52 Week Short Story Challenge #4 – Short Term Plans

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This week’s writing prompt comes from @TheWriteList, who put forth the headline from this Guardian news article as a prompt:

“Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken.”

Not one of my best pieces of fiction, which is why it’s so short, but I did it. Sorry that it’s a little depressing.

 

Short Term Plans

People kept patting Lucy Bale on the back and offering her fist bumps or high-fives as she walked through the station toward the interrogation room and she forced a smile on her face as she returned them. She hated the Boys Club feel of it all and wanted more than anything to just get her confession and go home to help her son with his history fair project.

“Nice one, Luce,” a beefy detective with red hair said, nodding for her to follow him. Lucy did so with relief, grateful for the way he walked close to the side that faced the desks and acted as a buffer for her. “You off soon?”

“Yes, thank god. If I had to spend the night here I’d probably lose my mind.” They went down the stairs to the ground flo or where there were two interrogation rooms behind doors with tiny reinforced windows. Jenny, Texas – population 5500 – didn’t have the money for two-way glass or covered parking but in a state that loved guns and knew how to hide them, no one wanted to take the chance that a window could be shot out.

“They’re just trying to be supportive,” Hank Connor said. “It’s the only way they know how to do it. It’s still a little weird having a woman in the house.”

“Thanks,” Lucy said. “I’m sure it also doesn’t help that I’m a city slicker.” This made Hank laugh, and he shook his head.

“Talking like that makes you sound like one for sure. Don’t worry, they’ll get used to you. Catching this one is gonna win you a lot of brownie points with the Captain.” They had reached the interrogation rooms and Hank looked at Lucy. “You want me to sit in on this one?”

“No thanks. This is pretty open and shut. All I have to do is get her to sign her confession, type it up, and put it on the boss’ desk. Then I can go home and pretend to care about the 1930s.” She smiled at Hank, a genuine one this time. “You up for burgers at Duke’s tomorrow?”

“Hell yeah,” Hank said, his face lighting up. “And since you made the collar of the year, it’ll be my treat. Whatever you want.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.” She opened the door to the interrogation room and went inside, leaving Hank in the hallway alone. Lucy looked at the young woman in the hooded sweatshirt and jeans sitting at the table in the center of the room and smiled. “Hello, Patty. I’m Detective Bale.”

“Whatever.” The girl, who couldn’t have possibly been more than nineteen or twenty years old, folded her arms across her chest. The sullen set of her jaw told Lucy that this was either going to be very easy or extremely difficult.

“You were caught stealing several DVD players and cameras from the electronics department at Wal-Mart over the last two months. I don’t know how you managed to do it with all their security but we’ve been keeping an eye out for you.” She shook her head. “Needless to say, you’ve been fired from Wal-Mart and Dan Davenport is pressing charges.” Patty was silent and Lucy sat down across from her, trying to seem a little friendlier. “Why don’t you tell me why you did it.”

“I took them so I could sell them,” Patty said. “I needed money for food and no one wanted to let me borrow any, so I stole the stuff.”

“Six times?” Lucy looked in the folder she had brought along with her. “This says that when you were arrested you had a Kate Spade bag and an iPhone in addition to the DVD players in your backseat. And if I’m not mistaken,” she said looking under the table, “aren’t those Uggs?”

“Yeah,” Patty said defiantly. “It’s cold outside.”

“If you have the money to buy a Kate Spade bag and limited edition Uggs, you shouldn’t have to shoplift to put food on the table. Didn’t anyone teach you how to manage money?”

“Oh please,” Patty said, her eyes darting away from Lucy’s. “Poor people don’t plan long term. We’ll just get our hearts broken.”

“Would you care to explain that?”

“Look, you get a regular paycheck right? You know about how much you get.” Still looking away from Lucy, she picked at the edge of her hoodie’s sleeve. “You pay your bills and you maybe get to save something. Go on a vacation. Buy a house. I don’t get to do any of that.”

“Plenty of people make it on minimum wage,” Lucy said. “Especially in Jenny. Maybe not in Dallas, but it’s different here. You don’t need a lot to get by, and you definitely don’t need an expensive bag to impress anyone.”

“Maybe not but it makes me feel better to have a couple of nice things. And I’d save my money to go live in Dallas if I could afford it but not on what Wal-Mart’s paying me. I’m stuck here in this miserable, shitty town and I’m gonna be stuck here ‘til I die using every last dime from my paycheck to pay my bills with nothing left over for food. What’s wrong with spending my babysitting money on something for me?” She sounded on the verge of tears and Lucy suddenly felt sorry for her.

“Patty, listen to me,” she said, her voice turning from stern to kind, “I can help you. Write down your confession here, then write a letter to Mr. Davenport apologizing for what you did. You’ll probably get off with some community service and I can help you figure something out. Maybe get you on food stamps until you can get a better job.” She slid the legal pad across the table to Patty.

