Miscellaneous Writings and Musings


A genie and her rock band

(Novel and Short Stories)

Steal Tomorrow

Steal Tomorrow
Murder, Mystery, First Love, and the End of the World

(Novel and Short Stories)

My Books and Stories

My Books and Stories
Where to Buy, Read, Download

Teaser from Tin Soldier

In this teaser, we learn a little about how the United States fell apart and why some areas are now in chaos.

The snow had stopped but the steps to Alvi's caravan were still coated with a sheen of ice when Donovan knocked on his door. Alvi answered, no longer wearing his colorful gypsy attire, but dressed in soft gray pants and a sweater. With his tousled hair sticking up in all directions, he looked like a boy playing campout.

The wagon was more spacious than it appeared from the outside. Shelves full of goods lined the walls, and a board on a hinge could be swung down to serve as desk or workbench. Sturdy wicker chests ran along the perimeter, and colorful cloth, trinkets, shoes and specialty foods were set out like jewels on display. Light came from wall sconces that Donovan supposed were wired to the solar panel he had seen on the roof. The wagon was heated by a brazier that Alvi had filled from the kitchen stove after dinner.

"Nice place you have."

"It's home." Alvi gestured around the tiny room. "Please take your time. I don't sleep well, so I'm always up late."

As Donovan examined some of the cans and jars, he noticed the man had dropped his exuberant air and salesman's patter. "I think I just want some of the beef jerky. I don't even know what some of these other things are."

Alvi had started to sit down, but now came closer. "Those are olives," he said, pointing. "Sort of like pickles, but with the texture of a mushroom." He grinned when Donovan made a face. "They're an acquired taste, but very good."

"I'll take your word for it."

He pointed to a tin with a scene of horses and snow. "Maple syrup, all the way from Maine."

"Didn't Maine secede?"

"Yes," Alvi said. "That actually makes their syrup easier to get. The feds won't let them go because they want the timber, so there's a war up there. The soldiers send maple syrup home and the army makes sure it doesn't get stolen on the way. They don't want men to defect because their families aren't being taken care of, you know. Turncoats are always a danger in a civil war."

"Is there a true civil war going on?" Donovan asked. "I mean, across the nation? Or is it just a few local rebellions?"

The peddler pulled a couple of folding stools from pegs on the wall and took a bottle of whiskey out of one of the wicker chests. "Have a seat," he said, grabbing glasses from one of the display shelves. "I didn't want the ladies to hear it because I know how hard it is for them to keep their spirits up, but there's no reason you shouldn't know what's going on."

Donovan pulled up a stool and accepted a glass of whiskey. “This is good. Where do you get it?"

"Don't make me reveal my secrets. My sources are how I make my living."

"So what kind of news have you been hearing?"

"They say someone detonated a nuke in Washington," Alvi said. "I've heard a lot of different stories on who did it, but it really doesn't matter. The dead were mostly civilians, not government people. Everyone important is hiding now and no one's really sure if they're still alive, dead, or sick from radiation poisoning."

"So who's running things?"

"We think the elected officials are, from a bunker somewhere, but there's no way to be sure." Alvi shrugged. "Some people say the feds set off the nuke themselves so they could go into hiding and not have to answer to the people. Regardless of which story is right, it's likely we're living under a dictatorship."

"How has this impacted the wars?"

"Not much. The wars pretty much run themselves any more."

"Even the civil war? What about Texas?"

Alvi scowled. "I don't know why the feds are bothering with Texas. Three years of drought across the South have damaged their crops, the aquifers are running dry, they still haven't recovered from the hurricane that damaged their only remaining deep-water port, and the ordinary civilians are too busy squaring off by race and religion for them to do much in the way of nation-building. I say let them go. They'll be back in a few years when they realize can't make it alone. But some people say that's why they did it— seceded, you know. There's a philosophy these days that secession will end the race riots by forcing people to work together to fight the common federal enemy."

"It's a bad way to make people get along. Wars kill people and damage the land."

