A Blasphemous Conversation

prince lestat UK coverIn which lesser vampire authors Lucy Blue and Alexandra Christian bemoan the fate of their idol.

LUCY:  How much do we hate Anne Rice’s new UK cover?!!??!

 LEX:  WTF is wrong with them??!!! It looks like a cheap romance novel.  And I say that as an author of cheap romance novels…

LUCY:  My cover for Tender Bites was better than that.  Your covers for the Mocha Memoirs trilogy are MUCH better than that.  They probably spent a fortune hiring a semi-recognizable model (I think I’ve seen him in a Ralph Lauren ad, him or someone who looks just like him), and the costuming is extremely pricey – that jacket alone cost a fortune and was probably made specifically for that shoot.  But then they use the image in the cheapest, most obvious way imaginable.  Almost nobody who sees it is going to notice how pricey the individual elements are; they’re only going to engage the cheap, amateurish product.

Never mind that my whole reaction to a book entitled “Prince Lestat” is a big fat groan.

LEX:  They’re counting on the name Anne Rice to sell it.  But the cover is just horrendous.  Blech.

LUCY:  And here’s the thing – the name Anne Rice isn’t selling all that well at the moment. Which is probably why she got pushed into this cover in the first place.

It all comes back to what we’ve been saying for months – nobody knows nothing no more.

LEX:  Well if she’d write a book that’s worth a damn….

LUCY:  True . . . I think the problem is, she was always psycho.  But before, her version of psycho was sexy.  But she’s done that now, and as she’s aged, she’s moved into an older, more mature version of psycho that doesn’t connect with anybody any more.

LEX:  Well she keeps plowing the same dirt.  And when she’s not plowing that dirt, she’s doing something that’s so off the wall that it doesn’t make sense.

LUCY:  I think the plowing is her trying to reconnect and the off the wall is what she really wants to write.  It makes me sad because I think she’s brilliant; I think there are probably many more great novels inside her head wanting out.  But I think she has had some kind of weird religious conversion that has made her feel guilty and apologist about some of her early stuff (which is ridiculous), and just like she does in these monster series (serieses?) she writes, she’s trying to write her way out of the corner with plot that just gets nuttier and nuttier.

I feel her pain a little bit because part of the problem is, she was the Mother Goddess of this entire paranormal/gothic/romantic movement, and everything that has come since feeds off her original creation.  But that has gone on long enough that it’s moved beyond imitators into contrarians – people don’t write like Anne Rice any more, they specifically write vampires and werewolves and witches that are NOT like Anne Rice.  But she’s still around and still writing; she’s not ready to be the compost in the general soil just yet.  So she’s got a choice – she can either write in the sensibility she’s always had and be perceived as out of touch with the times and the sad crone who doesn’t know when to leave the party or she can try to adopt some version of the new sensibility (hence this cover) which isn’t hers, doesn’t fit, and results in rotten books, and she looks like the sad crone who bought a lot of make-up and has had a bit too much to drink.  And with trends cropping up, blooming, and dying in the space of months now, it’s happening to more and more content creators faster and faster.  As soon as something succeeds, it immediately becomes a punch line.  And once it becomes a punch line, it’s dead.

LEX:  Well sadly, she IS out of touch with the market right now.  She asked on Facebook if anyone would be interested in reading an erotic romance.  I mean, really Anne?  Where have you been in the last five years?  So I feel like we’ll be seeing a freako copycat of her Beauty books in the near future.

LUCY:  Oh but see, I suspect if you asked her, she would sniff aristocratically and point out that all of THOSE books came from independent publishers and smut mongers; she’s only interested in REAL erotic romance from Random House.  She probably considers 50 Shades beneath her notice, too.

So yeah, a new Beauty-esque saga is most likely in the works.  Jack and His Amazing Beanstalk?

I feel like a cretin for making jokes; I love those books; I love her writing – anybody who has read a sex scene I’ve written knows how much I love her style of erotica; she’s been a huge influence on me.  But yeah, it’s like she’s been up in the ivory tower for decades, only to discover that the world changed without her.  And now she’s trying to climb down and make art, and it’s just not working.

That said, if I had the sales numbers she had on her past couple of “failures,” I’d be a happy little writer indeed.

LEX:  Exactly.  She could never sell another book and be perfectly happy.

Gentle readers, may the same be said of all of us someday.

