Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

A Sunday Throwback (and Other Stuff)

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Folks, Facebook has a memories feature, and it reminded me of a blog I wrote in 2015 called “A Writer’s Work is Never Done.” (Link is here.) As lately I’ve been editing far more than I’ve been writing, it was nice to have something positive show up in my Facebook feed (yes, I shared that puppy; what, you expected me to say anything else?)

See, editing can be draining. And the most recent project I’ve been working on was a monster of an edit. (It might be the toughest edit I’ve ever had.) It consumed me, at least when I wasn’t sick and was being consumed by something else.

I am still sick, mind, with an asthma exacerbation and some sort of untreated allergic reaction. (I have an Epi-pen, and I know what to do if/when something bad happens of an allergic nature. Still, I hope I won’t have to use it anytime soon.) The new meds I’ve been put on should do some good, but it’ll take a few weeks for them to ramp up.

Anyway, the point to this Sunday post is this: No matter how awful you’re feeling, something will remind you of better days. (Even if it’s not exactly what you’d thought about, at first.)

Of course, the other memory I had pop up in my feed was that my dog Trouble died on this day two years ago. (Well, two years and a few days ago, now.) Thinking about Trouble is bittersweet, at best, ’cause I loved that little guy so much. He really did see himself as a badass, but he was a sweetheart. (Hey, you can be both, especially if you’re a dog. But I digress.)

I don’t have a picture that’s shareable, or I’d show you one. But Trouble was about fourteen pounds, had a black and white coloring, was mostly Shih Tzu but mixed (the back legs were shorter than the front, which isn’t common for Shih Tzus), and was one of the most interesting and funny dogs I’ve ever been around. Big brown eyes, an expressive face…Trouble had empathy galore, though of course he didn’t bruit it about (as again, he was a badass and don’t you forget it).

Finally, though my Facebook feed didn’t throw this memory up, I remember my good friend Jeff Wilson on this day. He would’ve turned 58 today, had he lived, and it’s been ten long years since he died.

How time flies.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to forgive myself for not being able to go out to Colorado and be with him (as I was still working on financing that at the time of his death). I wish I had made it there, as maybe Jeff’s passing would’ve been a bit easier…and even if not, I would’ve had people to mourn with (rather than mourning alone so many miles — almost half a continent — away).

So, on this day, I remember Jeff. I remember Trouble. I remember that once upon a time, I was excited for my second novel to come out, and was working on my third.

All of these things remind me of my most intrinsic, essential self. And my hope is that as I continue to heal that I will be able to resume my fiction writing, along with being able to play my saxophone and clarinet regularly, along with editing.

Because while I do enjoy editing, doing only that stifles me.

I must be able to create, you see. Or it all builds up to the point I feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust (and not in a good way).

At any rate, what are you thinking about this Sunday? Do you ever think about the people (and beloved pets) that have gone before us? Let me know in the comments, if you would. (Still feeling all alone in the void, here.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 21, 2021 at 5:23 am

When the Going Gets Tough…

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Folks, I wanted to stop by and let you all know that I’m starting to get a little better. I’m weak, somewhat dehydrated, and and extremely tired, but the symptoms of the food poisoning are finally gone.

As I said before, I think what happened is this: The Irish sausages I ordered were not fully cooked, as they were cold when they got to the table. Even eating the half-portion I ate was enough to put me down for the count for the past week.

So, now I am going to try to slowly ramp up again. I hope to do some writing (fiction included). I hope to do some editing. I also hope to play my sax and maybe my clarinet soon…there’s a concert scheduled for late January with the Racine Concert Band that I want to take part in, and I want to be ready to go before the first rehearsal for that starts in mid-January.

I don’t know how tough I am, mind, but I do know I’m committed, determined, and persistent.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only way to be.

