Tag Archives: King of All He Surveyed

Certain Short Stories Going Off Sale Very Soon

Quick double post this week. First up, publishing stuff.

Well, it’s turned out that various changes got pushed through during the 4th of July weekend. Second editions of A Maze of Cubicles and Tales from the Threshold will begin appearing in e-bookstores later this week. We hope to get JPEGs of the updated covers to post here soon.

Also, various short stories that will not be converted over to the Lynn Kilmore name are starting to get pulled down by some vendors now. I’m told it’ll take a few weeks for them to go off sale everywhere, but it has begun this month so that they will be no longer available by September 1st.

We’re going to try to get things updated here on the website so that most of the dead links for those short stories get removed. My apologies for any dead links you encounter.

Next up, a post about KC. Stay tuned, Lynn

King of All He Surveyed – Excerpt

Today is another double feature of posts. If you’re looking for Part One.19. of Soul Cages, scroll down the home page because it was posted first. Next up in this post is King of All He Surveyed. Seventh grader Winston Sawyer MacDonald knows he can code circles around his classmates and the school admins. This time he tops his past exploits: he learns how to hack mindcoms. But what he finds in the mind of another during a quest for revenge might change not only his victim, but himself as well.

King of All He Surveyed

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2013 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

He was Winston Sawyer MacDonald, seventh grader, hackmaster … and he would be king of all he surveyed.

Of course, what he surveyed—as he chewed his rubber-like slice of pizza—was an Illinois middle school cafeteria at lunchtime, that stank of soured milk and over-boiled spaghetti, but one had to start somewhere to flex one’s newest secret power.

He watched (through his eyescreens) the citizens of his soon-to-be kingdom. Sitting around him were his hack-buds; they were the masters of the net systems of the school. He and his buds might not be popular with the in-crowd, but they were feared once word got out that he’d taught them how to crack the school’s systems.

His best-bud Franz poked him with an elbow. Bud, Franz sent by mindcom on the hack-buds’ private channel, there’s Connelly.

Connelly and his bully-buds had made the mistake back in September of jumping Winston’s hack-bud Jahnu, and since then Winston and his crew had made school life miserable for the attackers with lost datafiles, broken net connections, and embarrassing netaura screwups.

Yup. There was Connelly, coming out of the serving line with his tray of spaghetti.

Buds, Winston sent, the spaghetti looks like ripped-out bloody intestines today.

His buds laughed. Genuine laughs. Not that fake crap Connelly got from his crew when that loser told a crummy joke.

Eww, Cho sent as she wrinkled her nose at Winston. That’s a gross thought. She nudged away her tray of half-eaten spaghetti, and he wondered if he ought to have kept the joke to himself.

Are you going to do the pink bunnies trick to his netaura again? Franz asked. That was so frigging funny.

No, Winston sent. Not unless he messes with my buds.

Today Connelly had skull and crossbones images floating in his private netaura for everyone—except the teachers and admins and cafeteria employees—to see with their eyescreens (the grown-ups only saw boring blankspace). The winter-break-is-almost-here ruckus in the cafeteria made it impossible for Winston to hear with his own ears what that jerkface might be saying to his bully-buds.

But he could find out—without even linking in to the cafeteria’s monitoring systems—with his new hacktool abilities.

He kept his hands hidden underneath the cafeteria table as he typed out with his fingertip compchips the command to boot his brand-spanking new mindcom program that would make him the one man who could see in this blind kingdom.

“—and then she said, ‘Get the friggin’ hell away from him!'” Connelly laughed, and his bully-buds gave each other high fives at whatever story the jerkface had told about terrorizing some helpless goober.

Winston was pleased to find he had succeeded in hooking himself into the eyescreens and mindcom feed of Connelly himself. He couldn’t taste the spaghetti that Connelly was eating, nor could he smell its rancid meat-stink, nor feel it wriggle in his mouth like boiled worms, but he could darn well hear Connelly’s slurping sounds, and see the oily red crap the cafeteria called ‘sauce.’

The pasta really did look like boiled alien worms up close.

Then Alyson, dressed in a white sweater and denim jeans, came out of the serving line (with the rubbery pizza instead of the spaghetti gunk) and it felt like his heart would balloon out of his chest and float away.

He would be king, but she would be his queen.

She just didn’t know it yet.

He’d figure out some way to win her. He just had to get to know her better, find out what she loved, what she hated, what she dreamed about.

Winston slipped out of Connelly’s mindcom, and hooked on in to hers.

Her best-buds had just come out as well: all with the pizza. He’d noticed how they always chose what Alyson chose for lunch—and his heart did odd excited thump-a-THUMP pounds in his chest as he listened in on their private best-buds’ channel.

Melissa sent, Alyson, I think that lipgloss looks great on yo—

PIGGYYYYYY.

Pig-pig-pig.

SoooeeeEEE!

The flood of messages on the cafeteria’s open mindlink channel was so heavy that Winston could almost see the linklines with his eyescreens.

Darn it, Piggy had exited the serving line with a tray of spaghetti, and Alyson and her buds had stopped chatting on their private mindcom line to stare at the girl.

Winston couldn’t remember what Piggy’s real name was, but she was the embodiment of all that was ugly in the world. Her eyescreens were the old clunky type that looked like goggles, and instead of having a neat clean 0.7 cm wide mindcom implant at the base of her skull, her mindcom looked like an old-timer device that had been excavated out of the information stone age.

The sight of that old 5 cm wide box at the base of her skull was enough to make Winston shudder with disgust. Not to mention her compchip gloves with the wires sticking out of them.

Her crappy old hacktools bothered him a lot more than her seemingly endless rolls of fat that spilled down her front and sides and back. With the way the goggles bulged out over her eyes, it made her look even more piglike.

Connelly made loud oinking noises and his bully-buds joined in.

