Friday, March 29, 2013

Excerpt from "Season of Bliss"

Here's another excerpt from my short novel, Season of Bliss:

     She had just gotten the bread out of the refrigerator when she heard the scratching. Her first thought was the neighbor’s car outside her door, but then someone knocked on the door. Her heart thumped. She put a dab of lotion on her hands and headed for the door, checking her hair in the hall mirror first.
     Jester stood there without the usual security. Presumably, they were downstairs waiting. His smile lit up his face. “Your court jester is here.” He bowed ridiculously low.
     She snickered and returned his bow with an old-fashioned curtsey. “My lord.”
     “You look wonderful.”
     She’d decided blue would be best. “Thank you.”
     She gestured for him to come in. Before closing the door, she took a quick look up and down the hall. Nothing.
     “Is there a problem?” he asked.
     “No, I just thought I heard something scratching at the door.”
     He grimaced. “Ah, that was me. It’s a custom on my world to scratch at a door. I did it before I remembered your people prefer knocking.”
     “Oh.” She allowed herself a moment to take him in. He wore the suit she’d bought him as if born in it, and his hair matched local styles. As amazing as it was, he really was more handsome than when she first met him.
     “Look what they gave me.” He held up a tablet. “I’ve been using it to watch the news and some entertainment.” He looked at the tablet screen. “Very, uh, interesting.”
     “Oh no. I hope you’re not judging us based off that.”
     “Well, I’ll admit some of the shows seem confusing.” He folded up the tablet and put it in his jacket pocket. “Actually, they’re similar to what we have back home. Especially the news. There’s very little difference, really. From what I’ve read back home, all human civilizations seem to have something similar to journalism.”
     “I’m sorry to hear that.”
     He gave a short laugh. “Yeah, me too.”
     She watched him smile, feeling her heartbeat grow faster. She could watch him all day. “So how is life on the base?”
     He shrugged. “Takes getting used to.”
     “I’m sure.”
     “Your people do everything public, don’t they?” he asked. “Shower, shave, uh… bathroom.”
     “We normally do that in private, but we aren’t offended by shared ones, so long as they’re divided by gender.”
     “Interesting. Back home we had a lot more privacy about such things. It just takes getting used to, I imagine.” He scratched his head. “I do have a question, if you don’t mind.”
     “Not at all.”
     “What exactly is a sandwich?”
     It was a sensible question, but she still couldn’t suppress her giggle. She feared she’d insulted him, but he only smiled at her reaction as he stood watching her with his hands in his pockets. It reminded her of how Andrew looked at her on their first date. The thought of Andrew brought back the last dream she had of him two weeks prior. The dream troubled her even then. It was as if Andrew were saying good-bye forever. She hadn’t dreamed about him since.
     “Did I say something wrong?”
     She forced herself to smile again. “No, it’s not that, it’s…” She hesitated. It was not time to relive the past. “I’m still making them—the sandwiches, I mean. I can show you.”
     He followed her into the kitchen, looking at every piece of furniture they passed as if it were all new to him. It probably was.
     She had everything laid out. “Here, you can help me.” She pointed at the bread. “Take two slices and put them on a plate.”
     He did so, examining each slice as he did. She showed him how to stack everything properly. He seemed to recognize the ham, cheese, and lettuce, but other items confused him.
     “Tomato? What’s that like?”
     “You’ll have to wait and see, won’t you?”
     “I know what that is.” He pointed at the mustard jar, which was almost empty. He sniffed at the mayonnaise. “But not this. What is it like? Wait. Let me guess: I’ll have to wait and see?”
     “You got it.” Sasha reached for the mayonnaise and stopped. Something occurred to her. “Can you have mayonnaise?”
     “Why couldn’t I?”
     “Well,” she said, “your biology is different. I’d think you’d be unable to eat at least some foods.”
     “Not so far.” Jester put his hand on his chest. “I have internal nano-machines that can break down anything I digest. I could probably eat foods you could never touch.”
