Gumroads has added number of other nifty new features, such as allowing you to buy a gift for someone else and letting you make a donation for free e-books after you've read the e-book. Plus, its latest version of my browsable store is considerably easier on the eyes.
"That will be your death."
A prince who could see beyond his borders but not see the people around him. . . . An enemy who would take any measure to get what he wanted. .. . And now a stranger has brought news to the prince of an approaching danger.
Young though he is, Farsight has inherited a powerful gift from his father that allows him to protect his realm. But when a conniving king in a neighboring country sets his sights on Farsight's mountain of gold, the prince will need help to protect himself against an assassin's knife. Will a newfound companion-in-arms be enough to save Farsight, once the Night Shadow crosses the border?
This stand-alone novelette can be read on its own or as part of Darkling Plain, a collection of fantasy tales about young people in times of conflict.
This is a reissue of an out-of-print story.
Farsight, less commonly known as Prince Clerebold, ruler of Dawnlight since the death of his father by mischance, stood on the highest, narrowest tower of his keep and looked down upon his realm. From here, far higher than the birds swooping from tree to tree, he could see clearly his people: castle dwellers walking to and fro across the drawbridge under the watchful eye of the soldiers, tradesmen bumping carts against each other in the busy streets of the town under the keep's shadow, craftsmen working in their village houses with steady concentration, commoners spreading seed in the fields under the spring sun, and, most clearly of all, the nervous soldiers near the gold-filled mountain that stood by Dawnlight's northern border with Duskedge. Within Duskedge itself, Farsight could faintly sense fear and pain, especially the prolonged agony of men held captive in a faraway castle. But the darkness that Farsight had sensed during the past weeks was quiescent, perhaps driven into sleep by the light.
Kneeling on the ledge of the crenel that provided a gap in the tower's stonework, Farsight stared down at the hundred-foot drop and murmured to himself, "If only I could see the people near me clearly. They seem so dim."
"That will be your death."
Startled, Farsight turned so suddenly that he nearly matched his father's death by pitching through the crenel into open air. Standing behind him, near the trap door leading to the winding stairs, was a man not much younger than Farsight, wearing the clothes of a commoner. He was standing so close to the prince that Farsight could see little more than mud-colored hair and eyes that matched the burnished blue sky.
"Who are you?" asked Farsight sharply, his hand moving to the gold-hilted dagger at his side. "Why are you here?"
Farsight's abrupt words seemed to startle the young man. He stepped backwards onto the trap door, stumbling as he did so. The sound of his heavy swallow followed, and the blur of his outline shifted. Narrowing his eyes to better his sight, Farsight realized, with amusement and something more, that the young man's hands had tightened nervously like those of a boy facing scrutiny.
The gesture reassured him, as did the faint sound of footsteps below the trap door, which told him that the guard was still at his post. "Why are you here?" he asked in a more moderate tone. "The guard had orders to let no one through."
"The guard?" The young man's voice was breathless and somewhat puzzled. "He wasn't at the landing when I came up. I saw him— Well, he was at one of the windows of the stairwell, fiddling with his breeches."
Farsight sighed, wondering again what sort of men he was training to be in his personal guard. He tried not to let too much of this show in his voice as he said, "That was careless of him. So – the fault is not yours, but why are you here?"
He heard the young man swallow again. "That's why. To warn you to guard yourself better."
Farsight frowned, trying to read what lay inside the young man, but he was too close. Pulling himself out from the crenel ledge, which had begun to turn warm under the morning light, the prince walked toward the eastern side of the tower, until he was as far from the young man as he could go. The young man, perhaps sensing his need, obediently stepped backwards until he was at the opposite side of the tower.
He was still too close, but Farsight could at least see now the man's features: a heavy jaw, lips too asymmetrical to attract lovers, a broken nose, a scarred temple, and blue-lit eyes bearing nothing except uncertainty. As Farsight watched, the man licked his lips anxiously.
His hand, though, was resting with practiced ease on his dagger hilt, and his cheeks were shaven – he was not a field commoner, then. "You're a soldier?" Farsight guessed aloud.
"A guard, my prince." The young man hesitated, then added, "My name is Amyas. I've been with Lord Grimbold's household until recently." With delicate timing, he allowed his hand to drop from his dagger.
Farsight felt the blood thrumming through his throat and resisted the impulse to call for his guard's protection. "You're far from home," he said. "I wouldn't have thought you'd have left Duskedge at time of war. And why call me your prince?"
"My prince, I—" Amyas faltered, staring at his mud-wrapped boots. "Because you are my prince. I was born in Dawnlight, near the border. I would have stayed here, but I couldn't find work in this land. So I went over the border and took service with Lord Grimbold, but part of our agreement was that if war broke out between our two lands, I'd be released from his service to return home."
"War broke out four months ago," Farsight observed. "That's when Royston turned his hungry eyes toward our gold-mountain near his border."
"Yes, my prince, and I left Lord Grimbold's service at that time. It occurred to me, though, that you might be in need of information, so I went to King Royston's castle and listened to the gossip there. I'd been there in the past, so no one took notice of me."
