Book Review: Cthulhu Blues

I finally got around to reading Cthulhu Blues, the third installment in the Spectra Files trilogy.

It was refreshing to read a book set New England. Many of the books I’ve read lately have either been set on the West Coast or in the rural midwest. While I do enjoy reading about places I’ve never been, especially in the Pacific Northwest, I also like to see my corner of the US represented in novels.

Another thing I like about Cthulhu Blues is the mental health representation. Becca’s depression always seems well described, and I appreciate how the narrative doesn’t shy away from talking about how Becca’s meds and therapy help her. This is something I rarely see in speculative fiction.

Becca’s love for photography, cargo pants, and her dog is another thing that allows me to connect with her. Django is a faithful, intelligent four-legged sidekick, is the only character in the book that I like more than her. While there were a few times I worried about him, he always makes it through okay.

The other characters are well developed, but Becca and Django are why I read the series.

This series is labeled as horror, but it feels like dark urban fantasy to me. Yes, there are cosmic, tentacles monsters, but they’re not any scarier than beasts one encounters when reading The Dresden Files or The Mortal Instruments.

One thing that annoys me a little is how the narration will start out wide and distant. A chapter will have an omniscient tone in the beginning, then it will zoom into close third one Becca or another character. While it does give the book an interesting tone, it slows things down and keeps me away from my favorite character. Sometimes I’m tempted to do things like this in my own writing. However, when I find myself getting annoyed at it in a book like this, I understand why I shouldn’t start chapters that way.

The end seemed abrupt and left me a little confused. The book really needed one more chapter, or at least an epilogue, to really wrap things up and make it feel complete. I understand not wanting to drag it out, but when ending a series, it is important to really bring everything to a close.

Click here to buy a copy of Cthulhu Blues.

Settings and Urban Fantasy

Some of the books that made me fall in love with the genre of urban fantasy were set in actual cities, or I guess, technically, they’re not really those cities but alternate magical versions of them.  The Dresden Files was set in Chicago and Greywalker was set in Seattle, so I when set to write urban fantasy, I also choose to set my books in alternate magical versions of real places.

I the case of Power Surge, it was Portland, Maine.

As a reader, I prefer urban fantasy settings grounded in the real world, but not fully limited by it. I want there to be some recognizable landmarks for the city the story takes place in, but I also don’t want the setting to adhere to strictly to reality because then it doesn’t feel enough like fiction.

I write the type of books that I want to read. So when I write urban fantasy, there are usually some landmarks with real life counter-parts that exist along side a plethora of completely made up ones.

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Portland Head Light

In Power Surge, the school Erin and friends attended was completely fictional, but one of the battles happens at Portland Head Light. The characters go in made up shops and restaurants, but those are within the confines of Portland.

I don’t put actual business in the story, though generically named places often bear some resemblances to my favorite eateries even if that was never my intention.

Good food sticks in my unconscious, and writing first drafts is a lot like dreaming.  The worlds of my urban fantasy novels wind up littered with almost-Doppelgängers of my favorite restaurants.

Legal and ethical issues aside, I don’t use exclusively real settings because I feel too limited if I can’t completely make up certain aspects of a place, like the staff, the decor, and the restrooms.

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A street in Portland, ME, similar to one Erin and Sam walk down in Power Surge.

However, a recent afternoon spent in Portland reminded me this balance is a tricky one to maintain, and I didn’t do quite as a good a job with it in Power Surge as I thought I did.

I’d been to all places that inspired my setting many times before I wrote the scenes that happened there. Years ago, shortly before and while I was working on early drafts, I frequented downtown Portland as well as the beaches and light houses around it.

Unfortunately, there was a large gap between those visits and the final revisions and edits of the book.

Google maps, even on satellite view, is no substitute for actually going to a place, walking around, taking pictures, smelling it, hearing it, and taking it all in.

I’m certain that in the early drafts, my description of places with real life counterparts, the ones that ground the fantasy, were very accurate. I’m not so sure I’d say that about the final version. I’m not way off, but when I think about how I described Portland Head Light and Crescent Beach, I realize I made them to small. I didn’t take the parking lot gates into account when my characters visited at night.

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Parking lot a Crescent Beach

How did this happen?

