Category Archives: My Other Writing

Flash fiction, articles, guest blogging. Farm blogging, chicken blogging, blurbs.

Zombie Flash Fiction: On Domestic Soil

This piece was written as part of a promotional contest for J. Whitworth Hazzard, who prepares to release his four Dead Sea Games books within one print compilation. The flash fiction contest is judged by Miranda Kate. See the link below to read the other entries.

Returning_Home,_New_York_Times,_1919

“Returning Home” 1919, New York Times

On Domestic Soil
by Marissa Ames
486 words

We returned from the Great War, certain no worse horrors existed than we’d witnessed in Europe. Dead French children, lying in pieces after German invasions, could not compare to American children, walking in pieces after the Spanish Flu.

Ten months we waited in Nantucket. Olive drab wool hung from bodies that had been strapping before the draft. Farm boys and dockworkers, we had obeyed Woodrow Wilson and defended the world. We swore we could see Lady Liberty from the coast if we squinted. We wanted to kiss our mothers, for the war was over. Ten months, because of a pandemic on domestic soil.

We only knew what the dots and dashes told, brief code testifying of a plague ravaging young bodies. A flu threatened to exterminate New York before the next decade. It took fathers and mothers, and boys too young for the draft. It would take us as well if we left Nantucket.

For ten months, the officers wouldn’t let us rest. We trained like Germans on the Western Front, building trenches out of bricks and wood. They claimed the next war would not be in the countryside. Our bayonets stabbed straw dummies. Aim for the head, they said. Always the head.

The dots and dashes stopped. A final four words: All dead. Feeling sick.

We boarded the ship home, clutching scarred bayonets. Ghost ships drifted in Long Island Sound. Sailors shuffled on deck, ignoring our hails. The officers refused to stop. Dead, they said, though the sailors still walked. Bodies floated in the East River, bloated and stinking. Still they twitched and swam.

New Yorkers roamed Times Square, all dead. Rotting hands clutched newspapers, as if the bodies remembered they still had jobs to do. Women shuffled through the streets with dried blood on their hobble skirts, testifying that hobbling for fashion had been their downfall. Bowlers and fedoras tumbled in the wind, kicked by the mindless ambling of corpses in spats.

With khaki cloth tied around our mouths, we slunk through the streets. Keep quiet, the officers said, until safe within the trenches. Keep your bayonets ready, else you fall the same way as did the previous platoon.

That platoon had not known what to expect, the officers said. The dots and dashes never mentioned an appetite for flesh, or inhuman speed despite rotting limbs. We found pieces of the previous platoon, leftover after the dead had eaten their fill. Those pieces walked or crawled, draped in olive drab, searching for more flesh to consume.

Within trenches built before that platoon fell, we whispered and prayed. For our mothers, we said. For President Wilson, and the United States. An attack developed by an enemy more human than our former patriots would give us the advantage. Strike hard and fast, the officers said. Aim for the head. Always the head.

We raised our bayonets high, to defend the world before the next decade began.

 

Soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas, ill with the Spanish Flu

Soldiers from Fort Riley, Kansas, ill with the Spanish Flu

Did you enjoy this story? Read the other entries, contest rules, and information regarding the Dead Sea Games books HERE!

Like my story? Kickstart the zombie apocalypse by publishing Dead Sea Games.

Want to write like me? Personal coaching and critiquing by Miranda Kate.

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Book Signings and Renaissance Faires

Who says Reno doesn’t have culture?

This Sunday, I’ll be signing books at the Nevada Opera Renaissance Faire, alongside local authors Jean Booth and Kurt Winans. Also available are books from award winning authors who write with a fantasy edge: A.D. Trosper, Hannah Steenbock, Katie Jennings, LaDonna ColeNatalie Gibson, and Sophie Moss.

Would you like free signed books? Read on to find the secret buzzwords!

Nevada Opera’s Renaissance Faire

An Artown Event

  • Sunday, July 6, 2014
  • 10am to 9pm
  • Wingfield Park (on the river)
Ren faire color

Banner by Blue Harvest Creative

An excerpt from Vassal, available September 20th, 2014:

Aislin marched arrow-first into the hall. The sun, now peeking full into the window, danced along the high points of the men’s faces. They reacted the same as all men did when facing Aislin’s bow. Their somber expressions became dubious, and they retreated a step.

Darrion demanded, “What do you want?”

The same husky voice rasped, “We seek wheat and rye.”

Immediately Darrion replied, “We have stores to share, if you are needy.”

Aislin’s arrow sagged. She didn’t often feed beggars, for she rarely had ample food for her own fief. “What do you—No, we don’t. We have to plant.”

“I’ll take care of this,” Darrion said.

“But we don’t—”

“I said—” He set a hand on her bare shoulder. “—I’ll take care of this.”

Shrugging his hand away, she lowered her bow.

The men stood patiently. One, blond with long hair tied back in a tail at the base of his neck, carried an axe slung on his belt. The other, with a mane of dark, scrubby wool on his face and his chin, carried a one-handed arming sword. They watched Aislin’s bow, but they did not approach.

