The Children: Flash Fiction

Lila glared at the guard. A wall of a man, chest puffed in his sense of duty, thumbs hooked into his belt like a sheriff in an old Western. But she was armed too—with a court order and the adrenaline thrill of the arguments she’d laid down in order to obtain it. Now they could no longer keep her out. God knows they’d tried. At three different security checkpoints, she had to mention her name, her credentials, show the paperwork, endure a pat-down and a search of her briefcase.

“No pictures,” he said finally, by way of granting her permission to enter the facility.

She’d been told what to expect. Of course, no pictures. The identities of the children would be protected. She hated when the media splashed up images of suffering children; yes, it might squeeze out some tears and celebrity outrage, but it was cruel and intrusive and she would not participate in that heartbreaking manipulation.

She would not do that to these children. Many years ago, she’d been one of them. She and her brother.

Her heels echoed on the concrete floor as she walked down the corridor, escorted by a different guard. She snatched glances at him. Wondering how he could be a party to separating children from their deported parents. Wondering how it could have been done to her own family. Most likely, he would say he was only following the law or that he was just doing his job. How many horrors has the world endured over people just following orders? Again she saw those stark, heart-wrenching images from the concentration camps that they were shown in school. Men little more than skeletons in striped uniforms. The piles of bodies. Again she saw her brother in the detention camp. Saw him broken and bruised and so, so small. Dios mio, if any of these children have been harmed…

They turned a corner and she was close enough to hear the crying. Her throat tightened and she bit the inside of her lip. She could do this. She’d done this many times, taken children out of bad environments. Only never on so grand a scale.

What the guards hadn’t seen on her phone were all the contacts. All the families who wanted to foster children; some able to take three, four, five, six. What they hadn’t seen in her briefcase was another court order. This one had been more difficult to obtain. It would cost her dearly to pull that trigger; the man she’d dealt with said that for every favor his boss granted, he wanted triple in return. But for the children, it was worth it.

The guard stopped at the chain link gate. She stared at it, then at him. “Like dogs. You cage them like dogs.”

His unkempt eyebrows pushed together; the expression one beat from saying he was just doing his job. She didn’t want to hear it. Instead she focused on a small girl staring at her with huge, red-rimmed eyes. Lila crouched down and smiled at her, hooking an index finger through the gate.

“Hola, pequeño. ¿Cuál es su nombre?”

For a long moment, the girl stared. Her lower lip trembled. She couldn’t have been more than five. An older boy, maybe eight or nine, stepped close to the girl, a protective hand on her shoulder.

“It’s okay,” Lila said, continuing in Spanish. “I’m just here to make sure you’re all right.”

He didn’t answer. But nothing was all right about this. They were crowded in like animals. Their beds were paper-thin space blankets on the concrete floor. God knows where their parents were. But if Lila’s plan worked, she would know where these children were, would know that they were safe. She and her colleagues would know it. And, eventually, their parents. She reached into her purse and pushed a button on the phone, alerting her team to get into position.

Then she stood and faced the guard. “I am authorized to take these children into protective custody.” Then, heart in her throat, she shoved the second court order at him. As he read, one of those unkempt eyebrows rose, along with a corner of his mouth.

“Are you for real, lady? The president of the United States. How do I know you didn’t forge this signature?”

She yanked out her phone. “How do you know that calling his office right now and asking that question won’t get you fired?”

He looked at the paperwork again. “I gotta check this out,” he said, and disappeared down the hall.

She’d already made friends with two of the children by the time he returned. His expression a blend of irritation and disbelief. A half hour later, a convoy of minivans filled with children was heading toward their rendezvous, where the foster parents had been told to meet them.

She drove the first one. Smiling to herself in her triumph. Yes, it would cost her. She’d have to join the president’s legal team for a few months, but it would be worth it. In fact, she chose to look at the assignment as a challenge. If she could survive that, she could do anything.

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The Scent of Silence

“Why do you have to go?” Her question registers as the first raindrops begin to fall. You stop in the middle of the sidewalk, tip your face to the sky and let the damp, metallic smell trigger the pleasant memories. Springtime. Green leaves. Hikes along a springy bed of pine needles in the forest.

