For the previous posts in this series on my writing process, click on the links below.
Part 1 - Introductions
Part 2 - Ideas
Part 3 - Outlining
Part 4 - First Draft
Part 5 - Revisions
Part 6 - Alpha Reader

After I’ve completed edits based on comments from my alpha-reader, it’s time to move on to the beta-readers.

A beta-reader is another person who reads your story prior to it being published. The idea is that they receive the story ‘cold’ as would a member of the general public. This differs from an alpha-reader who as previously discussed, has advanced knowledge of the story and often sees it in a rougher form. The goal of the beta-reader is to help the author improve the plot, characters, description, dialogue and any other weaknesses discovered in the story. To a lesser degree, a beta-reader can help with grammar or clunky wording.

For me, I chose six beta-readers. The big thing was that I wanted individuals who read a lot and where possible, those who read stories in the genre I’m writing. Here are some characteristics of my betas:

- Three of my betas read a lot of fantasy which gives them a better understanding of overall structure and certain plot elements unique to the genre.
- Two of the betas read little fantasy, but read a ton in other genres, including many literary classics. This is a plus for me as they can look past the fantasy aspects and focus on the basics of whether the story is any good or not.
- One beta doesn’t read a whole lot of fiction, but reads a lot of non-fiction which gives me a completely different perspective from the other five. This beta-reader has caught some minor errors I made in constructing the world that few others would have noticed.
- One beta was in the military and although that wasn’t planned, it was great to hear from him that I successfully portrayed those aspects of my story. That was a big compliment for me.
- All six vary in age and education.
- Four betas are women, two are men.
- All six can be brutally honest…very important. You don’t want nice betas because when it goes live, the readers will be much harder on you than the people you know.

What does this all mean? It means that I’m able to get a broad range of opinions and feedback which helps tremendously when evaluating my story. I would recommend that other authors do the same.

So, after I receive these comments I’ll do one final pass through the manuscript before sending it off to my editor. The next post on the writing process will talk about the importance of an editor.


Magic plays a huge role within the fantasy genre. Many people would even say that magic is what helps define the genre itself. However, not everyone agrees on how magic should be used within fantasy. There are two basic camps. The first camp likes a well thought out and extremely detailed magic system with a concrete set of rules. In these stories, the magic almost takes on the form of science. The second camp likes to keep magic mysterious where the reader never gets all the answers on how things work. Below, I’ll give some of my pros and cons of each approach and close with my own personal thoughts.

Camp One: Detailed system (examples: Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, and Brent Weeks)

1. Rigid set of rules ensures no deux ex machina ending.
2. The reader can more closely relate to what a magic user is going through as they solve problems.
3. Allows for stronger creativity of the author in developing the system.

1. The magic system will at times dominate the story, pushing aside characters, setting, and even plot.
2. May lead to info-dumps or lengthy (and sometimes boring) explanations on how the magic works.
3. Could potentially cause more problems for the author as they are now bound by their own rules when using the magic and a reader can more easily spot mistakes.
4. Action scenes told through a magic user may become tedious and bogged down as the mechanical aspects are explained to the reader rather than focusing on the emotions of the characters fighting with magic.

Camp Two: Mysterious (examples: Glen Cook, George RR Martin, and Steven Erikson)

1. With magic in the background, the story and characters are better able to take center stage.
2. A lack of understanding can lead to a greater sense of awe from the reader when something magical does happen.

1. In the hands of a poor storyteller a lack of rules could make it easier for an author to lean heavily on magic to solve plotting problems, leading to a deux ex machina.
2. A lack of rules can also cause characters to grow exponentially in power since a ceiling has never been established.
3. With this approach, if magic is used too frequently, it can become boring rather than awe inspiring.

Generally speaking the first camp has really become more popular as of late thanks to someone like Brandon Sanderson whose books pretty much revolve around a created magic system. Most people seem to be leaning toward this process as the preferred method of dealing with magic.

I personally prefer to read and write with the second camp in mind. The biggest reason I’ve stated above in the pros and cons section. For me, in most (not all) of the books in the first camp, the emphasis is placed on the magic itself rather than the characters, plot, and world.

