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Coming Soon from Kathryn Sullivan—Talking to Trees

Prologue

Twylgalit

She looked over the devastated land, at the groves of trees buried by landslide, and leaned again into the embrace of her grandmother.

“They can’t all be gone!” she sobbed.

“We are the only two remaining. The next strike will be soon.”

There came the rattle of small stones down the side of the hill, almost unnoticed in the pouring rain. Thunder growled like an angry voice.

Her grandmother lightly touched her hair.

“You must go.”

Tears mixed with the raindrops streaming down her face.

“I can’t leave you!”

“You cannot stay. You must find help for us.”

Twylgalit stepped back, looking wildly across the wasteland outside their sanctuary.

“How? Where?”

“Only a human can help us. I have spoken to the Watcher of Gates. He knows of our plight. He will ensure you will be sent to one who can help. Now, come, give me a hug, dear twiglet, and I will send you on your way.”

Twylgalit fiercely hugged her grandmother. She felt the rough bark against her face for a moment, and then, suddenly, she was elsewhere.


Chapter 1

Jody

Jody Burns saw the green-haired girl step out of midair.

At first, she didn’t realize she’d seen anything unusual—this was the mall on a Saturday, after all—but then it struck her that this couldn’t possibly be some advertising trick. The girl hadn’t been there a second ago. The air had suddenly rippled, and she had stumbled through.

She was dripping wet, her hair and clothing clinging to her. She looked as if she had been crying, and Jody could hear a half-sniff/half-sob as she glanced around at the crowded mall.

The girl shook her head, and Jody expected to see droplets of water fly everywhere. Instead, she only heard a faint rustle, and the short hair suddenly looked dry, lightening to a sea-green color. The water beading the girl’s light-brown skin and soaking her shirt vanished as if absorbed.

The girl hugged her bare arms below the short sleeves and looked around as if she was searching for someone.

Jody quickly looked back at the window display before her. Summer pastels were such a relief after the gray winter drabs. She said as much to Amy Evans, but Amy was looking elsewhere.

“Well, check out the new style.”

“Eww, seaweed,” Brittany commented.

Jody turned with the rest of the group. The green-haired girl was heading directly for them. She wore a loose, almost knee-length, brownish smock and dark-brown leggings. The smock had a pattern that reminded Jody of the paneling in the family room—light and dark woodgrain swirls, and the neck and sleeve trim even resembled bark. Close up, her brown skin seemed to have greenish undertones.

Wonder if she’s ill… A small thought began before Jody crushed it.

The girl stopped before them. Small beaded cords that held short tufts of hair at each temple clattered softly as she bobbed her head.

“Excuse, please. Do you know where dwells a hero?”

“Hero?” Amy echoed.

“Or a wizard. A demon slayer would be best.”

Jody wondered why the girl was looking at her. Maybe it was because she was the tallest of the group of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds. She knew she was dressed more in fashion than the others, but then, the city stores she used to shop at were much better than those in smalltown malls.

She seems about our age. Too old to be playing little-kid games.

“You mean…The Slayer?” Brittany asked, emphasizing the name. “Someone obviously watches too much television,” she added to the group.

“Weird,” Sadie commented. She made a circling gesture by her temple, and the others giggled.

The girl looked from one to the other and finally returned her attention to Jody.

“Please. I need help.”

“Definitely,” Amy agreed. “For one, that hair color is so out.”

“Out where?” She seemed puzzled when several of the girls laughed.

Jody actually thought the girl’s hair color was interesting—sea-foam, she thought the shade might have been called. She tried to remember if she had seen any outfits in that color; it would definitely suit her blond looks.

Unnervingly, the girl focused on her again.

“Please. We’ve held back the evil as long as we can. We need help.”

Why was she asking her?

“Uh…” Jody looked around. Weren’t there any security guards in this mall? She’d settle for an older teen or an adult, if she could get anyone’s attention. But everyone seemed to be in a hurry, walking past or around the group of girls.

“And that outfit.” Amy tsked. “Long baggy T-shirts are so yesterday.”

The girl tilted her head as she looked at them.

“I don’t understand your words. The Watcher of Gates said the first person who saw me would be the one to help.” She looked again at Jody, who tried not to squirm. “Will you help?”

“Yes, Jody,” Amy said with an unfriendly smile and a glance aside at the other girls. “Will you help?”

Jody could feel the others watching her as they waited. Somehow, it felt as if everyone in the mall was watching her. This girl might be serious about asking for help, but what could she do? Better to make a big joke of it, as the rest were, and go back to window-shopping.

Jody opened her mouth to speak—and suddenly felt overwhelmingly bored. So bored. I want to walk away.

“I’m bored,” said Amy. She turned and walked away. The rest of the girls followed. Jody started to turn as well, but a brown hand closed about her wrist.

The green-haired girl looked closely at her. “Will you help?” she repeated.

Jody looked down at the hand around her wrist just above the silver bracelet. She was so bored. She should leave now…and yet, there was something odd about that grip around her wrist. She felt as if there were two voices in her head, one demanding go, and the other stay.

“Hey, Jody.”

