Thursday, February 26, 2015

Snippet: Wooden medusa

I have oral surgery tomorrow. Nothing serious, but I'll be uncomfortable and doped up on painkillers for a few days. I tell myself it's better than dentures later. Also, they promised the drug for the surgery would have a mild "memory loss" effect, which sounds like a good deal to me. I'm positive I don't want to remember anything about skin harvesting for gum grafts. Shiver.

Positive thoughts, positive thoughts! Allegiance is on TV tonight, and I'm enjoying the show as I rarely do anything on TV. Only wish is came on earlier than 10 PM.

Allegiance (2015) Poster
A rookie CIA analyst doesn't know that members of his family are part of a Russian sleeper cell.

Big Hero 6 is out on DVD, so we're going to watch it Saturday. Family movie time is good.

Anyway, here's a snippet of Bramble Burn while I'm still lucid:

They waited for her, stepping out of a ruined apartment building to block the way to the park. Five young men and a woman, all of them lean and armed with weighted clubs and knives. One of them had a loaded crossbow.
The leader had a gun.
Juniper thought about the rules for dealing with wild animals. With wolves, it was climb a tree. With bears, one should play dead, and with bulls, it was run.
She couldn’t do any of that.
“Here’s how it’s gona be,” the leader said. Tattooed, of medium height and mocha skin, he wore jeans, a wife-beater tank and a mean expression. “You’re going to pay us not to hurt you, or we’re going to mess you up.” The tattoos continued up his bald head.
She raised her brows and glanced at her tree, only five hundred yards away. He must have felt safe in the middle of concrete and stone. Twix stood ominously still under her, his ears pricked. He snorted softly, steel muscles sliding under his skin.
The man with the crossbow shifted, his eyes on the Black Adder. He didn’t notice the roots pushing through the concrete, twisting loosely around his feet.
Fear made the pulse pound in her throat, but anger kept her centered. She brushed a thumb over her staff, and it flickered with power.
The thug drew his gun. “Don’t be…ah!” He screamed as the roots attacked, anchoring his feet, twining around his knees. Too late he realized he was trapped. Fury flared in his eyes as he raised his gun. It roared, and Juniper screamed as blood bloomed on her inner arm. It felt like fire, and her magic ripped into him in retaliation.
Green light surrounded him as the roots holding him wrapped him tight, fusing, warping into an angry, fat cherry tree. The trunk was a large, bark-covered man’s face with snarled beard-roots and branches like a twisted crown. One by one, his gang was swallowed whole, buried alive in bark, petrified like victims of a wooden medusa.
She rubbed at her vibrating bracelet. “Yeah, yeah.” She glared at the trees and headed for the oak. Now she’d have to pass them every time she left the park.

On the bright side, so would everyone else. She didn’t feel good about it, but her arm reminded her she’d been defending herself. Nobody could fault her for that.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bramble Burn is up to 147 pgs. I'm toying with submitting this one to Montlake, purely for diversification. Advertising isn't something I enjoy, and they have people who do that, among other things. There's no way to know what will make more money long term, but I'm at the point where I can't do everything on my own all the time.

I'm grateful to whoever invented epi-pens, as they saved my bacon again last night. My wonderful husband was making steak for dinner and cut up the butternut squash for our roast butternut with bacon side, but he forgot to wash the squash first. I shouldn't have eaten any, but I didn't want to hurt his feelings and I love the dish.

That was not the smart thing to do. Took coffee, oral allergy meds and herbal stuff, but I still needed the pen. Tonight I'll crash when it wears off.

It added an extra sweetness to our good morning, that I was around to enjoy it.

In other news, I found I can use gluten free acetaminophen without asthma. Very cool. Also, following the Stanford Diet (low fodmap) my doc recommended has nicely settled my stomach, plus my belt is two notches tighter. Pretty cool.

