One writer friend says if he can’t sell a story, he posts it on his blog. Another writer, the amazing Deborah Walker, doesn’t give her stories away at all, because she resells story after story, with links on her blog about where to find the latest edition. I’m leaning to an in-between position.
My “Writings” page lists where to find my published short stories, but some of them are out of print, and/or I’ve run out of new venues for them. That’s the case with “Gift Cards of an Ex-Goddess,” a personal favorite. (Although asking a writer to list her favorites from her own stories is like asking a parent to list her favorite children!) “Gift Cards” was originally published in Carol Hightshoe’s Mystic Signals 6 magazine, which featured stories from her ezines, The Lorelei Signal and Sorcerous Signals. However, “Gift Cards” was a magazine exclusive, only available in the print version. Amazon reports only one paperback issue, but nothing available in the original, beautifully-illustrated magazine format.
An audio version from September 2013 is available at Cast of Wonders. I highly recommend the audio version, but for those who like to see what they’re reading, I’m posting the story, for free, right here.
GIFT CARDS OF AN EX-GODDESS
When the child in Mrs. Chaudray’s womb turned a somersault, Mala knew her time as an avatar running out.
“So, do you think this will be the one?” Mrs. Chaudray asked, turning from side to side to catch a glimpse of her reflection in the silver votive images, “do you think this will be the one?”
She had come to the temple to consult the avatar, as had dozens of other pregnant women and mothers of young daughters. Everybody could see Mala becoming more nubile daily, and by the custom older than the memory of anyone on the holy mountain, the goddess must soon seek a younger maiden to inhabit. So the women lined up at the temple doors, each asking if her baby would be the new avatar, the girl who, instead of being a burden to her family, would be supported by the temple until ready to marry in her turn.
Some avatars might take this rush to name their successor the wrong way, Mala thought, contemplating Mrs. Chaudray’s glowing face. It wasn’t like people were rushing her into her grave. Just out of the only life she could remember. Despite all the hopeful women she’d seen lately, no other of their flaunting bellies sent a chill run down her back like this one did. No others had given her a queasy feeling in her own belly.
That night Mala stripped the temple of its treasures.
By the light of the temple’s butter-filled lamps, painted eyes of gods and demons watched her survey the offerings accumulated in the thirteen years of her tenure. Or was it fourteen? Maybe she’d ask the guardian how long she’d been her. The guardian was good with numbers.
They’ll miss me when I’m gone, she thought. I dare the next avatar to do this good.
Into her open suitcase, the shabby one her unknown parents brought with her when she entered the temple as a baby, she tossed a necklace of gold so pure she could scratch it with her fingernail-–a present from a grateful starlet for landing her career-making role. Followed by a wad of dinar notes, a handful of gift cards. . .
Gift cards for answered prayers? She’d hardly noticed before, but the rectangles of gaudy plastic were everywhere. She added them to her suitcase.
At the top of the temple’s staircase, a skeletal figure materialized from the shadows and descended toward the young girl. Step by step, it crept nearer. One of its toes caught on a loose tread and tore free, clattering down the last steps to the temple floor. The skeleton cowered against the wall in the darkness as Mala looked around.
“Goddess,” she whispered, “I’m jumpy tonight.”
Seeing no one, she wadded a stick of gum into her mouth and resumed her task.
The skeleton slunk out of hiding again. It stepped closer. It was near enough to the girl now for its breath-—if it had had any--to set the gilded ornaments in her hair trembling.
The lamps flickered, filling the skeleton’s hollow eye sockets with reflected flame. One step more. It laid a hand on the young girl’s shoulder.
“What do you think you’re doing, goddess?” it asked.
The girl turned and popped her gum in the skeleton’s face. “Don’t call me ‘goddess’ anymore. The name’s Miss Pretty Devine from here on.”
The skeleton pouted as much as an undead being could. “I knew I shouldn’t have let you download those trashy films. I never used to worry about goddesses shopping on-line.”
“Better luck with the next one.” Mala tossed a jeweled Rolex after the gift cards. “And what am I doing? Clearing out while I can. Before I lose my divinity. Not that it’s any of your business.”
“It is my business.” The skeleton drew itself to full height--half a head shorter than the girl. “I’m the guardian--”
“I know, I know,” Mala said. “Placed under a curse eons ago.”
“Two hundred and fifty-seven years ago,” the skeleton muttered.
“. . . to protect the temple against thieves,” the skeleton finished, gritting its teeth.
“Protect away. It’s not theft to take my own stuff. People gave this to me.” She pulled out a brooch set with pink diamonds. “See this? The king’s daughter-in-law gave it to me after she had twins. Both boys. You don’t think that took some doing?”
“By you or the princess?” The skeleton’s thumb and forefinger clicked around the diamond.
“Naughty, naughty,” Mala said.
The skeleton dropped the diamond with a yelp as its finger bones burst into flame.A stench of scorched bone mixed with the temple scents of burning butter and incense.
“As long as I’m divine, this all belongs to me,” Mala said while the skeleton beat out the flames of its burning fingers against its breastbone.