Shipping now! Hobnail and other Frontier Stories

Last year my friend and mentor Howard Weinstein floated me a call for submissions for an anthology. Then untitled, it was to be published by Five Star Press, who published Howie’s excellent first Western novel, Galloway’s Gamble. The deadline was short, but it was a good opportunity. I dropped everything and wrote “Boxcar Knights,” a story set shortly after the civil war, in which two Confederate orphans hop a freight to go west in search of their fortunes. I love railroad stories, and I got to do a lot of cool research on hobo culture. I’ll never be able to listen to the folk song “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” the same way again.

Well, my drop-everything effort paid off. The story was very well-received by Senior Editor Tiffany Schofield. Within days, it was slated for publication in Hobnail and Other Frontier Stories, ably edited by Hazel Rumney. I had an overwhelmingly positive experience working with them, and now it’s shipping in glorious hardcover! Please buy a copy or ask your library to order a copy. And, once you’ve read it, review!

Flash Fiction: Narcissus and the Echo Chamber

This is a mood piece. I was in a mood when I wrote it. But the critic raved, so I was motivated to share…

Once upon a time, in Ancient Greece (because things like this don’t happen today—we’re far too modern) there was a beautiful boy named Narcissus.

Beautiful doesn’t do him justice. Narcissus was drop-dead gorgeous. I mean, he positively glowed like gold. If gold were radioactive. Which it’s not. But it doesn’t sound right to say that he “reflected like gold,” now does it? Besides, it would be inaccurate. Narcissus would never have allowed himself to reflect back as much pure light as gold does. Narcissus was all about keeping whatever he could for himself.

No, let’s say that Narcissus sparkled like diamonds. This was one good-looking kid.

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Freedom’s Blood – Part 5 of 5

FreedomsBloodAnd, being the liberal sort I am, I asked him how he wished to die. All at once? Over days? He thought for an hour, while he surfed the Internet. (He was amazed that a vampire would go on the Internet. Of course he would, I explained. He wants to prowl, and wants to keep up with the world. Being alienated, he wants to have the control over his information intake that the Internet allows. Besides, it can be great fun to go in a chat room and tell someone you’re a vampire, prowling for your next meal…)

Having thought, he announced that he would like to die over the course of a few sessions. That should have forewarned me. No one who really wants to die wants to do so slowly. We began that night. I drained two pints or so from him. I told him I would drink from him again within a day, thus not allowing all of his blood to replace itself.

Two days later, having passed the point of no return, he threw a curve at me.

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Freedom’s Blood – Part 4 of 5

FreedomsBloodNow what? I wondered. Would he bolt from the room, announce my presence to all and sundry? I could escape easily enough. The boy’s claims would be dismissed as the result of his injury. He had a bandage on his forehead, so I know he’d been injured. A head wound was the perfect type, too, but… dammit! I’d been sloppy.

Still, an expedient exit was best. I prepared to transform, tuning out, as I did, whatever potential inanities would utter forth from his lips, should he recover his voice. I catalogued them all for myself, inside a second:

“You’re a vampire!”


“Get away from me!”




“Sorry, I didn’t know this room was taken.”



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Freedom’s Blood – Part 3 of 5

FreedomsBloodI began this missive by telling you I was in a moral quandary. Here it is: I’d drained a victim to the point of no return – he wasn’t going to live, no matter who intervened, but he wasn’t dead yet. He’d asked to die, and now he’d changed his mind. Tough luck, you say? There’s nothing I can do for him, you say? Ah, but there was something I could do for him, and he knew exactly what it was.

I didn’t want to do it. Not on a bet.

* * *

It was early August, and I was in San Diego. I’d been having a very nice time. I’d come early to see the sights, before attending the Cato Institute’s summer seminar. By design, I’d missed their events for the last few years; but this year, American libertarians seemed to have recovered from most of their September 11-th inspired tendency to encourage war. I was glad, for I really wanted to be among thinking people again.

I’d spent the early dusk hours in an Irish pub in the Gas Lamp district, flirting with an outspoken bartender from Boston and sipping Guinness. No, I never drink wine; but Guinness is something you never outgrow, even when you don’t grow any longer. It doesn’t affect me at all, and the taste is totally altered by my condition. I still just like the experience of sipping the odd Guinness in the odd Irish pub.

As I attempted to make my case to this opinionated young woman, who simply would not believe that Killian’s Irish Red was, in fact, brewed in Colorado, a bulletin about a traffic accident came on the omnipresent television. It was nearly ten, and the traffic reports long over, but it seemed that this accident involved enough vehicles that it had actually closed Pacific Highway going northbound. Six people were dead, and medevac helicopters were rushing patients from the scene.

