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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Serial Fiction: Monument Minders, Chapter Eight

Chapter 8
The Missing Half

"I don't know." Thurston patted his friend's hand. He dreaded what he had to say next, but it was unavoidable. "Forsyth, there's a problem. It's already been used."

Forsyth looked up, and ochre leaked from the corners of his eyes in golden tears that absorbed back into his skin. "How?"

"On a criminal this morning. His name was Maximilian, a thief and impulse murderer." Homily looked at the screened device that Gurney had given him. It was technically a few years ahead of its time, but carrying around paper files would have been too obvious, and Debtra and Thom would have wanted to see them. As they were addressed to someone who was not an Old Soul, it would have made Debtra suspicious. Bringing her along may have been a mistake. He wondered if, even at his age, he could blame hormones for clouding his judgment.

"Did he survive?"

"Don't know." Thurston looked at Forsyth. "But a witness didn't. The cause of death is still unknown," he added before Forsyth could ask another question.

Forsyth nodded. "I've guarded the device for a hundred and fifty years, and in that time, it has never been used. It would have stored a tremendous amount of energy." He sighed. "I think I do need some food. Are you tired of pancakes yet?"

Thurston shook his head. "Never."

Forsyth made a telephone call to the restaurant across the street, and in twenty minutes, their order arrived: two combos of blueberry pancakes, bacon, and coffee. Forsyth's phone rang, and he nodded even though the person on the other side couldn't see him.

"Who was that?" Thurston asked.

Forsyth took a deep breath and exhaled through rounded lips. "Things just got worse, much worse."

"How so?"

"The Splitter isn't the only thing that's missing, Thurston. Savedra has disappeared."

Thurston closed his eyes, the image of the dark-eyed, curly-redheaded beauty coming back to him. She had taken the best part of him, he thought, and even picturing her gave him sensations in his nether regions that not even Debtra had prompted. Yet.


"This afternoon. That was her assistant Henry. She didn't come home from a dinner she was supposed to have attended, and when he called the hosts, he found she hadn't been there."

"Damn, damn, damn!" Thurston swallowed around a particularly sharp bit of bacon that had been hiding in his teeth. He brought to mind all the details he could muster.

"I know you want to go after her, Thurston, but your current investigation is more important. You know she can handle herself."

Thurston took a deep breath. "I'll take Debtra and skip tomorrow, but you're right – I can't leave this investigation, not now!"

Forsyth handed him a business card. "This is Henry's. He'll know where to start. He doesn't know you're in the Third, but I'm sure he'll be happy to hear from you."

"Maybe. Depending on what kind of mood she was when she last talked about me."

"What are you going to do for the rest of the evening?" Forsyth ambled around the office and picked up papers. Thurston stood and stretched.

"I'm rid of the children for the evening, so I'm going to do what every chaperone dreams."

"What's that?"

"Go to the morgue to see what our witness has suffered. I'll probably be able to figure out the cause of death better than their corpse specialist."

"She's called a coroner, Thurston."


"Just don't do anything illegal."

"In what dimension?" Thurston winked, although he felt that his heart cried ochre tears for his Savedra.

"That's what I'm worried about."

Author's Note: Yep, it's a short section this week. Hubby and I got most of the office packed and moved on Sunday, but I'm exhausted, and I've been slammed at my current place. The week I'm taking off to get everything settled in is going to seem like a vacation! I'm also looking forward to catching up on some serial fiction I haven't been able to read yet. Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Serial Fiction: Monument Minders, Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven:
A Friend in Need

The autopsy results weren't ready yet, so Thom took Thurston and Debtra to their hotel. Thurston made sure his student had been settled in, and then he caught a cab back to downtown. He didn't realize he'd fallen asleep until he started dreaming.

She traced her thumbnail under her fingernails to stop the itching impulse to grab it and run -- if she wanted it, she couldn't be obvious. The dark blue faceted crystal on a square silver base was so clear she could see the little gears clicking and working underneath to gather more power. So she wiped the table, careful to give it a big berth while the big guy reading the paper watched her with deep-set black eyes.

"You like sparkles, young lady?" He smiled, and she saw his stained, crooked, pointed teeth. That would be the game, then. He wanted to lure her to his lair with the thing and then eat her sexually and physically.

She grinned. "It's so pretty!" Two could play that game, and she could rid the world of one more stupid bad guy who would use such a powerful device as a trinket to lure female prey. He probably didn't even know that it was charging after a recent detonation and wouldn't be usable again for a while.

"We're here, man."

Thurston jolted awake. How had he fallen asleep in the back of a taxi, especially one as rough as this one? His lower back promised to replay every bump and rattle for him later. But that dream… He had been a woman. Or had been seeing things as one. He could guess which one, too. She invaded his dreams at the oddest moments, usually inopportune times when he needed to focus on something else.

