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.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Been distracted with stuff, but cranking out pages. Made baked chicken drumsticks marinated in Frank's Hot Sauce, salt, rice flour and homemade Ranch seasoning. Family devoured every crumb, even the leftover skins from the thighs that had crisped to crackling brown goodness. The youngest sat there with a fork, scraping the crumbs from the pan, and who could blame him? The meat was almost buttery.

He's started asking if I'll ship him food when he moves to Alaska. I laughed and told him I'd show him how to cook. The cookbook I'm working on is for my family and friends, because taking knowledge to the grave is stupid and selfish. Unless it's a world destroying artifact, give your kids the gift of your best chocolate cake, for Pete's sake! What good's it going to do you when you're dead?

I'll put the cookbook up for sale, because that's what I do and I love to share. Everyone should have delicious chicken in their life.

Snippet: Making it up as I go

“There’s a hedge of flowers around the tree,” Mia reported the next day. She was looking out the one-way glass of the windows, and she sounded strained.
Juniper yawned. By the light, it was just after dawn. “Roses and non-suckering blackberries. I haven’t decided what to do for a gate yet, so I just left the gap.”
“You did that in your sleep?”
“It was just before. I needed something to relax me after the bug. You can go look at it if you like; I don’t sense any movement on the ground, but be careful.” She could feel the vibrations through the root network now, and it would come in handy as an early warning system.
She used the bathroom while Mia went out, frowning at the thought of trail mix for breakfast. She needed to go the store and pick up supplies. She was calculating how much she could afford to spend when she felt a disturbance. Two sets of footsteps approached the tree, and a glance out the window showed Mia and Kjetil. He was carrying a paper bag and a thermos, so she let him in. There was a chance he had breakfast in there.
“I brought Danish, bacon, homemade rolls and plum jam. Can I come in?” Kjetil raised his brows enquiringly, for all the world like a casual friend. The Kevlar and rifle slung over his shoulder would have looked out of place, but this was Bramble Burn. Her visitors wouldn’t last long if they weren’t tough.
“I can be bought.” Juniper let him in and allowed him to set up shop at her counter, nearly drooling at the succulent smells. She accepted a paper cup of orange juice, chasing it with coffee. She was thirsty.
He handed her a paper plate as they stood around the counter, since she hadn’t made stools yet. “You look rested.”
“Yep. Gotta run errands, stock up today.” She made a happy sound as she crunched the bacon. She definitely needed to make an ice chest so she could store breakfast stuff. An insulated box with ice on top and cool stuff below, it would work like an old fashioned fridge. While she was at it, she needed a camp stove, too. Who knew when she would get electricity, if ever. The city might be reluctant to run it to Bramble Burn, and she couldn’t afford it yet, anyway. “Nice of you to let Mia babysit me, but you can relax now. I’m going to be fine.”
“You’re welcome. I hear you plan to ring the park with trees.”
“That’s the deal I made when I bought Bramble Burn. The city thought it was a long shot, but that’s why I could afford the land. Stabilizing the park was a condition of the sale.” She’d pointed out that not only was it bringing down the property value in the neighborhood, they’d already spent a fortune trying to stop the expansion. It was a smoking deal for both parties.
“Right. What’s your plan to deal with monsters?”

She frowned, hating to admit reality. “I’m making it up as I go.”

