First Monday Free Fiction: The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock

Welcome to the October edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.

The Revenant of Wrecker's Dock by Cora BuhlertBecause October is a spooky month, what would fit better than a spooky story? And so this month’s free story is The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock, the first story in the Hallowind Cove series about a permanently fog-shrouded seaside town, where strange things happen.

The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock was originally written for a shared world which fell through. About a year later, I pulled out the story again, removed all links to the shared world setting and published it. And because I liked the quaint seaside town Hallowind Cove, also known as the harbour of the weird, I eventually wrote four more stories set there.

The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock introduces Paul MacQuarie, a newcomer to Hallowind Cove who moves to the town, when he inherits the house of a distant uncle. Alas, things are never quite as simple as they seem in Hallowind Cove and so Paul has inherited not just a crumbling mansion, but also a family curse and a vengeful zombie – pardon revenant – who wants to kill him.

So accompany Paul, as he faces…

The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock

Paul pulled up the collar of his coat against the ever-present fog that enveloped the town of Hallowind Cove. His hair was damp, his skin clammy, every bone in his body ached and the cough he’d developed shortly after coming to Hallowind Cove was back, worse than ever.

One day, this town was gonna be the death of him.

He turned onto Wrecker’s Dock in Hallowind Cove harbour or what passed for it, cause these days, the docks were mostly deserted with only the occasional fishing boat moored at the quay.

The fog was even thicker here, rolling in from the sea in waves of white. Walking along the seafront probably wasn’t the best of ideas, considering that the fog was making him sick. But Paul did not care. He was headed for The Croaking Foghorn, a harbourside pub that offered beer and stronger drinks as well as some of the best and freshest seafood dishes Paul had ever seen.

A raven set perched on one of the tar-covered bollards along the quay, fixing Paul with unnerving eyes.

“Wa-atch out,” the raven croaked, “Wa-atch out!”

Or at least that’s what it sounded like. For of course birds couldn’t talk, even though this one gave a pretty good impression of it. Paul had seen the raven before, hanging around town and emitting croaks that sounded uncannily like words.

He’d once asked Ian, landlord of The Croaking Foghorn and the closest thing Paul had to a friend here in Hallowind Cove, about the raven.

“Oh, that’s just Hugo,” Ian had said, “Never mind him. He likes to pretend he’s a harbinger of doom, but he’s really quite harmless.”

“Wa-atch out,” Hugo croaked again, “Wa-atch out.”

“Shut up, Hugo,” Paul said good-naturedly, “I’m no longer a newbie. I won’t fall into the harbour basin.”

“Wa-arned you,” the raven croaked.

Paul shook his head. “I’m really going crazy,” he thought, “Hell, I’m talking to a bird.”

He held on steady towards the lights of The Croaking Foghorn, blurred by the dense fog. A dark figure stumbled towards him, emerging from the mist and gradually coalescing into a solid form. The figure was clad in a seaman’s oilskin jacket and sou’wester.

Probably a fisherman headed out to sea, Paul thought. He shouted a friendly greeting as he passed the stranger, but then his words caught in his throat, as he got a closer look at the dark figure.

For the dark figure’s oilskin jacket and sou’wester were encrusted with molluscs and draped with seaweed. Its skin had a pallid and faintly greenish cast, the sort of look that only the long dead should have. And where its eyes should be, there were only two black holes.

“Murrrderrr,” the figure moaned, its voice sounding as if it came straight from the bottom of the sea, “Deathhh. Deceit.”

The creature reached out for Paul and where its hand should be, there was only a hook, a rusty iron hook.

“The Mary Durban, lost with all hands on board,” the creature said and lurched towards Paul, hook raised. “Vengeance,” it moaned.

Paul screamed and ran along the dock, towards the lights of The Croaking Foghorn and the salvation they promised, the shambling, lurching figure hot in pursuit.

Panicked and panting, he reached the pub and crashed through the door, startling both Ian, the landlord, and Old Hank, a drunk who seemed to be a permanent fixture on the second barstool from the left.

“I… I…” Paul bent over, gasping for air. “I think I just saw a zombie.”

He turned the key in the lock and looked for something, anything, to bar the front door. Finally, he grabbed an old oar from the wall and placed it across the door. Only that it wouldn’t hold the door, not for long and certainly not without some nails for reinforcement.

Already, he could hear the zombie scratching on the door, looking for a way in.

“A hammer,” Paul blurted out, “I need a hammer. And nails.”

“Sit down and relax,” Ian said, entirely unperturbed. He drew a beer from the tap and put it down on the counter. “And would you kindly refrain from blocking the door. There’s few enough punters about in this weather as it is, so I really don’t need you locking out the few that might stumble in.”

“But there…” Paul was only gradually getting his breath back. “…there’s a zombie out there and it’s after me.”

Ian nodded. “So you said. And now sit down and drink your beer, before it gets warm.”

The beer stood on the counter, bubbling golden and foamy white, beckoning, inviting Paul to just take a sip and forget his panic. So he sat down and took a big gulp, savouring the bitter liquid running down his parched throat.

He could still hear the zombie outside, moaning and scratching at the door, but somehow it didn’t sound quite as bad as before. Or maybe that was just the beer talking.

Paul sat down the glass and narrowed his eyes at Ian. “You don’t seem overly surprised by this. I mean, I was just chased by a zombie, a freaking zombie.”

Ian shrugged. “This is Hallowind Cove. Weird crap happens here on a regular basis.”

“Even zombies?”

“Ah well, zombies are perhaps a bit weirder than usual.” He shrugged. “Still, this is Hallowind Cove.”

Paul turned to Old Hank who was currently nursing his third or fourth beer of the evening. “What about you, Hank? Have you ever seen zombies in Hallowind Cove before?”

“Sure,” Hank slurred, “Back in ’56, when that Haitian freighter came in, the entire crew were zombies. Glassy eyed, creepy, the living dead. Turned out the captain was an evil voodoo priest who’d enslaved them and…”

Paul cut him off. “No, not that kind of zombie.” Though Haitian voodoo zombies would be weird enough for any place that was not Hallowind Cove. “That other kind, the sort of hunts people and eats brains.”

“Oh, that kind.” Old Hank shook his head. “No, we ain’t never had that kind of zombie here.”

“Well, there is one now,” Paul insisted, “Waiting just outside the pub. And he threatened me, said something about murder, death and vengeance.”

It was still out there, too, moaning and wailing and trying to get in.

Ian narrowed his eyes. “And you’re sure you’re not just making it all up?” he asked, “After all, everybody knows that zombies don’t talk.”

“Well, this one did,” Paul said and took another gulp of beer, “He talked about murder and death and vengeance. Oh yes, and something else. Something about a… ship? Yes, I think it was a ship. The MaryMary something or other. Lost with all hands on board, at any rate.”

A shimmer of recognition lit up the barkeeper’s face and even Old Hank seemed to wake from his alcohol-induced stupor for a moment. “The Mary Durban?” Ian asked.

“Yes, that’s it. The Mary Durban. That’s exactly what the zombie said.” Paul shot Ian a sceptical glance. “Why? Ring any bells?”

“It does. It sure does,” Ian said, while Hank nodded sagely.

“So what is it?”

“You’d better have another drink…” Ian said and promptly drew a beer from the tap, “…cause it’s a long story.” Ian set the second beer down in front of Paul, though he hadn’t finished his first yet. “And by the way, that thing you saw wasn’t a zombie.”

“So you know what it was?”

Ian nodded. “It was the revenant,” he said, “Though I have no idea why it was bothering you.”

“Revenant, zombie, that’s all the same, isn’t it?”

Ian shook his head. “Oh no. Revenants are the dead risen from their graves to wreck revenge on the living…”

“Like I said, zombies.”

“…while zombies are the dead risen from their graves to eat the living and their brains.”

“So in short, ‘revenant’ is just a fancy word for ‘zombie’,” Paul concluded.

Ian rolled his eyes, while outside the zombie or revenant or whatever it was called was still scratching on the door with his horrible hook.

“So what’s the story of this zom… — err, revenant?” Paul wanted to know.

Ian lowered his voice to the kind of tone that suggested he was about to impart a great secret. “Do you know why this place is called Wrecker’s Dock?” he asked.

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Well, do you know?”

“Not really,” Paul admitted, “Though I suspect it’s got something to do with shipwrecks off the coast. Or maybe that old ship scrap yard down the road…”

“And that’s where you’re wrong,” Ian said, “Cause Wrecker’s Dock is named for…” He lowered his voice even further. “…the wreckers.”

“You mean people who demolish ships?” Paul said, “I saw a documentary about that once. People in India breaking up decommissioned ships. Horrible working conditions, exploitation, child labour and all that.”

“Well, what used to go on here in Hallowind Cove was a bit like what’s happening in India right now, though without the child labour and bad working conditions. What is more, the people here didn’t always wait until the ships were decommissioned. Instead, they made their own wrecks.”

Paul had no idea what Ian was talking about, so he raised his glass — still his first glass — instead and took another gulp of beer.

Nonetheless, Ian must have sensed his confusion, because he continued, “Well, here’s a bit of history for you, my friend. You know what makes Hallowind Cove famous, do you?”

“Uhm, the fog,” Paul said.

“Exactly, the fog. And what does fog at sea mean?”

“Low visibility, difficult navigation, danger,” Paul rattled off.

“And wrecks, my friend. Lots of shipwrecks. Especially since we’re not just cursed with over three hundred days of fog a year, but also with dangerous cliffs, shoals and treacherous currents. So over time, a lot of ships got wrecked on this coast. And do you know what happens to the cargo, when a ship is wrecked?”

Paul shrugged. “I’m not sure. It’s… recovered?”

“Salvaged is the word you’re looking for, my friend. And do you know to whom the cargo that’s salvaged belongs?”

“No idea. Does it matter?”

“It belongs to whoever salvages it. And with so many shipwrecks happening off the coast, the good people of Hallowind Cove were making a good living of the salvaged cargo. So good that some of them decided to create some wrecks of their own to salvage.”

Old Hank nodded emphatically. “Aye, they did,” he announced and raised his glass, while Paul took another gulp of his own.

“So on particularly misty nights…” Ian continued, “…the good people of Hallowind Cove shut down the lighthouse at Foghorn Point and set false lights on the cliff tops instead. And those false lights lured unsuspecting ships to their doom, until they stranded on the shoals or crashed against the cliffside…”

Ian executed a dramatic pause, complete with a theatrical shudder.

“Once a ship had run aground on the shoals or been smashed against the cliffs, the false lights were extinguished and the wreckers took over…”

“Aye, the did,” Hank declared and raised his glass.

“They snatched the cargo and whatever other valuables were to be found on board. And if there were any survivors left on the wrecked ship…”

Old Hank made a throat-slitting gesture, while the revenant emitted a matching wail outside.

“…they killed them, so they couldn’t dispute the wreckers’ claim to the salvaged cargo.”

“Aye, they did.”

Outside, the revenant’s wailing increased in pitch and volume.

“And because the good people of Hallowind Cove only went wrecking once in a while, it took the authorities some time to catch on. Wrecks happen and this coast is treacherous, after all, with the fog and the cliffs and the shoals…” Ian shrugged. “Once in a while, someone did catch on to what the good people of Hallowind Cove were doing and they captured, tried and hanged a few wreckers down on Gallows Square…”

Old Hank made a wrung neck gesture, complete with grisly sound effect. Outside, the revenant screeched.

“Then the wrecking stopped for a few years, but it always started up again. Until the ships became ever bigger and began to pass by our harbour and our coast.”

