On December 7, 2018, readers opening my newsletter got a copy of my latest free short story, Roses in December. Chronologically, Roses follows Pie and precedes Monster (May 2019). It includes no spoilers, but references information in the Arca novels. Check the sweet cover out!
Unlike the rest of my books and stories, Roses is an Arca World story—it’s in the same world as Arca, but focuses on a character other than Zita. In this case, it’s all about Wyn.
When her aunt with dementia is taken on a disastrous day trip, research librarian Wyn will have to step out of the stacks and get down and dirty to save her.
Even if that means hiking.
This story has no violence or sexual innuendo, though there’s danger, damsels in distress, heroic heroines, and perilous peril. Zita has a cameo, so there is also one Spanish obscenity, free of charge. It touches on adult topics though, so still not a story for children.
Roses is free, but only available to newsletter subscribers, both new and existing. While the December newsletter had the first link to it, the January newsletter will include the link again for those too inundated with holiday sales notices to catch it the first time. Subscribers will also have periodic chances to download all the short stories for free during the year.
Arca World vs. Arca
The Arca series will continue to be my focus. However, since the world isn’t about any one person, however interesting and awesome they consider themselves, my work isn’t either. Arca World stories are about all the other people and events. Many thanks to the readers who wrote in asking for more Wyn—Roses is for you!
So, if you have a favorite you’d like to see more of, let me know. I’m always happy to hear from readers and that character might be the hero or heroine of the next Arca World story.
One day later, Zita stared out the back of a tiny Jeep, a piece of military surplus based on the poorly repaired bullet hole near her padding-free seat. She watched terrain inch by, one hand gripping a roll bar as the battered old vehicle bumped and shuddered and whined its way toward a higher elevation. Andy sat very still beside her, masked and silent, his hands clasped tight in his lap and backpacks pinning both his and Zita’s legs. Up front, Wyn laughed, balanced a GPS in her lap, and told jokes with Jerome, who drove.
So slowly that Zita had been fighting the urge for several miles to jump out of the car and jog on ahead. Little more than a one-lane pitted track in the mud, the road wound sluggishly up the base of the tepui. The high straight walls of the tepui rose overhead, reddish sandstone striations peeking out where the dark discoloration of wear and horizontal streaks of green clung grimly to the heights. Drifting mists of thick white and cranky gray clouds hid everything above a certain point, teasing her, and never delivering on a solid view of the top it crowned.
That’d be one sweet climb, she thought, though I doubt any of the others would be up for it, even if we had the time. Even now, she angled her head out of the side of the Jeep so that the moist wind could caress her face and confirm that they actually crept forward. It also helped her avoid overdosing on the scents in the Jeep: sweat, frustration, DEET, exhaust, and the overpowering eucalyptus of Wyn’s homemade mosquito repellent.
Everywhere the side of the mountain permitted, the tropical rainforest was a brilliant spill of a million shades of color. Tall trees shot upward, supported by thick buttresses of roots, the bark covered by layers of smaller plants. Mosses, lichens, and other epiphytes hid the original colors of the trunks beneath their fuzzy green blanket. Brown leafy detritus on the ground only peeked through gaps in ferns, and flowers and fungi interrupted the endless green with splashes of brilliant red, purple, and yellow. Her mouth watered as she caught a whiff of the chocolate and pineapple of a cupuaçu. Animals peeked out, some shyer than others as they passed, and the distant songs of birds and screeching belches of howler monkeys reminded her that they weren’t alone.
“Hey, do you think that’s worth stopping at?” asked Jerome, pointing at a small wooden sign with neatly printed letters. He slowed the vehicle from a crawl to a pace that would have made most snails sneer in disdain.
“If I understand this GPS right, that’s the right direction for the coordinates that were on the professor’s grant application.” Wyn lifted the GPS and poked at a button with a dainty finger.
Jerome steered the tiny rental that direction. “Hope we’re getting close, that last gas station gave us the runaround, and this isn’t nearly as much fun as the movies made it seem.” He grumbled under his breath again about the car.
Having told him once that his aspirations of renting a Hummer with all the options was unrealistic, Zita forbore from mentioning that they were lucky to have found a rental at all, given how far from the cities they were. To be honest, she was thrilled to spend time in the wilds of Brazil, but the others had been less enthused when they had looked up the coordinates. Based on the hand-lettered wood, she mused, the clinic lacks either government or criminal support. In either case, the sign would have been metal, official or otherwise. A medical clinic in the middle of nowhere would have been closed and looted shortly after opening without someone supporting it. “They might know. A medical clinic around here should be plugged into the community since it’s the only care for miles. worse comes to worst, we’ll find an empty building, probably overrun with plants, insects, or squatters. Who knows?” Hope bloomed at another thought. “We should check it out. Even if they’re gone, it’d be a good time for us to switch drivers. I’ll take over. You must be tired, and I’m familiar with driving in South America.” Plus I can actually read any signage, if any appears, and we’ll arrive before we all die of old age and boredom. I can practically hear arthritis creeping in. She flexed her shoulders and hands and squirmed in her seat.
