Holiday Wishes and a Short Story

#SFWAPRO

It’s Christmas Eve, for those of us who celebrate it. If you celebrate it, or don’t, I hope this season is filled with warmth, joy, family and/or friends, and lots of cookies/cake/pie/beer.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was considering sharing some short stories, and what better time to do so than right now? The first of these is one I’m rather proud of, and a bit disappointed no magazines were interested in. However, if they were, I wouldn’t able to share it now. I didn’t write it as a holiday themed story, but I think the overall message is one that fits quite nicely (you’ll see at the end). I hope you enjoy it. I’ve posted it below in its entirety, but also added a menu tab for short stories, and it’s the first.

I wish you all a wonderful, happy, and safe holidays.


A Quick Errand
By Bishop O’Connell

Sarah turned the music up loud and sang along as she drove to Bambi’s house; or rather her Aunt Carol’s. Sarah didn’t know all the details behind that situation, only that Bambi’s mom, aside from being a Disney fanatic—hence the name Bambi—had some kind some kind of mental illness. Neither Bambi nor her aunt had ever explained and Sarah didn’t pry.

“Hi, Carol,” Sarah said as she walked in, closing the door behind her.

“Hi, Sarah,” Carol said from the kitchen. “Are you staying for dinner? It’s meatloaf night.”

“Then I’m staying for dinner,” Sarah said.

“Bam is down in her cave,” Carol said.

“Thanks.” Sarah made her way to the basement door and descended the stairs.

The basement was unremarkable: a couple of old wooden work benches, and stacks of colored plastic tubs against the wall. Bambi was nowhere in sight. Sarah proceeded to the metal cabinet on the far wall, opened the door, and typed a ten digit code into the old keyboard on the top shelf. There was a click before the cabinet slid to one side, and Sarah stepped through.

The surprise of learning her best friend had a hidden lab—one that looked like it belonged on the set of a sci-fi movie—in the basement of her Aunt’s house hadn’t lasted long. Knowing Bambi as well as she did, Sarah would’ve been more surprised if there hadn’t been one.

Bambi was working on what looked like a laser pistol made from a hairdryer, parts from a computer, and a DVD player

“Tell me that isn’t like a death ray or something,” Sarah said.

Bambi looked up. “Oh, hi. Thanks for coming over.”

Sarah waited.

Bambi blinked. “What?”

“Not a death ray, right?” Sarah asked again.

Bambi looked from her contraption to Sarah. “That’s a loaded question. I mean—”

“Never mind,” Sarah said. “Just promise me you’re not planning to use it to take over the world or anything.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

Sarah smiled. “Of course you wouldn’t.” That was why she loved her friend, she didn’t have a mean bone in her body.

“Do you want a soda?” Bambi asked and went over to an old style vending machine, the kind that dropped cups and filled them.

“Sure.”

“Two Dr. Peppers,” Bambi said.

On the spot a paper cup would normally drop, a can of Dr. Pepper materialized. Bambi took it and handed it to Sarah. An instant later a second can appeared.

Sarah took a drink. “I’ve always meant to ask,” she said. “Does that thing work like a replicator on Star Trek, or does it like teleport the cans in from somewhere else?” She’d learned early on not to ask ‘how’ when it came to any of Bambi’s inventions; as their English teacher would say, that way lay only madness.

Bambi opened her mouth to answer when Sarah saw a cage in the far corner, and something inside it moved.

Sarah approached the cage for a better look. She glanced away for a moment, then back, making sure she wasn’t imagining it.

“Why do you have an otter in a cage?”

Bambi opened her mouth again.

“This crazy bitch is holding me against my will,” the otter said. “You gotta help me!”

Sarah blinked. “Why do you have a talking otter in a cage?” Anyone else would’ve probably freaked, but this wasn’t even close to the strangest thing she’d encountered in Bambi’s lab. That had probably been the failed attempt at semi-sentient cabbage.

“Because I don’t want him running around the lab,” Bambi said.

“I mean, why do you have a talking otter in your lab?”

The otter got on his hind legs and leered at Sarah. “Hey, sweets, you’re not too bad looking for a shaved monkey. Let me outta here and I’ll make it worth your while.” The otter winked.

Bambi pointed a modified garage door opener at the cage. “The warrant clearly states dead or alive.”

The otter muttered something and sank back down into the cage.

“He’s in my lab,” Bambi said, clearly unsure why Sarah was having a hard time with this. “Because where else would I keep him?”

Sarah closed her eyes, took a deep breath and reminded herself that this was Bambi and she wasn’t being intentionally obtuse.

“I’m missing something again, aren’t I?” Bambi asked. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Sarah said, her calm returned. “Let’s take one part at a time; why do you have a—rather skeevy—talking otter in your possession?”

“Hey, who you calling—?”

Bambi held up the garage door opener again and the otter went quiet. “He’s not really an otter,” she said. “He’s an alien that just happens to look like an otter. He’s here because my portal has to recharge before I could take him to Earth-771A and collect the bounty, which I need in order to—”

Sarah held up a finger. “Sorry, overload. I need a second.”

Bambi nodded and took another pull from her soda. This happened a lot in the lab.

“He’s an alien?”

“Yes, from—”

Sarah put up a hand. “What is Earth-771A?”

“It’s one of the infinite alternate earths,” Bambi said as if describing a chocolate chip cookie. “It’s technologically about sixty years ahead of us, and the dominant societies are matriarchal instead of patriarchal.”

“Seriously?” Sarah asked, smiling.

Bambi nodded.

