Title: The Long Past and Other Stories
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Release Date (Print & Ebook): October 3, 2017
Length (Print & Ebook): 273 pages
Subgenre: Alt-history, steampunk, weird west
1858 –Warring mages open up a vast inland sea that splits the United States in two. With the floodwaters come creatures from a long distant past. What seems like the End Times forges a new era of heroes and heroines who challenge tradition, law, and even death as they transform the old west into a new world.
In the heart of dinosaur country a laconic trapper and a veteran mage risk treason to undertake a secret mission.
A brilliant magician and her beautiful assistant light up stages with the latest automaton, but the secrets both of them are hiding test their trust in each other and pit them against one of the most powerful men in the world.
At the wild edge of the Inland Sea, amidst crocodiles and triceratops, an impoverished young man and a Pinkerton Detective must join forces to outmaneuver a corrupt judge and his gunmen.
What does Ginn Hale say about the book: I wrote the Long Past and Other Stories out of a desire to see myself and the real diversity of the people around me reflected in the fantastic heroes and heroines that populate the steampunk genre that I love.
Teaser #1: “If his ma had known he was trying to ensnare another boy in a love spell she would have beaten him like a dusty rug.”
Teaser #2: “I’m man enough to hunt whiptails alongside bigtooth dinosaurs. And I’m tough enough to knock Sheriff Lee on his ass if I need to.” Grover held Lawrence’s gaze. “Bet you a silver dollar I could even lick you in a fight if it came to it. Mage or not.”
A strange sensation came over Grover, as if he were floating over his own relaxed body and curling around Lawrence in a plume of smoke. He caught the exhalation of Lawrence’s breath and rose with it into the cool evening air. All around him he felt tiny pulses flicker like starlight as moths winged past him and bats pursued them. As Grover took it in, he realized that each of them shone with a warm glow that lit their flesh like light streaming through stained glass.
Farther out, the lush forest radiated luminous green while countless creatures gleamed like a million scattered candle flames. He felt almost as if he could reach out and catch even the largest ones—that sleeping bigtooth only a few miles west, or the two sated longnecks that lay curled around each other—with just a flick of his hand. The warmth of them pulled at him, though the longer he focused on any one of them, the more it seemed to stretch towards him. Briefly he wondered if he couldn’t draw a light all the way from the flesh it inhabited into the palm of his hand, but he resisted. That seemed, somehow, wrong to him.
Instead he turned his attention to the weird blue haze that bobbed far off on the horizon. A grating, mechanical beat reverberated from it, and Grover could see the golden lights of night birds, bats and insects whirling away from its slow path across the sky.
Could that be the Tuckers’ airship, he wondered?
Without thinking, he curled himself around the swift soft body of a bat and winged after the airship. It floated a great distance away, and when the little bat’s strength flagged, Grover pushed some of his own warmth and light into the bat’s weary body. A feeling of shared exhilaration flooded him. As one he and the bat snapped up several fat mosquitoes and tore through the night to swoop alongside the sleek airship’s long gondola.
Dozens of shining human forms crowded the deck as he passed. Though three of them struck him as very strange. Up at the bow on the bridge stood two forms, both faint compared to the others surrounding them. But stranger still was the fact that when one moved away from the other, a stream of light stretched out between them like an umbilical cord. As Grover watched he saw the light flare up in one of the figures—growing almost as bright as it blazed in the surrounding people—but then it seemed to drain into the second body.
Back near the quarterdeck, the third figure sat near five others. But unlike the others this body seemed swathed in an immense ribbon of sparkling blue letters, while a tiny, intense gold light shone between and beneath them. Grover suspected that he knew who these people were but he wished he could be certain. If only he could actually see them instead of sensing the brilliance their lives threw off.
If he could somehow use other eyes…then he cursed himself for choosing to ride along on a bat. The moment the thought occurred to him, he was surprised to find he really could see the figures of the uniformed men on the deck of the gondola.
