Friday, June 29, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays

Sometimes, things just come together with no advanced planning or scheduling. I like to call these moments gifts from the writing gods. And the month of June here on Flash Fiction Fridays is one such gift. Each of these flash pieces harkens back to childhood, whether through old bedtime stories or mythical beasts of imagination.

Today, June comes to a close with a fable by Margaret Lake. Enjoy.

Mordaunt and the Dove
By Margaret Lake

Mordaunt leaned on the mossy bank of a shallow stream, tapping the sides of his scruffy boots together.

“Pennyfeather, old girl, it’s the end of the road.”

The chestnut tossed her head, snorting her disagreement.

The faded paint on the side of his creaky, wooden caravan read, “Mordaunt Telracs, Singer of Ballads, Teller of Fortunes, Maker of Most Effective Love Potions.” All gone. Gone with Fayri, his beautiful white dove whose arrival had nurtured his meager talent for casting his mind into the future. Mordaunt had no idea why she had come to neither him nor why she left.

Fayri would not be coming back and it was time to seek employment. Mordaunt shuddered at the thought. Maybe he should think about this some more before committing such a rash act.

“What say you, my friend? Shall I find a field that needs plowing? Wood chopping? Water hauling?”

Pennyfeather ignored him to watch a chattering squirrel.

“Alright, then!” Mordaunt shouted, jumping to his feet. “Tell me what I should do.”

Hands on hips, Mordaunt glared at her until she dropped her head, nudging him gently.

“Sorry, old friend. Shouldn’t take it out on you.”

Mordaunt threw himself on the ground as Pennyfeather bumped him again, blowing her soft breath in his ear.

“That tickles!” he laughed.

Pennyfeather took Mordaunt’s ear gently between her lips, blowing the mists from his memory.

“Pennyfeather!” he cried, sinking limply to the ground and, for the first time, his mind sped into the past instead of the future; to this day a year ago.

Mordaunt had set up at the Iveston Fair one fine spring day. Many young girls came to him, wanting their fortunes or seeking a love potion. Fayri sat on his shoulder as always.

Lulled by the sweet cooing in his ear, Mordaunt was able to open his mind to the future to find those few bright, shining moments that would make his patrons happy.

Then he remembered. The witch, Grizelda. Dug out of his memory by Pennyfeather’s command.

She circled the fairgrounds, holding a carved, oak staff. Stopping in front of Mordaunt, she leaned into him, long, black hair curling over half-naked breasts, tongue snaking over fleshy red lips.

Fayri flapped her wings furiously, shrieking her rage.

“Send the bird away,” Grizelda whispered. “I would taste the delights of your body.”

Grizelda moved closer and Mordaunt felt burning eyes penetrate his soul. “Send the bird away and lie with me.”

Dark passions took over his will, and he carelessly brushed Fayri off his shoulder. Giving Grizelda his hand, he let her lead him away.

The next thing he knew, he was on the seat of his wagon with no memory of how he had gotten there. But now he knew all. He had traded Fayri and his gift to lie with the witch.

Burying his face in his hands, Mordaunt wept for all he had lost.

“What shall I do, Pennyfeather?” he groaned in despair. “I left my home to seek my fortune long ago, abandoning all who loved me.”

Pennyfeather tossed her dark mane, neighing loudly.

He followed her gaze, his eyes now clear of the witch’s spell, and saw his old home across the stream. Was his family still there? Would they welcome him back?

Mordaunt saw a new wing added to the cottage and men moving through the fields.

When he pulled up to the door, a young boy came out to take Pennyfeather, shouting as he ran.

“He’s here!”

“I’m afraid you have mistaken me for someone else, child.”

The boy grinned, pointing to the name painted on the wagon.

“You’ve heard my name?” Mordaunt whispered. Maybe he hadn’t been forgotten?

“My son!”

Mordaunt turned at the blessed sound of his mother’s voice. She was older, but the years seemed to melt away with her joy.

“Mother!” he cried, taking her in his arms. “And Father?”

“Coming, son.”

But Mordaunt didn’t wait for his father to come out. He crossed the threshold to lay his hands on his father’s frail shoulders.

“I’m home.”

“So I see, lad, so I see,” the old man replied, ducking his head to hide his tears.

“We must celebrate!” the old man cried. “Whiskey, boy, quickly.”

“And cakes! Mordaunt looks half starved,” his mother ordered.

