Addison Albright: The Neighbor’s Yappy Dog

Is there one particular sound that acts as a trigger for you? I have to admit I’m with Nathan in this story; there are few things more irritating than a constantly yapping dog! But Addison manages to conjure up a wonderful picture of domestic bliss in spite of the endless yip yip yip

Incidentally, Addison creates many of her short stories using prompts. This one stemmed from the phrase ‘neighbor’s yapping dog’ but if you’d like to challenge her, or one of our other authors for that matter, to write a story around one of your own (work safe please!!) phrases then please suggest a few in the comments and we’ll see what we can come up with…


Pic credit: dahancoo on

Yip, yip, yip!

“It’s my turn,” one of the kids—it sounded like Jeremy—hollered from the other room.

“Is not!” Georgie’s reply wasn’t exactly a solid gold debate winner, but in his defense, he was not quite three, and had learned his arguing skills from Jeremy. Needless to say, there was only one likely reply…

“Is too!”

“Boys, Dad’s still sleeping. Quiet down.” Anthony’s voice was calm as ever. “Georgie, it’s Jeremy’s turn. I’ll set the timer. When it dings it’ll be your turn again.”

Yip, yip, yip!

“I swear to God…” Nathan grumbled, stuffing a pillow over his head. The neighbor’s yappy dog annoyed him more than the noise from his family. He didn’t expect “Stepford kids,” and the boys’ hearts were in the right place.

“Here, Georgie.” Anthony’s voice drifted down the hallway. “You can help me crack eggs for the pancakes.”

Nathan smiled beneath the pillow. Anthony was a master at redirecting the kids’ interests, but even he could predict where this one would go.

“I wanna help, too,” Jeremy said.

“Great!” Anthony said. “Go get the other stepstool, I could use another skilled egg-cracker.”

Yip, yip, yip!

Nathan chuckled despite the exasperating yapping, and emerged from underneath the pillow. Anthony had known as well as Nathan did that Jeremy would want to “help,” too. He blinked a few times and stumbled to the bathroom. Anthony would probably appreciate some real help.

When he was freshened up and decent, he breezed into the kitchen and took an exaggerated breath. “Bacon, coffee, and pancakes…what more could anyone want on such a glorious Saturday morning!”

“Chocolate milk,” Jeremy, aka Mr. Literal replied.

“And apple juice,” Georgie said, because of course he couldn’t let Jeremy be the only one chiming in.

“And Pop’s beautiful smile,” Nathan added for good measure as Anthony beamed at him from the other side of the table.

Anthony stepped around and gave him a quick peck on the lips. “How about adding a good morning kiss to that list?”

Yip, yip, yip!

Even the yappy dog couldn’t ruin this lovely scene. Nathan trailed a finger along Anthony’s jaw. “Better and better.”

Kaje Harper: Visions of Spring

The weather is sorta-kinda trying to be more spring-like, now that it’s technically the vernal equinox. By which I mean that here in the Far North of England it’s struggled up to 11c (about 52F, I think) and is only raining some of the time… But there are daffodils out and the first few lambs bouncing around in the fields so it seemed like the perfect time to post this fun little poem from Kaje, which really made me grin.


Some folks wax poetic about daffodils

And going outside without getting the chills.


Some mention the sun coming up before eight,

Or the end of the tough winter driving they hate.


Of course I agree that the blossom smells sweet

And I like getting rid of the slush in the street.


I’ve nothing against a red robin or two

And the kids out on bikes doing stuff that they do.


There’ll be baseball and golf, with the grass turning green

And I see the appeal of a pastoral scene.


But for me, there’s just one thing I wait for each year

And I watch Michael closely to see it draw near.


That first weekend day, when the sunshine is warm

And the dirt’s been splashed up by a passing rainstorm.


You can keep all those flowers and children and sports

Give me one hot guy washing his car, in his shorts.

Fiona Glass: Combustion

A fun and very tongue-in-cheek little piece about two men, a Ferrari and a birthday present. The story, which first appeared in my newsletter last year, involves the characters from my book Trench Warfare – archaeologist Steve and his sweet right-hand-man Jon. You can read about how they got together in the first place (and about the temple they discovered) in the book, which is available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited here. (Sorry for the plug, by the way, but it seems like too good an opportunity to miss!)


Pic credit: Martin Kattler on

‛WHOA. IS IT ALWAYS THIS quick?’ Steve gasped and made a grab for the dashboard. He’d been expecting a wild ride but hadn’t thought it would be quite this powerful. Or this exhilarating. Or this terrifying, if he was honest with himself.

            ‛It’s fine. Relax.’ Jon had his mouth full. ‛I haven’t finished yet.’

            Steve bucked in his seat. ‛God! I thought finding that temple was an adventure but I’ve never known anything like this before.’

