Something in the Water (Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell)

“From the stage that brought you Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre,” Allyn-a-Dale proclaims before the curtain, “here’s Ever On Word’s original talk show, Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell.”

Danielle whipped up a logo for me, because she is awesome first class.

The curtain rises, the studio audience applauds, and Will Scarlet himself walks smiling and waving onto the bright, cozy set.

“Hullo, everyone! Let’s jump right into it, shall we?” Leading by example, he hops into his armchair. “Allyn, who is our guest character today?”

As the guest enters from the other side of the stage, Allyn reads the introduction, as provided by author Ginger Mann.

The siren of the Jilted River; permanent resident of the Hollows. She is lovely in face, with a voice that can stop a man cold in his steps. However, if she keeps at him for long enough, we may never see him again.

Allyn looks from his script, to Will Scarlet, to the audience. “This will go badly.”

“Welcome, Jilted River siren lady!” Will greets the woman center stage. “So glad you could join me. First things first – do you actually have a name? ‘Cause ‘Jilted River siren lady’ runs a bit long.”

“Name?” She moves toward her chair, not walking to it but instead, almost flowing. Her dress makes a silver train around her wrists and feet. “I haven’t been called a name for over a hunnert years. Seems I remember my fiancé once called me ‘Brenda’.” She stares at him blankly. “How ‘bout Brenda.”

“Brenda works! So. A fiancé, huh? Who was the lucky guy?”

Brenda’s eyes shoot daggers at Will Scarlet “Lucky? Did you say lucky?” She clasps her hands together, letting them disappear into each other. Her form is that of a gorgeous young woman with raven hair, coal black eyes, and bright red lips. And, inexplicably, she is dripping all over the floor of the set.

“…Or possibly not so lucky,” Will backtracks. “By the way you stop short of calling him your husband, I assume the wedding somehow fell through?”

“Heh. It fell through, all right. It fell right on through the growwwwnd,” Brenda drawls, leaning back into her chair. “I didn’t do nothin’ to deserve what he did. Loved him with all my heart, adored him like nobody else ever before. Used to sing to him, and show him off to my girlfriends. We were gonna sing right to each other in the weddin’. There I was, all dressed up in my corset and such, holdin’ my flowers, waitin’ on the banks of that river. An’ he shows up and runs off with my singin’ bridesmaid.” Her face starts to shift, and lose its shape.

“Yikes…” says Will – though whether he’s referring to the scandal, Brenda’s face, or both is anyone’s guess.

Seeing her image on the set monitor, she quickly reforms herself into a pretty teenage girl. In a higher, sweeter voice, she finishes, “But, Will, that was nearly a hunnert years ago now. Let’s leave the past in the past, okay, honey? We’re here right now, that’s all that matters.”

“That sounds like a, uh, very healthy way of looking at things. Moving merrily along, then. I notice you and I happen to have a few things in common. Both of us legends around our local forests – Sherwood for me, woods out in the Appalachians for you. Both of us looking bloody good for our magic-enhanced ages and irresistible to unwary hearts…”

Looking at Will appreciatively, her eyes travel the length of his finely clad body. Her arms begin to transform, lengthening and tapering at the ends. Vines begin growing out of her open hands, slowly winding their way down her chair leg and creeping across the floor toward her host. Almost imperceptibly, a forked tongue darts out of her mouth.

From off-camera, Allyn ahems. “Um, Will…”

“I’ve got this, thank you,” Will waves him off, then carries on addressing Brenda. “I gotta say, though, a state park’s underground river sounds like it could be an even cooler place to live than an immortal Renaissance Faire.”

Leaves from her growing vines begin to tickle the ankles of her host. “Oh, you should hear the birds! In the morning when they wake up, singing and hopping around.” She leans in closer. “Do you sing?”

“Uh, not according to Allyn,” says Will, squirming back in his seat. “But, um… I was going somewhere with this… Disappearances! There seem to be a lot of people going missing in your area.”

Vines travel up the sides of his legs, and begin to tickle him under the knees.

“And— ah-haha! You’re a friendly one, aren’t you? But y’know, given that sirens are the sort to lure people into iffy circumstances with vocal beauty even certain minstrels I know might be hard put to match, I can’t help guessing you might be involved. With the missing persons, I mean.”

Vines have grown quickly over the back of Will Scarlet’s chair, and their leaves now begin to stroke him on his cheek.

“You, uh,” he says, his focus clearly dissolving as he leans into the leafy touch. “You wanna give us a hint as to your motive behind all the kidnappings?”

