Shoshone Station #7: Homecoming Out Now!

When Sophia’s sister Shaelynn arrives on Shoshone Station, she finds herself being dragged back to a life she thought she’d left behind, the life of Zach. But what can she do, her mom is dying. Unless Sophia can help her.

Kleppie thought he would return to Texas a hero. He’d been part of the famous USS Cambridge crew. He’d been to space. But he quickly finds that doesn’t mean much to those left behind.

Shoshone Station: Less than a year ago, they arrived over earth’s sky. They call themselves the Galactic Consortium and they are human, or at least, simian — from the same genetic line as humans. They claim to have terraformed this planet centuries ago to serve as a base for their exploration of this galaxy. What happened to the settlers, why none of us remember this, remains a mystery.

For America the concerns are more immediate. Will the Consortium accept our independence?

Shoshone Station is the first joint enterprise, a solar power, space station parked in geostationary orbit over Denver, Colorado. Its been “gifted” to America, but as Sherman Lannister takes command he wonders just how much control the new American crew will really have. After all, what do they know about running a space station?

For Sophia, a homeless transgender youth from Denver, and many like her the station is a second chance at a new life. But what will she do living amongst the stars?

This is an ongoing monthly serial

Introducing Zoey and the Zombies

Zoey one

The world is overran with undead. Giant hordes are pouring out of the East Coast, threatening the Midwest. The defense of Mondamin Court, a quiet neighborhood in Des Moines, Iowa is up to a disabled cop, a fourteen year old boy and a transgender girl. What could go wrong?

Mondamin Court is a typical lower middle class neighborhood in a midwestern city. The people are a cross section of America. Each book starts with the same setting and characters but they face a different apocalyptic scenario.

Release date is: June 20th

Update, it’s out:

Amazon

Kobo

Everywhere Else

A Hunted Sneak Peek: Meet Jazzy

Bear Naked 3: The Hunted is almost here, but there’s still time to pre-order and get the first two books free!

This week’s sneak peek includes a new character.

Set up: Uncle Darren is missing in Idaho, in Skinwalker territory. Connor’s Uncle Mitch is hurt. Connor and Amanda went with Connor’s dad to get him back and see if they can figure out what’s happened. The rest of the pack defies orders from the adults to join them. They have just arrived in Blackfoot, Idaho

This chapter is from Brianna’s point of view.

 

The Hunted

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Brianna

Brianna followed Amanda out of the parking lot. It was cold, and she pulled her coat closer. She felt . . . she paused, not sure what she felt or how to describe it. Maybe there wasn’t a human word for it. Her pack was part of her, part of her in a way you couldn’t describe to someone who wasn’t part of a pack. Her alphas, Connor and Amanda, were the center of the pack. To be apart from them had left her feeling like part of herself had gone missing. Now it was back, walking next to her.

That was the good part. Getting out of the station wagon after over twenty hours on the road was another good part. She had slept fitfully, curled up on Jonathan’s shoulder, but the drive had been long and wearing.

Aaron’s reaction, that was the not so good part. What had they expected? However sound their reasoning, they had defied pack order and defied his wife, Karen. Had they really expected him to be glad to see them? Even in her mind, she shrank from his disapproving stare.

Connor kept giving them guilty glances, like he wanted to stand up to his dad on their behalf, but he couldn’t. He hadn’t been the one to defy Aaron.

Aaron secured a second motel room for them. He lectured them as he did so. They weren’t rich, and they could never afford to forget about human responsibilities. He complained that the cost of housing and feeding them would stretch the household budget.

Amanda responded by telling him that she knew how to eat cheap on the road. She would use her money, money from Darren, to get groceries. They had already eaten more from restaurants than they should have.

Brianna, wanting to get out from under Aaron’s dark mood, agreed to go along with Amanda to do the shopping. Jay and Corey followed after them. Amanda found Darren’s emergency stash of cash in the pickup and took a couple of twenties before leading them on foot to a nearby grocery store.

What about the Skinwalkers?” Connor asked from the doorway.

I told you, the elder gave me leave,” Amanda answered sharply. “See that the pack gets settled. We’ll be back.”