Thurston paid the cabbie, made sure he had everything, and stepped on to the sidewalk. He climbed the narrow stairs to Forsyth's office, housed above a Chinese restaurant in the Five Points district. The building had a view of the storyteller fountain, but was shielded so that Thurston couldn't hear the wails of the soul trapped inside the Storyteller statue. That one had been convicted of serial murder of children and goats, so this fate would be particularly repugnant.

But he could hear them as well as all the noise of the street through the cracked door at the top of the staircase. The door swayed open, then almost shut, with the breeze, and he quickened his steps. He pushed the door open and saw that Forsyth's office looked like it had been blown apart by a whirlwind with papers everywhere.

His breath caught, and he raised a hand to his mouth to stifle the vomiting reflex when he saw that Forsyth had been, too.

As an Old Soul, Forsyth's manifestation had been complex, a somewhat overweight man with short salt-and-pepper hair, the beginnings of a double chin, and blue eyes that could be the color of ice chips or a warm ocean. His bottom half still sat in the chair, and his top half lay scattered about over and under the papers. The energy that held the manifestation together leaked and bubbled out from the various parts. Humans would perceive it as blood. Thurston saw it as golden liquid that reflected the light like viscous crystal.


He followed the whispered calls to Forsyth's head, which lay underneath the open diamond pane window. He picked it up, careful to keep his back to the street outside so no one would see him carry it across the room.

"Forsyth! What in the Name of the Fifth happened here!" He found Forsyth's torso, missing its arms, but mostly intact, and placed the head atop it. The two parts fused together, a neat trick, Thurston thought. It showed how long Forsyth had been around, even longer than Debtra, but with infinitely more lives. He'd died before but had "gotten out of the habit," as he liked to say.

Thurston found the limbs and reassembled his friend as quickly as he could. After a few deep breaths, Forsyth wiggled his fingers and kicked his feet.

"Much better, thank you," he said with a bow from the waist. "I apologize for not getting up to greet you, but…" He gestured to the mess.

"Do you think you could walk downstairs for a meal?" Thurston asked, mindful of Debtra's difficulty earlier that day. Hopefully she hadn't noticed that he was fine without eating. At least he liked pancakes enough to consume them without the necessity of hunger.

"Give me a moment, old friend." Forsyth looked around the office and raised his eyebrows. "This is a mess, then, eh? Beatrice is going to have my hide."

"What happened?" Thurston brushed a few pages off the torture instrument that Forsyth called a consultation chair.

"I had just come up the stairs this morning to…" Forsyth's jaw fell open, and he moved faster than Thurston thought would be possible considering he'd just been put back together. The large man moved to the wall by the door, murmured a verbal key, and a safe appeared. Continued whispering of code, and the door fell open to reveal… Nothing.

Thurston's heart sank as the denial he'd cherished all day shrank into oblivion. Sure, he knew that the only device that could theoretically vaporize a statue and release the soul trapped within was a Splitter and that Forsyth guarded the only one, Sorvan's invention, in his thrice-spelled safe.

Forsyth sank back into his chair and put his head in his hands. "They've blocked my memory, Thurston. I know there was more than one, and that He had sent them, but I cannot remember the exact sequence of events or even how they discovered and robbed my safe. It's not even in this dimension! How did they find it?"

I might have posted this one before, but it's appropriate considering it's called the Chocolate Volcano, and Forsyth seems to have been blown to bits. Luckily Thurston arrived just in time to put him back together.

Office Migration 2010 (yes, I decided it needed a spiffy name) is progressing nicely. My new lease starts October 1, so there are just a few more days to pack! Every time I start to feel comfortable, I realize there's another detail that needs attention. I'm looking forward to getting everything done and being settled in so I can give more attention to writing and catching up on some of my favorite serials. Just a couple more weeks... Oh, and did I mention I have jury duty on Thursday? I'm going to need a chocolate volcano and several glasses of wine after this process is over!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Serial Fiction: Monument Minders, Chapter Six

Chapter Six
Potato Pancake Universe

Thom brought them to the Fried Green Tomato, a Southern food café.

"Nice place," said Thurston. "Do they have potato pancakes?"

Thom waved to the heavyset guy behind the counter, who held up his fingers in a double "Peace" sign. "I don't know, but I can ask."

Instead of turning right into the main dining room, Thom took them through a door at the back of the cafeteria-style service and ordering room and into a small conference-style room. Pictures of celebrities who had eaten at the restaurant lined the walls. Thurston nodded to Debtra, who took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She spread her arms, palms facing outward, and turned in a slow circle.

"No energy signatures consistent with listening devices, aether or otherwise."

