Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cinders Post #5

Notes:  Success!!!  My massive edits for Changing Worlds are off to the publisher for round two, and I finally got the next Cinders post done.  It's not as long as I had hoped, but still, progress is made.  This isn't the happiest chapter, nor is there any sex, but go on, read it anyway.  The next part should be considerably more upbeat.

Title: Cinders

Part Five: You Missed A Spot




***







Asher’s stepsisters like to talk.  They’re constantly talking, to their mother or to each other or to themselves.  They even talk to him when he’s in the room, as if something is better than nothing at all, as if their conversations with their mirrors palls enough after a while that even Asher’s presence is desirable.  Their preference is to double-team him, to play off of each other’s spiky witticisms and jabs.  Asher puts up with this because a) the satisfaction of mouthing off to them just isn’t worth it, and b) sometimes he actually learns something worth learning.  He’s been in this place for a week, and it’s slowly but surely driving him crazy.  Asher doesn’t really know what this place is or why the fuck he’s here, but if time is passing the same way for Ty that it is for him then he knows the kid is going crazy.  They fight, it’s an inescapable part of basically living in each other’s pockets, but he’s never just run away like this.  It’s the longest stretch of time they’ve been apart since Asher found Ty three years ago, and it feels like he’s missing a limb.

The jerkface part of Asher kind of wonders how much Ty is missing him.  Like, is he heaving a few sighs in the morning before getting on with his day, studying and watching TV and going about his life with just a slightly more hang-dog expression, or is he breaking down?  Is he lying on Asher’s half of the bed and breathing into his pillow and crying big girly tears and fucking losing it?  Does he miss Asher so much that he isn’t eating, isn’t making it to class, can’t even look at all the pretty, hopeful college girls who want to date him because he’s so sunk in remorse he can barely move?  Asher thinks it’s probably the latter, and he kind of likes that.

Then he kind of hates himself for feeling that way, because this is Ty, and no matter how much he wants to be that important to the kid, he doesn’t want him to hurt like that.  In fact, at this point nothing would make Asher happier than for him to show up again and for no time to have passed, for Ty to be asleep or studying or still mad at him or anything, just not missing him.  Ty has missed enough people in his life; Asher doesn’t need to be adding to the list.

This is what he’s thinking about as he cleans out Pinky’s fireplace.  Pinky has a name, he just doesn’t care to use it, and besides it’s something that sounds French and has an accent on the second syllable that he just knows he’s going to fuck up, even if it’s just in his head.  Pinky usually wears pink, so it works for her, plus he likes the fact that she has her own theme song in his mind, the one from the cartoon “Pinky and the Brain.”  She seems about as bright as the lanky animated mouse, but not as funny.

His other stepsister he calls Envy, not just because green is the color of jealousy and she wears it a lot, but because she really is a jealous person.  She’s smarter than Pinky, thinks she’s smarter than everyone, and has a dark word and a searching look for absolutely everything.  She followed Asher from her room into Pinky’s today, and Asher can feel her eyes boring into him as he works, making sure that Pinky’s fireplace isn’t going to get any cleaner than hers.  No one can have more than Envy.

“You work so slowly,” Pinky pouts from where she’s spread on a divan, splitting her time in looking out the window and commenting on everything Asher does.  “Honestly, I’ve seen mud-grubbing little village urchins work faster than you do on your best day.”

“There’s very little difference between the two,” Envy points out dulcetly.  “You missed the back corner, little cinder boy.  You should do it again.”

Asher doesn’t say anything, just scrapes the bundle of sticks that passes for a brush over the back of the fireplace.  Again.  He’s filthy and his back hurts from being bent over all morning and he hasn’t even gotten to his stepmother’s room yet, and that’s a whole new level of being looked down upon, but at least she’s mature enough to prefer ignoring him to talking at him.

They chat about nonsense, fashions that Asher can’t picture and beauty remedies that involve egg whites and a lot of patience.  He finishes with the fireplace and gets up, lifts his ever-present bucket and prepares to get out while the getting’s good.  He’s not fast enough.

“Just a moment.”  Pinky stares at him and wrinkles her perfect nose.  “Lord, just looking at you makes my skin crawl.  I think I need a bath after the experience.  Go and heat me some water, piglet.  But clean your hands before you carry it to my tub.  I don’t want any of your ash falling in and fouling the water.”

“What an excellent thought, sister,” Envy says, her eyes narrowing in a way that Asher knows means she wishes she had thought of having a bath first.  “I think I’ll have one as well.  Go and cut some fresh lavender sprigs to steep in it.  Only put them in once the water is hot, mind.”

The cauldron in the kitchen takes four buckets of water to fill.  It takes three cauldrons of water to fill one bathtub, and each sister has her own, behind a painted screen in her room.  Their rooms are on the second floor.  Not to mention, Cook is undoubtedly working on lunch at the moment, and the last thing she wants to do is give up the fireplace for bathwater, so he’ll get to fight with her about that.  Asher glares at the women and wishes, for about the hundredth time, that this place had running water.  Life was so much easier when you could just turn a tap and…



Asher found Cassie in the bathtub.  He hadn’t walked home with her that day; he had been kept late after school for detention, so she had made her way home alone.  It wasn’t the first time Cassie had done that, so Asher hadn’t been too worried.  His brothers were there, and so was his dad, not that the man was doing anything other than sleeping, probably.  He worked an early shift and usually only saw his kids at the occasional dinner when they were all in the same place at the same time.

Detention was longer than usual, because Asher called the teacher watching him a dick when the man wouldn’t let him use his Gameboy.  So he spent two hours in a stuffy classroom instead of one, and another half an hour getting back home.  It was a Monday, so when he got in he walked to the living room and fully expected to see Cassie in her red and blue swimsuit watching The Little Mermaid with the fishbowl sitting on the table.

The movie was playing, but it was the very end, where a gigantic Ursula was flinging lightning bolts around and about to be run through with a ship.  Asher knew this was his sister’s least favorite part of the movie, it always made her a little scared.  Maybe that was why she wasn’t here for it.  “Cassie?” he called out, putting his backpack on the floor.  “Cassie?”  No answer.  He walked down the hall and checked her bedroom.  Her school clothes were in a heap on the floor, but there was no Cassie.

Howard and Kyle were in the rec room, leaning against the couch and playing Grand Theft Auto 2.  They didn’t even look over when he came in.  “Where’s Cassie?”

“No clue,” Kyle said distractedly, running over a prostitute with his car.

“But she didn’t leave or anything, right?”

“Dude, I don’t fucking know, you’re her babysitter.  Get the gun, get the gun!” he yelled at Howard.  Asher turned and left them alone, going back to the living room with a strange, heavy feeling in his chest.  He looked around.  There were a few wet spots on the carpet, a little darker than the other stains, so probably fresh.  Cassie couldn’t carry the fishbowl very well, it was still a little big for her, but it wasn’t in its usual place so she must have taken it with her, sloshing all the way.  Asher followed the splashes to the bathroom door.

