Gracie wasn’t anything like the kids I usually deal with. Most kids that get dropped in my lap are seeking foster homes for terrible reasons. Abusive parents, drug addict parents, dead parents. The kids come in shell shocked and broken. Some are screaming obscenities and ready for a fight over anything. Some can’t string two words together they’re so worked up. The worst just sit quietly and accept wherever I send them, as though nothing’s going to ever be good again so it couldn’t possibly matter. Those are the kids that really worry me.

Gracie was different. For one thing, she wasn’t taken from or abandoned by her parents. She just appeared in our waiting room one day, in a neat pink dress with a nice brown coat and matching suitcase.

Candace, our secretary, said that she’d walked right in all by her lonesome and sat herself down.

“Are you looking for someone, Sweetie?” Candace asked.

“No, Ma’am,” Gracie said.

“Where are your parents?” By this time, a few of us caseworkers had come out of our offices to see what was going on.

Gracie just looked at all of us, with those big hazel eyes of hers, and said, “They had to go away for awhile.”

Well, what other place did a child have to go when her parents went away but the foster care office?

There was a lot of calling back and forth to the police in all the surrounding areas, checking to see if anybody was missing a young female with brown hair and hazel eyes. All she could tell us was that her name was Gracie. She didn’t know her address, her parent’s names, what school she might go to, or if she had any relations who might be looking for her.

While we were all trying to find information on her, Gracie sat on her chair as though content to wait. We all prayed she wasn’t allergic to anything when we fed her some lunch.

Finally, after it had been established that no one in the tri state area was missing her, I called an emergency foster family, the Clarks.

Mr and Mrs showed up right away. Mrs. Clark was a big woman, and she gave Gracie a big hug right off the bat, and said, “You’ve had some day, haven’t you?”

“You can come stay with us until your mom and dad come back, okay?” Mr. Clark asked. He was an older gentleman, graying on top like his wife. They were old hands at the whole foster parent thing.

Gracie left with them, holding her suitcase in one hand and Mrs. Clark with the other. I, as the caseworker assigned to this mess, thought that all I had to do at that point was locate her parents.

After two days of fruitless searching, though, Mrs. Clark was back with Gracie walking calmly behind her. Mrs. Clark was not so calm.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot keep this child in my house for another minute!” she cried.
“What happened?” I asked, sending Gracie into the waiting room and getting Mrs. Clark into a chair.
“There’s something wrong with her!” she cried. “Yesterday, Todd took her out on his boat and he fell out! Nearly drowned.”
“Wait, so he almost drowned right in front of her?” I asked.
“Yes!” Mrs. Clark said. “And she just sat in the boat, the whole time. Didn’t say a word, during or after.”
“The poor thing was probably in shock,” I said.
“I think she’s a little demon. I haven’t had a full night sleep since she moved in,” Mrs. Clark said.
“What’s she doing that’s keeping you from sleeping?” I asked.
Mrs. Clark stopped, and was silent a moment. “She whispers things,” she said.
“She what?” I asked.
“Never mind. I won’t have her back in my house,” Mrs. Clark snapped, and stormed out of my office before I could say another word. I jotted myself a note to move the Clark’s off of my good foster family list, and went to talk to Gracie.

She’d sat herself down in the same chair as before looking around the room as if nothing was wrong. I sat next to her, and said, “How you feeling, Gracie?”
“Okay,” she said. She opened her suitcase and took out a cloth covered sketchbook.
“You want to talk about what happened with Mr. Clark? It must have been scary.”
“Not really,” Gracie said. “I had a life vest on.”

Being a caseworker and not a therapist, I had no idea what to say to that.
I called Mrs. Flemming. She and her husband were new foster parents, and I hadn’t seen much of them yet. But she came into the office all energy and color with a bright red coat and curly blond hair that was all over the place.
“Oh, aren’t you just a doll!” Mrs. Flemming cried upon seeing Gracie. “Do you want to come stay at my place for a few days?”
“Yes, thank you,” Gracie said. She seemed quite calm, taking Mrs. Flemming’s hand and leaving with her. They looked picture perfect leaving the office.

With Gracie out of the office, I returned to my search for her parents.

Someone had the news on in the background. While I called police offices, hospitals and mortuaries, Candace and some of the others were crowding around. I looked up while on hold. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“There was a shooting in Ohio,” Candace said, her eyes wide.
“Just like that one in Colorado a few days ago,” said Jim, one of the other caseworkers.

