I wrote a blurb about how my DDO buddies, Fluffy, and I finally met in real life and played pen and paper DnD. I submitted it to As Seen on Tabletop, and they posted it! You can find it here.
It’s a stretch of highway between rolling hills of grazing cows where you will find the thawing carcass of a yeti that tried to go south for the winter, where old wooden ships are playhouses for children, where the crane operated box of chainsaws chews foliage away from traffic, where the cleaved open mountain looms over the lanes, where you may drive through fog or deer or falling rock, where you will stare ahead blankly wishing for the road to end and when it does, you know you are almost home.
Ramblin’ Rosegarten, the fourth book in the Camellia series, ebook will be out August 1st, but it’s already available in paperback!
On my way to my parents’ house, I passed a house where my childhood best friend’s husband grew up. It’s a square cinderblock house, the kind where one side of the block is coated with ceramic asbestos paint. It’s a terrible puke-mint-green color with a white door, no shutters, and no shrubbery. It looks somehow naked without those things.
He hated the house, called it The Cracker Box both because it was the approximate size of a cracker box and because many people in the small, conservative community considered him and his *gasp* divorced mother to be white trash. His mother is a first rate Hell-bitch. She once broke her ring and pinkie fingers by slapping him with her rings turned so that the stones were inside her palm. He came to homeroom bleeding from three cuts on his chin and laughed when I told him. She was mean and tough but had to be. She had a strong-willed boy to raise with no help from family. She refused all government aid.
She waited until after he graduated from high school to marry her long-time “boyfriend.” When she did, she moved out to his lakehouse and sold The Cracker Box. It’s now Don’s Pawn Shop. A large fluorescent sign with a giant pistol on top pokes out of the lawn to let potential customers know that cash for Christmas is only a sale away. It’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. Someone I cared about lived there, grew up there, lost his virginity there, and now there’s is a giant pistol on top of a sign in the front yard. Strange.
“I’m going to be a mortician,” Heather said as she blew her plume of smoke away from the circle of smokers gathered outside. Her former classmates stared at her. “But, I’m scared there’s a lot of math involved.”
“I’m pretty sure you have to get a medical degree,” Reuben said. “So, yeah, some.” Reuben stuffed his butt in the stone planter filled with sand and lit another. “Why do you want to be a mortician?”
“It’s just something I would be good at, and I can do it.”
Heather launched into a story about her mother’s brother. The family wasn’t very close, but when no one heard from him for about a month, she was elected to go visit and see if he was okay. He was not.
“The cops said he had been dead for a few weeks. It smelled pretty bad in there. I remember the sound it made when they pulled him off the recliner.” The daunting task of cleaning and cleaning out his house was left to Heather and her mother. “She couldn’t handle the smell, you know?” Heather’s eyes were wide, and we watched as a wisp of smoke rose from the tip of her cigarette and went straight into her eye. She didn’t even blink. “It didn’t bother me.”
Heather helped her mother make arrangements. She desperately wanted to see the embalming process, but there are rules about that. So Heather went home, booted up her brother’s computer, and watched instructional videos.
“I really want to do it,” she said. “Mom said I could have some of the money from the sale of his house, and that’s how I’m going to use it. I used my part of the money from the yard sale to sign up for a class.”
“Were y’all able to sell everything?” Reuben asked.
“Mostly. What was left, Mom let us divvy up. I took the recliner.”
They didn’t speak for a while, and then Reuben turned to another classmate and said, “So, you’re getting married…”
Ramblin’ Rosegarten (book 4 of the Camellia series) will be out August 1, 2015! This one was my favorite until I wrote book six. It introduces one of my two favorite characters. I can’t wait for y’all to meet him.
If you haven’t started the Camellia series or you are behind, there is time to catch up. Join Camellia’s roller coaster ride of emotions and life events!
I finally got to eat somewhere that I have seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives: Wallace Station. Some great friends met us there for lunch today, and oh man…truffle fries. Best fries I have ever eaten. Ever! I mean, my ham, brie, and green apple sandwich was awesome too, but the fries. The fries.
If we had been lovers, I would’ve been a cliché – alone, lonely, the dinner I cooked for us cooling on the table. When you said you would come, I picked flowers from my garden. My heirloom and confederate roses, the tiny purple blooms on the monkey grass, Gerber daisies, and day lilies I arranged in a Mason jar. Aphids on the rose petals. You didn’t show. You didn’t call, but I didn’t worry. You have always been flaky, flighty. I knew better than to trust, than to depend on you, but I let myself hope. That’s what I get for loving you.
