Everything’s Coming Up Superheroes

Divine Five

This week is shaping up to be decidedly super. My husband and I are halfway through the Netflix adaptation of The Umbrella Academy graphic novel series (more fangirling on that later!). I have my ticket to see Captain Marvel this weekend in the fancy Dolby theater at our local AMC (the one with leather recliners that rumble, surround sound, and gorgeous projection). And yesterday, Divine Five: Dawn published, an anthology of superhero origin stories, which just so happens to feature my story “Shock to the System.”

Fun fact: I’m wearing a Wonder Woman shirt today in celebration, but I digress…

This was such a fun project! The editor/publisher, Timothy Pulo, simply provided me with a location (Marseilles, France), a name (Nikolas Travers), and a superpower (but I’m not spoiling that part for you!), and said, “Uh, go for it!” So yeah, the story was completely up to me. I had full reign to create the world, the relationships, the storyline, and the character of Nikolas. That kind of freedom is so liberating! And I had a blast writing my very first superhero story. (Although, I think it’s fitting to apologize to my protagonist, Nikolas. I put the poor kid through the ringer!)

Here’s a sneak peek of my story:

Excerpt of Shock to the System

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Three blocks later, the métro sign appeared. Nikolas nearly sank to his knees in relief, but the thought of Marceline propelled him onward. He raced down the concrete steps, past a group of figures who wore dark-colored trench coats and argued in harsh whispers—Drug deal gone sideways, Nikolas thought—and into the underground tunnels of Marseille.

He was greeted, as always, with the stale smells of urine, mold, and grit, but the foul odors barely registered, because Nikolas had somewhere he desperately needed to be. There was a short, yet slow-moving line at the métro turnstile, and he briefly considered jumping the barrier, but knew he’d regret the decision later. He stood in line, like everyone else, then fed his métro card into the turnstile and pushed onto the platform. An overhead announcement proclaimed the next car would arrive in five minutes.

Nikolas ambled to the knife edge of the platform, ignoring the yellow safety line, and peered down the track, into the cavernous tubes of the métro line, as if he could summon the car with his mind. Of course, nothing of the sort happened. All Nikolas could see was darkness.

Nikolas sighed. Of all the nights to be late. Though perpetual tardiness was his status quo, he’d promised himself—and more importantly, he’d promised Marceline—that he would arrive at her place at a decent hour that night so they’d have ample time to celebrate.

And he’d broken that promise.

Flushed with disappointment, Nikolas reached into his pocket and retrieved his cell phone. The time was 8:02. He’d meant to arrive at Marceline’s an hour ago. And, of course, there were a slurry of text messages from his girl.

At 6:45: Still planning to be here at 7? I’m making your favorite! J

At 7:20: I’m guessing the métro is backed up or you left a little later than expected? I’ve got dinner ready for whenever you get here. Give me a call and let me know what’s up?

At 7:50: Nik, if you’re still at the office…

At 8:01: I’m not mad (well, maybe a little). But now I just want to know you’re ok. Call me?

“Idiot, idiot, idiot,” Nikolas muttered. “And for what? A medical app? An email that could’ve waited until tomorrow? You have to make this right.”

Nikolas paced the platform wildly, thinking through what he’d say once he got Marceline on the line. He concocted harebrained excuses—the office was under siege! He practiced over-the-top apologies—I’m sorry to the moon and back! He considered chucking his phone in the trash, so he could explain that he’d lost his mobile and couldn’t have contacted her.

In the end, he settled on a simple apology, coupled with an assurance that he was fine and on his way. They would talk more once he got to Marceline’s. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves, took a step away from the platform—and his ankle rolled.

Suddenly, Nikolas was pitching past the yellow safety line and toward the buzzing tracks of the métro. As he fell, he thought of Marceline—her golden, cat-like eyes, the raspy way she laughed, the way he felt safe wrapped in her arms—and sadness swept through him.

But then he stopped, mid-flight, and was pulled backward with a sharp jerk. Nikolas stumbled away from the rails, gulping in air, his body a patchwork of fine tremors. Beside him, a woman wearing a black trench coat stood calmly, as composed as a statue.

