Short Story Excerpt: Beyond the Familiar by Jeff Young – Afterpunk Anthology

Short Story, Writer's Feature, Writing

JY Steam.jpgMeet Jeff Young.

Jeff Young is a bookseller first and a writer second – although he wouldn’t mind a reversal of fortune.

He is an award winning author who has contributed to the anthologies: Writers of the Future V.26, In an Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk, Clockwork Chaos, Gaslight and Grimm, By Any Means, Best Laid Plans, Dogs of War, Man and Machine, If We Had Known, Fantastic Futures 13, The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson, TV Gods & TV Gods: Summer Programming. Jeff’s own fiction is collected in TOI Special Edition 2 – Diversiforms and the forthcoming Spirit Seeker. He also edited the Drunken Comic Book Monkey line, TV Gods and TV Gods –Summer Programming. He has led the Watch the Skies SF&F Discussion Group of Camp Hill and Harrisburg for seventeen years. Jeff is also the proprietor of Helm Haven, the online Etsy and Ebay shops, costuming resources for Renaissance and Steampunk.

 

Beyond the Familiar Excerpt

“The departed have better things to do than talk to you.”

Kassandra met that statement from Madam Foss with a canted eyebrow.

“Look at me like that all you will lassie, but it’s still the truth.” She tipped her teacup back and drank down the last bit as Kassandra waited for her to continue. “It may sound absurd but the dead don’t always have an interest in what the price of butter is. They’ve moved on. They’ve joined the grand choir. They’ve earned their reward. They’ve other concerns.”

Kassandra couldn’t help but notice that as Madam Foss delivered her last comment her eyes drifted off to the right and she lifted the empty cup for another sip only to find she’d already emptied it. Kassandra enjoyed her time with her new mentor. However, she often found that not only was it important what Madam Foss relayed but also what she avoided. Since it was expected of her, she asked, “Well how does one engage with the departed then? My former teacher was grave robbing and then forcing the spirits to speak.”

Madam Foss’s dark wrinkled visage puckered up even farther as if she’d been offered something scraped off of the road outside. “You and I will be avoiding any such wrongdoing. What we do is like a tool. You can build a house with it or you can lay about with it doing all sorts of damage that not only hurts those around you but also you.” With that one of her fingers shot out and dug into Kassandra’s chest. “You will be better than that wretch.”

Leaning back in the chair, so she could reach for her teacup and put herself out of the range of that finger, Kassandra considered her mentor.

Madam Foss kept her hand outstretched for a moment longer and then leaned back into her own chair. “We speak to the dead mostly through intermediaries. There are those that are just as restless as they were in life. They can find the spirits we need to speak to and if those are unwilling to speak, the intermediaries can carry messages.”

“They are familiars,” Kassandra said suddenly pleased with herself at the realization.

The chair creaked as Madam Foss lunged towards her once again, finger pointed and then thought better of the action. She clutched her hands together, staring at Kassandra. “I keep forgetting that you are so much older than most who are brought to me.” She shook her head, the gray curls swaying under her bonnet, “I forget that you like to think for yourself instead of just listen and listen good like a younger one would. So lassie if you say familiar to anyone else, they’ll be calling witchcraft in no time at all. What we do has nothing to do with the dark parts we were discussing before. Perhaps those spirits do become familiar and perhaps that’s why they take such a name, but the common man only knows that as evil. We speak to intermediaries, to intermediaries only, clear? We are mediums. We speak for the dead and the dead speak to us. That’s all that matters. When someone decides they know better than we do, that’s when words like ‘evil’ and ‘witch’ gets tossed about. That’s when they start gathering tinder.”

She considered Kassandra for a moment longer her dark eyes squinting as if she could see inside her. Then the passage of a dirigible overhead caused the windows of Madam Fosse’s small home to shudder and broke her attention. She stood up suddenly and gestured for Kassandra to follow her. Setting aside her teacup, Kassandra brushed the front of her dress down and then stepped after her mentor as she crossed the sitting room and walked through the foyer. The house was split by a large staircase that rose into the dimness of the upper level. On the other side were a pair of large wooden doors. Kassandra had spent most of her time in the sitting room and the kitchen beyond during her visits. They hadn’t ventured to the other side of the house until now. Madam Foss pulled out a large brass key and unlocked the doors and then threw them open.

Dark curtains covered the windows in what was a converted dining room. Bookcases were set up so that the square corners of the room were rounded off. Wooden chairs with caned bottoms were spread around about the perimeter and a rich rug covered the floor. But what drew Kassandra’s attention was the table at the center.

It was circular and draped in deep red velvet. A wooden disk lay on top only slightly smaller in diameter. At its center was a hole and braided copper wires rose from inside the table to latch on to the Jacobs Ladder that climbed halfway to the ceiling. Copper threads chased across the wooden circle in strange patterns and two brass handgrips were mounted close enough for easy use. A leather-backed chair was pushed up to the table in front of the grips.

Madam Foss pulled back the chair and said to Kassandra, “Sit.”

Before they’d merely been conversing. The tone that the medium took with her now was one that had Kassandra dropping into the chair before she considered rebelling. Instinctively she reached out for the grips. They were so cold to her touch that she almost pulled away but the sharp glance from Madam Foss made her keep her hands in place. The older woman reached down and began turning a large crank that was just visible under the tablecloth. As she did so, a crackly snapped through the air and a flicker of static flew up the Jacob’s Ladder, then another and another until visible arcs ascended towards the top and dissipated into the surrounding air. The copper wiring on the tabletop danced with fat blue sparks and then the current hit Kassandra shooting her hair out in all directions. Her red curls furled like a corona about her.

