Exploits of a Midnight Traveler (Part 22)

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 5.43.48 PM.pngThe chill of the night air prickled my skin as Not-Exactly-Lila sauntered us down the street, my brain whirling with the new sensations and neural connections. An hour ago, I had been terrified shitless. And now, my entire body seethed with this rush of power, a knowing that I could make myself anything. Anything!

Caleb was weak, a mess of anxiety and grief. He’d let all of this horror just happen to him, had caressed his dead girlfriend’s hair and given up. The rush of bio-nanites soothed the pain, made me feel as if it had all happened to someone else. In a way, it had. The truth was, I didn’t refuse to change back because of any practical need to disguise myself. I refused to change back because I didn’t ever want to be Caleb again.

The bio-nanites… could they possibly be manipulated further? Could I become something even more? This was intoxicating as it was, alien thoughts and impulses marching through my body, making me better, stronger, than I ever was.

Not-Exactly-Lila shifted and breathed inside of me like I was the world’s best-fitting jacket. It was… an odd feeling. I could smell her perfume—don’t ask me how, my body was still surprising me. The fact that she wore perfume during situations like this was both bizarre and intriguing.

This woman wasn’t Lila, but she was still so like her…

“What’s your name?” I asked, her throat making my voice heard.

“Oh? You wait until someone’s inside you to bother asking their name?” She brushed me off with a chuckle.

“I just think I’d like to know what kind of woman can take all of this in stride and barely blink. I know you’re trained, but still.”

“The kind of woman that can focus on the mission. Stop with the chit-chat.”

And, just like that, I felt like Caleb again, kind of small and awkward. It didn’t last. There was too much of me now for Caleb to stay for long. Besides, I realized I knew her name, anyway. It was LI57, sometimes called Julie, the way the French breathe it. The bio-nanites had seeped into her, connected with her neurons too. “Then we should hurry to that safehouse in Langstrasse, get that case.”

“Agreed,” she muttered, and I knew she didn’t wonder how I knew where the doctor and Genevieve were. I’d asked her mind not to wonder.

Together we hailed a taxi, and as one we rode through the darkness. The driver’s dash said it was midnight. I wasn’t tired at all. I wondered if I ever would be again.

It wasn’t a long drive, though the moment I stepped out on the waterfront, Julie’s instincts told me something was wrong. I didn’t know Zurich, but her mind did. Cities don’t sleep the way humans do. It was late, but there was always someone out here, a late-night jogger or a homeless vagrant.

I could hear a rustle of paper blowing across the street. There was no one.

The safehouse apartment was unassuming for this area of town, and that was part of what made it safe. The other part was a steel door disguised under a façade of wood, bulletproof windows and reinforced walls. A hatch in the floor provided an escape route. I knew all of this because Julie knew it.

I felt her warrior’s heart quicken when she saw the steel door hanging open on its hinge. That would have scared Caleb most of all… but not the man I was becoming.

As one being, we stepped inside.

PART 23

Exploits of a Midnight Traveler (Part 3)

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It was only when the door clicked shut behind me did Lila’s death start to sink in. I’d walked into a dream when I’d entered her room, all of it a numb, morbid nightmare. But, now her body was behind me, my shoes scuffing the hallway carpet in an aimless ramble, and the sense welled up in my brain that the vibrant patterns in the rug were about to open into a deep, dark sinkhole.

I wasn’t crying. Why wasn’t I crying? I’d loved Lila so much, it made me dizzy.

The man who’d stuffed the paper in my hand was gone. The address between my fingers had a dark red smear across it now. Lila’s blood was on my fingers.

Yesterday I’d been thinking about asking her to ignore the return date on our airplane tickets, just wander Europe with me. Us. Together.

I threw up in the trash can by the elevator.

Panting, a hazy fog of self-preservation made me pause. What was I going to do? Call the Polizei? What if they thought I’d killed her? I didn’t even speak more than a few words of Swiss German, or French, or… or…

Bubbling up under the fear was anger. What the hell had Lila been involved in? How could she not have told me? We’d known each other for years! Then again… what if she hadn’t been involved in anything? What if that man, that dressed-up, moustached bastard, had the wrong woman when he’d run his hands all over her dead body?

