Tag Archives: Short Stories

Free Kindle Version of Epitaphs!

I hope everyone is doing well during these crazy times. Just wanted to let you know that Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers is free for a limited time on Kindle. This anthology includes my story, “Malfeasance.” Happy Reading!

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If you’re interested in how I wrote and sold this story you can read about it here.

Before I go, I want to let you know I’ve been behind on my blog writing. You probably already know that. Haha! But I will be continuing The Scribes of Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale series. I also want to get back to my NaNoWriMo novel, BLACK MAGIC BULLETS.

On an encouraging note,  I just received an acceptance from an award-winning webzine. I’ll have a  free story online for you to ready sometime in July.

I’ve been plugging away at the final edits of a 90,000-word horror thriller. Hopefully, I’ll be finished soon and can put it on the market.

The better part of this week was spent rewriting a short story for an anthology open call. I really love the story, but it needed a lot of TLC to bring it up to my current standards.

I also sent out a Lovecraft inspired story to another anthology open call.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back soon. Stay safe out there!

 

 

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The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of Writers of the Future Honorable Mention—Blade of the Vagabond Part 3

For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here. 

Realizing I could resubmit Blade of the Vagabond to the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, I set out to put the 8,000-word version through a final polish. I uploaded the manuscript into ProWritingAid and began making my prose lean and mean. With an even cleaner manuscript, I went through the process outlined on the Writers of the Future website and submitted it through their web-portal. 

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Writers of the Future Volume 35

There was nothing else to do but wait and keep working on my current project. After facing rejection a few times with this story, I had no expectations. In fact, I sent it off only to keep the manuscript circulating. I didn’t feel the story in its shortest form, grabbed a top spot, and I didn’t have time to re-edit the longer version to make the submission window. Truly, I would need to add back between 1,000 and 1,500 words to sand down what I felt was an awkward transition. 

Imagine my surprise when I received this email: 

Dear Entrant,

Your story has been judged and is an Honorable Mention for the 3rd quarter of the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. (You entered between 1 April and 30 June <2019>).

Congratulations!!! You were in the top 2% of all entries. 

Getting an Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future contest is a big deal. There are no figures on how many enter the contest each quarter. It’s a very large number. From the information I had, we could estimate something like 14,000 entries! I’m not sure if that number’s accurate, but if it is, it’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to make it public. They want you to send in your story, and if that number intimidates you, you’ll be less likely to submit. Probably the largest and most prestigious contest in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre. If you want to get any recognition—bring your A-game.  

Receiving the Honorable Mention was a nice pick-me-up during a long dry period in sales. It showed I was on the right track, encouraging me to redouble my efforts. 

It also made me reevaluate my writing career direction. Previously, I’d been submitting mostly short horror stories and writing a combination of novel-length thrillers and horror thrillers. After the Honorable Mention, I began not only working on an Urban Fantasy novel but reevaluated some of my unpublished short fiction to market it as dark fantasy or rewrite it as Urban fantasy. No matter which, I’ll probably work on more fantasy and Science fiction as I go forward. 

A list of all the Honorable Mentions and Winners for that quarter can be found here.

A great post with tips on writing for the contest can be found here. 

So, that’s it. That’s the full story of how I got an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest. If you enter, and I hope you do, I wish you the best of luck. Keep plugging away.  I know I am!

 

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 

BOTVWotFHM

NaNoWriMo – The Aftermath

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I started a new novel called Black Magic Bullets (working title) for NaNoWriMo. I thought it would be fun to participate this year and dove right in,—-albeit a little late. 

I wasn’t expecting to write 50,000 words in a month, and I knew I couldn’t do it while sharing my first draft with the world. I’d have to write slowly enough that the prose was readable and made logical sense.  As such, I only got down a little over 13,000 words. Still, not bad for a busy month while trying to finish up the 3rd draft of another novel. 

Stephen King warns about writing with the “door open,” but this has been an enjoyable exercise and I’ve had some fantasy readers reach out to express interest in the story. That’s always heartwarming and encouraging, since most of the time we write in isolation, without any input until we finish and release it to the world. 

I haven’t decided what I want to do yet. I know I’d like to continue Black Magic Bullets and post my first draft (at least up to a point) on this blog. I’m planning to share at least half the book, but If I decide to stop at any time, I’ll put up a notice and give you a chance to contact me. I’ll then send the rest of the first draft, in installments, to you directly. I wouldn’t want to string you along and not give you an ending. 

If I go beyond publishing half the book on this blog, I worry I’d have trouble selling it once completed.

 Anyway, thanks for reading. I plan to get back to Black Magic Bullets soon. I also want to talk about the Honorable Mention I received from Writers of the Future before year-end. Then I’d like to get back to my regular Scribe’s Arcanum posts. I’m also determined to finish the 3rd draft of my horror thriller. It must be completed by the end of this year! I’ve worked on it too long already.  Also, stay tuned for my year-end report where I list everything I’ve accomplished this year. It’s going to be a big one! 

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll continue to take this journey with me. 

