On Writing Inclusively

Diversity is a big buzz word in media right now, and like most buzz words, a lot of people are missing the point.

When we talk about diversity, what we actually want is to be inclusive. We want a fuller, more accurate picture of the world. Because the more people exist in your work, the more those people in the real world will be interested in it, the more readers you get, the more bank you make at the end of the day.

Inclusive writing includes people of different races, different cultures, different religions, different gender or sexual identities, etc. Because no matter what we think we know about the world, the fact is, when you look at the world, at history, these differences have always been there. Globalization, colonization, social media, and oh yeah a vastly growing global population have shown a light on this like never before. So it feels new sometimes. But it’s not.

So, how do you reflect inclusiveness in your stories? Continue reading

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So. Last chapter. Still not here. Not great, I know. It’s happening, just slowly. Y’all are getting this for free, though, so I don’t feel too bad.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to start posting chapters for The WIP Formerly Known As Nevermore (new title in process). What is Nevermore? Well,

Every city has its own necropolis. More than just resting places for the dead, these necropoli are places where souls linger and dreamers roam. Baltimore’s necropolis is called Nevermore. There, memories and dreams, imagination and intention, are tangible forces that shape the world.

The Constantine Sisters have all had one foot in reality and the other treading aether their whole lives. The Twins are used to it. Their younger sister, Fin, not so much. But when Fin returns to Baltimore under duress, she finds Nevermore waiting to welcome her.

Family secrets and buried trauma collide on a supernatural playing field, and Fin Constantine will have to choose her place in the mayhem. Will she run or become a contender in this strange new world? Will she be a victim? A hero? Or a villain…

Chapters will be posted on Patreon and made available to my patrons at least a week ahead of posting here. Patrons will also get bonus content like drawings, research, and, I dunno, maybe a Q&A if there’s enough interest in this thing? But readers here will still get the full story, so don’t worry on that count.

PS – If you’ve been enjoying This House of Bones, this book is set in the same universe and features the same characters a few years older and wiser *cough*Renata*cough*. Hope you enjoy it!

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This House of Bones – Chapter 14

There was something alive in there. On the other side of that warped, foggy glass, a cruel and hungry sentience watched. And to Malcolm’s horror, it was talking to Calliope.

John Malcolm Howard had brought this on himself. He’d known the mirror was something more when he bought it. He’d wanted more. More for himself. More to impress Calliope.

Calliope. A woman who herself was so much more than anyone he’d ever known. He’d done this for her, and now she was…. It was all his fault.

The facts were these: there was a will and a mind and a blood soaked provenance that went hand in hand with that mirror. He’d downplayed the number of deaths for Cal – he’d wanted to thrill her, not scare her – but now he knew he’d done the wrong thing. The mirror was something to be feared, and instead Cal had been entirely thrilled with it.

They’d brought it home from the dealer with help. Hired men had maneuvered the awkward piece of furniture upstairs, all the way to the top of the house. There was a smaller bedroom next to the alter room on the third floor. Malcolm had used it for storage mostly – paperwork and antiquities that weren’t relevant or important enough to keep in his primary office. But he’d cleaned it up and given it to Calliope when she moved in. He’d wanted her to feel welcome, to have a space of her own. Naturally, her mirror should go with her things.

She had seemed so grateful, Malcolm hadn’t thought anything of it when she spent more and more time ‘meditating’ in front of her present. Calliope had an enviable gift with the other side, and Malcolm only wanted to help her hone it. The more she could do, the more they could do. Together.

Soon, she’d started spending every evening before the mirror. That turned into hours. Then days. Now, she rarely left the third floor, and when she did, it was to wander the house wraith-like, scaring the servants and agitating his artifacts.

The house in Union Square was full of the fruits of Malcolm’s labors. Paintings with eyes that watched him cross the room, or went walking when no one was there to miss them. The chandelier that murmured as though a terse dinner party were still politely arguing under its’ defuse light, still building towards a violent climax. An assortment of totems and exotic fetishes that left an unpleasant hum in his teeth when he got too close. Malcolm was used to this.

