New Cover Art…

I’m working on creating my new cover art for the book. I have more work being done by a “professional”, but this is my best attempt. Let me know what you think.

Republish #1

After a few rounds of edits (I know… stuff that should have been done before initial release) and some feedback from friends, I’ve RE-published the book.

Why? … because you — the reader — have pointed out typos, plot inconsistencies, etc. Nothing major, but enough that I’m a perfectionist, and I couldn’t stand to see anything with blemishes that have my name on it (literally). On that note, I’ve re-published the book with these new edits.

I’ve also got feedback from readers that they don’t understand the cover art. I’ve commissioned new cover art (to be on the book soon) from a VERY well known artist, Sean Eddingfield. You can see his work here.

Once I get this new cover art from him, I’ll do a Republish #2 (hopefully the last).

Between now and then, I am taking any feedback, suggestions, notes, comments, etc. … good and bad, so be brutal. I’d rather get a good book than be patronized.

If you want to preview the book, you can see it at Feedbooks or at Smashwords. You can BUY the book at Smashwords, Amazon or Barnes & Noble for a whopping $0.99! (Come on, that’s cheap, folks!)

So, have a happy new year, and take a few minutes this year to read my new book. It’s a good one. I promise. =)

I Saw My Name in Print!

So we go home last night, and guess what’s in my mailbox…

No, really… guess. Nope! It was a proof copy of my book in paperback. I’m still excited to see my name in print. I know… I’m not famous. Heck, I had to pay $8.00 to order the proof just see my name in print (and check for errors, too).

Anyone could pay $8.00 to see their name in print, right? But it’s the principal of the matter. I’ve actually finished a book, and seeing a finished work in your hands feels pretty good.

I’ll let you know where you can buy the print book when it comes available. Until then, just keep checking in on me. =)

Day Job Blues

I’m back at my day job. It’s an amazing job. I really do love it.

But the problem is, no one is here. I don’t have much to do today because 99% of the company took this week as their vacation week. So, here I am. Waiting.

Oh, I have work to be done. I have documentation to write, but that’s not nearly as engaging as writing a novel. Writing a novel is fun. Juicy. Like eating your favorite candy. It’s sweet and exciting, but doesn’t do much for you other than give you cavities.

Documentation is dry. Crusty. Like eating graham crackers without milk followed by wheat germ and granola. It’ll fill you up and keep you healthy, but boy is it dry and hard to swallow.

I need to find a happy medium. I want to get paid to write and do what I love to do… but not the dry, boring, milk-less times.

Almost Christmas

Merry Christmas to all!

I’m just sitting down today since i have the day off from my “day job”.  New ideas about where to take Brodie in the second novel are taking shape today. I don’t want to give away anything, but suffice it to say that Brodie is going to encounter his own issues in a way that only he can.

I’m also planning on moving the scene from an undisclosed city as in the previous novel to a specific city, give that city a name, and allow certain landmarks from that city to appear in the pages of the book. Does anyone have a specific place in mind that they would like represented?

What city, to you, is ominous, foreboding and haunting?

I’m PUBLISHED!

It feels very strange… like I should be glowing now, or I should be able to levitate or something. I’m a little freaked out right now, to be honest.

I’ve reached the status of “published author.” I was even able to google my own book title and find it. Google already has it indexed!

For anyone interested and for those fans that have visited here often, you can find my book at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/34088. If you use the promo code XX32D, between now and January 1, 2011, you can download the book for FREE!!

It’s just my way of celebrating and saying Merry Christmas to all!

And even if you discover this post after January 1, I’m only charging $2.99. Come on, people. That’s not all that much for a full-sized novel! Right?

Anyway, the trip to this point in my writing “career” has been fun. This is my first book, and I’m very excited about it. It’s been a challenge learning all kinds of new rules about where you can put “he said” instead of “he replied with a stick of string cheese hanging from his lips.”

While I still prefer the second form, I am beginning to see exactly how using simpler structures actually does improve the flow and readability of the story. It’s crazy how such a simple change in the text can alter the flow in a person’s brain.

Well.. it’s nearly 1a.m. and I still have a “real job” to go to in the morning.

Goodnight all. Oh, and if you do use the promo code, send me a review of the book (a short 1 paragrap that just tells me what you think of it and why.) Maybe your review will get on the back cover of my next release! =)

UPDATE: After reading a bit on author boards, the price (without coupon) has been reduced to $1.99. You can’t beat that with a stick… well, you could but it’d mess up the electrons.

Death Has a Name (Excerpt)

This is a chapter from the middle of “Death Has a Name”, a novel I’m writing. It gives a brief glance into the childhood of Brodie Wade, the main character.


