"How did you become a witch? That's the stupidest question I've ever heard." Vanessa Schierman sat in the gloomy great hall of her mansion, speaking into a shiny little device with a black glass front and chrome edges.
"You either are a witch or you're not." She shouted the words into the microphone with gleeful indignation.
"You know you're a witch when your ruff leaps from your neck, its jeweled spines shooting venom, your wand leaps into your hand — and people fall dead. Or something. First spells are often erratic.
"I was three when it happened to me." She fiddled with the shiny recorder and set it on the little oak table with its twisted, barleycorn legs. "iPhone. Whatever idiot designed that probably made a fortune." She lifted her cut crystal glass and took a healthy swig of amber liquid.
She continued to ruminate, getting closer to the source of her irritation as she did. I don't know why I let that writer person into my life, much less my house, she thought. The beginning was so innocent: Cook saw her note on the bulletin board in the Village. The writer had perfect penmanship and the message was properly spelled and in good English. That was the first thing that attracted me. So few speak the language anymore. And it was on our town board; no one would sneak in and post on our board.
The whole thing seemed harmless; how could it cause any harm? Vanessa sighed and continued her mental review. The card said its writer was doing research and wanted to talk to a real witch — that was the hook for me. As a research physicist, I have a natural fondness for those who do research instead of just making things up.
I looked her up on that infernal internet that rules everything these days. The author had written lots of books with compelling covers and had stellar reviews. I told my secretary to contact her, and soon I found myself invited to tea at her home.
Vanessa could remember that day as though she were living it. Driver made his way down through the redwoods to the flats. He pulled into a U-shaped driveway in a modest, but not squalid, neighborhood. She sniffed and surveyed her destination through her car's window. The author's house was plain and dated, but well kept.
Most importantly, she lived in Woodside. Vanessa's estate topped the mountain and extended forever. The author's place filled a notch in a gully far below, but within the town limits. That was acceptable. For heaven's sake, portable toilets went for millions as fixer-uppers in Woodside. One must accept all economic levels.
Vivid flowers flowed up the curved walkway to the house. Vanessa was used to the fog swathing the mountains above the town, but the sun had a certain appeal. And the house looked charming up close.
Who could see the harm in what she did? The author herself was at least presentable. She had the manners Vanessa demanded in her kitchen maids and spoke better than that. She said was looking for an "authentic voice" for a witch in something she was writing — and look what happened.
Vanessa carried her standard nondisclosure contract, making it clear that whatever she said would be for background material only. The author would not quote her, reveal her identity in any way, or publish what she said anywhere without written permission. The author signed it. It was a legally binding agreement.
That and the author's demeanor fooled Vanessa into feeling she was safe. The woman listened without any questions, interruptions, or judgments. Vanessa ended up prattling away.
"We've been living here on the estate for hundreds of years, our ancestors coming from Germany … well, before any other Europeans. We've always been industrious, so of course, we did very well."
Vanessa found herself saying more than she should have about the family and life. So much so that she began to think that the writer was a witch who charmed it out of her.
The relationship went from a visit or two at the woman's home in the gully to her visiting Vanessa's estate. She loved the estate, which proved she was a witch; most people fainted when they saw Vanessa's home.
The dismal fog, baying dogs, turrets poking out of the mist, as well as the grotesque carvings on the exterior had regrettable effects on guests. Also, the carvings on the walls inside and out moved. They couldn't resist wiggling for new guests. The bas-reliefs had too much fun watching visitors run for the door.
But this woman, this enchantress, loved it and got Vanessa to talk more. She spoke about her husband and children, and personal disasters of the most painful kind.
She said, "My husband and I were such a mistake. I met him during my year on the continent. I wasn't so homely then. Grew into a swan for a while, until I fell off that horse and this happened." She sighed, trying to straighten her head and neck. Hopeless. The bones were fused. "I was a handsome woman, tall and comely. Rich, with an ancient German family, though our branch had immigrated to the United States hundreds of years ago."
