The Gears of Strange Machine (Ten Cent Tales) – A Review

gears.polished front

Book: The Gears of Strange Machine (Ten Cent Tales ~ Vol. 2)

Author: Marshall J. Stephens

Available: $.99 Kindle Version or $4.99 Paperback on Amazon

Ten cents a story, and a penny off if you buy all ten, is a bargain especially for these delightfully twisted and ingenious tales.  Each is unique so much so that my job as reviewer is made more difficult because I don’t know how to summarize this collection beyond saying that it is eclectic, intriguing and you should buy it right now.   Go on do it!

Not convinced yet, ok.  Let me try again.

Most of the stories in the collection are brief but leave the reader totally satisfied, with the occasional cliff hanger. Some will delight the vampire lovers. Another will tickle the fancy of Steampunk lovers. And yet another will please those who enjoy Warhammer (if you aren’t sure what that is, think about it as Terminator style).  Most of the stories take place in the present or in the near future. And all of them have a sort of Everyman’s appeal to them. In fact the collection is dedicated to “every schlub who’s worked a thankless, dead end job and still did it with tireless commitment.” I think we have all been that person working long hours at place that helps the cogs of the world move in its own way and rather than ignore them this collection celebrates them.

One of the tales, Two Steps Back, is clearly an homage to Neil Gaiman’s work. Gaiman and Stephen King are two of the authors he acknowledges as having given him some of the best encouragement and advice on writing.  I feel the same about those two literary giants.

This collection is perfect for when you want something to read and don’t have a lot of time. Great for the beach, long traffic lights and the moments right before Master Chef.  Farewell to the Emperor is the longest story and has been divided up so that it won’t throw you off the rhythm established in the previous tales.

Stephens’ style is witty, but not snobby. It is down to earth and speaks in the language of those of us who work hard for our living. The key to that is that he speaks to us not down to us or another us.  He knows the secret of great writers knowing which details to give the readers and which ones to allow readers to build in their own imagination. After the first couple of stories you will start to look for the twist and still won’t see it until the end.  Every story added a sparkle to the evil little grin that resides on my face.

So now, go out, buy this collection and let the wicked smirks begin. As for me, I am investing in some of Stephen other works which are also available on Amazon both in digital and paperback forms.

For more information, please visit his website, Marshall Makes Media.

Working Sick Day

mornig 003
Luke taking care of his momma.

Yesterday, I came home from school sick. An impressive feat for a school teacher since it involved obtain the principal’s permission. I slept most of the day with Luke on my feet preventing me from going anywhere.  Thanks to Sonia, I had dinner made for me while I continued napping on her sofa. A nice and yummy change of napping venues.  Life is good and friends are blessings.

h 001
Booger helping me write

Today, I am home again resting with my old writing partner sitting on my lap. His poppa went on a fishing trip so last night on my way home I brought him over to my house.  Bogger felt asleep quickly, even snoozing under the covers for a bit. This morning, they woke me up and demanded attention. Maybe this wasn’t the best plan given my health.  But, the boys won out and outside we ventured at 3:30am.  They sniffed, did their business and came back into bed.

Today, I am feeling world’s better and determined to rest. Resting taking the form of bathing two puppies (puppies being a term of endearment not denoting size) and taking one to get his nails clipped.  The bathroom is now clean, the living room straightened and the kitchen mostly clean. A nap is in order soon. Progress will be made on Blood Child, today.  There is an ending to be written.

Yesterday, I had one puppy on feet helping me to rest and today, there is another puppy on my lap helping me to work.  I will rest and I will write, repeating as necessary until Blood Child is done.

Blood Child – A Preview

Dear Readers,
Below is a preview of my novella, Blood Child, which I am working on finishing by the end of this month. The story began with the first line and the image of a woman stalking away from an open door.
Enjoy and let me know what you think, please and thank you. 
 “I am not drueyesnk enough to talk about it, now.”

The interview I had lobbied over six months for just turned on her heels and walked back into the shadows of the house, leaving the door wide open giving me an excellent view of her curves. My appreciation was short lived as cool air slapped me as I hesitated before the threshold trying to take in the house’s details. The ten foot walk from the car to the house, however, had broken me out in a sweat making it difficult to concentrate.  It wasn’t even May, and already Florida was managing to melt British tourists and small yippy dogs into smelly sticky puddles. British born myself it was only being raised in the U.S. that kept me from disintegrating.

Watching the current Countess Bathory return with a fresh glass it occurred to me that she was nothing like her infamous blood bathing ancestor. She had no aura of power or authority. She was, in fact, a wino, judging from the bin overflowing with bottles on the front porch.

