Category Archives: just for fun

Winter Storm Advice for Southerners

Ah, here we go again. Wintry precipitation is imminent here in the South and people are reacting with their usual calm indifference.

Not.

The typical attitude down here is actually really interesting, a weird hyper-anticipation that I haven’t seen for any other type of weather. The energy is almost tangible. It involves a combination of both panic and elation, depending on your age and the likelihood of skipping a few days of work or school. And whether you own a device suitable for sledding.

The forecast this time (ever-evolving and subject to last minute change) calls for either 4-6 inches of snow or a bunch of sleet followed by a layer of snow. So not nearly as bad as freezing rain, but just the right combination to cause all sorts of problems for those venturing forth to traverse our many hills. Also, power outages. Because that always happens.

In addition, it will be unusually cold afterward, with low temps forecast to be 9 on Saturday and 0 on Sunday (Fahrenheit). Apparently, our all-time record low is -9. Downright balmy, for this Minnesotan, but almost unheard of here in NC.

To give you some perspective, this is from our local weather people: “In 130 years, we’ve only been below zero four times in Raleigh, and we’ve only hit zero four other times.” –WRAL

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So in honour of all this shivery news, today I’m re-posting something I wrote a few years ago, when we were expecting an icier storm. Given that my blog followers have somehow multiplied 10x in the past year, one or two of you might not have seen this. The advice is mostly for writers, but I’m sure all you non-writers can adapt it for your own use.

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From February 2014:

We here in the South are supposed to get some nasty weather later today. Several inches of snow followed by the dreaded coating of ICE. Or so they say. But even 1/4-inch of ice is cause for concern, as that’s enough to bring down power lines. And when the forecast predicts there will be a significant coating of ice over a large geographic area, well, it means people here are sort of freaking out.

I grew up in Minnesota where winter was just something that happened every year. Cold, snow, wind, even ice. It wasn’t really a big deal.

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But I’ve lived in the South long enough to know how traumatic and disorienting it is to suddenly have to cope with the arrival of something other than daffodils in early February. So I decided this was a good time to give you all some advice about how to prepare for and handle icy winter weather.

This advice is specifically directed to all the writers out there. Because I know how vulnerable we writers are when faced with the harsh implacability of the real world. We need all the help we can get.

At this late date, mere hours before the onslaught of precipitation, if you haven’t yet made a trip to the grocery or liquor store, you’re flat out of luck. Believe me, those shelves are bare. And honestly, if you’re a writer and you don’t have at least a week’s worth of liquor stocked up at all times . . . what kind of writer are you, anyway?

You’re going to have to make do with what you have at hand. So let’s start with some basics.

Run the dishwasher. Yes, really. Do I even need to explain this? Do this now while you still have power.

Do a load of laundry. If you lose power, in the winter, even in the South, it’s going to get cold in your house. You might need to actually put on a pair of pants. I know, desperate measures. But if someone needs to come rescue you, for whatever reason, clean pants are a lot easier to explain than . . . well, that’s sort of the point. Clean pants won’t need explanation. Unlike your current laundry pile.

Make soup. Yes, soup. Surely you have some quantity of chicken or beef in your freezer, festering, waiting for you to do something with it. So make soup. Right now, while the stove still works. Add some thyme and sliced carrots and barley. Dumplings, even. Yes, the prospect of eating cold leftover soup is rather unappetizing. But it’s infinitely more palatable, and less life-threatening, than eating thawed raw meat.

Hard boil some eggs. You do have eggs, right? The unequivocal accompaniment for bacon? Same concept as the soup. No one wants to eat raw eggs. Hardboiled eggs are a good source of protein and . . . other stuff. You can even use the egg decorating dyes and stickers leftover from last Easter to add some festive colour to your power outage.

Take a shower. I know, it hasn’t even been a week since the last one. But weather extremes sometimes cause people to have to interact with strangers — calm down, this is just a possibility and not some dire portent set in stone — and it’s best not to frighten the neighbours unnecessarily.