Piggy paused, as if to soak up all the insults hurled at her by the mindcom links and by the old-fashioned meat way of making noises and gestures.

Then she got that mean look that had scared the beezejus out of Franz. (One of these days, he’d sent after she’d given him what he called her ‘wild boar glare,’ she’s going to skewer someone with her tusks.)

Alyson and her best-buds stood there, frozen, watching the ruckus over Piggy.

Winston saw Piggy up-close through Alyson’s eyescreens … could see the tiny beads of sweat on Piggy’s upper lip. See the narrowed eyes as they flicked back and forth behind the goggles.

Piggy charged straight at Alyson, and dumped her plastic plate of spaghetti all over Alyson’s chest.

Aaaugh!” Alyson shouted, and Winston’s own hands flicked in sympathy to try to wipe the smears of oily spaghetti off her sweater.

Oh, man, Franz sent, I told you Piggy’d lose it and gore those around her.

The way the spaghetti sauce had smeared across Alyson’s sweater, it did make her look like she’d been gored.

Connelly and his crew noticed, and sent off by the cafeteria’s mindlink channel, Look at Alyson’s barf!

Many students in the cafeteria began to laugh.

Winston jumped out of his chair to go to Alyson. Piggy had fled the cafeteria, which was good, ’cause otherwise he would have pounded her into the ground with his fists—

(he could see through Alyson’s eyescreens as well as his own, see Connelly LAUGHING at her)

—as Alyson’s best-buds took her tray away from her to help her go to their table, but Alyson was frozen to the spot, shocked, and the laughter around the cafeteria was getting louder, those morons were laughing at her

(he could hear Alyson breathe in gasps that hitched into near sobs)

—and Winston dropped out of her mindcom so that he wouldn’t get confused by seeing himself as he reached her. Before her best-buds could stop him, he’d gently escorted her to her table.

The laughter died out, replaced with a nervous watchful silence.

He would have savored such a moment, but Alyson was near tears, and he knew, and she knew, that it was important not to cry in front of these losers, or they’d tease her about it.

He helped her sit down by first pulling out a chair for her, then holding her arm to lower her into it as if she were breakable glass. He ignored the way her best-buds frowned at him.

Instead he sat down next to her.

Alyson’s breaths no longer had a hitch to them. He tried not to get drunk on her perfume, which smelled like a warm moonlit summer night to him.

It felt as if it were just the two of them in the cafeteria, that no one else mattered.

Hey bud, Franz sent, and Winston unlinked out of the hack-bud channel so those goobers wouldn’t bother him during the most important moment of his life.

Alyson put a trembling hand on his wrist. Let’s talk on a private channel, she sent.

This request pissed off her best-buds, and they gave him looks of disgust as he linked up a quiet private channel between his mindcom and Alyson’s.

However, he also linked back into her best-buds’ private channel.

Why are you wasting time on this loser? Melissa sent.

He can help me, Alyson sent. I’m going to pay Piggy back for humiliating me like this.

Winston pretended to still be working on hacking open a private channel, so that he could listen in a little longer.

You don’t need this guy to do that, Melissa sent. We’re your buds. We’ll corner her in the bathroom and—

No, Alyson sent. I want something special done. She’s humiliated me in front of EVERYONE, and I’m going to pay her back in kind.

Connelly and his bully-buds had their heads together, and wild hyena-like laughter could be heard.

Everyone hates her, Melissa sent. Everyone will be after Piggy for what she did to you.

No, they WON’T. Tears could be seen forming behind Alyson’s eyescreens. They all thought it was funny! She sent to Winston, her lips pursed, impatient, Done yet?

All set, he sent.

They linked into the private channel, and he blocked with his mindcom the hacks others tried to do in order to tap into their conversation.

You saw what Piggy did to me, Alyson sent.

Yes.

I want you to get her back. Alyson sniffled.

What is it that you want me to do?

I want you to make her cry, here, in the cafeteria. The tears were beginning to dry behind Alyson’s eyescreens, he could barely make them out. You embarrassed Connelly by putting those pink bunnies in his netaura. No one has ever made Piggy cry, but I bet YOU could.

It would serve Piggy right if he punished her for what she’d done to Alyson. With his new hacktool skills, he’d be able to figure out how to get under Piggy’s skin.

I’ll do it, he sent.

Alyson sighed, then blinked a few times. She sent, Next month, there’s a dance. Maybe …

She let the thought hang there between them. He wanted to shout in triumph and do a victory dance on the cafeteria tables.

Alyson Kenyon had made it clear that she wanted him to ask her out.

*

Winston needed to be careful. Too many people, too many school admins, knew about how he and his hack-buds had paid Connelly and his bully-buds back for Jahnu’s beating. The admins had turned a blind eye to what Winston’d done (he hadn’t even been called in to meet with a counselor), but then, they’d had no conclusive proof to act on. He’d made sure of that.

He decided that at school he’d stay away from Piggy’s mindcom entirely.

His hack-buds had figured out what was going on between him and Alyson, and for the rest of that Tuesday they made jokes about him having a crush on her. He’d moved too fast and too uncool-like in going to her rescue.

Franz was the worst. So, you gonna fight Piggy to the death with forks for Alyson’s honor?

He got so angry with his best-bud at those sent thoughts that he decided to unlink himself from his hack-buds for the rest of the school day.

Then Franz whispered in mock-drama to Cho while they all three sat together in English class, “He’s under her spell.”

Cho hadn’t been amused by Franz’s joke. Nor did she seem to approve that Winston had gone to Alyson’s rescue.

Winston secretly hopped into Franz’s mindcom, and overheard his best-bud send to their hack-buds, Winston will get over this. He’ll be bored with Alyson in less than a month, I guarantee it.

