October Stories

As I was walking to the Charles Spa for a soak the other evening, I spotted what I thought was a purse lying on the sidewalk at the corner of Clancy and Broadway. Concerned, I bent to pick it up, and then stopped. It wasn’t a purse. It was a large pink bra. The cups—double-D, I guessed—were on top of each other, and the straps lined up, making it look like a purse. I left it there in case its owner should realize she lost it. If it had fallen from her spa bag on her way to or from a soak, she would surely miss it. There was no one else using or departing from the women’s hot spring baths, though, when I got there. No one to whom I could say, “Excuse me, did you lose a bra?”

On my way back from my soak, I saw two people approaching up Clancy from the direction of the river, and one of them was shouting something over and over. A thin man with a cane he wasn’t using and a thin woman in tight jeans strolled along, their pace and demeanor out of sync with the fact that she was yelling. As I got closer, I could make out her words. “Jeremy! Jeremy!” I paused and looked at her, puzzled. “I’m trying to find my husband,” she said, and kept walking and hollering. All the dogs for blocks around barked back at her. No Jeremy appeared. I didn’t ask her about cell phones. There are still a few people in the world who don’t have them, and some of us have been known to lose them. How she’d misplaced him, though, is a mystery.

I saw a perfect circle in the sand at Elephant Butte Lake State Park recently, near a trail where I was running the desert. Curious, I had to stop and examine it. The circle had been cut into the sand by animals, their paws and hooves digging deep. The paws ran up the center of the circle and followed the hooves part-way in the arc. On the trail a few feet from the circle was a scuffed and scarred area. Mule deer spring straight up, tucking their legs under them, when they take off. I pictured a deer stotting on the trail, then leaping away in an attempt to escape. The coyote came straight at its prey, but the deer kept running right past and around its enemy. Mysteriously, there were no tracks leading to or from the circle except for the take-off spot, the deer’s stot marks. No other animal tracks, that is. Plenty of humans. Shapeshifters? Eek. I wish I hadn’t thought of that.

But that could explain everything. Jeremy couldn’t answer his phone in his deer shape. The owner of the pink bra discarded it as she felt herself becoming a coyote. This transformation first happened when they met on the trail, and then again when passed each other in town. Anything’s possible at this time of year.

*****

My shapeshifter short fiction, Bearing, is a horror story without gore, as you might expect from the author of mysteries without murder.

Disappearing Words Come Back—Overnight

This short story appeared on my blog between sunset and sunrise on the autumn equinox last year, and is showing up and disappearing again this year, here and in my newsletter*. Last year, I explained its disappearance the day after. This year, I’m sharing the explanation again, but in advance. I’ve put it on a download link that expires.

Why does the story vanish?

When I was a teenager, I read a newspaper column about a myth related to the autumn equinox. After all these years, I can still see the kitchen table where I was sitting and see which side of which page the column was on. I remember that it was about a Germanic pagan goddess of second chances who opened a path that was only visible on the night of the autumn equinox, a path seekers could take to redo a mistake or regret in their pasts. I made an effort remember her name and wrote it down, although I was confused as to whether it was Llobrodga or Llobrogda. Having had a short story published in a teen magazine, I already thought of myself as a writer, and I knew I would have to create a story about this myth someday. An image of the goddess’s twilight path of golden leaves stayed with me. When I finally wrote the story decades later, she didn’t exist. I looked up everything I could think of about goddesses of second chances and pagan mythology and the autumn equinox and found nothing. I can’t explain this. But I hope you enjoy A Night in Betsy Gap.

The title came about a few years ago during a training session for professors who were teaching a first-year seminar class. One of the presenters was named Betsy, and she didn’t use all her allotted time, so someone referred to the open space in our schedule as the Betsy Gap. I said it sounded like some place out near Naked Creek (a real town in that part of Virginia). The name Betsy Gap stuck with me as perfect for an obscure place where a traveler could get stuck. Then I saw a prompt for a short fiction contest in which the theme was crossing a line, and it had to include the word six-pack and another which I’ve forgotten. The idea for a short story about Edie had been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, since her only role in the Mae Martin series is in Hubert’s past. I was surprised when Will Baca showed up in the story, but this other-world experience prepares him for the big changes he goes through about ten months later in Ghost Sickness. (Not that he remembers.)

When you read the short story, you’ll know something Mae and Hubert won’t know until book seven, since Edie cut off contact with everyone she knew in Cauwetska and Tylerton, intentionally making herself hard to find. Her fate won’t show up in the series until the work currently in progress comes out. But in the September before the events in Ghost Sickness, she spent a night in Betsy Gap.

