Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “Destiny, Werewolves, and How I Might Have Helped Save the World”

Some people are meant to live happy, but ordinary lives, while some are dragged irresistibly into danger, glory, and the pressures of heroism.  It’s Fate or Destiny or Something-Even-Bigger-Than-Both. And there’s nothing that person can do to stop it. Well, in this story, that person whose Fate was sealed on the first day of her junior year of high school was not me.  My life is set on a track of the happy, ordinary, and completely free from glory or heroism.  The most dangerous thing that I am facing is college applications and I am perfectly happy for it to stay that way.

The girl dragged into adventure and glory and heroism and all that other stuff, the girl with Fate written on her forehead in shining letters, was the new girl at school with the locker next to mine.  So I guess you could say I had a brush with Fate, but mostly Fate just glanced dismissively at me before shouldering me aside so that it could get a better look at Katrina Starr.  Pretty much like every jock in school would try to do that year.

With a name like Kat Starr, you knew she had to be something special.  With platinum blonde hair, blue eyes that blazed defiantly at the world in general, and a tall, slim, athletic build that simply screamed I-take-some-special-form-of-martial-arts-after- school-and-could-kick-your-butt, it was surprising that no one else seemed to notice that she was marked for Greatness. But I guess that’s how it is with these heroes-to-be.  They don’t notice Fate until it punches them in the gut. Or kisses them passionately.  Fate can be awkward like that.

On the first day of school, when it all began, Kat and I were fiddling with our locker combinations and I was chatting with my good friend Colin. Colin is a girl, by the way, but her parents are that kind of people who think that mixing up names will make their children feel unique and special instead of giving them anger management issues.  Colin has an older brother named Ashley.

Colin and I were comparing notes on our summers holidays – she spent half of hers in Europe and I spent most of mine in my room reading (but I still maintained I visited more places) –  when a mysterious Entity was suddenly looming behind me. Colin didn’t really pay attention, but I found myself listening in on a conversation between Kat and The Stranger.

 

“Hello, Katrina Starr,” he began in a deep, sultry voice.  I had never described a voice as sultry before, not being a huge fan of soap operas, but his was definitely what I think a sultry voice would sound like. Kind of… throaty.

“Do I know you?” Kat responded, flicking her silvery blonde hair over her shoulder.  I wasn’t facing them, but it’s impossible not to catch the shimmer of that hair out of the corner of your eye.  “How do you know my name?”

We know a lot about you, Kat,” The Sultry Stranger continued, sounding pleased with himself.  “We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Well, get lost, whoever you are,” Kat challenged.  I admired the new girl’s spunk.  “Whatever your game is, I’m not interested.”  And she brushed past him and walked away.

The Sultry Stranger waited a moment to contemplate her disappearing form, and then stalked off in the opposite direction.  I spared him a glance.  Oh, it was only Jake, quarterback of the football team and senior stud of Gracetree High School.  He didn’t normally sound like that, I thought.  What had made him talk so weird to Kat?  Probably just an attempt to hit on her.  Typical.

“Ugh, this year is going to be awful,” Colin groaned.  “I think I can predict the future: homework, homework, and then more homework!”

“I like homework,” I said complacently.  I meant it, too.  Homework, college, grad school, successful career, book about my successful career, retirement on a beach somewhere.  I had dreams of being normal that I was eager to fulfill.

If Kat Starr had any dreams of being normal, though, she was being forced to give them up.

After first period, I ran back to my locker to grab my calculator for my next class and there was Kat, this time with three guys and a girl standing around of her, talking very intently to her.

I sidled closer, unwilling to eavesdrop if I didn’t have to.  I’m polite like that.  But her locker was right next to mine and Jake was leaning against the door of my locker so I had to request that he scoot over so I could get in.  He did, without looking at me.

“It’s impossible,” Kat whispered, sounding upset.  I thought about humming, to block out their voices and so they’d know I was there, since Jake already seemed to have forgotten.

