Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Tricks and Treats

ACEO - Halloween 1 LISTED
Halloween Tricks and Treats
Part 2
BY: Carol Marrs Phipps


Benny laughed and sailed up the walk to the neat brick front stoop and the cheerily decorated house before them. It even had fake spider webs all over the bushes near the house and a neat witch decoration on the front door. Benny rang the doorbell and a moment later the boys heard an odd pitter patter coming across the floor inside the house. A few moments later the screen door creaked open a crack and Josh and Benny peered inside, somewhat confused that they at first saw no one and didn’t know why the door had come open. Suddenly, Josh felt something tap on the top of his shoe and looked down to see a disembodied hand motioning him inside. His first reaction was to jerk his foot away from the little horror and get the hell out of there, but Benny was giggling. Josh looked inside again and saw a young boy, Benny’s age, dressed like Count Dracula, himself, remote control in hand, coming towards the door. Beside the little vampire was a beautiful girl, with long, blonde hair, dressed up like Sleeping Beauty. He was sure she had to be close to his own age. Benny’s party shows promise, he thought as their hosts stopped at the door to greet them and bid them enter.
***
The party was amazing and both Josh and Benny were having the time of their lives. The costumes were the most realistic either boy had ever seen. The beautiful teenage girl turned out to be Mindy Cates. “Moving back to this very spot and even having this party was my idea,” she explained to Josh. “Well, and my therapist’s, too. He felt that I must confront what had happened to me. You know, that was ten years ago on Halloween night on this very spot,” she confided. “The doctors hope that I might finally free myself of my horrible nightmares of what happened that night.”
 It seemed a bit extreme to Josh, but hey, what did he know about psychology? Soon he found himself dancing to crazy Halloween tunes like The Monster Mash and having the time of his life. When Michael Jackson’s Thriller began to blare from the CD player the partiers got into place and began an incredible imitation of what the boys had both seen Jackson and his incredible dancers do in their music video. To Josh’s surprise, they pulled him into it.  He was having such a riot he never even noticed when Mindy, Damon and Benny disappeared from the room.
***
Mindy and Damon led Benny to a quiet little room down a long hall that was completely empty save for three chairs. Mindy indicated he should sit with a wave of her hand. Once he had complied she and Damon took the other two chairs.
“So,” Benny said after a moment, “is this some kind of game?”
“No,” Mindy said, sharing a quick look with Damon, “this is quite real and quite serious, Benny. You see, Damon and I want to help you...if you will let us?”
“Help me? I don’t get it. Help me what?”
“Heal your body and your sad heart,” Mindy replied in almost a whisper.
Benny’s eyes widened. “How? The doctors said it will take years of surgery...and even then, I won’t be the same as I was before the accident.”
Mindy chewed her bottom lip briefly and studied Benny’s face. “Look...you’ve nothing to be afraid of and this is all...complicated. So, I’m going to ask you to just trust me and do what I ask. I promise I won’t hurt you and when it is over, you will look exactly as you did before your accident...if that is what you want?”
Benny sat back in his chair and looked questioningly at Damon, who nodded his reassurance. “OK,” he replied. “What do I have to do?”
“Close your eyes tight and keep them shut, no matter what, until I tell you to open them,” Mindy instructed. “Will you do that?”
“All right,” Benny said after one more quick glance at Damon. Then he squeezed shut his eyes and waited. A moment later he felt something quite cool, but very soft, brush across his neck, and pause there.
“You can open your eyes now, “ Mindy said in what seemed to Benny to be only a few seconds later. “All done.”
Benny blinked. “That’s it? Now I’m magically transformed into my old self?”
“Yeah, all transformed...only, we’ll have to do this again every year on Halloween until you become eighteen. Then...you decide if you want your healing to remain permanently, or return to what you were before I...helped you,” Mindy said.
Benny frowned. “I’m confused. What exactly did you do and how do I even know that you did anything?”
Damon jumped up and hurried over to a door on the far wall and jerked it open, revealing a full length mirror attached to the backside of what Benny could now see was a closet door. “Come take a look,” he invited.
Benny strode quickly to the door and gasped when he saw his flawless reflection. Then he reached up in wonder and felt his now baby, smooth skin. Tears of joy and gratitude sprang into his eyes. “But...how?” he asked as he turned back to Mindy, who had come over to stand by him and Damon.
“I...shared my regenerative powers with you,” she said, “but when you become 18 you will have to either become fully like me or become as you were.”
Benny reached slowly up and touched the place on his neck where he had felt that cold, soft touch. Mindy nodded at the realization she saw in the young boy’s eyes. “Yes, Benny, I am a vampire. But you are not...yet...as I am. I will come to you every All Hallows Eve until your appointed time. No matter where you go, I will find you. But the final choice will be yours. Do you understand?”
Benny glanced at his image in the mirror once more then back at Mindy and nodded.
“Good, then we should return to the party, I expect it is nearly over and you and Josh must return to your lives while Damon, I, and our friends return to ours. You will not remember how you were transformed this night, until we meet again, next Halloween. That is both for your own protection and ours,” she said. Then she led him back to the party that did, indeed, come to a conclusion, almost as soon as they re-entered it.
Time somehow seemed to stretch and then shrink and become all fuzzy. The next thing Benny knew he and Josh were standing back in their own kitchen and their Mom was coming through the kitchen door.
“Hi guys!” Jean said breezing into the kitchen, “how come you’re both still up? You didn’t just get here, did you?” she asked as her eyes narrowed and her gaze darted to the bold-faced kitchen clock. It clearly read 12:15. She placed her hands on her hips and turned back to wait for a reply from her sons. Suddenly she gasped and nearly fainted as she finally got a clear look at Benny’s no-longer ruined face. She stared questioningly at Josh, who shrugged and shook his head. Benny just beamed and threw himself into his Mother’s arms.

