Cover Reveal for The Andromeda’s Ghost

Super stoked to announce that my new adult science fiction/fantasy book has a cover! I got the manuscript back from BHC Press’s editor earlier this month along with some notes and corrections. After two weeks of combing through it myself, I’ve deemed it to be as perfect as it can be. I’ve sent it back to my publisher for formatting. Then it’ll be sent out to reviewers! And once those reviews get in, it’ll be publication time!

The Andromeda’s Ghost is scheduled to be published in July 2020. This is the first book in The Andromeda Chronicles, which will be a trilogy. It’ll be available in ebook, paperback, and hardcover! For more details, feel free to visit the book’s page on BHC Press’ website.

 

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A Nostalgic Post

Remember when I took a poetry class to challenge myself since I’m not so great at writing poems? Well, I was cleaning out my USB stick the other day and happened upon a folder with some old assignments. I felt both pride and embarrassment upon reading through them. Here are two of my favorites:

 


 

A Cat and His Dog 

(Inspired by my pets)

The dog thinks she’s the alpha of the house.

The dog is wrong.

She watches cars and people pass through the window,

Barking at anyone and anything.

Unless they come through the door.

Then they’re friends.

The dog thinks I enjoy playing with her.

The dog is wrong.

When Mom and Dad can’t toss the ball for her

She charges and snaps and barks at me.

The dog is often very sorry for this.

I make her cry and retreat every time.

The dog thinks she’s Mom and Dad’s favorite.

The dog is wrong.

She gets treats and belly rubs and sleeps at Dad’s feet.

I get to sleep on the couch.

Mom doesn’t let the dog sleep on the couch.

Enough said.

The dog thinks we’re friends.

The dog is wrong.

Sure, we share the water bowl sometimes.

When I sneak out through the dog door,

We eat grass together and watch the birds.

And when I’m full and the dog asks very nicely,

I let her finish my milk…

I suppose the dog isn’t always wrong.

 


 

My Salted Pine

(Inspired by my grandfather’s ranch)

Freshly tilled earth squishes between my toes

Releasing memories of water, fertilizer, vegetation

My grandfather works hard to nurture his fields

They reward him with good produce every season

Sunshine weaves through the leaves to meet the top of my head

Bringing memories of summer, play, blackberries

My cousins and I once ran through these fields

Raced up the chicken coop to pick the berries that grew there

The wind whispers across the land

Churning up memories of rain, clouds, thunder

I often sat before the front window of my grandparent’s house

Watching the weather wreak havoc across their land

My tree sways and gestures with its branches

Recounting memories of adventures, epiphanies, dreams

This was my place of solitude, the place I could escape to

The place I came to think

I reach up to press my hand against the creases in the bark

Close my eyes, take a deep breath

And remember being a child

 


 

Don’t worry. I’m not quitting my day job yet. It’s just fun to look back and reminisce. At least, it is for me. Hope you enjoyed them! 😉

Surprise!

I know I’m late in posting something new on here but I have a really good excuse, I promise.

May 18. 4:00AM. I was suddenly wide awake. Then I felt and heard a distinct pop, kind of like the sound you hear when you pop a bubble in your chewing gum. My coworker had described this to me when she told me about the time her water broke so I carefully got out of bed and made my way to the bathroom. No sooner had my feet touched the tile than water began to rush down my legs.

“Hey, babe?” I squeaked, slapping on the lights.

My husband sat bolt upright in bed. “What? What’s wrong?”

“I think my water just broke.” (Which was, in hindsight, a ridiculous thing to say. Water was literally pouring out of me. There was no way this could be anything but my water breaking. But I was groggy and a little scared so I think I can let it go.)

My husband leapt into action, yanking on some clothes and gathering my overnight bag. I called the hospital to verify that we were supposed to go there right away and then proceeded to change out of my wet clothes. (A fruitless effort since the more I moved, the more water came but I’ll spare you the gory details.) We rushed to the hospital, giddy as school girls, and managed to get to labor and delivery without incident. I was so thankful we’d taken those birthing classes earlier because we knew exactly where to go and what to do. My husband filled out the paper work. I was wheeled into a room and given a gown. It was confirmed in a matter of minutes; my water had broken. Baby Bennett was coming three weeks ahead of schedule.

