Thoughts on Pain (from a Wizard)

I’ve been binging paperbacks hard this year, and a fair amount of those have been The Dresden Files series. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a series of novels by Jim Butcher centering around a private investigator in Chicago who’s a wizard. Or it might be more appropriate to say he’s a wizard who works as a private investigator. Either way, it’s great. I had friends recommending the series to me for years until one of them just bought me the first five (there are seventeen so far) and I’ve been cramming them almost constantly ever since.

They’re fun reads.

But you ever have one of those moments with a book that sits you down? That can either mean sits you down on your ass because it took you off your metaphorical feet, or it could mean that it sits you down, puts a hand on your shoulder, and has a talk with you. It’s one of those moments where, for a brief minute, you set aside the story the book is telling you and audibly thank the author by their first name like you’re on that kind of basis with them.

This was one of those.

It was a perspective on life that I realized I’m going to be loosely quoting, paraphrasing, and otherwise referencing in deep talks with others for a while, if not the rest of my days on this earth. And I won’t lie, I had expected something like that to come out of ‘The Art of War,’ or ‘The Book of Five Rings,’ or ‘The Alchemist’ (which is also good), or something. Not necessarily a novel about wizards, zombies, vampires, angels, warlocks, and all the rest.

I’m going to put the excerpt here, in all its glory. It’s out of the ninth book in the series, ‘White Night,’ pg. 307-309 if you nab the edition published by ROC. (I don’t know if there are other “editions,” it just sounded fancier to say that way.)

“The wisdom, maybe, was still in process, as evidenced by her choice of first lovers, but even as an adult, I was hardly in a position to cast stones, as evidenced by my pretty much everything.

What we hadn’t known about, back then, was pain.

Sure, we’d faced some things as children that a lot of kids don’t. Sure, Justin had qualified for his Junior de Sade badge in his teaching methods for dealing with pain. We still hadn’t learned, though, that growing up is all about getting hurt. And then getting over it. You hurt. You recover. You move on. Odds are pretty good you’re just going to get hurt again. But each time, you learn something.

Each time, you come out of it a little stronger, and at some point you realize that there are more flavors of pain than coffee. There’s the little empty pain of leaving something behind – graduating, taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiar and safe into the unknown. There’s the big, whirling pain of life upending all of your plans and expectations. There’s the sharp little pains of failure, and the more obscure aches of successes that didn’t give you what you thought they would. There are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopes being torn up. The sweet little pains of finding others, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. There’s the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend and help them bear their burdens.

And if you’re very, very lucky, there are the very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realize that you are standing in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness, or mirth which at the same time cannot possibly last – and yet will remain with you for life.

Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don’t feel it.

Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it’s a big part, and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it’s part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you’re alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another.”

God. Damn.

Thanks, Jim.

Little Red Rock

One of the hardest things to do as a writer, it seems, is to handle the crippling loneliness that constantly threatens to drown you like the black waters of a high tide you don’t notice until their chill is constricting your chest and-

Ahem.

What I meant was, one of the hardest things to do as a writer, it seems, it to do just that: Write. Finding a place to start. Staring at a blank page. Making the dream theater in the your brain real on the page. Like, it doesn’t seem that hard, but there’s some strange paralytic element to the act of…just doing. It’s a skill that takes time to cultivate, and the bummer is that there’s no real trick to it. The way to do it is to just friggin’ do it; and the more you do it, the more momentum you build and the easier it gets.

A byproduct of that is you wind up writing a lot of crap. And not in the sense of how much content you create, though that’s true to. I mean a lot of the ideas you have, flesh out, and bring to life through effort and time will inevitably suck. But what’s cool is that the more you do it, the more crap you generate, the more gems in the rough you come across, and the more stuff you have to look back on and go, “Hahaha, wow. Once upon a time, I thought that was a good idea. Geez.”

Like this one.

Technically, the story that follows was the result of a drunken New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago. There was a deadline approaching for a magazine that held a call for cheesey, sci-fi/horror taking place in space. This totally fit the bill, but…it’s…just not real good. I’ve kept it in my folder for manuscripts I’ll pitch to open calls for stories and sling it at anyone asking for something like that: cheap horror set in space, but I definitely recognize that I rushed the story to a conclusion I thought was funny and then have never since bothered to edit it or fix.

So, if you have ten minutes you’re looking to burn on a piece of bad sci-fi/horror fiction that ends in a badly told “Tell me about the rabbits, Lenny” joke, I present…

Little Red Rock

Mars.

A tiny, copper light among the stars that inspired priests, storytellers, and astronomers for millennia. Does it have water? Did it have water? Or little green men with ray guns, flying saucers, and big heads?

The first Mars rovers and probes sent back images of bare rocky expanses. They were boring but at the same time so exciting because they reminded us that Mars was a place, a very real and reachable place. These boring pictures were lauded as an awesome expanse of the frontier. They kept news cycles around the globe busy for about two weeks before the latest and greatest political scandal stole back the headlines. The pictures almost fell into comfortable obscurity when the rover sent back new images, interesting ones, the ones the world was really waiting for. December 18th, 2021, the Mars rover sent back images of a large, angular structure, embedded into one of the planet’s innumerable rocky, red cliffs.

Right on time for Christmas.

In a brand new, cooperative Space Race, efforts mounted to get boots on the red planet and, just four incredibly short years later, the Ares mission launched. On board was a team of six international specialists. Head of Linguistics and Communications Anthony Gomez, Chief Technical Officer Tanisha Roberts, and Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Thompson made up the team’s military arm. Chief Geologist Makoto Tanaka, Chief Medical Officer Victor Andrade, and Chief Biologist Sonya Manesh comprised its civilian science wing. Together, they represented both the world’s best and brightest as well as Earth’s attempt at a potential diplomatic contact with an extraterrestrial.

Initial reports from the Ares mission began as they would go on: short and usually upsetting.

