Tag Archives: Magic

Vampires and Magic: Your World’s Rules

I’ve given a lot of thought lately to the way different worlds have different rules for things that don’t exist in our reality. I talked about this awhile ago when I did my posts on magic and how to make your own rules. The basic idea is that if you’re writing about things that don’t have established rules in the real world, you can make up any rules you like, as long as you’re consistent and your world makes sense. That’s why you can have wizards in the Harry Potter universe who need wands to cast their spells, and wizards in the Harry Dresden universe who use magic circles to contain the energies of their spells. Each rule system is different, and they contradict each other at points, but it works as long as you make it believable within the context of your own novels.

Since I started reading an Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel, I’ve been thinking about how this concept applies to the well-known and sometimes overused genre of vampire stories. There’s a million ways to depict vampires, from the classic evil nobleman to the dark suave seducer to the suffering anti-hero to the deformed monster that preys on humans like a feral beast. And within all of these variations, the rules always change. Consider the usual vampire strengths and weaknesses:

Sunlight: Vampires are either weakened by it (Bram Stoker), instantly killed (Dungeons & Dragons), set on fire (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), slowly cooked (True Blood), or . . . well, we won’t talk about the other possibilities.

Holy water and crosses: Vampires are either repelled by them (D&D), physically hurt by touching them (Buffy), or unaffected by them at all (True Blood).

Silver: Some stories never mention silver at all, and sometimes it harms, weakens, or debilitates vampires. People are never quite sure.

Turning into a vampire: Sometimes you just get bitten and become a vampire, sometimes they need to feed you their own blood. Sometimes the vampire that made you can control you, sometimes you’re on your own.

Then there’s garlic, mirrors, whether or not they can enter a home uninvited, and plenty of other variables. No two vampire stories ever depict a vampire quite the same way, and yet the reader or viewer accepts the rules as they’re presented to them. If you’re reading a book where the author says inviting a vampire into your home makes them immune to crosses and garlic, then you accept that. If you’re reading one that says a vampire can force its way into a bachelor’s apartment but not a family home (because there’s more strong positive energy from a loving family), you accept it. The important thing is that the writer is consistent within their own rules and that everything makes sense.

Which makes me curious about other classics that can be modified and updated with new rules. There’s already plenty of examples. Maybe your werewolf built up an immunity to silver (like with iocane powder). Maybe Dr. Frankenstein the Third made his monster out of parts from aliens that crash landed at Area 51. Maybe trolls get more powerful the bigger their bridge is, so the Troll of the Golden Gate Bridge becomes an unstoppable beast. You never know.

I like it when writers keep things interesting. I like to see unique rules. And it’s always fun when something unexpected pops up and it really makes me think.


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Time and Combat

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way combat is depicted in some books. It’s a common thing to see in most of the books I read. From the huge, epic-scale wars in books like The Wheel of Time, to the wizard-vs-wizard slugfests I’ve been reading recently in The Dresden Files, there’s a lot of battles, big and small. Some of them are dramatic and tense. Some are long and drawn out. Some make me worry about the fate of the protagonist, while other times I’m confident that things will turn out okay. But regardless of the circumstances, the depiction of time during battles can be a tricky thing.

Sometimes I’ll be reading a book when an enemy starts charging forward, then it takes a couple of pages before they actually swing their sword or cast their spell, while the narrator describes every motion in great detail. Other times someone will fire off several gunshots or fireballs in a single sentence, dropping multiple foes at once. It’s almost as if the writing can sometimes move into bullet time, allowing the narrator to paint a detailed picture of the danger that is coming or the style and deadly grace of an opponent. When it’s well-done, it makes me appreciate the precision, speed, and skill of the combatants, whether it be their skill with weapons or their powerful magic. Other times, however, I find myself wondering, “How long does it take someone to pull the trigger?”

This gets more complicated when there’s multiple combatants involved, and each one needs some time in the spotlight. Though Jim Butcher handles that pretty effectively in The Dresden Files. When he writes a battle scene from Harry Dresden’s point of view, Harry usually starts off throwing spells around and kicking some serious magical ass. But then he either runs out of juice (draining his magical energies for his spells), or he gets injured, or in some other way he is briefly sidelined. This allows Harry to observe the action and the carnage, narrating it to the reader, with a reasonable excuse about why he’s taking so long to get up and help his allies. Though it does get to be a little predictable after I’ve seen the same storytelling tactic used multiple times across multiple books.

Another factor that seems to affect how time is portrayed and perceived in a book is how “close” the narration is. In a series like The Dresden Files, everything is being told in the main character’s voice, so the action is told from where he’s standing (or sometimes, where he’s lying on the ground, bleeding). In other stories, however, it’s easier to “zoom out” and narrate a battled from the third person perspective, telling the reader what’s happening across the battlefield all at once. Then, the story can “zoom in” and focus on a specific character and the blow-by-blow duel they’re having with an individual opponent. This seems to be a more effective technique if you want to describe things going on in multiple places at the same time, since the narration could describe events on one side of the battlefield, then the other, even though they’re taking place simultaneously. The reader can innately understand that the narration shifted a few moments back in time to catch us up on what’s happening elsewhere.

This is something I’ll definitely be studying more closely as I continue reading more urban fantasy books. There’s not a lot of “battles” so-to-speak in Manifestation (there’s some fights and action, but nothing on the scale of a massive armed conflict). The later books I’m working on in the series, however, step up the game quite a bit. And the more I read about how fantasy battles are depicted, the more action-packed and intense I can make those future battles. And hopefully, the passage of time during the fights won’t get confusing.

Unless I start writing romance novels, then I don’t have to worry about it.


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Magic In Your Face

Recently I’ve been reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. It’s an excellent urban fantasy series with a wise-cracking wizard protagonist who fights against vampires, werewolves, evil necromancers, faerie queens, and anyone else that decides they want to make his life miserable. Harry Dresden is the only “professional wizard” living in Chicago–he has an ad in the yellow pages, offering his services as a magical private investigator. Sometimes he investigates supernatural murders that the police can’t handle alone, other times he clears the name of the Faerie Queen of the Winter Court by proving she didn’t assassinate the mystical Summer Knight of the Summer Court. Think Sherlock Holmes meets Harry Potter.

I’m on the 8th book in the series, plus I’ve read a few of the separate graphic novels. And while I love the series as a whole, there’s one issue that I keep having a problem with.

Like most urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files gives us a modern day world where magic, faeries, vampires, goblins, ghouls, and every other supernatural thing you can imagine are all real. They’re just hidden from “normal people” (muggles) and no one accepts that there’s this entire hidden world out there beyond their perception. Over and over again throughout the course of the series, Harry encounters people who try to deny what they’ve seen. They try to rationalize the supernatural and magical things they experience by explaining them away as hallucinations, by convincing themselves they didn’t see what they thought they saw, or by flat-out denying everything.

There’s a certain extent to which this is understandable, on a case-by-case basis. Someone might be attacked by a ghoul, but convince themselves it was just a maniac wearing a mask. They might see a wizard blast an enemy with a dazzling burst of arcane force, but convince themselves that it was just a gun, a flamethrower, or something else technological. I could see an individual person rationalizing things for themselves so that they don’t come off seeming like they’re crazy. Even in my book, Manifestation, there’s a brief period where the main characters’ parents go through denial about what they’ve seen, saying “We don’t know what it really was.” So I can understand it on an individual basis.

The problem is when it goes on for so long that I no longer believe it’s possible to keep the magic hidden.

Harry Dresden has battled a werewolf (actually a loup garou, but that gets complicated) in front of witnesses at the Chicago Police Department, he’s gotten into magical battles in the city streets in broad daylight, he’s been chased through a hotel by a giant snake demon, and he once even used magic to reanimated a Tyrannosaurus Rex as a giant zombie that he rode through the streets of Chicago’s suburbs while it crushed and ate smaller, human zombies in a battle against a group of necromancers with nigh-godlike-powers.

Eventually these huge public spectacles reach the point where I’m convinced there must be witnesses, and those witnesses can’t all be in denial or considered crazy. Sooner or later, magic has to come out of the shadows and be seen as something real, something that exists, and something that cannot be denied.

I see the same thing happening in any modern setting where magic or supernatural forces are real, from Harry Potter to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to just about any vampire or werewolf movie ever made. While it might be realistic to keep things hidden and secret on a small-scale basis, these stories always up the stakes to the point where huge magical battles are taking place in front of hundreds of witnesses, where wizards on broomsticks and flying cars are soaring over the rooftops of major cities, and where there should be thousands of people grabbing their iPhones and snapping pictures of the mystical events taking place right in front of them. Once things reach a certain scale, when the magic is right out there in everyone’s faces, the idea that it can remain hidden just gets unrealistic.

I shrug it off when I’m reading a book like The Dresden Files, because it’s a good series and I can accept that this is the world the author wants to present to me. But sometimes I wish there would be a book where people are forced to accept that magic is real, where they can’t deny it anymore, and where the existence of magic starts to change the entire world. That’s one of the reasons I started writing the Arcana Revived series. Unlike other urban fantasy series, my world starts off as one where magic actually doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as wizards, vampires, faeries, or anything else supernatural. At least, not before the story begins. Then little by little, the magic starts coming back (I didn’t choose the name Arcana Revived just because it sounds cool) and people are forced to deal with it, because it can’t be hidden and it’s not going anywhere. By the end of the second book in particular, magic is starting to change the entire world, and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.

