Book Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (2017)

loneliest girl

 

Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.

Based on that summary, you might think that The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is a YA romance novel in a science fiction setting. And in part, you would be right. But one thing that I will say about Lauren James’ is that it surprised me. I went in expecting to get a sweet, simple story about a girl falling in love with a boy she’s never met. But James takes things in a different direction, and the book is stronger for it.

As a girl who hasn’t seen another human face in years, Romy Silvers is definitely relatable, especially considering that I’m writing this under COVID lockdown. The stress and anxiety of extreme isolation is something everyone on the planet understands a lot more now, and on top of all of that Romy has to pilot a spaceship. And you thought Zoom-conferencing was hard.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I’ll just say that this book was unpredictable in the very best way. It genuinely surprised me, something that happens rarely enough in literature, and even more rarely with YA novels. James deftly manages to integrate the twists and turns into her prose. At no point did I ever feel lost, or cheated by a cheap twist. Every chapter had me asking new questions, and trying to figure out the mystery behind J and the supposed fall of the American government. And nearly all my guesses turned out to be wrong, which made it even more fun.

So if you’re interested in some not-to-sciencey science fiction that keeps you on your toes and has a strong but relatable main character, I definitely recommend The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. 

Also this is super random, but I totally want to write a spin off novel based on the character’s of Loch and Ness.

My rating: 4/5

You can find The Loneliest Girl in the Universe here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

You might also enjoy:

A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski

And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Happy reading everyone!

Book Vs Film: Interview With the Vampire

 

Welcome to one of my very favorite segments, Book vs Film. Today we’re looking at the 1976 novel, Interview with the Vampire versus its 1994 film counterpoint, starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise.

invvamp

 

Warning: Spoilers for a fifty-year old book and twenty-five year old film. I’m not gonna feel too bad on this one.

1) I had no idea the book was that old until I started writing this article, but now I can totally see it. There’s a timelessness to Rice’s Gothic prose that takes it out of the present day. She also has a penchant for long, descriptive paragraphs that might put off younger readers accustomed to the snappy pace of today’s paranormal novels. But once you sink in to her stories, they sweep you away.

2) Brad Pitt was a great casting choice as Louis. With his long, sexy hair, eerie green eyes, and mouth made for pouting, he was the definition of the hot vampire long before Edward Cullen came along.

twiintvampIn the immortal battle of Can My Face Show Emotion, Brad Pitt wins hands down.

3) I hate Tom Cruise as Lestat. He failed to capture the combination of mischief and anguish that drives the character, and instead just kind of…yells about stuff for awhile and then offers a few moments of fright before “dying”. The movie gets better once he’s gone, which is too bad because he’s actually a very interestingcharacter. Tom Cruise just sucks, and he isn’t nearly as cute as he thinks he is.

Lestat de Lioncourt - Wikipedia

All Rights Reserved, Warner Brothers Studio 1994

4) I read this book for the first time when I was in my early teens, and it sparked a lifelong love of New Orleans. The film doesn’t do this justice, as it relies too much on elaborate sets and CGI backdrops. I wanted to feel the music, the culture, the energy of the city, but it just looked like a standard period drama that could have been set anywhere.

5) Still, the film looks amazing. Director Neil Jordan, whose IMDB is surprisingly lackluster, created a rich, visceral canvas. The wardrobe is lavish, as is the makeup. And while he might not have focused on NOLA as much as I would have liked, the set design as a whole is spectacular, especially the Theatre des Vampyres.

Immortally Masterful: Interview With The Vampire, 25 Years Later ...

All Rights Reserved, Warner Brothers Studio 1994

6) Like I said before, Anne Rice made vampires sexy long before Stephenie Meyers turned them into Mormon propaganda. But Rice  did it in such a strange way that it isn’t really erotica. There aren’t any vivid descriptions of sex, and it’s insinuated that the vampires “discard” their genitalia when they transition from being human. Instead, the novel is permeated by a heady sensuality, much of which is homosexual. The main relationships between Louis and Lestat and Louis and Armand are never romantic by definition, but the novel practically teems with sexual tension.

*Note: If you’re in the market for paranormal erotica, check out The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty series, written under Anne Rice’s penname of A.N. Roquelaure. But be ready for some crazy shit.

7) The film made the wise move of toning down that sexual tension when it came to the relationship between Louis and Claudia. Claudia, played by Kirsten Dunst when she was eleven years old, was meant to be only five or six in the books. She was always one of my favorite characters, and her story is so tragic and haunting that I still wish Rice would give her a follow up book. And again, vampires in Rice’s universe aren’t “sexual” in any real way. However, a person with the appearance of a kindergartener referrring an adult man as her “lover” was always weird, and the film works better with Brad Pitt as more of a Father/Companion/Jailer figure.

Louis and Claudia, Interview With the Vampire | 30 of Our Favorite ...

All Rights Reserved, Warner Brothers Studio 1994

8) The film also doesn’t spend nearly as much time reflecting on the “nature” of vampires. The books contains a lot of monologuing by Louis as he tries to understand the nature of good and evil, of God and the devil, in a world where monsters such as himself are allowed to exist. This is all very interesting, but there are times when you want to tell him to just shut up and get on with the story. Jones cut out a lot of Louis’ philophizing, which makes for a more tightly paced film.

9) But the whole River Phoenix narration thing still doesn’t work. It was annoying in the books, and it was utterly superfluous in the film.

10) Instead, they should have shown Louis and Claudia’s trip to Eastern Europe. One of Rice’s main themes was the juxtaposition of the “old” vampires, the ones that lived in crypts and practiced dying rituals, versus the “new” vampires that lived in mansions and walked among the people as one of them. This idea is never really explored, which is a shame.

11) Antonio Banderas is…not the best thing about the movie. His accent is weird, and he’s trying too hard to play vampire. But damn if his hair isn’t better than mine. Everyone in this universe has better hair than me. Cause vampires may have changed a lot since this book came out in ’76, but some things never changed. We like hot vampires better than creepy ones.

Pin on vampires

I’ll give you my blood in exchange for your hair-care regime.

12) I always hated the ending of the book, which more or less mirrors the end of the fim. It just…stops. There is no real conclusion, unless you continue reading Rice’s books.

Overall, its a solid book-to-film adaptation. Jordan and his cast remain true to the spirit of Rice’s books while amending some of the squiffier aspects. I highly recommend the next two books in Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. QOTD in particular is wonderful, kind of like the vampire Avengers, and addresses the vampire mythos in a unique and interesting way. But stop there. Everything from Tale of the Body Thief onward is just fluff.

I would also advise film-lovers to avoid 2002’s Queen of the Damned, staring Aaliyah and Stuart Townsend. It’s bad. Just…really bad.

Akasha And Lestat by SamBriggs.deviantart.com on @deviantART ...

Really, really bad.

Happy reading and watching everyone!

 

Did I get it totally wrong? Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

And check out more of our book vs film reviews!!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Ready Player One

The Shining

The Faerie’s Bargain: Chapter Seven: The Decision

Note: If you haven’t already, go back and check out Chapter One!