There were no contractions yet. The nurses wheeled me into a private birthing suite and then gave me something to kick start the contractions. It only took two to three hours before my body got the hint and continued the process on its own. I lasted five hours without the epidural. Silly me; I thought I might try toughing this thing out while watching HGTV. But when they told me I was only three centimeters dilated and the pain was already more intense than anything I’d ever felt before, I said screw it! “Give me drugs!” Having a giant needle shoved between two vertebrae in my back was nothing short of terrifying, especially because I couldn’t see when the needle went in. (That’s how I cope with needles; I have to watch them go in so that I can brace myself and breathe through the process.) My husband helped steady me. I was numb from the waist down within the hour.

For the next nine hours, I was able to rest and simply watch the contractions come and go on the monitor. Friends and family visited, talked, helped me forget I was in labor. Too many nurses to count came and went, updating me on my progress, moving me from one position to another. Finally, they declared me ready to push. It was…peaceful. My husband stood on one side of me, my nurse on the other. She coached me through it until it was time to call the doctor. It was just the four of us then, me pushing and breathing while they encouraged me. It only took twenty-three minutes. Then I heard that iconic wailing. A child was placed on my chest.

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I’d seen this moment before in movies and TV shows. Mothers had tried to describe it to me in the past. None of that did it justice. I’m having trouble describing it now. I remember feeling tired and relieved but also a bit overwhelmed. So much had happened in the last fourteen hours–in the last eight months actually! It was hard to believe it was all over. The thought hit me, “This is my son.” And that’s when the tears came.

My son.

MY SON.

Bennett Mordecai Fox. Five pounds fifteen ounces. Eighteen and three quarter inches long. He was a picture on a screen, a heartbeat on a monitor, a flutter or a kick in my stomach. And now he was a little person in my arms.

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My nurses and doctor marveled at how perfect he was. If he’d come any earlier, he would’ve had problems with his lungs or his immune system. But aside from having slightly lower blood sugar than normal, he was healthy. Still, they asked us to stay for forty-eight hours so they could run tests, be sure he was going to be all right. His blood sugar increased the more he ate. He passed all the other tests with flying colors. They gave us the OK and we brought him home Monday afternoon.

It’s been a whirlwind of activity ever since. Between figuring out this surprisingly complicated thing called breastfeeding (it DOESN’T come naturally? Whaaaaaat?), diapering, burping, and feeding this little human being at all hours of the day and night, my husband and I have hardly had a moment to ourselves. Okay, that’s not entirely true. We’ve gone out twice to celebrate our anniversary (he surprised me the day of, I surprised him over the weekend) and left Bennett with trusted loved ones. Plus both my parents and my husband’s mother have come to visit. They helped a ton.

Now we’re on our own. My husband went back to work almost two weeks ago. I’ve been surviving ever since, sleeping when I can, doing a little house work here and there, trying to build a new routine. I always knew being a mom would be difficult. Never imagined it would be this time-consuming. And I only have one child! But before I can get too overwhelmed, Bennett will do something adorable or just smile and suddenly things don’t seem so hard.

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This is my life right now. It’s busy. It’s exhausting. It’s difficult. It’s full of joy. It’s temporary. I know someday Bennett won’t need me as much. Someday I’ll have downtime again and get back into my writing. In the meantime, I’ll just try to enjoy the here and now.

 

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For the win

Hey all!

Last week, I was in editing mode for my third book, Asta and the Barbarians, which will be published in April (unless something unexpected happens on my publisher’s end to push the date back). So I skipped out on my blogging.

This week I devoted most of my downtime to creating promotional items to include in Night Owl Review‘s romance author sponsorship program. Every other month, they will mail promotional material to their readers on behalf of romance writers (for a small fee of course). I was under the impression that I’d be able to submit multiple items to be mailed, when in reality, I’m only allowed to submit one. So after I created bookmarks, coasters, blurb leaflets, and author business cards, I now have the arduous task of selecting one method of promotion and submitting it into Night Owl Reviews. I was kind of bummed because a) I put in several hours worth of work to create these and b) I was really proud of all my creations. I wanted to mail one of each of these items to Night Owl Review’s readers…

Then it hit me. Why don’t I just send these goodies to my readers?

