My 5 Favorite Reads of 2018

2018 was a wonderful reading year. I beat my goal of 36 books by about 10. 17 of these books were nonfiction and not eligible to make this list. Out of 30 books, these are the top five fiction reads. Starting from least favorite to most treasured read.  For an in-depth look at my 2018 reading check out Books Read in 2018.

image from Goodreads.com

5. Traitorborn–  Has everything I like about “Hunger Games” in it but tells the story in a fresh, compelling way.  My favorite aspect of this series is that there are not “good” characters (at least from my perspective).  Most of the characters, our hero included, have a piece of the solution for their dystopian society and they are also holding on to part of the problem.  It’s refreshing to have a complex group of characters I can empathize with some times and despise other times.  Where so much conversations happening around me are polarizing, it’s nice to read a book that reaches for full open conversation and understanding, without surrendering one’s agency.   For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

Image from Goodreads.com


4. Dragon Ridden– Don’t let the cover fool you, this was just fun and well written.  There isn’t any messaging in it, it’s just an immersive fantasy read and sometimes that’s enough.  Pure escapism, a well-developed fantasy world distinct from earth, and a cast of well-rounded characters.  It’s enough. For more on this series check out my Kindle Unlimited post.

image from Goodreads.com


3. End of Days– Dark, thoughtful work with a great balance of action and tense “waiting”.  Left me wondering about the conclusion all the way to the end and it leaves just the right amount open ambiguity to make me think about it for days afterward but still find satisfaction with the close given to us.  I’m sorry “Traitorborn” is on its second book while “End of Days” is a complete series because I think if I could compare the conclusions of both books, it may flip their positions on this list.  Still both books are wonderful.  Sold to young adults but they hold positives for all age groups.  

image from Goodreads.com


2. Card of Chaos–  Complex, excellent execution, everything I look for in the retelling of classic fairytale/folklore.  It begins with humor and ends in affection.  I like how the author draws the reader in and connects us with this strange if familiar world.  Loved the beautiful scenes, the deep philosophy and the language.  It may be my second favorite book of the year, but it’s my first recommendation to others.

image from Goodreads.com


1. The Book of Etta– Enjoyed every second.  I know this is a polarizing book because it explores gender roles, what gender is, and whether sex and gender can be two separate things.  The beauty of this book: it can explore the internal struggle being genderqueer/trans/gay/bi ect  often brings and ignore all the political bullshit that’s happening in our own world.  Here we can enjoy a human vs self moment.  We can see all the factors in the book which exacerbate the struggle and rail against them without hating our own culture.  Sometimes the call to action in a book can cut short a person’s thoughtful introspection, but The Book of Etta lacks this baggage and I’m beyond grateful.  Where the first book took a premise, I didn’t feel was true but expounded on it in a way that pushed me to read on, Etta felt right from the first words.  I knew Etta, I’d been Etta, and I sometimes still am Etta.  I knew Flora and have been her too.  Heck, there was a part of me that felt like I’d been Alma before and that I knew her.  The beauty of this book is that it allowed me to feel and it allowed me to celebrate so many aspects of who I am as a person.  Everyone will have a different time reading it.  But, it’s the jewel of my 2018 reading list.  


Happy New Year!  What were your five favorite reads of 2018?  Was your reading list similar?  Do you have any recommendations for me?  What are your reading goals for 2019?   

Best of “Kindle Unlimited” Sara C. Roethle “Tree of Ages” Series

image from Goodreads.com

 

It has been a while since starting one of these recommend blogs.  In reviewing the others, it seems I always pick up a book with hesitation.  Tree of Ages is no different.  While I was fascinated with the idea a tree becomes human (I have a love for plant stories and non-traditional sentience), I was worried it would be one of those “chosen one with amnesia stories.”  We’d find out it wasn’t a tree becoming human but a human who became a tree and then returned human for— reasons.  It’s a fantasy trope.

And Tree of Ages is about a human-ish character who became a tree returning to her original form with amnesia.  So, if what I feared is true, why did I enjoy the series?  First, because tree girl insists for the first third of the story arc she IS a tree and if she is not a tree, she prefers being a tree.  It explores all the tree sentience vs human sentience desired, plus readers get to hear about tree superiority.  I enjoy stories where human forms are not the default “best” choice.  Through fantasy speculation of this variety, I think we invite conversations about different levels of humanity, and observing what may be just different instead of better or worse.  It also creates compassion and likeness to the rest of nature.

Tree of Ages has a HUGE ensemble cast and all of them are developed with story arcs.  There are fifteen characters I can think of just off the top of my head who connect with readers.  Granted Sara C. Roethle has five books to make these connections, but she starts strong in book one with eight characters and she keeps adding.