I find it more realistic, more fun, and a source of better conflict. After all, how would society react if people all around them suddenly started developing magical powers, and no one knew how to control them? That’s a question I find pretty interesting. And it’ll take me about six books to answer it.


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Fight Scenes: The Styles of MMA (MAGICAL Martial Arts)

Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfmullen14/7690794070/
Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfmullen14/7690794070/

We all like a good fight, right? Especially when the people involved are wizards. From Dumbledore vs Voldemort to Yoda vs Palpatine to Willow vs Bavmorda, a good magically-powered duel can be exciting, dangerous, and visually stunning. It can also have a lot of differences when compared to more traditional martial arts (i.e. anyone fighting without magic).

I’d like to discuss some of the principles I find helpful in writing a magical fight scene, using examples from my upcoming novel, Contamination, which is currently in revisions (and will be released next year as the sequel to Manifestation). I was inspired to do this after reading some posts on fight styles, written by Kat Loveland. She wrote a blog post about using fight scenes to develop your characters, and another on showing emotions and motivations during a fight. They’re both excellent reads, and I definitely recommend checking them out (and following her blog for more updates, since she has two more posts in this series coming up).

To touch on a couple of points Kat raised in her post, before I move on to the magical stuff, I’d like to quote a couple of lines that do a pretty good job summing up what she was getting at. One is when she discusses different fighting styles, and she cites Jason Bourne as an example:

Jason Bourne is an assassin, plain and simple, his entire existence is get in, kill, get out. As a result there is no hesitation, no flair, no fancy movies just fast, efficient violence.

This is something to consider when it comes to the personality and goals of your character. Kat makes some comparisons that show why one fighter will be quick and efficient, while others might have reason to draw out a fight with fancy moves. These types of details can really tell you a lot about a character’s personality.

Another quote from her second post  touches more on the emotions of the characters in a fight scene:

Ideally the reader is drawn into both the life and death drama of the physical violence but the internal drama that the characters present as well. There is no exposition going on yet you feel what the character is feeling, fear, rage or the need to prove that you are worthy and gain respect.

This shows another side of a fight scene, the way it can tell you about what a character is feeling in the moment of the fight, or how they feel when they have to kill someone.

So how does all this relate to magic? Well, just like a character’s physical fighting style (quick and efficient vs showy and elaborate) can tell you things about their personality, the way a character uses their magic can tell you about them as well. And there are a few questions you might want to ask about how your character’s personality dictates their magical strategies. I’d like to explore three aspects in particular, and I’ll share an example for each one.

Image Source: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?106639-3-5-Arcane-Knight-ToB-14-level-PrC
Image Source: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?106639-3-5-Arcane-Knight-ToB-14-level-PrC
 1. To Fight or Cast Spells?

Not all wizards are strictly limited to using their magic. Harry Potter fought the Basilisk with a sword, a Jedi will alternate between a lightsaber and force powers, and even Gandalf pulled out Glamdring the Foe-Hammer when it was time to face down some foes with brute force. So if you have a character who can use both magical abilities and physical combat skills, which do they prefer?

Sometimes, this decision can be one they make based on necessity. Most genres show that magical abilities tend to be draining, leaving the user exhausted if they overuse their powers. In other cases, a character might find themselves cut off from their powers in some way (such as in The Wheel of Time, when Aes Sedai can shield others from the source of their powers, leaving them helpless). A character who can draw a sword and defend themselves physically will have a backup for when their magic fails. While another character will draw their sword first, and resort to using their magic only as a last resort.

Here’s an example of Jeremiah Pritchard, one of the main protagonists in my novel, fighting with both physical and magical abilities:

The men coughed and gagged on the smoke and fired blindly at him, their shots flying wide over his head. Then one of them rushed through the smoke, half-bent over and coughing. He rushed for the door, seeming not to see Jeremiah through the smoke.

Jeremiah whipped the butt of his rifle in the man’s face and knocked him back. The man fell backwards and slammed into the ground. As soon as the man hit the ground, Jeremiah pulled the stun baton from his belt and slammed the tip into the man’s stomach. The baton crackled and send out sparks as it unleashed its charge into the man. He shook and trembled on the ground, then went limp.

Another spray of gunfire whipped past Jeremiah’s head. A burning sensation built up inside of him. His hands shook and he felt the light building up inside of him. But when the shadowy figure rose through the smoke, Jeremiah didn’t reach for the light. He dropped the stun baton, raised his rifle, and fired a quick, clean shot that caught the man in the neck. He dropped to the ground in a heap.

Another figure appeared at Jeremiah’s right. The man raised a shotgun and fired it right at Jeremiah’s head from point-blank range.

Jeremiah’s arms flung up on reflex, and with them came the light. A silvery-white field of mana erupted before him, crystallizing into a solid barrier. It deflected the shot, though the crystal buckled and cracked under the impact.

Jeremiah let the light dissipate as he rushed at the man. He used his rifle to knock the shotgun aside, then he swung his fist at the man’s head. The man crumpled under the blow, dropping to his knees. Jeremiah rammed the butt of his rifle into the man’s jaw and a loud crack filled the lobby. The man slumped to the floor, blood dripping from his jaw and the shotgun falling from his limp hands.

 As you can see, Jeremiah uses his combat skills first, his magic second. That’s because of his greater confidence in his military training, as opposed to his uncertainty about his magical capabilities. He’s the sort of person who only uses magic as a last resort. He doesn’t trust it, and he doesn’t want to rely on it.

Will your character rely on their combat skills first, and save magic for emergencies? Or will they break out the spells right away and go for broke?

Image Source: http://myworldsofmagic.com/images/updates/spell_circles.png
Image Source: http://myworldsofmagic.com/images/updates/spell_circles.png
2. Adaptability

Another thing to consider in magical combat is a character’s ability to think on their feet and use what’s around them. Think of this as the magical equivalent of the way Jackie Chan fights in his movies. He tends to grab anything that’s handy and use it as a weapon, even if it means opening a cabinet door and slamming it in someone’s face. He’s not the type to make himself rely on a certain weapon or a certain style.

Magic can be similar. You don’t have to stick with one or two “signature” spells. Harry Potter, for example, tends to use expelliarmus quite often, so much so that his overuse of it becomes a plot point in the last book. But what if you have a character who can think on the fly?

Here’s an example of Tock, my golem-maker, showing how she can adapt to make use of whatever happens to be around her:

Tock screamed in unholy fury and started shooting. Mana channeled into her gun and charged the bullets up with unstoppable force. They flew through the air as blue streaks of energy and pierced the cop’s armored vest with ease. She emptied the clip into him, screaming pure murder the entire time.

The other cops fired back at her, and she threw her empty hand towards them. Their bullets flew with kinetic energy. She was an energy manipulator. If she could change her own bullets with kinetic energy, then she could drain it as well. The air between her and the cops began to glow and she robbed the bullets of their energy. They hung still in the air for a moment, unable to even fall as she robbed them of gravity’s pull. The glow faded and drew back into her hand as a compressed ball of kinetic force.

“Oh shit,” one cop said.

“You ‘urt my baby!” Tock screamed. She reached into her tool belt and pulled out a handful of thick screws. She hurled them with the force of a shotgun firing, the collected energy from the bullets channeled into them and magnified a dozen fold with the extra mana she charged into it. The second cop was pelted with glowing shards of metal that pierced his flesh and punched clean through the other side.

As you can see here, Tock breaks out the magic right away, something very different from the way Jeremiah fights. But she also doesn’t limit herself to the things you’d expect. She also smoothly switches from channeling her mana into a gun to channeling it into a handful of screws, using them as magically-propelled shrapnel. And that’s just a small example of how much she’ll think outside the box with her abilities. The more creative your character’s personality is, the more they can break from the norm when it comes to magical combat.

Will your character fight with a few key spells? Or will they adapt on the fly and never use the same spell twice?

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3. Direct Combat or Ambushes?

Is your character the type to rush at their foes, hurling fireballs and lightning bolts from their hands? Or will they take on a more subtle approach?

Sometimes there can be merit to using magical abilities with stealth, like a ninja. A magic ninja. You might be faced with foes who are stronger than you are and have more experience using their magic. Or you might be outnumbered. Or you might have to worry about how long you can keep using your powers before your energy is drained and you can’t use them anymore. In any case, there’s always times when it can be a good idea to avoid a direct fight.

Consider this scene with my main protagonist, Gabby Palladino:

Gabby ran behind a bush and crouched down. With how dark it was, she hoped they wouldn’t see her. The heavy footsteps and sounds of breaking branches got closer, then the two soldiers emerged from the bushes. All Gabby could make out was vague shadows, barely illuminated by the moon.

“What’s that?” one of the men asked. They both stepped closer to where Gabby had been a moment before.

“Yeah, I feel it too,” the second man said. He leaned over and pointed to the ground right where Gabby had been crouching a moment before. He waved his hand over the area. “Something . . . some kind of energy. Like what we sense in each other.”