“The grain is in the barn,” Darrion said. “Allow me to retrieve my boots, and I’ll fill a sack for your journey.” Passing by Aislin on his way back to the room, he whispered to her, “Try not to shoot them.”

Her mouth fell open, and her head turned to watch him leave. One of the intruders shuffled his feet. Aislin aimed her arrow at him and cocked her elbow back. “Don’t move,” she snarled.

Did you catch the buzz word? In case you didn’t:

I’ll be giving a swag bag to the first person who approaches our booth and proclaims, “I seek wheat and rye.” Within Vassal, those words promise trust within a secret and illegal organization. On Sunday, they might win you a signed copy of Minstrel, swords and tiaras for up to 5 children in your group, and a tote bag courtesy of Blue Harvest Creative.

Author Jean Booth is also offering a swag bag. Visit her website for her buzz words:

Please drop by the Renaissance Faire. Listen to amazing music. Visit vendors for some tantalizing food and unique wares. And come see us! We’re offering a free sword or tiara for every two books you purchase, and have many stories to suit your personal tastes.

“What do you like to read?”

Dead Leaves

This was written for the Fall Flash Festival, hosted/judged by Eric Martell and Daniel Swensen. As we self-published authors can do, I’ve also submitted it for consideration for J.A.Mes Press’ Halloween Anthology.

Click Image for Photo Credit

Click Image for Photo Credit

Dead Leaves, 1000 words, by Marissa Ames

Trees rustled overhead, and dry, papery leaves tumbled over Angie’s face. White-gold sunlight angled beneath the canopy. A chill afternoon wind brought the aroma of dust and impending frost.

Angie rolled her head to the side, collecting autumn leaves in the congealed blood where the bullet had grazed her temple. She groaned at her crippling headache.

Something groaned in response.

Motionless beneath the autumn carpet, Angie glanced around. Heavy feet moved through the leaves with a rhythmic step-shuffle. Her fingers flexed, longing for her Glock. A half-decayed man, with scalp and hair hanging from the right side of his skull, ambled among the twice-dead.

The wind blew through the grove, stripping leaves from her inert body.

The zombie whirled around. Milky eyes fixed on her. Twisting its body until it faced her, it shuffled between leaf-covered mounds of rotting flesh.

Angie held her breath as the zombie swayed above her. It opened its mouth and groaned. Flecks of rotten lip fell off and skittered down the channel between her nose and cheek. Angie gagged and coughed. The zombie flinched, tilted its head, and bent down to observe her. They stared, her blue gaze to his milky white, as she tried to keep from blinking. The zombie stood up straight with a creaking of shrunken tendons. Groaning softly through the hole in its throat, it turned away.

She closed her eyes against the nauseating sunlight as the walking corpse explored the killing field. Shivering within her M65 field jacket, she slowly lifted an arm. In response to the rustle of leaves, the zombie turned again. It groaned in acknowledgement. Angie wiggled her fingers, but the corpse ignored her and continued its exploration.

With her eyes on the zombie, she sat up and pushed the leaves away. It did not respond as she stood, staggering from a sudden rush of vertigo. Angie widened her stance and cupped her hands over her eyes, smearing sticky blood over her face. She pulled her hands back and cursed at the gash across her palm.

She pressed her palm to her mouth, licking the salty, coppery blood away. The flavor soothed her, calmed her headache.

With her lips sealed over the wound, she shuffled between zombie bodies, toward the sunset.

This morning the unit had traveled east from the barn, following the old country road beside the broken-down white slat fence, keeping their guns trained before them. The old maple groves had been a refuge during the summer, unpopulated before the outbreak and free of zombies after. Now the old groves were no safer than the rest of Vermont. Angie’s unit, determined to defend their home, had used the most agile of them as bait. He had ducked between rotting hands before the rest of the unit opened fire on the herd of undead.

Sweat beaded on her forehead and she shivered beneath her jacket. The sun winked between maple trunks as she trudged down the abandoned road. Her old black combat boots plowed through mounds of red and orange, shoving the leaves aside. She pulled her hand away to cough then pressed her lips back against the freshly bleeding gash.

Gray against the flame of autumn, the barn rose higher on the other side of the little hill. She blinked her blurry eyes, watching the wooden shingles bob up, then down, then up higher in rhythm to her rough gait.

Piles of blackened wood lay around the barn, where the unit had burned the twice-dead to avoid contamination. An old Dutch oven sat on a rock beside the dedicated cooking fire. Nobody roamed the yard.

Angie coughed as she pressed on the latch. She rolled her neck back and forth, shivering when the wind dipped its chill fingers into her coat and down her back. Grabbing the handle with two sticky hands, she pulled the barn door open.

Sleeping bags carpeted the middle of the barn, well away from the walls. Angie found Todd’s bag, right beside the 4×4 support beam where he liked to hang his .357. She shrugged out of her jacket and sank to her knees. Pulling back the ripped and patched flap, she slid into the bag and buried her face in the quilting. It smelled like him. Angie shoved the fabric against her nose and inhaled deeply.