So here’s what I’m going to do: Next Thursday, I’ll post an In the Dark trivia quiz here on my blog. It’ll probably be a twenty-five to thirty question “test” about the story or the characters. I’ll leave my email address at the bottom of the post so that participants can copy and paste the questions into the body of an email, answer the questions to the best of their ability, and send me that email. They’d have to include their home address as well so that I can mail out their prizes. Then, I’ll “grade” them and choose first, second, and third place winners. The person who wins first place will be given a first edition, autographed paperback version of I Dare You to Love Me along with a bookmark and two coasters. Second place will get a bookmark and two coasters. And third place will just get the bookmark.

If this event goes well, I can create a similar test with questions about I Dare You to Love Me and send out In the Dark items as prizes. That way both books get some good exposure.

What do you guys think? Would you be interested? How about your friends? Help me spread the word. This could be a lot of fun for all of us!

White Christmas

For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter, my husband and I went to Wisconsin this year to spend Christmas with his mother. She is originally from Phoenix, like us, but she moved there two years ago for a job. She treated us all by purchasing our plane tickets to come see her. My husband’s three brothers were there longer than we were, but we had five whole days together as a family. There was food, games, naps, Christmas music and movies, lots of laughter, and snow.

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The breakfast of champions cooked by my mother-in-law and yours truly.

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Bailey (Duncan’s girlfriend) and I decorating cookies.

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 The fruits of my labor. I don’t think I’ll be quitting my day job anytime soon.

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My mother-in-law’s barn.

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A fallen log on the side of my mother-in-law’s property.

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The view from my balcony.

I’ve only been in the snow three times in my entire life and I have to say, this was the best time of them all. The key to comfort in below zero temperatures? The proper attire. Thanks to my mother-in-law, we had snow jackets, snow pants, hats, mittens, and the thickest socks known to man available in many different sizes. We each had a layer that fit us so, when we went outside, we were comfortable. It was great.

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My husband and I, ready to go out into the snow!

While we mostly stayed indoors and enjoyed each others’ company, we did go out a few times…

To see A Christmas Carol, the play.

20171222_153810The Children’s Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, during intermission.

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My husband, the recovering cripple, and I.

To pick out our live Christmas tree.

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BTWs: it was fourteen degrees outside.

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This is where we went to get our tree.

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From left to right: my husband, Devo (otherwise known as Tiny Tim), Donevin and Duncan (the twins), and Dallas.

 20171224_103253My husband and I being all cute and stuff.

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From left to right: me, Joan (my mother-in-law), and Bailey (Duncan’s girlfriend).

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Me and my mom-in-law.

As you can see, we had a lot of fun choosing out our tree. This Happ’s place was amazing.

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It was basically an enormous evergreen field.

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Can’t decide between a live tree and a colored one? No problem at Happ’s! They’ll paint a live tree for you.

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Don’t ask me how they do it because I don’t know. But it sure looked pretty!

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This is Dallas dragging our tree to the car after it was cut.

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And this is our tree after we brought it home and decorated it.

We also went to Christmas Eve service at my mother-in-law’s church but I didn’t get any pictures of that. Suffice it to say that we had a lovely time singing Christmas carols and remembering the reason for the season. It was also super cute to see my mother-in-law glowing as she introduced us to everyone.

On Christmas morning, we read about the birth of Christ from Matthew and then opened our presents. (Please excuse the poor quality of the following photos. It might have been mid-afternoon but I was half asleep when I took them.)

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Duncan and Bailey.

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Donevin, Dallas, and Duke (the dog).

 

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Joan and my husband.

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I was there too, see?

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Yeah, we can’t take serious pictures. #sorrynotsorry

We were blessed with new clothes, shoes, books, games, Amazon giftcards, and Star Wars action figures, but I’d like to shed a spotlight on the gifts we received from Bailey.

20171225_124631This talented gal made ceramic mugs and cups for all of us.

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See how the glaze runs and fades into different shades of color? She did that herself! So cool.

And just like that it was over, this long awaited holiday, this merry get-together. My husband and I rolled out of bed on Tuesday afternoon, packed up our gifts and clothes, and got into the car. Two hours later, we boarded our plane and flew back to Phoenix, back to sixty degrees and reality. As we lay in our own bed that night, we started listing the things we already missed.