She had told the author all of this, and shared her tender feelings for her spouse. She expressed how it all went wrong when they discovered that they were very distant cousins and bore the same genetic flaw. "Of all the inherited scofflaws possible, ours was the worst. Our five children … so ill. And then, finding him hanging there when his depression took over."
From that, Vanessa found herself where she was. It was to be an interview or two. Background material. But here she was, months later, spilling her guts into an electronic device. "Just say a few words into a recorder," the author creature cajoled. "I'll have them transcribed. Your children will have a record."
Vanessa had suspected the writer wanted material to make into a book all along. She wanted her secrets! And she had them. But Vanessa had her contract and its flimsy legal protection. She had more than that––the author had told her of on-line trolls lurking on the internet waiting to attack hapless and innocent writers. Vanessa had real trolls living in the forest behind the mansion. How would Ms. Author like a visit from those, in addition to her attorneys?
The old witch cackled, or maybe it was the Scotch roughening her voice. The idea of the author person running from a real troll delighted the old lady. Those rocklike, hairy things would love author meat.
She looked around the huge hall, with its lead-paned windows and marvelously ornate, dark furniture. Tapestries covering the walls depicted her ancestors in the old country, hunting game and runaway peasants. Homey and warm scenes of rape and pillage. It would have been a perfect evening at home, except that the carved wood paneling was quiet, not a gnome or beastie wiggling across its face. She liked their cheery addition in the manse.
"Wake up! I'm selling you out, you little bastards! Telling everything!" She yelled at them, tilting the decanter and refilling her glass.
"That writer person wants to know how I became a witch. Don't you want to be part of the tale?" Vanessa looked around the room, shadows impenetrable as the light waned, resident bats stirring in the beams. The wood paneling gave a heartening hiccup and nasty little creatures peeked from between the seams.
"How could I not be a witch, born here from my parents?" She picked up the device and hit "Record." Her voice barked out now, loud enough to fill the hall's corners and crevasses, and awaken any lingering dead.
"It happened when I was three. My parents were in the kitchen, having a row. They'd been having a row all my life, variations on the theme.
"'She's not mine,' were the first words I recall, shortly after I emerged from between my mother's legs. I was greasy, covered with fluids, and quite unable to object. My father leaned over me and said, 'She's not mine! She belongs to that Viscount, What's His Name.'
"'Of course she's yours, Heinreich. Only you could sire such an ugly baby.'
"Those were the first words I heard. I understood them perfectly, of course; it's a facility we Schiermans have. They shaped my life.
"I grew from an ugly baby to a tall, gangling toddler whose elbows and knees seemed to multiply if anyone looked at me. I was horribly shy and stuttered. Not a good representation of the family line.
"My mother put me on a horse early, saying, 'It's so dangerous. She'll be forced to develop balance and poise or be killed.' My death seemed a constant refrain with them.
"And so we ratcheted forward, a family of sorts. Him screaming about my mother's infidelities; her screaming about his. The bats flapped through the mansion and the servants stalked about with funereal faces, even though no one was to die for years.
"I took it for three years before putting a stop to it. On that fateful day, my birthday, things got out of hand. My parents threw a big party for me. All the villagers were invited and came, though through the rear entrance only, of course. I didn't realize at that time that not everyone had a village of primitive retainers living in the woods behind the house. They were so useful, cleaning up, building things, and so on.
"And did Cook bake me a treat! An enormous cake, three tiers high with the layers separated with crystal pillars and frosted in pink, with sparkles and a beautiful fairy on top. The villagers brought me presents, including a spotted pony, which the chieftain, George Yeoman, held on the greensward behind the mansion. I loved it!
"My mother swept through the kitchen dramatically, her long dress with its flared sleeves and hem sparkling with jewels, a maharajah's ransom of gems glittering on her throat, ears, fingers, and wrists. 'What is that mongrel doing on the rear lawn? George Yeoman, remove it, now!'