Using George RR Martin as an example, I like the fact that magic stays mysterious. Magic is used from time to time in Martin’s books but it isn't the focus of the story. There are limitations and consequences that are touched on (such as the role of dragons) but the details of how the magic works isn't explained to death. And when magic is used, it adds a greater sense of tension to the story.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy detailed magic systems, but overall I prefer the less is more approach.

, , ,

Not much of a story today. I was just in a mood to listen to something heavy and angry.

I think this will do. \m/


Picking back up on my series on What Makes a Great Story with a discussion about dialogue and internal thought. To see the previous posts in this series, check out these links:
Openings - Part 1
Openings - Part 2

Dialogue is one of those parts of storytelling that when done right you almost don’t notice it. But when it’s done wrong it stands out like the proverbial poop in the cereal…you can’t eat around it and you can’t ignore it.

There are several mistakes in dialogue that I‘ve noticed in most stories. Generally, the dialogue isn’t natural, because it reads like the author’s prose. Just because you can write a beautiful piece of lyrical description, doesn’t mean your dialogue should be written the same way. Dialogue should be written in a conversational tone. That means that not all of your sentences should be perfectly formed/structured. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Option 1:
“So Bill, what did you do yesterday?”

"Well, John, I took a long drive in my 1995 red Porsche. I had the windows down and the cool air felt great as it blew through my hair. The smell of spring filled my nostrils as I made my way through the countryside. The road meandered around the twisting hills located 30 miles outside of town. Birds soared overhead and squirrels jumped from branch to branch on the trees bordering the highway. I found myself reflecting on the majesty that is nature.”

Option 2:
“So, what did you do yesterday?” asked John.

“I took the Porsche out for a bit and took a drive through country,” said Bill.

“Man, that must have been nice. I love spring”

“Oh, it was great. You should come with me next time. There’s this cool spot about 30 miles outside of town. It’s like being in a completely different world the way the animals behave.”

“You’re on.”

I’m hoping that most people see that the second option is a much better way to structure the dialogue between your characters. First, I removed the names of the individuals from the actual dialogue. Using someone’s name in conversation is ok but RARELY does anyone ever do that in real life (usually only in groups or when trying to grab someone’s attention). Second, let’s assume all that information in option one is somehow necessary to the story. Rather than just dump it all on the reader as the first option does, the second option gets all the basic elements across much better and is done through two characters actually interacting with each other rather than Bill just dominating the conversation. And though I included more conversation from John, I conveyed all the information in 17 fewer words while giving a bit of personality to the two individuals. Also, I feel like the tone is more natural than before.

One of the last things I do when editing a story, especially on dialogue is read it out loud. If you trip over your words, pause where you weren’t supposed to or just wince because it doesn’t sound right, then fix it. For some reason, you will always catch more mistakes when doing this.

By the way, I’m not saying option 2 above is perfect, but it more closely resembles something that you would hear in the real world.

Now, some will make the argument that when writing fantasy or a period piece, you need to write the dialog to more accurately reflect the time. And I agree with that statement to a certain point. You will mostly need to alter the words used when dealing with different cultures or levels of education between your characters.

However, the same rules apply. I don’t care if you’re writing about kings and knights, Roman soldiers, a prostitute during the American Revolution, an elf on a fishing boat, or a caveman. In all those instances, they would still have a natural/normal conversation with those they were with.

And for a little self-promotion, here is a bit of dialogue between a couple of my characters (Jonrell and Kroke) in the third chapter of Rise and Fall (you can read the first three chapters here).
“Where are Cassus and Krytien? They should be here by now.”

“You got me, Boss,” said Kroke, again cleaning his nails.

“We’ll give them ten more minutes and then we head out. They can catch up later.”

“Whatever you say.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“Is what necessary?”

“That,” said Jonrell pointing at the dagger. “How can they be dirty if you’re constantly cleaning them?”

“They aren’t. Just habit I guess. Like the way a blade feels in my hand is all.” Kroke sheathed the knife and looked up. “Don’t sweat it, Boss. They’ll be here.”

Jonrell sighed. They better.
“See, that’s them coming out the camp now,” said Kroke with a nod. He pulled out a different knife, picking at the nails on his other hand.

Jonrell shook his head and turned toward the encampment. He squinted and saw some movement but couldn’t make out more than a few shapes in the night. The distance was too great. “How can you tell it’s them?”