Hank and Ian both looked at Paul expectantly, awaiting a reaction. Even the monster outside the pub had fallen silent.

“Well, that’s a really cool horror story and all that,” Paul finally said, “But what’s all that got to do with the zombie — pardon, revenant — I just saw outside? The one that’s been scratching on the door these past couple of minutes”

“One of the ships the wreckers tricked with false lights…” Ian intoned, “…was a freighter called the Mary Durban. She ran aground on the shoals on a foggy November night in the year of the Lord 1873…”

“Aye, she did,” Hank confirmed and took another gulp of beer.

“The Mary Durban was carrying a cargo of brand new gold bars. Someone had tipped off the wreckers and so they were after the gold…”

“Aye, they were.”

“That night, a horrible storm raged along the coast and so the Mary Durban was already in trouble, her sails tattered and her mast broken, by the time she reached Hallowind Cove. When her crew spotted the beacon at Foghorn Point, the light must have seemed like salvation. But they were betrayed…”

“Aye, betrayed.”

“Because the Mary Durban was already damaged and battered by the storm, she broke apart as soon as she ran aground. Most of the crew were already drowned by the time the wreckers got there. But the captain was still alive, clinging to the planks of his shattered ship by sheer willpower. When he saw the wreckers approach, he thought he was saved. But then they murdered him…”

“Slit his throat, aye, they did,” Old Hank announced with the respective gesture.

“Actually, the way I know the story, they clubbed him to death,” Ian snapped.

“Does it matter?” Paul wanted to know, “Dead is dead, after all.”

He realised that his throat had gone dry and took a gulp of beer from the second glass Ian had handed him.

“So this zombie — err, revenant — is…?”

“Exactly, the captain of the wrecked Mary Durban,” Ian replied, “They say that in his very last moments on Earth, he vowed revenge on those who had wronged him, who had lured the Mary Durban to her doom and slain him and his crew…”

“Aye, he did.”

“And so on those nights when the fog was at its densest, the revenant rose from his watery grave to terrorise those responsible for the wrecking of the Mary Durban. Over the next few years, several of the former wreckers, now wealthy citizens of Hallowind Cove due to the salvaged gold bars, died under mysterious circumstances. They tumbled into the harbour basin and drowned, even though they’d lived here in Hallowind Cove all their lives. Or they dropped dead in the street right here at Wrecker’s Dock. Their hearts just stopped after they’d been chased down the dock by a nameless horror…”

“Aye, so it was.”

Outside, the revenant emitted a howl of agreement.

“Eventually, all of the original wreckers had died or fled Hallowind Cove in terror. But the revenant, he did not vanish, for his work was not yet done. Instead, he began to terrorise the descendants of the wreckers and then their descendants. Since the revenant only ever attacks people on Wrecker’s Dock and since he only strikes on nights when the fog is particularly dense, he’s easy enough to avoid…”

“Aye, he is.”

“Though the revenant does play hell with my business, because on extremely foggy nights few folks dare come to The Croaking Foghorn.” Ian shrugged. “Lots of people here in Hallowind Cove are descended from the wreckers.”

“But not you and Hank?”

Ian shook his head. “My great-great-grandpa was the sheriff of Hallowind Cove back in the day, so the wreckers kept him out of their schemes. And Hank’s family were carnie folks who got stranded here in the Thirties.”

“Well then, if this z… revenant only targets the descendants of those who murdered him, then why the hell is he bothering me? I’m not from Hallowind Cove, In fact, I’ve never been here before in my life.”

Ian frowned and stroked his beard. “That’s the big question.”

Hank nodded affirmatively. “Aye, it is.”

Outside, the revenant had started scratching and banging on the door again.

“Shut up and get lost,” Ian yelled at the locked and barred door, “You’ve got the wrong guy.”

Paul suddenly experienced an almost absurd sense of relief. “So you can hear him, too?”

Ian shrugged. “Sure I can. But in my experience, he tends to go away, when he’s ignored.”

“Aye, he does,” Hank declared.

Ian reached out across the bar and patted Paul on the shoulder. “And don’t worry yourself, he can’t get in here. Something in the rules of revenantism forbids him to enter any houses. All he can do is stalk the dock.”

“Well, that’s very comforting,” Paul said, taking a gulp of beer.

Ian narrowed his eyes. “Say, why did you come to Hallowind Cove again?” he wanted to know, “Some kind of inheritance issue, wasn’t it?”

Paul nodded. “A distant uncle I’d never even heard of suddenly decides to leave his house to me, for reasons best known to himself.”

“May he rest in peace,” Hank said sombrely and raised his glass in memory of a man he likely hadn’t known any better than Paul himself had.

“And that house, where would it be?” Ian asked.

“On — what’s it called again? — Gloomland Street. A ramshackle Victorian dump.”

“Gloomland Street, hmm.” Ian scratched his chin and gave Paul a speculative look. “Is that perchance Old Jim Bob’s place?”

Paul’s face lit up. “Yes, James Robert MacQuarie. That was my uncle’s name.”

“Well, that explains things then,” Ian said, while Hank nodded sagely.

“Aye, it does.”

“The fact that my uncle left me a house on Gloomland Street explains why I was attacked by a zombie?”

“It certainly does, if you know that old Jim Bob MacQuarie was a direct descendant of Jedediah MacQuarie, leader of the wreckers on the night the Mary Durban sank.”

“And besides, it’s no zombie, it’s a revenant,” Old Hank piped in.

“So this zom — errr, revenant — is bothering me, because some distant ancestor of mine was involved in killing him?”

Ian beamed at him. “Now you got it, lad.”

Paul wasn’t nearly so sanguine about the revelation. After all, here was a zombie or revenant or whatever the hell that thing was and it wanted to kill Paul because of something that the ancestor of a distant uncle he’d never even heard of may or may not have done more the a hundred years ago.

“Well, what am I supposed to do about it?”

“Don’t go down to the docks on nights when the fog is particularly dense,” Ian said with a shrug, “Of course, this also means that we’ll have to miss your esteemed company here at The Croaking Foghorn, but then we’re missing half the bloody town here on foggy nights, cause the revenant scares them away…”

“Aye, we do,” Hank announced.

“And you’ve been no fun tonight either,” Ian said, “Barely touched your second beer and didn’t even glance at the lovely fresh mussels I’ve got on the menu tonight.”

“Well, you can hardly expect me to eat mussels, when there’s a zom… — revenant — outside trying to kill me,” Paul replied testily.

Ian just shrugged. “What else are you gonna do? Especially since you can’t go home either.”

“Oh God!” Paul pressed a hand to his forehead. “I hadn’t even thought of that.”

“Lucky for you that I did,” Ian said, “Cause the revenant knows no mercy. And ‘I’m new in town and don’t know nothing’ ain’t an excuse he accepts.”

“Nay, he doesn’t,” Hank piped in.

Now Paul did take a gulp of his second beer, though it did little to calm his agitated nerves.

“So what do I do now?”

In response, Ian picked up a glass and wiped it with a dishcloth, though to Paul’s eyes it didn’t look like it needed cleaning.

“Simple. First of all, you stay here for the night, cause the revenant’s power fades once the day breaks. I’ve got a spare guestroom and we’ll find a toothbrush for you somewhere…”

Paul let out a sigh of relief. “Thanks, Ian. You’re a true lifesaver.”

“You won’t say so when you see the bill.”

“Given there’s a bloodthirsty zombie after me, I can’t afford to be miserly.”

“Are you sure you don’t want any mussels? I mean, since you’re stuck here and everything…”

Paul sighed and took a draft of beer. “Okay. Might as well eat, since it seems I’ll be spending the night here anyway.”

With a zombie just outside the door, howling for Paul’s blood, oh joy of joys!

“Anyway…” Ian put down the glass he’d been wiping and promptly picked up another. “…that’s just the short-term solution to your immediate problem.”

“Aye, it is,” Hank said and took a gulp of what had to be his umpteenth beer

“Medium term…” Ian continued, “…you keep the hell away from the docks after dark on nights when the fog is particularly dense. Of course, that also means I’ll be missing my favourite customer, but that’s life in Hallowind Cove for you.”

“And long term?” Paul wanted to know.

“Long term…” Ian put down the glass and picked up the next. “…you sell that house on Gloomland Street and get the hell out of Hallowind Cove.”

“Aye, get the hell out,” Hank echoed.

“Sell the house”, Paul said and downed the rest of his beer, “Sure, that would be nice. Now I just need someone stupid enough to buy it.”

“Oh, someone will buy it,” Ian said, brimming with confidence, “A nice young couple. He’s an investment banker or a lawyer, she works in advertising or the media. They’ve got more money than they know what to do with and now they’re tired of city life and want to enjoy the peace and calm of the seaside.”

“Peace and calm?” Paul emitted a bitter laugh. “In Hallowind Cove?”

Ian leant across the bar, until he was eye to eye with Paul. “But our young couple doesn’t know that, do they? And by the time they find out, it’s too late.”

“Aye, it will be,” Hank said forebodingly.

“So this has happened before?”

“Aye, many times.”

Ian nodded in agreement. “You may have noticed that Hallowind Cove can be quite charming when the sun is shining and the fog recedes…”

“Which happens how often? Two weeks a year?”

“That’s beside the point,” Ian said, “It happens.”

Hank nodded emphatically. “Aye, it does.”

“And when the weather’s nice, that’s when the tourists and the daytrippers come. And some of ‘em, god bless them, inevitably fall in love with the town and buy up all the empty real estate.”

“So they do,” Hank added.

“And once they figure out what’s really going on?” Paul wanted to know.

“Most of them last two months, maybe three, then they flee back to wherever they came from,” Ian said, “But that’s not your problem, cause you’ll be long gone by then. With a hefty cheque in your pocket.”

He eyed Paul’s empty glass. “Another drink?”

Paul glanced at his watch and sighed. It was going to be a long night. “Might as well.”

“Same as before?”

Paul shook his head. “I think I need something stronger.”

“Aye, you do,” Hank agreed.

“What you need…” Ian said, “…is a good hot mug of grog.”

“Grog? The cliché pirates’ drink?”

“Nope, grog, the traditional sailors’ drink. Best thing to keep you warm on a cold and foggy night.” Ian poured some water into an electric kettle and pressed the “on” button.

“Aye, it’ll keep you warm and keep the revenant away,” Hank echoed.

As if on cue, the revenant hammered his hook into the wooden door and wailed something about death and deceit and murder and vengeance.

Paul shot Hank a sideways look. “I thought the revenant couldn’t enter this establishment.”

“Nay, he can’t,” Hank said.

“But a good hot grog will make you forget he’s even out there,” Ian added. As if to prove his point, he poured a generous helping of rum into a hula girl tiki mug and added a lump of rock sugar and a dash of lime juice.

“Actually, that’s something I’d rather not forget,” Paul said, “After all, I don’t want to end up like the revenant’s other victims.”

“Oh, don’t worry yourself,” Ian said briskly, “After all, the good people of Hallowind Cove have managed to avoid the revenant just fine these past one hundred and forty years.”

“Somehow that doesn’t fill me with confidence,” Paul said.

“You’re not being fair,” Ian began.

At just this moment, the kettle buzzed. Ian filled up the hula girl mug with hot water and handed it to Paul. He poured himself a shot of rum without the extras and raised his glass.

“To Hallowind Cove, the best little town to live in.”

“Aye,” Hank added, raising his own glass.

Paul raised his drink as well, enjoying the heat of the grog as it radiated through the walls of the hula girl mug.