Mordaunt sat at table with his parents for the first time in many years, but it felt as if he’d never left. Still, he wondered at their increased fortunes. Considering the frailty of his parents, they could not have done it alone.

“What’s been happening here? Everything seems changed.”

The old couple exchanged a look, and with a nod from her husband, Mordaunt’s mother told the tale.

“A cousin came to visit.”

To steal my inheritance, he thought. But now he understood how selfishness had made him lose everything.

“Turned out by an older brother and looking for a place to settle.”

“Bad business,” the old man interrupted, sipping his whiskey.

“This cousin has done well by you.”

“Oh, yes!” she exclaimed. “What we would have done …”

“Without me here to help. I understand, mother,” he assured her, grasping her hands.

“No, I don’t think you do,” the old man interrupted again. “Your cousin wouldn’t hear of us turning over the farm, but insisted we wait for your return. We finally settled on a year to the day of the agreement. Today, in fact.”

“But I can’t take what I have not earned!” Mordaunt cried. “I must work; earn my keep.”

“I’m very glad to hear that, Cousin,” a silvery voice called from the doorway.

“Ah, there you are, girl,” the old man beamed. “Come meet you’re …”

“… distant cousin,” she replied with a light laugh.

Why did that voice sound so familiar? Mordaunt turned slowly to see a girl, tall and slender, with moonbeam-pale hair framing her face in feathery wisps.

“Son, meet Fay,” the old man said.

“Fay …,” Mordaunt whispered. And all became clear … or did it?

Historical fiction and romance author Margaret Lake has written thirteen novels. Her latest is The Professor and the Bootlegger. To learn more about Margaret, please visit her website.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Talk

If any of you are in Chicagoland, I will be appearing at the Elmwood Park Library tomorrow, June 28, at 7 p.m. to discuss A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One) and to introduce my latest, Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two). Might even throw in a bit about The Bibliophiles in general, too.

The Elmwood Park Library is located at One Conti Parkway, Elmwood Park, IL.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Christmas in Almost July

Happy Monday, dear readers.

This week, I am resuming work on my upcoming digital holiday short, "Sarah and Annie: A Bibliophiles' Christmas." Doesn't matter that the temperature is supposed to get up to 99°F on Thursday here in Chicagoland. I will be cranking up the AC and listening to Christmas music for inspiration.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Since many of you are also writers, I was curious as to what you will be working on this fine week. Finishing a story? Starting a manuscript? Researching a possible novel topic? In the middle of a PR/marketing blitz?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: A Real Humdinger

Sometimes, things just come together with no advanced planning or scheduling. I like to call these moments gifts from the writing gods. And the month of June here on Flash Fiction Fridays is one such gift. Each of these flash pieces harkens back to childhood, whether through old bedtime stories or mythical beasts of imagination.

I hope you enjoy this piece by R. Doug Wicker.

Bob the Bell Ringer
By R. Doug Wicker

After Quasimodo’s unfortunate and rather sad ending, the Archbishop of Paris sent forth throughout the lands a proclamation advertising for a replacement bell ringer for his beloved Notre Dame Cathedral. But the Archbishop was a busy man, so he handed off the task of conducting the job interviews to the least senior priest, Father Barclay “Bat” Belfry.

Unfortunately, the archbishop was notoriously cheap, and the advertised salary did little to attract qualified candidates, so the requirement for an MA in bell ringing had to be waived for the sole applicant for the job, a man known only a Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer.  But there was a problem far beyond Bob’s lack of a college degree in bell ringing. He lacked something else even more important, at least in the eyes of Father Bat Belfry.

For, you see, Bob had neither hands nor arms, and how does one pull on the bell ropes without the prerequisite “tools” for the job? To put it bluntly, Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer . . . just wasn’t handy enough for the task. And it was precisely on this point that Father Bat initially declined to hire Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer.

But Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer . . . was both persistent and persuasive in getting Father Bat to test his bell ringing skills. And so it was, with some trepidation, that Father Bat and Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer, made the trek to the belfry of Notre Dame for the audition.

Reaching his favorite architectural feature, the belfry, Father Bat pointed to the main bell and said, “Okay, Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer . . . here’s your chance.  Show me what you’ve got.”

So, Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer . . . stepped all the way back to the precipice, lowered his head, and took off at a full run for the bell. He struck the bell full-force directly with his face, and the bell responded with what was perhaps the most pleasing sound Father Bat had ever heard. It was positively beautiful, and far richer than that achieved through the bell’s clapper alone.