Six months into space flight, Officer Andrade succumbed to an illness, allegedly resulting from a previously undisclosed or unknown serious food allergy to peanuts. Then, stemming from a course deviation and near miss with Phobos, a miscalculation put the shuttle’s landing off its mark by some forty-eight kilometers. To follow, a hard landing left Officer Gomez with injuries to his leg and spine. He was stable, but after it was deemed necessary to take the shuttle’s Ranger to the site of the structure, it was voted among the crew that Gomez was to stay behind.

The Ranger departed the shuttle January 23rd, 2027, at 16:00 Earth’s time. Its last transmission was received at 17:43 of the same day as it approached the structure. The crew described a mountainous, angular facility with strange runic markings about much of the face of its walls and thick cables which were woven into the rock like roots from a tree. The transmission was broadcast live on Earth to a global audience which hung greedily on every detail and set thousands of historians immediately to work on their dissertations. The excitement peaked as the transmission described an even stranger sight.

“There’s…what, it looks like a door,” said Officer Roberts’ voice over the radio. “It’s opening! The door to the facility is opening and- what in the? It looks…there’s someone there. Two legs, arms, my God! It looks human- well, humanoid. But blue, like it’s made of light. A hologram of some kind maybe? It looks like it’s…waving to us? Yes! It’s greeting us! Contact, I repeat, we have made contact! Holy crap, this is incredible! Approaching the door now!”

With no word since then, Officer Gomez and the rest of the world were left to wonder what it was the rest of the crew of the Ares mission had discovered inside.

*

“Duck! Duck goddammit!” Thompson slammed his hands against the viewing glass. “Above you!”

“Now on your left, Sonya!” Tanaka shouted. “Fuck, Roberts, can’t you shut this thing down?”

“I’m trying! He’s locked me out!” Tanisha pushed a button and her voice rang out of a speaker in the chamber they were all watching. “You have one more wave, Sonya. Get ready.”

Things were not going well.

On the other side of the glass where the three crew member stood, Sonya Manesh gave a weak thumb’s up. She was in a blank room with featureless chrome walls. She was dressed in an orange and white jumpsuit, drawing heavy, gasping breaths, and her hair stuck to her forehead with sweat. She had a deep cut on her left arm and various singe marks on her other arm and legs.

“Final commencement agility testing,” came a voice with a thick Russian accent over the speaker. “Will now begin. I am wishing you good luck.”

“Fuck, come on Kestrel! That’s enough!” Thompson shouted.

“But the testing must be beginning soon. These are rules.”

“Can’t you just rip out the wires or something?” Tanaka whispered to Roberts, who was frantically searching the console in front of them.

“You want me to just start ripping things out?” she hoarsely whispered back. “We barely understand what this place is, let alone how it was built. I do that, who knows what would happen?”

“I do,” came the Russian voice over the speaker again. “Also because I am hearing you. Your whisper is very bad.”

“How about instead of these tests, you just let us-”

“Anyway, testing starts now!”

A red light on the wall beside them turned green. Inside the room, dozens of small nodes began to emerge from hidden creases in the walls. A light hum filled the chamber as beams of light shot across the room and connected between the nodes, forming something of a fractured grid of lasers. Sonya spun around, wildly taking note of the several new deadly lines of burning plasma. She began to panic.

“Guys? Guys, there are way too many! This is so many more than last time!” she cried.

“Keep your head on straight,” Thompson shouted into the microphone on the console. “That’s an order!”

“You can do this, Sonya. Just stay focused,” Tanaka followed.

The nodes began to move slowly across the walls, shifting the lines of light with them. Sonya ducked out of the way of one, dove off to the side of another, and flattened herself against the ground to avoid a net of more. Seeing another line descending on her, she rolled out of the way, and then narrowly missed another beam that slid under her with a quick hop.

“She’s doing okay,” Roberts breathed to herself, her thumb off the microphone’s button

“She isn’t out of this yet,” warned Thompson. “But she’s doing alright.”

“See?” A blue figure statically phased into being behind them. It appeared to wear a jumpsuit and an ushanka hat with a hammer and sickle symbol just above the forehead. Its arms were crossed and it wore an exaggerated smirk on its flickering face. “It would not be test if there was no winning. You were all worried.”

“It shouldn’t be a test at all, you son-of-a-bitch,” Tanaka shouted.

Sonya rolled out of the way of another beam, but caught her foot on yet another. It cleanly sliced off a portion of her shoe and she howled, fell to the ground, and held her foot. In her moment of stillness, a third beam twisted in her direction. She threw herself out of its way, but too slowly. It passed through the peak of her bent knee and after a stunned moment she let out an agonizing scream.

“Turn this off, now!” Thompson shouted at Kestrel. “Do it or I swear to God I will tear this place apart. Discoveries and exploration be damned, I will hunt your Commie-ass down if you don’t let her go!”

With an unnerving precision of movement and suddenly grave expression, Kestrel’s head turned towards Lt. Colonel Thompson. “It sounds to me like someone is volunteering to be going next.” The two held a hard gaze for a long moment, before Kestrel suddenly smiled again. “But! You are correct,” he said, facing Tanaka. “It is no longer test. With leg like that, test is failed. I will proceed with the deactivating of the testing equipments.”

Kestrel’s blue form flickered and then dissipated entirely. The crew members turned around and saw that, one by one, the nodes in the testing chamber were deactivating. When they were all again recessed into the walls, a door on the far end noiselessly slid open. A door in their own viewing room also opened and Roberts held her thumb to the microphone’s button.

“You’re done here. Kestrel’s letting you out, you won. We’re coming to get you, hon. I know it’s gotta be hard as hell, but get yourself out of that room. Crawl if you have to and we’ll meet you back in the anteroom. Okay?”

Sonya Manesh just lied on her back and cried for a long moment, but with heaving sobs managed to get herself to her feet and began walking with support from the wall towards the newly opened door.

“Alright, she’s moving. Let’s do the same,” said Thompson.

They made their way out of the room, but as Roberts was about to step through, something caught her eye. She turned and saw a small dot appearing on one of the walls. A shock pulsed in her heart as she realized what it was and ran back to the console. She jammed on the microphone’s button as the beam shot from the node whirred across the room towards the limping scientist.

“Sonya!” she screamed.

