Beginnings

 George had told her this was how the end would begin.

Ashanti tried to blink away the black spots, but they weren’t temporary afterimages. This was her body betraying her one last time. 

She gripped the doorframe. There would be no working today. Ever again? It was impossible to imagine.

“Ama?” Max tugged at her hand, and when she didn’t respond, he pressed his face hard into her side.  Ashanti put a hand on his head, feeling the soft curls, trying to steady her breathing. 

When she could control her voice, she said, “Can you walk Ama to her chair, Max?”

His tiny hand came up and gripped her fingers. Together, they walked to the chair, and Ashanti sank into it. Max climbed onto her lap. She couldn’t stand to see her son obscured by the dark spots, so she closed her eyes and hugged him close, focusing on his smell and the feel of his solid pudginess in her arms. She should call Hiram, tell him it had started. George said once it began, there would be days at most. But Ashanti made no move toward the comm. Instead she sat perfectly still, hugging her boy tightly, feeling his breathe move in and out. 

As he had been when he lived inside her, Max was content to snuggle close and be still for much longer than most children, but he was nearly two, which meant that he had to wiggle eventually. He pushed away and twisted around, putting a hand on each side of her face. 

“Seeping, Ama?” 

“No, beta, just resting.” Ashanti forced a smile and opened her eyes. She could only see one of his beautiful brown eyes and the round cheek under it. The rest was already in darkness. It’s fine, she told herself. You knew him before you could see him. It is just the same.

“Cool?”

“No. No school today. Today we’ll stay here.”

That brown eye squinted. He wasn’t happy. Max liked his routine, and though he wasn’t one to throw fits, lately he had started quietly crying when things didn’t go his way. She really should call Hiram. 

“We can do school at home, beta. How is that?”

The eye shifted as he cocked his head, and she now saw his little button nose. 

“Bocks?”

Ashanti wasn’t sure how she would manage, but she nodded anyway. “Yes. Go get your blocks.”

Max jumped down. She immediately missed his weight, holding her down, holding her together. When something hard bumped her knee, she opened her eyes again. Max was back with his box of geometric blocks. Ashanti slide down onto the floor next to her son. 

“What should we build?” she asked, even though she knew what the answer would be.

“Sar!”

“All right. What shapes do we need to make a star?” Fortunately, this dialogue was familiar to both of them, and Max didn’t really need help with the star anymore. George and Mia said it shouldn’t even be possible for a child his age to manipulate the blocks the way Max did. His spacial reasoning was off the charts, and though his motor skills couldn’t keep up, he made up for the lack with extreme persistence. Ashanti reached out and squeezed his shoulder. He shrugged her off, not wanting interference with his work. Something sharp and cold stabbed at her chest, and for a second Ashanti thought it was a new symptom. Then she recognized it as grief.

Her son had incredible gifts, and he was going to do something amazing with his life. Only she was going to miss it.

Her whole vision went black, and Ashanti didn’t even try to see through it. She had no idea how much time passed before the door opened with its soft chime. She recognized Hiram’s steady footsteps even before Max said, “Da!”

“Hey there, bigs. Look at what you made.”

“Sar! Un. Two. Tee.”

“Three stars. They’re wonderful. Maybe you can make a space ship to travel from star to star.”

Max immediately began rummaging in his block box again. 

Hiram’s voice came closer as he sat on the floor by Ashanti. “Bel said you were late coming in to the lab.”

Ashanti just nodded.

“It started?” 

She nodded again.

Hiram took her hand. “Too soon,” he said. “It was always going to be too soon.”

Ashanti couldn’t stop the tears as he pulled her close. 

After a while, he cleared his throat. “I’ll comm Tan and have him send Lil.”

“No,” Ashanti said into his shirt. “Not yet.” She took a deep breath, tried to pull herself together as she sat up. “There’s nothing for her to do here but watch her mother degenerate. She should stay at school.”

“Shanti.” He said her name so quietly that she opened her eyes. She still had that one patch of clarity, enough to see his mouth and chin as he said, “We only have a short time together. We need to be a family.”

Ashanti swallowed. She thought of Lil, just turned seven and full of energy. Every night for the last four months, the little girl had read to her mother while she endured the headaches or tried to control her shaking body. In the last few weeks, Lil had started picking up the family dinner from the mess, so that Hiram could walk Ashanti home from the labs. The girl knew what was coming, and she was already preparing to fill the mother’s role, playing with Max in the evenings and helping Hiram clean up the quarters. But who would fill her mother’s place in Lil’s life?

As always, Hiram was right. Lil needed every minute they had together. “Yes,” she said. 

After he made the call, Hiram sat silently next to her, holding her hand. They had gotten to the place now where no words were necessary. The marriage that had been a friendly partnership for the first twenty-five years had grown into something deeper and more exciting after the discovery of Una and Dua. They had changed course as a colony, and her private life had changed course at the same time. That year had been the best of her life.

Then one day her right hand had started trembling uncontrollably. The next day it was the entire right side of her body. George ran extensive tests. The news wasn’t just bad. It was the worst. An extremely rare degenerative disease. Genetic. Incurable.

