Monday, July 26, 2010

Flash fiction: Bethany by Carine Engelbrecht

This week Toad presents a delightfully wicked piece of flash fiction by South African author Carine Engelbrecht. Enjoy!

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Cat liked the look.

For the three months before they began shooting, Hughie banned her off the beaches, which was how she got just the right translucent skin tone. It was also how her romance with Brandon Tardis got a serious knock when he fell for Brazilian supermodel Sylvana, with her topless tan in the Caribbean, but that’s another story. It hardly mattered now, anyway.

She absolutely loved the look.

The character, Countess Bethany, was supposedly based on a real-life villainess who had terrorised the county they filmed in with her cruelty and her bloodlust. That had been some time towards the end of the twelfth century. To get her into the part, Hughie made her read all sorts of yellowing tomes in archaic language about what the countess had been like.

He spent ages location scouting before he found the castle. For its use, they paid a tidy fortune to an impoverished lord whose family had owned it since the 1600s. The lord said no one knew who had originally built it, but Hughie thought he did.

At first the place gave Cat the creeps. It was draughty and the poor wiring sometimes caused lights to go off for no reason. That drove the gaffers crazy. Sometimes an icy breeze seemed to slip very real fingers under the bodice of Cat’s deep-crimson outfit.

She found a favourite nook between floors, though, a tiny secret room full of dust and bits of bones. A slit window seemed to look out directly to the road everyone used to approach the castle. Cat wiped some of the dust away and used the place to study her lines. No one ever bothered her there. It was as if nobody but her knew it existed.

One lazy afternoon she sat in her usual spot, imagining she was the real Bethany, a woman whose husband feared her, whose neighbours plotted against her, a woman who longed only to feed her insatiable hunger for beauty, but could not quite manage to escape the confinement of her gender. Not in that age.

Cat opened her eyes and found something glittering on the dusty floor, a necklace with a gem that looked exactly like a drop of blood. Strange that she had not noticed it before.

She cleaned it up and put it on. It complemented her costume perfectly.

That evening they shot the key scene, in which Countess Bethany first seduced Lord Roland, her main adversary, played by Eldridge Moore. He was, despite one night of surprisingly good sex, a bit of a drip and way too much in love with his latest bride.

Cat really got into the scene, only hearing Hughie the third time when he yelled, “Cut, cut, cut!” Apparently, Eldridge had started screaming long before then. She had his blood on her chin, but not that much of it.

Hughie sent the actor off to the medics for some stitches and a sedative, but he did not seem at all displeased with Cat.

Two nights later, a local teen disappeared from a rave. He had been a problem child and his parents suspected he had run away. Cat read about it in the papers, trying to brush away a hangover and some disturbingly violent flashbacks from a dream she only half remembered. She had been to the same rave.

By the time his mangled and badly decomposed body was found, there were other missing kids, in other cities… Cat kept clippings. A morbid obsession, her therapist called it. According to him, the violent dreams were stress related. Many young actresses suffered similar problems when their careers suddenly took off.

Her pallor became a trend that female fans were never quite able to duplicate. She never smiled in photographs, but that, too, became fashionable.

Did it really matter that her mind seemed like an empty collection of echoes, that she sometimes felt like a ghost haunting what she used to call her life?

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Carine Engelbrecht writes fantasy, horror and science fiction. Long ago she briefly played guitar for an all-girl metal band called Misery. Nowadays she mostly plays guitar in her room, and if there is an audience, it’s nothing more spectacular than the occasional cat and/or disincarnate spirit. From time to time she even commits visual expression of some sort. She is a member of Cape Town’s Adamastor Writers’ Guild.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Excerpt: Kaydana and the Dragon Prince

Kaydana and the Dragon Prince

by Nyki Blatchley

An excerpt from chapter 7

“Come for a flight with me,” suggested Zazzu.

Kaydana looked up in surprise from the dragon scroll she’d been studying—an account of the fall of Arlh, the lost city from which the Staff of Ishlun came—to see the Prince standing in the doorway, an amused expression on his alien features. She’d been so engrossed that she hadn’t heard him enter.

She glanced at the wide opening that all rooms had in this city, allowing the dragon-forms to enter from flight. The sky was blue with puffy white clouds scudding across it, and the air warm, except for the lively breeze. It would be wonderful to go flying out into a day like this, especially in the company of the great, golden dragon, but she had to be realistic.

“It would be lovely, but I could never keep up with you. You wouldn’t be able to enjoy yourself.”

Zazzu smiled more deeply. “I would not object to being held up for such a reason.”

