the barkeep said.

"Sure, whatever," the girl replied. "Here's a hundred dollars."

Although his back was screaming as if impaled with lances of fire, Lincoln forced himself to scramble to his feet. As the girl tried to close her purse, he grabbed her by the hair, pulled her head down, and kneed her repeatedly in the jaw. She collapsed to her back, tried groggily to raise her head. Lincoln dove after her and landed a falling, crushing elbow to her face. He stood, leaving her spread eagled beneath him. A hush fell over the bar.

He should have stopped there, he really should. But her words of a "dark man" fueled his venom. He leapt into the air and delivered another higher, more devastating elbow.

Buy this story on Amazon.

Friday, February 8, 2013

"The Last Single Girl" by Caitie Quinn (Novella)

Genre:  Contemporary Romance

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  That's all Sarah has to find a New Year's Eve date or earn the honor of being the last single girl in her inner circle. Actually, in all her circles. So with four weeks to find Mr. Right and a frienemy already counting her out, Sarah joins hoping that - just like the perfect purse - the internet can help her find the perfect man. 

The problem is, love isn't always where you think you'll find it and Mr. Right may not be the one with the shiniest profile.



DATING TRUTH #1: Just when you’ve comfortably established a group of single girlfriends, disaster strikes.

“Jonathan is everything I ever wanted in a guy.” Angie spun the cocktail stirrer around her martini. “I can’t believe my brother never brought him home before. I mean, they’ve been best friends since college.”

She said it as if college was decades ago instead of only a couple years. I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe knowing his sister would steal his best friend was why he’d never brought Jonathan home. He’d been hiding the poor guy. Caving meant he’d probably lost him forever.

“Wow.” Claire grinned. It made me nervous.

It wasn’t that she didn’t like Angie. But Claire’s sense of humor was cutting, even if it was right on. She had the wardrobe of Carrie Bradshaw and the wit of Dorothy Parker. Her commentary always felt like it came out of nowhere. Like a summer cold. One day you’re at the beach, then—Bam!—you're sick in bed. She kind of scared me.

“Going home must be the way to find a guy,” Claire continued before a drama-pause. “I got back together with Marcus.”

“Really?” Becca pushed her drink out of her way. “How did that happen?”

Not surprisingly, I was lost. “Who’s Marcus?”

Claire waved down the waitress and pointed to her half-full drink, not bothering to look my way. “I always forget you weren’t around for that.”

The truth was, I wasn’t around for a lot of things with these ladies.

Last fall I’d had a lovely group of girlfriends. Just like any group, you had an inner circle of friends and loosely touching outer circles. Like a Venn diagram of relationships. A comfy little life with plenty of friends to go around.

Until the first engagements…then weddings… then houses in the suburbs happened. Next thing you know, your inner circle is married and there you are. Left with a mish-mash of looser, less cohesive circles. Still a nice little group though. Life was good.

Until Thanksgiving week.

“Marcus and I grew up together, but didn’t start dating until senior year of college. When we graduated, he moved back to run the family’s construction company and I moved here to go into advertising. Can you see me living in the Great American Farmland?”

No. I really couldn’t. Claire refused to let anyone without local celebrity status touch her hair or skin. Just staying groomed would mean monthly four-hour drives.

“But when I saw him at the football game Thursday, it was like we’d never been apart and… Well, let’s just say everything is back on track.”

She sounded so happy—so not Claire—I didn’t have the heart to ask how it was going to work out this time around.

“I can’t believe you guys hooked up over the weekend, because”—Becca drew the word out and I knew what was coming—“I met the greatest guy on the plane. He’s a lawyer in New York. We sat next to each other. I’ve never been so happy to be stuck on the tarmac for three hours. He changed his flight so we did part of our return together too. And,”—Becca sucked in an excited breath before finishing in a rush—“he’s coming here for New Year’s.”

I sat back listening to them gush about their guys—new and recycled—and their trips and the New Year and how great the holiday was going to be.

“You know what we should do? If they’re all coming here, we should change our reservation for New Year’s.”

Wait. What? No.

“We’ll just add them to our table.”

“But I thought it was sold out.” I tried to keep the desperation out of my voice. We’d planned this months ago. The single girls having a fun night out. No couples making us feel all single-loserish on the second biggest date night of the year.

“I’ll call my ticket guy right now. I’m sure he can hook us up.” Claire was on her phone before I could say girls’ night. “Hi, handsome. It’s Claire. I’m looking for a favor.” She laughed her that’s-not-funny-but-I-need-something-from-you laugh before flashing our table a grin. “Oh, you’re too sweet… I know, right? I need a little help with our table for the Murder on the Rocks party… I know, right? I’m going to look fabulous in my flapper dress. The whole roaring twenties murder mystery is genius.”

Angie and Becca both pushed their drinks aside to lean in, listening over the rumble of the growing bar crowd.

“Well, we’d like to get a few more people seated with us. Is there anyway we could shuffle them in? … Uh-huh… Yup… Absolutely. I can make sure you get on the list for that opening… Of course. Well, we need three more.”