“Oops,” the speaker crackled.

*

The remaining crew members of the Ares mission were gathered into a small, dark room, lit only by four small light emanating from the floor’s corners. Roberts was slumped against one walls with her arms around her knees, Tanaka leaned against another with his hands in his pockets, and Thompson paced back and forth like a boar.

“Okay,” Kestrel said, slapping his spectral hands together. “You are having questions?”

“You’re goddamn right we do!” steamed the Lt. Colonel. “She passed your test, why in the hell did you kill her anyway?”

“Whoa, whoa. It was technical malfunction. Facility is old. These things have bad luck of happening.”

“Why?” Tanaka asked softly.

“Why, what, comrade?”

“Any of this? We still don’t know who you are, what you are, or why any of this is necessary.” He slumped his shoulders defeatedly. Thompson and Roberts both looked to the Russian ghost.

“Ah, well, that is long story. But is short also, because most of it I am not remember. I was, long time ago, cosmonaut, part of Red Eagle mission, 1967.”

“Wait, what?” asked Roberts, rising to her feet. “You were part of the Space Race of the sixties? But that was to the moon.”

“Ah,” shook Kestrel. “You Americans wanted moon. When you Americans got moon, U.S.S.R. figured hey, what is better? Moon or Red Planet? Red planet made better symbol for win over you western capitalists. Figured, eh, ‘go ahead and keep moon, we have Red Planet. Fuck your moon.’”

The crew members of the Ares looked to one another with what was either astonishment or utter disbelief. Tanaka was now the one pacing and Thompson was leaning against one of the walls.

“Wait,” said Tanaka. “Then what are these tests for? And how did you guys build all of this?”

“Well, two are sort of same,” replied Kestrel. “Firstly, big head boom discovery-” the hologram made an exaggerated motion with his hands of his head being blown up, complete with a cartoonish face expression, “-is that this was already here. Whole building. We wanted to radio back and tell of discovery, but landing was bad.”

“So then what did you do?” asked Roberts.

“We did what could do. We explored, saw what station building could be use for, what Kremlin would want station be use for. Training. Mining. All things to win next big war. Then, we found strange room, I fell asleep in strange bed and when I woke up, comrades were dead and I was like this…blue. Bleh. Blue.” The image shuddered as if in disgust.

“You wanted,” began the Lt. Colonel slowly, “to start up a war base on Mars?”

The spectral Russian nodded proudly.

“That’s about the stupidest fuckin’ thing I’ve ever heard!” The barrel-chested military man began howling. Roberts and Tanaka looked at each other uncomfortably, and Kestrel faced Thompson with a stern look on his holographic face.

“Sir, I wouldn’t egg him on.”

The Lt. Colonel continued to laugh. “And what’s he gonna do, huh? He wrapped us up into one of those death gizmos already. He ain’t nothing’ but pixels, anyway.” Thompson moved to walk through the projection that was Kestrel but stumbled back, finding the man of light to be surprisingly solid. “What the hell?” was all he could utter before he was lifted up by the throat.

“Sir!” Tanaka shouted.

“Leonard!” followed Roberts.

“Wait.” Kestrel stopped suddenly and set Thompson back on his feet, whereupon he immediately fell to the ground gasping and coughing. “You are named Leonard?”

“Yeah, what of it?” he coughed.

The ghost that was Kestrel giddily jumped and pranced around the room. Singing incomprehensibly to himself as the three others shared unnerved glances. When he finally stopped, he walked up to Thompson, stopping just short of the man’s nose. “Your turn, Lennie,” he laughed. The wall behind the Lt. Colonel slid swiftly open and closed behind him again as Kestrel kicked him through.

“Hey, what the hell is this?” they heard the military man’s voice faintly through the wall.

“It is last test,” replied Kestrel, his back against the wall Leonard had just been pushed through, facing the others. “Tell us what you are seeing.”

“I ain’t tellin’ you shit!”

“What do you see?” Kestrel’s voice boomed and they could hear a whirring on the other side of the wall.

“Is this really necessary?” Tanaka asked, almost pleadingly. Roberts just shuddered quietly. The two looked at one another. Without words, the glance they shared said all that needed saying. Whatever mind was trapped inside the projection they called ‘Kestrel’, whether it was from time in isolation or from frayed wires elsewhere in the facility, it was a mind that was cracked and broken.

They weren’t leaving this place.

“Eiyah! Okay, okay. Jesus, put that thing down,” came Thompson’s voice again. “It looks…ah, it looks like there’s a screen in here?”

“Yes? And?” Kestrel appeared to be silently chuckling to himself. “What else is there, comrade?”

“Ah, hell. Um, looks like there’s a farm house, maybe? A lake too, or a pond? What the hell is this supposed to be about, anyways?”

“What else? Is part of visual acuity testing and for communication skills. Very important.” Kestrel leaned forward, whispering over the others’ shoulders. “You know,” he said quietly, “I never actually hated you Americans. In fact, I was always big fan of proud American work ethic, grit much like Russia, and your American literature. I was big fan particular of your ‘Of Mice and Men’.” He winked at the two remaining crew members of the Ares and back to the wall he called, “What about the rabbits, Lennie?”

“Yeah, looks like some fuckin’ bunnies too. What of-”

There was a muted bang and dull thud on the other side of the wall. Kestrel chuckled silently into his hands, but then suddenly stopped as though his ears had just pricked.

“I’m sorry comrades, but that is all for the testing. Thank you for time and the participating, but now is time I go. Wish well and things.”

Just like that, the blue figure of Kestrel flickered once, twice, and then ceased to be. Tanaka and Roberts both silently looked at one another, each shaking, as one by one, the lights in the corner of the room they were in slowly dimmed and went black.

*

Communications Officer Anthony Gomez lied on his cot feeling the medication he’d found in Andrade’s station. The unbearably sharp pains in his back and leg, a slipped disc and fractured femur he was certain, had been reduced to dull aches for the time being. He stared out of the shuttle’s port window at the setting martian sun. It was funny, he thought, that this was truly the most lonely he had ever been, but he was alright with it. Whether it was the morphine talking or not, he couldn’t help but find the last rays of sunlight that splayed out over the canyons of that barren waste to be the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

“Where the hell are you guys?” he whispered to the ceiling.

