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A Chuck Wendig Challenge
murgatroid_98

My thanks to Jack, who provided the first line of this story.


Special Occasion

1047 Words

Jeanette sighed as she put the hamster into the microwave. He was so tiny, barely enough for a mouthful for each of them. Carrots and potatoes would be nice, too, if they had any.

She set the cook time and started the oven.

Poor Jeffy had eaten the last of his food yesterday and there was no more to give him. Now the kids wouldn’t have to watch him starve. Jeanette’s stomach growled.

She gathered the skin and offal into a bowl and took it out to the backyard, staying in the meager shade of the oak trees. A cage sat behind bushes that were once beautiful, but were now dying for lack of water. She placed the bowl in the back of the cage and set the door to drop shut when something came looking for a meal. Something always came looking. Maybe it would be something larger than a hamster.

In the kitchen, she quickly cleaned up the bloody knife and cutting board. The microwave dinged. Good, the meat was done. She set it aside to cool.

The pantry held a few cans of vegetables and soup, and a small bag of instant rice. On a top shelf, hidden behind a dusty soup kettle, sat a can of sliced peaches Jeanette had hidden. She climbed on the step stool to retrieve them. This was just the sort of special occasion she had been saving them for.

A can of tomato soup was dumped into a bowl with an equal amount of water. This was followed with enough rice to thicken it. The cooked, deboned hamster meat, barely a handful, was tossed into the bowl. Dehydrated onion flakes and garlic powder, a few seasonings, and the bowl was put back into the oven.

David arrived home a few minutes later, with eight-year-old Danny and six-year-old Kelly. Danny’s thin face lit up. “Something smells good, Mom.”

“I hope it tastes good, too, little man.” She wrapped him in a hug, feeling his small bones through his skin. Kelly grabbed her mother around the knees., and was hugged in return.

David’s smile of greeting did not reach eyes. He glanced at the hamster cage, his eyes asking. Jeanette nodded slightly.

“Anything?” she asked.

“Not what we hoped for, but something. I’ll tell you in a minute.” He glanced at the kids.

Jeanette gave the youngsters a huge smile. “Why don’t you two go wash up while we still have running water. And fill up all the containers while you’re at it. I’ll get the table set and we’ll eat as soon as you’re done. Okay?”

“Okay, Mom,” they said in unison.

As soon as the children were out of sight, she turned to her husband. “Well?”

He pulled a bottle out of his pocket. She took it and read the label. “Seconal?”

“There’s enough for all of us.”

“What are you saying?”

“There is no food, Jeannie. We looked everywhere. I found a drugstore that wasn’t cleaned out and found these.” Jeanette looked at him, silent. “Do you want to watch our kids die of slow starvation?” Tears gathered in his eyes. “Because I don’t. This way, we can all go out peacefully.”

“We can survive, David, there is a way, we just have to figure it out.”

“Aren’t you paying attention?” He held out his arms, pleading. “Our world is in trouble. Humanity is dying. The climate has altered so much that we can’t grow crops. We can’t feed food animals.”

“It will get better…”

“It isn’t going to get better.” His voice rose.

Jeanette shushed him. “You’re going to scare the kids.”

“The kids are too hungry to be scared.” He put his hands on her shoulders in a caress. “We are starving, Jeanette. We are putting off the inevitable. I would rather go out in a way I can still choose, and I want to spare our children the suffering.”

“I don’t want to give up, David.” Jeanette hated that her voice quavered.

David’s gaunt features hardened. “I won’t force you to do this, Jeanette, but I’m checking out tonight, and I’m taking the kids with me.”

Jeanette looked at him for a long moment, her mouth dry. Nausea replaced hunger. Her once handsome, robust husband had grown thin. He was right about them starving. It had become a way of life. Maybe he was right about the Seconal, too. It would be an easier death than one by starvation. It was hard to see the hunger in the kids eyes every time she looked at them, but life was hope. Wasn’t it?