“You should call it super awesome lady future earth,” she said.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Sarah said. “And you use this portal, which is currently recharging, to travel to these infinite Earths?”

“Yes,” Bambi said and pointed.

Sarah looked over and saw a thick a tablet plugged into— “That’s a radiation symbol.”

Bambi nodded. “Yes.”

Sarah massaged her temples. “It’s some kind of nuclear reactor, isn’t it?”

“Small scale fusion reactor, yes,” Bambi said. “It’s just a proof of concept though.”

“I’m just going to stop asking about the things in your lab,” Sarah said. “Okay, skeevy alien not-an-otter, is he from Earth-771A?”

Bambi nodded. “He’s a terrorist.”

Sarah blinked, glancing from Bambi to the otter and back. “A terrorist?”

“He’s part of a separatist group that opposes the treaty his people signed with Earth 771-A,” Bambi said. “He was convicted of war crimes, but he escaped on his way to prison and the government put a ten million dollar bounty on him.”

Sarah gave serious thought to taking up drinking. Sure she was only sixteen, but she could probably get her hands on a fake ID.

“And you caught him?” Sarah asked.

Bambi nodded.

“You.”

Bambi knitted her brows together but nodded again. “It wasn’t that difficult.”

“I’m going to regret this,” Sarah said and drew in a breath. “How?”

“He had a portal too,” Bambi said. “I tracked the quantum decay to Earth-97621B and found him hiding at a Sea World.”

Sarah looked at the skeevy not-an-otter. “Sea World? Really?”

“It was actually pretty sweet,” not-an-otter said. “I ran that joint. The humans kept their distance and I had all the female otters and clams I could want.” He glared at Bambi. “Until this—”

Bambi pressed the button on the garage door opener and the not-an-otter went in convulsions. When it stopped he collapsed.

“Did you just tase him?” Sarah asked.

“Taser is a copyrighted product made by Axom,” Bambi said. “But if you’re asking if I used a high voltage electric discharge to render him compliant, the answer is yes.”

“Nice,” Sarah said and opened her mouth but was interrupted by a microwave chime.

“Oh good, it’s ready,” Bambi said.

“Your burrito?” Sarah asked.

“The portal,” Bambi said and began putting some of her inventions into a backpack.

Sarah was afraid to ask what they were.

“Do you want to carry him or the portal?” Bambi asked, pointing at the still unconscious not-an-otter.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I suppose I could carry both if you get the doors,” Bambi said.

“Where are we going?” Sarah looked from the nuclear reactor to the not-an-otter, unsure which she wanted to be farther away from.

“Earth-771A to collect the bounty,” Bambi said.

Sarah opened her mouth to protest but stopped herself.

Ten million dollars. Awesome future earth.

“I’ll grab the not-an-otter,” she said. “I don’t want anywhere near that reactor.”

“It’s perfectly safe,” Bambi said, unplugging the tablet. “So long as the containment field doesn’t collapse there’s no really risk at all.” She hit a button and the door opened onto the basement.

“Ten million dollars,” Sarah whispered to herself and followed with not-an-otter in hand. “Awesome future earth.”

Bambi made sure her Aunt Carol was still in the kitchen before motioning for Sarah to head for the front door.

Sarah opened it as quietly as she could.

“Where are you two going?” Carol asked from the kitchen.

“Just a quick errand,” Sarah said.

“Well don’t take long,” Carol said. “Dinner will be ready at six-thirty.”

“We should be back long before then, Aunt Carol,” Bambi said.

“While you’re out, would you pick up some butter and a gallon of milk?”

“No problem,” Sarah said from the doorway and motioned with her head for Bambi to hurry. When they were halfway down the steps, she stopped. “Wait a second,” she said, her voice low. “Why didn’t we portal from your lab?”

Bambi went past her and walked to Sarah’s car. “My lab doesn’t exist on that earth. The portal would just open into a block of solid earth. We also will need your car.”

“My car?” Sarah asked. “We’re taking my car to an alternate earth?”

“Yes.”

Sarah opened her mouth to argue, but knew it was pointless.

“Are you okay?” Bambi asked from inside the car.

“Fine,” Sarah said. She popped her trunk, glanced around to make sure no one was watching, and stuck not-an-otter in before slamming it shut.

Sarah started the car. “Wait, if it’s an alternate earth, will the money be any good here?”

“Of course not,” Bambi said and pulled out her phone. She plugged it into the tablet and dialed a number. “They have different faces on most of the bills and they use a composite material instead of the cotton based paper here. Head to Grandston park.”

“Then what good is the ten million dollars?”

Bambi pointed to the phone.

Sarah let out a sigh, backed out of the driveway and headed to Grandston Park.

“Agent Pricilla Thompson,” Bambi said into her phone.

Bambi tried to stay focused on the road.

“This is Thumper,” Bambi said, presumably after agent Thompson got on the line. “Grandston park in twenty minutes.”

Sarah tried to listen in, but gave it up when she almost drove onto the sidewalk.

“I wouldn’t be calling if I didn’t have him,” Bambi said. “Have you made all the arrangements as we agreed?” She nodded. “Thank you, twenty minutes then.” She ended the call.

“Did you just call an alternate earth?” Sarah asked.

“Yes.”

“Does your cell plan cover that?”

Bambi opened her mouth, then closed and looked at Sarah for a long second. “That was a joke, wasn’t it?”

“I guess not,” Sarah said and made a left.

Fifteen minutes later they arrived at the park.

“Stop the car,” Bambi said, tapping the tablet screen.

“You’ve done this before, right?” Sarah asked, gripping the steering wheel with sweaty palms.

