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Grandma’s Kitchen

This story is part of the Escort Duty collection.  Thought I’d pass it along.

Grandma’s Kitchen

The man stumbled through the doorway.  The worn linoleum at his feet was waxed and polished to a mirror shine, just as he remembered.  The soft glow of the light above the sink illuminated a room painted a dusty lavender, with sprays of dried flowers and herbs tacked up over the kitchen table.  The scent of fresh coffee, propane burning, and something yeasty and spiced with cinnamon filled his head.

At the stove, with her back to him, stood an elderly woman.  Her back was bent with age, but her strong hands moved the heavy cast iron pans with ease.  Her summer house dress, white with blue flowers, was clean and starched, just as he always remembered it.

“Hello, baby,” she said without turning around, “It’s been a long time.”

“Grandma?” he stammered, taking another step into the kitchen.  He looked around, taking in the neat rows of church and PTA cookbooks and canisters on the counter, as well as the empty dish rack next to the enormous farm sink she kept scrubbed with the sponge and cleanser next to it.

The old woman turned, and her twinkling brown eyes and wide smile brought it all back to him.  Tears ran down his face as he took two quick steps across the creaking floor and swept her into his arms.

“Oh, Gran,” he sobbed, “I’ve missed you so much!”

“Oh, I missed you too, baby,” she said, squeezing him just as tight, “Now, you sit down and I’ll get you some coffee.”

He took a seat in the aluminum and vinyl chair on the long side of the table.  The other two chairs sat on the narrow ends, and the other long side lay against the wall.  The felt-backed plastic table cloth was yellow and worn, but still had pale pink roses around its edge and in a cluster at its center.

His grandmother set a white china coffee cup in front of him, then sat at her customary seat at the head of the table.  She had her own cup of the strong, boiled coffee which she had made every day she lived in the house she shared with her husband and family.

The man lifted his cup and took a sip.  The coffee was strong and bitter, but was better than anything he had tasted in a long time.  In fact, it was a taste he had enjoyed since he was a child.

“How did I get here?” he asked quietly

“You walked through the door, baby,” she said, putting her own cup down and half rising, “Oh, are you hungry?  Just put up a batch of sugar cookies.”

“Uh, sure, Gran.”

The old woman got up and opened the chipped ceramic cookie jar.  It was in the shape of a clown, and she had treasured it since her own grandmother had given it to her.  Reaching in, she retrieved several of her small, crumbly cookies and put them on a small plate.  She returned to the table and set them down before retaking her seat.

The man reached over and hesitantly took one of the cookies.  Taking a small bite, a smile came to his face.

“Gran, these are the best,” he said, putting the cookie down.

“So, baby, what have you been up to?” she said, taking one for herself and dipping it into her coffee.

“I’ve been doing my thing, you know?  Just living as best I can.”

“Sure, hon, that’s what we all do.  You’ve been good, haven’t you?”

“Sure I have, Gran,” he answered, staring down at his reflection in the top of his coffee.


Around him, he smelled burning oil and the pungent aroma of hot rubber.  The reflection showed a car, its front end crumpled around a telephone pole.  The driver lay halfway out the shattered windshield, his blood running down the fender beside him.  A curl of steam came from beneath the crumpled hood.

On the other side of the car, a woman screamed.   The man watched as he ran around the car to find her trying to open her door, a bundle of cloth in her hands.

“Help me!” she screamed, beating her fist on her window.

He grabbed the door handle and tugged.  The door groaned, but wouldn’t move.  The frame was buckled around it.  He looked around and picked up a rock.  As he lifted it over his head, the woman saw what he was about to do and turned her face away from the window.  The rock shattered the window, sending shards of glass into the car and onto the ground.

Unmindful of the sharp glass sticking out of the door’s frame, he wrapped his hand around it and yanked as hard as he could. The door moved an inch or two, then stuck fast.

A new smell struck him as he gave the door another pull – smoke.  With a whoosh, flames licked up through the open spaces in the hood.  The woman screamed again, and he could hear the baby in her arms crying.

He put his foot on the fender and strained back as hard as he could.  With a screech, the door let go, sending him sprawling backward into the gravel.  He felt the seat of his school pants give way, but looked up to see the woman, the baby clasped to her breast, leap from the car and run into the ditch.

A wave of heat washed over him as the fire spread to the interior of the car.  He scooted back to join the mother and her child in the ditch as their old sedan burned on the side of the road.


“Oh, baby, you made me so proud that day,” his grandmother said, picking up her own coffee and taking a sip.

“I never found out what happened to them after that,” he said, “I was too worried about what mama would do to me for ripping my pants.”

“Oh, honey, they turned out all right, don’t you worry about that.  And you did even better things, didn’t you?”

“I tried, Gran, but I didn’t always succeed.”

The smell of the kitchen receded, replaced with the taste of dust from a gravel road.


“Retard!” Joey shouted as he kicked the kid lying on the ground.  He had his hands up over his head and his knees drawn to his chest.  The kick landed squarely on his shin, eliciting a howl of pain.

“Joey, let him go, man!” Ricky yelled from where they had dropped their bikes.

“This little shit told Mrs. Olsen that I was the one who broke all her chalk, and now I gotta stay after for a week!” Joey yelled as he reached down and grabbed the smaller boy by the hair and hauled him up off the ground.  The kid stayed curled in a ball, even as Joey wrenched him onto his feet.  Blood trickled down from his nose, mixing with the tears on his chin.

“Shit ass little crybaby!” Joey screamed as he hit him again in the back, “Get up and fight!”

Ricky ran over and grabbed Joey around the middle, pulling him away from his victim. The boy screamed as Joey ripped at his hair before letting go.

“I’ll get you, asshole!” Joey shouted as Ricky dragged him back.  He kicked out with his legs, spraying gravel at the other boy.  Finally, Ricky got him back on his bike, and they rode off.

Joey turned his head and shouted, “I’ll find you tomorrow, you little shit!  You better kiss your mom goodbye!”


The man’s hands shook as he picked up his cup and took a drink of the strong, bitter liquid.  Grandma squeezed his hand after he set it down again.

“I broke his nose, and I kept beating him up for weeks.  Every time I saw him, I’d punch him, or trip him, or something.”

“Did he ever fight back?  Did you ever stop?”

“After a while, I didn’t do it anymore.  He stayed away from me, I didn’t go looking for him.  His family moved across town a couple summers after that.  I saw him a few more times, but I never got close enough….”

“To what, baby?”

“I don’t know.  Apologize, maybe.  Maybe let him take a good poke at me to pay me back for the lump on his nose.”

“He’s a doctor now, did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.  I haven’t seen or heard of him in years,” he replied, looking up at his grandmother.

“You tried to make up for it, didn’t you?”

“Maybe,” he said, taking a deep, shuddering breath.

The earthy smell of the herbs Grandma had tacked up on the wall to dry washed over him.


“Henderson!  Get your ass up here!” the platoon sergeant bellowed.

Joe looked up from the canteen cup of C-Ration coffee he’d been trying to suck down before they moved out again.  With a sigh, he set it down on a rock and hustled up to the front of the column.  The men lay to either side of the road, some talking quietly, some eating or drinking, but most either asleep or just lying there in exhaustion.

He stopped a couple feet from Staff Sergeant Phipps.  The short, skinny noncom looked as mean as he ever did.  His green fatigues were as dirty as everyone else’s, but for some reason, he seemed as parade-ground ready as he had when they had walked out of the firebase two nights before.

“TOC says we can come home,” Phipps said curtly, “You take point for a while.”

“Got it, sergeant,” Henderson answered tiredly.  “Which way are we going?”

Phipps took a map in a waterproof bag out of his breast pocket and held it up for the other soldier.  He pointed to a red X along one of the blue lines.

“We’re here, this is that village over there, got it?”

“I see it.  Firebase is on this hill a few clicks north, right?”

“Right.  We came down this trail right here, so we’ll swing to the west and come in from the south on the main road.”

“Got it.  When do we head out?”

“Just as soon as everybody gets their asses off the ground.  Go grab your shit.”

Henderson jogged back to his pack.  Snaking his arms through its straps, he pulled them tight around his shoulders.  He picked up the canteen cup of tepid, bitter coffee and took a couple of large swallows before pitching the rest into the bushes.  Putting the cup back into his canteen pouch, he walked quickly back to the head of the column.  Once there, he checked to make sure his rifle was loaded and there was a round in the chamber, then signaled to Phipps that he was ready.

Phipps and the rest of the noncoms had gotten the platoon back on its feet and lined up to head out.  They walked down the line, kicking men who were slow to rise and pushing others to get them to maintain enough interval so that a grenade landing in their midst would not get two of them.

Phipps pointed to Henderson and shouted “Move out!”

Henderson turned and walked down the trail, his eyes watching the tree line for movement.  The rest of the soldiers waited a moment to put some space between him and them, then followed.

As he walked down the dirt path, he listened to the trees around him.  Normal sounds like birds calling and the wind in the leaves made him feel a bit better about being in such an exposed position.  They had laid in ambush sites for two days and two nights, and had not seen a hair of the enemy.  Now, a couple of hours from getting back to the comparative safety of the firebase, he desperately clung to the belief that so long as everything seemed normal, they would be OK.

The trail wound its way through the hills of the highlands, with thick undergrowth and tall trees to either side.  He tried to watch for traps or wires, but could only see a few feet in front of him and less than that to either side.  Occasionally, Phipps would call out a direction to go or a correction when he went the wrong way.

