Jean McKinney

Strange Stories for Strange Times

Tag: flash fiction (page 1 of 2)

“It Could Happen To You”- A Fantasy Free Read

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU

Sun’s a fingernail in the fog when he gets on. Night man on a downtown bus full of day people: glass-faced Westsiders curled in Armani shells pinch their ears and nostrils shut when he fills up three seats behind the driver.

Extravagant in filth and fatness, enthroned on bulging garbage bags,  he scratches the hole in the crotch of his greasy sweatpants, rubs his gritty stomach and throws the story at them:

How the Hare Krishnas got him. Just sneaked up when he was asleep in the doorway of a dead pawn shop down by the Post Office on Main Street. And they poured their juice, that Hare Krishna juice, right over him.

Well it was sticky and purple and it smelled bad too, so he begged enough change for the laundry at 4 am.  Had to beg some more for a pint or two just to get past the shock.

Got to watch out for those Krishnas.  They got plots in those little naked heads. They’ll get you every time.  And that juice of theirs? Well they’d just love to splash those slick leather shoes or drown some thousand dollar suit.

You know

It could happen to you.

“It Could Happen To You” was inspired – no, dictated – by an encounter I observed on one of my many foggy, early morning bus rides when I was teaching in Los Angeles.  Taking the Pico-Rimpau route at dawn has inspired a lot of my weirder flash bits.)

Dark Star Review: New Home, New Look

Dark Star Review has moved! After trying out a lot of web tools to find the right one to create a slick, easily updatable roundup of news, commentary and other stuff from the many worlds of speculative fiction, I found Flipboard. This handy dandy search engine pulls the latest from any web sources you choose into a lovely, easy to read magazine format. It’s easily edited, too, with the option to create commentary after each story.

And the best thing about Flipboard magazines is that they can live anywhere. So I’ve brought Dark Star Review right here to the JM site – no links, no downloads, no nothin’ required. Just click to read.

You can find out when new issues come out (monthly) by subscribing to the Newsletter – and you’ll also get other freebies for doing that. As always, Dark Star Review is free to read and share (please!) and welcomes your ideas, contributions or suggestions.

Enjoy. Issue 2 comes your way October 1.

“Where Angels Tread” – Fantasy Free Read

All right, boys and girls! It’s Monday, so that means a new fantasy free read. This one is “Where Angels Tread,” a bittersweet little story from the historical fantasy worlds of Sorrows Hill.

When the Reverend Henry Chilton sees the angel, he drops to his knees sobbing with joy. The half-scribbled sheets of tomorrow’s sermon fly from his desk, floating down on a summer-scented breeze from the open window, and his teacup, caught by an unwary elbow, shatters into porcelain shards on the floor.

He was writing the sermon when a sound like the rustling of pigeons in the rafters made him look up. And there was the messenger of God, settling demurely onto the top of his bookcase, dangling bare white feet over his head.

The angel’s translucent skin is luminous and perfect.   Fair hair tumbles over the bones of its classic face. And the wings — God, the wings! Think of the blinding white of swans, the sweet softness of doves.   Those wings are muscular and functional, and they drape the angel’s shoulders like a velvet cloak. Chilton’s mouth is an O of fascinated delight.

Kneeling among the fragments, trousers soaking in cold tea, the Reverend Chilton raises his eyes skyward and gives thanks. Finally, finally: so long he’s prayed, so long he’s waited!

Tears slip from the reverend’s eyes. Ever since he was a child he’s wanted to see an angel. When he got to seminary he prayed till his throat was raw, begging God’s favor for just a glimpse of one of those celestial heralds.   And now, after all these years, all these tedious postings to backwater towns and Sunday after Sunday of earnest sermons to indifferent flocks, success! A visible mark of God’s own grace.

“Reverend? Reverend, you’ve got a visitor.” A sharp rap on the door rips Chilton’s attention from the angel.

“Who is it, Mrs. Reedie? I’m busy with the sermon just now.”

“A young man, Reverend. He says he’s come all the way from Richmond to see you.” Mrs. Reedie’s voice drops. “Quite well turned out, he is. Shall I have him wait?”

Chilton glances at his other visitor. The angel cocks its head like a listening dog.

“I said, I’m busy, Mrs. Reedie. Tell him to come back after supper.”

The housekeeper’s sniff is audible through the door. Ignoring the staccato tap of her heels down the hall, Chilton turns back to the angel.