Blood. Sickness. Fear. I was paralyzed, gripping the trashcan, about to scream.

Ding.

The elevator door clicked, swishing open. I turned my head away, dread rising, crumpling the note into my fist so no one could see the red stains. There was a steady stride behind me. A whisper floated to my ears, something polished and soft from a refined gentleman’s throat. “Fühlen Sie krank?” I didn’t know what he said. It wasn’t the Swiss dialect that had been bouncing around my head all week. Perhaps he’d just think I was a dumb, hungover American tourist. Perhaps he’d leave me alone if I waved him away.

I turned.

It was the man Lila had spoken to downstairs. Her old friend. Mr. Black Mercedes. His cold gun barrel pressed against my forehead. “Did you take it?” he hissed. It was perfect English.

I felt the sweat on my neck freeze. “N-no.” My fingernails dug into my palms, helpless fists. “You.” He stared, expression hard. “Did you have Lila killed?”

His eyebrows raised in surprise, the stony look vanishing. The gun lifted, and with a smooth motion, he hid it in his jacket, like it had never been drawn. “No. Why would I?”

“Who the fuck are y—”

“Did you see anyone else?”

His interruption was calm, far too calm for the seething anger and pain I wanted to unload in his face. But something in his gaze… “…No.” It was his eyes. They were cold little beetles.

“Don’t lie.” His hand was quick, a hook around my wrist, snapping it back, making me gasp in pain as he wrenched my fingers open. The paper was in his hands, and I could do nothing to stop him. “Ah. There we are. I thought I smelled them about, the reason why I came back, you know?” His other hand made a careless wave in the air. “But they didn’t take it either, did they?” I guess he saw the despair and confusion in my face, because he smiled. “Good. Lila was always good at hiding things when she needed to. And, I know exactly where she left it.”

“Who are you?” I demanded again. “What do you even want? Why did someone kill her?”

His mouth quirked downwards. “Maybe you’ll find out. You’re coming along.”

“Fuck you. I’m not going anywhere.”

“You try anything else, and I’m just going to shoot you, you know?” He shrugged. “Don’t make me be unpleasant. We don’t have to be enemies. In fact, I need your help.”

There was a hard lump in my throat. Could I get the pistol from his jacket? I’d barely seen where he’d stashed it; his hands had flurried like a magician’s.

“See, what you’re going to do,” he continued lazily, “is help me get the item Lila hid. And then, you and I, we’re going to go to that nifty little address they gave you. And we’re going to kill them all.”

PART 4

 

 

1000 Word Book Review: Raven Song by I.A.Ashcroft

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Review of the first 1000 words of “Raven Song” by I.A. Ashcroft

I asked the author to send his first 1000 words, and he literally sent me 995 words exactly. Usually I review the first 1000 words via Amazon and the preview system, so this was different.  (Note: Sometimes I will read a few thousand words to get a better sense of the story for a better review, and sometimes I don’t pay attention and go much farther an in depth)

The story opens with a prologue. It was about a half-naked boy shivering on a sidewalk. Overall, it was hard to really associate what was going on outside this basic image along with a man in a suit and a raven. It was mysterious, but I wasn’t quite sure if it sold me to buy the book.

But then I read about the Barrier, which was a shield that covered a ruined New York. Awesome. This is pretty much all you have to say to get me to turn the page, so good on the author.

The story then jumps 18 years in the future. Wow. What a jump. Part of me didn’t really know what was going on. Then he gave a time reference: July 21, 2147. Awesome. For what remains of the 1000 word book submission, there is much talk on dreams and ravens and insomnia of the main character, Jackson. Then it ended at the 995th word.

Pros and Cons.

Pros: I like the city shield and the time reference. It is more than enough to get me interested in the story. Shows some imagination, though it reminds me of the Simpsons, Stephen King (referenced by author below), and Highlander 2.

Cons: I am not exactly sure what the genre is from the first 1000 words. Is it a paranormal dystopia? Science Fiction? Mystical parable? Hard to tell from the intro. Also, I only really know one character at one point. With no dialogue, this makes it a little harder to get into the action. Lastly, the main character opens chapter one by waking up from a dream sequence. People are split on the “waking up in bed” opening, but the author doesn’t use it as a trope to undo a prior scene, so people might not mind. I didn’t, but then again, I wanted to hear more about the city shield.

