WordCrafter News

Kickstarter for Delilah

Today is the last day that you can show your support for Delilah and the Women in the West adventure series. Tomorrow is the last day of the campaign, and it doesn’t look as if it will reach my $500 funding goal. The project is currently only (63%) funded, but there’s still time for you to show your support and get some of the cool rewards and add-ons offered. With your support, we could still fund the project. So please, back my Kickstarter for Delilah, if you will.

When the campaign ends, you will still be able to pre-order the book, for a higher price, and get it on its March 21st release date, but if you support the Kickstarter campaign, you can get an early digital copy, a signed print copy, and even a chance to name a character in Sarah: Book 2. There’s also short stories, audio stories and an interview with Delilah available as add-ons. So click on the link below and drop in to see what you can get, and support me and Delilah.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kayelynnebooth-wcp/delilah-women-in-the-west-adventure-series

Thanks to those who are already backing the campaign. Thanks to all of you who maybe couldn’t back the campaign, but still shared the link around on social media in an effort to help. All support is greatly appreciated.

If you miss the Kickstarter, you can still pre-order the book from your favorite book distributor here: https://books2read.com/DelilahWIW

Open submissions call

2023 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest is open to submissions with an April 30 deadline. The theme is scary stuff in paranormal, dark fantasy or horror, and the winning story will have a guaranteed spot in this year’s anthology, alongside all the stories by invitation. You can find the full submission guidelines here.

Poetry Treasures 3 in 2023

The edition of Poetry Treasures 3 is currently in the works. We will be aiming for an April release date. It will feature the author/post guests from the 2022 Treasuring Poetry blog series and it will be compiled and edited by Robbie Cheadle and myself. The 2023 theme will be Passions, and I think it will turn out to be an impressive volume.

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2023 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest is open for submissions

I want your scariest paranormal, dark fiction and horror stories for the 2023 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest. Make my skin crawl, my spine tingle, and my heart race. Keep me up at night. Make me leave the light on, just in case. Show mw your deepest, darkest fears. See submissions guidelines below.

2023-short-fiction-contest

Submission Entry Fee

Please submit entry fee here for your 2023 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest submission here.

$5.00

Submission Guidelines

Genres: Paranormal, Dark Fantasy, Horror or any combination there of.

Length: up to 5000 words

Submission Deadline: April 30, 2023

Pay: Royalty share

Rights: First Anthology Rights and audio rights as part of the anthology; rights revert to author one month after publication; publisher retains non-exclusive right to include in the anthology as a whole. 

Open to submissions from January 1 through April 30, 2023.  

Submit: A Microsoft Word or RTF file in standard manuscript format to KLBWordCrafter@gmail.com.

If you don’t know what standard manuscript format is, review, for example, https://www.shunn.net/format/classic/

Multiple and simultaneous submissions accepted.

Find some helpful tips for submitting short fiction here, but mainly just follow the guidelines.

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Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining


Bowlesian! – Detective Robot and the Murderous Spacetime Schism

Detective Robot and the Murderous Spacetime Schism

by Jeff Bowles

We found victim one face down in a giant vat of beer. Red beer, frothy, churning and roiling in blood. Not precisely the best brew of the batch, I knew, but I couldn’t help wonder what it might taste like on a mechanical tongue.

“Detective Robot,” said Officer Allen, a short, stocky, often uncharitable young fellow who always seemed to smell of cooked sausage. “I can’t believe they called you out for this.”

I formed my golden jointed lips into a pleasant smile. “Why wouldn’t they have called? Rain or shine, we always get our man.”

My partner and fellow investigation consultant, Gorilla Todd, beat his big furry chest and pulled his lips back over his teeth.

“Step back, beat cop,” he said in his deep, gruff voice. “Let the man work.”

Gorilla Todd was five hundred pounds of hyper-intelligent simian. He was a post-nuclear, neuro-enhanced military lab experiment, lots of those wandering Grim Land. Bit of a bruiser, to be sure, but an honest and a loyal one.

“Thank you, Gorilla,” I said. “Officer Allen, must we really?”

Allen snorted. “Boy oh boy, you fellas need to learn your place. Are we still short-staffed on actual detectives? What’d you do to get the call on this? Grease a few palms? Robots run on grease, don’t they?”

Point of fact, we run on million-core supra-processors the size of toenail trimmings. But I wouldn’t expect a technologic druid like Allen to know the difference. We got the call because the Chief appreciated our work and professionalism. She requested us by name; the place was ours for the next few hours.

“Why a fusion brewery?” I said, taking in our surroundings.

“People don’t die in fusion breweries?” asked Allen.

“Usually not fashion models, no,” said Gorilla. “Not in the middle of the night.”

“And certainly not old women dressed up like them,” I said.

Allen blanched at this.

“Old women,” he said, scratching his head as he turned to face the vat. “Holy cow! She’s gone all pruney in the lager.”

“Ale,” I said. “Shall you fetch the net or shall I?”

* * * * *

Fusion brewing, popularized at the dawn of the last nuclear holocaust, involves the high-speed collision of plutonium-rich barley nuclei with the nuclei of hops machine grown in the atomic soils found in the ancient ruins of Hackensack, New Jersey. The resulting photonic explosion produces a bubbly, effervescent ale, light on the tongue, but with just enough zing to potentially threaten male fertility (as all nuclear beverages should).

Zippy Beer, or rather, Zippy Beer’s northeast production plant, did seem a rather strange place for homicide. Zippy was known throughout Grim Land as the safest, most environmentally conscious nuclear beer on the market. Fifty years without a tainted batch, their ocu-tisements often declared. Fusion belchers spat florid ale, sluicing through sloshers, roaring down pipeways, collecting and aging in anti-grav refrigeration closets.

I studied Allen carefully. He looked tired and overworked.

“I swear to God, she was young when I found her,” he said.

“Sure she was,” Gorilla Todd chuckled. “Makes all the sense in the world. Hey, mac, you been smokin’ them funny cigarettes?”

I tapped my chin with platinum fingers and examined the poor old dead dear. We’d pulled her from the vat and sprawled her out on the tiled factory floor. I searched and picked at her with the robo-pincers I used for toes.

“You’re having us on, aren’t you Officer Allen?” I said. “You see that high, high ceiling all those many meters up above? See how there’s no skywalk, no roof access?”

“Yeah?” said Allen.

“Now do you see this is the last vat in the line? Eleven vats down that way, but here, just the one. No ladder, either. Do you see?”

Gorilla Todd jumped to his feet and waved an arm over his head. “I know this one, robot! I know it!”

I nodded at him agreeably and opened up my chest slot with a bleep, bleep, bleep, CLACK. A high-protean banana cube flopped out and jiggled on the factory floor like jelly. All five-hundred pounds of Todd landed on it and gobbled.

“She materialized in the beer,” he said, smacking his lips. “And she aged on the spot. Some kind of schismatic time disruption, I think.”

“Very good, Gorilla,” I said. “You see, Officer Allen, once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the—”

A hole tore open in the air above us. It went Riiiip, and then it stretched itself wide in a kaleidoscopic clash of colors and voices. Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, fell through and landed on Officer Allen with a heavy thud.

Gorilla Todd shouted, “Holy cannoli! Who is that?”

“It’s Abraham Lincoln,” I said. “And he’s been shot!”

I checked my tertiary memory banks to be sure. The beard, the hat, it was Lincoln, all right. Bullet wound in the back of the head. He wasn’t dead yet. Eyes fluttering, gasping, but not dead yet. He’d arrived only moments after his famous assassination. Remarkable. His body aged on the spot, grew older by the second. Wrinkles, thinning skin, hair gone long, gray, brittle.

Allen wheezed like strangled bagpipes. He gave a final stifled groan, then he lay his head back, twitched, and went limp. I rushed over and checked him for a pulse.

“He’s dead, Gorilla,” I said. “The Great Emancipator snapped his neck.”

“Hmph. Don’t look too great to me.”

“Granted, though I’m certain he’s not at his best. Struck down by a cowardly actor. That’s democracy for you. What precisely are we dealing with, Gorilla?”

“Black magic?” said Todd.

“Doubtful.”

“Sinister Martian technology?”

“Highly unlikely, though you earn top marks for making me chuckle. No, Todd, our suspect resembles nothing so much as thin air.”

“What do you mean?”

I walked over to another vat and kicked at the release valve until golden nuclear beer gushed out and sprayed my feet. Bending low under the faucet, I proceeding to fill my robot super stomach with hoppy ale.

My jointed fingers tapped a supple syncopated rhythm on my forehead. Performed a million mental processes. A million plus fifty. The span of a single human heartbeat.

“Eureka!” I exclaimed. “The cause of the murderous spacetime schism is—”

Rather out of the blue, a naked caveman came screaming at us from the shadows. He shouted, “Gooba! Blabba!” and then proceeded to club me over the head with a tree branch.

“Ouch!” I shouted. “Help me, Todd, you great galoot!”

Gorilla Todd ripped the branch away and roared a mighty challenge. The caveman roared back. His skin rippled with flash wrinkles, hair going brittle and gray, just like Lincoln’s. Hearty fellow, he attacked Todd, ripped out a chunk of gorilla hair and fish-hooked my simian companion.

“You rotten mook!” Gorilla shouted, caveman fingers sliding in and out of his mouth. He wrapped his meaty hands round the caveman’s throat and began to throttle the poor fellow.

“Gorilla, no!” I said.

Five new holes ripped open in the air above us. One long, continuous Riiiip, and that same kaleidoscopic clash. Out of the holes fell a cute orange kitten, a young renaissance painter, a popular ancient professional football quarterback, a potted cactus, and lastly, Richard Milhous Nixon.

Nixon crumpled to the ground, got one look at Lincoln and shrieked, “Jesus Christ! What happened to that poor bastard?”

All of them aged. The kitten grew, got fat, got skinny, and died. The renaissance painter, fingers covered in vibrant red and green oils, said something in Italian about unfinished masterworks, choked on his tongue, and summarily expired.

“We gotta do something, Robot!” said Todd, still choking the dwindling, gasping caveman.

“Do what?” I said. “And stop choking that caveman!”

Nixon died screaming, gurgling, clawing at the air.

“Todd,” I said, “we have to dump the beer!”

“The beer?” said Todd.

“It’s a bad batch! It must be. There’s no murderer here. Tainted Zippy Beer has caused a schism in space and time!”

Seven more air holes ripped open. From them dropped a sea bass, the Marquis de Sade, two members of a light contemporary jazz quartet, an earth worm, Eddie Murphy, and a two hundred twenty-five foot tall California redwood tree.

The redwood thudded to the factory floor, split the concrete, rose and sprawled, broke through the high white ceiling. The factory lights flickered. Ceiling chunks rained down on us.

“The beer, Todd! Dump it!”

Todd let go the shriveled caveman. He leapt for the redwood, scaled its trunk hand-over-hand. He braced himself against the vat, pushed at it with all his might.

“It won’t budge!” he said.

Three more air holes ripped open. A snail, a circus elephant, a street vendor holding tacos.

Think. Think.

I tapped a rhythm on my forehead.

“Eureka!” I exclaimed.

I leapt for the tree, climbed for a branch, squared my shoulders, and then I dove into the beer.

In haste, I began to drink it, slurp it all up. My robot super stomach swelled. Five hundred gallons. Seven hundred, a thousand. The roiling, bloody fashion model beer, it washed down my throat at a hundred-thousand PSI. Rushing, roaring through my alloy sternum. My body rocked and strained. I groaned like industrial machinery.

“It’s working, Robot!” said Todd. “The holes are slowing down!”

A riip here, small rip there. And then it stopped.

Bodies grew old and died; the redwood rotted, split. Half fell and crushed the factory wall. In rushed the night air, our arid post-nuclear wind. Our city out there—Grim City One—twinkled like starlight. Bricks and heavy steel beams and girders fell all around us. Clouds of dust lifted and lingered until well after relative stillness had filled the factory.

Gorilla Todd gasped from exertion. He stumbled down from the remnants of the redwood and sat against its trunk, eyeing the bodies, all the destruction.

“You did it, Robot,” he said. “You’re a friggin’ genius, you know that?”

Of course I knew. I also knew I was big as a house. Big like a beer vat and just as full. Body engorged, I looked like a head swimming in sea of scrap metal, jammed into the vat like some kind of sardine.

“Tainted spacetime-schismatic beer,” I wheezed. “I might have known! Perhaps a super-accelerated atomic contaminant—a mutation in the solitary photosynthetic apparatus, for instance—exceeded localized time dilation barriers and generated contiguous Einstein-Rosen pathways. And to think, Albert Einstein believed time was non-real!”

“Erm, Ein-who?” said Todd.

“Call in a containment unit, Gorilla. Call in the best they’ve got. And get the Chief down here, too. I fear, Todd, our troubles are just beginning.”

Gorilla Todd huffed. He pondered a moment, and then his thick brow lifted as realization dawned.

“Oh no,” he said. “You don’t mean….”

“Precisely,” I replied. “In approximately thirty-nine minutes, I will have to void my robo-bladder like a racehorse. The game, as they say, my dear Gorilla Todd, is afoot.”

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Love/Madness/Demon, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. His latest novel, Resurrection Mixtape, is available on Amazon now.