“Food stamps,” Patty said, staring at the legal pad. She picked up the pen and pulled the pad over to her. Lucy stood up and went over to the door, then leaned out into the hall. It was empty and she decided she could just take Patty to the holding cell by herself. She could sense she’d made a connection with the girl and the more time she could spend with her the better it would be. She wasn’t about to let this girl fall through the cracks again.

Behind her, she heard the pen slap down on the paper and Lucy turned with a smile. Patty’s arms were folded tightly across her chest and she pulled the pad across the desk toward her. When she saw the two words written on it, her smile disappeared.

SCREW YOU.

“Fine,” Lucy said. She stormed out into the hall and slammed the interrogation room door. That’s the last time I bother trying to help anyone, she thought as she went back up to her desk. She picked up her bag and threw it over her shoulder, then went to the front desk where a couple of uniformed officers were having coffee and chatting. “Take the idiot in the interrogation room back to the holding cell. Let her spend the night there.”

“Yes, ma’am. What do you want us to do with her in the morning?”

“I don’t care,” Lucy said, taking out her car keys. “And I don’t think she does either, to be honest. I’ve got to go home, I’ve got a bunch of posterboard to buy.” She went out into the evening, Patty’s words still on her mind. All of a sudden she wanted to hug her son. Tightly.

52 Week Short Story Challenge #3 – Make A Wish

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I came up with this week’s prompt when I was at my mother in law’s house picking up the laundry. There was a pile of leaves in the breezeway of the apartment where she lives and for a second I thought “how the hell did a toad get up here?” Then the leaves blew away but i couldn’t stop thinking about the toad.

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Make A Wish

If Cassie hadn’t been looking up from her phone at that exact moment, she might not have seen the toad. In fact, two or three more steps forward and she probably would have stepped on it.

“Hey little guy,” she said, stopping in her tracks. “What are you doing up here?” The toad stared at her, its rapidly working throat the only movement she could see by the fading light. The sky was turning from lavender to a deep blue blanket speckled with stars and Cassie tapped her phone’s screen to get to the camera. She wanted to take a photo of the toad before the light was gone.

From her limited experience with toads, she expected it to hop away as soon as she got closer, but it simply sat there staring at her with eyes whose pupils looked far more human than any amphibian she’d ever seen. She squatted down to take the picture and the toad locked eyes with her. She noticed, much to her surprise, that they were silver.

If you could have one wish, what would you ask for?

The voice popped into her head unexpectedly, as clear and businesslike as if she was speaking to a man sitting across from her in an interview. She frowned and pressed a hand to her forehead, then looked around as if she expected to see someone behind her. There was no one else around and the last of the sun had finally disappeared, leaving Cassie and the toad in almost total darkness.

“This is crazy,” she said, standing up. “For a second I thought you were talking to me.”

Who said I wasn’t?

Cassie stared down at the toad, who was now looking up at her. Its silver eyes hadn’t left hers for a moment, and when the light on the roof came on they seemed to glow. Apart from its eyes there was nothing about the toad that would give any indication that there was something unusual about it. It looked like a run of the mill, everyday toad.

I can grant you a single wish, the voice in Cassie’s head said as the toad hopped closer to her. Just one. And it can be anything. None of those restrictions from legends and movies. Love, money, even bringing someone back from the dead. I can do all those things and more.

“How?” Cassie couldn’t shake the feeling that she was losing her mind. She’d come up to the roof to clear her head after getting her second notice from the debt collection people, not have a conversation with a toad. Yet here she was, actually talking back to a voice that might or might not be all in her imagination.

Does it matter? Make a wish and I will grant it.

“This is completely ridiculous,” Cassie said, at the same time thinking about what she would wish for. Talking to a toad was weird enough and believing it could grant her a wish was bumping right up against the edge of a break with reality, but there was no harm in considering the question. If she could wish for one thing, anything at all, what would it be? The obvious answers like world peace and a cure for cancer flitted through her head but Cassie pushed them aside. There was no one around, and the toad’s half of the conversation was only in her head. She could be as selfish as she wanted and no one would know the difference.

“All right,” she said, squatting down again so that she was closer to the toad’s level.

Good, the voice said. Tell me what you want most.

“Money,” Cassie said. “A hundred thousand dollars. I want to pay off my credit cards and my car loan, and not have to ask my parents for money anymore.” The toad closed its eyes and nodded but nothing happened.

Cassie wasn’t sure what she had been expecting. A notification from her bank saying that she was suddenly $100,000 richer? A man stepping out of the doorway to hand her an oversized cardboard check? Neither of those things made any sense, and Cassie almost burst out laughing. None of this made any sense. It was more likely that she was tired and imagining things, or that she had fallen asleep on the roof and this was all a dream.

