Presenting: Three Ghosts – On Sale Now!

Three Ghosts – Cover Art by Casey T. Malone

What do you do when the decisions you’ve made come back to haunt you? How do you make them right? Can you, when one wrong move will mean lives lost?

Deirdre O’Brien, an American political-activist living in Dublin, married the wrong man – and had to kill him to save the lives of thousands. Fifteen years later, he’s back from the dead, with a horrific plan to destroy the tenuous peace between Belfast, Dublin and London. To stop him, Dee will throw herself at a seedy underworld, where nothing is what it seems, and trust is a commodity too short in supply.

She only has three days – three days, and three ghosts. She will confront them, or risk becoming one herself.

The Race is On!

I first presented Three Ghosts as a serialized short story here at the blog, but as the story evolved, it was clear to some people (not me – I’m usually the last to be aware) it needed to be combined and made readily available for readers. Which means, today, I am happy to present Three Ghosts, a story born of a text message, which matured into a fast-paced political thriller where spies, paramilitary ideologues and pool-hall hustlers all vie for their chance to take on London via a heinous terrorist plot devised in the wake of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Even better? I’ve added brand-new content AND it is available to download FREE on Amazon today through March 20! 

changelingsebookcover-flat4And, if that weren’t enough, Changelings: Into the Mist, my young adult historical fantasy also set in Ireland, is on sale today through March 20. Download your copy from Amazon for $.99, or get your hands on the print copy for just $9.99!

Changelings: Into the Mist

Changelings. They were the descendants of Man and Fae. They walked between worlds – as healers, mystics, even kings – but no more. He thought he was the last, alone and lost, until the day he saw them.

Irish teens Maureen O’Malley and Sean McAndrew are lost in time. It was the vision of the warrior, shrouded in mist, that did it. Maureen had to follow, and now they’re stuck in 1584, on a pirate ship captained by notorious local legend, Grace O’Malley.

Careening between swordfights on the high seas and a city on the brink of a bloody uprising three centuries later, the only way home is to confront a myth, and he – Faerie king, Nuada Silver Arm – would rather the last of the Changelings remain lost to time forever.

As the shadows rise, and the king’s insidious whispers drive Maureen and Sean apart, they turn to the one man who can help them: the warrior in the mist. The only Changeling the king could not break, Dubh Súile will do all he can to protect the last of his kind, yet even he may be too late to stop the king from rekindling a centuries-old war that threatens the very fabric of time.

Celebrate Ireland’s storied history of myth-makers and rebels!

Both tales are also appropriate for the David Lynch fans out there (what can I say, my cover artist has a way with memes – and a sense of humor

Both tales are also appropriate for the David Lynch fans out there (what can I say, my cover artist has a way with memes – and a wicked sense of humor).

Treat yourself to a slice of Ireland – whether you prefer edge-of-your seat excitement in contemporary Dublin, or long for Ireland’s misty hills, haunted with thousands of years of history and lore, Three Ghosts and Changelings have something for everyone this St. Patrick’s Day.

Katie SullivanAbout the Author

Descended of pirates and revolutionaries, Katie Sullivan is a lover and student of all things Irish. Born in the States, she is a dual US/Irish citizen, and studied history and politics at University College, Dublin – although, at the time, she seriously considered switching to law, if only so she could attend lectures at the castle on campus. She lives in the American Midwest with her son, two cats and a pesky character in her head named D (but you can call him Dubh). She can be found writing with said character weekly at her blog, The D/A Dialogues.

Connect with Katie!

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Three Ghosts: A Post-Script (Spoilers!)

Whew, I never thought we’d get here – but here it is, the conclusion to the contemporary Irish thriller, Three Ghosts. Warning, just like yesterday, here be spoilers – but don’t worry – if you didn’t read along, and/or don’t like reading in serial format, the full novella – including all-new content – will be available to download on St. Patrick’s Day

Catch up: Part 1

Epilogue

Cover Art by Casey T. Malone

Cover Art by Casey T. Malone

Dee came to with a nasty goose egg on the top of her head. Emmet had been hauled off to the MI5 dungeons, Pat was arguing with an aide about being taken to the hospital, and Aiden, God rest him, had been zippered up and sent to the morgue.

“It’s going to kill his mother – first her daughter, then Aiden.” She choked back tears. It could have been worse, she knew. At least Marley had the decency to look distraught, but it wasn’t helping – in fact, the sorrow on his face was just making her madder.

“Where were you – what happened in there?”

“I was trying to get to you – it took me a while to realize the phone Pearse tossed me wasn’t for me to use, but for me to listen.”

Dee glanced at the monitors now being dismantled by agents draped in protective white suits. “The monitors.”

“Indeed,” answered Pearse, who was lying on his back on his own gurney, wincing only slightly as the ambulance crew patched him up enough for travel. “Emmet had eyes everywhere – put that bloody IT degree to good use, aye?”

“But I thought you were working for Marley—“

“Not for me, he doesn’t.” Marley snorted. His cell phone buzzed and he put up a hand asking for their patience before taking the call.

Dee watched him leave the room with a small jolt of desperation. Don’t leave me alone with my ex-husband, she wanted to say. An ex-husband who, until two hours ago, she was prepared to kill.

Pearse made restless noises in his gurney and she turned to him. “So, I guess I should thank you for not letting Emmet put a bullet in my head,” he said to his hands.

Dee gritted her teeth against the blush that spread up her neck. “Yeah, well, if anyone was going to do that, it was going to be me.”

“Cheers, love.”

Dee shrugged and stared at the blanket draped over the edge of the gurney. This was awkward.

“I’m guessing you have questions.”

A tiny laugh escaped before she could stop it. Just a few. “How did you know – about Emmet, I mean? How far back does this all go?”

“It started when you and I got together. You probably weren’t paying attention, but he was a pretty big agitator – Pat wanted him on the Shadow Council until he realized what a horrible, self-righteous prig he was. That’s why we recruited you, instead.”

“Wait, you recruited me?”

“Well, you had that trust fund – of course, I complicated things when I married you, so there’s that.”

Dee rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I suppose there’s that.”

“Emmet wasn’t too pleased you left politics behind to play with the lads – didn’t like that you chose me over him. It turned something inside him, and I noticed him watching you a few times – why do you think I kept him from you?”