Unfortunately, Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer . . . was so stunned by the impact that he stumbled backward and fell to his death in the streets below.

A group of Parisians started gathering around the body. Two of the bystanders, who happened to go by the typical French names of Louis and Crabbe, were looking down at the body and just shaking their heads. Suddenly, Crabbe pointed down at the body and said to Louis, “Hey!  Isn’t that . . . isn’t that Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer?”

Louis shrugged and said, “The name’s not familiar, but the face sure rings a bell.”

But wait. That’s not all.

The next day Father Bat was surprised by the early morning visit of a man who looked just like the hapless Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer.  And just like Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer . . . this young man also had no college degree, no hands, and no arms.

The stranger explained, “My name is Bill . . . Bill the Bell Ringer.  I’m Bob’s . . . Bob the Bell Ringer’s . . . twin brother, and I’m here to restore the family honor by taking up where my brother fell short.”

Father Bat replied, “Your brother Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer . . . did not fall short. He fell all the way to the street.”

“That’s not exactly what I meant,” said Bill . . . Bill the Bell Ringer.

Regardless of what Bill . . . Bill the Bell Ringer . . . meant, Father Bat was adamant that the horrors of the day before would not be repeated. He was already in deep trouble with the Archbishop for being stupid enough to audition Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer.

There was no way he wanted to repeat that error.

But after hours of begging and pleading, Father Bat found himself leading the way back into the belfry with Bill . . . Bill the Bell Ringer . . . in tow. Reaching the top, Bill repeated his brother’s performance by backing up and launching himself full-force and full-face directly into the fabled main bell. And once again the bell let loose with the most beautiful sound Father Bat had ever heard, even more beautiful than that from the day before.

Unfortunately, Bill . . . Bill the Bell Ringer . . . proved no less susceptible to the rigors of ringing a bell with his face than had his brother Bob . . . Bob the Bell Ringer.  And so it was with horror that Father Bat watched as the stunned Bill . . . Bill the Bell Ringer . . . took the same path to glory as that of his brother, plunging into the streets below.

Once again, in the streets of Paris, and for the second day in a row, a crowd of Parisians gathered around yet another fallen bell ringer. In the crowd, just as they were before, were the two friends, Crabbe and Louis.

And just like the day before, Crabbe pointed to the lifeless body and said to Louis, “Hey!  Isn’t that . . . isn’t that Bill . . . Bill the Bell Ringer?”

Louis rubbed his jaw thoughtfully before replying, “You know, I’m not really sure.  But I know one thing.”

“What’s that?” Crabbe asked

“This guy’s a dead ringer for the guy who was here yesterday.”

R. Doug Wicker is the author of two mystery novels, The Globe and Decisions. He is a graduate of Kubasaki High School in Okinawa, Japan. He attended college for two years at Clemson University before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. His stint in the Air Force began a thirty-four-year career as an air traffic controller, serving with both the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration. Today, Wicker lives in El Paso with his lovely wife, Ursula, whom he married in 1978. He enjoys writing, reading, travel, art, photography, gourmet cooking, fine wines, and bridge (the game, not the structure). To learn more about Doug, visit his blog.

Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Goodreads Giveaway

I am giving away ten copies of Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two) on Goodreads.

Goodreads is a great community of readers. If you have never checked it out, I highly suggest you do. There are discussion groups about every genre, book recommendations, and even literary trivia games. Lots of fun.

The deadline for entry is June 26. Good luck!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Until My Soul Gets It Right by Karen Wojcik Berner

Until My Soul Gets It Right

by Karen Wojcik Berner

Giveaway ends June 26, 2012.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Monday, June 18, 2012

Editing for Grammarphobes: To Use or Not To Use

It has been about a year since a press release by the Oxford University Press set off a firestorm of debate by grammarians over the usage of the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma.

As you might recall, both Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual of Style encourage it, while the Associate Press Stylebook recommends removing it, unless it makes the sentence difficult to understand.

Coming from the journalism world, I am for deleting it when the list is made up of only three items, such as in the following sentence.

In the summer, I enjoy Pimm’s Cups, margaritas and sangria.

No need to add another piece of punctuation, right?

However, when the list is much longer, or includes a phrase with the word “and” in it, I think the comma should stay.

Here’s an example.

