“Able-Bodied” was the first story I wrote specifically for a market. In this case, an ezine had launched out of Ft. Wayne, IN, called Strange, Weird, and Wonderful. “Able-Bodied” was written after pondering the meaning of the magazine’s title for several months. The submission led to an acceptance and a dialog with the editor-in-chief D.L. Russell. D.L. is a hell of a writer in his own right, and we have since become friends and he’s a valued colleague. Click here to check out his short story collection Hell is An Awfully Big City to see a cover that helped influence the cover to my own collection.
Setup: None. “Able Bodied” is a story that best unfolds from the beginning, so here are the first words of the tale.
Police detective Todd Harding stood over the sprawled body. Today was The Whiz Kid’s turn to die. Brad “The Whiz Kid” Zither lay on his stomach, brains leaking onto the polished oak floor, a look of slack-jawed stupor frozen on his youthful profile. Inches away, a ground-stone paperweight in the shape of the state of Indiana laid on the floor, the bumpy border of Lake Michigan smeared in crimson. The polished surface reflected a bright red stain―brighter than the crushed section on the back of the Whiz-Kid’s skull, which already began turning a gelatinous purple.
Ten years ago, The Whiz Kid exploded onto the technology scene, growing a “freeware add-on” office assistant program into a multi-million-dollar computer software company.
Tonight, The Whiz Kid had barricaded himself in the extravagant personal library of his luxurious mansion on three acres of the most secured, private woodland just north of Indianapolis, but that couldn’t save him from death.
In a few hours, The Whiz Kid would lie out on a slab alongside the homeless vet who died tonight of exposure in White River State Park, worth no more and no less.
The crime scene assistants hovered, anxious to clear away the body and start bagging evidence. Detective Harding shook his head, waving them off. He gave the study a quick preliminary glance. On the wall, the safe door hung open, exposing an empty metal pit.
The noise of a scuffle at the entrance broke Harding from his reverie. An angry slender blonde stormed through the door, followed closely by the rookie Rodriguez—his dark skin beneath the stubble of his shaved head glistening, even in this low light. He shot the rookie an annoyed glance. “What the hell, Rodriguez! I said no one enters the crime scene.”
“Sorry, Detective. She surprised me.” Though almost a foot shorter than the athletic woman, Rodriguez gripped her upper arm through the worn, ratty-looking knitted-blue sweater draped over the distraught woman’s shoulders. Her hair lay helter-skelter, as if she’d just woken up.
The woman pushed at the rookie’s hands. “I’m not ‘no one!’” she snapped, grammatical structure apparently the least of her concerns. As if fighting a draft, the woman crossed her arms over her chest, hands balled into fists at opposite shoulders, entwined in the knotted yarn of her sweater. Her right hand had clawed a large hole into the left shoulder of the tattered garment. “I’m Lauren Zither. This is my home, too! I want to know what you’re doing to find my husband’s killer.”
Detective Harding, usually the tallest and bulkiest person in the room at over 6’ and 240 lbs, knew he could create a considerable and intimidating presence, aided by his burr haircut, when the need arose. He stepped toward her, and noted with satisfaction how the confident anger soon melted from the young woman’s face. “Mrs. Zither, we’re examining the crime scene―which you seem intent on contaminating. You need to leave the way you came. Besides, there’s nothing you want to—”
She reached both hands to her mouth to stifle her shock.
Detective Harding placed a reassuring hand on her trembling shoulders, sinking his fingers into the tattered sweater, feeling the trembling of her shoulder. Couldn’t she afford a new sweater? That thing’s about had it. “I’m sorry. You don’t need to see this.”
She moaned into her hands, now pliant to the rookie’s guiding pulls toward the double-door entrance. “Who could have done this? It’s so … horrible!”
Harding watched Rodriguez usher the grieving widow out of the room. “Keep the room clear, Rodriguez! Crime team only.”
Harding placed his hands on his hips and surveyed the room again. He didn’t like it. Not one bit. It’s too … perfect. Too theatrical, too dramatic. Like a middle school stage play rather than the scene of an actual crime. Harding had examined dozens of murder scenes in his five years on the force, many more gruesome, a few more sterile, but he’d never before seen one so obvious. Whoever killed the Whiz Kid might as well have set up a neon sign flashing “Interrupted Random Burglary. Don’t look too closely.”