CHAPTER SEVEN: The Decision

 

BRONNAGH

Queen Bronnagh awoke to a crack of lightning, followed by a crash of thunder so loud it shook the heavy posters of her bed.

The rumbles went on forever, followed shortly by another brilliant blast of white arcing across the sky.

In the infinitesimal pause between the lightning and the thunder, she heard it—a scream echoing off the stone walls of the castle corridor.

Gwen! The Fae have come for her after all.

Bronnagh reached into the darkness for the sleeping form of her husband, but the heavy blankets were cold and untouched.

Of course. He always spent the night away from her on Gwendolyn’s birthday. The memories proved too much to bear, and he ended up sprawled in the library, a horn of whiskey clutched tight to his breast.

The scream came again, and Bronnagh hurried out of bed, shivering in the damp night air. There was a fierce ache in her lower back—her final child was proving a hefty one, and she prayed it wasn’t another set of twins. 

Out in the corridor, the booming roar of the storm was muffled somewhat, and Bronnagh realized that the frightened shouts weren’t coming from the south wing, where Gwen had her rooms.

They were coming from the north wing. From Deirdre and Doreen’s tower. 

Her steps increased. She held one hand to the ache in her back, wincing against the pain. 

It’s just old mother’s labor. I’m not as young as I once was. 

The baby isn’t due for another six weeks. Thank the Gods this will be the last one. 

And be grateful it isn’t another set of twins. 

Bronnagh didn’t think her body could handle it. Not after the last time.

Her first pair, Sean and Seamus, had come easily into the world—an irony considering how much pain they seemed to enjoy inflicting now that they were out of it.

Six years later her belly had swollen again with twins. Colm and Caleb, slipped into the world as quietly as two shadows. Now ten years old, they were still the most enigmatic of her children. They spent most of their time studying with their tutors, and Bronnagh rarely saw them outside of mealtimes.

It was a bitter irony that her third set of twins should both be such gentle souls, given that their births had nearly killed her. And irrevocably scarred both of them.

The stone corridor ended in a short staircase and a heavy door carved from solid oak.

Another wail from behind the door. Bronnagh knocked three times, then twice more—an old game they used to play to let them know it was her.

“Mama!” a voice cried tearfully from the other side.

“Deirdre?” Her heart pounding, imagining all sorts of terrible things on the other side, Bronnagh pushed open the heavy wooden door.

Her two daughters sat in matching narrow beds with doves carved into the headboards.

“What happened dear? Did the storm wake you?” she asked, bringing the candelabra in to brighten the room.

The fire in the bedroom grate had long gone cold. Near the mantle was a long rope, and Bronnagh pulled it, ringing for the servants. 

“No, Mama,” Deirdre answered, her gaze fixed softly on the wall in front of her. “It was Doreen. She had a bad dream.”

“Doreen?” Crossing to her other daughter’s bed, Bronnagh set the candelabra down and felt Doreen’s brow. “Is something wrong, my darling?” Doreen’s vividly blue eyes fixed on her mother’s lips. She nodded in response, but did not speak. Instead, she gestured toward the window and began making frenzied motions with her hands.

Bronnagh watched them in the dim light. “Gwen? You saw Gwen?” Her heart began to beat faster. The ache in her back was now almost unbearable, and she sank down on Doreen’s bed, hissing as her spine screamed in agony.

Doreen nodded, her hands moving so fast that Bronnagh had difficulty keeping up.

“Gwen…in the forest…horse…Doreen slow down! Did the Fae come for her?”

Still sitting upright in her bed, Deirde shook her head. “No. Doreen says that Gwen went to them.”

Bronnagh’s heart clenched violently, as if it had burst open.

She felt a rush of wetness between her legs.

“Doreen says the Fae have Gwen now.”

Her fingers trembling, Bronnagh brought her fingers to the stomach of her gown.

They came away soaked in blood.

***

GWENDOLYN

“What do you mean, you’ve been waiting?” Gwen asked. Every hair on her body felt like it was standing on end. The power emanating from the fairy circle was as alive and electric as the lightning still arcing overhead.

The Fae male stood on the other side of the circle, lounging against one of the ancient stones, smirking at her. 

His eyes were wide set, and sparkled an incandescent violet, the color of galaxies yet to be born. His face was thin, with sweeping cheekbones and a wide, pouting mouth. His dark brows slanted downward, giving the impression of anger, or arrogance.

He gazed at her through lidded eyes for so long that she thought he would not answer.

“I’ve been waiting for you for years, Gwendolyn Setterwind.”

Gwen’s hands clenched into fists at her sides. “Give me a real answer, demon. Or I’ll leave and never look back.”

His ruby lips stretched into a grin. “Oh, I don’t think you will. You came seeking answers. And you know that I have what you seek. I don’t think you’ll be leaving so soon.”

Her chest heaved; she glared at the Fae furiously.

He was absolutely right. 

“What is your name?” she asked, determined to put them on more even footing.

The Fae gave an exaggerated bow. “Prince Cillian of Erilea. I’m very pleased to meet you, after this time.”

Gwen took a step back, until her spine pressed against cold stone. All around her she felt she could hear whispering, as if the rocks themselves were beckoning to her.

Lightning split the sky above her head, but the thunder that followed was damped, as though she were hearing it from very far away.

“You can already feel it, can’t you Gwen?” the Fae—Prince Cillian—asked. His violet eyes gleamed brightly in the eerie light from the circle. “You can feel it calling to you.”

“Why have you waited until now to come?” she demanded. “Why now?”

His grin broadened. “We could have taken you at any time, Gwen. But that would not have completed the bargain.”

Within the circle, the wind began to rise, whipping her hair about her face. “What completes the bargain?” she asked.

“You had to come to us,” Prince Cillian answered, his dark gaze fixed on her. “Of your own free will. Only then can you be taken to the land beyond the winds.”

Gwen licked her lips, weighing her options.

“And what awaits me there?” she asked, trying to maintain her composure.

“That I cannot tell you. You must make the choice. After all, you have wished for this for many years.”

She had wished for this, longed for an emissary from the Fae to come for her. To end her endless waiting, once and for all.

But now that this creature was in front of her, she was filled with a fear greater than she had ever known. 

He looked so normal, and yet utterly ethereal. His cheekbones were too perfectly chiseled. His lips too full, and so red they looked stained with cherry juice.

Don’t forget what he is. 

A beautiful predator.

I must not go with him.

She eyed the stones on either side of her, trying to gauge how quickly she would need to make her exit.

I should have brought a sword. But no, Grainne had told her the legends often enough when she was small. No mortal weapons could be brought inside the fairy circle.

I could run. Try to escape through the forest and back to the castle.

“You may, if you wish,” the Fae said. He examined his sharpened fingernails. “Return to the castle. Live out your days. Marry a fat husband. Give birth to seven fat children. All of it can be yours.”

“And the Fae would never come for me? I’d be left alone?” Gwen asked. A future she’d never been able to envision for herself suddenly sprang fully-formed before her eyes.

Prince Cillian glanced at her, his lip curling at the side. “Yes. To live a perfectly normal life. Like your mother. And your sisters. Just as you’ve always wanted. All you have to do is walk back of that circle.”

