Just Desserts: A Story about Hunger

From a writing group prompt on the seven deadly sins–specifically gluttony.

Here be monsters.

Image from WikiMedia, cropped version of a photo by Dedier Descounes

“How do you plead on the charge of gluttony?” the judge asked the wendigo chained to the chair in the center of the room.

“Not guilty,” he said.

The judge grimaced, showing a mouthful of too-sharp teeth. “You were found with the partially consumed bodies of a family of four. Enough food to last at least three months, eaten in one night. How can you call yourself innocent?”

The gallery of wendigo–man-eating creatures that had once haunted the forest of Canada and northern USA, and now settled territories left by deforestation–murmured angrily.

All of them were hungry. It was their nature, and the need for secrecy meant they had to eke out each meal, a process made easier by a deep freezer.

But this one had slaughtered his way through a string of towns, his only saving grace that he torched his slaughterhouses to hide the evidence, and ate every scrap.

He waited for the murmurs to subside. “I plead innocent because gluttony is overeating, and I have not. I was hungry, and I ate until I was full. No more, no less. What you ask me to do is the true crime–to nibble at my food, barely touching the yawning void in my stomach.”

Craning his neck. he stared at the gallery, eyes flashing yellow from the predator within. “Aren’t you hungry? Don’t you miss the rush of hot blood, the screams, the crack of bones and the rip of flesh? Of eating more than a few bites?”

Afterwords, they would say it was a sort of madness, the crowd infected by instinct and long-thwarted desires. The bailiffs were quickly overcome, and the wendigo, who had been pretending to be law-abiding humans their whole lives, fell on the people outside. Once they’d started, it was impossible to stop.

Later, they’d regained their senses, and returned to find the chair broken, the chains in a limp tangle in the wreckage. But they’d be able to find him, so they waited, full of shame and the largest meal they’d had in ages.

And the next time, they wouldn’t listen to his speech. Some crimes were beyond defending, and someone had to take the blame.

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Top Ten Tues: Book Besties

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

August 13: Book Characters I’d Love to Be Besties With (submitted by Michelle @ Pink Polka Dot Blog)

I feel like most book characters are unsafe best friends, but it might be fun. 🙂 Alphabetical order, as always.

  1. Cress; from The Lunar Chronicles. She gets being alone and having adventures. And she could teach me some of her tech skills!

2. Fezzik; from Princess Bride. Book and movie Fezzik have become one in my mind, but everyone needs one tall friend, right?

3. Haruhi Fujioka; from Ouran High Host Club. She’s not too concerned about appearances, loves food, and has a strong practical streak. A nice, grounding personality.

4. Hermione Granger; from Harry Potter. She developed into a good-to-know kind of person, I think.

5. Hypatia Cade; from Brainship. She has plenty of empathy, and empty rooms–and really, who wouldn’t want a spaceship for a friend?

6. The Librarian; from Discworld. We could read, silently, magical books. 🙂

7. Nina Hill; from The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. We could bond over books and planners.

LFL Seattle Area

Whenever I go on a trip, I like to check out the Little Free Libraries in the area. They have a map, which makes it fairly easy to do.

The libraries are unique, as are the books stocked in them! Here’s a few of my favorites.

I assume this library’s raincoat is protection from Seattle’s frequent precipitation, but it really sets off the boat shape.

This double-decker approach is neat. Children’s books on the bottom, so they can reach them.

The detail of the woodland creatures (there were more on the other side) was a nice touch.

Top Ten Tues: Cover Redesign

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

August 6: Cover Redesigns I Loved/Hated (submitted by Rachelle @ Shell’s Stories)

I’m going to stick with positive–Cover Redesigns I Love. (Alphabetical, as usual.) [And hopefully readable, my formatting kept going wonky.]

1.Shadow and Bone; Leigh Bardugo. The first ones are nicely atmospheric, but I love how the simple, bright covers look lined up together.

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2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; Frank L. Baum. Those colors!

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3. Fahrenheit 451; Ray Bradbury. Classics have so many redesigns, but I especially like the clear message of this one.

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4. War for the Oaks; Emma Bull. The first one is brighter, but awfully crowded, and a weird angle.

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5. Grave Mercy: Robin La Fevers. Because they’re more than girls in pretty dresses, they’re weapons.

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6. Anna and the French Kiss; Stephanie Perkins. I’m a fan of colorful book covers, and titles you can read easily.

