Short Stories

Beyond the Wail Blog Tour: Go Gentle

OF MICE AND MONSTERS by Tirzah Duncan: Troubled by ghosts within and without, Benjamin struggles to become the man his girlfriend needs instead of the monster he is.

GO GENTLE by Julie Barnson: After the death of her boyfriend, a young musician uses her talents and a fabled violin to stop the fatal accidents at a dead man’s curve.

DEAD WATER by Amanda Banker: A stalled truck, an abandoned graveyard, and a town not found on any map take two brothers on a detour they’ll never forget.

COLD SPOT by Jay Barnson: When a laptop is stolen from their computer security company, two high school buddies go to extremes to investigate. But, will they manage to return?

THE WEEPING LADY by A. F. Stewart: Eva Douglas must face her mother issues, past and present, when the disappearance of her sister forces a confrontation with a terrifying ghost.

THE POLTERGEIST AND AUNT BETTY by Ginger C. Mann: Aunt Betty is eccentric, but how much is ghost, how much is medication, and how much is just plain crazy?

THE ‘GRIM’ REAPER by L. K. McIntosh: When a soul reaper loses the source of their power,
they must either find the witch who stole it or a new purpose for living.

SHRINE OF MIRRORS by F. M. Longo: A spy on a mission becomes a believer in the supernatural when the theft of three ancient relics threaten to bring down the empire.

DEAD MAN HOCKING by T.N. Payne: A world-weary zombie learns to beware what you wish for, and not all sure bets are worth the gamble.

ST. PETER’S FISH by Alex McGilvery: Sam is a walking disaster of biblical proportions, but how much is he willing to sacrifice to escape, and will the Powers That Be allow it?

THE DIORAMA by Sebastian Bendix: A play set turns life around for Martin Taper, but things take a turn for the worse when he neglects it and the lonely child obsessed with it.

DATE DUE by Danielle E. Shipley: A magic library’s guardian determines to protect her treasured books, whether their authors elect to do things the easy way . . . or the fatal one.

BtheW_Webkit_Review

Today, we’re taking a closer look at Go Gentle, and its author Julie Barnson.

I very much enjoyed the myths woven into this well-told story. Music and magic have always belonged hand in hand, and I appreciated the stories Julie drew on for this–a  fabled violin, miraculous in origin, played as Rome burned, played as the snakes fled from Ireland, and now in the hands of a bereft young woman.

The atmospherics were handled marvelously, the mood as haunting as fiddlesong. Go Gentle is a classic ghost story well told, eerie and bittersweet. I found it straightforward, but rich with new details, and had no regrets for the ride.

Now, a few questions for the author herself!

*****

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?  When I was in third grade.  Then I became an adult and decided that I didn’t have anything to say.  Recently my children have been growing up and leaving home, and I’m starting to realize that maybe third grade me had the right idea.

2. How does writing impact other parts of your life?  I’m a professional storyteller, and I’m hoping to use writing to tie in to some of my performances and to define who I am as a storyteller of the oral AND the written word combined.  

3. What was the hardest part of writing your story, and how did you overcome it?  Me.  I was the hardest part. When I decided to be a professional storyteller, I promised myself that I would give up being a chicken.  I have been able to do amazing things with my storytelling because of it.  Writing, however, was a big terrifying hurdle that I was avoiding.  Writing this story was a reminder of that promise that I gave up being a chicken, and that applies to writing too.  This was an exercise in bravery, that I could actually write and finish something and submit it.  I never expected to get in, but it has been so worth it!  

4. What are some of your other published works? I have a CD that I self published, and have stories in two other cd’s that were produced by the Utah Storytelling Guild.  Beyond that and a few contributing recipes in local recipe books, this is my first foray into the publishing world.  

5. Name one entity that you feel supported your writing, outside of family members.  Amanda Banker. The idea of writing and really trying to enter a contest or get published was terrifying.  I didn’t tell most of the people that I knew that I was even thinking about it.  I knew she wanted to be a writer, I knew she was a great writer, so I told her she should do this with me.  She didn’t read my story until just a little while ago, but she and I were both starting out in this together, and I felt like I had someone in my corner cheering me on.