When One Demon Lover Just Isn’t Enough – Behind the Red Door by Alexandra Christian

BehindTheRedDoor_72dpi

Just in time for lazing on the beach (or hiding your Kindle from the kiddies at the beach house), my baby sister, Alexandra Christian, is releasing all three novellas in her Behind the Red Door series from Mocha Memoirs Press in one hot and handy volume.  But here, I’ll let her tell you all about it:

Welcome to The Oubliette.

Cali Barrows has had it with love.  After wasting three years with the man she thought was the love of her life, she finds out that he’s been sleeping with his boss.  Broken-hearted and bored, Cali’s life had become a string of TV dinners and tawdry romance novels. She wondered where her life was going until she followed the mysterious stranger through the red door and enters a world that few would everknow existed.

The Oubliette is a safe haven for all those creatures that go bump in the night.  They cater to a very particular clientele and only those who seek it out may find the red door leading into a dark paradise of otherworldly delights.  Together with her vampire hosts, André and Leo, Cali becomes a matchmaker for the undead and unwittingly gets herself into all sorts of mischief, all the while slipping into a decadent world where every sensual desire is fulfilled.

One reviewer on Amazon wrote about “Three to Tango”:  “Two vampires, one human: many possibilities. I adored this story. It was shorter than I would like, to be honest. Just enough heat to spice things up without ruining the story.”

Get yer own here:

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&field-author=Alexandra%20Christian&search-alias=books#/ref=sr_nr_p_n_feature_browse-b_2?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3AAlexandra+Christian%2Cp_n_feature_browse-bin%3A618073011&bbn=283155&ie=UTF8&qid=1349328622&rnid=618072011

Barnes and Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/strange-bedfellows-alexandra-christian/1113051106?ean=2940015623277

All Romance eBooks:  http://www.allromanceebooks.com/storeSearch.html?searchBy=author&qString=Alexandra+Christian

Bookstrand:  http://www.bookstrand.com/alexandra-christian

Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/234701

Two Great Vamps That Vamp Great Together

fresh bloodFrom now through Black Friday, the amazingly stupendously fabulous first anthology from the Vampire Writers Support Group, Fresh Blood, is available from Smashwords for only 99 cents.  NINETY-NINE CENTS, kittens, for a thick, juicy slab of vampire short fiction goodness.  Whatever vamp genre you prefer, trust me, you’ll find it here, including my own horror short, “Black Cat Bone.”  Follow this link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/366878 and use this Coupon Code:  FX76F.  Soooo simple and sooooo good!

tenderbitescoverAnd if you’re just looking for something sexy and vampy by me and only me, my own short story collection, Tender Bites, is still available for your handy dandy Kindle device from now until December 1 for $1.99.  After December 1, it’s gone, and it’s good.  You want it.  If you don’t have it, you’re gonna wanna get it.  And you gotta get it now.  I know you’re thinking about turkey and dressing and cheap gaming systems on Black Friday, but next week, you’re gonna need something to read, and these deals will be over, and you’re gonna kick yourself. So don’t mess up!  Here’s the link:  http://www.amazon.com/Tender-Bites-ebook/dp/B009PR38GM/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1350504705&sr=1-1&keywords=tender+bites

Some end of the year housecleaning

tenderbitescoverHey kittens, guess what?  We survived the end of the world!  And with any luck, we’ll survive the end of 2012 altogether.  Just a few things before we do . . . .

First of all, thanks again SO MUCH to everybody who entered our Ho-Ho-Holiday Giveaway.  (Check out the text box to the right if you still don’t know who won.)  We had such a blast putting it together and such a good response, we’re already planning the sequel.  (Watch this space!)

Secondly, if you want to read my free-here-on-the-blog Christmas story, “Kissing Noel,” but you haven’t gotten around to it yet, hie thee hence, my darlings.  Come January 2, 2013, it’s gone . . . for-EV-AAAAAHHHHH.  Well, okay, gone until I put together another anthology at some point, but right now it’s free.  (Kindle & Nook & iPad lovers, if you really really really need a pdf, drop me a line at lucybluecastle@gmail.com before New Year’s Day, and I’ll see if I can hook you up.)

And finally, my vampire romance anthology, Tender Bites, is still very much available from Amazon for the shockingly low price of $2.49 – if you know somebody who got a Kindle for Christmas, my vamps will be more than happy to help them warm it up.

