ShelbyFoister.com – Est. 1981
24Aug/152

The Pet Shop Society: Mike and the Dog-Gone Labradoodle written by Emlyn Chand

doggonelabrodoodle

 

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Releases September 26th, 2015 (Pre-orders available)

www.EmlynChand.com

 

Keeping with the departures from my normal genre's the opportunity presented itself to take a look at some children's books by Emlyn Chand. Emlyn Chand publishes a series of books called "The Pet Shop Society" that follows a group of kids solving very lighthearted mysteries. These books are targeting an audience between 6 and 11 years old and because my daughter will be interested in reading books like this before I know it, and I have friends who have kids around this age I thought it might be interesting to get involved in this genre now.

Let's read!

Prose

This is a kids book, so I'm expecting kid level vocabulary and phrases that a kid of around 11 or 12 years old might say. I took some notes as I was reading, as I always do, on some phrases I thought were kind of odd for a kid of this age to be saying. Hell, they're kind of odd for an adult in 2015 to be saying, but it's OK and I'll tell you why after the jump, so to speak.

"...we rule the roost..." This was referring to a group of kids at school. I Googled this and the last time anyone actually said this was 1942. But, this was basically internal dialogue so maybe that's OK.

"...She would lord it over me all weekend..." Dictionary.com says Late 1500's on this one and I believe it.

As you're reading you will notice these things throughout the book, it's not like I'm just over analyzing here. But let me tell you what else you will notice. These kids are incredibly well spoken and actually kind of nerdy on purpose sometimes. I'm guessing they come from a fairly educated family... These are the kids I want my kid hanging out with. I'm OK with some of this adult sounding dialogue because how else are our kids going to learn new words?

One day my daughter will read this book and when she turns to me and asks what some of these phrases mean I'll know she's learning something.

Plot

A 6 to 11-year-old is going to identify with this story very well. It's a simple mystery that nearly everyone with a dog has experienced at some point. When it all starts the protagonist, Mike, and his friend need to decide whether or not they want to help a pretty girl or go eat pizza. This is a real struggle here people...

As the story develops there are plot points that are incredibly identifiable for children of any age; lying to your parents about where you're going or where you have been, attending musical lessons because your parents expect you to, hating music lessons but being afraid to tell your parents, getting grounded. Don't worry, these kids aren't lying about selling drugs or anything; it's more like lying about going to violin lessons but instead joining a softball team. Criminal! At the end of it all there is a lesson to be learned and as a father I was satisfied with how the parents acted and how the children reacted.

As an adult you could probably assume how this story ends just by the title alone. Yes, it has a happy ending. It's the journey that counts!

This is Book 1 of the Pet Shop Society books so naturally at the end of the book the kids form a club called THE PET SHOP SOCIETY! Each one of the characters gets a title; President, Co-President, Treasurer, etc... This stood out to me because as a kid I did the same thing with my group of friends; creating a club and having some pretend power. I had forgotten all about that so this was a little reminder.

Setting

Mike and the Dog-Gone Labradoodle takes place in my neighborhood; or your neighborhood. Emlyn Chand is not specific about where this takes place because it doesn't matter. The only thing that is obvious is that we're in the suburbs.

Characters

There is a character here for everyone. There are strong male characters, strong (genius, actually) female characters and vague enough parental units that any kid could relate to their interactions very easily. Mike and the Dog-Gone Labradoodle obviously follows a character named Mike, which by all accounts and a recent Fox News Demographic Poll is a mostly male name. However, everyone gets pretty equal amounts of face time.

Mike is a pretty typical preteen kid. His biggest decision to this point is pretty girl or pizza. Which did he choose? Haha... I know, right?

Maddie is Mike's sister and she's a certifiable ner... I mean genius. But seriously, you probably are not smarter than this 5th grader.

Nic(ole) is the pretty girl who is new to school and lost her dog. She's also the LIAR who hates MUSIC LESSONS. What? I know... It's OK it all works out.

There were some other tertiary characters involved as well, every story needs extras.