Gabby silently cursed herself. The mana pool was like a beacon in her senses, and no doubt in the senses of the soldiers as well.

The first man looked up in her direction and pointed. “There’s something else,” he said, “there.”

They moved forward, and Gabby froze in indecision. She could fight, or she could flee. I’m tired of running, she thought. She stood up and drew back the arrow she still held in the bow. She aimed low, letting her mana sense guide her as she targeted the invisible pool of energy on the ground. She didn’t want to kill these men; they were Northern Union soldiers. They were the good guys. She may not want to let them arrest her, but that didn’t mean she wanted them dead. She’d seen enough death.

She released the mana-charged arrow and let it fly. It shot through the air and landed in the ground, piercing right into the heart of the mana pool there. When the two opposing charges of mana—the one in the ground and the one in the arrow—collided, the energy erupted in a flash of light. Mana exploded and an eruption of dirt blew out from the ground. The two soldiers were thrown back, screaming. One smacked into a tree then fell to the ground, the other landed in a thick bush. Gabby could still sense the mana flows inside each man, so she knew they were still alive. She turned and ran to the side before they recovered from being tossed about by the explosion.

As you can see here, Gabby isn’t really a fighter. She doesn’t even go for the kill. She hides in the shadows, then strikes before her opponents know what hit them. Then she runs deeper into the woods before any other enemies approach. These are the tactics of a hunter or sniper, not a warrior.

Will your wizard kill from the shadows? Or weave illusions to deceive their foes? Or maybe even muddle their enemies’ minds and make them fight each other, ending the battle without the wizard having to set foot on the battlefield?

There’s many possibilities. And these possibilities say a lot about the personalities of any individual character. I develop each character’s style based on their personality, background, and experience.

So what about you? How will your wizard fight with magic?


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Staring

mani_promoClick here to read Chapter 1: Magic, or here to read Chapter 2: Manifestation, or here to read Chapter 3: Distraction. Here you can read the fourth sample chapter of my debut novel, Manifestation, an urban fantasy adventure that explores the revival of magic and mystery in a world that is unprepared for the changes arcane powers will bring. Available in paperback and ebook.

 

Chapter 4: Staring

 

 

Gabby woke up in the hospital with a hard knot of pain in her stomach and a pounding headache. The room was dark but the light coming in from the hallway through the open door burned Gabby’s eyes and made her wince. Her mom sat in a chair across the room. When Gabby shifted in the bed and tried to sit up, her mom got up and crossed over to her. She stood at the side of the bed and stared down at Gabby with her lips pressed together. Gabby stared back, and the look on her mom’s face made her wish that she hadn’t woken up.

Gabby didn’t say anything at first. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t have any explanation for what she’d done. She hadn’t even thought it through. Though maybe, she thought, her mom would listen now. She lay there in the bed and waited for her mom to ask her if she was okay, or what had happened to push her to such an act.

Her mom shook her head, her eyes wet with tears. “What is wrong with you?” she asked.

“Mom?”

“How could you do something like this?” Mom asked. She waved her hands at the plastic tubes and wires Gabby was hooked up to. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done to your family? How scared we were? Your father and Anthony both had to leave work and Frankie is missing class right now because we’re all down here worried about you! How could you do this to us? To your family?”

Gabby stared at her mom, mute. She clenched her teeth together. She wanted to yell, to ask her mom why she should care about what she’d done to them when no one had asked what happened to her. But she didn’t. She turned away from her mom, shifting in the bed as best as she could with tubes up her nose and an IV stuck in her arm.

“Just leave me alone,” she said.

* * *

The baby was crying.

The baby was always crying.

Gabby went about her morning routine, getting dressed in silence, except for the sound of the baby’s cries drifting up from downstairs. In the weeks since he’d been born, the weeks since Gabby came home from having her stomach pumped, it seemed like the baby never stopped crying and her headache never went away.

She clenched her teeth and rubbed at her temples. Dante wailed even louder. She responded to the wails by throwing her hairbrush against the vanity so hard she nearly cracked the mirror. She was sick of the constant noise, and sometimes really wished the little brat was just gone.

“Five minutes, Gabriella,” her mother called out as she passed by her door. “And don’t forget, you’re coming straight home after school. You have an appointment with Dr. Caldwell at five.” Gabby didn’t bother to answer. There was no reason to. It would be her third appointment with the psychiatrist, and she expected it to be as much of a waste of time as the first two had been. She sat and tied her shoes with harsh, tight yanks of the laces. “Gabriella?” Mom snapped, stepping back and peering through the door at her. Gabby stood up and checked herself in the mirror, fixing her hair. She didn’t even glance at her mom. After a moment, her mother sighed and gave up, then turned away and headed downstairs, leaving her daughter alone with her own reflection.

She stared at her mirror image for a long moment. She’d buttoned her blouse wrong. She huffed and started redoing the buttons. She kept messing up the simplest tasks lately. Not only was Dante’s crying interfering with her concentration, but her head felt like it was being crushed under a mountain of stone. Ever since she got back from the hospital, she’d been feeling pressure in her skull. The weight she felt pressing against her head nearly drove her to tears. It got worse with the constant wailing coming from down the hall.

She dried her eyes before the tears started to fall, then headed downstairs. As she stomped down the steps the baby cried louder. “Can’t you make him stop crying?” she snapped at Adrianna. Her sister glared at her, rocking little Dante in one arm and rubbing her head with the opposite hand. Adrianna had been experiencing frequent dizzy spells and migraines ever since Dante had been born, and they’d been growing steadily worse. The medication her doctor had prescribed didn’t seem to be helping any. Gabby didn’t have anything to take for her own headaches; she hadn’t told her parents about the pressure on her skull, since doing so would mean bringing up what she had tried to do to herself.

She’d tried more than once to tell them what happened, but her mother’s attitude about the whole situation made talking to her impossible. The constant badgering and demands for answers had made it too difficult for Gabby to explain what had really happened. Instead of telling her parents the truth, she ended up yelling and arguing with them, and accusing them of not being there when she needed them. Her dad had told her that if she couldn’t talk to them, she should tell the psychiatrist instead. But Gabby didn’t know if she could trust Dr. Caldwell, either.

Gabby headed out the door without another word to anyone in her family. She’d given up on talking to them. All the yelling and attempts to grab attention hadn’t gotten her anything except for being grounded ever since she’d gotten out of the hospital. Knowing that she was being punished for being a victim made it that much harder for her to open up to her parents. Her protests hadn’t gotten the grounding lifted, nor had they gotten her out of the weekly appointments with the psychiatrist. Appointments which usually involved her sitting there and staring at the wall while the doctor tried to get her to talk.

She rode the bus to school without saying a word to anyone. She had no friends left in school since Callia had graduated the year before. Plus now that Callia had moved away for her internship, Gabby never saw her. Her school day was boring, as always. Gabby spent more time writing in her diary than paying attention to the lessons. Math, science, and history bored her to tears, and she had no interest whatsoever in social studies or current events. Her literature class was about the only one that held any interest for her, and even that didn’t seem to draw much motivation from her anymore. As if that weren’t bad enough, she spent the whole day feeling like there was a chain wrapped around her head. The pressure on her skull never seemed to go away, and it drove her to constant distraction.

During gym class that day, as soon as she finished changing in the locker room, Gabby hurried off to find peace and quiet. She skipped running track, and instead hid herself under the bleachers. She leaned against the metal supports and closed her eyes, taking a deep, shuddering breath. She despised gym class. She was no good at running, she hated the uniform sweats and t-shirts they had to wear, and she hated getting changed in the locker room. Not that she had that much reason to be ashamed of her own body; she had nice curves and was very well-developed. She’d blossomed quite early in life, just like her sister. But she thought she needed to lose weight and she couldn’t help comparing her chubby body to the skinny girls with perfect legs and no flab.

She slid down to the ground and buried her face in her hands. It was quiet under the shadows of the bleachers. She had solitude, which she both loved and hated. She didn’t want to be around anyone else anymore, and she didn’t have any friends. Not since Callia left. But being alone with her thoughts brought bad memories back. Memories of things she hadn’t shared with anyone. She had never told her parents why she took all the pills that day. She hadn’t told them how she’d felt wrong ever since. Most days her head throbbed like it was caught in a vice, though it wasn’t a painful throbbing. Just a weight. Pressure.

“Palladino!” a voice called out to her. She moaned and rubbed her hands over her eyes, trying to push past the pressure she felt mounting on her skull. She’d started crying again without even realizing it. “Get your sorry ass out here and run some laps.” Gabby got up, bloodshot blue eyes staring at the gym teacher, wishing she had the nerve to tell her off. She sighed and headed onto the track, then jogged along until she started to run out of breath. It didn’t take long at all before she had to stop from fatigue.

As she came around to the far side of the track, she found her classmate Erica and her boyfriend Charlie hiding behind the second set of bleachers. Her footsteps slowed as she watched them making out. Charlie’s hands roamed over the teen girl’s body, and Gabby wondered what that would be like . . .