As a child, Brodie watched out the window from his room on the second floor of the Garrett Center for the Mentally Distressed. The air outside was cold as December quickly approached. A recent ice storm had left the city in turmoil, and was only now beginning to fade away. Ice still bowed the branches of the nearby trees. To thirteen-year-old Brodie, they looked like huge ice boulders stacked against each other in the distance.
He knew that this wasn’t a place for children. Yet here he was. The courts had taken him away at the age of ten from his mother, claiming that she was unfit and a danger to his mental and physical health. They’d said a good deal else about his mother, but he didn’t understand the rest of it.
All he knew was that they thought she hurt him. But aside from their big talk, what did they know? They didn’t see how she comforted him after the Truth visited. They didn’t hear how she sang to him to calm him down. They didn’t feel her hands rub the scratches on his body, and rock him to sleep. They didn’t see her tears and hear the quiver in her voice as she asked over and over ‘Who did this?’ Then she would sigh and start to rock him in her arms and just sing.
Now, three years later, he was still here. Still trying everything he could think of to get out of this forsaken place.
Brodie tugged at his double-layer socks that kept his toes warm on the tile floors. The staff at the institution didn’t let any of the residents, old or young, go outside for fear they would hurt themselves on the ice and snow. Brodie stared at the white snow-covered back yard. It remained pristine and unmarred by shoe prints, snowmen, snowball fights, or snow angels.
For the past four days, he’d been allowed to sleep, read, and watch TV. None of which he wanted to do. Brodie was getting ‘cabin fever’, as his mom called it. He hoped that they wouldn’t give him more medication for that.
On a day like this, all he wanted to do was build a snowman, or something normal with his mom. He remembered how his mother would take him outside any chance she got when it snowed. He would run out into the white yard while she cheered him on, “Make it big,” she would shout. Flopping himself down he would spread his legs and arms, feeling the cold snow working behind his cap and between his collar, then down his shirt. But he didn’t care. That was the price to be paid for making a perfect snow angel.
Brodie stared at the closest ice-laden tree. He was sure it felt the way he did right now — alone and trapped in a frozen cocoon that it could not break free of.
“How are we doing today, Brodie?” Dr. Flannigan asked. Brodie hadn’t heard him enter, but his presence didn’t cause alarm. The doctor often just stood and watched him. Sometimes Brodie felt like a rat in a lab. This doctor wasn’t a medical doctor with a white lab coat and a stethoscope draped around his neck. He was a psychiatrist. He was a short man with red hair and a receding hairline. He seemed stuck in a rut of wearing green and brown sweaters.
“Don’t you ever knock?” Brodie asked without taking his eyes off of his companion tree.
“Would that make the answers any easier?”
“No. Is this your official ’rounds’ visit for the day?”
“Yes. Come here.” The doctor patted the end of Brodie’s bed. “At least face me. It will make this go easier and faster for both of us.”
Brodie slid down to the end of his bed where he slouched and stared at his sock-feet sticking out of his flannel pajamas.
“Good. So, how have you been feeling today?”
“I’m okay.” Brodie looked up to see him scribbling in his yellow legal pad.
“Are you sleeping at night? Do you feel sluggish from the medication?”
Brodie just shrugged.
“How about visions? Have you had any visions or awake-dreams today?”
“No.”
Dr. Flannigan wrote more on his yellow notepad, then put it down. “Okay. Enough doctor-patient. I want to just talk with you as a friend. Okay?”
Brodie nodded, but he pressed his lips tighter. They’d tried this tactic in the past. One even got him to tell about his visions last June, but they used it to say that his mother had tortured him, and this was his past manifesting itself in his subconscious… or some crap like that. For that betrayal, he’d earned another round of medications and therapy to extract from his subconscious mind the details of her supposed torture. He didn’t even want to think of what they accused his mother of. They didn’t see that it was they who tortured him, not his mother.
There was no way he would ever betray his mother like that again.
“Can you answer a quick question for me?”
“I guess.”
“What would you think about a trip home? Be honest with me.”
Brodie’s heart nearly stopped. He fought to keep a straight face until he could see if the doctor was being serious with him. He wanted to scream Yes! YES! But what would the doctor write then? How would they interpret it? He wanted to see his mother more than life itself, but he had to keep his emotions in check, as always. He stared at the yellow notepad and tried to gain control of nis now-racing heart. White wisps slowly lifted from its pages, as if the doctor had placed it on a smoldering coal, and it was about to burst into flame.
Brodie clamped his eyes shut and turned his head toward the doctor.
“Brodie? Are you okay?”
No! Not now. Not when he’s thinking about letting me go home. I have to be strong. I have to just be normal enough to go home. Just be normal.
Brodie opened his eyes wide and tried to put on his best possible smile. He stared at the doctor, who now had a big black spider crawling over his head. The spider had two claws, like crab’s claws, pulling at the doctor’s hair, but the doctor seemed oblivious to it. The Truth was taunting him again, trying to tell him something.
Brodie had learned to mask his expressions and push through the fear. “Yes. I would like that very much. I miss my mom.”
“Good. It’s coming up on Thanksgiving, and we thought it would be good for you to spend some time with your family. But we wanted your input on it as well. I’m glad to know that you like the idea.” The doctor picked up his notepad, where the crab-creature scurried down his arm and vanished back into the mist rising from it. When the spider had gone, the mist stopped.
Brodie released the breath that he was holding. Once again, the Truth had come and gone.
“How is your medication? Does it still make you feel disconnected? Dizzy?”