“We keep discovering new techniques and inventing new cures, and our bodies respond by manufacturing new ways to die,” he had said. George wasn’t known for his bedside manner, and his anger at his own uselessness made him even more curt than usual. “We cure cancer; then we start seeing Throm’s disease. We find a treatment for HIV, and suddenly Gorhoff syndrome rears its head. We’ve managed to increase average life-span past a hundred, but it’s like there’s some invisible line we can’t cross.”

As a scientist, Ashanti understood why this frustrated him at macro level. As a woman, all she could see was her own imminent death. Four to six months, George said. He could give her drugs to help manage some symptoms, but there was no effective treatment. 

That was the first night she and Hiram passed holding hands and saying nothing. In the weeks that followed, they had many long talks that lasted until the early hours of the morning, but that first night there was only the fierce grip of shared pain. The same grip that held them now.

They could do these next few days together, but after that, they would each have a road to walk alone. In some ways that was the worst part. They had just learned how to really be together, and now it would end.

The door opened, and Lil ran in.The girl never walked when she could run. Ashanti caught a glimpse of wildly swinging brown curls and a perfectly formed ear before her daughter threw herself down beside her and wrapped her arms around her neck. Ashanti closed her eyes and willed the tears away. She needed to be strong. She needed to… Lil’s whole body shook, and Ashanti wrapped her arms around her girl and sobbed with her. 

The unfairness of it all ripped at her. Her father had been one of the architects of this colony. He and Hiram’s mother and father had written the charter, had recruited other families, had spearheaded the building of this ship. Ashanti had prepared for this mission since she was three years old. She had married Hiram and boarded the ship at age 20. She had helped steer the decision to move toward Una and Dua and had made the final calculations for their new course. She had studied those two planets for months as they decided which they should colonize first. She had worked all those years to get to this point: less than three months from landing on Una, from founding their first village, from beginning a brighter future. She would never see any of it now. She would never step foot on Una. She would never see her daughter grow into a woman and take over her father’s job as governor. She would never see Max realize his full genius, would never get to take him on as apprentice. How could you be so close to everything you ever wanted and then get none of it? 

Then Lil pulled away, leaving her hands gently on Ashanti’s shoulders. “Does it hurt?” she whispered. “Can I help?”

Ashanti’s sobs stilled even as the tears flowed harder. What kind of seven-year-old asked that? How could Ashanti say she hadn’t gotten all that she wanted when she had a child like this? Lil’s empathy and compassion. Max’s quiet brilliance. This was what the universe had given her and what she would leave to make a better future. Hiram’s steadiness and inner fire. This was what the universe had given her and what would guide her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“I’m not in pain,” she said to Lil. “All you need to do is be here.”

They all sat in silence for a long time.

“The department heads came to me yesterday,” Hiram said. “They said everyone has taken a vote. They want to name the first village after you. Shanti, they want to call it.” She could hear the lump in his throat.

Ashanti was moved by their affection, but..”That isn’t right,” she said.

“They want to remember you. You brought us here,” Hiram said.

“If they want to remember me, they should call it Wayland,” Ashanti said. She had taken Hiram’s last name when they married, not because she liked it or wanted to make Hiram happy but because it set a good example of family unity for the rest of the colony. Now she thanked her younger self for doing the right thing, even if her reasons were weak. “This. Us. This is what should be remembered. Not me alone.”

Hiram nodded and took her hand again. Max butted his head into her side again, and Lil cuddled close. Ashanti closed her eyes and just felt them all. Together, for as long as there was. 


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Turning Point

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a question of if. It’s only a question of which one.” Gil leaned back in chair and swiped a hand through his shaggy hair. There was a lot more grey mixed with the brown than there had been six months ago.

“We’re talking about throwing away a Plan that our fathers and mothers worked their whole lives constructing.” Belle kept her voice soft, but it was sharp at the corners. “You can’t seriously expect us to have no arguments at all.”

“No one is throwing away the Plan,” said Ashanti. She tried not to let her exhaustion show. “The location of our colony is only a small part of the charter. Its true principles will hold no matter where we settle…or when we arrive.”

“You can’t pretend it’s not a huge change,” Belle insisted.

“Of course it’s a huge change,” Hiram said, “but Shanti is right about it still being true to the charter. I would remind you that the Plan includes the need for adaptation to new discoveries. In considering this new course, we are following the Plan perfectly. Not…” he said forcefully as Belle opened her mouth again “…that we are taking the decision lightly.”

Ashanti marveled again at her husband’s controlled energy. As the rest of them had become progressively more drained in the weeks of work since discovering Una and Dua, Hiram seemed to gain vitality. On the surface, he maintained his steady demeanor, but underneath a fire had been lit.

“We’ve been studying the system for more than five months now,” Gil complained. “No one in this room has had a decent night’s sleep in all that time. We know more about these two planets than we do about Theta Prime, and every single thing we’ve learned tells us that they are both a hundred times more suited for human habitation than Theta Prime will ever be. I can’t believe this isn’t already decided.”

“It will be by tomorrow night,” Hiram said. He was watching Ashanti, and she saw the worry in his eyes. “You’re right. We’ve done the work we needed to do, and it’s time to get everyone back to a more reasonable routine. But we will discuss the decision at length in a full gathering tonight. Everyone will get a say. In this, as in all other things, we will follow the Plan. Everyone’s life depends on it.”

“Sure,” growled Gil. “I’m all about letting everyone have their say. As long as we make the right decision when they’re done.” He turned on Belle. “Tell me you don’t think these planets are our best chance for survival.”