“What are you staring at?” Erica snapped when she saw her. “Get lost!” Charlie turned to look at her, a dangerous look in his dark eyes. He was on the football team and built like a tank. Gabby thought he was on steroids or something; every time she saw him, he seemed to be sweating, angry, and aggressive. He stared her down with a vein throbbing in his forehead, and Gabby backed away. Her head pounded and the pressure in her skull built up. The more the pressure built up in her head, the tighter Charlie’s grip on his girlfriend seemed to get.

She watched Charlie for a long moment as she backed away, until Erica smacked his arm and yelped, “Ow! You’re hurting me.” He turned back to his girlfriend and stepped back, letting go.

“Sorry,” he muttered, “I didn’t mean to.” He looked her over with apparent confusion, then glanced at Gabby as if it were somehow her fault. Erica rubbed her waist where he’d been holding her a little too tight. Charlie mumbled another apology, then glared at Gabby again, as if she were doing something wrong by just standing there watching.

Gabby hurried along. She didn’t want to be involved in anything going on between them. When she glanced back, she saw Charlie’s eyes were still fixed on her.

When class was over and she was back in the locker room, she kept her head down and quickly got changed back into her regular clothes. She didn’t like spending much time changing; being in the locker room always made her uncomfortable. She glanced down the aisle between the lockers at Erica and a group of the more popular girls she was friends with. They were all tall and nicely figured, and few of them were cheerleaders. Most of them had perfect, tanned skin, unlike Gabby with her pale skin and freckles. They were all much skinnier than Gabby, who had a more developed chest, more curves, and more flab around her hips and waist. She tried to keep her eyes to herself as she pulled on her shirt and jeans, then leaned over to tie her sneakers.

She glanced back down at the other girls again. She stared for a long moment when one blonde girl, still in her underwear, bent over to pick something up. The girl’s panties were riding up a little, revealing a glimpse of soft flesh. Gabby felt warm. One of the girls pointed at her and laughed, and the others joined in. She tried not to hear their taunts as she quickly pulled her shoes on, grabbed her backpack, and fled.

She ran around the back of the gym, and almost ran headfirst into a group of rough-looking students. There were about half a dozen of them, all dressed in black and smoking cigarettes. One of the oldest, a tall, mean-looking boy named Rick, was playing with a cigarette lighter, passing the flame under his palm as if to prove how tough he was.

Gabby skidded to a halt and they looked up at her, then started snickering at the tears falling from her eyes. Gabby’s heart pounded and her face reddened. The laughter grew louder and Gabby’s head started to spin. The laughter from the girls in the locker room rang in her ears, echoed by the laughter of the boys outside. It made her feel dizzy with shame. The pressure around her skull built up. She turned to run away, but then Rick shouted, “What the . . . holy shit!”

Gabby looked up and saw the grass between her and the boys had caught on fire. Several of the boys dropped their cigarettes and the flames spread. Rick stomped at the flames, then looked up at Gabby with his face scrunched up in pain. Her heart pounded and her face went pale. The flames rose and spread into the shrubs alongside the building. Gabby squealed and backed away. She’d never seen a fire move so fast before.

Shouts came from around the corner. Rick turned to flee with the other boys. Gabby stood there in shock, staring at the flames as they rose up the side of the building. Then a teacher came around the corner with a fire extinguisher, and Gabby fled the scene, hoping she wouldn’t be blamed for the fire the boys had started.

The fire alarm was pulled, the students were evacuated out to the football field. The fire hadn’t spread much farther after Gabby fled the scene, but it had gotten out of control enough that the fire department had to come put it out. The students were led away to make sure no one was hurt. Most of the kids were enjoying the break from classes, mingling in small groups of friends. Eventually the principal announced that everyone would be sent home early for the day and most of the kids cheered. The school buses lined up near the football field and the students were slowly herded in that direction.

Gabby kept her head down as she walked to her bus. Most of them ignored her, anyway. She walked by students chatting with their friends, boys and girls embracing in corners and under the bleachers, and others making plans for after school. She didn’t have anything fun or social to do after school; she’d been forced to quit the school play as part of her punishment, and she wasn’t involved in anything else.

She bumped into someone on her way past, and he yelled and shoved her away. “Ow! Watch it,” he yelled. He clutched at his stomach and glared at her. His face paled and he let out a groan as he rubbed his stomach where she’d bumped him, though she’d barely touched him. “Stupid dyke.”

Gabby stared at him. Her eyes started to burn, and she breathed in sharply through her nose. Why did he have to call her that? She didn’t even know him. He was a transfer student, Jacob-something. He was a goth kid in a leather jacket and with a weird haircut. He held his stomach as if he was sick. He stared at her, sweating. She glanced around and saw everyone else was staring at her too. Her face reddened. Jacob turned and walked away, holding his stomach as though he was about to throw up.

She heard a voice from the side mutter, “Such a freak . . . I swear, she’s always staring at me in the locker room.”

Gabby blushed and lowered her head. Rick and a few of the other seniors were pointing at her and laughing. Some of the other students shook their heads and turned away. The only one who didn’t seem to be laughing was the foreign exchange student, Minori. She gave Gabby a kind smile, but that made her feel worse. She’d never shown Minori any kindness in return. Minori had grown up attending a mission in Tsuchan, and the other students teased her for being a religious freak. Gabby had always been very strong in her religious beliefs as well. She thought maybe she and Minori could have been friends.

Minori gave Gabby a shy little wave. Gabby turned away, afraid to return the friendly gesture and risk being mocked even more for hanging around the exchange student. She hurried in the opposite direction, trying to avoid any more attention.

She made her way around the football team’s equipment building and ran across Erica and Charlie again. They were pressed up against the side of the building, kissing, while the athlete’s hands slid up his girlfriend’s skirt. Gabby stood off a short distance away, trying not to stare, but wondering what it would be like to touch a girl like that. She wasn’t paying much attention to anything going on around her. That is, until she heard Charlie’s voice snap, “What the hell are you staring at?”

“I wasn’t—!” she said, then cut off when she saw he wasn’t even looking at her. He was glaring at the new kid, Jacob. Jacob was staring at Erica, and not even trying to hide it. Gabby looked up at Erica and frowned. There was an odd look on the blonde girl’s face.

“Hey,” Charlie shouted, stepping over towards the new kid. “I asked you a question, freak!” A crowd started to gather around as Charlie advanced on Jacob. A few kids cheered and hollered in anticipation of a fight.

“Fuck off,” the new kid snapped. Gabby held still and watched with a growing sense of dread. The crowd pushed her forward, while many of the students shouted and egged the two boys on. When she got closer she saw a vein in Charlie’s neck bulging and his face turning red. She stared and held her breath. He didn’t just look angry. He looked like he was about to explode. His fists were clenched and he gritted his teeth so hard she thought they might crack.

“What’d you say to me?” Charlie screamed.

The new kid stepped closer. His face was pale, and his eyes had the unfocused, bloodshot look of someone who was high. He would have to be to mouth off to someone twice his size. “I said fuck off. He kept looking past Charlie’s shoulder, over at Erica, who was still leaning against the wall. She hadn’t moved from that spot. Her eyes were locked right on Jacob’s, unblinking. Jacob’s eyes traced over her body and she squirmed under his gaze.

The crowd pressed in closer. Some of the students chanted, “Hit him, hit him!” Gabby looked around, wondering how long it would take a teacher to realize what was going on. Even if one came, it didn’t seem like they would get there in time to break up the inevitable fight.

Before anyone could stop it, the pounding started. Fists flew, and Gabby thought she saw the new kid pull a knife, though it was hard to be sure with all the confusion and the cheering that went on around her. Her heart pounded, and bodies pressed against her from all sides. Her head ached, the pressure building up, and she felt closed in from all sides by the mass of flesh all around her. She screamed and tried to push herself back. She felt trapped, and surrounded without control. She pushed against the students around her, but they all shoved inward, and her small voice was lost among the cheering and chanting.

When the teachers finally showed up to pull the students apart, both Charlie and Jacob were on the ground, unconscious. Erica stood off to the side. Her face was blank and her eyes dull with shock as she watched the teachers attend to her boyfriend who lay on the ground. She rubbed at her temples and leaned against the building as though she was dizzy.

Someone pulled out a phone to call for help. One of the teachers knelt next to the boys to check on them. Jacob was bloody and bruised, but Charlie didn’t seem to have a mark on him. Gabby stepped closer, and the pressure around her skull tightened. She had trouble focusing her vision. She looked down at Charlie as the teacher searched him for injuries, but found none. The only strange thing about him was the way the veins in his neck and forehead bulged and throbbed. Gabby’s heart pounded, and she could have sworn that the throbbing in Charlie’s veins matched the rhythm of her own pulse.

Chapter 5: Therapy


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Manifestation

mani_promoClick here to read Chapter 1: Magic. Here you can read the second sample chapter of my debut novel, Manifestation, an urban fantasy adventure that explores the revival of magic and mystery in a world that is unprepared for the changes arcane powers will bring. Available in paperback and ebook.

 

Chapter 2: Manifestation

 

 

Gabby woke up late in the night. She was disoriented for a moment, until she remembered she was in her friend’s bed. Callia slept next to her, her angelic face softly glowing in the moonlight, her hand still resting against Gabby’s skin. Gabby’s heart raced, and she couldn’t help leaning down and planting a soft kiss on her friend’s lips. She lingered for a long moment, then pulled away as Callia whimpered contentedly in her sleep.