*****

JULIE BARNSON

Julie Barnson has been a professional storyteller in Utah for over ten years. Many authors call themselves storytellers, but in this case, she means the oral tradition, not the written one. She is a member of the Utah Storytelling Guild, and performs to audiences all over the state.

Her favorite stories are ghost stories. Her Octobers are filled with jobs telling stories for ghost tours, cemetery tours, Halloween parties, and other spooky events. She has a huge ghost story collection, and studies ghost folklore over the summers to prepare for her Halloween obsession.

It is only natural that her first published story be a ghost story. She is married to Jay Barnson, who also has a story in this anthology.

Spooky is a family affair.

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*** Website ***  Twitter *** Facebook *** Goodreads ***

Star Wars or Star Trek? Star Wars

Hunger Games or Divergent? Hunger Games.

James Bond or Jack Ryan? Jack Ryan

Sherlock: Robert Downey, Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch? Benedict Cumberbatch, absolutely

Spock: Leonard Nimoy or Zachary Quinto? Leonard Nimoy

X-Men or Avengers? Avengers

Aliens or Predators? Aliens

Minions or Penguins? Neither

Batman or Superman? Batman

Harry Potter or Pirates of the Caribbean? Yes.

Amazon (Kindle)Amazon (Paperback)GoodreadsXchyler Publishing

Beyond the Wail: Cover Reveal

A spirit-wind hounds Benjamin, blowing echoes of his own depravity into his face. Haunted by guilt over his girlfriend’s death, he buries himself in a new relationship in an attempt to run from his ghosts.

But when his abusive impulses begin to show through, Benj is forced to confront the truth of himself—and choose.

Is he a monster, or a man?

 

BEYOND-THE-WAIL-front-web

My contribution to the 12 Grave Tales –besides my illustriously unknown name on the cover– is Of Mice and Monsters. A subtle story of paranormal remorse, it sits among 11 other tales of less-than-natural losses, more-than-normal griefs, and generally strange people, places, and echos…

The Sky-Child and other stories

Sky-Child Cover

The cover reveal was breathtaking, to be sure, but now it’s time to look beneath the beautiful surface, and speak of its soul, its stories, and its songs. First, taken one at a time…

*****

~ Song-o-the-Lute ~
A breathtaking free-form poem in its own right, worthy of esteem. Brief as the brush of fingers on strings, it is a worthy opening to this compilation, and worthy of mention. (Clearly it was so worthy I was overcome with its worthiness.)

~ The Sky-Child ~
The longest tale herein–and the aching, melancholy beginning to the life of one Gant-o-the-Lute. Long before rescuing Villem Deere on The Seventh Spell’s roads, or destroying unnatural rock formations in The Song Caster, the incredible bard’s life brimmed with music and yearning, sweetness and sorrow, and a remarkable fight against the mundane. A spin on Jack and the Beanstalk like no other, the giant is the least of the difficulties the minstrel-in-blue takes on. As a tiny taste of its quality, I give you the excellent reworking of the traditional fee-fie, foe-fum folderol.

“Fie!” said the roar. “Is it a foe who’s come?
Do I smell the blood of a mortal man?
If foe he be, his life’s the fee
For venturing here to challenge me.
If man he be, his life’s blood red
And bones will spice my stew and bread.”

This may be my favorite story in the whole collection, but the last gives it some competition. I suppose that, as cruel as it sounds, the suffering of the incredible simply takes my breath away. But then, ‘The suffering of the incredible’ might be a line to suit most of the tales here seen.

~ Still Broken ~
A hundred-word jaunt back to Sula and Villem.

~ Day Broken ~
A vignette set just before The Swan Prince‘s opening chapters.

~ Skie Welduwark ~
A vibrant myth of the kings of the sky and the world’s waking. I find that I always love following the (often harrowing) antics of the Welkens. Perhaps it’s one of those just-human-things.

~ Starheart ~
The two intertwined hearts of The Stone Kingdom exchange enchanting tales under a starlit sky. A myth of how the stone kingdom came to be, and a myth of the forging of Wilderhark’s nations are tailored around a gentle conversation, humming with love.

~ The Shining Son ~
A story with the regular beat of a fairy tale, of pride and jealousy in the heavens. I also get to see my favorite sneaky wind working terrible deeds, so this is a win for me.

