Sour Grapes? Oh, yes, indeed!

You’ve probably already heard about a writer named Lynn Shepherd and her diatribe on HuffPo about that dastardly J. K. Rowling and how she’s (Rowling) a success and she should just quit writing and give everyone else a shot.

After I finished shaking my head to get the wrackspurts out and start thinking clearly again, I posted comments and linked to the article (with comments) on my Facebook page.  I won’t link to it here — you can find it if you really want to read it (again or for the first time) but I don’t have to drive traffic to her drivel.

At least I did her the courtesy of reading the article before I commented, which is more than she did for Rowling. In my mind, besides the sheer effrontery of one writer telling another writer not to write (well, except for the patronizing little tap on the head which was: “By all means keep writing […] for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn.” Gosh and golly, Ms. Shepherd. I guess Ms. Rowling should be grateful and tug her forelock because you will let her write for her own pleasure! How big of you!) the idea that you should criticise someone’s work when you’ve never even read it(!) is mind-blowing.

There were two other places where I thought she really missed the mark.  One had to do with the idea that adults who read YA lit are wasting their time somehow.  Some of the most interesting and enjoyable books I have read or remember reading when I was somewhat younger fall into the YA category.  Beyond Harry Potter, I would classify the following as YA:

If you add in Tolkien’s Hobbit along with the Narnia books and the Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis (and I’m not entirely sure what age level Lewis was aiming for with Narnia) that’s literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of wonderful, thought-provoking and entertaining reading for people at any age.  The very idea that adults shouldn’t read them horrifies me. That takes some arrogance on the part of Ms. Shepherd (but I think it’s obvious by now that she has no shortage of that quality).

I thought Chuck Wendig, blogging on Terrible Minds, found the right response to YA naysayers:

“… for now, I’ll leave you with this lovely Nick Hornby quote: ‘I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of.'”

Finally, and most incredibly, Shepherd seemingly believes that the success of writers like Rowling, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, et al. somehow puts a roadblock in front of writers like her.  First off, as one commenter expressed it, publishing is not a “zero-sum” game, where writer X keeps writer y from getting published.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the success of the megawriters keeps publishing houses in the money they need to bring in the next level of writers. Ms. Shepherd, your books got published because Ms. Rowling’s did (or someone else like her).  If you’re not seeing her level of success, maybe you need to examine what you’re writing.

Speaking for myself, new writers get four pages when I’m at the library looking for something to read.  If you can’t hook me so that I want to keep reading, you’re going back on the shelf.  I’ve even stopped reading one or two of Stephen King’s books (and I read Carrie in the original paperback right after it was published — he’s one of my favorite writers, period).  It’s not the name on the front of the book I care about, it’s the words inside.  I didn’t particularly care for The Casual Vacancy either.  I felt what Ms. Rowling was trying to do had been done much better by British crime writer Robert Barnard in Political Suicide. But at least I opened the book and tried before I decided not to read it.

I find myself thinking that Ms. Shepherd’s 15 minutes of fame have come at a cost. There are a lot of YA fans and Potter fans who will never forgive her for her rant. I’ve heard (courtesy of the BBC website) that there are a lot of people who have hit her author page on Amazon and one-starred her books.  It’s a pity – she might have a good product (or not) but she may well wind up writing under a pseudonym herself.  I wonder if she’ll get any more shelf space that way?

Just a Feeling

6136085344_f675065475_zAnne turned on the radio and hurriedly cranked the volume down. The kids had finally fallen asleep and the last thing she wanted was to wake them up.

Suzette, her gentle Down’s Syndrome child, had been a good girl and slept right away, followed by Pat, the newest member of her little foster family – a golden-haired, dimpled six-month-old darling inexplicably left on the sidewalk in a baby carrier by a single mother who had apparently tired of being one. Matthew, the oldest at three, had been the tenacious one – wanting one more drink and one more story, until finally his eyes closed.

She wiped down the counter, loaded the dishwasher and started it. The music changed, and she grinned. I used to dance to that, she thought, and tried out a few rusty dance steps. Being a foster parent meant that she didn’t have much of a social life – at least not at the moment – and Anne hadn’t been out dancing since her divorce.

Spinning, a little off-balance, she giggled – and stopped abruptly at the site of a teary-eyed Matthew, standing at the entrance to the kitchen, holding the Hobbes she had crocheted for him.

“You’re supposed to be in bed.” Quietly, she walked over and scooped him up. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s a monster in my room, mommyAnnie!”

