The Colored Lens is looking for someone to fill in for one of our First Readers who is on hiatus for an indefinite period of time. This position would be for at least several months, and can be renegotiated when our current First Reader returns if all parties wish.
We pride ourselves on our 100% personal responses, and aim to have a 48 hour response time for rejections. To do this, we ask readers to read 3-4 stories a week and provide short personalized responses that include both positive features and (if necessary) the reasons it’s being rejected.
Stories are typically in the 3000-5000 word range, but we accept stories as long as 20,000 words. First reading is handled on an “as able” basis, meaning that whenever a reader has time, he/she logs into the database and selects the next unread story. If a reader doesn’t have time to read on a particular day, they simply don’t read any.
All of us at The Colored Lens are volunteers, so this isn’t a paid position. Reading does give you insights into the editorial process, however, and is a good opportunity to gain experience and insights into how the industry works.
If you are interested in the position, first send us an email stating you are interested in applying and giving a short overview of your writing experience. After that, please review the stories on our site and let us know two to three of your favorites, and write a sample rejection for two to three of them that you don’t like as well.
Both the initial email and the email with the reviewed stories should be sent to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This all call will remain open until filled.
Jeff yawned at Allison through the storm door and scrubbed a hand over his shaggy salt and pepper locks. A mahogany bathrobe draped around his ex-jock physique, a body she adored and anticipated great delight in watching him whip back into its former glory.
“Am I bothering you?”
“Never,” he muttered, letting her in.
With the front door sealing off prying eyes, Allison tasted his stale mouth and gummy lips. “Have I ever mentioned how utterly dashing you are in the morning?”
“Sorry.” He yawned again. “Boudica kept going out all night. Driving me nuts. This is a nice wake-up call though.”
“Normally I wouldn’t risk dropping by. Today is extra special. I knew you’d be particularly happy to see me.”
“I’m already way past happy.” He drew her up against him.
A woman’s voice droned from the kitchen. “In. In. In.”
“‘Scuse me,” Jeff mumbled, sliding from her embrace.
Seconds later the back door squealed.
“Eat. Eat,” came the woman’s voice again, followed shortly by the can opener’s dutiful grind. “Eat. Eat,” the voice repeated in lifeless monotone as blobs of wetness sucked loose and splattered.
Allison strolled into the living room to wait, senses tingling from this, her first time inside the Lang residence, though her second actual visit. Six months ago, she’d dropped off contract originals for Jeff’s records–a cordial, professional, totally innocuous appointment, at least to any prying eyes watching at the time. Now the house wove an enticing tale through her casual observations. She absorbed impressions like a thirsty sponge slurping up a puddle.
Dust and dirt accumulated on every available surface–the sign of a mind too preoccupied with matters far beyond mundane concerns like basic house cleaning. Books, magazines and papers lay sprawled, several of the latter bearing the logo of her company and some of those were adorned with hasty scribbles and crossed-out notes. Unopened mail peeked like Easter eggs nestled in stray places: between empty beer bottles, atop grease-stained pizza boxes, on the marble coffee table, beside the Sony plasma, amidst scattered throw pillows and the occasional sock. Allison drank in the trappings of a life she knew to be normally quite tidy and efficient, now screeched to a crawl in a tight holding pattern.
And she approved.
“Sorry I didn’t clean up.” Jeff shuffled in, this time bearing a cheery grin for her instead of a yawn.
“Your maid needs a pep talk.”
“Or maybe a pink slip–wait a minute–I guess that would be me. Anyway, where were–”
The phone whistled, snatching away his smile.
Jeff palmed the handset. “Hello? Who? Lieutenant Fischer…” Twin furrows gouged into his brow. “It’s Saturday, right? You’ve got either really good news or very bad. So which is it?”
A fly’s pesky buzz escaped the handset, the only part of the detective’s report Allison overheard. Behind the whine lurked a paunchy middle-aged cop, a man that, five seconds upon meeting, she’d dismissed in summary order as seasoned but moronic; just another stereotypical male unable to break eye contact off a high-dollar pair of sculpted boobs. Unfortunately her one true dream–not to mention she, herself–remained unfulfilled until Fischer managed to just do his job. No more or less.
