The Forest Path

Don Hyland served his country and now he paints landscapes, imagining the wild places of the world untouched by human hands. Or saws. He studies a scene until he can picture what it might have looked like when the very first people set eyes on it — and that’s what he paints.

Only this time his painting leads him to a world he never imagined, a world that couldn’t possibly exist, one hidden behind the magically alleys that connect every city in the world — and an ancient connection believed lost to time!

 

Rolling back time, that’s how Don Hyland described his portfolio when he met people and they asked what he did. If only he really could roll back time!

Fat rain drops pounded the evergreen boughs far, far overhead as a wind blasted through the giant-sized trunks. Don easel rocked on the uneven split-log boardwalk. Don moved quickly, forty-one years of climbing and hiking the outdoors had kept him nimble, collapsing the easel’s legs.

He was thin and of average height. What hair he had was a mix of dark and silver buzzed close to his scalp. For this trip up to Mt. Rainier, to the Longmire visitor area, he had just worn cargo shorts and one of the t-shirts with his weary lumberjack painting on the front. Instead of hiking boots he had on his trail running shoes. This wasn’t meant to be an expedition into the back country, just a quick pop up the mountain to do some plein air studies.

Don finished folding the portable easel as fat rain drops pelted the board walk. Out in the Longmire meadow the tall grasses waved back and forth in the wind. The studies he’d already done that were drying on the half-log bench, flapped and threatened to fly off. Fortunately he’d had the sense to weigh them down with his painted rocks or they’d already be gone. That didn’t stop the rain drops from hitting the sheets.

As he gathered them up, stuffing the sheets into the easel case, he could see the damage already done. There were visible water drops on the paintings, running and blending colors. He got them all up and snapped the brass catches on the wood case. He slung the strap over his arm and scooped up the painted rocks, which disappeared into his pockets.

That was everything? Don looked around and spied a water brush that had rolled away into a crack between the logs of the board walk. He was bending down to pick it up when he heard a scream behind him.

Don’s fingers closed on the brush and he spun around. Another scream sounded on the mountain behind him. A woman? Someone might be hurt!

He ran down the board walk and hit the dirt trail. The easel case bounced under his arm and banged into his side. He clutched the water brush in his hand as he ran. The Trail of Shadows, this path was called, an easy loop near the visitor center. Nothing too hazardous or difficult.

No one was visible. Rain drops hit his arms as he ran. The wind howled through the trees.

“Hello?” Don called out as he ran. “Hello? Is someone there?”

He reached a small log bridge over one of the many little streams coming down the mountain and pounded across. Up ahead he saw a white-haired couple, a man and woman. The woman clutched at the man’s arm. Both were looking up the slope as Don ran up.

“Did you hear that scream?” Don asked.

The man nodded and pointed a liver-spotted arm at the slope above them. “It came from up there. I dunno what it was, a cat maybe? Do those big cats scream like that?”

“A cougar?”

The man nodded.

“I don’t know. I don’t think it was a cat,” Don said.

He studied the slope above them. It was wooded, of course, covered in big trees and fallen debris. He couldn’t see anyone.

Then there was another scream. Don slipped the easel down to the ground. “Watch that, for me, will you? I’ll be back.”

He bounded away across the path and scrambled up the slope. Only when he reached for a thick root did he realize that he still held the water brush. He shoved it in a pocket, knowing it might leak, and pulled himself up.

His legs felt the effort of the climb up the slope, but he was used to that feeling.

There was undergrowth and ferns, but not so much that it impeded his progress. Before long he had climbed up out of sight of the path below and he slowed his pace. He still hadn’t seen anyone and it was making him nervous.

What if the cries had been a cougar? It might be watching him right now.

Don braced himself against the papery trunk of a cedar tree at least six feet across. “Hello? Is someone out here?”

He saw something flash white between the trees. Not a cougar. A person with long white hair. That’s all that he saw before whoever it was disappeared behind a thick Douglas fir.

“Hey! Are you okay? Was that you screaming?”

He picked his way around a clump of thick ferns and climbed over a moss-covered log to get closer.

A woman looked out from behind the tree. She didn’t look like anyone he’d ever seen before. Fine porcelain features, narrow, with high cheekbones and large wide eyes. White eyes. No iris that he could see at all, just a wide dark pupil as she looked at him. Her eyebrows were up, mouth open. She looked terrified.

Don raised his hands. “Hey, I’m not going to hurt you. I heard screaming. I wanted to help.”

She said something fast and musical. It almost sounded like bird song, but he heard her voice tremble as if she was scared. From the looks that she gave him, and the sound of whatever it was that she had said, Don guessed that she wanted him to move away.

2

He took a step back and to the side, so that he could see her better and she could see him. “I’m not going to hurt you. I only want to help.”

The woman eased around the tree, still watching him with her oddly white eyes. They didn’t look cloudy, just white, and it was clear that she was watching him carefully. But that wasn’t the only odd thing about her. There was also what she was wearing, some sort of silvery tunic with black laces up the front. She carried a deep purple tube-like bag that wrapped around her back, the strap crossing from her left shoulder, down under her right. The tunic went down to her knees, but she wore nothing else below that. No shoes. Her feet were coated with dirt.

“It’s okay,” Don said softly. “Are you hurt?”

She eased out more from behind the tree and looked around. Her lower lip trembled. The sight of it was heart-breaking. He wanted to do whatever he could so that she wouldn’t look so sad. Was she part of some role-playing group? Maybe she got lost? Her eyes could be part of a costume.

“Are you lost? There’s a path right down there, it’ll take us back to Longmire.”

She still didn’t respond to what he was saying. Instead she went to a big tree that had fallen, roots made a wall at least ten feet high of gnarled twisting wood, like a nest of giant snakes frozen in place. She didn’t even come up to the mid-point, but she walked into the hollow where it dipped down into a small cut between the roots and the hillside like a natural alley.

It must drop off fast, because she was almost out of sight. It didn’t feel right. Don felt it in his gut, like something was pulling him after her. He gave into the sensation and ran after her.

She was gone before he reached the cut where the giant tree had fallen. He scrambled down, loose rocks sliding beneath his shoes, and nearly slipped. A root caught his sleeve for a second but he pulled free and hurried around the root mass.

His next step landed on a rock he hadn’t seen or expected. It was flat and anchored firmly. That wasn’t the problem. It wasn’t only one rock, but a whole semi-circle of stones like a small stone patio.

Don turned, surprised to find the small stone circle here. The fallen tree and its roots were gone. Not only that but the trees had changed. The trees growing from this slope were beyond massive. Each one thrust up to the skies above as if they were the very pillars upon which the sky rested. Where there had been roots and a cut through the hillside was now a path paved in cobblestones with two stone fences along each side. The path traced a line off down the slope to his left before disappearing from view.

Either he’d lost time and been taken someplace else with trees that dwarfed the redwoods in California, or he had moved from Mt. Rainier to somewhere else in the time it took to take a step. Both sounded equally impossible, but these trees were unmatched in his experience.

“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” he said aloud.