“I can’t.” Kroke shrugged his shoulders. “Just trying to be positive is all.”

“You’re unbelievable, you know that.”


“It wasn’t a compliment.”

Internal Thought:
Internal thought is similar to dialogue and therefore needs be just as natural. The only difference is that the conversation is one-sided (unless the character is crazy). Internal thought can be a bit trickier since it is much easier for the writer to allow his own voice to creep into the character’s thoughts than when writing dialogue (I know I’ve done this a few times myself).

One of the best uses of internal thought I’ve seen is from Joe Abercrombie. His character, Glokta, uses it quite frequently. Here is a good example of internal thought done right.

As soon as the gag was off the assassin started screaming at them in Styrian, spitting and cursing, struggling pointlessly at his chains. Glokta didn’t understand a word of it. But I think I catch the meaning, more or less. Something very offensive indeed, I imagine. Something about our mothers, and so on. But I am not easily offended. He was a tough looking sort, face pockmarked with acne scars, nose broken more than once and bent out of shape. How disappointing. I was hoping the Mercers might have gone up-market on this occasion at least, but that’s merchants for you. Always looking for a bargain.

So, who do you think is great at writing dialogue?


For the previous posts in this series on my writing process, click on the links below.
Part 1 - Introductions
Part 2 - Ideas
Part 3 - Outlining
Part 4 - First Draft
Part 5 - Revisions

After I go through a few drafts of editing on my own, I then pass the manuscript off to my wife, Leah, whom I consider an Alpha Reader. By definition, an alpha reader is generally the first person to read the book and often does so while it’s being written and helps you brainstorm as the story develops. Now, Leah doesn’t usually read the book chapter by chapter as I write it, however, I will often toss ideas around with her during the drafting process. Although she doesn’t know all the details of the Blood and Tears story, she does know some of the major events that will end the series. I did this because it really helps for a writer to have a second brain and I needed someone else to know roughly how it would all end to ensure I’m properly setting up those events now. Leah and I think similarly but she has the luxury of not being as close to the work as I am. Thankfully as both an alpha-reader and my wife she has a huge vested interest in the success of the book. And no one other than me knows the characters as well as she does.

I’ll give you an example of how she helps during the drafting process before reading the actual manuscript. I may come to her and say something like this…”I want character A and B to have this conversation because it will disclose a major thing that happens 5 chapters from now. This conversation needs to happen because of the information it will give the reader. Here are a couple of ideas on how I wanted to do it. Which one do you think makes sense?”

At this point, she will usually ask some follow up questions and I’ll answer the best as I can without giving away too much of the story. Then she may tell me which one she likes best or present an entirely new approach. Then we’ll go back and forth discussing pros and cons until I have an idea on how to better approach a scene. Sometimes, I don’t even give her as much information as I did above and just say I need ‘this’ to happen but don’t know how to do it. Then she might toss out some ideas. Even if I don’t take any of her suggestions, the point of the exercise is to help get my creative juices flowing by talking things through with someone else.

At some point I give her either a partial or complete manuscript to read. The prose is ok but not pretty at this point. The goal of Leah’s first read through is to look for big things (i.e. character inconsistencies, plot holes, scenes that aren’t working, clunky conversations, confusing descriptions, places where things need to be fleshed out more, etc.). Usually her comments are general and sections are sometimes circled with a “revisit your dialog here” or “description gets repetitive here.” Usually we’ll talk about each chapter as she reads them and I’ll ask a lot of questions to make sure she’s giving me the feedback I need to make the book better.

Once she is done, I’ll go back and consider her suggestions which are generally right and make the changes. Then I’ll do 1-2 more passes to really tighten things up from a prose standpoint.

Afterward, Leah will read the manuscript again, but this time she will do a line edit, helping me with grammar, punctuation, etc (areas she is much stronger at than I am). Although it isn’t her main focus, she will also look at the story’s content one last time to review any changes since the last draft.

Then I’ll make one more round of edits based on Leah’s second read through before shipping everything off to beta-readers.

We’ll cover beta-readers in the next post in this series.


Sorry for missing the blog post on Friday. I was stuck in a car for 13.5 hours so I sort of have an excuse.