The door creaked open, and the last of the day’s light peeked in. Ten living bodies shadowed the entrance. Angie listened for the slick sound of cowboy boots along the barn floor. Todd led the unit into the barn, sliding his .357 from his shoulder as the door creaked shut.

The wooden stock of the gun tapped against the 4×4. Todd’s big, callused hand shifted on the beam as he kicked his boots off. Sliding against the beam, Angie made room for the man who had promised to love her forever.

Who had promised to never hurt her.

Todd knelt down, and his hand landed on her feverish arm. He froze. Inhaling a slow, cautious breath, he slid his rough palm against her sweaty skin, stopping at her paracord bracelet he had given her months ago.

He traced the bite mark just below the bracelet, his fingers glancing over the edges of dying flesh. Todd’s hand trembled.

It trembled just as it had this morning, when he had witnessed the bite. When the zombie had grabbed her wrist and sank its teeth into her flesh. His hands trembled so much that the barrel of the .357 jerked wildly as he took aim. Todd’s eyes clenched shut. He pulled the trigger.

The bullet had only grazed her.

Todd now yelled and jerked back, but Angie grabbed his wrist. She held tight with newfound strength and vigor, with muscles not yet decayed, in the most dangerous phase of the transformation. The phase Todd had tried to avoid by shooting her when she was first bitten.

Todd twisted and fought as the unit scrambled about in the darkness.

Gunpowder flashed as her teeth sank into his skin.

Read other stories from this contest here:

Horror Bites #1: A Bag of Heads

I don’t normally write horror, though I must admit it makes for a mighty fun time! Fellow author Laura Jamez has started a horror-writing challenge. For the first run, she presented us with this picture:

Bag of Heads

You can find the rules for the challenge, as well as the other entries, here:

And so I present my flash fiction horror piece:

“Barbacoa”

The aromas weigh heavy in the nostrils: bleach and the inert yet unmistakable fragrance of raw meat. Fresh, it’s not yet sickeningly sweet from decay. Nor does it tantalize the senses as fat drips from tender fibers of muscle, pooling back on the plate flecked with spice.

*
That happens in the front of the store. Customers prefer to buy the finished product. Lengua and sesos sound cultured and adventurous. Once they taste the pungent product within their fresh tortillas, they brag about the cross-cultural butcher shop at the edge of town. They love barbacoa, the tender meat flaking away beneath the braised exterior. Some know it’s cheek. They don’t care. The reviews glow from the Sunday paper, beside succulent photos.

*
Beside the restaurant, customers can buy their meat. We use international names. They eat barbacoa, but they don’t want to see its original form. Food gurus warn consumers to know their food, instead of accepting meat in an innocuous plastic wrapper. They recommend consumers build relationships with the people producing it. Visit the farm, they say. See the animals. Few actually do. They just don’t want to know. So we slice the tongue, cheek, and brains, and package it within plastic wrappers. Once it gleams under storefront lights, consumers ignore where it came from. They take it home, hoping to reproduce the cuisine they ate here.

*
We have two rooms behind the store: one beneath the other. Sometimes customers want to know. We tell them tours violate health code. But when reporters arrive, or the health department, we close the door and drag the rubber mat atop.

*
Humans taste just like pork. Fat drips from cheek meat, pooling back on the plate flecked with spice. But few customers want to know where their food comes from. Perhaps they should.

Soul of the Universe

SotU72logo

At long last, The Anthology Club’s first publication, Soul of the Universe, is available in eBook!

Ok, let me back up a little. Just what is The Anthology Club?

Launched in 2013 by Michael Manz, The Anthology Club promotes writers’ careers by producing and publishing anthologies of short fiction from flash to novellas. Senior members of the club propose projects, inviting both senior and junior members to write. Once the project is complete, the club publishes the work and offers it within the major eBook channels.

Royalties are distributed as follows:

  • 15% for the Club, to pay for publication costs, copyediting and formatting, artwork, and publicity for the current and future projects.
  • 5% for the editor of that particular project.
  • 80% is distributed among the contributors, based on the amount of content contributed by each author.

For a few months, The Anthology Club hovered within the limbo of closed beta as the senior members worked out the bugs in the system. When ready, Mr. Manz opened the club out to all writers, with calls for submission spread across the internet.

As one of the original senior members, I have been on board throughout the entire journey. It’s been fascinating. The Publication Agreement was my first ever, and a landmark for me in my career. I’ve had my say in projects still in the works, such as the pirate-themed anthology which still has a few meager weeks left for submissions.

Soul of the Universe paves the way for these other anthologies.

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato 

“Here you will find a collection of six stories by four authors that, at first glance, seem to have little in common. We have Sci Fi Adventure. We have Medieval Fantasy. We have Emotional Drama, and we have Steampunk. We even have a Western. 

“Though each of these stories seems to have little in common with its companions, every one of them shares the same genesis. They were all inspired by that same divine spark that gives the universe purpose. They were all inspired by music. 