Rage made him unable to see through Franz’s eyescreeens, and he unlinked himself before he lost control and beat up his best-bud for dissing his girl.

*

For the rest of the afternoon at school, Winston bounced in and out of everyone’s private mindcom channels in order to keep track of Piggy, and soon found himself fed up with the endless insults his classmates either spoke or sent to her. Absolutely worthless predictable trash talk, and he found himself forced to admit that Piggy was hard core, for none of it made her even blink an eyelash.

As for the private mindcom chatter of his classmates and teachers, most of it was so deadly dull it made him want to pound his forehead against the nearest locker as he listened in.

Well, it could be worse.

An involuntary shudder ran up his spine. He’d made the mistake of first testing out his new hacktool skills on his parents, and dang, he was so sorry he had, ’cause he’d stumbled into a few seconds of horror he never wanted to experience again in his lifetime: his parents kissing.

He shuddered again at the memory. Mindwipes couldn’t be invented soon enough as far as he was concerned, ’cause he wanted those few seconds of his folks smooching gone from his memory. He’d rather pretend he’d been generated in a test tube.

So he wasn’t looking forward to hooking in to Piggy’s mindcom, ’cause he didn’t know what gross-out he might experience.

*

After dinner at home, Winston messed around in his bedroom with checking his hacktools for software bugs for the fourth time, even though that made him a goober for being so chicken about linking up with Piggy’s mindcom.

He knew he was stalling.

He knew everything was green for go.

Except for him.

Her mindcom equipment sucks so bad, he thought, it’s going to be a gross-fest just ’cause of that. But I gotta do this for Alyson’s sake.

He leaned back in his cushioned backchair. “For Alyson,” he whispered to himself, and linked into the net channel that would bring him to the apartment where Piggy lived. …

********** End of King of All He Surveyed – Excerpt **********

 Click here to go to the main info page for this e-book.

Until next time, L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 19.

This week is a double feature of posts: a chapter from Soul Cages and an excerpt from King of All He Surveyed.  The Goodreads giveaway of 9 signed copies is still going on, and will end at midnight on Nov. 18.

When we last left off in Soul Cages (PG-13), Marian had just fought with Matthew and her mom.

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

19

I kept picking up my cell phone to hit Aunt Letty’s number, and putting it down again. Once I called my aunt, I’d be crossing a line I couldn’t return from. Mom and Dad had been enraged when I called Letty about the liquid diet the quack healer put Henry on. The result of the call had been Aunt Letty showing up in person, and a screaming argument which left Dad and Letty barely speaking to each other. Letty had won the fight and the quack’s treatment regimen was dropped, but the price had been high.

If I called Letty in to deal with Andervender, this time the break between Letty and my parents would likely be permanent.

To keep my hands busy I ripped open a moving box crammed with winter clothes.

Dad pounded on the door. “Open up, now.”

I unlocked my door. “It’s open.”

Dad came in first, followed by Mom. They sat down on my bed and watched me unpack sweaters into a dresser.

Mom said, “You were rude to Pastor Andervender, and rude to Matthew.”

“I’m not going to any more Youth Group meetings,” I said.

Mom shook her head. “You’ll continue going, or you’ll find yourself grounded.”

I dropped a blue wool sweater and stood up. “I don’t belong there. I’m miserable at First Beginnings.”

Mom said, “You need to go for your spiritual growth.”

“I’d rather go to a church like Grannie’s. I’m sure there’s a Methodist church nearby I could go to instead.”

Both Dad and Mom were taken aback.

Finally Dad got out, “Ma took you to her church?”

“Of course she did,” I said. “She invited me to go, she didn’t force me to do so.”

Dad was clearly dumbfounded by this. Mom, on the other hand, looked annoyed that Grannie had been sneaking me off to church for years.

Mom patted the bedspread, inviting me to sit next to her, but I ignored her. Mom said, “You have to understand. Pastor Andervender has special gifts, powers given to him because he does God’s will instead of what is politically correct.”

I said the next words slowly, feeling my way forward. “So you guys think it’s okay for Pastor Andervender and his followers to pound on Jewish people’s doors at Hanukkah to harass them? Does that mean Dad will be harassing the Jews at his new workplace when he starts tomorrow?”

Dad winced.

“Really, Marian,” Mom said, “don’t tell me you’ve been digging up lies. Who told you this?”

I thought of Ben, but said, “A neighbor told me. They’re not lies. The Jewish community really did file complaints against Pastor Andervender and First Beginnings last December for harassment.”

My words made Dad rub his bald spot.

Mom said, “There are a lot of people who are jealous of Pastor Andervender’s gifts, and they’ll say anything to ruin him. Gena told me about how miserable things got in Las Cruces before they abandoned the false church they were members of, and started their own independent church here in Albuquerque.”

I said, “I don’t care! I don’t want to be part of a tiny church full of Jew haters.”

Mom stormed out, while Dad blanched. He swallowed a couple of times and said, “Well, we’ve had a rough weekend. We’ll talk about this more later.”

He retreated out of my bedroom. I listened to his tread going down the hall, followed by the office door being firmly shut.

I stepped out into the hall to go listen at the office door, but Henry heard me. He ran out of his bedroom, waving a flashlight around like a trophy, and said, “Let’s hunt sewer roaches!”

Unfortunately, it was dark enough outside for the roaches to come out.

I shuddered at the thought of chasing huge roaches. I really ought to catch a few in a jar and dump them on John’s head for giving Henry this idea.

Henry and I went down the halls to the front door. I couldn’t make out the words being said from behind either office door. Too muffled.

As I was pulling open the front door, I realized that I had no way to lock it behind us. In fact, since the lock was a double-cylinder deadbolt, if our parents had locked it, Henry and I would have been stuck in the house.

None of the exits could be unlocked by hand to get outside—all needed keys. Not to mention the locked bars on the front and back doors.

