Announcing This Fresh Hell, a brand new horror anthology from the remarkable, innovative Clan Destine Press. You can pre-order this beautifully horrible book now (at a whopping 20% discount!). And yay! I have a story (or half of one) in this stunning collection of amazing tales.
From the blurb:
This Fresh Hell
A driver picks up a hitchhiker from the side of a road; a family moves in to a house that may be haunted; a visit to the cabin in the woods goes terribly wrong…
We all know how those stories end – OR DO WE? In This Fresh Hell, every story begins with a well-known horror trope but ends with a twist, bringing new life and unexpected resolutions to old ideas. Emerging and established authors from around the world reignite and subvert horror tropes in 19 wholly original, genre-bending stories.
Among these unexpected tales, a Slender Man offers help to a boy in trouble; a restorer develops an unusual bond with a cursed doll; a heartbroken influencer tests her mettle aboard a luxurious cruise from hell; a haunted house hesitates to terrify its new residents… Ranging from the chilling to the quirky, these are stories for dedicated horror fans as well as those dipping their toes into the genre for the first time.
And look at the wonderful cover by Claire L. Smith (@clairelsmxth on IG)
In this fearsome fray you’ll find a story I co-authored with the dedicated, decorated, devoted writer Eugen Bacon.
Our story PAPERWEIGHT is about a librarian, a cursed stone, a love-struck innocent (or not-so-innocent) and the fear of being buried alive…
This Fresh Hell presents stories by:
A.J. Vrana, Annie McCann, C. Vonzale Lewis, Candace Robinson, Chuck McKenzie, Claire L. Smith, Claire Low, Clare E. Rhoden, Elle Beaumont, Eugen Bacon, Gillian Polack, Greg Herren, Jason Franks, Katya de Becerra, L.J.M. Owen, Narrelle M. Harris, Raymond Gates, Sarah Glenn Marsh, Sarah Robinson-Hatch, Tansy Rayner Roberts.
I trust you’ll enjoy this marvellous collection. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and read all the other terrifying stories!
Hey everyone! I’m re-blogging this fab post about From the Waste Land by one of the amazing contributors. I’m sure you’ll agree that reading just a little of this will sharpen your appetite for the entire anthology.
The Waste Land begins with a chapter titled The Burial of the Dead. The very first line says that ‘April is the cruellest month’. What an attention-grabbing start!
The 434-line poem is Eliot’s extended lament for the lost lives and the destruction of the 1914-1918 war. He’s talking about the collapse of civilised behaviour, the wanton wreckage, the widespread despair. And he does it in style.
When I got home from my walk, I looked up the poem, recalling that it includes dozens of splendid lines. Then I discovered (re-discovered?) that the poem’s first publication was in 1922.
Lo and behold, 2022 would be the centenary!
The idea of an anthology of Wasteland stories burst into my head. Wow! so many good lines there that are almost irresistible as story titles – for something in literary speculative fiction genres. (Literary spec fic? Think Margaret Attwood and Octavia Butler.) Look at these phrases for a start, all from The Waste Land:
a heap of broken images
they called me the hyacinth girl
looking into the heart of light
the barbarous king
are you alive, or not?
I’ve invited a select band of other active speculative fiction authors to write short stories springing from Eliot’s poem. I’m thrilled to say that we are a merry band of 19 writers. You can see more about them here.
‘From the Waste Land: speculative fiction inspired by Eliot’ will include ghost stories, fantasy, horror, steampunk, dystopia and queer romance. All will be intriguing and amazing tales.
I’m doing my best to ensure that this anthology will come out in the second half of 2022 to coincide with the poem’s centenary. I’m very busy querying publishers–no easy feat when we don’t actually have a completed manuscript on hand yet! And of course, I’m writing up a storm with my collaborators…
It’s going to be fabulous. Keep an eye peeled for more news about this wonderful project.
Darren Kasenkow is an Australian author whose work dances across the boundaries of literary fiction to bring together thematic elements ranging from dystopian horror, apocalyptic science fiction and existential suspense.
Darren’s also recently finished a collaboration with bestselling author V.E. Patton on a new adventure series ‘Beneath A Burning Heart’.
I’m excited to host Darren on my blog today. Welcome!
Tell us a bit about what inspires you.