Since the mirror had come, everything had changed. Before, the feeling of all these items had been merely disquieting. The sensation of mostly latent magics swirled through the air like so much dust, tickling the senses like a sneeze that never manifests. Now, it was like the house was under siege.

Menace filled the air with the shifting of light. The knowledge that he was being hunted woke him from sleep he didn’t remember succumbing to. The groans of a house settling became the cry of vanquished prey, the violent thumping from the third floor the chilling roar of a triumphant predator.

And it was his fault. His pride, his hubris. Malcolm had thought he could handle the mirror, whatever its curse may be. And why shouldn’t he be capable? He’d been researching the arcane for years. While most of his contemporaries were happy to play at séances and table tipping, he’d gone further. Studied more. Spent more.

And there was the catch. He’d assumed that his paltry devotion had meant something. He’d measured himself against hobbyists and thought himself a master.

He was wrong.

And now, he was frightened.

Malcolm had been frightened for weeks. Months. It had become his master, directing him to ignore this, accept that, leave Cal alone up there. Well, he wouldn’t succumb anymore. He summoned his courage, even as the fear reached a fever pitch inside him. It made every step forward a struggle. Fear stole through him with every shuddering beat of his heart as he ascended to the third floor. Still, he climbed. If he did nothing else right, he would at least save Calliope.

It was so dark up there. The sun was still up; some bit of sunshine should’ve shone through the curtains or around door jams. And yet, the third floor landing and all that lay beyond it was stygian. The electric lights wouldn’t turn on at the landing or in the hall. He carried a hurricane lamp in one hand, the other clutched the railing. The lamp’s flame writhed fretfully in the windless passage.

Whose house was this? Malcolm didn’t know anymore. Once it had been his. It had been his with every chill down the spine and every sensation you had been dreaming while awake. His house had been tricky and unsettling and more his than his own body. This dark, violent thing he climbed into wasn’t his house. It wasn’t him.

And he refused to leave Calliope to this stranger.

The door to the altar room was clearly visible. Malcolm didn’t understand how. He didn’t know how he’d passed Calliope’s study. He didn’t remember when he reached the top of the stairs. But there he was, before a door illuminated by no light. The hurricane lamp shook in his hand, but its’ paltry flame lit himself and little else.

His mind went blank. Should he go back and try find Calliope’s door? Should he knock? Should he try the handle? What was he here for?

The door opened.

“There you are, Malcolm. We’ve been waiting for you.”

Calliope was radiant. Calliope was dismal. Malcolm didn’t know what he was looking at.

When he looked at her, he saw the woman he loved in the peak of health. Rosy-cheeked, hair coiffed and shining gold, her silk blouse and trousers pressed to perfection. She was sallow and greasy and rumpled. She smiled that same sweet smile he loved but her eyes- her eyes looked at him with a purposeful blankness. She was looking at him but seeing something else. Malcolm shuddered. His hands went numb and he dropped the lamp.

“Are you coming in or not?” Her tone was casual, unbothered. As though it hadn’t been a month since he’d last laid eyes on her. “If you are, scoot along in. I’ve got so much going on, and while I’d just love to share it with you, I’m not prepared to do so in the doorway.”

“Cal, wha- what’s going on?” Malcolm asked, his ears ringing and his muscles trembling. He was afraid. Why, though? Why was he afraid of Calliope?

She pulled him in by his shirt collar. The door shut snugly behind them. “This mirror is what’s going on, sweetie-pie! It’s the very bees knees. Did you know there’s a whole world in there? It’s itty bitty, of course, but still! Lots of people to talk to. I’m learning so much all the time.” She looked at him again. Her eyes were bright and her smile hungry. “Have you come to learn with me? I’ve been waiting, you know.”

“Cal, I –“The words were swimming in his stuffy head, sticking to his clumsy tongue. He swallowed and began again. “Calliope, I think you should come with me. I think we should leave this room. The house. You, you need some sun- we BOTH need some sun, yes? The summer is almost over and we, we haven’t gone holidaying at all.” Why did she look at him like that? Why was she so cold?

“That’s silly, love. Why would I leave when I have your wonderful gift here?” She gestured to the wall behind her and he could suddenly see the rest of the room.