Jody looked up to see Jeanne Tucker, her brother’s friend, coming toward them. She really should leave; Amy and the other girls were already several stores away. Jeanne Tucker was not one of the popular crowd and never followed the trends. For example, as usual, the dark-haired girl was wearing jeans and a plain sweatshirt more suited to a barn than the mall. Fashion disaster.

Amy always said Jeanne Tucker was odd, that she had powers. Jody vaguely remembered something strange about Jeanne last October, something about her spotted horse and a tree…

But there was someone holding her wrist.

Jeanne Tucker looked at Jody, at her wrist being held by the green-haired girl, then finally at the green-haired girl.

“Yes,” she said softly, “I thought I sensed…” She looked closer at the green-haired girl and smiled. The strange girl smiled hesitantly in return. “But you’re not a dryad, are you?” Jeanne continued.

“No,” the girl said slowly. “My ancestor was human.”

Jody’s boredom vanished as if it had been switched off. What had she said?

“That explains it,” Jeanne said, although Jody didn’t think it did. “I’m Jeanne, that’s Jody, and you are…?”

“Twylgalit.”

“Twyl-gaa-lit,” Jeanne repeated slowly. “Is that right?” The girl nodded, and Jeanne smiled again. “Twylgalit, why don’t you let Jody go, and you and I can talk.”

The green-haired girl shook her head, the cords in her hair clacking. “No, the Watcher of Gates said that the first to see me would be the one to help us.”

“I…see,” Jeanne said slowly. Then she nodded. “Sorry, Jody, looks like you stay here for the moment.”

“What?” Jody’s temper flared. Don’t I have a say? And why am I still standing here? This girl is smaller than me; I could shake off her grip and go join…

But before she could complete the thought, it was gone.

Jeanne acted as if Jody had not spoken.

“How did you get here?” she asked the strange girl. Jody tried to remember her name. Twillow—something.

“Grandmother sent me to where I could find help.”

Jeanne tilted her head. “Grandmother?”

“I call her Grandmother. She’s actually…” The girl spread the fingers of her free hand. “…great-great-great—”

“We get the idea,” Jody muttered. Jeanne glanced at her, and Jody had the urge to stay quiet.

“She’s very ill. I think…I think she’s dying.” Twillow-something wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Being closer to the magic, she has the power. She ‘spoke’ to the Watcher of Gates and sent me through”– the girl waved her free hand–“to this place. To where the person who could help us would be. I found her.”

Her grip tightened around Jody’s wrist.

“She does have the choice, though,” Jeanne said thoughtfully. “You can’t force her to help against her will.”

Jody wanted to say something, to tell them to stop talking about her as if she wasn’t there, but Jeanne eyed her and she couldn’t. The dark-haired girl glanced again at Jody’s wrist.

“And, actually, you might have the wrong one. Jody, is Peter here?”

Suddenly, she could talk again. “How should I know? We don’t actually hang out with the same crowd.” Jody tossed her hair back, remembering the last time her twin had commented about her friends.

“Yeah, I know. He needs to hear this, though.” Jeanne closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “So much fear,” she said softly. “And something follows. I can feel it. It’s…” Her eyes snapped open. “No wonder you’re scared.”

Jody took one step back from Jeanne even as her captor moved closer. “Yes! You understand! It hates life. It will destroy all the lands if it gets free—”

“Hey, Jody!” a familiar call came. Jody relaxed for a second—Peter would know what to do—and then immediately scowled. Know-it-all Peter.

“Jody, Mom’s waiting by—Get away from my sister!”

Jody turned to see Peter suddenly break into a run toward them. He was staring at the green-haired girl with a furious expression. Just as he reached them, though, Jeanne stepped in front of him.

“She needs our help, Peter. Her grandmother is very ill, and there’s something after her. Twylgalit, this is Peter, Jody’s brother. Peter, Twyl-galit.”

Twylgalit had released Jody’s wrist at Peter’s shout. She rubbed her hand and bowed slightly.

“What’s a dryad doing here?” Peter growled, still glaring fixedly at Twylgalit.

“Not dryad,” Jeanne corrected. “Human.”

“That hair isn’t—Jeanne, I see a tree.”

“You see a human,” Jeanne said firmly.

Peter attempted to pass Jeanne, but the dark-haired girl blocked him again. He frowned at her and gestured at Twylgalit.

“But it—” Jeanne shook her head, and he corrected himself. “She…Human? How?”

Jody looked from one to the other. Why was Peter talking about a tree? He was glaring at Twylgally-something again. She looked at the green-haired girl as well, and saw nothing strange about the girl other than her hair color. The greenish undertone to her skin was more pronounced than before. Maybe Peter’s comments were making her sicker. Hope she doesn’t throw up on me. She backed a step away from her.

Twylgally-something glanced at Jody, then back at Peter. “My ancestor had magic.”

“Obviously.” Peter crossed his arms. “So, what’s the story? Why are you here?”

Jody looked from one to the other. Jeanne and Peter acted as if the strange girl was making sense.

She suddenly realized that Amy and her friends were no longer in sight. Maybe she could find them.

“I’ll just go—”

“No, you won’t,” Peter disagreed. “Mom’s waiting for us outside. I want to hear this first.” He nodded at Twylgally. “Go ahead.”