Best, 

Dave 

NaNoWriMo – Chapter 15 – Black Magic Bullets

 

In the last chapter, I realized that I needed to continue the chase that I had resolved in Chapter Thirteen. I’m still not sure who is chasing Harris and Kenzi, but that doesn’t matter yet. I’m sure it will all be revealed in time. That’s how the subconscious works. Chapter Fourteen works as a way to keep up the tension while world-building. We now know there are safehouses, so to speak, throughout the city, and I’m sure this will play a role later in the story.

I also spent some time working on The Tower, a 74,000-word horror thriller, and polishing a short story to send to another open call.

Chapter Fifteen came very slowly, and I have a reason for including it in the grand scheme of the narrative. Again, this is just a first draft and is still very rough. Will I be able to make 50,000 words by the end of November. To me, it doesn’t really matter. Writing good words and keep a coherent story structure is more important to me than word count. That’s my way of saying: probably not! Haha! Thanks for reading.

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

An Urban Fantasy

by

David North-Martino

Working as an Inhuman Resources Recruiter is no walk through the cemetery, especially when you’ve been cursed and your head is filled with stollen secrets from one of the most powerful occult groups in Boston. To survive, you might just need a few…

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

 

Chapter Fifteen 

We spent over an hour and a half scouring abandoned property in Boston.  The effort exhausted me. Looking into the Collective, I had either seen nothing of interest in and around the buildings or things that confused me. Strang creatures prowling about, invisible to all but the most sensitive of psychic mediums, and those, like myself, who used some sort of enhancement. 

Then there were the phantom structures that stood psychically where a building had been torn down long ago and a new property erected. Those were the hardest to make out, needing to tune out all but the freshest vibrations. 

Kenzi tried to convey what I was looking for, the signature of a corpse with no soul, but yet somehow attached to whatever remained of the consciousness of the deceased. 

A serpentine cord would still be connected to the body, snaking its way psychically to the Lemure. So far, I didn’t believe I had seen anything close to what Kenzi had described, but how could I be sure? How could I be sure she could even describe it correctly. Kenzi didn’t even know. She didn’t have first-hand observable knowledge. 

Then at the third building, I found something I thought promising, a faint signature that might be the connection to Dedra we needed. 

“You think, Harris?” Kenzi asked when I relayed my impressions. “Or are you sure?” 

“It’s the best I can do,” I said. “The closest I’ve seen so far. No guarantees.” 

Kenzi sighed. Thought for a moment. Her eyes darted to the rearview mirror. She was doing double duty, acting as a lookout while also trying to lead the operation. 

I didn’t envy her position. Going inside could be dangerous. If this was a false lead and either of us got hurt or were killed… Then again, this was the most promising lead we’d had all day and who knew how long it would be before our tail returned.

 If I were leading the operation, I’d have made the call to go inside. Yet, I could understand why she might not. Either way, I’d abide by her decision. She had way more experience than I had at the time. 

“What else are you seeing?” Kenzi asked. “Anything that concerns you?” 

“I’m having a hard time differentiating between threats and old psychic impressions,” was all I said. She was really asking a lot of me. 

“Let’s go,” she said as she exited the vehicle. She had disabled the dash light and the door chime and although it didn’t matter in the pre-dusk hours, I still found it a little disconcerting especially with the BMW being so new. 

Kenzi popped the trunk and then grabbed a derringer in a thigh holster. After loading each chamber with a black bullet, She strapped it on just above the hemline of her skirt. 

I looked down at the ground, averting my gaze. 

“The Derringer was my dad’s,” Kenzi said, and then to explain why she was carrying a weapon that wasn’t on the AG’s approved roster and then added… “It’s pre-ban and so technically legal for me to carry.”

I hoped the cops thought the same if we got caught breaking and entering. The odds were high that someone would see us and call the police. How long it would take the cops to respond was beyond my operational knowledge. I didn’t want to ask Kenzi. I’d just trust she had all her bases covered. 

“Don’t worry,” Kenzi said playing mind reader once again. “Cyber will be monitoring all police channels, even the ones the public doesn’t know about.”

Around us stood a multi-zoned area of both residential and industrial structures. On one side, double-deckers and duplexes, paint fading from harsh weather and sea salt, waited for their owners to return home after a long day of work.   

In contrast, old brick factory buildings with lime green window sills, boarded up to discourage vandals and squatters, waited for a time when the work would return. I wasn’t sure that time would ever come. 

Looking around, the street appeared deserted and a cursory glance at the occupied homes gave no tells, blinds stayed in place, not even a breeze moved the drapes. 

Still, I was afraid that there were eyes on us——even if I couldn’t feel them. I knew of practitioners of both martial arts and occult sciences who could hide their intentions. 

As Lao Tzu said in his famous Tao te Ching:

Temper your sharpness…

Mask your brightness.

Be at one with the dust of the earth.

Fully armed, Kenzi grabbed a pry-bar from the trunk before closing the lid with a satisfying thunk. 