Dee cocked an eyebrow and he grinned without a hint of embarrassment. “Okay I might have been jealous too, but there were rumors that he was getting involved in girls and drugs – running a racket, like. If there’s one thing the lads don’t like, it’s that sort of traffic.”

“Especially when they can’t profit from it.”

Pearse smirked. “Yeah well, there was no point in you knowing. To be fair, things progressed so far beyond Emmet and his girls that I forgot about him until after Pat got me out of Donegal. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar, but something didn’t sit right.”

“So, what – you played him?”

Pearse nodded. “I had a suspicion he’d advanced his racket. I got closer to him, let him think I was hell-bent on revenge and still blinded by Republican fervor – which wasn’t terribly hard at the time, mind – and needed a financier.”

“Which is when you realized it went deeper than girls and drugs.”

“Very clever, Ms. O’Brien,” Pearse smirked. “And, it went a lot further than just the regular players in Ireland and England. That’s when I turned – I knew he was going to use me, use the cause, which didn’t seem to mean anything to anyone anymore, all for his cronies, and I couldn’t let that happen.”

“Still fighting the good fight, Mr. Finnegan?” Marley asked as he came back into the flat.

“Someone has to – within reason, of course.”

“Of course.”

Dee looked between the two men, and over at Pat, who looked like he had reluctantly agreed to be carted off to the hospital – very reluctantly.

“Speaking of the good fight, what did happen at No. 10 – is the Prime Minister—?”

“He’s fine – the reports of those five deaths have been – how do you Americans put it? Greatly exaggerated. Looks like it was just a gas leak.”

“The London game, a fucking gas leak?” This was Pat as he was being wheeled out of the flat. “Hey there, Darlin’, glad to see you’re up and about.” He turned back to Marley “Oi, lad, we’re going to have to have a wee chat when I’m up and about – bloody gas leak.”

Marley spared Pat a look. “Look, you old hustler, it’s better this way – this way your empire remains, and so does mine.”

Dee waved Pat off – if he was truly angry about the outcome of the London Game, he was doing a good job of hiding it with cheerful bluster. Then again, Pat was, as Marley put it, an old hustler. He could make you think anything he wanted.

Pearse’s voice broke through her contemplation of Pat – or Rory Finley’s – tricks.

“So, Marley, what’s next?”

“Next, these people are going to take you to the hospital.”

“And after that?”

Marley grinned – and for the first time Dee saw just how much he loved his job. “Well, we need you to escape custody as soon as you’re able. I trust you’ll find what you need.”

Pearse saluted them with a wry smile as he was wheeled out of the flat.

As the door closed on her ex-husband, Dee turned to Marley. “So, if you didn’t know Pearse was an informer, why did you tell me your code name for him?”

“Sorry?”

“John Carol – there was an informer in Northern Ireland you lot called Agent Carol – wrote a book about it, yeah?”

“Two books, actually. I knew Pearse had been working for us–”

“But you said he wasn’t working for you.”

“And he isn’t. I’m not his handler – and he’s so deep undercover, I’m not even sure he remembers he has one. It’s one of the risks we run with informers. It doesn’t matter how long anyone has been the service – if the incentive is right, they can turn on you in a second.”

Cheerful thought. Dee grimaced and waited for the agent to answer her initial question.

He sighed.

“I told you his name to see if you knew – just testing the waters, Ms. O’Brien,” he added when she started to interrupt. “But, since you asked, Pearse picked out his own code name – from what I understand, it was a favorite Christmas movie. Speaking of which, you can stop spreading these around town.”

In Marley’s hands was a red, rectangular envelope. She took it and gingerly slid her finger along the flap.

Inside, the Mother and Child stared beatifically.

“This is the one I sent my mother. You promised—”

“Look again.”

She opened it. There was a date scrawled on the inside and an address: December 27. 9:00 AM; 18 Park St London SE1 9EQ, UK.

“And before you ask, I didn’t send the other one either. You can tell her Merry Christmas in person.”

She closed the card and tried to keep the smile off her face. “How’s that, then? It looks like I’m going to be a bit busy over the next couple of days – research, you know.”

“Easy. Your family is booked in an entire floor at the hotel. Thought it might be a nice surprise, all things considered.”

“Who did – you, or her?”

Marley grinned. “If I say me, will you invite me to dinner?”

Dee gave him her hand and let him pull her off the gurney. “You’re a glutton for punishment Agent Marley—”

“It’s Greene.”

“What?”

“That’s my real name. Jason Greene.”

“Oh. Well then, Mr. Greene. Let’s go have dinner. I’m starving.”

The End

First Fridays: Chapter Three

20141207_140911~2D: You know, A, I’ve been thinking.

A: This ought to be good . . .

D: What was that?

A: Nothing. You were saying?

D: . . . Yes, well, I was thinking perhaps we could skip this chapter.

A: What?! But D, this is a pivotal chapter.

D: Oh, there are far better chapters than this in the book. Take Chapter 19 for instance. That one was brilliant.

A: Well, thanks – but we’re going to get there eventually. Right now, we’re on Chapter 3.

D: I know, but . . .

A: We’re. On. Chapter. Three.

D: Pedant.

A: Are you pouting?

D: Maybe.

A: Don’t pout. It will give you wrinkles.

D: I’m over 1300 years old. I think I’m past wrinkles, A.

A: (Sigh) Now who’s pedantic?  Stop stalling. We’re reviewing and titbit-ing and footnoting chapter three – and you will enjoy it. Got it?

D: Yes, Master.

A: Stop lisping and pretending to have a hunched back.

D: Yes, Master.

A: (Eye roll). Anyway, If you’re new to the First Friday feature, check out Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, and don’t forget to pick up your own copy of Changelings so you can follow along!

Three

Maureen’s green eyes glowed in the half-light as she sailed out of the kitchen doorway. Sean followed, feeling slightly sick. He listened to the night, and found himself holding his breath. He was waiting for an alarm to sound – an alarm he knew in his gut would never be raised. After his earlier daring, he did not know what to say. This had been his idea, but it was her show. What happened next was all on her.