She turns. The scent of hairspray fights the perfume radiating from her skin. The smell of anger. You add that to your mental catalog of unpleasant memories. “Are you even listening to me?”

“Uh. Sure. Of course.”

“No.” She starts walking again. You follow. Umbrellas pop open all around you. Hers with a tooth-grinding snap. She doesn’t offer to share. “You’re not listening. You’re lost in that damn Mars mission again. Maybe you should go. Maybe you should go now.”

“This ‘damn Mars mission’ could save humanity! Not to be hyperbolic about it, but when the oceans rise and the air is unfit to breathe, when crazy world leaders launch the missiles…what if there was a habitable place we could go? With far more potential than the Moon?”

Silence. You should have weighed your words more carefully. Conversations like this were why she took pills every night to sleep. You try again, softer. “They’ll only need me for a few months.”

“That’s what you said last time.” She spins toward you, flinging a spray of rain from her umbrella across your shirt. “It was more like a year!”

“Then move to Houston with me.”

“Houston. As if.”

The smell of spite. You try to think of happier aromas. Bread baking. A wet dog and a small boy jumping into a pond on a summer afternoon. You smile to yourself. This could really work. In previous extended space missions, humans have suffered from sensory deprivation. It’s made them hallucinate. It’s been detrimental to their health, their productivity.

The team loves your idea—a virtual reality system that can impart not just visuals and sound, but can activate memories tied to certain smells. Now you’re getting the chance to create it. First, catalog the appropriate sensory input, then build the system and test it. You know it can work. You know it will help. You’d feel better if your wife believed in you, believed in your ideas. Believed you weren’t taking these assignments to get away from her.

But you can’t change that.

You spend the trip home in silence. You imagine the smells awaiting you. The stale coffee in the kitchen. The damp wool aroma of the couch where you’ll be sleeping.

You pull into the driveway, snap off the keys. Let out a long breath. She reaches for her door handle, hesitates. “I’ll go with you.” Her voice is so quiet it blends with the rain. Then, a little louder, and with a bit of humor you haven’t heard in some time, she adds, “After all, if you’re going to be so absorbed in this project, someone better make sure you eat once in a while.”

Wicked Cool Mid-January Giveaway

Not Just Another Rafflecopter Giveaway

eNovAaW giveaway | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

Yes, we’re doing it again. In what’s starting to look like a tradition, eNovel Authors At Work is offering yet another wicked cool giveaway. Along with enjoying great deals on these books (and some are free), you can win:

  • eNovAaW giveaway | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's booksKindle Paperwhite
  • Vera Bradley Pocket Note Set with Pen
  • Fisher-Price Nickelodeon Shimmer & Shine, Bedtime Wishes Shimmer
  • Panasonic ES2207P Ladies Electric Shaver
  • Message Charm (46 words to choose from) Expandable Wire Bangle Bracelet
  • Inktastic – Life’s Better With Books Tote Bag Natural
  • Star Wars Black Series 6 Rey (Starkiller Base)
  • $15 Amazon Gift Card
  • Bass Pro Shops Active Watch for Ladies – Blue
  • Walking Tyrannosaurus Rex Dinosaur 21″ Toy
  • Panda Planner
  • Aurora Tears Purple Created Amethyst Butterfly Birthstone Water Drop Pendant Necklace, 18″

With so many gifts, you’re more than likely to win something. However, the giveaway will only run between the 17th and the 30th. Take part by going to the Rafflecopter.

Let’s get to the books! A whole bunch of them will be FREE or 99c until the 21st:

  • The Reluctant Hero by Jackie Weger: FREE. “This was a wonderful story. It was funny, full of surprises and I couldn’t put it down.”
  • Rain Clouds and Waterfalls by Piper Templeton: FREE Inspired by the artistry of the Beatles, each tale is framed by a Beatles song or event.
  • Don’t Tell Anyone (Trager Family Secrets) by Laurie Boris: 99c. “Poignant, moving and realistic.”
  • Hurricane Hole by RP Dahlke: FREE. “Romance and danger and a sweet and funny ending… a sailing adventure that will keep you riveted.”
  • Wolf’s Pursuit by Alexa Dare: FREE. Shifter Romance with an engaging coven of supernaturally talented women.
  • Storm Crazy, Bonus Edition by Livia Queen: 99c. “My new favorite series!”
  • Imperfect Love: A Sweet Romance by Rebecca Talley: 99c. A devastating diagnosis changes everything.
  • Musiville by Nicholas C. Rossis: FREE. “A funny, upbeat, music-filled story that can be enjoyed by both children and adults.”
  • DEFCON Darcy (Darcy Walker Mystery Book 4) by A.J. Lape: 99c. “That girl is in mysterious trouble again!”
  • Past of Shadows by Colleen Connally: “A well-written, exciting page turner.”
  • Murder in San Francisco by Dianne Harman: 99c. “Winston is such a smart dog! You gotta love him.”
  • The Reckless Year (Book 4 in the Misfit Series) by A.B. Plum: 99c. A psychopath in love?
  • Finding Home by Jackie WegerFREE with Kindle Unlimited. “Lol! I loved this book. Hilarious.”
  • Lies I Never Told by Martin Crosbie: FREE on http://martincrosbie.com

November Giveaway

Hi, everyone! I promised you a giveaway after the World Series and here it is. And I’ve brought friends!

Free Kindle Books and Tips (FKBT) is working with eNovel Authors at Work to put on a great giveaway of signed print editions (USA & Canada only, sorry) of the following books:

In addition to the books, two lucky winners will win a Fire HD10 tablet and a Kindle Paperwhite. Excellent e-thingies to read your books on.

The giveaway will run until November 27.

Go here to enter: http://fkbt.com/2017/11/13/time-big-november-giveaway/

 

What do you want to read?

heart-772637_640Hi. Some of you know that I took a break from marketing and promotion over the winter. (Well, I guess you all know now.) I was burned out and needed some time to think about where I wanted to take not only this blog but my entire self-publishing adventure. After my break, I started dipping a toe back in here and there. I wrote. I caught up with news about the industry. I read a lot of blogs. I read a lot of books. I also had an opportunity to check out a ton of author newsletters.

That was good. And not so good. Some were done well. They gave me interesting information and were entertaining. Some just made me want to hit the “unsubscribe” button as fast as I could.

It made me realize what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to fill your in-boxes with a bunch of stuff that you don’t want to read.

So I’d like to know what you think. What would you like to see more of from me? Less of? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments, or if you’d prefer, put them in the contact form below. Thank you so much.

 

A Sneak Peek from The Call: Wes

PrintWes is one of my favorite characters in The Call. I love the way his mind works, and often his voice would circle around in my head, talking about numbers and odds and the universe and his many, many sisters. When I read an article about the physics of baseball, I thought of him immediately and knew he had to be in the story. Here’s an excerpt from the book, from when he and Margie met at the umpire academy:

—–

As Margie rounded the right-field corner, Wes Osterhaus fell in beside her. His wiry limbs matched her stride, his pale, freckled cheeks pinking from the exertion and the Florida sun. In their morning classes, Wes sat Catholic-school-straight in the chair in front of hers, bobbing his head at the instructor. He always had the right answers, and a hundred other questions. The instructors had been patient with him, but more and more they said, “Let’s talk during lunch,” or told him to go look it up in the academy’s library. The “library” was a dingy, cinderblock-walled equipment room that smelled of sweat and old coffee and contained two metal folding chairs, an old TV, and an erector-set bookshelf of manuals and videotapes. Sometimes Margie passed the room on her way to Big Al’s office and Wes would be sitting there alone, staring at the screen, scribbling notes on his pad. She felt bad for the guy. He was smart, that much was clear, and he was one of the few people in camp who would talk to her. She overheard a couple of trainees calling him “Oster-cize,” and she wanted to kick them.

“Nice day for a run, huh?” Margie said.

“Technically, no.” Wes said some stuff about dew point and relative humidity that left Margie’s head spinning. Then he trailed off, and on the left-center warning track he said, “Forty-eight.”

“Excuse me?” Margie wiped the sweat off her brow with the back of her hand.

“Sixteen percent of three hundred.” He nodded toward the group of guys practicing on the field. “That’s how many candidates will get recommended for evaluation after we’re done. Fewer still will get minor-league assignments.”

She smirked. “I think you’re gonna do fine.”

