Q&A With Michael Ripplinger (Author Of New YA Novel: Yesterday’s Demons)

I have a marvelous treat in store for you all today.

You’re going to love it.

Michael Ripplinger graciously consented to answer some questions about himself and his upcoming YA Fantasy novel, Yesterday’s Demons. I had the opportunity to read an early version of the book, and I enjoyed it greatly. It has monsters, swords, adventure, budding romance, character growth, epic story, and some great secrets to learn along the way. What’s not to like? You can read the first chapter right now for free on Michael’s blog.

You’ll enjoy the interview. At one point Mike (who is a friend) calls me an evil man. I didn’t pull any punches with the questions!

I’ll tease you with the beautiful cover, and then we’ll get down to business.

yesterdays-demons-cover-final-small

William Munn: What is it about Yesterday’s Demons that made you decide to write it? What is the driving force for this particular novel?

Michael RipplingerI’ve had the idea for Yesterday’s Demons for somewhere around 17 years now. Growing up, I was a huge fan of RPGs, especially Japanese video game ones. Phantasy Star and its sequels were my favorite games in the whole world — and they still are. Fast forward to the late 1990s and I was working at Toys “R” Us. I’d taken a break from video games for a few years but working daily in the video game department, I quickly realized there were some pretty cool looking new RPGs on the market, including Final Fantasy VII and Wild ARMs. Playing those two games especially made me realize what love I had for the epic storytelling of RPGs. I wanted to make one of my own, but although I’m a software engineer by trade, I’m not a game designer, and in the end, I wasn’t interested in writing a random monster encounter algorithm or an overworld map. I just wanted to tell a story. So that’s the first inspiration behind Yesterday’s Demons. It’s my love letter to the JRPG genre and all of its wonderful tropes.

The second inspiration was my own lifelong struggles with fear. The earliest thing I can remember is running in terror and hiding in the garage from a neighbor who was trying to give me a lifesize plush lion he’d won at an amusement park. My parents say I was probably just two years old when this happened. I used to watch Unsolved Mysteries with my grandmother, then be unable to raise the blinds on my windows for fear that a killer or an alien would be watching me from outside. I convinced myself there were monster-generated sounds in the basement so many times it isn’t funny. I’ve run away from panhandlers who were probably just looking for a bite to eat out of fear that they would attack me. As I got older, I learned to control these fears and tell my conscious mind they were just in my imagination. But my struggles with them led me to see just how many different flavors of fear there are: fear of monsters, fear of failure, fear of social judgment. And then there’s healthy fears, like wearing your seat belt for fear of reckless drivers. And so I wanted to tell a story about how much fear influences us, and how much it can control us.

WM: You live in Texas now. Where did you grow up and what made you decide to go San Antonio?

MR: I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, which is about 90 miles west of downtown Chicago and not far from the Wisconsin border. When I first married my bride, Rose, we lived in Rockford, but after our first child was born, she got homesick for San Antonio, which is where she was born and raised. The short answer is the one you read on bumper stickers ’round here: “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.”

WM: I’ve read an early version of Yesterday’s Demons, and I had a bit of a hard time putting a name to its genre. What type of story is it and what makes it stand out from other YA novels?

MR: You’re very right, the book dabbles in a lot of different genres. It’s primarily an epic fantasy, but it takes place in a world that resembles the old West, and there are significant science fiction elements. The action begins with a mystery and hey, it’s a book about fear of monsters, so there are a sprinkling of horror elements, too. But I think this eclectic mix is what makes it stand out.

Another thing that makes it different is that it is not dystopian, even though today, so many YA books seem to be about dystopias, and even though the world of Yesterday’s Demons is one that lost all technology and magic two hundred years earlier. There’s plenty of food and freedom on planet Verde, and most of the time, the monsters leave you alone if you don’t seek them out. As a whole, the people are happy, as is Siv, the protagonist. He just knows he’d be so much happier if he could get rid of his paranoid fears and find some peace.

WMI agree, Yesterday’s Demons is not dystopian, and that is a welcome relief. Verde is a very cool world, and without spoiling too much, can you tell readers what level of risks there might be in a world like Verde? Seems pretty safe except for the occasional monster.