The fieldstone church was separate from the rest of the abbey, and built at the top of a hill that commanded views of the surrounding countryside. It was a short trek, and they walked in companionable silence. As they crested the hill, the newly risen moon came out from behind low clouds. Its light threw into stark relief a circle of young oaks that would, one day, tower over the little building. Their branches strained towards the sky, and the moon painted them in silver.

It was eerie and beautiful, and not quite of this world.

He shook himself and reminded himself why they were here. This was no time to allow the power of the morning’s vision to carry him away. He looked around for his friend.

She was gone.

The heavy oak door, the gateway to the church, opened with a grating sigh of wood and age. Panic seized his chest. He nearly bolted until he realized it was only Maureen, opening the door. He wondered where she had gotten the key – or if she had a key at all.

He shook his head. Some things were better left unknown.

She motioned him inside with a jerk of her chin and closed the door behind him. He waited for her to lock it again, hesitant to step foot into the nave without her. She touched his shoulder lightly as she passed him.

“What are we hoping to find in here?” he asked. His voice bounced off the stones and he winced.

* * *

D: What was Maureen hoping to find in there?

A: You know exactly what she was hoping to find. And you know that not finding it (or you, as it happens) is exactly what precipitates the rest of the story. Of course, your particular role in Maureen and Sean’s adventures is why you didn’t want to review Chapter Three. . .

D: Am I so obvious?

A: You’re a character in my head, D. Of course you’re obvious.

D: Now. There was a time when you had no idea what I was on about. Years, in fact.

A: (Sigh). Yeah. Those were the days.

Word of the Day

Schematical illustration of a plan view of a cathedral, with the coloured area showing the nave. "Langhaus" by Benutzer:Leonce49 at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Schematical illustration of a plan view of a cathedral, with the coloured area showing the nave.
“Langhaus” by Benutzer:Leonce49 at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Nave: The nave is the central part of a church building, intended to accommodate most of the congregation. In traditional Western churches it is rectangular, separated from the chancel (the space around the altar in the sanctuary) by a step or rail, and from adjacent aisles by pillars (ref: Wikipedia).

Technically, the nave extends from the entrance to the chancel, but I separated them slightly as the entrance is also called the vestibule, and I wanted to indicate that while Sean was inside, he was waiting for Maureen to set foot in the church proper. Plus, so many different words… it’s supper/dinner/lunch/tea all over again!

Devil’s in the Details

Readers may note that Maureen and Sean had to trek to the church, which should not have happened in a traditional abbey – those are generally self-contained structures, with everything – from kitchens, bedrooms, churches, dungeons (kidding!) – linked together. Not so at the fictional Carrickahowley Abbey, where the convent and school are at the base of the hill, while the small chapel commands the top. This was done for two reasons: 1) Sean and Maureen did not start out as orphans and the church was just a community church. Frankly, time travel is easier without parents around, so the elder O’Malleys and McAndrews had to be written out of the story, and the church was changed into the Abbey chapel – but in my head, the church was still all by itself at the top of the hill. Why?

Enter reason No. 2): there have been monuments to some sort of god on the top of that hill since man acknowledged such things – from Dubh’s hermitage to a small chapel of nuns. The lonely chapel is an homage to the mysticism of the hill. The chapel exists by itself, as though home to a power separate from any religious community – old, new, pagan or monotheistic.

Historical (Astronomical) Footnotes

"Lunar Corona" by Wing-Chi Poon - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

“Lunar Corona” by Wing-Chi Poon – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

In Part One, the moon – and its phases – features heavily. Not only was the moon a reliable timekeeper, in the generalized ‘Old Religion’ at use within the pages of Changelings the moon is a powerful magical gatekeeper – but only if used correctly. Dubh, being – as he says – over 1300 years-old, is well versed in the old magics. Maureen and Sean, born in 1943, are not.

Because the moon is used so specifically, I took pains to ensure I had the correct phases for the day/week/month as described in the book, which meant more than a little research to discover not only the phase of the moon, but also the sign. I finally found an online tool to help me – and once I knew that on August 31, 1958 the moon was three days past full, in Aries, I had an approximate date for when they could potentially return home (Feb 14, 1585 – when the full moon was in the opposite sign, Virgo), thus setting up the pacing and timetable for Parts One and Two.

I was very lucky that the tool I found was able to help me with the mundane timekeeping function of the moon as well. Listed on each day is a sun-and-moon rise-and-set time, which helped enormously. There were more than a few times where I would reference the moon only to realize it had not even risen in the sky yet – or, had set hours before.


Enjoying First Fridays so far? Don’t forget, if you haven’t already, grab your very own copy of Changelings, available as an ebook or paperback, from Amazon!

First Fridays: Chapter Two

Every Friday, for the rest of the year (and then some – there are actually 55 chapters in Changelings), I am presenting the first page of each sequential chapter in the book – but the real fun comes after the chapter, with behind-the-scenes goodies, historical footnotes and a bit of dialogue with a certain Druid. Enjoy it as a stand-alone treat or read along with your very own copy of Changelings. Check out Chapter One and follow along!

20141207_140911~2Two

Maureen clasped two identical boxes beneath her arms as she slipped into the boarding school common room. She shot a bright smile at Sr. Theresa, but the woman barely acknowledged it. She was sitting comfortably in the corner with a dog-eared James Stephens novel. It was a hard-won indulgence in the nun’s otherwise austere life, and Maureen knew she would be a complacent chaperone for the abbey’s only summer residents.

Sean was perched on a chair in the opposite corner, reading a comic book – another indulgence. As soon as he saw her, he leapt to his feet. Brightly coloured pages fluttered to the floor.

“There you are!”

She curtseyed. “Here I am.”

They always met in the common room on Sunday evenings, after chores were completed and supper eaten. Sean always finished first, but tonight she had not been delayed by some creative punishment. She shifted her cargo and grabbed his comic. He would be annoyed later if he’d left it there.

He squinted at her and then eyed the prize in her arms. “Oi, those are—”

“Our boxes.”

The squint turned into an arched eyebrow. “But mine was in my room.”

“And I went to the liberty of getting it for you.” She tried to sound nonchalant as she deposited said boxes on the low table in the middle of the room. It was not the first time she had collected them – she knew where to look.