Gabby looked at the digital clock on the nightstand. The glowing green numbers read 2:14. “Shit,” she whispered. Her parents were going to kill her when she got home. Taking the car had been bad enough, and being out until all hours of the morning was probably giving her mother more time to stew on her anger.

Gabby climbed out of the bed, pushing away her desires as she pulled herself from Callia’s touch. She changed back into her still-damp clothes, moving as quietly as she could in the dark room. Once she was dressed, she unlocked the door and slipped out into the hall, holding her breath the entire time.

She’d taken two steps down the stairs when she heard a door open behind her. She froze, hoping that if she stayed still, she wouldn’t be seen or heard in the dark. A moment later, the hall light flared to life. Gabby shut her eyes against the sudden brightness, then slowly opened them and turned to see Callia’s mother standing in the hall.

“Gabby,” she said, crossing her arms. “When did you get here? You know, your mother has been calling here all night looking for you.”

Gabby swallowed and lowered her head. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Gainsborough,” she whispered. “Please don’t tell her I was here? I’m going home now—”

“I’m not going to lie to your mother, Gabby,” Mrs. Gainsborough said. “You should be ashamed of yourself! Taking your mother’s car, staying out all night, and now I catch you here, in my daughter’s room.”

Gabby’s face turned red as she glanced back towards Callia’s door. Did Callia’s mother know what had happened? Not that anything had happened. Not really. It had just been a kiss. A kiss Gabby could still taste on her lips.

“I’m calling your mother,” Mrs. Gainsborough said. “She can come down here and get you, and—”

“No!” Gabby whispered. “Please, I . . . I’m going home right now. I don’t want to get into any more trouble.”

Mrs. Gainsborough stared her down for a long moment. “You shouldn’t be out alone this late at night,” she said. She let out a sigh. “Your parents are probably asleep by now, so I suppose there’s no point in waking them. But let me get my coat, and I’ll drive you home.”

“But what about my mom’s car?” Gabby asked. “I can’t leave it here.”

Mrs. Gainsborough tapped her fingers on her arm and studied Gabby for a moment. “Where did you park?” she asked. “Is it far? I don’t want you wandering through the streets alone in the middle of the night.”

“I parked right around the corner,” Gabby said, turning towards the stairs. “Really, I’ll be home in five minutes.”

She waited for a moment, until Mrs. Gainsborough nodded. “All right,” she said. “Fine. But I’m calling your mother first thing in the morning.”

Gabby decided not to argue the point any further. She didn’t want to get into any more trouble than she was already in. She hurried down the stairs and out the door. Mrs. Gainsborough followed her and watched her as she walked from the house, until she was around the corner and out of sight.

The rain had stopped, but the night air was freezing, and Gabby’s breath frosted in the air as she hurried back to the car. When she was still a couple of blocks away, however, she saw the flashing lights of a police car in the distance. She froze in place, her mind screaming in panic. She thought about how many laws she was technically breaking at the moment, being out past curfew with her mother’s car and wallet. She held her breath and hoped that the police weren’t there for her, but there was no such luck. When she got close enough to see what was going on, she spotted a cop car and a tow truck by her mother’s car. Her mother must have reported it stolen, or at the very least called the police to report her daughter missing and send them looking for her.

“Oh, God, no, no, no,Gabby whispered, rubbing her hands across her face. She looked around, uncertain what to do. Being brought home by the police would make her situation worse.

She turned in the other direction and started circling around the block. It was a long walk from Callia’s house back to her own, but she decided she’d rather walk home in the cold than get picked up by the police. She kept a brisk pace, trying to come up with a story in her head that would explain what had happened. She tried to think of a convincing way to make her mother believe someone else had stolen the car, even though she knew any story she concocted would be full of holes.

The silent streets were empty, except for an occasional car passing by. After walking for almost an hour, she realized she’d gone in the wrong direction. Her mind was so frazzled that she’d lost her way. She was almost back in the industrial district at the edge of San Lorien. She cursed under her breath and turned around, rubbing her arms in an attempt to keep warm.

She was finally headed back in the right direction when a pair of headlights illuminated her in the darkness. She turned around and saw a car approaching. She considered hitching a ride, but she knew that was too dangerous, especially in this neighborhood. She turned back in the direction she was heading, ignoring the car. She expected it to pass her by, but as the car approached it slowed down. She glanced back. A shadowy figure watched her from the driver’s seat. She picked up her pace, suddenly feeling very alone and vulnerable and far from home. The pressure in Gabby’s skull returned, worse than before. The car followed, and she panicked, breaking into a run.

Tires squealed behind her as the car raced after her. It sped up until it overtook her, screeching to a halt right in front of her and blocking her path. Gabby screamed and turned to run in the other direction, but the driver got out of the car and chased after her. Her breath burned in her lungs as she fled, but the ground was slick from the rain and she lost her footing. Before she knew what was happening she slipped and fell, and then the man was on top of her. She tried to fight back, but he was too strong. She searched inside for the strength to fight him off. There was a burning light in her mind, just beyond reach. She screamed and struggled and tried to find the light, but she was helpless to stop what was happening. Eventually she gave up and turned everything inward, her thoughts, her emotions, and the light she’d been reaching for. Trapped with no hope of release, she surrendered and let it happen, while the pressure inside her continued to build endlessly upon itself.

* * *

The house was empty when Gabby finally made it home. She stumbled through the door and shut and locked it behind her. “Mom!” she cried out into the darkness. “Dad!”

There was no answer.

She dragged her bruised body upstairs, searching every room for some sign of her family. No one was home. She went into her room and found a note lying on her desk:

Gabby,

I don’t know what in God’s name you were thinking taking my car, but you are in serious trouble. We came home and you were just gone! I don’t know what’s been going through your mind lately, but this is unacceptable behavior.

It’s almost four in the morning. I just hope you’re someplace safe. Your sister just went into labor and I think it’s for real this time. We’re taking her to the hospital. When you get home you had better call me right away so I know you’re safe and sound. And as soon as we get home you and I are having a serious talk about what you did.

-Mom

Gabby sat on her bed and sobbed, clutching the note to her bruised chest. She pulled out her phone with trembling hands; after what had happened, she had been in too much shock to think to call for help. She turned the phone back on and saw more missed calls, texts, and voice mail notifications from her mother. Her fingers shook as she tapped the screen, about to call her parents and beg them to come home.

She stopped before making the call and looked at herself in the mirror. She was covered in mud, her hair was tangled, and her sweater was torn. She didn’t want her parents to see her like this. She put down the phone and stripped from her clothes, throwing everything she was wearing—the torn sweater, ripped jeans, and shredded panties—in the garbage. She never wanted to look at those clothes again.

She showered, spending a long time under the hot water, trying to get clean. She didn’t feel clean. Later, she returned to her room, changed into fresh clothes that covered the bruises, and locked her door. She didn’t feel safe anymore, not even in her own home. She lay down on her bed after the worst night of her life, and by the time she fell asleep the sun was rising.

She slept most of the day and ignored her phone whenever it rang. She didn’t leave her room once all day. It was late by the time her family came home. They were laughing and happy, and her brothers’ voices drifted up along with her parents’ from downstairs. Before long there was a bang as someone tried to open Gabby’s door.

“Oh, this is real mature, young lady!” her mother yelled through the door. “You were gone all last night, and now that you’re home you lock yourself in? Gabby?” Her mother banged hard on the door as she screamed at her through the thin wood, “Gabby? I’ve had enough of this. I know you were off at Callia’s house last night, her mother called and told me. Your sister had the longest day you could possibly imagine, and we are just thanking God that she made it through okay. Now you are going to march your butt downstairs apologize to your father right now! And tomorrow when you meet your nephew you are going to treat him and your sister with some respect, do you hear me? Gabby? Gabriella!

Gabby remained where she was, huddled in the corner. She didn’t want her mother to see her the way she was. She didn’t want anyone to see her shame.

“Fine,” Mom snapped. “You can just stay in there all night and think about what you’re doing to the rest of the family.”

Gabby heard her mom stalk off and stomp down the stairs, while all she could do was huddle in the corner and cry.

Her tears eventually stopped and she sat there in the dark, alone. Her head throbbed with pressure that wouldn’t go away. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, but she knew she couldn’t sit there forever. She went downstairs, and found her family all together in the living room. They were showing pictures of the new baby, who was down at the hospital with her sister. Her parents and brothers were all quietly talking, looking happy and fulfilled. Gabby crept up quietly, without a clue how to explain to them what had happened. She didn’t know what to do next.

“Mom . . .”

All eyes turned on her. She stifled a sob. When she opened her mouth to speak, her mother cut her off, “Unless you’re here to apologize, I don’t want to hear it.”

“But, I—”

“But nothing, Gabriella Marietta Palladino,” Mom said. “I don’t want to hear it.”

Gabby choked back a sob and yelled, “No! Mom, you need to listen!”

“You do not speak to your mother that way!” Mom screamed. “If you aren’t going to learn some respect, you can just go back to your room.” She stared Gabby down and pointed to the stairs. “Upstairs!”

