Preview: Road Trip

Road Trip

This a preview of my story, Road Trip, which will be published in late December 2018, about a month from now. It’s Chapter 1 of an urban fantasy set in 2003 and featuring a former Marine injured in the war in Afghanistan.


Rocco Fitch spotted the beggar on his regular morning walk to get a latte at Emilio’s Coffee Shop. It wasn’t that seeing a beggar in this corner of Florida was unusual. The area was rife with them thanks to the mild year-round climate, the prevalence of tourists, and the cool breeze that came from the ocean in the evening. No, it was the cardboard sign that the man was holding up as Rocco approached that had caught his attention:

Road For Sale
$10.00
Change Your Life Now!
Any sale is FINAL!!!!!

Rocco limped to a stop in front of the man, shifting most of his weight to his left leg to relieve the strain on his bad leg, which was already aching from the exertion of the walk. So much for the daily exercise my doctors have been recommending.

The beggar was sitting on the sidewalk in the shade of one of Florida’s ubiquitous palm trees with his legs stretched out before him and his back up against the pastel yellow stucco of the coffee shop. Just above the man’s head, a plate glass window allowed Rocco to see into the shop; Emilio was bustling around behind the counter serving a short queue of customers.

The beggar shook the cardboard sign hopefully, drawing Rocco’s attention back to him. The man was broad-shouldered, with black hair and a long bushy beard that hung down to a respectable paunch. He wore a pair of dark gray work trousers, slightly threadbare at the knees, and a plaid shirt. The man’s attire seemed old-fashioned in some indefinable way that Rocco couldn’t put his finger on, and less grungy than most of the beggars and homeless people Rocco had seen.

He’d also never seen a sign quite like this one before. Curiosity piqued, he asked, “You’re selling a road?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why?”

“Don’t want it no more,” the man said with a thick, Southern drawl, looking up at Rocco with penetrating blue eyes.

“Why would anybody want to buy your road?”

“That’s easy. To get places.” He shook his head sadly, as if Rocco’s question had been the most stupid thing he’d heard in a long time. “To see things they ain’t never seen afore. Maybe even for the adventure of it.”

Rocco bristled a bit at the implied disdain in the man’s response. “If it’s such a great road, why don’t you want it anymore?”

The man sighed heavily. “Mister, I done outlived all my friends, all my family, everybody I ever cared about.” He looked away from Rocco, his gaze fixed on the thin slice of blue ocean just visible down the block. “The road…it can’t give me what I want most in the world. My time is past, and I just want it to be over. It’s past time for me to just fade away like everything else.”

“I feel for you, man.” The man was clearly depressed, but Rocco could sympathize with him. His own life was kind of in shambles, as well. “I’ve been there, too. If it’s any consolation, it does get better.”

“Really?”

Rocco shrugged. “Sometimes.”

He started to walk away, then stopped as a he caught a glimpse of a strikingly pretty, dark-haired young lady, perhaps mid-twenties, in a white dress looking at them through the shop’s window. She’d moved out of sight by the time he’d turned back to fully face the window. He saw that the beggar had partially turned as well, as if to see what he’d been looking at.

Pointing at the window, he asked the beggar, “Did you see a lady in a white dress?”

“Yes, sir,” the man said, flashing a grin that revealed a set of perfect white teeth. “Pretty thing. Probably admiring my considerable charms.”

Rocco laughed. “Maybe so.” The man’s answer was pat and humorous, but somehow evasive as well, as if Rocco had caught him in some sort of lie. “Well, good luck with the sale,” he said, turning away to enter the cool interior of the cafe.

A few minutes later, having secured his usual caffeinated fix from Emilio, Rocco made his way between the small tables holding his hot coffee carefully. The lady in the white dress was nowhere to be seen. He navigated around a baby carriage, complete with a sleeping baby in a blue jumper, which belonged to a twenty-something Latina woman. A little girl, perhaps four years old and as cute as could be, sat next to the woman and stared up at his face as he passed.

He took his usual seat near the window, which provided not only a good tourist-watching vantage point, but also had a good view of the cafe’s large-screen television. Emilio, never a sports fan, was showing Law & Order with subtitles but no sound.

As he sat down, he heard the little girl say loudly, “Mama, how come that man’s face is messed up?”

“Shhhh. It’s not polite to say things like that.”

“But I want to know!”

He’d just taken a tentative sip of his coffee when he heard the patter of footsteps coming his way. The little girl stopped next to his table.

“Mama says it’s not po-lite,” the little girl said breathlessly. “But what happened to your face?”

“Maria!” The girl’s mother said loudly, awkwardly getting up to chase her wayward daughter.

Rocco looked at the girl and smiled. Little kids were a hoot. They’d say anything sometimes because they didn’t have the filters that adults had. But they weren’t judgmental, either, which was always refreshing. Unlike his ex-wife.