Let me know how you’re doing in the comments.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 9, 2021 at 2:34 am

Today’s Shout Into the Void (AKA “the Pandemic Blues”)

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Folks, when I don’t know what to say, I turn to “shouting into the void.” This reminds me that even if my words are not understood, much less heard, they still have value.

That seems paradoxical, doesn’t it? (Maybe it is.)

It can be hard to reach a certain age, as a woman. People ignore you. They look right past you. They don’t see you.

But I am here, whether they see me or not. I’m here, and doing what I can, whether anyone else understands it, or not. I’m able to exert my influence — such as it is — on this blog, and point out that every life has value and worth.

I don’t know if you’re like me, and sometimes feel invisible. (Or at best, visible, ignorable, and misunderstood.) But I do know that the stories I write best are the ones where folks who’ve always felt like misfits find their homes and families (not necessarily their families of birth, either; these are their families of the heart).

The heroes and heroines I’ve come up with often felt ignorable, isolated, looked past, misunderstood, and frustrated.

Maybe it’s just this lengthy pandemic, but I’m tired of being misunderstood, ignored, looked past, and frustrated.

One of my best friends told me lately that she believes I should remember that writing is fun, and enjoy what I’m doing. Don’t stress so much about low word-counts. Don’t worry so much that my energy — which has been sapped by the lengthy pandemic, among other things — isn’t able to be consistently applied to writing, either.

Her message was very simple: Do what you can, as you can. And don’t forget who you are.

She also went on to point out that my illnesses — fibromyalgia among them — do not define me. They may limit me, at times. But they are not the sum total of all I am, much less all that I will ever be.

At any rate, my hope is that my blogging does some good for someone, somewhere, even if is to point out that they, alone, aren’t the only person in the world who’s struggling.

Thus concludes today’s shout into the void.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 20, 2021 at 5:26 am

Sunday Thoughts: We Are All Works in Progress

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Lately, I’ve had one very important thought running through my head. That thought is, “We’re all works in progress.”

Think about it, please, for a moment, and perhaps you’ll understand.

Our lives are happening right now, all around us. We are a part of history, whether we understand it or not. Whether our lives feel important or not, we partake of something akin to an infinite tapestry…our shades of thread are different from anyone else’s, and what we do with our gifts and talents is up to us.

Yes, there are obstacles. Yes, there are frustrations, and pain, and problems, and many times we wonder if what we’re doing makes any sense. Yes, there are issues with getting along with others, even those you are most motivated to understand. Yes, there seems to be more and more difficulty, the older you become (in experience, if not in age), of how to put yourself first or at least get it into the equation (rather than automatically putting yourself last, which does not work and only adds to the frustration, pain and problems accordingly).

Every day we get up, though, we can accomplish something.

Even if we’re sick, we can get up and take care of ourselves the best we can. Get our rest. Eat whatever we can tolerate. Save our strength.

And if we’re lucky, even on the bad days, even on the sick days, and even on the least encouraging days, we can find that spark of creativity that lies within us.

I live for creativity. (No, it’s not just for pointing out Michael’s memory to people who didn’t get a chance to know him. Though that’s important to me too, as I’m sure you know if you’ve spent any time at my blog at all.) So when I can’t create, it stifles me.

The only thing I know is that as a work in progress myself, every day brings a new chance to do something good. Something creative. Something positive.

Or at least to help a friend and/or loved one feel a bit better about the burdens they’re enduring.

We can do something to help the world around us. We can do something to become our authentic selves.

On this Sunday, reflect upon what you can do to make the world a better place. Then, perhaps, call a friend if you’re up to it, or write, or cook up a storm, or crochet, or do whatever you can that feeds your spirit and gives you positive reasons for living.

That, to my mind, is the winning strategy. And it helps us fill in our own works in progress with more beauty, delight, and joy, too.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 3, 2021 at 10:08 am

What Makes a Good Story?

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Recently, I wrote about Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher John Axford, and I said that the way his story ended was not the way his story was supposed to go.

This begs the question: What makes for a good story, anyway?