“Now you know why I wear a hat,” came Madam Foss’s dry comment.

But Kassandra wasn’t paying attention any longer. She was trying to understand where the water had come from. Then it struck her, it wasn’t water and it was coming from her. Her skin, her pores, her mouth, her eyes, her ears – every exit from her was weeping something that wasn’t water but rather ectoplasm. Madam Foss had called it the insulation between worlds at one point. There it was real, right before her. Gradually, the silver substance began to collect in a sphere over the table. When Kassandra looked down at the design in copper with its circles about the handgrips, she realized that it was designed to help keep the ectoplasm contained. The Jacobs Ladder overhead was bleeding off just the right amount of static to keep the circuit she was part of safe. More and more ectoplasm kept pouring from her until the sphere swelled to twice the size of her head. She looked at it closely and discovered that it was spinning ever so slightly. Then she lunged forward out of the chair and plunged her head into the silver mass.

At first she didn’t notice anything. It was almost as if her eyes were adjusted to a dark room. There was a faint sound that might be footsteps and a light breeze blew across her face. Gradually, she began to realize that she was looking down what she could only describe as a path. It was so straight and long that perspective vanished into the distance. She could see a little of what looked like woods to either side but couldn’t actually move her point of view. It was as if her head weren’t with her any longer but only her eyes. There were shapes and shadows ahead of her, however they were so far down the path they were more like suggestions or imperfections in the overall pattern. Then one of the shadows grew darker and became more defined. It stepped out of the side onto the path and crossed it quickly. But before it faded into the other side, it hesitated. For the tiniest part of an instant, Kassandra thought that she’d seen a dark cloaked form turn to stare at her.

The last time that she’d seen the shade of her mother Anastasia, she’d worn a dark cloak. If there was any spirit she wished to speak to it was most certainly her mother. If her mother were to become her familiar spirit, it would be almost perfect. But the figure was gone. The path was fading and Madam Foss’s iron grip was pulling her forcibly back into the chair.

As she sat there gasping, her hands torn from the brass grips, Madam Foss considered Kassandra, hands akimbo. “Should’ve known you were going to do that. From now on girl you listen to me if you plan on staying on. The other side doesn’t take kindly to intruders. There are things that keep us out. That’s not how we talk to the other side. That’s the important part. We talk to the other side. You don’t get to visit unless you’re planning on staying. Now you just sit back and I’ll get you another cup of tea. Your heart’s gonna race and be out of rhythm for a little and it’s likely you’ll have trouble catching your breath. You’re young so you’ll do fine but it’ll hurt.”

With that she reached under the table, pulled the handle she’d cranked into place against the underside of the able. She patted Kassandra on the shoulder as the table crackled with a few stray sparks and wondered off after the tea.

While Kassandra sat there blinking, black spots chasing across her vision and her heart thumping away like a swallow trapped in a chimney, her mind was racing. She’d seen heaven. Well, she’d seen the other side. It wasn’t anything like she’d expected.

***

 

The Details on the upcoming Afterpunk Anthology

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https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/tales-of-paranormal-steampunk
eSpec Books brings you three great new steampunk books of witches and magic and the great beyond.
eSpec Books is back with three delightfully punky tomes for your reading enjoyment. Won’t you help us make these fantastical books a reality? We bring you familiar favorites and shiny new names, but as always wonderful fiction. This campaign will allow us to cover production costs, pay the authors, and possibly include artwork in these books, which you can read about below…

THE CLOCKWORK WITCH

by Michelle D. Sonnier

The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Arabella is destined to disappoint, when she was expected to shine. Though she descends from a long line of gifted witches she has earned the moniker of a “brown bud” showing no sign of magical talent.

When it truly seems her lot can grow no worse, she discovers an unnatural affinity for…of all things…technology. Not only are the mysteries of the mechanical world open to her, but her new-found ability allows her to manipulate them, making her the first ever clockwork witch and anathema to the nature of the witching world.

How will she come to grips with her new power when she must question if she will survive the judgement of her family and her peers?

spiritseeker.jpgSPIRIT SEEKER  

by Jeff Young

The Kassandra Leyden Adventures

The Leydens were people of extraordinary means. The father a well-known adventurer. The mother a spiritualist oft consulted by the government of New Britain. The daughter, Kassandra, inherited both the skill and sense of adventure that made her parents great.

But when her mother vanishes without a trace, and her father turns toward spirits of a fluid nature as he loses himself in memory, Kassandra is left to find her own way and purpose. She quickly learns a sense of caution as she discovers there is as much intrigue as adventure about the world she lives in. And not all those she’s had faith in are to be trusted.

With the whispers of spirits in her ear and unlikely allies at her back, Kassandra strives to defend both the living and the departed…after all…

It’s the Spirit of the matter…

 

AFTER PUNK: STEAMPOWERED TALES OF THE AFTERLIFE

edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Greg Schauer

While mankind can scarce hope to pierce the Veil without crossing it, a few intrepid souls will ever bend their will against the aether, combining artifice and the arcane to uncover its secrets.

From voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more, these tales leave no gravestone unturned.

Be it heaven or hell or the limbo in between, the hereafter is about to get ‘Punked.

With stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, Travis I. Sivart, Jeff Young, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

Guest Post by Chaithanya Sohan

Guest Post, Misc.

cover1-2.jpgAbout the Book

Naseer was nine years old when he escaped Taliban and fled Afghanistan. His story, “There are some people who are coming to take me away”, chronicles the resilience of a nine year old boy as he traveled from Afghanistan to America in his quest for the American dream. “I saw a ripe mango I’d like to pluck” showcases the love story of Chidibere and Ifeyinwa and their struggles with language, culture and being African in America. In the story “Kosovo, really…cool”, Lisian takes us through his journey to America and often being asked his identity in spite of being white.  In the story “I am exotic, mocha, P-diddy”, Parag describes his journey from a young sixth grader who hid his attraction to boys in conservative India to embracing his sexuality in America. America Deconstructed follows the journeys of sixteen immigrants as they maneuver cultural differences, accents and uncomfortable situations while feeling a sense of belonging in America.

Meet Chaithanya Sohan.

Chaithanya Sohan immigrated to America from India in 2001. She currently works as an Electrical Engineer in the Silicon Valley. Chaithanya graduated from San Jose State University with Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Santa Clara University.

Chaithanya Sohan has worked as a writer since 2002 when she started writing content for various websites. She free-lanced as a writer until 2013 when she decided to write her book America Deconstructed.  Some of her works are published in websites such as http://www.rethinkreality.com. Chaithanya enjoys traveling and runs her own blogs http://www.nomadicsue.wordpress.com & http://www.wordspeare.wordpress.com.

Meet Shaima Adin.

Shaima Adin came to the United States as a refugee in May 2000 at the age of 16 with her mother and sisters. She is originally from Afghanistan but has lived several years of her life in Pakistan as a refugee as well.  Currently, she works in an engineering management position at a Safety and Quality testing laboratory in Union City, CA.

In light of recent times and all the debate about immigrants and refugees around the world, Shaima joined forces with Chaithanya to put forth the stories of immigrants from different backgrounds that have called America home. Her purpose in doing so is to paint a different picture of immigrants and refugees by displaying their side of the stories and the struggles of starting from nothing.

Guest Post – Home to an Immigrant

I have been an immigrant for more than half my life. I am good at being an immigrant more than a citizen of a place. I don’t remember what it feels like to blend into the crowd. “Where are you from?” is something I get asked all the time. People rarely pencil me down as Indian because of my British accent and European facial features as they call it. Yet, I am as Indian as the person with the Indian accent. What does it mean to be an immigrant? Had someone asked me this question before stamping my passport when I first entered America, I would have failed miserably. Today, after sixteen years as an immigrant, I know what that means. Moving to America as a teenager has helped me develop a sense of self that being born and raised in India did not. Even as I live among family and peers who call themselves Indian- American, I define myself as Indian. In spite of being eligible for US citizenship, I have retained my Indian passport as a sign of my belonging to the place I was born in. I fear becoming an US citizenship would strip me of the place I continue to call home and the place where the dead body of my dad rests. Which is home is a question I have always asked myself? Is it the country where I was born, the country that holds the ashes of the man whose identity defines me or the country that I work and live in?

The journey to becoming an immigrant began months before I embarked on my flight ride from India to America. In spite of speaking good English, I was forced to learn the American pronunciation of words before my TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam. I sat in my room with headphones on trying to pronounce photography in American English. After two exams (TOEFL and SAT), and one real test (immigration interview), I thought the words;  “Welcome to the United States of America” was the finale to the long journey. I thought the hardest part of my American journey was over.  A day into my arrival, I was walking the streets of Pleasanton when a stranger asked me “How are you?” I stopped my walk trying to answer the question as he walked right past me. I was absolutely confused. Why did he ask me how I was and did not wait for my response? I did not know then that How are you was almost like a Hello. As a tomboy, American fashion proved challenging. It took two years for my baggy jeans to get tighter and my t-shirts to morph into fashionable tops. Moments like this inspired the birth of America Deconstructed, a short story collection about immigrants in America.

I have had several moments when I have hoped for an immigrant manual to ease the stress of the situation. The initial years when I was assimilating with the American culture were challenging and lonely. America Deconstructed was born in those moments when my immigrant friends and I shared our experiences in America. Sixteen immigrants have shared their journey in this book as they have recounted their humorous and embarrassing situation, their trials and tribulations. There is everything from love, war, romance, loss, marriage and kids. Please support us by pre-ordering our book by clicking the link below: https://publishizer.com/america-deconstructed/

 

Social Media access for America Deconstructed

https://www.facebook.com/AmericaDeconstructed

/https://twitter.com/america_deconst

https://www.instagram.com/america_deconstructed/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34234648-america-deconstructed

https://americadeconstructedblog.wordpress.com

 The crowdfunding campaign will go live on March 13th, 2017.

Stephen Lomer’s Guest Post: The Influences of Everyday Life When Writing Fiction

Guest Post, Writing

stephen-lomer.jpg

Meet Stephen Lomer.

Stephen Lomer has been writing books, novellas, short stories, and scripts for nearly a decade, and one or two of them are actually pretty good. A grammar nerd, Star Trek fan, and other things that chicks dig, Stephen is the creator, owner, and a regular contributor to the website Television Woodshed. He’s a hardcore fan of the Houston Texans, despite living in the Hub of the Universe his whole life, and believes Mark Twain was correct about pretty much everything.

Stephen lives on Boston’s North Shore with his wife, Teresa. Stargazer Lilies or Nothing at All is his first published work.

Author Links:
Website:
http://www.stephenlomer.com
Amazon:
http://amzn.to/2jpO77G
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/AuthorStephenLomer/
Twitter:
https://twitter.com/stephenlomer

Guest Post:

The Influences of Everyday Life When Writing Fiction

As a writer, no matter where I go, no matter what I do, I’m always picking up little bits and pieces of life and seeing if they fit into a current writing project, or if they might be useful for something down the line. Sometimes I do it consciously, but most of the time I’m not even aware of it.

