Thanks, Maple Valley!

We met lots of readers and a few writer’s at the community festival in Maple Valley again this year. Thanks to those of you who came by, and if you missed us, be sure to catch FVP and tons of other amazing Indie Authors at Capital Indie BookCon at Evergreen State College’s Longhouse on July 16th.  This is a DON’T MISS! for avid readers and those who love to see local authors’ new works. See you there!

Capital Indie Book Con flyer

Halo of the Heavens

breathing-space-6-18-13He was startled to see the sun had fallen even lower toward the plain.  It was extraordinary. The sky was changing too—no longer only blue.  A wide band carried the whole spectrum of colors, and the red end began to overtake the blue.  He was spellbound watching it and was suddenly aware the light had nearly faded away.  A deep terror gripped him. The sun was dying.  Perhaps this was the cause of the seamless darkness that he could feel, as much as remember, from before—when he was Under.  He was filled with dread.  He had an urge to bow his head and wail but could not break his gaze from the sun’s demise.

As he absorbed the end of light in helpless resignation, a pinpoint of white light appeared in the darkest part of the sky.  Soon there was another—and another.  There were holes in the darkness.  Or, no, these seemed to be on the sky—or in it, like the sun.  He witnessed the stars as a new creation.  Wonder replaced his fear.  This was not the darkness he once had known.

He rose to his feet and began to turn about, whirling under the beautiful heavens.  Becoming dizzy and falling to the ground, he rolled to his back.  He lay there full of excitement, grinning in pure joy.  Even the memory of Majeska did not interrupt his enchantment.

After a time he sat up again and, filled with new strength, looked toward the mountains.  Their shadowy figures were outlined against the mass of stars.  He marveled at their grandeur as his eye followed the horizon away from the place where the sun had disappeared into the land.  He noticed a strong glow of light near the earth opposite the sun’s resting place.  It was white, like the starlight, but wide and misty. He watched as the halo got wider and brighter.  And then, like a shot through him, an arch of intensely bright light broke over the edge of the plain.  He stood dumbstruck as it grew and grew.  Then his breath caught as the vibrant orb tore free of the horizon and floated—free among the stars.

by Sheri J. Kennedy a.k.a. Kennedy J. Quinn   Unpublished excerpt from draft of UNDERNEATH, book one of SECRET ORDER OF THE OVERWORLD  Published with Permission  Image credit: Sheri J.Kennedy

Note from the Author: After long agonizing, I cut this favorite excerpt from my first epic fantasy novel manuscript, UNDERNEATH, because it didn’t move the story forward. While writing for NaNoWriMo today several of us were discussing how tough it can be to cut scenes you love during edit. I still think of the images in this vignette often, and I’m pleased to have a chance to share it as a flash fiction piece. -SJK

The Exile Returns

Casimund is the exiled elf high-prince of the Golden City, sent away for treason and love. To return he must do away with the one who exiled him.

 

“The only way out is the way you came in.”

Casimund, elf high-prince of the Golden City and exile these three years from family and throne, sharpened his knifeblade. The edge sparked in the flame of the marsin-bowl lamp, light glinting on the glassy cave-walls. The faint crash of distant waves were an echo of his trial.

“Lord Casimund, you are guilty of treason for your union with humankind. Your doom is exile in the Far Islands.” The judge snapped the black stick of doom into Casimund’s hand. The sentence was final, his own anger fixed. Casimund had snapped that doomstick himself, sending foes to death or exile. No doomstick would mete the judge; Casimund was cold with fury.

The two pieces were behind him now, in the store-spot. Mercy on Gladre was slow starvation; judgment was death by unquenched hope.

He drew a heliogram with the broken doomstick, lit the tallow candle, and chanted.burning-candle-clip-art

Abromax appeared as green lines in the darkness. “My lord Casimund. What has summoned me?”

“As ever, the maiden Allesand, who beckons me in dreams to home and child. Tell me, in your night wanderings, have you seen the Council’s eyes? Will they allow my return?”

