Free books and updates



I am finally wrapping up production on the second book in the Skyla Traveler series, entitled THE UMBRAL WAKE. It should be out in the next month and I’m both relieved and a little exhausted. YOu can get the first book, A LATENT DARK for free this week.

You see, I’d never written a sequel before, and as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to massively fuck up a second book. I am guilty of a few of them, and as a consequence, the initial Beta read was not great. You see, sequels are weird in that you already have the universe laid out for you. If your big kick in the first book was in discovering the world, then I got news for you: the second book is going to feel like a chore. Sequels force us to dig deeper, try harder, and show the reader something they haven’t already seen. Here’s a few things I took away from writing my first sequel:


1. Every ending is a beginning – Did everyone end up with exactly what they wanted at the end of the first book? Well, then we have a problem. See, stories need to go somewhere and when you end your book on the happiest of endings, it doesn’t leave much room to improve upon things. Every solution has a problem, so what problems does the ending of your first book set you up for?

2. People need to be reminded of just who the characters are again – A LATENT DARK (currently free on Amazon until sept 12th) had a lot of characters. I found myself discovering characters faster than I knew what to do with them. THE UMBRAL WAKE even picks up on a few side characters readers might not even remember from the first book. You have to give some point of reference so that everyone knows who is who. This could be as simple as a sentence or two…

3. But don’t obsess with backstory – The biggest problem I had with THE UMBRAL WAKE was refraining from going overboard with backstory. Yes, Scribble was a side character in the first book, but that doesn’t mean we need an entire chapter dedicated to him that takes place before THE UMBRAL WAKE even really begins. Too much backstory takes away from the momentum of the book.

4. Keep the ball rolling – The point of a sequel is to give readers a continuation. It’s about keeping the momentum of the first book and letting it move along naturally, while at the same time providing deeper insights into the characters. Not to harp on backstory, but too much of that crap and you’ve just stopped your story cold.

5. Dig deeper – Sequels are your opportunity to show how your characters cope even when they think they’ve won. It’s a chance to blindside them (and the readers) into situations they hadn’t predicted.

6. Formula can be dangerous – Your hero defeated a dragon in the first book. Don’t just give them a bigger dragon in the second. There has to be a deeper threat, one that spans the theme of both books combined. Otherwise you’re just writing stories that become as predictable as an episode of HOUSE. The HARRY POTTER series is a good example of what to do. Even thought Rowling kept the theme consistent, the threats were both new and old. Sure it was a basilisk in book two, werewolves in book four, but the deeper, consistent threat was that Voldemort was growing stronger, giving us all that slow build of anticipation to the final battle. Sequels have to carry that momentum through and leave us wanting to read the next one as well.

7. There still has to be theme– Just because you don’t want to be boring doesn’t mean you can throw curveball after curveball. You’re writing a larger chapter of a bigger story. You still have to keep things within plausibility.

8. Every solution has a problem – Your character sealed that door to the netherworld, but she borrowed the nails from a spectral hardware salesman who wants them back. Or maybe you blew up the enemy city which was about to unleash a doomsday device. Well, good job; now that city is in ruins and overrun by mutants. Maybe you finally saved the last unicorn from poachers and it’s living happily on your ranch. You’re in for a shock when that unicorn goes into rutt. Fixing one problem doesn’t mean you’ve fixed all problems.

9. It ends when it ends – The good and bad thing about sequels is that they don’t have resolve the entire story arc. They can be bridges, but they still have to lead somewhere. You don’t have to cram five books of story into it, but at the same time, you have to give the readers some degree of closure. Endings don’t have to be final, or happy, but they have to be satisfying and interesting.

10. Character is still king – Your characters are the vehicles of your story. If you are driving your readers around in an uncomfortable, stinky, shitbox of a car, or a boring beige sedan, it will matter. People stick with stories because they care about the characters. If you’ve given them nothing to care about, they are under no obligation to care about your book.

11. It must, MUST be interesting – This is maybe the vaguest and most honest rule in fiction writing. It can be a five page run-on sentence, it can be an army of prepubescent bear cubs in New York, it can be the self-discovery of a cricket finding itself on the back of a naked gigolo. None of that matters. All that matters is that it’s interesting, whether it be the writing, the prose, the structure, the character, the ideas. Boredom is death for a novel.