The ones that have no value are sorted right onto the junk pile and eventually forgotten. But the good ones are caught in the creative sieve and examined carefully, like a prospector checking big hunks of rock that just might be gold after all.

The really remarkable thing is that the good bits can stay stuck in there for years and then suddenly resurface to be examined again. Because things that don’t necessarily fit a current story or the next story might be just the thing for a story 10 years from now.

I’ll give you a prime example. Just before the holidays last year, I found myself at the Burger King drive-thru. (Please don’t judge me.) I placed my order and drove up to the window. There was a young woman working there, who told me the total and took my debit card. In the moment before she handed it back to me, when you might expect to hear “Do you want ketchup?” or some other food-related question, she piped up with a sudden, “So. Are you all set for the holidays?”

I was so taken aback that I wasn’t even certain how to answer such a simple question. I eventually found my voice and told her that yes, I was ready for the holidays. We finished our transaction and I drove away, but that moment stuck with me.

As I rolled it over in my mind, a similar memory came floating to the surface. It was of an encounter at a Wendy’s drive-thru some 15 years prior, when I had unexpectedly befriended a young man of special needs who delighted in my frequent visits and had taken to calling me “boss.” One day that young man saw me roll up to his window and gave me the “hang on a second” finger and dug into his nearby backpack. He pulled out a small box, opened it, and asked my opinion on the engagement ring he’d bought his girlfriend.

It was actually a very sweet moment, but as I relived the memory and pondered how I could work it into a piece of quality fiction, I suddenly thought, What if it hadn’t been a ring? What if it had been a gun?

The story bloomed from there, and became my award-winning short story, My Friend Trevor. Okay, it hasn’t actually won any awards. But it should. To be honest, it’s not even finished yet.

The point is that you never know what little pieces or moments from your day-to-day life will be prime fodder for your fiction, or even what pieces or moments will trigger memories of things that you’d believed long forgotten that will work even better.

So make sure you’re out there, observing, interacting, even hitting the drive-thru every now and then. Anything can happen, and it could make a really good story.

Want more?

Check out the blurb below on Lomer’s latest publication.

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Stargazer Lilies or Nothing at All is a collection of short stories that has a little something for everyone. See what life is like for the poor mother of an insufferable perfectionist in the title story. Find out what’s to be done to save the hipsters in “So Ten Minutes Ago.” Enjoy an updated take on the Goldilocks story in “Trouble Bruin.” Ponder how our choices define our lives in “The Haunting of Flattop Harris.” Stand in the shoes of a young nurse trying to save the tiniest of lives from a city’s destruction in “Wallflower and Casanova.” PLUS! “Royally Screwed,” the story that serves as a prequel to the upcoming novel Typo Squad.

Gaslight & Grimm Blitz

Blog Blitz

G&GRed-Gold Leaf.jpgTitle: Gaslight & Grimm
Author(s): James Chambers, Christine Norris, Bernie Mojzes, Danny Birt, Jean Marie Ward, Jeff Young, Gail Z. and Larry N. Martin, Elaine Corvidae, David Lee Summers, Kelly A. Harmon, Jonah Knight, Diana Bastine, and Jody Lynn Nye.
Publisher: eSpec Books LLC
Release Date: May 2016
Genre: Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Sub-genre: Steampunk Fairytales
Type: Anthology

Summary: Once upon a time… ageless tales were told countlessly from one generation to the next. Tales of brave heroes and common men. Of beautiful princesses and good-hearted youths. Tales of danger and caution and magic…classics that still echo in our hearts and our fondest memories even to this day, told from worn, cherished books or from memory at Grandmother’s knee.BeforeAfter.jpg

Oh yes, tales have been told…but never quite like these. Journey with us through the pages of Gaslight and Grimm to discover timeless truths through lenses polished in the age of steam.

Buy Links:
Gaslight & Grimm received the Splendid! Award from Steampunk Journal!
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Want more Gaslight & Grimm fun?
Check out the photos below from the book’s launch party!

 

 

Guest Author Studio

Misc., Writing

 Jamie is back to share a short story with us!

Thanks for another visit Jamie!

(Please note: Viral was originally published by Arcadia University’s creative writing magazine “Quiddity”).

 

Viral – By Jamie Stewart

When he popped the question, the diamond didn’t matter. The fancy champagne he’d tipped into her glass would be gone in a swig. Even Ned’s sappy proclamations were responded to with the appropriate sprinkle of tears and then quickly tucked away for safekeeping.

What mattered most to Ash Ree was the dance. Their first dance. 

Videographers, photographers, Facebook uploads, wedding hashtags. Moments like these were immortal now, carved into synthetic stone on the microchips of every iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry in attendance. Whatever she and Ned decided to do for their first dance as husband and wife was sure to be documented forever. People had danced down the aisle to Bruno Mars, executed Baby’s fearless leap, and even staged flash mobs to celebrate their matrimony.

So whatever they did had to be brilliant. And it had to be perfect. Ned had a big family he liked showing off for. And she had a whole cast of fancy new coworkers to impress. As if the paperwork she was doing at the fashion magazine desk job wasn’t intimidating enough.

