The Generous Patron

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This story is dedicated first and foremost to my generous and supportive patrons ♥

“Damn.”

Alan sighed and dropped his hands. A moment later, the half formed construction of fire that hovered before him vanished. Without its flickering light, the market stall was cold and dark.

He’d tried to make a Phoenix. Not an actual living creature that could take to the sky, but a forging of elemental magic, a work of art, a tribute to nature’s greatest and most breathtaking creatures.

But nobody had come to visit. Nobody had come to see his spectacular figures of ice and fire, so what did it matter that he hadn’t gotten this last one right?

His big brother’s words came back to him.

There’s no money in magic. Go out and find a real job.

But Alan had been young and idealistic. He believed the world needed magic, that without its beauty, the awe that it inspired, life wasn’t worth living. Now, Alan thought maybe his brother had been right all along. Maybe there was no place for his kind of talent.

Cold and alone, Alan started packing up for the night.

He was about to unravel the cord that anchored his tent to the ground when a soft female voice startled him.

“I’d like to see what you have to offer.”

Alan spun, almost knocking into a nearby table, and spied a young woman dressed in a dark coat, eyes catching the light of distant lanterns so they seemed to glow.

“Sorry, ma’am,” he said, catching his breath. “I’m closing.”

“That’s a shame.”

“You wouldn’t be interested, anyway,” said Alan, years of bitterness rising to the fore. “Just worthless avatars, nothing of actual value.”

“I’d like to be the judge of what I find interesting.”

A breeze swept through the dwindling market, kicking up dried leaves, yet the fabric of her coat remained untouched. There was something about her stately presence that unnerved him, and he felt suddenly as if he were dreaming.

“I only dabble in magic,” he found himself saying, averting his gaze. “Surely you’d prefer something of more practical value.”

“I happen to like magic.”

He stared at her for a moment, then nodded. Fine, he could cycle through a few forms. When she tired of his art he could send her on her way and be that much closer to going home.

“All right,” he said, and he sat down before the broad oak table he’d almost toppled a moment before.

What should he make for her? He tried to think of something captivating, but found he was too self conscious to think clearly.

As if sensing his vulnerability, she sat down in an empty chair across from him and took one of his hands into her own.

“Go on,” she insisted. “Form whatever’s in your heart.”

Now, the light in her eyes radiated patience and kindness, and he found a comfort so unexpectedly powerful that the walls inside his head began to weaken.

Whatever was in his heart. Yes, he supposed he could do that. He didn’t know this woman, but in this intimate moment that passed between them he was certain he could trust her, that he would be safe expressing a piece of his truest self.

Alan closed his eyes.

The form that leaped to mind nearly arrested him with heart stopping wonder. An expression of vulnerability and longing, of an age old passion, once dusty and dry, its dying flames stoked at last.

His hands started to move, animated by a force not entirely his own. The woman, the tent, the other stalls, they all fell away, burned to ash before a blinding interior vision. The form he beheld was a soul without a body, an essence in need of life. Alan was the vessel through which it could achieve that life, and he was eager to fulfill its need. He reached beyond himself, beyond the world, into the vast, limitless universe and its roiling sea of unrealized power and potential.

He channeled that boundless reservoir of energy, dividing what he took into its constituent parts. From one, he drew scintillating fibers of bright, orange fire, serpentine tongues that lashed through the air in bright, sparkling flashes. From another, he drew frosty tendrils of ice, subliming into the wind in gentle, billowing wisps like smoke.

Then, like an artisan weaver, he wound these two elemental threads together into a single, seamless fabric, a bold, exotic material of contrast and extremes. When he’d spun enough, he tied it off, holding it suspended in the air, now a lump of clay to be molded, shaped and refined with each pass of his deft and dexterous hands.

The basic form complete, he reached out once more, spinning invisible threads of wind and air. These became the life force that would bind the whole together.

Finished at last.

Alan opened his eyes. The world came back into focus, and he almost jumped when he saw the woman sitting close. He’d been so lost in what he was doing he’d forgotten she was there.

Above both their heads, there now hovered a bright, fiery dragon, shot through with strands of icy blue, broad wings flapping in the air, sending down heavy gusts of frigid winter wind as well as hot, baking heat. A masterpiece.

The woman clapped her hands.

“It’s wonderful!” she exclaimed. “The best I’ve ever seen.”