“People thing it might be the same group.”
Had there been a shooting? I hadn’t noticed, being so wrapped up in the mystery of Gracie. “When was that?” I asked.
“On the ninth,” Candace said, looking back at the tv.
I thought back. The ninth was the same day Gracie had wandered into the office.
I decided it was time to widen my search.

Two days later, I’d managed to do nothing more than mildly annoy a few police offices in Colorado who where quite busy enough without trying to track down missing parents. As I searched for a rock I hadn’t looked under yet, Candace knocked on my office door.
“Mr. Flemming is here, and he’s got Gracie with him,” she said.
No one ever comes into the office with their foster kid to tell us what a delight they’ve been. So it was with dark expectations that I admitted Mr. Flemming into my office.
The man was young, and as bright as his wife. Or, at least he seemed like he must be on a good day. This was not a good day for him. He was unshaven, his shirt had a coffee stain on the front and he looked like he hadn’t slept the night before.
“I’m really sorry to barge in on you like this,” he said.
“Don’t worry about it,” I replied. “What’s on your mind?”
“Monica’s had, well, an accident,” he said. “She was in the attic, getting down this big doll house. We’ve got a ladder going up there, and on the way down she fell. The dollhouse landed on her.”
“Is she okay?” I asked.
“She’s still in the hospital,” Mr. Flemming said. He sat on the chair in front of me, wringing his hands. “It’s just, it’s so weird, you know? She was telling me before that she was having these nightmares about falling, or hurting herself. Actually, I have too. Ever since, well ever since Gracie came to stay with us.”
Before I could say anything he tossed his hands in the air and said, “I know! I know, it’s not like she’s doing anything. She’s been so polite, so well behaved. It’s just that, Monica was really the one who wanted to do this. Now, she’s in the hospital, and I can’t take care of a little girl and her at the same time.”
“Alright, I understand,” I sighed.
Mr. Flemming almost ran out of the office, leaving Gracie in the waiting room again.
I took a deep breath before going out to sit with her. She was drawing in her book when I joined her. It must have been cold outside, because even sitting next to her made me feel cold.
“You okay, Gracie?” I asked.
“Sure,” she replied. “Mrs. Flemming fell, not me.”
“That’s true but it’s no fun seeing someone get hurt.”
She shrugged. “Do I have to go somewhere else now?” she asked.
“Just until your mom or dad show up,” I said. She was taking all of this too well. I was sure she was going to explode sooner or later.

The next available family was the Marshalls. I figured they’d be a solid bet. They’d adopted a little boy last year who’s mom had overdosed. Mrs and Mr showed up with little Ralph in arm.
Ralph was one of my favorite happy ending babies. He was a little over two years, and recovering well from the addictions he’d been born with. The Marshalls were doing a great job with him.
Gracie gave Ralph an apprehensive look as Mr. Marshall knelt down in front of her. “I hear you’ve had a string of bad luck, girl,” he said.
“I guess so,” Gracie replied, holding her suitcase with both hands.
“Well, don’t worry,” he said, holding his hand out for her to shake. “We’re gonna look after you now, and I have very good luck. Would you like me to carry your suitcase to the car?”
“No, thank you,” Gracie said, but she followed them out of the office without complaint.

It had been days, and I was running out of places to look for Gracie’s lost parents. Worse, my in box was getting full. Gracie was sad, but there were a lot of sad kids. I added her name to all of the missing children lists I could find, and got back to work.
In the first hour, I dealt with one infant being surrendered, a boy who’d gotten into some legal trouble that was too much for his parents to deal with, and another who’s mom was drinking too much.
The next few weeks went by in a flurry of catch up work. I was only vaguely aware of the rest of the world. I’d even forgotten all about Gracie, in fact, until Mr. Mitchell showed up in my office first thing in the morning with Gracie in tow. “How can I help you?” I asked.
“You ought to tell people, if you’re going to place a child with behavioral issues with them,” Mr. Mitchell said. He looked furious. “You put my family in danger, I deserved to know!”
“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” I asked. “Because Gracie hasn’t exhibited any dangerous behavior. We would have told you.”
“She burned Ralph’s hand on the stove!” he cried. “The kids were playing in the living room, and Sammy took a load of cloths down to the basement. While she was down there she heard Ralphie screaming. She came upstairs and he was sitting on the kitchen floor, with the burner on and his hand all burned!”
“Where was Gracie?” I asked, crossing my hands on my desk.
“She was still in the living room, drawing in her book like nothing was going on!”
“So at what point is this story going to explain to me how Gracie burned Ralph’s hand?” I asked.
“She made him do it. He’d never gone anywhere near that stove before. She whispered in his ear, just like she’s been doing since she got there!”
“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.
“I just, never mind,” Mr. Mitchell said. “We’re not keeping her. I’ve got to meet Sammy and Ralph at the hospital, excuse me.”
He stormed out, not even looking at Gracie as he passed.
I cursed under my breath as I started into the waiting room. Before I reached Gracie, though, Candace said, “Turn up the tv,” in a hushed voice.

