Artwork for Tools of the Trade

I am . . . ECSTATIC over the new Tools of the Trade artwork!!!
Merel Pierce Designs is an affiliated endeavor of AdeCiro Publications and sister press Reticent Desires Publications. From humble beginnings, Merel’s cover and promotional artwork has steadily refined toward outstanding creativity and quality.


Review: The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe by U.L. Harper

What draws a reader back to a story again? Perhaps repeatedly?
Pondering this as I finish the fourth rereading of The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe by U.L. Harper.

The Secret Deaths . . . is a deceptively simple storyline. Arthur has the magical ability to animate the inanimate, an ability that includes restoring the dead to life. Yet raised amid frequent neglect and rejection, he strives to understand the impact and consequences exercising this ability has on others. On neighbors. On his wife who committed suicide and who he brought back to life.

Just because he can restore life to those dying around him, does that mean he should? Is holding on to someone at any cost more damaging than letting go?

But as he navigates questions about his ability, a deadly stench spreads through his town. The pressure surges as children, adults, and pets succumb to the mysterious miasma. He must resolve these questions and more to decide whether to give aid with his gift. Can he find even a modicum of peace for himself if he does—or doesn’t—use it for the dying?

Harper’s prose is lean and well-crafted. He balances the shifts between the present-day adult Arthur and the past child/adolescent Arthur with exquisite timing to illuminate scenes both preceding and following whatever is currently happening in the story. Yet none of the foreshadowing made the story predictable.

Although The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe is adult speculative fiction, the story bridges more than a single subcategory. It is magical realism and literary eerie as well as dark urban fantasy and quiet horror. It’s an artful examination of nature vs. nurture, of the right to die, of possessiveness vs. unselfishness (and how painful either can be), of the outsider psyche. Of a person who wants to do what’s right yet makes mistakes. Right and wrong are not always clear to him. Like so many of us, he finds his often unguided way by trial and error.

The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe has joined the ranks of books I read again and again. Excellent work, U.L.!!!


Upcoming Release: Tools of the Trade

Relief? Elation? Maybe a bit of shock?

As I stare at the cover, I’m not sure which is in the lead.

“Tools of the Trade” is now available for preorder on Amazon from AdeCiro Publications. The release date is set for June 23, 2021.

From the moment I penned the first words, I knew this story would lead to more.

By itself, “Tools of the Trade” is an adventure filled with demons, magical beings, and a clever heroine at the helm. It also launches The Suntosun Chronicles, a historical fantasy series set in the dawn of the 20th century. The “Tools…” cast unites with a circus striving to destroy demons intent on unleashing global terror and destruction.

I didn’t expect the journey to take as long as it has, but it’s been an exhilarating one.
And it hasn’t ended.


Blurring the Line

First, bad words & cussing.

No, this isn’t a post about cursing in stories. Not yet. That’s a future post.

This is me realizing that putting a date on prepared posts isn’t the same as scheduling for those busy stretches of time when I can’t closely tend them.

Square one: review instructions & tutorials.

*grumble, grumble*

Moving on.

Although AdeCiro doesn’t normally consider reprints, the publisher felt re-releasing the prequel novelette “Tools of the Trade” would be a good introduction to the historical fantasy world of Suntosun Circus (pending release later this year).

Creative license allows writers to twist facts, to blur the line between fact & fiction, to fit story. In some genres, though, it can compromise the believability the writer strives for. Most kinds of historical fiction rely on verisimilitude.


A pretty word, almost musical when said aloud.

You wouldn’t think it carries as much weight as it does. But verisimilitude—derived from Latin words meaning truth & similar—influences a story’s believability. It affects whether a reader becomes enthralled in a reader’s trance or kicked out of a story by gaffes.

Underpinning my historical fantasy world with real people, places, & events meant staying true to the real so the blurred line between real & unreal seemed more believable. Here are examples of blurring the lines in “Tools of the Trade”, set in 1899 Kansas City, MO.

Fiction: Sophie (the MC) and her brother Bruce, both adopted as children, were delivered to their adoptive parents via one of the Orphan Trains.

Fact:  Orphan Trains from the east coast carried hundreds of orphaned, abandoned, and parent-surrendered children west to be adopted. Some of their stories turned out well, the children cherished and cared for by their adopted parents. Others didn’t fare so well, treated as little more than extra farm hands and servants.

Some of them processed through a church orphanage called “The Little Sisters of Mercy Asylum” in New York City. Nowadays, we often think of the word “asylum” in terms of mental institutions, but the broader meaning is a place of refuge, a shelter, a haven.

Fiction: One of the minor characters is taken to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, while another is taken to a children’s clinic.

Fact: This hospital did indeed exist. Back then, it was called All Saints Hospital (est. 1885). The name changed to St. Luke’s Hospital in 1903, four years after this story takes place. Because St. Luke’s is the more recognizable name, especially for readers in the Midwest, the shift of timing for the name is creative license.