Darren: Thanks so much for the opportunity to be a part of your amazing blog!! (You’re welcome and flattery will get you everywhere.)
Ever since I can remember, books have been important tools that have helped me to explore my place in this strange, mystifying universe. When I started writing, I instantly found it to be a magical way of feeling a greater connection with both my imagination and the world around me, and I haven’t looked back since!
I love exploring themes that are centred around the eternal battle between good and evil, whether that battle exists deep in our own heart or across the four corners of the Earth, and I really do believe that with every page I write (as dark as those pages might be!) I learn a little more about who I am.
Ah, the everlasting contest between good and evil – a never-ending inspiration for stories. That’s what makes your books so good!
We are very fortunate – Darren is sharing a sneak preview of
Godless–The Hallucigenia Project Book 2)
Let’s dive in!
The Hallucigenia Project
Book Two: Godless
The crystal walls of the cave beckoned with an electric blue promise of eternity just beyond the glistening frozen surface. A single floodlight was the only pitiful source of warmth beneath the machine carved dome, while beyond the shadows there came from the ice soft symphonies of gentle crazing and cracking.
It wasn’t a big cave. About the size of large bedroom, it held a small wooden desk with a rusted bar stool for a chair, a large chest locked tight with two padlocks, and a scattering of makeshift weightlifting equipment slapped together with wood, various discarded engine parts and buckets of frozen water. With an endless night and harrowing, heart breaking Antarctic winds howling back on the surface, it was a treasured place of retreat. At least, it was for Leon Bzovsky.
The Quantum Physicist wasn’t interested in working out for the moment though. No, for amid the dark and crushing events that had descended upon the remote South Pole it was time for the little ritual that kept his haunting urges at bay. They would rise eventually, but to do so now would be unwise.
“Come now friend,” he whispered softly with his rolling accent, “this is much fresher than the last.”
The Emperor penguin wobbled a little closer to the floodlight where Leon was perched on his knees with a small piece of meat resting in his open hand. It pecked at a corner of the offering and then stared up at the host through tiny black eyes.
“What’s the matter?” Leon asked with a hint of frustration. “It’s only a little ink. Nothing there that can hurt you, but beneath the colours there awaits life.”
The penguin pecked one last time but seemed decided on skipping this particular meal. To assure his friend no disrespect was intended it nestled against Leon’s thigh and gently closed its eyes, content for now in the knowledge there would come another offering in the near future. So, with a shrug of his solid shoulders and a soft tsk tsk tsk, Leon brought the flesh to his mouth and bit down hard. Certainly this was a little fresher than the last, but as the tissue and fat warmed against his tongue there was a distinct bitterness that bordered on being unpleasant.
“Yes,” he mumbled while stroking the penguin’s head, “I see what you mean.”
The silent, vacuum-like ambience of the cavern was suddenly violated by three loud thumps against the makeshift entrance door. Leon quickly swallowed the barely chewed lump and turned his head in frustration. His moment of treasured solitude, it seemed, had come to an end.
With a sharp scraping sound accompanied with falling chunks of ice, the door pushed open and in an instant the harrowing screams of the winds rushed the cave walls. A tall, hulking figure stepped through and then pulled back his hood with thick, snow covered gloves. Leon wasn’t surprised to see that it was Salvador, one half of the remaining security division and a seasoned survivalist from Finland. He was, however, suddenly curious at expression the towering man brought with him, for it was one he hadn’t seen before.
It was an expression of fear.
Leon patted his special friend one last time and rose tall. Already the winds were turning the conditions in his retreat dangerous, and yet the door remained open.
“It seems even at a time like this I cannot enjoy a little time alone,” he remarked while zipping up his jacket.
“We come to the remote edge of the world and still you want more?” Salvador asked with a hint of pity. “Walk one mile in any direction and you’ll have your peace soon enough.”
“Perhaps, but it’s not peace I seek.”
Salvador studied the physicist for a moment, then pushed back thick blonde hair when a wind gust threw it across his eyes.
“You’re wanted back inside,” he announced. “There’s something you need to see.”
Leon nodded his understanding then slipped the thermal hood over his head, lifted cold wool across his face until only his eyes were visible, and mounted a headlamp that was fastened tight around his ears. Behind him the penguin scurried to the nest that had been chipped into the far wall as if performing a ballet for the visitor, and then Leon pushed on thick gloves, reached down, and returned the cave to a state of darkness.