Overall

This is a 39 page story that is an easy one session read for us taller folk. For your kid, depending on how old they are or how well they read it would be a good two session bed time book to read together, at least that's how I imagined doing it. But hey, they're your kids you do what you want.

I recommend it, and will be recommending it to my friends with children around this age. I'll also be taking a look at Emlyn Chand's Bird Brain books that are geared more toward the 2-5 age range.

If you want to take my recommendation scroll back up and click on the Amazon link that will take you directly to the book. You can also visit Emlyn Chand's website for more info on the author.

 

16Aug/151

What Dragons Rule written by John C. Fontaine – Audiobook by John C. Fontaine

What Dragons Rule

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Warning: It's impossible to accurately review this title without some spoilers. If you're reading this book now go read one of my other reviews. Come back when you're done. Also, there's some language that may be offensive to some people. I don't mind offending you I just want you to know the word COCK is down there.

 

I really enjoy supporting indie scenes whether it be video games, films, or books. This is 2015 and some of the best work is coming out of small passionate groups of people creating "the game they want to play" or "the book they want to read", in this case. The problem you run into with this type of work is that the audience either LOVES it or HATES it.  When it comes to literature the indie scene is basically an unknown author trying to make a name for himself. The books are not on the best sellers list, have very few reviews and may be buried by several pages of better known authors. They may also have varying levels of quality throughout a piece of work, which is the case with What Dragons Rule by John C. Fontaine.

Let's dive in...

Prose

*sigh*

I hate to say it because I'm not entirely sure if it's true in all instances; What Dragons Rule suffers from a dialogue written by a male for a female protagonist intended for a female audience. Some of the dialogue is cringe worthy. I know I am not the intended audience but I still have a pretty good indication of whether or not the target audience would be engaged or not. Some of this dialogue is going to alienate that target demographic.

I'll get to some examples in just a moment but I want you to know that this is basically Twilight with dragons. The case could be made that this is Dungeons and Dragons fan fiction and I'm not sure that John C. Fontaine would disagree with that. There are references to D&D spells in and out of combat situations. There are also references to D&D inspired situations, like charming someone and resistance to certain spell types. That being said, there are some very modern sounding phrases and words used throughout the book that sound a lot like how a group of guys might role play during a D&D game.

"He's dumber than a box of hammers."

"...not the sharpest tool in the shed..."

This isn't really an issue, but it's certainly a line taken from around the table while you're role-playing a scene with your buddies. It fits into the world if you approach this as D&D fan fiction. However, if you're looking to this book to be some fantasy epic it does not work.

Dialogue in some places seems to serve no other purpose other than to give history and back story on the world and even having finished the book I don't feel the need to know any of this back story... This is a love story and when it comes down to it that's ALL it is. Example:

***Spoiler Alert***

A demon named Samuel goes on and on describing the history of demons and dragons as if he is reading from Encyclopedia Britannica and the only responses from the protagonist, Raina are short little questions that are obviously meant to push along the story telling session.

Raina: "What about the 7 hells?"

Samuel: "Thanks for asking Raina. For a limited time only, buy 6 hells and get the 7th hell completely FREE!"

That's how this whole scene comes off to me. Information for information's sake...

Here's a spoiler for you... There's a SEX scene!

...and it's a little hard to take seriously. She grabs his cock (it's my blog I can say what I want) but he grabs her bottom. If you're going to say words like cock you may as well say ass instead of bottom... Hell let's go crazy and call it a vagina instead of "lady parts" also.

That's right... She refers to her vagina as lady parts but the context is even worse.

*clears throat*

(paraphrased for sanity)

Thax: "I want you again..."

Raina: "Oh not right now I need to rest my.. um.. lady parts."

(some time later)

Raina: "Do dragons umm.. uh.. have... you know... lady parts?"

I've known a few women and I've seen a few lady parts and I have never myself heard them referred to as such. This is what I was talking about when I said the dialogue suffers in places from being written by a male from a female perspective for a female audience. Instant alienation.