"Papa backed me up, for once, 'Ophelia, she's a child! A child is entitled …'
"'Entitled to what? She has everything available to her, this entire estate, servants, clothes, and food; eventually she'll own everything. Unless I can conceive again, it all goes to her, that hideous, deformed, sniveling …"
"'Stop that, Ophelia! That's cruel, even for you!" He towered to his full height, peaked ruff suddenly standing up over his formal black and white dress. I saw his wand, very plain, old style, with a brilliant white tip.
"'What are you going to do, Heinrich, work a spell on me? The day you could do that is long gone.' Her glistening, white lace ruff protruded from the shadows of her neck. Her wand flashed in her hand, shooting sparks and mist along with sparkling letters that spelled her name as they floated to the floor. My mother had the gaudiest wand I've ever seen.
"'You're cruel to the child, woman.'
"'Cruel. I'll show you cruel.' She turned to the glass wall to the rear garden and swept her arm. My pony lay dead in the backyard, head severed from its neck. Mother spun, waving her wand at my beautiful cake. It melted into a pink puddle.
"I didn't think," Vanessa put her recorder down and took two solid swigs from the crystal glass before picking the dictation up once more. "My ruff shot from my bony, toddler neck. It's a severe, black peau de soie collar, quite tailored. No fancy lace or satin for me. Its protrusions were spiked, each one ending in a jeweled tip, all black. Venom squirted ten feet. My wand was just there. Oversized, I've always liked an oversized … everything … Shiny black with diamond bands around the end. It blazed fire, sparks. And anger.
"I screamed, 'You are the worst parents in the world! I hate you! I curse you! You will change right now.' I had no idea I was casting my first spell. 'You will become wonderful parents who are good and kind. You will never fight. You will be faithful to each other. You will take good care of me and treat the servants with respect. You will become good!'
"And then I fixed the cake and brought my pony back to life.
"It was that simple. 'How did you become a witch?' Stupid question. Witches are born, not made. It's not about spells and magic books. You have the Power, or you don't.
"From then on, my life was straightforward. My parents were transformed into good people. They raised me properly and saw that I had a good education. I'm a physicist, of course, with a PhD. I ask you not to forget that, however you distort what I give you, O-writer-person." Vanessa shouted the last bit into the recorder.
"Enough. I'm going to bed."
A month later, Vanessa logged on to her computer. She had fed that author reams of stories about her life and felt exposed. Her life was a tragedy, and she'd told it all to some unknown writer who came into her life through a note on a bulletin board. True, she had a contract and could sue her to oblivion and bedevil her farther, but the pain of exposure. How could she bear it? "Invasive worm. Like a tropical parasite."
Vanessa checked the author's blog periodically to make sure she didn't publish anything about her. Her eyes widened. The title of the latest post read: How Did You Become a Witch?
There, in plain English, was all she'd told the tramp. At least the author-sow was kind enough to say she'd met a real witch and this is what she said. "She didn't claim it as her life …" Vanessa croaked. And she didn't mention Vanessa's name or the location of the estate.
"But she did not have my permission to publish this in her retched little blog or anywhere!"
Her ruff deployed, acid venom rising. Her wand, even larger now that she was a grown woman, shot fire and missiles of light.
Vanessa grabbed her iPhone, which she now used expertly. That was the one thing the author/worm had taught her. They were much more useful than ordinary people knew. She could push a button and reach the person on the other line, really reach them, by the "short and curlies" as a construction worker had so colorfully put it.
Not only that, Vanessa could touch everyone in the offender's social "network." Everyone connected to them through the iPhone and every other electronic web.
"NSA would love to know what I can do, and how."
But Vanessa would never tell. She clutched the iPhone, intending to cast a spell that would keep the author-creature from remembering her own name, much less writing anything. But what was that below the travesty of a blog post?