            There was a muffled, breathless laugh. ‛Yeah. Suck, squeeze, bang and blow. Nothing to beat it.’

            ‛You what?’ His voice came out as more of a squeak than he’d intended. He cleared his throat.

            ‛I read it somewhere. Good description, don’t you think?’

            Steve bucked again. ‛Very appropriate. I could even say four strokes and an emission and you’re anybody’s.’

            ‛Hey. That’s hardly fair.’

            Jon looked so hurt that Steve relented, and reached out to ruffle his hair. ‛Just teasing. You go ahead and enjoy yourself. It’s your birthday treat after all.’

            A little-boy grin peeped out from under the long sweep of hair. ‛And we’ve still got twenty minutes to go. Hang onto your seat—let’s see what it’s like when I really rev things up.’

            Half an hour later Steve clambered unsteadily out of the car, wondering what had happened to his legs. They weren’t usually this much like jelly, even when he’d been crouching in a trench for hours. ‛Whoa,’ he said again, and leaned against the door for support.

            Jon seemed less ruffled than his hair. ‛That was fantastic. Wish I could do it every day of the week. I’ve always been partial to throbbing pistons.’

            ‛I’m more of a leg man myself.’ Steve eyed the long, jeans-clad pair beside him. ‛We’d better get this thing back to the garage, though. If we’re late they’ll charge us for the overtime.’

            ‛I guess you’re right.’ Jon sighed mournfully and stroked one hand over smooth metallic curves. ‛Pity, though. She’s beautiful. Your Mini just won’t seem the same.’

            Steve gazed at the sleek lines and gleaming scarlet paintwork of the Ferrari Testarossa he’d paid to take out on hire for an hour. It had cost him an arm and several legs, but it had been worth every last penny just to watch the child-like joy on Jon’s face.

            Who would have guessed that Jon of all people—nerdy, quiet, reserved Jon with his love of music and anything ancient or covered with dust—would turn out to be such a speed-freak petrol-head? He’d let it slip a few months back, when Steve had caught him gazing wistfully at the pictures of Aston Martins, TVRs and E-type Jaguars in an old copy of What Car magazine a client had left behind. And a plan had been hatched. One that had worked out perfectly, judging by the glow on Jon’s face as he threw the Ferrari round the curves of their local driving track. ‛Glad you enjoyed it. It’s certainly an experience. I thought I was going to lose my lunch when you went over that speed bump at ninety-five.’

            ‛That reminds me.’ Jon ducked back inside the car—a feat of contortion for his six-foot-two frame—and emerged with a slightly squashed super-size packet of rum and raisin fudge. Another of his pet loves. He’d been chomping bits of it for the last half hour. ‛Nearly forgot this. Want one?’

            ‛No, thanks.’ Steve eyed the crumpled wrapper with distaste. ‛Looks like you’ve been sitting on it. Anyway, it’s your treat.’

            ‛Yeah.’ Jon popped two more pieces of fudge into his mouth at once and chewed, before adding indistinctly, ‛Best birthday ever. Thanks, Steve. Means a lot.’

            Steve leaned in and kissed him on the lips. They tasted of sugar and artificial rum. An acquired taste, but one he’d be happy to get used to, especially if it meant more chances to snog his right-hand man. ‛You’re welcome.’

            Jon tucked the sweetie bag in one pocket. ‛Those seats aren’t exactly comfortable, mind you. My back’s killing me.’ He stretched his arms above his head until his spine clicked.

            Steve watched the resulting play of lean muscle under the denim and swallowed hard. ‛What was that you said about sucking and blowing?’ There was only the faintest hint of a tremor in his voice. He should be proud of himself.

            Nothing moved on Jon’s face apart from one eyebrow, which somehow managed to change his whole expression from smile to leer. ‛You want to give it a go for real?’

            Steve swallowed again. ‛We really shouldn’t. We’re already late and the garage won’t thank us if they’ve got other bookings. And it’ll be a squeeze. And it’s probably illegal. All the same…’ He glanced wistfully at the car, then at Jon. ‛I, er, could give you the rest of your birthday pressie…’

            The leer became sheer mischief. ‛Here? In the Ferrari?’

            That was another discovery about Jon—his unexpected love of making out in unusual places. It was risky; it might even be dangerous. One of these days it would probably get them arrested. But in the meantime, it was tempting enough that his own jeans grew a little tighter at the thought. Even if it cost him another hour’s hire charges, not to mention the inevitable cleaning bill. Even if the cabin was so small he’d probably knock himself out on the steering wheel. But sex in a Ferrari? That wasn’t something you did every day. He licked his lower lip. ‛I guess… maybe… if we’re careful… But not actually here, here.’