Ok this next part comes (Lol) during pillow talk.. almost all of this was cringe worthy but because I was mowing my lawn my hands were too busy to press the stop button.

Raina: "What do you want Thax?"

Thax: "I want everything."

Raina: "Does that mean you want to put it in my butt?"

Seriously, what in the absolute fuck, man? Who is the intended audience here? This is good for a healthy high school chuckle but as dialogue in a fantasy novel it's just awful.

Okay enough with the Prose.. I have so many notes I could go on and on forever. It's Twilight and Hunger Games style dialogue at best.

Plot

The plot here follows the expected path for this type of story.

  1. Girl meets mysterious / dangerous boy.
  2. Dangerous boy somehow sees some part of her that everyone overlooks, he's intrigued.
  3. Girl finds out that dangerous boy is more sensitive and caring than everyone else knows, she's intrigued.
  4. They fall in love.
  5. Girl in danger, boy saves girl.

There are a lot of stories like this these days because a lot of people are trying to capitalize on the success of Twilight, that much is obvious. I've seen this happen in other mediums also including one that I am all too familiar with. Gaming.

One company develops a retro style platformer, like the old Super Mario. It does great because it touches that nostalgia nerve. Everyone jumps on the bandwagon and saturates the market. The games that come after may even be better but the consumers are just so used to seeing the same formula that it just does not resonate. What Dragons Rule is exactly that... The PLOT of What Dragons Rule is actually very intriguing and I would actually say it is much more interesting than Twilight.

There's a twist toward the end of the book that really brings it all together and starts to make sense of some "WTF moments" that happen early in the book. I'll give John C. Fontaine some credit here, the plot is mostly strong.

Setting

What Dragons Rule rests squarely in a setting that I am intimately familiar with. The target demographic for this book will likely not have much knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons so there will be some mystery. The issue with the setting is the way it's all introduced and the way some real world things find themselves into the story very awkwardly.... I couldn't tell you much about the world these characters are living in because so much feels rushed. But I can tell you this.... There is pizza. Pizza is cooked on the belly of magma elementals. That's right, a wizard offers to cook some freaking pizza. So I'm left to believe that wizards are Italian because obviously Italian cuisine has a place in Fontaine's world.

We find ourselves in some various settings that all come to life in your mind. John C. Fontaine has the ability to describe things in a cohesive manner that makes it easy to visualize. He's also very good at describing movements in space. Tail swipes, sword swings... it does not feel like a series of "if  / then" commands. That being said, there are some places that the author takes us that seem completely useless and are only taking up several chapters in the middle of the book to serve as a reminder to the reader that Raina is indeed a know it all who is immune to magic spells and her lover, Thax is just kind of an asshole for no good reason.

Characters

You'll remember Thax and Raina and you will forget everyone else. I didn't take notes on the names of any of the characters because nothing of any value to the story happens with them. All of the dialogue involving tertiary characters is forgettable and they all seems to have very similar personalities. With one MAJOR exception.... fives. More on that later.

Thax and Raina however are very developed characters. There's so much character development in this book that if the author could have slowed down a bit he could have made this book two books. Their love affair starts very quickly and progresses rapidly.... two humans usually do not progress this quickly and considering the nature of this relationship I would expect it to be a little slower. You know, the whole "dragon wants to molest me" thing might be cause for concern for most women. But, the twist toward the end might explain that, too... so what the hell? Jump on in there Raina and ride some horn.

I know Fontaine was trying to make me like Raina, but I just couldn't muster the strength to involve myself emotionally with her character. Thax on the other hand is a fire-fucking-breathing dragon. So of course I liked him even though he's a neurotic asshole, but he's a dragon. He's not helping little old women cross the street here. He's eating all your cows, deal with it.

Some characters that could have used a lot more development were the wizards on the wizard island. That's not a spoiler because that's all you'll ever really learn about them. I think an entire adventure could have been written with these wizards at the center of the conflict. That's really a missed opportunity there but that leads me back around to that damn pizza...  After all, it was one of these Italian wizards that offered up the pizza.

