Two Halloween treats…

Just in time for Halloween, my funny/sweet ghost story “The Spirit of Pinetop Inn” is now up at Podcastle, as part of a ghost-themed episode with stories from two other authors:

http://podcastle.org/2015/10/20/podcastle-386-flash-fiction-extravaganza-ghostly-interludes/

You can listen to or download the podcast there, and of course they’re also on iTunes.

I was hoping to have something new to share here for Halloween, but since RainFurrest I’ve been busy with work, life, the FWG, and trying to get Wishing Season prepped to launch a print edition before Black Friday. So instead, here’s something many of my non-furry readers probably haven’t encountered yet: my short story “Hellhound,” which first appeared in the Rabbit Valley anthology Trick or Treat.

Rating this PG for mature themes but no explicit content.

 

Hellhound

by Renee Carter Hall

 

The cage was small, but being confined was nothing new for him.

The dog in pen #4 at the Braddock County Animal Shelter couldn’t remember why or under what circumstances he’d been caged before, only that the sense of restriction, of obedient waiting, was intensely familiar. With it came the sense—the certainty—that sooner or later, someone would come for him, and things would be all right.

He ached all over. There was food and water in metal bowls, but he didn’t want it. Mostly he slept, head on paws, dreaming of things he forgot the moment he woke.

The people here were not the same kind of people he was used to seeing, that was certain. These people were pale and fat, and their faces were open and trusting. If he hadn’t been able to imagine them twisted in agony, eyes dark with pain and suspicion, ribs casting shadows on sunken bellies, he would not have thought that these were people at all.

He knew that he, too, had changed somehow. His body felt softer, weaker than it had before. Somewhere—he was certain of it—he had been muscle and sinew and fangs, not the silly, tongue-lolling creature he seemed to be now.

He didn’t understand why this change had happened. But this was not where he belonged.

“Hey, Troy,” the voice came. “See if the one in four’s eaten anything.”

A moment later, footsteps scuffed on the concrete as the man came to his cage. Calling him a man was being too generous, though. He had a man’s height but a boy’s face, especially in the eyes.

He looked weak.

“Hasn’t touched it,” Troy reported back, sounding bored. That was wrong, too. There should have been fear in his voice, or at least despair—not this casual indifference.

 My master would snap you in two, he thought suddenly, and the thought confused him even more.

 Master…

Yes, he had one, but it felt so long ago and even more distant than the scattered fragments of his dreams. Even so, longing rose in him. He wanted to claw at the bars, at the floor, at the air, bite and scrape and dig, to get out, to get back to him.

 Master, he thought dully, staring at nothing, why won’t you come?

 

*   *   *

 

“I’m looking for something big,” Laura said as the teenager led her down the shelter’s row of cages. It sounded like a stupid thing to say, like one of those people who turned pets into status symbols or accessories, as if she might also choose its color to complement her living room.

But as silly as it sounded, it was what she wanted. Right now she needed all the confidence she could get, and as cute as the little terriers and toys were, she wanted something at the end of the leash with more of a solid don’t-mess-with-me attitude.

 And maybe then, she thought, I can learn more of that myself. She was tired of seeing fear in the mirror, tired of catching that scared-rabbit look in her eyes.

Still, she reminded herself, she’d had good reason to look that way. The fear in her life had a body and a name, a name she’d carried as part of her own until the papers finally came through two weeks ago. She’d told herself she wouldn’t live in fear, not anymore, but it still hung about her, clinging. She’d always wanted a dog, but he’d never liked animals—and really, that should have been her first clue—but now, as new and terrifying and wonderful as it was, she was doing something she wanted at last.

She hated places like this. It was clean enough, but nothing could hide the musty smell of concrete wet with disinfectant, or the scent of too many dogs in one large, tunnel-like room. And although she decided it was melodramatic to think that the place smelled, as well, of hopelessness and a kind of mute despair, she couldn’t deny that it felt true.

