First day of the summer

Today was the first full day of summer vacation, but I spent most of it at the hospital, getting preregistered.  Next week I’m going in to have knee replacement surgery.  I plan to do a lot of writing between physical therapy sessions.

I have been writing a great deal the past few weeks, and over the upcoming months, I hope to increase the amount of time I have to devote to it.  I would really like to finish four books this summer: the next robot book, the next Senta book, the next Astrid Maxxim, and finally finishing Kanana: The Jungle Girl.

A Great Deal of Patience and A Plague of Wizards are both about half done.  I haven’t started on Astrid Maxxim and the Secret of Dolphin Island, but I have an outline done.  Kanana: The Jungle Girl is about 90% done.  So there you go.  Watch this space for updates.  I plan to be online a lot more this summer too.

The Voyage of the Minotaur – Chapter 13 Excerpt

Voyage of the Minotaur (New Cover)It was chilly and wisps of mist hung in the air. On the distant shore, beyond the wall formed by impossibly tall redwood trees, large spruces, massive maple and bay trees, filled in between by thick huckleberry and azalea bushes and wave upon wave of rhododendron, some giant and no doubt frightening monster roared out a challenge. From its tiny animal carrier on deck, the little dragon answered.

Senta stepped onto the deck and knelt down by the box. Zurfina had dressed her in another weird outfit, this one a floor length black dress with a white collar. A black ceramic rose right in the front of her neck that made it difficult to look down at the high-heeled black sandals on her feet. Of course Zurfina had on a matching dress, and cut a striking figure standing along the railing of the forward deck with the Captain, Miss Dechantagne, the Dechantagne brothers, and other notables, all of whom were dressed in light summer clothing, as they surveyed the coastline.

“Pet!” said the dragon.
“Yep, it’s me,” said Senta. “I’m going to take you out, but you have to have your leash on.”
The dragon hissed. She opened the door of the carrier and the dragon climbed out onto the top. He turned his head and pointedly looked the other direction as she snapped the little chain onto the ring around his ankle. Once the little clip had snapped shut, Senta attached the other end of the chain to a bracelet on her right wrist.

“See there. We’re both chained by the wrist. Nobody’s the boss.”
“Gawp.” said the dragon, and then spreading its wings to balance, it climbed up her arm and onto her shoulder. It slithered down to lie across her shoulders, one hand and one foot holding onto her dress and one hand and one foot holding onto her hair. Senta stood up. The little dragon was now over four feet long from nose to tip of tail, but he was only about six inches thick across the belly and he was surprisingly light.
“What do you want to do?”

“Me too. This is sooo boring.”
The ship had been sailing parallel to the coast for the past four days and Senta was getting tired of it. What was the point of sailing all the way to Mallon, if you didn’t get out and walk around on it? Twenty days was more than enough time to explore every square inch of the largest battleship and Senta had spent more than three times that length of time on the Minotaur. Not even murders, gunfights, and drinking wine until you threw up could take away the boredom forever.

“Fina,” said the dragon.

Senta walked toward the front of the ship. She had gone only about halfway to where Zurfina and the others stood watching the coastline roll past, when a figure stepped out of the shadows. A freckled face and striped shirt quickly identified the shady figure.
“Hey Graham,” said Senta.

“Hi Senta. What’ya doing?”
“Nothing. He wants to go up by the grown-ups.” She indicated the dragon with her thumb.

“Can I come?”
“Sure. Just don’t get too close, cause he’ll bite you.”

“I thought he was tame.”
“You can’t tame a dragon. Zurfina says you can’t tame anything that’s smarter than you are.”

“Who says he’s smarter than me?” Graham was indignant.
“Not just you, stupid. Dragons are super smart. When he gets big, he’ll be able to talk and do
magic and all kinds of cool stuff.”

“Brill,” said the boy.

The Sorceress and her Lovers – Just $2.99 for Kindle

The Sorceress and her LoversIt’s been three years since the Kingdom of Greater Brechalon, with the help of Zurfina the Magnificent, defeated their hereditary enemies, the Freedonians. The world has changed. Port Dechantagne, once a distant outpost of civilization, has grown to be a large city, the center of prosperous Birmisia Colony. Steam-powered carriages share the streets with triceratops-pulled trolleys, fine ladies in their most fashionable bustle dresses lead their lizardmen servants through the shopping districts, and an endless stream of immigrants pours into the region.