The next morning, Jean packed her two sons into the car and drove to 666 Mockingbird Lane, determined to get to the bottom of this mysterious healing of her precious young son and also to thank whoever had been responsible for this amazing miracle. The family piled quickly from the car the moment Jean turned off the ignition and hurried to the narrow sidewalk between the tall hedge...and stared in amazement at the empty lot beyond.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween Tricks and Treats




Halloween Tricks and Treats
Part 1
BY: Carol Marrs Phipps

Benjamin Burns sprang off the last step of the school bus and rushed up the walk and into his house. And he did so with a happy bounce to his step for a change. After all, it was Halloween and he had just made a new friend at school. But, most of all, his new friend had invited him, him, to a costume party at his house this very night! (After he had finished trick-or-treating, that is).
“Hi Mom!” Benny sing-songed as he fairly skipped into the kitchen where his mother was already preparing supper.
Jean Burns turned from the sink where she was peeling potatoes curious to learn why he seemed so happy and excited, and smiled brightly at her precious younger son. She hadn’t seen him show this much enthusiasm since before the accident. The accident where she nearly lost him. The horrible car crash that stole away her beloved husband, Robert, and left her eight-year old boy scarred and disfigured, possibly for the rest of his life. The semi driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and crossed over into the oncoming lane. Bob had been killed instantly, but Benny was critically injured when the car flipped over four times before it came to a stop upside down in the ditch and caught on fire. Benny was wearing a seat belt, but he had first, second and third degree burns over most of his body, before he was freed from the wreckage. He had hideous burns on his face and had lost his sight in his left eye.
That was two years ago, but since Benny had returned to school he had been depressed. The children at school treated him differently now and did not play with him unless they had no choice. Benny no longer had any friends. He said the kids didn’t like him because he was ugly now. He was convinced that many of them were even afraid of him. It broke Jean’s heart. She had gone to school and explained to all his classmates about the terrible accident Benny had been in, hoping the children would understand and begin including her son in their play once more. But it hadn’t happened. A few girls did try to talk with him and include him, but Benny stopped playing with them after a few days. When Jean finally coaxed him to tell her why, she had been horrified to learn that the girls wanted him to be the scary monster and chase them.
Today was the last day she expected Benny to come home fairly bursting with energy and excitement. She had almost kept him home from school this morning because last year some cruel boys had told him that he could trick-or-treat without a costume. He had come home devastated.
Jean bent over and kissed her son on the top of his curly brown mop of hair. “So, you gonna tell me what has you all excited?” she asked.
Benny nodded and pulled a small envelope from his pocket and handed it to her, then waited as patiently as he could while she read it. As soon as her bright blue eyes shifted from the party invitation in her hands to his own sparkling brown one’s he blurted, “So, can I go Mom? Please?”
Before Jean could open her mouth to form a reply, his teenage brother, Josh, strolled into the kitchen. “Can you go where, squirt?” he asked as he studied first his younger sibling’s imploring face and then his mother’s bemused expression and noticed the party invitation in her hand. “Oh! So you’re invited to a Halloween party, huh?”
Benny beamed and nodded and Josh looked back at his mother. “Hey Mom, don’t sweat it, I’ll take Benny to the party if you have to work tonight.”
“Thank you, Josh,” she said, handing him the invitation to his momentary surprise, but he quickly realized she must have done so because he would need to know the time and location of the party. He glanced quickly at the invitation, read the time and address, then started to hand it back to Benny...but froze with the card still in his hand and met his mother’s eyes before taking a better look at the card.
“Hey! What’s goin’ on?” Benny asked, as his excitement of a moment ago began to turn to fear that he was not going to be able to attend the first fun event he had been invited to since before his accident. “Can I go or can’t I?” he added, confused by the odd turn of events. He had thought his family would have been just as happy and excited as he was.
His mom and Josh exchanged a look over top of his head. “Look, sweetheart, you go get your homework done and we’ll talk about it over supper, OK?”
Benny looked from his mother to his brother, then down at the floor. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbled sullenly and trudged to his room.
***
Supper was a quiet affair until the dishes had been cleared away, then Jean and Josh took turns explaining to Benny that they both wanted more than anything for him to go to his new friends party and have a wonderful time...but the problem was that the address on the invitation said the party was to be at 666 Mockingbird Lane at the Cates’ residence and as far as they both knew, there no longer was a house at that residence. The Cates family that had once lived there were all now deceased.
Benny listened to this information and nodded, a relieved, but knowing look on his young, disfigured face. “I know all of that,” he said impatiently, “but now there is a house there again. It was moved there from Grangerville just a few days ago. My friend, Damon’s family got the place real cheap because the people who owned it had both passed away. They had no family so the city council wanted the land for a parking lot. But they decided that maybe they could make a little profit on the place if they sold it instead of having it demolished.

