The Replacement

Welcome to this year’s Halloween special! Earlier this month, I had you vote on what kind of content you wanted to see, and you chose an “In-Universe Spooky Story,” which worked out perfectly with this month’s theme of framing structures and horror! You can read last year’s Laoche drabbles here. Chronologically, this short takes place before the events of Runaways. If you want to learn more about the story, you can visit its WIP page, and if you want to read another short story in the same universe, you can sign up for my mailing list here to read “Jack of Fables”. Shameless self promotion aside, I hope you enjoy this story! Have a very Happy Halloween!

“Ma! We’re ready to come in now! Can you put on the water for hot cocoa?”

Hannah stomps the snow off her boots in the garage and props her sled against the wall. Cecelia trails in after her, but groans upon seeing the empty wood rack, already knowing what comes next. Their mother emerges from the kitchen, wearing an apron and holding a half-peeled apple.

“You never got wood,” she observes.

“Do we have to? I’m freezing, and I already started getting undressed.”

“Your father comes home any minute, and we need to stoke the fire. I’ve been making apple butter all day, and lost track of time. There are only ashes left. Why didn’t you do your chores before you played?”

“But Ma, it’s almost dark!”

“It will take you twenty minutes to fetch the wheelbarrow from the shed and fill the rack. Only three loads. I’ll let you finish the job tomorrow, but work until sunset.”

“It’s snowing, the wood will get wet,” Hannah wheedles.

“It won’t turn green between the stack and the house. Stop making excuses.”

“We’re all wet. We could catch hypothermia and die.”

“If you didn’t die in the four hours you were out sledding and stuffing snow down each other’s coats, then you won’t die from twenty minutes of stacking wood. Might even warm you up.”

Hannah gives a long-suffering groan, but their mother budges as much as a sturdy oak. 

“Get on with you. The sooner you finish, the sooner you can have cocoa and apple butter bread. Many hands make light work. Stop whining and be a good example for your little sister,” she instructs.

She flips the switch to turn on the outdoor light, and tosses Hannah the keys to the shed, then disappears into the kitchen. Hannah begrudgingly pulls back on her sopping gloves and hat. Cecelia sighs and stomps behind in her footsteps.

“You know that arguing with Ma is no use,” she chides as Hannah’s frozen fingers fumble with the lock on the shed.

“You could have helped persuade her. She listens to you more than me, cause you’re the youngest.”

“She listens to you more because you’re the oldest, but not when you’re complaining so much about something you brought on yourself.”

We,” Hannah corrects. She pulls the wheelbarrow free, pushes it towards the back of the shed where their family put their big wood stacks and covered them with tarps. They use the oldest seasoned logs first, and bring them inside the garage where they’re conveniently within reach, without having to get dressed in snow gear. Another chore to add to her list of duties in the winter, and one that Hannah loathes. The heavy tarps dump water on her if she isn’t careful, and her toes are numb. “We wanted to play in the new snow, and you didn’t remind me when I forgot.”

Cecelia concedes the point with a nod as she moves the stones off the tarp and pulls it back to expose the stacked logs. She clambers up onto the pallet and starts handing them to Hannah, who dumps them in the wheelbarrow.

“Why don’t you complain?” Hannah asks, hefting an unwieldy stump onto the pile. “This is the worst job.”

Cecelia throws her the last of the logs and they ferry the wheelbarrow into the garage, where they re-stack the supply of wood on the rack, and return for another load. Then, she answers Hannah’s question:

Once upon a time, there lived a nag. She had a lovely house–a cottage on the edge of the woods, the perfect size for her family. They owned a field that gave them harvest a plenty, and they never wanted for meat or milk or eggs. Money came enough for her to afford treats on the feast days. Her husband loved her dearly, and her young son adored her. Yet she was not happy.