“As it happens, I do,” Belle said. “But people are afraid of a change this big. You can’t force it on them.”

“God save us from shrinks forevermore,” Gil muttered. 

“We all want the same thing,” Hiram reminded him. “We always have. Now, enough talking. There’ll be plenty of that tonight. Everyone take the afternoon off. And I mean OFF. Go back to your quarters. Read a book. Take a nap. Think about anything but Una and Dua.”

“Its name is Bhaskara,” Gil said for the hundredth time.

No one answered. 

Ashanti smiled to herself as Hiram helped her to her feet. As the discoverer of the binary planets, Gil had been given the honor of naming them. He had immediately named the larger one Una, after his Russian grandmother on Earth. In the three days it took him to decide on a name for Una’s sister planet, his staff had started referring to it as Dua. It was a joke, but it took hold. Even though Bhaskara was the official name of record for the smaller planet, everyone but the chief astronomer called it Dua.

In their family quarters, Ashanti eased herself down onto her usual chair, leaning back and closing her eyes. She was only six months along, and already her belly was as big as it had been full-term with Lil. It was like lugging around a melon everywhere she went. These months would have been exhausting even without trying to grow someone inside her body. With it, the edges of her brain were permanently fogged over.

Not that she would want it any other way. Just last month they had found out the baby was a boy. A son. She didn’t know how Hiram felt about it–there had been no time for talking about anything other than Una and Dua–but Ashanti walked around with the same feeling she had when she solved a difficult equation, every number and symbol falling perfectly into place. One girl. One boy. They were complete. Even her ridiculous size was a comfort. This was a quiet little guy, only occasionally moving around to let her know he was okay. After Lil, who punched and kicked non-stop until her release, Ashanti found this baby’s stillness strange. If it weren’t for her rapidly-expanding waistline, she might have been truly worried.

“I didn’t know it was possible for a person to look so exhausted and so happy at the same time,” Hiram said. 

Ashanti opened her eyes a crack to see her husband watching her with a half smile.

“Well, I didn’t know it was possible for a person to look so tranquil and so agitated at the same time,” she said.

Hiram’s smile disappeared, and for a second, she thought she had offended him, but he considered her words thoughtfully.

“That’s how I feel,” he said finally. “I feel calm, purposeful. I have as much surety as I ever had. But I also feel something I didn’t before.”

Ashanti’s sleepiness faded, her brain clearing up as much as it ever did these days. She waited for him to go on.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” he said. “I don’t have the words.”

She could have let it go. She and Hiram had been married for twenty-five years, and though there was plenty of affection, neither was in the habit of sharing their personal feelings. Most of their years together, they had felt more like coworkers than lovers. But something had changed in Hiram, and after watching it slowly grow these last weeks, Ashanti found that she wanted very much to understand it.

“You’re excited about this change in the Plan. We’ll arrive so much sooner.”

“Yes. Yes, that must be a part of it, surely. But…” Hiram sat down in the chair opposite her, leaned forward with his forearms resting on his knees, almost like he was going to tell her a secret. “From the moment I heard about these planets and realized we would have to make a huge decision, it was like…”

“…something came alive.”

“Yes. Exactly that.”

“I saw it,” Ashanti said.

Hiram studied her face, and Ashanti dropped her eyes. She was thankful she wasn’t given to blushes. It was uncomfortable to talk like this. 

After a long silence, Ashanti looked up again. Hiram had leaned back, but he still watched her. She tried to smile like this conversation was normal.

“You think you’re just ready to get off this ship?” she asked, mostly so that he would have to talk again.

“Aren’t we all?” he said. “But no, I think…I think I was waiting all this time to have something to do.”

“You work as hard as any of us. You always have.”

He waved a hand dismissively. “I collect everyone’s work. I listen to complaints. I keep files and records. A robot could do those things. But my father trained me to look ahead, to bring the future into the present. He always told me it would require resourcefulness and adaptability to make the Plan into a reality, but until now it was all just…execution.”

Oh, thought Ashanti as the disconnected pieces fell into place. “You have been governing, but now you get to lead.”

Hiram’s breath rushed out.  “Yes.” His surface control broke down for just a moment, and he sagged in his chair. 

After a second he looked up, and this time when he caught Ashanti’s eye, she didn’t look away. “Thank you,” he said. “You made that sound almost…reasonable.”

She meant to tell him that it was perfectly reasonable, that anyone would understand why he was happier with a problem to solve, that she felt the same. Instead, she said, “I like you this way.”

The words felt simultaneously inadequate and much too revealing. The way Hiram’s eyes darkened told her that he heard what was under them. 

For a long moment Ashanti held herself perfectly still, returning her husband’s gaze, barely daring to breathe. Then the little one inside gave a single kick, and her eyes widened. She pulled Hiram’s hand to her belly, but their boy was still again.

“Sorry,” she said. “He doesn’t move much.”

“He has his mother’s calm,” Hiram answered.

“Or his father’s self-control.”

Hiram took a deep breath. “Yes. About that.”

“It’s maybe not necessary all the time,” Ashanti said. 

Her husband smiled.

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Hidden from Sight

Welcome to February and Build-a-World month! I’ve been working for a while now on the research for a new book, and I’m having to invent a whole planet or two to make it happen. For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting short stories from the history of this new world and I’ll throw in a few informational posts about what you might find if you travel there. All questions and comments are welcome! 