Anyway, I thought I would have this Music Monday focus on all things Christmas. So, below are various Christmas songs I like to think about during this time of year, some are serious, some are funny, and some are metal. \m/



Before I get into the actual blog post itself, I want to preface what I’m about to say. When I talk about genre fiction, I’m referring to fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, thrillers, historical fiction, even romance and so on. I’m going to obviously exclude the genre of erotica since the entire premise of the genre is to write and read about the acts of sex.

Also, when I refer to ‘sex,’ I mean an actual scene where the reader can experience sex through the eyes of the characters.

This topic is pretty controversial among both readers and writers. Generally speaking, most individuals have strong opinions on the matter. Here are some of my thoughts:

Those who are proponents of sex scenes in their fiction make several points for their inclusion.
1. The scenes are fun! Sex scenes are like action scenes and help add excitement to the story.

2. Sex is a part of life. Pretty much everyone at some point will have sex so why not include it? Obviously, you wouldn’t have a sex scene in a children’s book. But in adult fiction, what’s the big deal? Are we to assume that the characters never have sex?

3. Sex is a great way to develop a character, both from a writer and reader’s viewpoint. Is the act mechanical or passionate? Do the people show affection to each other or treat it as a sense of duty? And so on. Many people will argue that sex is too important not to show how an individual would react to it in order to better understand that person.

Those who are against the use of sex scenes in their fiction make several points for their exclusion.
1. It makes people uncomfortable. Some people just don’t enjoy or feel comfortable reading about other people having sex whether imagined or not. Religious beliefs often play a key role here but I’ve heard several non-religious people make the same point. They argue that if they wanted to read about sex, they would just buy erotica, rather than the mystery (or other genre) they purchased.

2. Sex scenes are often written poorly and sound as though they are told through the eyes of a 13 year old deep in puberty. Some would argue that most sex scenes fail to actually resemble anything like the real thing. Therefore, why include something that comes across as ‘phony’ in your book if it serves little purpose?

3. Sex scenes are a cop-out and only used to sell books. Everything someone can learn about a character from a sex scene can also be learned through another life event. Therefore, the only reason to include the scene is to say you have one or to reach a certain type of audience.

I’m sure there are plenty more arguments for and against having sex in genre fiction but those are the ones I can immediately recall. I can see and understand both sides of the argument. However, I personally prefer not to have sex scenes in the books I read or write. As a reader, I often skim or skip over those passages (especially if they are overtly long or graphic). I know a lot of that has to do with my religious beliefs as such scenes personally make me feel uncomfortable. But, even before I committed myself to God, I remember being uninterested in and even bored by such passages. Again, they read like they were written by an overly excited teenage boy.

Now, does that mean that I think we should act like sex does not exist in fiction? No. In fact, there are two characters in my book, Rise and Fall, who have a sexual encounter. However, the actual act occurs ‘off-camera.’ The reader understands what happens since we see the events leading up to the moment and then see those characters reflect on the encounter and how they felt about what they did. I personally prefer this method of storytelling if sex is used in any capacity. We get the character development that people who want sex scenes clamor about without any of the uncomfortable feelings that comes with describing every detail.

So, what are your thoughts? Do sex scenes belong in genre fiction? Why or why not?

(If you comment, please be respectful and refrain from using any over the top language. Thanks.)


Sorry today’s post is late. After adopting our daughter last week, I find it easy to lose track of time. Ha!

Elvis was the first musician I ever REALLY got into. I can thank my grandmother for that as she played his records pretty regularly growing up. It wasn’t until I got to be a teenager that other artists/bands took the number one spot from him. However, Elvis is still very much in my top ten list and in my mind, is the best vocalist of all time in any genre or time period.

On Saturday, I played the 68 Comeback Special for my 2 year old. It made daddy proud to see him absolutely enthralled. He normally cannot sit still under any circumstances but he stayed on my lap without moving throughout the entire thing. The next day he woke up asking for Elvis and we watched it several more times with him just as interested.

Moral of the Story: You can never start your kids off too young on great music!

Here are a few of my personal favorites.

Peace in the Valley – Gospel or not, this is an amazing song and fits perfectly with Elvis’s voice.

One Night – One of my favorite songs by Elvis as I love the bluesy style. I would have loved it if he had recorded more blues based songs.

Ain’t that Loving You Baby – Just a fun, rarely heard song.