“Yes.” Brodie hated the medication. But if he went home, he would tell his mother to stop giving it to him. She would understand. She always understood. She would have understood the vision he’d just had. At least, she wouldn’t think he was crazy because of it.
“Okay. I’ll talk to Doctor Winslow to see if we can adjust that for you again.”
“Can’t you just take the pills away?” Brodie blurted. “I’m okay, now. Aren’t I?”
Dr. Flannigan shook his head, but continued to write in his notepad. “No. I’m sorry, Brodie. You’ll have to keep on them for a bit more. We want to make sure that your visions stay away. They make you do things that … We need you to get well, then we’ll work on getting you off the medications, okay?”
Brodie’d heard that line before. He pressed his lips together again, and wedged his hands under his thighs. More lies.
“Okay. Well, I’ll note that they are still bothering you. What about the voices. How long has it been since you heard the voices?”
“I don’t know. A few months.” Brodie lied. To be convincing, he shrugged and looked out the window at the trees again. But the Truth had spoken to him just last night, telling him more jumbles of words. They echoed in his ears still, but he kept a somber expression.
“It’s been so long, I forget.”
“The last time it spoke, what did it say?”
Brodie shrugged and pressed his lips together again. How could he make sense of it? Rashel. Car sixty. Overlane. Express. Lincoln.
“You don’t remember?”
“No. Not really.”
“Okay. That’s good, Brodie.” The doctor wrote more on the note pad. Afterward, he looked into Brodie’s eyes and smiled. “See, not so bad today, was it?”
“No. Not so bad.”
Dr. Flannigan opened the door to Brodie’s room again and started to leave. Brodie saw the note that the spider-crab must have written across the back of the doctor’s green sweater. It glowed like a neon sign, “Rashel. Tonight. Tell him!”
“When can I pack my bag?” Brodie blurted, trying to focus on the positive. He wanted to ignore the message and just pretend that the Truth wasn’t happening to him again. Maybe if he ignored the Truth, it would give up, go away and let him live in peace with his family.
“As soon as you want, I guess. I’ll call and see if your mom can pick you up tomorrow morning, if that’s okay with you. The next day is Thanksgiving Day, so you’ll be at home for the holiday.”
Before the doctor finished speaking, Brodie sprung off the bed and was head-first into the tiny closet to pull out his things for the trip. He only owned three changes of clothes and a pair of shoes, so it didn’t take him long to stuff his duffel bag with everything in the closet.
“Hold on, Brodie. You can’t pack everything. You’ll only be allowed one night this trip.”
“But…” Brodie stopped mid-action and looked up, “… why?”
“Small steps, Brodie. Both you and your mother have to take things in small steps, remember? We talked about this.”
Brodie remembered. He hated it. Anger flashed through his jaws making them tighten, but he tried to just smile and nod, as if the words comforted him instead of making him want to kill the one man that stood between him and a normal life with his mother again. All this man had to do was declare him as sane and let him go home. But no. He had to keep drilling about the Truth. He had to press in on him about the one thing in his life that Brodie couldn’t control or do anything about. And because of that, Brodie knew that he would be stuck in this room until he died.
The Truth wasn’t a disease but was something that haunted him from outside his mind, not inside. He didn’t want the Truth. He wanted his life back. But they didn’t believe him. No one did. No one ever did.
“Look, I know you love your mother, but we have to be careful. You–“
“You don’t know shit!” Brodie shouted and threw a shoe just past the doctor’s hands. It bounced with a solid thud off the door and out into the hallway. Immediately, he wished he could will the words back out of the air and pull the shoe back in time. He’d let his anger slip. His face grew warm and he turned away so the doctor wouldn’t see him trying to hold back his tears.
The doctor smiled that familiar apathetic smile. “No. I suppose I don’t, really. Do you want to talk about it?”
“No.” Brodie yanked a shirt from his bag and stuffed it, still unfolded, back into the single drawer in his closet.
“Okay. You know where my office is, if you change your mind.” The doctor stepped out quietly. He gently placed the shoe back on Brodie’s bed, then closed the door as he left.
Once alone again, Brodie thought of all of the smart-ass comebacks he could have used. He could have said that he would make a horrible parent. Or he could have just shouted ‘Rashel’ and watch the doctor reel.
“Rashel” was probably his lover. Brodie didn’t know what the name meant, but he was sure that the Truth wanted to flaunt the doctor’s sins in front of the world. Through these messages, Brodie had a habit of knowing things he had no responsibility knowing. And each time he mentioned them adults were afraid of him.
He knew their secrets. Or at least, they thought he did.
The one thing he did know was that he wasn’t moving home anytime soon.
He stood up to scream at the top of his lungs in sheer frustration, but bit his lip. He clenched his fists and collapsed back onto his bed, buried his face in his pillow to muffle the noise and began to scream with all that was within him. Screaming faded to sobs, and sobs to mournful crying.
* * * * *
That night, Dr. Flannigan was driving home. His daughter, Rashel, sat next to him in the passenger seat. She was the brown-haired love of his life after her mother passed from cancer just two years before. He had just picked her up from day care and turned onto the Memorial Expressway, when a gray Lincoln crossed over into his lane. The driver was drunk. They hit head-on at sixty-miles an hour each. The Lincoln went up the front of Dr. Flannigan’s red Honda, crushing the passenger side of the car.
Dr. Flannigan was hospitalized for six months due to the extent of his injuries. His skull was fractured and his spine was crushed as the car flipped and landed upside down in the ditch. He was confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life and was later admitted to the same institution that had once been his occupation. His body healed enough to sustain him, but his mind never recovered from the trauma. He would sit and mumble four words over and over every day. “My lovely little girl.”
Rashel died on impact.

