Nov 28, 2014

Free Fiction for Black Friday

In Your Dreams
Sharon Kae Reamer

"So sweet," he murmurs.

I hit the snooze button.

"You're talking in your sleep again."

"Mmph."

"Harry! Time to get up."

I push my nose under his chin and brush the skin on his neck. It used to work. Not this morning.

"Erdbeermund." He turns over and hugs his pillow. "Come back."

Harald has his head in his laptop, checking emails and appointments by the time I get downstairs. At least he has the machine ready. I push the button and wait for my cup to fill.

"What did you mean, Erdbeermund? Is that one of your new flavors?"

His nervous laugh irks. Everything irks before coffee. I down my first caffeine elixir of the day and get a second cup. "What then?"

He shakes his head. "Don't matter."

"Doesn't matter, dear."

He pecks keys.

"What does it mean? Erdbeer equals strawberry and Mund is mouth. Sounds like a flavor."

His eyes shift up from the screen and quickly back down. "Could be. Good idea. Was just a dream, Trish."

#

Alarm goes off. Sounds, the kinds of groany sounds Harald makes when we have sex. But we aren't. He's turned away from me. I lay a hand on his shoulder.

"Erdbeermund. Don't go."

"Hello, Morning Mouth, time to wake up."

~~~

Janey orders a spaghetti eis. It's a mound of vanilla ice cream with strawberry sauce and sprinkles of white chocolate supposed to look like spaghetti with tomato sauce and Parmesan. She's a lifer, meaning she's been an expatriate forever. Janey knows things. And people. I'm hoping that makes her the high priestess of mixed culture marriages. I drink my cappuccino and wonder how she manages to look like a scarecrow with all she eats.

She waves her spoon at me, digging bits of meaning out of the air.

"Sounds like you and Harald need a ravenous sex weekend. Somewhere exotic. Say, Amsterdam."

I bark at her. "Amsterdam is exotic? Majorca, maybe. At least the sexy beach babes might get his head in the right place."

She snickers. "You've got expat blues. No can speak the language, no job, and too little money. What you need is a sauna membership."

"Are you serious? And sit naked with a bunch of weird men?"

"Nobody looks at anybody in the sauna. Just pretend you're alone."

"Have you seen the men who go to the sauna during the day? They have that hair flap thing to cover their bald spots and hairy stomachs that look like they're about to give birth to perfectly round basketballs and their penises flopping around underneath. Ugh."

She looks up from her eis. "You're right. Remind me to cancel my membership."

"I'm serious, Janey. These dreams are starting to spook me. He's getting it on with Little Miss Strawberry Pout every night. The sheets were even wet the past two mornings."

"I just lost my appetite for vanilla ice cream."

"Sorry. I'm starting to think he's more than halfway to deranged. Maybe he's been inhaling something unhealthy at work. Who knows what kind of weird chemicals they have to sniff all day long."

"Oh, come on. They're flavor engineers, not pesticide developers." Janey glances at the other tables before leaning closer, shaking out her long, blonde hair. "Talk to Angelika."

"Who's she?"

"She's German but nice. She had the same problem with her husband."

"How do you know that?"

Janey shrugs and pushes her dish across the table. "Word got around. We went out to dinner with them a few times back before…"

I wait. Jenny worries a cuticle. "Need another manicure this week. Want to go with me?"

"Janey, what about Angelika? Why did you stop going out with them?"

"Because them is not them anymore. Her ex left. Quit the company, moved away. She found someone else. I don't know what happened to him. Frank never told me."

"So how do you know the same thing happened to her?"

"I heard it from one of the other wives. I didn't think anything about it, thought maybe she was making a bad joke at Angelika's expense. You know, that weird German sense of humor."

"Do you know how to get in touch with her?"

Janey flips her purse open and excavates. She exclaims in triumph and slides a card across the table. "Here. That's her number and address."

~~~

I twirl the card on one corner of the kitchen table and take another deep drink of red wine. Harald still isn't home, and I'm staring at a noodle casserole gone cold. Headless worms burrow through a pile of hamburger-colored boulders. All covered with cheese. I pick up the phone.

Voice message greets me. I leave my name and number and hang up. Thirty seconds later the phone rings.

"Hi."

"Who is this?"

"Trish Ober. Is this Angelika?"

"I don't know you."

"Janey gave me your name. I need to talk to someone."

"What about?"

"I don't know how to say this…my husband has dreams."

"You don't say. Where do you live?"

"Uh…"

"I'd rather meet you privately and at your place, if you don't mind. Then we can talk."

"Okay. When?"

