#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "Crane's Fire" by Karen Eisenbrey

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.

Can't get enough of Karen Eisenbrey's Daughter of Magic? Me neither! In this story we get to see Crane, Luskell's father, in his youth in Deep River. Eisenbrey continues to prove her ability to craft memorable characters and stories. "Crane's Fire" has the same spirit of youthful curiosity and fun that makes Daughter of Magic so enjoyable.  -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor

Crane's Fire

by Karen Eisenbrey


Crane was bursting to tell, but he couldn’t. Not while Soorhi watched. The teacher might have been old as dirt, but he didn’t miss much. Crane fidgeted. A breeze blew through the open windows. It smelled like apple blossoms. Like spring. Why were they inside on such a day? The eastern window framed a view of open country—grassland and rippling green wheat fields, broken here and there by splotches of purple or yellow where wildflowers bloomed. To the west lay the village of Deep River, though Crane could see only one house and part of another, built of gray river rock like the schoolhouse. Between them, he caught glimpses of a distant snow-capped mountain, and the dry gully that gave Deep River its name.

That was his whole world. Even on a beautiful day, it could not distract from what Crane had to tell. The first chance he got, he would prove himself, and the others would have to accept him. Finally, he would belong. He drummed his fingers on the desk, waiting ...

The previous day, the big boys had lingered after school. They were old enough to have some responsibility now—chores and apprenticeships—but it was the first really warm day that spring. There had to be a better way to spend it. Rovhi, seventeen and done with school, had come on horseback to collect his younger brother, Huvro. They had farm work to do at home, but got drawn into the huddle outside the school. Crane was part of the circle, yet outside it. At twelve, he was the youngest of this group, but already near in height to Rovhi.

“Let’s do something!” Elic exclaimed. He raked his fingers through his curly brown hair, standing it up.

“Like what?” Breff asked. He was fourteen, a year older than Elic, but still deferred to him, as they all did—even Rovhi. They would do whatever he said. Even tolerate Crane.

“I don’t know,” Elic said. “No, wait, I do, too. Dares.” He grinned.

The others welcomed this suggestion, but Crane almost left the group. He hated dares. On the rare occasion when he accepted a challenge, he failed, but he usually took the cowardly way out and refused the dare. Humiliating, either way.

Elic met his gaze and gave him a little smile that said, “Don’t worry.” It was always like that. Elic protected him and tried to build his confidence. Maybe someday, it would work.

“Who’s first?” Elic asked, but he’d already chosen. “Rovhi, you’re oldest—show us how it’s done.” Rovhi nodded his assent. He stood tall and straightened his muscular shoulders. “Climb to the roof of the Village Hall and walk the length of the ridge.”

“What, now?” Rovhi’s face paled and his eyes darted nervously. He smoothed back his dark blond hair. For a moment, he looked like a young boy, in spite of his broad shoulders and sprouting beard.

“When I’ve finished all the challenges, we’ll watch you,” Elic replied. “Huvro, is there a bull in your pasture this spring?”

“Yes, a real snorter.”

“Your challenge is to cross the bull’s pasture … and he has to be in it.”

Huvro swallowed visibly, but nodded. He resembled his older brother, but managed to respond more bravely to the dare. By this time, Rovhi had recovered himself. He laid a hand on Huvro’s shoulder and grinned at Elic. “I’ll make sure he does it.”

“What about me?” Breff asked. He was a stocky, pale-haired farm boy, not a talker like Elic, but good-natured and up for anything.

“Yes, what about you?” Elic studied him. “I know. You will walk a girl home after school. Not a little girl; it has to be one our age, and she has to know you’re walking her home. No following.”

Breff blushed and grinned. “How—how will you know I did it?” he asked. Crane wondered about that, too. The girls attended school in the afternoon, when the boys would be with their masters or at work in the fields.

“Believe me, I’ll know,” Elic replied. They all laughed. Elic was close to Sunnea, a girl their age. If he asked, she would pass along news of anything that happened to any other girl in Deep River.

“Fine, I accept,” Breff said. “But I get to give you yours: go inside the haunted house!”

“But that’s not—” Crane began.

“I accept.” Elic shot Crane a look that kept him quiet. “So, Rovhi?”

Crane couldn’t believe his luck. Maybe he would get away without taking a challenge this time ...

“What about Crane?” Huvro asked.

Elic looked at Crane and shrugged. Crane stared back, only hoping that his friend would give him something that wasn’t too humiliating. “I haven’t forgotten,” he said. “Crane gets the hardest one.”

“What?” Crane protested.

Elic carried on as if he hadn’t heard. “Crane, your challenge is to sneak into the Village Hall, into Jelf’s library, and read some magic out of a spell-book.”

The other boys gasped and stared at Crane, but he felt strangely calm. That didn’t sound so hard, assuming the spell-books even existed. They were objects of mystery and dread, but Crane had never seen them; none of the boys had. Why there would be spell-books in Deep River—a place where nothing happened, let alone magic—was beyond Crane’s imagining. But everyone knew they were there.

“I’ll do it,” Crane said. “But how will you know I succeeded?”

“Memorize a short spell and tell it to us tomorrow.”

“What’ll that prove?” Breff objected. “He should have to bring the book.”

“I’m not stealing anything,” Crane said.

“And we’re not asking you to,” Elic assured him. “Just tell us the spell. I doubt it will sound like anything we’ve heard before. Or that you could make up.” He grinned at Crane. “Now, Rovhi, you have a challenge to meet.”

They all accompanied Rovhi to the Village Hall, a long, low, building with walls of mortared river rock. Rovhi climbed at the nearest corner, using the many stones as hand- and foot-holds. It was an easier climb than Crane would have predicted. Once on the roof, Rovhi scrabbled on all fours up to the peak. The roof slates clanked and rattled under him. At the top, he stood. Crane held his breath, and suspected he wasn’t the only one. He had climbed the cottonwood tree behind the inn, but he’d never been on a rooftop. It must be like flying. Crane could fly … in his dreams. The dreams had begun recently, the best dreams he’d ever had. He hadn’t shared them with anyone, not even Elic.

Rovhi took one slow, careful step after another, keeping his eyes fixed ahead of him. He never looked down. He wavered once or twice, but didn’t fall. When he reached the other end, he half-climbed, half-slid down the roof, then gripped the edge and swung down. He sank to his knees and rested his hands on the grass, pale and trembling.

At that moment, Jelf emerged from the Hall. He was a small man with thin brown hair going gray. Crane was surprised to see him, and from the look on his face, so was Elic. Jelf kept the village records, but didn’t usually start his work at the Hall until after lunch. It figured he’d have his meal early the one day he might get them into trouble. And it was only the first dare!

Jelf frowned at the boys. “Who’s been on my roof?” he asked. He was not usually an intimidating figure, but today, he looked like a thunderhead. “I heard an awful racket up there just now.”

“We didn’t see anything. It must have been birds,” Elic improvised.

“I didn’t know birds could be that big and clumsy,” Jelf said, eyeing Rovhi, who scrambled to his feet and joined the other boys. “I’m surprised none of you noticed them.”

Crane, like the others, tried his best to look innocent. He wished he didn’t have to lie to Jelf. He liked the old Keeper. It was bad enough that his own dare involved sneaking into the library.

“Well, don’t you young men have anything better to do than stand in the road?” Jelf asked. “Get along!” He returned to the Hall without another word.

That was one dare down, and they weren’t in trouble yet.

“That was close, huh?” Breff muttered to Crane, and grinned. “Good luck with yours.”

Crane supposed it was only because he was closest, but for once, he felt really included. He smiled in agreement. With a wave of his hand, Breff set out on foot for home, a farm not far from town.

“Don’t forget, you have to walk a girl home!” Elic called after him.

“I won’t forget,” he promised.

Rovhi and Huvro returned to the school and mounted the bay horse Rovhi had left tied there. They trotted past Crane and Elic. “I did it! Hoo-hoo!” Rovhi shouted. Huvro did not appear quite so lighthearted.

“That went well,” Elic chuckled.

“What did you mean my dare was the hardest?” Crane asked.

“I thought it might get you some respect.”

“So you lied?”

“Maybe not. You think any of them could do it? They’re afraid of magic, but you’ve got more sense than that.”

“It’s not magic, it’s books,” Crane said. “So, no, I’m not afraid. But I could have done Rovhi’s dare.”

Elic chuckled. “I know. It would have been too easy for you. You’d have done it at a run! Rovhi’s afraid of heights, but he’ll do anything to save face. And Breff’s shy, but he really does like girls, so his dare is just what he needs.”

“Well, what if I like girls?” Crane asked.

“They won’t speak to you,” Elic said. “I can’t change that.”

That was true, though Crane didn’t know why. Was it his freakish height? His dark skin? His straight black hair? All weak reasons, but what else was there? Maybe it was because the sky looked red to him, though he wasn’t sure who knew about that. He hadn’t mentioned it in a long time, since he saw how it upset his mother.

“Who wants to talk to girls, anyway?” he said. “They’re stupid.”

“Right,” Elic agreed. “Stupid.”

Elic didn’t really think that, but it was nice to have his support. “What about yours?” Crane asked. “We both know that house isn’t really haunted.”

Elic shrugged. “Can I help it if Breff isn’t as good at the game? Anyway, that makes it easier for me to help you.”

“What makes you think I need help?”

“Not with your dare,” Elic explained. “I’ll just make sure you get inside.”

“Jelf already suspects something,” Crane said.

“Leave it to me.” Elic grinned. He always relished a good trick. “Meet me at the Hall before sundown.”

They parted at the Blue Heron Inn, Crane’s home. Elic’s family lived across the road, and was like family to Crane. He called Elic’s mother Aunt Sudi and Elic called Crane’s mother Auntie Stell. Elic was his father’s apprentice, though he had no particular aptitude for a blacksmith’s work. Crane helped his mother with the inn, and expected to take it over someday. It wasn’t a future he looked forward to, but it was the only one he had.

“Hello, Crane,” she greeted him, peeking out of the kitchen. “How was school?”

“Same as always.”

Mama was a small, pretty woman. She had wavy golden hair and a ready smile. She and Crane shared the same hazel eye color, but there the resemblance ended. Crane had often wondered about that. Everyone he knew looked like their parents or other relatives. If he didn’t look like his mother, then he must look like his father—whoever that was. Like wings, a father was something he had only in dreams.

They sat down to lunch. Crane ate a few bites of his bean soup, then put down his spoon. “Who was my father?”

Mama stared at him and didn’t answer right away. “Haven’t you learned, there’s nothing to be gained in asking that?” she said at last. “He’s gone far away, and he won’t be back.”

When Crane was younger and asked that question, she told stories. They didn’t answer his question, but he liked hearing them. He waited, but she said no more. They both ate lunch in silence. He’s gone far away, and he won’t be back. Did that mean he was dead? There was no other way to be so sure he wouldn’t return. His father was dead, and Crane would never know any more about him.

Chores filled the afternoon, and Crane soon forgot his question. He pumped water, weeded the vegetable garden, fed the chickens, and cleaned the upstairs rooms. He tried to remember the last time someone had come to stay. He couldn’t, but Mama insisted the rooms be clean, just in case.

Although the sleeping rooms remained empty, they could be sure the common room wouldn’t. Most of the men in Deep River and from the surrounding farms liked to enjoy a mug of ale and a few stories at the Blue Heron at least once of week. The unmarried men took most of their suppers there. Crane ate his own supper early so he could help serve, but kept an eye on the waning daylight.

“I have to meet Elic for a little while,” he said.

“Now? What for?” Mama asked.

“It’s—for school,” he replied. “We have to talk to Jelf at the Hall.”

“Why didn’t you do it right after school?”

“Elic couldn’t stay,” Crane said. “It shouldn’t take long. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He whisked out the door before she could say anything more. He hadn’t quite lied, and if they didn’t get caught, he wouldn’t have to.

With the low sun behind him, Crane’s shadow stretched out in front of him halfway to the Village Hall. The sunset seemed to fill the whole sky. Even the east was tinted purple and dark red. Crane liked the light of sunrise and sunset best, when the sky really was red. Then he didn’t have to work to see the blue beyond the shimmering red net no one else could see.

As Crane approached the Hall, Elic emerged from the shadows at the far end and beckoned to him.

“You wait here, out of sight,” he whispered. “I’ll try to distract Jelf before he locks up. Slip in as soon as you can.”

Crane crouched in the shadows and watched Elic trot up the road toward the school and Soorhi’s house. He circled around and walked back. When the door of the Hall opened, he broke into a run.

“Jelf! I’m glad I caught you,” he called.

The old man turned toward him, the key in his hand. “Elic? What is it?”

“A strange plant sprouted in Soorhi’s garden,” Elic said. “Soorhi says it’s edible, but Mam says it’s poisonous. Soorhi wants your opinion.”

Jelf chuckled. “I don’t know what I can add to their knowledge, but I’ll take a look. Lead on!”

Elic and Jelf headed back toward Soorhi’s. Crane shrank further into the shadows, though Elic’s description of the mystery plant held Jelf’s attention as they passed. As soon as it seemed safe, he darted out of hiding and up to the door. He pushed and it opened—still unlocked. He closed it behind him.

He paused in the dim Hall to let his eyes adjust, then crept past the long meeting table and chairs, toward a smaller room at the end. This door didn’t have a lock. He pushed in and approached the shelves. The upper shelves held logs and registers, in which Jelf kept track of village events. The bottom shelf was in shadow.

He crouched down. He could discern a row of books—four thick ones with dark covers, along with a few thinner volumes. They were all coated in dust, and in the poor light, Crane couldn’t tell whether or not there were any words on the spines. The last of the sunset light filtered in through the closed shutters. Crane didn’t know how he would manage to read anything, but he didn’t dare light a lamp and give himself away. He would just have to hurry and finish the job before the light failed completely.

He grabbed one of the big books at random. His whole arm tingled as if he’d banged his elbow, and he dropped the book. Dust puffed in his face, and he sneezed twice. He froze, certain the whole village had heard. But the evening quiet went on, undisturbed. He picked up the book. This time, his arm did not tingle, but he had a brief impression of a pale, dark-haired man with a fierce expression. Maybe there was something magical about the book. He carried it to Jelf’s desk, where the light was a little better. The dark red leather binding bore no words or marks of any kind.

Crane let the book fall open and stared at the yellowed page. Disappointment rose like bile in his throat. He couldn’t read it. There were letters and even syllables that looked familiar, but nothing on the page made sense. He was about to close the book and give up, when the letters and syllables flickered like candlelight before his eyes, and rearranged themselves. They still didn’t look like familiar words, but he knew they had meaning.

Crane chose a short, two-word spell—he hoped it was a spell—and committed it to memory. It felt strange to memorize something he didn’t understand. He had to guess at the pronunciation, though he didn’t dare speak aloud in case anyone should hear. But none of the other boys would be able to correct him, so perhaps it didn’t matter how he pronounced the words, as long as he told them something.

As he returned the book to its place on the shelf, he froze at the sound of voices.

“I don’t know what you were thinking, bothering me about a potato plant!” Jelf said.

“I didn’t know that’s what it was,” Elic replied. “I never saw the plant before, just the spud.”

The voices drew nearer, and Crane feared Jelf would come into the Hall. Or what if he locked the door, with Crane still inside?

“Perhaps Soorhi and your mother have played a joke on you, then. It’s no more than you deserve, after all your tricks.”

“That must be it. You’re not angry, are you?”

It sounded like they’d stopped at the corner of the Hall, where the path to Jelf’s house met the road. Crane relaxed. Maybe he wouldn’t get caught, after all.

“Of course not,” Jelf said. “Sometimes doing something foolish is the only way to learn. Good night, Elic.”

Elic’s laughter rang through the village. “Good night, Jelf!”

Crane waited a moment longer to give Jelf time to reach home, then scurried out of the Village Hall and back to the inn. He’d done something right! He’d accepted and fulfilled a dare. But there was no time to celebrate now. It was suppertime at the Blue Heron, and Mama needed his help. He took a deep breath to calm himself and pushed open the door. The common room was bright with lamplight and noisy with supper guests.

“That didn’t take long,” Mama said. She handed him his apron.

“It didn’t?” It seemed an age had passed since he left for the Hall. “No, I guess it didn’t.”

“Did you find what you needed?”

“Um—yes,” he replied, tying the apron. “So, what needs doing?”


Crane hurried to school in the morning, excited to prove his daring. Elic was already there ahead of him, waiting outside.

“Did you do it?” he asked.

“Yes!” Crane exclaimed. “The books are really there. I—”

Rovhi and Huvro arrived then, interrupting Crane. Huvro slid off the horse to join them.

“Huvro’s braver than I thought,” Rovhi called down. “He did exactly what you asked and lived to tell about it.”

“That bull knows me,” Huvro whispered to Elic.

“It doesn’t matter. You fulfilled the dare.”

As Rovhi rode away, Breff joined them, pink in the face from his long walk. “I did it!” he announced. “I waited for the girls to get out of school, and asked Kiat if I could walk her home!”

“And what did she say?” Elic asked.

Breff turned a brighter pink. “She told me to jump in the river.”

They all laughed. Anyone who jumped in that dry gully was more likely to break a leg than drown. Crane had often wondered why they still called it a river, when it had been dry since before he was born, but no one else seemed to give it much thought.

“That doesn’t sound like a very promising conversation,” Elic observed.

“No, not really,” Breff admitted. “Except then, Tiek said I could walk her home.” He grinned. Tiek was Kiat’s twin sister. They looked similar, but they couldn’t have been more different in temperament.

“Well done, Breff! That’s three completed,” Elic said. “I haven’t done mine yet. We should all go to the haunted house right after school.”

“What about Crane?” Breff asked.

Before he could answer, Soorhi came outside. The morning sun lit his white hair like a bright cloud. “I don’t see what’s so amusing out here,” he said, “but it’s time to come inside.”

They filed in and took their places. Crane had the middle seat, with Elic on his right and Breff on his left. Huvro sat behind Breff, while the ten-year-olds Lafa and Alryg sat in the front row. Crane was bursting to tell about his dare, but he couldn’t while Soorhi watched. The first chance he got, he would prove that he’d fulfilled the challenge, and they’d have to accept him fully. He drummed his fingers on the desk, waiting.

As soon as Soorhi’s back was turned, Elic and Breff leaned in. “Tell us!” they whispered. Huvro half stood to get into the conversation.

Crane balled his hands into fists. He couldn’t afford to forget what he’d read. He closed his eyes and the page appeared in memory, flickering like candlelight. He took a deep breath and whispered the words, reading them off the imagined page. There was no question now about pronunciation. His voice sounded strange to him, crackling with a new energy.


Elic yelled, and from the thud, it sounded like Breff had fallen out of his seat. Crane opened his eyes. His right hand was in flames. He stared at it, unable to make a sound. The other boys drew back, horror-stricken. Only Elic stayed close. “It wasn’t supposed to do anything,” he whispered.

Through the flames, Crane saw Soorhi vault over his desk with the energy of a man a quarter his age. The teacher came straight to Crane and smothered the flames with his bare hands.

The whole event took only a moment. Now that the panic was over, Crane expected they would all take their seats again and go on with class as usual. He would never hear the end of this! Then the pain struck him. He thought his hand must have burned off, except that he could feel each finger alive with agony. He didn’t dare look. He fainted.

He had no idea how much time had passed when he came to. Probably not much—it was still daylight. Or had days passed? He lay in his own bed. Someone had bandaged his hand. It rested on a pillow on top of the covers. The pain was a little less, though still enough to bring tears to his eyes. He thought he might faint again—he wished he could—but remained conscious. Several people stood just inside his room, talking together in low tones: his mother, Aunt Sudi, and Soorhi.

“I put a salve on it, but it’s going to scar,” Sudi said.

“Badly?” Mama asked.

“I can’t tell yet,” Sudi said. “It could be pretty bad. From what Soorhi tells me, we’re lucky he didn’t lose his whole hand.”

Mama sobbed once, then controlled herself. “How did it happen?”

“I think he said a fire spell, but how could he have learned such a thing?” Soorhi said.

“A fire spell?” Mama repeated. “You mean, magic?”

“Yes,” Soorhi said. “You have a budding wizard on your hands.”

“He chose a fine way to let us know,” Sudi snapped.

“I don’t think he had any idea,” Soorhi said. “But where did he learn the spell?”

“Doesn’t Jelf have some old spell-books at the Village Hall?” Sudi asked. “You remember, that some old wizard left behind?”

Soorhi was silent a moment. “Lok’s books. Yes. Could Crane have seen them?”

“He said he was meeting Elic at the Hall last night,” Mama said. “I shouldn’t have let him go!”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Soorhi assured her. “I’m going to see if Jelf knows anything about this. It might be best to let Crane study those books openly. Otherwise, he could be a danger to himself or others.”

Crane heard one set of footsteps cross the common room and leave the inn. Had he heard right? A danger? To himself, certainly. But to others? He wouldn’t let that happen. They had nothing to fear from him. But he remembered how the other boys had drawn away from him.

“Will he be able to use that hand?” Mama asked. “Are you sure it won’t heal without scarring?”

“I’m sorry, Stell,” Sudi said. “There’s only so much I can do.”

Mama moved to the bedside. Crane closed his eyes, feigning sleep. “If only his father would come,” she whispered, so low that Crane doubted Sudi had heard. It seemed an odd thing to say. Wasn’t his father dead? Did she think Crane was going to die? But he was more interested in what Soorhi had said. He could be a wizard! He didn’t have to be an innkeeper. He could study the magic in those books, and find something he was actually good at. Was that what the red sky meant? That there was magic in Deep River; in him? If he could make fire, then he could do anything—bring rain, cure sickness, change his own form. Fly. His hand throbbed, but it was worth it. It would be easy. He drifted off to sleep and dreamed he had wings.