MRYeah, Verde isn’t a dystopia, and is pretty safe except for the occasional monster. Actually, the whole planet is pretty safe… except for the two-thirds of it that are a poisoned wasteland called Terrascorcha. Two hundred years ago an event called the Blackout occurred, and all of the planet’s technology stopped working. That wasn’t fun — airplanes dropped out of the sky in mid-flight, for example. At the same time, all of Verde’s magic users disappeared. Technology and magic were replaced by monsters — native animals mutated into beasts. Everyone who survived the Blackout moved south, where the land wasn’t poisoned. And they’ve been there ever since. Monsters are the only life in Terrascorcha today. But still, I say Verde is a pretty safe place because all of that bad stuff is confined to Terrascorcha. Stay away from there and you’re fine!

And unfortunately, a vast majority of what I just said is all a lie, and none of the book’s characters know it yet.

WM: You are a self-proclaimed breakfast cereal aficionado. I eat cereal, at least, a couple of times a week, and I have probably five different flavors in my cupboard at any given time. Do I have a thing for breakfast cereal too? What makes you different?

MR: Who doesn’t have a thing for breakfast cereal? Add milk and some fruit and it’s three of the four food groups in a bowl. It’s colorful. It’s sweet, yummy, and sweet again. If feeling this way makes me different, then I don’t want to be normal. I say cereal today, cereal tomorrow, cereal forever! It’s part of a balanced and nutritious breakfast.

WM: This has been great! I have one last question if you’re willing: If you were forced to pick only one, either sci-fi or fantasy, which would you exorcize from your life?

MR: Hmm… can I cheat and say I’ll give up both in exchange for “speculative fiction”? No, I didn’t think so. If there could be only one, I’d keep fantasy. I love spaceships and robots, but I love swords and spells just a bit more. And you are, of course, an evil man for even making me consider this.

WM: Maybe I was in interviewer in a former life. I feel very similar and wouldn’t want to answer the same question!

———-

Now, dear readers, get on over to your favorite ebook retailer and pre-order a copy of Yesterday’s Demons by Michael Ripplinger. You won’t be sorry! For the truly lazy, like me, here are some links: Amazon | Barnes and NobleiBooks | KoboSmashwords

Until next time.

TEASER ALERT! I have 502 words of Rue From Ruin – Part 6 in the can. With any luck, you’ll see it before April 1.

Clah and the Ship: a Bedtime Story

A fun thing happened the other day. My writing group got together, and WE WROTE! It was a really fun idea that Steve Diamond gave us while we were attending LTUE last month. We each picked two (or more) words from a list of random words and wrote a complete story with them.

You know. A. Complete. Story.

Beginning. Middle. End?

Anyway, the stories that came out of this exercise were really fantastic and further convinced me that I am the least talented member of our group. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the little story I put together and I’m going to share it with both of you! You don’t even have to fight each other for the right to read it!

I’m calling it a “bedtime story” because it feels fun and a bit whimsical to me, but beware– this bedtime story does have a bit of a dark side. Consider this the only content warning you will get: maybe read the story first before sharing it with smaller children.

—–

Clah and the Ship: a Bedtime Story

clahWave

The waves curled their way over the sparkling black sand and dragged it through craggy lava formations and out into the roiling surf. When the light caught the swells from the right angle, they shone with an inner light that was unknown anywhere else in the land. Those beautiful, rhythmic arms of the sea rose and fell with hypnotic and deadly regularity. Occasionally, ships could be seen in the distance en route to some far-off destination. No one attempted to make landfall on this beach for the rocks would make it sheer folly.

This day was darker than most. An ominous storm savaged the western horizon, tendrils of it reaching out to the onyx land of the isle like wavy boneless fingers. The waves rose higher, driven by the gales of the malevolent front, and the sea birds that oft frequented the craggy shore in search of dinner had flown off looking for a less precarious perch.