Update your spreadsheet of food sources. Speaking of neighbours, I assume you’ve been keeping stats about which ones might be the best targets in terms of easy takedown and tender flesh. Avoid drug addicts and alcoholics and extreme athletes who tend toward gristle. Families with small succulent children are likely sources. Um, wait. Sorry, that’s advice for the zombie apocalypse. Heh. Never mind.

Locate sources of combustibles. Identify which neighbours have random unattended cords of firewood. Or a less than sturdy weathered deck. Or a rotting fence that’s on the verge of falling down. I know you’ve been too distracted writing the latest story to stock your own woodpile, so you’re going to need access to a supply of seasoned firewood that doesn’t necessitate taking an axe to granny’s rocking chair or the dining room table.

Keep your curtains closed. People will tell you this is a buffer to keep the warm air inside, or to keep the cold air outside. Nonsense. This is to keep your neighbours from spying on you to determine whether you have any small children or meaty pets. What? You think they don’t have their own spreadsheets?

Have a backup heat source. Speaking of pets, it has been scientifically proven by people who wake up in the night, sweating, with a cat plastered to their side, that cats generate enough BTUs in one night to power a small country. Of course, if you show any sign of wanting them to keep you warm, they will ignore you. Indefinitely. So be clever. Tell them how pretty they are. Dole out treats judiciously. Lull them into a state of complacency before you burrow your icy cold hands into their soft warm stomach fur. Caution: Be sure you’ve stocked up on antiseptic and bandages before using cats as a heat source. As with any heat source, use proper ventilation at all times.

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Wear a hat. If you lose power, you will be cold. Wearing a hat, especially if it’s a particularly stylish hat, will make you feel better and keep your brain warm while the rest of your body slowly freezes to death. Also, socks are something to consider if you are overly concerned about retaining use of your lower extremities.

Download more ebooks. You’ve charged up your ereader of choice, right? So you might want to stock up on new stories to read during the impending power outage. Might I suggest my latest novella? Coincidentally, it’s a short sweet story of two people who get stuck in a remote mountain cabin during a snowstorm. Perfect reading for this weather! Ahem.

Play games! After hours (or mere minutes) without electricity, your laptop and cell phone batteries will die and you’ll no longer be able to play Words With Friends. Okay, settle down. I know this seems like extreme hardship. But this is a great time to dig out the actual Scrabble board game that you forgot you even had. You live alone? No problem. You can play with yourself! Er, that is, play against yourself. And since those pesky tiles will slide all over the place if you move the board, you’ll burn calories and generate heat by running back and forth from one side of the table to the other as you take turns. This is the perfect opportunity to use all those creative words the #%$^@ computer says aren’t really words, or to play words that go off the grid by just one space. Or three.

Write!! Of course, this should be the first thing on any writer’s list of things to do during inclement apocalypse weather. Of course it is. Who needs a computer, anyway? Did Plato have a computer? Did Shakespeare? Austen or Hemmingway? Did Franzen— okay, never mind. Harsh weather is punishment enough. But seriously, severe temperatures and lack of electricity are not sufficient reasons to stop writing. Dig out that pad of paper and a pen. Or pencil, if the ink and quill have frozen. Who cares if your handwriting is indecipherable? You’re going to re-write the damn thing anyway, right? This is your chance, maybe your only chance, to experience first hand that whole romanticized starving artist living in a freezing garret with a broken heart and shattered innocence and surviving on a heel of moldy bread and cheap bottle of wine lifestyle we’ve all heard so much about and foolishly envied.

Um, you did stock up on the broken heart and cheap wine along with the bread, right? I figure there are some basic survival techniques I just shouldn’t have to enumerate.

So, good luck surviving the impending weather. At the very least, wrap up your sense of humour in a soft wool scarf and offer it a dram of the finest whisky. After all, the chances are slim to none that you’ll make it through this storm intact without it.

 

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Yet another incident of critters in the fireplace, dammit

How to rescue a tree frog you discover jumping around and climbing the inside of your glass fireplace doors at midnight and driving the cat insane, in just 10 Easy — oh, who am I kidding — in 30 Not-So-Easy Steps:

1. Spend 10 minutes debating whether the frog is capable of getting out on its own. Remember the squirrel that died in there on top of the damper a couple years ago and how awful it smelled. Also, death flies. Resign yourself to performing sooty acts of heroism at midnight.