Karen Eisenbrey (color).JPG

Karen Eisenbrey is the author of Daughter of Magic (Not a Pipe Publishing, 2018) and The Gospel According to St. Rage (Pankhearst, 2016). She lives in Seattle, WA, where she leads a quiet, orderly life and invents stories to make up for it. Although she intended to be a writer from an early age, until her mid-30s she had nothing to say. A little bit of free time and a vivid dream about a wizard changed all that. Karen writes fantasy and science fiction novels, as well as short fiction in a variety of genres and the occasional song or poem if it insists. She also sings in a church choir and plays drums in a garage band. She shares her life with her husband, two young adult sons, and two mature adult cats.

Join us for an online launch party for Daughter of Magic and win!

Daughter of Magic eBook Cover edit 1.jpg

On Saturday, May 26th from 4pm to 7pm Eastern (1pm to 4pm Pacific), there will be an online party to celebrate the release of Karen Eisenbrey's Daughter of Magic, and you are invited! Just click here and click on the "Going" button. 

But wait, there's more! A bunch of the attendees are other Not a Pipe Publishing authors, and they have agreed to give out copies of their books as party favors. (A huge thanks to all our Not a Pipe Publishing authors for being so supportive of one another!) We'll announce the winners live during the party. Must be present to win! If you would like to win a copy, just enter your name, email address where the Amazon copy will be sent, and your first choice below. If you don't win your first choice, your name will stay in the hat for the remaining books, with the grand prize being a copy of Karen Eisbrey's brand new Daughter of Magic! 

Not sure which book you'd most like to win? Check them all out HERE

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Choose the one you'd most like to win.
(And remember, eveyone who doesn't win their first choice will be entered to win the Grand Prize, a copy of Karen Eisenbrey's brand new novel Daughter of Magic!

The Cover Reveal, Pre-order, and a HUGE Announcement for Daughter of Magic by Karen Eisenbrey

You can pre-order Karen Eisenbrey's Daughter of Magic now! The novel will be available on May 22nd, but you can reserve your copy in hardcover, trade paperback, or Kindle, and get it right away when it's available! Just click one of the links below. And there's an even more exciting bit of news, but first, check out this cover:

 (Cover by Benjamin Gorman)

(Cover by Benjamin Gorman)

And check out the dust jacket for the hardcover:

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Daughter of Magic tells the story of Luskell. She's been dreaming about dead people.

Her parents may be two most powerful wizards in the country, but Luskell doesn't have any magic of her own, so she's stuck spending a summer with her grandmother in the small town of Deep River where her father is the hometown hero. Then the dead start to visit her dreams with mysterious messages. In a secret pact with her friends Jagryn and Laki, Luskell begins to teach herself magic and discovers an apparently bottomless well of untapped power. But before she has control over this ability, her dead grandfather appears with a dire warning. With no way to send word to her parents, Luskell and her friends mount a daring rescue. Can they get to the capital in time to save the country ... and her parents' lives?

“Beautiful yet thrilling ...Brilliant!”
-Heather S. Ransom, author of Going Green
“An impressive fantasy. If the love child of JK Rowling and Tom Clancy were raised by Leslie Marmin Silko, she would grow up to be something like this book.”
-Jason Brick, author of Wrestling Demons
“Touching, tender, and blazing with brilliance, Daughter of Magic is a coming-of-age story that fans of Carol Berg's The Bridge of D'Arnath series will adore."
-M. K. Martin, author of Survivors’ Club
“‘Tonight we’ll fly and be heroes.’ Daughter of Magic is a wonderful tale of power, secret and exposed, set against a rich landscape in a world were the past rises up to overwhelm the present.”
-LeeAnn McLennan, author of The Supernormal Legacy series
Daughter of Magic is a heart-wrenching tale of loss and betrayal, filled with compelling characters who must cooperate and embrace the terrifying truth of who they are or face the destruction of the world and peoples they cherish.
“In a world where magic is rare and regulated, there are high expectations for Luskell, the daughter of two powerful wizards. Turning her back on her heritage and the city full of intrigue, Luskell finds temporary tranquility in the gentle land of her childhood. Her peace is shattered when she discovers the plot to kill her parents and destroy the hard-won harmony between the different peoples. Racing against time and the looming specter of death, Luskell must embrace her talents and work with the budding magicians of other lands to save her parents and their world or risk the annihilation of everything she holds dear.”
-Mikko Azul, author of The Staff of Fire and Bone

Pre-order your copy from your favorite independent bookstore by asking for it at the front counter, or order it from one of these fine online booksellers:

Barnes & Noble: HERE

Amazon: HERE

Kindle: HERE

And it gets even more exciting! What would be the absolute perfect location for the launch of a young adult fantasy novel by the drummer of a Seattle garage band? MoPop, the Museum of Pop Culture, formerly the Experience Music Project. That would be too much to ask for, right? Nope! Karen Eisenbrey and some other Not a Pipe Publishing authors will be celebrating the release of Daughter of Magic at MoPop from 11:00 to 3:00 on Saturday the 19th of May, three days BEFORE Eisenbrey's Daughter of Magic hits bookstore shelves, as part of MoPop's Write Out Of This World celebration of the winners of their short story competition for young writers. So if you can make it to MoPop, come get your signed copy and help Not a Pipe Publishing celebrate the release of this wonderful young adult fantasy novel while we also encourage young writers at their breakout party.

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "The Old Ways" by M. K. Martin

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.

The Old Ways

by M. K. Martin

Laced with magic and mysticism, this story will suck you in completely. Martin has a way of making the impossible real with her words as she effortlessly weaves together mood, character, tension, and more. This I know all too well, having read her debut novel, Survivors' Club. "The Old Ways" is just a sampling of what this writer can do.  -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor



“Rome was the world's most powerful empire. At its height, it even reached our shores. I hope all of you take time, when we stop in Bowness-on-Solway, to see the end of the Roman Wall. Imagine how different Britain would be if the sun had never set on the Roman Empire.” The tour guide bubbled on like a runaway stream after a heavy downpour. Deitra leaned her head against the cool glass of the bus window as it finally pulled into the Twisted Tree Inn parking lot. Outside it was raining. Again. Ever since she'd arrived it had rained.

Somehow the travel agent had convinced Deitra all those rainy scenes took place during the spring. The rest of the time it's so lovely, the woman had cooed. Lovely, indeed!

Lovely, like her relationship with Jerrold. She signed. She'd come to England to get over him, not spend the whole trip pining.

Still, it was hard to just put him out of her mind. She'd thought he was The One, her Mr. Right. They'd met when he was at his family's summerhouse near Nag's Head. She'd dropped out of college, moved back home and resigned herself to a Cinderella life of waitressing at her family's restaurant when Jerrold had shown up and swept her off her feet.

Their dating had been a blur of D.C.'s finest galleries, museums, restaurants, wineries, plays and concerts. Soon Jerrold asked her to move in. Life was perfect! She had planned her response when he popped the question, planned their wedding, followed by an English honeymoon. She quietly set aside money and gathered travel brochures.

As it turned out, Deitra wasn't the only one quietly working on a project. Jerrold's project was Tiffany, a work colleague. Deitra had met her at a few parties and plays. Jerrold met her at hotels. When Deitra found the receipts, he didn't bother to lie. It was better she knew, he'd said. They were tired of hiding. She moved back home that night.

On her mother's advice, she'd taken this trip sans Jerrold.

She hadn't anticipated the constant rain or that her bus tour would be made up of nothing but happy couples. By day four, she hated England.

“...a quaint, charming little inn and pub. I have everyone's room keys.” The guide held up a large, ancient brass key. It looked like a prop in a documentary on Merry Ole England.

To an optimistic person, the inn was quaint, even charming. It was definitely old. The Romans had built the original structure over a pagan barrow to claim the land and make a statement. Over the centuries, the rest of the inn had grown around the Roman building. The end result was an architectural crazy quilt of various designs, all sagging toward the low midsection, the pub itself.

Inside smelled of pipe smoke, spilled ale, old polish, and some indefinable but distinct odor Deitra could only think of as 'long history'. A comforting fire snapped and crackled in the wide native stone hearth, located against one wall of the pub. A small stage of ancient planks, shiny from years of scrubbing, sanding and thousands of feet, nestled against the wall opposite the hearth.

After a bath and a change of clothes, Deitra rejoined the tour group in the pub. She found a lonely perch at the bar, atop a wide, old oaken stool and ordered a pork pie and a pint.

“Do you like this?”

Deitra jumped. A boyishly handsome man had slid onto the stool next to hers. His hair was a short, sandy blonde bristle. He wore a leather jacket that looked both casual and expensive. His dimpled smile was cocksure and reminded her too much of Jerrold. As if any woman was his to claim. Deitra glared at him and focused on her pie.

“Scusi, so sorry, my English...I am hoping you are not angry, bella,” the blonde man said. His Italian accent, like warm honey, caressed her ears. His face was a picture of sincerity. Deitra felt embarrassed. Poor guy. Not every man was Jerrold.

“No, it's fine. Sorry. I'm just tired,” she said.

“Vittore Romano, incantato.” He offered a warm, smooth hand.

“I'm Deitra.” She shook. “Pleased to meet you.” He smiled, his blue eyes direct and a bit too intimate. Stop that! He's Italian, they're like that. Don't be the ugly American, she admonished herself. “So,” she said, “um, are you here on vacation?” Idiot! Obviously.

“Business.” His face hardened a little, his eye scanning the room, then back to her. “But not tonight, I think.”

“Oh.” Deitra toyed with her food.

“Sorry,” Vittore said. “This rain, this food, this place it's...” He searched for words then stuck out his tongue and wrinkled his nose.

“Exactly,” Deitra smiled.

Vittore chuckled, “Why have you traveled so far for so little?” He waved at the pub. With a hot meal, a cold pint and a roaring fire, the pub seemed more homey. Overhead the old boards creaked and groaned softly, the wind sighing through the numerous eves. Outside darkness had fallen, and the rain gently drummed on the roof. All things considered, England didn't seem quite as wretched.

“It's more what I was traveling from than to,” she said. “A great big from.”

Vittore gave her the uncomprehending, hopeful smile common to travelers across every land; the one that says, 'I have no idea what you're saying, but go on'.

The door crashed open. Wind and rain blew in, sending a soggy chill through the pub. Every head turned to stare at the three dripping figures in the doorway. At first, Deitra wasn't sure who the strangers might be, but as they peeled off their outer layers, she realized they were musicians.

First in the door was a large ruddy man, a dark woolen watchcap snugged down on his head. Between the hat and his enormously fluffy dark red beard, it was hard to make out any facial features apart from the flash of a broad grin and the twinkle of dark eyes. He had a battered guitar case stuffed under his pea coat. A petite, dark haired women, dressed in a bright red blouse and swirling peasant skirts, followed the redhead in. She carried a flute case and a small flat drum wrapped in waterproof cloth. The last member of the group paused in the door.

For an instant, as the flickering light of the hearth fire hit his eyes, Deitra could have sworn they glowed, flashing gold. She gasped and Vittore followed her gaze. The stranger stepped into the room. Unlike his companions, he did not rush in out of the wet. His long dark hair was mostly pushed back, although a few wild strands hung forward, tickling his high cheekbones. The dark man's eyes swept the room, cautious, watchful.

When his eyes met Vittore's both men stiffened. A slow smile spread across Vittore's face. The dark man nodded a curt salute. He produced a fiddle seemingly out of nowhere and sauntered across to join his fellows. His movements were powerful, yet graceful. He reminded Deitra of panthers she'd seen at the zoo, prowling their enclosures, dreaming their wild, bloody dreams.

The dark haired woman pulled three chairs up on stage, the silver bangles on her arms tinkling as she moved. The trio spent a few minutes ensuring their instruments had taken no hurt from the damp and tuning up. The big redheaded man took a position with a foot on one of the chairs, balancing his guitar with its strangely fat bottom across his knee. If Deitra remembered correctly, that was called a bouzouki. The dark haired woman sat down, arranged her shirts, lifted the small drum, the bohdran, and smiled warmly at the audience.

The dark stranger strode to the edge of the stage and stood, thumbs hooked in the pockets of his worn jeans. He said nothing, his bright eyes dancing over the room. A hush fell as one by one people met his gaze. Still he said nothing. Deitra found herself holding her breath.

Suddenly the dark stranger's face broke into an impish grin.

“That's right,” he said, his voice rich and low, pitched to catch each ear personally. “We're back. I know some a yous and for the rest, get ready to dance. I'm Brayden. I lead this merry band. Salix.” The woman waved. “And Fáthach,” The large man nodded.

“We are Tuatha Dé Danann.” He bowed dramatically, sweeping up, the fiddle already in the crook of his neck.

The music burst to life with an nearly impossible wail from the fiddle, joined by the drum and held together by the melody of the bouzouki. The tune was a wild reel, each round moving faster and faster seeming on the verge of collapsing into chaotic madness, but always returning to the core melody, a deeply stirring sound. It was like a storm, a whirlwind of sound rising, building, crashing and then, with one final mighty flourish of the fiddle, it stopped.

No one moved. No one even breathed. Slowly Brayden opened his eyes. For just an instant, Deitra again saw the flash of gold as if his eyes burned with mystical inner fire.

“Sláinte!” cried the bartender, raising his mug to the musicians. The crowd burst into raucous applause. A grinning waitress hurried over with a tray of drinks. “On the house,” she said.

Brayden squatted down, so they were face to face. “Go raibh maith agat,” he murmured, his voice just on the decent side of 'in public'. Straightening he held his mug aloft. “To yous, good people the lot!” He winked at the waitress. “And to women who know how to make a man smile.” The waitress blushed and scurried for the safety of the bar. Deitra wished she were a waitress.

“Cretins,” muttered Vittore.

“You don't like the local color?” Deitra asked, eyebrow raised.

“Pale shadows.” He waved dismissively as the little band struck up a soft, lamenting ballad. Brayden's singing voice was every bit as enchanting as his speaking voice, low, deep, steady and thrilling – thrilling in ways Jerrold had never thrilled her.

“Their time is long past and see! They dance on. They should give up, admit defeat with dignity,” Vittore said.

“Umm, it's a band,” Deitra said. “Not a war.”

“Certo.” Vittore nodded reluctantly. “Of course. The lady is right. Come.” He held out a hand. “Let's get away from this...how do you say? Racket, yes?”

Deitra looked up, meeting his beautiful blue eyes, his boyish smile. So sure all he had to do was hold out his hand and she'd swoon into his arms.

She'd made her share of mistakes from dropping out of school, to moving to D.C. Probably coming to England, too.

She looked into Vittore's eyes and saw another mistake waiting.

“I'm fine here,” Deitra said.

A frown creased Vittore's brow. “Scusi. You didn't understand. Is no problem. We will have dinner in the restaurant. This,” he shot a dark look at the band, “is not a place for such a belladonna.” He took her by the arm to escort her into the small, adjacent dining area.

“No.” Deitra wrenched her arm away more forcefully than she intended. She could see the shock, the slow comprehension. It felt good, powerful.

“I'll stay. Thanks.” She turned away from him, back to the stage. Brayden's eyes were on her. He inclined his head to her gravely, but his eyes twinkled. It wasn't her imagination. His eyes were golden.

Deitra ignored the rustle of cloth, the quick, angry stomp of feet as Vittore departed. She focused on the band. Several of the tour group couples were dancing. They looked awkward and silly, their bright American clothes standing out like disoriented tropical birds in Antarctica, but they were having a marvelous time. Whenever someone seemed to flag or become self-conscious, Brayden's eyes were on them, encouraging them, urging them on, making it all right to let go, to just dance.

“Miss?” The bartender held out a hand.

Deitra gulped down the rest of her beer and took the man's rough, weathered hand. “Why the hell not?” She hopped off the stool, lost her footing and fell laughing into the bartender's arms.

“Steady on, miss,” he said. “Had a wee bit too much, then?”

“Nah,” Deitra giggled. “I'm fine. Dance me!” The bartender chuckled and spun her out onto the floor. She had no idea what she was doing. It didn't matter.

She twirled and whirled from one partner to the next and drank several pints of dark, bitter beer. Somewhere among the jigs, the stathspeys, waltzes and reels Deitra forgot that she hated Britain, forgot that she was the lone lonelyheart in a tour group full of lovey-dovey couples. She forgot the sting of Jerrold's smug face when she handed back her keys to his apartment.

It seemed only moments later when Deitra found herself outside. Rather than seeming soggy and depressing, the chill night air revived her. The wind rattled through the trees, sending spatters of rain down. Overhead the dissipating clouds scudded across the sky. The moon, a silvery blue orb, nestled low in the hills, as if it too were exhausted by a night of dancing.

Deitra lifted loose strands of sweaty hair from her neck. She shuddered at the cold wind's kiss, goosebumps sprang up along her arms. A mist was rolling in from the sea. Its ghostly white fingers reached into every hollow and nook, sliding along the low ground, filling it, enfolding the world in white.

“You know, they say on nights like this, the fey can come through the mists.”

Deitra jumped. She hadn't even heard the heavy door swing on its ancient hinges.

Brayden stood next to her, his pale skin seemed to glow in the faint moonlight; a stark contrast to his dark hair and bright gold eyes. He smiled wistful. “They say once the fey ruled all these lands. They were so full o' life then. Wise animals, ancient trees, less rain.” He winked at her.

“Fey, like fairies?” Deitra asked. Stupid question! But Brayden didn't laugh, didn't even smirk.

“A bit. Fairies, wee flying folk, they're pixies. Nah, fey are like...” He searched for words. “What you call elves, then. Taller than men and fair. All sorts a mysteries in these isles even still. They never could drive out all magic.” He stared down toward the sea. His bright eyes searched the darkness, almost as if he expected something to come out of the mists. As if he longed for it.

Up close, he was even more captivating. The wind ruffled his dark hair, tugging at loose strands to play along the curve of his neck, his strong jaw. His lips were full and inviting. Kissable lips. Kissable? Stop acting like a drunk groupie!

Deitra tore her eyes from his handsome face to follow his gaze. She half expected to see something moving in the mist, half expected to see...what? A fey. She giggled at the thought. Brayden turned back to her, a smile on his face, but lacking its earlier spark. The show smile of the consummate performer. She could see in his eyes the flash of disappointment, resignation.

“Come on then,” he said. “Some say it's bad luck to be out alone on Samhain.”

“Samhain?” Deitra echoed.

“In America, Halloween, yah?” Brayden tipped his head at the wispy clouds and thickening mist. “They dead return to settle themselves, to say farewell afore moving along. That's why we came, then. Tonight the doors between here and there are open.”

“Huh?” She couldn't make sense of his words. Maybe she was too drunk. Or maybe he's not making sense, she thought. She didn't care if he made sense or not. His voice was gentle, patient, yet strong and sure. He didn't treat her like she was stupid because she didn't understand. Encouraged, she pressed on. “Like ghosts?”

“Aye, ghosts, fetches, wraiths, haunts, geists, all of them.” Brayden grinned, the mischievous spark back in his eye. “D'you want to see 'em?”

Deitra grinned back gamely. “Sure, okay. Show me your scary ghosts.”

“Right.” Brayden stuck out a strong, calloused hand. “Brayden,” he said.

“I know,” Deitra said. “I saw you come in.”

“I know,” he said. “I saw you.” He let the thought hang between them and she hung a hundred wild implications on it.

“D'you have a name or should I just call you a store?”

“A store?”

He laughed, a completely unselfconscious sound. Deitra's heart surged. She longed to make him laugh again.

“No, not a store, silly girl. A stòr. It means 'precious'.”

“Deitra's fine.” She ducked her head, hoping he'd chalk the bloom in her cheeks to the drink.

“Deitra.” He rolled her name. God, but she loved his lilting accent.

“That's a fine, old name,” Brayden said.

He led the way around the inn. Deitra let herself be guided through a world of fog and indistinct shadows, descending a winding goat trail, her heart hammering. Below the sound of crashing surf echoed, booming against the cliffs, reverberating through sea caves. The scents of the sea, salt, fish, the cold waters of the Irish Sea, mingled with the scents of heather, damp earth, dead leaves, and wood smoke from the inn.

Deitra shivered with cold. She was ready to return to the warm safety of the inn when Brayden stopped. Deitra stumbled and he steadied her easily. He tipped his chin towards a large lumpy shape, rising out of the fog, like the prow of a ghost ship.

“A cairn,” Brayden said. His voice low and reverent, breath warm against her neck. Again, gooseflesh prickled her arms, but not from the temperature. Deitra took a deep breath and stepped forward. The stacked rocks seemed to float, an island in a sea of rolling mist. A stone wall ringed the graveyard, an empty archway provided access. Worn headstones marked the graves of the long dead. Ahead, barely outlined by the dim moonlight, the remains of a small, tumbled down church hunkered at the far edge of the graveyard.

From inside the church, a light flared. Brayden stiffened, his grip on her hand tightening.

“Finally found the courage and ventured from your hole?” said a familiar voice. Vittore stood in the doorway of the church, his face illuminated by the orange glow of his cigarette. He smiled contemptuously at Brayden.

“Why tonight, Roman?” Brayden asked. His voice sounded breezy, casual; his posture anything but. He was poised to strike, tightly coiled. Again, Deitra could see the wildness in him, the restrained power.

“Why not?” Vittore flicked the butt of the lit cigarette at Brayden. In the same instant, he lunged forward, bringing a short sword – a gladius – up from where he'd held it along his leg. Vittore darted forward, swung the sword in a tight arch, aiming for Brayden's head. The dark man skipped lightly out of reach.

“Honorable as ever,” Brayden said.

“You're a beast, an animal. You should have died with the rest of your kind,” Vittore hissed.

“You should have left with the rest of yours.”