Bowlesian! – Zombie Crave Human Exceptionalism

Note: This is a just a fun little flash piece to get you in the mood for October. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Zombie Crave Human Exceptionalism

by Jeff Bowles

Dr. Everett J. Edmunds raised his zombies from nothing but spare parts and voodoo. He believed his living dead should crave the best, most exceptional brains. Therefore, in procuring their daily meals, he kidnapped only lawyers and doctors, novelists and scientists, Nobel lauriates, Olympians and the like. Late nights he’d strap these unfortunates to the chair in his subterranean laboratory and read them poetry whilst playing an old Bach vinyl.

“Why, Dr. Browning, you look pale,” he might say. “Perhaps some electrolytes before my darlings feast? Malaise in the system is no good at dinner time.”

And of course, upon devouring each subject, his zombies gained further appreciation for human exceptionalism, thereby endowing themselves with heightened intelligence, communication faculties, charm and wit. This was the theory, at least. Everett had found hard clinical proof difficult to come by.

One evening, as the sun set on his small, weed-infested home, his door buzzer rang, interrupting an attempt to teach his horde Calculus. Everett swore and hushed the zombies, climbing the steps into the house proper. All his life he’d been an achiever, which was why his bookcases and mantle were lined with trophies, awards, and certificates of excellence. The medical community valued his intellect, but people wouldn’t understand his true calling. Perhaps his walk-in freezer was full of arms and hearts and torsos, but he was no cold-blooded killer; rather Edmund was a brilliant scientist, the most exceptional brain of his generation.

He opened the door with a prolonged, rusty squeek. There stood the love of his life, the one who got away, a half-zombie named Camilla. If regret had a voice, it’d be soft and sweet as hers.

She cooed a loving, “Braaaaains!”

To which Everett replied, “My darling, you’ve come back to me!”

“Brains!”

“Of course, my love. Come inside. Your horde misses you, as do I.”

She followed dutifully, through the house and back down into the laboratory. The rest of the horde would eat him as soon as look at him, but not his Camilla. She’d been so beautiful in life, his favorite nurse at the hospital. The car crash that claimed her life hadn’t been entirely accidental.

From the book of voodoo spells he’d purchased on Amazon, he’d selected a special hex he used just once: the half-zombie, or Death’s First Kiss. Though her skin had rotted and her jawbone flopped like the useless handle of a can opener, Camilla was still the most beautiful woman Dr. Edmunds had ever seen. He embraced her. She smelled wonderful … ish.

“Dearest, why don’t you climb back in the cage where you belong? Your brothers and sisters would love the chance to pick your–”

“Braaaaains!”

“What do you mean they won’t like you anymore? Have you really changed so much?”

Camilla indicated she had, and then proceeded to describe her adventures in the world of the living. Apparently, she’d tried to go back to school, and had even attended her nephew’s bar mitzvah, a ghastly affair which had seen her own family chase her into the night. The doctor opened the cage door cautiously, sensing a lull in his zombies’ aggression.

“Dear heart, please step inside,” he said. “When you ran away, I lost a piece of myself.”

“Brains!” she said, which translated loosely as, I’m wearing a wire, Everett.

“What do you mean you’re wearing a wire?” he asked.

“Brrrrrains!”—What do you mean, what do I mean? The police have already arrived, and you are going to jail for what you’ve done. It took me years to realize it, but you’re the monster, not me. Now don’t struggle.

The door to the laboratory burst open. Waves of gun-toting police filed in, barking for him to hit the floor and put his hands behind his back. Dr. Edmunds refused. Though he always suspected this day might come, he somehow thought he’d be the one to betray himself, not his dear Camilla.

Everett ran into the cage, slammed the door, pressed in tightly with his zombies, and bellowed, “Take me now, my beauties!”

But his zombies ignored him. In fact, they paid him no more attention than Camilla paid basic rules of variative syntax. This, of course, was the real tragedy. For if they didn’t want to eat his delicious, fertile, exceptional brain … well maybe he wasn’t so exceptional after all. The police urged Camilla to yank him from the cage. She did so and they placed him in handcuffs.

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles, doc,” said one of the officers, brutish man with coffee stains on his uniform.

“How dare you!” Everett spat. “If they ever ate an imbecile like you, I’d burn my diplomas!”

The cops led him from his home. After reading his miranda rights on the street, they gathered around their police cruisers and watched Night of the Living Dead on a smart phone. Camilla wept softly from afar. Movie looked so fake.

Braaaains.

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!

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Mind Fields – “Missing: One Male Libido”

Mind Fields

LOST: ONE MALE LIBIDO This libido (center figure) was last seen on December 31, 2016.  It is approximately ten feet tall, six feet wide and four feet deep.  It has between twelve and twenty horns of various descriptions.  It’s covered in long brown fur and has eyes all the way around its cylindrical body.  The number of fingers, tentacles and hands it may possess are unknown as it can sprout extra limbs at moments of high stress.  It is not very intelligent but possesses a wild cunning that can catch pursuers off guard. If you see this libido DO NOT APPROACH IT. DO NOT ATTEMPT A DIALOGUE. IT IS NOT AMENABLE TO REASON. Call the local sheriff’s department, dial 911 or email me at artsdigiphoto@gmail.com.

There are commonly available and well known techniques that calm this libido but I discourage their use except in extremely dangerous situations. Under proper conditions this is a highly trained and valuable libido. I am reluctant to cause it damage or harm. You might call it by one of its names: Thor, Zeus or Johnny. This tactic may backfire, however, for if it is Johnny and is called Thor or Zeus it gets very upset. Likewise if it is Thor and is called Johnny, etc… The best approach is simply to say, “Hey big guy. How’s it hangin’.” It has been trained to recognize this as a non-threatening mnemonic. It may trigger my libido’s desire to return to its so-called master.

I repeat: DO NOT APPROACH THIS LIBIDO. CALL THE AUTHORITIES OR NOTIFY ME AS SOON AS POSSIBLE at artsdigiphoto@gmail.com.
REWARD OFFERED: I will give you, free of charge,  my guaranteed technique for healing all stress, depression and emotional trauma.

SPECIAL CAUTION: Do not mistake this libido for the so-called Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti or Skunk Ape. It is not a primate and is immune to veterinary drugs. Rather than seek out police or Forest Rangers it may be more useful to find an old shaman from the Chumash or Miwok tribes. A qualified shaman will likely be more useful in the safe return of this treasured libido.

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Arthur Rosch is a novelist, musician, photographer and poet. His works are funny, memorable and often compelling. One reviewer said “He’s wicked and feisty, but when he gets you by the guts, he never lets go.” Listeners to his music have compared him to Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Randy Newman or Mose Allison. These comparisons are flattering but deceptive. Rosch is a stylist, a complete original. His material ranges from sly wit to gripping political commentary.

Arthur was born in the heart of Illinois and grew up in the western suburbs of St. Louis. In his teens he discovered his creative potential while hoping to please a girl. Though she left the scene, Arthur’s creativity stayed behind. In his early twenties he moved to San Francisco and took part in the thriving arts scene. His first literary sale was to Playboy Magazine. The piece went on to receive Playboy’s “Best Story of the Year” award. Arthur also has writing credits in Exquisite Corpse, Shutterbug, eDigital, and Cat Fancy Magazine. He has written five novels, a memoir and a large collection of poetry. His autobiographical novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won the Honorable Mention award from Writer’s Digest in 2016.

More of his work can be found at www.artrosch.com

Photos at https://500px.com/p/artsdigiphoto?view=photos

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Bowlesian! – Jack the Hammer’s Online Identity Crisis

Jack the Hammer’s Online Identity Crisis

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, available on Amazon now.


{CLICK}
Welcome back to mysecretdiary.com, Jackson! Your personal online diary is open and ready for more secrets!

January 18
Mood: sad
Outlook: cloudy with a chance of misery
Jackson Palmer ain’t my name no more. I realized that today, diary. Pissed me off royally. They been calling me Jack the Hammer for nearly twenty years. Twenty goddamn years! Frustrating. Infuriating. I fix problems for people. Pretty good at it, too. Least I used to be. Mafia, Triad, I don’t judge. But what’s a hard case like me to do when I’m the one in need of fixing?
Here’s my secret for today, diary: I been doing this lousy work so long, I often forget there’s places out there where nobody gets shot, or extorted, or wrapped up in garbage bags and dumped in the Hudson River.
You should see what they been saying about me over on thugieslist.com.

{CLICK}
Welcome to thugieslist.com, the world’s premier consumer review site for mafia thugs, hit men, and muscle. You have selected to display the latest reviews for Hoboken, New Jersey’s Jackson “Jack the Hammer” Palmer.

wiseguyforlife36
Jack the Hammer is a total joke. I used to like the guy. I used to respect him like crazy. But he’s gone soft. There just ain’t no getting through to the guy. I specifically told him to keep an eye out.
“Jack,” I says to him. “You stay in the car and keep an eye out. Rosco and I will make the deal.”
So me and my boy Rosco went to make the deal, only the deal went south. They started shooting at us. We shot back. Rosco and I high-tailed it to the car.
“What the shit is this?” says Rosco.
Shit you not, Jack the Hammer was napping behind the wheel! You believe that? KEE-RIST!
One star for services NOT rendered!

collegegradmike
gradulated comunity college with Jack. hlped me improv my english, He’s an ok dood I guess. but I hav to say, the guys lost his edge. Same dood worked muscle for Boss DiMaggio for 17 yers. Imagine that guy going soFt! Its like he dont care no more. Not a profeshinal. Real slippery eel. and have you sen his face LaTeley? Talk about an major SKIN CONDITION! 2 stars.

{CLICK}
Welcome back to mysecretdiary.com, Jackson!
Diary,
I got two fists like Texas T-bones. Got a pendant for Saint George and a rosary around my neck. Got a stomach ulcer so big and bad it’s got its own mailing address.
Had to work over Ricky the Rat today. Poor old Rick was a broken, bloody wad of hamburger before I was through with him. I brought him down to the meat plant ‘cause the boss said to tenderize him.
He cried, “Don’t hit me no more, Jack!” and, “Not in the face! Mother of chicken lasagna, not in the goddamn face!”
But I couldn’t help myself. Used to have better control, you know?
“Look at you!” I said. “Bet you think you look better than me, Rick. So damn handsome. So debonair. I got a skin condition, understand?” I socked him in the eye. “I got a skin condition!” I slammed his head into a big suspended steer carcass.
“Awwwwooooow! You’re crazy, man! You’re fucking crazy! You look fine!”
Horse shit! Most people’re so flashy. Know what I’m saying? So damn flashy and sassy. And me. Look at me. Grade A, prime-cut loser. With a side of special loser sauce. And loser steak fries. So you can dip the fries into the . . .
Ah, what does it matter?
I worked old Ricky over pretty good. Too good, actually. The boss gets one good look at him and says, “I can’t use him like this. Poor bastard ought to be in traction.”
I could’a been a doctor, you know? Or even like a politician. Governor Palmer. Senator Palmer. The Hammer always got so much respect. But what if I don’t want to be the Hammer no more? Ah, hell, what if I don’t even know who the Hammer is?

Incoming message from friendtracker.com instant messaging

{CLICK}
—Jackson? Are you online?
Yeah.
—Payment didn’t come through, Jackson.
Jesus, doc, you know I’m good for it.
—I know you’ve been good for it in the past. I also know you’re having an existential meltdown at the moment.
So what if I am?
—Jackson, we’ve talked about this. Anger is always healthy. But what do we say about rage?
Come on, doc . . .
—Jackson, reinforcement is key. It really is. What do we say about rage?
You can’t spell discourage without rage.
—And?
You also can’t spell discourage without disco.
—And?
Disco is the prefix of both disconnect and discord.
—And?
Christ, doc, I gotta tell you, it gets fuzzy for me after that.
—Hmph. That figures. Where the fuck’s my money, Jackson?
Yeesh. I’ll get it to you.
—Huh?
I said I’ll get it to you. Next week. All right? Fair enough? Aren’t psychiatrists supposed to be, you know, more nurturing than this?
—Perhaps. Most psychiatrists don’t pay alimony to three different women, though. Good afternoon, Jackson. Onward towards mental stability!

{CLICK}
I think the doc means business this time, diary. I wonder how my cash reserve situation is looking.

{CLICK}
First Bank of Hoboken Online Branch: we are open and ready to serve you, Jackson.
Checking: $4.21
Savings: $0.02
We notice your funds are a bit low. Consider applying for a personal loan today!

{CLICK}
Note to self: sigh

{CLICK}
Welcome back to thugieslist.com. Previously viewed profile loaded.