“Damon also told me that his Uncle John and Aunt Marie’s family lived in the house at the address where his house sits now. They were all murdered by a madman. All except his cousin Mindy, that is. She was only badly wounded and left for dead. The cops had the newspapers report the whole family had been killed because they were afraid that the murderer might try again to kill her if he found out that she was still alive and might be able to identify him. So, when she was well enough, Mindy was sent to live with Damon’s parents, Wolfgang and Elvira Cates,” he added this last with a great sigh and a hopeful expression cast first at his mother, then his big brother, who immediately exchanged a look across the table.
“That is quite a story, young man,” Jean said with a look on her face that Benny knew quite well meant she was not entirely convinced it was all true. Oh, not that he was lying, just that he might not really have been told the truth by his friend, Damon. Still, Benny could tell that the imploring look on his disfigured young face was winning her over, nevertheless. “So...I’ll tell you what. Even though I’m not sure I buy the whole thing I’m going to take a chance and say that you can go...see about this party. Your brother will take you there after you finish with what trick-or-treating you wish to do. If there truly is a house at that location now and your friend and his family are there having a party, you may attend it until ten o’clock. No later. Understood?”
Benny grinned and nodded his head up and down enthusiastically.
“Good,” Jean said, then cautioned. “However, if, as Josh and I fear, there is no house in that location, you will come straight home and do your very best not to feel too bad. You know that there are people out there who are unkind and even cruel to people who are ...different...than they are.”
Benny thought this over for a few moments before he slowly nodded. He knew all right. He had been the victim of such cruelness far too often since the accident.
“Then run and get your costume and I will help you get ready before I leave for work,” his mother said. Benny grinned happily and flew to his room to gather up his costume.
***
Jean bent over and tied a neat bow at the neck of Benny’s faux fur prince cape and then set the shining gold plastic crown with the big pretend jewels upon his curly head and kissed his scarred forehead. “Have fun trick-or-treating, and remember...”
“Don’t eat anything until I get home and you or Josh inspects it for signs of tampering,” Benny said before she could.
Jean smiled and nodded. “And...don’t be too disappointed if your party...doesn’t work out.” Benny nodded solemnly and Jean’s mouth spread into a smile once more. “OK, I’ll see you later, then, sweetheart.”
Benny smiled back and waved as he followed Josh out the door and spent the next two hours merrily trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. But now they had finally arrived at Mockingbird Lane, and Benny was anxious to get to the party, though his brother insisted they might as well trick-or-treat the houses along the way.
“Come on, Benny,” Josh said, “at least if it turns out there isn’t anything at 666 we’ll have something to show for coming all the way here.”
Benny agreed, but just to keep Josh off his case. Teenage brothers could be such a pain if they didn’t get their way!
It seemed like time had slowed down, though, and Benny was beginning to feel like they would never reach the end of the block where Damon said his house was. What was more ominous, though, to Benny, was that it was pitch dark at the end of the lane where the Cates’ house should be. He began to feel disappointment and betrayal creep over him the closer they approached to that lightless spot. He trudged downheartedly from the brightly lit porch of 665 beside Josh who cast him a truly apologetic look, as they began to cross the street to go 667 and back up the other side of the lane.