I suddenly remembered I was hungry. As the local news commentator began to interview a spokesman for the police about how undemocratic it was that drivers of SUVs tended to survive more such accidents than drivers of economy cars, I tapped the dummy pager I always wear.

“I have a call,” I told my Celtic sparring partner. “Gotta run.”

“Is it about that accident?” she asked. “You a doctor?”

I smiled. “Among other things.” I tipped her entirely too much, slipped onto the street and into a dark corner, and flew. Literally. You cover a lot of ground as a bat.

In fact, I hadn’t lied to the barkeep. I am a doctor. Studied at the Sorbonne, in the late 1890s. I’ve kept up my knowledge via books and medical journals. I’m not licensed to practice anywhere. How could I be? Licensing requires that someone know who and where I am.

But being a physician in fact, if not by law, does allow me to assess the condition of a subject, to know when death is imminent, and, in many cases, to ease the suffering of those I’m dealing with. (Occasionally, I’ve increased the suffering, but only occasionally. Perhaps you could force yourself to be impartial and gentle with, for instance, a mother who murdered her children in order to catch a husband. I am not so saintly.)

The scene of the accident was, as expected, grisly. I did not count the vehicles involved, as such details don’t help me in any way. Nor do they help most people, other than to indicate magnitude of damage, and give an idea of how long it will take for the roadway to be cleared. Unless a family member is involved, or you need to travel that particular road, I have no idea why you would want to read about or see footage of a traffic collision. Or any calamity with an airplane, train, or other conveyance. If you are not directly affected, or can use the story of the occurrence to increase your own personal safety, I do not see why you would want to know.

Perhaps I am hard-hearted. Strike “perhaps.” I know I am. But I see no virtue in reviewing and sharing the pain of people you don’t even know. It is a false compassion you feel, if your feelings go anything beyond “that’s too bad, I hate to see that happen to anyone,” or “I would hate for that to happen to myself or my loved ones.” The media works very hard to convince us that these events do affect us, and that we should feel the same loss that the victim’s old mum does. It’s good for their business, but it’s very bad for our peace of mind. It often damages our ability to set our own priorities and attend to the needs of those to whom we do owe our compassion.

By the time I arrived, a seventh patient had died, thus becoming useless to me. Most of the more critical cases had been transported to the hospital already. One helicopter was preparing to take off, just then. After a quick scan of the other injured, all but two of whom were standing on their own power, I decided I would accompany the patient in the ‘copter. Its blades were already spinning. A problem for me. A bat cannot easily approach a grounded helicopter when its blades are generating air currents. A bat doesn’t weigh enough to resist. A mist would blow right away. A dog would attract too much attention. I was forced to assume my own form – for a moment. Once I was at the ‘copter, I misted myself and floated in. One young paramedic did see me, out of the corner of her eye. I made sure I was not there for her second look. My ghostly appearance and disappearance frightened her. I heard her pulse race. She didn’t stop working on her patient, however, and I didn’t hear her mention it to her cohorts. People don’t like to discuss any sign that they are hallucinating. That is a powerful weapon in my arsenal.

As a bat, I snuggled beneath an equipment bag at the rear of the cabin. I watched. The victim being transported was an adult male. He looked to be in his mid-forties. I could tell by the sound of his chest cavity that he had sustained severe internal injuries. My hearing may just be a better diagnostic tool than ultrasound or MRI. If my people ever do become accepted in human society, I intend to make another fortune working as a diagnostician. I’ll merely have to solve the problem of how to make my enhanced senses switch on without alarming my patients. It takes the smell of fresh blood to do it. This poor man had much fresh blood on him and coming out of him.

He wasn’t going to live. Not even an hour was left to him.

I felt hunger pangs. They weren’t in my stomach – ours never are. Hunger, for us, is a chill in the blood. Our skin is always cold. Folktale informs you of that fact, doesn’t it? Still, our body temperature does vary. It’s just always colder than yours… while you’re living. When we have fed, the warm blood warms us throughout. Our system operates at peak efficiency, digesting and recirculating. We don’t feel hunger again until we have processed what we’ve taken in, and our body temperature lowers again. No fuel to keep the furnace going.

