Good grief... it's almost March! Did anybody else see where January and most of February went?
Book stuff updates are: Warrior moved into pricing and promotion planning, An'ji is going through final edits, Scholar jumped into layout, and I *think* I have the book endings to aim for in three of the novels still in the writing process (two of the first for a new Steampunk series, and another little side project to put on Etsy). Me stuff updates are: I had a personal victory over my anxiety yesterday, somehow my youngest got old enough that we registered her for pre-school starting this September, and I found second-hand boots that are utterly perfect for the Jedi cosplay costume I'm making for Calgary's comicon this summer. (For the costume, if anyone wants to know, my character is the stand-in for Jedi Academy Movie Extra #27.)
That said, let's skip over the rest and – tah-dah! – here's the first of four parts of that sci-fi short story that I wanted to share. Hope you have a good weekend!
1. At Least it's Catered
Abby sat in the dark and listened. She knew she should be sleeping, that it would be easier to fall asleep if she could just stop listening, but she couldn’t turn off the audio and drift away. She could close her eyes and not see them huddling around their makeshift table and plotting, but she couldn’t turn off the whispered and rushed audio.
After a while she just rolled over to face the wall and pulled the thin blanket up so that she could cover her open ear with her hand without being obvious about it. Obvious just made them all angry with her. Well, angrier. The six of them were already so scared even though nothing bad had happened. Sure, they had been abducted off the street and were being kept in a large cell by strange, birdlike creature-people, but they still had indoor plumbing, three meals a day with snacks in between, and showers and clean clothes every other day. There wasn’t much to be scared of here, Abby thought. Well, except for the other six she had to share the sleeping quarters with.
Mostly, Abby thought, it was like an adventure; the kind that happened to interesting people in books with a strange solar system or a space ship on the cover. It was exciting, in a way.
The small meeting ended and her cellmates shuffled off to their bunks. Charlie stopped and poked her with his foot as he was passing by, not hard enough to be a kick, just a poke, but Abby didn’t move. That was the best way to deal with him when he acted like that. He waited for a minute, then huffed and tromped away when she didn’t react. She had learned how to deal with him when they had been married, and it was over five years ago now since he’d gotten out of jail. When they’d been married, she had learned how to avoid him as best she could. Once he was in lockup, she’d counted her lucky stars every day up to now that he’d been in jail when she went through with the divorce.
Actually, she could thank Charlie for really making it possible for this abduction to turn into an adventure for her. Even with the restraining order, she’d still had to avoid him so much. He was always a few days or a week behind her that first year he’d been out, hunting after her. She learned to stay ahead of him by learning how to simply be not seen, and then – as she got better at it – the time had started getting longer and longer between when he would catch up. (She could even get jobs that didn’t pay cash at the end of each day during his second year out, and had had a salary job for the past few months before getting nabbed and brought here.) Now all that sneaking about was coming in handy: she’d been able to look out of every window she’d found whenever they were allowed out of the sleeping quarters, and none of them that she shared this cell with had even noticed when she was gone. The birdlike people didn’t seem to mind that she wandered as long as she went back where she was supposed to be when they found her. They were very gentle about taking her back, too.
Of course, she didn’t tell Charlie and his little five-person mob about looking out the windows. Then they would want to know what she had seen. Abby didn’t want to tell them anything about that because it would just make them more scared. If she’d learned anything about people over her life, it was that scared or angry was better than scared and angry.
Slowly her cellmates started drifting off to sleep, some of them starting to snore. Once everyone else was asleep, Abby finally dropped off.
* * *
It was a shower day. The water was the perfect temperature, Abby thought, but the other woman complained bitterly. As Abby dried herself off she noticed that her hair was touching her ears. Her adorably perfect pixie cut – Rosy, her last hair dresser, called it that anyway – was long overdue for a clean-up trim. Abby tried to think back and remember how long she’d been here and guessed it at about two and a half, or maybe three, months.
Opposite to the other six abductees, she was enjoying herself. They got exercise days now, actually had been getting them for nearly two months, and she loved being able to jog the track or try the solo stuff she could remember from that kickboxing class she’d taken for about a year as a teenager. Her cellmates had mostly stopped trying to talk to her, except Charlie, and even he was leaving her alone for longer stretches of time. That probably had more to do with one of the... she couldn’t pronounce it yet. Anyway, one of them had grabbed Charlie when they had seen him grab her and Charlie hadn’t liked it too much. She’d seen the bruises on his arm that night from those vise-like fingers. His bruises had been darker than the ones he’d left on her arm.