The young ladies of the colony are busy with fashion, coming out parties, and securing partners among the smaller male population. Eleven-year-old Iolana Staff, daughter of the colonial governor, has more important things on her mind—the mysterious machine known as the Result Mechanism, and her relationship to the machine’s creator.

Meanwhile, sorceress Senta Bly returns from the continent with a new male companion, an illegitimate daughter, and a long lost brother. Hated and feared for her magic, she must face wizards, assassins, and an old enemy from another reality.

The Sorceress and her Lovers continues the story of Senta and the Steel Dragon, taking up where The Two Dragons left off. It is a story of magic and power, fear and revenge, and love.

Purchase your copy of The Sorceress and her Lovers by following this link.

The World of Senta and the Steel Dragon: B

The Voyage of the Minotaur Ballar: Though little is known of its beginnings, by -6000, Ballar was an expanding empire in the northwest corner of Sumir.  Ballar maintained trade with many other civilizations and its culture became quite diluted, taking on the traits of neighboring civilizations.  About -2600, the Ballar Slave Class overran the Ballar ruling class.  The resulting Kingdom of Zaerphon bore little resemblance to its predecessor.

Bamport: A deep water port and airship base for the Kingdom of Freedonia, Bamport was located on a small island north of Enclep.

Bangdorf: Capital of Freedonia, Bangdorf is a city of nearly two million.  The original city predates Freedonia, having been established about 520.  Upon selection as the capital in 1794, a massive rebuilding project was begun that continued to the present.

Barnyard, The: The Barnyard is a novel by Willam Hormby in which the farmer and his family are captured and put on trial by the animals of the farm.  Eventually the animals kill and eat the humans and then turn on each other.

Bentin: Bentin is a small city in Greater Brechalon n the County of Cordwell.  It is chiefly known for the Royal Military Base located just beyond the edge of the city.

Beer: Beer is an alcoholic beverage produced by the saccharification of starch and fermentation of the resulting sugar.  The starch and saccharification enzymes are often derived from malted cereal grains, most commonly malted barley and malted wheat.  Most beer is also flavoured with hops, which add bitterness and act as a natural preservative, though other flavourings such as herbs or fruit may occasionally be included.  The preparation of beer is called brewing.  There are dozens of brands of beer produced in Greater Brechalon, but this number is dwarfed by the varieties found in Freedonia.  Beer is less common in Mirsanna, where wine drinking is much more prevalent.

Billingbow’s: Billingbow’s Sarsaparilla and Wintergreen Soda Water is a soft drink produced in Brech City.  The syrup is mixed with sparkling water and bottled.  Billingbow’s syrup is shipped to Freedonia, Mallontah, and Birmisia, where it is mixed and sold.  Billingbow’s is a favorite of Saba Colbshallow.  Ssissiatok (Cissy) was also fond of the drink, though it is not particularly popular among lizardmen.

Bird Feet: One of a variety of species of violet, Bird Feet are common in Enclep.

Birmisia: The northeastern portion of the continent of Mallon, Birmisia covers an area of about 8 million square miles.  Home to hundreds of lizardman settlements and several large cities, it is sparsely settled by human beings—the one notable exception being Brechalon’s Birmisia Colony.  Most of Birmisia falls in the temperate climate range.

Birmisia Colony: A Brech Colony in Birmisia, Mallon, Birmisia Colony was founded in 1899 by the three Dechantagne siblings and is centered on the city of Port Dechantagne.

Blackbottom: Also known as The Bottom, Blackbottom is a section of Brech City built on land sloping down toward the River Thiss.  Besides thousands of two and three story houses that all seem to be either leaning toward the river because of the sloping land or leaning in the other direction in hopes of countering the slope, there are countless seedy pubs, sordid meeting houses, and hidden drug dens in Blackbottom.

Black Pudding: Black pudding, blood pudding, or blood sausage is a type of sausage made by cooking blood or dried blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled.

Bloomers: One of several types of divided women’s garments for the lower body.

Bonaventura, Abel: A writer from Borazon, Bonaventura is known for his novels Who Lived in My House? and Bring Me My Life.