I returned to the passenger side of the car, took another hit of the ethylene gas mixture, tossed it back on the seat, and then reluctantly followed her. She trudged onto the industrial side of the street and into the un-manicured lawn that surrounded the abandoned structure.  

Despite the length of the grass, it looked like months had gone by without a mowing, each strand had taken on the color of straw, making me wonder how long it would take before the whole yard was dead. 

As we disappeared behind the old factory building we practiced the old maxim: out of sight, out of mind. 

Back here, Kenzi went to work prying off a protective board and then took off her jacket and used it to cover the small window hidden underneath. The jacket suppressed the noise of the bar smashing the window. A few quick blows and the glass was mostly dislodged. Tossing her jacket inside, Kenzi scraped the jagged glass that remained attached to the frame with the bar. Again, the jacket muted the tinkling of the glass. 

Kenzi slipped inside before I could protest. I was having second thoughts. 

“Harris,” she whispered. “Get down here.” 

I looked around. We appeared to be alone. Still, I didn’t like the idea of descending into the depths of the building one foot in the real world and the other in the Collective. Nothing good could come of it. 

Sliding inside, I dropped to the floor without another thought. 

To be continued… 

 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Hours of Sleep Part 2

 

I had momentum behind me from recent sales and figured it wouldn’t hurt to have another story acceptance. I had already tried to sell The Hours of Sleep to all the professional publications but no one wanted vampire fiction. Then I came across the open call for an anthology called You can’t kill me: I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology. Here was a market tailor-made for my story. 

The editor was only offering royalties and a free e-copy of the book, but there was another reason to submit, besides money or placing what seemed an unmarketable story. Cool kids. Yes, I was keeping up with upcoming writers. When I found out that some were submitting or had been accepted, I wanted to be included with that group. I also knew that if they were submitting to this anthology, it would be quality and a worthwhile venture. 

Eric J. Guignard, a Bram Stoker Award winner, a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award, and a multi-nominee of the Pushcart Prize has probably had the most success of all the alumni of that anthology. Good company to keep, and pages to share.

I also met a writer in that anthology who has also worked as an editor and invited me to submit to his print magazine and podcast. 

Pro Tip 2: Sharing pages with up-and-coming authors and editors can lead to friendships and market invites. You never know. 

Vampire Antho

Here’s the blurb and a list of the authors included in the book:

“You can’t kill me, I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology” presents the chronicles behind modern vampires and provides a chronological tour through vampire literature. Vampires have long captured the imaginations of famous writers, who wrote novels, stories, poems, and plays about the creatures of the night.

Nikki Vogel

James Harley

Eric J. Guignard 

Rebecca L. Brown

Elise Thomas

Joseph A. Pinto

Norman A. Rubin

Jay Wilburn

Kenneth Whitfield

Gregg Chamberlain

David North-Martino

T. Fox Dunham

Mark Slade

Steven Deman

Tyson West 

Denny E. Marshall

D.J. Currivean

Joseph J. Patchen

Alan Russo

The editor sent an acceptance on 11/25/12 and then on 12/2/12 sent a contract for me to sign electronically. 

In the end, I found a home for my story, connected with other up-and-coming writers within the community, and continued my momentum.  

You can’t kill me: I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology is available for purchase here. 

Next time we’ll continue this discussion and we’ll also touch upon editorial feedback and how it can enhance your career. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Mesomorphic Woman Part 4

With my SF story The Mesomorphic Woman in mothballs and some short fiction sales under my belt, twelve years had elapsed since I’d completed the first draft. 

I noticed an open call for submissions for a new anthology with Pink Narcissus Press. With some strong Google-fu, I’ve been able to locate the original submission call and am posting below.

Daughters of Icarus

A brave new world of feminist science fiction

Pink Narcissus Press seeks short feminist science fiction writing for its “Daughters of Icarus” anthology. Submissions must explore gender roles in society; hard science fiction is not appropriate to this anthology. So long as your submission takes up this challenge, the only other requirement of authors is that the work has an original and creative voice. Authors would do well to acquaint themselves with the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman to obtain a sound footing in the genre and a better understanding of previous work in the genre. Stories housed in new, unique worlds are preferred, as are those describing fantastical societies. Stories of any length will be considered. Deadline: May 31, 2012

The sentence beginning “(S)tories housed in new, unique worlds are preferred” caught my attention. With its setting of the Audallis biosphere orbiting Venus, The Mesomorphic Woman seemed a perfect fit. It was originally written with an eye toward feminist SF, explored gender roles, all the hard SF had already been removed from a previous draft, and I was already familiar with the authors listed. 

I looked through my stories folder and found the most recent version of the manuscript. Pulling it up I read through.  I could see mistakes in structure and pacing I hadn’t noticed before. Over the intervening years, I had increased my understanding of creating salable fiction. Creating a new file, I went over the story again. With an edited manuscript ready I gave it to my wife for a final edit. 

With the story polished, I figured I had nothing to lose by sending it out to Pink Narcissus Press. My trepidation, however, stemmed from placing a story in a political anthology where only those of the same political persuasion would ever read it. 