Anyway, I’ll be promoting THE UMBRAL WAKE a lot more in the upcoming weeks, including a cover reveal soon. I hope the five of you reading this blog finds this list somewhat helpful.







So there’s this thing going on this week, a steampunk fest, where a bunch of steampunk authors are going to tempt you with their steampunk books. It’s an impressive collection by plenty of solid authors. I had the opportunity to interview one of these authors.

Pauline Creeden is the author of ARMORED HEARTS,  a Victorian era steampunk novel. You can see it there on the graphic next to ALD.


1. First, who are you? Introduce yourself.

I’m Pauline Creeden ~ A horse trainer from Virginia who writes for therapy. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, because I have a degree in Creative Writing, and working with horses happens to be very stressful…but it gives me a unique level of expertise when dealing with the Victorian era of Steampunk.

2. As far back as you can remember, what were the first authors who inspired you to decide to become a writer?

The book that sparked my love for reading was Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett. When I finished that book, I was so enthralled, that I asked the librarian to recommend me another. She recommended The Secret Garden, which, I’m sad to say I found IMMENSELY boring. But this misfortune lead me to decide then, in the third or fourth grade that I wanted to be an author and write books that weren’t so boring. Through high school, I absorbed all things Poe and Stephen King, and in college, I loved Anne Rice and Oscar Wilde. Overall, I discovered that I enjoyed things dark and fanciful. And that is what I write.

3. Let’s talk process real fast. Would you say you’re more of a gardener or an architect when constructing a story?

Typically I’m a gardener. I nurture and pull weeds, but I hardly even plant what’s there. It just sprouts up and I keep the pretty bits.

4. Tell us a little about ARMORED HEARTS? What’s it about?

When Melissa Turner Lee and I got together to pen Armored Hearts, we wanted to create a Steampunk Fantasy that would introduce the genre to an audience who may not even know what it was. I have written short stories in the genre and have another completed novel that is undergoing edits, so Melissa came to me with her story ideas and we hashed things out together. In general, Armored Hearts is a romance – fae fantasy – set in a Victorian retrofuturistic parallel to our own history.

5. The hero of your story, Gareth, is disabled and faces certain physical and emotional challenges. What challenges as an author, did you find yourself running into, writing a main character in Gareth’s situation? 

Gareth is a sourpuss. He’s surly and spoiled, and tends to hate life and nearly everyone in it. The hardest thing to do? Make him likeable. We did our best…and according to the reviews, some felt we succeeded, others, failed.

6. How do you feel a steampunk setting affected decisions made in the story? Did you set out to write a “steampunk novel” or did the story simply demand that it exist in a steamdriven universe?

For the story to fit properly, it had to be right at the turn of the century. Gareth is a nobleman and needed to be in a time when nobleman mattered. Jessamine is a forward thinking American woman whose intelligence is only supported by her intellectually set parents. The characters demanded the time period, and the freedom added to the period by the use of steampunk technofantasy? Makes the genre unparalleled.

7. Of all the characters in this book, who would you most like to meet/least like to meet and why?

I’d want to meet Thompton. Because in our collective imaginations, he looks like David Tennant. And why? Two words. David Tennant.

8. Tell us a little about the Steampunk Lit Extravaganza and what it means to readers?

Steampunk, like children’s literature, can be as wide and varying as Little Witch and The Secret Garden. Mind you, only one of these two books is considered a literary classic, and it wasn’t the one that I enjoyed reading. Tastes vary as much as there are tongues…or rather minds to do the tasting. So this Extravaganza, to me, was created to take the one genre we all enjoy and expose as many people to it as possible to create new fans of the period.


ARMORED HEARTS is available on Amazon.


What time is it?

No really, what time is it?

I’ve just woken up from a five-season Adventure Time binge. It’s embarrassing to to add up all those hours in my head, spent essentially watching a post apocalyptic cartoon about a boy and his dog. I’m a late-comer to the program, which as it turns out is probably the best thing that could have happened. The show has one of the most refined narratives of any show out there. It is finely distilled storytelling, handed out in eleven-minute chunks.

Don’t judge me.

For those uninitiated to the series: The show takes place around 1000 years after the world has been destroyed by a war…( and by destroyed, I mean there is literally a bite missing from the earth.) Over the course of a thousand years, new species have arisen, candy can talk, and magic has returned to the world. Finn is essentially, the last human being, residing in a tree house with a mutant dog, living every thirteen year old boy’s dream–pillaging dungeons, saving princesses, and generally living on his own terms.

