Archive for October, 2011

Here’s how October worked out….

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

For the most part: Not bad. I had another three-parter, with Special Agent Khrys Ferro, which was intended to be a kind of male Mary-Sue story and then turned into something… different. But it was entertaining in its way, and I’ll keep him around for future use. I’ve also been doing well over on, with all my entries thus far winning medals. That, as they say, ain’t half bad.

On the downside, I missed three days due to illness, the details of which I will not bore and / or disgust you with. Suffice it to say that I think I made the right decision. Even though it does set a precedent for allowing myself to take breaks from writing, it’s still a pretty high bar to clear. So to speak.

Anyway, here are the numbers for October: I wrote 36,524 words this month, which is lower than most. Part of it is losing a few days, and part of it is writing some really short stories. Won’t be able to get away with that next month, though – but more on that later. The word total thus far is 167,631 words, which looks awesome when I write it up like that. Gods willing, I’ll break 200,000 by the end of November.

Which brings us to National Novel Writing Month. I outlined my thoughts pretty clearly over on my blog, but to summarize: I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year, but with a wee bit of a twist. Instead of writing a novel, I’ll be doing an anthology of 30 short stories. The plan is to use the classical elements as a theme – air, water, fire, earth, and aether. Each element will get six days and six stories. That’s it. If everything goes well, then I’ll hit that 50,000 word mark and everyone will be happy.

If not, then it’s shame and ignominy all around, I suppose.

So, wish me luck!

Categories: Reportage

Day One Hundred and Sixty-three: The Ocean’s Claim [REDUX]

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

On the last day of each month, I’ll take a story from the previous month, clean it up a little, see if I can make it better than the first time it appeared, and post it up. I decided to go over the first story from September, day 103 – The Ocean’s Claim. I wanted to fill it out a bit more, see if I could figure out a little about the narrator and his father, which I did. I also wanted to figure out exactly what the ocean wanted with him, which I did not. I suppose you can’t have everything… Still, it’s an intriguing problem, and perhaps the next step in the story will reveal itself to me one day.


I was on the beach after my father’s funeral. He had never taught me how to deal with tragedy, since he didn’t believe in the thing. But here it was, and here I was – alone on the beach, staring out at the water and the clouds.

The man had been a surfer his whole life. He never had a job that I could remember, yet we never went without. He fed us and clothed us with the kindness and charity of his friends and neighbors, for whom he would do what kindnesses and favors he could in return. He ran rescue out in the waters, and more than a few surfers owed their lives to his boat and his quick thinking.  When things were going his way, he shared with the neighbors, giving them food if they needed it, and what help he could. A good man, my father.

Everyone knew him, too. He would stride into restaurants and be greeted with a chorus of voices. He would make his presence known in a grocery store or a surf shop or a drugstore and we wouldn’t see him until he had drawn the latest conversation and gossip out of everyone he knew. Then he would surf with the men he grew up with, spend long hours battling the waves and come home smelling of seawater and marijuana.

I suppose he raised us well, even though everyone knew that the ocean was what he loved the most. He always had his computer tuned to weather sites, watching the radar as it scanned the skies for him. He was looking for the storms that made the waves, the great banks of cloud and changes in pressure that meant a good day of surfing was on its way. He couldn’t help me with my math homework, and he didn’t think much of tossing a ball around or teaching the facts of life, but he knew the ocean better than he knew himself.


He died surfing, as he always knew he would. When he went out on the water, he had a ritual: he would turn to the land, to the lush greens and the brilliant beach, and the mountains off in the distance, and he would wave to them. Like he wasn’t going to see them again. He told me that he just wanted to be sure that he did that, just in case something went bad.

He hit a wave wrong, as happens to every surfer sooner or later, his board flipped and the fin sliced him open along the side. Big Ed Couto, after a few beers at the wake, told me it looked like the board had filleted him. He said that the blood filled the water, and it was all he could see as he tore at his shirt to tie something off.  Ed remembered thinking about sharks, but the sharks didn’t bother with my father. He was the ocean’s, Ed said, which churned and danced with some kind of violent joy as its son bled out his life. He was soon led away by my father’s friends with tears in his eyes.

My father’s ashes were, of course, spread out into the ocean, his true home. It was an awkward ceremony on a small sightseeing boat under a bright blue sky that was being overtaken by clouds. Me, my brothers, Big Ed and a few more of dad’s surfing circle. More wanted to come – we had to turn away an entire flotilla of boats by asking them to respect our family’s privacy.

We dumped the ashes into glass-smooth water, where they sat on the surface for a moment before slowly settling in. I told the captain to turn around. I felt sick. Not seasick – that was something my father would have never tolerated in his oldest son. My head was pounding and my joints were tight. Every time the small boat bumped up against the waves, my teeth would clack together until I tasted blood. My eyes were closed. I didn’t want to look out, to see the ocean that had claimed my father. I stood by the gangplank all the way back to the marina, and waited for the maddeningly slow process of docking the boat, with my eyes itching and my fingers gripping the railing so hard that I swore I could feel bones crack. I wouldn’t even begin to feel normal again until I was on land, and that very thought made me feel like I was betraying him.

But the easing of my illness – or whatever it was – was not enough to get me off the beach. It held me there as if it were waiting to show me something. Wonderful or horrible, there was no way of knowing.

I was offered a ride by everyone who had a car, but I waved them off. Said I would rather walk home, which was not a lie. When they had gone, with the clouds coming in, I went to a fallen piece of driftwood above the high tide line and sat down. The ocean was a slate grey. It moved sluggishly, barely mustering the energy to crawl up the sand to meet me. I took off my shoe and set my toes right up to the furthest edge the water could reach and smiled as it tried, futilely, to touch me. It was the ocean that had claimed my father, the waves that took him and killed him and tore him apart. It would love to get me too, I was sure of it. I moved my toes back just a hair, and the wave seemed to stretch itself just a little more.

The sun was hidden high above the clouds, its light weak and diffuse. The sand was cold under my toes and the constant breeze tangled in my hair. I listened to the ocean for a while, waves coming in and out like breaths of a great beast. If I closed my eyes, I could hear it inhale, exhale, over and over again. I breathed with it, the cold salty air clinging to my lungs until I let it go and then took another breath. I breathed and I sat, and that was all I did, there on the beach.

I flinched when the water touched my feet.

I opened my eyes when it didn’t let go.

The water was pooled around my feet, one bare and the other still in a shoe that would be acceptable for a funeral. I tried to pull my bare foot away and the water clung to it, like a thick jelly. Even when I stood up and put my weight behind it, the water clung to me, stretching but not snapping. I wanted to yell for help, but the beach was deserted. I hopped on one foot and kept pulling against the strange, rubbery pseudopod that stretched up from the shoreline.

That was when the ocean adjusted its grip… and pulled back.

I went flat on my back and felt sand grinding its way into my clothes as the water dragged me down the beach. I scrabbled at the sand and the rocks, finally starting to yell, but I couldn’t slow myself down. The water was up to my thighs now, pulling me faster towards the ocean. I opened my mouth for one more great shout, and that was when I was pulled beneath the waves, dragged feet-first into the somber waters. I flailed, trying to swim up to the surface, but the ocean had me in a full-body grip. My clothes were soaked and dragging me down, and I could feel the heat leaving my body, sucked out by the freezing water. My heartbeat pounded in my ears, far faster than it had been just moments ago. The water stung my eyes, and I sank in the cold darkness, trying to hold on to the last scraps of breath in my lungs.

Then the ocean said my name.

It was the last thing I remember.

I awoke on the beach, staring up at the stars. The ocean air was cold, and I shivered as I sat up. The full moon was hanging low in the sky, but I couldn’t tell if it was nearer to morning or evening, or if it was even the same day. The ocean rested along the seashore, its waves coming in slowly and quietly, as though the waters themselves were looking forward to a night’s rest.