Comments. Many of them, 397, to be exact. She began reading them.
downycheeks: This is bullshit. This author is a lying scum who buys all her reviews. She steals the ideas for her books too.
wanna****U: It's true. KittyKat did a report on her. Bitch is a total sleaze.
Whammomama: She doesn't deserve to live. I googled her house. We can get you, author-bitch. You're stupid enough to use your real name.
Wombmanna: You're such a troll, Whammomama. You don't deserve to live. I know where you live!
A resounding chorus of bloodthirsty howls existing only as pixels followed. They had been ready to mount an attack on the offending author. This was not unfair: Vanessa thought she deserved something for spilling confidential material, but she was thinking of a nice lawsuit followed by sojourn in the lowest level of the basement below her home. Some quiet time to think about loyalty and the cost of betraying confidences. But not death!
Vanessa closed her eyes and increased the dense fog that wrapped everything about her life. She also created a little shield around the author. The faithless tramp didn't deserve it, but needed it. Google would no longer reveal or map her address. Hopefully, legitimate dinner guests would be able to find her place, but no one else.
Vanessa reloaded the blog page. The comment count was up to 821. She realized the individuals with the repulsive screen names were internet trolls. The author had said she would run into them if she were on-line for any period. She said that clinical psychologists had done a study showing their personalities tested in "the dark triad" of the psychological world; they were heavy in narcissism, psychopathology, and sadism.
The modern cyber-world empowered really nasty people. They demonstrated their diagnoses with what they said about The Author, as well as what they said about each other. Witches would never be so rude.
The on-line mob threatened to attack their fellow blog interpreters. They knew each other very well, as the comments showed.
verminesque: You'll never change, bitchwad. I'm going to kill you. I should have after what you said on die-a-ree-az's blog.
At about comment 121, they started attacking her, Vanessa Schierman PhD. They said she was a fake and liar, even though they'd never heard of her and knew nothing about her. Or even if she really existed.
realwitch: The Author sez she's talking to a real witch. That's not a real witch. Only idiots would believe her shit and lies. Yer all idiots and don' deserve to live.
wawababy: realwitch is right: Real witches are tough. They aren't weenie cry-babies boo-hooin' cuz ther kids er sick.
On and on.
stubitch: Fake witch, I'm gonna carve yer eyes out. I know where you live.
Stupidbitchwitch summed it up with "You are a fountain of deceit, lies, and perfidy. You don't deserve to live."
Vanessa felt those were strong words from someone who had had no contact with her whatsoever. The language of the "discussion" steadily deteriorated.
humpmama: If yur such a f***in' witch, show us some Magick, you ****
Vanessa couldn't repeat the language when they began to demand she do some magic. Didn't these blogs have any rules of decorum? Or spelling? She rebooted her computer. The blog now had close to two thousand comments, people vying with one another to be vicious and insulting.
She kept up with the discussion through the night. The post was reblogged and shared dozens of times. Twitter exploded with rage over the false witch.
"It's gone viral," Vanessa whispered.
One of the jeweled tips of her ruff squirted venom on her keyboard. It smoked, calling her attention to one of the more recent comments.
cumquat: You better show us some witching or we'll get you. Show us a monster or we'll get you and your children!
She had to stop the madness. Vanessa raised her hands and closed her eyes, incanting. Her energy, her thoughts, and her soul went into her computer and through it to the internet around the world. And into everyone who had maligned her or thought of maligning her or anyone.
One thing she could not tolerate was bad manners. Also bad spelling. As she wove her incantation, the spelling and grammar of every nasty comment or note recorded anywhere instantly became correct. Swear words were transformed into appropriate, descriptive language and user names reflected the users' true character.
"Take that!" she shouted raising her hands and wand. She completed her magic with a few ancient phrases, best unrecorded.
The hall shook and the bats emerged prematurely into the light of dawn. The carvings on the wall ran frantically, craven creatures chasing each other, and being chased in return. The room throbbed.
Vanessa smiled. Every troll that lurked on the internet or anywhere, waiting to bait and lie, hurt and distort, or create malice and strife, received the curse. One of her best and most powerful.