Just then, a light flared to life at his station. He groaned, but slowly rolled off of his cot and limped over to the console. Fortunately, at little over one-third Earth’s gravity, he only stopped at a spasm in his back once on his way there. He slumped lightly into the seat, grimaced, and answered the hail.

“Finally, you guys. I thought you’d forgotten about me.”

Silence.

“Hey, you there?” Gomez ventured again, more nervously this time.

“Evening, comrade.”

END

PS – Holy crap, I just realized I set the date for news of a structure discovered on Mars for a few months from now. Let this also, officially, count as me friggin’ calling it, if that happens. Because I wrote this almost two years ago before the rover touched down, for the record; and yes I do expect to be hailed as a damned prophet for my abilities…if it pans out. Otherwise, ahem, y’know, I’m just kidding.

Sin Walkers

Another year, another round of contests in the books.

Okay, I say that, but the thing I’m going to share is from a contest that’s underway. The following has been submitted and we’ll see how well it does.

If I haven’t shared this before or if you’re new, I like to take part in the NYC Midnight fiction contests from time to time. This time around was their Flash Fiction bracket, and they go like this:

You have 48 hours to write a story of a thousand words or fewer. You’re given a genre, a location, and an object which all have to be represented. So, say for example, your given genre is ‘Fantasy,’ placed at ‘a restaurant,’ and featuring ‘a length of pipe,’ you can see how you’d have to piece together those elements into a little diddy.

This time around, I was given ‘Horror,’ ‘a clifftop,’ and ‘a crowbar.’ I forgot that the weekend over which the contest was held, I actually had a number of obligations I’d committed to, so instead of forty-eight, I crammed this out in two.

The synopsis: “A group of five friends is on route to a weekend getaway when a highway accident diverts them, and the night quickly descends into terror as they flee from a monstrous hunter.”

Still though, I think it came together alright.

Sin Walkers

I’m sitting in the back seat of Travis’s Ford just watching the streaks of nighttime rain worm their way across the cold glass. We’re on our way to my dad’s cabin, and everything is just as normal as it always is. Travis is talking about this new job he’s about to land, and Chris is pretending to listen. Sarah won’t look up from her Switch, and Patrick sits between us pretending not to sneak glances at my legs. I fog up the window with a sigh and go back to counting the lines in the road when Chris suddenly shouts.

“Watch out!”

I don’t have time to see what it was or even to think. Travis wrenches on the steering wheel, there’s the screech of metal against the guard rail, and then just gravity. My stomach lurches into my throat, and I feel myself screaming. The cab is chaotic with light, dark, noise, and force all battling for rank. I think we swept right over the clifftop, tumbled end over end, and finally crashed through some trees.

My ears are ringing. In turns, we all fall out of the truck. I’m dizzy. Sarah pukes. It’s minutes before anyone says anything. There’s a howl in the distance behind us.

“Everyone alright?” Chris asks finally.

“I don’t know,” is all I can whimper out.

“Did you guys hear that?” asks Patrick, looking back up the short cliff we’d careened off.

Travis huffs. “It’s just coyotes, dumbass.” Then to Chris, he says, “What the fuck was that for, man? You ran us off the road!” He shoves him.

“I don’t think coyotes sound like that…”

Chris growls back at Travis. “There was a guy standing in the middle of the road!” he shouts. “You almost plowed right into him!”

Patrick doesn’t have time to do more than yelp when some kind of huge animal tackles him to the ground. It’s dark and raining. There’s a roar and a grisly crunch as Patrick’s screaming stops.

So we scatter. I bolt off into the woods crying like a maniac, and Chris manages to follow. I don’t know where the others go, I just run. I dart through trees, cut through bushes, jump over rocks, anything to obey this primal need to flee. I hear Chris breathing and struggling behind me, but there’s another noise too.

It doesn’t sound anything like a coyote.

We keep running, leaping over roots and dips in the ground, and I hear water ahead. I charge ahead with the last of what my legs will give me and dive right into the forest stream. We make it to the other side together and glance back. On the other side of the stream is this…thing. It’s partially hidden in the shadows of the trees, but it looks like a person with yellow eyes.

And the eyes are seven feet from the ground.

The thing looks from us to the stream, then steps back and growls. It disappears from view, but we can hear it running away along the stream, trying to find a way around.

“What the hell was that thing?” Chris asks breathlessly. “Did you see what way the others went?”

Another howl on our side of the stream keeps me from answering, and we start running again. About a minute later, we find the edge of a fenced property. We make our way through a hole in the links and can see that it’s some kind of scrapyard or cemetery for old cars. Chris finds a rusted crowbar on the hood of an old Chevvy, and uses it to get us into a ramshackle storage shed.

“I don’t know,” I say at last. I try in vain to wipe my wet hands off on my pant legs, but I wind up just nervously wringing them together and I can’t get them to stop shaking.

Chris gives me a confused look. “What?” he says.

“The thing that…” I swallow a lump in my throat. “The thing that killed Patrick. I have no idea what that is.” I start crying again. “I just hope Travis is okay,” I sob.

He moves to put his hand on my shoulder, but we both hear something.
“Chris? Chris, Rebecca!” a voice from outside shouts. “Where are you guys?”

“Travis?” Chris calls. He sets the crowbar down and jogs out to find him. I move to follow, but my heart begins racing anew, and some deep survival instinct anchors me to the spot. Something leaps out from behind a crushed car and shoves its arm through Chris’s chest.

It’s tall with taut skin, pink and white like it’s been burned, sickly shining with the rain. Its limbs are unnaturally long and has fangs like a big cats. It rips into the dead meat of Chris’s neck, but stops when it sees me. It howls this clicking, wailing shriek and starts stalking right toward me. With eyes fixed on mine, its mouth opens impossibly wide and its throat starts to quiver and vibrate. “Chris? Chris, Rebbeca!” comes the voice, perfectly like Travis. “Where are you guys?”