The paramedic stayed with him, checking vital signs, attempting to keep him stable until they arrived at the hospital. There was no way I could feed without being seen. Some vampires would have leapt at the chance to wreak havoc at this juncture. I could have resumed human form, likely causing the girl before me to urinate in terror. I could have feasted on the dying man, then on her, then on the pilot. I could have sent the ‘copter on a downward plunge, with a terrific explosion to destroy all of the evidence of my visit. I could have easily escaped all of this unharmed.

I was not about to do it. These people had done nothing to deserve such a fate. Even at my hungriest, I had not broken the code I’d developed in Baltimore. So, hunger or no hunger, I had to wait until we landed, and I had a better opening. I crept quietly along the floor to the base of the patient’s stretcher, which would stay with him all the way into an operating room at the ER. Nestled under the vinyl flange of its cushion, I pulled my bat’s wing over my head and took a nap.

* * *

The restrained jolt of the stretcher being lowered to the ground awakened me. Tuning out the chatter as the patient’s condition was recited to a physician, I listened for his vital signs myself. They were ebbing quickly. He might not live to reach an operating table, and my waiting would be for naught. Still, I had no choice but to ride this out. If he died too quickly, well, it was a hospital. Food could not be far away.

They never even operated. Time of death was called immediately upon examination, and the body was left in a darkened cubicle for pickup. There were many other patients from the same accident to be seen. The ER staff did not waste time.

Fortunately for me, they did miscall the time of death. Human doctors often do. That’s not to say that they so often abandon patients who could be saved. I merely mean that the actual death – the moment when the blood becomes useless to me – often comes seconds or minutes after they have declared it to be passed. Just as often, they will attempt to save a patient who has passed that threshold already.

In this case, I was left in a darkened room with a potential corpse. It was dinner time. I shifted to my human form. No one from the hospital would come in here until the chaos without had quieted. The victim’s family would be some time arriving. The roads were still backed up from the accident.

I hadn’t counted on the morbid tendencies of some teenagers.

The boy didn’t burst in on me. He was very quiet, actually. He slowly opened the door, and gave his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dark. I must have been distracted. I could have shifted to a less visible form in the blink of an eye, but I didn’t. I didn’t notice he was there until he’d seen me.

And he saw me. Blood on my chin and all.

“Oh my god,” he murmured vaguely, something akin to surprise – but less intense – behind his eyes.

To Be Continued

This story is provided for free, but is, of course, copyrighted. You may share it with anyone and everyone, and I hope you will. But you must always attach my name to it, and you may not alter it in any way. Because if you take my story and turn it into something better than I could write, I will be really, really pissed.

But, if you enjoyed it and would like to be a patron of my art, please consider a donation in any amount. The site actually does cost some money to maintain, and a lot of really cool people have helped me. I’d like to be able to buy them cars or something. (And by “cars,” I mean Matchbox®.)

Freedom’s Blood – Part 2 of 5

FreedomsBloodI arrived in Baltimore later that same day, ravenously hungry. I drank a bum. Killed him, of course. That was what my sire had done with his victims, myself excepted. I was merely continuing as he had taught me. Besides, the bum was near death anyway. He’d polluted his body to the point that his liver was about to fail. It was one of the worst meals of my life, to that point and to this day. Still, I was sated, and had time to be choosy with my next meal.

On the evening of my second solo kill, I went where most of the city went for food – to the market. Lexington Market, in this case. Only I had no interest in the fresh fruits and vegetables arriving by wagon from remote farms. The meats caught my eye, but then my nose assessed them, and I was shocked by my revulsion. They were dead. Since my change, I could no longer bring myself to consider dead flesh. It stank to me as spoiled food would to you.

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Freedom’s Blood – Part 1 of 5

FreedomsBloodby Steven H. Wilson

I thought it might be nice, me being a fiction writer, and this being Hallowe’en, to actually share a story on the site. This, by the way, was podcast a long time back. But I’m betting a lot of my readers aren’t necessarily listeners. So here ya go…

I knew it was a bad idea all along. Well, all right, I should have known. I’ve been kicking myself for weeks now, because I should have known. I’ve successfully avoided this kind of situation for over 250 years.

Any idiot knows that a person contemplating suicide is, by definition, not in the best frame of mind; but I really believed the kid when he said he wanted to die. He was going to get what he wanted out of the deal, and I was going to get what I needed. Isn’t that what makes a fair contract?

Perhaps I should back up a bit and give you the particulars. To understand the quandary I got into, and how I got into it, you first have to understand what I am.