I looked toward the television mounted on the wall. There was a hospital, I wasn’t sure which one. But people in black were running through it with guns.
“Turn that off,” I said, “there’s a kid in here.” No one seemed to want to listen to me, though. Not knowing what else to do, I took Gracie into my office, and shut the door. As I led her into the room, I was struck again by how cold she felt.
“Well, it’s kind of a crazy day, isn’t it?” I asked her.
“I guess so,” she said.
I tried to call a couple of foster families on my list, but no one was picking up. Gracie sat in the chair in my office, drawing. She hummed a bit, but I didn’t recognize the song.

Finally, I left her in my office for a moment to go see what was going on.
Candace was crying at her desk. She looked up when she heard me. “There were shootings all over the world,” she whispered. “Pittsburgh, DC, London, Tokyo. They got hospitals and schools. They’re saying on the tv that it’s all the same group.”
Another caseworker standing next to her desk said, “They could be anywhere.”
Well, that explained why I couldn’t get anyone on the phone.
I made Candace turn the tv off. We rounded up the caseworkers and kids in the building, and got everyone in the waiting room. We pulled out board games and used the coffee pot to brew hot chocolate. With the kids distracted, we discussed what we were supposed to do with them. It wasn’t ideal, but with no foster families available, we decided it was best to put them up at our homes for the night. Gracie would come with me.

She walked with me to my car, carrying her suitcase. “Is that heavy?” I asked her, “I can take it for you, if you want.”
“No thank you, I can manage,” she said. We climbed into the car, and I turned on the heat. I wasn’t sure whether it was the cool air or the news that made me so cold.
Gracie was the perfect house guest. Her manners at the hastily unburdened dinner table were lovely and she was content to watch cartoon movies. I didn’t dare turn on cable, for fear of stumbling across news footage of the shootings.
After she was all washed up and put to bed on the pull out, I went off to my room in the hope of getting some more work done before bed. I left the door cracked so that I could keep an eye on her.
The night was quiet. I guess my neighbors were too upset by the day to be making much noise. The only sound I heard was the scratching of my pen on paper.

The whispering started low, I was aware of it before I really heard it. Not for a second did I think it was coming from my neighbors. I stood up, trying to think it what could be making that dark, scraping noise. Then I heard my living room window open.
I ran into the room in time to see a thick, dark shadow slither through the crack. It darted towards the pullout where Gracie was sleeping.
I got there first, and scooped her up into my arms. Just then another shadow slipped into the room. Images were whirling in my mind. I was sure that the best thing to do would be to leap out of the window, or turn on the burner in the kitchen. Or, maybe just take a butcher knife and go visiting.

Gracie woke up in my arms. She was freezing, and it was little wonder. The room was so cold that ice was forming on the window, cracking the glass. I held her close, trying to think of a way to save her, trying not to hurt myself, just trying to breath.
“Mommy, Daddy!” she cried. She squirmed from my arms, stronger than any human child, and ran to the shadows. As she ran, they changed. Suddenly they looked not like shadows, but like a man and a woman, both well dressed and tall. Even like this, I couldn’t imagine they’d ever pass for human.
“Gracie!” they cried, bending down to pick her up. Their voices were like razor blades in my skin, I could feel blood dripping from my ears.
“Are you all done now?” she asked.
“For now,” the female one said.
The male looked down at me, and said, “Thank you for looking after her. She’s out little good luck charm.”
I wanted to weep at the sight of his eyes. I wanted to scream, pull my skin off, stab myself in the eye.
Just like that, though, they were gone. The last thing I heard was Gracie, her voice taking on the grating, scraping tone of her kind, calling, “Goodbye!”