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7. Carry On; Rainbow Rowell. The second cover captures the events in the book better.

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8. Hospital Station: James White. I like the picture of the actual station named, instead of a patient.

Spirit Embers: Cinderella Necromancer Pt 3

Here’s a link to part 1, and part 2. And summary below.

Bella’s story begins as usual–her mother dies, her father remarries. Then her father dies mysteriously, and the stepmother poisons Bella and has her daughters bury Bella in the woods. But Bella comes back as a powerful necromancer, and uses her powers, with the guidance of her mother’s ghost, to sneak into the ball to meet the prince. She dances with him, and raises and envoy to prevent a war, and the prince rewards her with a position as a queen’s lady in waiting.

My chance to win over the prince, when it came, was offered freely. I did not have to creep about to find it.

“I ride to battle,” the prince said early one morning, having called me to a room full of his generals and a few aides. “You spoke of being my mage. Will you ride with me?”

“I am no fighter, but if I can be of use, I will come.”

“The men will not fight, if you mean their corpses to be puppets,” a general said, nervously. 

“Oh, no!” I waved my hands. “There is my army.” I pointed out the tent, and brought my wolves closer, so he could see their eyes catch the torchlight brightening the pre-dawn gray of the sky. There were many now.

He swore.

“I do not count a human life so cheap, or their death, I promise you. I would not be a monster.”

“So these wolves, they will fight for you? That is all you offer?”

“I… I can do more, but it is not honorable.” I thought of my dealing with my stepmother, which could be useful here.

“War rarely is. Tell us.”

“I can send rats to spoil their supplies. Foul their food and chew holes in their water barrels. Rip their clothes and gnaw their shoes….”

“It is not just our soldiers’ lives saved if they surrender, but theirs, too. Do it.”

“Tell them to focus on the food and water, but leave the rest, except they should target the saddles and tack.” The general said.

“And the pikes,” an aide added. “It is time consuming to replace the shafts.”

We rode out to the army encamped on our land, and set up camp of our own. That night, I sent my minions at their utmost stealth, nibbling away at those supplies hidden from sight. That took two nights, and on the third, I sent them to attack the rest. As soon as they were caught at their sabotage, I stirred them into a frenzy. Every supply ruined was the hope of safety for our people. Eventually, the soldiers destroyed them—my dead are hardly, but not indestructible.

“It is done,” I said. My saboteurs had taken two-thirds of the enemy’s supplies, before they were done.

The general nodded grimly. “An army marches on their stomach. This is a deciding blow.”

“Send your wolves to guard the camp,” the prince said. “We will have to be wary of raiders. There are farms and villages not far from here.”

“Should I…” I paused. “They saw my rats, they know what they face. Should I let them feel the presence of my wolves? Or do you wish to catch the raiders unawares?”

“This one has a sound strategic mind,” one general said.

I disliked being spoken of as if I wasn’t there, but I said nothing.

“Yes, do that,” the prince agreed. “We will try to capture them, to be ransomed later.”

I nodded.

It wasn’t easy to keep the enemy alive, when they were trying to kill you—even when your fighters were dead who didn’t feel pain. Of the seven invaders who snuck out of camp, one died fighting, and another died of their wounds after.

I apologized to the prince for the loss, though he said I had done well.

One of the aides suggested raising the dead enemies, and I shook my head fiercely.

“I won’t do such a thing. It will destroy our hopes for peace at the end of this. Imagine if they raised our dead.”

The aide’s hands clenched in anger, face flushing, and then he deflated, and nodded. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

After the conversation had moved on, I sidled over to the prince. “Highness, you should keep an eye on that one.”

“Him? Why? He’s harmless.”

“He doesn’t see the other side as people. Anyone who’s capable of such a feat can apply it to any person not like them, and use it to excuse many terrible acts, given time and reason.”

“You look very sad,” he said.

“My stepmother and her daughters didn’t see me as a person, towards the end. I saw it happen, my very selfhood dwindle in their eyes until there was nothing left but an inconvenience.”

He nodded, and I saw him studying the aide thoughtfully, which was enough for now. I’d made note of the man as well, and would offer some advice in the ears of friends I’d made. He’d be watched, one way or another.