“I wasn’t aware I wanted it.” He ran his hands through his short, jet-black hair and laced his fingers behind his neck. The arched eyebrow was firmly in place.

“You did. You want to help me find the man.” She stopped and clenched her hands. She had no idea what he had actually seen during mass, and she found herself not wanting to say too much. If Sean had not seen—

* * *

D: If Sean had not seen what? My brilliance? Of course he saw. He was stunned by it, overawed, and if Maureen were paying any attention to him, she would have noticed.

A: Could you not revel in spoilers, D?

D: She takes the boy for granted, A, and you know it.

A: Oh, and picking up his comic when it fell to the floor was taking him for granted?

D: Pure reflex.

A: She’s trying to protect him – and herself, D. It’s the 1950s—

D: But that’s hardly—

A: In Ireland—

D: But of course Ireland, A – it’s a land full of mystics and seers.

A: (Eye roll) Just the same, visions in church are grounds for the asylum.

D: But–!

A: Or candidacy for the priesthood for Sean–

D: Surely you’re reading far too much into this, A.

A: Or the nunnery for Maureen.

D: Oh. That would be bad.

A: Uh huh.

D: As bad as you going into the nunnery. Talk about nightmare–

A: Oi, Druid! That is quite enough of that!

D: Oh, ahem. Well, I see your point, now. Indeed – bad business those visions. Remind me to apologize.

A: I’m pretty certain there’s going to be a list of things to apologize for before we’re done.

D: And now who is reveling in spoilers? Hm? Don’t you have historical footnotes and other flotsam with which to delight and entertain?

A: (Eye roll) Indeed, I do, D. Indeed I do.

Word of the Day

Supper: Often used now interchangeably with dinner, in Ireland and the UK, supper was/is often described as a light repast later in the evening (i.e.: slice of buttered bread and water at 10 pm). Dinner is the midday meal, and was often much heavier, especially on Sundays. Of course, to complicate things, in Ireland ‘supper’ was sometimes used interchangeably with ‘tea,’ especially if that light meal, eaten at 6 pm, had some added accoutrements…sigh.

Regardless, I found ‘supper’ sounded more Irish to my Midwestern American ears, and while I could have used ‘tea,’ many American readers may not have known that tea is a meal as well as a beverage akin to the lifeblood of most Irish men and women.

Devil’s in the Details

James Stephens (1880-1950) was an Irish novelist and poet. Sr. Theresa’s ‘dog-eared’ novel in question is In the Land of Youth, a direct reference to Tír na nÓg. Despite being a Benedictine nun, Sr. Theresa is a believer in – and lover of – faerie stories (or, the Good Folk, as she calls them) and often shared that love with Maureen and Sean.

James Stephens also wrote Insurrection in Dublin, in reference to the 1916 Rising, as well as numerous other retellings of Irish fairy tales. While researching just who Sr. Theresa should be reading, stumbling upon James Stephens’ name was kismet. Given his writings, and given Sr. Theresa’s stubborn refusal to give up this one ‘indulgence,’ may indicate Sr. Theresa has a greater roll to play in the lives of the Changelings.

But of course, you’ll have to wait until Book Two, The Coming Storm to find out.

Bonus: Maureen’s punishments often include peeling potatoes in the kitchen, polishing the silver or, if she’s been really bold, embroidery.

Historical Footnotes

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara Ireland | Photo Courtesy: WikiCommons

Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, Ireland*

‘…The abbey’s only summer residents.’ Carrickahowley Abbey is not an orphanage; rather it is a boarding school for international and local students. Just as the Abbey itself is based off  Burrishoole Friary, the school is based (very) loosely off Kylmore Abbey, an international boarding school and local school for girls in Connemara, Ireland.

The main difference between Carrickahowley and most other church-run boarding schools is that it is co-ed. One could argue that there were two different schools housed on the grounds but in my vision of the school, that is not the case (and in case you’re wondering, Carrickahowley

Glenstal Abbey School* - This is Carrickahowley, only a lot bigger!

Glenstal Abbey School* – This is Carrickahowley, only a lot bigger!

looks more like a squat version of Glenstal Abbey School than it does Kylmore – especially since they were built around the same time). However, proprieties have been observed and Carrickahowley has separate dormitories – even if Maureen insists on stealing into the boy’s dormitory to fetch Sean’s orphan box.

 

*Photos courtesy WikiCommons


Enjoying First Fridays so far? Don’t forget, if you haven’t already – grab your very own copy of Changelings, available as an ebook or paperback, from Amazon!

 

Three Ghosts: Part One

While the Christmas decorations were put away this weekend (sniff), one small tidbit of Christmas remains: a short story serial I started, with the help of a text message, a good month before Christmas. Theater productions and plague stood between me and sharing it with the world, which in retrospect, was a good thing. That said, it’s written now, and for the next 4 Mondays, it is my pleasure to present the mystery/thriller short story, Three Ghosts.

Because the content does relate to recent and potentially-touchy political arguments, I’ll remind readers this is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of my imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Enjoy.

Three Ghosts: Marley

card“’The first Christmas card was sent in 1843, the same year A Christmas Carol was published,’ she says, trying not to let the baleful stare of her own unwritten cards haunt her.”

“Your tense is wrong.”

Dee – Deirdre O’Brien to those who hadn’t been her friend for twenty years – stopped gesturing with her eyebrows at the teetering tower of Christmas card boxes. She had not sent one to anyone on her list in at least three years, but that never stopped her from buying a new box or two every year. They always looked so pretty. It nearly broke her heart to pack them away with the rest of her things.

“It’s not about the tense, Cat – it’s about the grand Charles Dickens’ Christmas Conspiracy.”

Catherine Evans’ grey eyes just stared at her over the tops of her old-fashioned wire-rims. “Is this really your excuse this year?”

Leave it to Cat to bring sense to the nonsensical.

“I didn’t say that.”

A slow eyebrow arched above the glasses and Dee wondered how long her best friend could hold onto the schoolmarm look before one of them broke down into giggles.

“His story lamented greed and miserliness,” Dee insisted as she looked for the wrinkling around Cat’s eyes, which almost always preceded a smile. “Yet here we are, one hundred and eighty years later, celebrating a simple holiday for three months, munching popcorn while Kermit the Frog clings to Captain Picard–”

“And I’m pretty sure your cards can’t stare.”