Together they stepped into the endless night. By the glow of the headlamps the relentless hurricane winds seemed truly alive, with glittering tendrils forming shapes like flecked serpent tails that whipped and thrashed in the pursuit of pure destruction. It felt like a barrage of hammers punching hard into their bodies and pressing tight against their bones, making each step in the thick snow a battle of physical tenacity and determination.
In the distance the lights of the station were barely visible, but it was all that was needed to guide them through the frozen nightmare and promise enough that their flesh would be warmed again soon. They would need to move quickly though. With conditions as bad as they could get, it wouldn’t take long for their eyes to become glass marbles ready to shatter at the slightest stumble.
A vague shape emerged from the darkness on the left, and with it the distinct sound of hard clanging metal that joined the symphony of screams and wails of the unseen and unknowable. Instinctively they both pierced through the night with headlamps to illuminate the rusted outline of two large shipping containers that had been welded together. Leon cursed beneath his thermal protection at the shadowed sight of one of the doors lashing to and fro as if it were a metal wing of a broken beast determined to fly, the groaning hinges shaking and rattling in preparation of defeat, and diverted a heavy step towards it.
“Leave it!” Salvador shouted against the wind. “The dead are immune to the cold and besides, there’s no time.”
Oh my goodness! Penguins, blizzard conditions and something (someone?) dead in a shipping container?! Please hurry with the rest of the story, Darren!
An Australian a writer of dark fantasy and dark fiction, Leanbh Pearson is the pen name of Alannah K. Pearson.
You will find some earlier fiction published under Alannah K Pearson. So look out for that too! It’s excellent, as I know from reading quite a bit of it.
I asked Leanbh to comment on what inspires her writing.
Leanbh: When writing dark fantasy, whether retelling fairytales or creating original works, the themes and inspiration are often found in folklore and legends.
My dark fiction writing follows a similar approach, delving into gothic horror themes, finding inspiration in how and why, we fear the dark, or the unknown monsters in our midst.
Inspiration also comes from my surroundings, often the natural world and landscapes, whether the stark beauty of bare tree branches against a thunderstorm or the press of crowds going about their day. Both of these reflect a sense of cyclical time to our world.
As my alter-ego Alannah, an interest in history became tertiary qualifications in human prehistory and archaeology. Now, when I look at my surroundings, I find inspiration there from the human past, present and imagined futures. Ultimately, my inspiration comes from how people throughout time and across cultures have understood the world around them, the mythology, folklore and legends, woven into fairytales and fables, and even used to warn why to fear the dark and the unknown.
To answer what inspires the core of my writing, it is probably the fabric of human experience, how we strive to understand our world.
Oh, I completely agree. Storytelling is founded on attempts to make sense of our lives.
Leanbh has gifted us with an extract.
Leanbh: This is an extract is from a short story “The Golden Lion-Monkey” published in Leo (Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Zodiac, #8) by Deadset Press, 2020. This is one in a series of Gaslamp fantasies exploring alternate history and LGBTQI+ characters challenging scientific and societal boundaries at the time of the European Enlightenment.
The following scene is a discussion between Lady Rosanna Corrano and her maid Delia, hinting at societal constraints. Rosanna’s alternate persona, Doctor Leo, is able to achieve as a man what Rosanna as a woman cannot.
Extract from “The Golden Lion-Monkey”
The view of the city beyond the carriage window was obscured by mist or pollution and, clutching at my parasol, I considered how I was about to be paraded through the gallery as if I were an item on show like the paintings. This event felt like a charade contrived so London society might see Lord James Amsworth and Lady Rosanna Corrano in each other’s company and intense speculation could begin about our prospects. The helplessness of my situation made me grind my teeth in frustration.
“My lady?” I met Delia’s concerned gaze. A few rebellious red curls had escaped their bondage again, threatening to incite more.
“Delia,” I said, smoothing the edges of my fingerless lace gloves. “How do you manage to control my hair so skilfully when your own looks like a viper’s nest?”
“Some parts of us are easier controlled than others, my lady.”