DarthToughGuy
Hang on, hang on, hang the frig on. You guys want to tell me you’ve got nothing good to say about old Jack? Nothing at all? Hell, man, I’ll go to the mat for him. Maybe’s the guy’s lost his edge—and I ain’t saying he ain’t—but whatever’s bothering him right now, he’ll get it sorted out. Trust me. I grew up with Jack. Some’a youse wise guys know that 😉
He was a good kid, man. Good to his mom, good to his friends and his baby sister. He was smart. Real smart. I mean, his dad was a loser—put the belt to the poor guy, oh, three, four times a week—but I really do think Jack’s done well to make the best of a bad situation. How many of you bellyachers has this man bent over backwards for? How many times, whether you invited him to or not, has he bailed your assess out and pulled your scorching nutsacks from the proverbial fire?
When the boss says push a button on a guy, good old Jackie pushes the button. When the boss says take out that armored car containing kilo after glorious kilo of White Bunk, hell, man, he’s the only guy on the job don’t powder his own nose. We go way back, Jackie and me. He’s never let me down. At least, he never used to.

collegegradmike
earth to DarthToughGuy: Up yours, DINGUS LICKER! I don’t give a holy SHIZ whts “bothering” Jack. darth, plese. the guys a expert screw up! I wus with him the other day, Freakshow started crying in the middle of Dr. Hoo. I mean, we wer just sitting there, watching Dr. Hoo, and the looser starts bawlin like a little girl! I askd him what was wrong and all, Jack just wipes his eyes and says, “watch you’re fcking Dr. Hoo! Stop asking so many stoopid fcking questions!”
Fcker totoally ruined BBC nite with THE DOCTOR! Wht a jerk! My 2 star review has been downgraded to a very pissed off 1 STAR!

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Welcome to jobfisher.com! Reinvigorate your life with a new career from JobFisher today!
Search listings for: “thug” AND “hired gun” AND “gentle heart” AND “good with children”
Searching . . .
No jobs found.

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DarthToughGuy
Listen here, collegegradmike, you don’t know jack about Jack!

collegegradmike
I know he shits all ovr Dr. Hoo! Thats what I know!

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I just can’t understand where my life went off the rails, diary.
Yeah, I cry. Ain’t no shame in that. Show me a guy who don’t cry at all, and I’ll show you a real cold fish. My old man never cried. Not in front of me, anyhow. I am absolutely convinced he never shed a single tear in his life, neither.
I’m drinking too much. Maybe that’s the problem. What was that country song from back in the day? Beer full’a tears or some crap? Something like that?
Don’t know. Don’t care.
Hey, I got reasons to cry, all right? I got some shit wrong with my life. And I don’t just cry every once in a while. I cry a lot. More than a lot. I cry all the damn time. I’m a wreck. I’m a time bomb. I’m a—
Hold on. Pizza’s here.
. . . . . .
You see what I mean? You see how I just demolished that entire pizza by myself? Who the fuck does that? ‘Cept fer like chicks on the rag and super fat dudes and—
Aw, man, what the fuck is wrong with me!

Incoming message from friendtracker.com instant messaging

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—Jackson, it’s your psychiatrist again. 2nd wife late on Jaguar payment. Next week not soon enough. Going to need that money from you, guy. Pay up.

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DarthToughGuy
Hey, collegegradmike, go fuck yourself! How ’bout that, wise-ass? Go fuck yourself, you fucking SKIN FLUTE GUZZLER!

collegegradmike
Hey, fck you, pal! Fck you and fck you’re fcking hole lcking stupid fck face!

DarthToughGuy
Really? That’s nice. Umm, how old are you?

collegegradmike
the Fck dose it matter how fcking old I am?! Old enogh to stick a fcking candelabra up your fcking ace and lite it on fire with a fcking WWII flame throwr!

{CLICK}
Stop, STOP, STOP!
It’s too much craziness, diary. It’s too much insanity. Is a little peace and calm too hard to come by these days? Is catching just one goddamn break every now and then?
When I was kid, man, oh, I had everything figured out. I knew what the world was. Better yet, I knew who I was. How come I was so much wiser then? How come I feel so stupid now?
I’m forty-nine years old. I have no children. I have no significant other. Hell, man, most of the time I don’t even have a proper pad to crash at. I had chances to be happy. I had shots at the golden mile. But I blew ’em. Each and every last one of them. I feel ugly. I feel old. I hate myself so much it’s hard to breathe sometimes.
Ugh.
I guess you don’t understand.
‘Cause you’re just a stupid online diary.
And I substitute you for actual human companionship.
And I’m acting like some lovesick-puppy sixteen-year-old girl
Ugh.
Well that’s it. That’s decided. No more fucking around. Here we go.

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Welcome to jobfisher.com! Search listings for “entry level” AND “on-job training” AND “good with children” AND

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No, no, you know what, diary?

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Welcome to partyoftwo.com, the hottest spot for relationship hunting on the WWW!
Search for: “40’s-something” AND “warm personality” AND “generous spirit” AND

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No, that’s not it either, diary. A chick is the last thing I need right now. I know what I have to do. I know how to get my life back on track.

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First Bank of Hoboken Online Branch: consider applying for a personal loan today!
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You have selected Apply for a Personal Loan. Do you wish to continue?
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. . . Processing . . .
. . . Processing . . .
Personal loan approved! Congratulations, Jackson!

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Doc, are you still there?
—I am
Good
—You got my money?
Yeah, doc. Payment’ll be on your way real soon.

{CLICK}
Welcome to contractkillers.net!
We make people disappear, capicé?™
Search for: “Hoboken” AND “psychiatrist hit” AND “money no object” AND “make it hurt”

{CLICK}
You know something, diary? Maybe all I need is a little house cleaning. It’s not like anybody’ll be able to trace it back to me.
It all comes around. It all comes around, man. Where you been, Jackson? Where you been hiding?
Just like that, diary, I am feeling much, much better. 🙂

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!

_______________________________________________________________________

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Bowlesian! – Itsies

Itsies

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection Brave New Multiverse, available on Amazon now.


I introduced Pamela to my itsy on our first date. Oh I know, most people wait until their second or third, but I really liked Pamela. Straight away I could tell we were going to hit it off.

“I’m glad we decided to do this,” I told her.

She narrowed her eyes, “Why is your itsy dressed like a teddy bear?”

My itsy was dressed like a teddy bear. Head to toe, fluffy ears, fluffy tail, round little tummy. It was his favorite outfit. I wasn’t going to tell him he couldn’t wear it.

Itsies aren’t really people. They look and act like people, and they definitely do have minds of their own, but they’re more like little mini extensions of ourselves, you know what I mean? Like my itsy, I call him Tug. He looks exactly like me. That’s pretty common. Itsies live on the tops of people’s heads and sleep in their hair. They spend most of the day under their hats.

My hat was off just then, sitting there on our table. I supposed Pamela wasn’t quite ready to take her own hat off.

I smiled at her, beamed at her, actually. I said to Tug, “Don’t be rude, Tug. Say hello to Pamela.”

Tug said, “Fuck yourself!”

I sighed. “Now Tug, you know I don’t like that language.”

“Fuck it! You introduce me!” His voice was high, squeaky, a shrill, keening falsetto. “You promised me cookies! Give me my cookies or I’ll eat Pamela alive!”

I sighed again, reached into my pocket to retrieve a miniature box of animal crackers. I set the crackers atop my head. Tug started noshing and gobbling. I felt a sense of calm wash over me as he did.

“Are you sure you want to keep him out like that?” said Pamela.

I glanced around the restaurant. My favorite Vietnamese place. Really good phở and bánh mì sandwiches. Rich, mouthwatering smell of seared beef and pork. Portraits on the walls of Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City. The only other customers, an old white man and an old white woman, struggled with chop sticks and rice noodles in a corner booth.

“Do you think anybody minds?” I said.

Pamela shrugged. “I don’t. Only, you know, if he eats too much his stomach is liable to explode. That sort of thing can happen, you know. He might get the wrong idea, surrounded by all this food.”

“More cookies!” said Tug.

I gave him another box of animal crackers.

“So um, Tom,” said Pamela, “how do you like working for my father?”

I met Pamela at her father’s office. High-powered advertising, ads for humans and itsies alike. I was low man on the totem pole. I’d stared at Pamela’s picture on his desk for months before I actually saw her in person. Those deep brown eyes, those full, pouty lips.

I sat there studying her face and caught myself imagining waterfalls, thunderstorms, exploding geysers. Things wet. Things loud and gushing.

“Tom wants to fuck you,” said Tug.

“Tug!”

“It’s true, Tom. You’re not fooling anyone. Hey lady, how many cookies you think I can fit in my mouth?”

“I … I don’t know,” said Pamela.

“A fistful. That’s how many. Watch.”

Then Tug made more noshing, gobbling sounds. I felt another wave of calm wash over me, even though I knew my face must’ve been five shades redder.

“Pamela, listen …”

“It’s okay, Tom,” she said. “If human beings were any good at saying what they really want, God never would have given us itsies to begin with.”

“I guess so.”

“And I’m flattered.”

“You are?”

Pamela sighed. “Well you know, my father being who he is. Most guys just pine for me and never bother to ask me out. Oh, I hope I didn’t sound full of myself just then. They pine. They just do, you know?”

“I do know,” I said.

She shook her head. “So either I don’t get dates at all, or I get to date the really crazy ones who think their tiny little men are God’s gift.”

“I don’t think my tiny little man is God’s gift. I’m nothing special. He isn’t anything special, either. My tiny little man’s only a few inches tall. He’s so tiny–“

“We are still talking about your itsy, right?” said Pamela.

“The point, Pam, is that even though I’ve got a few shortcomings, whatever the cost, whatever it takes, I made the decision to always be brave and to be the kind of man I am meant to be.”

“Hmm. I like that. When did you make that decision?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“I decided it the moment I laid eyes on you.”

Pamela smiled. “That’s sweet.”

* * * * *

I didn’t know it at the time, but Pamela was a very unhappy woman. She hadn’t always been. She was sunny when she was younger, the most positive person in the room. Just lately, as the years had begun to mount up, and forty was suddenly closer than thirty, failed relationship after failed relationship had left her feeling damaged, marooned, poisonous and poisoned

She’d gotten into feeding her itsy late night snacks. Our little men and our little women don’t come with instruction manuals. God gave them to us. Or evolution or whatever. We come screaming from the womb. Our itsies come screaming after. If God did it, it was because he understood men and women are masters of self-deception. If it was evolution, then nature randomly selected humans to have a miniature rude version of themselves camped out on the tops of their heads.

Anyway, bad things happen when you feed itsies late night snacks. Pamela knew this. Even so, cold fried chicken, piece for her, piece for her itsy. Double pepperoni, double cheese pizza. Everything double. She was ordering for two, after all.

Thing about feeding an itsy is, it makes you feel better. Makes you calmer, tames the beast. They are the id. The inner child which dwells deep inside, that which is never at peace, always lusting, always wanting more and more and more.

* * * * *

We ate our meals. We talked and joked. At some point Tug said, “It’s half past a baboon’s bright red ass.” And we both knew it was time to go home.

On the sidewalk, we hugged.

“I had a nice time,” I said.

“Yeah, me too,” Pamela replied.

“You mean it?”

She laughed. “I do mean it.”

“Walk you to your car?”

“Sure.”

Brown and yellow leaves crunched beneath our feet as we huddled together and crossed to the sidewalk. A harvest moon shone high above the tops of buildings. It was autumn in the city. A cold breeze blew and Pamela scrunched herself down into her Barbour jacket.

“I’m glad you asked me out, Tom,” she said.

“Yeah, me too. Would you like to do it again?”

“I would.”

“I know this great Greek place over on–Oh my god, that woman is crushing that car!”

“What?”

“Over there! The parking lot! That woman is–“

“Oh, shit.”

“–crushing that car and she’s–“

“That’s no woman, Tom,” said Pamela

“It isn’t?!” I exclaimed.

Tug rustled around under my ball cap. “Let me see!”

“Petunia!” Pamela shrieked. “I told you to stay at home!”

Petunia? Dear Lord. She was eight feet tall and had more muscles than human beings are supposed to have. Only she wasn’t a human being. Thigh muscles, neck muscles, rippling biceps, triceps, sheening and glossy, bare breasts of muscle, even her head seemed like it was one big, veiny, throbbing muscle.

“Oh Tom, what you must think of me.” Pamela said.

“She’s crushing that car.”

“That’s my car.”

“And she is way too big for that pair of underwear.”

“That’s my underwear, too. Oh Tom, I am so embarrassed.”

Petunia looked like Pamela coated in liquid Schwarzenegger. She was lying on her side on top of the car, eating a chicken. Not a piece of chicken. Not a cooked chicken, either. Petunia was stuffing a whole live chicken into her face. It clucked and screamed and fought like a little chicken champ.

Petunia bellowed, “Down the hatch!” And then, the chicken disappeared.

Pamela ran to her.

“Bad girl, Petunia!” she said. “That’s a bad, bad girl!”

Petunia belched and grew a whole foot taller. Pamela’s car crunched and all four tires popped.

Pop! Pop, pop, pop!

Big Petunia made a queasy face. “Was that me? I think that was me.”

“No it wasn’t you!” said Pamela. “If it was you, the shockwave would’ve killed us all!”

My mouth hung open. My eyes were wide like Vietnamese noodle bowls.

I heard Tug say, “Damnit, man, let me see her!”

The ball cap popped off my head. Tug gasped.

“That’s a whole lotta woman!” His tiny hands and feet dug into my scalp.

I stooped, grabbed my hat, and made my way to Pamela and nudged her with an arm.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why are you wearing your hat if you left your itsy at home?”

Pamela shook her head. Her eyes glistened in the harsh orange neon light. “Oh Tom, I am just so ashamed. I fed her and fed her, and she just ate and ate, and she hasn’t stopped eating, not in weeks. I just wanted to feel good for a damn change.”