"Good." Thurston sat with a thud in one of the metal chairs. "Although I don't think you need to worry about the aether ones. They wouldn't work so well in the quantum stream. I think it's time to feed our Manifestations again." He raised his eyebrows at Thom. "About those potato pancakes?"

Before Thom could reply, a knock came at the door, and he opened it to see the guy from the front room.

"Heya, Hank, come on in."

Hank nodded to the three of them. "What can I get y'all?"

They gave their orders, and Thom was relieved when Hank didn't blink at Thurston's potato pancake request. He'd escorted specialists, whom he figured worked for the C.I.A., before, but there was something strange about these two. They made chit-chat until Hank returned with the food. Then the professor hit Thom with a very strange question.

"Tell me, young man, what kind of conceptualization do you have of the universe?"

Thom blinked, and he remembered the dreams that had come back to him when looking into Debtra's eyes. He shrugged.

"It's big?" he asked.

Debtra coughed, but Thom thought she may have laughed at him.

"Look, I got the same classes everyone else did. I painted balls and strung them up in a mock solar system in fourth grade. I know that it's bigger than any human mind can imagine."

"Even more so." Thurston grabbed a napkin and took a pen from his pocket. "Have you heard of the theory of hidden dimensions?"

Thom raised his eyebrows. That sounded a little like his dreams.

"You live, and we're visiting here in the Third, which has two main time-streams that reflect each other." Homily drew a curve with three stick figures standing on it. "Then there's the Fourth, which is beyond it, and where my University resides. Earthly theory holds that the Fourth is time, but really it is beyond time, but we can hold it and make it flow forwards at certain points." He drew a line above the curve. "That way my students can't manipulate it and make it go backwards at final exam time. But we also have a perspective over the linear flow of time in the Third, like looking down at a circular river. From the Fourth, we can plunge in at any point."

Thom felt like his head was going to start pounding with a migraine at any second. "Where are you from?" he whispered.

"We're from the Fourth," Debtra said. She laid a hand on his, and the tension in his neck subsided. "Professor Homily and I are old souls, meaning we've been here several times."

He looked at her smooth skin and noted that the skin around her eyes only had a few slight wrinkles. "But you look so young!"

"That's because we came here with our Manifestations from the Fourth," said Thurston. "They take energy to maintain, otherwise we'd blur and fade, so we have to feed them on a normal human eating schedule plus one midnight meal."

"Oh, I thought you just had a strange way of saying you're hungry." Thom looked at the diagram. "What's beyond the Fourth?"

Thurston smiled. "Infinitely more layers and dimensions. The Fifth is where the Minders live."

"You'd talked about them."

"They observe the course of time and development, not just here, but in every dimension." Thurston tapped the end of his pen on the table. "They're very hard to explain. Humans would think of them as angels, and your Bible speaks of their guidance – some would say interference –at key points in history."

"And you survived a confrontation with one!" Debtra looked at Thurston with wide-eyed admiration, and Thom felt an unfamiliar sensation in his stomach – the uncoiling of biting jealousy?

"Barely, my dear. I've not been the same man since, and I have no recollection of about fifty years after that time."

"So what is monumenting?" Thom asked.

"A cruel, cruel thing," Debtra murmured.

Thurston nodded. "I'll assume you've had basic physics and know that, even in the most dense substances, there are spaces between atoms and molecules. As beings are essentially pure energy, monumenting takes the spirit, stretches it until there are holes between that energy, and fits it into a metallic substance that then is made into a monument."

"That sounds painful."

"The worst part is that monuments take millennia to decompose, and the spirit decomposes with it," Debtra said.

"Right." Thurston looked at his student. "There's something about the process that joins spirit to substance so thoroughly that they become the same. And it's impossible to escape, so the criminal sits there in the inclement weather with birds pooping on him or her for literal ages."

"Until this morning," said Thom.
Right, until this morning." Thurston looked at him. "That's why they called us in. I was there for the talks that developed the practice, and I opposed it, but I also understood it better than all save one."

"Sorvan," said Debtra.

Thurston nodded. "And I suspect that his infernal device, the Splitter, has been turned to undoing its work."

"But that's good, right?"

"Not precisely," Thurston said. "Because whatever was released this morning is no longer what he or she was. It will be an entirely new creature, and utterly unpredictable." Thurston looked at his watch. "Do you think those autopsy results are ready yet?"

Author's Note: I promise that I haven't run out of chocolate pictures, but I couldn't resist this lovely picture of a breakfast for dinner course from a beer dinner since our heroes are in a diner setting, and Thurston is about to indulge -- again -- his love for pancakes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Serial Fiction: Monument Minders, Chapter Five

Chapter Five:
A Strange Shadow

"Are you kidding? I couldn't sleep after a morning like that!" Bill Welby, the policeman who had been with the Lancasters that morning, told them after having answered the door of his much smaller house in the suburb of Irondale. He looked at his hands, which he'd clenched and stretched several times. Debtra could feel the distress emanating from him in waves.