“Seventy-four times,” Bambi said and tapped one last time.

The air pressure increased and Sarah had to pop her ears. The portal rolled down like a projection screen a few feet in front of the car. It was a little anticlimactic. There was no bright white light, no glowing outline. In fact, if you didn’t view it at just the right angle you probably wouldn’t notice it at all. There was only the faintest hint of an edge to the portal, and the scene on the other side matched up perfectly with this side. The trees and grass looked more vibrant, but that was it.

“Drive through slowly,” Bambi said.

Sarah did and parked in the empty spot in front of them. A moment later the portal rolled closed behind them.

“We can get home, right?” Sarah asked.

“Of course,” Bambi said. “Fully charged the portal allows for four trips.”

“I’ll get not-an-otter,” Sarah said and climbed out.

Bambi slid the portal tablet into her backpack and pulled out a handful of what looked like metal golf balls.

“What are those?” Sarah asked, immediately regretting it.

“I call them multiphase disruption shield generators,” Bambi said. “They generate—”

“A multiphase disruption shield?”

Bambi smiled. “Exactly. They’ll stop the agents’ technological equipment from working, in case they try to bring us in for questioning. It won’t affect the functioning of the hover cars though, don’t worry about that.”

“Did you say hover cars?”

Bambi nodded.

“Awesome,” Sarah said and opened the trunk. She decided to just enjoy the trip. They might not be able to use the ten million dollars back home, but they could spend it here and bring stuff back. Right? Maybe she could talk Bambi into buying a hover car! Not that she didn’t love her old Camry, but, well, freaking hover car! Maybe she could land it on Bridget Thompson’s beloved BMW.

Bambi walked into the park and set the disruptor golf balls in a large circle. When it was done she motioned for Sarah to join her.

She hefted the cage and started walking.

“Where the hell are we?” not-an-otter asked.

“Getting ready to hand you over, creeper,” Sarah said.

“Listen, toots, I’m sorry about that shaved monkey thing,” he said. “I can pay you double the bounty. Triple even, my people have access to lots of cash.”

“Not a chance.”

“Listen, primate,” he said. “If you let me go now, I promise not to come after you and your friend and exact a terrible rev—eeee!”

“Thank you,” Sarah said.

Bambi nodded and tucked the garage door opener back in her pocket.

After a few minutes of waiting, Sarah decided to try her luck. “Any thoughts on what you want to buy? I mean, I know it’s your money, but how cool would it be to have a hover car? I mean, I do drive you everywhere right? We might as well do it in style.”

“It wouldn’t work in our world,” Bambi said. “There’s a phasic difference in the electric currents that would keep the car from being able to recharge.”

“Really?” Sarah had no idea what phasic difference meant, but she better than to ask.

Bambi nodded.

“Well that sucks.”

“You can get something else next time,” Bambi said.  “But I need to buy some tampons this time.”

Sarah blinked. “I’m sorry did you say—?”

Her words were drowned out by a collection of flying cars appearing overhead. They looked like, well, like futuristic flying cars: awesome. They formed a circle and hovered overhead. Three more hover cars—these only a foot or so off the ground—glided into the lot, parking next to, and behind, her car.

Sarah tried not to panic, unsuccessfully, and considered what jail in super awesome lady future earth would look like.

The cars set down on the ground. Four women and two men, all wearing dark suits and sunglasses got out. Apparently agents everywhere dressed the same.

Sarah swallowed and tried not to pee a little. Bambi looked as she always did; just this side of bored.

One of the women took up the lead and walked toward them. When they passed through the circle of golf balls, everyone stopped and began tapping at the side of their glasses.

The lead agent, Sarah assumed it was Thompson, looked at Bambi. “This isn’t a very good start to this meeting, Thumper.”

“It’s just a safety precaution,” she said. “We’re here to turn over Doctor Alstran and collect the reward. We have to be home for dinner soon, so we don’t have time for you to question us.”

Sarah winced.

Thompson gave Bambi a long look, then exchanged some words with her fellow agents. When they were done, two agents stepped back out of the circle. The remaining three and Agent Thomson approached.

“Hello, Doctor,” Thompson said to not-an-otter.

“There’s been a terrible mistake!” he protested. “This woman captured me and—”

“Really?” Thompson said. “You’re going that way? Aside from the fact I have your facial fur pattern memorized, we’ll be doing a DNA verification.”

“Well, it was worth a try,” no-an-otter said.

“You’ve performed a great service for your country and all humanity,” Thompson said to Sarah and Bambi then turned to the agent on her left. “Wing, take the Doctor into custody.”

Wing picked up the cage.

“No prison can hold me, toots,” Doctor Not-an-otter said to Sarah. “I’ll find you and your friend, you can’t hi—eeeeeeeee!” The doctor convulsed then collapsed back into unconsciousness.

Bambi released the button and offered the remote to Agent Wing. “It’s a strictly non-lethal voltage.”

Wing looked at Thompson, who nodded, then accepted the garage door opener. He looked from it to Bambi and back again before pocketing the device and carrying the Doctor to the waiting hover cars.

Thompson produced a couple of credit cards from her pocket and offered them to Bambi. “Ten million dollar reward,” she said. “Sequestered accounts keyed to the pin you provided.”

Bambi took the cards. “Thank you.”

“I have to ask,” Thompson said. “How did a couple teenagers capture the most wanted criminal on the planet?”

“Actually it was just her,” Sarah said and pointed to Bambi. “I’m the one with a car.”

Thompson looked back at the Camry. “Yes, and quite an interesting car at that.”

“So,” Thompson said to Bambi, “how’d you do it?”