A bat alighted on her shoulder. The witch stroked its fine pelt.
"What are you saying, my darling? You want to know about the spell I cast?" She chuckled. "Only those who are true monsters will feel it. One evil thought or nasty impulse and the curse will fall on them.
"Real monsters can't see what they are. Now, everyone will see them truly. They are the monsters they wanted me to show them, darling."
Vanessa smiled, thinking, Dorian Gray, your time has run out.
* * *
Priscilla Porcine looked over her latest blog entry before posting it. Pris had tried writing books and found it tedious, hard work. Plus, her books didn't sell and got nasty reviews. Being an author was painful.
But writing about bad authors! Her natural talents as a sleuth leapt into play as her life's mission became apparent: Priscilla was on this earth to clean up the internet. So many reviews were false, the results of friends and family boosting sales and rankings. Filthy, deceitful, lying authors bought reviews. They voted up each other's books.
She gave corrupt writers and false reviewers what they deserved. Acting as an investigative reporter, Pris found out the truth behind authors' apparently valid "platforms." She could see lies and deceit where no one else would.
For instance, the subject of her current exposé — and she outed about a hundred fraudulent authors a year — wrote romances about poodles. She had a dozen books in print, all highly ranked. That was the first sign that something was wrong. No one could be that good.
Priscilla found scores of wondrous reviews and glowing testimonials of the fraudulent author's work. She had won a bunch of awards for independent authors, another sign of nefarious conduct. Those contests were rigged. The judges were paid off, and they didn't read the books anyway. They were part of a corrupt system.
As she delved into the woman's life, she discovered that something stank. It took weeks of investigation and hours of work to put it all together, but the proof existed in the duplicitous coward's personal blog. Of her writing ability, her target once said, "Writing about knitting is all I can do." She said that in 1989 in her blog for knitters.
That was definitive proof that the woman was not a true author! That it was published decades ago in a defunct hobby blog, Priscilla did not bother to report. Nor did she bother to mention the awards and all the good reviews.
Priscilla wrote of the woman in terms so damning, the devil wouldn't let her into hell. Would her friends love this one! Her followers would dump one star reviews by the dozens wherever she said. And Priscilla said: get this bitch!
She hit the publish button on her WordPress screen, noticing that her shoulder didn't seem to move right. Also, her fingers were separated, the pinky and ring fingers sticking together while the middle and index fingers adhered to her thumb. They were becoming hard, like horn.
As she watched, the sleeves of her blouse split, revealing her creamy white skin beneath the fabric. But it was thickened, like leather. Coarse black hair poked out of it. And rolls of fat piled up under the skin.
Priscilla jumped up, holding her hands in front of her. They were hooves! Cloven hooves. She hit the phone button on her keyboard. It took her a couple of shots; the hooves were hard to aim. Using the programmed number, she called her best friend and co-blogger, Sally Swiftblade.
When she answered, all Pris could do was make grunting noises. Like a pig. She put her hooves to her face, seeing if anything felt wrong. Tusks stuck out of her mouth on each side, sharp, deadly tusks.
"HEEE-HAW! HEE-HAW-haw-a-haw-a haw," came from the speaker. Was that Sally? Donkeys made that sound. What had happened? Pris tried to answer, but the grunting noises were all that came out.
Priscilla ran to her bathroom, having to drop to all fours to do it. Balancing on her rear hooves was impossible. Clattering and sliding on the hardwood floor, she clambered up on the toilet to see the mirror.
FIVE ecopies of Sandy Nathan’s : 5 ebook copies of each of the books in the Earth’s End Trilogy:
The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy
Lady Grace & the War for a New World
The Headman & the Assassin Book One in the DEAD Series
Lady Grace & the War for a New World
The Headman & the Assassin Book One in the DEAD Series
To win: go to the Official FB Event Page; find the post announcing today’s giveaway; and comment, “I WANT TO WIN” in that post and you just might!!!