Sooo... remember when I mentioned fives?  fives is a robot, I mean Golem. Named fives because he is the fifth of his kind. Readers of a certain age are visualizing this guy right about now:

Johnny-fucking-Five, ya'll.

Johnny-fucking-Five, ya'll.

I kid you not. Johnny Fives has a cameo in What Dragons Rule. Well not technically but damn... how could this not be on purpose? Oh yah, Fives is a Golem built to teach fighting styles to people. So he's a program in the Matrix, basically.

Overall

The plot and the character development were the strongest parts of this story but damn the shadow of that prose is long... almost everything good about this book lives in the shadow of corny dialogue. I'm not sure who that dialogue is appealing to but I'll be damned if I'm letting my teenage daughter read a book with the kind of language and an older woman is going to be completely put off. The setting is going to appeal to men ages 24 to 56 but Fontaine is aiming for a 16 to 56 female audience and unfortunately I think the book as a whole misses both of those marks.

I hesitated pressing the Publish button because I really wanted to give Fontaine a good review when I started reading What Dragons Rule but as the story progressed I had a sinking feeling that I was going to have to write a pretty bad review. Fontaine is a GOOD WRITER, guys... seriously. I think he got caught up in trying to appeal to an audience and fell into a story that is made up of so many conflicting elements, ideas and pop culture references that what we're left with is a puzzle with edge pieces forced into the middle and the middle pieces all forced on to the edges. I think the next try will be better... the writing competency is there.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: 2015, Book Reviews 1 Comment
9Aug/150

Asthma! Do you really understand?

I've been thinking about this post for a while and the truth of it is I'm not sure where to start or even what to say without sounding like I have animosity toward people who have kids without asthma. I don't, but it's obvious that asthma is a foreign concept to people unless they are directly affected by it.

My wife and daughter have asthma, it's a constant struggle in my house even though my wife is good at managing it and making everything seem as normal as possible. The fact is it alters what we do and how we think on a daily basis.

My daughter has had pneumonia 4 or 5 times in her short 3 and a half-year life. Pneumonia takes a very long time to recover from, any additional sickness like the common cold can inflame the scar tissue again and cause a reoccurrence. A single diagnoses of pneumonia means we're doing albuterol breathing treatments every 4 hours of every single day for at least 2 to 3 months. (You think diapers were expensive?) Because of this she is either recovering from pneumonia, has pneumonia or is getting pneumonia constantly. Additionally she is taking two puffs of an inhaled steroid every morning and every night just to stay "controlled." No one knows exactly what would happen if she stopped taking these twice a day steroids, or her allergy medicine and even though we would love desperately to reduce the amount of medicines she is taking we don't want to take the risk.

Before modern medicine pneumonia was one of the top 5 leading causes of death in the united states. Now, pneumonia is still in the top 10.

So what  exactly is Asthma?

The most direct way to explain asthma is this photo:

Credit to: http://www.top10homeremedies.com

 

Story time...

About a week ago I dropped my daughter off at daycare, and as usual she is recovering from pneumonia so her airways are fairly inflamed and I'm already full of anxiety just taking her there. As I'm spooning her cereal into her bowl and getting her settled in a father walks in with his two boys. The two boys sit across from my daughter and one of the boys immediately coughs the nastiest sounding cough. This poor kid had severe dark circles and goopy looking drowsy eyes and didn't even want to move.

I'm trying not to be judgmental about this because if my kid could recover from a common cold like any other kid I would probably just give her an Advil, send her to school and not miss a day of work also. At the time I thought to myself "You fucking asshole... your kid just walked in and within 10 seconds of sitting down coughed right in my kids face." What do you do at this point? Move your kid to another table and try not to offend the father? I won't go into my reaction because that distracts from my point.

