Nothing to Offer

Ash was having a difficult go at life when he met Alia. Undoubtedly, they were drawn to each other because they recognized their own desperation in one another. That was no way to start a relationship. He couldn’t take care of himself, so how could he take care of her? And, vice versa.

But…

She latched on to him, in a way that made him lust and cringe. That weakness in her drew him in, even when it repulsed him. His ex-wife was nothing like Alia. She was a fighter. She was strong, and smart, and hard-headed. One might imagine that those qualities in her were what created the barrier between them, but that wasn’t at all the case. It was Sandy. Losing Sandy. Actually losing her – she was just gone. And every time Ash looked into his wife’s beautiful eyes, he saw his daughters’ staring back at him, begging him to find her, asking him why he let her go. That was a barrier he simply couldn’t get by.

So one day he found that he was sitting there with Alia, drinking until he could no longer keep his thoughts straight. And Alia let him. Because she would let anyone do anything. Because she was meek, and timid, and lost. But Ash had found her. And she loved him for it.

He thought about all of this as he stood at the water’s edge. He was swaying back and forth now, likely too drunk to swim back to shore if he wanted to. But just to be sure, he had tied weights to his ankles. Now all there was to do was step in, and keep going. So why was he standing there, thinking about Alia? She would cry. She would quiver, and crack, and break. He would break her. It would be his fault. He didn’t love her. But that wasn’t the point. He couldn’t stand the idea of letting her down. He let down Sandy, his wife, his parents, his dog (where had that damn dog gone, anyways?) – and now Alia. Sweet, sad, Alia. But if he didn’t step in, if he untied the weights and climbed back into bed – dry and alive – well, what could he offer her then?

Nothing. And yet – he just couldn’t step in.

© Shyla Fairfax-Owen

The Telluric Goodbye

I looked up at Fern, her eyes skimming over the top of my head as her thoughts travelled far away from our now. She was a Telluric; part of the last scoop during the salvage. She had grown up among Astrals and sometimes it was easy to forget that she was from Earth – a different breed altogether – but in these distant moments, it was apparent. In these moments, the ones in which she could be both present and not, I was utterly bewildered by her difference. Part of me knew I only loved her because my curiosity overpowered me. But most of me didn’t care why I loved her, just that I did.

She shivered lightly. Her hair growth was selective, red, sprouting mainly from her head and above her eyes. Some growth occurred under her arms (of which she only had two) and a thin layer covered the rest of her. It gave her a smooth texture that I could only feel in the palms of my four hands. It meant she was often cold, but the adaptation meant it was tolerable. Some of the Astrals had advocated for more salvages overtime when we’d discovered there had still been some scattered survivors on Earth, but they had spent too much time in their natural habitat. They’d freeze to death, we were told.

I think it bothered Fern sometimes, to know there were others stranded down there. She had volunteered for a number of anatomy studies hoping to find a viable solution; some way that Telluric genes could be manipulated once matured. None of it was very promising; but she kept going back to the labs, hoping for different results. That was the definition of insanity. She hated when I’d tell her that, so eventually I stopped, and just let her go on being insane.

“Stop looking at me like that,” she whispered a hint of a smile in her tone.

I shied away, fixing my eyes anywhere else. She sunk her shoulders down and nestled herself under one of my arms so that her head was resting on my chest. She nuzzled her nose into me, burying her face in my fur. I wrapped two more arms around her, offering warmth, and leaned back on my fourth. We gazed out at the vastness before us. It was nice.

The next day when she stepped into the lab with that hopeful grin of hers, I returned it. I had decided to stay in the waiting room this time, even when she insisted I go home. For no particular reason, I wanted to be there with her.

“She’s prone to her Telluric instincts. She has no memories of Earth, but her genetic makeup seems to. It’s fascinating, really.”

I flashed cold eyes at the doctor keeping me company, afraid he was preparing me for news I wouldn’t want to hear. The apologetic eyes he returned told me it was true.

“You’re sending them back?” I asked. The scent of my fear wafted over us.

“Edoc, you knew this was always the plan.”

I winced, as if the truth had a vulgarity to it.

“I didn’t think it would be her.”

“Of course you did.”

“When will you tell her?”

“Edoc, she volunteered; like she always does. She asked me to tell you.”