“Wait.” Angie waved her hand in front of Clair. “What about Sarah?”

Everyone turned my way and I was tempted to tell them I was engaged and getting married on New Year’s Eve if they and their newly found plus-ones were available.

“Oh. Sarah, did you meet someone too?” Since the beginning of time—otherwise known as Julie’s wedding four years ago—Claire disliked me on sight. Her competitive nature seemed to triple around me. Only I didn’t really know what we were competing over, so I just tried to stay out of her way.
I thought about lying, but knew faking a boyfriend would lead to all kinds of social pitfalls I couldn’t navigate. Plus, I’d seen The Wedding Date. That was so a path I didn’t want to walk down.

“No. Not really.” I dragged the really out hoping they’d read something into it I didn’t mean—like maybe there was a guy I’d been holding out on them about. An amazingly hot guy who owned a small, undisclosed island off the coast of a certain wealthy country. Obviously I couldn’t talk about him for security reasons.

“Say four,” Angie whispered. “I’m sure Sarah won’t have a problem getting a date.”

Claire cocked an eyebrow at me as if she not only knew how doubtful it was, but she expected me to back her up.

Oh, no, Claire. Don’t ask for a fourth seat. We all know no one would ever want to go out with me, let alone give up one of the best party nights of the year to hang out with a nerdy museum curator.


Instead, I just smiled.

And thought nasty thoughts.

Claire tilted her head as if she could read my mind and smiled in a way that clearly said, Oh. You poor thing.

“Why don’t you make it four? That’s a full table, right?” Claire grinned and nodded. “Just put it on my credit card. We’ll take care of splitting it on our end.”

Great. Way to kick yourself in the rear, Sarah. Exactly what makes the holidays shiny. Paying for an empty chair.

Buy this story on Amazon and check out Catie's site!

Friday, February 1, 2013

"Shada" by Craig Hansen (Novella)

Genre:  Young Adult, Paranormal, Suspense

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  If you could speak to the dead, anyone at all, who would it be?

When Jeni asked this question, Shada Emery figured it was a joke. So both she and Willow joined in the fun, naming their favorite dead celebrities.

And then there was Ember Cole.

Ember wants one more talk with her Grandpa Normie, whose death a year ago began a year of tragedy. So when Jeni suggests a camping trip into the dense woods of northwestern Wisconsin to hold a seance, Shada and Willow put off their misgivings and agree for the sake of their friend.

Ember hopes to find the answers she seeks among the dead. But sometimes the dead have their own agenda.


“If you could talk to a dead person, anyone at all, who would it be?”

Jeni Taylor let her question hang in the air, her expression hard to read. She wore the strangest smile I’d ever seen and even though she was busy treading the slow-moving waters of the Elk Ridge River, her eyes sparkling in the bright summer sun, it seemed to me nothing about her question was light or casual.

The four of us were all together that day: Jeni, Ember, Willow, and me. We enjoyed swimming in the Elk Ridge because none of us could afford a membership at the Y, and the community pool was always overflowing with younger kids obsessed with splashing. Besides, the river had a bridge running over it that provided an excellent diving spot about thirty feet above the surface of the water. The Elk Ridge ran deep in the middle, shallow to about five feet out. None of us had ever touched the river bottom in the middle, and not for lack of trying.

Two of us stood at the edges of the shallow area, one on either side, while the other two would take turns diving into the deep. As we did this, we would swim to one shore or the other to take over spotting duties while the spotters took their turn to dive.

“Shada, watch me!” Willow, the youngest of us, shouted. I looked up as she performed a cannonball from the bridge into the deep water. Her blonde hair trailed behind her as she dived, and when she came up, it had turned dark. She swam over to Jeni, wiping the river water from her eyes and blowing water out of her nose.

“That’s easy,” Willow told Jeni. “I’d want to talk to William Kirby.” As Willow turned around, I could tell she enjoyed the idea.

“Who’s that?” Jeni asked.

“I think he’s the guy who created the Fantastic Four with Stan Lee,” Ember shouted from the bridge.

“That’s Jack Kirby, Embie,” I said.

My brother Robbie was big into comic books, especially classic ones from thirty years before he was even born. His closet was filled with more white boxes of the things than it was with clothes. Such a nerd. I liked superhero movies with hunky male actors. All four of us did. But the comic books they’d come from? That was my brother’s obsession, not mine, but even I knew who Jack Kirby was. Robbie had left for college two months early and I already missed him.

Willow giggled at Ember. “I said William Kirby, not Jack.”

“So who’s that?” Jeni asked as she began climbing up the steep river bank, a familiar path through the weeds that lined the way, tramped down by frequent use, mostly from the four of us. She reached the top and walked out on the bridge toward Ember.

“Only the father of entomology,” Willow said, rolling her eyes in astonishment, as though all of us should have learned this long ago. “He lived in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and coleopterology was one of his specialties. Just like me.”

“Does anyone know what Willow’s talking about?” Ember said.

“It’s all Greek to me,” Jeni said, climbing over the railing to stand next to Ember.