Which was really odd.
Here she stood silently cheering on the oafish turd that could actually stink up her whole life forever, should divine intervention somehow inspire the cop to overachieve. Not likely though. Fischer was that stupid.
“Oh my God!” Jeff choked.
Could it be? Heart thudding, Allison drifted over to him, mentally crossing her fingers as she did before every traumatic moment she faced.
“B-burned? Where?” A pause. “No… not where was the car burned. Where was it found? In Brownsville? But no sign of her. Uhhhmm… uhhh. Well, w-what do you think it means?”
A cold shudder runs through me as I look through the one-way mirror at the psycho in the orange jumpsuit who’s handcuffed to the table. What I’ll see in his head, what I’ll feel and experience first hand will be like living nightmares. I don’t know if I can handle them. I’ve seen some terrible things, but nothing like what he’s done.
The psycho raises a styrofoam cup of hot coffee to his mouth, but the chain connecting his handcuffs to the table is too short, so when he gets the cup halfway up, his arm jerks to a stop and the coffee spills onto the lap of his bright orange coveralls. He swears and frantically squirms in his seat to stop the coffee from scalding him. The pained look on his face tells me that he isn’t succeeding.
Good, I think. He deserves that. That’s fitting for a guy like him. That’s perfect.
He plunks the cup down in front of him and shakes the hot brown liquid from his hands, which sends his chains rattling and clanking over the table’s black metal top.
He doesn’t look like much sitting there, coke-bottle glasses, short salt and pepper hair, and so skinny he seems lost in those orange overalls. With what they told me about him, I imagined some beefy guy with tattoos of little spiders at the corner of his eyes and pipes the size of my head–not somebody who could have been my grade 9 science teacher.
Let someone else do this, my inner voice tells me. Don’t they have people trained to do stuff this? Why the hell does it have to be me?
Then I remind myself of the deal I made, a deal I’ll find nowhere else: get what the authorities need from this lunatic and then the agency goes back to working out how to shut off this mechanism in my head.
Life will be worth living again without it.
Ritha unfolded a square piece of red cloth on the table, caressing it with her palm to get rid of the wrinkles. She pulled a candle closer and lit another one to brighten the room.
Today she couldn’t hate Mr. Pierre more even if the bastard were to walk in through the door right now and spit in her face. One day, she thought, one day…
“Good for nothin’,” she mumbled under her breath and picked a needle from the sewing kit.
Ritha stuck the thread through the needle’s ear in one shot, just like her mama taught her. She chuckled. Mama… If she were here, all those bastards would be screaming in pain right now.
But mama was dead and Ritha was out of job and short on rent.
Where is that picture? She rummaged through her pocket and took out a pack of photographs kept together by a rubber band. She shuffled through the stack, pulled one photo out, and leaned it against her teacup.
Pierre–you dirty piece of–. Ritha slapped herself over the mouth. ‘We don’t use those words,’ mama used to say. ‘If we do, we ain’t better than the rest o’them.’
Ritha grabbed a handful of yarn and arranged it in a ball over the red cloth.
She glanced at the photo– not that she had to, but that’s how mama had taught her. ‘Always look,’ she used to say. ‘Through your eyes the power flows. Let the image seep inside your head, Ritha, and the energy will come through. From your eyes it will flow into your fingers and into the needle.’
She grabbed the corners of the cloth and pulled them together over the yarn. She held them tight with her fingertips and stuck the needle through.
Ritha used to make one in about twenty minutes, but today there wasn’t a lot of time. She glimpsed at the crib, hidden in the darkest corner of the room. She needed this one, she needed it badly. Nobody gave a damn about the little one, especially Mr. Pierre.
Ritha clenched her teeth and continued to sew.
At the end of fifteen minutes she put the red doll next to Mr. Pierre’s picture and smiled. Mama would’ve been so proud.