Snippet: human hazards

Grigori looked over his shoulder as he followed. “Do you think that will hold them?”
“Time will tell. I hope so,” she said, a bit tired. Good thing she planned to hang out in her tree today. She could set up the greenhouse and build up energy for tomorrow; she’d need it.
Apparently the monsters felt she’d had enough fun, or the tree’s new defenses were doing their job. She reached the tree with no more problems and unloaded her stuff.
When she looked up from putting the last bag on the kitchen floor, Kjetil was gone.
She looked at the bracelet he’d given her, running her thumb over the medical insignia. She still wasn’t sure what to think about him or the pack’s interest.
She put away her stuff.
“I’m going to work on the stoves and set up your lamps,” Grigori offered. “I’ll put the beans in ziplock baggies in the cooler for now.”
She nodded absently and opened the door to the upstairs. The greenhouse shutters were open, the space flooded with light. Rows of raised wooden beds filled with soil awaited her attention. She opened one of the packs she’d brought from her farm, sorting bulbs and seeds.
She started a salad bar first, filling it with lettuce, greens, onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and herbs. Squash, peas and corn had their own space, popcorn, sorghum and sweet potatoes another. She planted turnips, potatoes, carrots and cabbage, staggering their rate of growth to give her a continuous harvest, then got to work on her cash crops.
Truffles were expensive, so she started them first, tweaking the soil bed so that oak roots grew in the bed and inoculating them with the fungi. While she was at it she added black morel and portabello mushroom spawn, then moved on to coffee beans.
The cocoa seeds would become small trees, so she gave them a place of honor and started vanilla bean orchids nearby, forming a lattice for the vines, smiling as the sprouting plants filled the air with the scent of growing things. It had taken a long time to gather seeds for the tropical plants, and she’d had to learn how to properly ferment and process some of them. Each plant had special needs, and she loved learning how to care for them from start to finish, producing a superior product. She might live in an armored tree, but to her, this was the true magic.
She had saffron and strawberries sprouting by time Grigori poked his head into the greenhouse.
“Hey, I have the stove ready…” He blinked, looking around with awe. “You did all this? Just now?”
Despite her fatigue, she grinned. “Like it? I haven’t started the orange tree yet, but I figure fruit can wait.”
“Wow. I guess you won’t starve.”
“Nope. Want some veggies for your mom?” She formed a woven basket, grimacing as her bracelet vibrated in warning. Fine, fine. She’d cool it for the night. She filled the basket with cherry tomatoes and basil, adding greens for her own dinner. She’d had a busy day, and salad with fresh bread sounded good.
“Yeah. She’s always up for groceries,” he said gratefully.
She handed him the basket to him and went downstairs, happy to see he had the hobo stoves set up. A pan of steaming water was ready, so she made tea, suddenly ravenous. “You want some salad? Or do you need to take off?” By the light, it was early afternoon, but she didn’t want him wandering in the dark.
“You don’t have to eat salad. I can take you to the Indian place I told you about. You’d like the samosas, and they were excited to meet you. They think you’re a celebrity.”
She looked at the salad she’d been about to prepare. He looked so happy at the idea of samosas (whatever they were), she reluctantly decided to give the place a try. Besides, she’d get tired of salad soon enough. She put the food away and loaded the chilled beans and tomatoes in a saddle bag.

It turned out that samosas were fried pastry filled with spicy meat and potatoes, and she liked them. She still hated curry and chai tea, but the grilled chicken and naan bread were good. She even liked the thin cashew cookies, but she refused to eat rose petal anything. If she wanted flowers, she’d eat her hedge.
Mr. and Mrs. Chandra were gracious, and she liked them. Natives of India, Mrs. Chandra had a dot in the middle of her forehead and wore traditional garb. Her husband was short, dark, and had a mustache.
Juniper gave them a canister of oil and promised to try the cookies Mrs. Chandra would make. The lady seemed to think Juniper needed mothering, and she clucked over Grigori like someone who’d seen him grow.
“She’s friends with my mom,” he admitted sheepishly while the lady attended to other customers.
Juniper nodded and let him negotiate a trade of saffron threads for lunches, an equal number for both of them. A little saffron went a long way, and if she worked it right, the owners might become distributers for her.
“I like this deal,” Grigori said as he hefted the pack he’d borrowed from her. He didn’t live far away, and it would be dark soon. “Don’t plant any cherries on the way home.”
“Yes, mom.”
His eyes flashed with good humor. “And don’t talk to strangers.”
She gave him a little shove and mounted Twix. “Remember, I’ll be busy tomorrow. Do whatever you’re doing when you’re not bugging me.”
She was full, so she kept Twix to a fast walk on the way home. The early evening was pleasantly warm, the light golden, with a hint of sunset.  She spared the cherry trees a glance, but sensed the trees were doing their job to plug the hole.
This time the hazards were human.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Snippet: It's a gift.