I appreciated that the story in these pages was about characters.  Yes, a bunch of action happens around the characters, but the action never drives the story, the characters decisions/desires/weaknesses move the plot forward.  It’s refreshing to have a solid sense of place, history, and change while also allowing the characters to use personality to move forward.  

Is the series perfect?  No.  I have conflicted feelings on how gay and bi characters were represented.  Kudos to Roethle for including diversity of gender and sexuality.  I loved how women were portrayed, but there are flaws in her portrayals of gay and bi characters.  All of her gay/bi characters start off or remain villains.  The one bi character is first portrayed as a lesbian and she falls in love with a male character as she “lightens” and becomes more of a good guy.  I don‘t know this was intentional, but I recoiled from that effect. 

 A gay sailor dies in pain from poison in the swamps and he dies cursing the protagonist.  This is sad because his death did not reflect his life.  While we, the readers, had minimal interaction, it was clear he had longstanding relationships with two of the cast and he was developing a friendship with Finn, our lead.  The bitterness he displayed in death didn‘t match his tone in life.  

Aed’s daughter (whose name I can’t recall) appears to be a lesbian (she uses sexuality on both genders but her attraction seems to be fore women), and she is the antagonist for most the series.  Even when she‘s not the antagonist, we have sympathy for her without ever liking her.  She has a superiority complex and manipulates family and lovers in ways I find abusive.  

Belinda, is the lesbian lover of Aed’s daughter and part of her guard.  Her arc feels glossed over and rushed in the book, like Roethle couldn‘t figure out her motivations or place within the story.  She becomes Finn‘s friend with ease, but she never connects with the crew on any side of the skirmish.  She has the opportunity to form lasting relationships with five of the characters and never does, which leaves her an odd and floating in space character.  

I’d overlook some of these messed up relationships but the straight counter parts are more healthy.  There‘s the ever present annoying love triangle and there is a lot of unhealthy baggage with it.  So much, I thought the characters would end up in a threesome (and note to writers, just add the threesome if that‘s what you want, don’t dance around it with a love triangle where everyone respects each other and is friends afterward).  Having deep relationships with both people at the same time feels a little like exploiting each person since it lacks an open conversation, but each relationship makes sense and appears to have the right give and take.  There‘s a marriage where the development seemed abrupt but over all healthy.  The bi character‘s straight relationship is healing for her (which portrays straight relationships as a positive WHILE implying that gay relationships result from trauma so double bad).  Even the villainous pair end up in what appears to be a loving straight relationship.

Overall, I recommend the series.  It’s a series where the goals change as characters learn more and evolve, but where readers are always rooting for their favorites.  I like that no one person’s destiny seems carved in stone and the cast changes rolls as the novels progress.  I wish the inclusion of gay/bisexual characters was handled more mindfully, but there‘s so much unique going on in the series, I can still recommend it as a whole work.

Take Aways from Sara C. Roethle’s Success:

1. Women have a place in high fantasy and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence.  Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre) 

2. While a strong sense of place and world building is necessary to creating memorable and lasting fantasy environments, it does not have to drive the plot.  Set the story, let it present options, but don‘t fight if your characters pick a third path the setting doesn‘t seem to offer.

3. Make your story about the character relationships.  It’s not “wishy washy” for characters to change their minds, become heroes/villains in their own right, or to decide something they never would consider 100 pages back.  So long as the change develops during those 100 pages it becomes a compelling full study of the decision along with the results that come from making certain choices. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending.  Be confident in your characters and larger world building.  People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.

4. Relationships can develop without a lot of angst or sexual tension.  While there are problems with how Roethle portrays relationships like some of the people who end up together show what I consider friendship without the push to romance (this is bad because it perpetuates the idea that close relationships=sexual elements and that’s NOT true in real life or in fiction), she does a wonderful job creating loyalty and tenderness in her characters. As someone who skips sex scenes and rolls my eyes when there’s too much “attraction” build up in a story, I appreciated that she chose to skip it.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on T.A. White  or  Amy A. Bartol.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

What do I want in a book?  Here’s 9 elements I enjoy.

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews. Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer? Or consider “9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me), or “7 Steps I take Before Writing a Bad Review.”

November Open Calls for Submission Round Up

from openclipart.org by raseone

 

To be included in this issue markets must pay at least $.01 a word.  Some flat rates only pay that if writers stick to the minimum word count, and royalty pay = all bets are off.