“My ancestor’s ancestor imprisoned a powerful being.” Twylgally glanced at Jody again, faltered, then continued. “His magic was not enough to defeat the evil, but he had knowledge enough to know how to keep it confined until it could be defeated. He created us for that.” She looked pleadingly at them. “We have waited so long for help to come. And now we can no longer wait. There is only my grandmother and myself. And I don’t have the wisdom. Once Grandmother is…gone, it will be free to turn all of the Lands into a wasteland like the one it now rules.”

Peter raised his hands. “And you come to us? What’s wrong with the wizards?”

Jody stared in amazement. Peter was not only buying the weird story, but he was adding to it! Wizards? But Peter didn’t believe in magic—or at least the Peter she used to know hadn’t.

“We had no way to reach them.” Twylgally frowned. “They aren’t…nearby.”

“And we are?”

“Peter,” Jeanne said softly, glancing aside at the crowded mall, “she’s telling the truth. Her grandmother sent her here for help. She found Jody.”

Peter lowered his voice. “Jody? Why Jody? No offense, twin, but you aren’t someone I’d ask for help.”

“What?” Jody scowled at him.

“Um, you might be the one they were looking for.” Jeanne, Jody was irritated to see, seemed amused. “Take a look at what’s on her wrist.”

Peter took one look and exploded. “My wristguard! What were you doing in my room? How dare you take my stuff!”

Jody shrugged. He didn’t frighten her; she was still taller than he was. And it wasn’t like him to make a fuss over jewelry.

“You weren’t wearing it. Besides, it looks good with my outfits.” She’d had the argument about his fancy bracelet ready for months, and it still sounded strong. He hadn’t missed it in all that time. Mom would see her side.

Peter didn’t. “Hand it over. You don’t know what you’re messing with.”

Jody shrugged again and obeyed. She’d wait for him to forget it again and get it back.

Twylgally looked from Jody to Peter as the bracelet was passed. Peter flushed and ran a hand through his sandy hair.

“Sorry I was angry,” he said to the floor. He looked up at the green-haired girl. “Your grandmother sent you to the wrong twin. Not her fault. Jody was wearing something that belongs to me. This…” He held up the silvery wristband. “…came from—” He said something in a language Jody didn’t understand. Twylgally looked impressed.

Jody wasn’t. “Oh, yeah, like it’s my fault you leave it lying around.”

Peter scowled at her and put the silvery band around his right wrist.

“Where’s Amy and the rest of her shadows?”

“Oh, they had a sudden attack of boredom,” Jeanne said. Peter eyed her, and Jody recognized the you’re-not-telling-me-everything look even when it wasn’t directed at her. Jeanne grinned and shrugged with open hands. “They were hassling Twylgalit.”

“Good thing for Twyl you were nearby, then.” Peter glanced at his watch. “Mom’s waiting for us. Jody and I have to go.”

“Meet later by the Watcher?” Jeanne suggested.

Peter nodded. “We’ll need to get some supplies. Where is your grandmother?” he asked Twylgalit.

“In the wasteland.”

“Where’s that in location to? Wait, my map’s at home. Right, we have to go home, get the map, get supplies…” He shook his head. “Why didn’t the wizards spot this thing sooner?”

“The Flood may have awakened it,” Twylgalit said helpfully. “There was the Great Forgetting, and it seemed to sleep—at least, we have not been troubled by it for some time.”

“And it woke up when the curse was broken?” Peter asked.

“If that stopped the Forgetting, then, yes.”

Peter glanced at Jeanne. “You’re right; it’s our responsibility, then.”

“I do not understand,” Twylgalit said. Jody mentally agreed.

“We broke the curse that caused the Forgetting,” Jeanne said softly.

“Oh.” Twylgalit looked from Jeanne to Peter, and Jody felt very jealous at the awe in the girl’s eyes. “You must be most powerful, then.”

“Lucky is more like it,” Peter disagreed. “You mentioned a flood. Did this thing cause it?”

“No. It is trapped on the wasteland. But from the top of Grandmother I can see water where a desert used to be during the Great Forgetting. Before that, she told me, it was a wondrous grassland.”

Jeanne nodded. “Near Windgard, then. The wizards were going to cause a flood to restore the plains.”

“That’s a long way from the Watcher. It’ll be a walk then.”

Jody couldn’t believe this conversation. What Peter was so casually talking about sounded as if it would take days. What about school? How was he going to convince their parents? And he was bossing everyone around, as usual. At least she wasn’t going to have to worry because she wasn’t going along.

As if he caught the thought, Peter turned to her. “Coming, Jody?”

Jody opened her mouth to reply, but he wasn’t looking at her. He had turned back to Jeanne and said something in that weird language. Then he looked at Twylgalit.

“Twyl, you coming with us, or going with Jeanne? We’ll all be meeting later to get back to your world.”

Twylgalit edged closer to Jody. “Please, let me go with Jody.”

Jody sighed and hoped no one she knew would see her with the green-haired girl.

To be continued…


 
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Posted by on May 12, 2022 in Round Robin

 

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THE ADVENTURES CONTINUE…

Coming in July: A Nick of Time, Book 4 of the Adventures of Rupert Starbright!

