Monday, February 20, 2017


I have moved all Reviews and Author Interviews to my other blog - Cathbad's Corner - which is now dedicated to that purpose!  :)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Master Elf


Waking up in this beautiful, wooden, four-poster bed, the down-filled mattress covered with silk sheets; rising in a room filled with the opulent surroundings I have managed to bring here – the Oak-backed sofa with its plush pillows, the redwood chess table and matching chairs, artwork from the masters Serrefalin and Fraunken, and a rug from the Isle of Justice (perhaps the most valuable of my belongings); it’s all almost enough to make me ignore the stone walls and, just for a brief moment, believe I have not consigned myself to living like a dwarf, hundreds of feet below sea-level, in a series of caves and tunnels carved out of a semi-inactive volcano.
            I throw my legs over the side of the bed, putting my feet into my silver-colored slippers, lined with mink.

            Senil.  The light I had built into the ceiling comes on, illuminating most of the large room I call my bedroom.  I rise, go over to my water table and pour from the decanter, filling the wash basin with water, to a level beyond the decanter’s apparent ability to produce.  I set the simple-looking decanter down, stick my index finger into the basin water and speak the word “vesa”, removing my finger when the water reaches the correct temperature.
            After my ablutions, I dress – blue, today.  Robe over tunic and pants.  Wearing my usual soft, black boots.  I strap the deceptively small component bag to my waist, add my dagger, and head into my ‘living area’.  The room is slightly larger than the bedroom, so quite large (for a cave).  I check my message jar, opening the lid – but it doesn’t speak.  I set it back down, return the lid, and walk up three steps to the dining area.

            A curtain separates the bedroom and living area, but only the elevation demarks the dining room from the living area.  My breakfast usually consists of a single, poached egg and toast with jam, but today I’m not all that hungry.  I forgo the egg.
            Back down to the living area, I collect the keys, and exit through the wide door into the extra-wide hall outside my home – or what now houses my personal belongings.

            The passage is wide here because it has to be – some of the denizens of this palace are quite large.  I’m heading upward, so I have to start out going west.  Right, upon exiting my rooms, to me, since I’m no dwarf, and can’t sense directions underground!
            What a life for an elf!

            At the first crossway, one of the young dragons arrives at the same time I do.
            “Hershael!  You on duty this morning?  I thought you had the evening shift?”

            Hershael growls deep in his throat.  “Morning, Chastyra. Gorganno caught me sneaking an extra portion of meat out of the stores,” he confessed.  “My punishment is a twenty-four-hour shift.”
            “Horrible,” I commiserate. I know how dragons like their sleep – even though they actually need little more than I!  “Keep a strong mind, Hershael.  Steady on.”  He grumbles again, then crosses through the intersection.  I cross through and head to the three-way tee.

At the three-way, I look up.  From this point of view, I see a five-by-five-meter hole in the ceiling.  I could use a simple Detect spell here, but I’m not one to waste even a smidgen of magic.  One never knows when some foolish hero might step into the palace.
            Vara-lon!  I rise off the cave’s floor, up and through the hole.  With a simple movement of my slender fingers, I move horizontally about six meters, then lower myself to the new level’s floor.  And no, I didn’t just ‘waste magic’; I had to come to this level, and there’s no other access point.

            I turn and look at the floor.  From this angle, there does not seem to be a hole in the floor of the cave.  An Illusion spell hides the hole, making it look like the tunnel simply goes on.  An unwary fool will fall through!  I get low, checking the illusion carefully.  This volcano is called ‘semi-active’.  It hasn’t erupted in generations, and most believe it never will.  But there is lava below, constantly working on the stone under the upper portion of the mountain.  Small shifts are not uncommon. 
            Today, however, the spell requires no adjustment.  Nodding my approval to no one, I move on – now toward palace entrance.

            It’s quite a walk to the northern face.  I usually spend the time mentally composing my next sonnet or poem.  Today, I just clear my mind.  It makes the time pass before I realize it has, and I’m soon at the massively tall entrance.
            The height and width of the palace entrance is grand.  It also makes one believe the Master of the palace uses this entrance.  Then, the passage – though quite wide – can give them a sense of relief, that the Master might not be as grand of size as hyperbole makes him out to be.

