Tag Archives: J.E. Lowder

Free Fantasy Chapter (pt. 3)

WhenKingsClash_6x9cover_revised02Blue Skin (pt. 3)

Olke caught the scent of burnt wood. It was faint, barely noticeable, and most people – whether Allsbruthian or even Ebonite – would have missed such a clue. But he was a Wurmlin, a nomadic thief who read the woods, the winds and the streams for the slightest of signs and clues leading to their victims’ whereabouts. Like wolves, Wurmlins could follow a scent for days.

Energized that he was closing in on their target – the village of Tellendale – he increased his pace. When the trees thinned, he hid behind a fat hickory tree and surveyed what lay ahead.

Beyond a grove of saplings sat Tellendale, or what was left of it.

Mounds of white and gray ash sat where cottages, shanties and barns had been. Littering the ground were dead bodies that he assumed were the villagers. Aside from a large bird pecking a corpse, the village was void of life.

Without taking his eyes off the grisly scene, he cupped his hands together, brought them to his mouth and blew through the opening. He fluttered several fingers to create an owl-like sound. In a flash, the boys were by his side.

“Look at ‘em,” Olke half-whispered as he slapped Vonn’s shoulder. “Ripe for the pickin’. Time to go to work, boys.”

With a final glance about the clearing, and a sniff of the wind to make sure that whoever destroyed Tellendale was gone, Olke rose and strutted out into the clearing. Long, dark hair swayed in time to his bold stride, and when a strand fell across his face, he whipped his head to set it free. Broad, determined steps brought him to the closest body where he knelt with dagger in hand and prepared to go to work. He glanced back at the brothers who were lollygagging toward the bodies. Olke snarled his lips and squinted at them.

“Get a move on,” he barked. “Who knows how much time we got.”

Mälque reached him first. As instructed from previous undertakings, he assumed his position near the body. Disgusted by the mutilated flesh, the tunic stained black with blood and death’s sick scent permeating the air, he turned away. “I hate this work. Too much dyin’ everywhere,” he blurted over his shoulder. “I wanna do honest Wurmlin work, like stealin’ or robbin’ or cheatin’.” Bile rose into his throat. It was all he could do not to throw up.

“Sure ya do,” Olke countered with a snort as he patted the dead man’s pockets with the flat side of his dagger. “But that’s ‘cause you’re young, and like most yung-ers, you’re just plain stupid.”

Mälque glared at Olke. He hated the word. Although it was what Wurmlins used to describe boys of his age, Olke used it like a cuss word.

Vonn, unfazed by the gore, plopped down beside Olke who backhanded the boy. “Next time, don’t be late. Now help me find the treasure this dead fool’s tryin’ to take to the grave.”

As he tapped the man’s last pocket, the blade struck something hard. He hit again, producing a muted thud. “You know what that sound means, don’tcha?”

Vonn knew the only answer that would spare him from being whacked again was to do his job. With tongue poking out of the side of his mouth, he slid his fingers into the blood-soaked garment.

“Well,” Olke asked, impatient with his progress.

“Hold on,” Vonn answered while swishing his tongue from side to side as fingers probed the sticky pocket. “There’s too much blood.”

Olke was about to punch him when the boy yanked his hand free and held up the prize for all to see.

A collective gasp rose from all three. Clutched between Vonn’s bloody fingers was a coin, stained with crimson.

“There you are,” Olke sang to the coin, his voice sultry and smooth, as if addressing a lover. “Come to me.” He stretched his hand toward the money. Vonn dropped it into his palm.

“A golden giln,” Olke gushed as he held it up to the light of day between thumb and forefinger.

Stained with blood, it was a shocking reminder of the manner in which they found it as well as its owner’s horrible demise. Yet all three were oblivious to such calamity and instead, gawked in awe at the coin. It promised better days ahead.

“Here, yung-er.” Olke flipped it into the air. “Make ‘er shine.”

Mälque, who had anticipated such an action, had already removed a cloth from his pocket. With eyes riveted on the end-over-end flight of the giln, he caught the coin in the cloth and started wiping the blood off. In no time, the gold glistened; sunlight danced across its surface.

“So, boy,” Olke asked as he pushed himself up from the ground, “what were you sayin’ about an honest trade?”

Mälque shrugged off the question and stared at the coin he twirled between his fingers. Maybe Olke was right. The giln meant hot meals and warm beds in a tavern, a far better life than chewing on rabbit gristle and sleeping in the open, using leaves as a blanket.

Olke held out his palm.