     She smiled. “Are you bragging?”
     He shrugged. “Maybe.”
     In no time, the sandwiches were ready. She put them in plastic containers and placed everything else back in the refrigerator. She removed the two thermoses of tea she made earlier and set them on the counter. The refrigerator shifted to the side a little when she shut it.
     “Is that common?”
     “Is what common?”
     He pointed at wheels at the base of the refrigerator. “Do you move these often?” He gestured at the pantry. “This has them too.”
     She placed the thermoses in the basket. “Oh yes. That’s normal.”
     “It looks like they’ve been there for a while.”
     She looked at the cobwebs that had gathered. The last time she moved them was the last time she blissed, when Andrew was last with her. “Yes, it has been.”
     He nodded and looked back at the sandwiches in their containers. “I can’t wait to taste this.”
     She was thankful he always managed to avoid asking questions about what bothered her. “You don’t have sandwiches on your world?”
     “No picnics either.”
     That made her feel sad. “That’s too bad.”
     “I never thought about it before.”
     She pulled out a stylus from its holder on the side of the refrigerator. “I didn’t mean anything.”
     “I know.”
     “Well, I hope you like it. The sandwich and the picnic.” She wrote a note on the refrigerator to buy more mustard. “I’ve always loved sandwiches.”
     He nodded, but he didn’t seem to be listening. “What are you doing?”
     “Leaving myself a note.” She tapped the message with her finger to save it. “If I don’t, I’ll forget it.”
     “May I try?”
     She shrugged and handed him the stylus. “You don’t have anything like this back home?”
     He shook his head and wrote something down. His handwriting was poor, but legible. I like sandwiches.
     “Do you now?”
     He gestured at the message with the stylus. “Well, I’m trying to think positively.”
     “So you think you might not like it?”
     “No, of course not, I just…” He trailed off and stared at where he’d written. “Where’d it go?”
     She tried to suppress a smile. “You have to save it.”
     “Save it?”
     “Here.” She took the stylus and wrote. You better like the sandwiches. She touched it with her finger. “Like that.”
     “I see.” He ran his hand across the words. “Why doesn’t it save it automatically?”
     “Well, it can, but if I touch it to save it, it helps me remember I wrote down a message in the first place.”
     “So it’s a reminder that you have a reminder.”
     She narrowed her eyes at him but couldn’t suppress her grin. “Yes. You have a problem with that?”
     He held up his hands. “Oh no. Of course not.” He gestured at her note. “So, what if I don’t like it?”
     “What, my reminders?”
     “No. I meant the sandwich.”
     She shook her head at him. “You sure you want an answer to that? You helped make them, after all.”
     “Oh, so if I don’t like them, it would be my fault.”
     She nodded, wagging the stylus at him. He took it from her and wrote under her note. I claim only partial responsibility for any potential like or dislike of said sandwiches.
     “You mean, of course, full responsibility.”
     “That depends if I like the sandwiches.”
     She put her hands on your hips. “Oh, I see. So if you like them you take full responsibility, and if you don’t, I take responsibility.”
     “No, only partial responsibility.”
     She tried—and failed—to keep the grin off her face. “Not acceptable.”
     “Well, it’s permanent, so you’ll have to…” He stared at what he’d written—or, at least, where it used to be. He’d forgotten to touch it and save it. “Well, that does take some getting used to.”
She took the stylus from him. “We’re going to be late.” She replaced it in its holder and reached for the picnic basket.
     “The park’s not going anywhere.” He reached for the stylus, and she held it out of reach. “What, I can’t have the last word?”
     “No.” She reached for the picnic basket. “You want your sandwich or not?”
     “Only if I like it.”
     She slapped him on the arm. “You will like it.”
     “Or else?”
     She tried to frown, but it came out a grin. “Or else.”
     “Does that mean you’re taking full responsibility, then?”
     Her jaw tightened. “Let’s go.”
     She gripped the basket tightly as they left her apartment. He couldn’t stop snickering, even when they were in the car.