“I’m not so sure,” Dee mused, fiddling with the lock of black hair that had escaped her pony tail. “See? The Christmas Fairy is looking a little feisty.”

“The Christmas fairy is looking a little tarty. Were you really planning on sending those to your mother?”

“Oh no – she gets these.

Dee plucked a battered, half-empty box covered with an assortment of beatific mothers, sighing angels and cherubic infants. That she sent one of these cards every year while the others collected dust was an irony that had not escaped her.

“And just in case you were wondering, Deirdre O’Brien, your Dickens’ Christmas Conspiracy is about as logical as your need to buy Christmas cards you’re not going to send.”

“Yeah, but it entertained you for a second – besides, I might this year.”

Cat snorted. “Not bloody likely. Explain to me again why you’re moving across the globe three days before your most favorite holiday in all of ever?”

“Because seeing London all lit up for the holidays is probably the best Christmas gift in all of ever? Besides – didn’t I offer to spring for you and Henry to join me?”

“Dee.”

“I know, I know, your soon-to-be mother-In-law would have kittens.”

“It’s not just that – it’s just . . . well, you moving to London—”

“It’s temporary.”

“Right, I know – but it wasn’t too long ago that you were cursing the name of every person in Parliament—”

“Yeah, well, everyone in the UK does that, Cat.” Dee shrugged and ignored the skepticism in her friend’s eyes, and the flush creeping up her own neck. “Things change – the war is over. Besides, Doctor Who makes friends of us all – and now I get to watch it for free!”

Cat’s lips twitched. Dee almost had her, and damned if she wasn’t going to get Cat to smile. It was important – ridiculous, yes, but also important. If she could get Cat to smile instead of scold, then perhaps the next three days would be . . . .

She shook her head. Never mind the next three days.

She let a sly grin shade her features as she abandoned the table strewn with the detritus of her life and stepped into the loft’s tiny kitchen. “Besides, you know I’ll be back for the wedding. Planning from afar is what I do – your bachelorette party is going to be spectacular. I’ve already hired the stripper.”

“Dee!”

There – that did it. The twitch broke into a full-fledged – albeit shocked – smile and Dee answered it with one of her own. “Leave the cards and the packing, Cat, and have a glass of wine.”

“Just one – I have to drive, and you really have to pack. You won’t get anything done after two.”

Dee bit her lip to stop it trembling. “Yeah, just one. Come on.”

* * *

“Well done, Ms. O’Brien.”

Dee put her stack of books down with a sigh. “Pardon me?”

“The little performance with Ms. Evans. I think you convinced her quite nicely.”

She rolled her eyes. It had not been a performance, and even if it had been, she would not have been able to convince Cat of anything. Dee wasn’t the terrible liar she claimed, but Cat saw through her little deceptions all the time. Of course, the suit didn’t need to know that.

“How do you figure?”

“It’s my job to know people, Ms. O’Brien.” The suit – a one Agent Marley – looked smug.

“You’ve tapped her phone then, I take it?”

Of course he did, she scolded herself. And it was her fault. She had made Cat – made every one of her family and friends – fair game just as she had made herself fair game over fifteen years ago. That they knew nothing – well, almost nothing – did not matter. Not to Agent Marley, and not to the people who talked in that little earpiece of his.

“Tapped?” Marley looked up from the pile of Christmas cards he had been restacking on the table. Her fingers itched to slap his hands away. “How very old fashioned of you, Ms. O’Brien. No, all we have to do is sort of listen in on the digital airwaves everyone makes so readily available. Tapped is what we did to you twenty years ago.”

“Got it – so, I was right all those times I teased Cat that you lot were listening in because we could hear the clicking?” She fought to keep her face bland under his raised eyebrow. She really did want to know, but she was not going to give Marley the benefit of her obvious curiosity.

“Indeed. You should be glad we keep tabs on these sorts of things. It’s what is going to keep you alive over there.”

“You really are a bundle of joy tonight, Mr. Bourne.” Damn. That had been a throw-away answer for a throw-away asset.

“That’s not—“

Dee rolled her eyes as Marley stopped himself from walking into her bad joke. Because his first name was Jason, and because he bore a faint resemblance to a certain actor, the name had stuck in her head – even though she was not certain Agent Jason Marley knew the right end of the gun from the wrong.

“Ms. Evans was right, you know.”

“About?”

“The cards. You won’t be able to send them.”

“I might—”

“No – sending them could alert the wrong people.” He swept the cards in question into the waiting box. Besides the last pile of books she’d unearthed from under the bed, the cards were the last to go, but they wouldn’t be joining her in London. Nothing but what she managed to stuff in her carry-on was coming with her. Everything – right down to that stack of three-year-old Christmas cards – would be put into storage for if – no, when – she got back.

The show of packing had been just that – a show for Cat.

She stopped Marley from putting the lid on the last box and reached for two cards that had fallen loose.

“I have to send one.” She scribbled a quick note into one sporting an iridescent Mother and Child and signed her name with a flourish.

“I can’t allow—“

Her head snapped up and her cheeks flushed with sudden anger. “Damn what you can’t allow. I’m throwing myself at an organization you and your overseas friends insisted was dead – the least you can do is let me send a card to my mother.”

“Is that so? And who helped with that little subterfuge, Ms. O’Brien?”

“Little? You call faking Pearse Finnegan’s death little? Face it, you fell for it, and now I’m helping you fix it.”

It was an old argument, but she liked having it. They both knew her ‘fixing it’ had happened all too easily.

It had started two months ago, when research had brought her back to Europe after a nearly fifteen-year absence. The whole trip had been a gamble. Once, she had barely been able to escape Dublin, and there was no way she should have been allowed into Heathrow – at least, not without a lot of extra scrutiny.

Yet, the lads had been inactive for so long – hell, she’d been out of the game for so long – it was easy to pretend all the focus really was in the Middle East.

But then she’d seen her husband in London.

Her head of the War Council, supposedly dead husband.

Pearse hated London.