All foliage disappears instantly, and her eyes open wide. “Kidnappin’? I didn’t know about no kidnappin’s. I just stay down in my little river valley an’ take care of my birds. They sing real purty. Ever hear this song? Oh, the cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles when she flies . . . I sure love how yer eyes are getting’ all dreamy, Mr. Sparrow. Er, I mean Mr. Scarlet.”

“Will!” Allyn snaps off-camera.

The host’s head whips around. “Wha—? Hang it, Allyn, you broke my concentration! What were we talking about?”

“There were vines—”

“Never mind! New question.” He turns back to Brenda, grin cocked. “What do you look for in a man?”

Vines mysteriously reappear behind Will Scarlet, and remove his hat. “Oh, I look for all sorts ‘a things. Fer instance, does a man look good in blue? An’ does a man have a purty singin’ voice? What kinds ‘a songs d’you know? Wanna sing a duet?”

“Blue? Singing?” Will frowns. “Just my luck; she likes the Gant-o’-the-Lute type. Well, fine, since singing’s such a big part of your shtick: Do you have a favorite song, or type of music?”

The tips of the vines stroke Will’s hair sensuously. “I just loooove the songs you love, Will Scarlet. Why don’t you sing one for me, an’ I’ll chime on in? I got a real knack for singin’ with men, you know. I can make you forget all about yer talk show an’ ever’thing else that ever bothered you. D’you know this song? Black, black, black is the color of my true love’s hair . . . His face is soft and wond’rous fair . . . You gotta sing with me, Will Scarlet, or this don’t work!” Brenda’s eyes begin to smolder.

“Time for the final question,” Allyn says firmly, braving a step into frame despite any risk posed by his blue-clad, black-haired appearance. “Tell us, Brenda: What is your author Ginger’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious secret?”

Ginger??? she hisses, taken aback. “You mean that guurrrl? I don’t get t’know gurrrls. They got nothin’ fer me, and I got nothin’ for them. All I care is that she can’t sing, so I leave her well enough alone. But I also know she’s one big liar. She don’t look a thang like that picture she put out on the internet. She’s dressed up like some high falutin’ city slicker, but everybody ’round here knows she’s just a crazy ol’ lady on th’ yonder mountain. She raises chickens over there, funny lookin’ chickens. They’re all round, like little basketballs. It ain’t right, but that’s no business of mine. There. That secret don’t cost you nothin’, Will Scarlet. You get it just ’cause I like you.” The vines criss-cross over his chest, hugging him to the chair. One leaf tickles his cheek flirtatiously.

Will casts a glare at Allyn. “You didn’t do it right! You left out the all-important ‘Or would you rather kiss me?’!”

A snake crawls from her mouth and travels across her watery lips, licking it like a tongue. “Oh, Mr. Scarlet, I thought you’d never ask. Not that I need you to.”

She lunges forward, arms open wide. Her mouth engulfs his entire head in a surge of water. Vines melt away with her body, and a giant fountain overwhelms Will Scarlet, submerging him before anyone can do more than cry out in alarm.

One second later, a gush of water flows down the storm drain and away from the set. “Good-bye, Will Scarlet,” Brenda’s voice echoes from the pipes. “Good-bye for now.”

An utterly disheveled Will sits in his sopping wet chair, drenched hatless head to toe, mouth agape. A long moment passes with no sound beyond the drip, drip, drip of water and the labored breathing of a man nearly drowned. Then, “I say, Allyn?”

“Yes, Will?” Allyn says through gritted teeth.

“How ‘bout a quick word from our sponsor?”

Squelching with a huff back to his spot off the stage’s center, Allyn recites, “Today’s Kiss & Tell segment was brought to you by Ginger Mann’s ‘Jilted River’ a short story included in The Toll of Another Bell: A Fantasy Anthology.

A teenage girl, Trystan, arrives at the Hollows with her widowed forest ranger father and her twin brother. Two hikers are lost, and the family is there to help. She remembers the Jilted River siren, but she tells herself that it’s just a story. Then, the rescue mission ends badly: one hiker disappears, and two men, including Trystan’s father, vanish on the search. Terrified, Trystan must solve a dark mystery and bring everyone home, before it is too late.

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“Thank you, Allyn,” says Will, wringing out his shirt. “Thanks even to you, Brenda. And thank you, my beautiful audience. Remember, authors – if your characters would like to appear on the show, simply follow the guidelines provided in this post, and we’ll get them on the schedule. ‘Til next time, lovelies: Scarlet out!”