Nov 11th

Speculative City:  open word count suggests nothing above 5,500 word count.  Looking for a speculative work using the theme “knowledge” has a preference for under represented characters within the genre but accepts all stories. responds in 90 days.  pays $20-$75

Shooter: 2,000-7,500 words the theme is rivalry “Send us stories, essays, reported narratives and poetry on anything to do with competition, antagonism, warring forces and individual foes. The context might be sports, business, romance, politics, survival; the characters might be students, frenemies, parents, current and former lovers, courtroom opponents. As ever, the theme is open to wide interpretation.” pay $25 a story

Nove 12th

Pseudopod: 1,500-6,000 words “We’re looking for horror: dark, weird fiction. We run the spectrum from grim realism or crime drama, to magic-realism, to blatantly supernatural dark fantasy. We publish highly literary stories reminiscent of Poe or Lovecraft as well as vulgar shock-value pulp fiction.” pay is $.06 a word

Nov 14th 

One Story: 3,000-8,000 words looking for literary fiction that stands on it’s own. 3 month response time. pay $500 and 25 contributor copies

Bikes in Space, the Non Binary Edition: 500-8,000 words on bikes in space scifi/fantasy genre with author and characters with non binary gender expression pay is at least $30 with 5 contributor copies

Nov 15th 

Lamplight: up to 7,000 words “dark fiction, both short stories and flash fiction. We want your best. But then, doesn’t everyone? No specific sub-genres or themes, just good stories. For inspiration, we suggest “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”” pay is $.03 a word

Gehenna& Hinnom Books: 250-3,000 for flash and 3,001-5,000 word short story “We are looking for stories that fit the themes of Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror. Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy are all welcomed, as long as they fit in the realms of Weird and Cosmic. All stories must also be speculative in some way. What we mean by this is that we don’t want stories based in realism.pay is $45 for flash and $55 for short story

Apparition: up to 1,000 words on the theme security pay is $5 flat rate

Nov 16th

Nothing’s Sacred3,000 words max “The horror within can range from subtle to grotesque, psychological to physical, dark to full out terror so long as it is character driven. Theme wise, Nothing’s Sacred is relatively open outside of distasteful stories of rape, the degradation and/or humiliation of women, and child porn of any kind.”pay is $.05 a word and accepting the magazine’s hypocritical title

Nov 25th

Moonlit Dreams/ Moonlit Nightmare: 1,500-10,000 words “short stories that explore the nature of the psyche, the world (or worlds) around us, and that speaks in some way to the theme presented. Stories should be well crafted and flushed out, having elements of a great story that could be told for generations to come. Including such things as romance, intrigue, comedy or drama are all par for the course as far as I’m concerned – the key is to write a story that lingers both in your heart and mind by the time the last page is turned.” pay is $.01 a word

Nov 30th

Mickey Finn 20th Century Noir: about 5,000 words under 3,000 is probably too short and over 8,000 will be too long “An annual anthology of hardboiled and noir crime fiction to be released each fall beginning in 2020, Mickey Finnwill pick up where the three-volume Fedora anthology series left off, pushing hard against the boundaries of crime fiction. Contributors will be encouraged to push their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule.” won’t hear back to Feb 2019 pay is royalties 

The Twelfth Planet Press: 17,000-40,000 words “We want gritty pieces that challenge the system and punch the patriarchy in the face. We want stories that resist and rebel… and maybe also books that comfort & inspire. For when things are bad out there in the world. We are looking for books that feed the angry soul.” pay is $300 plus royalties

Third Point Press: up to 3,500 words no theme or genre guidelines pay $10 and a copy

Moonlight a Queer Werewolf Anthology: 1,000-2,000 words “Whether your werewolves are in space, school, or ruffing it in the outdoors, it doesn’t matter to us! We are looking for stories that span genres and tones. Your werewolves may be moody or the life of the party. All that matters is that they are openly queer and that there is an engaging story around them to be told.” pay is $.07 a word

Crannog: under 2,000 words no genre or guidelines pay is $50 per story

Apparition: 1,000-5,000 words on the theme of resistance “Apparition Lit is seeking original, unpublished speculative fiction that meet our quarterly theme. Speculative fiction is weird, almost unclassifiable. It’s fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and literary. We want it all. Send us your strange, misshapen stories.” pay is $.03 a word

Podcastle: up to 6,000 words “looking for fantasy stories. We’re open to all the sub-genres of fantasy, from magical realism to urban fantasy to slipstream to high fantasy, and everything in between. Fantastical or non-real content should be meaningful to the story.” pay is $.06 a word