Clah was not afraid of such perils as changeable as the weather. Indeed, she willed the storm to her from her crag in the base of the cliff wall just behind the beach. The sheer basalt wall had been her home through many such encounters, and Clah knew that a storm of this magnitude could bring untold treasures to the isle. She walked out onto the sand on all of her appendages, her dark eyes scanning the coast for anything of interest. When she noticed it, Clah scurried back into her home and watched from the safe vantage because she was cautious, and the object of her interest was far closer than she had dared to hope.

The ship was quite large, and rising from its middle were two enormous poles as big as tree trunks from the jungle atop the cliff. They had crossbeams attached and swathed in bunched-up white cloths of wind-catching. To the wildly bucking rear of the craft, there was a raised area where many men scrambled about like angry ants trying to do something with a round, wooden object. The circular roundwood thing had a dozen or so sticks protruding from it at evenly-spaced intervals. It didn’t seem to be responding in a way that pleased the men, and indeed, the ship appeared to be making its way rapidly toward the stony shore broad side first. The waves had grown with the winds and the darkness in the West was doing the same. They propelled the vessel with effortless ease to the doom Clah had foreseen from the moment she first spotted it.

It collided with crushing force, the breakers thrusting it at a speed the ship would not have normally attained on its best day, the crashing groan was so deafening as to drown out even the mighty waves and shrieking wind. Men flew from the ship with the force of the impact, some of them flung through the air hurling toward the beach, only to be caught and impaled upon the cruel rocks or crushed upon them by the prodigious weight of the pounding surf.

But. One man was flung free. He was clear of the reefs, and the tall waves snatched at him as he fought his way to his feet, stumbling away from the vicious ocean and her mighty disdain for the lives of men. He shuddered at the booming crack, as the spine of the ship was defeated by the forces arrayed against it. He turned gasping to stare as the rest of the boat gave way and started to release its ribs, spilling interior contents out like the guts of a man disemboweled.

Clah chose that moment to spring upon her prey, hurtling from her crag, to sink her wicked teeth into the neck of the unsuspecting sailor. He was delicious if a bit gritty from the granules of black sand that still clung to his skin. She hadn’t had a treat this savory since two storms prior when a man and his son had taken refuge on a beach some miles to the north.

Sighing with the contentment of the truly satiated, Clah curled up next to the now slumped man and watched with pleasure as the waves continued to roll in stronger and more powerful. After a time, she drowsily made her way back to her home in the crag and let the rhythm of the storm and the ocean lull her into a tranquil sleep.

Rue From Ruin – Part 4

Here it is. I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t know what it is, go here.

This is the last time I’m going to write recognitions for folks who’ve helped out directly on a part. I’ll move all of them to the main Rue From Ruin page soon. In the meantime, I need to say this now. It’s important because, without these fine people, you wouldn’t be reading Part 4 today.

So much great help from Meri. She spotted all the really dumb stuff I was doing and she found it while suffering from a horrible cold. What an amazing woman! I’m blessed beyond belief to have her as my wife. My teen sons also took turns reading although their feedback was more along the lines of, “Ooo! Pretty good, Dad!”

Big thank you to the beta readers who provided some wonderful critique and helped me add more story that might have gone missing otherwise. J. Rushing, K. M. Alexander, and Drew Gerken all pitched in. Each of them had a unique perspective and I appreciate them immensely. They don’t even know. Srsly.

—-

Rue From Ruin – Part 4

hellhall

Imprisonment

I’m being marched through the center of a village at gunpoint by a fourteen-year-old girl, I think to myself. I wonder how pathetic it must look. Vanity isn’t a major weakness of mine, but I’m not immune to it either.

A tall young man, several years my junior, lounges against the wall in front of the small building we head toward. Incredibly, the squat stone structure appears to serve as police, fire, and La Poste for the little hamlet. The youth stares at me, but the girl with the shotgun ignores him and his sickly complexion. There is something familiar in his dark hazel eyes; I can’t place it. As we breeze past him, I’m unable to stop staring back.

“Watch where you’re going, scruffy-man,” the tall teen says and nudges my ribs with her 28-gauge. I turn around just in time to stop myself from walking right into the doorjamb of the building we are entering. She says, “I am the gracious host, am I not, señor?”