By contemporary standards, what would’ve made Axford’s story much better would’ve been him coming into the game, striking out the side (or at least getting three outs), getting the save, and having the stadium rain cheers upon his head. (The crowd did cheer him when he came in — I think he may have even received a standing ovation — and cheered him on the way out, too, which is not usual when a pitcher is unable to get out of the inning. This last happened because we Brewers fans knew Axford well from his previous service with us, and knew he was deserving of such approbation due to how well he’d done before.)

In previous eras, though, they had stories such as MADAME BOVARY that sold a ton. Those stories would have characters put through the wringer and they’d never be able to come up for air; instead, even their children would be put through the wringer for no purpose, and would never be able to get ahead.

Why audiences appreciated such stories is beyond me, but that was the fashion at that time. The would-be heroine (or hero) had a tragic flaw (or two, or five), and because of that flaw would taint herself and everyone around her beyond any hope of redemption.

The fashion now tends more to happy endings, but well-deserved happy endings. Characters still get put through the wringer (see Lois McMaster Bujold’s MIRROR DANCE, or Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s NIGHT CALLS, or any of Robert Jordan’s novels in the Wheel of Time series, among others), but they live to fight another day. They learn from their mistakes, too. And they continue on, having learned much more about themselves in the process.

Of course, the Harry Potter novels also exemplify this sort of story. Harry grows up to be a powerful magician, but he’s put through the wringer and must fight the big, bad, nasty, evil, and disgusting Lord Voldemort (and yes, I meant all those descriptions, as Voldemort is just that bad) in order to become the magician he needs to be. He and his friends Hermione and Ron are put through all sorts of awful things, but they eventually prevail.

My friend Chris Nuttall’s novels about Emily, starting with SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and continuing through to FACE OF THE ENEMY (with CHILD OF DESTINY coming soon), also have a plot that shows Emily being thrown into awful situation after awful situation, but she finds a way to prevail every time through hard work, effort, and a talent to get along with people even if they’ve crossed her (or she’s crossed them). Emily scans as a real person, and we care about her because she faces things most of us face even though we’re not magicians.

What are those things, you ask? Well, she has to learn from her own mistakes. She has to realize that she can’t fix everything and everyone. She has to find out that her snap judgments are not always correct. And she has to reevaluate people and situations, even when she doesn’t want to.

Of course, my own stories about Bruno and Sarah (AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) have many of the same lessons. There are things Bruno can do, and does, once he realizes he’s been lied to about nearly everything. Sarah is in much the same boat, except she has different talents — complementary ones, in most cases — and the two of them have to find that they’re stronger together than they could ever be alone. But there are still things they can’t do, and they must make their peace with that (as every adult does), while continuing to work on the things they can.

In other words, they can control what is in their power to control. But they can’t control other people. (It would be wrong to do so, anyway. They have to make their own lives meaningful in whatever way they can, too. And make their own mistakes, as we all do…but I digress.)

Anyway, the stories I love best are those with happy endings. People sometimes start out with situations they don’t deserve (such as my friend Kayelle Allen’s character Izzorah, who went through a childhood illness that damaged his heart and nearly blinded him), but they get into better positions and find the people who can help them — maybe even love them the way they deserve. (Izzorah, for example, finds a treatment for his heart — it’s not a standard one, by any means, but it works in the context of the story — and finds love along the way in SURRENDER LOVE.)

So, to go back to the beginning of this blog, as we love happy endings and we want to see deserving people find good luck and happiness, the true ending we wanted for John Axford was to get the outs, get the cheers, bask in the glow of achieving his dreams once again at the baseball-advanced age of thirty-eight, and stay with the Brewers the rest of the season as they continue to make their run at postseason play.

That Axford was unable to achieve this happy ending was distressing. But all the hard work and effort he put into his return to the big leagues should still be celebrated. And my hope, overall, is that he will still be with the Brewers in one way or another after this season ends.

