All posts by Louise Ross

Dog Rescue

I recently had a story performed at the Woodneath Library – Story Center. This story won a Dark Horse award in their scary story competition. Read about it here.

Anyway, as the story was not printed, I am providing it here. (I really want to edit this, but this is the text as it was performed.)

 

Dog Rescue

Mom drops me off in front of school. Teachers smile and wave, but across the street, Caleb’s father stands in his door and watches us as we all file into the building. He crosses his arms over his chest, and I wish I was invisible so he could not see me. I run quick into the school, so he can’t see me around the cars and teachers.

A police man visits our class. He tells us how to call if we are lost and to listen to our parents. Caleb laughs at him. The teacher frowns at him and tells him to obey.

At recess, Caleb punches Sara because she won’t give up her swing. When Sara tells the teacher, she sends Caleb to the principal’s office, and he doesn’t return to class.

When class ends, Caleb sits on the concrete steps in front of his door and stares as parents pick up our classmates. He crosses his arms over his chest just like his father. I’d avoid him, but I can’t run inside. I have to wait for my sister to pick me up.

I sit on the brick wall in front of the school, kicking my feet against the bird etched into the stone sign and leaning against the flag pole.

A dog peeks out around Caleb’s house. Its fuzzy ear perks up when it sees me. It crawls forward. Its belly drags the ground, but its tail wags.

I hop off the wall and stand at the road that separates Caleb’s house from the school. Caleb crosses his arms over his chest and stands up.

“Is that your dog?” I ask. I want to pet the dog and maybe run with it or toss a ball for it.

“What’s it to you?” Caleb moves between his dog and me. The dog inches backwards; his eyes now watch Caleb. Caleb looks like he wants to hit me, but he is over there and the street separates us.

I shrug. “I like dogs.”

Caleb turns and kicks the dog. It yelps and rolls onto its side. Caleb kicks it again.

“You shouldn’t kick your dog.” I lean forward, wanting to cross the street. A car honks, and I lean back.

Caleb locks his jaw and glares at me. Watching me, he kicks the dog again.

I want to stop Caleb, but I am not supposed to cross the street alone. My sister turns the corner and walks toward me. I rush to her, and she takes my hand. I pull her back to Caleb’s. With her, I can cross.

She does not look at the house even though I am pointing to it. She shakes her head.

“We have to get home,” she tells me and pulls me the other way.

“We have to stop Caleb from kicking his dog.”

My sister purses her lips and sighs. She still does not look at Caleb or the dog. “That boy won’t stop. If you stop him now, he’ll do it after we go home.”

“But the dog,” I whine.

She drags me home, but I keep thinking of the dog. It sounded hurt. Its eyes were so sad. It just wanted to play. Caleb won’t kick the dog if it’s not there.

Mom fixes dinner and says I can play in the yard when we are done. I stand at the back fence, staring at the school playground where older kids play basketball. Only the fence and the school yard separate me from Caleb’s house, but Mom does not let me leave the backyard.

The back-porch light on our neighbor’s house comes on. I hear a dog howl on the wind, and I know it is Caleb’s dog. It’s a cry of hunger and pain.

I check the kitchen window. Mom is not watching me.

I climb the fence and drop down on the other side. The school yard at night is different. No one knows where I am. The kids playing basketball are old. I don’t know them. They move fast. They are loud.

The dog whines. I can hear it above the bouncing ball and shouts of the boys. I wait. When the boys take the ball to one side, I run across the playground behind them. No one yells for me to stop, but my stomach flip flops. I’ll be in a lot of trouble when I get home.

I stop at the street. I am not allowed to cross it.

Car lights come up the street. It passes. The air pushes at me. The tire and engine are loud. If one hits me, I will be squished flatter than a pancake. Mom has told me. I want to cross, but more headlights are on the street. If I can see them, I should wait.

A dog barks, and time to worry has run out. I dash across the street. The headlights keep coming. The car horn blasts, and I reach the sidewalk as the car speeds past. Its tires screech. The red tail lights look mean, like the lights on a cop car. If it is the cops, they will take me to home. I know I shouldn’t be here, but I can’t let anyone take me away yet. I don’t look back. I run up to Caleb’s house.