Alan blushed. “Thank you. It’s not much, but it’s the best I can do.”

Alan let the elemental form persist until he felt the fibers begin to buckle, eager to be released. Sadly, regretfully, he let the cord that anchored him to his creation go. The dragon above their heads vanished in a puff of smoke.

“It is everything,” she said, with such gravity that he was taken aback. “There are those who do practical things, and they are important, because without them the world cannot function. There are also those who do beautiful things, and they too are important, because without them the world cannot remember why it functions.”

Tears sprung to Alan’s eyes as the idealist of his youth burst from its hard, cynical shell.

“You are a maker of beautiful things,” she continued. “You are important and necessary, and I would like to be your patron, if you would have me.”

“My— What?” Alan’s heart seemed to stop.

She wanted to be his patron. He nearly trembled with shock.

“Your magic must live on. You won’t survive here, in this world of practical things. You were made for a different life, and I would like to be the one who makes that life possible.”

“Thank you,” he whispered, his voice suddenly husky and hoarse. “Thank you.”

“Come on,” she said, “I’ll help you tear down. We have a lot to discuss.”

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Finding the Light

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A special shout out to my new patrons, Michael, Liz, Billie, Christine and Jewelz! If you want to read early drafts of every novel, novella and short story I write, as well as receive free copies of all my books in the digital format of your choice, become a patron by clicking here.

Mary peered down at the murky, gray-green water, pondering the cities and bodies that had slipped beneath its sallow, rippling surface during the night. All around her, a fetid wind whipped and whistled, mocking whispers in the faltering light.

“You failed,” those sneering voices seemed to say. “Before you even realized anything was wrong, you failed.”

She looked up at the sun, low in the sky, bloated and red. It gave off a pale, sickly illumination that reminded her of congealed blood.

Just yesterday, the water had been a bright, electric blue, the sun a blinding ball of white hot fire. So much had changed, it was staggering to think how the corruption could have swept through the world so fast.

My ancestors defended it for tens of thousands of years, she thought, and I couldn’t even defend it for one.

The wind became dry, rasping laughter, like shriveled snake’s skin rattling across hot, desert sand.

“The world has always been mine,” the wind seemed to say, and it sent its rotten, moldering stench to her nose. “Since the time before time.”

No, Mary couldn’t accept that. Corruption had always been a part of the world—evil was an ever-present danger to be guarded against at all times—but there was also love, and this could not belong to evil any more than darkness could belong to the sun.

“I reject you,” she said, stepping forward toward the water’s edge. “You hold no claim over these lands.”

More laughter.

Mary held her ground.

Dig deep, her father had told her once, his last lesson before taking up his mantle in the second life. In times of distress, dig deep. Cling to what’s right, find the light and let it out into the world.

Dig deep.

Mary closed her eyes.

She reached far into Earth’s heart, into the only place the corruption hadn’t been able to reach. She could see that the light inside had faded, diminished some by the relentless onslaught of the evil that forced it into hiding. But it was pure, strong and true.

The Earth shuddered as Mary let out thick, gnarled roots. They surged through the ground, beneath soil and stone, down into the red hot regions beneath, plunging into the very core.

“What are you doing?” asked the wind, picking up in intensity, transforming into a hurricane-like gale.

With all the force she could muster, Mary pierced the white-hot center, making contact with the life force inside.

A bolt like an electric shock plowed through her, shooting up into the roots. With her as a conduit to lend it strength, it flowered into a radiance and a love so strong no corruption could survive its searing power. It flowed through her, out of her, out into the world.

“No!” cried that fetid wind, burning to cinders in the blinding luminescence. It boiled off like water, dispersing in a cloud like super-heated steam.

When at last she opened her eyes, the world was as she remembered it.

“You’ve done well,” said the light, once more free to sustain the world.

Mary could no longer move, for her roots had run deep and there was no disentangling herself. She was one with Earth now, just as her father had been, just as she would be for as long as the light allowed her to live.

“Take care of this world, so that I might always shine.”

“I will,” she whispered.

Now, she gazed down at water that was a clear, crystal blue, the sun blazing overhead just as it had for thousands of years before. There would always be evil, lurking in the shadows, but as long as there was light, redemption would be close at hand.