The other clinic mentioned was founded by one of two sisters (Dr. Alice Berry Graham and Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson) who set it up to help children of those too poor to afford medical treatment. At the time, women doctors weren’t common, and there was much bias about hiring them to work in hospitals another reason for founding their own. A few years later, that clinic became Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Fiction: The character Kazimir cauterizes a wound with an “untinned” brazing bit.

Fact: “Untinned” means that the brazing bit hadn’t been coated with a solder mixture of tin and lead. This mixture helps transfer the bit’s heat so solder flows properly to make a good metal joint. Essentially, he uses the equivalent of a bare-metal branding iron to cauterize the wound.

Fiction: Sophie, Bruce, and Kazimir set out from the Kansas City Yacht Club building to battle the water demons.

Fact: A surprise fact for me! While researching railroads running through KC, I happened upon a sketch showing a building with the sign Kansas City Yacht Club. After some archive digging, I found it really did exist and had a lively membership among local boaters. The club held regattas and fish fries, and they even bottled their own beer. There were a number of smaller clubs in and around the city, but the KCYC was the largest.

When publication of Suntosun Circus draws closer, I’ll post some ‘behind the scenes’ facts for it. In the story, I touched upon a few more controversial things I found during research. Digging through history yields facts that shouldn’t be forgotten.


Charmed, I’m Sure

Message from AdeCiro, the press that’ll be publishing my novel Suntosun Circus: “Do you have any author branding of any kind? logos and such?”

(Cue: deer-in-the-headlights stare.)

Fumbling, I replied about social media sites & interaction.

Of course, info I found about author brands called to mind my charm bracelet. (Not as farfetched as it may sound.)

It’s odd how autobiography of psyche creeps into a story. In Suntosun Circus, the character Sophie Asher has a charm bracelet that eventually provides clues about her past.

I’d forgotten about my own bracelet. Received when I “graduated” from 6th grade, the bracelet was too big for me. I wore it later, but it wound up tucked in the back of a jewelry box, long-term storage due to so many jobs where wearing jewelry wasn’t allowed or safe. Out of sight, out of mind.

A vague memory of it resurfaced by the time I finished the novel’s first draft. In the strange Lost & Found tent of the circus, Sophie finds her bracelet, though she doesn’t know it’d gone missing. She ponders the attendant’s question–“What did you find?”–and realizes the bracelet represents defining facets of her life symbolized by charms on a chain. She found herself.

The charms on my bracelet are different from Sophie’s. Over the years before I’d packed it away, some had been lost, some broken, replaced. Gifted or purchased, new ones added. A tortoise celebrates years involved in turtle rescue. Rather than gambling or games, the dice symbolizes problems resolved by chance. The pen represents my passion for writing, my love of story.

I often wonder what bits of autobiography show up, intentionally or accidentally, in other writers’ stories. For me, the writing as well as building my author brand somehow begins in the meaning of each tiny charm. They are biography & autobiography in silver. I found myself.


Confiteor, Redux

With the approaching re-release of my fantasy novelette “Tools of the Trade” and later publication of the sequel novel Suntosun Circus from AdeCiro Publications, I revisited thoughts on story, on writing.

So take this as explorations interwoven on itself like knotwork. Or ruminations of a mind rabbiting down twisty bunny trails. Hippity-hop down lagomorph lane.

Or take this as a confession.

I’ve long held the belief all writing—fiction as well as nonfiction—is autobiography.

It’s easy to spot in nonfiction. These events happened in my life. Let’s say, though, that it’s the history of someone else. That’s biography, right? Technically in one sense, yes. In another sense, it’s autobiography of an interest. Ditto for nonfiction about some other thing. My interest drives it. Ergo, autobiography.

Fiction, though—that’s made up. Fabrication. Most of my writing is speculative: science fiction, fantasy, and sub-genres under that wide categorical umbrella.


My characters and stories would not exist without me. A damaged drifter wouldn’t find his missing son. An odd young man wouldn’t fight botanical vampires. An elf in space couldn’t save her beloved’s life, and another wouldn’t cause catastrophic tragedy in his dying madness. A circus of covert defenders wouldn’t battle demons threatening our world.

These story worlds have touchstones within my life. Each is built on places I’ve experienced, however tenuous the construction material may seem. A moment’s focus calls their fullness to my mind as sharply as the taste and smell of my breakfast, the colors of last evening’s sunset, the texture of my dog’s fur.

Hallya’s cooling world is every late autumn I’ve known extended across millennia. A trip to the Grand Canyon produced the labyrinthine canyons of the Kahall, and the grasslands of Kamanthia grew from the prairies of Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. My years as a machinist informed details of my spaceships. The first incarnation of Rhapsody, Tuscan Red, Mind the Trees, and more  was the nameless little boat I rented once to sail on the Pacific Ocean.