“Mom, please!

“Now!” Mom screamed, standing up and pointing towards the stairs.

Gabby stared at her as tears streaked down her face. Her father sat quietly and let her mother call the shots. Anthony and Frankie looked between her and Mom, but they said nothing. Frankie looked like he was about to say something, but a sharp look from their mother cut him off.

Gabby turned and ran up the stairs and into her room. She slammed the door shut and slid to the ground, hugging her knees to her chest as she broke down in sobs.

She stayed in there the rest of the night. She didn’t go downstairs for dinner. The stress, the crying, and the gnawing pit in her stomach from not eating anything all day had given her a headache that wouldn’t go away. She endured it for as long as she could. Her head was still pounding when she heard the front door open later in the night. She looked out her window and saw Frankie and Anthony leaving, returning to their lives away from home. Not long after that she heard her parents down the hall, getting ready for bed. When quiet settled over the house, she crept into the bathroom to search for some aspirin.

She opened up the medicine cabinet and snatched the bottle down, then dumped half a dozen pills into her hand. She popped them in her mouth and turned on the faucet, cupping her hands and filling them with water to wash the pills down. Then she splashed the cold water on her face to wash away her tears.

After she dried her face, Gabby grabbed the aspirin bottle to put it away. She paused and stared down the mouth of the bottle for a long moment, her mind blank of any conscious thoughts. She turned the bottle in her fingers, watching the little orange pills tumble about inside. Then, without really thinking about what she was doing, she put the bottle to her lips and dumped the full contents into her mouth.

She turned on the faucet and leaned over the sink. She choked on the pills as she tried to wash them down, and she ended up spitting half of them back up. The water carried them down the drain. She opened the medicine cabinet to search for more. She grabbed Dad’s heart medication and the diazepam Mom was taking for her nerves. She swallowed them all, a handful at a time.

The empty pill bottles were scattered all over the countertop. A few stray pills were littered across the floor. She left them there and she went back to her room, turned off the light, and laid down in bed to go to sleep, possibly for the last time.

Chapter 3: Distraction


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Magic

mani_promoHere you can read the first sample chapter of my debut novel, Manifestation, an urban fantasy adventure that explores the revival of magic and mystery in a world that is unprepared for the changes arcane powers will bring. Available in paperback and ebook.

 

Chapter 1: Magic

 

 

Gabby Palladino raced through the front door of her home, a huge grin on her face for the first time in weeks. “Mom?” she called out. “Dad?” She hurried into the living room, looking for her parents. They should have been home already; she’d stayed late after school to audition for the new play, and by the time the late bus brought her home, it was well past the time her parents normally returned from work.

“Mom?” she asked, peeking into the kitchen. “Adrianna?” There didn’t seem to be anyone downstairs. She looked back out the window and saw Mom’s car sitting in the driveway, but Dad’s car wasn’t there. She didn’t know if he was late getting home from work, or if he’d gone back out for some reason.

She climbed the stairs and looked into each room on the second floor. Frankie’s room was empty, though it always was now that he was away at school. He almost never came home, even for the weekends. Adrianna wasn’t in her room, nor was she in the nursery. Adrianna was due any day now. Gabby glared at the secondhand crib that awaited the birth of the little brat. She couldn’t stand the sight of that room anymore. It used to be her oldest brother Anthony’s room, but ever since they’d moved his old stuff into the attic to make room for the new baby, she couldn’t look at the room without remembering that her big brother wasn’t coming home anymore. At least, not for anything more than the holidays.

She turned away and looked into her parents’ room. Mom’s purse sat on the dresser, but there was no sign of her parents anywhere. She imagined they must have left in a hurry for Mom to forget her purse.

She took out her phone and swiped her finger across the screen to scroll through the contacts until she found her mom’s cell phone number. She plucked at the loose threads of her sweater while she waited for an answer. When her mother finally answered, she had the gall to sound impatient. “Yes, Gabby, what is it?”

“Where are you guys?” Gabby asked. She went back to her room and peeked out the window that overlooked the front yard, hoping in vain that she’d see Dad’s car pulling up to the house.

“We’re at the hospital,” Mom said. “Adrianna wasn’t feeling well and we wanted to make sure she’s okay.”

“Did she have the baby?” Gabby asked, her tone mocking the excitement she should have been feeling.

“No,” Mom said. “The doctor said it was false labor. It could be any day still. Listen, there’s leftovers in the fridge. I’ve got to go.”

“But Mom,” Gabby protested, “you didn’t even ask me about—”

“Not now, Gabriella,” her mother said. “I need to go talk to the doctor about your sister.”

“But Mom!” Gabby said. Her mother hung up without another word.

She grumbled and sat down on her bed, crossed her arms, and glared at the floor. Her mother hadn’t even asked her about the play. She’d gotten the lead. It was one of the most exciting things she’d ever done. Not that anyone cared.

After a few minutes of moping, she got up and went over to the window. It was raining, so going out anywhere was out of the question. She looked down and saw Mom’s car sitting in the driveway. She wasn’t allowed to drive yet; she was supposed to have her license already, but like so many other things in her life, it had been put off because her family was too busy getting ready for the baby. Almost every time she’d asked her parents to take her out for lessons, they’d made excuses. She knew how to drive well enough not to get into an accident, but she wasn’t ready to take her driving test yet, mostly because of parallel parking.

She went back to her parents’ room and looked at her mother’s purse. She stepped over and peeked inside. The car keys sat on top of Mom’s wallet. She reached in and tapped them with her fingers. She wondered how much trouble she’d get into for what she was considering.

She decided she didn’t care.

She grabbed the keys, then as an afterthought snatched her mom’s wallet as well and shoved it in her pocket. She went back to her room and grabbed her pink jacket. It had been bitter cold all day. The weather seemed to be hinting at an early winter. The rain would make the cold that much worse. She put on a knit hat and gloves, then headed outside without any real idea where she was going.

She drove into the city first, crossing from the suburbs into the busy streets of San Lorien. She took herself out to dinner at the most expensive restaurant she could find, in the lobby of the Donovan Grand Hotel, and paid with her mom’s credit card. When the maitre d’ questioned her, she claimed her family was staying at the hotel but her parents were off sharing a romantic evening together, and her mother had sent her to dinner alone. He eyed her with doubt, but didn’t argue.

After dinner her phone rang. Her mom’s number displayed on the caller ID. She ignored the call, then put her phone on silent. She didn’t have any idea if Mom was calling from the hospital, or if she’d gotten home and noticed that she was missing. Either way, she didn’t want to deal with it right now.

As the sky grew darker, she started to worry about getting lost in the city if she kept driving around at night. The rain had lessened, but it was still coming down enough to make visibility poor, and the approaching darkness made it worse. She didn’t know the streets of San Lorien all that well; she’d grown up in the suburbs, and didn’t come into the city that often. She was already lost, since she’d been driving around without any real destination in mind. She pulled to the side of the road so she could use the GPS to find her way, knowing she’d never figure out where she was going without it. Once she started tapping the buttons on the touch screen, however, she realized she didn’t know what address she should punch in. She didn’t want to go home yet. After a moment’s thought, she decided to punch in her friend Callia’s address. She wouldn’t be able to take her mother’s car all the way to Callia’s house, of course, since Callia’s parents were surely at home.

The GPS guided her through the dark streets, and the tall buildings of the city faded away and were replaced by the worn-down industrial buildings that ringed San Lorien. She drove past those and into the more familiar two-story homes of the West District suburbs. She parked around the corner from Callia’s street and got out to walk the rest of the way. The night air was chilly, and the cold rain soaked through her knit hat before she reached her friend’s house. When she got there, she hesitated just before knocking on the door. Her parents might have called Callia’s, looking for her.

She snuck around to the back of the house and pulled out her phone. She hit the power key and swiped her finger across the screen to unlock it, then immediately saw several missed calls and texts from her mom. She ignored them and instead sent Callia a text message: Are you in your room?

She waited in the rain for the reply, bouncing up and down on her toes to try to keep warm. A minute later Callia’s reply appeared on the screen: Yeah, I’m home. What’s up?

I’m outside, Gabby texted back.

What? Callia texted. Why didn’t you ring the doorbell?

I’m in the backyard, Gabby replied. A moment later she saw Callia’s window on the second floor open, and her friend’s blonde head stuck out.

“What are you doing down there?” Callia asked. “Your parents called here looking for you.”

“Let me in,” Gabby said, trying to keep her voice down so Callia’s parents wouldn’t hear. “I took my mom’s car.”

“You’re crazy! Callia said, shaking her head. “God . . . hold on.”

Callia pulled her head back inside and shut the window. Gabby shivered in the cold while she waited for her friend to come let her in. Her phone was still on silent, but while she was waiting, the screen lit up with an incoming call. The caller ID showed it was her mother’s number again. She tapped the screen to reject the call, then locked the phone again. She didn’t want to talk to her mother right now. A few moments later Callia appeared at the back door. Gabby slipped inside, stepping carefully so as not to make any noise. “You’re gonna get in so much trouble,” Callia whispered. “You know that, right? If my parents catch you here . . .”

