Getting the details right

My favorite scene from last summer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, featured my new favorite mutant from the film series, the speedster Quicksilver. This featurette looks at how the film maker’s and the actor, Evan Peters, put the sequence together. A great look at getting the details just right for a terrific scene.

Dead Wife Waiting Five Years On

Five years ago yesterday my first published story appeared, “Dead Wife Waiting,” in 10Flash Quarterly. It became the first of three stories in a little flash fiction trilogy set in a Weird West-like world, and was the seed for my novel The Hardscrabble. 10Flash has gone dark, so I thought I’d commemorate my first fiction publication by posting “Dead Wife Waiting” here. The other two stories are available in eBook form (see sidebar). This story was a joy to write, and to see published. I hope you enjoy it.

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Dead Wife Waiting

Dale Ivan Smith

 My dead wife waited for me at twilight on the road through the Sky Touch pass. She stood beside the midway marker stone where we first made love ten years ago. Skeletal corpses were strewn across the broken ground to either side of her, all the way to both canyons.

That drunken librarian at the tavern back in Bandy had set me on this trail, babbling on about a dead woman with a nasty sword guarding the pass.

Mira didn’t look like a corpse. She wore leather pants, the long gray coat I’d given her, and a sword strapped to her side. Her face was scarred, her eyes shadowed. They had been brilliant green in life.

Dying hadn’t been easy for her.

“Thomas, turn back.” Her words were low, husky.

I laid my hand on my six shooter. “Toshi told me you were undead, guarding this pass for Richter.”

She lowered her head. “Yes.”

I drew my gun.

She stepped in front of me. “Turn back.” She smelled like lilac. Her face was scarred, but her breasts were still full beneath her woolen shirt.

My head swam from the smell. “Mira, I miss you.” Damn it.

Her left hand trembled. “Please turn back.”

I blinked at sudden tears, clenching my jaw. “Listen, I have to stop Richter.”

“You will die if you don’t turn back.” She leaned forward. “Or worse.”

The triplets twinkled above in the darkening sky. The scent of lilac faded, leaving grit in my nose. I sneezed, fighting to keep my eyes open in case she lurched forward.

“You left me. And then you got yourself killed.” I cocked the pistol. Four rounds left, all silver. There wouldn’t be any more for a long while but I suppose using one on your undead wife could be forgiven.

Something in her eyes stopped me, a gleam in the shadows. I took a few steps back and sat on a flat rock, stretching my legs and resting my gun hand on my knee. My throat itched. Damn dust. Water sloshed in the canteen hanging from my belt but I didn’t trust her not to strike while I took a swig. She was always faster than me, and she still seemed pretty fluid for a moving corpse. The last animated dead I encountered had been back in Geartown. Some huckster summoned them using an old calling spell he’d scrounged up. They stank to high heaven, moldering something awful. Not a fleck of lilac in that air. I had fought off retching while blazing away with the old double barrel. The shotgun broke in that scrap.

“Why did you leave me?” The words tumbled out like lead weights. My left eye twitched but I forced myself to keep looking at her.

Something worked in her face. “Richter wasn’t going to leave you alone.”

I could smell ozone clearly now. The border stones glowed indigo in the gathering dark.

I rubbed the barrel of my gun. “I quit working for him. My choice.”

Her face hardened. “He wasn’t going to let you. Not permanently.” She shook her head, her velvet cascade of hair rippling.

“You don’t know that.”

She leapt forward, sword out, point thrusting toward me. The tip was inches from my throat. “You’re a bastard. You never saw past your own nose.”

My stomach twisted. “You still didn’t have to leave.”

The sword point wavered and then lowered. “It was the only way to save you.”

I let the air out slowly from my lungs. I was sure she would run me through. “The amulet.”

My wedding charm to her. Silver, like my pistol. She still wore it around her neck

The sword touched the ground now. “I wanted us to have that family you talked about all the time. But that would never happen with that monster around.” She sobbed quietly, without tears. I’d never seen a corpse cry before. I wanted to hug her for all I was worth, to comfort her. But when she’d left, she’d left royally pissed. Never wanted to see me again, she’d said.

And here she was on the winding road, captured by Richter and trying to keep me from getting to Reach.

Or was she?

“How’d you die?” I asked.