After Ned fell asleep that night, Ash rolled over to her bedside table. She swiped her thumb across the glass of her phone, eager to turn the brightness down. He had an early day tomorrow and she didn’t want to wake her darling fiancé. She let out a silent squeal as she thought that word. Fiancé. Then she adjusted the settings and admired her glistening rock in the fading light. She felt safe with the promise of forever wrapped around her finger. But it was just a piece of jewelry in the end. The real happiness, she realized, came from knowing the man she loved was equally devoted to her. It sounded sappy. Even thinking it made her blush, but for once Ash didn’t mind. Fiancés were allowed to be sappy.

In the bed beside her, he stirred, roused by the flash of light, but did not wake. Instead, his warm hand cupped the side of her skyward hip in a gesture of unconscious affection. Ash sighed and snuggled in. She was sure whatever they came up with would be great.  

With headphones in, she toggled to her “When He Asks” playlist. “The Time Of My Life,” “Unchained Melody,” and a dozen other potentials trickled into her ears, crooning gracefully and delivering her to a dreamland filled with romantic choreography. 

Hey Ash.”

The voice was close, but Ash had to peek through the plumage of arrangements on her desk in order to see who was speaking. Zoe Burch’s already plump face swelled even more as she smiled at Ash from behind the pineapple palms of a congratulatory fruit bouquet. Today, Zoe’s bulbous lips wore a slimy layer of bubblegum scented lip-gloss, which was offset by her frosted blue eye shadow. Ash shook her head good heartedly.

Someone’s gotten into mom’s makeup bag again, hasn’t she?”

The girl revealed her teeth and giggled. At first Zoe defied Ash’s expectations of what her boss’s thirteen-year-old daughter would be like. Ginger Burch was a no-nonsense, black pantsuit wearing, sleek bob cut kind of woman. She had started her career in the fashion industry as a lowly blogger and at the young age of twenty-nine was now the head of The Report, the biggest fashion magazine in the nation. Ginger was as slick and regimented a businesswoman as they come. Ash couldn’t have guessed she’d had the sex drive to reproduce, let alone squeeze out and raise this pigtailed puff of cotton candy.

Can I watch?” Zoe asked, wrapping a strand of frizzy hair around her pinkie, cutting off circulation to the skin beneath a sparkly gold nail. Despite her unexpected cutie-pie charm, Zoe had quickly won Ash’s heart. She was truly happy with her one friend in the otherwise no-nonsense office. Even if that friend wore scented body glitter and wasn’t technically employed.

Ash rose from her chair. Squatting, she scanned the office for Ginger, her chin tilted high.

Mom’s not here. She just left for the airport.”

Ash sat back in her chair, weighing the options. Usually, she didn’t mind letting Zoe pull up a few videos on YouTube at the end of the day. She knew Ginger’s dislike for pop music forced Zoe to put up with classical concertos day in and day out. And with Ginger constantly treating Ash like a plebian intern instead of the bona fide worker bee she actually was, Ash considered Zoe’s brief exposure to mind-numbing pop culture her much deserved payback. But now that she was engaged, Ash had wedding bills to think about. She had her job to think about.

Who is it today?” she asked tentatively, cradling the mouse against her chest. She hadn’t agreed yet. “It’s not last night’s Miley performance, it is?”

Zoe shook her head. The pompoms in her hair elastics bobbled back and forth. “Ed Sheeran’s new music video. Thinking Out Loud.”

And you’re not gonna tell Mom who let you watch it, right?”

Zoe shook her head again and the pompoms clattered. Ash caved, sliding the mouse over to the teenybopper who rolled up in an empty chair beside her.

While Zoe watched the screen, Ash collected the day’s scattered papers and slid them into the pockets of a plastic organizer. As she packed up to go home, she found herself humming along to the soothing electric guitar and the deep melody it produced. After everything was sorted, her eyes drifted up to the screen where a suited Ed Sheeran was spinning a beautiful dancer around like a seasoned pro. Ash stared, mesmerized by the beautiful way their bodies moved together, melting in and falling back.

From the other music videos Zoe had played, Ash was used to the singer baring nothing but a loop pedal and his alluring voice. But, sure enough, here he was prancing around like he’d been dancing his whole life. He caught every limb, aced every hold, nailed every lift. The entire dance was like one ubiquitous flow of movement. A perfect harmony. The song screamed romance. This was it.

This dance. These would be their first steps as husband and wife. As she watched the  video, Ash let the idea marinate, feeling it cement in her mind. Yes. If they could master the ballroom number, Ned’s swing-dancing parents would finally approve of Ash. The other ladies in her office would finally stop giving her grief for her “erm, practical” flats. If a non-dancer like Ed Sheeran could look that elegant mid-twirl, surely an engineer, ex-wrestler who hiked on the weekends and a secretary/yoga instructor-in-training could pull it off. They just had to practice.

They started that night. Ash prepped, laying out sweat rags and water bottles on the kitchen table of their tiny apartment while Ned cued up the video in the living room. With the couch hanging halfway out of the hall bathroom and the rug rolled up in a corner, they had an open space of cooperative hardwood flooring to learn the routine, ignoring the pile of discarded Chinese food containers from dinner.

Ready?” Ash asked him with a smile, wiping off the salty chicken residue and replacing it with a sheen of translucent lip-gloss. She was channeling Zoe. The look, the Sheeran, and even the secrecy. They had made a vow not to tell anyone about their surprise dance tribute.

Sure, but after this we have to call the caterers. And the florists. Apparently petunias won’t be in season.”

Yeah, yeah,” she consented, waving the to-dos away for the moment with a swipe of her hand. “But for the next half hour you’re my Suffolk Swayze. Let’s dance.”

She said the same thing three hours later after he’d finished the last egg roll and drained his third bottle of Gatorade. And a week later after a Sunday afternoon practice session. And the Wednesday night the following month.