I am a vampire. That’s right – vampire. Blood-sucking. Undead. Turn into a bat and everything. Perhaps you expect a disclaimer about how I actually can walk in sunlight (can’t touch the stuff) or how I’m not actually supernatural but just maladjusted and blood-loving. Nope. Drink it. Gotta have it. Live forever as long as I do – well, if I stay away from wooden stakes and get back to my coffin by curfew. I am not myth. The blonde kid on TV that makes vampires disappear in a cloud of ash? She’s your myth. Never met the human who was my equal. Rarely have I seen one of my kind get staked. Certainly not while they were awake and could do something to prevent it!

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How the Knowitall Got His Ignorance – A Just Shut Up Story

JSUStoriesHow the Knowitall Got His Ignorance
A Just Shut-up Story
by Steven H. Wilson

In the Very Big City, once upon a time, O you Little Monsters, there was a Knowitall, and he knew everything. Or perhaps it was in the Impressive University, or the Efficient Workplace. I can’t recall which it was. It is just possible that the Knowitall was everywhere then, as he is today. Suffice to say that he was somewhere, and he knew everything there was to be known. He knew the depth of the ocean, and the height of the sky, and the speed of a thought, and the value of an hour well-spent, and the cures for all sorts of diseases–so!

There was one thing the Knowitall did not know, and that was how to make anybody like him. Whenever he encountered other people, and shared with them all that he knew, solved their problems and averted their wars, he found that they cast a bitter eye upon him, and treated him as the Fire might treat the Driving Rain, if the Fire but had voice to insult or hands to gesture rudely or a shoulder to turn coldly (in a fiery sort of way), or anything at all but tongues of flame which could not speak, but only lick the air.

(The Fire, O Little Monsters, once had voice and hands and shoulders all, but lost them. That is a story for another time.)

One day, as the Knowitall was telling the Unruly Squirrel how to carry his nuts, the Unruly Squirrel said to him, “Knowitall, I do not like you.”

The Knowitall hung his head in a sad but knowing manner and said, “I know.”

“No one likes you,” said the Unruly Squirrel.

“I know,” said the Knowitall. (He said this often.)

“Do you know why?” asked the Unruly Squirrel.

“I…” The Knowitall paused, and coughed, and scratched behind his ear in a queer sort of way. Something very peculiar was happening to him, and it unsettled him. It was something that had never happened before. He was being asked a question, and all he could say in reply was, “I don’t know!”

The Knowitall burst into tears.

The Unruly Squirrel laughed.

The Sun went down.

The Sun came up.

The Sun went down.

The Sun took a day off and read a book from the New York Times Bestseller list, and decided that leisure time was overrated; so the Sun came back up.

The Unruly Squirrel was still laughing.

The Knowitall waited patiently, for he knew exactly when the Unruly Squirrel would stop laughing. It happened precisely twenty-three minutes after the Knowitall stopped weeping.

“I haven’t laughed like that in years,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “I don’t like you, but I will help you, since I feel so good right now.”

“How will you help me?” asked the Knowitall. “Will you tell me why people don’t like me?”

“It will do you no good, for it’s a plain fact that people hate anybody who knows more than they do. You cannot change what you are.”

“But I do not know everything,” said the Knowitall. “I know everything but one thing.”

“Hatred doesn’t quibble over trifles,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “Hatred is pure.”

“But if I cannot change, how can you help me?”

The Unruly Squirrel narrowed his large (for a squirrel) black eyes and said, “Have you considered distraction?”

“I have considered everything,” said the Knowitall.

“Stop!” said the Unruly Squirrel.

“Do you mean, have I considered distracting people so that they don’t realize that I know everything?”

“No,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “I mean have you considered drawing people’s attention to how stupid other people are, instead of to how smart you are? If you show people how stupid another person is, they’ll be grateful to you, and never notice how utterly despicable you are.”

“Why would they be grateful?”

“Because, most people, deep down, believe themselves to be failures.”

“That is because they do not know everything but one thing, as I do,” said the Knowitall.

“Whatever,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “People feel like failures, and the only thing that makes them feel better is to know that someone else is an even bigger failure than they are. So, rather than spending your time showing off your knowledge, you should just tell people what they’re doing wrong.”

“And then show them how to do it right?” asked the Knowitall.

“Absolutely not,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “You just point out the error, give no help whatsoever, and walk away. Soon you’ll have more friends than the King and Queen.”

“But I can’t see how it’s right to bring people problems without solutions,” said the Knowitall.

The Unruly Squirrel sighed and sat down on his nuts. “Do you want friends or not?”

“I’ll try it,” said the Knowitall.