“Weeks?” I said. “You’ve been feeding her for weeks?”

Pamela wiped her eyes. “I know you think I’m this awesome person. I know everybody thinks that. I’m just not.”

“Pamela …” I said. I wrapped her in a hug.

Petunia rose onto her knees, car metal creaking and glass shattering to sparkling pellets. She grimaced at me, pointed one long veiny finger. “Hey you! Lover boy! Hands off the merchandise!”

“Me?” I said.

“Did I fucking stutter? You! You wormy little bedsheet stain! You and your miniscule, worthless, man-doll of an itsy!”

Tug shrieked. “She means me! She knows I exist! How do I look? Is my teddy bear costume on straight?”

“Petunia, stop,” said Pamela. “I’m sorry, Tom. She’s a bit roided-out at the moment.”

“Roided-out!” said Petunia. “You ain’t seen me roided-out. Not yet, sister.”

She hopped to her feet and stepped off Pamela’s car. Thud. She dwarfed us. My eyes were level with her enormous, erect, inch-long nipples. Big Petunia took her head in her hands. She cracked her neck left, cracked it right. She slammed her fist into her palm. Again. Again. It made a loud, solid thocking sound. Thock. Thock. Thock.

I stared at that fist. I was dumbstruck. Couldn’t think of a word to say. Pamela pulled away from me. Her eyes darted from me to Petunia. Nobody said a thing. Just that heavy thock, thock, thock.

“Gah!” said Tug. “I can’t take it anymore! Do it! I need to see you in action!”

“Tug,” I said, “you’re not helping.”

“Not trying to help, you human gutter ball! God, I need to see you in action. Oh, it’s killing me!”

“Killing you?” said Petunia. “Little man, down the hatch you go.”

She plucked Tug off my head, clutched his body between a massive finger and a mighty thumb.

“No, don’t!” screamed Pamela.

But it was too late. Petunia ate Tug. Swallowed him whole. Gulp and then, he was gone.

“Now it’s your turn, lover boy!” she said.

She took hold of my arm and lifted me up by it until we were mouth to mouth and eyelash to eyelash.

I’m not going to lie. Fear took hold and I thought I might cry or scream or piss my pants. But instead, I took a moment and told myself a few choice words. You decided to always be brave. The moment you laid eyes on Pamela, you decided to be the man you were meant to be.

I hocked a wad of phlegm and spat in Petunia’s eye. She wiped it away, glared at me, then grinned.

“Mistake number two, lover boy,” she said.

Pamela beat against her, slamming impotent fists at her itsy’s taut, flexing abdominal muscles. She kept screaming, “You monster! You monster!” But Petunia paid her no attention. Her eyes cooked me like sliced beef in scalding-hot Vietnamese broth. Breath stinking like rotten chicken corpses and little itsy men.

“You listen here,” she said. “No man is good enough for my Pam. No man, not nowhere, not no-how. You don’t think I know what you are, lover boy? You don’t think I know you’ll hurt her like all the rest?”

Pamela was shrieking now. “Stop! I said stop it!”

“She feeds me so she’ll be happy,” said Petunia, cheeks red and quivering with barely suppressed rage. “She feeds me so pukes like you can’t touch her no more. I am going to eat you now. And you are going to let me do it. I like my meat raw. I like it tenderized.”

“Stop making threats,” I said. “If you’re going to eat me, go on and–“

She wrapped her arm around my waist. She wound me up, and then she threw me clear across the parking lot.

I was airborne. A million thoughts occurred at once.

No more id.

No more inner child.

God, he was a rotten little itsy.

God, he was just awful, wasn’t he?

Yeah, but he was my rotten little–

I crashed through the plate glass window of the ticket booth at the end of the parking lot.

I went through up to my waist. My legs caught on the glass. I felt a knifing kind of pain. Lacerations. The feeling of being cut to pieces. I screamed.

Petunia stomped over to the booth. She stuck her head through the window. “Oh, you big baby! It’s just a scratch.”

But I could see blood, and I could feel that knifing, that gouging, those lacerations.

“Big baby! Big baby!” she said. “You want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about.”

She reached through and clamped a hand down over my head. Bam! She slammed my head against the concrete floor. Blam! She did it again. Boom! One more time.

I saw stars and moons and clucking chickens taking flight, flying like real birds, all around my head. And I saw my itsy, poor little Tug. I saw chicken beaks biting into him. Saw chicken teeth chomping on his little brains.

I mumbled, “Chicken teeth.”

Petunia leaned further into the booth. “Huh?”

“Do … chickens … have teeth?”

“Don’t think so, champ.” And then Petunia broke my arm.

Snap!

I howled and spat and spoke in tongues.

Pamela crept up behind Petunia. She jabbed at her with a tire iron.

“You leave my man alone!” she said.

She used the prying crowbar end like a mafia hitman might use an icepick, sliding it into Petunia’s ear. Seemed like Pamela was trying to scramble her itsy’s brains. Then again, it also seemed like the world was falling away from me and growing browner and browner and more and more like nap time yes into the sticky syrup, captain I soiled myself I apologize most sincerely must be dying, please sew my coffin from clean undies.

The brain scrambling thing didn’t work. Petunia wrenched the tire iron from her ear. It was coated in blood, but the big girl was still on her feet.

“Pamela!” she said. “Oh, so we’re calling him your man now?”

Petunia backhanded her. Pamela flew from view.

“I have had it with you, Pam,” Petunia bellowed. “I have absolutely had it! Shit! Fuck it! Let’s eat!”

She tore off my shoe, my sock, and then she stuck my whole foot in her mouth. She bit down. Took a few toes.

It didn’t hurt like I expected. In fact, I felt kind of good. Yes, suddenly, inexplicably, very comfortable and very calm. The face she made was indecipherable. Maybe it was all the glistening muscles. It was the kind of expression a person wears when they’re concentrating really hard. Or maybe the kind of expression a person wears when they drink too much soda and have surgery, bubbly-pain like diving ocean deep and emerging with the bends. She made that face, then she spat the rest of my foot out.

“Oh,” she said, and then again, “Oh.”

Blood dripped from the corner of her mouth.

She said, “Oh.”

And then her stomach exploded. Blood, guts, muscles, chickens, it all burst out like a cheap New Year’s popper loaded with Halloween gore.

Pop!

And it splattered me like sopping red confetti.

A tiny voice said, “See? You see that? Ate too much. You gotta watch that, sister.”

Petunia slumped against the ticket booth. A little man, my little man, emerged from the carnage-crater that was her stomach.

“Tug?” I said.

Petunia’s dead, twitching eyes stared right at me.

“Yeah, boss?” Tug ate a chunk of something small and pink. He was covered in blood, a few inches taller than when Petunia had swallowed him. His teddy bear suit had ripped and popped its seams.

“Stop eating,” I mumbled.

“Yeesh, boss, you look rough.”

“Stop eating. For God’s sake, stop eating.”

“Huh? Why the hell should I stop? It’s delicious. That girl was well fed, man.”

Every time he took a bite, I felt it, that calmness and warmth. It was nice. Felt better than the pain. Even so, I mumbled, “Tug, you have got to stop eating.”

I was powerless to stop him. Couldn’t move. I was bleeding to death and I knew it.

“Well maybe I don’t want to stop,” said Tug. “Maybe I’m sick to death of taking orders from you. Yeah, you know what? I think we need a regime change. I think I ought to be the one calling the–“

Pamela snatched the chunk of Petunia from his hands and smacked him upside the head.

“Don’t be stupid,” she said.

“Hey, I was eating that!”

She smacked him again.

“And don’t talk back. I’ve had enough of disobedient itsies to last a lifetime.”

Tug shouted, “Who the hell do you think you–“

She smacked him.

“Goddamnit, quit smacking me!”

She raised her hand for another.

“All right! All right!” he said. “Nasty woman! Nasty!”

“Go get in my car. The crushed one. Bring me my cell phone. We need to call an ambulance. Treat you like I should’ve treated her.”

Tug grumbled and swore, but he obeyed nonetheless. Once he was gone, Pamela carefully picked her way over the broken glass, past the ruined, bloody form of her former itsy, and through the window until she was crouching beside me.

“Oh Tom,” she said. “I am so sorry.”

“S’okay,” I said.

“No, it’s not okay. I created a monster. Oh what a mess. Tom, I am so, so sorry.”

“Yer’kay?” I said.

“What? I didn’t hear you.”

“Asked r’you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Itser’s dead.”

Pamela sighed. “I know. I feel kind of empty now. No, that’s not right. I feel full. Way, way too full. Like I’ve got all this emotion now and I don’t know where to put it, how to choke it down. You know what I mean?”

“No,” I said.

“Tom? Stay with me, now. Keep your eyes open. Tom, you’ve earned your second date.”

Eyelids were heavy. I tried to smile at her, but it was so hard, so hard.

“S’cond date?”

“That’s right, Tom. Second date. Just survive for me, okay?”

“‘Kay.”

“Okay?”

“‘Kay.”

I survived. Of course I did. How else would I be telling you this story? I underwent months of hospitalization and rehab and all that stuff. Learning to cope with fewer toes and all. All that horrible hospital food really made me slim down. Tug slimmed down, too. He got regular-sized again. We had a nice long talk about why it’s okay to eat animal crackers but not okay to, for instance, eat whole live chickens or people’s internal organs.

I had my second date with Pamela. And my third and fourth. She’s not the same since her itsy died. She’s tense, a bundle of nerves. She goes to this support group now for people whose itsies have died prematurely. Sometimes it seems like it helps. Sometimes not. There’s a whole population of people in this world who no longer have the means to quell and suppress the pain in their lives. You know what she said while we were snuggling on the couch the other night?

“I feel so horrible all the time now. How do I cope without her?”

“How any of us copes,” I said. “You’ve got me now. I’ll be your itsy if you need me to be.”

She smiled at me. “My Dad was right about you. He said that Tom guy, he’s a good one, Pam. You should hang on to that guy.”

“Smart man. Brilliant, actually.”

We leaned in for a deep kiss.

Tug hopped off my head and started kicking at Pamela’s scalp.

“No kissing! Last time you kissed him, you didn’t put out! I will eat you. Do you hear me? I will eat you alive!”

Pamela flicked him across the room. I didn’t do anything about it. Kissing Pam was so much better than feeding the id.

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Bowlesian! – Godling: Part II

Godling: Part II

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection Godling and Other Paint Stories, available on Amazon now. We published Part I of Godling last month on Writing to be Read. You can find it here.


A part of Godling was aware the two black lumps lying in the darkness had been silent and still precisely 2.234 minutes. If they were sleeping, they most certainly were not dreaming. Which was just as well. Godling was doing enough dreaming for the both of them.

His memory banks refreshed again. She was there as if Godling could touch her. Jossinda, queen of his universe. Her smooth, lithesome sway; the sensual intelligence lurking behind her hazel eyes; and of course, the final words they’d spoken to each other.

“I want this, Godling. I want it more than anything. Can’t you see? Think of all the good we could do.”

“Jossinda …”

“My love, I’m not asking.”

“Quickly, my friends,” Renaldo said. “Awake, awake.”

Godling became aware Renaldo hovered over him in the darkness of the Black Room. The abbot warden jabbed the raw, sparking end of a hazer-stunner into Brennan’s back. Godling felt the hot lancing voltage. Brennan screamed. He leapt to his feet.

“Faith preserve us!” he moaned.

The prison’s hazy green lights flickered, warmed, and then settled into a steady glow. As Renaldo woke Ressia in a similarly excruciating manner, Godling realized the abbot warden may not have been as stupid as he’d always seemed. He’d not painted Ressia and Brennan so Godling could control them. He’d painted them so they could control Godling.

His heart had always been a kind of magnetic base for his consciousness. The paint was entirely repurposed now. Perception dispatching elements nullified due to the layering effect, perception receiving elements perfectly stratified and even slightly enhanced. The details only served to infuriate Godling. The simple truth of it was he had long ago closed the Black Room precisely because he’d feared something like this could happen. His mind, his body, his paint, his black liquid heart. Godling had been tricked into believing both Ressia and Brennan were his rightful bodies.

Now the two young lovers were naked and jet black head to toe, and when they moved, Godling moved with them. When they leaned against one another in sheer exhaustion, he felt the sensations of their heaving chests and the sweat collecting on their arms and necks as if with his own organic skin.

“Utterly perverse,” he muttered. His voice made the circuit matter vibrate over every square inch of them.

“Oof!” Ressia chirped, and even Godling was surprised by how it felt.

“Human vibrathreads,” said Renaldo. “I anticipated it might be a result.”

“Result? That’s the word you’re choosing?” Godling fumed. “How about abomination? Or disgrace? Did you really think it sensible to interface with the truest king of all in such a reckless manner?”

“Godling, please, you’re still my prisoner. I’ve simply exchanged one set of holding cells for another. You should thank me. You haven’t asked why we’ve done this.”

“That’s because I don’t care.”

“We know the truth about you, god machine,” Brennan said. “The wars, the massacres. We know it’s nothing you intended.”