What makes for a good story? Do you agree or disagree with me, and if so, why? Tell me about it in the comments!

Monday Meanderings, AKA The Interminable Pandemic Blues

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This past year-plus, since Covid-19 hit, has been frustrating and confusing. While I’ve continued to edit, and have done a little writing (you can see it if you have Kindle Unlimited and borrow Fantastic Schools 3, then look for my story; you also could just straight-up buy Fantastic Schools 3 if you’d like), mostly I just feel stalled out.

Of course, there are reasons for that.

Life got turned upside down by Covid-19. So many different things happened, most of them bad, because of the pandemic. It’s been harder to concentrate on my writing — which embodies hope, to me at least — and it’s been harder to concentrate on my music or musical composition as well. (Possibly for the exact, same reasons.)

Even knowing that the United States is doing much better when it comes to the pandemic (we have vaccines, we no longer have to always wear masks, and sporting events now have crowds again) has not kick-started my creativity.

Mostly, I just feel tired. Wrung out. As if I’ve been Sisyphus, pushing the same boulder up the same, damned hill day after day after day, with no conceivable progress and no change on the horizon to make all my struggles make sense.

I wonder how many others feel this way. (Surely it’s not just me, right?)

That I’m suffering with yet another sinus/ear issue is not helping. Nor is the pain-spike I’ve been dealing with due to two rapid weather changes in the past week.

Anyway, the important thing is that I’m still alive to do my best in all available areas. (Yes, even though I admittedly feel like Sisyphus. A tired, achy Sisyphus, who can barely stand up, much less push that damnable boulder up the damnable hill.)

I’ll keep doing it for as long as I possibly can.

What are you doing during this interminable pandemic? What makes you feel better on gloomy days? Does anyone else who reads this blog feel like Sisyphus from time to time? Tell me in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 31, 2021 at 6:39 am

Sunday Musings: Do You Recognize the Person in the Mirror?

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Folks, it’s Sunday. That means it’s time for me to write something with a bit more depth, perhaps…or at least something more elliptical, as suits my mood.

Enjoy!


After my husband Michael died, for a few years I did not recognize myself in the mirror. That’s just a fact.

“But Barb,” you ask. “Why are you talking about this now?”

I wonder how many of us have had times where we didn’t recognize ourselves, as I can’t be the first (and probably won’t be the last, alas) to have had this phenomenon happen. And I wonder, too, if that fuels my need for stories. Because every story I’ve told has dealt with a realization, or a transformation, or sometimes both…and the person who starts the book has had to realize his or her inner truths by the end, or else.**

See, the thing about humans is, we often don’t confront problems until we absolutely have to. This is especially dicey when the problem is something you couldn’t have ever foreseen, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19), or the way-too-early death of your spouse. The latter hits you like a ton of bricks, and you literally aren’t exactly the same as you were before due to your grief and rage and hopelessness, though the essentials of you are still there and can be dug out again in time

But there’s the former group of people out there — I have occasionally been among them, too — where we know there are problems in our lives, but we don’t have a clue how to fix them. Maybe we’re trying to fix them. Maybe we aren’t. But we procrastinate, hoping that circumstances or perhaps a miracle from the Deity high above will bring clarity…and our problems don’t get solved.

Sometimes the consequences of refusing to solve problems — mostly because we don’t like the solutions we come up with — are worse than just dealing with the problem to begin with.

The easiest example I have of this phenomenon is with a non-working toaster. If you try to keep using that toaster, when you know it’s sparking from the elements being exposed (the wiring, perhaps, has gone bad), you’re going to blow up your house. It’s a lot easier to just go buy a new toaster than to keep using the old one, no matter how much you liked that old one because it always toasted the bread perfectly every time…at least, until the wires got messed up and started sparking energy off all over the place.