I nod agreement, not trusting my tongue to be civil.

It won’t do any good to snap at her, I remind myself. However, if I hadn’t taken the tincture in time… I shudder and try not to think about it.

We resume walking through the door of the multi-purpose building. I catch a whiff of something pungent that causes me to stop like a car in one of the crash test commercials. I feel the shotgun barrel dig into my back as the girl presses forward, not anticipating my sudden halt.

I know this scent.    

The girl sighs, impatient, and we continue down the narrow stone hallway past the shuttered window where La Poste customers fetch their mail. The odor is so strong it’s becoming overpowering. I can almost see it. After ten meters, the hall opens up into a tiny room with a small rectangular table, covered with a black and white checkered tablecloth. A man in a rumpled uniform sits behind it. The officer barely registers to me because my sinuses are reeling in the overpowering smell of HIM. I swear the odor emanating from the small window on his cell door is practically visible, with sickly green tendrils of smoke-like stench reaching for my nose.

“Hola, papa,” the girl says to the man at the table. “This Americano was trespassing by the old well on the Laurent property.”

I barely notice her speaking, because this is it! At last, the end of my search! I’ve found René Demons. And soon, he will pay so dearly for what he has done.

After I get some answers, I remind myself.

The man in the chair straightens and says something in thickly accented English about, “… night for trespass … go in morning.” He waves a hand toward the open door of the second holding area. It’s barely a closet, and his daughter gives me a nudge toward it. I try to catch a glimpse into the window where the sickly scent-tentacles are reaching out. No luck. I listen for any movement in the cage and hear none.

Of course, Demons probably knows I’m here. I haven’t said anything, but he’s always been very canny at running from me; the monster must know I am near. He can’t be allowed to escape, but I also can’t see a way to get to him now without slaughtering the officer and his daughter. As badly as I want the Professeur, I don’t wish to harm these people.

Deadlocked by indecision, I allow myself to be herded into my tiny prison, hardly noticing as the door grinds shut behind me. Once in the cell, I sink to sit on the cot. It’s barely larger than an oversized camping cooler, and no softer. That doesn’t matter. All I can think of is how I’m going to rend the Professeur’s flesh in the most painful ways.

After sitting for a while, fantasizing, I start to consider the questions I’m going to ask him in the morning. Why turn me into this… thing? Why let me go home to my family as if nothing were wrong?

Why the hell didn’t he just give me some answers that day? I’m clearly delirious. He’s been running from me because he knows I’m going to kill him. How could he have any doubt of my intention?

Exhaustion and the droning on of the father and daughter eventually lull me. A night of rest will ease my fatigue and help me deal with him in the morning, the rationalized thought comes thickly as if bubbling up through molasses. I fall asleep sitting on the cot, back against the wall, chin on chest.

——

The dream always brings back every painful reminder of what I felt like waking up on the morning when they died. I’ve dreamt it more times than I can count. It goes like this:

I’m looking up at the ceiling and note with morbid fascination that there appears to be something crimson speckling its powdery, popcorn texture. I roll over on the slick, hard surface, nearly naked in my shredded clothing from the night before. I’m covered in sticky red blood and, in fact, am lying in viscera in the middle of our kitchen floor. Their dead and waxen faces are waiting for me as I roll to my knees in the ichor. The bright red lifeblood spattering them is a stark contrast to the porcelain of their features. There is so much of it.

Everywhere.

The details of the night before are hazy, but I do remember coming home and feeling terribly sick. I went straight to my bed to lie down and was frustrated and worried that the Prof had gone off his rocker. He had taken a phone call earlier in the day, I think. Shortly after hanging up, he had left for a few minutes and then he came up behind me and injected me with a hypo of what I think was his own blood. I recall his crazed screeching about it being the only chance.

I called security immediately, and the Professeur fled the lab. I tendered my resignation in disgust and left the office to return home after making my report.