That had scared the gang freshly, that the... geesh she wished she could pronounce it. Their language was so hard to mimic. Throaty and whistley and warbly all at the same time, like a canary crossed with a crow. Their name sounded like a whistle with the hick-ups. Not like you were trying to whistle when you had the hick-ups, but that the whistle itself had the hick-ups. For now she was just thinking of them as ‘Others’.
This post is a break from short stories while I'm debating which story to post next – I have a couple of options that would be fun. I’m definitely going to keep doing the short story posts, though, because the format is really fun for me. I’m thinking the next will be a science fiction bit. But there’s this fantasy one I have, too…
That said, I still have a today post! Crazy, I know. If you find me as a human to be boring, thanks for stopping by and short stories will resume soon! If you find me as a human to be interesting, please keep reading!
I took a week off.
I can hear you rolling your eyes over there. If she’s laid off and not working a real job, how can she take a week off? Well, that’s easy because I am working. That ‘focusing on writing’ thing that I’ve been doing is something that I’m taking seriously.
I’ve had chronic tendinitis in both wrists for the past twenty-five years and I just did six weeks of constant typing. Needless to say, but ouch. Please don’t give me advice on how to treat tendinitis – trust me, I’ve tried the available options for treatments over the past twenty-five years, which is why I have sixty percent use of both hands on a good day instead of zero percent, and why I have a fully ergonomic work station at home. What I’d rather talk about is that instead of focusing on writing like I wanted to, I turned it into ‘work’. I gave myself deadlines (which were unrealistic), was missing out on family time (big thing I hate doing), and was making myself unhappy and physically hurting over something that I actually do love doing. And it’s only been seven weeks since my layoff from my day job.
Translation: I didn’t refocus, I fixated my job anxiety onto writing. Dumb move.
I followed up with a smart move, though, by recognizing that I’d done the dumb move and giving myself a week off to re-calibrate. I helped my kids with art projects, took a real interest in my oldest doing homework, and even cooked a couple of times. I also started the plan for my Jedi cosplay for Calgary this summer… (There might be photos. Depends on how well the costume turns out when I’m done sewing.)
I also edited, instead of writing new; read old stories I’d written, instead of forcing out the latest; read a couple novels other people had written, and spent likely too much time on Twitter and Facebook. Not going to complain about that, though, because the time spent on social media resulted in finding more people I like talking to and some great new people to be stalking… er, following. Yes… ‘following’. I also got to help my hubby with his table o’ shortwave radio equipment at the annual HAM Radio flea market (we have too much amateur radio equipment… he says… I say we should keep all of it in case of zombies… he won the argument that we have too much – this time…). We met some great people at the market, too, so the day flew by with lots of laughs and good conversation.
During my week off I even paid enough attention to personal hygiene to have two eyebrows again! You’d think they’d have learned to stop trying to grow together by now, but alas, no, the plucking continues.
Did I stop thinking about my next projects that are in the works of being dreamed up? Of course not. I couldn’t stop that even if I wanted to. I have a couple mom characters in the next series, and was dreaming through a scene with one of them when my youngest had a potty training breakthrough. I honestly shared a ‘proud mom moment’ with an imaginary woman, and part of her backstory from when her boys were little popped into clarity. Is that specific part of the backstory important in some way to the plot of the series? Not in the least. But it makes her more real to me, so now I can write her as more real for everyone else.
Borderline delusional, imaginary conversation with pretend woman marginally justified because I’m an author! Lol :)
Also in my head, buried down there under the layer of choking anxiety, was my sense of humor. I do hope everyone else has the same thing – the little voice in the back of your head that says those little things that you know you can only verbalize to a couple of people in your close circle? That voice which usually pipes up – out loud – in a crowded place, though, which is how you were able to identify the people who are safe to share it with… and the people you really shouldn’t share it with. My humor never goes away, but anxiety – and all the crap anxiety drags along – will choke out the internal voice. It’s a little bleaker in my thoughts without that witty spark prattling out groan-worthy puns and Spaceballs quotes.