“Fine. I’ve been cursed from the day I was born. All I ever wanted was to be rid of it!” Gwen said. She strode purposefully toward the edge of the fairy circle, her body tensed in case the Fae tried to drag her back.

He didn’t so much as twitch an eyebrow.

Gwen reached the edge of the fairy circle. Her feet came together right where the boundary of shimmering light ended. She hesitated.

“If I go now, can I ever come back?” she asked, not turning to look at the Fae.

“No,” he answered shortly.

Gwen heard the rustling of leaves behind her. She spun around, her hand immediately going for a sword she wasn’t carrying.

Prince Cillian was standing inches from her. Her cheeks were pale, almost luminescent in the sparkling light from the stones. 

There were dark flecks of onyx in his eyes. Like the midnight sky. His ears were delicately pointed beneath his thick black hair. She saw that one of them was notched in three places along the side. 

“You must choose, Gwendolyn Setterwind. The Fae cannot take you against your will. If you wish to return to your old life, you may. But if you wish to know the answers to the questions you have been asking, then come with me.”

A muted roll of thunder echoed overhead.

He held out a moon-white hand.

***

DEIRDRE

Mother cried out in pain, and Deirdre heard her slump to the floor.

“Mama? Are you alright?” she cried, reaching out on my blanket to see if I could feel her.

“I’m…alright…darling.” Then there was a weak mewling sound, like a newborn kitten, but then nothing.

Deirdre started to crawl out of bed, but a warm hand clasped around hers, gentle fingers spreading her palm wide.

Something…wrong…mother… Doreen wrote into her hand.

“Where is she?” Deirdre asked, moving her lips carefully.

After a moment, she felt Doreen’s fingers moving again. Fall down…needs help…where Moira?

“Mother rang for a maid, to build up the fire. Someone should be here in a moment. Help me find her..” Deirdre held out a hand, and Doreen took it. Gently, she eased Deirdre off the bed, and helped her reach out until she found Mother’s form. 

There was a sticky wetness covering the lower half of her body, and a heavy, metallic smell bit at Deirdre’s nose.. 

“What should we do?” she asked Dorreen.

Baby…coming…Too much blood. Doreen signed into her hand. They’d been communicating this way since they were two years old, and Deirdre understood her words instantly.

“Mama said the baby isn’t ready to come yet,” Deirdre cried. She reached forward, feeling the muscles of her face slackened by unconsciousness.

“The baby isn’t supposed to come yet!” Deidre cried.

Sitting up, her hands coated in her mother’s blood, she screamed for help.

 

***

CILLIAN

The girl watched him as a field mouse watches the snake it has suddenly spied in the grass.

Ever ready, ever watchful, but knowing in the end that the battle was over before it begun.

That resistance was only an effort in futility.

Knowing she had no real choice. Only the illusion of one.

“Make your decision, girl. What is it that you want? To stay here, or to venture onwards?”

Her crimson hair was plastered to her body by the pounding rain. She shook her head. “What I want is for you to rot in hell.”

He had to admire her bravado. It spoke to a part of his soul that had not been stirred in years.

But now was not the time for sentiment. He had waited too long for this plan to come to fruition. He could not make the tiniest error.

Cillian smiled at her. “Don’t you want to know why you were the price that was paid?”

The girl’s face hardened. “I care not.”

Her lips were the color of ripe cranberries. He forced himself to give an insolent shrug. “Then go. Stop wasting my time.”

“After all this, after my father’s bargain, you would just let me go?” the girl asked over her shoulder, her body tensed for attack.

“It would be required of me, yes.”

“And what of the payment exacted by my father?”

“It would be forfeit.”

Gwen stepped to the side, her body poised for attack. “How can I believe you, demon?”

Cillian held up his hands, showing his own vulnerability. “I am bound by the ancient rules of my race. I cannot lie to a mortal. I cannot take you without your consent.”

She paused, eyes still swiveling for potential defenses. “And if I go? What is the price paid?”

Cillian pivoted to face her. “If you turn back now, you will never again be offered a chance to journey to Erilia.”

He could see the girl pause, considering. She tilted one ear to the skies, inhaling deeply as if trying to scent any threat in the air. 

A thrum of energy split the air around him. Cillian sniffed the air, reading the winds. 

The girl’s mother was in jeopardy.

He had to act fast.

Cillian folded his arms over his chest. “My patience wears thin.”

The girl took a step closer. The wind blew her damp hair off her shoulders.

She smelled of fresh pine and wildflowers. Cillian closed his eyes, savoring the scent.

He opened his eyes, smiling at her. Gently, without the exaggerated courtesy he had displayed before, he extended his hand, palm up.

“Gwendolyn Setterwind, I’m here to escort you to Erilea,” he said, his voice a husky murmur. “Will you join me?”

The girl gulped, the sapphire choker on her neck bobbing up and down.  

“If I go, I’ll never see my parents. My brothers and sisters…”

“But you’ll discover your destiny…” Cillian whispered.

Gwen’s eyes closed, her body swaying back and forth like a bewitched snake.

“Okay.” Slowly, infinitely slowly, she lay her hand upon his.

At the moment of contact, an electric jolt stronger than any bolt of lightning struck through them.

A wave of something that was not quite pain and not quite pleasure shuddered through him, and into her.

There was a sizzle and a crack, then a brilliant flash of light.

The rain continued to fall on the ancient stones of the fairy circle.

And on the empty space within.

Is Yoga Worth it? I Practiced for One Hundred Days to Find Out!

They say that people who “convert” to things as adults are more passionate about their chosen thing than people who were born into it.* Well I guess yoga is going to be my thing, because its definitely made a positive improvement in my life, and now I can’t shut up about it.
I hit a pretty rough patch towards the end of last year. I was anxious, lonely, unmotivated, and just generally feeling depressed.** I knew that I needed something to help me: a daily tool that I could use to keep myself focused. I initially thought I would do different 30-day challenges from various workout styles: pilates, zumba, kickboxing, etc. I only picked yoga first because I assumed it was easy***. But I got very lucky early on by stumbling into the Yoga With Adriene videos, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
A few people have asked me if I have lost weight or inches or seen any other physical gains from doing yoga. To which I have to answer…I think so? When I decided to start getting healthier, I refused to measure or weigh myself going in. I knew that if I began looking at numbers, I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else, because that’s just how my squirrel-brain operates. I would get discouraged that I wasn’t hitting my “targets” as quickly as I liked, and I would give up. It’s happened several times in the past. Instead, I had to force myself to focus on my overall health rather than a numbers-driven goal.****
So the question then becomes, do I feel healthier? To which I can answer, ABSOLUTELY.
Four months later, I’ve noticed a definite improvement in my posture. The simple change of practicing how to sit and stand without hunching has done wonders. There’s less stress on my neck and shoulders, as well as on my lower back, which used to be in constant pain. I feel stronger, and more confident in how to use my body. But more than anything, I’ve noticed that I’m just generally more positive, and better able to deal with the stressful situations. I’m learning how calm down, to breathe and take stock of the the world around me when I feel overwhelmed. Now, it hasn’t been a magic cure-all for anxiety. I still have lots of days where I feel lost or forgotten or sad. But yoga has been an unexpectedly helpful tool in dealing with that, especially given the current state of things.
I’m also really glad that I decided to share this online, and grateful to anyone who participated, even if it was only for a ltitle while! it’s helped me to feel more connected with the people in my life. So thanks to everyone who has been following along!