            ‛No problem. I know a nice quiet bit of woodland a couple of miles away.’ Jon grinned, inserted himself back into the driver’s seat and twisted the ignition key, then yelled over the sudden roar of all twelve cylinders’ worth of decibels. ‛Come on, then, get your arse inside. Let’s bugger off while nobody’s looking, and I’ll see if I can’t spark your engine to life.’

            Steve ducked back down into the car, trying not to damage his rock-hard cock. The vision those words conjured up was almost too much. The Ferrari, parked somewhere out of the way. Windows down as far as they would go. The scent of leaves and earth and bark. Smooth leather against his back, a cool breeze on whatever bits of skin they left exposed. Hot breath. Jon’s beard rough against his chin. Feet everywhere—out the windows, probably; their bodies a writhing tangled mass. Suck, squeeze, bang and blow indeed. He cleared his throat again. ‛Motor’s already running, mate.’

K. L. Noone: A Traveling Poem

An absolutely gorgeous poem by K. L. Noone which really gets across the heart-aching void of missing someone special whilst travelling abroad. Don’t forget you can find all of K. L.’s other books and writing here.


Pic credit: Yousef Aluhigi on

I miss you.

There’s a sunrise outside

the airplane window and already I miss you.

I miss the weight of your body against mine. I miss

Reaching out a hand

and knowing it’ll find yours.

I have distractions. I speak

of history and stories and theories and scholarship,

academic and precise. I speak

to other people.

They are very nearly as real as you are.

You are my anchor. I will see you soon.

My skin counts down the days, the hours, the minutes.

The sky above the city might’ve been a Monet painting

as we crossed the bridge today, exploring this city:

no visible source of light, but light all-encompassing,

swirling through the clouds.

I wanted to say this to you, and I thought

about the day I knew I was in love with you,

the day on which I knew that I wanted to say everything to you,

bad puns, strange asides, random whims that came to mind,

because I could: because you’d nod, or laugh,

or shake your head while smiling, and take my hand.

That knowing

is the best thing I’ve ever done.

I take photographs of places you would like,

intricate colors, angled shapes,

signs that’d make you smile.

I try for some time to capture the lens flare

on the edges of a building

the way you would,

with the eye of your camera. I do not succeed.

But I will show you my efforts.

Tonight I will speak to you, electronic and windy,

across distance and a continent;

your voice will be warm in my ear before sleep.

Jay Mountney: Lunch

Here’s a fun, and perhaps even slightly naughty, offering from Jay featuring two men, a country picnic and some asparagus… Yes, asparagus. Just take a look at some of the photos of that stuff online – especially the new shoots – and you’ll soon see what I mean! And don’t forget to check out Jay’s other writing at her website.


Pic credit: Foodie Factor at

Steve had suggested a day walking in the Peak District and had hoped against hope that Matt would agree. They had parked near Lord’s Seat and wandered upwards, leaving Mam Tor, with its carefully engineered steps, to the tourists. They were tourists here too, of course, but they knew the area well and considered themselves locals even though they lived and worked some miles north on the outskirts of Manchester. There were no hang-gliders or paragliders today; although the sun was glorious the wind was wild and cruel. Matt’s hair danced in the gusts and the grass whispered beneath their feet.

He had offered to bring a picnic. A flurry of shopping in Tesco’s followed by a session in his small kitchen had produced a mini-feast of delicate smoked salmon sandwiches, asparagus spears with a mayonnaise dip, tiny, bite-sized quiches and some chocolate truffles to go with the flask of coffee. There was wine, too, a South African Chardonnay that he knew was good but had chosen mainly for its easy screw top. All luxuries. He knew Matt probably expected ham salad muffins and a couple of cans of beer. The actual contents of his rucksack should help to give a message if he lost his nerve. He had brought plastic wine glasses as well and had made sure that there was plenty of food. Quantity as well as quality would be needed to sustain them. He hoped they would stay all day; that Matt would not leave when he realised what Steve wanted.

They sat at the top, looking out over Edale, listening to the sheep. There were early lambs, calling constantly for their mothers to watch their games. If you knew where to look, the start of the Pennine Way was visible. Maybe another time. He hoped there would be another time.

They were silent, tired from the climb but content. Would the content last when Matt understood what lay behind the invitation? Recently Steve had thought his overtures might be accepted but maybe it was all wishful thinking.

He unpacked the food, concentrating on what he hoped would be a calming task. He was supposed to have psyched himself up for this, but now that the moment had come his nerves were back in full force.

Matt opened the wine, a strange look, almost a query, on his face as he filled the glasses. He sipped slowly, watching Steve lay out the food on the lid of the container he had brought.

Steve opened the pack of asparagus and the mayonnaise. He dipped a pale green spear in the sauce and held it towards Matt with a questioning half-smile.