All my muscles hurt when I stood. My hands were cold and stung from the sand, and when I looked at them, I nearly fell to the ground again. On the backs of my hands were tattoos, as black and shiny as the seaweed that rose from the bottom of the deeps. The tattoos were a confusing combination of circles and triangles and writing that seemed to skitter away from my gaze when I looked at it. Lines radiated out from the circles, and when I turned my hands over I found that they converged into new designs on my palms.

In the moonlight, the tattoos seemed to shimmer on my pale skin, and it was then that I noticed the other change that had been wrought: my hands were now webbed.

The ground seemed to come up to meet me as I fell to my knees and looked out over the ocean. “What have you done?” I whispered.

The ocean didn’t answer back.

Day One Hundred and Sixty-two: A Day Out

October 30, 2011 6 comments

Lola stared at herself in the mirror and ran her fingers through her long auburn hair. “This is great,” she said. “I mean really great!”

“I know,” Marisse said, coming into view behind her. She spun Lola around and stooped to look into her sister’s eyes. “Nice, nice,” she said. “Green is good on you.” She stood up straight and turned around to show off the short black dress she’d managed to squeeze into. “How’s this look?” she asked.

“You look great,” Lola said, and she actually meant it. Marisse was gorgeous – tall, with deep brown skin and hair that was nearly blue-black, even in the light of their bathroom. She stood like a supermodel, a hand on her hip and made a pouty face like the ones they’d seen in so many magazines. “Seriously,” Lola said. “That is amazing.”

“And thank you,” Marisse said. She ran a finger down the lapel of the jacket Lola was wearing. “You don’t look too bad yourself, my dear.” She picked up Lola’s pale hand and examined her nails. “Brava on your choice here, too.”

Lola smiled and blushed. “It’s the same blue as the suit,” she said. “I can’t believe I actually found it.”

“Well, you did, and you look amazing.” Marisse turned them around to look in the mirror. “We both look amazing. And you know what?” She put her arm around Lola, and Lola could practically feel the confidence welling over from her. “We are going to have an amazing Halloween this year.” Marisse hugged her close. “Mark my words.”

The morning sun was barely a hands-width over the treetops by the time they left their house and began the long walk to the bus stop. They tottered in their high heels and laughed about it as they walked, and they drew stares from everyone else who was waiting by the time they got there. Marisse made sure to stand next to a middle-aged businessman, and she tried flirting with him. She stood in the corner of his eye and smiled at him, and then looked away when he looked at her. A few more times, and he took out his phone and started frantically tapping away so that he didn’t have to look at her. It was all Lola could do not to burst out laughing.

The bus ride into Sylvania City took about half an hour, and they were on the edges of their seats the whole time. Lola pointed out the things that had changed since the year before – a new strip mall, a restaurant that had gone under, a house that had gone somewhat overboard on the holiday decorations. When people got on the bus, they giggled and pointed, and more than once made people stand up and move to other seats. Among the morning commute crowd, they were by far having the most fun, and even on Halloween, that was strange.

They stepped down from the bus in Bemrich Circle, in the most touristy district of Sylvania City, and squinted in the bright sunlight. “Okay,” Marisse said. “What time’s sunset again?”

“5:05,” Lola said. She’d had it up on notes around the house for a week, and made sure she remembered. “We have just a little over eight hours.”

“Well, then, let’s get to it!” Marisse gestured widely and grinned. “Where do you want to start?”

The choices were endless. Sylvania wasn’t the largest of cities – nothing like New York or Boston or Corsair – but it had an eclectic spirit all its own. The downtown was full of people and buses and cars, little bookstores and restaurants and huge national department stores. There were museums along the Hortus and a new walking park that had been built along the Edles River last year. They could spend days here, if they wanted.

But they didn’t have days.

Lola watched the people getting off the bus, tired and hurrying to catch taxis or run to their offices. “How about we get some coffee?” she said, pointing to a small shop on the corner that was doing brisk business with the commuter crowd. Marisse clapped her hands and they dashed across the busy street to join the line.

When they finally got to the counter, an exhausted barista greeted them with, “Welcome to Javaville, what’ll you have?”

Lola and Marisse exchanged glances, and Marisse struggled to keep a straight face as she turned to the young man. “I would like,” she said, over-enunciating each word, “one soy milk latte.” Lola started to giggle and Marisse gave her a slight shove. “And a blueberry muffin.” Lola started to laugh hard enough to attract the attention of the other customers, and the barista arched an eyebrow.

“Anything for your friend?” he asked.

Lola leapt to the counter. “Yes,” she said, her voice taking on the sing-song quality that people use when they talk to children. “I’d like a mocha espresso, please. And one of your delicious scones.” She smiled, showing as many teeth as she could, and the barista had to blink a few times before he rang them up.

They sat in the cafe and planned their day, occasionally glancing around at the crowd and watching the other customers as they came in. They would go to the Finamore Museum of Art first and see the traveling Picasso exhibition they were hosting. From there, they planned to hit some of the nicer boutiques in the heart of downtown and try on clothes. Not to buy, of course, but just for the fun of seeing themselves in something new and different. Marisse tried on the more risque outfits, doing her best to make even the saleslady have to blush and clear her throat and recommend that perhaps she would like to wear something a little more modest. Lola tended towards the more conservative, trying to imagine what she would look like at a fancy dinner party, or perhaps a wedding. She stood in front of the mirror and smoothed down the fabric and let the images form in her mind. No matter that they wouldn’t happen, of course. It was Halloween, and if ever there was a time to play dress-up, it was now.

They had lunch at the top of the Denton department store and ate small pasta dishes while looking out at the city.

“I never get tired of this,” Lola said. “I just wish we could do it more often.”

Marisse took a sip of water. “Me too,” she said. “Me too.”

After lunch they went to a bookstore and browsed for a while, followed by a subway ride to the Hortus, the great park that defined the heart of Sylvania City. The sun was on its descent by now, and they only had a few more hours left to them. The red and gold leaves glimmered in the sunlight as they walked around the Great Pond, enjoying the brisk autumn air. Their spirits were more subdued now, but they still looked at the world around them with glee and astonishment from time to time.

“I think I need to sit down,” Lola said after a while. She sat, took off a shoe and started to rub her foot. “You go ahead. I’ll meet you by the fountain?”

“You sure?” Marisse asked. She glanced across the pond to the fountain and back again. “I can stay here.”

Lola shook her head. “No, you go. I’ll be right behind you.” She smiled and shaded her eyes against the sun. “Don’t worry.” Marisse nodded, but still looked uneasy, glancing back a few more times as she walked away.

Alone, Lola closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out. She liked Marisse – loved her, even. They’d been together for ages and doing their Halloween excursions for as long as she could remember. But Marisse could be a little much sometimes.

Lola’s thoughts were sharply interrupted by the barking of a dog. She opened her eyes to see a golden retriever straining at the end of a leash at her, growling and barking. The young man holding the leash pulled and yelled at his dog. “Rocky! Rocky, knock it off!” He gave the leash a sharp tug, and the dog stopped barking. He bent down to hold it and looked up at Lola. “Sorry,” he said. “He’s usually not like this.” Rocky had gone quiet, but he was still staring at Lola with fear in his eyes.

“That’s all right,” she said. “Dogs don’t usually like me very much.”

The young man scratched Rocky’s ears and smiled. “I can’t imagine that,” he said. He turned to Rocky. “You gonna be good?” he asked. He stood up and Rocky growled quietly. The young man nodded at Lola. “He’ll be good.” He stepped over to her and offered his hand. “I’m Shane,” he said. “But you’ll probably remember me as the guy with the dog.”