It lunges at me, and I react just in time to catch its head in the door. A clawed hand breaks the glass, rips into my shoulder, and I hear something break that adrenaline tells me to ignore. The wood quickly begins to creak and splinter, but I grab the crowbar Chris left behind and bash its skull over and over again until it stops moving.

I curl up against the back wall and just hug my knees with my good arm. I think about Patrick, about Chris, about Travis, and just pray to God and against hope that Sarah got away. Then I hear something outside, just audible over the drumming of rain.

Voices.

“Chris?” calls one from my right.

“Rebbeca!” calls the same voice from my left.

“Where are you guys?”

“Chris? Rebecca! Where are you guys?”

They’re getting closer.

Quick n’ Dirty Promo

Just like goodbyes at parties, I’m bad at these. So let’s be quick and sloppy about it.

We did it again! Got another couple of folks to say yes to the squiggles I write up!

Had a couple of publications this year, but these latest have definitely been the luckiest. Wrote a romp about some time traveling hijinks and someone said, “Hell yeah.” Then, wrote up a tale about knights and monsters and ACTUALLY convinced someone to say “Hell yeah!” to that too! lol Y’all, technically now I’m a bona fide sci-fi AND /high/ fantasy author now. Which is rad. Kade over at The Common Tongue Magazine is a wickedly sharp editor, and Jessica with JayHenge Publishing was one of the coolest to work and correspond with. Plus, the collections are dope and my contributions are a couple of my babies. (A COUPLE of them…I should have more news…like this…y’know…on the way. I been busy.)

PLUS, Common Tongue gave me a friggin’ Writer Page found here. I feel like a pirate ship that finally got its flag. So check out CTM’s Issue #3 and look out for my story, “The Bells of Kraeden,” here. And if you’re too busy or lazy to read, they honored me deeply by also adapting it into a podcast episode!

Lastly, go look’it Jessica’s “The Chorochronos Archives” collection with my piece, “30,000 B.C.” here.

With both and/or either, please feel encouraged to leave them a comment or some sort of review like this: “AhmyGodthiswassogoodbutdefinitelyEvan’swasthebestusemoreofhisstuffyeswooooow!”

Okay. <phew> As you were…

A Quick Rant: Unicorns are Badass

Hey-o. It’s that time again.

I’ve been (thankfully) busy of late, which has also sort of rekindled this dry lil’ well…hmm, mixing those two bits of metaphorical speech is kind of contradictory.

…anyway!

Yeah, I’ve been finding myself more and more over the past couple of days thinking, “Oo! That thought might be one for the blog,” and then jotting it down. So the next couple of days will be seeing some of those, but I figure we’ll loosen up with the easy one: Unicorns are kind of badass.

There’s a beloved coffee shop in town – we all have one that’s our go-to – and this one is particularly special due to their decor. They’re very outwardly LGBTQ+ friendly, meaning rainbows and sparkles EVERYWHERE. Their mascot, for lack of a better term, is a bright silvery unicorn. And that places brings about so much comfort and productivity, a real writers’ haven, that it inspired the very deep thought: God, unicorns are pretty badass!

To the point where, now as an adult, I’m really at a loss as to why they ever were considered as “sissy horses,” or a symbol for little girls meant in a pejorative way. They’re a freakin’ stallion with a freakin’ horn on their head. You’re talking about a strong, magical, terrifyingly intelligent equine with a weapon on it’s face. What, it’s cool for rhinos and dragons to have horns on their faces, but give one to a horse and suddenly it’s nansy-pansy. Get the f*ck out of here. If we’re riding into battle, I’m taking a unicorn (or a centaur – probably a better conversationalist) any damn day. There’s no lack of stories placing unicorns as lieutenants in fantasy armies, incredibly valued for their blood, horn, mane, or overall wish-granting abilities, and thankfully more and more stories where they gore an mf’er with that fancy piece they’re sporting (thank you Cabin in the Woods). They were one of my favorite Clans in Legend of the Five Rings (like, two of you will get that reference, maybe) and now I can understand why. This has all seriously absorbed me, too, to the point where I’m considering decor for my office space, just so I can start those conversations. “Evan, why the unicorns?” “Intruder, why NOT unicorns?”

Anyway. Been fun, but I’ve beleaguered the point to hell and back and now I gotta be off for a day of manual labor.

Catch you again soon!

Pocket Story series #2

Woof, back so soon! Been rainy near these parts, so I’m stuck inside, which means I get to chain myself to my desk and rattle away on here. Livin’ the dream.

Brief thought experiment before diving into The Goods here today: Without googling it, and be honest, how many ants would you guess are there estimated on the surface of the planet? Don’t be surprised if it’s way more than you think, or weirdly way less than you’d imagine. Either way, it’s part of an essay-project I’ve had brewing, and I don’t think I’ve ever done so much math in my life.

Just…stay tuned for that.

Anyway, if you forgot how this works or are just getting started, the little ditty to follow comes from a premise generator from a book that I got at a yard sale some time back. It gives a circumstance, a character, and an action (and all usually pretty weird ones). So, getting on with it…

Where Are They Now?

Winston Turtledove closed his eyes tightly, gritted his teeth, and rubbed his temples. The noise was getting to be hard to handle.

I hope there’s leftover lasagna in the fridge. That hot sauce ain’t gonna use itself.

…if I can return these pants for store credit, and if they let me use that coupon since it only expired yesterday, then those new shoes will only be five dollars, or three if I scuff up the edges while they’re…

…those cards better show up in the mail today. Tracking said two to four days, but they’re usually early and the shipping update was pretty fast, so then maybe…

“…just call my name, I’ll be there in a hurry, you don’t have to worry, ’cause baby there AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIIIIGH ENOUGH, AIN’T NO VALLEY LOOOOW ENOUGH, AIN’T NO RIVER WIIIIIDE ENOUGH, to keep me from…”

…wasn’t he the one from ‘Three-Ring?’ Little Andy?Aw, he used to be so cute.