            But the truth is that the Master doesn’t use this entrance – he wouldn’t fit through the halls.
            Here, I check a secret of my own.  At one corner of the stone archway, I have set a spell which tells me when someone enters the complex.  My Master may have senses powerful enough to know when this occurs, but mine need a little help.  After all, my safety and security is directly related to the Master’s survival.  I want to know when fools come a’calling.

            The spell is active, and no debris hinders its ‘line of sight’.
            I step away, and out onto the shelf (my person won’t set off the spell).  I step to the edge of the landing to take in the view.

            For as far as the eye can see, there is a vast, green valley.  My elven eyes can make out the distant river, called Dunnedin.  A forest, so distant that even my elven eyes can see only a darkening on the horizon, borders the northern edge of the valley.  It is neither a thick nor wide forest, and can be rounded and avoided if the tranquility of the woods somehow displeases you.  Beyond that, I have seen, is a wasteland of rock and rough vegetation, lasting only a few miles.  Then comes the real barrier separating us from the rest of the world – but I won’t get into that in this missive. 
            I take many deep, cleansing breaths.  Sorrowed to do so, I turn away from the beauty before me and return to the underworld where my life choices have guided me.

            Instead of turning back west (left), I keep going forward, down an only slightly thinner tunnel.  This passage turns and twists a few times, but the distance to its end is not great.  There, around a final stone bend, is a large cave, about the size of the living area in my quarters.  Besides a sort of stone beach before it, the room is filled with a pool of water.  Another dragon currently drinks from the pool’s edge.
            “Clara,” I acknowledge, letting her know I’m behind her, just in case she was (again) lax at using her senses.

“Morning, Chastyra,” she greets me, her head bobbing up in a manner that tells me I have startled her.  Gorganno has not been pleased with this one’s inattentiveness.  I will have to report this incident to him.  These younger dragons must learn – the Master’s safety may be at stake!
            I squeeze in next to the large female, kneel, and take water into my cupped hand.  I’ve learned to appreciate this warm water.  It is rich in calcium and other minerals, and tastes strong enough to convince my palate that it is but a weak tea!

After quaffing my thirst, I say my farewell to Clara – who is taking far too long – and return to the main tunnel.  My next stop is two levels down.  It takes a while to traverse the distance, but I reach the needed level and note I’m making good time.
            I turn to the left, down one of the side tunnels.  Near the end of this passage, some ninety meters long, the tallest dwarf I have ever met stood just before the spot where the passage doglegged right.

“Phareus,” I greet him, “what are you up to now, you rogue?”
            Phareus guffaws and spits.  “Somethin’ sprang my ‘one-armed bandit’ again.”  Arriving, I take a look around the corner.  The arm of the insidious trap is swinging loose, stretching out into the middle of the tunnel.  The sharpened spike had been crushed.  I instinctively check, and find the corresponding chip in the wall this side of the L turn.

“What was it this time?”
            Phareus grunts, shrugging his thick shoulders.  “I’m thinking it were a bat.  Prolly landed right on the clip what holds the spike end to the wall.  Ain’t exactly a hair trigger, but the fool thing might’ve tried to take the clip to add to its nest.  The clip was bent.”

“Anything you can do about that?”
           Another shrug.  “S’pose I can brighten it – paint it white. Not like the clip gonna be seen by any guests, ‘n the bats don’t like brighter objects for their nests.”

I’m not sure about this ‘nest’ thing, but I don’t know enough about bats to argue. Besides, Phareus is not what one would consider stable, and it was best not to argue with him.  His skill at trapmaking was unmatched, and, despite his bulk, he was quite adept at sneaking up on the unsuspecting!
          “You checkin’ magic today?” the dwarf asks me.

“Yes.  I’m checking the ceiling trap next.”
            He nodded.  “Good trap.  Magic’s down,” he confirmed.  “Only thing surprising ‘bout that is that the magic isn’t down more often!”

It was unusual for him to compliment my magical traps.  But I agreed with his assessment.  It surprises even me that the hiding magic holds more often than not.
           I smile and salute, then leave him working on the deadly arm swing trap.

          Not only is the hiding magic gone, but I also have to push those slimy tentacles back up into the recess.  I replace both spells on the trap, ensure everything is otherwise correct and hidden, then continued on.