“My vision is not to the future. That is hidden from all save the Great One. We content ourselves with power over sky and water only.”

“Was I right to woo and wed?”

“Acts completed judge and cannot be broken. But the heart rules with power will itself cannot break.” The mage faded.

Casimund erased the heliogram, snuffed the candle, and took up his rough bow. He would hunt today again for the cold season ahead.

Fish and fowl were in abundance, and island freshwater streams eased thirst. But none would see or praise his deeds or gain his wrath. Another notch the morrow in exile, thinking of Allesand and their half-breed manchild and elven-son, and of the judge who sundered them.

Unbidden Abromax appeared. “My lord Casimund, news. A sea-boat from the Golden City drifts in the swampy marge. There is naught but sand and shells within; mayhap it means your returning. We must leave at once. Carry knife and candle and doomstick. Follow, my lord, to the marges.”

The day’s journey through thicket, waste, and forest brought him to gray marge-land. The light of Twen, moon of Gladre, opened the path before him.

“We are close now. Let patience guide you.”

In the distance lay a white boat on the sand.

Abromax spoke. “Ahead is danger far beyond the trap of mud and slash of thorns. Hold your knife close and your nerves closer. One final gift and way from exile: a termagant stone. Near your heart it will guide your unerring way home. Lose it and in the Far Islands dwell until doom is done.”

The stone was warm. A bird on wing in a dark sky; flecks of gold were stars and a white stone was the moon Twen.

The boat held shells and sand, but unsaid by Abromax was a bundle of linen and rope.

He took loosened the bonds, then opened the linen to reveal a body curled in slumber.

He looked in. His father’s sleeping face caught the blue light of Twen.

The last sight of his father came upon him: the last words, exile; the last act, the doomstick’s thunder.

His own knife warmed his hand, the moonlight glimmering the edge.

“Where am I?”

Casimund drew back. “In loneliness. What brought you here, stranger?”

“I know not. I fell asleep by wife and hearth. Now I find myself in the night. What are you, fellow?”

“I am no one.”

“Your voice–it is familiar. Do I–did I–know you?”

“No. I am an exile.”

“Your voice is of someone lost to me. He was no one, a betrayer. None mourn his passing.”

The waves washed the silence of the rocky beach.

“His end?”

The familiar roar of his father’s voice rose. “The doomstick for his betrayal!”

“You are with me, stranger, now in exile until you die of despair. Your doom without doomstick.”

There was silence, then a sob. “Kill me now. I cannot bear to be apart from all who love me. I have lost everything, even one I cannot name.”

The termagant stone burned against his heart. His father lay helpless before him.

The knife came down in a quick slash.

“You are free of all bonds. Free of despair and danger. Return in peace to your family.”

He took his father’s hand, opened it, and placed the termagant stone in the palm. “Go now, stranger. The stone will guide you.”

His father’s head rose up. The light of Twen lit his doomed son.

“Casimund!”

Casimund pushed the boat into the sea and stood in the waves to watch him go into the night and darkness.

He awoke from his slumber on the beach. The broken doomstick was in his hand.

“My lord Casimund, fair morning to you.”

“Fair travels to you, Abromax. He who pronounced my doom has called my name. What madness is this? Is my exile over?”

“No. Your exile lies within you, high elf and wanderer. Your doom and end are your own choosing.”

“How?”

“Doomsticks broken can be restored. A judge may pardon. A son can forgive. You must return as son and high prince and father. Thrust the doomstick into the candle.”

Abromax began to chant:

Say the words of doom’s unraveling,

Fortune’s lost and home’s returning,

King and elf and child restoring

Father, son, and kingdom gathering.

 

Fog and sand swirled around. Choked by dust, he cried out and fell as darkness overcame him.

The fair Allesand greeted him. “Welcome, husband and high prince!”

He shook his head to clear the fog. “Allesand!”

Laughter of a young boy stopped him. In the doorway Nurse held the hand of their half-breed heir.