*For further examples, see born-again religious converts, vegans, and people who keep telling you that you haven’t seen real TV until you’ve watched The Wire.
**And that was before COVID blew every plan I had for the future out of the water.
***I was immediately proven wrong.
****I do not want to suggest that this was easy. It is a daily battle with my obsessive side that wants to keep a log of inches and pounds.

#keepcalmandyogaon

May The Fourth Be With You! Here Are My (Not-So-Kind) Thoughts on The Rise of Skywalker.

Before I say anything, let me state outright that this is not an article from a butthurt fan girl about how Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker raped my childhood, shat on my lawn, and kicked my puppy.

I don’t feel personally betrayed by the fact that the final installment in a global phenomenon spanning forty years and worth an estimated $70 BILLION* somehow managed to cut off its own head in the opening five minutes, only to spend the next two hours chasing it around with no thought to story structure or character development. Okay, judging by the length of that last sentence I might be a little mad, but I’m dealing.

I simply want to discuss how they (and I’ll get to who they are in a second) managed to take a film series beloved by literally billions of people, and fail so completely on every single level.

  • Maybe it was because JJ Abrams got dealt a raw deal, since Episode 8 director Rian Johnson widely diverged from his plans for the trilogy with The Last Jedi. But Abrams chose not to direct Jedi **. He had the option, but declined for reasons known only to himself and whatever island of cocaine and hookers he was living on at the time. So for him to just take everything that Johnson built on with Jedi and toss it away like it didn’t even exist was really idiotic. You don’t get to walk away from a project, come back two years later to discover you don’t like what they did, then kick it all down and start over. It doesn’t work like that in filmmaking.
  • Maybe it was because Carrie Fisher passed away, and Abrams had planned the third film around her character. Yeah, this one really sucks. Carrie Fisher was an icon, not only for film nerds, but for mental health advocates everywhere. But you know what, Abrams? Tough cookies. Find a new idea. Because for her last role to be a hastily cut, awkwardly squished mush of lines combined with the same terrifying CGI mashups we saw in Rogue One was an incredible dishonor to the actress.

 

Leia's Jedi Training Sequence in 'The Rise of Skywalker' Was ...

Props to Billie Lourd, but this was so unsettling. ***

 

  • Maybe it was because he had to deal with both Disney’s expectations, and the hype of foreign audiences. In short, I’ve heard people say that Abrams can’t be blamed for Skywalker, since he had to deal with a lot of pressure from the Mouse, plus had to make sure that the film would be a global success. To which I say: fuck that. Abrams knew what he was getting into. He simply was too untalented or too lazy (more the latter, imo) to bother making a great screenplay when he knew that a half-baked one could be done quicker. So he could retire back to his island of cocaine and hookers.
  • I think it’s because Abrams is simply a bad storyteller. Who decided this man knew anything about tension? Or plotting? Or pacing? Or building character development? Was it during Lost? Cloverfield? Super Eight? Bet you had to Google that last one. He only start getting noticed after the 2009 Star Trek reboot, which didn’t require him to actually come up with his own ideas, but simply to regurgitate enough fan-nostaglia onto a big screen to justify his budget.  So far, all that Abrams has shown a talent for is taking a somewhat good idea and elevator-pitching it to the right people in order to get enough money to maintain his lifestyle before those people realizes he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing.
  • Note: I haven’t actually mentioned much of the plotline of Skywalker, and that’s because if I spend fifteen minutes trying to explain what actually happens in the movie, it will succeed the amount of time Abrams spent on the script.

 

I started this review off by saying I wasn’t a butthurt fangirl, but I suppose maybe I am a little. I mean, I grew up on the original trilogy. I was only eleven when Phantom came out, and a teenager who thought Hayden Christensen was really cute for Episodes II and III. So maybe I didn’t know what it meant to be just…unbearably let down by Star Wars. Well this is it, I guess. And it’s left an even worse taste in my mouth than the last season of Game of Thrones.

Oh well. At least we’ll always have Jar-Jar.

May the Fourth be with you everyone!

Writing Character Workshop: Jar Jar Binks – Colin McMahon

 

 

Party Planning: A Short Story about Marriage and Murder.

 

“Karen! The girls are here!” her husband Stephen’s voice echoed up the stairs.

“I’ll be right down!” Karen called back. But she didn’t move. She continued staring at the black duffel bag in her bedroom closet.

“Bitch, get down here I brought wine!” a woman shouted from the foyer. 

Dragging her eyes away from the bag, Karen headed downstairs. 

Three people looked up as she came down.

“You ready to party?” her friend Susan said with a grin, holding up two bottles of merlot.

“I made gluten-free vegan cupcakes!” her other friend Jenn chimed in. “Stephen, do you want to take one for the road?”

He wrinkled his nose. “Gluten-free vegan? Thanks but I’ll pass.”

“Suit yourself,” Jenn winked at Karen. “We’ll be in the kitchen.”

“Sure you don’t want to stick around for a glass of wine?” she asked Stephen once they left.

“Nah, I’ve gotta run or I’ll be late for bowling,” Stephen said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek. “What are you and the girls up to tonight?”

“The usual. Wine. Chick-flicks. Setting off firecrackers…”

“Plotting my surprise birthday party tomorrow…”

Karen smacked his arm. “We are not! Now get out of here before we force you to stay and watch Pretty in Pink.”

Stephen opened the door, letting in a rush of humid summer air. He paused, then turned back. “Oh yeah, the guys said something about going out for a drink after bowling, so I might not be home till late.”

Karen shrugged. “No problem. I’ll see you when you get home.”

The door closed behind him. Karen gazed blankly at the white wooden surface.

“So, did you decide?” Susan asked, handing her a glass of wine.

“Yeah,” Karen sipped the merlot, savoring the rich flavor. “I think it’s time.”

Susan nodded slowly. “Okay. Let’s get down to business.”

Jenn came up behind them, the tray of cupcakes in her hand. “You guys want one? They aren’t really gluten-free. I just didn’t want him to have one.”

“Cheaters don’t get cupcakes,” Susan said archly, taking a pastry.

“Exactly. So Karen, have you decided what to get Stephen for his birthday?” Jenn asked, anticipation in her voice.

Karen bit into the sugary frosting of her cupcake, licking her lips. She stared out the window as Stephen’s car pulled out of the drive and down the street.

She thought about the black duffel bag in their bedroom closet. The one that contained his bowling ball and shoes. The one that hadn’t moved in more than a month, despite the fact that Stephen went “bowling” twice a week. 

“I think I’m going to get him a nice big steaming pile of revenge.”

There was a long pause. “Okay easy there, Tarantino,” Jenn said with a chuckle. 