Into the wood (Bartholemew, Part II)

The campfire crackled and made harsh shadows against the night. Bartholemew closed his eyes and absorbed the warmth from the fire. Three days had past since he had spoken with Priest Donnair, and still no word.

A rabbit hung on a spit over the dying flames where he’d eaten a good portion of it. A loud crack behind him made him jump. In an instant, his sword was drawn facing the direction of the sound; “Who’s there?”

“Mr. Bartholemew?” A weak voice called out of the darkness. “I was sent from Veluna by request of Priest Donnair.”

Bartholemew put his sword away and pulled his hood over his head far enough to cover his face. “Come closer.”

A skinny man no taller than five-foot slipped from behind a tree, nervously inching closer. “Y-you… you are a Tiefling.”

“No. I was scarred as a child. But you did not come to discuss my malformities. What do you have to report?”

“I saw your face. You are a Tiefling. I’ve always wanted to meet a Tiefling. Are you as kind as Priest Donnair has said?”

Bartholemew slowly lowered his hood, letting the flickering light of the campfire dance on the side of his face. “I hope so. He has placed alot of trust in me.”

“Indeed,” the man held out a coin purse in a trembling hand. “He said that I should give you these.”

Slowly taking the coin purse from the little man, Bartholemew smiled. “Thank you. I assume this means that I have been officially commissioned.”

“Yes. I have much to tell you.”

Bartholemew stepped back, inviting the man to sit at his campfire. “Tell me more. I have a rabbit cooking. There’s not much, but you are welcome to what is left.”

The man sat and eagerly devoured the remains of the rabbit, sucking the bones dry, sure to get every ounce of meat from the sparse carcass. His name, as Bartholemew discovered, was Herman, but preferred to be called Shorty. He detailed the region of the forest that seemed to be having issues. There was a great evil boiling somewhere in the wood, and the epicenter seemed to be somewhere to the east.

After the man finished speaking and eating Bartholemew began to collect the bones to be buried to prevent wild animals from approaching his camp. “Thank you, Shorty. The hour is late. You are welcome to camp here and return in the morning.”

“If I may,” Shorty slowly stood, “I would like to go with you.”

“Hah! This wilderness is no place for city dwellers. Especially if there is such a great evil as you have said.”

“Please. I’m a cartographer by trade. I know the area outside the wood quite well. Let me go with you. I have nothing back in Veluna, and to spend time with a Tiefling would be my honor.”

The last sentence made Bartholemew pause. “Tell me, Shorty. Are you afraid of me? Afraid of my kind?”

“Not at all,” Shorty chuckled. He stood and stepped closer, “I’ve been interested in your kind since I met one as a child. It was a simple action, really. I had fallen in the dirt and began to cry, and a woman came over and picked me up. She dusted me off and sat me down next to my parents. I don’t think they ever saw her face, but I did. She was a Tiefling. I remember the shape of her face under her hood. I know she was. And if she were evil, I would have been dead already.”

“This commission may get dangerous. How do I know you can take care of yourself?”

Shorty drew two daggers from sheathes at his side. “This is Margaret, and this is Betty. They’ll do the talking for me.”

Bartholemew nodded with contemplation. He was happy to see a human so interested in his heritage for a change, but something still nagged at him. With a single movement, Bartholemew drew his sword, and thrust it just over Shorty’s left shoulder.

Shorty screamed and rolled to his side. Bartholemew tried to contain a laugh as Shorty tripped over a small log and nearly landed face-first in the fire, missing it by only a few inches.

“The woods are too dangerous for someone who is not ready at all times.” Bartholemew slowly replaced his sword. “I mean you no harm, but if I needed someone to go with me, I would need someone whose nerves are a bit more steady. As I said before, you are welcome to stay until sunrise, but then you must return. Tell Donnair that I accept his offer, and tell no one of my heritage. It is important that I remain hidden for now. Agreed?”

Shorty nodded. “Sure. I understand.”

With that, the two made preparations for bed. Bartholemew buried the leftover bones, and Shorty placed another bit of driftwood on the fire and unrolled his bedroll. Little else of adventuring was mentioned between them.

Sometime past the third hour, deep into the darkness of night, Bartholemew woke to the sounds of shuffling nearby. He got onto his knees and wielded his sword. Keeping the light of the fire out of his eyes to prevent night blindness. Glancing around the camp, he noticed that Shorty was no longer in his bedroll.

“Shorty? Is that you?” Bartholemew peered toward the rustling sounds as they seemed to draw closer. He saw a brief flash of white darting from tree to tree.

Bartholemew gripped the handle to his blade tightly. The rustling sounds faded, and soon there was nothing but errie silence. Not even the insects made their usual forest noises. Something had startled even them.

In an instant, Bartholemew felt something heavy land on his back, tossing him off-balance as he tumbled face-first into the dirt. He spun onto his back where a wide-eyed Shorty stood over him, daggers drawn and pressed against his throat. “Now… I think you see that my nerves are a bit better than before. Perhaps you would reconsider taking me along.”

With that, shorty smiled, withdrew his weapons and sheathed them. He extended a hand to help Bartholemew off the ground.

With little else than his pride injured, Bartholemew stood and dusted his clothing. “Perhaps you are right. I was a bit hasty. In the morning, we will head out. But if something happens to you, I owe you no allegiance. You are going on your own merit, and whatever happens is on your own head.”

Shorty smiled and extended his hand. “Agreed. It will be my honor to fight at your side, come what may.”

  • * * * *

The two strode through the trees as the early morning sunlight danced like golden glitter through the tops of the trees. Bartholemew kept a hand on the hilt of his sword as he looked around.

“So, what did Donnair tell you about these woods?” Bartholemew asked, breaking the silence between them.

“That they were full of wonder, and that you would know what to do when you found it.”

Bartholemew stopped. “Found what?”

“That’s just it. I have no idea. He said you would know. That your training would come into it’s own and you would know it when you see it.”

Bartholemew sighed heavily. “The man was always full of vagueness. But he is rarely wrong on such things. Come on. Let’s find whatever it is I am to find, and get back to him.”

“You don’t suppose we’ll find orcs, do you?” Shorty asked with a gleam in his eyes. “I’ve read much about them, but haven’t ever seen one.”