No longer able to keep my thoughts to myself, I remember getting up and coming to the kitchen. Always my sounding board, my wife was there sitting at the table with little Kara. I sat with them and ranted on about the incident. Marilyn, ever rational, reminded me that some blood tests were probably in order. Just to be sure I wasn’t infected with something dangerous like HIV. How I wish I would have left the house right then to follow her advice. Instead, I complained and whined and said I would get checked in the morning.

Then the change started coming on. I felt the terrible pain of displaced bone and muscle and ligament for the first time. The dread of a strange, overpowering hunger and the anticipation of sating it.

To my utter dismay, shame, and heartbreak, there are only two human beings I’ve ever killed in the throes of my curse: my wife, Marilyn, and my daughter Kara.

After awakening and sitting up to the scene of their deaths, I collapse back to the floor. Salty tears of despair flow freely, and somehow I can’t seem to breathe. Finally, a cry that sounds like the mating call of a grizzly bear escapes my lips. Once released, the wracking sobs won’t stop for what feels like hours.

When the tears finally run dry, I make a solemn vow to my dead family: I will make vengeance my life’s last goal.

——

The door swings open, and a man in a fireman’s uniform is speaking to me in French. Still mostly asleep, I don’t understand a word of it. I wipe the wetness of the drool from my chin. But, unfortunately, it has also soaked a portion of the overall I’m still wearing. There is a large salty-edged saliva stain on the front. It must look ridiculous.

The man motions me to leave. Finally! I wipe the sleep from my eyes; stand and follow him out. I’m groggy, but I still notice the open door to the other cell. I sniff the air, and although the scent is still there, it’s somehow weaker, less overpowering. My worst fear of the previous night is realized. They’ve let him out while I slept!

Sniffing the air, I catch a tendril of scent leading out of the building. He is still very near.

I don’t much care what the Frenchman is yelling after me as I sprint out of the building at full tilt.

Rue From Ruin – Part 3

If you are wondering where to find the beginning of the story, see Part 1 or Part 2.

This one was difficult because there reveals, and I don’t want to give away too much.

Yet.

I had some amazing help from my friend Pablo Orozco on the European Spanish. Also, Meri, Drew, and K.M. all helped me work out some issues I was having and assisted the removal of the stiffness from my writing. Without these fine folks, Part 3 would not be what it is. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! What an incredible learning experience.

This story is a labor of love. Check out the inspiration if you have time.

Rue From Ruin – Part 3

ancientWell

Tincture

So damn close!

The sun is a melted tangerine sinking toward the horizon.

Melted tangerine probably isn’t a thing, the finicky thought follows immediately.

I’ve been running all day in this stupid chaffing overall I grabbed from a hook in some abandoned barn, and I’m tired. Can’t remember the last time my muscles felt this exhausted. He’s got to be somewhere near. As an urgent reminder, the tincture materials swing at my neck. There isn’t much time.

Maybe I’ll just let the change happen, and then catch up with the Professeur and rip his lying throat out.

It’s so tempting. But no.

My wife Marilyn and little Kara deserve answers. It’s his fault, what I did to them. And he can’t keep running forever.

Eventually, he will fall asleep on a train, or in a hostel, or under a bridge. He will have to rest. No one can stay awake forever. Even the cursed must sleep – I would know. It hits me then just how tired I am. I’ve been up for thirty-six hours minus that short rest at dawn. I’m so worn down it feels like I’m going to collapse.

If I don’t drink my tincture tonight – what will happen? Will “the beast” take over and decide to lay down for a nap? Something tells me it won’t. I would probably just die of exhaustion in the morning like a horse flogged to gallop all day in the desert. Inexplicably, Another One Bites The Dust by Queen is now playing in my head. I start to contemplate the level of impropriety my brain is capable of and halt refocusing on the immediate need.

The sun has now sunk to the point of touching the horizon. It’s ruddy, and the optical illusion of its line of light is expanding across the western horizon.

I’m going to wolf-out soon if I don’t take action. It’s now or never.