Over the doorway were the words in elvish script: “The only way out is the way you came in.”

by Stephen J. Matlock, Featured Author  Published with permission

This is a flash fiction short story written for the NYCMidnight contest. We get a prompt and must write 1000 words in 48 hours, and we must fit the story to the genre, location, and necessary prop. For this story, the genre was fantasy, the location was a deserted island, and the prop was a candle. -SJM

Road Home

Caroline walked through the heat in the last embers of sunset, down the freeway off-ramp hoping against Hope that a cop wouldn’t catch her now that she was almost out of the illegal hitch-hiking zone.  The hot wind stirred dust onto her back as she headed into Truck Town, stuck for another night.

Caroline washed her hands and dabbed the sweat from her face.  The image in the mirror looked morose.  She was worn from nursing and grieving her aunt’s cancer.  Things were never going to get better there.  It wasn’t her problem.  She had to go.  Despair hung in the shadows surrounded by her long dark hair—full of dirt and tired dreams.  She thought going to Vegas would be exciting.  Maybe if she had some money things would be different.  She considered what she might have to sell.

Maybe she could get a ride if she offered one of the truckers some companionship.  It didn’t have to lead to anything extreme.  She could just smile and laugh and flatter him.   She tried a fetching smile and gave a flirtatious giggle to the mirror.  Okay, just a regular smirk would do.

Ben watched for the girl as she came out of the restroom, and he was pleased with the transformation.  Seems she was looking for more than a quick pit stop.

“Mind if I sit?” she tried the guy on the end stool.

“I’m Ben.  And you’re very welcome.  I always welcome the company of a gal as pretty as you.”

She giggled her ridiculous chortle and didn’t even notice.  He warmed to it like the sound of a pouring cup of coffee. He gave out an obvious leer.

She was flustered by his reaction and tried to diffuse the situation without losing a potential ride.“I might be willing to keep you company for awhile if you’re going my way. I’m gonna get a job in Vegas, and I’m a good friend to talk to.”

Desperation, he surmised.  He would take her—real slow.  “I like some good conversation.”  Ben gave her a crooked grin and signaled the waitress to bring another coffee and slice of pie.

Though the words suggested she might get to her destination, she felt Despair’s chill finger run down her spine. She went silent and let him ramble on until a pause made her scramble for a topic to hold up her end of the bargain.  “Uh, what’s the craziest thing that ever happened on a load?”

His mind flashed images of Greta, the wildest woman west of the continental divide, but he tamed the story to female-friendly crazy.  “One night when I was running out near Duluth, in the dead of winter, a huge white wolf was sitting in the middle of the highway.  I couldn’t hit the brakes on a downhill in the snow, so I moved across the lanes and prayed to Jeezuz not to jack-knife.  I maintained the rig and continued down the highway, and within another mile, there was another white wolf in the same lane—just standing there.  They didn’t even flinch when my rig rumbled by.  They just shimmered in the moonlight like ghostly apparitions.   But I know they were there.  Made me shiver to the bone.”

She shivered too.  “I saw a wolf once at my aunt’s place—my home.”

He noted the perky shape of her nose and her pursed lips as she focused on her memory. Her eyes looked far away. When her guard dropped, a flicker of pain showed and was gone.

“He came out from the rocks as I was walking at night under the stars.  There was a full moon, and the shadows were stark on the landscape. I used to wander when the moon was full.  My uncle—well, my aunt’s significant other, if you could call him significant—used to get drunk every night.  If I was too handy he’d come to my room, so I took to being as far away from him as I could.”  She paused, and cleared her throat lightly.

“So the wolf’s shape rose out of the shadows.  He seemed to be larger than the world when my heart beat with fear.  He was all alone, and it seemed like his spirit spoke to mine.  I was so tired of helping my aunt with her cancer treatment, and my uncle was no help at all.”  She went distant again, then continued.  “The wolf all alone out there inspired me to think of myself for a change…”

“I think we’d better hit the highway, little lady,” Ben interrupted when she paused again.