Ashanti knew exactly what her day was going to look like.

In five minutes, the chime of her alarm would sound. She would get up, brush her teeth, put on a fresh jumpsuit. In the mess, she would get a tube of strong hot tea and drink it while she looked over the previous day’s reports. There would be just enough time when she was finished to wake Lil and get her ready for school before reporting to the lab section. She had tests running, but none of them were very interesting. She had calculations waiting to be finished, but they were just double checks of previous work. Worst of all, it was her day to be shadowed by the apprentice astrophysicist. Jim was a nice enough kid and certainly brilliant, but he had a tendency to hum without realizing he was doing it. By the end of the day, Ashanti would be tearing her hair out, but she’d take deep breaths as she walked to dinner in the family cabin. Hiram always collected the food after he had picked Lil up from her class. They would eat and trade boring stories about their boring days. If they were lucky, Lil would have something amusing to report from the children. There would be a blessed hour with her violin while Lil played nearby. Then bedtime stories. Ashanti would read her novel when Lil had been tucked in. Hiram would interrupt her from time to time with comments on his own book. When she’d had enough, she’d say goodnight. She’d fall asleep. It would all start over again the next day.

When Ashanti’s father had told her she would see the stars, would colonize a whole new planet, she had thought it would be exciting. How naive she had been.

Ashanti sat up and turned off the alarm before it could chime. There. One thing that was different from yesterday, at least.

For a brief moment, she considered skipping her teeth-brushing, but she banished the thought sternly. What was wrong with her? She wasn’t a petulant 18-year-old. She was forty-five, a scientist, a mother, a leader of a historic community. She brushed her teeth.

The mess was empty when she walked in, but Michele and Irina came in while she waited for her tea to heat. They nodded at her and went straight for the coffee. Luckily, they weren’t morning talkers. 

Ashanti set her tea on the corner table and keyed open her tablet. Then she sat for a few minutes, not ready to face the reports. Absentmindedly, she sipped at her tea and burnt her tongue. The pain felt almost good. 

Ashanti shook her head. This wasn’t like her. She loved this ship. She loved the future they were headed toward. She loved her work. She loved her community. She had been helping to lead them for the last twenty-five years without faltering. True, when she had turned forty, there had been a brief bout of depression, but that was normal. She spent a few hours talking with friends and wrote longer-than-usual entries in her journal. Then a few weeks later, she found out she was pregnant with Lil, and there was enough excitement in her life to banish any boredom.

All the reports in her inbox were marked green except one. The astronomers had sent her something with a red flag. They did that every few months. Gil was an excitable guy, and they were traveling through space no one else had visited. The last time he had sent one, it had been…

Ashanti froze. Slowly she lowered the tablet. 

The last time.

The last time she had felt this way…

She picked up the tea and sipped carefully, determined not to jump to conclusions. She would go get Lil up and off to school. Then she would visit Mia on the way to the lab. She would not hurry. She would not do anything to alarm anyone. She would not read those reports, either. They could wait.

Dr. Mia Lang was only thirty-two years old and still technically an apprentice to her distinguished father, but Ashanti always preferred to visit Mia on the rare occasions she needed a doctor. George was not as brilliant with people as he was with diseases.

“You were right,” Mia said as the results of the blood test scrolled across her screen. “You’re probably not even two weeks along based on these levels. How did you know?”

From long force of habit, Ashanti kept all of her emotions contained and addressed the question. “I recognized the feeling.”

Mia grinned. “That’s impressive for something that’s only happened once before. Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Ashanti said, and she meant it, though her answering smile was all she would allow herself. 

“Are you going to go straight to Hiram?” 

“I think this might be worth interrupting his work, don’t you?”

“If you don’t, I will,” Mia said with a laugh. “And would you like to be the one to tell my father, or can I do that?”

“Oh, I think you’ve earned that right.”

“He was sure it wasn’t going to happen without in vitro,” Mia said. 

“Between you and me, I was about six months from telling him he was right, but there’s no need for him to know that now.”

“Absolutely not. He needs to be wrong from time to time. Keeps him from getting a big head.”

“Thank you, Mia. Really.”

“Hey, it was you and Hiram who made the decision. I carried out your wishes, just like the charter says.”

“Yes, but the charter doesn’t say anything about being kind. That was all you.”

Mia smiled. “Congratulations.”

Ashanti walked out of the tiny medical bay and down toward the governor’s office. A second child. Hiram would be so happy they were finally fulfilling their responsibility. The charter didn’t demand the colonists to have children, but the Plan depended on most doing so. Two to three children per couple was ideal. There was plenty of genetic material on board to make that possible for anyone, but Ashanti had wanted to hold out for natural conception. It wasn’t a spiritual or ethical issue. She just knew herself. She didn’t easily connect with people. Without the full biological experience, she wasn’t sure she would properly bond with her child. Not that she had ever said that out loud to anyone.

Hiram had supported her without understanding her real motivation. He had his own reasons for not rushing to have more children. According to the charter, one of their children would one day take his place as governor. They would not arrive at Theta Prime for another thirty-three years. The younger that new leader was when they arrived, the better for the colony. This timing was perfect. Hiram would be pleased, though he would almost surely express it with trite platitudes. 