I revised my descriptions of the “real” settings the same way I revised descriptions of fictional ones, and wasn’t careful enough to make sure I was staying true to the place.

To readers who have never been to the places in the book, it won’t matter. However, if someone who frequented them picked up, I fear some inconsistencies with reality might yank them out of the narrative.

“That parking lot is way bigger than you described!”

“If it was ten at night, the gate would have been closed.”

This is the danger of mixing actual landmarks in fiction. You may start with a light house or beach readers could visit, but if you are not careful enough, you may edit that place away from it’s real life counterpart without even realizing it.

In some ways, that is for the better. I’m writing fiction, and no matter how much the Portland Head Light in my book may or may not look like the real thing, at most, it is a Doppelgänger. The setting of the book isn’t reality but an alternate version of it. Still, I don’t want to confuse or alienate local readers.

I’m not sure if I’ll change how I handle settings in urban fantasy, but I need to be more careful. I need to approach revision differently in those sections. I need to really be aware of how much time messes with my memory.

Have you ever used real cities or landmarks in your books? Why or why not?

Want to read a dark urban fantasy novel about demon hunters in an alternate Maine? Click here to buy a copy of Power Surge!

Book Review: A Blade So Black

A Blade so Black is my new favorite Wonderland story! Instead of simply regurgitating a version of Lewis Carroll’s tale or taking elements of it and twisting them into something far more gruesome, it’s more of a “what happened way later” type of story blended with what I’ve come to think of as classic YA urban fantasy tropes.

Yes, certain tropes are used a lot in YA urban fantasy, but those tropes are what made me fall in love with YA to begin with. As long as the characters are fresh and the plots mix things up enough, I have no problem with tropes.

In A Blade so Black , the two main  tropes are we get tough 17-year-old girl learning to fight  monsters after nearly getting eaten by one and getting a crush on her supernatural mentor who is way older than any human but the age difference is tolerable because the mentor looks young, and his age is sort of rendered irrelevant anyway because it exceeds anything a human could live to. Like Tithe meets City of Bones, but instead of  demons and faeries, there is a world and beings drawn out of / inspired by Lewis Carroll’s tales.

I loved the balance between showing Alice tough and vulnerable. She was competent fighting monsters, but not so competent that I didn’t feel the need to worry and root for her at times.

When she first saw one of the nightmares, I was thrilled that she didn’t automatically assume she was having some kind of psychotic break. It didn’t take her very long to accept it was real and not a literal nightmare.

At first, the crush on Hatta annoyed me, but then it grew on me as Hatta became more complex of a character.

The plot was less predictable than I thought it was going to be — a couple things actually surprised me.

A Blade so Black wasn’t a “so intense I must read the whole thing in one sitting book” but not every book has to be.  Had half stars been a thing on Amazon and Goodreads, I might have called this 4.5 instead of 5, but they aren’t, so I just rounded up.  Plus, I liked this better than the last two Wonderland adaptations I read. The characters and pacing were much better than Gregory Maguire’s After Alice, and the world was far less disturbing than Christina Henry’s Alice. 

I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Book Review: The Year of the Knife

A few months ago, Meerkat Press had giveaway running: sign up for their newsletter and get a free ebook. I signed up and got a copy of The Year of the Knife  It sat on my kindle for a while, on my growing list of things to read. After a big stretch of reading YA, I finally wanted to read something “adult” again, so I picked up this. I started it just before dinner and finished a little after midnight. I loved the explosive magic, a hard boiled lesbian witch main character, and the fast paced plot with a mostly well set up twist.

The magic system in the book was my favorite kind.It had well established rules, limits and costs, and an almost mathematical set up, but the way the author showed it on paged in a way that didn’t bore me with the technical details of actually showing all the calculations. There would be a sentence or two more focused on what was going through Sully’s head while she did calculations, but the reader didn’t actually see the numbers or symbols.  

Speaking of the main character, Sully, is quite the badass. If you ever read the Dresden Files, picture if Harry Dresden and Karin Murphy were actually one character only more Irish and queer.

Throughout the book, Sully is following a string of murders where victims don’t stay dead. The middle of the book, when Sully is knee deep in zombies and demons, was my favorite part. Sully was strongest when her back was against the ropes and she was grasping for leads. 