2. Put the cat in the bathroom. This is important, as the cat is faster than you are and she has been stalking that stupid frog for 20 minutes. She really wants that frog.

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3. Retrieve the cat [see above re: faster], who now knows what you’re up to. Put her in the bathroom, again.

4. Decide you don’t particularly want to touch the frog. Get a paper towel.

5. Realize a dry paper towel will stick to the frog and you will have to touch the stupid creature to pry off bits of paper towel upon release.

6. Go back into kitchen and return with a damp paper towel.

7. Reassure the cat that NOTHING IS HAPPENING OUT HERE CALM DOWN.

8. Try to find the stupid fucking frog, which has now disappeared.

9. Find the flashlight. Hope it works.

10. Spend five minutes cursing the now absent frog, wondering how it is even possible for a frog to climb a two-story house and get past the supposedly critter-proof chimney cap and survive the drop and still have enough energy to torment the cat and then be wily enough to HIDE FROM YOU WHEN YOU’RE TRYING TO SAVE ITS STUPID LIFE HERE GODDAMMIT.

11. Take a deep breath and back away to reassess frog/fireplace logistics and have a sip, okay maybe a couple big gulps, of wine.

12. Reassure the cat once again that THERE’S NOTHING INTERESTING HAPPENING OUT HERE ISN’T THE BATHROOM LOVELY AT THIS TIME OF NIGHT OH JUST BE QUIET PROBABLY THE NEIGHBOURS CAN HEAR YOU.

13. Open the glass fireplace doors even wider and stick your head inside because you are now determined to save this frog like it is the only frog left in your entire ecosystem and the fate of the known world hangs in the balance. Plus, DEATH FLIES.

14. Realize the frog is quietly crouched three inches from your face on the front edge of the door frame staring at you like WHAT THE HELL EVEN IS YOUR PROBLEM WHEN IT’S BEING SO FUCKING COOPERATIVE SITTING THERE PATIENTLY WAITING FOR YOU.

15. Gently pick up the frog and wrap the damp paper towel lovingly over its filthy little ash-covered body.

16. DO NOT DROP THE FROG.

17. Try to ignore how it feels like you’re holding an eviscerated still-beating heart as the frog thumps against your palm and loosely curled fingers and tries valiantly to escape.

18. CHRIST DO NOT SQUISH THE FROG.

19. Head to the back door and freeze with your hand on the knob when you abruptly realize you can’t put the frog on the deck because there’s a BIG ASS SCARY SPIDER THAT HAS BUILT A MASSIVE WEB RIGHT THERE NEXT TO THE DOOR FROM WHENCE IT HAS BEEN TERRORIZING YOU FOR THE PAST WEEK. FUCK. THAT. WAS. CLOSE.

20. Mutter increasingly vile curse words under your breath as your heart rate returns to somewhat normal and you once again reassure the cat that THIS WILL BE OVER ANY MINUTE NOW JUST HANG ON DAMMIT STOP STRIPPING THE FINISH OFF THE DOOR.

21. Carry your throbbing bundle-o-frog to the front door and open it and gently DO NOT FLING THE FROG RECKLESSLY INTO THE NIGHT YOU MONSTER gently place it on the front step and tell it to go now and live free and TRY NOT TO GET EATEN and maybe USE BETTER JUDGMENT next time when confronted with a chimney because you’ve just gone to GREAT LENGTHS to save its stupid life PLEASE AND THANK YOU and hope no one is out there walking their dog who might witness you having a one-sided conversation with a goddamned frog on your front stoop in pajamas at midnight and decide to stage an intervention.

22. Nonchalantly, like you didn’t see that curtain twitch in the window next door and you do this ALL THE TIME YOU’RE A WRITER DAMMIT YOU MAKE STUFF UP FOR A LIVING WHAT DID THEY EXPECT ANYWAY, go back inside and close and lock the front door.