He laughed, but it wasn’t that funny. He’d read about such things. Oz, Narnia, and others, but it was one thing to read about it in a children’s story. For it to happen in real life?

“Hello,” said a soft voice behind him.

Don spun around. The woman he’d seen before, with the long white hair and the silvery tunic, stood just down the slope from the stone circle.

“Hi,” he said, and remembering that she had been screaming. “Are you okay?”

She bit her lip and nodded. “I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have been able to follow me here.”

Don spread his hands. “Where are we? And why didn’t you say something before?”

She twisted her hands together. “I did say something, you just couldn’t understand me.”

“Then why can I understand you now?”

“Now, this place, it makes it so that we can understand each other.”

Don wasn’t sure what she meant but he pressed on. “What is this place?”

“An olden place.” She pointed to the path behind him. “This once led to a trow keep, a place of learning. I came here to study the path, to try and find a way to shut the connections between the goblin city and your cities.”

Don shook his head. “This is a lot to take in. Why were you screaming?”

She ducked her head and shrugged. “I was set upon by a woodwose and fled. I didn’t even realize I’d crossed over at first. It’s never worked before.”

“What’s a woodwose?”

She gestured at him. “A human, like yourself, but one one of the wild ones that lives in the wilderness. They can be dangerous.”

Don looked around at the surrounding forest. Wild men in the forest? “I’m Don, Don Hyland. You are?”

“Na’pi.” A smile touched her thin lips. “You aren’t what I would have expected from a man of your world.”

“You’re exactly as I imagined someone from your world,” Don said.

“You know of our world?” She stepped forward. “How? Do many?”

Don laughed. “I was joking. I had no idea that anything like this existed outside of children’s stories.” He looked again at the trees, ten feet across and more thrusting up to the sky. So high up that their tops looked fuzzy. “I wish I had my paints.”

“Paints?”

Don pulled out the water brush and noticed it had made a wet circle on that pocket. He held it up. “I’m an artist, watercolors, mostly. I left my kit back there when I ran up the hill. I only have this.”

Na’pi took a small step forward and held out her hand. “May I see it?”

Don closed the distance between them and handed her the brush. Her fingers grazed his as she took it. Even with the odd eyes, she was beautiful. It was all just so strange.

Na’pi turned the water brush in her hands, shook it and poked at the plastic. “What is this made of?”

“Plastic, I guess.”

She brushed it on the back of her hand, leaving a trail of wetness. She looked up at him, eyebrows raising.

“It’s only water. I use pencils, with pigment? Then the brush dissolves the pigments to spread them on the paper.”

Na’pi handed it back to him. “Remarkable.”

Don pocketed the brush. “This is all a bit much. I have to ask, how do I get home? You said something about a connection?”

Na’pi shook her head. “I don’t know. The stories suggest that this path was one of the first to connect to your world, but I haven’t learned much. I didn’t even know that the connection still existed at all.”

The path behind Don was quiet, peaceful even. The place had a feeling of age about it, like really old. It was the trees that did it. To be so big they had to be many centuries old. So old and big that they were like part of the mountain itself.

Don looked back at the path. “If I just walk down the path, will it take me home?”

“I don’t know,” Na’pi said. “I’ve walked the path many times without finding the connection.”

“But it was there this time, when you ran from the wild man?”

Na’pi walked up beside him. Don noticed a minty scent from her, over the dusty pine smell of the forest. She touched her shoulder. “We should go back to my camp. It might not be safe to stay here, in case the woodwose returns.”

“Let’s try the path first,” Don said. “If it works, I’ll be back home and you can go on with whatever you need to do.”

“If you must do this, be quick. I’ll wait.”

The stones that made up the path were worn, almost flat from the passing of many feet but the spaces between were filled with dried fir needles. Looking at it again, it looked old, with plants growing up alongside, and even on the path.

It wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine Na’pi out here clearing out the path, opening it up for study. It might have been better to leave it covered. But what had she said about a goblin city? Did he even want to know?

Don followed the path as it curved down the slope and vanished around the undergrowth. As he got closer there was more and more debris on the path until the stones were completely covered and the plants hung over the short walls.

He stopped, frustrated. It hadn’t taken him back. A chill curled up in his gut. What if he couldn’t get back?

Don turned back on the path. If there was a connection that would get him him home it wasn’t there now. His best home lay with Na’pi, maybe she could find some other way of getting him home. What had she said? She wanted to learn to close the connections. Maybe he couldn’t go home this way, but there might be other options.

Na’pi stood waiting for him at the end of the path and seeing her his shoulders relaxed from tensions that he hadn’t even been aware he was feeling. If she left him he might not have any other way home.

A man stepped out from behind a tree behind Na’pi. Then two more came around the other side. All of the men were lean, with clearly defined muscles. They didn’t wear much, only ratty skins tied around their waists. All had bushy beards and unkempt hair. Their attention was entirely on Na’pi.

Don opened his mouth to shout a warning when Na’pi turned toward the men as if she’d heard something, or sensed something.

The men responded instantly, howling and sprinting forward, grinning like mad men.

Na’pi screamed.

In his mind Don sprang forward to save the beautiful young woman, but his feet refused to move. Other than a few school-yard scuffles he hadn’t ever been in a fight, didn’t know the first thing really about fighting.

Na’pi bolted down the path in Don’s direction. That moved Don into action. He sprinted forward to meet her. As they came together he pushed her behind him and faced the three charging men.

“Stop! Stop right now!”

The men didn’t stop. They kept coming and the distance between him and the men shrank quickly. The one in the middle was closest. He had startling blue eyes, like deep pools but Don didn’t see anything in them. Like deep ice. Beneath the dirt and the beard and the hair, the man was probably half Don’s age, and didn’t have any fat on him. Nothing but corded muscle, arms as big around as Don’s legs.

Don spun around and grabbed Na’pi’s arm. “Run!”

Together they bolted down the path away from the men. Don had little hope of escaping their pursuers, but it was the only thing he had.

Na’pi stayed with him, clinging to his arm. Don’s stomach lurched and he felt dizzy. His next step came down hard on flat bricks as light blinded him. Don raised his arm against the light and saw a brick building towering four stories above him.

Twisting around he saw another building, this one six stories, of dark brick on the other side. Don looked back, expecting to see the men behind them, but instead there was a brick-paved alley between the two brick buildings. Lines criss-crossed the alley, hanging with laundry. A woman leaned out the window, fat, with lank blond hair. She tugged on the line and pulled off a wide shirt. As she did her head turned and Don saw that she had two yellowed tusks protruding between fat lips. Her skin was pink, not a normal pinkish color, but pink like a pink rose, darker near her cheeks. Her nose was up-turned slightly at the end and pointing. She saw him looking and her lips drew back revealing more fang.

Na’pi tugged on his arm. “We’ve gone through.”

He looked at her odd white eyes. “Okay, I see that. To where? Another world?”

Na’pi shook her head. “No, it brought us to Goblinus, to the goblin city.”

“I thought the path was supposed to take me home?”

“Ordinarily, it would. Usually the connection only flows from one world to the other. The alleys don’t connect to one another within the same world, but according to stories the path is where it all started. Now that it’s open, it may connect to anywhere.”