It’s annoying that my best weapon against the bleakness is humor, and that’s the part that gets the quietest when things are bleak. At this point, I’m plain lucky I have a few good people in my circle that say those things out loud when I can’t until my snarky little voice comes back. I also have a few good characters in my head who need that little voice for when I’m writing their dialogue, so editing current works (and reading some old stories) will usually pull that humor back out from under the anxiety until it can speak clearly again. Fairly certain some of its dialogue leaked into this post… it’s baa-aack.
Overall, I’d say this week off has been a success. Today I was I legitimately missing my keyboard (which is why I’m typing this post up on a Tuesday – way ahead of my Friday posting schedule), longing to get to my sewing machine, and those chocolate cupcakes I made the other day are so tasty! (Writers operate best with correct caffeine and cocoa levels in their blood.) Now to just train the brain to recognize that fixation isn’t focus. Baby steps. I noticed this time that I was anxiety-fixating and nipped it in the early-to-mid transition stage. Next time anxiety-fixation creeps up, I can catch it quicker and positively re-calibrate sooner and over less time. Maybe just a few days off next time…
Or keep the re-calibration to a week. A week off is really nice.
Internal decree: Re-calibrations must take a week!
.... And likely need chocolate cupcakes. And definitely need coffee from a mug with a handle – not just a travel mug.
Decree amendment: Re-calibration = week off, chocolate, and coffee! Minimum. :)
Girls' night out birthdays are the best: appy's for dinner and the latest Star Wars movie - in the theater! (I have kids, going to the theater with another adult is always a treat.) And cake. Can't forget about the cake. :) The weather could've been better, but last weekend was early February, and I live in Canada, so expecting anything other than snow on a weekend would have been a silly assumption. Highway and city maintenance crews were out in force, though, so the roads were better than the weather wanted them to be.
For happenings this week I'm happy to say that Warrior, Book II of The Centurion's Woman trilogy, is completely approved and driving forward on its way to print! My pre-printing reviewers have all already started demanding Book III, so I must've done something right. (Insert a sigh of relief here.)
And now I'll stop babbling so you can get on to the bits you're likely waiting to read... the conclusion of that short story set in The Centurion's Woman's world: Part 6 of 6.
6. The Important Parts
The men staring with awe jumped to the task and lifted up then slid the stone lid on top of Ixor’s casket. The men who’d stared with disbelief or shock joined the looks of awe as Alex came around the end to look inside and see what had been left there for her to find. Some food and a single change of folded clothing had wasted to useless at the far end, but the bottles of wine – Alex counted fourteen – were still sealed and barely dusty. Alex smiled that Verus had put in more wine than anything else. Opposite the food, at the same end where Alex was standing, was a small stack of six oilskins that were each wrapped for correspondence and sealed with wax.
Alex opened the four letters from her children first, reading their goodbyes and about the things they thought were important enough to write down for her. The fifth letter was a collection of sentences, written poorly by many hands, and was from all of her grandchildren. The sixth letter didn’t have a stamp in the wax. Alex pulled out one of the wine bottles and cut the seal with her knife before removing the plug. By the smell, the wine hadn’t turned to vinegar. By the taste, Verus had given her some of the best his family could offer. She sat down and rested her back against her casket, leaning on the engraving of her own name, and then opened the final letter.
I know you will find this, Sister, so I made sure to pack only things that are important for your journey.
Alex laughed and took another drink.
You’ll be proud to know that your family simply thought I misplaced you, and looked for no less than twelve days before understanding that you were gone. To be honest, if I hadn’t seen you go, I would’ve looked for longer.
I don’t know what to write that I haven’t already said. I’m the one who convinced D. that we should all write these letters for you, though, so have to write one also. I admit that doing so has made breathing harder to do. I love you very much, Dear One, and
Alex stopped and drank deeply at the small section of blank page that followed the final, unfinished paragraph in Verus’s flawless script before attempting to read the next words in her son’s tidy writing.
I’ve written my letter already, so won’t bore you. I found Uncle this morning. He’d been working on your letter. I’ll be certain to see the page wrapped and sealed, and leave the stamping blank so that you know he was the author. I hope now he’s with you again, as he never recovered from losing you while he was here.