The show is 11 minutes long, which in most cases–and especially for an Oldie Hawn like myself–smacks of the short-attention-span-MTV generation, appealing only to those kids with learning disabilities and ADD from too much texting and Youtube. I suppose that’s why I avoided the show, thinking I just wouldn’t get it. It’s a show for 14 year old boys after all, not someone at an age where they should be looking into retirement plans.

We watched the first couple of shows out of curiosity and actually backed away from it, blinking our eyes, wondering what the hell we had just seen. The show moves fast, the story told at a seemingly random pace, with a style that is one part 1920s animation and one part Ren and Stimpy. We didn’t resume watching for maybe a month or two after that.

Our lives were in a state of upheaval during this time. We were both unhappy living in the Silicon Valley, and had decided to move, to get away, so that I could write full time and my wife could finish her degree. So it wasn’t until we were settled again in Idaho that we resumed our viewing… and we watched a lot.

We plunged in, finishing the first season with relative ease, drawn into the narrative by the quick wit and subtly subversive (and suggestive) adult humor. There is just enough winking and nodding between the lines, that after a while, one has a hard time believing it was conceived as a kid’s show at all. It’s pretty dark, folks.

It gets darker. By season two, the stories become downright Lovecraftian, bordering on unbridled adult horror. In fact, much of the show is horror themed, it’s just that in a cartoon you can get away with a lot–they aren’t real people after all, just drawings. If this were done in live action, I’m pretty certain it would be nightmare inducing. The long-term story arcs begin to emerge like those Magic Eye posters after you’ve stared too long, and suddenly the real message pops out at you. It becomes apparent that the childlike, cartoon skin, is really just the surface illusion for ideas and themes that would probably be too dark for many adults.

And yet, I was surprised when I mentioned my discovery of this show on Facebook. The backlash of “Um, you’re an adult?” or “It’s a kids show” returned on my comments feed.  I wasn’t embarrassed at all about this discovery. But I did feel sad.

I’ve learned to ignore people who try and tell me what I can and can’t like in the world, but it’s still sad to see that people will still try and tell you anyway. But beyond that, these were writers, people who watch Walking Dead and True Blood, people who won’t bat an eyelash at The Hobbit, yet just because a show has the outward appearance of a children’s show, they dismiss any chance that there could be something gleaned from it. I wasn’t talking about My Little Pony here.

Let me break down the major themes:

  • Finn, the last human boy on earth is abandoned and raised by shapeshifting mutant dogs.
  • He grows up with Jake, his brother/friend, living in a treehouse (also a mutation) where the last video game console runs amok.
  • Candy has evolved through fallout mutation to become a sentient, talking species. There is sometimes cannibalism.
  • Mutant unicorns speak Korean and consider human flesh a delicacy.
  • Mutant dogs and unicorns can mate and produce nightmares
  • Demons occasionally walk the earth like Cthulhu and devour souls leaving nothing but wandering husks.
  • Finn’s sometimes-girlfriend is a fire elemental.
  • The major villains in the show have a backstory richer and sadder than Severus Snape.

Now, let’s slowly tear off the skin of the cartoon and get to the raw storytelling. There’s a few factors that play in my mind when I watch  Adventure Time. For one, Finn is the only human, and it’s likely that after a thousand years, language has changed considerably, with English falling along the wayside like Latin or Esperanto. Therefore we don’t really know what language is really being spoken in Ooo. The story is told from Finn’s perspective, where all these things I listed above are normal. He lives in a land of mutant dogs and talking candy, which without the cartoon imagery, probably look a lot more like this.

Princess Bubblegum by Aldo Katayanagi


We should also mention that Finn is colorblind.

This is Finn’s world and we see the story through his eyes. Demons and dragons walk the earth, dogs can change their mass and shape at will, teen vampires write songs out of boredom, wizards and sentient bubblegum debate religion against science, and mutants wait underground, preparing to overtake the world again.

Do not be fooled by the cartoon skin. Adventure Time is every bit as adult as The Road Warrior.

WIP for 2014 and some updates

I’m cross-posting this here from Goodreads, since my blog activity is all over the map lately.