Their raiding failed, the enemy instead rallied their troops, and attacked at first light. I would have felt sorry for them, were it not my home they were trying to destroy. I sent my army–mostly wolves, some large cats, boars, and even a bear–to pick them off at the edges. They knocked them unconscious if possible, and dragged them away.

Our lines of prisoners grew steadily. 

My smaller minions, I sent to check the wounded. Those might survive, my wolves carried to our battle healers. 

“They keep bringing us to the enemy wounded, too,” a healer complained to me. “Can’t they tell the difference?”

” Can we not ransom the wounded, as well?”

“Well, yes, if they live.” He frowned, “Oh, very well.”

“I can tell them to leave the enemy,” I pressed, as his face was twisted in a scowl

“You’re a bleeding heart for a dead mage. No, no, as you were.” He strode off.

His discourtesy stung, but I had weathered worse, so I focused on my tasks. The dead could follow simple commands, but the tasks I’d set them to weren’t terribly simple, so many of them needed guidance. It kept me quite busy.

“Lady,” a voice said, loudly. 

I blinked and looked up into the face of the prince. “My apologies, I…”

“You’re doing too much, aren’t you? You mustn’t exhaust yourself, we may have need of you for a vital part of our defense.”

“I am fine, your highness, I won’t let us down.”

“You must rest. Leave off all but your rescue efforts. I command it.” He waited.

I bowed, giving the rest of my army a simple task–withdraw, hide, or harry. Lifting my scattered focus did feel better. Less stretched-thin and dizzy.

“Better?”

“Yes, my apologies for wasting—”

“No, no apologies. You’re not single handedly winning this war, though you are putting in a good effort. Did you know one of your wolves is ripping the seat out of the pants of every enemy soldier he captures? They’re a sorry lot, wounded in their dignity.”

“I…” I covered my mouth, pressing my fingers over my lips, trying to keep the laughter that bubbled up from escaping.

He waited, and when it was clear I couldn’t answer, said “No matter. I see you are less pale. Good.”

“It can be difficult to balance serving and overworking myself,” I acknowledged. “Thank you for your reminder.”

“Do not forget, your value is not only in your magic,” he said, nodding and striding away.

What casual kindness, I thought, warmed, and kept my attention on shepherding the wounded to safety.

Eventually, the enemy was forced to surrender, after a group made a push to flee, and ran into our reinforcements instead.

We gathered up the prisoners, and secured them, with healers and guards. I did my part with my animals, wolves patrolling the outside, though my mice and rats did the better job of keeping them contained. I caught more than one plot before it had fully developed, and reported them without hesitation.

Soon, they’d been ransomed back, the money going a long way to refilling war ravaged coffers—though much of it left as soon as it entered, to pay our soldiers, purchase food, and help a few villages the invaders had pillaged on their way to battle.

Because of my efforts, I did get a place among the prince’s advisors, as well as a reward I had not expected.

An offer of marriage.

I sputtered in shock when the prince offered his hand one evening, two years past the ball where we’d met.

He smiled at my surprise. “Lady, we get along well, and I am in need of an heir. You’re well respected, and it’s to be hoped your children might inherit your skills.”

I hoped not, as I’d learned from my mother that a true necromancer had to die to gain the ability to raise the dead, and not merely speak with them.

“I will have no pampered lady to rule beside me, and none of our allies have an unmarried daughter of age. We suit each other, do we not? Think on it, and give me your answer when you are ready.” He captured my hand and brushed a kiss across the back. “I wish you a pleasant day, lady.”

Stunned, I stood there for a long moment, and then retreated from the gathering. I needed to think—and to talk to my mother.

After I found a quiet place, I summoned her spirit to me, and explained what had happened.

“You should marry him,” she said, “if you like and respect him. You will be protected and can do much for others with your power.”

I nodded. “If I have your blessing, then I shall marry.”

And so I did, becoming a princess, and a queen in time.

Being queen wasn’t always easy. We had other wars, and I marched my army of dead alongside the living. I sent them out into our kingdom, as spies, and caught an enemy attempting to infiltrate us more than once. Another necromancer tried to kill me, along with a few less magical attempts.

My guards were loyal, and my people loved me. My children, too, had their father’s charm. And though I’d prayed for it not to happen, my son fell into a river, and had a terrible fever after. He rose a true necromancer like me, taught by myself and his grandmother’s spirit.