She passed a grey-muzzled golden retriever that made her heart ache; an animal that age would probably never make it out. The next cage held a gangly puppy with a good bit of border collie in its lineage, followed by a red hound whose deep, tolling bark thrummed in her chest. She paused before that last one—it looked solid but not overly threatening—then decided to survey all the cages before she looked at any of them more closely.

She saw him in the last cage.

He had been lying with his chin on his paws, staring at nothing, and when she passed, his eyes flicked to hers. Only an instant, but enough.

Such unusual eyes…

It wasn’t their size or color—he had the same soulful brown eyes as any other dog in the shelter—but a quality she couldn’t quite define. Intelligence, but more emotional. Longing, but not melancholy. He was waiting. Maybe he was waiting for her.

“Could I see this one?” she asked.

The teenager winced. “Um… Well, you can, but that one’s been here three days and won’t eat. We were gonna take him over to the vet this afternoon. We’ve got a lab mix you might like…”

Before, she would have politely gone to look at the lab. This time, she stopped, as her therapist had taught her, and asked herself what she truly wanted to do. “I’d really like to see this one.”

He looked at the dog, then back at her, shrugged slightly, and unlocked the cage.

The dog looked like he’d been put together by someone with only a vague patchwork idea of what a dog should be. He was tall and lean and almost gangly, big but not thick. His scruffy coat was mostly black with splatters of white, and the fur stuck up in odd places. One ear pricked up; the other flopped down. His long tail was feathered, though the rest of his coat was medium length at best. He left the cage cautiously, not edging out or cringing—he wasn’t afraid of her—but as if he were checking her out, testing her presence as much as she was testing his.

He sniffed her hand and let her pet him. She scratched behind his ears, and his tail swept in a slow arc, then faster, and his mouth came open in a dog’s smile. The air relaxed between them, and Laura smiled back.

“This one.”

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Now available: “Wishing Season: Holiday Tales of Whimsy and Wonder”

WishingAs Frosty would put it, “Happy birthday!” My newest ebook Wishing Season: Holiday Tales of Whimsy and Wonder is now available at Amazon and Smashwords (coming soon to B&N, iBooks, and other online retailers via Smashwords).

Wishing Season is a collection of seven short stories with a holiday theme, including two that have never before been published — the fable “The First Winter” and the tale of “Santa’s Summer Vacation” (hint: it doesn’t go as planned). It’s about 26K words — or about 88 pages, according to whatever sorcery Amazon uses to figure that — and will run you about the same cost as your peppermint mocha.* **

“The Gingerbread Reindeer” – When Santa finds himself one reindeer short for the Christmas run, the frost-elf Boreas enchants a replacement. But there’s more than elf-magic being worked, and when an ancient foe threatens them all, the gingerbread reindeer finds he’s made of more than just flour and sugar.

“Special Delivery” – It’s Christmas Eve, and Phillip Cottington–a.k.a. the Easter Bunny–is already planning for spring. But when a letter intended for Santa gets delivered to him instead, Phillip has to make sure it gets through in time.

“Holly’s Jolly Christmas” – All the young reindeer Holly dreams of is to be part of Santa’s team, but no one will give her the chance–until a child’s letter starts her on a path that will take her places she never imagined.

“An Older World” – Jakob the toymaker lives in a world of grief, until a special toy gives him a chance at a new life.

“The First Winter” – A mother bear tells her cubs the story of how First Bear defeated Death.

“Nativity” – An orphaned girl finds an unusual place to belong.

“Santa’s Summer Vacation” – By order of Mrs. Claus, Santa and his head elf Fussbudget travel to the magical island of Serendipity to relax on the beach. But Maelstrom, evil King of the Eighth Sea, has other plans for Santa.

Buy Wishing Season at Amazon (Kindle format, of course)
Buy Wishing Season at Smashwords (all ebook formats)

 

*I don’t know why specialty coffee is the standard cost comparison, much in the way a Big Mac is the standard unit of measurement for how bad some particular food is for you. I’m just a writer; I don’t make the rules.
** (Homer Simpson voice) Mmm, peppermint mocha…

 

Cyber Monday sale – Hero’s Best Friend ebook and more!

