Free Shorts - Anasazi: Last Lament

This is a historical fiction piece I wrote some time ago. I like to think that the Anasazi were stronger than we are today. That any culture who faces their own destruction finds within themselves something that we have not yet had to contemplate needing, let alone had to delve for.


Anasazi: Last Lament

Hopiai paused at the very rim of the cliff and looked down into the valley below. The merciless afternoon sun beat down on his tanned shoulders, and his thick black hair was so hot it nearly burned his scalp, despite the strong, hot wind that tugged at his short braids. He'd run off without remembering his sun cover again; his mother would be furious.

Hopiai hoped she would be furious. Some days, she hadn't had enough to eat and drink to muster the energy to yell at him. He admitted to himself that maybe he'd left the hat on purpose, hoping to make her angry enough to give a good chastising.

So many of the People had left the valley; he did not understand why their family remained. When he was a toddler, he remembered hundreds of people living in the cool shelter of the great rocky overhang, the black mineral staining on its lip seeming to rain goodness down on them, in their fertile river valley.

Now, there was no more river. Grandfather Talking Rain said that when he was a young man, the river would flood in the spring rains, and the whole valley floor would be underwater. Hopiai was skeptical; during the six summers of his life, the river had never once flooded out of its narrow channel, carved through the rich soil of the valley. And this summer, right now, the riverbed was dry. He could see it, hundreds of feet below, through the dying tree limbs. Large rocks poked out of dry earth, which the wind whipped into swirls before scattering it back in just as futile a spot as it had found it to begin with.

The other tribes, known only as the Raiders during all of Hopiai's lifetime, had not come for a few months now either; Hopiai's father said that the Raiders were not raiding here for food because they knew there was none to be had. Now that the river was dried up, and no rain fell, the only thing to be gained by raiding the few People that remained in the settlement was the occasional dry root or unlucky field mouse. The crops had failed early this year, and last year's seed grains had already been consumed in desperation.

Their settlement here in the river valley was one of the last holdouts among the People; all of the other settlements on the trade routes had vanished before Hopiai was born. He had asked Grandfather Talking Rain where they had gone. Surely they had found somewhere else to live, he reasoned. But Grandfather Talking Rain had only looked out toward the vanished settlements, far across the dusty summer terrain, and said, "They have gone away, Hopiai. They have gone away."

And that was when it came to Hopiai: the People were dying. Mother Earth was turning away from their pleas.

Suddenly Hopiai realized he was not alone; his grandfather had joined him on the cliff rim. Hopiai smiled up at his grandfather, but the old man merely looked down at him with preoccupied, melancholy eyes.

"Grandfather Talking Rain, will you sing to the river again today?" Hopiai asked, troubled by the look on his grandfather's face.

"Not today, Hopiai. But I will sing."

"What will you sing?" Hopiai always enjoyed his grandfather's songs and chants; he was Speaker for the People, and Hopiai's life's dream was to be Speaker like his grandfather. At seeing his grandfather's melancholy, he wondered fearfully if there would be any People left to be Speaker for, when he grew up.

"You will need to wait until sundown to hear my song, Hopiai."

"Sundown?" A small note of alarm entered Hopiai's voice. Sundown: the time of ending, of stopping, of death. When the sun died in the western sky, songs of lament for the death of loved ones were raised to the skies. When the sun died in the western sky, songs of thankfulness for the end of a journey were raised to the skies. All things died at sundown, and were reborn the next morning with the new rising sun. But some were not reborn in the same way. Hopiai knew that the old and the sick were reborn in a new way, done with their bodies forever.

"Grandfather Talking Rain, is it my mother you will sing for?" Hopiai's chin trembled. He had not thought his mother would ever leave him.

"No, Hopiai, your mother awaits you below. I believe she is furious with you for forgetting your sun cover again." Hopiai couldn't help the chuckle that escaped his lips. "I will tell her I chastised you heavily. Do not make a liar of me."

"Yes, Grandfather Talking Rain." Hopiai caught the twinkle in his eyes and assumed a penitent pose.

They sat together and awaited the sun's descent over the edge of the horizon. The wind cooled a bit, but still blew warm and fiercely against the two small figures at the edge of the sun-soaked orange cliff.