Amyas spoke with a pure simplicity, as though risking his life as a spy were the most natural activity in the world. He had a habit, Farsight noticed, of shuffling his feet on the ground, as though he were a boy who might be noticed at any moment and would need to flee the room to escape his elders' wrath.
Farsight suddenly felt very old. He smiled at Amyas and said, "So you have come to me with that information. Thank you."
Amyas looked up at him. For a moment, on the edge of his expression, something seemed on the point of breaking through. Then his eyes grew sober, and he said, "Yes, my prince. I came to warn you to guard yourself. King Royston has sent his Night Shadow to seek you."
A wind, chill from the north, travelled through the crenel behind Farsight and played like a cold blade against his back. When he could breathe once more, Farsight said, "Well. I suppose that is the easiest way for him to win this war."
Amyas took a step forward, faltered, then said in an impassioned voice, "My prince, forgive me, but— In Duskedge, I always kept to my place, so I do not wish you to think I was ill-trained there—"
Farsight managed to pull his smile back from the black pit where it had dropped. "We handle matters differently here in Dawnlight, as you'll recall from your childhood. You needn't be afraid to offer advice – I welcome your thoughts."
"Then, my prince—" Like the surge of a blade, Amyas flung the words forward: "Prince Clerebold, you're as close to death at this moment as you were when you were kneeling on that ledge! Do you know how easy it was for me to enter your presence? No guard challenged me at the drawbridge, your soldiers in the courtyard were indifferent to my presence, your courtiers gave me detailed instructions on where to find you, and your bodyguard was off making water when a man from Duskedge arrived looking for you. My prince, if I were an assassin, you'd be dead now!"
Farsight let out his breath in a long sigh and walked forward until Amyas's face blurred into the stones. "No, I wouldn't be. My guard is close by; the Night Shadow never allows himself to be seen, and he never kills anyone except his mark."
This answer appeared to disconcert the young man. A moment passed before he said, "And what if the Night Shadow decides to change its pattern for this kill? My prince—"
"Call me Farsight," the prince said mildly. "You've been too long away from home."
"Farsight . . ." Amyas fumbled with the name. "Farsight, the Night Shadow always wins. Everyone knows that. That's how Royston keeps his people in terror. And you . . . Your soldiers are the best trained in the world; Royston dare not attack you again through battle. That's why he's sending the Night Shadow. My prince, how can you have such fine soldiers at the border and such poorly trained guards at home?"
Farsight closed his eyes, released a long breath, and opened them once more to the blur that was the young man. "I'm farsighted," he said.
"My prince?" Amyas's voice was tentative.
"I'm farsighted. I can't see you unless you're far away; I can't see anyone unless they're far away. The soldiers I train at a distance – I can see them. The people I rule from a distance – I can see them. But the people I work with from day to day – I can't see them. I can't understand them, I can't know them. So I make mistakes. In some cases, mortal mistakes."
The wind rattled grit across the tower roof. Faintly from the sky above, birds called to each other, but Farsight could hear nothing more, not even the shouts of the guards on the drawbridge as they changed their watch. Below the trap door, the guard continued to shuffle in his place. By now, he must have heard Amyas's voice, but Farsight's moderate tones had apparently reassured the guard as to the nature of the interview. With exasperation, Farsight wondered whether the guard thought that Amyas had flown to the tower from one of the trees.
"Are the stories true?" Amyas's voice was subdued.
¶ Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Night Shadow.
"'We'll be hiring the finest craftsfolk in the city, giving them hours of training to perfect their much-demanded skills and allow them to perform their tasks to the peak of their mastery – and the peak of the satisfaction of those who buy our goods.'"
Running a business seemed a simple enough matter: you learned what the patron wanted, and you forced an employee to satisfy his needs. Then along came the new boy.
Male prostitution has a new face, with an old score to pay: an ex-whore has started a pleasure house, and he has turned all the old rules on their head. Now the centuries-old system of prostitution in the Kingdom of Vovim is in danger of being overturned in favor of a new, gentler way of doing business. But will the young man who is carrying out this revolution be able to keep himself from repeating history?
This novella can be read on its own or as the first story in the "Whipster" volume of Michael's House, a historical fantasy series set in a Progressive Era slum. Male friendship and gay love intertwine in this multicultural series based on life in America during the 1910s, a time when society seemed as stable as ever, though it was about to be turned topsy-turvy.
This is a reissue of an older story.
"Tease away the outer layers [of the story], and a whole fascinating world of triumph over tragedy emerges." —Rainbow Reviews.
Michael laid down his crop and sat on the fountain edge, stretching out his long legs and saying, "Nobody warned me that scolding was so great a part of whoremastering."
"It's part of being a teacher," replied Janus.
"You would know. Speaking of which, what is this?" Michael plucked a piece of paper out of his pocket and held it up for inspection. The gold seal upon it glittered in the late afternoon light.
Janus pulled himself upright, staring with disbelief at the paper. "Michael, have you been searching my room?"
"I've been searching all the rooms, to be sure we sealed up every mouse-hole. You should have picked a less obvious place to hide this than under your bed."
Michael glanced at the letter. "'Royal tutor.' 'By request of His Majesty, at the recommendation of your uncle.' It certainly sounds like something."