Ashanti sighed. She wasn’t being completely fair. Hiram was a good man. He was kind and he was fair and he was determined to lead the colony to a successful life on Theta Prime. It wasn’t his fault if he wasn’t terribly original. It wasn’t his fault that he sometimes seemed to be all training and no personality. His ability to stay the course and execute the Plan made him perfect for his position. Most days she appreciated his dependability and calm. On a space ship, predictability was gold.

It was just at moments like this that she wondered. Was it possible to be too dependable? Was there no room for spontaneous feeling?

When the door to the governor’s office opened, Hiram was not behind his desk. He was standing with a cluster of admins and he didn’t look surprised to see her.

“You saw it?” he said as soon as Ashanti stepped inside. 

She had been so focused on her own news that she didn’t register the question at first.

“What do you think?”

“About what?” 

It was Hiram’s turn to look confused.

“This is huge,” said Gil from the corner. She hadn’t even seen him there. 

Ashanti took a deep breath to clear her head. “I think I missed something.”

“You didn’t read the astronomy report?”

“No, I…”

“They found another habitable planet.”

“Two habitable planets,” said Gil.

“Possibly,” Hiram said.

Ashanti pushed her own news aside. It could wait until they were alone.

“Where?” she asked. 

“2.43 light years away!” crowed Gil.

Ashanti raised an eyebrow. “That would mean…”

“With deceleration time, we have about six months to decide if we want to pursue it.”

“That’s not enough time for thorough studies,” Ashanti said.

“Wait til you see it,” said Gil. “We won’t even need six months. I’ve never seen anything so perfect.”

If there was one thing Ashanti’s father had taught her, it was that things that seemed too good to be true, were. He had learned that on the supposed utopia of the Lunar Scientific Colony.

“We’ll take every minute we have before making a decision,” said Hiram. “We’re putting the whole scientific team on this in every minute that can be spared. I have no intention of changing a plan that was seventy years in the making on a whim.”

Ashanti studied her husband’s face. Something was different. There was a thrum of excitement in his voice that belied his cautious words, and his eyes didn’t quite meet hers. 

“How have we never seen this planet before?” she asked.

“Planets. Plural. They were hidden from view of Earth by a cluster of stars and only came into our field of study four days ago. Believe me, we ran two dozen studies and ten thousand equations before I wrote that report. We’ve been staring at only this day and night. It’s a complete game-changer.”

She had thought Gil was excitable before. The manic look he wore now made the other times look calm.

“I’ll read the report and get my people on it immediately,” she said. 

“I’m making a ship-wide announcement tonight at the gathering,” Hiram said. “Full disclosure and all hands on deck is the only way we’re going to collect enough data to be reasonably sure of our course.”

“Agreed.”

Ashanti turned to go before they all noticed that her head was spinning. Had anyone ever been more wrong about a day than she was this morning?

“Ashanti.” Hiram put a hand on her arm. “If you didn’t read the report, then you came here for something else. Did you need something?”

The fact that he would ask that, would notice, even with something so huge on his mind was what made her husband such a great leader. It was the reason she had come to love him in her fashion, in spite of her doubts.

“It can wait. This can’t.”

He nodded. “No family dinner tonight with the gathering. Tea afterwards, maybe?”

Ashanti smiled. “You might want to make it coffee. I don’t think any of us are going to get much sleep.”

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Checking In

Hello, friends! 

You may have noticed that things have been very quiet around here for the last month. Since the publication of The Shattered Heart, I’ve taken a little writing break. Now that The Book of Sight series is done, it’s time to contemplate other projects, and I’m having a lot of fun doing that. A whole new fantasy series is brewing in the back of my mind, not to mention a stand-alone sci-fi novel and a couple of shorter children’s books. 

I’ll be back in this space in February for my first ever “Build a World” experiment. I hope you all join me and pitch in any ideas you have. In the meantime, if you want to know what I’m reading and thinking about these days, check out my Tumblr. It’s full of random tidbits, and I update it pretty regularly.

See you in another couple of weeks! 

Deb

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Winners!


Our big Book of Sight giveaway has come to an end, and we have our winners!!!

I entered the emails of all of the newsletter subscribers into RandomResult and we came up with the lucky two.

Congratulations to sagler and ruthann!

The winners have been emailed and will each be receiving an entire set of The Book of Sight to give away for Christmas or keep for themselves!

If you weren’t one of the lucky two, there’s still time to get yourself a set before the snow falls and the holiday fever sets in! You can get them in paperback or ebook, and if you buy the whole set together, there’s a discount!

Happy Christmas, everyone. Hope it’s merry and bright.

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A piece of sky


I said the sky was falling
And my mother told me no
She says that is impossible
But I know that ain’t so

It fell in tiny pieces
That splashed my hands and feet
And then ran back together
And pooled up in the street

It fell and fell all morning
Like it would never stop
And I started to be worried
There’d be none left up on top

But when I woke from napping
The sun was bright up in the blue
There was lots of sky left up there
But was some left down here, too?