Hun, I gotta stop,” he replied then, gripping his knees, the tendons bursting out through the skin. “You know what it does to my knee.” She nodded and stepped back from the hold they’d been working on. He’d been benched in college after tearing his IT band in a championship match and these days even his hikes were getting shorter. The constant tension from dancing wasn’t helping either. She could feel his body tremble that night each time he’d tried to hoist her up. But they only had one more combination to master, the final lift where he would flip her over his shoulder. Just one more lift and the dance would be perfect.

Are you sure? Come on, we almost have it.” She tightened her ponytail.

No, I can’t. Not tonight. Not any night. I’m sorry,” he said, backing away from her and looping a towel across the back of his slippery neck.

Alright, we’ll stop there for tonight. But you’ll get it, Ned. It’s only one more lift. We just have to put everything we have into it.” High on sweaty endorphins, she wanted to run the routine ten more times. She could feel his parent’s approval right there, just out of reach. She couldn’t stop now. If she did, it might disappear forever. She bent down, stretching her calves.

Why don’t we just do it without the final lift?” he asked, a small trace of pain in his tired voice. His knee was still ablaze with angry, inflamed veins pulsating just beneath the skin. Ash could see how much pain he was in. Her heart sank. She’d never impress anyone without a perfect routine. But the grimace on his face wore her down. So she wouldn’t be perfect. So what?

She conceded, sighing a little and giving him a sideways head nod.

Good.” He sounded relieved. On his way back from stuffing the greasy take out cartons in the trash, he approached and kissed her on the temple. “You coming to bed?”

No, you go ahead. I’ll join you later. I’m gonna keep at it.”

Alright,” he shrugged off down the hallway, lifting his strong knee over the sofa that blocked the path to their bedroom and guiding the other knee over slowly.

The wedding was in a month now. Every night they ran through the finalized, lift-less routine to keep the steps fresh in their minds. But as the weeks went on, Ash could feel Ned’s knee growing stronger. He executed the steps boldly, gripping her firmer as he guided her body through dips and twirls. Their dance wouldn’t echo in the chats of envious wedding circles, but it would be clean and polished. And Ash was happy.

On Ash’s last Friday at work before the ceremony, Zoe came up to her desk, chewing on a candy necklace and grinning with dubious excitement.

Oh my god, Ash, guess what,” she stated, slapping her hands down on the work surface.

Ash checked off a trio of related emails and deleted them, moving through her to-do list.

What’s that?” she asked absentmindedly.

Mom just dumped her latest boyfriend. I overheard her on the phone. Apparently he was getting a little too friendly with her assistant, if you know what I mean.” Zoe crunched down on a pastel pearl and licked the chalky candy powder from her lips.

You don’t say.” Ash continued scanning over the spread for next month’s issue of The Report, meticulously checking for spelling errors or uncredited photos.

Zoe stretched out the candy-covered bungee string, sizing up her next victim. She selected a baby blue flower charm and bit down.

Yup. She said she’s gonna be at you wedding after all. She wants to start hunting for a new boy toy. And I haven’t even told you the best part yet. She said I could be her date!”

Ash looked up from the screen, staring blankly at Zoe.

Your mom is coming to my wedding,” she said. “Your mom who suddenly needs a new assistant she can trust not to fool around with her male friends. Your mom who doesn’t let you listen to pop music.” She could feel the weight of her mistake sinking in. Being Ginger’s personal assistant would pave the way for her future. She could finally move beyond her desk job at the magazine. She could have a real foot in the fashion world.

But if Ash twirled around at her wedding to the song she’d rehearsed, she’d never have a shot at getting on her boss’s good side, if the woman even had one. Ginger was so specifically uptight that Ash didn’t even bother offering her pens anymore. She’d tried Paper Mate, Sharpie, and even a fancy ballpoint one from her college literary society. Nothing. But this could be even worse than an inadequate writing utensil offering. If Ginger found out about Ash’s clandestine musical arrangement with Zoe, she could get herself canned. Especially if the recently single Ginger was still on a rage-induced firing binge.

Zoe shook her head. “Mom actually likes Ed Sheeran. She’ll let me listen to in the car. I showed her his video and she was impressed by the dance. She liked the flippy-lift at the end.”

Ash felt like she was going to faint. Or throw up. Or both. She fell backwards heavily into her chair as Zoe skipped off, mentioning something about pilfering the leftover sushi from the conference room.

Ash still hadn’t managed to catch her breath by the next evening as her mother tightened the bust of her dress, just minutes before the big dance.

Mom, I don’t know if I can go through with this,” Ash said, feeling the butterflies beating up against the inside of her ribcage.

All she could think about was her Ginger watching as she skirted the final combination. Watching her scrimp. Watching her chicken out. Who would want an assistant, let alone an employee, that gave her second best? Not a magazine icon like Ginger Burch, that’s for sure.

But what about Ned’s knee? They’d never nailed the routine with all the lifts. His knee was always too weak to hold her. If she tried it, she could really hurt him.

But if she didn’t go for the final lift, she could kiss her shot at a promotion goodbye.  Then she’d be stuck at her desk and he’d be married to a quitter.

When she stepped out onto the dark dance floor, she couldn’t see the faces in the crowd. Then Ned came out from the shadows and took her hand as the music started and the lights clicked on. He twirled her around, showing off his bride to the crowd. Then he stopped her.

In the perfect position for her to notice the now illuminated face of Ginger. Smiling.

Ash watched Ginger shift a beaded clutch into the crook of her arm and add to the swell of applause. Then she glanced down and shared a smile with Zoe, who was standing by her side.