I hadn’t written to make a political point. I had written it as entertainment with a subtext the reader could ponder if they so chose.  The readers would be left to decide what they thought about the social issues presented in the story. In that, I meant for the story to encourage thought, not to preach. In that way, the story is ambiguous, allowing the reader to agree or disagree with the main character’s actions. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? It’s never black and white when you’re dealing with human motivation.   

I assuaged these feeling knowing I would most likely receive a rejection anyway. Although, some part of me knew that if I sent the story in it would be accepted. 

I submitted the story and moved on to other things. Four months later I received an acceptance. Despite my previous apprehension, I was over the moon! 

The editor loved the story and asked me to include a 100-word bio with links to my blog, along with some basic information and my Paypal email to send payment. I signed the contract electronically. No further edits were required. My wife had edited me into print once again. 

I was flabbergasted to discover that The Mesomorphic Woman was the lead story. For those not initiated, anthologies usually open and close with their strongest stories. It was an absolute honor to represent Daughter’s of Icarus: New Feminist Science Fiction: Women’s Wings Unfurled. And to date, it is one of my most prestigious anthology sales. We were reviewed by the Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. 

“Strong pieces offer memorable takes on the notion of feminism in speculative fiction.”

—Library Journal 

“…on par with Pamela Sargent’s Women of Wonder Series…” 

—Publisher’s Weekly

Although out of print, Daughter’s of Icarus is still available in ebook format here. 

Next time I’ll talk about how I fixed a rejected story and sold it to another market. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Mesomorphic Woman Part 3

When I returned to writing fiction, the first thing I did was pull out the manuscript for Violent Fall and give it a reread. I liked it, but the story was too long for a “beginning” writer to get published and the story itself was incomplete. 

Incomplete as a manuscript. I had the ending sketched out in my mind for years. 

One thing I forgot to mention last time was that in 1996 I had just watched the movie Titanic. In that film, as the story unfolds, fictional characters Rose and Jack brings us on a tour of the whole ship from top to bottom.  

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I wanted to do the same thing with Violent Fall. My central character Irina Kira would bring the reader through most of the Audallis sphere from the city of New Boston East to the forest and farmland at the top of the biosphere where she would have a “violent fall” returning to where she started in the narrative. The lower portions, the bowels if you will, remained mainly unexplored and only hinted at in various drafts. 

As I reimagined the story, I also changed the title. I had come across Somatotypes; the ectomorph, the endomorph, and the highly muscular mesomorph.  Somehow I put Mesomorphic with woman and a new title was born: The Mesomorphic Woman. I thought the title sounded like a science fiction story. I worked at erasing subplots, cutting to the heart of the narrative. 

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I also wanted the ending to be hard-hitting. This is a secret of good storytelling. The resolution should have some impact. Think Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. With this story, I wanted the ending to have the emotional resonance of Amy Tann’s The Joy Luck Club.

 

When I finished the new draft, I put it away for a while and worked on other projects. After a second draft, I asked my wife to proofread. Then I began the submission process. 

Back in 2000, most magazines, especially the science fiction magazines (the old SF writers had a distrust for technology), required the old method of submission. This meant I had to print out a copy of the manuscript (after putting it in proper manuscript format) along with a cover letter,  clipping a SASE to the package, placing it an 8×10 envelope, and then driving to the post office to send it off.  Then I would wait a week and run to the mailbox every day for months while awaiting a reply. 

Responses came. They were all rejections. One prominent SF mag complimented me on my world-building skills but they didn’t like the story. Eventually, almost everyone began to use email for submissions, the years had gone by without a sale, but another prominent small press SF magazine said the whole editorial staff loved it but had decided not to purchase my story. And so it went over the years. I had some anecdotal evidence that The Mesomorphic Woman was a good story. A tell-it-like-it-is receptionist, who was also a frequent reader where I worked, read it and identified with my major character Irina Kira. Despite positive feedback, I wasn’t able to sell the manuscript.

It wasn’t until six years later in 2006 when my short fiction began to sell. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why The Mesomorphic Woman wouldn’t sell. I got better at my craft and over the years tweaked the story, tweaked the language, hoping to make the manuscript salable. 

I finally decided I had to put the manuscript away. I could write new stories in the time it took to polish old stories that weren’t selling. I abandoned The Mesomorphic Woman, consoling myself knowing that I might include it in a future short story collection. 

Later, with the manuscript secured in my virtual trunk (my hard drive) an open call for submissions for a new anthology market caught my attention. They were looking for stories just like The Mesomorphic Woman. Was it worth resurrecting the manuscript one last time? I figured I’d give the damn thing one final edit and send it out, but not without some trepidation. 