“He used a quantum tunneling device to flee to an alternate dimensional earth,” Bambi said.

Sarah winced again.

“I tracked the quantum decay to Sea World Orlando on Earth 97621B,” she said. “Once I identified which of the otters he was, I shot him with a neural suppression ray—”

“So you have a quantum tunneling device?” Thompson asked.

“Whaaaaat?” Sarah said through what she hoped was a sincere smile and trying not to imagine becoming a test subject in some government lab. “No, she’s just kid—”

“Of course,” Bambi said. “How else could we have traveled here?”

“My friend has a really active imagination,” Sarah said.

“What are you talking about?” Bambi said. “She’s an authority figure, I wouldn’t lie to her.”

“Are you saying that you’re from an alternate earth?” Thompson asked.

“Yes,” Bambi said.

“No,” Sarah said.

“Look,” Thompson said looking from Sarah to Bambi and back. “You retrieved the most wanted being on this planet. That’s all I care about. I was curious how you pulled it off, but if you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine.” She nodded at Bambi. “Let me know if you find and capture any other international war criminals.” Then she turned and walked back to the hover cars with her agents in tow.

“Thanks,” Sarah said and waved. “Love your shoes!”

A few minutes later they were alone in the park.

“Holy crap, you’re a freaking millionaire!” Sarah said, almost vibrating in excitement. Sure, they couldn’t spend it on their Earth but—

“So are you,” Bambi said and handed one of the credit cards to Sarah. “The PIN is your birthday; four digit year. I’m sorry, it’s only three million. I need the other seven. And I’m sorry you can’t spend it right now, but I promise we’ll come back so you can.”

Sarah just stared at her friend. She knew she had the ability to speak, but she couldn’t seem to remember how to do it just now.

Bambi furrowed her brow. “I missed something again, didn’t I?”

“No,” Sarah said and accepted the card. “No, not at all. But I am going to hug you now, okay?” She learned early in their friendship that Bambi needed to be asked to be touched.

“Okay.”

Sarah hugged her friend. “Thank you so much,” was all she could manage to say.

Bambi hugged back, stiff and awkward, but Sarah didn’t mind. It was a Bambi hug, and that meant it was awesome.

“We need to go,” Bambi said. “Aunt Carol will be mad if we’re late for dinner and we need to stop at the store.”

“Right,” Sarah said. “Let’s go.”

They returned to the car, got in, and Sarah started the engine. She backed out of the parking spot and waited, but Bambi didn’t move.

“Are you going to open the portal?”

“No,” Bambi said. “We have to go to the store.”

“We’re going to a store here?”

“I told you I needed buy tampons,” Bambi said.

“Um, I have some in my purse—”

“They’re not for me,” Bambi said.

Something in her tone told Sarah not to push, so she put the car into drive and headed for the exit.

“Which way? Is there a store in the same place as on our earth?”

“It is,” Bambi said. “But it’s a Safeway instead of Kroger.”

On the way to the store, Sarah had to admit she was a little disappointed in super awesome lady future earth. It was cool, and she saw quite a few hover cars, but other than being cleaner and more vibrant, it wasn’t much different than her earth. The houses were sleeker, there were more trees and grass, and the few people she saw all looked trim and fit, but that was it.

“I expected it to look more futuristic,” Sarah said.

“It’s roughly fifty-eight years ahead of us in terms of technological advancement,” Bambi said. “If we drove around in the 1960’s, apart from fashion,  it wouldn’t look much different than our time.”

“Huh, I hadn’t thought about that,” Sarah said. “So how many different earths have you been to?”

“Thirty-seven,” Bambi said and pointed. “Here it is.”

“Thirty-seven?” Sarah asked as she pulled into the parking lot and found a spot.

Bambi checked her watch. “We don’t have much time,” she said, got out, and began walking to the store.

Sarah locked the car and hurried after. She couldn’t help but notice her car, which was a piece of crap—albeit her piece of crap—looked even more so among the sleek and shiny vehicles parked around them. She caught up with Bambi just as she was pushing a cart into the store. Sadly, it was not a hover cart.

The inside of the store was a let-down as well. There were holograms floating in the air instead of signs, which was cool, but other than that, nothing really impressed Sarah.

“What’s ‘everfresh’?” she asked as they walked by the produce department.

“Everfresh is the Safeway brand patented process that maintains produce in stasis,” A woman on the touch screen attached to the shopping carts handle said. “Ensuring fresh fruit and vegetables when you want them. We guarantee no spoilage, no matter what. That’s the Safeway difference.”

“You should develop that back home,” Sarah said to Bambi. “You could literally end world hunger.”

“That’s a good idea,” Bambi said, grabbing a couple of apples wrapped in plastic, and putting them in the cart.

Passing through the meat department, Sarah did not ask about the “100% lab grown” label on everything. She didn’t want to know.

“You don’t think it’ll be a problem bringing this stuff back with us?” Sarah asked as she put the butter into the cart next to the milk. “I mean, won’t she notice the difference?”

“It’s possible.”

“And you don’t see that as a problem?” Sarah asked as they went to collect Bambi’s tampons, which she decided would be the name of her next band.

As soon as they reached the personal health aisle, Bambi began loading boxes of tampons and pads into the cart.

“Jeez, how many do you need?”

“As many as we can carry,” Bambi said and continued stacking boxes.

Rather than question, Sarah helped fill the cart. When she spotted the price, she stopped and blinked. “Fifty cents for a forty pack? Is that right?”

Bambi nodded, still adding boxes. “They’re recognized as a necessity here, so they’re kept inexpensive. They’re also tax free.”