Suddenly, an explosion to Henderson’s left knocked him to the ground.  Pain stabbed at his arm as he rolled on the ground.  Stunned, he lay still for a moment.  Around him, he could hear men shouting, more explosions, and the rattle of gunfire.  The deep bangs of the platoon’s machine guns mixed in with the sharp bark of M-16’s.  They were joined by the loud reports of AK’s as the enemy opened up on the column.

Henderson lifted his head and felt a jolt of agony run up his right side.  Looking down, he saw the charred remains of his uniform shirt laying over a bloody wound.  He screamed at the pain, but rolled over and grabbed his rifle from the fallen leaves next to him.

The screams of other men punctuated the fight, as both sides ripped at each other.  Henderson saw Phipps hunched over, walking from man to man, trying to get them moving out of the ambush or to help them.  The staff sergeant grabbed a grenade from his load bearing suspenders and lobbed it into the jungle on the other side of the trail.  A moment later, its explosion caused a temporary lull in the shooting from that direction.   Phipps followed his grenade, firing into the brush.

Henderson could hear Phipps yelling and firing, and stood up to follow him.  For the moment, the pain drew back, and he ran into the jungle.  He fired at flashes from rifle fire in the undergrowth, hearing someone scream as he went.  He also heard Phipps yelling ahead of him, then cursing.  A long burst of AK fire split the air between them, cutting into the trees and snipping off twigs and leaves.

The young soldier burst through a curtain of branches to find Phipps lying on the ground, a gaping wound in his leg pumping blood out.  His rifle lay next to him, its bolt locked to the rear on an empty magazine.  Henderson fired blindly into the jungle, then pulled one of his own grenades out.  Pulling the pin with the thumb of his firing hand, he rolled it into the jungle.

The explosion was close, knocking him back onto Phipps.  The older man bellowed at the pain, his hands squeezing down on his wound.  Henderson grabbed Phipps by the suspenders and hauled him up onto his shoulder.  Without thinking, he began shouting as he ran through the brush.

“It’s me!  Don’t shoot! I’ve got Phipps!”


“That boy lived, didn’t he?” Grandma asked, putting her hand over his.  The blue veins on the back of her hand stood out from the thin, milky skin around them.

“Yeah, I guess he did,” he answered, “The RTO called in mortars from the firebase, and we got the hell out of there once they opened up.  Me and Rodriguez carried Phipps back after we put a tourniquet on his leg, and there was a dust-off waiting for us.”

“Baby, we were so proud to see you in the paper when they pinned that medal on you,” Grandma said gently.

“Yeah, well, I got home as quick as I could.”

“But you never really came home, huh?”

“Nah, I got a job out in California and never really got back here.”

Suddenly, the kitchen smells changed, becoming richer, punctuated with the tang of alcohol on his tongue.


The bottle sat in front of him, half empty.  The pale yellow liquor inside was strong and tasted as bad as he felt whenever he stopped drinking.  He and Rodriguez had pooled their money and bought a garage together in Los Gatos, where his partner had family, and they spent their days fixing cars and drinking.  Lately, it had been more drinking than turning wrenches, but it kept the lights on.

Lisa set his dinner on the table next to the bottle.  Steam rose from the plate of noodles covered in tomato sauce.  She had sprinkled some cheese on top, trying to make things nice for her husband.  She went back to the stove and made herself a plate before sitting down across the table from him.

He looked up from his plate and slurred, “The fuck is this?”

“Spaghetti marinara.  My mom sent me her recipe,” she said quietly, staring down at her dinner.  She poked at it with her fork, moving the pasta around.

“I’m not gonna eat this shit.  There’s no meat in it!  Get me something else!” he said loudly, slamming his hand on the table hard enough to make their plates and his bottle jump.

“There isn’t anything else,” she said, never lifting her eyes, “You haven’t given me money for groceries yet this week.”

“Bullshit, I gave you twenty dollars on Friday!”

“That was last Friday, Joey.”

“The fuck it was!”

“Joey, you didn’t give me any money,” she said, trying to keep her voice even.

“Then where did this shit come from?” he shouted.  Lisa tried to keep her hands from trembling when she glanced up and saw his bulged, bloodshot eyes and red face.

“Mom sent me the pasta and the spices,” she replied after looking back down, “I got the tomatoes out of Mrs. Henderson’s garden.  She said I could have as much as I want.”

He picked up his plate and tossed it across the table.  It landed and stopped before it fell off the edge, but its contents sloshed over its side, falling to the floor.

“I ain’t eating this crap!  Make me something else!”

“Joe, there’s nothing else in the house,” Lisa answered in a voice barely above a whisper, “We’re almost out of milk, and there’s just a couple pieces of bread left from what I got last weekend.”

“I gave you money, damn it!”

Lisa didn’t answer.  She kept her eyes down and continued pushing her food around her plate.

Joe stood up, his hand slapping hard on the glass bottle as he snatched it up.  The liquor inside splashed against the side, but it was empty enough that it did not come out the top.

He opened the refrigerator, empty except for a mostly-dry bottle of milk.  He slammed the heavy door closed, whirling toward the cupboard.  Its door bounced against the side of the refrigerator as he took a box of cereal and a bread wrapper out and threw them on the floor.

“What did you do with the money, bitch?” he shouted as he swept his hand across the counter, knocking the sugar and flour canisters onto the floor.  What little they held mixed together on the worn linoleum.

“Joey, you didn’t give me any money!” Lisa said quietly, tears running down her face and onto her food.

“You calling me a liar?” he demanded, reaching across the table and grabbing her by the hair.  His wife cried out as he dragged her out of her seat and pulled her onto the floor next to his chair.  His bottle rang as he slammed it on the table.

“Joey, stop!” she screamed, “Please!”

His hand stung as he brought it across her pale cheek, leaving a red handprint behind.  Lisa screamed again, trying to bring her hand up to protect herself.  He struck her again, then again.  He did not notice that he had closed his fist.

Joe let go of his wife’s hair, and she slumped to the floor.  Her eye was already swelling, and the bones of her face screamed at her as she tried to cry and breathe at the same time.

Her husband stood up, shaking the ache out of his hand.  Grabbing his bottle, he headed for the door.

“I’ll be back in a couple of hours.  Clean this shit up and get me a decent meal for once,” he yelled as he slammed the screen door behind him.


The man wiped his nose on the back of his hand, unmindful of the tears which ran down his face.

“She was gone when I got back the next morning, and the cops were waiting for me.  I got the divorce papers from her parents’ lawyer a few weeks later.”

“Did you ever apologize to her?”

“No, I never saw her after that.  I heard she went back to school, but after that, nothing.”

“She has a nice family now, honey.  She met a good man, and they have a bunch of kids and grandkids.”

“Good.  She deserved that, after…..”

A pain ran through him as he sat trembling.  He watched the coffee in the bottom of his cup slosh back and forth as the tremor passed.

“Baby, nobody told you this would be easy.  Thing to do is be honest and try to make it better.”

“I tried, Grandma, I did.”

“I know, baby, I know.”

Another shiver ran through him as he looked up at his grandmother’s soft eyes.


Joe Henderson backed out the door to his favorite bar just ahead of the bartender.

“Go home, asshole!” she shouted, punctuating her words with swings of the sawed-off pool cue she held in her hands.

“Screw you!” the old man yelled.  His face, ringed by thinning white hair and a scraggly beard, was flushed, highlighting broken veins on his nose and years of hard drinking.  His eyes were bloodshot, and he weaved as he stepped out onto the sidewalk.

“You’re a nasty drunk, Joe,” she said after he turned and walked toward the parking lot, “Don’t come back until you learn some manners!”

Joe gave her the finger over his shoulder as he fished his keys from his worn work jacket.  A cold wind blew down Spring Street as he turned the corner of the building, cutting through its thin material.  Joe shivered a bit as he pulled his keys out and unlocked the old sedan, which he had taken in lieu of pay from one of the infrequent customers at his garage.

Flopping down into the driver’s seat, Joe cursed loudly as he slammed the door.  Between the three pitchers of beer he had drunk that evening and the shiver in his hands from the cold, it took three tries to get his key into the ignition.

Joe turned the key, hearing the tired engine try to turn over in the cold.  It cranked for a few seconds, then he heard the solenoid click rapidly.

“Shit!” he yelled, pounding on the steering wheel, “The damned battery’s dead!”

Joe got out and opened the trunk.  Rummaging through the rubbish and loose tools he kept there, he muttered to himself.

“Just gotta find my cables, then I’ll ask that jerk in there to jump me.  Wouldn’t be surprised if he told me to go pound sand.”

Finally, he gave up on finding his set of jumper cables.  He crossed his arms to warm his hands in his armpits and considered his options for a few moments.

“Screw it,” he finally said out loud, “It’s only a few blocks home anyway.”

Joe tottered down the sidewalk, trying to avoid the occasional patch of ice.  His breath left frost in his mustache and beard, and soon he was shivering violently from the cold.

Taking a right down First Street, Joe left the old business district and entered the run-down neighborhood where he lived.   The homes were uniformly old, some from the turn of the last century, but their upkeep differed from property to property. Joe’s house was the neatest on his block, and he smiled when he saw it.

Only thing I ever did right, he mused as he walked down the sidewalk, Twenty years of payments in ten years.  The leaves from the big maple tree in his front yard were gone, and the hedges, which bordered his driveway, were trimmed as level as a pool table.