Of course, human relationships are much more difficult most of the time than this above problem. Still, as Mark Manson has put it — and many others before him — there’s something called a “sunk-cost fallacy.” The quickest way to explain this is, “I’ve been with my husband for seven years. Yeah, things are bad. But I love him, and I think he can change…”

(This example is drawn from my life. My first husband, later my first ex-husband, was a good man in many ways but utterly wrong for me. Just as I was utterly wrong for him. We eventually both figured that out and got out of the marriage, which was just as well. I found Michael later, and he was the right man for me. And my ex found the right person for him, so it all, eventually, worked out for the best.)

Now, I did go to counseling the whole time. I tried to learn more about myself, and why I had picked my ex in the first place. I also figured out, due to counseling, that while people can change, it’s up to them to do it. You can’t make them do it. You can’t even assist them in doing it. They will either do it, or don’t, on their own.

I’ve had friends married to alcoholics who’ve learned the same thing, mind. They know it’s not up to them to stop their spouse from drinking. They can’t. All they can do is control their own behavior.

So, what I learned there is, no matter what good points your spouse may have, it’s up to him to use them. Or not.

And sometimes, we love people who aren’t good for us. Or who once were, but stopped being so, and now have no intention whatsoever to grow with you in a long-term relationship or marriage, mostly because they can’t help being themselves.

The good news is, if you are in a situation where you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror because of your own choices, or because life hit you like a ton of bricks, you can feel better about yourself. Over time, if you keep working on yourself, and read books, and educate yourself, and learn more about who you are and what you truly want (rather than what you think you want), you should find people who will want to grow with you. And who will appreciate your uniqueness, just because they know they, themselves, are appreciated by you for their uniqueness in turn.

It does take a while. It’s not a quick fix by any means. But living your life, and continuing to be your best self, and remembering what it was about yourself that you liked before life hit you like a ton of bricks — or before you stayed in your marriage too long after it had clearly died (and everyone knew it but you) — that’s the best way to go about it.

If you can do that, you can find some inner peace. You will know you’ve done your best in whatever situation you find yourself. And you can pick up the pieces again, and start over (or at least afresh), because you have learned over time that you, too, matter.

Not just your significant other.

_________

**(Before you start on my gender-fluid heroine Elaine from CHANGING FACES, Elaine liked the pronoun “she” even when she was feeling male. There are people who like pronouns that don’t seemingly go with their outward selves, too, in this world, including a growing number who prefer “they” as they prefer not to be categorized for various reasons. Non-binary people, mostly, are in this category; gender-fluid people also can easily be in this category, though Elaine herself is not.)

“Stay Calm” — A Message From the Past

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Folks, last year about this time I wrote the following message on Facebook, and I continue to stand by it:

Try to stay calm. This has thrown people for a loop, having their lives upended this way. Remember to do whatever you can to stay on an even keel (or as even as possible). Reach out to your friends and loved ones. Care, and keep on caring…never stop trying. That’s my advice.

(Of course, I was referring to Covid-19 when I said “this.”)

Most of us, for the past year, have struggled mightily due to the various restrictions and changes that Covid brought into our lives. Depression has been on the rise. People have been cut off from one another, been unable to touch each other or even stand within six feet of each other unless you’re all in the same household.

Human beings aren’t meant to live this way, which is partly why we’ve in general felt disconnected, anxious, and fearful. (I call ’em as I see ’em.)

But we can still help each other. We can let others know we care. We can reach out, as often as it takes, to let our loved ones hear the love in our voices. (Or, I suppose, our online presences.)

For my friends battling depression, my hope is that you will read this little bloglet today (or whenever) and realize that sometimes, the best we can do is the best we can do. Refusing to give up, refusing to believe that everything is always going to be bleak (or worse, black), and refusing to succumb to despair are all within our grasp. We just have to tell ourselves things will improve. Or at least that they can improve, and we have to stay around to find out just how they’re going to do that.

I also have one suggestion that may do you some good, especially if you’re battling depression.