"It's a bribe."
"Of course it's a bribe. It's a handsome bribe. Why aren't you taking it?"
Janus sighed, reached over to pull the letter from Michael's hand, and tore the note into pieces. "Why aren't you still selling yourself, Michael? Even at your age, I'd bargain that men like that patron we met earlier this week would gladly pay for your services."
Michael raised his eyebrows. "That's not the same."
"Of course it's the same. My father, having failed through all other methods to break me away from highly unsuitable company, is offering me the biggest bribe he can produce. The letter doesn't actually say, 'If you take this job, you will never see Michael again,' but you know how unlikely it is that His Majesty and my uncle the prime minister would allow the royal tutor to spend his free evenings visiting the proprietor of a house of prostitution." Janus tossed the letter fragments into the fountain, saying, "I know what riches I value most, Michael, and I'm not prepared to give them up for a royal job."
¶ Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): The New Boy.
My winter plans are to publish another volume in The Three Lands, another volume in Life Prison, all of the current Darkling Plain stories, more of the online fiction (previously issued, but it's been offline for a while) in Main Street Leather, more multiformat editions, and whatever else my Muse tosses at me.
And boy, am I happy I'm still alive and able to keep sending these stories to the world. Thank you to those of you who sent good wishes my way before the surgery; it made a big difference to my state of mind going into the surgery, which may well have contributed to the success of the surgery.
"They had to settle the issue of sex first."
Sentenced to life in prison, Tyrrell didn't have many opportunities for bed-play . . . unless he could count what the guards did to him as "play." So his future seemed brighter when he was paired with a cell-mate he'd been eyeing for a long time with affection and lust.
If only Tyrrell could keep from becoming his cell-mate's latest murder victim . . .
This short story can be read on its own or as a side story in the Life Prison series. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.
They had to settle the issue of sex first.
"No," said Merrick flatly as he shoved his only belonging – a toothbrush given to him by his previous guard – under the stone bed-ledge on the other side of the cell.
Well, that was a direct enough answer. Or would have been, if Tyrrell had been the type to accept 'no' for an answer.
If he had been the type to accept 'no,' he wouldn't have spent two years persuading Merrick to become his cell-mate.
"Is it because . . ." He paused, wondering how to put this delicately. Because the Magisterial Republic of Mip had originally been colonized by the two warring nations of Yclau and Vovim, cultural clashes among Mippite citizens were inevitable. It was said that even Cecelia – the great Cecelia – had been rejected by a suitor's family, which was clearly a sign of lunacy in that family. Some of the Yclau-descended folk had strange notions about maintaining the purity of their families. Anyone ethnic or foreign or darker than a pasty shade of white was considered off-limits. That would make Tyrrell extremely off-limits. "It isn't because I was born in southern Vovim, is it?"
Merrick looked annoyed. "What, do you think I have something against players?"
Tyrrell straightened his spine. Like most emigrants from Vovim, he had acted in plays from time to time. Street plays, with no props other than broken objects dug out of the local garbage heap, but they were plays just the same. "Do you?" he responded in a challenging voice.
Merrick's mouth twisted. He was busy tightening the blankets on the bed-ledge with what seemed to Tyrrell to be unnecessary thoroughness, given that they were both about to go to bed. Unless – Tyrrell brightened at the thought – Merrick intended that they use only one bed-ledge.
After a moment, Merrick said, "The Bijou. The City Opera. The Frederick.. . ."
It turned out to be a very long recital. Tyrrell was impressed. "You've been to all the theaters in this city?"
"All the theaters in the whole of eastern Mip." Merrick mumbled the words.
"Gods preserve us – that many?"
Merrick glared at his blanket. "Does it matter? I've spent plenty of time with players. Let's move on to more important subjects."
Tyrrell hated to think what Merrick's idea was of an important subject. Probably how to strangle all the guards at Mercy Life Prison. He asked, "Is it because I'm short?"
Merrick sighed as he turned toward Tyrrell. "Look," he said, "you could be six feet tall, with dashing dark eyes, and skin a delicious shade of sepia—"
Tyrrell began to tick off in his mind which men in the prison fit this description.
"—and I still wouldn't fuck you. I'm just not interested in doing that. Not with you. Not with anyone here."
"Married?" Tyrrell asked sympathetically. So many men in the prison were, or had left behind love-mates, male or female, when they were convicted of their crimes and sent to spend the rest of their lives in Mercy Prison.
Merrick's gaze turned toward the flagstoned floor. "Hell."
"You don't have to swear at me," said Tyrrell reproachfully.
"I'm not swearing. I'm praying to Hell to rise up and kidnap you to his domain so that I won't have to continue this conversation. Look—"
And suddenly his voice was low, as low as it had been when he had finally made the amazing declaration that he would submit a formal request to his guard that he be transferred to Tyrrell's cell. So Tyrrell held his breath, because he knew that Merrick was never low-voiced – never, never, never – unless he was saying something that cost him a great deal to say.
¶ Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Cell-mates.
"'Never!' she exclaimed, shocked, when he asked her to marry him."