“Alright.” She blinked back tears. “I hate it, but you’re right.”

Danny and Kelly came back into the kitchen. “The tub and the pots are full, Mommy, and we washed up. See?” They both held up little clean hands.

“Wonderful. You two go sit at the table in the dining room while your Dad and I get it ready.” The kids took off at a run. “Give me the pills. I’ll get the food ready while you get some silverware and napkins.”

He nodded and kissed her tenderly on the lips. “This is the best way.”

***

“It’s a special occasion,” said Jeanette, “It’s Kelly’s birthday.” On the table, she set a tray containing four bowls of stew and four smaller bowls of peaches. The children gobbled up their stew. They sang “Happy Birthday” to Kelley before eating the peaches. It was the most they’d had to eat in days. Jeanette and David gazed at each other as they finished theirs. When the kids started yawning, they all lay down to take a nap.

Jeanette lay with her eyes closed and listened as her husband and children settled into sleep. Kelly mumbled and Danny began to snore. David’s breathing grew shallow.

She got up and sat on his side of the bed, holding his hand. Soon after he stopped breathing, his pulse slowed and stopped. The children slept deeply, but they would wake up in a few hours.

“I’m so sorry, David. I couldn’t let you kill my children.” She wiped tears from her face.

Kelly mumbled in her sleep. “Thank you, Jeffy.”

A howl came from the back yard, followed by barking. She smiled through her sorrow. They would eat tomorrow.

Tags:

A Chuck Wendig Challenge
murgatroid_98

This week's challenge was to use 5 of ten words. Here's the link: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/03/28/flash-fiction-challenge-five-random-words-2/

The words are:



Whalebone

Foxglove

Djinn

Orphan

Lollipop

Casket

Hermit

Hound

Acid

Topaz

I used six of them. Here is:

Djinn and Tonic

Lorelei approached the end of her run with an easy jog. Dappled shade tempered the late afternoon heat. Orph trotted along beside her, his tongue lolling in a doggy smile. Sparks flashed in his eyes when the sunlight hit them. The irises were more yellow than the amber-brown seen in so many dogs.


Mama had called him the orphan instead of giving him a proper name. A very young Lorelei called him Orphie until she grew up. Now he was Orph. He answered to all of them.

The path led them from forest into a cleared area where Mama’s herbs and vegetables grew in neat garden beds. Next to the beds was a fenced area with more herb beds. A wrought iron gate bore a skull-and-crossbones symbol.

Foxglove, belladonna, poppy, and others occupied their own spaces in the enclosure. The potency of these herbs, enhanced by magic, came in handy when someone needed healing or killing—or taught a lesson.

Lorelei slowed to a walk as the backyard came into view, breathing deeply and swinging her arms in circles to loosen her shoulder muscles. A light breeze cooled her sweating body with gentle strokes.

Orph stopped at the edge of the yard, the hair on his back rising. She stopped beside the dog and placed a hand on his neck. His silent growl vibrated up her arm.

“Orph? What is it?” She kept her voice steady, but a knot formed in her stomach. Orph never growled without good reason.

The dog’s gaze focused on a spot a few feet in front of them. Dim at first, a shimmering spot grew until it reached the height of a man. It hung in the air, unmoving. Lorelei backed up a step. She had left her talismans in the house. Her cell phone was in her pocket, Orph was her only defense.

“Okay, show yourself.” Please don’t be a monster. Orph bared his teeth, his growl now audible.

The shimmer formed into a tall male figure. Golden-tan skin, black hair pulled back into a braid that reached to his butt, white teeth in a smile that made her girly-bits tingle. The leer on his face was odd.

“You might call your hell hound off, love, so I can completely transform,” in a deep, mellow voice laced with laughter.

“Salaman. I should have known.” Her stomach relaxed a little. She was in no danger from him, probably. “Orph won’t bother you if you behave.”

He placed a hand on his chest and bowed. “You wound me, sweet thing. I always behave.” He wiggled his dark eyebrows at her. “Have you lured any unsuspecting men to their deaths, Lorelei?”