The lunch menu featured turkey and avocado wraps, a cobb salad, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Not the greatest of offerings, I know, but gourmand preferences aside, if one leaves the comma out before the “and,” the sentence looks awkward. By using the serial comma, every offering on the lunch menu is a distinct item. The comma sets each apart visually, which works here.

What do you think? Which style do you follow?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: Mythical Creatures

Sometimes, things just come together with no advanced planning or scheduling. I like to call these moments gifts from the writing gods. And the month of June here on Flash Fiction Fridays is one such gift. Each of these flash pieces harkens back to childhood, whether through old bedtime stories or mythical beasts of imagination.

This week, please enjoy this story by M.R. Mathias.

Believe in Dragons?
By M.R. Mathias

It was a dark day with steel gray clouds flowing slowly past. An irritating wind pushed the two feline mounts sideways as they trudged across the wide open Plains of Theragar. Zax didn’t like it at all. “At least it’s not drizzling,” he mumbled to himself out loud.

The other rider, Dewd Willox, Zax’s partner since youth, harrumphed in agreement. The two were herding a half dozen prized elk across the plains to Vangar. It was a mundane job, but it paid well because of the risk.

“Hey Dewd, that time Geary saw the wyrm, did he say its eyes was really red like cherry coals, or was he fibbin?” Zax reached down and rubbed the plush neck of his Pantheran mount.

“Dat wyrm ain't been seen,” Dewd snorted. He was a bit bigger than Zax. Zax always looked up to him. But in this matter Zax was sure his friend was more than a little optimistic. “Dat wyrm is just a tale to keep our wages up. How many times I gotta tell ya?”

“Why’d them two herds go missing last spring?” Zax argued. “Just last month Geary came in three head short, saying he seen the thing.”

“Geary sold them three to someone, or maybe they wandered off while he was slacking.” Dewd chuckled. “Think about it. A driver loses his heard, what’s he gonna say? He’s gotta say something’ right.”

“I don’t think Geary made that up,” Zax went on despite his friend giving the idea no credibility. “It was about this part of the crossing too. Or so he said.”

“Well you can worry your hair off over it Zaxin Vall, its ridiculiou—”

Just then Zax’s Pantheran reared up and darted sideways. Flames spewed in a stream across the road before them. Something gigantic swept passed, and the torrent of wind it stirred up nearly toppled them over. It was all Zax could do to hold on.

Zax’s usually fearless mount began shivering, and then it hunkered down like a cur dog.

Zax couldn’t help but be overcome by the same powerful surge of dread.

To his right a towering shadow thundered down. His Pantheran was going nowhere. He chanced a glance up and saw two almond shaped orbs filled with brilliant orange-cherry flames. The dragon’s huge head loomed down at him, but those arm-long length teeth reached for Dewd instead.

Zax watched on as Dewd dove ahead and rolled in a tumble over one of the elk that had broken its leg in the panic. Dewd came up running as the hungry wyrm lifted back up with the crushed elk in its maw. Zax was stupefied until his friend landed in the saddle behind him and heeled the Pantheran into motion.

“Seems I owe you and Geary an apology,” Dewd tried to laugh as they held on for their lives.

Behind them a deep guttural roar sounded and the tower of flames that erupted from the dragon’s maw reflected down off of the low clouds lighting up the plain with a terrible fiery light.

“So you believe in dragons now?” Zax asked. He was as pleased by this as he was afraid of the wyrm that was surely going to come find them and eat them.

“Yeah,” Dewd conceded with a wide eyed glance back. The well illuminated monster behind them was terrifying. He reached down and grabbed extra thick tufts of Pantheran fur in his fists and held on as the creature ran as fast as it could. “Yeah, Zax, I believe. I definitely believe in dragons.”

Copyright © 2012 by Michael Robb Mathias Jr. All Rights Reserved

M.R. Mathias' The Wizard and the Warlord - The Wardstone Trilogy Book III will be released July 4, 2012. For a free five-chapter preview, visit his website. Mathias is the author of the best-selling Wardstone Trilogy and the Dragoneer Saga.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Whatcha Reading?

Summer has officially arrived in our household. This was the first week the kids and I were able to wake up when we wanted to, not via the vile alarm. Bliss.

I equate summer with reading, as I am sure many of you do. This year is no different. I am eagerly anticipating several novels, anthologies and studies.

1. Cosette's Tribe by Leah Griffith.
2. Haunted by Janel Gradowski.
3. Construct a Couple by Talli Roland.
4. Finish up If I Had My Way by Lena Sledge.
5. A study of Tudor England with several books by British historian Alison Weir.