Merci, merci,” Nikolas managed between shaky breaths. “You…you saved me.”

“Yeah, I did,” the woman said. “I had to. You’re him.”

Nikolas frowned. What did she mean? “Have we met?”

“No. This is our meet-cute. Charmant, oui?

Nikolas wondered fleetingly if she was high—and then decided she must be. All the signs were there. She’d been reckless enough to save a man tumbling onto the métro tracks, risking her own life (although she’d seemed preternaturally strong). She was talking in riddles with utmost confidence. And it looked like her eyes were all black—so perhaps her pupils were dilated?

“Sure,” Nikolas said. “Listen, I’m really, really grateful. I don’t have much on me, but can I give you a little something?” He produced his wallet, but the woman caught his wrist before he could offer her anything.

“No,” she said. “You’re all I need.”

“O—kay,” Nikolas said. This exchange had become truly uncomfortable, and the woman still had a grip on his wrist. A really firm grip that Nikolas wasn’t sure he’d be able to break. “Thanks again, but I need to be go—“

“Could you tell me the time?” the woman asked, her black eyes peering into his.

Nikolas lifted his wrist—the one free of the woman’s grip—and glanced down at his watch. 8:05.

Huit heures…” he began, then felt fire in his wrist as the woman wrenched him to the side—not further into safety but toward the humming track.

She’s strong—too strong, Nikolas thought.

And then his feet left the earth and he flew. But this time he knew the mysterious stranger wouldn’t halt his fall. She’d initiated it this time, and Nikolas had no idea why.

As he tumbled, Nikolas heard the screams of passengers waiting on the platform, but they sounded warped, like he was underwater. He felt a sickening jolt as his body struck and bounced like a ragdoll. Heat seared through him, and it ran so hot, he almost felt cold. Nikolas’s back arched and his limbs stiffened as an electric current swept through him, painting his world in pain.

To find out what happens on the other side of Nikolas’s fall, pick up your copy of Divine Five: Dawn today!

 

Bury ‘Em Deep Unearths More Than Monsters

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Fire-colored leaves crackle beneath my steel-toes as I follow Charlie to the back of his pickup. A gust of wind blows up the corner of the blue tarp coverin’ the body, and I catch a peep of curly black hair out of the corner of my eye. My stomach lurches, and my fingers burn. I wanna sock Charlie in the jaw for askin’ me to help him with this, but I don’t.

I don’t hit him, because I owe him. I owe him big.  

‘Course that don’t mean I gotta like bein’ here. “You got a perfectly good backyard, Charlie. Why couldn’t we bury Rooney there?”

“That ain’t Rooney.” Charlie points at the heap under the tarp. “That thing, it belongs here, not in my backyard.” He releases the latch on the back of the truck, and the tailgate bangs open, makin’ the whole bed jump. Makin’ the body jump. My skin prickles as Charlie gets to untyin’ the tarp with dry, bony fingers.

I look around, tryin’ to understand where “here” is. There’s nothin’ but leaves, old oaks, and a big expanse of grassy terrain. The smell of cigarette smoke hangs in the air, though there ain’t a soul around to be doin’ the smokin’. If you ask me, it don’t look like anything belongs here, not even a dead dog.

“Who told you ‘bout this place?” I ask.

Charlie whips back the tarp. I stare at the white wisps decoratin’ Rooney’s muzzle. I expect ‘em to move. I expect to see Rooney’s chest suddenly rise and fall. It doesn’t, despite what Charlie’s told me ‘bout the dog’s habit of comin’ back to life now and again.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Today, my Lovecraft-inspired short story, Bury ‘Em Deep, is published in Inwood Indiana’s Unwanted Visitors issue!

On the surface, this story is about two men burying a dead dog named Rooney that has this crazy habit of coming back to life. But the real horror of the story lies in the broken friendship of the two men and the animosity between them. Sometimes, you simply can’t bury the past.

To check out the full story, get your issue of Unwanted Visitors today!

The Dangers of Smooching Frogs: Read “It’s in Her Kiss” in the After the Happily Ever After Anthology

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I’ve never liked “The Frog Prince.”