Alex set the bottle and letter aside, rested her elbows on her knees and covered her face with her hands. After a moment crying alone, Magnus’s arms wrapped around her and she cried onto his shoulder. He ordered most of the men out, to bring crates for the unopened wine, and set the few remaining guards to cleaning out the wasted food and clothing.
Once Alex could speak again, she conversed with Magnus regarding the few points of further proof he wanted to confirm before actually fully believing her claim to being that Alexandria Avilia Augusta. She spoke with him freely, too emotionally drained to care what details she was sharing of her life from three hundred years ago. Once the crates arrived, she stood up and loaded the wine herself. She noted that some of the bottles clinked instead of sloshing, but knew Verus too well to think of looking at what was inside while she didn’t have complete privacy. If he’d gone to such trouble to hide things, she could respect that.
The sun was just starting to set as they emerged from the tomb. Adellexia had been quietly conversing with Verus, staying out of the way, and looked crestfallen when she saw Magnus looking around for her. She switched to embarrassed when she saw that Alex had seen her, and quickly passed the sword back to Magnus.
“In your remembering, you said that the Celsus you knew was your friend?” Magnus asked Alex quietly.
“Closer than a brother,” Alex confirmed.
“Was he a citizen?” he asked, the common class discrimination flaring up in the conversation.
“His family was patrician, with very few betters among all families in all the Empire,” Alex replied. Magnus looked taken aback.
“This Celsus is a freeman,” he stated, avoiding looking at Verus. “Calleous did not speak highly of him,” he added. Alex glanced down at the corpse Magnus had just mentioned, and then looked up at Magnus with her eyebrows arched.
“You should listen to your niece’s accounting of Calleous before you put any weight on his opinions,” Alex advised.
“You may be correct,” he mused.
“I usually am,” Alex answered, startling Magnus out of his thoughts.
“Will you be my guest?” Magnus asked suddenly. “My home is a day’s journey from here. I’m certain Xia would appreciate having you, as well. Due to the late hour, we won’t leave until tomorrow morning. You’re of course welcome to come, and stay for as long as you wish.”
“I would like that,” Alex smiled at him.
“What shall we call you, though?” he asked, clearly excited that she’d agreed. Alex could see that there would be many nights recounting family history, and couldn’t actually say that she wasn’t also looking forward to doing just that. Probably she could get Verus and Adellexia trained properly before the war came, as well.
“When Adellexia prayed earlier, in the tomb, she called me ‘Old Grandmother,’” Alex turned her smile to where the younger woman was trying to not obviously fawn on the armorsmith as he appeared to be describing the detailing of the hilt to her, leaning close to show her something.
“Old Grandmother,” Magnus repeated, following her gaze with his own as he tested the name.
“That’s an accurate description of me,” Alex chided, making Magnus glance a grin at her before frowning at Verus again. “You know, my husband wasn’t born as Augustus, or as a patrician,” she started, pulling his attention back. “His original name was Traversi, and he was an equestrian.”
“Really?” Magnus blinked in surprise, his attention riveted at the hint of more family details.
“His initial name was Ixillius Traversi,” she tapped the brass plate on the collar she was wearing. “He was disowned shortly after finding me. He married me, not having a clue who I was when he did, and my father honored the decision even though Ixor had been disowned. Octavian Augustus himself claimed Ixor as a relation, and then my father adopted him, so that we could stay married.”
“There has to be more than that to the story,” Magnus replied once he realized that Alex was finished.
“There is,” Alex smiled at the young couple, catching them in the moment when their hands touched and they suddenly couldn’t look away from each other. “But, as my father would’ve said, those are the important parts.”
Little bit of an early post today. I get to take an overnight trip to Calgary for my best friend's (or rather, at this point, sister's) 40th, and I won't be here tomorrow to do the post on Friday like I have been. This 'having a blog schedule' thing is something that I'm enjoying, though, so hopefully I'll be able to continue with it. Next week. After celebrating a cool birthday with a very cool lady :)
Fun fact! It's also my birthday this weekend!