“It’s not personal jet packs, but I still call that a win,” Sarah said and topped off the cart.

“Did you find everything okay?” the young man at the register asked as Bambi began stacking boxes upon boxes of tampons and pads onto the little conveyor.

“Yep, thanks,” Sarah said.

He gave them a look but shrugged and started scanning.

“That’ll be sixty-seven, forty two,” he said when it was done.

“Damn that’s cheap,” Sarah whispered.

Bambi inserted the card Thompson had given her into the reader and entered the pin on the little keypad. Sarah’s stomach knotted a little when nothing happened for a long moment. She looked around, half expecting to see suited agents drop out of the ceiling or teleport in.

Instead, the receipt printed and the clerk handed it to Bambi.

“Have a nice day.”

They filled Sarah’s trunk—and most of her back seats—with the boxes and drove off.

Bambi activated the portal on a road with no one on it. And just like that, they were back on their own earth. Sarah couldn’t help but notice it seemed drabber than before, but she ignored it and drove on. Her baseline for “normal” was different than most people’s.

“Turn here,” Bambi said and pointed to the right.

“That’s not the way home,” Sarah said but made the turn.

“We need to make one more stop.”

“Okay, but we’re getting short on time.”

“It won’t take long.”

Sarah wanted to ask where they were going, but didn’t. Her friend was acting odd, odder than usual, but something told Sarah this was important. So she kept quiet and followed her friend’s directions.

“Turn in here,” Bambi said, pointing to a road next to what had once been a department store, but the sign out front now read ‘Women’s Shelter’. “Follow the driveway around to the back.”

Sarah made the turn and drove down the alley till they came to the back of the building. It had a couple of loading docks, complete with metal roll up doors but was otherwise empty.

Sarah looked over at Bambi. She was looking down and tapping her thumbs to each of her fingers in series. She was counting, one of the ways she coped with stressful situations.

“Hey, you okay?” she asked.

“No, but it’s okay,” Bambi said.

They got out and Bambi led them to a metal door. She hit the doorbell button four times and waited, still counting on her fingers. Sarah wished she could put her arm around her friend, but she knew that would only make things worse. So instead, she just stood next to her and waited, offering what comfort she could.

After a couple minutes, and a few more sets of four button presses, someone looked through the peephole. The door opened and a woman about Carol’s age smiled at Bambi.

“Hey, this is a nice surprise!” she said. “How are you? And who is this?”

“I’m okay,” Bambi said. “This is my best friend, Sarah.”

“I’m Nancy,” the woman said smiling at Sarah and offering her hand. “I run the place, or try to.”

“Very nice to meet you, ma’am,” Sarah said and shook the offered hand.

“I brought some donations,” Bambi said. “But there’s a lot and we need some help.”

“Donations?” Nancy asked.

“Eighty-three boxes of tampons and twenty four boxes of pads,” Bambi said.

“Sweetheart, that’s so generous, but how can you afford it?” Nancy asked.

Bambi opened her mouth, but Sarah cut her off. “We, um, did a fundraiser at school,” she said. “It went really well. Better than we expected.”

Bambi looked at her in confusion.

Nancy smiled and her eyes grew a little wet. “Thank you, you have no idea how much that will help.” She wiped her eyes. “Sorry, it’s just such a struggle sometimes and you start to think no one cares.”

“I imagine,” Sarah said. “Um, why don’t we start unloading the car, if you have a cart or something…”

“Yes, of course, I’ll get it,” Nancy said. She propped the door open and disappeared back into the building.

“You never cease to amaze me,” Sarah said as she began grabbing boxes from the back seat and handing them to Bambi.

“You lied to her,” Bambi said.

“Let’s just say it was easier, and harmless in the long run. What’s Haldermycin?” she asked, reading the box as she handed it over.

“It’s a broad spectrum antibiotic infusion designed specifically to prevent menstrual based toxic shock syndrome,” Bambi said. “It attacks the bacterial infection in a way that prevents resistant strains from developing.”

“I’ve never heard of it,” Sarah said.

“It doesn’t exist on our earth,” Bambi said. “That’s why we needed to get them on Earth-771A.”

Bambi started carrying her arm load back to the door. Sarah filled her own arms and hurried after. Pieces started to come together. If women’s shelters were hard up for tampons and the like, it made sense the women they served would use whatever they could get, and probably longer than they should. She tried to imagine a life so hard that something as simple as access to tampons was a seen as a luxury.

“I’ve never seen this brand before,” Nancy said as she stacked the boxes on a flatbed cart.

“We, uh, found it on Kickstarter,” Sarah said, once again cutting Bambi off at the pass. “It has a special new antibiotic infused in it, see.” She pointed to the box.

Nancy looked at Bambi.

She didn’t look back. She never looked people in the eye.

“I’ll make sure your mom gets all she needs, sweetheart,” Nancy said.

“Thank you,” Bambi said. “Have you seen her lately?”

Nancy nodded. “A couple weeks ago.”

Sarah wished she could become invisible.

“How was she?” Bambi asked.

“I, um,” Nancy said, glancing at Sarah.

“It’s okay,” Bambi said. “She’s my best friend. You can talk in front of her.”

Nancy smiled at Sarah, but it was a sad smile. “I’m sorry, honey. She’s off her meds again.”

“She always said they made her feel numb,” Bambi said. “Was she still sick?”

“No,” Nancy said. “She looked really healthy, the antibiotics worked. We gave her some clean clothes, and she took a shower.” She gave another sad smile. “She asked about you. She always does, just like you ask about her. I know she said she didn’t want you to see her when—” She swallowed. “But I think she’d like to see you. She loves you very much.”