Matt’s answering smile was broad and seemed to light up the hillside. He accepted the offering and their fingers touched briefly, sending a spark flickering across Steve’s hand. Matt brought the spear to his mouth, still smiling, and licked the creaminess from the tip with slow, careful movements then let the tip of his tongue linger on his lips.

Kaje Harper: The Right Thing

I make no apologies for putting the zine into full-on mushiness mode this week, with this adorably sweet yet “make you think” story from Kaje, which involves, er, two men and a baby… Don’t forget to check out Kaje’s other books and stories at her website here.


“She has your nose,” David said, his voice soft and low.

I rubbed his back and held in my laughter. “I’d look pretty silly with that tiny nose.” Not to mention, we’d met our daughter’s mother when the teen was five months pregnant. There was nothing of me in that minute perfect body, except love.

The love, though― I’d thought with adoption, feeling connected would take time. Like when you get a new puppy, and at first it’s just generically cute and helpless and in need of care, but after a little while it becomes your puppy-baby-precious. But Lylla had blinked her unfocused blue eyes at me, eyelids still puffy, skin blotchy, tiny hands curled in fists, and I fell. So fast, so hard.

I reached past David’s arm to run a fingertip over Lylla’s tiny satin cheek, and then brushed the back of David’s thumb. My family.

“I don’t want to love her yet,” David murmured.

“Why not, hon?”

“Thirty days.”

“Ah.” His words made my stomach clench, though I tried not to show it, stroking his thumb again, inches from our precious child. Thirty days. Lylla’s mother had that long to think about the adoption before we could finalize it in front of a judge. I didn’t think she’d change her mind. But Amanda had already pulled back once and then reaffirmed her choice, in the four months we’d supported her pregnancy. She was a great girl, trying to do the best thing after her parents kicked her out, but desperately lonely. What if Lylla looks like the answer to never being alone?

“I want to grab Lylla and run,” David sounded fierce. “Take her to, like, Hawaii or somewhere perfect and keep her safe forever.”

I returned my hand to David’s back, rubbing firmly. “Amanda’s smart and she’s realistic. She knows she can’t take care of a baby right now.”

“I don’t trust her.” David turned wide dark eyes up at me, even as his hands cradled our daughter so gently. “What if― What if she decides she can? What if someone convinces her she’s going to hell for giving her baby to a gay couple?”

That wasn’t a shot in the dark, because Amanda had started out at one of the so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which had convinced the runaway fifteen-year-old that keeping her pregnancy was God’s will. She’d run away from the God-fearing foster home they’d sent her to, back on the streets, much too late to change her mind. Although my heart clenched at the thought of Lylla gone from the world as if she’d never been, Amanda had gone through a lot of hell that abortion might’ve spared her.

Our gift came at her sacrifice. And at her stubbornness and independence, because that original group would never have let a gay couple darken their doors.

“She’s not going to care about what someone like that says. You know that.” Her best friend on the streets had been a gay teen. She’d been cool about us from the start.

David bit his lip. “I know. I just…”

“You just worry.” He took things deeper to heart than I did, and agonized over every choice. All the more so after our overseas adoption had fallen apart at the last moment, and the organizer couldn’t look us in the eyes as she claimed not to know why.

I leaned over his shoulder, putting a little weight on him, and wrapped my arm around his to brush the baby’s wispy dark hair. “Look at her.” I kissed his temple, there beside my mouth. “So precious and perfect. Our baby. Whatever happens, even if we can’t keep her, even if she has health issues, whatever― you’re going to love her with all your heart. No matter what comes afterward. That’s also who you are.”

The baby waved a little hand and her eyes screwed tighter like she might wake and cry. David leaned his weight up and down on his elbows so the pillow supporting her rocked gently. He sang, “Hush little baby,” almost under his breath, his voice warm and rich, and she quieted.

The wave of love that went through me stopped my breath. I’d battle the world for these two, now and forever. “She’s going to know she’s always loved,” I said. “Unconditionally. That there’s nothing she can do or be that takes our love away from her. She’ll have what Amanda never had, what you didn’t― parents who are there for her in the hard times and the easy, gay, straight, trans, pregnant, porn star, whatever.”

David made a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob. “Did you just encourage our daughter to become a porn star?”

“Her body, her choice―”

A laugh behind us made us both turn our heads. Amanda stood in the doorway, a robe we’d bought her wrapped around the hospital gown she wore.

I straightened quickly. “Should you be out of bed? Can I get you anything?”

“I’m fine. Third-world women have a baby and go right back to work.” She shuffled toward us, arms wrapped across her stomach.

I grabbed the nearest chair and pulled it to the bedside but she just put a hand on the back. “I’m not staying. I just― I know I said I didn’t want to see her again after she was born, but I needed to see you with her. To know you’ll love her.”