Fast forward a week... my daughter got a cold. It got into her chest and every hour or so we have to coax her to cough so that it does not settle into her lungs. We're back to doing albuterol every 4 hours and in addition to that we're giving her prednisone twice a day to keep the inflammation down which helps with making productive coughing.

Removing her from daycare is not an option for us because unfortunately like most modern households we need the two incomes to survive. But I will admit that the conversation comes up weekly and during a particularly bad flare up it's not uncommon for it to come up  daily.

We miss a lot of work... my wife misses weeks at a time and only remains employed because of FMLA which protects individuals if they must take leaves of absence to care for a family member. Once she has used up all of her paid sick time then I try to use as much of mine as I can to fill the gaps. Once mine is used up then she once again will use FMLA to take unpaid leave... we try very hard to be good employees. Both of us take pride in our work and want to be there for our coworkers. I do not want to be "that guy that calls in sick all the time." Sometimes it's impossible to avoid...

There's some common reactions and question that come from people who really don't understand what we're going through so I'll sum up some of them here:

If it's so important to keep her home why don't you sell everything you don't need and downsize to afford it?

Our biggest expense is our home... It's the home we want our daughter to grow up in and in a school zone we are familiar and comfortable with. To downsize on this would be to move to an area we aren't comfortable with. Would you do this?

Oh she just needs to (insert some old wives tale or home remedy here).

Before modern medicine she would have been a statistic. I'm sure countless kids died in the 1800's while their mothers rubbed honey and lavender on their feet and hung them upside down from an apple tree on a Tuesday during a rain storm in april.

Does she really need to do all of those treatments? She seems OK now.

Yes, she does... she seems OK now because 4 hours ago she had a treatment. Albuterol reduces inflammation and makes it much easier for asthmatics to breathe. Additionally, if they're sick then it helps them to cough mucus out of their lungs.

How does my perfume make a difference?

Have you ever sneezed because someone is wearing too much perfume or cologne? When you sneeze or have any kind of allergic reaction to something mucus is released and collected in your airways, which may cause you to sneeze again or cough. For an asthmatic this creates an airway restriction.

I'll stop here, because the point of this is not to shame those that don't understand but to make them aware of what is going on. Asthma is a real thing and it SHAPES  the lives of those that are affected by it. We are an asthma house and even though my wife is probably saying to herself "omg you make this sound so dramatic" there is a very specific segment of the population that thinks about whether or not they will have access to a power outlet at Disney World so that they can plug in their portable nebulizer.

We walk wide circles around smokers standing at the doorways of businesses.

We look for power outlets and look like a band of crazies hunched together in the corner behind the restaurant at Disney with this noisy machine and a small child that is acting very accustomed to this sort of thing.

We tell friends "no" a lot when we are invited to play dates.

We say things like "if you're sick stay home" on our party invites and we're serious about it.

We look like crazy people when we stop in the middle of the store to pat our kids back when she's coughing and say things like "yah girl you got it up good job!" and give her a high-five.

I know this got a little rant heavy at times but I really did not mean for this to become a journal entry. Even though talking about it publicly is therapeutic I'm really more concerned with helping to shed some light on this for people. Most disabilities are obvious... you move out of the way for people in wheel chairs to give them more room. You help a guy on crutches up a ramp or down a ramp. You may help a veteran with only one arm unload his cart at the grocery store despite his protests and claims that he can do it himself.

You can't see my daughters (or my wifes) lungs. It's not obvious that she has anything wrong at all so you don't think twice about staying put and letting us walk through your smoke cloud, or wearing way too much perfume. I hope you're more aware, because we all just want to live in a world where we can breathe...

If this all sounds like your family, please feel free to reach out to talk. If this is the first time you've even heard of this kind of struggle then please feel free to reach out also.

 

Filed under: 2015, Fatherhood No Comments
3Aug/150

The Musubi Murder written by Frankie Bow – Audiobook by Nicole Gose

musubimurder

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This was an interesting one for me. I don't usually read crime or mystery novels but it came to me completely by accident and I just happened to be looking for a new audiobook so I decided to delve into a genre I was not very familiar with. I'm going to go a little out-of-order than I would usually do just because of the nature of the story. So let's get to it...

