New 3-Things Serial! — Atonement in Zugzwang: Episode 1, Featuring Chris Graham

Saturday, February 25, 2023

TSRA reads Atonement
Image by Chris Graham

Hello, everyone. I’m finally ready to take the plunge into an all new, three things style serial.  You may have noticed that strange word in the title. To over-simplify, zugzwang (German for “compulsion to move”) is a situation found in chess and other turn-based games when a player is forced to make a move.

I usually open up the random reader things, which drive my serials, to everyone — and I will probably do that eventually.  However, that’s adds much more work for me than you would expect.  So, with this new serial, I’m randomly choosing readers and asking them for things.  Since Chris The Story Reading Ape suggested my fictional town of Atonement, Tennessee as the setting, I asked him to provide the things for this kickoff episode.    As always, Chris rose to the challenge in grand style, and gave me three sets of three things.  I’ll use all of them eventually.  However today, the kickoff uses: twinkle, croak, and antiques.

If you weren’t here Wednesday, one of my Pumpkin Hat Girls short stories will tie into the beginning of the serial.  If you want to know more about that, then click here.

Atonement in Zugzwang

Episode 1

iphotoklick from Pixabay
iphotoklick from Pixabay

The morning star twinkled in the predawn sky above rural Tennessee.  The two-lane highway was barren of streetlights, but the night was cloudless, with a full moon illuminating the dark.

Despite the ungodly hour, I was only mildly resentful when my friend Maudie Rocket called, begging me to make a drive of many hours to pick her up in an isolated town named Atonement.

Whether it was a cosmic nudge, karma, or plain old coincidence, for ages I had been putting off personal business in that town.  I avoid things that make me sad, and that business resulted from the passing of my favorite uncle the year before.

After a moment’s hesitation, I agreed to make the drive.

The annoying part was that it was a rescue mission.  My flighty friend, Maudie, had run off with a mysterious man she met on one of the outings with our women’s group.  We called ourselves the Pumpkin Hat Girls.  However, after Maudie left, the group sort of fizzled.

Suddenly the air grew unseasonably cold.  To my surprise, the beams of my headlights showed snow flurries dance in the light.  My hand moved to switch on the car’s heater.  Unfortunately, I knew the warm air would make me sleepy.  A shiver crawled across me, and I turned on the heat anyway.  

At least the shock woke me up, I thought when a moment later the flurries were gone.

A glance at the dashboard clock showed me I had been on the road longer than Maudie estimated.  I began to worry that I had missed a turn.  It would be easy to do that, without streetlights.

The app on my phone hasn’t given instructions in a long while.  Maybe it isn’t working.  This looks like a decent spot to stop.

I pulled over to the shoulder and extricated a paper map from the glove compartment.  With the abrupt return to a normal air temperature, the car’s windows covered with fog.  I pressed the button to roll down the windows.

It unnerved me when I heard two men talking nearby.  I didn’t see any other vehicles on the roadside.  The realization that they must be in the wooded area a few feet away frightened me.  However, curiosity mesmerized me, and I strained my ears to hear their conversation.

“The pact with the dragons, states that your people will never enter Atonement,” said a stern masculine voice, which was oddly edged with something I could only describe as innocence.  “You are lucky that it was the ice dragon, not Y Ddraig Goch.  Your species does not cope well with fire.”

Ria Sopala Pixabay
Ria Sopala at Pixabay

What the f—?  Are they in some kind of fantasy roleplaying game? I wondered.

When the stern voice paused, I heard murmurs that sounded like another man protesting.  Then that second voice got louder.

“Please, Guardian of the Eastern Gate.  I knew nothing of the pact.  My father didn’t instruct me in that kind of thing.  I rarely consume blood.  I only want to make sure the lady is alright, and…  And to apologize to her,” the second man stated.

Consume blood? my mind shrieked and my hand spontaneously went to my neck.

“I warn you,” came the first voice.  “Do not put Atonement in zugzwang — do not force our hand.  The woman is well, but you must not enter this place.  The ice dragon has already spoken.  It would be foolish to tempt the fire drake.”

Then I heard a whoosh of air.  I caught a glimpse of huge black wings before they were hidden by the trees.  That was followed by the retreating sound of footfalls in the woods.

I pressed the button to roll up the windows.  It seemed to take forever.  Antique manual windows seemed preferable.  No, that wasn’t realistic, but at least I would have had some control over the speed.  I was scared to death that one of the men would show up at my car window before it closed.