Remember the Zen Buddhist trick I believe I’ve mentioned before (that my late husband Michael taught me)? Take fifteen minutes, and feel everything: all the pain, all the anger, yes, even all the despair. Whatever you’re feeling, go ahead and wallow in it for fifteen minutes. Then, after that, tell yourself, “Self, I have heard you. I appreciate what you’re saying. But it’s time to get on with everything else.”

Sometimes, that little trick has saved my sanity. Maybe it’ll save yours, too. (Here’s hoping.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 15, 2021 at 8:13 pm

Thinking Hard…Or Something Like That

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The last few days, I’ve been thinking hard about a manuscript I’m editing. While I do this on a regular basis, I don’t always have to stop and think for several days in a row. But that’s why I decided to write this blog, as I thought it might interest someone out there…and at least it’s something different.

When I am editing a manuscript, I tend to narrow down to a laser-like focus. (An actual laser, of course, would wreck my computer.) There are many things I look for, including continuity issues, clarity of thought, whether there’s enough description (or, very occasionally, if there’s too much that has to be pruned away), and much more.

But the one thing that always makes me stop and think about a book in a lengthy series is this: Will this book represent the series to date as it stands? And if it doesn’t, what does it need in order to do so?

When you’re in a series, readers have an expectation of how well-known characters are going to act. Even if the characters are doing something completely different — as they should, or you’re just writing the same book over and over (and what in the Hell is the point of that, anyway?) — the way a character acts has to ring true.

Right now I have two different series books by two different authors on the table. One, right off, I told the author I loved it and I thought she got her characterization down cold. For the second book with the second author, I said that I enjoyed the book, but it needs more in several places to flesh it out some in order to make it truly shine.

Mind, when I realize a book is missing something, sometimes it takes me a few days to figure out just exactly what that is, much less what I can suggest to fix it. Here, I saw some of the issues right away, but not necessarily all. And until my mind figures out enough that I can go back to the manuscript with, I have to leave that manuscript alone until it does.

It’s most vexing, trust me.

Anyway, I once read an interview with a writer who said that her subconscious mind blocks her if she is missing something in a plot. I sometimes wonder if that is what’s going on with me with regards to editing someone else’s work in a situation like this.

What I’m going to have to do is, with that second author/second book I’m talking about, is hope that I can sleep on the problem and wake up with a solution. (With the first book/first author, it’s just a matter of me finishing up the second editorial pass, then sending it on its merry way.) The author in question is very good with making changes, so once I figure it out I’m sure my input will be understood and taken into account.

(When you edit independently, as I often do, all you can do is suggest. You can’t insist, as that won’t get you anywhere. If your suggestions are cogent, usually an author dealing with you is going to try his/her/their best to address your editorial concerns.)

So, at the moment I’m thinking hard, but coming up empty.

Other than that, I did want to clue you in on an interesting blog I intend to write later today or tomorrow on behalf of writer Kayelle Allen. Her newest book is called SURRENDER LOVE, and it’s a far-future male/male romance. I loved working on this, as one of the two men in the relationship, Izzorah (or Izzy for short) is just a sweetheart. Izzy has empathy to burn, and I enjoy seeing that in my romances. The far-future stuff is all well-done, too. And the other man in the relationship, Luc, is complex, sometimes difficult, but takes on new dimensions once he gets involved with Izzy. (If you think you’ve seen me talk about Luc before, you’re right. He’s also the hero of A STOLEN HEART, a lovely story about an alienated man fostering a three-year-old half-human, half-alien child, and how that relationship between them changes Luc for the better.)

So, look for me to talk more about that later. (I still have plenty to say about Luc, Izzy, and their milieu.)

What did you think of this blog? Do you have any tips or tricks you use when editing either for yourself or someone else when you get stalled? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 2, 2021 at 5:05 am

Posted in Editing, Writing

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A Writing Snippet from KEISHA’S VOW (Elfy prequel set in 1954)

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Folks, I didn’t forget my promise. So without further ado, here’s chapter 1 from KEISHA’S VOW, the work-in-progress prequel to the Elfy novels that’s set in 1954.

