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Hot Water

2017-04-30 swag bag

Wonderful swag for first place!

The valve was stuck again.

Egon stared at it but dared not complain. He was never moody, yet somehow that adjective had been attached to him by his demonic coworkers. It was just one more frustration of his hellish job.

Egon looked around. Except for the lava fish swimming around his ankles, he was alone. With a fleeting sense of righteousness he uttered a colorful string of epithets that left much to be desired. The lava fish gave him a look but did not tempt him to extrapolate.

The valve was stuck at the border of Just-Hot-Enough and Burning Hellfire. It was always stuck, and his job of unsticking it was a Sisyphean task. He wasn’t Sisyphus. It wasn’t fair. He’d submit his resignation if the severance package wasn’t so pathetic.

With a curse and a heave Egon moved the valve to its hottest position. Far above him, a thousand souls screamed as their showers suddenly became steam cookers.

He smiled.

Another day’s work done.

This was a fun contest at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference this year! We had to introduce ourselves to the faculty/staff who had stars on their badges, and ask for a word prompt. There were twenty words possible, and we had to get at least five. I used the cheesy pickup line “May I have a word with you?” to collect ten, and I used them all. The task was to compose a piece of flash fiction under 250 words.

My words were: valve, fish, Sisyphean, moody, fleeting, colorful, tempt, extrapolate, severance, and border.

And I won first place out of about 40 entries! #Snoopydance

Hot WaterThis is probably the last story I’ll post here, and I’d like some advice.

Under Loch and Key is the place I put random bits of writing. When I was an aspiring author I participated in lots of story prompts and flash fiction contests for fun and practice. Sometimes the story was a gem in the rough, but more often it’s just rough.

I’m working on transitioning my site from “aspiring author” to “professional author.” I think one of those steps is taking down the blog full of random stories. I may include just a few of the best “free” stories on on individual pages, but I believe this blog should go.

What’s the best way to do that? I’d like to archive the stories. Is there an easy way to simply make it unavailable (like taking away the links from the main site) or is there a tool I can use to archive the stories?


Tumbleweed: Coming Soon!

Flip of a Coin 01One hundred thousand kilometers above the Earth tumbles the Chʼil Awoshí Station, a conglomeration of oddball environments used for everything from top secret research to filmography to recreation and housing. Fiercely independent yet by necessity interdependent, the inhabitants maintain a delicate alliance of cultures that clash and corporations that compete.

In The Flip of a Coin, a new disc is being built, soon to be joined to Tumbleweed’s Discworld. But although the corporation building the addition has complied with every rule and regulation, there is something unsettling about the newcomers. When a strange man in an environmental suit collides with the command module, half conscious and claiming to have escaped the new disc, Captain Kitewhetu must balance her suspicions with the Chʼil Awoshí’s reputation for respecting the anonymity and independence of its members.

The Flip of a Coin will be published at All For Science, the place for all things science. A new chapter will be posted every Sunday, beginning in September.

19 strip for Tumbleweed

Five Cats


20160604_143655We never intended to have five cats. Rob and I had plans and ideals, and one of those was that the perfect number of feline pets was two. They would groom each other and keep each other company, but not overburden their humans with litter box odor or food costs. We agreed that, as the cats aged, it would be acceptable to add a third pet, a kitten who would keep the older felines on their toes, and provide comfort when the time came that one would pass away.

And so it was, for the first several years of our marriage. Chantilly and Angel moved with us from Wyoming to Vermont in 1996. We were fortunate that we lived with my parents at first, and then in various apartments that allowed us to keep our pets at home.

Around the turn of the millennium, even though Chantilly and Angel weren’t all that old, we drove three hours from home just to adopt our third cat, Loki. We’d been married about five years, and four of those years were spent trying to get pregnant. I was on the kind of drugs that, in addition to helping me ovulate in a timely manner, also played havoc with my psyche and emotions. Loki wasn’t a real baby, but he helped ease the pain of childlessness, being a playful and affectionate addition to the family.