Friday, January 9, 2015

Snippet: playing with magic

“I always thought it would be cool to live in a tree,” Mia mussed. Even the elves build houses. I’ve never heard of anyone who could do this.”
Juniper went the counter and dished some noodles, slurping them expertly with disposable wooden chopsticks. She didn’t have much silverware, so maybe she’d make some of these and save money. For that matter, she could shape spoons, too. “Yep. Now I just have to do it a hundred times or so.”
“What! That’s crazy. This tree nearly killed you twice. Why would you try it again?”
The food was really helping, but Juniper was still exhausted. “That’s how I’ll keep the Bramble from expanding. I’m going to pin it with trees. The roots should anchor the magic, keep it confined to the park.”
“Should?”
Juniper shrugged. She wouldn’t know until she tried. “None of the other trees will be as elaborate, and they won’t all be houses. This one had to be strong.” She didn’t want to become monster chow.
“It’s still dangerous. So much can go wrong, and there’s no guarantee you won’t push too far again. You need someone to watch you, or an alarm or something.”
Juniper tilted her head thoughtfully. “I don’t think a person could tell when I was running low on juice, but there might be a monitor of some kind. Not that I could pay for it yet.” She didn’t have a trash can yet, so she gathered up the empty cartons and took them to the wooden toilet. She tossed them in and told the tree to mulch them as it would any waste. Presto! It turned the paper into rich, odor free earth.
Mia had followed her, carrying an empty drink carton. “That’s incredible! Can I try?” She tossed the paper in and grinned when it mulched. “I’ve never been impressed by a toilet before.”
Juniper smirked and showed her a slot in the wall that produced a steady stream of soft, buff colored paper. “Then you’ll love the endless toilet paper. No more being trapped on the throne without a shred of dignity.”
Mia laughed. “That’s genius! Too bad you couldn’t market it.”
Pleased, Juniper returned to the bed and gestured for Mia to seat herself on the end, since she didn’t have any chairs yet. “Like I said, the money will be in stuff like ginseng and truffles. Do you know what truffles go for? Luckily, I can manipulate fungi and accelerate plant growth. I just have to find a market.”
Mia sat Indian style and listened intently. “So you really are a farmer.”
“Pretty much.”
Mia looked around, admiring the living walls and one-way window “glass”. “I guess you can grow any food you like. That will help the grocery bill.”
Juniper stifled a yawn. “Yeah, but I like bacon. Besides, grain needs to be cut, threshed and ground, and you have to bake the bread. I want to buy my bread, because I don’t have time to cook much if I’m growing trees. I’m a businesswoman, not a pioneer.”
“That makes sense. So it’s not “Bramble Burn, then world domination”?”
Juniper snorted. “You can keep the city. I’m a perfectionist, and trying to manage a city full of people would drive me crazy.” She suspected her answers would go farther than Mia, and that was fine. Everything she said was perfectly true.
She was replaying the conversation in her head as she drifted off, so it was on her mind when she sat up with a jolt at the tree’s alarm. At first she thought the city council might be after her, and she pictured men in suits waving paper at her, and her system flooded with cold fear. After a moment she realized something was burrowing under the roots.
She sagged in relief. Thank God, it was only a monster! Lawyers scared her.
Mia must have been a light sleeper, for she woke when Juniper sat up. She sounded very coherent for the wee hours of the night. “What is it?”
“Something’s under the tree. Just a minute.” Juniper focused on the roots and found a very large grub burrowing toward the floor. With a thought, she instructed the tree to squish it, and any of its friends that might visit. She lay back down. “We’re good. I took care of it.”

Since the windows were shuttered, it was pitch black, so she couldn’t see Mia’s face, but she heard the rustle and presumed Mia settled down. Juniper was awake now, and she thought about what small thing she could work on to help her sleep, something that would make the tree safer. She tinkered for a bit, and smiled as she drifted to sleep. Some people counted sheep; she played with magic.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Snippet: I can stay

My daughter turned 16 yesterday. All four of her friends interdependently bought her sketchbooks and art supplies. They were dismayed, so I laughed and said that it's good that her friends know her and what she likes, and praised them for being practical. Then they went outside to "hunt some orc", aka beat the orc pinata she made.
I bought her sparkly headbands and clothes. The girl likes bling.
My eldest son said later, "I'm just so happy all those girls are gone." The boys mostly hid in their room with the Xbox.
My oldest will be 18 this summer, and the youngest can get his driving permit this summer. I raised them, yet this still surprises me.