Finally, Grandfather Talking Rain stood. He faced the sunset, its orange-red glow seeming to set him alight with otherworldly fire. The Speaker for the People began to sing, one last lament for the death of his People. One last lament for the end of their journey here in the valley.

"To be reborn into new life

The People end their journey here

The Mother's hand has strayed from us

The lives we have are only dust

The People end their journey here

A new life comes with rising dawn

The lives we have are only dust

All things must end to start again

A new life comes with rising dawn

The Mother's hand has strayed from us

All things must end to start again

To be reborn into new life.

Grandfather Talking Rain looked down at Hopiai. "Your mother has your things packed, Hopiai," he said. "It is time to climb down to our family and go."

"Go? Go where, Grandfather Talking Rain?" Hopiai asked, standing beside his grandfather, eyes wide.

"Away, Hopiai. We are going away."

Tomorrow, they too would be reborn.


Free Shorts: I'm Your Huckleberry

 Here's one of my non-standard fantasy stories, written from a prompt to craft a Western fairytale. Western as in the Old West. This odd, endearing creation was the result. I hope you enjoy it.

I'm Your Huckleberry

Once upon a time, in a territory far to the West, there lived a beautiful young woman who loved to bake pies. Her name was Rosie Dawn Dawson. Rosie would bake pies with marionberries, chokecherries, crabapples, strawberries, peaches, apples, apricots, rhubarb, raspberries, blackberries, pecans and cherries. But her favorite pie was huckleberry. No one else in Why-Are-We-Living-Here-On-This-Dry-Plain liked huckleberries.

Yes, the name of the town was Why-Are-We-Living-Here-On-This-Dry-Plain. There wasn’t enough water for anything. The townfolk were always digging new wells. Rosie had to be very careful with the water she used for irrigating her plants and trees; she only had enough for one pie each. Her seven pie trees were stunted because they didn’t have enough water to grow to their full size. She liked to think of them as her Seven Dwarfs.

Now the town of Why-Are-We-Living-Here-On-This-Dry-Plain had several casinos. The townfolk lost there regularly, and all that money ended up in the pockets of Chabley Montpelier. He was the richest man in town. Nearly every business in Why-Are-We-Living-Here-On-This-Dry-Plain was under his heel in some way. Everyone was afraid of him.

Except Rosie. See, in Why-Are-We-Living-Here-On-This-Dry-Plain there was a shortage of unmarried women. In Western towns, most of the women were snapped up as soon as they arrived. But Rosie insisted on waiting to fall in love. She had lived in town since her father had moved here to start his bakery business. Lyle Dawson had once had high hopes of Rosie marrying into a dairy family, thus creating the basis for a bread-and-butter empire, but he, as well as all the single men in Why-Are-We-Living-Here-On-This-Dry-Plain, soon realized how adamant Rosie was about waiting until she found that special spark.

Including Mr. Montpelier. He had noticed Rosie the day she arrived, and had waited until she was of age to begin his courtship of her, never dreaming that he would fail completely. He hounded her for an entire year, offering bribes and gifts that would have made most other girls swoon. But Rosie always refused. She liked baking pies, and she wanted to fall in love.

And then, it happened.

A stranger rode into town one day, his rusty flat-brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes. His horse was the same rusty color as his hat, and the white bridle and saddle, with their gold trim, matched the hat’s band. The man wore black pants with rusty chaps and boots, and a black shirt with a rusty vest over it.

He pulled up in front of Rosie’s Pie Shop, dismounted and whipped the end of the reins around her hitching rail, before doffing his hat and striding inside. His boots made loud thuds on the wooden floor of Rosie’s shop, and she looked up from her crust-crimping to see who had come in.

“Mornin’, ma’am,” the stranger said, hat in hand.

“Good morning, stranger. What can I do for you?” Rosie smiled self-consciously, dusting flour off her gingham skirt and smoothing her light brown curls back from her face.

“Well, ma’am, I’ve just arrived in Why-Are-We-Living-Here-On-This-Dry-Plain, and I’ve got me a powerful hunger for some huckleberry pie. I was wonderin’ if you might be in possession of such a concoction here at your fine pie shop.” The man leaned an elbow on Rosie’s high counter and smiled, his dark brown eyes atwinkle.