“I won’t stay long,” Gabby whispered. “Where are your parents?”

“Watching TV,” Callia said. “Come on, and be quiet.”

Callia led Gabby through the kitchen and into the hall. Gabby could hear the sound of the TV coming from the living room and the light from the screen flickered into the hall. They slipped past with care, then hurried up the stairs and into Callia’s room. Callia shut the door and locked it, then turned to look at Gabby. “You’re soaked,” she said. She helped Gabby get her jacket off, but the old, worn out material hadn’t kept the rain out very well and her sweater underneath was damp as well. “Here, let me get you something to wear. I need to get changed for bed anyway.”

Gabby sat on the edge of the bed while Callia dug through her dresser drawers and pulled out a nightgown for herself and an over-sized t-shirt for Gabby. Callia started to get changed, showing no modesty in front of her trusted friend. “So let me guess,” Callia said as she pulled her shirt over her head. “You had another fight with your mom.”

“Yeah,” Gabby said, keeping her eyes down and trying her hardest not to stare at her friend’s body. She couldn’t resist a peek, and her face heated up at the brief sight of Callia’s bare chest before her friend finished changing into her nightgown. “Well, not a fight. But they left without me, and . . .” She trailed off and bit her lip, realizing now that taking the car just because her parents had taken Adrianna to the hospital hadn’t been a bright idea. Now that she wasn’t distracting herself and she sat down and think about what she’d done, it started to sink in that she was going to be in a lot of trouble.

She changed out of her wet clothes quickly, trying not to let Callia see how much she was blushing. It was the same feeling she dealt with around other girls in the gym locker room every day at school. “It’s just,” she said, “ever since Addy got pregnant, that’s all anyone ever cares about. It’s not fair that she gets so much attention just because she was a slut.”

Once they were both changed, Callia sat next to Gabby on the bed and took her hands. “You really shouldn’t be mad at your sister,” she said. “She’s going to need your support.”

“It’s what she gets,” Gabby said. “She’s been with so many guys. She just keeps it secret from Mom.” Gabby knew that Callia was right; the baby was due any day now, and Adrianna was going to have to raise him alone, since her ex-boyfriend Jeremy had abandoned her.

There was a long pause, then Callia asked, “What about you?”

Gabby looked up and asked, “What about me?”

Callia gave her a shy smile and asked, “Have you ever . . . y’know . . . with a guy?”

“Eww, no!” Gabby replied, shaking her head and scrunching her face up in disgust.

Callia giggled and shook her head. “Yeah, me neither,” she said. “I’ve never even been kissed.”

Gabby found that hard to believe. Her friend was beautiful. She had perfect porcelain skin, golden blonde hair, and shimmering blue eyes. She was thin and graceful, and exactly what Gabby pictured an elf would look like.

“Have you ever been . . . curious?” Callia asked.

Gabby’s heart started to speed up. “Yeah,” she whispered. “I mean, I guess. But I’ve never met someone who I’d want to . . .” That was a lie, but she’d never admit to the truth.

“What if it was someone that you trust?” Callia asked. She intertwined her fingers with Gabby’s, a playful smirk touching her tender lips. “Just to try it.” She shrugged. “See what it’s like.”

Gabby barely nodded. “Yeah,” she said. Her mouth suddenly felt very dry.

“Yeah?” Callia asked, leaning closer.

“Yeah . . .”

Their lips touched and Gabby closed her eyes. Callia’s lips felt so soft, and they tasted faintly of strawberry chapstick. They were moist and warm, and Gabby trembled at the thought of her own chapped, dry lips. She held perfectly still until Callia’s lips moved gently against hers, and she parted hers ever so slightly in response. In that moment, she believed in magic.

All too soon it was over. “That was . . . interesting,” Callia said.

Gabby nodded, unable to find her voice. Her heart was pounding and she trembled. She could still taste her friend’s lips and all she could think about was kissing her again.

The room was silent for a moment, then Callia got up and said, “I’m going to go say good night to my parents, so they don’t come up here to check on me. I’ll be right back.” Gabby nodded and waited while Callia headed downstairs. Gabby settled herself awkwardly on the bed and tried to keep as quiet as possible. Her mind raced, but no coherent thoughts came to the surface. She was full of energy, and it danced just beneath the surface of her skin, waiting to be released. She just didn’t know how to release it.

When Callia friend returned, she locked the door again and shut out the light. “Okay, they think I’m going to sleep. We just need to be quiet.”

In the dark, Callia settled on the bed next to Gabby. The rain outside had finally cleared, and the moonlight drifted through the window. Gabby could barely make out Callia’s form, lying on her side, her head propped on her hand. Her thoughts raced with forbidden desires, but she kept them to herself. They built up in her mind like a pressure building up inside her skull, threatening to burst free. It made her head and her heart ache.

“So,” Callia whispered in the dark, “what else is new with you? Didn’t you audition for that play today?”

Gabby smiled, glad that her friend had remembered. “Yeah,” she said. “I got the lead.”

They chatted for a while, keeping their voices low as Callia asked Gabby about the play and about school. Gabby had a hard time concentrating on anything beyond the warmth of the girl lying next to her and the pressure building up inside her. After the conversation lapsed, to distract herself from such thoughts, she asked, “What about you? Are you still going to Costa Rosa in the spring?”

“Actually,” Callia said with a smile in her voice, “I have an interview for an internship. It’s with the Jansborough Wildlife Preserve. If I get it, it’ll count towards college credit, and I can enroll at C.R.U. next fall.”

“That’s great,” Gabby whispered, fighting the conflict she felt in her chest. Jansborough wasn’t that far away, but it still meant her best friend would be out of reach. Jansborough was even further west than Costa Rosa, and further inland, away from San Lorien’s ports. “If you wait until next year to go to the university, we could end up starting at the same time.” Callia had graduated from high school the year before, but Gabby was just starting her senior year. Callia had taken a year off after high school to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. She’d worked some part-time jobs and done volunteer work, which had taken up a lot of her free time lately.

Gabby missed seeing her friend in school every day, but she could look forward to sharing classes again in college next year. Until then she would miss Callia dearly. Even if Gabby had a car or her license, the move to Jansborough would put her friend hours away. It wasn’t as if she could expect her parents to drive her that far for a visit.

“Yeah,” Callia said. Her hand idly reached out and played with Gabby’s hair. “It’s going to be a great learning experience. There’s a research station, deep in the woods, with cabins where the staff live. We’re going to be studying animals in their natural habitat, trying to find out how they’re being affected by civilization moving in on their homes. And since the work there counts as college credit, I won’t need to spend as much time in classes later on.”

“It sounds great,” Gabby said. She was glad for the darkness; it kept Callia from being able to see the tears in her eyes. “It sounds just like what you always wanted. Going out there and actually doing something.”

“Yeah,” Callia said. “I’ll miss you.” The excitement was gone from her voice.

“I’ll miss you, too,” Gabby replied. They settled back into silence. She closed her eyes and let out a sigh, focusing on nothing except for the feeling of Callia’s fingers playing with her hair. Before she knew it, she had drifted off to sleep.

 Chapter 2: Manifestation


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Magic Dance

Writing about magic kisses the other day made me think of another common trope: the Magic Dance.

Of course, the magic dance isn’t just a song from Labyrinth. Dancing (and we’ll throw singing in there, just for fun) is often used in various magic rituals or spells in movies, books, and other mediums. Though, depending on the genre, there can be some gray areas between dances that are actually magical, those that are purely ritualistic, and those that are somewhere in between.

Let’s look at a few examples of magic dances in different mediums.

This dance is knowing as a “sending,” and it’s an important plot point in Final Fantasy X. It’s a ritual that’s used to release the souls of the dead and send them on their way to the “Farplane” (the afterlife). According to the game lore, without the sending ritual, the souls of the dead might remain behind, angry and confused after their deaths. This, of course, results in the person becoming undead. Though the game takes a unique angle on it, since the “unsent” aren’t zombies, vampires, or any other traditional type of undead. Instead of staking them through the heart or shooting them in the head, the only way to defeat them is to perform this magic dance.

The Final Fantasy series has several other types of magic dances. These include the Songstress in Final Fantasy X-2, who can use songs and dances to blind enemies, mute them, or put them to sleep; Mog in Final Fantasy VI, who can use dances to summon the elements and attack enemies with magic fire, sandstorms, blizzards, and so on; and the Dancer class in Final Fantasy Tactics, who can disable, slow, and damage enemies with their magic dances.

Next, let’s look at a commonly-known type of magic dance from real life: Rain Dances.

Many people are probably only familiar with rain dances from movies and television. Many of the portrayals are likely to be inaccurate, especially those seen in cartoons. Though there are still places where the ritual is performed to this day, and you can read up on the specifics of the ritual on websites like Indians.org.

The basics of a rain dance involve a group of people, garbed in ritualistic clothing, performing an intricate dance that was said to bring forth rain for the entire season. According to the article linked above, it was more commonly performed in dry and arid regions, which certainly makes sense, since those areas would have a greater need.