Prose

Frankie Bow is really good with dialogue, as is evident by the abundance of it in her first book, The Musubi Murder. The dialogue between characters is very believable and I did not have a hard time following their conversations at all. Nicole Gose did a good job making each character stand out in a book with quite a few characters that could come off as very similar. Casual listeners will be thrown off by the Hawaiian accents at first but it grows on you rather quickly.

There's only a couple of things that really stood out to me as something I didn't find entirely believable. Molly Barda likes to correct people's spoken grammar.... a few times this happens and every time I thought to myself:

"Who would actually correct someones spoken grammar?"

Because if you do that, you're a truly annoying person. In most cases I could make a case for the dialogue that seemed disconnected from the story but in this instance I feel like Frankie Bow is projecting herself into the character and allowing her own pet peeves for misspelled or misused words to show through into Molly's personality. It doesn't add anything to the story at all.. it only serves to lessen the likeability of Molly Barda, but not by much.

The other issue is that when a revelation is delivered and a major plot point is revealed the dialogue does not seem to be strong enough to represent the emotions that someone should feel at that time. I can't say too much without spoiling the book but as an unrelated example:

Murderer is revealed.

Protagonist: "Wow I need to come up with a headline."

Real Life Protagonist: "You have to be kidding me?! How did he do it?" -or something along those lines.

Plot

The plot kind of took me by surprise, maybe because I'm not accustomed to reading this genre of book? Maybe it's just Frankie Bow's writing style? I'm not sure but at first I took issue with how slow the book seemed to move, *then I realized that it was me that was the problem. 

Back to the point about dialogue that seems to be disconnected from the story or at very least loosely connected somehow, which serves to slow down the plot in spots.

The first time I really noticed our protagonist, Molly Barda going off on a tangent to the point where it was noticeable was Chapter 15 (which is very early in the book as each chapter is fairly short) where she goes on longer than I expected about her students, furniture and body odor. That being said, it's all still relatively entertaining.

Another example of the dialogue seemingly growing a little long in the tooth is around Chapter 21 where Molly and a couple of her friends are participating in a trivia night at a local restaurant or bar. The two friends go off on a tangent talking about one of the trivia questions, units of measure and human anatomy. It kind of lost me for a minute but the dialogue was interesting enough that I continued to pay attention.

All of that said, when the pieces started coming together toward the end of the story I had a couple "holy shit!" moments as I remembered some of this dialogue that appeared to be disconnected but ultimately serves the purpose of showing the reader that everything you need to know has been right in front of you the whole time.

*The problem with my original approach is that I was not listening to the book as a journey, but more so a means to an end. There's a lot of enjoyment to be had with the slowness if you just pay attention and let the story unravel.

Setting

The Musubi Murder takes place in the Hawaiian Islands, more specifically in what I visualize as a run down low-budget community college with plastic office furniture, hallways that need repainting and a dirty old coffee machine that everyone reluctantly uses. The picture is drawn for you very vividly.

Everywhere Molly goes is a well established and detailed figment of Bow's imagination that is very effectively put to paper with just enough detail to give you a mental image but not enough as to prevent your imagination from filling in the blanks.

Characters

Character development is what Frankie Bow does, its the basis for this book and ultimately why it works. The characters you're supposed to like, you do. The characters you're supposed to distrust, you do. No, it's not distrust it's mistrust. See? That made me a little less likeable didn't it? Aside from those little grammar and/or word use corrections from a couple of characters (mid conversation) I think Bow did a great job putting my emotions where they should be.

This book is basically 60% character development, 30% direct plot points and 10% "Holy shit this actually all connects somehow!"

Overall

The Musubi Murder is not a New York Times Best Seller, it's probably not high on the sales charts at all and I can tell you why... there is no tween/teen sappy love story. This story is not epic in nature and it likely will not become a Hollywood favorite. I get the impression from Frankie Bow that this was not one of her goals, anyway.