Lola took his hand and smiled. “No,” she said. “I’m pretty sure I’ll remember you.” She looked up at him and squinted. “I’m Lola,” she said. The sun was behind him, making it hard to get a good look at his face. “Would you like to sit down?” she said. “It might save me some eyestrain.”

Shane commanded Rocky to stay, and took a seat next to Lola. He looked out over the water with her for a while, and the sun dropped lower to the horizon. “It’s my favorite place in the city,” he said, not turning to her. “It’s one of the biggest reasons I stay here.”

She smiled. “I like it too. I just wish I could come more often.”

“You’re not from around here?” he asked.

Lola shook her head. “I live outside the city with a friend of mine. We… we don’t get out a whole lot.”

He nodded and leaned back against the bench, but didn’t push the topic. Instead he asked about her favorite places to visit, and offered some suggestions of his own for the next time she and her friend managed to get into the city. She, in turn, asked about what he did and how he lived his life, and she found herself resisting the urge to dig into every detail. They talked well together, and she had a conversation unlike any she’d had in a long time. With Marisse, there was nothing new to talk about. They knew everything about each other, but here she was finally in new territory.

And he was good-looking, too. That certainly didn’t hurt.

They talked for a long while, and only stopped when Lola finally heard Marisse calling to her as she ran along the path towards her.

“Lola!” she yelled. Marisse looked panicked, and she’d lost her shoes somewhere along the way. “Lola, the sun!” she flung out a hand across the pond. Lola looked, and to her horror realized that she’d let the sunset slip her mind. It was already dropping behind buildings, and she felt her insides go cold with panic.

“Oh, god,” she said, and stood up quickly. Rocky jumped to his feet and started barking again, and Shane tried to calm him down. “Oh, god,” she said again, “I’m so sorry…” She backed away from Shane and took Marisse’s hand. “I really.. .I really have to go.”

He looked up at her and glanced at Marisse. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

Lola surprised herself by smiling. “No,” she said. “Not really.” Marisse tugged at her, but Lola stood still. “I really wish I could stay, Shane,” she said.

He stood up and put his hands in his jacket pockets. “I don’t understand,” he said. “What’s -”

Lola’s scream cut him off. It was high and keening and terrible, and she doubled over and dropped to the ground, followed quickly by Marisse. Shane tried to go to her, but Rocky positioned himself between them, growling and barking furiously. All Shane could do was watch as the shadows grasped at Lola and Marisse and they started to change.

Marisse shrank and withered, becoming a skeletal version of herself. Her eyes burst into flame and sat in her dessicated face like two hot coals. Her hair whipped up around her head in an unseen wind and waved about, dry and rasping. Her mouth opened, a black and toothless maw, and a howl that chilled Shane’s blood filled the air.

Lola’s back arched and lurched, and two great wings burst forth. They were long and spindly, and webbed with tattered skin that was nearly thin enough to see through. Her skin turned the dull gray of unpolished granite and cracked at the joints. A dull red glow came through the cracks, like molten stone, and when she moved there was a grating and crumbling sound. She stood on thin, insectile legs and turned to Shane, who was on the ground covering his eyes with his arm.

She looked at him, wishing her true face were capable of expressing something other than unholy rage. She wanted to explain, to say that she was sorry, but her mouth couldn’t do that anymore. Her day as a human was done. From tonight, it would be another year of being the monster she’d always been.

Lola growled at Rocky, who whined and cowered behind Shane, who had finally managed to peek out from behind his arm. He was terrified, as he should have been, and Lola felt that strange ache in what used to be her heart. Other years had been fun. Little breaks from who she’d always been. But this was the first time she felt like there could have been more days, more time.

She ground her teeth and turned to pick up Marisse. Her friend was still groaning, and her groans lingered long. She held Marisse close to her and sprung into the air, her tattered wings somehow holding her aloft and giving her the lift to fly back to their house outside the city. It would be another year before she and her sister could venture out in daylight again, and she wasn’t at all sure that was what she wanted anymore.

For the first time in a thousand years, there were tears in her eyes as she flew.


This is done not only for Halloween, but for the Worth1000 Halloween 2 contest. Of course, I’ll have to trim it somewhat – maximum word count is 1,500 and I’m well above that….

Day One Hundred and Sixty-one: Time to Go

October 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The death of a world is a horrible thing to witness. The death of your own is only more so.

We had known peace for a thousand years. The great battles between the mages and the sorcerers, the wizards and the witches had ended in a treaty that narrowly forestalled the elimination of nations, and which would set a course for the future where the energies they wielded would finally create the paradise we all dreamed of. They put aside their differences in favor of a better world, and somehow, some way, it worked.

The greatest minds of all time worked together to put these powers to use, and they created wonders. Cities were wiped clean of poverty and hunger and crime, and great new edifices were built that rivaled the towering Dodovur mountains in their height and their grandeur. The great plains of Hakafi were made even richer and more fertile than ever, producing rolling waves of wheat that glittered in the sun like living gold and fed billions. The massive southern continent of Tas-tasenth was given over to the trees, and within a century it was home to more creatures and plants than any scholar would be able to count in a hundred lifetimes. The oceans teemed with life, the air was clear and clean, and we humans had finally, finally made a world for ourselves that met the hopes and dreams of all those who had lived and struggled and died before us.

But the sins of our past would not hide forever.

The great city of Amori, home to the ancient thaumaturgic research university of Ortasbura, turned to salt and crumbled into the sea over the span of twenty four hours on midsummer’s day. Six million people died and went missing, and no one knew why. The world was shocked and angry. And very, very scared.

Angogh, one of the Archmages of the Western Reach, brought a team to the remains of the city. He and his assistants worked tirelessly for a week, bringing to bear every tool of sorcery they could find against the loos of Amori. He called in the greatest minds he knew, and their conclusion, in the end, was inescapable.

The world, he told us, is dying.

The governing council chose to release his full statement to the five billion people living on the planet, full and uncensored. We all watched, rapt, as Angogh explained that the spells and curses and hexes of so long ago had not vanished when the Great Treaty was signed. Some of them had survived, deep in the earth, and waited. They traveled along lines of power and met and mixed and changed, becoming new and horrible, storing vast energies all over the world. The work being done at Ortasbura had created a thinness, a weak point in the world that finally broke free and allowed these horrors to reach out and touch our lives.

And they could not be stopped. The world, Angogh said, would be torn apart by forces that had waited under our feet for millennia. We had very little time if we wanted to act.

One team, a group that had made themselves famous in entertainment circles as sorcerous adventurers, decided that they would try to stop these curses, which soon were erupting elsewhere in the world. Laskund Shos and her team produced a live event, promising to bring an end to the horrifying predictions of Angogh. The man had gotten old, they said, and nervous in his old age. They traveled to the slate-planes of Tia’ia for their ritual, and set up a vast magical circle. They brought in twenty of the best wielders they could, all of whom had shown strength and promise in their work. The circle was lined with the most advanced magics they could think of and the energies they brought to bear were like nothing the world had seen in centuries. It seemed to everyone watching that their success would be assured.

They were incinerated less than thirty seconds after the ritual began. The endless plains of Tia’ia were turned to human flesh that screamed so loudly that people could hear it hundreds of miles away. When it died and began to rot, no one could decide if it was even more horrible, or if it was truly a mercy.

The only option, then, was evacuation. As many people as possible would be sent into alternate dimensions, pocket universes, magical realms that existed only a shadow’s width from ours. But to do so would require great talent, energy and resources, much of which had just burned to death on the slate-plains of Tia’ia. The Great Council, under the advisement of Angogh, drew up a plan. The most essential members of government and research, the great leaders and thinkers of the age, would have to go over. The young and the fertile, the skilled workers and the teachers and laborers, they would have to go. The people who would be needed if they should one day be able to find a new world.

For everyone else, there was the lottery.