The opening wasn’t fantastic, but it did its job. It showed Sully’s strength and battle madness with one serial killer hunt, set something up for the end, and then introduced the case shortly after. 

I was a little disappointed that the one non-binary character, the only character with a they/them pronoun, was in the book for a few pages then died.

There were frequent mentions of the sexism the Sully faced, but it never seemed to affect her much, and just seemed there for the sake of being there.

Most pieces of the twist and the end were well set up for, but a couple things seemed a little too convenient, and one thing I was expecting never happened, even though a few things early on almost promised me it would. Still, there are two more books in the series, so perhaps some of the breadcrumbs left uneaten are just setting up for things yet to come. I’m willing to wait and see.

I really am looking forward to the next installment in this series, which comes out later this year. 

So if you read Year of the Knife now, you won’t have too long to wait!

Book Review: Seven Things Not to Do When Everyone’s Trying to Kill You

Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 12.02.24 AM.pngI received a free copy of this from the author in exchange for a fair, honest review.

If you are looking for a quick, fun read, then I highly recommend reading Seven Things Not to Do When Everyone’s Trying to Kill You. 

Bryant Adams is a goofy narrator who likes to break the fourth wall. In Book 1 (How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freaking Days) he gets a magic smart phone, finds out he is a wizard and and wrecks awkwardly funny teenage havoc in New York City. Now, in book 2, ( Seven Things Not to Do When Everyone’s Trying to Kill You) he has learned a thing or two about magic and had plenty of time to recover from his first ordeal. Of course, that quiet can’t last forever.

Someone, or several someones, are out to get Bryant. He has to figure out who is trying to kill them while dealing with parents who have united for the first time in a long time because they both want to keep him away from magic. Except his enemies will come for him grounded or not.

Saying anything more specific than this about the plot might become a spoiler. With the book moving so fast, I didn’t really notice the plot building. There were plenty of battles, but it all blended together and then all of a sudden it was the final battle, which seemed to easy. This was fun to read, but it was also a bit anticlimactic.

Everything else about the book was great. The voice is sweet and goofy.  The dynamic between the characters was energetic. I love how light-hearted this is even with life or death stakes. I read a lot of angsty, drama ridden stories (and maybe write them to). This was a nice break from those.

The characters may not change a whole lot throughout the book, and it may not have an in-depth exploration of any serious social issues, but I’m okay with. Not all books need to be deep, dark, and philosophical.

There is something optimistic and innocent about Bryant Adams. If you want a cheerful, laugh out loud romp of a read with plenty of magical battles and a teeny tiny little bit of kissing, read this.

It doesn’t come out until April 16th 2019, so you’re probably going to have to a wait a little to read it. So if you haven’t read the first book in the series, How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freaking Days

Power Surge & Trigger Warnings

PowerSurge-f500Power Surge’s road to publication has been long and bumpy, but as it gets closer and closer to publication date, I want to take a minute to discuss the age category, trigger warnings, and mature content.

I’ve rarely thought of Power Surge as anything other than Young Adult (YA). However, you may notice it listed on Amazon as New Adult (NA), and on my publisher’s website, it is tagged as both YA and NA.

My publisher has reasons for labeling it so, but to me, this book is YA. The main character is a 17-year-old high school senior who is still trying to figure out who they are and dealing with very teenage issues.

However, my editor feels the themes were more suitable for a NA audience. While I agree this might be too mature for many 12 or 13-year-olds I think a 16-year-old would be fine. Depending on their life situation, it might be the kind of book that helps them get through a dark time or even empowers them.

If you are a parent, educator, or anyone thinking of recommending this book to teens and want to know more about content warnings and why the book is tagged as both NA and YA, here are some explanations. But be warned, they do contain spoilers.

These are the warnings listed in the book: Depictions of violence, discussion of off-page abuse, death of a parent, mentions of off-page sexual assault, brief on-page depictions of attempted sexual assault, self-harm, suicide ideation, and bullying.

What follows is an explanation  of why they are there and how they relate to the age category.

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD

 

 

 

Content Warnings + Rational:

Violence: This is a book about demon hunters, so as you might expect, the main character, Erin, violently fights and banishes demons. There are four violent fight scenes in the book. There are two sparring matches.