She was attending the ball at the palace to dance. That was all. Which made it annoying to face a proposal of marriage from a guard who was distinctly not the sort of man she would ever consider marrying. Certainly not.
It was even more annoying to find that she kept thinking about the man. Why would she want to continue to speak to a guard who rudely implied that she led a frivolous life?
And why oh why were all the balls in the capital suddenly so boring?
This short story can be read on its own or as a side story in The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series inspired by late nineteenth-century life.
"Are you sure you want to talk to him?" her brother asked dubiously. "He is working these days in the Eternal Dungeon."
"Oh, I know all about that," she said dismissively, in order to impress her brother. "It need not affect matters. We are only meeting briefly, and I am so very bored, Harold."
Her brother grinned and said that he expected so, since this was hardly the sort of event she was accustomed to attending. He made the introduction and then, curse him, he went off to talk with the prison's Keeper, who, as it turned out, had a beautiful, grown daughter.
She and her erstwhile suitor discussed the weather. She was quite careful to avoid mentioning any connection between the weather and crime waves. She was congratulating herself on keeping the conversation well away from dangerous topics when they were interrupted by a commoner who wished to wring her suitor's hand. The commoner was crying, she realized with discomfort.
"Never thought I'd thank you," said the commoner to her companion. "Never thought I'd do anything but slit your throat. But it made a difference, my time in the Eternal Dungeon. It made all the difference in the world, I vow by all that is sacred. I've lived a straight life since then – my wife can testify to that."
Her companion demurred, saying something about playing only a small role in such matters.
The commoner, however, shook his head. "Nay," he replied. "That's what they say out here in the lighted world, that it's the Torturers we have to look out for. But it's you guards who carry out the Torturers' orders, and how you do so makes all the difference. If you'd been harsh to me, or cruel or indifferent, then nothing my Torturer said would have swayed me. But you were always civil to me – you treated me like a man, not like a miserable criminal. And once I'd seen what it was like to be treated as a man, I thirsted for it, sir. I truly did. I began to think how I might live that way. So what the Torturer said to me, that made a mark. But only because of how you'd treated me, first-off."
This was, to say the least, a disconcerting speech. She made a private resolve to ask her brother afterwards what this was about. Surely all that took place in the Eternal Dungeon was that prisoners were tortured until they confessed to their crimes?
Her companion was apologetic, once the commoner had left. "I had not meant for you to be exposed to such dark matters," he said.
Paradoxically – for she had already regretted asking to be introduced to him – she found herself saying angrily, "I should think it would be the duty of every gentlewoman in this queendom to know of how criminals are handled in prisons, since the criminals' conduct affects the lives of everyone, elite and mid-class and commoner. That is why I am here today." Which was as bold a lie as she had ever told. She resolved to make her statement true by asking her brother a few questions about the Keeper's plans for Parkside Prison.
The conversation ended then, as her brother fetched her to take her home. She was relieved, knowing that she had passed through this trial unscathed.
And so it was not a little annoying when she received a letter soon afterwards from the guard.
He apologized for being so bold, begged her forgiveness if he was creating distress in her life by contacting her. He had been struck, he said, by the remark she made about the duties of gentlewomen. . . .
¶ Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc) or as FREE online fiction: Never.
"Images came, like flickers of a candle: Dark stones. Dark metal. Faint fire. A spoon in his hand, as someone urged him to eat. A stinking pit that he knew he was duty-bound to fill. A loom nearby that he vaguely remembered he had once known how to work, but which now stood as silent as the rest of his world."
He can't speak. He can barely see. He experiences only fear and the faint whispers of something he had once known.
But an intruder into his secure retreat from danger will pull him into awareness of what stands before him. What stands there is renewed danger. . . and the hope of something more.
This short story can be read on its own or as a side story in the Life Prison series. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.
Some of the prisoners began to retreat to the back of their cells, made uneasy by this breaking of the silence. He ought to as well. A prisoner was speaking. A prisoner was shouting. No good could come of this. Nothing could come of this but pain and fear and screaming.
Tears were running down his face now. He gripped the bars hard, trying to figure out what to do. He had emerged from a dream, only to find himself trapped in a nightmare. How could he make it stop?
The solid door opened suddenly. The guard named Sedgewick stood there, breathing heavily. His hair was dishevelled; his jacket was torn; his neck was turning purple. "Get chains," he snapped at Milton.
"Chains?" Turning, Milton gaped at him.
"Chains. From the showers. The manacles on chains that we use when we give the prisoners the cold-water punishment."
"The chains are bolted to the shower walls," Milton protested. "They're attached high up on the walls, above the prisoners' heads."
"Pliers. Stepladder. Be quick about it."
"Sedgewick, it sounds as though you're killing your prisoner. If you kill him, our Keeper will be angry—"
"Go." As the shouts inside the cell reached a new high pitch, Sedgewick slammed the door shut.
Milton looked around the level uncertainly. But in all the cells he glanced at, none of the prisoners were moving. Swallowing hard, Milton retreated to the stairwell.
The shouts from the battle-torn cell were so loud now that he covered his ears. He could still hear the bellow of the prisoner, who sounded like a bull let loose in a ring. "I am going to maul you so badly that you'll never be reborn!" the prisoner was shouting. "Just watch me!"