“Each of the authors in this collection took a favorite song as their inspiration and told the story that no one else could hear. The result is an endlessly entertaining collection of well spun yarns , thrilling adventures, and emotionally engaging drama. 

We hope you’ll enjoy.”

Soul of the Universe contains works by four authors: Michael Manz himself, Michael Walker, and me. And last but not least, the already published and quite bawdy and hilarious Michael Wombat, who has also headed up and edited the project. The artwork is by Kit Cooper, a newcomer herself to the eBook world.

SotU72logo

If you would like to check out Soul of the Universe and support The Anthology Club, you may find it at these links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Amazon Australia

Soul of the Universe on Goodreads

ACLogo_Small_Green

And if you would like to write for The Anthology Club, you may find them online and on Facebook.

The Anthology Club homepage

The Anthology Club on Facebook

Take a moment to check them out! They might just be the writing project you’ve been looking for! And buy Soul of the Universe for some unique and truly entertaining stories.

Thomas’ New Coat

This story is written for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas. You can find the rules here:

Title: “Thomas’ New Coat”
Author: Marissa Ames
eBook: YES

Dedicated to Jeremy, Laurie, Miles, and Lily. Thanks for all the apples and yoga.

christmas carol

Thomas shivered in the sooty slush outside the workhouse. The February wind whipped sleet into his face. He wrapped his tattered coat about him, which had become too small in his year detained in the boys’ ward.

Thomas lived in the best of times and the worst of times. In the age of wisdom and foolishness, the rich lived in three-story brick houses. The poor lived in workhouses.

The door opened, and his mother appeared. Emma wore her own dress. Gone was the striped inmates’ uniform.

With teary eyes, Thomas slid on the slush and collided with his mother. She wrapped her arms around him.

“Can we stay away this time?” he begged. “Please?”

Thrice, Emma had discharged herself when she could be apart from Thomas no longer. Women lived separate from the men, and everyone separate from the children. Those three times, Emma left in her own dress, took Thomas to a park then returned by midnight. The workhouse promised food and shelter in return for hard labor. The streets promised starvation.

“Mama,” he said, peering through his tears. “Please, mama?”

With hands roughened by picking apart oakum, Emma combed through Thomas’ hair.

“I’ll pull carts in the mines,” Thomas said. “I can still be a chimney sweep. I haven’t grown much, really.”

Closing her eyes in her gaunt face, Emma nodded.

As a widowed seamstress, Emma had managed to feed Thomas. Slipping in the slush during pea soup fog, she had injured her arm. She could not pay rent. After nights weeping in decision, Emma took Thomas to the workhouse.

Thomas had a plan. First he would work as an errand boy. Then he’d be crossing sweeper, cleaning streets in front of rich ladies in exchange for tips. He would purchase matches to sell to passing shoppers. Thomas would enter the mines if he had no other choice. But, for his mother, he would work anywhere.

Offering domestic services in trade, Emma found a room in a London slum. Thomas worked as planned, waking before dawn and coming home late, with money for soup and suet.

As he worked he advertised his mother’s skills as a seamstress.

The owner of a new factory bought his matches. He had a job for Thomas’ mother, with the new sewing machines. Emma had only sewn with thread and needle, but she soon learned the machines, pushing the treadle with her foot. Only once did she sew over her own hand. Thomas worked within the same factory, carrying bolts of fabric. They worked twelve hours a day and returned together to their tiny room.

Thomas fell asleep fast. At night, his mother stitched by the single flickering flame of her lamp. Customers wanted coats with detail that only skilled seamstresses could provide.

One year after leaving the workhouse, Thomas wore the same tattered coat. Emma had purchased scraps of fabric from her employer. She had unpicked the seams of Thomas’ coat and added the fabric to expand the sleeves. He had decent shoes, replaced when the others disintegrated. The slush did not invade the leather.

Luxury stopped at new shoes. Emma was ill. On good days, she worked at the factory, coughing into a handkerchief to catch the blood. On bad days, she sweated in bed with a fever. Half of November, Emma had worked at the factory. Twenty-four days into December, she had not worked at all.

Thomas trekked to the factory daily, buying food on the way home. After work, he cleaned the tenement to pay rent. Each night, Emma apologized as she fumbled with needle and thread while propped up in bed.

Thomas told her it didn’t matter.

Emma fretted over Christmas. Last year, they resided in the workhouse. She couldn’t see him at Christmas. This year, she had promised a hot meal, with meat. Goose and figgy pudding, she said. She had promised it before she fell ill.

Emma had one match left. She used that last match to light a fire on Christmas morning, as snow fell in the streets.

Thomas held his only gift, complimenting how well Emma had wrapped it in old blankets. Warm from the fire, he unpicked the twine. Emma smiled weakly as he withdrew his new coat: thick, warm, and sturdy.

He slid his arms into the coat and hugged it around his body as his mother coughed blood into her handkerchief.

As Emma napped at midday, Thomas traversed the new slush of the London streets. What he sought lay ten streets away, where Thomas had worked before finding the factory. Now other boys worked there, sloshing in sooty slush and broken shoes.

“Do you have matches?” he asked.