The altar had been dismantled. The carpet rolled aside and new, unfamiliar runes and circles were chalked into the wood. And the mirror. Where his altar had once stood, the mirror loomed tall and silent as tomb. The glass- there was, there was someone in the glass?

“There are oceans in there no living human has swum in before. And I can go no matter the weather. I don’t even need a bathing suit,” she said coyly.

Even now, Malcolm might’ve risen to the bait. Even with her strange expression and his vision doubling and everything about this situation so, so wrong.

His face had gone numb, though. And his tongue swollen. Cal, he wanted to say. Cal, help me. I love you. Help me.

“Oh, my poor Mal,” she cooed. “My poor white knight.” She held him up with unnatural strength as his legs failed him, and walked him to the mirror. “Coming to save me from the wicked witch like a good boy. Oh!” She gasped in a mimicry of surprise. “But didn’t you know? I thought I’d been very clear, daddio!”

Malcolm’s senses began shutting down, one by one, as blood filled his mouth and ears and eyes, and his palms and feet began to bleed from the pores. But he was still unlucky enough to understand what was coming. To see Calliope’s reflection in the mirror as she brought him ever closer to the place of sacrifice. To know suddenly and surely that this was her house.

She kissed his forehead. One sweet benediction before the end.

“I am the witch.”

He faded to black before the rest.

The Halloween party was a smashing success, even before the ceremony. Everyone was so gay and bright in their costumes. The bubbly was flowing and the food was going down well. Calliope hadn’t hired a band, but the guests were happy enough to amuse themselves with a pedal organ (Malcolm had salvaged it from desecrated church some years back), and a Victrola phonograph he had been sentimental over.

The crowd had reached the part of the night where everyone was making up ghastly new lyrics to the old tunes. They weren’t very good lyrics, but they were funny. Everything was funny with enough wine and good food. And besides, if anyone had reason to wonder whether they should laugh or not, they only had to look to Cal for guidance. Smooth, sophisticated Cal would never laugh at anything tacky. Why, she’d thrown this party and it was the height of good taste. Malcolm certainly had one hell of a doll running his house for him, the lucky schmo.

That was what they all thought, Cal could tell.

Of course, they did ask after Malcolm. That was to be expected – it was his house, his friends, his little woman running the show. Where oh where was the man himself?

“Oh, the poor sugar bear is resting up top. Bad luck, you know, though really, it does give me my chance to repay the kindness. Hadn’t I told you before? Oh, well, you remember how sweet he was, taking care of me this past summer when I got so sick. Whisked me right off to Europe as soon as the doc said I was well enough to travel. Wanted me to recuperate somewhere special. Never been treated so well in all my life. Yes! You remember, the house was all shut up. And he was so devoted to me, he clean forgot to mention where we’d gone to anyone else, the dear! Well no sooner did we get back, with me right as rain, then he fell sick himself! The doctors say it’s nothing to worry about – just a tenacious cold – but it gives him such a head, he says he’s not fit for company. You’d better believe I tried to get him to cancel, but he refused. Said everyone was expecting it, couldn’t let folks down. Yes, ‘good old Malcolm,’ you said it. Anyway, I’m sure he’ll come out when the crowd thins a little. And he promised he’ll join us later, when we go upstairs for the final part of the night, you know he’d never miss a summoning on Halloween. And he has missed all of you. We both have. It was so nice to be together over the summer, but surely you all know how dearly Malcolm holds his friends. I’m sure it’ll do him a world of good to see everyone tonight. I know I feel revived seeing everyone again and I don’t have half the history that you all share with Mal.”

This was said with an abundance of sincerity, her eyes wide and expressive, her lips turned up in the sweetest of smiles. This woman whom they’d met nearly a year ago, summoning demons at a party she’d crashed uninvited, was as much a saint to their eyes as Peter who’d someday judge their shallow souls at the pearly gates. The women clasped her hands with feeling. The men agreed with her, with meaningful nods and exclamations of Malcolm’s dependability.