Joe looked at the house across the street with a sneer.  The Anderson’s were renters, and their place was not as well kept as Joe’s or any of the other neighbors.  Christmas decorations lit up their windows, and an inflatable snowman waved to Joe as he turned to walk up his driveway.  A bicycle lay in the yard, and a pink battery-powered truck was plugged into the outlet next to the door.

Damn kids, he thought as he fished his keys out again, always making noise and leaving their shit in the yard.  Looks like a damn garage sale over there.

Joe unlocked his door and stepped inside.  As he unsteadily turned to close it, he glanced across the street again.  Joe stopped, the door half closed.

“What the shit?” he said, stepping back out onto his porch.

Flames licked at the curtains in the Andersons’ front window.  Joe saw black smoke curling up on their living room’s ceiling as he shouted “Fire!” and jumped down his porch steps.

Joe sprinted down the driveway, hit a patch of ice in the road and sprawled on the asphalt.  Picking himself up, he ran across the yard and onto the porch.

Banging on the front door and mashing the button for the doorbell, Joe yelled “Hey!  Hey, in there!  There’s a fire!”

Joe heard the smoke alarm in the house buzz and ring, and continued to pound on the door.  There was no answer from inside as he watched the fire spread through the living room.

He tried the knob, but it would not turn.  Cursing, he took a step back and kicked at the door.  His work boot connected next to the doorknob, and the jam splintered under the impact.  The door flew back, and a wave of heat and smoke rolled out.

Joe turned and shouted into the street, “Fire!  Help!” before covering his face with his arm and running into the house.   He heard shouts from the second floor as he recoiled from the flames, which engulfed the room.

“Get up!” he shouted, “Fire!”

A woman’s voice screamed somewhere in the house, then he heard a child crying over the roar of the flames.  Joe squatted down below the smoke and saw a bedroom door festooned with plastic butterflies on the far side of the living room.

The smoke from the burning carpet seared his lungs as he shouted up the stairs “Come on!  Get out!”

Another scream came from the door on the other side of the fire.  Not thinking, Joe ran across the room, his coat catching as he brushed against the burning Christmas tree, and slammed into the bedroom door.  His hand burned as he grabbed the doorknob, and he cried out as he shoved the door open.

The bed was empty, and there was no child on the floor.

“Kid!” he shouted, looking around, “Come on! We gotta go!”

Joe tripped on a toy, landing hard on his chest.  His vision swam for a moment, then he looked up into the tear-streaked face of a dark-haired little girl.  She was under her bed, a toy bear in her arms and a blanket wrapped around her.

Joe reached for her, but she scooted back against the wall.  He cursed as he grabbed for her, catching her arm and dragging her out.  She screamed again, her face a mask of terror.  Joe wrapped the blanket around her and turned to the door.

What he saw froze him for a moment.  The door was outlined in flames, and the fire was making its way into the bedroom.  Acrid black smoke hung in the air, and Joe could only see as far as the doorway.  Looking over his shoulder, he saw the bars on the other side of the tiny window.

“Shit!” he shouted as he ran into the flames.  He felt his beard and hair burn away as he ran, and his lungs screamed from the heat and smoke as he carried the little girl through the inferno of her living room.  He bumped into the couch, and fell to one knee.  The little girl screeched as her foot hit the burning upholstery, then he was up and running again.

He crashed against the door, then fell onto the porch.  The cold air of winter felt wonderful to him, and he hacked and coughed as he got up and stumbled out into the yard.  He heard a window break behind him and saw a man and a woman fall onto the grass in a heap.  A young boy landed next to them a moment later. The boy cried out as his ankle snapped to an odd angle when he hit the yard’s hard ground.

Joe heard sirens as hands grasped him and took the little girl from his arms.  He walked to the sidewalk and sat down hard.  He coughed again, bringing up black gunk and spitting it on the sidewalk.   A paramedic walked over and examined his face.

“How you doing, sir?” she asked, shining a bright light in his eyes.

“I’ll be OK,” he croaked, his throat raw.

“Your face looks pretty bad.  Let’s get you to the truck.  Can you walk?”

“I can dance if I want to,” Joe rasped as he heaved himself up.  His head swam as he rose, then he felt a crushing pain in his chest.  Flopping back down, his vision narrowed to a narrow, colorless tunnel. The last thing he heard was the medic shouting and more sirens coming up the street, then nothingness swallowed him.


Grandma took their cups back to the stove and refilled them.  The clock on the ancient range buzzed as she set them on the table.  The old woman went back to her oven and used her apron to protect her hands when she took out a cookie sheet bearing a half dozen cinnamon rolls.

“Grandma,” Joe said plaintively, “I don’t know what’s going on.”

“What’s going on is I have hot cinnamon rolls if you want one.”

Joe smiled and nodded.  He got up, went to the cabinet, and took out a couple of plates.  Grandma used a spatula to take two of the piping hot sweet rolls from the pan and plopped them on the plates.  Joe took them to the table while Grandma fetched a pair of forks and joined him.

They ate the piping hot pastries in silence, the only sound the tick of the clock over the sink.  As he washed the last bite down with the dregs of his coffee, Joe looked up at his Grandmother.

“Gran, thanks,” he said gently, “I haven’t had anything that good in a very long time.”

“Oh, Joey, don’t worry about that.  I always make something special for my only grandson, you know that.”

Joe nodded and stood up.  He leaned over and kissed her softly on her wrinkled cheek.

“I feel so much better now,” he said, glancing toward the door.  Night must have fallen, because the window was pitch dark.

“Oh, baby, talking to your Gran always made you feel better.”

“I’ve tried, Grandma, but I haven’t done so good.”  He stood from his chair and looked out the window at the inky blackness.  The reflection of a young man stared back at him.

“Don’t worry about that anymore, sweetheart,” she said, rising, and wrapping her arms around his chest.  He rested his chin on the top of her head and hugged her back.

“Now, I think it’s time you got going,” she said, picking the dishes up from the table and putting them in the sink.

“So soon?”

“You’ve got a lot to do, and my stories come on in a couple of minutes.”

Joe smiled at the memory of being banished from her house during her television programs.  He squeezed once more, then turned to the door.

As he touched the doorknob, a pang of regret ran through him.

“Gran, I don’t want to go.”

“Baby, you have to.  There’s so much waiting for you.”

“I love you, Grandma.”

“I love you too.  Now, get out there.  I know you can do right.”


Joe opened the door and stepped outside.  He was enveloped in utter darkness as soon as he crossed the threshold, and saw nothing when he looked back.  He thrashed around and tried to yell, but could only hear distant shouts and feel something squeezing against him.  Suddenly, a blast of cold hit his naked skin and harsh lights forced his eyes shut.

“OK, the baby’s out.  It’s a little girl!  She looks great!” an unfamiliar voice boomed.  Joe felt strong hands pulling him up and turning him over.

“Gran, what’s going on?” he yelled, but only screams came from his mouth.

“It’s OK, Joey, no need to be scared.  I’m here with you,” his grandmother’s voice said gently in his ear.

Joe was laid on a warm, soft surface, and he strained to turn his head.  Opening his eyes, he saw the blurry outline of a woman’s smiling face.

The baby girl snuggled into her mother’s breast, her tiny hands stretching out as she cried.  The panicked feeling was ebbing away, but the cold and light upset her.  A nurse draped a soft blanket over her small body as her mother, sweat and tears running down her face, gently stroked the fuzzy hair on her head.  Joe listened to the familiar sound of her heartbeat as he lay his head back down on her chest.

The last thing Joe heard before his vision blurred and darkened again was the soft voice of his grandmother.

“It’s OK, baby, just try to make it right.  I love you.”

New BoogeyMan Story

The latest BoogeyMan story, A Woman Scorned, is up for pre-order on Amazon.

Never cheat on a succubus.

Martin Shelby’s latest client is a woman out to hurt her husband where it matters most to him – his pride. She’s teamed with the best lawyer in town, and The Boogeyman is out to find the evidence to turn her shark loose in divorce court.

But indulging a taste for younger women isn’t the only shady thing her husband’s been up to, and the blood in the water is all too real as the body count starts mounting…

You can find the idea that grew into this one here.

Many thanks to the alpha and beta readers, as well as Cedar Sanderson.  She saw my feeble attempt at cover art and sent me a “Bless your heart” message. Half an hour later, she’d turned what looked like pictures cut out of the Montgomery Ward catalog and pasted to felt into exactly what the story needed.

It’s on pre-order until Monday.  Hope you all enjoy it.  And remember, the best Christmas present you can give me is an honest review.

Impossible Hope



A few months ago, a friend put out the call for folks to do a good deed, and I was fortunate to donate a few thousand words to the cause:

My desire is to help my sister in any way I can. Being a man of modest means and resources, aside from being there for her and assisting whenever possible, there is little I can do alone. However, with help, I intend to do more. I was able to get in touch with a number of writers, all of whom have donated their time and effort and art for an Anthology of short stories, entitled “Impossible Hope”. Anyone who donates through here will receive a copy of the book as a thank you for their generosity. All of the money you donate will go to paying for the costs of the surgery and what it will take to get Bonnie and her husband there and back again. We ourselves will cover the costs of publishing the book, and once the book is published, all proceeds from it will go to the Ehlers-Danlos Society for the benefit of those like my sister. https://www.ehlers-danlos.com/ All those who donate through this effort will receive their copy before we officially publish the material.

I’m honored that my short story, Battle Buddy, is part of this remarkable collection of stories.  Each one shows the importance of never giving up, of always having hope, even an Impossible Hope.