          A stop at the bath house to wash up, then I descended to the final level of the palace.  I take the secret passage to my study, make sure nothing had been bothered (I’m not worried just about Phareus, but also those who worked part-time in the place.  I know we are supposed to trust that those sent would be trustworthy, but… well, I’ve never been the trusting type.

Seeing everything is fine, I collected my scribe kit and head through the secret door into the Master’s chamber.
            “Good morning, my elven friend.”  The Master’s voice is deep, and even at his best, menacing.

“Good morning, Lord Darganau.  I tryst you’ve completed your exercises?”
            The great dragon harrumphs dramatically.  “Yes!  You can be such a mother-hen, Chastyra!”

“It is part of my job, My Lord.  Your continued health is as important to my survival as your own.”  The Master is no spring-chicken.  With the heavy armour he wears, I intend to see he stays in top physical condition, lest he can’t ascend to escape any foes!
           “I trust your rounds were not too difficult, seeing you are right on time?”

That made me glad I’d made good time early on, lest the revamping the magic on the ceiling trap would have made me late.  Darganau does not abide lateness.  “Yes, My Lord.  All is well.”

From his position in his cup – a stone structure resembling a thirty-meter-high wine glass, carved from a massive stalagmite by a dwarven artisan, Lord Darganau maneuvers himself to the edge of the lip and peers down at me.  “What’s on tap today, Master Elf?”
           His colloquialisms used to confuse me.  “You only have a meeting with Lord Voran, an hour after dusk.”

“Hmm.  He is an odd one.”
           “And a dangerous one, My Lord.”

“Yes.  You’ve made our feelings known to me.  But he is also the Lord of a powerful principality.  I would know what he has in mind.”
           “I would warn you caution again, Lord.  Especially if he asks your aid against his King, Kambia.”

“That would be unwise of him.  It is more likely his King has sent him to me.”
            Since I would rather this latter to be true, I say no more on the subject.  “Shall we get back to your memoirs, Lord Darganau?”

“Ah, yes.  Yes, we shall.  We did I leave off, Master Chastyra?”
            I sit on the stone I often used as a seat.  I’d shaped it to conform to the curve of my cheeks, to make it as comfortable as a stone chair can be.  I open my kit and unfold it into the small desk it becomes.  I take out the parchment we were last working on, set out my pens, ink well and blotter paper.  “You had crossed the sea, spotted the wizard’s signal, and landed in the tall spires at the most-northern edge of the southern continent, My Lord.”

“Ah.  Well then.”  He contemplated a bit, while I readied the pen for writing.  His booming voice began speaking in his narrating voice once more.  I could tell he was reliving it all again – and knew I was getting an accurate, word-for-word recalling of events.  Darganau’s memory is long.

I alighted on the landing. The light, I discovered, had no source! It simply hung in the air before the fissure leading into the mountain, totally unseeable from the reverse side, but bright on the front side.
           “Come on in!” Kalen’s voice called from within.

I felt relief wash over me. Kalen had stayed true to his word. He had not absconded with my possessions. I entered through the fissure, noting I’d not be able to grow much more, before I’d have to squeeze myself in!

            “You had me worried,” Kalen told me. “I had expected you three or four hours ago.”

            I wrote fast and accurately, while also enjoying the tale.


Darganau:  Autobiography of a Dragon

Monday, December 5, 2016

The World is What You Make It


I must have been out of my mind!  Why did I trust that gutter-rat?  But I’d needed a guide.

The inner-city was a maze, made from the rubble of Fallen Gotham – which was now its name.  There wasn’t a single building in that area still intact.  The iron and stone from the destruction of those buildings that was moveable had been moved, and moved again by the denizens of the inner-city.  They had created paths.  Passages that were wrought with dangers, creating a maze of interlocking patterns and dead ends, walls too high to see over, and too dangerous to climb.  Some of these denizens had set traps, lest anyone find their homes.

I couldn’t tell you how big an area it was.  I’d heard estimates from nine to twenty-five square miles.  The say a hundred thousand still live in there.  Hard to believe, as I’d not seen a soul all morning.