How about you? What is on your summer reading list this year?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Look to the Books

Good Monday, everyone.

Last week, I had the opportunity to write a guest blog for Amy Sue Nathan's wonderful site, Women's Fiction Writers, which discusses a plethora of writing issues and is always a great read. Thanks, Amy!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: Child's Play Continues

Sometimes, things just come together with no advanced planning or scheduling. I like to call these moments gifts from the writing gods. And the month of June here on Flash Fiction Fridays is one such gift. Each of these flash pieces harkens back to childhood, whether through old bedtime stories or mythical beasts of imagination.

This week, do we dare to go down the rabbit hole with Kayla Bashe?

The Last Alice
by Kayla Bashe

My name is Alice. I am twelve years old. I am the last Alice in England. All the others are dead.

I never wear blue, although I have been told that the color would suit me. This is precisely why I avoid it. I have never had a cat, a hair ribbon, tea with sugar or tea without. My mother lives in an asylum in London; she is the only mad person I have ever met.

The only impossible thing I believe, before breakfast or afterwards, is that I have inexplicably managed to survive.

The Queen cast her curse in the sixteenth year of her region, a good four years prior to my birth. For the world has a sort of cellar, you see, and that cellar has a roof- and that roof was so full of holes, it was a matter of mere months and moments before it crumbled like a biscuit in one's fist. While it was the white rabbits who dug the holes, the real problem was the Alices. They could slip between worlds just as easily as falling asleep, widening the holes into untenability, and no sooner had the Queen sent one away than another would slide in to take her place. Therefore, the curse was as follows: All Alices were drawn to Wonderland, there was clearly no way around that — but they would travel there only once in their lives, for the journey would  end with their death. She would see to it herself, if need be.

It is in the nature of a rabbit to dig holes. It is in the nature of an Alice to fall down them. And it is in the nature of Wonderland to ensure that none of us, no matter how much we wish to, can go against ours.

I have displayed careful vigilance. In recent years, I have not even left my room.

Yet what is the point, I sometimes wonder, of a life without any pictures or conversations?

Kayla Bashe is a student from New Jersey. Her work has appeared in YARN, Raphael's Village, Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders, and Yesteryear Fiction. She also is a contributor in the upcoming in Vagabondage Press' "Love Notes" anthology. Recently, she self-published a children's book, Ivy Gets Healthy. Last year, Kayla attended the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers. In addition to writing, she enjoys musical theater and curating the extraordinary. Find her at

Thursday, June 7, 2012

'Until' Gets Five-Star Review

Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two) just received a five-star review over at BigAl's Books & Pals.

Here's a snippet. For the full review, click here.

"It’s a story that anyone should be able to relate who has wanted to escape where they grew up, for whatever reason. Berner has a talent with prose that flows smoothly and puts the reader right where they belong, inside the character’s head. Until My Soul Gets It Right is another winner."

Rating: ***** Five stars

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Second Bibliophiles' Novel On Sale Now

Well, dear readers, it is official. Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two) is now available in paperback and ebook at and for Nook on

Most series follow one main character through various adventures. As you might know, mine is a little different. Each member of my fictional suburban classics book club, known as The Bibliophiles, "stars" in his or her own novel. We see their backstories — how they got to where they are today, and how they became the people know now.

For example, the first novel, A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One), featured overwhelmed, stay-at-home mom, Sarah, and PR executive Annie.

Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two) is Catherine Elbert's book, the actress from As You Like It, the Bibliophile's field trip from the end of the first novel.

Here's a quick description.

Catherine Elbert has never been good at making decisions, whether it was choosing an ice cream flavor as a small child, or figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up. The only thing Catherine knew for sure was there had to be more to life than being stuck on her family’s farm in Wisconsin. 

While watching a PBS travel show, Catherine becomes entranced by Portland, Maine. The ocean. The lobsters. The rugged coast. Nothing could be more different from the flat, nondescript farmlands of Burkesville.

Despite her parents threatening to disown her and her brothers taking bets on how many days until she comes home, Catherine settles on Peaks Island, off the coast of Portland.

She is finally free. Or so she thought. 

I hope you enjoy getting to know The Bibliophiles as much as I do writing their adventures.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Whirling Dervish

It is the first official Monday of summer in our household. Although my oldest has been off of school for two weeks already, having graduated high school on May 21, his younger brother has finally finished up his year, and both are joining me here at home.