Here are the stories and authors in the collection.  I really struggle to name a favorite, because they are all great, uplifting yarns.

  • Do Something – Logan Lewis
  • Battle Buddy – Tom Rogneby
  • Queen’s Gambit – David Freiberg
  • Glastonbury Abbey – Josh Griffing
  • Four Funerals and a Wedding – L. Jagi Lamplighter
  • A Random World of Delta Capricorni – John C Wright
  • Shoulders of Giants – Dave Higgins
  • Sir Ronan and the Smooth Road – Frank Luke
  • Buddy – William Joseph Roberts
  • Bullies and Soggy Soup Bones – Woelf Dietrich
  • Battle Within – Musaab Sultan
  • Take My Breath Away – Sam M. Phillips
  • Ghosts of Camlan Hill – Ben Wheeler
  • Moulin Rouge’s Last Secret – Denton Salle
  • Life on the Fringe – B. Michael Stevens
  • Blue Pearls – Benjamin Tyler Smith
  • The Other Side – Heather Hood
  • Invisible Battles – R.J. Ladon
  • With Royal Beauty Bright – Nicholas Arkison
  • The Switchman’s Lantern – James Pyles

The other authors got together to discuss their stories, and it is really interesting to hear about how things came together.


So, if you’ve got a few extra dollars you can spare, and you’re in need of something hopeful to read, please consider donating to Bonnie’s fund.  Enjoy!

Helping Out

Like a lot of you, I’ve been shocked by the devastation Hurricane Michael left in its wake.  That area of the Gulf Coast is one of our family’s favorite vacation spots, and we’d like to help out a group that is already on the ground and helping those hardest hit.

Team Rubicon’s primary mission is providing disaster relief to those affected by natural disasters, be they domestic or international. By pairing the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders, medical professionals, and technology solutions, Team Rubicon aims to provide the greatest service and impact possible.

My short work “Working Vacation” is set in the area hardest hit by Hurricane Michael, and I borrowed a lot from the folks who live and work in the area.  So, I’d like to use it to help out.

From now until November 30, I will donate $1 to Team Rubicon for every purchase of “Working Vacation“, with a minimum donation of $100.

If you’ve already read the book, please consider going to the Team Rubicon webpage and making a donation.  They do good work, both here and around the world, when disaster strikes, and they will put anything we can give them to good use.

New BoogeyMan Stories!

Working Vacation“, the new BoogeyMan e-book, is live on Amazon.

Here’s the blurb:

Martin Shelby, called the BoogeyMan by friend and foe, returns in two new stories.

In “The Devil Drinks Sweet Tea”, a young Shelby thought his Grandpa was just being grouchy about having to help out with the gardening. That is, of course, until Grandma’s geraniums spontaneously burst into flames and the lilies started chanting in Latin.

In “Working Vacation”, the BoogeyMan just wants to relax on the beach with his wife, but his plans change when an old friend tracks him down to call in a debt. Shelby races against the clock to find a missing client before the full weight of the world falls in on his quiet vacation.

Thanks much to the beta readers for all their suggestions and corrections, and many thanks to Irish Woman, who has had to listen to me babble about this one for a few weeks.  These are a lot of fun, and I seem to have developed a habit of going over them out loud.

This is a quick snippet from the first story in the book, The Devil Drinks Sweet Tea.  Please enjoy Working Vacation, and if you have a moment, I’d really appreciate an honest review up on Amazon or Goodreads.

I was about halfway through weeding the tomatoes and considering whether the potato patch needed work when I heard Grandpa calling my name.  I dropped the hoe and trotted around the side of the house, but stopped when I saw Grandpa coming from the front yard.

He didn’t wait for me to speak before he pointed toward the flower beds. “Go take a sniff over there and tell me what you smell.”

“Grandpa, I know what your farts smell like.”

He made an exasperated sound and waved me toward the petunias.  “Not that.  At least, not this time.”  He took my arm and started walking back toward the flowers.  “I swear, I smell sulphur over here.”

“Grandpa, really.  Is this like the time you ate too much egg salad when we were driving back from Nashville?”

“Boy, just tell me what you smell,” he ordered impatiently.

We stopped a few feet from the goldfish pond.  I looked sidewise at my grandfather and took a quick sniff, then another.  He was right.  There was something funky in the air, like old gym locker mixed with bad eggs.

“Algae?” I suggested.  “Maybe we need to clean out the pond a bit?”

The pond was Grandma’s front yard pride and joy, even though she kept the best flower garden in the county.  It was about ten yards long, about two yards across at its widest, and anywhere from six inches to three feet deep.  She had dug it all by hand one spring when I was little, and had lovingly raised dime store goldfish in it until some of them were almost a foot long.  Molesting the fish or playing with the waterfall was a sure way to earn a swat on the butt, no matter your age.

“Nah, it’s not that.  Cleaned out the filter last weekend.”

I took a few steps away from the pond and sniffed again.  “It’s stronger over here.”

“I hope nothing’s died under your Grandma’s flowers.  She won’t be happy if we tear them up trying to find it.”

“Maybe it’s the mulch.  Where you’d get it?”

“Same place as always, Jones Supply over in Simpsonville.”

He looked about the flower garden, then shrugged again.

“Might as well get this done before it starts storming.”  The ancient freckles on Grandpa’s nose came together as he scrunched up his face and examined the sky. Dark clouds were piling in from the east, and the breeze had returned to rustle the tall oak’s leaves.  It wasn’t enough to shade us from the sun or dry out my sweat-soaked tee shirt, but it promised rain in our near future. “We’ll figure it out after church tomorrow.”

I was walking back to the vegetable garden when the first tremor struck.  It felt like a freight train was running underneath the grass, and sounded like it too.  Grandpa’s dog, an old mutt named George, started barking from the back yard, and I heard the tree above me groan as its limbs shifted in the strengthening wind.  Then I heard my grandfather shout again.

The ground was still shaking as I skidded to a halt next to Grandpa, who stood where I had left him.  Around us, the front yard was coming apart.  Gouts of rich, black earth were flying up from the center of the rose bushes, while Grandma’s geraniums were beginning to smoke.  The smell of sulphur was almost overpowering, and the wind was whipping the trees and bushes back and forth.

Just as the geraniums burst into pillars of blue flame too bright to look at for long, the lilies started chanting in Latin.  At least I thought it was them.  The voices, deep and just a little off-key, were coming from their little stone-bordered plot.

I looked up to Grandpa, and saw that his head was cocked to one side, as if he had seen a three-headed rooster run out of the old coop out back and was wondering what in tarnation was going on.  As the geysers of mulch and topsoil grew in height and girth, he turned to me.

“Marty, you seeing this too?”



Here’s another bonus story from “Coming Home”.  Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you’ve read the entire book, I’d really appreciate it if you could give me a review on Amazon.

Dinner of Danger


A smile split the Minivandian’s craggy countenance as he looked down at his youngest son. Elsked had spent the afternoon reading a book of ancient tales and dozing off in a chair while his father and several of the King’s men had argued and debated over a table covered in maps and scrolls. Now, he lay with his head caught in the corner of its cushioned back and his feet over one of the arms. Quiet snores widened the tall Northerner’s grin as he gently touched the young boy’s shoulder and shook him awake.

“My son,” DaddyBear said, “it’s time to go.”

Elsked looked up at his father for a moment, his dreams of a beautiful princess in a high tower lingering into the waking world, then the boy blinked. He yawned and stretched as he closed the leather-bound tome in his lap, sending a puff of air scented with old vellum and dust up his face to ruffle his hair.

“Is mother home yet?” he said between yawns.

“Not yet,” DaddyBear replied. “A messenger came to us just at sundown to say that she would be later than expected.”

“Is she in peril?” Elsked asked, suddenly awake. For a moment, the dread he had felt while listening to Rustle’s story the night before returned, and he felt a shiver run up his back.

“No, but the weather is atrocious,” DaddyBear replied. “Her winged beast has been delayed, but I expect she will meet us at the inn in a few hours.

Elsked frowned at his father. “Are you sure?” he asked hesitantly.

“Have no worries,” the Minivandian assured him. “Someday I’ll tell you the story of how your mother withstood much worse than this little snow and wind.”

“What’s for dinner?” the Young Prince asked as he stood up. He walked over to the bookshelf and carefully placed his book, entitled “Dragons, Wyverns, and Other Winged Beasts: The Definitive Guide,” in its place on the bookshelf next to the chair.

“Well,” said DaddyBear, “that depends on what we wish to eat. There’s a place I know that serves the cuisine of Rhaetia. They’re a cousin to my own folk, and there’s nothing better on a cold night than fermented cabbage, sausage made from the best bits of the swine, and thick beer.”

Elsked considered that for a moment and pictured a wide platter piled high with the pieces of a pig that weren’t fit for his mother’s table and a fragrant scoop of old cabbage. DaddyBear chuckled at the look on his son’s face.

“If that doesn’t sound as good to you as it does to me, I have an idea for something different,” he said, giving the Young Prince a wink.

“Different? How?” Elsked asked. The last time his father had suggested something ‘different’ for dinner, they had gone to a place that served Aztlani cuisine. Elsked had found the food to be flavorful, but he had not enjoyed the fire it had set on his tongue and in his belly.

“Are you brave?” DaddyBear said with a gentle rumble in his voice.

“Of course I am!” Elsked exclaimed. His timidity toward trying new things evaporated when it met his father’s challenge.

“Are you adventurous?” the Minivandian growled in a low roar.