Lorelei rolled her eyes. “What do you want, Sal? Surely the owner of the local Djinn joint has better things to do than harass women.”

Salaman was leader of the area Djinn conclave as well as owner of the only tavern that exclusively served the supernatural community. It must be serious if he came instead of sending a minion.

“I am here to consult with your mother but, alas, her wards do not allow me near the door.”

“Those wards are meant to repel those with evil intent. You must be up to something.”

“I assure you, my dear, I have no intention of doing evil.” His gazed roamed over her body. “As for what I want.” His voice deepened and roughened. “I want to lick you all over like a lollipop while you beg me to take you in every way possible.” He stepped toward her.

Orph growled louder and his body grew larger under her hand. She cast a quick glance at him. His eyes had gone from topaz, to orange, to ruby red. His size had doubled.

“You might want to back off, Sal, if you want to keep all your body parts.” Salaman’s behavior had never been so forward. It gave her the creeps.

“It is past time I show my desire for you, Lorelei.” He licked his lips, but eyed the hound. “We could be so good together.”

“I don’t think so, Sal. You and I are too different. Different philosophies, different goals. Different species.”

“Perhaps you are right, love, but we could have a lot of fun learning those differences.”

Lorelei was hot and the enjoyment of her run was rapidly wearing off. She sighed. “I know you didn’t come here to flirt with me, Sal. I’ll see if my mother is home.”

“I appreciate that, Lori, though I would do much more than flirt with you if you allowed me.” Eww, not gonna happen.

Lorelei pulled her phone from her pocket. “Chill, Orph, I don’t think he’s going to do anything nasty.” She gave Sal a you’d-better-not look as she pressed the numbers and waited. Her mother answered immediately.

“Is that creature still out there?”

“Yes, Mama. If you knew he was here, why did you have the wards keep him out?”

“It was an accident; they sort of got away from me. See if you can escort him in. Hold his hand or something.”

Mama’s wards never got away from her. Something weird was going on. Sal’s eyebrows shot up when Lorelei reached for his hand. It was cold.

“I’m so glad you are warming up to me, love.” This guy was about to get on her last nerve.

“Get over yourself and come on; Mama wants to talk to you.” She grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the house. “Come on, Orph.”

Salaman sent a wary glance at the hound. Orph snarled, but made no move to attack.

The back door opened and a petite, middle-aged woman beckoned frantically. “Hurry-up before the world-as-we-know-it ends.”

Lorelei’s stomach clenched. As they entered the house, Sal’s hand was yanked from hers. She turned in time to see him vanish in a column of smoke and fire. The two women looked at each other.

“Oops,” they said in unison. Orph snorted, a satisfied look on his face.

“The Djinn won’t appreciate us killing their leader, Mama.”

“That wasn’t Salaman, and we didn’t kill him.” She stood silent for a moment, looking at the spot where the faux-genie had been. “That wasn’t even a genie. Come one, we need to make plans before that thing finds his way back.”


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200 Words-Part 5
murgatroid_98

Silk    (title by Meagan Wilson)

Part 1 by yours truly (murgatroid98)

The Jacksons, Ed and Marnie, had been away for two months and no one in the neighborhood had heard from them. Everyone assumed they were still traveling across the country to celebrate Marnie’s retirement. Lena held her breath as she approached the driveway. She had noticed the stench during her morning walk. Something dead. An animal perhaps, a large one by the smell. Plenty of feral cats lived and died in the area. Coyotes, too. Burying the poor thing, whatever it was, seemed kinder than leaving it to rot and stink.

A glistening wetness oozed from under the door as the odor became almost tangible. She gagged. Maggots. Her stomach roiled as she backed away, stumbling onto the lawn. She bent over and heaved onto the grass, gasping for an untainted breath. As she stood back up, she noticed that the front door was slightly ajar.