Both Rob and I worked at Vermont Technical College, where we’d earned our Associate’s degrees. The Vet Tech program there took in dogs and cats each year, and before the summer they all needed to find homes. I made the mistake one day of stopping in to visit one of my friends, who was in charge of the lab, and asking her if any of their cats needed some snuggling. She put Finny in my arms, and I was instantly in love. He just wanted to be held and cuddled, something that helped my childless heart bear the pain a little better. We had then been trying to get pregnant for almost ten years, as well as having competed our foster parent training but inexplicably not having a child placed with us. We let him stay in the empty room we’d decorated in preparation for a child, letting the cats get to know each other through the crack at the bottom of the door.

Four cats was too many. But we weren’t done yet.

After eleven years of trying to get pregnant, we finally had a foster daughter and we were enduring the endless trials of waiting for the termination of the birth parents’ rights and her release to finally be adopted. Our daughter, then seven years old, told me there was a kitten on the porch. Although I didn’t believe her (lying was and still is one of her greatest vices) I went to check, and was amazed to discover it was true. Bug-riddled and starving, the kitten waltzed through the front door and never left.

It was late autumn. He’d probably either been born in or abandoned in the woods across the street from our house. It was unlikely he’d survive the winter. I couldn’t stand the thought of taking him to the humane society; here was a helpless furbaby, presented to us without any prompting or begging on our part, while we were praying and hoping that we could adopt our daughter and maybe, just maybe get pregnant before my body was too old to safely carry a child.

We took Simon in. (He’s watching me write this; the other four cats each passed away over the last several years.) His boney ribcage filled out that summer, and human-administered medicine got rid of

the bugs. He and the other cats thrived, and the next Spring we finalized our daughter’s adoption.

And a year after Simon came to us, I finally had a baby girl of my own.

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Doc apt booksIt took eleven years of trying and a lot of different infertility treatments for my husband and me to get pregnant. In 2007, we finalized the adoption of our older daughter and I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. We named her Rhiannan.

The tumorWhen she started walking, I found a lump on her back. The pediatrician was concerned, but said she would check again at Rhiannan’s one year appointment.

The lump was still there.Crackers

We went to the hospital for an ultrasound. Rhiannan was happy because there were all kinds of toys to play with, and the procedure consisted of snuggling Mommy while some weird lady but sticky stuff on her back and rubbed a wand over her. I, however, was worried when they told me “Wait here. Your pediatrician wants to talk with you.” I was then instructed to take my toddler directly to onconolgy. They were making an appointment for her then and there.PreMRI

The word terrified me. It means cancer…something we can’t cure and something no child should be afflicted with. I will skip ahead, and tell you it wasn’t cancer, but something else. And it has a happy ending.

The crib after the first surgery, when she was still wiggly.

The crib after the first surgery, when she was still wiggly.

Because Rhiannan was so small, the MRI of her back included most of her torso and hips. It was the MRI that saved her life because, although the lipoma was the main concern, it turned out to be the symptom of something bigger.

My daughter had a tethered spinal cord.

The doctor explained it to us like this: There’s a bit of sticky mass, like bubble gum, at the base of her spine where her nerves are supposed to spread out to her lower body. Instead of growing with her, the nerves were stretching. She would eventually be in a wheelchair.

Recovery after the first surgery

Recovery after the first surgery

Rhiannan’s first surgery, to remove the lipoma, was fairly simple. Samples of the lump were sent to labs across the country, as is procedure in pediatric cases, and they came back as benign. No cancer. She came home the next day her usual giggly wiggly self.

The second surgery, to release the tethered spinal cord, was more complicated, and much more scary. When I asked my pediatrician “How will I keep a fourteen-month-old still for three days?” she answered “Don’t worry. She won’t want to move.”

Ready for surgery

Ready for surgery

The pediatrician was right.

Rhiannan and I spent three days in the hospital. Since I was breastfeeding, I was the usually the parent who was there with her, as well as sleeping overnight. A sign over her hospital crib sternly warned everyone that she could only be moved in a log roll, she could not be picked up and held. I pumped milk and gave it to her in a bottle. She had bits of real food when she felt like it, but most of the time she was sleeping, and car

On the third day, she was allowed to sit up. That went well, so we moved on to the next greatest thing which was being pushed around the ward in the awesome little pink car.