“Actually, it’s Latin.” Willow could get annoying after a while with her tendency to correct others. We were probably her only close friends. “Entomology is the study of insects in general. Coleopterology is the study of beetles in particular.”

“God, I should have known,” Jeni moaned. “Willow and her beetles.”

“I think it’s nice Willow knows things,” Ember said. She seemed to be stalling, keeping the conversation going instead of the diving rotation moving.

“Yeah,” I yelled up at Ember, “you think it’s especially cool when you’re in science class together and she sits next to you. Your test scores improve dramatically.”

Jeni snorted in amusement and Ember saluted me with one finger extended. Willow, the only one to take the comment seriously, said, “She’s a grade ahead of me! We’ve never been in the same science class.”

“It’s called a joke, Willow,” I told her.

She pondered for a moment, and then, speaking in a deep monotone voice like a Star Trek Vulcan, she replied, “I find your humor ... illogical.”

We all burst out laughing, and Jeni took Ember’s hand. “Let’s get this line moving,” she said.

“Just a second,” Ember replied, but even as far away as I was, I recognized the mischief in Jeni’s eyes.

“No. Now,” Jeni said. Pulling Ember with her, holding hands, Jeni stepped out to the edge of a wooden beam and, reluctantly, Ember did, too. They swung their arms together in unison, in a silent three count. Then they both leaped forward and straightened their bodies out, pointing their feet down at the water so they led with their toes, and pierced the water like twin needles, the pair of them kicking up a splash big enough that some of it reached me near the north bank. They’d been standing closer to the north bank than the south, so Willow missed out on the splatter.

They broke the surface almost simultaneously. Jeni was smiling again, and Ember came up coughing, spitting out river water.

“You two are crazy!” I yelled at them. They were already ten yards downstream and didn’t seem interested in swimming back to the river banks. Willow and I knew that meant they wanted to drift down river on their backs for a while, so we left our positions and swam east toward them to catch up. Since they were just going with the flow of the slow stream, it didn’t take long. Then we were all floating on our backs, letting the river carry us along, staring up at the cloudless blue Wisconsin summer sky.

Once we were all together, Jeni spoke up again. “Okay, so Willow wants to talk with creepy bug dude.”

“William Kirby,” the youngest girl corrected.

“Fine, whatever,” Jeni said. “What about the rest of you? Shada?”

I was silent for a moment, pondering my options. I must have taken too long, because Jeni called my name again.

“I’m thinking!” I protested.

“Well, think faster,” Jeni sniped, and then laughed.

“Probably some cool musician type guy,” I said. “Mick Jagger, maybe?”

“Pick someone dead,” Jeni said.

“Mick Jagger’s dead, isn’t he?”

The others girls laughed and Ember replied, “Mick Jagger is definitely not dead. Unless it’s something you read on the Web before coming here today.”

“How’s Mick Jagger still alive?” I asked. “He’s gotta be, like, older than my grandma, and she died two years ago.”

“So, your grandma’s dead,” Jeni said. “Why not talk to her instead?”

“I didn’t like talking to her when she was alive,” I said. “She was always grouchy and smelled like stale prunes.”

“That’s not nice,” Ember said.

“It’s the truth,” I replied. I noticed I was veering close to shore and kicked a few times, using my arms like oars to steer myself back closer to the center of the river. “Anyway, I don’t want to talk to her. I’d rather talk to someone famous.”

“What about Michael Jackson?” Willow offered. “He’s dead.”

“Michael Jackson was gross,” I replied. “My dad loves Johnny Cash music. So maybe him.”

“That’ll work,” Jeni agreed. “So we’ve got Willow down for that bug guy, Kirby, and Shada wants to talk to dead singers. What about you, Embie?”

“Who do you want to talk to?” Ember replied. “It’s your question.”

“I’ll tell you soon enough,” Jeni said. “I asked you first.”

“Then I pass.”

“You can’t pass.”

“I can if I want to.” Ember’s voice sounded firm, resolute. “You go.”

“God, okay!” Jeni huffed in frustration. “I know who I’d choose anyway. Sacagawea.”

“The girl who guided Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean?” I asked.

“That’s the one,” Jeni said. “She was only like seventeen and pregnant when she did that, and she died when she was, like, only twenty-four or twenty-five.”

“Was she Lakota, like you?” Willow asked.

“No,” Jeni said. “She was Lemhi Shoshone, but that doesn’t matter. She’s just someone I admire. So now we know who everyone would like to talk to except you, Embie. Time’s up.”

Ember stopped floating then and began treading water. “Hey, I can barely see the bridge. We’ve drifted a long way downstream. We should probably start swimming back.”

“Yeah, I’m hungry anyway,” Willow said, “and our lunches are back there under the bridge.”

“Fine,” Jeni conceded. “But you’re not off the hook, Ember. I still want your answer.”

We all swam hard against the mild current, doing front strokes, and for a few minutes we couldn’t talk. But even though she hadn’t said anything out loud, all of us knew Ember well enough to know who she’d want to talk to if she could.

He died one year ago.

Buy this story on Amazon and check out the site!