“To Hallowind Cove, harbour of the weird.”

The End

***

That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new story will be posted.

Check back next month, when there will be a new story available.

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for September 2019

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some August books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have epic fantasy, urban fantasy, military fantasy, dark fantasy, Arthurian fantasy, Asian fantasy, Wuxia, paranormal mystery, space opera, military science fiction, time travel romance, Steampunk, LitRPG, horror, ghosts, fae, pirates, space marines, conscientious objectors, traffickers, trailblazers, time travel, crime-busting witches, crime-busting werewolves, literary characters come to life, Arthur and Merlin, defiant empires and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog run by Jessica Rydill and myself, which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Courting Darkness by L.R. BradenCourting Darkness by L.R. Braden:

Deeper into the shadows. . .

The paranatural community isn’t done with Alex. She’s been summoned to the fae court, and she’s got her hands full trying to prepare. But her date with the fae will have to wait. There’s been a death at the gallery, and the man she hoped would be a part of her future is the prime suspect.

Bitter enemies pull her into the middle of a paranatural war for territory that has her dodging police, swords, teeth, and claws—not to mention the truth. The deeper she digs, the more secrets she uncovers, and the less certain she is about the innocence of the one man she wanted to trust.

She thought she was done with murder and monsters, but she’ll have to enter the belly of the beast if she hopes to save her friend.

Conscientious Objector by Jonathan P. BrazeeConscientious Objector by Jonathan P. Brazee:

Capernica is invaded.

Locals are conscripted into the militia.

How can a conscientious objector carry a rifle and still uphold his convictions?

Capernica has welcomed the Taymon family, refugees who follow the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. First and foremost is that Assisians will not take another life.

When the planet is invaded, Harris Taymon is conscripted into the planetary militia against his will. He knows he owes a deep sense of loyalty to the planet, but can he bear arms against the enemy with intent to kill?

And if he doesn’t, can he survive his own side where desertion and cowardice are punished by execution?

Download this novella and read how he deals with this internal conflict.

How to Hex a Halo by Elena BryceHow to Hex a Halo by Elena Bryce:

Being a witch can make friendships rather fraught!

One best friend attacked by a werewolf and now howling at the moon, while the other has joined a cult and thinks she’s an angel.

Except she actually might be…

When Verity suddenly gets powers and starts targeting paranormals, I know it’s only a matter of time before she figures out that I’m more supernatural than super normal.

I need to stop her before she hurts anyone else. Or worse, before something retaliates. Divine intervention I’m not, and my help is more hex than heavenly, but sometimes a witch has got to wade in before things get hotter than spell.

Gate Quest by Lindsay BurokerGate Quest by Lindsay Buroker:

Roboticist extraordinaire Casmir Dabrowski has a new nemesis: astroshaman leader Kyla Moonrazor.

She’s stolen the ancient wormhole gate the king ordered Casmir to retrieve, and she’s entrenched in an underwater base on a forsaken moon. Moonrazor is more educated and more experienced than Casmir, and she has legions of killer robots and cyborg defenders on her side. Casmir has his friends and… a submarine named the Waddler.

As if his task wasn’t daunting enough, his old competitor, mercenary Captain Tenebris Rache, is on the same quest, and he’ll do anything to keep the Kingdom from getting that gate.

If Casmir can’t find a way to defeat them, the king will never let him return to his home, his family, and the career he loves.

Between the Teeth by Jeff C. CarterBetween the Teeth by Jeff C. Carter:

Between the Teeth collects 16 tales of horror and science fiction from author Jeff C. Carter that will sink their fangs into you and won’t let go.

– A serial killer ends up in an emergency room, but a heart attack may be the least of his problems.

– A researcher hunts a rare spider in the jungles of Myanmar.

– A greedy dentist gets the most interesting client of his life.

Witness soldiers trapped in a crocodile infested swamp, a preacher hunting demon outlaws, and karma catching up to a Bangkok body snatcher. Whatever flavor of the macabre you crave, you will find it Between the Teeth. Buy it now!

Engines of Empire by Max CarverEngines of Empire by Max Carver:

In the future, humanity has colonized hundreds of star systems. The upstart colony Carthage has conquered most of the human-settled worlds–including Earth itself–with fleets of autonomous, AI-driven warships and armies of robotic infantry. Freedom from their empire is found only in rough outer worlds on the distant fringes of settled space.

On Galapagos, a free world, newly elected Minister-General Reginald Ellison had hoped he’d seen the end of war. He spent his youth fighting in battles across his planet’s vast oceans and small islands, and his later years working to build a coalition of peace among the world’s fragmented nations. Now the arrival of an unnerving android ambassador from the distant imperial planet of Carthage threatens his world’s hopes for a free and peaceful future.

On Earth, the machines patrol the post-apocalyptic ruins of bombed-out megacities, left over from Earth’s war with Carthage. In the fallen megalopolis of Chicago, a young scavenger makes a discovery that could empower Earthlings to finally fight back, but could also endanger everyone he loves.

On Carthage, the rulers of humanity enjoy extreme wealth and luxury, while machines carry out all forms of labor and provide for their every whim. Audrey Caracala, daughter of Carthage’s top political leader, has led a protected existence, groomed to help her family rule the known galaxy. Now her family’s enemies hunt her as she searches for her missing brother in the dangerous, unfamiliar territory of the Carthaginian underworld, where she begins to face hard truths about the machines and about her own family’s legacy.

Three people, on three very different worlds, must confront alternate faces of the ever-evolving machines, which spin their own designs beyond the vision of their human masters, forging a new kind of empire that will be ruled by no man.

Amythea: Rise of Wingtar by Aaron CoatesAmythea: Rise of Wingtar by Aaron Coates:

Once in every thousand years, a hero is born who is destined to save the world.

The inhabitants of Almytheans, are forced to act as slaves, mining rare refractive crystals for the malevolent Lost One. The Almytheans are comprised of both humanoid and non-humanoid species, many having been brought to Almythea by the Lost One’s reptilian, thug-like armies of Latchers. They live simple, oppressed lives as most have had their memories wiped before commencing their enslaved existence. However, they still possess an abiding belief that their prophesized savior, known as The Astra, will one day rescue them.

Banished from the community for a crime he did not commit, as Little Hawk approaches his twenty-first birthday a mysterious shaman warrior, Grey Paw, rescues him from depression, self-doubt and the deadly addictive bittercups in the Badlands before preparing him for a secret tournament. The winner will be named The Astra and sent on a quest to find the fabled Arrow of Truth, the only weapon capable of ending the Lost One’s rule. All Almytheans expect the self-serving and duplicitous Gyeder to be named The Astra. This honor and responsibility includes the hand of a headstrong, capable young woman (and last of the pure blood Accipitridae race) named Broken Arrows, the woman Little Hawk has secretly loved.

It’s a race against time. Little Hawk feels the weight of his destiny to destroy the Lost One, his reptilian Latcher army and his curiously beautiful yet sinister lieutenant Raven Weaver, before they destroy him. With the help of Grey Paw, his best friend, the wise-cracking Laughing Eyes, and a curious pixie-like, mess-up creature called a fleaf, Little Hawk must not only save Almythea but also rescue Broken Arrows from a terrible fate.

Raven's Moon by J.B. DaneRaven’s Moon by J.B. Dane:

Otherworld evil is loose in the real world. Bram Farrell, Private Investigator, must track it down and destroy it before it destroys him.

Bram Farrell has starred in twenty bestselling novels by writer—and witch—Calista Amberson. Her fans love the tall, dark, and handsome PI who vanquishes supernatural bad guys using his magical powers. So, when Calista uses her magic to pull Bram from his fictional world into real-world, modern-day Detroit, she rocks both worlds.

Every supernatural being on Earth felt his arrival in this dimension. They don’t trust Calie’s intentions and Bram doesn’t either. When the supernatural community hands him the job of discovering who killed the beings in the real world that match those he killed in each volume of The Raven Tales, he takes on the task. It’s a job he’s done in twenty books—he’s up to the familiar challenge.

Bram’s investigation turns up a lot of suspicious characters grouchy bar-owning trolls, a thirsty vampire godfather, a couple of murderous x-cage fighters, a suspicious minister¬¬—and the Devil himself. Things are getting dicey: Bram could use some help with this job—but whom can he trust?

Fans of Jim Butcher will fall hard for Bram and Raven’s Moon.

J.B. Dane is a recovering romance writer with over two dozen titles under her belt. So when “Bram Farrell” walked into her office, she hired him on the spot. Together they kick Otherworlders’, er, nether regions, and write the second book in the Raven Tales series.

Trailblazer by Zen DiPietroTrailblazer by Zen DiPietro:

Equip new adventurers. Send them out to find their way in Everternia. Sally’s purpose had always been clear.

Newly awakened from that repetitive existence, she now sees her world from a new perspective. Life has become a puzzle, and there’s nothing she loves more than a good puzzle.

The two people responsible for her awakening are as fascinated by Sally as she is with Everternia. She’s not sure why that is, but she’s giving the pair the benefit of the doubt, for now. Their foreign ways can be confounding, but with time, she’ll figure out what makes them tick.

She has so much to learn about Everternia and about herself that she barely knows where to start. She wants to do it all, immediately, with great enthusiasm, and maybe even while wearing a pair of really nice pants. Her new curiosity and sense of adventure are growing by the minute, like cogs fitting together to transmit torque.

With nothing but her bravery, two natural-born adventurers, and her unusual skills as a streetmonger, her future is anything but certain.

That’s okay. She’s ready to leave behind her old life and certainty to out what she’s made of. She’s got her goggles, so she’ll be looking at what everything else is made of, too.

She’ll be a brand-new type of adventurer, like nothing Everternia has ever seen.

Troubled Waters by Rachel FordTroubled Waters by Rachel Ford:

No good deed goes unpunished.

Kay Ellis is looking forward to returning from a six-month supply run. She’s looking forward to being back in the safety of Union space. And she’s looking forward to her wedding with Captain Magdalene Landon.

But when the Black Flag receives a distress signal from a scuttled alien transport, their return is temporarily postponed. The mission of mercy enters troubled waters as a mysterious pursuer appears.

The longer the new guests stay onboard, the more Kay begins to question their hard luck story. And the more she wonders if the Black Flag will survive to see Union space again.

Mila's Shift by Danielle ForrestMila’s Shift by Danielle Forrest:

Nothing’s as Deadly as a Secret…

Mila has suffered frigid winters, starvation, and soul-crushing loneliness, but she’s safe and free. The government would have stolen that from her if she’d stayed, all for an accident of birth.

Then after ten years on the run, an old friend calls. Now, her friend is dead, and she’s taken her place as pilot of a decrepit space ship. But the ones who murdered her friend think she’s still alive, and now they’re gunning for Mila.

She escapes each attack by the skin of her teeth, her life and secrets on the line. But with a Captain increasingly suspicious, security dogging her every move, and a shape-shifting assassin lurking somewhere on board, will she survive long enough to discover why someone killed her friend?

Gripping and action-packed, Mila’s Shift is a story of loyalty and friendship that crosses all boundaries, including the law, to uphold what’s right.