A spoiled princess becomes indebted to a frog after he retrieves her golden ball from a well. Though she promises the amphibian she will be his companion, the princess attempts to ditch the croaker at the first opportunity. When the frog shows up at the palace and asks to be let in, the princess explains the situation to her father, the king, and he forces her to make good on her promise. If the princess falters and doesn’t give the frog what he wants, he threatens to tell the king. In the original version from the Grimm Brothers, the princess is so disgusted by her fate, she throws the frog against a wall. Only then does he turn into a prince (which is a game changer), and they suddenly rush into marriage and live happily ever after. The end.

Can you say dysfunctional? Why should the princess receive a happy ending? And what the heck is up with that psychology? Why does the frog still choose her? Is he that much of a gold digging opportunist?

After all the entitlement and manipulation, the princess and the frog simply shrug it off and choose each other, which was never a satisfying conclusion for me.

When I learned Transmundane Press was putting together the After the Happily Ever After anthology, I knew it was my chance to retell a fairy tale that I’d always found troubling. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, my story isn’t all rainbows and happy endings, because let’s face it, fairy tales were meant to be didactic stories that youngsters could learn from. Some horrific shit goes down in fairy tales. But “It’s in Her Kiss” dives headlong into the psychology of the relationship between the frog and the princess. Of course, I’ve put a new spin on the classic take, too. 

“It’s in Her Kiss” is at once a re-imagination of a classic story, a satirical look at modern romantic relationships, and proof that happily ever after isn’t always what it seems.

It’s in Her Kiss

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Delilah has developed a fetish of the human-who-was-once-an-amphibian variety. Her predilection has progressed into a full-fledged addiction as three or four times a week, the door to our flat bursts open and a new prime specimen drips pond water onto the Ikea rug in the foyer.

Delilah wears a proud smile and clings to their arms, bright with infatuation, gleaming with accomplishment. After all, her rose-pink lips elicited their transformations. And they are all hers, rescued from the muck and ever-grateful to their savior.

Each specimen is distinctly different, but they all are ambitiously handsome. Last week, Delilah’s first catch was Italian. Olive skin, dark, emotional eyes, clothing that only a European can get away with wearing. He was young, so he was probably an exchange student. Her second catch looked like a lumberjack, a man with a full beard, bulging muscles, and enough freckles to create a connect-the-dots coloring book. I half-expected him to produce an axe to cut the lasagna they shared that evening. The third was an older Russian gentleman who moved with innate bravado and had the saddest blue eyes. He didn’t speak a lick of English, but Delilah didn’t care. She took him to bed anyway, as she does with all of them.

The next morning, she kisses them goodbye. When they’ve reassumed their froggy countenances, she affixes their legs with a little gold band. It helps her to determine which frogs she’s already romanced. Then, out the door and back to the park they go, as if nothing ever happened.

I’ve lost track of the number of suitors that have come through our door and dampened our rug. Does Delilah know? Does she keep track? Does she delight in her growing number of conquests?

And if she does, is my name at the top of the list? Does she fondly remember me as her first? Or does her lack of lust and passion for me exclude me completely from the ranks?

#

I’d resigned myself to an amphibian lifestyle the morning I met Delilah. I’d been a frog for nearly a year, the result of a tumultuous breakup and a vindictive ex-girlfriend who decided to teach me a lesson. When she threw me into the lake, a note full of expletives, blaming, and mentions of voodoo followed me.

At first, I thought someone would figure it out. My parents ordered a police investigation, but the ensuing search proved fruitless. You don’t leave a trace when you recede into a local pond. No cell phone records. No credit card transactions. People say you were completely normal the last time they saw you. And, of course, the woman responsible for the hex isn’t going to have a change of heart. Especially when you cheated on her—not one of my finest moments.

As the missing person posters shriveled on lampposts around town and were eventually replaced with the face of some other unlucky guy, I decided I’d make the most of my new life. After all, I’d always enjoyed the outdoors, I’d become an exceptional swimmer, and while I missed a choice cut of sirloin from time to time, I developed a taste for bugs.

While gathering breakfast one morning at the community park, a net dropped over me. I panicked. I jumped; I kicked; I squirmed, but then my little heart raced far too fast, and I grew heavy with exhaustion. I looked up, expecting to see a mean-spirited little boy, the kind that would subject me to light filtered through a magnifying glass.