A Little Heart-to-Heart[singer]

My friend, fellow author, and anthology sister Ginger Mann has recently begun a new series on her blog, Notes from Ginger.

Titled “Character Walks”, the series features unique, in-depth conversations between Ginger and various fictional people their authors were able to corral into the interview. To my gratification and his, Ginger requested a talk with my very own Heartsinger from “Reality As We Know It”, a short story that debuted alongside Ginger’s “Jilted River” in The Toll of Another Bell.

As of Valentine’s Day, the post is live! So hop on over to share in Ginger’s deeper discovery of my tortured, otherworldly musician.

Notes from Ginger

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A Review Miraculously Free of Bell Puns

Be proud of me. I thought of two such puns without hardly trying. But seriously, folks…

The Book: “The Toll of Another Bell”, edited by McKenna Gardner.

Genre: Fantasy short story anthology.

Blurb: A collection of out-of-this-world short stories that ring true in mortal hearts.

The Toll of Another Bell

“Breath” by Jodi L. Milner: The Guardian of Souls realizes her life is incomplete and sacrifices everything to find what’s missing.

“Awareness” by Timothy Vincent: To achieve the status of Magi, Jyn must pass his father’s ultimate test.

“Phoenix” by Elise Stephens: Orion loses his wife on their wedding day and uses dark magic to seek her in the afterlife.

“Life Under Research Conditions” by Thaxson Patterson II: Can a bioweapon possess a soul and make choices to save humanity?

“The Year of No Foals” by Scott E. Tarbet: A miraculous colt and a mysterious old man bring healing to a family ripped apart by tragedy.

“Naoki No Yokai” by F.M. Longo: Yokai have overrun a local village, and it’s up to Saga Naoki to discover the reason why.

“Jilted River” by Ginger Mann: An Appalachian fairy tale attracts visitors to a state park, but then they start to disappear.

“Tower Gods” by J.R. Potter: A thirteen-year-old boy with an oxygen mask befits the role of hero in Watcher Benson’s eyes.

“Reality As We Know It” by Danielle E. Shipley: Where otherworldly magic fails, is Row’s friendship enough to mend Singer’s grieving heart?

“60 Seconds to Midnight” by TC Phillips: Fleeing an ancient evil, a young woman from amongst the stars finds unlikely refuge on Earth.

My Thoughts: As one would hope of a fantasy-themed collection, “Toll” displays a vast diversity of imagination. But more than only stories to tickle your flights of fancy, these are, on the whole, stories to make you feel. Stories where the pain of what’s lost is but one turn away from the finding of something more.

Some highlights for me as a reader included Jodi L. Milner’s elemental myth “Breath”; the humor winking from F.M. Longo’s tale of spies and samurai, “Naoki no Yokai”; and “Phoenix”, Elise Stephens’ modern retelling of the Orpheus/Eurydice tragedy, the prose holding my heart like a melancholy song. There’s more powerful music to be discovered when a family goes up against a siren in Ginger Mann’s “Jilted River”, and a meticulous balance of fatal magic awaits in Timothy Vincent’s “Awareness”. Readers whose tastes lean in a more Sci-Fi direction may find particular enjoyment in Thaxson Patterson II’s out-of-this-world creations in “Life Under Research Conditions”, or young Kip’s larger-than-life summer adventure in J.R. Potter’s “Tower Gods”.

If I had to choose a favorite story from the collection (excluding the title attached to my own name, of course), I think that honor would go to “The Year of No Foals” by Scott E. Tarbet, a homey, futuristic yarn that reads like it could have happened yesterday or a generation ago. The blend of ordinary and extraordinary is magic and left me smiling. And I strongly advise that all comers stick around for the book’s world-hopping, mind-bending, heart-pounding adventure of a finale, “60 Seconds to Midnight” … though maybe not right before bedtime, lest TC Phillips’ horrific Daimons hunt you down in your dreams.

HSYRT? (Hey, Should You Read This?): Xchyler Publishing delivers another worthy anthology in “The Toll of Another Bell”. Yeah, you should read it! Preorder the Kindle e-book now, and it will deliver to you just as soon as it launches. January 31st, y’all! – same day as the online Release Party. Be there and play for free stuff! Anyone who had a chance to make it out for the Xchyler release party for “Legends and Lore: An Anthology of Mythic Proportions”* knows it’ll be a good time. (:

*Speaking of “Legends and Lore”: Read it? Loved it (or didn’t)? Don’t let Amazon’s customers miss out on your thoughts – share them in a review! All its authors will thank you. ^_^