There was a foreboding thick hedge in front of the property at 666 at the end of the lane, broken only by a narrow sidewalk that split the hedges in the center and ran on up into the darkness. By some unspoken agreement, both boys stopped outside the hedge and stared into the inky blackness towards where the narrow sidewalk ended. Suddenly a great many lights flared all at once, illuminating the house that now resided on the property. Josh and Benny both started in surprise, then exchanged looks of wonder.
“Well little brother,” Josh said with a grin, let’s go see about this party, shall we?”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fate of aBook Character

shadowpersons big
So you writers think you have it tough? You ought to try living the life of one of the characters you create. I mean, really, how would you like being the figment of some writers bizarre imagination? If that isn't bad enough all by itself, consider all the things you writers dream up for us characters to do. Not to mention the dangerous situations you get us into, the problems you make us solve and the many humiliating, provocative and sometimes ridiculous predicaments you drag us through! Could you, mere flesh and bone, survive it all? I think not!
And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that we have absolutely no choice in all of this. From the moment of our creation we are forced to live out our lives totally in whatever image you have created for us. We aren't allowed to choose the way we dress, talk or act! Why, some of us even emerge as villains, monsters, aliens, fairy tale creatures and even some of the undead, just to mention a few of the lives you choose for us.
Take me for example. I was innocently drifting along amongst the synapses in my creator’s (totally demented) brain one moment and rudely thrust into this narrative the next, without so much as the dignity of a name or brief description of my appearance. And for what? My entire existence is simply to educate you writers and readers about the fate of a book character. Once that task is completed, my own fate is sealed. I will live as a nameless, faceless character who is only brought to life when someone reads this blog. Doomed to repeat the same words over and over, without change, until one magic day when this piece becomes old enough, it, and I, will be deleted.
Sometimes you writers decide one of us hasn't exactly lived up to your expectations, often without really ever giving us a chance to reach our true potential, and you just start making changes out of hand, leaving us to adapt...or not...and we all know what happens if we don’t adapt. Don’t we?
not all shadow people are the same
By now I’m sure many of you are in denial. You want to point out that book characters have exciting adventures, fantastic quests, memorable romances. To that I say...sometimes. But, it seems to me, a fair share of adventurers and questers end up dead. As for the romance...well the heartache very often off- sets the thrill of it all. No! Don’t point out the sensual delights of a good erotic tale. Have you ever considered being the hero or heroine in one of those? Do you know how stressful that can be? You have to always look your best while performing sexual feats that would often challenge any contortionist. And do all of that while you have an audience of thousands...perhaps millions! I ask you, would you, mere humans, be up to it? (no pun intended).
I will conclude by simply asking that all of you at least consider the fate of the characters you create once in awhile. Maybe you could even wish us well or thank us for helping you on occasion.. After all, if not for us, what stories would ever be told?
Carol Marrs Phipps