There was a loud crack. Identifying the sound, he flinched back, as though the whip had landed on him. The only response from the prisoner was another bellow, this time of profanity.
He bit his lip. He had no doubt as to the outcome of this struggle. The prisoner could not hold out against two guards armed with whips and daggers. It was a miracle he had done so already. How long would this last?
How long had it lasted? He glanced briefly over his shoulder at his cell, but it looked just the same as it had the last time he had seen it – had truly seen it.
Only the loom was gone. How had they taken the loom away without waking him from his dream? And how long ago had they done this?
He felt the bars under his hands. Bars. There had been no bars when he last saw this cell – only a solid door. The solid door was still there, but it was an inner door now, open. There were two doors to his cell now, one solid, one barred. The barred one must have been added.
How could they have added a barred door without him noticing it?
Sweat was trickling down his back now. He tried to read the time passed from the amount of ashes next to the fire. But for all he knew, the ashes might have been scooped out a dozen times or more. A whole month might have passed. Or two months?
He put his hand upon his cheek, trying to wipe away the tears that continued to stream there—
And froze. Were those wrinkles he felt next to his eyes?
He was twenty-one years old. How could he have wrinkles?
¶ Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): In the Silence.
"It's so dark, so intriguing. Peterson is able to build a fascinating world in 84 pages. . . . It is a story that definitely will stay with you for a while." —Solace in Another World (Mierke) on The Breaking (The Eternal Dungeon).
"It wasn't the first time that Ulick had met a man who received enjoyment at the thought of killing. This time, however, the killer was not a convict."
His job is to guard the prisoners. But against what?
Hired to work at a prison that has recently undergone a purge, Ulick finds himself caught in the midst of a vicious battle. The prison's Keeper wants peace. The Assistant Keeper wants blood. Each of the other guards has his own motive, and his own method, for keeping the prisoners under control.
Backbiting, threats, violent encounters, forbidden desires played out at night and in stark daylight . . . all this Ulick must face in his new job. At the center of the maelstrom lies Merrick, a foul-mouthed prisoner with a notorious reputation. But behind Merrick stands another man, hidden in the shadows, and Ulick's future depends on what that man wants of him.
This novella (short novel) can be read on its own or as the fifth and final story in the "Mercy's Prisoner" volume of Life Prison. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.
"We've had trouble with the prisoners," said Mercy's Keeper.
"Sir?" Ulick could think of no other reply to make to this bland remark, which might have been spoken by any Keeper at any prison at any moment of the day.
"Seditious activities. Attempts to manipulate the guards. That sort of thing."
"Oh." Understanding reached him. "Yes, I'd read that in the newspapers."
Mercy's Keeper – who was not gracious enough to offer his name, much less offer Ulick a chair – winced, as though in distaste at the foreign orange he was munching on throughout the conversation. "Too much publicity. Pressmen should all be shot. Good thing the death sentence is back."
Ulick decided not to ask how serious the Keeper was in his statement. Instead, he took the opportunity to glance around the Keeper's office, which also served as the man's living quarters. Opulent walnut chests, imported Vovimian carpets, a wall full of books, and a kitchen's worth of food. And the food was only for his lunch. If Mercy's Keeper was suffering from the presence of his seditious prisoners, there was no sign of it.
"Blasted Boundaries," said Mercy's Keeper, as though summing up matters.
"They should be shot. Every one of them. Will, if I find out who they are."
Ulick wondered whether his expression held the proper amount of bewilderment. It must have, for in the next moment, from the corner of the room, came a quiet voice. "If I may, sir. . . . I believe that your new guard may need to be briefed on our situation."
"Eh?" Mercy's Keeper twisted round in his chair to stare at the speaker. "Oh, rather. If you say so. You explain, and I'll get on with . . ." He waved his hand expansively over his desk, embracing both paperwork and food.
"Thank you, sir." The speaker, who was standing in the shadows, raised his eyes to Ulick. Looking into them, Ulick had the momentary feeling of falling down a deep well. He considered himself moderately good at reading expressions; it was one of the skills that had led him to take up guard-work. But nothing lay behind those eyes to tell him what the other man was thinking.
"In brief," said the guard quietly, holding Ulick's gaze with apparently effortless ease, "one of the prisoners here, a kin-murderer by the name of Merrick, developed a very clever plan some years ago to gain power over the guards. He executed this plan with the help of a cunning strategist, a cut-throat named Tyrrell. Their plan was to put forward something that purported to be a code of ethics for prison conduct, and to persuade the guards here to adhere to it. Many guards were fooled into doing so."
Ulick, who had been trying unsuccessfully to move his eyes away from the speaker, heard himself say, "Many guards?"
A smile entered the other man's eyes. "Including myself. I will admit that I was a victim of Merrick's plan. A guard whom I respected had chosen to adopt the Boundaries of Behavior that Merrick advocated, and . . . Well, I will not recount for you the tedious story. Suffice it to say that, for too many years afterwards, I treated my prisoners in a sickeningly soft manner. I allowed them to get away with disrespectful behavior, with attempts to control me and all the other guards, and in the end I even went so far as to ally myself with these prisoners. I tried to bring to court a suit that, if it had been won, would have resulted in the complete loss of any power that the guards possess to curb the prisoners' destructive behavior."