Her face was bitter in the wan light from the triplets. “I ran the bastard through with my sword. Black blood oozed out like mud. I realized then he was some new kind of undead. He just turned around and laid a hand between my breasts, and the next thing I know I’m beside this marker stone, waiting for you.”

“But that was a year ago.” A year spent waiting.

She nodded. “There were others, too, always at nightfall. The last forest island is far enough every traveler arrives at dusk.”

On foot was the only way you could go these days. The horses were all gone. I raised my gun and aimed between her eyes.

Her face was calm now.

“You want to die?”

She nodded. “Please. I never knew being dead would hurt so much.”

The silver bullet would do it. My finger tightened on the trigger then I hesitated. Magic’s a crazy quilt but I finally got the pattern straight in my head. Richter was a genius of a mage. People thought he’d figured out how to keep himself going after death. But animated corpses fell apart. Mira was in one still glorious piece. Undead stank. She smelled of lilac.

I reached out and lifted her chin with my fingers. Her skin felt cool, but alive. She’d been ensorcelled and I’d been set up. I turned and headed back toward town.

Mira cried out. “Thomas! You are turning back.”

I smiled for the first time in over a year. “You’re not dead. Neither is Richter. I’m betting I’ll find him in the library back in Bandy.”

 

END

A Year of Firsts

2014 was a year of firsts for me:

Had my first year using MyFitness Pal to help track calories and keep me aware of what I am eating. I lost nearly thirty pounds between January and June (mostly the first three months), dropping from 184 to 155, gained five pounds back, and am now losing those. This is the first time we’ve simply deal with tracking calories eaten and burned and not mated it to a particular diet, other than practicing moderation and making healthier choices.

Took my first writers workshop from Eileen Gunn in January, dealing with dealing with writer’s block. Eileen is a very insightful teacher as well as a fantastic writer, and her advice, counsel and empathy returning to writing were invaluable.

Took my first drawing class at the local community college in the winter. Learned how to see better, and for the first time in my life, actually produce a few half-way decent drawings.

Finished a draft of my first full length novel (as in over 80,000 words long)The Hardscrabble. I had written three short novels before, but never a full length one until this year.

Had my first resale of a published work, my flash fiction “The Fez Shackle,” to Toasted Cake, and thus my first appearance there.

Had my first collaborative sale, “Rules Concerning Earthlight,” co-written with K.C. Ball, which appeared in Perihelion Science Fiction in June (you guessed it, my first appearance there).

2014 was the first year I had four sales, one story twice (“The Fez Shackle”).

My wife and I went to Hawaii for the first time, visiting Oahu and Maui. While on Oahu we climbed Diamond Head (obviously another first), went to the Polynesian Cultural center, Pearl Harbor etc. While on Maui I sprained my ankle for the first time, but had a great time nonetheless.

Had my first anthology appearance with my story “On the Vine,” in the Underground anthology.

Had my first year as the coordinator for Orycon’s writer’s workshop.

Had my first public reading at the library, and my first as part of a panel of authors, the other three, Tina Connolly, Felicity Shoulders and David Goldman are all very talented writers and Nebula award nominees.

Took two new yoga classes for the first time from a particular instructor, who turned out to be the best we’ve had since the first instructor we practiced with. We’ve been practicing yoga since late 2005. Saying goodbye to particular instructors and certain classes is a given, but the practice always remains. As our first instructor said, “it’s called yoga practice, not yoga perfect.”

Made Oatmeal Breakfast cookies for the first time in 2014. I’m sure there are other dishes I’ve made for the first time this year, but those stick in my memory.

Played a new board game series for the first time, the COIN series, dealing with insurgencies from Cuba to Colombia and Afghanistan. Fascinating and very asymmetric in game play, really quite brilliant once I had wrapped my head around the novel game mechanics. Designed by a long time gamer and CIA analyst and it shows.

Ran my first session of the new Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition rules, returning to a campaign I last ran over a decade ago.

Played “Doomtown: Reloaded” for the first time ever, a so-called “living card game” set in the Weird Wild West.

I’m planning for more firsts in 2015.

How about you? What were your firsts this year?

Happy 2015!