Mälque smirked, and for a brief moment, thought about pocketing the giln and dashing off for the woods. After all, thievery was in his blood, even if it meant robbing another Wurmlin. But when he felt the prick of a dagger through his tunic, and caught Olke’s evil expression, he thought better of his idea. With a heavy sigh and a parting glance at the giln, he surrendered the coin.

“Thata boy,” Olke said as he withdrew his dagger. He flashed the boy a wry smile. “Never rob a robber, I always say.”

He pocketed the coin and led them to the next corpse. They dropped the banter and went back to work robbing the dead.

 


Free Chapter (pt 2)

Blue Skin (pt 2)Nothing Dyin'

(From When Kings Clash, by J.E. Lowder)

The bluish light from the two firesticks burned a hole in the dark. Despite Vonn and ’s skepticism in their mother’s beliefs, the shadows still sent shivers through them. They pressed close to her side.

“Your father came to me…in a dream.” She shoved the firestick this way and that. “All I could see was his face.”

The boys snickered. Tonight, like all the others, was just another exercise in craziness.

“He was ghostly pale. Said we was to bury him so he wouldn’t wander these woods forever.”

She led them up a hill and they continued to laugh.

“Then the vision opened up, like someone takin’ a sheet off a corpse, and I could see everythin’.”

At the summit, she stopped and held her firestick overhead. Mälque copied her.

Two dead bodies lay in the ravine.

The boys gasped. Mälque fumbled his firestick and Vonn dropped his shovel. As Wurmlins, they’d seen their share of dead bodies, but nothing prepared them for this. Arms jutted skyward, frozen in place; fingers hooked as if digging to escape, but from what they could only wonder.

“Ain’t laughin’ now, are you?”

They took in her expression. The bluish light from the firesticks made her already wild eyes pulse. A faint smile twitched at the corners of her mouth as if discovering morbid bodies at night was commonplace.

“Still think your mom’s crazy?”

Young heads wagged as they focused once again on the corpses.

“Now pick up that shovel and come on.”

She led them downhill with long strides and stopped beside the bodies.

“Look,” Vonn half-whispered from around her side. “Their skin’s blue!”

Mälque stuck out his firestick for a better look. Despite the men’s grimy faces and hands, a bluish tint could be seen. But it was their twisted arms jutting straight up, their gnarled fingers reaching for the unknown, and their legs lying every which a way that made his skin crawl.

“Why are they all twisted up like that?”

“Hush up!” She lowered her light to the bodies to identify them. “I recognize these two. They were part of your father’s pack. But where’s he?”

She swept her firestick searching for any sign of her husband’s body. “He aint’ here,” she mumbled to herself. “But I already knew that, ‘cause I had the dream.” And then to the boys: “I sense he’s close by. He’s already walkin’ the woods as a spirit…whisperin’. Ya hear him?”

She pushed her face close to Vonn and Mälque. The glow from the firestick cut deep shadows into her face making her feral eyes all the more terrifying. They leaned away from her. “Can you boys feel him; hear him,” she asked, eager for them to join her on her supernatural journey. “Gotta believe. Gotta listen.”

Unable or unwilling to connect with their father’s ghost, they shook their heads, spooked by the night’s portents as well as her expression.

“Don’t ya worry,” she offered with a half-smile. “One day, you’ll hear whispers too. I promise. Now come on.”

She spun away and resumed her quick gait deeper into the woods. When they skirted around a huge tree, Vonn and Mälque froze in place.

They found another body.

His lower portion – from his waistline down to his boots – stood erect, as if awaiting their arrival, while his upper half lay nearby.

Their mother approached the upper torso lying in the leaves, not the least bit distraught by the macabre scene.

“It’s just like I dreamed,” she mumbled, more to herself than to her sons. “But what sorta monster kills like this?”

She knelt for a better look and thrust her firestick close to identify the face. A death mask of blue skin surrounded glossed over eyes; mouth – agape with leaves stuck to pale lips – locked in what undoubtedly was his last scream. “Yep, that’s him.”

Vonn dropped his shovel and turned to throw up.

Mälque buckled to the ground and also puked. When their convulsions ended, they wiped mouths with their sleeves. Vonn retrieved his shovel and offered Mälque his hand.

“Look at her,” Mälque whispered as he was pulled to his feet. “Not a tear or even a scream.”

“I know. This ain’t right.”

She rose and made her way to the erect half and sized it up like they’d seen her do a slab of meat at the market. She ran her hand back and forth over the torso’s top as if to make sure it wasn’t a mirage.

“Cut clean in two,” she half-marveled as she continued sweeping her hand back and forth, “and ain’t a drop of blood no where. But how?”