My baby didn’t have cancer. She had two tumors, but with the grace of God and the miracles of modern medicine, both of those were healed. At her one-year follow-up appointment, the surgeon happily told us she’d probably never see us again, and she wished us well.

And well is what we’ve been.


You can see the slight scar on her right shoulder blade, and the butterfly bandage over the second incision.

You can see the slight scar on her right shoulder blade, and the butterfly bandage over the second incision.



Back in the days when mustard was purchased in glass containers with metal lids, my parents could make a small jar last several years. It was not a beloved condiment; it was just used to perk up a sandwich made with leftover ham. A little dab would do.

When I graduated from mushed carrots and baby cereal to real food, it soon became apparent that my tastes did not always align with my family’s. For my sandwiches, mustard must be slathered on, not dabbed. Ham and cheese were superfluous. I was more than happy with a mustard and tomato sandwich.

My mother is a good cook and my father’s tastes are simple. When I was growing up, most dinners consisted of an appropriately cooked meat with a matching starch. Rice with chicken, potatoes with just about everything else. Pasta was the occasional treat. My job was to grate some cheddar cheese off the block to serve with spaghetti. Lasagna was a more complicated matter, but much more rewarding. Vegetables were either from a can or frozen, (Salads happened, usually with the lasagna) and were at first heated on the stove and then, in my mid teen years, nuked in the microwave. There were casseroles too, which I loved but, of course, my own children do not.

They share neither my tastes nor my parents’.

Sometime in my early teen years, a Taco Bell came to town. Living in Colorado, I knew that Mexican food existed, even though I had no concept of us versus them when it came to the fact that a significant number of my peers were Hispanic. The fact that our next-door neighbor ate yogurt was just as exotic to me at that time.

My mother took my sister and me into Taco Bell, at my request. It was probably lunch time, because my father wasn’t with us. He would not have found anything there he liked. I distinctly remember that the wrapper for the taco had instructions on how to eat it, as if, by taking bites from different parts of the folded, fried tortilla we could avoid it crumbling by the time we were done. This simple feat was beyond me, which is probably why I developed a preference for burritos.

Mexican food was exotic. We didn’t eat there often. Searching my memory, I think my first visit to a Chinese restaurant didn’t happen until I was in college.

Today I still love Mexican food. My daughters’ favorite is Chinese, especially if it is a buffet. I also discovered Greek and foods of other ethnicities when I started feeding myself instead of eating what my mother cooked.

A developing palate is a mystery of nature versus nurture. One cannot expect one’s own child to enjoy all the same things the rest of the family loves. Sometimes, out of nowhere, kids develop tastes for foods that are rare and exotic.

Like mustard and tacos.


Without Knowing

Reva, about a year after her adoption was finalized.

Reva, about a year after her adoption was finalized.

Sometime around the turn of the millennium, hubby and I took a long day’s drive to travel from Vermont up to Toronto. My father was born there, and although we had lost track of any living relatives, we did visit the graveyard where many of my ancestors are buried.

One marker caught me off guard. David… my uncle. My father’s baby brother, who lived for only a few weeks. I knew the story. When my father and his big brother were somewhere in their early teens, my grandparents had another baby boy. I think they knew late in the pregnancy that the baby would not survive. Of course it was a difficult time for the family; but by the time I was old enough to know the story, it was ancient history.

Seeing his grave marker gave me pause. Here was someone I knew…sort of. He was my uncle. If he had lived, he would probably have carried me on his shoulders or told me all kinds of stories about my father that I’d never hear from his own mouth. Instead, his life was tragically short. He was and will forever be a baby.

Around that same time, I had the odd feeling that there was another baby I should know…or rather, one that I would know. We had been trying to get pregnant, and I’d hoped to give birth in the year 2000. That didn’t happen. But I did have it in the back of my mind that we could adopt a baby, perhaps even one born in the year 2000. Somewhere, out there in the world, was a child that would someday be mine.