“Well said.” I smiled. “You remind me that though I wear the accoutrements of a noble woman today, my spirit will always be that of Leo.”
“Maybe one day you can be whole, my lady,” she said, glancing at me. “There are many areas of this city where one such as yourself could live openly.”
“Disreputable areas?” I asked, quirking an eyebrow.
“Maybe,” she said with a grin. “But ones where life has more freedom.”
“Albeit also shorter,” I sighed. “No, Delia. I am as much Rosanna as I am Leo. Perhaps you could run some errands today for Doctor Leo?”
“And leave you and Lord Amsworth unaccompanied? Such a thing is scandalous, and I would likely lose my position for it, my lady.”
“Lord Amsworth assures me his elderly aunt is accompanying us.” I squeezed her hand. “This horrid gallery is her idea apparently.”
“You believe him?” Delia asked, raising her eyebrows.
“Unfortunately, yes,” I sighed as the carriage pulled sharply to a halt before the museum steps. “I imagine he is as thoughtless as everything has previously indicated.”
Delia frowned. “Are you certain you don’t judge him unfairly? Perhaps even against rationality, my lady?”
I ignored her accusation as the mech-work iron steps rolled into place. The footmen opened the door and, placing my embroidered slipper on a step, I held my hand out to the footman for assistance. Once on the footpath, I turned to Delia as she climbed more easily from the carriage, the simple servant’s attire less cumbersome.
“What could be better to inspire a woman’s fragile mind than an entire gallery of still-life paintings?” I asked.
Delia grimaced. “My errands suddenly sound much more appealing,” she waved the note I had given her in the air. “You need these collected for the auction Doctor Leo is attending tonight?”
Scanning the crowd gathered on the wide front steps of the building, I nodded in agreement to Delia, watching her quick bow of acknowledgment before she joined the flow of servants and merchants on their daily errands.
I turned to the wide front steps of the building behind me, the classical-style colonnades replicating Greco-Roman architecture. Staring up at the leaden grey sky and the soot-covered stonework, I longed to disappear into the crowd and follow Delia.
From “The Golden Lion-Monkey”, Leo (Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Zodiac, #8) published by Deadset Press, 2020.
I’ve read that anthology and I loved every story in it. Do give it a go! Thanks Leanbh for sharing.
The lure of the ocean and a love of speculative fiction combine in the works of Australian author Rebecca Fraser. But these are not this writer’s only strengths. I recently read and reviewed Rebecca’s book of short stories Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract for Aurealis magazine, using words like:
“Fraser’s insight and eye for detail imbue every story, and her imaginative scope encompasses a prodigious variety of settings and characters. Keep this little book of horrors close.”
Going forward with the idea of an inspiring 2021, I recently asked Rebecca to contribute to my blog with a reflection about what inspires her writing, and – you guessed it – a bonus FREE EXTRACT! Read on…
Inspired by Life
REBECCA: Thanks so much for having me on you blog, Clare. I always love reading answers to this question! For me, inspiration is usually drawn from multiple sources. Sometimes it’s a snatch of overhead conversation (I’m a dreadful eavesdropper, but aren’t all writers?), that inspires the kernel of a story. An article or news item might trigger inspiration, or sometimes a random sequence of words strike me as an intriguing story title. I often glean glimpses and glimmers of inciting incidents or thought-provoking situations from random sources, and little building blocks of plot and setting start to form a framework. The characters always seem to come later.
I walk a lot too—for physical and mental exercise. There are some lovely walks that surround my home on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, and when it’s just me alone with my thoughts, immersed in nature, this is usually when the threads of a story come together, or when I get resolution to a plot point that might have been proving problematic.
As far as what I find inspiring on a personal level, it’s often drawn from deep wells where people have thrown off the cloak of repression or revolted against the abuse of power and privilege and marginalisation, sometimes at enormous sacrifice and cost. It’s people at their best versus people at their worst—the human condition is a perennial source of fascination to me. Courage, retribution, and comeuppance often find a place within my stories.
I chose this piece as the events, characters, and setting are a fusion of my love for the ocean and my love of speculative fiction. Much of my work carries a nautical theme or features a coastal setting, so it was a pleasure to write in familiar territory.