In the Underground

My short story, “On the Vine,”  has just been published in the 2014 Northwest Independent Writers Anthology, Underground, edited by Jennifer Willis. From the Amazon page:

“What does “underground” mean to you? This anthology from the Northwest Independent Writers Association presents fourteen “underground” stories, each with a different interpretation of the titular theme. In these pages, you will visit a murderer’s hideout, walk the road to the afterlife, plunder a dragon’s lair, uncover a mysterious archaeological artifact, glimpse human existence after an environmental apocalypse, and delve deep into dark secretes, crime syndicates, forbidden worlds, sacrifice, and the human psyche.

“Featuring stories by: Mike Chinakos • Amber Michelle Cook • Pamela Cowan • Jake Elliot • Jonathan Ems • T.L. Kleinberg • Jason LaPier • Maggie Lynch • Roslyn McFarland • Cody Newton • Dey Rivers • Steven L. Shrewsbury • Dale Ivan Smith • Laurel Standley • Jennifer Willis

“The Northwest Independent Writers Association (NIWA) supports indie and hybrid authors and promotes professional standards in independent writing, publishing, and marketing. Learn more at NIWAwriters.net. ”

I’m very pleased “One the Vine” in in this anthology, one of thirteen tales in this year’s anthology. “On the Vine” concerns my character Jolene Jacobs, the protagonist of my Weed saga. when she was incarcerated in a federal facility for meta-human criminals and struggles with the challenges of prison life and being in black out from the outside world. It’s a crucial story in Jo’s life, when prison seemed eternal and she feared for her family on the outside.

Writing Process Blog Tour–Pacific Northwest edition

The fabulous Haley Isleib tagged me for the Writing Process Blog Tour. The deal is I’m answering the following four questions about my writing:

1) What am I working on? An urban fantasy novel, Nymphlopesy, the first in a series, featuring Liz Marquez and John Tully. Can a pair of arcane ‘wardens’ uncover the cause of a series of ‘manifestation outbreaks’ in Portland and prevent the destruction of the city? Supernatural creatures, both old and new, result from the collective human subconscious’s interaction with mana, the stuff of magic. Over the course of the series Marquez and Tully will struggle to unravel the secret history of mana and the ultimate fates of humanity and magic.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? Like all authors, I bring my own attitudes and outlooks to my characters. Probably the biggest difference off the top is, unlike many urban fantasies, my series will take place across the continent and eventually the world as the series arc unfolds.

3) Why do I write what I do? I love fantasy fiction (as well as sci-fi), plain and simple. I also enjoy mysteries, so combining the two in Nympholepsy was all too easy.

4) How does my writing process work? Once upon a time I was an “organic”, seat of the pants writer, but I’ve gone over to the outline side of the force.  After coming up with an idea I turn it around, over, twist it, look at alternatives, consider what the best POV might be, let myself play. Letting myself play with an idea is important to my process. l like to get to know the characters, their wants and their desires. Then I sketch out an outline–doesn’t matter if the story is a flash piece of a 1000 words or a novel, I outline.

 

In the fishbowl

Today I’ll be meeting with my wonderful local writer’s group, the Masked Hucksters, to fishbowl ideas for my new urban fantasy novel. What is fishbowling you might ask? It’s a combination of group brainstorm, Q&A and feedback I learned from Kij Johnson last year at her two week novel writing workshop in Lawrence, Kansas.

IMG_1122The class sessions there involved feedback on our outlines and reoutlines, but it was the fishbowl sessions in the evenings after class where you could brainstorm solutions to problems in your story, using large post-it notes on big sheets of white butcher paper, laying out your plot, world building elements, character points, or whatever else related to your novel you needed feedback on. Post-its can be moved around, replaced, exchanged, ETC.

When I returned, I realized I wanted to have a local group which could do this, basically what Dale Carnegie called “a mastermind group,” a group you could run ideas by, brainstorm with, get feedback, as well as moral support and share goals. The Hucksters are exactly that. Individual members do beta read each others works via email, but the group is about fishbowling, mutual support, and goal setting.

I’ve typed up my hand written notes on my urban fantasy and included a couple of scenes featuring my leads to give my co-Hucksters a feel for the material. We’ll get together, they’ll ask questions, offer thoughts, I’ll bounce ideas off them, and we’ll brainstorm together. For a writer, it’s as close as you’ll get to a team experience in all it’s invigorating and energizing aspects. It can’t be beat.