“May I?” Grigori examined the silver bracelet with the simple medic alert logo. “I’ve seen these on TV. They advertise them to old people who’ve ‘fallen and can’t get up’. Is it a gift or a loan?”
“It’s a gift,” Kjetil said with a glint in his eye. “From the F&R, in appreciation for our yard. We figured we owed you for that.”
Juniper shifted uneasily. A personal gift from him would be problematic, hinting at an interest she wasn’t prepared to return. A gift from the department she could handle, but she would feel the need to repay it. Maybe she could rejuvenate their front yard, too. They could do with some flowering trees.
Grigori wiggled the bracelet temptingly. “How many times have you passed out in the last week? This will help, and Captain Romance here won’t have to come to your rescue.” It was clear he was used to negotiating with younger siblings.
Kjetil growled. His menacing stare pinned Grigori, warning him to back down. Whatever his motives, he wasn’t going to let the younger man challenge him.
Grigori bared his teeth, but he dropped his eyes.
Juniper held up a hand. She hated confrontations, and the wolf was making her nervous. She hated to admit it, but Grigori was right. Given time, she might be able to find her limits without help, but she was under pressure now and would push herself to the limit. She needed the bracelet. “I appreciate the gesture. I accept, on the condition that I improve your front yard when I go to your barbeque.”
Kjetil smiled. “Can you give us a magic oak tree? Your acorn oil is a big hit.”
She blinked. “Um, I’m not sure. I was thinking a nut tree, or some flowering stuff.”
Kjetil shrugged. “That’s fine, too.”
They didn’t talk much on the way to the oak. They approached her cherry trees (there were twelve of them now). There was a crack in the side of the road that hadn’t been there before, about six by two feet, and it was glowing pink.
Great. Had she stirred something with her cherry trees? That wasn’t good. She glanced at Kjetil to comment and flinched.
Kjetil had shifted. His face was a meld of wolf and man, his body covered in fur. He was unmistakably deadly, his new form mute, but much stronger and faster than a human, and armed with claws and teeth. Even the gangs would hesitate to take him on.
She looked away, uneasy. She’d known what he was, but there weren’t any weres where she was from. She reminded herself that he was the same person, but it didn’t help much. Her instincts screamed he was dangerous.
“It looks like a twa…er, lady bits,” Grigori said, looking suspiciously at the glowing crack. It was oozing pink fluid now, and the light pulsed ominously.
“Ew! Thanks, I needed that image,” she protested, and recoiled as things began to crawl from the slit. Pink, hairless and translucent, the things looked like a cross between a rat and a rabbit and were covered with slime. “Not good,” she protested, urging Twix back a step. His ears were twitching eagerly, and she was afraid he was thinking lunch. “Ick, Twix! You don’t any.”
One of the creatures looked at her with pink eyes and hissed. She backed up and it followed, and dropped as Kjetil shot it. The other rat things pounced and began to feast.
“I don’t like these,” Grigori said, machetes out. “Can you close the crack?”
“Let’s see.” She specialized in trees, not earth, but tree roots could move dirt. She gripped her staff and sent the roots through the soil, testing the size of the crack. It was deep, far deeper than the root system, but she didn’t think it appeared because of anything she’d done. Planting her trees might have been a bit of intuition, or maybe Bramble Burn was giving her a subconscious heads-up. She began to weave roots around the crack.
Rats poured out the slit, dying as Kjetil fired steady shots into the mass. Some of them tumbled back into the crack, others were cannibalized. There were so many.
“Now would be good,” Grigori said urgently, giving the restless Twix space. He couldn’t do anything unless the mass of rats reached them, and if they did, he would have to run before they overwhelmed him.
“Yes,” she murmured, her mind on the roots. The ground was hard, and whatever spawned the slit resisted, so she poured on the coals. Her staff pulsed, glowing with amber circuits. She snarled and heaved, pulling the roots tight, tumbling dirt into the crack. Rocks and broken concrete crushed rats as roots twisted and wove, filling the slit with wood and power.
Juniper raised her head and took a deep breath, aware that sweat soaked her shirt. She felt Twix tense and tightened her legs, barely keeping her seat as he swooped and grabbed a twitching rat, gobbling it down like a naughty dog caught slurping compost.
“Twix!” she shouted, but it was too late. “Stupid beast. That better not be poisonous.” There was no point in stopping him from grabbing another, but she forced him to walk toward the park as he chewed.
Grigori looked over his shoulder as he followed. “Do you think that will hold them?”

“Time will tell. I hope so,” she said, a bit tired. Good thing she planned to hang out in her tree today. She could set up the greenhouse and build up energy for tomorrow; she’d need it.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

I'm going to watch Jupiter Ascending. Even if the plot reeks, by all accounts the visuals are gorgeous, and it's a night out with a friend.

We're experimenting with swapping canola and light olive oil for the coconut oil in our homemade chocolates. The first hit of olive oil is great, with a mildly bitter finish. Canola is pleasant but light. When chilled they are very alike, but they won't set up like coconut oil. They are soft, even when frozen, and would make great truffle filling.

It was also a nice reminder of why sorbet benefits from oil. I had a yummy rhubarb sorbet yesterday that was wonderfully smooth and refreshing.