I’ll talk about this more next time. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 2

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 2
Two months later, I got word that awaiting publisher approval, Malfeasance had made the cut. I was cautiously ecstatic. The editor didn’t think the publisher would kick anyone out, but she couldn’t officially accept any story without the publishers go-ahead.   
Here’s what she wrote about the story:

I really liked it. It was a great premise, good writing. I love Law and Order SVU and it reminded me of that but with an evil twist. I liked too that the villain really wasn’t in the story till the end yet he was a huge presence. I have to think that’s not easy to do, but you pulled it off.
About 21 days later, she gave me permission to announce the acceptance on social media. Then in August, I signed the contract. Realizing I could take part in my first reading and signing, I committed to attending the inaugural, but now defunct, Anthology Convention (AnthoCon) in New Hampshire. 
I had a fantastic time at the convention. 

After the reading, I took part in my first signing. Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers did well, selling out the 100 copies we had on hand. Then it continued to sell at other conventions and at online retailers. 

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was my first opportunity to share pages with the late great Rick Hautala (sometimes billed as the other writer from Maine, as he was Stephen King’s roommate in college), one of the authors who inspired me as a teenager during the 1980’s horror boom. 

Here’s some information on the anthology:

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The anthology features 26 stories and poems from the delightfully scary to the deeply macabre. 

Epitaphs, edited by author Tracy L. Carbone, includes an introduction by award-winning author and publisher Peter Crowther, as well as a cover by Danny Evarts. The table of contents in this chilling anthology is as follows: 

Perfect Witness – Rick Hautala 

To Sleep, Perchance to Die – Jeffrey C. Pettengill 

The Christopher Chair – Paul McMahon 

A Case of the Quiets – Kurt Newton 

Build-a-Zombie – Scott T. Goudsward 

Not an Ulcer – John Goodrich 

The Possessor Worm – B. Adrian White 

Make a Choice – John McIlveen 

The Death Room – Michael Allen Todd 

Stoney’s Boneyard – Holly Newstein & Glenn Chadbourne 

Kali’s Promise – Trisha J. Wooldridge 

The Sequel – David Bernard 

Malfeasance – David North-Martino 

Private Beach – Stacey Longo 

All Aboard – Christopher Golden 

Holiday House – LL Soares 

Lines at a Wake – Steven Withrow 

A Deeper Kind of Cold – K. Allen Wood 

Alone – P. Gardner Goldsmith 

Pandora’s Box – Roxanne Dent 

Chuck the Magic Man Says I Can – Michael Arruda 

Burial Board – TT Zuma (Tony Tremblay)

Windblown Shutter – John Grover 

Cheryl Takes a Trip – Stephen Dorato 

The Legend of Wormley Farm – Philip Roberts 

Church of Thunder and Lightening – Peter N. Dudar

Wow! What a talented group! Looking back, I find it humbling to have been part of this project. 

Epitaphs is now out of print, but an ebook version is still available. Since you can still purchase the anthology for the low sum of $2.99, I won’t be publishing Malfeasance on this blog.  Although, I am planning on recreating my reading, a reading that at one point in the narrative initiated a gasp from the crowd. Once I make a video and upload it to Youtube, I’ll link to it on this blog. 

Here’s a mixed review of my story by a reader on Amazon. It’s interesting, I was actually trying to make it feel like the reader was on a train, looking out a window, and seeing that the bridge is out ahead, knows nothing can be done about it, except take the plunge.

Malfeasance by David North-Martino: This was perhaps the most maddening story in the bunch. Just as with the previous story, I knew how it would end very early on. And yet it was crafted so intricately, I kept thinking no, I’m wrong, there’s a twist here I’m not seeing. But then… it ended just how I thought it would. Disappointing in that regard, yes, but it was still very much worth the read.

 Still, it’s good feedback, and I’m always trying to improve. Many times, a mixed or bad review can teach you much more than a fawning one. Check your ego at the door. 

If you’re interested, you can read a sample and get your e-copy here. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 1

 

I wanted badly to be in the inaugural New England Horror Writers (NEHW) anthology. Unfortunately, my first attempt was a failure. Then I turned it around. 

In 2011 my senior year at University was ending, and I was immersed in finals. I had sold The Language of Ice and was spending a good amount of time promoting the anthology. Then I found out about the debut anthology from the NEHW, a group I had been a member of for a few years. They had floated the idea for an anthology around for a long time, and finally, the project had received a green light. They’d decided on an editor and were opening up for submissions. Wow! I really wanted to be in that anthology. To represent NEHW in their inaugural publication would be an honor. The problem: I didn’t have the time to write something new. At least, that’s what I thought… 

Fortunately, I had already written a ghost story, Phantom Chasers, that I was beginning to shop around. Prepping the story for submission, I sent it out and hoped for the best. There was nothing left to do but return to my studies. 

Shortly thereafter, the editor let everyone know that the first round of rejections had gone out along with notifications for those placed on the shortlist. They would accept no story until they had read all the manuscripts, giving everyone a fair shot. The only problem? I didn’t hear either way. 

 Sending a polite email, I awaited a response. 

The editor contacted me. My story was indeed shortlisted, certainly publishable, but probably not strong enough to make the final cut. Bestselling writers were slated to send in tales, and everyone had to bring their A-game. Although, the editor encouraged me to send another story.  