“The snow,” he said.

“Driving around in the same car with everybody,” I said. (We had the funniest conversations.)

“The sound of my brothers talking in the next room,” he said.

“Not having a schedule,” I said.

[insert big, nostalgic sigh here.]

Now we’ve entered that strange time in-between Christmas and New Years. We’re going to work and slowly getting back into our regular routines, but the upcoming holiday is sure to make things a little screwy again. We usually drive down to California to spend New Years with my family but we’re doing something a little different this year. My sister is going to Europe with her boyfriend so we’ve postponed our New Year’s celebration until the second weekend in January. That way we can all be together. My husband and I are spending New Years with friends for the very first time. We have no idea what we’re going to do but, by golly, we’re going to do something.

And then 2017 will be over.

Wow.

I heard it said once that days go by slow but years go by fast. That saying becomes more and more true the older I get. It’s incredible.

Well, I hope everyone had a fun Christmas! Be safe during New Years! I’ll check back in on the fourth of January.

A mermaid tale

In the spirit of challenging myself, I decided to write a short story about mermaids. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t used them in a story before now. I love fantasy and many of the fantasy “monsters.” I do feel like mermaids are the more unexplored monster in modern fiction, but maybe that’s just because I haven’t read or watched very many stories about mermaids. I’ve only ever seen them portrayed three ways:

As innocent and beautiful.

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As murderous and beautiful.

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As strange and mysterious.

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Even in this small pool of examples, these mermaids are as varied as the many stories about vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. It just serves as a reminder that anyone can adopt a mythical creature, use some of the basic legends recorded about them, then add random twists or facts, and make it work for their story. So this is me, adding a little twist of my own. Hope you like it. I’ve titled it: Entering the Deep.

 


 

I’ve had the same dream for as long as I can remember.

I’m floating in a basket somewhere at sea, tossed and spun by the waves. Thunder peals, shaking the basket around me. A moment later, a crack of lightning streaks across the sky, and illuminates the water. I can see the remains of a ship in the distance. Pieces of wood drift around the torn hull, which is slowly being swallowed by the sea. Crates, clothes, and food bob along the surface of the water. I can hear screams but I don’t see any people.

I’m crying, waving my little arms and legs, hoping someone will hear me.

Suddenly, a head pops up from the sea before me. It’s a woman with raven black hair clinging to the sides of her face. Her pupils are dilated to an abnormal size, with only a thin ring of blue to surround them. Her full lips are slightly parted, revealing pointed teeth, and her brow is crinkled in concern.

She casts a quick glance over her shoulder at the wreckage and then ducks back down into the water. The basket moves underneath me, propelled by a mysterious pressure on my back. The sinking ship becomes smaller and smaller until it’s completely obscured by the rolling waves.

Then I wake up.

I know I’m not my parents’ son. Father has a big, round chin, blue eyes, and fair hair. Mother has a pointed, little nose, green eyes, and curly red hair. I have brown hair, brown eyes, a nose that’s too big for my face, and a pointed chin. Mother and Father won’t tell me where I came from. They insist I’m theirs and become upset when I press them for answers. I’ve often wondered if this dream actually happened, if this is the story of how I came to them?

Maybe my story’s simply too horrible for my parents to admit.

I love the sea. I love the way the moon’s reflection glows over the surface of the water. I love the sound the waves make when they crash against rock and sand. I love the wet feel of the water, elusive to my clutching fingers.

Mother is afraid of the ocean. She shouts and cries whenever she catches me near the beach.

“Why do you live here if you can’t stand the sight of the sea?” I asked once, angry at being dragged away from the water yet again.

Mother stiffened. Assumed her school-marm stance. “The sea is dangerous.”

Father, silent and meek, followed her lead, often catching me around the middle and throwing me over his shoulder whenever I tried to sneak out to the beach.

“You’re not ready yet,” he said over my protests.

“Not ready for what?” I demanded.

Then he looked away or distracted me with a treat.

But he never answered.