Snippet: person of interest

They stopped at the hardware store and she made arrangements with the chatty owner to pick up Twix’s food last. She also traded an oil pod for a pair of work gloves and  looked at the camp stoves.
“Why don’t you just make a fireplace in your tree?” Grigori demanded. “Anyone who can coat a tree in metal can make a wood stove, for that matter.”
“I don’t know how to make a stove, and I’m afraid I’d burn down my tree or die of smoke poisoning. We had a neighbor who lost their house from a chimney fire.”
“Ask that F&R dude how to make one. He likes you.”
She wrinkled her nose and calculated how much it would take to buy propane. “I’m not going there.”
“Look, I can make you a hobo stove out of a gallon tin can for now. Save the bucks for food; I know you’re not loaded.”
“Oh? How?”
He looked over her worn clothes, nodding to the peeling sole of her boot. “You need to replace those, and eventually you’ll want heat in your tree. The winters get cold, and it’s no fun huddling in sweaters. You can ask the cute fire girl how to make a stove.”
“She’s too old for you.”
“Whatever. I’ll make the hobo stove for you today; it will probably last longer than the propane junker. You can buy the can of beans; Mom likes baked beans, but chili will do. Do you have a cooking pot? We can make one out of another can if you like.”
“What’s a hobo stove?”
The store sold a limited amount of bulk canned goods, so Grigori traced a rectangle on the bottom of a can. “You cut out a hole for the sticks and make a row of vent holes on the top. The pan sits on top of the can like a little stove, and the fire cooks your food. Slick, huh?”
It sounded chintzy, but she couldn’t argue with cheap. “Don’t make me regret this,” she warned, selecting a small pot and a frying pan, and wicks for homemade pickle jar lamps. At least she could use acorn oil for the lamp. She bought trail mix, jerky and some dehydrated camper’s food over Grigori’s protests. “I know it’s expensive, but sometimes I have to eat and I won’t have time or energy for cooking.”

Honestly, he nagged like an old woman.
She packed her stuff into Twix’s saddle bags and headed to the grocery, where she picked up ice, staples and some delicious smelling bread. She didn’t worry about anyone stealing her stuff or Twix while she was inside, since no one in their right mind bothered a Black Adder.
She handed Grigori a carton of juice and a doughnut while she ate hers. “You’ll have to jog on the way back in. I don’t want to linger when I’m hauling stuff home.”
“Maybe you’d like an escort,” a man said, and she turned to scowl at Kjetil. He didn’t have the rifle today, but he did have two guns and a tactical knife. His black t-shirt and blue jeans made her think he was off duty. “Are you following me?”
“Yes,” he said without embarrassment. “I talked with one of our EMTs, and she had an idea. Thanks to her, I have a solution to your fainting problem.” He showed her a bracelet. “It’s a medic alert bracelet that monitors your vital signs. It will buzz you when you’re approaching your limit.”
Juniper looked at it dubiously. “It looks like a tracking device.”
“You could think like that. You could also assume that we’re already keeping tabs on your location. You’re a Person of Interest. Get over it.”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Snippet: Self-defense comes in many forms.