But Susan nodded thoughtfully. “Let’s do it. Karen, let’s get him a gift he won’t forget.”

“Oh, I’m totally in,” Jenn agreed. “What is this, his fourth time sleeping with one of his students?”

“Fifth,” Karen said. “And I’m pretty sure this latest one isn’t even eighteen. She’s a freshman at the university!”

“Guys with little dicks always go for young women,” Susan said sagely. “‘Cause they hope they won’t know any better.”

They wandered back into the kitchen. “Okay, so I think you should make his birthday present super nasty,” Jenn said, taking a healthy gulp of wine. “Maybe if you get him something for his birthday that like…makes it super obvious that’s he’s a cheating scumbag?

“Like one of those singing cards, but instead of recording a happy birthday message, we could record his mother saying how disappointed she is in him!” Susan suggested, polishing off her glass.

Karen finished hers as well, and topped everyone off. “Except his mother’s been dead for ten years, so that kinda doesn’t work.”

Jen perked up. “Oh! What if you got him something super dangerous? So like, he gets horribly maimed, but it looks like an accident?”

“Like what? A cobra?” Karen asked, already feeling light-headed. 

“Awww no!” Susan protested. “Cause then if Stephen dies they’ll blame the poor snake and kill it!”

“You’re right. No innocent reptile should have to suffer just because my husband can’t keep his snake in his trousers,” Karen giggled.

“What about getting him hang-gliding lessons? You could always cross your fingers and hope he smashes into a mountain.” Jenn poured the last dregs of a bottle into her glass.

“Or sky-diving!” Susan chimed in, her cheeks flushed crimson. “You could even pay the pilot to like…I dunno, mess with his parachute or something.”

Karen shook her head. “I thought about that. But everything is so well-regulated these days, you can’t just pay for an unfortunate accident anymore. Chances are, Stephen would end up having a great time, and isn’t that kind of against the point?”

Susan opened the next bottle of merlot. “Okay, what if we went for good old-fashioned payback instead? We bail on the party, leave his ass high and dry without a cake and everything. Then we catch a bus down to Mexico. Get a bunch of tequila shots and…I don’t know, find a donkey show or something.”

Karen snorted into her wine. “Do you even know what a donkey show is?”

Susan looked confused. “Isn’t it like…people doing magic tricks with a donkey?” 

“Umm…not exactly.”

“Actually, that gives me an idea! What if we cut Stephen’s dick off and feed it to a donkey!” Jenn said, downing her glass.

“Woah! When did we start talking about cutting off dicks!” 

“Do donkeys even eat dicks?” Susan asked, slurring a little. “Shouldn’ we like…feed it to like a lion or something?”

“Maybe if we painted it orange to look like a carrot…”

“So wait…we’re going to cut his dick off and then take it down to Mexico? Won’t they stop us at the border and ask about the dismembered wang?” Susan emptied her glass, “How is that a birthday present?”

Karen’s head was spinning. “Maybe let’s discuss some options that don’t involve donkeys. Let’s head into the living room and think it over.”

Jenn tucked the bottle under her arm as she and Susan filtered into the living room, still debating which member of the animal kingdom would most efficiently dispose of a severed member.

Karen finished off her glass. Then, stumbling a little, she grabbed the tray of cupcakes off the counter and had just begun to follow them when she heard a soft knock on the door.

Her body jerked like a scalded cat at the unexpected noise. The tray flew from her fingers, sending a dozen cupcakes soaring in a wide arc across the kitchen. They landed with a series of soft splats as they smushed against the tiled floor, smearing the waxed surface with icing. 

“Goddammit!” she clutched the counter to keep from falling as the wine rushed to her head. 

The knock came again. Ignoring the mess, Karen crept into the foyer, her heart pounding. 

The bickering from the living room fell silent. “Karen, who is it?” Jenn’s voice called in a mock-whisper. Her head popped into view, eyes wide. Another bottle of wine–already half-gone–was clutched in her hand. 

“I have no idea!” she whisper-shouted back. 

“Well we’re kinda trying to plan a penis-chopping over here, so–oh no what happened to my cupcakes!”

“Shhhh!” Karen approached the door, then hesitated. “But wait, I need more wine!”

Smothering a laugh, Jenn crept forward and filled her glass, then retreated into the living room.

Karen looked out the peephole. It took a moment to focus her eyes. 

A tiny woman with snowy white hair stood on her porch, a colorfully wrapped package in her hands and a canvas bag slung over one shoulder. She must have sensed someone standing on the other side because she waved cheerfully. “Yoo-hoo! Karen! It’s Mrs. Perkins from next door.”

Karen let out her breath in a rush, took a sip of wine. “It’s just my batty neighbor. Hang on a sec.”

She cracked the door an inch, smiled brightly, and tried to sound sober. “Hi, Mrs. Perkins!”

“Hello Karen, dearie!” the old woman said in a thin, wavering voice. “I just saw your husband leaving for the evening, so I wanted to drop this by before his party tomorrow.”

“Oh, well…thank you so much!” Karen said, opening the door all the way to accept the package. “I’ll make sure to give it to him tomorrow.”

“It’s a crocheted holder for his bowling ball!” Mrs. Perkins said. Her smile didn’t fade as she met Karen’s eyes. “I made it myself. After all, we all know how much Stephen loves bowling.”

“Ummm, yes of course.”Mrs. Perkins’ face was a bit blurred from the wine, but Karen had a feeling she knew more than she was letting on.

Of course she did. The old widow spent half her life peering out the windows of her house. She knew everybody’s business better than they did themselves. 

Susan gave a pointed cough from the living room, jolting Karen out of her thoughts. Ah yes, she was supposed to be planning to exact a horrible revenge upon her cheating husband, not chatting with the neighbors. 

Tucking the package under one arm, she smiled brightly at Mrs. Perkins. “Well, thank you so much for stopping by, but I’ve actually got some company and—”

“Actually, would you mind if I sat down for a moment before heading back? These old legs aren’t what they used to be.”

‘They can’t carry you thirty feet across the street’? Karen wanted to say. But politeness won out. “Of course, please come in,” she said, opening the door to let the elderly woman in.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Jenn and Susan rolling their eyes.

Mrs. Perkins shuffled in, so stooped with age she barely reached the top of Karen’s chin. “I’m so glad I caught you tonight, dearie. I have a gift for you as well.”

“Oh, you don’t have to—” Karen started to say, but Mrs. Perkins gave her a pointed look and she fell silent.

“So your husband is off bowling tonight, is he?” she said. “Are you sure he isn’t over at the Huntsman Motel, balls deep in one of his art students?”

Karen stared at her, wide-eyed. The feeble tremor had gone from Mrs. Perkins’ voice, and her gaze was flinty and sharp. 

“I’m–I’m absolutely certain that’s none of your business,” Karen responded with as much dignity as she could muster, considering that her words were thickened by wine. 

The kind smile vanished from the old woman’s face. “I’m here because I want to help you.”

“Well I don’t really think we need—”

“My Arthur was a cheater too, did you know that, dearie?” Mrs. Perkins asked. She came further into the house. Susan and Jenn were both standing in the doorway of the living room. Karen noticed the second bottle of wine was nearly empty. 