The Wonder of You – My favorite Elvis song. Unbelievable lyrics and powerfully sung.


Those who follow my blog regularly might remember a couple of book review posts I did awhile back for On Dark Paths and Strange World by Andrew Kincaid. Both are great short story horror collections that I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of the genre. Actually, I’d recommend them to anyone who likes to read a good story.

Anyway, I stay in touch with Andrew via Twitter and email and I asked him to post an excerpt for one of his stories to my blog. In turn, he allowed me to do the same on his blog. So, Andrew will be hosting a sample of my short story,
Warleader, while you get to read a sample from one of his short stories from On Dark Paths.

Here’s Andrew:

Regulars to Joshua's blog might wonder what a guy like me - a horror author - is doing here.  After all, Joshua writes epic fantasy, which couldn't be more different right?  Well it turns out I'm something of a genre traitor - I like horror and fantasy. And it turns out Joshua is the same way, as he liked my stuff well enough to be willing to offer me a guest spot here.  So I won't wear out my welcome by rambling on any longer.  To the meat of the matter!

What follows is an excerpt from my first collection of horror stories, On Dark Paths.  It is called Beyond the Veil and it is the first of thirteen stories that, if I did my job right, make you keep the night light on. You know.  Just in case...

Reality as we know it is little more than a veil.  It's thin and porous as an eggshell; it doesn't take much for something from Outside to slip in via some unholy osmosis. 

I don't know who or what designed the world this way.  I once believed in a benevolent God.  Once, but no longer.

I think that if there is a God he is at best indifferent to his Creation.  At worst, he regards us much the same way a kid with a magnifying glass regards a line of ants on a sunny day. 

Do I sound crazy?  Maybe I do.  Maybe I am.  All I know is that not so very long ago I caught a glimpse of something mortal eyes weren't meant to see, something that shouldn't exist in any sane world.

The trouble started the night I met Mary.

I had just settled onto the couch that night after a long day slaving away at my cruddy retail job.  I had a six pack in hand and was looking forward to melting my brain with reality television, my guilty pleasure.  Funny thing that; half of the people on my shows were as brainless and petty as the people I was forced to deal with on a daily basis at my job.  You'd think I would have had enough of it during the day, but I tuned in every night anyway...

...and I'm rambling.  Probably because I don't want to recall the events that followed.  I wish I could have watched my shitty shows, drank myself stupid, and then woke up the next morning with a massive hangover.  I wish my life could have stayed normal, boring though it was.  That just wasn't in the cards I guess.

It was just getting good, one carrot-faced girl with huge boobs had another equally busty carrot face pinned to the ground because one had stolen the other's man, when there was a heavy pounding on my front door.

I had downed a couple by that time so the sound took awhile to register.  I sat and listened a moment, until there was another round of heavy pounding and a voice I'll never forget for the rest of my life.

"Please!  Please help me!"  A woman wailed.  Her voice was laced with a fear the like of which  I had never heard before.  If I don't let her in, she's going to die!  The thought flashed through my muddled brain and my buzz disappeared in an instant.  I all but ran to the door and threw it open.

A pitiful sight greeted my eyes, illuminated by the harsh orange glow of my porch light.  Once she might have been beautiful but that beauty had been stolen.  She stood stark naked, her body caked in filth and laced with angry red burns.  They seemed concentrated on her face, ruining what once must have been a lovely sight. 

"Jesus..." I said.  I gaped like an idiot, not quite knowing what to do. 

"Please.  Please let me in.  It's after me!"  She cried.  Primal fear strained her ruined features. Whoever this guy is (my mind couldn't conceive of anything besides a human that could inflict such wounds)  he must be a psycho, I thought. 

"Yeah all right.  Come on in." I said.  She rushed inside, practically bowling me over in her haste.  She slammed the door and locked both the door knob and the dead bolt.

"Are any windows open?  Do they lock?"  She all but screamed the questions.  I wondered what kind of crazy broad I had let into my house, but then from what I could read of her expression she wasn't crazy.  Terrified, but not crazy.

"Yes they're all locked."  I said.  The weather hadn't warmed enough to warrant opening windows yet, and besides I was never home and my house lay on the bad end of town.