The voices started about a week ago. At first, he thought he was insane, his personality fragmenting into different shades, but now he was just concerned about being driven to madness. As it turned out, through magic, a curse, solar winds, or a cosmic joke, he was hearing other people’s thoughts all of a sudden. At first, he thought it was cool. He’d listen in on neighbors, other patrons at coffee shops, and rather enjoyed the new dimension given to his people-watching hobby.

But the voices kept piling on and piling on, and he couldn’t shut them off. It’s fun to listen in one at a time, but when you’re never alone and have a crowd in your head at near all times, it was enough to mill one’s sanity.

It had also been a disappointing revelation to have, too. He caught passersby occasionally recognize him from his childhood role as Little Andy on ABC’s hit comedy ‘Three-Ring Circus,’ and he’d always like to imagine subtle awestricken ripples at his minor celebrity, but now he knew what mostly occupied their reaction was how old he’d gotten. Not shyness at asking for a picture, not fondness over the show, just pity for how he was now.

So he sat on his usual park bench, now a grumpy man in his early-fifties, and watched the birds whose thoughts were blessedly one-note enough to meditate out the other visitors of the park: “Coo? Coo. Coo? Coo? Coo? Cooooo. Coo.”

That’s when he saw old Harold, a man in his eighties who came to the same park regularly. Winston hadn’t seen Harold since his newfound powers had taken root. And the intrigue at some familiar thoughts pulled him from his meditating on the pigeons. It took some time, but as the light crowds of joggers, babysitters, and dog-walkers began to clear out, he found he was able to focus in on Harold’s thoughts.

“…some day. With Martha gone, a man would think the guilt would have gone away some day. But nope. Sure, everyone has their theories. They’ve sold their books, their movies, their crack-pot bits, and TV specials, but holding onto the secret truth? Outliving all the others and being the last one holding onto the secret. Now that…that’s a real Magic Bullet. Shit. Why do I even still come here? Is it the knoll? Maybe. I think the lake helps keep the images out. Killin’ a man, an important one…fuck. And poor Jacky, never got to…”

Winston blinked his eyes in disbelief, sitting on a bench in a park outside Missoula, Montana, with the man who might have assassinated JFK…

After a few minutes, Winston simply shrugged.

We never know where life will take us, do we?

END

So, I’ll be real, wasn’t entirely sure how to end this one, which might be pretty evident in the text itself. The attributes this time were as follows: “Suddenly able to hear others’ thoughts, // a former child television star // discovers who really killed JFK.” And full confession, the first mixture had the last part as “steals a baby,” but I wasn’t totally sure how to work with that one. The JFK thing at least worked with the telepathy, and besides, it was that or he “grows at extra arm.”

Anyway, hope all is well, take it easy, much love, and see you next time.

Pocket Story Series #1

Good…God.

Well’p, we made it. We’ve made it to a point where we might be able to start watching the dust settle rather than whip around in a heinous maelstrom of bad news and general caca. I’m all for fresh starts. In fact, just behind Thanksgiving here in the States, New Year’s Day is my favorite holiday. I appreciate Christmas and Halloween for the things they do, but I just prefer silver to gold, the lieutenant to the captain, the…crow’s nest to the…figurehead- I dunno. This is starting to fall apart, but you get my point: The Underdog.

And in an effort to embrace that, I’m starting this up: the Pocket Story Series.

A little bit ago at a yard sale, I picked up a little book called the “Amazing Story Generator,” and I think our goal here will be to do our best to disprove that.

The gist: The book gives a circumstance, a character, and an action, then I’ll whip up a little diddy here for us to enjoy, marvel at, laugh at, or whatever else, then I’ll show what the elements were that I had to work with.

Cool? Cool.

Oh! Also, quick plug: I’m gonna have a few published stories come out this year that are already in the pipeline, so expect to be bombarded with news about those when they approach and/or come out.

Cool again? Cool again. Without further adieu…

Working Late

Geoffry Hanson set down his cup of coffee, folded his finger over his belly, and enjoyed a contented sigh. The outdoor cafe was nice, and it had been a long while since he’d been in Amsterdam. When he was here last, must have been, what, ’93? And that was for work, so he hadn’t really been able to enjoy the city.

Funny enough, as the thought hit him, the job site had been close to where he was now. Very close, in fact. He paid for his coffee, got up, and left to go for a stroll. He walked along the canals and paused at a house by one of the embankments. There it was. He looked on at the gabled facade, a remnant of the seventeenth century Golden Age, and smiled.

That was where he and his team had busted a trade between a couple of Turkish gun runners and their Soviet partners. Across the street was where they’d surveilled a Chinese-national informant to verify what she’d had to say before taking her asylum. Aaah, and just down the canal there was where they’d saved the city from a terrorist plot involving a threat to its water treatment. Geoff smiled.

A life working for MI6 had been a rewarding one.

He ambled down along the waterside, reminiscing on the good he and his team had done. As he strolled, something caught his trained eye. A briefcase, sitting alone next to a discarded beer can underneath a nearby bridge. It’s nothing, he told himself. Definitely nothing.

This was his first vacation in his 25-year long career, and he wasn’t going to let work spoil it…

…much.

Despite himself, and mostly to convince himself of what he was telling himself, he meandered over to the discarded case. He gestured to an invisible crowd of onlookers the futility of the observation and tested its weight as a means of showing his instincts were misplaced. To his dismay, the case was heavy. Very heavy. Too heavy to house simple papers.

He pinched his nose and heaved a great sigh.

Geoff clicked the briefcase slowly open and revealed its inner working: wires, nodes, and a digital reader showing a countdown. It was a bomb, and a very big one at that. Disgruntled, Geoff clicked the heel of his left shoe, detached the sole to retrieve the bomb disposal kit hidden therein, and set to work saving the world yet another time.

Retirement couldn’t come soon enough for Geoffry Hansom; but, he supposed, perhaps for the sake of the world, it could.

END

Aaah, that was dorky.

Okay, so the pages turned up, as you may have guessed: “On vacation for the first time in years / a world-weary intelligence agent / finds a buried atomic bomb.”

We missed the “buried” bit, and let go of the “world-weariness” as well, but it came together adorably enough. This being just a warm-up, keep an eye out for more of these and again for news on bigger stories I’ve got coming our way.

