Busted – A Short Story

By now, Colleen has hopefully shaken off the long road trip, had time to stretch her legs, and started to put things in order. It’s an exciting time, starting a new adventure. It’s safe to say we’re all eager to learn about this new chapter and hear all the stories when she returns to the helm. In the meantime, I thought I would pop in to share a short story with you.

It’s a piece of flash fiction which includes two of my favourite characters from one of my series – Fractured. I wrote it in response to the following prompt – ‘You’ve got something stuck between your teeth.’ I hope you enjoy.

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Busted

Riley crept into Merc Hall like the animal he undoubtedly was; all stealth and sanguine movement. Once a prominent government building, it now served as a beacon in the aftermath of war – a sanctuary for those like him. A mercenary for hire. The energy of the place pulsed along his skin, perhaps the result of so many hunters under one roof. Even subdued by sleep he could feel the danger they represented.

Tonight it only confused his wolf, because he could sense an underlying threat. He knew something or someone was waiting for him in the dark.

Using his night vision to navigate the corridors, he focused on his surroundings. It was hard to rein in the beast after so much freedom, and tonight had been all about the darker side to his nature. His claws pricked at his skin in anticipation, but he didn’t relinquish control. Not when his nose had picked up the scent coming from his room.

Friend not foe. He knew who it was before he heard her voice.

“Relax, wolf-man, there are no monsters in this closet.” The words were pitched at the perfect level for his hearing, despite the door between them.

“Shit,” he muttered, turning the handle. “How many times do I have to tell you I don’t need an upgrade?” His gaze narrowed on Maddison. She had made herself comfortable on the floor, her back against his bed. “And,” he growled, stepping into the room and closing them in. “Closet or not, it’s private. Which means.” He paused to show off a little fang. “You’re invading my space.”

It didn’t surprise him when she rolled her eyes. “Changelings,” she said, on a sigh. “Always so damn territorial.”

He wanted to smile so badly his jaw ached. “Why are you here, Maddy?”

“I was worried about you.” She got to her feet in a quick, fluid motion, which was almost feline.

“Now you’re just trying to piss me off.”

Her grin was sly. “What? I can’t be concerned for the big, bad wolf?” When she put a hand on his arm he felt himself settle. The damn witch had always been able to do that because his wolf saw her as pack; whenever she touched him, Riley calmed. “Look,” she said, releasing him. “I know danger is part of the job description and, let’s face it, trouble tends to follow you around. But you’re hiding something, and I wanted to make sure it didn’t get you killed.”

Riley didn’t respond right away. He walked over to the portable fridge to grab a beer. “I don’t need a keeper, Maddy, and I’m not hiding anything. I just needed to blow off some steam.”

Her hand reached out to snatch the bottle, but her eyes never left his. “Bull. Shit.”

The growl came out before he could stop it, which annoyed the hell out of him. He rarely lost his cool. “You’re not going to let this go are you?” he asked, dropping to sit cross-legged on the floor.

Maddison followed his lead, her green eyes sharp and assessing as they met his. “I guess it’s a moot point, since you’ve obviously taken care of the problem.” Her body relaxed the moment the words left her mouth.

“You seem pretty sure about that.” He let out a long sigh, tired of the secret anyway. “Look, it was personal, okay. I found out who attacked Simmons and I needed to take care of it. I owed him.” Truth be told, he owed nobody more than the woman in front of him. Maddison hadn’t known Simmons well, but she would never question his right to avenge a friend’s death.

“Ah, so because Jonas ordered you to stay out of it, you had to keep a low profile,” Maddy said, before taking a swig of beer. “That explains the sneaking around.”

“I don’t sneak,” he muttered, then scowled for good measure. “And Jonas might be leader of the pack, but he doesn’t know everything.”

“Aw,” she said, toeing his boot with her own. “I’ve never been a member of a pack.”

His wolf grinned at her teasing. “Shut up, Maddy.”

She tipped the bottle towards him. “Fine, I’ll let it drop. On the condition that you take back-up next time.”

“If there is a next time, I’ll take you along. How about that?”

“Now we’re talking,” she said, a little too excited at the prospect of getting her hands dirty.

She was true to her word though. She didn’t hound him for details as they shared the beer and talked of their active assignments.

An hour later she took the hint and stood to leave. “See you at feeding time,” she said, strolling to the door.

“Maddy?” She paused to look back at him, one eyebrow raised in question. “How did you know? That I found him?”