“I doubt it. The elves have them cornered down in the southeast, except for a few roaving raiding parties.”

“But if we do,” Shorty smiled, “What would you do? Would you draw your sword and charge them? Or would you announce your presence and try to negotiate?”

“Negotiate what? They only seek to kill, ravage and destroy.” Bartholemew spit on the ground at the thought of Orcs. “To announce my presence would be to give away tactical advantage. If I felt I could win, I would draw my sword and charge with all that was within me. If I did not, I would skirt by.”

“Hmmm. And the same could be said about Tieflings from a human’s perspective.”

Bartholemew nodded. “Touche. But I have witnessed my fair share of orc attacks. Have you ever come upon the scene of a Tiefling attack?”

Shorty laughed. “Touche, indeed. And no… I have not. Then again, how would one such as myself know the difference?”

“Well, first of all, we do not revel in the spilling of blood. Only if our own lives are threated would we risk spilling blood onto the soil. We believe there is an inherent life that flows through the blood of all living things. If the scene is a bloody mess, then it is most likely not the work of a Tiefling.”

“I will keep that in mind for when we come upon our next scene of an attack.” Shorty grinned from ear to ear. “I appreciate you letting me spend time with you. There is so much I can learn from you.”

Movement to their left made Bartholemew stop. He held out his hand for Shorty to remain silent.

“What is it?” Shorty asked.

“Shh.” Bartholemew scanned the horizon. Darting between the trees in the distance was a tall humaniod. It’s skin darker than usual, and bare-chested.

“Get behind me.” Bartholemew whispered. When he looked back, Shorty was nowhere to be seen. “Shorty?!” Bartholemew tried to yell and whisper at the same time. “Oh well…” he whispered to himself. “At least if he ran home, he won’t get hurt.”

Bartholemew slipped behind a tree and peered around, watching the humanoid as he ran in the distance. Soon, it changed direction and began running directly at Bartholemew’s position. That’s when Bartholemew noticed the tiny goblin leading the way.

“Nooooo!! Be freee!” the Goblin squealed. “Let me be free!”

As the large humanoid stepped from behind a tree, Bartholemew could make out its origin. It was a Hobgoblin.

It stepped forward and drew its bow. In one swift move it notched an arrow, pulled back and released. The arrow sped forward, piercing the goblin’s chest.

Bartholemew stepped out from his hiding place and rushed to the fallen Goblin. As he touched its body he knew that the creature was dead. There was no life emminating from his body.

An arrow flew by Bartholemew’s head. Looking up, he saw the hobgoblin bearing down at full speed on him, notching another arrow.

Bartholemew jumped up and ducked behind a tree, followed by the ‘thunk’ sound of the arrow embedding itself deep into the bark. Knowing that the hobgoblin would take a second or two to notch another arrow, he spun out and charged the creature with a mighty roar. The hobgoblin was not phased by the display of force. He stood fast, notched the arrow and drew back his arm.

A ball of white fell from the branches above, knocking the bow and arrow off target just before the arrow was released. “You’ll not defeat us!” Shorty screamed as he drove his dagger deep into the hobgoblin’s chest. As the creature fell forward, another arrow came from nowhere, catching shorty just under the ribcage.

Bartholemew dashed forward, leaping over logs and underbrush. Another hobgoblin turned and ran in front of him. Without a thought, Bartholemew pressed harder to chase. If the creature reached any other hobgoblins, Bartholemew would be dead. Soon, they approached a clearing where a dry riverbed lay. By this point, Bartholemew was only inches from the hobgoblin. He raies his sword and brought it down with full force, plunging it deep into the creature’s back.

As it came to a halt, Bartholemew plowed full-force into it, sending them both into a tumble down the steep hill until they were both sprawled at the bottom of the dry riverbed, his sword and only weapon still firmly lodged in the hobgoblin’s back.

He lept to his feet, poised to defend himself, but the creature did not stir. He stepped slowly forward, and yanked the sword out of the creature’s back. As he did, he could feel the life-force fade from it. It, too, was dead.

Dashing back through the woods, he finally made it back to Shorty, who was panting heavily, trying to press on his bleeding wound.

“I’ll … be okay.” He growled and grimaced as he pulled the arrow cleanly through, then let out a scream that startled the birds in the distance.

Bartholemew placed his hands on the human’s wound. He could feel the life quickly fading as the blood poured out. “No.. No no no… hang on, Shorty.”

He closed his eyes and tried to summon all that he could. He could feel the warmth flow through his fingertips, and he heard Shorty sigh. When he opened his eyes again, Shorty lay on the groud. His shirt covered in blood, but the wound was sealed.

“Shorty?”

After a long pause, shorty looked up. “Yeah?”

“You scared me to pieces.” Bartholemew collapsed on the ground beside him.

“I scared you?? What about me?” The two laughed until they could laugh no more.

“So, you still want to go with me?” Bartholemew asked, breaking their revelry.

“That depends… was that an orc?”

“No. A hobgoblin. Meaner, uglier and deadlier. Probably more of them, too. They don’t travel alone.”

Shorty stood, slowly checking himself over. “What did you do to me? I thought I was going to die.”

“It was a blessing of Truesilver. You will not die. Not right now anyway. But things just got worse than I could have expected. I need you to return to Donnair. With the discovery of hobgoblins in the wood, we have a huge problem. Go back to Veluna and tell Donnair that we ran into Hobgoblins near a dry river.”

“What dry river? There’s only one river that flows through Dapplewood. That’s Stone River. I charted it years ago, but rumors say that it has been poisoned, not dried up.”