A boy half his age looked up with sunken eyes. Nodding and shivering, he said, “You have to pay for them.”

A rag wrapped around the boy’s head, in lieu of a hat. His patched shirt hugged his body tightly. The boy wore no coat.

“I need them for my mother,” Thomas claimed. “She’s terribly ill.”

Shaking his head, the boy said with chattering teeth, “My father will beat me.”

Thomas needed those matches. He needed them for his mother, who kept him out of an orphanage simply by staying alive. Emma had taught him that he was better than no man, and no worse either. She taught him compassion and charity.

“Will you trade?” Thomas unbuttoned his coat. The boy’s eyes lit up.

As the boy donned the coat and rolled the sleeves up, Thomas took his matches and sprinted home, sliding in the slush.

His own teeth chattered as he opened the door. He found his old, tattered coat. Emma woke as a log dropped from his frozen fingers onto the floor.

“Where is your new coat?” she asked.

Thomas added the log to the fire. Then he took her frail hands in his and told her of the little match boy. Someone needed the coat, just as Emma needed the matches.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” he said, hoping for forgiveness. “I know you worked many nights on that coat.”

Tears filled Emma’s eyes. She spread her arms. As she embraced her son and his tattered coat, she whispered, “I worked harder to make you a good boy. You’ve given me the best Christmas present by proving you are one.”

Read other stories from this project here:

Grandma’s Christmas Sweaters

This story is for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas (AMMC-DFQ). Details and submission guidelines can be found here:

  • Grandma’s Christmas Sweaters by Marissa Ames
  • Ebook: YES

 This story is dedicated to Ralinda, Kaylee, and Andee. Merry Christmas! I send you joy, love, laughter, and reasons to never wear those sweaters.

ugly sweater cookies

Grandma knitted sweaters every year, from January to November, and gifted them in December. She intertwined yarn into elaborate Christmas trees, stars, and snowy woodland scenes. Grandma’s sweaters reminded me of Care Bears spreading Christmas love with bedazzled belly magic.

Every year, I got a sweater from Grandma. Knowing what lay inside, I tore into the box with practiced enthusiasm. I pulled out the mass of festive yarn and held it up to the light of the Christmas tree, gushing about the love and attention she must have taken, just for me.

Then I tucked the sweater back in the box. Twelve boxes sat in my closet, neatly stacked in the far corner behind my old stuffed animals.

“Grandma’s visiting for a week,” mom told us. “It would be nice if you wore one of those sweaters while she was here.”

I groaned and slumped, but Sarah agreed. Nine-year-olds know nothing about making a stand for fashion.

When Grandma arrived, Sarah waited at the door in a red and green monstrosity. Grandma’s hot pink lips stretched taut over her dentures as she pinched Sarah’s cheeks.

Sarah grabbed Grandma’s wrinkled, spotted hand. “Wanna bake cookies, Gramma?” With that pink smile in place, Grandma waddled into the kitchen after Sarah.

“Where’s your sweater?” mom asked from behind me.

“I’ll wear it closer to Christmas,” I promised.

The second day, Sarah wore a fuzzy white garment bedazzled with blue rhinestone snowflakes as she held Grandma’s yarn. Mom raised her eyebrows as I passed in my t-shirt. I shrugged and moved into the yarn-free zone.

“You’re going to disappoint her,” mom accused the next morning.

I shrugged and continued texting.

“Sarah’s learning how to knit, and you’re ignoring your Grandma. Just wear the sweater, just once.”

“I will,” I whined, annoyed that I had to look up from my phone.

On the fourth day, I lacerated my foot in Sarah’s room. “You left knitting needles on the floor,” I said, picking up the bloody awl. “Where did you get these needles?”

“From Gramma,” she said, coiling yarn around her wrist. “What should I make with this?”

I shook my head. “You’re getting weird,” I said, hobbling away to find a Band-Aid.

Mom wouldn’t leave me alone. “Wear a sweater,” she said, grabbing her hem and stretching it down for emphasis, warping the snowman on the front. “Honestly, what harm could come of wearing one?”

“I don’t know,” I argued between texts. “I can’t risk it.”

Mom rolled her eyes. “Come to dinner.”

“What are we having?” I asked without looking up from my phone.

“Something soft, with lots of fiber,” she said as she shuffled out of my room.

I woke at 4am to the aroma of chocolate chip cookies. I rubbed my eyes and followed the smell to the kitchen. Decked in boughs of sweater holly, Sarah removed a tray from the oven. On the table, hundreds of cookies cascaded onto the lace runner. She had to have been baking for hours to acquire that many.

I squeaked, “What are you doing? How long have you been baking?”

“Oh, don’t bother her,” Mom said from behind me. I turned to see her sway past me, wearing slippers and a housecoat, with a red Santa sweater overtop of the coat.

Sarah set the cookie tray on a trivet. “Eat some,” she said. “You need some meat on those bones.” I flinched back as she tried to pinch my cheek.

On day six, I opened Sarah’s underwear drawer to borrow a pair of socks. She wouldn’t miss one pair, and I’d have it washed and back in the drawer by tomorrow. The drawer rattled as I pulled it out. My mouth fell open.