Don looked up and down the alley. At the far end was obviously a busy street, with people going past. Only they didn’t all look like people that he was used to. For one thing, they came in more colors. He saw a couple walking past that were dandelion yellow and short. A man passing the other way was tall, broad and granite gray.

“These people, they aren’t human?”

Na’pi shook her head. “Goblins, this is the goblin city. You’ll find mostly goblins, but also humans and others.”

“Not to be indelicate, but what are you? You don’t look entirely human, but not like them either.”

“I’m trow,” Na’pi answered. She tugged on his arm. “We should go. The Navigator’s guild watches the activity on the alleys. They will send the Royal Guard to investigate our use of the alley.”

Don followed her down the alley. The day was already so incredible, how stranger could it get? And besides, he’d be lost without her. She knew this world. He still needed her help to get home. That hadn’t changed.

Although Don tensed as they moved out into the bustling throng in the street, no one paid any attention. They fell into the crowd, turning right and headed down the brick road — an actual brick road! — which dropped away before them. All around the street buildings rose up, a massive city that stretched away as far as he could see. Buildings piling upon buildings, rising higher against the crystal clear sky.

Store fronts lined the street and spilled out their wares into the crowd. Signs and banners flapped in the cool, spicy breeze blowing between the buildings. The unfamiliar smells made Don’s mouth watered. Up ahead he could see a cafe, tables and chairs gathered around the front. Goblins sat and ate and drank, and a few humans too.

They’d gone nearly a block before he realized what was missing. Cars. He saw people on bicycles, and a few pedicabs pulled by shirtless, muscled goblins, but no cars. Just the crowd of people. The goblins looked a bit odd at first glance, like the time he had found himself in the midst of a costume parade, but otherwise nothing strange.

“Watch out.” Na’pi tugged on his arm.

Don looked where he was going and saw the curved green pole of a lamp post that he’d nearly walked into. He started to laugh but then he looked up and saw at least a dozen tiny faces looking down at him from the glass bulb on top of the post.

He stopped moving, resisting Na’pi’s pull. On top of the post was a big round glass ball. Within it were more than a dozen tiny, winged people. Naked, but each looked exquisite and perfect. Faeries. They couldn’t be anything else. There were faeries imprisoned in the lamp. For each that was looking sadly at him, another lay languishing against the bottom of the lamp.

“Don! We mustn’t draw attention to ourselves.”

Don glanced at Na’pi, and in the process noticed that he was attracting looks from those passing.

It felt terrible to simply walk away, but Don did, letting Na’pi lead him by hand away from the lamp post. But there was just another one coming up after the first and more down the street. Since the street dropped way down hill he could see the posts dotting the street on both sides on down the hill into the city.

And in each of the lamps were fairies slumped against the glass.

As they passed under the next lamp post a fairy beat on the glass with his tiny hands, his mouth opening soundlessly. It looked like he was screaming, but no sound escaped the glass.

“Don!”

Don looked at Na’pi. She took his hand and led him around a fruit stall into the opening of an alley.

“You’re attracting their attention, and that’s drawing attention to us. We can’t afford to be noticed.”

Don glanced at the crowd walking past and moved closer to Na’pi, lowering his voice. “Why? What happens if they notice us? Why are those fairies in the lamps? They are fairies, right?”

“Yes,” Na’pi said. “It’s all more complicated than you realize.”

“Faeries,” Don said. “I mean the rest of this is incredible, but —”

“They’re prisoners of the Goblin King. It isn’t safe to notice them.”

“But that’s wrong!” Na’pi winced at his shout. Don took a breath and spoke softer. “How complicated can it be? You don’t stick people in glass balls. That’s not complicated.”

“This situation is complicated, and you’re not making it easier. I feel obligated to help you get home, but I can’t do that if you don’t listen to me.”

“So you’re not part of this?” Don waved his hands in the air. “This city? You don’t live here?”

“No. I serve another, and I can’t talk about it right now. Let’s try and get you home. It’s my fault you’re here.”

3

They walked then for a time without saying anything. Don found himself itching for his sketchbook, so he could just sit and sketch this city.

It was unlike the car-filled cities back home. This was a place bustling with bodies rather than combustion engines. Rich scents floated in the air from cooking food. There was a new establishment every few store fronts. Farmers sold fresh produce and even slaughtered animals from carts. The street had the feel of a fair or farmers market.

Except that the goblins, in the whole range of colors, were the most common people on the street. Still, they acted like people anywhere. Talking, bartering, and walking in a hurry. They wore all sorts of clothing, much of it recognizable. Suits were popular for women and men and made the odd skin colors and tusks all the more unusual. T-shirts and jeans were equally common as well as wrap-around robes. He even saw a group of tough-looking lemon-skinned goblins wearing black leather. Their short-stature and color combination suggested biker bees and Don had to cover a laugh with his hand.

Despite the lack of cars, technology certainly wasn’t lacking. Don saw plenty of people, human and goblin both, checking cell phones or reading on iPads and similar devices. Plenty of customers at the outdoor tables had laptops. They even walked past a male trow in a dark suit working with several holographic screens at one table.

Not a technologically backwards world.

Na’pi never slowed her pace. If anything she walked faster, her eyes darting from side-to-side as she obviously searched for something.

Don touched her arm to get her attention. “What are you looking for?”

She didn’t stop. “We’re being followed. We need to get away from here. I’m trying to find a connection to get you home!”

“Followed?”

“Don’t look!”

Abruptly Na’pi turned down a side street, not quite as busy as the one they’d left, but still with plenty of people, just fewer store fronts. Her delicate forehead creased.

“Can you run?”

Don nodded.

“Then come on!”

Na’pi took off running, her lithe form slipping around a cyclist coming up the road.

Don chased after her. In a few seconds he caught up and matched her pace. For now. Despite all the hiking he did, he wasn’t sure how long he could keep it up. He wasn’t a runner.

They’d gone two blocks before Don caught his first glimpse of their pursuers. Three goblins dressed in black uniforms ran around the corner a block ahead, onto this street. The crowd parted before them like sheep before a wolf.

“This way!” Na’pi grabbed his arm and pulled dim around.

They plunged into a narrow alley between two low buildings. It was empty, marked only by a dry drainage channel down the middle of the passage. Litter and dirt clogged the spaces between the bricks and piled against the walls.

Don tensed, expecting every step to care him someplace else but that didn’t happen. They ran down the alley and came out the other side without going anywhere.

Even then Na’pi didn’t slow. She ran straight across and into the next alley, not so different than the last except the building on the left was four stories tall and concrete instead of brick.

As they ran down the alley a scarlet swirl of graffiti on the wall suddenly moved, taking on the form an an emaciated person clinging lizard-like to the wall. The creature snarled, showing teeth like broken shards of brown glass.

Na’pi grabbed his arm.

In the next step a cool rain-mist sprinkled Don’s face. The alley wasn’t brick anymore, but cracked asphalt, and a dented and rusted green dumpster appeared just ahead. Don stopped running, gasping for air.