"Tomorrow afternoon?"

I give her my address and hang up as I hear Harald's key in the front door. Harald greets me with a warm kiss and a bouquet of roses. This is something…I’m imagining everything…it’s not really happening. Maybe I should call Angelika back, cancel the appointment. As Harald sweeps me into his arms, I decide it can wait until morning.

~~~

"Erdbeermund, don't go. It was only a flirt. Please…"
 
"Harry."

"aaaaaaaah."

I push him out of the bed.

"Was? What?"

"Time to get up."

He trudges to the bathroom, rubbing his head. I turn over, wondering how to hurry the hours before Angelika arrives.

~~~

The doorbell rings promptly at three.

Everything is ready. Tea in the teapot, coffee in the coffeepot, me in the chair across from Angelika, the seat already warm from two hours of waiting. I pour tea into a faded-flowers-on-faded-white background cup that I inherited from Harald's mother after we moved to Germany. I tap the rim of my cup.

Instead of speaking, Angelika reaches into a dark gray handbag, worn leather with spidery cracks running through it, fine webs of wear that give it a faded glory patina, a little like Angelika. She pulls out a small velvet-covered case and runs a hand over the cover. She opens a flap and pulls out a deck of cards illustrated with men and women in interesting positions.

She hands the deck to me. "Shuffle them and lay three out in a row on the table in front of you."

Angelika moves my cup and saucer and wipes her hand across the wood surface in front of me to clear a place. I look at her as I shuffle. Her dark brown eyes hold no trace of humor. None whatsoever. And those small lines creasing the edges are not laugh lines.

I lay three cards in a horizontal line. The first card shows a man and a woman, naked but holding hands and looking forward, walking. The second card shows a lightning bolt striking down between the two of them. I can’t tell if it is the same pair as on the first card because their faces are so generic, but it could be. The third card shows two couples, entwined, enthralled, stuck together Lego-like.

"You want to pair me up with someone. You're really from one of those dating agencies aren't you? Or I'm supposed to sleep with strange men in my spare time? Revenge? Pocket change? Not interested."

She wrinkles her nose and hesitates, her fingers hovering above the cards I've laid out. "Don't be so rude. You called me, remember?"

"Yeah. Janey recommended you, but she hangs weird sometimes, goes to Botox parties even, so I don't know. Wait, I do know." I scratch at my head. "Oh, okay, the joke is on me. I'll tell Janey it was a Big
Funny."

"Does he dream about her every night?"

"Who's her?"

"You know, the one who he talks to, in his sleep. Or how did you find out about her?"

"Why did Janey put you up to this? This is to humiliate me, isn't it?"

"No. You are probably suffering enough as it is."

My mouth is so dry. I pour more tea.

"He calls her Erdbeermund. I thought it was one of his new flavors, but he didn't seem to know what I was talking about."

She shakes her head. "You have to fight for him. But only if you really want him. It won't be easy. The dream women know exactly how to mold themselves. His every need. His every want. And they don't have to go shopping or shave their legs."

I resist the urge to look down. Did she shave her legs? Most German women over a certain age didn't, but she doesn't look that old. For that matter, I hadn't shaved in a couple of days. Okay, maybe five or even six.

But there had been no reason to. Harald was preoccupied.

"What can I do about it? Has this happened to you? What did you do?"

She taps a fingernail on the middle card. "I lost my husband. He didn't manage to break free of her, his dream girl. I tried to exorcise her, to rip him away from her."

I blurt out the words, not thinking. "What do you mean, too late, is he dead?"

She smiles, sad, to go with the hurt in her eyes. "No, not dead. But I changed him. Should have just let him go, let him find his own way back, but there you have it."

She hands me the card, the couple singed apart by the lightning bolt. "Take this with you." She pulls a business card out of her pocket. "Go here and talk to her."

The card has a leopard print motif with green lianas as lettering. "Zeebra Tropicana? Is that a place or a person?"