She jerked her hand away as if stung by a wasp and hopped away from the corpse.

“Boys, come here!” Fear was in her voice as she waved them over. “Hurry.”

Her tone told them they were in danger, so they ran to her side.

Mälque eyed his father’s corpse but when the bile returned, focused instead on his mother’s face. Her twitching smile was gone, replaced by taut lips stretched across yellowed teeth; her eyes were narrow slits that searched for danger. 

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

“Shh!” She backed them away, her firestick darting this way and

that, probing the darkness – for what, the boys could only wonder.

When she felt they were far enough away from the grisly scene, she knelt and took in their confused looks. “You boys listen, and listen good.”

They could hear the fear in her voice; smell it on her sweat.

“You don’t tell no one what you just saw, you hear?” She shook them to make sure they understood.

Vonn nodded.

Mälque squinted at her in confusion.

She zeroed in on her youngest son. “No one, Mälque. No one.”

“But who cut him in…”

She covered his mouth with her hand.

“Ain’t seen this kinda thing since the Dark War.” She paused to make sure he would be quiet.

“Boys, listen to me.” She released her hold on Malque. “An Awakenin’ has occurred. Dangerous creatures you’ve never seen before prowl about, or make their dens in dead trees. Those are called fea dracas – tiny dragons that’ll swarm and eat ya alive. Never go near trees like that, I don’t care how brave ya feel. Understand me?”

They nodded. She continued.

“Stay sharp. Whatever killed your dad is still out there.” She eyed the darkness surrounding them. “These woods are cursed. Cursed.”

She turned her attention back to her sons. “You’ll hear whispers, and I ain’t talkin’ about voices from the grave, neither. They might come from Claire or Ebon. Sweet as songbirds. Might even sound the same, promisin’ this or that. Ignore them. Stay true to the whispers in your head.”

She tapped their foreheads to make her point.

“You’re gonna see things ya never seen before, too. Crazy things. Don’t pay them no mind neither.”

Her eyes narrowed, she pressed closer, her nose touching theirs, hot breath vaporizing before their eyes. “‘Cause chances are…” Her eyes darted left then right to make sure they were still alone. Zeroing in on their wide-eyed expressions again, she finished. “Storytellers from Claire are on the prowl.”

The boys gasped, well versed by their mother on the horrors she ascribed to the tellers of tales.

“Conniving men and women.” Yellowed teeth were gritted now, words sharpened by painful memories cut open the night’s stillness. “Magic herbs that can ease pain and heal, or kill. Stories that can open the ground like a grave or,” she wet her lips, “make ya wish ya was dead.”

She wiped the snot running from her nose as if to clear the memories of the past. “No matter what happens to me, you two stay together. Don’t trust no one. Not even other Wurmlins.” Softer still. “Especially other Wurmlins.”

She snapped her head away, either spooked by something nearby or merely checking their surroundings. Convinced they were still safe and alone, she looked back into their frightened faces.

“Now help me bury ‘em. Don’t need our tribe knowin’ about the Awakenin’. Not yet, anyways.”

She marched to her husband’s body but the boys didn’t follow.

Vonn and Mälque exchanged worried glances.

“Boys!” She flashed them a hot look and waved them on.

They swallowed the bile rising into their throats and crept forward, the only sound coming from Vonn’s shovel that he dragged through the dead leaves.


Free Chapter

Nothing Dyin'Blue Skin (Pt 1)

(Taken from When Kings Clash, J.E. Lowder)

“Vonn, Mälque, wake up,” their mother whispered as she jostled them from their sleep.

The boys, recognizing her voice, rolled over and opened sleepy eyes. Their mother stared at them with a wild look, her face aglow with bluish light from a MerriNoon firestick clutched in her hand. Despite its brightness, it was cool to the touch until heaved onto a stack of wood where it would spark with fire.

Mälque opened his mouth to ask a question and she clapped it shut with her free hand.

“Hush up. Listen. It’s your father. Somethin’s happened to him. Somethin’ bad. Now get up. I need your help, but be quiet. Don’t need anyone followin’ us.”

As the boys rose, she fired off more instructions. “Vonn, grab a shovel. Mälque, bring an extra firestick. Hurry.”

She spun on her heel and disappeared into the gloom.

They snickered.

“Here we go again,” Vonn mumbled as he searched for a shovel.

“Yeah,” Mälque huffed as he reached for their stash of firesticks. Like everything they possessed, these were acquired from thievery. “When is she gonna quit?”

When they were little, she took them on walks in the woods and pointed out what she ascribed were omens: A fresh pile of gor dung was a sign that death would visit their tribe; a white stag – rare indeed – prophesized that a chieftain would be born; a hawk feather was a portent that great fortune would come their way.