Rosie gasped. “Huckleberry pie?” she squeaked. “You want huckleberry pie?”

“Well, ma’am, I’d take just about any pie you have right now, as my belly button’s wearin’ a hole in my backbone, but I figgered it cain’t hurt to ask for what I really want, in case you’ve got some. Huckleberry pie’s my favorite.”

“Oh, wait here, please!” she said, fluttering her hands at the stranger. She fled to the back room, where she had most of her own personal huckleberry pie left. She grabbed a clean plate and fork and slid a fat slice onto the plate, then returned to the front room and presented it to the stranger.

His dark eyes lit up in amazement. “Miss Rosie, you’re a wonder. Pardon my forwardness, but I think I just might love you!”

Rosie blushed. “What’s your name, stranger?”

“Everyone calls me Rusty.”

“Really? Why is that?”

“Oh, because of my horse.” Rusty gestured out the window.

She noted that the horse was also rust-colored. “Your horse is Rusty, too?”

“No, that would be confusing. My horse’s name is Russ Steed.”

They both laughed, and Rosie decided that she too would have some huckleberry pie. They sat at a small wooden table on her front porch, eating pie and talking. He told her that his revolver was named Secret Weapon, and his long rifle was named Easy Temper, because it had a long fuse. She told him about her father’s bread-baking business, and her Seven Dwarf trees. He laughed, and Rosie knew she’d found the man she wanted to marry.

As they parted ways there on Rosie’s pie shop porch, however, a sinister pair of eyes glared from the dark alley across the way. Mr. Montpelier decided it was time to act, and this time he wasn’t taking no for an answer.

That night, while Rusty lay in his boarder room, dreaming of Rosie and her huckleberry pie, Mr. Montpelier’s hired hands broke into Rosie’s sleeping room in the back of the pie shop and snatched her from her bed. They tied her hands and gagged her, and put her on a horse. As they rode off into the blackness of the night, Rosie kicked off one of her slippers, hoping it would help someone rescue her. Someone like Rusty.

The next morning, Rusty rode up to Rosie’s pie shop and found a small, milling crowd. An older man with flour all over his apron seemed especially distraught.

Without dismounting, Rusty asked the baker, “What happened here?”

“Someone’s taken my Rosie!” Lyle exclaimed. “They left her bed full of money-bags! I don’t want cash. I just want my Rosie back,” he lamented.

“It must be Montpelier,” someone murmured from the crowd, and everyone nodded fearfully and turned to look up the canyon to the west, where Montpelier’s mansion was perched at the edge of the canyon’s boxed end.

A longing for Rosie built up in Rusty’s chest, and he heard himself proclaim, “I’ll go get her back.”

“But how? And, who are you, anyway?” Lyle asked, squinting at the stranger.

“I’m Rusty, sir, and I do believe I’m in love with your daughter. Now, if you all will excuse me, I’ve a damsel to save.” Rusty touched his brim and nodded to the crowd, and urged Russ into a trot.

It wasn’t long until he found a slipper in the scrub brush. He knew immediately that it was Rosie’s by its giant embroidered huckleberry. He clenched it to his chest, glaring up at the box canyon.

“Montpelier, you and I are going to have a reckoning,” he vowed.

Rusty and Russ raced to the canyon’s mouth, crossing a dry wash that angled south of town, directing any flash flooding away from the buildings. Russ leaped its expanse easily, and then the walls of the canyon closed in around them.

Up the box canyon they rode, dodging the reaching arms of a twisted saguaro cactus, jack knifing among sinister growths of prickly pear, and leaping across enormous barrel cacti.

Finally, Rusty spotted the narrow trail that led up the left side of the canyon to Montpelier’s home. He guided Russ Steed onto the slender rock path.

The sun had reached its zenith before Rusty arrived at the mansion. He ground-tied Russ behind a large boulder, out of sight, and sneaked up on the elaborate building.

What a waste of money, Rusty thought, eyeing the intricate gingerbread that trimmed the roof line and window lintels. And what a waste of good gingerbread.