Thursday Fiction-A Gremlin Kind of Night 5

Three weeks ago I decided to take author Lynn Viehl up on her challenge to write and post fresh fiction each Thursday, for fun and to keep my drafting muscles limber while I revise The Hardscrabble. Thus a new Marquez and Tully story was born. Here’s the final installment.

Thus a new Marquez and Tully story was born. You can find the first installment here, the second here, the third  here and last week’s here.

***

Something metallic crashed below, and the floor vibrated. The hairs on the back on my neck rose. The crowd sensed it as well, people looked around, eyes wide, no doubt wondering what the noise was, and why the floor trembled. For a Normal, the arcane was that sense you were being watched, and when you twisted around, there was no one and no thing there. It was the sudden chill in a warm room, or scent you couldn’t quite recognize. I was more attuned to matters magical than that, but I was still the equivalent of a woman in the pitch black house holding a tiny flashlight trying to find locate mice scurrying around.

Worse, without mana, I didn’t have a hope in hell of binding whatever it was.

The building shook. I heard another distant boom below.

I had a very bad feeling about this.

I needed mana, and fast. I had to use my costume. Hate it or not, I had no choice.

Cute Guy wandered in my field of view. I waved at him, tried to look enticing. Blech. Another item to write on the I-hate-myself list. He came over.

“Hi, Carl,” I said as he came over. My dimples must be working over time. He looked flushed.

“Thanks for letting me in,” I said, trying to do a sultry voice. Geez, I sounded like an over the hill sex kitten who’d had too much whiskey and cigarettes. Still, Carl wore a dopey grin, looking like a teenager who realized he was about to get lucky. My un-dress and the mana it focused because of his attraction to me had that effect. The un-dress was a mirror reflecting back on the emotional energy that in turn drew mana. I know, complicated, but that was the arcane for you.

Something crashed outside, and screams erupted. Cosplayers and volunteers snapped their heads around. Nervous questions rose all around me.

Carl had turned to face the door. “I’d better go check,” he said, and started to head toward the door.

Damn it. There was no time. I grabbed Carl’s arm and yanked him over to face me in a full body contact, which in the leather near nudity I wore, meant lots of bare skin against his thin tee shirt. I pulled his head down to mine and kissed him, full on the lips. No time to waste.

He froze, then relaxed and melted into the kiss. It was like dark chocolate. Hey, I love dark chocolate, so sue me if that’s my reference.

The crystal tiara crackled with energy and my skin tingled. Mana, sweet Cassandra, mana poured into me, and from me into the tiara’s crystals. They needed energy to hold energy. Like I said, the arcane was complicated.

Here I just thought Carl was a cute guy, but there was a deeper attraction between us, helped no doubt by my un-dress’s trashy appeal. Somewhere a geezer wizard leered. I pushed the thought from my mind.

A faint crash in the distance. I broke for air from the kiss with Carl. I heard voices raised in question in the hall outside the grand ballroom, some shouting, but not the cacophony of fear and more fear I would have expected if something big and nasty had thumped into their midst.

I released Carl and sprinted toward Tully. Okay I tried to sprint toward Tully but the devil’s own high heels tripped me up and I did a full face plant, banging my left hand. Pain shot up my arm. Damn it, I knew better than to throw out an arm when I fell. Tuck and roll, Wanda used to say as she watched me fall again again in the obstacle course. Screw it. I crawled as fast as I could on my hands and knees. Pretty hard to do with my left hand hurting. Please, wide world, let it just be a sprain.

“Tully” I shouted.

He turned, took one look at me and doubled over in drunken laughter. I crawled forward another two feet before the pain hammering my left arm proved too much.

Someone pulled me to my feet.

Carl. “You need some first aid.”

“I need to reach my friend.”

He smiled and I felt myself grow hot. Cursed un-dress. Okay, maybe it was more than the un-dress, but that was my excuse and I was sticking with it. My left hand didn’t hurt so much all of a sudden.

“First things first, huh?” Carl said.

“Something like that, yeah.” I pointed at Tully. “I need to speak with him. It’s important.”

He didn’t argue, he didn’t barrage me with questions. He helped me over to where Tully stood, chatting up his new found posse.

“Hey, Liz,” Tully said. “Just tellin’ my pals here about that time in Astoria we got ambushed by those toad men and their human muscle. Or was it those human sorcerers and their toad men muscle?” He rubbed his head. “Things are a bit blurry at the moment.”