A wry grin appears as she stands to go. "Both. She can help you, but what you want. You better decide before you act."

~~~

She waits on a customer so I wander farther back into the dense jungle of her shop. It is filled with hip-high statues of cheetahs and black-tusked elephants, a few carved wooden totems, tall dour men with stretched faces and long spears. I hear a bird squawking, and don't know if it's real or a recording. The place smells like patchouli oil and chili-flavored chocolate. Vines rank everywhere, just like on her card. But no zebras.

"Can I help you find something?"

Zeebra Tropicana has waist-long, straight black hair tied into a long tail with a bright red and black print scarf. She fills the room with her presence – it is compelling and comforting in a strange, almost divine sense.

She looks divine, tall and angular with dark creamy skin and exotic brown eyes. Must be the patchouli working.

"Hi! That's an intense fragrance. Is that incense? A really exotic-smelling candle? I'm just browsing, really."

Her once-over with tilted head and straightened shoulders and the skeptical look that follows tell me I have not fooled her. I clear my throat and wipe my hands on my stretch pants.

Harald withdrew even further from me in the weeks following Angelika's visit. He trudged home from work late and fell immediately into bed. Some nights he took a pill to get to sleep. I responded with homemade remedies. My sexiest nightgown. The Body Shop premium wares. Steak and red wine. Oysters even.

Anything to get him back in my bed. But Harald didn't want any oysters, and he didn't want any of me. All he wanted was to go to bed early and dream about his Strawberry Sadie. Did she even have a name?

Returning from shopping yesterday was the ultimo trick. As I passed by a market stall on the Breite Strasse, a handwritten sign proclaiming ERDBEERMUND, 2.99 Euro/kg caught my eye. No matter that it really said ERDBEERE. I pictured her then. Eastern European, all frail and thin but with perfect breasts and a huge pouty mouth.

The stall was full of strawberry buckets full of Erbeermund, full red lips with upturned corners. The bag of groceries I carried splotched and rolled all over the sidewalk. It took all my will to keep from splotching my guts out before I got home and into the bathroom. No way I would ever eat strawberries again. And no way I could compete with that.

I didn't call ahead. I wanted to see Miss Zeebra Tropicana for myself before making a commitment. Angelika had warned me about that. Decide before I act.

"And here I am."

Zeebra leans back on her sofa, a thick pile of jumbled cushions. I hand her the lightning bolt card Angelika had given me. She takes it without looking as she leans over to a small chest of drawers, an oriental design of black lacquer with an inlaid tile surface.

She pulls something out of a drawer, and I take in a breath and lean forward from my cushions. But it is only a candle that she sets down in front of us on the low teak table.

"Close your eyes," she says after she lights it. "Relax."

Patchouli again, this time without the chocolate. I do as I'm told.

"To take him back, you must be brave."

I wait, but she doesn't continue. Is she waiting for a response? "Brave," I say.

"You must be bold."

"Bold."

"And. You must be sure about what you want."

I peek through one partly opened eye. She holds the card with the separated lovers just above the candle. A small brown spot appears at the corner nearest the flame.

Not sure what to say this time, I nod.

She shakes her head. "Not good enough."

"I want him."

I hear a sound like a strangled laugh. "Who's him?"

"Oh. Harald. My husband."

"It's not what you say, it's what you want that's important. Close both eyes tight and picture him."

I try to picture Harald's face with his little-boy smile and unruly hair, but the image flickers like a candle. I try again, and the face fades a little. Is that a different face? The song Zeebra is singing, punctuated with humming, makes me drowsy.

The pop of burning paper mixes with the smell of incense. Was that the card? I feel warm and hear a buzzing sound. No, it's just the humming. Or is it waves on the shore? The water is warm at least, and the sand feels fine and yields to my back as the waves sizzle around me...

"You can open your eyes now."

A little pile of ashes in a dish sit next to the candle Zeebra has blown out.

I smile tentatively. "Is everything all right now?"

She looks at me quizzically. "Of course. Everything is always all right."

I shook my head. "No, I mean, is my problem solved?"

She tilts her head back and laughs, a deep, full sound and holds her stomach. It goes on longer than I would like.

"Sorry," she says, wiping a tear from one eye. "That was really good." She replaces the candle in the drawer and adjusts her colorful linen pants underneath her creamy draped tunic. "Look, Trish, do you mind if I call you that?"

"No."

"Now is when the work starts. You have to go in and get him." She hands me a pack of cards in a velvet case.

"What is it I have to do, exactly?"

"Eat healthy. No alcohol, no drugs, especially no sleeping pills. Go to sleep. Then you'll dream."

I stand to go, but Zeebra Tropicana lays a hand on my arm. "And don't worry."

~~~

The first time in.

I'm walking through a town ringed with amusement park buildings where no one lives with mountains no man has ever climbed. My steps clank on wooden sidewalks. Is this Durango? Harald and I spent a happy week there after our first Christmas to escape my relatives. Only when we were there it was full of people, self-centered ski bunnies and bronzed young men populating the bars and restaurants

We had laughed at them all, had a grand time drinking and eating. Harald zischt down the black diamond slopes and I managed to ski-sashay down the easy ones. We met up evenings at the hot tub. Had there been an Erdbeermund there? I hadn't noticed. I only had eyes for him.