Instead of socks, Sarah’s drawer was filled with knitting needles of assorted sizes. Hundreds of needles, jammed tightly. I pulled out other drawers to find the same thing: hoarded knitting needles.

“Mom!” I called, wandering about the room.

All of Sarah’s clothes sat in a pile in her closet. On her hangers, bags of yarn dangled. A housecoat draped over her headboard. Eight pair of slippers peeked from beneath the bed.

“Mom!” I yelled again, hustling out of the room.

Mom sat in the living room, entwining two long, slender sticks into a network of yarn. Sarah sat on one side of her, and Grandma sat on the other. Reindeer pranced across their chests, ending in a knitted sleigh on Sarah’s sweater. On the coffee table sat glasses of Metamucil.

Mom looked up from her knitting. “Do I have to tell you again?” She glared at my designer shirt. “Go put on a sweater!”

I sprinted to my room and yanked my phone out of my pocket.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“Um…” It sounded stupid even before I said it. “My Grandma’s Christmas sweaters are turning my family into old-person zombies,” I blurted out.

The operator paused. I heard snickering in the background. In a professional and appropriately prudish voice, she said, “Miss, abuse of the 911 system is a crime. If this is not a real emergency, you need to hang up right now or I will inform the police.”

Tears stung my eyes as I watched my thumb hover over the touch screen. The police would not believe me. I lowered my thumb to the “end” icon.

That night I fell asleep with the light on as mom, Grandma, and Sarah baked fruitcake until dawn.

“Wake up,” Sarah called, shaking my shoulder. “It’s Christmas!”

I groaned and rubbed my eyes. Exhausted, I had fallen asleep in a chilly room and had woken up cozy and comfortable. I folded my wool-covered arms and sighed.

Mom, Grandma, and Sarah all hovered above me.

“Merry Christmas!” Mom greeted me, pinching my cheek. “What do you want for breakfast?”

I ran my hands over my belly, feeling the texture of miniature plastic lights beneath my palms. Sitting up, I adjusted the green sweater over my chest and said, “Stewed prunes.”

Read other stories from this project here:

A Merry Minion Christmas: The Evolution of a Fantastical Anthology

On behalf of LauraNick & Ruth & myself (Missy) I’d like to introduce (drum roll please……)

red dragon

Photo Credit: zazzle.com

AMMC-DFQ – Rules and Guidelines

A Merry Minion Christmas: Assorted Tales from the Realm of the Dark Fairy Queen

In the style of the #DFQWBS that brought many of us together, we’re now collaborating on a Christmas anthology. This project is open to members of the Facebook group Dark Fairy Queen and her Brilliant Minions. If you are not a part of this group and would like to contribute, please contact the owner of this blog for details. This is a free publication, with no royalties. However, an eBook will be available for download upon completion. If we receive over 50 contributions, the book will be available for print, for only the cost of printing and shipping. By submitting to the project, you agree to these conditions.

1. The submissions may begin on September 23rd with a final deadline of October 28th. This deadline is critical to produce a book by December.

2. The theme is a “Fantastical Christmas.” Use fantastical elements, even if they’re elements you believe in but someone else doesn’t. Examples include dragons, monsters, angels, fairies, magic, etc.

3. Tales must be between 500-1000 words in length. If necessary, we can allow some leeway, but no more than 50 words to either side.

4. Stories with dark, gory, romantic, or religions tones are all allowed and encouraged. Soapboxes are not. You are welcome and encouraged to write within your genre or religious element. However, if the editors feel you have slandered another culture, religion, or lack of religion, we will politely ask you to change the focus of your story.

5. Because this book may be read by younger children, keep your story within PG-13 guidelines. No f-bombs, sex scenes, or explicitly gory details, please.

6. You may make up to three submissions. Each submission must be a separate, complete story within 1000 words.

7. Each submission must be “satisfying,” i.e. a complete scene, leaving no unanswered questions or cliffhangers.

8. You may dedicate each story to someone as a Christmas gift, using up to two lines for your dedication.

9. Stories should be posted on your own website, or hosted on another writer’s website. If you would like to keep your dedication a secret, approach someone else within the #DFQ group about hosting your story. If you do not have a blog or do not know someone willing to host your story, message us – Laura James, Missy Ames, Nick Johns, Ruth Long via the FB group AMMC.

10. Each story must have a Title and Author Name, and “eBook Yes (or No)” to indicate your willingness to have it included within an eBook.

11. By tagging your story with #AMMC-DFQ and indicating “eBook Yes,” you agree to the publishing conditions mentioned above.

12. We will create a Facebook group (AMMC) to contain discussion of this anthology until its completion. Follow us on Twitter using the hashtag #AMMC-DFQ. Soon, a link code will be added to this post, which will connect all of our contributions.