Giggles erupted from his posse. Great, Tully was spouting off secrets.

The floor vibrated again.

“Could you excuse us for a moment?” I said to Tully’s posse.

I pulled him aside with my good hand. “Spilling secrets?” I hissed. Another thing to have to worry about. The first rule of Magic club was don’t talk about Magic club. Duh.

“They all like it,” he said. Looked like he was finally reaching the collapsing into a sound sleep part of his drunk.

I palmed the stone cold packet.

High pitched laughter echoed from overhead, laughter on helium, laughter that could etch glass.
Gremlins.

The ballroom lights flared and then went out all at once, plunging the room into darkness. People began talking all at once. I brought the stone cold packet up to Tully’s big mouth. I still needed him to locate what had just gotten loose, and to help me subdue it. Assuming the packet  didn’t fall apart before it reached his mouth. Squeeze packets, the newest thing from the bright minds in Alchemy.

The packet exploded in my hand, powder puffing against my skin. If only the contents had been a jell I could have rammed my fingers down Tully’s throat. I fumbled for the other packet in my left boot, found it.

The packet slipped from my fingers. Damn it!

High pitched laughter again from overhead. I wanted my hands around a little windpipe, squeezing, only gremlins breathed through the sides of those pointed heads of theirs.

Smart phones flicked on all around, throwing out little windows of light from screens, followed a moment later by pinpricks of bright light. I snatched the packet from the floor.
Emergency lights flicked on.

“Open wide,” I said, and squeezed the packet’s contents into Tully’s mouth. “Swallow.” He did.

He belched, an epically loud belch that echoed off the ceiling. That was the stone cold for you.

“Gremlins,” I pointed at the ceiling. Tully stepped up beside me, lifted my right arm and guided it. I flexed the fingers of my left. Still hurt, but that’s was just tough. A binder’s got to do what a binder’s got to do I always said. There! A gray shadow hung from a open ceiling panel. I made a lassoing motion with my left fingers, pulled with my right. The crystals in my tiara were warm against my head, sucking mana from the gremlin. I could see his little mouth form an O of surprise, he toppled and fell.

“On it,” Tully said and snatched the gremlin from the floor, tucked it into his coat. “Rat catcher, in action!” He said. His posse giggled. Jack Strange always said that in the comic book when he nabbed a shadow creature.

Tully pointed my right arm at another open ceiling panel. Rinse and repeat as I drew mana from the second gremlin and Tully fetched and secured again. Not my typical binding procedure, but the un-dress’s mana harvesting changed the equation, hate it or not.

“You’re hurt,” Tully said when he rejoined me. Yeah, Captain Obvious strikes again.

“Costume not exactly made for running.”

He looked embarrassed and guilty at the same time.

I took pity on him. “Gremlins switched your drinks earlier.”

The door by the grand ballroom’s stage flung open. Something huge was outlined in the doorway.

“And for our next act, the return of Mister Pissed Off,” I said.

“The Troll Lord escaped?” Tully shook his head. “I can’t believe he escaped.” Like I said, Captain Obvious strikes again.

The Troll Lord stomped into the room. He looked like a scaled version of the Incredible Hulk, only in brown black rather than bright green. He raised his huge fists and bellowed.

Shit, we were going to have a helluva time covering this up, assuming we managed to get out of it in one piece. I needed a lot of energy for the binding, and I might have to improvise with a conjuring. I needed steel cables to bind that thing.

I frantically scanned the room, That was when I saw the Kaiju Wrangler costume leaning against the stage. That was one of those not OSHA approved costumes where you had to be strapped in, like a medieval suit of armor. I bet the cosplayed inside I had panicked, tried to run in the dark, and passed out when the Troll Lord showed up.

How about that? A ray of sunshine just burst forth.

“Gotta do the Jack Strange act again,” I told Tully. “Go on, ham it up.”

Tully didn’t miss a beat. “I am the warden of the night,” he shouted, striding toward the Troll Lord. Wow, hang on there big fella.

I gulped. I needed more mana but didn’t have it. Unless.

“Tully!” He turned, and I blew him my sexiest kiss.”

He blinked in surprise, and then blushed. I felt that energy. Boy did I ever. An instant later Tully whirled back to face the Troll Lord as it bellowed again.