Some people panicked and railed against the plan, but in the end there was nothing else to be done. Teams worked around the clock in as many cities as they could. Already, the destruction being wrought by these ancient energies had killed millions more, and they shook the earth at every opportunity. Portals were erected to take people wherever they could go, to new worlds from which they could never return. People streamed into the cities, hoping to make the lottery and have a chance to survive.

Some people took action on their own. The citizens of a small village in the province of Lisassa found enough power to fold their entire town into some alternate world. People found each other though the Hexnets and went away in groups of two or three or five. And some chose to stay away from the evacuation entirely, to wait it out on their own. Others failed spectacularly, releasing more of the horrors that waited beneath the surface of the world and bringing quick death to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands more.

Those of us who did escape watched it all unfold with growing sorrow and horror. Through magic mirrors, scrying pools, crystals and magic circles, we saw the way the world crumbled. To the end, people were still trying to get out. One of the last evacuation portals was held open by none other than Angogh himself. He stayed, standing on legs that were barely even human anymore, until the ground beneath him opened up and, with teeth that were built to rend and tear, swallowed him – and thousands of others – whole.

And then it was gone.

Our world, the one we had built and fought over and protected since our species emerged, the one that had cradled life since its inception so very long ago, was gone. It cracked and shook and crumbled. It split apart and suppurated like a wound. It undid itself from the atoms up, and left a void in the universe that cried out to all creation that something was lost. Something that had been wonderful, unique, and precious, was now gone forever.

There were places that I loved in our world. The rolling green hills of Yijal, where the sun would set more slowly than anywhere else. The towering spires of Jadorin, where the bird-people flew and cultivated the air itself. The brilliant ocean depths and the sunken city of Calaia, always in a blue-green twilight that hid some of the most profound mysteries of man. I will always remember them, not as the burning and twisting wreckages they became, but as the places I loved. The places I will never see again.

Our people are scattered, dispersed among worlds that we never thought we would see. The wonders of the human race are gone, and will likely never be seen again.

We are a hardy species, though. Humans never truly settle down, and somewhere there will arise a new world, a new homeland for those of us who had to flee the world we knew. There is still hope for us, out among the worlds.

For now, though, there is only sorrow, pain, and regret.

We mourn the world of our birth. May we serve these new worlds better in its memory.


Inspired by one of my favorite Legion of Super-heroes stories, “Requiem” (Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #38, 1992)

Day One Hundred and Sixty: A Time to Talk

October 28, 2011 6 comments

This is a story for the Halloween contest over at The rules are pretty simple: “Write a short piece of flash fiction, 500 words or less, that incorporate the title of your chosen [horror] flick.” In other words, I had to pick the title of a horror movie and put each word of that title in the story – just not all together. The fun part: guess what the movie is!


Warren couldn’t help looking around Hal’s bathroom when he got out of the shower. The place was cluttered with countless… things. Miscellaneous tchotchkes, like the little painted doll heads that were lined up in a row above the door, or a framed magazine ad for cologne that hung above the toilet and which had several cartoons drawn on sticky notes stuck to it. There were Mardi Gras beads hanging off the hook on the door and a little bowl of marbles on the toilet tank. Some of it was probably stolen, like the Denny’s sign that read, Por favor lavarse los manos ante de salir that was pasted in the corner of the mirror. Ever obedient, Warren washed his hands, adjusted the towel around his waist, and went out into the apartment.

The bedroom was the same as the bathroom, only larger. The bookcase probably held more miscellaneous knickknacks than it did books, and he’d had trouble the night before finding his way through the stacks of stuff that were on the floor. If it all weren’t so interesting, he would have to leave. No one wants to date a hoarder. Not that Warren was feeling too secure in his dating habits right now as it was. The thoughts he’d tried to wash away in the shower were back, and they made his stomach hurt.

“You okay?” Hal asked. He was lying on the bed, barely covered by a thin sheet, and for all that it covered him, it didn’t really hide anything. He stretched like a cat, and Warren had to look away for a moment. There were things to do, he had to go to work, and if he watched Hal stretch, then none of that would get done. Of course, that was really part of the problem.

He sat down on the edge of the bed and said, “Hal. I think we should talk.”

Hal sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees. “Uh-oh,” he said. “That’s never good.”

“No, no,” Warren said. “It’s just…” He shrugged, and a moment later felt a hand on his shoulder. “I just want to know where this is going, you know?” He patted the bed. “I mean, this is fun and all, but still.” He turned around, and saw his own concern mirrored in Hal’s face, and that gave him some measure of hope. Perhaps Hal the collector was willing to give him a chance. “Where do we go from here, Hal? What do we tell people?”

They sat in silence for a little while. “I don’t know,” Hal finally said. “I guess we just have to trust to fate on this one.” He knelt upright on the bed and held Warren close. Warren let himself lay back in his cousin’s arms, and felt the tingle of skin contact. “Some things just… happen.”

Warren nodded. “Fate,” he said. “Right.” And it was then that he knew that this – whatever it was – wasn’t going to last.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-nine: Paying Penance

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

This story was also written for a Worth1000 contest, Day and Night With a Twist, which is a little involved. The idea was to take an image from one of their Effects contests and write a story around it. I chose the entry by Delpht, which placed 15th, but it really caught my eye. Let’s hope I can do it justice.


I couldn’t believe my guild was making me pay a penance. They knew I couldn’t make the raid, they knew I wasn’t going to be able to help them out – I mean, if I tanked my midterms, then there’d be no more gaming for me ever. And that’d be a lot worse than missing one night.

But no – next time I logged in there was a message from the guild leaders. Lignar, Vioniel and Asireg all wanted to see me in the guildhall. And that, friends and neighbors, is never good. There’s only two things they use the guildhall for – initiating new members and getting rid of the ones they don’t like, and I didn’t remember seeing any plebes brought in recently.

They put the ‘port token in my inventory, and that brought me right to the audience chamber. It was massive, as befits one of the most infamous guilds in Storms of War. Black marble pillars that reached up into the perpetual shadows of a storm-ceiling, brilliant wrought-silver floors that reflected the eternal light of the countless Victors’ Lamps that stood on tall brass stands. There was gallery seating for everyone in the guild, but this night, they were empty. It was just the three guild leaders and me.

“Unoldo,” Vioniel said, and her voice rang in the hall. She stood tall over me, her elfin armor gleaming in silver and bronze. “You let your guild down by abandoning us in our time of need.”

“Look,” I said, “I told you I wasn’t -”

“SILENCE!” Asireg hefted his war-hammer and smacked it into his broad palm a couple of times. “We don’t want to hear your excuses, Unoldo.”

“But guys, listen! I told you -”

Lignar’s sword slid from its scabbard with a long, drawn-out hiss, and in a moment that blood-red blade was pointed right at me. “Dude,” he said. “Shut up.”

I shut up. The two guys looked at Vioniel, who started again. “Unoldo, you let your guild down by abandoning us in our time of need. We lost some great warriors who might have survived if you had lent your magics to our cause.” My palms itched and I had to bite my tongue to keep quiet. Just to be on the safe side, I muted my mic.

“The standard penalty for abandoning your guild is to be expelled and branded a traitor, so that no other guild will accept you ever again. You would wander the world alone, never reaching your full potential in the Storms of War.”

“But,” Lignar said, stepping forward, “you’ve done well by us in the past. You’re a good guy, Unoldo, so we’re giving you a chance. One. Chance.”

Carefully, I unmuted my mic. This still was totally unfair. It was still a complete sham. But if I could get out of it and still stay in the guild? Hell, I could put up with whatever they threw at me.

“Okay,” I said. “I accept. Do your worst.”

*     *     *     *     *

I wandered through the night-forest, trying to find the path I’d been on, and I wondered if maybe it was time to give up Storms of War and maybe start playing games that didn’t involve other people. Tetris or something.