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A Special Gift for Dark Tower Fans

Disclaimer: This promotion is not in any way affiliated with Stephen King or Simon & Schuster.

If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, you’ll recognize Charlie the Choo-Choo, a spooky fictional children’s book about a talking train that foreshadows Blaine the Mono.

I was excited to learn it’s been turned into a real book, illustrations and all, and I want to give you a hardcover copy.

Here’s the deal.

I want to write full time, but I need help building a self-sustaining platform for my books. You guys have given me so much support and encouragement already, and I don’t want to ask you for money without also offering you something fun in return. I tried this back in February with Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and got a fantastic response from you guys, so I’m doing it again 🙂

If you pledge to my Patreon at the $2 level or above, I’ll send you a free hardcover copy of Charlie the Choo-Choo. If you change your mind after I’ve sent the book, you’re free to cancel your pledge, no questions asked. I believe most people are honest and won’t take advantage.

By pledging, you’re also entitled to other perks. The $2 level gives you access to rough drafts of every novel, novella and short story I write (I’ve already shared a ton of drafts that haven’t yet been published, including a novel based on my flash fiction piece The Tunnel.) The $5 level lets you decide which of my flash fiction pieces I should turn into a longer short story. If you give at the $10 level, I’ll send you a hardcover copy of one of my favorite books every three months. Whatever you can give, it will help me immensely on my journey toward becoming a full time writer.

There are only three rules.

1. You have to have a shipping address in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom to be eligible.

2. You must become a patron at or above the $2 level on or before Wednesday, May 31, 11:59 PM Pacific Standard Time.

3. You must be a new patron. Unfortunately, former patrons aren’t eligible.

That’s it.

Once you become a patron, I’ll send you an email to request your shipping address, and once I get it I’ll order the book through Amazon and have it shipped to you as a gift.

To become a patron and get your free hardcover copy of Charlie the Choo-Choo, click the “Become a patron” button below.

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From Life to Death

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CRACK.

Thunder crashed, tearing the sky asunder. A storm of apocalyptic proportions. But Martha didn’t jump as so many of her neighbors did. She’d been expecting it since she was five.

The year she died.

She set her things aside and walked into the pouring rain. The street was nearly empty; most had gone inside when the rain started. There were only a couple folks standing in their front yards, staring up at the sky as if Hell had descended from the clouds, and Martha guessed she could understand. That last crack of thunder had packed quite a whallop.

The sky was a writhing mass of charcoal clouds, pluming like broad stone columns, blotting out the sun. Martha gazed up and tried to spot the form hidden within.

“Come out where I can see you,” she shouted. “Let me look at you.”

She glanced across the street, self conscious in the wake of her outburst, and of course there was Harold Vernor staring back at her. Well, let him think her a senile fool. She had other things to worry about.

A second peal of thunder, like a mortar bursting in the sky, followed by a bright, strobe-like flash. The sound set off at least a dozen car alarms.

Martha stood there waiting.

MARTHA.

“I was wondering when you’d show yourself.”

Martha had been five the year she contracted pneumonia. Everybody expected her to get better, even her doctor, so it came as quite a shock when she took a turn for the worst and teetered on the precipice of death. The storm had come then just as it came now, frightening people with its great pounding cries like artillery fire.

It had approached her on the doorway of death, and in a voice only she could hear, it offered to restore her life. In return, she would let it take her again at a future time of its choosing. The idea terrified her, but if she turned down its offer she was sure to die anyway. So she agreed, and she woke the following morning as if she’d never been sick.

Now, just as before, rain pelted the street in a series of rapid fire plinks, so that Martha was soaked to the skin.

IT’S TIME.

“I figured as much. Can’t say I’ve had a bad life. Had my fair share of scrapes and bruises, but I guess I came out okay in the end.”

Two more explosions. Light electrified the sky.

“Anyway,” she continued, “I’m ready now.”

YOU ARE BRAVE.

“Not brave, just old enough to know I’ve had enough.”

THEN COME, AND LET ME TAKE YOU HOME.

A column of light like liquid fire, bolting from the sky. It struck her in the head. Martha rode that wild surge into the arms of her savior and destroyer, leaving her smoldering body behind.

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Dark Calling

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Jacqueline peered inside the smooth porcelain toilet, contemplating the depth of rusted pipes that descended far underground. What lurked in those black, hidden places? What horror existed just out of sight, waiting to take her in her sleep?