He gave her a long, hard look before nodding. “Take care,” he said and turned back inside.

They walked to the first main crossroad from the motel and turned right. The grocery store was a small one, about four blocks down. The wind was bracing, but none of the others seemed bothered by the cold. The sun shone bright against the white snow.

Jay began to sing softly, a folk song about the land of the midnight sun. Corey knew it too and joined in on the chorus. The song fit the weather perfectly.

As they approached the grocery store, a group of young men dashed around the edge of the store, chasing a young woman. They shouted obscenities as they went. Brianna saw Amanda stiffen and then heard her mutter, “Oh, no.”

Amanda bolted toward the men. Brianna followed hard on her heels, feeling savage and proud. You didn’t chase or threaten people around her alpha.

They had the girl cornered by a dumpster when Brianna rounded the corner. She pulled up short, staring at the girl. She had pure-white hair. It was maybe six inches long, teased out from her head like a giant puffball. She was wearing a faded demin jacket, a short skirt, and tights. Her face and arms were white, not racial white, but brilliant white. She had one hand over her eyes and the other outstretched in front of her.

Give ’em back. I need them,” she whined at the men.

There were a half dozen young men, boys really, ringing her in. They were white, dressed in winter coats and blue jeans. The leader, a burly-looking boy with a fat face, held a pair of sunglasses out. “What, these?” he said. He dropped the glasses. He waited until the girl leaned over and reached for them, then he stepped on them.

Hey!” she protested.

We’ve warned you,” one of the other boys spat out. “How many times have we warned you? If we ever caught you away from your little gang of friends, we’d teach you a real lesson. Guess what? That day has come.”

Fuck off and leave her alone,” Amanda yelled. The boys startled and turned toward her.

What did you just say?” the fat boy asked.

You heard me,” Amanda snarled. “Leave the poor girl alone.”

The boy laughed, a crude sound. “That’s not a girl. He just wants to be a girl.”

One of them,” another boy said, waving his arms and hips in a poor imitation of a woman’s walk.

Shut up,” Jay snapped. “Why you gotta be like that, huh? What’s it to you if someone’s a little different?”

Are you one too?” the boy sneered. “Or are you just a plain ole fag?”

Jay’s eyes narrowed, and he stepped nose to nose with the boy. “Go ahead. Say that again, I dare you.”

The fat boy, who appeared to the gang’s leader, spoke again. “Come on, there are six of us and three of you. Two girls and fag. Just move on. This don’t concern you anyway.”

Three? Where had Corey gotten off too? Brianna shook it off, she didn’t have time to look and she trusted Corey could take care of himself.

Amanda got right up in his face. “I can take all six of you. If you doubt it, try me. So why don’t you move along?”

Brianna’s eyes darted back and forth, trying to take in all six boys. Who should she rush to protect, Amanda or Jay? They could both hold their own, especially against humans. Then she caught one of the boys staring at her, his eyes filled with equal parts hatred and lust. I’ll go for him, she thought, make him think twice before looking at woman like that again.

Please, I don’t want any trouble,” the girl said again. Brianna shifted her weight.

I’ll go for her, get by her side, and make sure none of them come at her. She’s the one we are here to protect.

She heard the sound of running feet. Moments later, it was loud enough for the boys to hear as well. Their eyes darted passed the three in front of them. Brianna spared a single glance behind her. Jonathan was first, as always, and booking. Corey, who had ran to get them wasn’t far behind with Tanner, Erica, and Connor hard on his heels.

Fuck, fuck, fuck,” the fat boy was saying.

Is there a problem?” Connor demanded as he came to halt at Amanda’s side.

They had this poor girl cornered,” Amanda said.

That’s not a girl, it’s a boy,” one of the boys put in, obviously thinking it would turn the tide for them.

So?” Erica snapped. “We don’t hate on anyone, except bullies. You trying to bully her?”

Yeah, being transgender is hard enough, without dipshits like you getting all up in her grill,” Tanner said.

I think you should leave,” Connor said. “And in the future, I think you should leave her the fuck alone. Okay?”

The boys bolted and ran. “Cowards!” Tanner shouted at their retreating backs.