“Please,” she said, with her customary eye-roll. “There’s little that gets by me in this place.” She paused again on the threshold. “Oh, and by the way…you’ve got something stuck between your teeth.”

Thanks for reading.

Mel

Breathing life into your characters

Father and Daughter by susan52: DeviantArt
Father and Daughter by susan52: DeviantArt

I’ve been thinking a lot about role models and how they influence a writer’s work; the ways this translates to our readers.

There’s a reason writers become invested in their characters, why they often refer to them as real; a living, breathing part of the world as they know it. They have a history, complex personalities, and emotional depth. For readers, if we’re lucky, this equates to a character springing to life on the page.

Regardless of the process or how much planning is involved, as writers, we draw from our environment, and our experience. We observe behaviour, ask questions, have a sensitivity to body language, and pay attention. But it’s more than that. The people we meet, those we know – we use these observations to build unique fictional people. Then we give them a place to belong.

It’s not always a conscious decision and, like people as a whole, most have a variety of influences – their literary genes are inherited from all we see and hear. That’s why it’s so much fun when a character comes to us out of the blue. It can be difficult to pinpoint where they actually came from given the amount of information we carry in our head! It’s hard not to wonder at the magic of imagination, of fantasy, and marvel at the way the world around us has a direct influence on all we convey.

I can’t deny that many of my female characters are strong, passionate women. Quite simply, this is due to the fact I’m surrounded by resilient women. My mum is one of the strongest people I know. She is bubbly and affectionate, but, whenever I’m channelling sass – I think of her! My sister inherited that strength and I not only rely on her, I wouldn’t be the person I am without her.

And it’s not only my immediate family. My great-grandmother was a force to be reckoned with, a woman who practically raised four boys singled handed. Those boys (my grandfather included), were said to be hellions in their youth! She used tough love, an endless supply of patience and an iron will to keep them on the straight and narrow. I recognise her in a number of my characters, which isn’t a surprise.

The stories I grew with, family stories, certainly have an impact. My experiences of love and commitment, friendship and loyalty are also threaded through my work. I wouldn’t call us a military family per se, but most of the men served at one time or another and my grandmother lost her brother to the war. I never knew him, not personally, but through her I came to understand the man he was. It’s not only the good, it’s also the hurts and the disappointments we feel personally, and share with those closest to us.

I’ve had many wonderful male role models in my life. My brother is younger than me, but he’s my hero. It’s because of him I wrote my romantic crime series, and the experiences he shares about his life in the army all find their way onto the page. I haven’t personally served, but I understand camaraderie and the value of friendship and that’s what I try to reflect within the team I created. Growing up I had a lot more in common with boys than girls. My best friend, Tony, taught me valuable lessons about loyalty. He also has a wicked sense of humour, and I’m able to draw on those lessons.

That’s why, if we’re lucky, we connect with so many of our readers because, whatever the situation, whatever the outcome, it’s the characters who speak to, and for us. It’s in the connections they make, how they love, view the world and interact. A cacophony of life experiences that begin with our role models and build from there. That’s when a character truly comes to life. It’s what makes them memorable and why we want to spend time with them as often as we can. At least that’s how I see it.

There is a unique voice that lives within all of us. We might be shaped by others, but that’s not all there is, and it’s not all we give to our characters either. You could say, in one sense, the characters are an extension of us. So when a reader identifies with them, draws strength, laughs, cries, and celebrates their lives as we do, it’s a special kind of connection. There’s nothing quite like it. 

Thanks for stopping by.

Mel

Consumed: A Short Story

halloween cupcake

Happy Halloween, everyone. I convinced Colleen to let me post a spooky story today, and hope you all enjoy it. Whatever you’re doing; spending time with friends, attending a party, travelling across the country (we’re thinking of you, Colleen), working, relaxing – have a great day and stay safe.


Matthew

I pressed my hand over Cindy’s mouth and shook my head. Her big, tortured blue eyes were bright with tears. I didn’t need to read the fear; I could feel it. It pressed all around us, battling my own. The tiny closet was suffocating. It was a vacuum, sucking out all hope of salvation and bleeding us dry.

At the pounding on the bedroom door, my body jerked; drawing my attention. The door was holding strong, mainly due to all the furniture we’d pushed up against it. It would not hold forever.

When the barrier collapsed and he came into the room, he would see the balcony window wide open. This was part of my plan; to convince him we’d made a run for it. He had to believe we were desperate enough. I’d left other clues; a knotted bed sheet tied to the railing, one of the mattresses on the ground below.