Running to a vantage point at the top of a nearby knoll, I see several buildings. There are barely ten of them huddled tightly to form a village. Most of the structures are built of the pale stone common in the region. Looking south, I can see the shadowy forms of the Pyrenees Mountains in the distance. I’d been focused on my search for signs of his passage on the ground, and I’d almost missed the proverbial forest for the trees. Focusing my search, I look for water to mix with my tincture because swallowing the vomit-inducing liquid straight isn’t in my repertoire. I spy an ancient looking rock-rimmed well. It could be right out of a storybook. Jogging down toward it, I keep an eye out for locals but don’t notice any. Hopefully, the reservoir isn’t dry; a relic of days gone by, but never removed, just capped.

Reaching the short structure, I see that there is a bucket. I can smell the dampness of deeper water. Luck. Finally. I drop the wide, rusted iron receptacle into the depths. I barely remember to catch its recently attached, and still crunchy, nylon rope. The tincture pouch has to come off my neck. I grab and yank.

It doesn’t break. Frustrated, I wait to hear the bucket splashdown; it does, and I breathe a sigh of relief. There is water.

In a huff, I begin yanking it back up. The sun sinks further as I hand-over-hand the rope frantically. Only a quarter of the fiery globe is still visible. The horizon has faded to a rich red as the purpling of twilight sets into the east.

The decrepit container clanks up over the edge, catching the lip slightly. I slam it down on the brink of the well with a dull clang. Reaching for the strap around my neck, I lift it up and over my head. My frantic fingers fumble for the cord tied around the mouth of the pouch.

Finally, it’s open! With only a sliver of sun left, I pull out the tiny bottle of tincture, spin off the lid and shakily deposit a single drop into the bucket of water. I replace the lid and hope like hell it isn’t too diluted. Then, I raise the nearly full bucket to my lips and drink.

With my hands this close to my nose, I can smell the blood still crusted under my fingernails. This morning’s quick splashdown wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped.

I gulp down four huge swallows in seconds.

Then it happens. I feel the cold metal of a firearm pressing into the back of my neck. The pressure is uneven, with the top edge of the barrel biting deeper into my flesh. “Tranqui,” a low yet feminine voice says. My Spanish is even worse than my French. Without a pocket translator, there’s no way I can say exactly what she said, but the meaning is clear. I slowly set down the bucket and raise my hands above my head, careful to clutch the pouch of tincture in one closed fist.

“¿Qué estás haciendo aquí?” she says. I just shake my head. The next statement is under her breath, but I hear it because… yeah, “Capullo estúpido.” Then louder, “Parlez-vous français?”

I shake my head slowly and say, “Pas vraiment.” Not really.

“American?” she replies with a mild accent. “Makes the sense.”

I wasn’t sure if I should be offended or not, so I decided to err on the side of not. I was the one drinking madly from her well after all.

“Yes, American,” I said. “How’s your English?”

“Much better than your French,” her rich contralto reply. “You are the second man I’ve caught on my property this day. Am I holding some fiesta I wasn’t to know about?”

I understand that word, “No, no party señora,” I reply, hoping to ease the tension by using what little Spanish I think I can speak. Total backfire.

“Turn around! And keep your hands up!” she says. I oblige, as I do for all women holding me at gunpoint. My eyes are greeted by something unexpected. A tall, dark-haired Spanish girl, probably only in her mid-teens. She considers me and asks, “Do I look like la señora to you, señor scruffy-man?”

“No,” my heart goes out to this girl who’s discovered two intruders here today. Strange indeed. I want to comfort her, but by the agate-hard look in her eyes, she doesn’t want to hear it. As if to prove my thought, she nudges my ribs with the high-gauge shotgun she’s holding.

“We’re going to go to have the talk with the police now, scruffy-man. After you,” she says.

The scattershot loaded in her gun won’t keep me down for long. But I don’t want strange stories to circulate about me. That’s the last thing I want for so many reasons. Could I even get away as tired as I am? We walk into the rough square of buildings, and I observe a red-smeared hypodermic needle in plain sight. The blood looks fresh. It has to be a sign of his passage. Confirming my suspicion, the Spanish girl doesn’t notice it at all.

At least I haven’t lost the trail.

Continue the story in Rue From Ruin – Part 4.