More importantly, what characters feel echoes something I’ve felt, reflects some facet of me. Transparent or masked, exaggerated or subdued, the source is genuine. I may acknowledge a few, but I rarely connect the echo/reflection to the facet for anyone else. Even I’m not always sure of the exact connections. Some are sharp and vivid, but many shimmer at the outermost borders of memory.

Facts underlying the fabrications are no easier to discern than how I make associations, what synapses fire in inspiration. For purposes of my stories, it’s not vital to know where the realities are.

Fiction is the tales of worlds existing between a pair of ears. Fabrications, yes, but no less true. It’s autobiography of the psyche.


Starlight Through Five Apertures

We try to touch our toes to stars.

Chains anchor one swing set, and our toes only reach as high as the kitchen window. The frame rocks, pulling free as though about to tip over at the peak of our swinging arc, then slamming down with a clanking thunk. We choose the other swing frame, steel set in concrete buried in the ground.

We climb the smooth poles and hang by our knees from the top bar. We giggle at the upside-down world, not realizing yet how much the world is already upside-down. Not yet understanding behavior is taught but virtue is instilled. Our friends hone virtue better than memorizing rules.

Some aerialist cue warns just before the headward rush of blood turns to ache. Sweaty in summer swelter, we slip and shinny down chains to the swing seats. In daylight, we grip the chains and stand on the seats, sometimes lifting our feet from them. Pretending, pretending because no big top is bigger than the bright blue overhead.

Pretense changes to challenge at and after twilight. The first swinging high enough to touch toes to stars and call out Twinkle-toes! wins.

Play fair, play honest—the award doesn’t matter. Maybe the winner won’t be the first it in flashlight tag later. Maybe winning means dibs on the last good cookies, the ones our moms bake rather than the store-bought ones. Maybe it’s just a win. Pick another star, start again, swinging back and forth, passing wins back and forth, striving for stars to the metallic rhythm of creaking chains.

Would we like to swing on a star? You betcha!

But for now, for years ahead, touching toes to stars a handspan high above horizon suffices.


She doesn’t sail at night anymore. The old dory looks as age-roughened as she does, but it’s no less sea-worthy. Over decades, night has become a time of resting muscles and bones no longer so hardy and hearty. A time of watchful contemplation on the shore.
She has sea regrets, some fanciful, some real, but not many of either. She would’ve circumnavigated oceans solo with only stars to guide her. Sang with mermaids or ridden Poseidon’s chariot. Learned the languages at every seaport. Seen the green flash from every sea, from any sea.

The last, at least, is still within possibility.

The driftwood serving as walking stick took polishing well, but she never had the heart to carve more than a comfortable grip. The silvery, twisted grain matches her loosely braided hair, catching highlights under sun, under moon.

She dusted her surfboard today. She tried to remember the last time she wrestled it from the wall for waxing. Neither kook nor ripping slash-master, she knows her skills were modest. She never braved the gnarliest waves or rode the board through a barrel—another regret. She traced her fingers over white constellations painted against ultramarine blue. Aloud, she spoke their names, their stories as she outlined their shapes.

Even now, as she hobbles from her cottage, she smiles: she surfed standing on the shoulders of Hercules.

Farther along the shore, sand gives way to rock. She often tosses stranded starfish back to the surf or collects the dead she finds in dried tidepools. She loves the quietly busy activity there, but she’ll not ramble that far this eve. The closer stretch of beach, still warm enough to soothe, satisfies.

She passes the dory moored just above the high tideline. The hull should be scraped, revarnished; the dulled brightwork could stand attention. Some of the sail’s seams need restitched before she launches to sea again. These days, she dreads the sewing more than the labor on the dory’s wood and metal. Her eyesight is fine for anything but threading a needle.

Little breeze rolls in from the shining sea. Reflecting the red sailors’ delight of the sky. Reflecting the sinking sun’s ripe apricot glow. Reflecting the dory would lie becalmed on such waters until a freshening wind filled the sail. Reflecting on how often she’s waited becalmed on the shore for a glimpse of the green flash.

On the horizon, the crimson disc of the sun sinks, sinks. She stares, not daring to blink.

Now a thumbnail, a hairline. Now winked out, gone.

Exhalation. Explanation. Resignation.

Perhaps the air is too clear, too calm. No prismatic haze divides the day’s last sunlight for a flash of green.

Perhaps another evening, then.

She builds a small beach-fire. Her contralto isn’t as true as it once was, but songs of sea and stars, of love and adventure, lift her spirit when it ebbs.

Twilight darkens to dusk; dusk darkens to night. Pinpoints of light quiver on the glassy sea. Constellations form on the waters, then she gazes up to their source. She digs her toes in the warm and twinkling sand.