Na’pi had also stopped and came back. She stood near him and crossed her arms.

“Where are we?” Don asked, when could manage it.

Na’pi shook her head. She spoke in that fluid, bird-like language that she had used when they first met.

The implication sank in. They weren’t in her world anymore, he couldn’t understand her. He smiled at her and held up his hand as he looked around. It was late evening by the look of the light. The alley could have been anywhere. Power lines ran along it above. And at the far end Don heard and saw cars driving past.

“Come on,” he said, beckoning. “Let’s find out.”

Na’pi hesitated, but she followed him. As they left the alley Don saw a Subway sandwich shop across the street, which was a wide four-lane road. Turning left the street dipped down a hill and he could see the spill of the city. One building in particular was very recognizable.

It rose up with slender, sweeping grace, topped with a fat saucer. The Space Needle. Don laughed. “We’re in Seattle!”

Na’pi said something else. Her voice and words were beautiful, but he didn’t understand any of it. Still, it seemed clear from the way she pulled back that she wanted to go.

He carefully took her hands and pressed them together in his. He smiled at her.

“You might not understand this, but thank you. I can get home from here. But what about you? Do you want to come with me?” Don pulled her hands closer to his chest. Then he pointed at the alley. “Or go back into the alley?”

Na’pi bent and her lips brushed his fingers where he held her hand. Then she stepped back, slipping from his grasp. She spoke again, musically, and gestured at the alley.

She was leaving.

Don touched his chest and gestured at the alley.

Na’pi shook her head and gave him a small smile. One step, two, and she raised her hand in parting.

It was hard not to follow, but he stayed standing in the alley mouth as she sprinted away. One second she was there, then she faded just for an instant, and was gone.

Don reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone to call a cab. He’d go home, but he needed to go back up to Mt. Rainier to get his plein air kit, assuming it was turned in to the rangers. Could he find that cut in the hillside again? Did he dare?

In his head he saw images of another world, one he hadn’t imagined. Na’pi had left a lot unsaid about what was going on between her people and the goblins. It might not be something that he wanted to get involved in, even if he decided he wanted to go back.

The phone was ringing in his ear. Don walked down to the awning above a nearby camera shop to take the call, leaving the empty alley behind. For now, at least.

5,024 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 24th weekly short story release. I wrote this almost exactly three years ago, in anticipation of writing Trow Forge, the third Goblin Alley novel. It was included, with a few changes, in that book. It introduced a new major character into the story.

I’m releasing each of these stories, one per week, here on my website. Eventually I’ll do standard e-book releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the books. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new  e-book versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next week for another story. Next up is a science fiction story with a very special kid, Oswald Hamilton, Invader.

Alley Cat

Catherine ‘Cat’ Eagle, petite bike messenger with a pixie nose, red hair, freckles and a perpetual tan, loved nothing better than the freedom of riding. Just her, her bike, the city streets and her uncanny sense of direction.

That sense led her to discover the Goblin Alley, the magical connections that connected every city in the world to Goblinus — home of the goblins and other faerie creatures. That secret world called to Cat, and she had to follow, only this time she wasn’t alone.

Lounging on one of the threadbare, ass-eating chairs in the front lobby of Mercury Messengers, Catherine ‘Cat’ Eagle watched the rain run down the outside of the office’s single-pane windows and the condensation running down the inside. Two drops on opposite sides of the glass were in a neck-and-neck race. Who would win the Tour de France? Outside? Inside? Outside merged with a larger drop and surged into the lead. Cat let the weight of her bicycle helmet pull her head back on the chair, groaning.

“Come on Bert, what’s the point in keeping me on the clock this afternoon? It’s dead.”

Behind the orange counter Bert Downing, her boss, chuckled hard enough to make his thick jowls jiggle. Sometimes she thought that Bert was entirely made of Jell-O, given how much of it he ate. Even now he had a cup of strawberry banana and was spooning it into his mouth. “Someone might call for a pick-up. No one wants to go out in the weather like this.”

Cat closed her eyes. He actually could be right, except the phone hadn’t rung once. Not like last month before Valentine’s day. Something about the most nauseating holiday of the year compelled people to have their flowers and chocolates and stuffed bears and who knew what else delivered via bike messenger. At least she got out riding. But March? She ended up sitting around too much. Some of the other guys loved nothing better to loaf around but for her the best thing about the job was being out on her bike cruising the streets and, when she got the chance, ducking back into the goblin alleys. She could spend a lifetime exploring the goblin city of Goblinus, connected to – she was told – all of the cities of the world by the alleys. If Bert would only give her the afternoon off she could slip out and find an alley leading to the other world. Maybe there it wouldn’t be raining. Even if it was it’d still be more interesting than watching the Seventies era orange and brown stripped wallpaper peeling from the walls, or listening to Bert slurp down yet another cup of Jell-O.

The bell of the back door jangled. One of the other riders stuck with working today must have returned. Probably Erik Powell. Cat sat up, swinging her bare calves off the arm of the chair. Her cleats on the bike sandals clunked against the tile. “Bert, look, that’s probably Erik. Let him sit around here in case anyone wants a pickup.”

Bert put down his empty Jell-O cup. He pointed his plastic spoon, still decorated with gory bits of strawberry-banana Jell-O, at her. “You sound like you’re not too interested in a job, young lady. Don’t I pay you for this? What other job lets you sit around so much? You should consider yourself fortunate.”

“If I sit here any longer my ass is going to melt into that chair. You’ll have to hire professional cleaners just to scrape me out.”

 

Bert grinned. Right then Erik came through the swinging doors to the back room where the messengers had their locker rooms and Bert kept the packages waiting to go out. An empty room right now. Erik was alright, cocky, dark hair and five years younger than her. So far he hadn’t given up on asking her out, obviously deluding himself into thinking that he could wear her down. Erik looked between the two of them and opened his mouth. Cat held up a hand.

“Well, Bert?”

He chuckled, jiggling again on his chair like his favorite desert. He waved his spoon around in a circle. “Fine. Don’t want to get paid? Just saving me money.” He jabbed the spoon in Erik’s direction. “You sit down where I can see you. I’m not sending everyone home yet.”

Cat bounced up and out of the chair. “Thanks Bert.”

Erik took two stiff steps toward the chair. His tight blue jersey glistened with water, more drops ran off his helmet and down his legs, bare beneath his knee. “Don’t I get a say in this?”

“No.” Bert and Cat said together.

Cat touched Erik’s arm as she went past. “Tough luck.”

She grimaced before she even hit the door. Why did she do something like that? Touch his arm? It was only going to encourage him. Simple answer. Get the hell out of there before Erik found some excuse to follow her into the back. She hit the door moving fast and picked up speed as she shoved through. In the back she ran to her locker. Her fingers felt like lead as she spun the dial for the combination lock. For a second her mind went blank. She didn’t have any idea what the numbers were, but her fingers stopped it on the first number. 13. Lucky 13. All the rest came back. She got the locker open, snagged her bag, making sure that she had her u-lock inside because she had forgotten it before, and locked back up. In the lobby the phone rang and she faintly heard Bert answering. Slinging the bag strap over her head onto her shoulder she headed toward the rack to get her bike. The bells on her bag jingled with each step. She copied that from the pedicabs over in Goblinus. Those guys, mostly goblins, all had bells on their cabs to alert pedestrians to their presence. Now it sounded loud and annoying.