He nodded toward Rocky Anderson, who was berating some guy until he hung his head. “But that instructor is lowering our chances. He’s doing it all wrong.”

Her eyebrows hopped up. “Whaddya mean, wrong?”

“Positive reinforcement has been shown to help long-term learning better than negative reinforcement.”

“You got English for that?”

“Okay, right,” he muttered, as if giving himself a reminder to dumb-down his vocabulary for the masses. “Your strike fist. If he said, ‘nice job’ when you tucked your thumb in, instead of making you do laps when you get it wrong, research says you’d learn better.”

“What, you saying I’m never gonna learn?”

“No, Margie, I believe you will.” He paused a moment and added, “Because you remind me of Doug Harvey. He’s the best umpire in the game.”

She grinned. “Really? Doug Harvey?”

“Yes. The way you make your calls. The way you know the rules.”

Damn. “You wanna race?”

“Not especially.”

She knocked an elbow into his arm. “Aw, come on. Race me to the on-deck circle. Loser picks up the beer tonight.”

“That’s negative reinforcement. And besides, I don’t drink.”

“Okay. Winner gets to pick the game tape in the library later.”

“See? Now I’ll do it,” he said. “Because you’re offering me a learning opportunity.”

He took off. She took off after him. For the first time in Margie’s life, a boy beat her in a footrace. Probably because she let him.

——

The Call will be live on Amazon on September 1, but you can preorder now. The print book should be out around then, too. Or possibly sooner.

Thunder

A storm was coming, and Hannah knew it was a bad idea to be hiking on the mountain, but Josh insisted, and in all the years of their friendship, he’d hardly ever insisted on anything. When the storm swept in, they scuttled for the shelter of a cave they’d hidden in before. He spread out his sleeping bag and built a small fire, boy scout style. By the dim light she could barely see the lurid bruise beneath his right eye and the swelling of his lower lip, leaving her the illusion of his face as its usual cute, undamaged whole. She didn’t say much; he said less. The patter of the rain and the crackle of the flames and the thunder, now a gentle roll in the distance, made her drowsy.

The next thing she knew, the storm had passed. They could have resumed their hike at any time, but it was nice in there, with the fire and the metallic smell of damp rocks and his regular breathing. Josh was still asleep, and she felt comfortable lying next to him, the rhythm of his chest rising and falling a kind of meditation. She ached to touch his lip, his black eye, to soothe away the pain. To erase the memory of his seeing her kiss Ben Thompson, the humiliation of losing the fight and getting punched not just once but twice. She didn’t mean for it to happen. The kiss, or having Josh see it, or Ben being such a jerk. Maybe she’d been nervous about what would happen to her and Josh at the end of the summer. They’d been friends since grade school, but aside from the occasional family trip, they’d never really been apart. Even when she had her appendix out, he’d come to visit her at the hospital, and they’d played card games and shared her Jell-O. Could they still be friends in colleges at opposite ends of the country? When the subject even brushed the edges of their conversation, they flinched, changing the topic. She was tired of flinching.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

His eyes flickered, and he turned his head to face her. “Why? You didn’t make it rain.”

But the silence filling the cave after his last word made it clear he knew what she was apologizing for.

“I’m sorry because it was supposed to be you. It was always supposed to be you.”

His mouth opened slightly, making the puffy lower lip look even more painful. “You could have told me that before I made a total ass of myself.”

The fire hissed and crackled, dancing shadows along the rock.

“It would have changed everything,” she said.

He appeared to think a moment, nodded, then, with what she hoped wasn’t too painful a smile, said, “Change isn’t always bad.”

“Try saying that again when we’re living three thousand miles apart.”

He rolled toward her, touching her cheek as if she were exotic and breakable and, possibly, imaginary. “We have now. We have the rest of the summer. We can figure the rest out later.”

He was right, and wrong, and the rain started up again. When thunder shook the ground, she flinched, and he pulled her tight against him.

Women in Baseball: The Umpires

I knew I’d never get to play second base for the New York Mets—when I was a kid, girls weren’t even allowed to join Little League—but it was fun to watch the games and dream. Sometimes I’d even pretend to be an umpire. I’d watch those “You Make the Call” segments on TV, where they’d break down a complicated play and show why the ump called it the way he did. But I didn’t think they’d let girls be umpires, either.