"Check them."  She said. She busied herself doing just that to the window closest to the door.  I stood there gaping like an idiot for a moment.  She drew the blind and closed the curtains on the first window and then moved to the second.  I shrugged and decided to help.  Why not?  At least it might make her feel better.

It wasn't long before the operation was finished.  My house was a one story modular, little more than a glorified trailer, so there wasn't much to check. 

"What is your name, and what the hell is going on?"  I asked when we finished. I admit I was freaked out by that time.  Somewhere in the process of pulling curtains on all my windows I had convinced myself that I had let an escaped mental patient into my house.  Even so I dug out a blanket out of my closet and gave it to her so she could cover herself up.  I prodded her until she would finally sit on the couch.

"Water.  Please.  Could I have something to drink?" She asked.  She sounded so pitiful!  So I poured her a glass of water. She gulped it down as if she hadn't drank a drop in days.

"I honestly wish I knew what the hell was going on."  She said once she finished.  Her face relaxed as much as it could with her scars.  There was a lilting, musical quality to her voice.  I wondered if she'd been a singer before whatever had happened to her.

"What happened?" I asked.  I cracked open a can of beer and took a big gulp. The coolness spread into my guts.  I sighed contentedly.  Good ole beer.

"I don't know," she said, "I remember grocery shopping.  People were worried. They said something about us being attacked.  When I got home I was surprised to find my husband and kids had beat me there.  He said they had let all the teachers and students go early.  He had the news on and was watching with the really worried face I only saw on him when something terrible happened. The kids were really scared.  I remember my little boy asking if a plane was going to fall on us..."

Something clicked in my brain.

"Whoa.  Wait. You don't mean 9/11 do you?"  I stammered. My stomach roiled.  Bile surged up the back of my throat.  I washed it down with another gulp of beer. The whole situation was way too weird, and I didn't know the half of it yet.

"What?" She goggled at me like I had just flown in from Mars.

"9/11.  The September 11th terror attacks.  You know.  The World Trade Center." I said slowly.  No...this can't be real...I thought.

"Yes!  They were showing the Twin Towers on fire.  It was so terrible!  Hey.  What's wrong?"  She looked concerned, or at least as concerned as her ruined face allowed her to.

"This can't mean you don't know?"  I blurted.  My gut did took to doing flip flops.  The room spun.

"Don't know what?" She asked.  Her eyes widened slightly, but her voice was level.  How could she be so calm?  Here she was running naked through a bad part of town at night, covered in scars and burns, and I was the one freaking out!  I forced myself to stifle the feverish giggle building in my throat.

"Mary, the attacks were ten years ago."  I finally managed.

Thunderstruck would be an understatement.  The glass dropped from her nerveless fingers and tumbled to the floor.  Her jaw gaped wide.

"That was....ten years ago?"  She spoke after several long moments of silence.

"Almost."  I said.  She slumped back into the couch, her eyes wide. I gulped down the last of my beer.  It didn't help.  I crumpled the can and tossed it aside.

"I've been there for ten years?"  She said almost to herself.  A single tear leaked from the corner of her eye and trailed lazily down her cheek.

"Been where?" 

"I..."  A soft scratch on the front door interrupted her.  She froze, and her eyes grew wild with fear.  The scratches grew more insistent.  They moved from the door to the front window, and then from that window to the next and so on until whatever it was made a circuit around the house. 

It scratched at the last window, the window to the left hand side of the door as you entered, and then the scratches stopped.  Deafening silence ensued in their wake.

"What was..." I said when my heart dislodged itself from my throat long enough for me to speak.

"Shhh..."  She hissed.  The scratching started again, this time more insistent.  It made another lap around the house.  After what seemed to be an eternity the scratching subsided.

When the silence lasted ten minutes, I whispered:

"What the hell was that?"

"The thing. The thing that took me!" She cried.

She launched into the most bizarre story I had ever heard.  Even to this day, even having seen what I've seen, I still have difficulty grasping that such a place could exist.  She told me in hushed tones that sometime on that day, so many years ago, she blacked out.  When she came to, blackness surrounded her. But the blackness had form and shape and sensation.  A slimy fog, her words, slithered over her like a million worms. It caked her flesh with filth and left her shivering.  While it was dark in that place, it was also light, like the dim light of a gibbous moon obscured by high clouds.