Ghostly Fears by Lily Harper HartGhostly Fears by Lily Harper Hart:

Ten years ago, Harper Harlow lost a classmate. Jennifer Jessup was sweet, nice, and seemingly aimless in life. She came from a good family, lived on an island, and was spoiled with every material gift that could possibly be bestowed upon her.She was still unhappy.Now, a decade later, her father Byron Jessup has approached Harper with a business opportunity. He wants her – and the rest of her operation, of course – to spend a long weekend on his island. Other psychics and ghost hunters will be there, as will his family. The goal? To find out what happened to Jennifer.Harper feels weighed down with guilt, enough so that she can’t see straight. She feels bad about not reaching out to Jennifer when she was still alive and even worse about not looking for her once she went missing.Harper is out of her element. The other psychics are driving her crazy … and making her nervous. She can’t even decide if she believes Jennifer is missing or dead. When another woman on the island disappears, Harper is left with nothing but endless questions.She’s determined to find the answers, even if she has to delve into the past to do it. Someone doesn’t want her getting those answers, however, and it’s going to be a fight to the death to see who comes out the other side.

Three Days by Travis HillThree Days by Travis Hill:

His future will be her past, three days at a time…

Once every nine years, Chase Matthews and Patricia Wellesley find themselves compelled to step out of their normal lives and into each other’s for three days of passion, desire, and curiosity at the strange phenomenon that binds them together. Outside of those three days, each has a normal life: a career, a family, love, loss, trials and triumphs, yet the universe seems determined to conceal them from one another.

Neither understands what is happening, only that as one of them moves forward through time, growing nine years older, the other moves backward, somehow becoming nine years younger, forcing them to question the potential pitfalls of revealing each other’s futures–futures that might not be set in stone, but could potentially cause the collapse of reality itself if the unknown rules they are bound by are broken.

Rare Birds by L.S. JohnsonRare Birds by L.S. Johnson:

From 2017 World Fantasy Award finalist L.S. Johnson, the eight short stories in this collection look at the ties that bind and the transformations they provoke. Whether bound by love, blood, or violent circumstance, the characters in these tales are fundamentally altered by those closest to them … and not always for the better.

Two mothers become entwined in revenge against a violent man, with unexpected consequences. A roving gang of sirens finds themselves challenged from without and within. In a last, desperate act of love, a young surgeon goes under the knife. And in a distant territory, a mother and daughter struggle to survive—but the aid they summon is far more dangerous.

At turns brutal and tender, subtle and shocking, these stories blend realism, fantasy, and horror to create an unsettling—and unforgettable—experience.

The School for Humans by Vanessa KittleThe School for Humans by Vanessa Kittle:

Our epic journey begins in Bronze Age Ireland.

Ellene is a servant to one of the great Calean leaders.
The Caleans are opening a school for the young from Ellene’s village, but not all of the Caleans want to teach the humans.
Some have much darker plans, and the school may be the last chance for peace between the two peoples.

 

 

No Crones About It by Amanda M. LeeNo Crones About It by Amanda M. Lee:

Scout Randall is settling in with the northern Lower Michigan branch of Spell’s Angels. She’s feeling bold, brash … and just a little bit flirty thanks to her burgeoning relationship with Gunner Stratton, a shifter whose father happens to serve as the chief of police in Hawthorne Hollow.

Things are going well … until they’re not.

A group of shifters who used to live in the area have returned and they’re up to something. Right from the start, Scout is suspicious but she can’t quite explain why. Then, when a local homeless man is found dead – with Scout’s name literally carved into him – she starts to believe that she’s being set up to take a fall.

Gunner is determined to help. His history with the shifters in question makes things difficult, though. On top of everything else, it becomes apparent that the dead guy’s ties to Scout run deep … like genetically deep. He’s related to her, and for a woman who was abandoned as a child, it’s a hard blow to absorb.

Gunner is determined to stick close as the warring wolves close ranks and start issuing threats. It’s going to take everybody working together to find the answers Scout desperately needs, including uncovering the secret of her past. When one of their own is taken, Scout has no choice but to put her full cache of magic on display.

It’s going to be a fight to the finish, rival gangs going at one another, and only one side will be victorious.

Which one will it be?

Street Cultivation by Sarah LinStreet Cultivation by Sarah Lin:

In the modern world, qi is money.

The days of traveling martial artists and mountaintop masters are over. Power is controlled by corporations, modernized martial arts sects, and governments. Those at the bottom of society struggle as second class citizens in a world in which power is a commodity.

Rick is a young fighter in this world. He doesn’t dream of immortality or becoming the strongest, just of building a better life for himself and his sister, who suffers from a spiritual illness. Unfortunately, life isn’t that easy…

The Pale White by Chad LutzkeThe Pale White by Chad Lutzke:

After being held against their will in a house used for trafficking, three girls plan their escape.

Alex: A hardened goth-punk who’s convinced she’s a vampire with a penchant for blood.
Stacia: A seventeen-year-old raised by an alcoholic mother, her fellow captives the only family she’s ever truly had.
Kammie: The youngest of the three—a mute who finds solace in a houseplant.

But does life outside the house offer the freedom they’d envisioned? Or is it too late, the scars too deep?

A coming-of-age tale of revenge and survival that explores a friendship and the desperate measures taken to ensure they stay united, held together by the scars that bind them.

This contemporary Suspense Thriller / Horror novella with an all-female cast is the perfect read for fans of Robert R. McCammon, Stephen King, and Jack Ketchum.

Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.

Shields in Shadow by Andy PeloquinShields in Shadow by Andy Peloquin:

Burdened with legend. Hardened by battle scars. Hellbent on bloody revenge.

As the son of a famous general, Aravon is proud to captain his own company against his people’s enemy. But the experienced veteran’s march toward glory dissolves into pain as ruthless barbarians massacre every last one of his soldiers. Burning for vengeance, he leaps at the chance to spearhead a specially-trained company and pay back his tragic defeat with blood.

Desperate to not repeat his tragic past, Aravon trains his new warriors relentlessly. But the captain fears that all the tactical drills in the world may not matter when they’re forced to defend a helpless village against overwhelming odds. As his quick raids sow chaos amongst the enemy, the bloodthirsty savages threaten to make Aravon’s nightmarish history repeat itself…

Can the captain take command of his fighting spirit before the kingdom falls to barbarous invaders?

Shields in Shadow is the first book in the action-packed Silent Champions military fantasy series. If you like square-jawed heroes, well-oiled military action, and epic world-building, then you’ll love Andy Peloquin’s gripping novel.

Choices of Honor by Joyce Reynolds-WardChoices of Honor by Joyce Reynolds-Ward:

SOMETIMES VENGEANCE BECOMES MORE COMPLICATED THAN EXPECTED.

Avenging the death of co-Leader Inharise of the Two Nations appears straightforward at first for Katerin Leader and Rekaré Kinslayer. The curse that killed her points directly to the Witches Council of Waykemin. Therefore, they’re responsible. But as Katerin and Rekaré lead a small avenging force to Waykemin’s capital city of Formis, they discover that things are not quite as they seem.

At the same time, Waykemin’s overseas ally, Chatain, Emperor of Daran, sends an invading force that Katerin’s daughter Witmara must counter. But is Chatain’s sortie a distraction from the attack on Waykemin, or does it serve a deeper purpose? Katerin must choose between her daughter and the challenge that Waykemin presents—and hope she made the right choice.

Sword in the Throne by Helen SavoreSword in the Throne by Helen Savore:

Merlin knew Arthur would return, but at what cost?

Jamie, a med school drop out, discovers his hallucinations are fae spirits stealing life. His childhood friend has spent her life in a quest to summon the Phoenix in order to banish the fae. He joins her, but along the way accidentally unlocks a traitor’s healing ability, who in turn uses it as a sign to prove he is King Arthur returned.

In order to oppose this false Arthur, and still hunting the Phoenix, they ally with a sect of Faerie Smiths. Amid navigating an unfamiliar world of new creatures and capabilities Jamie must learn to craft his own healing magic into a weapon. But can they stop the impostor Arthur’s crusade when the one thing they need most to stop the fae is the most sure sign of Arthur’s return itself… to draw the Sword from the Throne.

Sundered Soul by Rick ScottSundered Soul by Rick Scott:

Not all fates are created equal…

Kenji’s only dream in life is to become a great rebirther like his father. But with no talent for the mystic arts, the age-old tradition of cultivating essence by returning things to their newborn state, to grow a second and third time, is far beyond his grasp.

Worse still, he is yet to be rebirthed himself and stands a dullard of a giant among his diminutive peers. Relegated to working the orchards as a common laborer, Kenji settles into a life of lowered expectations; with no chance for advancement and no chance of pursuing the woman he loves.

But when a mystic warrior from a distant land enters his village, pursued by a powerful demon, Kenji discovers a truth about himself that will not only question who he is, but perhaps everything he can become.

With a chance to make his dreams come true, Kenji must choose between following the fate laid out before him…or defying the heavens to forge his own path.

Doing so will mean finding a way to cultivate and fighting powerful enemies to protect the ones he loves, but failure could mean the very fall of the heavens themselves.

Join Kenji as he uncovers the fate of the Sundered Soul…

Imperium Defiant by Glynn StewartImperium Defiant by Glynn Stewart:

The enemy promises conflict and annihilation
Their allies threaten betrayal and devastation
A daughter of Earth raises the call of defiance
And the Imperium has never knelt!

When the Taljzi’s genocidal invasion brought promises of aid from the oldest and greatest of the Core Powers, humanity and the Imperium looked to the Mesharom for salvation. But that salvation turns to ash as the Mesharom demand the surrender of the very weapons that saved the Imperium.

Defiance leaves the Imperium facing the Taljzi without the aide of the galaxy’s wisest race, but with their old enemies the Kanzi at their side, they have no choice but to end this war at any cost.

But Mesharom and Taljzi alike have scattered fire and death across the stars. The Imperial forces under Fleet Lord Harriet Tanaka will need every scrap of firepower and cleverness not only to defeat their enemies…but to find them in the first place.

Betrayal by James David VictorBetrayal by James David Victor:

Just when you thought you could trust your enemies.

Jack and Sam have again found themselves with their backs against the wall with enemies on every side. With the alliance with the Devex crumbles, they find themselves alone and unsure of who to trust. And that’s before an enemy from within returns to exact her revenge on Jack. Can Jack escape from the belly of the beast that seeks to destroy all of humanity or will he be the next in a long line of vanquished humans?

Betrayal is the fifth book in the Jack Forge, Lost Marine series. If you like fast-paced military science fiction, you will love watching Jack fight for the freedom of all.

100 Word Horror Book 3, edited by Brandy Yassa100 Word Horrors Book 3: An Anthology of Horror Drabbles, edited by Brandy Yassa:

Book 3 of the 100 Word Horrors Series

Over 100 drabbles by some of the finest horror authors writing today.