“A monster,” she said, “where?”

The little boy pointed up at an angle. “By the see’ing. Up.”

“Let’s go take a look.”

“No!” He struggled to get away from Anne. “Can’t go. Can’t!”

Anne was taken aback. Matthew had been the least trouble of any child put in her care, at an age to be helpful, and very much thnking of himself as a brave big brother. This isn’t like him …

“Ok, Buster.” She put Matthew on his chair at the dining room table and headed down the hall.

As she entered the room, she shut the door to avoid waking the other children and flipped on the light switch. Maybe it’s a spider. Or some kind of bug. But the walls were clean and gleaming in the light from the fixture. Nothing seemed to be hanging out of the closet, home for the monsters of her childhood.

On her way out the door, she stopped. Just for an instant, she felt something, rather than seeing it, but the moment passed and she decided that she had just picked up on Matthew’s heebie-jeebies. She shut the light off and headed back to the kitchen.

“Nothing there.”

“It ‘cared of you.” His eyes were still wide and he was sucking his thumb, something she hadn’t seen from him since the earliest days he’d been there.

“Scared of me? Why?”

“You girl.”

Scared of me because I’m female, huh? Just like most of the guys I seem to meet these days.

“You need to go back to bed, sweetie.”

Matthew shook his head violently. “No, pleez, mommyAnnie. Pleez. Mons’er’ll come back.”

“What did it look like?”

“Din’t see it. Feeled it. Feeled bad!”

Anne sighed. She still had quite a bit to do before bed. “Ok. Tell you what. You can sack out on the couch until I’m done. Will that help?”

He nodded and jumped up on the couch, pulling the afghan off the back to cover up with.

“Thank YOU!”

She went back to the kitchen and finished cleaning the stove. Opening the cabinets, she built a shopping list for the next day. As she worked, Anne felt a growing sense of unease. She tapped the pen on the counter and then went to look in on Matthew.

He had pulled the afghan up, almost covering his face. “MommyAnnie,” he whispered, “it’s here again.”

Anne knelt by the couch and brushed the hair from the little boy’s eyes. “Shh, honey. You must have woke up from a bad dream and it just stuck with you. It happens all the time.”

“No, no, no, no, no ….” Matthew teared up again. “It wants hurt me.”

“But not me?”

“It’s ‘cared of you.”

“Because I’m a girl.”

He nodded gravely and scrubbed the tears from his face.

She hugged him and they stayed there; neither moved for a long time. Abruptly, the tension broke.

Matthew scrambled off the couch and wrapped himself as far around her as he could. “It’s gone.”

I hate to admit this, but I felt something. I really did.

She cuddled him. “Think you can go back to bed?”


Anne walked him back to the room, tucked him in, gave Hobbes a kiss and went back to the kitchen thoughtfully.

“I don’t know what that was all about, but I’m glad it’s over.” She whistled as she emptied the dishwasher.Who ever heard of a monster that was scared of girls?” I guess Suzette’s safe, then.

She nearly fainted when an infant’s terrified scream came from Pat’s room.

Happy Belated #ThreeWordWednesday

The sullen man next to me on the bus made me uneasy.  He was dressed in less-than-clean clothes and didn’t appear to have shaved for about a week.  I had the distinct impression (reinforced by his sotto voce mutterings) that he was irrational.  I was stuck, though – the seats were full and people jammed the aisles, shifting and dodging in a nearly Brownian motion at each stop. I exchanged a glance, and raised eyebrows, with my other seatmate over the man’s bowed head. The third member of our happy little group was the sullen man’s polar opposite – Hugo Boss, clean-shaven and just, well, clean; he nearly looked like he was spit-shined. Ex-military, I’ll bet, I thought briefly, and pushed aside everything to try to order my workday before I hit my desk.

This was a long ride, all the way down Lakeshore Boulevard and then on the freeway to East Ninth.  I’d missed my usual express bus, which got on the freeway right away.  I wouldn’t do that again.

The squeal of the doors at yet another stop broke into my reverie. A pretty lady in a business suit and heels got on and shifted into the mass of standees.  She was pregnant – at a guess, about five months. She grabbed the overhead bar – which she could just reach – and balanced herself with the briefcase in her other hand.

The spit-and-polish businessman gave her one look – just a glance, really – and went back to his iPad. Just as I was about to stand and offer her my seat, the man next to me beat me to it.

In a gentle voice that I could barely hear over the noise of people’s voices and MP3 players whose earphones leaked a cacophony of music, the man, with a sweet smile that completely changed his face, said “Please, ma’am, have my seat.”