Clarifying what she wanted, she told me to send in something that was timeless, like Ray Bradbury’s The Dwarf, or something that had more of a gut punch at the end, like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. 

Thinking about all the stories I had available, I realized why some of them hadn’t sold. They were missing key ingredients.
Later, based on what I learned writing Malfeasance,  I would revamp Phantom Chasers and sell it, but that’s a story for another time. 

I felt encouraged, but it seemed like a daunting challenge to write something that would make the cut. Could I write a story that was both timeless and visceral? Despite the time crunch, I was up for the challenge. 

I had an idea to use the “ticking time bomb scenario” thought experiment as the basis for the story. Basically, an ethics debate on torture, I worried that my story might be too controversial for the current climate. Never one to back down on sensitive subjects, I went ahead with the story anyway. 

A mother and daughter would be the main characters in the story, culminating in a parent’s worst nightmare.  If I could affect the editor, I might have a chance of getting into the anthology. 
Spending the full month crafting Malfeasance, I sent in the story at the 11th hour. I opted to change the ending,  in hopes to give more twists and turns to the story, but my wife suggested I go with the first version as she felt it was more powerful.

Sending it off, I hoped for the best. 

Next time, I’ll tell you what happened. 

The Language of Ice by David North-Martino

The Language of Ice by David North-Martino ©2011, 2019 

The Language of Ice originally appeared in Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever.

She wakes while the rest of the tribe is sleeping. Yet she knows she’s in a dream. Lucid dreaming? Is that what they call it? But the world she has entered is so real, 360 degrees of sight and sound, temperature and smell. She huddles with the group, their body heat providing most of the warmth, while a low-burning fire, sputtering at the lip of the entrance, provides the rest. There is muskiness to their presence, but it is not an unpleasant odor, and she feels comforted by the fact she is not alone. 

Carefully, so as not to waken the others, she rises and stands above them. She has seen them before, but the symmetry of their faces and the angles of their bodies are so much more beautiful, so much more robust, than a modern human could ever imagine. In the dream, she realizes she, too, is one of them. She pads across the frigid rock, every muscle fiber speaking of the latent power coiled within her limbs.

 When she reaches the fire, she feeds a few pieces of wood into the flames; they pop and crack as the fire sears off bark, searching for the pulp inside. She does not want to leave the warmth, but something compels her to move on. 

Outside the cave, the winter stillness greets her. The bloated moon sits atop the hills. She has never seen the moon so large. 

Another crack, another pop registers in her ears, but not from the fire this time. Something or someone moves in the darkness, watching her from somewhere out of sight.

~~~

There is a moment between sleep and wakefulness when an alarm clock creates a vacuum, a ripple in time as the alarm prepares to sound. 

 Cassie opened her eyes at that moment, just before 6 AM, caught in the confusion between her dreams and waking thoughts. Then the alarm rang out, clearing the muddle as she scrambled to shut it off. She buried her face in her pillow, resentful at how exhausted she always felt after a lucid dream. It was like she lived a full day in her dream world and now, without rest, had to pull another shift in this one. 

She forced herself to rise and face the morning chill. The old brownstone could be a brick oven in summer and a freezer during winter. During the two years she had lived in Boston, she had upgraded the appliances and even had the floors refinished, but for heat she still relied on cast iron radiators. Since the chinked walls and single-pane windows didn’t retain heat, she was left with a symphony of banging and clunking every time the hot water flowed through the radiators. 

Like every morning, she showered quickly and ate a soggy bowl of cereal. The TV droned in the background. The weather reporter made her usual prediction for cold, and what else could there be in January? Cassie was just happy the snow had held off. 

~~~

No one looks at you in the city. Eye contact has been banned by some unwritten rule. During the walk to the T-station, she kept her gaze to herself — watchful but not focusing on anything in particular. She had memorized this walk; it was the same repetitive journey she could have traversed in her sleep whether her dreams were lucid or not. 

The trick to riding the subway, she’d found, was to pick a spot, any spot, somewhere between her fellow passengers’ heads or somewhere above them and stare at that location for the remainder of the ride. Today, she chose a spot above and to the left of a guy who stood in the stairwell and just a little to the right of a sign advertising Harvard Extension School classes. She’d tried other tricks, like the business woman, diagonally to her left, absently paging through a newspaper, or the young guy with his eyes closed pretending to listen to an iPod. But no matter what she did, she could never lose the uncomfortable feeling of sitting with strangers and pretending not to look at them. 

In the small town in Vermont where she grew up, the winters were colder but the people warmer. Here, people advanced and receded silently, like glacial ice. 

Once the subway train reached its destination, Cassie exited. The routine was so ingrained in her now she no longer saw the sign for Science Park, only moved like an automaton into the throng of morning travelers. 

The nameless, faceless people of the street became the nameless, faceless patrons of the Boston Paleontology Museum. The only difference Cassie could see was that she had a special duty to serve the ones on the inside. 