According to those in the know, the London Game was going to be the one that finally tipped the scales for unification and independence. Of course, that plan had been laid out before the Good Friday Agreement had brokered a fragile truce between the British Army, the Loyalists and the Provisionals – and before the Dail gave up its right to the six counties, otherwise known as Northern Ireland.

The war was over – had been over for fifteen years – and Irish unification was a distant dream or moldy memory, depending on who one asked.

And yet, if Pearce was in London, now, after all this time, then it meant he had found a way around the Agreement – or thought he had.

She’d snapped a quick, blurry-but-recognizable picture but ignored the itchy feeling along her scalp and shoulders when getting that hasty digital artistry to the appropriate people had been even easier than flying into London. There was no way Pearce’s miraculous recovery from death was a surprise to the security services, and apparently, neither was her hand in the proceedings.

Agent Marley refused to squirm under her glare. “And we are most grateful to your change of heart, Ms. O’Brien, believe me.”

He gave a slight bow and Dee allowed herself a small smile. Not for the first time she suspected Agent Marley’s blandness – and general bafflement at what he had once called her unruliness – was an act. Sure, he was an ass, and it terrified her to think she was his first field assignment – but there was also a twitch at the corner of his lips that spoke volumes for his overall intelligence – or at least, her preference for faintly dangerous men. In another life – but no, that was just it. That other life was not hers anymore. She had this one. The one she had chosen.

She shook her head. Nope. She was not going to think about it. It was done and here she was, making . . . amends. She gave Agent Marley a half-hearted shrug before flicking the signed card at him.

As he fumbled with the babe born in a manger, she slipped the Christmas Fairy into her bag.

“Send it to my mother,” she ordered. “If you don’t, she’ll know something is wrong.”

Agent Marley paused and searched her face. What he was looking for – and what he found – was a mystery, but after a few deafening heartbeats, he saluted her with the Christmas card.

“All right. It will go out tonight. We will begin routing your calls after takeoff. In the flurry of moving, you forgot to activate the international band on your phone.”

“That’s not going to keep anyone for long. They’ll start to worry.”

“Perhaps, but you don’t have very long. Our intel indicates he’ll strike Christmas Day, Ms. O’Brien.”

Agent Marley turned on his heel and headed towards the door. His footsteps echoed in the empty loft.

That’s right. Three days. That was all she had left.

Three days and three ghosts.

. . . to be continued . . .

Part 2 | Part 3

 

A Year of Fridays

Ah, January – every year you inspire me to get organized, lose a pound or two (or ten), rededicate myself to writing every day, and lately, actually make a plan for the blog. And, usually by March, some of that inspiration manages to slip into a sort of inglorious oblivion.

Wisconsin winters, wine, potato chips not to mention a few sugar plums, turtles and Wassail make keeping to a diet so not easy.

Wisconsin winters, wine, potato chips not to mention a few sugar plums, turtles and Wassail make keeping to a diet difficult indeed.

Now, the writing thing almost always succeeds, and while I can’t speak to why my diet fails every year (oh wait, yes I can: ridiculously long Wisconsin winters, wine, and potato chips), my lack of inspiration for the blog comes from a confusion of what I want it to do. Up until November of 2014, I had nothing to offer beyond the dubious wit of one druid hanging out in my head (and the dubious sanity of one writer). I am my greatest fan, so obviously, I think I’m hysterical, but now there is this book baby waving valiantly at the world. It’s here, it’s real and it’s beautiful. . . and it’s given me something to write about, regularly (I swear, angels are singing. And no, it’s not just because it’s still Christmas in my house).

Thus, each Friday, for the next fifty-six weeks, I’ll present the first page of each chapter and/or an epically awesome page from Changelings: Into the Mist, complete with historical footnotes, tidbits, and dialogues with a certain Druid. If you want to grab a copy and read along – even discuss your interpretation of my background notes in the comments – well, by all means, you can pick up a copy on Amazon (or, if you live in southeastern Wisconsin & parts of Illinois, you might be lucky enough to have it at your local library – squee!).

And so, without further ado, the first page of the first chapter of Changelings: Into the Mist.

One

My little stash - plus, an awesome poster!

My little stash – plus, an awesome poster!

I sat in the grove of my own creation and stared out at a world and a people descended of mine own. As I watched, trees gave way to stone and the Many lost their claim to the priests of the One.

Then the wheel turned. The sacred trees grew around my effigy of stone and the Many came out of hiding. I sat in my grove and watched a world outside my imagination, willing it to see.

She saw. She saw me with uncanny green eyes – the green eyes of my mother and her mother before her: witch’s eyes.

Joy rose in me. It was time – time to join the world after years of solitude, time to act after centuries of stillness.

I closed my eyes and reached across the barrier, to touch my future and my past.

†  †  †

Maureen O’Malley’s eyes snapped open. The grove of ancient trees with their twisted branches disappeared.

Daydreaming. She took a shaky breath. It had just been a daydream.

Slowly – too slowly – her senses acknowledged the church, the hard pew beneath her, and the drone of Father’s voice as he said the Epistle.

She was not stranded on a hilltop mired by mist. There was no stand of oaks, and their gnarled branches were not creaking and groaning in the breeze.

There was no breeze, and the curls that had escaped her veil were not brushing her cheek – no, they were plastered against it. The late August heat, trapped amid the dusty black skirts of the nuns surrounding her, pressed in on her and stole her breath.

She gave her head a slight shake, as if the movement would free her from the grip of that dream world.

* * *

D: So is this where you tell us that Maureen’s inattention at mass – her daydreaming which is about to lead her to a glorious vision of yours truly – is just a re-imagining of your own ‘vision’ that eventually gave birth to the book, right?

A: Actually—

D: Of course, since you had that daydream in church when you were merely 14, it means that for a full five years, you had this story – this first book – without my brilliance.

A: Sure, but D –

D: No wonder you put it away.

A: D!

D: What?

A: You are insufferable.

D: (Preens) I thought that was why you liked me.

A: I think you’re mistaking like for loath.

D: No, no I’m pretty sure you like me.

A: Depends on the day, Druid.

D: And is today that day?

A: Don’t push it.

As long-time readers of this blog know, there was a book a few years before D came on the scene. Historically sketchy, it had only a scant reference to Irish gods and mythology, and nothing to do with a time-travelling Druid. That started to change when I was bequeathed a new character who existed within the tale, but had a hard time fitting in with the story as it was. Fifteen years later. . .