Erin thinks violent thoughts about people, but they rarely act on those feelings. For example, Erin knows their love interest, José, is abused by his father. When Erin sees José’s father, they think about specific ways they want to hurt him.

There are many YA books with much larger amounts of violence, and perhaps some middle grade books that are on par with it. Erin may rage and think about hurting people all the time, but most of their physical fights are not against other humans. In fact, Erin is often aware of how wrong some of their violent thoughts are. The book sends a clear message that it is not okay to hurt other people.

Discussion of off-page abuse: As I mentioned above, José’s father is physically and verbally abusive. The physical abuse is not shown on the page, but the bruises it yields are.

As much as Erin hates José’s dad for being an abuser, Erin is terrified that they are going to be abusive to José. More about that in the next section.

Mentions of off-page sexual assault: This is one of warnings that makes me hesitate to give this book to a 12 or 13 year-old. Some junior high students would be okay reading this, but others would not.

Through internal thought and dialogue, readers learn that when Erin was 16, their boyfriend tried (and ultimately failed) to rape them. Erin retailed by trying to murder him.

More specifically, Erin tells José about the following event:

Erin and their now ex-boyfriend Ricky were kissing on a beach. He wanted to touch them places they said he couldn’t touch. He touched them anyway. Erin punched him in the face. He forcefully removed some of Erin’s clothing. They fought physically. Erin nearly beat him to death.

The above scene isn’t shown on page, rather relayed through dialogue and some internal monologue.

It does haunt Erin through out the book. It makes it harder for Erin to trust people. It’s one of the reasons Erin thinks of themself as a monster. Yes, Ricky did something bad and tried to do something horrendous, but Erin feels that while subduing him, even leaving him unconscious was justifiable, murder would not have been.

When José and Erin make out, Erin thinks of the incident with Ricky. Anxiety and rage mix. Erin says no physically (i.e. shoving José across a room) instead of just telling him to stop, and they hate themself for it. Hence what I said above about Erin thinking they are an abuser.

Brief on page depictions of attempted sexual assault: A demon that feeds off of human energy, sometimes by sex or touch, tries to grope Erin. Later, that same demon pins another character to a wall with the implied intent of sexual assault, but Erin stops it.

There is a scene where José appears to be trying to pressure Erin to have sex with him, but later, it is revealed to have been an act they both agreed to in order to make their enemy think Erin was alone, angry, and vulnerable. Erin was using themself as bait to lure a demon into a trap.

Self-harm: Erin has some mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety. Like me, Erin’s anxiety often turns into rage. When Erin can’t contain it and is afraid they will harm someone else, they harm themselves. Erin views it as an addiction they need to quite. They know it’s a bad coping mechanism, but they’re human (somewhat human, anyway) and make mistakes. The self-harm happens several times in the book, but it is clearly portrayed as a problem that they haven’t yet found a solution to.

Suicide ideation: There are a few instances where Erin thinks about a past suicide attempt and/or that they would be better off dead. These thoughts are fleeting.

Bullying: Jenny Dunn, José’s ex, is on a jealousy-motivated mission to make Erin miserable whether it is by using inaccurate slurs, dumping food on Erin’s head, or ganging up on them in a locker room.

Death of a parent: José’s father dies.

Despite these warnings, I believe that Power Surge is YA.

There are plenty of other books labeled YA that are as mature, if not more mature, than Power Surge. For example, Mindy McGinnis’s Female of the Species  is YA and it explores rape culture and violence. Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series is YA, but it is exponentially more violent and has more sexual content.

As far as mature content goes, Power Surge is probably close to Holly Black’s The Curse Workers  and The Folk of Air series.

More importantly, I think this book is appropriate because some of the issues that make it dark are also things that make real life dark. There are teens get angry, and violent, just like there are teens who get depressed, bullied, and sexually assaulted.

Sexual Assault is all over the media these days with accounts of victims coming forward after years of staying silent and with people resisting the rape culture that kept them silent.

Power Surge is relevant, perhaps more so now than it was over a decade ago when I started writing it.