I flatten myself to the house, waiting for the bats in my chest to escape. They don’t. They screech and flap their wings harder. It’s because I am doing something I shouldn’t, but I need to help the dog. I sneak around the side where the dog was earlier. It is not there.

The dog whines from the backyard. I tiptoe to the corner.

The dog is tied to a pole. It lays on the ground at the end of its rope. There is no grass, no bowls, no dog house.

The dog’s chest rises and falls, faster than a dribbling basketball. Its eyes shine in the dark. It stares at me.

“It’s ok. I’m going to take you home. You’ll be my dog. I’ll feed you.” I tell the dog, trying to use the voice my mom uses when I have been crying and she tells me not to worry. I reach my hand out.

The dog snaps his teeth.

I pull my hand back. Chills bump up along my skin, and I want to cry, but I have to stay silent.

The dog pulls on his rope, escaping as far as possible from me.

I sneak up to the pole. The pole has a loop on one end where a kick ball might be tethered. A metal chain hangs off the loop. It only has four links, and a rope is tied to the fourth link.

I tug on the rope to untie the knot. The dog jerks at the rope, tying the knot tighter, harder to get lose. Each jerk clinks the metal chains on the post.

The house creeks, and I freeze. Too many bad things could happen. Caleb could find me. He could come out and kick his dog. He might yell. If he yells, his father might find me.

Caleb’s father scares me the most. He is silent, always staring at us before school. His arms always cross his chest. He scowls. Even my sister will not look at the house. There is something wrong with Caleb’s father. That must be why mom tells me not to cross the street. Why my sister walks me home. Why the dog seems so sad.

I stand at the pole frozen, scared.

The dog stops yanking the rope.

No other sounds come from the house, and I take a deep breath before working at the knot.

It takes a long time. The basketball sounds fade. It gets dark, and still I push at the knot. Soon my mom will look for me.

A light turns on in Caleb’s house. I can’t see anyone in the window. A blueish glow of a tv flickers in another room.

The dog pulls at the rope, a long steady pull which tightens the knot. His eyes stare at the back door. Its tail tucks under its butt. It whines softly.

Something is coming.

The knot is too tight.

I don’t want to get caught.

I run to the side of the house and hide.

I watch the dog. It watches the house.

We wait.

The dog shivers.

Light spreads across the dirt.

“Get over here,” Caleb demands.

The dog inches forward, nose to the ground.

Something thumps inside the dirt ring.

The dog scrabbles against the dirt. His paws digging in as he races forward.

The dog looks mean like the evil dogs on movie posters. It wants to bite. It wants to tear. It could. It will, and I am scared. I duck down small and grab my knees.

The metal links slide along the pole as he races past.

His teeth snap at the object.

Caleb’s foot kicks out.

The dog yelps. His teeth click. He snarls. His paws knock the thing.

I want to run away, but I cannot move. I want to stop Caleb, but I am not supposed to be there. I want to help the dog, but I don’t want to get bitten.

“Stop that,” Caleb shouts.

The dog sinks down, laying on top of the object.

Caleb reaches out to the dog.

It growls and bites at the hand, same as it did to me.

“I hate you.” Caleb kicks his nose again and leaves.

I wait and watch.

The dog stops growling. It bites at the bone.

I sneak back to the pole.

The dog growls at me and watches me. It stays on top of its prize.

I wrap the rope around my wrist, pulling the dog closer. I watch him, but he does not run at me. He does not show me his teeth. Tugging harder on the rope, it loosens at the knot. It takes a long time, but the knot comes undone.

The dog stays still as I pull the rope back toward my house.

“Come on.” I whisper the words, but he does not move.

I yank harder. His lips pull up, and he has lots of sharp teeth.

He is faster than me. If I run, he can catch me. If he wants to bite me, he can. I want to run or throw up, but I don’t. I keep the rope tight, but I wait to see if he will attack.

Finally, he grabs the bone in his mouth and follows me. I have saved him like a hero or a policeman. He stays at the end of the rope.

The street is empty. No headlights come from either way, and he follows me across.