Through the mesh, a pair of feminine brown eyes gazed down at me. A girlish grin lit up my captor’s face. And wouldn’t you know it, it was nice to receive a smile for once.

I didn’t struggle as Delilah scooped me into her palms and said, “Gotcha.”

#

The internet is a crock of shit. I can find support groups and rehabilitation programs and intervention specialists for some crazy things—people who eat the ashes of their loved ones, Satanic cultists, teenagers who sniff glue to get high—but I can’t find anything for sex addicts that use magic to ensnare, manipulate, and then re-enchant their lovers. The lack of resources is maddening.

I’ve done some medical research, too, trying to discern if Delilah has some kind of health condition that gives her lips transformative powers. Could this be genetic? Some insane recessive gene? But I’ve found nothing.

I’ve reached out to local government to express my concern in the recent surplus of frogs in our neighborhood. A state representative emailed me back saying that while he understood my annoyance, the increase in amphibian life in nearby ponds has proved ecologically beneficial. A rare species of fish, recently deemed on the cusp of extinction, now flourishes in ponds and lakes around town.

Since my ex mentioned voodoo in her departure letter, I’ve been trying to track down dark magic shops in the area, but my searches are spotty and uninformative. Apparently, none of these niche businesses are too concerned with having a web presence. I’m sure they rely on word-of-mouth marketing to keep them in business. “That son of a bitch cheated on you? Well, there’s this place you can go to get a potion that’ll turn him into a dog. Literally.”

My search is frustrating, but I understand how widespread, traditional marketing would pose a safety concern. A plague of frogs would likely descend upon the shop, if only the poor schmucks knew where it was.

***

To read the rest of “It’s in Her Kiss” and other fractured fairy tales, purchase your paperback copy of After the Happily Ever After on Amazon.

For fairy tale afficianodos, Transmundane Press is also offering a limited edition hardcover printing, signed by the editors, Anthony S. Buosi and Alisha Costanzo, which you can purchase HERE.

Get Caught Up in Bad Moonlight in Lupine Lunes, A Werewolf Anthology

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When Popcorn Press announced their annual Halloween anthology would be werewolf themed, I knew I needed to write something. Little did I know how fun it would be to write about a hunt masquerading as a mating ritual…

Bad Moonlight

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

As Raymond watched icy moonlight gleam off Vanessa’s bare shoulders, he wondered if he was making a mistake. Buying her drinks. Following her here. Getting caught up. And so damn soon. That was the worst part. The part that felt shameful. Raymond rubbed the back of his neck, stifling a guilty grimace as Vanessa flicked through her keyring.

He wouldn’t have done this a year ago, even though he’d been single and hot-blooded and popular with the ladies. Scratch that, he wouldn’t have done this ever. So why was he doing it now? Cool air nipped at Raymond’s shoulders through his cable-knit sweater just as realization nipped like an overzealous gnat at his consciousness.

He knew why he was doing this. Breaking it off with Tonia three weeks prior had left a crater inside his heart, and he was trying to fill it with anything that batted an eyelash and offered to fill him up. On one hand, his actions felt pathetic. On the other, they felt like survival.

Vanessa turned the key in the lock, peered over her shoulder, and gave Raymond a smile. Her coffee brown eyes crinkled in the corners and her teeth gleamed, white as stars. “Sorry.” She reached out and placed a hand on his bicep, her acrylic nails tickling his skin through the fabric of his sweater. “New place. I don’t remember which key is which yet.” She brushed a black curl off her forehead and gazed up at him. “You comin’ inside?”

The hopeful raise of her eyebrows did Raymond in. He couldn’t, in good conscience, abandon this woman now, despite the reluctance that tugged at his chest. His mama had raised him better. He wasn’t the kind of man who’d cold shoulder a woman on her doorstep.

He made a decision. He’d follow her into the house, make casual conversation, ensure she was okay for the night, and leave before things got complicated. He wouldn’t be swayed—even if she did smell of gardenias and honey. No. He had his moral code, and he’d be damned if a pretty face and the curve of a hip made him lose himself. Or his memories of Tonia.