“Now this was back when it was considered almost normal for a man to get a little on the side. And for years, I turned the other cheek, just like you.”

Karen glared at her, but said nothing.

Mrs. Perkins’ lips thinned. “But one year, I caught him sleeping with my sister, and that was just the final straw. So do you know what I did then, dearie?”

“You cut off his cock and fed it to a donkey!” Jenn cried, her eyes slightly glazed.

Mrs. Perkins gave a light chuckle. “No, I killed him!”

Karen waited for her laugh again, to acknowledge that she was joking. But she didn’t. She looked each of them in the eye, still smiling faintly.

“Wait, seriously?” Susan asked.

“Well of course! It was easy enough in the end. My great-uncle owned a hog farm. So I waited for Arthur to get knock-down drunk, which only took about three days after I’d decided to kill him. Then I whacked him with a shovel, drug him to the truck, drove him out to the farm, shoved him in with the pigs and told everyone he ran off.” She said all of this as if reciting a recipe for apple pie.

Pigs. Of course,” Jenn murmured. “Why didn’t we think of that?”

Karen blinked, staring at her friends. Initially, she had been thinking of something less…drastic. A gift that would tell him “Hey you jerkoff, keep your dick in your pants”.

Not necessarily one that would remove his dick entirely. Or his life.

Although there was a certain amount of poetic justice to the idea…

Mrs. Perkins waved a hand dismissively, “Of course, you can’t kill a man like that anymore. Everyone’s onto the pig farms now.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen that at least twice on NCIS,” Susan agreed. “We’d have to find a different way to dispose of the body.”

“But I have a plan that might work,” Mrs. Perkins said. “If you’re interested.”

“Maybe we could squish him with something big!” Jenn suggested, pouring herself another glass of wine.

“Pretty sure that only works if you’re a cartoon rabbit,” Susan said sarcastically.

“Wait wait wait,” Karen finally interjected. She blinked, trying to focus her drunken thoughts. “Are you guys seriously saying we should consider this?”

Jenn shrugged. “I mean, it’s his birthday, but you could see it as getting a gift for yourself. Since he wouldn’t be around to enjoy it.”

Karen chewed on her lower lip.

Mrs. Perkins gave a barking cough. “Well I haven’t got all day, dearie. Did you want some advice or not?”

Karen thought of the black duffel bag sitting in her closet, and of her husband, who was currently shacked up with a teenager.

From the canvas bag her shoulder, Mrs. Perkins brought out a bottle of brandy. “I think you girls have a lot yet to learn. Men like your husband simply cannot be tolerated.”

Silence.

“But I can teach you, if you’d like.”

More silence.

Susan cleared her throat. “I mean…the least we could do is hear her out.”

“Oh please, dearie, do let me help,” Mrs. Perkins said. She handed the bottle of brandy to Jenn, who uncorked and sniffed, her eyes fluttering closed. 

“Now, if you girls do exactly as I say, there’s no reason why Karen shouldn’t be free of her cheating husband by Monday.”

Karen looked at her friends. Susan shrugged her consent.

Jenn was already in the kitchen, getting a fourth glass.

Mrs. Perkins shone with a sudden, hungry gleam. She glanced at Karen. “Well, dearie?”

Karen hesitated only a moment, then said, “Why don’t you come in and have a drink, Mrs. Perkins?”

“Excellent,” the old woman said, rubbing her hands together. “I’ve been waiting for this for quite some time.”

Jenn handed her a glass of brandy. The old woman retrieved a thin package from her bag.

Karen felt a cold fist clench around her heart. 

“Shall we begin?”

 

The Faerie’s Bargain: Chapter Six: The Birthday

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Chapter One!

Gwen stood before the burnished copper looking glass that sat propped against the wall of her bedchamber.

“It’s no use,” she said with a raised brow at Moira, “you’ll have to stuff my bodice full of rags again.”

“Yes, princess. You do lack a woman’s figure,” Moira said despairingly, clucking her tongue at her charge.

“It isn’t my fault. I eat more than Ronan.”

“And then burn it all off runnin’ wild like a hill pony when you should be inside sewin’ with your sisters,” Moira grumbled, tugging at Gwen’s dress to make her figure appear fuller.

But there was a note of pride in her voice, and she nodded with satisfaction at Gwen’s blurred reflection. 

Gwen rolled her eyes and grinned back at her. The older woman liked to disapprove–it seemed to be her favorite occupation in life. But that didn’t stop Moira from having a kind, gentle heart underneath her bluster. She’d come to Dunnhawke as a lady’s maid and companion for the queen, and had known Gwen since the day she was born. 

Besides, she was partially right. It was downright unseemly for Gwen to be so thin and wiry, not when she ate at the royal table.

In a country often threatened by starvation, curves were a sign of wealth. Only those who had enough to feed their families through the lean winter months could afford to grow fat.

Most of Gwen’s sisters were plump, with swelling bosoms and the wide, fecund hips of their mother.

Her younger sister Kaleigh, in particular, was considered the beauty of the Setterwind daughters. With raven dark hair that fell in thick waves past her waist, and the pale, milk-white complexion of someone who rarely went out of doors, Kaleigh had already drawn the eye of several noble suitors.

Next to her, Gwen, with her untameable red curls and long, thin face covered in freckles, looked more like a simple farmer’s child than the eldest daughter of Dunnhawke.

“Well, what do you think?” Moira asked, adjusting the dress and stepping back.

“I think I can hardly turn my neck, and this collar itches like it’s made of fleas.”

“You would know,” Moira muttered.

Gwen bit back a retort. It was true, she had gotten her share of fleabites from her nights spent sleeping in the stables with the horses. 

“Well, it’ll have to do. You’re late as it is, and it’s hardly fitting to keep everyone waiting. It is your party, after all.

My party. More like a funeral.

Gwen wished she could wear her riding breeches underneath this monstrosity, but her mother would have a fit if she suspected. 

Queen Bronnagh had sent one of her own gowns for Gwen to wear to the ball this evening.

It was a deep forest green, with thick, stiff white lace edging the collar and sleeves, which trailed almost all the way to the floor.

Moira had stuffed the bodice with rags to make it appear as though Gwen had the hourglass figure prized by noblewomen of the court. The effect was decent, but all the padding made her feel heavy and awkward.

I  don’t think the Fae give a damn what I look like, she thought resentfully. They’ll mostly be interested in ripping my clothes off.

“Thank you, Moira. I’m going to go say good night to Deirdre and Doreen, and then I’ll come down.”

Instead of arguing about the princess’ lateness, Moira nodded sadly, then left the room.

Gwen eyed her reflection in the looking glass for another moment, and then went to make her goodbyes.

 

***

Her foot tapped impatiently, at odds to the rhythm of the music, as she stared out over the throngs of richly dressed courtiers. The men were almost as ostentatiously dressed as the women, and the Gallery was a sea of rich fabrics and expensive jewels. 

A group of minstrels played from one corner, and the music of lyres and drums filled the large room. A space had been cleared for dancing; couples had arranged themselves into lines and were twirling to the traditional steps. 