“Well, I was in the Marines,” he said. “And we were on a training mission. So we parachuted out of this plane and, well, I drifted over this town because of the wind.” He nodded at the girl’s mother as she arrived. “The highest building in town was a really big church, with a really tall steeple. And I landed right on it. Scraped my face down the entire side of that steeple, just this one side, see? Hurt like the dickens, I’ve got to tell you.

“So, if you ever jump out of an airplane, make sure you don’t land on a church steeple, okay?”

“Okay,” Maria said, nodding seriously.

Sure makes a better story than being blown up by a roadside bomb and trapped in a burning, upside-down Hummer.

Stopping beside Maria, her mother said, “I’m so sorry. She’s curious about everything.”

Rocco shrugged. “No worries. She’s a cute kid.” The little girl reminded him of his daughter, Elise, when she was that age. Now she was twelve, living with his ex-wife in Ohio.

The woman smiled and tugged Maria back to their table.

He nursed his latte for a little over an hour, unintentionally caught up in the Law & Order episode that was playing. He wasn’t sure why he was curious about her, but he never did spot the lady in the white dress.

Leaving, Rocco pushed the door open and stepped out into the sunshine, squinting at the brightness as he left the dim interior of Emilio’s. The beggar was still sitting in the same place. Something in his posture, the way he leaned against the building and his tired patience, reminded him of soldiers he’d seen waiting for deployment in crowded airport terminals.

Rocco walked over. “You a veteran?”

“Yeah,” the man said. “Different war, though.” He looked pointedly at Rocco’s right leg and the way that his jeans hung limply around the lower half. “I was lucky, I came out unscathed.”

“First Gulf War?”

“No. Further back. I’m a little older than I look.”

Rocco gave him a measuring glance. He didn’t look old enough for Vietnam, but then again, maybe he was.
Acting on impulse, he reached into his pocket and pulled out about a dollar’s worth of change. Holding it out to the man, he said, “Well, I don’t need a road, but I can spare some change to help out a fellow veteran.”

The man shook his head. “Sir, I thank you, but I got money. It’s this road that I need to sell, afore I can do anything else.”

“Well, I don’t have ten bucks.”

“What do you have?”

Rocco fished some more loose change out of his pocket, then counted it all. He added two dollar bills from his wallet and held it all out to the man.

He wasn’t even sure why he was doing this, but he said, “Here’s three dollars and thirty-seven cents. It’s all the money I’ve got left in the world.”

“Sir, I accept your kind offer,” the man said, standing up and taking the money from him. He was a few inches shorter than Rocco’s own rangy six feet. He held out his hand and Rocco shook it automatically. He had a firm, confident grasp. “You are now the proud owner of a road.”

The man started walking away.

“Hey! Where do I find this road?”

The man turned, gave him a lopsided grin and said, “Don’t worry. It will find you.”

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Need Your Help to Promote “Fantastic Defenders”

I need your help.

My “Fantastic Defenders” anthology, containing five long fantasy stories about heroes defending against mystical threats, has been climbing the ranks at Amazon. As of last night, it was ranked 139 in the Fantasy Anthologies category.

Fantastic Defenders

But WAIT! There’s more. Amazon has discounted the book by 65% for Prime members. The print edition is now $5.63 (or you can buy the ebook).

Help me crack the Top 100 in Fantasy Anthologies!!!! Share this news. Promote the link, if you can.

Thanks!

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Hardcover Discussions

Breaking news. I’m currently in discussions to do a hardcover of Fantastic Defenders, the anthology that I co-edited with Donna Royston. It’s a fantasy anthology about heroes fighting against fantastical threats.

I’ll have more news as the situation develops.

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Coming Soon: The Curator

The Curator: Anthology Cover Preview

Coming soon! The Curator, an anthology about…artwork?

Yes.

And featuring my new novella, “Clash by Night,” a semi-military SF story about a heist in a futuristic, war-ravaged Brazil.

Here’s the text from the back cover of this new anthology…

Who is the Curator?

And why is the Curator’s body in a high-tech cargo container full of priceless works of art?

When a salvage ship stumbles on the debris sphere of a long-lost colony transport, they’re not expecting to find much. Spotting an intact cargo container within the debris, there surprised. Especially when they discover that it’s still got power.

Inside, a skeleton in a spacesuit, immediately dubbed “The Curator.” And hundreds of lost, priceless paintings. All maintained at safe temperatures by an onboard fusion generator.

Who is the Curator? How did the Curator survive the explosion that killed the transport? Knowing that rescue was impossible, why did the Curator spend the last few months of dwindling life support writing stories about the paintings?

***

In this unique anthology, nine writers take inspiration from real paintings, included in this volume, to explore the life and final days of…the Curator.

Coming at the end of October (for the ebook) and mid-November (for the print edition). With an awesome cover from Luc Oleastri and typography and design by Don Anderson.