“Cassie?” he said, knocking on the closed door.  “Are you in here?”  There was no answer.  “Cassie, c’mon.”  He turned the handle and went inside.  A few feet into the room, Asher froze.  He knew it was the wrong thing to do, knew he should be moving, but he couldn’t help it.

The fishbowl was sitting on the toilet seat, half-empty.  The gravel and miniature castle were all lumped on one side, like the bowl had been tilted.  Poured out.  The bathtub was full to the brim, with a ring of water spread across the tile almost as far as the sink.  The water was pink, not clear.  Pink.  Cassie was there, in her red and blue bathing suit, face down in the water.  Her head was bleeding.  The cut was as long as Asher’s index finger, but she was bleeding very slowly.

Asher broke out of his paralysis and ran to the tub.  He must have made some kind of noise, something loud, because by the time he had pulled Cassie out of the water his brothers were there, and his dad was right behind them, rubbing at his sleep-crusted eyes and shoving past the boys.  Kyle turned pale and puked on the carpet and Howard looked like he wanted to do the same, but Asher didn’t care.  He was holding onto Cassie and she wasn’t moving, her eyes were open but she wasn’t moving, she wasn’t breathing…

His father shoved him back.  “Call 911!” he yelled at Asher, pulling Cassie into his own arms.  Taking her away from Asher.  Asher reached for her again, but then his dad hit him across the face, hard.  The shock of it made tears spring to his eyes.  His father had never hit him before that day.  “Go get the goddamn phone and call 911!” he snarled.

Asher had gotten to his feet, moved past his useless brothers, even more useless and frozen than he was, and went and called 911.



“Are you utterly useless?”

The shrill voice breaks through the memory, pulling Asher out of that other place and back to where he is now, which is to say, in the company of two shrieking harpies.

“Can’t you even follow the simplest instructions?” Envy demands.  “Or is the task we’ve given you too complex for a little piglet?  I told you—”

“A royal carriage!” Pinky breaks in, sitting up abruptly and leaning out the window.  Envy turns at once to her sister and Asher takes a second to get his head right.  Baths.  Right.  No running water, no problem.  He should be leaving, but the way his stepsisters are acting is totally out of characteristic for them.  That is to say, they’re flustered as hell.

“Is it coming this way?” Envy asks, brushing a few strands of hair back from her face.

“No,” Pinky reports with disappointment.  “It’s going on—wait!  A rider is breaking off!  He bears the prince’s standard!  Sister, we must get downstairs at once!”

Asher presses back against the wall as the two tumble past him in a frenzy, checking each other for assurance of their beauty even as they rush towards the stairs.  He puts his bucket down and goes over to the window, watching as the rider draws close.  The horse moves like the wind, as idyllically far from normal as everything seems to be here, but the rider has no problem staying on the thing’s back.  He’s carrying some sort of flag, quartered with fleur-de-lis and stylized dolphins opposite each other.  Asher has no idea what that means, but this is the most interesting thing that’s happened here since he arrived and he craves a distraction, anything to reroute his brain after thinking about Cassie.  He grabs up his stuff and heads downstairs, ready to find out more about what’s going on.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Man, I Know.

Seriously, I know I owe you a Cinders.  I haven't been able to get to it this week, guys, too much editing to go through on Changing Worlds, and I'm trying to finish up my submission for the Goodreads Love is Always Write event so my betas have plenty of time to go over it before the due date.  I will give you a Cinders next week, I swear, a lovely long one.

 In the meantime, I'll share a little part of my LiAW submission.  This part's not rated R, sadly, but it does set things up pretty well with regards to the prompt and the picture.  Don't remember what those are?  Let me help you.



Dear Author,


One angel, one demon. Ancient enemies. Lifetimes of yearning. For millennia the demon Renat has loved the angel Emiel from afar. One kiss was all they ever shared, ages and ages ago. When Emiel is captured and imprisoned in Hell, Renat knows he will risk anything to rescue Emiel and return him to Heaven, even if it means facing the wrath of Satan himself.


Please find a way for this lonely demon to save his angel and get his long-awaited happy ending


Remember, not edited yet, not perfect, but I hope you like it anyway.  Happy Friday, darlins!


***





Farewell, happy fields, Where joy forever dwells! Hail horrors! hail, Infernal World! and thou, profoundest Hell, Receive thy new possessor! One who brings A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

Milton, Paradise Lost - Book I



ii

                The demon Renat liked to spend what time he had to himself in the Fields of the Damned.  Broken souls were planted there, and it was the responsibility of the demons overseeing the fields to see that they grew as twisted and tormented as their sins merited.  Renat himself was not an overseer of the damned.  He was a powerful demon, one of the original Fallen and a Prince of Hell, but when the mood took him he would fly on ruined wings to the fields, alight on the black, charred ground, and go for a walk. 

With his wings folded away, sword sheathed and eyes half-closed and pensive, he could almost be mistaken for a handsome young man as he drifted through the fields, his arms outstretched towards the blossoming tufts of soul within reach of his fingertips.  Tongueless mouths shrieked as he brushed them, the soul filaments flaming with the fire that burned inside of Renat.  Memories of lost passion and bitter regret flowed through creatures whose only respite was forgetting their transgressions.  One touch and every wicked word, every evil action was brought back to them in full, and the cries of dismay his presence brought were a satisfying melody to Renat’s ears.  If he should suffer the consequences of disobedience, then the human souls consigned to Hell’s thoughtful cruelties should suffer so much more.  After all, they were the ones who had caused this hateful division in the first place.  They should feel the brutal price of their own existence.

The newest souls, those who had no direct experience with him, occasionally begged him for mercy.  From a distance Renat might be thought a mortal, vulnerably nude; up close it was clear he was a celestial being, second only to Satan in terms of his absolute beauty.  Where he who was once the Morning Star was all light, though, Renat’s hair was a stream of darkness that fell in a straight glossy sheet down his back, so clean and pure that each strand gleamed like a mirror, reflecting the twisted faces of the damned back at themselves and filling them with even more misery.  His eyes were reddish-gold, shining with the strength of his dominant presence.  His body was smooth and lissome, and his face was so perfect that it could only have originated in Heaven.

No one saw the hellfire tattoo that burned against the base of his neck, placed there at the founding of Hell by the only angel with more strength and bitterness in him than Renat himself.  No mortal soul saw the tattered remnants of his wings, the physical representation of every angel’s grace.  Very few ever saw the inside of his home, a vast obsidian castle that cut the feet of all who dared to approach it without wings of their own.  Renat held himself apart from the dark revelry of Hell, a pathetic offering to the memory of the one he loved, but a simple ode was better than no recognition at all.  Renat could never forget that he was damned, cut off from God and all of the blessings of his presence, but he could remember why it had seemed worth it at the time, and honor the source of that decision.