“You can’t deny it any more than we can,” said the girl.  That was Paige from the cheer squad.  Jake’s ex-girlfriend as of last fall. Now she was dating Jake’s teammate Andre, one of the other guys who was looming over Kat. I wondered how they could all still be friends after that much drama, but who was I to judge?

“I’m a clairvoyant,” Paige continued, perfectly serious, “and you’re a hunter.”

“I don’t want to be a hunter!” Kat exclaimed.  “I don’t believe in werewolves!”

Want to know what happens next? Find out July 15 if you order a copy of Lantern Hollow Press’s short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!

Jasper Frank’s Very Bad Day (Part III)

Hello, everyone! This will be the final part of my running short story, and unfortunately also my last post of the month! The good news is that Melissa will be back next week, so you should definitely come back for what she has in store. I’ve really enjoyed seeing where this story took me. Some of it was very unexpected! I hope you’ve had as much fun with this little demonstration of genre blurring as I have. In any case, here is “Jasper Frank’s Very Bad Day,” Part III.

For parts I and II, click here!

Jasper Frank’s Very Bad Day (Part III)

Hey Erwin, I’m at the location, but I’m not sure it’s right. You said the corner of Straylight Road and Sprawl Street, right?

Yeah man, that’s the place. Dorg’s message’s right in front of MMFH. COUGH COUGH

 

Erwin? Erwin!

Hey, yeah I’m fine. I’ve got this huge plate of avocado nachos with ranch dressing, and I sort of-

 

You’re eating? Right now?

 

Calm down Jay, I told ya, this guy’s legit. He won’t give you trouble, he owes me.

 

Yes, you told me that. You also told me that he wouldn’t mind it if you changed the contract mid-job and extorted stolen Chinese alchemicals from him. You forgot to mention that he works for the Japanese mob.

 

I didn’t think it was important to mention, ok? Look, you’re at the right corner, it’s 2:28, he should be there in two minutes. He’ll walk past you and drop a brown paper bag on the springy duck thing, and you’ll be out of there.

 

The springy duck thing? What springy – you mean that rocking-horse in the park across the street? Next to the slide and the merry-go-round?

 

What? No, not a horse, a duck. With the spring? That the little brats sit on and go crazy?

 

Erwin, that’s in the playground across the street. As in, not on the corner of Straylight and Sprawl. Are you sure that’s where I should be.

 

No, look You don’t go standing around in a kiddy playground in the middle of the night, that’d look too suspicious.

 

And a werewolf standing on a street corner in the middle of the night isn’t suspicious?

 

Dude, wolfies are, like, nocturnal or something, aren’t they?

 

Erwin, I’m surprised at you. That is one of the most common misconceptions about Lycanthropes. I mean, if you would just look at the pamphlet I brought you, you could educate yourself –

 

Woah, hold up. Didn’t mean to step on your new sore spot for the fuzzy peeps. Look, just stay there. When you see some shady guy walk through the playground, that’s your sign.

 

Wait! You’re not going to hang up, are you?

 

Jaaaay. I’ve got stuff to do, other contracts. Got a new gig lifting the thaum code off some magi-tech dealer. Got a guy who wants it so he can make some nice knock-off hair growth charms, total legit forgery stuff.

 

But what if the Yakuza show up!

 

Come oooon, Jaaaaspy.

 

Fine, leave me all alone! But if I get murdered by some angry Japanese warlock or get shot through the heart by a vigilante werewolf hunter, I won’t be there to pay half the rent. Then you’ll be sorry!

 

Don’t be like that, man. You’ll be fine, this guy’s totally legit. Sure, he may have gotten the Yakuza on his tail a bit, but he said he can handle it, and-

Wait, I see something. There’s a man… it looks like he’s walking to the park gate. Yes! He went in, he’s got something in his hand. Erwin! He left the bag on the duck! He left the bag!