The clock ticked louder, signaling the top of the hour. 8PM. Only fifteen minutes left.
She grabbed the doll and the photo and ran into the enchanting room. She put them both gently in the center of a circle made from colored salts, on top of a metallic tray. She dropped a few locks of hair on the sides and lit the sands from a match.
As the salts burned slowly, releasing a sweet smell of burned sugar, Ritha closed her eyes and recited the magic poem, the one passed to her by her mama. She waved her hand through the smoke and sprinkled drops of oil through the air.
Ten minutes later, Ritha was exhausted. Her chest was heavy and her breath bitter. The salts had burned completely and the doll lay there unmoving, like a dead man in the middle of a forest fire.
She took the doll and ran back. 8:15.
The phone rang and she grabbed it after the first chime. She glanced at the crib, biting her lip. The baby was still sleeping.
“Hello?” a voice said in the receiver.
“Yes, I am here.”
“Yes, Mr. Pierre, I am. How much today?”
Her heart thudded in her chest. How much humiliation today, she wondered. Enough for milk, at least?
“Ten dollars,” the man said.
She lifted her brows. That wasn’t half bad.
“Oh, thank you–”
“Cut it out, Ritha. I’m in a good mood. Don’t ruin it.”
She bowed, instinctively. “I understand, sir.”
“Did you fix it? Last time–”
“It’s brand new, sir, brand new.”
Silence on the other side.
“Okay, then. Go ahead, the usual. Shoulders, neck and lower back.”
Ritha pressed the speaker button and put the receiver on the table. She grabbed the red doll and turned it face down. With her fingers, she began to massage the doll’s shoulders and lower back.
Pleasure grunts came out of the phone. “Oh, that’s good, Ritha, keep going.”
She continued to massage the doll, her eyes fixated on the kitchen knife, only ten inches away from the doll’s head.
Her heart pounded a few times, pumping hot blood through her temples. She extended one hand toward the knife…
The baby giggled in the crib and turned on one side, his sleepy face pressed against the crib’s bars. Ritha looked at him, startled, her hand suspended in the air.
“What’s going on there?” Mr. Pierre screamed. “I am paying for two hands, dammit!”
Ritha grabbed the knife and threw it far away from her reach.
She gestured a kiss toward the crib and put both her hands on the doll.
“I am here, Mr. Pierre, I am here,” she said, tears dripping down her cheeks.
Mr. Pierre responded with a long moan.
The baby giggled gently in his sleep, and Ritha continued to cry in silence. ‘Be happy when there’s reason to be happy,’ her mama once said.
And Ritha was happy because tomorrow the baby gets to eat the good milk.
I stare at the gap between the mountain peaks of data. There’s been a break-in.
“Backups?” I say. Fresh snow crunches under our steps.
“Checked. Same gap everywhere.”
I picture the satellites containing the data of the Truth Banks, the supercomputers buried deep underground with backups and revision history, the top-secret security systems. If there’s one heist impossible to pull it’s this one, and yet the fifteen millisecond gap is right before me like a splinter in the holograms.
“Have you sent agents to verify?”
He flips the holo-generator’s lid back on and pockets the device. “Of course, Marcus.”
We turn right in a side-street. As a warning, he’s brought Lilly. She rushes ahead of us, spinning in the falling snow.
He says, “There’s a timer in the code, counting down. To what, we don’t know, but it’s unstoppable. You have until sunrise to find them.”
Lilly gathers snow with her purple gloves, throws the snowball at me.
“And after this?” I say.
Toothy grin. “You do this right, Marcus, and you get her back.”
Fists in my pockets. I nod.
Crouching to give Lilly a kiss on the cheek. “I am your daddy and I will always love you,” I say.
She giggles. “You are funny,” she says.
The agent pats her on the head, still grinning. “I think you’re right, Lilly. He is funny.”
I wipe my tears off with a sleeve, and fixing him a look of utter contempt, start my stopwatch.