Alvi reached for the whiskey bottle and topped off their glasses. "Well, they went and did it, regardless of what we think about it." He capped the bottle and sat back. "I'm telling everyone not to be surprised if they send some units through the countryside looking for recruits to fight in Texas."

"You mean to kidnap and draft people." Donovan pondered this information. "That's going to be tough on me."

"Yes, you're a deserter, aren't you?"

"Is there nothing the girls don't tell you?"

"I doubt it," Alvi said, taking the question more seriously than it was intended. "I was naive when I got into this business. I knew nothing except that there was an old man who did well in this region and had died. Carina, Amalia and their parents treated me kindly. In fact, my first summer as a peddler was spent on this farm while my burro healed from an injury. They treated me like family and I will always be in their debt." He fixed Donovan with a steady eye. "There is nothing I wouldn't do for them, you understand?"

"They saved my life. I understand perfectly."

Alvi took another sip of whiskey. "Then you know why they sometimes tell me a little more than they should. Their secrets, and yours too, are completely safe with me."
Want more? Go to Tin Soldier and read all about it!

Messenger: An Excerpt from Bella Diana

This is an excerpt from my blog fiction, Bella Diana. It's also linked at Sunday Scribblings which is a great place to drop in and read new writers.


"There's nothing to see."

"Better go guide her in anyway. She's tired."

Galileo looked again. "I'm telling you, there's no one there."

Coyote sighed in exasperation. "Give me the horse, and I'll go."

"Get your own horse. You know where it is."

"By the time I do that, she'll be here."

Will asked to borrow the binoculars. He couldn't see anyone either, but said, "Why don't you at least check?"

Galileo took the binoculars and hung them around his neck. "Fine. I'll ride as far as the arroyo.” He looked Will in the eye. "But if anything happens to this track before I return, I'm holding you responsible."

"Why him?" Coyote asked. "I'm the one that's crazy."

"That's exactly why." He turned his horse and urged her into a trot.

Once he was out of earshot, Will asked, "Is she really coming? Is she okay?"

"She can't be too bad off if she rode all that way in just over two hours."

Will scanned the horizon but still saw nothing. Far down the line, Galileo raised his binoculars, then kicked his horse into a canter.

Coyote nodded in satisfaction. "That'll teach him not to believe me." He called to Tiffany and Ikea, who were stringing the last of the fuse lines. "We can finish that later!"

The girls came running and Will was grateful for their presence, since their excitement kept him from acting out the state of his own nerves.

Coyote stood on his toes, straining to see what was happening up the line and grumbling about how he should've made Galileo leave them the binoculars. Finally the speck of Galileo's horse stopped getting smaller and began growing larger again. Soon it was clear there were two horses.

"Are you sure it's Diana?" Ikea asked.

"If it is, she's not on one of our horses," Tiffany said.

"She'll explain everything," Coyote assured them.

Will couldn't wait. As soon as they were close enough that he could see it really was Diana, he took off at a run.

"That won't do any good," Coyote muttered, but chased after him anyway.

Galileo pulled both horses up short, the unknown stallion lathered and breathing hard. Will pulled Diana off the horse and she sagged into his arms.

For a moment, Will didn't know what to say, but Ikea and Tiffany had no such difficulty.

"What happened?"

"Are you okay?"

"Where are the others?"

"Where'd you get the horse?"

Coyote added his voice to theirs. "Are we supposed to blow up the train?"

Diana pulled away from Will, struggling to find her legs after so long in the saddle. "Destroy the rails. The train too, if we can get it."

Coyote was jubilant. "We've been getting ready since this morning."

Diana frowned in confusion. "There'll probably be weapons on it, and maybe soldiers. Mercenaries from Mexico." She looked around. "Can I have some water?"

Will started. He had been so overwhelmed to have Diana safe that he had forgotten she would be in need of food, water and rest. He put an arm around her and led her to where Ikea and Tiffany had stored a jug of water and some snacks in the tall gramma grass. She sat down and he gave her cup after cup of water while she watched the renewed work on the track. "Coyote knew, didn't he?"