The new avatar I was wearing was ridiculous – a little robot creature, which was totally wrong for the server we played on. There are no robots in epic fantasy, none, but they borrowed a body from one of their friends on a sci-fi server and sent me to some custom-built hub for their little “quest.” Now instead of being a level 35 Elf, armed to the teeth with the best magical weapons I could buy, protected by ensorcelled armor and possessing so much treasure that I liked to just throw money at plebes, I was stuck in this stupid, slow, clumsy, fragile robot body.

The little blue dress and the ponytail were just adding insult to injury.

They had explained the rules, and I could hear their stupid smiles when they said it was “simple.” All I had to do was go to this hub and find the Wyrm. The Wyrm would ask me three questions, and if I could answer them before sunrise local time, then I’d be allowed back into the guild.

“No way,” I’d said. “It can’t be that simple.”

Asired shrugged. “We can make it harder, if you want.” And before I could say, “No thank you, I’ll take it as easy as I can get,” they had me teleported and re-avatared in the middle of a dark, trackless forest.

I had no map. There was no compass in my utility screen. Everywhere I turned, it looked exactly the same. Trees. Grass. Darkness. And the sound of crickets in my headphones.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” I said. There was no response from anyone. I was pretty sure they were watching me, but if they were then they’d decided to keep that nugget to themselves.

“Okay, Unoldo,” I whispered. “Find the Wyrm. Answer some questions.” I drummed my fingers on my desk and checked the time. It was already one in the morning. I tabbed over to my browser and checked sunrise. 6:14 AM.

“Okay,” I said again. I waggled my fingers over the keyboard, took my mouse in hand, and began to walk.

At first, I walked in that shuddery, incremental way I used to do when I was a plebe. Back in the days when pretty much anything could kill me, so my instincts for self-preservation were pretty strong. Light taps on the keys, a constant shifting of view back and forth, just in case something was ready to jump from the shadows and take me apart.

As time crawled by, though, I started to relax. I still didn’t know where I was, but there was nothing there. No creatures had leapt out to devour me, none of the trees had reached out to rip me to shreds. Whatever this place was, it seemed like I was the only one moving through it.

Within half an hour, I was bored stupid.

There was nothing to do but walk, and I didn’t even know where I was walking to. Every path looked the same, every tree looked like every other tree, and for all I knew, I’d been walking in a tight little circle all night.

Which was why actually meeting the Wyrm scared the everloving hell out of me.

I had no warning, no sign that something different was up ahead. The trail bent right and BAM. There it was. An ugly thing, like what you’d get if a subway car had sex with a caterpillar and then dumped its horrible mutant child on top of a giant mushroom. With a hookah.

It seemed as startled to see me as I was to see it. The thing reared back, and a message started to scroll across its green, backlit face. If it had a face.


I wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so I just stammered out, “I’m Unoldo. I’m on a quest. Umm.” I didn’t know what else to say. “You’re, like, supposed to ask me questions?”

AM I? it asked.

“Oh, for the love of – YEAH!” I lifted off my headset, put my head in my hands and just ground my teeth together so I didn’t scream. My clock said that it was just after four in the morning, and I had school the next day. I put the headset on again. “You have to ask questions. I have to answer them. Then I get back in my guild. Understand?”

The Wyrm just sat there for a moment, and its hookah bubbled. It was so still that I thought maybe whoever was running it had gone offline. Finally, though: BEST FRIEND AND GREATEST ENEMY. SAVES LIVES AND TAKES LIVES. WITH A BREATH, IT CAN BE BANISHED. WITH A BREEZE, IT CAN BE FED. WHAT IS IT?

Aw, hell.

“Okay,” I said. “Give me a minute.” I hunted around my desk for pen and paper. “Can you repeat that?” I asked. It did, and this time the words scrolled up along the side of the screen. I stared at them, and I swore I could feel time slipping away from me. The one thing I knew about riddles what they usually had simple things for answers, so I started running through ideas. I scratched answers down on paper and crossed them out as they failed the riddle. Not water or trees or clouds, those didn’t make any sense. If the rest of it was like this, then I was totally sc-

My head snapped up, and I shouted, “FIRE!” I flinched when I said it, and glanced up at the ceiling. No footsteps, but I couldn’t be too careful.

The Wyrm swayed slightly. CORRECT, it said, and I did a little happy dance in my chair.

A NEUTRON WALKS INTO A BAR AND ORDERS A BEER, it said, the words again appearing on the side of the screen as they scrolled across its face. IT FINISHES THE BEER AND ASKS THE BARMAN, “HOW MUCH DO I OWE YOU?” THE BARMAN REPLIES…?

I grinned and sat back in my chair. “He says, ‘For you – no charge.'” My chemistry’s teacher’s desperate desire to be a stand-up comedian was finally going to pay off. Just not for him.

CORRECT, the Wyrm said. I leaned forward again and cracked my knuckles. One more question to go, and sunrise was still a good hour away.

This time, the Wyrm reared up, lifting its body almost vertically above the mushroom’s cap. Its underbelly lit up, pale yellow in the darkness, and a crude line drawing blinked into existence. It was a square. Inside the square were two words, one on top of the other. “dice – dice”

“Dicedice?” I muttered.

INCORRECT, the Wyrm said, and my heart started pounding against my ribcage.

“NO!” I said, and then I dropped to a whisper. I wasn’t sure, but for a moment I thought I heard the bed upstairs squeak. “No,” I whispered. “I was just, you know, thinking out loud.” I had blown it, I had totally blown the whole thing, and right when I was about to pass. But the Wyrm didn’t move. It just stayed there, its belly flickering faintly in the gloom.

I muted my mic and started trying to figure it out. There were two of them, two dice… Why two? Doubledice? No… that wasn’t anything. Why two? Why two?

A thought jumped into my head. It seemed to make sense, but there was no guarantee that it would be right. And sunrise was coming sooner than I thought.

I turned on the mic again and said, “Paradise?”

The Wyrm swayed in the darkness and then dropped back down. CORRECT, it said.

“YESS!!” I hissed, and I pumped my fist. The breath I’d been holding came out in a rush.

The lights on the Wyrm’s underside flickered off, followed by the lights on its face. The forest was once again plunged into darkness, and my screen went blank. It stayed that way just long enough to make me start to panic again, but then faded into clarity. I was back in the guildhall again, alone this time. My armor was on, and a quick check on my inventory told me that everything I had was still where I left it. Spinning in the air in front of me was a glowing scroll. I grinned and took it.

Congratulations, Unoldo, it read. You passed your first-stage initiation. There will be two more tests. Pass them, and you will be granted the title of Guild leader. You will start the second test the next time you log in.

And at the bottom, in smaller type, it said, We really had you going, didn’t we? The sentence was signed by Lignar.

I grinned madly and put the scroll into my inventory. Yup. They had me going. I logged out and stretched. The sky outside was light, and I had maybe an hour before I was supposed to get up for school. I plodded over to the sofa and stretched out. I’d probably catch hell for staying up all night and gaming, but I didn’t care.

Some things were more important.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-eight: NapNow™

October 26, 2011 2 comments

This is an entry for the Worth1000 contest, Everyday Instruction Manual. The mission: “Write a simple set of instructions for completing a simple everyday task.” I figured I could make a little money on the side. Enjoy.


Welcome, weary traveler, to the wonderful world of Napping™! Thank you for purchasing volume one of NapNow™ System, a five-volume set that will bring you napping pleasure and fulfillment. Remember that official NapNow™ merchandise can be purchased on our website, napnow-dot-com.

Napping is an art that has been practiced by people around the world for centuries, from the ancient Mayans to the mysterious Far East, and now its secrets can finally be shared with you. By following these careful, time-tested instructions, the wide world of napping will reveal itself to you!