Lena moved slowly to the door to peek through the crack and listen. Dim light filtered through the curtains into the living room. She pushed the door open and froze, stench and maggots forgotten. Horror and relief fought for dominance, because what lay on the carpeted floor was not one of the Jacksons.


Part 2 by LC Hu

It was a dog.  A huge dog, a (wolf) husky, maybe, in such a state of decay Lena guessed it must have died around the time the Jacksons had disappeared.  Lena strained to remember if the Jacksons had ever had a dog.  She didn’t think she’d ever seen one; but she’d never been very close to the Jacksons.  They could have kept a dog inside, or in the backyard.  Maybe it was—had been—a good dog.  A quiet dog.

Lena knew moving closer was a bad idea, but her curiosity refused to take no for an answer.  She leaned towards the corpse and immediately had to fight the hot acid rise at the back of her throat.  The dog’s belly had been torn open.  The ragged wound gaped blackly, more black slime pooling from the wound.  Farther back in the dark wound, there was the hint of movement.  More maggots.

Staggering back towards the door, Lena sucked in great breaths of fresh air.

She glanced back over her shoulder and immediately regretted it.  From the dark interior of the house, the yellowed fangs of the dog smiled back at her, lips drawn back by rot and dehydration.


Part 3 by Jeremy Podolski

But there was something more, an interesting scrap of fabric impaled on the animal’s right incisor. She almost missed it in an effort to shield her eyes from the gore, but the pattern caught her attention as much as anything else.

She steeled herself for a closer look. The swatch was blue silk, adorned with a repeating design of a samurai locked in battle with a serpent, all in gold. It looked expensive, and it certainly didn’t look like it came from something that the Jacksons – who by all accounts were more likely to frequent the Ripley’s Museum than one of art or natural history – would own.

Lena could tell easily by the frayed edges and jagged outline that the scrap had been torn from something larger: A scarf? A babushka? A kimono? The eviscerated beast had put up a fight, but against what? It was hard to picture the animal locked in combat against a wealthy, well-dressed dowager.

She felt the urge to take the fabric, as if this was her mystery to solve and her clue to commandeer. The thoughts spinning in her mind distracted Lena from her nausea, but they also prevented her from recognizing the presence of another in the foyer.


Part 4 by Meagan Wilson

“Leave.”

Lena gasped, and whirled to see a figure emerge from the late afternoon shadows. He was tall, at least by Lena’s standards. His black hair was swept up in a topknot, similar to the samurai that chased a serpent across his blue silk jacket. Sure enough, the jacket, which looked like a short kimono, had a piece torn from the bottom edge. But what really held Lena’s interest, and set her heart thudding, was the sword at the man’s side. A sword he began to unsheathe as he took another step toward her.

Lena swallowed, hard. If the wound in the dog’s belly was any indication, the sword was not for show. She should run. Call the police.

But instead, she heard herself ask, “Why did you kill the dog?” as she inched toward the door.

“He was in my way. As are you,” his voice was deep, and hard as the four-foot length of steel in his hand. Uh-oh. She’d read somewhere that a samurai never drew his sword unless he intended to use it. She tore her eyes from the blade, forced herself to meet his dark eyes.

“So you’re going to slaughter me, like the dog?”

Part 5 by me

“That was not a dog.” He smirked, “Not that it matters.” He looked her up and down. A chill crept down her spine.

“I’d be happy to leave now.” Her voice rasped in a dry throat.

“ Nah,” he said, “I don’t have time to deal with the cops.”

She glanced at the door. Could she move fast enough to get out before he killed her? A figure appeared in the doorway, aimed something, and fired. The man jerked and dropped the sword, twitching as he fell to the floor. Two furry tails stuck out from under the kimono.

“M-Marnie?”

“Yes, dear.” Marnie walked into the living room, wrinkling her nose at the smell. “It seems we got here just in time.”

Ed walked in behind her. “The power went off and knocked out the freezers, Hon. All that meat spoiled, the doors came open, and the garage is a stinking mess.” He paused, shaking his head as he looked around the room.