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rave Reviews Book Club's "Spotlight" Author Blog Tour for Author John Fioravanti



Hello, I’m John Fioravanti, and welcome to the tenth post of my “Spotlight Blog Tour” sponsored by my family at Rave Reviews Book Club. I am so grateful and excited to be a guest today with Carol Marrs Phipps!

In earlier posts this week I have talked about several aspects of my new novel, Passion and Struggle  Publishing your very first work of fiction is a very exciting experience! It has also been an exhausting journey, too! On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked about my experience as an Indie author/publisher. Today, I’ll describe my journey to date.


About Indie Publishing

Prior to my novel, my two published non-fiction works, Getting It Right in History Class  and A Personal Journey to the Heart of Teaching  were released by Indie Publishers. I had no real idea what was involved in getting a manuscript prepared for publication. When Anne and I decided to become business partners in December, 2014, and launch our own Independent publishing house, we had a lot of help!



My award-winning ‘Journey’ book was published by Iceberg Publishing  owned and operated by the Tam family here in Waterloo, Ontario. Iceberg was founded in 2002 and they took me in as an author in 2006. Journey was published in 2007, and it won an IPPY Bronze Medal in May, 2008  When Anne and I decided to strike out on our own, the Tams enthusiastically agreed and suggested that Iceberg Publishing should enter into an alliance with Fiora Books - separate companies, but allied.

What did that alliance look like? We operate separately with our own websites, our own contracts with retailers, printers, and the like. Kenneth Tam, my former student, is Iceberg’s most prolific author and their IT person, so he offered to teach me the business end of publishing. I thank my lucky stars that he did!

I remember that December evening when my wife and I pored over the task sheet that Kenneth and his parents, Jacqui and Peter, had created for us as a guideline. Task #1 - company name. 'Fiora Books’ came fairly easily - as a play on my surname. When I taught high school, I prepared writing skill guides for my students to follow, and I called them ‘FioraBooks’. They thought that was cute. Then one year, I set up a system of bonus marks they could earn, and issued play money that I called ‘FioraBucks’ - they thought that was cuter yet. So that was settled. 

Task #2 - create a logo. “Fiora” translates from Italian as “flowers”. So we thought our company logo had to have a book or books and a flower. I suggested a rose since it is Anne’s favourite flower. I can’t draw to save my life, so I went looking online, found what I was looking for, bought the rights to it, and we had our logo. Then I suggested we have a tag line to go with the logo. I liked Iceberg’s, “Look beneath the surface” - that went beautifully with the concept of an Iceberg. As you’re reading - look for meaning beneath the surface. I thought and thought… Anne could smell the wood burning! Then it hit me out of the blue… I have loved reading books since I was a kid - over five decades of reading! How to express that? Bang! It hit me again… getting bruised up pretty good here… “Cherish the written word.” Anne loved it and so did I. Check out our website and see if you like the combination.

Once I got the company registered with the Province of Ontario and we had our business licence, then we were ready to set up our website. Kenneth designed that after consulting with us, and then taught me how to maintain the site. Then he told me to start writing a blog each week, if not more often. A blog? What’s that? He’s a very patient and sensitive young man, so he didn’t laugh at me. So Anne and I learned to blog. Then we followed his suggestions and set up our Fiora Books page on Facebook, and a similar account on Twitter. Then Kenneth explained about Tweets. Tweets? Why do I gotta go Tweeting online?? What’s this got to do with publishing? He rolled his eyes as I ranted on about silly birdies… oh my! It’s about online marketing, he explained. Gee... I don’t know anything about that.