"Ah." Ulick cleared his throat. "Yes, I thought your face looked familiar, Mr. . . ."
"Staunton. Please, call me Sedgewick. We are not formal here at Mercy Life Prison."
¶ Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Curious.
I forgot to announce this when I added the link. You can read Green Ruin (The Eternal Dungeon) as part of the free PDF zine Wanderlust: A Travel Anthology, edited by T. Spoon for The Slash Pile. (Green Ruin has both heterosexual and gay content, in case the cover leaves you wondering.) The e-book editions of Green Ruin (HTML, PDF, and Kindle) remain available for $2.99.
"During the dawn hours at the Eternal Dungeon, as the day shift yawned itself awake and the night shift yawned itself to bed, the talk turned, as it always did, to the injustices of being a guard."
Three guards and a mysterious substance provide a temptation too great to be missed . . . especially when two torturers add their skills to the mix. Soon three very different men – a married man who is committed to respect and honor, a bachelor harboring secret desires, and a soldier with an unfulfilled ambition – will find themselves caught in a trap. Their rescue will come from an unexpected quarter.
This darkly humorous short story of friendship and romance can be read on its own or as a side story in The Eternal Dungeon, a historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.
"Vito was beginning to wonder whether this dungeon's prisoners were questioned in pitch darkness. That was a matter of some personal concern to him."
Walking into a trap may be the only way to create one.
Danger runs high for Vito when he arrives at the Eternal Dungeon, escorted by guards. In this royal dungeon, prisoners are "searched" for their crimes, by torture and by more subtle means.
Vito knows that he will be searched. But he has his own searching to accomplish, and to do so he must undergo the scrutiny of the queendom's most accomplished torturer.
This novelette (miniature novel) can be read on its own or as the second story in the "Sweet Blood" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.
For a prison, it was abnormally quiet.
Vito had lived in prisons for a long while now – over a dozen years, from the time he came of age. He had sampled all three of the city prisons, like a connoisseur sampling wines to test which was the finest. He had even spent time in the provincial prisons outside the queendom's capital.
Never before, though, had he encountered a prison where everyone spoke in whispers, and where business was conducted in the dark.
He looked around, straining to see. The great entry hall of the Eternal Dungeon – impressive both in size and in the fact that most of its walls were made of cave-rock – was virtually night-black. There were lamps scattered upon tables around the edge of the room, but these were all shuttered like lanterns. Guards stood by the tables, exchanging an occasional whisper. The only other sound came from the desk-seated Record-keeper, who studiously scratched away at a piece of paper with his pen, as though working in midnight black suited him.
And it was only four o'clock in the afternoon.
Vito was beginning to wonder whether this dungeon's prisoners were also questioned in pitch darkness. That was a matter of some personal concern to him. But then a stirring shuddered through the room, like wind over a field of corn.
Sounds came from the top of the steps that led to the palace above: a gate being drawn back with a screech, then heavy footsteps upon the cave-rock steps. Ignoring the vigilant escort of the dungeon guards who had brought him this far, Vito sidled his way toward the center of the hall in order to see better the stairway. Everyone else stood motionless. Even the Record-keeper had paused in his work and was now standing behind his desk.
Five men arrived: four were guards, dressed in royal scarlet, with ceremonial swords at their sides. Not the Eternal Dungeon's guards, then – those guards wore grey uniforms, utterly ungaudy. The Queen's guards, making their slow way down the steps, were struggling to hold level a stretcher.
The fifth man, who walked behind the stretcher could not be said to be gaudy either, but his appearance was most striking. He wore no vest and no jacket, and he bore no weapons. His shirt and trousers were raven-black, and covering his head and face was a black hood.
Instinctively, Vito drew to the edge of the room, near the door that led further into the dungeon. The guards who flanked that door flicked a glance at him, then ignored him. His escorts remained oblivious to the fact he had strayed. The procession was coming closer.
All around the entry hall now, guards were bowing their heads and rubbing invisible circles upon their own foreheads with their thumbs. Vito, so newly arrived that he remained dressed for the outdoors, pulled his cap off and bowed his head. The procession had come close enough to him now that he had recognized what lay upon the stretcher: a motionless body, covered from head to foot with grey cloth.
The funeral procession neared the door to the inner dungeon. Vito raised his eyes just in time to catch closer sight of the fifth man in the procession. That man also had his head bowed, and his eyes – barely visible through the eyeholes of his hood – were hardly more than hollow pits in the dim light.
Yet something – perhaps it was merely the combination of straight spine and lowered head – caused Vito to catch his breath.
The door next to him was open now, held back by the younger guard who had been flanking it. The older guard was peering carefully round the entry hall, obviously checking to see that nobody unauthorized was given the chance to slip through the doorway. The procession left the entry hall, the Queen's guards struggling to make their way through the relatively narrow entrance. The hooded man following them did not look up.
Vito had a sudden, wild desire to follow. Instead, as the door slammed shut, he stepped forward and tugged at the sleeve of the older guard, like an impatient child. "Who was that, please? The man behind the funeral procession?"