“So much for making a wish,” she said, straightening up. “At least my brain didn’t make me try to kiss you.” She was just about to walk away when she decided that even though it hadn’t given her the cash she wanted, she couldn’t leave it on the rooftop. She had no idea how it had gotten onto the roof but she doubted it was going to be as lucky on an attempt to get down.

“Come on, toad,” she said, scooping it up. “I’ll take you down to the garden. Save you the trouble of trying to get down the stairs.” The toad was silent and she stuck her cell phone in her back pocket and headed down the stairs that led to the roof.

There were people hanging around the front of the building as always, laughing and joking as if they hadn’t a care in the world, and Cassie couldn’t help wondering if they ever went to work. She walked past them without making eye contact and found herself wishing for the thousandth time that she could afford to live somewhere else.

That’s what I should have wished for, she thought. It has just as much a chance of coming true as anything else. One of the men hooted loudly and she went around the corner of the building to the garden along its side. Cassie deposited the toad in the flowerbed and smiled.

“Have a good night, toad,” she said. The toad didn’t respond and she turned to go back inside, steeling herself for the walk through her neighbors’ impromptu get together. If the guy with the blonde hair was there, she could expect at least one comment about her ass.

When she was finally in her apartment with the door locked, Cassie sank down onto the couch and leaned her head against the back. There was no way a toad could have given her money, yet she couldn’t help feeling somewhat disappointed. Even if it had just been for a few moments, she’d expected something to happen. Her back pocket started vibrating and she pulled out her phone, the familiar sensation of fear whispering through her when she saw it was an unknown number.

“Dammit,” she sighed. The only people that called her from unknown numbers were debt collectors and she’d been successfully avoiding them for the last few weeks, but something told her that this was the moment to answer the phone. I’ll just tell them I don’t have any money to give them, she thought. It’s the truth. “Hello?”

“Are you Miss Cassie Bates?” The voice on the other end wasn’t what she expected. It was a little warmer, and didn’t sound like it was reading from a script. There was something unsettling about it, though, and she responded cautiously.

“Yes.”

“Miss Bates, my name is Richard Reilly and I’m an attorney in Minneapolis representing your parents.” He took a deep breath while Cassie was trying to process his words. She couldn’t understand why a lawyer would be calling her but had a feeling it wasn’t good. “I’m very sorry to be the one to give you this news but your parents were killed in an accident two days ago. We’ve been trying to contact you but couldn’t get in touch until now.”

“My parents?” Cassie’s entire body felt cold. The voice on the phone kept talking but there was a strange, high-pitched noise overlaying it that made it hard for her to make out what the lawyer were saying. Her parents were dead? There had to be a mistake. “There’s no way my parents are dead.”

“I’m sorry,” Richard said. “Their car was hit by a semi that drifted into their lane. If it’s any consolation, they were killed instantly.” His voice was calm but it made even less sense than the conversation she had – or thought she had – with the toad. Cassie had no idea what she was supposed to say to any of this, and Richard took her silence to mean he could go on. “I’m going to need you to come down to the office as soon as possible to sign the paperwork,” the lawyer said. “The insurance company wants to pay out right away for some reason. They’re never this pushy about it but it’s going to work in your favor.”

“Insurance?”

“Yes. Between your parents, their life insurance payout is just over two hundred thousand dollars.” He said more, but Cassie didn’t hear it. The phone fell out of her hand as she covered her face. To her next-door neighbors, her agonized sobs sounded just like screaming.

Underneath her window, the toad worked its throat and smiled. The next day her voice would be little more than a croak. That was how it started.

That was always how it started.

An Update At Last!

Okay, so now that I’ve got some deadline stuff out of the way and returned to this website in a spectacular way (posting a couple of stories?), I feel like it’s a good time to empty the litter box.

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Booktrope has closed its doors so Drowned History will not be published after all. Thankfully we hadn’t started work on it so I wasn’t trapped in a contract like some of the other people I know. This means I’m free to try and publish it elsewhere if I feel like dealing with crushing rejection, which I currently do not.

Why? I have a good job that I like for the first time in a long time. I like the people I work with, I love my clients, and I’ve actually started smarting off to the management a little lately with good results. It’s really more of a career, since I’ve been working as a credentialed tech for almost 14 years, and I don’t expect to give up anytime soon. And since I’m not looking for an eject button, I can take my time looking into publishing or save up the money to publish it myself. It’s rather freeing!

However, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be writing! In fact, I plan to be writing a great deal. As a matter of fact, I’m back at work on the Escape trilogy. I’ve made some pretty major changes to the characters and some of the story, so I’m probably going to remove it from Wattpad and resubmit it with new chapters. I was struggling with it for a bit and the changes are making me love it as much as when I first came up with the idea.