A few years later, hubby and I had graduated from college and bought our first home. We spent months going through foster parent training and certification, just to wait an entire year after that with no child placed in our home. We did respite for several children, but none of them were able to be placed with us permanently.

Then one day my hubby came home with the picture of a grinning, toothless little redheaded girl. She was in foster care and would very likely soon be adoptable. She was not in the private foster system we were registered with; she was a ward of the state. It took time, red tape, and paperwork to resolve that, but our six-year-old daughter (born in 1999) moved in with us in 2005. Two years later her adoption was final, and I gave birth to her baby sister.

It feels somehow fraudulent to claim that I loved two babies without knowing them. I love my Uncle David, though he died long before I was born. I loved my daughter before I knew her.

Love knows no boundaries of time or presence.

Love simply is.

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James, Mary, and the Mustard

I’m participating in a writing group at church. The focus is autobiographical, sharing our own stories. Each week we write a page or two on a different prompt. This one was “What was your family’s life like before you were born?”

James and Mary army uniform 01Neither James nor Mary was a native to Florida. James was a Canadian whose parents had moved to upstate New York when he was a teenager. He met Mary there, at Emmanuel Baptist Church, then said a sad farewell to spend three years in the Army.

Their courtship continued long-distance.

James’ parents, as well as his older brother, had moved to Florida, so when James was discharged that was where he went. Mary’s over-protective parents allowed their daughter to travel down the east coast to visit him, and she came home with a ring on her finger.

Florida became home to the newlyweds, but life was different. Orlando was hotter than Schenectady. They had to give up being Baptists, as that particular denomination is very different between the north and the south. Mary, a nurse, was the breadwinner while James went back to finish college. Lawn-mowing included killing the occasional snake. Frugality was the rule. One tiny jar of mustard easily lasted them several years.

Baby number one arrived, and some things changed while others remained the same. James was still in school, but Mary stopped nursing to stay home with the baby. They still killed snakes with the lawn-mower, but with a crawling baby this duty took on a new importance. In addition to the three nieces they already had, another was born.

James finished school and went to work for Martin-Marietta. Their toddler daughter, destined for great achievements, uttered her first word, Gesundheit. There was church. There was family, some close, some in distant Schenectady. There was a dog. These things would remain the same as the sixties became history and the seventies began.

Other things would soon change. On Florida’s eastern coast, man would no longer blast off to the moon. Another daughter would be born to James and Mary. The brood of nieces would expand to include one nephew. Employment opportunities would take them to places that were neither New York nor Florida.

And that little jar of mustard that usually lasted several years would suddenly disappear in hardly any time at all.

Hmmm… with an ending like that, I’ll have to eventually write a story about the mustard.

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Morning Glories

The following isn’t an entertaining story, it’s a rant cleverly (~cough~) disguised as a story.

Morning glories starting to climb the trellis on my back porch.

Morning glories starting to climb the trellis on my back porch.

Holly looked up and around. Three hundred and sixty degrees over her head, the long-awaited community gardens were finally prepped and made available to the station’s citizens. She’d paid for her plot almost a year before, and it wasn’t cheap. Sure, she could grow a few things in her quarters… the lights were designed for photosynthesis and water was no longer a problem thanks to the Bertea-Reichower mission. But the little four meter by four meter plot would let her indulge her horticultural creativity, as well as let her meet up with like-minded friends to spend a peaceful afternoon amidst nature’s splendor.

“What are you planting on the corner trellis?” asked Dotty, who had the plot just spinward of Holly’s.

“Morning glories!” she said happily. She’d planted them in her incubator a month ago, in anticipation of the opening of the garden. The corner trellis would make a perfect backdrop for the small bench she wanted to get.

“Bindweed!” Dotty said, her floppy hat falling off as she suddenly stood up straight. “You’re planting bindweed?”

“Bindweed?” Holly shook her head. She hadn’t heard the term. She chose morning glories because they were pretty and hardy; they could survive almost anything. If the carefully constructed mix of soil on the space station was less-than ideal, the flowering vine would probably still survive. “Doesn’t that violate the rule about non-invasive plants? Or something like that… I don’t remember what the exact wording was.”