Rue From Ruin – Part 2

Well hi there! I hope you, my three readers, enjoy this next part of my Serial Story. You may have heard it has a title now: Rue From Ruin.

Special thanks to K. M. Alexander and J. Rushing for helping me nail down a name I really like. If you want to know more about the title, shoot me a comment here or a question on Twitter. Extra special thanks to Drew Gerken and my wife Meri for all the proofing/editing help on short notice. I owe you all!

Writers: if you don’t have a writing support group as delightful as these fine people, then your writing will probably be worse than mine. Did I write that? Obviously no one proofed this intro.

If you are wondering: WHAT IS THIS SERIAL STORY THING? GAAAAHH! Please refer to Part 1. There, you will find a beginning. You may also wish to note: Part 2 is not the end. If you only enjoy stories if they end as soon as you read them, come back when Rue From Ruin is done. Without further ado…

Rue From Ruin – Part 2

six-thirty-am

6:30 AM

I scrunch up my face. It’s a futile attempt to keep a single, dust-filled ray of sunlight from playing directly across my eyes. The air must be filled with pollen and particles. I can smell the hay. Out of reflex, I brace myself to stifle a non-existent sneeze, even though allergies no longer plague me as they once did. I open my eyes a crack to glare at the offending gap in the wall of whatever building I’m in.

Apparently a huge mistake. The sun is low on the horizon. It is waiting there to greet me, and I regret my decision instantly. I flop over, clamping my eyelids down again and feel the sharp poke of what can only be more miserable hay digging into my bare skin. Something gives way beneath me, and I fall a short distance with a thump. Dull pain begins to pulse through my shoulder and hip.

“Ow!” I say. I hear a nearby horse snort and immediately regret the noise I’ve made. If I know anything, I know being discovered naked on someone else’s property won’t win friends or influence people no matter what country you are in. Unless you are trying to influence them to bring out a pitchfork or a shotgun. I lie very still listening for anything and notice only the thumping of my own heart and the sound of birdsong somewhere outside. My ears are much keener than they once were, and they aren’t picking up much until an abrupt electrical buzz like a cattle prod startles me.

Time spent on Grandad’s farm quickly informs me that this is only the sound of a controller for a wired electrical fence. The device is cycling its pulses of power. I remember my older cousins taunting me into touching a live wire. The event spawned a deep appreciation for the way the device cycles so that grabbing hold didn’t cause my muscles to convulse, unable to let go as I slowly electrocuted.

I focus on breathing, forcing myself to relax, and open my eyes.

Immediately, I remember to check my neck, and I am relieved to find the leather strap and pouch containing the ingredients for my tincture are still there. Looking down at my unclothed form, I feel a pang of sadness and regret. There is blood covering my fingers and hands. It speckles my forearms, abdomen, and chest. No doubt my face is covered as well; as I focus, I feel it cracked and dry around my mouth and inhale the strong metallic scent. I grab some hay, trying without success to wipe the blood from my mouth. My senses reach out, frantic, searching for a trail of trauma and find it with ease. The body must be close.

Don’t lead to a farmer or a kid, or some other person, I thought. Let it be HIS blood. Just this once, let luck be on my side.

Cautiously, I follow the trail down the steps from the hayloft where I had been sleeping. I note the horse I heard a moment before in one of the stalls is a black Mérens stud. He rolls his eyes at me and shuffles in his stall but is otherwise quiet. I don’t smell death coming from the stalls and say a silent prayer that it isn’t coming from the house. I silently pad across the dirt floor to the building’s only exit. The few tiny pebbles on the ground don’t bother my feet as much as the clinging layer of filth sticking to their sweaty, calloused bottoms.

Once, I braved the dangers of a Lego-strewn floors with those feet; I would give anything to trip, cursing at the plastic caltrops of parental doom again. A tear finds its way out of my eye and courses down among the dried blood on my face as I remember why I’ll never be swearing at building blocks again.

The electrical fence controller buzzes again, but I’m expecting it now.