Night after night, year after year, I gaze at stars. They glint like chips of light-struck ice, fresh and cold in the skyscape. They are clock and anchor, compass and almanac. They are pattern and poetry. They are legend.

Magnitude, lightspeed, azimuth, parsec, aphelion, perigee. Astronomy borrows and provides the words and formulae for stargazing, but science never diminishes their mystery.

The scent of new mown grass envelopes me. My star chart glows in the dark and points the way to Lyra, Vega, Draco, Aquila. Cepheus rules near the throne of his queen; Boötes herds the stars by the Northern Crown. Hercules is high overhead. The great bear ambles slowly around the smaller bear.

The life of a transient means taking little for granted. Necessities and detritus carried from place to place may be lost or broken in transit. The people met get on with their lives, forgetting someone was present and now is gone.

Stars move, but they return. A multitude of constants shining on an inconstant world.
Another month, another place. A short way from my campsite, I sit on a low bank of the broad, braided tributary of the Platte River. I clutch my campfire-fragrant coat close against the chill. At the end of Ursa Minor’s tail, Polaris— North star, pole star, Cynosūra, lodestar, stella maris, sea-star—is a fixed constant, orienting me on land even as I stare skyward. Pegasus charges across the night sky, accompanied by ram and goat. The great swan soars into the west.

Another transit. My younger sister has a first-grade project about constellations. We spread a quilt on the ground, wrap blankets around our shoulders. Autumnal cool arrived in the Midwest early this year; the late September night seems unseasonably crisp. Some of the trees already dropped leaves. Others are turning colors, shedding more slowly.

Her head leaning on my breast, she looks along my arm as I point out the Big Dipper, then the Little Dipper. A naked ash tree obscures most of Aquila, but we spy the eagle’s brilliant Altair hovering near an upright branch. I tell her we can make the star disappear and reappear.

Oh huh! (Cynicism often overrides gullibility in the young.)

Close your right eye—see how bright the star is?


Close both eyes. Whisper Twinkle-toes, then open your left eye.

Twinka-toes. (A pause.) Oooooh!

Do it again, but open your right eye.

Twinka-toes. (Another pause.) Oooooh!

Leaves falling from the poplar windbreak rustle and patter. The breeze stirs drying, dying odors from the field stubble beyond the fencerow. She repeats the incantation. Once more, Altair vanishes behind the ash branch, then returns with each parallax shift.

For one evening, my sister thinks we’re magic.


The man doesn’t think she dreams of stars. When she was a puppy, the older dog showed her angels. Not so much the guardians and messengers of light, though she probably sees them, too.

No, she watches angels of nature, elementals in camouflage. They tend the seasonal cycles: vernal equinox, summer solstice, autumnal equinox, winter solstice. They signal migratory timing for bird and beast. They crack hulls and husks of seeds in the darkness under the dirt, urge the dormant to new growth. They show worms the way to cooler depths when summer sun heats the soil. They flutter wings of fallen leaves, dance en masse disguised as snowflakes.

The Labrador half of her ancestry alerts her to geese in formation overhead, but the back and forth calls of owls disturb her shepherd half. She presses her furry shoulder to his leg. Her head tilts up to nose his hand. She doesn’t understand why he still stares at the sky. The geese are gone.

Meteor showers—Leonid, Perseid, Orionid—mean nothing to her. There is no sound, there is no scent. The swift strobes are too distant for her sight, but the angelic display isn’t done for her eyes or for his. Flashing across the skyscape, the diamantine trails proclaim destruction and renewal in another form.

Later, she curls beside him on the couch. Her feet twitch and paddle as she sleeps, but she doesn’t dream of touching her toes to stars. She dreams of hooting owls, of honking geese, of angels masquerading among moths or milkweed down.

Perhaps, though, if stars glimmer in her slumber at all, she dreams of chasing squirrels or rabbits, hunting side by side with Procyon and Sirius whose twinkling toes are stars.


Night after night, year after year, you gaze at stars. You wonder.

Do you remember driving along a high plains highway at night? Through the windshield, a cloud shone as though reflecting the lights of a thousand cities. You slowed, then parked roadside. No atmospheric haze hung in the clear darkness. The Milky Way’s magnificence washed unfading awe over you, imprinting you forever.

Strange to think the sun is the closest star. Other stars divide the days and nights of their nearby planets the way old Sol lights this solar system, this Earth. Strange to ponder how this sun might appear if you stargazed from the crystalline shore or turquoise steppe of a distant world. Would you even notice a single star, a sun, in the lesser spur of the Orion-Cygnus Arm? How insignificant it seems amid the longer spiral arms of the Milky Way. Yet this star is life for Earth. Is it any wonder ancients worshipped the sky’s yellow dwarf? The impersonal master of seasons personally validates existence and solidity with shadow-stamps on soil, sand, and snow.