If I haven’t ruined the book for you, pre-order Power Surge on

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2xLPxjy

NineStar Press.com: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/897512

 

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Another Book Review: Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper (Shadowshaper, #1)Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper series has been in my TBR list for a while. I bought it a few weeks ago, but had to work through the ARC’s I had to review before I got to it. I don’t know why I waited so long to read this. It is amazing, and I am going to try really hard pinpoint what I loved about it without just saying it was awesome.

At first, the book seemed to play into the classic YA urban fantasy trope of teen finds out they are part of some supernatural world, but this book was so much more than that.

Yes, Sierra Santiago, spunky Puerto Rican protagonist, did get drawn into a supernatural world her family had hid from her, but her personality, and her friends, were enough to make the story unique. Of course, Older didn’t just leave it at that. Sierra has a powerful internal struggle against racism and expectations. While she struggles against terrifying enemies, she also has to learn to love herself for who she is — to embrace her culture and identity.

This is all painted in colorful detail against the backdrop of a diverse, alive, sensual Brooklyn, where gentrification and hipsters are creeping up on old school neighborhoods where old men play dominos in vacant lots.

Hailing from different parts of the Caribbean, the supporting characters, including a lesbian couple, added more flavor to cultural melting pot this story happens in.

Not only did I enjoy this story, but I learned from it. I was reminded of somethings that should be obvious but aren’t always. I’m “white” and sometimes we (me and other white people) stupidly tend lump “people of color” into a few categories, and/or don’t always think about how someone who might be Puerto Rican, like Sierra’s aunt, might be a bigot towards someone who was Haitian and “darker.” It reminded me of how one time, I overheard a Dominican student whisper, “I thought that kid was black, not Dominican” to one of their friends as class was ending.

Books like this one, are so important for so many reasons. They represent a groups neglected in literature, allowing more people to see their people on the page. They are also a way educate people who are culturally illiterate or blinded by whiteness. By saying this last thing, I worry even that I am taking value away from this book by partially making it “for white people.”
I always worry I am going to overstep my place when talking about race and other people’s cultures, but being silent only fuels oppression.

Anyway, culture and race issues aside, this is an awesome book. The plot, while a little formulaic, engaged me, the magic concept was unique and the characters were deep. So if you like YA urban fantasy, books like Mortal Instruments, Chronicles of Nick, and Tithe, read this book, because it is even better than those.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Phaethon

PhaethonPhaethon by Rachel Sharp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Holly Black to Jim Butcher, I read a lot of books that involve Faeries of one kind or another. Still, this one felt fresh. It had the folklore grounding of a Holly Black novel, but a tone and humor more likely to appeal to Butcher fan’s.

The characters were cute and believable – people I could picture myself being friends with.

The plot was fast paced, and for the most part, I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride.

As far as flaws go, sometimes things seemed a little too easy. I laughed a little when one of the characters said humans were fixing Earth, but reminded myself that the political climate may have been more…optimistic…when this book began.

The rest of the story was fun and well thought out, so I can forgive those flaws.

If you like a good blend of science and fantasy, then you will enjoy Phaethon.

View all my reviews

Flash Fiction: George and the Fatal Mistake

Earlier in the week, I blogged about a rejection I received for this story. No matter what I tell myself, at the end of the day, it really is fan fiction, and I need to stop sending it to places that don’t publish fan fiction. It belongs here, on my blog, where any one can read it for free and get a laugh, or shiver, from it. If your not a Star Wars fan, you might want to skip this one. Otherwise, enjoy!

-Sara

George and the Fatal Mistake

By Sara Codair

George felt sick as he walked down the red carpet. It should’ve been like walking on a low gravity planet full of cuddly Ewoks, but it was more like wearing lead shoes while trudging across the molten Mustafar. His wife’s arm was threaded through his. Lights flashed. Cameras clicked like a Killik army, clicking their pincers and mandibles as they marched.

His skin was crawling by the time he took his seat. Normally, he would’ve seen every cut of a Star Wars movie before it premiered, but he gave those rights away when he sold his franchise. He hadn’t known about the new books until he saw one on the shelf in the grocery store and he was being left out of the brainstorming meetings for the Clone Wars cartoon. The public was under the impression he didn’t care, that he had washed his hands of Star Wars. The public didn’t know shit.