I’m also going to be working on adapting a screenplay for a gentleman I met through Booktrope. He based the screenplay on a book that was written by a family member and wanted it adapted into a novel, which is where I came in. I’m going to be working on an outline and sending it to him, then writing as much of the first draft as possible during NaNoWriMo season, so I’ll hopefully have that out of the way by the end of the year.

And of course, I’m going to be posting my weekly short stories for the 52 Week Short Story Challenge. Once that’s finished for the year, I may compile them into some sort of collection and sell them for a buck or so. I’ve always enjoyed writing prompts. They remind me of college!

52 Week Short Story Challenge #2 – A Loaded Question

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This week’s prompt is from http://www.fmylife.com/:therapist-promptI didn’t actually mean for it to happen, but this week’s story ended up a little dark.

 

A Loaded Question

When I first started coming to Amy, my therapist, I was terrified. The medication wasn’t working and I was looking for someone to help me make sense of the often conflicting workings of my mind. She was warm, kind, and I bonded with her more quickly than I’d ever bonded with another human being, which was why I was so leery of going to therapy when I knew she wouldn’t be there.

It had been weeks since the receptionist called to cancel my appointment with Amy, telling me that she was having family issues and wouldn’t be available. She offered to set me up with a different therapist but I didn’t want anyone but Amy, so I declined. When I called back to try and get a new appointment, I was told that Amy had moved to Kentucky.

As much as I wanted to believe that I didn’t need therapy anymore, I knew that wasn’t the case. I still had so much to work out and I couldn’t do it alone. So I called the office and asked them to set me up an appointment with a new therapist as soon as possible.

I was a little early for my appointment as usual, and much to my relief the office still had a comforting scent of lavender and eucalyptus, and the couches that were so soft I’d struggle to get out of them were still in place. I don’t know why I’d expected things to have changed just because Amy was gone but I had.

“Good afternoon,” I said as I signed in at the front desk. “I’m here to see Mr. Davies.”

Doctor Davies,” the receptionist corrected me.

“Sorry,” I said, a feeling of dread rising in the back of my throat. “I didn’t realize I was going to be seeing a doctor.”

“Don’t worry,” she said with a smile. “He’s very good.” I didn’t respond to this. Instead, I went to the couch against the wall and sat down with my eyes fixed on the hallway.

Part of the reason I liked Amy so much was that she wasn’t a doctor. Once a month I went to my psychiatrist for an evaluation of my meds, but that wasn’t a huge deal because my appointments with her weren’t terribly in-depth. In fact, most of them boiled down to her asking if the meds were working, my saying they were, and her telling me she’d see me in a month. Real doctors were another story altogether. Between neurologists telling me that my blackouts were just really bad migraines and my last GP accusing me of lying about the headaches so I could get pain medication, I hadn’t had many good experiences with them lately.

I was still trying to decide whether or not I was going to suddenly remember a previous engagement when the door at the end of the short hall opened up and a man came out. He took the chart from the receptionist and glanced at it.

“Mariah Pierce?”

“That’s me,” I said, fighting my way out of the couch and hoping I sounded more self-assured than I felt. When I made it over to him, I extended a hand. Doctor Davies was too busy looking at my chart to shake it and I dropped it to my side, feeling awkward.

“Come on in,” he said. I went ahead of him into the office and sat down, noticing as I did that he pushed a button on a little white box that was sitting outside his door. It emitted a soft, static-like sound that I assumed was supposed to cover up our conversation and my feeling of discomfort intensified. Amy had never used one. Maybe she hadn’t thought I had anything to hide.

Dr. Davies sat down at his desk and started reading my chart, something that didn’t inspire confidence in me. I felt like he should have at least flipped through it before I got there and hoped I wasn’t going to be billed for this. While he did, I took a minute to look at him. He was trim and tanned, though I couldn’t have told you if it was natural or a spray job, and his open-collared blue shirt and half-rimmed glasses made him look like he was trying to be someone’s cool uncle.

“So,” he finally said, setting my chart aside, “why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?”

“Uh,” I said, my body threatening to launch itself from the chair and run back outside. “Well, I’m 26 and I’ve been diagnosed with—“

“No, no,” Dr. Davies said, shaking his head. “Tell me about yourself in regards to your therapy. How do you think you’re progressing? What techniques have you found that work for you? Do you think your medication is working? That sort of thing.”

“Oh. Amy had me keeping a journal,” I said. “That seems to work. I use it to keep track of projects I’m working on.”

“What kind of projects?”

“This and that,” I replied, not really wanting to go into detail with him. Amy never asked for specifics, she just waited for me to tell her. “I collect things. And as for my medication, I guess it’s working. Sometimes I forget to take them but most of the time I do.” A sigh worked its way out of my chest and I caught it before it escaped. “I think the biggest problem I’m having right now is that I keep falling asleep.”