Today is my sixteenth birthday. I want to spend it in the water. I haven’t felt like a child in a long time, mostly because of the hair sprouting all over my body and the stomach-flopping feeling I get whenever a pretty girl smiles at me – but also because of the calluses on my hands and the aches I experience after a long day at the tuna canning factory. I’m practically a man, and men deserve to know where they came from.

“Father,” I say after another day’s hard work. “I want to have my birthday dinner on the beach.”

Father processes this in his methodical way, turning the keys of his car over and over in his hands. “All right,” he says at last. “I’ll talk to your mother.”

And they do talk, from the moment we walk in the door right up until dinner time. I pace in the sitting room, glancing occasionally at their locked door. I fight the urge to press my ear against the wood. Mother hates it when I eavesdrop. I run a hand through my hair, still damp from bathing. After an hour of this, I sink into the armchair by the fireplace.

Then the door opens. I sit up. My heart thumps so loudly in my chest I’m sure everyone can hear it.

Mother’s eyes are red. Her mouth trembles. She marches straight into the kitchen without looking at me and puts on her apron.

Father looks tired. He’s still in his dirty work clothes and boots. He smiles at me. “Your mother is going to make us a picnic basket. I’ll bathe and then we’ll go.”

I nod because my mouth is suddenly dry. I can’t speak. Father goes outside to pump water from the well. I lean back into the armchair and watch Mother work. The picnic basket is packed and Father returns to the sitting room, clean and dressed in fresh clothes.

Mother stands away from the dinner fixings. She signals me to come to her. Pulling me into a tight hug, she whispers, “You’re still my boy, Jacob. You always will be.”

“It’s only a picnic, Mother,” I say, surprised by her emotion.

She steps back and presses a handkerchief to her mouth.

“Come,” Father says.

I grab the packed dinner basket and follow him outside.

Father and I walk down the hill and across the beach. The seagulls call out to us from the sky, their bodies rising and falling in the invisible breeze. The waves are strong today; they smash hard against the sand. The water rushes across the beach, hungrily reaching for our feet before the tide tugs it back to the ocean.

I grin and begin to unlace by shoes.

“Jacob,” Father says. I straighten up. He stands a stone’s throw away from me, pointing at the bend of the island in the distance. “This way.”

Confused, I glance back at the water. “But—”

“Trust me, son,” he says.

I obey.

We walk along the sand for a long time. The sun, which hugged the horizon when we left home, has officially been swallowed by the sea. The stars wink at me from the heavens. The night becomes darker and darker every moment we walk.

“Father, should I make a torch?” I ask.

“No need,” he says. “We’re almost there.”

We reach a wall of rock, the side of a cliff that hangs over the ocean. Father leads me to the entrance of a cave. There he takes out two long, white candle sticks and a box of matches from our picnic basket. Once lit, he hands me one of the candles. Then we continue into the cave. Black walls reflect the light from the candles; sparkling stones in the ceiling mimic the twinkling of the stars.

“Watch your step,” Father says as we navigate the slick and uneven stone.

We come to a hole in the middle of the ground, full of water. The sloshing and whispering of the sea echoes all around us.

“What is this place?” I ask.

“This is where we found you,” Father says. “This is where she brought you.”

I look around, as if she will still be here. “Who?”

“You’ll see,” says Father.

Then she pops up out of the hole in the ground as if she’s been there this whole time, waiting for an invitation. I skitter back in surprise.

A few feet out of the hole, suspended in air, seemingly, is the woman from my dream. The black hair. The impossibly large blue eyes. That smile full of sharp teeth. Sea weed is wrapped around her chest. Green scales grow across her abdomen. I can’t look away.

Seeing that she’s startled me, she lowers herself back into the water until only her head is visible.

“Is that a—?”

“A mermaid? Yes.” Father sets the picnic basket down, as calm as if he sees things like this every day. “Her name is Alga. She can understand you. Go and speak with her.”

I approach the hole in the rock with caution, holding the candle out before me. Wax drips down the stick and burns my knuckles, but I can hardly feel it. My heart stutters. My mouth is dry. I force out some words. “Did – did you rescue me from the wreckage of a ship when I was a baby?”

She nods. “I pushed your little basket to shore and hid you here. I fed you from my body, taught you how to swim, sang you the song of the sea.”  Her voice is melodic, a chord struck on a harp. “Does it call to you still?”

“It does. Why?”