Hey, are you okay?” Erica asked, sidling up to the girl, who had her hand over her eyes.

Yeah, thanks, I’m okay. It’s just, they broke my glasses, and it’s really bright today, you know.”

Erica ducked down and glanced under the girl’s hand. “You’re albino?”

Yeah, my eyes, they don’t got pigment. Light is hard on them. I really need sunglasses, especially days like today.”

Brianna thought a moment and then dug in her coat pocket. She came out with a pair of Ray-Bans and handed them to Erica.

Here,” Erica said, holding out the glasses.

You don’t have to. Grandma’s probably got a pair at home; I just got to get there.”

It’s okay,” Erica insisted. “Take them.”

The girl took them but didn’t put them on. “I don’t have any money on me.”

It’s okay,” Brianna said. “It’s a gift.”

These are Ray-Bans; they’re expensive.”

Don’t worry,” Erica said, “I’ll buy her a new pair. I promise. You take those.”

She will,” Brianna joked, “I’ll make her.” Tanner chuckled.

I’ll . . . I’ll pay you back, somehow, I promise.”

Erica waved a hand dismissively. “You don’t need to.”

I will,” the girl insisted.

The sound of running feet snapped everyone to attention again. A group of four Native American youths came running around the corner. There were three boys and a girl. The girl and one of the boys were tall and lean, the other two were shorter, broad and stocky. Despite the cold, they wore jeans, t-shirts, and light jackets. They pulled up short, looking at them.

Is there a problem?” the tallest of the boys demanded. He glanced at the white-haired girl. “Are you okay, Jazzy? Grandma Lightfoot called.” Brianna followed his glance to a rundown house across the street. A curtain rustled, and Brianna thought she saw an old woman’s face retreating away from the window.

No, Tyee,” Jazzy said, “it wasn’t them. It was Jason and his crew. These guys chased them off.”

Tyee looked them over uncertainly. A breeze swirled between the two groups, and everyone’s eyes went wide, scent filling each nostril.

Wolves,” Tyee and Connor said together.

Leidulf,” Connor supplied.

The injured one,” Tyee said.

My uncle,” Connor confirmed. “This is my pack.”

Tyee stared at them a moment more, then nodded. “Okay.” He stood straight, relaxing. “I’m Tyee, and this my pack.” He quickly introduced the others. Connor did the same for his pack.

Thank you for protecting my omega,” Tyee said after a short pause. “Jazzy, come on. Let’s get you home. Grandma will be worried.”

Jazzy had slid the Ray-Bans over her eyes and gave them a nod. “Thanks,” she said. She tapped the glasses and looked at Erica, “I will repay you somehow. I promise.”

Some Hunted Teasers

As we work towards getting Bear Naked 3: The Hunted out, here are a handful of teasers for fans.

The HuntedThis book was multiple points of view, for the first time in the series. The last two books have been from Amanda’s point of view. One of the struggles I had with this book was solved when I realized I needed to tell parts of it from other character’s points of view. I think the book and series is much better for the change and I will continue the next three books to have more points of view.

There are a bunch of new characters. The main events occur far from the packs home territory, amongst the Skinwalkers. The Skinwalkers are the Native American cousins to the werewolf. They have a not entirely friendly relationship with the other tribes.

There will be more revealed about Jay and his gender identity. He’s been vacillating, unsure if he’s merely a feminine boy or a transgender girl. Many, if not most, transpeople knew from a very long age. But not all, and I wanted to create a character that struggled with the decision to transition. Jay’s stubbornly developed his own character and he’s taking his own sweet time with this decision. We all wish him luck.

I will continue to post updates, teasers and tidbits about the novel now until it’s released.

If you haven’t read the first two Bear Naked books, you can get them both, for free by signing up for my newsletter now.

The Hunted: Cover Reveal

Bear Naked 3: The Hunted is in production. And now, the big moment…

My new cover:

The HuntedAmanda and the pack are back. Uncle Darren has gone missing on a camping trip to Idaho. Uncle Mitch is in a coma.

The obvious culprit would seem to be their known enemy: The Sons of Garm. However Idaho is home to the Skinwalkers, Native American cousins to the werewolves. Could they be involved?