“So much for retirement,” said Marnie. “Looks like the dire-wolves and fox-demons are at it again.” She pulled a pouch from her pocket and sprinkled its contents on the twitching attacker. The man stopped moving and dissolved, leaving an empty silk kimono on the floor.

Lena gaped.

Marnie and Ed traded looks. “We might have some explaining to do,” he said.

Lena fainted.

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200 Words-Part 3
murgatroid_98

200 Word Challenge Part 3

The Corner

Part one by Heather Milne Johnson.

The cat stared at the corner of the bedroom. Her eyes were black disks with only a rim of yellow showing. She was stock still and it was creeping me out.

“Hey, Shadow!”

She didn’t respond, not even an ear flicker. As I watched her, goosebumps popping up on my arms, she moved. Rather, her fur moved. Her tail puffed out like a bottle brush and a ridge of fur rose up along her back, unfurling like a hoisted sail.

A low keening noise made my heart jump. A sound of fear, pain, and sadness, it was coming from Shadow. I’d never heard the cat make a noise other than a chirpy sort of meow or a raucous purr.

The keening continued, rising and lowering in pitch in an awful melody. I got out of bed, walked over to Shadow and knelt down. She ignored me, still staring into the corner. The keening got louder and her body vibrated with the effort of producing that ghastly noise. I lowered my head until it was on a level with hers, forcing myself to turn my head and look at the spot hypnotizing the cat.

And I saw what she saw.

Part 2 by Susan Penland

The light from the street lamp across the way lit the corner with a bluish tint, highlighting the object of Shadow’s attention in the corner.

At first I thought it was a doll. It was propped up, stiffly leaning to one side.

I assumed it was a girl doll. It’s hair was standing out in all directions under an acorn cap worn low over her eyes. She wore a dress with a tight bodice and a flared skirt like a tutu. Looking closer I saw the skirt was made from the leaves of an oak tree. Her arms were bare as were her feet. She stood with a knitting needle in her hand the pointed end to the sky and the end braced against her foot. Her face was dirty and like all doll eyes her’s stared into nothing over my shoulder.

As I looked Shadow continued her keening

“Shadow. It’s just a doll. Look.” I said reaching out to pick the doll up.

The cat suddenly hissed and spit and backed up, while what I had thought was a doll lunged, knitting needle braced under her arm shrieking in a high-pitched tone. Her mouth opened displaying a set of serrated teeth.

Here is my contribution.

I fell onto my butt, crab-walking backward. It jabbed at me with the knitting needle and gnashed its teeth. Glaring at me and shrieking, it backed toward the open door of the bathroom. It turned and ran into the space between the toilet and vanity. I scrambled onto the bed, screaming. The doll thing shrieked from her hiding place while Shadow yowled from behind the laundry hamper.

I stopped screaming after a minute, gasping for breath, and examined myself for wounds, but there were none that I could see. Either I dodged fast enough or the little creature was as frightened of me as I was of her. She had stopped shrieking, but I heard little growls coming from behind the toilet. I hopped off the bed and yanked the bathroom door closed.

Shadow crept close to me, never taking her eyes off the door. I ruffled her fur with a trembling hand. “You’re all brave aren’t you, now that the danger is over?” The cat arched her back and continued to growl at the door.“Now, all we need to know is what that is and how we get rid of it.”

“That,” said a deep voice behind me, “Is a forest pixie.”

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200 Words-Part 2
murgatroid_98

This is the second part of Chuck Wendig's 200 Word Challenge. I chose Josh Loomis's story to continue. My part is after the asterisks.

http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/2013/11/25/flash-fiction-within-the-church/

“Believe me, I wish I had a better idea than drawing these things on the walls of my church.”

“Do I need to remind you that you’re the one that called me?”

“And if my Bishop knew, he’d probably excommunicate me faster than you can say ‘Martin Luther’.”

“He might react that way if he knew about all of the guns on the premesis, too.”