We gotta get keys, or we’ll be pestering Mom and Dad every time we want to go outside. And what if there’s a fire? Need keys on a hook next to the front door just in case.

“Wait here,” I said to Henry. “I’ve got to get keys.”

I walked down the hall to the office door. Both Mom and Dad were in there, their voices muffled.

I rapped on the door. Dad opened it a crack.

I heard Mom say into her cell phone, “Wait a minute, Marian’s here.”

Let me guess. Mom called Gena.

Dad said to me, “What is it?”

“I need keys so I can take Henry out to look for roaches,” I said. “I promised.”

Dad dug into his pocket, and yanked out a ring of keys, holding them out to me through the crack. “Here. Don’t lose them.”

“Um, Dad.” I took the ring, warm from being in Dad’s pocket. “We need to plan on getting more keys made so Henry and I have our own copies, it—”

“Sure.” Dad nudged the door shut.

After a few seconds, I heard Mom talk softly into the cell phone.

************** End of Part One. 19. *****************

If you are reading this after November 11, 2013, you should be able to click here to go to the main information page of Soul Cages to find Part One. 20.

Links can change over time, so click here to go to the main page for Soul Cages if any links don’t work.

See you next week! L.M.

Soul Cages – Part One. Dreams in the Desert. 16 and 17.

The writing news of the week is that I have two new short stories coming out in e-bookstores in October. The first is a science fiction story for tweens, King of All He Surveyed. The second is a short story set in the Dorelai Chronicles universe, A Maze of CubiclesA Maze of Cubicles is literally being released into e-bookstores over the next 24-72 hours as I type this.  Both will also be in the short story collection that will be released in November.

Also, the giveaway of 9 signed copies of Soul Cages on Goodreads is running right now from Oct. 19 to Nov. 18. The giveaway is open to all countries, not just the United States.

Well, back to the story. Here’s Part One. 16 and 17. of Soul Cages (PG-13). Marian has returned from the church service to search for more clues about Sydney, and to meet with Ben.

Soul Cages

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2011 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Part One. Dreams in the Desert

16

After changing out of the loathed dress back home, I reluctantly approached Henry’s bedroom. I’d avoided entering his room since finding out about Sydney on Friday, but I couldn’t postpone going in any longer. I needed to find the box with Henry’s therapy stuff so I could start doing exercises with him at the park; the sooner we got him back into his regular routine the better.

I tapped on his open bedroom door, but there was no answer. Inside, Henry lay curled up on his bed with his DVD player on, earplugs in, pillows piled on his body.

Henry had left the closet door open a crack so it wouldn’t get stuck again.

Maneuvering between the stacked moving boxes, I read the labels, but couldn’t find the therapy box. I’m going to have to look through the boxes put in the closet. Crap.

I pulled open the closet door, stirring up the scent of roses, to find no boxes inside. When I flicked on the closet light, I saw dead flies and moths trapped in the frosted glass covering the bulb.

Someone—Sydney?—had put down rose-decorated contact paper on the shelves, but the pink roses looked washed out under the dim light.

God, how depressing.

John’s grief-stricken words came back to me: I wish I’d been here … our church, and Sydney’s dad, didn’t approve … she said I was someone she could talk to.

She killed herself in here. Sympathy and anger stirred in me.

Impulsively I grabbed a box and shoved it into the closet. I stood on it to study the farthest recesses of the shelves. But there were no hidden notes or conveniently missed diary, and no carvings.

Then I pushed the moving box back out and inspected the lower shelves, running my hands along their rough sides. Nothing. Neither was there anything around the clothing rod that ran along the other side of the closet.

The empty silence of the closet got to me. I backed out, wiping my hands against my jeans to get rid of the dust on them.

Once Sydney had existed, and now she was gone, leaving behind only a few traces of her life. I wasn’t sure what upset me more—Sydney’s suicide, or First Beginning’s fervid attempts to pretend it hadn’t happened.

 17

Piñon Park was too hot for Henry and Sarah to swing for long. We ended up sitting together under the trees while Fermat ran back and forth. Ben and I talked about Juan Tabo teachers and classes until Henry interrupted to say how boring our discussion was.

Ben gave Henry and Sarah each a handful of dog biscuits to give to Fermat. My brother joyfully tossed one biscuit after another for the dog to catch. Then Henry proceeded to study Fermat from nose to tail, which the dog endured with lots of tail wagging.

While Henry and Sarah were preoccupied with Fermat, Ben said, “Jin was wondering if you and Henry have been up to Sandia Crest yet.”

“Nope,” I said. Sounds like Jin is Ben’s girlfriend.

“We were thinking next Saturday you and Henry could visit the crest with us. Sarah would come, as well as Miguel and Angela.”

“I’ll talk to my parents, but I’m not sure how willing they’ll be to have us going off so soon after moving.” Today Ben wore a T-shirt with Einstein sticking out his tongue. I added, “What’s the name of the head covering you were wearing yesterday?”

“Oh that. It’s a yarmulke.”

I made my voice stay even. “What is the large flat cracker called?”

“Oh, matzo?” He laughed. “I get so tired of eating that at Passover.”

So the man in my dream had given me a broken piece of matzo. Strange how vivid it still seemed; I could easily recall the worry wrinkle lines that had been around the man’s eyes.

With his sneaker, Ben nudged a chunk of grass that Fermat had kicked up. “So, what does your family think about First Beginnings?”

“Henry hates it. Mom and Dad are the ones that want to go.” It was on the tip of my tongue to mention the miracle healing hopes of my parents. “My grandparents are all dead. Mom was raised by her Uncle William—Henry almost got named after him—in Texas after her parents died. He passed away when I was twelve. Then Grannie died last year. There’s only Dad’s sister, Aunt Letty, left.”