It was a risk. If any part of him remained, he would see right through the ploy. Even desperate I would never lead my sister into a nightmare. What was out there – it was worse than the hell we were already living. Unless he found us.

I felt my hand spasm in response to a loud crack and almost lost it when Cindy’s head shot back. It struck the wall of the closet, the sound impossibly loud in the tight space. The silence that followed prickled along my skin.

I knew what it meant. He had found a way in, this monster who used to be our brother.

Cindy drew my attention when I felt her draw in breath; a scream building in her throat. I knew it, and was powerless to stop it. I tried anyway, my eyes pleading with hers to keep it together.

‘Please,’ I mouthed, our gazes locked.

I felt tears burn when I saw her shoulders relax, and Cindy nodded against my hand. She had my back. I let the tears fall; the only response I was able to give. I didn’t make a sound, I didn’t move. I stared into my sister’s eyes and, in doing so, gave her what I always gave her. My promise that I would keep her safe.

After a long, tense moment, I turned my head and peered through the slats in the door. Seeing the monstrosity that was our brother almost broke me. So I turned back to Cindy, snapping my eyes shut and squeezing them tight in a nonverbal command. She complied immediately, which lifted some of the weight from my chest. Cindy did not need to see the thing crawling over our barricade into the bedroom.

I had no choice but to face it, and what I saw extinguished all hope we would ever get our brother back. The virus had eaten away at his humanity until there was nothing left. Jerry’s jaw hung slack and foam frothed at the corners of his mouth. His eyes were bloodshot, his body twitching with barely contained violence. The pain of seeing him that way seared through me until it was all I could feel.

When those eyes honed in on the closet, I fought the urge to scoot back. He knew. My plan had failed, and now we were cornered.

Jerry moved slow, drawing it out; red eyes narrowed on target. The reality of what would happen; the loss, the fear. It exploded in my head and something snapped.

I didn’t think. I moved. I grabbed the first heavy object I could put my hand on, which turned out to be a dumbbell and surged out of the closet.

Jerry’s expression showed no surprise as I tackled him and we fell to the thick, carpeted floor. There was only death in his eyes.

No. No. No. No.

I struck the monster who used to be my brother over and over; feeling the anger and injustice burn through me. I saw nothing, felt nothing, but the uncontrollable need to be free of this nightmare.

***

Cindy

I moved on shaky legs to the edge of the closet, trying to pry my eyes away from the horror in front of me. We had lost Jerry to a vicious disease and the unfairness of that was hard to live with.

It hit us all hard but, Matthew, my sweet, protective older brother – it almost destroyed him. It was eating at him, even now.

“Matt,” I whispered, terrified of what might happen if I lost him too. If I couldn’t bring him back from the edge.

I took another step toward him; the scene burning itself into my retinas. Matthew battled with a monster only he appeared to understand. I wanted to know what he saw; why the thought of losing me drove him into darkness when there should be so much light. He loved me, so much his protective streak could be suffocating. Yet there was beauty in it too.

“Matty?”

He didn’t respond to my call. He didn’t respond to anything until the lights went out. Then I felt him move. Matthew dropped the dumbbell and scrambled backwards. I saw his outline, thanks to a trickle of moonlight, and instinctively I responded to his fear. I scooted back into the closet and curled myself into a ball. I just wanted it to be over.

***

Matthew

As I shot into the closet, slamming the doors closed, I questioned the logic of shutting us back in our prison. There was blood all over my face. My brother’s blood. No, a monster’s blood; diseased and possibly contagious. What if I hurt my sister? The thought of it was so huge there was no room for anything else. It didn’t even register when the lights flicked back on. But it did register when I saw my mom.

“Mom,” I whispered, pushing open the doors. I felt only relief in her presence, knowing she would protect Cindy. I had to relinquish the job. I was contaminated. I could feel it; squirming in my blood like a poisonous snake.

“You have to take Cindy, mom,” I said, unable to look at my sister. “I’m infected.” I swiped at my face, but it was too late now. It was too late to save myself.

“That’s why I’m here, baby,” she whispered, dropping to her knees. “There’s a cure. We can fight this.” One hand gripped my chin, forcing my head up. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

I wanted to believe her. So much I fell into her arms and buried myself against her.

***

Cindy

“He’ll be okay now, sweetheart,” mom said, stepping away from the bed.