First, it is vitally important that you keep safety in mind at all times. So, step one: check your surroundings. Are there other people in the room? Are you immersed in water or other fluids or fluid-like substances? Is there a risk of fire? Would napping cause sudden injury, death, or long-term unemployment? If so, please avoid napping until the danger has passed.

If you have determined that napping is safe, then please proceed to the next step: finding a napping environment. Many amateur nappers prefer to use a sofa, hammock, or bed. For the ultimate in napping satisfaction, however, we recommend investing in a NapNow Total Sleep System™, which can be purchased for only $4,999, shipping and installation included.

Once you have established your napping environment, prepare yourself for the ultimate in consciousness-obliviating experiences!

Be sure to lie down in your napping environment. Standing up may seem like a good idea, but NapNow™ laboratory tests have shown that standing while napping can lead to such health hazards as concussions, broken limbs, and death. In addition, falling may cause damage to your valuable bedroom décor.

If you have purchased a NapNow Future Perfect Pillow™, be sure to place it under your head. This is the ideal orientation of a pillow, as has been proven by over twenty years of the most rigorous laboratory testing.

WARNING: Do not place the Pillow™ on your face, as involuntary asphyxiation may result.

Now that you are lying down in your sleep environment, with a Pillow™ under your head, you may want to make use of our patented NapNow Millennial Blanket™ thermal regulation package. Be sure to check the Blanket™-compatible digital thermometer (available on our website for only $29.99) to determine the amount of Blanket™ coverage and density you will need. Apply the Blankets™ until you have reached the desired level of warmth. If you feel that you have become too warm, carefully remove Blankets™ until you have reached the desired level of coolness.

It is at this point that you should be prepared to close your eyes. If you close your eyes prior to this step, serious injury may occur. Gently allow your eyelids to cover your eyes, without squeezing or fluttering. If you are uncertain as to how much eyelid pressure you should exert, our patented Blink Monitor™ will assist you to find the ideal level of eyelid tension as you prepare to fall asleep.

Be sure to take deep breaths, using the NapNow Pneumo-Plastic Breath Regulator™ to accurately judge both the rate of breathing and the breath pressure involved. Use the Integrated Metronomic Music-Assisted Breathing System™ (patent pending) to time your breaths at exactly eight breaths per minute, a rate discovered by NapNow™ scientists to produce the optimum napping experience.

In a few minutes, you should begin to notice a loss of consciousness. Congratulations! You have successfully joined the millions of people who are happy and successful Nappers™!

Day One Hundred and Fifty-seven: Killing Time

October 25, 2011 Leave a comment

The explosion that took out City Hall was precise and, as far as these things go, perfect. The charges had been set the way a demolition team would do it, making sure to take out that and only that building, which was exactly what Javier Varas had wanted. He did promise, after all, that if the state didn’t release his criminal compatriots from prison, he’d start blowing things up. Our tough-on-crime governor said he wasn’t going to negotiate with terrorists, and so Javier followed through on his promise. Scratch one historic city hall.

Of course, he hadn’t planned on being stuck in a basement storeroom when it happened.

Neither had I, come to think of it. But someone had to bring the guy in, and it turned out to be me. The chase took us all over the building, and we ended up there when the charges went off. It may have been the panic talking, but for a moment, he looked just as scared and surprised as I did. Then a great cloud of dust overtook us and everything went dark and cold.

I woke up coughing. No idea how long it had been since the explosion, but not too long, I hoped. I staggered to my feet, being careful to feel above me in the darkness with my hands. How much would that have sucked, to survive bombs only to knock my brains out standing up? I seemed to have lots of room, though. Not that I could see a damned thing. I hoped that was just because I was trapped under rubble and not because… Well, you know.

“Varas!” I coughed. I could still hear pieces of masonry crumbling around me, and I said a silent prayer that the next one to fall wasn’t the one that was holding half a building up above my head. “Varas!” I said again. “You here?”

There was a weak groan off somewhere to my left. I called him again and got another groan as an answer. Slowly, ever-so-carefully, I crawled over the rubble to where he probably was.

“Varas?” I said. “You all right?”

There was a moment of silence before a thick voice answered from somewhere below me and to my right. “Officer Zurowski,” he said. “Didn’t know you cared.”

I let out a breath that I didn’t know I’d been holding, a fact that probably would have troubled me if I’d been more inclined to think about it. I sat down on the rubble pile and tried not to move anything. “Naw,” I said. “It’s more paperwork if you die.”

There was a harsh, raspy laugh from wherever he was, and it ended in a cough. “Trapped down there?” I asked.

“I knew…” He paused to take a breath. “I knew you’d make detective someday.”

I grinned. Sure, the man was a criminal and a bomber and a murderer. But he had a sense of humor, and that’s hard to hold onto when you’re in that kind of position. “Well, just hang in there,” I said. “We’ll have you out in no time.”

“Ah,” he whispered. “Glorious freedom.”

We stayed like that for a while. There was no sound down there but our breathing – mine had calmed down a little, but his was still raspy. I strained my ears in the darkness for anything that sounded like a rescue crew. Heavy machinery, scraping, drilling… My fellow officers yelling down to me how I gotta hang in there, help is on the way.

There was none of that. Either we were a lot further down than I thought, or there was something keeping rescue away.

“Officer Zurowski,” he said. I turned towards the voice.


There was a moment of silence and then a raspy breath. “Why did you come after me?”

I thought about it for a moment and then shrugged. “You’re threatening to blow the place up. I’m a cop. I made a decision.” And it was not a good one, as it turned out, but I figured that went without saying. “If nothing had happened, I’d probably have my ass in a sling with the Chief right about now.”

“That might… be preferable.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it might.” I sat for a while, chewing on my lip. “Hey Varas.”

A pause. “Yes?”

“Why blow up city hall?”

There was a longer pause. “Seemed like a good idea… at the time,” he said. I laughed a little at that.

“So much for that.”


The quiet slammed into us again, and his raspy breathing got quieter. Part of me was starting to panic, thinking that someone had to come and come quickly. There’s a guy hurt down here, after all, and we gotta take care of him! But then I remembered that he was Javier Varas, and that the world might be a better place, on average, without him in it. But then I remembered he was a human being.

Here’s a tip for you: cops don’t like moral quandaries. We like our reality like we like our cars – in black and white. But for all the mental hand-wringing, there was one inescapable fact that kept popping up in front of everything else.

Several tons of concrete and debris were above us. And there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it.

“Hey. Varas.”

He was quiet a long time, and when he spoke it was a thin whisper in the darkness. “Yes?”

“It was a good plan, you know.” I stretched a leg that was starting to fall asleep. “Sorry I screwed it up for you.”

Another long pause. “No more sorry… than I am,” he said.

He didn’t say anything after that. I let him go to wherever it is people like him go to while I waited for rescue.

We sat there for a long time.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-six: Character Work

October 24, 2011 1 comment

Sean slammed the door and started piling furniture in front of it. The pumping station was quiet, except for his breathing and the scraping of  steel desks against the concrete floor. He had blocked the main entrance, but the zombies would get through that pretty quickly. All he had to do was keep them out, and he’d stay alive.

But for how long? With the door blocked, he lit a flare and propped it in the corner, filling the station with red, flickering light. The great machines cast terrible shadows against the high ceiling, and those shadows made him nervous. Too many places to hide. He wanted to check his watch, but there was no point to that anymore. He’d locked them out, yes, but unless they decided to go off and hunt someone else, he’d also locked himself in. 

He took a deep breath and reviewed what he had. A handgun, with no ammunition. A shotgun. Also, with nothing to fire. No more grenades, only a couple more flares. He still had his knife, though. The one he’d gotten when he finished SEAL training. It had never left his side, and he hoped that he’d be brave enough to use it on himself if the zombies did manage to break through. No food. No water. Soon, he’d be able to hear the ungodly gurgle and howl of the zombies outside the door.

