Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Until Sunday, I was convinced I would not be doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. I spent the last couple months barely writing at all, for Reasons. And then Sunday I was moping around the house feeling irritable, like everything was boring and wrong. Then I remembered that I've felt that way before, and it usually means I need to write. I went to a cafe with my notebook (spiral-bound paper, not electronic) and had a vanilla milkshake and wrote up a premise and some characters. Now I'm feeling nervous and excited.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Beth Bernier Pratt
Savannah didn't feel like cooking. The pantry was stocked, and the fridge full of fresh ingredients, but the idea of slicing and chopping and sautéing and broiling made her want to hide under the bed. She went so far as to look under the bed, but the green flash of Baxter's eyes made her nix that idea. Meanest cat in three counties, he was not afraid to protect his territory with fangs and claws.
Back in the living room, she flopped on the sofa and flipped on the television. A cooking show came on and Savannah groaned and changed the channel. Weather report, with a wacky weatherman illustrating the wind patterns with big body movements. "... season coming early this year with strong winds from the ... " She flipped through a couple reruns of sitcoms that weren't funny the first time and switched it off again.
Dragging her feet, she went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator and stared at all the unprepared food on its shelves. Nothing magically sorted itself into a meal, so she shut the door and had a flash of inspiration. Pizza!
She took out her phone and tapped the pizza app and tapped again to select toppings and crust. At checkout, she noticed a new surcharge, labeled "Seasonal", and frowned, but ordered anyway.
Pacing around the living room waiting for the doorbell to ring, Savannah felt something brush her leg. She jumped out of the way as Baxter came into the room. He meowed at her and sauntered to the front door, where he meowed again.
"Oh, all right." She opened the door and the cat went out.
A sudden blast of wind tore the screen door out of her hand and flung it wide. Her hair blew across her eyes and she pulled it away to see a frightening sight. A flock of Cupids swooped through the air, tiny quivers on their backs and bows in their hands. She went inside slamming the door behind her and turned on the TV, switching it back to the news.
The wacky weatherman was gone, replaced by a helmet-haired anchor, intoning solemnly about precautions for the early Cupid season. Savannah put her head in her hands. This early? Usually they had another month before they had to take precautions. Those little winged menaces. Every spring they wreaked havoc on marriages, business partnerships, every kind of relationship.
The doorbell rang and she looked wildly around for anything to use as a makeshift shield. Nothing. It was all still packed away in the attic. The doorbell rang again. With a weary sigh she opened the door.
The pizza boy looked at her with the giant puppydog eyes of the smitten. "Your pizza, my angel," he said, holding out the box.
"I'm so sorry about this," she said, giving him a twenty and waving away the change, "I wouldn't have ordered if I'd realized it was Cupid season already."
He attempted a flowery speech but she cut him off. "Just go."
He trudged back to his car, clearly lovelorn. Savannah started to shut the door when a "meow" stopped her.
"Come on, Baxter, in you go."
The cat rubbed against her as he went in, his purr like the roar of a jet engine. Savannah came inside and sat down with her pizza. The cat jumped in her lap and rubbed his entire body across her face, nuzzling and purring.
"Oh Baxter, not you too."
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Down to the Lake
Beth Bernier Pratt
The vampire struggled against the ropes and the hard hands of her captors. The hands gripped her tighter in response, one of them clearly squeezing as hard as he could, trying to hurt her more than hold her. Legends aside, it did hurt. Her supernatural strength and toughness was about that of two strong young men, not the godlike power most legends exaggerated it to be. And just now, hungry and exhausted as she was from the chase, Annabelle felt considerably weaker than that.
It had been weeks since she'd fed properly, staying ever on the move to evade the Dread Society Against Vampires. Rats, mice, and birds, so quickly sucked dry of their drab, unsatisfying blood, even a cat would have been a tasty treat. But missing pets call attention, so Annabelle had fasted.
Now she was caught anyway. Annabelle wished she had gorged herself on every schoolboy, every farmer's wife, every befuddled shopkeeper in her path. It was hope that blinded her, hope for some golden getaway, a permanent escape from the DSAV's relentless hunters. Everywhere she went, their agents were already there, making every safe haven a trap.
The phalanx of DSAV men marched her through the woods on a path marked occasionally with a mossy upright stone. They were headed northeast, Annabelle could tell from the faint silvery glimmer that kept drawing her eyes to the right. It was still too early for human vision to see the onrushing dawn, but to a vampire it appeared like a train's headlight to one standing on the tracks.
She put her fangs to use, sawing through the gag and spitting out the pieces of dirty handkerchief.
"Where are you taking me? What are you going to do with me?"
"She chewed through her gag. Want me to find a new one?"
"What if she screams?"
"There's no one but us to hear it. What do you chaps think? Afraid a little banshee wail might weaken your resolve?"