Another swing. Brayden slid under the blow, but the tip of the sword caught the neck of his sweater. It ripped, leaving one arm bare from shoulder to elbow. A thin stain of blood welled and trickled, marring pale skin.

Deitra searched the cairn for a suitable chunk of slate to throw to distract Vittore. She heaved it at his head. It went wide, crashing into a crumbling headstone, pulverizing it.

Both men froze. Vittore's head whipped towards her. “No!” he shouted, charging her like a maddened bull.

Brayden dashed across the graveyard to her side, enfolding her in his arms. Vittore slammed into them, knocking them to the ground.

“Uff!” Deitra grunted. She landed hard with Brayden on top of her. Groaning, he rolled off. She could see an ugly smear of blood along his naked side, the sweater nearly torn away now.

“What the hell?” she screamed, but Vittore attacked again, the sword whistling through the air toward Brayden's neck. Again, the dark man avoided the blow by fractions of an inch.

Deitra staggered to her feet. Brayden was up too, blood slicking his side from ribs to thigh. He stood between her and Vittore, but the blonde man refocused his attention on Brayden. His eyes flicked to the deep wound in Brayden's side and a cocky smile curved his lips.

“Far too long, Fey,” Vittore growled. He circled Brayden, wolfish, his posture relaxed almost triumphant. “Tonight, your feast night, you join your ancestors.”

“You never even tried to understand us, Romano, didja? You come to me tonight of all nights, with the mists around us. You're a brave fool, I give ya that,” Brayden said. He waved at Deitra, motioning her back up the trail, back toward the distant twinkling lights of the inn. She ran a few steps, looked back.

Brayden stood, bare to the waist, head thrown back as if to embrace the night sky. Around him the mist surged like a living thing, roiling and wrapping him in its white tendrils. With his pale skin, he seemed to melt into it.

Vittore screamed, a wordless sound of rage and frustration. He plunged his sword into Brayden's unprotected chest, driving it in the hilt.

Deitra wanted to scream, to vomit, to faint. Instead, she stood, rooted to the spot, only a few strides away from Brayden. The hot copper tang of blood was thick in the air.

Vittore let out a bark of laughter.

“Roma victor!” he shouted, raising his bloodied sword to the sky.

Deitra found her legs. Trembling she retraced her steps down the hillside.

Brayden was gone. An inky pool of blood marked where he'd stood.

Deitra glared at Vittore. He too stared at the empty spot. For a moment the world held its breath. The wind died down, the mist settled. Frost tipped the lichen and moss, the curling ivy and thistles twinning around the grave markers. Westward, down the steep hill, the surf rolled. Above the stars shone on, indifferent.

“How could you?” Deitra's voice was harsh. She looked around, wishing for a sword of her own.

“It was an abomination. A blight. It's their fault...” Vittore began.

“Our fault what?”

Brayden stood in the archway, grinning playfully. He held a long, thin sword. It curved up slightly at the tip. Even in the faint moonlight, Deitra could see it was a beautiful piece, silvery and inscribed. It looked like something Jerrold might have displayed in his study.

Both men sprang forward. Deitra skipped back as their swords met, slid along, blades caressing like old lovers, parted, met again. Most of Deitra's knowledge of swordplay had been gleaned from Robin Hood movies. She understood little of the finer detail. Vittore attacked in short, powerful bursts. He advanced, turned, advanced again. Brayden gave ground before him, circled, danced, spun, his sword a blur. He seemed to rely on his agility to outmaneuver the Roman.

Brayden darted forward, twisted his blade past Vittore's guard. Vittore uttered a cry, his sword spinning away, clattering against the headstones. Brayden touched his sword to the other man's throat. The blade must have been fantastically sharp, as a line a blood welled instantly, falling to stain Vittore's jacket.

“Enough shite,” Brayden said. “Yield. Leave our lands once and for all, Romano.”

Vittore's face contorted in a snarl of rage and defeat. He sagged, his upraised hands falling to his lap. “I never thought it would come to this,” he said.

“Off wicha,” Brayden said. “We don't want your gods, your roads or your-”

His words were cut off as Vittore surged up, a small knife in his hand. He aimed for Brayden's neck, but the dark man dodged away, and the knife sunk into his shoulder, buried to the hilt.

Brayden swung his sword, so swift and sharp it barely paused as it sliced through Vittore's neck, severing his head from his body.

Deitra gasped and covered her mouth, watching as Vittore's body crumpled into a pile of dust and old bones.

Brayden held out a hand to her, but it wavered. His brow knit in a puzzled frown. He glanced at the wound in his chest. Dark veins spidered out from it, spreading across Brayden's pale chest.

“Iron,” he said.

Brayden reached out to steady himself, missed the wall, and sat down hard. His sword clattered away. She could hear his breathing, quick and shallow.

“No!” cried Deitra. It wasn't fair. “But you won,” she said as if she could argue with the corruption spreading from the wound. “What can I do? How can I help you?”

“Easy now, a stòr. Help is on the way,” Brayden muttered, his voice low, strained. “We travel in packs.”

Out of the mist strode Fáthach and Salix. Fáthach seemed to have grown about a foot or so, his skin a dark greyish color. It blended into the rain washed hills. Salix's hair blew around her as if caught by a wind no one else could feel. It had a strange, leafy quality and looked more deep forest green than dark brown. Her skin was a soft, nut brown.

Deitra rose, unsure what to do. Around her, the mist seemed to boil. She could see dark shapes moving through it, just beyond the graveyard.

“The Roman is gone?” Salix asked. Deitra nodded.

“The curse is broken, Prince.” Fáthach's voice was a deep rumble, mingling with the crash of the surf below. There was another sound growing, far off, drawing closer through the mist. Pounding hoofs and beating wings.

Salix knelt at Brayden's side. Deitra did the same. The knife's corruption had spread to his jaw, black tendrils crawling up his cheeks.

Salix reached for the knife hilt but drew her hand back, hissing in pain. The hilt smoked and Brayden groaned, biting his lip.

“Iron,” Salix said, her voice the soft moan of wind through willow branches.

“Cursed Roman!” the giant growled. Great chalky tears rolled down his face. He lifted Brayden's silver sword, set the tip over Brayden's heart. “I'm so sorry, my lord.”

“Wait.” Deitra grabbed the giant's wrist. It felt like the rocks of the cairn. “Before, he healed. I can take the knife out. Would he be able to heal again?”

“We can only hope,” Salix said. “Hurry, human. Don't make him suffer.”

It was hard to get a good grip on the knife. It was deeply embedded and the hilt slick with Brayden's blood. Every time she fumbled, Brayden jerked in pain. The giant held him down. Finally, Dietra managed to yank the knife free. She threw it as far as she could. Brayden sighed, his eyes fluttering closed.

“Brayden?” Deitra shook him. “Brayden. Brayden, wake up!”

“Peace,” the willowy woman murmured, stroking Deitra's cheek. “He needs a moment only, to draw strength from the mist.”

Deitra wiped tears from her eyes and looked around. The graveyard was surrounded by ghostly figures, some man-like, others animalistic or strange combinations of both. All waited silently.

The gold eyes were still closed, but the barest hint of a grin tugged at the corner of Brayden's mouth. “He's awake!” Deitra cried.

“Shh,” he whispered. He reached up and pulled her head down, brushed her lips with his. “Thank you.” She kissed him fiercely. He tasted of spice and sunlight, wind and rain and life.

“My Prince,” Salix said. “It is time to go home.”

“A moment,” Brayden said.

“It is nearly dawn,” Fáthach said, a distant avalanche of sound. The eastern rim of the sky blushed a faint blue. The stars faded. Far, far away a bell tolled, calling the faithful to All Soul's mass.

“Please,” Salix said. Around them the mist thinned, the shapes of ancient warriors and wild hunters vanishing with it. “Hurry.”

Brayden searched Deitra's face, his gold eyes seeming to touch her very core. “I have reason to stay,” he said.

“Your mother sorrows at your absence. Your promise is kept. The land is free of the Roman. You must return home.” Salix took a few steps and stopped, her whole body straining towards the waiting mist.

Brayden tore his eyes away from Deitra to glare at the woman. “Ever the dutiful one, Salix.” He stood easily, no hint of injury. The black veins had vanished, leaving his skin smooth and perfect.

“We owe you our lord's life. If you ever need true aid, call for Fáthach,” the giant said. He patted Deitra shoulder hard enough to nearly knock her over. She clutched Brayden.

“I will come back, if I can,” Brayden took her hand and pulled her close, touched his forehead to hers.

“That's not good enough,” Deitra said. “I can't just go back now. I can't...” Live without you. It sounded so desperate. She wouldn't say it. What if he didn't feel the same?

“And I can't live without you. I knew the moment I saw you. There was something between us. Twin souls long separated.” Brayden glanced around at the lightening sky, the evaporating mist. “I can't stay. I wish I could. I'll find you, a stòr.”

He stepped away, following Fáthach and Salix into the mist. Her heart went with him. She drew a ragged breath.

“Wait!” She sprinted down the hill, into the mist. “I'm going with you.”

Brayden turned. “And give up your mortal life?” He was starting to fade with the mist, only his dark hair, gold eyes and impish smile stood out plainly.

“And gain you,” Deitra said.

Brayden held out a hand and she took it. As he drew her into the shinning mist, she looked back. They rose through the air, leaving behind the cool, windswept hills, the ancient stone walls, the warm hearths, and human world.

“It's funny,” Deitra said, nestling her head against Brayden's shoulder as he spread his great dark wings. “I think I may just miss England after all.”



M. K. Martin is a motorcycle-riding, linguistics nerd. A former Army interrogator with a degree in psychology, she uses her unique knowledge and skill set to create smart, gritty stories that give readers a glimpse into the darker corners of the human mind. Her debut novel Survivors' Club will be out April 17th, 2018 from Not a Pipe Publishing, but you can pre-order it now! She writes primarily speculative fiction.

It's here! The Cover Reveal and Pre-order Announcement for Survivors' Club by M. K. Martin

You can pre-order M. K. Martin's Survivors' Club now! The novel will be available on April 17th, but you can reserve your copy in hardcover, trade paperback, or Kindle, and get it right away when it's available! Just click one of the links below.

Here's the amazing cover by Aaron Smith:

Survivor's Club Final Kindle cover.jpg

And check out how cool the whole hardcover dust jacket is!

Survivors' Club hardcover dustjacket.jpg

Geneticist Marius Tenartier wants to cure humanity’s worst diseases, but Chrysalis Biopharmaceuticals uses his work to mutate people into terrifying abominations. An outbreak threatens the survival of the human race. With the help of the head of security and the CEO’s fearless daughter, Marius races to stop the spreading infection before it becomes a global pandemic.

The world is on the line, and the clock is ticking.


“A fun, fast read. ...thriller, horror, conspiracy and more all rolled into one.”
-Kurt Clopton
author of SuperGuy
"A taut bio-thriller with an ensemble of protagonists so lovable you'll want to take them home … and a threat so dire you'll have nightmares."
-Karen Eisenbrey
author of The Gospel According to St. Rage and the forthcoming Daughter of Magic
“…too plausible for comfort, the monsters much too close to home, and the knowledge that we have the technology to unleash such destruction is enough to leave the reader gasping right up to the very end!”
-Mikko Azul
author of The Staff of Fire and Bone
“Filled with the shrieks, howls, moans, and wordless mumbles of the Infected, Survivors’ Club uncovers malevolent plans and subversive twists that lead us down a path littered with corpses, staggering toward an approaching doom. Get ready, because once you pick this novel up, you won’t be able to put it down!”
-Heather S. Ransom
author of Going Green and the forthcoming Greener
"I loved the intelligent science fiction virology throughout Survivors' Club. It adds a realistic and believable flare to this compelling narrative."
-author Andrew Thomson
"After reading The Survivor's Club, I felt as if I'd barely survived, myself. Creatures, espionage and enough science to have me checking the closets before bed. M.K.Martin's thrilling novel stands up beside Jurassic Park, and Dr. Marius Tenartier may be the next iconic Dr. Ian Malcolm."
-Micayla Lally,
author of A Work Of Art

Pre-order your copy from your favorite independent bookstore by asking for it at the front counter, or order it from one of these fine online booksellers:

Powell's: HERE

Barnes & Noble: HERE

Amazon: HERE

Kindle: HERE

Want to meet Ms. Martin? Pre-order your copy and bring it to be signed at the launch party on Saturday, April 21 at 6 PM at Steelhead Brewery Eugene. RSVP for the event on Facebook HERE.

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "Faces of Change" by Jean Harkin

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.

Faces of Change*

by Jean Harkin

This is a short but fascinating tale that addresses much in its brevity: how to find the strength within, the joy in solitude, and the connection between humans and animals. I particularly enjoy the parallel between poachers and attackers, and the joint lack of respect for life that's represented there. Harkin has written a truly beautiful little story here. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor


A girl at a Midwest university and a lion on the grasslands of Africa changed places. No one knows how this happened—or why. After the switch, the red-haired girl looked as she always had, but her empowered soul was the lion’s. She kept to herself, rarely speaking to people on campus; when she did, they found her difficult to understand. She often wandered to the prairie south of campus to walk barefoot, breathe the perfume of the prairie flowers, listen to whispers of the tall grass as the wind gushed through, and hear the calls of red-winged blackbirds.

The lion, with his kingly mane, appeared as usual but behaved oddly, according to the occasional lion who encountered him. With the soul of a girl, he had no wish to engage in battle with other lions. And he sought after his own prey, not wanting to depend on females of a pride to bring him food. The lion loved rolling in the tall grasses of the African savanna and gazing up at the deepest blue sky on the planet.

One hot day during the dry season, the lion lay down on a mattress of grass like fresh straw—still soft but firm. Eyes closed, the lion dreamed of playing on the veldt, chasing antelopes, and sniffing breezes to catch stories of fellow creatures.

Abruptly, he was kicked on his rump and awakened. Ready to fight on his feet, the instinct faded quickly when he saw the trouble surrounding him. A ring of men armed with guns targeted him. The tender soul within the lion looked up at the poachers. Why must you hurt me? Do you not realize the great beauty of creation that I am? Please spare me. As the men tightened their circle, the lion closed his eyes and mourned others of his tribe, fellow creatures suffering the misdeeds of heartless thugs, and wildlife in great numbers disappearing. The lion, realizing his hopeless position against a squadron of guns, aimed one more pleading look at the men and hoped for mercy.

The earth began to shake and vibrate. Blaring, trumpeting noises blasted the silent air of the savanna. The poachers turned their attention away from the lion and began hollering, tumbling over each other to escape the tumult of stampeding elephants rushing toward them. The poachers sprinted off in four directions.

With the danger suddenly past, the lion inhaled delicious earth scents once again. I’m alive! He stood up to welcome and thank the elephants for saving him. At the same time, he regretted his vulnerability and helplessness to save himself.

That same day, the red-haired girl named Savanna walked away from the stately trees and college buildings at Iowa State and continued past campus town. Although it was February, with darkness falling fast on the afternoon, a deep urge to visit the prairie possessed her. As she left the campus farther and farther behind, and clouds accelerated the arrival of nighttime, a chill formed around her shoulders. She shrugged it off and began to run, knowing her beloved prairie was near.

A mottled gray car spewing exhaust fumes pulled up alongside the roadway, blocking Savanna’s path. The windows rolled down and out came hoots and whistles. “Hey girlie!”

Savanna loped around the car, slowed to a majestic walk, and kept her nose pointed straight ahead, down the country road toward her destination. No other cars or people were in sight. Her neck bristled and her senses sharpened, alert for trouble.

Car doors opened and slammed shut. Four young men in dark jackets—two tall, two shorter and heftier—exited the car, rushed toward the lone girl, and surrounded her. This group was not from campus. Danger! One of the men grabbed her arm and began pulling her toward the ground.

Uh oh. They don’t know who they’ve caught! Savanna called up the powers of her body, the strength of her lungs, and let go a tremendous roar, intense enough to frighten a herd of elephants. She flung off the weak arm that held hers, tossing the man into a ditch.

“My arm—it’s broken!” he screamed. The others fell back in alarm as Savanna bared her pointy teeth and charged at them, her red hair like a fiery war bonnet, and yellow eyes aflame. Her tour de force scattered the men and sent them scrambling back to the car, one of them still bellowing in pain. Savanna kept roaring to ensure their departure. The car’s motor roared in return as it sped away.

Now for some peace and quiet. She watched the car’s tail lights grow faint in the distance and then continued toward her rendezvous with the prairie.

* (An earlier version of this story was published in "The Writers Mill Journal", vol. 5, 2016.)

Jean Harkin.jpg

Jean Harkin, of Washington County, Oregon, is the author of "Night in Alcatraz: And Other Uncanny Tales," an anthology of short stories honed by magic realism and humor, published in 2016.

Jean belongs to two writers' groups: Writers' Mill in Portland and Northwest Independent Writers Association. She is revising her novel, "Promise Full of Thorns" that was selected as a finalist in Maple Lane Books publishing contest, 2016.

Djinn Playlist

 Sang Kromah, author of  Djinn

Sang Kromah, author of Djinn

I have never been capable of writing in complete silence. Occasionally, Buffy the Vampire Slayer serves as the score as it plays on a loop in a shrunken tab, but music is a constant.

After creating an outline, I normally create a playlist, because, at that point, I know where my story is going. The playlist for Djinn is primal, angsty, intense, and fun, which sums up the protagonist Bijou. I decided to begin with Salif Keita’s “Nou Pas Bouger,” because it’s Mandingo and French, which is Bijou, whether she knows it or not. “Nou Bas Bouger” is a song sang in French and Bambara, one of the Mandingo dialects. The song is basically saying, "Give me back what is rightfully mine…what you took from me before my 'independence.'" I felt like this was the perfect way to kick off the playlist, because this is the entire struggle of the book. I can’t explain much more without including any spoilers.

“All Ur Love” is a love song by Liberian R&B singer, FA. It’s self-explanatory, but whenever I write about Bijou daydreaming about her feelings for Sebastian being reciprocated, this song comes to mind.

(I’m only going to go over the songs that aren’t in English. Otherwise, I will end up giving too many spoilers.)

The song “Kuma” basically means, no matter how ugly the truth may be, it must be said. I always imagine this song during Bijou’s story about Femeni and her father, Chief Musa. As a child, I would listen to this song and tell my dad, "This song encompasses the beauty of Africa for me." It’s in the Mandingo language as well.

The song “Mandela” lists leaders from history. You can actually hear Salif Keita counting in English from one to twenty-seven for the years Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. As he counts, the female singers add other leaders, who had many enemies, which ultimately led to their demise. The song’s chorus is in English, “You shed tears for others.” I wrote to this song furiously during the part when Femeni is fighting the mami wata in the lagoon and they take her baby.

“Khona” is a fun song sung in the Zulu language. All I know is that khona means “there” in Zulu. I couldn’t imagine a better song for Bijou and Amina to enter Bijou’s masquerade party to. It’s classic African party music, and I love the picture it paints. It’s a reminder to the reader that Bijou has strong African roots.

“Folon” had to be the last song on the list because it means “the past” in Mandingo, and above all else, Bijou has to embrace the past to understand today and survive for the future. It also had to end with “Folon” because that is the title of the next book in the series.

Download the playlist on Spotify HERE.

1.      “Nou Pas Bouger”- Salif Keita, Paul “Groucho” Smylke

2.      “No Roots”- Alice Merton

3.      “Paranoid Android”- Radiohead

4.      “Every Now and Then”- The Noisettes

5.      “Dumb Things”- Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls

6.      “All Ur Love”- FA

7.      “Destiny”- Zero 7 feat. Sia

8.      “See You Again”- Tyler, the Creator

9.      “Same Drugs”- Chance the Rapper

10.  “Johnny”- Yemi Alade

11.  “Killing Me Softly”- The Fugees

12.  Kuma- Salif Keita

13.  “Mandela”- Salif Keita

14.  “The Man Who Sold the World”- David Bowie

15.  “Black Hole Sun”- Soundgarden

16.  “Retrograde”- James Blake

17.  “Don’t Give Up”- Noisettes

18.  “6 Underground”- Sneaker Pimps

19.  “Somersault”- Zero 7 feat. Sia

20.  “Leave Me as You Find Me”- Josh Powell, Fraser Smith

21.  “The Pageant of the Bizarre”- Zero 7 feat. Sia

22.  “Aerials”- System of a Down

23.  “To Build a Home”- The Cinematic Orchestra

24.  “Khona”- Mafikizolo feat. Uhuru

25.  “Mr. McGee”- Zero 7

26.  “Folon”- Salif Keita

Find Djinn at your local independent bookstore via IndieBound

in hardcover HERE

or in paperback HERE

or on B&N.com HERE

or get it on Amazon HERE

or on Kindle HERE


#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "Threads in a Web" by Judy Hurd

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.

Threads in a Web

by Judy Hurd

A mystical fantasy that feels a little bit like a dream, a little bit like a memory, and a little bit like something entirely new. "Threads in a Web" is an interesting glimpse of a mythical Scotland with kings and meddlers, lairds and lovers, all woven together in the tapestry of life. Hurd remarked that this is one of her favorite short stories, and I can see why. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor



Best to show only craven humility, Ryel thought, so he kept his head humbly down, ignoring legs gone numb under him and shoulders aching with a pulling that ran down his spine. "Fool," he told himself, "to hope." But it was there all the same, a heavy knot in his breast, while they argued his fate.

      One of the new king's lairdlings said in a voice gravely after the long battle, "It has always been our custom to acquit the proletariats."

      “No common man, this,” the new king snorted, pacing away and back again, finally stopping before him.

Ryel knew what the king looked on, a clansman who had served his lineage laird with zeal and honor, a soldier stripped of all soldiery garb, bound and kneeling on the trampled grass. An evening breeze ruffled the new shorn hair at the nape of his neck, his clansman's braid decorating some victor's belt—a reminder, that, of the bitter day.

