“Howl” by Florence + the Machine Inspires Anne

Perigee

 We dart through nighttime waters, close to the sand ridges along the bottom. I clutch Hvrēssē’s[1] hand in mine.

In our wake, alluvium swirls up, and then drifts down to the ocean floor. A pattern will form and be washed away, form and be washed away with each wave or tail flick.

The vial of blood in my other hand flashes silver in the moonlight. The pull of land sings like a tsunami from the palm of my hand all the way to my beating heart. Hvrēssē grins at me, sharp teeth and delight. We swim faster until we feel the water around us change. It grows lighter and freer of brine. The river current ripples through our hair and over our fins.

“Almost there,” Hvrēssē says. She gulps the last of the true seawater past her gills. “Hurry.”

I admire her sense of urgency. Admire the way her pale flesh melds into the gray of her tail. The dark stripes that almost go all the way around but leave her underside gray like the stormy skies far out to sea. Like home.

My muscles burn as I try to match her powerful strokes when she dives into the fresh water. It’s warm and light. Sweet and deadly.

“Get out your knife,” I shout above the sound of the river fighting against the open sea.
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Anne’s Book Club 07

CGC_BlackThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (summary by Amazon.com):

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

My Thoughts on The Coldest Girl in Coldtown:

It’s no secret that one of my favorite YA novelists is Holly Black. Her Modern Faerie series changed so many of my perceptions of what YA could be—definitely for the better!—and Valiant, in particular, was incredibly moving for les raisons personnelles, as the French say. The world-building in her Curse Workers trilogy was fresh and innovative. I couldn’t wait to read her take on vampire lore. As a teen, I inhaled vampire books. Basically, I’ve never outgrown them.

The world-building of Coldest was first introduced in a short story of the same name published in the Eternal Kiss anthology in 2009. I loved the story because of the characters, but also because of the world. I wanted to know more about Matilda, so when the novel was announced I was sad to learn that Matilda wasn’t the main character. To be fair to Ms. Black, Matilda’s story was finished. I just wanted more. Coldest delivered, and I enjoyed Tana’s story just as much—maybe more than?—Matilda’s. In the world of Coldest, when you’re bit by a vampire, you turn Cold. You’re not undead until you drink your first drop of human blood, but you crave it over everything else. You would eat your kid and not even blink. Then you become a vampire, and there’s no turning back. However, if you’re strong enough (and locked up long enough) to resist human blood, the virus will run its course and you’ll remain human.

Coldest is Ms. Black’s longest published work to date at 419 pages in the hardcover version. There are chilling flashbacks of Tana’s childhood (her mother went Cold, was locked in the cellar by her father, convinced Tana to let her out, and she bit Tana. I was a little unclear if the bite was deep enough to infect her or not, but the bottom-line is that she survived). The vampire, Gavriel, gets to narrate his own story as well. I loved the Russian flashbacks! One of my favorite chapters, however, is not from Tana’s or Gavriel’s point-of-view. It’s Chapter 14 by Midnight; a blog entry on items you’ll need to bring to Coldtown. I sympathized with Midnight, and I remember so clearly what it was like to be wrapped up and obsessed with something. If Coldtowns did exist, especially when I was a teenager, I would have been involved on the boards. I would have watched the live feeds of the Eternal Ball. I might have rooted for the vampire hunters, but chances are I’d be a bigger fan of Lucien and his lot.

“And remember, if you do come into physical contact with a vampire, you are legally obligated to report yourself to the authorities. Do not attempt to wait to see if you’ve become infected. Do not attempt to self-quarantine. Call 911, explain the nature of the attack, and wait for further instructions.”

This book is built on vampire lore dating back hundreds of years, but it never feels stale. These vampires are burned by the sunlight. They can be staked. They might be beautiful and exotic, but they are predators; and as a reader, I never forgot that fact. There are strong parallels to the short story, and it was delightful to see how Ms. Black expanded the world. How she created a handful of characters that I rooted for or against (vampire and human alike). The newer lore (21st century new) she played was exciting too. In this world, reality television still retains that voyeuristic nature, but some of these characters are lured by it while others are repelled. It’s a fascinating fictional take on current reality shows and the public’s reaction.

Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire as a short story. It was expanded years later into a novel. One of my Cimmerian Tale aspirations is to write something that starts here as a short story into a novel as well. I only hope I’m a quarter as successful as either Ms. Black or Ms. Rice.

What are some of your favorite short stories that have been elongated into novels?

“The Woodpile” by Frightened Rabbit Inspires Anne

The Noctambulist

Monday

For the second time that week, Cassidy woke in an unfamiliar place. Pieces of hay pricked her back through her thin nightgown. The movement of hooves stomping on dirt, and wings flapping in the rafters above shocked her further awake. A barn, she must be in a barn. The darkness clutched at her, hemmed her in like an oversized comforter. The salty tang of blood hung in the air stronger than the animal musk or hay. It turned the darkness into something fearsome. Something alive.

She stood on shaking legs, the front of her nightgown heavy, wet, and chilling on her skin. With sticky fingers, she pulled the material away from her chest. It sent up a dizzying aroma of blood-tinged air. She cringed before licking her chapped lips, and breathed a sigh of relief when they didn’t taste of copper. Her eyes adjusted and made sense of the shapes around her. The bales of hay stacked behind her. The ladder that lead up to a loft. The horses eyed her warily from their stalls. When she held her hands up to her face, the congealed blood streaked across her dusky skin.

Her stomach clenched as she searched her scalp for a wound. Her fingers brushed unbroken skin, and she shivered down to her bones. For seventeen years she had been waking up in strange places. Her mom put extra locks on her bedroom door; she slipped out of her second-story window and woke up near the eighth hole on a country club’s green. Her mom nailed the window shut; she managed to pry it open using a nail file and woke up in the park on the other side of town. All these things she did while asleep.