Kaydana felt herself blushing, though there was frustration as well as pleasure. In the three days since her arrival, the Prince had been attentive and certainly showed interest, but that was as far as he’d gone, and she still felt that strange inability to push their relationship further.

“Nevertheless,” the Prince added, “that was not what I had in mind. Have you ever ridden on the back of a dragon?”

His tone suggested that he was asking if she’d ever drunk wine or eaten a peach, but Kaydana’s heart leapt and refused to come down. This was what had brought her along with Tela in the first place—the magic of a golden dragon in flight. What would it be like to soar with him, borne up by his powerful wings?

“No,” she managed, “but there’s a first time for everything.” She glanced about, as unsure as she was of seducing him. “What do I...”

“Let me change first,” Zazzu told her, “and then climb up onto my neck, so that you’re sitting on my shoulders. Don’t worry. I can’t speak your tongue in that form, but I’m still myself and I’ll do you no harm.”

He walked to the opening and turned to face her, holding himself still for an instant before the change began. Kaydana had only seen this process once before, on the night she’d arrived, and that was in reverse. She wasn’t sure whether the dragons normally preferred to keep to their human forms, but suspected that it was mainly out of courtesy to their guests.

The magnificent golden man grew indistinct, his shape swirling and altering. A moment later, a vast dragon stood before her, its scales gleaming gold and its head stretched proudly high above her. The eyes turned down to regard her, magical rainbow eyes, and Kaydana felt momentarily reassured. Their amused interest was the same expression she’d come to know in Zazzu’s eyes.

Still, she couldn’t help flinching as she approached the creature. This was a dragon, for the Goddess’s sake, and she had to climb up onto its back. Although she trusted Zazzu—trusted him more than was reasonable, perhaps—she still wondered if this was going to be the last thing she did.

Zazzu lay down, stretching out one foreleg, and Kaydana realised that he was inviting her to climb it. Steeling herself, she stepped onto the limb and stretched up, hauling herself up by its elbow. The dragon’s scales, which looked so smooth from a distance, actually had just enough roughness to help her, though she treated them with caution, afraid that she’d hurt Zazzu.

Reaching the huge, golden shoulders at last, Kaydana flung her leg awkwardly over the neck where it joined the dragon’s body, finally managing to settle into a balanced and reasonably comfortable seat. The head turned on its long neck to look at her, the dragon’s face no more than a foot from her own. Hoping she didn’t look as terrified as she felt, Kaydana nodded.

The body beneath her surged up, and further up, as the dragon rose first to its feet and then into flight, soaring out of the room’s opening into the warm, exciting day.

Kaydana’s fear was gone in ten heartbeats, replaced by the exhilaration she always felt when flying. This was different, though. She was used to being utterly in control of her flight, but now she felt helpless and safe at the same time, surrendered to the care of the creature she rode. Of Zazzu.

The dragon swooped and rose higher, soaring up towards the high peaks, and Kaydana had to restrain herself from whooping like a child, even as she grabbed a couple of Zazzu’s scales to stop herself from sliding out of her seat. Their flight climbed almost vertically, until the tallest mountain lay beneath and the dragon levelled out to soar through the clear air, every motion graceful.

They flew far from the dragons’ city, passing over mountains still cloaked in snow in high summer, swooping down into valleys so inaccessible that Kaydana doubted any human foot had ever trodden there. She’d have loved to explore, but Zazzu never landed, merely flying around and then soaring back to the upper air.

At last, though, he came to rest on a broad ledge, perhaps fifty paces across, and knelt, as if to indicate that Kaydana should dismount. When she was down, a little stiff from the unfamiliar seat, the air blurred and he returned to his human-like shape.

“Did you enjoy that?” Zazzu asked. His face bore an unusual expression—mixed with the quiet humour often found there was an eager, almost excited look.

“It was lovely.” In fact, Kaydana realised, it had been a little more than that. In spite of the soreness, her pussy was damp from the delicious rubbing of his scales and the thrill of sharing his flight. It seemed that Zazzu could arouse her even in his dragon form.

This was disturbing, Kaydana decided. To distract herself, she glanced around. “Where are we?”

“High up the side of a mountain.” Zazzu’s smile intensified, along with the excitement. “If you were anyone else, I’d say I’ve brought you somewhere you’d never escape. Somewhere I could do whatever I chose with you.”

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See Nyki’s Lyrical Press profile here:

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Toad would like to invite published authors to submit their excerpts, requests for interviews, novels for reviews, short stories or guest-blogging opportunities to her PA at Please remember to insert “Toad’s Corner” in the subject field.