“I brought coffee,” Jonathan Frost said by way of greeting. He was a twenty-one year-old graduate of Boston College whom she had accepted as an intern mostly because he was intelligent but also because he was cute. He handed her a large, clear cup with a straw.

“Iced?” She arched her eyebrows and swirled the cup to emphasize the clacking of the cubes. 

“Everyone likes iced coffee,” Jon said, deadpan serious. She could never tell when he was joking or if he ever got her sense of humor. Not unusual for an anthropology major. Depending on her mood, she thought it either annoying or charming.

Armed now with caffeine, she unhooked the rope that kept the general public from entering the exhibit area and ushered him in. 

The rest of the day was filled with the final preparation for the grand opening of the Neanderthal exhibit. Through collaboration with the Boston Museum of Science, the pieces came on loan from the American Museum of Natural History, the Chicago Field Museum and the Natural History Museum of London. Two weeks ago, the crème de le crème had arrived: a complete skeleton of a woman from the Ice Age. 

That’s when my dreams began, Cassie thought as she touched the glass case that held the remains of a simpler time. 

“Did I tell you I’ve been having strange dreams?” Cassie asked, staring into the brightly lit case that cast harsh shadows in the half-light of the exhibit area. 

“I don’t think so, Ms. Caldwell,” Jon said absently as he arranged plant fossils in another case.  

She hated when he didn’t call her by her first name; it made her feel old. Plus, at twenty-nine, she was only eight years older than him. 

“Since the remains arrived, I’ve been dreaming that … that I’m a Neanderthal woman.” Cassie felt her cheeks redden. She tried to laugh it off. “Sounds kind of silly saying it out loud.” 

“Your mind’s been on this for weeks,” Jon said as he carefully arranged a delicate fossil. “Seems normal to me.” 

“These dreams are different. I don’t know how to describe it. They feel real.”

“The human mind can’t differentiate between what’s real and imagined.” Jon unpacked another fossil. Cassie looked at him. The low light pulled at his flesh adding, in that moment, ten years to his face. Sometimes she wondered who was older, who was more experienced. 

“Sometimes they feel like another reality.” 

“Your brain’s just sifting through all your short-term memories, storing them, trying to make sense of them.”

“Okay, professor.” Cassie tried to smile. This was one of those times when Jon went from charming to annoying.

“I took an undergrad psychology class,” Jon said as though that gave him all the authority he needed to render a diagnosis. 

“Well, you’re probably right,” Cassie said not wanting to talk about it any longer. “I’m going to head out a little early today. You mind finishing up?”

“That’s what you don’t pay me for.” 

She thought she caught a hint of a smile. 

“Hot date?”

“No. Unfortunately. I’m just tired.” She was tired, and distracted, and maybe it was more Jon than her dreams. She knew he got together with some of the other interns for drinks after work. She hadn’t been so lucky with her peers. It seemed when it came to working on a business level with colleagues things went pretty smoothly, but she had trouble bridging the gap between business and friendship. Her boss had told her she’d need to do that before she would ever be considered for a director position. 

On the way home she stopped into a Portuguese convenience store. Under the fluorescent lighting, the fruit looked darker, less appetizing, but she picked some apples and a bunch of grapes anyway. Experience had taught her they had some of the best fruit in the area despite the presentation. A box of ostrich jerky also went into her cart along with a package of trail mix. When work was busy, they could stand in for lunch — or even dinner. 

The Indian man behind the counter spoke to her as he rang her purchases. She smiled to feign understanding, even though his thick accent rendered his words unintelligible. 

~~~

Under leaden skies, she gnaws on meat from the bone of a freshly killed elk. The warm flesh tastes gamey but satisfies her hunger. Men, women and children squat with her, filling their bellies with life-giving nourishment. Some speak between mouthfuls or laugh in delight about the hunt. When she opens her mouth to speak only a shrill animal cry rings into the air. The others shuffle away from her, cocking their heads in confusion. Not knowing what else to do, she continues chewing and stares into the fire. 

She doesn’t remember beginning her meal but she does remember the hunt. The women who were not with child or had none to care for joined the men. They had trekked through the snow with spears at the ready, waiting for some creature to offer itself to them. 

A man they called Jimal had the gift of calling animals. He contorted his face and pursed his lips and made the sounds of prey. It was another language she couldn’t speak. She wished for the power of speech — not to call for food, only to call for a mate. She felt a terrible loneliness. Because she was not quite like them, her tribe kept her at a subtle distance, fearing what they did not understand.  

Jimal hunkered down pulling his furs closer to his skin and gave another call to the wind. Like magic, an elk appeared and snorted steam from its nostrils. They rushed it, impaling the animal with their sharpened spears. And they praised it as it wailed in its death throes, soaking the ground beneath in blood. 

Now, they treat the meat like the luxury it is and feel blessed that on this hunt no one has been injured. Many hunts ago, a man called Ugathar had been mortally wounded by a mammoth’s flailing tusk. They had buried him with all the items he loved in life to comfort him into the great sleep. 

Fresh meat is always welcome, but they have also mastered the art of smoking and salting so they can survive during times of least abundance. In milder temperatures, they pick berries and sometimes larger fruits, drying and curing them much like they do animal flesh so their skin does not turn yellow in the winter.

All her memories of the hunt flee when she hears the snapping of twigs and the rustle of something just beyond her vision. The others hear it too. The strong grab for their spears and prepare for whatever is about to come. 