Nov 31st

Martian Migraine Press Monstrous Outlines: 1,500-7,000 words “an anthology of horror and weird fiction with a focus on the theme of camouflage: people, entities, monsters, gods, even concepts, that masquerade as things other than themselves. Predators in plain sight, deities on their down time, sublime extra-dimensional terrors slumming in 4D. We want to see stories of exceptionally well done camouflage, all the more baffling and frightening for its seamless nature. We want to see stories of seeming where the hidden thing is poorly hidden for a number of reasons: perhaps there are layers to its camouflage, or perhaps it doesn’t care how well it hides. Imagine the moment when the perfectly hidden thing reveals itself. When the poorly hidden thing reveals itself. We’re also interested in duplicates, doppelgangers, and shapeshifters.” pay is $.03 a word

Dec 1st

Remnants: word count varies a post apocalypse shared world story/series go to the site for details.  Pay: royalties

2100 A Health Odyssey: “give us your best 3,000-word short story that challenges today’s assumptions about the future of health care in the U.S. We’re offering a first prize of $10,000, second prize of $5,000 and other prizes for runners up and current employees, students and alumni of Jefferson.

Compelling Science Fiction: 1,000-10,000 words science fiction genre pay is $.06 a word

Deadman’s Tome: 4,000-7,000 word short story OR flash “Horror and dark fiction about demented psychopathic killers with a winter holiday setting” pay $10 plus royalties

 

 

Best of “Kindle Unlimited” T. A. White “Dragon Ridden Chronicles”



Cover from goodreads.com

 

I am always skeptical when I pick up a book.  There are too many deceiving summaries and too many bad books with high reviews.  To make matters worse, I’m someone who has to finish a book once it’s started.  Because there are so many unpleasant tropes in high fantasy, the books are often long and lack resolution.  I HAVE to see things to the end, so I avoid reading them, even though I like fantasy.  

Despite all my hesitation, Dragon Ridden drew me in and left me charmed.  The first book is a perfect story.  Tate is loud, sassy, and smart.  I love following her around.  Her best traits: intelligence and suspicion are also the traits that get her most in trouble.  She’s inquisitive, loyal, and never gives up.

The world T. A. White depicts is familiar but different.  In many aspects, it reminds me of a scifi/fantasy crossover like Anne McCaffrey‘s Dragonriders of Pern.  Humans exist, but it divorces them from the history and geography of our world.  Also, there are other species we associate as “magical” that these works frame as science born.  Ancient lost technology and knowledge pepper the Dragon Ridden series and speaks to the inner seeker in all readers.

Can I gush “girl power” for a moment and just say how amazing it feels to read a strong female lead who doesn’t ooze femininity?  Tate is what I’d consider a “brawler” type character.  She lets her mouth run away with her and finds herself in fights.  Tate can’t take two steps without finding herself in some kind of trouble.  I love there is no moment where we have to hear about how Tate is “not ladylike” or where she’s “not like other women”.  The others tease her for what a trouble magnet she is, but that’s who she is not what her gender prescribes.

I love she never uses her “feminine wiles” to get information, sneak into places, or gain allies.  I love she never looks at a dive bar and thinks “I have to be careful cause I’m a girl and men are drunk and rape-y in there”.  I love she expects equal treatment from captains, kings, negotiating delegations, and barkeeps and they treat her the same as her male compatriots.  And all this happens without us ever enduring a scene about Tate being “unusual” for a woman “more level headed” or whatever that sets her apart and lets her be one of the guys.  T. A. White just writes her in as an equal and lets us enjoy that without feeling compelled to justify it.

To be fair, there are few other female characters surrounding Tate.  Their lack implies something “special” about Tate (at least in the human side other races have powerful female players).  But it’s so refreshing that no male character addresses how “improper” Tate is that I don’t care if other human women are more “traditional”.  The closest anyone comes to telling Tate to “fem it up” is when she’s going to formal events, they shove her in a dress.  Truthfully, I could do without the “women clothes are uncomfortable and restrictive” bit but when that’s the most bullshit your character gets for being a woman in what seems like a male dominated world, I’m in.  Aspiring writers, do you want to know what you do when you’re writing a female character in a man’s world?  Do this, don’t address it, act like her presence is normal and accepted.  Don’t make her some special snowflake we have to keep addressing in the narrative, just make everyone accept her without blinking.

Beyond world building and character building, the plot pacing in these stories is perfect.  There are not parts in any of these books I skimmed, looking to pull through to something interesting.  Everything T. A. White includes feels important to the narrative and engaging to the reader.  She often has multiple mysteries and sub plots going on in a single story and she adds red herrings along with peppering character development in across the books. I read during my breaks at work, and this series became difficult to read during those times because I wanted to sit in the break room and keep reading.  It was one of those books I’d take home and read instead of coming home and writing as I’d planned.  

Even better than perfect pacing, each book comes to a conclusive ending.  While I tore through the series, it is because I wanted more delightful writing.  I couldn’t get enough of what T. A. White was doing, not because I NEEDED to know the ending.  For the record, the third book in the Dragon Ridden Chronicles has such a conclusive ending, I had to go online to see if there are plans for a fourth book.  Amazing news: T. A. White plans to write a 4th book!  