“Falling asleep?” Dr. Davies picked up a yellow legal pad – the definition of old-fashioned – and a pen whose shiny silver barrel was giving me a headache. “That can be a side effect of the medication you’re on.”

“No,” I said. “It’s different. I mean, I doze off at weird times. And sometimes I’ll find myself someplace and not know how I got there. Like I’ll be sitting down doing some work or at a restaurant and the next thing I know I’m back home in bed.” I took a deep breath and I glanced at Dr. Davies, who wasn’t looking at me but writing on his pad. “I have these dreams sometimes, too. Amy had me keeping a journal of them. Separate from the regular journal, I mean.”

“What kind of dreams?”

“They’re weird,” I said. “They’re me, but I’m usually watching myself from far away. I know what I’m doing or what I’m supposed to be doing but I’m never actually doing it. A lot of times I’ll think I can give myself orders but I never follow them. Sometimes I’m actually screaming at myself and I wake up with my throat raw but in the dream I just keep doing what I’m not supposed to. And when I have those dreams, I’m usually wearing someone else’s face.”

“You mean, you’re someone else.”

“I guess that’s what I’m supposed to believe, right?” The silence that followed was the definition of awkward. Amy would have been tapping on her tablet, which would have been comforting, but Dr. Davies was just staring at me as if he expected me to go on. I cleared my throat and forced a smile onto my face. If I couldn’t have Amy, I could at least try to break the ice like I had with her. “So what do you think? Am I crazy?”

“Well,” Dr. Davies said, setting aside his legal pad and pen, “That’s a bit of a loaded question, isn’t it?” I can’t remember if my mouth was actually hanging open or not but I didn’t wait for his answer. I got up and started out of the room, hearing him say something about seeing me next week that was drowned out by the white noise machine by the door.

The receptionist was waiting for me at the desk and I took my wallet out of my bag automatically to pay. My face was burning and my hands were shaking. This was exactly the reason I didn’t want to come to therapy in the first place.

“Twenty five,” the receptionist said, completely oblivious to my distress. “You need an appointment for next week?”

“I’ll have to call you,” I said, surprised how steady my voice sounded as I handed her some cash. “Did Amy leave an address? I’d like to send her a note to thank her for everything she’s done for me.” The receptionist shook her head.

“No. Her email said she was going out to Kentucky to take care of her aunt but I haven’t heard from her since. I’ve been waiting, too. There’s a pile of mail I’ve been wanting to forward to her.” She handed me a receipt and I folded it up without looking. “Do you want to leave me an email I can pass on to her?”

“That would be great.”

I took the stairs two at a time and managed to wait until the door to the back of the building was shut before I lit a cigarette and sank down onto the steps, my hands shaking. A couple of drags calmed me down a little and I closed my eyes, hanging my head so that my hair fell around my face. In spite of the nicotine seeping into my blood I was suddenly very tired.

When I lifted my head again it was dark, and the stub of my burned-out cig was still between my fingers. I looked around the parking lot, which was lit by a single flickering bulb. In the limited light I could see Dr. Davies walking to his car. He didn’t even have his keys out, something that told me he’d never had anything to fear. I tossed my cig into the weeds and got up.

If he wanted to see crazy, I was more than happy to show him.

I might even let him see where I’d kept Amy.

52 Week Short Story Challenge #1 – No Such Thing As A Free Meal

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Some of you may have noticed I haven’t been writing much lately. A number of things have happened and I really haven’t felt much like writing. More on that later, I’m not really in the mood to expound on my troubles. What I am in the mood to do is post a short story here for your reading pleasure.

This is the first in a series of 52 short stories written as part of the 52 Week Short Story Challenge, the goal of which is to get a cool cat by the name of SM Cadman back into the writing groove. She, like me, has been feeling pretty slumped due to depression and created this challenge as a way to break through. I thought it was a good idea, so I’ll be posting one short story a week based on a prompt. If you’d like to read along, or better yet join in, follow her blog or on Twitter and the prompts will arrive on Sundays.

It’s going to be fun!

This week’s prompt:

prompt-1

No Such Thing As a Free Meal

The inspector rubbed her forehead as she sat in her car in the parking lot of The Pho House. It was only the third restaurant she’d been to that afternoon but she was already exhausted. She opened her glove compartment and grabbed the Excedrin out of it with her eyes closed, then chased two of the tablets with a mouthful of warm water from the bottle that had been sitting in her passenger seat all day. Nothing about it was pleasant, but that was par for the course for her day.

She was screwing the cap back onto the water when her phone started ringing. Grimacing, she picked it up without checking to see who it was. There were only a few people who actually called her and she couldn’t ignore any of them, even if she was seriously considering quitting.

“Williamson.”

“Hey, baby,” a voice she wasn’t expecting said. She smiled for the first time since she’d left the house. “We still on for six?”