Sean gripped his knife and took a few deep breaths. One way or another, he was dying in this room tonight.

Wes practically slammed the enter key when he finished that line and fell back in his chair. He took a deep breath and let it out, and then rubbed his eyes for a few moments before saving the document. He had been writing that sequence for days, and when he finally got his teeth in it, he blasted the whole thing out in a couple of hours. He did a quick check of the word count – a hair under seven thousand, which wasn’t bad at all. Great, actually, considering the story had been coming in drips and drabs for the last few weeks, barely shuffling along any faster than the zombies that were supposed to be the driving force.

“Why did I choose zombies?” he asked himself as he saved the file again and set it to print. This book had been sitting on his hard drive for ages, taunting him. He’d have an inspiration, spend a weekend pounding out the pages, and then it would all go away again, and he had no idea why. He liked his characters – even the ones he’d killed in gruesome ways. And Sean Danfield was a good character. You can’t go wrong with a Navy SEAL in this kind of story, and what with the abandonment by his father when he was a kid, Wes figured he could have the poor guy searching for some kind of psychological closure all the way up to the end of act three.

It was just getting him to act three that was the problem. “How the hell am I going to get you out of there?” he muttered.

“Wait just one goddamn minute,” a voice said. A man stepped out of his hallway, bloody and exhausted. He probably would have been handsome in a normal setting, if he wasn’t covered in gore and looking like he was about to snap and kill someone. And holding a giant knife. He had glossy black hair and deep brown eyes that Wes knew drove the women nuts. Or at least, they had done in the first chapter, before the zombies showed up. He strode towards the desk, the knife clutched in his hand. “What the hell do you mean you don’t know how to get me out of there?”

“Now isn’t a good time, Sean,” Wes said.

“The hell it isn’t!” He slammed the knife, point-first, into Wes’ desk and the wood nearly split.

Wes looked up at him. “Please, Sean. This is IKEA. It can barely withstand the tremendous pressure of just being a desk.” He put on what he thought was a kindly smile. “Don’t worry, Sean. I’ll find a way out of there for you.”

The big man was trembling as he stood there, and then he walked to Wes’ big overstuffed chair and slumped into it, his head in his hands. He didn’t cry – Wes was absolutely sure that Sean Danfield didn’t cry – but he was as close as he’d get to it. His voice was thick and quiet. “When?” he asked. “When are you getting me out of there?”

Wes levered himself up. “I don’t know, Sean. Eventually.”

“Eventually?” Sean looked up and his eyes were rimmed with red. “No no no no.” He stood up and rand his fingers through his short-cropped hair. “I can’t do eventually. Not like the time you left me in that police station for – what was it, six months?”

“A year,” Wes said. He almost felt ashamed.

“A year,” Sean whispered. “Jesus.”

Wes watched him for a moment, and then went into the kitchen to make coffee. It usually did a good job of calming Sean down. The first time Sean had shown up in his living room, Wes was terrified. That would, of course, be the only rational reaction to having a complete stranger, armed to the teeth and scared out of his wits, show up out of nowhere in your apartment in the middle of the afternoon. But once it became apparent what was going on, the relationship between the two men turned… different. Sean was well aware of the fact that Wes technically controlled his destiny, but Wes was equally aware of the fact that he needed Sean if he was going to finish the book. And so an uneasy detente was formed. Sean agreed to spend as much time as possible in the story, or wherever it was that he spent his time, and Wes agreed to write the story to the best of his ability.

Would that it were that easy. Wes’ poor habits made it hard to keep Sean’s story moving, or even necessarily making sense. More than once he’d had to backtrack and start a section again, just so he could get Sean out of a bind that had no exit. And it looked like he might have to do that again now. The problem was that they further he got in the book, the harder it would be to unmake the plot without starting over.

He carried two cups of coffee out to the living room and set the black in front of Sean. The man had his head back, and was staring at the ceiling. Wes sat across from him and sipped in the silence.

“Did you know that Leah was going to die?” Sean asked. He bent forward and cradled the mug in his hands.

The silence lingered for a minute. “No,” Wes replied quietly. “Not until it happened.”

Sean put the mug down. “How could you not know?” He put his head in his hands. “How could you not know something like that?”

All Wes could do was shrug. “Sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes the story surprises you. The characters surprise you.” He picked up his own cup. “I mean, it was something she would do, of course. Saving your life like that.”

“I didn’t want her to save my life,” Sean said. “Not if it meant losing her.”

There was really nothing to say to that, so Wes didn’t say anything. He just let his coffee cool on the table for a while. Sean sat, immobile, staring at the floor.

Finally, Wes stood up. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get to work.” He held out a hand and waited for Sean to take it.

The other man didn’t move. Wes offered it again, but still Sean sat still. Finally the man said, “What if I don’t want to?”

Wes’ hand fell. “What?”

Sean took a deep breath. “What if I don’t want to go on like this?” He looked up, and his eyes were full of despair. “I can’t do this anymore, Wes,” he said. “Losing my friends? Running just a half-step ahead of certain death all the time? Watching the world I knew just…” He spread his fingers and stared at his empty hands. “Just fall apart?”

He shook his head. “I can’t do this anymore, Wes. Let them in.” He stood up and walked slowly over to the computer, caressing the screen. “Let them break down the door. The blockade I made isn’t that great, after all. They’ll get in eventually.” He tugged the knife from the desk. “Give me a moment to use this, and it’ll all be over. For both of us.”

He stared at the knife, turning it to catch the light, and Wes felt for the first time like he was in some real trouble. “Sean,” he said, carefully putting an arm around the man’s shoulders. “You know I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” Sean whispered.

That was a tough question. Wes had an answer for it, of course, and any good writer would have had the same answer. He just didn’t think that Sean would believe him. He took a deep breath and let Sean go. “Because that’s not the kind of character you are, Sean Danfield. And you know it.”

Sean crumpled to his knees and – to Wes’ shock – started to weep quietly. The moment was terrible, but there was a part of his writer’s mind that was absorbing the whole thing, thrilled by the revelation that there was a place Sean could go that he hadn’t forced him to yet. That there was still another layer that could be stripped away. Wes could use that, and he felt like a monster even to acknowledge it. He got down beside his character and helped him stand up. “Come on,” Wes said. “Let’s get you out of there.”

He pulled over another chair, sat Sean down in it, and then settled down in front of the computer. He jiggled the mouse to turn off the screen saver and went back to where he had left off. “Okay,” he said. “You’re in the pumping station, the zombies are right outside. What do you do?” He looked over at Sean, who was still staring at the floor. “Come on,” he said. “Is this what they taught you in SEAL training? To give up?”

That got his attention. Sean looked up, and his face finally had some life in it. “No,” he said.

“Okay then!” Wes cracked his knuckles and waggled his fingers over the keyboard. “So. What do you do?”

Sean stood up and retrieved his coffee before answering. “It’s a pumping station, right?” He nodded. “Okay. So there’s probably, what… Maintenance tunnels or something?”

Wes grinned. “There are now,” he said, and started typing furiously. Sean sat down next to him and watched the words pour onto the page and offered ideas where he could. They worked that way long into the night.

When the chapter was finished, and Sean was safe – for the moment – Wes sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. When he opened them, the chair next to him was empty. The other coffee cup was cold. He stretched, saved the chapter and then shut down the computer. Four in the morning, another five thousand words.

“Nice work,” he said. “Thanks for your help.” His jaw cracked in a yawn and he plodded off to bed for a long sleep.

Day One Hundred and Fifty-five: Role Model

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment

As my cast list grows, every now and then I’ll randomly choose two or three characters and see what happens when I put them together. Insofar as there is a canon to any of these stories, these are not canon. Or maybe they are. We’ll see.