Take Aways from T. A. White’s Success:

1. Women have a place in “high fantasy” and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence.  Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre) 

2. Sprinkle in world and character building across the series.  I need not know everything all at once.

3. Give characters nicknames if they are catchy and encapsulate an element of the character.  This is the one series where giving the same character multiple names didn’t confuse me, and it worked because we all call the character one name and that nickname is based on their attributes.

4. Mix fantasy and scifi elements together.  Tech and magic are not exclusive.  

5. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending.  Be confident in your characters and larger world building.  People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. Bartol or Sara C. Roethle.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Or consider 9 Things that Make a Book Good (For Me), 7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

September Call For Submissions Round Up

image from optnclipart.org by Firkin

 

We’re really getting into crunch time for horror, fantasy, and science fiction writers.  Calls for submissions are coming in by the dozens.  Hope you have game face on for these next two months.

 

September 14th

Thug Itch: 1,000-5,000 words horror, scifi, or speculative fiction centered around one of the listed scientific concepts (they will read five stories from each concept and choose one to be in the final anthology) pay is $5 for under 2,000 words and $10 for about 2,000 words

 

September 15th 

Corpus Press: 2,500-4,500 words Non-themed horror stories pays $.03 a word

18th Wall: 4,000-20,000 word on finding/interacting/discovering a lost book or lost books.  There is a TON of prompts, suggestions, extra information in the post go there for more.  It seems like such a cool idea to me  The pay structure is strange.

Dead Man Tome: 5,000-7,000 words theme is Bikers vs the undead pays a $10 token and 60% net earnings

Scifi Monkeys Seasons She’s an Elf: 2,000-7,000 words must have a female elf be the lead character all genres EXCEPT horror welcome there’s a % scale for pay

Zimmel House November Falls: 4,000-25,000 want a story that takes place in the fictional town called November Falls and they want the place to feel like a community, this is a romance publication but nowhere in the request does it demand a romance story no pay

Arsenika: under 1,000 words flash fiction or poetry all genres pays $30 for poems and $60 for flash

Gehenna &Hinnom: 250-3000 word or 3001-5000 looking for weird and cosmic fiction if fantasy must be dark.  $30 for short story $55 per longer story

September 19th 

Do Not Go Quietly Into The Night from Apex Publishing: up to 7,500 words stories about resistance and revolution set in scifi/fantasy setting pays $.06/word minimum $60

 

September 20th

Enchanted Conversations: Under the Hunter’s Moon: 700-2,000 words 1,500 words is ideal theme is spook, spellbinding, or creepy in a fairy tale, folktale, or mythic settings “Absolutely none of the following: Sci-fi, dystopian, erotica, high fantasy, excessive world building, time-travel, futuristic or space travel.”   pays $10

September 21st

Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores: 1,000 words and up but short fiction is preferred.  Science fiction in all forms pays $.06/word

September 30th

Bumble off Plumb Anthology: 1,000-5,000 words on “something not quite right” all genres looking for weird, strange, stories with lots of twists. pays $.03/word

Not Just a Pretty Face bar Dead Light Publishing: 2,000-5,000 *female authors only* words about a female character who’s more than just a pretty face seems to be looking for a scheming or violent character flat rate $25

Grim Grit & Gasoline: put to 7,500 words it’s complicated but it appears like they are looking for fantasy/scifi/steampunk fiction that takes place in WWI with fairy tale elements interspersed sounds very cool pays $.01/word

Excession Press: 30,000-60,000 words  horror, science fiction, weird western, or dark fantasy they response time is 3-6 months pay $300 advance with 40% royalties afterward

Consequence:up to 5,000 words no genre and while they state they pay writers, I didn’t see prices listed for short stories, perhaps prose? $10?

Nashville Review: up to 8,000 words welcomes poems, fiction, and novel excerpts of all kinds pay is $25 per poem and $100 for everything else

 

October 1st

Red Room Press: 3,500-5,500 words the theme is American Psycho Serial Killers so looking for dark horror fiction about killers response time is 4-8 weeks and the pay is $100

Cherry Tree: didn’t see a word count?  Looking for literary fiction pay is $20

Murder, Love, & Romance

North Alabama’s Writer’s Group

Writing Round Robin Exercise

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Murder, Love, & Romance

By Christopher M. Palmer, Jessica Donegan, Zach Stanfield, and Patrick O’Kelley

Beatrice Lochley pulled her robe tightly across her sleeping gown. It was morning at Kimberley Manor and the warm sun was streaming through the bedroom window. She walked to the balcony, overlooking the rolling green grounds. Her grandfather’s Greek temple folly on the hill framed the morning sun like a druidic henge, casting long shadows over the gravel drive. The gardeners were busy in the flower beds, trimming dead blooms and weeds. Soon it would be time for breakfast. She listens to the maids making their way through the halls, but they knew from prior unpleasant surprises not to disturb her. She returned to the room, careful to avoid looking at the canopied bed. There was a little wine left in the carafe on the nightstand and she poured it into a crystal glass and downed it with a grimace.