The others chuckled and murmured, and left Annabelle's mouth free. She addressed herself to the apparent captain.
"You didn't answer my question, sir. What is to become of me?"
"Nothing," he said.
"Nothing?" She felt a small hope kindle in her chest, "You've caught me for sport and will let me go?"
Several of the men laughed in an ugly way.
"Or do you intend to let your men have their brutish fun with me first?"
"That type of mixing between humans and monsters is an abomination," the captain said.
The men around her grumbled agreement.
The captain seemed moved to speech. "After tonight, you will be consigned to the demonic darkness from which you came, and mankind will at last be free of the scourge of Vampirism."
In a flash, Annabelle understood why it had been so long since she had met another of her kind. "You mean... I am the last?"
"Yes! You are the last vile monster to roam the night. After you are gone, the Dread Society Against Vampires will have fulfilled its vow."
Annabelle's knees buckled under her. Even if they were monsters to the humans, they were family to her. Rough hands forced her up again and kept her marching. The path sloped down and underneath the smells of pine sap and unwashed armpits, Annabelle detected the musty, fishy smell of a lake. So that was their plan. It was one of the crueler ways to kill a vampire. Instead of a quick burst of fire at the sun's dawning rays, she would be chained below the water's surface to feel the sun's deadly power annihilate her layer by minute layer. With the water there to quench the flames' spread, she had heard it could take days.
"If I am the last, then the future will hold you fools," she said, working to keep the desperation out of her voice, "They will call you madmen and murderers. Your grandchildren will be ashamed of your convictions and call them ignorance. With every trace of evidence of vampires gone, your grand crusade will look a farce."
This time she heard hesitation in the muttering of the men holding her. The lake smell grew stronger and she felt her last chance slipping away. The path dipped sharply and she looked down to see it end at a narrow set of broken stone stairs, slick with moss, leading to the lake. One of her captors stumbled on the uneven ground, and Annabelle used all her strength to wrench free of their grasp. She threw herself down the stairs, the tumbling fall breaking at least one bone in her arm, but leaving her legs blessedly intact. Heedless of the pain, when she hit the sand she bolted left, running along the dark shore looking for a way back into the woods.
"She's getting away! After her! Go! Go!"
As she ran, she formulated her plan. Tonight she would run and hide, but tomorrow she would attack. She would turn every human she encountered, leaving a rising tide of hungry vampire fledglings in her path. A lone vampire they could hunt, but soon she and her new family would be the hunters once more.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Monday, June 23, 2014
Monday, June 16, 2014
Monday, June 9, 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Gather Ye Silver-Leaf Nightshade
by Beth Bernier Pratt
As a brand new practitioner of the ancient arts of digging in the dirt and convincing plants to actually grow, Nina was determined to learn from her mistakes. Her gardening shirt didn't match her gardening pants or gloves or hat, and she didn't care. Her first morning digging in the dirt she'd worn an ordinary short sleeved t-shirt, shorts, and no hat, and gotten a terrible sunburn for her trouble. Mistake one, lesson one. The burn was easing now, but still hurt when she thought about it. She tried not to think about it.
The seeds were all planted. Flowers, flowers, flowers, and catnip. Nina figured that if the neighborhood cats were going to come hang out in her yard, she might as well get them high. She would have planted mint for mojitos, but Walmart didn't have seeds for that. What kind of world was it when you could get cats high but not humans.
Walking along the unplanted dirt that had been a lawn, Nina looked down and saw a new plant sprouting. Light green leaves that looked fuzzy with tiny silver hairs poked up through the dirt in one, two, a dozen places she could see. She pulled out her phone and took a picture and sent it to her Aunt Ruth, a veteran of the war of seeds and dirt, then called her.
"Aunt Ruth, it's Nina, can I pick your brain about a gardening question?"
"Why sure, honey, what's your question?"
"I found something growing and I don't know what it is. I sent you the picture."
"Hang on a second while I get my glasses on."
Nina kicked at the dry dirt, spraying dust into the breeze and marking that down as a new mistake as she felt it settle on her face.
"Nina, I'm afraid you have a serious problem."
"Nightshade? As in deadly?"
"It's deadly all right. Poisonous leaves, poisonous roots, poisonous berries, and deadly difficult to get rid of once it's in your yard."
"They're just weeds. Can't I pull them and call it a day?"
"Oh hon, if only it were so simple. If you look it up online, you'll see that they propagate by seed and rhizome."
"Try to pull one up. Right now. I'll hold."
Nina slipped the phone in her pocket and bent down to the nearest weed. She grasped it by the stem and immediately pulled her hand back. Thorns. Two inches tall, and the thing had thorns. She put her glove back on and tried again. A hard yank and the leaves and half the stem came up, leaving the root firmly in the ground.