After four months of intense online research I started to understand a few things about book marketing in the twenty-first century. I found out that there are tons of Indie authors and publishers worldwide. No Kidding! Yes, and they are gradually wrestling large numbers of consumers away from the mainstream publishers. Really? Uh-huh, right again. It was near the end of that sojourn into the wonderful world of online research that I found a gentleman in the UK who was participating in a LinkedIn book marketing group discussion. His name is Chris Ward, and he gave me the best online advice I had yet received. He suggested that I join the Rave Reviews Book Club because they are all about helping fellow Indie authors/publishers be successful.

What did I do? I did the second smartest thing I’ve ever done in my 63 years - I joined Nonnie Jules’ Rave Reviews Book Club! What was the first smartest thing I did? I married Anne Runstedler in 1973… you had to ask? �� I could go on for hours about my experiences preparing book and cover files - struggling with those Adobe Brothers… Photoshop, InDesign, etc!!! But I’d rather urge you good folks to get involved with RRBC. You can join as a reader or as an author. It is a blast! You get to see Nonnie sitting on her book shelf talking to herself  and on Tuesdays we get to push other authors around a lot - that’s called #PUSHTUESDAYS! Seriously though, I’ve never met a more dedicated group of people who are all about uplifting others and helping them to succeed.

Do yourself the same huge favour that I did for myself… check out Nonnie Jules’ Rave Reviews Book Club! Maybe I’ll see you there! 

AUTHOR BIO
John Fioravanti is a retired secondary school educator who completed his thirty-five year career in the classroom in June, 2008. His teaching career was split between two schools: St. Benedict CSS in Cambridge, Ontario and St. David CSS in Waterloo, Ontario.
Throughout his career, John focused on developing research, analysis, and essay writing skills in his History Classroom. This led to the publication of his first non-fiction work for student use, Getting It Right in History Class (Data Based Directions, 2002), along with an international version of the same title. A Personal Journey to the Heart of Teaching  Iceberg Publishing, 2007, 2008, 2010) (Fiora Books 2014) is his second non-fiction work; it attempts to crystallize the struggles, accomplishments, and setbacks experienced in more than three decades of effort to achieve excellence in his chosen field.



John’s first work of fiction is Passion & Struggle and is set within Kenneth Tam s Equations universe (Iceberg Publishing). He claims that, after two non-fiction books, he’s having the time of his life bringing new stories and characters to life!
At present, John lives in Waterloo, Ontario with Anne, his bride of forty-one years. They have three children and three grandchildren. In December of 2013, John and Anne founded Fiora Books for the express purpose of publishing John’s books. After four decades of marriage, they decided to become business partners as well.

BOOK LINKS:

CONNECT HERE:
Twitter: @FioraBooks  + @jfinwat  (I have 2 accounts)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