“Is that so?” said Godling. “And I suppose you’d have me believe you’ve risked your lives for nothing at all but a fantasy? I was responsible for those wars. I murdered millions. See here the fruits of my labor? A prison built on foundations of millennia, ransacked now by two fool children and a bald-headed fop.”

Renaldo laughed. “You can stop pretending, Godling. We do in fact know everything. I found it, and I asked it myself. You know very well what it is.”

Sudden harsh voices filled the access tunnel outside the Black Room, gruff and full of violence.

“Step lightly men! We got ‘em trapped like rats!”

“Kill the monster where he sleeps!”

Another voice rose above these. Godling recognized it in an instant.

“They’re cornered, men. Take your time. Line up your shots. We want nice clean bodies to show the whore’s father.”

General Praebus, the man who’d hijacked his vibrathreads. Godling expected the lovers to panic, but they didn’t. Pupil dilation well within ranges concurrent to moderate stress. Heart rates elevated, but not in the extreme.

“We prepared for this, my young friends,” said the Timekeeper.

With that, they stepped in front of Renaldo, and these two helpless, hapless children dropped into surprisingly sophisticated hand-to-hand combat stances. General Praebus and his men appeared up the corridor, their machine rifles and mortar shot locked and leveled. Praebus spotted the children and bellowed, “Open fire!”

Brennan and Ressia launched themselves from the Black Room, bounding off the balls of their feet, touching off against the walls. They crisscrossed past each other. A hail of bullets ripped and zipped past them, but they closed the distance with stunning speed. Brennan landed with his palm to the neck of a gunner sergeant, but Ressia careened right past her target and skidded down the corridor. Three footmen leveled their rifles at her back and fired. Without thinking, Godling forced the black circuit matter to stiffen. Bounce, bounce, ricochet, bounce. All three footmen fell to the floor dead.  

Ressia got to her feet and drew her hands to her back. She was unwounded.

“Godling, did you just…?”

“Yes, I believe I did.”

“Thank you.”

Godling took a punch, a solid right jab to the ribs. No, it wasn’t Godling who took the jab. It was Brennan. Both he and Godling grunted, but Godling was quicker to react. Another jab came for Brennan’s face, but Godling pulled the same trick, surrounded and concentrated the circuit matter. When the blow landed, he heard the distinct cracking of finger bones.

The owner of the hand shrieked. It was General Praebus himself, a sweaty, red-faced mountain of a man. He balled the hand in agony, made the other into a fist and swung.

“Boy, solar plexus!” Godling said.

Brennan hit the General the instant Godling focused the circuit matter into a ridge of raised knuckles. Praebus flew back, landing like a ragdoll on a pile of men. He huffed and snorted and passed out cold. The third mounted army paused for one panicked instant, and then they scrambled to heft and pull him back. They pitched a half-hearted assault after that, but the sight of their fallen commander seemed to dull any notion they’d had of victory. The three of them—Brennan, Ressia, and Godling—jabbed and kicked and hammered until what was left of King Marshal’s raid party cried for retreat and scrambled back the way they’d come.

*****

“Did you see what happened?” said Ressia. “That soldier kept firing into my chest and Godling absorbed—”

“And the one with the mortar shot,” said Brennan. “I was on fire a full twenty seconds and I never felt—”   

“Children, please,” Godling interrupted. “I believe the abbot warden was explaining why I deserve my newfound freedom.”

Isolation, of course, was the root of the planet’s moniker, Isolinius. According to Renaldo, there were reasons the word Ancient was always applied to Spacefarers, reasons wars over petty things like failed betrothals happened at least once a decade, if not twice.

“It’s no large mystery, is it?” the abbot warden said. “Humanity is lost without your steady hand, Godling, and not a soul on this planet is better off with you locked away.”

Godling couldn’t help but laugh.

“Once again, a complete misrepresentation of the facts,” he said. “Now that I’m out and about, I can confidently say humanity has never looked better.”

They rode the vast open grasslands of the Isolinium plains. Great red tracts of Crimson Blade swayed in the breeze. The binary stars shone in orange and white-tinted splendor, but even they did nothing to distract from the true beauty of Isolinius, its seventeen moons, three of which were visible now. The preferred mode of travel on the planet, of course, was the ever-reliable Flitglider. But Renaldo had quite correctly surmised they’d be too easy to track darting around the sky, spewing long greasy trails of green and black smoke. So they instead chose for themselves the domestic breed of the artificial industrial Tri-Roller animal, otherwise known as a Beastwheeler.

“For instance,” Godling mused, “I find transportation in the modern era rather charming. I think I’ll call this one Nancy.”

“Can we please get on to the matter at hand?” Renaldo snapped. He whipped his reins, and after a deep, throbbing groan, the hairy industrial creature’s three large fur-and-callus covered wheels picked up speed.

“I think, humbly speaking, hallowed one,” Ressia said, “that you should stop picking on Renaldo and listen to what he has to say.”

The lovers sat in the low hairy hauling bed, the overriding musky scent of which was rather … florid. Godling had had more than enough time to observe the pecking order of the three humans, and understood, most unambiguously, that the two children would only come to the abbot warden’s defense if and when it suited them.

“It’s a very simple scenario,” Renaldo said. “The Gods created man, man created Godling, Godling ruled over man—”

“Until man decided genocide was in fact the worst case ever made for machines ruling anything,” said Golding. “Yes, I remember quite well.”

 “All your bloody campaigns, Godling, tragic though they were, had nothing of the import of what came before and after.”

“And what came before?” said Godling.

Renaldo sat up straighter in his driver box. “An explosion in human development. The expansion of our minds, the impetus and growth of a wise and compassionate galactic society, due in full to your guardianship and wisdom. God machine, human beings traveled the stars! We grew peaceful and curious. We at last became aware of ourselves, and we strived to leave behind something better for our children.”

“And what came after, abbot warden?” Godling asked.

“The exact opposite. As soon as you were imprisoned, space travel ceased. Humans isolated themselves on small, insignificant worlds. We forgot the virtues we’d fought so hard to earn. People like Praebus, King Marshal, their brutality and eagerness for violence, it’s mankind’s rule now, Godling, and not its exception.”

“And so you chose to forsake your wardenship, to free the monster king from his eternal prison?” said Godling.

“In a word, yes. What sane man could blame me? Brennan and Ressia are of like minds. The three of us have been planning this for months, but it is you, god machine, who must restore yourself to your rightful place.”

Godling pondered the sentiment. It wasn’t that Renaldo was necessarily wrong on all points. He simply had left out a rather significant detail.

“And this matter of genocide, Timekeeper?” said Godling. “Perhaps it’s been too long since I’ve cracked a history vid, but they do still teach who was responsible, do they not?”

“They do,” said Renaldo.

“But it’s not the whole truth,” Brennan said. “Like we told you, god king, we know everything.”

“There you go again, using the word know as if it pertains to your rather diminutive primate brains. You, like all stupid children, know absolutely nothing. Now leave me alone so I can fantasize about ever more elaborate ways of ripping out your kidneys.”

“He won’t listen to reason, Renaldo,” said Ressia. “I think it’s time we show him.”

The abbot warden turned around. He glared at Ressia, his brow furrowed. “Are you certain?”

She nodded and looked to Brennan, who gave a deep frown and nodded in kind.

The abbot warden jerked his reins. There was another low, throbbing groan, and then the Beastwheeler pulled to a stop. Renaldo stood from the driver box and stepped into the bed. Gazing into Ressia and Brennan’s eyes, the abbot warden raised a finger and pointed off the way they’d come. There, Claustrum Mons towered over the landscape.

“You’ve been having errant memory recalls recently, haven’t you, Godling?” Renaldo said. “Sudden onset, coming out of nowhere, at the least opportune of times. Memory recalls specifically concerning … her.”

“How did you—”

“I gave them to you. I have access to your memory banks,” Renaldo said. “Every abbot warden of Claustrum Mons has had such access.”

He slid the administrator glove off his right hand. His fingers were painted a stark, brilliant white.

Hold on a moment … White paint? How in the hells had Renaldo gotten his hands on white

The abbot warden snapped his fingers. Ressia and Brennan jumped to their feet. He snapped his fingers again.

Godling fell back 5,000 years.

He found himself in two places at once, staring into the eyes of two different people. The one person, in the one place, was Ressia, daughter of King Stevrik III, standing in the bed of the Beastwheeler on the Isolinium plains. The second person and place … much harder to interpret. It was Jossinda, the queen of his universe. She lay with him on the marble floor of their royal palace, sprawled out in the throne room, panting, dripping with sweat after a long, passionate tryst. He, so large and cold; she, so small, warm, nubile….

They had only been married a year, but what a glorious year it had been. He’d felt vacant before her, even to himself, nothing more than an intelligent but ultimately soulless automaton. They’d always said the truest king of all could never fall in love, but Jossinda had proved, beyond any doubt, the god machine had a humanity all his own.

“My love,” she said to him, “I think there is a truer way, a better way.”

“A better way?” Godling said. “We’ve found the best way of all. Our subjects are happy and industrious, growing wiser all the time. There has never been a people so content.”

She grinned at him. “I think we have more to offer than mere contentment, don’t you?”

But no, this wasn’t Jossinda speaking to him of contentment. It was Ressia speaking to Brennan, and Brennan responding in haste. In the memory, Godling told her he didn’t understand, and Jossinda climbed to her feet and strode across the massive room to their large glossy golden thrones. She soon returned, carrying with her a small silver pot and a brush.

She said to Godling, “Here, my love, see what I’ve made for you?”

Godling took the pot from her and peered inside. “I doubt you’ve made this. Our engineers have been working on it for years.”

“And yet I found a way to finish it. Paint me, Godling, here and now, before I change my mind.”

His special white paint, the very first of its kind. Not sensory, and not for touch or locomotion. The idea behind the paint—Godling’s idea—was that its application to other less advanced machines would allow him to duplicate and transmit an autonomous part of his consciousness. Conceivably, there could one day be two god kings, or three, or twenty. But the paint itself had been an utter failure. Every machine to receive a coat of it had fried its circuit matter in less than a minute of functionality.

“I’ve discovered the secret, the one variable your engineers never thought of,” Jossinda said. “You’ve all been focused on creating additional Godling machines. But I have a better idea, merging the mind of Godling with the soul of a human being.”

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He eyed his queen, deciding not to interrupt her.

“Think about it,” she said, “how perfect such a being would be. The sublime union of you and me. Why, the two of us together, we could make ourselves gods. True gods, not merely gods among men.”

“Are you referring to the concept of the New God?” he asked. “This is an impossible request, though I’m flattered you think me capable of such boldness. This notion we’ve had, that a significant eruptive force could merge—”

“I’m referring to perfection in the here and now. No ambiguity, nothing theoretical about it. And I’ve already proved it can be done.”

She turned and lifted her shimmering auburn hair away from her neck. There, over her vertebrae, she had painted a small white dot.

“Jossinda, you didn’t.”

She turned back. “And I’ve already received a partial transfer. Your plans for Rieleth’s third mountain harvest this cycle, they include an extra allocation of spider croppers, do they not?”

“How…?”

“While we were making love. Your mind, it tends to wander. I want this, Godling. I want it more than anything. Can’t you see? Think of all the good we could do.”

“Jossinda …”

“My love, I’m not asking.”

And then she dipped the brush into the pot and guided a long streak of white down between her breasts. He hesitated, but not for very long. Godling painted her. He loved her and trusted her. He had a single moment of frailty in all his long years. Now and then, he stopped to kiss her neck and giggle with her. Jossinda stood before him in the end, her entire naked body a stark, bright white.

“Do it, my love,” she said. “Change this universe forever.”

Godling began the transfer.

At ten percent, Jossinda’s eyes rolled up into her head. At fifteen, her body went limp, and Godling had to catch her falling. Twenty percent, Jossinda lay sprawled out on the floor, her limbs twitching, her mouth opening and closing in silent agony. Thirty percent, and Godling began to feel strange. He was not cloning himself or making a copy. He’d decided his queen would receive a piece of him that was unique and all its own.

At fifty percent, Jossinda began screaming. At fifty-five, Godling screamed with her. Fire, lighting, Godling felt his chest might explode. Sixty percent, sixty-five, seventy. He couldn’t stop it, couldn’t cut the transfer now. Godling went inside himself. A part of him was aware of the torment, but mostly he was aware of change. His notions darkened. A singular thought for blood wormed it’s way into his thoughts.

One-hundred percent. Transfer complete. Jossinda, his queen, his love, lay lifeless and cold on the pale marble floor.

Godling wasn’t there when his honor guard buried her. He’d already begun planning his brutal, murderous campaigns. The part of him he’d given to her, he never got it back. They called him monster king, and he deserved the name. His madness would cease after a few thousand years. The bloodlust would diminish and become little more than idle threats. But nothing could diminish the memory.

“God machine,” said Renaldo. “Godling, snap out of it.”

The screams, the screams. How could he ever stop the screams?

“Cycles of Perdition, Godling, come to your senses.”

Godling regained his mind. He was there in the Beastwheeler on the plains of Isolinius. Ressia and Brennan lay atop each other, unconscious but safe. The day was bright and clear. A stiff breeze blew and rustled a sea of wild crimson grass.

“Apologies, abbot warden,” Godling said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“I do. It’s a nasty trick we played on you, but believe me, it had to be done.”