And unless there’s something somebody else wants to talk about, I think that’s it.  Thanks so much for reading this year; you guys know you all rock out.  I can’t wait to see what’s coming up for all of us in 2013!

Tender Bites Contest Running All Month Long

Don’t forget, kittens, I’m doing a contest!  The rules are simple – review Tender Bites somewhere on the interwebs, email me the link at lucybluecastle@gmail.com, and you’re entered to win.  At the end of the contest I will literally put everybody’s email address into a literal hat and draw out a winner.  And the winner will get autographed paperback copies of all three books in the Bound in Darkness medieval vampire romance series, written, obviously, by me.  (To get a peek at what those are exactly, click this link:  https://lucybluecastle.wordpress.com/bound-in-darkness/)

The Details:

1 – Reviews do NOT need to be positive to be considered contest entries.  One review = one entry, regardless. 

2 – If you do more than one review or post your one review more than one place, send me each link separately – every link counts as its own review and its own entry in the contest. 

3 – You don’t have to buy your own copy of the e-book to review it – how would I even know?- but I do insist that you actually read it.  If it’s obvious from your review that you haven’t read it yet, that you’re reviewing the promo materials or me as a writer in general or life its own self, I won’t enter it, and you can’t make me.  I can’t imagine anybody doing that, but gurus tell me that stuff I can’t imagine happens online every day of the week, so I figured I’d just mention it.

4- The contest is open as of right now, and closes at midnight on December 1, 2012.  I’ll do the drawing later that day and post the results here.  Obviously make sure I have a good email address for you with your entry so I can email you if you win. 

And that’s it.  Or at least I think that’s it – if you have any questions or I’ve left anything out, tell me so in the comments so I can address it.  Thanks, kittens!  Tell me what you think!

Tender Bites Contest – I’m suppressing the urge to use yet another exclamation point . . .

Don’t forget, kittens, I’m doing a contest!  The rules are simple – review Tender Bites somewhere on the interwebs, email me the link at lucybluecastle@gmail.com, and you’re entered to win.  At the end of the contest I will literally put everybody’s email address into a literal hat and draw out a winner.  And the winner will get autographed paperback copies of all three books in the Bound in Darkness medieval vampire romance series, written, obviously, by me.  (To get a peek at what those are exactly, click this link:  https://lucybluecastle.wordpress.com/bound-in-darkness/)

The Details:

1 – Reviews do NOT need to be positive to be considered contest entries.  One review = one entry, regardless. 

2 – If you do more than one review or post your one review more than one place, send me each link separately – every link counts as its own review and its own entry in the contest. 

3 – You don’t have to buy your own copy of the e-book to review it – how would I even know?- but I do insist that you actually read it.  If it’s obvious from your review that you haven’t read it yet, that you’re reviewing the promo materials or me as a writer in general or life its own self, I won’t enter it, and you can’t make me.  I can’t imagine anybody doing that, but gurus tell me that stuff I can’t imagine happens online every day of the week, so I figured I’d just mention it.

4- The contest is open as of right now, and closes at midnight on December 1, 2012.  I’ll do the drawing later that day and post the results here.  Obviously make sure I have a good email address for you with your entry so I can email you if you win. 

And that’s it.  Or at least I think that’s it – if you have any questions or I’ve left anything out, tell me so in the comments so I can address it.  Thanks, kittens!  Tell me what you think!

Budapest

 Okay, kittens, here it is – the last preview tidbit from Tender Bites before it goes live on Amazon tomorrow. 

“Budapest” is the most contemporary story in the collection; I envision it happening pretty much right now.  In every vampire story I’ve done before, the vampires have either been isolated predators or, as in the case of the Bound in Darkness series, all connected to one another through a single quest or event.  In “Budapest,” I’ve played with the idea of a vampire society that isn’t exactly open but isn’t isolated, either, a system of connection between vamps and how that would affect their relationships with one another and the mortal world.  It’s one thing to say “I’ll love you forever” to someone whose body at least is going to eventually die; it’s something else when you and your beloved one are literally, physically immortal.  It’s not a new idea, obviously – I may be the only vampire writer on the planet who hasn’t gone here yet.  But this is my take. 