On the quarterdeck, a group sat near and on artillery cases, placing bets as they studied their hands of cards. Recognizing Lawrence’s countenance in their midst gave him a little jolt. He’d suspected as much but hadn’t realized how perfect Lady Astor’s impersonation would appear. She grinned, Lawrence’s crooked grin, and laid out a royal flush. The guards and crewmen groaned and coins changed hands. One of the men complained that the naked women drawn on the cards had distracted him.
“At least you claimed a lovely view from a losing hand,” Honora replied. “My girl on the king of diamonds nearly made my eyes water.” That won her guffaws and a slap on the back.
Grover swept over them and circled one of the hanging lamps, snapping up a moth.
Suddenly one of the Tucker twins came pelting towards the gathered men. The second twin followed right behind—and now Grover suspected he knew why they stayed so very close to each other.
“There’s a spy on board!” the first Tucker shouted.
“There.” The second lifted a pistol towards Grover. Terror raced through the tiny body he inhabited.
Honora instantly stood, blocking the shot.
“Are you mad?” Honora’s words boomed out in Lawrence’s voice. Even the Tuckers froze in response to the authoritative tone. “We’re surrounded by cases of explosives, alchemic dust and black powder. And you’re aiming at a lamp!”
Grover took advantage of the Tuckers’ hesitation to flit back into the darkening sky.
“Grove, wait.” Lawrence paused at the stable door. The faint glow of light from the house outlined his gaunt form.
“Hell no,” Grover snapped. He glared at Betty. “C’mon you. We’re leaving.”
Betty pushed her head farther beneath her feathered arm, pretending not to hear him. Lawrence closed in behind him.
“Grove.” Lawrence’s left hand lighted upon Grover’s shoulder.
“Don’t.” He knocked Lawrence’s hand away hard. “I ain’t in the mood to hear anything you or those sons-of-bitches have to say.”
Lawrence stepped back. Grover stomped into the horse stall and frowned at Betty while she feigned sleep. He glowered over his shoulder to the far wall where his saddle and tack faded into darkness. He needed a lamp. If he’d had any sense, he would have brought one from the kitchen, but he was in no temper to go back and ask anyone for anything.
Lawrence cupped his hand to his mouth like he was warming it with his breath, but then he spread his fingers and small orbs of gold light drifted from his lips like he was blowing luminous soap bubbles. They rose and drifted through the stable, throwing a soft golden glow across the weathered wood and bales of alfalfa.
Betty, as well as several horses, took note. Though the horses, being shy creatures, pricked up their ears and went tense. Betty hopped up and snapped after one of the filmy lights like she thought it was a spicy firefly.
“She gonna get sick if she eats one of those things?” Grover heard the surliness in his voice but couldn’t help it. He felt too angry to offer thanks. He hadn’t asked for this. If Lawrence hadn’t been here, he would have worked his own way through the gloom. He hadn’t needed Lawrence’s help for eight years now.
Lawrence met his glare. He looked damn tired, but didn’t say a word.
It wasn’t like him to keep so quiet, Grover thought, but reminded himself that he had no idea what Lawrence was like anymore. If he’d changed so greatly that he could support the Tuckers’ plans, the man Grover had known might as well have died six years ago. Grover would almost have preferred that than to think Lawrence had so completely betrayed the ideals he’d once shared with Grover.
The notion cut deep, pricking at old resentments far down in Grover’s core—remnants of his earliest sense of the injustice in the different circumstances of their lives. He’d always had to work twice as hard for anyone to think him even half as good as Lawrence.
But it didn’t do any good to dwell on how Lawrence had been rich and white and able to command the magic of the earth while Grover had been forced into the role of a servant just because of the color of his skin. He was grown now and had to put away childish tantrums about the unfairness of the world. Moaning and railing didn’t change nothing.
Deeds, not words, showed the true worth of a man.
Grover knew he was better than the Tuckers, better even than this stranger who’d come home answering to Lawrence’s name. They and Lawrence could go to Hell if they thought he’d aid them in any way. Not for money or even long-lost love.