“I know,” Bambi said. “I love her too. Will you tell her for me?”

Nancy nodded. “Of course, sweetheart.”

“Thank you,” Bambi said then turned to Sarah. “We should get the rest.”

Sarah nodded and they finished unloading the car in short order.

“Thank you again,” Nancy said when the cart was fully loaded. “I can’t tell you how much this will help.”

“They’ll be more,” Bambi said. “Every two weeks, and it’ll be more than this.” She looked up, not meeting Nancy’s eyes, but almost. “Make sure my Mom always has some, okay?”

“I promise,” Nancy said. “Thank you again.”

“You’re welcome,” Bambi said. “Goodbye.” She turned and walked back to the car.

“Um, do you ever need volunteers?” Sarah asked.

“Always,” Nancy said and smiled.

Sarah nodded. “Okay, I’ll be back then.”

Bambi was already inside the car with her seatbelt fastened when Sarah got in.

“You know,” she said, “you never have to tell me anything you don’t want to, but I hope you know you can tell me anything.”

“I know that,” Bambi said. “It’s just sad and I don’t want you to be sad too.”

“I’m your friend,” Sarah said. “It’s okay for us to be sad together.”

Bambi nodded. “My mom has schizophrenia,” she said. “She has a hard time telling what’s real and sometimes she forgets to keep herself clean—”

“And she got toxic shock syndrome?”

“Three times now,” Bambi said. “The second time she almost died.”

“Is that why you built the portal?”

“No,” Bambi said. “I was looking for a world that had cured schizophrenia. None that I’ve travelled to have yet, though some appear close. I did find one that cured toxic shock syndrome so—”

Sarah smiled. “So you figured out a way to become a freaking millionaire just so you can ensure a steady stream of it to this world.”

Bambi smiled too. “Yes, exactly, I knew you’d understand.”

“I do,” Sarah said and started the car.

As they drove away, Bambi reached over and took Sarah’s hand. “Thank you,” she said.

“You’re welcome.” It took all Sarah had not to cry. Instead, she squeezed her friend’s hand. When Bambi squeezed back, she did cry, but only a little, and they were good tears.

A New American Faerie Tale Story: Pre-Order

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I know it has been especially quiet for the last several months. In honesty, I’ve always struggled with the idea of maintain a blog. I just don’t feel as if my day to day activities are interesting enough to warrant being blogged about. As such, I like to think I post more quality than quantity, though I’m tossing around an idea that might achieve both goals (more to come). I also, of course, post news and information about my writing and the like. As such, I’m delighted to announce a new American Faerie Tale story.

When I was invited to participate in this collection, I knew I wanted to write a Wraith story. It easy in the madness of the holidays to forget a lot of people are struggling, sometimes just to make it another day. I never like to preach, but I think there are stories that need to be told and Wraith makes it easy to share the rougher side of life, a reminder about the forgotten of society. However, when I set out to write this story, I wasn’t sure I could do it. The deadline was tight, as I was just finishing the first draft of my latest novel, and I didn’t want the story to feel forced. To my delight, once I sat down and started writing, the pieces of the story fell into place. This was going to be a story about hope, something that can be hard to hold on to, especially when it seems everything around you is burning. In the end, I think I did right by Wraith in this story, and the AFT universe. I didn’t expect it, but Wraith grew as a character in this story, and that’s all I could’ve hoped for. To make it even better, it’s only nintey-nine cents!

In terms of timeline, Greatest Gift takes place after The Returned.

The Greatest Gift of All: Wraith is a spell slinger, able to manipulate reality itself, but she’s been on the streets since losing her parents and her life has never been easy. Through all the darkness, she’s always tried to help the other children living at the fringes of society; the dejected, the ignored, and the forgotten. Now, the Fae court needs her help in finding a solstice child. If Wraith succeeds, the child will become a beacon of hope. If she fails, the child will become a monster, inspiring anger and rage. Wraith has faced all manner of terrors, both mundane and supernatural, and has never backed down from a fight. Can she save this solstice child and bring hope to the hopeless when she’s never had much of that even for herself?

A Very Faerie Christmas: Six Holiday Inspired Novellas. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of six novellas; all faerie stories, and all inspired by the holidays. It’s a great collection with stories that span the gamut of faerie stories, from the traditional to the modern. I think it will hold something for everyone and a couple of my friends are also in it: Ruth Vincent, and Jack Heckel (officially John Peck and Harry Heckel).

You can also enter to win an Amazon gift card by going here!

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Your Baby is Ugly…Again

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Almost four years ago I posted to this blog for the first time. The post, Your Baby is Ugly, is about dealing with rejection. And now we come full circle. Last year I submitted a proposal to Harper for the next several books in the American Faerie Tale series (four to be exact). It also contained the first four chapters of the very next book. After several months, they rejected that proposal. I was—and still am—disappointed but I will say I wasn’t entirely surprised. The sales numbers for my books haven’t been terrible, but each book has sold progressively less than the one before. Publishing is a business and, I hope, this was a business decision. As such, I hold no ill will toward Harper or anyone there. Sure, I would’ve liked to have gotten more support in terms of marketing and/or publicity, but I also knew from the beginning I was a very small fish and there was only so many dollars to go around. It should be noted that Harper has said they would be happy to look at anything new I might have. So what does this mean?

Well if you’ve read that first post, and several others, you know I’m sure as hell not giving up!