“Absolutely,” David said. “Always.”

Amanda looked down at the baby. “Is that pillow one of yours?”

“Yes,” I said. I’d knit a few things— well, maybe a lot of things— waiting for our daughter. Little blankets and caps, sweaters and pillow cases, and even stuffed animals.

“Pretty.” She stared at Lylla, not reaching to touch her.

David kept his big hands around the baby and his eyes were wide, but he said nothing.

Eventually, Amanda pushed up from the chair back and nodded to us. “You swear that was true? All that part about her body, her choice? That you’ll never give her up?”

“Never,” I promised.

“Okay.” Amanda looked at David, then met my gaze. “If I want you to send me pictures now and then, will you? I think maybe I do want to see her grow.”

“Anytime. Keep your contacts updated and we will.” I chuckled, though my throat was hoarse. “David will fill your inbox, if you want.”

“Just a few. Now and then.” Her chin came up, and she pushed a strand of mussed dark hair off her forehead. “I’m going to graduate and go to college and become a vet, and then I’m going to have my own kids and they won’t ever have to wonder if I love them either.”

“I’m sure you will,” David told her.

“Doing the right thing is hard sometimes.”

“It sure is,” I agreed.

“You’re the right thing for her. For Lylla.” She raised a hand in a tiny wave, a twitch of slender fingers. “Bye, baby, have a perfect life. With your two daddies.” Turning, she shuffled back out of the room.

On the bed, the baby stirred, turned her head, and began sucking on David’s broad fingertip. I reached for the bottle, ready in the warmer, knowing our daughter’s powerful-lunged cries were only moments away.

“That was your mommy,” David told Lylla. “She’s strong and she’s brave and she loves you so so much. I don’t know if you’ll see her again, but Matt and I will make sure your whole life, you’ll have parents who put you first. And if you grow up to be like her, we’ll be proud.”

Lylla blinked her eyes open, and for a second she stared up at David as if meeting his eyes. Then her rosebud mouth opened and her appallingly strong wails began.

“Quick,” David said, lifting her into his arms and sitting on the edge of the bed. “We just told her we’d take care of her and now we’re starving the poor thing. Bottle, Matt. Hop to it.”

I lifted the bottle, wiped the outside dry, and set it in David’s hand. Lylla stopped crying to fumble at the nipple, then settled in to suck vigorously.

“You’re right,” David murmured. “Can’t do anything but love her with all our hearts, come what may.”

My knees went weak and I dropped to the bed beside him, wrapping my arm around the two of them. Ten years ago, I bumped into a bespectacled nerd in a coffee shop doorway, and his sweet, hesitant smile of apology went through my heart like an arrow. Today our daughter’s soft sounds in his arms stole my breath from my chest, and it was the most welcome pain I’d ever known. “Don’t forget to burp her,” I muttered, desperate to cut through the sentiment. “And it’s your turn to change her diaper. And there’s already spit-up on your shoulder.”

David turned the exact same smile on me, despite the decade between. “I love you too,” he said.

Rebecca Cohen: The Death of Adonis

Here’s a new, classically-inspired poem by Rebecca Cohen that’s chock full of meaning, sometimes lurking between the lines! If you like this, why not check out Rebecca’s books, which include the lovely Crofton Hall series, both historical and contemporary.


Pic credit: Brent Connolly on

Once a golden god, an idolatrist’s dream.

Worshipped. Adored in boundless awe.

All eyes upon him, devoured by lustful gazes,

but the hunger fades, replaced with disbelief.

His blond hair of youth turned to grey.

A cheeky wink now wrinkled.  

Body marching south as if to Rhodes

not travelled, a lifetime’s journey interrupted.

What is beauty but a distorted mirror?

Young or old: a reflection of the unreal.

Never more than a passing image,

the wonders of last week’s news cast aside.

The crone smiles at him, a knowing smirk.

Offers eye of newt to smooth crow’s feet.

Toxin-laden lotion to unfurl a worried brow

or tincture of boar’s tusk to peel away the years.

When the potions fail to work, cut out the old.

Flying knives, sharp as ravens’ beaks.

Changes no longer just skin-deep emerge

reveals Narcissus, who revels at centre stage.

K. L. Noone: Ember and Serenity

Here’s something a little different for the zine, but no less delightful. I’ll leave K. L. to explain all!

“Hello, all! This is something perhaps a bit different—it’s the opening scene of a work in progress, in fact! I’ve been poking at this one, on and off, for a while now; it’ll be a full-length novel eventually, high fantasy m/m romance, stand-alone, beginning in a library, with the theft of a book…and also a kiss.