Til then, take it easy, y’all.

A Scene from my Phone

Hiram looked over his shoulder.

The rain was thick, falling in sheets and pelting the edges of his hood, but he saw a figure standing in the distance. It stood on the road, slumped but not seeming to mind the downpour or mud. It wore a cloak of reeds draped over massive shoulders, a dark cowl, and a mask over its face with shadows obscuring the eyes.

Hiram looked back to his companions, to tell them of the strange figure on the road, but they had walked far ahead of him, too eager to leave the rain to idle as he had. He looked back and saw the figure, while while it remained still, was now much closer than before. Here, he could see the thing’s shoulders heaving with the rhythmic breath which froze in large clouds beneath its mask. The head slowly lurched, revealing two hollow, ghostly white rings in place of eyes.

Feeling for the hilt of his sword, Hiram wanted to posture, to shout at the figure in the road and drive it away. He was thinking of what he might say when the figure began to change. The shoulders quickly ratted and grew, the skirt of the cloak lifted as black, spidery legs worked their way out into the mud. Hiram watched arms the weight, depth, and speed of shadow shot along the sides of the road, and the creature flew at him. Hiram drew his sword and shouted.

But another sheet of rain fell and erased the figure from sight like a blemish of dust wiped clean from glass.

Hiram spun around on the spot, to see where the thing had gone, fruitlessly. He was alone.

END

“Mhurren’s Mansion” – A Riddle

‘Sup, y’all.

[If you wanna skip the hooplah about all the context and “social experimenting,” there’s a fun riddle to solve a few paragraphs down. Enjoy!]

Had the wonderful opportunity to run a D&D one-shot game for a good friend of mine’s bachelor party (yes, you read that right) over the weekend.

In true Evan Fashion, I found myself far busier than I thought I’d be in the run-up to Game Day, and so I had way less time time to prepare than I thought I would. My solution: roll out an oldie, but a goodie.

I wrote a one-shot game back in January of 2018 from scratch, built from the ground up and inspired by the Jindosh Lock from Dishonored 2, and so far I’ve run the game three times, each with a different group. Y’all, I feel like I’m running a social experiment and it is awesome.

The first group was with a group consisting of my girlfriend Mandy and two of our other female friends (that’s right, Girls’ Night). I was so excited to see the riddle and puzzles I’d designed come together just as desired – not too easy as to be blown through, but not so difficult as to expect grand leaps in logic, and most of all: not broken (ie – missing pieces of information, incomplete). It was awesome watching them each read their own portion of the riddle, then pass pieces around until each had had a turn, then come together with their findings and hypotheses.

The second group was composed of three guy friends (one being Pierre, mentioned previously), and they handled it SO differently. Rather than pass their portions around, they each clutched their paper tightly and shared what they knew, but not what they were given. Despite this approach seeming much less cooperative, they took down the riddle in about the same amount of time.

Then, finally, this weekend’s group consisted of several good friends, though ones that left me the youngest at the table by a margin of about ten years (just meant some good 80’s references I didn’t get). THIS group was far more roleplay-focused than the previous two, and that made communication about their clues a bit foggier, but 100x more fun. They wound up silently electing a member of their group to essentially play the part of riddle-master whose job it became to, well, solve the riddle while the rest explored.

There’s more we could get to, but the main meat of the message is that puzzle-designing is kind of a lot of fun. Below, I’m gonna put the riddle in its entirety, but just know the players were each given a fragment, then had to put it together from there, plus solve the mansion’s other puzzles that depended on knowledge gained from dissecting this correctly.

But that’s besides the point.

Point is, can you figure out which sibling held which item at the end of Solstice, and the order of their birth?

Good luck.

“Four siblings once lived in this house, and all of them were thieves. Over the course of the Solstice of the Elements, they each stole one another’s treasures.

Arthur would not do much with his days save for laze on the sandy shores and hum his favorite tune. On the first day of Solstice, he saw the youngest sibling with Veronica’s treasure and later heard she traded it for his Jade Figurine. Upon hearing the news, he simply yawned and let them be. After all, on the fourth day of Solstice, he found Amelia’s treasure discarded in the dining hall, so he took it to his music room and was content.

The third child had a bitter heart and was envious of the firstborn’s special treatment. While she would swim, she also quietly resented her brother, who was older, and on the second day of Solstice, she stole his prized treasure, but later could not find it. On the fourth day, she saw the youngest come to her lake holding an Opium Pipe and trade it to the firstborn for the treasure she’d lost. While she watched her siblings deal in secret, she contented herself with a taunting tune in her bath house from her sister’s treasure she taken earlier that morning.

Veronica, hot-headed and avaricious, was spoiled by her parents with more riches than her siblings, but still she craved more. She stole Amelia’s Crystal Decanter on the first day of Solstice, filled it with brandy, and offered to share a drink with Lisbeth a day later, who had far too much. Two days after that, she got her treasure back and retired to her treasury with it. As she sank into the satin cushions, she mused on her own reflection to the end of Solstice.

The youngest child was flighty and impulsive. She loved her Pan Flute and would use it to play ‘The Fletcher’s Son’ for her brother, but on the second day of Solstice found it missing. She heard its soft sound on the beach that afternoon. On the third day of Solstice she used her sister’s treasure to dull a terrible headache, but gave it back to her a day later for a lovely stone bear. She put it with the rest of her chimes, which hung where feathers told the direction of the wind.

On the fifth and final day of Solstice, none of the siblings stole or traded anything.

Brave the four Elements and their dangers, return the stolen treasures to the Vault in the proper order, and find your worth inside…”

Easy, right?

Catch ya’s later.

A Little Heist…

Happy Thursday, y’aver’body (that’s “y’all” + “everybody”)!

No grand introduction here, just stopping by to say that if you’re one of my California Brothers or Sisters and been working with the power outages, I hope you’re getting through it well and having fun camping.