She squeezed her eyes tight waiting for a headache to bloom behind her eyelids. Nothing happened, and the fear she’d done something terrible crept in. Nested deep in her psyche. After a careful once over, she couldn’t believe that nothing hurt except the soles of her bare feet—blistered and raw—but the blood came from somewhere. Someone?

“Hello?” she whispered. Then louder, “Is anyone here?”

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Audrey’s No Rules Friday

Strength Through Wounding

I sit, crushing my thighs to my boobs, watching the red numbers on my clock digitally slide toward midnight. Mom should be asleep by then, but in the meantime, I need to physically hold myself together. My bedspread feels scratchy and hot on my bare feet like the floor of a bouncy castle that’s been in the sun a couple of hours. My jeans form creases that bite into my skin, but it’s not enough, not for me. Tremors run down my limbs as if something is crawling just beneath the surface, testing my epidermis for weak spots, trying to burst out and shatter me into nothingness. I am not even sure if that’s a bad thing.

Why does no one want to save me, not even me?

The question slips into my mind despite my efforts. I know the answer of course: because I’m not worth saving. If I were, then things would stop happening. Things like my dad buying an ‘80s era R.V. and going on the road with señorita Rosa-Maria from Macho Taco and leaving me behind. Or my mom getting a chic new bob and doubling her caseload so she could always have an excuse to duck out on me. Or me making-out with Pothead Dave last Wednesday because I had nothing better to do. He tasted like he needed a shower. But things happen because I let them. Like pebbles being endlessly slapped against a beach by the force of the waves, I don’t have enough weight to stop myself or anything else, and each wave weathers me down a little more.

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“Crystallize” by Lindsey Sterling Inspires Audrey

The Butcher’s Daughter

Alchemists lust for gold.

They tried to create it from lead, from fire, from bones.  But it never worked. Uncle, a great alchemist, nearly lost his mind trying.  And somewhere, teetering on the edge of sanity, deep in his sunless workroom, he found it, the key to limitless gold.

I have my fingers in the dirt when he comes for me.

Uncle says nothing, but I understand.  I am to help him with the Dust.  I rise, wiping my unclean hands upon my apron, and follow Uncle out of the sun.

In his workroom, my eyes adjust to the light, which comes only from a fire under a large black cauldron. The air is dry and smoky and my throat burns.  Tears itch at the corners of my eyes, but I will not let them flow.

Uncle has me keep the fire burning.  Stick by stick, I feed it so it never gets too hot and never goes cold.  I must be doing well.  He shows me a woody plant that he boils to make a soft white powder and teaches me how to measure out the ingredients for Dust like I do in the kitchen when I bake.  I smile when Uncle places his hand on my shoulder and nods his head.  He will let me come to his workroom again.

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“Crystallize” by Lindsey Stirling Inspires Julie

Blood and Ice

I was swimming leisurely toward the ice when it happened, following the patterns in the cracks with my eyes and spinning myself in dizzy circles with my tail. Breaking season wasn’t far off; soon the ice would be patchy, and mothers would surface with their new calves for a first breath.

I kept an eye out for shadows above and a surfacing hole. It had been about eight hours since I’d come up for breath, and I didn’t want to waste energy breaking a new hole. Surfacing holes were also dangerous places: Sometimes birds dove in for fish, or seals or bears lunged through. I had seen my wakefriend, Nela, attacked by a bear when we were just outgrowing the pup stage. She had scars that ran like ice fissures from her shoulder to her belly and across her face, leaving her blind in one eye and a lopsided swimmer.

As I gazed at the blue and green ice above, the hollows where mosaics of bubbles gathered, I saw odd shadows. I flipped onto my back and paddled my fins so that I could get a better look, stifling an exhale that would send up a new stream of bubbles.

The shadows moved slowly, like a stalking bear moved. But there were only two dark spots, oblong in shape, instead of four round ones. And the creature making them was nearing a seam in the ice.

There was a groaning sound as the creature’s weight caused the ice to shift. I bit my lip, and a gush of bubbles drifted up. My dense down hair stood on end as they came to rest with soft noises against the ice.

The shadows stilled, then grew into one hazy shape which lengthened and solidified as the creature spread itself across the slab. It was nearly as long as me.

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“El Petó de la Mort” by Jaume Barba Inspires Audrey

El Petó de la Mort by Jaume Barba

El Petó de la Mort by Jaume Barba

Sacrifice on the Bleachers

I never liked how Mr. Chipahua looked at Yarely, his shiny black eyes boring into her like she was an adder in his classroom, a creature of death. He never called on her and was careful not to touch her hand when she turned in an assignment. He graded her without mercy and week after week her grades slipped. In desperation, she had no choice but to turn to him for help after school. I would wait for her everyday, kicking stones around the parking lot and ducking behind the teachers’ cars to smoke. I saw it happening. I saw her change from abhorring Mr. Chipahua to speaking about him with awed reverence like a novice speaks of her savior. I knew something was wrong, knew he was getting into her head and reconnecting her synapses because everything was firing wrong. And when her body was discovered, decapitated and missing its heart, I knew he did it.

“Josh! Hello!” Casper snapped his fingers next to my ear, jolting me back to life. “You okay?”

I looked at Casper. His dishwater blond hair was combed back like a fifties greaser, but everything else about him screamed Hollister. He took being laid back to a new height, so the actual concern on his face must mean he saw me heading for a serious break with reality.

“Sorry, man. I zoned out.”

“Yeah…’”

A lot of people attempted condolences or tried to cheer me up. If Casper saw our conversation heading anywhere near a Yarely related topic, he stopped, and bolted the conversation in another direction. In the weeks since her death, he had rapidly become my best friend. continue reading…