D: I’m brilliant, and the story isn’t too bad either.

A: (Sigh) You are brilliant (a brilliant pain in the head). When first we “met,” I wrote the first few lines of this chapter, which are italicized above. Those alone kept me going through ten years of writer’s block, because I knew if I could write the story etched within those scant 140 words, I would have the story to which you belonged. Fifteen years later . . .

D: I’d say you did it.

A: Cheers, D.

Word/Phrase of the Day

The Many vs The One: The Many refers to the pantheon of Celtic gods vs. the coming of the One, the Christos or Christ. In my research, I got the feeling that there was little argument between the Druids and the priests, particularly priests of the early Celtic Catholic Church (that concept alone is a whole other book, or four – in fact, it’s Book 3 and 4), but as Catholicism incorporated and supplanted the native beliefs, much knowledge and lore, I feel, was lost. It is this the Druid laments.

Devil’s in the Details

Nothing – not a single word – has changed in the opening 140 words of this chapter since it was written fifteen years ago. The same is true for the opening sequence of Changelings 3, which was written (and will be re-written next year) 13 years ago, while I played at being a stay-at-home mom with Tom.

Historical footnotes

Carrickahowley Castle, photo via WikiCommons, uploaded May 2007 by Brholden

Carrickahowley Castle; Photo via WikiCommons, uploaded May 2007 by Brholden

The year is 1958 and the place is Carrickahowley Abbey, located just outside Carrickahowley (now Rockfleet), Ireland. The place exists but the Abbey does not, although it was based – very loosely and rather after-the-fact – on the Burrishoole Friary, run by Dominical friars. The Friary, a historical monument, was operated well into the eighteenth century, despite the dissolution of religious orders following the English Reformation. It was abandoned in 1793. That said, boarding schools and orphanages similar to Carrickahowley Abby were established between 1880 and 1950.

It’s also worth noting that Maureen grudgingly wears a veil and thinks Father is pretty boring during the Epistle. Before the reforms of the Catholic Vatican II, women wore veils over their hair and masses were said largely in Latin. Unless Maureen was a very good, attentive student of languages – which she is not, we will find out later – Father’s voice as he said the Epistle would have indeed droned on for her.

Living Musically: Wanderlust Edition

This has nothing to do with music, but it is indicative of how I feel this week. Plus: Hobbits.

This has nothing to do with music, but it is indicative of how I feel this week. Plus: Hobbits.

D: Wasn’t that the title of last week’s edition of Living Musically?

A: You mean the edition that wasn’t posted?

D: That would be the one.

A: Yes, well, it started to get maudlin, and while I am Irish, and St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner. . .

D: You have no appreciation for the Celtic soul, A.

A: I have a Celtic heart – does that count?

D: (Grumble, grumble, mutter)

A: What was that?

D: Yes, fine – I suppose. At least you have me to stand in for that soul you lack.

A: Indeed I do, D – and a fine trade it is. Now, shall we get down to business?

D: Certainly. Pray tell, what started you thinking of wandering?

A: When have I not thought of wandering?

D: When you lived in Ireland.

A: . . . You’re really working that Celtic soul thing, aren’t you?

D: Someone has to – so, I suppose this abominably cold winter had you and your iPod dreaming of different climes?

A: Indeed. First there was Erebor.

D: You’re going to be a Dead Man Walking if you keep up the Hobbit references.

A: I don’t know why. . .

D: Oh, fair play – although it is a little Sentimental for my tastes.

A: Hm, does that mean you’re not into Angels?

D: I don’t know, A – the seraphim and that lot are rather lumped together with the Fae in my book – it’s all rather a sort of homecoming, aye?

A: Careful D, you might have me thinking of Bag End.

Evil cute cat. Better than Hobbits (just don't tell D).

Evil cute cat. Better than Hobbits (just don’t tell D).

D: (Eye roll) You are not a Hobbit, A. First of all, you’re too tall.

A: I know, but I had second breakfast this morning, does that count?

D: Perhaps.

A: Right then, so you won’t mind if I play this honorable mention . . .

D: Good lord, three of them?!

A: I know, I know, I need a different playback function but honestly can you blame me? It was sunny, above freezing twice this week, and I had Hobbit songs to sing me into work.

D: Best week ever?

A: Yeah, pretty much, and not just because I didn’t have to hit the ‘skip’ button at all.

D: You hit the skip button??

A: Yeah, I get six skips a week – kinda like Slacker on my blu-ray. There are just some songs I can’t quite stomach at 6:30 in the morning, D (and they have their very own blog post coming up soon!)

D: Fine, your excuses work this time. . . but what else was it about this week that made it fabulous?

A:Well, without further ado . . .

Helena made her Kickstarter goal!

With 10 days to go. All of you out there, you’re awesome. I mean it. I nearly screamed when I found out, and I was at work! Go read about it here. And here. I don’t have quite the words to express just how happy I am for Helena and for the people who supported her, but needless to say: Nice job, internets. You all rock.

D: Nicely said, A. I think.

A: (Eye roll) Also, everyone needs to take a gander at John W. Howell’s site, as he has posted a new trailer for his thriller, My GRL. It’s pretty cool.

D:  And as a reminder to everyone, Charles is having a Twubs chat tomorrow (Saturday, March 15) – if ever you had a question for the scribe of Windemere, now is your chance to ask! What are you going to ask him, A?

A: Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend. I’m going to be carrying sponsor banners in Milwaukee’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and celebrating heartily afterward.

D: Do you ever wish you were Back Home in Derry?

A: Um, I lived in Dublin, so no, but nice D. Very nice.

D: I thought so.

A: You would – for other Music Highlights (and these highlights are a-freaking-amazing) check out Helena’s Tom Waits revue.

D :And also head over to Jack Flacco’s site for his take on Playlists. I swear to the heavens, he and A are long-lost twins. Now if only she’d listen to him about playlists.

A: One day, D. . . one day.

D: Maybe.

A: If you’re lucky.

D: And with that empty promise, we bid you adieu.

A: Have a great weekend, everyone and thank you so much for reading!