Albeit, an incredibly attractive one. Technically, she wasn’t a countess having renounced the title, but not the money.  Only people in fairy tales give up both and usually that is for love. As far as I knew, Ms. Bathory, was single.

Nothing about Emily Bath made sense. She was richer than Donald Trump and had more degrees than Neil Degrass Tyson, yet she lived in a tiny orchid colored house with floors that creak with each every step in a mismatched Orlando neighborhood and taught high school.  She could have done anything and willing chose to work in high school hell.  Literary since she didn’t work in a regular school, but an alternative one for students who had been kicked out of other schools.

The interior was modest, if not a little old fashion for a twenty-something heiress. There was no TV in sight just bookshelves and seating. All the furnishings looked like they were hand-me-downs from someone’s long deceased grandparents. The sofa engulfed me in patterned floral pillows.  The countess smirked as I struggled to right myself.  At least she had a sense of humor.

Still nothing about the home spoke of the mounds wealth she had; it was all understated and sadly normal.  I expected more, craved it to be honest.

Emily Erzabet Bath was the survivor of modern day murder mystery.  Nine years ago, she and her three older brothers spent the weekend at their late father’s estate in upstate New York. They died along with twenty three other souls As the ten year anniversary approached interest in the case was reemerging; making this an interview priceless. And I was the man who landed it; the first and only person to speak to the reclusive Ms. Bath.  Persistence, charm and just a bit of cyber-stocking had won the day; being unemployed finally had a benefit.

The manor had been drenched in blood, literally. It dripped off of tables, pooled in puddles on the floor and had un-artfully spattered the walls. The first officers on scene inched their way around the edges of each room as they searched for survivors. They weren’t trying to preserve evidence no one wanted to step in that much blood. And with that really weren’t expecting to find anyone alive. Pieces of victims were carried out bit by bit for nearly a week. It was a forensic nightmare.

The officers who found her had to break into the room after following a blood trail to the door, only to find her cloistered in the back of the closet beneath a bunch of old musky coats stained with her blood. The combination of the smell: musky fur, stale blood and human excrement remained with the two men. Their stomachs emptied upon seeing Emily broken and begging for help with her eyes. Even mentioning her or her condition made the two turn green. They thought she was dead until her emerald eyes opened.  Severely dehydrated with deep bloody scratches which had turned her flesh into ribbons; her wounds would seep blood for days after her rescue confounding the medical staff. It was months before she was released from the hospital.

Emily allegedly had fled to her room and hidden there until found. She couldn’t explain how she had gotten there or what happened that weekend. Many believed that she was at least partially responsible for the deaths of the twenty three people in attendance. Especially the media who kept the story alive even after the relatives of the deceased pleaded with them to stop.

No evidence was found linking Emily with the deaths according to the investigators’ report in my satchel.  It had cost a pretty penny.  Now, I was wondering if the expense had been worth it.  She was just so ordinary.  So painfully plain.

Booger’s Tale cont.

My mistress was always aggravated by the two men’s presence but her annoyance never seemed to disturb them. I believe one of them had some sort of leverage over her.  They never ceased in their attempts to converse with her. The large harry man smelled like another of my canine brethren, a female if my olfactory senses were precise.

Mistress called him Dog in a most disrespectful manner.  I did not comprehend why that was an insult. Mistress, however, seemed to think it was and so I let it go. There wasn’t much I could do anyway, the month or so I had been with Mistress we had never managed to communicate more than a word or two.  She seemed to be getting better, but there were times when I felt like she expected me to behave like one of her precious feline companions.

I tried my best to assimilate myself to their culture. My efforts were for the most part in vain.  The felines weren’t interested in bridging our cultural riff.  My abandonment had also led me to having a deficit in my own canine culture.

A deficit that was soon to be remedied; one afternoon, the tall man and the man named Dog, convened a meeting to discuss my future with Mistress.  We walked into Mr. Dog’s home and I was greeted by the female canine I smelled early. Her name was Mackie.

When I told her my name, she just chuckled.  Don’t worry, Dog and Stew will fix that little problem for you. She won’t explain just sniffed my rectal area.   It was a most disconcerting at first, the whole olfactory inspection, but oddly familiar.  Mackie completed her inspection while the hominids began their negotiations.

The tall man, whose name Mackie confirmed was Stew, was holding a strange leash and collar.  Mackie went to sit

by dog and I lay at the feet of my Mistress.  She was trying to protest, but Dog finally gave her an ultimatum, either she give me to the tall man or get rid of me.  She didn’t fight much after that, just handed me over to the tall man.  I was fond of him, he was my friend, and now my master.  I titled my head towards Mistress. She did nothing.