23. Close the glass fireplace doors.

24. Open the bathroom door and STAND THE HELL BACK. [Note: it is important to do steps 22 thru 24 in this precise order.]

25. Dispose of all frog related evidence and wash your hands. Thoroughly.

26. Place an apologetic offering of kitty treats on the hearth, which will be totally ignored due to lack of movement and also a heartbeat. Cats are barbarians.

27. Refill your wine glass and offer up a sardonic toast to the Frog Gods and their DEATH FLIES BRETHREN. Imbibe freely.

28. Pretend to be impervious to the cat glaring and sulking and withholding all signs of affection for . . . looks at clock . . . well, for however long it takes.

29. Take a picture of the cat, still stalking that stupid damned frog at noon the next day.

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30. Write a blog post about it, because of course.

 

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A to Z Challenge: Reflections

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]The people behind the A to Z Challenge are asking participants to post their reflections on the month-long effort. What worked and what didn’t, what you liked, whether you’d do it again.

This was my first experience with this challenge. It might well be my last. That is not a reflection on the challenge itself or the way it was organized or whether it was worthwhile. All those things were great. It’s a reflection on the type of challenge I opted to tackle.

If you’re reading this, probably you know I decided to write a piece of fiction, a complete story, during this challenge. Yes, I am well aware of what a bad idea this was, and also experienced enough to know better. I had my reasons.

Someone asked in the comments about my process during the month. I replied that there was no process– it was sheer panic. That’s absolute truth.

I know a good deal about plot and story structure and pacing and character arcs and motivation and scene/sequel and genre expectations and . . . a thousand other things that make for good story. During this challenge, it felt like I took all those things and rather gleefully threw them out the window and just went at it. And left a huge mess to be cleaned up (working on it).

I’d write a post and get to the end and think, “Now what?” Or more accurately, “What were you even thinking here?”

When I wrote the first scene on the beach and there were bats flying in the dusky sky, I was pretty sure there was a cave. I mean, clearly, bats live in caves. But I had no idea when I mentioned those bats that there was also a dragon in the cave. And when I wrote the next scene in the dark of the cave, when I realized there was a dragon, I didn’t know anything about the dragon other than there was one. And it was much later when I realized they weren’t bats after all.

None of that was planned.

When I introduced the ermine character, I called him “Ermie” because I HATE naming characters. I wrote,

“He’s an ermine. Claims to be a royal prince of some country with a name we can’t pronounce, so we call him Ermie.”

I purposely made it ambiguous about whether it was the country or the ermine that had an unpronounceable name. And two weeks later, when Prince died and I realized what I’d written, I was stunned. Some things defy explanation. So I added a small tribute of my own toward the end of the letter V post and hoped it was subtle:

Her thoughts were interrupted when they arrived back at the cliff, where everyone greeted them with cheers and relief. Even Ermie was there, dashing rather frantically back and forth along the cliff edge, getting splashed by an occasional wave. He seemed to be watching Bubbie, now a mere speck on the horizon.

“Is he . . . turning purple around the edges?” Zoey asked.

Ferraro glanced at the ermine. “Only happens when he gets wet. You should see him when it rains.”

Sam diverted Zoey’s attention then, giving her a big hug. The girl was beside herself with excitement now that she knew Zoey was safe.

Most of the “magic” in the story wasn’t planned either. It came about because I’d written myself into a tight spot and in retrospect needed something to make sense. It was like writing an outline in reverse.

And when I wrote the scene where Ferraro tells Zoey to leave, I sat here shaking my head over how stupid that was. I mean, I’m telling a story solely from her point of view and I just ejected her from the story. It was insane. Who does this?

My daughter was reading along and would text me after reading each installment during her commute home from work. After that scene, she said:

DD: NO!!
DD: I do NOT approve!!

Me: What?

DD: You know what!!!!
DD: I suppose this is one way to tell that your story is having the desired effect on readers

Me: I’m delighted that you care about these made-up people!