I nodded, and climbed up to lay beside Matthew. He was asleep. Finally. He hadn’t even protested when mom gave him the treatment.

“I wonder what he saw,” I whispered, smoothing the hair from his forehead.

“I don’t know, honey. But he’ll be okay. I promise. We’ll get through this.”

Again I nodded. It wasn’t easy, but I pushed away my doubts. I had to be strong for Matthew. His delusions were getting worse, and had been since Jerry died. This was a side effect of grief.

“Don’t worry,” I said, leaning to kiss his temple. “I’ll protect you. We’ll beat those monsters together, Matty. You’re not alone.” Then I curled an arm around him and held on.

***

Thanks for reading.

Mel

My Step Mother’s House

Blogging U 9.14

My step mother’s house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was a dark-red brick house with ivy growing all over, which colored the house according to the seasons.  In fall, the house blared out in wild hues of red, copper, and orange ivy leaves.  In winter, the house seemed stark, naked.  In spring and summer, deep green leaves contrasted with the red brick.  I thought it looked the best in summer.

ivy_on_a_brick_wall_by_sparklestar123-d4bevuo

(Image credit: Sparklestar)

The house belonged to my step mother and her alone.  My father was not on the deed.  The house had belonged to my step mother and her first husband, who was deceased.  She never let me forget that.  Everything in the house had been theirs.  Not ours – theirs.  I hated that!

This house was the only one like it in the neighborhood.  To a twelve-year-old girl who was already considered different, and only wanted to blend into the masses, the house was a great source of my discontent.  The red brink accented by pistachio green window trim just screamed, “Look at me, I am different!”  I hated it.

The house was not large by any means in fact, it was quite small.  There was a large brick and concrete front porch that was never used.  The porch was flanked on the left side by the largest picture window in the neighborhood. It looked like a huge glaring eye staring out into the street.

The front door was for company only. On the right side of the door was my step mother’s and father’s bedroom, and that also sported a smaller picture window.  The house always looked like it was winking or, was off-balance somehow.  I hated that too.

brick house

(Image credit: Brick house – not my step-mother’s house – just an example)

Inside my step mother’s house were two bedrooms, a den, a large kitchen, a living room, and one small bathroom.  There was a basement that encompassed the whole bottom floor that was accessed by a flight of stairs from the kitchen.

The basement contained a laundry area, a wood working room, another casual living area, and a pool table!  I was never allowed to play pool because the pool table held sentimental value to my step mother.  It belonged to her first husband.  I grew to hate that also.

The kitchen was the main living area of the house.  The walls were painted turquoise and bright red linoleum tiles covered the floor.  There was a round table skirted by three chairs nearest to the back door.  My father and step mother would come in after work and sit in those chairs and smoke and talk.  I was the only kid in the neighborhood or in any of my classes who had a “working” (step) mother.  I really hated that.

1970, the year I was twelve, was all about expression in the use of color within your home, and my step mother loved color.  Of course, I hated it.  In the bathroom, the sink, toilet, and tub were baby blue.  Pink tiles lined the walls.  My step mother added purple to the mix and the room was a psychedelic mess.  And, to make matters worse, there was no shower – only a bathtub!  I hated that worst of all.

psychedelic-pics-10

(Image credit: Psychedelic)

My bedroom was painted in a pale wedge-wood blue.  I had a comfortable double bed with many blankets to ward off the harsh Wisconsin cold.  There were curtains on the windows patterned with fall leaves.  I liked the way the coolness of the blue walls contrasted with the warm colors in the curtains.  White café curtains finished off the window decor and afforded me some privacy from the closeness of the neighbors.  My room felt like a sunny autumn afternoon.

Over my bed, hung three framed prints of birds from the Audubon Society;  a robin, a blue bird and a scarlet tanager.  They had belonged to my step mother’s first husband.  I did not mind them.  They were beautiful to me.

My father made me a wood desk which overlooked one of two windows in the room.  I sat at that desk reading, writing, doing homework, and dreaming of what I was going to become in the years ahead.  My bedroom, my sanctuary was the only room I liked in my step mother’s house.  Eventually, I would have to leave it all behind.

dreaming of life

Image credit: Dreaming of Life)

This was part of my Writing 101 assignment for today wherein we were to tell about the home you lived in when you were twelve. For our twist, we were to pay attention to — and vary — our sentence lengths.

Thanks for the great visit today.  I hope to see you again soon!

Silver Threading