Our fence has no back gate, so I walk him home the way my sister and I go after school.

A police car is parked outside my house.

I run home. The dog follows me.

“Mom!” I shout for her as I get to the door.

A big man blocks me. His arms cross his chest, and I look up. I know him. It is Caleb’s father.

Mom pushes him out of the way and opens the door.

“Oh my gosh. Baby, where were you?” She hugs me. Her arms are warm. She smells of strawberries. The fear and tingles float away because mom is safe and home is warm.

“Where did you get the dog?” Caleb’s father stands behind mom and stares down at me. He wears a police uniform and a gun hangs from his belt. Light bounces from his badge.

I want to run away, but mom holds me tight. My voice shakes. “I-I rescued him.”

Mom holds me back and shakes her head. “You stole him.” Her lips flatten, and she is about to tell me something bad. She wants to send the dog back.

“Caleb kicks him,” I whisper to her because she can’t let Caleb’s father take him back. She needs to know.

She shakes her head. “He is not yours.”

Mom takes the rope from me and holds my hand. We face Caleb’s father together. I want him to take the police uniform off. He makes me think of a villain, and police are heros.

“Thank you.” She offers him the rope.

He takes it, and tears blur my vision.

“But Caleb is mean to him.”

The officer crouches down. “He is not your dog. It is wrong to steal. Do you know that?”

He is big, and he stares directly at me. Mom’s hand stops me from running away. I am caught as much as the dog had been. I don’t want to be hit or taken away, but I don’t want the dog to go back to Caleb either.

I nod and slide behind mom’s leg. I don’t look at him.

He pulls me around so I have to look at him. “Thieves go to jail.” He lowers his voice until he growls just like the dog protecting its bone. “I’m watching you.” He leaves. The dog follows behind.

The next day, mom drops me off at school. Caleb’s father stands in his door, watching us enter the school. Beside the house, the dog curls into a ball and shakes.

End

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Blackthorn And Grim

A friend of mine read the third book of Blackthorn and Grim, Den of Wolves, by Juliet Marillier. She suggested that I might really like the book.

So I got the audiobooks of all three books in the series and listened to them.

Recommendation: Worth the read, but the first two books outshine the third.

Summaries:

Book 1 – Dreamer’s Pool: book_cover_creator_dreamerspool-254x300

Blackthorn escapes imprisonment with three promises:

–Move north into a another king’s land and make her home at Winterfalls

–Use her gifts for good only

–Do not seek revenge for 7 years

When she escapes, a fellow cellmate, Grim, follows along. They become travelling companions.

Meanwhile at Winterfalls, a prince has chosen his bride and is ready to meet her, only she isn’t what he expected. The lovely lady of good heart who loves the forest, her dog, and writing is actually a anxious woman of frequent headaches and general rudeness.

Between Blackthorn’s wits and Grim’s observations, the team must discover what is amiss at Winterfalls.

Book 2 – Tower of Thornsbook_cover_creator_towerthorns-254x300

Having proven herself as a capable wise woman and friend to the princess, Blackthorn finds herself invited to travel to the king’s seat.

There a woman desperate for a female champion asks Blackthorn to travel further south. Blackthorn initially refuses, but she has been reunited with an old friend. This friend has a plot to bring Blackthorn’s enemy to justice. Blackthorn agrees to help the desperate woman as a step along the way to achieving revenge. Screw the agreement. The penalty for breaking the agreement is 1 year extension on her services. For revenge, Blackthorn will take the extra year.

Good thing Grim goes along because Blackthorn has no idea what she has gotten herself into. The desperate woman is more than just desperate, her friend has changed over the years, and there are little people in the woods.

book_cover_creator_den-254x300Book 3 – Den of wolves

This story begins with Blackthorn focused on the changing relationship between Grim and her. When Grim leaves for a full season to build the Heartwood House, both Blackthorn and Grim struggle with their inner demons.  Time alone is not the answer to Blackthorn’s troubles.

The Heartwood House brings troubles of its own between the secretive and aggressive land owner, his wild child, and the wild man who holds the knowledge to build the house.

Again, Blackthorn and Grim are caught in a mystery and must solve it or leave these three people to live broken lives.