So I’ve got a couple of projects I’m hoping will come to fruition this year, the first being the second LATENT DARK book, titled THE UMBRAL WAKE. It’s set about two years after the events in A Latent Dark, and after this latest revision and beta round, I’m feeling pretty good about it.

Second is a completely new book that right now is only in it’s rough draft phase, but the topic is exciting and I plan to start revisions soon. It involves video games, AI and graphene. I managed to finish the rough draft just under the clock for 2013. This is a big deal, since 2013 seemed determined to prevent me from completing anything.

Thirdly, I am finally back on the horse with a space-opera novella I had written the rough draft to over a year ago. It also has yet to be named, but I plan on this being a series, as there seems to still be plenty to explore in the universe. First revision should be done pretty soon, assuming I can get over the hump I always run up against when I reach endings

Oh, also I wrote the dialog and tutorial text for the Robocop Mobile game coming out this year (under a different name). So whether you like the movie or not, you should check out the mobile game, because it will mean you love me.

That’s about it for me right now. What’s everyone else working on?

Echoes of Scheherazade

“I’m not saying it’s bloom,” says Doc. “I’m just saying it’s probably bloom.”

Larry glowers at him from beneath eyebrows the color of rust. “Are you saying it is or it isn’t?”

The hobo steps back and lifts the half empty bourbon bottle to his mouth, drinks, and scratches his chin, payment for his diagnosis. They both look down at the blemish on Larry’s arm, a fuzzy birthmark.

Doc hands the bottle back to Larry.“When I worked at the lab…”

“Which lab?”

“The one in Fresno. We were studying goat prions.”

“What?” Larry snatches the bottle and takes a swig, annoyed at the half-assed answer.

“Prions. They’re little rogue proteins. They eat away at your brain, make you forget things, act different.”

“Like rabies?”

“Thats a virus…” Doc takes a breath. “What I was saying is that at the lab we called these fairy rings?”


“Fairy rings. Like a bunch of fairies might dance around them. It’s folklore, Larry.”

Larry makes a face and takes another swig. “I’ll tell you who’s a fairy and it ain’t me.”

“No, you’re the troll.”


“Under the bridge,” Doc smiles and points to the tracks high overhead, lost in the night sky. He runs a dirty hand through his wild salt and pepper hair. It wisps slightly in the breeze coming off the gorge as they sit beneath the railroad bridge. A tin can sitting on the rock beside him falls over and they both watch it tumble down the slope into the San Joaquin river. Then the ground rumbles and Larry looks back at his arm. Now there are two rings.

“Fairy ring, eh?”

“Yep. you see them a lot in the wild. Formed by mushrooms.”

“I thought you said prions.”

“These were mushrooms, a fungus.” He points at Larry’s fairy ring. “That probably is too.”

“Someone plant them like that?” asks Larry. “The mushrooms I mean.”

“Nope. Just happens naturally.”

Larry screws up his face and takes a drink. “How do they know to be in a circle?”

Fifty feet up, a train makes its way over the bridge. The ground moves. Doc’s mouth begins to move, but Larry can’t really hear over the train. He looks down at his arm again. They’re still there, a dozen wispy towers in a circle, growing out of his skin just below the crook in his elbow. At the center stands another cottony spire, half an inch high. It doesn’t hurt, but Larry can’t help but wonder if it will.

“So is this a prion or a virus, or a fungus or what?” he asks. But Doc is still talking and the train is making it impossible to hear his own thoughts. What he does hear, sounds like music. The train above is blasting Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade. All Larry can do it smile.

Doc is staring at him. “You alright, Larry?”

“Fine. Why?”

“You’ve been staring at that fairy ring on your arm for the last two hours.”

He sees now that Doc is wearing a paper face mask. When did that go on, he wonders. “I have?”

Doc nods slowly.

Scheherazade sounds fainter now that the train is gone. But Larry still thinks he can remember the tune. He hums and then laughs.

“Damn. I couldn’t even play drums in school.” He beams at Doc with a gap-toothed grin. “They kicked me out of marching band. But I fuckin’ loved me some Scheherazade.”

But Doc isn’t laughing with him. Doc just stares, his dark eyes going between the fairy ring and his face. Finally Doc reached into his tackle box and brings out a clear plastic bottle.

“What’s that?” asks Larry.

“Rubbing Alcohol,” says Doc. He pours some on a damp rag. “Give me your arm.”

He’s on his feet before he knows it. “Why?”