13. Please use the following formatting, to make editors’ lives easier:

• Use double quotes for speech
• Use a blank line after each paragraph

*****

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We are pleased to announce that Blue Harvest Creative is on board to for our cover design and formatting! This will be a beautiful finished product. So start thinking up your Christmas tales! We look forward to reading about your romance, mystery, crimes, dark tales, and passion. About fairies, angels, dragons, zombies, elves… or zombie elves! About the beginnings of your traditions, or the nuances of them now, through a fantasy element. We’re excited to see what everyone brings to the book!

Why Fantasy?

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We’ve heard it all. You can’t be a hardcore fantasy fan this long without hearing it.

“You’re just trying to escape.”
“You live in a fantasy world.”
“Oh, you’re one of them.”

(I’ll take that last one as a compliment.)

It’s not about trying to go off and live with dragons and princesses. I got over that when I was ten. It’s not about wishing I had a different life. My life is very blissful, though perhaps just a tiny bit boring. As most long-term fans of fantasy will tell you, it’s not about any of that.

We all have our ways to divert ourselves. Television and movies, sports, and family outings all give us moments above our daily tedium. On television, the escapism can range from train-wreck reality shows to watching chefs create amazing masterpieces, to the HBO re-creation of the latest popular author.

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Have you noticed how many of the new movies and series are fantasy? A Game of Thrones. Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. The Avengers. We want to imagine these possibilities, even if we know they could never come true. Just as people in perfectly happy relationships can enjoy romance stories, fans of fantasy can appreciate the blissful escapism of magic or imaginary worlds without any big, cathartic reason.

We simply love fantasy.

Someone weaves a story. Someone takes the elements of plot, characterization, and setting, and creates worlds where imagination is crucial. It fires up neurons that might have gotten a little flabby from misuse. It invites in the research to temporarily place someone in a setting he may never see in person.

And we eat it up!

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I write fantasy because the amount of imagination necessary thrills me. This is coupled with the necessary knowledge and research. I once heard someone say, “Fantasy is the easiest to write, because it doesn’t have to be accurate.” I disagree. True fans of fantasy can pick out every little inconsistency and inaccuracy. Our details haven’t been predetermined by history, science, or modern architecture. We can’t just look them up in an encyclopedia. Writers have to create them, and convince readers that it could have happened. If I chose to write about dragons, and appealed to a true dragon lover, any laziness in my details would be ripped apart in a review.

I write fantasy because it’s what I know best. Growing up in rural Idaho, we had one movie theater and no local TV stations. The internet was just a lofty concept back then. Mainstream literature bored me, so I read fantasy. I read about the young girl who became a knight. About the king who tried to rescue the princess from the dragon, only to find out the princess and dragon were friends. As I matured and the fascination with medieval times faded, the knowledge didn’t. I still knew the difference between a gauntlet and a greave, between a houppelande and a cotehardie.

I write fantasy because I love it. I like writing nonfiction, if it’s a topic that interests me. Horror interests me, and I like romance if the story has an original concept. But as I have the choice of what to write what I want, I choose to write what has fascinated me since childhood. I write what I know.

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And so I do.

Come celebrate #INDIEpendence with us! Enter Blue Harvest Creative’s giveaway to win many prizes, including an eBook copy of Minstrel upon its release.

Visit our #INDIEpendence event on Facebook today, for a live author chat with me. I’ll be announcing Minstrel’s release date and having a cover reveal.

Marissa_Author_Talk

Thali

This is an entry for Becky Fyfe’s flash fiction contest  Creating a Female Superhero Challenge. Anyone can enter this contest, which ends on June 30th. If the contest is successful, the stories will be published in an anthology for a charity benefiting girls and girl empowerment. Details are here:

Author: Marissa Ames
Word Count: 1000 words
Anthology: YES
Charity: Because I Am a Girl

Name of female superhero: Thali

Name of human alter ego, if different: Priya Singh

Superhero Appearance (hair, eyes, body type, etc.): Full-figured, with long black hair and brown eyes. Dark complexion.

Human alter ego appearance (if she has an alter ego): No physical change, but Thali dresses in a plain white chef’s uniform while at work.

Costume: Top, pants, and scarf are a cross between a traditional Pakistani outfit and a chef’s coat, white with green trim. Thali wears green gloves and boots.

Personality: Normally non-confrontational, Thali tends to become passive aggressive when provoked. When she discovers she puts her thoughts and intentions into her food, she has to learn to become more proactive when upset so she doesn’t accidentally poison someone.

Brief description of how the superheroine gets her powers (i.e. born with them, radioactive accident, mad scientist experiments on her, etc.): Born with them, passed down on her mother’s side. Thali’s powers are much stronger than her mother’s, and she’s capable of both greater good and greater harm.

Powers: Puts her thoughts or intentions into the food she prepares. This can create a poison, certain accidents, or have a healing effect.

Anything else important: American born, daughter of an Indian father and an Pakistani-American mother.

Thali

Thali

 “Priya Singh.”

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Tross.” She placed her slender brown hand in his clammy white palm.

“You don’t have an accent.”

“I was born here, Sir.”

He pulled his wrinkled lips into a crepe-thin smile. “Well, good for me. Less paperwork.”