Want update information about the release? Join The Hunted. Sign up for my newsletter today!

 

 

 

Drum Roll, Please…

I have been trying to decide what to do next on Wattpad, now that I’ve put Bear Naked up, or if Wattpad is even worth the time. I posted a survey on my website but haven’t gotten much response. Thankfully, the Saturday Writers came through with an almost uncanny synchronicity. Before I even posed the question, several members asked about a work in progress I had mentioned at a past meeting, wanting to know if it was available in print.

It will be now.

The series is about Mondamin Court. It’s a small quiet middle class block in Des Moines, Iowa. The residents are a mix of middle class and working class families. Each story in the series starts with the same location and the same characters. Each story has a different apocalyptic event that occurs. Who survives, who doesn’t, who they pull together or splinter apart, depends on how events unfold.

The first project I am releasing in the series is Home for the Holidays.

My rough draft blurb:

Zoey Scott, a nineteen year old trans woman, planned to come out to her mom over the holiday break. She did not plan for a deadly flu outbreak, a virus that kills over ninety percent of those infected. She did not plan to watch the world crumble. Can she find the strength to go on?

Holly Wheatsfield is a barista at a local coffee shop. All she wants is a quiet holiday with her partner Nicky and maybe, just maybe, for Nicky’s conservative aunt Helen to keep her mouth shut this year. Instead she’ll find herself lost, homeless, in an increasingly hostile world. Can she survive with her humanity intact?

Home for the holidays web

Home for the Holidays in the first in the Mondamin Court series, a series of stories that explore how an average group of Americans might survive in apocalyptic times.


I will be posting chapters, relatively rough, as they become available, both on my website and on this blog. I am actively encouraging readers to share and comment on the story in progress. Stay tuned for more information. When the project is completed I will work on editing and possibly publishing it.

What’s to Come in 2015

I can’t believe it’s almost 2015 already. 2014 has been a really good year. I put out four books in 2014. The Best Boy Ever Made came out in February and it’s been my best selling book so far. Bear Naked 2: Wolf Camp followed in April. Rosie and the Quarry Ghost came out in late summer and The Mage Chronicles just this month.

I’ve been transitioning from mostly writing YA to mostly writing science fiction and fantasy. In 2013 I released my first book as R. J. Eliason. In 2014 it was even, two YA novels as Rachel Eliason and two fantasy novels as R. J. Eliason. 2015 will be slanted even more towards fantasy. I have four books I plan to publish in 2015 and three of them will be under R. J. Eliason. When they come out is the three and half thousand dollar question.

Bear Naked 3: The Hunter and the Hunted

The next installment in the Bear Naked saga is almost ready to go. It’s with beta readers now and I am starting to get the feedback I need to clean up the final pieces of the story. I hope to have it to my editor by the first of the year and publish it sometime this spring.

Blurb:

When Uncle Darren goes missing on a winter camping trip, it’s up to Amanda and her gang to find him. The only problem is that where he went missing is Idaho, that’s Skinwalker territory and the Native American cousins aren’t always friendly with to Werewolves.

Children of a New Earth

This is the first novel I ever wrote. Like most first novels, it’s taken dozens of rewrites and a lot of work to make it good enough to publish. It is finally ready for the editor. It is a post apocalyptic novel with a twist.

Blurb:

Amy Beland has grown up constantly at odds with the men and the views of Freedom Ranch, a survivalist enclave buried deep in the Rocky Mountains. And yet it will fall to her to journey outside their valley for the first since the society collapsed, before she was even born, to save the ranch.

The Banner of Kash

The Banner of Kash is the next Gilded Empire book. It begins a trilogy of interconnected stories about the gnome race.

Blurb:

Kendran has been a ranger in the Border Legions for over twenty five years, ever since his brother caught him with another man. Now he’s been called back to the reservation because the same brother is in trouble. He must walk a world of divided loyalties and old race hatreds to learn the truth about an ancient relic of his people, the Banner of Kash.

The Agony, The Ecstasy and the Buddha.