It’s New Year’s Eve in Graysland, but when the final second fails to come Rupert Starbright finds his entire town frozen in time. Rupert and his school crush Rainn Evertree must travel to the Land of Annum to retrieve the stolen second from the nasty and evil Epoch. They will travel a wild, imaginative, and musical world where all the characters of the Zodiac join Rainn in helping Rupert in his most colorful and challenging adventure yet! 

Chapter 1

A Split Second

“Ten…nine…eight…!”

Old Year Square shivered along with the folks of Graysland as they counted down the final seconds of the fading year. Frigid winds swirled and swished around the heads and legs of the dozens and dozens who had arrived in the square to greet the newest year. On that wind raced herds of dead leaves that crunched and scraped along the stones. It was Graysland, after all, and here the leaves fell across all the months.

Rupert Dullz stood, his gaze fixed on the giant metal bellberry leaf that sat atop the tall silver Yearling pole, waiting for the countdown to finish. Around him stood his parents, Polgus and Olga, and his grandma Folka, who was bundled up in a brown coat and hat so thick she looked like a bear.

“Seven…six…!”

The numbers shouted by the crowd sent clouds of steam into the chill night air. Folka leaned close to Rupert and whispered, “Did you make a wish for the New Year, sweetie?”

Rupert nodded and felt his face grow warm with a blush. A very specific wish had been floating around his head for the last few months. Ever since school began in September, he had noticed a new girl in his sixth-grade class. He wondered if she had noticed him.

It felt like an eternity since he had shared a first kiss with Mynerla in the wondrous land of Far-Myst. He remembered her often, and had wished he could meet another girl who made him feel as special as she had.

This new girl in his class had a very unboring name—Rainn, with two Ns and not just one old boring one. Rainn Evertree. Rupert found it hard to put two words together when she was close by. Even saying hello was harder than reading an entire page from The History of Leaf Cutters. Backwards!

If only she liked him as well. That was his wish.

He kept this wish tightly wrapped in his thoughts. He gazed at the sky, patched with clouds and dabs of glistening stars.

“Five….four…!”

Rupert had experienced great adventure in the wondrous lands of Far-Myst and My-Myst. He had even had the chance to see what his boring town of Graysland had been like in the old days when it was not so boring. That was six months ago, when he’d stepped through Pie O’Sky’s door from old Grayslandville then returned home and celebrated the Winter Joy holiday with his family for the first time.

“The Big Leaf Countdown”, as it was called, was one of the few unboring things that happened in Graysland. He didn’t think his best friend Squeem was boring, either, and sent a friendly wave to him across the square, where he stood with his mom and dad.

“Three…!”

Rupert’s heart raced as pulleys creaked on thick ropes and the leaf, cut from a large sheet of green metal, began to lower. The squeaky wheels sent a flock of pigeons into the air, their fluttering wings making fwap! fwap! sounds.

Across the square, Rupert spotted Rainn, in a black capelike coat, a gray woolen hat pulled down low to cover half of her eyes, and a black scarf wrapped tightly around her mouth. Strands of her hair, which shimmered with streaks of brilliant electric blue, hung from beneath her cap.

Rupert thought her hair was so unboring. He had never seen anyone in Graysland with hair of such color. Everyone else’s was the usual, boring old hair colors. He repeated his wish to himself. Then, he noticed she was looking at the sky, and glanced up.

A pitch-black shadow, like that of a giant bird, pushed the clouds aside like a rude man through a crowd. Oddly, stars were not revealed. Instead, strange swirling colors, like motor oil on the surface of a puddle, shimmered.

What the heck is that? Rupert wondered. He turned to ask his father, who was cuddling close to Olga to keep warm.

“Two….O—!” cried the excited crowd.

Something very unexpected happened.

Everything stopped. The metal leaf froze in place less than a foot from the ground. The clouds of visible breath from the gathered residents no longer floated and vanished like ghostly vapor. Instead, it became like a solid mass of thin milk. The pigeons hung in the air like ornaments strung across a line.

All sounds froze, a silence so deep it hurt Rupert’s ears like an explosion of quiet. Only one thing moved—the colors in the sky began swirling like living rainbows all over the square. In that tornado of color, there was a rush of brilliant light and sound.

Then, with a swoosh that vibrated his body, the multicolored winds vanished back into the sky. Silence returned.

Rupert tried to look up to see if it was truly all over but discovered he couldn’t. He could not move his head, or his arms and legs. He could not even shift his eyes about the square. The dozens and dozens of townsfolk were like frozen mannequins. As were the pigeons.

The only thing that was moving and spinning freely were his thoughts. His mind still worked.

This was good.

Rupert tried to think what could have possibly caused this situation. Did a really super-duper cold wind blow through and freeze everyone?

Nah.

Or maybe his thoughts had been so focused on Rainn that it affected how he was seeing the real world. Maybe it was like time was standing still.

No. That didn’t seem like the answer, either.

What is going on?

In his field of vision, the sight of the pigeons floating in the air, wings spread, filled him with wonder.

I can’t imagine how birds could just hang in the air without flapping their wings.