Though Grover reckoned his refusal would require exiting Fort Arvada right away before they realized they couldn’t buy him. Because as soon as they did, he didn’t doubt the Tuckers would find a reason that Grover should lose his liberty—with Sheriff Lee on their side it wouldn’t take long to fit him up as an outlaw—and decide that Grover would work for them whether he wanted to or not.
No, he’d go up the mountain. And if they followed him…
Well, there were a lot of ways men—even trained soldiers and mages—could disappear. Especially near the rift.
Feeling better for having a plan, Grover fetched his saddle, bags and lead.
When he turned back he discovered Betty standing up and extending her long neck over the stall door for Lawrence to stroke her beak. Very slowly Lawrence lifted his ivory and gold right hand and held it out for Betty to inspect. Betty gave the hinged plates of the palm her owl-eyed look but then went ahead and ran her beak across the ivory fingers.
The relief in Lawrence’s expression was so easy to read that Grover felt a pang of deep sympathy. It took a heap of rejection to make a man look that thankful for the acceptance of a critter like Betty. The thought tempered a little of Grover’s rage but not enough to let him forget all that the Tuckers had said. Or Lawrence’s silence in the wake of their suggestions.
“You might as well go back to the dance.” Grover walked past him and into the stall. He threaded the leather lead under Betty’s arms and buckled it across her back. “I’m not helping you to find the rift. I don’t care if you offer to make me king of California.”
“That’s not why I followed you out here.”
“Why, then?” Grover turned on him. “Cause if it’s for my rollicking company, I’ve got to warn you I’m in something of a foul temper.”
Lawrence simply nodded and Grover scowled at him.
“God’s sake, Lawrence, can’t you damn well say anything? Did you lose your tongue as well as your arm?” Grover regretted his words the moment they escaped his mouth. And seeing the brief flicker of pain in Lawrence’s expression, he realized how low a blow he’d dealt the other man.
“I didn’t mean—” Grover began, but Lawrence cut him off.
“That doesn’t matter,” he said. “What’s important is that you understand how necessary it is for me to get to the rift before the Tuckers.”
Grove paused with Betty’s saddle in his arms.
“What do you mean?” Grover asked. “You work with them. You ain’t thinking you can undercut the feds and stake a private claim like your granddaddy did, are you?”
“No.” Lawrence stole a glance back over his shoulder to the stable door then lowered his voice. “I told you. I’m working to close the rifts. That’s why I must reach the last one before they do. But I need your help to get there.”
Grover stared at him. Lawrence’s allegiance and obedience to the Office of Theurgy and Magicum glittered across his chest in an array of bright medals, but what he suggested sounded like insubordination—or worse if the Tuckers were reporting to the House of Representatives.
“Are we talking about an act of treason here?” Grover asked in a whisper.
Lawrence’s expression turned particularly grim. “Please help me, Grove. I don’t know that I can do this without you.”
Grover silently absorbed the enormity that simple request belied.
A mage flouting the orders of his theurgist superiors might as well be defying God. Wasn’t that the law? Grover couldn’t imagine that either of the Tuckers would take such insubordination lightly. And it wasn’t as if an accomplice would get off easy either. If he and Lawrence got caught at this then likely they’d share a gallows.
Only minutes before Grover had been thinking that assaulting the Tucker brothers wasn’t worth hanging for. But stopping them? That might be. Grover felt sick at the thought of being strung up—he’d seen too many men kick and jerk at the end of a rope not to—but he forced his fear down.
“How soon can you get packed up and ready to ride?” Grover asked.
Award-winning author Ginn Hale lives in the Pacific Northwest with her lovely wife and their ancient, evil cat. She spends the rainy days admiring local fungi. The stormy nights, she spends writing science-fiction and fantasy stories featuring LGBT protagonists. (Attempts to convince the cat to be less evil have been largely abandoned.)
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