“Because,” Doc says. “I’m going to see if I can get rid of it.”

The arm moves fast, snatching up a rusty metal shiv and brandishing it at the old man. Larry stares at his arm like some alien appendage. A full minute passes before he can relax and the shiv comes down. It clatters on the dirty concrete.  “I’d… I guess I’d rather you didn’t.”

Doc gives a slow cautious nod, damp rag in hand. The music is louder again, and Larry can’t tell if Doc is smiling or frowning behind that surgeon mask. He likes to think the old man is smiling, smiling along with him. Maybe he hears Scheherazade too.

“Why does it know how to grow in a circle like that?”

“Maybe that’s just what it’s meant to do,” says Doc. He stands and takes his tackle box. “Lots of things in nature do things without knowing why. How does a spider know how to make a web? How does a bee know how to plot its GPS coordinates to the hive? How does a lyrebird know how to mimic any sound it hears? How do we know how to write or sing or play the harpsichord?” He begins to walk past Larry, but stops to look down at the arm. “Maybe that’s all talent is, ,just some flipped genetic switch. What you should be asking, is if you are remembering a song, or if the bloom is remembering it for you. Or if you are even remembering this conversation.”

“But I… you said it wasn’t bloom.”

But Doc is gone and it’s now daylight. Larry looks at the sky and blinks. How did it get so fucking bright? He raises his hand to block the sun and frowns at the wool muff over his arm. Densely packed fibers hint only a faint suggestion of the hand and forearm underneath.

Larry flexes his fingers, and the fibres shift like a feather duster under water. And from somewhere deep inside, Larry hears the song again. He smiles up at the warmth in the sky, and hums along.


This is a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig’s

In which I discuss books, writing, and the challenges of being a self-publishing author

I was pleased to talk with Philip James from The Darling Dork pop culture site this weekend. For the six of you who follow me on this blog, you probably realize that this is something of a surprise and a pleasant one at that. One of the hardest things being a self-pubbing writer is the bottomless void of obscurity.

We talked about ALD, and the challenges of being a self-publishing author. We talked about the writing process and what went into this book. It was a fun interview and if you liked A Latent Dark, you’ll probably find it interesting.


Haven’t done a flash fiction challenge in a while. Chuck Wendig gave us eight words. I chose four:  hamburger, gloves, motel, and funeral.

Warning: contains self-editing


Bindo licks her face with his long gray herbivore tongue.

“Ugh! You smell like vickenberries and shit!” she says, pushing his muzzle away playfully. Being kissed by a plainsteer is like getting a bath from a wet sausage. She wipes her tunic in disgust. “If you’re hungry you can have some grass, but that’s it until the next town.”

He looks at her with plaintive, bovine eyes.

“I know,” says Beth. “It’s not far, I promise.”

She can see the village up ahead. Its clusters of buildings and motels rest at the bottom of enormous spires. They stretch for hundreds of feet into the sky, calcified and sharp, the horns of the world. At the top, rest smoldering funeral pyres.

Beth drains the rest of her water skin into her mouth. She squeezes the last bit for Bindo who laps at it, spilling most on the ground. Opening the leather satchel along the flank of her companion, Beth pauses a moment. Inside rests her egg, a large two-foot-wide green ball, coated with a crackling patina of flakes. Beth is amazed to see it intact as she places her empty water skin between it and a pair of workman’s gloves.

“I think we can make it by sundown,” she says, her voice hopeful.

Bindo isn’t the brightest, but he can pick up on tension. Beth doesn’t want to make him more nervous than he is. He slow-blinks with those giant brown eyes then plods along beside her.

Her biggest concern isn’t the desert. If things get too bad she could always crack open a plant and suck some moisture out of it. What Beth is worried most about are poachers. Just the thought alone makes her glance back to the satchel nervously.

The purple sky is dusted with diamond stars. She finds herself on auto-pilot, just walking with her ox-sized beast, her face to the universe. A breeze musses her hair and Beth wonders for a brief moment if she will ever find a place to rest for good. Home is just a word–

Bindo stops without warning, growls. A cold spike runs through her chest. She feels in her pocket for the gun there, fully aware that she has a scant three bullets remaining.

“It’s okay babe,” she says to him.

But Bindo isn’t having any of it. He begins to snort. Hooves paw the ground and Beth feels the vibration in her legs. He snorts again and this time she hears it—stalkers.