Holly blinked, looking at the tiny seedlings she’d brought with her. “Invasive? Morning glories?”

Dotty came and knelt by her, the two of them in the dirt together. Holly opened her link. “Let’s see…” she said, going to the information site about the community garden. Dotty looked over her shoulder. “Is this it?” she asked. “Gardeners shall not plant any species that will threaten or invade other plots…” The paragraph dissolved into legalese after that.

“Search for the word ‘invasive’,” Dotty suggested. More rules popped up, all of which she’d read. She didn’t think the morning glories were invasive, but then again she’d never heard them described as ‘bindweed’ before.

“Oh, see there?” Dotty pointed out a paragraph. “If you’re vigilant about making sure the seed pods are collected and don’t plant too close to the border, you’ll be all right.” They both looked up at the corner trellis. “It’s not too late to move it to the middle.”

Holly had already bought a garden-bot to collect all the seeds from not just the morning glories, but her other flowers as well. She hoped to be able to trade seeds with her neighbors or donate some to the colony ship that would be leaving next year for a new world. She could move the vines to the middle, since the roots tended to grow deep and tenacious. Or, to save herself any trouble, she could rearrange some things in her quarters and just enjoy them there where she wouldn’t have to worry about whether any seed pods escaped to invade her neighbor’s gardens.

“If you use a flexible trellis you could—”

Dotty’s comment was cut off by a bark from a woman passing by pulling a small wagon with seedlings. “Those aren’t bindweed, are they?” She asked, squeaking out the plant name as if it was a curse. Holly’s jaw moved, but no sound came out. She had no idea what to say.

The woman grabbed one of the tiny sprouts and examined it. Holly caught her breath. The seeds, as tiny as they were, hadn’t exactly been expensive to import from Earth. But they weren’t cheap, either. Not only the expense, but the care she’d put into making sure they sprouted. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” She threw the bit of greenery and dirt onto the path that separated the garden plots.

Holly gasped and lunged after the innocent plant, cradling it and checking to see whether the stem had broken.

“Well, there’s no need to destroy someone else’s property!” Dotty said with a huff.

“What’s going on here?” asked Dan, one of the groundskeepers.

“This woman vandalized Holly’s garden!” Dotty said, her tone accusing.

“I did no such thing! She left these weeds sitting on the path. And she seems to be completely oblivious to the dangers such things pose to the entire ecosystem.”

Dan squatted down to look at the tray of seedlings. Holly realized with a lump of guilt that the small tray was half on the path. It wasn’t exactly an impediment to foot traffic, but it was still impolite. “Ipomoea purpurea,” he said, examining the plants. “A bold choice. Hardy.” He looked directly at the invasive woman. “And perfectly legal as long as the gardener is responsible about collecting the seed pods.”

“Responsible?” the woman sneered. “Flower fairies like her shouldn’t be allowed in the community garden. Some of us are planting useful things like fruits and vegetables. My gourds can be used for—”

“I’ll tell you what you can do with your gourds!” Dan held Holly’s hands as she cradled the tiny, broken seedling. “She’s done absolutely nothing wrong.”

Holly cringed. She’d just been about to plant the prolificly-seeding plants at the very edge of her plot. It was a mistake…it would have been a mistake if Dotty hadn’t pointed out to her the rule she’d overlooked.

“Deliberate destruction of property, however, is grounds for arrest.”

Holly reached out and rescued her tray of morning glory seedlings as Dan and the offending woman started yelling at each other. Soon a small crowd had gathered, voices shouting, the occasional slur or questionable accusation punctuating the chaos. Dotty, who had been about to dive into the fray, turned to look at her.

Dotty’s face was red, but when Holly looked up Dotty softened, then she moved between Holly and the crowd. As quickly as she could, Holly put the few trays of seedlings into her crate, stowing the tools in their compartments. There was a shattering sound, and they both turned to see a clay pot from the offending woman’s cart broken on the path, the tomato plant it carried snapped off at the base.

The crowd started yelling even louder.