* If you subscribe to my newsletter, pardon the repetition. For the most part, my blog followers and newsletter subscribers don’t overlap, and neither does the content they read.

*****

The Calling, book one in the Mae Martin series, is free on all e-book retail sites through the end of September.

Quick and Quirky Free Fiction

I’ve only read one of these, but I plan to download a few I’ve never heard of and have some reading adventures.

The one I’ve read, Virginia King’s Laying Ghosts, is a page-turning spooky mystery that introduces Selkie Moon, the protagonist of her series. If you like my books, I think you’ll enjoy hers. They’re also unconventional mysteries with a touch of the mystical.

Ready to read something quick and quirky? Click here.

Have fun!

Disappearing Words

When I was a teenager, I read a newspaper column about a myth related to the autumn equinox. After all these years, I can still see the kitchen table where I was sitting, and see which side of which page the column was on. I remember that it was about a Germanic pagan goddess of second chances who opened a path that was only visible on the night of the autumn equinox, a path seekers could take to redo a mistake or regret in their pasts. I made an effort remember her name and wrote it down, although I was confused as to whether it was Llobrodga or Llobrogda. Having had a short story published in a teen magazine, I already thought of myself as a writer, and I knew I would have to create a story about this myth someday. An image of the goddess’s twilight path of golden leaves stayed with me. When I finally wrote the story decades later, she didn’t exist. I looked up everything I could think of about goddesses of second chances and pagan mythology and the autumn equinox and found nothing. I can’t explain this. But I hope you enjoyed A Night in Betsy Gap.

The title came about a few years ago during a training session for professors who were teaching a first-year seminar class. One of the presenters was named Betsy, and she didn’t use all her allotted time, so someone referred to the open space in our schedule as the Betsy Gap. I said it sounded like some place out near Naked Creek (a real town in that part of Virginia) and we all started joking about the way things are done in Betsy Gap. The name stuck with me as perfect for an obscure place where a traveler could get stuck. Then I saw a prompt for a short fiction contest in which the theme was crossing a line, and it had to include the word six-pack and another which I’ve forgotten. The idea for a short story about Edie had been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, since she’ll never be onstage in the Mae Martin series. Her only role is in Hubert’s past. I was surprised when Will Baca showed up in the story, but this other-world experience prepares him for the big changes he goes through about ten months later in Ghost Sickness. (Not that he remembers.)

If you read the short story before it disappeared,  you know something Mae and Hubert don’t know, since Edie cut off contact with everyone she knew in Cauwetska, intentionally making herself hard to find. Her fate won’t show up in the series for a while. But in the September before the events in Ghost Sickness, she spent a night in Betsy Gap.

*****

A Night in Betsy Gap will return eventually, either in a short story collection or here next fall, after dark on the equinox.

Cross-Training—in the Lake and on the Laptop

During the summer, I like to mix up my usual weight-lifting routine with water exercise. The physics of water are such that you can use it for resistance training if you push against it. The technique is the opposite of lifting weights on dry land, where the more slowly you move the weight the harder you work. The faster you try to “lift” the water, the more it pushes back. Momentum doesn’t exist, and every movement is a concentric contraction, so the workout can be intense and efficient at the same time, a dual-purpose strength and cardio activity. It’s great cross-training, challenging my body to adapt to different demands and stimuli, and makes me less likely to get injured or over-train. Also, the variety enhances my awareness of what I’m doing. It keeps me out of a rut.

Today I was surprised to find the Truth of Consequences town pool closed for employee training, but I was in my suit and motivated, so I drove to Elephant Butte Lake State Park and did my workout in the lake. The change of scenery was invigorating. The water felt alive, and the people-watching opportunities were infinite.

This experience reminded me to cross-train as a writer. I do two things regularly: short essays such as blog posts and book reviews, and long, complex novels. I seldom write short fiction. It’s great cross training, though. The tight focus helps me in structuring scenes and chapters in my longer fiction. I get an especially tough writing workout when I enter short fiction contests, whether or not I win. The word limits and the required themes force me to sharpen my skills. So, I challenged myself to write a short story based on my people-watching at the lake today. Polishing it will be the next workout. I have to give it rest days between revisions. If I get it into shape worth sharing, I’ll post it here. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be publishable, though, it will have been worth the effort. There will be other results. The way my water workouts make me a better runner, my short fiction workout will make me a fitter and more flexible novelist

*****

For short fiction that I have published, go to the free downloads link.