Our players this week both come from science fiction stories. Neil Tapscott was taken away by a mysterious robot on day 126 in Summoned, and young super-genius Kevin Truman from day 71, Genius. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with these two, but an idea blossomed in my head and I ran with it. Let’s hope it takes me somewhere good.


A young Indian girl raised her hand and Neil pointed to her from the stage. She stood up, looking remarkably calm for someone who was going to have to ask a question while surrounded by her fellow middle schoolers, and asked, “Is working for a technology company a way to make the future better for everyone?”

Neil blinked. He’d agreed to do this career day thing for his sister, who was teaching at the school, and thought it would just be a matter of telling them to study hard and not do drugs. He came as an “Information Control Specialist” at Acton Informatics, which was a fancy way to say that he was a data entry clerk. He got reams of numbers from the tech and R&D guys every morning and spent his day making sure they got put into the right databases. He supposed that technically his job was essential to the proper operation of the company, but that was only because no one had bothered to teach the tech and R&D guys how to do it themselves.

He cleared his throat, which seemed to echo around the gymnasium. “Well,” he said, “there are many ways that you can make the future better, and not all of them can be done at a company like Acton.” He put his hands in his pockets and tried to think. You could probably make the future better by working at Acton, but not for everyone. Stockholders, maybe.

“Working with technology means working with tools,” he said. “And a tool can be used to do good or bad things, right? I mean, I can take a hammer and use it to build a house, or I can use that hammer to crack someone’s skull.” The kids laughed, and he glimpsed his sister in the wings doing a tiny, frantic wave to get his attention. The look on her face was horrified, probably because she was standing next to the principal, who clearly didn’t find joking about murder to be very funny.

“My point is,” Neil went on, focusing on the girl who asked the question, “you’re not going to make a better world with technology. You can only do that with people. You find good people, you get a good future. The technology just makes it a little easier to do.”

His sister walked in from the wings, applauding frantically. “Wasn’t that great?” she asked the kids, who applauded with at least some measure of enthusiasm. “I want to thank Neil for coming to our school, and I hope you all got something you can take away from what you heard.” She clapped again, and a few scattered kids followed suit. She gestured offstage, and Neil walked away, giving a wave to the crowd that no one really noticed. His sister followed him a few moments later and whispered furiously, “What the hell was that hammer joke?”

“Relax, Marie. It was funny. The kids liked it.”

Her eyes went wide. “Jesus, Neil, you’re in a school! Last April a kid was suspended for drawing a picture of a gun.” She slapped his shoulder. “A picture! These are not rational people, Neil.”

He held his hands up in submission. “All right, all right, I’m sorry. If anyone gives you grief, tell them to talk to me and I’ll make sure they know how completely appalled you were.” He held out a hand. “Deal?”

Marie glared at it for a moment before shaking it. “Deal. Fine. But if I get fired,” she said, “I’m crashing on your couch.”

“Feel free,” he said. “Maybe it’ll get the cat out of my bed for a night.”

She let out a short laugh, and the tension of the moment was gone. “Ah, Nickel. You really have to stand up to your cat one of these days.”

Neil shrugged. “What can I do? I stopped being the boss ages ago.” He reached out and gave his sister a hug. “Good to see you again, Marie,” he said.

“You too,” she said. “Thanks for coming out here on short notice.”

“And get my baby sister out of a jam? Not a problem.”


“So now you owe me.”

Marie grimaced. “Bank it,” she said.

“With interest? Gladly!” He laugh and hugged her again. “I’ll catch you later. I have to get back to work and tell my masters that I put a good face on for the company.” Neil gave a quick wave as he pushed open the backstage doors and tried to remember how he was supposed to get back to his car. There was probably a reason why they built schools like mazes, but damned if he knew why. As he walked, some of the students waved and said “Thanks, Mister Talcott!” Which, he figured, was close enough.

He took a few wrong turns, nearly ended up in the art room, and was just about ready to stop and ask for directions when one of the students called out to him from behind. “Mister Tapscott!” Surprised at hearing his name pronounced correctly, he turned around. A boy was running towards him with a folder full of papers in his hands and he had that look of frantic desperation that all kids get when they think they might miss a big chance. Neil had no idea what the kid might have thought he was missing, but he stopped anyway.

“Mister Tapscott,” the kid said, breathing heavily as he skidded to a stop.

“Slow down, kid,” Neil said. “Take a breath. Or two.”

The kid did, and looked up at Neil. “Mister Tapscott.” He handed out the folder full of papers. “Can you look at these for me?”

Neil took them without thinking, and instantly regretted it when the boy’s eyes lit up. “What are they?” he asked.

“Designs,” the boy said. “I have these ideas for some new machines, and I thought that you might know what to do with them. Since you work for Acton.”

Neil opened the folder and started leafing through the pages. They were packed with dense writing and precisely-drawn diagrams of devices that Neil had never seen before. They had been done with the kind of care that he usually didn’t even see at Acton, and never expected from a thirteen year-old boy.

He turned another page. “What is all this stuff?” Neil checked the name in the corner of each page: Kevin Truman. Not a name he was familiar with, but he made a note to email his sister about him.

“My designs,” the boy said. “I want to be an inventor someday and make the world a better place.”

“Uh-huh,” Neil said, turning one of the diagrams around to see if he could figure out what it was. He couldn’t

Kevin reached out and turned the diagram again. “That one is an artificial arm I thought of. It hooks up to the nervous system and allows the user to control it like it was his own.” He pulled the folder out of Neil’s hands and flipped through the pages. “This one is a design for a bridge that converts vibrations into electrical energy, and…” He found another. “This is for growing crops vertically, so we don’t have to use as much land.” He handed the folder back and looked up at Neil expectantly. “What do you think?” he asked.

Neil wasn’t sure what to tell him. The boy had that hope in his eyes that Neil remembered from when he was that age. It was the hope that he had done something not just right, but uniquely right. It was the belief that he had finally found someone willing to listen to him. And not just anyone, but an adult. An adult who could get things done!

Except that Neil wasn’t the kind of adult who could get things done. He closed the folder and handed it back to Kevin. “Listen, Kevin,” he said. “I’m not the guy you want to be bringing these to.” Kevin’s expression grew puzzled. “I can’t help you, Kevin,” he said. A moment of honesty overtook him. “In fact, if I were you, I’d keep all those ideas as far as I could from a place like Acton Informatics.”

Kevin looked like he didn’t understand, which seemed to be a rare enough feeling that it was uncomfortable on him. “Why?” he asked. “They’re good ideas, right?”

“Sure,” Neil said, even though he had no way of knowing if he was telling the truth. “But I’m just a data entry guy, Kev. I put numbers into a computer every day, then I wake up the next day and do it again.” He shrugged. “Even if I knew how to make these ideas real, I wouldn’t be able to make it happen.” He bent down a bit so he could be more on the boy’s level, and lowered his voice. “And honestly, the ones who could? They’d probably do it, take all the credit, and leave you with nothing.” He patted Kevin on the shoulder. “I’ve seen it happen, and believe me, it’s not pretty.”

Kevin eyed him with a careful gaze. “So what do I do?” he asked when Neil stood up. “Just forget about them?”

Neil shook his head. “No, no. God, no. Keep working on them. Keep making them better, maybe doing what you can on your own. Just make sure to keep looking for the right person to make them real.” He smiled, more at himself than the situation. He didn’t think he’d be able to bring this conversation around full circle. “It’s all about the people, remember?”

The boy nodded and clutched the designs to his chest. “Thanks,” he said, the ghost of a smile playing across his face. “Thanks a lot, Mister Tapscott.”

“No problem, kid.” He watched Kevin run off again with the same burst of energy he’d used when he arrived, and only a moment later realized that he’d forgotten to ask him how to get to the parking lot. Ah well, he thought. At least I made somebody’s day a little better. Maybe the rest of the day will go as well.