Raymond offered a curt nod of acceptance. Vanessa’s lips stretched into a grin, and she pushed the door open. Her heels clicked on the hardwood floor as she sauntered inside, leaning into her hips as she moved. Raymond followed, stuffing his hands in his pockets, keeping his eyes glued to Vanessa’s curly hair, telling himself repeatedly not to let them drift south.

The room smelled of fresh paint. Boxes were stacked in the corners, and the only furniture in the room consisted of a blue suede couch and a lamp that stood vigil in the corner. Vanessa crossed the room and flicked on the bulb, basking the space in warm yellow light. She leaned against a freshly primed wall. The blue sequins adorning her dress glittered, and her eyes sparkled with new intensity. She curled her finger at Raymond. “Come here.”

Raymond closed the front door and secured the latch. He leaned back against the wood. “Maybe it’s best if I stay over here for right now.”

Disappointment skittered across Vanessa’s face, and her breath caught in her chest. She paused a moment and then exhaled, shaking her head. “You’re a gentleman all of a sudden, huh?” She smiled at him and bit her lip. “Pity.”

Raymond shrugged his shoulders, feigning nonchalance while his gut grew heavy with guilt. He shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be leading her on. But bolting would be a dick move.

Conversation. It was time for conversation. “How long ago did you move in?”

Vanessa raised an eyebrow. “We’re playing twenty questions now?”

“We didn’t really get to know each other at the bar.” Which was true. He’d learned she was new in town, had a taste for vodka martinis with a twist, and could tear up a dance floor to 90s RnB—especially Boyz II Men—but not much else.

Vanessa threw up her hands. “Okay, okay…We’ll talk first…” She smoothed her dress and held up her fingers. “I’ve been here for two weeks.”

“You move out here for a job?”

“No.” Vanessa crossed her arms over her chest. “Family. I have a sister who lives here.” Vanessa’s features fell, and her eyes darted to the floor. “She isn’t doing well. She got in a nasty accident recently, a hit and run.”

Raymond frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that.” He considered moving closer, perhaps offering her a shoulder, but…proximity could be dangerous. Compromising. Intoxicating. He needed to keep his distance.

“I’m her big sister. I’m used to taking care of her.” Vanessa’s lips twitched into a sad smile. “Family is important to me.” She glanced out the bay window into the darkened front yard and then her eyes found Raymond’s. “You want a beer?”

“Sure.”

Vanessa stepped out of her heels, one at a time, keeping her eyes fixed on Raymond’s, knowing her movements were a performance of sorts. Then, she floated across the living room and slipped into the kitchen. Raymond heard the steady hum of an open refrigerator. “What about you, Ray? What brought you here?”

Raymond flinched. “No one calls me that.”

Glass bottles clinked and the refrigerator door squeaked closed. “What do you have against the name Ray? There are great men named Ray. Ray Charles. Ray Rice. Ray Bradbury. Ray J.”

“Don’t be comparing me to Ray J.” He heard Vanessa’s husky chuckle, then metal bottle caps popping and tumbling to the countertop in the dark. “I just like the name my mama gave me. The full name.”

Vanessa reappeared before him, stepping into the light. She took a swig of her beer, licked her lips, and extended a bottle to Raymond. “Are you a mama’s boy then?”

Raymond’s lips quirked as he took the beer. “Nah. I just agree with you. Family’s important.”

“Well, cheers to that.” Vanessa brought her bottle to Raymond’s and the glass clinked loudly in the near empty room. She sidled closer to him, her ample chest brushing against the top of his stomach and sending shivers through him. Raymond urged himself to be still.

Vanessa sighed and pressed her forehead to his chest in defeat. “Okay, okay,” she said, moving away from him. She fell into the couch cushions and tucked her long brown legs beneath her. “You never answered my question.”

Raymond frowned.

“What brought you here?”

“Born and raised.” Raymond took a sip. The beer was dark, heavy, with a hint of…something vaguely chalky. He couldn’t quite place the taste. He held up the bottle, inspecting the label. Malt. That had to be it.

“A local?”

“Yep. Have you been by the mechanic shop down on Waverly?”