She shoveled in the last three bits of cinnamon-apple goodness and smiled at the change still safe within her pack.  She wondered if she would keep herself equally secure.  She looked at Ben’s face as he paid the bill.  He resembled their neighbor in town by Aunt Eva’s.  Jacob McLaren was a good man.  Why shouldn’t Ben be the same?  Her experience with loony humans and normal looking men took the comfort out of reason.

As she approached Ben’s truck, she felt the drag of Despair hitching a ride with them.  She pushed down the sensation.  She couldn’t stop now.  Not just because of some weird feeling.  She had to fight that to start this trip in the first place.  It was probably just guilt about leaving her aunt and fear of the unknown.  But she couldn’t cure her aunt, and she wasn’t going to let fear get in her way.

Ben broke into her dazed view of the road stripes flashing by,“What if you can’t get a job?”

A stab of fear passed through her gut as he voiced what haunted her most.  “I’ll be fine.”

He was silent.

She looked out at the black landscape sliding by without definition.  It reminded her of the land around her aunt’s place.  A dark hole opened in her soul.

“Where will you be staying?”

That was a question for sure.  Was he offering her a place to stay—with him?  Hope cautiously approached her, and Despair licked his lips.

Caroline gave Ben a pressed lip grin, and he returned it with a hungry smile.  She felt trapped and relieved.  A dangerous roof was better than no roof.  The streets would be worse than a room with Ben.  Her stomach flip-flopped.  Apparently it didn’t believe that any more than her heart did.

Caroline’s exhaustion trumped her anxiety as she sped toward Vegas taking the gamble of her life.  She dropped into an uneasy dream where she lay embedded in the roadway as semi-trucks kept barreling on by—tires missing her imprisoned body by half a tread.  She tried to cry out but couldn’t find her voice.  She knew it was just a matter of time before she was ground into the highway, where her dust would be blown away by the desert wind to be lost among the billion grains of dirt and sand.

Her fevered form eased into more soothing dreams.  A spirit wolf, formed of light from the stars, bounded over to her with Hope riding in its wake.  She became a being of light as well and rode the wolf down from the heights across the desert to the sea.  The wolf continued into the surf.  Caroline was engulfed in cool water and moonlight.  She clung to the wolf, believing the beautiful beast would set her free.  Her mind and spirit swam in the reflection of the heavens until she knew no more.  The spirit wolf nudged her to consciousness as they came ashore to a land as familiar as her own face.  It was her aunt’s land in California.  The place she had left on the far shore—but it was transformed with light, and Hope smiled upon her.  Her aunt stood in the doorway of their home and welcomed her with a strong embrace.

Caroline blinked awake and heaved a rich sigh.  She looked at Ben from the side of her eye.  She was sure she had him sized up right.  He’d never let her stay with him unscathed.  He’d expect fringe for his offered benefits.  But maybe things would be different if she confronted him head on—one lone wolf to another.

“Ben.  I hate to do this when we’ve come such a long way.  But I’ve come a long way myself, and I’ve come to a decision.  I don’t want to stay with you in Vegas—or anywhere else for that matter.  I’m not gonna sell myself to get anywhere, and I’m not gonna run away.  I left my aunt, sick and on her own, partly because I was afraid of my uncle.  But things are no different on the road.  You’ve been good to me, and I know you want something in return.  But what I want is to be left free on the highway.  I want to find my way back home.”

Ben boiled inside for a moment as he looked out over the last of the open desert under the moonlight.  His desire for the girl was at a fever-pitch, but he could see she wasn’t the despairing waif he had started out with from Truck Town.  She reminded him of that ghost-wolf on the road.

They were both silent as they came to the edge of The Strip.  Day was breaking and the desert sky was aglow with color.  Glorious morning, outshining the neon.

by Sheri J. Kennedy  from Essence Churning short story collection. Published with Permission

Image by Sheri J. Kennedy from THE Companion BOOK sketchbook project

Turn to Stone

Here’s the first story submitted in response to our photo prompt by Jean-Daniel PhotographyThere’s still time to send yours by Sept. 5th to FreeValleyPublishing@gmail.com

w23At the back of the scaffolding the stone crackled. A face appeared, for just a moment, it grimaced and it called. But the boy leaning against the pillar couldn’t hear. He was standing in a portal, where flesh turned to stone, turned to plaster or bronze or any other substance that transformed the animate into frozen inanimate.