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Failure is Not an Option

1539814862

Failure…is not an option. Surrounded by enemies, Lydio Malik, the Royal Bodyguard to the infant Princess Analisa, will do ANYTHING to save the sole heir to the throne. Imagine “Die Hard, on the roof of a castle tower”…and you have the distilled essence of this action-packed story.

In print and ebook, with the ebook at the low, introductory price of just 99 cents.

Buy now!

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Raw Cover for “Road Trip”

Road Trip, Raw Cover Image

This is a preview of the raw cover image for my story, Road Trip, which will be published in December.

Here’s the description of the story:

Rocco Fitch is a down-and-out disabled veteran of the War Against Terror, having been severely injured by an IED in Afghanistan. Since his return, his wife has left him (taking his daughter with her), he can’t get a job, unemployment payments have run out, his car’s been repossessed, the bank wants to foreclose on his house and life just isn’t working out well…

Then some beggar tries to sell him a road. Sensing that the beggar is a war vet like himself, Rocco buys the road from him for all the money he has left: $3.37.

At first, Rocco thinks the sale is just a strange way for the beggar to talk himself into accepting a handout from a fellow vet. But then he wakes up the next morning with a road, a magical road, crossing his backyard. A road that nobody else can see…

Besides the mysterious road that he now owns, the one bright spot in his life is his unlikely friend, his neighbor Sammie, an aging black rogue with a diabolical sense of humor, a foul mouth, friends in low places and a rather piratical way of looking at the world.

Between the two of them, they might just be able to set Rocco’s life on a new and different path.

Look for it on Amazon in the November/December timeframe.

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It’s Time for a “Second Round”

Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar

My latest short story, “The Whispering Voice,” is being published in Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar, edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray. It’s about a mother, a deadly problem and a forgotten god (I was trying to channel a little bit of Neil Gaiman).

The new anthology is currently available for pre-order and will start shipping on June 15th. It’s the second in a series, about a magic bar that appears in different times and places (the first volume was called After Hours).

Here’s the official description of the new anthology:

For thousands of years the immortal Gilgamesh has presided over the legendary Ur-Bar, witnessing history unfold from within its walls. Some days it is a rural tavern, others a fashionable wine shop. It may appear as a hidden speakeasy or take on the form of your neighborhood local. For most patrons it is simply a place to quench their thirst, but for a rare few the Ur-Bar is where they will meet their destiny.

Join David Keener, R.K. Nickel, Rachel Atwood, Kari Sperring, Jean Marie Ward, Gini Koch, Jacey Bedford, William Leisner, Garth Nix, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Mike Marcus, Kristine Smith, Aaron M. Roth, and Juliet E. McKenna as they recount all new tales from the Ur-Bar. From humor to horror, from the Roman Empire to Martian Colonies, there’s something to please everyone. Just remember to beware when the mysterious bartender offers you the house special…

Here are the relevant links for purchasing the book and related items:

   Trade Paperback
   Kindle
   Nook
   Kickstarter Edition (Limited)
   Cover Art Print (very nice, BTW, check it out)

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Non-Superhero Comics: What’s Worth Reading?

Non-Superhero Comics

Every time you turn around, there’s another superhero movie playing at the local multiplex: Back Panther, Avengers, Thor, Deadpool, Justice League, etc. They’re all based on comic books. More specifically, superhero comic books.

But…what if you’re not into superheroes? Or what if you like them just fine, but you’d like to try a different ice cream flavor (so to speak)? Are there non-superhero comics that are worth reading?

Yes. Yes, there are. I moderated a panel at Balticon this past weekend called “Non-Superhero Comics” that addressed that very question. With, of course, the fine advice of fellow panelists Andrew Fox, Devin Jackson Randall and Michael R. Underwood.

For the panel, I’d compiled a handout of some of the most entertaining comics I could find, based on my long-time interest in non-traditional comics. I’ve since added all the additional recommendations mentioned during the panel itself. I also thought it would be fun to post the handout in PDF on my web site. There’s a lot of good reading on the list, so get to it!.

Download the PDF right now!

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Post-Apocalyptic Stories: What Comes After the End?

After the Apocalypse

Everybody loves a good apocalypse. And there are lots of post-apocalyptic stories that are worth your attention. For the “Post-Apocalpytic Fiction” panel at Balticon, I compiled a list of some of the most memorable books, and a few movies, that deal with the topic.

I gave the list away as a handout to all of the attendees. I also thought it would be fun to post it on my web site. There’s a lot of good reading on the list, featuring all sorts of apocalyptic disasters.

Download the PDF right now! You won’t be sorry.

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New Time Travel Story

The Witness Paradox I’m working on a story for a new time travel anthology called The Witness Paradox. It’s edited by Martin Wilsey and will be published by Tannhauser Press.

My story features a teenager named Alex Nelson who is caught in a temporal vortex when a physics experiment at the nearby collider facility goes terribly wrong. It’s a story of narrow escapes, disaster, time travel and dinosaurs.

What more could you want?

Did I mention that it’s got dinosaurs?

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