As they matured, they noted that more times than not, the grand events the omens foretold never occurred. Vonn found a hawk feather but riches never followed. Death often visited their tribe, with or without dung sightings. When Vonn and Mälque pressed her for an explanation, she reinterpreted the portents in light of a new day. They accepted her explanations faithfully until the day she heard whispers, voices from the dead. From that moment on, they dismissed her beliefs as Superstitious nonsense.

They grabbed their tools and caught up with her.

 


Kings, Worms & Whispers

Book III is out!WhenKingsClash_6x9cover_revised02

Early reviews are good…

“Lowder has done it again-created a world for us to immerse ourselves-intensity, discovery and a pathway of epic portions into the ‘What ifs’ and the elusive hope.”

I’m Pumped!

What has me really excited are the readers who liked the Worms of Bal-Malin (dragon-like creatures) as well as Phinnton and Mälque: two boys of 13 summers.

Why?

Because as a writer, I was excited to create the Worms of Bal-Malin and the adventures of Phinnton &  Mälque; I just didn’t know if the readers would be as juiced. I know it’s still early in the polling, but it looks like my gut instinct was spot on.

Oh, and if you’re interested in purchasing or reading a tidbit, here’s the Amazon Link, or simply click on the book cover.


Love, Joy & Miracles…Conclusion

On the 9th day of Christmas: the conclusion of the short story, The Miracle Man. (Previous paragraphs can be found in “Past Posts” under “Love, Joy & Miracles.”)

“Yeah, go figure. For years we hardly talk and when we do, it’s on the phone and only about sports or work.” He pauses; bites his lower lip. “I didn’t see this day coming.” His voice quivers with emotion; he looks away. “It was as if Dad knew last night was his last.”

Dizzy, Wendell heads for the chair near the window. “I need to sit…just for a minute.” He plops down and runs fingers through his thinning hair.

“Do I need to get one of the nurses,” Cliff asks.

Wendell fans himself with the envelope. “I’m fine. So much has happened…so much I’m having a hard time explaining.”

“I know.” Cliff puts his palm over the pocket holding the letter. “It’s as if Dad wanted to set things right. But how did he know he was out of time?”

“Luck or coincidence, I guess.”

“Or a miracle.”

Wendell stares at the envelope, unable to wrap logic around the day’s events.

Cliff steps to the threshold and halts. He keeps his back to Wendell. “You must think I’m a pretty lousy son.” Voice cracks. “Never coming to visit…”

Cliff wags his head as self-contempt delivers jaw-shattering blows.

 “Don’t blame yourself,” Wendell counsels while fingering the envelope. “It’s not what Ira would have wanted. Didn’t his letter say as much? Besides, it takes two to tango.”

Cliff wipes his eyes. Then, without looking back, says: “It was nice to finally meet you, Mr. Bennett. He spoke very highly of you.”

“As he did you, Cliff.”

 Wendell runs a finger around the edge of the envelope. Time is a blur and he is oblivious to the woman standing in the doorway.

“Is everything all right,” Ruth asks. “Cliff told me you got dizzy.”

“I’m fine,” he sighs as he pushes up from the chair. “Just a lot to process in one morning.”

She spies the envelope. “What’s that?”

“Something from Ira.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

“Later.” He tucks it in his shirt pocket. “Besides, I’m pretty sure I know what it’s about.”

Her brow furrows and she tilts her head to study him.

Wendell stares at the empty wheelchair.

“Ruth, do you believe in miracles?”

 Her head rights and she perks up. “Yes. Do you?”

 He takes in her sapphire eyes. “So tell me again: what time is the Christmas service?”

 She smiles, stands on her toes, and kisses his cheek.

 


Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 5

On the 5th day of Christmas: the next installment of the short story, The Miracle Man. (You can read previous portions in “Past Posts” under “Love, Joy & Miracles.”)

Wendell jerks away from the memory. “I used to have faith like yours.”

“Faith like mine?” Ira snorts. “The only time I set foot in a church was to get married. And you know how that ended.”

“But for the past month, all you’ve talked about is religion.”

Ira reaches for Wendell who instinctively steps back. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you! I’ve found joy.”

Wendell smirks. “So what does she look like?”

Ira scowls and leans back in his wheelchair. “You do that a lot.”

“Do what?”

“Joke around when I hit on something uncomfortable.”

 Wendell takes a sip of tea and gives Ira a nod of respect. “Okay, I’ll bite: tell me how you found joy.”