——— Click here to go to the Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy order page. Next: Inner Strength (A Rebecca Burton Short Story)
I’m pleased to announce the ebook for Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy is set to launch Tuesday, June 16, with the paperback going live a couple of days later. Watch for up to the minute updates on Facebook and an update of links on the book’s dedicated page though0ut the day.
I will also begin a series of 500 word story preview blogs to begin as soon as all formats of the book have gone live. The series will highlight and preview one short story from the collection per day for seven consecutive days.
Those looking for autographed copies will find me at these events throughout the rest of the year. As always, signatures are free and worth every penny you pay.
Collected for the first time since their initial publications, Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy presents ten tales from the imagination of R.J. Sullivan. Thrills and chills await you, but you may also get blindsided by the absurd. This volume includes a pair of stories featuring Rebecca Burton, the mysterious investigator of R.J.’s acclaimed paranormal thriller series. Among the ten stories, you’ll find:
“The Assurance Salesman” shows five strangers more about themselves than they ever guessed.
You don’t want to venture into Daddy’s basement in “Fade.”
Rebecca Burton tries to talk someone out of a bad idea in “Backstage Pass.”
A bullied police detective finally defeats his rival in “Able-Bodied.”
A desperate father finds the “Inner Strength” to save his young daughter, “Becky” Burton.
A child seeds his aquarium with a most unusual “Starter Kit.”
A brilliant robotics engineer creates a “Robot Vampire.”
Also includes:“I remember Clearly … “, “Do Better,” and “Grammetiquette 2030.”
“Science fiction, fantasy, paranormal thrillers, space opera– R.J’s talents are remarkable and diverse.” ~ New York Times And USA Today Bestselling Author Debra Holland, from the introduction.
“From a universe in a fish bowl to robotic vampire pop stars, R.J. Sullivan takes you to fantastical places that will chill your marrow and make your imagination soar.” ~ Michael West, bestselling author of Spook House and Cinema of Shadows.
“A short collection but with great depth and variety, Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy is a coffee-with-bourbon collection: a pleasurable slow burn. R.J. Sullivan is a patient wordsmith, never rushing, always building suspense and tension. None of these stories are alike, except in having realistic characters and ample plots. Sullivan breaks stylistic “conventions” well, plays with form, and, yet, still feels like a throwback author, one who loves the authors he grew up reading. A highly-rewarding batch of stories!” ~ Brady Allen, author of Back Roads & Frontal Lobes
Special Investigations agent Rebecca Burton took her usual spot within the Café Expresso coffee house, a corner booth, where she could face the door without being conspicuous. She removed her dark fedora from atop her head and shook loose her long hair. Several bright red strands fell in front of her eyes. She brushed them over with an impatient wave of her hand.
The café catered to college students attending Butler University. Though Rebecca was several years older, she loved the energy. The youthful creativity released itself into the room, auras that rejuvenated her without hampering or tampering with the energy of the people around her.
This was why she scheduled most of her more problematic appointments here. The Café Expresso proved itself a great place to meet new clients and size them up before taking on their cases. Meeting here put people off their guard. Much less formal, people tended to open up to her more quickly.
It was also a good place to meet when she didn’t trust someone not to try something stupid or dangerous if they were in private.
As if on cue, a dumpy, middle aged woman stepped through the door. Sparkle. Such a drama queen.
Sparkle’s tacky dyed blond hair–so blond as to look yellow–was outdone by the purple cloak. The upraised hood extended into a cape that flowed behind her when she walked. As she adjusted the cloak, Rebecca noticed a streak of purple in the dyed blonde. she wore beneath the cloak a tattered black dress that may have been quite formal a couple decades ago.
Rebecca shook her head. Such a disgrace. Hard to believe at one time they’d apprenticed together under the same master as young neophytes learning white magic within the Kelranian Order.
Sparkle’s gaze swept the room until she spotted Rebecca. Bright red-glossed lips parted into a smile to reveal crooked teeth. “Hello, honey!” Sparkle called from across the room and started toward her. “So good to see you again.” Rebecca cringed. Where did this witch go wrong, Rebecca mused, even as she figured Sparkle was probably thinking the exact same thing about her.
Sparkle sat herself in the booth across from Rebecca while Stella–a college-aged waitress–approached. “Hi, Rebecca,” said Stella. Rebecca counted Stella Templar as part of her inner circle. Besides serving a great cup of coffee, Stella kept her eyes and ears open for anything she thought Rebecca would want to know. Stella and Rebecca had developed an understanding. When Rebecca entertained a guest, Stella’s job was to make sure they remained undisturbed. “What can I get you and your,” Stella hesitated, “friend?”