While solving this new mystery, again, Blackthorn has a chance to seek justice on her old enemy. The opportunity is sudden and untimely. When it occurs, she must decide whether her revenge is more important than the Heartwood House mystery.

Characters:

Blackthorn – She is prickly with a haunting past/present, but I liked her over the whole series.

Grim – He is strong and quietly powerful in spirit. He is my favorite by far.

The rest of the cast changes with each novel.

Setting:

The story is set in ancient Ireland without beating in the setting. More importantly, it is a world full of lore and stories where magic thrives in the background but has dwindled in the everyday life. Fables and tales still carry the answers to problems.

Thoughts:

Truthfully, I enjoyed the first two books more than the third. The final book felt abrupt.

Just as I had settled in for a 7-12 novel series, The promise to live 7 years before seeking revenge is ignored. The two issues that were overarching series issues (the romance of Blackthorn and Grim and the revenge on her enemy) swallowed the end of this book. It felt like a rush to tie up these two issues. With these two themes finished, this third book bid the reader farewell.

Despite the last book feeling like a guillotine chop, the first two books and first half of the third book are wonderful. Ms. Marillier sets up likable characters in a sustainable mystery situation. She pulls in lore and fantasy in a way that feels both unlikely and realistic. Her world is not a shiny, sparkly perfect world full of smooth skinned elves. Instead, it is a world of women with rotted out teeth, men who are judged by their strength instead of wit, where literacy is a novelty, and cruelty can be common. It’s the kind of world that deserves a wealth of stories. I was looking forward to a series that examined some of the less known Irish lore or maybe even built its own tales to guide the people. It is too bad the series has been cut short.

Whispers in the Dark

The Just-Us League has a new anthology coming out October 13. Friday the thirteenth. Whispers in the Shadows 400x625I have a story in this one about a cat lady.

Here’s what you can find in this anthology:

Even when we think we’re safe, our biggest fears can be revealed, our worst nightmares brought to life.

For some, death is inevitable: a suspended detective and killer play a bloody game of cat and mouse; a girl risks her life to save her friends from an urban legend; a doctor’s daughter works to uncover the curse on their wayward ship; and an old lady’s cats are hungry…very hungry.

For others, death would have been an easier fate: a reflection isn’t meant to talk, let alone free itself; a priestess must renew her people’s magic, but that ritual carries a terrible price; and a famous boy rejects a lovesick girl…and lives to regret it.

Through life and death, the only constant is our fear of the unknown: bloody footprints continue to walk around a lighthouse; Grandma’s warnings of the Autumn People are finally heard loud and clear; and a girl moves into a new house to find a bloodstained carpet…that no one else can see.

Keep the lights on and brace yourself for ten creepy tales of horror and misfortune.

 

As with all the JL Anthologies, each story has its own illustration.

Check it out on Amazon.

Flash: Horror prompt

George picked the back corner at the corner bakery. His coffee cup teetered on the edge of the table as a sign that he’d paid for his right to sit there for the next few hours.

The laptop started up. He’d given up trying to learn how to work the stupid thing. It had a power button and it had an app icon. That was all he needed.

A black screen popped up. In the center of the screen was a blue orb button. Scrunching into the corner and angling his computer away from the preying eyes of the public, he stabbed the orb with his finger. The screen faded. The blue progress bar glowed bright against its black background. 25%. The counter girl glanced at him, and he wriggled further back. 87%. His leg started bouncing. 100%.

Small white letters typed out across the screen in a stead mechanical cadence. “This is a contract for your soul. You have five days remaining.” Two buttons outlining in a pulsing blue appeared. “Negotiate” and “Cancel.”

His hand clutched at scrap of paper in his pocket. It said, “I give half my remaining days to spend my final time with my wife.”

These words had been perfected. His family lawyer approved. He said it was a simple statement, but a more complete contract would provide better protection and one could be drawn up at $150/hour.

The priest at the catholic church told him that any bargain with the devil would be hallow and leave him wanting. That he risked his eternal soul by considering the exchange. George thanked him and momentarily considered tell him that his eternal soul would never be accepted into heaven where his wife surely lived.