Conjure me a cable, I muttered under my breath, pointed at the line hanging coiled on the Kaiju Wrangler. Conjure me a vessel, I muttered, made a pass with my hand, willing the suit to come to life.

It did. Tully gestured at the Kaiju Wrangler just in time. “Warrior of light, I summon thee!” He shouted.

The suit took two steps forward, One of its hands grabbed the now silver cable, which I motioned for it to throw. The lasso surrounded the troll lord just as it was about to charge.

“That’s enough of that,” I said to myself. This was going to hurt, but I already had an enter point for the pain. My left hand. I twisted it. Binders use their own pain to add in the binding, and I had a ready supply. I twisted my writst, pain shooting up my arm, and the cable twisted.

The troll lord bellowed, then stiffened as the binding took hold.

“I vanquish the foe,” Tully said, another Jack Strange trademark slogan.

I clapped. “Great cosplay!” I shouted, encouraging others to join in by my enthusiasm. I held my breath.

Applause broke out, scattered at first, then growing louder.

Whew.

It worked. Barely. We still needed help from the local Sweepers to cover up the fiasco, but it worked. The troll lord was back on ice, this time heading to the silos with two very annoying and too powerful for their britches gremlins, and Tully and I weren’t headed to the silos. Thank the wide world for that.

We did get sent off to Pasco to deal with a shadow plague, but that’s a different story, and I’ll take mucking about in the dark in the boonies over being stuck guarding the silos any day of the week.

End.

Thursday Fiction-A Gremlin Kind of Night 4

Two weeks ago I decided to take author Lynn Viehl up on her challenge to write and post fresh fiction each Thursday, for fun and to keep my drafting muscles limber while I revise The Hardscrabble. Thus a new Marquez and Tully story was born. You can find the first installment here, the second here, and last week’s here.

***

I dashed down the stairs to the hotel garage and our truck. The trailer’s freezer unit was working fine, and the double lock on the trailer door was engaged. Whew, that was one thing; Mister Pissed Troll Lord was still on ice. I went up into the truck’s cab, and began changing into my “costume.” Sexy sorceress could mean so many things, all of them over the top and ridiculous. Leave it to the Outfit’s founding members to come up with a leading contender for demeaning and sexist, wrapped up in the guise of necessity. The costume in question wasn’t a pretty princess. It wasn’t a chain mail bikini and sandals. It was worse.

The blackened leather was cool against my skin, where the leather actually covered my flesh, straps connecting the uplifted leather brassiere to the bikini-like bottom. The flared neck collar was like the parasol-like boney ridge of some bygone dinosaur. The fingerless gloves extended to my elbows. The thigh high leather boots almost reached my crotch, with spiked heels so high my feet were nearly at a ninety degree angle.

Oh and how could I forget to mention the jeweled tiara? I didn’t want to wear it, but it was part of the costume, and if you were going to wear the costume, you needed the whole thing for maximum effect. The rubies were mana storage crystals, low charge, but they could be used to bleed off mana from arcane entities. Binders always carried mana crystals for bleeding off magical energy from arcane creatures. I couldn’t wear the falcon pendant I usually did. That baby could store a hell of a lot of mana but it clashed with the costume.

The rules of the arcane were the rules. Follow the rules or else, Wanda’s rule number 4. The rules were there for a reason, like it or not, and the costume had to be complete to work as a mana focus. Platinum toed-Doc Martens worked just fine for focusing mana, and kicked better than the devil’s own high heels I wore as part of this costume. Tully said the costume was effective, hell, he’d said it was more than effective, it was downright deadly, in an eye-ball kick sort of way, but I like I said, I never wore it. Tonight was the exception. Since I wore it, I needed to follow the rules; otherwise it wasn’t going to be of much use.

I finished fastening myself into the costume and stepped down from the truck. The stone cold powder packets were tucked inside my right boot, in a little cartridge holder. A coiled bullwhip hung from a hook on my left hip, slapping against my thigh as I tried to stride and not sashay in my spiked heels. The garage air gave me goose bumps.

I made it as far as the elevator before encountering people, three fans in t-shirts and jeans, all guys, talking among themselves. The conversation stopped dead when I rounded the corner. Their eyes widened as they took in my costume. Damn those horny old toad wizards for dreaming this one up.

One of them swallowed and held up a smart phone. “Do you mind if I get a picture?”

I lifted my chin. “Yes.”