Gravel crunched behind him.  Renat turned and received the obeisance of the cloven-hoofed demon that had approached him.  The creature was over twice his height, horned and hairy and fierce, but he knew to show respect for his master.  “Speak, Nergal.”  His voice was as sweet and smooth as honey, mustering up such tender remembrances to the listening souls that they screamed with agony over the eternal loss they suffered.

Nergal lifted his eyes towards Renat.  They were black from edge to edge, and seemed to suck in the light of the hellfire.  “My Prince, an angel has been brought through the Western Gate.”

***

(I know, a horrible place to end a snippet, but I gotta work with what I have, folks.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Edit me, baby.

Soooo...

I had no idea what edits really were until today.  That's because my novel, Changing Worlds, came back to me this afternoon and let me say, if my editor hadn't taken a pause in the beginning to let me know she actually really liked the story, I might have cried.  Today, I learned the real difference between a beta reader and an editor.  A beta reader is generally a friend, probably someone who likes my work, and usually limits him or herself to suggesting improvements and notesing grammar/spelling errors.  An editor is someone who is under no contract, friendly or otherwise, to like what I've produced.  This person is being paid to do a job, and a thorough one at that.  This person has studied structure, style and form and would probably hand me my ass in a game of Scrabble.  This person is the one who won't let me defend my plot points or word choices with "I just like it this way."  Madam, I salute you.  You make me feel so adult.  You also make me feel a little childish as well, actually; it's the nature of the beast.

This is my longest publication to date, and definitely the most thoroughly gone over.  I have two weeks to make changes, and I think I'm going to need all of them.  My publisher and I are working on a blurb for the story that I'll share when its readable, and the artist is currently doing sketches for the cover.  Actual sketches, not just beautiful photoshopping.  I admire it all, but I'm really looking forward to a cover drawn just for me *helpless giggle*  God, I need to stop it with the beer.  It's making me silly.

Happy St. Patricks Day, guys!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cinders Post #4

Notes:  Now there's a Cinders story page where you can catch up if you don't want to hunt down the first posts.  Every new part will subsequently be posted there as well.  This particular post is R-rated, so don't be shocked but do be happy!  I know I was happy writing it:)

Title: Cinders

Part Four: Drowning in Tide Pools




***



The narrative is flowing better now.  Progress is being made.  The hero’s stubbornness could still be an issue but at least introductions have happened, and honestly a little sullenness isn’t a bad thing.  The story’s earliest heroine might have been a devotee of the practice of turning the other cheek, even though her prince wasn’t, but that particular trait is the hardest to fill with each new iteration.  A certain amount of resistance has been built into the fabric of the tale at this point, but it rarely ends up detracting from the effect.  Messiah figures, after all, are meant to be rare and special, not to pop up in every story floating around the world at the drop of a hat.

Not that this protagonist is entirely without those selfless traits.  He’s capable of giving a great deal with very little expectation of return.  He’s so good at lying to himself about what he wants that he can barely remember what his own precious desires are.  He has untapped reservoirs of adoration inside of him, passionate feelings that haven’t really had an outlet for years.  Every greater emotion exists as a separate little tide pool in his soul, only combining and being expressed under crushing waves of duress.

It would be better if he were a little more willing to work with those big emotions, actually.  The narrative demands more than stubbornness, it demands the heights of love and despair as well.  This…this could take some prodding.
 

***


Asher gets his tunic back in the morning, just as the eastern edge of the sky is starting to lighten.  Work begins early on a farm, apparently, and that’s an excellent thing, because he hasn’t been able to catch a minute of sleep all night.  Every time he curled up just enough to start feeling his own body warmth, the wind would kick up and drive his comfort away.  He’s exhausted, but a chance to sleep is not forthcoming.  A kick to the shin is.

“Up, boy!”  It’s the cook.  Asher doesn’t think she actually sleeps.  She looks exactly the same as she did when she kicked him out last night, the same clothes, the same hairstyle.  There’s nothing mussed or wrinkled about her severe appearance, and that’s just not right.  She throws him his tunic, which he gratefully puts on, itchiness be damned, and follows it up with sandals.  The tunic has a rough pouch sewn into the front, where he puts his tiny passenger.  He hopes the mouse has the good sense not to try to jump out.  I’m thinking about sensible mice…I’ve probably fucking lost it.

The cook motions to him curtly and he follows her in to the kitchen.  The fire is going, and Asher gravitates immediately toward its warmth.

“Breakfast,” the cook says, pointing at a chipped ceramic plate at the end of the long table.  On it is an unevenly-cut hunk of bread, a pot of something that looks like crumb-flecked Vaseline (and God, not the image Asher wanted in his mind when he’s hungrier than hell) and a cup of milk.  The milk looks fresh.  The bread is from yesterday, but it’s still more than he’s eaten in the last fourteen hours or so.

“Eat quickly,” the cook admonishes before turning to another table and picking up a big knife.  She’s chopping something up, something that’s leaking what is probably blood off the end of that table.  Asher is uncomfortably reminded of the Cubist pigs in the backyard.  He could have been feeding that piece of meat just yesterday.  To someone who is accustomed to eating his protein in the form of bacon and burgers, it’s more than a little off-putting.

Asher bites a piece out of the bread.  It’s tough and dry, throwing crumbs everywhere, so he dips it into the milk to soften it up before having another go at it.  His stomach is so empty it’s hugging his spine, and any food is a welcome addition.  He goes through the bread way too fast, drains the milk and goes so far as to pick up and sniff the little pot.  It smells edible, kind of like Thanksgiving in a weird way, but he’s not about to stick a finger in and taste.  Especially not after he’s been holding onto a mouse all night.  Belatedly Asher remembers basic hygiene and figures he should have washed his hands before eating.  And speaking of the mouse… Asher brushes the breadcrumbs into his hand, then dumps them into the pouch.  He can feel the mouse twitch with interest.

He clears his throat and the cook turns to look him over.  She grunts once, then points towards the fire.  “Use that bucket to wash up, then bring it back and pick up the scraps.  The pigs need feeding.”

“That bucket” has apparently been sitting by the fire for some time, because it’s miraculously not freezing cold.  Asher takes it outside, to an abandoned corner of the yard that stinks of piss, and sluices his hands off.  After a moment’s thought he does his face too.  There’s enough left that he can just barely make out his reflection with the help of the rising sun.  It doesn’t look like he’s missed any huge clumps of dirt or anything, but he looks so rough trade right now.  Kind of feels it too, although obviously he hasn’t had any sex since he got here.  Hadn’t had any for a few days before he got here either, at least not the kind he wants.  That would be any and all versions of sex with Ty, but it’s getting harder to let himself go with Ty now that Ty’s not in the game anymore.  It makes Asher feel kind of guilty, where it never did before.  And it’s not like Ty ever gave him any real signals about how he felt other than enjoying it in the moment.