Will nodded and pressed a piece of tortilla into her hand.

"I guess I hurried for nothing."

"We weren't going to finish the job until we knew for sure." He wet a rag and tried to wipe the dust off her face. "I'm glad you're safe."

"I'm glad to be alive." She started to lift the tortilla to her mouth, but then threw it away.

"What's the matter?"

She held out her hands, but Will couldn't see what the problem was. They had eaten with dirty hands before.

"It's blood."

Will poured water over her hands and scrubbed them with the rag. "Are you hurt?" He examined her hands but saw no evidence of injury. "What happened back there?"

"Too many things."

"Okay. You don't have to tell me now."

She lay down and rested her head in his lap. Will caressed her tangled hair and ran a hand across her shoulder for the sheer pleasure of being able to touch her again. Then he drew back his hand in alarm. There was a gash in her blouse, and beneath it, an ugly cut, deep and oozing, its edges bruised purple. Frowning, he inspected as much of her shirt as he could from this angle, finding two more slashes, crusted with dried blood, and a hole that could have only come from a bullet. "Why didn't you tell me you were injured?"

Diana sat up. "I am?"

"You didn't know?" Will jumped to his feet. "We're going to camp. Can you walk? I can get a horse for you."

"I'm okay." Diana waited, swaying slightly, while Will spoke to Coyote. And then he was back, his arm around her waist, guiding her up the path. She stumbled on the rocky incline while Will assured her it was "Just a little farther, right up ahead," until finally the ground leveled and he picked her up and carried her the rest of the way.

He laid her on his bedroll inside the empty foundation that he and Coyote were using as barracks.

"Stay here. I'm going to get some water and a few other things."

Diana mumbled something incoherent and lapsed into a state of semi-consciousness populated by disturbing images. After what seemed a long time, she became aware of Will's calming presence. She felt him cut away her shirt, but didn't open her eyes. In her confused state, it seemed she could communicate without the need of speech, so while he bathed her wounds, she silently speculated about each one's origins. She was almost convinced Will could hear her thoughts as he cleaned the cuts and painted them with ointment, so she was confused when he told her to sit up so he could bandage her, and asked, "What happened?

“Everything happened.”

Will tied the ends of the bandage and sat back to examine his work. "It's not too tight, is it?"

Diana moved a little, but didn't have the energy to check the full range of motion. "It'll be all right."

"Don't lie down yet." Will reached behind him and produced a bowl and spoon. "Eat this. You didn’t lose much blood. I think you're mostly just hungry. Did you have breakfast today?"

Diana looked inside the bowl. It contained a mixture of torn tortillas, dried fruit, piñones and honey. She scooped some of the sticky mass onto the spoon and brought it to her lips, but was surprised to find her hands were shaking. "I had breakfast, but I threw it up on the road."

Will took the bowl and fed her as if she were a child. "What else did you do today besides ride?"

"Stood guard."

"Doesn't sound strenuous. You must've done something besides ride two hours to get yourself in this state."

Diana stopped chewing and let him hand her a cup of water. She held it in both hands to keep it steady as she drank. "We were betrayed." The words tumbled out— the bullets, the bomb, the fire, the crush and the killing at the exit, and finally the riders who had chased after her, shooting.

When she fell silent, Will asked the question she had been dreading. "Is Mother okay?"

"I don't know." She bowed her head in shame. "I tried to go to her, but one of Patton's lieutenants stopped me. She said I had to get out and come here right away."

Will’s voice was grim. "Militarily, it was the right thing to do."

"Then why does it feel like the biggest mistake of my life?" She buried her face in her hands and was startled to realize her face was wet. When had she begun crying?

Will eased her onto the pallet and lay down beside her. "Rest. When you wake up, you'll know what you did was right and you'll feel better." He kissed her bruised shoulder. "Promise me you'll always look out for yourself. I couldn’t stand to lose you."

Want more? The entire novel is free and available at Bella Diana