Edited by Brandy Yassa

T.O.C.
Andrew Lennon – Enter Night
P. Mattern – The Fungus Among Us
RJ Meldrum – Invasion
RJ Meldrum – One Night Stand
C.A. Verstraete – A Mother’s Love
Valerie Lioudis – Too Many
Steve Stred – Click
Steve Stred – Cursed
D.E. McCluskey – Work
Mark Matthews – A Vampire and Her Jar Full of Leeches
Dennis Mombauer – The Rusted Island
Theresa Jacobs – The Muse
Michael D. Davis – June Bug
Michael D. Davis – The Doctor’s Hobbies
Chad Lutzke – Nothing
J.C. Michael – True Potential
DS Ullery – Number Thirteen
Scott Paul Hallam – The Crate
Anthony Giordano – La Lamentación
Kevin Cathy – The Tree
Kevin Cathy – Narrative
Kevin Cathy – Admitted
Ellen A. Easton – Into the Woods
Sheldon Woodbury – The Altar of Bones
Sheldon Woodbury – Halloween Ride
Sheldon Woodbury – The Midnight Circus
P.J. Blakey-Novis – Stray
Chris Hall – The Evacuation
Larry Hinkle – Three Wishes
J.C. Michael – The Dead that Lived
Joe X. Young – Black Light
Terry Miller – Dollface
Evans Light – That’ll Show Her
C.S. Anderson – The Difference
Alyson Faye – The Necklace
RJ Roles – Tits to Die for
RJ Roles – Passing the Torch
RJ Roles – Delicious
RJ Meldrum – The Apocalypse Will Be Televised
Kerry E.B. Black – Blood and Ashes
Ron Davis – Crimson and Clover
Rhys Hughes – The Special Day
Tristan Drue Rogers – Flightless
John Boden – A Fleeting Thing
John Boden – After
Ryan Colley – Masks
Ryan Colley – Operation
Kerry E.B. Black – Flames
Kerry E.B. Black – As He Was
Toneye Eyenot – Sleep, My Darling
David Owain Hughes – The Rich Get Richer
Simon Cluett – Bait
Toneye Eyenot – Dirt Nap
John T. M. Herres – A Place I Know
Ryan Woods – The Room Upstairs
Howard Carlyle – Painting the Walls
James Matthew Byers – A Penny’s Penance
Andrew Lennon – Possessed
Terry Miller – Death Rattles
Dean M. King – Too Late
Terry Miller – Dead Girl Speak
Jason M. Light – Gun Control
Justin M. Woodward – Gravemakers and Gunslingers
Aron Beauregard – Hot Car
Matthew Cash – My God Lives on the Mountain Top
David Owain Hughes – Tribal Beard
Hazel Lennon – Picnic
Martin P. Fuller – Die, Die, Dead
Howard Carlyle – The Tools of His Trade
Duncan Thompson – A Bedtime Story
Jim Goforth – Hack
Stuart Conover – Be Careful What You Wish For
S P Oldham – Noisy Neighbours
Ron Davis – Machines of War
Becky Narron – Mistaken Identity
Chris Miller – The Thing Beyond the Veil
Norbert Góra – Houston, I Have a Circus Here
Leigha Desmond – The Call
Patrick Winters – The Dolmen of Austburg
Paul Wennersberg-Løvholen – The Dead Don’t Die
Paul Wennersberg-Løvholen – 158 Days Later
Andrew Lennon – Honey, I’m Home
C.M. Saunders – Naughty Step
Zoey Xolton – The Arena
Theresa Derwin – Used Parts
Martin Zeigler – Blackout
Andrew Lennon – Dreams
Robin Braid – Loch
Robin Braid – Next Door
Suzanne Fox – Sweet Dreams
Essel Pratt – Somniphobia
Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason – Wooden Suit
Veronica Smith – Post Halloween
Cindar Harrell – Sea Foam Blood
Justin Hunter – Mine
Michael Anthony Lee – The Lost Ones
G. Allen Wilbanks – Webs
Amber M. Simpson – Show Time
Kevin J. Kennedy – Karma Monsters
Kevin J. Kennedy – The Apocalypse Bar
Eric J. Guignard – Three O’Clock a.m.
Julian J. Guignard – Dog Lover Doom
Josh Darling – The Sword Swallower
Brandy Yassa – Happy Birthday
Ryan Colley – Masks
Ryan Colley – Operation

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for September 2019

Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some August books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have noir, harboiled mysteries, cozy mysteries, small town mysteries, animal mysteries, culinary mysteries, historical mysteries, paranormal mysteries, crime thrillers, action thrillers, horror thrillers, police procedurals, private investigators, amateur sleuths, forensic specialists, FBI agents, reporters, stalkers, serial killers, human trafficking, organised crime, cold cases, crime-busting witches, crime-busting werewolves, crime-busting dogs, kidnapped teens, missing mothers, murdered techies, murders in small towns and big cities, in New Zealand, Minnesota, Las Vegas, Boston, Florida, India and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

A Missing Mom and Mutt Munchies by Aleksa BaxterA Missing Mom and Mutt Munchies by Aleksa Baxter:

Maggie May Carver is done with murder. She’s sworn that if she finds another dead body she’s just going to step right over it and continue on her merry little way. But when a little boy with sad eyes and freckles shows up asking her to find his mom, she just can’t say no.

Once more Maggie is in the thick of things, this time trying to find a little boy’s mom in time for his birthday with the help of her cranky grandpa, the handsome local cop, and his charming but criminally-inclined brother. Oh, and of course, her incorrigible Newfoundland, Miss Fancypants.

Chestnuts, Camping and Culprits by Cindy BellChestnuts, Camping and Culprits by Cindy Bell:

Kerri was looking forward to camping with her grandfather. Too bad their campsite just became a crime scene.

Kerri Gale is excited to be going camping with her grandfather, George, and her cute Yorkshire Terrier, Cashew. She is looking forward to a relaxing break and is leaving her nut shop, Nuts about Nuts, in the capable hands of her best friend and employee, Natalie. But when there are protesters and loggers at loggerheads in the Cascade Grove State Park, their idyllic camping trip isn’t as drama free as she had hoped.

Then things go from bad to worse when someone is found murdered on the mountain. Foul play is suspected, and her grandfather is one of the main suspects. With George having many secrets he can’t reveal and his nemesis, Detective Colleen Carver, on the case, Kerri knows that she must do everything she can to keep her grandfather out of jail. But when the murderer has their eyes on another victim, George and Kerri know that there is far more at stake than George’s freedom.

Will Kerri find the murderer before her grandfather lands up behind bars? Or there is another victim?

Recipe included: Ginger Chestnut Cookies

Danger Zone by Stacy ClaflinDanger Zone by Stacy Claflin:

Someone is going to great lengths to destroy Alex Mercer’s life.

On the surface, the Mercers are finally settling into a comfortable routine—Alex’s job is going great, he’s accepted his unusual family dynamics, and they’re even planning a dream vacation. Things couldn’t be better.

Or could they?

Dig a little deeper, and the problems are growing out of control. Someone is threatening to ruin Alex, his wife is harboring a shocking secret, and their daughter is hiding a dangerous new relationship.

If Alex’s cyber-stalker doesn’t get him first, his family could implode on its own. If he can’t unravel the tangled mess in time, he might lose everything—and everyone—he holds dear.

Bright Lights by Mark DawsonBright Lights by Mark Dawson:

Is John Milton on the path to redemption or the road to revenge?

John Milton has done some bad things in his life. Very bad things. Now he’s looking for ways to make amends. But trouble always seems to be looking for him.
Heading from San Francisco to Las Vegas, Milton’s solo road trip takes an unexpected turn when he picks up Jessica Russo, a young woman in distress at the side of the road. She urgently needs a ride and he’s happy to help her out.

But what starts out as a simple favour quickly becomes something more sinister. Once they get to their destination, it’s clear something isn’t right. Working for the Vegas casinos has got Jessica’s father wrapped up with the wrong people. A mistake that could prove fatal for him and his family.

This is just the beginning of a dangerous journey that will take Milton from Sin City to Siena and beyond. As Milton goes deeper into a world of violence, ruthlessness and revenge, will he finally put his demons to rest? Or is he about to awaken the devil he’s been trying to smother for so long?

Ghostly Fears by Lily Harper HartGhostly Fears by Lily Harper Hart:

Ten years ago, Harper Harlow lost a classmate. Jennifer Jessup was sweet, nice, and seemingly aimless in life. She came from a good family, lived on an island, and was spoiled with every material gift that could possibly be bestowed upon her.She was still unhappy.Now, a decade later, her father Byron Jessup has approached Harper with a business opportunity. He wants her – and the rest of her operation, of course – to spend a long weekend on his island. Other psychics and ghost hunters will be there, as will his family. The goal? To find out what happened to Jennifer.Harper feels weighed down with guilt, enough so that she can’t see straight. She feels bad about not reaching out to Jennifer when she was still alive and even worse about not looking for her once she went missing.Harper is out of her element. The other psychics are driving her crazy … and making her nervous. She can’t even decide if she believes Jennifer is missing or dead. When another woman on the island disappears, Harper is left with nothing but endless questions.She’s determined to find the answers, even if she has to delve into the past to do it. Someone doesn’t want her getting those answers, however, and it’s going to be a fight to the death to see who comes out the other side.

The Mystery of a Techie's Murder by Vijay KerjiThe Mystery of a Techie’s Murder by Vijay Kerji:

Priya, a software engineer, is found dead in her apartment when her flatmate Julia is away on a weekend. Detective Mayur finds a Pizza Hut cap with the strand of hair in it at the crime scene along with a cigarette butt and shoe prints. Krishna Raj, Priya’s manager, says Priya became close to her colleague, Praful, who has been sacked by his previous employer because of the sexual harassment charges. Mayur also learns that Priya’s fiance loves someone else and is forced to marry Priya by his parents. He also comes across Priya’s ex-friend and her uncle, who were also interested in Priya. He finds that her younger sister has a motive to become a sole proprietor of their father’s assets. Will Detective Mayur find the murderer in spite of hitting the dead end?

Oracles and Obituaries by Amanda M. LeeOracles and Obituaries by Amanda M. Lee:

Halloween is Avery Shaw’s favorite time of year. What’s not to love? Slasher movies, hot chocolate and corn mazes. She’s addicted to them all.

During a visit to one of those mazes, she runs across several men trying to kidnap a teenage girl. In true Avery fashion, she intervenes … resulting in a severe injury. While she’s on the mend, she starts tracking information on a group of people working in the area.

Avery can’t decide if she’s on to something or imagining things. The attack leaves her weaker than she would like, something she refuses to acknowledge, and questioning her investigative mind.

Eliot Kane, her live-in love, decides to help. As much as he wants her safe, he understands she needs to take control. Together, they’re going to dig until they find the information they need. Unfortunately for both of them, the deeper they get, the more they start to wonder just how big of an operation they’re dealing with.
Information pours in, leading to questions about missing girls from years before … and an odd woman serving as an oracle for the Halloween fans in the present. She’s keeping a secret, too, and Avery is determined to figure out what it is.

As she’s proven her entire life, Avery won’t quit until she wins. This time, however, the battle is going to be long, dark and deadly.

She won’t ever give up … even if the search for the truth ultimately kills her.

No Crones About It by Amanda M. LeeNo Crones About It by Amanda M. Lee:

Scout Randall is settling in with the northern Lower Michigan branch of Spell’s Angels. She’s feeling bold, brash … and just a little bit flirty thanks to her burgeoning relationship with Gunner Stratton, a shifter whose father happens to serve as the chief of police in Hawthorne Hollow.

Things are going well … until they’re not.

A group of shifters who used to live in the area have returned and they’re up to something. Right from the start, Scout is suspicious but she can’t quite explain why. Then, when a local homeless man is found dead – with Scout’s name literally carved into him – she starts to believe that she’s being set up to take a fall.

Gunner is determined to help. His history with the shifters in question makes things difficult, though. On top of everything else, it becomes apparent that the dead guy’s ties to Scout run deep … like genetically deep. He’s related to her, and for a woman who was abandoned as a child, it’s a hard blow to absorb.

Gunner is determined to stick close as the warring wolves close ranks and start issuing threats. It’s going to take everybody working together to find the answers Scout desperately needs, including uncovering the secret of her past. When one of their own is taken, Scout has no choice but to put her full cache of magic on display.

It’s going to be a fight to the finish, rival gangs going at one another, and only one side will be victorious.

Which one will it be?

The Pale White by Chad LutzkeThe Pale White by Chad Lutzke:

After being held against their will in a house used for trafficking, three girls plan their escape.