Peering out of the slightly ajar barn entrance – I again rely on my heightened senses. There doesn’t seem to be anyone nearby, and people are easy to pick out by smell. A sickly sweet scent is coming from the right of the door, away from the small french-styled rock cottage. I ease the door open and sprint to the edge of the barn, looking over my shoulder as I go. Hoping no one takes notice of the pale, naked, and blood-drenched man running through the barnyard, I dodge around the side of the large outbuilding. The scent of copper is stronger here, mixed with the foulness of something disemboweled. There, farther down the side of the weather-worn barn is the remains of something black and hairy, but not quite so large as a man. I think it’s… a goat?

I breathe a huge sigh; relieved Bordeaux did not pay too dearly for my decision last night. There must have been a reason I came here instead of returning to my clothes.

Right. Clothes… and a bath. Probably not in that order.

Those problems need to be sorted out before picking up the trail. I can’t delay or risk being run-in to a French jail on indécence charges. My window of time is brief. Losing the trail of the Professeur again is not an option.

Finally able to focus, I can see a sign of his passage. The hunt is on.

Continue the story in Rue From Ruin – Part 3.

Rue From Ruin – Part 1

Without further baiting or delay, here is part one of my new serial story. No… It doesn’t end at the end. Like life, there will be more. See currently published parts and planned parts on the Rue From Ruin page.

Rue From Ruin – Part 1

RueBW

Bordeaux Will Pay

Bordeaux.

I despise Bordeaux. It’s so… so warm. Warm and… beautiful. The sun mocks me with its cheerful rays making my customary black overcoat intolerable. Give me a chilly highland night or even an early summer evening in Seattle over this rubbish any time.  Aside from that, Bordeaux is French, and I never fancied the French with their stinky cheeses and wines and their turned up noses. Still, here I am. Smack in the middle of the south of France searching for him

He had been here; that much is obvious. I turn a corner, following my instincts and almost walk straight into it. A SIGN. Funny thing about signs is that, sometimes, they actually, really, and truly are signs, and not just portents of something mysterious or sinister. This one’s blue and white like all the street signs in the area. Of course, it doesn’t look out of the ordinary to anyone without the sight. Even to me it seems innocuous enough unless I read the pale words. The grit and grime of years clings to it and yet the painted metal is not old at all compared to the wall where it hangs. Being from the new world, it has taken some time to get used to how ancient everything is in Europe. After traveling here many times on my hunt, I’m now shocked by the appearance of something new and modern among the decay.

I turn my attention back to the sign and read the words inscribed though each one hits me like a left jab to the gut. Rue Professeur Demons. He has been here and left his mark. 

I haven’t learned yet if it is intentional, the way his trail taunts me, or if he has no control over it himself. I only know the grief-stricken agony it causes me when I think of the way this monster took me in as an “apprentice” and then killed my family and tried to kill me. By tried, I mean nearly succeeded. I still have to drink a tincture of foul-smelling (and tasting) liquid each night, or I can’t even move the next day. It’s the only thing that protects my sanity. 

To confirm my discovery, I pull aside a man passing on the adjoining street and point, asking him in my broken, Googlized French, “S’il vous plaît, ce qui est cette rue?” Roughly: what is the name of this street, please? 

He looks at me in that disgusted way that French people reserve specifically for large, gruff outsiders who pull them aside and ask them silly questions. A sprig of something forgotten and green dances in his teeth as Mr. Stereotypical replies, pointing with a jabbing finger. Pointing to the plainly visible sign he says, “Rue du Professeur Demons.” He spits at my feet before wrenching free of my grasp and hurrying on his way leaving me dumbfounded.

No.

NO!

A dead end? How is this possible? There is an actual street in this city with this name? He must have known. He must be onto me. It’s too good, too well planned, to be otherwise. His trail brings me to Bordeaux and is going cold while he slips by on the merest technicality. Hell, maybe this is even where his curse originated.

Tomorrow is going to be a waste now. Tomorrow I’m going to be a wreck.

I’ll have to forgo the tincture and Bordeaux will likely pay for my choice, but it will be worth it when I pick up the trail.

Tonight, the moon will rise. Tonight, I will track by scent.

Now, where to stash these clothes?

—-

On to Rue From Ruin – Part 2!