A memoir about my month in Thailand, having a sex change operation. It’s been done in rough form for some time and is almost ready to for it’s final edits. I will likely publish it under Rachel Eliason.

The Three and a Half Thousand Dollar Question

When will these books be out? Well, I don’t know. Three are essentially ready for the editor. The fourth could be made ready with one hard push, maybe a few weeks.

As an indie author I pay for the editing, cover design, etc. up front. Once I’ve paid those costs, I get the lion’s share of the benefit. That’s the good part. The bad part is, I pay those cost up front. It’s not exactly cheap either. I generally estimate a little over a thousand dollars per book.

If you look at the costs individually, about half my books have broke even and are now making me money. The other books are on track to break even and I have faith they will all at least make as much money as I spent putting them out.

Collectively they earn me a small but steady side income. I am hoping that my business as a whole will break even and become profitable within the next couple years.

The challenge is that books don’t start earning money until they are out, after you’ve spent the up front cost. So the fastest way to earn money is to get the books out, but that requires having the money to put the books out.

Which brings us to the three and a half thousand dollar question. Can I find that much money? If so, should I spend it all at once and get the three nearly ready books on the market? Or should I wait and put them out as I can afford to, later in the year? I haven’t quite decided yet.

My Writing in 2015

Writing a book is a long project. I already have many of the books I will write in 2015 in the planning stages, with an eye towards what I will publish in 2016. Bear Naked is a series and book four is in planning stages. It might even be ready for fall of 2015, but I haven’t decided yet. The Banner of Kash is a trilogy and book two has been started in planning stages as well.

I have a science fiction series I want to start this year as well. It’s about first contact with the Galactic Consortium. It will be serialized in an episodic format, like a television series. The first “season” is the Girl in the Tank.

Blurb:

Leaving her children with an increasingly deadbeat husband and their sometimes dysfunctional grandmother is just one of the hardships of military service, Cheyenne Walker knows this. When conflict arises between the Consortium and China over the island of Taiwan, America is drawn in as uneasy Allies. A Chinese Nuclear Sub rises less than two hundred feet off the bow of the aging Burke Class Destroyer, the Cambridge, and Cheyenne’s duty as gunner, however painful, is clear. She must destroy the missile.

She finds herself floating in a Consortium medical tank, wondering if they really have the technology to rebuild her broken body, wondering if the political situation will stay stable enough for her to ever get back to America, or if she will see her kids again.

Stateside she is herald as a hero. On board the medical evac ship Corelean she struggles with divided loyalties and a growing attraction to her master healer, Lana. Will she return to America and the life she knew, or forge a new one among the stars?

Cover Reveal: The Mage Chronicles

It’s here! The final cover for The Mage Chronicles:

Mage Chron front cover

The Gilded Empire: A magical empire so ancient it’s name has been forgotten to the mist of time. Its citizens believe they are in their golden age, but already the rot is showing underneath the gold veneer.

The Mage Chronicles: A mage level healer, Mary is unprepared when the Council of Mages wants her to intervene in a border dispute in a distant part of the empire. What does she know of nobility or war? Not one to back down, she must confront the harsh realities of life outside the central core, a legion of unstoppable warriors and the ghosts of her own past.

Coming soon!

Check out Aidana WillowRaven’s artwork on her webpage and see all the other incredible covers she’s done. 

 

You got your peanut butter in my chocolate

For starters if you don’t get the title to this blog:

A) you just made me feel old

and

B)

 

The point is that sometimes completely unrelated things happen to go together and make something new and wonderful.

I have been plotting out a series of science fiction books about the Galactic Consortium. The Consortium arrives in space above Earth in the present day (our timeline diverges from reality at 2013). They terraformed Earth eons ago as a base for their expansion into this galaxy. They sent settlers, humans, to this planet thousands of years ago. What happened to cause us to lose this history and their technology is anyone’s guess.

The series mostly deals with the cultural and political upheavals that occur when this much older and powerful culture shows up on our doorstep. These upheavals are seen through the eyes of ordinary people whose lives are changed by the unfolding events.

Lately I have been watching a lot of documentaries on Netflix. One of the subjects that has always fascinated me is cults. So I’ve watched a number of good documentaries about people who have escaped from cults. I am particularly interested in how the children from very restricted groups adjust to life outside the confines of their practice.