In the short term, however the series is done. I could finish the next book and self-publish it, but I’m not ready to go that path yet. It would be the fifth book in a series and I think would be more about my vanity than my readers. Besides, I would rather devote my limited time toward something new.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done. As I write this post I’m about 30k words into the first draft and I think it’s pretty damned good, if I do say so myself. No, I won’t tell you the title or what it’s about. I’d rather wait until it’s at least close to finished, or has a publisher ready to put it out. I will say it continues my habit of genre bending, and I don’t recall seeing anything like it before. That could be good or bad, we’ll see.

I’ve also started writing some more short fiction. It hasn’t been picked up anywhere, I think I’m better at long fiction, but you only get better with time and practice. So I’m going to keep trying. I’m considering posting the things that don’t sell on here. What do you think? Post in the comments if you have a thought one way or the other. I also have one manuscript finished, Luna and the Star, and I’m going to see about shopping it around while I finish my current work in progress. It might be my first self-published work, but I haven’t decided. Stay tuned for more.

Without any new books coming out, obviously I won’t have as many appearances, but that doesn’t meet I won’t have any. I’ll be attending RavenCon (April 28th-30th) so if you’re going to be there, stop by and say hi. I’ll also be attending the Nebula awards, and will even be on some panels this year.

In the long term, my goals are still the same. Rejection is part of life, and especially part of being an author. I’m still working towards living on my writing, and I’m not about to stop. The only way I’m going to fail is if I stop trying, and I’m not going to do that. If you’ve read the books, I offer my sincerest thanks. If you haven’t, well they’re still out there and still worth reading.

Award Consideration or Gently Begging

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It’s closing in on the end of the year which means that it’s award consideration time for the Science Fiction/Fantasy world. All the authors I know post up blog pieces as a gentle reminder to everyone what they wrote and what’s eligible for various awards. This could easily be taken as a kind of self aggrandizing, but it really isn’t. In fact, most of the writers I know need to be prodded to do this. In my experience, authors as a group, especially newer authors, tend to be less than cocky about their work. Anyone who knows me is aware I’m an exception, I know how purely awesome my work is. Yes, that was sarcasm. In truth, here’s my take on it. If you’re eligible, let the world know. You might not think your work is award worthy, but you’re not the one (or at least not the only one) who decides on awards. Maybe the world doesn’t agree with you and wants to give you an award.
THE RETURNED_Small
This year I published The Returned, which I sincerely believe is my best writing to date. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Do I think it’s a Nebula or Hugo worthy novel? No, but it’s not up to me. So if you are someone who nominates for the Nebula, the Hugo, or any other award, I humbly ask that you consider The Returned. Thank you.

World Builder’s Charity Auction, Again!

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Last year I was invited to help out with Patrick Rothfuss’s World Builders charity. I’m delighted, and proud, to say I’m taking part again this year. If you’re unfamiliar with World Builders, it’s a great charity that raises money to fight hunger and poverty worldwide. For many people, this is a rough time. I think it’s always good to remind ourselves what we have, and remember there are people all over much worse off. If you can, I encourage you to participate. For as little as $10, you can enter the lottery giveaway for a chance to win some truly awesome books (including mine), games, and generally fun stuff. If you’ve got a little more cash to spare, there is a charity auction as well, with some truly cool stuff available. Last year I donated a tuckerization (naming a character after the winner), and was beyond amazed by the generosity. This year I’m offering another! This time, you’ll get your choice of two supernatural characters, and I’ll also mention you in the dedication. It’s a good cause, and good fun. If however you can’t spare the cash for even the lottery donation, I hope you have someone to help you, and that you holiday season is warm, safe, and filled with love and the hope of tomorrow.

My Auction Item
World Builder’s Auction

Who Do You Write For?

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As writers we often have one eye on our intended audience as we write, even if it isn’t conscious. Like a lot of art, if you ask a writer about his book, either you or he will compare it to something else: “It’s Harry Potter meets A Tale of Two Cities.” Inadvertently, or perhaps quite intentionally, this book’s audience has been identified. It is the very small but dedicated group of readers who enjoy books about child wizards during the turmoil of the French Revolution. Most of us don’t intend such comparisons to define our intended audience, but it happens and permeates what we write. No matter your genre (including literary fiction), odds are you have a set of preconceived notions that go with your selection of an audience.

As a fantasy writer, I tend to take for granted that my readers will know that elves have pointed ears, dwarves are short and bearded, magic spells are cast by wizards, and countless other small things. I’m assuming those readers will have enjoyed other fantasy novels, particularly what is considered the canon (Tolkien especially) and thus have some context. But, our assumptions can cut both ways. Experienced fans of our genre might read in a mystical explanation to something completely mundane. Conversely, the uninitiated might be completely mystified by something that is canon to most fantasy readers. How do we as writers prevent this?

For me, the answer is simple: assume your reader has never picked up a fantasy novel before. That’s right, nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. This has two benefits. The first is that you prevent any confusion or frustration on the part of your reader. The second is that you’ve just opened your book up to countless readers outside your genre. That’s not to imply this is an easy feat. What is easy, is to be so proud of the complex world you’ve created that you can’t wait to show your reader and you inundate her with information. In my post, Too Much Information! Knowing What to Reveal and When I go over the “how” of exposition, so there’s no need to rehash that here. What I will delve into, is the “why.”