Cat pulled her bike out of the rack just as the lobby door swung open, with Erik hurrying into the back. His face lit up when he saw her.

“Great! You haven’t left yet. Hold up a sec, I’ve got a pickup run to make but I have loads of time, we can ride together for bit.”

Cat pushed her bike toward the exit. She never should have touched his arm. “Sorry, can’t wait. I’ll see you later.”

“Hey!”

She didn’t stop. Erik ran for the bike rack and she shoved her bike outside into the wet and rain. One, two steps and she swung her leg up over the seat and dropped onto the pedals. She pushed hard and shot down the back alleyway behind the building. Her attention turned inward, looking for that feeling in her chest that signaled the alignment of an alley with Goblinus. She felt it, but not here, not right now. The alleys shifted and moved over time. She had an unerring sense of direction and it was telling her that she needed to head North.

Cat rolled out to the street, turning smartly into the lane when she saw it was clear, and stood up to tackle the hill. As she rode she looked over the top of a battered Geo parked on the street and saw Erik come out of the alley behind her. She pushed harder. No way he’d be able to keep up and soon enough she’d ditch him when she found an open alley.

At the top of the hill her gut told her to head left and she did, climbing slightly again but heading towards a development along the ridge. Lots of office buildings with a view rising up above the trees, expensive places for people with expensive tastes. And wherever there were people with expensive tastes they’d have alleys to hide their dumpsters and let their menial workers come and go through back entrances. That had to be the place. Traffic increased on the road but she kept the lane, pushing to the pedals and easily cruising along at almost thirty. She didn’t see Erik anywhere when she checked her helmet mirror. He might have given up on the charge up the hill, but she doubted it. She started looking around, sure that he had to be somewhere, but she didn’t see him.

The feeling that she was on the right track grew stronger as she reached the conflict. She raced around a roundabout planted with young Douglas fir trees and on into the main drive for the first complex. Movement out the corner of her eye caught her attention and she saw Erik coming up the sidewalk! She shot past, cursing because he had to have seen her. Now she had to get to the alley before he caught up or he’d see her cross over.

Her bike carried her on past all of the V.I.P. parking, around the back of the nearest building. A metal bar gate crossed the road ahead, but there was space to the side. She curved smoothly around it and kept going, pedaling hard as the pull grew stronger. It was almost time for the alley to change. She had to hurry!

There. Just ahead a narrow alley opened onto the roadway. She knew that was the spot. She raced toward the opening and heard gears grinding and the growl of something large. Cat braked hard, her tires sliding on the road, and she stopped just before a large garbage truck squeezed out of the alley with the concrete buildings rising on either side. It barely fit at all, maybe a foot to spare on either side. Cat clenched her handlebar grips and waited for her chance.

As soon as the truck cleared the alley she shoved forward, pedaling hard into the narrow space. Her tires splashed through the thin ribbon of water running down the center of the concrete alley. Recessed yellow lights gleamed in reinforced pockets on the walls. As exultant as if she were crossing a finishing line Cat rode the change from this alley to another only to realize with shock that there was someone coming up hard on her left elbow. Too late to stop, too late to do anything except cross.

Bright sunshine hit her eyes as if the clouds had been ripped away. The smooth gliding ride across concrete gave way to a teeth-rattling cobblestone. Cat hit her brakes and came to a stop. She heard swearing and saw Erik lose control of his bike, as he wobbled and then toppled over on the uneven surface.

The buildings rising around them were made of light yellow bricks but the alleyway was paved with cobblestones. Balconies hung over the alley, overgrown with plants that dangled down the sides of the buildings. Clotheslines strung with colorful garments crisscrossed the alley above there heard. She heard voices, some raised in song and others laughing, and smelled something eye-watering-hot cooking. Even more striking was the absence of any traffic sounds. Further down the alley, at least a hundred yards past where Erik was slowing picking himself up, a couple people in bright tunics were walking this way. Only not human people, she could tell even from this distance. Both of them what she thought of as classic goblins, standing about shoulder-high with green skin, pointy ears and large yellowish eyes. The one on her left wore a blue tunic stretched tight by his bulk and had a shaven head. His companion wore a bright pink tunic and had long dark hair pulled back into a top-knot. Neither goblin looked alarmed to see two humans on bikes suddenly show up in the alley. The trick, Cat had learned, was to look like you belonged and had a purpose. Then most folks left you alone. In both worlds.

She rolled forward to join Erik as he picked up his bike, but his attention was on everything else. She leaned closer. “You look like a tourist. Close your trap and follow me.”

“But—”

“Do it!” She pedaled toward the approaching goblins, hoping that he’d be smart enough to follow. She checked her helmet mirror. He was on his bike, riding after her, his fingers holding tight to his handlebars as they bounced along the alley. It wasn’t that bad once you got used to it, but rougher than most city riding. Some sections of the city had better streets but vehicle traffic was limited to a few radial streets and designated roads around the center of the city. She didn’t recognize this section of the city but that was hardly surprising considering the vastness of Goblinus. She knew that the Goblin King’s city was a huge amorphous blight on the landscape and stretched miles out from the dark spires at the heart which housed the Goblin King himself. So far she’d stayed out of the inner districts, always coming into the city in places like this. And so far her luck had held for her to find her way back out again, thanks to her keen sense of direction.

It only took moments to reach the goblins. She didn’t say anything to them, just focused on steering around them, her bells jingling the whole time. Erik stayed right behind her as if he was trying to draft off her. As they passed the goblins she heard one of them sneer, “Othersiders.”

Cat didn’t respond. She kept riding, but slowed slightly now that the alley was clear. Erik rolled up alongside us. His face looked pale.

“What was that?”

Cat glanced back, but they were far enough away. “Goblins. This is their city. Not just goblins, of course, there are other types of people here including humans. Don’t act like a tourist and you won’t stand out.”

“This is impossible. You went into that alley between the offices –”

“And came out here. Tell me something I don’t know.” Cat softened slightly. “It surprised me too the first time.”

“You’ve done this before?”

“Yes.” Cat brought her bike to a stop. Erik stopped with her. “You shouldn’t have followed me. I didn’t think you could follow me, honestly.”

“You mean you brought me here?”

Cat shrugged. “It’s not like I meant to. I was trying to ditch you.”

Now Erik got some of his color back and grinned at her. “Not that easy to ditch me.”

“I guess not, but now we’ve got a bit of a problem.”

“What?”

“I’ve got to get you back safely but I don’t know if I can. Even if I find the route back what if you just stay stuck on this side?”

“That could happen?”

“I don’t know! Maybe? It isn’t like I’ve brought people over here before.”

“I followed you this way, why wouldn’t it work going back?”

“Maybe it will.” Cat pushed off on her bike. “I just wish I knew if it would or not.”