And like peanut butter and chocolate, my next work in progress is starting to come together. The main character is a young transwoman. She has fled from a polygamist cult to become herself. Finding the world outside only slightly more accepting of her, she takes her chance on Shoshone Station.

Shoshone Station was a gift from the Consortium to the people of America. In geosynchronous orbit above Denver, Colorado, the station has a huge solar array, which produces an incredible amount of energy. The station is tethered to the ground via a nanotubule cable and a space elevator hauls people and goods up and down.

The station arrives with a skeleton crew of Consortium people onboard. It’s supposed to be under joint control of the Consortium and U. S. authorities. Due to diplomatic issues and mistrust, most Americans are hesitant to embrace the station and it is mostly empty as Zoey arrives.

The Consortium has sophisticated medical technology and long familiarity with transgender people. Their culture has a complex system of gender that includes a broad spectrum of gender expression for both men and women and numerous traditional groups and categories that fall outside our narrow concept of male and female. (There are seventeen basic genders. I charted them. I’ll share that in a later blog post, perhaps.) For Zoey, becoming a woman is only the first step, she must also figure out what kind of woman she wishes to be.

 

Looking for my tribe

The beauty of being an indie author is this day in age is that writing is less and less about writing what publishers or mass markets want. It’s more about finding your tribe, those readers that are hungry for the kinds of books you write.

I write two different kinds of books. I write contemporary YA with an LGBT bent and I write science fiction/fantasy books. Most publishers will tell you those two genres do not go together. I have been to enough science fiction conventions to know better. LGBT youths often find science fiction a safe place to explore themselves. Many science fiction fans are drawn to characters that stand outside the social norms, whether its sexuality, gender or some other issue.

So I am doing an experiment/promotion/exercise in finding my reading tribe. It works like this. I am going to give you an excerpt of a work in progress. One character, Devon, places two books into the streets Itty Bitty Library. If you can name both books referenced in the excerpt, do so in the comments.

The first person to correctly identify both books wins a chance to be a character in that book. Just give me a name, description and short personality bio. (p.s. It doesn’t have to be yours. You can give me a fictional name you go by in some context or a friend you want to honor.)

Excerpt:

Fourteen year old Ethan Hillcrest spied around the corner. He sighted down the block with his toy gun. “All clear,” he called back to his sisters, Rosie and Esther.

They came around the corner clutching their dolls and shooting him looks that said they didn’t see the need for a military escort at all. He ignored the look.

They went to the shade under the tree in their front yard and set down to play with their dolls. Ethan went and hid behind the trunk of the tree and continued his look out.

He scanned the far side of the street. He scanned the back of the Mondamin U. Inspecting the houses from right to left. Jack was on the corner. He was an ex cop. Occasionally he would sit on his porch and a couple times he told Ethan stories about the old days when he worked the beat.

Next to him was Justin and Danielle Smith. Justin was a cop, and one of the coolest adults Ethan had met, next to his dad. Danielle ran a daycare and Rosie and Esther loved it when they got to go play with the babies. Ethan didn’t care about no babies, but went along anyway.

To the left of the Smith’s was an older couple. Ethan couldn’t remember their names. Mom called out and greeted them whenever she saw them out on the street, which was rarely. She admonished the kids to respect their elders and Ethan did, he always spoke politely to them and laughed at the man’s joke, even though they weren’t funny.

This was the good side of the street. That was friendly territory.

Next door to them was the lesbian couple. Neither Mom or Dad liked them much. They muttered about sin and worried that their influence might lead Ethan or his sisters into sin. Ethan knew there were a couple girls at school who identified as lesbians. He wasn’t sure what the big deal was.

Kitty corner across from the lesbian’s was Lydia Scott, public enemy number one. She ran a yoga studio down on University. Yoga, his mom said, was an evil foreign cult. Ethan had been told that it was a form of exercise, in fact they had done it in P.E. At school. He didn’t tell his mom that. She had already threatened to pull him out of public school and homeschool him more than once. He didn’t want to leave his friends, so he kept his mouth shut.