My stepmother never remarried, though one of my stepsisters did marry a man who was much less wealthy than she must have hoped. Letting them live small, stingy lives, without the wealth and privilege they’d craved was satisfying. My happiness–with my kind, thoughtful husband, and my three wonderful children–was the best revenge by far.

Top Ten Tues: All Mine

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

May 21: Books That I Refuse to Let Anyone Touch (too special/valuable, perhaps?) (submitted by Savannah Grace @ Scattered Scribblings)

This is a tough one! Most of my books are bought used, and beat up a bit over time. But here’s some I wouldn’t lend unless someone promised to take excellent care of them.

  1. S. (Ship of Thesus); J.J. Abrams. There are several notes stuck in between the pages, and losing their places would be very unhelpful.

2. Night Shift; Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh. I won this ARC at a book signing, and had it signed. Exciting!

3. As You Wish; Cary Elwes. I saw Cary Elwes do an interview after a showing of The Princes Bride. He jumped off the stage to answer a little girl’s question, and then couldn’t find the stairs back up.

4. Welcome to Night Vale; Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor. It was nice to find out that the writers are just as weird and funny as they seemed like they must be.

5. Stranger in a Strange Land; Robert Heinlein. I have a beat up hardcover missing its dust jacket, an old gift from my uncle.

6. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened; Jenny Lawson. I’m seriously lucky to live near this author, so I’ve seen her more than once, but this was the first time.

7. Mort; Terry Pratchett. The start of my favorite series, in a gorgeous cloth-bound edition. This picture doesn’t show it, but parts of it are shiny. Another well loved gift.

8. A Light in the Attic; Shel Silverstein. A treasured childhood gift from my dad.

9. The Scorpio Races; Maggie Stiefvater. I heard her play bagpipes at this talk. Who brings bagpipes to a book festival? Maggie Stiefvater, that’s who!

10. All Systems Red; Martha Wells. It’s Murderbot. Enough said.

Spirit Embers: Cinderella Necromancer Pt 2

Here’s a link to part 1, and summary in case you need a refresher/don’t feel like reading it.

Bella’s story begins as usual–her mother dies, her father remarries, and her stepmother and two stepsisters make her life miserable. And then her father dies mysteriously, and the stepmother poisons Bella and has her daughters bury Bella in the woods. But Bella could communicate with the dead, and comes back as a powerful necromancer. She uses her powers, with the guidance of her mother’s ghost, to mess with her killers and sneak into the ball to meet the prince.

The prince shifted from where he stood at the edge of the dance floor, jaw clamping as he smothered a yawn, and surveyed the door.

Perfect.

I stepped into sight, meeting his eyes before I glanced demurely down. I’d be approaching him later, if I couldn’t get him to come to me.

But first, my stepmother and stepsisters. They hadn’t spread the story of my ‘running away,’ but when they did, the damage to my reputation would be difficult to repair. So I spoke to several women, who I used thin pretexts to claim we knew each other.

I told them that I’d been kept from society by a boarding school that had trained my unexpected magical ability. Having graduated, I’d returned early to surprise my guardian.

Much of the court were avid gossips, and their eyes gleamed with avarice at my story. Of course they promised to keep my surprise a secret. It wouldn’t last, but I needed just long enough.

When I judged enough people had heard my lie, I targeted the monsters that had made my life a misery.

I stepped forward to greet them, smile bright. “Surprise! I’ve returned early!” I paused, not long enough for them to recover, and giggled, hiding my mouth with my fan.

“Oh, your faces! I mentioned nothing in my last letter, I know—I was not sure the headmistress would allow it! But my studies went well. I hope I’ve made you proud.”

I lowered my gaze demurely, as the strains of music started. “Oh! I promised the first dance, and I’m sure you have also. We’ll speak more later!”

Then I whisked away to find my partner—the son of one of the gossips. My card was quite full already, and more men approached for introductions and a dance when I took a break.

Finally, I caught the prince’s eye, and he approached me with one of the gossips to introduce us. She babbled the story I’d told, slightly warped, and I curtseyed deeply.

We danced, and it took all my focus to be graceful, and smile, and make small talk, and above all, not show the effort all of this took, that I didn’t enjoy myself at all.

I hinted at a secret, in that small talk, and soon he led me into a smaller room, with only a few people chatting there. A significant stare from the prince, and they drifted off to one side, giving us as much privacy as was proper.

