Queen Bee

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Queen Bee
Sangre Mesa ~ Coldwater, N.M.

Morgan parked her bike on the trail and clambered over a couple of rocks to get to her beehives. For the umpteenth time, she thought about how grateful she was that Daddy had set up the little apiary and taught her to take care of it. Counterintuitive as it sounded, there was something weirdly soothing about being surrounded by stinging insects eager to defend their home. Today, with her throat still sore from screaming for somebody who really wasn’t worth mourning, Morgan needed the comfort of an afternoon in her apiary, and the unseasonably warm weather meant she could give the hives a quick inspection without endangering their little occupants. She was looking forward to it as she pulled the smoker and a grill lighter from the milk crate Mom had attached to the back of her bike for hauling cargo. 

Morgan opened the smoker and pointed the lighter at a wad of cotton she’d gleaned from the side of Route 66 between Tucumcari and San Jon last fall. The raw cotton was great smoker fuel, and it didn’t cost anything. She and Daddy used to go out every year and collect a couple of big ziplock bags full of the stuff. These excursions usually occurred on a Saturday afternoon and ended with a bowl of ice cream at a pizzeria in Tucumcari, where they’d pick up dinner to take home to Mom. 

Morgan’s eyes watered, probably not from the smoke, as cotton caught and she flipped the lid shut and squeezed the bellows a couple of times to make sure it was going. She pulled on her gloves and lifted the lid off the first hive, aiming a few puffs of smoke into the opening on the inner hive cover before using her hive tool to pry off the cover. Continue reading Queen Bee

Punishment

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Punishment
Coldwater Elementary School ~ Coldwater, N.M.

The doorknob rattled. “I’m busy!” Gloria growled, not bothering to look up.

The door opened with a creak. I could have sworn I locked that door, she thought. And those hinges sound like shit. I’ll probably get to bring my own WD40 to fix them, since we apparently can’t afford necessities around here.

A small boy stood in front of her desk. 

“Out,” she snapped. “I don’t have time to deal with you right now.”

The child giggled, a deep, rattling sound that sent a chill up her spine. “Oh, I think you do,” he said in a voice that sounded at least 35 years older than the face it came from. Before Gloria could react, the child shimmered, his body expanding and distorting into something dark and shapeless that loomed over her desk. 

“They’re mine,” the thing hissed. 

Gloria whimpered, barely comprehending the words the creature was saying.

“They’re mine,” it repeated. A spot near the middle of what should have been the thing’s head disintegrated briefly before resolving itself into a mouth with a set of fangs. The mass stretched, shivered, and took the form of a man with a horse’s head. “Not yours. I didn’t give you permission to touch them.”

Gloria looked around wildly. 

“There’s no one to help you, Mrs. Henley. No one at all. You shouldn’t be working so late by yourself. Not that anyone could protect you from me.” The creature’s reptilian eyes were horrible to look at, but somehow, she couldn’t make herself look anywhere else.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she gasped. 

“Oh, but you do.” The creature moved its mouth in what might have been a smile. “You thought you knew what they were, and you took it upon yourself to try to run them out of town. Fool. I have plans for them. I have plans the likes of which your feeble little human mind can’t begin to imagine. Plans you wouldn’t have the stomach to carry out, even if you had the ability. I have plans. The little goddess and her fae friend are precisely where I want them. How dare you try to interfere with that?”

The creature leaned across Gloria’s desk. She flinched away, her mind flailing for something to latch onto before her grip on reality abandoned her altogether.

“G-goddess?” she managed.

The creature giggled again. “Did you think you were looking at ordinary banshees? Something out of one of your human horror movies? You recognized them as fae, but your halfarsed little attempt at research didn’t go far enough. The woman is bean sidhe. The girl is … something more.” The creature glared at Gloria. “She and I have met before, you see. She nearly destroyed me. But I survived. I survived, and it’s my turn to destroy her. You tried to interfere with that, and you must be punished.”

It moved as if to slap her, but instead of striking her cheek, it slashed her torso open with what looked like a hawk’s talons. Bloodstains bloomed across her tattered shirt. 