The Allegory of the Long Spoons (look it up) talks about the difference between heaven and hell being that in heaven people feed each other and in hell, they only worry about themselves.  For me, from now on, there’s going to be an Allegory of the Bus Seat. And maybe, too, a lesson about impressions and how misleading they can be.

Green Thumb, #FridayFlash, 06/02/2013

“I’m telling you, microwave ovens make poison!”

Tony was our trainer and when it came to working us out hard, there was no one better. But when he got onto one of his hobby horses, it was another story.

“One of my friends, he boiled water in the microwave and put it on one plant and took plain old tap water and put it on another one and the one that had water from the microwave put on it withered and died.

Bob looked at me and rolled his eyes.  I shrugged back. This was old ground for us.

Jeff, the new guy, shook his head. “Hey, it wasn’t a fair test.  Did he try boiling water the regular way? Boiling changes water.  It doesn’t matter how you do it.”

Tony glared at him narrowly. “Doesn’t matter. Lazybones! Up and give me three sets of ten burpees, no rest.”  As he watched us and did the “Marine DI” thing in our faces, I heard him mutter, “Wouldn’t make a difference. Nossir.”

Somewhere between set two and set three, the little kid in me that loved doing impromptu science experiments in my backyard decided to find out.

* * *

I set my parameters and picked up three seemingly alike basil plants from the produce department at Giant Eagle the next time I went in.  To do it properly, I should probably have grown my own, but I didn’t want to take the time.

The next day, I started.  The water went in identical glass mixing bowls – it was the only thing I could think of that could go in a regular oven and a microwave.  Who knew what having plastic or metal could do? I set them to boil and chill until they were the same temperature as the tap water. (Hey, I was something of a “science geek” once upon a time – what can I say?) All three plants were watered the same amount within moments of each other.  And the experiment was off!

* * *

I have to say that for a couple of weeks, it looked like the most boring experiment since Archimedes sat down in the bath.  All three plants grew a little, but there wasn’t any amazing deficit on the part of Micro (guess which plant that was), and Macro (the “regular” boiled water plant) and Control (tap water) weren’t substantially larger.

The next week in our training session, Bob and Jeff let me have it when I told them what I’d done.

“You’ve got to be kidding.” I thought Bob was going to drop his dumbbells.  Jeff shook his head.  I shrugged – not because that was the only way I knew to communicate, but because we were doing dumbbell shrugs and I had 10 more to do – 9 now.

“You’ll see,” Tony said, when Bob couldn’t resist kidding him about it. “You’ll see I was right and then you’ll stop microwaving.” When Bob snorted, Tony snapped, “And now, do 10 more shrugs.”

* * *

 It wasn’t until the second month that there was any difference between the plants.  Ironically, the smallest of the plants was Control, which made no sense to me. To my amused and only semi-interested eyes, it seemed that Control was shying away from the plants on either side of it.  I could almost see it trembling.

Day by day that week, it seemed to me that Control was losing leaves, although I couldn’t see where.  Finally, a week later, I decided to have the others over after our workout so I could show Tony how his friend’s theory had fallen through.  I was putting the finishing touches on some healthy snacks when the doorbell rang.

I opened the door to find Tony, Jeff and Bob.  They headed towards bottles of water, fresh veggies and dip.

“So what did you want to show us?” Jeff asked, around a mouthful of cauliflower.

“In here.  The one in the middle got tapwater, the one on the left got microwaved water and the one on the right, just plain boiled water,” I announced, and waved them into the kitchen. They preceded me – and stopped suddenly. I pushed my way through the three suddenly still men.

There was movement from the windowsill.  Micro unfurled a tendril from nowhere, pulled a leaf off of Control, and ran it through the remnants of the dip in the mixing bowl I’d used to prepare it.  Two leaves on its stem curled apart, revealing needle-sharp teeth and a tiny, dark-green gullet. Gulp. The leaf was gone.  Poor Control.  Macro followed suit from the other side and I swear I heard the smallest of squeaks from the scraggly little plant in the middle.

Bob idly crunched on a baby carrot.  “Well, you were right, Jeff.  Boiling water certainly does change things.”  He brushed a crumb off his coat and turned to leave.  “And Tony, I swear I’ll never water a plant with boiled water, ever.”

As he passed through the kitchen door, he turned to look at me.  “Just a question.  How do you plan to get rid of them?”