The mouse sticks its nose out of the edge of the pouch.  “You still hungry?” Asher asks.  When it doesn’t answer he counts that as a win and keeps going.  “Go hang out by the pigpen, there’s bound to be more crumbs around there after they get fed.”  He carefully grabs it and then sets it on the ground.  “Go on, go forage or nest or make baby mice, or whatever it is that rodents do all day.  And stay away from that fucking cat, because it will end you, little man.”

The mouse doesn’t move.  It just keeps staring at him.  “What?” he says.  “What, you want to hang with me?  Seriously?”  He reached out and nudges the mouse with his muddy sandal, just in case it’s frozen with fear or in some kind of shock.  It twitches, and its tail sweeps from side to side.  Otherwise it doesn’t move.  “Dude, no, really?  You want to ride around with me all day?  You might get crushed!”  He nudges it again.  The mouse doesn’t go anywhere.

“Fuck it.”  Asher runs one hand through his hair, which feels kind of tacky with oil and old gel.  “Fine.”  He puts his hand down and the mouse hops onto it.  “But you better not piss on me, little man.  I mean it.”  He replaces the mouse in the pouch, then heads back to the kitchen, feeling just a little bit better about something—someone—needing him enough to stick around, even if it is a mouse.

The morning is rough, but again, Asher manages to avoid the ladies (although personally he’d really like to let the mouse out on the formal table, just to see how those stuck-up bitches react, but he’s afraid they’d kill the mouse before he could remove it) and he even catches a nap after lunch.  It isn’t exactly a restful nap, but the dream more than makes up for that.

“Fuck, God, fuck, ah…”  Ty was a talker, a babbler when he was getting it on.  That was good; a lot of clients liked to hear how much you enjoyed it, and learning to fake it or exaggerate would be that much harder if you didn’t already have a natural propensity for dirty talk.  Asher would have returned the favor if his mouth wasn’t full right now.

Ty had finally caved, acknowledging that for now, Asher’s way was the best way.  The question then became how to get him comfortable with the work itself.  Asher had just been thrown into it, and once he learned how incredible sex could be he had regretted the way he lost his virginity, to a man who stank of chewing tobacco and used spit for lube.  Ty had technically lost his virginity, sort of, but he wasn’t going to be fucking pretty girls to make the rent.  Asher decided throwing him into the deep end would only freak him out, and so he started them off with mutual masturbation. 

Ty had been awkward at the start, so embarrassed it took almost an hour to get hard the first time they got naked together.  A few vodka shots later and the process was easier, and by the second night of practice he was already much better, much more at ease.  He didn’t balk at exchanging hand jobs, and with a little direction he got really fucking good at that really fast.  It made sense; his hands were Goddamn gigantic.  He’d be leaving some johns feeling really inadequate after handling them, but Asher liked the way Ty could grip him tight all over.  Coming into that kind of constant pressure was fucking amazing.

Blowjobs were the next big hurdle, and Asher was doing his damndest to ease Ty past any difficulties he might have with it by going to town on him.  Ty had the hands but Asher had the mouth, and he knew it.  Ty was proportionately big and his dick swelled even further in Asher’s mouth as he got closer to coming, but Asher still managed to brush the base of Ty’s cock with his lips, sucking hard.

“Ash!”  Ty’s hands gripped the sheets tight, and his hips bucked hard up into Asher’s warm grip.  He came like a fire engine, and Asher broke one of his personal rules and swallowed for Ty.  This was Ty; he wanted to taste him.  He wanted him to know it was okay, that you could enjoy it.  He would talk to him later about safety and spitting, or preferably using a condom.

He leaned back when Ty started to shudder, overstimulated, lay down next to him and waited for Ty to open his eyes.  When he did his pupils were huge, almost blotting out the warm brown of his eyes, which looked too big for his thin face.  His hair was damp, sweaty, and his naked body gleamed.  He looked at Asher like Asher was everything, like he was something incredibly important.  Asher wanted desperately to hold onto Ty and never let him go, but he couldn’t.  He couldn’t make this any harder than it already was.

“So,” he said with a grin, propping his head up on one hand.  “You enjoy your first blow job?”

Ty exhaled deeply, releasing the last of the tension from his orgasm-spent body.  He smiled his sweet, goofy smile and then reached out and pulled Asher closer by his shoulders. Before he could say anything Ty leaned in to him, and their lips touched in a kiss.

Asher jolts awake with a groan and a raging hard-on.  His dick is so hard it’s almost purple, and he really, really needs to come.  Thank God he’s taking his nap in the barn.  It might smell like horse crap (and fuck, does everything around here smell like crap?  Seriously, you can’t escape it) but he’s alone, and he jerks down his trousers and take a hold of himself, and imagines its Ty’s hand.  He tries to imitate the way Ty touches him, short, fast pulls that encompass everything and suck him towards inevitable release.  Asher pictures Ty in his mind, looming over his body like some ancient Greek hero, too fucking beautiful to be human, using his hands and his mouth and saying all those things that Asher knows are nonsense, just stupid sex talk, but fuck it he loves to hear them, fuck, ah—

Asher rolls onto his side and ejaculates all over the straw, moaning as the orgasm rips through him.  He strokes himself until it’s just this side of painful, keeping his eyes closed the whole time because, damn it, he wants to preserve the illusion.  He wants to imagine Ty is really there with him right now.  No matter how they fight, no matter how annoying Ty is, Asher misses him like crazy.  He always misses him, even if they’re just apart for a few hours.  He’s been ignoring how awful Ty’s absence has been the last few days, mitigated by the sheer fucked-uppedness of his situation, but right now Asher feels his absence more than ever.  God, he wants Ty.  He wants him so bad he can barely breathe for a few seconds, but that’s not a sob, those aren’t tears; Asher shoves it all away and takes back control.  He’ll get out of this.  He’ll see Ty again.  He has to.

He has to.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Two sweet reviews and a snippet of Reclaimed

Business first, pleasure second.  Although good reviews are definitely a pleasure for me, so I guess this whole blog is going to make me happy!  Life is good.

Two different short stories of mine recently got some love, which is awesome.  Brief Encounters reviews took on Different Spheres, where Jenre had this to say (I'm paraphrasing a little here):

 Despite some niggles, I really liked this short which showed two older men in their 40s/50s, getting to know each other and falling in love. Gil’s illness is sympathetically shown and doesn’t shy away from the realities of living with MS and the sacrifices that have to be made, but wasn’t overdone. The tone is resigned and even hopeful, rather than maudlin. If you’re looking for a nicely written story of a mix-matched couple finding love, then this could be the story for you.