You used to look for your shadow by starlight. Their light is far, faint, but that doesn’t mean there’s no shadow cast. The ground is too dark to discern such dim and indistinct shade, but with so many stars scattered, shedding illumination crisscrossed across the sky, they may cancel each other’s light. Still, the palest stellar clusters don’t seem strong enough to nullify shadows cast by the brightest stars. Perhaps you need only stand on purest white to see your starlight shadow.

When you wish upon a twinkle, twinkle little star light, star bright, would you like to catch a falling star? Do you want to swing on a star, or do you hope for a pocketful of starlight? On a starry, starry night, does Mariah blow the stars around? Would she be wind or whirlwind stirring the galaxy’s spiraling arms?

Per ardua ad astra. Through hardship to the stars. Hardship for those who lost the sense of marvel and miracle to scholarship. You attain the stars in the way children of all ages do.

You climb the jungle gym of Cassiopeia’s Throne, cross the monkey bars of Orion’s belt. Your aerial silk flutters in cosmic wind as you angel-spin from the stinger of Scorpius in synch with the throbbing heart of red Antares. You launch from wing-to-wing trapeze as Cygnus soars the night. With a grand jeté, you leap from the horns of Taurus for an Aldebaran pirouette en pointe. You jazz with the Pleiades sisters.

You play and dance and frolic with stars. Pretending, pretending. Shout out Twinkle-toes! to win.



“Starlight Through Five Apertures” by Glynda Francis first appeared in The Tishman Review, Vol. 4, July 2018. 


Residing at Vaile Mansion

rocking, rocking
I know my family loves me
rocking, rocking
even though they think
something’s wrong rocking in my head.
The doctor says asylum,
the nurse says loony bin
but I know it’s a mansion.
The gardener with rocking leafy hair
and willow eyes said so.
He said Mr. Vaile lived there
alone eleven rocking years
after Mrs. rocking Vaile committed suicide.
She said it wasn’t true
when I melted rocking in the marble,
met her in the cold grey veins.

The girls’ school rocking failed,
but she said they were afraid
when they saw her dancing
in the mirror rocking and the pool.
She told me in the cluster
of the rocking gilded grapes
and in the corner of the picture frame
that I should weave sparrow wings
and doves rocking through my hair
when the rocking window bars
shining change into the shape
of rocking cold wet sheets.

One nurse doesn’t like me,
and when rocking day turns black
and the sun bursts its seams
hurling sparks across the rocking sky,
she brings the drug to make me sleep
just so I won’t see the sun
sew its sparks together again.
But Mrs. Vaile says it’s all right
it’s only rocking laudanum
it’s not so bad, it doesn’t hurt
to be sifted rocking funneled
down the rocking throat of that small
cobalt blue glass bottle
but it’s cold rocking cold cold rocking cold . . ..


“Residing at Vaile Mansion” first appeared in the journal Pleiades (1992), and appears in the poetry collection Under Every Moon, published by Charlie Dawg Press, 2013.


Diagnosis: Lukánthrōpos

At first, it felt like a fever.

Cool, professional, the voice on the phone informs me symptoms of the latest flu epidemic pass within 48 to 72 hours. Rest. Stay hydrated. Go to urgent care if the fever climbs or symptoms worsen. Be prepared for standing room only and a long time in any waiting room.

This office—the last on my list to try—is a two-hour drive to the nearest city. As with the others, they’re booked nine weeks out, longer for new patients. Do I want to make an appointment?

I growl and end the call.

My dogs sense my anger and tremble. Tails tucked, bellies nearly flattened to the floor, they slink to another room.


Acute onset. Aching head, aching muscles. (Aching everything.) Chills, sweats.
Vertigo. (Is the floor horizontal, vertical, or sliding through angles?)


The sheriff terminated my employment as an animal control officer. He said for erratic attendance. Legitimate grounds, but I wonder whether the workman’s comp claim after I’d been bitten on a call played into the decision. Small towns have limited funds.

Zoonotic means a condition or disease can be transmitted from species to species. The shepherd/husky-looking mutt that bit me got away. I endured the injection series for rabies.

This other condition doesn’t appear as a genuine diagnosis. Conjectures about it offer little enlightenment: congenital porphyria, hypertrichosis, rabies, delusion, psychosis. The truth isn’t believed.

Bloodwork profiles done during the waxing and waning moon show nothing unusual for a person of my age and gender. Everything is WNL–within normal limits.

Brain scans, also unremarkable. Doctors suspect a form of absence seizure lasting longer than usual, but they can’t verify unless it occurs during a scan. I miss appointments during the full moon. Opportunities for diagnostics are lost to me.


Despite aches, no weakness. Restless. No lethargy.
Appetite increased rather than diminished. (Voracious hunger. Ravenous hunger.)


The night is so much brighter under the full moon. It doesn’t feel like day truly ended. People and animals are more active, more restive. Breaking the circadian rhythm for a short time triggers edginess. For some more so than for others.