Save Freddie, the gutter-rat I’d hired to lead me to the meeting I was expected to attend at noon.  And I hadn’t seen him since nine a.m., according to my watch.  I had just under an hour to make it to the meeting.

As if that were my worry, now.

You see, an Outsider can’t make it through the maze without a gutter-rat, the low-lifes that are the only denizens of this god-forsaken patch of blasted earth who’ll deal with Outsiders.  They’ll work for beans.  Literally.  Outsider food and clean water are the major – and expensive - commodities here.  They’ll kill for a bag of good beans, let alone real beef.  Rat gets old.

Freddie ditched me.  I’d promised him half up front and half after he saw me out.  Either he’d been satisfied with the up-front payment, or he intended to get even more out of me, by setting me up.

When I turned down the same cleared path Freddie did – he was gone.  I looked a bit farther – even tried calling his name.  Realizing he’d abandoned me, I feared the worse, and went no farther forward.  I couldn’t go back, either, because the ambush might’ve been set to take place as I backtracked.  So, I went sideways – about west. 

If an ambush had been planned, I surely avoided it.  But I also managed, of course, to get myself lost.  Now I’m just going along, trying to pick my way through the maze, looking for a way out.  It’s slow going, since I don’t know the paths, and I have to look for traps practically every step, while looking out for cutters – the most dangerous types in Fallen Gotham.  Cutters would kill you before robbing you, then drag your body off to the meat shops.

A hundred thousand?  Are they sure even half a dozen humans still live in here?

I was grabbed.  He’d come out of nowhere and now he had an arm around my neck.  His partner was next, making a grab for my leg.

But I wasn’t picked for this meeting, taking place in the middle of the most dangerous place in what used to be North America, for nothing.

I kicked out of the grasp of the partner, then kicked his face in.  He fell back and to the ground.  The first cutter was strangling me – it hurt bad.  I knelt, and flipped him over my shoulder.  Grabbing his free arm, I twisted, hearing the crack just before the scream.  The pressure on my neck disappeared.

Unfortunately, it was replaced by the cold touch of steel against my temple.  Cutter Number Three had a gun.

I kicked a now crying cutter away and held up my hands.  “I’m worth more alive than dead,” I said, gambling for my life.  I was able to turn my head a bit, but could only see the gun.  A damn derringer!

“Yeah?” the third cutter’s voice sounded gritty.  “I ain’t got time for no ransom.”

I saw him start to pull the trigger.  I heard a thump and Cutter Number Three dropped like a rock.

“Fancy work there, Outtie!”  My savior was a filthy man of indeterminate age, with clotted, thin hair, buck teeth (and few others), and carrying a lead pipe.  “Excuse me,” he said, bowing his head a little.  I watched as he walked over to my original attacker and raised the pipe.  The cutter had his head turned, still crying.  He never saw the killing blow coming.

Savior walked back over to me, looking embarrassed.  “Sorry ‘bout that.  Rule Number One of living in Gotham:  Don’t leave an enemy at your rear.”  He took out a rag from his pocket (and at first look, you’d think that was an oxymoron, given the condition of his pants, t-shirt and jacket, but the ‘rag’ had more holes than material) and wiped the blood and gore from the pipe.  He put the rag, now drenched in gore, back in his pocket as he walked back to me.  Then he wiped his bloody hands on his dirty pants as he stopped right in front of me.  “Phil Greaseman!” he declared, holding out a hand.

I shook the cobwebs out of my head and took his hand (one doesn’t refuse a handshake out here – even one covered in gore).  I let him help me off the ground, then we shook hands.  I noticed he was a lot stronger than his thin frame made him appear.

“Well, Mr. Greaseman, I’m Paul Wickers.  And I thank you for saving my life!”

“Ah,” he waved a hand, “T’wasn’t nothin’ but a couple’a cutter-rats.”

I looked back at Partner, lying on the ground.

“He be asleep,” Greaseman said.  “He ain’t seen me.  But you… if you’d like?”  He held up the pipe.

I shook my head.  “With a little luck, I’ll be back out of Gotham by nightfall.”

Greaseman nodded his head.  I saw dust – and maybe some mites – fall out of his scraggly beard. 

“Well, I could show ‘ya out – for a fee, of course.”  He smiled a lack-tooth grin.  “Nothin’s free in Gotham!”