Bartholemew glanced back in the direction of the second fallen creature. “Go. Tell Donnair that Stone River has been dammed up someplace up river. I will go see what I can discover and return to him as quickly as I can.”

Shorty nodded as a smile spread across his face. “A hobgoblin, eh? I killed a hobgoblin?”

“Don’t let it go to your head. You were almost killed by one too.”

Bartholemew shook the small man’s hand. Despite how humans had treated him in the past, in the past day, he’d begun to hope. Perhaps he could discover acceptance after all. Maybe with enough time, Tieflings could once again be trusted. “Go with Truesilver.”

Shorty nodded, and jogged back up the small trail toward the former campsite.

Bartholemew dashed back down the hill to the fallen Hobgoblin. As he stood in the middle of the dry riverbed, he placed his palm on the ground and a sense of foreboding and evil swept over him.

“This isn’t good.”

Hiding in Plain Sight (Bartholemew, Part I)

Bartholemew pulled the hood down a bit as he shoveled manure from the church stalls. Two other indigents worked a few stalls down. He could hear them talking between themselves.

“So, Thad… have you seen any more Tieflings raiding your pigs?” The first one chuckled. He was short and fat, with long greasy hair.

The inference that Tieflings did evil things always made Bartholemew angry. He channeled his anger into the shovel, and worked even harder. He and his kind were not evil. Sure, they were descenants of demon/human encounters, but Bartholemew was a peaceful Tiefling. But knowing how they were hated among the people, he always strived to keep his identity hidden for fear of the result.

“Give it a rest, Michael.” Thad scowled as he continued shoveling. “Ya know there ain’t no such thing. They’re myths made up to scare kids to eat their beets.”

“Not true. I saw one five years ago. Ugly beast. Long hair. Dark skin. He was gonna kill me, but I got away. Ran straight into town and got a mob together, but we never could find the bastard. He vanished into thin air without a track or a trace.”

“Likely story. What’ya think, Scar Face?” Thad called over.

When Bartholemew looked across the stables, Thad was leaning on his shovel, staring right at him. He glanced at Chubby, and he froze. He knew that face. He’d seen that man before. Fear ripped through his chest and arms like ice. Quickly ducking his head, Bartholemew shouted back, “My name is Bartholemew. And please don’t bring me into this. I’m just working for my wages.”

“Oh, come on.” Chubby waddled down the aisle toward Bartholemew’s stable gate. “Tell us. Do you believe in Tieflings?”

“If I did, would you shut up and leave me to work in peace?” Bartholemew dropped his shovel, pushed through the gate and past Chubby, briskly walking toward the chapel.

“Awww, you’re no fun, Scar Face.” Chubby called after him. “Get back here and grow a spine. We’re just trying to make the day go faster.”

But it was too late. He couldn’t risk trying to carry a conversation with them. Especially him. Once inside, he marched directly to Priest Donnair’s  room, gathered his composure and knocked gently on the door.

“Come in.” The priest’s voice was smooth and practiced.

Bartholemew opened the door and stepped through. The room was paneled in dark, expensive wood, and the floor was covered in an expensive imported rug. After closing the door, he removed his hood and bowed with respect.

“Yes, Bartholemew? How can I help you?”

“Apologies, sir. I’ve come to collect what little I’ve earned today. I did not finish, but the two you’ve assigned to work with me today were insistent on seeing my face and carrying conversation.”

The priest nodded. “I understand. It’s okay. I will pay you a full wage today if you’ll do a few other favors for me.” Priest Donnair pulled three coins from his pocket and handed them across his desk. “I’ll tell the others that the scars from your accident were causing you pain and you had to go to find a salve for relief.”

“That’s the other thing, sir… I don’t think that the story of my disfigurement will hold up to scrutiny any more. People are curious by nature. The more you pronounce me different, the more that they want to see all of the differences. Please, sir. Let me return to cleaning the stables at night, in peace.”

Priest Donnair lowered himself back into his plush chair. “Now, Bartholemew… you know that is not possible. The horsemen will return at night, and the horses are disturbed by your presence. They, too, fear your kind.”

“Then what else can I do for you? I cannot work with these men any more. You, alone, have put trust in me. Everyone else in this entire city wishes me and my kind dead, fearing that we will eat their children and kill their cattle, and stew their innards for dessert. I will serve you humbly, with whatever skill I have. But I just wish to do so in private.”

“I am not alone in my trust of you. And how will they learn, Bartholemew? I’m putting these men with you so that one day they will discover your true face, and realize that your nature is not to harm them but to help. You are a true gentle soul.” The priest’s words were soft and sincere. “How will they ever trust you if they do not work side-by-side with you to know your true nature?”

“You want them to discover me? We’ve already run into this five years ago. You insisted that I step out of my fear and face it head-on. That very man you put with me today was the man that tried to rally the city against me. This experiment has failed my kind over and over through the years. And that day, had you not hid me in the basement of this building, I would be dead. I revealed myself to him as a gesture of good will, and he ran, fearing that I would devour him.”

The priest sat with a solemn look on his face, his hands pressed together at the fingertips and his thumbs resting on his chin.

“Well? Do you have other work for me, or not?”

With a deep sigh, the priest looked up. “You are right, my friend. The people are not ready… not yet. I will speak with Bishop LeRove. There has been an issue boiling to the southeast, and you spend much of your weeks in those woods. Perhaps you could be our eyes and ears there. If he agrees, we could pay you to do some scouting for us. There, you’d be in your home environment, and you would have the privacy that you seek.”