The full story is available here.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Excerpt from Season of Bliss

The following is an excerpt from my new short novel, Season of Bliss:

     Jester stood in the large, grassy area just inside the fence that surrounded the base. The structure itself was utilitarian, containing only that which was necessary for its function. It was similar to military installations on his world. Human conflict seemed axiomatic. This world probably has similar conflicts to every other world.
     The prime minister, in a speech on the net, had said everyone should come together to welcome Jester on the eve of the bliss, whatever that was. That could suggest some sort of differences between governments that necessitated a military. He thought of asking others, but most seemed to keep their distance from him. It was understandable. They didn’t know his intentions.
     The many ironies of these people fascinated him. Their clothes seemed dull with unimaginative colors while appearing elegant at the same time. Much of their news consisted of commentary, and yet they still strove for the truth. Their music… he wasn’t sure he could describe it. Almost all of it seemed based on simple percussion, but the complexity of the melodies was astonishing. All in all, this world delighted him. Especially her, and for reasons he couldn’t fathom, he was eager to see her again.
     Soon, her car pulled up. This was the only civilized world he’d visited, but he’d read reports about other such worlds from voyagers just like himself. It seemed personal transportation and extensive road systems were a staple on all technologically advanced worlds. The driver stepped out and nodded at him. Jester nodded in return, as was the custom on that world.
     The driver opened the rear door, as if the lady could not do so herself. Sasha exited the car with grace. She smoothed out her dress and muttered what was probably thanks to the driver. The driver tipped his hat and stood next to the car as Sasha approached.
     Jester couldn’t help but smile at her. Her dress seemed to hide the features of her slender body, while at the same time enhancing it. She’d tied most of her brown hair into a sort of bun. A few strands had escaped to hang artfully around her shoulders. She wore very little makeup, far less than even the most humble woman on his world would wear. By all accounts, she was plain. No, he thought. Not plain, just—reserved. The few affectations in which she indulged enhanced her beauty beyond measure.
     Perhaps that was it. Her minimalist approach made her look more natural, and therefore more alluring.
     His thoughts clouded as she stopped a short distance away. Her facial features remained relaxed, but he could see the tension in her shoulders. Still apprehensive, he thought. Everyone was. Again, it was understandable, but with her it was different. She seemed almost upset, as if she’d rather be elsewhere. The thought bothered him.
     He kept smiling, but she didn’t return it.
     “That’s a nice dress.” A compliment might… smooth things over, as the expression went.
     “It doesn’t make me look larger, like the last one?”
     It was an accusation, not a question. He’d insulted her somehow, probably when commenting on her dress. Downloading and memorizing language and culture was one thing. Internalizing it was another. She would understand, but he should make amends.
     “I believe I insulted you earlier. I assure you that wasn’t my intention.”
     “I would hope not.” Her voice was curt. “I assume you wouldn’t say such things on your world.”
     “Most women genetically sculpt their bodies, sometimes daily.”
     “It must be nice.”
     That was it. On this world, people couldn’t body-sculpt. They were stuck with whatever their genetic code gave them. Anyone might be sensitive about their body if they couldn’t change it.
     “I’m afraid I’m not as familiar with your culture as I would like to be. I hope you’ll forgive me if I… stumble from time to time.”
     For a moment she didn’t react, and he thought he got the euphemism wrong.
     Then her shoulders relaxed as she gave a short sigh. “I’m afraid I also must apologize.”
     “It appears they are attempting to enter your spacecraft.”
     “Yes, I know.” She cocked an eyebrow, and he smiled. “My ship makes me aware of anything going on within its vicinity. It’s unlikely they can harm it and impossible for them to enter.”
     “Please understand we are merely curious.”
     “I do understand.” He waved the issue off. “Feel free to examine the outside of the craft.”
     “Thank you, Mr. Gold.”
     She put her hand to her mouth to cover a smile. “Yes, Jester.”
     “Is something wrong?”
     Her smile broke into a grin that became laughter. He couldn’t help but laugh with her. It was infectious. He could’ve stood there all day and watched her.
     “Forgive me,” Sasha said, “but may I ask about your name?”
     He’d expected this question. “You mean how it translates?”
     She nodded, putting her hand to her lips to stifle another laugh. “So you do know what it means, then.”
     “A clown.”
     “As in a court jester.” She smiled meekly. “That’s what I thought of when I first heard it.”
     “Only the most royal court, mind you.”
     Her face lit up when she laughed. Enchanting, he thought. Just like everything else about her.
     “To answer your question,” he said, “I knew my name was derived from old English, but that language is incomplete to us. It’s a surprise to find it spoken here.” He tilted his head. “It is English, yes?”
     “We’re not sure ourselves,” she said. “We know our ancestors spoke it, but we don’t know how much it changed over the generations it took for them to arrive here.” She shrugged. “We may never know for sure.”
     He nodded, and then they stood for a moment of awkward silence. He wanted the conversation to continue, but he couldn’t find the words. Every subject he could think of seemed inadequate or silly. It was peculiar, considering they were from different worlds. They should have plenty to talk about, but he was, as the expression went, tongue-tied.
     What was it about her?
     “So,” she said, “I hear you’ve been granted access to the city.”
     He’d almost forgotten that. “Yes. I’m looking forward to it.” He glanced up at the city, which towered over the base. “Looks like it’s a long walk, though.”
     “Maybe I can help with that.”

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Season of Bliss

My new short novel, Season of Bliss, is up on amazon for only 99 cents.

When Jester came to Sasha’s world, their lives changed forever.

Jester belongs to one of the many colonies of humanity that spread across the galaxy eons ago. His people merely wish to reach out to Sasha’s people in friendship as fellow descendants of humanity.

But Jester has arrived on Sasha’s world on the eve of the Bliss, a madness that is both overwhelming and necessary for the survival of her people. The changes she experiences, changes they experience every two years, draw her to Jester in ways that both excite and terrify her. For Jester is ignorant of not only the Bliss, but also to the meaning of the one word that binds Sasha's people together, a word they always thought was a part of humanity wherever they may be.

As Sasha shows Jester how the descendants of humanity live on her world, she feels a gnawing in her soul. If she can teach him the meaning of the word, she’ll know a happiness she has not felt in years. If not, it could mean the end of her life.