Father Benjamin looked up from the shotgun he was loading. “This is America, Miss Crenshaw. Everybody has guns. Even the clergy.”

“Those are the shells we discussed?”

“Silver buckshot soaked in holy water? Yes.”

“Good.” Crenshaw looked up as the pounding began on the doors. “I knew I should have started there…”

“At least they’re only coming from one direction.” Benjamin worked the shotgun’s pump action as he moved towards the door. “Finish what you’ve started. I’ll hold them off.”

“What, and let you fight it alone?” Abigail Crenshaw dropped the chalk, drawing the silver sword from her dark scabbard. “Not a chance.”

*******

Dents formed in the heavy steel of doors meant to keep vandals and thieves out of the main church and provide sanctuary for people in need. They were never meant to keep out creatures with preternatural strength.

“I don’t suppose you have holy water in the sprinkler system, Father.” Abigail kept her gaze on the entrance.

“I only wish I’d thought of it. It isn’t as though we had much warning.” He raised the gun and aimed.

“We need something more.” Abigail switched the sword to her left hand and scrabbled for the dropped chalk.

“What are you doing?” A gap appeared between the doors.

“This may not work, but it’s worth a try. Pray, Father, pray I have time to finish.” She quickly drew a half circle in front of the doors like a barrier, sketching symbols along the line. Then she drew another half circle and started sketching another line of symbols, chanting in time with Benjamin’s prayer. She finished the last symbol as the hinges on one of the doors broke.

She jumped away from the circles and stood in a crouch, her sword pointed at the door. Words of Power poured from her lips and the circles glowed.


Tags:

A Chuck Wendig Challenge
murgatroid_98

This challenge is to write the first 200 words of a story this week. Next week someone else, I hope, will add 200 words to what I've written and I'll choose another writers story to continue. This is my offering to the experiment.

*******
The Jacksons, Ed and Marnie, had been away for two months and no one in the neighborhood had heard from them. Everyone assumed they were still traveling across the country to celebrate Marnie’s retirement.

Lena held her breath as she approached the driveway. She had noticed the stench during her morning walk. Something dead. An animal perhaps, a large one by the smell. Plenty of feral cats lived and died in the area. Coyotes, too. Burying the poor thing, whatever it was, seemed kinder than leaving it to rot and stink.

A glistening wetness oozed from under the door as the odor became almost tangible. She gagged. Maggots. Her stomach roiled as she backed away, stumbling onto the lawn. She bent over and heaved onto the grass, gasping for an untainted breath. As she stood back up, she noticed that the front door was slightly ajar.

Lena moved slowly to the door to peek through the crack and listen. Dim light filtered through the curtains into the living room. She pushed the door open and froze, stench and maggots forgotten. Horror and relief fought for dominance, because what lay on the carpeted floor was not one of the Jacksons.

Tags:

Nine Miles
murgatroid_98

That’s how far we walked this morning on the Van Fleet Trail. 4.5 miles in and 4.5 miles back out. It has been a gorgeous morning—in the upper sixties when we started and quite a bit warmer when we finished.

I have a small blood-blister on the end of one toe. I have no idea why, since it wasn’t rubbing against anything. Several toes were wrapped with tape to splint them, so I hope there is anymore bruising under the nails, but the blood blister is new. I’ve also developed an appreciation for moleskin and compound tincture of Benzoin.

We saw a few critters along the way: a baby turtle, a snake (non-poisonous I think), and a gopher tortoise crawling into its burrow. There were lots of bicyclists and a couple of inline skaters. One of the skaters was pushing a stroller that held a small poodle. Some of the bicyclists were on those reclining bikes. They look like fun.

Why did we walk nine miles today? One of us, me, is registered to participate in a Walt Disney World half-marathon in January. In May, my employer challenged us at work to join in and run, walk, dance—whatever it takes—to get across the finish line. We’re doing it in honor of the people hurt and killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.