The creature brought its face close to hers. It reeked of pond water and death. “Humans ought not to meddle in things they don’t understand.” 

Clutching her side, Gloria closed her eyes against the pain, her hands slick with blood. She wanted to call for help, but she was afraid to let go of her wounds. She had a sick feeling that if she pulled her hand away to reach for the phone, her internal organs would come spilling out of the gashes in her body. So she held the wound closed as best she could, weeping and praying and hating all of the otherworldly creatures she couldn’t understand.

Somewhere far away, just before she heard the outer office door click shut, a child’s mocking voice drifted back to her: “Thank you, Mrs. Henley.”

The voice was the last thing she heard before she passed out.

Practice

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Practice
Coldwater High School ~ Coldwater, N.M.

Perched on the rafter next to Lenore, Morgan felt like laughing. Imagine Mrs. Henley thinking she could scare me away, she thought, fluffing her feathers. God, the pranks I could pull in this form. I ought to fly into her office and crap all over her desk just for the fun of it.

She looked over at Lenore. “You’ve got a mite on the back of your neck,” she said. “Let me get that for you.”

Without thinking, she reached over and grabbed the mite in her beak — and immediately regretted it. 

“Ew! Ewewewewewwwwww! Bug in my mouth!” she shifted back into human form, spluttering, and nearly lost her balance as she tried to wipe the tiny arachnid off her tongue. 

Looking down was her second mistake. Vertigo overtook her as she took in the distance from the gym ceiling to the hardwood basketball court 20 feet below. She lost her balance and pitched forward.  Continue reading Practice

Revelation

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Revelation
Tumbleweed Motel ~ Coldwater, N.M.

Morgan couldn’t decide whether to be enraged or amused when she spotted the latest note. Like the earlier one, it was affixed to the door with a knife. This time, an old plaid sport coat lay on the ground below it, inside out.

“Of all the days to pull this!” Mom was furious. “You’ve been through enough this afternoon. How dare somebody kick you while you’re down?”

Best to laugh it off, Morgan thought. Mom’s mad enough for both of us. Aloud, she said: “On the up side: free coat. If it’s not moth-eaten, I’m totally having that thing dry-cleaned and wearing it to school next week.” Continue reading Revelation

Tremors

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Tremors
Coldwater, N.M.

Gloria was pouring herself a drink when she felt the tremor coming from somewhere in the direction of the mesa. Vodka sloshed all over the little mirror-topped bar cart, and the bottle crashed against the highball glass, knocking it over and cracking both the glass and the mirror, as Gloria lost her balance and sat down very suddenly. Pictures fell from the walls, and Gloria wondered for a moment if the house were going to cave in around her.

As quickly as it had begun, the earthquake stopped. Gloria braced herself with her hands as she struggled to her feet, narrowly avoiding the broken glass that littered the floor. She made certain the ground really had stopped moving before taking a careful step. 

Dammit. Several glasses on the cart had cracked, and a crystal decanter had fallen onto the floor, spilling a 50-year-old Scotch that she’d bought Bill for their last anniversary before he died. She stumbled into the utility room to retrieve a broom and some paper towels. The last thing she needed was to step on a shard of glass in the middle of the night. Continue reading Tremors

Returned

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Returned
Sangre Mesa ~ Coldwater, N.M.

Sierra had screamed for the better end of an hour before she finally wore herself out and collapsed, sobbing, against the massive stone that had engulfed her daughter. Her fists were covered in blood, and Holly would be surprised if she hadn’t broken several bones. 

Sierra had lapsed into a fitful sleep when Holly felt the earth shudder again. She woke with a start, and Holly pulled her back from the stone just in time for it to tip upward, groaning. A dense black fog rolled out of the cave, surrounding Holly and Sierra and completely obscuring their vision for several seconds. It seemed to dissipate in front of the cave, collecting into a cloud high above. With slow, graceful movements, it settled into the shape of a raven and began flying in enormous concentric arcs above their heads, descending as it spiraled inward. 

Down it flew, lower and lower, until it glided to a stop on the branch of a pinon next to Sierra.  Continue reading Returned

Oweynagat

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Oweynagat
Sangre Mesa ~ Coldwater, N.M.