Rusty made it all the way around the bottom level of the mansion without seeing anyone in any of the windows. All the doors were locked. Around back, he squinted against the sun that slipped in under the brim of his hat. Maybe he could leap to the roof from a rocky outcrop.

Sure enough, after Rusty had clambered up the rock face that was mere feet from the back of the house, the leap to the roof was easy as pie.

Then Rusty’s nose caught a new smell. It wasn’t pie; it was water! Looking around in bewilderment, Rusty tried to find the source. He realized it was coming from the other side of the rock wall here at the end of the canyon. Not seeing Rosie through any of the windows on this side of the mansion, Rusty took a minute to climb to the top of the rock wall.

He was nearly blinded by the reflection of the sun. An enormous lake spread for hundreds of acres, and off in the distance he could see a tall waterfall pouring its pure fresh water endlessly into the lake. Rusty gasped in awe at the sight of so much water in one place.

Suddenly, a scream from inside the house caught his attention. It was Rosie!

Rusty climbed down the rock wall and leaped to the roof. He followed the screaming to one window and leaped through the plate glass. He rolled to his feet, drawing his revolver, Secret Weapon.

Rosie sat tied to a chair next to a mannequin with a wedding dress, and Montpelier was next to her, thrusting a veil at her. They both stared at him.

“Rusty!” Rosie exclaimed.

“Rusty?” asked Montpelier.

“Boss?” one of Montpelier’s hired hands asked, his voice muffled through the hallway door.

“Rosie.” Rusty smiled. “Montpelier.” He glared.





“All right, that’s enough. I’m Rusty, you’re Montpelier, she’s Rosie, and she’s coming with me.” Rusty waved his revolver toward Montpelier, who backed up and let Rusty step close to Rosie and untie her.

“Oh, Rusty!” Rosie exclaimed, throwing her arms around Rusty. “It was awful! He wanted me to wear chiffon!”

“Don’t worry, Rosie. I’ll never make you wear chiffon,” Rusty comforted her.

“Get in here now, you buffoons!” Montpelier shouted.

Rusty looked over and tried to shoot at Montpelier, but the villain threw a chair at him and ran for the door, just as it opened and seven henchmen ran into the room.

They all raised their guns to shoot Rusty, but he was quicker than they were, and fired six shots off so rapidly that not one of his victims got a chance to shoot him first. The seventh man grinned  and drew back the hammer on his revolver.

Rusty fired again, a seventh shot, and the last man fell to the floor as well.

“Oh, so that’s your secret about Secret Weapon,” Rosie said, unfazed, a true woman of the West.

“No, that’s just practicality. The secret‘s that I‘ve got a wad of chaw stuffed in the handle. It makes a mean short-distance projectile,” Rusty answered with a grin, sweeping her into his arms and leaping out the window.

Once around to the side of the roof, he whistled for Russ, and his faithful Steed trotted into sight. Rusty leaped into the saddle, Rosie still in his arms. Far from complaining, Russ Steed whinnied welcomingly, for he was a true Western horse.

Just then Montpelier dashed out the front doors of his mansion, rifle in hand. He looked about wildly until he spotted the horse and its two riders.

“Rusty, look out!” Rosie called, pointing to Montpelier as the villain raised his weapon.

Rusty didn’t bother looking at Montpelier. He reached for Easy Temper, pulling it from its long leather home on his saddle, and fired.

“But--” Rosie began. Rusty hadn’t shot anywhere near Montpelier.

Montpelier also was confused. He looked in the direction Rusty had fired, just in time to see a stick of dynamite explode against the rock wall that held back his secret lake. The rock wall cracked and trembled.

Rusty fired another stick at the wall, then tucked the rifle away. Rosie hung on for dear life as Rusty hollered, “Yee ha, Russ Steed, away!”

Russ Steed reared a bit, and then leaped onto the narrow rock ledge at full gallop, just as the rock wall behind them collapsed with an enormous grinding moan.

Montpelier stood stock-still and watched the first wave of water arch over his home, crushing it to splinters and smashing into him, before everything washed over the lip of rock he’d built his home on, falling down to the bottom of the canyon.

Rusty willed Russ to gallop faster. The horse hit the bottom of the canyon while the rushing flood was still a few hundred feet behind, but it was gaining quickly, and Rosie, looking behind them, gasped as she saw the muddy, cactus-filled deluge bearing down on them.