 

Great, just like I told you. Now go get it before someone else shows up. I’ll be on the net when you get back, so don’t bother me, kay? Later!

 

Hello? Hello! Erwin? …Ok, you can do this, Jasper. There isn’t anyone… well, ok, there are some people now, down the street, but they don’t look like… right, that one’s holding a samurai sword. That’s probably not a good sign. Ok Jasper, just get the bag and… got it! Oh no. The one with the sword saw me… maybe if I sort of crouch down, I can –

 

Hey, who you talkin’ to, fluffy?

 

What? Fluffy? I don’t know who you’re talking – Oh! Because I’m a… uh, no one?

 

You on the phone? You holdin’ a phone up to your ear.

 

Ah, just a friend of mine, you know, talking about stuff. He’s a… well he’s a werewolf too, so we’re planning a networking meeting! You know, Society for the Ethical Treatment of Anthropomorphs.

 

Ah maaan, you’re one ‘a those SETA freaks?

 

Well, yes! In fact, I have this handy pamphlet that points out a few important misconceptions people have about shifter minority groups, if you’re interested. I have a whole stack! Please take one!

 

Eh, no thanks, man. Look, we’re lookin’ for this guy, took somethin’ from us. You seen anyone around this duck thing? Maybe left somethin’ here?

 

Oh no, I was just taking a stroll, talkin’- I mean, talking, with my werewolf buddy – You still there, Bradley? Oh ho, no, I don’t want to go work out right now…. Oh wow, I didn’t know you could lift 600 pounds! …Werewolf strength? Ah, yeah, I forgot about that! Ha ha! I guess even I can bench 300, now that I think about it…Listen, Bradley, I’m speaking with a gentleman here, I’ll be just a second… Sorry about that, was there something I could help with?

 

…Nah, man. It’s fine, we’ll just, eh… keep lookin’.

 

Ok then! You have a good night – and they’re gone… boy, they didn’t stay long! Well, I’d better get back to the apartment… huh. These alchemicals don’t expire for a whole month! Well, I guess I don’t have to take them right away if I don’t want to. I’ll see what Bradley thinks at the next meeting. I bet he’d love to hear about tonight, anyway!

 

And that concludes my story! I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Next week, Melissa will be back on rotation. Until then, have you ever written or read a story that didn’t seem to fit all the way in either the science fiction or fantasy genres? Let me know in the comments below!

Jasper Frank’s Very Bad Day (Part II)

Hello again, everyone! This has been a fun experiment so far. I’ve really enjoyed toying with the lines, and, I hope, demonstrating that the divides between genres can be pretty thin sometimes. I hope you enjoy the rest of the story!

For Part I, click here.

Jasper Frank’s Very Bad Day (Part II)

Heeeey Jaaay. What’re you doing back so early?

It’s almost seven pm, Erwin.  I should have been home hours ago.

Oh. Well, y’know, I kinda lose track of time sometimes, in the zone. So how’d your meet ‘n greet thing go? Meet any nice wolfies?

No. And, apparently, “wolfies” is a derogatory term punishable by a two hundred dollar fine if reported on public property. Nearly all of the orientation was in legaleze, I can hardly think in English anymore. And no one at the networking lunch had even the slightest desire to turn back to human. One guy snapped at me for even bringing it up. I almost lost a hand! Wait, you’ve been on Magi-net this whole time?

Yeah, Jay. I got a sweet gig casing this one achemi-medical corp out of Shanghai. Chinese medicine, y’know? Got a guy who wants the details on the company rune-tumbler sequence. I just dive in, take a peek, and net some nice cash for my trouble.

Did you at least take out the garbage?

Naw, no time for that domestic crap.

Erwin, we’ve talked about this, you can’t live here and just-

Whoa, Jay. You can’t sit there.

What?

Dude, you’ll shed on the upholstery.

Look, if I’m going to have to live with this, you’re going to have to deal with a little shedding. I’ll buy some lint rollers.

So they don’t, like, have some kind of opt-out for the whole Lycanthropy thing?