Does the first 1000 words show it as edited?

Yes. Grammar was good. There were some odd things, like in the 2nd paragraph he used the word “eyes” in three sequential sentences (Raven Song Fact: eyes are mentioned 9 times in first 995 words). He also starts 3 out of 4 paragraphs in a row with “Jackson” in Chapter 1. Some authors try to mix it up a little.

Also the story has a third point limited narrator that trails off after “once upon a time.” A bit of an odd place to do that. When I write, I usually only trail off with dialogue or first person narration. 

Do I care about the characters after the first 1000 words?

No. For me, I cared more about couple of the scene details more. Jackson’s mysterious prologue and dream reaction didn’t really get me to care about him yet. It would probably take me to see him interact with someone first.

Do I like the world building?

Yes, for what was mentioned. I liked the shield over New York. (Any dystopia of New York, I am a fan of, probably going back to my days watching Escape from New York)

Overall Assessment: Would I continue reading past the 1000 words?

Yes. I want to know more about this version of New York.

One thing I would have liked seeing:

Get rid of the prologue, and open up with Jackson doing some action or at least interact with someone. Then tell me about the backstory slowly. George R.R. Martin used a prologue, but he tells 800+ page books. He also used a dream sequence with Ned Stark in A Game of Thrones, but that is in the middle of the book to a crucial moment at the Tower of Joy.

Overall Story Beginning Rating: 4/5 Happy Go-Lucky Red Pandas

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Q&A with the Author: I. A. Ashcroft

 

How long did the first draft take to write?

Almost a year and a half! The idea was germinating for about three months in my head, and then I spent six months dickering around with scenes and short story snippets. Finally I realized it was a novel, and for around seven months, I put what I had through the shredder, began structuring things so the pacing didn’t drag, refining subplots, re-writing, etc. It was my full time job after my full time job ended business hours! Of course after that was done, it needed a few months of editorial revisions, but at the point I was having so much fun finishing my first novel, it didn’t seem like such a long time.

Did you change the ending in the middle of writing?

Yes. I had an ending planned at first that felt a little sitcom-esque… all of the characters made it out relatively unscarred, and then they were chipper and ready for their next adventure in book two. It was awful. Sounded quite… false. The new ending, I felt, came organically out of all of the difficulties the characters face in this story, and though there is joy and hope, it’s the regrets, unfulfilled desires, and unanswered mysteries that I think will set the stage for a truly intriguing second book.

Did you submit traditionally?

I did not. I considered it carefully, and I’d love to submit traditionally some day, but I discovered that I really enjoy the world of indie authors and publishing. So, I never did send my manuscript to anyone but readers and editors. It gives me a lot of happiness to put my efforts into getting this out there right now, connecting with my audience today, rather than waiting for an agent, a publishing house, a release date, etc. So, for the Inoki’s Game series, it will all be independent! But after that, I am considering going down the traditional avenue for a couple of other book ideas – I’d love to reach even more readers.

Where do you want to go with the series?

Book Two: Eclipse of the Sun will be done with its first draft by end of May, and it’s going to set the stage for a complete upheaval of the world where Jackson and Anna live. There’s a lot of secrets and string-pullers that will be revealed. I have plans right now for four books, though a fifth is possible (I find I go crazy if I outline too far ahead. But, the ideas are seeded). I also found a fantastic audiobook narrator, Mikael Naramore, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear his reading of this series.

Favorite author who has influenced your writing?

Stephen King’s ideas shaped my style a great deal (I was reading The Dark Tower and On Writing while crafting this story, though I don’t 100% agree with every notion he sets forth). His efficiency of narrative though, when it’s at its best, is something powerful. Neil Gaiman’s weird, dark, and humorous descents into myth and folklore deeply shaped the way I try to approach a story, too. And finally, I don’t think I can leave J. K. Rowling off my list – she left with me a fascination with magic and those that use it, and a readability I find I just slip right into, even years later.

You can follow I.A.Ashcroft on twitter @ia_ashcroft