“I can stay,” Grigori offered.
“Let Mia stay,” Kjetil countered. “She’s a woman and you know her. She won’t mind at all, and I’ll stop bothering you.”
She flung an arm over her face. So much for privacy. “Fine! Whatever. But nobody else.” It was her property, and apparently horticulture was frowned on. What next? Was the city going to charge her with building code violations? Her head pounded in protest when she tried to ponder the implications, so she gave up.
Grigori waited until Kjetil left to make arrangements. “So, you want me to come back tomorrow?” He sounded miffed. He probably thought she should have let him stay, but really, how well did she know him?
Of course, she barely knew Mia, but she had to pick her battles. “Fine, but I don’t know what you’ll do yet.”
He shrugged. “I can get another car, maybe.” His eyes narrowed in calculation. “Or maybe I can find a way to sell your acorn oil. How much do you want for it?”
She sighed. Somebody save her from teenagers with work ethic. “Check the stores, see what cooking oil is going for.”
He left, already deep in thought; probably going over marketing strategies.
“Hello, Juniper! I hear we’re having a girl’s night. I hope you don’t mind, but I ordered takeout. It’s Korean, but we can get pizza if you prefer.” Mia shut the door behind her and put her jump bag on the kitchen floor and her big gun on the counter.
Juniper opened one eye. “Korean is fine. Are we going into a gunfight?”
Mia grinned. “I’d rather have one and not need it, than need it and not have it. Nice digs. The guys are green that I get to see your tree and they don’t. There are reporters outside, by the way.”
“I heard. Maybe the squirrels will get them.”
“We can only hope. Mind if I look around?”
It wasn’t like she could get into the greenhouse; the floor was still sealed, and there were no valuable plants yet. Even if she did, she probably wouldn’t know saffron from safflower, and she wouldn’t see anything important on this floor. “Fine.” Juniper rolled over and drifted, not quite napping. She was too exhausted for sleep, but she still jumped when Mia announced she had dinner. Blurry, she sat up as Mia put a takeout container in her lap.
“They had bottled juice; I remembered you like apple, and I think you could use the electrolytes.”
“Thanks.” Juniper wolfed down the daikon salad and shredded potatoes, then tucked into the pot stickers and fried lotus root.
“If I’d known you liked the sides, I would have ordered more,” Mia commented. She ate a bite of bulgogi and chased it with kimchee.
“Sorry. I should have left you some,” Juniper said guiltily. “Thanks for getting it.”
“No worries. I bought plenty, and I don’t see a fridge here.”
“There isn’t one yet. I planned on getting a cooler for now.” She blinked. “I suppose I can make an old-school ice box and buy enchanted dry ice, too. I haven’t had time to think about the cooking gear yet.” The elves said magic was another kind of science, but that hadn’t impressed most humans. Magic was a good word for things people didn’t understand. All most people knew was the elvish dry ice lasted for weeks and kept steak cold. Unfortunately, both meat and ice cost money. She’d have to be careful to ration what she had, and steak was out of the question.
“No wonder. You do realize this is incredible, right? You even have running water.”
Juniper shrugged. “Thanks. If I’d known it would invite hordes of gawkers, I might have done something smaller.”
“Really.” Mia looked skeptical.
Juniper grinned. “Okay, maybe not.”

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Snippet: I'm no lightweight

I survived Christmas. Parts of it were quite nice.

Anyway, here's a snippet.






A moment went by before the door silently opened, revealing the well-lit, airy interior. Tall and narrow stained glass windows lined the upper walls, and there was an arch leading to Twix’s stable. The floor was polished oak, and a platform bed sat in one corner. Burled wood shelves and a counter made up the otherwise bare kitchen, and the sink consisted of two sunken wooden basins with an wooden spout and knobs. A partition hid what he presumed was a bathroom, for he could see a rain-type shower fixture.
Juniper slumped in the middle of the floor, her face ghastly pale. Her staff was on the floor next to her, a length of dull wood. Swearing, he hurried to help her up, supporting her when her knees tried to fold. He got her to the bed, absently noting the mattress was made of a rough, buff colored fabric and filled with something oddly springy, almost like coconut fiber. “You overdid it, didn’t you?”
“Trail mix in my pack,” she whispered, and he hurried to grab it for her. She ate with an effort, gradually regaining color.
He handed her a canteen. “You look like crap.”
She closed her eyes and lay back on the naked mattress. “I miscalculated, ran out of juice. Was too much fun.” The desire to keep going made her ignore her body’s warning signals. Like a child, she played too hard and crashed.
She couldn’t afford to crash in the Bramble.
He laughed without humor. “Great. Do you need a doctor?”
“Good question,” a dark voice said from the door. Grigori whirled, his machetes out to confront the man. “Who are you?”
Juniper frowned. “Kjetil. What are doing here?”
He ignored the question and came closer. “Relax. I want to check her pulse.” He looked at Juniper with displeasure. “Before she tries to die on me again.”
“I’m not dying,” she protested. Everyone was a drama queen. “I work hard, that’s all.”
The guys exchanged glances, and Grigori put away his blades.
Kjetil checked her wrist and looked at her eyes. “There’s probably a news team on the way. You’re headline news tonight…again.”
She sighed. “I’ll lock the door.”
He frowned. “You aren’t staying by yourself.”
“I’m too tired to argue with you. What’s the point of making a fortress if I don’t use it?”
“I hate to agree with him, but he’s right. Like I said, you look like crap,” Grigori said helpfully. “I should stay with you.”
Kjetil stared at him.
“I’m working for her,” Grigori said defensively.
Kjetil looked at her, and she suddenly remembered telling him that the only one who would get inside her tree was “her man”. She scowled. “I’m employing him, but nobody needs to stay. Did you see what I did? I’m no lightweight.”
“Maybe when you’re healthy,” Kjetil said calmly. “Did you wonder why I’m here? I got called out to check on the “disturbance”. My superiors want to know what’s going on with this tree, and they aren’t the only ones who’ll wonder if you’re a threat. My team’s outside.”
She groaned. “I have a headache. Can we talk about this tomorrow?”
“The elves sent investigators, too. Should I let my team let them in?”
“What do you want?” she growled, recognizing blackmail when she heard it. She was tapped, but she still had enough juice to eject him from the room and seal it if she had to. After all, he was trespassing.
“Sleep at the station tonight, and you can come back tomorrow.”