I wrote to you, many times – offering help when it wasn’t requested or welcomed. Me being me, I couldn’t help but do it, and you, being you, couldn’t help but spew bile at me. I cried for you, wasted tears. You love your sadness too much, your protection from others. I want you to experience joy, and you refuse. My heart breaks, over and over, for you, and you’ll never give a damn.
It began as friendly arguing, batting bad philosophy back-and-forth. What is real? What is love? What are we but a man and a woman, matter, anything that has mass and takes up space? Elementary. I had dreams of silver eagles that gutted and devoured nations. You liked that. You liked me until you didn’t. You told me you’d heard enough from me for a while, to run along and play with someone else. A true verbal slap and I hit back until whatever we were was irreparable. Are you still a zombie, little bird? Did you finally find someone to breathe life into you?
I wanted the best for you, and I wanted you. For years, more than anything. You told me that I was the type of woman a man falls in love with, and that was not the type of woman for you. I used that in a story I wrote. I could kiss you for hours and did a few times, always swallowed whole by your eyes. Because of you, I keep my eyes open. After, I used to catch you watching me, your eyes darting away from mine, like two north poles, repellant. There were times I would’ve done anything for you. I would’ve strayed for you, away from what I knew, from a life and a man that were comfortable. You knew that, and that you didn’t take advantage showed me you were a good man. So many times, I wished that you weren’t.
I would trade with you if I could, but I wouldn’t do this for you. It’s too hard, too painful. Maybe you would change your mind if you knew, but you don’t talk to me. We’re strangers now. It was just too much, I guess. I should try harder, but I’m just so damned tired. So tired.
Jerrick scrubbed his hands over his slick scalp then over his face. He looked at the glowing screen of the laptop, the spreadsheet with its neat rows and columns. Numbers. Jerrick knew numbers. Numbers were his livelihood and his love, but if he didn’t fix this…this huge screw-up, they wouldn’t be for much longer.
This is what he got for buying a second-hand laptop. This is what he got for thinking for one second he was smarter than a djinn. Tricky bastard, he thought.
Now, he understood the look in that girl’s eye, that skinny white girl who came charging into Happy Pawn, babbling about a microwave and wriggling anchovies. He’d eavesdropped on that conversation enough to decide the girl was half out of her mind. He knew better now, just like he knew that if he went back and complained to the old man that there was something not right with his laptop, the old man would give him the same speech. Besides, he’d taken his chances on other purchases that turned out not so great, although a different kind of not so great. The old man stuck to his policies: no returns, no refunds. You buy it; it’s yours.
The calculator was his first purchase. The plus sign was broken. Jerrick didn’t have the skills to repair it, and it would’ve been almost cheaper to just buy a new one rather than pay someone to fix it. He worked around it by subtracting negatives. Annoying, but it worked.
The laptop…it was a completely other type of broken.
Ctrl+Shift+G. A simple typo was all it was. Jerrick intended to use his shortcut for inserting the clip art of the company logo, but hit “G” instead of “F.” He couldn’t even remember what he was working on when smoke spewed from the innards of the laptop. He remembered thinking the thing was melting itself and all his data, and then suddenly he was pushing up from his desk chair, staggering back as the smoke coalesced into a heavily muscled, bluish man with small golden horns and a long black ponytail. The man stretched out his arms and tipped his head to Jerrick.
“How may I be of service?”
A simple question really, and one that Jerrick answered in various ways. The first was to ask for infinite wishes. The djinn reassured Jerrick that there was no need for this wish. “As long as you hold the vessel,” the djinn pointed at the laptop, “I am yours to command.”
Now, Jerrick scrolled down on the spreadsheet, seeing red, red, red. He fell into the trap. He watched those damn Wishmaster movies. He read “The Monkey’s Paw.” He knew there would be a catch, but he also assumed he could be smarter. He could be careful.
Now, his superior’s secretary was dead, and he owed his accounting firm 2.6 million dollars. He considered going to the CEO, trying to explain where the money went and promising to pay it back, but Jerrick knew he could work overtime every day for the rest of his life and not pay off that debt. Not at his salary.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d realized where the money came from before he spent so much of it. He hadn’t expected the djinn to be able to transfer money from one bank account to another. What was he expecting? That some long-lost rich relative would die and leave him a boatload of money? Sort of. Okay, yes. But that didn’t happen. And then there was Leisha.