Obviously not the whole review, the rest is here: Brief Encounters review.

Opening Worlds got a new hit too at The Romance Reviews.com.  Valentina says:

I loved the world and the physical characteristics of Perels but if not for the feeling I got while reading the romance part of it, it would have been a four star rating for me. Cari Z. gave their story a beginning, hot middle and a fantastic conclusion and I can honestly say nothing was missing for me. I could feel the desire as well as love and that is exactly how it should be.
Again, the rest of it's here:  Romance Reviews.

Why do I share these reviews?  It's not solely an exercise in narcissism, I swear.  Reviews can help a person who's on the fence about a particular story tip one way or the other. And they're only 2.99 each.

Yeah, but Cari, that's like, 2/3 of a gallon of gas.  Do you get that gas prices are rising everywhere?

True, but how far can you go on another 2/3s of a gallon of gas?

Are you kidding, I have a super hybridized car that makes my neighbors cry tears of shame and envy.  I can drive to China on gas like that.

Oh.  I didn't realize.

I forgive you.


On to the good stuff.  Reclaimed is the third novella in the Treasured series, and it should be out in May.  I don't think I've given the beginning out yet, so here y'all go.  And I know: over-long post.  This is what happens when I'm pressed for time.  Enjoy, dahlings.  Oh, and it's R-rated, so don't read if you're not in the mood.



Reclaimed

By Cari Z


     People say that you get what you deserve. One of the few theological constants the world over, at any time in history and with almost any culture, has been the idea that the things you do directly affected the things that were in turn done to you, whether by God, or man, or nature itself. It was the concept that, barring instances of extreme good or bad fortune, if you treated others well, then you would be treated the same way. If, however, you treated others with disdain or abuse, then the wheel would turn and life would punish you for your arrogance. Well, somewhere along the way I must have made a hell of a jerk out of myself, because life had taken me into its jaws and was shaking me hard enough that I thought my neck might break from whiplash.

I had always considered myself to be a fairly average person, not especially good or kind, or brilliant, but definitely not bad either. I didn’t steal, tried not to lie and was raised to be respectful. I didn’t cry out for attention or notice and always stayed within the lines of correctness that society had drawn for me. I was a student, a scholar and an introvert and happy to be that way. I didn’t ask for anything incredible in my life but incredible happened to me anyway in the form of Reese Daveth. From the second I met him, I knew in my heart that my life would never be ordinary again.

If nothing else, Reese Daveth was a constant source of wonder and surprise to me. He was a fun companion, an incredible lover and he seemed to like me, really like me, and enjoyed my company even when all I was doing was research, rewrites, and agonizing over finishing my doctoral thesis. He was surprisingly patient and amazingly good at lifting me out of whatever study or mental rut had me stuck, and I loved him more than was probably good for me.

All of his good points were accentuated by the lengths Reese went to see me when he was supposed to be keeping a low profile, hiding from a dozen different governments and one very shady organization that had already kidnapped him once in an effort to get him to work with them. It was fairly easy for Reese to keep a low profile: in addition to being a highly skilled thief, he was a doppelganger, the kind of shifter than could imitate another human being if they had enough of their target’s DNA to work with. I had no idea how many “shells”, as he called them, Reese had, but since our disastrous trip to Venice last Christmas, he’d come to visit me six times. Each time he’d worn a different shell, and none of them were the tall, dark-haired seducteur I’d first met. It became kind of a game, with my trying to spot him before he could approach me. I picked him out first about half the time, and always if I could see his eyes. They took on a certain look when he was with me, and whether the eyes themselves seemed old or young, brown or blue, they were always warm and soft and welcoming, and I knew it was him despite how the rest of his body appeared.

For example, the last time Reese came to visit he wore the shell of a young woman, blonde and pretty in a New York kind of way, model-thin and standing out in the crowd in black leather and silk. It was striking in part because Southern women generally had different taste in attire, but I still didn’t pay her much attention until she took her sunglasses off. Her eyes were grey, brightened with heavy eyeliner and mascara, but I knew instantly that she was Reese. As soon as she realized I recognized her, a perfect white smile split her face, and she rushed across the university café, students parting before her like the Red Sea, and engulfed me in a hug.

“Danny!”

It felt so strange to hear Reese’s pet name for me come out of a female throat. At least the British accent was still there. Still, holding her was more than a little disconcerting. I liked women, but I didn’t like women.

“Hi…Reese.”

“So demure in public,” she grinned, shaking her head. “As if any of these people care that your lovely Cousin Reese from London is visiting. Besides,” she continued, taking my arm and leading me out of the café, “I hate how we can never go out these days. I want a night on the town with you, Danny boy.”

“We could go out with you as a guy, you know.”

“Nah, pet, would never work,” Reese replied blithely. “Everyone round here knows you’re not the type to sleep around, yeah? If they saw you out with a different bloke every third week they’d think something was up. Better we have a nice time without having to look over our shoulders. The really fun stuff can wait ‘til we get home.” “Home” being my tiny apartment, but it felt good to have him call it that. We’d ended up going out to dinner at a five-star seafood restaurant, then to a club I’d never even heard of before, even though I was the one who lived here. By the end of the night Reese was nicely buzzed and I was mostly over the fact that he was wearing a female shell, and just enjoying his company.

Once we were alone again, though, he always took the shape I knew best. It wasn’t that Reese wasn’t willing to look like someone else in bed. The thought of it kind of excited him, honestly, but for my part it mostly creeped me out. I was just made to be monogamous, and even though I knew intellectually that Reese was the same person inside whether or not he looked it on the outside, I was very partial to the shell in which I’d first met him. He knew it too, and back in my apartment he indulged me with my favorite. God, did he indulge me. I couldn’t sit easy for a week after he left.

When we first met, I was working in the campus museum at the University of Arcane Studies. We’d just put a collection of ancient Turkish amulets on display, a loaner from the much larger collection of magical artifacts that was part of an exhibition at the Museum of Art and Science. Reese had walked in, and I fell for him so fast it’d almost gave me vertigo. He wined and dined me and treated me like a prince, and a few days later he took my shape and robbed my museum, getting me arrested before he and his crew went on to rob the larger exhibition and the police realized that the first robber couldn’t have been me, despite what the security cameras showed. Yes, to say that our initial relationship was somewhat rocky was definitely downplaying the issues I had with him. Liar, imposter, thief: Reese was all of these things. He owned his life, and refused to apologize. It was up to me to decide whether or not I could live with him the way he was, or whether we needed to go our separate ways.