“Come on, sweetie, let’s get out of here while we still can,” Dotty said, a hand on Holly’s back. The crowd had spilled from the path, some of them trampling the carefully cultivated rows Dotty had been working on. “Never mind that. I put those seeds in just an hour ago. They’ll survive.” She sighed and shook her head. “If they’re not in perfect rows when they come up, oh well.”

“How can they trample your garden while they’re arguing about who is doing what to whose garden?” Holly asked, her voice hoarse and fighting back tears.

Dotty just shook her head. “I don’t know, sweetie, I just don’t know.” They reached the edge of the garden, entering the sterile halls that were the norm for most of the space station. “But humans of all nationalities, belief systems, genders and socio-economic backgrounds have been doing it for centuries. Millennia even.”

They turned a corner, and even the faint smell of the garden was gone.

“And it looks like we’ll be doing it for a few millennia more.”14 Hippie Freaks dedication



Awesome DUNE fan art by Balaskas on Deviant Art

Awesome DUNE fan art by Balaskas on Deviant Art

“Very funny, Chad,” Walker spat, kicking the dirt. A knee-high field of grasses curved out of sight, following the circular hull. Scribbling through the field was a barrel-sized scar of dirt, as if some alien had tried to form a crop circle but failed miserably. It had probably taken Chad and his friends the better part of the night to do it. Considering the sloppiness of the work, they were probably beyond drunk.

“What’s fun…woah…” Chad slowed, kicking at the disturbed soil and turning in a circle to observe the damage. His act was perfect, the picture of dumbfounded innocence.

“Yeah. At least last time what you guys did could be considered art. This…” Walker spat in disgust. “This is just vandalism. I have half a mind to turn you in.”

Walker would never report Chad to the boss. It wasn’t just that Cynthia, Walker’s niece, was sweet on the boy. Chad was one of the few guys who could go a full shift in the extra-heavy gravity of the fields. Good help was hard to find, especially when it came to manual labor.

“This thing goes deep… a few meters at least.” Chad was crouching, pointing a scanner into the tunnel.

Walker stopped and considered. Maybe Chad wasn’t lying. He was usually quick to take credit for anything he did, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

A tremor shook the ground under their feet.

“Asteroid strike. Felt like a little one.” He shrugged. “Probably didn’t even pierce the hull,” Walker said, doubting himself but trying to sound certain for Chad’s sake. The kid could get pretty flighty when he got scared. He also had a bad habit of jumping to unlikely conclusions.

Chad looked up, wide eyed, then crept away from the tunnel opening. “I dunno, Walker.” He stood up, brushing the dirt off his trousers. “That didn’t feel like a strike to me. It felt…” Chad’s face twisted into an odd expression that Cynthia inexplicably found charming. Walker thought he just looked constipated. “It felt…closer.”

Walker shrugged off the comment. It wasn’t a question he wanted to answer, and Chad’s hypotheses would just get wilder and wilder. “Well, get the diggers going. We need to fix this.”

Chad dutifully strode over to the equipment locker, his movements bogged down. The grass was only about ten meters from the outer hull, topping layers of water, gravel, and a significant layer of dirt that primarily served as radiation shielding for the station. Earth-normal apparent-gravity was several levels above them.

“Whatever is was, it was big,” Chad said. “What burrows like that? Bears?”

Walker reached around to turn off the digger’s auto-mode. The last thing they needed was for the machine to arbitrarily start re-plowing the entire field.

“Bears? Really?” Walker asked, shaking his head, “Just kids. If not you and your friends, then some punk adolescent with more free time than brains.”

Chad bullied the digger into smoothing out only the area that was disturbed. Walker reseeded it and they moved on to the next spot. “Me and my friends…nah. We have more finesse. You’ve seen our work.”

Walker let the boy drone on about his less-than-admirable escapades. Although technically some of them crossed the line from simple pranks to actual crime, they were all mostly harmless. Somehow, Chad had avoided any kind of legal action against him. Chalk it up to charisma; the same attribute that had snared Walker’s niece into agreeing to go out with him not just a couple of times, but disturbingly close to something that resembled a steady relationship.

Cynthia could do worse, he supposed.

Another tremor made them both stumble to the right. Over to their left, the grass was leaning as if something from underneath the roots pushed it up.

