Collaborative Macabre Macaroni

I’m really excited to bring you this story. Mari Wells is my writing buddy, and we exchange pages regularly. We thought it would be fun to each write a complimentary story. Mari had input on my story, and I had input on hers.

Each story stands alone, but it’s more fun if you read them both. Please head on over to Mari’s place and read her story from the other point of view.

Witch Hunter

I made my way slowly into the old monastery chapel. It needed new thatch and smelled like more rats than monks lived here now. I knelt down before the cross and prayed – for my knees to hold up. There was a time I could stand vigil day and night, but that was years ago.

The old abbot watched from the vestibule and came forward with his holy water. He paused as I took the dirty cloth package from under my arm. It looked like any other piece of wool from this side.

When I unwrapped it, the crimson background with the white cross removed all doubt who I was. I unwrapped the holy sword, Il Benedeto, from the cloth and set it aside. I pulled the cloth over my head and lifted the sword toward heaven, kissing it’s hilt before turning it point down in the shape of the cross.

The Abbot crossed himself, splashed me with holy water and blessed me. He hung an old wooden cross around my neck from a string and turned toward the doors. “I must get to my chambers before dark. The beast, you understand?”

“I understand.” The old man was no fool. The beast killed at least nine people around Porthcawl. My back started protesting at the awkward position on the cold stone.

The Brotherhood cast me out after my last assignment. I worked as a cobbler, and finally a city watchman in Plymouth. Seven years since I dispatched Nell Braddock. The Brotherhood wanted a fire and a burning. She made my squire, Deacon Conyers, disembowel himself. I delivered her head to the brotherhood without their big show. Everyone considered her the nicer of two sisters.

This one calls herself the Lady of Porthcawl these days. It doesn’t matter, Adwen Braddock was here and one of us wasn’t going to see sunrise. For some reason, the Brotherhood didn’t lecture me on my methods this time.

I shifted my weight from one knee to the other. I arrived in town weeks ago. The first project was choosing the ground for our little meeting. A small meadow near the forest had a pretty little brook running through it. She would feel confident; lots of lines, forest and meadow, meadow and brook. Then there were the elements; earth, water, and air all at one point.

I tucked the pathetic wooden cross in my pocket and replaced it with a hagstone. God gave me eyes to see and a brain to think. The cross never saved poor Conyers. The man ate his own liver while he died. My stone was earth, made of fire, eroded by water to form a ring that held air. This stuff works and I wasn’t taking any chances.

I shifted from one knee to the other. First I hired a boy to dig a post hole in the meadow. Then I bought a worn out old wagon and paid the seller’s son to fill it with kindling and wood, and hide it in the woods near the meadow. These things had been ready for weeks, waiting for clear skies and a good moon to see by.

This afternoon, I paid the same boy to move St. Michael into the woods and conceal it. The small brass cannon was loaded with silver grape shot. It wouldn’t kill her, but it would stop her long enough to collect her head and get her to the wagon to burn. She wouldn’t get the chance to make the Magistrate eat his liver.

Three hours was all my knees could take. I hope The Maker will forgive me, but they need to work tonight too. I slipped out the back door of the chapel. The tiny graveyard was full of the beast’s victims. All witches have a familiar, and I longed for one with a dormouse. Adwen controlled a wolf.

They say an angry warrior is a dead warrior. I knew just the trick to get under Adwen’s skin. I made my way out of town and kicked the brush off the old cross I’d made, then nailed her sister’s bloody death dress to it. The Christian symbolism and her sister’s blood would drive Adwen mad. I carried it to the post hole, stood it up and kicked dirt inside.

The sun took forever to set. I was being watched, and I knew it. I didn’t dare glance at St. Michael, but it was only three feet away. I said a little prayer that I’d loaded it well. Come on Adwen, it’s a good place for you, clear lines, three elements, and I’m all alone. I stuck my sword in the soil next to me, and stretched my aching legs. My timing was perfect, the moon was already up. I couldn’t afford a half hour of total darkness.