“Why?” I looked towards the closed off room that she lie behind, being poked and prodded.

“Tellurics hate delivering sad news. I suppose she figured this would be easier.”

“But I won’t be able to share my sadness with her.” My fur rose, searching for the being connected to its emotions.

“I suppose she prefers it that way.”

“No. She likes it when I share.”

“She wants to see Earth,” the doctor continued, ignoring my reaching fur. “You can’t blame her; it’s a deep-seeded instinct. She tried to have us remove it but we couldn’t.”

My fur pulled me up and dragged me to the door, although I did little to fight it. Inside, a shocking scene unfolded before me.

There she was, teary-eyed and quivering lips. Her body vibrating with a combination of nerves and excitement as they bolted her into the launch pod. She caught my eyes, and quickly shut her own. Her long stringy head hairs had been braided behind her to keep them in place when the pod shot her away from me.

I looked at her through the glass, and suddenly, that difference of hers was altogether distasteful. An Astral would never abandon its partner, without so much as a simple sharing. An Astral would never lie about its intentions, or keep secrets. An Astral would never leave home to live among ruins and strangers.

And then it was there, loud and clear – this wasn’t her home. That’s what she had been trying to tell me in all of those present yet not moments. This wasn’t her home.

©Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Cry Wolf (Patricia Briggs): Book Review

Supernatural; Romance ♠

Author: Patricia Briggs

This book was published in July 2008, the first of the Alpha & Omega series. It holds a 4.11 rating on Goodreads. The series is now a graphic novel series, as well.

Anna never knew werewolves existed, until the night she survived a violent attack… and became one herself. After three years at the bottom of the pack, she’d learned to keep her head down and never, ever trust dominant males. Then Charles Cornick, the enforcer—and son—of the leader of the North American werewolves, came into her life.

A werewolf tale with very little bite, and a pathetic protagonist for whom you may root out of pity, or grow terribly bored with. The latter was my experience.

To preface, I am very fascinated with wolves and pack structure, and my favourite werewolf narrative to date has been the film Ginger Snaps. I also enjoy the Bitten TV series, although I had never read any werewolf fiction before Cry Wolf (unless you count the shorts in Angel Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Stephanie Meyers’ depiction of the werewolves in Scarlet). I chose Briggs because I had read that she was known for her action-packed stories and strong female lead, Mercy Thompson. Cry Wolf takes place in that same universe but is, as far as I can tell, altogether different. It has an original (if sometimes laughable) take on pack structure, and a sterile take on romance within it.

Anna, the Victim-Hero

The heroine of this book, if you can call her that, is Anna. As the protagonist, the reader should be able to rightfully predict a certain level of character growth and heroism, but I got none of that out of this book. It’s important to note that Anna is a victim, and has been for years. Treated as a submissive wolf within her former pack, one can only imagine the tortures she would have endured. That she survived should be telling of her strength, but the trauma overpowers her.

I appreciate that Briggs took the realistic route here and let Anna be a wreck, but it was very difficult for me to spend 300 pages in the headspace of a victim. Specifically, a victim of male dominance. Surprisingly, the difficulty did not spring from any sort of too real depictions of the abuse, and maybe that was the problem. The details of Anna’s story are grazed over so it’s difficult to really feel them with her. Instead, I just found myself rolling my eyes every time she’d cower or crumble because I wanted her to stop being so pathetic. I couldn’t sympathize because, it seems, the author didn’t really want me to.

She has been saved from her pack by Charles, a werewolf enforcer whose standing basically makes him a prince. A real fairytale, right down to the lack of true connection. In fairytales, the prince sweeps the princess off her feet, away from the evil stepmother, the end. In the same way, Anna and Charles’ connection seems as though it was instant, based on nothing, and surviving on nothing. No spark; just a desire to be mated. And yes, the word “mate” is on every other page along with some form of “you’re mine.” Turns out, Charles chooses Anna as a mate because she is an Omega. In wolf packs, the omegas are the bottom of the food chain acting mainly as servants to the others, bullied to no end. Sometimes, they tire of the abuse and wander off to find new packs where they might challenge an alpha and gain better standing. Not in Briggs’ world. Omegas have special powers to soothe and comfort, are less violent, and more valuable. So Charles didn’t really fall in love with Anna, just her omega scent? Beautiful.