It had spoken again last night. It was the reason she left the toilet lid closed, the reason why she locked her bedroom door before going to sleep. That fetid voice that sounded like the slopping of rancid meat, bubbling up from the sewers beneath what was otherwise a safe, ordinary neighborhood.

She could never remember what it said. It was like waking from a nightmare, knowing you’d been afraid but being unable to articulate why. She could only recall that rotten, murderous voice, speaking of things that made her skin break out in hives, and waking on the toilet with her pants at her ankles, staring into space, eyes vacant and dead.

Well, no more. Tonight, she would sleep on the other side of the house, as far from the bathroom as possible. She would stick a pair of earbuds in her ears and blast Metallica as loud as she could stand. It wouldn’t lull her from her slumber with its dark calling this time.

That night, she lay on the couch, music blaring in the dark. The bathroom door was closed.

Freedom.

The thought was borne across the auditory hurricane of guitars and drums before descending into the bowels of an increasingly drowsy mind. Soon she was floating, melting into the void of unconsciousness, a soul without substance.

That was when she heard its voice.

Jacqueline.

That terrible sound of slapping meat.

Come to me, Jacqueline. Let me ruin you with my dark secrets.

Like a zombie, she sleepwalked through the hallway, the half-crazed voice of James Hetfield twining through her mind like creeping vines. She stopped beside the bathroom door, dazed, hopelessly under its spell. She twisted the knob, walked inside, and was greeted by the sulfuric smell of rotten eggs.

Come closer.

It sang to her now, a jarring, unholy chorus that held her rapt, binding her to its malevolent charms.

The part of her that had worked so hard to escape its influence was now a thousand miles away. She was another Jacqueline, one that existed only at night, one who’s sole purpose was to serve an ancient, forsaken master. It needed her now, and she would keep it waiting no longer.

When Jacqueline woke the next morning, she once more found herself sitting on the toilet, staring up at the tiled wall, her pants down to her ankles. The earbuds lay at her feet.

Jacqueline opened her mouth and screamed.

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The Magic Returns

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He sits in a cold, dark corner, alone and afraid. It’s been too long, he thinks. He’s like an ancient, dried out riverbed, where the magic hasn’t flowed for ages. What makes him think he can summon it now?

Once, he was capable of great things. Through his unique talent, entire worlds emerged from nothing, whatever the heart and mind could conceive. He took it for granted, thinking it would always be there to serve him.

But he was soon swept up by worldly concerns. He stopped using the magic, stopped creating, and though the fire inside never stopped burning, it grew small and ashen through a chronic lack of practice. He was too busy with work, he told himself, too busy trying to feed his family, too busy doing a hundred other things. Only later, when it seemed too late, did he realize those were excuses, that he could have retreated to his study for as little as five minutes at a time, because there were always pockets of time to be found if only one was dedicated enough to search for them.

He hasn’t created for so long now that the channels through which the magic once flowed have closed up. It’s too late, he thinks. Only the fire inside still burns, no longer just a pile of dying embers as they’d been for so many years, but a raging inferno.

He sits at his old desk because he doesn’t know what else to do.

“Is this what you want?” he whispers to nobody in particular, “To mock me? To remind me that I gave up?” Mad with grief, he hardly knows what he’s saying.

Anguish reaches a climax. He feels small and helpless, like an ant caught up in a sandstorm. There’s nothing to lose anymore, only an ache that will grow deeper and fuller the longer he stays away.

He reaches into the void and at long last does the only thing he’s ever known how to do.

He closes his eyes and opens himself to the magic.

At first, nothing comes. In a moment of despair, he’s certain his worst fears have been confirmed. But then he hears it building as if from a great distance, and the shriveled conduits in his mind quiver with anticipation. The dam breaks, and the dried up riverbed floods once more, a raging rapid of pent up magic he thought forever inaccessible.

He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting in the dark before the colossal torrent finally ebbs. When he comes back to himself, he stares at his latest creation, mute and disbelieving.

At last, a work of art he can call his own.

Tears blur his vision as he realizes the truth, that the magic never left him. He turned his back on it for a while, but it was always there, waiting for him to embrace it. Like a guiding star, it reorients him. Old priorities wither before a renewed sense of purpose.

For the first time in decades, he can call himself an artist.

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