He appeared at full darkness. It wasn’t so much a wolf as a beast of some kind. It looked like one of the deadly African beasts from the crusades. He trotted out like a healthy young hound, with hunched shoulders and an oversized head. Black as midnight, but for silver tips on his guard hairs. The silver hairs shone in the moonlight, and were all I could see. He looked like the ghost of a beast.

Adwen sent the henchman to do her dirty work. The beast approached from the edge of the meadow, too far left to use St. Michael. He circled out of range and tested the wind; they were talking, I was certain.

I needed him to approach toward the cannon, so I carried my sword in front of the barrel and moved to the cross. I unlaced my breeches and pissed on the dress.

The beast charged. They say if you kill a witch’s familiar she will die. I wasn’t so certain, but if I didn’t kill this one I was going to die. I spun and hooked the end of the cord with Il Benedeto. I yanked the cord, the sparker flashed and pulled free. St. Michael barked and flames covered the meadow.
The beast disappeared in the smoke and I raised my sword. The smoke drifted east and I crept ahead as quietly as I could.

The beast was torn and bloody. I prayed the silver destroyed whatever magical hold she had over him. If this didn’t finish Adwen Braddock, she’d be weakened for a month. It would be safer to approach her cabin in daylight. I wasn’t about to let my final witch take me down. Time for bed and a cold drink of water. At dawn I’d collect her head and burn her with the wagon or in her own hovel.

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Blog Recruiting Day

Let’s talk a little bit about The Rave Reviews Book Club. I posted last Spring about my idea of joining a book club. I struggled with the idea, and then they had a sale. ($$$) The rest is history.

This club allows me to post three of my books on their website. This website is becoming a beacon for readers. It’s broken down into nice neat categories for searching ease. Searching on Amazon today feels a lot like the old pick a card trick. When you pick a category, Amazon pushes the biggest selling books at you first. A lot of fine fiction goes unnoticed.

RRBC doesn’t do that. You get a cover image, a blurb, and access to honest reviews on their website. The pool is smaller too, so my books are likely to gain more attention. (Hint: search in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Paranormal. It’s all one category and covers my ballpark pretty well.)

There’s a trade off to membership. I have to read and review four books by other members within one year. That’s only one per quarter, and I’ve met some wonderful people in the process. The cool thing is they have to follow the same rules. There’s a pretty good chance that my books are going to get reviews, and they have. (Good ones too.)

I don’t have an actual number, but it seems like you need about fifty sales before one of them leads to a review. These readers post reviews – all of them.

I’ve read and reviewed three books, and need to get another one read. It’s been fun, and I’ve found books that would have been buried in the digital warehouse otherwise.

This club isn’t like buying 5000 Twitter followers either. The members are fellow authors and prolific readers. The reviews are by folks just like me who struggle with characters and plot monsters. They understand the process.

They offer so much more though. I like the idea that members get back what they put in. There are a ton of other options, like an exclusive interview, books of the month with extra promotion, and an anthology you can write for. They push my books on social media.

My social media is limited to this blog and Twitter. I participate in the Twitter pushes, and was rewarded with my own Twitter push. They chose Panama for my push day.(linked cover on the right hand side) I know I reached over a million Twitter accounts with all the retweets that happened. I sold books too. Someone even picked up a copy of Arson during the push. Maybe Panama wasn’t quite his/her style. I’m happy either way.

My Twitter push “day” lasted a good ten plus days. These people really go all out. Authors with a broader footprint might benefit even more. The club also pushes on Facebook, Pinterest, and more.

So today is blog recruitment day. We aren’t pushing any one book today. We’re looking for new members. Blogging is a form of social media, and we’re all working our blogs today. Members are encouraged to visit all of today’s recruiting blogs and leave a comment. I’m going to get blog traffic out of this deal too. (Score!)

This is what they mean about putting something into the club. I’m participating in blog recruitment day; therefore, I could earn some goodwill toward one of the bigger promotional efforts. Who knows, maybe one of my books will be book of the month someday.

If you think this might be the club for you, check them out. This is their FAQ, and this is the link to join.

They’re going to ask who referred you, and I’d appreciate a mention.