“The usual for me,” said Rebecca, referring to a mocha espresso, extra hot.
“Hot tea for me, black, three sugars,” said Sparkle. At Stella’s startled look, Sparkle added, “I like devouring sweet things….you sweet thing.”
Stella turned to Rebecca, her confusion obvious.
“Just order a drink. Sparkle, don’t intimidate the help.”
“You’re no fun.”
Rebecca shrugged off the comment. “Actually, that’s why we’re meeting. In spite of my warning, you’re continuing to have way too much fun. You keep using your magic for personal profit and to cause mischief.”
“This again? What’s the matter? Don’t you like cheap gas?”
“I was referring to the North Korean internet crash.”
“Oh, honey,” Sparkle waved a hand. “No one paid me; I did that one for fun.”
“Sooner or later, your shenanigans could expose all of us, including those of us who are trying to actually do some real good.”
“Oh, give it a rest.’ Sparkle folded her hands in front of her, exposing knuckles covered in costume jewelry. “Don’t you have a demon to fight or something, Tesh Ke Ra?” She snarled Rebecca’s Kelranian title at her.
Stella returned and deposited the two steaming mugs. While Sparkle still ranted, Rebecca gripped hers by the handle without glancing Stella’s direction.
“Seriously, Rebecca, we’re on the same side here. I swore my allegiance to you years ago. Now mind your own business and let me get back to mine.”
“You’re allegiance is irrelevant if you continue to flaunt your powers.”
Sparkle scoffed. “I never figured you’d turn out to be such a coward.”
Sparkle leaned across the table and glared. “If you’d just take the fight to the real enemy and stop all this secret agent nonsense, you and I would be sitting here today drinking a toast to your victory.” Sparkle waved a hand over the lip of her mug as she steeped the teabag by its string. “Instead, you’re whining about actions I’ve taken while you continue to be too scared to do the same.”
“We can’t risk exposing ourselves, Sparkle. If you continue to use your magic in front of normals, they’ll hunt you down and expose you. And I don’t know if I can protect you if that happens.”
“Nonsense, honey. Didn’t you get the memo? Science is in, magic is out. I’m a charlatan. A fraud. And those comments are from my satisfied clients. I do something miraculous right in front of them, and I’m not a witch. I’m not a sorceress. I’m a ‘masterful entertainer with impenetrable slight-of-hand’.” She sighed. “I love my adoring public.”
“You can’t count on that.”
“Oh, no? Maybe you need a demonstration.”
Rebecca bristled. “Don’t even think about it.”
Sparkle chuckled and raised her mug. Again, she tugged on the tea bag. “Just as I said. You’re a coward.”
The retort Rebecca had prepared stopped short as a wave of dizziness overcame her. At the same time, a sickly cinnamon aroma permeated the air. Too late, she realized her mistake as Sparkle removed her teabag from her mug and set it on the saucer.
Rebecca found her voice. “Aero…magic? You’re using Aero-magic…on…me?”
“Oh, don’t fret, honey. I wouldn’t seriously hurt the Tesh Ka Ra. That would be disloyal, not to mention….unkind. But I’m not above some…what word did you use…shenanigans, to prove a point.”
Sparkle chuckled, reached out, and set Rebecca’s coffee to the side. “No spilling,” she chided. “That looks hot.” Rebecca fell forward and the room faded to black.
Stella took care of the other two occupied booths. She tore off the guest check from the printer. Rebecca’s entertaining a real whack job. I hope they finish up quick before she scares off the dinner rush.
She closed in on the table and stopped. The creepy bag lady sat in her spot, sipping her tea. Rebecca’s drink had been set off to the side, but Rebecca herself was gone. Odd. Rebecca would have had to walk past her to go to the restroom. She deposited the guest check. “Uh….I’ll just leave this.”
The creepy lady smiled. Stella wished she hadn’t. “That’s fine, sweet thing.” She didn’t want the creepy lady to call her “sweet thing.” either.
“Did she….leave something out in her car?” Something smelled funny, pungent. Was it the woman, or was that some strange tea flavor she’d never noticed before?
The creepy lady raised the cup to her lips. “I don’t know where she went, sweet thing.”
