A Peek into Zoe Albright’s Extraordinary World

This summer I decided to explore a new-to-me writing venue–Radish Fiction. An online publishing platform for serialized fiction. I wrote and uploaded two episodes per week for several months straight. I launched THe ASSASSIN’S PRODIGY (a coming-of-age genre-bender) on July 6th and published my last episode tonight (11/13!) It was a wild (and sometimes nail biting) ride. I learned a lot about myself as a writer and I also discovered a deep love of fast-paced romantic adventure where every episode played in my head like a scene from a cable series. THE ASSASSIN’S PRODIGY is exclusive to Radish for the next year. Read more about serials and Radish here on my website (also included: another story excert!)

Now that all episodes have been uploaded, you can binge read the entire story by downloading the Radish app to your phone or any android device! Check back for updates regarding wider distribution digitally and in print.

To celebrate the completion of this story of my heart, I’m sharing the first episode below. Enjoy!

Episode One

One Writer’s Nightmare

It seemed like a good idea.

Moving out of my Aunt Liza’s house and renting a place of my own. I’m an adult, after all. The woman who sheltered and raised me for most of my twenty-one years deserves a charmed life with her new husband without a uniquely challenged prodigy underfoot.

I told her that her work was done. She was, I think, relieved. My quirks are exhausting. And given her controlling tendencies, our relationship frayed with the years.

Parting ways was easier than I imagined.

I leased a little cabin nestled in the pines with a majestic view of the mountains. Far enough from the nearest town to be sufficiently isolated, but close enough to have most anything I want or need delivered.

Paradise for a social misfit and reclusive writer.

Sanctuary for a clairaudient freak.

I relished my freedom. Embraced the challenge. Counted my blessings.

I know how to keep the voices at bay. I know how to channel my imagination. I’m happy and self-sufficient.

Or at least I was.

Eight months into my hard-won independence and I, Zoe Albright (prolific author of a kids book series), am floundering. Artistically and financially.

I didn’t see it coming. Never thought in a million years my muse would rebel. We’ve been together forever, Penny and me.

Now we’re at odds.

Tonight I’m at my wits’ end. Bills are piling up. Walls are closing in. My once cozy cabin is now claustrophobic. I haven’t felt this angry or alone in a very long time. I want to call Liza, but I won’t.

“I’ve survived worse things than writer’s block.”

Determined to invent a suitable proposal before sunrise, I’m jogging on my treadmill and watching cartoons. A runner’s high and visual inspiration. Fresh air and a bracing walk would be even better, but it’s the middle of the night and there are bears in them thar woods.

And a vampyric jackalope.

“Shut up, Penny. No! Wait! Keep talking!”

In my stunned excitement, I trip over my feet, lose my grip, and tumble off the treadmill. I spring from an undignified heap, my ankle screaming as I lunge for a pad and pencil. “Give me something! Anything! A title. A concept.”

This is the first time I’ve heard Penny’s voice in five days. I’m giddy with relief. It doesn’t matter that I don’t see her. I hear her. Her presence obliterates my suffocating solitude. A friend is a friend—even if she’s imaginary.

“Welcome back.” Heart pounding, I mute the TV and hunker on the sofa to brainstorm. “I was beginning to think… Never mind. This is awesome. This is great. Let’s just do what we do. What we use to do. I’ll empty my head and you fill it.”

I breathe. I wait. I hope against hope that Penny’s back to her silly old self. Any second now she’ll say, “What if…” igniting a creative discussion. Or she’ll throw out a one-liner. A title. Like the one that launched my writing career.

I breathe, I wait. I listen, I write.

Penelope Pringle and the Vexed Vampire

Penelope Pringle vs Wolfman

The Strange Case of Penelope Pringle and the Sadistic…

 

“Seriously? For Pete’s sake, Penny, throw me a bone! Something warm, wacky, and wonderful!”

She doesn’t respond. I assume it’s due to her recent obsession with monsters, murder, and mayhem.

“Why can’t you get off the gruesome train?”

Because they’re coming.”

I’m sweaty from my indoor jog, yet her eerie taunt ices my spine.

I stare at the scribbled titles, anxious and frustrated with the gory scenarios polluting my brain. Mourning the train wreck of our whimsical partnership, I look across my cluttered living room and focus on the framed and pristine publicity poster hanging above my messy desk. A poster that promotes my name and the cover of our debut book:

The Secret Life of Penelope Pringle–Wings of Joy  

Under the whimsical font of the title is a vibrant illustration of my imaginary childhood friend turned muse turned protagonist—Penny P.