Alex: A hardened goth-punk who’s convinced she’s a vampire with a penchant for blood.
Stacia: A seventeen-year-old raised by an alcoholic mother, her fellow captives the only family she’s ever truly had.
Kammie: The youngest of the three—a mute who finds solace in a houseplant.

But does life outside the house offer the freedom they’d envisioned? Or is it too late, the scars too deep?

A coming-of-age tale of revenge and survival that explores a friendship and the desperate measures taken to ensure they stay united, held together by the scars that bind them.

This contemporary Suspense Thriller / Horror novella with an all-female cast is the perfect read for fans of Robert R. McCammon, Stephen King, and Jack Ketchum.

Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.

Deception by Jason RichardsDeception by Jason Richards:

It started as a simple case . . . then the bodies started piling up.

Elizabeth Barlow hires private investigator Drew Patrick to gather evidence of her husband’s affair. But the truth is even more devastating. Nevin Barlow is entangled with some of Boston’s most dangerous figures, and Drew’s investigation leads deep into a shadowy world of money-laundering and murder.

When an informant is run down in the streets of Boston, Drew realizes just how far Nevin Barlow and his associates will go to keep their secrets from coming to light. But in a world of lies and deception, nothing stays secret forever. A surprise twist will either help Drew prove his case or get him killed.

Witty and tough hard-boiled detective Drew Patrick returns in this gripping crime thriller novel that keeps the pages turning.

Say You Love Me by Willow RoseSay You Love Me by Willow Rose:

Former FBI-profiler Eva Rae Thomas is back and embedded in a true nightmare reaching deep into her own family.

What would you do if your brother was accused of a horrible crime, and you were certain he didn’t do it?

Life is not done throwing Eva Rae Thomas curveballs.

A phone call turns her life upside down – once again. The call is from her father, the man she hasn’t seen in thirty-six years, not since he kidnapped her sister in a supermarket.

Now, he is back in Florida, and he needs her help. Her younger brother – who she didn’t know existed – has been arrested on Amelia Island. The boy is in a coma after being shot by an officer during the incident. But his father doesn’t believe the police, and he asks for Eva Rae’s help to prove it.

At the same time, a serial killer is planning one of the most horrific mass killings in history.

Will Eva Rae find it in her heart to help her father after what he did to her? Will facing him again set her free or pull her under?

Dead Cat Bounce by Robert WhiteDead Cat Bounce by Robert White:

Old Mrs Bello lived above the family grocery store all her life, she worked hard, was frugal and lived an ordinary life. There was one thing that people knew about Mrs B though – she absolutely didn’t trust banks.

When she died at the age of 88 there was only one question on everyone’s lips – what happened to the family money?

Despite frantic searching from her surviving relatives, not a single cent was ever found and the missing family fortune passed into local legend.

Butchie Parmenter doesn’t believe in legends.

Experience has taught Butchie not to believe in anything except himself, so when good fortune unexpectedly lands at his feet he grabs the opportunity with both hands, determined not to let go. No matter what.

Butchie should have figured that nothing worth having ever comes easy and if something looks too good to be true, it usually is.

A Dark and Painful Mystery by Wendy M. WilsonA Dark and Painful Mystery by Wendy M. Wilson:

NEW ZEALAND, 1878: Has the missing man been murdered in the dense bush, or has he simply abandoned his wife and children for another woman?

Sergeant Frank Hardy and his new wife Mette attempt to solve two real mysteries from nineteenth century New Zealand: the whereabouts of Peter Kane, who left his home to look for work and did not return, and the brutal murder of an accommodation house owner who was splitting palings in the bush. Were they connected? If so, how?

As one newspaper said at the time about the Peter Kane disappearance:

“…the fate of the poor fellow may be cleared up, and the state of horrible suspense in which his unfortunate wife has been kept in for months brought to an end; and we would ask not only the people of Woodville, but of the other districts he may have visited, to take all possible steps to throw light upon what at present appears to be a dark and painful mystery.” The Manawatu Times, Volume III, Issue 81, 20 July 1878

This engaging novella is perfect for readers who have enjoyed the other three Sergeant Frank Mysteries. For readers who have not read the series already, the novella includes a backstory/history of the two main characters.

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Steampunk in East Frisia: Steamfest Papenburg 2019

Papenburg is an East Frisian town of about 38000 people near the Dutch border, which is probably best known these days as the home of the Meyer Werft , where many of the giant cruise ships carrying tourists across the world’s oceans are built, complicated by the fact that Papenburg is located about 40 kilometres inland along the rather narrow river Ems, which makes getting the newly built cruise liners to the North Sea something of a challenge. If you’ve ever been on a cruise in the past twenty years or so, chances are pretty good that the cruise ship was built in Papenburg.

Steampunk is not exactly something you would associate with Papenburg, even though the steamship MV Liemba a.k.a. Graf Goetzen, which starred in The African Queen as the German gunboat Königin Luise, was built here in 1913. Therefore, I was very surprised to learn that Papenburg not only has an active Steampunk community, but also hosts Steamfest, a Steampunk festival which took place for the second time in 2019. And since Papenburg is only about 114 kilometres away, I of course decided to pay Steamfest a visit.

Steamfest took place on the grounds of Gut Altenkamp, an 18th century manor house with a historical garden a little outside the town. The venue is absolutely perfect for the purpose, because it feels almost as if you’d somehow stumbled into the mansion of an eccentric inventor. Continue reading

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A no longer quite so new Thurvok story available: The Night Court

Before we get back to photos, con reports and genre commentary, here is a not quite new release announcement. Because I just realised that I never officially announced the latest Thurvok story, which came out just before I left for WorldCon.

Like most of the previous Thurvok stories, The Night Court was written during the July Short Story Challenge, where the aim is to write a story per day during the month of July. And in fact, The Night Court is the first 2019 July Short Story Challenge stories to be published.

Like many July short story challenge stories, The Night Court was inspired by fantasy art. The initial inspiration was this piece by Nele Diel. So I started writing the first scene, where Meldom walks through the city by night, only to be attacked and taken. However, I had no idea what would happened next. And so looked through my folder of inspirational images again and came upon this piece by Joseph Vargo. This image of a dungeon, complete with unfortunate prisoners and a grim looking inquisitioner, sparked an idea. What if whoever had captured Meldom was not a kidnapper, bandit or old enemy, but the law or what passes for it? Especially since the law has plenty of reasons to be after Meldom, given his past. And so the Night Court was born.

The titular Night Court is loosely based upon the Vehmic courts of medieval Germany or rather the legends surrounding said courts. Now I had long planned to write a story about someone innocently accused by a Vehmic Court someday, though I had intended it to be a historical along the lines of The Kiss of the Executioner’s Blade or Hangman’s Wages (and indeed, I may still write that story someday).

The roots for that particular idea go back to being made to read Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s historical drama Götz von Berlichingen in high school. Nowadays, the play Götz von Berlichingen is mainly famous for one rather rude line, which regularly causes giggles in high school classes. Otherwise, Götz von Berlichingen is yet another classic German play about a man (the titular Götz) who is so determined to defend his principles (usually something about liberty and autonomy) that he doesn’t care who gets hurt by his obstinate behaviour. There were a lot of plays like that, all dating from the late 18th century and all written by a group of male authors who all knew each other, which we were made to read in high school. And the teachers inevitably expected us to side with the obstinate jerk protagonist and were always very surprised when we didn’t. “Nope, Wilhelm Tell having weird hang-ups about greeting a hat does not give him the right to endanger his kid, no matter how good an archer he is. Just greet the damn hat, no matter how silly the whole thing is.” – “Nope, Odoardo Galotti being pissed off at the aristocracy in general and this one Prince in particular does not give him the right to honour-kill his daughter. What the hell is wrong with that guy?”

Götz von Berlichingen at least offers plenty of excitement, as Götz’s obstinate behaviour comes back to bite him in the arse and the bishop he pissed off sends an army of killers after him. It also has more female characters than usual. Two of them are the loyal wife/girlfriend/sister type who only exists to support our hero in being obstinate, but the third, Adelheid von Walldorf, a Milady de Winter prototype, who seduces and poison men on behalf of the main antagonist, is much more interesting. And in the final act, there is a scene of a Vehmic Court with masked judges who sentence Adelheid to death for her crimes and then dispatch an executioner to kill her. This short scene is a complete non sequitur, it just pops up in the middle of a bunch of scenes of various male characters of the play dying, while maintaining their principles. Nor does Goethe ever follow up on the scene again. Does the executioner ever catch up with Adelheid? Goethe doesn’t tell us. Much to the frustration of my high school German teacher, I was not at all satisfied with that and kept asking what had happened to Adelheid, whether she’d been killed or escaped, and what was the matter with that spooky court with masked judges anyway, cause that story was obviously a lot more interesting than Götz and his principles.

That one scene with the Vehmic Court stuck in my head, as did the vague idea that someone should write that much more exciting story that Goethe failed to tell. And that someone might just as well be me. In the end, the Vehmic Court idea languished with all the other half-baked ideas for historical adventure stories somewhere at the edge of my consciousness. But while I was writing The Night Court, I thought, “What if Meldom hasn’t been captured by an official court after all, but by his world’s equivalent of a Vehmic Court?” The rest of the story largely told itself.

Now the Thurvok stories are credited to Richard Blakemore, hardworking pulp writer by day and masked crimefighter by night, who is the hero of my Silencer series. And though I wasn’t aware of it when I was writing the story, there are certain parallels between The Night Court and the Silencer story Countdown to Death, because in both stories, the protagonist finds himself accused, convicted and almost executed. And though both the Silencer and Meldom may be guilty of many other things (and compared to the pulp vigilantes from the actual 1930s, the Silencer is remarkably restrained and only rarely kills someone), they are innocent of this particular crime. So did Richard Blakemore’s experience in Countdown to Death influence his sword and sorcery story The Night Court, via me who was actually typing the story? Or do I simply keep returning to certain tropes and themes.

Whenever you have a court – even one of such dubious legality as the Night Court – you of course also have courtroom scenes. And so I have half-jokingly referred to The Night Court as a sword and sorcery courtroom drama, which it absolutely is.

So prepare to accompany Meldom, Thurvok, Sharenna and Lysha, as they face…

The Night Court
The city of Vanadur suffers under the thumb of the Night Court, whose bailiffs snatch random people off the streets and whose masked judges know only one verdict: guilty.

Meldom, thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin, is one of those who are snatched off the streets and put on trial by the Night Court. The accusation: murder. But while Meldom may have done many questionable things in the past, he knows that he did not commit this particular murder.

However, the Night Court is not inclined to believe him and so it’s up to Thurvok, Sharenna and Lysha to save him from the gallows.

This is a short story of 7100 words or 25 print pages in the Thurvok sword and sorcery series, but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

More information.
Length: 7100 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Playster, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, e-Sentral, 24symbols and XinXii.

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WorldCon 77 in Dublin, Part 2: The Hugos

Hugo finalist/accepter packet

The contents of the Hugo finalist/accepter packet given out at WorldCon 77. The certificates as well as one finalist pin have since been mailed to Gideon and Janice Marcus of Galactic Journey. The second pin remains with me and now lives on my favourite jacket together with a poppy and a badger pin.