Imagine! That was the answer.

Rupert’s mind sizzled with sudden excitement. If I can’t imagine why this happened maybe I can Imagine a way to stop it.

It had been some time since he used his Imagining abilities, but he knew the first step was to make his mind as quiet as a library. He needed to shush out all the negative and scary thoughts. He thought about how peaceful the Garden of Dreams was during his journey to the wondrous land of Far-Myst. He recalled the feeling of the warm campfire, and the still night air, and the comforting songs of night birds, and funny, glowing insects.

He felt a smile form. Maybe not on his lips, but in his brain.

Then, Rupert had the image of a clock in his head, like the one over Mrs. Stonelaughter’s desk at school. The clock that seemed to take forever and a day to reach 2:57—the greatest time, when school was over. Sometimes he thought the clock was broken, stuck, its gear gunked up by dust and grease.

Maybe that was what had happened in Graysland. Perhaps there’s some giant, unseen clock that makes days become nights and nights turn into mornings. Maybe, just maybe, that clock was gunked up.

How could it be ungunked?

Anyway, Rupert thought. Where was it? How can I clean the gears of a clock I can’t see?

He would need a special viewing glass to see it.

He figured if he could Imagine that special clock then why not Imagine a way to see it? The glass must be able to move on its own, since his arms were frozen at his sides. It would have little wings, and fly across the square, and settle on the bridge of his nose like his dad’s reading glasses. It would have feathers. Purple feathers on a golden frame.

Yes! Rupert could see such a pair of eyeglasses.

A sound whispered in the solid silence. Tiny pops of cracking air. And there, across the cobblestone road, was an object hovering in the air like a purple bird. Flecks of light struck off gold and glass.

It worked!

The object of his Imagining was approaching, and as it grew closer and clearer, Rupert felt hope in his heart. The flying glasses settled on his nose, and as he peered through the two crystal-clear lenses, he was able to see the ghostly shapes of gears, a multitude of toothy wheels, hanging in the air before him. One of the gears had a gap, just as Rupert had when he’d lost his first baby tooth.

A missing tooth! I just need to imagine a new one.

He brought into his Imagining a seed. A gear-tooth seed. He Imagined planting the seed in the empty slot. With a little splash of Imaginary water it would grow a new tooth, and the gears would move again.

A little sprout of silver popped up; and in seconds, the missing tooth was back, and the gear wheels began to turn, and…

Everything went dark. The gears, the glass lenses, the golden frame, and the purple wings all vanished. The entire town square was nothing but black.

Then, Rupert realized his eyelids were closed, and he gave them the command to open. And they did. And the town was back.

But everyone was still stuck in place like statues. Even the flock of pigeons.

Rupert turned his head and saw his grandma, her smiling face, with its busy roadmap of wrinkles, fixed and frozen.

Wait! He had moved his head! He tried his hands, and soon had his fingers flexing before his face. He took a step. Then another. He had freed himself!

His stomach sank as he looked at his parents, Squeem, and the gathered crowd. The town square was still as motionless as a frozen river. He stepped up to the New Year’s Leaf and brushed its cold, smooth surface with his fingers. It was a mere foot off the ground. A single second from bringing in a new year.

“Weird,” Rupert whispered.

Really weird,” someone said.

A NICK OF TIME (The Adventures of Rupert Starbright Book 4), by Mike DiCerto, from Zumaya Thresholds; Trade paperback, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-61271-099-0, 326 pp.; Ebook, $5.00, ISBN 978-1-61271-100-3 (Kindle), 978-1-61271-101-0 (epub)

Coming in July wherever fine books and ebooks are sold. If you haven’t already met Rupert, start your adventures with Book 1: The Door to Far-Myst

 

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The decision is made!

Basset pup with shades
Pre-order RUTHERFORD, CANINE COMIC at the Kindle and Barnes & Noble ebook stores

I went off by myself and tried to think of funny situations a dog might find himself in. Then, I worked them into a joke. I recalled when a family with a bunch of kids came by one time. The kids were chasing some of the dogs and teasing them. I thought of a good one.

Hey, what’s got four legs and an arm? Give up? A Rottweiler in a crowd.

I’m not sure whether or not humans would appreciate it, but since they couldn’t understand me, I’ve never worried much about it. If I can get a fellow canine to laugh, I was in my glory. I’d forget about whatever was bothering me.
#
After that, when I wasn’t thinking up new jokes or telling them, I would play with my brothers and sisters. There weren’t any of them my age. When I was born, there were seven of us, but they’re all long gone now. We only had three or four months together before they went off to new homes. As hard as it was to see them go, I was happy for them. It was their destiny to become part of a loving family, and to compete proudly at dog shows. I tried not to think about it too much. It always made me kind of sad—not the dog show part, but the new-family part.

I was okay, though. New pups are fun to be around—most of the time. Humans think puppies are so darn cute, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with that. But there’s one thing about puppies that isn’t particularly attractive. Have you ever noticed that it’s all about them?

I’m not saying they’re selfish. It’s just that their basic instincts early on are to be individuals, not team players. I don’t blame them. They can’t help themselves. They want everyone to do things for them. “Rutherford, get me this. Rutherford, I’m hungry. Rutherford, can you scratch my ear?” They haven’t figured out yet that their mission in life is to serve.