Everything beneath her supervision measured against her standards fell short. The front door squeaked, and the ceiling hung with spices and dried fruit, stooped too low for her liking. Her neighbor’s field gave a finer harvest than hers, and the animals snapped too much when she gathered their daily supply. The money was never enough, and she sighed after the rich silks that the mayor’s wife wore on Sundays. Her husband, though he tried to remedy her wants, never completed his endless tasks to a satisfactory requirement. The boy never slept through the night, and she could never escape his dirty diapers and puke-covered clothes.

Beyond that, she was bored. Her feet grew restless, her chest filled with wanderlust. She longed to see what laid beyond the woods, to visit the city, to swim in the sea. She did not remember how she trapped herself in this life. What spark of love still possessed her husband evaded her. She bore no fondness for her son. Once she’d been so excited to be a mother and a wife, she knew she chose this path, but she cursed the past self who settled for such mundanity. She needed an escape.

One blustery October night, the insatiable craving grew too much to bear, and the woman ran. She flung herself from her bed and pulled on her boots even as her husband beckoned her back to the warm covers. She snatched only a shawl and carried only the ring on her finger, as she fled the cottage. Past the field, past the pasture, past the edge of the woods, into the storm she ran, until she reached a tree.

It stood alone in the center of a glade ringed by toadstools. Untouched by the driving winds and whipping rain, serene leaves of gold barely fluttered as if in a spring breeze. She hesitated only a second before rushing across the threshold and jumping into its hollow trunk. Underside, she discovered a world of wonders and whimsy, of revelries and radiance. She danced with pixies and drunk with dwarves until her head grew dizzy and light.

Then she approached the monarchs. The King and Queen asked her reasons for running away, but her answer held no honor. Their disappointment struck the woman like a kick to the gut, and she groveled before their thrones, begging to stay and live amongst the fantastic delights of their land. They offered a position as a caretaker in the royal nursery, or as a gardener, or whatever job she should wish, but she scorned their offers, forgetting that life requires work. To return to that drudgery? The thought was unbearable.

With wounded pride and rejection eating her stomach from the inside out, the woman ran. Into the woods again. Fear and brambles choked her path and her tears fell as hard as the rain. What if her family should miss her and search the woods? What if they found her and dragged her back to the suffocating little cottage and smothered her with their attentions and requests? But what if she froze or starved in these woods? What if a wolf or bear attacked her at her most vulnerable? She sunk to the ground in despair, and at this moment, he appeared.

A pale face smiled at her in the darkness, with indistinguishable features and a shifting form as his clothing blended with the forest. He offered freedom, and a changeling who would take her place. He promised they would not miss her while she went on grand adventures and earned true glory.

She didn’t hesitate. They sealed the bargain with her wedding band.

A mirrored face sneered at her in the darkness, with identical features and a solid form that took her clothing and gave her the garb of the forest. The imposter slunk towards the cottage. The fae beckoned her to a feast where he played pipes for a court of monsters. She danced with phantoms and drunk with devils, and felt no remorse for her decision.

Her triumph lasted until morn, when her liberators became her captors. The Piper gave her to the Queen as a slave. A different Queen—one who spoke of both seelie and servants with contempt. The woman worked through the hangover to scour the banquet hall clean. They awarded her with a stone bed. This labor stole her sanity and ate years of her life. She toiled long and hard for others, not for love, nor duty, but for fear. The adventure died as soon as it lived.

The food kept her from running away from her troubles yet again. Enchanted delights seldom came, but she hungered for each morsel with a smoldering desperation she could not quench. The euphoric crumbs did not satisfy her for long, but she answered to their bitter and repulsive demands for the hope of meeting that fleeting joy again.

After years of earning her place, they pressed an icy blade into her hand and drilled her until it warmed with slick wet blood. She was too numb to care. At long last, she earned the glory she sought at the cost of her soul and her heart. She never won satisfaction, and passed the evenings away with gambling and drink to forget her troubles, to drown out the voices of her ghosts. She never thought to return or rise to a higher purpose until her debts caught up to her. When faced with nowhere left to retreat, she resorted to the home she abandoned. She needed an escape.