Hey, there’s an image on our mug. I never noticed that before. She looked at the rectangular art print. Looked like a red haired mermaid of some sort, like that cartoon. But….wait, the mermaid looked an awful lot like Rebecca Burton.
Without waiting for an invitation, Stella seated herself across from the creepy lady and squinted at the image. “What…the….that can’t be real.”
The mermaid image had Rebecca’s red hair and even wore Rebecca’s fedora. Mermaids don’t wear fedoras. Stella realized how particularly stupid that sounded, and so she chose not to say it. Instead, what came out was “How did you do that?” She pointed at the mug.
The creepy lady turned the mug around to look at the print, a frown on her face. “Wow, that look’s a lot like Agent Burton, doesn’t it?”
“Quit kidding with me.”
“But it can’t be, can it? That would be absurd.”
Stella shook her head, and the cloudiness cleared. What had they been saying? Rebecca a mermaid on a coffee mug? How ridiculous. What was she thinking? “That’s awesome, lady. What a great trick. Enjoy your tea.” Stella stood. Best not to waste this nice woman’s time.
Finally, she could move again!
Rebecca slumped in the booth, furious. Images filled her mind of what she would do to Sparkle as soon as she regained her senses, even as she cursed her own stupidity. She commanded her body to get up, grab that witch by the hair, and throw her out a window, but her legs and arms couldn’t obey.
She just laid there, spasming, as she waited for the toxin to wear off.
She’d been trapped, frozen, held in place behind a barrier, her body twisted into a bizarre still image, her eyes unable to close, unable to talk or move. Behind the barrier, Stella gawked at her, but Rebecca couldn’t respond. She realized through their dialog what must have happened, though she had no clear idea what she might have looked like.
She found her voice. “You dare…to mock…me?”
“Oh, don’t be that way, honey. We’re still friends, aren’t we?”
Sparkle was no longer sitting across from her. She’d come around to Rebecca’s side of the table and now sat next to her in the booth. Rough hands grabbed Rebecca by the collar and lifted her up. “Oooh, you are angry, aren’t you? You have your cranky face on.”
“I’m going to—”
“Watch yourself, Agent Burton. You don’t want to do anything conspicuous that will draw attention to yourself, now, do you?”
Rebecca slumped, but caught herself with her arms. She could feel strength return by the second.
“Look at you. Pathetic,” snarled Sparkle. “We’re gods among sheep. And yet you prostrate yourself to blend in. Why? You can walk above the clouds. No one would stop you. No one would even notice. There are ‘explanations’, honey.” She held her hands out to mimic quote marks. “I’m proof of that. I’m your best friend, and you don’t even know it.”
“You’re nothing of the sort. I want you out of my sight and out of the state by tonight. Or nothing will keep me from finding you, and then you don’t want to know what will happen.”
Sparkle shrugged. “Well, that’s gratitude for you. But remember what I said. One day, sooner than later, you’ll need my help. Because I’m willing to do what you’re not. And when that day comes, I’ll just have to try to forget all the indignities you’ve caused me.”
“That I’ve caused you?” Rebecca’s voice failed, but not because of any toxin.
Sparkle grabbed the receipt and called out, “Oh, Stella! Come here, you sweet thing.”
The waitress appeared. “Yes, ma’am?”
Sparkle handed Stella the receipt, along with a crisp green bill.
“Wow, thank you, ma’am.”
“Oh, you earned it, sweet thing.”
“Hey, that was a neat trick with the mug.”
Sparkle flashed a smile at the waitress even as she held Rebecca’s eyes with a gaze of her own. “You liked that? Oh, that’s an old trick, but it’s still a crowd pleaser, don’t you agree, Rebecca?” Sparkle exaggerated a frown. “Oh, Rebecca’s not feeling very well right now. I’ll leave her to you, Stella.” Sparkle rose to her feet and headed toward the door. “How about getting her a nice cup of tea?”
So just before I more-or-less vanished from social media for my annual holiday break, my good friend Chris Garrison issued a challenge on my Facebook page of Rebecca as the Mermaid Mug (yes, it’s a real product with art by Nell Williams, and you can order them from the RJ Store here) challenging me to write the story behind the picture.
The moment I saw the picture, the entire story came immediately to mind, and I knew exactly what would happen and who exactly was the cause of putting my series protagonist Rebecca Burton in such an awkward situation. I even knew how to tie it into Backstage Pass and several of my expanded marketing blog pieces.