“I’m sorry.”

Henry ran for the swings, Sarah following.

“Dad and Aunt Letty don’t get along.” I jerked my chin toward Henry. “They argue a lot about how to deal with Henry’s Asperger’s.”

“Your brother would make a great animal behaviorist.”

All the things Henry needed to learn to survive in the world made me feel overwhelmed. I had to convince Mom and Dad to find a speech therapist and occupational therapist for Henry.

“You okay?” Ben said.

“Sorry, just thinking about how busy this summer is going to be.”

Henry came running back, hot and sweaty. I squirted him down with one of the water bottles—Sarah ran over, expecting to be squirted too. Then Henry lay on his stomach in the shade to search for ants while Sarah played with Fermat.

Ben said, “Dad is afraid I won’t be able to get a job if I major in mathematics—he wants me to be a doctor like Mom. She’s a part-time pediatrician. He prints out pre-med requirements and leaves them lying around the house.” Ben flicked at a blade of grass. “My girlfriend Jin wants to be an electrical engineer.”

“Oh, that’s great.” Ah, I was right about Jin.

Jinkies, that ant is red,” Henry said.

Ben did a slight double take.

“Henry has seen every Scooby-Doo movie and show he can get his hands on,” I said. “I’m afraid I can recite several Scooby-Doo movies by heart.”

We chatted about Asperger’s versus Down’s Syndrome, and then my cell phone went off. I became aware of how much the sun had angled downward.

Mom said, “You’re going to be late for Youth Group.”

“All right. We’ll head back now.” I flipped the cell phone shut. “Time for us to go.”

No,” Henry said.

I kept my voice calm. “Mom says we have to go, Henry. She needs us back.”

“No!” Henry tore at the grass. “It smells!”

I racked my brains for a way to motivate Henry to go home. Ordering him to leave would only trigger a stress meltdown. Aha! I know what’ll get him moving. “If we get grounded, we won’t be able to hunt for sewer roaches tonight.”

Ben looked at me like I was out of my mind, but Henry scrambled up.

Roaches?” Ben asked.

“Yup,” I said, slinging my backpack onto my shoulder.

“Dad wouldn’t let me put the dead sewer roach in my bug box,” Henry said. He said to me, “Let’s bring a jar tonight to catch some.” Henry began humming.

Ben grinned. “Do you need a ride back to your house?”

“No thanks. Not until my parents meet you.” My parents would freak if Henry and I pulled up in Ben’s car. I’d have to introduce Ben to them slowly, and hope they left First Beginnings before they found out Ben was Jewish.

I said goodbye, and prodded Henry to do the same. About two-thirds of the way back, we encountered Dad coming up the trail.

Dad was out of breath and scowling when he reached us. He said, “You’re running late. Mom is worried.”

I said, “I’d rather skip Youth Group.”

“You’re going,” Dad said.

It was worth a try. I kicked a stone off the trail. “We met a student from Juan Tabo who just graduated. His name is Ben. He told me all about the high school.”

“What!” Dad said, stopping. “You talked to a stranger?”

“Give me a break, Dad. He’s going to major in mathematics at Stanford. I got to meet his sister, who has Down’s Syndrome and was willing to play with Henry. I’d say she was about nine.” I knew the mention of a prestigious university and a play buddy for Henry would mollify Dad.

Dad said to Henry, “Who did you meet at the park today?”

Henry was searching the Chamisa bushes near the trail for lizards. “Sarah. Can swing higher than her. Ben has a dog named Fermat. Fermat is a Beabull.”

Dad grunted. He said to me, “I want to meet this guy before you see him any more.”

Dad, he’s okay,” I said.

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. I’ll ask if he can stop by this week.”

“I start work tomorrow. It’ll have to be next weekend … might have to work on Saturday. Make it Sunday afternoon.”

Dad’s mention of working on Saturday made me uneasy. Mom’s going to get upset when she finds out.

************** End of Part One. 16 and 17. *****************

If you are reading this after October 28, 2013, you should be able to click here to go to the main information page of Soul Cages to find Part One. 18.

Links can change over time, so click here to go to the main page for Soul Cages if any links don’t work.

Have a good week! L.M.

Shade Town – Excerpt

Here’s the news of the week: 1) A new story, King of All He Surveyed, is rolling out into e-bookstores right now and is up at places such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s a science fiction tale about a seventh grader in the near future who figures out how to hack people’s mindcoms. 2) A short story set in the Dorelai Chronicles universe featuring Dorelai and Stuart will be published about a week from now.

Today is another double feature of posts. If you’re looking for Part One.15. of Soul Cages, scroll down the home page because it was posted first. Next up in this post is Shade Town. Widow Nell Wood longs to be reunited with the ghost of her prospector husband, Isaiah, after his lynching in the Arizona Territory. A dream from Madame Tournay points the way to a place in the New Mexico Territory called “Shade Town” where Nell can be with her husband again … for the right price.

Shade Town

 Lynn Kilmore

Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore

Copyright © 2013 by L. M. May

Published by Osuna Publishing

This story is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.

Nell buried the silver dollar under a clod of dirt on the edge of the wagon road, then tamped the dirt down with her feet in their lace-up boots. Once she was certain the coin was completely covered, she stood upon the buried silver, closed her eyes, and willed the stagecoach to Shade Town to come for her as she waited in the weak moonlight.

The air smelled of dead leaves and dust and coming snow. It was early November, and winter had crept into Albuquerque, the leaves falling from the narrow strips of cottonwoods running up and down the Rio Grande.

When she opened her eyes, she was disappointed to find no ghostly stagecoach racing towards her down the road. All she could see under the waxing moon were the piñon and chamisa bushes near the road, and farther to the west the dark shapes of the cottonwoods where the Rio Grande flowed.