One blustery October night, the dread grew too much to bear, so she ran. She flung herself from her litter and pulled on her boots even as her mates pulled her back to the bar. She snatched only a shawl, not even carrying the lost ring on her finger, as she fled the unseelie court. Into the storm she ran, past the edge of the woods, past the pasture, past the field, until she reached a small cottage. She charged the front door and seized the changeling, to the horrified screams of her husband and child. His hair now white, her boy now grown, the changeling weathered with wrinkles, while she didn’t look a day changed. That didn’t matter.

She demanded the changeling give up her place and pay her debts. No apology. No explanation. The creature acted as her scapegoat once before, and it must fill its role now.

Return.

The changeling refused.

Her husband refused. Her son refused. They might have been hers, once. They were not anymore. Who fed the animals and coaxed good grain from the ground? Which one kept soup boiling over the hearth? Which was the kind smile at the door, the steady hand during turmoil, the warm hug on a miserable day? Which laughed, whistled to birds, rejoiced for flowers, and loved every joy of the mundane?

Not her.

The family ousted the selfish stranger from their home. She fled into the night. Loss, fury, pain, and fear drove her on to more desperate speeds. The keening of pipes, screeching of rats, and howling of dogs chased her wild run through the forest. The wind bit into her skin, and when the next gust hit, her body fell, and she flew, swept up by the other lost souls in their eternal charge across the night. What better home for her but the eternal wild hunt? A ghost is many things: love lost, unfinished business, wishes, dreams, guilt, memories, broken promises, searches, fights, forgotten familiarity, a voiceless thing shouting “I Am Here” to no avail. Her formless spirit batters against the windows when the night winds wail, desperate to reclaim her life from the replacement she wanted.

Hannah shudders, suddenly aware of the howling wind and the gathering dark. A sharp crack pierces through the snow, and both girls jump with surprise as a branch crashes and ice shatters in the forest. Cecelia climbs down from the woodpile. They worked as she told the story and filled up their last load as the sun slipped behind the mountain.

“Let’s go inside,” Cecelia whispers, “before it’s too late.”

Runaways Beta Call and September Goals Recap

Hello my friends, I have a special announcement for you today! I am now recruiting beta readers for Runaways!

If you aren’t familiar with the story, Runaways is a middle grade fantasy novel that focuses on themes of betrayal, forgiveness, and sisterly love. You can read the synopsis and some early excerpts right now on its WIP Page, but I plan to release it serially on this website in the coming year, and I need help to get it ready to share. If you’re interested, please check out This Form – all the relevant info is in the introduction to help inform your decision. I’m super excited to share this story with the world, and I appreciate all the support so much. 🙂

While we’re on the topic of big updates, I also completed most of my goals this month! (?) School is now in full swing and I think I’ve finally adjusted to the balance of school, work, activities and writing. (If you want to hear more about that topic, you can check out this post). I spend most of my limited free time working on my books, so I’ve been a little more absent on social media, and while it’s frustrating that I can’t interact or edit as much as I like, I’m happy I still have these opportunities. So without further ado, what did I get done?

Won by 4 points! 12/14 goals

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“Matter” – The Real World Sequence

The Traveller bites their lip and nods their appreciation. After a second’s hesitation, and without another word, they join the Keeper at the line and begin hanging the wash. Their fingers linger on the fabric, so soft and shimmering, woven from starlight and space dust. Her home traps so much light, so she spins it into threads. It’s satisfying for it to go to good use, and the robe looks lovely on the Traveller, their warm brown skin emerging from the amorphous golden-white wraps.

“Thank you,” the Keeper says. The last time anyone volunteered to help was eons ago. Two million, five hundred sixty-three thousand, four hundred and eighty-nine days ago, to be exact.

The Traveller nods again and drapes a sheet with deft, practiced movements. When they speak again, there is a wistful tone in their voice. “I used to help my mother with the laundry. We hung it outside in the summer, and by the fireplace in the winter. Fourteen sets of clothes, every week. I’m sure you can imagine how long it took to match the socks.”

“That’s the benefit of living alone in the bottom of a black hole. No one cares whether you match your socks.” The Keeper gives them with a conspiratorial wink, and hikes up the edge of her skirt just enough to show the different patterned footwear.