In my last post, I talked about my general experiences at WorldCon 77 in Dublin, Ireland. Now here comes the long awaited Hugo commentary, even though everybody knows by now who the winners are and discussion has largely died down. Though this year’s Hugo commentary is a little different than usual, because this time around I was not only watching the Hugos via livestream – no, I was directly in the auditorium a few metres from the stage, since I was the designated accepter for best fanzine finalist Galactic Journey. Continue reading

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WorldCon 77 in Dublin, Part 1: The Good…

Yes, I know that my WorldCon and TitanCon report as well as detailed Huog commentary has been much delayed, but then I’ve been ill, first with a cold acquired at WorldCon and then with a stomach bug acquired from a dodgy poke bowl at Amsterdam airport. However, here is the long awaited WorldCon 77 report, complete with photos.

After my problems getting to Dublin, chronicled in this post, Amsterdam Schiphol airport decided to give me a very Irish farewell, complete with a rainbow over the airfield. Continue reading

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First Monday Free Fiction: The Bleak Heath

Welcome to a somewhat belated September edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.

The Bleak Heath by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertThis month’s free story is The Bleak Heath, a novelette in my Thurvok sword and sorcery series. As for why this particular story, I like to pick stories which are somehow related to the season. And at the moment, the Lüneburg Heath nature park is in bloom, an event I sadly missed due to being away for WorldCon and EuroCon. However, last year I wrote a story inspired by my annual hiking trip to the Lüneburg Heath, a story I eventually published as The Bleak Heath.

The Thurvok series is unique among my fiction, since it is credited to Richard Blakemore, the 1930s pulp writer protagonist of my Silencer series. In one story, Richard outs himself as a Weird Tales reader and sword and sorcery fan. He also muses that he would like to take a stab at writing something like that one day. This throwaway scene got me thinking, “What if Richard actually did write a sword and sorcery series in the 1930s?”

Fast forward a couple of  years, when I found myself writing a couple of old school sword and sorcery stories for the annual July short story challenge and thought, “What if this is Richard Blakemore’s lost sword and sorcery series?” And so the decision was born to pass off the Thurvok stories as a forgotten sword and sorcery series from the 1930s with myself as the editor who rediscovered them.

So prepared to accompany Thurvok the sellsword and his companions Meldom, thief, cutpurse and occasionaly assassin, the sorceress Sharenna and Lysha, Meldom’s childhood sweetheart whom our heroes only just saved from the gallows, as they brave the dangers of…

The Bleak Heath

East of the city of Greyvault, there was a plain that stretched all the way to the Desolate Peaks. Few things grew here and even fewer people lived here, for the soil was poor and white as ash.

One of the few things that did grow on this plain was the hardy heather plant and so the entire plain was blanketed with patches of heather, crisscrossed by paths of white sand and dotted with juniper bushes and stunted birch trees and rocks that looked as if they had been randomly deposited here by a giant’s hand.

For a few weeks in late summer, when the heather was in bloom, the entire plain shimmered purple. The rest of the year it was brown and bleak. And so the people of Greyvault called it the Bleak Heath and did not go there, unless it was absolutely necessary. For the good people of Greyvault believed that the heath was cursed and haunted by ghosts and monsters born of sorcery and black magic.

But nonetheless, some travellers did cross the Bleak Heath, out of necessity or desperation. Four such travellers, two men and two women, were marching across the heath on foot, their forms outlined sharply against the slate grey sky.

One of the men was tall and muscular, with black hair and bronzed skin that was rarely found so far up north, where the winters were long and the sun was weak. He was clad all in leather, a great sword hanging on his hip. This was Thurvok, the sellsword.

The second man was shorter and more slightly built, lithe and wiry rather than muscular. His skin was pale, his hair dark and his eyes as grey as the skies above the heath. He was clad all in black, the only relief a silver amulet glittering at his neck and a silver dagger gleaming at his waist. This was Meldom, thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin, though he had recently sworn off killing except when absolutely necessary.

One of the women was tall, almost as tall as Thurvok. Her statuesque form was swathed in a moss green cloak. Strands of long hair the colour of flame fell from underneath the hood of her cloak. This was Sharenna, the sorceress.

The second woman was slight and clad in a gown of plain white linen of the sort worn by penitents and prisoners condemned to die on the scaffold. Her bare feet were wrapped only in rags, that offered scant protection against the prickly heather plants that sprouted from the path here and there. The harsh wind blew her long dark hair into her face and made her shiver in her thin gown. This was Lysha, daughter of a merchant from Greyvault and Meldom’s childhood sweetheart whom the other three had recently saved from the gallows.

Lysha did not complain about the cold and the harsh wind. In fact, she barely spoke at all. Nonetheless, Meldom noticed that she freezing and so he took off his own cloak and wrapped it around Lysha.

Lysha flashed him a grateful smile. “Thank you. But won’t you be cold?”

Meldom shook his head. “No, it’s fine,” he lied through his chattering teeth, “I’m used to it.”

As they continued on their way across the Bleak Heath, Sharenna moved closer to Meldom.

“Maybe we should stop and make camp for the night,” she said, keeping her voice low, so none of the others would hear, “Your girl is in a bad condition and you are not much better off.”

Meldom had his teeth clenched, so they wouldn’t chatter in the cold. But nonetheless, he shook his head. “No, we have to go on. It’s not safe here.”

“But why?” Sharenna wanted to know, “There’s no sign of any pursuit. And besides, I think that after the chaos we caused, the Rhagur rulers of Greyvault have bigger problems than us to worry about.”

Thurvok, slowed down his mighty strides, allowing the others to catch up.

“Such as the fact that their current governor was strangled by the murdered corpse of their previous governor,” he said with a grin, for the sight of a murderer getting his just comeuppance at the hands of his victim was a source of rare amusement to him, “And this time, the Rhagur can’t even blame the people of Greyvault, for it’s all too clear what really happened.”

“The Bleak Heath still isn’t safe”, Meldom insisted, “Or why do you think most travellers approach Greyvault via the Forest of the Hanged? Hint, it’s not because the route is so scenic and the smell of rotting corpses so intoxicating. It’s because awful as the Forest of the Hanged is, the Bleak Heath is worse.”

Thurvok looked around, scanning for hidden dangers, but all he saw were purplish blooming heather, jutting juniper bushes and scattered rocks.

“Doesn’t look very dangerous to me,” he remarked.

“But trust me, it is,” Meldom insisted, “There are… things here. Men turning to stone, rocks coming to life, creatures emerging from the night’s mists to snatch unwary travellers until not a trace is left…”

Thurvok emitted a roaring laugh. Sharenna shot him a warning glance, but Thurvok ignored her.

“Oh, come on. You know I don’t believe in that sort of thing.”

“Normally, I don’t believe in that sort of thing either,” Meldom replied, more than a little testy, “But this is different. I grew up in Greyvault. I’ve heard the stories all my life, stories about travellers gone missing on the heath, never to be seen again…”

“Stories, sure,” Thurvok countered, “Doesn’t mean they’re true.”

Before they could come to blows, Sharenna intervened. “Could we maybe just agree that whether the stories are true or not, this is no place to be abroad by night?”

She nodded at the sky, which was turning from pink to violet to deep indigo.

“So I’d suggest we find shelter and make camp.” She turned to Meldom. “Is there a village around here or an inn or a cave or some other place where we could rest?”

Meldom shook his head. “There’s nothing. Just heath and rocks. And the rocks are cursed.”

“Maybe we should find shelter among a cluster of rocks or behind a particularly large one then,” Sharenna suggested.

“Didn’t you listen to me?” Meldom snapped, “The rocks are cursed. Some say that they used to be men who tried to cross the heath and were turned to stone for their troubles.”

“You don’t believe in that, do you?” Thurvok asked, his eyes wide with incredulity.

“I don’t know what to believe, all right? All I know is that people have been vanishing and rocks randomly appearing on the Bleak Heath since before I was born.”

“Whether the rocks are cursed or not, we need to find shelter for the night,” Sharenna said, ever the peacemaker, “And personally, I think that even cursed rocks are safer than sleeping out in the open and risk freezing to death.”

Thurvok was about to agree to her plan, because it made sense. But before he could, he was interrupted by Lysha, who had trudged onwards, while the other three were arguing.

“Look,” she exclaimed and pointed into the distance, where the unrelenting bleakness of the heath was interrupted by a light on the horizon.

Thurvok turned to Meldom. “I thought you said no one lived here.”

Meldom nodded. “I did. Because no one does.”

“Well, where does that light come from then?”

***

This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in The Bleak Heath. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

 

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The 2019 Dragon Awards successfully manage to evade full respectability for another year

You’ll have to wait a bit longer for my WorldCon and Hugos post-mortem, because DragonCon, a big convention in Atlanta, Georgia, that is a curious mix between massive media con, inclusive cosplay con and conservative con for wargamers and military SF fans, took place this weekend. DragonCon is also the home of the Dragon Awards, whose development I’ve been chronicling since the beginning. So I feel duty-bound to report about this year’s Dragon Award winners, too.

But let’s start with the other fiction award given out tonight at Dragon Con, namely the 2019 Eugie Foster Memorial Award for Short Fiction. The winner was “When We Were Starless”, a lovely novelette by fellow German Simone Heller, which was also a Hugo finalist this year. A highly deserved win.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Dragon Awards proper. To recap, the Dragon Awards have had a short but rather eventful history. Supposedly conceived as an award to reward the sort of widely popular works that are often overlooked by other SFF awards, they became basically consolation prizes for Sad and Rabid Puppy affiliated authors during their first year, struggled with withdrawals by big name finalists during their second year and were invaded by popular self-published authors and Kindle Unlimited content mills during their third year. Compared to previous years, the announcement of the finalists for the fourth year of the Dragon Award seemed to point at increased mainstream respectability. There were lots of big names books and authors among the finalists, which suggested that the Dragon Awards would maybe finally do what they had set out to do, namely reward broadly popular mainstream works. Credit for this largely goes to the Red Panda Fraction, a group of Atlanta area fans and DragonCon attendees, who created a handy eligibility spreadsheet to make nominating easier.

However, compared to the finalists, the actual winners this year seem like a step backwards. So let’s take a look at the individual categories:

A Star-Wheeled Sky by Brad Torgersen wins best science fiction novel in what must be one of the most baffling Dragon Awards wins since the first year. Why baffling? Because if the Dragon Awards are supposed to honour popular, you’d expect the most popular books to win. However, according to admittedly flawed criteria like Amazon, Goodreads and LibraryThing ranks and ratings, A Star-Wheeled Sky is at the lower end of the popularity scale among the finalists in this category, as Contrarius explains in the comments to this post on Camestros Felapton’s blog. Meanwhile, the most popular finalist in this category by a wide margin is Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey, followed by Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers, which was also my choice. Of course, Brad Torgersen has been actively promoting the Dragon Awards and asks his fans to vote. And while Torgersen is mainly associated with the Sad Puppy disaster of 2015 in wider fandom these days, he is popular with the Baen and Analog crowd and Baen is traditionally strongly represented at DragonCon, plus A Star-Wheeled Sky is a Baen book. However, Tiamat’s Wrath has the advantage of being connected to the hugely popular The Expanse TV series and DragonCon is a multi-media con. Though Brad Torgersen has finally won an award, which should make him happy, while Becky Chambers got to take home a Hugo this year and Daniel Abrahama and Ty Franck are crying all the way to the bank.

The winner in the best fantasy novel category is another Baen book and another name that will be familiar from the Sad Puppy fiasco, namely House of Assassins by Larry Correia. Nonetheless, this is a less surprising win than Torgersen’s, because Larry Correia does have a big and very engaged fanbase and is also very active in promoting the Dragon Awards, though he supposedly asked his fans not to nominate him this year. That said, I’m sure he’ll be devastated at his third Dragon Award win in this category in four years. My own vote was for The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, BTW.