As Ned twirled her, Ash felt the future spiraling out in two different directions. They aced the synchronized hand movements. He caught her swaying body. She grazed his broad shoulder. A chorus of awed whispers emerged as the crowd recognized the choreography and realized what the happy couple was doing. Oh, how lovely! How hard they must have practiced! How well they’d managed to keep the dance a secret!

The steps took Ash closer to the edges of the dance floor and she was able to see more faces, all stretched into smiles of pure delight. This was it; they were doing it. They were making theirs a wedding everyone would remember.

But there was only one way to keep it up. They had to do the whole routine if she wanted to impress Ginger. She spun back to Ned’s ear and started to whisper.

Babe, I want t-” A spin, three steps. Apart and then back together. “ooo do the li-” Ash had memorized the dance so well that she wasn’t even thinking about what her body was doing. Just her mind. And her mind was made up. They were doing the final lift.

But he hadn’t heard her over the roaring cheers that arose from the crowd. And now they were apart again. She couldn’t repeat her heads up. As she executed her steps, she tried desperately to catch his eye, but he was too busy playing to the crowd, milking every minute of his time in the spotlight, just as they’d practiced.

As the beat hit, she started for him.

She slid to the side, lining her body up with his. She placed her hands carefully on his chest. And then, putting it all on the line, she squatted and jolted herself up into the air.

Ash didn’t know what she was expecting to happen, if she thought the fall would be sudden and knock the wind out of her, or if she thought he would buckle under her unexpected weight and create a pile of limbs on the shiny floor. But neither scenario happened, because he lifted her. With firm and strong hands, like the ones he’d placed on her hip the night he proposed. He flipped her up and she sailed over his shoulder. Then she slid down, touched the floor, and together they twirled around the center of the room, fluid and harmonious as a well-oiled machine. And, as the song ended, Ned laid down next to her on the floor to end the dance.

I never trusted you anyway,” he said, kneeing her with something cold and hard.

Wha-” She drew back against the unexpected chill.

It’s my dad’s old swing brace,” he smirked, whispering under the cover of wild applause. “I guess we both came out here with surprises, huh?” Then he kissed her and everything was perfect.

Until Ash stood to greet her grinning guests and found that two had gone missing.

Zoe?” Ash called, holding up a finger to Ned who nodded and turned back to receive their adoring fans. Ash turned and cleared the reception hall before heading to check the bathroom. There, she found Ginger leading a very green-faced Zoe out of the third stall.

Oh. Hi dear,” Ginger said, leading her daughter to the sink as Ash burst into the room.

What happened?” Ash asked, flustered. “Did you guys miss the dance?”

Zoe nodded. “Bad sushi,” she said, wiping rogue chunks from her cheeks with the back of her hand.

Oh no, here honey. Use this.” Ginger pumped a towel from the dispenser and ran it under cold water. “Cornelia has some calls to make on Monday, that’s for sure,” she said bitterly.

Cornelia?” Ash inquired meekly.

My new assistant,” Ginger replied, traces of tension still lingering in her voice. “That’s the only good thing that’s came out of this horrendous ordeal.” Ginger gestured in a spiral with her hand, indicating the past few minutes. “She called from the temp agency just now while I was holding back Zoe’s hair. Looks like my kind of worker, too. Burning the oil on a Saturday night. This chick’s got drive.”

As her daughter finished up at the sink and tossed the damp paper into the trash, Ginger steered Zoe out of the bathroom through the swinging door. “See you on Monday, Amber,” Ash’s boss called from over her shoulder.

When they were gone, Ash just stared at the door, watching the wood grain slab thwap back and forth, congruent with the beats of disappointment that sounded in her heart. After a while, Ned poked his head into the ladies room to find her standing there. He neared, a loving smile on his face and the keys to their honeymoon getaway car in his upturned palm.

Need a lift?” he asked.

 

Want more info about Jamie?

See her interview for A New Look On Books: https://anewlookonbooks.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/march-writers-feature/

Or visit her website at: xojamiestewart.wordpress.com

Or find her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/xoJamieStewart

Thanks Jamie!

July Author’s Gallery Interview

Author Interview, Writer's Feature

Good morning everyone! Each month I will post a two part feature. The first part will be an interview with the month’s author and include a short bio. The second part of the feature is a sample of the writer’s work. Sounds fun right?

Everyone give a big welcome to July’s writer. *claps*

Meet Jeff Young.

jeff young

Jeff Young is a bookseller first and a writer second – although he wouldn’t mind a reversal of fortune.

He received a Writers of the Future award for “Written in Light and is the author of the forthcoming collections Kassandra Leyden Adventures and Diversiforms. He also has contributed to the anthologies: Writers of the Future v.26, By Any Means, Best Laid Plans, Dogs of War, In an Iron Cage, Fantastic Futures 13, Clockwork Chaos, TV Gods, The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson and the forthcoming Gaslight and Grimm launching at Balticon 50 Memorial Day Weekend. Jeff was published in the magazines eSteampunk, Realms, Cemetery Moon, Trail of Indiscretion, Realms Beyond, Carbon14 and Neuronet. He is an editor with Fortress Publishing for their Drunken Comic Book Monkey line as well as the anthology TV Gods.

Jeff has helped run the Watch the Skies SF&F Reading Group of Harrisburg and Camp Hill for more than fifteen years. He also is an instructor for the Step Back in Time class, which prepares children to enjoy all aspects of Renaissance Faires by learning about dress, language, culture, history and more. Finally, Jeff is also the proprietor of the online eBay and Etsy shops- Helm Haven Renaissance Wear, which feature Renaissance and Steampunk costume pieces.