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Jack of Fables

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Jack…

Wait, do not walk away!
Don’t wander off to play!
You think you’ve heard this tale before?
You think this rhyme will be a bore?
Please give me but a fighting chance.
I bet two cents you’ll be entranced.

This poem tells the story of one eccentric fellow who lived a rather eventful life (and afterlife)! Jack of Fables is the name I’ve given to the character behind the stories of Jack in the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, Jack be Nimble, Stingy Jack, Jack and Jill went up a hill, Jack O’Lantern, and Jack Frost. His story has been sitting in my phone notes since 2015, and I’ve been itching for a chance to tell it ever since. It made the perfect candidate for a newsletter launch giveaway as a short story, but when I put pen to paper, I found that poetry fit better, and had a ton of fun writing this new rhyming version. A special thanks to my good friend Siarven for beta reading this!

I did this illustration as a “cover” and a teaser for the story! Can you find the symbols from each of the fables I mentioned in the last paragraph? If you haven’t signed up for my mailing list yet, here is the link to do so. Once you sign up and confirm subscription, the first email should be sent right away. I hope you enjoy reading!

The Test: A Runaways Excerpt

Runaways is my middle-grade portal fantasy novel, currently in the drafting stage. If you’re unfamiliar with its plot and characters, you can find an introduction to the story and read its first lines on the WIP Page. This scene comes from near the middle of the story, once Hannah has finally reached the faerie realm in search of her younger sister. 1447 Words, CW for glamour/illusions. I hope you enjoy reading!


The guards led Hannah from the cavern through a dark tunnel that twisted one way, then another. She tentatively reached one hand out to follow along the wall, and they didn’t stop her. It didn’t help her sense of direction. The walls of the tunnel occasionally caved out into branching pathways, and they turned so many times, Hannah was sure they must have retraced their path twice or thrice. Seashells in the woods wouldn’t help her find her way home. A spool of golden string did Theseus no good sitting back at home. She doubted there were seashells aplenty or string long enough to find the way through this maze.

Something roared. Distant growling grew louder as her captors forced her ever forward. Hannah didn’t dare slow her steps, even as dread knotted in her stomach. But her fears were unfounded as finally, the earth took a sharp slant upwards, and they emerged out of a cave behind a waterfall. The thunder of water echoed off the rocks, and she let out a sigh of relief as she realized it wasn’t a monster. The mist sprayed in her face as they rounded the barrier and emerged into a forest of blazing red. Autumn leaves graced the branches of trees that towered unbelievably high. She craned her neck, but couldn’t see the end.

A million twinkling stars hung in the dark sky. A galaxy of fireflies lit the clearing with dancing lights. The stone path continued before them, lined by wildflowers that grew as high as her waist. Garlands that held golden lanterns lined the path as well and drew the attention of diaphanous gossamer moths. They flitted about the party, and one even landed on her hair. Hannah couldn’t stifle a laugh of delight as it perched on her head. She caught the lead guard grinning at her out of the corner of her eye, clearly pleased that she enjoyed the spectacle.

In the distance, the sights and sounds of a gathering solidified into the form and sounds of a palace. The guards marched her up the front steps, through the towering columns, and through the throng of gawking fae. Hannah could scarcely watch before they spun away in a mad dance. It felt like Masquerade. Each played the phantom, and she the unwitting attendant. The music soared and twisted, a lively melody that wound around her and pulled her into the intoxicating revelry. She resisted the urge to twirl in time with the tune. If she began, she could not stop, and for the first time, she was thankful for her guards pulling her on ever forward to her destination. She clapped her hands over her ears. What if the piper was here? As part of the band, with his mask of a face, and colorful clothes, he’d fit right into the motley crowd.