Bonnano, Lan: Brech writer Lan Bonnano is best known for his novels Death and Destruction and Fiora Kirseen.

Booth, Duchy of: The Duchy of Booth is located on the northern corner of the island of Mirilon and is one of 66 political divisions within the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon.

Borazon, Kingdom of: A large country south of Freedonia, Borazon was formed as a successor state to Magnus’s Empire of the Zur.  The modern Borazon encompasses only the eastern portion of the original kingdom.  Borazon converted to Kafirism about 160.  The Borazonian language is closely related to Freedonian and the two counties share many other cultural traits.

Bormass: Bormass was an ancient culture occupying the horn of Sumir from about -2000 to about -1500.  It has been speculated that the Bormass originated on Enclep, because of a similarity of artwork.  Little remains of Bormass, except for massive carvings of animals found throughout their land.  The largest of these is Numateme, an entire mountain carved into the shape of a lion.

Brech (The Great City): Brech City is the capital of the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon.  It is the largest city in the world, with a population of more than four million.  Tradition holds that Magnus the Great laid out the city himself in year -6.

Brech Mallontah: (See Mallontah.)

Brechalon: The large island upon which Brech City resides, it is the center of the United Kingdom of Greater Brechalon.  Brechalon is roughly circular, approximately 500 miles in diameter.

Brechalon (Ancient): The civilization of Brechalon was a military empire.  The discovery of an ancient fortress on the Island of Greater Brechalon is what gives the Brechalonians their name, though it was later determined to be only an outpost and the bulk of the empire was in fact, on eastern coast of what is today Mirsanna.  The Brechalonians pioneered iron weapons, and defeated Donnata about -4600.

Brech by Starlight: A romantic novel by Cathal Parvis.

Brech’s Islands: A historical novel that follows the development of the Kingdom of Greater Brechalon, Brech’s Islands is one of the most popular foreign novels in Brech.

Brech Stories: A popular collection of short stories by Baumgarten Glines.

Breeding Booksellers: A small bookstore on Avenue Phoenix in Brech City, Breeding Booksellers is noted for procuring hard-to-find editions.  Terrence Dechantagne purchased a copy of Kazia Garstone’s Revenge at Breeding.

The Bribe: The Bribe is a novel by Chirem Gynn that tells the story of a police constable whose life crumbles around him after he accepts a bribe from a drug dealer.

Bring Me My Life: A novel by Abel Bonaventura, Bring Me My Life tells the story of a man returning from six months of living in a coma to find himself replace by a man who has married his wife and adopted his children.

Broken Tooth: A novel by Wadsworth Dietle, Broken Tooth is the story of a dog that must choose to stay with humans or join a wolf pack.  It is the only book by Dietle that is as popular in Brech as it is in Freedonian.

Brownworth, Tzuriel: A Brech biologist and medical doctor, Tzuriel Brownworth best known for his Theory of Evolution, developed during his jouney to the Mullien Islands as detailed in The Adventures of the S.S. Flying Fish.

Brysin’s Weekly Ladies’ Journal: A popular magazine published in Brech, Brysin’s Weekley Ladies’ Journal is the most popular of a new variety of publication featureing news on fashion and etiquette.

Buitreraptor: Buiteraptors are a rather small species of Birmisian predatory bird.  They are bout three feet in length and about a foot tall.  The buitreraptor has a slender, flat, extremely elongated snout with many small teeth that lack meat-tearing serrations or cutting edges and are grooved, strongly recurved and flattened.  It is not a hunter of relatively large animals, but rather a hunter of small animals such as lizards and mammals. The forelimbs of Buitreraptor are long and end in hands with three fingers.

Burson, Tracy: A Brech novelist and proponent of conservation.

Bustle: A bustle is a type of framework used to expand the fullness or support the drapery of the back of a woman’s dress.  Bustles are worn under the skirt in the back, just below the waist, to keep the skirt from dragging.  Heavy fabric tended to pull the back of a skirt down and flatten it.  Thus, a woman’s petticoated or crinolined skirt would lose its shape, making her behind look flat and unappealing.  Since their introduction in Mirsanna, bustles have become synonymous with the fashion, and continue to increase in size.

The Drache Girl – The Lizzies

The lizzie characters don’t have much of a part in The Drache Girl, with the exception of Cissy.  This is because I wrote it before I wrote The Dark and Forbidding Land, and I didn’t yet realize how much I wanted them there.  Still, Cissy has a bit of a juicy part.