Seated at her father’s side–a place of honor typically reserved for visiting ambassadors and dignitaries–Gwen tried to keep her face schooled into a calm mask.

Where are they?

She eyed the enormous wooden double doors of the castle’s central keep. They had been propped open tonight–by the weight of two full-grown tree trunks–in welcome to their guests.

No matter which world they came from.

Gwen had asked for this, had argued with her parents until they relented. She wanted to send a bold invitation to the Fae.

Come. Claim what is yours.

I am through waiting. Let it be done.

But by the clocktower, it was already eleven o’clock, everyone was in full festivity, and still there was still no sign that an emissary would come from the lands beyond the winds.

There is still an hour yet. They will come.

They have to come. 

I can bear this waiting no longer.   

Gwen saw her sister Kaleigh among lines of dancers, the dimples flashing in her cheeks as she smiled coyly at her well-dressed partner. Even at thirteen, she knew how to wind boys around her little finger, and had a steady stream of suitors and admirers.

Next to her was their sister Imogen, a year younger than Kaleigh and deeply envious of her older sister’s beauty. She was so focused on matching her steps perfectly to Kaleigh’s that she was completely oblivious to the handsome man dancing opposite her. 

Gwen smiled to herself. Both of them would probably be glad to see her gone. Kaleigh had hinted on more than one occasion that she would make a far better match if her “accursed” elder sister didn’t frighten off the foreign princes.

Her twin brothers, Sean and Seamus, would probably also be happier once she was taken by the Fae. She had yet to see either of them all evening, and assumed they were in the brothels. At least she hoped they were. 

If they were out terrorizing the young women of Dunnhawke village again, she would have to teach her little brothers another lesson. 

At least Ronan will be around to keep them in line. As heir to the throne, he was one of the few whose authority Sean and Seamus still obeyed. And Ronan would miss her, Gwen could be certain of that. Of all her siblings, he was closest to her both in age and temperament. 

Yes, Ronan would mourn when the Fae came to claim her, though she knew he would never let any personal grief show on his face. He had been too well trained in the arts of diplomacy. And everyone knew this day was coming.

Gwen would miss Ronan in return. He was one of the few people she knew who didn’t flinch, sob, or sneer at the sight of her. 

And Deirdre and Doreen. Her heart ached at the thought of leaving them as well.

Over the past eighteen years, Queen Bronnagh had given birth to three sets of twins, all of which had lived–a feat almost unheard of in a land where one child in every four did not live past their weaning year. 

Her four-year-old brothers Colm and Conor, were mere toddlers. Gwen barely knew them, as she rarely visited the royal nursery and they were rarely allowed outside of it.

But she knew Sean and Seamus very well, and had avoided them as much as possible for years. Bronnagh’s eldest set of twins had come into the world screaming and squabbling, and had never stopped. Grainne, Gwen’s grandmother, had once said that they were born with anger in their hearts, and often Gwen wondered if it were true. Now nearing sixteen, they were already more than six feet tall, with barrel chests and bruised, calloused knuckles. 

But if Sean and Seamus had anger flowing through their veins, then Bronnagh’s second set of twins had been born with nothing but gentleness in theirs. Deirdre and Doreen Setterwind represented the only time in King Cormac’s life where he wondered if his bargain with the Fae had been a fool’s errand. 

The queen had been miserably sick during the whole pregnancy; while her belly grew bloated and purple, her limbs had become sticklike and brittle. For almost three days she had sweated to bring the babies into this world, and for the second time in her life she was pronounced on the brink of death on the childbed. 

But in the end, the Fae’s promise had held true. Queen Bronnagh delivered two living daughters, though both were irrevocably scarred by their traumatic entrance into the world. Or perhaps the fact that they had developed differently in the womb had been what impaired the labor. The midwives had been either unable or unwilling to provide an answer, and had left hurriedly with their thumbs between their forefingers in the ancient spell to ward off Fae magic.

Either way, many of the peasant farmers would have left the newborn girls to die in the snow, and it was only the loving heart of the queen and the fearful heart of the king that saved the tiny, deformed infants. Still, it was not for nothing that both of their names spoke of sadness. 

Gwen had gone to see her sisters before coming down to the ball. They were more than welcome to attend, but both–particularly Deirdre–were intensely shy, and hated the prying eyes of strangers. Before she had gone down to the gallery, she had visited their rooms. They had wept together when she had told them that tonight she must go.

She looked again at the clock. Eleven fifteen. 

Forty-five minutes left until she was eighteen years old. Give or take a few minutes. The legends–and Gwen hated that there were already cautionary tales about her–said that she had been born at the very stroke of midnight. But storytellers loved to exaggerate, so it was impossible to know for sure. Her mother had certainly  been in no fit state to remember.

Gwen sighed deeply, sitting back in her carved wooden chair. Her mother. Her father. Her ten younger siblings–eleven if you included the one still growing in the queen’s belly. 

All of it was due to King Cormac’s bargain. If he had not agreed to the Fae’s terms, none of them would be here today. And she herself would have died in the womb.

When put in such harsh, unforgiving terms, it was hard to hate Her father for the decision he had made that night, when he had been utterly desperate—and only a few years older than Gwen herself was now. 

But it was hard to love him as well. Especially when he hadn’t so much as glanced at her all night.

More than anyone, her father avoided her gaze, his eyes fixed unseeingly on the colorfully spinning dancers. Since the long-ago day when he had told Gwen of his bargain with the Fae, King Cormac had removed himself from her life. When she asked to ride, he provided her a horse. When she began training with Lorcan Wolfsbane, she was certain he knew from the beginning and did nothing to stop her simply out of disinterest.

He is as eager as I am for this ugly business to be done with. Gwen could hardly blame him. It must be terrible waking up each day knowing that he had consigned his eldest child to a horrible fate. 

But it was far worse being the one chained to it.

Her mother, who sat on King Cormac’s other side, was greatly pregnant with her twelfth child. She cast sidelong looks at her eldest daughter now and then, but said nothing. She had long ago resigned herself to Gwen’s loss, and had dedicated her life towards raising the children she knew had a future. Again, Gwen couldn’t hate her mother. She actually admired Queen Bronnagh’s pragmatic attitude towards life.

Some things could not be changed. Best to focus on the things that could. 

It mirrored Gwen’s own perspective.  

Eleven thirty. Half an hour to go. Gwen sipped from a glass of wine brought to her by a steward. It was her third, and her head was beginning to feel a little muddled. She reminded herself to stop after this glass. She would need her senses about her if the Fae came.

When they came. Surely they had been waiting for her eighteenth birthday. No one could understand why the Fae had waited this long. Everyone knew they had no interest in the old, the weak, or the infirm. Those that lived beyond the winds liked their victims healthy and ripe–in the prime of their lives.

I will leave Dunnhawke tonight.

One way or the other.

 

***

 

The wretchedly tolling clocktower told her it was two-thirty in the morning.

The guests had long since left. So had her parents, first with a sad look at her, and then at one another.