      He retained one satisfaction in his soul beside the bitterness in his heart of earth turned red with clansmen's blood in a battle gone all wrong. His dead laird's sire, mortally bleeding, had hugged his hand and kissed it. "I am spared the traitor's cursed blade," the old king had said weakly but with a smile.

      The traitor, this new king, remained a while longer, hands on hips, scowling over him. This king, new crowned on the battlefield, said bitterly to his co-conspirators, "This man nearly stole our victory. Surely, he cheated us of its trophy. Yet, you are arguing exoneration."

      "But they are witches, sire," the lairdling protested.

      Exasperation heavy in his posture, the new king rounded on his officers. “You are feeling, my fellow conspirators, extravagant and honorable toward an enemy we killed so easily in daylight when the moon is rising. Victory is a lofty plateau,” he heatedly reminded them, “the precipice of failure a long way behind. When we bargained with those same said witches it seemed a trivial occupation, sacrificing a human to the un-human.”

      The king glared at the man they had thrown on the grass before him. "The witches’ claim may be in question in our minds,” he said dispassionately, “but I dare not willfully defy them in the realm of their power. One brave man for a kingdom, as the contract was struck."

      "The one bravest man," the witch reminded them, striding in among them from the gathering darkness, leading behind her a black horse. She threw back the black hood of her cloak. The firelight ran copper over her hair. She was tall as a man. Her eyes were yellow and her face beautiful and prideful. She approached the captive where he knelt and raised his face upon her hand to see him better.

       Looking into her eyes, Ryel felt he should know her but could not quite remember, puzzlement shadowing his face.

      "You think you know me?" she questioned softly. "I tell you this, human, I know you. Wrap yourself in your bravery. It is that attribute that will sustain you through to the morrow. Before this night is finished you will not forget me."

      The witch turned to the king. "Your debt is paid," she announced plainly. "You have three days to bury your dead, collect your scattered men and be gone from this land to your own."

      With haughty arrogance, she turned her back on the new king and his chiefs, pulled Ryel to his feet, and pushed him into the saddle. Only the fire protested, spitting angry sparks at the sky as the witch led the black horse into the deepening dusk. Ryel did not look back. He would not have them know he was afraid.


At a casual pace, the witch led the horse up and down the hills. But the easy gait of the saddle seemed a fallacy when the witch's copper hair flowed in streamers behind her on an unfelt wind and the wild landscape galloped by the trailside. Reality and time lost their continuity. The land faded to dark but never gave up its color, and the sky went from dusky evening to a sapphire night. The evening star chased a moon that never climbed from the horizon. Together they sailed, instead, around the land's edge, east to west in an endless circle, each trailing watery light as if comets.

      Fatigued and rocked by the rhythm of the black horse, Ryel fell to dreaming dreams in which battle cries and the wailing of death haunted him. His forfeited mail weighted his sore shoulders and his lost helmet rested heavy over his brow. “Fate has turned against us,” Laird Bryant rasped angrily and choked up blood. “The battle has gone amiss, lad. Save the king, if you can,” he enjoined passionately, “but after this terrible day I think there will be a new king.” Then Laird Bryant died, breathing his last in Ryel’s arms.

In his dream, Ryel laid his laird on the bloody earth for a second time and took up his laird’s shield and his own sword that was slippery with blood in his fist. He swung onto the back of his clan chief’s war-horse. It was fractious under his unaccustomed hand, snapping at passing horses and men alike, but turned eagerly onto the fighting field. A flash of sunlight on the royal standard drew Ryel to the heart of the fighting. He called his clansmen to follow. Parrying and thrusting the while, he led them into the hell of battle.

They cut a swath toward the central banner. The clamor of arms and shrieking of steel along steel was deafening. Screams of death and terror were all around them. The enemy’s banners fell before them, only to be taken up again in desperation and driven forward. Ryel turned his laird’s stallion with his heels. He raised his sword, parried, turned his blade to take a killing swath. Suddenly, the horse skidded onto its hunches, waking him. He jerked up his head. A gasp of surprise that faded to a sigh of exhaustion escaped his lungs.

      They had at last stopped in a meadow surrounded by huge conifers more ancient than any in his own land. The moon bathed the meadow in a milky light from its station on the horizon. "This is my home," the witch told him and helped him from the saddle. While the witch pulled the saddle from the black horse, he looked around for a house, but there was none.

      Ryel rolled his shoulders to relieve the aches and strain. His hands had become numb from the bindings. The witch touched the cords that bound him, and they fell away. "Come," she said, and led him into the meadow, where she took off her cloak and put it round his shoulders. It was thick yet without weight and soft as down. "It will keep you warm," she said, "while you sleep."

      "Here?" he asked.

      "Yes," she smiled and with a touch light as moth wings she put her fingertips against his forehead. The aching and pain flowed from him, and he sank down asleep.

      When he woke, the moon had at last set. Overhead, the constellations had come out brighter and more abundant than he had ever seen them. The stars themselves reflected over and over in the dewdrops on a spider’s web that stretched from treetop to treetop, their sparkle running brilliant along the threads. Ryel struggled out of the warm cloak, blinking to clear away sleep, but his eyes had not deceived him. The whole of the meadow was canopied in a huge web, glistening with the starlight. At its very center was a large, black orb.

      The orb moved, unfurling legs to stretch on the web, shivering it, celestial light bouncing along the strands, dewdrops falling to earth like rain. Then the orb let loose and fell to earth at the end of a silk line, landing delicately on the grass beside him.

      He scrambled to his feet, the witch’s cloak tangling under him, bringing him down. The creature reached out and gathered him in, tucking him into a grating of its foremost legs. It was long as a man was tall, black of body and fangs. Its many eyes were yellow. Stiff copper colored hairs covered its legs and face and pedipalps, a frightening creature for all its fragile parts.

      With gentle strokes of sensitive palps, it caressed his face, tucking back the fiercesome fangs. Breathless and terrified, Ryel pinched shut his eyes. Its touch continued, light, shy, exploring, as if, despite its many eyes, the great creature was blind. Ryel dared not object. It explored further, moving down his body, a touching feminine and all too sensual.

      Suddenly it began to hum. A sound not unpleasant, like cords of harp strings. A ghost image formed on the retina of his eyes, the witch's face, arrogant and beautiful. He was so startled Ryel opened his eyes. "You," he gasped, not meaning to say it aloud.

      She hovered over him, black and copper, quivering with anticipation, threatening in her demeanor and character. "What do you want?" he demanded, his voice shaky and high even to his own ears. In answer the creature stroked him, and he understood all too well.

      Revulsion rocked his soul. Bile came thick in his mouth. In a rush of panic, he pulled himself from under her touch. Her fangs snapped down, their venomous points close and threatening. The coppery hairs on her palps and round her jowls bristled and quivered. He pressed himself to the earth, dared not move, barely dared breathe.

      A stretch of eternity he sweated in cold panic. The quivering hairs of her palps brush ever so lightly over his skin. He shivered at their touch but dared not protest or take his eyes from her. Gradually the creature relaxed, fangs drawing back carefully and palps touching him tentatively, and again the humming, very, very softly.

      Ryel lay still, learning to breathe again. Anger slowly replaced fear, anger growing unbidden, yet strong, anger that he survived a bloody day to come to this, anger for bargains not of his own making. A free man, responsible only to the pledges made his clan laird, had been sold for a throne.

      Against all good sense, he struggled to sit up, and the creature moved away and let him. He wrapped the witch's cloak about himself and demanded to know the whole of the bargain that had been struck.

      A shimmering filled with fey lights stirred the atmosphere around the creature then the witch sat upon the grass beside him. "A king was made today," she replied simply. "The bravest man was the price demanded.”

      "You meddled in human affairs," he accused more heatedly than he intended. "You sold a thief a throne and for why?"

      "Our numbers have grown too few to save the weavings," she answered, as if that were all the explaining necessary.

      A long moment the witch studied him with her head to one side. "Despite what you think," she said solemnly, "it was a painful thing we did, to twist and misshape fate. Yet, by your own hand, your own turn of mind, did you come to be here.

      "It is true we manipulated the weavings in the fabric of humanity," she admitted, "so you could not escape those threads interwoven with your own. The pattern was designed to trap the strongest thread, but the choices that singled you out were of your own making, by your own devices did you resist our meddling and survive this bloody day when those around you did not."

      "Who are you?" Ryel demanded.

      "Humans call us Fate.”

      "If there is more than one of you, do you not have your own name?" he asked.

      "Maephila. I am named Maephila," she replied, startled.

      "You are surprised I ask? It seemed only fair I know your name when you surely know mine."

      "Ryel," Maephila told him, a mocking smile in her eyes and on her lips, "you are named Ryel mac Blair of Clan Bryant. I know you well.” She pointed to the web over head. "Your thread runs through my weaving, and always you have chosen your own design, and the pattern you force into my weaving has not always been beautiful."

      "Tell me why I should do this act of insemination."

      She drew herself up straight, her mocking smile fading, arrogance stiffening the way she held herself. He smiled his own mocking smile and told her, "A certain amount of disdain comes with bravery."

      Some of the stiffness went out of her. "Always your own pattern...always.” Maephila waved her hand to include all the giants surrounding them. "These trees were planted the day I was born. I am the youngest. Only the true ancients remember when humanity came to be. Did you know," she asked, "that humanity was created out of Fate's ennui? Before humanity our weavings were without pattern or design, crude and ugly. Without the threads to the fabric, humanity is without principal or moral, narcissistic and iniquitous. By the threads we are bound together, interdependent.

"Though our lives are long, many of us have grown old. A few have died. As our numbers diminish, humans in greater score wander with no hope, no thread to the fabric. Without care the weavings fray, the threads break and fly away on the winds. When your armies passed through into Oblivion, we saw a final solution."

      "You are telling me there are no males to proliferate your kind?"

      "My father was not a weaver," she told him curtly, "but he was the last of his kind. He went away after planting my trees. I do not know why he went away, perhaps to die. He was old beyond time when I was born. Men called him a god. We called him father, brother, uncle. I have never known his true name."

      "Hearing this, what am I to say?" Ryel asked. "That I acknowledge this bargain you made with enemies of my laird, who alone commanded my allegiance, when his blood and the blood of my clansmen were forfeit in the doing of the bargain?"

      "Whether you acknowledge the bargain or not, Ryel mac Blair, you are here that I might bear your child. You thought you knew me when first we set eyes on one another. We are tangled together in that," she acknowledged, pointing above at the shimmering web. “That you create design you and I are bound because I weave your pattern. By your thread, I was chosen.”

      He filled and emptied his lungs very slowly, warm inside her cloak and still he shivered. "Are you cold?" she asked in earnest concern and laid her hand on his shoulder. He shrugged off her touch. She frowned. "You think I will make so poor a lover?"

      "You are a spider," he accused shakily.

      Maephila laughed. "You compare me to that little impostor?” She frowned in sudden understanding. "You are afraid of spiders. I thought I knew you well, but I had not known that."

      "Yes, afraid," he declared, "knowing my doom, seeing the creature of my death."

      Genuinely surprised, she asked, "Is that what you believe? Foolish man, there is no comparing. It has always amazed us you humans know so little about your own world and nothing of ours. Certainly, you do not know much about that impostor that inhabits both. Few spiders cannibalize," she said then stopped. She tilted her head in a contemplative way and suddenly smiled, not pleasantly but mockingly. "Of course, there are those few that do consume their proliferators," she taunted. "Where did they get such habits? After all, they are pretenders, much as you humans are pretenders to the gods."

      Affronted, Ryel frowned darkly, pride stung, and caution vanquished. "It is you who pretends," he declared angrily, "that I might equate a god's act. Tell me, Maephila, behind a witch's shimmering, which do Fates aspire, passive chroniclers or impassioned meddlers?"

      She sat very still, glaring at him. Her eyes changed in hue from yellow to golden umber to orcherous, and he knew he teetered on the edge of her tolerance. Bravery was one thing, bravado another. He had said too much, still, he refused to cower. He watched the witch's expressions through anger and haughty arrogance, until cold disdain crossed her beautiful face.

      She raised up her hands and snapped her fingers, and the spider crouched over him. Not wanting to see the creature she had become, Ryel crossed his arms onto his knees and put his head against them. The spider stroked his hair to mock him, and though he wished it not, he trembled. She hummed to him her deep reverberations till they vibrated in his marrow and his soul, and he became lost.       


The sun woke him. It had risen over his toes and the treetops round him. He was alive still to know the breeze ruffled his hair and to feel stiff and bruised from battle and other acts he refused to think on, so he let the sun's warmth seep into his sore body and let his mind run in circles.

      "Fate has turned against us," Lord Bryant had told him with his dying breath. Fate, what had he ever considered of fate, that one made his own fate? Meddlers, Maephila and her sisters, but he had made the choices, determining his own fate to be betrayed by humanity to be, in turn, its savior. Maephila, Maephila, tormentor and lover, the terror of her and the passion, both could devour him. Sanity was in another world, but that world was different today than it had been yesterday. Fated, bartered and witch-tainted, could he ever return to the world that birthed him?       

      He sat up abruptly and the bed swayed violently, like a boat caught crossways in waves. He clutched the hammock's sides and gasped at the sight far below.

      He could see the whole of the meadow as if a quilt. Shadows cast by the great trees stretched across its flora-patched lawn. The ribbon of a stream laced one side. The black horse kicked up his heels in the open field as if a colt.

      Quickly the violent swaying of his bed abated. Still, it rocked lightly in the wind, and he dared not let go the side. The web of threads thick as ropes stretched out around him with the hammock strung to its warp lines. Under and over and on all sides the lacy patterns gleamed in the sunlight. He reached a hand out with care and ran fingers over the intricate weavings of the threads.

      "You slept well?" the witch called from a nearby tree where she sat at leisure on a branch as thick as his thigh. She leaned forward and looked down at the meadow. "I could lower you on a thread, if you wish," she said. "Or you can come to the tree by way of the warp lines and climb down."

      Her help or his courage, he shuddered at the thought of facing the creature in full light. "I will climb down," he told her and tucked up his legs to crawl out of the hammock. It swung and swayed with his shifting weight, and Ryel clung tight to the silken lines. Maephila stood, stepping from branch to warp line, she would come to his aid, but he took a breath to steady himself and stayed her help with an emphatic “no,” perhaps more emphatically than he intended, for she left him entirely to his own devices.

      Like a ladder, he descended tree branches to the ground where he found a fire burning in a hearth ring, hot water boiling in a pot. A mug of tea set out with bread and honey. He hadn't eaten since before dawn the day of the battle. Was it only yesterday he wondered when so many fell around him? Only yesterday Lord Bryant died in his arms? "Save the king, if you can," his laird had commanded. He had tried—in vain. The king, too, had died in his arms.

      He sat close to the fire ring, eating and sipping from the mug. His tongue did not taste the rich bread, or the sweet honey, or the robust tea. He ate because his body needed the nourishment, creeping across the web—even the climb from the tree had left him shaking with weakness.        

His attention instead was for the black horse darting in and out of dappled shade, playfully tossing mane and swishing tail on the wind. With a soldier's eye, he watched the animal, assessing its staying power, its speed and its willingness to be approached.

      "He will not allow you near him unless I approve," the witch said. He looked up at her with the half-forgotten mug in his hand, half a loaf of bread neglected by the fire. Her yellow eyes were more golden in morning light, and summer's copper was darkened to fall's amber within the plait of her hair hanging over one shoulder. She was strong and graceful, and to his chagrin, exceedingly desirable. She laid neatly folded clothes and a kit on the grass beside him and began steeping herself a mug of tea. He watched her at so homey a task in brooding silence, wanting to escape her and aching for her, and loathing himself for that desire.

      He looked away at the horse. "Will you allow it?" he asked, sounding desperate.

      "If you wish," she agreed gently and greatly surprised him. "Come and go where and when as you desire.” She tilted her head in that way of hers, sipped her tea and studied him. "Guilt is a powerful emotion among humans," she said at last. "Have you considered that you might not again be accepted among your own?"

      He shook his head. Not that he hadn’t considered the idea but that he was unwilling to acknowledge it. Maephila laid her hand on his shoulder. Unlike the night before, he did not shrug her off though he was aware she felt the tension in him.

      "What was done was done for the most good and cannot be undone," she said not unkindly.

      "Meddler, do you really know what you have done?" he asked.

      "Do I know, or do I understand?" she queried. "I do know, but as for understanding in the context of a human, no, I do not. I feel your human emotions, they are the patterns of the design, but I cannot understand them, much as I try. What I feel now is your sadness for what is lost."

      "But not lost to be found again," he said bitterly, keeping his temper in tight check. "You have no remorse, Maephila, you and your sisters. After all, what is remorse but a human emotion, just another pretty pattern among so many pretty patterns in a Fate's weaving?"

      She frowned at him, but he could not stop himself, he went on accusingly. "Emotions are not just pretty interwoven designs in a tapestry," he told her, "they are the very fibers that make the fabric."

      "You are insightful, Ryel mac Blair. That we appear insensitive is not that we are uncaring, rather our protection against being rendered incapacitated by a sea of human emotions.       

      "You, man of Clan Bryant, despite your powerful emotions, have the strongest sense of self of any human in my keeping. When you are gone from the weaving, I will miss the twists and turns of your thread. Before that day, I hold to the hope that you will forgive us. Frightened by the deaths of our sisters, we may have done a selfish act. I would like to think not."

      She laid her hand over the gifts on the grass. "Clean clothes," she said, "and a kit to replace your lost one. Bathe in the stream, dry in the sun."

      "Meddling again," he said, smiling to please her. "You cannot resist.” He climbed to his feet. And she, too, stood up, picking up her offerings, things far finer than any he had ever possessed. He reached for her gifts and her fingers caught his and held them.

      "Maephila, what have we?" he asked, knowing that she knew.

      "We have made a son," she said proudly, "the final solution, who will, like his father, walk in two worlds."

      He looked into her eyes, knowing he thought her beautiful and hideous by turns, dreading her and yearning for her, and that she knew all this. Fate, he thought, that I love her who cannot love. She'd witched him, surely, to make him her willing lover, but...

      "What becomes of us, Maephila?"

      "I am your Fate," she answered, "your manipulator. Your lover, Ryel mac Blair, connected ever after by more than threads in a web."


Judy Hurd is a writer from southern Oregon and a member of Willamette Writers. This story was published in an anthology of competition participants hosted by Gom Press, The Best New Sci-Fi and Fantasy for 2004. Lately. Ms. Hurd has turned to longer fiction; she just finished a novella and is working on a novel length Sci-Fi written from the alien's point of view. 

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "Blaise" by Lori Ubell

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.


by Lori Ubell

(Trigger Warning: Mentions of rape, abuse.) A writing professor in college told my short story class that flash fictions and short stories need to be an inch long and a mile deep. Blaise may be only a thousand words, but those thousand words do a lot of work to paint a very vivid picture of a very troubled person in a horribly realistic situation. 40% of all homeless youth are LGBTQ, and they face greater risks of mental health issues, unsafe sexual practices, and victimization [True Colors Fund]. Ubell's writing is gritty and unflinching in its telling of Blaise's life experiences. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor



She looked like a stone butch, but it wasn’t that simple. She was a twisted girl who could only come with her clients, none of whom were female.

Not that her lovers minded. She could certainly make them come. And she was so handsome, with eyes the color of a ripe bruise, and a smile that made you hot from your neck down to the tips of your toes.

And strong. So strong she could split a log with one blow. So strong that if she held you down, you couldn’t get up, no matter how fit you thought you were.

She preferred girls from the upper middle class, and she never let them whore.

“You couldn’t stand it, not for one day,” she’d say, as she packed that little bag with the red silk underwear she never wore at home. Then she’d be gone, for a night or a week, coming back exhausted and more silent than usual.

After a long bath, she’d emerge and dig a wad of cash out of the bag.

“Here, darlin’,” she’d say, tossing it on the bed, “for you.” She wouldn’t talk about what she’d done for it, but the girl always knew.

And sometimes, in bed, she’d imitate the men, and they’d both laugh so hard that life seemed good, at least in that moment.

But the rages came without warning, and they were terrifying.

At first, you’d just hear about them.

Late one night, she threw her bicycle through a plate glass window downtown. No one saw, but it made the 11 o’clock news. It was in the days of the Weather Underground and Baader-Meinhof, and the newscaster speculated about what it could mean.

What it meant was that Blaise’s bike had a flat, and she was walking it home when a guy started hassling her.

“Hey, what are you, a boy or a girl? Hey, bull dyke, wanna fight? Hey, chickie, wanna play?”

He was young and not especially big. Blaise knew she could take him, but she didn’t want to fight, not downtown at 2 am, so she kept walking.

When he said, “Just give me the bike, and I’ll leave you alone,” she turned around and spat in his face.

“You bitch!” he screamed, and grabbed the back wheel. Blaise was quick in those days, and she yanked it away, heaving it through the window of a men’s haberdashery.

Alarms went off, and she and the guy ran in opposite directions.

“But now you have no bike,” said the girlfriend, looking up at her with big brown eyes. “How will you get around?”

Blaise shrugged.

“You can buy me one, can’t you?”

The girl could, and did. Not with Blaise’s money, because that money always disappeared, spent on dinners out, and pounds of pot, and the occasional rock concert. But the girl, a student, had a large allowance from parents far away. So Blaise got a new bike, and no one ever knew what happened to the window downtown.

That girl didn’t last, and neither did the next. It got colder, and Blaise got more desperate. By the time I met her, her smile almost never showed.

I was in a reckless mood, wearing dress and heels to the bar in a time when the normal garb, both butch and femme, was jeans and a flannel shirt. I was tired of that, and tired of going home alone.