“You know it!” his son cried out, matching his father’s tone. From the other side of the room, the King’s men, who had been chatting over some cheese and spiced wine, smiled at the display.

“Good!” DaddyBear exclaimed, clapping Elsked on the shoulder. “Come. I have something to show you, my brave young man!”

The pair wrapped themselves up in their cloaks and made their way out into the night. The wind was blowing cold and strong from the north, driving pellets of ice and the occasional snowflake across the river. Elsked could hear waves crashing against the levy to his left as he followed his father down the slick cobblestone street. The streetlamps, which some daring soul had lit in the middle of the gale, provided orbs of light which extended for several yards, but there were long stretches between them where he had to watch for glints of light as they reflected from the battle axe his father carried across his fur-covered back so that he did not lose him in the gloom.

Finally, just as Elsked started to think that his feet and nose might actually freeze off, DaddyBear stopped at the entrance to what looked like a well-tended garden. A thick coat of ice lay upon the high, arching gate, but some enchantment or another kept the neat walkway of gray pebbles clear. The Minivandian motioned for his son to precede him, then took care to close the gate behind them.

The Young Prince marveled at the carefully trimmed bushes and meticulously raked beds of gravel and stone which lay to either side of the path. A small tree, which he thought might have been a pine, had been twisted into a curling statue that reminded him of one of the dragons of the Eastern Realms he had seen in his book that afternoon. Brightly painted lanterns, which seemed to float on their own beneath the manicured trees, lit the garden in a golden glow. Soon, they approached a short bridge that spanned a narrow stream. As they walked over it, Elsked looked down to see large orange and white water creatures swimming to and fro beneath the thick coat of ice that covered its surface.

He looked back at his father, who urged him on with an encouraging smile. It was then that Elsked noticed that the wind, which had cut into him ever since leaving the meeting house, was now only a rushing noise that seemed far off to his ears. The air, while still cold enough that his breath came out in long streamers of vapor, was pleasant rather than painful against his face.

Finally, they came to an intricately carved wooden door, tall enough that his father would not have to duck his head to enter and wide enough that three of him could have linked arms and walked through the portal. The Minivandian rapped his knuckles against the door, and it immediately opened for him. The puff of warm air that enveloped Elsked felt delicious, and he hurried inside.

Once he pulled the hood of his fur cloak back, he found himself in an ornately decorated room. Rich red fabric competed with carved gold and bright green in the light of perfumed lamps, while a brazier glowed a dull orange in the corner. A massive glass tank, which would have been welcome in Master Weerdington’s menagerie, dominated the wall opposite the door. Several large fish and other creatures paused in their perambulations to watch as he and his father removed their cloaks and hung them from pegs next to the door.

The scent of meat cooking and luxurious spices struck Elsked, making his mouth water and his stomach gurgle. As he looked about the room, he saw people sitting around several tables, eating from great platters of food or drinking wine from small cups as they laughed and talked quietly.

A woman, dressed in a long, flowing gown dyed the same scarlet hue as the roses that grew in the garden behind the Minivandian’s manor, approached the pair and bowed deeply. Elsked marveled that the trees and grass embroidered onto the back and sleeves of her gown continued to undulate as if they were blown by a breeze even when she stood still.

“Welcome, good sirs,” she said to them in a high, soft voice. “You honor us with your presence on such a night. How may I be of service?”

DaddyBear returned the bow, then glanced over to his son. Elsked tore his eyes away from the woman’s beauty and bowed as well once he noticed his father’s eyes boring into him.

“We have come to sample your wares, my good woman,” the Northerner said as he straightened.

“Ah, good,” the hostess replied with a small, but pleasant, smile. “Would you prefer to eat here or in the fire room?”

Fire room? Elsked thought as he looked up at his father. That sounds interesting.

DaddyBear noticed the way that his son’s face lit up at her words and replied, “On a night like this, I believe that the fire room would be wonderful.”

The hostess nodded and turned toward an arched doorway leading to a dark corridor. Its wooden walls were decorated with portraits of warriors with tall helmets and painted faces. Each carried either a large, curved sword or a bow, and their armor seemed to be made up of the brilliantly colored scales of great beasts. The flickering light of the torches hanging from the walls made it look as if their fierce eyes followed the Young Prince as he walked behind the hostess. He could hear muffled voices and the rhythmic thud of someone chopping something with a large, heavy blade coming through the walls.

The young woman led them into a small alcove at the end of the corridor. It was not as brightly lit as the main hall, but the dim glow from the fire underneath the great slab of iron at the room’s center showed that it was as richly decorated. Bordering the gigantic grill was a counter of dark wood polished to a mirror finish, with hammered silver decorating its edge. The room was very warm, but after the chill of the storm outside, it felt luxurious to the Young Prince.

The hostess motioned them toward two of the pillows arrayed around the slab before turning to the Minivandian.

“Would you prefer tea or wine, my lord?” she asked.

“Tea, please,” DaddyBear replied as he took his seat. “If you have it, I prefer the blood wood tea of the Green Mountains, although I expect that my son would prefer something a little sweeter.”

The hostess smiled at Elsked and asked, “We have honey blossom tea, my young lord, if that better suits your tastes.”

Elsked’s ears perked up at that. He had heard of honey blossom once before after an older boy at school tried it. The young warrior had described it as tasting as if it were the nectar of the gods, and had told of how it was gathered from the side of a volcano far across the ocean.

“May I try it, father?” he asked excitedly.

DaddyBear chuckled as he nodded. “Of course, my son. It will definitely take the chill off your bones.”

The lady bowed once more, then walked into the kitchen. He could hear her high voice calling to someone in a language he did not understand, then heard an answering rumble.

“What manner of food do they serve here?” Elsked asked as he look around the room again.

DaddyBear gave his son a mischievous look. “Let me surprise you,” he replied. “I promise, you will enjoy everything.”

The lady in the silk gown returned, carrying a tray from which steam rose in the warm air. She lay two ceramic cups in front of her guests, then set down two large teapots. One, which was closer to DaddyBear, was glazed a dull green, and its bottom seemed to glow sluggishly as the tea inside brewed. The pot nearer to Elsked, on the other hand, was painted with gold and red flowers against a creamy white background. As he watched, the petals swayed in time to the wisps of steam rising from its spout.

DaddyBear motioned the hostess closer and whispered into her ear. She nodded as she listened to his orders, and occasionally looked over to Elsked and hid a smile or a giggle behind her hand. Elsked’s eyes narrowed at this, and once the woman had left again, he looked suspiciously to his father.

“You’re up to something,” he teased. “Should I be afraid?”

“No, just excited,” the Minivandian said as he filled their cups with tea.

Elsked picked up his drink and saw that the tea was a beautiful saffron color, and he could smell sweet spices in its steam. He blew upon the surface for a moment, then took a tentative sip. An explosion of flavors struck his tongue, first sweet, then rich and spicy. Finally, as the warmth of the tea travelled into his middle, he smiled and sighed.

The corners of his father’s eyes crinkled over his own steaming mug, then he took a sip of his blood-red tea.

“How does yours taste, father?” Elsked asked.

“Oh, a little salty, and its astringent on the tongue,” DaddyBear replied. “This is the kind of tea the hill dwarves drink before battle.”

“Of course,” he added with a chuckle before taking another sip, “they usually add a nip or two of their red whiskey to it. They say that really prepares them for the fight.”

The hostess returned, this time bearing a tray of bowls and small plates. First, she placed a bowl of steaming soup next to each of them. This was clear at the top, with small pieces of mushroom and herbs floating on the surface. At the bottom of his bowl, though, Elsked saw a roiling layer of a thicker substance.

He looked up doubtfully at his father, but the Minivandian did not notice as he helped the hostess lay their first course down on the table. One plate held four small dumplings, their sides grilled a golden brown. The other plate held small bits of rice with different meats arranged upon them.

“Please, enjoy,” the hostess said with smile and a bow. “Your chef will join you shortly.” After checking to make sure that everything was in order, she turned and walked back into the kitchen.

Elsked reached for a dumpling, then stopped when he noticed that some of the meat on the other tray was still moving. As he watched, a tentacle curled up and reached toward him. The young prince recoiled at the sight, then watched in awe as his father took up that piece, and popped it into his mouth.

“Ah, it’s been a long time since I’ve had fresh kraken.” the Northerner said around a mouthful of rice and tentacle.

“Kraken?” Elsked said skeptically. He more closely examined the remaining morsels on the plate.

“Well, it’s either from one of the smaller varieties or a very young one, but yes, this is kraken,” DaddyBear said after washing it down with a sip of his tea. “It’s delightfully chewy.”

“And what else is there?” Elsked said, narrowing his eyes and taking a very close look at the plate.

“Hmmm, let’s see,” DaddyBear said as he surveyed the tray. “This here, with the light-colored flesh, is lagoon creeper. That dark red one there is sea rocket.”

He thought for a moment, then said, “And I’m not sure what that last one there is. I told the lady to surprise us.”

Elsked looked over his choices, then asked, “May I try it?”

“Of course, my son. That’s why I brought you here. You already know what the food from my country tastes like, and I know you’re familiar with Eyrisch cuisine. A young man should be exposed to many different things so that he can tell that which is wholesome from that which is foul.”

Elsked picked up a piece of sea rocket and took a tentative bite. The flesh was soft, yet not mushy, and the flavor, while delicate, was intriguing. He quickly finished the rest of the piece and reached for a pale green piece of lagoon creeper.