Erik caught up with her and they rode down the alley to a wider cross-street. There was a lot more pedestrian traffic on the street. Mostly goblins of the green variety but Cat saw some of the leather-clad yellow goblins that looked like some sort of police from a nightmare bondage fantasy, and even a couple of the bigger gray goblins stomping along with their over-sized feet and protruding lips. Here and there in the crowds she saw other types. A thin, fine-featured man with long white hair, no idea what he could be, as well as the occasional humans. No one looked like they were giving her any second looks as she wove among the crowd, trying to project the image of a bike messenger with a purpose. Erik wisely kept up and didn’t say anything. So long as they kept moving Cat felt better. She concentrated on her sense of direction. Which way home?

Her gut told her to keep going down this street so she kept pushing on the pedals. Now and then she checked on Erik with her helmet mirror but he doggedly stayed right behind her on her left. Everything considered he was handling himself well. Her gut feeling didn’t get stronger but she remained convinced that she was going the right way. As she rode she kept an eye and ear out for any trouble. Goblins mostly gave way at the sound of her bells. She caught a few scowls but also passed a pedicab being pedaled by a big gray goblin with his own bell jangling from the canopy over his empty passenger seat. She smelled fresh-baked bread riding past one building, and right at the next something with a strong garlic odor started her stomach growling. A short distance on she passed a cart with row after row of dried fish hanging on strings. Other merchants hawked their wares along the street from carts and tables, boxes and discreet samples in pockets. A constant babble of overlapping voices came at her from all sides. Riding past a group of yellow goblins they burst into raucous laughter, which she thought was directed at her and Erik at first, but then she saw one of the goblins flick a pebble at one of the light posts. The rock pinged off the glass globe at the top and inside one of the captive fairies kicked and hit at the glass, making rude gestures at the goblins. The others lay about in their day-time stupor, too tired or too apathetic to care. Another rock hit the glass and triggered another tantrum which set the goblins off laughing once more.

Cat looked away and kept peddling. She’d been shocked the first time she saw the fairies in the lamp posts, now she tried not to look at them. Erik rode up beside her.

“Did you see that?”

“Yes, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Get behind me.”

“Are those fairies?”

“Yes, Erik watch out!”

Her warning came too late. He didn’t see the big pink goblin in his path until he was just about to collide with the unfortunate pedestrian. Erik swerved wildly, somehow missing the goblin but his only option was to head into a narrow alley. The goblin shouted and took a swing at Erik, but missed. Cat braked and swung her bike around. The goblin turned his attention to her.

She smiled widely. “Sorry about that.”

In the alley Erik shouted in alarm. Cat stood up on the pedals and shot toward the alley, swerving around the goblin’s grasping hands. More shouts rose up behind her but she didn’t look back. She shot into the alley and saw Erik pedaling away from her, deeper into the alley. At first she didn’t see what he was fleeing from but then a section of the red brick wall moved. It bulged out and jumped down into an alley, landing on all fours. It wasn’t a section of the wall at all but a geist, a sort of chameleon-like goblin she had encountered before. Its skin matched the bricks as it loped after Erik. And it wasn’t alone. Several other geists chased after him, some leaping from balcony to balcony above, or racing along the roof top. Cat hesitated only a second before she raced after the geists and Erik, the whole while her gut telling her that she was going in the wrong direction. Erik was standing up, pedaling as fast as he could, but it looked like the geists were gaining on him.

They raced down the alley, the geists hot after Erik and Cat speeding along behind, but gaining. The rough cobblestone of the alley rattled her teeth and bike until her arms and wrists ached. As she closed the gap between her and the geists she caught a strong urine scent from them. Then she rode up alongside the trailing geist, a creature of knotted muscles beneath the lumpish cobblestone appearance of its skin. It snarled at her with teeth of splintered stone. Cat reached back with one hand, and pulled her u-lock from her messenger bag. The geist lunged at her calf and she swung the metal u-lock down at its head hard. The blow sent tremors up her arm and the geist crumpled to the ground. Just then her bike’s front tire hit a protruding rock and bounced. She almost lost control of the bike but managed to recover and pedaled harder to catch up with Erik.

Geists on each side came at her but she swung the lock and knocked them back. One leaped from a balcony, attempting to land on her but she ducked down and it missed. All around she heard the harsh panting of their breath and that urine scent stung her eyes. Then she passed the leading geist and pulled up alongside Erik. His face was pale and intent on navigating the alley. It was so narrow that there wasn’t much more room than the two of them side-by-side. Cat thought about home and felt the tug in her gut that indicated a crossing, but it wasn’t home. She didn’t know where it would go. She was still debating it in her mind when a large geist with skin colored like stone and nails like wrought iron dropped from the rooftops three floors above and landed directly in their path. It rose up baring teeth of broken glass and roared.

“Oh shit!” Erik cried.

Before he could brake Cat reached over and grabbed his arm. Inside she reached for that sense of the crossing and –

They rolled together into an equally narrow brick-lined alley that came to an end right before them. There wasn’t any time to stop before they rolled out, startling a woman, and into a street in front of a small blue car. The car braked and the bearded man inside swore at them. Erik lost control of his bike and toppled into the street. Cat swung off her bike and knelt beside him.

“Are you okay?”

The man in the car yelled at them again, in French. Cat recognized a word or two. She raised a hand. “Pardon!”

Erick picked himself up. “I’m okay.”

He grabbed his bike and she went to her bike. Together they pushed their bikes on across the street. Erik was looking at her but Cat’s eyes were drawn to the end of the road. There, rising above the trees, was the Eiffel tower. The man in the blue car drove on past.

“What is it?” Erik asked. “Not more monsters.”

“No.” Cat laughed. She pointed down the street. “Take a look.”

Erick looked. “No way! How?”

Cat tore her eyes from the tower and looked at Erik. He was sort of cute in a kind of goofy way with his curls poking out from beneath his bike helmet. “The goblin alleys connect Goblinus to cities everywhere. It looks like we ended up in Paris.”

“That’s crazy. How do we get home?”

Cat grinned again. “Well, since we don’t have passports I think our best bet is to go back through the goblin alley. I’ve got a great sense of direction.”

“You brought us here!”

“That was only to get away from the geists. We’ll be more careful the next time. Are you up for it?”

“On one condition.”

“What?”

“Okay, two conditions.”

Cat raised an eyebrow.

“Look,” Erik said quickly. “Just two things. When we get back you explain everything, and we go out to dinner together. Like a date.”

“If you do what I tell you too this time,” Cat said.

“Of course.”

Cat turned her bike away before he could see her smile and swung her leg up over the seat. First, find the way back to Goblinus and then home. After that, a date might be nice. And it’d be cool to have someone to share all this with. She pedaled slowly down the street, Erik falling in behind her, savoring the view of the tower. Her gut told her it might take a while to find another crossing. Or maybe she just wanted to check out the sights a bit before they left.

3,942 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 23rd weekly short story release. I originally put this story out under my pen name “Michael Burges.” I wrote this back in early 2011. It was a tie-in to the Goblin Alley series that, at the time, was only one novel. Cat would eventually show up again in a guest appearance in The Eleven Lords.