“I’ve heard about you,” I whispered in her ear as I linked my arm through hers.

She looked down at me, eyes glittering with lust and narcotics.

“What have you heard?”

“That you’re the best fuck in town.”

And plenty more, but it seemed irrelevant.

“What do you want to do about it?”

I dragged her home and she stayed.

For weeks all we did was laugh and fuck, eating Popeye’s chicken when we got hungry. I didn’t answer the phone, and the only mail I opened was the unemployment check.

One day she said, “I have to work tonight.”

I knew what she meant, but I made her tell me. I could always get her to tell me things.

So she went to work, coming home the next day at noon, with swollen lips and a dark scowl.

When she’d cleaned herself, she said,

“Let’s go out to eat.”

And over dinner, she told me the story of her life. How her step-father had raped her, and her mother had thrown her out, saying, “Why don’t you tie a bed to your back?”

It sounded grim, but it was the sixties, and Venice Beach was filled with runaways and throwaways. She learned to steal. She learned to whore. She bought herself some roller-skates, and skated up and down the boardwalk, plying her trade. Some bad things happened, but she shrugged them off and went on. What else could she do?

“Why didn’t you stay down there?” I asked.

“My mom’s up here,” she said. I blinked. I couldn’t believe she wanted to be anywhere near that woman.

None of her friends knew her real name, or that she had a mother who lived on skid row in an SRO, or a sister in foster care somewhere in California, but I did. I even met the mother, who said to me, “Better keep Sherine around at least 'til spring, so she can keep chopping your wood.”

When the bill for this knowledge came due, I nearly couldn’t pay it.

It was 3 am, and Blaise had been gone two days. I woke up to a knife at my throat. She wore a stocking over her face, and I didn’t know it was her until after she’d bound me and made me cry out against my will.

I forgave her, but for her it was over, and she moved on. The next girl got beaten so badly she ended up in the hospital. I lost track of her after that.

Years later, when that Dire Straits song came out, you could almost believe it was about her. The only movie she ever made, though, wasn’t on location, but in a crappy motel at the edge of town. If that 8mm still exists, it shows, in grainy black and white, a girl being gang-raped. And if the cameraman happened to zoom in on her face, he captured the last time tears ever fell from those long dead eyes.


An out lesbian since adolescence, Lori Ubell's own experiences inform this story. She studied writing with James Frey (How to Write a Damn Good Novel), Dorothy Allison and Emily Whitman. She belongs to a critique group which meets twice a month and has been on-going for about two years. She's am an active member of SCBWI, Willamette Writers, and the Historical Novel Society. She's published poetry, short stories and non-fiction in both regional and national publications, including Parade, Hadassah, Lilith, The Oregonian and Calyx.

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "What Remains" by KJ Rovka

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.

What Remains

 by KJ Rovka

A soft-spoken, tragic story focusing on two children and a grave mistake. This story made me think of the moments when children are forced to grow up too soon, no matter how much we try to protect them. Yet, as Rovka and this saddening yet gentle story remind us, there is always hope. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor


bloody rock 2.jpg

When I think back to then, the first thing I remember is the rock. Its pitted surface was now glazed with congealing blood, filling its mini craters with ponds of crimson. I look at the figure to my side. Poor little Rebs. To her credit, she said not a word. At any other time, this would have been unusual. She was always quick to run home, telling Grandma Evelyn what a bad boy Owen was being. Now though, she had hidden away her 7-year-old smile by pursing her lips firmly shut.

"I need to go away," I said, and she murmured an unintelligible sound as a response. “Now.” I knew she understood. She had to. I had to run, to take myself as far away from that place as swiftly as possible. Maybe I could outrun my guilt, my fears and the thoughts that turned poisonous on me. I couldn't bring myself to look at the body, crumpled in the distance between the patches of sweet smelling sage. I didn't want to believe what I did. If I didn't look at it, I wouldn't have to face the hopes and dreams I ended with one blow. I didn't want to contemplate the thousands of happy futures I ruined in my one act of selfish thoughtlessness.

"You run home now," I commanded in the most adult voice I could muster, but she must have only heard the words of a scared boy. She shook her head ferociously, clinging to her tattered skirts with white knuckles.

"You can't come with me," I pleaded with her, begging that she’d leave and forget about me. "Don’t worry about me. I’ll become a wild man like old Uncle Eddie did." That’s what they told me and Rebs what happened when my father’s eldest brother stopped coming by the house. I knew they were lying then. Uncle Eddie died after the mine collapsed. But it sounded better than the truth, and I think Rebs believed it. I hoped she still believed it. She needed to believe it for me.

"I'm leaving, and there’s nothing you can say about it. So just go home!" I screamed at her, in her face. She brought her little cherubic face down and pulled her skirts even tighter, as if she was turning herself into a ball of iron; immune to my anger. I put my back to her, put my back to the sun, and sprinted. Dead twigs of buckbrush and artemisia crunched beneath my feet as I tried to outrun everything. Outrun the accusations and guilt of the dead body as much as the unquestioning loyalty and unconditional love from little Rebs. Both were equally painful.

I already knew what I was capable of. Murderer at age 12. What other horrors would await my cousin if she stayed by my side?

I stopped and turned around, hoping to see that she had decided I was never coming back for her. I pleaded with God that now she had the sun in her face, and the bright future she always deserved on her path. Of course, she hadn't made a move. I knew she wouldn't, and she knew I wouldn’t leave her out there all alone. She had probably called my bluff before I took my first step into the darkening east.

"Fine," I yelled to her. "You can come. But don’t slow me down." I tried to be mean in one last attempt to get her to leave me. This time we weren’t hiking the hills for fun. We weren’t going to catch lizards or find bits of old Indian obsidian. But not even my coldness would deter her. I waited for what seemed a lifetime as she slowly paced through the desert following the dusty steps I had run in haste. Her hands still stayed by her side, not moving at all while she gripped those dirty skirts.

Hours ago, she was skipping around patches of dead, yellowed grass, landing on bare soils so dry that every step produced a tan cloud at her feet as we played tag and chased each other. I took that away from her when I threw that rock. I stole the spring in her gait.

Bu the time she rejoined my side, the sun had already engulfed the top of the mountain with an orangey halo.

Her left hand released her tattered skirt, and caked with sweat and grime, the skirt kept its crumpled form. Forcefully, she grabbed my arm with her free hand.

"I did it," she whispered.

"Don't be stupid," I rebuked her, more forcefully than I intended.

"Owen, I did it. I killed that little boy." I winced. Rebs stabbed me with the description of my victim. I hadn’t known he was a boy; I didn’t see. I didn't want to know. Dead bodies weren't human; they weren't little boys and girls. They were bloated, rotting flesh, nothing more. Dead bodies won't run and play in the sun, they won't tease their sisters, they won't climb trees and get read bedtime stories at night. Little boys will.

"Rebecca, listen to me." I turned to her, knelt down and looked her straight in the eye. "You didn't do anything wrong. I threw the rock where I wasn’t looking. The rock that hit his head was mine. Not yours. None of this is your fault. You never touched it. You didn't do anything."

"It’s my fault. I laughed.” Tears were streaming down her face but she held back sobs. “I told you to throw the rock as far as you could. I bet you that Lily's brother could throw it further."

I pulled her into my scrawny arms and hugged her tightly. She didn't resist, but she didn't melt into my embrace either. Everything in her little frame told me she needed love and support, but she was too deep in guilt to think she deserved any of it. I didn't care.

I let her go and looked into her eyes again. "I love you Rebs." I wiped the tears from her eyes with my dirty fingers, but I knew she wouldn't mind. "Cousins take care of each other and I am going to take care of you. I'm never going to let anything happen to you." Rebs' eyes looked unfocused, as if she were dwelling in another, distant world comprised of her own imagination. I knew she was getting scared by the quiver of her fingers so I squeezed her hand gently, just to remind her that I was there.

She sniffed. "We are in this together, right?" she asked, but really it was more a statement than a question.

"Yeah." I sighed as I placed her tiny right hand into my left, "I guess we are."

The second thing remember, when my mind floats back to this time, is the campfire ablaze against the blackened sky. The sparks flying off the brittle desert sage branches joined their sparkling cousins, the stars in the sky for brief moments of orange brilliance.

This was when I could no longer run away from my thoughts - when the clarity of the cloudless sky couldn't obfuscate my sin to God, to myself. And I found myself staring deeply into the glowing coals of the fire, hoping for some kind of purifying burn to cleanse my heart of my deed. I hoped in vain.

Murderer. It was a cloak I now donned. It was a word that yesterday could not be used to describe me, but today the word was written in blood, next to my name in St. Peter’s book in heaven.

I was so many things before today. I was the second baseman last week, the catcher on Saturday. I was a student, I was cowboy in training. But now I would be nothing but murderer. Even if I could return, even if nobody knew of the crime, the God and the angels would judge me. I'd never just be a student again. I'd be a murdering student, a murdering cowboy. It was inescapable.

Perhaps this was simply somebody else's story I was living. I began to ponder such questions when hunger and fatigue addled my mind that night. I could believe that, so long as I didn't have to look at the face of that boy’s murderer. What questions would that mirror reflection have to answer?

"Owen?" my own cousin whispered quietly, shaking me out of my reverie.

"Yeah Rebs?"

"I'm hungry." Yet even then my thoughts returned to that boy who would never be hungry again. A boy who would never get to satiate that hunger with a savory bite of chicken leg, or grilled rainbow trout.

"I know," I admitted to her eventually. My own stomach growled at me angrily, though I was too consumed in guilt to care for it. "We'll find something tomorrow. I swear it."

Surely, I knew my promise was a hollow one, but I had to make it. I had to convince myself more than I had to convince Rebs, or I'd not be able to lie to her so easily. But reality wasn’t so kind and neither the next day nor the following did we find so much as one morsel to share in the empty desert. It was mere luck that we found the snow melt stream or we would have died. Though at the time, I thought, perhaps, the greater luck would have been to die quickly and die together.

"I think," Rebs muttered to me in a fugue state after we had laid down for the night, "I think we would have been friends with him."

"Go back to sleep, " I shushed her, re-positioning her small body along the rocks of the cave we had started to call home for the past couple of days. She looked so uncomfortable, but she wouldn't move a muscle on her own. She couldn't anymore.

"A friend in exchange for a rock. We exchanged a friend for a rock," she continued, delirious. I don't know if it was her stomach, or her heart that was talking. "I think I would rather have the friend. I think I'd rather have the friend, than the rock. It would have been better that way."

I wish I could have answered her, but I was never strong enough to speak plainly to her. I couldn't comfort her, so I said nothing. I couldn't be her armor, so I didn't want to risk hurting her. I was too afraid to see her cry.

But mentally I screamed. There are no take-backs. There is nothing we can do now to bring that boy back! But there were so many points, so many junctures that day where a different choice could have meant life instead of death. All I had to do was say I wanted to eat lunch on the porch instead of suggesting we play by the boulders that afternoon. I could have offered to play cops and robbers, one of Reb’s favorite games, instead of showing off my throwing arm. If I hadn't thrown that ball to third base, if Robbie hadn't been able to tag Jeff out, if we hadn't won that game Saturday, I wouldn't have been so full of bravado. I wouldn't have shown off to Rebs. We'd be begging Grandma for a bedtime story right now instead. That little boy would be tucked in bed, sleeping soundly as his mother looked on.

My mind reeled back to the minutes and hours before I threw that rock. We were laughing. How is that even possible? We were running and playing, smiling only moments before it left my hands. What gave us the right to smile? Ten minutes before I killed, I was no better a person than ten minutes after I killed. Ten minutes before, a little boy played in the desert, living the very last moments he ever would live. Blissfully unaware that his existence was about to come to a violent end. How could I have been so callous? How could I have let my selfishness roam so unchecked?

The third thing I remember are words I never thought I'd hear escape her lips. The creaked out of parched lips and blew through emaciated cheeks.

"Do you want to die?"

I panicked. "Don't give up on me Rebs. I know you are hungry. I'll find you some food. I'll go back to town tomorrow and get help. I promise."

Her little head shakily turned to me. "Not me Owen. You. Did you want me to go home so you could die?"

What was a 7-year old speaking of life and death like this for? Was she yet another victim of mine? To murder a little boy's body and a little girl's spirit!

"I never intended to die," I told her, and it was the truth. I never wanted to kill myself. I never wanted to again take a life, any life, and I certainly never wanted to face my own mortality.

But I did want to stop living. I wanted to quietly quit life. It was the only way I could stop being a murderer. I wanted to stop thinking of that boy, but as long as I was living, I didn't deserve to bury my guilt in forced amnesia.

"Ok. Don't die then. I would rather be friends." As if she were reading my very thoughts she added, "You can't change your mind if you die."

Those were her last words to me. When I woke up the next day, she didn't respond. I shook her gently, but her eyes remained shut. I whispered in her ear to get up, but she didn't stir.

The last thing I remember was laying naked in the snow. The high-altitude sun was shining on this late spring day, so my body couldn't have been that cold, but I wouldn't have felt it anyway. I didn't remember climbing that high. I don't know how I did it, got up so high, being so hungry and tired and worn. But I remember the perfect indent my body made upon the old snow. On occasion, I gently tested the confines of my iced mold to see how much effort I'd need to make to break this outline of my body.

I was exposed, ready to let the sun purify my soul and bleach my bones. Let the crows take bites of me and fly to away spread this murderer to parts around the world, I thought. I destroyed a human being and all the promise he offered the world. I took away the future husband of the mother of his future children. I robbed his parents of his love and affection as they grew to old age. Let me offer myself in sacrifice, to honor his loss, I thought.

I thought to close my eyes one last time, to let the sun’s rays blanket my body while I left it quietly. I thought to let the cold wet moisture of the melting snow creep through my skin and slow my blood to a standstill. I thought of the world beyond to shut down my ears, my fingertips, eyes nose and heart.

That is probably why I didn't hear the grunts she made. It is probably why I didn't hear her boots hit the rock fall, even though she did so with little grace.

First the woman’s head went to my heart. I am sure she heard something; a slow, faint beat, growing weaker by the second.

Next her fingers went to my head, examining for injury and blood, but settling on my eyelids, which she pulled open to examine my dilated eyes.

"Wake up," she commanded and slapped me in the face, hard, but I didn't respond.

She pulled a thick woolen blanket out from her pack, and began to wrap it around me. She produced a water skin and brought it to my parched lips, and finally, I felt her presence. The cool water flowed down my warm, dry throat, pumping new life where hope had all but been abandoned. I coughed, and opened my eyelids as far as I could.

I saw my rescuer. She had dark, taut olivine skin etched with faint creases and raven black hair which she bound in a simple braid. And her black eyes bore through my delusion and my mental fog, but offered no judgment.

"Don't bother," I croaked, "Don't waste your time with me."

She shushed me, harshly. "Your daddy thought you'd been murdered, boy. Don't make me make it so."

She picked me up. I must had lost a lot of weight because she bore me with little trouble.

It was nightfall by the time we made it down. A lone horse served as my welcoming committee, upon which she unceremoniously foisted my weak body.

"Don't make me go home. I killed them. I killed them both. One with my hands, Rebs with my words. I don't deserve to live. Rebs. I can't take you back," I started mumbling before I finally, mercifully, lost consciousness.


The first thing I remember was the eyes of Rebs' uncle on me, scanning my body in the hospital bed with concern. He grabbed my limp hand and held it tightly. The warmth of his palm spread through my fingers and shot up my arm.

Father, I wanted to say, I'll never be the man you wanted me to be. I am a murderer. But I couldn't. Every time I tried to get the words up, my body failed me. Every time I felt my lips move, I lost the words.

The second thing I remember was turning my head away from my father, in shame. Instead, my gaze was forced to fall on the twin bed at my side, and the tiny body with blonde hair that occupied it. The white sheet rose and fell slowly, but rhythmically. Her eyes were still closed, but I could see the color in her cheeks.

That little boy was never coming back. His family would have to mourn him, and I would have to spend the rest of my life honoring his memory. Nothing was going to change that. But across from me, lying peacefully on that bed, I realized finally, that hope still lived.



KJ Rovka has been writing for over 12 years, but newly seeking publication. She writes fantasy and science fiction novels that are usually exciting and literary short stories that are usually depressing. When she's not writing or at her day job, she's usually learning a new language, hiking a new trail or playing a new video game. KJ graduated with a BA in International Relations in 2006 and an MA in Environmental Science and Policy in 2010, so you might call her a jack of all trades and master of absolutely none. You can peruse her scribbles, short stories, and musings on her blog at http://strawbeaner.blogspot.com/

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "Skin-Deep" by Julia Figliotti

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.


by Julia Figliotti


TRIGGER WARNING: implied human trafficking, enslavement, abuse, mention of rape, and suicide.

"Skin-Deep" is incredibly gripping and deeply mesmerizing from start to finish. Shelly's somber narrative voice leads the reader through the unfolding of her tragic life, sucking the reader deep into the unimaginable. This dark tale engrossed me completely, showing the truly spellbinding power of Figliotti's writing. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor


Her name had been Shelly for as long as she could remember. But then again, she had been his for as long as she could remember. Her previous life was not important, nor was the name she used to go by.

She was Shelly, and she was his. That was all she needed to know. That was all she had ever known.

When he first came to own her, he took her to a tattoo parlor and told her to agree to whatever it was that he said. She only nodded; following orders was not new to her. Pain was not new to her. He spoke with the tattoo artist—a friend of his, she guessed, judging by the lack of questions that the man seemed to have concerning the art and its canvas—and beckoned her over. The man asked her if she knew what the tattoo process was and if she was ready to begin. Again, Shelly only nodded. Pain was not new to her.

The man who owned her watched as she calmly removed her shirt and bra and laid herself face down on the artist’s table. Her russet hair swirled around her face, resting on the pillow that her head now claimed. The whir of the needle started, loud and low and constant, and she took a deep breath and closed her mind to it. But for the first time, she was brought sharply back to reality by a piercing, dragging pain, so acute yet so overwhelming, on the right side of her lower spine. She was shocked at the pain she felt. This pain was new to her.

For the next few hours—or was it only minutes? or was it days?—Shelly gritted her teeth against the ache that traveled slowly, methodically, up her back with the artist’s needle. Long, straight lines were being etched into the skin that covered her spine, making her want to cry out in pain, though she knew that would not end well for her. She did not yet know the man who owned her, but from what she had seen of him so far, she knew that he was not a man to cross, and he was not a man to forgive.

When the needle reached the back of her neck, Shelly had to bite her tongue to keep herself quiet. She tasted the preface to blood in her mouth and her saliva turned hot and sour. Pain blossomed from the trails that the artist’s tool left in her skin and she took the time to wonder how long it would take for her back to heal. She didn’t even want to know what it looked like, and as long as she never turned her back to a mirror, she wouldn’t have to. She tried not to concentrate on the curves and lines being torn into her unblemished skin. Instead, she concentrated on her new name. Shelly.

It appeared in writing in her mind, and she hated it. It looked stupid to her, and sounded childish. What kind of man was this, anyway, to own her and mark her and call her by a name that belongs to a young girl? Shelly. Her mind was brought sharply back to the pain in her body, the whir in her ear, the taste in her mouth. Shelly.

Finally, blessedly, the whirring stopped. The artist put down his tools and rubbed a joltingly cold gel on the newly stained skin of her back. She winced with a passionate mix of joy and pain—joy from the reprieve of the artist’s needle, which had dug so mercilessly into her skin, and from the healing qualities that she could feel as the aloe seeped into her pores; pain from the harsh mixture of her open wounds and shock of the cold ointment against her feverish skin.

Gently, the artist asked her to stand up slowly, telling her that he would show her to the mirror so she could admire the work of art that her blank canvas had become. She barely heard the pride in his voice that came from creating a masterpiece. With pleading eyes, she looked at the man who had brought her here. He stared blankly back at her, and she truly saw him for the first time.

He was tall, taller than her own five-foot-ten by at least four inches. His dark moustache was trimmed hastily around the top of his small mouth and down the sides, meeting up in a goatee with a strip of facial hair that began below the center of his lower lip and connected in a beard at the chin. His hair was raven black and down to his chest, thin but beautiful, with a streak of blonde that highlighted either side of his pale face. His eyes were a deep brown, chilling and exciting all at once, lower lids lined with a dark smudge. His nose was straight, a complement to his pronounced cheekbones and thick eyebrows.

He wore a fitted black suit jacket that covered a tight black shirt. A thick silver chain graced his collarbone and the base of his neck, shown off by a slight dip in his shirt. His leather fingerless gloves were worn with use, the fingers protruding from them long and clean. The man’s long legs were clad in tight leather pants which boasted silver chains from pocket to pocket. His boots were as black as the rest of him, military style and untied. Shelly swallowed hard as he blinked once, seeming to come out of whatever trance he had been in.

“Get dressed,” he told her, his low voice reeking of an unfamiliar accent that sent chills down her newly inked spine. “We don’t have time for this.” He turned to the artist, handed him some money—quite a lot of it, from what she could see—and turned back to Shelly, who had forsaken her bra and tight blouse in favor of a loose T-shirt the artist had given her. “We’re leaving.”

She followed him out of the small tattoo parlor, reading the instructions the artist had handed her on her way out. Do not pick at the tattoo. Do not scratch or rub the tattoo. Pat the tattoo dry after bathing. Apply ointment daily for seven days. Her bewildered mind struggled to process all of this while simultaneously wondering how on earth she would be able to reach the middle of her back in order to apply the ointment. This was all so new to her.

