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Monday, July 2, 2018

Chasing the Light: A Secret, and a Sample

We were alone in the front living room that drowsy afternoon, Melanie and I, partway through that first retreat. Intense conversations drabbled from the kitchen, but not enough to distract us. I readjusted my butt in the faded floral arm chair where I sat and glanced up at her, lounging on the opposite couch and deep in her work. “I’ve figured out the secret to a productive writing retreat.”

One corner of her mouth quirked up, and so did her brows. Like we were plotting. “Oh?”

“Yes,” I said. “Treat all of the other people in the room like generic video game sprites. Non-Player Characters. Don’t get too close or they’ll engage you in a conversation that will take great strength of will to escape.”

Melanie returned my grin. “And on that note, excuse me while I do just that.”

Needless to say, it was a productive afternoon.

* * *

Melanie Otto was an amazing person, a bright light that I am honoured to have known. Quirky and wise, she was amazing woman and an excellent founding member of our retreat group, the Roaring Writers. Late in the fall of 2016, she was taken by an aneurysm, leaving her partner with extensive medical bills.

For ages we’d been batting around the idea of a group anthology but couldn’t decide on a theme.
After she passed, we knew what we were going to do: contribute pieces that we Melanie loved when she read them, or would have enjoyed because her delighted laugh was ever-present on our retreats.

Thus Chasing the Light was born, and the decision to donate all proceeds to help her partner with the bills was unanimous.

I hope you’ll enjoy this collection, which is filled with short stories from across the science fiction and fantasy spectrum, and includes contributions by all of the Roaring Writers and the award-winning authors who’ve taught us. Check it out today!

Here’s an exerpt from my story, “Preservatives”:

The glass-and-chrome behemoth on the office kitchen counter loomed with all the pretention of a wealthy hipster. Not surprising, given who’d acquired the monstrosity after the old microwave kicked it last week. Tiffany was on another of her holier-than-thou cleanses, and something like this seemed to fit with her litany of kombucha, quinoa, and kale. But I was starving, I’d timed my break to avoid Princess Probiotic, and my lunch was in serious need of therapeutic radiation, so I didn’t have much choice.
I savored the muted aroma emanating from the foam box I’d pulled from the fridge, then dumped its contents on a plate. Emperor Ho’s made the best chicken chow mein in town, and the Phokas College union contract mandated an hour for lunch. After yet another harrowing morning, I was ready to take my MSG-laden comfort and escape into the June sunshine. I opened the machine’s wide door—
“Chinese food, really?”
She was at my side as if I’d summoned her, derision dripping from her voice like a leaky faucet. “Ellen, I thought we talked about this.”
No, you talked at me. Red-faced, I glanced away. “They’re just leftovers.”
“That’s still not an excuse, you know. You should really consider your health.” Her auburn ringlets bounced as she strode to the fridge to retrieve her own lunch—a salad, naturally—before turning back to eye my food. “Well, at least that thing will see some use.”
Right. The microwave. She’d made such a grand gesture of donating it on Friday—right before declaring yet another holy war on processed foods. How could I forget?
I glared at the back of her twin-set as she strode off. There she went again, trying to force everyone to conform to what she thought was best. Dammit. Svelte and fit she might have been, but Tiffany was the biggest cow I knew.
What was it about losing weight that made a person think they were superior? As if we were all failures if we didn’t kowtow to her ideas, do what she’d done just so we could be as “successful” as her. The sad thing was, for the most part, everyone in our department had fallen in line—even our boss.  Not that Milo was much for conflict. Ever. And so Tiffany and her quinoa reigned supreme.
While I stuck to the one defiance I could still get away with: my lunch.
So what if I spent more on eating out and facial degreasing than clothes?
A pang in my belly reminded me of what really mattered. I stuck my food inside the machine. The door closed with a clunk as it locked, and I studied the rows of buttons on its not-so-standard panel.
Oh, the usual options were there. Cook. Power level. Clock. But one button in the panel’s lower left corner struck me as odd.
I snorted. Clearly the machine’s creators had a sense of humor. And then I thought, Why not? The faster I could enjoy my calorie-laden therapy in peace, the better. I punched in ninety seconds, hit the button, and popped into the nearby washroom.
I shouldn’t have left.
I’d heard the microwave beep while I peed. The office walls in our department are pretty thin, and the kitchen produces a linoleum echo not found in the rest of the carpeted halls. But when I returned, the room lacked the distinct mouth-watering scent my greasy leftovers usually produced.
The box was gone. In its place was a dense green mass on a squarish glass plate.
I eyed the palm-sized glob, cold with disbelief. That was not my chow mein.
Somehow, in the two minutes I’d taken to empty my bladder, someone had switched my carton of scrumptious snackage with this—this—
Whatever the hell it was, I sure didn’t want to call it “food”.

* * *

For a taste of other stories in the anthology, check out our blog tour:

Ken Schrader – Chasing the Light: Remembering Melanie – June 11, 2018
Faith Hunter – Chasing the Light – 12 June 2018
Alex Gideon – Null and Void – June 14, 2018
Janet Walden-West   – Chasing the Light blog tour and excerpt – June 18, 2018

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