What really bugs me, though, sometimes, is that most of them are just too immature to appreciate my humor. I remember one time when I asked them, “Hey, how does your owner know if you’ve been drinking from the toilet?”

They just scratched their heads.

“’Cause your breath smells…better.”

A lot of the older dogs roar at that one, but not the puppies. I guess they haven’t had enough life experience.

But someday, they’ll think back to that joke, and out of nowhere, they’ll just start laughing. I probably won’t be there to see it, but that’s okay. I take comfort in the fact that, whenever or wherever it happens, they might think fondly of their big brother.

I still believed my dream of becoming a watchdog would come true someday, but in the meantime, I guess stand-up comic would have to do. And I was pretty certain I could make it work.

So, if I couldn’t offer protection, then I would become the best stand-up comedian I could be. Entertaining your fellow man—er, dog—might not seem like a noble effort. But, you know, you just can’t put a price on what a smile or a chuckle or a good belly laugh can do for a fellow canine. It can help them forget their troubles. I was happy to accept this new challenge.
From that point on, I held my head high, sat up on my hind legs, and was proud to call myself Rutherford—Canine Comic.


Rutherford, Canine Comic will be released in ebook on 11 September at Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google Play, and in trade paperback wherever good books are sold.

 
 

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Rutherford Discovers A Career

Mr. Davis is one of the best-known and most respected breeders in the state. He’s in his eighties, I think; all I know is that he’s been around for decades. At least, that’s what I hear folks say. Mr. Davis prides himself on top quality basset hounds. He tells anyone who will listen that he raises the best show dogs in the country. Lately, I’ve started to worry how long he’ll keep me here. If no one seems interested, will he eventually get tired of taking care of me?

What I needed was a skill—a real skill—some sort of talent to make me impossible to replace. I needed to prove to him and all the others I’m really good at something—and not just good, but the best. Then he’ll have to keep me. Right?

Well, it made perfect sense to me.

So, I asked my mom one day if she could name one thing I did better than any of the other dogs. It took her a minute to think of something. That made me a little nervous.

“Let me see, now,” she said. “It’s really hard to come up with just one thing. You’re so good at everything.” Spoken like a true mother.

“Mom, I’m not talking about being good at something. Is there anything I do better than anyone else?”

She turned her head and smiled. Then, as it sometimes does, her back leg started thumping, and it slowly began moving in the direction of her head. I knew exactly what she needed.

“Let me take care of that for you,” I said. “That’s what I’m here for.” I reached up with my front paw and began scratching her ear.

“Mmmmm.” She put her head back and closed her eyes. “Now, there’s something you’re really good at.”

“Anybody can scratch an itch,” I said. “There’s gotta be something better.”

My mother was now in deep thought. “Give me another minute.”

This wasn’t going well. If your own mother couldn’t think of something—anything—that set you apart from the pack, then you were in big trouble.

She looked at me with a nervous smile. I could tell she was struggling to come up with something. It was starting to get embarrassing—for both of us. It was time to change the subject.

“Hey, Mom, did you hear about the dog who got too close to an electric fan and lost his nose?”

“Oh, dear,” she said. “Without a nose, how does he smell?”

I grinned. “He smells like all dogs—awful!”

She shook her head and started laughing. “Oh, Rutherford, where do you come up with this stuff? You never seem to run out of…” She paused. “Wait a minute. That’s it.”

“What?” I said.

“You’re the best joke-teller on the farm—hands down.”

I smiled. You know, she was right. As much as I’ve always wanted to be someone’s watchdog, I kind of knew it might take time to get discovered. And so, just to keep my spirits up, and to make the others think I was okay with being passed over, I went out of my way to learn new jokes to tell everyone.

It always made me feel good to see the others laugh. It took some of the sting out of rejection. And when I stopped to think about it, no one knew more jokes than I did—and if I have to say so myself—no one could deliver a punchline any better than I can. It’s an art, I’ll have you know. And it all has to do with timing.

“I do like telling a good joke,” I said. “And all the others do seem to enjoy them.”

“They love your jokes,” my mother said. “You have a real talent, son.”

It was nice to hear her say that. So, I could do something better than the rest. That was great.

But the more I thought about this talent of mine, the more I wondered how it would help me in the long run. I was flattered that other dogs enjoyed my humor, but was it enough to convince Mr. Davis I was a valuable asset here on the farm?

“I like entertaining everyone,” I told my mother, “but what good is it, really?”

“What good is it?” she said. “Rutherford, you single-handedly keep the morale sky-high around here. Everyone is always so happy to see you. You’re never without a smile and a funny story. That’s priceless.”

“But Mr. Davis is a human. He can’t understand my jokes. He doesn’t know I have this talent. Someday, he’s going to get tired of taking care of me, and he’s just going to dump me somewhere.”

My mother shook her head. “What are you talking about? Mr. Davis loves you. He knows that you’re…” She glanced at my short leg, “…special. He would never get rid of you. You’re one of his favorites.” She smiled weakly. “Of course, I wish I could say the same thing about his son.”