They move in from the scrub bushes, lanky canines in the dusk light. They move on four paws, but Beth knows all too well that they don’t have to. This is just a scouting posture. They are sniffing her and Bindo out, moving low to the ground. When they attack, leaping with claws out, they stand upright, their tiny chest hooks exposed. But for now, they are keeping their distance. Good.

The village spires suddenly seen painfully far away and Beth finds herself wishing that these were poachers. Poachers can be fooled or reasoned with. Stalkers kill for fun.

A rustling of bushes and the first one leaps from the ground, its torso splitting wide to reveal the killing mouth there, its dark black eyes rolled back into its head in a parody of ecstasy.

Bindo rears up and catches it in the side with a sharp hoof. It squeals and tumbles into the dust as Beth pulls the gun from her pocket. She sees two more moving in from the bushes. She fires. The bullet only nicks the closest one, passing through the skin and leaving a puff of dust in the ground. It skips to the side and then flies at her. She can actually see the red gullet between those long vertical jaws. She fires again. Black liquid sprays out the stalker’s back. It pinwheels in the air before flopping to the ground.

A blur to her left. Bindo spins and almost knocks her to the ground with his massive clumsy flank. She jumps but the distraction keeps her from seeing what he is reacting to. Another stalker is already in the air. It lands on Bindo, latching onto his shoulder like a giant leech. He bellows. Saliva flings from his mouth in strands as he tries to shake off the attacker.

Beth can’t get to it. The stalker is on the other side of her massive friend. Movement again and something rushes her—the stalker Bindo had just kicked. It’s limping but alive and very angry. Without thinking, Beth fires. A cloud of black ichor sprays her and Bindo’s flank.

The last stalker is still attached to the beast, hooked in, unable to flee. Stalkers play to win every time. Bindo screams again and a large liquid eye turns to her pleadingly.

No bullets. She leaps onto Bindo and takes the gun barrel in her hand. The metal burns and Beth smells something like meat cooking. Should have worn the gloves.

She screams as she hammers the top of the stalker, its body flat as it wriggles to tear off a chunk of meat. Each blow sounds like she is smashing apples. The stalker’s screams are muted. Its rolled-back eyes blink and twitch. Beth continues to strike the creature even though her palm blisters and Bindo bucks.

You aren’t helping, she thinks.

At last she strikes an eye. The stalker shrieks with a sound that makes her teeth hurt. It falls away and begins to limp across the ground. But Bindo turns. Sharp hooves dance along the creature, pummeling it into the dirt until it isn’t much more than hamburger.

As she calms the beast, Beth feels wetness on her leg. She turns, pulls the satchel open. A small cry escapes her throat. The egg lies in two pieces, a fractured, leaking globe.

They limp to town. She has a hard time seeing the spires anymore, though she knows they are there through her tears.

(c) 2012 Martin Kee (marlanesque)

First review of A Latent Dak

Simon Brenncke just wrote up this great review of A LATENT DARK.

“Martin Kee is an impressive writer – what’s the more, he is an impressive stylist. His sentences are always thought-through and polished; often they bristle like a sharpened diamond with many facets.”

“I have to underline that it’s one of the best novels I read quite in a while and that the story as a whole has fully merited its four stars. It is a work of quality.”


*Warning: Contains some spoilers*

Am I blushing? I think I’m blushing. Go check out his review here!

Suffer The Little Foxes

This flash fiction challenge comes from The Heavy Dark universe, inspired by a random word from the Bibliomania website. It is brought to you by the letter “S” and the words “Scarlet Coat” which was what I ended up settling on. You can see the entire Flash Fiction Friday prompt here if you wish.

Suffer The Little Foxes

He wore a scarlet coat, a gold chain attached at the belt. From the chain dangled a shiny brass whistle. Edgar stepped out in front of the full length mirror and gave a half turn, studying the cut of the material.

“You look splendid, Daddy,” said Victoria from the other room.

She was smiling for a change, her capped tooth covering the hole left by a schoolyard fight. Her long blond hair flowed down along her shoulders and along the lace of her dress. Her eyes studied him with a look that Edgar had at once thought was admiration. Now, he thought it seemed  cooler, more calculating somehow.

“Thank you my love,” he said to his daughter. “I think this will go nicely on the hunt next weekend, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes,” said Victoria. “I think it should suit you quite well. Will you be taking the horses? I do so love them.”