Quickly, I spilled out my tale, letting tears shine my eyes and quaver in my voice, as I recounted my mother’s death, father’s remarriage, then his death, and my mistreatment.

Just as I was about to speak of the poisoning, a courtier interrupted, greeting the prince and offering a few veiled words that clearly had some significance.

When the prince turned back to me, I could tell my woes hadn’t made much of an impression.  I smiled warmly, hoping I could do better with the rest. If I couldn’t get him on my side, my plan failed.

“You’re different from the others here, aren’t you?” he asked.

“I suppose I am.” I glanced out the door to the glittering crowd, seeing the masks of gaiety, and the maneuvering as some partners were avoided and others pursued.

“You’re a beautiful woman. I would like to see you again,” the prince said.

“Yes, of course, as you wish, your highness. But I have to tell you—”

“Now isn’t the time, we can talk later, I—” The prince interrupted, but was interrupted in turn.

“Your highness!” A guard gasped, hurrying up. “Terrible news! The envoy has died! There’ll surely be war!”

I clasped the prince’s arm. “Take me to him, please. I can help.”

His handsome face twisted in puzzlement, but he did as I asked. Soon I was standing over the envoy’s dead body, and then he was rising, face slack and gray. Bit by bit, color and animation crept into the envoy’s face, until he seemed alive again.

“What happened?” he patted himself, confused.

“You were very ill,” I told him gravely, “The royal healers treated you, but you crept away from your bed, and succumbed to sleep here. Be gentle with yourself, you are still recovering.”

He nodded, and let himself be fussed over, as I slid away to the prince’s side.

“He doesn’t know he is dead—he’ll have lost some memory—but he’ll realize it eventually. His body will heal from a mortal injury, and he will not age. If his death here will start a war, I respectfully recommend you arrange for him to be gone.”

“But then he will learn the truth, in time. What profits that?” the prince asked.

I shook my head. “My apologies, I wasn’t clear. What I give, I can take back. And I can control him, which won’t reveal the truth, if it’s the last thing he does. Perhaps a stumble into a river? I’m uncertain what would serve, but I’m sure better minds can plot an accident.”

“An accident,” he repeated.

“I’ve taken no lives, and only raised a second life,” I said, “But I imagine that is not true of all your advisors.”

As if I’d summoned them, an advisor joined us, and then another, until we stood in a half-circle of serious-eyed nobles. One of them, a woman with silver barely visible among her pale blonde hair, asked me what had happened, and with a few questions got the whole story from me.

The rest listened in silence.

“And how do we know we can trust you?” A man with a scar on his chin asked.

“I am loyal. I could have far more easily kept silent, after all.” I met his eyes until he nodded. Then I turned to the prince. “But, your highness, if you do choose to reward me for my small part, you could rescue me.”

“Rescue you?”

Picking up my interrupted tale, I explained how I’d had to offer a story to cover the truth—the later, worse years of imprisonment and abuse. “If you would send a lawyer, and when he sees how she mistreated me, have her evicted from my home, and forbidden from returning, on pain of losing her allowance. Then I will be safe, and owe that safety to you.”

“It isn’t enough,” the advisor began, but the prince shook his head.

“No, twice now she’s offered aid without asking for reward. A little trust in return is a reasonable price. See to her situation.”

The advisor bowed, and left, his stiff stride the only sign of his irritation.

“You are lucky they didn’t try more permanent ills,” he said.

“They did, but I didn’t eat much of my dinner,” I lied. “I was sick, before I fell asleep, and sick again, when I woke in the woods that night.”

“Ah,” he fell silent, thinking. “You can’t return there. You will stay with one of the queen’s ladies tonight. On the morrow, guards will roust the murderess.”

“But I wasn’t….” I lied again.

“Only luck. I’m sure she measured a killing dose.” He shook his head, grim. “You asked to be kept safe. Let me do so.” 

I bowed my head. My hopes were progressing nicely.

My stepmother and stepsisters were cast out, and she lost her stipend for her neglect of me. I sent mice and birds to their meager new home, to trouble and bedevil them in small ways. What larger revenge they deserved, I could not decide.

The prince had me appointed to the queen’s ladies, another reward, and, I knew, to keep an eye on me. I raised a favorite of the prince’s hunting dogs after an accident, and arranged the envoy to go overboard on a ship, one stormy night.