The Dragon Award for best young adult novel goes to Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard. No real surprise here, it’s a popular novel by a popular author. And indeed, the YA category is where the Dragon Awards come closest to doing what they set out to do, namely rewarding highly popular works. My own vote was for Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, BTW.

The winner in the best military SFF category is Uncompormising Honor, the latest Honor Harrington tome by David Weber. Again, this is not a huge surprise, because both David Weber and the Honor Harrington series are extremely popular, though apparently quite a few fans were disappointed with Uncompromising Honor. David Weber is also a frequent guest at Dragon Con and has won in this category three times to date. However, Uncompromising Honor likely also profited from the fact that the other finalists in this category were several indie published books which – while popular – may not be all that well known outside the Kindle Unlimited eco-system. And while the other traditionally published finalist in this category, The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, is a great book (and was my personal pick), it’s also very much not what habitual readers of military science fiction are looking for and in fact, many military SF fans actively hate this book. For example, here is a review which claims that Kameron Hurley hates the military science fiction genre and is out to destroy it.

The winner in the best media tie-in category is Thrawn: Alliances, a Star Wars novel by Timothy Zahn. This is one win that’s not at all surprising, because the Thrawn character is hugely popular among Star Wars fans, particularly old school Star Wars fans, though personally I never saw the appeal, not even back when I read Heir to the Empire, when it first came out. Of the characters Timothy Zahn added to the Star Wars canon, I’ve always liked Mara Jade a lot, but never much cared about Thrawn. Still, lots of Star Wars fans obviously disagree. My own vote was for The Way to the Stars, a Star Trek Discovery novel by Una McCormack BTW.

The Dragon Award for best horror novel goes to Little Darlings by Melanie Golding. It’s a very popular novel, though more psychological thriller than horror novel. But considering that the readership for psychological thrillers is a lot bigger than the horror readership, I’m not surprised that it won. My own vote was for We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix BTW.

The winner in the best alternate history category, finally, is Black Chamber by S.M. Stirling. Now Stirling obviously is popular with the Dragon Awards crowd, since he has had several nominations in various categories so far. Nonetheless, I’m surprised that he managed to beat what is by far the most popular book on the ballot, which also won the Hugo and Nebula Award for best novel, namely The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. Of course, the war gamer contingent is strong at DragonCon and Black Chamber is very likely more to their taste than The Calculating Stars. Or maybe The Calculating Stars had too many girl cooties. Meanwhile, what was probably the most mainstream finalist on the whole Dragon Award ballot, Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan, lost out as well, so the Dragons have successfully fended off the Booker Prize crowd. Now I have to admit that I was secetly rooting for Machines Like Me, even though I voted for Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar, if only because Ian McEwan’s reaction to DragonCon and the Dragon Awards would have been so worth it.

The film and TV categories offer no real surprises. Avengers: Endgame wins best film – after all, it is officially the highest grossing movie of all time – and the hyper-popular (and lovely) Good Omens wins best TV series. My own votes were for Captain Marvel and Star Trek Discovery respectively.

The comic and graphic novel categories offer no real surprises either. The hyper-popular Saga wins best comic book with its latest tear-jerking arc. Coincidentally, Saga was also my pick in this category. X-Men: Grand Design – Second Genesis by Ed Piskor wins best graphic novel, which again isn’t very surprising, for even though the X-Men are no longer as popular as during their heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, they’re still one of Marvel’s bigger guns. My own vote was for On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden.

I never vote in the gaming categories in the Dragon Awards, because I’m not much of a gamer. This year’s winners are Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, a Pokemon Go type augmented reality game, which likely also profited from the continuing popularity of Harry Potter, Red Dead Redemption 2, a western themed PC/console game so popular that even I have heard of it, the board game Betrayal: Legacy and the Call of Cthulhu: Masks of Nyarlathotep Slipcase Set role-playing game. None of these winners strike me in any way as unexpected or unusual.

In general, it’s notable that while indie published authors or author collectives can get Dragon Award nominations, they don’t win. For example, Chris Kennedy’s publishing outfit had four finalists on the ballot this year and also made a strong showing in 2017 and 2018, but so far they haven’t won. Ditto for other indie authors. Meanwhile, Baen continues to do well at the Dragons. This year, all of the three Baen books on the ballot won in their respective categories, but then Baen is very active in DragonCon’s literature track and apparently, they do have a sizeable fanbase at DragonCon. It’s also notable that in two categories, best fantasy novel and best military SFF novel, the same author (Larry Correia and David Weber respectively) won three out of four years. Yes, I know that both Weber and Correia have big fanbases at DragonCon, but a bit more diversity would be nice.

As with the nominations, the Dragon Award winners continue to be heavily male dominated. Of seven winners in the novel categories, only two are women. If you include the non-novel categories, you get another female winner with Fiona Staples in best comic book. The winners are also overwhelmingly white, though Larry Correia identifies as Latino as fas as I know. Besides, as Camestros Felapton points out in his post here, to date all ten winners in the two headline categories, best science fiction novel and best fantasy novel, have been men. Somehow, I doubt that those who wring their hands that the winners in the fiction categories at the Hugos and Nebulas were all women in the past three years, will be at all bothered by this.

According to the Dragon Awards’ official rules and regulations, the administrators have the right to pick winners and finalists without taking the will of the voters into account, though there is no evidence either way that they are exercising that right. And indeed, we have nothing in the way of voting and nomination data for the Dragon Awards, which makes the results difficult to analyze.

But once again – and I know I say this every year – the Dragon Awards have to decide what they want to be. Do they want to be the award for broadly popular SFF that they set out to be? Do they want to be an award for conservative leaning SFF? Do they want to be the best Baen book award? Do they want to be the best indie published SFF book award? None of these options are necessarily bad, though it would help if DragonCon were to settle on one of them. This year, however, the finalists pointed at option A, while the winners seem to point at options B and C.

On the other hand, the odd inconsistency of the Dragon Awards may also be linked to the inconsistent nature of DragonCon itself. Cause from what I’ve heard – I’ve never been there myself – DragonCon is a huge multi-media convention, which has a big contingent of young, diverse and overwhelmingly left-leaning media fans and cosplayer, but also a conservative leaning literature track catering to older military SFF fans and wargamers. In many ways, the Dragon Award results reflect this split.

So after an encouraging step forward in the 2019 nominations, coupled with a step back in the actual winners, the question is where will the Dragon Awards go in 2020?

ETA: I already linked to Camestros Felapton’s take on the 2019 Dragon Award winners above, but in the meantime he has also dug up a Dragon Award cheating allegation from the usual suspects, which begets the question how on Earth one can cheat in the “anything goes” Dragon Awards short of hacking the nominations/results. There is also quite a bit of discussion going on in the comments of both posts. Camestros also has a third Dragon Awards post, in which he goes a little deeper into the probabilities of the Dragon Award winners in the best science fiction and best fantasy category being all men.

And at Women Write About Comics, Doris V. Sutherland offers her take on the 2019 Dragon Award winners and also notes the Baen dominance.

ETA2: Richard Paolinelli also felt the need to share his take on the Dragon Awards and displays his usual issues with reading comprehension. To clairfy some points, I specifically said that “Larry Correia identifies as Latino”, because not all people of Portuguese ancestry do. And there were ten winners, all men, in the best science fiction novel and best fantasy novel categories over the four years of the Dragon Award, because two winning books were written by co-author pairs. James S.A. Corey is actually two people, Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, and Larry Correia and John Ringo are two people as well.

Comments are closed. Awards posts inevitably bring out the trolls.

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Two Plugs: A New Anthology and a Podcast Appearance

Yes, my WorldCon, TitanCon and Hugo write-up is coming, but it may take a bit more time, because in addition to the cold I caught at WorldCon, I also picked up a stomach bug from a dodgy poke bowl at Amsterdam airport, which took me out of commission for a couple of days. So Hugo and WorldCon post-mortems will have to wait for now.

Besides, I have two other announcements to make. For starters, an anthology to which I contributed came out yesterday. The anthology in question is Rediscovery: Science Fiction by Women (1958 – 1963), edited by Gideon Marcus of Galactic Journey with a foreword by Dr. Laura Brodian Freas Beraha. Now I’m obviously not a forgotten woman writer from the Silver Age of science fiction. However, I provided the introduction to one of the fourteen stories in the anthology, “Of All Possible Worlds” by Rosel George Brown.

Rediscovery: Science Fiction by Women (1958 - 1963), edited by Gideon MarcusRediscovery: Science Fiction by Women (1958 – 1963):

  • Fourteeen uncut Silver Age science fiction stories by women
  • Fourteen introductions providing historical, biographical, and literary context
  • One foreword by Dr. Laura Brodian Freas Beraha
  • One introductory essay by Gideon Marcus

From the team that produces the Hugo-nominated Galactic Journey:

The Silver Age of Science Fiction saw a wealth of compelling speculative tales — and women authors wrote some of the best of the best. Yet the stories of this era, especially those by women, have been largely unreprinted, unrepresented, and unremembered.

Until Now.

Rediscovery: Science Fiction by Women (1958-1963) features fourteen selections of the best science fiction of the Silver Age by the unsung women authors of yesteryear, introduced by today’s rising stars:

Unhuman Sacrifice (1958) by Katherine MacLean, introduced by Natalie Devitt
Wish Upon a Star (1958) by Judith Merril, introduced by Erica Frank
A Matter of Proportion (1959) by Anne Walker, introduced by Erica Friedman
The White Pony (1960) by Jane Rice, introduced by T.D. Cloud
Step IV (1960) by Rosel George Brown, introduced by Andi Dukleth
Of All Possible Worlds (1961) by Rosel George Brown, introduced by Cora Buhlert
Satisfaction Guaranteed (1961) by Joy Leache, introduced by A.J. Howells
The Deer Park (1962) by Maria Russell, introduced by Claire Weaver
To Lift a Ship (1962) by Kit Reed, introduced by Gideon Marcus
The Putnam Tradition (1963) by Sonya Hess Dorman, introduced by Lorelei Marcus
The Pleiades (1963) by Otis Kidwell Burger, introduced by Gwyn Conaway
No Trading Voyage (1963) by Doris Pitkin Buck, introduced by Marie Vibbert
Cornie on the Walls (1963) by Sydney van Scyoc, introduced by Rosemary Benton
Unwillingly to School (1958) by Pauline Ashwell, introduced by Janice Marcus

“Female authors wrote stories about coming of age…cautionary tales…stories set beyond our universe…You’ll find these themes and more in this anthology. I hope that as you read their stories you don’t try to ‘feminine’ versus ‘masculine’ elements. What you are about to read is really good science fiction, plain and simple.” -from the foreword by Dr. Laura Brodian Freas Beraha

Rediscovery is a great anthology, which proves that there was and is life far beyond the confines of Campbellian science fiction. If you’re at all interested in the history of science fiction and how we got to where we are now, you should absolutely read it. You don’t just have to take my word for it either. James Davis Nicoll pretty much agrees in his review.

Get your copy at Amazon or the Journey Press website.

***

To get back to WorldCon 77, one of the best things about WorldCons and other cons is that you inevitably run into a lot of interesting people. And one of the people I met at WorldCon 77 was Mirco from the German podcast Steamtinkerer’s Klönschnack. And so I wound up getting interviewed for the podcast.

The episode is now online and you can listen to it here. Mirco also shares his impressions of WorldCon 77 in this blogpost. Only in German, alas.

As promised, my own WorldCon 77 and Hugo post-mortem is coming, though I’ll probably take a break for the Dragon Award winners, who will be announced tonight, first.

 

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