Edgar turned the other way, looking his reflection up and down. “Yes. Yes I think we will. Cars being such noisy things as they are.” He paused, then looked back at Victoria. “Speaking of which, have you seen my repair pliers? I seem to have misplaced them.”

Victoria blinked. “Why no, I haven’t Father. What would I possibly do with something like those?”

No,” he said, dismissing the thought. “I guess you’re right.”

But he did see her in the repair shop that one night. Or at least, he had thought it was Victoria. Edgar had been sleeping and there was a noise, like a hammer hitting the floor. A door closed and small footsteps slipped up the soft carpet steps right into Victoria’s room.

It might have been that Barkley girl, Dona. She had been staying over a lot lately, or maybe Harold and Francine’s girl, Melissa. He couldn’t keep all of his daughter’s friends’ names straight anyway: Melissa, Dona, Beth… His house felt more like a sorority than a mansion until just a few days ago when Melissa had stopped coming around.

Frankly, he had felt terrible at hearing of Melissa’s disappearance. He felt almost guilty at being able to relax for a change. Was it so bad that he could finally read in peace without a bunch of squealing, chattering girls?

Whoever it had been, they had gone back quickly into Victoria’s bedroom and closed the door very carefully. Then there was the unmistakable sound of giggling. Of course it had been Victoria. She was the only one who knew where the tools were, but why would she lie?

“Your smile looks lovely, Sweetheart,” he said, waltzing over to give her a hug and a kiss. “You can’t even tell it isn’t your tooth, can you? Does it hurt?”

“Only when I chew ice,” said Victoria. “And sometimes it twinges when I drink tea.”

Yes, he thought. Tea would do that. Only Victoria didn’t like tea. She had told him before. In fact, ever since she had lost that tooth to the little wench’s fist at school, Victoria had been acting strangely secretive.

And then, all at once, she seemed fine. Apparently she had been doing some important errands for the archbishop, a notable boost to Edgar’s family status. He had seen her in a flurry of activity one week, in and out of the house, delivering notes. She seemed… happy?

No.  “Happy” wasn’t the word. Focused. And content, as though she had finally made up her mind about something.

He had been planning to use carved ivory to replace her tooth. He had all the tools he needed to carve out a replacement for his daughter. The discoloration would be hardly noticeable. He fumed every time he thought about his poor daughter being hit—hit! By another girl! What was the world coming to?

But one day Victoria simply showed up with a tooth. Strange, that was, thought Edgar. Where did his daughter get a tooth?

When he asked, Vicky said that it was a replacement. It was special, blessed even by the archbishop himself. “It would be so much nicer than a fake tooth don’t you think?”

He looked at it, small and white in his palm, then at her. She had smiled back, not displaying her teeth or that terrible gap.

“A gift,” he said. “From the archbishop…”

She had nodded. “He said that it was special and because I helped the Church so much lately, it was mine. He said that he was sorry to hear about the fight and that I won’t have to worry about being assaulted anymore at school.”

And she hadn’t. In fact, the girl who had assaulted her had all but vanished, her home burned, her mother gone. Her friend, Melissa, also gone. He had to admit that it certainly seemed suspicious.

Small as her teeth were, Vicky did have a complete smile again finally. You couldn’t even see the metal brace that held the tooth in place. It was his finest work, for sure.

“When can I go hunting with you, Daddy?” she asked, bouncing slightly. She twirled a lock of flaxen hair on one finger.

“Oh,” he said, suddenly remembering where he was, how he was dressed. “It’s not really a girls place to be hunting animals. You might miss, after all. Or even worse, you could hit the fox all wrong. You wouldn’t want it to suffer would you?”

Something darker than disappointment passed over his daughter’s face and Edgar felt a small tickle in the back of his neck.

“No, Daddy,” she said turning away. “We certainly wouldn’t want them to suffer.”

© 2011 Marlan Smith

The Tragic and Untimely Demise of Uncle Ilbert

Chuck Wendig at TerribleMinds gave us another challenge. This time with the picture below as our prompt. The picture is Chuck’s not mine.



The Tragic and Untimely Demise of Uncle Ilbert

Uncle Ilbert Notwithstanding was always my favorite of twelve uncles. An explorer, con-man, literary agent and hunter, Uncle Ilbert was somewhat of a black sheep in the Notwithstanding household, a title which took a considerable amount of effort on his part.