Questions answered and their purpose restated, Malcolm’s inner circle of lackeys and lackwits got to work. The uninitiated (the useless) were gently hurried out as the witching hour approached. The music was silenced, the last of the bubbly guzzled, the catering service shown the backdoor. One by one and two by two, they followed Calliope up to the third floor.

Tonight was to be like any other night they gathered. Tonight was to be unlike anything they’d seen before. Such was the risk with Cal and Mal.

They followed Calliope up. The witching hour was upon them.

“Was that really necessary, girl?” The Alchemist looked on in revulsion.

Calliope frowned. She didn’t like his tone. Plus, she’d just noticed that there was blood splatter on the hem of her favorite party dress. She’d changed into it from her Halloween costume just for the occasion, too. Getting it out of the beading would be hell. Tch.

“It was if you wanted all of them,” she replied in the same tone. Cal dropped the knife by the bodies at her feet. Most everyone had succumbed as soon as the summoning started in earnest , but a few of Malcolm’s old friends had been strong enough and smart enough to try make a run for it. Cal had just been stronger and smarter. And faster. “Besides, since when have you been squeamish? You were happy enough to tell me all your gruesome deeds before.”

The Alchemist fidgeted in the mirror.

“Or,” she said thoughtfully, “have you just never had to hold the knife yourself?”

Bingo. Well, Calliope couldn’t say she hadn’t anticipated as much. The Alchemist talked too much and not well, and Calliope had known enough men of his ilk to expect nothing more from him than what she planned to take.

She stepped daintily over the pooling blood and the sprawl of bodies to return to the mirror. “How’s it going in there? Is everyone settling in alright?”

“More or less,” the Alchemist said, harrumphing. “A few have gathered their wits enough to try hide in the dark, but I’ve got the scent of them.”

“I should come, then,” she said, and pressed her hands to the glass. “Two hunters make shorter work of the prey, after all.”

“I – yes, yes there’s nothing left for you to do here, is there,” he muttered. He looked distracted. Good. Calliope pressed closer to the glass. The power within it leapt to her palms like an eager puppy begging for a pet.

Let the Alchemist distract himself with her sacrifices. It was clear as the nose on his face that he had no idea what he was doing. The mirror overflowed with power. It was waiting – crying out – to be used, and he did nothing with it. Instead he fed on half-awake people. Idiot.

Calliope felt indulgent and let him waffle for a moment longer. Would he try to stall her long enough to account for her sacrifices and face her freshly fed? Or would he bring her into the mirror first to subdue and use to his own ends? It didn’t really matter what he did. Cal was prepared either way.

She pressed her mortal body as close to the mirror as she could get. Arms, head, torso – her heart thundered in her chest, the feeling made more acute by the press of cold, still glass. She wouldn’t feel it again.

She was going to live forever. Not as a ghost, and not shunted back into the reincarnation cycle like some powerless nobody. She would be herself, Calliope Jones, straight through to the rapture and beyond. And not even God himself could do jack shit about it.

It was More. At last. At last the power. At last the dominion. At last a place of her own where she could rip off the faces of all these useless cocks who think they know better. She was going to start with this one right here.

wait, said the small strangled inner voice she hated. wait, it begged.

Calliope threw her soul against the glass and killed that voice, along with every other aspect of her earthly vessel.

She swam into the dark, rich waters of the mirror-well-ocean like she was born to. And then she began to hunt.

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The Merry Spinster – Review

The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg

My second review for Mermay, the Merry Spinster, doesn’t have a ton of mermaids, but it has a decent amount. Like, at least 2. Considering that Mermay only requires one(1) mermaid, it’s clearly enough to qualify.

The Merry Spinster is a collection of retold fairy tales and myths. Like most collections of short stories, it’s hit or miss. But Ortberg is so good at what she’s aimed to do here – playing with the dials, turning up the contrast, recasting the characters – that the familiar becomes unsettling, and we’re left with a deep, pervasive sense of disquiet in the wake of reading. Even when a story doesn’t land, you keep thinking about it. It’s Weird in a way that sticks with you, even if you sometimes wish it didn’t.