~ Affected ~
Set first behind the stone eyes of Denebdeor’s children, we watch the chaotic beginning of The Seventh Spell unfold–then on to the woman behind the curtain, as it were, the witch behind most of the magic in The Wilderhark Tales. Then to Gant-o-the-Lute, and a quiet conversation with Edgwyn, of love and hope in the dark of night. And back at last to the thoughts of the children, awaiting the breaking of the seventh spell’s tangle.

A mini-anthology in itself, this short story following the seventh spell’s affected suits the melody of this collection perfectly; passionate, funny, sweet, melancholy, and hopeful.

~ A Gallivanting Soul ~
A lute’s music tells its owner a tale known to it alone, bringing the string of stories full circle and tears to my eyes–tears for love forever lost, and tears for treasure found.

*****

Seamlessly woven together in perfect order, this Wilderhark Tales collection can stand proudly next to any of the novellas. (A good thing, too; as book six-and-a-half, it will likely stand between The Surrogate Sea and the series’ final volume.) D. E. Shipley’s prose is beautiful and melodic, almost lyrical, her characters as lovable and exasperating as ever, (you know I’m looking at you, Lute–and a fine view it is, too,) and her wit as charming as ever.

A fantastic anthology for any readers, workable as a standalone, the abundant easter eggs would nonetheless be most appreciated by readers of the previous six Wilderhark novellas.

This lovely creation is available in Kindle and paperback forms on Amazon and on Nook with Barnes and Noble.

 

Marginalized

The margins spill over with
intricate loops of doodle-cipher,
every flower and leaf a silent scream,
every cross-hatch-darkened corner
hiding secrets
of the soul.

It’s a garden

–no

a jungle

into which
the girl tried to escape
every day.

And now
she has.

With a breath of a wish
and a brush of a curse
she fell flattened and inked
into a world of her own making.

If they flip through the pages,
if they look in the right places,
they’ll find her

climbing the vines to a floating island
a blue sketched demon-dog
snapping
at
her
heels,

a graphite bazooka
slung over her shoulder.

The next day, and pages later,
they might see her
riding a living
feather
into a forest
of
perfect
spheres.

They might, but they don’t.
They never look at her world.
They never did.

She told them where she was going;
in between neat rows of
facts and numbers,
she told them.

In black and grey and blue
she told them
In rarer reds and greens
and in bright highlighter s
creams
of yellow,
she told them.
Her nightmares and dreams,
she told them.

She told and told
and
told them of
her two-dimensional haven,
but no one knew her language
and no one saw her screams.

No one read the margins.

They look for her
in the facts
but they’ll never find her
there.

She’s lost to them

forever

in the wild,

willful

margins

The Sky Child and Other Tales: Cover Reveal

Today is the cover reveal for The Sky Child and Other Stories (The Wilderhark Tales, book 6 and a half,) by Danielle E. Shipley.

Blurb:
Born into a world his heart knows as beneath him, an extraordinary boy becomes a man of music, hopeful that someday he’ll find a way higher.

As the first day dawns, a world comes awake, order and disorder striking a dangerous balance.

Under the stars, a princess and tailor trade age-old lore, little dreaming of the future that could trap them in the past.

All of it in, around, and far above the timeless trees of Wilderhark, the forest whose secrets reveal themselves slowly, if ever at all.

Tales of beginnings. Tales of quests for belonging. Most of all, tales of true love.

Once upon a time, you knew something of Wilderhark’s tales. Now for the stories that fall in between.

Sky-Child Cover

You can find The Sky-Child and Other Stories on Goodreads

About the Author:
Danielle E. Shipley’s first novelettes told the everyday misadventures of wacky kids like herself. …Or so she thought. Unbeknownst to them all, half of her characters were actually closeted elves, dwarves, fairies, or some combination thereof. When it all came to light, Danielle did the sensible thing: Packed up and moved to Fantasy Land, where daily rent is the low, low price of her heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears, firstborn child, sanity, and words; lots of them. She’s also been known to spend short bursts of time in the real-life Chicago area with the parents who home schooled her and the two little sisters who keep her humble. When she’s not living the highs and lows of writing, publishing, and all that authorial jazz, she’s probably blogging about it.