The washbasin would be cold until they brought it warmed water, but it would have to do. Cold water worked best for bloodstains, or so she’d heard. She removed the robe, not looking down at the bloodstained gown underneath. She dropped it as well and washed. Blood coated her hands and chest and throat, but a few drops had made it onto her face.  When Beatrice finished cleaning the worst areas, she wadded up the bloody towel, gown, and the stained robe and shoved them under the bed.

As she leaned against the bed, Harry’s cold hand fell outside the curtain.  Beatrice shuddered and grasped it, moving the husk from sight again. She had loved him, once, but now she felt numb of all feelings. No love. No guilt. No fear of what would happen to her now although she had no idea how this would play out.

After a moment’s reflection, she retrieved the bloody clothes and dressed in them again, then reached through the curtains to where his bloodied body was hidden and smeared herself with blood. One quick look around the room and she crossed to the door, opened it, screamed at the top of her lungs, and collapsed sobbing.

Maids rushed from both left and right sides of the hall.  A pitcher of fresh warm water shattered, forgotten on the marbled floors.  Beatrice smells heavy herbal tea and greasy bacon.  It mixed with Henry’s dry clotted blood in strange and stomach turning ways.  

The first maid, Anges, knelt beside Beatrice and tentatively reached out her warm arm.  Beatrice leaned into the warmth, shaking and crying.  She was enjoying the body heat even if she didn’t otherwise appreciate the liberties Beatrice took to make contact.  Nothing this morning, or most of the past evening had been warm.  From blood damp bed sheets to her small attempts to wash.  Chill surrounded her and radiated from a once loving heart.  

“Help,” Beatrice pleads, a detached part of her is proud at how many tears she’s produced and how much her voice quavers.  There was a reason Henry had always indulged her whims, and it wasn’t because he’d suspected the end he’d meet if he denied her.

 Anges shushes her and pulls her closer.  She’s spent around fifteen years in service to Beatrice’s family.  She knows what her concerns need to be if she plans to stay employed.  

“What are you all gaping at!” Anges demands.  “You call the authorities, there’s been a catastrophe.  Dalia and Andrew, clean this mess you’ve all made, and Grason, prepare the spare bedroom at once!  Draw a bath for Miss Lochly.  She’ll need to wash and some strong tea,” Anges proclaims.  

Strong sure hands grip Beatrice now.  They help steady her as she rises.  Beatrice wants to tilt her head like a curious kitten.  Who would have dreamed Agnes could be so strong and sure of herself?  A woman of her late sixties, she’s demure and quiet.  Always lingering around the edges of Beatrice’s life.  Taking empty dishes, cleaning dirty rugs, stoking fires.  Anges is useful, but never worth a second thought.  Now, comparing her firm certain grip to the tepid last struggles of Henry, she wonders what attracted her to that man.  That a servant woman commands such presence when Henry barely made his last moments memorable. Henry gave up long before Beatrice struck her killing blow, accepting his death the same way he accepted an unsightly gift.  It was good she’d ended his misery.  Maybe with Henry gone and this unsightly murder behind her, Beatrice would return some sense of control to her life.  She’d no longer have to entreat anyone to fund her hobbies or clothes.  The manor and all its funds would be hers.  An unforeseen gift.

Anges led Beatrice to the far side of the manor.  A rarely aired out section the family only uses for holiday visitors.  Beatrice hiccups and wrinkles her nose at the old dust and imagined mold.   She takes a few shuddering breaths.  Sobbing lost its charm almost as soon as she took it up.  Swollen tired eyes isn’t a look someone of her station should try.   Beatrice’s throat is hot and itchy from the screams.  Her body is tight with the tension caused from the pantomimed trembling.  It’s all so tedious.  

“Please,” Beatrice whispers.  

“Hush now Miss, we’re almost there.  Soon you can rest your bones in a nice warm bath.  And I’ll bring hot tea with lemon and honey, for your throat.  Your mother alway did warn you against such hysterics,” Agnes chides.