The spell to start my car didn’t work that evening, so I contacted the repair service and walked home from the office through darkening drizzle, rather than being ripped off by the Instant Transportation System. Rain insinuated itself inside my upturned collar. Typical: they spend a fortune on improving the fireballs and blasting spells, but nothing on controlling the weather.
“Can I see your papers, sir?” said a voice behind me.
I turned with the practiced air of having nothing to hide, but my mind was racing. Had he heard my thoughts, and would he consider them disloyal? I’d always doubted the rumours of the police using mind-reading devices, but I wasn’t so sure at that moment.
It was reassuring that his fireball-thrower was still in its holster, although his hand rested on it, but his face was blank and unreadable as they always were. I fumbled the papers from my inside pocket and tried to stand calmly while he scanned them. Everyone feels paranoid in this situation. Or maybe just me. It’s not as if anyone discusses it.
He looked up at last. “Seen any of the damned, sir?”
The question threw me, as was no doubt the intention, but I was able to answer truthfully, “Of course not. I’d have reported it if I had.”
The policeman nodded, pushing his face into a smile that didn’t suit it. “I’m sure you would, sir. Sooner there’s not a damned left, the better. Evening.”
I nodded vigorously as he hand my papers back, though his words disturbed me. The damned were abominations, to be sure, but there were rumours of them being fed alive into furnaces when caught. Probably just propaganda by the damned-lovers, I reminded myself. The government knew best.
I glanced about as I trudged through the dreary streets, searching out subtle signs of the damned. There are ways they can pass for normal, but it’s said you can always feel the difference. That man there, wearing dark glasses in the evening? No, I didn’t get a sense of wrongness from him. Perhaps I should have followed him, but it was cold, and I was probably mistaken.
It’s not just the physical differences that make the damned revolting. All of us use magic, and some are talented enough to manipulate it, making and repairing the devices we rely on and the spells that drive them. The damned, though, live within magic and use it to interfere with our minds and souls, bewildering decent people into their foul clutches. There’s nothing natural about them.
Phil surveyed the hazard area left by the previous tenants.
They’d made the place a rat’s nest of freshly used women’s hygiene products, kitty litter, and dirty dishes. The house was no more than a spider hole: one room for living and cooking, one for showering and sleeping. Phil tried renting to single occupants, but the kind of trash that answered his ads weren’t the kind to follow rules. They’d move their families in, or their friends’ visits would turn into extended stays. The last tenant let a woman and her two kids live with him. How they fit without sleeping on top of each other, Phil couldn’t imagine. The guy hadn’t paid rent for the last two months. Phil used everything but a crowbar to get them out of there.
“They suck you dry,” he said to his friend, Gus. “Drain you until you’ve got no option but kick’em out.”
“Yep,” Gus said, studying a section of the wall where someone’s fist had broken through. Frayed fibers fringed the dark hole. A piece of sheetrock dangled from a strip of wallpaper. He tried folding it back in place, but it didn’t fit. “Told you this landlord business was no fun.”
“It ain’t so bad,” Phil said. “Every year or two I got to do some renovations, but it’s a monthly supplement to my Social check.” Phil amended, “When the trash pays.”
Gus let the chunk of sheetrock drop, and it crumbled at his feet. “You ever have one leave without having to kick’em out for not paying?”
“Not in awhile,” Phil said. Carolyn, his late wife, used to handle the interviewing. She read people. Tenants weren’t as much trouble when she was making the calls.
He turned in the doorway, scanned the yard, all mud holes and tire trenches, and beyond that acres of woods. That’s why he’d bought the place as a young man. Cheap land, and he just needed enough room to rest when he got off work. The square-footage provided plenty of space until he met Carolyn.
“I’ll just raise the rent this time. Get somebody that’ll take care of the place,” Phil said.
“Yeah, we’ll see,” Gus said and began tearing down the battered wall. “You’re going to have to replace at least two panels.”
Tiernan discovered the dead dogs outside the trapper’s camp at the base of Mount Storm. The animal’s frozen carcasses hung impaled upon the trunks of black oaks, branches bursting out of their flanks and eyes and mouths. The moment he saw the grim spectacle, the druid knew that Bril’s mind was too far gone. There could be no bringing him back, now.