“Because once you hear it, you can’t stop hearing it.” Alga rises from the water, reaching out as if to touch me. “I gave birth to a son mere weeks before I found you. He had no heartbeat. I thought I would lose my own heart but you restored me.”

She lowers her hand. Glances at Father. “You needed the humans so I let them take you. But now you must return to the Deep.”

“What do you mean?” I ask with a nervous laugh. “How can I live in the sea?”

“You were over a year old when we found you in this cave,” Father says, drawing my eyes to his face. “For months, you survived from her milk. You grew up as a creature of two worlds; the land and the sea.” Father puts a hand on my shoulder. It feels heavy to me. “But no longer. Once you’re submerged, you’ll become like her.”

“But…” My head is spinning. I can barely breathe. Suddenly, it comes to me. Mother knew. She’s known all along. That’s why…I swallow hard. “Will I see you again?”

Father smiles with tears in his eyes. “We’ll always be here, son.”

I throw my arms around him, fingers digging into the back of his shirt. He embraces me for a moment and then gently pushes me away. I wipe at my stinging eyes and face Alga. She sinks down, allowing the sea to swallow her whole. Her eyes stay open and fixed upon me as she descends into the depths, her hair moving in the water like ribbons in the wind.

The ocean rises, whispering, calling.

I take a deep breath, and jump in.

The water wraps me in its cold, refreshing embrace. The shock of it steals my breath. For a moment, all I can see is a cloud of bubbles around me and dark blue beyond. Then unbelievable pain grips my legs, as if a flock of angry woodpeckers are attacking me. I scream and double over in the water. I reach out to swat away the invisible creatures tearing into my flesh and bone.

Has the mermaid deceived me? Has she lured me to my death?

I expect to see holes in my skin, blood in the water.

But there isn’t any.

My trousers have torn. My legs are covered with midnight blue scales. My ankles and knees are drawn together suddenly, bone grinding against bone. Writhing in the water, I let out a sob and then greedily suck in a gulp of air.

Air?

I momentarily forget about the pain. Have I been breathing under water all this time? With a snap, the transformation is complete. A long, fish tail has replaced my legs; a thin, web-like fin sticks out from the end. I can feel every movement of the water against my scales, the subtle pressure changes. I can’t feel the shocking cold of the water anymore; it’s become muted and comfortable.

The world sharpens into focus around me. Colorful stones covered in fuzzy algae pepper the ocean floor. I spot bright orange starfish, pink coral, and strange ocean bushes with tentacle-like-branches swaying in the water. Different kinds of fish dart all around, avoiding me. Alga floats among them, smiling.

“Welcome,” she says, “to the Deep.”

Another stab at poetry

She sits in the corner, quietly, meekly

Listening, seldom contributing to the

Conversations, crashing, roaring like the sea

She speaks and all listen now

Patiently, reverently, as she plods

Through an analogy or brings their attention to

Another point of view.

Sweet, kind great grandmother, white-faced

And weathered by time, docile as a doe

But stronger than bullet-proof vests used

By soldiers, and brave as any of their

Commanding officers. We played in her yard,

Drew on her sidewalk, ate ice cream under the

Porch, walked down the street to the waves

And stretch of beach there. She followed along with

A smile and a cheerful heart, despite being weary

With age. She crawled over the floor on knobby knees,

Joining our dolls in adventures, enticing us to come

And play together, despite disagreements. Back

Oh, I’d go back if I could, fleeing from

This world without great grandmother’s

Driveway, a path through rose bushes tall as hills

Leading to sanctuary, leading to a place of

Laughter, food, and fun. Now she lives high

Up in the sky, away from the water,

The people, the places she loved.

She’s at peace, although, we all

Live with our grief, large

Ever-present clouds looming above.

Still, day by day I find

Those clouds dissipating.

Steadily they make their reluctant retreat,

Lightning seething across a sky after a storm.

And the memories, precious, heartbreaking,

Lovely, remain.

Flash fiction for funzies

Nala lay on her belly with her head over her paws, forsaking the shade and purposefully exposing herself to the sun. Better to burn than to sit among the hyenas. They barked and chattered to each other, leisurely bathing themselves by the roots of the dying trees. Nala stared out across the land, watching the heat rise from the earth and distort the horizon.