Soon, he had sampled everything on the plate, even the spicy fish that his father could not identify. That one, in particular, had been a treat, since each bite caused the Young Prince to breathe out a long burst of golden flames, which had delighted his father. The dumplings were filled with a mixture of meats and spices, and after the exotic flavors of the fish tasted wonderfully familiar.

The Young Prince noticed that his soup had cooled somewhat, so after watching his father take a long slurp from his bowl, he took a tentative taste of it. It was somewhat nutty, with a tangy, almost salty undercurrent that washed away some of the more complex flavors from the other food. His hunger rekindled, Elsked finished his bowl just as the door to the room swung open again.

Elsked was surprised to see a squat man with deep wrinkles around his eyes and mouth enter. He had a serious look in his intense, dark eyes, and his jet-black hair was covered with a white hat. This matched his impeccably clean and pressed white jerkin and breeches, the front of which he covered with an apron dyed the color of fresh blood.

The man stopped next to the iron slab and bowed deeply to the Minivandian, who rose and returned the gesture. To Elsked’s surprise, the man then turned and bowed just as deeply to him. The Young Prince recovered quickly enough to rise and bow to the man before too long, however.

A hint of a smile quirked up one corner of the man’s face as he rose and said, “You honor us with your presence.”

The Minivandian looked to his son and nodded. Elsked, again surprised, squeaked, “The honor is ours, good sir. Thank you for your hospitality.”

This brought a true smile to the man’s face. “I am Master Yoshi, young lord. I will be preparing your dinner tonight, if that pleases you.”

Elsked glanced over to his father, who again nodded to him. “Nothing would please me more, Master Yoshi.” he said, this time getting the words out in an even tone and without stammering.

Yoshi nodded to the Young Prince, then clapped his hand. Two young boys, dressed identically to their master, carried in a large brass tray and set it on a table next to the grill. It was piled high with ingredients, some of which Elsked recognized, but many which he did not. The apprentices bowed first to Master Yoshi, then to his guests, before leaving the room.

“Tonight, I shall prepare for you a special treat,” Yoshi said as he deftly took a tall vial from the tray and poured thick oil from it onto the large metal slab. It immediately began to smoke, but when he passed his hand over it, the smoke transformed into bright green flames that reached up to the high ceiling.

Tatsu!” the chef intoned, his voice deepening as it reverberated from the rafters. Elsked’s eyes widened as the flames coalesced into the head of a mighty green beast that bared its teeth at him before collapsing into the grill’s iron slab. Yoshi chuckled at the Young Prince’s reaction, then reached back to his cart.

“For you, Minivandian, I have brought the haunch of a mighty mizuchi, the water serpent, cooked blood rare and spiced with the bark of the phoenix tree. For you, Young Prince, there are medallions of basan, a fowl rich in taste, but devilish in temperament. This I will sear and then sweeten with honey and herbs.”

As he spoke, low flames danced and changed color several times as they leapt up from the grill. While his guests were watching the display, he heaped meat, rice, and vegetables upon the flames, then began to move them about with two wide and, to Elsked’s eye, wickedly sharp knives. Sparks flew as their edges beat a fast tempo against the slab, now hot enough to make the air above it shimmer in the torchlight. Elixirs that caused iridescent flames to rise above the grill were poured upon the food, along with spices that sizzled and flared as Yoshi sprinkled them into the flames.

As he worked, Yoshi hummed and sang a rhythmic song, timing his movement to the tune. It released some magic into the air, as Elsked found himself swaying to its beat, and he felt his heart leap every time the master chef struck the surface of the grill hard with his knives. He took up a tray bearing small gobbets of what Elsked thought might be fowl of some sort, and began to use his blades to juggle the flesh above the fire. They sizzled and gave off spurts of their own flames as they cooked.

Elsked looked quizzically at Yoshi, who smiled broadly and explained as his knives and the food swirled in front of his face, “This is ebi, young lord, great prawns taken from a magical bay near my home. You will like it!”

Suddenly, a scrap of meat flew up and away from the chef. A long tail of flame and steam trailed behind it as it arced toward the Minivandian. DaddyBear opened his mouth and caught the treat between his teeth, then roared with laughter as he chewed.

“Pay attention, son, it’s your turn!” he cried out as Yoshi readied another morsel for flight.

Elsked looked up excitedly as a bit of meat, which had become a mottled orange and white as it cooked, sailed his way. He lined up his head to catch it, then opened his jaws wide. At the last moment, he closed his eyes, then felt the tidbit bounce off his nose before dropping into his mouth. Both men laughed heartily at the trick, and once Elsked had gotten over his surprise, he joined them.

Soon, their plates were piled high with more food than Elsked had ever been served before. Yoshi smiled and bowed to them once more as the Minivandian and his son thanked him vociferously. Once the chef had left, they dug into their food.

“How is your dinner, son?” DaddyBear asked as he scooped up a spoonful of rice and vegetables.

“No talk!” Elsked replied between mouthfuls. “Too good. Eat first.”

The Minivandian chuckled as he ate his own dinner. “Should I assume you like it, then?” DaddyBear asked. He was answered by the sound of Elsked’s fork scraping against his plate as he munched away.

After a long while, during which their conversation consisted of one or two words about the quality of the food, Elsked popped the last bit of meat from his plate into his mouth, then gave out a loud burp. He jumped at his lack of manners, then looked sheepishly at his father. His fear of a reprimand disappeared when he saw the Minivandian wink at him.

“I’ll take that as a sign that you like the cuisine,” DaddyBear said. “Did you save room for dessert?”

Elsked groaned as he patted his stomach. “Oh, no, father, I’m stuffed like a mid-winter’s goose!” he replied. After a moment’s thought, he added, “But after a bit, I might have room for a cup of chocolate like they serve at the inn.”

The Minivandian’s laughter rumbled to every corner of the room as he left a jingling purse on the table and motioned Elsked toward the door. “Of course, my son,” he said with a broad smile. “How silly of me to think that I could find the limits of your appetite so easily.”

Together, father and son made their way back out into the stormy night and to their room at the inn. His belly full and his spirits lifted, Elsked did not feel the wind quite as much as he had during their walk to the tavern.

Book Review – King’s Champion

Peter Grant’s latest, his first work in epic fantasy, is out.  It’s called “King’s Champion” and it’s an awesome tale.

After decades of peace, war is threatening the Kingdom of Avranche. Its old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers coded orders for a larger plot.

The kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

The story is well-paced, with action punctuating an immersive narrative through a world where honor, magic, and bravery rule the day.  The main character, Owain, is an old warrior who is called back to service by his sense of duty to the kingdom.  He confronts an ancient evil that he thought he had defeated decades earlier, and works to restore the protectors of his land.

Grant brings his outstanding writing to this new genre, and he has captured the spirit of classic fantasy.   He doesn’t dwell on descriptions, but does an excellent job of drawing out the lands and people that populate this new world.

King’s Champion is an easy, enjoyable read that grabs you and won’t let go.  If you can put it down, it will keep you thinking until you pick it back up.  It’s definitely recommended for anyone who enjoys excellent stories about honor and bravery.

Bonus Story

Here is another bonus story from “Coming Home“.  Please let me know what you think, and if you’ve read the entire book, please leave me a review on Amazon.

The Flying Beast Who Did Not Eat His Breakfast


The pilot, a young woman with a slender build, an easy smile, and a set of flashing blue eyes, patted her winged beast upon his feathered neck. He was of one of the smaller varieties of such animals, suitable only for short trips with light loads. The creature’s blue and white scales were brilliant in the light of the torches the maintenance gnomes had arrayed around his bulk so that they could see as they conducted their pre-flight rituals and checks. Downy winter plumage moved in the wind that even the large stone building next to him could not block completely.

“Are we ready?” the pilot asked the chief gnome, who stood close to the beast to warm himself with the heat radiating from the creature’s middle. Both were dressed in multiple layers of wool and fur, but even this could not completely protect them from the wind’s sharp edge.

The gnome looked up from his tablet, upon which he had written each of the tasks needed to prepare the beast for flight, and replied in a squeaky voice, “Everything is prepared, but I’m worried that he hasn’t eaten enough.”

“Oh?” the pilot, whose name was Elbee, said. “Will he have what he needs to get us there?”

“It says here he ate heartily at your last stop. I wouldn’t worry if it weren’t for this blasted weather!” the gnome said. He glared at the beast, who regarded him with half-lidded eyes the size of the small man’s head. “You’ll have to be careful to not drive him too hard or fight the wind too much.”

“We’ll manage,” Elbee said, giving her steed another pat on the head. This drew a deep purr from the beast as he nuzzled under her arm. “Besides, we’ve made it through worse weather, haven’t we, boy?” She scratched the small dragon behind the horns, which turned the buzz of his purr into a loud hum that almost drowned out the howl of the wind around them.

The gnome shook his head and walked over to the crew that was polishing and sharpening the long claw at the end of the beast’s right wing.

Gods save me from crazy pilots, he thought darkly. I just hope you don’t end up falling out of the sky while I’m underneath you.

The pilot watched him go, then shivered as a gust of icy wind raced across the plain of ascension to buffet both her and the beast. “Ready, boy?” she asked her steed. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”


Ruarin, Lady of Eyre and wife of the Minivandian, stepped through the door to the passenger cabin strapped to the blue and white beast’s back. She wore her healer’s cloak over a robe of fur and wool to ward off the winter’s cold, but even that only cut the chill from the night’s air. Around her, other passengers shivered as the wind whipped through the doorway, but memories of never-ending snowfields and frozen rivers made it easier for the Eyrischwoman to bear the discomfort.