No, they don’t. It’s like it doesn’t matter that I didn’t want this. It doesn’t matter that I just got chomped by some random guy. They decide it’s a protected status, and I’m stuck injecting silver nitrate every month so I don’t go moon-crazy and slaughter the neighbors.

Silver nitrate? Is that, like, expensive? ‘Cause I’ve got a guy who’d take that off your hands for some quick money, you know, if you’re interested.

Erwin.

What, I don’t like our neighbors. They look at me funny when I go down to the laundry room.

That’s because you’re covered in bright pink tattoos. And, you’re an elf.

Hey, don’t knock the tats, these are the best in the biz. I get up to 6 peca-pentagrams a second on the nets with these, and that’s not even breaking a sweat.

You use those for Magi-net? I thought it was just a…

A what?

An elf thing? You know, frilly colors, pixie dust. That sort of thing.

Whoa, that’s not cool, Jaspy. Just because there aren’t any other pointy-ears around here doesn’t mean you got the right to decorticate.

I think you mean “discriminate.”

Whatever. Anyway, I stick the trodes here, where the tats come together on my hands, and I use the ol’ magic to get to the nets. You should see it, man. It’s beautiful. Like, a city of lights, going on forever, and you’re, like, flying past everything, and you can see all the spells and runes like big neon signs, and-

Ok, Erwin, I get it.

Right. So… what are you going to do?

What am I going to do? Get used to being a werewolf, I guess. The alchemical treatments I would need to turn back aren’t covered by my insurance, and they’re way too expensive without it.

Harsh. Well, if you think I could help with somethin’ lemme know.

Er… thanks, Erwin. Wait a second, you said your contract is to steal from an alchemy company?

Dude, not “steal.”

“Aquire.” Whatever. Would your friend be able to get alchemical pollymedicals from this Chinese company?

You mean alchemical pollymorphic pharmaceuticals? Like, to turn back to normal?

…Yes.

Oh! Yeah, man, that would work.

Would I… uh, need to pay you?

Naw, I could like, make that part of the conditions for receiving the rune-tumbler sequence.

You’re sure? You’re sure your employer wouldn’t mind?

Eh, probably not. I’m doing the guy, like, a huge favor. How mad could he be?

How mad indeed. To find out, look for Part III next week!

Demons, Monsters, and Ghosts, Oh No! Part IX: A More Familiar Vampire

Medieval Vampires usually weren't this pretty.

When most of you think of vampires you probably think of an undead bloodsucker, able to change shape into a bat or perhaps a wolf, susceptible to garlic, crosses, holy water, a stake through the heart, or sunlight…or perhaps as pale youngsters that sparkle in the sun…more’s the pity.  As you saw in my last vampire post, most of these beliefs have little, if any, basis in the oldest vampire myths.  In fact much of our modern concept of vampires originated in medieval Europe, most of it during the Renaissance.  While most of the superstitions of Europe were busily fading away in the face of rationalism, belief in vampires grew more common.  The majority of classical vampire lore comes from the 18th century and originates from Eastern Europe.

The Slavic traditions concerning vampires are many and varied.  In some practically anyone could become a vampire.  Causes of vampirism ranged from being an immoral person, a witch, or being excommunicated from the church, to being born with an extra nipple, hair in strange places, or deformed.  People with these attributes would undoubtedly rise as vampires after they died.  Other causes were improper burial, being killed by a vampire, or being a child born of incestuous parentage.  Perhaps the oddest belief is that a vampire might be created by an animal jumping over a person’s grave, or a bird flying directly over it.  Depending on the tradition vampires might be the risen dead, very evil but still living people, or a combination of both.  For instance the Strigoi is a Romanian witch that rises as a vampire after it’s death.  One oddity that some of you may note is that, while the majority of ancient vampiric creatures listed in my last post are distinctly female, medieval vampires (both Slavic and otherwise) tended to be male.