For the next week, he hardly spoke to her. She had assumed that he would use her in ways that she had been used before: cleaning, cooking, grooming, a quick fuck every now and then. But he asked nothing of her, except to come to his bedroom every morning when she woke so he could apply the ointment to her back. He did it with care, his long fingers sweeping wetly up and down her spine, caressing the raised, blackened skin that scarred her back. She got chills every time he touched her, but she knew she could not show it. A man was a dangerous thing, especially when she didn’t know what it was that he wanted from her. When she left him every morning, his eyes were alive, shining with a hidden pleasure. When she saw him under any other circumstances, they were far off and empty. She got chills then, too.

For those first seven days, it took all of her willpower not to drag her nails across whatever skin on her back her long arms would let her reach, not to slam her back against the nearest wall corner and drag her body back and forth. But she had been warned about what could happen to her new art if she did that, and she didn’t know what kind of reaction that would elicit from the man. And that was something she didn’t want to find out.

The man had given her a room of her own in his house. It was not a dingy chamber in any way, but an actual bedroom. She had a spacious four-poster bed with canopy drapes and a firm mattress, a closet for her few clothes and belongings, an armchair and a loveseat, and a picture window that framed a beautiful little lake and a weeping willow tree. Across from the window was a floor-length mirror that beckoned to her daily, calling at her, begging her to see how the man had marked her as his own. Instead, she would look at her face, her hair, her body, noting that her brunette hair was still full of color, her hazel eyes were still bright with life, her cheeks were still pink, her lips full, her figure a small hourglass. These were the things that kept her sane. These were the things that kept her alive.

She went to him on the eighth morning, expecting to feel the chill of the ointment and the burning of his eyes on her back. But when she walked into the room, he didn’t motion for her to turn around. He didn’t tell her to remove her shirt. He only stared at her with his dull brown eyes, almost unseeingly. Shelly looked back at him, growing increasingly nervous at his lack of participation, debating whether or not to retreat from his darkened bedroom. She had just decided that her presence was not welcome when he spoke to her.

“Does it still itch at all?” He hadn’t spoken so many words in her presence since the tattoo parlor. Shelly shook her head. “Does it hurt?” She shook her head again. “Good.” His eyes began to heat up, though her tattoo was shrouded entirely. She never thought she would see that fire begin to kindle; she had only ever seen it at full strength. His dull, dead look turned slowly into a tight interest, though his facial expression remained the same. Shelly had a moment to marvel at the power that the man’s eyes held before he stood up abruptly, almost tricking her into a startled jump backwards. He began to walk towards her, slowly, staring at every part of her that he could see.

“Do you know why I chose you?” Shelly’s eyes widened; no one had ever asked her that question before. No one had ever spoken to her so softly, yet so dangerously. But then, she reminded herself, she had never belonged to anyone else. She stood rooted to the ground in dumb silence. “Do you know why I had to have you?” She blinked and shook her head. She didn’t trust herself to speak at a time like this. Even the air around them seemed fragile, as though one wrong word would shatter it and send shards of ambiance into their skulls.

“It’s your shape,” the man said, taking another fluid step in Shelly’s confused direction. “Your shape…and your hair. Your hair is like mahogany.” His voice was shaking slightly with anticipation, making his thick accent almost unreadable. He held out a quivering hand towards her as he came within reach of her body. She had prepared for this. Pain was not new to her.

But he did not hurt her. He seemed afraid to even touch her. When he finally closed the distance between them, he lowered his hand to his front pocket and extracted a thin brown ribbon that reminded Shelly of her own hair color. His eyes were on hers now, and she did not look away.

“Turn around, please,” the man said, his now-even voice carefully controlled. She did as she was told, her instincts screaming at her not to turn her back on a man like this, her practiced mind ignoring the warning. She felt expert hands run through her hair, twisting it into a low bun and securing it with the ribbon. The man turned her around so she was facing him and began to remove her shirt. She did nothing to dissuade him, nor did she assist him; this was the kind of man who did things his own way, the kind of man who would tell her when he wanted her to act. Deft fingers blindly unclasped her bra, the leather of his gloves scratching against her scarred back as her mind wandered just far enough that she could still hear his orders and read his eyes.

As Shelly was being undressed, her wandering mind focused on a tall wooden chair in the center of the man’s bedroom. It was ancient and scuffed, a deep oaken color, carved with precision and care. The chair had no arms, no comfortable qualities that the eye could see. Its back was tall and straight and menacing. He led her to it slowly, his eyes still glowing with their secret flame. Along the way he removed his own shirt, revealing tattoos that covered his arms and shoulders and much of his slim chest. His fingerless gloves remained on his hands. He sat in the chair with his back rigid, his right arm worming behind the seat as though it were searching for something. When he brought it back to the front of his body, the man’s hand grasped a long, thin strip of wood that boasted what seemed to be taut, fine white fibers. Horse hair, Shelly realized. She pushed the thought easily away. The man’s legs were spread now and he stared at her intensely, the fire in his eyes hotter now than she’d ever seen it.


She slid easily onto practiced knees, the transition natural, the position comfortable. She knew what would come next—what else could it be? This man had just taken a little bit longer to get there than the others.

The man extracted another long, mahogany ribbon from his pocket and took both of her wrists gently in his left hand. With his right, he wove the ribbon around her slim wrists, tight enough that she couldn’t free herself, not so tight that it cut into her skin. He tied the ends of the ribbon in a careful knot that hung gracefully from her bound wrists. When he looked at her again, she saw raw passion in his wide eyes. The liner that smudged his lower lids seemed to sweat and glow as he slowly raised her arms above her head with his left hand and picked up the strip of wood with his right. And when the music started, a lone sweet string melody, Shelly knew what it was that she had become.

The man drew his bow across her back, sliding perfect symphonies against the silent strings tattooed into her skin. His eyes were closed and his head was tilted back, and she could feel the power that lived inside of him. She could feel it in the grip of his left hand on her wrists and forearms, his swift fingers moving across her skin, pressing down on imaginary strings, moving in perfect time with the music that came from outside of them. She could feel it in the movement of his body as he swayed with the music, swayed with his music, around her body. She could feel it in his legs, firm with years of practice and performance, cradling her curved figure the way a musician held his favorite instrument. For the second time in her life, Shelly was unable to remove herself from her situation. His bow whipped back and forth, frenzied across the instrument that her body had become. She was enthralled by him, enraptured by his fervor, intoxicated by his music. Their music.

Skin-Deep Symphony.jpg

She didn’t know how long she knelt there, a tool of passion between his knees. But when the music finally came to an end, the man simultaneously dropped his bow and her wrists and his head sagged onto his chest, his breathing heavy and harsh. For several minutes, Shelly couldn’t even move. She had never been used like this before, never felt so objectified in her entire life. But then again, wasn’t her life with this man all she had ever known?

When he raised his head from his chest, the man’s eyes were dull and empty once more. Drying streaks of wetness traced the skin from his eyes to his chin and he stared at her blankly, registering her presence with a blink. “Please go now.” His voice had lost its tremor and its obvious restraint; he once again spoke softly through his heavy accent. “You will come to me again tomorrow.”

Shelly stood up in one fluid motion, rocking back onto her toes and taking the weight off of her numb, forgiving knees. Head bowed with vulnerability and submission, she grabbed her pile of clothes from the floor and backed slowly out of the room, arms still tied at the wrists with the long brown ribbon. As soon as she heard his door click shut behind her, Shelly let the suppressed tears come forward. She was afraid of this man, a man who could lose himself so entirely to passion, a man who would use her in such an objectifying, terrifying, erotic way, a man who would vandalize her body for his own disturbing obsession.

She walked as quickly as she could without breaking into a run. She didn’t know how good the man’s hearing was, and she didn’t want him to know how panicked she was. He seemed like the kind of man who played with power, and she didn’t want to give him any more than he already had.

When she reached her room, which suddenly seemed suffocatingly large, she threw her clothes onto the loveseat and walked methodically towards her mirror. The mirror that he had planted in her room to taunt her, to tempt her, to distract her from her strong will. Unable to resist the compulsion any longer, Shelly turned her back to the mirror and stared at the terrible beauty that her spine had become.

What was once smooth skin had been transformed into a canvas for an artist’s musical masterpiece. On the left side of her lower back, an S-shaped ribbon had been etched darkly into her skin. It was mirrored perfectly across the spine, creating a symmetrical design that she was sure represented artistic holes in the wooden instrument. From the base of her spine all the way up to her neck were four thin, parallel lines: C, G, D, and A, according to memories of music classes from a previous life. The skin of her back was raw from being scraped with the man’s bow, his musical symphony etched out repulsively in jagged swipes across the new strings that she boasted. A sudden wave of revulsion leapt up the back of her throat, overwhelming her fortitude, her numbness. She barely made it to the small garbage can beside her bed before her stomach evicted everything that it had been holding. After only a few seconds of vomiting food and bile, Shelly could only hold herself over the wastebasket and dry heave violently. She was vaguely aware of a gratitude for the ribbon that held her hair back in a tight bun.

Unable to breathe in the rancid odor of her own vomit any longer, Shelly made her shaky way over to her bed. When she fell onto the comforter it seemed to consume her, too soft and too spongy to support her weight. She sank into the mattress, dreading the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. This was her existence now. She belonged to the man for the rest of this life. And all of it—the skin-deep pain, the overwhelming bitterness, the obsessive symphony—all of it was so new to her.

The following days with the man were much like the first of his physical musical infatuation. Little by little, from the few words that he spoke, she learned pieces of the man’s life. He had been a musician once, a famous cellist. Through him, she learned the specifics and technicalities of bowing a cello. It was rosin, he said, that actually made the sound when the bow scraped the strings. Without rosin on the bow, the strings would be unresponsive to its light touch. It was the rosin that really gripped, the rosin that created that friction, that sound. Not to worry, though. He wouldn’t use rosin when he played her. Not unless she made him.

Though he was becoming more and more talkative as days passed, he became a single-minded machine as soon as the music began. Shelly was transformed into a mere instrument as soon as the first chord was strung. For hours he would scrape his bow across her strings, his fingers finding their places in perfect time with the melody. Her back began to show lasting evidence of his musical escapades across her skin. Raised ridges crisscrossed the back of her rib cage, welting in a way that would take weeks of rest to heal. But he would never rest. He would never stop. For as long as he owned her, he would play her like the beautiful instrument that she was. “It’s your shape…and your hair.” She was his tool, his instrument, his cello. She belonged to him.

Shelly had always been good at numbing the pain. She had always been able to block out her surroundings, her situations, and the men who owned her. She had stayed disconnected from her world for so long that she had forgotten what it was like to be a part of it. But with this man, she found that she couldn’t shut herself off from what he did to her. She was present at every moment of every symphony, every drag of the inked needle, every swipe of the unrosined bow. She had never been so present in her own body, in her own trauma. She had never been so unable to deal with her life. She had never been so desperate to escape.

Finally, when over a month had passed after her first interaction with the man and the artist and the whirring tattoo needle, Shelly knew she’d had enough. She needed to get out of this prison. She needed to escape from the man’s insane obsession with her shape and her hair, his infatuation with the instrument into which she had been transformed. She waited until he was out—where, she didn’t know, nor did she care—and slipped into his dark bedroom. The chill that always accompanied her entrance into his domain slipped in a familiar minor scale down her marked spine. Without wasting any time, she reached behind his straight-backed chair, his cellist’s chair, and grabbed hold of the bow that had played her so fiercely. A token, she thought grimly, and focused her search onto that which she had never seen, but which had been described to her in such meticulous detail that she would recognize it as soon as it came before her eyes. And after only a few minutes of frantic rummaging, she found it: an amber bar, dusty from years of disuse. The rosin. The rosin that really gripped, the rosin that created that friction. The rosin that would save her from this orchestral hell that she had been living.

Carefully, meticulously, Shelly rosined the bow from tip to tip, scraping the brittle cake against the fine horsehairs that had so often caressed and abused her stained back. After thirty swipes with the bow—she had to be sure that the bow would really grip —she put the rosin back where she had found it and looked around the room with dull eyes, eyes that felt like the man’s. She sat in his chair and immediately felt power wash through her. This was where the magic happened. This was where he tore down the strongest defenses any woman could ever have. This is where he made her feel pain and intoxication, all at once, in one destructive symphony. And this was where it would end.

Shelly positioned herself on the edge of the seat, legs spread to accommodate the imaginary cello that she intended to play. With a poise that she had seen in the man countless times, she lifted her left hand to grip the neck of her instrument and positioned her bow hand at the bridge. Her foot tapped the floor remote that controlled the stereo system, and a beautiful, sad symphony began.

It was slow and deep in the cello’s heart, bringing tears to her eyes as she wove the bow back and forth over strings that she could not see and had never played. As her hands moved with the melody, she felt the ghost of the bow weeping across her back, engaging her entire body in this orchestral dance. The music built in intensity and fell, the tone ever deepening, the volume rising and falling with perfected crescendos and decrescendos. As the piece neared its climax, Shelly lost herself to the music. The rosined bow flew higher and higher up the neck of the imaginary cello, the chords becoming more forceful as her hands worked faster and faster. Finally, with a resonating crest of sound, the bow whipped across her neck in its final draw. The man had been right about the rosin—it really did grip.

In her final moments, as her breath came to her in ragged, bubbling gasps, she felt for the first time in all of her lives a moment of peace. It was finally over. This numbness was a gift, something that she couldn’t control and didn’t want to. She would never belong to anyone again. She would never be beaten, she would never be raped, she would never be tattooed and vandalized and used. She was no longer owned. She was no longer an object. She was no longer an instrument. All she would be from now on, Shelly thought, as she sat dying in his favorite chair, was a symbol.


Julia Figliotti is a published writer with a wide range of publications. She has authored several books and articles on creativity, as well as fictional short stories and poetry. She is the co-creator of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Ignite Your Everyday Creativity.

Julia has a Bachelors degree in Writing from SUNY Buffalo State and a Masters degree in Creativity from the International Center for Studies in Creativity. She spent several years working with facilitators of scientific workshops to encourage creative approaches and output. Now a full-time writer, Julia works to bring visions to life on paper. She is currently working on publishing her first children's story (which is absolutely nothing like this one).

Pre-Order Announcement for Sang Kromah's Djinn

You can pre-order Sang Kromah's Djinn now! The novel will be available on March 20th, but you can reserve your copy now in hardcover, trade paperback, or Kindle, and get it right away when it's available! Just click one of the links below.

 Cover art by Mariah Bazan

Cover art by Mariah Bazan

Bijou Fitzroy is strange.

As an empath, she has spent her entire life as a recluse, homeschooled by her secretive and overprotective grandmother, never allowed to stay in one place long enough to settle down and make friends. When Bijou and her grandmother move to Sykesville and she starts to attend the local high school, Bijou's world begins to crumble...

town locals begin to disappear

creatures from her nightmares come to life

and she finds herself at the center of a secret war fought all around her.


"A twisty page-turner rooted in folklore with a 21st century spin. The unfolding tale keeps the reader guessing right to the end."
- Karen Eisenbrey, author of The Gospel According to St. Rage and the forthcoming Daughter of Magic

"Hauntingly captivating. Perfect for fans of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and all things myth and fantasy. I can't wait to read the next one!"
- YA Literature, Media, and Culture Research Network

"Sang Kromah weaves a tale rich in drama and TV melodrama! This is Buffy on acid, with all the colorful characters one would expect and more. Twists and turns - and twin heartthrobs - had me hooked from the start. A saga for the ages, and the teenagers."
- Micayla Lally, author of A Work Of Art

Pre-order your copy from your favorite independent bookstore by asking for it at the front counter, or order it from one of these fine online booksellers (more links will be added as the pre-order appears on more sites):

Amazon: HERE

Kindle: HERE

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: Dearly Departed by Erika Fitzpatrick

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.

Dearly Departed

by Erika Fitzpatrick

I actually have the pleasure of knowing this author, as we were classmates in the WOU Honors Program together. Fitzpatrick's story immerses you in the mind of a dying woman overcome with memories of her past. The weight of grief and sorrow is palpable, proof of Fitzpatrick's skill in drawing a reader into a character's story. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor


She gazed about her surroundings from the curtains, to the machines, and the wall paint all blending into one monochromatic blur as her eyes swept from one end of the room to the other. The window revealed the white gray sky—no change in color or scenery. A typical hospital room, never filled with silence as she would have liked, but constantly whirring with some device devised to monitor a part of her body. She had visited the hospital only four times in her life, once for the birth of her child, two of those instances too painful to recall. She’d refused for so long to relive those agonizing memories. Not that her current situation was painless. Her head ached. She pictured little boys bouncing off the walls of her skull with giant drums vibrating her old squishy brain. Not that it was unexpected, now that she understood the source. She had been battling severe headaches for months now, and only this morning, after she had been admitted the night before due to a life threatening seizure, had she finally gotten her diagnosis. She replayed it over and over: the doctor solemnly informing her of a malignant brain tumor, how aggressive it was, how she only had weeks, perhaps days to live. There was that irritating nurse that came every few hours to offer her a new cup of water, as if water could fill the empty voids that resided inside her. Irene, however, shied away from it.

“If you have any family, I’d contact them,” the doctor had said gently.

But there was no one. She was responsible for that.

Irene gazed up at the ceiling, searching for some sort of strength. So she was going to die, just like her husband, just like her parents, just like—but she stopped herself from traveling down that path.

I’ll be seeing you soon, she thought almost gladly. There was nothing her for to live for. All she had loved had left her long ago, and all she was marooned with were memories that she hadn’t visited in many years. Now that her life was about to go beyond, she allowed the memories to leak from her sealed chest of love and joy. She lost herself for the first time in what felt a lifetime in a memory with her husband and the first of many loving surprises he had given her during their marriage.

She recalled the vast expanse of the field, patched with shadows from overhanging clouds, beckoning to them in their vitality and youth. The fresh diamond sparkled on her left hand as the sun peeked out from behind a cloud and Irene smiled up at her husband.

“I think this is the perfect place,” he said with a sigh, hugging her shoulder tightly against him.

“If only our pocketbooks felt the same,” she replied gloomily. She felt this was one of those too-good-to-be-true moments.

He smiled down at her, humor in the twinkle of his lush meadow eyes. “Money will always come and always go, but how we feel now—that’s all that matters.”

“We can’t afford this,” she said abruptly. “It doesn’t matter how we feel. It can’t be ours. We might as well not get attached.”

He grabbed her hand and led her through the long blades of grass that tickled her legs in the breeze. Up ahead was a sign—a for sale sign—that had a stamp slapped across it: SOLD. Her steely eyes swiveled wide to gaze at him with astonishment.

“But,… how could you afford—?”

“That doesn’t matter, now, does it? All that matters is that it’s ours.” He squeezed her hand in a comforting way. That hand squeeze would come to mean everything to Irene.

“So now what? We build a house?” she asked, facing him.

His eyes twinkled lovingly as the sun peeked out once more. “No, my dear. We build a home.”

For two years they labored their lives away, held only a cent to their name, and crafted a home that would house them through every joyous celebration and every storm, every season, every trial that they would come to face. Irene began to remember the day she had realized she was pregnant, a memory that she hadn’t allowed into the forefront of her mind in almost half a century. Her husband had returned from his long day at work, covered in grime and sawdust, his eyes weary and drooping with exhaustion. She had hesitantly approached him, trying to conceal the smile that was fighting to escape. He had kissed her forehead and wandered into the kitchen, searching for whatever dinner she had concocted, but coming up empty handed, turning to look at her with a perplexed stare.

“No dinner?” he had asked.

She could feel the floor rumble from his infuriated stomach.

“I didn’t see the need to make more,” she said, struggling to hold in the smile.

“More?” he asked, confused.

“Yeah… because there’s already something in the oven,” she whispered, placing both hands on her stomach.

His dark, tired eyes suddenly bloomed, shining like emeralds in the shaded kitchen. “We’re having a baby?” he asked quietly, stepping closer.

“We’re having a baby,” she repeated, the smile breaking free.

With a hand on either side of her face, he had lovingly kissed her and chuckled. “We’re having a baby,” he had whispered with joy.

Their son was born nine months later in the very hospital she resided in now. They had spent the prior months preparing the farm house for the arrival their baby. Irene decorated the nursery, and her husband cleaned and patched pieces of the house that had been forgone when building it. And then the time was upon them and they were bringing little Christopher home.

The first six years of his life were wrapped with contentment, punctured by minor trails of finances and discipline. Each month, when they sat down to work out bill payments, her husband was beside her, squeezing her hand whenever she buried her face in her arms with despair.

“Money will always come and always go, but I’m right here,” he always reassured her. He somehow managed to pay each bill with the entire amount on time, every time. He would sacrifice family time to work extra hours at the site, or else lease a few acres of their farm for a year to help bring in a spare few dollars. He never let them worry for longer than a day. He was the master of distraction and gaiety—his remedy for a bad day was always a trip outdoors.
Irene struggled with herself as a memory fought, clawed, its way to the surface. She had meant to keep it buried for all eternity, but it oozed out of her against her will and she was forced to relive the experience.

In spurts, images flashed across her mind—the river behind their property, the reflected sun piercing their eyes off the water, smiles and splashing, bliss then fear. Red. Horror. Scream. Water. Pain. Tears.

It had lasted only seconds, but long enough to carve a wound so deep there was no recovery.

Hours later, her husband held her in a cocoon as she wept into his chest. The same hospital was a blur around them, like flakes in a snow-globe as Irene and her husband stood motionless in sorrow. A nurse attempted to console them. She offered them a private room, she offered them food, she offered them water, but it was the water that Irene shrank from in horror. The doctor appeared and delivered the news, his own eyes shining: Christopher was gone.

The funeral came and passed. Irene refused to eat any more than she needed to survive. Her husband begged her to drink something. He forced a cup of water into her hands, willing her to hydrate, to live.