If you liked this, don’t forget to check out Days and Other Stories, available on Amazon, Istore, and Gumroad.

Markets, Something in The Machine

Don’t forget to sign up for Thirty Days, Thirty Ideas!  All the cool kids are doing it, you know.  Click here to sign up!

Augh, so this one is kind of late, as the deadline is creeping up on us here.  If it makes you feel better, I’m in the middle of writing my story, and might get it done today, I’m not sure.  But here it is, this week’s market, called Something in The Machine.

It’s an anthology that is going to center on horror and fright from the machines that our lives depend upon to an increasing extent every day.  Here’s the catch, though.  Your story needs to not come off as anti technology, or anti progress.  While the horror should come from the machine, it shouldn’t be demonizing technology.  As a techno freak, I approve.  Two thumbs up and all.

Genre- Horror
Word Count- Under 10,000
Sub Date- July 31 (I told you it was soon.)
Wait Time- Not specified.
Payout- $5.00
Rights- First publication rights and exclusivity for six months.

Here’s your link to full submission details.  Good luck.

Also, here’s a story prompt for your weekend pleasure.  Or to get you started on your story here.  What’s your favorite bit of technology?  How could it kill you?  I went with a tablet, myself.  I’m pretty sure at this point I need it to breath.

Market, Witches, Warlocks, Demons, and other Evil Doers

Have you signed up yet for the Thirty Days, Thirty Ideas Challenge?  Don’t worry, you’ve got all month to do it.  Here’s a link to sign up.

This market is probably my favorite one this month, because I get to write about a bad guy!  In fact, you have to.  This anthology is all about writing a story from the point of view of an evil, dark character.  Whether your evil protagonist wins or not is up to you.  Mine probably will.

Genre- Horror.

Word Count- 4,000 to 8,000

Submission Date- September 1

Wait Time- Two to three months after deadline

Payout- $25.00

Rights- Not specified

Here is your link to the full submission guidelines.  Let me know if you have any success with this or any other market, and I’ll include you in the monthly brag board, complete with a link to your site if you’ve got one.

Market, Grave Markers

Five more days until the exciting announcement.

This isn’t an anthology or a short story collection. It’s something different, and I think really cool. Have you ever written an in between story, lengthwise? I mean a story that was too long to be short fiction, but not long enough to be a novella? I have, and it’s irritating. I can’t cut it down or I risk losing important parts of the story. I can’t add anything to it without making it feel… puffy.

Well, if you write horror, Grave Markers are the answer to this. Fair warning, the publisher has said they only intend to take up to six a year. But this is totally worth it.

Genre- Horror
Word Count- 10,000 to 20,000
Sub Date- Any time
Wait Time- Standard, about two months
Payout- Not listed

As always, here is a link to full submission guidelines. Let me know if you have luck with this or any other market so that I can include you in the monthly brag board.

Market, Monster Waiting in the Woods

Okay, one more horror anthology, then I’ll give it a rest, I swear.
This one is called Monster Waiting in the Woods. This, boys and girls, is for grownups only. They want dark, atmospheric stories for adults. No happy endings required.

Genre- Horror
Due date- September 1
Payout- $25.00
Wait Time- A decision will be announced November 2.
Word Count- 2,000 to 8,000
Rights-1 year exclusive rights, but if you contact them, they will consider letting you reprint it elsewhere.

Full submission guidelines can be found here.

Any luck with this or any other markets? Let me know, and I’ll post it on the monthly brag board, on the last day of the month.

Markets, Imaginate

Hello, hello, and welcome to the very first market of June. I have high hopes for this month, with four of my short stories out right now. I hope yours are just as high. With that in mind, I’ve got a two for one market today, with Imaginate.

Every quarter, Imaginate runs two contests, one for short fiction and one for flash fiction. They give you an image, and you come up with a story based on that image.

Short fiction contest/Flash Fiction
Genre– Open/ Open
Word Count– 2500 words/ 100
Payout– 5 cents a word/ 5 cents a word
Wait Time– After end of contest/ After end of contest
Sub Date– July 1/ July 1
Rights– First serial/ First Serial

Here is a link to their full submission guidelines.  As always, make sure you check them before you submit!