My winged and four-legged companions allowed me to find the prince when he was alone. Not too often, lest he get suspicious, or sick of the sight of me. I made myself agreeable, and waited for the opportunity to be useful.

When we heard word of a group of spies, I modestly offered a pack of wolves I had built over these months, to track the spies down. I led the guards right to the intruders, and ringed by thirteen eerily silent wolves, they surrendered. 

“You keep appearing at a crisis, why is that?” the prince asked.

I blushed. “I must admit, I thought perhaps, if I could prove myself, I might become one of your mages.”

Any royal worth his salt employed a mage or three—the king had one with healing magic, and another who could control the weather. The prince had a weak plant mage, who could encourage crops and draw out the properties of medicinal herbs.

“You could easily work for a king.”

“Forgive me, your highness, for my frankness, but not all those in power keep their word. I know you value yours, even to someone as poor as I.”

As I’d proved myself at least partly trustworthy, I was given several books on necromancy, which were helpful, though my mother’s ghost, who I could now call to me, was as helpful as the dusty tomes.

I learned, and waited for an opportunity to win the prince over completely.

Top Ten Tues: Page to Screen

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

May 14: Page to Screen Freebie (Books that became movies/TV shows, movies that became books, great adaptations, bad ones, books you need to read before watching their movie/TV show, movies you loved based on books you hated or vice versa, books you want to read because you saw the movie or vice versa, etc.)

Books and Movies that are Both Worth Your Time

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda; Becky Albertialli. Both super cute romances with an awkward protagonist.

Ready Player One; Ernest Cline. So the book has a million references the movie couldn’t have, but the special effects make up for it.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe; Fannie Flagg. The movie isn’t perfect, but it still has the heart the book does.

Howl’s Moving Castle; Diana Wynne Jones. The movie lets Sophie down a bit, but the visuals are stunning, and there’s plenty of great lines.

Crazy Rich Asians; Kevin Kwan. Things happen a little more R-rated in the book, but only once or twice. A spectacle in both mediums.

Annihilation; Jeff Vandermeer. Book is weird, movie is weird. The story is pretty different, but the sense of confusion remains the same.

The Martian; Andy Weir. Action, science! and humor. The story works very well as a movie.

Spirit Embers: Cinderella as Necromancer, Pt. 1

Image from WikiMedia, by Alexander P Kapp

My story began on my mother’s grave. Weeping over her headstone, alone, my father too gone in his grief to stand the sight of her graven name, I heard the faintest whisper.

I choked back my sobs, sniffled, and listened. There, again, a whisper, that might be–yes, it was! It was my name, Bella, soft and familiar–my mother’s voice. I rubbed my eyes, and smiled tearfully. She was still with me, and I found some happiness in that.

That happiness was tried a bare four months later, when my father remarried a younger woman with two girls of her own. At the tender age of seven, he said I needed a mother, though I thought a nanny would have done better.

My new stepsisters were twins, six years old, and hated me on sight, and they hid it cleverly from Father. In front of him, smiles and offers to play, but behind his back they pinched and stole. They had a skill for weeping, and I soon learned it was pointless to complain of their abuses. My only consolation was the whispers I heard, visiting my mother’s grave.

Then my father sickened, and died weeks past their first anniversary. For a time, I was lost in a haze of grief. I couldn’t even visit his grave, because he’d not been put in the family plot, but a farther away cemetery my stepmother deemed proper.

Things changed, but I hardly cared. Toys and fine dresses hadn’t kept my parents with me. Losing my bedroom, which held so many happy memories, hurt. But the cot I sewed of scraps softened the stone floor, and the fireplace was warm.

I muddled along until I was thirteen, when my stepmother went on a trip, and returned furious.

Having learned the value of information, I crept up to listen. “He gave me an allowance, for life. A pittance! It’s all left to her, on her twentieth birthday. That useless girl. How dare he!”

She treated me no differently, though her eyes were even colder. The years trudged by in misery, and as I reached sixteen years, she finally grew crueler. Inventive, spurring her daughters to new heights as well. As a horrifying example, she had the tree I’d tended on my mother’s grave cut down, and tossed the green branches, with their leaves still on, into the fire in front of me. That backfired, as the room filled with smoke, and I had the small comfort of watching her flee the room, coughing.

Eavesdropping one night, I heard her complain that I showed no signs of running away. She meant to drive me out, and steal my inheritance, I realized. Well, she would not take any more from me. With my mother’s ghostly support, I would endure.