So the Knowitall walked until he found a Celebrated Author who had written a celebrated book. The author was reading his book to an audience, who was enjoying it immensely. The Knowitall knew every word in the book, of course, since he knew everything but one thing. He made his way to the front of the crowd, pulled the book from the author’s hands, held it up, and said:

“On the forty-eighth page of this book, the author says that a ray of sunshine weighs six ounces. A ray of sunshine weighs–” And the Knowitall stopped himself. He remembered the Unruly Squirrel’s words, and did not tell the Celebrated Author how to correct his mistake. He simply finished with, “A ray of sunshine weighs something other than six ounces. You are a terrible author.”

The crowd cheered. The Celebrated Author collapsed with an attack of asthma.

The Knowitall walked away amidst slaps on the back, toasts and offers of cash, and smiled. It did strike him odd, however, that he suddenly could not remember what was on the other pages of that book. Come to that, neither could he remember the weight of a ray of sunshine.

The next day, the Knowitall attended a concert by a Famous Composer. In the middle of the concert, he walked up to the stage and told the audience that the Famous Composer’s finger placement on the piano keys was off by a fragment of an inch. “You are a terrible composer,” he said. (No one even commented that perhaps he was merely a terrible pianist.)

The crowd gasped. The Famous Composer hung his head in shame.

The Knowitall exited the hall to thunderous applause. It was only days later that he realized he no longer knew how to play a piano.

And so it was. The Knowitall spent a year telling people their mistakes, but not how to fix them. And each piece of knowledge that he withheld from them vanished as well from his own head.

Soon he knew nothing at all.

And yet people still believed him when he said another person was wrong.

They still believe him to this day.

Flash Fiction Friday – “Call Me Sam”

So I don’t really do flash fiction — stories less than 1000 words. I’ve never really understood the point of them. It’s just not enough room for an author to get a story out! But when my friend Phil Giunta decided to start Flash Fiction Fridays on his site, I decided, what the hell, I’ve been trying to learn to write short.

It’s not necessarily easy. It’s hard to find good models. The shortest fiction in the mainstream is that of Saki — H.H. Munro — and even his stuff is 30 – 50% too long.

But I did manage to come up with an idea. Last year, I wrote my third entry in the ReDeus series, published by Crazy 8 Press. Titled “Chinigchinix Nixes Pix,” it was dubbed by editor Bob Greenberger to be “The Weirdest Story We’ve Received So Far.” Gotta love earning a superlative, huh? “Nixes Pix,” as I affectionately call it (mostly because the name of the patron deity of the Tongvah people is really hard to pronounce!) was the story of a Hollywood screenwriter who must deal with meddling gods while trying to adapt a bestselling young adult novel called Call Me Sam. The idea of the novel was a throwaway gag. With all the supernatural stuff that’s thrown out (and possibly up) in the YA field, it seemed that the only thing left to commercialize was a kid who finds out he’s actually the angel of death.

But the idea grew on me immediately, and I realized that, someday, I’d like to write the story of the young man who becomes the collector of souls. I don’t have time to write another novel just now, but here’s the kernel of that story, “Call Me Sam.”

Axel’s Flight

beyondborders_lorraineSchleter600pxScheduled for a late May release is ReDeus: Beyond Borders, the second volume in a series created by Bob Greenberger, Paul Kupperberg and Aaron Rosenberg. The gods are back and ready to be worshiped, but is humanity ready for them? This time out, our team of authors left the United States behind to visit the homelands of the many pantheons from around the world.

In the last volume, I told how the Norse God Bragi came to mentor a desperate musician who was down and out as a result of the fall of YouTube. This time, I chose to take my young rock star, Axel Sage, to Sweden, where Odin and the Aesir are assembling a new brotherhood of Vikings and a new sisterhood of Valkyries. The Aesir are probably the most techno-friendly of the gods, so they’ve embraced reality TV. Their new followers are recruited on the twin series Who Wants to Be a Viking? and Who Wants to Be a Valkyrie? Axel lands right in the thick of it, falling for a beautiful warrior maiden. Trouble is, a Valkyrie’s hand goes to the warrior who’s willing to fight for her, and Loki has a champion in the wings.

This volume will also feature the work of veterans Lawrence M. Schoen, Scott Pearson, Dave Galanter, Phil Giunta, William Leisner, and Allyn Gibson, plus new ReDeus authors Kelly Meding, Janna Silverstein, David McDonald, Steve Lyons, and Lorraine Anderson. And, of course, creators Aaron, Paul, and Bob will all have stories as well. The cover art above is by Lorraine Schleter.