Vanessa inclined her head. “I’ve driven past it.”

“My family owns it.”

“How very…quaint.”

Raymond chuckled. He was used to ribbing from outsiders. “It’s nice, all the family-run joints here. The community. Everyone’s got your back. You’ll see how it is, when you’ve been here for a bit.” He took a long draw from his bottle.

As he swallowed, Raymond felt the familiar sensation of alcohol spiking his blood. His chest warmed, his heart pounded, and he made a mental note to slow down. He’d thrown back at least three gin and tonics at The Dell, more than he’d had to drink in a good while.

But then a lick of pain shot through his skull, quick and fierce as an electrical current, rendering him woozy and off balance. What in the hell?

***

To read the rest, pick up your copy of Lupine Lunes from Popcorn Press!

No Joke: Read “Bad Vibrations” in Alternate Hilarities V: One Star Reviews of the Afterlife

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Since I began publishing fiction in 2012, I’ve billed myself as a horror and fantasy author, someone inclined to write about monsters and mayhem and mythological creatures. For a few years, I was completely satisfied writing about time travel, ghosts, devils, sirens, succubi, and devious drug plots.

And while I will continue to write about these things, I’ve started to play with new genres and writing styles. The other night, I finished my first romance novelette. Before that, a comedic, satiric take on a fairy tale. Comedy and romance are becoming a regular part of my repetoire, and it’s a really exciting and fun shift. (My writing group back in Phoenix, Arizona, would be so proud, a group that often requested I write something in which someone didn’t die or the conflict was resolved happily.)

So it’s fitting that today, April Fool’s Day, marks the publication of my very first piece of straight-up comedic writing. No joke, I’ve written something that I hope makes you laugh, not shiver in terror.

Today, Alternate Hilarities V: One Star Reviews of the Afterlife is available via Strange Musings Press, bringing you 33 crazy, wacky tales from the great beyond and outlining just what could go wrong with it:

As you shuffle off this mortal coil, many things will go through your mind. Will you be remembered well? Did you live the best life you could? Did you leave the iron on? And most importantly, did you remember to delete your browser history recently? But the big question that will finally hit you full on, is there something after all of this? And if so, will it suck? If only Yelp! had a category for the afterlife.

Here is a collection of humorous tales of the afterlife that covers the I.T. woes of Heaven, the dangers involved in using out-of-date occult tools, the perils of not saving appropriately for the hereafter, the shock of finding out that not every good deed will get you through the pearly gates and the cold hard fact that paradise just isn’t for everyone.

So go to the light at your own peril.

It could be life everlasting, or it could be an oncoming train.”

My contribution, “Bad Vibrations,” explores the motivations of a ghost’s very first haunting – and the truly embarrassing secrets she wishes had followed her to the grave.

Pick up your copy today, and be on the lookout for a blog takeover by Alternate Hilarities editor Giovanni Valentino on April 11 and my author interview with Strange Musings on April 14!

Becoming a Member of the (Liars’) League

Magic and Moonlight

On December 2, 2015, Sicily Rockmore read my short story “We Share Everything” to a live audience at KGB Bar in New York City as part of Liars’ League NYC’s Magic & Moonlight event—and I’ve never wanted a personal teleportation device more. At 3:59 PM in San Diego (6:59 PM in New York), I imagined walking into KGB Bar, sitting down with a glass of whisky, and feeling the warmth of a literary community wash over me. I wasn’t there and yet, my inclusion in a Liars’ League NYC program is one of the accomplishments of which I’m most proud as an author.

So, what is this Liars’ League thing? Liars’ League NYC is a live literary journal/event featuring professionally trained actors reading original short stories by emerging and well-established writers. Each month boasts a new theme. Selected stories are published on the Liars’ League NYC website, and an audio recording of the reading is available as well.

Imagining others quietly reading my work is thrilling enough. To have it performed in front of a live audience? Are you kidding me?

“We Share Everything” is a story about fraternal twins who share an uncanny psychic and physical connection, a bond that is seemingly unbreakable—but even the most revered and celebrated relationships have their points of fragility. “We Share Everything” explores the thin line between love and hate, and the potential disaster that can be borne from being just a little too…close.