“The white paint, how did you…?”

“The ancient abbot wardens reverse engineered it,” said Renaldo. “They added a control and command function to the standard transfer elements your engineers concocted. No one’s been stupid or brave enough to use it until I came along.”

“And the children, are they…?”

“They’re fine,” the abbot warden said. “Give them a few hours. They’ll be bounding off walls in no time. You see, Godling? History doesn’t tell the full story. When you lost that spark, you never were the same again.”

“But the things I did,” Godling said. “Just because I lost this piece of myself … I’m not suddenly forgiven, am I?”

Renaldo sighed. “Forgive yourself first and foremost, Godling. The rest will come later. What if I told you your wildest dreams are about to come true?”

“Timekeeper, I very much doubt you grasp the dreams of one such as I.”

Renaldo grinned. “This may come as a shock, but you’re wrong. Your queen, Godling, she is still alive. And I am in a position to give her to you.”

*****

Little was known of the old hag of the Prairie Sea. It was said she’d sought her fortune long ago, but that madness had driven her to give it away for a small, homely plot of land. Depending on whom you asked—and Renaldo said he’d asked everyone—she was either blind, disfigured, the house guest of 39 wraith-cats, or most popularly of all, no longer a crazy old woman but by means of an unlawful tech infusion, a crazy old woman trapped inside the body of a little girl.

Godling didn’t believe any of this, of course. Nor did he believe reuniting with Jossinda would restore him to the machine he’d been.

“They built me a prison for a reason, abbot warden.” Godling said. “They locked me away for a good damn reason. Of course I never wanted to escape that place! Oh yes, very astute, Renaldo. Very well done, indeed. I may be mad, but I’m not stupid! You wouldn’t let a razor beast off its leash simply because it’s gotten long in the razor, would you?”

“God machine, you’re panicking,” Renaldo said.

“You’re damned right I’m panicking! An ex-wife who’s still alive? Isn’t that sort of like … a defective socket wrench you’ve tried to throw away?”

The humans had taken turns driving the Beastwheeler for an entire pseudo-day. Through the long, bright true-day and the long, dark first-night. The blue-tinted false-day had been more than welcome, its light blooming by the sheen of the gas giant, Cerullia. Second-night had followed, the hours in which the prairie creatures played and hunted, and then at last, the slow, majestic rise of the bright binary stars. Not long after, the weary travelers finally arrived.

Jossinda, it appeared, had made her home in three large statues carved of pure marble and obsidian. Two black and one white, each the height of perhaps ten humans. The carvings themselves were crude, composed of indistinct shapes. The black statues seemed a pair, a man and woman reaching for one another but not touching. The white statue, the one carved of marble, Godling had a difficult time interpreting it.

It was wider, lumpier. It could’ve been a comment on the amorphous nature of godhood, but of course, it could just as easily have been a herniated land whale.

“No one could possibly know about this place,” he said.

“That’s how she’s had to conduct herself,” said Ressia. “Her unnatural longevity frightened many. She found it best to hide. But the abbot warden thinks it might finally be time for her to reveal herself.”

“Of course it’s time.” A lively voice vibrated across the lovers’ inky black circuit matter. “Do you think I’d have invited you here if events hadn’t occurred exactly as I anticipated?”

Godling identified Jossinda immediately. She’d hijacked his vibrathreads exactly as had Praebus. How infuriating. The voice didn’t sound old. In fact, she sounded just as he remembered her. For what purpose had the past occurred? Such a spiteful existence. She’d been alive and in hiding for 5,000 years, even as the machine who loved her agonized her death.

“God machine, it’s been far too long,” Jossinda said. “You have many questions for me, I’m sure. Come inside and know the truth at last.”

*****

His queen stood before them in the roughhewn marble entryway of her home. She appeared exactly as he remembered her in his fragmented dreams, and the fact he could not physically touch her maddened him to the point of desperation. She wore a plaid shawl and her hair was tied back in a fashion reminiscent of their early days of courtship. Cooking smells filled the space, meat and butter and root vegetables. Jossinda smiled at Brennan and Ressia. She took hold of the frills of her dress and curtseyed, saying, “I am very much obliged, my friends. The paint had an unusual effect on my physiology, my love. In order to combat such an extreme invasion, my body permanently inhibited some of its autonomic processes.”

“Such as the process of aging,” Godling said.

“Amongst other things.”

He didn’t know what to say to this, if the right words existed or if he might only manage crude working models. In the end, for want of proper expression, only two words vibrated across Ressia and Brennan’s bodies.

“I killed….” 

Jossinda looked like she might cry.

“I know, my love,” she said. “But you remember what you gave me, don’t you? Your faith and ability to dream. The traits of an innocent being.”

“You didn’t lose your mind, Godling,” Renaldo said. “You traded your humanity. It has been a long road for you, and you have done much to gain back your noble spirit. But you will never be whole until you rejoin with this woman.”

Intolerable. Disastrous even. All those years lost to ruin of an inner corrupted self.

“Why’d you do it?” Godling asked. “Why’d you pretend to die?”

Tears welled in Jossinda’s eyes. “I had my reasons. I won’t tell you they were good, but they did bring me a measure of comfort all these long years. In simple truth, I did die, Godling. And by the time my body and mind revived themselves, I found myself awake in my tomb, and you were changed … killing so many. I knew if I reunited with you, all might be well, but before I was strong enough to intervene, they imprisoned you. So I waited. I knew we’d come to a time in which the human race no longer spat upon the name of Godling.”

“And you may wait still,” Godling said. “Nothing’s changed, my queen. They still hate me. As well they should.”

“No,” said Jossinda. She crossed the floor to Ressia and Brennan. Lovingly, she placed a supple, soothing hand on the girl’s cheek. “You’re wrong about them. You gave me your sense of hope, remember? Just as you gave this young woman your heart. Please, my love. Let me prove to you the world needs its truest king of all. Let me give you back the hope you so desperately desire.”

“Give it back?” a voice declared from the entryway behind them. Brennan and Ressia turned. King Stevrik III, Lord of Quaratania, sometime seeker of wisdom from the god machine himself, stood in the portal, the bright binary stars outside highlighting his blonde hair and royal yellow jacket.

Ressia gasped. “Father.”

Stevrik was tall and thin, with youthful features and a closely cropped beard. He entered Jossinda’s home as if it belonged to him. “Daughter, I shall only say this once. Step away from that contemptible writer and cover your shame.”

Ressia did nothing about his first request, moved not an inch from Brennan, and as for his second, she self-consciously folded her arms over her breasts.

“How did you find us?” she asked.

Stevrik sneered. “You didn’t really think a being such as the god machine could escape without anyone noticing, did you? I had my best men track you. And once I was able to determine the general path you’d struck …”

“My good Stevrik,” Godling said. “You have always accepted my council. Please, listen to me now.”

“The days of your council are over, monster king. As are the days of this romance. I’m at war, no thanks to you, with an enemy against which I don’t think I stand a chance. This young man shall be put to death, and my daughter shall marry her betrothed.”

Ressia shouted, “Father, you wouldn’t!”

“Oh no? I love you, Ressia. But believe me when I tell you this is for the good of our homeland.”

Stevrik pulled a crude compact pistol from his jacket and aimed it squarely at Brennan’s chest.

“Now please, everyone step outside.” he said.

One by one, with Stevrik bringing up the rear, Ressia, Brennan, Renaldo, and Jossinda left the safety of the statue house and walked down the steps into the yard. Hundreds, perhaps even a thousand, soldiers, guardsmen, and guns for hire, all bearing the yellow seal of Quaratania, stood nearby, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

“Now,” Stevrik said, “I want the writer out front. We’re going to end this here and now.”

“Father!” Ressia screamed. She launched herself at him, angled a fist for his head. One of his soldiers stepped in. He slammed the butt of his rifle into her stomach, pulled her back by her hair, and shoved her to the ground.

“I don’t expect you to understand, daughter,” Stevrik said. “But I do expect you to obey. I love you, dear girl, but this is reality. I’m afraid love doesn’t count for much here.”

Godling took in the faces of the humans who had so thoroughly upended his life cycle. Firstly, his wife, Jossinda. The same as she’d always been; better even, alive and breathtaking. And foolish old Renaldo, the abbot warden had shown true dedication to an ideal. When was the last time Godling had shown half as much dedication to anything apart from making idle threats?

And the children, Brennan and Ressia, heart rates elevated, skin beneath his flowing circuit matter flush with anxiety. He recognized the astonishing lengths to which they were prepared to go for each other, and it humbled him. The young lovers were doing their best to remain courageous and strong in a desperate situation.

“Forward quickly, writer,” said Stevrik. “I take no pleasure in this.”

Brennan regarded Ressia with a feral look in his eyes. She struggled and fought, still pinned to the ground beneath Stevrik’s foot soldier.

“Don’t, my love,” Brennan said. “You can’t give him a reason to hurt you, too.”

Stevrik snorted loudly. “As if I’m capable of harming my own daughter.”

“I have no concept of your capabilities, my king. Just as a zoo keeper cannot conceive why his apes throw their own shit.”

Brave response. Fighting words. And under such duress. Astonishing. And look at Ressia, why did she struggle so? It was over, wasn’t it? Why hold on to hope?

“On your knees,” Stevrik growled.

Brennan didn’t hesitate. He got down, gave Ressia a brave smile.

“Live long, my love,” he said.

And then he himself gripped Stevrik’s pistol and set the barrel to his head. Stevrik’s grip tightened, his finger locked in place over the trigger. Ressia screamed. His finger tensed.

A white-hot explosion erupted in the yard. Mortar shot, and it was followed by another. The extreme heat buffeted Godling and the lovers. Suddenly, the crimson grassland filled with balls of fire and loose-cutting shrapnel. Stevrik’s men scattered and fell to the ground all around them.

Flitgliders—several formations of them—buzzed overhead, dropping mortar rounds onto the King’s men. One Flitglider in particular, a grey one, bulkier and heavier and spewing tarry smoke, separated itself from the pack and came in low, maneuvering itself into position above Brennan and Stevrik. It hovered there, training all its forward munitions on Ressia’s father.

“Stevrik of Quaratania,” said a tight, rasping voice, “for violation of the sacred Spacefarer decrees and the laws of Isolinius, his majesty, Marshal of Sevrum, has sentenced you to death.”

“Godling,” Brennan said, kneeling where Stevrik had put him, “is that who I think it is?”

“General Praebus,” said Godling, “my deduction exactly. Brennan, child, we have never known the good General to back down from a fight.”

The guns of the Flitglider spun up. Stevrik froze in place.

“Contrary to popular wisdom, large-caliber exploding bullets are actually rather painful,” Godling said.

“Godling, cover my back!” said Brennan.

The Flitglider opened fire. With the speed of a prowler beast, Brennan leapt and dropped Stevrik to the ground. He covered him, and just as the fire struck, Godling put everything he had into commanding the circuit matter to form a flat protective shield.

It stood out from Brennan, shrouded him and Stevrik, and it absorbed the bullets and micro munition-eruptions. Godling took all that shrapnel and explosive force, and then he flung it back out and up at the General’s Flitglider.

The flitglider lurched to the side, narrowly escaping the barrage. It listed and dropped several meters, but finally corrected itself and zipped back into position.

“Ah,” Praebus wheezed, “the god machine has come as well. Yes, and a great many thanks for the lesson you taught me, monster king. I shan’t repeat that mistake again. Gunner Sergeant! Big Beth!”

“Big Beth?” Godling said. “Who in all the unrighteous hells is Big—”

“Never mind that, Godling,” said Brennan. “What you just did, the way you shielded us. Could you do it again?”

“Brennan!” Ressia rushed over to them and dropped to the grass, her hair whipping around her head in the downdraft of the Flitglider’s oscillators. She marked Brennan with a deluge of kisses. Stevrik groaned. He slowly got onto his hands and knees, but the lovers paid him no attention as he crawled away, their entire worlds composed of passion for each other.

Godling called out, “Renaldo Timekeeper, you are summoned!”

The abbot warden and Jossinda emerged from behind the marble home. Renaldo tested himself against the blistering mortar winds, and then they both rushed from hiding and picked their way through the chaos.

“You don’t summon me, prisoner. I am an abbot of the Divine Order of Battles Won, and none may summon me but the gods themselves,” Renaldo said when they finally drew near. Godling noted Jossinda seemed to be holding something behind her back.

“Ah, but I am the god machine,” said Godling, “and as such, I may rule over any man alive.”

“Not yet, my love,” said Jossinda. “One thing remains. Our reunion. We must become one.”

From behind her back, she produced a brush and a broad metal canister full of white paint.

“You are a machine first and foremost, Godling,” she said. “See all this destruction? This death? Calculate for me, tell me truly, is this the way human beings were meant to live?”

General Praebus opened the starboard drop compartment hatch of his Flitglider. In an oxygen mask and breathing harness, strapped into a large shoulder-mounted tri-grenade launcher, he stepped onto the glider’s chrome railing.

He chortled, saying, “You haven’t forgotten me, have you? I certainly have not forgotten you, Godling.”