~~~

Cassie opened her eyes. Not at the insistence of the jarring tone of the alarm clock, but to the sound of static buzzing over a talk radio personality, the white noise so overpowering it made his voice unintelligible. 

Impatiently, she shut off the radio alarm, thinking she must have hit the wrong button when she set it the night before. Looking around, she saw that drab walls had replaced the wide expanse of Neanderthal territory. But she was still cold.

Jon was right, it seemed. While the realization saddened her, it also left her relieved. Shopping for food yesterday had informed her dreams. No matter how real they seemed, that’s all they were — dreams. How long she would have them she didn’t know, but she could rest assured that her memory wasn’t regressing somewhere in time. She only had the real world and her real challenges and struggles to deal with. And wasn’t that enough? Did she really need more than her day-to-day life? 

Yet the emotional remnants of the dream, that feeling of icy loneliness, continued to haunt her. 

During the familiar bout with cold cereal, she tried to watch the morning news. Static whispered through the speakers. She flipped through every station — all the same. She couldn’t even listen; white noise captured all the sound. She worried about sunspots and mused to herself about Mercury going retrograde, but reasoned in the end that it was only the cable company messing up the signal again. 

The subway train shook and rattled, hummed and screeched, vibration communicating from the track into the passengers. This time Cassie found a spot above and to the left of a rider facing her. In her peripheral vision, his eyes appeared to be looking right at her even though they were not, yet she couldn’t seem to vanquish the feeling. 

At the exhibit, throngs of patrons entered while she watched from a dark corner. She buttoned her sweater; even all the body heat that radiated from the crowd couldn’t take the chill from her bones today. 

The cacophony of voices echoed off the walls and the ceiling. She couldn’t understand them; all she could do was watch. Children ran from mothers who scolded them, couples held hands and strolled through the bedlam trying to reach the brightly lit case, and all, no matter how bored some looked, marveled at the woman who had traveled from another age to be with them today. 

Jon walked over to her and gave her a knowing smile. 

“You were right,” Cassie tried to say over the din. 

Jon just motioned to his ears and shrugged his shoulders.

~~~

A group of five men more refined in their looks than the males in her tribe approach them cautiously. Like them, the strangers are similarly dressed in skins and furs tanned from animals that had provided them food and now provide them warmth. Their faces hold a regal symmetry and are painted with what her waking self would recognize as manganese dioxide — brownish-black streaks beneath each eye to catch the glare of the sun. They hold spears as agile as their bodies must be, and whether they are friend or foe, no one in her tribe can tell. 

They call out, but neither side can understand the other. That doesn’t matter to her, though, and for perhaps the first time in her life she isn’t afraid. 

One man stands out to her and his eyes compel her to approach. The others in her tribe call out to her. She hears them only dimly and can’t understand their words — but even if she could, she wouldn’t care. Dropping her spear, she trusts that simple act of supplication to convey the understanding that she means no harm. In acknowledgement, the men lower theirs as well.

The man with the compelling eyes watches her as she walks toward him, and she can’t tell if it is confusion or recognition that shows on his face. The same face with dark eyes; narrow nose; and thin, inviting lips that she, having now found, can’t imagine being without. And she finds the ability to say these words that mean nothing and yet mean everything that she has ever wanted to say and has ever wanted to express: 

“Unka sabo uv.” 

And all he can do is stare. 

~~~

She watches her life unfold from this moment as her tribe integrates with the early humans. Love blossoms in the spring and grows stronger in the summer. The birth of a new spring also brings the birth of her child — one, like so many others, that heralds the birth of the modern human race. For the first time, she is alive, so alive that the heartache intrinsic to a harsh existence is as fully realized as her new-found joy. She allows it all to wash over her; at least she isn’t cold anymore.  

~~~

Cassie sat, enjoying an iced latte in an outdoor café. Spring had arrived and today the weather was as idyllic as it had been in her childhood. She wasn’t cold or warm but in that perfect place between extremes. Looking out at the passers-by, she thought she caught a glimpse of someone familiar walking down the far sidewalk. But his features were obscured by distance, telephone poles and other walkers. 

Cassie left her cup on the grated metal table and walked past the partition that corralled the patrons who drank their drinks and continued their conversations. She hurried across the street, approaching the man at an angle. 

He dressed similar to her in a navy suit and dark shoes. In his face, she saw familiar dark eyes, narrow nose, and thin lips, although this face was slightly fuller and the beard had given way to a clean shave. And she found the ability to say these words that meant nothing and yet meant everything she had ever wanted to say and had ever wanted to express:

“Unka sabo uv.”

And the man in the suit could do nothing but stare.

–Fin–