“Not unless you can work a miracle,” Keshia Williamson said, looking up at the restaurant’s door, which was now sporting a ‘closed’ sign in spite of it being the middle of the day. “I’m way, way behind schedule and I’ve still got three places on my list.”

“So just do a quick walkthrough and give ‘em a C. We can make the seven o’clock movie.”

“Boy, that’s what got this whole mess started in the first place. I’ll get done when I get done.” Her headache seemed to be getting worse instead of better and she sighed. “I’ll call you as soon as I’m on my way back to the office.”

“No texting? Real call?”

“Real call. Love you, baby.” She hung up the phone and dropped it into her console, then started the car. If she was going to get anything close to finished before the sun went down she had to get going. In an attempt to get herself worked up, she put on some old Missy Elliott and tried to nod her head as she backed out of the parking space.

By the time she made it to Ricky’s House of Ribs, Keshia’s headache had receded just enough to make her feel functional again and she pulled into one of the spaces at the front of the building. There were only two other cars in the lot and she was glad. If there was a scene like the one at Kung Pao Kitchen, she didn’t want to see her face on YouTube later that night when she was trying to relax.

Keshia got out of the car and straightened her blazer, then slung her bag over her shoulder and picked up her leather folio from the passenger seat. Once she was convinced that she looked the part of a competent health inspector, she strode up the front walk and pushed on the windowless door only to discover that it was locked.

She looked at the business hours posted by the door and frowned. The restaurant should have been open for hours at this point but now that she looked through the window she could see the place was empty. Someone was moving around behind the counter, though, and she knocked on the door as hard as she could. Closed or not, Ricky’s House of Ribs was on her list and she was going to give them the grade they deserved. A minute later, the door unlocked and opened just enough for a man in a dirty t-shirt and jeans to lean out.

“We’re closed,” the man said.

“I’m the health inspector,” Keshia said. “I need to take a look around.”

“The health inspector?” He looked her up and down dubiously, taking in her twist out and the modest silver stud in her nostril. “We’re working on it.”

“I need to see what it’s like right now. I can come back later and amend your grade.” The man looked like he was going to argue with her and she felt herself starting to dig in, like she had so many times before, but he stepped aside and let her in.

“I knew this was coming,” he sighed. The front of the restaurant was dark and he led her to the back of the house. A large black ‘A’ was posted proudly beside their liquor license and Keshia resisted the urge to snort when she saw it. He pushed the door to the kitchen open and motioned for her to go in. “Excuse the mess.”

Keshia braced herself for the worst as she stepped through the door, expecting her guide to immediately launch into a litany of excuses. Instead, she was faced with an empty room that smelled like the inside of a swimming pool. There were squares of rust on the floor where appliances had recently been dragged away, and a bright yellow rolling mop bucket stood in the corner.

“Where’s all your—“ Keshia looked around the room. “—everything?”

“Cleared it out,” the man said, picking up a pack of cigarettes and shaking one out. He lit it with a lighter featuring a picture of a naked woman and took a deep drag. Keshia narrowed her eyes at him and he blew the smoke over his shoulder.

“You know that’s illegal.”

“You’re already here to fine me, what’s one more line on the ticket?” He tossed the lighter on the counter with the cigarettes and extended a hand to her. “I’m Ricky.”

“Miss Williamson,” Keshia said, shaking it. “You renovating?”

“Yup. Contractors are coming next week to take a look at the front end,” Ricky said, taking another drag. “My granddaddy died and left me everything so I’ve got the money. Not to mention I’m gonna be saving money not feeding old Don the Con.”

“Excuse me?”

“You seem like an honest lady,” Ricky said. “No harm in telling you now, unless you already know.” Keshia stared at him and he blew a cloud of smoke over his shoulder. “Which from the look on your face, you don’t.”

“What are you talking about?” Keshia folded her arms over her chest as Ricky sighed and leaned on the counter.

“Free food,” Ricky said, dragging a red plastic ashtray that looked like it had been scavenged from a dive bar over to him. “He’d been doing it for years. Every couple of days, at least once a week, Don would come in here and remind me that my good grade depended on his mood. And to keep him happy we gave him a plate whenever he came in.”

“You traded him free food to keep your A grade?”

“We weren’t the only ones. He was doing it to all the restaurants around here. House of Pho, Uncle Cash’s, whoever he could get to agree.” Ricky stubbed out his cigarette and took out a fresh one. “I made the mistake of telling him we were struggling, hoping to get some sympathy, and he said he’d give me some time to work on it if I’d help him out every now and then. Next thing I knew, he was showing up all the time.”

“Shit,” Keshia said, cursing on the job for the first time in her life. Everything was starting to make sense. She’d already shut down House of Pho, and Uncle Cash’s Place was next on the list. If Don Gibbens had been getting free meals out of dirty kitchens for who knew how long, the raging case of e. Coli he had contracted was suddenly explained. “No wonder that old bastard kept saying he didn’t know where he could have picked it up.”