“No. Anyone other than you can drive,” Wyn said. She didn’t even glance up from the GPS.
Jerome declared, “My rental, I drive. I don’t need a rest, though it’d be nice to take a short break from trying to keep on these deer trails.”
“It’s not a deer trail. It was probably originally a road to an illegal mining camp. And I’m an excellent driver. Don’t you remember how well I did when those men were chasing us?” Zita clucked her tongue at Wyn, careful not to inhale too deeply and get another lungful of the choking cloud of eucalyptus scent.
Wyn’s shudder was visible even from the back seat, and her tone was dry when she replied. “That would be why you will not be allowed a turn behind the wheel.”
Jerome snorted. “I’m not letting anyone else drive, especially someone who’s channeling their inner hound dog. Girl, if your tongue comes out and starts flapping in the breeze, I’m going to buy you a collar with a dog tags and engrave Fluffy on it.” He and Wyn both chuckled.
Beside Zita, a small smile touched Andy’s lips before it faded.
“Haters, all of you,” Zita said, though she did not pull her head back in, instead just making a face at the side view mirrors.
“I saw that,” Jerome said.
She rolled her eyes. “I meant you to. Seriously, though, we should go to the medical clinic. If they’re still there, they should know at least a little about everyone in the area. The next town isn’t for miles and any villages not on the map might be no-contact ones and not have the right immunizations to mingle with outsiders.”
Her comments seem to wake Andy from his sulky self-absorption. “Why not?”
Zita sighed. “We’re in—or at least started out in—Roraima, one of the northern Brazilian states. Probably half of that area is national park or indigenous reserves, like the reservations in Arizona in the US. Any temple somebody wanted an archeological expedition to find would probably be in or near those untouched areas since I doubt they’d be digging in a city.”
That got Andy’s attention, and he frowned. “We’re trespassing on someone’s res?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, but it’s possible. This mountain’s not on the map. Wherever we are, it isn’t Monte Roraima, but it’s close enough that we may have gone over a boundary without knowing it into a reserve or park or even another country. If the clinic can point us where we need to go, we can get off their lands faster.”
The old vehicle groaned as Jerome turned it to struggle up another forgotten road. “Right, then,” Jerome said, “Stick your head back in, Arca, and let’s go see some doctors.”
Wyn nodded. “Maybe we’ll get the GPS working again there.”
Zita snorted and kept her head where it was. “Pray for a miracle, but don’t count on it.”
“You know what would be a miracle? These mosquitoes leaving me alone.” Wyn slapped her arm and scratched. “My spray isn’t as effective as I hoped. I’ll have to make it stronger.”
“It cleared my sinuses for the next year. Any stronger and we’ll all be dropping like flies,” Zita muttered.
Her friend twisted around to glare at her, eyes narrowed. “What was that?”
Eyes wide, Zita plastered on a smile. “Nothing, nothing at all.” She tried to think of a distraction.
The guys were suspiciously silent.
Clacking sounded from the vehicle, followed by a rhythmic click, then a loud hiss filled the air. The Jeep jerked sideways, veering off the road and stopping only when it slammed into a sapling. Thanks to their low speed, however, the impact with the tree barely jolted the occupants.
Unfastening her seat belt, Zita jumped from the now-tilted vehicle and surveyed it. “Everyone okay? Blew the tire,” she announced, stretching her arms while she had the chance. .
Jerome lowered his head to the steering wheel.
“AAA doesn’t come out here, does it?” Wyn fretted.
Zita shrugged. “No big, we push it back onto the road, change the tire, and keep going. Pull out the tree, and black nail polish should hide the scratches in the grill just fine. Might have to have someone hold it still, though, so it doesn’t slide back down while we’re doing it.” When she went around to the back and pulled off the cover on the spare, she stared at a wooden circle, cut in the shape of a tire.
“That’s not a happy face,” Jerome said, frowning at her.
Dismounting from his side of the car, Andy came to Zita’s side and stopped. “Spare’s missing,” he said.
Jerome’s head thudded as he hit it on the steering wheel.