Yeah, he still wanted me even after our introductory fiasco. I really had no idea why, because as far as I was concerned I wasn’t anything special. My doctorate was in the history of magical artifacts, with a focus on museum studies. Not exactly riveting for most people, or exciting like the subjects that people with more magical talent than me were encouraged to pursue. I couldn’t heal so much as a paper cut; I couldn’t move things with my mind or make things grow, and I had no offensive magical capabilities whatsoever. I had a slight ability with futuresight, and I did a decent job of deciphering a magical artifact’s purpose, but that was about it.

Well, not entirely it. After the museum heist, Reese had given me one of the amulets he’d stolen, an ancient Turkish God’s eye that opened the wearer up to new experiences. It was terribly hypocritical of me to keep it, but I had never been given anything by a lover before, especially not something so rare and special, and so I held onto it. Keeping the amulet on me at all times (carefully wrapped and protected from damage, of course, I knew I could never wear it openly) had the effect of increasing my ability with futuresight. What used to last just for a second or two now gave me visions that could sometimes see over a minute into the future. Of course, seeing the future changed it, or could, but so far it had been far more useful than not. Seeing a little ways into the future had saved my life more than once.

 There was also the other side effect that had sprung up as a result of using the amulet, but that one I didn’t have as good a handle on. That didn’t mean Reese and I didn’t take advantage of it, though.

“What did the doc have to say about our little connection, Danny?” he asked languorously over the phone one night. Muggy winter was finally giving way to spring, and it was so nice outside that I left my apartment’s single, dinky window open so I could smell the fresh air.

“I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m making it up,” I replied, laying back on my couch and looking out at the sky. It was just turning evening, and broad strokes of peach and lavender filled the sky as the sun slowly sank. “He said he couldn’t be specific unless I gave him the amulet to study, and I wasn’t about to do that.”

“Had some theories though, didn’t he?” Reese pressed. I could hear him shifting around on something, probably silk sheets, knowing him. I had no idea where he was or what the time was there, but Reese was never the kind of person to deny himself a luxury, and he liked to sleep on silk sheets. He’d bought me two sets for Valentine’s Day, and we’d gotten both of them dirty before that particular night was over.

“He said it all depended on the magic. You carried the amulet for a little while before I did, and once it had a taste of both of our abilities it might have decided to bind us together for some reason of its own, an intrinsic part of its spell that we just don’t know about. Or it might have something to do with my futuresight, or it might be something you’ve absorbed off of one of your shells.” On very rare occasions, when Reese took the form of someone very magically gifted, he also had some of their gift while he wore their shell. That was how he had learned over twenty languages in a single evening, by seducing a prominent linguist who apparently had more than enough ability to go around.

“Or the Eye could just be the trigger for a spontaneous connection,” I continued, joking, and Reese chuckled into the phone. Spontaneous magical connections were the sort of things that hack romance writers chucked into plots when they needed two people to fall in love fast. They were a one in a million sort of thing, where two people bonded to each other so intimately that they could influence each other’s thoughts and emotions.

 Reese and I could do that with each other, to a certain extent. When he wore my shape I could see what he saw as though I were him, and when he focused he could see and feel what I was doing as well, although not as often or as easily. The bond affected my dreams too, so I experienced hours of his actual day while I was sleeping. To my surprise the sudden lack of privacy didn’t bother me at all, and it certainly didn’t bother Reese. I had never felt so close to anyone before this, and I never wanted it to end.

I was pretty sure the whole strange mess had something to do with the God’s eye. Yeah, the first time I saw him in my dreams Reese hadn’t even given me the amulet yet, but that was probably just a fluke. We weren’t the stars of some teenybopper angst-ridden romance; we were grown adults who happened to have some very odd abilities, and who enjoyed each other’s company. A lot. Unthinkingly I brought my free hand to my chest and closed my eyes. “Reese…are you wearing me right now?”

“How could you tell?” he asked, a grin in his voice even as it got lower, huskier.

“Because I can feel a hand on my cock, and I know for a fact it’s not one of mine.” The sensation wasn’t exactly like a hand, I couldn’t feel the heat of him or the individual press of his fingers, but the pressure and the sense of connection was definitely there.

“Caught me, pet.” Reese was absolutely unrepentant. “What can I say, I wanted to touch you.”

“You realize you aren’t actually touching me,” I told him a little breathlessly, unzipping my jeans and pushing them down my hips. “You’re just touching yourself while you look like me. It doesn’t do anything else for you.”

“It does, a little,” he replied, surprising me. “I’m getting better at it these days, Danny, getting more of a feeling of you, instead of just you in me. You’re…on your couch, got your head on the armrest—you’re gonna hurt yourself lying on that thing, y’know, ’s bad for your back.”

“I’ll be fine for a few minutes,” I said, but I did put another pillow under my shoulders for extra support. I unbuttoned the top half of my shirt and slipped my hand inside. “What else am I doing?”

“I can feel your…hands. No, just one hand. Fingertips on your collarbone, stroking slow and pretty just the way you like it, pet.” He was right. I rubbed the pad of my thumb in a circle over my right nipple, and hearing him groan with my voice was an incredible turn on. I didn’t have fantasies of being with Reese while he looked like me, that was a little too far on the side of weird for me to get into, but I did love this, this ghost-touching we could do for each other.

“’S perfect, pet, just like that,” he murmured over the line. “Just enough to tease. That’s what I’d be doing to you if I was there right now, once we got the need out of the way. You’d be all sweaty and sticky and red from the first round, bruises startin’ to come in where I held your hips still, luv, you always fight so hard to move when all I want is to hold you down and take you. And it was hard, the first round, always is, no time for easin’ you onto my hand or one of those long, messy blowjobs you like when all I can think about’s fillin’ you with my cock.”

“Fuck, Reese…” He was right, when we first got together after being apart, even if it was just for a week, we were always rougher. Usually he’d push me up against a wall or a door or the inside of the shower and give me one of the most incredible blowjobs I’d ever experienced, and then when I was coming down from that high he’d open me up and take me hard and fast, without giving me a chance to catch my breath. After that, yes, then we could take our time and go slow, and Reese was great at slow, but God, right now all I wanted was fast.

“You’d be on your back, pet, and you’d put your hands in my hair and guide my mouth all gentle over your cock until it got hard enough to fill my throat.” Reese’s invisible hand moved faster at my groin, stroking me all over, not hard but persistent. I pulled my legs back, panting into the phone as I licked my fingertips, then sent my hand down between my thighs.

“Jesus, Danny, yeah.” He felt that, then, my fingers pressing at my entrance, slick and seeking to enter that inviting tightness and heat. “Think about me touching you there, a little sore, a little red and raw but you don’t care, do you, luv? Not when you want me inside of you so bad.”