Ronan had offered to stay up, to see in the dawn, but Gwen shook him off. He’d given her a hard look, as if reading the tumultuous thoughts in her mind, but ultimately nodded and gone to bed. 

Leaving Gwen alone except for the servants, who were already cleaning up the mess–and probably helping themselves to any leftover wine.

Anger hurried her steps as she left the central keep and went out to the courtyard. Her whole body felt rigid, pulsing with tension. Her heart pounded dully in her ears.

The Fae hadn’t come. 

The bastards. Once again, they had left her waiting in the misery of a life she could never fully be a part of, could never enjoy with one foot planted firmly in another world.

Fine. If she could not be free of this anticipation by one way, then she would find another.  

Gwen headed for the stables. It was silent at this late hour, even Rylan the groom was curled up on a bed of hay. She half-heartedly thought of waking him for a rendezvous of their former tryst. If she were successful with her plans, tonight would be her last on earth, perhaps she wanted to experience the embrace of a lover once more.

But she left the lad sleeping. Their previous encounter had been awkward and unfulfilling–had awakened no passion within her veins. And there was no room for lust now, all of Gwen’s being was consumed by despair.

Eighteen years she had wasted, waiting for the culmination of a bargain that might never come. For all she knew, the Fae had long ago forgotten about her. It wasn’t as though her life mattered in the slightest to the immortal ones. They merely liked to toy with humans for sport.

She was through being toyed with. Aoife was asleep standing up in her stall, but she roused with a whicker when Gwen approached with a soft word and a handful of oats.

“Come on, girl. One more ride.” She slipped a halter around the mare’s gray muzzle and mounted her bareback. With a kick of her heels into the horse’s flanks, they took off at a canter through the rough-stoned courtyard and through the open doors of Dunnhawke Castle. 

 

***

 

The summer air was damp and heavy. Gwen thundered west, towards the towering white cliffs that descended more than eighty feet to the crashing sea below.

She dismounted and threw Aoife’s reins lightly over a branch.

Once Gwen was gone, the mare would have no problem freeing herself and finding her own way home.

“Goodbye, my friend,” Gwen said. “Ronan will take good care of you. He’s always been jealous of your speed.” Tears rose in her throat as she pressed her forehead to the horse’s silky muzzle. 

Aoife whuffed out a breath and nibbled her hair. 

With a deep breath, before she could lose her nerve, Gwen gave the mare a final pat on her silvery neck, then turned and walked towards the cliffs. 

From across the horizon, purple thunderheads were advancing upon her like ancient gods out of the abyss. They stacked upon themselves, building higher and higher as they stretched out darkened tendrils across the lesser blackness of the starlit sky. 

The wind picked up, whipping her long hair about her shoulders as she peered over the edge of the cliff. It plummeted straight down, a sheet of jagged, chalky stone ending in a foaming white surf as the waves hurled themselves against the side.

All she had to do was take that one, final step.

The water would rush up to meet her, and if the impact didn’t kill her instantly, she would be dashed against the rocks by the pounding sea.

It would be quick. It would be certain.

It would finally be over.

A crackle of thunder boomed overhead, and a large wave crashed up against the cliff, hard enough to spray Gwen’s face in a salty mist.

She licked her lips, savoring the taste. Her arms trembled as she spread them wide.

She closed her eyes. Felt her body curve forward in an arc, as if being pulled towards the edge.

One step. And it would be an end to this eternal, pointless waiting.

Except…

Over the rising wind, she heard Aoife’s nervous whinny. Rain began to fall, coating her face and hair in moisture, mingling with her tears. 

Except if she fell from this cliff, she would never know. Never know why the Fae had bargained for all those years ago. What they wanted with her.

If her father’s sacrifice had been worth it. 

She could not give the Fae that satisfaction. There had to be another way.

The wind suddenly switched directions, pushing at Gwen’s back until the toes of her leather riding boot edged out over precipice. She pinwheeled her arms, falling backward into the soft earth around the cliff.

Her heart pounding in her chest, she kicked back from the edge until she was ten feet away.

The temptation of ending her fated life had ended, but the desire to face down her foes on her own terms remained.

Thunder crashed overhead as lightning arced across the sky. Aoife reared, pulling her reins free of the rope just as Gwen reached her side. 

“Come on, girl,” she shouted, hauling herself over the mare’s bare back, “I know where to go.”

She turned the horse’s head east, further into Hawkthorne Forest, and kicked Aoife into a trot. When she was young, Gwen had spent hours searching for the ring of fairy stones hidden somewhere in the forest. She’d even tried to map its secrets, spending most of a summer in the effort, but it was like the trees themselves had changed their trunks when she wasn’t looking. Eventually she’d stopped looking. 

But Gwen had the feeling that she would find her way to the fairy rings tonight. 

Above the trees, the storm was rising, but here within the closeness of the forest the sounds were muffled. Rain continued to fall steadily, soaking her blue riding habit until it was as black as the woods around her.

Aoife picked her way through the trees, feeling her way by some deep unknowable instinct.

The fairy circle was calling to her–to both of them. Gwen could feel it, like a nearly silent hum in the base of her skull. 

Thunder continued to boom and roar, and streaks of brilliiant lighting occasionally lit up the forest as clear as day. But the canopy grew thicker, the forest even blacker.

There was a bitter, metallic taste on her tongue, and Gwen realized she’d bitten her tongue hard enough to draw blood. She spat into the forest and thought she heard it gratefully accept her offering. 

An icy chill flooded her veins. Up ahead, maybe twenty yards into the trees, she felt rather than saw a flicker of movement.

Aoife hesitated, snorting. Gwen kicked her lightly, and the mare took another two steps, but then balked, skittering back on her hind legs and throwing her head back in fright. Gwen clutched at the mare’s pale gray mane as the horse continued to rear and shake her head.

“Shhh, it’s okay.” Gwen stroked Aoife’s lathered neck, then dismounted. Without waiting, the horse spun and tore off through the forest, the sound of her hooves quickly lost to the pouring rain.

Gwen would have to continue alone.

She cast a longing glance in the direction of her horse, longing suddenly for a warm fire and a hot brick under her coverlet. 

But her fate lay deeper into the trees. The wind was now a howling gale high above her head, the rain a torrential downpour that sought to drive her into the earth. She stumbled on through the forest, trusting only her instincts to know the way.

This had to be it. She was coming for them. 

Before they could come for her.

There. A faint light flickered. Her clothes heavy and sodden, Gwen advanced toward it. Her outstretched arms eventually met a smooth stone surface. She ran her hands upon the weathered runes blindly, trying to discern anything familiar in the whirls and curls of the language of the winds. 

The light grew brighter. She felt a warmth on her face. She took another step, and now she could see two small circles within the towering outermost layer. 

A man stood in the center of those two circles. His dark hair gleamed in the light, which was emanating from his softly glowing skin. 

She entered the light’s circumference, and he smiled. His canines were sharp and pointed. His eyes burned like winter amethysts. 

“Welcome, Gwendolyn Setterwind,” he said. His voice was the texture of honey and cream. “I was beginning to think you weren’t coming. I’ve been waiting for you.”