I’m releasing each of these stories, one per week, here on my website. Eventually I’ll do standard e-book releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the books. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new  e-book versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next week for another story. Next up is another Goblin Alley tie-in, The Forest Path.

Last Day for Trow Forge Special Price

Buy Now

Today is the last day to get Trow Forge for the special pre-order pricing of .99¢! I’m excited that the book will finally be out, I’m very fond of the Goblin Alley series and glad to have the initial trilogy of books done and available. Will there be more Goblin Alley books? Yes, I can’t imagine that I won’t return to the Goblin Alley story again, I just don’t know when it’ll be. I have some other projects to work on right now.

 

 

Trow Forge

Pre-orders start today for the third Goblin Alley book, Trow Forge, publication date: December 22nd, 2014.

While it is available for pre-order, it’s at a special $0.99¢ price, and will switch to the regular price on release. Buy Now

If you can help spread the word, that’d be great!

Description

A college student. A natural born runner. A fierce upcoming competitor among ultra-runners. The goblin king’s chosen messenger, gifted with the ability to navigate the shifting goblin alleys.

Dalton Hicks lives an uncommon life, turned upside down by an assassination attempt on his life.

A shape-shifter, fox spirit. Ghost rescuer. Specializes in obtaining the unobtainable. Skilled with knives. Protective of her freedom.

Mingmei lives between two worlds, ours and the faerie world. Recovering a rare artifact, she struggles to evade pursuers.

*

A veteran. An artist able to envision landscapes untouched by man. Isolated and alone among those he fought to protect.

Ben Hyland finds new purpose in protecting the faerie world from potential destruction.

The paths of these three intersect in a new novel of fantasy, of wonder and darkness, joy and fear. The world of Goblin Alley lies just ahead, connecting every city on the planet.

Novel, 440 pages
Publication Date: December 22nd, 2014

Death in Hathaway Tower – Podcast

Today WMG Publishing has posted a free podcast of my story “Death in Hathaway Tower,” from Fiction River: Fantastic Detectives. Read by the fantastic Jane Kennedy, it’ll be up for a week. I hope you’ll check it out.

Author Readings

The timing couldn’t be better. Along with launching members-only podcasts as part of my Books for Coffee deal, I’m launching an author reading podcast of my stories. The new podcasts will be going live in November, but I’ll probably have a special “beta” podcast up soon as I get things set up. The WMG Publishing podcast of “Death in Hathaway Tower” will go away after a week, but I plan to keep my podcasts up, and you’ll be able to subscribe via iTunes to listen in your Podcasts app.

The Eleven Lords Pre-order

Pre-orders start today for the second Goblin Alley book, The Eleven Lords. I’ve wanted to get this book out for a long time, so I’m thrilled that it’ll finally be up. Publication date: November 3rd.

While it is available for pre-order, it’s at a special 0.99¢ price, before returning to the regular price.

If you can help spread the word, that’d be great!

Blurb

Plunge into Goblin Alley, a world wide web of magic, wealth and danger linking every city around the planet to the goblin city Goblinus.

Dalton Hicks, about to start college, meant to leave the goblin alleys behind and live a normal life safe from the powerful forces that nearly killed him the last time.

Burning for revenge over the loss of the Bloodied Fang, the Erlking, ruler of the sylvans, orders a special assassin to remove Dalton before the Goblin King calls on him again.

Dalton’s escape from the goblin alleys proves short-lived. He returns to Goblinus alone, unaided by Mingmei, the shape-shifting fox girl that helped him last time.

Summons from the Goblin King disrupts Mingmei’s own life when he orders her to find Dalton Hicks and help him complete a mission to the Eleven Lords of the Goblinus council.

Hunted by an ancient evil, Dalton faces his greatest race yet!

Novel, 440 pages
Publication Date: November 3rd, 2014

Fantastic Detectives – Death in Hathaway Tower

Today marks the release of Fiction River: Fantastic Detectives. Here’s the table of contents:

“Case Cracked” by Joe Cron
“Living with the Past” by Dayle A. Dermatis
“All She Can Be” by Karen L. Abrahamson
“Under Oregon” by Kara Legend
“Role Model” by Kevin J. Anderson
“Death in Hathaway Tower” by Ryan M. Williams
“Trouble Aboard the Flying Scotsman” by Alistair Kimble
“Containing Patient Zero” by Paul Eckheart
“Canine Agent Rocky Arnold vs. The Evil Alliance” by Juliet Nordeen
“An Incursion of Mice” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“They’re Back!” by Dean Wesley Smith

See that story, right after Kevin J. Anderson’s (featuring his Dan Shamble zombie detective)? Yep. That’s my story. I’m thrilled to be in this book, with so many fantastic writers like Paul Eckheart, Joe Cron (hilarious story), series editors Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, and everyone else included. All wonderful writers and it’s great to be included.

Publisher Allyson Longueira posted recently about the new release in, These detectives are fantastic!

Check out the Fiction River blog for more news.

Kickstarter Subscription Drive

There are 7 days left in the Fiction River subscription drive over on Kickstarter. There are still some limited edition rewards packages available, including the print Fantastic Detectives package. That’s a full year of Fiction River in print editions, plus the print edition of Fantastic Detectives. Plus you get print editions of books by authors in this anthology, including: Joe Cron, Karen L. Abrahamson, Juliet Nordeen, and me! My contribution is Goblin Alley: The Bloodied Fang, first book in that series. That’s a lot of reading!

There are also a bunch of other reward packages, both e-book and print, including Fiction River subscriptions and extra e-books and print books from contributors. That also includes Fiction River: Moonscapes, which includes my story “Caressing Charon.”

August Update, and my fully immersive writing desk

This morning I wanted to get started on my August update , so I stepped outside. The air this morning was cool, with a clear sky, and just traces of fog hanging out among the dark Douglas firs. Birds chirped in the trees as I walked up the hill toward the back of our property. This is my new fully immersive 360° of writing studio, think of it is having the treadmill desk with a fully immersive environment.

“Think of it is having the treadmill desk with a fully immersive environment”

Out here I can walk, and tell my stories and while getting exercise and enjoying fresh air. That’s it I’m trying to do now, is get out and walk around, and tell my stories in the mornings or at other times anywhere I go is potentially my new study. Forget setting wallpaper images on the computer.

This can be my office.
This can be my office.

Time Constraints

August was an interesting month. The day job began taking more of my time with an assignment that has meant much more time on the road, to help a more distant library, as well as just other demands that have cut into my time to get my writing and publishing tasks done the way I would like.

I decided that I needed to make some changes. The question was basically how can I make better use of my time?  Since doing the Spartan Race (I do plan to post a race report) at the beginning of August I wanted to get in shape,  workout more, and basically begin training for a possible future Spartan Race next year. That also takes time. We all have lots of demands on our time. How could I fit it all in?

I was well aware of Kevin J. Anderson’s practice of taking walks and dictating his books while he walks, having read his post before, and in the past I basically dismissed that as not something that would be particularly viable for me. There were a number of obstacles, I felt, to integrating that into my process.