He smiled nervously. “Thanks!”

“Yes, I do mind.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

I would have felt like a jerk only there was the costume. I wanted no photographic evidence. Ever.

After a ten second eternity the elevator opened and I went in. I turned around. The three guys still stood outside, mouths open.

“You going to get in or wait for the next one?”

They nodded in unison.

Fine, whatever. I hit the close door button and left them stunned and drooling.

On the second floor heads turned as I wobbled in those nearly ninety degree pumps outside the grand ballroom. I swore I could hear neck bones pop as heads snapped around. Leave it to the costume designer to emphasize the sexual energy aspect. Yeah, sex can be used to generate mana, but it’s chaotic, messy and not easily controlled, especially in the field. Besides, big baddies wouldn’t wait for you to finish your hot and heavy mana gathering. This costume was designed back when rogue male sorcerers were the Outfit’s big worry.

Cute guy with a soul patch and a clipboard waited where I left him, outside one of the doors to the grand ballroom.

He didn’t miss a beat, despite his widened eyes when he glimpsed my costume. “Eight minutes,” he said, and tapped his clip board.

“What’s three minutes among friends?” I hated myself for smiling coyly at him and willing the costume to work its persuasion.

Cute Guy’s expression turned dazed and he smiled. I hated myself even more that the costume worked as advertised on men. Or maybe it was just my nearly naked bod, outlined in leather. I repressed a shudder. Curse you, old fart wizards.

His dopey grin widened. “Sure, go on in.” He signed a form and handed it to me.

“Geez, Carl, really?” said female voice from over my shoulder. A woman in an emerald green con volunteer t-shirt and a Buckaroo Banzai Lives! headband stomped up to Cute Guy—Carl.

“I don’t see what the problem is, Simone,” he said airily and opened the ballroom door for me.

“The rules are specific,” she retorted.

The rules–that was a good one. If only she knew how punny she’d been. I hid my grin and went inside.

I nearly collided with an eight foot tall monstrosity, a hulking metallic giant that loomed in the ballroom bearing the logo “Kaiju Wrangler.” The mecha stood in a line of people in costume; everything from anime characters and every incarnation of Doctor Who to more Thor impersonators than you could shake Mjolnir at.

“You’re late,” said a middle-aged man wearing a cowboy hat fashioned from materials which really belonged as part of a flying saucer.

“Carl said it was okay.”

“Carl always says its okay.” He sighed. “All right.” He jerked his head in the direction of the line.

I got in line behind “Kaiju Wrangler” and peered around one of its massive legs. Quite a costume, but it was murder on my line of sight.

Tully was halfway up the line toward where the photo shoot was setup. He had a huge grin on his face as he held forth to an elf princess, an adoring trio of American Maids, and Hello Iron Kitty and Crossplay Phoenix.

I palmed a packet stone cold. Time to get down to business. I tottered toward him, the devil’s own high heels thumping against the low-pile carpet like someone’s approaching muffled doom when flying saucer cowboy hat caught up to me.

“Please stay in line,” he said.

A fan dressed as the cheesiest superman ever chimed in, one hand straightening the oiled toupee perched on top of his head. “Yeah, no cuts.”

“I just need to tell me friend something,” I told them, and beamed at both me, and batted my eyelashes. God, what was I doing? You work with what you have, Wanda’s rule number 5 said. I wanted to crawl in a hole but I had to reach Tully.

Flying saucer cowboy hat smiled back at me. “Sure, you can have a word with him.”

“No way,” cheesiest superman said. “You gotta stay in line.”

Nods and murmurs from the other fans waiting in line. Flying saucer cowboy hat shook off his daze. “Sorry, miss, but you need to wait your turn.” Damn it, my costume must be out of mana.

I tottered back to my place behind “Kaiju Wrangler,” my shoulders slumped. The Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtle behind me in line held up a camera. “Okay if I snap a pic of you?”

“No!”

I glanced around. The lights all worked, people were texting away on smart phones, and a film camera rig faced the stage, and looked like it worked fine. So where were those gremlins? The littlest nuisances in the whole wide world should be wreaking havoc right about now, with the grand ballroom ground zero, but nothing doing.

They couldn’t have left the building. Gremlins were driven to mess with people, the more people in a situation the more the pointed heads were attracted, and the more things that could go wrong the better as far as the gremlins were concerned.