Budapest

Last Tuesday

Cat climbed out of her lead-lined coffin, stumbled, and nearly fell flat on her face.  It was barely sunset; she was still mostly asleep.  The pounding on the door started again, louder this time.  “Who is it?” she demanded, her eyes darting around the barely-familiar hotel room.  Where the hell had she put her sword?  She grabbed the gun with blessed bullets from the nightstand instead—less reliable, particularly against atheist vampires, but hopefully in Budapest, that wouldn’t be an issue. 

“Richard,” the door replied.  “Catriona, let me in.”

“Oh for pity’s sake . . .”  She fumbled the deadbolt open and reached for the handle.  “What are you doing here?”

“You’re not an easy girl to find,” he muttered, pushing past her.

“That was rather the idea,” she retorted. 

Richard was the oldest friend of her momentarily estranged lover, Indo.  In fact, rumor had it Richard was the oldest friend any vampire had, that he was the oldest vampire left roaming the earth.  She had never thought he looked the part.  Tall, thin, and blond with a patrician nose and the perpetual squint of a perpetual scholar, he always looked like an unmade bed.  Tonight he was even more rumpled than usual, his wrinkled coat far too thin for the chill winds of Eastern Europe in November.  Her nostrils flared, picking up the smell of blood, faded faint but still distinct, the smell of a powerful death – vampire blood, not human.  His black coat was covered with it.  This was not normal.  She had known Richard for three hundred years, and she had never once seen him take a living victim.  He had been the first vampire of her acquaintance to attempt to live on cow’s blood, and he was rumored to be one of the so-called “Blessed Nine” scientists and alchemists who had been working for decades on creating a synthetic.  If he were stained with vampire blood, something bad had happened.  “Richard, where is Indo?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea.”  Indo had left her six months before, swearing once again she was too wicked, too savage for bearing.  She had accidentally taken too much from a perfectly willing thrall and put the stupid girl in the hospital where she had recovered completely in the space of a day.  But Indo, Enforcer that he was, had completely overreacted, as he always did, and had taken off in a huff.  He always went to Richard when they had these fights.  Richard was his sanctuary, his monastery, his ashram, his calm.  But now Richard was covered in vampire blood, and he looked anything but calm.   He was prowling the room like a cat, peering into the bathroom, the closet.  “I suppose he could have gone back home to Tokyo.”  He yanked back the drapes, exposing her impressive view of the city.  “I honestly don’t know.”

“But he is alive.”  She put her hand on his shoulder.  “Richard?”

“Of course Indo is alive,” he said bitterly, his eyes searching the dark as if for predators or prey.  “If anyone ever truly threatened to kill Indo, I have no doubt some sort of samurai angel with a golden katana and a thousand tongues of fire would rush immediately to his defense.”

Cat suppressed an unbecoming snort.  “Did the two of you have a tiff?”

He gave her a look that could have wilted a cactus.  “You could say that.”

“Oh dear . . . . So what do you want me to do about it?”  She started to move away, but he caught hold of her robe, silk clenched in a dirty fist.  “What’s wrong with you?” she asked, worried all over again.

“I’m very tired, Catriona.”  He was looking at her in a way he’d never looked at her before.  Other men had, of course – humans who thought they were predators before they realized they were prey; vampires who mistook her delicacy for weakness.  It was a hungry look, a conqueror’s look.  It looked strange on Richard . . . strange because in the dim light of the hotel room, it fit his face so well. 

She reached down and disengaged his hand from her robe.  “Maybe you should tell me all about it.”

He clamped his hand around her wrist like he was grabbing a sword hilt, hard and sure and painfully tight–none of the adjectives she would ever have associated with being held by Richard.  She had never realized how big he was before, how powerful.  He had always seemed hunched, a spider, a scholar.  Now he was standing up quite straight, and she realized how broad he was at the shoulders, how big his hands were.  “No.”  For once he wasn’t squinting in the slightest.  She had never noticed how blue his eyes were, how intense his gaze could be.  “I don’t want to tell you anything about it.”  He dragged her closer, his free hand going to the draped closure of her robe.  “I don’t want to talk.”

The Artist

The penultimate preview peek at Tender Bites, my new vampire anthology – one more after today, then Saturday, it’s out.  Also, check back here on Saturday for details on a nifty new contest to go along with my first ever self-published e-book launch – it’s kind of like a wedding, something old, something new . . . .