“So sorry, holy one. As I was saying — what have you to tell me? How am I so blessed on this day?”

The angel regards him blandly and preens a wing. Chilton draws a breath and tries again. “How may I serve you? Only speak –”

“Reverend Chilton?” The doorknob rattles.

“For the last time, Mrs. Reedie! I am busy!” snarls Chilton.

Scuffle of footsteps; gasp of outrage. The door flies open on Mrs. Reedie’s furious face, and a young man shoves past her, closing the door neatly behind him.

“Don’t you remember me, Reverend?” he asks.

Chilton swallows. Something in this gorgeous young man’s lean face and long narrow nose , the curl of dark hair on an expensive white collar, tickles his memory.

As the silence stretches, the young man’s mouth twists.

“Laurence Shandy, Reverend. I’m Laurence. It’s been twelve years.”

The silence turns leaden. Chilton forces a smile.

“Laurence, yes, of course! You’ve grown up. Doing well, by the look of you. I wondered what had become of you.”

“Did you?” asks the young man silkily. His hand slips free of his pocket. Sunlight gleams along the barrel of a tiny pistol. “Couldn’t you guess?”

“Put that down.” Chilton backs a step or two. “Laurence, put that gun away . . . you moved to Richmond, didn’t you? That’s what it was, your father took up a new post at the hospital in Richmond. Isn’t that right?”

“No.” The gun trembles in Laurence Shandy’s fingers. “Twelve years, Reverend Chilton . Twelve years in that hospital. Locked ward. I tried to kill myself. Tried to escape to kill you. I prayed, I wept . . . I remembered every moment of what you did to me. And what you said about me, after.”

God, yes, Laurence Shandy. Big mouth boy with a rich, angry father. The only way Chilton had got out of that one had been to assert, again and again and again, how the lad was crazy, possessed maybe, misconstruing his pastoral ministrations like that.

“But, “ Shandy continues, “You always said, if you pray hard enough for long enough, God hears. And so it is.”

“What — ” whispers Chilton, eyes on the dancing barrel of Shandy’s weapon, “what did you pray for, Laurence?”

“I prayed for justice.” Shandy’s finger tenses on the trigger. “And an angel to guide me.”

The shot sounds a little like a cork popping.    Blood flowers on the front of Chilton’s good shirt as he topples to the floor. On a rustle of heavenly wings, the angel rests its fabulous head on Laurence Shandy’s shoulder.

 

 

 

Soledad City: Building a Fantasy World

stfrancisWhen you’re building the world for your fantasy characters to live and play in,  it’s easy to become overwhelmed by choices.  You can build a brand new universe, borrow heavily from our own human history and legends,  or blend your fantasy world into the one we know. Even there, there are virtually endless choices:  use a real place and time, create a new setting that exists side by side with ours, or borrow the trappings of our world to create a new one that echoes it.  You can see variations of all these strategies in the work of people like JRR Tolkien, Charles de Lint, China Mieville, Charlaine Harris and many others.

I think the most satisfying fantasy stories are the ones that do take place in a heightened version of our “real” world, because they suggest that there really might be magic lurking just around the corner – and you never know when you might meet it.   What’s fascinating, terrifying and wonderful is what happens when the everyday meets the very strange.  That’s a timeless theme, one that’s visited again and again in countless legends, myths – and fantasy novels.

So the fantasy universe of the Moon Road is set in the deserts of the Southwestern United States. Partly that’s because I’m a Westerner living here in Baja Arizona where you can drive to Mexico and be home in time for lunch.  And partly because these deserts have always held a whiff of strange magic that draws travelers and seekers and lost souls from everywhere.

The Moon Road stories take place in two eras, today’s West and the Old West of history and legend, somewhere between the Pacific Coast and the Rio Grande.  In the urban fantasy stories,  Soledad City is a modern metropolis blending elements of Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.   People living in and traveling to Soledad come from “real” places such as New Orleans, Los Angeles and Chicago, though.

Between Soledad and the Border is the Rez,  home of medicine woman Nettie Chubai and various characters of the People.  And far out in the desert, another key location is Holland’s Truck Stop and Cafe, where strange comings and goings take place and people cross paths in unexpected ways.

The Old West of Soledad figures in the historical fantasy stories featuring demon haunted gunman Sixkiller, shapeshifting bounty hunter Harry Longman, and Sixkiller’s mysterious Boss.  Alongside actual towns like Tombstone and Bisbee, the characters in Sixkiller’s time of around 1870 frequent Meridian, a fictional mining town, and the saloons of Agua Dulce, which is a composite of every Mexican border town in every Western you’ve ever seen.