Here we go:

Chapter 1 from Keisha’s Vow, a work-in-progress from Barb Caffrey (yours truly):

The Master waited, exultant. Soon they’ll be here, he thought. He had prepared for this day, dreamed of it, shaped his will toward it, and now…wait, was that a car in the distance?

No, not them, he thought as he made one last pass around the campsite. The runes were all inscribed, but blended into the rock as to be well-nigh invisible; his followers, innocents all, shouldn’t suspect a thing. He had already paced out the boundaries of his chosen ground, and he’d — well, he couldn’t really call it a blessing, could he? But by whatever name anyone cared to call it, he had imposed his will upon the land underfoot. It lay, quiescent, its power dormant as was proper for this time of the year; only thus was he able to command it. If this had been high summer he wouldn’t have been able to do anything on an unprepared field, even on a night like this, when the moon was at its darkest.

That was why he’d had to start laying the preparation now for what he planned to do later, because in the summer, he knew he would have to make his stand. How or why he knew this, he wasn’t sure, but only a fool refused to listen when the Dark Mother whispered into his ear.

And the Master was no fool.

But there was no more time for preparation: his followers were beginning to arrive. They came from far and near, from both directions on the small, rutted dirt road, in cars, estate wagons, and even a conveyance that looked like it had only recently been released from service as an Army ambulance. Anyone spotting them would not see anything other than a bunch of unusually late picnickers; his people looked no different from anyone else. And this was California; didn’t people always do strange things here? The Master knew that if any of them had been stopped, they’d have had a tight tale for the authorities.

Before they got close enough to him to see his face, he donned his hood and mask. They would expect that: their leaders had always gone cloaked (no one with any real power — political, social, economic — came openly to a meeting in this company). Despite the wards on his dusky robe, the power radiating from him, nobody took the slightest alarm. He wasn’t sure if they couldn’t feel the power, or if they misunderstood it; he smiled, knowing they could not see him, and waited for his prey as calmly as he possibly could.

He was satisfied; he’d told them to come here, a rural place nearly untouched by mankind, and they had obeyed him. Even though this place wasn’t close to anything, and some of them had to be fearful at dusk, they’d still come.

Ah, the poor, brave, deluded fools, he thought contemptuously. Still, they were his, and that’s all that really mattered.

He didn’t worry too much about anyone happening along; there were no farms or houses within a mile of where he stood, and the nearest town, a very small place called Knightsville, lay about five miles to the east by road. He lit his beacon fire with confidence and waited for his flock, even though time seemed to crawl…surely, he wasn’t that difficult to spot?

Men, women, and even a few children straggled from their cars. At least twenty, thought the Master. A good harvest. And the children — especially the children… They took out their robes and hid under them, as he had, partly to emulate him, partly because they knew it was required. Then they gathered together around the small fire he’d made, and lit their candles. Black, of course; what other candles were there?

It was February, and nothing stirred. The land was his to command, more dormant than he’d ever known it to be; perhaps it had really died this time. The Master did not know or care; the fact was that Dark of the Moon was nigh, and it was as close to Imbolc as they were going to get…the timing was right for their ritual.

He reached out with his mind and felt their commitment; only the youngest wondered what they were doing here, as was to be expected. He touched their young, small minds as lightly as possible, telling them without words that what they were doing was necessary and right. Their reservations dulled, faded.

Only then did the Master call out: “My children, hear me.” He spoke in a near-whisper, trying to make his words sound sacred rather than profane. These others didn’t have the will to understand the truth of what they did. But he did, and he was the leader.