I also wanted to tackle issues and themes that are relevant to today’s youth, and thirteen-year-old Curtis Creed proved a worthy vehicle to use for this. The book highlights several themes: the acceptance of great loss, the differing effect grief can have on family members, courage in the face of adversity, self-worth, self-belief, self-acceptance, and respect for our environment.
It’s set in Queensland, in the fictional coastal township of Midnight Cove. I’m a former Queensland girl, so I feel like I’ve walked the shoreline of Midnight Cove many times, and delved deep into the hidden world of rockpools. Perhaps, like Curtis, I should have delved deeper … who knows what I might have found? 😊
EXTRACT from Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean
Curtis Creed stood at the water’s edge. Come back to me, the ocean sighed. Come back to me. But he couldn’t. Not today. Not ever.
He squinted against the afternoon sun and focused on the line-up of surfers gathered out past the second break. Even though they were far offshore, Curtis’ trained eye was able to pick out their various techniques—weight transfers, body positions, timing. It was second nature. If you weren’t in the surf yourself then you were watching other surfers; scrutinising their moves, checking out their styles.
He’d stood at the shoreline for so long his feet had become anchored, buried ankle-deep in the sand with the ebb and pull of the tide. Out among the breakers, a surfer powered down the face of a beautifully formed wave before disappearing into the pipeline. Remember that feeling? the ocean breathed. Remember? Of course he remembered, but he couldn’t return to the surf. He just couldn’t.
Instead the school holidays dragged along—lonesome days spent wandering the shoreline of Midnight Cove or sitting high up on The Bluff, watching others chase waves. Sometimes, when the surf was really pumping, his sense of loss and failure was so suffocating it was easier to avoid the beach altogether.
Thwack. A wad of wet sand hit Curtis hard in the back, right between his shoulders. His buried feet caused him to lose balance and he pitched forward. He flung his arms out to steady himself too late, and landed in the water on all fours.
“Whatcha doing, Shark Crumb? Looking out for sharks?” The hated nickname. Loud guffaws. It was Dylan and his moronic mates. Why couldn’t his brother just leave him alone?
“Yeah, Shark Crumb. Seen any sharks lately?”
“Better get out of the water, Shark Crumb. They’ll smell your fear.”
Curtis stood up. His board shorts and the front of his singlet were soaked. He turned to face his tormentors. Dylan was flanked by Blake and Jordo, two of his mates from high school. They were fresh from the surf with wetsuits pulled down around their waists. Water dripped from their hair and trickled down their torsos. The boys had pressed their surfboards into the wet sand, where they stood upright like silent sentinels.
Then Curtis noticed Dylan was using their father’s surfboard and anger boiled inside him like lava in a volcano. The thruster stood between Blake and Jordo’s boards, a falcon between two pigeons. It was handcrafted for speed and could cut down the face of a wave like no other. Dimples of wax glinted from its surface, wax that remained from another time, applied in dawn’s first light by their father’s hand. The image sliced Curtis’ heart as cleanly as the board’s fin cut through water.
“Why have you got Dad’s board?” He was screaming now. He couldn’t help it. Didn’t care.
“What’s it to you? You never use it.” Dylan folded his arms across his chest.
“That’s not the point.” Curtis took a step closer to Dylan. “Dad left it to me. To me.” His voice was shaking now. Blake and Jordo circled like a pair of seagulls, cawing out the familiar taunt Shark Crumb, but Curtis barely heard them.
A tendon in Dylan’s neck began to pulse. He shaped up to Curtis so closely he could see the peppering of blackheads across Dylan’s nose. “Dad never would’ve left it to you if he knew you were going to turn into such a pussy.”
Before he’d even thought about what he was doing, Curtis punched Dylan in the face as hard as he could. The swing harnessed every ounce of his rage and the punch landed with a clap. Dylan fell backwards. His eyes widened with surprise then quickly clouded with danger. A droplet of blood fell from his nose and made a coin-sized stain on the wet sand.
It was time to go. Curtis turned and pelted off down the beach. Behind him he could hear Blake and Jordo give chase, but he knew he could outrun them. The stupid nickname rang out behind him, but as the distance grew the voices became fainter until they were eventually torn away by the ocean breeze.