“I told him I was done two weeks ago,” Ricky said, shaking his head and lighting the cigarette. “That I was gonna clean the place up for real, and he got all mad. Said he’d tell his bosses that I’d been giving him free food and that it was my idea.” Keshia set down her folio and rubbed her forehead. Her headache was back with a vengeance, and she had a feeling it had something to do with the way she was clenching her jaw. Before she could come up with the words for how she felt, Ricky opened his mouth again. “So I made him a special plate.”

“A special what?”

“We left half a rack of ribs out on the counter for a couple of days, then only half cooked ‘em. Drowned ‘em in sauce and served ‘em to old Don when he came in. He didn’t even notice. Gobbled ‘em down like every other time and wanted extra cobbler.” Keshia stared at him with her mouth open and he shrugged. “We shut down that night and I had the appliances hauled out the next morning.”

“You fed a health inspector spoiled meat? On purpose?” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was the most unreal thing she’d ever heard but Ricky wasn’t even trying to deny it. He was just standing there illegally smoking his cigarette as if nothing was wrong. “You know I could shut this place down for good?”

“Probably not,” Ricky said. “Old Don was ripping off every restaurant in this area so you’d have a hard time proving whose food poisoned him. According to him, he was getting three meals a day for free. I wasn’t the only one who had the idea, either. There could have been two or three places pulling the same thing.” He smiled. “In a month I’ll have a whole new restaurant for you to inspect with brand new freezers and pit and everything. I’ll even give you a plate at our Grand Opening celebration.”

Keshia opened her mouth, then closed it. Ricky was right. With Don keeping his mouth shut about the free meals and the kitchen completely gutted, there was no way anyone could tie his food poisoning to the restaurant. The worst she could do was write him a citation for smoking and even that was more effort than she was willing to put in. With this place crossed off the list, she could get through the next two restaurants and make it back home in time for her date with Deron.

“Thanks,” she said, picking up her folio and heading for the door. “I’ll pass.”

The Wave of the Future

Exciting news! Drowned History is going to be published!

I submitted it to Booktrope after seeing something from them pass by on my timeline and thought maybe it would be better to go that route than trying to self-publish it. I don’t have the money right now to get an editor and cover designer and this way I get to have a creative team without up-front costs.

See, Booktrope is a hybrid publisher: somewhere between self and traditional publishing. Your book gets accepted and you put together an entire creative team who each have a stake in seeing the book do well. No one gets paid if the book doesn’t sell! It’s a good model to me because rather than just paying someone to do these things and having to market it myself I have help and guidance. I work way too much to try and do it all myself again.

And speaking of Plans (we are now, keep up), they republish books too! So if things go well, I may try and get them to republish Plans. I feel like it deserved better than it got because nearly everyone who read it – even randos! – loved it but I just had no idea about marketing and such. It would be weird to see it with a new cover but I guess I’d get used to it. It would be nice to have a real editor to help me polish it up and re-release it.

Getting DH published has really given me back some of the zest I had been lacking. I finished The Weather but hadn’t gotten around to editing it because I just didn’t feel like dealing with finding an editor, then a cover designer, and as I said before I don’t have the money for that. I get a little jealous of people who self-publish and have the time and money to do it themselves but that’s life. Now that I’m feeling validated, I am ready to work again and might even be able to pull Kitsune out of storage and get the outline worked up. And then of course there’s the Escape series!

I used to be worried I would run out of ideas one day. This is not that day.

Pushing Along

Still hard at work on the Escape project, and the outline of the book that sort of splintered off out of it. A few life changes pushed me a little off track with both the project and my crocheting and I’m trying to get back on track.

Drowned History finished last Wednesday with 29 chapters. I’m not going to lie, I got a little teary-eyed when I posted it. I started it to get my head back into the writing game and finished it in a little under a month. It was so much fun. And now that I’m finished posting it I feel a little empty.

Thankfully a good friend on Twitter gave me a really good idea for a short(ish) story and after letting it stew a week or so I think I’ve got a really good handle on how to make it work. I’ll probably post it on Wattpad, provided I can come up with something resembling a cover. I really don’t want to just make some crappy, slapped-together cover but I’m also not able to buy a cover for something short and simple like this.

Maybe I’ll figure out a simple cover whose title can be changed whenever I write a short story and post it. I wish Photoshop didn’t cripple my old computer, I have a nice template I worked on for about a week that would have been great with a cheap stock image on it. I can afford a cheap stock image.

This story idea is almost entirely about dreams and dreaming, and certain parts of Drowned History had a very strong emphasis on dreaming, which makes me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t figure out another short story about dreaming and put them together in a sort of collection. I wonder if anyone would buy such a thing?