Bright smile. Piercing blue eyes. Bountiful blond curls. A mischievous free-spirit who dwells in a fictional city in a fantasized version of Victorian, England. Although her 1800s gown is somewhat conventional, her hat is not. Instead of a frou-frou bonnet, she sports a crimson top hat with an exaggerated yellow sash and bow. And goggles. She needs goggles since she often soars through the skies at breakneck speed on her flycycle—a steam propelled bicycle that, upon initiation, sprouts wings.

I smile just thinking about Penelope’s delightful shenanigans along with her canine sidekick, Balderdash.

But then my gaze slides to my laptop. My temples throb. Resentment flares.

I curse the multiple dreary proposals stored in my computer files along with pages and pages of handwritten notes now crumpled in the trash bin. “Why did you go dark on me, Penny?”

Why won’t you take me seriously?”

“Because I don’t do scary. Because I, we, have a brand.”

We, you, have bigger fish to fry. Like an evil mad scientist intent on global domination!”

“To think I was thrilled to hear from you.” I squeeze the pencil I’ve worn to a nub and jot a plot premise entirely of my own design. Two sentences in, I run dry. I jot another idea and then another, tuning out Penny’s ominous influence the way I tune out whispers from the grave.

Scrambling, a unique skill I developed for reducing disembodied voices to a mostly incoherent hum, is effective, but draining, hence my obsession with energy-infused food and drink.

Focusing on a gore-free plot with the requisite happy ending, I race into the kitchen in search of a cupcake.

If I can power through another oppressive night, maybe the sun will shine tomorrow. Maybe I’ll be inspired to write about a plucky girl and her talking dog and their latest rip-roaring steampunk adventure. I’m not cut out for creepy who-dunnits and otherworldly crises.

That was my mother’s gig. She had a psychic connection to people who died, but couldn’t cross over. Ghosts, spirits, apparitions, specters, phantoms.  Unfortunately, I inherited her heightened sixth sense. Or as I’ve come to think of it: her Misfortune.

Bemoaning my inherited Misfortune, I devour a double chocolate brownie in two crazed bites.

Despite the fortifying sugar rush, Penny breaks through my mental wall of white noise. “You need help, Zoe.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

I’m not talking about a shrink.”

“So what, a diet guru? A collaborator? An optimistic muse?”

An assassin.”

“A nefarious sort.” Snort. “I should have known.”

Fed up, panicked, and determined to crank out a plot that will please my editor, I chug a chilled can of Energy X and nab a tin of sugar wafers.

“I don’t want to shut you out of my life, Penny,” I say as my Scrambler kicks into high gear, “but if you can’t help me, I need to look elsewhere for inspiration.”

My livelihood, and life, depend on it.

* * *

I wake with crumbs on my shirt, a crick in my neck, and an ugly-bad attitude.

I never made it to bed, but I did fall asleep on the couch. Unfortunately, Penny followed me into my dreams along with a mysterious and seductive assassin. A nameless, faceless man who caused me to toss and turn with apprehension and an equal dose of desire. One minute we were fighting side-by-side, kicking vampyric jackalope ass. The next we were tangled in sheets doing the nasty and swearing allegiance.

I assume my pulse-pounding delusions are due to sexual frustration and a bone-deep longing for the kind of love I’m convinced I’ll never have. I’m pretty sure I’m doomed to be alone. I can’t imagine a sane man willing to engage in a long-term relationship with a freak like me.

“Thanks a lot,” I say while glaring at Penny’s poster. “Like I need something else to obsess on.”

She smiles back at me, frozen in time. Better times. Happy times.

Wings of Joy.

I consider ripping her cheery likeness from the wall. It only reminds me of what she once was—what we’ve accomplished as a team. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever produce another uplifting proposal. If I’ll ever finish another book. My publisher’s been wondering the same thing for weeks.

Stomach churning, I zip into the bathroom, swig chalky white stuff, pee, then wash my hands and face without so much as a glance in the mirror. It’s not like I have to impress anyone. I’m not going anywhere. I rarely do.

Twisting my long, curly hair into a messy topknot, I hustle toward the kitchen. A shower and fresh clothes can wait. In spite of gorging on sweets a few hours ago, I’m famished. Also, I’m expecting a call.

I toss a frozen breakfast burrito into the microwave, press ‘brew’ on my coffee maker—preset for eight cups.

As promised, my phone rings at precisely nine-o-clock. I imagine my editor (two hours ahead of me) sitting in her New York office sipping a latte and revising manuscripts—none of them mine.