The rest of us exchanged glances. It looked as though I was going to be boiling water for a long time to come.

#FridayFlash, One Good Friend, 5/31/13

This story is for the 4th Anniversary Blog Hope of Friday  Congrats making it this far and hope we’ll all be around for many years to come.


Thirty years had passed and it hadn’t seemed like anything. Patrick shook his drink gently, loosening the ice cubes from their fragile grip on one another, and watched his high school classmates try to boogie down to a wannabe KC and his not-very-sunshiny band.

Letitia Graham was heading his way with a determined look on her slightly horsey face and he sidled through a group of former jocks whose waistbands had expanded and whose hairlines had definitely contracted.  He caught a couple of glares, but they subsided as he muttered “Letitia” out of the side of his mouth and gestured slightly in her direction.  One of them, whom Patrick dimly recalled as one of his schooldays tormentors, replied with a sardonic “Good luck.  You’ll need it.”

Fortunately for Patrick, a caterer opened the side door to bring in more ice and he made his escape as the door swung shut behind him.

Why the hell did I even come here tonight?  The fireflies flirted with one another as he walked around the back of the building, kicking at stones, the drink in his hand of no more interest. He tossed the plastic glass in the dumpster and walked out to a stand of trees that he was pretty sure had been saplings in his day. Patrick leaned his head back and looked at what few stars were visible above the parking lot arc lighting.

It wasn’t as though I had a lot of friends here, or anything. And the few I did … Of the tiny group of people who were willing to be seen with a scrawny, bucktoothed, coke-bottom-glasses boy, one, Mike Dotrice, had died in a car accident three days after graduation, and another, Andy Soames, had gone into the military and Patrick lost complete touch with him.  He’d heard a rumor that Andy’d gone down in a “training accident” (he’d always thought of it that way, with quotes around it), but he didn’t know the truth of that and he found himself without the emotional energy to care enough to find out.

These days, he was no longer scrawny, thanks to the gym, adult braces had taken care of the buck teeth and LASIK the glasses, but he was no more popular than he’d been back then. Long ago, Patrick decided that there was something about him that people didn’t seem to like in the long run. At first, they’d seem to be okay with him.  After a while, though, calls weren’t returned, and people never seemed to be available for dinners or movies or ball games. He’d never understood why and it wasn’t the sort of thing you asked someone unless you wanted to sound really needy.

Of course, his luck with women was no different. Patrick snorted. Luck? What luck?  Even Lily … ah, Lily.  She was the female member of their little band, tiny, shy, not really ugly, but without the confidence or desire, really, to do all the expected things with dress and makeup to make herself stand out. He was sure, also, that had anyone known she existed, they’d have felt she was far too intelligent.  She was quietly at the top of their class and Patrick remembered with amusement the bewilderment of many when Lily had been announced as Valedictorian.  Other than her teachers and their little gang, he’d have bet most of his classmates had no idea she’d even attended school with them for twelve years.


He spun about abruptly.  There she stood, as if his thoughts had conjured her.

“Lily?” Patrick stepped forward and touched her shoulder hesitantly, as if he expected her to vanish into the late summer twilight.

“Yes, Patrick, it’s me.”  She smiled at him, glossy hair catching the last glints of the setting sun, wearing a minimum of makeup and not needing more. She wore a softly purple dress than he guessed probably cost more than it looked like – he was no expert on women’s clothes, but quality was quality and he could recognize that.

“You look great, Lily.”

“Thanks. I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“Yep. Those last-minute growth spurts …” He laughed awkwardly. “So where did you go off to?  I seem to remember something about MIT.”

“No, I wound up studying engineering at Akron U, believe it or not.  I lost a scholarship and it all just came apart for me.” Her eyes met his, the small smile still on her face.  “Then a group of us designed a microcomponent that one of the majors couldn’t live without when they built their computers and it all took off.”

“Wow.” He shook his head. “Sorry – that’s not much of a reaction – I’m just stunned, although I guess I shouldn’t be.  You were always the smartest person I knew.”

“It’s all right. We wound up selling the company and moving on.”

“You did well for yourself. I’m glad.”

She nodded silently.

“Hey –“ Patrick was feeling awkward again. “How about we blow this pop stand and go get some coffee or something.  We’ve got 30 years to fill in the blanks on.” He reached out tentatively and brushed a strand of hair from her shoulder.

Lily paused. “Patrick – I don’t know. I have a partner – Angie.”

“Does that mean you don’t drink coffee?” He managed to sound both puzzled and amused.