...yeah...that's a bit more like it.

In southern Slavic folklore, unlike the above, becoming a vampire was a relatively long process that began with a recently deceased person rising as a shadow spirit.  This spirit would attack others and drink their blood until it had enough strength to form a body of it’s own, usually resembling it’s body in life.  These vampires, known as Lugat, were almost always male, fully capable of physical interaction and sometimes even returned to their former lives.  They were also capable of having children and, in the folklore, only the child of a Lugat could identify and kill other Lugat.  These children were known as Dhampir.

It is during this time period that the Church became involved in vampire lore.  In Hungary, among other places, the Inquisition hunted vampires, and in Greece priests were hired to exhume the bodies of dead relatives (who were feared to be at risk of becoming vampires) and bathe the bodies in wine while reading or chanting scriptures over them.  By the time vampire lore had traveled to Germany, and then further into western Europe, they had become susceptible to crosses, holy water, and consecrated ground.  In fact a French Theologian named Antoine Augustine Calmet collected numerous accounts of vampiric activity that he published in a treatise in 1746.  While Calmet never explicitly argued for the existence of vampires, his treatise was considered by many, including Voltaire, to be supportive of such a belief.

My all time favorite Dhampir

The mid eighteenth century was the height of vampiric awareness as, beginning in East Prussia in 1721, a series of ‘vampire’ attacks spread panic across much of Europe.  There are two well documented cases from this period: that of Peter Plogojowitz, whose death in 1725 was followed by numerous sitings of him moving through his home village and a spate of unusual deaths, and Arnold Paole, who may be the origin of the idea that a vampire can be killed by decapitation.  At the very least, Paole is the earliest documented example of decapitation being used to kill a suspected vampire that I have been able to find.  The belief that a vampire could be killed by driving a stake through it’s heart also originated in eastern Europe, the preferred woods were Ash, Hawthorne, and later Oak.  Some European vampires were shape-shifters, in northern Slavic legends vampires would often appear as butterflies, while in Greek folklore vampires and werewolves were one and the same, known as Vyrkolakas.

Unlike most modern conceptions, which depict vampires as attractive and seductive, medieval vampires were usually extremely ugly.  Descriptions vary widely from descriptions of tattered, winged monsters, to bloated, pinkish cadavers filled with fresh blood, to withered corpses with unkempt hair and nails.  In fact of all the medieval vampire folklore only the southern Slavic folklore (the Lugat mentioned earlier), the medieval Jewish conception of vampires (children of Lilith that tend to be female and can often transform themselves into cats), and the Baobhan Sith (pronounced Baa’van Shee; a Scottish fairy vampire) were attractive or seductive in nature.

However, spread among these stories we can see many of the modern ideas of the vampire.  You may remember from my last post that the belief that vampires abhor garlic goes back to the earliest myths about vampiric creatures, as does a weakness to hawthorne and their need for blood as sustenance.  The medieval traditions add in a weakness to artifacts, images, words, and places connected with Christianity, the connection between vampires and werewolves, and the ability of vampires to change their shape.  However, at this point, our favorite bloodsuckers are still not injured or killed by sunlight, do not have to sleep in their coffins during the day or sleep on the soil of their homeland.  While some legends state that they can be killed with a stake through the heart or decapitation, there are others that require the use of fire or an exorcism.  You might also note that, at this point, only those vampires that have wings can fly, but they can cross running water, which is important if you ever need to get away from one.  Next time around I’ll be looking at the tradition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The skull of a 'vampire' found in a 16th century Venetian grave.

Upcoming Novel:  For any of you who are interested I am planning on publishing my first novel on July 1st through Kindle.  Right now I am going back and forth between titles, the two favorites being The Neshelim: A Journal of the Scholar Priest Chin Cao Yu and Among the Neshelim.  Other possibilities include Through the Desert of Hope and Darkness, The Duty of a Priest, and  A People Like No Other.  If you have an opinion please feel free to share it.