Writing credits include: “Inspired” (a novel); short stories in paranormal, fantasy, and Steampunk anthologies via Xchyler Publishing; and, of course, her series of fairytale retelling mash-ups, “The Wilderhark Tales”.

You can find and contact Danielle here:
Website ~ Blog ~ Facebook ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads ~ Pinterest ~ Amazon ~

EXCERPT:

A farmer’s life was irreconcilably different from that of a traveling entertainer. It was the sort of life where years were marked in seasons, not in miles; a life of sameness where, rising morning after morning on the same piece of land, one got to know that piece of land as well as one’s own self. …Assuming, that is, that one could be induced to take any part in the never-ending tilling and sowing and growing and reaping – all tasks in which Jackillen took no interest whatsoever.

For the most part, his adoptive father would let him alone. Not so at harvest time. During the late summer and autumn months, virtually every creature breathing was called upon to do its share. And though Jackillen may have been able to get by well enough with little food and sleep, breathing was an essential he was unprepared to go without.

Jeromey first assigned Jackillen the simple task of helping to dig up the ripe root vegetables, but soon observed with dismay that the youth appeared to wilt a little more with every row.

“It’s this business of rooting about in the dirt,” Jackillen said droopily, when questioned. “Everything focused down, down, and farther down… It’s torment. I don’t want to burrow deeper into the earth, I want to be free of it – I want to fly!” He tipped back his head to stare with longing at the vivid blue expanse above him. “What I wouldn’t give to reach the sky…”

In all truth, Jeromey Gant understood his son as little as Jackillen did him, and was at a loss in trying to comprehend how such a lively, sturdy body and personality could coexist with such a strangely sensitive spirit. Whatever the reason, it was at least clear that this particular aspect of the harvest did not at all suit the lad, so Jackillen was reassigned to the barn, under instruction to thresh the freshly harvested grains.

Hours later, Jeromey thought he had better go see whether the boy found his new chore to be more to his liking, or if he considered the dust of the beaten wheat or the confinement of the barn to be killing him by inches. He got as far as poking his head around the door. Then he froze, mouth agape, eyes blinking repeatedly as they attempted to make sense of the sight before him.

Everything in the barn was in motion. The grain swirled through the air in a golden cyclone. Twirling in the center of it all, smiling and laughing with delight, was Jackillen, a stout wooden staff a whirring blur in his hands. The spinning staff stirred the air, holding the grains aloft, and rapidly rapped out again and again, beating the wheat as it whirled past.

The late afternoon sunlight slowly waned as the implausible scene continued until, upon some variation of Jackillen’s extraordinary dance, the wheat rode the air into the harvest sieve, the edible grain separating from the unwanted chaff. Then at last, his work completed, Jackillen let the air go still and lowered himself to one knee, visibly fatigued, but just as visibly pleased.

He gave no sign as to whether Jeromey’s presence was a surprise or had been long since noted, only announcing cheerfully, “Threshing’s done.”

Jeromey stared at the boy in silence for another moment before remarking, “Most people can’t do that, you know.”

Jackillen grinned, the color of his eyes brighter and more erratic than ever. “Oh, yes, I never doubted that. But I am not most people: I’m Jackillen Gant.” He leapt to his feet and breezed through the doors past his father, turning to add in casual afterthought, “I can do anything, you know.”

No, Jeromey hadn’t known. And “anything” was a big enough word that he wasn’t prepared to admit he knew any such thing even now. However, he thought it reasonable to assume, if ever there were someone capable of anything, that one would most likely be Jackillen Gant.

 *****

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Rebirth Blog Fest: The Gifts of the Wind

The following is an original work, edited to fit the word limit of the Rebirth Blog Fest.

*****

A fairy, and a witch, Amer knew the legend: the hand that united the Gifts of the Wind would unite the world under his rule. A hunter, he had the eyes to track the Seasons across the earth. Determined to claim the Gifts, Amer brewed a potion to cause love upon sight, and dipped every arrow tip into it. Then he sharpened his knife, and set off upon his quest.