Alan Tross nodded to the left, and Priya followed him through swinging double doors. The receptionist had told her to bring nothing to the job interview. It would all be provided: the knives, pans, and ingredients. Priya had brought only her stained and bleached coat with the emblem of La Croissant Culinary Academy.

Mr. Tross’ commercial kitchen gleamed with stainless steel. The floor tiles shone a Lysol sparkle, marred only by a set of dainty footprints. A skinny little girl swayed back and forth in anticipation, her bright pink skirts reflecting in the wax.

Priya’s steps faltered as she met the girl’s hollow gaze.

“This,” said Mr. Tross, “is your judge.”

Dropping to one knee, Priya offered her hand.

The girl mustered a smile through half-decayed teeth and said, “I like your scarf.” She extended a pale, bony hand and touched Priya’s thick black braid.

“I like yours more,” Priya said.

The girl’s sunken eyes widened. “Wanna trade?” She slipped off her baby pink head covering.

Priya removed hers, and tied her sequined scarf over the girl’s bald little head. A fine layer of fuzz held the silk in place. “You’re beautiful,” Priya said.

Mr. Tross cleared his throat. “You’ll find a full pantry,” he said. “I’ll return in an hour.” He left through the swinging doors.

Rising, Priya gave the girl a nervous smile. “Well,” she said, “would you like to try a dessert from my father’s homeland?”

 ***** 

The girl slurped her rasmalai as Mr. Tross returned. He had left both of them in the kitchen. As the girl watched, Priya had tried to concentrate on the food. The job seemed so trivial now. She wished she could heal the child instead of merely cooking for her.

Mr. Tross passed the girl by, glancing down to see only that she ate.

“Make something else,” he said. “More of this is fine.”

Priya had paneer patties left. She reopened the glass jar of pistachios.

“Tell me about James LaRoche.”

Priya’s brow furrowed. “Who- Oh…” She shrugged. “He was my culinary instructor,” she said, “but only for the first part of my schooling.”

“Why?”

She glanced up at Mr. Tross’ cold stare then looked back down at her chopping block. “He had an accident,” she said as she chopped pistachios. With hushed reverence, she added, “He passed on.”

Her most despised teacher, James LaRoche had insulted each of her creations. Failure, he had called her. Hopeless, stupid. She was not his only target. During a four-course exam, he had Priya’s partner in tears by course two. As Priya prepared the dessert, she had muttered, “I hope he chokes on it.”

Priya set the paneer in bowls and spooned cream over the cheese patties. Why did Mr. Tross need to know about James LaRoche? How did he even know about James LaRoche at all? As she sprinkled the rasmalai with chopped pistachios, she said, “He was only there for the first half of my schooling. Then we had another instructor.” Giving Mr. Tross a weak smile, she pushed the bowl of rasmalai toward his clasped hands.

He did not take the dessert. He peered at her with icy blue eyes. Sweat trickled down her back, beneath her white coat.

“And your mother,” said Mr. Tross as she squirmed beneath his unwavering stare.

“Sir?”

“Tell me about her.”

Priya heard a faint metallic clicking. She looked down to see the handle of her knife shudder against the stainless steel countertop. Letting go of the knife and pushing it away, she said, “My mother is still alive.” She clasped her hands tightly to keep them from shaking.

Mr. Tross kept staring at her. His overtanned skin crinkled around his eyes as he waited for her to respond.

The little girl tapped her heels against her stool and hummed a song. Priya glanced over at the child, then back at Mr. Tross.

He said, “She cooked as well.”

“Yes,” Priya said with hesitation.

“For a very successful café, from what I understand.”

“She wasn’t the owner,” Priya asserted.

Her mother was just a cook. She loved to cook. Everyone loved her food. When asked what they loved about it, nobody could name specific flavors or styles. Angela Singh wanted to make people happy with her food, and she did. They loved her cooking, simply because it was her cooking.

Adjusting her high collar around her sweaty neck, Priya asked, “Is there anything else I can make for you, sir?”

Mr. Tross frowned down at his rasmalai. “No.” He pushed the dessert away. “Nervous, are you? Do you wish I would go away?” He looked up at her. “Do you wish I would choke?”

Watching the cream ripple in the bowl, slowing as the cheese settled, Priya decided she had made a mistake. She did not need a job with a man like this. She reached for the glass jar of pistachios, preparing to clean up and leave.

“Did they tell you how James LaRoche died? He choked on your dessert.”

Priya’s eyes tracked slowly up, from the rasmalai to Mr. Tross’ starched white shirt and tie, then up to his deadpan face. Her bottom lip quivered as she searched for something to say.

Mr. Tross said, “Come here, Maria.”

The little girl hopped down from the stool and skipped over, her little shoes clapping on the tiles.  Standing beside Mr. Tross, she swayed back and forth, her pink skirts swishing around her legs.

Watching Priya with sparking eyes set in a round face, Maria said, “May I have some more?” Her pink cheeks plumped up like little apples as she gave Priya a shining white smile.

The glass jar of pistachios slipped from Priya’s hands and shattered on the Lysol-clean floor.

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