All Jerrick wanted was for her to notice him, to notice him as a woman notices a man and not just someone she saw every day at the office and spoke to because it was polite and expected. What she became…Jerrick blinked back tears as he remembered those first few nights together. Those nights turned into weekends, and then suddenly Leisha wouldn’t leave. She didn’t want Jerrick to leave, not even to go to work. He took a few vacation days, a sort of dating honeymoon, and by the end of it, his entire body hurt from bites, bruises, and overuse.
Jerrick wiped away the tear that slipped down his cheek. Until he made his stupid wish, she was a lovely woman. Now, she was six feet under, after having thrown herself off the top of his condo building.
Jerrick knew better than to try to fix dead. He couldn’t take back what happened to Leisha, and he would bear that mark on his soul for the rest of his life. Which wouldn’t be much longer if he didn’t figure out what to do about the missing money. He couldn’t hide that much longer, and he didn’t think he’d survive long in a federal penitentiary.
He already tried bargaining with the djinn. “Put the money back!” He screamed that sentence again and again, but what was spent could not be unspent. Besides, didn’t his mother love her new house? She deserved it, after raising five kids on her own. Even so, Jerrick proved, once again, that you can’t get something for nothing.
He ran his damp fingers over the keys of the laptop. With a deep frown on his face, he typed Ctrl+Shift+G. The scent of the inferno filled his nostrils. The smoke stung his eyes for a moment before it swirled into a column and produced the djinn.
“How may I be of service?” it asked.
“I don’t know.” Jerrick looked into its strange black-on-black eyes. “How do I fix this?” He gestured at the screen then spread his arms wide.
“It is not my place to advise, only to grant what your heart desires.”
“Yeah, and how many lives have you ruined granting wishes?”
The djinn tilted its head in consideration. “None. No life is beyond repair.”
Jerrick laughed bitterly at that. “Right. I brought all this on myself. I suppose you’re going to tell me that you have no control over how the wishes are granted. Like there’s some sick, twisted god in control of it all, and you’re just the messenger.” When the djinn gave no reply, Jerrick squared his shoulders. “Well, you can tell whoever is in charge that my heart’s desire if for someone to fix this! Fix the money. Fix Leisha!” Jerrick’s face crumpled, and he pressed his hands to his eyes. “She didn’t have to die.”
“No, she didn’t,” the djinn said. “Very well.”
Jerrick jerked. The movement dragged his steering wheel sharply to the left and sent his car swerving into oncoming traffic. Belching curses, he yanked hard in the other direction, overcorrecting, but managing to get the car going straight and in the proper lane.
How…what? He couldn’t think. Hadn’t he just been in his empty living room, arguing with a djinn? He wasn’t anymore. From the looks of things, he was on the expressway, somewhere between the exit for work and the exit for home.
He let out a breath, eased back into the seat. Something dark in the passenger seat caught his attention, and he glanced that way. Then, he took a longer look. There it was: the laptop. It sat there, the receipt taped to the case. But that meant…that meant it was August, three months before he sat in his condo and demanded the djinn make things right.
Well, things are right now, Jerrick thought. I can’t return it, but I won’t use it. I won’t even turn it on. “Yeah,” he said aloud. He nodded in agreement with himself. He took the exit for home with a renewed sense of hope. He drove past the corner gas station, the old falling down houses. Sure, he’d be back in his crappy apartment in one of the worst parts of town, but he would have his old life back. “Yeah, you sneaky sonofabitch. Won’t get me this time.” He grinned down at the laptop, and the laptop was the last thing he saw.
When the cops interviewed Muriel Shipp, she told them it was the oddest thing. She hadn’t heard a horn blow. The lights hadn’t flashed, and the guardrails hadn’t come down. But sure as there was wreckage all over her lawn, the train blew through and smashed that poor man and his car to nothing.
Long after everyone – police, media, nosy neighbors – left, Muriel went out into the yard. There was debris everywhere, and she wondered who she was going to get to come clean up the mess. Couldn’t count on her no-good grandkids to do it. Well, she was old, but she could do a few things. She went around with a garbage bag, praying to God that she didn’t find any parts of the man. She was pretty sure the coroner took all they could of him. What a way to go.
Muriel was at the edge of the yard when her foot rapped against something. Begrudging her hip, she bent down and picked up a flat, black object. She lifted a pair of half-moon readers to peer at it. Why, it was one of those computer things. Muriel knew this one must have come from the man’s car, but there wasn’t a scratch on it. She had no use for it, but the things were worth a pretty penny.
Muriel made her way back inside her house and slipped the laptop into a plastic grocery bag. She’d take the bus into the city tomorrow. She knew just the place to take it to get the best price with no questions asked.