Maybe there’s something about the tidal pull the moon exerts. Oysters transported inland for studies change when they open and close their shells according to the time tides would occur if the Pacific shoreline lay east of the Rockies.

Why would the cycling moonlight affect me so? I’m not an oyster.


Hot, flushed skin. Burning, itching sensations. (As though I wallowed in thistles and stinging nettles.)
Hyperaesthesia. (Who cranked up the volume of sound? the intensity of scent?)


If you believe the lore, it’s a curse.

Curse. The best explanation from bygone eras. Times when nightmares sprang from superstition. Sometimes fueled by ergot-tainted dreams.

Mankind fears what it doesn’t understand. Eventually, curiosity follows. And so, the science of one era becomes the myth of a later one. It’s reasonable to assume advanced science could illuminate the myth. Even tales bear germs of truth. The germs mutate, and truth evolves into legends, into tales.

What mechanism entangles a viral or bacterial mutation with the cycles of light and dark? I don’t know. The lunar body doesn’t grow and shrink. Earth’s mass blocks the sun in a slow-moving shadow across reflected light. The naked eye can see the shadowed portion, the circular completion even when moonlight is a slender thumbnail sliver. The moon is always full.


Significant numbers (I should’ve recognized sooner)–heart rate speeding from 67 bpm to 118 bpm. Temperature 101.4, up from my normal 96.2 (the heart rate’s easier to miss than the temp, although denial plays a powerful part).
Speech impaired. Bones reshaping, joints rearranging. Teeth throbbing.


Local hunters complain about fewer deer than there used to be. Rabbits, too. Gossip about the habitually drunk bachelor in the next county found savaged to death in his field dwindled after a few months. Closer, a couple of missing sheep, the remains of a dairy cow. Some of the farmers now have a llama, donkey, or mule to protect livestock from coyotes. Some bring along a rifle or shotgun when they work alone in the pastures.

My dogs no longer cower. They’ve grown accustomed to this new dynamic. Their alpha’s simple glance enforces good behavior, a single word comforts them. They’re content and confident in their role as my “service” dogs. Slower than me, they guard our home, our territory, our den when the hunt summons me into the shining night.

I bequeathed the sterling tea set, shipped the heirloom to a distant, distant cousin. In the new moon’s darkness, I locked away my jewelry.

I once loved silver.



by G.L. Francis
©2018 All rights reserved.






Walk barefoot on this warm, soft beach where sea foam sighs along the long border of sand that marks the seam between land and sea.
Yesterday’s storms stirred shells from the depths. Crashing waves scattered them like so many jewels tossed on the sand. They lay shining, tide-polished—abandoned homes of creatures that breathe brine and perceive the sun through blue-green distortions of water.
Crabs amble around knots of seaweed in a sideward dance. Shore birds pick through larger tangles, searching for small fish or mussels netted in the green-gray-brown masses.
Look. There’s a shell unlike any you’ve gathered so far. Pick it up. Brush away the sand sticking to it and raise it to your ear. Listen to the shell echo the sound of the waves.
As you watch seagulls wheeling above the shore, you begin to hear voices—hollow, delicate voices the shell gathered throughout its watery life.

It is good, my Lord. Yes. Yes. It is very good.

Amphitrite fled, seeking sanctuary with Atlas. Nereus advises me to recover her gently, with diplomacy. I will send my most trusted and intelligent friend. Delphinus will charm her to me for he is sweet natured, irresistible. A lovable rascal, he asked what reward he would receive for persuading a Nereid whose countenance is set against matrimony—not an easy task. I promised to show him the pattern of his image among the stars in the high waterless ocean far above where the feathered ones swim.

My father holds no love for me. I resemble the brother he slew; he cannot endure to look on my face. I told my mother I would seek the grandparents his crime denied me, the cousins I long to know. I kissed her cheek in parting though I broke her heart, but I will not bid my father farewell. I will not look back for a man on the beach, a man marked by the curse of God. As this ship departs from the shores of Nod, I turn my eyes to the sea.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be, for the shell collected voices and the dreams of voices just as you collect shells. Its brine washed chambers captured the voices of spirits and men, recording their work, their passions, their crimes, their visions. Listen.

I bear the wrath of Reef. He never forgave us for losing Calypso. My sisters killed themselves; but he made me a wrack-chained priestess singing atonement to him, sacrificing virgin vessels’ blood for without blood there is no atonement.

44˚18’N, 26˚10’W Should’ve sighted the Green Island by now. Navigator checked and rechecked bearings, but no sign of the island the Portuguese call Ilha Verde. Will search the area for a few more days. If nothing found, will report to HM cartographers the reports from that drunken sot of a captain from Gibraltar are false. If we find it, there will be great reward for our king promised . . ..