With shaking hands, I tried to look at the map.  Abruptly, the mechanical voice came to life with directions.

“Turn right in one mile.”

“Jeeze!  Where have you been?” I admonished the machine.

With that bit of electronic companionship, my nerves settled.  Then it occurred to me that based on the exchange I overheard, at least one of the men could have been Maudie’s boyfriend, Ambrogio Junior.

He was the son of a vampire and a sugar plumb fairy.  Although both he and his stepmother assured us that Junior didn’t drink blood.  I know all that sounds unbelievable, but that’s a whole other story.

I can understand anybody wanting to warn off any variety of vampire.  But what was all that about dragons?  What’s next, a frog prince?  Don’t even think about it, Pepper.  You’ll hear something croak and then you’ll really freak out.

Soon I was on the main street of a quaint town.  I counted all of two traffic lights.  It was the middle of the night, but the first one turned red when I reached it.  The streets were deserted.  I considered running the light, but then a small pale figure darted across the road.  It was followed by two more.  They were so fast that I didn’t get a good look at them.

iphotoklick Pixabay
iphotoklick at Pixabay

It must have been dogs, I thought.

While I waited for the light to change, I cracked open the window.  I heard the sound of grunting and snorting.  Grunt-grunt snort-snort repeated several times.  In my imagination the grunts and snorts started to sound like Wel-come Pep-per, wel-come Pep-per.

“It must be sleep-deprivation.  I’m hearing things,” I muttered, giving my head a shake.

I forgot to mention, I’m Pepper Riley.  My father’s brother, affectionately called Uncle Salty, died the previous year.  For the most part, he lost touch with the family when he moved to Atonement, Tennessee.

To my astonishment, he left me the real estate he owned there.  He was upfront about the poor condition of the property though.  So, I had put off making the trip to look into it.  I wasn’t sure how to dispose of a defunct gas station, and whatever else his “real estate holdings” included.

Anyhow, just before the light turned green, I phoned Maudie.  She answered sounding sleepy and annoyed at being woken.  I nearly lost my temper.  She was the one who insisted on me getting there as fast as possible.

Maudie gave me detailed directions to Adelle’s Attic, which was a tearoom.  She had rented a guest house behind the old Victorian that housed the tearoom.  Maudie was right when she said it was hard to spot.  A wooden sign marked the cobblestone path that led to the Victorian house.  Fortunately, there was a light on the sign.  Adelle’s Attic was back away from the sidewalk, and sheltered by huge shade trees.

My friend had transformed from the sobbing wreck she had been when she called me.  She greeted me cheerily.

“Don’t tell me you’ve already gotten back with Ambrogio?” I remarked, unable to keep a trace of grumpiness from my voice.

My friend gave me a put-upon look, and she sighed.  Then she smiled.  Maudie could be mercurial.

“No.  He hasn’t given me a good enough apology,” Maudie answered.  “I lost my willpower and called him on the phone.  But then he gave me this lame excuse, claiming that he wasn’t allowed in the town!  Of all the nerve.  As if anybody would believe that!”

My eyebrows climbed my forehead.  I remembered the overheard conversation.  One of the men really must have been Ambrogio Junior.

“Maybe he can’t,” I murmured, shocking Maudie.  “Don’t vampires have to be invited into houses?  Maybe there’s something that can prevent them from entering entire towns.”

A pensive expression came to Maudie’s face.  A second later her lips thinned and she frowned.  She gave her halo of fluffy dyed blonde hair a petulant shake.

“I don’t care.  Do you know what he did?” she exclaimed and I reminded her that she had been too upset to explain when she called.

“We ran out of sweets, and there had not been even a Grab-N-Go for ages.  He had the gall to ask me if he could drink my blood!  He said it was an emergency or he wouldn’t ask.  But he seemed like he was fine to me,” she stated angrily.  “That was our agreement from the beginning.  He would never even ask to…to feed from me.  No.  I’m done with him.”

“And yet… you seem really up-beat,” I queried, and she beamed a dazzling grin at me.

“Pepper, this town is running over with handsome men.  I might keep this cottage for a month.  I don’t know if Adelle will let me, but I think I’ll ask her in the morning,” Maudie enthused.

I tried not to roll my eyes.  Honest.  I really tried.


The cottage had two small bedrooms.  Maudie talked me into trying to get a few hours of sleep before taking care of my personal business.

“Do you need help with your bags?” she asked.