“How did it go last night?” Julia asks.

“I got nothin’.  Unless you’re open to a story about a murderous, psychotic freak.”

“Yikes.”

“Tell me about it.”

I don’t know what’s worse. My shrinking confidence, my editor’s disappointment, or the hordes of emails from little kids and their parents begging for Penelope’s next tale. There’s also the matter of my compromised bank account—a misery of my own making.

“Do you know what the editorial and marketing team discussed this morning?” Julia asks. “The production schedule two years down the pike. And you’re not on it. You’re shooting your career in the foot, Zoe, not to mention the damage to your finances.”

I nibble at my spicy egg burrito while peering out my kitchen window—at the vast expanse between my isolated cabin and the Grand Teton Mountains. I soak up the beauty and serenity of Wyoming and brace for a storm. Up until now, Julia has been sympathetic to my dry spell, handling me with kid gloves. Today she sounds all business which only intensifies the gloom that’s been dogging me for days. “I’ve submitted eight different proposals over the last several months.”

“Dark, gruesome stories,” she needlessly reminds me. “Fine if you’re a horror novelist, but you’re Zoe Albright. You write whimsical children’s adventures starring a Victorian street urchin with an optimistic outlook and enduring spirit.”

Not anymore.

“Every author I’ve ever worked with suffers sporadic creative paralysis, Zoe. It’s not uncommon. Just write whatever comes to mind and you’ll eventually break through.”

Except whatever comes to mind these days is ominous.

“I’d suggest a change of scenery,” Julia goes on, “but since you’re a shut in—”

“I’m not a shut in,” I protest. “I get out.”

I don’t want to be pegged agoraphobic any more than clairaudient. I want to be normal. Sadly, that’s impossible. Although I suppose it could be worse. The thoughts of the living are closed to me. I’m only sensitive to the thoughts of the dead, which totally stinks in its own special way. Subjecting myself to their misery is a slippery slope, one I avoid at all costs.

I inhale vitamins and protein bars, consume gallons of coffee and Energy X, run avidly on a tread mill, and steer clear of crime scenes, car wrecks, morgues, funeral homes, cemeteries… Obvious dead people zones.

It’s the not-so-obvious zones that cause me distress. A person can kick the bucket anywhere—by accident, by foul means, by natural causes. Dead people are everywhere. That’s why I rarely leave home. Dodging them is exhausting.

“When’s the last time you went into town?” Julia asks.

“Two weeks ago,” I lie. In truth, it’s been a month. Amazing what you can accomplish with the Internet and a rain, snow or shine delivery service. Speaking of… “Someone’s knocking on my door, Julia. I’ll call you back.”

“When?”

“Soon.”

I sign off and chuck my half-eaten breakfast. I’d chuck my phone too, but that won’t keep Julia from tracking me down. Besides, I don’t want to sever our professional relationship, I want to save it. Writing isn’t simply a means of generating income, writing keeps me sane.

Frustrated now, I open the door hoping to find Joe, my regular delivery guy, holding the box of assorted sugary snacks I ordered from a wholesaler earlier this week or the interactive fitness program I purchased from an on-line sports store. Anything that affords energy or distraction.

Instead it’s a new guy, a cute guy, from one of the express mail services. He stares at me for a minute, an appreciative gaze that brightens my dreary day. “Zoe Albright?”

“Yes?”

“You need to sign for this.”

I smile and sign.

He passes me an envelope then leaves. A hint of spicy cologne lingers in his wake.

Nice.

As he walks toward his van, I hear him whistle low, one of those, man-she’s-hot whistles. I don’t think of myself as hot—especially when I’m wearing baggy sweats and a cartoon t-shirt—but a lot of guys are intrigued by my unique coloring. Cherry red hair, apple green eyes, ivory skin (no freckles).

I almost call him back and invite him in for coffee. I don’t know Sam (I think his badge read), but he looks harmless and I haven’t had a face-to-face conversation with anyone since Liza and her husband left for an extended vacation. I’m bored. And lonely. Celibacy isn’t a life choice as much as a result of my reclusive lifestyle and social awkwardness. My pulse revs just thinking about an innocent flirtation in a safe zone.

“Your life has reached pathetic proportions, Z.”

I’m even talking to myself.

Sighing, I rip into the certified envelope, assuming it’s a royalty statement or some such from my publisher.

It’s not.

Luckily, I reach my sofa by the time I finish reading the official document. Otherwise I would’ve conked my head on the hardwood floor when my breath seized and my knees buckled.