Indecision!

Hovering back and forth between putting Escape up for free or hanging onto it until I can publish it. I really enjoy serializing Drowned History but I feel like I would be losing money by giving it away for free and then just hoping that people would buy the collected bits as a book. I may gain readers but there’s no guarantee of that.

Maybe I’ll just put excerpts of it up here and tease it that way, or maybe put excerpts up here and short backstory pieces on Wattpad. Just thinking out loud here, really. I want to keep people updated on what I have started referring to on Twitter as #EscapeRedux so people can mute the hashtag if they want.

As for the project itself, it’s moving forward. I got the outline for the first part finished and am almost through with the second. Once I get through with the third I will probably take a week off and then start on the first book. Or part. I still haven’t decided how I’m going with this. It’s going to be a little large for one book but I feel like the second book won’t be as interesting and people won’t buy it, which means they won’t buy the third and miss the grand finale. Basically I’m going to try and write the whole thing at one time and decide whether or not I’m breaking it up later.

This is all terribly exciting, I know, and I’m going to try and update as much as possible. If you want to get more updates, cat pictures, and screenshots from my epic victories on Love Live, follow me on Twitter. There’s also a fair amount of family stuff and lots of vague talk about my work that doesn’t quite qualify as subtweeting. Oh, and retweets about cat stuff. If a friend of mine is talking about their cat licking the floor or eating a bee, you can bet I’m retweeting that.

Back Again For the First Time

So I decided that if I’m going to make any kind of an online presence for myself I should probably set up a Goodreads page. I’ve always had one but I’ve never done much with it. Imagine my surprise when I went on and discovered that I have reviews!

Sadly, no one likes Minor Side Effects much. I can’t make myself be too terribly concerned about it because it was originally a Livejournal project that was just for fun while I kept myself writing every day. My skills have definitely leveled up since then, judging by the good ratings for Plans both on Goodreads and Amazon.

Something interesting I had heard about Goodreads through writer friends was that you can do book giveaways through them. I just so happen to have restocked myself with hard copies when I did a book trade with Jennifer Foehner Wells, so I may do that this week. I’ll be sure and post a link to the giveaway as soon as I have one!

Work continues on Escape. I finished the outline for part one last night, and it came out to being 17 pages long. Yeah, breaking it up into three parts was definitely a good choice. I started the outline for part two last night also. I think I’m going to get the whole outline done before I start writing because I want to make sure I’ve got all the things in the right places first. I don’t want to retcon. I hate retconning. This is why I had such a hard time with The Lost World.

I also found about fifteen pages of a story that could easily be worked into a book in the same universe as the Escape ones, and about the same size. If I get working on it and release one book a year, I’ll have four years worth of books in the can just in case life blindsides me. Again.

One last thing about Goodreads for now. I plan on going back through my recent readings and doing small reviews of them, so if you’re a friend and suddenly get slammed with reviews from me, I’m sorry. I read quite a bit more than my past performance would have you believe.

If you’re interested, my Goodreads page is here: http://www.goodreads.com/Natalie_Smothers

Out Of Control

Well, it looks like I’ve got a project that’s escaping (ha ha) me.

A couple of years ago – in 2013 to be exact – I wrote part of a story called Escape for NaNoWriMo. I hit 50K with it in spite of a lot of stuff going on in my life, but because of all the stuff I kind of forgot to validate it so it’s not an OFFICIAL win. Still, I wrote the big five-oh and did a little butt dance in my room. The only problem was that it wasn’t even close to being finished.

Flash forward to earlier this month when I decided to merge two Wattpad accounts. I have about 10 weeks worth of Drowned History left to publish and decided I was going to start updating Escape so that it could be my next online project.

To quote Sublime, that’s when things got out of control.

I decided to work on an outline that would incorporate both the old and new stuff. Needing more background on characters led me to work on character sheets, which then ended up being about four pages long each. Now I’m working on a synopsis to go before the outline.

I was considering just self-pubbing this story once I get through with it but it’s kind of looking like it’s going to be a beast, so I decided I was going to break it into three. I even figured out natural break points between books. Then I remembered ANOTHER story I had partially written that could be in this same universe. Like I said, out of control.

Then there’s the issue that I have no idea what genre to even call this story. It’s got spaceships but it’s not really sci-fi. It’s got dystopian elements but I think people would be disappointed if I advertised it as that. There’s also a very weird “romance” that’s actually almost platonic. Really it’s just about the people trying to escape shitty circumstances in a variety of ways and I don’t have a clue how to describe it.

So I’m working on this story and trying to come up with an idea for a trilogy or series name (you need one of those, right?) and it’s all kind of giving me choice paralysis. I still plan on putting it up while I’m writing it because without a genre audience I doubt anyone would publish it, but it’s starting to eat my life and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not. I still need to start editing The Weather.