“Maudie, I don’t pack the way you do,” I replied with a chuckle.  “I stuffed a change of clothes into an overnight bag, my toothbrush, and that’s about all.  I’ll go back to my car and get it.  Back in a sec.”

Though the tearoom was in the middle of town, the area was utterly quiet.  I was used to the constant baseline of noise of a city.  The silence felt alien to me.  Nervous, I walked quickly to my car.

I pressed a button on my car key and was rewarded by the squawk-squawk sound.  However, I whirled when I heard a snort-snort seem to answer it.

Beside the sidewalk, three small animals sat on their haunches watching me.  I blinked, realizing they were piglets.

Or, maybe they aren’t exactly piglets, I thought.  They’re glowing!

Artist unknown, Pixabay
Artist unknown, Pixabay

♣ ♣ ♣

Episode 2 will feature a special treat from Resa McConaghy!  Don’t miss it.  Wishing you a wonderful weekend.  I love to hear from you, so friendly comments are encouraged.  Hugs!

♣ ♣ ♣

My Vibrating Vertebrae, Agnes Mae Graham

My Vibrating Vertabrae cover
A lovely book of poetry by Chris Graham’s mom

♣ ♣ ♣

The Atonement Series

Atonement kindle covers Cat eyes shelf 2023

Atonement, Tennessee

Full series of e-books with one click:



Also in Spanish, translated by Olga Núñez Miret! The title for the Spanish-speaking market is Expiación y Magia

Atonement in Bloom



The Glowing Pigs, Snort Stories of Atonement, Tennessee



♣ ♣ ♣

This is a work of fiction.  Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2022 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

All rights reserved. 

No part of this work may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.  Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.

All images are either the property of the author or used with permission, or from free sources.

66 thoughts on “New 3-Things Serial! — Atonement in Zugzwang: Episode 1, Featuring Chris Graham

    1. You just gave me a big smile, Teri. Thank you.
      At first the vampire was really just an easy “path” for having Maudie in the story. But then it let me do some foreshadowing with the dragons. Although I don’t expect vampires to play a further part in the story.
      I’m bring in some minor characters from the books. Maybe Lilith will have a cameo, but I’m not sure how I could bring her into it.
      LOL, I’ve already painted myself into a predicament with how I just now wrote the ending of Episode 2. Yeesh! Now what am I going to do? o_O

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What fun! I’m shocked — shocked! — that a vampire wants to drink a woman’s blood! 😀 He needs to carry a sack of hard candy at all times, and any girl friend of his needs to carry another. Bleh!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks, David. This one has not started with as much response as they have in the past. That might be the difference in engagement — between opening up the contribution of “reader things” to the whole world as opposed to me selecting the contributors at random. But the extra work of that was just too much for right now.
      Anyhow, thanks for dropping by with an encouraging word. Hugs.


        1. Bloggers make all sorts of explanations for that, mostly depending on what larger events might be taking place in the world (football games, severe weather, holidays, vacations… and on and on). I think a lot of it has to do with WordPress, and how many people are able to see that we’ve actually posted. Not out of malice, but from programming/coding changes that really amount to a lack of concern for their content providers (us).
          I really enjoy your posts.


  2. The most worrisome aspect is how your characters never read your books or they wouldn’t be entering Atonement so casually. Talk about wilfully blind. PS like the dragons mind you. I’m a bit of a sucker for dragons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks, Rebecca. I’m so excited about the next episode. Resa went above and beyond what I asked.
      The response to this kickoff may not be big in numbers, but it’s been wonderful to have people who were here, a decade ago when I did the first Atonement book, say such positive things about the stories.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. And a big (if belated) wishes to Ms. Frances for a happy birthday. Hugs on the wing.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the great feedback, Noelle. Throughout this new story, I’ll give nods to some of the characters from the books (like those big black wings). There will at least be visits (maybe larger parts) from some of the minor characters. Hugs.


  3. You’re off to an excellent start, Teagan. Atonement, the Glowing Pigs, the Tearoom – I feel like I’ve come home (although I think I’ll get a room outside of town. Just a few miles. I commute for the episodes ;). I can’t wait to hear what happens in the morning.

    I hope you have a great weekend!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much, Dan. My combination of bogging-down computer and slow Internet was giving me fits when I was posting this. I just now went in and fixed several things that were lost in the cut-and-paste.
      LOL! Let me know what kind of place you find outside of Atonement. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

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