Bartholemew felt his shoulders relax for the first time in weeks. “That would be very nice. Thank you, my friend.”

The priest stood and slowly escorted Bartholemew to the door. “I make no promises, but I will ask on your behalf. He knows your plight, he knows your true origin and most importantly, he trusts you. Now, if you will excuse me, I must prepare the utensils for the festival this week. In the next ten days, there will be much chaos. I need to be as focused as possible.”

Bartholemew donned his hood and shook the priest’s hand, grasping it in both hands he stared directly into the priest’s eyes. “I owe you my life, Donnair. Thank you for all you’ve done for me.”

“You’re welcome. And it is I that is in debt of his life to you. Now go. I’ll send a servant to deliver a message to you at your camp site in two days.”

Bartholemew thanked him again and slipped quietly down the corridor. He checked his tail to make sure it was still securely fastened under his cloak, then slipped into the streets. People brushed by in on either side. They laughed with their friends, haggled with the vendors, yelled at their mates, and continued life as normal… completely un-aware that a Tiefling was walking through their midst. How many times had people of his kind done this? And how many times had they slipped through life unnoticed. Yet they did no harm to the people of the city. Any city, for that matter.

As he past the city gate, a guard approached, shouting for him to stop. Bartholemew held up the church’s symbol and the guard nodded. “Your symbol marks you as damaged to the Order of Truesilver. How are you damaged?”

“Fire upon my face when I was a child. I am ashamed to reveal my scars as they are a mark of my transgressions against Truesilver, sir.” Bartholemew called back. This was a speech that he was all-too-familiar with. “Please have mercy on me and grant me the right to hide my face.”

“What is your name?”

“Bartholemew.”

“And upon whose blessing did you receive the mark?”

“Priest Donnair. He has delivered a note of me to all gates.”

The guard looked back toward his counterpart who nodded. “Very well. Go through.”

Once out of sight of the city walls, Bartholemew relaxed again. He slipped into the woods down a small trail. Once sufficiently deep into the woods, he removed his hood and inhaled deeply. The cool breeze carried the sweet aroma of the spring-time foliage. He walked a bit slower, enjoying the connection with nature as he returned to his campsite to await the promised messenger.

A Very Profitable Night.

The water drips in the rust-colored sink at the other end of the room. I had assumed that the restroom would be enclosed, but the toilet and sink are part of an open floor plan. That’s marketing speak for too blasted cheap to build walls for privacy. I could have chosen a better hotel, but this one was at just the right price, and is the perfect location downtown.

Of course, the female and her one-hour guest next door are making enough noise for the whole building. But he’ll be gone soon enough, and perhaps the noise will subside to that less than the traffic outside.

I’ll be able to focus on the sorting the photographs then. While they’re making noise, I can’t concentrate. Maybe some fresh air and a midnight stroll will help. It’ll at least pass the time until lover-john is done with his taxi ride next door.

I work down the stairwell, past the two drunks sleeping off their latest bottle — one curled up at each landing. When I open the door to the main alley, the stench of garbage and rotting grease assault me from the nearby dumpsters. Ah, life in the city. I can’t wait to get back to my apartment in my mediocre neighborhood where the most colorful occupant is Mrs. Connelly, whose baking attempts keep setting off the building fire alarms.

The chill of the October air tingles on my neck as it brushes past. I should have grabbed my coat. I console myself that at this point in my journey its closer to Roldopho’s All-Night Deli than to my room for the jacket. I tuck my chin down and pick up my gait.

“Welcome, Mr. Houdini.” Rodolpho calls as I enter. He’s a short, round Arabic man. His greasy t-shirt and jeans seem out of place against his perfectly-white apron. As if he did his cooking without the apron, wearing the covering only for show. My name is Rick Jenkins, but Rodolpho started calling me Harry Houdini after seeing me talk my way out of a parking ticket in front of his shop while on my first stake-out here. “You talk your way out of anything, Houdini,” he had cheered.

I nod in recognition to him. “I think I’ll have a steak and rye. Go easy on the mustard.” I point at an over-sized demonstration photo pasted on the deli counter.

“That good choice, Houdini. But you going to grow horns, you keep eating beef. Where variety? How about turkey on wheat? It midnight special.”

“I left variety and desire for turkey in my other pants.”

“But you bring cash, yes?” He smiles wide, stretching his goatee under his broad nose. “No leave that in your other pants?”

“Don’t worry. I brought cash.”

“Then steak you get. Heart attack ten years from now,” he waves his hands in the air, still smiling. “… not my problem.”

I watch as he masterfully puts together the sandwich, pulling slices of tomato and assorted other toppings from cracked, square, plastic containers.

This little joint reminds me of me. The tiles on the floor were mismatched like my suit, and the florescent lights flicker like most of my ideas barely able to illuminate this small shop. But this was the perfect place and the perfect time. There was no doubt that I could avoid all of my subjects here. No, they wouldn’t grace these grime-laden doors. Yet, this hotel and eatery were only two blocks from Mr. Little’s fifth-avenue office suite. Easy and convenient, but not necessarily cheap.

This location provided excellent opportunity to get close and take pictures of his extra-marital bliss at the office for his soon-to-be-very wealthy wife. After she delivered the photos I had taken earlier today to her attorney, they would undoubtedly work together to relieve the poor man of over half of his CEO salary.