I slipped outside and looked around
And then I saw a glimmer
A piece of sky lay on the street
And shone with sky-ish shimmer

The same blue as the sky above
It lay there flat and still
It even had some fluffy clouds
That floated through at will

It looked so far away from home
So lonely on the ground
Like that one time I ran away
And prayed I would be found

So I got out my shiny rock
Reached out and dropped it in
It seemed to like my gift because
It paid me back with ten

The water droplets sprayed my legs
I smiled at my new friend
I ran and gathered other stones
That I could give to him

We traded stones for water drops
‘Til, with my sneaky grin,
I tackled him with all my might
He soaked me to the skin

My giggles must have gotten loud
‘Cause then mom came outside
She told me to go change my clothes
I turned and waved good-bye

Next day that piece of sky was gone
I guess that he went home
At night he must have missed the stars
Night’s hard when you’re alone

But I’m sure someday he’ll come back
If only for a day
‘Cause now I know why he fell down
He wanted time to play

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It’s Here!

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The Shattered Heart is here!

Buy it straight from me, or get it on Amazon.

Either way you don’t want to miss this. Things are going down.

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Happy Christmas shopping, everyone!

 

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The Shattered Heart – Final Deleted Scene


It’s only 2 days until you can read The Shattered Heart for yourself! In the meantime, here’s one last deleted scene that takes place just a couple of months before The Shattered Heart begins. Warning: it’s about to get real.

Somehow Adam drove from home to the edge of town without even noticing.

When he got in his car, planning a quick visit to the Gylf, he had started thinking through all of his questions again. When Alex had been attacked last fall, they had assumed Candice’s pet was crazed from the loss of its mistress, but after Dom and Logan had nearly lost their feet to frostbite, they were forced to admit that someone was still out to get them. Even though the papers they had taken from Candice’s cave had seemed useless, they were still the closest thing the Circle had to a clue about their enemy. Adam had been puzzling over them for the last few months without making much progress.

Candice’s notebook mostly just outlined her plan for attacking them last summer. The margins were filled with hateful comments. It wasn’t a pleasant read. Adam was more interested in the stack of letters that had been tucked inside. Someone was communicating with Candice on a regular basis, but it was impossible to tell who. The letters were written in come kind of code that mingled banal phrases about the weather with nonsense words. Nothing Adam had tried so far had helped him make sense of them. His latest attempt was to make a list of all the words that had to do with plants and animals and ask the Gylf what they knew about those things. It was a long shot, but Adam was desperate. So far, the worst damage they’d received was Logan losing all the toenails in his right foot, but it was pure luck that nothing worse had happened.

They couldn’t count on luck forever.

Adam slammed on the brakes when he realized that he had just driven past the Gylf forest. The road was deserted out here, so he backed along it until he came to the spot where he usually parked.

“You’re an idiot,” he muttered to himself. “You should know better than to think and drive.”

Grabbing his notepad off the passenger seat, Adam jumped out of the car. He figured he had about an hour before his mom would be expecting him for dinner. Being late wasn’t an option.

The grass by the side of the road had grown tall, and Adam pushed through it impatiently. It was a relief to reach the edge of the forest. Under the trees, he knew the going would be easier. They all walked the path often enough to keep it clear.

Adam rounded the first big tree trunk and, out of habit, ducked under the low-hanging branches on the other side.

Two steps later, the ground erupted in front of him as a thousand stinging insects swarmed out toward his face.

Adam threw his hands up in a futile protective gesture. His notepad dropped unnoticed on the forest floor.

All the world was buzzing and dozens of pain points erupted on Adam’s arms and neck as he was stung over and over. There was no defense but to get away.

Adam ran, fleeing up the path toward the Gylf’s home, batting away insects as he went, forgetting everything but the instinct to get to safety.

The pain on his arms and neck spread down his back and then to his face. It was getting harder to see, and he realized his eyes were swelling shut.

Adam tripped on a branch and stumbled to his knees. Standing up again was impossible, so he curled into a ball, his face tucked into his legs, his arms covering his head. He could still hear buzzing all around, mixed with smacking noises that made no sense to his fuzzy brian.

He waited for more stings.

He waited to die.

The next thing he felt was the pressure of tiny hands pushing his arms aside. Through the slits that were his eyes, he saw several Gylf examining his injuries with concern.

“All is well now, Adam,” a soothing voice said. “Your attackers are gone. Terfol is being brought. He will tend to your wounds.”

Adam tried to express his thanks, but only a croaking sound came out.

“Hush,” said the voice. “Do not try to speak. Rest now.”

Adam slipped into a dark dream, only surfacing from time to time. Once he felt something cool being pressed against his neck. Another time, he heard many voices. He thought he recognized Logan’s, but he slipped away again before he could be sure.

When Adam came fully awake, it was dark in the woods. A fire crackled nearby, and he saw dark figures sitting around it. His eyes opened a little further than before, and the unbearable pain of earlier was reduced to a dull ache and some itchiness. He tried to lift his head, but that proved impossible.

“He’s awake,” Eve said. “Hey, Champ. How you feeling?”

A grunt was all Adam could manage.

“That’s about what we figured,” Eve said. She and Alex crouched over him, working together to lift his head slightly and drizzle water into his mouth.

“How long…” he managed once he had swallowed some.

“A few hours,” Alex said. “It’s about 10 o’clock. Don’t worry. Your mom thinks you’re spending the night at Logan’s house.”

“Thanks…Those things…”

“Yeah, they did a number on you,” Eve said, “but the Gylf say you’re going to be okay. Luckily for you, you ran right into a group of them taking care of an abandoned baby fox. They fought off the stingers…and paid the price for it.”