DD: Sam better stand up to Mr Meanie-head

Me: Maybe Mr Meanie-head had his reasons…

DD: Like what?

Me: I have no idea.

And I honestly had no idea. I then had to come up with something that would not only explain his reaction, but that would not make him look like a total jerk and would also convince Zoey to stay.

Geez. Talk about pressure.

The entire story was full of situations like that where I just wrote my way into it and hoped for the best, trusted that I could make sense of it later. There was no way to go back and edit things after the fact or delete stuff that didn’t make sense or foreshadow anything.

As nightmarish as all that was, it wasn’t the truly scary part. The worst part was that I had no idea what came next. Several people commented on the cliffhanger aspect of the posts, said they couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Yeah, I was right there with you, wanting to know.

I did know, almost from the beginning, how it was going to end. I knew the “twist” ending, which was the premise for the story. And that helped. Except when I worried that people were going to hate it. I’m still worried that people hated it.

I almost always finished writing a scene with no idea of where things were going from there. No idea of how I’d resolve some ridiculous new problem I’d just created on the fly. I didn’t know from one day to the next whether I could salvage things or I’d have to just give up and say, “Sorry, everyone. I screwed up and can’t see how to fix it. There’s no more story.” It was terrifying and exhilarating, telling a story in real time, in public.

I have to say, this is perhaps not the best way to write a story.

Please note: No one over at A to Z suggested this was a good way to write fiction. That not-so-bright idea is all on me.

In terms of the A to Z Challenge, I can’t say I regret taking part. It was exhausting and terrifying and relentless. Never have I looked forward to Sundays with quite so much desperation. The writing wasn’t even the time-consuming part. It was the editing and polishing needed before posting. The constant focus and thinking: now what?

There were times the need to use an alphabetical prompt word was helpful. It added things to the story that might not otherwise have been there. Like the Chinese junk for J. And there were times it was truly inconvenient. Some of the letters were just difficult, especially since I was writing a story and the word had to fit in.

At times, it seemed like the month would never end, that I’d run out of story ideas long before the 30th. But toward the end, I discovered the opposite problem. There was too much story left and not enough time to do it justice. So, for those of you interested in reading the final version once I finish, don’t be surprised if the last half is significantly . . . expanded. And yes, there will be more dragon.

Looking back at the month, the effort served a purpose and was a great incentive for me at a time when I sorely needed it. I’m grateful for that. I am so damn glad I did it. Would I do it again? Too soon to say. Ask me again next year.

But strictly as a strategy for writing fiction? No. I can’t say using the A to Z Challenge is the best approach for writing a novel. Don’t do that. Unless, you know, you’re hopelessly stuck and doubting your abilities and on the verge of giving up on writing entirely. In that case, I highly recommend it.

 

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A to Z Challenge: Z

ZPart Z, the last in a continuing story from A to Z  [link to the beginning]

Zoey was drifting in the void, trying to hold on. She wasn’t ready to go, didn’t want it to be over.

She heard his voice calling her through the darkness and fought even harder not to let go. She didn’t want to leave this place. Not yet.

“Zoey love, are you all right?”

No, she wasn’t. She wasn’t ready for it to end.

“Zoey, c’mon. It’s okay, let go.”

She sighed and opened her eyes, giving in to the inevitable, and smiled up at the handsome familiar face leaning over her.

 

EDIT TO ADD:

This used to be a post containing 1750 words and the ending of a story. I’ve deleted almost all of those words for reasons I talk about HERE.

The TL;DR version is that I hated this rough draft ending and have changed it, drastically, in the expanded and edited version of the story I’m planning to self-publish. If you’re new to reading this blog and haven’t yet read the regrettable ending, I don’t want you to get that old version stuck in your head.

Tough decision, really tough, because it seems like a giant tease to delete it (even though it was available here for almost three weeks). But I’d rather do that than leave any more readers disappointed with an ending that just doesn’t work.

If you’d like to be notified via email when the revised story is available, you can sign up here for my mailing list.

 

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A to Z Challenge: Y

YPart Y, in a continuing story from A to Z  [link to the beginning]

Zoey vaulted over the edge and scrambled down the cliff, reaching Anton within seconds.