She grinned and shook her head. “No.  I just didn’t want there to be any misunderstandings between us.”

“Sure.  I get that. But to be honest, what I need – what I need to BE – more than anything else, is a good friend.”

“Good.” They shared a companionable silence and then walked on.

#ThreeWordWednesday (one day late :)), 5/23/13

Three Word Wednesday

Clever, Finish, Silky

Leslie sat at the intersection, leaned back and watched the semis blow by on the divided highway.

She couldn’t help feeling somewhere between smug and clever. Anderson didn’t have a chance. She reached back between the seats and touched the heavy briefcase. And now it’s all mine.

Leslie smirked and lifted a glass of whiskey from the cupholder. It went down smooth, smoky and silky and lit a fire inside. So fine.

Another trio of semis zoomed past. She signed and looked both ways. There just wasn’t any way to get on the road here. As soon as one group of trucks passed, another came along, driving too fast to let her in. There wasn’t enough space to step on it and get started, let alone get up to speed.

She caught a reflection in the windshield and glanced over her shoulder. A dark-colored Acura was approaching from the rear. Someone else who went the wrong way. Leslie sighed and leaned back, adjusting the rearview – and froze.

The driver of the Acura was – what was it? He? She? The other car stopped not a foot from her bumper and she risked another glimpse into the mirror.

From the neck down, it could have been any businessperson – no, a woman, she decided. It was wearing a grey suit, closed at the neck, with pearls draped around its neck.  But from the neck up, it was a horror, jaundiced, warty skin, reddish eyes and a loose, wet mouth like a crooked line drawn by a child, stretched in a twisted mockery of a smile.

Leslie reached over and touched the power lock control  All four door locks clicked shut.  Not that the other driver showed any evidence of getting out of the car,  but Leslie believed in safety first.  She eased up on the brake and moved toward the main road. The traffic pattern held – there was no break in the semis and she cursed the luck that put her on this little podunk road and not at an intersection with a traffic light.

With no warning, there was a thud and the car jerked. Startled, she slammed on the brakes. Leslie saw smoke that had to be coming from the churning tires of the Acura behind her, and she panicked as her car inched slowly toward the highway. She pushed the gear shift into ‘park’. The car kept moving. She yanked frantically on the hand brake to no effect. The tip of the hood was nearly over the white line and a double FedEx tractor trailer was coming, too close to have any hope of stopping.

Leslie grappled with the door handle before remembering she’d locked the door. She flipped the lock. Nothing. Jammed.  Oh, dear God, jammed. She tried opening the power windows, one window after another. Nothing.

Oh, why didn’t I spend the money on one of those hammers.  She pounded hysterically on the window as the car moved forward in a sudden lurch. A few more inches and she would be far enough out for one of the trucks to make very small pieces of herself and her car.

She turned around and looked at the driver of the car behind her. The red eyes were glowing with a manic glee and the bizarre grin stretched from ear to ear. She heard the engine of the Acura rev to an impossible pitch and her car leaped forward, straight in the path of a semi and its horrified driver.

At the finish, she had just enough time to reach back with a mixture of terror and apathy to once again touch the case that had meant so much just a few moments before.

Lock and Key #poetry 2/22/2013

The world turns too fast for  me to see;
Light chases shadow chases light
Sliding patterns and snapshots of time
Too many to catalog

So here in this fluid moment of time
well wishes all around but not yours
conspicuous by its absence
And this is enough

You were an inadvertant pickpocket
Stole this small part of me
you didn’t know and didn’t want it
No collector of bagatelles

I’ll return the favor – filch it back
In the interests of security
Behind this facade, lock it away
Never to be taken again.

How it was, how it is – #poetry – 2/15/2013

She remembers four roses
He gave her, shyly
Four months after they said “I do”
and how they always took turns at movies —

For her – Ghost, by him
She sat through “Under Siege”
And they giggled over jokes
No one else would get.

Yesterday, he came home
Slammed the door and
Swore at her for fifteen minutes.

When he watched Steven Segal
She sat crying in the bedroom
Singing “Unchained Melody” between sobs.

Tonight, #poetry – 2/5/2013

On this empty night, I listen
to the unromantic sound of the furnace
and in between snow spatting against the windows
Morse code of no meaning.

The cat scattered the deck; cards tossed across the floor
It’s okay – I was cheating anyway
Nothing holds my interest tonight
Not my thoughts or the quiet jazz on the speakers

I would like to not think of you
For my only considerations to be of
Silly games and my plans for tomorrow
Not of signing on and not finding you there

It’s not like I don’t have friends – good ones, too.
They are kind, but I want more than that.
I want what you will not give me
It hurts, and for tonight, I wish I didn’t care.