 The earth was barren, its waters unstirring, its rocks infertile, until a Wind blew down from the stars. It sang a gift, and there sprang up the Fount of Life, its waters spreading until all the world gave birth. The Wind set a guardian about the Fount, that none might steal it for its power, and called her name Spring.

 Spring danced with great glee and little care. Her skin was the deep brown of richest earth, her hair was as a tangle of flowering vines, and her laughter pealed like thunder. Dew welled up where her feet fell, beaded brightly on her skin.

Hidden, Amer lifted and loosed his bow. Crying out, Spring stumbled, the arrow lodged in one slim, strong thigh, then made as if to bolt.

Amer cried out as with shock, and her face turned towards him. “Lady Spring!” He ran forward from his hiding place. “I mistook you for a beast!”

Her wide eyes roiled the grey-black of rainstorms. The moment they met his, they softened, and began to glow warmly, flickering to the ghostly green of newborn leaves. It didn’t matter now what he said, for the potion had caught her blood.

“Are you much hurt?” He knelt, drew his arrow from her leg.

“Not much. I heal swiftly. What is your name, hunter?”

He smiled. “I am Amer.”

“Catch me again, Amer,” she said, and set off through the land. He chased her through glade and glen, and caught her time and again. A fairy, he knew such dances well, and sported with Spring until she told him, almost in passing, that she kept the Fount of Life inside her heart.

In that moment, Amer drew his knife and pressed it up under her ribs, and cut the Fountain out of her, locking the waters inside his own heart. He felt dew bead upon his skin, and his laugh pealed like thunder.

 In time Spring grew tired, and fell to sleep beneath the earth, her body curled around the Fount. A Wind blew down from the stars, and wrought a Golden Grail to catch up a part of the Life while Spring slept. The Wind polished the Grail until it shone brightly upon the whole earth, and the light drew the life into fullness. The Wind set a guardian about the Grail, that none might steal it for its power, and called his name Summer.

 He spotted Summer climbing high in a tree. A large man, and strong, with skin the white-gold of sunshine’s sparkle in the air, and hair like curling sunshine. Amer sighted, and loosed, and Summer fell from the tree with a startled cry.

“Lord Summer!” Amer cried, bounding forward with his face all seeming-horror. “I thought you were a bird!”

Summer’s eyes, the blanched blue of a noonday sky, lifted to him, and a boyish grin spread across his face, despite the arrow stuck in his shoulder. “Don’t mind it,” he said, his voice at once deep and light, and plucked the arrow out. “It’s a common mistake.”

He winked, leapt to his feet. “Run with me!” he said, taking hold of Amer’s arm. So caught up, the fey sported with the Summer long before catching his breath enough to ask, “Do you hold the Grail in your heart?”

“Of course,” Summer answered. In that moment, Amer plunged the knife up under Summer’s ribs, and cut out the chalice. Locking it inside his chest, he felt warmth and boundless energy spread from his wingtips to his toe-tips, and he grinned like a child.

 In time Summer grew tired, and fell to sleep beneath the earth, his body curled around the Grail. A Wind blew down from the stars, and wove a great basket to catch up a part of the Grail’s light, and turn it back to the world. The Wind poured such bounty into the weaving that the Cornucopia poured out tenfold what life and light it caught. The Wind set a guardian about the Cornucopia, that none might steal it for its power, and called her name Autumn.

 Autumn walked through the falling leaves with a serene smile. Her breast and belly round and full, her skin the golden brown of harvest, her hair dancing with every color of flame, she moved with a swaying grace.

She sang in a rich-rolling voice, and a smoky fog rose up from her footfalls. She faltered only a moment when the arrow struck her middle. She drew it out and threw it to the leaves, beginning her singing again with wrathful darkness, clearly ready to seek vengeance.

Amer cried out, and leapt down from his hiding place. “Lady Autumn! I took you for a…”

His protests faltered under her glower, eyes the same purple-blue-gold-yellow-red of her hair, but the moment she saw his face, the glower softened into a smile.

“No matter. Brave creature, not to flee. Come to me.” She moved through the woods. He followed, and her strides were such that even with Spring’s light step and Summer’s energy, he never could catch up until she wished him to.