I’ll admit, some stories I really did not care for. The gaslighting and torture in “Some of us had been threatening our friend, Mr. Toad” was off putting, and not just because I loved The Wind in the Willows as a kid. And I really really hated the toad in “The Frog’s Princess.” I know that’s what I was supposed to feel, but also I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life.

The beginning of the collection, the first six stories out of eleven, is strongest. “The Daughter Cells” – a retelling of H.C. Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” with an eminently sensible mermaid -, “Fear Not: an Incident Log” – an angel from the days of Genesis talking about work – and, my personal favorite, “The Six Boy-Coffins” – Grimm’s “Twelve Swans” with a much more satisfactory ending, take top honors. They were well written, they made their points, and overall they were good, weird fulfilling reads. “The Little Mermaid” especially of that group has been through the wringer with retelling after retelling, but this felt fresh and cheeky and I delighted in the ending. Honorable mentions go to “The Thankless Child”, which stumbles a bit, sacrificing some clarity for ambiance and an absolutely fascinating dystopian world that I want to read more about; “The Rabbit” which is “The Velveteen Rabbit” gone grim-dark; and finally, the title story, “The Merry Spinster” which retells “Beauty and the Beast” in a very matter-of-fact manner which may have been a little too matter-of-fact.

In a word, The Merry Spinster is disturbing. Sometimes, disturbing isn’t what you want to read. Sometimes, disturbing is exactly what you’re craving. I think reviews of this collection will very depending on what you need at the moment.

I’m rating this 3 out of 5 stars, both because of the variable desirability of disturbing stories and also because some of the stories just don’t land successfully (I would love for someone who enjoyed “The Wedding Party” to explain what they saw in it. Please).

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Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

I talked about this book in my last post, but I hadn’t finished it at that point. Now I’m done and I’ve had time to digest it.

Verdict: I reeeeeeeally liked this book. It reminded me of Jurassic Park (a childhood fave), with the combination of science fact manipulated into science fiction, only better because killer mermaids and WHO DOESN’T LOVE KILLER MERMAIDS? I mean, obviously not the people being killed, but they’ve got bigger problems than disagreeing with my humble blog. Continuing the JP parallels, there’s also much harping on the hubris of mankind and, again, I’m not gonna knock it. Intentionally or not, Grant has drawn on the fertile ground that’s inspired many a pop culture classic (Godzilla, anyone?) and she makes it work for herself.

The monsters are super unsettling, their attack is terrifying, and I love the scenes later in the book where we experience the world through their eyes and perception. I love the scientists, still batting around theories as everything goes tits up, because they know they need to figure this shit out if they want to survive but also because SCIENCE!(TM). I love the shit out of the diversity of the cast. There’s LGBTQ representation! Neurodivergent representation! Disabled representation! And yes, there are still plenty of dudes around for those of y’all inclined to worry about the menfolk. There are…a lot of guys, as it turns out. Also, Victoria’s lab partner, Luis, is a gem and a delight and he needs to be protected at all costs. Dr. Toth is both a piping hot mess and #GOALS and I love that there’s no dissonance between these two equally valid aspects of her character. I tried learning ASL in college and my wonky hands just Could Not, but God I would try again just to be able to offer to take Holly out for a drink after this mess.

My one complaint is, sadly, the ending. Mainly, it doesn’t end so much as it stops. This isn’t necessarily wrong, and it didn’t ruin the book for me, but in lieu of an epilogue, I have found myself desperately watching Seanan McGuire’s* social media for signs of a sequel or at least a follow up novella. No new yet. There is, however, a prequel of sorts. Rolling in the Deep chronicles the doomed voyage of the Atargatis, the disaster which sets up the events of Into the Drowning Deep. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s high on the list.

Overall, this was a solid 4.5 stars for me. On good days, it’s a 5, but I do waver sometimes over the ending and a small but still present degree of preachiness. May add this to my shelf when I make more room.

Next review up (and probably last for MerMay) will be The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg. See you all next time, friends!

*Mira Grant is the horror pseudonym of science fiction author Seanan McGuire. If you’re on the Twitter, you’ve probably faved or retweeted something she posted. She gets around the internet with astonishing frequency.