Fyrheart #FridayFlash 11/10/12

From the moment we could walk, every child in the village knew what berries were good to eat and which weren’t. Those who didn’t immediately learn the lesson found themselves ill and, we were told, at least one of us had died from eating from the wrong plant – but we took this tale told by our elders as a fable, as likely true as the Blackbeast that wandered the woods around us seeking bad children to eat or the Fire Sprites that were supposed to dance in the flames in winter.

Still, none of us knew what to make of this bush, new to us, sprung up almost overnight.  The berries hung from the bushes, shaped like glistening red tears, nearly clear, with a single shimmering seed visible. Susha, a girl I thought to be afraid of nothing and willing to dare almost anything, reached out a tentative hand and nearly touched one of the ruby temptations, but jerked her hand back and put it behind her, as if she feared being burned.

“Are they hot, Susha?” Little Pitar inquired in his gentle voice. Poor Pitar. His elder brother, Martu, was the britad of his father’s pride and could do no wrong. He used his position to make the little one’s life miserable. We had all seen the bruises that were evidence, though strangely, they were invisible to our parents, who feared Martu’s father and his influence with our ground lord.

“Are they hot?” Martu mocked him. “I doubt it.” He elbowed his way through us and snatched a berry off the bush, tossing it down his throat before anyone could stop him.  Not that we would, of course.

His head jerked twice, for all the world like a hen pecking at grass seed. Then he coughed, once, twice, three times.  The third time, a tongue of flame passed between his lips and singed the stand of sweetstrips in front of him.

There was silence for a moment. Anthe, the great friend of my childhood, looked at me in amazement.  “Did you see that, Mak?  Did I?” his bright blue eyes wide.

“We did.”

When nothing more happened to Martu, some of the others went ahead and took a single berry each.  One after the other, they spouted fire, except for Susha, who merely coughed up a tiny cloud of smoke and then laughed as it spread itself thin on the breeze.

“No more! These are mine!” Martu stood between us and the bush. “Mine!”

He wasn’t that much bigger than the rest of us, but we all knew where he stood and where we did. No one wanted to bring trouble down on his or her parents, and Martu was trouble. Turning his back on us, the bully grabbed handfuls of the berry from the bush and crammed them down like Long John after the fast.

At first, it was amusing to see him spouting flames from his nose and mouth, and in one memorable spurt, from his nethers. Hands were stuffed in mouths to stifle the giggles Martu would never have forgiven.

“Martu, what’s on your hand?” Anthe’s voice was puzzled.

“What?” But then we all saw it. Martu’s hand – both hands, actually, were slowly turning a strange dark green, a weirdly familiar color, and scaly –

As one, we stepped back.  Every one of us knew what he was becoming, even if we didn’t understand how. The skin of the last Fyrbeast to menace the village was wrapped around the chimney of the Broderhall. Every child knew the story of Karne Stronghand and how he brought the fyrbeast down with a well-shot arrow, but only after many sevendays of death and damage to animals and crops.  Now, we were about to have another such among us.

Martu’s head snapped back and his face merged together, elongated.  His voice changed from the cries of a human child to a frightening alien bellow.  Two bumps appeared on his back and began to tear his shirt.

“What do we do?” Suddenly, all were looking to me, as the eldest. It was a responsibility I didn’t want.

“Do it now, Mak, while they can still see it’s him, see how he changed.” Anthe was grappling at my belt, for the hatchet I never went without.

“Do it!” “Yes, you must!” The cries went up from every side. Martu’s eyes, the only truly human part of him left, pleaded with me, whether for saving from the horrible change or for the mercy he had never shown anyone else, least of all his younger brother.

For myself, I thought that the bully might enjoy ravaging our village and any other he came across once he adapted to being a fyrbeast. I took the hatchet from Anthe and swung it twice.  The girls turned away and were sick.  Some of the boys, too.

It took us an hour to drag what was left of Martu back to the village. His father raved and swore, but in the end it was plain as the Guide Star what had been in the process of happening.  It took nearly a sevenday and delayed the harvest, but the men went into the fields and forests in pairs and brought back every one of these new bushes they could find.

We had a bonfire with them the following night. Every sound brought anxious glances to the skies. We had destroyed all we found – but who knew if all were gone? Or who might have found them and eaten?