I’ve been very much enjoying the writing of it so far, so I wanted to share the opening scene—I think it works fairly well as a first-meeting story, and obviously there’s more to come, but it’s a good (I hope!) intro to King’s librarian Ember and his book-thief, whose name, by the way, is Serenity…which is somewhat ironic, considering how much he’s about to, er, disrupt Ember’s peaceful night…”


Pic credit: Henry Be on

Emberly Lyon, reshelving the third volume of Gruyere’s History of Empire, startled a book-thief in the back room of the King’s library at half-past three in the morning.

Ember, one hand still clutching leatherbound pages, blinked at the intruder in lantern-light. The book-thief recovered from surprise first, and demanded, “What are you even doing here?”

“I was—” Instinctive guilt—he’d always been capable of losing time in a book, about which Chance teased him mercilessly, in the way of younger brothers—lost out to baffled anger. “I’m the King’s librarian! What are you doing?”

“I don’t suppose you’d believe I wanted to borrow a novel of seafaring navigation, shipwreck, and improbable feats of adventure?” The book-thief had a voice that laughed: wind over water, copper chimes in arched doorways, melody in sunshine. Ember couldn’t see much of him in library shadow, only the glance of a single dark-lantern’s rays across slender build, petite height, dark hair.

And that laughter. Beckoning.

He glared. “No one’s allowed in here after hours. No one’s allowed in here without my permission. And you’re stealing that!” Book-walls spiraled upward around them, a supportive tower sketched in silken grey, gilt-lettered spines, curious hollow spaces. He and Chance had been filling in those gaps as best they could for the past three years; the late King Brassen hadn’t cared much for reading. Every volume, and not only those in the more valuable back room, was his friend. “Put it back.”

“I’m afraid I can’t. A commission, you see.” Light as chatter across a ballroom, casual as a rowing-party on the Sweetwater; but this river glinted with robbery and danger. The book-thief had quite sensibly worn dark grey and green, fitted and shadowy under a hood; he wasn’t tall, and his voice sounded cheerful and irritatingly blithe, caught red-handed. Literature-handed. Mid-narrative. “Did you say you were the King’s librarian? The King’s librarian is—” He stopped.

“Yes,” Ember agreed, “you were saying?” and shifted weight, ever so slightly.

He and Chance did, in some ways, look alike—the tilt of eyes, that straight Lyon nose, the expressions on his half-brother’s face that Ember had glimpsed on his own in a mirror—but most people never saw that. Never saw past the height, the shoulders, and his skin, midway between King Brassen’s aged tawny gold and the shimmering onyx of the Araly dancer who’d caught the lion’s eye. Chance had the late Queen’s fairness and got sunburnt under rainclouds. Ember had waited in his chambers with aloe creams for years, after Brassen ordered his only legitimate son to keep up on all-day hunts.

His book-thief must be new to Lyonheart. Any person in the city’s market would’ve known. The King’s librarian was the King’s bastard older brother, and at a glance they did not resemble each other.

Ember tended to get stares in that market less because of his coloring specifically—though that was a part of it; traders came by from the Southern Continent often enough to be unusual but not singularly so—but because he loomed. Couldn’t help it. Their father’s muscles.

“The King’s librarian is someone who spends his days indoors with books, I was going to say.” Pale eyes flickered over him. Up and down. Lingering, Ember realized with a shock of thrilled outrage, on his shoulders, waist, below his waist. He couldn’t tell what color those eyes were under the hood, only that they danced in a ray of lamplight. “You, on the other hand, should be rescuing virgins and valiantly slaying monsters in perilous forests. Have you seen your arms, lately?”

That tone was either genuinely honest admiration or outrageous flattery; Ember choked on unexpected absurd laughter. “I’m preventing a crime, aren’t I? Put it back, please.”

“Do you know how difficult it was to break in here? You’ve actually got decent wards up. How’d you manage that?”

“Valiant monster-slayer secrets. Learned in a perilous forest. How did you—stop that!” His thief had begun inching toward the rear—and open, he noticed—window. Lyonheart sprawled sleepily outside, dreaming with the restlessness of an island city-state in the hours before dawn. Morning marketers and broadsheet-vendors and primrose-sellers would be stirring soon, bakeries opening, the drifting scents of strong tea and hot pies and fish-hauls and the clatter of early voices like a hundred melodies at once. Beyond darkened windows the sea lapped at shore, purring, wine-hued.

A few streets down from the palace, etched in black-on-night along the harbor’s curve, he could make out the shabby old spires of the dilapidated Magicians’ College next to the taller newer symmetry of the University. He thought, as he always thought, home; and memories of creaky voices and dusty spellbooks and patched-up robes warmed his bones.

“Sorry. I thought you said I could go. I’m certain I heard that.”