But I must try, Tiernan thought. At the very least, I must try.
He moved forward stiffly in his furs and heavy boots, unaccustomed to such clothing after spending so many years in the Druid Circle’s warmer southern climes. Even with all the coverings layered upon him, he still shivered–though whether it was because of the cold or because of his mission, he could not be certain. Confronting a fellow member of the Circle was always a sad affair, but this particular trip was doubly so. The druid to be uprooted had been Tiernan’s student. More than that, they had been friends.
The trappers suffered worse fates than their dogs. Tiernan found their corpses scattered over the plain outside a log cabin, twisted heaps mutilated on the ground with grim coats of raven pecking the flesh from their bones. Chaotic designs of blood in the snow told the story of a harried and futile retreat, one of men injured and terrified in flight before falling. The druid imagined those desperate figures wheeling about in clouds of murderous birds, and took a deep breath to steady himself.
He shooed the birds away. They rose with angry caws and lighted upon the cabin roof to watch him through their black eyes, as though warning that he might be their next victim.
One by one he dragged the trappers inside the building. Druidic tradition was to leave the bodies in the wilderness to decompose naturally, but city people lived and died in different ways, and their beliefs had to be respected. He scattered fireseed over the cabin wall and struck his flint, setting alight the makeshift pyre.
The ravens scattered into the air and headed north, into the gathering dusk with a flurry of beating wings and shrill cries. Back to their master, Tiernan thought. Back to Bril.
He climbed to the far side of a rise and set up camp out of sight of the billowing flames. The sight of druidic power used so savagely unsettled him. The Art was meant for gentler things. Rapid-seed spells were meant to replenish forests, not skewer sled dogs. Bonding spells were meant to commune with animals, not to employ them as assassins.
Bril knew all these things. Or, at least, he had once known all these things. He had been among the gentler souls of the Circle, and it was difficult to associate him at all with the brutality that had occurred on that mountain. Tiernan huddled deeper into his furs.
He cleared snow from the frozen earth and built a fire as the sun set low in the sky and the shadow of Mount Storm stretched long over the plain. He laid out an elk skin and sat upon it, watching orange shapes rise and sink from the fire’s black embers. It was said that long ago druids could read the future in that fiery language, but if such a thing was ever true, it had long since ceased to be so.
Tiernan blamed himself for Bril’s violence. All along he had known that his friend’s acute sensitivity put him in danger. A druid taking Stewardship over a piece of land entered into a Communion with that place, and the connection could become so deep that it risked consuming his mind completely. Bril’s temperament made him exceptionally vulnerable to that kind of psychic disintegration.
A hard wind whistled through the dark and bent the fire sidelong. Tiernan pulled the elk hide tighter around his shoulders and thought about the desolation of that place where his friend had spent the last five years of life, removed from connection with other people.
To the north extended the Bladed Mountains, hundreds of miles of peaks so sheer and unforgiving that not even druids went there. To the south and east, the fast waters of the Thalthemin River cut the area off from the rest of the world. To the west was the city of Industry, growing rapidly along the shores of Lake Phalheen. Its inhabitants numbered in the tens of thousands, but for a druid like Bril, a legion of merchants was the loneliest prospect of all.
Mount Storm is a perfect place for a man to go mad, Tiernan thought. And I left him alone here, for all these years.
An animal padded through the snow just outside the light of the fire. Tiernan looked until he saw the faint outline of a snow ferret. As the animal watched him, Tiernan knew that Bril was seeing though its eyes.
“No one wanted things to come to this,” he said.
The animal stiffened momentarily, but remained.
“You know why I am here, just as you know that I cannot leave until my task is done.”
The ferret turned and bolted off into the darkness.
“Please do not make this any harder than it already is,” Tiernan said, to the darkness, or to himself.