But I’m not quite done yet. I took several very sensitive photographs of Mr. Little and his twenty-six-year-old brunette secretary today. How foolish could two people be? Just because you work on the twenty-second floor, doesn’t mean that you can expect privacy. After all, a person with a good telescopic lens on the twenty-eighth floor of a neighboring building can see right in. I could see the bald bodyguard standing just outside his office through another window. The guard stood perfectly still, like an over-built mannequin wrapped in a too-tight Armani suit.

Mr. Little and his secretary were both completely dressed from the waist up, but in the throws of wild disregard between the waist and the knees. Her legs wrapped tight around his bare backside. And while I could probably sell these photographs to various press outlets, I think I can get better offers locally.

That’s why I frequent this sleezy motel instead of packing my camera and heading straight to Mrs. Little’s plush Verdonia Avenue condo. The locale provides quick access to many very wealthy offices for morning appointments, but doesn’t impact my budget much for an overnight stay while I sort the evidence into the appropriate piles.

I plan my usual routine of intercepting the wealthy client’s husband tomorrow as he makes his way to his corner glassed-in office. Should he be interested in buying these photographs — and they usually are — I would be forced to sell Mrs. Little the remaining, pre-sorted mundane photographs of him working tirelessly at his desk, making new plans for his firm’s latest construction project.

Then again, if he chose to pass on such a generous offer, I could sell his wife the photographs of him working tirelessly on top of his desk with the brunette. Either way, I think this may turn out to be quite a little venture again.

“Six-fifty, Mr. Houdini.” Rodolpho finishes by wrapping the sandwich in a plain white sheet of butcher’s paper, then shoving it in my direction. The register beeps as he presses buttons. The drawer ejects.

“Not a bad price.” I smile handing him a twenty. “Keep the change. I think tonight has been a very profitable night for me.”

The pudgy attendant stuffs the bill into the drawer and makes the proper change. He folds the bills into his apron pocket, then nods at a small round table with two chairs. “You eat here? Like always?”

“Sure. I have to wait for Hansel and Gretel to finish stuffing the witch into the oven.” I’m sure there was a euphemism in there somewhere, but really, I just like throwing him for a loop.

“You get drink, too. On the house for such good customer.” He hands me a large paper cup filled with ice. I stroll over to the soda fountain machine and fill the cup with root beer. I don’t need the caffeine if I am to get any sleep at all before sunrise.

He turns back toward the kitchen wiping his hands down the tail of his apron.

I take a large bite, thinking of the different angles I can approach Mr. Little with. Perhaps I can just come out and lay all my cards on the table, telling him I have incriminating photos of his encounter last night. Then again, if I play one card at a time, starting with the flirting, ending with photos of him banging away on top of his keyboard, I might be able to squeeze him for much more, raising the ante with each step.

Either way, the first bite of my sandwich tastes terrific. I can smell the fresh print of money on the surface of the bread as I weigh my options.

After half of the sandwich, I feel my stomach begin to turn sour. Maybe eating this late wasn’t my brightest idea. I look around. No one but myself and Rodolpho are in the shop. At two a.m., this is unusual. Most of the drunks should have wandered in for a late-night sobering snack by now.

“You okay, Houdini? You look green.”

“Yeah. I think I’m done with this.” I say, pushing myself away from the table.

“Here. I take you outside for air.” He smiles, gripping my arm. “You stand, and we take a walk, okay?”

“I’m not drunk, Rudel–Redol–… ” For some reason, I can’t seem to say his name. It had come much easier earlier.

“Come. Walk. You feel better with fresh air.” He helps me stand and escorts me outside into the brisk neon-lit air. The sidewalks were as empty as New York City gets, with several people brushing by. “See? Better?”

He was right. The air outside seems to have shocked my body into submission. I stand upright and take a deep breath. “Yeah. A little.”

But I have no sooner said it when my stomach mounts a minor revolt. Without warning, the recently-eaten sandwich makes a grand re-appearance. I double over as pain tears my intestines into pretzel twists.

“Come. A few feet more, Houdini.” Rodolpho tugs at my arm, nearly dragging me down the stidewalk, away from the acrid smell of my own puke.

“Yeah. Okay.” My world seems muted. Distant. Empty. I breathe heavily, trying to regain my composure. “Where are we going?”

“The river. We splash some water on face. It good for you. Refresh you. Come, come.”

I follow obediently. It does seem to be a logical course of action. After several seconds, I hear the lapping of water. The shine of tall sky-scrapers reflects off of the river running through a deep cement trough cut right under Seventh Avenue.

“How are we going to get down to the water?” I ask, my knees turning to mush. My mind seems to have done the same. I find it hard to hold a complete thought.

“What you say?”

“The water? How do we get there?”

“The water? Oh, easy. You wait here. Lean on bars.”

I obey again. Resting my elbows on the low railing, I feel another wave of nausea twisting just under my esophagus. The water below dances against the reflections, and I feel myself growing dizzy. I close my eyes and try to take deep calming breaths.

I feel like my body is lifting off the ground. I grip the handrail and prepare for another round of gushing.

“No no, Houdini. You let go. Just stand still.”

“Let go? Why?” I ask, but obey.

“Because you gonna jump.”

A strong hand grips my collar. I am forcibly turned a full one-eighty, staring directly into the eyes of a tall bald man in a fine Armani suit. I recognize him. Mr. Little’s bodyguard. Just behind him, Rodolpho counts a small stack of bills, a smile wide across his face.

I hear Rodolpho laugh as I am hoisted above the man’s head. “Yes. Very profitable night, tonight. Very profitable.”

Author of the Brodie Wade Series and Fort Reiley. Stop in and say hello.

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