His son—now, that was another subject. Horace Davis was nothing like his father. He always seemed to be in a foul mood. He never played with any of us. I don’t think he even liked us. He treated us like—well, dogs. And he never smiled.

Wait a minute—I take that back. Whenever someone pulled out his wallet to pay for one of us—then, and only then, would he smile.

I, for one, didn’t trust him. And I’m sure my mother felt the same way. More than once she warned us about staying away from him. I wasn’t sure why, but I didn’t want to find out.

He always made me feel uncomfortable. Whenever he saw me, he would shake his head and make this grunting sound. For the longest time, I’ve had a feeling that if Horace is ever running this place, there’ll be no room around here for me.

I decided that if I concentrated on my joke-telling and helped keep spirits high around the place, I could survive anything.

To be continued…

(Enjoying Rutherford’s story? The ebook is now available for pre-order both in the Kindle Store and at Barnes & Noble.)

 
 

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What’s more fun than a basset hound?

Cute sitting tricolor basset hound puppy wearing yellow and orange sunglasses on a white background
A basset hound who’s a stand-up comic. Meet Rutherford, coming soon from Zumaya Thresholds, NOW AVAILABLE WHEREVER GOOD BOOKS ARE SOLD

Chapter 1

Canine Comic


For as long as I can remember, there was only one thing I ever wanted in life. One thing that would have made me happy and content.

All I’ve ever wanted was a chance to be a watchdog. A real watchdog. One who would stand guard and protect his owners from harm. One who would alert them in the event of danger. One who would save his family from a raging fire, from unwanted intruders, or from pesky squirrels and raccoons.

That’s been my dream for the longest time. And someday I’ll realize that goal. I just know it. You wait and see.

As each day passes, I wait for the call. Will it be today, I wonder? Or maybe tomorrow? There’s nothing holding me back. I have all of the necessary qualifications—I’m fearless, hard-working, and loyal. I even meet the age requirement. In a few months, I’ll be celebrating my second birthday—in people years, that is. I haven’t quite figured out exactly how old that is in dog years, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s nearly grown up. I like to think I’m mature enough to handle the job.

But sometimes I think I’m the only one who seems to think so. If people would just give me a chance, I could be a great watchdog.

I was telling my mother the other day about my ultimate goal in life. I can tell her anything. My mother Iris, a proud basset hound, was busy cleaning up after the puppies when I found her.

“Mom, you know what I want to be when I grow up?”

“What’s that?”

“A watchdog,” I said proudly.

I’ll never forget her reaction. She chuckled. She actually chuckled.

“Oh, Rutherford, be serious,” she said. “What do you really want to be?”

“I am serious. I want to be a watchdog.”

She pulled me closer and licked my face. I love it when she does that. It’s always so warm and cozy to lie next to her.

“Sweetheart, you’re a basset hound. You’re not a Doberman or a German shepherd. People don’t get basset hounds for protection.”

“Why not?”

She smiled weakly. “Well, we’re just not built that way. Look at us—we have long bodies and short legs. We’re not very strong, and we can’t run fast. We just wouldn’t be effective as watchdogs.”

I sighed. I was hoping for a different answer.

“Rutherford, you have to accept the fact that we’re here for a different reason. Mr. Davis breeds us to become the best show dogs in the state. People don’t come here looking for watchdogs. They come here looking for dogs they can enter in competitions who’ll someday become Best in Show.”

“I know all that,” I said. “But it’s not good enough. I want more out of life than beauty pageants. I want to make a difference. And I just figured that becoming a watchdog would do that.”

My mother nuzzled my cheek. “Son, if that’s what you truly want, I’m not going to stand in your way. But it’s going to be difficult to convince others that you’re watchdog material.”

I appreciated her support. She was trying to let me down easy—just like a mother. But I’m determined, and nothing will stop me from reaching my ultimate goal. I’m well aware it will be an uphill battle. For nearly two years, I’ve been passed over by people looking for a show winner, and I knew exactly why. My mother would never say it to my face, but both she and I know I’ll never be Best in Show.

Not that I even wanted to.

See, I was born with a little handicap that seems to scare people away. I’m not as fast as some of the others. Big deal. How important is speed, anyway? When you’re a watchdog, you don’t run away. You hold your ground—and I can do that just fine. So, the fact I have one hind leg an inch shorter than the other three shouldn’t mean a thing. I’ve learned to live with it. Why couldn’t they?

Heck, I’ve met plenty of three-legged dogs in my time, and they do just fine. I have all four of mine. That should count for something.

But whenever families show up here and see me limp around the yard, I know what they’re thinking. I can see it on their faces. They know a defect like mine would never win them a dog show. So, they want nothing to do with me.

And that’s fine. I’ve learned to handle rejection. The ones that really bug me are the folks who feel sorry for me.

“Aw, see that poor dog over there?” they say. “He’s cute, but let’s keep looking.”

I hate that. I don’t need their pity. I need a chance to show them what I can do. I’m not dog show material, but I can do other stuff—like being a watchdog—if they’d just give me the chance.

So, at the end of each day, I’m still here, and that worries me a little.