As she entered the throne room, she thought maybe she shouldn’t be thankful they brought her to yet another trial. Two thrones stood atop a raised dais in a semi-circular room. Servants hurried to bring trays of food to their monarchs. The queen sat distinguished in a silvery celestial gown and enjoying delicacies, dropping no fruit on her dress. She had a wild look in her large golden eyes, indigo skin that marbled with violet, and black hair that spilled over her shoulders like clouds of ink. Her wings were like Luna moth’s, huge and pale green, and she held a glass of chocolate wine just in danger of tipping over.

If the queen embodied night, the king personified day. He sprawled across her lap, leaning casually sideways in the throne they shared. Dark freckles stood out like sunspots on pale yellow skin. A tousle of golden curls framed his face, crowned with a wreath of ivy. He wore a plum colored robe and sandals that now dangled from his feet. One hand held a glass of sparkling champaign, and the other held a leg of meat. He laughed with an attendant, and his dark eyes flashed with enjoyment.

“Now what do we have here?” Hummed the queen.

The guard that had been leading Hannah stepped up to speak with a sharp salute, lifting the beetle wings high and proud. “We found this one at the northern gate. Fell through fighting one of the Piper’s agents. Said she wasn’t a spy. Looking for a changeling. Told her we’d let you decide.”

“Well done, soldier!” said the king. “What fun, what excitement! A wonderful opportunity!”

Hannah shuddered to wonder what that meant. She took a step back, abruptly sober and wary.

“May we have your name, little one?” The queen crooned. Hannah set her jaw. She prepared for this.

“You may not have my name, but you may call me Maria,” She answered. There were millions of Marias in the world and they bore a good name – a safe, powerful, beautiful one, but not hers.

“Let us offer you these sweet cakes then, Maria,” The king said. A platter materialized out of the air, filled with luscious tarts.

“I humbly decline, for I had my meal at home.”

They grinned, an identical, sharp-toothed grin. “What do you seek from the Seelie Court of Autumn?” The queen asked.

“My sister.”

“Which do you want?” the king asked, “For there are many.”

“Mine.”

“My dear,” the queen purred, “You’ll have to be more specific than that.”

Yes, she would need to be exacting in her request, lest they pull a horrid trick on her for their amusement. Lest they endanger Cec- her sister. Best to avoid even thinking her name in their presence. Who knew what they could do?

“I believe your people took my sister last night during the thunderstorm, between the hours of midnight and four today. She spoke of the Piper, and his flutes on the wind. I couldn’t hear his music, because he didn’t come for me. She vanished the next morning. I wish for her freedom to return to our home and our parents.”

“You wish, hmmmmmm?” The king mused. “We do not owe you a wish, but yours is a noble plea.”

Her heart leap with hope. Would they consider?

“Why?” the queen asked.

Why? A million reasons, but should she reveal her heart now? Hannah ventured for a safe answer. “Because our mother and father will be cross with us if we return late for dinner,”

“Why?” Insisted the king.

Hannah’s stomach turned as they pressed into her with that driving tone. The facade of indulgent amusement dropped like taking off a mask, leaving behind hard, angry eyes. Why did they toy with her? Was her request so unreasonable?

“Because she left without a word, and I am worried for her.”

“Why?” Hissed the queen.

“Because I miss her. Because I love her.”

They gave her those same, sharp-toothed grins again. Hannah wanted to slap those smiles right off their silly little faces. She held her breath as they waited for an agonizingly long moment before the king spoke.

“How do you know her, when you cannot call her by name?”

Around her appeared a dozen figures–girls that all looked exactly like Hannah’s sister. They all gazed at her with wild, desperate expressions. She shrunk back, but more popped up behind her. Hannah scowled at the ring of possible imposters as she realized the trick. One would be the truth, trapped in the game. The others would be illusions. She had to choose.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to steady herself.

“I know her by her footsteps when she creeps into my room at night to watch the thunderstorms.” They took a step towards her, menacing. Those three, those were wrong. Hannah snapped open her eyes and banished several of the imposters. With a wave of her hand, they vanished into a puff of smoke.

“I know my sister by her laugh when I tell her a terrible pun,” Hannah said. The girls all laughed, seemingly on command. She couldn’t tell apart individual voices, but there was a silence from one side as one didn’t laugh. She had said nothing funny. Banished. Vanished. Smoke.