No surprise then that my blog is coming out late today. I much preferred the notion of hanging out with them and eating strawberries and donuts for breakfast, rather than hitting work hard first thing this morning.

It happens.

Many things have been swirling around me lately — graduation, the graduation party, out-of-town relatives, deadlines, the unfortunate delay of my second novel, and my impending 25th college reunion next weekend — I guess I needed time to chill a little with my guys.

Now, with some Mozart in the background, it is time to get back on track. I am shooting for a Wednesday release for Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two), but am scared to tout it too much for fear of it blowing up in my face like last week.

I do not want to get into the details, but, karmactically, last week’s events work perfectly with Until. You will see what I mean when you read it.

In the meantime, I wish you well with all of your projects for the week. Hope you are able to take some time and eat strawberries and donuts with those you love.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: Child's Play

Sometimes, things just come together with no advanced planning or scheduling. I like to call these moments gifts from the writing gods. And the month of June here on Flash Fiction Fridays is one such gift. Each of these flash pieces harkens back to childhood, whether through old bedtime stories or mythical beasts of imagination.

First up is Camille LaGuire's take on the classic story of "Jack and the Beanstalk."

The True Story of Jack’s Cow
By Camille LaGuire

"If those beans are so special," said Jack, "why are you trading them for an old

The stranger froze, surprised. Jack wondered if the man was merely stupid, and it hadn't occurred to him that the cow wasn't worth much.

" granddaughter," the man stammered. "She...her mother died when
she was born. I need the milk."

"This cow doesn't have a lot of milk left in her."

"I don't need much."

The stranger held his breath, and watched Jack eagerly. Jack decided not to point out that he could probably get enough money from those magic beans at the market for a good cow —and— a nursemaid.

He sold the cow for a handful of magic beans.


After the bargain, the stranger watch as Jack headed home. Then the old man turned and led the cow away. He walked in silence, slowly, after reminding himself that twenty years is very old for a cow. He led her to the top of the highest hill and sat on a rock while she grazed. He couldn't see Jack's house, but he knew where it was. He watched that spot in the woods until it was too dark to watch any more. Then he slept.

In the morning, the beanstalk was clearly visible. The boy went up and stayed for a long time. The stranger wondered if the boy were bright enough. Well, it didn't matter. If he failed, there were other heroes. He had got what he wanted from that boy. He stroked the cow's flank, as she chewed her cud beside him. By evening, the boy had come down with a bundle. Perhaps a bag of gold, or even the goose. He'd have heard it, if it were the harp.

The next day the boy went up again, and spent the day. He came down again with another silent bundle.


On the third day, when Jack returned, the sound of song brought the stranger to his feet. The cow, who had wandered off to graze, wandered back to stand beside him.  Both watched as the vine tumbled and the giant fell with a thunderous bellow.

The stranger picked up his pack and led the cow back down the hill to the place where the giant had fallen. When he found the body, he took a rope from his pack and fashioned a harness.

"You'll have to help," he said to the cow. "If you can understand me."

The cow seemed to nod, and she turned to accept the harness. The man took the rope and tied it to the giant's ring, which was, thank heaven, a little loose. Together they pulled the ring from the giant's finger, and the man rolled it away from the body to a clear space. He held it upon its edge, like a wheel.

"All right," he said, and he held his breath as the cow stepped through the ring. The cow was now so old. Would it work?

Yes. Yes indeed. A young woman stepped from the other side of the ring.

"Grandfather!" she said, and the two of them embraced, the old man with tears in his eyes.

"I feared you would be old," he said. "Like the cow."

"I'm only twenty," said the girl.

"Old for a cow."

"But not for a woman."

The two smiled at one another. The man turned and struggled to tip up the ring again.

"Come.  Let us find your sisters."

"Where are they?" asked the young woman, as she helped him pick it up.

"By the sound of her singing, at least one is at the other end of this vine. With that boy, Jack."

The girl, now young and strong, took the ring from her grandfather and began rolling it along the fallen vine.

"Does she have to marry him?"

"He has shown himself more worthy than I thought," said the old man, but the girl made a rude sound with her lips. "But no. She has her own choice. You know that."

"I'll bet she marries him, anyway."

"If she loves him, she certainly will," agreed the old man.

The prolific Camille LaGuire has written several novels, novellas and even a screenplay. To learn more about Camille, please visit her blog, The Daring Novelist.