"Let me guess, the root snapped off."
"Yeah. Oh, and the stem has thorns."
"Nasty things, aren't they."
"Poison and thorns? Nasty hardly covers it." Nina's finger still smarted where the thorn pricked it.
"Well, I could let you find this out the natural way, but since you're my favorite niece I'll tell you."
"I'm your only niece."
"Should I keep it to myself then?"
"The growth from rhizome means that in a couple days, if you came back to that same spot, you'd find a new one growing from the old root."
"What! These are the worst. Does that mean I have to dig them out?"
"That'll help, but it's not enough."
Nina groaned. "What else?"
"Do you see any little yellow berries on the ground?"
"Sure. They're all over the place."
"Those are full of seeds. You'll need to pick them up."
"All of them?"
"All of them."
"Ok, so I have to dig up my whole yard to get all the roots up and I have to pick up a gazillion little berries. And then no more nightshade, right?"
"Put the plants and roots in a sealed bag in the trash, and set the berries aside. Call me when you're done. Love you, Nina. Bye."
Nina grumbled and cussed as she dug up roots and gathered berries. The sun grew high overhead and she quit for the day, vowing to eradicate the rest of the stupid weeds tomorrow.
Three days later Nina's hands had blisters on the palms but a careful walk across every square inch of her yard revealed no more nightshade. She called Aunt Ruth.
"Hi, it's Nina. I got all the nightshade."
"And you sealed the bag?"
"Sealed the bag."
"And kept the berries?"
"I don't understand why, but yes, I kept the berries."
"Honey, I'll be right over. Why don't you go on inside and start the kettle going so we can have a nice cup of tea."
Aunt Ruth hung up and Nina went inside to start the tea. A few minutes later the tea was ready and a car door slammed outside. She opened the front door to let her aunt in and found her in full Santa Fe kook regalia. Crystals adorned wrists, ankles, ears, and fingers. A large crystal pendant hung around Aunt Ruth's neck and a small crystal dangled from a fine chain onto her forehead.
"Hi, Aunt Ruth. The tea is ready."
Aunt Ruth sat down at the dining room table and pulled a long green crystal wand and a bundle of seed packets from her purse.
"Nina, honey, do you have a stone bowl? No? Earthenware of some sort? Good. Fetch it and put the berries in it."
Nina did as she was told. Aunt Ruth closed her eyes and waved the green crystal wand over the bowl, muttering syllables that Nina couldn't quite catch. After nearly a minute of muttering, she opened her eyes again and smiled at her niece.
"Now bring that tea over here and make yourself comfortable. We have work to do."
"Work? What kind of work?"
"We have to mark up these seed packets and stuff them with seeds, of course."
"We're ... wait, we're packing up nightshade seeds in packets for people to actually plant?"
"Once they're planted in someone else's garden, the incantation will transfer their deadly magic out of your garden permanently. It's the only way to keep them from coming back."
"But isn't that a bit unethical? Foisting these off on some innocent stranger?"
Aunt Ruth laughed. "Oh honey, we're not foisting them on anyone, we're selling them on the internet. Six dollars a packet for real, organic seeds for a native plant. Plus shipping."
"People go for that?"
"You put the words 'organic' and 'native plant' on just about anything, and someone's willing to buy it. How do you think I can afford to live on the tiny pension your Uncle Geoffrey left me?"
Nina shook her head in amazement. Under all those crystals, Aunt Ruth had a real head for business.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
A little while back I was contacted by someone from an Italian website, asking if I would like to be interviewed. I was pleasantly surprised and said yes, of course. Here's the link to the interview: http://www.woweffect.it/en/2014/05/21/beth-bernier-pratt-i-want-to-keep-writing-and-keep-drawing-comics/
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Twenty Friends in your Pocket
by Beth Bernier Pratt
If you've ever been a smoker, you've probably heard someone say a pack of cigarettes is like having twenty friends in your pocket. I used to say it myself until it actually came true.
I was in college in Kirksville, Missouri. It was the late 90s and cigarettes went for $2.12 a pack, including tax. I used to laugh about how that meant that before tax my friends were just ten cents each. It would be less funny now that smokes have doubled in price a couple times, but I wouldn't say it anyway because I quit smoking.
It was a chilly January night that I bought my last ever pack of cigarettes. There was a party at the Russian house so I went down to the little liquor store on Osteopathy to get some beer and a pack of Marlboro Reds. At first the clerk handed me a softpack, and I guess my life would be different now if I hadn't insisted he put it back and give me a hardpack instead.
When I got to the party, the place was already full of exchange students, who were dancing to the blaring 80s pop, and some of my fellow GDIs, who weren't. GDI stood for God-Damned Independent, which is what we called ourselves to show our opposition to the whole Greek letter system and its parties which we weren't invited to.