King James's Escape



"Fates! What was that?" said James with a moan, as he sat bolt upright. "Oh bell tolls from the Pit! Probably something going off in my stupid, stinking head. Why sit up, anyway? There's not a thing I can ever see, even when I bump into it." He reached for the familiar itchy place on his scalp, which had just lately gotten gooey, and found it unexpectedly painful. He lay back with his hand over the spot to keep the filthy straws from poking it. "Mmmm! It throbs just lying down. Why, oh why doesn't Spitemorta just execute me...?"
"Mercy no, King James! Fates forbid it...!"
"Damn!" cried James with a wail, not knowing in the least whether he was delirious or whether some speaking something had gotten into his cell with him. 
"Sire! Your eyes are mattered shut," said the young soldier, nodding at another to come forth with a torch, as he knelt to peer into James's face. "I'm Owain, I was..."
"Yes!" cried James as he accidentally broke into sobs. "You brought me that nice supper, didn't you! You're the one, right? You've got to be...!"
"I am! I said I'd be back. I'm terrible sorry hit took so long..."
"Yes. I see you do have a light...I mean through my lids..."
"Well we had a delay, ye might say. We found one amongst us who was a stinker, a traitor, if ye know what I mean, a loyalist to the queen. We had to carry on very careful Hit took us a right smart number of days to be safe. Here sire, let me help you up."
"You've come for me then?"
"Why absolutely. I gave ye my word, sire."
"Certainly..." he said, breaking into sobs all over again. "Oh forgive me! I'm not acting like much of a sovereign..."
"Why, you've run clean out of hope, is what. Anybody would, slow as I am, if ye know what I mean, sire."
"I'm just so very, very grateful."
"Easy, Your Majesty...Here. Take his other arm, Llewyrch. He's right wobbledy.
"Well as I was saying, there was one amongst us who was a-spying for Spitemorta. She never did find out that he was, but he was fixing for to wheedle his way into her good graces, the best he could."
"He's as big a fool as I was," said James, trying to steady himself. "Spitemorta has no good graces."
"You're no fool sire, but she certainly has no good graces," said Owain as he and Llewyrch carefully helped James to the door. "Anyway, as I was a-saying, we caught him attempting to take her news of our plans to get you out of this dungeon. Well. We pinned him down last night and the varmint confessed everything. There's 'way more to the story than that , but..."
"What will keep him from going to her behind your backs if you already can't trust him?" said James.
"Oh he won't have a chance. Ol' Culwch (that's his name, by the way) won't be bothering a soul."
"You killed him?"
"Nay. Not yet. I guess you don't have your eyes open yet..."
"I haven't tried. They've felt like they had sand in them and I couldn't see anything anyway, so..."
"Well, we got Culwch standing right before ye, all blindfolded, gagged and tied up. There are five more of us here to keep him pointed the right way, and we're going to make him nice and comfortable in your old cell. Won't take but a minute."
James heard some scuffling and a muffled yell before the groan of hinges, a heavy bang and the rattle and jingle of hasp, lock and keys behind him. He felt light and giddy, but there was no way he could stay on his feet. As his knees buckled, he felt Owain, Llewyrch and the others grab him up to haul him hurriedly down the corridor, up several flights of gritty stone steps and outside for a good way in the gloriously fresh air of early dawn. A rooster crowed. He could smell unicorn manure and hay. Somebody was cooking breakfast, maybe egg in a hole. He felt like singing. "I'll thank the Fates for the privilege of being allowed to enjoy this world, every single day," he thought.
"Oh, that's right good advice for each and every one of us, Your Majesty," said Owain with a grunt, right at his ear.
"My word! Have I lost track of when I'm speaking?"
"You're a-having your first joy in quite a spell, sire. I'd speak out too, and that's a fact."  
At last they carefully stepped through a narrow door with him into some other building. They set him down. "Here sire." said Owain as he carefully took James's hand and put his fingertips into some warm water. "What do you think of that? If that's about right, we'll get those filthy rags off you and Pryderi here will give ye a proper bath. He's a barber and a healer, and he's right good."
"Oh, it's perfect..."
"Now, there ain't no women around sire," said Llewyrch. "Let's get your shirt."
Soon James was in bath water up to his chin. "Do you object to Elf medicine, Your Majesty?" said Pryderi as he carefully examined James's head.
"Not in the least. It was Spitemorta who tried to pin the sukere burning on the Elves, not I."
"Well I have something that'll put you right quicker than anything I know of, but it's the bitterest thing you'll ever have in your mouth. You need to chew it up real fine and swallow every bit," said Pryderi as he put a black twist of leaves to James's lips.
"Mercy! I'll say!" said James after a couple of thoughtful chews. "It makes my tongue and mouth feel like old dry wood."
