Friday, December 21, 2018

Stuck in Manistique -- Dennis Cuesta

Celestial Eyes Press
Perfect 10
ISBN: 978-1-7324-1090-9
November 2018
General Fiction

Manistique, Michigan – The Present

Mark (last name never revealed), who lives in Chicago and is a financial advisor, learns his Aunt Vivian has died and left him her estate, a Victorian house in Manistique, Michigan, a small community in the Upper Peninsula near Lake Michigan. His aunt, Dr. Vivian Peregrine, had been a humanitarian doctor who served in the world’s troubled areas for most of her life. He can only remember meeting her once and losing touch with her years ago, but couldn’t locate her. After talking to his aunt’s lawyer in Petoskey, Michigan, he travels to the UP. The problem is he has gephyrophobia or fear of bridges, and the five-mile-long Mackinac (pronounced Mack-in-awe) Bridge lies between him and Manistique. Luckily, the bridge personnel are prepared for such occasions and have assistance drivers to help people across the bridge. On his first night in his aunt’s house, which he plans to sell, a woman knocks on the door and asks for a room for the night. It seems his Aunt Vivian operated a B&B.

Dr. Emily Davis was driving north, on her way to Mackinac Island to meet her mentor, another doctor who is married, for a romantic commitment. Suffering doubts, she goes to the Upper Peninsula to catch the ferry to the island, but ultimately takes U.S. Highway 2 west and away from her temptation. Near Manistique a deer leaps into the car’s windshield, smashing it to bits. The repair will take at least one day and all the local hotels and motels are filled with an elderly group on a casino tour of the UP. One motel owner gives her the name of the Manistique Victorian, a local B&B.

Mark’s generosity to Emily soon expands to other unexpected guests. From that point unanticipated events continually take place. The newly acquainted characters share quippy talk and camaraderie, which leads to confidences laced with allusions. Trouble abounds. While the story is overall humorous in tone, serious matters underlie the content. The story revolves around personal loss, secrets revealing extraordinary truths, local mysticism, friendship, incipient romance, and family relationships. Yes, it earns a Perfect 10, but mostly for those who enjoy quirky people and crazy, surprising events, and because I learned some interesting things about my home state.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

An Excerpt from Crewkin--a holiday in unknown space

This round robin is about the spirit of the season, which everyone knows can be wonderful or painful or an odd combination of both.

This 'holiday' excerpt comes from Crewkin, a sci-fi story set in a space-time warp where a beleaguered ship, the Vagrant Spirit, meant only for short hauls, now travels. The crew knows little about what is happening or how it happened except for the engine they were hauling to reclamation, which has come online in an extraordinary way to take control of the Vagrant Spirit. The new crewman who came aboard at the start of this trip, Renna, is what the crew calls a podder or crewkin--bred, raised, and indoctrinated from birth into certain behaviors by the Markham Company to serve on long-haul spaceships that spend years in space. Renna knows she doesn't fit in with the short-haul crew and leaves them to celebrate their New Years' Eve celebration without her disturbing presence, but she is interrupted by Jake, someone the rogue engine has injured in some inexplicable way.

~ Excerpt from Crewkin ~
A subdued snick from the hatch announced someone entering. Renna quickly switched the file off where she learned of her creation for the first. She rose when Jake entered the flight deck, grabbed the container plate, allowing him to sink into the command seat. His hands grasped the wide armrest in support as he lowered himself.
“Thanks.” He spoke in breathless rasps. He looked aged, off-color with lines of exhaustion graphing his face. A week’s worth of stubble covered his face. It was strange to see him scruffy after he had been so neat. At least he is nothing like Dukan. [Her hated captain aboard her crew-kin ship.] 

“Are you here to relieve me?” She regretted the disbelief in her voice.

“No, just brought you dinner.” He grinned, panting his answer. His crooked smile disappeared when he noticed her face. “Why are you crying?”

“I’m not. Emotion on duty is forbidden.” She placed the plate on the broad flat service arm of the co-pilot’s chair, wiped her face the best she could, and amended her answer. “I am crying over what is lost and unrecoverable. I told Lock I was not hungry.”

Jake’s smile appeared weak and askew as he caught his breath. “Not true—you’re always hungry.”

“Today is Kin Day.” They were all dead. An unexpected, painful gasp broke from her throat, and Renna sobbed in an uncontrolled manner. Calmness, professionalism, duty. The harder she tried to control herself, the louder the harsh sounds grew, and the more rampant her tears fell, both deafening and blinding her. Jake rose and wrapped his arms around her. She hid her face against his chest.

“Hush, it’s okay,” he said.

She knew it was not.

“I’ve tried so hard. Now I know Markham tried to kill you, because they wanted the engine destroyed. They want me dead. Today is a crewkin traditional celebration. I have no kin left, and I don’t belong here, so maybe I should be dead. I failed you, failed the Vagrant Spirit. Even Zak named me Markham when he renamed the CS9 [the engine].”

He gave her a gentle shake, saying in an uneven breath, “Hush...Ren. I’m sorry. I have to sit down.” He sank back into the roomy chair, sliding to one side, pulling her down with him, and letting her rest against his chest.

“I’m sorry for my unprofessional display,” she said when the spasms stopped, leaving her empty and ashamed.

“Not unprofessional. Cried a few times myself lately.”

The small tinks and whirs of the flightdeck somehow soothed her along with Jake’s breathing and warmth. She took a deep calming breath.

“You belong here whether by the manipulation of Markham Company or by pure chance. Tell me what Zak said.”

She explained about the priority change, Zak giving the CS9 Vagrant Spirit status. “I understand. I am Markham, although I don’t wish to be, and I will always be Markham. Your kin believe me capable of betraying the ship, of endangering you and the Vagrant Spirit. Crewkin would have the same doubts.”

“You’re wrong. You’re part of this crew.”

“Part of the crew, yes, only temporarily. Not like Ezry, Lock, and Ship Dog, never kin, but I swear to you, I wouldn’t cause harm to the Vagrant Spirit or to anyone on her.” 

“I know, Ren. Maybe stress affects norms more than Crewkin, makes us irrational.” He patted her arm. “Don't fret. You’ve helped us in ways you don’t even know.”
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