The majority of my uncles were scallywags to some degree, each of them doing his best to try and one-up the next. Uncle Ilbert was the oldest, and thus, the most ambitious to try and make a name for himself. He wanted to leave a mark on the world. I would say he succeeded.

When he announced that he would set out to discover the largest library ever known, none of us were surprised. Hyperbole was practically a genetic trait in in the Notwithstanding family. Being somewhat short of stature even by most standards, exaggerated stories were what we used to draw attention away from our shortcomings–a pun that often resulted in some form of disciplinary action when used by the youngest of my brothers and sisters.

The library was a great distance away and not exactly a place we normally even think about going. No one in their right mind would have made even a claim to visit such a dungeon, much less risk being caught by the monsters who dwell there.

Perhaps the whisperings of Uncle Ilbert’s insanity were more than just hearsay. I would like to think that they were only rumors and nothing more. To think that he would have risked (and lost) his life over a mental illness is just too much for me to bear. I rather like to believe that it was pure chutzpah that made him do what he did.

He had convinced his youngest brother Jacob to go with him on the expedition, something that my father never lets me forget. I understand that he and Jacob were close. The library was only accessible through a small opening on the rear wall, a tight squeeze for most, but the Notwithstandings are a resourceful folk.

“There ain’t never been a space too tight fer me to fit in, lad,” he told me once, pulling off my hat and mussing my hair. “The world’s a big scary place. Ye gotta use ever’thing in yer arsenal.”

The story I always tell my children about their Great Uncle Ilbert is one of heroism. If it is ever brought into question, a quick trip to view his hunting trophies is usually enough to silence them.

Once inside the library, he was confronted by a dog so large it nearly towered over him. It was like staring at the middle head of Cerberus, all snarling teeth and slobbering drool. The beast’s breath was foul and in the middle of the night, its howl echoed through the vast halls.

Uncle Ilbert had come prepared of course. Something as mundane as a watchdog was not going to deter a man who kept the heads of far worse creatures mounted on the walls of his study. His harpoon gun was made from found objects and fired with enough power to punish the beast, blinding it in one eye and sending it screaming across the floor to lick its wounds.

“And ya better stay outta ma sight,” he yelled after the animal.

Only once the danger had passed, were they able to completely appreciate the immense hall laid out before them. The pale moon shed dim light on the spines of a million books, all looming over them like sea cliffs  etched with bright words.

“We’ve got ta bring one back,” Ilbert said, panting in his elation. “Jus’ one ta prove this place exists.”

“I don’t think its existence has ever been in question,” said Jacob. “The fact we’ve been here should be–”

“What in the world is that?” Ilbert was always more of a doer than a talker.

He stepped away from the conversation, drawn by something on a table. A book, the huge spine visible over the ledge. A YOUNG PERSON’S GUIDE TO HORROR was written in gold.

The table itself was something used by giants. It towered above them, requiring Ilbert to outfit a rappelling line to his next harpoon. It speared the table with a heavy clunk. The climb took them longer than they had expected. It was the second to last mistake Uncle Ilbert would ever make.

The thing about gnomes, a little known fact to the Massives, is that we have a somewhat adverse reaction to sunlight. It paralyses us, causing our limbs to freeze and our lungs to halt. Direct sunlight is the worst, causing the joints to calcify and the heart to stop.

The giant clerk entered the library unexpectedly, alarmed by the shrieking terrier.

“Hide!” shouted Ilbert

“Where?” cried Jacob. Already the sky outside the window was beginning to lighten.

“Grab the book!”

“The book? There’s no time!”

“There’s always time!” he yelled, their voices nothing more than a mouse squeak to the owner, who swung a beam of light around the shop like a lighthouse.

So they each grabbed a book by its spine, two little men, clad in their finest expeditionary clothes. They gripped it as the owner looked for the intruders. They held on even as the sun rose, fixing their bones and melting their skin.

Today they are something of a legend in our family. Late at night–well before the sun rises, mind you–we will sometimes take the children out to the empty street and look in the giant window. We smile as they “Oooo!” and “Ahhh!” at the diminutive skeleton clinging to his treasure.

“There lies your Great Uncle Ilbert,” I say to them. “A man so much larger than life, he belongs with the giants.”

I’m sure he would have appreciated the sentiment.

(c) Marlan Smith 2011