Walker took the digger out of Chad’s hands. “I think we need to…” he wasn’t sure what to say. Maybe a meteor struck the hull in exactly the right spot, in exactly the right way…

“There it is!” Chad yelled, pointing over Walker’s shoulder. He whipped around just in time to see something slither through the grass and burrow under the dirt again. “I’ll get ‘im!”

“What…?” Walker froze in disbelief as the youngster ran off through the grass, chasing the…whatever it was. He still refused to believe there was some “thing” digging up the grass. All the biologicals on the station were carefully screened. Sure, the occasional rat got through, but rats didn’t…

He wasn’t sure what rats did.

“Gotcha!” Chad bellowed, diving low. An alien screeching sound rent the air, echoing off the ceiling. The grasses waved and parted where Chad was wrestling with something.

“Emergency! We need security and a med team in field 42B!” Walker smacked his com, then turned and grabbed a shovel.

“Yeghagh!” Chad screamed. Walker stormed in, shovel raised over his head. Chad’s arms and legs were wrapped a pipe. A squiggling, squirming pipe just as big around as he was.

“AHGH!” Walker yelled, his voice several octaves higher than he thought was possible. He brought the shovel down hard, bashing away at the monster and not altogether sure he was avoiding Chad in the process.

“Woo!” Chad cried out, rolling away. “You got ‘im! You got ‘im, Walker, sheesh…” Walker started trembling, dropping the shovel as Chad stood up and wrapped him in a bear hug.


“Woah! Yeah. Wait till I tell Cynthy about this!” Chad said, smacking Walker on the back.

It was a worm. Ichor spilled onto the dirt. At least three meters of the monster lay on the ground, unmoving. The tail disappeared into the tunnel.

“…radiation, I’ll bet. I wonder how many more of them are out there?” Walker heard Chad saying, but he was turned away, talking to someone else. A dozen responders had magically appeared. One of them was shining a light into his eyes, asking him something.

Walker shook his head, shaking off the feeling of shock. “Fine. Just need to…”

He knew what he needed to do.

Chad deserved a commendation.

Chad deserved a promotion.

Chad deserved his job.

Lord knew, Walker didn’t want it anymore.

I cut back on my writing severely back in November when I found out we had to move in January. I have a couple of stories in my brain for The Cities of Luna that need to come out, but I really needed to get the cobwebs out first. That’s what this is… just a quick freewrite to shake out my brain.

I’ll be revamping the website soon. Since Under Loch and Key is mostly for fun writing like this,I may be cutting it off soon and making my public face as professional as possible. We’ll see.

MOON DRAGONS, the newest story from THE CITIES OF LUNA

MOON DRAGONS, the newest story from THE CITIES OF LUNA


BedElliot tried not to think about itching. The monitors, one at his neck, one at his waist, were annoying but temporary. Two weeks wearing them twenty-four-seven. Two weeks with no meds, no treatments of any kind, but it would all be worth it in the end.

He’d finally know.

He’d finally be well.

Bedtimes were intrusive, but only as much as was absolutely necessary. The nurse bot asked regular questions such as “Please rate your pain on a scale from one to ten” and “Are you still nauseated?” The actual human nurse added questions such as “Is it the kind of nausea that makes you feel like you’re going to regurgitate? Or it is more that you just want to sit quietly for a while until it passes?”

Elliot had become an expert in self-evaluation. Although it was sometimes hard to annunciate exactly what was wrong, between the bot and the human nurse he was able to establish a record of all the weird things his body did.

Sleep came with only a slight delay. It usually did.

Waking was uncomfortable. Elliot had a vague memory that, once upon a time, he’d wake groggily to the sun peeking through the curtains. With a stretch and a yawn, his bladder would tell him he had to get up. Although his warm bed was so comfortable and inviting that he longed to spend just another twenty minutes there, a hot shower was just as appetizing.

For years now, waking had meant something different.

Elliot felt the wakefulness steal his dreams from him. He tried to relax into it, dreading what was about to happen. He succeeded for about five minutes, and then it hit.