Over the holidays, I received a generous gift from my family, a new tablet which I am equipping to be a catch-all device, including a writing station easy to carry at meetings, conventions and festivals. I am waiting on the keyboard to arrive in the mail, but as soon as it does, I will “christen” the tablet with the new flash fiction that tells this story. As the keyboard is en route, you can expect the story to post early next week.
Nell Williams has created a new Blue Christmas image for 2014, a (mostly) annual tradition of putting my characters in various holiday scenes for Christmas time, with the tag “Have a Blue Christmas.” This year, she Nell rendered a scene directly from the new short story “Blue Christmas” as featured in GIFTS OF THE MAGI.
Here is the base art:
Which she cropped to this.
Variations for Facebook memes:
And I cropped further for this portrait-like view of Blue and Chip.
Personally I love this rendition of the characters, particularly Blue. She’s grown a lot and been through a lot in two novels, and Nell captured the growth and maturity of that journey, something I didn’t expect from a fun little marketing piece. It makes me excited to write the next book in her story. Hmmmm…..
For those who follow me on Facebook and social media, you know that my R.J. Sullivan page features a sort of mascot with some regularity. It started off as a one-post joke that drew such positive attention that I made it a regular thing.
I am not a morning person, so paired with that, is the fairly standard need to write in the mornings which leads to the also standard need for morning coffee and lots of it. Among our eclectic collection of mugs is one of The Little Mermaid, with images of Ariel from the Disney movie. I believe it was a lark gift, but since I am a fan, I worked into the collection. So as social media allows, I took a photo and posted something along the lines of “real men aren’t afraid to drink from Little Mermaid mugs.” The string of comments that followed told me I was onto something, so I made a comment whenever the mug came up in the rotation.
Soon the mug developed a sort of cult following among my readers, with requests to bring the talisman to conventions, speculation of the magical powers it must have, and more.
Thus is the origin of the Legend of the Magical Mermaid Mug.
It was an honest accident. While I ran an errand outside the house, Mrs. RJ accidentally elbowed the mug, which resulted in a fatal fall. I came home to the bad news, took a photo of the remains, and posted them for the mourning to begin. Comparisons to a certain leg lamp in a certain holiday tale were inevitable and amusing. Posts of shock and horror echoed on the social media sphere for days (well, maybe only in my head).
Even as I was preparing a virtual funeral for the beloved mug. a miracle occurred. Well, okay, hardly a miracle, but kidding aside, a really cool thing happened.
A Facebook follower and fan of the Magical Mug by the name of Michael James Oetting took the time to examine the photos of the mythical Mermaid Mug, and search ebay until he found an exact duplicate (shiny white, without the wear and tear). He purchased the mug and had it shipped to my address.
He can expect some very nice autographed things coming his way in the near future.
In any case, what started out as a wake has turned into a dedication ceremony, as this Friday, we put Magical Mermaid Mug II to full active duty, brewing the potent broth of magical muse-coffee that keeps me composing (or something). To make the most of it (like I haven’t already) we’re throwing a virtual party, and you’re all invited.
So Friday, noon to 6 pm, We’re giving away FREE ebooks all day, awesome titles donated by my talented author peeps. Unlike most contests, you can’t just raffle your way to a win, you need to know your Little Mermaid. We’re playing Little Mermaid Trivia all afternoon. All questions and answers will be pulled from the Disney classic. I rewatched the DVD last night and think I’ve come up with some stumpers, so KNOW YOUR LITTLE MERMAID.
Along with other random behavior, I am known for my on and off Cyndi Lauper comments, FB memes, and “Cyndi Tracker(R)” updates popping up on my author page from time to time (Or should I say Time After…..no, too easy).
Yes, I am a huge, huge fan, and there is a story there, and I told (some of) it a couple of years ago on the Cabin Goddess blog that, I am told, left blog master Kriss Morton in tears. Since I am introducing myself to several new people, I figured it was time to quit having to look that link up every couple of months and share it from my own blog.
Today Seventh Star launched the official book trailer to Virtual Blue, a collaborative effort with local fan and cosplayer Nikki Howard, who opened up and tapped her inner troubled punk girl. Thanks, Nikki, you are awesome! Special thanks to Eric Garrison for editing the pieces together for me so fast and efficiently.