"Oh, it's just got started, sire. Just keep a-chewing. Try not to bite your tongue. It's called aquilaria. It's very difficult to come by. My grandfather found out about it from an Elf called Talamh Coille Graham, right before he was murdered by a witch known to the Elves as Bailitheoir Cailli. Ever hear of her?"
"I'm afraid so. She was Spitemorta's real mother. I had no idea when I married her."
"My word!" said Pryderi, falling silent for a time before resuming: "Well, the Elves's name for aquilaria is sláinte ollmhór. How's it doing?"
"Makes wormwood seem like something sweet. You're sure that I'm not turning into some kind of stump?"
"You don't have to worry about that, but I'm going to have to cut your hair. It's nothing but a filthy mat of snarls and nits. Now before I do, lay your head back here so that I can put a poultice of aquilaria, eyebright, goldenseal root, rue and fennel on your eyes. When I get your hair cut, I'm going to put burdock root and dandelion root on this awful festered sore on your head. If it doesn't dry up in a few days, someone will have to put a hot iron to it."
After a while, James found himself dressed in fresh plain wool and linen clothes, and able to partly open one eye as he sat in a chair, pressing a poultice against his face. "Do I smell food?" he said as he took down the sopping wet muslin and tried to use his eyes.
"The board is set for you in the next room," said Owain as he peered into his face. "Can you see to get there, or do you need help?"
"Let me try," he said as he stood and slowly shuffled to the next room, navigating with the flaming red slit of one eye. He paused as Llewyrch drew back his chair. "My! This is wonderful!" He took his place at the head of a sumptuous table of plain fare: roast chickens, cabbage and carrots, buttered squash, hot brown bread and heaping saucers of cottage cheese and honey. A dainty old lady whisked up and poured him a cup o' tea. "My word! Each of you, please, please have a seat and eat with me. And please don't be so formal. You will always be my friends." He spread wide his arms and bowed his head.
Never had a meal tasted so heavenly to James. At last he wiped his mouth and sat back. Just as he picked up his poultice to daub his eyes again, in came the little old lady with a steaming hot apple pie. She set it down before him and cut him a big piece. Suddenly he grabbed her by the waist and gave her a squeeze as tears ran down his cheeks. "My wonderful, wonderful friends!" he said.
"We are right honored to serve you, Your Majesty," said Owain.
"I am indeed grateful beyond anything I'm capable of putting into words," said James, "but you all are taking an unbelievable risk. The longer I'm here, the more peril you'll be in. I should be getting away immediately, but I've no idea how that would even be possible with Spitemorta and Demonica and their spies everywhere."
"This be the perfect time, sire," said Owain as he shared a look with Pryderi. "They've got all their attention on the birth of the new babe... Oh my stars! I apologize, sire! We neglected to tell ye that your queen bore a baby girl."
"Wasn't there another child?"
"There certainly was," said Owain with an anxious glance each way, "but he was stillborn, much as I hate bearing you such news. And worse yet, Spitemorta was so blithering furious over it all that she up and killed the midwife and all the attending help cleaning up the birth."
By now James had both eyes open.
"They keep saying she used some kind of witch's power to stop all their hearts," said Llewyrch. "And lots of folks reckon that she did indeed do it from different things people have seen. Do you suppose she actually did, sire?"
"Oh very possibly. Did you hear me tell Pryderi that she is Bailitheor Cailli's own daughter? Brutelee and Bee secretly adopted her."
"Well, we're right sorry we had to be the ones to tell ye, Your Majesty," said Owain. "But now, that's a piece of news about Spitemorta's dam."
"I appreciate your courage," said James.
"Thank you, sire," said Owain. "Anyway, we figure tonight's the night to get ye out of here. The servants think Spitemorta will be laid up for at least a week, and not only that, Demonica seems to have quite vanished, and no one has the slightest idea where she's gone off to."
"Then tonight's the night," said James. "But I'll say this: you need to keep a right sharp eye out for Demonica every single moment, because she reappears just as suddenly as she vanishes."
"We've heard the like," said Owain with a solemn nod. "We'll be as careful as we can be. And if ye don't mind my saying so sire, nobody's ever seen you with a beard. Maybe you should keep it for a while."
"Suits me, my dear fellows," said James as he stretched wide a bushy red-eyed grin.
 ***
On the eve of Queen Spitemorta's campaign to take over the world, King James is caught by her and her grandmother Demonica, tortured and imprisoned in the fetid blackness of Castle Goll's dungeon. He and his rescuers flee into the Gollmore countryside to join the Elves in their flight to the Wilderlands in Chapter 19 of The Burgeoning.

Have you ever experienced sudden hope after all was lost? Please tell us about it.

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps