Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Hallowe'en! Have a Little Ghost Story

This was supposed to go up this morning, but since we had no power....

Just a little ghost story for you-

Midnight Rider
M.A. Kropp

            That was a great party, Tom thought, as he drove through the quiet late night streets. But then, Gordy’s family always did go all out for Hallowe’en. Worth the trip out here. Tom shifted slightly to a more comfortable position behind the wheel, and turned the volume on the radio up a notch. He had at least a forty minute drive ahead of him. 
            The compact blue sedan left the residential streets and turned onto a two lane county road. It was a perfect Hallowe’en night: clear, dark skies sprinkled with stars, and a nearly full moon just visible through the stark branches of the trees lining both sides of the road. The air was crisp, with the fall smells of wood smoke and dry leaves. Tom slowed the car as he approached the intersection.
            “Don’t take the Fuller Road cut on your way home tonight,” Gordy had said as Tom was preparing to leave. “I know it’s shorter, but that road is haunted. There’ve been fatal accidents every year on Hallowe’en since that guy ran off the road five years ago. Go the long way, ok?” Tom had said he would, but now, faced with the lateness of the hour, he was thinking again.
            It’ll cut at least fifteen minutes off the drive, Tom thought. What the hell. What am I going to run into? A headless horseman galloping through the woods? Tom turned the car onto Fuller Road. There were accidents along this road all the time. It was narrow and twisty, with sharp embankments on both sides. Late nights, people driving home from parties. You didn’t need ghosts to know that added up to accidents.
            He drove along, nodding his head in time to the music, watching his speed on the curves. As he rounded one, something in the road ahead made him hit the brakes. There was someone in the road, hands outstretched as if to say “Stop!” Tom flicked on his high beams, and chuckled. It was just an old tree, limbs bare of leaves and hanging out over the road. In the dark, with the angle of the curved road, it had looked like a person.
            Gordy’s ghost stories have got you spooked, Tom said to himself. Get a grip. He sped up again and passed the tree, waving at it as he did.
            “Happy Hallowe’en!” he said. He was settling back into the drive when he saw headlights in the distance ahead of him.
            “Someone else had a late night,” he said to no one, as the lights got closer. Then, he sat up straighter and stared hard out the windshield. The approaching car was in his lane! Tom leaned on the horn, the blaring noise cutting through the silence of the night. The other car didn’t move. It just kept coming, straight at him, and it looked like it was speeding up. Tom swore out loud, and pulled his car into the other lane. The second car, a long white sedan, moved with him. Tom hit the horn again, a longer blast.
            “Shit, buddy, this is no road to be playing chicken on!” Tom shouted. He jerked the wheel back into his own lane, feeling his rear wheels fishtail a bit as he did. He got the car under control, but the white sedan was bearing down on him, its headlights blinding through the windshield. Tom swore again, and spun the wheel hard, trying to make the shoulder of the road, while he braced for the impact he knew was coming.
            Except it never did. Tom expected the grinding sound of metal folding on metal, and to be thrown against the interior of the car. What happened was time seemed to stretch and slow, he was moving through a rapidly streaming thick gray fog, and it was cold. Tom tried to pull the car back onto the road, but his wheels were skidding on the gravel shoulder. He felt one wheel slip over the edge of the embankment. He spun the wheel and hit the gas desperately, but only caused the car to slip more. He knew the car was going over. As it spun and slipped downward, Tom saw the white sedan, sitting on the road, surrounded by an eerie, almost shimmering light. He stared into the window. The driver was clutching the steering wheel, his face covered in blood. Two glowing red eyes were the last thing Tom saw as his car fell down the steep slope.
            The next morning, as they waited for the tow truck to pull the small blue car up to the road again, the county sheriff turned to the state police officer standing next to him.
            “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe we should just close this road down on Hallowe’en next year.”

The End

Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century, #1)Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Boneshaker is the second of Priest's books I've read, and is quite different from Four and Twenty Blackbirds. The latter is more of a traditional ghost story, while this one is a foray into the world of steampunk. It is, however, not your typical steampunk. Set in an alternate history Civil War era Seattle, WA, it doesn't have the Victorian era feel of most steampunk stories. That's not bad thing, and there are more than enough of the usual steampunk trappings to make it fit the genre.

The story is centered on Briar Wilkes, a widow who works in the water cleaning facility in the "clean" settlements outside Seattle proper. Her late husband, an inventor, was commissioned by the Russians to build a machine that could drill through the frozen Alaskan surface to mine the gold there, helping Russia to cash in on the gold rush. At its first test, the machine appears to go radically wrong, tearing up most of the financial district of Seattle, and tapping into a vein of poisonous gas that, when breathed, either kills or turns its victim into a zombie (called rotters by the populace). A wall has been build around the city to contain the gas, and a part of the population still lives inside its confines, needing gas masks to breathe in the contaminated air of the surface.

Briar's son, Zeke, has never fully believed the stories about his father- that he deliberately ran the Boneshaker machine into the banking district to rob the banks and escape with a fortune. Briar insists he is dead, but refuses to tell Zeke the full story of the days after the Boneshaker was first fired up. Zeke decides to go into the poisoned city to try and clear his father's name, and Briar, once she discovers what Zeke has done, goes after him.

There is more to the plot, of course: the die-hard inhabitants of the poisoned city, surviving on scavenged good from the abandoned houses and businesses inside the walls, and living in subterranean tunnels, a mad scientist who wants to rule the ruined city (and who may or may not be Briar's thought-dead husband), and air pirates who brave the poisoned air of the city to collect the addictive drug distilled from the gas. But the main story is Briar and Zeke's: his search to find out the things his mother would never tell him, and her search to find her son again, in more ways than one.

All in all, it was an enjoyable book. One thing kept jumping out at me, however. Why did the populace stay after the deadly nature of the gas vein opened by the Boneshaker was discovered? I can almost understand those who stayed in the city, similar to those who stay in hurricane or other disaster threatened areas. But for those who moved outside the city walls, there is never a clear explanation given for their staying on. There is a war going on back East, but there is the rest of the country. It was a loose end that never was tied up well.

The steampunk trappings were nicely added= airships, machines and devices that seem advanced for the time, and other details that paint the background fairly well. The plot moves quickly, without long expositions or loss of pacing. Characters are well-drawn and interesting. Perhaps not the best example of the genre, but certainly worth reading.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Neil Gaiman, Scary Stories, Free!- and For a Good Cause

In honor of Hallowe'en, and his All Hallows Read project, Neil Gaiman and Audible have a scarey short story, written and narrated by Mr. Gaiman. And it's free. Yep- free. And for every download between now and Hallowe'en, Audible will donate one dollar to Donors Choose for U.S. downloads, and Booktrust for U.K. downloads. So, go to Audible to download Click Clack the Rattlebag, free. It is only free until Hallowe'en, and it is only available until then. Do it. Why? It's free. It's Neil Gaiman, reading a story he wrote. (He's a fantastic narrator. I know this. I heard him read excerpts of American Gods. I want Neil Gaiman to read all my books to me now.) And, most of all, it is for a good cause.

You can read his blog post about it here.

As an added bonus, if enough people download this one, there is an extra that will be put out there.