His thief was having fun. Teasing. That laughter again. Ember narrowed eyes at him, stalked closer, and demanded, “How’d you get in?”

“Through the window. And I’d quite like to get out again, so if you’d not mind, I’m trying to borrow a book from your library, which I believe you’ve opened to all visitors—”

“Borrow implies that you’ll bring it back. Visitors come in during open hours.” He put a hand on the book in question; his thief had been attempting to tuck it into a bag. An antique volume. One of Flint’s histories of magic in Lyonheart, volume one, all the way back to the Crossing and the First Kings. The copy itself was fairly old, but they had older; it did not have a jeweled cover, though it did have real gold leaf in illuminated capitals. “Visitors check in at the front gate. So I know who’s in the house.”

“You enjoy knowing who’s here?” His book-thief had dark hair, black or brown; he’d tied it up, but stray waves were escaping. “You enjoy knowing who gets to…come…into your library?”

Young, Ember thought; not a boy, but youthful enough to be reckless, to dare consequences, to twirl on a tightrope. To laugh.

Despite the book between them, they were close enough to touch. Close enough for heat in the night.

And that night crackled: awake and conscious of every sense in a way he was not sure he remembered ever having been. The closest might’ve been the time Chance had come down with summer fever and almost died and not died, opening exhausted eyes and finally seeing him; this was not that emotion but nearly so, a kind of stunned relieved recognition, a quickening to life, the leap of joy in his veins.

His book-thief’s lips had parted, soundless now, gazing up. He’d had to tip his head back to do so; and they stood framed by fourteenth-century political discourses for a moment, caught out of time.

The young man went up on tiptoes, sudden and sweet, and kissed him. A thief’s kiss, a bandit’s kiss, dazzling as sunrise and as audacious.

The young man tasted like cherries, and possessed bones as light as a bird’s, no weight at all against him, and had soft bouncy hair; Ember knew this because apparently his hands had slid into it, pushing back that hood. The book was trapped between them. It held heartbeats and pressed edges into his chest.

The young man drew back, laughed briefly—wondering, as if surprised—and kissed him again, deeper this time, tongue sneaking out to explore, to lick, to drink him in. Ember made a noise, or one of them did, and pulled him closer and met playfulness with strength; his thief outright moaned, shameless, and actually leaned into him, eyes closing.

Warmth flooded through the library, and hummed in his blood, in that welcoming response where their bodies met.

Chilly air rampaged in. Emptiness. No more lips on his. Ember blinked, panted, fought for equilibrium. One hand on the bookshelf.

“I’m really very sorry,” his thief said from the window, perched on the sill like the nightingale he might’ve been, lightweight and song-voiced, “that was—that was—well, you’re not anything I expected. From the King’s librarian. Good night, my valiant monster-slayer.”

He vanished. Out of sight. Doubtless with a rope, a ladder, a daring swing across kitchen-gardens and courtyards. Ember hadn’t recovered enough to go after him.

The young man had taken the book, too. Of course he had. A book, a kiss, Ember’s ability to think about anything other than that kiss. Neatly stolen.

The palace—Lyon House to everyone besides the most particular; it’d been Brassen’s great-grandfather who’d called it a palace, and it wore the name rather sheepishly—opened onto the public square. That laughter, that quickness, would be long gone.

Ember stared at the night. He caught himself lifting a hand to his lips; and then he laughed a little, too, astonished.

Jeff Baker: Date Night

Happy Valentine’s Day readers! I hope you’ve enjoyed all the romance on the zine so far. Here’s another little helping – a tongue-in-cheek and clever poem from Jeff Baker that could easily be written about a Valentine’s Day dance… Don’t forget to check out Jeff’s other writing at his website.


Pic credit: Gerd Altmann on

My date stood me up for the dance

            He said he’d found another guy

            So I went dancing with the Seven Deadly Sins.


First, I danced with Pride, and danced better than anybody else.

            Then I danced with Envy, both of us feeling

            The others on the floor were dancing so much better than we were.


I swirled around the floor with Greed, all the while

            Eyeing his shoes, his gold belt buckle

            And wondering how much he paid for his car.


I was dancing with Anger, who said he felt the same way.

And would have beaten up Greed, or Envy or Pride

If he could make up his mind who to hit first.


I was uncomfortable dancing with Lust

Who bulged in all the wrong places

And somehow danced way too close.


Then I danced with Gluttony, and that didn’t last long

            We did a turn then we danced our way into the kitchen

            Where we filled up on junk food.


Lastly, Sloth and I sat on the chairs that surrounded the old school gym

            And watched the others whirling away, in the dimming light

            Happy to be there, happier still to be sitting down.

            Watching the other dancers making us even more tired.