He ran without looking back. His breath hitched in his chest. A ball of embers burned the back of his throat, but still he ran. Tears stung his eyes, but he also felt a thrill of exhilaration. He’d hit Dylan before, of course, and received his fair share back. Heck, they were brothers. They’d grown up with horse bites, birthday punches, Chinese burns, and the dreaded typewriter. But he’d never all out hauled off and decked him. It had felt good, but the brief rush of exhilaration was quickly replaced by terror at the thought what awaited him when he returned home. Especially as he’d managed to floor Dylan in front of his mates. His brother would no doubt have all kinds of retribution in store.
He decided to delay for as long as he could. As he rounded the southernmost end of Midnight Cove he slowed to a jog. Here the long stretch of beach gave way to a rocky shoreline heavily strewn with ancient lava boulders and rock pools. The rock shelf—a labyrinth of stones and shallows—skirted the great cliffs that rose to form Midnight Bluff, the town’s highest point.
The ocean’s teeth had gnashed the cliffs for thousands of years carving an alien landscape of rock face and rivulets. The rock pools closest to the sandy beach made safe watery playgrounds for children to explore with buckets and spades. Further round the headland, however, access was difficult and discouraged. The gentle waves that undulated through the bay had nowhere to go when they met land here, and they boomed and crashed over the rocks. The boulders were larger and denser, filled with ankle-breaking crevices and rock pools that were deceptively deeper than their beach-hugging counterparts. They filled and drained with the tide’s highs and lows.
Curtis knew Dylan wouldn’t follow him here. It wasn’t just the difficulty of access that would stop him, there were too many memories.
Curtis ignored his aching fist as he jumped gazelle-like from boulder to boulder. The ocean’s salt-tinged air whipped and whistled and he ventured deeper into the network of rock pools until the beach was completely out of sight.
Oh my goodness, that’s an exciting extract! Thank you so much, Rebecca, for sharing it with us today.
You can find Rebecca’s work at the links below. Enjoy 😉
Born in Sydney, Mikhaeyla now lives in the Hunter Valley with her husband, son, two rescue dogs, four Australorp chooks, a hive of cantankerous bees, and the occasional herd of beautiful Black Angus steers.
When she is not writing or reading, Mikhaeyla enjoys cooking with the produce harvested from her kitchen garden, going to the beach, stargazing, and training to be a ninja.
I’d better watch out, because ninjas are a bit scary. Time to turn over the post to Mikhaeyla!
Mikhaeyla talks about inspiration
Mikhaeyla: I’ve always been interested by stories that explore the (artificial) divide between us and them. Romeo and Juliet, Brave New World, Handmaid’s Tale, Hunger Games, Red Rising – they all show what it is to sort people into pre-defined boxes so that you can align yourself with one side and demonise the other. It’s part of our evolutionary psychology to seek out our ‘tribe’. Our biochemistry is designed to give us hits of happy chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin when we’re accepted into (and by) a group. It’s why we get so much pleasure from social validation or feeling like we’re part of a team, and why it’s so hard to break away from social norms or reject peer pressure.
I enjoy writing stories about characters who have to confront the neat boxes they’ve constructed for their identity (and the perceived identities of others) and engage in more complex, uncomfortable, and nuanced relationships because of it. Ellie Safak, a brilliant writer, gave a great TED talk a few years ago on the politics of fiction and she used this wonderful metaphor of circles – explaining how everything dies when it is surrounded (almost entombed) in a circle. I like putting my characters in situations where they are forced to break out of that circle.
Fascinating! And you have an extract to share?
This is an excerpt from the first book in my Divided Elementsseries, Resistance. The series is set in a future, dystopian Paris where everything is engineered, including identities, and a resistance movement has emerged to upset the carefully-constructed order. The first book follows Anaiya, a Peacekeeper who has her mind realigned to a different identity so that she can infiltrate the resistance movement and bring it down. In this scene, Anaiya has just got her first real lead and is about to embark on a night out in the hedonistic and carnival-like nightlife of the Northern Area:
The late afternoon light filters through oppressive brown clouds as Anaiya makes her way back towards the Ravignan Strip. She shivers past the long jagged shadows cast by Stricken Core on the ancient bricks of Ruzais Street, her boots slapping the uneven surface as the descent falls steeper and steeper.