The reptilian hands pulled her back down the short end of the hall just in front of her bedroom.  Then they turned her around so that she faced the lizzie to whom they belonged.  It was Cissy.  Yuah had learned to recognize her, even without the ridiculous yellow skirt which she wore even now.  Cissy yanked open the door of the laundry shoot and pointed.

“In,” she said.

Yuah stuck Augie into the shaft, and still holding on to him, dived in after, head first.  Cissy lifted Yuah’s legs and gave her a push and she slid down two stories to land in the pile of unwashed clothing in the basement.  She rolled to her feet, quickly checking to see that Augie was unharmed.  She carried him across the room to the steps leading up and out into the side yard.  Poking her head out and looking both left and right, she didn’t see any of the cold-blooded intruders.

She ran quickly across the yard and out the front gate, just as more gunfire and a scream erupted from inside the Dechantagne home.  Yuah turned and looked at the front door as a single Lizzie, carrying a rifle, stepped out into the misty air.  It saw her, and with a look of evil determination started after her.  She ran, heedless of the sharp gravel on her bare feet.  She ran for the closest nearby house—Saba Colbshallow’s small home.

The reptilian hands pulled her back down the short end of the hall just in front of her bedroom.  Then they turned her around so that she faced the lizzie to whom they belonged.  It was Cissy.  Yuah had learned to recognize her, even without the ridiculous yellow skirt which she wore even now.  Cissy yanked open the door of the laundry shoot and pointed.

“In,” she said.

Yuah stuck Augie into the shaft, and still holding on to him, dived in after, head first.  Cissy lifted Yuah’s legs and gave her a push and she slid down two stories to land in the pile of unwashed clothing in the basement.  She rolled to her feet, quickly checking to see that Augie was unharmed.  She carried him across the room to the steps leading up and out into the side yard.  Poking her head out and looking both left and right, she didn’t see any of the cold-blooded intruders.

She ran quickly across the yard and out the front gate, just as more gunfire and a scream erupted from inside the Dechantagne home.  Yuah turned and looked at the front door as a single Lizzie, carrying a rifle, stepped out into the misty air.  It saw her, and with a look of evil determination started after her.  She ran, heedless of the sharp gravel on her bare feet.  She ran for the closest nearby house—Saba Colbshallow’s small home.

The Dark and Forbidding Land – And the Rest

There are a few other characters who appear in The Dark and Forbidding Land.

Professor Calliere: Calliere is Iolanthe’s husband and plays a bigger part in books 1 and 3, but he does play his part here as well.

Lon Fonstan: Lon is one of those guys who appears on maybe a page in each of the books, but he’s there and he has some fun interactions with others, especially Senta.  He really shines in book 3.

Mr. Brockton: Brockton is a wizard who appears in books 2 and 4.  He works in the War Ministry with Wizard Bassington, but isn’t nearly as powerful.

Miss Gertz: Miss Gertz is the mayor’s secretary.

Mrs. Godwin: An old household servant of the Dechantagnes, Mrs. Godwin lives in the family house.

Paxton Brown: Brown makes his appearance in The Dark and Forbidding Land, but doesn’t really become an important character until book 5.

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Climbing down from the train’s caboose, Benny Markham turned and politely offered Senta his hand as she stepped down onto the station platform.  She was followed by Shemar Morris.  The station platform was empty except for them and the train’s fireman who stepped off with them, though a couple of station employees could be seen moving around in the office building.  The train from Mallontah wouldn’t arrive for several hours.  By then the station would be crowded with those getting on or getting off, and those meeting passengers.

“Remind me that I never want to sleep in a caboose again,” said Shemar.

“I slept very nicely,” said Senta.

“That’s because you had the bed.”

“I slept fine too,” said Benny.  “I think it was the rocking.”

“I think it was the aftermath of an adrenaline rush,” said Shemar.  “I’ve never seen someone so afraid for so long.”

“I wasn’t afraid.  I’m just a cautious man.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being afraid,” said Senta, “if you have something to be afraid of.”

“I think gorgasauruses and achillabators qualify,” said Benny.

“When do we need to report in to M&S Coal,” asked Shemar.  “I’ve got the map marked with where you found the coal.  Here.”