Without Tully’s ability to locate arcane creatures I had to wait for them to manifest. It was one thing to have to wait for a goblin to swoop down on you in a dark alley somewhere, another to wait for the overhead lighting to crash down. Thinking about what the gremlins might be up to drove me crazy while I waited in line, the line which took forever to move. I was always bad at telling how much time had passed, and there was no place for a watch with this costume

I fiddled with my whip while the line inched forward. Once Tully was past the photo shoot I’d ditch the line. I leaned around “Kaiju Wrangler’s” massive leg for the umpteenth time to check on Tully. “Jack Strange” and his new best pals were finally having their pictures taken. It was then I noticed the line continued past the photo shoot. At the far end of the line volunteers in emerald green surrounded a handsome, familiar looking old man and two beautiful, familiar looking women. Movie stars, I guessed, but couldn’t recall who they were. The trio stood watching as cosplayers came up to them, one at a time. They must be judging.

Great, I had to wait to get to Tully until after he and his posse were judged.

In the meantime, I needed more mana. It would have been easy with my platinum-toed Doc Martens, I could have gone off and stomp danced on bare ground while reciting the words to the mana harvesting ritual under my breath. Or sat cross legged in a corner, closed my eyes and let the mana flow to my rings, but the rings were back in the truck. They wouldn’t work with the gloves.

But no, I was freezing my keister off in a leather next-to-nothing outfit in a drafty hotel ballroom with no way to recharge mana. Okay, there was one way, but no. No way in the whole wide world was I doing that.

I wasn’t about to start making out with strangers in line just to give the sexy sorceress costume a little mana charge. Besides, that sort of mana harvesting took a connection to really work. Even succubus liked to have a relationship first. The stronger the connection, the bigger spark, and

If the line would just hurry up, I could get Tully sober, I could get back into my working clothes, get a mana recharge, and snap, hey, presto! The pointy headed annoyances would be bound up again. Tully would fetch the containment chest and I’d sit on the thing all the way to Vancouver if I had to.

Finally Tully and his new best friends were in front of the judges. I thought I heard a distant boom. I wasn’t the only one. Fans looked around. I knelt, leather creaking and put my hands on the floor. My hand tingled, all the way up my arm. My feet began to feel it to. I was not a Sensitive like Tully, but I could feel the arcane when it was near. The more powerful the entity, the easier it was to feel.

A massive arcane something was headed straight for the grand ballroom.

***

I hope you enjoyed this week’s installment. Let me know what you think in comments. Feel free to share the link to this page, but please don’t copy or repost the story text.

Jay Lake Link Salad

I want to post weekly link salads, links to interesting news stories, websites, topics, you name it, inspired by the late Jay Lake’s daily link salad offerings. Jay passed away two weeks ago today, after a six year battle with cancer.

He was an award winning science fiction writer and blogger extraordinare, who could write at a prodigious rate. I originally “met “Jay via his blog somwhere in 2005 or early 2006, and then finally in person at Wordstock in 2008, six months after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Jay battled it for over six years, and blogged about it, continued to write fiction until this year. I was lucky to spend a bit of time with him at conventions and social gatherings here and there, but not nearly as much as I would have liked.

Without further adieu, here’s today’s link salad, about Jay Lake:

“Jay Lake the Science Fiction Writer who blogged his own death” (Daily Dot). A moving look at Jay’s life while battling cancer.

“Jay Lake: More heartfelt unusual tributes for the late writer” (The Oregonian). Stewart Baker interviewed Jay several times, and writes here about the varied and wonderful tributes to Jay after his death.

“Scarf woven from Jay Lake’s Genome” (Boing Boing). Astrid Bear wove a scarf based on Jay’s genome, after it was sequenced for cancer research.

Jay’s website. Complete bibliography, bio, and his blog. He began blogging at LiveJournal.

Jay Lake’s fiction at SmashwordsJay was a prolific author who republished some of his short fiction.

Jay Lake’s Amazon author page. Amazon has a number of Jay’s titles, including e-versions of many of his novels.

Jay Lake’s Process of Writing. Jay blogged at length about his writing process and about the process of becoming and being an author, and had a book edited from his blog posts. It’s a unique writing book, well worth the read.

Jay Lake interviewed by Ken Scholes. A great interview by Jay’s close friend and fellow author Ken Scholes.