As for this particular story, The Artist, I have a confession to make – I love’em all, but I think this one is the sexiest.  It’s my take on the classic vampire seduction with a slightly harder edge.  Want a taste?

The Artist

San Francisco, 1997

Dante wandered lonely as a cloud down the foggy San Francisco street, a black and brooding wisp of storm cloud that obscured and revealed each moonbeam pool of streetlight as he passed.  A subtle change had come over him lately, an ever-deepening malaise.  The vampire who had made him so many centuries before had warned him this would eventually happen, but he hadn’t believed it.  He had thought he would revel in his power for all eternity.  But lately, he hadn’t so much reveled as endured.  Nothing interested him; nothing excited him; even the taste of blood and the thrill of the kill had lost their spark. 

A happy cackle of feminine laughter danced out of an open doorway to rush to his defense.  Turning to the painted glass, he felt the cloud that surrounded him fading back into the fog . . .

The girl at the bar laughed again, one forearm resting lightly against her lover’s shoulder as he hovered by her stool.  Her clothes were as black and primitive cool as the vampire’s weary mood – black mesh shirt, black lace bra, black jeans so tight his eyes could trace the slit of her sex behind the denim.  But her black leather boots were nestled heel to terrifying heel on the bar at her elbow, leaving her little feet with their blue-polished nails bare to the scrutiny of the world.  And her red hair was as striking and utterly natural as her laugh.  A smile teased the corners of his mouth.  She was a darling, a cheeky little lamb tricked out in the black duds of the contemporary she-wolf.

In other words, just the ticket.

She leaned over to catch her mortal lover’s whisper and caught sight of the vampire watching from the window.  Her eyes widened as she made a droll face at him – waddya lookin’ at? the twist of her mouth demanded.  But her eyes weren’t nearly so tough or so funny.  When Dante continued to stare, unsmiling, unblinking, refusing to be moved, her eyes lost every defense.

“Francesca?” the man at her side asked, looking over his shoulder to see what had captured her attention so completely.  The vampire faded back from the glass, disappearing from their sight.  He watched the girl, Francesca’s expression cloud for a moment, vaguely confused and disappointed.  Then she turned back to her mortal beloved.  Francesca . . . don’t worry, he thought.  I won’t keep you waiting for long.

An hour later, he watched from a darkened doorway across the street as the happy little couple had a happy little argument on the sidewalk in front of the bar as their friends stood a discreet three or four yards away pretending to study the stars they couldn’t see through the San Francisco fog.  With a few well-chosen and deadly verbal assaults, Francesca and her lover negotiated a grudging peace as regards the rest of the evening, never dreaming a depressed and hungry vampire was hanging on every word.  They finally decided that he would go on with their friends and see another band while she took the car home and got some apparently pressing work done – a reasonable and sublimely convenient compromise, the vampire thought.  His smile would have made a strong man shudder had one been close enough to see it.

He closed his eyes and counted slowly, an ancient demon’s version of a mortal baby’s game.  Ninety-seven . . . ninety-eight . . . ninety-nine . . . one hundred.  He opened his eyes.  The sidewalk across the street was now empty except for a kid in an apron sweeping up cigarette butts.  Dante turned his face up to the moon’s caress and sniffed the air until he found her scent . . . crumbles of chocolate scattered amongst the crushed, wet petals of a rose . . .

He smiled again, fangs glittering in the dim, misty light.  Ready or not, sweetheart . . . .

Little Boy Lost

Day 3 of previews for Tender Bites, my anthology of romantic vamp stories officially releasing on Saturday, October 13, 2012, exclusively through Amazon.  This story is a little different from the others in that the romance at its center is between two men, and it doesn’t have a traditional happy ending.  It also has the scariest vampire bite I’ve ever written.  But for me, it is also one of the most affecting tales I’ve ever written.  I really hope you agree.

Little Boy Lost

 

Chicago, 1986

Zack watched with a mixture of fury and relief as the battered muscle car tore away from the broken curb.  As soon as it was far enough up the ramp to make coming back to kick the shit out of him more trouble than he was worth, he tossed the nearly-empty beer bottle he was holding after it.  “Assholes!”