They sported until Amer had the courage to make sure, “Does your heart holds the Cornucopia?”

“It does,” she answered. And so the fairy plunged the knife up under her ribs, and cut out the bounty. Pressing it into his own heart, he felt the serenity of abundance settle over him, and a warm fire lit behind his eyes.

 In time Autumn grew tired, and fell to sleep beneath the earth, her body curled around the Cornucopia. A Wind blew down from the stars, and saw that life could grow no fuller. It was time to begin again. The Wind went to wake Spring again, but saw that she still slept fast. And so the Wind whispered a Sleeping Stone, and all the world fell into a slumber. The Wind set a guardian about the Stone, that none might steal it and use its power, and called his name Winter.

 Amer found Winter sitting perfectly still before a frozen lake. The youngest Season had long and slender snow-white limbs, rime spreading over his skin, hair standing up in frosted tufts. His eyes glittered like ice, and his breath turned to snow in the air. His face was young, his eyes were weary.

He did not even flinch when the arrow struck him. He did not turn his head when Amer called out. The fairy ran through the snow to stand before him.

Amer began to worry as he gabled out his apology, for there was no change in Winter’s face.

“I see,” Winter said, “that you have brewed a potion to capture the Hearts of the Seasons. You have taken the Fount of Life, the Golden Grail, and the Cornucopia. Now you’re come for the Sleeping Stone, to make your victory complete.”

Amer gaped, but Winter spoke on. “No matter. Your arrow struck me, and I feel love’s poison in my blood. I am yours.”

Well. Amer paused only a moment before saying, “Give me the Stone!”

“Take it,” Winter said, and Amer sank his knife up under Winter’s ribs, and drew out a cold, black stone. Shivering, he reluctantly pressed it into his heart.

He gasped, fell to his knees. Frost cloaked his skin as it faded from the skin of the boy before him. The Gifts in his heart pounded, beating as if to escape the Stone. And they did. With a lurch, the Fount of Life was gone, then the Grail, then the Cornucopia. His blood stilled, froze in his veins. He stared, with muted horror, at the figure before him.

The lad’s teeth chattered, and he shook with mortal cold, but his hair and eyes were brown, and there was life in his smile. “So you, too, heard the myths amiss. And so the Wind spake a Stone of Death, and all the world died. The Wind set a guardian about the Stone, that none might find it and fall slain, and called his name Winter. A heart of stone knows no love, whatever poisons the blood,” the boy told him. “And life cannot lie in the same heart as death. The Gifts have flown, each to its proper guardians. The Seasons will live again—all but you.”

“All but me? What about me?”

The boy smiled. “You took Death into your heart—now your heart is dead, until another follows in the footsteps of our folly. Guard your heart well,” the boy laughed, the laugh sounding mortal, alive. “And a long Winter to you.”

 *****

Amer

Amer

Spring

Spring

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Summer

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Autumn

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Winter

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Sinkind, part three: Perception Check

(Part Two Here.)

*****

As we get back in the car, my head spins and buzzes as though I’d been drinking. Usually we had, in these situations. I touched my temple, waving Tevin to the driver’s seat.

“Are you feeling tipsy?” I asked Tevin as he started the car.

He shakes his head. “A little tired. You?”

“Just a little out of focus.” I blink hard. “Fighting her fascination.”

“I didn’t notice any fascination,” he yawns.

I narrow my eyes at him. “The rhinestones on her glasses. It’s not as flashy as usual, but it was fairly obvious to me.”

“I don’t think she’s a demon.”

I fight the urge to grind my teeth. I also fight the urge to snap at him. He nearly always says that, when they’re women. I don’t have to say anything to him; I know he’s a good investigator, and he looks for evidence even when he doesn’t want to find it. Even so, he’ll deny it all right up until the moment we’ve got proof.

“It sure seemed like a fascination to me,” I say diffidently. “What else would have me feeling like this? It’s not like we’ve been drinking.”

“Yeah, just those Cheetos and a soda,” he says dryly, “five hours ago.”

I blink. “It’s been five hours?” I look around, for the first time realizing that the sun is leaning towards setting.

“Yeah. I’m tired, you’re lightheaded, and little wonder. Wanna get something to eat?”