I did want him inside, I wanted him in me right now, thrusting over and over until he flooded me, but all I had for that was myself. I pushed two of my fingers into my body, as deep as I could go from that angle, and the choked sound Reese made over the line made me laugh around my sigh of pleasure. “I do want you in me,” I whispered. “I want you to fuck me. I want your hand and your dick and your mouth all working on me, making me come.” The pressure on my cock increased, and it felt like another hand was scratching over my chest, stroking my tightening abs and tracing the cords in my neck as I started to arch. “Reese, God, I’m going to—I’m coming—Reese-”

“Now, pet, do it,” he told me, his voice heavy and straining, and I curled my fingers so that they touched my prostate, shoved them deeper, raised my hips off the couch and came, hard, fluid flying up my chest and oozing over the phantom fingers of my lover as he stroked me off from wherever he was. Reese came a few seconds later, and it was like potent aftershock from my own orgasm, making my body tense and try to shoot even though there was nothing left to give. I was so strung out it almost hurt to come down, and neither of us said anything for a couple minutes, just listened to the panting on the other end of the line. I had a stupid smile on my face by the time I caught my breath again.

“I miss you,” I informed him.

“Apparently,” he laughed, and he sounded happy and carefree, which was a rare way for Reese to sound these days, since he’d gone underground. “I miss you too, Danny. Was thinking I’d come see you soon, actually, I’ve just got a few things to finish up on this side of the pond before I can.”

“M’kay,” I said sleepily, not really listening other than to register that he said he’d come visit me. “This’ll be the seventh time since Christmas. Lucky seven.  That’s a lot.”

“I can’t go without you for too long, pet, it gives me the shakes,” he joked. “And I am planning on getting lucky, so take care of yourself between now and then, yeah? Stock up on lots of food and get plenty of sleep so everything goes perfect and you don’t keel over from exhaustion in the first hour.”

“Hah, you wish,” I mocked him, but I knew he really was concerned. I tended to ignore my body’s needs when I got into working on my thesis. Thankfully the thing was at the printers now, so even when I had the urge to add another reference or put something else into the bibliography I couldn’t, because it was finally out of my hands. As a result, you could actually see the surfaces in my apartment as opposed to nothing but stacks of paper. It was the neatest my apartment had been in years. “Don’t worry, I’ll be ready for you.”

“I’m counting on it, Danny,” Reese replied, and then he hung up the phone. I held onto my handset for a few more minutes before dropping it to the floor and sitting up with a contented sigh. Life was pretty damn good. I was graduating with my doctorate soon, I had several job interviews already lined up, and my incredible boyfriend was coming for a visit.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lazy weekend, what to do?

It's been a glorious day of power lounging so far. I've been banging on one project or another interminably for a while, so to have a day to power lounge almost makes me feel guilty.  Like I should be hammering out the next part of Cinders (which I should, I know, but that story can be kind of fragile) or writing another novel or something.  Something, surely.  Instead my pressing stuff is off with beta readers, my current stuff is coming at its own pace and I don't have an immediate deadline.  Which I hate.

I was a world-class crammer in college.  I didn't even give all-nighters the dignity of taking all night: I woke up whenever my anxiety forced me out of slumber and burned the test material into my brain in however many hours were left before that class, that day.  It worked for me.  Deadlines work for me now, but giving them to myself just feels facetious.  I mean, if you can't screw your own self over and expect forgiveness, who can you screw over?

What I need is another anthology to submit to.  One with an air of excitement and a pressing deadline.  That tears it, I'm off to look around.  In the meantime, to assuage my guilt, let me assure you that May is absolutely going to be a whirlwind of activity, with at least two new releases.  I'm readying my LiAW story for submission, and getting ready to write a two-parter that revolves around a changeling in the courts of the Winter and Summer fae.  Plus more Cinders should be out this week, with finally, finally, some explicit smut.  I just need it.

Happy weekend, people.  I hope yours are as soothingly languorous as mine.  :)


And btw, to the people who are checking this blog out from other countries: rock on!  Hi, Russian and Romania and Taiwan!  Who the heck are you wonderfully multi-lingual people?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cinders Post #3

Notes:  Cinders the third.  I'm going to have to make a separate page for them after this so readers don't have to hop around my site.  More developments, more backstory and more mouthing off!  What's not to like?


Title: Cinders

Part Three:  Psuedo-Siblings



***
 

Asher sucked at the whole concept of brothers.  He just didn’t know how to relate to them.  It was kind of weird, since he had two of them himself, but Howard and Kyle had been born less than a year apart, practically twins for all the likenesses between them.  They had always been happy keeping to each other, and Asher, three years younger and not nearly interesting enough to bother with, grew up mostly alone, rather than running around in their shadows.  It wasn’t until Cassie came along that he actually felt like he had something to contribute.  He didn’t care that Cassie cried, or needed so much of his attention.  At least she wanted it.  His mother appreciated the help with the baby and his dad never said anything at all, which was good as far as Asher was concerned.  Cassie belonged to him, and his older brothers belonged to each other, and the pairs very rarely mixed.
He had been worried at first, getting to know Ty.  Not because he didn’t think Ty was worthwhile; fuck, you just had to look at the kid to see that, but because Asher was so bad with other guys.  Honestly it was amazing he identified as gay, for all the shit he gave his own gender.  He had been thinking at first that he’d just hang out with Ty for a few weeks before the kid went on his own way, but then he found the part of Ty that made everything else about him fade away.  It was the need.  He needed help, he needed Asher’s help, and that outweighed every awkward moment and miscommunication.  Because Ty didn’t have a fucking clue of how to live on his own, and his ignorance was dangerous.
“I could get a job,” he insisted late one night as they stood on a street corner, watching taxis trawl slowly down the four-lane road.  “I could be a busboy or something.”
“You’re too young without your parent’s approval, and they ask for that shit around here,” Asher replied, exhaling a mouthful of smoke.  He didn’t smoke often, but that night he needed something to do with his hands other than put them all over Ty.  Ty wasn’t ready for that yet.
“Couldn’t I just forge it?”
“Can you also forge a cell number and a permanent address for your imaginary parents?  Maybe in a couple of months you could, but that costs money and right now you don’t have any money.  Vicious cycle, man.”
“Isn’t there something other than…than…” Ty flapped his big awkward hands, even then too big for him, a sign of how tall he was going to get.
“Sure, there’re other ways,” Asher said easily.  “You could get into drugs, start selling them.  Hard not to start using them too, but whatever.  You could steal things, there are plenty of guys around here who can teach you how to boost a car.  Fuck, there’s even a lot of money to be made stealing bikes, so if you got in with the right people they could show you that.  Not exactly safe, and you’d probably end up someone’s bitch anyway, but you could try.  Or you could get a normal job and hope they never looked into your background and try to live on minimum wage, which is pretty fucking hard in San Francisco.”  Asher paused for a second, blew another puff of smoke.  “It’s your choice, man.  I’m not gonna make you do anything you don’t want to.  I’ve got enough to get by for now, but I can’t carry both of us for too long by myself.”
“I know,” Ty said, everything about him screaming discomfort and guilt as his shoulders hunched up and his arms crossed in front of his chest.
A car slowed down at their corner, not a taxi but a private car.  The passenger side window rolled down.  Asher flicked his cigarette onto the ground and stepped it out, then patted Ty once on the shoulder.  “I’ve got this.  I’ll be back soon.”  He turned and felt the double heat of the shadowy man’s eyes on him from inside the car and Ty’s boring into his back as he walked over to tomorrow’s groceries.
“Hey, man.”  Asher leaned forward against the hood, stretching out his body.  “You lookin’ for someone?”
“Yes.”