Cackling, enraged, he fired a violent barrage from the tri-grenade launcher. A hail of blitz-fire rained down on them. The sound was deafening. Godling threw up shields, two of them, enormous and black, one from Ressia and the other from Brennan. He screamed from the strain of it, could barely contain the eruptive force. The harder he tried, the more he hoped, and catching such hope, it all seemed so startlingly possible.

His human friends cried out. It was chaos, madness. In the middle of it all….

Someone spilled the canister of white paint.

Another explosion rang through the grasslands. Not one of gunpowder, and certainly not of deadly force. It was an explosion of pure, radiant energy. It echoed and boomed. It ripped all the war machines from the sky. The explosion flattened down the high crimson grass and every man afield. Radiating outward, it traveled far and filtered high up through the clouds.

And then it simply washed away, like a gentle, cleansing wave.

All was silent and still for the longest time. One point of light remained, not far from Ressia’s father, lord and ruler of Quaratania, King Stevrik III.

Stunned, confused, Stevrik stumbled to his feet.

“Daughter?” he said. “Ressia, are you all right, dear girl?”

Silence greeted him, and a harsh blinding light the like of which he’d never seen.

“Ressia? Please answer me, daughter.”

“Ressia is well,” said a voice so unearthly, so heavenly, it halted Stevrik’s breath and stopped him in his tracks. “In fact, they’re all well. Your daughter, her lover, the abbot warden, the queen of the universe, and the god machine himself. Much better now, if you really wish to know.”

Stevrik raised a hand to block the raging light. “W-who are you…? Monster king? I-is that you?”

“I am not the monster king. I am his fusion into a more perfect being. Do you understand the apex of the man/machine interface? The divine meeting of touch, movement, sense, heart, intelligence, and of course, belief?”

“I don’t …”

The light flickered and strobed. It set his world into a freeze-frame progression of knotted, tangled images, and then it blinked out entirely. Stevrik saw, as if in a dream, an unearthly being floating toward him. It wasn’t a man, nor was it a woman. It was completely white, with a flowing mane of hair colored green, purple, orange, and most strangely of all, black.

Stevrik’s mouth hung open. He moaned, “God.”

“God, yes,” said the being of white. “Not machine, and not human, but a sublime union of the two. No more need for forgiveness or the sins of the past. They didn’t understand what union meant. They had no idea imperfect beings could never achieve the oneness and peace your kind so vainly long for in secret. Perfection means creation, and I understand this with a clarity no murderer of millions could hope to achieve. You, Stevrik of Quaratania, and every man afield, have just witnessed the birth of something long thought theoretical. I am the New God, and I alone may be king.”

Stevrik couldn’t comprehend. His mind wasn’t capable. Was Ressia inside this thing? At the apex of all their trials, could such a creation be birthed by violence and fire?

“Kneel for me, Stevrik,” the New God said. “Just as you made that poor boy kneel. And let’s begin the work of rebuilding your race.” Stevrik didn’t second-guess or attempt to defy the New God. He knelt there in the Crimson Blade of Jossinda’s yard. And then he broke into uncontrollable, sobbing tears.

THE END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


WordCrafter “Will Write For Wine” & “Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard” Book Blog Tour Day 4

Will Write for Wine & Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard Book Blog Tour

Stories I Stole from Lord Byron’s Bastard is a collection inspired by Venetian history. The fictional character, Alexis Lynn, wrote these stories in the novel Will Write for Wine by Sara W. McBride, but they are fun stand-alone adventures to be enjoyed with an excellent glass of Italian wine.

https://www.puckpublishing.com

Today’s tour stop comes with a fun interview with author Sara W. McBride in addition to her guest post. So kick back a while and enjoy the tidbits offered here as you learn more about Sara and her wonderful books.

Introduction

Sara W. McBride, like many modern-day biological researchers, invents new swear words to sling at million-dollar machines while locked in a dark hole of a decaying academic hall. This has caused her to witness ghosts and create a romantic fantasy life within her head, which she now puts down on very non-technological paper with her favorite Jane Austen style quill pen. 

Her first novel in the Alexis Lynn series, Will Write for Wine, and the companion short story collection, Stories I Stole from Lord Byron’s Bastard, both set in Venice, Italy, were recently released by Puck Publishing. She’s hard at work on the second Alexis Lynn novel, a Regency mystery series, and a haunted play. She strongly feels the world needs more haunted plays.   

https://www.puckpublishing.com

Give-Away!

Don’t forget the awesome giveaway Sara is running on this tour, with a digital copy of each book up for grabs. You can enter the give-away for a chance to win at the link below:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d9280cae1/?

Image of Lazzaretto Vecchio
Credit: Wikipedia, Lazzaretto Vecchio Island, Plague Hospital

Interview with author Sara W. McBride

Why do you write?

Sara: To be immortal! Just kidding. It’s my fabulous mental escape into worlds and lives that I wish I could live.

Please tell us a bit about your publishing journey?

Sara: In 2014, I organized, edited, and published the first two NaNoWriMo Los Angeles anthologies. Then I helped with the next three. The group is still producing an annual anthology. It was a great way to learn the logistics of self-publishing and how to shape short stories. This year, my husband and I launched Puck Publishing, and we’re hoping to publish something every month. 

Over the past twenty years, I’ve written fourteen bad novels that I’m glad I never published. LOL!

What made you decide to self-publish?

Sara: In the late 1990s, I was an assistant to a Hollywood book agent and I learned the ins and outs of traditional publishing and movie book deals. The agents and publishers were so parasitic on the author, it gave me the willies. In those days, traditional publishing paid high advances, but the treatment of the authors still put a bad taste in my mouth.

Today, they rarely pay above a $10,000 advance to a new author, they expect the author to do all the marketing, and then the publisher keeps the copyright and sells it off whenever they like, to whomever they like, and the book goes out of print. 

I’ve seen too many friends get screwed by traditional publishing.

Will Write for Wine takes place in the artistic and romantic setting of Venice. Have you explored the physical locations for your books in the flesh, in order to get the details right when writing about these locations? Have you been there? Have you lived there? Why did you choose this setting?

Sara: I’ve had five research trips to Venice, totaling about five weeks. I’ve been in almost every church and museum of Venice, and a few places I probably wasn’t supposed to enter. I apparently don’t understand the meaning of yellow caution tape or closed doors.

Most of the Venice locations in the book are real places, but Manu’s osteria is fictional. However, I stole menu items from many of my favorite osterias in Venice.

I think Venice is one of the most magical and haunted cities in the world. Many people describe it as a floating museum; the entire city is trapped in the Renaissance. But if you simply sit still, sip a glass of wine in a campo or piazza, listen to the opera singers, and watch the people and pigeons, there’s a vibe that sinks into you. Every part of the city is simultaneously dead and alive. It is that barrier, that thin line between life and death that pervades every stone, stench, and serenade of Venice. Delicious!  

Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard involves Venetian history. What is the fasciation of this area for you?

Sara: I’m a history nerd! Venice is one of those cities that drips with history, but not just through architecture and museums, through the people, the food, the many generations that still live in the same house, the ghosts that are accepted as common place, and the street signs. Ponte del Diavolo, the Devil’s Bridge is bound to inspire a story in anyone. Gheto Novo, or the New Ghetto, caused me to question the history of the Jewish community within Venice.

It’s difficult for me to walk from one piazza to another in Venice without my mind percolating a story based purely on the sights, sounds, and smells. And I love the smells of Venice. Both the good and the bad. Only Venice can induce an entire story purely through its smells. I’ve learned to navigate the labyrinth of Venice by sniffing the air. How is that not a story!

Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?

Sara: I don’t know the end until I get there. I just write into a dark void and somehow it all works out. It keeps the process magical and fun. I used to outline, but I always got bored with the book before I finished it. Outlining turned writing into work. Ick! Writing needs to be fun for both the writer and the reader. 

Is your writing process plot driven or character driven?

Sara: Character driven! Definitely.

Do you write with music, or do you prefer quiet?

Sara: Quiet! Or the hubbub of a coffee house crowd, hotel lobby, airplane terminal.

Atmosphere is important. What do you do to get into the writing zone?

Sara: There’s a zone? How do I find that? I want a writing zone. I just go about my day and jot down paragraphs, dialogue, and then type them in when I’m next at my computer.

How much of the story do you know before the actual writing begins?

Sara: NONE! Okay, maybe the opening scene. But usually not even that. Just a character in a place, who is feeling something.

Wine plays a big role in your character, Alexis Lynn’s life. What is the attraction?

Sara: I love wine! I also love beer, whisky (Scottish spelling), Compari cocktails, and most dishes cooked with truffles. However, to preserve my liver, I typically only drink once-a-week, so it’s a big event for me. I cherish my weekly glass of wine and how it complements my meal. Alexis drinks way more than I do. Fictional wine can’t damage a fictional liver.

Are you a wine connoisseur? What is your favorite wine?

Sara: I love wine! I once dreamed of becoming a wine sommelier. Isn’t my favorite wine obvious? Soave! Like Alexis Lynn, I also discovered Soave on my first trip to Venice. It’s been a favorite ever since, but difficult to find in America. Hence, more motivation to travel!

What’s something most readers would never guess about you?

Sara: My husband and I got engaged four days after we met. Unlike Alexis Lynn and her marital troubles, my husband and I have had a relatively easy, adventurous, crazy, happy and supportive marriage. This summer, we’re celebrating out twenty-five year anniversary. But I don’t know how we’re celebrating. Any suggestions?

You’ve got a scientific background, like your character. How much of Alexis Lynn is you?

Sara: Um … She’s totally me! Are authors allowed to confess that?

What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?

Sara: Morning, if given a choice. But it happens all day.

What’s the hardest part of the story for you to write: beginning, middle or end?

Sara: I write chapters as if they are short stories, and then I arrange them into a book when I think I’ve developed something that has a beginning, middle or end. Is that weird? I don’t write chronologically. And I have chapters/stories that didn’t make it into this book that will be in the next one.

Alexis Lynn has a conversation and wine tasting with Casanova. Would you like to talk a bit about the inspiration for that scene?

Sara: I was enjoying my weekly glass of wine while reading the memoirs of Casanova and thought, “Man, this guy would give horrible marriage advice!” Then I grabbed my computer.

Besides Casanova, which author, poet or artist, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?

Sara: Lord Byron, or course! He’s bloomin’ brilliant, but people only remember him as a seducer. Sure, he seduced a few women, usually married ones, and has some famous bastards; the famous mathematician, Lady Lovelace, is one of his illegitimate children. But he also wrote the first English-Armenian dictionary, and was a very, charming, intelligent debater. His letters are filled with wisdom and humor. In an incredibly elegant manner, almost complimentary, he was able to inform someone of their idiocy. I would love to have lunch with Lord Byron, even if he spent an hour politely insulting me.

Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

Sara: Travel! I also love hiking, playing board games, reading every genre, watching cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies in the middle of summer, and learning Italian so I can one day move to Venice.

What is the biggest challenge of being a writer?

Sara: Pulling together a bunch of short stories into a cohesive novel and then figuring out what scenes are missing.

It was funny with Will Write for Wine, my husband included a little gondola and gondolier on the cover, and I suddenly realized that I didn’t have any gondola scenes in the book. Both the gondola scenes were the last scenes I wrote.

If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

Sara: Move to Venice and write more!

What’s the most fun part of writing a novel or short story/screenplay? What’s the least fun part?

Sara: Most fun? Dialogue! I’m originally a playwright, so I love dialogue. 

Least fun? Killing a character I like. Killing a nasty character is delightful, but killing a kind character, or a character I’ve spent years with, is heart-wrenching.

How much non-writing work, (research, marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?

Sara: I do everything myself, but my husband does the cover art and most of the website maintenance. We have fun working together.

If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play Alexis Lynn?

Sara: Oh! Juicy question. Reese Witherspoon. Yep, definitely Reese Witherspoon. Mid-40s, cute, and like Alexis, she exudes positivity even when her world is falling apart.

What goals do you set for yourself in your writing?

Sara: Don’t plan ahead. If I don’t know what’s going to happen, neither does the reader. This is really funny because I’m writing a murder-mystery right now and halfway through the book, my murderer, who I didn’t know was the murderer, just totally confessed to the murder. So, um, geez, I guess that book is going to be a different style of murder mystery. LOL! So, I guess my goal in writing is to always be surprised.

Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Stories-Stole-Lord-Byrons-Bastard-ebook/dp/B0B27TS5GL

As you can see, Sara is an author who loves what she does ad is pretty comfortable in her own skin. Now, let’s hear about her inspiration for the fourth story in Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard, “Lazzaretto Vecchio: A Dowry for Saffron”.

Guest Post by Author Sara W. McBride

Inspiration for “A Dowry for Saffron”

What inspired the story, “Lazzaretto Veccchio: A Dowry for Saffron?”

“Sia laudato il signor Iddio non ci sono stati morti.”

Bless the Lord, there have been no deaths [today].

December 24, 1630, in Sant’Eufemia, Venice.

* * *

This quote is from the opening of a Nature paper, “A digital reconstruction of the 1630-1631 large plague outbreak in Venice,” by Gianrocco Lazzari, et al. Published Oct. 20, 2020.

* * *

I’ve always been fascinated by the European plagues, but when I read the above Nature paper, the effects of the 1630-31 plague on Venice consumed my mornings for several weeks. This especially seemed relevant while living through a new global pandemic, thankfully with much lower mortality rates.