When the big reveal scene went down at the end I was brushing my teeth and looking at myself in the mirror, so I can confirm that my eyes were wide and I physically cringed.

If I had one piece of advice for you after reading this book, other than "read this book" it would be this:

SCROLL DOWN

The best books are not necessarily at the top of the Amazon best sellers list.

GET THE BOOK

The Musubi Murder on Audible

Frankie Bow has a website, it's here!

Filed under: 2015, Book Reviews No Comments
2Aug/151

Carac’s Dead Friends – Short Story

Carac's Dead Friends was originally written years ago as an exploration in writing a scene with many people. As I started to slowly create the world for Shards of War (Mostly through daydream and actual dream) I wanted to explore how the "magic" system would work in this world. I looked back and decided to adapt this short and what I ended up with is a vague introduction as well as a "what if this happened to someone who was unsuspecting."

Enjoy!

Chronology: Middle Era

Location: Holmport

Carac’s Dead Friends

(What has Nine Toes and a pair of Damp Pants?)

I take a deep breath and open the solid wood door. I’m early.

As I step inside the tavern I scan the room for Carac. There is a large bar in the middle of the room with tables and chairs against the wall. Patrons are sparsely scattered throughout. Finally I see him sitting at a table in the corner at the far end of the room.

Approaching the table, I toss a small, brown leather bag down in front of him. He picks up the bag and opens it like he fears a viper may spring out. His face goes grim and white.

I know we’re about to talk business when he kicks a chair out for me to sit next to him. I don’t. I pull a chair from another table and sit opposite him, taking note of the large bag under the table.  The poor lighting in the tavern is casting shadows on our faces but I can tell that the man at the table behind us is watching me more intently than he should, and there’s a mug of ale sitting on the table opposite him. Is there someone else sitting with him? I think to myself.

I lay my hand on the rough wooden table and tap my index finger. Carac shifts nervously and says the words that are like music to my ears. “I have your payment.” A smug grin spreads slowly across my face. “Of course you do,” I say.

Carac frowns and pretends the bead of sweat dripping into his eye doesn’t sting. A chair shifts behind me; I can feel the man seated behind us looking at me.

“During our first meeting you felt no need to bring bodyguards,” I accuse, keeping a calm tone.  “You think I’m going to kill you and now you’re going to bribe me. What if that doesn’t work? Are you going to send your henchmen to kill me?”

Carac looks as if he’s been caught in a lie. He acknowledges the sweat on his brow by wiping it with his sleeve.

“Listen, the thing is-“ I stand abruptly and grab his wrist.

“JACK!” Carac screams out for help.

Feeling the edge of the dagger concealed under his sleeve, I use my free hand to retrieve it. I hear the heavy plodding of the man behind me; he’s coming quick. I sling Carac’s dagger to the ground behind me.

”Arr!” It sticks in Jack’s boot. He falls to the ground and hovers his fat hands over the blade, afraid to rip it out. He makes a whimpering sound instead as if he intends to cry the blade free.

The place has gone quiet and everyone in the tavern is now looking in our direction, a few men are walking toward us. I turn my head slightly giving them a sideward glance. My arm outstretched I move my finger back and forth as if to say “Tsk tsk tsk.“

With my full attention back to Carac who has been unable to pull his arm free, I whisper, “You were saying?”

“I- I- have made a very bad mistake and-“ he stammers. Leaning in a bit closer I slip my dagger out from my belt.

“I CAN PAY YOU W-“ he screams as the dagger comes up quick and slams into his temple. “No negotiations,” I say to the corpse.

Just then the men’s room door at the back of the tavern flies open, slamming into the wall and a long-haired man runs out in time to see my dagger being removed from Carac’s skull. “CARAC!” he screams. He wipes his wet hands on his pants and runs toward me.