Ira leans forward and gestures with his hands to illustrate his story. “It all started several months ago. I was feeling like one of those elephants in that Tarzan movie. You know, life’s over, nothing to live for, so many mistakes and regrets. Even thought about ending it all. But as fate would have it, Ruth dropped by. Something about her intrigued me.”

“It’s called sex appeal.”

Ira smirks. “See? There you go…”

“Okay, you were saying…

“Well, she’s always wearing a smile and seems, well, content. Anyway, we talk and she says it all has to do with her faith, so she hands me a Bible. I was skeptical, so I decided to read a chapter or two and if nothing happened, then I’d figure something else out.”

Ira looks over the top of his glasses. “Now I know this will sound crazy, but the words seemed to hop off the page and into me.” Ira taps his chest. “I haven’t been the same since. You wanna talk about joy?!”

“Look, just because you experienced euphoria doesn’t prove God exists. Maybe you should go see the doctor. I bet your meds are out of whack.”

 Ira, undeterred, wets his lips to deliver his final thought. “What I’m trying to tell you is this: I found God here in Villa Velencia.”


Love, Joy & Miracles; Day 4

On the 4th day of Christmas: the next installment of the short story, The Miracle Man. (Check out previous paragraphs in “Past Posts” under “Love, Joy & Miracles.”)

“It’s like this: no one wants to invest in a product that will be last year’s model. THAT, my friend, is a tough selling environment. But like I always say, tough times—”

“‘Only make you tougher,’” Wendell finishes, hoping to quell the conversation.

Ira steams ahead at full speed. “I follow a hunch; make a call. And do you know what happened?”

Wendell spies Ruth boarding the bus. “You wish you’d gone shopping at the mall.”

“What,” Ira blurts as he pushes his glasses back up his nose. “No, not shopping, I got the account. It was like tapping into Fort Knox! My boss couldn’t believe it. He nicknamed me–”

“The Miracle Man.” Wendell turns his attention back to Ira. “What the hell does any of that have to do with joy?”

“Simple: Since I know what it’s like to live without joy, now that I’ve found it, I’m qualified to be its salesman.”

“Oh Judas,” Wendell fumes. “You’re going to start preaching about religion again, aren’t you?”

Ira waves him off. “No, not religion. Besides, it never did much for me anyway. What I’m talking about is joy and Christmas.”

Wendell wags a finger in front of Ira. “Then you’re still talking religion. Like I’ve told you time and time before, I don’t doubt Jesus existed, but to claim he’s God, born of a virgin? Those can be explained with science and logic.”

“Unless it was a miracle.”

Wendell grinds his teeth and drifts back in time…

He sits beside Ellen’s bed, holding her limp fingers; machines clack and whiz in the background. Tubes are in her nose, arms; face is snowy white.

This isn’t how he planned it. This had to be a mistake. He is Wendell Bennett, top-notch trial attorney for Goddard County. His prestigious degrees, good looks and panache had given him the footing to storm up success like a marine hitting Omaha beach. Over the years he became so iconic in the courts that he is known only by his last name. When defense attorneys learn that Bennett is on the case, the matter is quickly settled out of court. Those that are opportunistic eye him like a gunslinger, but he mows them down. Mercilessly.

He is at the top of his game, ready to enjoy life with Ellen: trips to Europe, long walks on the beach, visiting grandkids, sipping wine in Napa Valley. Ellen isn’t supposed to find a lump. The oncologist isn’t supposed to tell them it’s malignant.

He is Wendell Bennett and cowers to no one, so he attacks Ellen’s disease with the fervor he is noted for as an attorney. Second opinions. Third. Fourth. He reads books and magazines on the topic, attends seminars and workshops, even gets out of his comfort zone and blogs. Only the best centers will do: Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Stanford. He tries holistic health, wellness retreats, even the black market. All promise a cure. All let him down.

He leaves no stone unturned. He tries Eastern yoga, mysticism, Pentecostal pastors, Catholic priests, holy men of Yemen.

Nothing.

The cancer, like a plague of microscopic locusts, continues to gnaw away at Ellen. Weak and haggard, she begs for home, longing for the comfort of her own bed with family and friends nearby. He obliges, but Bennett never loses, so he makes one last ditch effort.

He prays to God for a miracle.

He begs, willing to swap his life for hers, vowing all of his time and money to pious service if only God will answer his prayer. For months he prays, daring to hope, steeling his faith, yearning for God’s healing touch.

Now he sits beside her. Tears well, vision blurs. Ellen lifts a weak hand and touches his cheek, and in a frail voice, gives him God’s answer: “Let me go.”


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