Senta accepted the map.  “We should probably take it right over.”

“Let’s do it then,” said Benny.  “I want to get home, get something to eat, take a bath, and then sleep.”

“A man after my own heart,” said Senta.

The three young people made their way across the growing town.  Lizzie workers were thick.  On Bay Street, not only were they paving the way with red brick and pouring cement sidewalks, they were also laying down gas lines and putting up gas streetlamps.  The general impression was that the town had grown while they had been gone, even though they had only set out the day before.  They saw the triceratops, Harriet, pulling the trolley down Pine Street, but at the moment, she was travelling in the opposite direction they were.

“You know it’s about tea time,” said Benny when they approached Town Square.  “We could stop at the Bakery Café on our way to M&S.”

“I could eat,” said Senta.

The three headed for the entrance to the bakery but were intercepted at door by Gaylene Finkler.  She held up her hand like a cop directing traffic.

“Sorry Senta, you’re not allowed in.”

“What?  Why not?”

“You may have gotten the Justice to drop the charges, but we can’t have you assaulting our customers.”

“What the hell are you talking about Gaylene?”

The Drache Girl – Iolanthe Dechantagne Calliere

Iolanthe is one of my favorite characters and one of the most important in the series.  She’s so fun to write because she’s such a bitch.  She plays an important part in The Drache Girl, even though she is not one of the four main characters in this part of the story.

A second later, around the corner stepped Iolanthe Dechantagne and Yuah Korlann.  Iolanthe Calliere and Yuah Dechantagne, Staff mentally corrected himself.  Iolanthe was wearing a green velvet dress with at least seven ornately ruffled layers, and a white lace collar with a black bow.  Yuah wore a gold dress with a broad band of blue at the knees and a waterfall of lace draping from the shoulders and down over the bustle.  Both women wore hats covered in flowers that matched each of their dresses and carried matching muffs.  The two women saw Staff at the same moment and both stopped dead in their tracks.

“Radley,” gasped Iolanthe.

Then the three of them stood silently gaping at each other.  At last Yuah stepped forward.

“Mr. Staff, how lovely to see you again,” she said, removing one hand from her muff and offering it to him.

“Mrs. Dechantagne, you look more lovely that I remember.”

“Oh, pish-posh.  I’m getting to be an old lady.”

“That madam is sacrilege.”

She smiled.

Iolanthe still stood where she was.  Her face had gone from the pale of alabaster to the pale of ash.  Her mouth was agape, and she looked as though she was unable to breathe.  Staff stepped forward, taking her right wrist in his hands, pulling her hand from her muff and enfolding it in his own.

“Mrs.… It’s very nice to see you again.”

“Commander Staff,” said Iolanthe, at last, taking an audible breath.  “I didn’t realize you were in the country.”

“I had always planned to return.”

Iolanthe bit her lip.

“I’m here on business,” he said, releasing her hand and turning back to Yuah.  “I just spoke to your father and he was very helpful in offering me advice on how to get everything off the ground now that I’m here.”

“He does excel at giving advice,” conceded Yuah.  “What business will you be running.”



“Yes, I have some very wealthy backers and a complete staff ready to go to work.  I will need the royal governor’s office for all the permits and tax papers and what not, but I’m sure you may offer me some insight into the governor’s state of mind.”

“I… Oh, I….permits…”  Iolanthe swayed just for a moment.  Yuah took her by the shoulder and held her upright.

“I’m sure that my sister-in-law will be able to offer you all the assistance that you need.  What do you require first?”

“Your father has pointed me in the direction of an office building with apartments, though I may need somewhere to live until I secure it.”

“Well, that’s easily settled,” said Yuah.  “You simply must come and stay at the Dechantagne home.”

Iolanthe moved with what seemed like hesitation toward the front steps of the temporary city hall and sat down on the wooden planks so hard that it appeared she might fall back.

The Dark and Forbidding Land – Streck

In The Dark and Forbidding Land, I had to create a number of new characters that I new would not appear later on.  Streck was probably the most important and interesting of these.

“Hey!”  Half a dozen men were running in their direction from the east.  By the time they reached the two children, Graham had thrown his gun over his shoulder and pulled a very long turquoise feather from the utahraptor’s tail, which he handed to Senta.  The men stopped next to the fallen creature.  Among them were Sergeant Clark and a couple of armed militiamen, as well as Mr. Darwin and Mr. Fonstan.