Update: I was asked to include this voting link in my post. There is a contest going on, and I’m in the running for a spotlight author promotion. I’d appreciate your vote today.

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a stranger in a strange land

I am alive and well, in Columbus, Ohio. I’m at a conference all week, but I’ll try to make all my blogging committments. I promised a slot to the Rave Reviews Book Club, plus Mari Wells and I have something fun cooked up for Thursday.

My day started off a bit strange,  in that Southwest didn’t have a boarding pass for me. I had to go through security, then wait for someone to show up at the concourse. It all worked out well. I even got to walk through the metal detector,  and left my shoes on. I usually get the full body scan. 

I spent a couple hours in Denver between planes. Note to self: put a chapstick in my pocket when flying.

Columbus looks kind of old and tired. My view is of two beautiful old churches, and I appreciate their style. I unpacked my bag to find this little love note:

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It feels weird to know that someone went through all my stuff today. I kind of want to wash all my clothes before wearing them now. It doesn’t make me feel any safer. Maybe they read my blog and know about all the strange items I research for my stories.

On a happy note, Panama got another five star review. There’s still time to read it by Halloween. The cover image is linked right to the Amazon page. It’s also free through the lending library and Amazon Unlimited. (just saying) Cowboys,  Voodoo, egg magic, international intrigue,  and only one scrotum joke.  (I promise.) What’s not to love? 

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Guess what we did today

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Had some weird salt & pepper shakers

My wife and I decided to make Jack o’lanterns. This is the one I made using these Halloween salt & pepper shakers for eyes. This is the first time I’ve ever peeled the skin off the pumpkin as part of this project. The potato peeler was no help, because a pumpkin has too many hills and valleys. I resorted to a paring knife and survived with all of my fingers in place.

Bills are paid, guests are travelling home, pumpkins are carved. I’m going to finish my Halloween beer tour, then I have to pack for my work seminar. No writing this weekend, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Maybe I can do some writing and publishing next weekend.

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The Idea Mill #6

Regular readers know that I save cool articles and make posts about them on occasion. These articles are to get your creative juices flowing. Some of them are just cool story elements, some of them might become the basis of an entire story. Let’s jump right to it…

Once upon a time, scientists experimented with creating genetically modified humans. This actually happened, but they are few in number. This article informs us that this small handful of people are going to graduate high school soon.

These people actually have one father and two mothers. We really have no idea what this means for them, or their future offspring. Remember that modern man crossbred with Neanderthals at some time, and most of us carry small snippets of Neanderthal DNA. These people will reproduce someday, and the result could change humanity as we know it.

This could be the basis of an entire story. One of these folks would make a great main character. It could involve living with a secret, torturing herself about what her pregnancy will reveal, or even an X-Men style story.

The next one is about a smoking mountain in Alaska. They say it isn’t a volcano or fire related.

This could become a great dragon story, or maybe you’re more into Mole Men. It reminds me of the gas in Cheri Priest’s Boneshaker. I suppose it would fit in well with a shamanistic story too.

This one is a list of lost treasures. I like it because it involves Maguffin style items that aren’t all made of gold.

Maybe your plucky heroine needs to go on a treasure hunt to find a lost patent. She has a higher purpose, but is up against glory and money seekers. Can she invent the whatchamacallit that saves whatever, or will the bad guys defeat her, plunging the world into darkness?

This one is just a story element. Have any of you ever heard of cat circles?

Apparently cats are attracted to circles. They get inside them and stay inside them. This works really well for a witchcraft story, because circles are important, and cats are prevalent.

It isn’t limited to witchcraft though. I wonder if Indiana Jones could use his whip to make a circle before the temple tiger eats him?

Have fun with these. If you use any of them, stop back and tell me what you came up with. Let me know if you experiment on your cats too. I know you will.

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One more trip around the sun

Yeah, today is that day. Fifty-four laps and counting. I’m about to have a houseful of company for the weekend, then a week long business trip to Columbus, Ohio.