“Price…?”

“It’s nothing you need to worry about now,” Alex said. “Terfol wants you to rest tonight. If you do, he thinks the swelling will be down by tomorrow, and you can go home.”

She turned away, but Adam grabbed her arm. “Alex…?”

She sighed and shook her head.

“A few of them got stung,” Eve said. “Terra got it the worst. She was hit several times. She…she didn’t make it.”

Adam dropped his hand. Alex’s shoulders were shaking.

“It’s not your fault, Adam.” Eve’s voice was angry. “If the Gylf hadn’t been here, it would be you that would be dead. No one is blaming you. It’s whoever is sending these attacks. They don’t care who gets hurt.”

Her words washed over Adam with no meaning.

Terra. He thought of her dark hair and expressive eyes. She was the first Gylf he had ever met. How could she just be gone?

He should have seen this coming. He should have known. He should have taken it all more seriously. He should have…

“We’re going to find who did this,” Eve said. “We will.”

Yes, they would.

“We’re going to find them, and we’re going to end them.”

Adam closed his eyes and held onto her words with all his might.


Just two more days! 

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The Shattered Heart – Deleted Scene 2


It’s just a little over a week until The Shattered Heart comes out! For those who are waiting, here’s part two of the deleted scenes that lead us up to the big day. If you missed part one, you can find it here. Now grab a cup of tea or cocoa. Things are about to get cold.

Dominic slid his shovel under the snow and lifted it up, tossing the frozen mess to the side in one motion. He had forgotten how long his grandparents’ driveway was. He forgot every year, until the first snowfall came along to remind him, but it had been longer this time. The first snowfall had come weeks ago, and Dom hadn’t been there to clear it away.

“I already said thank-you, but I should say it again,” he said to Logan, who wielded his own snow shovel a few feet away. “Not just for today. All the other times, too.”

“It’s nothing,” Logan said, still working.

Dom stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. He gestured at the half-cleared driveway. “This is not nothing.”

Logan grinned. “True. But it feels like nothing when she gives you those cookies at the end.”

Dom picked up his shovel again. Cookies sounded good. Not that he hadn’t been stuffed full of all of his favorite foods since he came home three days ago, but Abuela’s cinnamon sugar cookies were perfection.

There was no more talking for a long time. The only sound was the scrape of the shovels on the pavement and the soft plop of the wet snow on the banks as the two boys moved slowly farther away from the house.

If Logan hadn’t stopped mid-motion and straightened up, Dom might not have even noticed the tiny figure at the end of the drive. It was the size of a little girl and dressed all in white with a blue hood covering its head. If not for that hood, it would have been impossible to see against the snow.

Dom knew instantly that it wasn’t a little girl.

“What the…?” Logan said.

“Watch out!” Dom yelled.

It was too late. The tiny figure had raised its arms and streams of liquid shot toward them.

Dom ducked his head, but that wasn’t where the stranger was aiming. Before he knew what had happened, Dom’s feet and legs were soaked with water which instantly froze into ice.

Dom tried to yank his foot away from the ground, but it was already frozen in place and the streams of liquid from his attacker were still coming, thickening the ice with every second.

Dom reached down with his hands, only to have one of them take the brunt of the attack. Immediately his fingers were numb.

He straightened and used his other hand to hurl the shovel toward the source of the water. It was too far, and the shovel dropped into the snow without a sound, but it seemed to scare his enemy, at least. The streams of water stopped. The little figure darted away, its blue hood disappearing behind a snow bank.

“You okay?” Logan grunted.

“It got my hand,” Dom said. “You?”

“Can’t feel my feet,” said Logan.

“Me either.”

They were both encased in a four-inch layer of ice from the knee down.

“We have to get out of this,” Logan said. “We’ll get frostbite.”

“Use your shovel,” said Dom.

Logan began to beat at his own feet with the plastic tool. Luckily, it was a quality snow shovel, with a metal tip along the edge for clean snow removal. It chipped away at the ice until Logan was able to pull one leg out. Dom watched him, beating his frozen hand against his chest until the ice cracked and he could take off his glove. Then he pulled his arm up inside his coat, warming his hand against his own skin.

As soon as Logan had both feet free he stumbled to his knees. “I still can’t feel them at all,” he said as he started to work on Dom’s legs.

“As soon as I’m loose, we’ll get in the house. Abuela has a fire going.”

“I don’t think I can walk,” Logan said.

“Then we’ll crawl. There’s no way to get warm out here.”

“Wait. There is something,”Logan said. Dom’s right foot was free now. “In my pocket. Leaves from the wine tree.”

“You have some here?”

“I always bring them when I shovel. Hand warmers.”

“Get them out then. Give me the shovel. I can finish this.”

“You only have one hand. And I’m almost…there!” Logan fell back, panting and dropped the shovel.

Dom tried to take a step and tumbled sideways into the snow bank. “I think you were right about the walking.”

“Here.” Logan shoved a handful of red leaves into Dom’s good hand.

Both boys stripped off their boots and socks and crumpled the leaves, pressing them against their bare skin.

“Socks back on now?” Logan asked.

“Yes,” Dom sighed. Though the crumpled leaves had felt hot in his hand, his feet still felt nothing. He tried not to panic.