“Look Clark,” said Mr. Fonstan.  “These children killed the utahraptor that you and your men couldn’t even find.”

Clark shot him an evil look.

“If you don’t have any use for the carcass,” said Mr. Darwin to Graham.  “I’ll gladly give you two marks for it.”

While the man and boy were negotiating, with Mr. Fonstan looking on, Clark and his two men followed the trail of the second creature into the trees, leaving Senta standing near the sixth man in the group.  He was a stranger, a young man wearing a black greatcoat over a charcoal suit.  His blond hair was cut short beneath a furry cap.  He examined the girl with steely eyes.

“So who would you be?” he asked, his voice thick with a Freedonian accent.

“She would be the Drache Girl,” said Fonstan, turning around.

“Ja?  This little bit?”  He was looking neither at Fonstan nor Senta, but was scanning the edge of the trees.

“That’s right,” said Senta saucily.  “What’s that?”

She pointed to a small, round black and red pin on the lapel of his coat.  It was something like a cross, with each of the four legs broken off at right angles.  The man sneered.

“You Brech call it a gammadion, but its proper name is fylfot.”

“Yeah?  What’s it for?”

“It is the symbol of the Die Wahre Kunst von Zauberei,” he said, turning his attention back to her.

“Um… painting with wizards?”

“The true art.  Wizardry.  Ignorant girl!”

“Watch your mouth buddy!”  Graham was at Senta’s side.  “I’ll give you what for!”

“Come on children.”  Mr. Fonstan, stepping around the Freedonain, took the children by their shoulders and guided them past him.  “Let’s not bother Mr. Streck anymore.”

Streck went back to looking around, while Mr. Fonstan led the children down the road toward town square.  Graham kept turning to look over his shoulder at Streck.  When he started to slow a bit, Mr. Fonstan pulled him along.

“Don’t go looking for trouble, lad,” he said.  “I don’t like the look of that one and it ain’t just because he’s foreigner.”

The Young Sorceress – Chapter 4 Excerpt

Isaak Wissinger bent down and picked up a paper from the street.  At least he was still able to do that.  Many of the people he saw passing him on the street seemed barely able to lift their own feet.  He was still in the ghetto of Zurelendsviertel.  He had been unable to get out.  During the past eleven months, Wissinger had been forced to use the money that his guardian angel had given him to buy scraps of food.  She had been right.  When push had come to shove, the other Zaeri had helped themselves and their families, and not the famous writer they knew of, but didn’t really know.

The angel had not come back since that night.  If Wissinger had not had the money to spend on moldy bread and mysterious meat, he would have thought that he had dreamed the whole thing.  Of course there were also the stories.  Stories had come into the ghetto from the outside world—stories about a mysterious woman.  A blond woman had attacked Neuschlindenmacht Castle, burning it to the ground, though nobody knew exactly how.  A powerful witch had fought and killed a dozen wizards of the Reine Zauberei on the streets of Kasselburg.  A blond sorceress had freed hundreds of Zaeri prisoners held in a work camp and had killed or frightened off a company of soldiers guarding them.  Wissinger carefully listened to the stories without adding his own experiences.  There was nothing to indicate that these stories were about the same woman, or that they were even true.  But Wissinger believed them.

“You’re thinking about me right now, aren’t you?” asked a sultry voice right by his ear.

Wissinger jumped.  The woman was back.  He looked up and down the street and realized that there was no one else to be seen.  This was unusual.  It was almost mid-day.  He looked back at her.  Yes, it was the same woman.  She was dressed at least this time.  Sort of.  He tried to think where her black corset and leather pants would be everyday dress, but could imagine no such place in the world.  She tossed her hair back and then took a pose with her chin held high, like a statue.

“Um, you’re back,” he said.

“Oh my.  Here I was told that you were the greatest writer in Freedonia, and this is your introductory line?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Well now you’re just being thick,” she said.  “I came back for you.  You were supposed to be gone, out of the ghetto and to the coast at least.”