His son gave him a sad smile and told him it would be a wonderful dream to see mom again. It was his son who suggested a fair exchange of half his days, one for her and one for him until his natural death. Afterall, George wouldn’t want to have her back for a day and lose her again. He barely survived her death the first time.

The paranormal investigation group had been so excited. They wanted to know how he found the program and if he’d read any reviews on it and if it really worked. They investigated his laptop and pressed the orb, but no one was ready to offer their soul. They asked to be present when he made the deal. Having them watch him felt too raw, so he refused, but if his wife came back to him, he’d take her by to say hello. They were nice kids and didn’t treat him like a senile old man.

He’d even asked the lady at the greeting card store. Her eyes grew round and shinny. She must have been to wrapped up in the spring love season because she gushed at how romantic it was that I still loved my wife after ten years since her passing. She had obviously never been married for forty years and grown to rely on having that person there.

There he sat. His knuckles bulged with arthritis. His hands shaking. The counter girl bending over the counter to stare at him better with horror filled large eyes.

The light around him dimmed as if the darkness from the computer reached out to consume him.

It was time to make his choice. Negotiate or cancel.

Genre Fiction – Literary’s grotesque cousin?

In 2016, I attended WorldCon, which is a convention put on by the World Science Fiction Society.  At the convention, they talked a lot about genre fiction and the future of sci-fi and fantasy particularly. That has me thinking recently.

Some of the speakers talked as if genre fiction is looked down upon. When I goggled genre fiction, I came across this article at the Huffington Post. The author agrees, saying “There are certainly high brow literary readers who believe that genre fiction does not deserve any merit. Then there are the types who exclusively read one or two subtypes of genre fiction and automatically classify any “serious” works of literature as pretentious or boring.” Sadly, I think I lean toward the genre fiction over literary, but I didn’t even realize there was this animosity out there.

The Huffington Post article argues that one factor separating genre fiction from literary is the memorability of the story. It says, “But do they [genre fiction] provide a means to stay inside reality, through the trials and tribulations of every day life, and deliver a memorable experience that will stick with you emotionally for the rest of your life? In my opinion, no. The works that are well written by genre writers are the ones that provide the best form of entertainment and escapism that fiction has to offer.” The article mentions a bunch of genre and literary writers.  When I read the lists of names, I could only remember the stories from the genre writers even though I have read many of the names on the literary list. That suggests to me that the memorability of a story has less to do with a “literary” designation and more with a person’s interest in reading.

The article also argues that “The main reason for a person to read Genre Fiction is for entertainment, for a riveting story, an escape from reality. Literary Fiction separates itself from Genre because it is not about escaping from reality, instead, it provides a means to better understand the world and delivers real emotional responses.” Again, I disagree in part. There is a significant portion of genre literature that is escapism, but there is also a part that comments on society, human nature, and our perceptions. Part of the underlying current at WorldCon revolved around the prevailing view published by the scifi/fantasy industry and opening the genre readership to novels that had expanded world views. This New Yorker article argues that some of the genre literature is not actually genre literature. It specifically says, ““All the Pretty Horses” is no more a western than “1984” is science fiction.” This strikes me as odd. Finding that a novel is not genre because the novel, which would fall under genre in general, has a story line is acceptable in “literary” circles, that lacks logic. It suggests literary and genre fiction are two total separate areas whereas I believe they are more of a venn diagram with overlapping areas.

A while back I discovered this Venn diagram by Annie Neugebauer which I thought was brilliant.

speculative-fiction-diagram
A great article on this diagram at SPi-Global

Anyway, I think one more overlapping circle could be literary. There is no reason to pull a genre novel from the genre when it could just as easily be both genre and literary both.

All this comes down to:

As an average reader, I never cared or distinguished genre from literary.

As a new writer, all the attempts to classify and shove books in specific categories is annoying.

As an amateur market watcher, I understand why the book selling industry categorize novels into a specific pigeon hole particularly when bookstore shelf space prevented placing a book in two sections, but with the growing electronic book sales, there is no reason books have to shoved into a single category, especially when my understanding of fiction is much more overlapping and mingled than what the old classifications allow.