It’s going to be hard to stick to my blogging schedule this weekend, but I’ll try. I’m taking my iPad to Ohio, and have some cool things planned for next week. Watch for my collaborative Macabre Macaroni story with Mari Wells on Thursday.

I really need to work on getting The Cock of the South published, but it’s not going to happen PDQ. I may plan a huge giveaway to celebrate getting it online.

This weekend is going to be about shopping, food, the World Series, and beer. I hope there’s good beer involved.

I’ll try to keep up with everyone’s posts, and will post on Sunday. No promises about Saturday.

Is there anything interesting about Columbus, Ohio?

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Another helping of Macabre Macaroni

Robbery

Carl still wore his work overalls. I slid over one barstool and made room for him. The bartender brought us each a longneck and I took a swig.

“This is the one,” Carl said. “If there’s ever going to be another one, this is it.”

I told him it’s too risky. I’d already served eight months for grand theft.

“You’re some rule follower, alright. When did you get permission to hang out in the bar, or with me, for that matter?” He asked.

I hung my head. “It’s not the same. They yell if I break those rules. I go back inside if we pull another stunt.”

He called me a pussy. Said it was a rich old lady, with no security and no dogs. He cleaned her rain gutters last week. She offered him lunch, and the house is full of antiques and has a safe.

We worked our way through a dozen more beers. The old lady has a caretaker that comes on Tuesday and Thursday. Carl goes back to patch the basement concrete on Friday.

“Look, she knows me. I can’t go inside, but I can drive,” Carl said. “I’ll leave the basement door unlocked and it’s all yours.”

I promised to think about it, and headed for the homeless shelter. You have to get there early to get a cot after it turns cold. I sat through the revival meeting, but couldn’t help thinking about having enough money to make a clean start.

Thursday I went looking for Carl. He said it was a cinch and told me about the jewelry in the safe. I’m not a safe man, but he said it’s small enough to take the whole thing.

I paused and rubbed my eyes.

“Look, man. This is happening,” Carl said. “If you don’t want in, I have another guy. I’m only going to get one chance at that basement door, and she can’t get up and down the stairs to lock it.”

“It isn’t like she needs all that stuff, does she?”

“She never leaves the house. Probably hasn’t worn jewelry in ten years. You can leave her a tea set or something.”

“Pick me up two blocks down from the shelter. I’m in.”

It wasn’t right, but I’d done it before. Maybe this would be the last time. We’d done a lot more that I never had to answer for.

Carl pulled his work truck up to the curb, and I climbed inside. It was better than I hoped. Big yard, lots of trees, no close neighbors. Best of all, nice and dark. It was perfect, but then Carl knew his stuff. We watched for an hour and no lights came on. No one moved behind the curtains.

I grabbed my flashlight and hurried across the back yard. The door was one of those that sloped away from the house and had stairs leading down. It didn’t even squeak as I opened it. Carl must have oiled the hinges. I left it open for my escape.

Once I was down the stairs, I turned on the light. The basement was empty and Carl’s fresh patch showed up on the far wall. One flight up, and I was inside.

It was cold inside, but there was sweat on my brow. I made my way to the safe room and looked around. Six chairs surrounded an ancient dining room table. The safe was in the china hutch.

“You’re late,” a feminine voice said.

I froze. I swear there wasn’t anyone here. I even shined my light around the table. I turned slowly and there she was. Long dress, expensive shoes, beautiful.

“That will be all tonight, Carl.”

He must have followed me inside, because he said, “Yes, Ma’am,” and filled the door way that was my only exit. He closed the door and locked it.
She took down two wine glasses and opened a bottle of wine. “It’s so hard getting in homes any more. No one will invite me inside these days. Too much crime.”

I worked my way toward the window. She filled the glasses and pushed one towards me.

“But you aren’t burdened by such restrictions, are you. You can rob any old woman you like.”

I fumbled for the window latch. It was stuck and I glanced down. When I looked back up she was right beside me. She hadn’t made a sound.

She grabbed my shirt and nearly lifted me off the ground. “Have a glass of wine. We have all night.”

She tossed me into one of the chairs and smiled. Her fangs must have been three inches lon–

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