(To be continued…)


RUTHERFORD, CANINE COMIC, by John Madormo, illus. by Brad Foster, coming September 2020 from Zumaya Thresholds; Trade paperback, ISBN  978-1-61271-353-3, Ebook, ISBN 978-1-61271-354-0 (Kindle), 978-1-61271-355-7 (epub)

Available from the Zumaya eBookstore, Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, B&N Press, Kobo, and Google Play Books, and via special order at your favorite independent bookseller. Have a library card? Ask your library to get the ebook from Overstock.

 

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The Ghost of Winter Joy by Mike DiCerto

The Ghost of Winter Joy

by Mike DiCerto

Imagination is his only hope!

Strange creatures begin to appear in the normally dull Graysland after Rupert digs up a mysterious bell in his backyard. He sets off with his best pal Squeem to discover the secret of a mysterious haunted mansion, its creepy occupant, and their connection to an all but forgotten old holiday called Winter Joy.

Locked in, a prisoner of the mysterious owner of the mansion, Rupert is rescued by Pie O’Sky, who gives him a key that opens a door on a dangerous journey where he will come face-to-face with the Ghost of Winter Joy.

The Adventures of Rupert Starbright – Book 3

ISBN: 978-1612711126 (eBook), 978-1612711119 (Trade Paperback)

Page Count – 196

Sample Chapters

Available wherever fine books and ebooks are sold.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2014 in Zumaya Thresholds

 

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The Talisman of Zandria by Christine Norris

The Talisman of Zandria

by Christine Norris

The Talisman of Zandria

Adventure happens when you least expect it

Ivy Peterson is Less-Than-Ordinary. She’s so very Less-than-Ordinary that sometimes she feels invisible. She is also Not Very Brave.

But part of her wishes she could be something More, that something Extraordinary and Completely Unusual would happen. What she forgets about wishes is that they do sometimes come true.

Ivy accidentally falls into Zandria, a magical world that exists just outside her own. And she’s trapped there because someone has stolen the Talisman of Zandria, a magical amulet that controls the five gates the worlds. She and her new friends—the wizard Arden, his young apprentice Connor, and a pair of fairies—set off on a quest to recover the Talisman, a journey of discovery that will change Ivy in ways she never could have imagined.

Tales of Zandria – Book 1

ISBN: 978-1612712215 (eBook), 978-1612712208 (Trade Paperback)

Page Count – 240

Sample Chapters

Available wherever fine books and ebooks are sold.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in New Releases, Zumaya Thresholds

 

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Lights, Camera, Ali! by Christine Marciniak

Lights, Camera, Ali!
by Christine Marciniak

If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

Ali Caldwell figures her fifteen minutes of fame have expired, and she is ready to ditch the TV cameras. That’s hard to do when she has to spend Thanksgiving with her mother in Malibu, where they’ll be filming the Christmas special for their reality show.

Then her little brother disappears while she’s in charge of him, and and everyone in the world is watching and blaming her, including her mother. Ali is determined to find him and make everything right, but life is ever that simple.

Ali Caldwell – Book 2

ISBN: 978-1612712154 (eBook), 978-1612712147 (Trade Paperback)

Page Count – 232

Sample Chapters

Available wherever fine books and ebooks are sold.

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2013 in Zumaya Thresholds

 

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Windmills by Lyndi Alexander

Windmills
by Lyndi Alexander

When everything you know has changed…

Bio-terrorists release a plague in the United States that spreads to kill most of the world’s Caucasian population. As the deadly virus mutates, Tzu Shin, a renowned medical doctor and biologist, defects from China to help develop a cure. His only daughter, Lin Kwan, is left behind in Hong Kong with her aunt.

Then Kwan’s father summons her from across the sea to bring him Chinese medicinal herbs he needs to develop a cure. Lonely and missing her parents, she accepts the challenge, traveling with her sensei Li Zhong to the New World.

But a Chinese assassin is on her trail, determined to kill her and Li Zhong, and when Kwan discovers her father has disappeared, she sets out on a journey to find him and deliver her precious cargo, a quest that she may not survive.

The Color of Fear – Book 1

ISBN: 9781612712277 (eBook), 9781612712260 (Trade Paperback)

Page Count – 248

Sample Chapter

Available wherever fine books and ebooks are sold.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2013 in New Releases, Zumaya Thresholds

 

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No More Goddesses by Kim Baccellia

No More Goddesses
by Kim Baccellia

NoMoreGoddessesWEBtn

Getting a date shouldn’t be this hard.

Jordan Lake discovers an ancient bracelet in her grandmother’s house and uncovers a family mystery that links her favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn, a romantic movie, and an aunt she never knew. Jordan hopes the bracelet will bring her love. Instead, it brings one nightmare after another, unleashing Hathor, the Egyptian love goddess, who decides it’s fun to mess with the McKnight High School social scene.

Jordan holds the key to vanquish Hathor, but will she figure out what it is in time to save her school, one of her best friends, and get a date to the Valentine’s Day dance?

Myths and Mayhem – Book 1

ISBN: 9781612710136 (eBook), 9781612710129 (Trade Paperback)

Page Count – 252

Sample Chapters

Available wherever fine books and ebooks are sold.

 
 

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