Skating out of Tony’s party with somebody’s cokehead daughter had seemed like such a good idea at the time.  He lit a cigarette then stumbled toward the water’s edge, his slick-bottomed tuxedo flats sliding on the oily sand.  Take in a rave, taste a little forbidden fruit, reminisce about how the other half lived for a few hours.  Shake the dust of queenly good taste from his mane for a little while.  He ran a beautifully manicured hand through the sweat-damp spikes of his hundred-dollar haircut with a snort.  Kick it, Stallion, he thought, flinging the half-smoked stogie into the drink with a hiss of drowning fire.  Time to call Tony and beg forgiveness and a taxi home . . . God bless the calling card and the child who’s got his own.

Picking his way through the trash scattered on the grassy bank, he saw a pair of headlights appear about a quarter of a mile down the shoreline, a double beam that glistened like fairy dust on the water before swinging wide away.  Civilization! he thought with mock-dramatic relief.  Come, sahib –where there be cars, there be phones . . . Staggering a little, he headed for the disappearing lights.

And found exactly nothing.  Wherever the car had come from or gone since Zack saw it, the poor fucker must have been lost.  “Fuck!” he shouted at the seagulls, kicking at the sandy black dirt under his feet.  “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck!”

He flung himself down on the ground with reckless disregard for his spiffy new Armani–hell, he it was hardly as if he’d paid for it—and lit another cigarette.  This was just great.  This was poetic justice.  Here he was, everybody’s darling dear, alone at midnight in some derelict’s dream of a cemetery.

And where, pray tell, did that come from? he thought with a start, his eyes going wide.  Not a headstone in sight, all weeds, no flowers.  Still, the cold, damp air had a definite whiff of the crypt to it, and the ground seemed awfully loose, particularly just at his heels.

“Asshole,” he muttered, taking another drag on his cigarette.  The general air of gloom he had meant to escape by going raving had caught up with him, obviously.   Which was hardly surprising—the angel of death spent so much time in his neighborhood lately, somebody should charge the fucker rent.

He needed to get up and head back to the road.  He could hear the traffic in the distance; it couldn’t be that far.  But he was so tired . . . he had been so tired for weeks now, his brain running over and over the same tired track.  He had to get back to the road . . . he could thumb a ride into the city—now that’d be a blast from the past.  Maybe he’d hook up with an outbound trucker instead, climb in a strange rig and leave Chicago and her misery behind him.  The fact that he had maybe ten dollars in his wallet was no more than a minor technicality, right?  God knew he had gotten by on less.  Let somebody else hold Tony’s hand when the angel came calling again.  That was cold, yes—but hell, it wasn’t as if the money wouldn’t draw flies enough to replace him if he left.  Flies to feed on the corpse . . . his sudden tears stung like a son of a bitch.  His eyes were still sore from all the smoke at that fucking rave.  Sorry, love, he thought, dashing them away.  Sorry it happened, sorry I can’t fix it, sorry I’m such a selfish, shitty little prick . . .

This touching unspoken confession was cut off by the ground beginning to boil.  For a moment, he just stared at the tiny volcanoes of dust erupting between his shoes, unable to process the data his eyes were sending to his brain. 

Gotta be the coke, he decided, sliding backward on his ass, his heels digging dimples in the shimmying dirt.  “Oh shit.”  His cigarette burned to ash between his fingers as he watched, frozen, as a beautifully sculpted hand slowly reached up through the earth, white as moonlight against the black.  “What did that little bitch slip me?”  The idea that what he saw could be real, that someone was crawling out of the ground (the grave?) was too bizarre to consider.  He was tripping; stress had been working overtime on him for weeks with the Bolivian army at her back, and he was wigging the fuck out at last. 

“Too many funerals, not enough laughs,” he muttered as the hand became an arm, reaching upward, reaching for him.  Where had he heard that before?  Tony had said it, but when, and in what context?  His errant mind worked the pointless question like a sore tooth as the second hand appeared, clutching at the ground for something to pull the rest of what was still down there free.  “Oh yeah . . .”  His fingers were burning now, but he couldn’t blink, much less fling the butt away.  “I remember . . . I asked Tony why he came north, why he left Miss-Sippy—that’s the way he pronounces it even after thirty years in Chicago.  It’s an affectation if you ask me, but it’s cute, so who complains, right?”  The fingers crept closer, tearing up the grass.  “And that’s what he said home was like . . . too many funerals, not enough laughs—“

The hand clamped around his ankle, and his babble turned fast to a scream.