The chill made her pull Isaiah’s canvas jacket tighter around her shoulders, glad for the warmth of the faded red flannel she’d sewn on the inside to keep him snug from the mountain cold.

His jacket no longer held his scent, only her own, but wearing it made her feel closer to him. That and his pocket watch. The watch hung on a chain around her neck, hidden under her widow’s weeds and corset and shimmy, next to her heart, the feel of its steady ticks a comfort, its smooth metal warmed by her skin.

Only the clothes upon her back would she take with her to Shade Town, for she never expected to return. Everything else—the homestead, the furniture, the cows, the few precious books—she’d sold to gather the silver dollars that would be needed to pay the coachman and Madame Tournay so that she could see her dead husband again.

She never wanted to come back to the unjust land of the living. Never. Better to live with the ghosts.

Half the silver she’d gathered was sewn into the hem of her black woolen dress, a fourth into her bonnet lining, and the rest in her reticule. She’d pay her way back to Isaiah, no matter the cost.

Her gloved fingers throbbed with blisters and sores, for she’d scrubbed and polished and cleaned and waxed as a maid these last few weeks to scrape together a few more coins for the journey.

Except for the faint yipping of coyotes from the arroyos, there was no sound of any other living creature nearby, nor any hoof beats or creak of wagon wheels. She’d snuck along one of the lesser-used roads out of Albuquerque, walking north as the sun set, until she reached a place far away enough from the town that she could try to call Madame Tournay’s stagecoach to her.

Now she was afraid. Afraid that the dream from Madame Tournay—the night after Nell found out that Isaiah was dead—had been a lie. Or that the coach would refuse to fetch her because of her brown skin.

Then came the sensation of weak ground tremors through the soles of her boots. The stagecoach was coming.

Looking south, she saw the coach appear upon the moonlit wagon road, and now a faint rattling could be heard. But no horses could be seen pulling it along as it bounced over the ruts and stones.

And the driver’s bench was empty.

“Hup!” A man’s voice urged the horses to slow. The driver was there, just invisible like the horses.

Nell could understand his stealth, for rumors about Madame Tournay had finally reached Governor Lew Wallace’s ears, and there were soldiers scouring the northern main roads of the New Mexico Territory for any sign of Tournay’s stagecoaches. So far all attempts to capture a coach had failed. From the whispered tales Nell’d heard while in Albuquerque, the dream with Madame Tournay only came to the bereaved. Tournay’s place, wherever it might be hidden, had gotten the name of “Shade Town” because she promised all dreamers the same thing—the chance to reunite with the shade of their dead loved one in exchange for silver.

It had been the dream from Tournay that had shown Nell how to call the stagecoach to herself by burying a silver coin in the road dirt.

The stagecoach rolled to a halt beside her, and while she could hear no whinnies nor smell horse sweat, she could see that four invisible horses were harnessed to the coach. A shadow seemed to congeal into a man-shape before her, and he opened the stagecoach door with his invisible hands.

This surprised her, for she’d expected to have to ride up on the driver’s bench.

“Thank you,” she said to the manshadow.

She dug out from her reticule the required three silver coins, and held them out on her gloved palm towards where the driver would be standing if she could see him.

The coins disappeared from her hand.

As she stepped up into the coach, she noticed that it smelled like plowed earth. No one else sat within, so she had her choice of the hard leather seats, and picked the one in the far corner that faced the direction the horses would be going. The coach door was slammed shut behind her, and the stagecoach raced onwards down the moonlit road.

All she could hear was the creak and groan of the stagecoach itself as it rattled down the road at a speed that made that of live horses seem slow. She grabbed onto the nearest strap, trying to brace herself against falling out of her seat as the wheels jounced along the rutted road at a bone-jarring pace.

The horses weren’t flesh and blood, neither was the driver, and perhaps that was why no stagecoach of Tournay’s had yet to be caught.

And then the shaking stopped, and to her shock she saw through the coach window that they were skimming the tops of the piñon bushes like a bird.

*

Nell was shivering from the cold drafts that came through the cracks of the stagecoach as they flew above the mesas and canyons of the eastern edge of the Jemez Mountains. The coach rocked from side-to-side in the gusts of snow-flecked wind.

Snow clouds huddled around the Jemez, blocking out the stars, but when she looked back towards the Sangre de Cristo Mountains the night sky was clear. The winter storm was only over the Jemez.

Through the whirling flakes ahead there was a weak bluish streak of light; as they flew closer, she discovered that the light poured through a rip in the air itself like sunlight shining through a rent in a calico skirt.

The horses and coach slipped through the sky’s tear, and Nell felt stretched so thin she couldn’t breathe—then it was over and she sucked in air that tasted like pinesap and piñon smoke.

The driver gave a whistle, slapped the reins, and the horses whinnied in response.

Through the window, she saw that dawn would come before long, for the western skies above the Jemez were now strangely clear of snow clouds and brightening to a washed-out indigo as the sun approached the eastern horizon.

The wheels jolted her around in the coach as they touched upon land again, and the coach barreled down a pounded dirt road upon a mesa top that snuggled up close against the Jemez. When she peered out the coach window (which faced towards the south), she could make out the far away shadows of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque.

There was no snow upon the ground here, as there should have been, and the wild grasses between the red rocks were a lush green instead of a dried-out yellow.

The stagecoach rolled into Shade Town, and wooden shacks blocked her view off the mesa top. Up ahead she saw a plaza surrounded by adobe and wooden buildings, lit up by brown paper lanterns hung on hooks from ropes tied from roof to roof across the plaza’s open space.

Faint strains of music made their way through the coach’s cracks, and she tapped her toe to the tune.

As they got closer, she discovered that all the windows of the houses facing the plaza had lit oil lamps on their sills, and people filled the plaza to overflowing—laughing, singing, dancing—as three fiddlers and a banjo picker played. Men and women danced upon the pounded-down dirt of the plaza, whirling around in a waltz.