The guard replied, with careful precision, "That was one of our junior Seekers, Mr. Taylor. Please step away from the door, sir."
Vito did so hastily. He had already seen the younger guard draw his dagger; his escorts had likewise noticed his absence and had pulled their coiled whips from their belts. Vito – who was cursed with a sense of humor that helped him not the least in his work – had the impulse to pull out his hidden revolver and offer to trade with the guards.
But he was saved from acting on this disastrous impulse by the sound of a cough. Looking back toward where he had been standing before, Vito saw the Record-keeper silently gesturing. Further down the wall along which the Record-keeper's desk was placed, a man had appeared in an open doorway. His face was hidden by a black hood, and he stood quite far away in the hall, but Vito somehow knew, without having to see them, that the man's eyes were ice-cold.
Vito drew in a long breath. His mind had travelled beyond the dagger-and-whip-wielding guards nearby. They were unimportant. The true danger in this dungeon stood before him now.
He walked slowly forward for his employment interview with the High Seeker.
¶ Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Searching.
Thanks to the swiftness of my new beta reader, Yingtai, a whole bunch of Life Prison stories are coming soon. If you'd like to see where I am in preparing various series, check my progress report, which has just been updated.
At the moment, I'm rushing to get new e-books out before a medical procedure I'm due for in late November, but once I'm recovered from that, I hope to be able to get more of my backlist out in multiformat.
The Abolitionist (Waterman) is a finalist in the Gay Fantasy category of the Rainbow Awards 2013.
Congratulations also to my blog/Goodreads readers Megan Derr (in teeny-weeny type on the cover, but I noticed you), Clare London (your book's attractive cover caught my eye before your name did), Brandon Shire (your blurb caught my eye), and A. B. Gayle (yay! "Leather+Lace"!) for their finalist entries. If I missed titles by any other of my blog readers, please do let me know, because I like to follow along with what's going on in the lives of you folks.
(And jeez louise, somewhere-out-there L. A. Witt, what are you, some kind of finalist magnet? Nine finalist entries. Nine. My hearty congratulations.)
The winners will be announced on December 8. You can see the full list of finalists - along with some really nice covers - at this post at the blog of the ever-amazing Elisa Rolle.
A decade before e-books and self-publishing shook up the publishing industry, an author faced a dilemma: When you've written stories in a genre that is rarely published, what do you do?
At the beginning of 2002, Dusk Peterson (a journalist, history writer, and aspiring professional novelist) stumbled across the fan fiction community, where tens of thousands of readers and writers enjoyed gay genre fiction, which publishers rarely published.
Peterson's Muse didn't want to write fan fiction. That didn't matter. Gleefully, Peterson began posting male/male stories with original fantasy settings and characters to "slash" fan fiction e-mail lists, at the same plunging into fanficcers' world of online fiction, "songvids," conventions, celebrations of movie premieres, and endless discussions of literature, history, sexuality, and ethics. In the process, Peterson became part of a community that was taking advantage of the Internet's power in order to distribute stories, art, and videos that couldn't be professionally published.
This first volume in the Pixel-Stained series includes reminiscences, stories, and art from yaoi author/artist mdbl; Steve Berman, founder of the gay and lesbian speculative fiction publishing company Lethe Press; J. M. Snyder, founder of the queer fiction press JMS Books; and m/m romance author Emily Veinglory.
About the series:
The president of a speculative fiction organization once described writers who post their works on the Internet as "pixel-stained technopeasant wretches." The Pixel-Stained series publishes Peterson's memoirs in the form of e-mail, posts, and other documents. These accounts depict life at several electronic literature communities connected with gay genre fiction, as witnessed from the inside of those communities. Many members of these communities were pioneers in popularizing electronic publication, paving the way for the e-book revolution and the massive wave of self-publishing.
Depicting the rise of blogging, social networking, web fiction, e-zines, e-books, and print-on-demand publishing, this memoir series shows how readers and writers in the twenty-first century have used computer technology to reshape culture and society.
Volume One contents:
0 | Introduction.
1 | Stumbling Across the Fan Fiction Community, and Diving in Headfirst.
Interlude & fiction | Tropes. With excerpts from The Fool, Life Prison, and Tops and Sops.
2 | Discovering the Joys of Fan Mail and Cons.
Interlude & art | Headers. With an illustration.
3 | Warnings and Websites.
Interlude & art | What Was Happening in the World of Original Yaoi Publishing during 2002. By mdbl, founder of Private Parlor. With illustrations.
4 | A New "Star Wars" Film Comes Out, and the Fanficcers Go Wild.
Interlude & fiction | What Was Happening in the World of Gay Speculative Fiction Publishing during 2002. By Steve Berman, founder of Lethe Press. With a story from Trysts.
5 | Discussions of Litslash and Disabilities.
Interlude & fiction | What Was Happening in the World of Original Slash Publishing during 2002. By J.M. Snyder, founder of JMS Books. With an excerpt from Operation Starseed.
6 | The World of Darkfic is Explored.