Something was wrong. Something dire and dreadful was threatening him. Adrenaline or something like it began to pump through his system.

Nothing is wrong.

Elliot took slow breaths.

I am safe here.

Elliot forced his mind to go blank, to wait patiently in a safe, peaceful place until whatever chemicals his brain was producing wormed their way through his body and out again.

“Lightheaded. Like my brain is being filled with helium,” he announced to the room, knowing the monitors would record and add the information to his diagnosis. “My body is floating from the waist up…” he had to pause. Speaking out loud was jarring. It disconnected him from what he was trying to accomplish. “…but from the waist down, it feels very heavy.”

He squirmed out of the position that had been comfortable, but no longer was.

“The tightness is all through my chest, head, and shoulders. But only the upper chest. Oh no…” Elliot visualized a downward flow of comfort going from the back of his tongue down to his stomach. He shifted position carefully. It worked for only a minute, then the heartburn hit him. “Heartburn,” he reported.

He sat up, then stretched his muscles. He drank the water waiting on his bedside table. Slowly, he rotated each ankle, urging circulation into his extremities. Maybe today would be a day for joint pain. Maybe not.

“The heartburn is subsiding. The tightness is back up in my head, although there are remnants in my arms, and the backs of my hands.” He closed his eyes, searching for other sensations. “I’m not electric today.”

Elliot shuffled himself slowly to the bathroom and emptied his bladder. There was no point in taking a shower yet. His body had other things to accomplish first.

He returned to bed, sitting on the edge and reporting the various symptoms as best he could describe them. He waited patiently, not knowing whether he had five minutes or fifty. In the two weeks he’d been monitored, it continued to fluctuate. He hoped they would find some kind of pattern or causality. It was annoying.

Fifteen minutes later he returned to the bathroom. He was glad he didn’t have to describe what he’d just done. The monitors measured what they needed to measure, and the machines would evaluate his output. It was time for a hot shower, signaling the end to the worst of the morning’s trials.

Drying off was never instantaneous. He took the extra time he needed to make sure all the crevasses and foldable parts of his body were completely free of excess moisture. If he didn’t take that time, he’d end up with more discomfort, or even a rash. It was one of a dozen small things he did, not out of vanity or habit, but to maintain the delicate balance that kept him healthy. He found it all rather annoying, but it needed to be done.

He started getting dressed, then stopped. “Oh no, not again,” he said, then put his clothes on the bed and headed back to the bathroom.

A half hour later, after finishing what his body demanded he do and then cleaning up after himself in the shower, he went on with his day. The facility wasn’t exactly luxurious, but it had enough activities to keep him occupied. Elliot wondered whether the evaluation would show a major difference between his levels during the week he’d still been at home, and the week he’d spent at the facility. The doctors said they usually did. Of course. It was a clean, sanitary environment. Not that his apartment was particularly dirty, but it wasn’t kept sparkling every minute of the day. Elliot didn’t have to worry about fixing his meals or any of his regular household chores. Stress was minimal, especially with the promise that soon he would be healed.

The monitors came off that afternoon.

Soon. Just a few business days for the team to evaluate all the data that had been gathered, and he’d have an accurate diagnosis. They’d be able to find a treatment that, even if it didn’t cure him, would bring his quality of life back up to where he could be a productive citizen once more.


I wrote this story as wish-fulfillment. With our family’s upcoming move, I’ve put my WIP to the side. Still, I promised myself that I would write something every week, even if it was just a bit of flash.

This counts.

I’d originally planned to have Elliot wake up at the end of the story, with no monitors and all his symptoms flooding in with no hope of respite. But it’s cheating to say an entire story is just a dream sequence. Instead, I leave it to the reader to wonder whether Elliot gets his wish of a healthy body, or whether it was all just wishful thinking.

Looking for something new to read? There’s a new story from The Cities of Luna with every full moon! I also have an urban fantasy novella called The House on Paladin Court, about a trio of immortals who keep a dragon locked in their basement. Also new is the next volume of the Biblical Legends Anthology Series: Deluge. My weird little story The Immersion of the Incorporeum appears in this one.2015 12 01 banner