Where would they be? I find the small hotel where we stayed, adjacent to the resort, and wander through the lobby, turning this way and that.

"Harald?" My voice is small. It belongs to a rabbit far from its hole, no ski bunny, me.

The resort pool is a short march across the short grass. No snow. As I enter through the glass door, I hear tinkling laughter, echoing voices.

Two bodies float in the pool, drifting apart, then together, a human Rorschach. But the interpretation seems pretty clear to me.

"Harry."

No answer.

"Harry!"

The thin, small-waisted girl swims away from my Harald. He floats to the edge of the pool nearest me.

"Trish? What are you doing here? How—"

"The magic of love. She's not real, Harald. Come back."

Giggles erupt from the shallow end of the pool. It's not lit, and I can't see her face in the dim afternoon light.

He swims off to join her, and I feel faint as I lay out three cards in a horizontal line by the side of the pool. Lightning bolt is in the middle again. I don't even note the other two cards.

~~~

It gets harder.

Each time the card with the couple and the bolt from above shows up. The faces blur and fade a little more each time, but it could be the tears that well up. One time we are in Vienna. Another time, Santorini. All places Harald and I have been. Happy times. What is he looking for? Our past with someone else? The thought creeps me out.

Even creepier. We aren't alone any more. I don't know who these people are. Dream people? Am I going insane along with Harald? He seems content in his slide, except when I confront him. He runs to her each time. What am I doing wrong?

I sit in a pub in London on the Thames. Near the Tower Bridge. It is late afternoon, as it almost always is in the dream, and the light is wan and liquid buttery. Sounds seem muffled. They will come by any minute now. My arrival always seems timed to coincide with their passage in some way.

Thinking about it makes me ill.

The strong bitter quenches my thirst. People stride by outside. This seems all too real. Not like a dream at all. I'm losing my life.

Zeebra warned me even if not directly. She said to concentrate only on what I want. That was the nature of the magic, if magic it was. I am not sure. About that, or about what I want. Is my uncertainty leading me from my path, from everything that has meaning in the real world? Harald has become the dream. Him and his lover. They know exactly what they want. All the time, too.

"Haven't seen you here before." He has curls, dishwater blond ones, but they don't look ridiculous on him. A slender face and gentle, curious eyes of deep brown.

"No. Just passing through." I smile and look past him, out into the street, not wanting to miss their passage.

They glide into view, walking arm-in-arm. She leans her head on his shoulder. I leave my beer and my new acquaintance and charge out into the street. I am lightning bolt.

I stiff-arm her away from him, and she huffs at Harald. I ignore her. Harald shades his eyes with his hands as if dazzled by the sun, but he's looking away from the sun, looking at me. At least it's a start.

"Harald. Stop it. You belong with me in the real world. Don't you remember?"  I wave my arm in the direction of the Tower. "We were here. We slobbered over the crown jewels and made believe we were Princes in the Tower about to be killed. It made us cry." I wave both arms around. "We made out on the bridge. You said you couldn't help yourself. Do try and think about it. This isn’t you."

Harald's dream woman holds out her arms, pouting. He frowns at me and opens his mouth like he's about to speak, but his eyes drift to her. I remember Angelika's words. Tried to rip him away from her. The little boy smile appears, and I know it then. I can't do it. He's so happy. If I tear him away, what will I have gained? I'll have him back but at what price? Will he pine for her every night?

I've lost. The worst thing is, I no longer care. The thought should scare me or make me angry or sad. It doesn't. This Harald is no longer what I want. The other Harald is gone.

I stumble back into the pub, pulling the cards out of my pocket. My beer is still there, even warmer now. I sit and lay out my three cards.

No lightning bolt. This time, a woman and a man, holding hands. She leans against him and he has one arm around her. Her hair entwines them both. The same card, three times. Harald and his sweetheart, happily ever frigging after.

"It's probably not what you think it is."

My curly blond friend sits next to me. He points to the cards.

"I don't see any hidden message there," I say, a sulk creasing my brow.

"It means fortune and life," he says, and touches a finger to my hand holding the deck. "Time to look for it."

His gentle voice has a note of chiding in it. I nod and make my way out of the pub.

~~~

It's been six weeks since I left Harald. I saw him last when the movers came to collect my stuff from his flat. He seemed different, more alive. I asked him how he's been, and his face lit up.

"It's really good. I've met someone, Trish. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of you."

Of course she does. Except for that Erdbeermund. I have come to understand it. He never wanted me. He was always looking for her. I just got in the way. And now he's found her.