The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy
Tomorrow morning at 7:35 AM, a nuclear holocaust will destroy the planet. Two people carry the keys to survival: Jeremy Edgarton, a 16 year old, tech genius and revolutionary; and Eliana, the angelic, off-world traveler sent to Earth on a mission to prevent her planet's death.
Welcome to a future world only heartbeats from our own.
By the late 22nd century, the Great Recession of the early 2000s has lead to a worldwide police state. A ruined United States barely functions. Government control masks chaos, dissenters are sent to camps, and technology is outlawed. War rages while the authorities proclaim the Great Peace.
IT'S NEW YORK CITY ON THE EVE OF NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON.
Join Eliana and Jeremy as they begin a quest to save two doomed planets ... and find each other.
AWARDS--WINNER FOUR NATIONAL AWARDS:
2011 IPPY (Independent Press) AWARDS, GOLD MEDAL in Visionary Fiction. More than 3,900 books were entered in this contest.
2011 Indie Excellence Awards, Winner (1st place) of the Visionary Fiction Category.
Best Books of 2011, USA Book News
Winner: Fiction, New Age
Finalist: Fiction: Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Lady Grace & the War
for a New World
for a New World
SOMETIMES COMING HOME ISN'T MUCH OF A HOMECOMING
Not everyone dies in the nuclear conflagration. Surviving any way they can, the lucky ones make their way to Piermont Manor, Jeremy Edgarton's ancestral home. Jeremy is the sixteen-year-old tech genius who might have stopped the atomic war, but couldn't. No one knows how much time has passed since the world blew up.
Join the characters of Earth’s End 1: Jeremy Edgarton, a man now, not a shrimpy nerd. Henry Henderson, the father Jeremy never had; Lena Henderson, the mother his real mother couldn't be. Veronica Edgarton, Jeremy's notorious and neglectful mom. And of course, Eliana, the exquisite dancer from another world.
They return to estate yearning for peace and a new life. But if you go away for a couple thousand years, you may find the neighborhood changed when you return. The beautiful estate is blasted to prehistoric conditions. Nothing remains.
That's not the only nasty surprise awaiting them. Jeremy built a huge underground bomb shelter under the lawn. The estate's staff took refuge in it to escape the war. Out of sight and mind, things have been cookin'. And not in a good way.
The rowdy villagers of the old estate have mutated into monsters fit for hell. Their world is hell––and all that keeps them down there are six round doors.
Coming home means fighting for their lives against new enemies. It also means finding new friends. Friends they may have longed for all their lives.
The Headman & the Assassin
Book One in the DEAD Series
Book One in the DEAD Series
HE KNEW HER WORK WAS MURDER
Sam Baahuhd has been the village headman for twenty-two years. Like all the headmen in surrounding villages, he as powers. Sam's powers are greater than any headman's, ever. He controls others with his speech and heals with a touch. Even with his powers, Sam has survived only because he's kept his fellow villagers from murdering him. They're a brutal gang of thugs who spend most of their time drunk or stoned.
Sam and the villagers live on Veronica Edgarton's estate. Or they do until nuclear Armageddon forces them into a huge underground bomb shelter.
When Sam carries a naked stranger into the shelter, he knows what she did before the war. Her work was murder––murdering people. She tortured people until they broke, or died. That's what federal agents do in a police state.
Nuclear radiation traps Sam and Emily and the rest of the village’s residents in an echoing cement cavern three hundred feet beneath the earth’s surface. There is no escape from the underground. Not for them. Or their children, or their children’s children . . .
Sam has no idea Emily will ignite his heart and change his world. The lovely outsider carries deadly secrets. Only Sam with his village headman's power can heal her. Only Emily can make Sam the man he was meant to be.
Passion explodes between them. Passion that brings joy and pain, ecstasy and remorse. Passion that can kill.
Join Sam & Emily for a legend and love story you'll never forget.