“No.”

Friday, December 5, 2014

Snippet: remodeling

She was deep in mediation the next day, working on her tree, when Grigori showed up. He’d caught a ride with a tow truck driver, guiding the nervous looking man to the closest junk car. The driver stayed put as Grigori hopped out to check out the car.
Juniper sighed and disconnected. She was dreamy, in no state for company, but a deal was a deal. She joined the men, nodding to the skittish driver. “Hi. Checking for varmints?”
“Yeah. He won’t pay us until he’s sure there’s nothing alive in there.” Grigori picked up a rock, presumably to chuck it at the car.
She held up a hand. “I’ve got this.” Still deeply connected to the tree, she sent a pulse through the staff. Oak roots pushed from the soil, lifting the car and slowly rotating. They shook the car upside down, causing a clatter of old cans, trash and a family of ordinary mice to rain on the ground. Satisfied, she put the car back down and looked at the slack jawed driver. “Money?”
The guy shut mouth and fished some cash out of his flannel shirt pocket.
“Pleasure doing business with you,” she said, giving Grigori half. “I’ll see you tomorrow; I’m busy today.” She turned away.
“Are you high?” Grigori called.
“What?” she asked irritably.
“Your eyes are dilated,” he said smugly, no doubt enjoying throwing her comment back in her face.
She shook her head in disgust. “You interrupted my mediation, kid. Scram! I have a tree to remodel.”
“You added on,” he commented, nodding to the areal roots that formed a bump out.
“Twix needed a stable,” she said, offhand. She was itching to finish her project and in no mood to chat, so she hurried inside and sealed the door.
Grigori and the driver hooked up the car, working fast. The driver didn’t want to linger, and he suddenly stiffened and stared at the tree. “What the…?”
Grigori blinked as he saw tree roots snake over an old army truck. The roots glowed green and the truck began to shrink, absorbed by the tree roots. Astonished, he watched the gray sheen of metal crawl up the tree trunk, slowly coating the bark.
The driver thumbed his dirty ball cap back and shook his head. “Kid, the money’s good, but this place is weirder than granny on crack. You’re going to have to find another driver from here out.”
Grigori shook his head. “No guts, no glory.”
“You’re nuts, kid.”
Iron climbed the tree until it sheathed it completely. Spectators (people as far as a mile away, some with binoculars) watched as a golden bulb sprouted on top. It slowly grew to the size of a house, developing stained glass panels supported by amber ribs. The garden themed art on the panels was translucent, but prevented anyone from seeing inside.
 “What’s she thinking?” Grigori muttered. “Anything could break that glass.”
As if in response, the curled sepals, or the pointy leaf things that sit under flowers to protect them before they bloom, uncurled, becoming iron shutters that covered the bulb. The iron dome looked like leaves of brushed steel. Water shot from the bulb’s top in a geyser and settled into a living fountain. It lasted only a minute before drying up.
Grigori shut his mouth. “Oh.”
Dozens of vines grew from the tree, dangling within easy picking distance, each with an acorn on the end. The acorns had a flattened base and ranged in size from mug to canister. The men took a wary step back, but one of the acorns followed Grigori and swayed invitingly in front of him. The words, “Open me,” appeared on the acorn.
The driver took a big step back. “It’s for you, kid.”
Grigori shot him a look, but reached for the nut. It easily detached from the vine, and he found the cap was a screw top. Instead of a nut, there was a buttery, solid oil. On the inside of the cap, it said, “Acorn oil. Good for cooking, frying or fuel.”
Since Grigori hadn’t exploded, the driver crowded him for closer look. “I’ll be shaved ape.”
An acorn swayed in front of the driver. Print appeared on it, too. “A gift. If you’re willing to come back, I’ll give you more next time.”
The driver accepted the acorn, but said, “Thanks. I’ll have to think about it.” He admired the acorn and admitted, “My girlfriend likes to collect canisters. She’ll go crazy over this one.”
Grigori waited until the guy left and said, “You doing okay? That was something, lady.”

Silence. He waited a long moment and wove through the hanging acorns until he reached the steel-sheathed door. He banged the acorn knocker. “Are you all right, Juniper? Answer me!”