One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. This year I’m taking part in the competition with my own team. You can keep updated on our progress and all of our content on my SPFBO 5 page!
Tales from the Asylum is a new feature I came up with for SPFBO. I wanted to create a unique opportunity for the authors to show off their story telling skills by taking their characters and putting them in an asylum room to see how they would deal with the situation. A lot can happen in a closed space…
A child of two cultures, this hapa haole Hawaiian girl is currently landlocked in the Midwest. After exploring the world for a chunk of years, she hunkered down in Minnesota and now fills her days with family, fiction, and the occasional snowstorm. With a house full of lovable toddlers, a three-legged cat, and one handsome Dutchman, she prowls the keyboard late at night while the minions sleep. Coffee? Nah, she prefers tea with a generous spoonful of sarcasm.
The first thing Leonel noticed upon entering the asylum was music. It wasn’t the same as the hum of the sea currents in the Fathoms where he was born, but then, he hadn’t expected that from the world of landwellers.
The flood of song emanated from boxes affixed to the high ceiling, the invisible instruments creating a collision of sound that made the air itself seem to vibrate. So different than the gentle strings plucked in court where the gods of Aegirheim dwelled, yet there was an honesty to it that beckoned him. He could almost sense an invitation from the earnest voices riding the percussive beat, a welcome the sea-gods had never extended a mortal merman like him.
Surprising, really. When the dolphins relayed the summons to this place, he’d assumed they exaggerated its appeal, which they typically did in their playful way. A place of recuperation, they’d called it. A nice, cozy asylum separate from the realm of tales. Enticing, for a certainty.
Why not spend some time here, he thought to himself. A few days of furlough from his duties as the Fathoms’ guardian might help him to clear his mind. Perhaps the answer to what was causing the deadly storms ripping through his waters would come to him with some rest. Just a couple of days. He couldn’t walk on land longer than that anyway.
With a sense of adventure, he strode farther onto this new shore—this RockStarlit BookAsylum—but didn’t get much past the entryway before someone intercepted him. “Are you on the list?” a human dressed all in white asked, eyes cast down at a parchment he held in his hands.
“I was invited, yes,” Leonel answered.
Beneath one of the man’s shoulders was some kind of label sewn into the garment.
What might that mean? Leonel had been taught to speak the landweller tongue, but he had no understanding of their written symbols.
“Name?” came the request again.
“Leonel,” he said. “I was invited by—”
“Here’s your pass,” the man handed him a square card without looking up and checked something off on his parchment.
“To your ward and your room. Lunch is at 2:00 pm. Garden time from 3:00 to 4:00. Don’t go in the other wards. Some are rowdier than others.”
Leonel glanced down at his card. Painted a cheerful yellow, he noted the depiction of a sun beneath other words, and what he thought he recognized as the number one. His room number perhaps.
One. Ironic, really, given he was the last of his kind.
“Which way leads to my cove?” he asked. The man gestured vaguely behind him. “Follow the signs.”
“I am unfamiliar with—”
“Follow the signs.” The door sounded as someone entered from outside. “Are you on the list?”
Leonel issued a string of irritated clicks in his throat and moved off down the nearest hall.
It became immediately apparent this wasn’t the right place. Bizarre creatures moved through it, human but not. Some had pointed ears and flowing robes and a strange ethereal grace. Others had short, stocky builds. They hefted axes over their shoulders and wore beards that nearly reached the floor. Leonel spotted a symbol on the wall—a sword and shield—confirming what he already deduced. He ventured down an adjacent hall.
This area was even stranger than the last. Winged humans conversed with each other. Some had feathers as pale as the moon while others had horns sprouting from their brows, dark sinew for wings on their backs. Leather-clad men and maids walked past bearing crosses and stakes. A shout went up when a bat flew past above their heads, and the entire troop sprinted after it.
Leonel lifted a palm to call his trident to his hand. This area clearly wasn’t his, but if a threat had come, he would offer assistance.
“Be at ease,” a velvet murmur came beside him. “The children of the night harm no one here, but we do enjoy a bit of teasing while on holiday.”
Leonel kept his surprise from showing but didn’t lower his hand. Though he was sired by a mere merman, Leonel had been born of the goddess Ran, Lady of the Depths and Storm Matron of the glass-green sea. Rare was the creature who could draw so close without him noticing. He glanced at the other sidelong. A young man watched him with eyes like dark jewels and a gaze as ancient as any ocean god.
“Are you lost, sweet one?” His lips quirked upward, revealing a pair of daggered canines. He swept a long-fingered hand toward the corridor across the hall. “You need only traverse that passageway to reach the entrance you seek.”
“My thanks,” he answered carefully.
Leonel shifted to face him fully, moving toward the indicated hall without turning his back. Instinct told him not to meet the other’s eye. He hadn’t survived the vicious caprice of his nine half-sisters, the billow maidens of the Fathoms, without learning how to recognize a predator when he saw one.