"Good for you, Harald," I want to say to him, in my dreams. But they stopped, too.

I'm sitting by the river. It's late afternoon, an early fall day, and the Rhine has taken on that magical color, a deep dark blue. A golden haze settles over the people walking by the river, the grass, the sky. I've ordered a glass of very dry white wine to go with the day. I take out the card, the one I received in triplicate in my dream, the man and the woman holding hands. Fortune and life. Fortune found me. I've got a job. And I suppose I have my life back, even though it feels so empty without Harald.

 "That's a lovely card. Is it part of a Tarot deck?" He stands by my table, stopped on his way to somewhere else, the sun at his back, setting those blond curls ablaze.

I smile up at him.

The End
©Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.


Nov 24, 2014

Schattenreich Mythology: Warrior Goddesses, Dark Queens, and Black Friday specials

Her name is Cathubodua (possibly pronounced cahú-bodwa or catú-bodwa) and what we know about her is limited to one main inscription (with the 'C' missing) from France. The name according to several sources, has been interpreted to mean 'battle crow'.

That's not much, is it?

But there is correspondence to the other more widespread fertility and warrior goddesses such as Badb or Bodb, Nemain, and the Morrígan (also known as the Demon Queen or Dark Queen). What these fearsome ladies have in common is their love of battle and death, their fertility powers, their temper, and their ability to transcend age and outward appearance, and their shapeshifting abilities.

In the Schattenreich series, I have incorporated many of these qualities into the Breton-Gaulish deity called Cathubodua. She commands a cohort of the Folk (the Tud) who can shapeshift into frightening and dangerous forms of crows/ravens (there are no real animals in Ande-dubnos).

What makes her special is her relevance. Despite her totally Celtic origin - there is no real equivalence in the Germanic or even the Greco-Roman pantheon - she continues to thrive. I've chosen this actuality in spite of the softening of female deities since the Iron Age through persistent and detrimental whittling down by Christian (and New Age pagan) influence.

Goddesses with a darker bent just cannot be beaten down. The reasons for my choice have to do with how society has evolved to totally negate and, to a certain extent, bury the ancient reverence for powerful female symbols of both war and fertility. The need for such symbols exists, even today, perhaps much more than ever. But that's just my opinion. Take it or leave it.

Cathubodua serves as both adversary and teacher to heroes (and heroines, as the case may be). A telling line from her conversation with Catilin von der Lahn in Shadow Zone, Book 4 of the Schattenreich series explains the dichotomy

"Can I ask you something else?” I made my voice soft. When I returned to my life, my enemies would be waiting for me along with the people I loved.

She gazed at me, and the motherly crone appeared. “You may.”

“Why do you pit Dagmar against me?”

“She makes her own choices.”

“And if I defeat her? Will that make you my enemy?”

“I have no interest in your squabbles in the waking world as I have little influence there. Unfortunate, that is. You are of the blood. Only those who choose to be my enemy are.”

And that sums up Cathubodua's philosophy quite well. She wants to walk among us again...and waits for her chance. As so many of the Ande-dubnos dwellers.

Book 2 of the Schattenreich
Book, 1 of the Schattenreich
And now, Black Friday. All this week and through the weekend, Primary Fault and Shaky Ground are discounted to $0.99 at many retail outlets. 









References and recommended further reading:

Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe, H. R. Ellis Davidson
The Gods of the Celts, Miranda Green
Celtic Culture, A historic encyclopedia, John, T. Koch
The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore, Patricia Monaghan

photo credit: chrisotruro via photopin cc

Nov 10, 2014

Albedo One Magazine - Issue 45 available in ebook and print

Albedo One Issue 45 

From David Conyers at Albedo One:

The latest issue of Albedo One features new fiction from TD Edge, Stephen Gaskell, Martin McGrath, Kelly Rede, Jacey Bedford, David Conyers and Luigi Musolino. Also featured is an in-depth interview with Hugo Award-winning hard science fiction author Peter Watts, interview with zombie-superhero crossover author Peter Clines, cover art by Ken Barthelmey, and reviews columns from Juliet E. McKenna and George Anderson.

If you would like to check out more of the amazing illustrations of our cover artists, Ken Barthelemy, visit his website at www.theartofken.com.

At long last, we are pleased to announce that you can now purchase issue 45 in the Albedo One Shop in print and eBook (.epub and .mobi (for Kindle)) formats
and at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com.au and Amazon.ca. Moreover, from issue 45, our eBook formats will be available for just 2.99 euro. Enjoy! Subscribers should also start to see their print copies land on their doorsteps in the coming weeks!