Despite this, most people would probably argue that the rain dance ritual is nothing more than a superstition, and that it doesn’t actually bring the rain. However, even if you don’t believe in the literal magic of the ritual, it still has important cultural significance. It’s a ritual that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries and is still performed today by the descendants of those who performed it ages ago. It’s that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

These first two examples cover fictional dances that can be used to summon magical effects as well as real life rituals that some believe to have a supernatural effect. But I’d like to discuss one more type of magic dance: A magical spell that makes people dance.

This is essentially the opposite of the first two examples. In the earlier examples, the dances themselves were used to create some sort of magical effect. But in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Once More With Feeling,” it’s a magic spell that creates the dance. It’s basically a form of mind control, which forces people to break out into song and dance at the bidding of a demon in a leisure suit (and as he explains, they burst into fire if the magical energies from the song and dance go on for too long).

Of course, Buffy isn’t the only time there’s ever been a magic effect that makes people dance. There’s a spell in Dungeons and Dragons called “Otto’s Irresistible Dance,” which, as the name says, makes a character dance irresistibly (which makes it hard for them to continue fighting a battle). There have also been some TV shows and movies where a villain takes control of someone’s body with mind control or “puppeteering” powers and forces them to dance (possibly fulfilling a romantic fantasy for the puppeteer). Or you could have something like what happens in the movie Beetlejuice, where ghosts possess people as part of a haunting and force them to sing and dance in an attempt to scare them (it doesn’t work out the way they planned).

There’s sure to be plenty of other examples of magical dancing in various forms of media, but these have always been some of the most memorable to me. So if you’re ever in the need of a little magic, remember these examples, and dance . . . like there’s no one watching.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Magic Kiss

I’d like to talk about magic. And kissing.

Image source: http://martinweigel.org/2013/06/10/the-liberation-of-magic/
Image source: http://martinweigel.org/2013/06/10/the-liberation-of-magic/

Magic comes in many forms. There’s the literal magic of a wizard, ala Gandalf or Harry Potter. There’s the metaphoric magic of a first kiss. There’s the trickery and sleight-of-hand associated with stage magic. And of course, there’s Magic: The Gathering (which I was pretty hooked on when I was 14).

I’ve discussed magic on the blog before, but that series (written in three separate blog posts) was more about the rules of magic, and how to develop them and then break them. Today, I’d like to talk a bit about what makes magic really “magical,” and where the line is between magic, tricks, technology, and metaphors.

The idea came to me when I was talking to a friend about the release of my first novel, Manifestation. I mentioned that the book contains magic and kissing, among other things. Which got me thinking about the difference between a metaphorical magic kiss, and a literal magic kiss.

Image source: http://image-ination.ifthisistaken.com/childrens-story-think-about-it/
Image source: http://image-ination.ifthisistaken.com/childrens-story-think-about-it/

The idea of a “magic kiss” is a well-established trope. From Snow White to Sleeping Beauty to the Princess and the Frog, it’s a common idea in movies, books, and other media for a kiss to have the power to save lives, break spells, and make the audience get all misty-eyed. Heck, even The Matrix did it, which bent the perception of reality when Trinity’s kiss from outside the Matrix was able to save Neo’s life inside the Matrix.

So where is the line between the actual magic that alters reality, and the metaphorical magic that gets your heart fluttering? It might be harder to pin down than you think.

I’d like to discuss two specific examples: The Little Mermaid and The Sword of Truth.

Image source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097757/
Image source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097757/

The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite Disney movies (despite the fact that I could go on for hours about the poor gender roles being portrayed here). I even wrote an article analyzing the communication practices in the movie, especially with regards to when Ariel loses her voice. But for today’s discussion, I’d like to bring up the “kiss of true love” that is a key plot point in this film.

As I already mentioned, it’s common for “true love’s kiss” to break a spell and save the day. Except that in The Little Mermaid, that’s not quite what’s happening. There’s not technically any literal magic involved in Ariel’s kiss. Though understanding the difference requires taking a look at how Ursula’s spell differs from, say, Queen Grimhilde’s in Snow White or Maleficent’s in Sleeping Beauty.

With both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, the magic kiss essentially serves as a counterspell. The evil queen discovers in the “fine print” of her spellbook that the spell can be reversed:

“Ah, hear this! ‘The Victim of the Sleeping Death can be revived only by Love’s First Kiss.’ ‘Love’s First Kiss.’ Bah! No fear of that. The dwarfs will think she’s dead. She’ll be buried alive!”

The queen then proceeds to use the poisoned apple anyway, thinking the counterspell will never be possible (it wouldn’t have been, if the dwarves hadn’t put Snow White in a glass coffin and if the prince hadn’t been a necrophile). The kiss in Sleeping Beauty functions in a similar way, except that the counterspell is added in after the fact by the blue fairy’s magic gift.

Ariel’s kiss is different than both of these. For starters, her kiss isn’t a counterspell; instead, it’s the only way to stop the spell from reversing and turning Ariel back into a mermaid. In addition, the kiss in this case is something Ursula chooses to add into the spell. It’s part of her deal with Ariel a condition of the contract that Ariel willingly signs. Ursula’s use of a contract implies that she could have set just about any conditions she wanted. She could have said, “Prince Eric has to brush your hair before the sunset on the third day,” or, “You need to paint a portrait of Sebastian before the sunset on the third day.” This means that, technically, the kiss itself isn’t magic (by the literal, not metaphoric definition of the word). It’s just an arbitrary action that Ursula chose because it was a fitting lure to use with Ariel’s desire for Eric, and one that she was sure she could prevent from happening.

(Ursula, of course, cheats.)

So that’s an example of a magic kiss that turns out to not be as magic as we thought. But what about a normal kiss that turns out to be more magical than we realized? For that, we turn to The Sword of Truth.

Novels by Terry Goodkind
Novels by Terry Goodkind

Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth novels have a set of characters known as Mord Sith. They possess a variety of magics (most of which are used to torture people and break their wills, turning them into slaves). They also look really hot in red leather, especially Cara.

Image source: http://fullhdwp.com/legend-of-the-seeker-tabrett-bethell-cara-mason-desktop-mobile-wallpaper/
Image source: http://fullhdwp.com/legend-of-the-seeker-tabrett-bethell-cara-mason-desktop-mobile-wallpaper/

The thing about torturing people with magic dildos Agiels, the Mord Sith’s pain-inducing weapon of choice, is that if you’re not careful, you’ll kill your prisoner instead of just breaking their spirit. As a result, Mord Sith also need to be experts at providing emergency first aid. This includes using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which is referred to in the books as “the breath of life.” Mouth-to-mouth is also often referred to by others as “the kiss of life.” And while the Sword of Truth books never use the term “kiss” to refer to it, there is definitely an intimate aspect to the breath of life:

A Mord-Sith shared her victim’s breath when he was on the cusp of death. It was a sacred thing to a Mord-Sith to share his pain, share his breath of life as he slipped to the brink of death, as if to view with lust the forbidden sight of what lies beyond in the next world. Sharing, when the time came to kill him, his very death by experiencing his final breath of life.

–“Soul of the Fire”

This almost makes it sound like the opposite of what’s happening in Snow White, a kiss to share the experience of someone’s death instead of just bringing them back from the dead. But, of course, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation isn’t really “magic,” it’s just science.

Or is it?

Image source: http://sot.wikia.com/wiki/Breath_of_Life
Image source: http://sot.wikia.com/wiki/Breath_of_Life

The TV show Legend of the Seeker, based on Terry Goodkind’s novels, had a different take on the breath of life. As seen in the picture above, the breath of life was depicted as an actual magic breath that could be used to infuse life back into the victim. While this isn’t quite a kiss, it certainly is damn close, based on the intimate pose it’s been portrayed in. So in this case, we have a metaphorical kiss that turned out to be a magical one.

So it seems like there can be a lot of blurred lines when it comes to magic kisses. It makes me wonder whether Snow White could have been revived by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or whether the princess could have saved the frog with a metaphoric kiss instead of a literal one because, eww, warts.

Of course, nothing will ever take the place of the real magic of a first kiss. That’s simply priceless.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Manifestation Cover Reveal

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted much lately. There’s a few reasons for that, but one of the big ones is that I’ve been busy getting ready for the release of Manifestation, Volume One of the Arcana Revived series.

Manifestation began its life here on this blog two years ago. Since then it’s evolved from a post-by-post story into a full-fledged novel, the first book in what is (so far) a six book series. The story follows Gabby Palladino as she struggles to survive in a world being changed by the return of magic after centuries where it was considered to be nothing more than myth and legend. Arcane powers return and begin spreading to more and more people, none of whom understand these powers or know how to control them. The result is chaos and danger all around while Gabby tries to figure out why this is happening and what it has to do with her.

The cover was designed by the wonderful and talented Ravven. You can check out more of her work on her website or her deviantart page. She also designed the cover for the short story Radiance that was released last year.

mani_promo

The book will be released in ebook and paperback form very soon. I’ll post more here when I have the exact release date, but it’ll be within the next couple of weeks for sure. In the meantime, if you’re interested in a preview, you can always check out Radiance, a short story set in the same world as Manifestation.

Also, a special thanks to everyone who participated in the Kickstarter I ran last year. They’re the ones that raised the funds that paid for this cover.