For one, talking is just very different than typing.  I’m very comfortable with keyboards. I like typing. I’ve used a Dvorak layout for a long time for my writing, and then at the day job I type using the QWERTY layout. I carry a keyboard with me so that I can type using my iPad as a portable office, that has made it possible for me to write pretty much anywhere when I have a moment to spare. And it has worked pretty well.

Using the iPad, I’ve managed to get a lot written. In fact much of my writing has happened on the iPad during breaks, and other times when I had a moment to work on a story, and so I wasn’t eager to give that up. But at the same time, having a lot of time constraints raised the question. What could I do to fit it all in?

With that in mind I decided to revisit the idea of dictating my work and using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to transcribe what I’d written. I read other writers experiences, specifically those using the software-based transcription instead of a paid transcriptionist to do the work, and came away with the idea that this might actually be a viable approach. The other question I had was whether or not I would be able to get use to telling my stories aloud, on the spur of the moment. That seems to me to be a different sort of skill set, one that would take practice to develop. But the benefits definitely sounded significant. From what I’ve read people talked about getting up to 160 words per minute dictating which is an awful lot faster than I’ve been writing.

When I figure my words per minute I usually figure 1000 words in an hour was a good benchmark. Sometimes they run faster, sometimes slower, but that number usually worked out pretty well. And that is only in the ballpark of maybe 20 words per minute, sometimes less. So I figured, even with the difficulties of getting used to dictating, if I could do 50 words per minute then I would end up producing far more fiction than I am now — without taking any time than I was already spending. More than that it gave me an opportunity to seek a different sort of standing desk.

Standing Desk

Standing desks have their proponents, and probably those who think the whole notion is ridiculous. For myself, I’ve worked standing up at a frontline public service desk for the past couple decades. In my office at my day job I also work standing up. For me sitting down means I’m taking a break. And yet when it comes to my writing, that has been done almost entirely in a sit-down position. There are all sorts of makeshift ways in which you can raise your computer monitor and your keyboard to a standing position, but many of those aren’t easily adjustable. My desk at the day job is an adjustable desk that moves up and down with the touch of a button. That’s nice, but wasn’t something that I was going to immediately invest in for home use. Dictation offers a much better alternative to a traditional standing desk or treadmill desk. There are several reasons for this.

For one thing, I can do it when I’m out for a morning walk. I don’t need an expensive treadmill or an adjustable height workstation, I don’t need to try to be typing while at the same time walking. Instead I can simply walk and tell the story that I want to tell. The hardest thing to get use to is rethinking how I approach my writing, and to be open to the possibility of changing my process. I’ve been writing for decades and it’s all been fingers on the keyboard. Going out for a stroll and coming back with 3,000 words of new fiction was an entirely new experience!

There are other advantages to this method. I know some writers who keep a computer that isn’t connected to the Internet to do their writing, free from distractions (and potential hacking), and then have a separate computer that is connected to the net where they do email and everything else. And that’s certainly an option. Using the voice recorder to record what I want to write, on the other hand, can mean that I can be anywhere. No Internet connection needed, no cell connection needed. I could be climbing a mountain or simply hiking around the woods on the back of our property. There’s no carpal tunnel issues to worry about either,  just words flowing as I walk.

It has been a very compelling experience for me. I enjoy walking and find that it’s a good base-level sort of exercise to start my day. And talking and telling stories while I do it, though it feels a bit awkward initially, is a nice combination. And where as before when I got back I still had to find time to write, and to edit it, format, illustrate and do everything else involved in a modern writing career, having dictated while I walked meant that at least the raw first draft product was already in hand.

For those wondering, no, the transcription software isn’t perfect. But it does a damn good job. Most of what I dictate is transcribed just fine. It runs into problems with words that aren’t in its vocabulary, which you can train, and just in my own dictation skills. I fumble sentences. I stammer and stutter. I have to get used to saying punctuation. So the result with all of that is a transcribed product the definitely needs correction. And that takes time as well, however even just beginning with this, I’ve found that it takes much less time than I would’ve had to have spent writing, prior to dictating. For example if I go out and take a walk for an hour, and come back with 3,000+ words of new fiction, that is all new work that I wouldn’t of had before at that same point time. Before dictating, I would’ve had to have come back from the walk, and still would’ve been faced with finding time to write the first draft of my work, and then still would’ve had to go over it again and deal with all the problems that would be there anyways. So it does take some time to clean up what has been produced, but then again it doesn’t take all that much time. And I tend to cycle over my writing again anyways as I work.

 Down the Goblin Alley

The big news of August was the release of the new edition of Goblin Alley: The Bloodied Fang.

The Bloodied Fang

Originally published under my pen name “Michael Burges,” it’s great to get the book out in a new edition, available now in both print and e-book. I’m working now on finishing the next two books in the Goblin Alley series, and plan to have those out soon. They haven’t been released before, so it’ll be great to have them finally out.

New Worlds

Right at the start of August I launched into writing a new stand-alone novel. Given all of the impacts on my time, and the decision to back off on my word counts, I didn’t get quite as much written in August but I did continue the writing streak.

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Future

Write more, illustrate more, publish more. Basically, I’m going to continue doing what I can and have fun. I have a story coming out in Fiction River: Fantastic Detectives this month, and there’s the Fiction River Kickstarter subscription drive. It’s already getting great response and has exceeded the funding goal. Among the rewards available is Goblin Alley: The Bloodied Fang, plus my story “Death in Hathaway Tower” in Fantastic Detectives.

The Bloodied Fang

The Bloodied Fang

New Edition

Today marks the release of the new edition of The Bloodied Fang, first book of the Goblin Alley series. It was previously published under my pen name “Michael Burges.” This new edition also includes a preview of the soon to be released The Eleven Lords. 

I’ve wanted to get these books out for some time. Finding the time, though, that’s been the challenge. My dear editor has gone through all three books, including book 3, Trow Forge, so it’s just a matter of time to get them all done and released.

Plunge into Goblin Alley, a world wide web of magic, wealth and danger linking every city around the planet to the goblin city Goblinus.

Dalton Hicks, senior in high school and star cross country runner, dreamed of the President’s national championship in New York. How many guys from Olympia got to go to a race like this? Even perfect moments have a way of going wrong.

Trouble starts for Dalton when monsters chase him down a New York alley and out into the goblin city — where the Goblin King puts a price on his head.

Aided by Mingmei, a fox shape shifter, Dalton seeks his only chance at escape – steal a magical artifact back from the fairies for the Goblin King. Caught between powerful forces, Dalton finds himself in the race of his life across two worlds!

Trow Forge Finished

A week ago I wrapped up the last bit of Goblin Alley: Trow Forge, the third book in my fantasy adventure series featuring runner Dalton Hicks. It was great getting back to that world again, and it reminds me how much I want to run more! Anyway, the books are on their way. First up, Goblin Alley: Bloodied Fang, scheduled for reissue in May. Then new books in the series,  Goblin Alley: Eleven Lords follows in June and Goblin Alley: Trow Forge arrives in July! Check back here for more news.