I shook my head again.  “You’ve already earned a reward,” I told him, reaching under my shirt and pulling out my wallet.  “How much do food credits go for now-a-days?”

He nearly spat.  “Naught but twenty bits on the mark!  Disgraceful, really.  ‘Course Vendors say they gotta pay men to go into the City to get the food and ring it back – an’ that’s gotten more dangerous.  Bloke like me… I ain’t got no say in it!”

“That means it’s down fifty-percent from the last time I was here,” I told him.  "So instead of the hundred marks worth I was going to give you, I’ll make it one-fifty.”  I counted out the vouchers and handed them over. 

Greaseman excitedly took them and stuffed them into another pocket.  “Thankee, mister!”

“I’ll offer double that, if you can take me to the Old Street Pub?”

His smile turned into a frown.  “I know of Old Street,” he admitted.  “Thas’ where a lot of Traders meet – them that do business in the City for the merchants here.

“But I don’ never go there.  Never been.  Best I could do is tell you the gen’ral area.”

“I see.”  Greaseman’s confession impressed me.  A lot of his fellows would have strung me along, then, after I was well lost, would have deserted me.  Just like the gutter-rat Freddie had done to me. 

Greaseman was an honest man.

“I’d pay to be introduced to someone who could get me there?”

Now Greaseman looked torn.  I would swear he was about to give me a name, but finally said, “Nah, mister.  I don’ know anyone.”

“Mr. Greaseman.  Phil.  I can take care of myself.  I only need to be led there – if someone tries anything funny, I can handle it.”

Greaseman giggled.  “Yeah.  You were doin’ well back there.  An’ you can jus’ call me Greaseman.  All my friends do.  Guns ain’t fair.  Fortunately, there ain’t many ‘a them in Gotham.”  He got that torn look again, and said, “I like you, mister!  I don’ wanna be respons’le for you getting… hurt.”

“Call me Paul, my friend.  I wouldn’t blame you if I got hurt – and you wouldn’t be to blame.  But I’m a stubborn man, Greaseman, and I’ve been hired to meet with someone in that pub.  I always do my best to meet my obligations, Greaseman, which means I’ve got to keep trying.  It’d be better for me to have a guide through the maze, wouldn’t it?”

Greaseman looked ill at ease, but he was thinking.  He finally nodded, a bit sadly.  “Yeah, Phil.  You’re right.  I know someone knows the maze like the back of her hand.”

“So, introduce me,” I urged him.

Still he looked undecided.  “I like you, Paul.”

I had to laugh.  “I understand, Greaseman.  She’s a badass.  But like I said… I can handle myself.”

“Okay.  Okay, Paul.  I can see this is important to you.”  Still he just stood there.  Since he seemed to be trying to convince himself, I kept quiet and let him work it out.  “Okay.”  He nodded his head once – with meaning.  “This way, then.”  He slid between to hunks of metal I’d not even realized allowed passage.  I quickly followed.

We were soon in another alleyway, which I was pretty sure headed almost directly north.  Even with the turns and twist – even having to climb over a blockage of stone and metal – it kept relatively in that direction – I think.

I’m sure I saw movement once or twice, things bigger than rats.  Reminders that Gotham was, indeed, populated.  And although most kept to themselves, there were some very dangerous people in here, who knew how to stay out of sight.

We had traveled for nearly an hour.  I was about to ask Greaseman if we shouldn’t take a break, when he suddenly raised his hand and stopped.  I stopped too.

He seemed to be listening for something – so I listened too.  And I soon heard it. A song.  Someone was singing, and the tune seemed familiar to me.  Greaseman put a finger to his lips in the old be quiet signal, then motioned for me to follow.  He slipped through another well-hidden pass through the rubble, to yet another make-shift road, some five feet wide, like the others.  As we went forward, the singing got a little clearer, if not louder.

I could make out the words now. 

Ring-a-ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

I was confused.  It sounded like a little girl’s voice singing!  Yet, certainly there were children in Gotham?  Life does go on.  I just hadn’t thought about it before this.  Whoever the woman Greaseman was taking me to obviously had a young daughter.

