BOOK EXCERPTS

DELIVERING VIRTUE, Book 1 of The Epic of Didier Rain, adult fiction

INDEPENDENCE, MISSOURI, 1854 - VIRTUE

 

FITTINGLY, AND WITH THE suspect irony of a prank fabricated by one of the more mischievous gods on their mountaintop, I first met Virtue after an epic bout of debauchery.

     It was morning, although that I did not know. For I was still loitering in my dream, where it was an insufferably hot afternoon. I sat on the bank of a deep muddy river, soaking my feet, watching a tall, bearded man in a robe paddle slowly across the current in an Indian canoe.        Somewhere, someone was pounding a fist against wood, but otherwise, there was no sound besides the sizzle of the sun and the easy lap of water.

     The man drew up in his primitive craft. “Shall I take you across?” he asked.

     I squinted over the river. There were no trees over there, no cool relief of shade, and nothing much to recommend that yonder shore beyond the one where I already was. But I have learned that hope dies hard, and curiosity urged me that perhaps there was something pleasant awaiting me on the other side.

     “Sure,” I told the man. “Just hold on.”

     But when I brought my feet up out of the water, I was dismayed to discover they were not the two appendages I had expected. Hooves! Cloven and dripping. Like something off a billy goat. There was no way in hell they were ever going to fit properly into my boots. I was stricken with the revelation that no matter where I roamed again, people would discern, from the wobble in my gait, that I was not truly a man.

The fist pounding on wood sound grew ever louder as I stood there on that riverbank beneath the burning sun, pondering my future, while growing accustomed to my new hooves.

     Then I heard a voice.

     “Rain!” it called, very far away, as if from out of the sky. “Rain, you there? Answer me, Rain.”

     As I tipped my face to the blue heavens, I inadvertently stirred myself awake, leaving that man waiting for me in his canoe.

     As far as I know, he is waiting there still.

                                                                                                               

Fortuna and the Scapegrace

Book 2 of The Epic of Didier Rain, adult fiction

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - 1855

THE BEFOREHAND

 

 

A SINGLE LONESOME COIN had somehow found itself lodged in the darkest depths of my otherwise unoccupied pocket. How it got there is a happenchance I will forever marvel at as one of my life’s untold pivotal mysteries. For I was, to put it plainly, destitute. My stomach was empty. My clothes were in tatters. I was in desperate need of a big tub of hot water and a bar of soap – preferably perfumed. To rub salt in my well-numbered wounds, it looked as though I would likely be enduring yet another night shivering in a stable with no company but the occasional toe-nibbling rat, and the ghosts of my own troubled past.

     Woe was I!

     But more than all my physical gripes were my invisible sufferings. Nothing hurts so badly as soul pain, and I had what felt to be a terminal case of that particular infirmity. It appeared the gods – once my fun-loving allies – had abandoned me to a dismal fate. Whatever had I done to peeve them so?

     Well, admittedly, there were a number of possibilities.

     But now – hallelujah! – an unforeseen reprieve.

     I held up the coin to inspect its value. The day was entering its dusk, rain was falling, and the light was poor, but I surmised by the coin’s golden glint that at least a few of my worries could be alleviated by way of its worldly worth. I squeezed the treasure in my fist and gazed around to gain my bearings. There is nothing like unexpected riches for giving a man a fresh compass point from which to navigate his next step.

     I looked first this way, then that way.

     That backstreet was filled with naught but smoke and fog.

     One felt himself to be the sole occupant of an otherwise uninhabited city.

     To my surprise, a Chinese man sprang from the nearby shadows, gave me a meaningful nod, and scurried down the sodden lane, skipping puddles, dodging raindrops. He wore a braided ponytail swinging across his back like a bullwhip and carried a dead salmon in one hand by its tail. The fish’s head bumped in the mud as, at last, the man sashayed around a corner and disappeared.

     And that is when my eyes fell upon the makeshift building behind which the fish-toting apparition had so fortuitously vanished. It was most unusual.

     A veritable anomaly.

     A mislaid dream.

     I walked over for a closer look.

Escape from Oblivia 
One Man's Midlife Crisis Gone Primal, Adult fiction

It begins with her voice – a little island of sound arising from this vast sea of silence in which I am drowning.