She noticed other people there.  She spoke only a little with them, but enough to realize there were people from all different backgrounds trapped there with her.  Some spoke no English. Some spoke English but in a dialect so far removed from the modern usage that she scarcely recognized it. 

She was there an interminable amount of time when suddenly the slimy fog took on a completely different character.  It oozed malevolence. 

The people around her became frightened.  Some screamed.  Some ran.  Still others huddled in the fetal position, rocking back and forth and babbling to themselves frantically.  The fog became a thing.  A thing of darkness and teeth and claws.  She wouldn't say anymore about it, and she didn't go into much detail about what happened next.  All she would say was that she'd received the first of her scars that day.

"You think I'm crazy?"  She said. She barked a laugh. 

"No! Well...yeah.  But can you blame me?"  I said.

"If you don't believe me how about you poke your head outside?"  She said.  She grinned a devilish grin, the effect amplified by the horrific scars.

"I'll pass." I said.  I shivered.  Her story was unbelievable, but to doubt her was to doubt my own ears.  And my own sanity.

"Whatever it was kept coming back every so often.  I don't know what it wanted.  I think it fed on us somehow; on our anger and pain and fear.  When it was....doing its thing...."  She shivered, "it shared some of itself with us.  I don't know how.  I think that was what kept us alive and sane enough for it to feed.  A few people, surprisingly few actually, did go insane.  When it was done with the rest of us, those people were gone."

"Jesus."  I said.  I crossed myself.  I had grown up Catholic but spent the bulk of my adult life ignoring that sort of thing.  Right then seemed the moment to find religion once again.

"I was wandering around after a feeding when I came across...I can't describe it other than to say it was a door," she said,  "But it wasn't a door like we would understand it.  It was a sort of ragged circle that looked like a pool of water.  And I could see street lights beyond it!  So I walked in and wound up in the middle of a street.  I could sense whatever it was coming behind me so I ran to the first house I saw with the porch light still lit.  And here I am."

"Jesus..."  I repeated the name like a mantra.  How is she so calm if what she's said is true? I wondered.

"Like I said whatever it was kept us sane so it could feed."  She replied.  I yelped, and my face turned hot.  I hadn't realized I had spoken out loud.  She grinned, and continued, "I actually don't remember a lot of what happened.  I...I remember the feelings.  Burning, pain, anger, and terror.  But it's like I was somehow disconnected from it.  Detached in some way.  So I guess that's why."

"So this....whatever it is..." I sputtered.  I couldn't believe it.  Part of me screamed that she was a lunatic.  But she seemed rational to me; more rational than I would have been in the same circumstances.

"...wants me back."  She finished my statement for me.

"But it can't operate a door?  Really?"

"When it was...feeding...." She said, shivering slightly, "It revealed a bit of itself to me.  I don't know if it was aware of that or not.  I know that it has to follow certain rules when it comes into our world.  And one rule is that it has to be invited into a home; it can't force its way in.  But I guess it takes open doors or windows as an invitation to come inside.  That's how it got me I think."

"That makes no sense."  I said, shaking my head. The part of me screaming she's a lunatic! started to look more appealing at that moment.

"I know it doesn't. " She said.  She started to rise, "Look.  I know you don't believe me at all.  Whatever this thing is it can only come out at night.  So at least let me stay here until morning and then I'll be out of your hair."

"I can't just leave you on your own like that.  You can stay here as long as you like."  I said. Crazy she might be, but  I wasn't the type of guy to neglect someone in need.  Especially a woman. 

"Thank you."  Gratitude rolled off her in waves and she smiled.  She sank back down onto the couch with a contented sigh.

As wild as her story was I half believed her.  At the very least I knew something horrible had  happened to her.  I briefly considered calling the police but rejected the notion pretty quickly.  They would have her locked up in a padded room within the hour if she started talking about her "slimy fog" and doorways again.  Part of me wishes I had called.  Maybe she would have been safe in a mental hospital. 

At least then she might still be with us.


Want more? Come on over and check me out at where I talk about all kinds of weird and wonderful things.  You can check out On Dark Paths here and my second collection, Strange World, here. And keep an eye out fantasy fans, I also have a fantasy series in the works!

I'd like to thank Joshua for his hospitality, and you, dear reader, for giving me your time and attention. It's greatly appreciated :)

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