By the end, she finds her true strength. It’s not violence or kicking ass. She’s a soother. And when it comes down to it, and witches need to be fought, she might step up. I wasn’t very impressed with whatever (I won’t say what) is supposed to pass for her growth from victim to hero.

Narrative and Plot Development

I also wasn’t impressed with the story or plot development which is slow in most places and convoluted in others. Briggs’ writing is always grammatically correct, but this can sometimes lead to a boring read. There aren’t any prose that scream creativity or passion or even atmosphere and tone. They’re just words, followed by more words – usually “mate”, “mating”, or “mine”.

The story grabbed me in the first few pages which are told from the perspective of a mysterious man in the cold Montana wilderness, who risks his life to save a young man from being attacked by a beast, becoming one himself. Personally, I liked this idea and wanted to know a lot more about the rogue. A true horror narrative was somewhere in there but it didn’t develop. Instead, most of the pages are dedicated to Charles and Anna’s relationship and how she is trying to overcome her fears. I expected more action than I got – and why were there witches? I’m still not sure if it worked for me.

However, I did like how Briggs swapped character point-of-views often enough that the reader can learn about others. It was done well enough.

Final Thoughts

With a 4.11 rating, I know a lot of people loved this book and will disagree with my criticisms. That’s fine. To each their own. Paranormal romance has never been my thing, and Cry Wolf was simply not the type of werewolf story I was looking for when I picked it up.

I give it 1 spade: ♠* for creativity.

*My rating is based on a five-spade system. The rating is decided based upon how well/uniquely the book: 1) develops story and plot; 2) develops characters; 3) accomplishes or deconstructs the conceits of its genre; 4) raises thought-provoking issues; 5) discusses important issues. This system has been developed according to my own understanding of what makes a book "good." It is therefore subjective.

 

Romance, Necromance

The moonlight showered down upon her skin, making it glow in all the right places. She tried to stay alert; tried to focus on her task.

The leaves rustled, and she couldn’t help but peek. The gravestone remained intact, but seemed to smirk.

Control was key.

A giggle swept through her. The art of control, the art of power – it made her quiver with excitement.

And then there he was.

He stumbled toward her, dazed. And when he approached she saw his eyes had sunken into an abyss. But still, behind them there was a glint of recognition… wasn’t there?

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Bonded

Bonded Excerpt

I’ve never been a penitent person. Some call it mental derangement, some call it sociopathy, but I just call it love. Some say I’m a victim of that love, but I don’t see it that way. I have never been a victim.

Description

A young woman is called upon by a mysterious man to a mysterious manor… and she can’t resist.

Publication Link

Read the complete story for free in the Siren’s Call Ezine, Issue #23: Bat-Shit Crazy for You

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

The Waiting Room

Warren stared down at his form, blankly. He had no idea how to answer questions like, “what is your ideal career?”, or “do you prefer warmer or cooler climates?” Nor did he want to. The truth is, he didn’t much mind being dead, and Limbo suited him well. He wasn’t sure he even wanted to move on, let alone sure he knew where he wanted to go.

But those were the rules. If you were chosen to be a Watcher, you had to go back to somewhere and be someone (covertly).

“Excuse me,” Warren hailed the receptionist but she made an obvious effort to ignore him, again.

He released a sigh of defeat and lowered his eyes back to the form. His number, 057, was fast approaching; once it was called he would have to have some real answers and make some real decisions. The pressure was unbearable. Warren had always had a proclivity towards procrastination and indecisiveness. How had the elders decided he would be a good Watcher? It didn’t seem like his thing.

He had had a comfortable life before the accident. He had managed a meat factory – okay, that wasn’t entirely true. He was the second assistant, but often enough he’d be left in charge. He didn’t have to do much though; in fact, it was an accepted truth that he was only given the promotion to acknowledge his sixteen years of loyal meat-packing service. It was fitting that he had fallen into the meat-grinder and died six months later. The job had consumed his life.

But Limbo was very nice. It was quiet, and polite. Warren liked it.

He looked up. The screen read 038.

Okay, first question: What is your favorite pastime? Button Collecting Bird watching.

‘More outdoorsy.’ Warren smiled, satisfied with his creative response. ‘I always wished I was a bit more outdoorsy.’