I drop the corpse and throw my dagger at him. It misses and sticks into the men’s room door. The man behind me with the hole in his boot doesn’t hesitate to pull the blade free now. He throws it at me, an untrained throw, but still sharp. I anticipate my defense and drop down to my knees. The blade sails above me and sticks into the face of the man with the damp pants, he falls hard onto the table splintering it as his momentum carries him forward.

“Noooo!” Nine Toes Jack cries in horror as he realizes he has just killed his friend. He runs toward me with his shoulders lowered and eyes full of rage. I stand up to meet his attack, grabbing the back of a chair I swing it with all my strength. The chair shatters as it slams into Jack but this only slows him a little.

“I’ll kill you, pig fucker!” He screams as he tackles me and we crash to the ground. I don’t have time to react before Jack is on top of me, choking me. He’s a big man, heavier than I am but shorter. My eyes are darting around looking for an advantage. Damp Pants is lying near us with a dagger still in his face but I can’t get my arms free to reach for it.  I see the other patrons standing around yelling and pointing but I can’t hear anything over the beat of my own heart pounding through my neck.

Finally a group of men run through the onlookers and pull Jack off me. He tries to fight them off but there are too many. I lie still for just a couple of seconds catching my breath before I pull the dagger from the corpse.

The Bag! I catch a glimpse of it lying under the rubble of the destroyed table. I had forgotten about it through the chaos but I’m sure it was the bribe money Carac intended to use. I grab the bag, sling it over my shoulder and immediately feel my skin begin to tingle. I shrug it off thinking it is just the blood returning to my limbs.

Nine Toes Jack is beginning to free himself from the group of men and he will surely love to continue choking me. Before he can get free I’m putting a dagger in his gut. The patrons aren’t sure how to react so they back away slowly, Jack bends over clutching his wound.

“You won’t get away with this… You’re a dead man,” are his last words before I grab the hair on the back of his head and slam his face into my knee. He falls to the ground.

Now I’m standing in the middle of this tavern that is torn to shit, my head throbbing and my heart feeling like it may explode through my neck. Most of the patrons have fled or are standing against the walls but there are a few standing around me now. I slip the dagger into the sheath at my belt and walk slowly toward the exit, stumbling and catching myself on the bar.

“What the fuck, stop him!” a man yells from the back of the room. I know the voice, it’s Harold the owner. We had an agreement that I could do business here if I didn’t cause trouble. I can’t tell if he recognized me but I’m not going to stick around to find out. I run for the door slipping through half-hearted attempts to grab me.

As I run out of the door and into the dark streets I hear men yelling for the city patrol followed by the whistles of the guards. By the time they arrive I’m long gone. I make my way back home, weaving in and out of alleys and rooftops. If I have a tail I will lose it.

Once I feel like I’m a safe distance away I stop to assess the damage. My throat is already swelling, another few seconds and Jack would have had me unconscious. My back is sore and tender to the touch; I probably landed on a table leg. This meeting did not go as planned. I didn’t want to kill Carac, at least not in public. I had to act first and fast because I didn’t know how many people Carac had with him. Someone is going to be surprised to find a severed finger with a wedding ring still around it when they open up that little brown bag. I smile to myself at this thought. They’ll be even more surprised when they find Carac’s own mother dead in her apartment with a finger missing.

I continue on; the patrol will be swarming the city soon.

I’m feeling very proud of my ability to move silently when I trip over a loose roofing tile at the edge of a tall apartment building. Twisting mid-fall and reaching out for the ledge. I grab ahold of the side and I hang there dangling from one hand trying to be as quiet as possible in my panic. Panic? Fuck no. I push that aside and remind myself that I am a professional. Just then the brick breaks free and I plummet to the ground. I’m falling between two buildings in an alley and there’s nothing to grab ahold of.  Flat brick walls on both sides is all that I see as I twist around in the air. I’ve conceded to death when I feel that familiar skin tingle that I felt in the tavern. Bright red and black swirls surround me and now I’m on the ground lying on my stomach in a puddle of dirty rain water.

The red and black swirls fade. “What the fu-“ I start, just as the brick cracks into the back of my head.

More Shards of War can be found here