In anguish, she hurled the cup at him. “You don’t understand!” she screamed. Tears welled up in her stormy eyes. “He’s gone! And it’s my fault!” She struggled to breathe, the weight of the guilt crushing her lungs.

He grabbed her hand, met her gleaming eyes with his own obscured green ones, and squeezed it. “Irene, my dear, it wasn’t your fault. It was an accident.”

She turned away from him, her eyes closing tight, the tears spilling. She tried to pull away, but he held tight to her hand. She’d heard it all before, she didn’t want to hear it again.

“You can’t blame yourself for an accident. It could have happened at any point, to anyone. It could have been me. Or You.”

“But it was Christopher,” she whispered, choking on his name. “He wasn’t even seven yet. He barely got to live.”

“But he did. He lived six spectacular years with you and me. Irene, please. Try to let go of the guilt. We can’t bring him back. We can only move forward.” His own eyes released the tears and they cascaded down his cheeks.

She wiped one of his away with her cool thumb. “I don’t know how.”

“One day at a time,” he said sadly. He stood and offered her a jacket. “Shall we go for a walk?”

Years passed. She remembered how to enjoy food and accepted the adventures he dragged her along on. They traveled across the country, visiting as many national parks as they could afford. She dealt with the pain by burying it. He dealt by distraction. Happiness came and went, staying a little longer each time.

It took the better part of 20 years for happiness to occupy the majority of their time once more. Only Christopher’s birthdays were reminders of the grief, pain, and guilt Irene managed to ignore the rest of the year. The two of them lit a candle on his birthday, the single photo album they had of him propped behind the guttering light.

“Happy 33rd birthday, my son,” she said through shuddering breaths. Her husband squeezed her hand.

It had become their custom to dawn jackets and drive a few miles down the road to visit his weathered grave every birthday. The blood orange sun was fading behind the hills that divided the sky from the earth. “Pretty, isn’t it?” he asked.

She only nodded.

They stood before the headstone, hand in hand, tear for tear, pain to pain. Irene would never admit it to her husband, but her pain was magnified, multiplied by the guilt she harbored alongside her sorrow.

“We wish we could have seen our grandchildren,” he whispered, the smallest of smiles curving his light wrinkles.

“We wish we could see you,” she added. Her hand trembled in his until he squeezed it tight enough to restrict any movement. He kissed the side of her head and said softly, “Let’s go flip through the album. We can see his smiling face.”

Her let her drive back home, hoping that the task of driving would distract her some. But a greater distraction billowed into the sky as they approached their home. They pulled up to find their house aflame. Irene cried out in sorrow. “Our home! Our pictures of Chris!”

“Hang on.” He thrust the car door open and spilled onto the drive.

She screamed in protest, fumbling with her buckle.

“You want those pictures, I’m going to go get them!” he yelled as he ran up the steps.

“You’re going to get yourself killed!” she screamed, stumbling after him, crying in anger and terror as he disappeared into the door and cloud of smoke. She gripped the edges of the door frame and screamed his name into the dense smoke. To her knees she fell, desperately calling his name, sobbing with fear.

She was unaware of time passing, until suddenly she was surrounded. One of her neighbors pulled her up from where she’d collapsed at the door. The fire department had arrived as did an ambulance. They’d found her husband passed out by the dining room table, the photo album charred, but clutched to his chest. Both had been driven to the hospital, her husband admitted and given a death sentence. His weakened lungs were damaged beyond repair, burned from the thick smoke that had consumed the house.

She had remained by his side alone brushing back his once sandy hair now streaked with white, holding his wrinkled, worn hand. He had squeezed hers with what little strength he had left. They talked briefly, spending more time staring at each other, memorizing every wrinkle and blemish, each representing a different memory of the life they had built together.

“You can’t be taken from me,” she had whispered, holding his one hand with both of hers.

“I’m only going on a trip,” he had replied, squeezing her hand once more, refusing to loosen his grip.

“We go on trips together.”

His dim eyes drooped as he registered the sadness in her features. “You’ll join me soon enough.”

“What will I do without you?” her words almost inaudible.

The slightest of smiles disrupted his sooty, lined face. “You’ll live.”

Those were the last words he said to her and she to him. The rest of the hour passed in mostly silence, the whir and beeping of machines filling the empty spaces much as they did now. The scorched photo album lay on its side on the table beside her dying husband. She dared not look at it, yet another reminder that all was her fault. Christopher, her husband, both dead and dying on account of her. She felt the guilt well up inside, threatening to take over. Only on his eyes could she fixate and force herself to remember that this was her last moment with him.
It wasn’t the flat lining of the monitor that informed her of his death, but the release of the hand squeeze.

No one would be there to squeeze her hand when her monitor flat lined.

Her eyes now fell on the solitary window, which was bright with the afternoon sky, but wet with the winter drizzle. It was a typical winter rain, not heavy but constant and light, a reminder that without it, no living thing would thrive. Irene had grown to love the rain--it soothed her, reminded her of home, but no water could save her now. Her time had come. How silly that phrase was: time had come. Come from where? Had it ever left? Was she ever destined to die another way, another day? Such philosophical questions had not come to her the last few times she had been in the same room as death. Instead she had blamed herself. Blamed herself for the death of the two people she’d loved the most. Guilt had ravaged her for the years to come.
Her neighbors had so kindly helped rebuild the damaged portions of her home. It took a few months, but Irene wished it had taken longer. After the house was repaired, she was left alone, with nothing to do, nothing to love, no one to talk to, prepare food for, find happiness with. Alone with her guilt, she gave up baking and travel. She left the house for groceries and basic supplies, but otherwise sat alone. Crocheting was all she had been able to manage for the last few years, sitting in front of the old television or the back window, tuning out the imagined reality of the television set and allowing her hands to create mindlessly. Distraction had never worked for her the way it had for him. She could only bury it, lock it away, keep it out of her conscious mind. The last 15 years weren’t enough for Irene to overcome the grief and guilt. Instead, she let it consume her. She found herself drowning in it, unable to resist the weight of such soul crushing emotion.

She recalled the night of the seizure, routinely situating herself before the back window to see it set once more. Only the sunset would call her soul somewhat back to the surface, the warmth of the fading rays bringing color to her translucent cheeks. Her eyes gazed and shifted almost imperceptibly, tracking the progress of the sun, whose light still pervaded the dense clouds, as it gradually fell from the sky to seemingly hide forever behind the hills. If she didn’t watch it sink, how could she know that another day had passed—another moment in time she had survived, had ended—if she didn’t see it, feel it, with her own still grief ridden body. Only the sun setting indicated the passing of time and the passing of another day, another month, another year.

That was the last thing remembered before she awoke in the hospital. According to the nurse, one her good old neighbors passing the drive had noticed her lights on at an unreasonable hour and had decided to check on her, finding her passed out beneath the window.
Hooked to her tubes, she awkwardly reached for the glass of water from the nurse and took a sip that soothed her dry, withered throat. With nothing to do keep her busy, Irene’s head leaned back, sinking into the pillow propped behind her. Maybe if she slept long enough, the tumor would simply snatch her in her sleep, end her life without pain and without her knowing. She could slip away and not worry about waking up to fight the pain. Fall asleep and stay asleep….

Irene awoke when the door opened and the nurse entered to refill her water cup, the cool liquid spilling, cascading into the small plastic cup. She feigned sleep unit the nurse departed, the panic inside of her building. She had avoided water most of her life, drinking only what she had to in order to survive. Every time she saw it flowing, she fought against the images that threatened to escape her sealed chest. That chest was open now, and the one memory she had refused to relive in all her life, was released from its prison and her vision grew blurred as that day played out, scene by scene.

Irene, her husband, and her son had decided to spend the afternoon down at the little river that ran against the back of their property. The sun was just warm enough to demand that they attempt to cool themselves off. Christopher had a toy truck that he wheeled to the bank of the river, swerving and twisting with screeching sounds emanating from his puckered lips. He paused at the edge of the water, unsure whether or not to make contact with it.

“Go ahead, Christopher. It’s just water,” Irene encouraged. She ran up behind him, scooped him into her arms and splashed into the cool water as Christopher squealed with shock and delight. Her husband sat on the bank, his feet dipping into the water, a smile stretching his young, thin face, the warm breeze ruffling his sandy hair.

Irene placed her son into the river, kissing his cheek as she took a step back. Her husband kicked water up at her face with a devious grin. Droplets slipped off her flattening curls as she splashed him back. Following his father’s example, Christopher splashed his mother, flinging his hands in the air and laughing as she became soaked.

“You think that’s funny?” she teased. She splashed back. They were thrust into a war, water flying through the air, taking turns shielding themselves and then attacking.

Irene threw a huge splash at her son, who squealed and shut his eyes, taking a step back.
All at once, he lost his footing, slipped backward and vanished from sight.

“Christopher?!” Both Irene and her husband ran over to him. The water was swirling red.

“Christopher!” she screeched. Her husband reached down for him and brought him above the surface. A large gouge was bleeding profusely at the base of his head. Irene was crying, stumbling after her husband who was running back towards the house, his son’s body bobbing in his arms.

It was an accident. It could happen to anyone. It wasn’t your fault. Her husband’s voice siphoned through the fading memories and her eyes welled up. It was her fault. She’d splashed him, made him step backward and slip. It could have been you, or me. Only an accident. You have to let go of the guilt.

“I can’t,” she croaked. “I don’t know how. I told you that. And then it was my fault that you died,” she sobbed.

The sun was just setting behind the distant hills, visible from behind a final cloud that had drizzled rain hours ago.

“I can’t, I can’t…” Her eyes released the dammed water.

It was only an accident. An accident.

“Christopher, I’m so sorry,” she whispered in the empty hospital room.

The fire was an accident. An accident.

“I’m so sorry, my dear,” she sighed. Her eyes closed and the waterfall descended faster.

Alone in the bed, acceptance began to shower upon her. He had slipped. Slipped and hit his head on a rock. It could have happened while she and her husband sat on the shore. Her husband had chosen to chase after the album. Chosen to be engulfed in heavy black smoke that ravaged his lungs. She had tried to stop him. She’d tried. Tried and tried to relinquish the guilt that had pervaded the majority of her life. Only now, as she faced her own demise, did she see the truth, the light of realization: it hadn’t been her fault. They were accidents—calamities she’d had no true control over. Chance events that had just happened to take place around her, taken dear ones from her. But she had not caused them.

Irene’s steely eyes fixed on the beautiful spectacle that was assembling outside her window, allowing herself to feel the warmth of life one final time before it sank out of sight. The room slipped into a cool, heavy darkness. She felt the weight of it bearing down on her wizened body. In the unyielding night, she felt Clarence’s warm hand squeeze hers.

Erika Fitzpatrick.jpg

Erika Fitzpatrick is a budding young author who lives in Salem, Oregon. Her most recent work includes her novel, Saving All That Remains, and a poem, The Lizard or Octopus, which was published in an anthology for emerging Oregon poets. She particularly enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction but dapples in other genres as well, including creative nonfiction. She is always working on something new and enthralling for ravenous readers to devour.



Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Announcement for Kate Ristau's Shadow Girl

It's here!

The cover of Kate Ristau's

Shadow Girl

Shadow Girl eBook.jpg

We're so pleased with the great art by Portland's own Lee Moyer

Áine lives in the light, but she is haunted by darkness, and when her fey powers blaze out of control, she escapes into the Shadowlands. But she cannot outrun her past. Fire fey and a rising darkness threaten the light, burning a path across the veil. Her fiery dreams come to life, and with the help of Hennessy, an uninhibited Irish girl, Áine dives into the flames to discover who she truly is. Her mother burned to keep her secret safe, and now Áine wields the deadly Eta. She must learn to fight in the shadows — or die in the flames.

This is not a fairy tale.

Pre-order your copy from your favorite independent bookstore by asking for it at the front counter, or order it from one of these fine online booksellers:

Powell's: HERE

Barnes & Noble: HERE

Amazon: HERE

Kindle: HERE

Want to meet Ms. Ristau? Pre-order your copy and bring it to be signed at "Love for Women Writers," a party at Taborspace on Saturday, February 24th from 2 PM - 3:30 PM. It's free and open to the public. We're kicking off the Year of Publishing Women with a big celebration with authors LeeAnn McLennan, Susan Hill Long, Kate Ristau, Maren Anderson, Jessica Mehta, Mikko Azul, and many others! We will invite female-identified writers to the stage and celebrate them with readings and love letters from authors and fans. We will profess our love and finish the day with truffles and book signings. You'll have a chance to have your copy of Shadow Girl signed by Kate Ristau herself! Sign up for the event on Facebook HERE!


And check out what the critics are saying about this amazing novel!

 "A determined girl from Faerie meets a frank, funny Irish girl in a delightfully fresh fairytale of old meeting new." 
--Tina Connolly, Nebula-nominated author of Ironskin

"A fun, engaging, and unique magical adventure." 
--Jen Violi, author of Putting Makeup on Dead People

"This is a coming of age narrative involving fairies, but it's no Disney movie. The magic is considerably nastier and relationships more realistic and slippery. The folklore that Ristau pulls from is older, darker stuff; a heady mix of British Isles mythology, cosmology, and history." 
--Librarian and Folklorist Charlie McNabb

"A fast-paced adventure with a fresh voice." 
--Molly Ringle, author of Persephone's Orchard

"Fantasy braided with Irish folklore, making the reader's journey not only entertaining, but rich with fascinating detail." 
--Blythe Ayne, author of The Darling Undesirables

"This is not a fairy tale. Don't expect fairy wings, but it is filled with magic, folklore, witty dialogue and epic storytelling." 
--Librarian Robert G. Monge

"An entertaining, magical read." 
--Joanna Bartlett, author of The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies

"I love it when a book surprises me. Shadowgirl kept surprising me all the way to the last page." 
--Maren Bradley Anderson, author of Fuzzy Logic

"Fast moving and witty, Shadow Girl pulls on a journey from fey lands into our world through the eyes of Ainé , a mysterious girl on a mission."
--LeeAnn McLennan, author of The Supernormal Legacy series

Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Announcement for LeeAnn McLennan's The Supernormal Legacy: Book 1, Dormant

It's here!

The cover of LeeAnn McLennan's

The Supernormal Legacy

Book 1


 We're so pleased with the great art by Portland's own  Randy Kintz ! 

We're so pleased with the great art by Portland's own Randy Kintz

The Supernormal Legacy tells the story of Olivia Woodson. When she was just seven years old, she already knew she was a supernormal, someone with super powers who must protect normals. Then she witnessed her supernormal mother die fighting terrorists, and fear and guilt drove Olivia to cut off all contact with her mother's family and reject her destiny as a supernormal. Now, at 14, she just wants is to live her life as a teenager with her normal father, maybe grow up to be an environmental lawyer or a photojournalist. But when Olivia and her boyfriend, Jack, get caught in the middle of a bank robbery, she must choose between using her supernormal powers or watching the robbers kill innocent people. Olivia's powers awaken, saving the day. She tells herself this is the only time she'll ever use them, but her powers refuse to be contained, forcing Olivia to do what she dreads most - connect with the supernormal side of her family and awaken the power that has been lying dormant inside her.

Pre-order your copy from your favorite independent bookstore by asking for it at the front counter, or order it from one of these fine online booksellers:

Barnes & Noble: HERE

Amazon: HERE

Kindle: HERE

Want to meet Ms. McLennan? Pre-order your copy and bring it to be signed at "Love for Women Writers," a party at Taborspace on Saturday, February 24th from 2 PM - 3:30 PM. It's free and open to the public. We're kicking off the Year of Publishing Women with a big celebration with authors LeeAnn McLennan, Susan Hill Long, Kate Ristau, Maren Anderson, Jessica Mehta, Mikko Azul, and many others! We will invite female-identified writers to the stage and celebrate them with readings and love letters from authors and fans. We will profess our love and finish the day with truffles and book signings. You'll have a chance to have your copy of The Supernormal Legacy: Book 1, Dormant signed by LeeAnn McLennan herself! Sign up for the event on Facebook HERE!


And check out what the critics are saying about this amazing novel!

“The characters are so well developed and realistic that I feel I know them. The plot speeds up to a frenzy for the thrilling conclusion. A thoroughly satisfying read for any fan of YA or superheroes.”
-Benjamin Gorman
author of Corporate High School
“Fun, fast-paced, and a great read! Lots of Portland connections here, and I loved finding out about their superpowers. I can't wait to find out what happens in the next book.”
-Kate Ristau
author of Shadow Girl
“The heart of this story is familiar; its hero is our neighbor or classmate or even our own self. Olivia is at a crossroads: on one side, her comfortable, normal high school life. On the other, a world of secret power waits for her to tap into…Set against the cloudy, quirky backdrop of Portland, Dormant is a compelling read and a balance or light and dark, just like life it.”
-Sarah Jilek,
author of Jaidia
“Dormant is a look into the life that may be hidden right under our noses. Olivia’s struggle between fitting in with the normals and supernormals resonates beyond her abnormal abilities, reaching even those without bulletproof armor…sending readers on a thrilling ride.”
-Chelsea Bolt,
author of Moonshine
“Dormant had me hooked right from the start. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Action-packed and full of life’s struggles, like trying to be someone else or accepting yourself. When I book this book down, the only thought in my mind was, “There has to be more.””
-Abigail Hernandez,
author of Viper’s Legacy

No, promoting women's voices is not "sexist," Earl.

We got an email today from a guy (let's just call him "Earl") that said, "Just a thought… Isn’t that sexist?" That's all. That was the whole email. We're guessing he's not a fan of #TheYearOfPublishingWomen


Our reply: "Is that a thought ...or half a thought? Ponder what it is you're trying to say and decide if you really want to articulate it completely."

Crickets from Earl.

sex·ist /seksist/ adjective -relating to or characterized by prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

We're only publishing women this year. It's just for one year. We published novels by men last year, and we'll publish men next year. We are not prejudiced against men, nor do we stereotype men, nor do we discriminate against them. One of our co-publishers, Benjamin Gorman, is also one of our authors, and he read about Kamila Shamsie's challenge to publishers first, brought the idea to his co-publisher, Paige Gorman, and together they decided this was something Not a Pipe Publishing should take on. All our male authors have been extremely supportive. We're doing our (very small) part to push the publishing industry towards equality.

Promoting equality doesn't mean waiting for equality to happen on its own. It demands taking action. And that action, when it favors any historically oppressed group, will not seem fair to the people who benefit from inequality. Do not be dissuaded from doing the right thing by childish gotchas like "If you won't tolerate intolerance, doesn't that make you intolerant?" or "If you are trying to be sensitive to the concerns of People of Color, doesn't that make you a racist?" or "Isn't promoting equal rights for the LGBTQI anti-straight?" or the Earls of the world asking if promoting the voices of women makes you sexist. As Stephanie Herrera wrote, "When you are accustomed to privilege, equality can feel like oppression." The Earls of the world are frightened by equality and want you to stop pushing for it. They know, on some level, that it's their privilege you're pushing against. They hate that. The hate even being reminded they have privilege. It means the game they thought they won wasn't fair, and that takes away from their feeling of superiority. 

Equality is a direct threat to superiority.

Don't stop pushing.


#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: A Flood of Memories by Ramona Scarborough

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.

A Flood of Memories

by Ramona Scarborough

A sobering picture of life in 1940s America, made even made even more important by today's political landscape, this story is told simply, with no fuss or flounder, as it recounts the events of a tragic day and calls attention the value placed on the lives of people of color. Do not be fooled by the gentle lilting of the southern accent; this story packs a punch. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor



Deep water rolled lazy-like past our apartment house. We trusted in dikes.

Every spring, folks said, “The river’s pretty high this year.” But they were just talkin’.

My family had special reason to pay no heed to our whereabouts, on dredged up land smack dab between the Columbia River and the Slough. We’d moved from Carolina, where we barely scraped by. Most of the white men had gone to the war, so my Daddy landed a job in the shipyards and we could live someplace without people hollerin’ at us or worse. We had enough money for Mama to put ham hocks in with the beans and make cornbread drippin’ with butter.

Four, I was and my brother, Virgil, seven, when we moved to Vanport in 1944. When I played stick ball or jump rope on the street, I couldn’t even see the river, the dikes were nigh onto twenty feet tall or so. I had to stand on my tippy-toes and peek out the front curtains of our top story apartment window to see the water.

So you see, I was busy being a happy youngun’ with plenty a’friends and goin’ to school right along. We didn’t have no trouble, cause Mama made sure we stayed in the black section a’ town. School was a mix of white and black kids, but hate is a learned idée and some hadn’t been overcome by it yet. I never gave thought to us bein’ in a dangerous place.

Yesiree, I may be an older now, but I don’t forget the date-May 30, 1948. A sunny Sunday mornin’, we was eatin’ high on the hog, some grits and sausage and my daddy heard a bunch a people talkin’ outside. He got up and went downstairs.

When he came back upstairs, he had a paper in his hand.

“So, what’s goin’ on?” Mama said.

“Oh, I guess the river’s floodin’, but this here paper says the dikes are holdin’fine. They’ll warn us before somethin’ happens.” He waved the paper around, “Some high-ups in the housin’ authority says, ‘don’t get riled up.’”

Just like that, we fell back to eatin’. After helpin’ my Mama with the dishes, I went out to play. After lunch, I did the same.


I hear tell now, a little after four in the afternoon, the dike on the railroad side broke down and water came gushin’ out. I didn’t see the wall of water a comin’, it poured in behind our apartment and burst out onto the street. I was hollerin’ and so was a bunch of other kids. Virgil grabbed ahold of my arm and dragged me along toward the front of our apartment. Higher and higher, the flood was pullin’ me down. I was breathin’ hard and bobbin’ like a cork. Dirty water splashed over my head and I’d go clear under. When I come up for air, I spit it out as best I could. But Virgil never let go a’ me, not even when we started climbin’ up the stairs. Our daddy was running down toward us.