She looked down at the ticket in her hand, then made her way to the seat at the very back of the compartment. She normally tried to sit closer to the front, but the summons to meet with other healers at the mouth of the Great River had arrived late the night before, and she had been lucky to find a suitable conveyance at all on such short notice.

After stowing her healer’s bag above her seat, Ruarin strapped herself in. She hoped that the message she had sent to her husband had made it through the storm. Lightning could wreak havoc on the connection between mages, and she did not want DaddyBear to worry when her flight back to the Port of Gnu was delayed several hours while the storm raged.

She had just finished saying her prayers to ask for protection against the weather when the curtain behind her parted. Snarglefist the She-Orc, resplendent in her blue and white robes of hospitality, stepped out and walked to the front of the cabin. After making sure that the appropriate number of passengers were on board and in their seats, she turned and smiled at her guests.

The flash of a nearby lightning bolt reflected off her long, sharply pointed teeth, drawing similar grimaces from nearby passengers. She was lovely, for an orc, with her broad, fuzzy chest, skin the consistency of rich, supple leather, long, well-muscled arms, and a head of course, dark hair that her mate had shaved on one side to reveal the intricate tattoos emblazoned upon her scalp. The rest of her mane had been knotted and braided so that it stood up into a crest of spikes and plumes.

Truly, Snarglefist was the most beautiful of orcish maidens.

After waiting for all of the other creatures aboard her winged beast to stop their chatter and turn their attention toward her, she called out, “Me, Snarglefist, beautiful youngest daughter of GLURG THE DESTROYER!” When Snarglefist said her father’s name, she shouted it out like the war cry it was while she pounded one knobby fist into the seat in front of her.

Her pond-green eyes flashing as if another bolt had descended from the heavens, Snarglefist continued, “Me, maiden of hospitality! You sit! No do stupid or me beat you like elf caught on shelf! Listen me when we crash! Me bring food and fizzy sweet water once we no touch earth. You pray now! Enjoy trip!”

Her duties complete, she walked back to her seat behind Ruarin and strapped herself in. Soon, the rumbling of her voice filled the cabin as she grasped at the charm around her neck and prayed to the gods of the storm for safe passage.

The Lady of Eyre chuckled to herself as she took in the shocked looks on the other passengers’ faces.

She always finds the best way to get her point across, Ruarin mused as she closed her eyes and began to recite the traveler’s prayer.


Elbee wiped the frozen rain from her goggles as she guided the winged beast to the end of the runway. The maintenance gnomes had been able to get a few potions of energy down his throat, but he had turned her nose up even at the barrel of salted fish they had offered him. Elbee had considered cancelling the flight, but after consulting with the mage of meteorology, she had decided they could manage the flight if she could find a way to stay out of the path of the strongest winds.

The beast paused for a moment at the end of the plain as he took several deep breaths to prepare himself for the exertions of taking off in such conditions. He stuck his nose into the wind and began a long, loping run as he tried to gain enough speed to drag himself up from the field. At the very end of the runway, he leapt into the air, beating his leathery wings against the shrieking gale to claw his way into the sky. With a roar of triumph, he cleared the high fence that separated the place of landing from the neighborhood in which the local folk slept.

Elbee cheered him on as he fought to gain altitude while frigid winds tossed them first one way, then the other. Pellets of ice quickly replaced the cold rain and snow, and they beat a tattoo against his hard scales as they soared upward toward the mountains. The downy feathers covering his body rippled in the breeze as the muscles in his wings and back fought against the wind to drive him ever upward.


Snarglefist peered out the window as another bolt of lightning, this one close enough to make the wiry hair on her knuckles stand on end, ripped across the sky. In its glare, she saw dark clouds towering up into the heavens, looking as if someone had released a cohort of titans to batter the winged beast back to the earth far below.

With a shrug, she rose from her tiny seat and began to hum to herself. The She-Orc pulled a basket from one of the cupboards above her head and walked down the narrow aisle between the seats in which her terrified guests sat. While even the bravest of her passengers looked worried, she kept a serene smile upon her muzzle. Where some of them swayed with the motion of the cabin, she kept a steady foot upon the floor as she walked to the front of the compartment.

“Stay sit!” she shouted over the din. “No untie from chair! I bring food! No worry! Stay sit!”

As she walked back to the rear of the cabin, she gave each of her passengers a small packet of dried bread knots from the basket and a tiny flask of fizzy drink from a pocket in her tunic. The young Chanani woman sitting two rows in front of Ruarin stopped her as she went.

“Might I have wine instead?” she asked, her voice pitched to be heard over the rattle of the cabin as the wind tried to wrestle it away from the winged beast. “My nerves are frayed from all this.”

“No booze!” Snarglefist snarled in reply. “Trip too short! Drink sweet fizzy! Make you pretty like me!” She shoved an extra flask into the surprised woman’s hand and moved on with her task.

Ruarin accepted her snack from the She-Orc with a gracious smile and shouted thanks, then settled back. She had attempted to read one of the many scrolls she had brought with her from the conference of healers, but the detailed description of a malady afflicting the people of the Aztlani highlands made her stomach do flip-flops and her head scream. She put it away for another time and lay back to try to sleep through the worst of the flight.


Elbee looked down, trying to find a landmark to guide her, but the ground below was masked with darkness and mist. Finally, she saw the bright blue light of the signal fire upon Widow’s Peak, and tugged at the reins to turn the winged beast more toward the north.

“First checkpoint!” she shouted into the tube next to her saddle. “It’s not going to be quite as smooth for the next little bit. Make sure the passengers are comfortable!”


Snarglefist took the tube from her ear and nodded. “Time for magic,” she grunted as she touched the switch controlling the mystical elven box of cooking. A few moments later, the sound of a silver bell told her that the treat she had prepared for her charges was ready. Taking care to not burn her delicate fingers or singe any of the whiskers on her chin, she took a tray of fragrant rolls out of the magical oven and walked back down the aisle.

One by one, she gave each of her passengers one of the rolls, which were filled with rich chocolate, along with a small flask of apple brandy from the second pocket of her tunic. This was received with great joy and relief by some who wished to distract themselves with something pleasant, while others looked at the treat as an ominous sign of things to come.

“Stay sit!” Snarglefist admonished the passengers. “Chalk’lit and fire apple water make happy!”

The Chanani woman took her share with trembling fingers and immediately drank her entire flask of brandy. Snarglefist reassured her with a gentle thump on the shoulder, saying, “We get through storm soon. Eat good food, for soon you stand at feet of storm god!” The young elvish woman looked up at her in shock.

Across the aisle from Ruarin, a matronly old woman dressed in blue silken robes rose to retrieve something from her bag. Snarglefist roared as she reached out and gripped her by the shoulder. With a heave that almost caused her to drop the last of the chocolate rolls, the She-Orc tossed the matron back into her seat.

“I say stay sit!” she squealed at the older woman. “You want die?” The lady in blue looked up in shock at her reaction, then quickly strapped herself back into her seat. Snarglefist humphed at her once more before distributing the last of her treats. Finally, she returned the now-empty tray to the oven and sat down in her own seat.


Elbee frowned underneath her thick woolen face covering. Her beast was taking in huge gulps of air, then breathing them out in long streamers of smoke and steam. She could feel the heat of the creature’s exertions rising from beneath her seat, and even more worrying, small tongues of orange and blue flame occasionally blew from his nostrils as he exhaled.

“Too much, boy?” she shouted, reaching down to pat his neck. The dragon lifted his head a bit to look back at her, then returned to straining against the wind.

We’ll never make it over the mountains like this, Elbee thought. Time to take the other path.

She squeezed down on the beast’s shoulders with her knees and tugged hard to the right with the reins.

“Come on, boy!” she whooped as she felt her steed slip lower and wheel downward. “Tonight, we fly the Tail of the Dragon!” Sensing her excitement, the beast roared into the wind as he descended toward the mouth of a narrow canyon far below.


Snarglefist nodded knowingly as she felt the front of the compartment dip and the shriek of the wind outside changed in tone. After glancing out her portal to confirm her suspicions, she looked up at the heavens and smiled.

“Tonight,” she muttered in the sonorous tones of cultured orcish, “we fly between the legs of the storm god!”

The Maiden of Hospitality reached down and used her thumbnail to cut through the cord holding a box made from sturdy pine shut. “EMERGENCY USE ONLY!” was burned into its wood in several languages. Inside, she found thirty spun glass flasks containing a clear liquid that seemed to glow like star fire in the gloom.

“Good news!” she bellowed as she picked up the box and made her way to the front of the cabin. “We no go over mountain!” Several passengers, who probably thought that this meant a safe return to the place of embarkation, cheered at her words.

With an exultant sigh, Snarglefist turned to regard her charges. “We get big honor tonight!” she roared. “Elbee take us between mountains. Only best flyers do this on good days!”

Ruarin realized what the She-Orc meant a moment before the Chanani maiden did. “Do you mean we are going to fly through the canyons?” the she-elf demanded in a high squeal.

Snarglefist grinned broadly as she handed the first bottles of moonshine to the young couple seated in the front row. “Yes!” she shouted back. “Drink deep and pray to wind goddess! We ride Dragon’s Tail while she rend sky!”

Ruarin closed her eyes and intoned a prayer for protection and forgiveness of sins as Snarglefist passed out corn liquor to the rest of her passengers. When she reached the Lady of Eyre, she lifted the last flask as if it were a holy offering, then whispered, “Drink deep, lady. This give you strength for what come soon.”