What is your favourite season? Summer.

That was a lie. Warren liked Late Fall best because the chill in the air was a good excuse to spend his nights inside. But summer was more suitable for bird watching.

What is your favourite movie?

Warren thought long and hard, rapping his pen against his temple. What was the last movie he had seen? He thought his favourite movie of all time might be something with Indiana Jones, but he couldn’t recall which ones he had seen and which ones he hadn’t. Warren straightened his glasses, an excuse to raise his hand to his brow and discreetly wipe away the sweat.

044.

His heart rate increased as he scribbled down his answer: Indiana Jones. ‘Vague yet direct. All of them, or the most famous one. They’ll get it…’

Warren continued to forge his way through the questionnaire and was nearly done when a new woman entered the waiting room and took a seat next to him. She was beautiful, even though her right arm was severed clean off.

“Lawnmower” she sang out to Warren when she caught him gawking. She didn’t seem offended, at all.

“O-Oh, Oh I’m sorry.” He looked away, blushing.

“You?” She asked through a wide smile.

“Meat Grinder,” he replied, pointing to his bad side. His left arm was mostly gone, the left side of his torso ripped apart, and his left thigh looked as though it had been chomped into.

“I would have guessed shark,” she chuckled flirtatiously.

Warren laughed along nervously. The sweat was streaming now.

“So, where are you off to?” he asked.

“Hawaii, I think. It should suit my free-spirit.”

“Oh? Do you surf?”

“Well, no. I was something of a recluse in my past life. But I’m planning to rebuild my image.”

Warren smiled, and jotted down his final answer. Hawaii, it would be.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

One Hundred, Ninety Nine, Ninety Eight

Enervation was setting in. Colors became opaque, and sounds became feeble.

“You should stop visiting. It takes too much out of you.”

“I can’t help it. I miss you.”

The fog was enveloping me, and a layer of frost was forming on my lips. I was so cold I could no longer feel his touch; ironic, since all I ever came for was his touch. I closed my eyes and directed all of my energy to that one essential sense. Time was unperceivable, except for the dulling of sight, sound, and touch. Scents never dissipated, but that didn’t mean anything to me. I couldn’t smell his warmth, I couldn’t catch a whiff of his fingertips digging into my waist or caressing my shoulders. But, if I could just hold on to his touch a little longer, the arduous journey would be worthwhile.

“I know,” he whispered solemnly, pulling back his hand. He knew there was nothing left for me.

“How long has it been?” I asked. The concept of time passing still meant something to me, even if I could not sense it  myself. Numbers seemed instinctively (or, habitually) important to me. I had to find ways to keep track – superfluous as I knew it was.

“Six months.” He sighed and shrank back. His shape was blending into the fog now.

Six months was good. It was half of a year. It was more than one season. It was enough time to build memories, if I could figure out how to do that. Up to this point, I had only mastered the ability to retain knowledge. I knew him, and was comforted by his familiarity. I missed it when it went away. But I couldn’t remember anything. As it was, the six months had already faded; buried in the crevice of my mind that was once reserved for memory and time. Now it seemed the only parts of me that still worked were the parts that yearned for his presence.

“You should go. It’s time.”

“I know,” I whispered, not willing to admit that I was already gone.

The fog grew heavier; darker even. He was only a shadow now and his voice was surreal. I was no longer hearing it with my ears, but rather recognizing it somewhere in my mind. I knew he was saying words, and I let that be enough as I drifted away.

“What is time?” I mumbled in half awareness.

I knew the answer: just a number of minutes until I could feel him again.

I just needed my strength back; I needed to become whole again, and then I’d be back. And we would be happy, again. And the monsters would sit at bay, so far from us that they would be virtually inconsequential. And no one would control my fate, or take me away, or take him away.

Just a number…” I groaned.

The air wrapped itself around me and dragged me through the blurry darkness. I would be back, in time; whatever that was.

My brain swelled, my fingers shrivelled, my eyes fluttered shut. I exhaled without will. Slow and steady, the release came. I gave in wholly, eased by the calm it brought. But soon, that quiet non-existence would be awoken to awareness again. Awareness of his absence would ignite all of my senses, and send me back to him – until we ran out of minutes, again.

Somewhere, deep inside, I knew I was counting down those precious numbers.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©