You can read the story and listen to the live recording on Liars’ League NYC’s website. While you’re there, check out the other pieces from the Magic & Moonlight event. My story was in magnificent company! (And to that end, all the archived works are wonderful pieces of fiction by truly talented artists.)

As for me, I’m going to celebrate tonight with a glass of Yamazaki and the knowledge that I’m now a member of the League.

Buy a Book, Impact a Life

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As the holidays near, it’s easy to get caught up in buying presents, visiting friends and family, and building the best snowman anyone has ever seen (out of snow if the climate permits and marshmallows if it doesn’t). It’s easy to forget that there are others out there who can’t get caught up in holiday cheer, because of, well, hard doses of life.

Today, my short story “Devour” is published in an anthology titled Christmas Lites V.

I know what you’re thinking. Another plug for your work, Tiffany? But what about all the feels in that intro paragraph? You sound all kinds of entitled right now.

While this blog post is a way for me to share the news of the publication of “Devour,” it’s also a call to action. Because every cent of the proceeds of Christmas Lites V goes to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

According to their website, “NCADV is the voice of victims and survivors. We are the catalyst for changing society to have zero tolerance for domestic violence. We do this by effecting public policy, increasing understanding of the impact of domestic violence, and providing programs and education that drive change.”

The NCADV works with the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery to financially assist survivors of domestic violence who may not be able to afford reconstructive plastic surgery. They memorialize the victims of abuse through their Remember My Name project. They provide tool kits, in conjunction with The Feminist Women’s Health Center and the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, to help bridge the gap between the fields of reproductive health and domestic violence, educating others about reproductive coercion. They provide financial independence materials to survivors to help them rebuild and maintain financial stability. In short, they do really important work.

So Christmas Lites V is more than a book. It’s a way to support an incredibly worthwhile organization. While you read “A Tale of Two Urchins” by A.F. Stewart, “The Krampus Tree” by Douglas Wynne, or “Keeping Christmas” by Alana Lorens, know that you’re not only enjoying great fiction (donated by each and every author) but also helping to support NCADV’s important programs.

And I’m pretty sure there’s something for everyone in this anthology. All genres are represented – romance, fantasy, horror, action, children’s stories, stories written by children, and more.

Of course, I wrote a horror story. I tried to write something light and lovely for the holidays, but it simply didn’t work. Instead, I wrote about love that’s begun to fade, dark, foreboding woods, and the dangers of skepticism. Here’s a little excerpt from “Devour”:

“Through the Plexiglas of the phone booth, Melody Halliday peered into the dark of the wood – into its empty boughs and dead promises, beyond its gnarled, labyrinthine birch wood limbs, deep into the very heart of it – and felt nothing but utter skepticism. And pity, too. Pity that the provincial town of Einn in Iceland found debilitating fear in something so banal.

‘I’m surprised they haven’t burned the woods to the ground,’ Melody said into the receiver. ‘They say the mannaeta’s spirit lives in the bark of the trees, hibernating all year until Christmas Eve rolls around. Then, it take half-human, half-wood demon form for one night to feed on someone in Einn. Happy cannibal Christmas.’

‘How very jolly,’ Eddie Beckett, Melody’s boyfriend, said from across the Atlantic Ocean. His voice sounded honeyed. He’d been drinking. Pub drafts, no doubt, frothy ones laden with hops. Melody salivated at the thought of a crisp pint. There was no beer in Einn, not around this time of year.

‘It gets better. They systematically starve themselves here,’ Melody said. ‘Begins the first day of December. They eat as little as possible. They don’t want to entice the mannaeta with their wobbly bits.’

“Well, yours certainly entice me,’ Eddie said, humor in his voice.

Melody choked on an empty chuckle and cleared her throat, embarrassment and frustration warming her cheeks. Why was she so bloody uncomfortable? Her boyfriend of three years flirting openly with her should have sent her over the moon. Throttling through space with joy. But it didn’t. Instead, his frisky jest made her stomach twitch with nervousness.”

And you’ll have to purchase a copy of Christmas Lites V to see what happens to Melody, Eddie, the sleepy little town of Einn, and its resident wood-demon, the mannaeta.

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