Familial blood has stained us since Atreus. Now as we sail for Troy, I must choose whether to perpetuate the taint. The waves are angry. The men speak among themselves—we never should’ve brought Iphigenia. I see their furtive glances. They wonder if I will appease the waves with the life of my daughter. If I do, the fleet will be saved, but the curse will poison yet another generation of my house. If I don’t, we shall all perish, and Troy . . ..

Red sky in morning, sailor, take warning;
Red sky at night, sailor, delight.

60˚30’N, 1˚50’W . . . sighted a herd of pale horses frolicking in the surf. Such beautiful animals: powerful limbs, proudly arched necks, flowing manes and tails, shining pearl-gray as they splashed in the flood-tide. Steeds fit to draw the king’s carriage.
We spoke to the captain about capturing some to sell in Liverpool, but when the lookout saw them through the spyglass, he turned white as the foamy waves battering the cliffs beside that beach. He screamed and babbled something about cabyll ushtey being flesh-eaters. Dangerous. Monstrous. Who can figure these Manx sailors?

Look, son, look there! The dove returns, and she carries something green in her beak!

51˚48’N, 30˚0’W The wind’s been keenin’ like a bean-sidhe among the sails for four days and nights. Ye’d think the very sea grieved for us and the leavin’ of our homeland.
Three more died today. A woman, her teeth stained green from eatin’ grass. A child not ten years yet. And a babe that lived only an hour in this cold stormy world. There’s no holy father aboard but the captain’s a Christian soul, he said words over them before givin’ them to the deep black water.

In the Year of the Tiger, in the Hour of the Rat, I go down to the Tsientang. I make an offering to the angry spirit of the river. I make an offering of rice and ribbons of silk. I bow toward the directions of the wind. I do this under the full moon. I ask the kings of heaven to protect our ships as we sail down the Tsientang to the open sea . . ..

37˚12’S, 43˚5’E Half my crew is ill with the same malady rampant at the last port. It’s not deadly, but it does incapacitate them for a few days, leaving us short-handed. I know there are a few seamen among the prisoners. When I looked over the manifest, I saw their crimes were not grievous—the theft of a loaf of bread, a brawl with a squire over a lady of doubtful reputation . . ..
I will speak to these men about working on the ship. If they perform their duties satisfactorily, I will offer a small sum in payment and a letter of recommendation for amnesty to present to the governor when we drop anchor at Sydney.

. . . when she gave a flourish with her tail, and the boats capsized.   Eleven men drowned . . ..

66˚42’N, 11˚0’E . . . navigators I spoke with in Copenhagen advised me to steer well west of Mosken and Moskenaes to avoid what the Norse call Maelstrom. They said we would be able to hear the roar of that evil water from a great distance . . ..

You wrap the shell in the length of linen you carry to the beach with you. You place the protected shell in your net bag with the starfish stranded too long in a dried tidepool, with the husks of sea snails, pieces of coral, and claws of crabs. You walk slowly home. You think about the multitude of voices echoing in your mind, and you stop along the way to hear more.

20˚10’N, 115˚0’W . . . exasperates me beyond belief! If he wasn’t such an excellent lookout, I’d feed him to the sharks myself and good riddance. At least he doesn’t come down from the crow’s nest while I’m on duty.

55˚10’S, 65˚1’W The lookout rang two bells and reported a ship listing badly one point forward of our port beam. I instructed the steersman to make the best course toward the distressed vessel.
We were within one and a half cable lengths when a breeze caught the vessel’s flags—one was a yellow rectangle. I immediately ordered our ship put in irons and viewed the vessel myself from the crow’s nest. I then instructed the first mate to make ready to burn the vessel.
Several crewmen and the helmsman were dead on the aft deck and fo’c’s’le. Large, blackened sores covered their bodies. There were no signs of life except for the rats swarming everywhere . . ..

Go down, ye blood red roses, go down . . ..

. . . when he signaled the other boat to help. Their catch was so many, I knew their net would break; but it held. When they hauled in the net, it seemed certain both boats would sink for the weight of their catch. My brothers and I worked all night but the sea gave us nothing. How did he know to cast the net once more on the right side of the boat?

53˚30’N, 3˚20’W A reading of the invoice bound for the colonies shows we carry the following: 2 stallions, 5 mares, 3 bulls, 18 heifers, 5 rams, 25 ewes, 30 slaves, 47 bondservants, 250 chickens, 150 cases of ale . . ..

43˚0’N, 40˚0’W Blasted landlubber! He spends half the voyage heavin’ his guts over the gun’les. Now he’s spendin’ the rest of it botherin’ me about knots.
Show me a bowline, he says. The rat climbs up the hole, runs around the mast, then back down the hole.
How’s the reef knot go again? he says. Right over left, left over right.
I forgot how the bowline goes, he says. The rat climbs up . . ..