He nodded. “What about the locals? You’ve been lucky so far, but what will you do when they approach you?”
“I take it you have a plan.” A man like him always did, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear it. It would involve doing something for her own good, something she might not be inclined to do.
He topped off her coffee. Too late, she remembered the wolves tended to be dominant. Feeding was something a dominant did for someone under their care. Did he view her as someone he had to take care of? That could cause problems.
“The Pack is very interested in the possibility of your success. If you pull this off, there would be a large forest in the middle of the city, perfect for those of us who live and work here. We would pay for the privilege of training here.”
She looked at him skeptically. “You want to play in Bramble Burn? Even if I pull this off, it will never be the safest forest. We’re in the middle of a magic well; anything can spawn here.”
“That’s what makes it perfect. We don’t want civilized; we need a touch of wild. Hunting monsters would be a pleasure for us and a bonus for you.” He waved a hand. “But that’s for later. We’re concerned that without help, you might not survive. We’d like to offer that help.”
She sighed. It was way too early for wheeling and dealing, but at least there was coffee. She stepped back and waved them away from the bar. “I see this is going to take a while. I want a seat.” She pulled three bar stools from the floor, one after the other. They were formed of a column of twisted tree roots and coated in a light resin for durability. She formed a thick layer of spongy cork on top for comfort and carried a seat to the opposite side of the bar so she could comfortably look at her guests. The whole thing only took a couple of minutes, and a trickle of power. “Proceed.”
Her guests studied the stools and cautiously complied.
Mia wiggled experimentally. “These are comfortable.”
“Thanks. You were saying?” She looked at Kjetil. She hoped he was thinking about how easy it was for her to shape wood, and about what else she might be able to do with it…as a weapon, for instance. She wasn’t helpless, and she wanted him to realize that as he tried to bargain with her.
He nodded respectfully, his eyes warm with appreciation. He got it. “As you’ve demonstrated, you can do amazing things. If you let us provide security, you can concentrate on doing that, and not on whether or not something has you in its sights.”
Okay, that wasn’t nearly as patronizing at it could have been. “What do you want in exchange? Free access to my property?”
He shook his head. “You would designate the times and area you would allow visitors. We would have a lawyer draw up papers.”
Ugh. Lawyers. He’d just made the idea unpalatable. “I’m going to have to think about that. Meanwhile, I have stuff I need to do.” She slid off the stool and gathered the empty containers. “Breakfast was great. I appreciate your effort.”
He stood, taking the hint. “Will we see you at the station? We’re having a barbeque in the back yard soon. You’re invited.”
She thought about it. Food was good, and so far the firefighters seemed like a decent bunch. She wasn’t super social, but she wouldn’t get far in life if she didn’t make connections. “Sure. Grab a couple of acorn oil pods on the way out as my contribution.”
He raised a brow. “The cooks will like that.”
Juniper saddled Twix after they left, buckling on saddle bags. She had a list, but she’d see what city prices were and prioritize for food and cooking gear. She could live (reluctantly) without books, but a chef knife was essential.
“Hi! I got you a deal.” Grigori strode up, perky and alert. “I got an Indian place called the Kebab Palace to agree to use your oil in exchange for free meals. It’s owned by Mr. and Mrs. Chandra, and one of them is always there.”
Juniper winced. She hated Indian food. “I’m not fond of curry.”
He shrugged. “Take what you can get, I say. Also, the hardware store will trade oil for Black Adder chow. Ask for Bob, the owner, and tell him I sent you.”
She nodded. “Helpful. I appreciate that.”     
“Mom says she likes the oil,” he said, handing her a sack of cookies. She used it to make these, and she likes it as well as butter. If you want, she’ll take some to work and tell her clients about acorn oil, and I’ll sell it for a cut.”
“Nice! I like it. I’d appreciate a sample of the things she makes with it, so I can see for myself how they turn out.” She put the sack in her house, taking two for the road. His mom was a good baker.
Juniper had checked up on him. The salon owner said he was a decent kid, a hard worker. His human mom had five kids and his dad had run off, so the family could use the money. The mom spoke English heavily accented with Russian, but the salon owner said her clients liked her. She also told Juniper she should come in for a haircut.
“Were are we going?” Grigori picked two acorn pods and handed them to her as she approached Twix. Twix was watching the tall hedge that separated the Iron Oak from the rest of the park.
Juniper raised a hand and listened to the grunting, snorting noise. Whatever it was didn’t care for the thorns, but she would be careful as they left the park. There was nothing to stop whatever it was from leaving her property.
“What’s that for?” she accepted the oil absently as Grigori handed it to her, tucking them in her saddle bags.
“You might be able to make a trade,” he said, one eye on the hedge. He fell in beside her as she mounted and rode out the gate. “You shouldn’t leave home without samples.”
“I’m not an Avon lady,” she grumbled. It wouldn’t do to become complacent; this was a bad neighborhood, and not just because of monsters. Derelict buildings were everywhere, crumbling to dust, and the slums didn’t breed softness. She hadn’t been approached by a gang yet, but it was a matter of time.
There might be a way to make the trip safer, however. She fished a couple of cherry pits from her pocket and tossed them on a strip of weedy ground next to the crumbling concrete. She touched her staff and sent a pulse of power into the fruit. The seeds sprouted, rapidly growing into young cherry trees loaded with ripe fruit. A wooden sign dangled from each tree that said, “Cherries.”
“You know this is gang territory, right? Why would you stop to plant trees?” Grigori didn’t say she was nuts, but he clearly wondered.
She nudged Twix. “Self-defense comes in many forms.” The trees would magically replicate until they formed a predetermined row. Next time she would plant apples, and so on.
“So what? You think if you give the gangs free fruit, they’ll leave you alone?” Grigori had a rapid speed walk, but it would be nice if he were mounted, too.
She smirked. “No. The people who think that way won’t move in until later, when the place is safer.”
“When will that be?” he asked skeptically.

“I’m a farmer, not a fortuneteller. Wait and see.” She was a long range planner, but the trees would serve an immediate purpose, too. They might look innocent, but the trees would be as much help as her oak in a fight.