“She won’t speak,” her mother told some of the other lionesses. “She hardly eats. She doesn’t do anything. She just sits there…As if waiting.”

Nala could hear the worry and the fear in her mother’s voice. She couldn’t muster the energy to care.

“Waiting for what?” one of the lionesses muttered. “For Mufasa’s boy to come back and make everything right?”

“Hush!” the others hissed. “The hyenas will hear!”

Nala shut her eyes and barred her teeth, fighting the pain, fighting the anger. She remembered Scar’s coronation. He stood before the pride with his head up but his eyes downcast. Sorrow had pulled at his feline features, made his whiskers droop.

“Mufasa’s death was a terrible tragedy; but to lose Simba, who had barely begun to live…” He shook his head. “For me it is a deep personal loss. So it is with a heavy heart that I assume the throne.” He straightened up, looking each lioness in the eye as he adopted a determined resolve. “Yet, out of the ashes of this tragedy, we shall rise to greet the dawning of a new era…in which lion and hyena come together, in a great and glorious future!”

What a terrible leader he’d been! What a liar! He’d promised greatness but he’d disrupted the delicate balance of their lives. Hyenas had swarmed into the land and made Pride Rock their home. Scar sent the lionesses out to hunt over and over again to satisfy the gluttonous dogs that laughed such bone-chilling laughs. They gobbled up the meat from each kill, sucked the marrow from the bones. The huntresses were left with scraps. The hyenas lapped up the water springs and guarded them with savage jealousy. The neighboring animals, terrified for their lives and robbed of their watering holes, fled. The skies decided to communicate their disapproval by keeping the rain to themselves. The land that was once lush and green was now completely parched. And Scar lounged in his cave without a care.

Simba would never have stood for this, Nala thought acidly.

Mufasa’s body had been found. His son’s body had not. Scar lied about his intentions; he could’ve lied about what happened to Simba. As more darkness seeped into the land, the stronger Nala’s faith became. Simba was alive. Scar had somehow forced him to leave but Simba would return when he was strong enough. He would be king then and everything would be as it was. Nala would sit and wait. She would watch the horizon until she saw him, bounding across the cracked earth, fangs exposed as a roar burst from his lips, righteous fury burning in those orange eyes, wild mane rippling around his face. She would run out to meet him then and join him in the fight against Scar. What a glorious day that would be!

 

Nala waited for twelve years. Simba never came. A seed of doubt was planted, a seed that fast became a consuming vine of despair. It wove its way around Nala’s heart, made her believe she’d been mistaken. Made her give up on her prince. The day her mother was injured while on the hunt was the day Scar sent a hyena to find Nala.

“Your mother is unable to bring us our food,” he yipped. “Scar says it’s time to prove your worth. Go out and fetch us a nice, fat hog!” He licked his lips and laughed. “Yes, a juicy fat warthog would be perfect!”

“Fetch it yourself, you lazy mongrel!” Nala growled.

The hyena pounced.

Scar found them wrestling behind Pride Rock and put a quick end to their dispute. A strong swipe of his paw sent Nala’s head whipping to the side. Her body followed after, sailing away from the hyena she’d been about to bite. She crashed into the rock with a pathetic cry. Scar padded over on deceptively soft paws. He loomed above her, cold, indifferent eyes watching the blood dripping from her cheek. Nala stood with difficulty. Anger still burned within her. It wrinkled her nose, flattened her ears, and forced a low growl through her throat.

“You will do as you are told, Nala,” Scar said quietly, “for your mother’s sake.”

The despair came to rob her of her anger. Nala bowed her head. “Yes, sir.”

“Run along now,” Scar said, nodding at the horizon.

Nala barred her teeth at the hyena before she fled, sprinting across the barren wasteland that was her home. I’ll find him a warthog. I’ll find him the biggest warthog he’s ever seen. Maybe then he’ll choke on it!

 

A wild lion leapt over the root of the giant tree with a mighty roar. He collided with Nala, who frothed with frustration thanks to her illusive prey. She and the strange lion tumbled into a scrimmage. They fought, they bit, they scratched, they rolled…and Nala pinned him to the ground.

The strange lion blinked up at her in shock. “Nala?”