Immortally yearning mortality, I sing alone as years pass, years of gazing out on watery wastes, endlessly wishing I could spill my briny blood, my salty tears.

41˚0’N, 12˚2’E . . . and though I see it with my own eyes, I find it difficult to believe, captain, that as a man of God you allow your navigator to use that instrument. The needle is obviously bewitched by demons, yet you entrust the lives of your crew and passengers . . ..

. . . know now I should not have heeded the ship’s owner nor the helmsman. Through every storm, the prisoner’s counsel kept those of us who listened alive. Dare I believe his other report of the Galilean?
When we ran aground, the soldiers thought to kill him lest he swim ashore and escape. I, Julius, centurion of the Augustan Regiment, will not permit this. God’s hand is on this prisoner. I will defend his life to my last breath. Agrippa was right . . ..

74˚1’N, 90˚5’W . . . can only surmise that Sir John either underestimated these waters or was unprepared for the time of year in which he attempted the expedition. We found wreckage from the Terror and the frozen body of a drowned sailor washed onto the rocks of an island. Another ship coming in from the west reports bits of wreckage belonging to the Erebus. Considering the condition of what has been found, I must conclude there were no survivors.

The currachs tomorrow will stand on the shore
and Daddy go sailin’, a-sailin’ no more . . ..

You sing with them, weep with them. You share the excitement as they discover a new passage, a new land. You feel the rush of adrenalin when a lookout yells, There, there she blows! You ache with personal memories of loss and loneliness as you hear the sobs of women sound out across water from headlands and widows’ walks.

The dragon’s head pointed west when we last saw the sun. Curse this fog! Every sounding we take is the same as the one before. We may be going in circles for all I can tell. We can’t see what few birds we hear, and I fear if we release any of our ravens, we won’t be able to follow them to land. The fog’s too thick, the wind too weak. I pray Woden favors us with the sun and a strong breeze soon.

16˚21’N, 70˚58’E Blast his scurvy hide! I should keelhaul him! His blather about that blasphemous Dutchman has our new cook terrified someone will sight that cursed ship. He hasn’t fixed anything fit for dogs to eat in nearly a week for fear of being doomed to drown.

. . . afraid if we do, afraid if we don’t. The Hebrew says this tempest will calm if we cast him into the sea. God charged him with a message for Nineveh, but he fled . . ..

. . . their lonely graves are by Suvla’s waves . . ..

51˚30’N, 0˚5’W . . . but the hands that’ve sailed on the Mary Margaret and the Elizabeth were glad to hear the Muscovy Company hired Basque harpooners and flensers for this voyage. The crew thinks they’re lucky. I don’t know, but we do bring back more ambergris when they’re aboard.
The Basques should arrive a fortnight before we weigh anchor for Spitsbergen.

. . . By the deep 6. And a quarter 6. By the mark 7. And a half 7. And a half 7. And a quarter less 8. By the deep 8. And a half . . ..

. . . and I know it could be months or years till I know if the sea took the one so dear, and it wouldn’t be so hard to watch if it weren’t for the widows walks.

75˚10’N, 70˚0’W I’ve never considered mutiny, you know that. But I think the crew is right—Hudson is risking the ship and all hands in his search for a passage. Too many close calls with icebergs. The men have cause for pleading mutiny on the grounds Hudson is non compos mentis. They said they’ll set him adrift in an open boat before nightfall.
If I try to stand in their way, I’ll be with him . . ..

35˚55’N, 4˚9’W . . . and most of the crew’s on their knees crossing themselves. I should be, too. Although fire engulfs everything above her waterline, the flames are not destroying—not even charring—her timbers and sails.

27˚0’S, 109˚0’W Long before we dropped anchor, we saw standing along the island’s hills and beaches massive stone heads gazing out to sea—great, silent sentinels keeping watch for reasons forever behind hewn lips.

You place the shell on your mantle among other shells you collect. From time to time, you raise it to your ear and hear the lives of the sea folk. As years pass, you wonder if your hearing fades for the voices grow fainter each time you listen. At last, you realize it’s not your hearing. The shell starves for new voices to fill its empty chambers. It thirsts for roaring tides and salty waves.
On a day when you’re chilled despite the fire in the hearth, you reach again for that treasure from the sea. But the voices sucked down into a whirlpool of silence leaving only the emptiness of a hollow shell.



A version of “Shell” first appeared in Issue7 of The Cross and the Cosmos quarterly ezine (publishing online from 2010-2014).

“Shell” appears in the following collections:
Under Every Moon by GL Francis, 2013 (publisher: Charlie Dawg Press).
Available at http://www.amazon.com/Under-Every-Moon-G-Francis/dp/0615870694

Leyfarers and Wayfarers by GL Francis, 2014 (publisher: Charlie Dawg Press).
Available at http://www.amazon.com/Leyfarers-Wayfarers-G-L-Francis/dp/0692336834/