Ruarin nodded in thanks and uncorked the flask. She had taken her first swallow of the harsh, raw whisky when the beast wheeled over to the left and flew between the two tall rocks marking the entrance to the canyon. Snarglefist barely had time to strap herself in before the cabin floor bucked up, then slammed down as Elbee guided the dragon through the first of the mountain path’s obstacles.


Lightning flashed high overhead as Elbee hauled on the reins to turn the beast away from a jagged rock that seemed to leap out from the canyon wall. Beneath her, she could hear the beast grunting as it fought to overcome the shrieking wind at their backs, but the heat from his fires was lessening beneath her saddle.

Praise the gods, she thought as she squeezed her knees to urge the dragon downward to avoid a stone bridge spanning the canyon. He’s not as tired as he was before.

We’ll need everything he’s got, she added grimly as she again wiped the sleet from her goggles.

Thunder boomed as a bolt of lightning split the canyon face immediately behind them, throwing the beast and the air around it into a ball of white light that temporarily blinded Elbee as they plunged deeper into the canyon.

Elbee whooped in glee as she felt the beast rise beneath her, catching his claws for a moment on an outcropping before leaping off into the darkness once more. The beast answered her call with a roar as he spouted blue-white flames from his nostrils. Their cries echoed from the walls, chasing the thunder as they flew onward up the canyon.


Ruarin felt her stomach turn over again as the cabin shuddered around her. She clutched the empty whisky flask as if it were a talisman, while around her the other passengers cried out in fear.

Over the noise of the wind and the shrieks of the terrified, she could hear Snarglefist singing at the top of her lungs in a flat baritone:

Over mountain we go!
Through the wind and snow!
Wind no drive us from the sky!
GLURG people never die!

Suddenly, their flight smoothed as if they had passed through some barrier beyond which the winds held no power. For a moment, everyone gaped at the lack of tumult and noise, then their cries began anew.

“We’ve died!” the Chanani maiden sobbed, burying her head in her delicate hands. “That maniac has ridden us into the side of a mountain!”

“We no dead!” Snarglefist said cheerfully, clapping her hard on the back. “Captain Elbee just get us through mountains. We almost home!”

Indeed, out her window, Ruarin could make out the lights of a city far below them. Thin wisps of cloud slipped past them as she felt the dragon gently wheel downward toward the place of landing.

Soon, the lights of the city blurred beneath them as she heard the wind rushing around the beast’s wings. Then, with a bump and another roar from the dragon, they were on the ground.


Elbee stretched down and scratched the beast behind his horns as he trotted toward the twinkling torches of their resting spot. A cohort of gnomes waited for them in the freezing wind next to the debarking ladders, mule-drawn carts for the passengers’ baggage, and a large barrel of fish.

The beast let out a final, contented puff of steaming breath before settling down on his haunches and folding his wings underneath the passenger cabin on his back.

“Good boy!” Elbee exclaimed. She unstrapped herself from her saddle and clambered closer to the dragon’s head. She scratched with both hands while heaping praise upon her steed. “You made it!”

One of the maintenance gnomes tugged a hand cart bearing the fish barrel close to the beast’s muzzle, then gasped as he thrust his head into the food. Within moments, the barrel was half empty, and the flying beast showed no sign of slowing down.

“He must be almost empty, my lady!” the gnome squeaked as Elbee carefully climbed down from her perch. The pilot nodded as she tried to work the kinks out of her legs.

“He certainly had to work at this night’s journey, that’s for sure!” she said tiredly before turning to greet her passengers as they descended from the cabin.


The passengers waited until Snarglefist signaled that it was safe to stand before untying themselves from their chairs and gathering their things. The She-Orc ran a hand through her stiff hair and made her way to the front.

“Me know you could have walked through storm or taken carriage over mountains instead of flying with us, and me thank you for opportunity to face death with you tonight!” she intoned as the passengers lined up at the door. Outside, they could hear the gnomes unlocking the portal and preparing the ladder for them.

“Me wish all good travels and luck to you this night!” she exclaimed as the door opened with a creak and the passengers surged forward. The Chanani maiden, her face an ashen white, took wobbly steps toward the door.

“You brave!” Snarglefist growled to her, admiration showing in her gravelly voice. “Me wish to fly with you again!”

The elvish woman gaped at her in shock before she nodded and stammered, “Thank you. Perhaps we shall meet again, maybe even in this world.” Snarglefist gave her a belly laugh as she helped her out the door and onto the ladder.

Finally, the Lady of Eyre came to the door. She was the last of the passengers, so Snarglefist followed her down. The ladder was slick with ice, but after the flight through the mountains, that seemed but a little danger to them.

“Thank you,” Ruarin said once they were safely on the ground. Banks of compacted snow showed where someone had shoveled the flagstones clean, and tall drifts obscured the outline of the hall into which the rest of the passengers were trudging. A glaze of ice covered everything else, and several of the gnomes slipped as they brought their carts over to unload luggage from the nets slung alongside the passenger cabin.

“Me have good news, lady,” Snarglefist said quietly. “Me and mate buy farm just down road from you.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Ruarin said, reaching out to the She-Orc and embracing her. “New neighbors.”

“Yes, we take cave in hill next to water,” Snarglefist said as she and the Lady of Eyre walked toward the hall. “Maybe you bring boy to play with daughter?”

“Nothing would make me happier, Snarglefist,” Ruarin agreed. “I shall tell my husband once I get back to the inn.”

Together, the Lady of Eyre and the Maiden of Hospitality walked into the welcome warmth of the hall of flying. Behind them, Elbee watched as her flying beast finished his meal and burped out a long tongue of blue flame to show his appreciation.

BoogeyMan Is Up on Amazon!

The BoogeyMan, my first attempt at a detective story, is up on Amazon, both for sale and for Kindle Unlimited, this morning. Thanks to everyone for their pointers and suggestions.

Here’s the blurb:

Martin Shelby is The BoogeyMan, a private investigator and fixer for folks who get into trouble too tough and too strange for the police. People only bring him the jobs that require the body of a linebacker and the face of a gargoyle.

Now, he’s been handed a job that pays double, but that can only mean double the danger.

But when the things that go bump in the night look under their bed for HIM, how hard can it be? To The BoogeyMan, it’s just another job.

I put up a snippet from the book here, and here’s the first page:


The fat guy’s hands moved fast, clearing the big automatic from its holster before I even had a chance to start ducking. Looking down the bore of his pistol, I swear I could see the cavity in the nose of his bullet as it came at my head.


Opening my eyes, the remnants of the dream faded as the ceiling of my bedroom came into focus.


“The shit?” I mumbled as I turned my head and looked for the source of the noise. Beside me, my wife rolled over in her sleep, mumbling something of her own.

Grabbing my phone off the table, I saw that one of my business associates felt it was necessary to call me at three in the bloody morning. Punching the answer button, I put it to my ear.


“Good morning to you too, sunshine. You pissed because I got you out from under some poor child’s bed before you had a chance to scare the crap out of her?” said the scratchy voice at the other end of the connection.

“Sid, I don’t know whether to bite your head off for being a jerk at this hour or thank you for waking me up,” I growled quietly, scratching at the stubble on my cheek with my free hand. “Since I didn’t like what I was sleeping through, I’m going to give you thirty seconds to convince me to not hunt you down and stake you out on an anthill.” At the sound of my voice, Deb rolled back over and stared at me. The light from the alarm clock made her eyes glint green in the shadow of her pillow.

“Get cleaned up and come down to my office. I’ve got a hot one for you,” he replied. I swear I could hear that damned smile of his through the phone.

“OK, but there better be good coffee waiting for me when I get there.” I punched the “END” button and turned to Deb.

“Really?” was all she had to say.

I shrugged and put my hand on her shoulder. “Sid’s got something, and we need the money.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, then nodded. “Tell him that if he can’t call you during office hours, I’m not going to invite him over for cookouts anymore.”

I chuckled as I swung my legs around and stood up. “Now, that is a threat he’ll respond to.”

I scratched my belly as I walked to the bathroom and quietly closed the door behind me. Five minutes later I came out, dressed and cleaned up as much as I was going to be for my old pal Sid. Deb was waiting by the bedroom door with my go bag in one hand and my holster in the other.

“Be careful,” she whispered as she went up on tiptoes and kissed me goodbye.

“Always am, sweetheart.” My loving wife rolled her eyes and ran her finger down the scar on my cheek.

“I’m going to do a close examination when you get home,” she growled playfully. “There better not be any more of these.” With that, she turned and crawled back into bed. I watched her for a moment, then turned off the bathroom light and walked as quietly as I could out of the room.


Hope you all enjoy The BoogeyMan, and remember, reviews are an awesome gift to a writer.

Review – Rimworld: Stranded

Jim Curtis, also known as OldNFO, has dipped his toes into the military science fiction pool, and spins yet another great yarn in Rimworld: Stranded.  In it, a maintenance technician misses the “Oh crap, we gotta go!” message when aliens attack his outpost, and is left behind to deal with the invaders with only what he knows and what he has on hand.  The story and character are a break from the regular “I’ve been training all my life for this!” heroes in the genre.  He makes mistakes, has human reactions to bad situations, and is really easy to connect with.

This is a great, quick read for anyone who enjoys mil-SF.  Curtis’ skill as a storyteller shines through, and his writing is crisp and to the point.  I heartily recommend this one.

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