Autumn nights were long in those northern reaches, but that night, he knew, would be even longer than most. He had gone there hoping to rescue his friend before it was too late, but found the mountain already stained with blood.
And I fear that before my task is done, much more will be shed.
Vivian slammed the rooftop door open; the metal and brick clashed with all the defiance a wrongfully scolded four-year-old could produce. Tears made the marker ink on her face mix together like Neopolitan ice cream, but what dripped into her mouth tasted like paint. Her feet thudded on the cement before her tears cleared and she saw a mass of gold and brown scales: a dragon took up most of the rooftop.
She stepped back so she could see the face, and gulped and wheezed until the sobbing stopped. She asked, “Are you Puff?”
The dragon opened one eye and said, “Hardly.”
His lid began to close but stopped midway when she said, “I just drew a cave for him on the hallway wall, but since you’re here and he’s not, you can have it.”
The lid opened all the way again. “You painted a dragon cave?”
Vivian nodded her head like the bobble knight on her dad’s dashboard and said, “It’s beautiful except my mom hates it and says I can’t watch TV for a month, especially if it’s any of dad’s movies.” Traffic honked and screeched far below as if to add an exclamation point to her exasperation.
The dragon closed his eye before saying, “I don’t have much use for a two dimensional cave.”
Vivian sniffed the snot up her nose and said, “Are you hungry? My mom just went to CostCo and bought a big box of Goldfish.”
The eye opened and he said, “Goldfish? I can never catch enough of those to make it worth while. But if you have a big box…”
“I’ll be right back.” Vivian could hardly believe a real dragon was on her roof. Her mom was always telling her dad to grow up and quit telling Vivian such fanciful stories. But now she had proof. Down in the kitchen, she slid her step stool across the ceramic tiled floor and into the pantry. She stretch on the stool just enough to pull the bottom of the Goldfish box with her fingertips. It thumped to the ground. She listened for her mom’s footsteps, but she must’ve been asleep in her room. Vivian grabbed her treasure and ran up to the rooftop again, worried the dragon would be gone. He was there.
“I have the goldfish!”
He opened both eyes and said, “Well?”
She tore the box and bag open and scattered the crackers in front of his mouth like they were magic dust.
“What are those?”
“Are they dead?”
Vivian stared at the treasure and realized her mistake. A lump swelled in her throat, and she choked out, “They’re crackers. I didn’t mean real fish.”
The dragon sniffed. A long tongue darted out and licked up several crackers at once. “Cheesy,” he said and continued to lick the roof clean. “When can you bring me more? I’m Darius by the way.”
“I’m Vivian. We’ll have another box in a month. Can you come in and play?”
“I couldn’t possibly squeeze through the door.”
Vivian slumped, but then recalled the story about princesses kissing frogs. Maybe if she kissed him, he’d turn into a boy and fit through the door. She ran to his snout and gave him a peck. When he didn’t change, she dashed through the door and down the stairs, hoping he’d never guess her foolish notion.
When I finally reach the beach, I begin to relax, confident that the angry mobs howling for the blood of my kind have been left behind. Wind whips the soaring causeway as I cross the sound onto the barrier island. Leaky and exhausted though my car is, I imagine the cold more than feel it.
The jersey wall is scarred with impacts. The only other car is wrecked from both front and back at the causeway’s bottom, island-side. On any other road these details would slip into the glaze of civilization’s accelerating collapse, just one more mysteriously wrecked car. Here though, the mangled hulk stands out, alone and forlorn.
The beach is drenched in bleakness, the cold bleaching the land and sea to grays and slates. The smell of salt makes the air sag in a sky dark with the threat of drilling rain. I wonder again what I’m doing in this place. Already I’ve seen half-starved humans scavenging along the older country roads. They watch my passing with nebulous looks, between yearning and hunger, in their eyes. Some are even armed, clutching at their weapons in intense debate.
The small barrier island appears completely deserted. Perhaps the human mind really does move in inescapable tracks, and a beach in winter is meant to be desolate. This is a good thing. I’ve come for the solitude. It’s the only thing likely to keep me alive.