Since May, I have hurt my knee twice while trying to run and lost three weeks of training. Ken is walking with me every step of the way. I’m not sure I could do it without him. We are proud of ourselves for getting to this point. We, I, still need to get up to 13.1 miles, but I think I can do it. I couldn’t have done nine miles in May.

Three and a half hours is the allotted time for a half-marathon. You have to do a mile in sixteen minutes or better to have a hope of finishing. Our average for this morning is 15.58 minutes per mile. That’s not too shabby for a couple of old folks.

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Reading
murgatroid_98

What I’m Reading

The Muirwood Trilogy by Jeff Wheeler

Titles:

The Wretched of Muirwood

The Blight of Muirwood

The Scourge of Muirwood

A Wretched is an abandoned child of unknown family. This is the story of Lia, a Wretched raised in Muirwood Abbey. As the story unfolds, we see that Lia is not an ordinary child. She learns to channel the Medium, a powerful force that rules the world. Over the course of the story, she yearns to discover who her family is and why she has such power. She has allies she did not know about and discovers enemies out to destroy her and all she loves.

I think this is one of the best series I’ve read. I had the first book on Kindle for a long time before I finally read it. I bought the other two as soon as I finished the first. I’ve read the whole series over the past few days. It’s wonderful fantasy and I hope the author writes more stories about Lia’s world and its people.

Since I’m on a reading binge, I just started The Scribe: Irin Chronicles; Book One by Elizabeth Hunter. I’ve loved everything she’s published so far. Fantasy lovers who have not read her Elemental Mysteries and Element World series have missed some great reading.

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On the Trail
murgatroid_98

Yesterday, Saturday, we drove over to Lake Kissimmee State Park to walk the Buster Island Trail. At seven and a half miles it’s a nice hike. We started about 9:30 and took the left side of the loop over open pasture. All the rain we’ve had this summer has made the area green and lush. It took us an hour to cross the open area. That’s why we like to start on that side-so we can finish the hike in the shade.

Most of the trail is through old oaks, pine, and palmetto. The primitive campsite entrance is at 2.9 miles. We stopped there briefly to check it out and have a drink of water. There is only one fire-ring now where there used to be three. The site seems smaller, too, as underbrush has gotten thicker. It almost makes me want to get the big packs out and camp overnight. It’s been a long time since we’ve done that.

Right after the camping area is a pine flat-woods, but it looks more like a bone forest. The dead remains of pines stick up above the palmettos and gleam white in the sun. I saw few living pines in this area. We passed one or two dead, bone-white live oaks still standing here and there. I need to find out what killed these trees, because I don’t remember. Fortunately, the trail goes back into living oak forest for the last half of the hike.

We saw four deer during our walk, and a couple of armadillo. Hog damage was extensive in areas, both on the trail and among the trees. I’m very glad we did not meet up with one. We did pass six people who were on their way to the primitive campsite to spend the night. I think I was a little envious.

An ice cream sandwich from the shop at the marina was a nice finish to our hike. Next Saturday, we plan to walk nine miles, but that’s another story.

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What I've Been Reading
murgatroid_98

I’ve just finished Benedict Jacka’s Chosen, the fourth book in his Alex Verus series. Alex is a mage with a limited but very useful power—he’s a Diviner. He can see different pathways in the future, an ability that saves his life on several occasions. After escaping a brutal life as the apprentice of a Dark Mage, he has managed to make a life for himself.

In the first three books: Fated, Cursed, and Taken, Alex manages to collect a few friends as he puts his past farther behind him. In Chosen that past returns to haunt him in a big way.

In my opinion, this is urban fantasy at it’s finest. Jacka is a wonderful story teller and Alex Verus is a character I can’t help rooting for, even when he is doing something shady. After the cliffhanger ending of Chosen, I’ll be anxiously awaiting book 5 sometime in 2014.

His website has and Encyclopedia Arcana that explains the world of Alex Verus. It can be found here:   http://benedictjacka.co.uk/

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