When he was far enough to be certain the other did not follow, Leonel inspected this new area. And sighed. A rough carving of a skull had been gouged into the stone floor. He hadn’t expected it would be the right place, but he grew frustrated with this wandering. Landweller weaponry lined the walls, interspersed with a few torches that somehow did nothing to lift the long, heavy shadows.
A young woman walking from the opposite direction, garbed in leathers and bristling with knives, sent him a warning glower as she neared.
He didn’t care. Enough of this.
Leonel stepped into her path. “I would ask your assistance—”
A dagger flew from her fingers. He twisted away just in time, but she rushed in close, a blade in each hand. He lunged backward as one sliced the air by his throat. The other nicked his ribs before he could avoid it. Now he was annoyed.
He clamped a hand on her wrist before she could retract it. Her knee came up but he deflected it with his thigh and managed to clasp her other arm before she stabbed again. She struggled, slippery as an eel. He wouldn’t hold her for long like this but he didn’t wish to hurt her. Leonel issued a sharp series of whistles and clicks that made her wince, then he turned her about and gave her a sturdy shove.
“I mean no harm,” he told her, brusque. “I ask for assistance only.”
She’d already whirled to face him, gripping another a pair of knives, but she didn’t attack. Progress, at last.
“My help with what?” she demanded.
“I’m trying to locate my cove.”
“Your cove?” she repeated. Understanding filled her eyes and she straightened with an impatient exhale. “You’re a new arrival?”
“Let me see your card.” She sheathed her blades and stepped forward to snatch it from his hand without waiting. Her mouth twisted in a half-smile when she looked. Leonel couldn’t determine if it was friendly or mocking.
“You’re in the wrong ward all right,” she said and pinched his cheek. Definitely mocking. “This grim place is not where you belong.”
“I was directed this way by another.”
“I’ll bet you were. Let me guess, in your world you’re a protector of some kind?”
“I am the guardian of the Fathoms.”
“Of course, you are.” If possible, her smirk turned even more disdainful. Her gaze flipped up and down his lean form. “Honorable, but tragic, are you? Troubled past. Distrusting, but longing for acceptance?”
Leonel retrieved his card, barely staving off the glare drawing over his face. “You do not know me.”
“The scar over your mouth is interesting.” She cocked her head. “Usually, the heroes have one over their eyebrow or by their cheek, but yours is where villains typically have them. Which are you, villain or hero?”
“I could ask the same of you.”
“Oh honey,” she laughed. “In my ward, we’re all villains in our way.” She gestured in the direction she’d come. “Take a left at the end of this hall and you’ll find your spot.”
Surprised by her sudden willingness to help, he asked, “Why did you attack? I understood this place to be one of respite, not danger.”
She grinned. “Some of us find danger more relaxing than harmony. Mind you don’t get in anyone’s way again around here. Most aren’t as sweet-natured as I am.”
Twirling a blade between her fingers, she offered him a saccharine smile and moved on as if she hadn’t just tried to kill him. Strange creature.
The shadows dispersed when he followed her instructions to the new hall. It was brighter here, a bank of windows along one wall that looked out on the garden he’d been told about. With relief, he spotted the sun depicted on his card carved into several stone pillars he passed. Even without them, he could feel this was the right place. Inhabitants here watched him curiously, offering a nod when he met their gazes. Wary yet friendly.
“Are you all right?” a tall human asked, separating himself from the group with whom he’d been chatting. He gestured to Leonel’s side. “Looks like you ran into some trouble.”
A line of blood trickled from the shallow cut at his ribs, darkening a spot on the waistband of his breeches.
“A misunderstanding,” Leonel said.
The man glanced behind him at the corridor he’d exited and gave a tight smile. “Yes, those happen frequently in that area. Most have noble intentions here. Did you come alone?”
Such a simple question, yet he stumbled over it. Alone? Yes, he was always alone.
When Leonel nodded, the other man clapped him on the shoulder. “This asylum’s a fun place, you’ll enjoy it here. It’s almost garden time for our ward if you’d like to share your story.”
“My story?” he echoed. “Of course. We are all of us a story, pages turning on our misery and our joy. Bright or dark, that’s what makes the journey worthwhile.”
Leonel smiled. “Yes, I will join you.”
“Are you staying long?” Now that he’d finally arrived, Leonel realized he might have liked a longer stay, but he could not. Sinister storms plagued his waters and he had to solve the mystery of them before the sea creatures under his protection were further harmed. He might be dismissed and derided by the sea-gods, but he’d sworn an oath to the guard the Fathoms. His honor was his own and he would not fail in this task.
“Only a day or two,” he said. “The sea will call me home soon enough.”
If you’d like to get in touch, you can find Anela Deen on social media:
Anela Deen entered Beneath Cruel Fathoms, the first book of The Bitter Sea trilogy into SPFBO, which you can check out by clicking on the cover which will lead you to its Amazon page:
You can keep updated on our progress and all of our content on my SPFBO 5 page!