“Thank the Lord,” he said.

Mama wiped her eyes on her apron when we came into the kitchen. We put our arms around her. She didn’t care we was all wet. She smelled heavenly, like the chicken she’d been frying for supper.

“Stay here now,” my daddy said to us. “I’m going to go see if the Washington’s or Brown’s below us need help.”

Mama bit on her lower lip, “Be careful, Jasper.”

We shucked our shirts, pants and underpants. Mama toweled us off and helped us put on dry clothes. She put a blanket around my shoulders. Even though it was warm, I was still shakin’.

Daddy came back with our neighbors, Beulah and Otis Washington, who lived on the first floor.
The Brown’s had gone of a morning to visit their kin in Vancouver on the Washington side of the river. Beulah was crying.

“Everything we got’s all ruint, even them fiberboard walls is all soaked up with water.”

Otis, put his arms around her, he was tryin’ to comfort her. “Baby, be glad we ain’t dead.”

Daddy, Virgil and me looked out the window. “The water’s still a’risin,” Daddy said.

A man’s body was a floatin’ down the street. Nobody we knew, but you don’t fergit the sight ever. I didn’t want to see no more. I went to Mama and she rocked me back and forth in her arms like I was two instead a’ eight.

Now we was glad we hadn’t got a house like we’d wanted. The ones close to the ground was bein’ washed away. Both Daddy and Mama had complained about the stairs, but right now being high up seemed like a mighty good idea.

A boat came for us in the night. Daddy opened the window and handed me down to a big man. I didn’t want to let go a’ Daddy.

“I gotcha now, little girl,” the man said, putting his arms around me tight.

The boat rocked a bit and I screamed, thinking I’d be dropped down in the deep black water. One by one, us and our neighbors got into that boat, seemed awful small on the big river.

Even goin’ across to dry land was fearsome, waves lickin’ up against the sides of the boat like they wanted to swallow us down. We all made it safe, but some folks didn’t.

I’ve heard tell different stories. Some even say the gov’ment tried to cover up how many drowned. Somebody tol’ me when the river started gettin’ high that mornin’, they skedaddled six-hundred horses outa’ the race track to higher ground. I guess we wasn’t as important as those fancy racehorses.


The town we’d lived in for four years was under water. For a spell, we had to bunk in with Aunt Ella in the Albina district in Portland. We’d lost everything we owned. We moved just a few blocks away once Daddy got a job as a night watchman and we got back on our feet.

Even as young as I was when the flood happened, I never was as free an’ easy as I was before. For awhile, I dreamed I was back on the street, the water rushin’ in around my waist, creepin’ up my neck, ready to carry me away.

My Mama always read us the Bible. One verse makes me think of what happened to us that day so many years ago and how I feel now that I’m older. “For you do not know what your life will be tomorrow. Your life is like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”



Ramona Scarborough is the author of ten books. Her stories and articles have appeared in over 80 magazines, anthologies, and online. During her childhood, she lived near the site of Vanport and heard stories of what happened. Vanport, a hastily constructed city for shipyard workers, many of whom were African-Americans, was destroyed in a flood on Memorial Day, May 30, 1948. The Federal Housing Authority issued a notice to tenants that morning informing them not to panic; they were not in danger there.


Great Press for #TheYearOfPublishingWomen!


Yesterday, January 30th, The Oregonian published a great article by reporter Jenn Knudsen on Not a Pipe’s endeavors:

Oregon publisher accepts challenge to sell only books by women in 2018




Then story was then picked up by Bustle thanks to reporter Sadie Trombetta:

An Indie Publisher In Oregon Is Only Publishing Books By Women In 2018





This morning, an interview with one of Not a Pipe’s co-publishers, Benjamin Gorman, aired on  Portland’s KXL-FM by reporter Madeline Hall. Listen to the two clips below!


All this happened on the same day that author Mikko Azul's novel The Staff of Fire and Bone hit store shelves! Quite a day for Not a Pipe Publishing!

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "Buzzards and Bathtubs" by Jessica Mehta

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.

Buzzards and Bathtubs

by Jessica Mehta


Note on this story: This is part of an unpublished book titled Gimme the Familiars. Each chapter (and in this case, the story) begins with a "mini chapter" that's a re-telling of a Native American myth in contemporary settings. The following story mirrors the myth, and addresses a sexual encounter of the protagonist.

Editor's Note: I believe it takes a lot of skill to effectively mix myth with modernity, but Mehta does it so gracefully that it suddenly looks easy. The writing and story are equally captivating. If the rest of Gimme the Familiars is as good as "Buzzards and Bathtubs," I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor



The Buzzard of the Highways

He watched from his post on the evergreen top, that one good tree that was could carry his pride. The other branches, the weak ones of the pear trees and the hybrid apples, they shook and wailed under his hooked feet like scared things. Desperate things. The types of things he glanced over, flipped his top knot like they were so ridiculous in his presence, but they were. They couldn’t help it, those struggling branches, and not even the Oregon moss gave them a coat thick enough to act tough. Not like the buzzard would have noticed anyway. Not like he cared.

The four-wheeled monsters, the two-wheeled ones, they whipped by fast along the asphalt, as fast as he could fly. But they were scooted along in the filth, and sometimes their bellies scraped the bumps. Pathetic little things. Sometimes they were just as useless as the prey he watched sprint across the yellow, dashed lines.

Buzzard tousled his top knot over his scapular, glorious atop the world. Death was beneath him, bits of snake pancaked from a worn-out wheel. An hour ago, he’d watched it happen and for just a moment—he swore it, just a slip of time—he’d thought about snatching the slithering miniature beast for himself. Then it wriggled of course, spilling over with life and energy. He hadn’t even been hungry, wasn’t even thinking of slipping scales and long, long bone between his beak today. Snake was tough, not his favorite. But the eyes he could imagine popping in his throat, juices sluicing quick into his belly. And the tongue, the tongue. He liked to think of it splitting all the way to its other end, filling him with ribbony pieces of pink that soaked into his hollow bones.

Just look at them down there, pitiful and shrieking at each other. Crow bounced around ridiculous, pecking between wing flutters of the Vultures. “You’re pathetic,” he called down from his perch, waiting between the highway horn blows to rain down his judgments.

“Says who?” Young Vulture asked, tiny entrails spraying from his beak. “The one who thinks he’s too good for us, sitting fat like a god in his tree?”

“Disgusting,” said Buzzard. “All of you, the lot of you. Eating deadness. Eating trash.”


Young Vulture fluffed himself, rolled his eyes as his elders shushed him. Crow, he never spoke to Buzzard, pretended like he couldn’t hear. Stupid, Buzzard knew he heard all.


As dusk slid its slippery black fingers over the pines, Young Vulture played the afternoon over and over in his head. Idiot Buzzard, so prideful. So vain. Him and his stupid pile of hair-feathers balanced like a crown in the sky. “Why’s he gotta do that?” he asked his elders, but they quieted him like always with no answers. And he was sick of it.

Young Vulture, he knew where Buzzard slept. Knew the tree where he buried down in the night, the one with the wires wrapped around it and the bed made of dried grass and decaying pine cones. And he knew Buzzard slept well, slept hard, stomach full and heavy with the dying animals he’d snatched that day, their blood keeping him warm ‘til morning.

He waited until the nests in his own tower were quiet all around him, nothing but the dream-induced fluffing and quivers in the purple sky. Grabbing the old knife from the storage branch, the rusty one that still held sharpness, he tucked it into his claw and delighted in its weight. He’d never touched it before, though he’d loved it the minute his brother had carried it home. “What are you, a magpie?” his mother had laughed. He’d always adored the shiniest things. Only then, with the slicer cradled like a scared rat below him, did he leave the roost, hop in silence from the commune before taking a wobbly flight into the deep.
Buzzard’s nest wasn’t far, and Young Vulture knew he’d be back before anyone would miss him. I thought I’d seen a mouse. Today’s carrion made me feel ill. He ran over the excuses, rolled them across his tongue to make them taste natural in case any elders saw him come back and required an excuse. Something believable.

He’d never seen Buzzard’s nest up close. The smell was different, the acid from the pines making it softer and warmer than his own. And he slept different than Young Vulture’s elders, not curled up nearly as tightly. He slept alone, could spread out and let his feathers fall like grace across the branches. Now, in this moment, he looked almost peaceful.

His top knot, it really was beautiful, thick and grand. Young Vulture didn’t really get the point of such a vanity, but like everyone else he admired it. Not that he’d ever tell Buzzard that (nobody did), but it was Fact. His own head was clean and bald, not a single feather to be found. It’s what made him ugly.
The snip was over fast, but the memory burned into his brain. The sound the top knot made when the knife flashed through it. How it felt so much lighter than he’d imagined clutched in his talons. Buzzard didn’t even move and now—now—now, now, now …

Buzzard was ugly, too.


Fear gripped Young Vulture on the brief flight back, even as the river beneath him glistened like the shiniest of all greatness. And the top knot grew heavier, heavier in his grip, so heavy he couldn’t keep hold. So he let go, let all that beauty get wrapped up in the winds and scattered like droppings to the earth below. The knife, too, the evidence of his badness.

Young Vulture slept late, a rarity for him. Like the rest of his family, he was often up early, eager to see what treats had been broken, beaten and splayed open like a gift on the black flattops below. Why didn’t anyone wake him? Why was everyone lined up like dutiful soldiers on the big wire?

“What time—“ he began to ask his mother as he settled next to her, his eyes still full of sleep.

“Shh,” she said, motioning to the earth.

What seemed like miles below, Buzzard was hunched, looking bald and naked, amongst the empty cans and discarded sandwich wrappers. In his feet, a smashed squirrel’s head lolled backwards. Young Vulture could smell the wheel-death of the big-tailed animal from way up here.

“Is he … why’s he eating carrion?” he asked his mother. She shrugged, eyes embarrassed for the poor thing, and nudged her son back to the nest.


Sex starts small, I learned that young. I was four, and (like most inching towards Kindergarten), I don’t remember much. I remember this—standing on the autumn leaves while my father built a little house for me in the backyard. Years later, it would be home to the big pool pump even after the water had dried up and the lining got cracked. I remember finger painting with my mother on the rickety metal card table in the living room, her screaming at me to be happy and enjoy myself. I hated finger painting, it made me feel dirty. I remember the eyes of the Indian woman in the hallway painting, how they’d watch me no matter which way I walked, and how she’d only do it when nobody else was looking.

And I remember the time in the bathtub.

Our water came from the well, and I hated the taste. Like metal gone bad. Sometimes it had a rusty color, and I didn’t want to bathe in it, but my mom didn’t believe in showers. Demanded that baths were relaxing and, like her, I was only allowed to soak. But I’d throw a fit when the water was too brown, so she’d squirt in half a bottle of blue food coloring to bury my silence. “It’s like a lagoon! A tropical paradise. Hawaii,” she’d crow, even though she’d never been anywhere beaches were warm. She’d only seen the sands of Oregon, and we called them coasts here. And once, once, I’d been told we’d seen the blinding white sands of Florida, but I wasn’t sure that was true. She said I was still in diapers and didn’t remember, and the people in the pictures looked like they were in a play. My mom looked too young, my dad didn’t have his moustache, and the baby they held had nothing of me in it. Those blue eyes in the photos had long turned to Cherokee green.

And sometimes not even the blue food coloring satisfied me. I swear, I could still see the grains of the filth. The well’s underbelly would sneak in through the pipes, deposit a dusting of what I was sure were crushed insects along the porcelain floor. I wouldn’t get in. “Jesus Christ, Justine,” my mom would say, and then glub-glub half a cup of dish soap in the tub. It covered the secrets up, but I could still feel the broken bugs on my too-thick thighs and flat butt. I just knew enough not to complain anymore.

I’d stay in the bathroom for an hour. It didn’t matter that the water went cold or that every last bubble popped. I didn’t care that the dish soap dried up my skin so much that it began to pain, or that I could feel the slime of it seeping into my pores. That my hair, no matter how many times I dunked it, never really got truly clean in the soupy well water. I was told that this was Relaxing Time and it was the only time my mother left me alone. When I was ready to get out, I had to call her. She hated the thought of leaving soap to line and sit in the tub, so I’d have to stand as the water drained and she hosed down each piece of the liner, inch by inch. Once the escaping water reached my feet that looked just like hers, she’d start to hose me down, too. The well, it was running dry, and by then the water from the hose was always almost-cool at best. Usually, it had gone cold. And she’d have me spin, turn, hold up my hair to spray down my slippery neck. At four, I’d already learned fast to hate this process. It was like being one of those hanged, headless, skinless animals at the slaughterhouse down the street. Hooked and waiting for the butchery to be done while my insides, my private areas, were on display.

We had one bathroom in the entire house, and so I wasn’t allowed to lock the door. My mom, in the summer, would always be in the yard, covering our one, long acre in discount perennials. Tending to the marijuana that she planted along with the tomato plants because they looked kind of alike. Pulling up weeds, yelling at my dad to mow the grass, swatting away the latest animal she had acquired, shrieking at it to behave against its instinct and act like she thought it should. Goats, turkeys, ponies, and rabbits. Sometimes, her or my dad would come into the bathroom, pull down their pants to defecate or stream yellow into the chipped bowl. I could only see the flanks of their thighs when this happened, the toilet was on the other side of the bathtub wall with the sawed-off spout. My mom’s white-white jiggly side-butt or my dad’s milk chocolate cream with the sparse black hairs. It always shocked me, how much lighter his Indian skin was on the parts where the sun couldn’t reach. To me, he was Hershey brown, a color that must have run out of me in birth.

Sometimes they’d say something to me, most times they didn’t. Especially not my dad—I don’t think he knew what to say. But this time, when I was squarely Four, I was well-armed. I was always swimming in toys, always used, always garage sale finds he would bring to me in soft, worn-out boxes from his Saturday hunts. My favorite was a plastic alligator squirt gun. My mom hated that, that I often went to the boy toys instead of the cutesy stuff she liked. She hated that I hated Sesame Street and picked He-Man or Thundercats when I had a choice.  She hated that I didn’t like dresses, preferred the black t-shirts with monsters on them. Werewolves, vampires and Frankensteins.

Just a month ago, my mom had painted big, fat blue raindrops everywhere on the bathroom walls. I had to help, and it was obvious which were mine and which were hers. Mine were fast, hurried. I didn’t want to be doing it. She did that, stuff like that. Our house was the weird one, but I was just now figuring out to be embarrassed. Embarrassment is something that comes in random bursts, like a growth. I guess it has to be that way, doesn’t it? Otherwise babies would be way too embarrassed with their poop and vomit and nipple sucking to ever get big. Embarrassment was coming in buckets to me that summer, like it had gotten lazy and was playing catch up.

It had only been a couple of weeks since the last big embarrassment. My mom, determined that I would know everything about sex since she had known nothing, had blasted words like penis and vagina at me since before I could remember. Intercourse, sex, orgasm, sperm. They were as common to me as yellow, blue, rectangle, and square. She didn’t want me to be like her, turn thirteen years old and come home crying because a boy had accidentally brushed his khaki-clad Penis against me in the school hallway and thinking I might be pregnant. So two weeks ago, while I stood on a chair playing with my dad’s long black hair, twisting it into twin mounts on top of my head and giggling, I caught myself when my mom walked by and asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m making him horny.” I heard it, my try at making a joke—horns to horny—turn to filth between my lips. I knew it before I saw the shift in his eyes, before I felt the silence shoot at me from my mother’s presence. And I said nothing, just let go of his locks and scooted back down off the chair.

“What are you doing?”

My dad had come into the bathroom so quiet I hadn’t even heard the footsteps in the hall. He could do that, unlike my mom. Move like a cat, like a big sneaky thing. Her footsteps always announced themselves from what felt like miles away, a lumbering lack of grace before her musky smell announced itself.

“Nothing,” I told him. He stood before the vanity mirror, the one that opened with a soft press to reveal his green Barasol can that turned the shelves dark red. His old razor. My mom’s dull tweezers and silver hair clips. His back to me, he watched me in the mirror as he lathered his face. Like snow spreading across peaks and mountains. Something had changed in him. This mask, the snowy one, I’d seen hundreds of times. But always, I’d known what was below. Thought I’d known. It was my dad, the one who would drink an entire liter of Coke and half a can of peanuts. The one who took me to the Red Barn Auction on Thursday nights, to McDonald’s for their spongy pancakes and warm syrup on Saturday mornings after the first best garage sales had been ransacked. The one who flew me around like I was a plane in the photos, who grew that moustache because I got to watch Born in East L.A. and thought he looked just like Cheech Marin. “Grow a moustache! Grow a moustache!” I’d begged of him, and he had. It came in slow, so we all got used to it together. Now, it was the dad in the photos that looked like a stranger. I couldn’t remember what his full upper lip looked like anymore, but I knew what his moustache looked like after he ate all those peanuts. Dusted in salt and little nut skin flakes.

What are you doing? What are you doing. He said these words for a different reason than my mom. Because it made him sound like he cared, and he knew my answer would be short. My mom asked because she had to know everything, didn’t realize that children came with their own deep-inside personalities that she couldn’t keep choke-collar tight. I’d seen that after the horny incident, saw her face scrambling to contain the wild animal she thought she’d spotted in me. I wanted to explain that it was a joke, that my words came faster than my head could manage, but that would just make it worse. Wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t that just make it worse?

My dad’s face was half white snow now, the top half the same brown skin as always and those green-gold eyes. They crawled over me like insects, and I could feel the itchy dead bodies at my legs again. They had disappeared when I’d first lowered myself into the water. But now that water was cool, the bubbles gone, and the false blue wasn’t enough to offer any comfort. There were dark bits floating at the surface now, too. What body parts might those be? Maybe tiny little alien eyes, or a leg all akimbo. Flecks stuck to my skin where the water licked at my belly. My sides. Right below my nipples. And I was ashamed.
It was like in Sunday School, how they tell you about Adam and Eve. Eat the wrong thing, and you get embarrassed all at once. Not over time like you’re supposed to.  I don’t know if my dad had ever changed my diaper. Given me a bath when I was too little to do it myself. I know he’d never hosed me off—that was my mom’s job.

“You gon’ stay in there much longer?” he asked as he picked up the razor, held the blade to his cheek. It was old, and I knew he’d cut himself. Leave the bathroom with bloody bits of paper stuck like bows at the sharpest angles. His Oklahoma accent spilt something fierce through his snow-flaked lips.

“I don’t know,” I said. Penis. Vagina. I could see the start of my vagina at the depths of the blue, blue water. His eyes kept marching over me. Down my throat to rest in the hollow of my collarbone. Across my shoulders, peeling from the early summer shine. He carved out a piece of brown from the white, the soft scrape-scrape sound echoing in the tiny room. He’d shut the bathroom door. Why had he shut the door? It was too small with two people in here, the raindrop walls moving uncomfortably close. It was pouring.

“Hmm,” he said, revealing another section of skin. His chin, the one unlike mine. Mine was like my mom’s, a slight dimple. Butt-face, that one boy had called me at Vacation Bible School. Jesus hadn’t cared, just kept staring at the ceiling from the big cross up front, eyes faded and looking bored. Not like my dad’s eyes. They moved to my upper arms, the ones I already knew were too big.

“You can always tell when a girl is gonna be fat by her upper arms,” my mom would say, pointing out girls my age, younger, older, it didn’t matter. “It’s all in the arms,” she’d say, with a sad shake of her head. “It’s a terrible thing, to have to watch your weight your whole life. God, what I would give to be thin and rich. That’s all I want in my next life.”

In my water-logged fingers, the hollow alligator nuzzled close. I could fill it with one hand, I’d been practicing. Like an army man, and I hadn’t even known a war was coming. Just knew, like instinct. I had to be able to load this gun one-handed, simple as that. Slow, careful, tucking the alligator against my hip I pulled his orange syringe like I was lapping up all the poison. He grew heavier in my palm, didn’t want to pop up to the surface anymore. He was so full with the water, he was happy to stay weighted and deadly ‘til I was ready.

My dad moved the razor against the long moustache hairs, careful to keep each side equally thick. It must have been hard to do without looking. Or maybe you get used to it. I wanted to see if he’d locked the door or just closed it, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t look away, or his eyes could race too fast to somewhere they shouldn’t be.

To my elbows they went, the crooks of them at the water’s surface. The razor slid to his throat. His eyes to my nipples. Now. The alligator attacked.

It was perfect, not a sound or a splash. I took aim like I always did, arm stretched out, trigger ready. But I shot for his face, the one in the mirror with the searching eyes, and the alligator vomited a blue stream all across his back.

“Goddamnit!” he yelled, raking the razor across his barely-there Adam’s apple and it went from white to bright red in a second. “What the—Rhoda! Rhoda!” he yelled, calling for my mom. Her heavy feet slapped against the linoleum in the kitchen, just a few steps away.

“Jimmy? What is it? Is Justi—” she screamed from behind the door, and it flew open. It wasn’t locked, wasn’t locked, wasn’t locked. “What happened?” she asked, scanning him as he clutched a wash rag to his throat, me sitting with my knees drawn up to cover my nipples.

“She shot me!” he said, like he couldn’t believe it himself.

“Justine! What the hell are you doing?” she asked.

“No, I—I didn’t do it. It was the alligator.” It was the truth.


Jessica (Tyner) Mehta is a Cherokee poet, novelist, and storyteller. She’s the author of eight books, which includes six collections of poetry: the forthcoming Constellations of My Body, the forthcoming Savagery, as well as Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo. She’s been awarded the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Prize in Poetry, the Potlatch Award for Native Artists, and numerous poet-in-residencies posts around the world including Hosking Houses Trust with an appointment at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, and Paris Lit Up in France. Visit Jessica’s author site at www.jessicamehta.com