The legends, the lore and the cultures of the Southwest inform every story I’ve ever written about Mama Silva,  Largo, Adam Voss, the Bone Angel and the rest of my large cast of characters. Skyscrapers,  empty desert roads, cactus and moonlight over the mountains – it all comes together in a new and different fantasy setting.  I hope you’ll  stop by – and  visit again and again.

Oh yeah – that language lesson I mentioned:

In Soledad City Spanish is spoken by many characters.  Here’s a quick guide to frequently used phrases:

Bruja/Brujo – witch

Curanderia – a healer’s shop

mijo/mija – my son/my daughter – often used as an endearment

Mi tia – my aunt ( which is what everyone says about Mama Silva)

La Migra –   the border authorities

You have to admit,  it’s much easier than Dothraki.  Stay tuned.

“Run With The Moon” – New Short Fiction

RunWiththe-Moonblog

Deep in the hour just before dawn, Adam jolts awake. What did he hear, out there on the makeshift front porch of this battered old Airstream? Or was it nothing but a dream of gunfire and roadside bombs in that other desert, half a world away?

He lies still, listening. No sounds now but the usual ones: a night bird’s sleepy chitter, yip and giggle of coyotes down the wash. But after a moment, there it is again, a rustle and thump right out front.

“God damn it,” says Adam. Where’s that crazy streak of witching when you need it the most? Well, he’s got other ways to handle business. Swinging out of bed, he reaches for the gun beside his pillow.

Readers of my flash fiction “Glitter Girl” have met the world weary witch Adam Voss.  “Glitter Girl” was told in Adam’s words as he met the pretty rich teen who thought what she wanted was a spell for love.

I wrote that story a while ago, but I’ve always liked the narrator and his cynical take on love, witchery and power. So a few weeks ago he got his own name and backstory, and I’ve been working on giving him more of a role to play in the goings on of the Moon Road universe.

“Run With The Moon” is a new short story that brings together Adam and another new Soledad City character, Velocity Girard.

You’ll see more of her in the upcoming novel “A Patch of Cool” and other Soledad stories. I’m also working on a short piece that explores Velocity’s backstory – stay tuned for that.

Soledad City isn’t meant to be a catchall for every magical creature in the world, but the desert really is a strange and wondrous place, well represented especially in Terri Windling’s lovely, lovely book The Wood Wife. (Read it!)   I hope this little story captures a bit of that wonder.

Want to read the rest of “Run With The Moon”?   Part Two comes next Monday, June 27, 2016.

 

New Flash Fiction: In Santa Cruz

SantaCruzVirginIn Santa Cruz, the border is only a breath away.  On summer nights the searchlights of la migra stitch the mountains and the road spins out snakebelly white between Tombstone and Nogales. Taking those empty curves through the grasslands you lean hard on the gas because

You’re looking for the Virgin with the cracked feet and the poppy smile.  You saw her once, high on a hill: eyeblink glimpse from the back seat of a car bound for Mexico. She was framed in white stone and dead flowers, and offerings of broken dolls and stuffed animals filled the mouth of her cave.

You’d thought she vanished under the weight of the years between then and now. But this midnight squirms with nerves and heat lightning and a roadside prayer might cool your fevered soul.  She was somewhere along this two lane. You’ll know her when you see her.

South of Patagonia, bats drift against the stars like burned paper.  Your high beams snag a bullet-chopped sign that says Quarantine. In Santa Cruz, rabies always simmers in the blood of the land dwellers.   Cinder-eyed on the fringes of the light,  ibex watch you pass.  They never have rabies.

But there’s no Virgin in these parts.  Maybe a mad bat bit her one of these glassy nights. At Lochiel, bronze plaques declare the place a historical site, but you push on. You know the story anyway: doomed boys in blue, cavalrymen dropped by cholera before the Apache ever got close.  They never knew your Virgin anyway. She prays for sorefooted travelers begging with dime store candles and drifters with frayed hearts.

She has to be close now. You can trust a hill Maria. She won’t take her broken toes to Nogales where the music fills up the empty spaces in the night.

Up ahead, trees get thick and moths ride the headlights.  You round a skinny curve and river smells rise up around you.  This is it; she’s here.  Cottonwood trees lean on their shadows as you pull over under her hill.   Crowned in white stone she waits in plaster silence while you climb the little path worn down by many feet.