The roof of the cave tipped forward, rock scraping against rock as it sealed shut, blocking out the light and the sound of Mom’s terrified screams. Morgan felt bad about scaring her mother, but she needed the mesa’s memories, and wasn’t as if she’d twisted Mom’s arm and forced her to come along today. Hopefully Dr. Kavanaugh could calm her down. 

Morgan lay perfectly still in the dark, listening. Somewhere in the distance, she heard a low, pulsing noise like a heartbeat. She closed her eyes and focused on the sound. 

Next to her, a spark flared to life with a whoosh, filling the chamber with soft light. Rise, a voice whispered in the back of her mind. 

Morgan sat up slowly. She should have been exhausted after the difficult hike up the mesa, but instead, she felt energized, as if the dragon’s fire were powering her body. She looked around. The warm, dry sandstone table beneath her was gone, and she realized she was sitting on the much cooler floor of a limestone cave, its walls shimmering with some wet substance she decided she’d rather not think about. At the back of the chamber was a crevice just big enough for her to walk into. 

Go.

“Really? It’s pitch-black in there. God only knows what’s back there.” She shuddered.

The cavern rumbled, as if the dragon were chuckling. It’s safe. You’re home, Queen. Go. Continue reading Oweynagat

Soon

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Soon
Tumbleweed Motel ~ Coldwater, N.M.

The tremors that went through the mesa shook the ground all the way into Coldwater. In the crawlspace under the Tumbleweed Motel office, an underfed tomcat jolted awake and crouched in silence, listening. Its eyes shone in the darkness. 

The cat emerged from its hiding place and moved quickly through the shadows, growing into its equine form so it could move faster as soon as it crossed the culvert behind the motel.

The earth pulsed, and the horse tossed its head and whinnied victoriously. It wouldn’t be long now. The dragon was awake. The Morrígan had returned to her cave. Soon, she would remember herself, and when she remembered herself, she would remember the shapeshifter. She would remember their last battle. She would remember everything it had taken from her. And she would be ready for a fight.

The horse reared, its front hooves striking at the air with a violent intensity. 

The war was coming.

It was time to prepare. 

The horse thundered across the desert, relishing the sounds of the dragon reacting as the queen encased in the rock recovered her memories.

FYI

Just a quick note to apologize for the lack of a chapter today. Despite writing as fast as I can and pouring as many hours as possible into this project, I ran out of steam before the pandemic did. I hope to have new chapters for you this week, but unforeseen hassles kept me off the computer for most of the weekend, so I’m playing catch-up today. Stay tuned, and I’ll try to get back to Coldwater ASAP.

Emily

Old Friend

NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Old Friend
Sangre Mesa ~ Coldwater, N.M.

Holly looked at Morgan. By all rights, the girl should have been exhausted. They’d been climbing for two hours, boosting each other over boulders, dodging thickets of prickly pear that clung to the rock, and flattening themselves against the side of the mesa at spots where the terrace narrowed from feet to inches, revealing the reason the Civilian Conservation Corps workers who built the trail in the 1930s had chosen a different route. Every now and then, Morgan would pause, panting, spread her arms wide, lay her cheek against the crimson sandstone, and embrace the mesa itself. After a minute or two, her breathing would even out, and she would peel herself off the rock and begin climbing again with renewed vigor, as if she were drawing energy from the stone that supported her footsteps. The raven flitted ahead of them, its presence encouraging the weary climbers.

A few more steps, and they reached the top. The view was dazzling, but Morgan didn’t seem to notice it; as soon as her mother and Holly were up safely, she walked across the flat surface to a massive diamond-shaped boulder at the center. The boulder, which was roughly the size of a doublewide house trailer,  resembled a reptile’s head even more from up close than it had in the tiny aerial view on Holly’s smartphone screen. 

Morgan stroked the stone dragon’s “snout” as gently as she would a strange dog. She pressed her forehead against it, eyes closed, and whispered something Holly couldn’t quite make out.  Continue reading Old Friend

Sustainability on a shoestring