It’s all in your head

“. . .You’re sure it’s tonight?”

“Aye. I’ve counted the nights, Maureen. It’s tonight.”

“Well, I guess it’s a good thing we’re in port, then.” Maureen looked at Sean and mustered a grin. She didn’t feel really glad. In fact, she had argued with the Dubh in the letter on countless occasions, citing this reason and that why they did belong in 1584 – 1585, now . . .

D: Is this a thing?

A: Pardon?

D: A thing, you know. . . a thing.

A: . . . .

D: Gods help me, I’ve been in your head too long, and I’m starting to express myself like you.

A: You say that like it’s a bad thing.

D: . . .

A: Fine, I’ll stop being me. I understand, but I don’t know what thing to which you are referring.

D: It’s Maureen. She’s arguing with me. In her head. Is this going to be a theme for you? Are you trying to spread the crazy around?

A: I would think you’d feel honored, having someone else chat with you in their head.

D: It’s not that, A – I’m just wondering if I’m going to have to start taking appointments.  How many more people are going to be requesting an audience? Shall I hire a PA to take the calls?

A: . . . If I have to stop being me, could you stop being you?

D: Ha!

A: And no, it’s not a theme, and I’m not feeling lonely for other crazy company (that’s what I have you for, after all). Maureen has little recourse but to argue with you in her head – you disappeared, remember? Remember how you left them with the pirate, in the 1580s, with just the one instruction to wait 4 months before they tried to get home? What is with you and leaving them to their own devices? What happens next is your own fault, D, just remember that.

D: Oh, I do, A. I do. . .

. . . Sean wasn’t eager to leave either, not eager to go back and be a grocer’s apprentice, his days ruled over by the sisters of St. Cormac’s parish. He did not want to leave Grania and her men; he did not want to miss the respect he saw in his fellows’ eyes. Yet, what he told Maureen was true. Dubhal – Dubh – had said to go back to 1958, had said that they did not belong in the sixteenth century. In Sean’s innermost heart, he believed Dubh. He knew it was true.

Sean rested a hand on Maureen’s arm, jostling her ever so slightly.

“It’s time, Maureen. It’s time to stop arguing with that letter. We have a life–”

You have a life.”

Sean snorted derisively. “Aye – shop boy.”

“That’s only until next year, Sean. Then you’re going to University, and I’m . . .”

The bunnies made me do it

A: I think I should go outside and write.

D: No. Bad idea. I think you should stay inside.

A: But it’s spring, D. The flowers are blooming, despite the fact that it was snowing just the other day, and the birds are chirping, and the bunnies . . .

D: Which is precisely why you need to stay inside, A.

A: Because of the bunnies?

D: I think you misunderstand me on purpose.

A: Maybe.

D: No A. No birds, no flowers, no springtime – you need to focus. Stay inside. You’ll also burn under the sun and I’m not going to have you writing under the pain of sunburn.

A: I’ll wear my big hat—

D: Besides, springtime means Beltane, bonfires, merrymaking—

A: D? Calm down, D. First of all, this is America. This is Puritan country; they don’t do bonfires and Beltane, or merrymaking. . . not until Memorial Day.

D: Not even little bonfires?

A: Well, we have fire pits for our backyards, and barbeques.

D: And the merrymaking?

A: Do yard games count?

D: . . . No wonder you need me in your head. Puritan country, indeed. I don’t even want to ask about Beltane.

A: I wouldn’t. You’ll just get depressed.

D: Fine. Go outside. But if you get a sunburn—

A: Yes, D. Whatever you say, D. See ya, D!!

“. . . Careful with that one, I nearly had to kill her to get her off the bloody ship; she bit me!”

“Oh, poor lad; what do you expect, cavorting with pirates and rabble? Do you need the surgeon to look at you? Is it likely to fall off?”

Maureen kept her eyes closed listened intently. Both men were speaking English, but only one was familiar. Galen had been aboard Grania’s flagship; she had avoided him every time she saw him, and luckily had never shared work duties with him. She didn’t like how he stared.

“Bugger off, Jamie,” Galen cursed, somewhat moodily. “Just make sure she’s bound before she comes to. I’ll not be the one responsible for her attacking the Governor of Connacht when he comes to inspect her.”

Jamie was gentle enough as he bound her arms and legs to the small stool where Galen had dumped her, and Maureen had a feeling he knew she was awake.

“That should hold her – don’t worry, Gale, you and Sir Bingham are safe from the wee lassie, now.”

“Galen O’Flaherty,” said a voice. Maureen held her breath. “Not only did you not warn us that Grania O’Malley’s flagship travelled with two galleys, thereby outnumbering us, you also saw fit to snatch a lass in Grania’s care, and expose yourself as a traitor in the process. That was not the plan, boy. . .”

The importance of blending in

“. . . My lady,” Dubhal intoned. Sean could hear the respect for their captain in his voice.

“Master Dubhal,” Grania returned. She turned her attention to Sean. “I’m sorry, Sean, Maureen was not on either ship. Both had been abandoned by the time we reached them, anyway – all vital crew had been evacuated and Maureen wasn’t among the survivors . . .”

D: Why are they calling me that?

A: What?

D: Dubhal. It’s not my name.

A: It’s an assumed name. You’re a time-traveler; blending in is important. I felt Dubhal was better suited for the 16th century than Dubh an Suile.

D: But–

A: And it means something close to “dark stranger. “ I thought, what with the lurking, and the general weirdness that is you, that it fit.

D: You are ridiculous.

A: Thank you.

D: Wait! Wait, wait . . . what are they going to call me in Part 2?

A: Commander Declan.

D: . . .

A: Blending in, D, you’re blending in.

D: You are still ridiculous.

A: Cheers, D.

 . . . Sean realized that Grania’s news only confirmed what he knew in his gut. “They took her with them,” he said, his voice low.

“Aye, that may be; she wasn’t among the dead, either.” Grania paused, and Sean could see she was trying to form her words as carefully as possible. “But we don’t know why; they may have misused her, or they—“

“By taking her, they’ve misused her,” Sean said hotly. He felt Dubhal’s restraining hand on his shoulder, forcing him back and Sean realized that he was nearly on his feet, his hands balled into fists . . .