Captain Jonah Batson arrived just as Beatrice dropped her wet towel to put her evening clothes on. The thrill and the shock of her murderous action is wearing off and softer tender emotions are taking over.  Beatrice’s hands tremble, and she wonders, what’s next. Agnes knocks at the door of the guest bedroom, and Beatrice jumps.  Her nerves can’t take all this uncertainty.

“Miss Beatrice, Capt. Batson is here. He would like to have a word with you.”

“Just a minute.”

Beatrice finished dressing, relaxed her breathing, and reached the door just as another knock came. The door opened.

“Excuse me, miss. Sorry for the intrusion but we must be getting on with this case.”

“No, no. I understand. I’m sorry. I am still a tad bit shaken as you might imagine. Henry and I have been together for a good number of years and this is a complete shock to me.”

“Oh, believe me Miss Lochley, I understand. But if we may, I’d like to ask you a few questions before I visit the scene.”

“You haven’t been to the room yet?”

“No ma’am. Based on my previous experiences, I like to get a first hand account of the situation from the witnesses if there are any. So what can you tell me about the events of last night and this morning?”

Beatrice hesitated. She had thought she would have more time.  Her story was foolproof but her performance might be the deal breaker.

“Alright. Last night was like any normal night. Nothing extraordinary happened. However, around midnight I…”

A scream pierces the air, interrupting Beatrice’s stilted performance.  Batson tears out of the room leaving Beatrice behind. Another scream. Beatrice rises and begins to follow Batson.  What now?  Had one of the servants stumbled in on Henry’s body?  No, they would know to avoid that room.  Beatrice’s nerves feel raw and tender.  She’s doesn’t have the endurance for so much intrigue.

Batson arrives to the master bedroom where the body still lies. At the window, Agnes stares down to the courtyard below, pointing down and sobbing. Batson rushes to meet her gaze.

“Now Ma’am, there’s no reason to be so close to the open window, please come inside,” he coaxes, approaching her as a well meaning man may head towards a wounded deer.  Beatrice stands transfixed in the doorway.  Why did Anges venture to this room ahead of the Constable’s investigation?

Anges shakes her head, loosing a sob.  She looks past Batson to Beatrice, and as their eyes meet, Beatrice is certain she knows exactly how Henry’s bloody corpse came to lounge in the master bed.  But she doesn’t have any time to react because Anges turns and dives toward the walkway below.

Agnes prostate body caressed the stone. Blood dribbled down the crease of her mouth and into the lawn. Captain Batson peered up to the second floor and back at Ms. Agnes.

“Constable.”

“Yes, Captain?”

“Gather up the rest of members of the estate until further notice.”

“Yes, sir.”

Moments later, Captain Batson circles the body. He rolls her upward to face the sky and delicately shuts her eyes. A refraction of light showed from her hands. She clutched a locket, its chain winds around her wrist. Batson unclasped the piece. Inside were two adolescent photos of Henry. He was dressed down in light slacks and shirt. He affected no smile and stared ahead. Batson clasped it shut and returned to Beatrice.

She wept in the parlor. A few others stood by around tending to her sobs, trying to placate the tender spasms of air she sucked in. Batson dismissed the others and faced her.

“How long was Ms. Agnes attendant to Henry?”

Beatrice dabbed at the tears.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

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Love, Murder, & Romance~ Jessica Donegan’s Ending

Part 1

 

“Ms. Anges tends to those new to the manor.  She administered me as a child, but her allegiance transferred to Henry when he came to live here some years ago,” Beatrice swipes at her tears.  Batson offers her a handkerchief.  She nods her thanks and  cleans her face.  Murder and Suicide, such a messy business.  Beatrice must strive to avoid it.  

Batson considers Beatrice.  The whole affair is highly unusual.  There hasn’t been a murder in one of the large manor houses in many generations.  Such atrocities are left to the lower end streets.  Everything about this place seems a little off, but some things are clear.  The murder was an impetuous  act of emotion.  Anger, passion, lust, Batson has seen them all.  It would be convenient if he could wrap both deaths up and return to his usual more comfortable beat.  But something about that solution seemed too simple.  

“Did Sir Lochley have any enemies?” Batson asks, working on a hunch.

“Henry was always a kind, bright man.  He carried a compliment on his lips for everyone he met.  And he’s retired from any business dealings years ago,” Beatrice adds.  

Batson nods but his face drops.

“Thank you Miss Lochley, I believe I can proceed from here on my own,” Batson says.  

“So soon?  Of course Captain, please let me know if there’s anything I offer you to help,” Beatrice murmurs, eyes downcast.  Her lip twitches but she wills the errant smile to stay clean off her face.  

Batson takes her hand, it’s forward, but he’s compelled to reassure her.  

“We will find who did this to Sir Lochley and we will bring them to justice,” he swears.  

Beatrice nods and allows a single tear to roll down her cheek.  