     “Pardon?” she says.

     I clear my throat, flounder a few strokes in her direction, and rephrase my request. “I said I would like to see the notebooks of Richard Henry Banal, please.” I smile and hold out a slip of paper with Banal’s name printed on it. “Can you help me?”

      She takes my note.

     I watch her eyes – forget-me-not blue. Her damp lips move ever so slightly as she reads. A tendril of black hair falls along her cheek and she absentmindedly tucks it back behind her ear with a middle finger. The gesture, inexplicably, takes my breath, causes my heart to pick up its pace. I feel I have asked for something forbidden.

     She hands back my paper and then, without looking at me directly, says, “I am new at the library. I am unsure where are these notebooks.”

     The trace of an accent. That charming lapse of syntax. French, I think.

     “Oh, well, I can show you! I know right where they are.” I sound a little too courageous. It surprises me. I wonder if the tops of my ears are turning red in that way they did when I was a boy. “If you just want to come with me, to make it official.”

     She considers this, nods indifferently, and pushes away from her desk.

Blue Sky, middle-grade fiction

Old Stone was the only one who saw what happened that day. He was up on his favorite ledge, dozing. He liked being there by himself, away from the rest of the herd. He liked how the early morning sunshine felt on his fur. It warmed his aching bones; it soothed his broken horn. But mostly he liked watching the sparkling white glacier bending away down the steep canyon. When he listened closely, he could hear the ice moaning deep down inside of itself. That sound was the closest thing to music that the beast had ever known - the lulling, motherly voice of the mountains.
     Old Stone was enjoying all of these little pleasures when he spied the tiny figure coming up the moraine.
     “Hrumph!” he grumbled. “What a nuisance.”
     Of course, it was not so unusual to see humans in the massif. Over the years, the old buck had seen his share. But he had never seen one moving so swiftly, with such confidence and skill. And to his recollection, he had never seen a man alone.
In spite of the annoyance, Old Stone found himself curious. He watched the lone hiker travel through the boulder field, and then scramble over the snowy bergschrund to the base of the tallest spire.
     The old ibex chuckled to himself.
     Although many had tried, no human had ever climbed to the top of that looming needle of granite. They always had to back off.     Always. It amused Old Stone that here was yet another person to give it a try.
     But then the man made a gesture that caused Old Stone to take notice. Gently, almost like a prayer, he placed both hands, palms flat, against the rock. And then he bowed his head.
     Old Stone leaned forward, unsure of what he was seeing. It seemed that maybe - Could it be possible? - the man was listening to the voice of the mountains. He was hearing the music. Old Stone had never thought humans capable of anything but silliness. They were always yodeling and hopping around on the rocks like a bunch of clumsy, two-legged rabbits. They certainly didn’t seem to belong in the high mountains. But this fellow here, he was different somehow. Old Stone felt that it was true. This solitary man seemed to be a natural part of the alpine world. He seemed akin to the noble ibex.
     Old Stone couldn’t help himself; he suddenly liked this man.
     Tipping his face to the sky, the man peered all the long way to the top of the spire. He reached up and curled his fingers around a knob of stone. He jammed his boot toe into a crack. And then, with a mighty upward heave, he began to climb.

Pearl, middle-grade fiction

     She was a girl carved from the purest milk-white stone and she rested on the floor of the sea at a depth just far enough down that the wavy light filtered all around her, illuminating her watery world from above.

     Of course, she couldn’t remember her birth. And she had no recollection of how she had come to be at the bottom of the sea.    Because it was all she had ever known, the stone girl assumed it was how it had always been, and for centuries she accepted that simple idea as the explanation for her own existence.

     The girl’s amusements - the ways in which she passed her time - were few, but pleasurable. Sometimes a pair of sleek dolphins cruised by in the near distance. They danced a twirling ballet for the girl as they passed. At other times a purple octopus slithered over her bare feet, its tentacles tickling her toes.

     But the little yellow minnows had become the stone girl’s dearest friends. They were so curious and nervous and shimmery. They often swam just beyond the end of her nose, and for an instant their shining eyes would peer inquisitively into her own.