“What was that thing?” said Logan in the tone of someone who was trying to distract himself.

“No idea, but it wasn’t a friend.”

They sat in silence for a minute before Logan said. “I think I can feel my toes a little.”

Dom concentrated on his feet. He tried to wiggle them. They moved just the tiniest bit.

“It’s working,” he said.

“You ready to try walking again?”

Dom nodded.

“Who’s going to help who?” Said Logan.

Dom slid his feet over to brace against Logan’s and held out his hand. “We’re going to have to pull each other up at the same time.”

Logan gripped Dom’s hand tightly. “Easy peasy, right?”

“We’ve done harder things,” Dom answered.

“On three then. One…two…

“Three!”

If you enjoyed this short trip into the world of The Book of Sight, sign up for my newsletter to get even more deleted scenes and special sneak peeks. Plus, if you sign up before December 5, you’ll be eligible to win an entire set of The Book of Sight series! (Click through for details.)

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The Shattered Heart – Deleted Scene 1


For those of you who are anxiously awaiting the release of Book 5, The Shattered Heart, I’ve got a little treat today. This story was originally a part of Chapter 1 of TSH, but it was cut to move the action along. This scene, along with two others that I’ll share later, takes place in the year that passed between the end of The Poisoned Cure and the beginning of The Shattered Heart. SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read The Poisoned Cure yet, don’t read the below. Instead, go get it already!
Alex loved fall. The days were still warm, but the nights were crisp and cold. She got to wear her jeans every day again, and on the best days, her dad would build a fire in the fireplace. Even her mounds of homework didn’t seem that bad when there was a fire to sit by while she worked on it.

When Adam dropped her off after school, Alex took her time walking toward the front door, making sure to crunch all the leaves on the path as she went. She pulled her key out and waved at Adam. He beeped the horn as he drove away. He was proud of his car, even though it was just a little hatchback from a previous decade. Adam had worked just as hard to convince his parents to let him buy it as he had to earn the money for it. Alex was happy to let him feel proud. Now that Dom was off training with the Messengers and Eve was taking community college classes, Alex and Logan would have been riding the bus home without Adam to drive them.

The key stuck in the lock as it always did, but Alex leaned into the door and gave the key a practiced twist. It clicked into place and the door popped open all in one motion. Alex stepped into the dim entry and closed the door with a nudge from her backpack.

When she turned around, something launched itself at her head.

Claws were raking at her face before she could even react. Alex threw her hands up and felt something furry. It bit her finger hard. Alex batted it away.

For a second she could only think of her pounding heart and the throbbing on her cheek and her hand. Then the creature leaped up again, this time sinking its teeth into her shoulder. Alex twisted in a circle, trying unsuccessfully to dislodge it. When she finally got a grip on the flailing thing and ripped it away, it took a little piece of her with it.

Alex yelled in pain, but there was no one to hear. Her dad’s studio in the backyard was too far away.

The creature twisted out of her hands and disappeared into the shadows of the darkened house.

Alex tried to think through the pain. She needed a weapon.

The living room was just ahead. Alex sprinted to the fireplace and grabbed the metal poker from the stand of fireplace tools. Even as her hands closed around its handle, she felt the creature jump onto her back. Her backpack protected her from the claws, but the furiously snapping jaws were right by her ear.

Alex dropped to the ground, and the thing tumbled off to the side. She whirled around, weapon held high. The creature darted forward again, and Alex swung. She felt the poker make contact with a crunch. The creature dropped onto the carpet, motionless.

The poker slid out of Alex’s hand. She was shaking all over, but at the moment her pain was masked behind a flood of adrenalin.

She stared at the thing that had attacked her. It looked small now that it was lying still, hardly bigger than a possum. It even had little hands like a possum, though the rest of it was covered in fur.

Alex recognized those tiny hands. If she could just get her brain to work, she would remember where she had seen them before. In the woods somewhere. This last summer? No, it was longer ago than that. If Eve were here, she would know.

That was it. Eve had talked to it. She had wanted to follow it. When they were looking for Logan a few years ago. But when they didn’t it had attacked them, and they knew it had been sent by the Breaker.

Candice.

Against her will, Alex saw the Breaker’s last shuddering breaths, saw her lifeless body on the cave floor.

Alex’s legs gave way, and she slipped to the floor.

This animal belonged to Candice. It was attacking her because she had killed its owner. Or had someone sent it?

Alex’s trembling was getting worse. She couldn’t feel her hands or feet. Vaguely she realized that she was going into shock.

She stared at the limp creature on her carpet. Was it dead or just knocked out? She couldn’t tell if it was breathing.

How was she going to get it out of here?

She needed help. Walking to her dad’s studio was impossible at the moment, but she could fumble off her backpack and pull out her cell phone. Her dad might not have his phone on him, but he wasn’t who she really needed anyway.

Her hands were so unsteady, she almost couldn’t punch the auto dial button.

“What’s up?” Adam’s carefree voice was jarring.

“I need you to come back,” Alex said, suddenly aware that she was breathing too quickly.

“What’s wrong? Alex?” When she didn’t answer, he cursed under his breath. “I’m turning around now. I’ll be there in two minutes. Stay on the line. Are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” Alex said.

“Right. Well…okay. You will be soon. I’m almost there.”


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