Contrary to what most people thought, Star Wars had never really been his. There were guidelines it was supposed to follow and George feared Disney had thrown those in the trash compactor. He never meant to give up all control.

#

The screening confirmed his fears. Sweat dripped down his forehead, and he couldn’t hold his popcorn down another second. Abandoning his seat, he went straight to the single stall bathroom.

No matter how many times he hit the switch, the bulb wouldn’t illuminate. His cheeks tingled. His throat tightened. He stumbled towards the toilet in the dark, sunk to his knees and heaved. His throat burned as half-digested popcorn and Coke spewed from his mouth. A cane tapped on the tile floor, followed by a shrill, frog-like laugher.

“A long time, it has been,” croaked the voice.

George turned around and saw the demon he had sold his soul to over thirty years ago. It was barely three feet tall, with wrinkled green skin, glowing red eyes and pointy ears.

“Remember me, you do. Good.” The green devil took a step forward.

George nodded, staring at the being that inspired Yoda. With its tattered brown robe, tan tunic, stick cane and light saber, it looked like it had just hobbled of off the set of The Empire Strikes Back. Of course, the fictional Yoda’s eyes had never glowed that hellish red.

“A deal we had. Keep it, you did not,” continued the creature. “Thought you could cheat me, did you?”

George shook his head, backed away. He hadn’t intended to break the deal; he just wanted to retire and enjoy his wife before he got so old and shriveled that she started hiding his Viagra. Selling the franchise had been the best way to do that. It satisfied the fans’ demand for more and gave him billions to retire on.

“Appear in the new movies, I did not.” The creature rose off of the ground and hovered mere inches away from George, so they were eye to eye. “Dead, they will think I am. Power, I will lose.”

“You’re still in the other six.” George scrambled to mollify the monster’s wrath. “You were a Force Ghost in Return of the Jedi. They know you’re not gone. Your name was mentioned in the books hundreds of times. You’re in the Clone Wars shows. People remember you. They adore you and quote your lines like scripture.”

“Yet, mentioned in this movie, I am not. Sold me to my enemies, you did. Destroy me the Faeries will, now that my image they own.”

“Fa-faeries?” Breathing became difficult; he didn’t know if it were nerves or if the creature was Force choking him. It didn’t need hand motions like Vader or the Emperor. Those had been purely for the benefit of the audience.

“Mmmm….Own Disney, the Faerie Courts do.” The creature placed a three-fingered hand on George’s chest. Its fingernails were long, black and sharp enough to pierce through George’s tux and draw blood with the lightest touch. “Punishment, I must extract.”

“Please!” George sunk to his knees. “I didn’t know. I’ll get it back. I’ll do anything. Just please don’t hurt me!”

“Too late, it is,” cackled the creature. He dug his claws into George’s chest and pulled.

George felt his skin tear and screamed. It wasn’t loud enough to drown out the slurping, sucking and chewing until fangs pierced his heart and the world went black.

#

When the crossroads demon was done feasting on the traitor’s flesh, he took on the appearance of the dead man. He brushed the dust of off his pants as he got up and walked into the hall, in search of someone who could fix George’s mistake.

“Do just fine, this one will,” he muttered to himself before he offered to buy JJ Abrams a drink.

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Microfiction: A Spell of Amnesia

A Spell of Amnesia

By Sara Codair

The yellow note was the sole splash of color in the monochrome hall, appearing blank to anyone lacking supernatural sight.

Horacio took a deep breath, channeled energy though the tattoo on his forhead and opened his third eye.

Slanted words materialized: “Usted, dice amigo y entra.”

Horacio spoke, stepping through the door to a conservatory filled with palms and orchids.

“Juan?” he choked on the humidity. “You here?”

“Hola, primo. What can I do for you?”

“Sell me spell of forgetfulness. Por favor.” He handed Juan a fifty.

“Again?”

“Si!”

Juan rolled his eyes.

Horatio woke in a white room with no memory of who he was and how he got there.

2012-07-07 08.57.38

© 2016 Sara Codair

This piece of micro fiction was originally written for 100 Word Story’s Monthly Photo Challenge. It did not win, so I made a few revisions and decided to share it here.