A sign nearby read;

‘Take a moment to pause, to look at the world,

To ponder your place in it. Or, take a step down from here,

Walk away and forget to learn anything.

Or stay and wonder, what does it all mean, Forever.’

The boy couldn’t see the sign either. He was teasing for the camera, making a pose. Perhaps it would be alright. Young people have a hard time holding themselves truly still. They fidget, and posing, grin just a little bit.

The face at the back of the scaffolding ached. The boy was frozen, for just an instant, and that encouraged action to be taken by the wrong agent. And once again the face was caught too. Not in the solid, hidden world it preferred, but in the impervious deplorable snapshot. The animate became the inanimate. The boy, along with the face and the bronze man leaning against the other pillar, was stilled for all time in the photograph.

by Victoria Bastedo – winneyb at SnoValleyHobbit

Palms Outward

oppression-sketch-onlyHe walked the roadway to another town, dust rising to meet his sorrow.  He knew it would come to this.  Though their hands had given and their faces had smiled, he knew they would push him out someday.  They took his land as if he were nothing.  Despair filled the houses and grew up barren in the fields.

The day the white men came, his village had welcomed them with song.  The mist of the hills parted for the sun.  The children were eager for the gifts that were held out to them as the white women squatted to look in their wide open eyes.  They looked at life beyond what they knew.  If only they had known—as he did—that it would come to this.

Kusudi could find work in the city.  Though his heart ached, he walked with Hope by his side.  He was a strong man—his elder put fortune on him.  He would remove the dust from his mouth and his eyes.  He would bathe and clean his clothes in the River Amini.  And he would speak of his new purpose and see the place of his mother’s dreams.

Sala told him since he was a root-high boy that he would know his way and could find his place amongst Yeweh’s great men.  She saw in her child a mighty man to be.  He didn’t chase or fall down like the foolish boys.  He saw beyond.  The elder, Zamani gave him the kumbuka—the richly carved ruling stick—granted to only one of each generation.

Kusudi held the kumbuka as he followed the long road.  He had left his village in the hills only one time before.  He knew that along the roadway he needn’t go far before the ways of Uzima were not known.  But he held them in his heart.  He held the hand of his mother who had gone from the earth, though he left her body buried in the dirt of Uzima.  He held the hands of his clansmen who had left for the city long before.  They had set them palms outward with fingers to the sky so he could take their soul’s offerings to sustain Uzima in the troubled times.  But their feet had left him abandoned—empty.  And now he left Uzima abandoned to usurpers—full.  Full of grief and shame.  The kumbuka a rod of discipline, chafing against his failure to keep their land for his people to reclaim.

His people—many were not as strong as he.  If no work could be found in the city, would they travel on?  Despair pushed Hope aside.  Kusudi walked with pain though his young body was sound.  They had been scattered like their crop seed to the wind, over fields that offered no nurture in a time of no rain.  The land could not sustain them as the white men churned its bowels.  Uzima left behind—exposed and raped for the oil that lay beneath.

Kusudi knew, the day the crude erupted into the newcomers’ hands and they closed their palms grasping, their fingers turned like claws to the ground—he knew it would come to this.

He reached the next town and pressed on to the city, Fiwa.  The road wound along the River Amini, and he continued to hold the kumbuka as he followed its turns.  His shattered heart held pieces for each of his people.  He journeyed to the east end of Fiwa as each palm outward had pledged to do.  Kusudi would gather them there.  If they had survived.  If they had not traveled on.  Hope held his hands—clinging to fortune and the kumbuka.