Confronted with someone who was actually listening, Adellexia started off with her early life of being orphaned and being taken in by her uncle, continuing to the excitement of her engagement, and then how she’d met Verus – an armorsmith employed by the area’s Legion, but who also made sculptures – last summer after traveling to live at her fiancé’s house for the rest of her engagement. Then the bad treatment of Verus by Calleous and his brother had started growing increasingly worse (Adellexia didn’t know why, although Alex could easily guess). The poor treatment transferred to Adellexia, growing increasingly worse as the months passed and the marriage date drew closer. When she couldn’t stand the abuse anymore, she’d written to her uncle and requested to be taken out of the engagement. Calleous had found out about the letter, and attempted to force a marriage – that had gone poorly and ended with her literally running from the house with just the clothes she was currently wearing, Verus fighting to allow her to escape, with the chase ending in the tomb and Verus having been dragged along for sport.
Adellexia was sobbing by the time she was done, so Alex wrapped her up in a hug and let her cry. Once Adellexia was just sniffling, Alex wrapped her cloak around the girl’s shoulders and walked back down to where Magnus was hovering at overseeing the fresh bodies from being removed from the tomb, as well as waiting for the opportunity to collect his niece and leave.
“Thank you for calming her down, she can be –”
Alex stopped his off-handed respects and gained his suddenly full attention by drawing her jian and stopping the swing of the blade just touching his throat. Per Adellexia, Magnus was a highly ranked patrician, the main contributor to financing the Legion in the area, and extremely influential. He was kind, respectful, excellent at business, and her two oldest cousins were happily married within the governing families of the province with the rest of her cousins all well married to governing families of other provinces. Adellexia was a lowly ranked patrician, but her parents had been lovers instead of just married, so Magnus had graced her life by still taking her in, despite her almost equestrian upbringing prior to living with him.
“If I may speak with you privately?” Alex asked, inviting him by gesture with her free hand to walk with her toward the tomb entrance. He backed away from the blade, swallowing hard.
“I suppose,” he agreed carefully.
“Thank you,” Alex nodded politely and sheathed her jian, confusing the men who’d just noticed that she’d drawn on Magnus as they were still trying to decide if they had to come to the aid of their leader or not. “Verus?” she called over to him, startling him into looking around for who else she could be talking to before he jogged to where she was standing. Alex unclipped the Roman sword from her belt and handed the whole thing to him. “Keep a watch on my girl, will you?”
“Of course,” he replied promptly, handling the sword and scabbard reverently as he bowed acceptance.
As expected, multiple men followed Alex and Magnus into the tomb. Alex simply asked him to explain the branch of the family tree that he was on, and for his actual relation to Adellexia. The torches had been mounted into the hooks on the wall that were intended to hold them, and she and Magnus passed through to the second chamber as they conversed, his guards following close behind. He was well versed in the histories and stories of the family, and Alex found herself actually laughing at the exaggerated legends surrounding her great- and great-great-granddaughters and their exploits as mercenaries.
Alex knew she was taking advantage of the Roman culture of absolute politeness and respect toward strangers by keeping Magnus and his guards talking with her. After the day she’d been having, though, she assumed she was due to have some kindness provided to her.
“Ahh, and this is my favorite,” Magnus stated as they came to the final chamber. He strode across the room to the mosaic and told the tales that each scene depicted, lecturing as though he was a scholar in front of a class and completely lost in the lesson. Alex chuckled at the interpretations of her life, two of the five scenes altered to unrecognizable stories and one of them turned so completely around that he said the tiles represented a tale about the gods. “Something funny?” he asked, offended, when she laughed out loud.
“No,” Alex replied first. “Well, a little, yes,” she conceded, still chuckling.
She stood up from where she’d been sitting on her youngest daughter’s casket and walked over to the wall. She ran her hand over the tiles that depicted herself and her husband at their youngest, suddenly remembering everything about that day. She smiled at Magnus and then recited the memory that was under her palm, sliding her hand from image to image and sharing the moments of her life with someone she’d just met today but who wasn’t a stranger. Her memories weren’t nearly as riveting as the stories about them, but Magnus listened with increasing attention until she was certain he was absorbing the words through his skin rather than just hearing them. She smiled up at herself and Ixor, at their oldest, and then turned to Magnus with tears running down her cheeks as she rested one hand on her husband’s casket.
“I buried my husband this morning, and already the dust is so thick,” she whispered to him, sliding her hand across the stone to show him the layer. She looked at each of the men who were in the chamber in turn. Some stared at her with awe, some with disbelief, a few with simple shock. Alex pointed to her own casket. “Open that,” she ordered.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!