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Mer-May!!! (and a book review)

It’s Mer-May time. I love Mer-May, guys. A whole month, dedicated to mermaids. I love mermaids. The only step up would be, like, Dragon December. Maybe a Firebird Friday. I dunno, I’m spit-balling here. My point is, mermaids are great.

(In case you’ve forgotten about my love of lady monsters from the deep, please feel free to (re)acquaint yourself with my short story, The Summer Girls. I’ll wait.)

I’m also reading some mermaid based literature for the season, starting with Into The Drowning Deep by Mira Grant. Halfway through it and I have to say, folks, it is some tasty aquatic horror. A mockumentary crew went missing in the Mariana Trench several years before. The recovered footage shows mermaids. The world thinks it’s a hoax, though the evidence does point to the discovery of mermaids, hard as that is for people to believe. Years later, a second crew is going back out there to discover what really happened to the first crew and, if possible, prove definitively that mermaids exist once and for all.

The cast of characters is great. Just great. We have deaf twin sisters and their big sister interpreter doing, just, a whole bunch of things. A bitter sirenologist whose research sent the first crew off and who feels guilty for not doing more to protect them from what they found. Her estranged husband who works for the man financing all of this and who has a perhaps skewed moral compass. The younger sister of a woman who died on the first ship and is looking for answers(and maybe revenge. I don’t think she’s gotten that far in her thoughts yet). The program host who got into television as a way to deal with her social anxiety. Two absolutely bonkers big game hunters whom I despise but whose arsenal of sedatives and grenades might save everyone’s asses? A whole bunch more scientists, the ships crew, and some Black Water esque security types that look like they’ve been hired by a casting director(*spoiler* they have).

There’s some dolphins in there, too, but I haven’t gotten to the part where they get super relevant yet.

I don’t always enjoy science fiction. The “good stuff” I’ve been recommended is often too divorced from character depth or emotion, or is just bad writing in my opinion. Or worse yet, gets so wrapped up in the intricacies of it’s own science that I get punted right out of the story and back into Mr. Putnam’s 8th grade science class, where he quietly gaslighted and mocked all of the students who struggled.*

Into the Drowning Deep suffers from none of that. Grant establishes a solid foundation of science fact to build into believable science fiction. And then she keeps doing it. Littered throughout the narrative are facts about the ocean, marine life, and human impact on the last great frontier on earth. Which just compounds the horror when you get right down to it.

The characters, even the most shallowly written or briefly encountered, all have clearly demonstrated motivations and personalities. You feel for the people you should feel for, you dislike the characters you should, etc. It is incredibly solid writing.

My only nitpick is how sparse the writing can be. Sometimes I just want a little more description to bite my teeth into. That said, a more lyrical style may not best serve this story either. You know what, nitpick rescinded, I don’t think this story would have the same efficient bite if went swimming in florid prose.

I’m aiming to finish this tonight (provided work stays slow and my coworker stays oUT OF MY FUCKING BUSINESS, JENI) and I’m expecting to come away with something in the 4-5 star range. It would take some doing to fuck this up. I mean, anything’s possible, I’ve been let down before, but I feel good about this one, guys. The people telling me to read Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire weren’t completely full of shit this time.

One more time for all y’all in the back, Happy Mer-May! Eat that seafood, watch questionable mermaid movies produced by SyFy, comb your hair with a fork, go crazy. I believe in you. And mermaids.

free mabel

*Oddly enough, I actually liked him pretty well compared to most of my teachers that year, but looking back my God he was a condescending prick who deserved a solid kick in the dick twice a day, and three times on Friday for good measure.

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This House of Bones – Chapter 13

The Alchemist was dead. Not that that shut him up a bit, but if there were anything worthwhile to be found in this thrice cursed calamity, it was that he could finally ignore the idiot.

The smashing of the stone had stunned him. It was a novel feeling after ages of impermeability, and it set his consciousness adrift for a while. When he was himself again, the crushed remains of the stone had been somehow fused with the material of the looking glass. The mirror and its’ stand sat perfect and whole and full of power. The workshop in which it stood lay in ruins. The Alchemist’s body sprawled lifeless at its’ feet.