Just a quick heads-up that herocoveras part of Seventh Star Press’ Cyber Monday sale, the ebook version of Hero’s Best Friend: An Anthology of Animal Companions is on sale for just 99 cents today. If, like me, you’ve always been more interested in hearing about the animal sidekicks than the fantasy heroes, you’ll probably enjoy this one. It includes my short story “The Emerald Mage,” about a wizard and his snowcat companion dealing with the personal and magical effects of the wizard’s aging.

You can get Hero’s Best Friend here on Amazon — again, 99 cents, today only:
http://www.amazon.com/Heros-Best-Friend-Anthology-Companions-ebook/dp/B00IAHEI1W/

Seventh Star Press is offering the same great deal on a lot of other novels and anthologies today, and they’re also giving away a Kindle HDX. You can find all the details about the giveaway and a full list of discounted titles here on their website.

 

Coming soon: “Wishing Season”

WishingI’m getting together a new short story collection for the holiday season, available soon as an ebook from Amazon and Smashwords! Wishing Season: Holiday Tales of Whimsy and Wonder will feature several previously published stories, including “The Gingerbread Reindeer” (first published in audio form in the Anthro Dreams podcast), “Nativity” (runner-up in one of Women on Writing‘s flash fiction contests), and more, as well as two brand-new stories — the fable of “The First Winter” and the tale of “Santa’s Summer Vacation.” Various real-life issues have delayed it a bit, but (fingers crossed and Christmas wishes) I’m hoping to have it all ready for release by next weekend. Watch this space!

A bit of shameless Valentine’s Day self-promotion

Since I have some newer followers who might have missed some of my earlier published stuff, I thought this would be a good time to highlight some of my more romance-focused stories. If you’re looking for a Valentine’s Day read, here are a few you might want to check out:

Moon, June, Raccoon

Karen’s sick of watching all her friends find true love. Out of sheer desperation, she decides to try casting a love spell — and winds up getting the attention of a neighborhood raccoon instead. But this furry matchmaker just won’t mind his own business. (All ages.)

Drawn From Memory

Lauren’s been a fan of Terrence Tiger since she was a little girl, and the chance to interview the cartoon star is any fan’s dream. But there’s more to Terrence than sight gags and pratfalls, and soon there’s more to their relationship than either of them expected. (Recommended for teen and adult readers.)

The Bear with the Quantum Heart

Since they first met that Christmas morning, Bear has wanted nothing more than to be by Kayla’s side, but when innocence turns to experience, is it just an artificial intelligence’s programming — or love? (Recommended for older teens and adults.)

“Moon” and “Drawn” also are included in my free short story collection Six Impossible Things, so if you want them in a more ereader-friendly format, you can snag the Kindle version at Amazon and all formats from Smashwords. And if you’re wanting one of those poignant, funny, kinda-happy-kinda-sad-ending stories, you might like “The Spirit of Pinetop Inn,” from Andromeda Spaceways #58, which tells the story of a young couple who decide to help their struggling bed and breakfast by hiring a ghost to haunt the place.

I’ll be back very soon with some other announcements — I’ve fallen behind this month thanks to paperwork for an attempt at a mortgage refinance, husband’s ER visit for kidney stones, husband’s outpatient surgery for same, husband’s overnight hospital stay after what was supposed to be outpatient surgery, and preparing for what we both hope will be his last outpatient surgery next week, not to mention the day job and various other necessary irritations. Lately I’ve been reminded of what Mary Schmich said in her “wear sunscreen” piece that went viral (though misattributed) years ago: “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.” There have been a lot of those idle Tuesday troubles lately, and I’ve been caught in that lousy, exhausting, guilt-ridden spiral of very much wanting to write while at the same time being too stressed to spare any headspace for anything other than what’s required for work, household finances, my husband, and/or basic personal hygiene and self-care. I know I put too much of my self-worth and feelings of progress into my writing achievements, but I’m still hoping things will get back to normal (or at least closer to normal) soon, so I won’t have to watch more deadlines fly past. (That’s the plan, anyway…)