Interlude & fiction | What Was Happening in the World of M/M Romance Publishing during 2004. By Emily Veinglory, m/m romance author. With an excerpt from Alas, the Red Dragon.
7 | Grumbles About the Lack of Original Slash, Mere Days Before That Subgenre Takes Off.
E-mail to Jedi Clara, March 2002
This doesn't seem to be my year for computers. First, my computer crashed in January for the fourth time in six months (I've been putting off taking it in for repair since then, as it involved two six-hour round trips). Then my backup computer (which had been showing signs of wanting to go belly-up) died a few days ago. Then when I checked my backup backup computer (won't do anything but word processing), I found that its disk drive was no longer working. So I've resorted to my backup backup backup computer (yes, we have a lot of half-functioning computers in this house), whose mouse won't work.
Fortunately, my family member's computer (now renamed Old Reliable) is still working. Equally fortunately, the choking sounds my backup computer was making (multiple error messages) caused me to be backing up hourly any file I worked on – I'd just finished backing up on disk a scene I'd written when the computer went, "Pop!"
So the only thing I lost that's a pain to reconstruct is my last letter to you. I'd written a lengthy letter that was along the lines of "OH MY GOD, THE PHANTOM MENACE ZINE ARRIVED, IT'S SO ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS, I'M ABOUT TO HAVE A HEART ATTACK, YOU'RE AN UTTER SWEETHEART TO SEND ME THIS, KISS KISS KISS—" and as you can imagine, it's a bit hard to reconstruct that type of letter.
I've spent the last couple of days working on what was supposed to be my first PWP [First Time], but my characters decided to get all chatty on me. I can't figure out why my characters get the yen to stop in the middle of having hot sex in order to discuss the moral implications of what they're doing. I certainly never did anything stupid like that. (Alas.) To make matters worse, my protagonist declared that we weren't going to write about my sexual fantasies; we were going to write about his sexual fantasies. And since I find his tastes a bit squickish (whatever other problems I may have, I am not into strappadoes), I ended up discovering that erotica is not a genre I'm good at writing. My characters are too darn bossy.
Mind you, I had other problems with sticking to erotica as well. I remember when I first started reading slash erotica; it seemed to me to bear as much resemblance to real sex as cotton candy does to real food. Wonderfully sweet, but oh my goodness . . . Slash characters never have problems getting aroused. They never have to stop to argue over what type of furniture they should use for the positions they want. They never make costly errors in bed and have to beg their partner for forgiveness. And they never have to get into a cold car at three a.m. in order to drive five miles to the nearest open drugstore to buy the right supplies.
So you know the convention for First Time stories? Two pages of agonizing over whether to go to bed together, followed by ten pages of blissful sex? Well, I've turned the convention on its head and suggested that the real agonies of First Time encounters are most likely to occur in bed.
Just writing a realistic "Where the hell are we going to find lubricant at this time of night?" scene did me good.
Having thrown my characters into each other's arms and let them drone on about sexual ethics to their hearts' content, I've now sternly told them, "You're going to engage in a little action next time, damn it," and have sent them off to hell. Literally. That's what they get for foolin' with the Boss.
¶ Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Fan Fiction Fan.
On the home page, the reviews and upcoming fiction have been moved to the appropriate series pages. The navigation map, which was getting entirely too cluttered with text, has been replaced largely by series covers, including some new covers. Each of the covers links to the corresponding series page.
Elsewhere on the website, I've added a page listing my award-winning stories, for the sake of readers who want a starting point for their reading. I've also ended each series page with a link to the next series page, so as to make navigation easier.
"Depositing money in the bank was always the worst problem."
What should a young servant do when his employer may fire him at any moment, his employer's beautiful daughter is absorbed with her high school textbook ("How to be Firm with Servants"), and he's blocked from carrying out a simple task by a snooty cyborg?
This flash fiction blends science fiction with 1960s domestic comedy. It is a side story in Waterman, a historical fantasy series and retrofuture series inspired by the Chesapeake Bay oyster wars, boarding school rivalries in the 1910s, and 1960s visions of things to come.
This is a reissue of an older story.
Depositing money in the bank was always the worst problem. He'd be first in line at three a.m., to give himself enough time for the bank opening at nine a.m., but he always seemed to pick the day when two dozen misters just happened to saunter in, walk right past him to the bank clerks, and spend the next six hours chatting at length with the clerks about their problems. At three p.m., the bank would close, and he'd still be waiting in line. The bank manager would throw him out then, and he'd be left with bruises from the manager's metal claws.
"You should use our computer connection to the bank," Honey suggested, looking up from where she was studying her high-school textbook – vividly illustrated with holophotos – that was entitled How to be Firm with Servants.
She could be delightfully naive at times. "I'm not allowed to use the computer, miss. It's not permitted to servants, by landstead law."
"Well, talk to Daddy, then," she said, tossing back her long hair impatiently. "He'll come up with a solution. He always does."
He didn't talk to his mister – he never talked to the mister about such matters, because he lived in fear that, if he made any complaints, the mister would tire of him – but Honey must have spoken to him, because the next day, right at nine a.m., Mr. Tilbury showed up at the bank and stood behind Foster in the line. . . .
¶ Available as a FREE multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Queue.