Let’s ignore the obvious: you don’t want your reader to be bored by a dissertation before getting to the story. That’s important, of course, but what I want to discuss here is the second reason. I take Ms. Rowling’s lead and assume ignorance on the part of reader: a broader audience. Really, in the end, don’t we as writers want our stories to be read, and enjoyed, by as many people as possible? I certainly do. I’m sure there are those who think of themselves as purists and unless you know the arcane details you’re not “worthy” of reading the story, but that’s not for me. I want my tales to be enjoyed by anyone who picks it up, even if their usual preference is romance, mystery, biographies, printer manuals, math books, cereal boxes, newspapers, well, you get the idea. I believe if you strip out the supernatural aspects of my stories, or replace them with mundane aspects, the plot and characters still hold together. At least, that’s what I strive for. That, and no readers left scratching their heads when they’re done.

This is something all of us should strive for. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a book about faeries, or the Founding Fathers of the United States. After all, your readers might not be American or aware of American history. See? There I just assumed the readers of this blog were mostly American. I could’ve deleted that line, but I think it serves to show all of us that we have to strive, constantly, against those sorts of assumptions. Don’t limit yourself, or your work, by not inviting someone in to enjoy it. Be a good host and make your party as inclusive as possible, and ensure each guest is as welcome as possible.

The Bittersweet

In July, I wrote a guest piece for Katherine Harbour called, “The Awesomeness of The Bittersweet.” Recently, I was invited by Gail Martin to join in the #HoldOntoTheLight campaign. September/October are the months for Depression Awareness, Suicide Prevention, Bullying Prevention, Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness, World Mental Health Day and Domestic Violence Awareness. Several authors are participating, you can check out the Twitter Hashtag, or the Facebook page to see what others are sharing. I hope to post more, but this post seemed like a perfect way to start my participation.


The Awesomeness of The Bittersweet

As someone who has struggled on and off with depression since my adolescent years, it’s probably not a shock–and some would argue less than healthy–that I just love the bittersweet. Not the chocolate, though that isn’t bad. I’m talking about music, movies, books, and art in general. I love scenes, songs, or images that are sad, but filled with hope, and the promise of tomorrow, a new day where anything is possible. The power of the emotion, the magic and the power of it fuels me, both in my life and in my creative endeavors. Music, books, movies, every kind of art, it all serves to connect us. When the artist creates, that creation is imbued with some of their soul, an emotional snapshot of them at that moment in time. I can relate to the bittersweet moments. That’s probably why I love the songs of Sarah McLachlan, The Cowboy Junkies, and Tom Waits. Each of them excels at wrapping sadness around a glimmer of hope that can’t be extinguished.

Of course there are moments in life of pure, unbridled joy: hearing someone say they love you, the smile of your child when they look at you, or achieving a hard won success. Those moments are treasures to be sure, but rarely is bliss ever an immaculate conception. Often it’s born from hard work, pain, turmoil, sadness, or grief. Life tends to be complicated and messy, but there is beauty in that mess. And I think we all see it. I believe we all know that the pain will end, and in the ending there is a happiness all its own. There are all sorts of cliches, but the one that has stayed with me the longest is: if you weep because you miss the sun, you also miss the stars. Like all cliches, there is something profound in the simplicity.

When I was really struggling with my depression, I found a book titled Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. It’s about his time at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. He is taken there, separated from his wife and sees the utter worst humanity has to offer, and I use the word humanity in its loosest possible sense. During his time there, never knowing the fate of his wife, parents, or siblings, he struggles to find meaning, a reason to continue on. After reading this book I knew that if this man could find purpose in a nightmarish place like that, surely I could as well. So I set to find happiness in the cracks and crevices of the everyday, and that became my purpose.

But as I matured I came to see that every emotion had value. They all could be debilitating if not tempered by another. Haven’t we all rolled our eyes at the sickly sweet, lovey-dovey couples of the world? We all know that past a certain age, there is no perpetual state of happiness, and those who seem to achieve it often come across as delusional. Sometimes it’s okay to be sad, to be angry, to grieve, to weep. And isn’t there a special kind of happiness in offering comfort to someone who needs it? The key is not to let those darker emotions overcome you, to slip from merely experiencing them into wallowing in them.

That’s why I love the bittersweet. It’s like an entire life experience all in one dose. I recently watched Inside Out with a friend, and we both got a little misty eyed when Bing-Bong fades away. Sorry, spoilers. It’s a sad moment, one we can all probably relate to. It’s a piece of childhood slipping away, losing a friend you know you’ll never see again for the first time. But there’s more to that scene. There is also the hope in the understanding that it’s also the beginning of another journey. That the sun might be setting, but it will rise again on a new world, and they will both be beautiful, filled with possibility.

We all listen to sad songs when we’re sad, at least everyone I know does. So often we chide ourselves for it, seeing it as wallowing in self-pity. But that’s not really what we’re doing. We’re grieving for something, or someone, lost; for a future we hoped for that won’t ever come to pass. More than that though, we’re remembering. So often we forget that, which is ironic really. When we listen to that same song, or watch that same movie, over and over, we’re reliving the joys of the past. We think we’re grieving for their loss, but we don’t lose them. What we’re really grieving is that there won’t be more like that. And we’re right, there won’t be, but there will be new joys.

It’s that feeling that I try to capture in my books. Each ends on a hint of sadness, but with the light of hope just visible on the horizon.If you finish one of my books and you’re crying, that’s okay, but I also hope you’re smiling as well. There is no darkness that won’t eventually end at sunrise. There is always hope. That’s what the bittersweet means to me. It is the happiness we find, that we hold on to, and carry with us for our entire lives. Sure, we might find some sadness and carry that for a time as well, but we have to eventually let it go. When we do, there is more room for new happiness. So listen to sad songs, watch sad movies, but always find the bliss behind that sorrow. Experience the latter because it reminds you of the former, and always be looking to the horizon for the rising sun of a new day.

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