“Let’s,” I say, for the first time noticing how hungry I am. “How could I have lost track of that much time?” I rub my temples again. “It’s gotta be demon tricks.”

He laughs. “The only fascination I saw you under was the natural kind. We really did get into the game. She’s a good Dungeon Master.”

“How did it take that long, though? We only just met each other! I mean, Jesha and Thymeus only just met each other.”

“Yes, but there were monsters on the road from your farmhouse, and I had to escape my family’s intrigues,” Tevin pointed out. “These things take time.”

I shake my head. “You might be right,” I say quietly. “But… just… be careful, okay?”

He glances at me, smiles. “You know I’m careful.” More quietly still, he says, “I like people, I don’t trust them.”

*****

“I throw a pebble into the well,” I decide after considering the situation for a moment.

“Hmmn.” Tabby pushes her glasses further up her nose. The rhinestones twinkle, but I don’t think I feel any fascination try to catch me. Maybe Tevin was right about that one. “Roll a perception check.”

I reach for the dice.

“Excuse me, guys…” One of the clerks hovers near our table, and we all glance up. “We’re closing, so if you could pack up now…”

“Got it,” Tevin sighs.

I feel a pang of discontent. I was just about to find out if there was something weird about that well! I blink, shaking my head slightly. It doesn’t matter about the well. I need to roll a good perception check on our DM.

“You want to come back to my place?” Tabby asks mildly.

In the middle of dropping my dice back in the karaff, I look up at her. “What? To continue?”

“Yeah. The place is a mess, but if that’s alright with you…”

“Sure! That sounds great,” Tevin says, grinning. “Hate ending on a cliffhanger.” And it’s a perfect chance for further investigation. Of course. That’s what we’re going to focus on.

“We’re slipping,” I tell Tevin seriously on the ride over.

“Yeah.”

“Her tactics are different than we’re used to. We really need to pay attention when we’re at her place.”

I expect a protest that she’s bound to be innocent, but all he says is, “Yeah. We’ll keep sharp.”

I hope we will. I really can’t tell if the rhinestones aren’t part of a fascination, or if I’ve been successfully fascinated into thinking they aren’t.

“Still,” Tevin adds, “This is more fun than the usual, don’t you think?”

Is it? “I guess. It’s certainly more…” It’s more captivating, is what it is. It draws you in more.

There’s got to be something hiding down that well. I know it.

Tabby’s apartment is a bit shabby and cluttered. Not enough to make me feel uncomfortable, just enough to make me feel better about myself and my matching furniture and my almost-weekly housecleaning. A brown leather loveseat sits at an angle to a velvety orange couch, and Tabby moves a pile of books and papers to make room for the game on the coffee table before taking the loveseat.

I look around the place surreptitiously as Tevin and I take a seat on the couch.

“I just realized I’ve never asked, Tabby,” Tevin says as I find nothing suspicious in a standing lamp, a TV on the floor with tangle of wires and a PS3 and a DVD player beside it, or a plywood shelf stacked with DVDs and video games. “What do you do for work?”

“I’m a receptionist for a custom sign company,” she sighs, which matches what we’ve got on her. “You guys?”

We give our lines about being coworkers at the IRS. It’s boring enough that no one wants to ask us anything about it, and it’s understandable when we don’t really want to talk about it.

“Hey, could I use your bathroom?” I ask.

“Sure. The one on the right,” she says, gesturing to the hallway as she sets up the dungeon map.

There are three doors, all ajar. I peek around each. One’s a bedroom, the other’s a closet. The one on the right is a bathroom. There’s nothing that screams “demon” or even “serial killer” in any of them at a glance, and I don’t have time for more.

Returning to the living room, I sit down and lean forward over the board. “Alright. Where were we?”

“You were rolling for perception,” Tabby says, and a slight smile plays at her lips as she adjusts her glasses.

I blink and scoop up the dice, rolling them with a frown. “Damn it, damn it, damn it,” I mutter, failing the check.

Tabby’s smile widens. “The stone splashes into water, about fifteen to twenty-five feet down. You hear nothing else.”

I scowl. I know we’re missing something, I can feel it—and I can feel that knowledge slipping away, bit by bit.

*****

Part four here.