“I have complete confidence in your ability Captain.”

Batson shifts under her gaze.  He wishes he had the same belief.  At least the serving woman’s suicide gives him a culprit to pin it on, if all else fails.  He should interview the rest of the staff, ensure Miss Beatrice’s safety first.  That she’s still alive and unharmed suggests the killer had no ill intent towards her, a jilted lover perhaps?  But no, people of this station don’t commit crimes of this magnitude over base emotions like jealousy and they have no need of money.  It will be a baffling case.  

“You should eat and get rest Miss Lochley, recuperate your strength,” Batson encourages.  

“Thank you Captain, but I fear I can’t rest right now.  Perhaps a walk in the garden to calm my nerves if you think it’s safe?”

“Madam, we’d have left immediately if there was any indication of danger.”  

Beatrice dips into a small curtsey.  She leaves the gore behind and walks into the rising dawn light.  Her mind wanders over the past day, replaying her kill and all the events since.

Before long, Beatrice is at the decorative Greek temple.  She stares at the lamps on either side.  Grandfather, spared no expense when he commissioned it.  Footfalls echo across the marble entryway.  She walks to the inner sanctum and kneels before a statue of Hera.  

An odd choice, Beatrice thought.  Of all the gods, Grandfather could choose, Hera seems underwhelming.  A Goddess often proclaimed powerful but rarely seen in action.  And what good did her strength ever do her?  She, like all the rest, submits to Zeus’ might.  

Warm mass presses against Beatrice’s hands, arms, shoulders, and head.  If forced to describe, Beatrice would claim it was like a person wrapping themselves around her and making her support their weight.  But Beatrice is alone and instead of the force pressing externally, this pressure comes from within rising out of her.  The strangeness passes into a kind of terror, it’s like her soul is leaving her body.  She wants to run but an external force is heavy on her brain, willing her remaining kneeling.  Beatrice’s body trembles with exertion.  

“Just wait, it will be over in a moment little one,” a feminine voice echoes.  

Beatrice believes it’s meant to be comforting, but the whole process is too unsettling such a simple salve.  What’s worse, why are these sensations almost familiar?  Like a mirror reverse of something that happened weeks ago.  Beatrice struggles to pull the thought closer, but it’s not forthcoming.

“There, that’s better isn’t it,” the voice soothes.  

She’s right.  The warm weight retreats and Beatrice is on her own.  She collapses before Hera’s statue, a trembling mass.  But for all her bodily troubles, Beatrice’s mind is clear for the first time in months.  

“I must thank you for the ride.  It’s always cathartic to help women murder their tyrants that dare to name themselves Husband.”

Flashes are coming back to Beatrice. She’d planned to remove this temple, but they told her the cost out of her budget.  She settled on removing Hera’s statue.  When questioned, Beatrice explained she didn’t want to look at a statue that reminds her of her own bondage.  Beatrice didn’t deign to explain how a woman might view an arranged marriage.  How Herny wanted her, but she never had the chance to feel the same desire.  Those details were for Beatrice’s heart alone.  A bout of dizziness befell her, and then the next weeks are a fog.  

Henry!  He’s gone, murdered with her hands, though not her will.  Never her will.  Beatrice didn’t get to choose to marry him, it was a sick parallel, she didn’t get to choose to murder him either.

“You,” Beatrice stammered.

“I did you a favor, child.  He limited you.  Gave you an allowance that kept you leashed to him like a dog when this estate comes from your family.  With my strength, my power, I freed you.  Your indecision, your resentment, your compromised soul none of it was a match for me.”

Beatrice flushes.  There is part of her that’s enticed by Hera’s claims.  Uncertain if the cost if worth the gain, Beatrice hesitates.  

“You have time and space to learn what a great gift I gave you.”

The nod is slow and tear filled.  Her large bed empty and cold fills Beatrice with loneliness, there is no way to go but forward.

“Thank you,” she whispers, bowing low.  

“I do not require thanks, I require work.  Bring me a pair of peacocks I may observe in the gardens, and fresh laurel every full moon.  Do this and I will bless your home and make you powerful within it.”  

Beatrice nods, she need not hear about what could happen if she refuses.  Hera’s possession offers a myriad of tragedies to her quick mind.  She picks herself up off the ground and heads to the exit.  

“And Beatrice,” the voice calls, “never again question my strength or plan to remove me from this place.  I will make your current loss look like a child’s punishment if you cross me again.”

Beatrice’s blood stalls even as her heart pounds.  She flees the temple, and runs mindless through her gardens, falling to one of the many benches.  As she sits in the warm sun, she cries over her foolish words and careless thoughts.  The world is full of strange and horrible consequences.

End

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