The new collar was metallic and seemed to pinch my neck, it wasn’t comfortable but I was delighted to be receiving the pets from the tall man,oh, I mean Stew,, no… Master. He had some treats and feed them to me while Mistress left.  I called after her, whimpered in hominid terms. I waited but she didn’t come back.


Mackie came over to me and licked my face. It’s ok, kid, Stew is your Pappa now, like Dog is mine.  Pappa? I didn’t comprehend what this new word meant or how it would change my life. Pappa led me out of the apartment and down the hall to his home.  His scent coated the apartment.  It wasn’t at all like Mistress home.

Pappa had food for me.  Good food, not that blasted Sam’s choice. Real food.  Fifteen minutes later, he led me to the yard to do my business.  “Go to potty .. Go poop..” it was a cruel command, however, I did feel a certain urge and so complied with the command.

Over the next week, I learned that the collar was meant to discipline me. It caused me to be reminiscent of when my mother would nip my neck for the same purpose.  Something that mistress had never done.  It was somewhat unpleasant, but it felt oddly right and Pappa was more gracious to me than her.  I didn’t have to sleep at the foot of the bed.  I now cuddled under the covers with him.  Cuddling…that is what he called it. A simple, but appropriate word.

A Note from Booger

Thank you, humans for so many electronic pets.  I am working with Ms. Lucinda to translate the rest of my story into your language.  Please be patient, remember no matter how long you have to wait, it is still wrong to relieve yourself in the house.  I am not sure if that morsel of canine wisdom translates well.

Lucinda took a few days off to tend to her human family. Do not worry; she has not neglected her canine or feline children too badly.  We are managing to hang-on, despite the lack of attention. My feline siblings are feigning apathy as usual.

Just know that I am staring at her with my best jilted puppy dog eyes and will continue until she finishes her assigned work. (Truthfully, I will not cease then, it is the best way to exert my will.)

Respectfully Yours,

Booger Socrates Patterson

Booger’s Tale

Once a upon a time, I had a really stupid name.  An incredibly stupid name. In fact, I believe this name lowered my IQ to the point where a formal education would have been a waste. It is good thing that I was born a canine.

In the icy land of Chicago, I was unceremonious dumped in the snow of the ghetto (pronounced ghet-toe) after being weaned from my mother, a lovely golden bitch.  How mother protected me that long, I will never know.  Nor, will I know why a dizzy brunette with a spray-on tan picked me up or why she was there on Christmas Eve, but never the less, I was rescued and taken to the suburbs.

I was introduced into an entirely feline and most assuredly feminine household.  The feline obsessiveness with cleanliness was obvious. Food scraps were never allowed to linger on the floor and the toilet lid was always shut.   The denial of the ability to forage for food and the lack of access to fresh water was intolerable.

It was here, that I was named Noel.  Yep, Noel, which in canine parlance basically means no.  Naturally, I was confused nearly all the time. No…Noel…No.. good boy Noel…It was insane.  I screamed constantly and was rewarded with treats and pets.  The insanity would only deepen in the months to come.

Naturally, I did not even understand the concept of time.  My adopted mother would explain all of these things to me. Her time, however, has not come in my story.   Timing, she taught me was very important; therefore, I must continue in order to respect the lessons that she taught me.

The felines interacted most cruelly with while the mistress was out, but shunned me the moment she walked in the door. Or worse, they would at times, feign interest and play with me in her presence.  Sometimes, they would even attempt to bathe me.

Soon, I developed a fear of any separation from her.  At night, I would snuggle as close as I could without upsetting the feline forces at the head of the bed.  The felines did teach me how satisfying compulsive licking can be.  It has been a coping mechanism that has served me well over the years.

The mistress thought it was cute along with everything else I did, except for when I urinated in the house.  The felines did it, but it was clear on this point my mistress displayed favoritism. They, however, were never chained outside while the mistress attempted to sunbathe in Chicago.

Mistress showered me with praise when I whined or expressed my dissatisfaction in anyway. When I was tied to the lead, she would smile and praise me for trying to reach her. I could never reach her no matter how I tried and this infuriated my sense of justice. How could she praise me when I never completed the task provided; I believe that humans call this having issues.

Occasionally, I would see a tall man shaking his head at her and another man would come up to Mistress and speak with her. I don’t know what they said, but the tall man was generous with his pets and I loved them both. Mistress, however, dismissed them each time they spoke to her. They would turn and walk away, but not before saying farewell to me.