He spied a redhead coming out of Lydia’s house. There was Mondamin’s newest public enemy.

Ethan remembered Devon vaguely. The adult’s had always said stuff, usually in a whisper, about the boy. But Ethan had kind of liked him. Not that they had much in common, being more than six years apart. What Ethan recalled was that Devon was nice to kids and took the time to include them in his games if possible. Few high school kids did that with elementary or junior high kids.

But this was too much. Devon was wearing a yellow tights, a red skirt and a yellow, women’s top.

“I don’t know how she can put up with this,” Mom had muttered at his father after she came home from the meeting last night. “The shame of it.”

“If I had ever worn women’s clothes,” his father had said, “my dad would have beat me within an inch of my life. Same goes for Ethan.”

Ethan had started, as he eavesdropped from his bedroom, but of course they didn’t know he was listening. Besides, he’d never had any inclination to try on women’s clothes either.

Ethan continued to spy on Devon, slowly pulling back to keep the tree between him and his subject. Devon had two books in his hands and he stopped in front of an oversized mailbox.

It was the itty bitty library they had built three years ago. It had been a school project for Devon. It was a miniature doll house with plexiglass walls on one side. Inside was one shelf with a dozen books or so. Neighbors were encouraged to borrow books for free, and to place new books in if they felt like it.

Mom hadn’t approved. There was no telling what sort of books someone might put in there. Nobody was monitoring the quality or morality of the selection. That might be okay for adults, but there were kids on the block.

It was one of the few times she found herself in the minority. The smith’s valued education, or so they said, and requested the library be built on their property even. Jack, Mr. Rick from the down the street, they all supported the project.

It was the other thing that Ethan liked about Devon. Mom wanted to check and monitor every piece of reading material that came in their house, make sure it taught proper Christian values. That was okay for Rosie and Esther, but he was fourteen, almost an adult. Surely he could decide what to read for himself.

Justin and Danielle read thrillers and when they were done, they went in the box. Jack had once left a survivalist manual in the box, that book was now hidden in the playhouse out back, one of Ethan’s prize possession.

Devon was all about science fiction and fantasy. Ethan had to credit Devon and the itty bitty library for most of the cultural knowledge he had. He would swipe books out of the itty bitty library and stash them in the playhouse. While all the other kids got to watch the latest movies or play the latest video games, Ethan would read the book.

Devon stopped at the itty bitty library and opened the door. He put the two books he was carrying inside and then stared at the shelves thoughtfully for a few minutes. He closed the door without taking anything and headed back towards his house.

Ethan pressed his back against the tree trunk. “Drop has been made, repeat, drop has been made,” he muttered into his shoulder, as though talking into a radio. He glanced at their front window. Mom was nowhere to be seen. He glanced down the street again. Devon was already on the porch, heading back inside.

Ethan stuck the toy gun down the front of his jeans and crossed the street. He opened the door of the itty bitty library and inspected the new books. He knew the contents well enough to not waste time on the others.

The first had a woman with a butterfly on the shoulder on the cover. He read enough of the back cover to realize it had to do with a boy who wanted to be a girl and he shoved it back in. He wiped his hands on his jeans quickly, fearing he might catch whatever it was that made Devon act the way he did.

The second book was a goldmine, Ethan could tell it at a glance. It had a woman on the cover too, but she was wearing goggles, a sure sign of something steampunk. No one at school even knew what steampunk was but Devon and, by osmosis, Ethan, were obsessed with it. Reading the back cover, this novel was not only steampunk, it had zombies.

A cop car pulled up and Ethan started. It’s a free library, that’s the point, he reminded himself. Besides it was only Justin coming home from work.

He turned the cover towards his chest and wrapped his arms around the book. He didn’t know if Justin talked to his parent’s about what they saw, but he didn’t want this title even getting back home.

“Guarding the neighborhood are we?” Justin joked with a nod towards Ethan’s waist.

Ethan looked down and the toy gun and blushed. He didn’t want to be caught playing. He was too old for that. But what else could he do? His mom ordered him to stay outside and watch his sisters. “Sir, yes, sir,” he said.