Wyn made an unhappy sound, her eyes on the muddy gravel road twisting upward. “It’s been hours since we passed anything else. We have to walk to the medical clinic now and wait for a tow truck?”
“Or, someone could push the Jeep there.” Zita looked at Andy.
He groaned. “I hate my life.”
If you’re ready to buy, Power releases May 5, 2018
Pants have proven to be a hot button for some of my beta reviewers, and this Super cut scene got dropped as a result. Two different beta readers informed me that no one as fashionable as Wyn would consider tights or pantyhose a necessity. One even held an informal polling of his female coworkers to support his position. So, the following got cut.
Super Cut Scene 2
“I’ve only one mask and there are three of us, so I need to go alone unless you know a place selling masks at one am,” Zita said, figuring it would end the debate. Pulling the mask from her pocket, she spun it on a finger by the elastic. The small, black plastic mask only covered eyes and maybe cheekbones, but it would work well enough, especially if she used the same face she had used earlier.
Pinning her hair back up with a pencil, Wyn speared her with her gaze. “You’re not going alone. If we have to, I’ll wear the mask and you can go in animal form. We can talk mentally or Andy can go. He’s bulletproof and only needs a way to escape. If you hide nearby, you can teleport the two of you here, and all you need is pantyhose on your head to hide your face. ”
Andy looked between them, and then back at the computer. The sounds of his tapping gained speed and strength. He shook his head.
“I hate not doing anything! And, umm, I don’t have any pantyhose,” Zita admitted. She gathered up leftover food and put it away, the wash of cold from the fridge a welcome respite from the sticky air of her apartment.
When she turned around, the other woman was staring at her, as if she had switched to another language. “How can you not have pantyhose? What do you wear to work?” Wyn said.
“Pants.” Filling a water bottle from the sink, she sipped the lukewarm liquid and planned, checking hydration off the lists of needs to fill.
Wyn made a derisive sound. “All of your pants are sweatpants or cargo pants. How can you not have any pantyhose?” she asked, as if Zita had not just explained.
Remembering their search for clothing to fit her earlier, Zita countered with, “I have exercise pants too! How can you live when only one or two pairs of your pants have pockets?”
What do you think? I’m not a fan personally of them, but I had thought them more of a necessity.
With regret, I had to reduce one character’s role – he was fun, but did not add enough to some scenes. He’ll show up more in later books in the series. However, here’s a snippet of a Super cut scene from the first draft. Be gentle.
Warned through their mental link, Wyn had the car ready to go when they piled in.
“My sword is crooked,” Jerome complained, plopping into the front passenger seat. His saber caught the light as he held it up to check it.
“Dude, things we don’t need to know,” Zita said. Leather stuck to her leg through one of the rips in her pants. She declined to think too much about the stupid grin sitting on her face.
Beside her in the cramped backseat of the Porsche, Andy concurred. “I’m with her on that one.” Being thrown through that window had not been kind to his clothing, and he tried to arrange the tatters to conceal more.
Wyn shrugged, both hands on the steering wheel. “Some women like that.” She giggled.
Opening her mouth and then closing it, Zita considered. “I suppose it depends on the angle.”
“The girls are on their own now.” Andy retreated, but not before poking her in the side. His question was silent. Am I flying us home?
A snort came from the front seat. “I meant my saber, perverts.” Jerome’s tone held the laughter his words lacked.
“You should clarify these things,” Wyn teased. “So did you get the notebook?”
His voice glum, Jerome answered first. “No. And I don’t know how much of the computer drive was wiped, but at least I had it deleting the medical files first, so hopefully those are gone.” The big man shifted position, and must have given up his examination of the weapon, as light no longer reflected off the blade.
I’ll get us back to my place once we’re clear of Jerome’s surveillance setup. Zita offered silently.
“It could have been worse,” the witch offered, “at least you destroyed the relevant data. If someone has the notebook, but no data, all they have are some names other sources would have given them anyway. The hospital conflagration destroyed enough that it might be sufficient to keep us from involuntary confinement.” Wyn changed lanes and took a merge onto the Beltway.
He let out a bark of amusement. “Oh, that doesn’t bother me. Plans are just wishful thinking. T-Bird, though, I’m disappointed in you, man. You need to bone up on what a real friend is.”
“What?” Andy asked. “What did I do?” He looked at Zita. OK, but I prefer flying, he sent mentally.
She shrugged. Then we’ll get you out to do that again soon.
The other man sulked, missing the silent byplay. “A real friend would’ve gotten me as soon as the chick fight started, especially once clothing started getting torn off.”