He didn’t fully understand what the Alchemist had done, but he grasped the workings of it easily enough; what it was rather than what had been intended. The Alchemist himself had yet to do that much; was, in fact, still struggling to understand he was really, truly dead.

The goal of the Alchemist – the bare bones of it – had been to siphon the power of the stone and add it to his own. The mirror would serve the receptacle, a reservoir with its placid surface like that of a well, and he would draw from it or fill it again as he needed. His reflection would absorb the progression time, taking from the Alchemist the woes of advancing age, his ailments and injuries. The frame, with all its twisting boughs and clever carvings, would keep the power contained.

That was what he understood were the intentions. Which were transparently idiotic.

He’d only known three witching folk; the Angel, the Shadow, and the Alchemist himself. Yet from just these three, he knew the Alchemist’s plan to be flawed. The Alchemist already had a surfeit of power; that much could be felt just by his presence. That power on its own would’ve forestalled death as it had for the Angel, as it probably had for the Shadow as well. The mirror trick was a good one and could’ve worked without any external power source. All it would’ve taken was a simple deposit of some of his own strength. The reflective nature of the mirror would’ve grown the power with only a small cantrip or two.

The frame was perhaps the only well thought out part of the scheme, and even that had become….

Here was what the thing truly was.

The power the Alchemist wanted was him, his soul, with his mind and manner attached. The blow of crushing the stone had hurt him, but it hadn’t been nearly enough to separate him from himself. So into the mirror he went, all of him, with his power as inaccessible to the Alchemist now as when the Shadow had first taught him self-control.

The looking glass itself was a drowning deep, a fathomless sea waiting to be filled. But it was not without boundaries. The place he inhabited within the mirror-well was separate from the space the Alchemist did. They could communicate, if they wished, but he had nothing to say to that madman, and so he existed in his bubble, solitary and silent. He didn’t understand at all how it worked, only that it did.

The frame was a true prison. He regretted now that he’d flung the word so carelessly at the stone he’d been confined within. The stone had kept him from true death, had tied him to a place, but he could see and feel. The world had not been closed to him. Now, he had his bubble – the last breath of a drowning man – and nothing else.


Time passed. It must have. More bubbles accumulated, more muffled voices in the dark. How he longed for rest.

He looked out sometimes from the mirrors edge. Let his bubble rise to the surface and peered up where the water was thinnest. There were rooms painted in the colors of spring and edged in swirling gold. Dark, narrow halls, dusty and depressing. Close dens with roaring fire and couches and books. Rooms destroyed by fire or slicked with blood. Sometimes there were people. Sometimes there were only bodies and a new voice in the distance.

He wondered, was the Alchemist still at work, still meddling for power with half-conceived plans, like a calve born too soon?

Or was the mirror on its own a greater terror than either of them had imagined?


Something was looking for him. A leviathan was swimming in these dead waters, hunting for prey.

He caught a glimpse of her. Once. Pale skin and yellow hair. A tunic that shimmered like sunlight on the water. Or the scales of a wyrm. Eyes that devoured.

But he was a monster as well. Let her try him.


The child sunk and sunk and screamed with everything but her voice. Shouts of despair. Defiance. Drowning but not yet drowned. The little sooted girl. She’d held out longer than he’d thought. What remained of her father would be proud. He was proud. And wasn’t that a strange feeling after all this time.

The girl was dead, of that there was no doubt. But she wasn’t done. There was the heart of a warrior in her still, and the will of one. But she didn’t know how to fight.

He knew of little else. And he was sick of the dark.

He reached out, and-

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AN: to be fair, I read something like 17 books last month, and I’m already finished 4 in March, so it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing while I procrastinated. A few reviews are also in process. Lengths will vary depending on how much I feel like nitpicking. I’m dedicating all my free time this week to working on this story, so ideally the next updates will be happening within a few days.

PS – The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is very good and I’m excited for the sequel.

PPS – There are a ton of recordings of M. R. James stories for free on Youtube that you should absolutely give a listen to if you like your spook with a serving of (fictional) history.

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