“Oh, no! How close are we to the town?”

“We’re nearly there! Hold on!” Rusty shouted, pulling his rifle out again. He loaded and fired repeatedly at the canyon walls, and the dynamite explosions brought rubble down behind them. The deluge slowed as it worked its way over and around the jagged boulders.

Rusty eventually ran out of ammunition, and soon the rushing flood was nearly at Russ’ hooves again. “Rusty!” cried Rosie.

“Here we go!” Rusty said. Russ took a last leap across the dry wash that marked the end of the canyon. Rosie looked down and saw the water slam into the wash, sending spray everywhere. A fair bit splashed out and soaked them before they rode clear of it. Rusty slowed Russ to a cooling walk as they approached town.

“Russ, that was amazing,” Rusty said. “I’m going to buy you the best alfalfa I can find for the rest of your life, pal.”

Townfolk ran up to see the lucky survivors and pepper them with questions. Lyle called eagerly to Rosie, who slipped down from Russ and hugged him tightly.

“What’s this water all about, Rosie?” her father asked, staring at it in awe.

“Oh, that? Rusty’s gone and made us a river, Pa. No more water shortages.”

“I guess we’ll need to change the name of our town,” Lyle said. He looked up at Rusty. “Son, I’m sorry, but I don’t believe I ever caught your last name.”

Rusty tipped his hat brim. “Dover, sir. Rusty Dover.”

Lyle’s eyes bugged. “Of Dover Dairy, down in Too Gol-dang Hot?”

Rusty grinned. “That’s us, sir.”

Rosie’s eyes widened. Her father’s dream of her marrying into a dairy family and creating a bread-and-butter empire was about to come true after all!

“Father, I love this man! He loves my pies, and he saved me from Montpelier! He’s the man I want to marry.” Rosie turned shining eyes to her hero, astride his faithful Steed.

Rusty looked down at Rosie and grinned. “Well then, Rosie Dawn, I’m your huckleberry.”

The town of Why-Are-We-Living-Here-On-This-Dry-Plain changed its name to Flowing-With-Bread-And-Butter. The river was duly named the Huckleberry River, and Rusty and Rosie lived happily ever after.


The Map, Part Two: An Apology to Artists

I've finished populating the map for my world. Finally. I had to read through the second novel to pick up any stray place names. I always hate it when you read book one of a series that has a large map, and some places are blank, but in later books, the author has put something there. It makes me feel like the world is randomly rewriting itself.

Granted, that's exactly what the author is doing. "Oh, let's have the hero gallivant off to Northern Shake-and-bake for this latest adventure. I'll have to make up the whole culture that lives there, but I can do that."

As a reader, I dislike when there wasn't at least a modicum of effort put forth to name everything on the map ahead of time. Certainly, I don't expect a full three page description of the land, its inhabitants, their culture and ways of making a living, and how dangerous it is to those on the western edge by the Swamps of Haze and Fog. But a place name on the map would really be nice. A casual reference like "I'm not an uncultured Carthan, Lord Faahr. I know how to use a knife and fork. Now pass that glazed pumpkin, or you'll see how I use them to impale your arm," would be fine.

Mmm, glazed pumpkin. Now I'm hungry.

Maybe a small, stylized pumpkin next to the dot that reads Cartha would be nice, too. They could probably use some, so they can practice with their knives and forks.

I do like map illustrations. The map for The Wicked Heroine will have a few sea monsters on it, since ocean hogs the spotlight in its design.

One of the things I found myself staring at in the map for Jim Butcher's final (?) Codex Alera book, First Lord's Fury, was the pair of lines that traced every shoreline. It gave a fine, finished touch to the whole map. I doubt I'll get something as nice on my map, but since I do have a brazillian miles of coastline, it would definitely help!

You know, fitting landscape-oriented maps into books isn't a pretty job. The pages support portrait maps only. Either you have to crank your head every time you refer to a single-page map, or you get the map spread over two pages (which is much easier to read). But then you have to deal with either a large gap between halves of the map along the spine, or you're practically tearing out the pages to see what necessary detail has gotten wedged in that dark little crevice of folded space.