You breathe in the scents of her sanctuary: dying carnations and candlewax and dust.  A ceramic pig and a one-legged doll lie inside her circle.  With no other offering  than your own fractured heart, you wait with them for the mercy she holds in that one chipped eye.

Glitter Girl: To Be Continued?

Glitter GirlblogSo Glitter Girl got a bit of a redesign the other day, with some tweaking on the cover,  new front matter and one key detail in the story.    But the core of the piece, born out of a visit I once paid to Beverly Hills High School when I was teaching in LA, remains the same.  Glitter Girl is all those pretty blondes with fathers in the film and music industries.

The story is told from the viewpoint of someone else, though. The Witchman narrates, and one reader said he didn’t learn enough about the character from his “voice.” Another asked if the Witchman will ever get to  star in another story, so that readers could know more about him.

I’ve been thinking that it might be interesting to follow these characters out of this story into the bigger world of the Moon Road. The Glitter Girl herself has quite a journey ahead as she learns what the spell to turn the heart of some rich empty headed hunk will really cost her.  The Witchman called it right – it isn’t love she wants, it’s power.  Will she really rip the heart out of the hunk and walk away?   She’s a card carrying member of the Mean Girls club, so that’s probably what happens. But I would like to see her come to terms with the magic she has unwittingly taken into herself.

And the Witchman, that battered war veteran hunkering down in the desert where he can be alone with his memories and his magic, seems to me to have a world of stories to tell.  So in the parlance of TV shows, I’m making him a regular.  He now has a name:  Adam Voss.  He also has a backstory of service in the Gulf War, a wound and a meager pension – and witchcraft of the darkest kind.  His narrative crosses a little with that of his fellow wounded warrior in the short story  “Cold Wind.”

Adam will appear in the upcoming Soledad City novel, “A Patch of Cool” when musician on the run Lucas Horne takes a terrifying ride through the desert and a disastrous detour at the truck stop/cafe where Adam lives out back.

Adam also has a bit of history with Velocity, the owner of Cafe Colibri in downtown Soledad City – and a magic creature in her own right.  More on Velocity in upcoming character sketches.

Any thoughts, ideas, storylines you’d like to see?  Drop a comment here or share a thought on Twitter.

 

The Making of “Black Dog”

My short story “Black Dog” is out  today – nothing like starting the New Year right with a bit of black magic from our friends the Merchant clan. You can read it here, or download your very own copy from Issuu.

“Black Dog” has its roots in a story my mother told me when I was a child. She grew up in southern West Virginia, a hill woman to the core, and i grew up on tale after tale of Appalachian witching, ghosts and wicked souls. The story had to do with a mysterious black dog that appeared after someone died. It showed up at the house during the wake, then at the graveside, and then it went away – and no one ever knew whose dog it was or where it came from.

That story wove its way into other kinds of tales, too, of witches and their familiars, and the eerie stories of strange people in old houses. Joss Merchant and his clan of witches and black magic traffickers came later, when I created the world of Sorrows Hill, with its connections to mid 19th century Appalachia, the world of Faerie and the present day.

Magic runs through the members of the Merchant clan, however hard they try to avoid it. And they do try. This story introduces the granddaughter of the great witch Joss. We’ll see more of her later on.

Through my design site Luna Blue Studios I created the cover art and package for this story, and published it on Issuu. Of the various magazine-style publishing sites I’m most partial to Issuu, even with its drawbacks (which I’ll talk about in another post). Issuu’s publications have a worldwide reach and are very easy to create – a good combination for making visually rich work available to a wider audience.

What did you think of Black Dog? If you like it, please share! And sign up here as a fan to get updates on new stories and other updates from the worlds of Sorrows hill and the Moon Road.

Black Dog: A Sorrows Hill Story

Preacher Said

preachersaidgraphicPreacher said

That humpbacked beast called sin waits just at the edge of sight.

If you turn your back he’s on you

Just like that green slime thing we saw that time on the midnight movie.

Preacher said

You got to pray and pray and pray some more.

Pray for the armor and the sword!  Pray for the strength to prevail!

 

Well I think I saw that old beast out back in Mama’s garden just last evening.

Under the shadows by the willow tree come twilight

I squeezed my eyes up sideways and I saw him, dressed up just like Sunday in Preacher’s tail coat.

Even had a Bible flapping in the wind.

Wrapping arms around Mama

Till Pappy come round the bend in the old post road.

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