If you have any luck with this or any other market, or just achive a great milestone this month, let me know and I’ll feature you on this months Brag Board, on June 30.

Market, Fiction Desk

This was a fun site to find.  They are all about creating awesome anthology after awesome anthology.  I plan to being part of that.  You can be too.  I am a huge fan of short fiction, I think it’s highly underrated in this generation.

Genre–  Anything.  They emphasis good characters over good writing, which I’m all for.

Word Count- 2,000 to 20,000 word.

Sub date- There is no deadline.  It’s one of their mottos.  Huge plus for someone as super organized and great with deadlines like me.

Wait time- Three months.  Now, I have to add something here.  They will move you up in the que if you pay a nominal fee.  I am not super thrilled with that.  It’s a solid company otherwise, but this I’m not thrilled.

Payout-  £15  per thousand words plus two copies.  Not everyone’s thrilled with getting paid in pounds, but I actually really like it.  It makes me feel all international, like finding out that I have some readers in Russia.  Hi, readers in Russia, I’m glad you’re here!

Rights- This is a new installment in my market listing.  It’s something I’m considering more and more now that I’m thinking of what I want to do with a story once I sell it once.  In this case, you’re selling first serial rights, which means they have the right to publish it first, but you can do what you want with it after that.

Be sure, as always, to check full submission guidelines here.  This market requires you to use their submission form, which can only be found on their website.

Any luck with this market, or any others?  Let me know, and I’ll post it on the monthly brag board, on the last day of every month.

Markets- Over My Dead Body!

No, this is not a magazine about parenting, or tired cliches.  This is a mystery magazine that takes short fiction.  It’s clever, cute, and fun.

Genre- Fiction, Mystery and thriller.  Non fiction, reviews.

Word Count- 750-4,000

Sub date- Open to submissions year round.

Wait time- Six to eight weeks.

Payout- 1 cent per word.

Now, this magazine requires a solicitation before sending full manuscripts, so don’t send them anything without doing that first.  Here are their full submission guidelines.

Did you have luck with this market or any others?  Let me know, and I’ll include you in the monthly brag board on the last day of every month!

Markets- Brittle Star

For no reason I can think of, I’ve been finding markets that don’t accept e-mail submissions recently. Sorry for the long term investment of time submissions, but sometimes it’s nice to return to our roots. Man, do I remember those days. Typing up a submission, then printing it out and praying I could get it into an envelope before formula or coffee got spilled on it. Cursing because I’d run out of ink (why is ink so expensive, anyway? I swear it would be easier to just buy a new damn printer.) Sending out submissions with the old school self addressed stamped envelopes. Waiting weeks and weeks to get a rejection letter. These days I can get rejected four times before Wednesday, and still have plenty of time for more.

Anyway, let us indulge in some nostalgia, and take a look at Brittle Star.

I’ve always had a soft spot for literary magazines. They have such an air of creativity and cutting edge art. Brittle Star is no exception.

Genre- It’s open, but this is a literary magazine, so you really don’t want to send in anything too super genre specific.
Word count- For poetry, any length, but only send four poems at a time.
For short fiction, limit 2,000 words, and you can send two at a time.
Payout- Not listed.
Wait time- Also not listed.

Make sure to check out the submission guidelines. This is an overseas magazine, so their general rules are a little different than normal. I always advise checking out the submission guidelines.

Our affiliate sponsor this week is Pen Boutique. If you haven’t checked them out yet, you should. They’re doing a ten percent off sale right now. Oh, and I might have not mentioned this before, but they have Filofax planners!

Did you have any luck with this magazine? Let me know, and I’ll put it on the monthly brag board! It goes up the last day of every month.

Markets- Just 100 Words

Want to enter a writing contest! Great, the deadline’s today. It’s okay if you don’t have anything done, though, there’s another one tomorrow. And the day after that, and the one after that too.

The contest’s called Just 100 Words. Self explanatory, you have to tell a story in only one hundred words. Any theme, any genre, dead line every day. So, what kind of story can you tell in 100 words?

Genre- Open

Word Count- One hundred. Hence the title.

Sub date- Every Day.

Wait time- Twenty four hours or less.

Payout- $50.00

Don’t forget to check out the Paper Beats World Facebook page every Monday for a new literary agent!

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