He went on in his lowest tones, “We must work our Will upon the land this night, that its powers awaken to aid our betters afar.” He grimaced inwardly; he hated having to sound like such a simpleton. But it was required — his followers were almost childlike in their naïveté, and needed child-simple ideas to satisfy them — and it did work: his “disciples” nodded, the hoods of their robes flapping like so many bobbing ravens’ heads.

One of his followers — he knew and cared not which — produced a cage in which a plump, white rabbit lay amidst the remains of a bunny banquet: a few well-chewed stalks of celery, scraps of lettuce, and what was left of a carrot. That, too, had been his plan from the start: treat the creature well, until…

He focused his will upon the rabbit, and it slept. Such a small thing didn’t need to be aware of what they did; its innocence, even unto how it went out of its life, was enough. Silently, he pulled the rabbit out of its cage; it was gravid, as he’d hoped, meaning other, smaller lives would go unborn. Surely the Dark Mistress would be pleased; surely the death of innocents, more than one, would help Her cause… he laid the rabbit on a small, dark rock he’d prepared earlier. The runes, written in charcoal around the rock, blended into its natural coloration; only he could see them, wreathed in a dark, reddish fire visible only to astral sight. None of these had any astral sight to worry about; their mage gifts were marginal to nonexistent.

They would not understand what they were doing, and that, too, was part of his plan.

He took out his athame, black-hilted as was proper, with the blade looking just as black in the light of the fire, but actually encrusted with the remains of many a bloody sacrifice before this. He held it up so the light from his followers’ candles would reach it, then silently motioned them to their places. Without a word, they formed a semi-circle around the rock, facing toward him in the place of honor — naturally — on the other side of what was now their altar. Then he took the knife and did what was necessary, neatly severing the rabbit’s head and holding it up for all to see.

“Touch it; it’s dead, it’ll never harm you,” he said warmly, now in more normal, conversational tones. A few of the more daring souls indeed did this, but most shrank back.

Ah, yes. Time for the sermon.

“It is our will that we will have dominion over all the beasts of the field, from the last to the littlest, to the greatest and most able. We must show our dominance; we must not be afraid. Fear is a weapon in the hand of those who oppose us, those who would impose their ways on us.” His eyes caressed his followers; so pure, so noble-seeming did he make it sound. Some were afraid; he drank in their fear. But most were nodding again, willing tools to do his bidding.

He put down the head, then skinned the rabbit, saving for last the delicate and difficult task of scraping out the unborn pups. They’d nearly made it to life, poor things, he thought as he went about his work.

But these would not be the last sacrifices, he told his audience. They would meet again at the next dark-of-the-moon, and the one after, and on into the summer if necessary, until further notice. They had made a good beginning, he told them, but it was only a beginning, and they had to expand upon it and continue on in this way in order to do their betters’ work in the world. He tried to make it sound noble, but even he couldn’t make blood sacrifice sound all that much better than it was, so he concentrated instead upon necessity, and how all of this would eventually help them all.

His flock acquiesced, as he’d known they would; these were sheep, not really people, but in these times, even sheep like these were better than no one at all.

This place was now sealed to him, to do his bidding, even as he did the will of the Dark Mother…he bade his flock to dip their fingers in the blood he had spilled atop the makeshift stone altar; this they did, then put that blood to their lips.

Thus were innocents consecrated to the Dark.

The gathering dispersed, all but the Master returning to their vehicles and driving off the way they had come. The Master faded into the darkness and waited until everyone else was gone.

Only then did he take off his robes and mask, donning in their place a set of ordinary working man’s clothes and putting the symbols of his mastery away in an old surplus rucksack. There would be a reckoning, he knew; soon, somehow, there would be a reckoning. Soon he wouldn’t have to go veiled to the world; everyone would know that he, Victor Mundy, was the Master!

Then, rucksack on his back, he set off across the fields toward his small home on the outskirts of Knightsville, whistling in the dark.

Let the powers of Light try to stop me. If they dare.

*****

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Written by Barb Caffrey

January 3, 2021 at 6:09 am