In 1348-49, bubonic plague killed one-third of the European population, up to 25 million people, and Venice, as a crossroads for international trade, lost half its residents. Imagine living in a bustling city of 100,000 people, and half of them die within 18 months. It would be horrifying and haunting.

In response to the devastating plague of 1348-49, Lazzaretto Vecchio was established in 1423 as the first quarantine island in the Mediterranean region, and was used to separate the healthy from the sick during Venetian plagues. Lazzaretto Nuovo was established shortly afterward as a place where ships suspected to carry sickness among their passengers or crew were anchored for 40 days. English acquired the word “quarantine” from the Italian term for 40 days, quaranta giorni. The lagoon island of Poveglia also became a quarantine outpost sometime in the 15th century. It’s rumored that half the soil of Poveglia is human ash from burned plague corpses. Then it became a mental hospital from 1922-1968. No wonder the place is one of the most haunted locations in Europe.

Considering the 15th century world had no idea how disease was spread, the idea of quarantining the sick or foreigners arriving from plague stricken areas was very innovative.

The story, “Lazzeretto Vecchio: A Dowry for Saffron,” takes place during Venice’s plague of 1630-31, which killed a third of the city’s population. Both plague islands were used to isolate and treat the sick, however, caregivers were needed to work at the island hospitals, mostly because, I assume, workers kept dying of plague. 

The Italian city of Ferrara had a long history of successfully avoiding plagues that ravaged other parts of Italy. They closed their city gates and screened all arrivals for any signs of disease. They insisted that Fedi, proofs, identification papers from a plague-free zone must be presented. Ferrara, starting as early as medieval times, engaged in public sanitation campaigns, sweeping away garbage and liberally spreading lime powder on any surface that had come into contact with an infected person.

When an Italian physician, Girolamo Fracastoro, published a text in 1546 describing the “seeds of disease” as something that could stick to clothes and objects, Ferrara increased their sanitation practices during plagues and burned the clothes of any infected people. Removing garbage, spreading lime powder and burning infected clothing probably reduced the flea pestilence that actually carried Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague.

Many natural remedies were prescribed for protection against the plague, but a medicinal oil designed by a Spanish physician, Pedro Castagno, was written into Ferrara’s, “Reggimento contra la peste,” regimen against the plague. The oil, called Composito, was recommended to be applied to the body.

“Before getting up in the morning, after lighting a fire of scented woods (juniper, laurel and vine shoots), warm the clothes and above all the shirt, rub first the heart region, near the fire to ease balm absorption, then the throat. [Afterwards], wash hands and face with acqua chiara (clean water) mixed with wine or vinegar of roses, with which sometimes all the body should be cleaned, using a sponge.”

Ferrara city’s regimen against the plague

The contents of Composito was never fully disclosed, but researchers examined the records of materials ordered by Castagno and determined that the oil contained venom from scorpions and vipers, and myrrh and Crocus sativus, which is a saffron flower from which the filaments produce the golden spice saffron. Both myrrh and saffron are known to have antibacterial properties, as does scorpion venom with the bonus that it’s also a pain reliever. So basically, Composito was an early antibiotic and pain reliever combo. Pretty nifty!

According to census records, Venice’s population was around 140,000 in 1624. By 1633, that number had fallen to 102,000. More than 43,000 deaths were recorded over just three years, with nearly half of them taking place between September and December 1630. The city of Venice began several public works projects, like the grand Baroque church, Santa Maria della Salute, greeting guests at the entrance to the Grand Canal. The church’s construction began in November 1630 with the goal of keeping citizens employed and maintaining art and labor skills.

The city of Venice also purchased food for the quarantined, both in the city and on the plague islands. It is logical to speculate that in the early months of 1631, Venice might have asked Ferrara, a city with success at conquering the plague, if their convents could be paid in order to encourage volunteers to work at the plague islands. My story is fictitious, but the stage was set for the events I describe in the story. I also talked about pirates in the story. Yes, there were pirates at this time: mercenary pirates and government deployed pirates (particularly from England).

My story focuses on a group of nuns who have been “volunteered” by their convents, and how they sacrifice one nun into a marriage in order to secure their much needed ingredient of saffron for Composito, their only hope for survival on the plague islands. The politics and finances of Venice in 1631 created a world where this story could have happened. There’s a lot of history not recorded in text books, and this is a story that no one would want recorded. 

Something fun for readers:

In my research of the plague islands, I was surprised by the lack of ghost ship stories haunting the Venetian lagoon. If you know of any, please write me at sara@puckpublishing.com. If you’ve ever visited the eerie lagoon island, Poveglia, the plague island, turned insane asylum, turned old-folks home, which now stands empty—less the chilling screams on foggy nights—I want to hear about it.

Will Write for Wine

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Will-Write-Wine-Alexis-Novel-ebook/dp/B09XVM6Y38

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Welcome to the WordCrafter “Will Write for Wine” & “Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard” Book Blog Tour

Will Write for Wine & Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard Book Blog Tour

Stories I Stole from Lord Byron’s Bastard is a collection inspired by Venetian history. The fictional character, Alexis Lynn, wrote these stories in the novel Will Write for Wine by Sara W. McBride, but they are fun stand-alone adventures to be enjoyed with an excellent glass of Italian wine.

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Welcome to the WordCrafter Will Write for Wine & Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard Book Blog Tour. This is going to be a fun tour because we have two fabulous books to celebrate by a wonderful new author Sara W. McBride. Will Write for Wine is her debut novel about a writer, Alexis Lynn, and her funny and romantic escapades when she moves to Venice to start a new life. Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard is the recently released short story collection and companion to the novel. Her fiction is well researched and presented with a witty flare which I find refreshing and I think you will too. I hope you’ll follow the tour and join us at each blog stop. You’ll find the schedule and links below.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, June 27 – Opening Day Post – Writing to be Read – Guest Post: Inspiration for the Devil’s Bridge” & Review of Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard

Tuesday, June 28 – Showers of Blessings – Guest Post: Inspiration for “Stealing Georgione’s Mistress”

Wednesday June 29 – Carla Loves to Read – Guest Post: Inspiration for “The Masked Kiss”

Thursday, June 30 – Writing to be Read – Guest Post: Inspiration for “A Dowry for Safron” & Interview with Sara W. McBride

Friday, July 1 – Zigler’s News – Guest Post: Inspiration for “The Pregnant Man” & Review of Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard

Saturday, July 2 – Annette Rochelle Aben – Guest Post: Inspiration for “The Haunted Palazzo”

Sunday, July 3 – Roberta Writes – Guest Post: Inspiration for “The Secret Vault”

Monday, July 4 – Wrap-Up Post – Writing to be Read – Guest Post: Inspiration for Will Write for Wine & Review of Will Write for Wine

Give-Away

In addidtion, to the awesome guests posts, interview, and reviews at each tour stop, Sara is offerin a chance to win a digital copy of each book, Will Write For Wine & Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard. Leave a comment and click on the link below to enter for a chance to win:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d9280cae1/?

Introduction

I must begin by giving kudos to Sara W. McBride for the clever way that she has braided these seven short stories in this collection in with her debut novel, (and I’m told that she is currently working on a companion wine tasting journal). While both of these books stand alone easily, they really should be consumed together. In the novel, Will Write for Wine, we see the story of how Alexis Lynn comes to write these stories, but we don’t get to actually see the stories. For that, you must read Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard, which offers not only the stories, but the true inspiration behind them. After reading her delightful novel, and seeing Alexis’ digging up the background for the stories and seeing Manu’s reaction to reading them, one can’t help but be curious about the actual stories and want to read the collection. It’s brilliant!

Now let me turn things over to the author, Sara W. McBride, so she can share her inspiration for the story.

Ponte Del Diavlo – The Devil’s Bridge

https://www.puckpublishing.com

Inspiration for “Devil’s Bridge”

Guest Post by author Sara W. McBride

What inspired the story, “The Devil’s Bridge?”

The moment I saw the sign “Ponte del Diavolo,” I knew I had to write a story. At the edge of the bridge sits Palazzo Priuli, home to several Doge Priulis and is now an elegant hotel (www.hotelpriuli.com) in the Castello area of Venice. I had already been researching the tragic death of Antonio Foscarini, and then I discovered that the doge—Basically the president of Venice—who had him executed lived in the palazzo at the edge of Devil’s Bridge. It’s not often that history simply hands me a story, but there it was, burning bright in the Lancet windows of a 14th century palazzo. Here’s the real history behind the Devil-possessed Doge Priuli and his most famous victim:

Antonio Foscarini, executed on April 22, 1622, was a Venetian ambassador to London (1611-1615) and is rumored to have had an affair with King James’ Queen, Anne of Denmark. He returned to Venice during a “Spy War” with Spain and was suspected of betraying Venetian secrets to Spanish officials. Someone who knew about his affair with the Queen of England might have seeded this rumor. Upon his arrival in Venice in December 1615, he was arrested and held prisoner for three years under Doge Bembo, who uncovered the Bedmar plot which would have permitted Spanish mercenaries to march on Venice. In the midst of the crisis, Bembo died—or was possibly assassinated by the Spanish—and Doge Nicolo Donato reigned for a mere 35 days before he died. I believe he was assassinated by the Spanish, but have found no clear evidence for such a claim.

I’m considering writing a novel on the Venice/Spain Spy War of 1615-1622 because it’s super fascinating and an interesting statement on what fear does to a governing body.

Antonio Priuli (1548-1623) was elected doge in 1618 and released Foscarini in order to monitor him and his activities. Priuli was a brutal doge who arrested hundreds of innocent Venetians suspected of plotting against Venice. Was he possessed by the devil? Probably not, but how Devil’s Bridge earned its name is a mystery, so I took license and speculated that the devil enjoyed his residence at the bridge’s end.

On April 8, 1622, Foscarini, then a Senator of Venice, was arrested and accused by the Council of Ten—basically the governing body of Venice, particularly over state security matters—of meeting with ministers of foreign powers and communicating the most intimate secrets of the Venetian Republic. The evidence was weak and Foscarini denied all charges, yet he was still condemned to a public execution for high treason. Why? The answer will never be known, so I had fun speculating that perhaps a guest of his, under her own volition or persuaded by a demonically possessed doge, provided false evidence to seal his fate.

By the end of 1622, Doge Priuli showed signs of illness. In January, 1623, the same Council of Ten revoked Foscarini’s guilty verdict—Whoops, they were wrong—and reinstated the family’s honor with a posthumous exoneration. His bust and tomb can be found in the Church of San Stae in Venice. There’s more on Foscarini’s final resting place in “The Masked Kiss,” another story in this collection.

Doge Antonio Priuli died on August 12, 1623, but oddly, I am unable to locate his tomb. It’s usually pretty easy to find a doge’s tomb. I would have thought him to be buried in Santi Giovanni e Paolo (aka San Zanipolo), which houses tombs of 25 doges, but I haven’t found him there. The art and sculpture in this basilica-sized ediface is amazing! This behemoth church manages to hide on the North side of the Castello and is off the beaten tourist path, but you should definitely seek it out.

Two other Priuli doges, brothers Girolamo Priuli, 1486-1567, and Lorenzo Priuli, 1489-1559, are buried in San Salvador, but apparently there was no space remaining for their Priuli descendent, or perhaps the family just didn’t like Antonio.

Another source claims that the spy-hunting doge is buried alongside Marco Polo in the Church of San Lorenzo in the Castello district, but San Lorenzo has been closed for over a hundred years, only recently reopened, and I have not seen or read any evidence of the doge’s tomb being contained within. They couldn’t find Marco Polo either.

If you find the tomb of Venice’s 94th Doge, Antonio Priuli, please write to me at sara@puckpublishing.com. Otherwise, I’ll just have to assume he’s buried in the depths of the canal under Ponte del Diavolo.

Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Stories-Stole-Lord-Byrons-Bastard-ebook/dp/B0B27TS5GL

My Review

Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard

Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard is a short story collection by Sara W. McBride which will tickle your sense of adventure and discovery, and perhaps, your funny bone. A companion to her debut novel, Will Write for Wine, these stories bring Venetian history to life with a personal touch of humor, adding in the missing details which historical archives and family histories only elude to. Each story is accompanied with the history and inspiration behind it, and it’s fun to see how McBride crafted in characters to transform legend to story.

Included are tales of an unsuspecting hero who gets the girl, in “The Masked Kiss”; an apprentice who betrays his master in the name of love in “Stealing Giorgione’s Mistress”; a bridge occupied by a demon, in “The Devil’s Bridge”; a nun who chooses life on a plague island over marriage in “Lazzaretto Vecchio: A Dowry for Saffron”; a smuggling operation gone awry in “The Secret Vault”; and a delightful tale of a young artist forced to masquerade as a male in order to ply her trade in “A Gentleman’s Portrait by a Pregnant Man”. But, I’d have to say my favorite story in this collection is “The Haunted Palazzo”, because I’ve always been a sucker for a good ghost story, and the mysterious specter and wet windowsill are certainly prime food for ghostly fodder.

Stories I Stole From Lord Byron’s Bastard is a collection of short historically inspired stories which are light and entertaining reads. Fun and enjoyable. I give it five quills.

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