Is there any two-page map that's balanced between these extremes? I might read a new book just for that.

On framing: surely a map is always better with a frame, right? Not necessarily. For fantasy, you want a frame that displays the map with a medieval quality, or no frame at all. If you get a frame around your map that shows up like a photo-corner tabs from the nineteen-thirties, you'll probably raise a few eyebrows.

If they even notice them. I admit, I rarely looked at the how of a map before trying to draw my own. I suppose it comes down to whether anything stood out as negative. If nothing catches the reader's eye in a bad way, then you're probably fine.

I suppose those people blessed with the gift of drawing, sketching, painting, etc (which I am most decidedly not) would notice these maps more than I have. So it is to you gifted ones that I must offer this advance apology for the surely-amateur work my map will appear as, despite the best efforts of my publishers.

If you find yourself overly sensitive to crap maps, then please skip over that page when you begin reading my book. If the compulsion to look becomes overwhelming once you've started reading the first few chapters, then I trust you'll be able to handle your own disappointment. But keep in mind that I wrote The Legend of the Shanallar duology without a map a'tall. So I expect you can read it without one as well.

Unless you're terrible with directions, like my sweet grandmother, who always gets confused outside her small home town as to which way is north. Then you might just have to Suck It Up, and use the thing anyway.


Who Writes this Stuff, Anyway? Oh...Right...That Would Be Me.

Well, Christmas and the New Year are both over with, and it's a very ordinary January 2. My editor, Gerry, and I have both been very busy over the holiday. He, editing the vast majority of my novel while on a rural farm in Australia, and me, getting a pic taken for the back of the book, writing a synopsis and an author bio.

I think Gerry may have had the easier task, of the two of us. Okay, perhaps not. But having to kneel Japanese-style on a pillow tucked in back of my knees until my lower legs went entirely numb wasn't something I'd anticipated during the photo session, but we needed the extra height. (Read: I'm short. The better to be underestimated in a fight, my dear.)

We kept adding and swapping props, and adjusting the position of the katana so that it wasn't hogging the attention. Glittery blade much? You'd think this was an anime the way it tried to jump in there and gleam. I was suddenly very glad that its guard was generally octagonal in shape; we finally found an angle where it didn't blind the camera with the flash reflection, but you can still see that it's there, way down in front, if you're looking.

I suppose you'll all go look for the sword now. Go ahead; I'll wait. Bio Page  It's also permanently located in the Links of Interest on the right side of the screen.

Also, writing a synopsis of the book (as well as one of my relevant life) is just as hard as composing a short story. It took over an hour for each of those to get the way they are. As with short fiction, you have to add only the relevant details, and leave out most anything that isn't pertinent, interesting as it may be.

In the case of the synopsis, this is much longer than the book-back blurb, of course. It's over 400 words, which wouldn't fit on the back of a book at all. However, I considered that those who went to the IFWG Publishing site should get a little more information about the story than those that just see the book.

I also had to keep it mysterious, which is something that apparently comes naturally to me. I have a hard time coming out and saying what's happening in a story, just giving away all the details, even at the points where exposition is practically required. You'll see what I mean when you read The Wicked Heroine, though there's a massive scene of this kind in the first few chapters of its sequel, Oathen, as well.

I guess I like putting my readers in the same boat with at least a couple of my characters. Not only is there more fun in learning the full story slowly, over time, but there's a chance for more identification with those characters who are just as in the dark as you are. *smirk*

As I said, Gerry has given me the first-round complete edit job. I'm wading through it now. It's so exciting to have a professional opinion on my writing, catching things I am blind to. I look at the text now, down at the nuts-and-bolts level of comma placement and word choice, and it just sparkles. The before-and-after pictures, showing how much smoother it reads now, are so exciting. I swear, this'll make a real book yet!

It doesn't hurt that Gerry really enjoyed reading the book, either. When I can capture and impress a fellow fantasy writer, on both a content and writing-skill level, that makes me feel awesome. If you enjoy fantasy, adventure, and epic good vs. evil, with a solid grasp of worldbuilding and the natural and geologic features that support it, all written to a YA/adult crossover audience, I think you'll enjoy my book as well.

When it's ready for purchase, I'll set up a link to it here on my blog.