Arriving at the start of the Ravignan Strip she stops to survey her target. The Lavoir izakaya rises seven storeys, its pale-brick walls following the sharp angle of the intersection and forming a wedge. Anaiya tilts her head back and stares up at its heights, intrigued by the way its triangular shape is softened by rounded corners that defy the geometric rigidity of rectangular bricks.
The strange perspective pushes her off-balance and she finds herself swaying like the treatment boats in the nearby River Syn. Closing her eyes tightly, she steps back to regain her balance, stopping abruptly when she collides with something behind her.
Spinning around, she is confronted by a smiling Elemental. It takes a moment for the surprise to fade, for her neocortex to kick in and allow her to assess him.
Male. Sixth lustrum. Six feet four inches, maybe five. Traces of skin ink on left arm from mid-ulna upwards. Non-hostile stance. Intelligent eyes.
“Hey,” he offers casually, reaching for the entry panel next to the izakaya door.
The door clicks and he pulls it towards him. Anaiya watches as his sleeve recedes further up his arm, revealing more of the skin pattern – thick, dark lines stretch into twisting ribbons, reaching up to cradle a skull.
“Hey,” she replies.
He stands there, the door still grasped in his hand.
“Going in, butterfly?” he asks, inclining his head towards the activity just beyond the door.
Anaiya blinks in recognition of the familiar nom de douceur. This Elemental with the interesting ink is the same one who barred her exit from izakaya last night.
She stares at him, trying to gauge his approach, interpret his intent. His body language is neutral, the smile still dancing at his lips. He is teasing her. Anaiya returns the smile involuntarily, enjoying the moment of levity even if it is at her expense, and ducks through into the Lavoir.
Inside, the lighting is dim. A score of ancient incandescent bulbs dangle from plastic cables, throwing soft light around the low-ceilinged, narrow space. Music beats and pulsates, bouncing off the wall and blending with the low hum of conversation. The air is rich with smells and noises.
Anaiya pauses, allowing her limbic brain to revel in the feast of sensations presented before her. The breeze at her back dies as the door to the izakaya clicks shut. She drifts between Air Elementals, slow-dancing a wandering path towards the bar. Her gaze tracks along its architecture; a long piece of graphene, suspended on transparent glass to seemingly float above the polished concrete floor.
The Earth Elemental behind the bar is two generations older than Anaiya, the lines of hard working and hard living marking her handsome face. Beside her, a now-familiar inked arm reaches out to plug its silver cable into the terminal.
“Five lyseracids,” he requests.
He looks over to her, eyes glinting in the yellow light.
“Six,” he says, amending his order.
The bartender turns her back to fill the order, leaving them alone in the small space buffeted by the throng of Elementals around them.
All Air Elementals possess a certain charisma: A freedom, a spontaneity, that sweats through their pores. As a Peacekeeper, Anaiya had detested it – passed it off as an arrogance and independence bordering on Heterodoxy. Tonight, she envies it.
“Where are you from?” he asks, tapping his fingers against the matte grey surface of the bar.
She runs her fingers along the graphene in a subconscious response, shadows lengthening and retracting under her fingers – her neocortex feeding her an appropriate response even while her limbic mind surrenders to the tactile and audio sensations assaulting it.
“Eastern Area,” she says.
“Yeah, you looked green,” he says, turning back to the bartender.
For Peacekeepers, the adjective is used for pups – inexperienced Trainees who don’t yet understand the way of the world.
“Why the transfer?” he asks, stacking the shot glasses in a narrow rectangular tray.
“Hypoxic demotion,” she says, feeding him the standard response.
He nods, handing her a shot glass brimming with the liquid lys.
“Bienvenue,” he says, his voice lilting in the pidgin convention of Air Elementals.
And with that, he retreats from the bar, never looking back, gripping the tray of lys and walking to the far end of the izakaya.
Anaiya shoots the dark liquid, a cloying sweetness coating her tongue. To her left, Air Elementals download their wristplate playlists via one of two terminals attached to the bar. A screen embedded in the bartop flashes with the music’s identifier – sometimes a name, other times a visual – before adding it to an updated queue. Bodies sway and dip and writhe in a contorted imitation of Anaiya’s free-running; their movements chaotic where hers were precise.
Thank you so much, Mikhaeyla. What an intriguing set up.
I’m so glad to meet you and your writing. Till next time!