In Fiwa Hope left him as he touched his palm to too few of the scattered ones.  Only the strong men could be found at the port on the east end of the city.  Their backs were bent in labor and bowed by Despair.  The kumbuka strengthened them no more.  They said the others had dispersed throughout Fiwa, palms held outward with fingers reaching for a share.  Begging without Hope, for survival.  The ways of Uzima were not known here, even in the hearts of the sons she had birthed.  They had left their soul’s offerings to the ravaged soil of her lost domain. The kumbuka held no sway in ruling the chaos of Fiwa.  The elder’s stick brought no peace for the pieces of his heart scattered in the wind.  The women and the children were lost to time.

Kusudi cast the kumbuka in the River Amini.  Hope drifted away, swirling in helpless desolation from the stick’s floating tip.  He stood palms outward fingers to the sky, his soul’s offerings falling to dust in the streets of Fiwa.  His mouth spoke of no purpose.  He saw nothing in this place of broken dreams.

by Sheri J. Kennedy All Rights Reserved

Image by Sheri J. Kennedy – copyright 2013 From Sketchbook Project ‘ONLY HUMAN’

Find out more about Sheri J. Kennedy a.k.a. Kennedy J. Quinn, Featured Author

Abaak Lajjad

The form sat partially obscured by the mismatched building edges on the store fronts of South Fork’s downtown area. He was caught between the bakery and the theatre. He was a relatively new fixture in this town of just a little more than five thousand. His hands, folded on his bent knees were red from the elements, flaked with weariness. On his feet were dingy sneakers and were the only thing that said he was of this world. The rest of him was covered with a burlap-looking, dark brown body-length robe, including a hood that only let his chest-length, gray but streaked with street crud beard show. Many passersby had visions of a medieval friar when they saw this homeless soul.

Demeter's Corpusules - by Jackie Fedyk

Demeter’s Corpusules – by Jackie Fedyk

He rarely looked up at those who were trying their best to ignore this creature crouched on the street. However, when he did, you could have sworn his eyes were rust. Not brown. Not red, but the same kind of rust on your uncle’s 1976 Caprice Classic left out and abandoned in too many Detroit winters.

When the streets were empty except for leaves being blown by the gusts into a devil’s whirlwind, he would slowly rise. He would walk around the back of the shops and see what sustenance he could find in the dumpsters and trash cans, his hands not ever losing their red tinge. The things he picked from the trash were not always easily identifiable as food. If you watched closely you might see him gnawing on bones and discarding the seemingly more satisfying flesh. At moments he moved so quickly, you’d have thought you’d mysteriously missed whole moments of time. He would lick on broken bar glasses and suck on pieces fractured plates. If an alley cat or rebel raccoon competed for treasures in the rubbish, the cloaked vagabond would hiss with a level of hatred only hell beasts are capable of producing. For that brave living thing which resisted the hissing and secondary swatting from the cloaked figure, would surely incur a fatal swipe from his one long gray thumb nail on the cloaked figure’s main hand. If you were the spider above the doorway where this creature’s shadow crouched out of the inevitable Pacific Northwest rain, you would know that the blood of those rebellious vermin was his wine.

On this particular night, a young buck police officer saw the hooded figure behind the bakery. The rain poured, muting out the sound of the unlucky rat that tried to bite the unfortunate man the cop observed on the street. The officer watched, but his thoughts kept telling him to leave well enough alone. It was more work to incarcerate this man than to leave him be.

Although another thought battled inside his mind, saying that what he saw was not quite right. He could not really see clear to a reason that he should act. As he drove away, however, he could have sworn that those eyes below the hood were not merely rust, but radiating.

A simple whisper, “Abaak Lajjad,” would be the only thing that the spider in the doorway’s corner would hear before it also was captured and swallowed into the wide mouth full of too-long teeth shadowed beneath the brown cloak.

Casondra Brewster is a writer, editor, literary teacher and mentor, as well as the founder of SnoValley Writes! She hopes one day to make the valley more famous than Forks, Wash.

Excerpt from SECOND THOUGHT. Published with Permission. Find out more about Casondra Brewster. This excerpt and other writings available in literary journal FALL INTO STORY.