 

Now onto the interview…

 

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

“In third grade I had a librarian recommend reading something a little different, Alexander Keys Sprockets a Little Robot. Now most people don’t recognize that particular but they might recognize Keys’ other work Escape From Witch Mountain (despite the movie with The Rock). Anyway, that was the gateway book to all of the science fiction and fantasy that I could get my hands on. Over time I began collecting a library of books that certainly hasn’t gotten any smaller since I’ve started working at the bookstore.

I’m not really sure when exactly that I started telling the stories instead of reading them, but I certainly can point to a homework assignment in eighth grade where we were given the task of writing a horror story in time for Halloween. Let’s just say that it was probably the first complete story I wrote and it got me some attention from teachers who encouraged me to keep writing. I started out on my parent’s ancient antique typewriter that was so heavy it would have made a good boat anchor and have been going ever since.”

 

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

“Quirky. I like to look at things differently. For instance, I’ve written a few stories from alien viewpoints. I like a challenge like that. After all if you are doing something from an alien viewpoint it can’t be truly alien because your human audience needs something to latch on to, so you find similarities and work with them. But for the story that I’ve written for the anthology Beyond the Cradle, the way that the aliens solve an issue of sharing a world is so outside of the realm of human consideration it becomes a mystery for the human main character to resolve.”

 

How did you come up with the titles for your stories?

“I usually stick something evocative of the general idea on the first draft and then gradually work my way around to coming up with something I like. Case in point, the story I’m working on right now is listed as “The Higgs Weapon” if you go to the website for it’s anthology. The other day though, I really wanted to change that to “Mother of Twists”. Very rarely am I married to an idea and am willing to change things as necessary. When I wrote a story for the anthology Dogs of War, my main character was able to use a cyber-enhanced hawk to scout out enemy territory. I started off calling the story “Some Thing to Watch Over Me” as a ‘clever’ take off on the old song title “Someone to Watch Over Me”. I got a note from the editor asking if I was willing to change the title to something else, so I offered, “Raptor’s Choice” because the hawk actually does have a great deal to do with how the story ends. Finally, the editor suggested “Covert Strike”, which has the advantage of being accurate since the mission was covert and the hawk’s name is ‘Strike’. All of which goes to show, you should really be willing to work with your editor. While I think the title can be just as important as say, the cover art and you can literally misjudge a work by either – to me, you better have one amazing first sentence to really set the hook on your reader.”

 

Is there a message in any of your stories that you want readers to grasp?

“Not necessarily. I think some of my stories have messages, like the Diversiform stories which are set in a universe where humanity is doing pretty well. After awhile I get tired of reading dystopias, stories where humanity is on the brink of extinction or stories where we’re annihilating everyone else. I think it’s entirely possible to write a story set in a universe where humanity has a positive future awaiting them. Having said that, we’re human enough to screw things up, not face up to our fears or just flat out not tell the truth and that’s plenty of ground for creating interesting struggles. If there’s any consistent message, it’s a hopeful one that we can not only survive but prosper even in a universe that’s stranger than we can imagine.”

 

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk? Do you have one?

“I think one of the things that I do that might be a little different than others is that I believe that I can’t write a really good story with just one idea. I was on a panel a couple of years ago and we were talking about creativity and I made the comment that I think good ideas travel in packs. I usually get one idea that could start things for a story and then I wait until I see a few more that go along with it. This will get me the level of complexity and well roundedness that I’m looking for. I’d written a story that was a modernized version of a fairy tale and I wasn’t happy with the way it felt. I realized I’d missed out on the fact that I could also include the person telling the fairy tale as a framework and that changed the story so it felt complete.”

 

What are you currently working on?

“Right now I am helping to promote Gaslight and Grimm which is an anthology of steampunk fairytales and contains my story “The Walking House” about the Russian folklore character Baba Yaga. The anthology will be available Memorial Day Weekend and will be celebrated at the launch party at Balticon 50 on Sunday night, 5-29-16. I have a couple of assignments for the near future: a rewrite of a story for an anthology called Beyond the Cradle about mankind exploring the universe and a military science fiction story for an anthology titled Man and Machine. There are more Kassandra Leyden stories and a novel, which need writing, as well as an outline for stories that go a long with my “Finder” story from The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson anthology. Also I’m the managing editor for TV Gods: Summer Programming, which is the second anthology in the series and in the process for a release May 2017. So lots of stuff to do, never enough time.”

 

Where to find Jeff:

Website – http://www.jy.watchtheskies.org/

Facebook – www.facebook.com/jywriterguy/

Twitter – @jywriterguy

Instagram – ironmind42

Also you can find Watch the Skies SF&F Reading Group at:

Website – www.watchtheskies.org

Facebook – www.facebook.com/watchtheskies/

And Helm Haven Renaissance Wear at both Ebay and Etsy as well:

Facebook – www.facebook.com/helmhaven/

 

 

Bonus Questions

What do you primarily write?

“Let’s call it speculative fiction, because that’s a nice broad umbrella that covers Science Fiction and Fantasy and all their little subgenres like steampunk, alternate history and military science fiction.”

Where have you published?

“With Fortress Publishing, eSpec Publishing, Padwolf Publishing, Galaxy Press, Dark Quest Publishing, Black Matrix Press and others. Titles are listed in the biography information above.”

 

 

Stop back tomorrow to see Jeff’s story “The Walking House” that will be featured in the upcoming Gaslight and Grimm anthology.