“Damn you, Ferraro, don’t be dead. I won’t forgive you.”

She checked his pulse and it was strong, he was still breathing. But he was out cold and his shoulder was bleeding. She felt around the back of his head and it was bloody, so he had a head wound. She hoped it was from the fall and not a bullet.

She pulled his shirt away from the shoulder wound. It was high, the bullet hadn’t hit bone.

She touched her comm unit, “Man down. Target taken. All report.” There was no reply. She repeated her command. Nothing. The thing was dead. She realized she hadn’t heard any chatter since before the scene in the library. Damn it. The kidnappers must be using jammers.

She hadn’t taken the time to get a replacement phone from Ferraro and was now regretting her oversight. She’d bet money those things couldn’t be jammed. She had to go after Sam, now, but couldn’t just leave Ferraro unconscious and oozing blood all over the beach. No telling when the next high tide might rush in.

She needed help. Even as she had the thought, she felt a hard shape in his shirt pocket. His phone.

Great, except it wasn’t programmed to work for her. She pulled it out anyway and brushed sand off the face. It was slightly larger than the one he’d given her, but also lighter weight. Then she frowned. There was a slight dent in the screen. From a bullet? If so, it had saved his life. What was the thing made of anyway?

She was absently running her finger over the dent, her mind racing through options, when the screen suddenly lit up. Was it a glitch of being hit or was it working?

“Call Benton,” she said. It chimed.

He answered. “Yes, sir.”

“It’s Zoey. Ferraro’s been shot. He’s unconscious, on the beach. They took Sam and I’m going after them.”

The man didn’t even blink. “Go. On my way.”

Zoey bent down and pressed a quick kiss to Ferraro’s forehead. “Don’t you dare die before I get back.” And then she ran to the beach shed.

She hoped someone had retrieved the jet ski and put it back inside. Apparently they had, but they’d also locked the door. And Zoey had no idea where the key was– probably at the bottom of the cove after her misadventure with the squid. She could break the window, but it was too small for even a child.

“Damn it,” she said, slamming her fist into the door. “I need a key.”

She heard a chime and looked down at the phone she still held. There was a small golden bar of light extending from one end, maybe an inch long. She stared at it. “No. There’s no way.” But she grabbed the lock with one hand and pushed the bar of light into it like a key.

The lock clicked and fell open. Either Ferraro’s phone was malfunctioning or– “Are you programmed to accept my commands?” she asked, not expecting an answer.

A message popped up on the screen: Yes, Ms. Prescott.

Well then. “We’re going to have a talk about this later, Ferraro,” she muttered under her breath, strapping his phone to her arm.

She pulled the jet ski over the sand and into the water, checking the charge meter as she raced over the cove in the dark. Just under twenty percent. She hoped it was enough.

She’d been up close with the huge white rocks and knew the jet ski wasn’t going to fit between them. They were more like a solid wall under the surface, no breaks. She could see the dark outline of a ship further out. She needed to get to it, fast, and it was too far from the rocks to swim.

The tide was high enough that the powerful motorized raft had skimmed between the tops of two boulders. She didn’t think the ski had that kind of power. She was going to have to jump and hope the landing didn’t destroy the machine. Or kill her.

She calculated the angle and velocity as she raced in a tight circle, creating a wake. Then she took a deep breath and headed full speed straight at the space between two rocks, lifting up with all her strength at the last minute, using the water as a springboard.

She cleared the rocks and shoved the ski to one side just before she hit the water, hard. Losing teeth on impact with the handlebars was not in her plan. She swam over and got back on the ski, ignoring the ache in her shoulder, racing toward the ship that was still anchored a ways out.

They’d had plenty of time to make way. Why weren’t they moving? Was there a problem with Sam? She’d been limp in the raft, so they’d either drugged her or knocked her out. Had they miscalculated and hurt her badly?

She came alongside and secured the ski as best she could, using a mooring line that hadn’t been coiled properly. Sloppy, she thought. These people might be deadly, but they were careless.