***

Asher is a quick study, he always has been.  He was programming the VCR before either of his older brothers could, he learned the times tables before anyone else in his third grade class, and he fucked his gag reflex right out of his throat in under a month.  He picks things up fast.  So he figures out very quickly that the best way to get along on this strange new world is to be quiet, to do as he’s told and, above all, to observe and learn everything that he can about this place.  He learns very quickly that there are three stories to this enormous house, and that he’s supposed to use the dark, cramped stairs at the very end of the building instead of the wide, beautiful set off the main hall.  He learns that there are no toilets, but there are chamber pots, and those need to be emptied twice a day.  His gag reflex kind of comes back when he sees those, but Asher has a strong stomach.  He avoids seeing the ladies of the house for most of the day, entering their rooms after they’ve already left them to clean out the grates and lay in wood for a new fire in the evening.
He comes to understand, from the few comments these painting-people address to him, that they think he’s related to the women who run this joint.  His “father” is spoken of in hushed tones, often wistfully, and Asher gathers that the man is dead, and has been for some time.  His stepmother is apparently of the evil kind, and his stepsisters are beautiful and correspondingly cruel.  None of them seem to like to acknowledge his existence, and the only time that Asher is supposed exposed to them is when he serves them at dinner, which is kind of a shocker to him.  He hasn’t seen them all day; why start now?  But the cook is insistent, and so he mentally shrugs and brings them their damn bread, which smells fucking amazing and which he hasn’t had a chance to eat.
“There he is at last,” one of the younger women drawls from where she lounges in her chair.  Asher has no idea how you can lounge in a high-backed wooden chair; it must be a learned skill.  “And filthy as ever.  Honestly, you’re nothing but soot and cinders, you dirty little pig.”
“Piglet,” the other girl corrects with a giggle.  “The runt of the litter.”  Both of the young women are bright against the dark wood furniture of the room, their dresses pink and green respectively.  Their skin is unnaturally luminous, their features have the kind of doll-like perfection that Cassie aspired to, and their hair is huge and fluffy and piled on top of their heads.  Asher kind of expects a bird to poke its head out of there at any moment.  He sets down the bread and turns to leave.
“Just a moment, child,” the women at the head of the table says.  Asher turns to face her.  She’s skinny, almost bony, and her features have that sharp attractiveness to them that you see in movie stars, hollow but still lovely.  Her hair is gray, her nose is slightly hooked and her eyes are hawkish.  If she had been a man beckoning Asher into his car on a street corner, he would have walked the other way, fast.  She motions him closer with one hand.  Asher goes, reluctantly.
When he’s close enough she grabs him, pulling him towards her with one overly-strong claw of a hand.  Her skin feels cool and waxy, like a new apple.  He pulls away reflexively, but she has him tight.  “You are looking rather pitiful,” she observes in a voice as dry as dust.  “Where are your new shoes?”
“I…I lost one of them,” Asher says after a moment.
“What did I tell you, Mother?” one of the girls exclaims, slamming her slender hand down on the wooden tabletop.  “You cannot give this ungrateful little pig anything, he ruins everything he touches.  All your kind gestures accomplish nothing except throwing your money away when it comes to him.”
“Don’t be so harsh, sister,” the other girl, the one in pink, declares languidly.  “The piglet is simple-minded, we’ve always known that.  Idiots can hardly be held responsible for all their actions, or their possessions.  In the future his things must be given into the care of the cook, and she can guard them for him.”  She purses her lips and clucks at Asher like a hen.  “That way you won’t go naked in the middle of winter for wondering where you left your jacket, poor simpleton.”
“He’d deserve to freeze, if he was that stupid,” the green girl says dismissively.  The stepmother has let go of him at this point, and Asher has had more than enough.  When his temper gains the upper hand there’s no gainsaying it, and so he doesn’t even think twice about grabbing up the silver pitcher of water on the table and dumping it over the head of the green girl.  Her shrieks are like music to his ears.
The direct consequences of Asher’s actions become no dinner, no sandals and no shirt until the next morning, and he is to sleep outside in the open air until morning.  It might be spring but there’s still a significant chill in the air, and Asher is shivering violently in his body’s bid to stay warm.  The house is closed off to him, as is the granary, so in the end he huddles on the back door’s stoop, where at least there’s no mud and the depth of the doorway protects him from the wind.  He holds himself tightly and squeezes his eyes shut, utterly exhausted but unable to sleep.  Fucking bitches.  But, he admits, fucking bitches who really mean it when they say they’ll make him pay. 
Now would be a really, really great time to snap out of this whatever-it-is, he thinks hopefully, but nothing happens.  Asher rolls his eyes and stares out through slitted eyelids into the darkness.  It’s so dark here, even with the moonlight, so much more so than in the city.  Asher’s never been surrounded by so much nothing before, and it’s disconcerting to be alone in it.
There’s a tiny shuffle out in the backyard.  Asher focuses his eyes and sees a dark shadow creep across the ground, pounce on something, then sit and wait for a moment before lunging forward again.  He looks a little closer.  The shadow seems to be a cat, as black as the shadow it resembles, and it’s playing with something small, maybe a mouse.  It’s drawing out the torment, being cruel, and Asher moves before he really knows why.  He runs at a shuffle-step towards the cat, the best he can do as cold as he is, and the cat bolts when he’s within five feet of it.  Asher bends down awkwardly, looking to see if whatever the cat was toying with is dead. 
It turns out to be a mouse, and it isn’t dead, just sitting there like a quivering little ball of fluff.  Asher reaches out and picks it up, and the mouse doesn’t struggle or bite him or anything, just sits there shaking.  Asher can relate.  He retreats to the stoop, holds the little critter close to his chest and strokes its tiny head until the shivers die down.  Strangely, his own shivers die a little at the same time, and he feels, if not warm, at least not so miserably cold anymore. 
“You wanna hang with me tonight?” Asher asks the mouse.  A thought strikes him and, suddenly horrified, he quickly adds, “Jesus, don’t actually answer that, okay?  I don’t think I can deal with talking rodents right now on top of everything else.”  The mouse’s ears twitch.  “Good, I’ll take that as a yes.”
The rest of the night passes.  Not quickly, but it does eventually pass.