“I couldn’t get out.  The Kafirite, Kiesinger, the one who smuggled some Zaeri out for money.  The day after you were here, I mean in my room, he was arrested.  He wasn’t arrested in my room, he was arrested… wherever they arrested him, but no one else took his place.  There was no one else who would help, to smuggle me out.”  Wissinger stopped speaking and realized he was out of breath.

“Relax lover.  We’re leaving now.”



“Wait.  We have to go back to my room.”

She smiled seductively.  “What a wonderful idea.  I thought you might be more welcoming this time.”

“No, it’s just… it’s the middle of the day.”


“Well, um… I… Aren’t we in a hurry?”

“You’re the one who wants to go back to your room.”

“I have to get my book.”

“What book is that?”

“My book.  It doesn’t have a title yet.  It’s about life here.  It’s hidden in the wall.”

“Then let’s go get it.”

Wissinger led the woman down the cobblestone street to his apartment building and upstairs to his room.  His building had been a fine middle class apartment twenty years earlier.  Now it was rapidly falling apart from neglect.  Holes had appeared in the walls and the floor.  In one spot just outside his apartment door, he could see completely through to the floor below. In a way this was all fortunate.  The crack in the wall next to the loose board, behind which he hid the tools of his trade, didn’t look out of place.  Removing the board, he pulled out the tablet and pencil.

The tablet was the type children used in school.  He had started at the beginning and had used every page.  Then he had turned it over and had written on the backs of each sheet, in ever smaller script as the pages had become scarce.  The pencil was the last of a package of twelve.  Oh, how he had wasted his pencils at first, insisting on a sharp point, whittling each one back with his knife.  When he had gotten to the sixth one, he had stopped such foolishness.  He let the lead become as dull and round as a turtle’s head and had only cut back the wood around it, when it, like the turtle’s head, had become hidden inside.  That was all over now.

He felt the woman press against his back.  She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and licked the back of his neck.  He turned around and kissed her deeply.  She pulled him toward the cot, and he let her.  He spent the last hour that he would ever spend on that horrible, worn, bug-ridden mattress making love to a beautiful woman.

“I don’t even know your name,” he said, as they dressed.

“It’s Zurfina.”

“Like the daughter of Magnus the Great?”

“Yes, exactly like that.”

“You’re not her, are you?”

“Yes.  Yes I am.”

She slipped back into her boots and headed out the door.  Wissinger stuffed his pencil in the pocket where he kept his penknife and tucked his tablet under his arm.  A quick look around reminded him that he had nothing else of value.  Quickly catching up with Zurfina, he followed her downstairs and out into the street.  Even though the sun was still high, there was nobody to be seen.  It was as if they were the only two people in the world.  Down the street and around the corner, then down the main thoroughfare, they finally reached the twenty foot tall wooden gate to the outside world.  It was standing open and the guards who had always been there were gone.

“What’s going on?” Wissinger asked.

“It’s just magic.”

Once outside the gate, they wound their way through the city streets of Gartow.  It was much nicer here.  The buildings were in repair.  The shops were open.  But here the world was just as devoid of life and humanity as it had been inside the ghetto.   In no time at all they were past the edge of town.  They stepped off the road and crossed the first field of many that filled the space between the city and the distant edge of the forest.

“Zurfina, how is it… oh… um.”

“What is it?”

“I just remembered that according the Holy Scriptures, Zurfina… that is the daughter of King Magnus, was burned at the stake.”

“Fine, I’m not her then.”

“But your name is Zurfina, isn’t it?”

“I’m tired of all your questions,” she said, stopping and glaring at him.  “It’s been nothing but questions with you since I got here.  What’s going on?  Who are you?  Can I be on top?”

“I’m sorry.”

“One more question and I’m leaving.”

“No.  I’m sorry.  No more questions, I promise,” said Wissinger.  “Just tell me which way I am supposed to go.”

“That’s it!” she snapped, and with a flourish of her hands, she disappeared with a pop.

“I didn’t… that wasn’t a question… I phrased it…”

A sound drew Wissinger’s gaze to the sky.  A flock of small birds flew overhead, twittering as they went.  Then he heard the sounds of voices, and looking toward town, he could see people.  A steam carriage chugged down the now distant road.  It was as if the world had suddenly come alive.  Dropping
to a crouch, he looked around to see if there was anyone close.  He could detect no one.  Staying hunched over, he made for the forest as fast as he could.