Jeff Baker: The Night in Question

Here’s another nice sweet (okay, maybe even mushy!) romantic story, this time with added ghosts, to get you in the mood for Valentine’s Day. As Jeff explains, the story was inspired by his local store: “The convenience store down the street from the College I went to was a real place (still is!) and I really did wander down there with my friends for beer, snacks and comic books just over forty years ago. Don’t know about romantic ghosts but it’s a possibility!


Pic credit: Jeff Baker

            He had been named after the sylvan glade of mysteries and after Merlin Sylvestris, the sorcerer. But the old convenience store with its pocked pavement and peeling paint was hardly anything pastoral. Nonetheless, something he sensed caused Silveria to stop the car (no traffic in the early evening, thankfully!) and take a second look at the young man standing at the corner of the building where the payphones had once been.

            At first glance, he seemed a young man of Silveria’s age; his early twenties. But his clothes were subtly out of date; bell bottom jeans and a button down shirt with an owl stenciled on the side. Silveria realized the man was not of this world.

            The man had no shadow.

            “Hello,” Silveria said, walking from where he parked the car. “I know who, or rather, what you are.” Silveria realized he could see through the young man, who looked up startled.

            “Connecting with spirits is my family’s gift. We help spirits move on.” Silveria said.

            “Uh, that really isn’t necessary,” the ghost said.

            “I am Silveria, and I…”

            “Look, I’m Johnny and I’m sure you mean well, but I don’t really need that,” the ghost said interrupting. “I’m okay, I’m just waiting for someone,”

            “I don’t think you realize what happened to you.” Silveria said. “I can help you.”

            Johnny started to say something when another young man came around the corner, seemingly not paying attention and bumped right into Johnny. The newcomer was wearing plaid knit pants and a worn brown jacket over a blue t-shirt with the old name of the college that was a few blocks away.

            Both men were slightly transparent.

            “Oh, my gosh!” the new ghost said, taking no notice of Silveria. “I’m sorry! I wasn’t watching where I was going! I was just…”

            Johnny was shaking his head and pointing at Silveria. “Ralph, this guy can see us.”

            “Wha?” the second ghost said looking up open mouthed.

            “I am Silveria,” he said. “I am here to give you passage. I can open up the way to the realm beyond for you.”

            “We already have that,” Johnny said. “He thinks we need help,” he said to Ralph, the second ghost.

            “Ohhhhhhh,” Ralph said. “Look, we’d better explain.”

            “My name is Johnny Cole,” the first ghost said. “This is Ralph Mayhew. We were going to Millington College back in January of 1976…”

            “It’s the University of Millington, now.” Silveria said.

            “Wow.” Ralph said.

            “Anyway,” Johnny said. “One January evening, right after school started back up after Christmas Break, I drove down here to get some munchies.”

            “And I bumped into him, literally when he was standing here making a phone call.” Ralph said.

            “I asked him if he needed a ride back to the dorm and he said yeah…” Johnny said.

            “Then we went into the store to get some snacks…” Ralph said.

            “And a six-pack of beer!” Johnny said, grinning at the memory.

            “This place never checked I. D.” Ralph said.

            “I don’t think they even make that beer anymore,” Johnny said.

            “Yeah, it’s too cheap.” Ralph said.

            The two ghosts laughed.

            “We went back to his dorm room and drank the beer,” Johnny said.

            “And I got a little tipsy and I said a couple of things I shouldn’t have.” Ralph said.

            “Like telling me you liked what I was sitting on, and you didn’t mean the chair.” Johnny said.

            This time all three men laughed.

            “To make a long story short, we realized we were…” Ralph said.

            “Simpatico.” Johnny said with a grin,

            “We moved into our own apartment the Summer of our Junior year.” Ralph said. “Discreetly.”

            “We were together for what? Thirty-two years?” Johnny said looking at Ralph.

            “Then all those cigarettes caught up to him.” Ralph said.

            “Yeah,” Johnny said, glancing down at his feet for a moment.

            “I joined him a few years later,” Ralph said. “And when we found out we could, we came back here on the date we met to re-enact how we first met.” The two ghosts grinned at each other, not looking creepy in the least.

            “We do it every year,” Johnny said. “And afterwards we go back. Of our own volition.”

            “What? No beer?” Silveria asked. The three of them laughed again.

            “One year we went into the store,” Ralph said. “Y’know, for old time’s sake? But the lights are too bright for us now.”

            “Okay,” Silveria said. “Sorry to bother you. Look, happy anniversary.”

            “Thanks,” the two ghosts said grinning.

            They waved as Silveria walked back to his car. As he drove away, he could somehow still hear the ghostly voices:

            “I wasn’t watching where I was going! I was just…well, I’m sorry!”

            “That’s okay. Hey, haven’t I seen you up at school? I’m Johnny Cole…”