Anyway, I’m just gonna drop this here:

Coldin “Fade” Cradleson

Coldin began his life in Bosford, a largely unremarkable homestead but holding a name for its farmland and orchards. In his early years, he did as all young halflings would and found mischief with a small gang of other younglings wherever he might find opportunity to shirk his chores. Some years would pass in this fashion before a devastating dry season hit and his family’s farm failed. Now a young adult with an independent fire in his belly, he set off to the capital city of Stettin to find his own way.

The sprawling streets and maze-like alleyways of the metropolis overwhelmed young Coldin at first and, with a lack of work available to him, he chose his cunning deft hands as his means to earn. Rather than live like a guttersnipe in the streets with beggars, he began making his way through the art of petty theft and crime. Coldin managed to carry on in this way for several months before he caught the shadowy gaze of the city’s Thieves’ Guild proper.

One late night in one of the lower districts’ common houses, the Gilded Mare, sitting at a corner table and enjoying a day’s work, he was approached by a small band of four. One, a human with long black hair tied back and a scar under his left eye; another, tall for an elf, but strikingly green emerald eyes; a third, a stocky dwarf with a nasty grimace and a beard trimmed short; and lastly, a halfling like himself, though her skin was, for Fenris especially, exotically dark. The man spoke first.

“Enjoyin’ this evenin’, little master?”

“I was,” Coldin replied. “What’s all this?” He found his gaze repeatedly wandering over to the dark halfling whose eyes never left his and whose coy smile never dropped.

“An introduction,” said the elf, taking a seat next to him. “Seems you’ve been stepping on some toes since you’ve arrived. There are those who don’t take too kindly to it.”

Coldin tensed, ready for a skirmish. “So then,” he said, looking at the gang, “how does this sort of thing get handled?”

“With an invitation, actually,” said the man. “My name is Runil. This charmer is Vaenin, smiles over there is Grum, and this little beauty is Jasmyn.”

“Call me Fade.”

Runil gave a soft chuckle. “Fade it is then. So then tell me, Fade, how about a job?”

“How could I say no?” replied the halfling with a grin.

Several nights later, Coldin was on a sloped rooftop overlooking the Stettin Estates. The moonless sky gifted him total darkness and from his vantage point, he had an unobstructed view of the target’s room. The job was to be simple. Sam Robinsong was in town to personally oversee the sale of a valuable art piece. Runil posed as the prospective buyer, several of Vaenin’s friends filled in the staff of house’s staff to make sure necessary doors and security measures remained accessible, leaving it up to Jasmyn and Coldin to seize the prize once the way was clear. This done, and he was in with the Thieves’ Guild of Stettin. After about an hour of waiting, he watched as Sam Robinsong left the room, called away by the disguised Runil.

“Time to work,” thought Coldin to himself. He slid down the roof top and deftly leapt the small gap. Attaching a grappling hook to the chimney, he lowered himself down to the window sill. He produced his toolkit of picks and levies and set to work on the window. Despite his efforts, it refused to budge. He looked into the room and ducked as he saw someone enter. Daring a glance, he saw that the individual was a halfling and, surmising it was Jasmyn, signaled to her. Meeting his gaze, she smiled sickly as she bagged up the valued painting. She pulled away her face mask, and to Coldin’s shock, the woman standing in the room he knew as Jasmyn looked exactly as he did.

Just then, the door to the room flew open and Robinsong, accompanied by two guards, burst in with swords drawn. Jasmyn produced a black stone from a fold in her clothing and threw it at the ground, and as she did so, it exploded to fill the room with smoke. However, the smoke quickly dispersed, and with Coldin looking on in confusion and awe, he saw Robinsong on the ground, bleeding from the throat. One of the guards took to his care while the other scanned the room and saw Coldin at the window. He shouted for reinforcements and Coldin quickly repelled from the window down to street level. Once his soft boots touched the brick-laid streets, they didn’t stop running until he was hidden quietly behind a pig trough in a butcher’s yard. As the pursuing voices receded, his heartbeat slowly resumed its regular pace. Careful and calculated, he smeared the filth about his cloths and skin, and stole away down the dark alleys towards a beggars’ lane where he fell asleep among the homeless.

He woke the next day to a soft repeated tap against his foot. Standing above him was a man, no older than twenty summers, with short brown hair and a genial smile, dressed in a robe of soft lavender color.

“What’s it? What do you want?” groaned the halfling.

The man never dropped his soft smile. “Hello. I’ve been looking for you. No, don’t worry, not like that. You can relax. I come on behalf of the Order of Bokonon.”

“The fu- who? Listen, I don’t hold to any orders, borders, or robe folders. There are plenty of other people here you can preach to, so, if you don’t mind.”

“My master informs me you’re to serve a matter of great import and in a fortnight’s time, would like to welcome you to our temple personally. Where you will receive answers to any and all questions.”

“Didn’t I tell you, I’m not interested.”

“Ah, but you have reason to be.” With that, the man produced a rolled up piece of paper from his sleeve and handed it to Coldin.

Coldin snatched it from the man’s hand and unrolled it. He gave a short gasp. It was a wanted poster with a depiction of his face on it and a generous sum posted as a reward for his capture.

“The man hunting you is quite resourceful and his reach extends far in this land. This opportunity offers much, but with it, a chance for escape. Here, as a measure of good faith.” The man in lavender discreetly handed him a pouch of coin. “Use this to quickly clean and supply yourself. In two week’s time, at dusk, come to the Temple of Bokonon in Tallin.”

Coldin’s eyes didn’t leave the poster. When he looked up to speak, the man was gone. Thoughts rumbling in his mind, Coldin quickly calculated his odds.

“So then,” he sighed to himself, “to the City of Temples.”

END

The Take: This was cool to come back to. It was THE FIRST character backstory I EVER wrote, so it’s a fun look back in time. A little over-complicated? Yeah, in parts, but overall it worked. Unfortunately, the player for whom it was intended wound up not becoming a part of the main group (I legitimately forget why, but I’m going to safely assume a manner of failure on my part), but I trust the bad guys here were going to come back with a vengeance.

Anyway, take it easy, keep safe, enjoy life, and I’ll catch you all Tuesday!

Ciao, for now.