She quietly climbed over the rail and hid in shadows, listening to a small group of heavily armed men gathered several yards away, engaged in a heated argument.

“I say we take the easy money, same as always.”

“The client promised more, we just need to hide the girl. Couple weeks, he said.”

“I don’t trust him. Don’t seem right in the head.”

“Cap’n come around yet?” a third voice asked.

“Still out cold. That bastard Ferraro throws a mean punch.”

“I still say we sell her like the others. The sister offered a bonus.”

“Cap’n won’t like it. He made a deal with the brother,” said the third man. He almost sounded reasonable.

“Money’s money. I’ll take your share, you don’t want it.”

“His share of nothin’ ain’t going to buy you a single pint, idiot.”

Zoey clenched her fists, still furious about the cousins’ treachery. She hoped they killed each other and saved everyone the trouble.

It sounded like the argument wasn’t ending any time soon. She needed to find Sam and get her off the boat. She made her way across the deck and to the hatch, figuring the girl was being held below.

She paused at the bottom of the ladder, not sure where to start. It wasn’t a huge ship, but time was a factor. She heard a faint tapping and smiled. Morse code. Zoey was going to have to reconsider her stance that Sam spent too much time with lessons.

Sam had been dumped in a cramped storage room, gagged, her hands tied. Her eyes flashed with rage until she realized who had entered the space. Zoey saw the bruise and swore softly, but gave thanks the girl hadn’t been drugged.

Zoey quickly freed her, whispering to her to keep quiet.

Sam let out a small sob. “Zoey, I’m so scared. They were t-talking about s-selling me.”

“Shhh, Sam, it’s okay. I’m going to get you out of here.”

They made their way back on deck and Zoey lifted Sam over the rail and helped her onto the jet ski.

“Sam, you know this thing can only carry one of us.”

“I’ve never ridden one, Zoey.”

“It’s easy, I’ll show you. I want you to steer toward the big white rocks, okay? Wait there for help.” Zoey was certain her team wasn’t far behind at this point.

“What about you?” Sam’s voice was low but frantic.

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. You can do this.”

Sam threw her arms around Zoey in a rather desperate hug. “You be careful,” she said, her voice all quavery.

“I always am,” Zoey reassured her. “Now get moving, nice and easy. You’ve got this.”

Zoey stood there watching for a few seconds, making sure Sam was underway. Then she climbed back up over the rail. She was going to sink this heap and every bastard on it.

The crew was still arguing, passing around a bottle of whisky now. A few were sounding a bit subdued, but a couple of them were getting more belligerent. She heard the voice of the third guy, trying to convince them to wait for the captain to come around.

Zoey made her way below, looking for anything she could use as fuel. She found what she was looking for in the hold. And then some.

Holy shit, she thought, staring at the crate full of automatic weapons she’d just opened. She opened another crate full of military grade explosives. This sure complicated things. Who were these guys?

If she had her team, they’d apprehend these idiots and recover the cargo. But she was on her own and didn’t have time for that. She unstrapped the phone from her arm. Best she could do was record the evidence before she destroyed it.

“Camera,” she whispered. The phone obliged and she took several shots. She hit “send,” hoping the images were going somewhere she could find them later.

Now she needed a detonator. She hadn’t seen any in the crates. Either these guys were too smart to store them with the explosives or too stupid to know how the stuff worked. Or their supplier was too clever to give them both. She’d bet on the latter.

She’d exhausted the possibilities and was thinking she’d have to load a couple of the guns and shoot her way out. Those odds weren’t in her favour, but it was looking like her only choice.

“I don’t suppose you have a handy detonator in there,” she murmured to the phone, only half kidding.

The screen lit up and a message appeared: You mean like this?

It flashed again and an image popped up. Zoey just stared, not sure at first she was really seeing what she thought she was seeing. How was this even possible? She touched the screen and two small metal prongs extended from the base of the phone, the screen changing to show a timing device.

“Ferraro, I’m falling hard for you here,” she whispered, and got to work. She paused just before she set the timer, realizing this option would destroy the phone.