Many years later, I learned that in 1972, a few months before my eleventh birthday, Bernice Gera put on a mask and chest protector and became the first woman in modern history to umpire a professional game. She’d sued the New York Professional Baseball League for sex discrimination, fought for five long, hard years in court, and finally won her case. She quit after working just one game of a double-header, citing the incivility of the other umpires and the baseball culture in general.

Many, many years later, her story still intrigues me. Why would a woman fight so hard to get a chance to call a game and then never set foot on the field again? What was it like for the women who came after her? Women like Christine Wren, Pam Postema, Theresa Cox-Fairlady, Ria Cortesio, Shanna Kook, and currently, Jen Pawol, Emma Charlesworth-Seiler, and the indefatigable Perry Barber, one of the hardest working woman in amateur-level (but very professional) umpiring. And still, except for a handful of spring training and exhibition games, Pam Postema was the only one who’d made it to Triple A, just one rung below the majors.

It’s hard sometimes to believe that even as recently as 1982, there had only been three brave souls in professional baseball who had gone where no woman had gone before.

I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what it might have been like for them to work in the game. Beyond the headlines. Beyond the “official stories.” And when I want to know more, I start writing. That’s when Margie popped into my head, and she had a story to tell. I’m excited that I’ll be publishing The Call later this summer, and you’ll get a chance to meet her, and her twin brother, and the rest of her world.

I’ll be posting an excerpt soon and more about the players.

Happy trails!

Salt: A Modern Fable

salt-51973_640

I’ve never written a fable before, but when I caught a headline on Politico yesterday, this story jumped into my head. I wrote it for 2-Minutes-Go.

—-

Salt

More than his gold-plated golf clubs, more than his collection of celebrities on speed-dial, more than any of his trophies, the man loved his salt. He’d cultivated that salt with a patience he’d bestowed on no human in his life. He’d traveled the earth looking for the best location to harvest it, the ideal climate, the primo seaside sunbaked leeward cove, where the big-league crystals collected. But it still was not good enough, the haul too paltry, so he spent a million dollars of his fortune on a magician’s spell to make the minerals more powerful.

That was the ticket.

The salt colonized and crystallized and concentrated and sparkled. The ocean and magic combined to imbue it with the bitter tears of mermaids in mourning, the revenge of white whales, the last cries of drowning mariners, the shaking fist of Atlantis. He brought no one there except his favorite son, on secret missions, telling his wife they were going to the circus, or hunting tigers. The first time they reached the cliffs, the boy looked confused, and the man indulged in a wolf’s smile.

“Someday,” he said, clapping a small hand to the boy’s shoulder, “this will all be yours. It will be your legacy. It will be the salt to rub in your enemies’ wounds.”

The boy didn’t understand, and the man was angry, and the boy grew quiet. But he kept bringing the boy to the cliffs when he traveled to check on his salt, to make sure the enchantment still held, to make sure there would be enough. For he had a lot of enemies. He’d hoped to push some sense into the boy. Like his father had done to him.

During his next visit, as they beheld what the family fortune had purchased, the boy asked, “Is it time yet?”

The man lifted his chin and felt the sea breezes on his freshly exfoliated face. He licked a finger and raised it in the air. “Oh,” he said, relishing what was to come. “It’s time.”

And he took off his expensive shoes and rolled up his expensive trousers and picked down the rocks to where the salt deposits lay, all the while wincing at the pain in his soft, small, pedicured feet. The boy followed his lead, carrying the golden bucket, and soldiered on under its weight as the man filled it to the brim.

The salt was beautiful, and it was his, and the man felt a touch of pride as if it were another child.

When they returned to the city, he climbed to the highest tower, the boy in his footsteps, and opened the windows where the people gathered below. From their shouts he knew that most of them hated him, were envious of all he possessed and of the victories he’d claimed, but he waved and smiled, told a few jokes. Drawing them closer.

Then with one mighty hurl, he emptied the bucket over the ledge, but the wind blew the salt back at him. He tried to duck the onslaught—too late. The last thing he saw before the crystals blinded him was his son, standing behind him, smiling. A wolf cub’s smile.