The driver slowed the horses so that they came to a stop before reaching the edge of the plaza’s crowd.

When the coach door was opened for her, she saw between the spinning shapes of the dancers that there was a large rectangular stone-bordered pond in the plaza’s center. Lit paper lanterns floated on tiny rafts on the pond’s surface.

The dancers were an intermixed group of whites, blacks, Spanish, and mestizos—even a Chinese man in a grocer’s apron could be seen dancing with his wife to the music.

She rubbed at her sore legs and arms, then stepped down from the stagecoach. Her coach driver was now visible: a pale cowboy barely old enough to shave.

“Thank you,” she said to him.

“My pleasure, ma’am.” He raised his hat to her, then climbed back onto the driver’s bench.

Laughter spilled across the plaza towards them, carried on a wax-scented breeze that felt warm from all the paper lantern candles. The lights flickered as the mountain breeze made the lanterns sway on their hooks from the ropes.

Even though she didn’t know him, she felt as if once the coach driver left she’d be all alone in a strange land. “What am I to do?” she called up to him.

He gathered the reins in one hand, and pointed with the other to a multi-gabled mansion on a slight rise at the far edge of town. “Go and pay your respects to Madame Tournay.” The horses (now visible, all four with glossy coal-colored coats) lifted their heads at Tournay’s name, and breathed out hot steam.

Their eyes, Nell realized, glowed like fiery furnaces.

Small carved stones hung from the harnesses and reins, and were also embedded in the body and wheel spokes of the stagecoach. They were made of lava stone, each shaped in the form of a coiled snake.

Dawn’s sunlight had not yet broken above the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but it seemed to her that the horses looked more real than the stagecoach as it rolled away.

She herself seemed faded compared to the dancers around her, so she wove her way through the oblivious crowd to the pond to look at herself.

Her own reflection wearing the canvas jacket was barely there compared to that of the pretty young señora in crimson silk gown and black lace standing nearby with her not-so-real male companion. He wore Spanish-tailored clothing with cascades of lace at his throat, a diamond stickpin holding the cascades in place. Silver embroidery outlined his black velvet jacket and he had slicked-back black hair and elegant mustachios, making Nell think of the old Spanish families that lived around Santa Fe.

The light from an oil lamp, in the window of the adobe house behind him, shone faintly through him like sunlight through a murky glass of ditch water.

As for herself, she found she appeared even more faded when she stood in the path of the light from a hanging lantern and looked down into the pond’s water.

Madame Tournay may be able to help me with that, she thought. Looking back up, she studied the plaza, and Tournay’s gabled mansion drew her gaze. It was three stories high, with a roofed porch that appeared to wrap all the way around; the front windows were bright with reflected light that didn’t waver and flicker like that from candles.

Feeling drawn to its bright lights and immense solidity, she walked down the dirt road that ran past the plaza of dancers and out of town.

*

Paper lanterns hung from the edges of the roof of the mansion’s porch, lighting it up so that Nell could see how fresh the white paint was on the porch boards as she walked across them to the front door. The thick oaken door was unpainted, instead polished to a gloss, and had carvings of four rattlesnakes with their tails in their mouths—one snake for each quarter of the door.

A silver knocker—also in the circular shape of a snake with its tail in its mouth—was nearly hot to her touch through her glove, warm as feverish skin. She lifted it, then let go to wipe her glove on her skirts, as the knocker whammed down with a strange echo that seemed to go on and on.

The door opened, but she could see no one.

She stepped into the entrance hall with its curved staircase going upwards, the sconces burning bright on the walls—the light source of each sconce was a tiny clear crystal with a magical glow. Blue velvet wallpaper covered the walls, and the wood floorboards were polished to so high a gloss that Nell could see the reflection of the walls in them.

But she herself made no reflection.

To keep from panicking, she concentrated on the feel of the steady ticks of Isaiah’s watch against her skin. For his sake I can face anything, she thought.

A silver platter on the hall’s sideboard held oranges spiked all over with cloves, so that the hall smelled of spiced oranges, but underneath was a faint scent of earth like that of the stagecoach.

Peering behind the still open front door, Nell was not surprised to find that no one was there. She moved deeper into the hall, and a puff of wind blew past her from the stairs, slamming the oaken door shut.

The tinkle of piano keys came from behind a closed door on the left.

No footsteps could be heard, no voices, no creak of floorboards, no scent of cigars and tobacco juice.

She reached out her hand to turn the crystal doorknob of the left door, and heard whispering from behind it. Something about the sound made chills run up and down her arms.

After pulling Isaiah’s jacket tighter about her, Nell reached out her hand again to open the door. It led into a fancy parlor with silver-colored wallpaper, blue velvet couches and chairs, and an upright piano in a far corner with music sheets scattered on the seat.

A woman dressed in a black silk gown that covered her arms, with thick black veils that hid her head, and black lace gloves on her hands, sat at a small round table covered with a blue satin tablecloth with silver tassels. A stacked deck of cards lay before her.

“Welcome, Mrs. Isaiah Wood,” the woman said in a liquid accent that was the same as the voice from Nell’s dream that had told her about Shade Town. “I am Madame Tournay. Come here and sit, if you please.”

As Nell got closer, she thought Tournay’s skin had a sheen to it under the lace that made her think of the belly scales of a snake.

The backs of the cards were decorated in blue and white with pictures of writhing snake forms.

Nell sat down upon a blue velvet chair at the table, and Madame Tournay shuffled the cards with a pfffffttt, to then flip the top one over to toss before Nell.

“The queen of clubs,” Madame Tournay said. She flipped again. “The knave of spades.” Tossing down the next card, she said, “The ace of hearts. You and Isaiah. You loved him, no?”