Foolish of me.

One evening, I ate the scraps for my dinner and went to sleep. The next thing I knew, I woke to smothering darkness, my stomach churning. I thrashed and flailed, and a crack of light appeared. Though weak, I doubled my efforts, and crawled out of the hole I was in. No, a grave, I realized, and I vomited beside the upturned dirt. Luckily, a shallow one, or I might not be here.

I crawled to the river I could hear nearby, and cleaned myself as best I could. Then I waited for the first light of dawn, and crept homeward. Not to the house, but the graveyard. It was set back, and secluded, screened by trees. I could pray, and be safe for a while.

As soon as I stepped past the low stone wall, I felt something. Cool, creeping energy, which filled me up with a sense of well-being. I pressed on, and knelt on my mother’s grave. A wisp of smoke drifted up from the grave, shimmering and solidifying into a familiar, beloved face.

“Oh, my daughter! She has killed you!”

“I’m not dead,” I protested, pressing my hands to my thumping heart.

“Your power brought you back. I never wished this for you, my darling. But now that it is done, you must master this power.”

“What do you mean?”

“You have power over the dead. You are a necromancer.”

She had much to teach me, and I was eager to learn. I filched fruit from the orchards, more filling a meal than I’d had in years, and hung on her every word.

Very early the next morning, I crept to the house to listen. To my surprise, I heard crying.

“Oh, shut up. I procured the poison, the least you two useless girls could do was dispose of the mess.”

“It was so gross,” Eudora wailed. “Cold and stiff, and… smelly.”

The familiar crack of a slap. “Never speak of it again. Your sister has run off, and we will search for her. She has always been rebellious and ungrateful, so we must hope we find her before she comes to a bad end.”

Not much worse an end possible than a shallow grave at the hands of my beloved family, I thought. So she planned to claim I’d run away, did she? Well, I’d ruin that plan. I had the tools at my disposal–and the ball was tomorrow, the perfect opportunity. 

I took my mother’s lessons into the woods, and hunted for newly dead things. I found several birds, which I filled with my power. I was pleased to note that they looked just like life, restored perfectly. I found a dog, too, and raised it, along with more birds, a fox, and owl, and various mice, each animal under my command making me feel stronger. A rare few resisted my power, and I let them sleep, but most leapt eagerly back to life.

Near the house, I gathered an abundance of rats poisoned by my stepmother. With a smile, I set them to spoiling food supplies that wouldn’t be noticed immediately and chewing holes hid in the full skirts of their nicest dresses.

My tiny spies hid everywhere, watching my killers from mouse holes, trees branches, and the sky. They pilfered money, enough for a gown, which I took care to purchase far from my stepmother’s usual haunts. And they took my stepmother’s favorite necklace, burying it in the tangle of disused and broken fripperies at the bottom of Philippa’s jewelry box. A bracelet stolen from Eudora soon joined it.

On the night of the ball, stepmother noticed the missing necklace, and turned over the house, finding it in Philippa’s room. Her squeaks of innocence fell on deaf ears, especially when Eudora found the missing bracelet–and a pair of ear bobs I hadn’t pilfered.

Despite the argument that followed, they made it to the ball on time. I chose my arrival time carefully–not too early or too late, my furred and feathered spies monitoring the Prince for the first hint of boredom.

Top Ten Tues: Remind Me

Top Ten Tuesdays, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, feature lists related to all things bookish–characters, authors, titles, and favorites. They’re an excellent way to find new interesting books on a variety of topics, and to find bloggers that love the books you do.

Check out their blog for their top ten and lists by other bloggers!

May 7: Characters That Remind Me of Myself

This was a tough one!

  1. Elizabeth Bennett; Jane Austen. I have a bit of her biting sense of humor, and love of long walks.

2. Matilda; Roald Dahl. Though I don’t have her fondness for pranks, my childhood was an ocean of books like hers.

3. Susan Sto Helit; Terry Pratchett. I could only wish to be as bad@ss as Susan, but I like to think I have some of her spine.

4. Cath; Rainbow Rowell. I’m just as in love with some books as Cath, and I’m not so good with people.

5. Hermione; J.K. Rowling. I only correct people’s pronunciation out of love, I swear.

6. Kaylee; Joss Whedon. I don’t have her mechanical aptitude, but I strive for her bubbly optimism.