Greaseman stopped again.  He turned to me, looking very serious.  “She’s right through those two cars, there.”  He pointed at two rather square lumps of metal, separated by about a foot of open space, but seeming to lead to nothing but piles of rubble – like everywhere else.

Cows in the meadows
Eating buttercups
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all jump up.

The girl’s voice sang, followed by giggles; then the song started over again.  I gave a mental shrug, and started toward the crushed cars.  Greaseman grabbed my arm.  It surprised me, and I turned toward him, ready for anything.

“Don’t accept nothing from her, friend Paul.”

I was about to laugh again, but he looked too serious.  I merely nodded.

“Nothing,” he emphasized.  “Nothing at all.”

I nodded again, and he let me go.  I went to the small opening and pried myself through it. 

I found myself in a tight area, surrounded by towering scraps of metal and brick.  I couldn’t help think but that I might’ve been led into a trap – I went on high alert.  But after several seconds of nothing, I figured I was safe enough.  I started looking for a second way out of this circle…

…and found it almost immediately.  Near the bottom of one wall, the metal was extra-thin, and swung out, like a gate!  I had to get down on my knees to get through it, but it was just tall enough.

Beyond the gate was a sort of tunnel, about ten feet long.  I had to crane my neck, but saw that I was surrounded by more towering wreckage, but there was sky above.  I crawled slowly and carefully through this tunnel, coming out into bright sunlight.  I stood up, and looked on the scene in amazement.

Most of the area was completely cleared of – everything!­  No debris, no trash.  Nothing.  About ten feet ahead of me was another sort of wall – a tall hedge of living bushes!  Since this area seemed to be center the clearing, I walked around it to be sure.  There was a tree within the circular hedge, thin and about fifteen feet or so tall.  I could also smell something cooking – some sort of meat, which only made me hungry.  I could see the steady, light swirl of smoke rising from the cooking, no doubt.

And the singing was much clearer now.

Cows in the meadows
Eating buttercups
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all jump up.

More giggling ensued.

Having made my way completely around the place, I walked up to the hedge, where I’d seen what might have been – and proved to be – a short gate.  I saw nowhere to knock or otherwise make myself known – without rudely shouting – so I opened the little gate, ducked my head and entered.  I had to push through the brush, but there were obviously no bushes planted directly in front of the gate – they’d just grown over it.

Once I was within the second circular clearing, I stood in awe of what I saw.

Flowers – actual flowers! – grew in a garden to my right.  Green grass grew all over, and I could see the tree to the back left.  A couple of fluffy bushes grew in front of the only real structure I could see – a (dare I say it?) plastic, pink dollhouse!  One of those large play-houses from the days before the war.  I believe this one was called the Princess Playhouse.  There was a pit-style stove to the left of the house, where a large pot stood atop a standing grill above the pit, in which a fire burned.  Smoke curled up from the pot.

Ring-a-round the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down.

The little girl sang in front of the playhouse, holding a doll.  She flopped down to the ground as she spoke the last line, and proceeded to laugh, hugging the doll.

She suddenly took note of me, and sang,

Hush! Hush! Hush! Hush!
We've all tumbled down!

Then laughed hysterically, rolling around on the grass with the doll held close.

I looked on, both bemused and confused.  I hadn’t expected to find an oasis like this in the middle of Fallen Gotham!

Suddenly, the small girl cleared her throat, seemed to calm herself, and stood.  She said to me, “I’m sorry for my bad manners!  How do you do, sir?”

“Um… fine,” I stammered, thinking of what to say.  “My name’s Paul…”

“I’m Suzy!” she said quickly.  “This here’s Daisy-Anne.” She held out the doll.  It was dressed in a cheap-looking striped outfit, and had bright red hair.

“Oh my!  You have a Raggedy-Anne doll!”

The little girl huffed angrily and pulled the doll to her chest again.  “She don’t like that name, mister!  And she’s got more than most have these days!”

“Of course, of course,” I tried to placate her.  “I can quite see she has class! – she… er… merely reminded me of another… er, someone else.”

She seemed a bit more pleased, then started skipping in circles.  “What can we do for you, sir?”

“Oh!” I had to quickly put my thoughts in order.  “Well, I was told there was a woman who lived here, who might be able to guide me to… to a place in Gotham I need to get to?”