Another message flashed, briefly, as if it read her mind: It’s just a phone. I have more.

Then the screen went back to showing the timer. Zoey gave a soft laugh and set it for two minutes, figuring that gave her enough time to get off the boat and away from the blast. Her finger was poised over the final screen to arm it when she heard a soft voice from behind her.

“Appreciate if you’d hold off on that, brat.”

She was so startled, her finger touched the screen.

“Alex,” she hissed, “what the hell are you doing?”

“Cleaning up a little inventory problem.”

“You’re on a fucking mission here?” she said, furious. “And you didn’t think I needed to know?”

“Classified,” he said, giving her a familiar cocky grin.

She swore under her breath. “I am going to kick your ass, sailor.”

“Did you just arm that thing?”

She nodded and looked at the screen. “One minute, fifty.”

“Plenty of time.”

“Did your guys get Sam?”

“Jake and Marcus have her.” He held up one hand, listening to an earpiece. “Roger that. Got a change of plans here, hoss. Ninety seconds and this thing blows. Get everyone clear in sixty. That means you too, Zach. Out.”

He reached over and ruffled her hair. She was going to kill him and then kick his ass.

“C’mon, brat,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”

They came up on deck to the remnants of a fistfight. The bad guys were losing, but there were a few stragglers. Alex shoved a life jacket at her. “Put this on and stay behind me.”

“Oh please,” she mumbled, shrugging into it. Zoey turned in time to see bad guy number three coming up behind her brother. She laid him out with a kick behind the knees and had his combat knife in her hand before the guy knew what hit him.

“Jesus, Zoey,” said Alex, shaking his head. “He’s one of mine.”

The man levered up off the deck into a fighting stance and growled.

“Farley, you hit my sister, you’re a dead man. Time to go.”

Zoey grinned and tossed the knife back to Farley and the three of them took off, side by side, and went over the rail at a dead run.

She felt the first bullet hit the back of the life jacket. No problem, it hit at an angle and missed her. The second one grazed the back of her thigh and stung like a son of a bitch. The third hit her left biceps. That was going to be a problem.

She heard a stream of vicious curses from the men on either side of her just before they all hit the water. She let the momentum of the dive carry her a good distance and surfaced to the sight of flashlight beams searching the water, hard male voices calling her name. She gave a sharp whistle and, when the beams hit her, pointed at the boat and then her wrist. The count she’d been keeping in her head was ticking down.

She resumed swimming, hard and fast, away from the boat. Saw her brother’s team doing the same. She was tiring too quickly, slowing down, and knew she was losing blood. Damn it. She wasn’t far enough away.

She executed a shallow dive, fighting the life jacket’s buoyancy, and kept swimming. The blast came exactly when she knew it would, muffled through the water. She felt debris rain down around her and swam harder, holding her breath.

The next time she surfaced, she was fading fast. She paused, glanced back at the glowing wreckage and, in spite of her injuries, felt a huge rush of satisfaction wash over her. It was done.

All the bad guys had been exposed and defeated. Sam was safe. Anton was alive, she could feel it. Her brothers had backed her up, just like they’d been doing since the day the Prescotts took her in.

“Mission accomplished,” she said softly.

She drifted in and out of consciousness, bobbing in the waves, weightless and detached. She felt the warm glow of sea glass on her chest and heard the slow flapping of massive wings. She smiled as the magnificent dragon swooped down, claws extended, and then felt herself being plucked from the sea and soaring through the air.

She came to again on the hard black sand beach, people crowded around. She searched for the one face she wanted, needed to see. She had to tell him.

“Ms. Prescott. I would be most grateful, in future, if you would take care to avoid all these little problems.”

Oh, that wonderful voice.

“No more problems, Anton,” she managed, her voice weak. “Just an answer. Yes.

He lifted her gently, cradling her in his strong arms, his mouth close to her ear. His quietly fervent words for her alone. “With you, Zoey love, it’s always been yes.”

And then there was nothing but total blackness.

Y is for Yes

 

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Filed under A to Z Challenge, Anton and Zoey, just for fun