“Yes, I loved him.”

“You would do anything for him, go anywhere, to have him with you again?”

“Yes.”

Tournay put the deck aside. “There is a price to pay, as for all things. Did you bring the silver?”

“Yes.” Nell dug out her reticule, and tossed it upon the table—it was faded to a ghost like herself, she could see the blue silk of the table through it, but then Tournay pulled off her laced gloves and touched it, and it became solid. As Tournay poured out the reticule’s ghostly silver upon the table, Nell dug out the rest of her hidden silver from her bonnet to add to the growing pile, and then rent the hem of her dress to obtain the last coins.

Once Nell was done, there was a glinting pile of silver under the magical white light of the sconces. But like herself and her things, the silver seemed only half-real, more like ghost silver than real silver.

Tournay waited until Nell was done, then stroked her palms across the silver. The first pass, her hands went through, but the silver became denser and more solid, and on the second pass, Tournay was able to scoop the coins up to fall into her silken lap with clinks as the coins hit each other.

There was something strange about Madame Tournay. Lord only knew what hid behind all those veils, which fell so low that they covered Tournay’s bosom as well as her hair, face, and neck.

Tournay’s skin was definitely snakelike, and when Nell listened hard, she thought she heard soft hisses from under the veils, as well as a soft sss to the end of Tournay’s words. A snake drawl.

“You have paid it all,” Madame Tournay said. “If you had held anything back, even the smallest silver coin, I would have turned you out. But you are honest, and have given me it all. I am fair, you see. I only demand what silver one can earn, not a particular price. Both rich and poor can come to me with their broken hearts, as long as they do not cling to what they own.”

Her fingers have no nails, Nell realized with a shiver.

Tournay gestured with her outspread palms in the direction of Shade Town outside her mansion. “This is my town. I have the power to provide a place for the dead to return. Your husband will return to you at dusk. Go and wait for him at the plaza.”

Nell’s heart felt like it would pound its way through her ribcage, it was going so hard.

Her body of its own volition seemed to walk away from Tournay, to open the parlor’s door into the hall. Again the front door opened without anyone being seen to do it, and she wandered down the porch steps and back to the dusty plaza, which was empty of revelers under dawn’s light.

*

Nell felt no hunger, no thirst, all that day and it convinced her that in this town, she was the shade, not those who resided here.

Near dusk, the Spanish gentleman she’d seen before strode across the empty plaza towards her. When he reached her, he bowed, and said, “Señora, good evening.”

“Good evening, sir,” she returned. “I am Mrs. Isaiah Wood. Have you met my husband?”

“I am sorry, but I have not made your husband’s acquaintance,” he said. “I am Señor Rodrigo Esteban Chavez y Vigil. My wife and I journeyed to Santa Fe to visit her father’s family, and she died of a fever sickness. I had the dream of Madame Tournay the night after my loved one’s death.”

“Same here,” Nell said. She held her hands up before the setting sun in the west, to show him how the light mostly passed through her.

Rodrigo nodded, then copied her gesture so that she could see how the light passed through him. “We are shades here,” he said. “You and I never hunger or thirst.”

“How long have you been here?” she said.

He frowned, concentrating, then sighed. “I am not sure. Two or three days, perhaps. Not long.”

“Are there others here like us?”

He shook his head. “No longer. Many were once shades as we are.” She saw a dazed look in his eyes. “We can change by the magic within the pond. Madame Tournay will tell us when it is time.”

Nell strode over to the plaza’s rectangular pond, and Rodrigo followed. Looking down into the water, she noticed that the artificial pond’s four sides were made from large hewn stones neatly fitted together, and that the water ran much, much deeper than she had first noticed.

No matter how she stared into the clear water, she couldn’t see the bottom. Perhaps under the noon sunlight she’d be able to see into the depths.

She stripped off her gloves and dipped a finger in the water. Warm to the touch, not cold as one would expect for a mountain pond. She held her droplet-covered finger under her nose and sniffed. Smelled like well water, no scent of decay or rotting grass.

Moving her finger, she made to put a droplet onto her tongue, but Rodrigo’s hand seized hold of her wrist, stopping her.

She froze, and he let go. “Pardon me, señora,” he said, “I don’t know why I did that.” His brow furrowed in thick lines like a deeply cut ravine. Confusion and sorrow mixed in his expression.

She shook the droplets off her finger and slipped her hands back into her gloves. With excitement she noted how dark the sky was getting. Dusk was coming. Isaiah. Soon we will be together again.

Rodrigo bowed to her. “Please pardon me, señora, I am to speak to Madame Tournay before this night’s dancing begins.”

As she watched Rodrigo walk away, she thought of how she would dance with Isaiah all night long under the stars.

*

The dancers slipped onto the plaza at dusk as the hanging lanterns magically came alight, and Rodrigo’s wife appeared amongst them; the Spanish lady went to stand by the pond as the other dancers began a jig. So far, no matter what direction Nell looked in, she could see no sign of Isaiah.

Then, abruptly, the music stopped. Nell saw Rodrigo sleepwalk with his eyes open into the plaza, alone, from the direction of Madame Tournay’s mansion. He trembled like a cottonwood leaf in a breeze.

He stepped up onto the nearest stone edge of the pond, which had not yet been lit with floating paper lanterns. He stared long into his wife’s face, not saying anything to her, and then tipped face-forward, arms down tight at his sides, into the pond to sink down.

The crowd cheered and grabbed hands, and the music started up, so that rings of dancers circled around the still sloshing pond waters as Nell ran to kneel at the edge to check on the poor man. If his head broke above the surface, she’d do her best to drag him out.

He’d plunged out of sight.

He’s drowned, she thought. Gone.

********** End of Shade Town – Excerpt **********

Click here to go to the main info page for this e-book.

Until next time, L.M.