She stopped skipping and looked at me.  She seemed confused.  “Well, sir, I’m the only one lives here – me and Daisy-Anne!”

I was bewildered.  Could that be right?  True, Greaseman hadn’t actually said “woman”, but had he really been referring to this little girl?

“Where is it you want to go, mister?”

How did a little girl like her live all by herself in the middle of Fallen Gotham?  How did she survive among the gutter-rats and cutters?  How did she get food – let alone the wherewithal to create such a splendid garden!  I inwardly shuddered when I thought about how much she’d bring on the slave market!

Was she lying to me?  Was her mother merely away, hunting?


“Hmm?”  I quickly cleared my befuddled mind. “Yes, sorry.  Well, I need to get to a place called The Old Street Pub.”

She suddenly brightened, smiling wide.  “I know where that is!”  She clapped her hands and danced in place.  “Do you know what the old name of Old Street was?  They called it Broadway!” She answered her own question before I could even process it.  She clapped and danced again.  “They used to have shows there – plays, where actual people got up on a big stage and pretended to be other people!”  She stopped clapping, and looked a bit sad.  “I bet it was great. 

“But it’s not like that, anymore.  There’s only bars, dingy shops and whorehouses, and lots and lots of bad men and women.”  She looked up at me, squinting one eye.  “You a bad man, mister?”

“I held up my hands.  “Not me!  I’m just a guy hired to bargain for some businessman back in the city.”

Now she smiled wryly.  “I knew you were from the City.  I can tell those sorts of things.”

I waited, but she only watched me, with that enigmatic smile.  “Well, um… it’s important I meet with a man there.”

She was nodding her head.  “I can understand that.  Black market.  I need the items they supply just like everyone else in Gotham!”  She started dancing around again, holding her doll as though they were ballroom dancing. 

I tried not to get aggravated.  “Er… miss?  Do you think you might tell me the way to Old Street?”

She stopped suddenly and stared at me, mouth agape.  Then she laughed!

“Mister,” she said, once she had calmed down again, “I’m sorry, but if I simply gave you ‘directions’, you’d just end up getting lost – and then you’d probably end up dead!”

I was taken aback by her bluntness, but after my sojourn so far, I couldn’t argue with her logic.  Small she may be, but she had wisdom.

“Will you take me there, then?”

“What’s in it for me?”

She was definitely from Gotham.  “How about a hundred food credits?”

She rubbed her chin a while, mimicking an adult contemplating.  “Make it two hundred.”

I smiled.  “One-fifty.  And that’s fair.”

She thought about it some more, then nodded he head once.  “Okay, mister Paul.  You got a deal.  Oh!  Wait.”  She ran off – to the fire pot.  She picked up a ladle and stirred the contents.  She shrugged and said, “Nowhere near done.  I can finish this later.  She knelt and pushed a lid over the top of the pit.  Standing again, she picked up another lid and put it over the pot.  She skipped back to me, stopping briefly at the door to her Princess Playhouse to lay Daisey-Anne down, propped up against the plastic door.

“Okay, mister Paul.  We can go now!”

She skipped toward the back of the Playhouse.  I followed, thinking how could Greaseman consider this little cutie dangerous?

In the back, I saw the tree had a swing hanging from a low branch.  There was also a small wood building in the northeast corner.  Judging from the flies swarming outside it, I figured it was the little girl’s outhouse.

“Hey,” I asked, “aren’t you worried about someone stealing your dinner?”

Suzy crinkled up her nose and said, “Nah.  My neighbors are good folk.  They know better.”

I smiled at her trust – and thought I now knew how she survived:  With her neighbors’ help. 

“Through here,” she declared, standing at the hedge and holding back some of the branches.  “Hurry!  I have to be back before dark!”  She held out her hand.  “Be careful of the pricklies!”

I took her hand, like any adult would – and felt the prick of a tiny needle.

“Don’t accept nothing from her, friend Paul,” Greaseman had told me.  “Nothing,” he emphasized.  “Nothing at all.”

“Not even her hand?”  I spoke aloud, as I felt the dizziness hit me.

“What did you say, mister Paul?”

But Paul Wickers was beyond being able to respond.  He looked over at the wood building, with the flies swarming around it.  He knew it wasn’t an outhouse; no one would put an outhouse so close to the main house.  And wasn’t that an axe propped up against one wall?  Just like the doll!  Paul Wicker’s thoughts were getting confused.

Suzy – as she liked to call herself – knelt beside the strange man and looked into his eyes.  Paul wondered how the world had tipped sideways?  But it was his last thought.

Seeing the light in his eyes go out, she stood again.  “It’s okay, mister Paul,” she told the corpse.  “Whoever sent you in here obviously meant you never to go back.”  She ran to the shed to get the slick tarp.  She would roll the corpse onto tarp and pull it over to the shed.  She was a lot stronger than she looked!  There was a hook and pulley system inside the shed she’d use to move the body around, then.

“Gosh gee willickers!” she complained, hands on her tiny hips.  “I’ll be cooking the whole blasted evening!”

It was morning.  Suzy had only been up about an hour, and she really didn’t feel completely awake, yet.  She was sitting outside, propped up against her wonderful Princess Playhouse home, rocking her doll, Daisey-Anne.

But she suddenly sniffed the air.  Huffing in exasperation, she told the doll, “Another guest!”

I found her as I searched the labyrinth of fallen Gotham.  I’d been told she knew the maze like the back of her hand – and I needed out!

Her little circle of land was clean, plants grew, and a Cinderella Playhouse served as her home. To the left of the playhouse, a large pot sat over a hot fire.

She, maybe eight, maybe twelve, welcomed me with childish joy. I, amazed she’d survived alone, entered her circle as she spoke animatedly, as children will.

She said her name was Suzy, and said I’d arrived just in time for breakfast.  She insisted I eat with her, and she wouldn’t talk about anything else until we’d ate.

While she went inside the playhouse to get plates, I ambled over to the big pot.  There was a ladle, and I decided to stir the thick-looking soup – which smelled delicious!

When I pulled up the ladle and saw the large toe in it, I ran.

Suzy came out of the playhouse just in time to see the man flee back out the gate.  He was screaming.  She shook her head and picked up her doll.

“It’s okay, Daisey-Anne,” she told her only companion.  “We’ve got more than enough meat in the shed, already.”


Friday, December 2, 2016

My Books on Kindle are all 99 cents all December!

Prince Publications has all my books (on Kindle) reduced to just 99 cents through the month of December!


(All Links are for USA, but you can find them in all countries!)

Darganau: Autobiography of a Dragon
Flight of the Elves                               
Stories of the Elves of Kali                 
Stories of the Elves of Kali (Volume 2)
The Shen (Elven) Language Guide   

Also available at


Check them out at

Monday, November 21, 2016

Cathbad's Best Small Press & Self-Publishing Awards*

BEST ANTHOLOGY (ALT-HISTORY):  Tales From Alternate Earths, Brent Harris,
                                                                         Stephen Hunt,, Inkling Press
BEST ANTHOLOGY (HORROR):  The Haunting Lake Manor Hotel,
                                                              Nathan Hystad, Samanda R. Primea,,
                                                              Woodbridge Press

BEST ANTHOLOGY (SCI-FI):  Explorations:  Through the Wormhole, Ralph Kern,
         Richard Fox,, Woodbridge Press
BEST DYSTOPIAN NOVEL:  Knock, Dell Street, Dell Street
BEST FANTASY NOVEL:  Charms of the Feykin (Legends of Windemere Book 11),
                                                 Charles E. Yallowitz, Self-Published
BEST FANTASY NOVEL (HUMOR):  The Adventures of Sir Edric (Volume 1),
                                                                    Thaddeus White, Tickety Boo Press

BEST MYSTERY NOVEL:  Gray Matter, Nick Pirog, Self-Published
BEST SCI-FI NOVEL:  Uncommon Purpose, P. J. Strebor, Tickety Boo Press
BEST SCI-FI OPERA:  Sunset Over Abendau, Jo Zebedee, Tickety Boo Press
BEST E-MAGAZINE:  Kraxon Magazine, Kraxon Publishing, Ltd
BEST SMALL PRESS:  Tickety Boo Press, Dave Deburgh, Gary Compton,

* = Only includes books I've personally read.  If you'd like a chance to be in the running for the 2017 Awards, put me on your ARC list - .