"How well did you know the Lancasters?" asked Homily.

"Fairly well. They've been volunteering at the park for years. I've been on that beat for a decade." He shook his head. "I'm just afraid that something I did killed the guy. Like what if he had dust in his throat, and I forced it in and suffocated him? Or had a shard of metal in his chest, and I shoved it into his heart during chest compressions?"

"I doubt it," said the Professor.

"That's what I worry about, that I shoulda done something differently."

Debtra sat nearest to him on the other end of the microfiber couch. She touched his shoulder and projected soothing energy, but only at him, not Thom. It wouldn't do for the young detective to fall asleep in the middle of the interview. "You did the best you could. The widow thinks so."

"Really?" His shoulders slumped. "That's a relief. I was afraid she blamed me."

"So tell us what happened?" asked Homily.

"It was our usual routine," the cop said. "We walked into the park just after dawn. Mike went to the left toward the General's statue. It was his great-grandfather or something. Merrie and I went to the right, where the benches are. I go with her to make sure no vagrants bother her. She was in the grass picking up trash, and I felt the sidewalk shake under my feet. At first I thought it was an earthquake, y'know? But then it got real hot, then cold again, like I sweated ice, and for a second I felt like I was about to get the sinus. Then it was over, and she yelled for him, and he didn't answer."

"Did you see anyone else in the park?"

Bill narrowed his eyes. "Whaddaya mean?"

"Someone running away, maybe?"

Debtra and Thom looked at Homily. That was a new question.

"No." But he looked away.

"Did you see anything unusual at all?" the Professor persisted. "Any clouds or smoke?"

"No smoke, but, God, don't lock me up or anything."

"It's off the record," Thom said and put his notebook away.

"No smoke, but it seemed like the shadow moved funny. Mike's shadow. But Merrie knelt by him, covering it with hers."

"Ah." Thurston nodded. "You're not crazy. Whatever did that to the statue disturbed the fields nearby including the light fields. You're actually very perceptive to have noticed."

The big man smiled, and Debtra felt his need for approval, even after all these years. Not that he had a freaking clue what Homily had just said.

"Thanks, Professor."

"Energy field?" she asked when they got out to the car. Thom had been silent. He looked shell-shocked, and she wondered if maybe she should've directed a little psychic comfort his way. She could imagine why he felt so bewildered: the Professor had that effect on people, his mind moved so much faster than theirs.

Homily nodded, and for a moment, he actually looked gray and ancient. "I am starting to suspect what happened in the park this morning may have been the work of an old adversary. I am still not myself after our last encounter, and that was back in the nineteenth century."

Debtra imagined that her shocked expression mirrored Thom's. Had Homily actually admitted to weakness? That was totally unlike him, but then, this world with its gas-powered vehicles was completely foreign to her, although she enjoyed the cool air that came from the vents when Thom started the quiet motor. Strange settings made for strange revelations, she recalled from her previous lives.

"Who was he? Or is he?"

"I imagine he's still around," Homily said. "He's one of the Minders."

Debtra's dropped jaw joined her raised eyebrows. "A Minder?" she whispered. "You came away from a confrontation with one of them alive?"

"Half alive. It took me a long time to recover. But he's the one who came up with the barbaric punishment of monumenting." He smiled, but not with happiness. Debtra had never seen such a vindictive expression on her mentor's face.

"Monumenting." The reason for their visit – the real reason – hit her like a bucket of ice water. She'd shoved it to the back of her mind, the apparent murder being much less disturbing.

"And this has been the first time someone escaped. I imagine he must be a bit disturbed right now."

"Wait… What?" Thom turned to look at the two of them like he may have to drop them off at the sanatorium on his way home. "What's a Minder? And what the heck is monumenting? I thought you were here to solve a murder and a prison break."

Homily fiddled with a knob on his door handle, and the window lowered with a gentle whirr, then went back up. "Let's get to that safe place I asked you to find, and I'll explain."

Author's Note: I consider myself to be a connoisseur of irony, and the past week has been particularly delectable. I signed my lease for my new office on Monday, and then proceeded to have my busiest week ever, leaving me no time for the other nuts and bolts of my office move.

But, in more exciting news, I've been published in an anthology! More details to come.

No, the apple pie pictured below isn't chocolate, but since it's a national holiday, I thought it worked. Yes, that's a homemade crust. Have I mentioned that I bake when stressed? My husband is more than okay with it -- his favorite dessert is pie.

I hope everyone enjoyed their long weekend!