“I know her by her kindness when she sneaks our cats extra treats. I know her by her competitiveness when she jumps off the top of a maple tree to beat me in a race.” One flinched at the idea of breaking bones, but her sister never hesitated with heights. Banished. Vanished. Smoke.

One remained. Hannah locked eyes with it through the smoke and her eyes stung with tears. “I know my sister,” she repeated. “And she knows me.”


Runaways: A WIP Intro

Summary:

Cecilia disappeared. She didn’t wander off following fireflies again. She isn’t hiding in the library, and she couldn’t go out into the storm last night. No, Hannah is sure that faeries stole her sister, and she’s taking the search into her own hands. Armed with their father’s green coat, a steel pocket knife, and a red string tied round her ankle, she stomps into the first mushroom ring she finds to demand her best friend back. Soon she finds herself on a dangerous and extraordinary adventure, navigating between the Seelie and Unseelie courts and trying to find her way back home before dinner.

Main Characters:

Hannah: 13 years old, totally mundane human, and the oldest in her family. Clever, unconditionally loving, and protective. She’s got Pure Underdog Fairy Tale Protagonist energy with a heaping side of Too Curious For Her Own Good.

Cecilia: Supposedly 10 years old, runs away into the forest one Halloween to find the Seelie court and protect her family from a horrible fate. She’s mischievous and quick witted, but likes nothing more than climbing into bed with her older sister to read stories long after the lights are supposed to be out.

The Taken: A mysterious girl with no name who attacks Hannah when she enters the faerie woods. She looks human, but wields vicious magic and answers to an entity called The Piper.

The Piper: A boogeyman, one of the unseelie court. One of those creatures parents invoke to convince young children to behave.

Setting:

This takes place in a vaguely modern-day Earth. Hannah and Cecilia live in the countryside in an old farmhouse with their parents. They have a big garden, and woods in the backyard that are also home to a tiny hidden faerie realm. The Seelie and Unseelie courts are (broadly speaking) the benevolent but still dangerous, and actively malicious faeries respectively. They have an uneasy truce, but in the times when they did war with each other for power, the immortals didn’t want to die for the conflict. Instead, they steal changelings to do their dirty work, since it’s so much easier to let the mortals do that sort of unpleasant fighting. The faeries they leave in the child’s place act as spies and keep the humans from getting involved. The practice has fallen out of use for some time, but bold unseelie still steal children occasionally for their own uses. Even though this great cosmic sort of battle is taking place in the backdrop, the story just focuses on the sisters.

Faeries have all the magic powers and wish granting abilities as the old legends and stories. Sometimes they’ll bestow magic unto a particularly exemplary human that finds them, but always beware of a hidden “catch.” These people are known as “powers.” This story takes place at Halloween and so there are cameos from different minor nature spirits and the aesthetic has a lot to do with the weather changing and fog on the fields and red leaves fringed with frost. Some of these background characters include folk heroes, various trickster spirits, and “Jack,” one guy from the the mid 1100s that was clever and unlucky enough to star as protagonist in no less than six faerie tales.

Basic Informaton:

Genre: Portal Fantasy novella, middle grade/YA

Themes: Family, sisterly love and bonds, escaping evil

POV: Third person deep/limited, mostly from Hannah’s POV

Status: Outlined, using a combination of the Hero’s Story and a 3-act-structure

Goal: 35K words, 12 chapters. Hopefully I’ll be finished with drafting by the end of the year! My plan is to try to self-publish this story first, so I can make all my rookie mistakes on a different WIP from Storge. I know there’s a lot to learn about the process and I’d like to grow my author’s platform with a smaller standalone debut novel before releasing The Laoche Chronicles. For comparison, Storge has 7 POVs, 4 suplots, and is 110K+ words long. I now have three original projects going at the same time: drafting this story, editing Storge, and outlining the Laoche Chronicles, so I’m going to do my best to divide my free time between them so that I can get done on time. Wish me luck!